April 23, 2011

With 'Coolest Job Ever' Ending, Astronauts Seek Next Frontier (Source: New York Times)
What happens when you have the right stuff at the wrong time? Members of NASA's astronaut corps have been asking just that, now that the space shuttle program is ending and their odds of flying anywhere good anytime soon are getting smaller. "Morale is pretty low," said Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut who now works for a company that wants to offer space flights for tourists. "This is a time of great uncertainty."

So when the Obama family heads to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week to sit with Gabrielle Giffords, the injured Arizona congresswoman, as she watches her husband, Capt. Mark E. Kelly of the Navy, take off for the International Space Station, it will be one of the last spectacles of its kind for a while. Over the next few years, American astronauts will be competing for a handful of slots on the International Space Station, flying there on Russian Soyuz capsules.

"We hope we will overcome this hurdle and continue to explore," said Peggy A. Whitson, the head of NASA's astronaut office, whose job includes selecting the astronauts who will fly each space mission. While people's spirits are a little down, she said, "we'll have to see - NASA has gone through different phases like this before." Click here to read the article. (4/23)

Ariane Launches Record Payload (Source: SpaceToday.net)
An Ariane 5 launched its heaviest payload to date on Friday night, placing two communications satellites into orbit. The Ariane 5 ECA lifted off from French Guiana, carrying the Intelsat New Dawn and Yahsat 1A satellites. The combined mass of the satellites and payload adapter, just over 10,000 kilograms, made this launch the heaviest GEO payload launched on an Ariane 5. The launch, the second this year for the Ariane 5, had been scheduled for late March but was aborted at the last second by a technical glitch. (4/23)

Famed Musician to Speak at NASA Event in Virginia Beach (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
The music of Pharrell Williams has long carried a scientific sheen. Whether with his funk-rock band N.E.R.D or his production team the Neptunes, his sound thumps with the kind of hard flat beats and metallic keyboard jabs you might expect to hear on another planet. But today in Virginia Beach, he won't be performing or discussing his music. He will be a guest speaker for a NASA-sponsored educational program focused on encouraging students to pursue studies and careers in science. (4/23)

Alien World's Fast Orbit Creates Shock Waves (Source: Science)
One of the largest alien worlds yet discovered may create a huge shock wave as it plows through the wind blowing off its host star, astronomers have found. That may mean the planet has a magnetic field that protects it in its perilously close orbit. The discovery may help astronomers understand the atmospheres, and ultimately the life-supporting potential, of worlds beyond our solar system. (4/23)

Russian Space Forces Reconnect with Lost Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
The Russian Space Forces has re-established contact with a military satellite, Geo-IK-2, which went missing in February. According to a spokesman from the Defense Ministry, Interfax news agency said the Space Forces had already received telemetric information from the satellite and collection and analysis of the data were currently underway. After studying the information, the Defense Ministry would make a decision regarding the further use of the satellite, the spokesman said. (4/23)

Harris CapRock Chief Predicts More Mergers (Source: Space News)
The recent flurry of acquisitions in the satellite communications services industry has been driven by increasing customer demand for end-to-end network services on a global scale, according to Peter Shaper, group president of the newly formed Harris CapRock Communications. Many regional players have been bought up by global firms, and that trend toward consolidation is likely to continue for perhaps two more years, Shaper said.

Houston-based CapRock Communications traditionally provided communications services to commercial firms in remote locations. In 2007, CapRock bought Arrowhead Global Solutions, which sells commercial satellite bandwidth and end-to-end networks to the U.S. government. Last year, Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corp. announced the acquisitions of CapRock and Schlumberger’s Global Connectivity Services business. Harris bought another telecommunications integrator, Core180, in March. (4/23)

NASA’s CCDev 2 Awards Favor Crew Vehicles Over Launchers (Source: Space News)
Phil McAlister, NASA’s commercial crew planning lead and the selection authority for CCDev 2, said the decision to favor crew-carring vehicles over rockets in making the awards was a matter of applying resources where they are needed the most.

