March 9, 2011

Houston to Name Avenue After Soviet Cosmonaut Gagarin (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russkiy Mir foundation will next week name a park avenue in the U.S. city of Houston after the first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. To mark the 50th anniversary of the historic first manned flight to space, Russkiy Mir, which promotes Russian language and culture abroad, has launched an international campaign under the title First in Space. (3/9)

Moon Millions: Space Firms Chase Google's Lunar Lucre (Source: New Scientist)
Under the harsh sun, shining out of a pitch-black sky, a four-wheeled rover zigzags across the cratered lunar surface. It seems to be looking for something. Every so often it stops to sift through the dusty soil, before moving on again. But one of these pauses lasts longer than the rest. Suddenly, an antenna extends skyward, pointing at the fat blue marble 385,000 kilometres away. Humans back on Earth who subscribe to Red Rover's Twitter feed get the news within seconds: "We've found water!"

That, at least, is the script of David Gump's dream. He is part of a team that is building Red Rover and plans to send it to the moon. He is confident that it will not only kick-start a new era of lunar exploration, but will also win his team a $20 million prize in the process. That money is the top award on offer in the Google Lunar X PrizeMovie Camera (GLXP), money that the internet giant is putting up as a way of galvanising an entrepreneurial 21st-century space race. By the standards of space exploration this may not be big bucks, but it has been enough to motivate 29 entrants from around the world. Click here for more. (3/9)

Eight Extremes: The Coldest Thing in the Universe (Source: New Scientist)
Space itself is neither hot nor cold. In the absence of stuff with thermal vibrations, temperature has no meaning. But there are plenty of cold things in space. In our solar system, the coldest known spot is quite close by. In 2009, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found permanently shadowed craters near the south pole of the moon that were at only 33 kelvin (-240 °C) -- colder even than any temperature yet measured on dark and distant Pluto.

As exploration continues and measurements improve, that record is likely to pass to some moon or dwarf planet much further from the sun, perhaps with its own sheltered and frigid craters. Beyond our solar system, a gas cloud called the Boomerang nebula, 5000 light years away, has a temperature of only 1 K. The nebula is expanding rapidly, which actively cools its gas in the same way that expansion chills the coolant in a domestic refrigerator or aircon unit. (3/9)

A Look at the Google Lunar Prize Contenders (Source: New Scientist)
With designs as diverse as the teams that have created them, the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize promises both stunning successes and catastrophic failures. The rovers must withstand a journey to the moon, landing and a 500-meter trip across the lunar surface, and after all that, send images and data back to Google's earthbound servers. Here's a slide show of some of the robot concepts. (3/9)

Eight Extremes: The Fastest Thing in the Universe (Source: New Scientist)
Speed is relative. There is no absolute standard for "stationary" in the universe. Perhaps the nearest thing is the all-pervasive cosmic microwave background radiation. Its Doppler shift across the sky - blue in one direction, red in the other - reveals that, relative to the CMB, the solar system is rattling along at 600 kilometers per second. Microwaves are rather insubstantial, though, so we don't feel the wind in our hair.

Distant galaxies are also moving at quite a rate. Space is expanding everywhere: the more space you are looking through the faster the galaxies you see are moving away from us. Far enough off, galaxies are effectively retreating faster than light speed, which means we can never see them because their radiation can't reach us. (3/9)

Tourists Spark Era of Space Science (Source: New Scientist)
On 28 February, SwRI signed the first contracts to fly scientists to space on vehicles made by Virgin Galactic and XCOR. The flights are expected to be up and running by 2013 or sooner. When they do, what can we expect to learn from the on-board experiments? Alan Stern, who is leading the new program at SwRI, says that the planned flights, which will include a few minutes of weightlessness, will make a unique contribution.

