June 26, 2011

You Can Hunt for Icy Worlds (Source: Space Daily)
A team at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has developed a new website, IceHunters, to challenge the public to discover Kuiper Belt objects in the outer solar system. It is hoped that among the myriad of new objects found by IceHunters there will be an object (or maybe even objects) with just the right orbit to carry it on to a rendezvous with NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

Scientists have calculated where in the sky an object moving toward a potential meeting with the New Horizons spacecraft should currently be located, and they have used some of the largest telescopes in the world to image this region. Now, those images are provided to the public for searching via IceHunters. (6/26)

Spain Aims at Military-Civilian Satellites (Source: UPI)
Spain is on track to become the first European country to have a dual Earth observation system, radar and optical, for both civilian and military use. Defense Minister Carme Chacon said radar technology installed on the satellite, which is totally of Spanish design and manufacture, will enable up to 100 images of the Earth's surface to be taken per day at a resolution of up to 1 yard. In three years' time, this capacity will be joined by that of the Ingenio satellite and its optical technology. (6/26)

The Shuttle's Last Flight (Source: Guardian)
In a few days, four astronauts will take the lift to the top of the launch tower at Cape Canaveral in Florida, and settle in their seats on the space shuttle Atlantis. The crew will wait patiently until, with only eight seconds of countdown remaining, the shuttle's massive turbo pumps will force several hundred thousand gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen together inside the spacecraft's three main engines.

In seconds, temperatures in the engines will soar to 6,000C and super-heated steam will blast from the spaceship. Two boosters, containing an explosive mixture of aluminum powder and perchlorate oxidizer, will be ignited; the giant bolts holding the straining shuttle to the ground will be blown open and, if all goes well, Atlantis will rise on a pillar of white vapor on its way into orbit – and history. The last flight of a space shuttle will have begun. (6/26)

Discover Oklahoma: Focus on Oklahoma Astronauts (Source: The Oklahoman)
Historians often have focused on Oklahoma's pioneer legacy, from Indian Territory to land runs, early statehood and the development of towns and cities, but Oklahomans also have helped pioneer aviation and the exploration of space. Starting with Gordon Cooper in 1959, eight astronauts with Oklahoma background have joined crews on significant space missions. Scientists and engineers from Oklahoma also have played significant roles.

Now, the Oklahoma Historical Society has expanded its aviation and space exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. In addition, Oklahoma's role in space is celebrated by “Oklahomans and Space,” a new highly visual book by Bill Moore, a former historical society film archivist. (6/26)

Space Academy in Alabama Caters to Adult Wannabe Astronauts (Source: Columbus Dispatch)
Thanks to the Adult Space Academy offered at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville at the end of each summer, I now understood the attraction of baseball fantasy camps and the like. After I arrived for my two-night stay, I spent some time before check-in at the center's Davidson Center for Space Exploration museum, which is a space-geek destination in itself. (6/26)

First Serbian in Space (Source: SE Times)
The owner and director of an IT high school in Novi Sad, 32-year-old Nebojsa Jovanovic will be one of the first space tourists that will fly from the United States in 2012, organized by the British company Virgin Galactic. Initially, Jovanovic had little hope of being selected, but soon after registering, received a phone call from London.

"I could not believe I entered the selection so easily," Jovanovic said. When I realized that I'm indeed among the first in the world to reserve a seat for space travel, giving up was not an option!" Jovanovic said he is an adventurer by nature. He has visited many remote and inaccessible places in the world and the space tour will be the seal on all of his adventures, he said. (6/24)

Canadian Teen Could Become Youngest Space Tourist (Source: CTV)
A Canadian teen could become the youngest person ever to go into space. The 17-year-old Calgary boy is among hundreds of space tourists who have already reserved their place for a flight into the cosmos. So far, 440 individuals have paid deposits for trips aboard billionaire Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceships and are waiting for final tests to be completed. The teenager didn't want to be identified.

Virgin Galactic won't fly anyone under 18. The travel agent says it could be another year or two before the teenager, who will be accompanied by a parent, will actually fly, but in the meantime his family doesn't want him doing any interviews. (6/26)

Russia to the Rescue in NASA Back-Up Plan (Source: Florida Today)
If Atlantis is damaged so severely that it becomes unsafe for re-entry, the crew's visit could get a lot longer, with at least one of them unlikely to get home again until next May. The crew would stay on the station and make staggered returns on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. To accomplish that, NASA would forgo the launch of U.S. astronauts to the station to free up seats on the Russian ships.

