September 29, 2011

More Than 500 Signed up for NASA Briefing on New Heavy-Lift Contracts (Source: Huntsville Times)
More than 500 businesspeople will be at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Thursday to see if they can grab a piece of NASA's new $18 billion rocket project. Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center is leading design and development of the $10 billion heavy-lift rocket that is the foundation of SLS, which also includes a new $6 billion crew capsule called Orion and $2 billion in improvements to Kennedy Space Center launch facilities. (9/29)

German Satellite is Expected to Tumble to Earth in November (Source:
Officials at the German Aerospace Center say that one of its decommissioned satellites is expected to fall to Earth in early November. However, it's too early to determine precisely when and where debris from the Roentgen Satellite will land, the officials said. (9/29)

NASA IG Slams Agency on Space Radiation Monitoring (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) sharply criticized NASA's management of a project to replace space radiation monitoring equipment on the International Space Station (ISS). The OIG asserted that "NASA has poorly managed the development of replacement radiation monitoring instruments" needed aboard the ISS to monitor the level of space radiation to which ISS crewmembers are exposed.

Such instruments were placed on the ISS between 2000 and 2002, but need to be replaced because of age or malfunctions. NASA initiated a project to do so in 2008, but because of its poor management, the replacements "are costing more than expected, are behind schedule, and will not include all planned elements." The OIG also discovered that NASA "has never monitored astronaut exposure to neutrons" as required by the ISS Medical Operations Requirements Document (MORD). (9/29)

Successful Test of Taurus-2 Engine (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet, NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp. conducted a successful ground test firing of an AJ26-62 flight engine that will power Orbital's Taurus-2 medium-class space launch vehicle. The test was conducted at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Aerojet's AJ26 engine is an oxidizer-rich, staged-combustion LO2/kerosene engine that achieves very high performance in a lightweight compact package. Based on the Russian NK-33 engine, the liquid-fuel AJ26 will provide boost for the first stage of the Taurus-2. (9/29)

Another Russian Launch Failure: Missile Fails Test Launch at Plesetsk (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's Space Forces confirmed on Wednesday the failure of a test-firing of a Yars (RS-24) intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Plesetsk spaceport. The launch was the first of a prototype modification of the missile. The test concerned a new warhead bus for the solid-fuel RS-24, according to a military source. Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin announced his government planned to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons modernization by 2020. (9/29)

China Launches Module for Space Station (Source: AP)
China launched an experimental module to lay the groundwork for a future space station on Thursday, underscoring its ambitions to become a major space power. The box car-sized Tiangong-1 module was shot into space from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket. (9/29)

South Africa to Host Space Talks (Source: IOL)
An upcoming international astronautical congress in Cape Town marks the world s commitment to space projects in Africa, the SA Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has said. An upcoming international astronautical congress in Cape Town marks the world’s commitment to space projects in Africa, the SA Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has said. The event, to be held on Monday to Wednesday next week, would be the first in Africa in the congress’s 62-year history. (9/29)

China to Perform First Space Docking Mission (Source: CNN)
China's first space laboratory module launched on Thursday, an important milestone in its plan to build a space station. Tiangong-1, which means "heavenly palace" in Chinese, lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province, northwest China. (9/29)

Chinese Launch of Space Lab Module Aims to Close Technology Gap With U.S. (Source: Bloomberg)
China's launch of its first space laboratory module is a step toward a manned station orbiting Earth. The Tiangong-1 is also part of a program that aims to put a man on the moon by 2020 and, together with high-speed trains, the Beijing Olympics and the world’s biggest nuclear-power expansion, serves as a marker for the nation’s emergence as a global power. The launch will cement the country’s lead over emerging nations such as India, Iran and South Korea that are pumping money into matching rocket and docking technology pioneered by the Soviet Union and U.S. five decades ago. (9/29)

Proton-M to be Launched From Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
The launch of the Proton-M space rocket with the QuetzSat-1 telecommunications satellite is planned on Thursday from the Baikonur cosmodrome. “The Briz-M upper stage will be used,” the press service said. (9/29)

