August 31, 2011

CSR, ITT and BAE Win Air Force Range Contracts (Source: DOD)
The Air Force in August awarded three contracts totaling $103 million to CSR, ITT and BAE for engineering, maintenance, logistics, and operations in support of spacelift and other operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges. (The BAE contract includes services for 24 military ranges worldwide, but is managed by the 45th Space Wing.) (8/31)

SpaceX Heavy and Human Missions Present Challenges at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
With a busy manifest of ISS cargo and commercial satellite launches at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, SpaceX faces some interesting challenges as it prepares for flying human-rated Dragon missions for NASA (and commercial customers) and Falcon Heavy missions for the Air Force and NRO. The single pad at Launch Complex 40 presents a potential bottleneck that has pushed the company to consider other launch sites at the Cape, in Texas, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.

Converting LC-40 to accommodate Falcon Heavy rockets and human-carrying Dragon capsules could shut the pad down for several months. Even if SpaceX and its customers could afford the delay this would cause for their present manifest, the infrastructure and operational challenges might be untenable or infeasible. Although there are only a few alternatives for SpaceX at the Cape, Space Florida and NASA seem willing to help with infrastructure funds and other support.

One option could have a Shuttle pad at LC-39 converted for human-rated Dragon and/or Falcon Heavy launches, leaving LC-40 for Falcon-9 satellite and ISS cargo launches. (NASA KSC would really like LC-39, the crawler/transporters, and VAB used for something.) Another would be to move Falcon-9 to Space Florida's LC-36 while LC-40 is converted for heavy and human missions (LC-36 is probably too far south for Falcon Heavy). Both of these options may require SpaceX to share access with other users. I don't think another existing unused pad at the Cape would accommodate SpaceX, which leaves the "green field" option of building a new pad on unused land, probably near LC-39. This idea hasn't gone over well in the past, but times have changed. (8/31)

Falcon Heavy and Crewed Dragon Missions Would Likely Fly From Florida (Source: SPACErePORT)
While SpaceX works through its options for a new launch pad, one interesting factor is that many future government missions (DOD and NASA crew flights) would probably have to launch from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, as this is where NASA astronauts and high security DOD payloads would be probably have to be prepared for flight. So, if SpaceX decides to establish a new launch site somewhere else, it would be primarily for commercial missions aboard the Falcon-9 (as opposed to Falcon Heavy).

This means that SpaceX will have to prepare a Cape Canaveral pad for Falcon Heavy and human-rated Dragons, regardless of whether it builds a new pad elsewhere. So, if SpaceX doesn't want the burden of two concurrent and very expensive construction projects (three if you count Vandenberg's Falcon Heavy pad), then it may make sense to expand at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (8/31)

Editorial: To Infinity and Beyond or Dark Side of the Moon? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A House spending committee wants to whack NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. It is the planned super-duper replacement for Hubble, which is an orbiting toilet-paper tube by comparison. Astronomers say the Webb scope could pick up light waves from the very first stars. It would take us back 13.7 billion years — or 6,000 years if you're in the Republican presidential primary — to when it all began.

So what are a few measly cost overruns compared with that? We have a big decision to make: We can either go billions over budget on mismanaged science projects, or we can go billions over budget on even more mismanaged manned-spaceflight programs. And so I choose the mismanaged science projects.

NASA understands that once dollars start flowing to aerospace contractors and congressional constituents, nobody will pull the plug. There may be shrill Government Accountability Office reports and perfunctory political showboating about costs, but the bucks must go on. This is how we ended up with a space shuttle that cost $1.5 billion per launch. (8/31)

Weak Market, Rival Ventures Cloud Prospects for New Mexico Spaceport (Source: Wall Street Journal)
New Mexico's $209 million Spaceport America is at last nearly complete, nine months behind schedule. The two-mile-long runway for space planes is ready to go. Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the futuristic terminal. But the real challenge is yet to come.

The spaceport was launched in 2006 by former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, at a time when the state was flush with cash and the aeronautics world was abuzz with predictions of a boom in space tourism and commercial travel. Five years later, the state is hurting. The new Republican governor, Susana Martinez, has made clear that taxpayers are done subsidizing the spaceport, and it will need to cover its eventual operating budget of about $6 million a year.

