August 17, 2011

For Most Made-in-the-USA Space Station Transport, Russian Technology in Critical Path (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
As commentators from around the country gnash their teeth at U.S. dependence upon Russia to move cargo and astronauts to the mostly U.S. built/funded International Space Station (ISS), they've missed the bigger boat: With one exception, all the commercial spaceflight offerings currently in the works have Soviet or Russian engines as a key part of the rockets involved.

SpaceX is the only company that can claim 100 percent “Made in the USA” rockets. All major parts, including rocket bodies and engines, are manufactured in the U.S. Orbital Sciences Corp., the other company with an ISS commercial cargo contract, has had trouble with its surplus Soviet hardware. Its Taurus II uses a first stage built by Yuzhnoye of the Ukraine and incorporates modified NK-33 engines built 40 years ago for a monster Soviet moon rocket. The NK-33s were bought by Aerojet and modified to become the AJ-26 engines that go into the Taurus II first stage. Did I mention the engines are 40 years old?

On June 9, an AJ-26 engine being tested for the first flight of the Taurus II leaked kerosene fuel and caught fire, reports Aviation Week. The fire ruined the engine and has Aerojet “evaluating” its stock of 36 engines for corrosion or other flaw, but Orbital believes there are enough good engines available to fulfill Orbital's two COTS demonstration flights and eight ISS resupply missions. (8/17)

George Abbey: Mr. Inside (Source: Air & Space)
George Abbey had more influence on human spaceflight than almost anyone in history, but few outside the field know his name. George Abbey rode with the astronauts to the launch pad before every shuttle launch, and was there to greet them when they returned. To watch George Abbey move through a Houston evening is like tagging along with an ex-mayor on a tour of his city—-in this case the neighborhood around the Johnson Space Center, home of NASA’s astronaut corps. When Abbey enters a club, people’s heads turn.

One person offers a handshake and a shared memory. Another asks a favor. Seeing familiar faces, Abbey remembers birthdays, parents’ names. He ventures opinions, none of them remotely guarded (“He’d make a great chief engineer for JSC”), then gives advice to a young engineering student hoping to study at the Moscow Aviation Institute. Now in his late 70s, Abbey has been retired from NASA for nearly a decade. With his hooded eyes, close-cropped silver hair, and solid build, he looks like an amiable grandfather, which in fact he is. Click here. (8/17)

Another Minuteman Launch Planned from Vandenberg (Source: Launch Alert)
A Minuteman III rocket will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sep. 21, probably to send an unarmed warhead on a ballistic trajectory to the central Pacific. The Defense Department will release the launch window and other details a few days in advance. (8/17)

Senators Concerned About NASA Spending on Heavy-Lift (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
A draft release of NASA's "Section 309" report on its heavy-lift launcher plans was presented to Congress in June, but it did not detail a vehicle design reference and work has not started on the program. Under Fiscal Year 2011, NASA has $1.8 billion to spend on design and building of SLS, but senators from Alabama, Louisiana are suspicious that funding will be diverted to general updating and clean-up activities at Kennedy Space Center.

In addition, the letter expresses concern that NASA is funding six separate spacecraft development efforts between the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew programs with "No comparable effort to develop a rocket capable of transporting these spacecraft beyond low earth orbit. Such misallocation of effort and resources in violation of the law." (8/17)

Department of Defense Will Examine DARPA Contracts (Source: LA Times)
Investigators at the Department of Defense have launched an inquiry into the way the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awards and administers contracts. The investigation will include an examination of a $1.75 million contract awarded to RedXDefense. The Maryland company is co-owned by the director of DARPA and run by her father. (8/16)

Editorial: Vermont Offers Opportunities in Aerospace (Source:
Vermont is famed for its maple syrup and dairy goods, but the state also offers opportunities in aerospace, writes Brian Dubie from the Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association. Vermont is ranked 14th in the country as an aerospace cluster, according to a study by the Aerospace Industries Association and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "We founded the Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association (VAAA) in 2006 to encourage the growth of good jobs in aerospace and to encourage young people to study STEM subjects that lead to satisfying careers here in Vermont," writes Dubie. (8/16)