For starters, he is excited by the prospect of solving an enduring mystery about the moon's atmosphere, which began with NASA's crewed Apollo missions to the moon in the 1970s. From lunar orbit, NASA astronauts reported complex and unexplained light shows just before sunrise, including shafts of light that appeared suddenly and seemed to radiate from the moon's horizon. (3/9)

Priorities Explained: Why Mars Mission Tops Wish List (Source: PBS)
Exploring icy planets, lunar oceans and martian soil should rank high on NASA's to-do list, an expert panel of the National Research Council concluded this week. But high costs could keep some of the most promising missions earthbound. The Planetary Science Decadal Survey was produced after interviews with the world's top planetary scientists, number crunching by independent contractors ... and a large dose of sticker shock, says Steven Squyres of Cornell University.

Topping the list is a mission to send a rover to Mars to collect rock and soil samples, and then haul them back to earth, where they'd be analyzed for evidence of life. The Mars Astrobiology Explorer Cacher, known as MAX-C, would also study the planet's geology and climate history. Click here for a video interview with Dr. Squyres. (3/9)

Could A Space Shuttle Make Its Final Landing In Oregon? (Source: OPB News)
Now that the Space Shuttle Discovery has made its final landing, museums across the nation want to know who'll get it. Oregon's Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum has already built a hall for one of the three orbiters up for grabs. Stewart Bailey, curator of the McMinnville museum, says when they constructed their space building, they had the orbiter in mind.

Stewart Bailey: "The doors are wide enough to handle the wingspan. They raise high enough to handle the tail. The floor has been reinforced to cover the weight and so on." One of the three shuttles has all but been promised to The Smithsonian. But Bailey thinks another will end up on the West Coast. He says McMinnville is well placed between the twin aerospace centers of Seattle and California. (3/9)

Orbital Nabs $1.1 Billion MDA Targets Contract (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. won a contract potentially worth $1.1 billion over seven years to provide intermediate-range target missiles for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Orbital will be responsible for manufacturing, storing and maintaining the target missiles as well as preparing them for launch and conducting post-launch analysis. Honeywell and ATK are subcontractors on the fixed-price incentive-fee contract.

The MDA will purchase eight targets from Orbital under the base contract and as many as 22 targets through 2017. The MDA previously used intermediate-range targets built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Orlando-based Coleman Aerospace for ballistic missile defense tests. A flight test failure last year of a Coleman Aerospace-built target caused Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the MDA’s director, to stop using that company’s targets. (3/9)

PWR Executive's Remarks Highlight Urgency of Budget Decisions (Sources: Space Politics, SPACErePORT)
Jim Maser, president of Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne had a blunt warning this week for policymakers: get a plan in place for NASA’s future now or industry will suffer the consequences. Maser's remarks came after he and other industry executives met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. Maser said he communicated that same message in that meeting. “Pick something, run a competition, pick winners and losers, and let’s move on, that was basically my message, because we’re out of time.”

We're increasingly hearing similar concerns from the defense industry, and from the DOD leadership. As with NASA, Congress' lack of progress on an FY-11 defense appropriation bill is stalling major military procurements and could soon force major job cuts within the industry. There's movement this week in Congress to piece together such a bill for DOD to respond to the crisis. But although NASA's programs are increasingly described as being vital to our national security, it seems unlikely that NASA's FY-11 budget will be finalized any time soon. NASA may even ride out the entire year with continuing resolutions.

In the current cost-cutting environment, the President's NASA funding request cannot possibly make everyone in Congress happy. Meanwhile, programmatic preferences and ideological differences between the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate are causing a tug-of-war with the agency's budget. It's sad to remember the high hopes we had that the Augustine Panel's findings would resolve many of the issues we're still fighting about. (3/9)

Republican Senators Step Up Pressure to Fund Military Programs (Source: AIA)
Republican senators raised concerns this week that the budget standoff could hinder national security, and they called on congressional leaders to put together a full defense appropriations bill this week. According to Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., American troops could be placed at risk if a 2011 defense appropriations bill is not enacted, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said all other business should be set aside to allow for a defense appropriations bill to be brought to the floor of both chambers immediately. (3/9)

Discovery Shuttle Makes Historic Last Touchdown (Source: BBC)
The oldest of America's space shuttles, Discovery, has brought its remarkable 27-year career to an end. The orbiter landed at the Kennedy Space Center after a 12-day - and final - mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The landing at Kennedy occurred just before midday, local Florida time. On its final flight, Discovery delivered a new store room and a sophisticated humanoid robot to the ISS. The ship's crew also performed two spacewalks to carry out maintenance tasks on the exterior of the platform.