"There will always be a lot of fascination with the fiery end of a rocket," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the state's space agency. "But a lot of these states that are building launch capability are going to have to question whether they're getting an economic benefit for the investment," Mr. DiBello said. He said he has shifted Florida's focus to attracting on-the-ground industry that supports space-based products and services. Click here. (8/31)

Dolphin Research Could Aid ET Communication (Source: Discovery)
For 27 years, marine biologist Denise Herzing and colleagues have been regular visitors in the Atlantic Ocean home of a 200-member pod of spotted dolphins living north of the Bahama Islands. Understanding the relationships between the members of the pod is key to unraveling what their dozens of whistles, clicks and other signals mean. The research has implications in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, with the dolphins standing in as a sort of E.T. analog.

"The idea is 'how do you recognize intelligence?' That's why people test dolphins and primates in captivity, to try to measure their cognitive skills, their abilities, how they use their minds," Herzing said. "If you ever got to some place (with a non-technological but potentially intelligent species), how would you recognize it and how might you establish some communicative repertoire?" she said. "There's a lot of species on this planet that we can probably learn from as models." (8/31)

Editorial: Many Shuttle Workers Forced to Move On (Source Houston Chronicle)
Last Friday, after 14 years with NASA's largest subcontractor, I turned in my badges, answered a few exit questions and said goodbye to a childhood dream. Joining the ranks of the unemployed in this economy is not a pretty prospect, but I will manage. My employer, United Space Alliance, has been more than generous, providing me with a decently sized severance package, plus an extra "thank you" for my service as a "critically skilled" worker. That, with a little discipline, should sufficiently tide me over until I find another job.

What we're being told by various managers and career placement people is that there is no shortage of openings for people with our unique skills set. As a single guy, with no spouse or children, I'm able to move to wherever the job opportunity presents itself. I have boxes full of trinkets from my days as a trajectory analyst and flight controller which will provide for some nice stories and a well-decorated office at whatever place of employment that I end up.

My name will go down in history as one of the folks who worked in the Mission Control Center, right there with the well-known names like Kranz and Craft, that magical place where "failure is not an option." I indeed have a lot to be proud of. But I feel robbed. NASA management and the Obama administration constantly talk about the need to inspire the next generation. But I find myself thinking: What about this generation? (8/31)

Nelson: 535 Florida Jobs Saved as USAF Decides Against Air & Space Center Consolidation (Source: WMBB)
The Department of Defense has decided against consolidating the Air and Space Operations Centers (AOCs) in Northwest Florida and Arizona. The DoD was considering combining the facilities at Tyndall Air Force Base and Tucson, Arizona. A letter from Sen. Bill Nelson's Office states that the DoD has decided not to consolidate.

This means Tyndall will keep more than 535 positions that were in jeopardy under the possible consolidation plan. The Air Force says they have found ways to save money without consolidation. Even though the jobs that are already here are saved, since the consolidation won't be happening it also means that Tyndall will not gain any positions from Arizona which was a possibility. (8/31)

Panel Tallies Massive Waste and Fraud in Wartime U.S. Contracts (Source: CNN)
A nonpartisan panel reporting to Congress says the United States is wasting $12 million a day among contracts issued in support of American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting spent the past three years documenting whether American funding went where it was supposed to. The findings show misdirected money has totaled between $31 billion and $60 billion, and that both the government and the contractors are to blame for fraud and waste.

Commissioner Katherine Schinasi said, "we've broken it down to $12 million a day... We are wasting $12 million a day," she said, "maybe that will make a difference." The study looked at contracts from 2001 through the projected end of fiscal year 2011.

Editor's Note: Remember the June revelation that DOD air conditioning costs in Iraq and Afghanistan were $20 billion (exceeding NASA's then-anticipated budget of $19 billion)? Perhaps there's an opportunity to allocate funding from the wartime drawdown to meet NASA's underfunded needs. (8/31)

Is Human Spaceflight Worth It? (Source: Discovery)
If you ever wanted a quote that summarized virtually everything wrong with science and research funding today, a recent musing on how Congress would've viewed building a particle accelerator to match CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in light of physicists' inability to find the Higgs boson comes very close. "Congress may feel that its 1993 decision to cancel the American alternative to CERN... may have been the right move one after all: to spend billions of taxpayer dollars in search of a particle that likely does not exist would have been wasteful."