Since Columbia and seven astronauts were lost during atmospheric re-entry in 2003, when heat shield damage went undetected, NASA always has had a second shuttle ready for a rescue mission. But this time, there's no backup. "It's a well thought out but lengthy process," Atlantis mission commander Chris Ferguson said. It's also highly unlikely it will have to be put to use. (6/26)

Politics Won't Stop Space Innovation (Source: Florida Today)
Human curiosity can't be contained. The desire to explore is strong. The longing of innovators and visionaries to venture deeper into our solar system, and beyond, will not be derailed by the political paralysis plaguing the nation's space agency. While NASA studies, starts, cancels -- then restudies and restarts again -- efforts to continue human space exploration, it may seem progress is stymied.

The agency is under assault from Congress for not fielding a shuttle follow-up program. The politicos are too focused on micromanaging the "ship-building" or, more specifically, rocketship-building that best benefits their state or district or -- cynics might say -- their favorite contractors. Little of their guidance seems focused on what makes the most sense for the United States or humankind.

Visionaries like Robert Bigelow in Las Vegas and Elon Musk in California are trying to change the game. Yes, they're doing some work on smallish NASA contracts. The space agency is tied in to parts of their work and deserves credit for that. (6/24)

As Military Launch Costs Soar, Would-Be Competitors Protest (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA workers looking for a job after space shuttle Atlantis' final flight likely won't have much luck at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which has launched a generation of military and national-intelligence satellites. The military-rocket business isn't doing too well — at least according to United Launch Alliance.

Company officials said the cost of parts has gone up, and the uncertainty of post-shuttle work at NASA has resulted in subcontractors raising prices. As a result, ULA is sharply increasing the prices it charges the Defense Department to launch military satellites, prompting the Air Force to raise its projected launch costs by nearly 50 percent during the next four years.

In addition, the company is demanding — and federal officials are acquiescing — that government agencies commit to buying more rockets than they're likely to need from 2013 to 2017. Newcomers like SpaceX are protesting that this perpetuates ULA's monopoly dominance of the market. The result, they contend, will restrict competition, ensure higher launch costs — and ultimately reduce the number of rockets that government agencies and private companies can afford to launch. (6/26)

Despite High-Profile Failure, Diverse Contracts Position Orbital for Growth (Source: Arizona Republic)
Orbital Sciences Corp. was riding a wave of success when disaster struck in early March. The company was preparing to celebrate its first year in a state-of-the-art satellite facility in Arizona. It had landed a contract for 81 Iridium NEXT satellites. Work on the first of what are expected to be several Earth monitoring satellites was progressing nicely, with a launch date set for late 2012.

But when a faulty Orbital Sciences rocket designed and engineered in Chandler failed to deliver a $424 million satellite into orbit for NASA, disappointment and investigations ensued. The mishap occurred when the rocket's nose-cone fairing encasing the Glory satellite did not separate. It was the second unsuccessful launch in two years of a Taurus XL rocket and an Orbital-built NASA Earth-orbiting satellite, projects that cost $700 million and years of work.

Despite its NASA failures, industry analysts say the company is well-positioned for growth, and its local facilities are poised to take business away from larger companies. The Arizona factory has excess capacity but is beginning to fill up, and the company is expected to land its share of future military and intelligence satellite work. Click here to read the article. (6/26)

Rocket Launch Set for Tuesday at Wallops (Source: Baltimore Sun)
If skies are clear and all goes well Tuesday evening, observers throughout Maryland and much of the Mid-Atlantic region should be able to watch a big rocket launch from Virginia's Wallops Island. The Air Force will attempt to launch a battlefield imaging satellite into orbit from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The ORS-1 satellite will ride atop a four-stage, solid-fuel Minotaur 1 rocket, the largest ever launched from the Delmarva peninsula. Previous Minotaur launches have been seen from as far away as southern New England, eastern North Carolina and the eastern half of West Virginia. But visitors to the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia beaches will have a front-row seat. (6/25)

