August 30, 2011

SpaceX Lobbyist Bitterman Resigns (Source: Space News)
Mark Bitterman, the veteran lobbyist who in June left Orbital Sciences Corp. to work for rival rocket builder SpaceX has now resigned from SpaceX. Bitterman, who formally joined SpaceX in July, resigned “for personal reasons — family obligations that require more time and attention than the demands of this job would allow,” Kirstin Brost Grantham, a Washington-based spokeswoman for SpaceX, said Aug. 30.

She added that “on an interim basis, the SpaceX Government Affairs team will be managed by Tim Hughes, SpaceX’s General Counsel.” Before going to SpaceX, Bitterman had spent 19 years with Orbital, most recently as its vice president of government relations. (8/30)

Wanted - New Small Satellite Launch Vehicles (Source: Japanese in Space)
Small satellites are growing in popularity for many reasons. As a result, the search is on for more flexible and cost-effective small satellite launch solutions. The Japanese government's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has funded a project known as the Air Launch System Enabling Technology R&D (ALSET) program. ALSET was initiated in 2009 to determine the viability of various airborne launch technologies.

There is considerable emphasis on overall flexibility and responsiveness. In addition to launch vehicle loading and deployment, for example, attitude stabilization at the time of ignition in the air, and technologies relevant to the drop sequence need to be verified. If everything goes according to plan, the work undertaken by the ALSET team will help ensure that small payloads - 100 kg to 200 kg - will be launched someday using a multi-stage solid rocket mated to an existing aircraft. (8/30)

Proton Breeze-M Upper Stage Cleared To Resume Flying (Source: Space News)
In a remarkably quick end to a launch failure investigation even by Russian standards, a Russian state board of inquiry on Aug. 30 announced it had determined the cause of an Aug. 18 failure of a Proton rocket upper stage, ordered corrective actions and cleared the vehicle to resume operations, according to the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. (8/30)

Proton-Launched Express AM-4 Satellite Declared a Loss (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Express AM-4 satellite put to a wrong orbit on August 18 cannot be used properly, the Space Communications Federal State Unitary Enterprise reported. “Space Communications declared the full loss of the satellite and put an indemnity claim to Ingosstrakh. The indemnity will exceed 7.5 billion rubles,” the company said. The ground control station had hoped that despite the loss of signal the booster’s engine would start up for the fifth time to put the satellite to the designated orbit. Their hopes proved wrong. (8/30)

Chang'e-2 Moon Orbiter Travels Around L2 Point (Source: Xinhua)
China's second moon orbiter, the Chang'e-2, has arrived in outer space about 1.5 million km away from Earth and is now orbiting the second Lagrange Point (L2), where gravity from the sun and Earth balances the orbital motion of a satellite. Chang'e-2 entered L2's orbit at 11:27 p.m. last Thursday after spending 77 days traveling away from its previous orbital path around the moon. (8/30)

To Mars and Beyond – Superfast Broadband's Final Frontier (Source: Guardian)
Next time you're moaning about your sluggish broadband connection, spare a thought for NASA. The US space agency currently relies on radio broadcasts to transmit information across the solar system and beyond, which not only uses a lot of power but makes for slow transfer speeds. The current connection with Mars, for example, can send data at a rate of only around 6Mbps: the same as the average broadband connection in the UK, and you don't have to share it with a whole planet.

Now NASA has announced a long-overdue upgrade. It will be testing a new system of sending signals via lasers instead of radio – the space equivalent of using fiber-optic cables. Sending a pulse of laser not only requires less power, but it can carry more information. This lasercom technology should be ready to launch by 2015 and will increase speeds by up to 100 times, which certainly puts the 14% of Britain still struggling with 2Mbps connections in the shade. (8/30)

Griffin: Obama Focused on Killing Human Spaceflight (Source: Space News)
"If we assume a more realistic funding profile, one that is consistent with existing law, we can deliver a human spaceflight system that is affordable, realistic and will continue to keep America pre-eminent in space with the return of human spaceflight by 2017. If NASA were to adopt an approach that funds SLS at $1.6 billion per year (well within authorized and appropriated amounts), such a program would enable:

A) A test flight of a 70-metric ton rocket in 2017 (core plus solid boosters — no upper stage); B) A deep-space-capable SLS (130-metric tons with upper stage) by the end of this decade with flights each year thereafter; C) A lower-cost, higher-performance booster stage — selected through full and open competition — ready in the 2020 time frame.