In other words, turning the world of physics upside down and making scientists question the firmly established Standard Model, forcing us to rethink much of what we know about the universe, would be a bad investment because the scientists wouldn't have succeeded in doing what they originally set out to do. Never mind that in science, failures can be just as valuable as successes, and sometimes even more so. Never mind that to find out if something is or isn’t possible, or to gauge whether something does or doesn’t exist, we have to first try it and see for ourselves.

Today's common thought about science and exploration demands positive results and it demands them now. With that attitude, it's little wonder that many areas of science are finding themselves either mocked by politicians woefully ignorant of their work and out to score cheap political points, or de-funded to the point of nearly shutting down. Human spaceflight, particularly in the U.S., is unfortunately one of the scientific programs that face a very grim immediate future. (8/31)

International Asteroid Defense Plans Form (Source: Aviation Week)
A further step has been taken toward forming an international body that could plan for and respond to the threat of an asteroid impacting Earth. The late August meeting in Pasadena, Calif., involved NASA, the European Space Agency and national space agencies from Germany and France. These are members of the United Nation’s Action Team-14, co-organizer of the workshop along with the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Association of Space Explorers.

Drawing on meetings last year in Germany and Mexico to discuss the threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs), the Pasadena workshop focused on plans to mitigate the effects of an asteroid strike, as well as developing an international model for the response to these threats. (8/31)

U.S. Taking Initial Steps to Grapple with Space Debris Problem (Source: Scientific American)
The U.S. is now taking preliminary steps to manage the threat of space junk by implementing better tracking systems, but a solution to the root problem is nowhere in sight. There are no feasible approaches to actually removing debris from orbit, and simulations show that, even if all spaceflight activity ceased today, the number of pieces of debris would actually increase over time as collisions between objects in orbit produce huge fragmentation clouds.

Some collisions might be avoided if space agencies and satellite operators had a better accounting of what is in orbit and where it is headed. The U.S. Air Force is planning a new radar system called Space Fence that could dramatically increase the number of orbital objects under surveillance after it comes online around 2017. The U.S. military has already catalogued more than 16,000 satellites and large pieces of debris, but the Space Fence system will allow for monitoring of much smaller objects. "We are pretty confident that the catalogue will grow tenfold within months of Space Fence's initial operating capability," says John Morse.

As planned, Space Fence would comprise two radar stations in the southern hemisphere, which will take over for a 1960s-era radar system now involving nine sites in the U.S. Whereas the present radar system operates in the VHF band, Space Fence will use shorter wavelength S-band radar, which affords better resolution for tracking debris. Whereas the current debris catalog goes down to roughly softball-size objects, Spence says that Space Fence planners are "looking at tracking down to the order of golf-ball or marble size at lower altitudes, or softball size at higher altitudes." (8/31)

Tea Party in Space Raps NASA's 'Warped Priorities' (Source: NewsMax)
Tea Party in Space, the grass-roots offshoot that focuses on applying free-market reforms to the U.S. space program, blames “warped priorities” for the dilemma that NASA faces over possibly abandoning the International Space Station until it can be resupplied. “As of this moment, only the Chinese have human access to space until the Soyuz launch vehicle is cleared for flight,” says Tea Party in Space President and National Coordinator Andrew Gasser, a former Air Force officer.

The troubling development highlights the need to provide full funding for NASA’S Commercial Crew Development program, which emphasizes space exploration by private industry under the auspices of NASA, Gasser says. Commercial Crew would move NASA away from the crash space programs such as Constellation and the James Webb space telescope, which have been plagued by delays and billion-dollar cost overruns without actually producing a viable launch vehicle. (8/31)

X PRIZE Foundation and LEGO Pick Winners of MoonBots 2.0 Challenge (Source: SpaceRef)
The X PRIZE Foundation and LEGO Group announced winners of the MoonBots 2.0: A Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO MINDSTORMS Challenge. The competition challenges teams of students ages 9 to 17 to design, program and build robots that simulate lunar missions mirroring the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE international competition for privately funded teams to build a rover to land on and explore the Moon's surface.