Already, NASA is looking forward to the next mission. Endeavour will roll out of Kennedy's vast Vehicle Assembly Building to go to the launch pad in preparation for its final voyage into space next month. The Atlantis orbiter will close the shuttle program with a flight in June or just beyond. (3/9)

China's Military Space Surge (Source: Aerospace America)
China's surging military space program is poised to challenge U.S. aircraft carrier operations in the Pacific, as Chinese military spacecraft already gather significant new radar, electro-optical imaging, and signal intelligence data globally. During 2010, China more than doubled its military satellite launch rate to 12. This compares with three to five military missions launched each year between 2006 and 2009.

Since 2006, China has launched about 30 military related spacecraft. Its total of 15 launches in 2010 set a new record for China and for the first time equaled the U.S. flight rate for a given year. China's military space surge reveals a program where more than half of its spacecraft are like 'wolves in sheep's clothing,' posing a growing threat to U.S. Navy operations in the Pacific. India's navy is also concerned. (3/9)

SpaceX Expanding Texas Operations (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX and the City of McGregor today signed a lease agreement allowing SpaceX to expand the size of its rocket development facility in McGregor. Under the deal, SpaceX will lease 631 acres -- the equivalent of almost 500 football fields -- for its test facility. The new lease will more than double the size of the current 256 acre site on the Western edge of the City of McGregor, and will last roughly 10 years through January 31, 2021. “Our Texas rocket development facility is critical to our operations,” said Elon Musk. “This lease will allow us to move forward on the growth we have planned for Texas... McGregor is going to be a very busy place.”

Every Merlin engine that powers the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and every Draco thruster that controls its Dragon spacecraft is first tested on the ground in Texas before launch. Since starting operations in Texas in 2003, SpaceX has invested $50 million in McGregor and expects to have at least 140 employees by year’s end. Texas operations in McGregor will continue to expand to support dozens of upcoming launches already under contract, with more on the way. In addition, SpaceX is in negotiations with NASA to develop and test a launch abort system for the Dragon spacecraft. That development will begin in McGregor. (3/9)

Astrium’s 2010 Results Surpass Predictions (Source: Space News)
Europe’s EADS aerospace giant on March 9 said its Astrium space hardware and services division posted higher-than-expected revenue, profit and new orders for 2010 on the strength of telecommunications satellite deliveries and defense-related products and services. Astrium reported revenue of 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in 2010, up 4 percent from 2009. Orders booked in 2010, at 6 billion euros, were also higher than EADS management had forecast. As of Dec. 31, Astrium’s backlog stood at 15.76 billion euros, up 7.6 percent from a year earlier. Astrium delivered 10 satellites in 2010, and all of them are functioning well. (3/9)

Book Your Ticket Into Space (Source: The Mercury)
Durban space tourism specialist Brad Inggs has a ticket to ride – right into space. Inggs’s company, Orbital Horizon, has got a contract with Rocketship Tours, a partner of US company XCOR Aerospace, to sell tickets for a trip aboard XCOR’s two-seater Lynx spaceship. Inggs, 30, of Kloof, said space travelers would be seated in the front of the aircraft, right next to the pilot, on the trip.