There are some true heroes at NASA who are clearly focused on affordability and sustainability. They should be commended for their innovation and their approach, which is closer to what Congress approved and the president signed into law. Unfortunately, this administration is focused on killing human spaceflight by the death of a thousand cuts. (8/30)

Space Agencies Set Two Courses (Source: MSNBC)
To the moon? Or to an asteroid? Both destinations have been in NASA's sights. Now a "Global Exploration Roadmap" being drawn up by NASA and its counterparts around the world lays out a 25-year scenario for each of the two paths leading beyond Earth orbit. Both of the paths are aimed at the same eventual destination: Mars. And some observers are suggesting the best course is to aim directly at the Red Planet, rather than making stopovers along the way.

The moon vs. asteroid debate was brought back into the spotlight during the deliberations of a panel known as the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, or ISECG. The group, which includes representatives from Britain, Canada, the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, was established as a coordination forum for space exploration back when NASA was aiming for a return to the moon by 2020.

Over the past year, the group has retooled the long-term global strategy for space exploration. "It begins with the International Space Station and expands human presence throughout the solar system, leading ultimately to human missions to explore the surface of Mars," NASA said. "The roadmap flows from this strategy and identifies two potential pathways: 'Asteroid Next' and 'Moon Next.'" Click here. (8/30)

SwRI Selected as Payload Integrator for Three NASA Suborbital Research Flights (Source: SwRI)
Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been selected to provide payload flight integration services as part of three suborbital flight provider contracts recently announced by NASA to Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Masten Space Systems. These contracts are an important step forward for the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, and affirm the need for commercial space access for a range of research and educational applications. (8/30)

Boeing Plans For Next NASA Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Aviation Week)
While details of NASA’s congressionally mandated heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) still remain unannounced, Boeing says it expects to get a clearer picture of the work scope this fall, and will bid “aggressively” for a share when requirements are revealed. The company is optimistic of securing substantial SLS business.

Boeing hopes that in the interim NASA will safeguard the skill base by maintaining SLS-relevant work under surviving Ares contracts. Boeing held the prime contract for the upper stage of the canceled Ares I rocket. “I think it’s going to go forward with a cryo-hydrogen, heavy-lift vehicle for launch at the end of the decade. There are more ‘blue ribbon’ reviews expected in the fall which will announce the path forward,” Roger Krone says.

“We expect this to divide it into segments with an instrumentation unit, an upper-stage unit, a lower-stage unit and a ground unit.” In terms of which specific areas Boeing plans to target, Krone says much will be driven by the company’s experience with the Ares vehicle development under the now-abandoned Constellation program. “We’re well placed on instrumentation because of the work we’ve done under Ares, and the Ares upper stage. We can compete for parts of the rocket and we plan to aggressively compete for parts of SLS or any other variant of the plan that they will compete.” (8/30)

NASA's Technology Depleted, Report Says (Source: National Journal)
NASA’s technology base is “largely depleted” and the agency hasn't been producing the breakthroughs needed to achieve new goals, the National Research Council said on Tuesday. “Currently available technology is insufficient to accomplish many intended space missions,” including sending humans to the moon or Mars, as well as destinations closer to home, the council, part of the independent National Academies of Science, said in a report.

With the end of the space shuttle program earlier this year, NASA and lawmakers have struggled to define clear-cut goals for the space agency, especially as government budgets shrink. On Monday, NASA officials raised the possibility that the International Space Station would need to be temporarily abandoned because of trouble with Russian spacecraft, which are now the main link to the station. The ambiguity has undermined innovation at NASA and hurt its ability to develop new technology, the panel found.

Editor's Note: While many in Congress push for setting near-term exploration goals, or for developing a heavy-lift rocket to (presumably) support those goals, President Obama and NASA have pushed for investment in the technologies that are prerequisite for sustainable exploration beyond Earth's orbit. If we had enough money I guess we could do both. (8/30)

Failed Star Found In The Neighborhood (Source: Scientific American)
It looks like we have a new neighbor. It's actually been there all along, but astronomers have only now spotted what could be the seventh closest star system to the sun. The system is just nine light years away, a mere stone's throw in astronomical terms. It took so long to find because it's an extremely dim and cool kind of failed star called a brown dwarf. Astronomers found it using NASA's WISE satellite. WISE's infrared cameras allow it to find objects that are not bright enough to see by visible light alone.