The Grand Prize winner, Team LegoAces (Granville, OH), earned a VIP trip to LEGOLAND Florida in October. Team Just Ducky (Woodbury, MN) was awarded second place and third place went to Team Lunar Lords (Bellevue, WA). All three teams will receive free team registration for the 2012 FIRST(R) robotics season. Among the finalists was "The Pink Team" of Rockledge, Florida (on the state's Space Coast). Click here. (8/31)

NASA Would Dig Deeper Into Shuttles for Heavy-Lift Propulsion Hardware (Source:
NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) will utilize the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) – otherwise known as RS-25s. The stock of SSME (RS-25D) engines are currently being preserved at KSC after being donated by the Space Shuttle Program (SSP). There are at least three sets of three engines, removed from each orbiter, along with a spare set of three engines (12 engines in total).

Now SLS managers have requested the use of the major plumbing inside the orbiter’s Main Propulsion System (MPS), which is a natural match for the RS-25s. The Orbiter MPS includes major hardware items such as the Propellant Management System (PMS). The MPS PMS consists of manifolds, distribution lines, and valves that transport propellants from the tanks to the three main engines for combustion, and gases from the engines to the tank for pressurization.

Also to be removed would be the MPS helium system, which consists of storage tanks, distribution lines, regulators, and valves that supply helium to the main engines and the MPS PMS. All of the reusable SSME engines and MPS hardware will be lost when the unrecoverable SLS core stage is discarded after launch. (8/31)

MPS Removal Would Delay Shuttle Transfer to Museums (Source:
NASA's proposed use of additional Shuttle orbiter hardware for initial heavy-lift rockets would delay the shipping dates of the orbiters to various museums by six to nine months. Prior to the orbiters going on display at their respective exhibition sites, each vehicle will be fitted with three Replica Shuttle Main Engines (RSMEs) – made from previously scrapped nozzles and installed via an adaptor – which are being fabricated by SSME contractor Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR).

Editor's Note: This could mean six to nine months of extended employment for the USA and PWR employees charged with doing this Transition and Retirement (T&R) work at KSC and at PWR's facility in West Palm Beach. (8/31)

Russia Won't Stop Using Baikonur Cosmodrome (Source: Interfax)
The Russian space agency Roscosmos will not stop using the Baikonur Cosmodrome after the Vostochny launch pad is put into service in the Amur region, Roscosmos Deputy Head Vitaly Davydov told journalists on Wednesday. "We have never wanted to give up Baikonur. We have an agreement with Kazakhstan on using Baikonur until 2050," Davydov said in a video linkup on space projects between Moscow and Almaty.

Russia has a plan to put payloads into orbit, and Baikonur is best for fulfilling it, he said. Baikonur is and must remain a major world space harbor, he said. Russia has been renting the Baikonur Cosmodrome from Kazakhstan at a price of $115 million per year. It plans to build the Vostochny launch pad by 2015. (8/31)

Russia Considering Unmanned Space Station (Source: AFP)
Russia's space agency Roskosmos is considering ending a permanent human presence in space, an agency official said Wednesday following last week's crash of a supply ship delivering precious cargo to the ISS. "Perhaps in the future, we will not need a constant manned presence in the lower Earth orbit," Roskosmos deputy director Vitaly Davydov told journalists in Moscow.

"We don't exclude the possibility of returning to the concept of DOS (long-term orbital) stations that we had before stations with constant human presence," he said. Soviet-era space station designs, which included the early Salyut station series, were not meant to constantly house cosmonauts but instead served as a base for incoming missions. (8/31)

Russia May Put Space Program Under State Defense Order (Source: RIA Novosti)
Roscosmos said it is considering returning the federal space program to the framework of the state defense order to ensure steady financing and reduce the number of accidents with space launches."It would be beneficial to return the federal space program and the Glonass program to the framework of the state defense order," said Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of Roscosmos. "It would bolster discipline in issues related to financing, quality control and schedule deadlines in manufacturing," he said. (8/31)

Russian Equipment Not at Fault for South Korean Rocket Failure (Source: Interfax)
A Russian independent commission has established the reasons behind the loss of South Korea's KSLV-1 launch vehicle in 2010, Nikolai Panichkin, first deputy general director of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMASH), said. "Our commission has finished its work. An appropriate act has been forwarded to Roscosmos [the Russian Federal Space Agency]," he said.

