April 2, 2011

Armadillo Aerospace Stig Launch Scrubbed at Spaceport America (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Armadillo Aerospace had to scrub the inaugural launch of its STIG rocket for multiple reasons on Saturday. The company had hoped to send the rocket to more than 100,000 feet from Spaceport America. Here are some comments from John Carmack: Initial attempt was scrubbed at the last minute when an uninvited party (a hunter) entered the exclusion zone. Second attempt had startup transient problems. We continue to have startup problems in New Mexico that we don’t have in Texas.

After cold soaking under the lox tank through these efforts, the batteries started to weaken, and we had to de-tank. For reasons that aren’t clear yet, WSMR (White Sands Missile Range) closed the rest of our launch window today, and we may not get another opportunity until Tuesday, which sucks. (4/2)

During the Current Economic Decline, is Space Exploration a Sensible Pursuit? (Source: Kalamazoo Gazette)
“Space: the final frontier... to explore new worlds, to seek out new life forms and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” These words from “Star Trek” will remain science fiction if funding for space exploration is cut due to our struggling economy. There will always be economic hiccups, but we must always look toward the future, space. Through space exploration, we keep our edge, create jobs, and develop new and useful technology.

America rushed into space because of our competitive nature and we are still vying for our space in space. What happens if we step out of the contest? Once we lose our edge in space exploration, we lose the advantage in other areas. Cutting funding for space exploration means job cuts as well, and not just the astronauts but also the operators, mechanics and employees who maintain the launch station. Then, there are the jobs of the people who make the materials needed for the equipment. (4/2)

Cosmonaut selection criteria in Russia (Source: RIA Novosti)
Cosmonaut selection criteria have been relaxed since the first manned space mission in 1961. Click here to see a graphic comparing the criteria then versus now. (4/2)

Comet Collisions Could Cause Rippled Planet Rings (Source: Cornell Chronicle)
A curious corrugated pattern in Saturn's rings and similar features in Jupiter's main ring could be the residual effects of comet collisions, report astronomers at Cornell and the SETI Institute. The research, based on images taken by NASA's Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons spacecrafts, underscores the rings' valuable role in chronicling solar system history, the astronomers say. (4/1)

Should Homeland Security Control the GPS Network? (Source: New American)
Americans have become accustomed to the presence of Global Positioning System (or GPS) technology embedded in everything from the GPS on their dash to their cell phones and iPads. In fact, GPS is nearly taken for granted for everything from locating a restaurant to navigating a fishing boat through the fog. But now it appears that GPS, which was developed primarily for its military applications, is rather overtly returning to its "national security" roots, as NASA plans to turn the security of the GPS system over to the Department of Homeland Security.

A “white paper” entitled “Jamming the Global Positioning System – A National Security Threat: Recent Events and Potential Cures” was produced last November setting forth the reasons why its authors believe that the GPS system should now be deemed a matter of national security. According to the “white paper,” it is the ability to jam GPS signals that poses a threat, by interfering with the operation of systems dependent on the satellite signals for proper operation.

Editor's Note: The New American needs a fact checker. 'NASA plans to turn GPS security over to DHS?' NASA has no such role. (4/1)

Was There a Natural Nuclear Blast on Mars? (Source: FOX News)
Ever wonder why the red planet is red? About 180 million years ago, a planet-shattering yet naturally occurring nuclear reaction may have wiped out everything on Mars, sending a shockwave that turned the planet into dry sand. Even more incredible: A natural nuclear reaction could have occurred on our own planet -- and could happen again, said Dr. John Brandenburg, a senior propulsion scientist at Orbital Technologies Corp.

"The Martian surface is covered with a thin layer of radioactive substances including uranium, thorium and radioactive potassium -- and this pattern radiates from a hot spot [on Mars],” Brandenburg told FoxNews.com. “A nuclear explosion could have sent debris all around the planet," he said. "Maps of gamma rays on Mars show a big red spot that seems like a radiating debris pattern ... on the opposite side of the planet there is another red spot." (4/1)

Telesat Mulling Takeover Offers (Source: Ottawa Business Journal)
Ottawa's Telesat Holdings Inc. is considering buyout offers from Echostar Corp., Carlyle Group and possible other parties, according to a report. Telesat is seeking at least $6 billion in the sale; if the buyout is not quite that high, it is also considering a special dividend as an alternative, read a report in Bloomberg citing "people with knowledge of the matter." Both potential suitors have made large acquisitions in the past few months. (4/1)

Space and Your Body (Source: Financial Times)
“Use it or lose it” is the normal rule of human adaptation to living in new environments – and space is no exception. When the pull of gravity disappears, the bones, muscles and cardiovascular system have less work to do, so they begin to waste away. Last year, the first cellular analysis of the effects of long-duration space flight on human muscle – based on calf biopsies of nine astronauts before and after spending 180 days on the Space Station – found muscle wastage of 40 percent.

The researchers at Marquette University in Wisconsin said that was equivalent to the muscles of a crew member aged 30 to 50 wasting to those of an 80-year-old. Although ISS crew have an exercise regime, study leader Robert Fitts says a new range of movements must be developed to mimic better the range occurring on Earth.