The sun's newfound neighbor and five other supercool brown dwarfs belong to a class of failed star called Y dwarfs. These dwarfs had long been predicted to exist, but they have only recently been spotted in space. You could safely touch one of the newfound brown dwarfs—its temperature is estimated at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the chilliest starlike object known. (8/29)

Space Station Risk Rises if Crews Forced to Leave (Source: USA Today)
If the grounding of Soyuz rockets forces crews to abandon the International Space Station even temporarily, the chances of losing the facility outright skyrocket the longer it goes unmanned. Past NASA risk assessment shows a one in 10 chance of losing the station within six months if there is no crew aboard to handle critical system failures. That soars to a 50% probability if it remains crewless for a year. (8/30)

Russia Resumes Proton-M Rocket Launches (Source: Interfax-AVN)
The Russian Federal Space Agency has lifted its ban on launches of Proton-M rockets equipped with Briz-M upper staged imposed following the failed launch of the Express-AM4 communications satellite, Roscosmos said on its website. "As a result of the commission's work, the ban on preparations of Proton-M launch vehicles equipped with Briz-M upper stages has been lifted. All of the necessary recommendations have been drafted. They will be put into practice before the next launches," it said. (8/30)

Milky Way Galaxy Re-Created (Source: MSNBC)
How long does it take to simulate the Milky Way? The answer is about nine months, if you're using a powerful supercomputer. That's how long it took for researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Zurich to produce the first simulation of galaxy formation that approximates the look of our own Milky Way spiral.

"Previous efforts to form a massive disk galaxy like the Milky Way had failed, because the simulated galaxies ended up with huge central bulges compared to the size of the disk," Javiera Guedes said today in a news release about the project. Guedes worked on the project during her time at UC-Santa Cruz, and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Click here. (8/30)

Senators Back KSC Projects (Source: Florida Today)
Florida's two U.S. senators have tried to brush back an attempt by colleagues to steer money from Kennedy Space Center to other sites involved in the development of NASA's planned heavy-lift rocket for exploration missions. In a letter to the White House dated Friday, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio suggest an apparent "misunderstanding" about the need to fund not only the design and construction of a rocket, but facilities from which to process and launch it.

Earlier this month, a group of five Republican senators from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi accused the Obama Administration of funding KSC upgrades "only tangentially related" to the rocket known as the Space Launch System. They suggest the dismantling of a shuttle launch pad and modification of a crawler-transporter used to haul rockets to the pad, among other projects, should be funded by a separate NASA initiative to modernize Cape launch infrastructure, called the 21st Century Launch Complex project.

Funding for ground support operations was always planned within this year's rocket program, as it was under the cancelled Constellation program, according a spokesman at NASA headquarters. And members of congressional appropriations committees had capped that funding at $250 million -- $90 million below NASA's initial request -- even before the southern senators' recent challenge. (8/30)

Nelson Crosses the Aisle on ISS, KSC Issues (Source: Space Politics)
It’s frequently noted here and elsewhere that space issues do not follow party lines closely, if at all, with differences of opinion more likely to be along regional or other lines than party affiliation. That’s demonstrated in the last few days by a couple of statements on space issues by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), working with two Republican colleagues.

Sen. Hutchison (R-TX) and Nelson have closely worked together on space issues for years. What is a little more surprising is a joint letter to President Obama by Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Rubio, in his first year in the Senate, has so far shown less interest in space than Nelson, although he does serve on the science and space subcommittee; there’s also a considerable general ideological difference between the two senators. (8/30)

NASA’s Hansen Arrested Outside White House at Pipeline Protest (Source: Bloomberg)
James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was arrested outside the White House as he joined protesters in urging President Obama to reject TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s $7 billion pipeline. Before he was taken into custody today, Hansen took a megaphone and implored Obama to act “for the sake of your children and grandchildren.”

“If Obama chooses the dirty needle it will confirm that the president was just green-washing all along,” Hansen, 70, who took a vacation day from his job at the New York based institute to participate in the protest, said in an e-mailed statement. A State Department report last week said that the pipeline across six U.S. states to carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast has low environmental risks provided TransCanada complies with U.S. law and follows recommended safeguards. A final decision will be made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this year. (8/30)

Shannon to Review Exploration Options for NASA (Source: CBS)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has asked outgoing space shuttle Program Manager John Shannon to carry out an independent assessment of competing options for eventual manned missions beyond low-Earth orbit, officials say. The review will include input from NASA's international partners to align "our efforts with the international space community."

The space shuttle program officially ends Wednesday, Aug. 31, a month and a half after the Atlantis returned to Earth to close out the 135th and final shuttle mission. Remaining work to disposition shuttle assets and to prepare the orbiters for museum display will continue under the Space Shuttle Transition and Retirement Office, led by Dorothy S. Rasco.