AFSPC Commander Meets with Japanese Ambassador (Source: AFSPC)
Commander of Air Force Space Command, General William L. Shelton met with Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador of Japan to the United States of America, during an AFSPC mission brief Aug. 8, 2011 at Headquarters AFSPC, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Ambassador, who was visiting the Japanese Consulate in Denver, Colo., also paid a visit to NORAD/U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Air Force Academy while he was in the area. The visits where to emphasize the cooperation and friendship between the United States and Japan. (8/17)

Dnepr Launches with Ukraine’s Sich-2 and Several Passengers (Source:
An ISC Kosmotras Dnepr carrier rocket has launched eight satellites into Low Earth orbit. The rocket lifted off from Dombarovsky in southern Russia on Wednesday. The primary payload of this, the seventeenth Dnepr launch, was Ukraine’s Sich-2 remote sensing satellite.

As has become relatively common for Dnepr launches, several other satellites joined Sich-2 for the ride into orbit. In this case, seven secondary payloads were launched. The Dnepr carrier rocket is derived from the R-36 missile, a silo launched missile originally designed to drop large thermonuclear warheads on the United States. Dnepr is not the only orbital launch system derived from the R-36. The Tsyklon family were also developed from it, with the first version, the Tsyklon-2A, flying in October 1967. (8/17)

New Mexico Company Awarded Protective Services Contract for Spaceport America (Source: NMSA)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) selected Fiore Industries Inc. as the contractor to perform Protective Services for Spaceport America. The company was awarded a two-year base contract with a not-to-exceed value of $2.3 million and two one-year renewal options. Fiore will provide 24/7 site security, badging, firefighting, emergency medical services and environmental, safety and health requirements at Spaceport America.

Initially, the contractor will develop policies and procedures for the site security, emergency response, and risk management, as well as perform pre-operational exercises. Fiore will lead a team of companies that will work together to provide all Protective Service requirements during the two-year contract period. Other team members include: Allied Barton Security Services, LLC (ABSS); Sierra Vista Hospital New Mexico (SVH); Zia Engineering and Environmental Consultants, LLC (Zia); and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NM Tech). (8/17)

Southern-State Senators Urge White House on Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
Two Alabama senators plus senators from other states with NASA facilities are again pushing the space agency to move forward with a new heavy-lift rocket. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both of Alabama, David Vitter of Louisiana and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi sent a letter to President Barack Obama Aug. 15 urging movement.

"We write today to request that the administration immediately provide the Section 309 report to Congress, and that the Office of Management and Budget immediately release its hold and approve the program," the letter said. The Section 309 report was a congressional requirement for NASA to inform it within 90 days of the signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 what heavy-lift rocket plan NASA would use to build the agency's next big rocket. That report is now nearly 200 days late, the letter said.

Congress and the White House compromised last year on a space plan that involved commercial companies developing cargo and astronaut flights to the space station while NASA worked on a new crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket for deep space flights. The senators say all other parts of the compromise are under way except the heavy-lift rocket, which is being studied by budget experts including OMB. (8/17)

Tea Party's Final Frontier: Save Space Programs (Source: NewsMax)
Not content with stonewalling President Barack Obama’s agenda, grabbing the House of Representatives, and forcing Beltway types to change their big-spending ways, the grass-roots conservative movement is now ready to launch into the final frontier – space.

Perhaps sending the tea party movement into outer space might sound like a skit by Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. But the Tea Party in Space is a real grass-roots organization with a very serious objective: Restoring U.S. leadership in space exploration and settlement, while reining in budget-busting aerospace programs they say are costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

Andrew Gasser is a retired Air Force officer and founder of His interest in applying tea party principles to the space program began when the Obama administration canceled the Space Shuttle and Constellation programs in favor of domestic spending. “President Obama really didn’t show he had a serious vision for what he wanted America to do in space,” says Gasser. “Basically, he’s relinquishing our leadership role in that capacity. (8/17)

Marshall Can Be the Leader in Beamed Energy Research (Source: Huntsville Times)
Beamed energy for propulsion seems right out of the realm of science fiction, but it could be a major development for Marshall Space Flight Center and create new jobs, a top laser research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville says. Dr. Richard Fork at UAH's Laser Science and Engineering Lab said development of laser technology has seen major advances in recent years, and could save NASA billions in launch and propulsion costs in coming decades.

