June 18, 2011

A (Partial) SLS Competition in the Works? (Source: Space Politics)
Reports on Thursday indicated that NASA has settled on a design for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift booster that would be largely shuttle-derived, but would offer some room for competition. The SLS design will be only slightly different from the reference design released in an interim report to Congress in January, using a core stage based on the shuttle’s external tank and fitted with Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), later transitioning to the RS-25E expendable variant. The upper stage would use the J-2X engine.

That reference design had originally called for the use of five-segment solid rocket boosters. While the reports indicated that SRBs will be used for initial launches, there will be a competition between SRBs and a liquid-propellant booster built by Teledyne Brown and powered by a variant of Aerojet’s AJ-26 engine (itself based on Russian NK-33 engines), at least for the “evolved” beyond Earth orbit SLS version.

That approach would at least partially address calls for an open SLS competition made earlier this week by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), which came on the heels of a similar letter by Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), especially since Teledyne Brown is based in Alabama and Aerojet is headquartered in California. (6/17)

NASA Official Gives "Impassioned" Speech on Poor Policy Guidance (Source: Space Politics)
NASASpaceFlight.com article cites an “impassioned” speech by shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach after a recent countdown simulation where he was critical of the lack of information regarding what happens after the shuttle. “The end of the shuttle program is a tough thing to swallow and we’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington DC, both at the NASA level and the executive branch of the government,” Leinbach said. “I’m embarrassed that we don’t have better guidance out of Washington DC.” (6/17)

Star Shooting Intense Water Jets Into Space (Source: Huffington Post)
A star shooting water is almost an oxymoron. But a young sun-like star seems to have been spotted 750 light-years from Earth doing just that, as researchers have apparently discovered, according to PopSci. Their findings indicate that the proto-star is shooting water from its poles at about 124,000 miles per hour.

Essentially, it's creating water bullets that it shoots deep into interstellar space, according to National Geographic. This star is no more than 100,000 years old, and is located in the northern constellation Perseus. The star was found by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, which was able to see through a dense layer of gas that surrounded it. (6/18)

Mobile Satellite Revenue Expected To Grow 7 Percent Annually (Source: Space News)
Global mobile satellite revenue will grow by 7 percent per year over the next 10 years while the number of mobile satellite service subscribers will grow by 13 percent annually, according to a forecast by the Euroconsult consultancy of Paris.

Driving the growth in the number of devices will be small machine-to-machine (M2M) devices, whose cost will decline as their volume increases. M2M subscribers typically pay much lower monthly fees for their low-data-rate gear than do subscribers to satellite telephones and higher-speed two-way data units. That would explain the sharp difference in growth rate between revenue and subscribers. (6/17)

USAF: Experimental X-51 WaveRider Flight Was 'Less Than Successful' (Source: LA Times)
The U.S. Air Force had its latest attempt at fine-tuning hypersonic scramjet engine technology this week when its experimental X-51 WaveRider was launched in the Point Mugu Naval Air Test Range over the Pacific Ocean. The results for the unmanned aircraft were "less than successful," according to the Air Force.

A B-52 took off from Edwards Air Force Base and flew to 50,000 feet near Point Mugu. Once there, it dropped the X-51, which fell like a bomb for about four seconds before its booster rocket engine ignited. The X-51 was supposed to separate from the rocket and speed across the sky, powered by an air-breathing combustion engine, but that didn't happen.

After the rocket engine separated, just 9 seconds later a lapse in airflow to the jet engine caused a shutdown and the X-51 plunged into the ocean as planned. The X-51 was developed by engineers at Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park. (6/17)

Huge Heat Shield to Protect NASA's Next Mars Rover (Source: Space.com)
When NASA's newest Mars rover dives into the Martian atmosphere next year, it will be cocooned in the largest "beat the heat" system ever sent to the Red Planet. To ensure that the nuclear-powered rover — called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), or "Curiosity" — survives its fiery entry and reaches a pinpointed landing spot, it will have a huge heat shield and back shell that together form a protective aeroshell.