“Within the U.S. industrial base, there is considerable launch vehicle development expertise and experience, as many companies have successfully developed new launch vehicles over the last few decades,” McAlister wrote in an April 4 source selection document. “In contrast, no U.S. company has successfully developed a crew-carrying spacecraft in over thirty years.” (4/23)

Virgin Galactic's Tourist Spaceship Makes Longest Test Flight Yet (Source: Space.com)
A privately built spaceship built by the space tourism company Virgin Galactic soared through its longest flight yet on April 22 during a drop test over California's Mojave Desert. The suborbital Virgin Galactic spacecraft, called SpaceShipTwo, maneuvered through the skies over the Mojave Air and Space Port during the milestone test. The Mojave-based aerospace company Scaled Composites is overseeing construction and flight testing of SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane for Virgin Galactic. (4/23)

Did the Universe Begin as a Slender Thread? (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
A new framework for the universe's formation suggests that it began as a single thready line, then evolved into a plane, and only then the three-dimensional space we now inhabit. This could simplify sticky cosmological questions, including dark matter and gravity waves. The new proposal suggests that the universe evolves dimensions over time, and that so-called 'dark energy' may be a result of the new fourth dimension. Click here. (4/23)

Boeing, Lockheed Respond Differently to Declining Defense Spending (Source: Space News)
The world’s two biggest space-hardware companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are taking what appear to be divergent paths in response to what they agree is a government space-investment landscape likely to get a lot worse in the coming years.

Assessing the same forecasts that U.S. Defense Department spending is poised to decline after a decade marked by unparalleled investment in military space assets, Boeing Network and Space Systems is re-entering the commercial market after a disastrous series of missteps a decade ago. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, meanwhile, has not much changed its commercial space posture. Click here. (4/23)

Ariane 5 Rocket Launches Two Satellites (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Bouncing back from a last-second countdown abort in March, an Ariane 5 rocket smoothly ascended into space Friday with communications satellites destined to serve the Middle East and Africa. The 165-foot-tall rocket rose away from the launch pad at the French-controlled Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America.

Powered by twin solid rocket boosters and a hydrogen-fueled main engine, the Ariane 5 surpassed the speed of sound in 42 seconds. After shedding the solid motors, the rocket's core stage accelerated to a velocity of more than 15,400 mph and an altitude of 104 miles in the first 9 minutes of flight.

A cryogenic upper stage next fired for more than 16 minutes before releasing the Yahsat 1A and Intelsat New Dawn satellites. The rocket was targeting a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a low point of 155 miles, a high point of more than 22,200 miles and an inclination angle of 6 degrees. (4/22)

How Tycoons Will Fuel Spaceflight (Source: MSNBC)
Three of the four companies that are in line to receive $269.3 million from NASA for building future spaceships are privately held, and what's more, they're led by well-off individuals who have at least a hint of intrigue about them. The fourth company, Boeing, is partnering with Bigelow Aerospace, which was founded by hotel-chain billionaire Robert Bigelow and has its own orbital aspirations. Click here to read the article. (4/22)

Russian "Progress" Space Freighter Headed for Pacific Dunking (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's Progress M-09M cargo spacecraft will undock from the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday to be buried in the Pacific after conducting a five-day scientific mission. The spacecraft will remain in orbit well away from the station to conduct several scientific experiments before being deorbited on April 26. (4/22)

Russia’s Space Agency Refutes ISS Oxygen Generation System Failure (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s Federal Space Agency on Friday refuted media reports citing NASA as saying the International Space Station (ISS) had reported a failure of the Electron-VM oxygen generation system and the TVIS treadmill. “The Federal Space Agency informs that the ISS’ Electron-VM oxygen generation system was switched off in a routine procedure on April 20." (4/22)

Ex-ISRO Chief: Weak Russian Component Downed Indian Rocket (Source: Mangalorean)
The destruction of India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) in mid air in 2010 was due to an inherent weakness in a component in the Russian supplied cryogenic engine. According to ISRO, the failed component, called shroud, was made of composites and is part of the Russian cryogenic engine. It got deformed due to the flight load. (4/22)

China: How to Raise Space Explorers (Source: CRI)
With last year's successful launch of the Chang'e 2 lunar probe, China is quickly moving to the forefront of space exploration. Today's scientific knowledge and research ensure that the next generation of scientists will have the ability to pioneer space explorations. Curiosity about the cosmos starts at a young age, and the Beijing Planetarium helps that interest grow. On any weekday, the Beijing Planetarium teems with young children, either on school field trips or with their parents. School children crowd around exhibits, trying to get the best view, and play with friends at interactive displays. (4/22)

Florida Braces for Huge Crowds for Shuttle Launch (Source: Space.com)
Florida's Space Coast is expecting near-record crowds to watch the space shuttle Endeavour launch on its last voyage April 29. Crowds have been getting thicker and thicker for shuttle launches as NASA winds down its 30-year-old space shuttle program.