"This is a very good time for NASA to extend its efforts to bring the laser to space, because the technology has progressed for us to create greater capabilities while reducing costs," Fork said. "NASA has basically told us we can take off the gloves, and proceed with the research, which is something we could not do until recently." He says it is time for NASA to look seriously at lasers as an alternative means of propulsion. (8/16)

Fact Following Fiction? Scientists Plan Mission to Blow Up Asteroid (Source: Daily Mail)
It seemed far-fetched on the silver screen. But the European Space Agency is planning to launch a mission similar to the plot of Hollywood movie Armageddon. The real version, if it goes ahead in 2015, will see a satellite fired at break-neck speed into a ‘test’ asteroid to see if its course changes. The aim is to assess whether it would be possible to save Earth using this method, should we discover that an asteroid is on a collision course with our planet.

The mission, called Don Quijote, will involve sending two spacecraft towards a near-Earth asteroid. One will be an ‘impactor’, which is fired into the asteroid, the other an orbiter that will analyse data from the experiment. One potential target is a 1600ft-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis, which experts say does have a minute chance - around one in 250,000 - of hitting Earth in 2036, so it would be useful target practice. (8/16)

Space Elevator Conference Proves Sending an Elevator into Space is Hard (Source: Seattle Weekly)
​In a sterile conference room on Microsoft's campus, a host of entrepreneurs, NASA representatives, and amateur scientists gathered to prove something that's already been well established: Getting to space is very hard. The occasion was the 2011 Space Elevator Conference.

A space elevator would take you 62 thousand miles into orbit. It would do that, of course, if it were anywhere close to being a reality. Which it's not. A fact that was unceremoniously hammered home during the conference's final event, a NASA-sponsored challenge worth two million dollars. The problem is simple. In order to get an elevator into space--an achievement that would make both space travel and transport phenomenally cheaper than our current solution: the cumbersome, fuel-laden rocket--a new material has to be discovered.

That new material has to be both strong enough and light enough to support the tether (which itself would be anchored to an oil rig-like platform somewhere on the equator). And when compared to the best commercially available materials, that means a technological leap as great as from wood to metal. (8/16)

Cooke to Leave NASA in October (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Top NASA official Doug Cooke announced that he will retire from the agency Oct. 3 after nearly four decades at the agency, including his most recent stint as head of the agency’s exploration division. His departure has been months in the making as NASA has moved to merge his division with space operations. The new division will be headed by Bill Gerstenmaier, who ran space operations. Cooke will serve as his deputy until he leaves NASA this fall. (8/17)

Hearing Set for Globalstar, Thales Alenia Dispute (Source: Space News)
A three-judge panel assembled by the American Arbitration Association has scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing to resolve a satellite contract dispute between mobile satellite services operator Globalstar and its satellite prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space. The dispute concerns pricing terms for a second batch of 24 second-generation Globalstar satellites that Cannes, France-based Thales Alenia Space had agreed to build under a contract that has since been amended. (8/17)

Disney World Offers Hotel 'Tribute' for NASA Shuttle Workers (Source:
When NASA's storied space shuttle fleet retired last month, it sparked a flood of commemorative events across the country to honor the 30-year spaceflight program, even from the "happiest place on Earth." Through the end of September, Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Hotel is offering current and former NASA employees and contractors a special NASA rate, the hotels announced.

Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., is a mere 60 miles (100 km) west of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where the shuttles launched and usually landed. The deal is offered "as a special tribute for those responsible for our nation's space program," according to a statement from the hotel. The special rate for shuttle workers is $135 per night, in honor of the 135th and final space shuttle mission, STS-135, which flew in July 2011. (8/17)

Mystery of Saturn Moon's Bizarre Giant Cloud Solved (Source:
The mystery of a giant arrow-shaped cloud on Saturn's largest moon Titan may now be solved, a new study suggests. The enigma was likely caused by a massive wave rippling through the moon's atmosphere. The discovery could help scientists better understand similar phenomena on Earth, especially in light of changing global climate, researchers said. NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the cloud at Titan's equator in September 2010. The cloud is huge, with each side running about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) long. (8/17)

NASA Plans to Visit a Near-Earth Asteroid (Source: NASA)
In a few years a NASA spacecraft will seek the building blocks of life in a shovelful of asteroid dirt. The OSIRIS-REx1 spacecraft, targeted for launch in September 2016, will intercept asteroid 1999 RQ36, orbit it for a year, and then reach out a robotic arm to touch its surface. "We call it 'touch and go,'" explains principal investigator Michael Drake.