“You will get to see everything from the take-off to the landing, including the curvature of the Earth, stars and you will also get to experience weightlessness for about four minutes.” A ticket will cost $96 000 and includes one week of training at the Space Participant Training Center in the US, and a medical fitness test. Flights to the US are not included in the ticket price. (3/9)

Virgin's CEO Visits with New Spaceport Authority (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Squeezing in a stop here while en route to London, Virgin Galactic's president and CEO told spaceport officials Tuesday that the company remains committed to basing its suborbital flight operations in New Mexico. George Whitesides addressed the new board of directors of Spaceport America for the first time since an abrupt change in spaceport leadership that was carried out by Gov. Susana Martinez. It was also the first session attended by Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson, hired last week by the board.

"The primary message we wanted to share, and the reason I'm here is to express a desire to continue to be a strong partner with the spaceport for the taxpayers of New Mexico," Whitesides said. "We are all making a very big investment together." While addressing the board, Whitesides noted the state is planning to spend about $200 million in constructing the spaceport and said Virgin Galactic is "investing somewhere on the order of $400 million to develop its spaceflight vehicles."

Virgin Galactic has signed a 20-year agreement with the state, committing to launch suborbital spaceflights from Spaceport America. Richard Branson said during a visit to the spaceport last fall that the company was expecting to launch its first suborbital flights from Spaceport America between mid-summer of this year and spring of 2012. Tuesday, Whitesides said the company's flight test program is progressing, but "we still have a ways to go." (3/9)

Indian Space Agency to Now Launch Three Satellites in April (Source: MSN India)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) proposes to launch the latest remote sensing satellite and two others in the second week of April, seeking to replace a crucial component in its fully-assembled launch vehicle by dismantling one section. ISRO will take apart its polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) at the Sriharikota spaceport to substitute the existing gas motor with an upgraded one. 'We know that our four-stage rocket is fully assembled. However, since the gas motor is in an inaccessible location in the second stage it has to be opened up for us to remove the previous one and fit a newer one,' an official said. (3/9)

Discovery's Dismantling (Source: MSNBC)
What happens after Discovery makes its last landing? The most traveled ship in NASA's space shuttle fleet will almost certainly end up on display at the Smithsonian — but not before it goes through a months-long round of technological taxidermy. The first steps aren't all that unusual: NASA will put the orbiter through its routine post-flight maintenance, as if it were going back into space. But instead of prepping the spaceplane for its next mission, mechanics will give Discovery a major overhaul, turning the world's most complex flying machine into an unflyable museum artifact.

NASA has already figured out how to pull out all the stuff on Discovery that could pose a health hazard, ranging from fuel tanks and plumbing to thermal blankets that have soaked up toxic fumes for the past 26 years. The shuttle's main engines will be replaced with mockups built out of replicas and spare parts. The crew cabin will be spiffed up to look as if it's ready for flight, but in hidden areas, structural shells and skins will take the place of flight hardware. When museumgoers get their first up-close peek at Discovery next year, they may have no idea that the space shuttle has been stripped down and rebuilt. (3/9)

Reality Begins Sinking In for Florida Space Workers (Source: Florida Today)
Mike Cosgrove relaxed. Discovery was safely in orbit, and its three main engines had burned flawlessly during the 81/2-minute climb from Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 24. "We got this thing started off the right way," Cosgrove, the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne manager who oversees engines' preparation for flight, remembers thinking.

Only today does he expect the reality of Discovery completing its last flight -- and the shuttle program's imminent end -- to begin sinking in when cameras first spot the orbiter as a distant dot. Next month, Cosgrove's teams will remove Discovery's engines for servicing, as after any flight. But it won't be the same. "They don't really have a need anymore," Cosgrove said. "It's like now we're practicing, and there's no ball game to go play for these motors again." (3/9)

Spacecraft Operator Anticipates an 'Exciting Moment' (Source: Florida Today)
Ron Delaney will be the first person to give Discovery's last crew a face-to-face welcome home upon the shuttle's return to Kennedy Space Center. The 43-year-old Rockledge resident will open the crew compartment hatch while Discovery hums on the runway, its heat shields still warm from re-entry through the atmosphere. "It's going to be an exciting moment," said Delaney, United Space Alliance's lead "spacecraft operator" on landing day.

Delaney feels great satisfaction seeing the astronauts' excitement and sense of accomplishment after a mission, knowing he and his colleagues "gave them the best possible bird to go do what they needed to do." That satisfaction will be magnified today. His 11-year career as a shuttle technician will end with shuttle program layoffs planned next month. (3/9)

Ad Astra Fuels Rocket Research in Costa Rica (Source: Cosmos)
Voyaging in a chemical rocket is the celestial analogue of drifting around the world on a yacht that got its one burst of speed by charging out of port like an angry elephant. It's heavy, it's inflexible and it breaks all the rules of sensible travel. That's why Frankin Chang Diaz - who holds a PhD in applied plasma physics - began developing an alternative technology he calls VASIMR, for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket. His company, Ad Astra, built a warehouse lab in Costa Rica as the world's foremost - and only - dedicated center for heat management in plasma rockets.

With an average age of 28, the engineers make up a team as remarkable as it is improbable. The story begins in 2004, when Chang Díaz tapped his younger brother, Ronald - then running a construction company in the city of San Jose; - to start up an Ad Astra office in Liberia. At age 42, Ronald embarked on a real-life Costa Rican version of Rocket Boys - a popular trilogy about amateur rocketeers growing up in a coal mining town in the late 1950s. Click here to read the article. (3/9)

Shuttle Set for Landing, Will You Hear the Boom? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space shuttle Discovery is set to complete its tour of duty, coming in for a landing at Kennedy Space Center at 11:57 a.m. on Wednesday, March 9, to complete STS-133, its 39th and final mission. There may be two attempts at landing. Those directly under the path in Central Florida should hear the boom strongest 10 minutes and less leading up to landing. The boom can be heard about 40 miles away from the path. (3/8)

No U.S. Decision Yet on Adopting EU Space Code (Source: NTI)
The United States has yet to determine whether it will adopt European Union rules with possible bearing on the use of orbital armaments, a high-level U.S. State Department said in late February. A panel of representatives from multiple federal entities has examined the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, and the group would pursue related dialogue with the European Union upon receiving an administration go-ahead, the insider said. The Obama administration should "immediately consult" with relevant Senate panels and other lawmakers on Washington's possible adoption of the EU code, 37 GOP senators told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a Feb. 2 letter.

The group led by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) indicated it was “deeply concerned” by the possibility of Washington seeking “a multilateral commitment with a multitude of potential highly damaging implications for sensitive military and intelligence programs (current, planned or otherwise).” The lawmakers urged the administration to specify if the code would constrain U.S. options for fielding orbital missile interceptors or technology capable of neutralizing foreign antisatellite armaments. (3/8)

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's First RS-68A Production Engine is Ready for Flight (Source: PWR)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully completed a series of Hardware Acceptance Reviews on the first RS-68A production rocket engine, validating the world's most powerful hydrogen-fueled engine is ready to power a heavy-lift vehicle into space in support of national security.

"RS-68A engine 30003 has demonstrated all the requirements for flight over a wide range of operating conditions," said Dan Adamski, RS-68 program manager, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. "We look forward to working with our customers to ensure the RS-68A engines powering the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle are successful in delivering their important payload into orbit." (3/8)

Pararescue Ops at America’s Spaceport (Source; Palm Beach Post)
If you were to mention Hangar 985 at Patrick Air Force Base to a Space Shuttle Astronaut you would probably get a blank stare. But to him the men and machines which are based there could mean the difference between life and death. Two CH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” helicopters, six Air Force Pararescuemen, and the air crews and maintenance people of Detachment 15, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron call Hangar 985 their home.