"The cause [of the failed launch] has been established indisputably," he said. "The first stage [of the launch vehicle] built by the [Russian] Khrunichev Center was not at fault," Panichkin said, adding that an error had occurred in the rocket's second stage produced by South Korea. (8/31)

Russia: Human Flight to Mars Could be Accomplished Beyond 2040 (Source: Interfax)
A flight to Mars is the strategic goal of Russia's space exploration programs, but the journey to Mars lies through the moon, Nikolai Panichkin, the first deputy director of the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building, said. "The path to Mars, as we are setting ourselves the goal to reach this planet, goes through the moon," he said. Outposts are to be deployed on the moon by 2030 for its further exploration, he said.

"We are planning to start large-scale development of the moon between 2030 and 2040, with research laboratories and bases put in place," he added. "A great deal has yet to be explored on the moon. Bases could be deployed on it to be used for research in the far space and to test know-how," Panichkin said. Roscosmos plans to accomplish a human flight to Mars after 2040, he said. (8/31)

China Analyst: U.S. Can’t Win in Space, So Why Bother Racing? (Source: WIRED)
With access to more than 400 satellites plus at least two tiny, maneuverable robotic shuttles, the U.S. military is the clear leader in military spacecraft. But with 70 orbiters of its own, China is catching up fast. But in the view of one influential analyst, the race isn’t worth the prize. Space “is expensive to enter, hard to sustain assets in, contains no defensive ground, and — barring energy-intensive maneuvering – forces assets into predictable orbits,” said Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College professor.

No one disputes that China is gaining “ground” in space. “The [People's Liberation Army] is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s space and counter-space capabilities,” warned the 2011 edition of Congress’ annual report on the Chinese military. But the Pentagon’s official response is to dig in deeper in orbit, with newer and better spacecraft costing at least $10 billion a year, in total. Erickson is virtually alone in fundamentally questioning the Pentagon’s space presence — and recommending an orbital retreat.

“Some of the most debilitating asymmetric tactics could be employed against space and cyberspace targets,” Erickson explained. In other words, spacecraft are highly vulnerable to physical and electronic attack, and so are their control stations. To avoid these “asymmetric” assaults at which China has proved particularly skilled, the Pentagon should take its current space-based equipment and move it downward to the atmosphere. The air is more secure than space, Erickson insisted. (8/31)

How to Send Astronauts to Asteroids? Earth Needs to Know (Source:
Developing the capability to launch human missions to asteroids would aid humanity's ability to foil a potentially devastating asteroid strike and help spur our march to Mars, a new report finds. What's most needed to make manned asteroid missions possible, the report further concludes, is a comprehensive survey of the Near Earth Object (NEO) population, which would greatly aid planning efforts.

The new report, entitled "Target NEO: Open Global Community NEO Workshop," is anchored in views expressed by experts who gathered at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington in February. But this latest appraisal includes extensive peer review and refined findings from a number of follow-up meetings, both in the United States and abroad. Click here. (8/31)

USAF Official: Long Road For Distributed Sats (Source: Aviation Week)
Despite growing interest from some senior U.S. Air Force leaders in exploring new architectures for the Pentagon’s satellite constellations, chances are that this “disaggregation” concept is not likely to take root any time soon, according to one senior procurement official. Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the outgoing military deputy in the Air Force acquisition office, says that the momentum today in the Air Force is behind sustaining current satellite programs in production.

Officials at Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command are exploring the disaggregation concept, which calls for distributing capabilities of satellites or constellations on various platforms in space. The idea is to field larger numbers of less capable systems to reduce the risk of a major space service outage in the event of an attack on a satellite system or an in-orbit failure. (8/31)

Hubble Videos Show Baby Stars Spewing Violent Jets (Source:
New details about the violent birth of new stars are revealed in a series of movies compiled from 14 years' worth of Hubble Space Telescope observations. The videos stitch together pictures of nascent stars at various periods to present continuous-motion views of how stars are born. They reveal, in particular, how high-speed jets from baby stars can spew out matter in two beams that fizzle out over time. Click here. (8/31)

Dextre Wraps Up First ISS Repair (Source: Aviation Week)
Canada’s Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, a two-armed robotic handyman, completed its first repair effort outside the International Space Station early Aug. 30, changing out a remote power control module (RPCM), or circuit breaker. Known as Dextre, the robot finished the 29-hr. task in back-to-back nightly sessions managed from NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.