"OSIRIS-REx will approach the surface at 0.1 m/sec (only 0.2 mph, less than a tenth of walking pace) and, without landing, stretch out its arm equipped with a sample collector. We'll simply agitate the asteroid's surface with ultra-pure nitrogen to stir up material for capture." Asteroids appear to be as lifeless as Yorick's skull, yet material captured from 1999 RQ36 could hold clues to life's origin on Earth. (8/17)

China to Launch an Experimental Satellite in Coming Days (Source: Xinhua)
China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday said it will launch an experimental orbiter in the country's Shi-Jian satellite series in the coming days. The orbiter, SJ-11-04, will be carried into space by China's indigenous Long March II-C rocket, said a press release from the launch center which gives no further details. (8/17)

Space Adventures: Tourists Could Fly Around Moon in 2016-2017 (Source: Kyev Post)
Space Adventures will announce the names of two space tourists, who will fly around the natural satellite of the Earth on board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft in five or six years, before the end of 2011. "Such a flight is feasible in 2016-2017," head of the Russian office of Space Adventures Sergei Kostenko said. In late January 2011, Space Adventures announced that it sold to a private individual one of the two tickets to the first commercial space flight on board the Soyuz around the Moon for $150 million. (8/17)

Changing the Skyline at VAFB (Source: Santa Maria Times)
A titanic tower of history is coming down to make way for a new rocket that is changing the landscape at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Piece by piece, workers at Space Launch Complex-4 East are dismantling the former Titan 4 facility as SpaceX readies the site for its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is set to debut in early 2013. “It’s an aggressive schedule. We know that, but that’s the way SpaceX does things,” said Lee Rosen, Vandenberg site director for SpaceX. (8/17)

Futron Releases Fourth Annual Space Competitiveness Index (Source: Futron)
Futron Corp., a U.S. aerospace, satellite, and telecommunications consulting firm, is pleased to release its fourth annual Space Competitiveness Index. The Space Competitiveness Index (SCI), an independent study, compares 10 leading space-participant nations across more than 50 individual metrics that together reflect three overarching competitiveness drivers: government, human capital, and industry.

By evaluating these metrics, the Index numerically benchmarks the relative space competitiveness position of each nation. This framework allows policymakers and enterprises to pinpoint space-related strengths and weaknesses for each nation, understand how each country invests in and benefits from space industry, and make informed decisions based on the changing dynamics of global space competitiveness.

The U.S. remains the overall leader in space competitiveness, but its relative position continues to decline as other countries enhance their capabilities while the U.S. undergoes major transitions, particularly in the arena of human spaceflight. Click here to download an executive summary of the report. (8/17)

Private Space Taxis Race to the Launch Pad (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Private spacecraft will begin docking with the International Space Station before the end of the year, months sooner than planned, after NASA gave the green light for the first cargo delivery by such a capsule. SpaceX said the U.S. space agency has given tentative approval for it to conduct the late November flight. The launch will accelerate the shift to private ventures for future manned missions. The flight will feature the initial effort to dock the company's Dragon capsule—the pioneer commercial spacecraft— with the space station, orbiting more than 200 miles above the earth. (8/17)

SpaceX Fuels Falcon 9 Rocket; Dragon to Arrive Next Month (Source:
SpaceX tested its next Falcon 9 rocket during a major countdown rehearsal Monday, loading propellant into the two-stage launcher and validating improvements made to the company's Cape Canaveral launch pad before liftoff as soon as Nov. 30. The practice countdown, also known as a wet dress Rehearsal, put the Falcon 9 rocket, the launch pad and control teams through drills to get ready for launch day.

The dress rehearsal included most countdown procedures before simulating an abort at T-minus 1 second. The Falcon 9's first stage arrived at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in April, followed by the launcher's second stage in July. Workers assembled the stages inside a hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Complex 40 before rolling the booster out to the pad for Monday's countdown test.

SpaceX says engineers have upgraded the seaside launch pad since the Falcon 9's previous launch in December 2010, including adding new liquid oxygen pumps to reduce the fueling time from 90 minutes to less than 30 minutes. The improvement will streamline the Falcon 9 countdown for the next launch. The mission's payload, the first full-up Dragon spacecraft, will be shipped to Cape Canaveral in early September. (8/17)

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