The heat shield is outfitted with something called the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) — a set of sensors that will record atmospheric conditions and gauge how well the heat shield thwarts the brutal welcoming that Curiosity will receive high above the red Martian dirt. (6/17)

ATV Preparing for Fiery Destruction (Source: ESA)
ATV Johannes Kepler has been an important part of the International Space Station since February. Next week, it will complete its mission by undocking and burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere high over an uninhabited area of the Pacific Ocean. Serving the International Space Station is a valuable job but it will come to a spectacular end: ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle, packed with Station rubbish, will deliberately plummet to its destruction on Tuesday in Earth’s atmosphere. (6/18)

New NASA Langley Research Center Office Opens (Source: AP)
Employees at NASA's Langley Research Center have a brand new home that the space agency says will save millions of dollars each year and breathe new life into an aging campus that's home to some of the nation's best scientists. NASA officials formally moved into their new $26 million headquarters on Friday, although workers have gradually been moving in for weeks.

The new headquarters is the first large office building built on the Langley campus in 35 years. It is part of Langley's 'New Town' campus project, which involves the construction of five other buildings in roughly two-year cycles while other aging buildings will be demolished. (6/18)

Boeing Waits on NASA Decision to Boost Michoud Workforce (Source: New Orleans City Business)
Boeing is awaiting a decision from NASA that could more than double its work force at the Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. The existing Michoud presence for Boeing, which is based in Chicago, is currently about 100 employees who are already working in support of NASA’s Space Launch System mandate. Congress authorized the SLS in 2010 to expand space exploration to new destinations, including Mars and asteroids, by 2016.

Boeing is hoping NASA will accept its proposal to build the booster rockets, known as cryogenic propulsive stages, for the new system. That would immediately ramp up production and hiring, said Jim Chilton, vice president of exploration launch services for the company. A configuration that doesn’t make use of Boeing’s current work would result in the company shutting down its entire Michoud operation. And even a decision favorable to Boeing won’t necessarily guarantee job security for its Michoud employees. (6/18)

Making Star Trek Reality: NASA Wants Ideas (Source: Information Week)
The Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA are soliciting ideas from the public for technology and other considerations for how to send people on long-distance manned spaceflights in 100 years. DARPA and the space agency collaboratively this fall will hold a symposium on their 100-Year-Starship study, which aims, a century from now, to fly humans to the outer reaches of the solar system in ways so far only possible in sci-fi movies. The agencies are seeking abstracts for ideas to be presented at the meeting.

People will be invited to speak on a variety of research angles through different topic tracks, including technology as well as various sociological, economic, legal, and philosophical considerations for the type of travel the agencies are proposing. Other tracks will focus on the biological and medical needs that must be considered; destinations for travel; and ways to communicate to the public about their vision for the program. (6/17)

FCC Gives LightSquared More Time For Report (Source: Aviation Week)
Amid mounting evidence that its planned wireless broadband network will interfere with GPS, Reston, Va.-based LightSquared has requested and received a two-week extension to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) June 15 deadline for filing a report on the extent of the interference. (6/17)

Shuttle Engine Valve To Be Replaced (Source: Aviation Week)
This week’s test to verify a modification to space shuttle Atlantis’ fuel tank ended up revealing a leaky valve in one of the shuttle’s main engines, a problem that would have remained latent until launch day, prompting a scrub. The main fuel line valve on Main Engine No. 3 will be replaced, work that NASA believes can be accomplished concurrently with routine prelaunch preparations, preserving a targeted launch date of July 8. (6/17)

NASA’s Heavy-lift Launcher Would First Fly With Solid Rocket Boosters (Source: Space News)
Facing mounting pressure to bring industrial competition to a congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket development program, NASA has tentatively selected a vehicle design featuring solid-fueled, side-mounted boosters that eventually could be replaced with liquid-fueled engines, according to U.S. industry and congressional sources.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has approved a design for the Space Launch System (SLS) whose core and upper stages would utilize space shuttle- and Apollo-heritage propulsion systems, respectively, these sources said. For the side-mounted boosters, NASA would continue development of shuttle-derived solid-rocket motors while initiating work on a brand new engine likely fueled by liquid kerosene, sources said.

Under the plan, awaiting approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget, initial flights of the SLS would utilize the solid-rocket motors, developed by ATK Aerospace Systems of Magna, Utah. ATK is under contract to develop an advanced version of the space shuttle solid-rocket booster under NASA’s now-defunct Constellation program. (6/17)

NASA: Despite Budget Stress, US Space Ties Strong (Source: AFP)
Relations between the United States and its partners in space remain strong, despite tighter budgets and concerns about costs and delays in building the space station, NASA chief Charles Bolden said on Friday. "We're talking about having vision and looking to the future, but planning that future in a very constrained fiscal environment," Bolden said in an interview on a tour to meet with European counterparts.