The area around NASA's seaside Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where the shuttles are launched, saw between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors for the last liftoff of the shuttle Discovery in February, according to Robert Varley, executive director of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism. (4/22)

E.T., Call Us Back! Making the Case for Alien Life (Source: Time)
There's no good evidence to date that life exists, or ever has existed, on worlds beyond the Earth — so it might seem odd that the field of science known as astrobiology is booming. There's plenty to think about before we actually find alien life. What form, for example, is it likely to take? Where should we be looking, and how? Click here to read the article. (4/22)

Secret Space Sex Experiment Rumors Denied by Russian Expert (Source: FOX News)
Russian cosmonauts never had sex in space during the 50 years of human exploration of the cosmos, and rumors about secret sexual experiments were myths. "There is no official or unofficial evidence that there were instances of sexual intercourse or the carrying out of sexual experiments in space," Valery Bogomolov said. (4/22)

Rocketdyne Worries About Retaining Workforce (Source: Aviation Week)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne needs answers fast from NASA on the agency’s direction in space exploration as it continues to consolidate facilities and staff in the wake of the Constellation and space shuttle terminations. For PWR, some firm direction is better than none at all as it continues to rationalize its production workforce.

“The shuttle ends in June, and J-2X [an engine originally in development for the now-canceled Ares launch vehicle under the Constellation program], is in a flat or declining budget,” says Maser. “We believe it’s got to be worked out by the fourth quarter this year. If things don’t change, we know we will have to reduce numbers this summer. But what we’d like to do is speed up. I don’t want guarantees, I just want to know what NASA plans to do.”

In terms of workforce, “we’re down year-over-year by 15%, and this year it’s still up in the air. The last thing we want is to be under-staffed as we try to execute work we have on contract, or as we try to capture new work... From a fixed infrastructure standpoint, across Rocketdyne we have a two-to-one ratio in excess capacity in terms of footage, and we have a plan to [reduce that] by half over the next three years. That’s a non-trivial activity.” (4/22)

NASA Funding Cuts Cripple Texas Business, Community (Source: Houston Business Journal)
Mike Smith has plenty of homes for sale, but the buyers just aren’t there. Smith, a Realtor with Prudential Gary Green Realtors in Clear Lake, is among those already feeling the pain of funding cuts at NASA and the end of a 40-year era: the demise of the shuttle program.

“The mood around NASA is just bleak,” Smith said. “People are afraid to do anything right now. My business has plenty of listings, but nobody’s buying. My wife owns an insurance agency, but we can’t support ourselves on her income alone. (4/22)

Kazakhstan Plans to Enlarge its Share in Cosmotrans (Source: Itar-Tass)
Kazakhstan intends to enlarge its share in the Cosmotrans international space company from 10% to 33.3%, Chairman of the Kazakh National Space Agency Talgat Musabayev said. Kazakhstan acquired 10% in the company last December. “That was the first step in Kazakhstan’s accession to its own spaceport,” he said.

Cosmotrans was founded in 1997 with the headquarters in Moscow. The company mostly fulfills Russian programs of the disposal of RS-20 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are converted into Dnepr space rockets. Research and industrial centers of Russia and Ukraine are the main shareholders of the company. (4/22)

Asteroid or Planet? NASA Aims to Settle Vesta Debate (Source: Space.com)
Scientists still aren't sure what to make of Vesta, a small body that orbits the sun. Is it an asteroid or a planet? NASA's Dawn spacecraft could settle the matter. Vesta was spotted 200 years ago and is officially a "minor planet" — a body that orbits the sun but is not a proper planet or comet. Yet, many astronomers call Vesta an asteroid because it lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

But Vesta is not a typical member of that orbiting rubble patch. The vast majority of objects in the main belt are relative lightweights, 62 miles (100 kilometers) wide or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is 329 miles (530 km) wide. "I don't think Vesta should be called an asteroid," said Tom McCord. "Not only is Vesta so much larger, but it's an evolved object, unlike most things we call asteroids." (4/22)

No comments: