May 30, 2011

Starfighters Ready to Launch Research and Suborbital Payloads (Source: Space Daily)
F-104 jet fighters just like the ones astronauts trained in for decades will become a more regular part of the skyscape above NASA's Kennedy Space Center as a private company expands its fleet of jets to eight, with plans to conduct more research flights, launch very small satellites into space and even take paying passengers into the stratosphere.

Boasting speeds faster than Mach 2, extreme acceleration and the ability to pull 7 g's or more, the F-104 provides a platform to test rocket components, tracking sensors and space-bound equipment, Svetkoff said. The aircraft also can push over to create microgravity conditions for a short time. "We can go from ground to 23,000 feet as fast as some of the rockets launched here," Rick Svetkoff said.

That is an appealing combination for researchers who want to try out their designs and for passengers who want to get pushed to their own limits. Researchers are developing projects using the F-104 to try out everything from space traffic control to human reactions to different physical conditions to launching satellites on quick trips into space. Click here. Editor's Note: Embry-Riddle is working with Starfighters and 4Frontiers to develop a suborbital rocket launching from underneath the F-104s. (5/30)

Groundwater Depletion Is Detected From Space (Source: New York Times)
Scientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water. They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California. (5/30)

Export Rules Slash Space Access to China (Source: Ottawa Business Journal)
It’s no secret that Ottawa sees China as a growth market. But bring up space partnerships with China and the story is very different, according to Com Dev. Com Dev develops space hardware and has been trying to bolster its presence in China for years as the Asian country reaches further into space.

But security concerns about transferring sensitive technology through the exports are standing in Com Dev’s way. Canada’s space sector depends on business outside its borders. And with the United States as Canada’s foremost trading partner, the security of export sales often comes to mind even when dealing with technology purely created in Canada to sell abroad.

Satellite sales, Com Dev’s Mr. Holdway explains, run on a “fuse”; when a company gets a contract, it expects subcontractors to be ready to go in a given amount of time, typically a year. But it can take six months to obtain the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s approval to export the technology to China. (5/30)

Satellite Firms See Opportunity in Pentagon (Source: Washington Post)
Commercial satellite and space firms are hoping the Pentagon’s increasingly tight budgets will translate into more business as military officials seek faster and cheaper options. Traditional military satellite programs have become increasingly expensive and delayed, even as the need for communications capacity continues to grow, according to the Teal Group.

Commercial options are often considered quicker ways to get satellites launched or obtain additional capacity, but the military has been resistant to relying on non-custom-built options, said a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Using commercial firms would generally require the military to “accept something that’s not exactly what you want,” he said.

But the Pentagon is becoming increasingly vocal about the end of an era of uncapped spending. In the space and satellite world, in particular, the military has taken steps toward embracing commercial options. The National Security Space Strategy released early this year, for instance, calls for exploring innovative approaches that can meet government requirements affordably and quickly. (5/30)

Reflecting on Endeavour (Source: LA Times)
Spare parts were collecting dust in warehouses in Bell, Downey and Palmdale when the urgent call came from NASA: the nation needed another space shuttle. It was the unusual beginning of the orbiter Endeavour. When it was christened in Palmdale in 1991, it was the newest and most capable of the fleet.

"It was a real clean bird," said Robert "Hoot" Gibson, the Navy aviator who flew Endeavour the year it entered service in 1992. "We didn't have any issues with that machine." But it began its life amid a political scheme to circumvent opponents by squirreling away spare parts in the hope they would someday amount to a real spacecraft.

When the Challenger was lost in an explosion in 1986, the spare-parts plan was vindicated and they suddenly became the starting point for keeping the shuttle program alive. And now the ship will come back home a museum piece where it was built, destined for a display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (5/30)

Space Shuttle Laser Test Could Help Guide Asteroid Missions (Source:
Astronauts piloted the shuttle Endeavour on a unique course back toward the International Space Station Monday, testing a next-generation laser-based navigation sensor in hopes of verifying it can help guide future voyages to the space station, distant asteroids and Mars. Called STORRM, the experiment's objective was to try out a high-tech laser navigation system that NASA could use on future voyages to the space station and beyond. (5/30)

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