Bolden said NASA is not yet "choosing a mission plan that the agency is going to implement at this time. Rather, we are Identifying potential human exploration scenarios on the horizon, so that we can most productively guide our approved efforts in the near-term, while aligning our efforts with the international space community." (8/30)

Breeze Upper Stage "Disorder" Blamed for Proton Launch Failure (Source: Itar-Tass)
“Following analysis of information, the commission has concluded that over formation of the mission profile for the Briz-M upper stage, the time interval of sub turning of the gyro-stabilised platform was cut unreasonably...This caused the incorrect orientation of the upper stage and, consequently, failed to bring the satellite to the designed orbit.” (8/30)

Nuclear Power Plants for Settlements on the Moon and Mars (Source: ZDnet)
The first nuclear power plant being considered for production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets “may really look like it came from outer space.” On earth, nuclear reactors are under attack because of concerns over damage caused by natural disasters. In space, however, nuclear technology may get a new lease on life.

Plans for the first nuclear power plant for the production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets were unveiled at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). James E. Werner, the project leader at the U.S. Dept of Energy, said that innovative fission technology for surface power applications is far different from the familiar terrestrial nuclear power stations.

A fission reactor itself is about 1.5 feet wide by 2.5 feet high, roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase, according to Werner. And there are no cooling towers. Nuclear fission power in space is actually old news. In 1965, the U.S. launched SNAP-10A, which was a 45 kWt thermal nuclear fission reactor that produced 650 watts using a thermoelectric converter. (It operated for 43 days before it was shut down due to a satellite malfunction–but remains in orbit today.) (8/30)

Garneau: Canada Needs a Truly Ambitious Space Project: Exploration of Mars (Source: The Mark)
Canada has enjoyed a partnership with NASA since the launch of our first satellite, Alouette 1, in 1962. As most Canadians know, that partnership also resulted in the Canadarm, as well as the larger and more capable Canadarm 2 and the two-armed Dextre robot aboard the ISS, not to mention 14 flights by eight Canadian astronauts. On the horizon, we have multiple ISS astronauts. But what happens after that?

This may be a propitious time for Canada to examine its future in space with a thorough investigation of all its programs. Planning space exploration, whether human or robotic, is complex and requires the vision and courage to believe that the near impossible can be achieved. The stakes are always high, and the timeline from idea to realization often spans more than a decade. Now, it’s time for Canada to make a bold move.

I think Canada should also be audacious and commit to an ambitious and inspiring exploration project – specifically, a scientific mission to Mars, in which Canada would have principal responsibility for the spacecraft that would land on the surface and perform a series of scientific experiments chosen by our Canadian space scientists. This would necessitate a partnership with another space agency to launch us from Earth and take us safely to Mars. (8/30)

Japan Firm Vying for Lunar X Prize Unveils Moon Rover (Source:
A Tokyo company has unveiled what it hopes will be the first privately built unmanned rover on the moon, and win it $30 million in prizes from the X Prize Foundation in the process. The Japan-Netherlands joint venture firm White Label Space told reporters at the unveiling that it hopes to launch the final version of the rover as soon as 2014. The rover itself is 49 centimeters long, 46 wide and 55 tall, and weighs just 10 kilograms. The robot has a top-mounted camera that can rotate 360 degrees. (8/30)

Preliminary Answers to Progress Problems (Source: Moscow News)
Scientists have worked out what went wrong with the launch of a Progress space probe which crashed last week. The Soyuz launch vehicle had problems with the flow of gasified fuel to its engines, according to a statement posted on the Roskosmos website. Studies of the accident are on-going, and the report notes that findings will be shared with NASA and other international partners. News that there has been some movement towards identifying the problem is likely to reassure the Americans, who currently rely on Russian rockets to service the orbital center. (8/30)

NASA's Smaller Programs Could Be At Risk (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The cost of NASA's two flagship programs — a new space telescope and its next rocket — is poised to devour much of the agency's shrinking budget in coming years, putting at risk everything from efforts to develop futuristic spacecraft to returning rocks from Mars, scientists and congressional insiders warn.

At a time when budgets are being slashed government-wide, price estimates for the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA's new rocket and crew capsule either have increased by billions of dollars or are at risk to do so, according to internal NASA documents and external evaluations. NASA spends about a fifth of its current budget — about $4 billion — on manned spaceflight; another $2-3 billion on the International Space Station; about $5 billion on science, like lunar and Martian probes; and the remainder on aeronautics, technology research, education and overhead.

Congress, led by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has pressed President Barack Obama to devote a significant share of NASA's budget toward the effort — a move so far resisted by the administration, which has yet to release an official design for the rocket. The administration wants to spend more money on programs like technology research, including innovations such as orbiting fuel depots and a solar sail that could be used for deep-space exploration. Click here. (8/30)

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