"I wouldn't say we're scaling back the dreams, what we're doing is that we are de-scoping, or at least discussing ways to de-scope, some of the missions that we've been planning for a number of years to fit within tighter budgetary constraints." Bolden explained that "de-scoping" entailed scrutinizing joint projects to pare back some costs but without affecting their key goals. (6/17)

SpaceX Sues Expert Who Questioned Safety of Falcon 9 Rocket (Source: Space News)
SpaceX is suing Herndon, Va.-based Valador Inc. and its vice president, Joe Fragola, for making what SpaceX says were defamatory allegations about the safety and reliability of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. At the heart of the lawsuit is a June 8 email Fragola allegedly sent to NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance, Bryan O’Connor, saying he was trying to verify a rumor that the Falcon 9’s first stage experienced a significant anomaly during its December launch of the Dragon space capsule.

“I have just heard a rumor, and I am trying now to check its veracity, that the Falcon 9 experienced a double engine failure in the first stage and that the entire stage blew up just after the first stage separated. I also heard that this information was being held from NASA until SpaceX can ‘verify’ it.” SpaceX denies there were any such problems. "As an ‘expert,’ Fragola should have known the notion of the first stage ‘blowing up’ was abjectly untrue,” according to SpaceX.

In its complaint, SpaceX says Fragola sought a consulting contract worth up to $1 million, claiming the company needed his independent analysis of the Falcon 9 “to bolster its reputation with NASA based on what he called an unfair ‘perception’ about SpaceX.” “SpaceX subsequently learned that Fragola... has been contacting officials in the U.S. Government to make disparaging remarks about SpaceX, which have created the very ‘perception’ that he claimed SpaceX needed his help to rectify,” SpaceX’s claim states. Click here. (6/17)

Official Urges Against Breaking up NOAA (Source: Space News)
As the White House considers organizational changes for federal economic and trade offices, it should not break apart the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because of the integral nature of air and water observation, NOAA’s deputy administrator said. One improvement that could be made within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be to move NOAA funding from the category of General Government Programs to Natural Resource Programs, said Kathryn Sullivan. (6/17)

When Secret Sats Spy on Us, Monsieur Legault Spies Back (Source: WIRED)
From mysterious robotic space planes to giant spy satellites the size of school buses, space is teeming with secret American hardware meant to gaze down on insurgents, terrorists and, well, everybody on the third rock from the sun. For mere proles like you and me, it can be hard to get a straight answer from the Air Force, NASA and other space-faring agencies about precisely what is up there, what it’s doing and where exactly it all is at a given moment.

Now a pair of enterprising Frenchmen have decided to answer at least one of those questions for themselves, using a modified consumer-grade telescope, a small motor, a hand-held controller and a video camera. The result is a do-it-yourself satellite tracker capable of recording the movements of America’s most secretive spacecraft. Click here. (6/17)

Blind Eye In The Sky: Weather Satellites Lose Funding (Source: NPR)
Government officials are forecasting a turbulent future for the nation's weather satellite program. Federal budget cuts are threatening to leave the U.S. without some critical satellites, the officials say, and that could mean less accurate warnings about events like tornadoes and blizzards. In particular, officials at NOAA are concerned about satellites that orbit over the earth's poles rather than remaining over a fixed spot along the equator.

If we go blind, if there actually is a gap between the last satellite and this, it certainly will erode the reliability and accuracy of our forecasts. These satellites are "the backbone" of any forecast beyond a couple of days, says Kathryn Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, and NOAA's deputy administrator. (6/17)

Mars or Bust in 2016: New Unmanned Mission to the Red Planet (Source: FOX News)
America and Europe have come together with one motto in mind -- Mars or Bust: 2016. On the intergalactic road trip, the latest collaboration between the European Space Administration (ESA) and NASA, the space agencies will send an orbiter and a descent and landing module to brave the red planet's harsh dust storms in 2016 and then again in 2018.