It is just one of several similar tasks the mobile, tool-wielding 11.5-ft.-tall mechanical device is likely to be called upon to repeat with greater efficiency in the years ahead, as the U.S.-led, 15-nation partnership strives to cut back on spacewalking activities by astronauts to refocus their time on scientific research and technical demonstrations.

Dextre, launched in March 2008, will remain on standby outside the orbiting science laboratory to carry out maintenance of the station’s electrical, thermal control and data-handling systems, including the removal and replacement of aging and widely distributed circuit breakers, DC-DC converter units, battery boxes and multiplexer/de-multiplexers, says Mathieu Caron, the Canadian Space Agency mission control supervisor. (8/31)

Amateur Radio Links Merritt Island Students to Space Station (Source: Florida Today)
As the clock approached 2:04 p.m. Tuesday, 17-foot-high antennas placed on a baseball field at Merritt Island High rotated to the south, tracking the International Space Station as it flew at 17,500 mph overhead. Sitting on the bleachers, students watched as amateur ham radio operator John Eccles attempted to contact the station. A computer screen behind him showed the station's location over the Earth.

"NA1SS, NA1SS, this is WD2IHB in Merritt Island, Fla. Over." Eccles and students in the da Vinci Academy of Aerospace Technology had practiced contacting the space station on Saturday. And less than two hours earlier, Eccles pointed his antennas to the northeast horizon and heard the station's signal. "I read you loud and clear," said Japanese Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.

Fourteen-year-old Brandon Arena was first in line to ask Furukawa a question. He introduced himself and, reading from a prepared script, he asked about the long-term effects that spaceflight has on the body. Students filed up to the microphone, one by one, to ask their questions. As the questions came to an end, and with a minute or so remaining, da Vinci Academy Director Janice Cheshire stepped to the microphone and thanked Furukawa for his time. (8/31)

Northrop Grumman Announces Next Round of STEM Weightless Flights for Teachers (Source: Northrop)
The Northrop Grumman Foundation is pleased to announce this year's Weightless Flights of Discovery "Class of 2011." Sixty primarily middle school math and science teachers from Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, have been selected to participate in this year's teacher development

The selected teachers will participate in a unique initiative that places them on micro-gravity flights to test Newton's Laws of Motion and in-turn energize their students in the formative middle school years. In 2011, flights will take place in Washington, D.C. on Sept.12 and Los Angeles on Sept. 26. (8/31)

Dark Matter Is an Illusion, New Antigravity Theory Says (Source: National Geographic)
The mysterious substance known as dark matter may actually be an illusion created by gravitational interactions between short-lived particles of matter and antimatter, a new study says. Dark matter is thought to be an invisible substance that makes up almost a quarter of the mass in the universe. The concept was first proposed in 1933 to explain why the outer galaxies in galaxy clusters orbit faster than they should, based on the galaxies' visible mass.

At the observed speeds, the outer galaxies should be flung out into space, since the clusters don't appear to have enough mass to keep the galaxies at their edges gravitationally bound. So physicists proposed that the galaxies are surrounded by halos of invisible matter. This dark matter provides the extra mass, which in turn creates gravitational fields strong enough to hold the clusters together.

In the new study, physicist Dragan Hajdukovic at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland proposes an alternative explanation, based on something he calls the "gravitational polarization of the quantum vacuum." (8/31)

Russia Wastes Billions in Space (Source: Pravda)
Experts say that the Soyuz crash occurred because of the crisis in the Russian space industry. It just so happens that 20 billion rubles assigned from the national budget for the development of the industry turn into space garbage. The crash of the spacecraft has led to two problems related to ecology and economy.

"The explosion of the fuel tanks can be compared to the explosion of the vacuum bomb. Damage can be caused to the territory of up to several hundreds of kilometers. Heptyl, a toxic substance, may affect deep layers of soil," Vladimir Polipovich, an official with Altai regional authorities told LifeNews. As for the economic problem, the freighter was carrying fresh water, food, medications and fuel. This cargo is priceless for the members of the ISS crew.

The failed launch will shelve several very important projects for the Russian space industry. This will inevitably affect the Russian economy. "The crisis in the industry is not news, it is a consequence. We have to realize that we do not have many good specialists in the industry. We hope for young people, who come to work in the industry, but if they get paid less than street sellers of ice cream, then we have nothing to hope for," Igor Lizov said. (8/31)

Move Over, Cape Canaveral, Scotland is the Place To Be (Source: Scotsman)
Scotland could be the center of a space-age "gold rush", as commercial companies declare the country an ideal launch pad for sending satellites into orbit. It is predicted that within five to eight years, it will be commercially feasible to site a "spaceport" somewhere along the north coast. Already, two UK rocket companies are researching the options for creating small spacecraft to carry payloads of hi-tech satellites, weighing only 5kg (11lb), into orbit.

According to rocket consultant Rick Newlands, advances in miniaturization has meant these "nano satellites" are now commercially viable and the demand for launch pads will follow. "Nano satellites are a very new thing. They're small and they're cheap, so if something goes wrong and it gets lost, it's not such a heartache," he said. "It's early days, but there is a bit of a gold rush going on just now around nano satellites. Every university department and small company is producing them and we expect that market to increase greatly." (8/31)

Space is the Final Luxury Frontier (Source: Big Think)
In space these days, it's feast or famine. At a time when our infrastructure appears to be breaking down--from aging weather satellites to NASA warning the International Space Station may face an unprecedented evacuation--we are also witnessing an explosion in luxury space tourism that is exposing the gap between the Haves and Have-Nots in space.

At a time when governments are tightening their belts as they weigh the costs of future space exploration, a Russian company called Orbital Technologies has recently announced they will be launching a hotel in space called "Hotel in the Heavens" in 2016. It will cost $164,000 for an individual to travel on a Russian Soyuz rocket (read: not very comfy) to the hotel, and then an additional $820,000 for a five-day stay. Quick math: that's nearly $1 million. (But as the old saying goes, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it). (8/31)

SpaceX Could Boost Lompoc Valley Employment (Source: Santa Maria Times)
Government-financed space exploration may be winding down, like it or not. The slowdown of government-backed space programs has opened a door for private enterprise, and officials at SpaceX are making plans to fill the void. That would be good news for both the Russians and the United States — and really good news for California, which is the headquarters for the private company.

What’s good for the country and the state may be especially important for the Central Coast. SpaceX has a satellite operation in Lompoc, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and has big plans for the future. A SpaceX official spoke at a Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week, and told local business leaders his company expects to hire at least 17 new workers, and hopes to bring the company’s total work force to 40 or more by the end of the year. The unemployment rate in the Lompoc Valley is 15 percent, and sales tax receipts have been sinking in recent months. (8/31)

Orbital Receives FAA License For Taurus II COTS Demo Mission (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has received a Commercial Space Transportation Launch License from the FAA to conduct the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program demonstration mission in early 2012. An expanded license covering the test flight of the company's Taurus II rocket in late 2011 is expected to be granted in the near future. (8/31)

Cotton Takes Command of 45th Space Wing (Source: Florida Today)
Already familiar with Patrick Air Force Base -- where he served in three different leadership positions nearly a decade ago -- newly promoted Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton assumed command of the 45th Space Wing on Tuesday. Cotton takes over for outgoing Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, who built strong relationships with community leaders, made visible upgrades to the base, and who said he and his family felt at home in Brevard County. (8/31)

Proposed Missions Could Deflect Space Rocks Like Asteroid Apophis (Source:
While scientists keep a close watch on the myriad space rocks near Earth, they don’t yet have a solid plan on what to do if one appears headed on a collision course toward our planet. Two new studies propose potential spacecraft missions that would collide with asteroids in an attempt to deflect them away from our planet. Such missions, some researchers say, may be among our best hopes to ward off asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth.

