May 21, 2011

Orbital Sciences Eyes West Coast Missions for Taurus 2 (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp.’s business case for its Taurus 2 rocket assumes two or three launches per year for the next decade, with liftoffs occurring from a future West Coast spaceport in addition to the company’s new launch pad in Virginia. The company has spent the past several months eyeing two launch sites on the West Coast that would allow high-inclination and sun-synchronous missions: Vandenberg in California and Kodiak Island in Alaska. The company expects to decide on a site before the end of the year, he said.

“Vandenberg is a well-known commodity to us; we understand it well,” Pieczynski said in a May 18 interview, noting that the company currently launches Pegasus, Taurus XL and Minotaur rockets from that site. Orbital us is less familiar with Kodiak Island, he said, though the company does use the launch site for Minotaur missions.

“We’ve been focusing a lot of attention over the last several months to understand what the capabilities are out of Kodiak,” he said, adding that the launch site “brings some uniqueness” in terms of launch preparation and logistics. “Where do you get all your commodities from, how do you get your launch vehicle up there, can you launch 12 months out of the year?” he said. (5/21)

Extended 2011 U.S. Budget Debate Dents GeoEye Earnings (Source: Space News)
Satellite imagery provider GeoEye Inc. reported lower-than-expected revenue for the first three months of 2011 but said the downdraft was mainly the temporary result of U.S. government budget issues that have been resolved. The Virginia-based company said it expects the various pieces of its U.S. government business to return to form in the coming months, with year-end revenue forecasted to be 11-15 percent higher than 2010’s $330 million. (5/21)

Insurance Premiums Stay Flat Despite W3B Satellite Failure (Source: Space News)
Despite a major satellite failure last year resulting in a large claim, space insurance premiums continue to be subject to downward pressure — good news for satellite owners, less good for underwriters. The major insurers are resolved to stay active in the market amid still-solid profitability. The most notable insurance event of 2010 was the October loss of the Eutelsat W3B commercial telecommunications satellite following a large leak in its fuel system. That claim alone was valued at $311 million. (5/21)

Fermi Fails to Detect Dark Matter Evidence (Source: Science News)
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has failed to find definitive evidence of dark matter after more than two years of searching, Robert Johnson of UC Santa Cruz reported. The telescope hunts for dark matter indirectly, by looking for gamma-rays produced when the proposed particles would collide and annihilate. At the Milky Way’s center, where dark matter is predicted to be densest, Fermi found no gamma-ray excess that could clearly be attributed to the material.

Among 10 dwarf galaxies, which have a higher ratio of dark to ordinary matter than larger galaxies, Fermi found no gamma rays at all. The non-detection hints that if dark matter particles called WIMPs exist, they weigh more than about 33 times the proton’s mass. (5/21)

NASA sting nets woman offering moon rock for $1.7M (Source: AP)
A woman who tried to sell a rare hunk of moon rock for $1.7 million was detained when her prospective customer turned out to be an undercover NASA investigator. It is illegal to sell moon rocks, which are considered national treasures. The gray rocks, which were gifted to each U.S. state and 136 countries by then-President Richard Nixon, can sell for millions of dollars on the black market.

NASA agents and Riverside County sheriff's deputies detained the woman, who was not immediately identified, after she met Thursday with an undercover NASA investigator at a restaurant in Lake Elsinore, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the sheriff's office said. The investigation was conducted over several months. The woman has not been arrested or charged. It was unknown how she obtained the rock or came to the attention of NASA. She could face theft charges if the rock is genuine, or fraud charges if it is not. (5/21)

Proton Rocket Orbits Satellite to Connect the Americas (Source:
A Russian Proton rocket blasted off Friday from Kazakhstan with a Canadian communications satellite to link Brazil and other parts of the Americas with broadband Internet and video services. Known in Brazil as Estrela do Sul 2, meaning "southern star" in Portuguese, the Telstar 14R satellite is beginning a 15-year mission to provide Ku-band communications to the Americas and Atlantic Ocean regions. Telstar 14R will be operated by Telesat of Ottawa, Canada. (5/21)

Student Experiment Microgravity Kit Wins NASA-Make Tech Contest (Source: NASA)
"Bring It Back," a small and inexpensive microgravity spaceflight kit, has won the do-it-yourself technology and education space competition sponsored by NASA and MAKE Magazine. The competition challenged participants to design experiments that could be built for under $200 by high school students to eventually fly on a suborbital flight.

In addition to being low cost, the winning entry also had to illustrate sound science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles. The competition was designed to inspire curiosity and create interest in STEM among classroom teachers and students. The "Bring It Back" concept, created by Houston engineers Prashant Rao and Subra Sankaran, outlines three experiments using molten wax to demonstrate important principles of science and engineering.

Sponsored by Teachers in Space, a project of the Space Frontier Foundation in Nyack, N.Y, the first "Bring It Back" kits will fly aboard the Excelsior STEM mission scheduled to fly on a Masten Aerospace unmanned suborbital mission later this year. Teachers and students will assemble the experiment kits at a Suborbital Flight Experiment Workshop at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center's AERO Institute in Palmdale, Calif., in early August. (5/21)

NASA Announces Tweetup For Final Space Shuttle Launch (Source: NASA)
NASA will give 150 of its Twitter followers a front-row seat at the historic final space shuttle launch. The agency's fifth shuttle launch Tweetup is scheduled July 7-8 at KSC. Shuttle Atlantis is targeted to lift off from Kennedy on its mission to the International Space Station at about 11:40 a.m. EDT on July 8. Registration opens on June 1 at this website. (5/21)

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