Coats Expects Johnson Space Center Cutbacks (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Employees of aerospace companies aren’t the only ones headed for the unemployment line. Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats thinks there probably will be a slight adjustment at JSC also. “Our center is already scheduled to receive about $1.5 billion less in Fiscal Year 2012 than in the current year, when we received about $6 billion,” he said. "[Significant reductions are] almost guaranteed. It is true that 2011 and 2012 will be transition years for our center." (6/26)

White Sands Space Harbor will Permanently Close in August (Source: Alamogordo Daily News)
The White Sands Space Harbor, the landing site for the STS-3 in 1982, will be closing its doors after 35 years due to the end of the space shuttle program; the last launch is scheduled to take place in July. Several NASA officials from Houston and a handful of astronauts were present during an unofficial ceremony June 13 that honored the long hours and hard work White Sands Space Harbor employees contributed to shuttle missions and extensive astronaut pilot training. (6/26)

Help Wanted: Replacement for Rockets (Source: USA Today)
Amid a fierce fight today among firms to build a rocket to replace the space shuttle, some of the development dough would be better spent on a newer technology than one invented by Chinese alchemists at least eight centuries ago, chemical rockets.

All chemical rockets, whether using solid fuels or liquid fuels, rely on chemical energy, in a process better known as burning, to thrust a rocket skyward. There is only so much energy released in breaking the bonds between atoms that this entails. Aerospace engineers rate the efficiency of propellants in terms of "specific impulse," the change in momentum each pound of fuel provides, a quantity measured in seconds. For chemical rockets, this value tops out around 453 seconds, seen in the space shuttle's main engines.

That's pretty low. For comparison, the ion thrusters aboard NASA's Dawn mission now closing in on the asteroid Vesta, which rely on radio waves liberating electrons from Xenon gas atoms, have a specific impulse of 3,100 seconds. Sadly, ion rockets provide thrusts far too weak to get a piece of paper off the ground, much less a satellite. Click here to read the article. (6/26)

LightSquared/GPS Fight Goes International (Source: NextGov)
The battle over plans by LightSquared to start up a broadband network that could interfere with GPS has gone international, with the United Nations body that oversees air navigation standards concerned about the system potentially disrupting aviation operations. This nugget of information is buried deep inside a briefing memo, prepared for members of House subcommittees that oversee aviation and the Coast Guard. (6/26)

Ariane Rocket Aims to Pick Up the Pace (Source: BBC)
There's a stage as you move towards middle-age when you think you might be getting on top of things - that you can handle most of anything that's chucked at you. Then you look at what the youngsters are doing and you suddenly realize you'd better up your game or you could be overrun.

So it is with Europe's Ariane 5 rocket. After a troublesome youth, the vehicle has matured into an ultra-reliable performer. Its consistency - 44 successful missions on the bounce - means it is now the number one choice to launch a big commercial telecommunications satellite. A half of all these spacecraft that go into orbit each year will ride Europe's "battle-horse" launcher.

And yet, even as Ariane sits on top of the pack, there's a recognition it needs to move forward. The market in which it functions is currently enjoying strong orders, a consequence of the fact that many satellite owners are in the process of upgrading their fleets. Arianespace has benefited from this buoyancy and currently has a backlog of satellites waiting to launch that is worth some four billion euros (£3.5bn). (6/26)

Test Stand Fire Threatens Taurus 2 Launch Schedule (Source: Space News)
An Aerojet AJ-26 main engine undergoing acceptance testing for the inaugural flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Taurus 2 rocket was badly damaged June 9 when a metal fuel line ruptured, causing the engine and test stand to catch fire, according to a source with knowledge of the mishap. The fuel line that failed was part of the engine, not the test stand, the source said. The AJ-26 team investigating the mishap suspects a flaw in the metal used for that particular fuel line.

Three AJ-26 engines have completed acceptance testing at Stennis and been delivered to Orbital’s Taurus 2 integration facility at Wallops Island. Two of those engines were intended to be used for an upcoming hold-down test of the Taurus 2’s first stage and then refurbished for the rocket’s second flight. The other engine already at Wallops was to have been paired with the now-damaged engine for the Taurus 2’s maiden launch, targeted for October.