They'll study the atmosphere and conditions on the planet, hunt for signs of life -- and possibly return Martian samples to Earth. Called the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission, the venture came to fruition when both ESA and NASA realized that neither had the resources needed to go it alone. The result, the Joint Mars Exploration Program, was formed. (6/18)

NASA Langley Opens $26 Million Office (Source: DailyPress.com)
NASA opened the first of six new buildings planned at Langley Research Center on Friday, part of a $330 million effort to modernize the space agency's oldest campus. "It is a like a new child," Langley Director Lesa Roe said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 72,000-square-foot administration building. With its sleek angles, large windows, green roof and solar panels, the building contrasts with Langley's aging wind tunnels and brick office buildings, many of which date back to the space race of the 1960s. (6/17)

DoD ORS-1 Satellite Being Prepped for Launch at Wallops Island (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
The Department of Defense's Operational Responsive Space satellite (ORS-1) is at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) being prepared for launch on June 28. With a launch window between 8:28 and 11:28 PM EDT, NASA says the launch may be visible all the way from southern New York to North Carolina on the east coast and may be seen as far west as West Virginia and all of Pennsylvania.

ORS-1 will be launched onboard an Orbital Sciences Minotaur I rocket. The Minotaur I is a four-stage rocket, with its first two stages using decommissioned Minuteman II ICBM rocket motors – a modern-day version of swords to plowshares – combine with Orbital Pegasus XL and Taurus XL solid rocket motors. This will be the fourth Minotaur I rocket launched from NASA's Wallops Flight facility and MARS since December 2006. (6/17)

Spaceport Sheboygan Now Open to the Public (Source: Sheboygan Press)
They haven't finished building it quite yet, but supporters of Spaceport Sheboygan in the Sheboygan Armory – which opened June 7 to the public full-time – are hoping they will start coming anyway. "Nobody came (the first day on June 7), but school was in session," said Daniel Bateman, Spaceport's director of educational operations. "Friday was the first day we had people." But that will pick up, hopefully, especially on Saturday during Harbor Fest, when Spaceport Sheboygan will be open for free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (6/18)

Will Budget Cuts Stall Search for Other Earths? (Source: CS Monitor)
The hunt for planets orbiting other stars and capable of harboring life has reached a crossroads. Never has the young field of "exoplanet" research been so ripe with promise, its practitioners say, with dozens of new planet candidates emerging every year. But now, with scientists ready to take the next step and discern whether any of these planets might have the potential conditions for life, the rug has been pulled from beneath them. (6/17)

Two orbiting observatories seen as crucial to taking the measure of exoplanets and their atmospheres in detail have been scrapped. Budget cuts are one reason, but infighting within the scientific community made those cuts easier, according to several accounts. It leaves exoplanet hunters seeking creative solutions, such as retrofitting one space telescope with a special shade or sending up shoebox-size mini-observatories to nibble away at the job. (6/17)

Editorial: The Surprise Space Policy Debate (Source: Washington Examiner)
There was an unexpected question from the local press to former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on space policy last night. It caught all of the other candidates off guard, but Newt was happy to knock it out of the park, as no doubt the questioner hoped he would do.

Newt is almost certainly the most informed candidate on this issue, having been personally interested in and involved with space policy for over three decades, though most don't realize it. He was a rare Republican voice of reason last year when he jointly published an op-ed with former U.S. Rep. (and chairman of the House Science Committee) Robert Walker (R-Pa.) supporting the Obama administration's new space policy.

Next year, most of the states in which space is locally important -- Alabama, Texas, Utah, California -- won't be battlegrounds. The only exception is the swing state of Florida, which the administration will almost certainly have to win again if it is to retain the White House. But it only affects a few thousand jobs on the so-called "Space Coast." The new policy will also create many new jobs, and ones less dependent on NASA budget levels, as new commercial markets start to be serviced by the new generation of space companies. (6/17)

LightSquared and GPS Cannot Coexist (Source: NextGov.com)
That's the conclusion of a report on GPS interference caused by the broadband cellular system planned by LightSquared. The upstart's system would disrupt all kinds of GPS systems, including those intended to keep planes from flying into each other, according National Position, Navigation and Timing Engineering Forum, a multiagency group chartered to assess GPS technical issues.

The Engineering Forum provided broad details on GPS interference tests conducted with the LightSquared system last week, but the full report provided to Congress early this week said the LightSquared system "cannot [emphasis included] coexist with GPS." The Engineering Forum -- as Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, did yesterday -- recommended the FCC rescind the waiver it granted LightSquared to operate 40,000 cell towers whose signals knock out far weaker GPS signals. (6/17)

No comments: