September 19, 2011

Senate to NASA: Tell Us Where We're Going (Source: Parabolic Arc)
After funding initial development of a heavy-lift rocket, Senators now want NASA to determine where its explorers will go: "The [U.S.] will need to engage its partners to have a truly robust and successful program... [The U.S.] will be able to contribute heavy lift launch technology, including the capability to launch humans beyond low Earth orbit, to that effort. Within 180 days of the enactment of this act NASA shall [provide a] a set of scientific and exploration goals, including mission destinations, for utilizing the new space transportation system...including any plans for collaboration with international partners." (9/19)

A Monster Rocket, or Just a Monster? (Source: Space Review)
Last Wednesday, with only a few hours' notice, NASA unveiled its design for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Jeff Foust reports on the technical and political issues associated with the SLS design and the concerns some have about the program's future. Visit to view the article. (9/19)

UARS: A Potential Opportunity to Bolster International Space Law (Source: Space Review)
Later this week a 20-year-old NASA satellite will reenter the Earth's atmosphere, posing a very small risk to the public from falling debris. Michael Listner argues that the US can use this reentry as an opportunity to shore up elements of international space law. Visit to view the article. (9/19)

Euphemistically Speaking (Source: Space Review)
Space agencies and companies often come up with interesting euphemisms for describing launch failures. Dwayne Day wonders if it's time to come with an entirely new word to describe when a rocket has a bad day. Visit to view the article. (9/19)

Senate Cuts $400 Million From NASA Technology Request (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Senate has whacked $400 million out of two budget areas designed to allow NASA to develop new space technologies. However, proposed expenditures are significantly above the level proposed by the House and the minimal amount urged by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. The majority of the funding — $387 million — was cut from the President’s request for space technology funding. The remainder — $13.5 million — was sliced from the Exploration and Development budget that is part of the space agency’s Exploration Directorate.

There were relatively small reductions in the SBIR and STTR programs, which provide technology development grants to companies and universities. The Crosscutting Space Technology and Exploration Technology budgets were both cut sharply. The Exploration and Development budget was reduced by $13.5 million to $275 million. The President’s requested $288.5 million for this program, while the House has proposed spending $289 million. Senators said they wish they could spend more on space technology development. (9/16)

XCOR Signs Eight-Figure Deal with Curacao Group (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Space Expedition Curaçao (SXC) and XCOR Aerospace have completed a multi-million dollar transaction that secures the wet lease of production Lynx tail number two for operation on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, pending export licensing action. “Now that the ink is dry and the check has cleared we can proceed at full pace to begin operations in Curaçao in 2014,” said Jeff Greason.

In addition to securing an exclusive lease for the production Lynx tail number two, SXC has also optioned the exclusive right to lease the production Lynx tail number one for up to three months out of a given calendar year, prior to the delivery of tail number two. The press release's headline say this is an "eight figure" deal, meaning at least $10,000,000. To put this in perspective, Greason recently said that XCOR had spent $27 million since it was founded 12 years ago this month. XCOR's cost for producing the first Lynx prototype is a tiny fraction of the $400 million that Virgin Galactic is spending on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles. (9/19)

Embry-Riddle Students’ Eco Eagle Set to Fly in Green Flight Challenge (Source: ERAU)
An intrepid team of student engineers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and their innovative aircraft, Eco Eagle, are lined up against four corporate rivals in the Green Flight Challenge set for Sep. 25-Oct. 3 in Santa Rosa, Calif. The challenge is sponsored by Google and hosted by NASA. The contest goal: design and build a highly fuel-efficient aircraft that can fly 200 passenger miles per gallon of fuel at an average speed of 100 miles per hour.

The prize: $1.5 million, plus bragging rights for having the most technologically advanced aircraft on the planet. “We don’t look at the prize as a big deal,” says Richard “Pat” Anderson, professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle and the team’s adviser. “The educational process, the research, and the fact we’re producing a greener airplane are the reasons we’re doing it.”

When the Green Flight Challenge began a year and a half ago, more than a dozen teams were in the running. Today, it’s down to the Embry-Riddle students and their four corporate competitors: Pipistrel, a Slovenian aircraft maker; Phoenix Air, a distributor of Czech-made aircraft; e-Genius, a German aircraft maker backed by Airbus; and Feuling Parts, which makes aftermarket parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. (9/19)

United Technologies Reportedly is in Talks to Buy Goodrich (Source: Bloomberg)
United Technologies has discussed the possibility of securing about $15 billion in financing for a possible takeover of Goodrich Corp., sources said. The acquisition of the aircraft-systems maker would expand UTC's aerospace business as passenger-plane production is booming. (9/19)

Air Force Plans Minuteman-3 Launch from Vandenberg on Sep. 21 (Source: Launch Alert)
The next Minuteman launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base will probably 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. (9/19)

NASA's Future on Space Station Hinges on Private Spaceships (Source:
NASA vitally needs new private spaceships, vehicles capable of carrying U.S. astronauts and from the International Space Station (ISS), in order to maintain the future health of the massive orbiting laboratory. And they need them soon, agency officials said in an industry forum. "Every year we do not have a commercial crew capability, the ISS is at risk," Philip McAlister, acting director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters in Washington, stressed before an audience of private spaceflight industry representatives. (9/19)

The Search for Apollo 10's 'Snoopy' (Source: Discovery)
It's not often I read about a new project that leaves me undecided whether it's totally crazy or a stroke of genius. I was recently sent a press release of such a project and, having read it over a few times, I think I'm leaning toward the latter. The idea is the brain child of British amateur astronomer Nick Howes who not only has a passion for hunting for asteroids, but also for the Space Race -- in particular, the Apollo era.

It's perhaps fitting then that Howes' new project combines his two passions and will challenge him and a host of other very prestigious organizations more than they have ever been challenged before. As part of NASA's Apollo 10 mission, the lunar module ascent stage -- affectionately called 'Snoopy' -- was discarded and sent into an orbit around the sun. 42 years later and it's still believed to be out there.

In a celestial version of finding a needle in a haystack, Howes and his team are about to embark on the seemingly impossible: finding Snoopy! The team are under no illusion of how difficult the task will be as Paul Roche, Director of the Faulkes Telescope Project states: "To paraphrase President Kennedy, we are trying these things 'not because they are easy but because they are hard' -- this will be a real test for the hardware and the people involved." (9/19)

Space Shuttle Launch Gantries Disappear (Source: Florida Today)
The historic space shuttle gantries that for decades stood at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center are no more. After more than two years of careful "deconstruction" work, demolition crews told NASA last week that the pad was clean of the fixed and rotating service structures that supported the launch of 53 shuttle missions. Started in 2009 in support of NASA's now-canceled Constellation program and its Ares rockets, work to clear the towers was focused on converting 39B to a "clean pad," capable of launching different types of manned and unmanned boosters.

The pad may now be leased by NASA to companies providing commercial rockets to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Or, together with its yet-to-be-cleaned twin pad 39A, Pad 39B could also be used to support NASA's recently revealed heavy-lift Space Launch System vehicle. Future rockets launching from Pad 39B will arrive with their own mobile gantries, similar to how the pad got its start more than 40 years ago. (9/19)

15th Undersea NEEMO Exploration Mission Set Off Florida Coast (Source: NASA)
An international crew of astronauts will venture into the Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 17 to test innovative solutions to engineering challenges during a crewed mission to an asteroid. NASA astronaut and former International Space Station crew member Shannon Walker will lead the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a 13-day undersea mission aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla.

The NEEMO crew also includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. They are members of the 2009 NASA astronaut class. Rounding out the crew is Steven Squyres of Cornell University, James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts. (9/19)

Space Videos of Interest (Source: Various)
Here are a few videos of interest. This KSC video highlights the center's emerging partnerships with commercial companies and Space Florida. This one features the plethora of launch vehicle programs that have been canceled (many led by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center). And this one shows a timelapse of the dismantling of Launch Complex 39B at KSC. (9/19)

New GPS Satellites Could Help Solve Orbital Anomaly (Source: MIT Technology Review)
On 8 December 1990, something strange happened to the Galileo spacecraft as it flew past Earth on its way to Jupiter. As the mission team watched, the spacecraft's speed suddenly jumped by 4 mm per second. Nobody took much notice — a few mm/s is neither here or there to mission planners. Then on 23 January 1998, the same thing happened to NASA's Near spacecraft as it swung past Earth. This time its speed jumped by 13 mm/s. The following year, Cassini's speed was boosted by 0.11mm/s during its Earth fly-by. And people finally began to ask questions when the Rosetta spacecraft's speed also jumped by 2 mm/s during its 2005 close approach."

Nobody knows what causes these strange hiccups in spacecraft speed but there is no shortage of theories. If scientists are ever to get to the root of this phenomenon, they need to have a way of measuring it repeatedly, unambiguously and in detail. But flyby's are few and far between. And even when they do occur, NASA's Deep Space Network which monitors spacecraft from the ground is not designed to study the effect in detail.

As a result, the fly-by anomaly has never been caught in flagrante. Instead, it arises as the difference between the observed and expected velocity after a flyby. Today, some researchers suggest a way out of this conundrum. They say the next generation of global navigation satellite systems ought to be able to help. These should be capable of detecting the expected change in speed of just a few millimeters per second. (9/19)

Spaceport Indiana Hosts Rocket Challenge (Source: Spaceport Indiana)
Spaceport Indiana held its inaugural Race to Space Rocket Challenge on Sep 10. The challenge, designed to inspire kids across the midwest, gave 5th-12th grade students a chance to build a rocket, understand the principles of rocketry and fly all in the same day. Participants were welcomed by Spaceport Indiana Mission Specialists and teamed up for a great day of fun and learning. The challenge is designed to be a annual event that will grow substantially each year. The focus is to emphasize STEM learning in a project based environment. The Race to Space Challenge will be held again on Sep. 8, 2012. Click here. (9/19)

Will NASA's Hot New Rocket Really Fly? (Source: TIME)
Want to make a space geek dreamy (O.K., dreamier than usual)? Just mention the Saturn V rocket. Thirty-six stories of big-muscle booster, the Saturn V produced 3.4 million kg (7.5 million lb.) of thrust, could carry 120 metric tons of payload, launched 24 astronauts to the moon and put America's first space station in orbit. Then, in 1973, it was forever mothballed.

But those same geeks beamed this week when NASA revealed its plans for its next generation heavy-lift booster. It's designed for deep-space destinations like the Saturn V; it can lift a lot of tons like the Saturn V; it even looks like the Saturn V — eye candy of the first order. "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we're doing at NASA," said space-agency administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden. "While I was proud to fly on the shuttle, tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars."

Despite such official breathlessness, however, there are real concerns around NASA and in Washington that dreaming is what the backers of this project will get. The plan for the rocket is indeed a good one, but if recent decades are any indication, the prospects of anyone ever seeing it fly are murky at best. (9/19)

Military Communications Satellite Launched by China (Source:
A Chinese communications satellite, potentially designed to relay messages between Chinese military forces, blasted off on a Long March rocket Sunday. The Chinasat 1A spacecraft launched from the Xichang space base in southwestern China's Sichuan province. A Long March 3B/E rocket lifted the 11,500-pound satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high point of more than 22,200 miles, a low point of almost 120 miles and an inclination of 27 degrees, according to U.S. military tracking data. (9/19)

Some Small Companies Find Ways to Survive Shuttle's Demise (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Business is steady these days at Aero Industries Inc., a small metal-parts operation in Orlando. Once heavily dependent on NASA's space-shuttle program, the company now has a mix of new clients, in industries ranging from energy and aviation to health care. Its survival is no accident: Aero started scoping out nonspace business half a decade ago, which has helped it avoid a plunge in sales as NASA phased out the shuttle program.

From metal fabricators and security contractors to car-repair shops, many former shuttle vendors are now scrambling to fill the void left by the program's demise. Their efforts have had mixed results, local business officials say. "I think we have had more survivors than closures so far," said Marcia Gaedcke, president of the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Newer businesses have the best shot at surviving, experts say, because they are more able to adapt to change. The companies hit hardest so far are often longtime NASA subcontractors that have never really known anything other than the shuttle. "Older companies tend to be so structured to handle a certain business like the shuttle, they are either not willing to be flexible enough to change or not able to do it fast enough," said Chester Straub, of the Technological Research & Development Authority. (9/19)

Astrium Lands EU Earth Observation Data Contract (Source: Space News)
Astrium Services’ Geo-Information division announced Sep. 19 it will provide data from its optical and radar Earth observation satellites to the commission of the 27-nation European Union (EU) under a three-year contract valued at 17 million euros ($23.5 million). The deal is part of the commission’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program. (9/19)

Moon to Have No-Fly Zones by Month End (Source: The Hindu)
No-fly zones will come into effect on the moon for the very first time by the end of this month! Why, even buffer zones that spacecraft may have to avoid will come into existence. The reason: avoiding any spraying of rocket exhaust or dust onto certain historical sites and artifacts on the moon. The historical sites are of course the Apollo landing sites and artifacts present on the moon. And the “recommendations” are for preserving and protecting these historical sites.

There are currently more than three dozen historical sites that preserve the more than four-decade-old remains. "Apollo 11 and 17 sites [will] remain off-limits, with ground-travel buffers of 75 meters and 225 meters from each respective lunar lander,” states the July 20 guidelines of NASA. By the end of this month NASA is expected to come up with a set of “recommendations” for spacecraft and astronauts visiting the “U.S. government property on the moon.” Of course, these recommendations will not be legally binding as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty makes it clear that the lunar surface has no owner. (9/18)

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