One concept from researchers in China involves deflecting an asteroid with a spacecraft propelled by solar sails, giant mirrors that fly through space via the force of sunlight reflecting off them. A possible target is the asteroid known as Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of darkness because of fears that it might crash into Earth. Another potential plan, a European Space Agency mission called Don Quijote, would also seek to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to deflect it. (8/31)

A Dragon With No Place to Go? (Source: Waco Tribune)
The Soyuz booster's problems could bring both pressure and opportunity for SpaceX's efforts to build an alternative ferry to and from the International Space Station. But there's a new twist in the tale. The Russian launch delays could force SpaceX to postpone its own test mission — the first flight of its Dragon cargo capsule to the ISS, tentatively set to launch Nov. 30. The reason: There might not be anyone there to receive it. The station may have to be temporarily abandoned in mid-November if the Russians haven't by then fixed their Soyuz problem. (8/31)

Shuttle Orbiters May Donate Their Entire MPS Hardware to SLS (Source:
NASA’s three retired Space Shuttle orbiters are set to donate their entire Main Propulsion Systems (MPS) to the opening salvo of Space Launch System (SLS) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles (HLV). The work to remove the MPS’ array of plumbing, tanks and valves from the aft of the orbiters would result in a delay of six to nine months to the scheduled arrival at their museums. (8/31)

Proton Failure Brings Call for Orion/MPCV Funding (Source: Space Politics)
The failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft to the ISS prompted one member of Congress to call for “emergency” funding for NASA’s commercial crew development efforts, while another argued that NASA should accelerate work on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Now another member of Congress has weighed in with yet another take on the failure.

“The recent [Proton/Soyuz failures] reinforce the necessity to expedite design and production of the next generation of NASA space flight,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) wrote to NASA's Charles Bolden. His focus is on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) spacecraft. “To this point the Orion Space Capsule demonstrated exemplary safety and functionality.” And, he adds, “investment in this next generation of space travel provides a significant number of jobs to people in Colorado and a positive impact to our nation’s fragile economy.” (8/31)

NASA Practicing Asteroid Mission in Arizona Desert (Source: Discovery)
A team of about 150 engineers, scientists, astronauts, researchers and students started work this week on the first of several deep-space mission scenarios, part of an annual NASA field expedition called Desert Research and Technology Studies, or Desert RATS.

Staged from Black Point Lava Flow in the northern Arizona desert, the project is an opportunity to flesh-out plans, test equipment and practice techniques for a variety of proposed human space exploration missions. This year's campaign includes four asteroid mission scenarios, reflecting NASA's shift from lunar exploration to a planned asteroid visit, targeted for the mid-2020s.

NASA's Mission Control Center is participating in this year's simulation, along with Europe's Space Research and Technology Center in Norway. A communications time lag, which simulates what astronauts and ground controllers would experience during an actual mission at an asteroid, is part of the exercise. (8/31)

Why Does That Martian Crater Have a Hole? (Source: Discovery)
On the slopes of the vast Martian shield volcano Pavonis Mons, a rather odd-looking crater resides. Originally spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) earlier this year, mission managers decided to zoom in on the suspect feature using the awesome power of the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Indeed, as HiRISE has confirmed, this is one very odd-looking crater. This Pavonis Mons skylight is approximately 35 meters (115 feet) in diameter, and by using the shadow on the cavern's floor as a guide, HiRISE scientists have estimated that the feature is around 20 meters (65 feet) deep. The skylight will likely keep scientists guessing for some time as to how it formed at the base of a crater. Click here. (8/31)

ULA Trimming Florida Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
The number of local jobs launching spacecraft in Florida continues to shrink and not just because of NASA's retiring shuttle program. United Launch Alliance, operator of Atlas and Delta rockets, will cut up to 70 Cape Canaveral positions and 180 companywide. A key factor is the final two scheduled launches of ULA's Delta II rockets, including one set to blast off Sep. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a pair of NASA moon-mapping satellites.

The company also cites efforts to consolidate operations and cut costs since its formation nearly five years ago. Since December 2006, the company has cut 308 positions overall and 73 at the Cape, leaving a total of 3,718 employees and 666 locally. The current layoffs are expected to affect 55 to 70 Cape employees, some of whom left this month through voluntary departures. The rest are expected to leave about two weeks after launch of NASA's GRAIL mission to the moon. (8/31)

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