That launch — a demonstration flight meant to help qualify the vehicle to launch cargo capsules bound for the international space station — now appears likely to slip at least a month since the next available engine still must undergo acceptance testing at Stennis, according to the source. (6/25)

SpaceShipTwo Keeps Passing Glide Tests with Flying Colors (Source: Space.com)
SpaceShipTwo, a privately built rocket plane designed to take tourists on suborbital flights, continues to chalk up more flight time as it glides through the skies over the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Another successful glide test took place June 23, marking the 14th for the vessel — an 8-minute, 55-second free fall after midair release from its mothership. The test came a week after VSS Enterprise proved it could be flown on back-to-back days. (6/24)

White House Raises Milspace Concerns In Bill (Source: Aviation Week)
The Obama administration is warning that House defense spending language for fiscal 2012 could, if enacted, delay or derail several military space and satellite programs. According to the White House statement of administration policy over H.R. 2219, issued June 23, programs that could be affected include the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), the Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr) Spacecraft and the Assured Satcom Services in Single Theater (Assist). (6/25)

Small Asteroid to Whip Past Earth on June 27 (Source: NASA JPL)
Near-Earth asteroid 2011 MD will pass only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) above the Earth's surface on June 27 at about 9:30 EDT. This small asteroid, only 5-20 meters in diameter, is in a very Earth-like orbit about the Sun, but an orbital analysis indicates there is no chance it will actually strike Earth on Monday. If a rocky asteroid the size of 2011 MD were to enter Earth's atmosphere, it would be expected to burn up high in the atmosphere and cause no damage to Earth's surface. (6/25)

House Appropriators Again Deny Pu-238 Funding in DOE Bill (Source: Space Policy Online)
Once again, congressional appropriators have turned down the Administration's request for funding within the Department of Energy (DOE) bill to restart production of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) needed for NASA's space probes. A Committee report said that it remained concerned that the Administration wants DOE to pay for half the costs when it is NASA that benefits from the Pu-238.

"The Committee remains concerned that the Administration continues to request equal funding from NASA and the Department of Energy for a project that primarily benefits NASA. The Committee provides no funds for this project, and encourages the Administration to devise a plan for this project that more closely aligns the costs paid by federal agencies with the benefits they receive."

This is the third time Congress has said no to providing DOE funds. Historically DOE has built all of NASA's radioisotope power supplies (RPS's). DOE is the only U.S. entity permitted by law to make or store nuclear materials. NASA uses RPS's to provide warmth and electricity for spacecraft that travel too far from the Sun to use solar energy or spend long periods in darkness on lunar or planetary surfaces. (6/25)

Sierra Nevada Completes Milestones for NASA Commercial Crew Program (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Space Systems (SNC) has completed two significant milestones under the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) Program. On June 1, SNC completed its DreamChaser Systems Requirement Review (SRR), validating the design against NASA’s draft Commercial Crew Program Requirements.

Two weeks later, SNC completed a review of the selection of the improved airfoil fin shape to be used on the DreamChaser. The fin will improve the handling qualities of the spacecraft as it flies in the atmosphere on return from space to a gentle runway landing. Wind tunnel testing and computational fluid dynamics analyses were used to complete the fin selection milestone work, according to SNC's president. (6/24)

Space Coast Faces Uncertain Future (Source: St. Pete Times)
This East Central Florida region is still clutching to a Space Coast-light identity with a small but growing cluster of jobs connected to commercial space exploration through companies such as California-based SpaceX. Economic development leaders envision glory days returning someday with the region a national focal point not just for launching rockets but building satellites, developing defense radar systems and dissecting the scientific riches discovered in space.

Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, is sticking with the goal he set in late 2009 when he was tapped to run the state-created economic development arm for aerospace — namely, tripling Florida's aerospace industry within 10 years. "Absolutely … it will happen," he said. "There will be a major next-generation space program, and Florida will play a key role."

But nobody is fooling themselves that the transition will be easy. More pain lies ahead as about 2,300 more space-related jobs disappear in July alone. "I don't want you to feel for a minute that we're in any way underestimating this challenge," said Lynda Weatherman. "We're in for a tough three years." The challenge is keeping the talent cluster tethered to the area as the economy recovers and a new technological base of higher-paying jobs takes root. (6/26)

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