If a space shuttle experiences launch or recovery problems anywhere near its Florida spaceport, this is the outfit that will come to the rescue. I spent a day with the PJ’s (short for pararescue jumpers) to observe and experience some of their training activities. I arrived at Hangar 985 at 6:10 AM that morning. The maintenance crew was preparing one of the two camouflage painted CH-3’s for the day’s activities. Click here to read the article. (3/8)

Can Bhuvan Give Google Earth a Run for its Money? (Source: Times of India)
Google Earth has competition at hand. Bhuvan, ISRO's answer to the Google application, is snapping at its heels. However, Bhuvan, a satellite mapping tool and the geoportal of ISRO that was launched a year and half ago, has to overcome a procedural hurdle. The department of space is awaiting the Union Cabinet's nod for the remote sensing data policy, 2011, that will replace the existing 2001 norms. The new policy envisages making public, pictures of upto 1 m resolution against the current 5.8 m. If the norms pass the muster, it will bring Bhuvan close to the 40 cm resolution of images available on Google Earth. (3/8)

Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin Join Forces for Space Exploration (Source:
One of the world's leading astrophysicists has teamed up with one of the first humans ever to walk on the moon to help plot out humanity's future in space. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin have joined forces in an effort "to better mankind's future in space" after a recent meeting in Southern California, according to an announcement. Details of their plans are sketchy at the moment, but the pair are dreaming big, with nothing less than the survival of humanity on their minds.

In a joint statement, Aldrin and Hawking said that their collaboration "seeks to define and obtain a Unified Space Vision that will continue the expansion of a human presence in space and ensure the perpetuation of the species." The definition and promulgation of such a vision will help humanity better manage its affairs on Earth, they added. And it will help lay the foundation for the establishment of human colonies throughout the solar system. (3/8)

Inmarsat Maritime Sales Disappoint in 2010 (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat on March 7 said revenue from its core maritime business in 2010 was much lower than expected as competitors, and Inmarsat’s own new lower-cost products, gained market traction. Inmarsat’s total revenue was $1.17 billion in 2010, up 12.9 percent from 2009. The company’s heritage mobile satellite services business reported revenue of $727 million in 2010, up 6.5 percent from 2009. The maritime sector accounts for half of Inmarsat’s mobile satellite services business. In 2010, maritime revenue was $360.6 million, up only 1 percent from 2009. (3/8)

NASA Stalemate May Cause More Layoffs (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. government’s ongoing failure to devise a spaceflight plan for NASA after the shuttle fleet is retired raises the specter of more workforce cuts in the 50-year-old U.S. launch industry, with serious industrial-base implications for the nation, according to the head of rocket-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR).

“To me the shuttle ending is just a huge scenario that in the history of spaceflight this country has never faced,” said PWR President Jim Maser after attending a CEO meeting March 7 called by top NASA management. “I don’t think people understand what we in business will have to do to accommodate that without a follow-on, because we’re going to have to significantly reduce staff, and [the Defense Department is] going to have to carry a lot more than they’re used to carrying.” (3/8)

What Would an Interstellar Spaceship Look Like? (Source: Discovery)
Project Icarus is an ambitious five-year study into launching an unmanned spacecraft to an interstellar destination. Headed by the Tau Zero Foundation, a non-profit group of scientists dedicated to interstellar spaceflight, Icarus is working to develop a spacecraft that can travel to a nearby star. In Part 1 of this two-part article, Kelvin Long, Design Lead for the Project Icarus Vehicle Configuration, describes the design constraints that were placed on the original Project Daedalus interstellar spacecraft.

One of the most exciting parts of Project Icarus which is on everyone's mind with an interest in the project, is what will the spacecraft look like? Will it be very similar to the Daedalus design or radically different? Before we address the design of the Icarus spacecraft, let us remind ourselves about the Project Daedalus spacecraft configuration. The core section of the Daedalus vehicle was the use of a slender structural spine, from which all the other components could be attached. The use of this spine was possible due to the low vehicle acceleration levels and assembly in space. Click here for more. (3/8)

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