Another study, by scientists at the University of California (Irvine and San Francisco), found an alarming reduction in bone density among ISS crew. Thirteen astronauts lost an average 14 percent of hip bone strength after four to six months in space; three had a 20 to 30 percent loss. “If preventative measures are not taken, some astronauts may be at increased risk for age-related fractures decades after missions,” says study leader Joyce Keyak. (4/1)

NASA Facing $548 Million Payment To Cover USA Pension Fund Shortfall (Source: Space News)
The single biggest check NASA expects to write next year will go to United Space Alliance (USA) to cover a half-billion-dollar shortfall in the space shuttle contractor’s pension fund. It is not NASA’s fault USA’s pension fund — held in stocks, bonds and other assets company officials said are worth between $600 million and $700 million — has just a little over half of the money it needs to guarantee retirement pay promised to 11,000 past and current employees.

But NASA is legally obligated to make up the shortfall, which totaled more than $500 million as of January, because USA operates the shuttle fleet under a cost-reimbursable contract that entitles the company to charge the government for personnel costs, including pay and benefits. The bill is coming due now because the rapidly downsizing USA is closing out its pension plan as it prepares for an uncertain post-shuttle future.

USA announced in December that it had begun taking steps to terminate its pension plan, a benefit the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture offered its employees until several years ago, when it switched to a less costly 401(k) retirement savings plan for new hires. USA and NASA have been working on a termination plan with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal agency that regulates pensions and steps in to pay benefits when companies fail. (4/1)

Houston Deserves a Space Shuttle for Display, Astronaut Spouses Say (Source: Space.com)
The spouses of two astronauts who died in the space shuttle Columbia accident have joined Houston’s vociferous campaign to win a space shuttle for display once NASA retires the orbiter fleet this year. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, Laurel Clark, in the 2003 Columbia accident, and Evelyn Husband-Thomas, widow of Columbia commander Rick Husband, recently made a trip to Washington to campaign for the city of Houston. They were joined by Richard Allen, president and CEO of Space Center Houston. (4/1)

Florida Looks to Lure Foreign Aerospace Business (Source: Reuters)
Marrying British small satellite expertise with Florida's space launch industry should position both parties to capture a larger share of a global aerospace industry worth $250 billion a year, said UK trade delegates meeting in Florida. Aerospace business and spin-off technologies have the potential to blossom to a $400 billion global enterprise over the next 30 years, with the UK jockeying to increase its current 6 percent share of the world market to 10

Britain, among other countries, has companies that complement Florida's assets and can help achieve those goals, Space Florida President Frank DiBello said. "There is a lot of technology that is in the U.K., in Argentina, Brazil, countries you wouldn't think of because they're focused on a different set of ground rules. It's up to us to reach for it," DiBello said. "It's Match.com on the technology level," he added. (4/1)

Next Stop: Mars (Source: Financial Times)
The next rover designed to crawl over the surface of Mars is taking shape inside a huge clean room at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Curiosity rover is a successor to Spirit and Opportunity, the successful twins that landed on the red planet in 2004. It is five times as heavy as them – packed with scientific instruments designed for chemical analysis of Martian soil and rock, including signs of microbial life. Curiosity is scheduled for launch late this year on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, arriving in August 2012. (4/1)

SpaceX Falcon Rocket Family Growing (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX released a promotional video to preview the unveiling of a new member of the Falcon rocket family, a heavy lifter that will compete with ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. SpaceX’s website describes the Falcon Heavy as being capable of lifting more than 32,000 kg (70,500 lb.) to low Earth orbit and more than 19,500 kg to geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket consists of a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages serving as liquid-fueled strap-on boosters. The advertised price is $95 million. (4/1)

More Fear Mongering from Space Coast Representatives (Source: Space KSC Blog)
Rep. Bill Posey appeared before the House Budget Committee on March 30 to falsely claim that Russia and China have announced plans to colonize the Moon — and "they are not going there to collect and study rocks like we did." On March 24, Florida Today published an editorial that lambasted Republicans who claim "the Obama administration is ceding U.S. human spaceflight to Russia." That’s far from the truth.

President Bush made the call to fly U.S. astronauts aboard Russian rockets as part of his decision in 2004 to end the shuttle program in 2010 without having a new American rocket ready to replace the orbiters. The rhetoric accomplishes nothing, further poisoning the atmosphere when level-headed bipartisan leadership is necessary to steer NASA through the post-shuttle transition. (4/1)

California's Space Micro Wins SBA Award (Source: CSA)
Space Micro has been selected by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as a winner of the prestigious Tibbetts Award. The award is in recognition of unique contributions as a model of excellence for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. Individuals and companies selected for these national awards are recognized as having provided outstanding SBIR leadership in each state, region or the nation.

Space Micro has designed, manufactured and delivered several radiation hardened satellite electronics products for SBIR agencies such as Air Force, NASA, MDA, HSARPA, OSD, Army, Navy, and DTRA. At the ceremony, Space Micro was highlighted by the SBA Administrator, Karen Mills, as one of four "poster child" companies for commercialization success within the SBIR Program. Space Micro has participated in over 60 SBIR Programs and has been recognized for fast growth by the San Diego Business Journal and Inc. magazine. (4/1)

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