Russia Confident of Future in Space Travel (Source: Telegraph)
Despite a good past record, recent problems with Russian spacecraft highlight the need for modernization and to recruit younger specialists. This year has been one of the most dramatic for international space exploration in decades. Recent events are reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. As with any Hollywood blockbuster, triumph followed disaster. Last week, a Proton-M rocket carrying a military satellite was successfully launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. (9/29)

Debris Threatens Space Station (Source Russia Today)
The International Space Station is preparing to perform an evasion maneuver to avoid a 10 cm fragment of a Russian rocket which will pass close to it on Thursday. The ISS will have to move some five kilometers higher to escape the threat. “Observations show that a fragment of the Tsyklon-3 carrier rocket, which delivered the satellites Interkosmos-26 and Magion-3 into orbit back in 1991, will be passing the station on Tuesday night at a threateningly short distance,” the Russian mission control center said.

The danger was detected in plenty of time and the trajectory of the debris was monitored to determine the risk of a collision. The latest calculations show that if an evasion is not made, the junk would pass within 350 meters of the station, which is deemed to be dangerously close. (9/29)

Ukraine Defense Minister Guarantees $250 Million for Joint Rocket Effort (Source: Parabolic Arc)
On a visit to the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, Defense Minister of Ukraine, Mykhailo Yezhel Bronislavovych, said that Ukraine is transferring its part of investment in Alcântara Cyclone Space (ACS). “We have the resources of U.S. $250 million to be invested from October. We are also open to transfer technology to a new satellite launcher, the Cyclone 5, which will be produced jointly with Brazil,” he said. The Brazilian Defense Minister, Celso Amorim, said that ACS is a strategic project for Brazil. (9/29)

Wolf Presses White House on Webb Telescope Funding (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A top Republican from the U.S. House is pressing the White House to offer suggestions on how it would deal with NASA’s troubled James Webb Space Telescope, a program that has broken its budget and schedule and now is expected to cost $8.7 billion and be done by 2018.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, asks the Office of Management and Budget to provide examples on what NASA programs the White House would cut to save Webb, which has seen its budget more than double in recent years. Wolf, who heads the House panel with oversight of NASA spending, had proposed canceling Webb earlier this year but relented after pressure from science groups and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, a powerful champion of the program. (9/29)

Safety Team Finalizes Plan for Nuke-Powered Rover Launch (Source: Florida Today)
A team of local and federal emergency management experts said they're ready for the November liftoff of a plutonium-powered Mars rover after a five-year effort to plan how they would handle any launch accident that results in a radiological release. Odds of an accident resulting in the release of radioactive plutonium are remote: 1 in 420.

The Atlas V rocket launching the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory will be safely away from the Space Coast within 50 seconds of blasting off. Nonetheless, officials say an exhaustive effort was made by NASA, emergency response and safety experts to protect people in the event of an explosion or other emergency. The White House signed off on the launch earlier this month.

The rover will be powered by a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, a device that converts heat from the decay of plutonium-238 into electricity. The plutonium fuel aboard the spacecraft is not the highly explosive material used in nuclear weapons, and it cannot blow up like bomb. (9/29)

SpaceX Puts Falcon 1 On Ice (Source: Aviation Week)
The softness of the small-satellite launch market has forced SpaceX to suspend production of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle pending an upcoming market review. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says: “We haven’t abandoned it, but we are looking to address the market in a more cost-effective way. We were really hoping the small-sat market would be really robust. However, with Falcon 1 we sold very few vehicles through 2010.”

While the company focuses on development of its larger Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers, Shotwell says it will review the Falcon 1 development situation in early 2012. Despite the suspension of Falcon 1 activity, the overall tempo of SpaceX expansion continues unabated as it prepares for a ramp-up in Falcon 9 launches beginning at the end of this year. The company passed the 1,500-employee mark with the induction of new personnel on Sep. 26. (9/29)

Florioda Lt. Gov. Plugs State's Aerospace Potential on D.C. Visit (Source: Sunshine State News)
“Embraer’s substantial investment in Florida is bringing high-valued aerospace industry jobs to Florida’s Space Coast and to U.S. companies in the supply chain,” said Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll in Washington. “And this is much appreciated in light of the end of the space shuttle program.” The governor’s press office noted her itinerary included meetings with Air Force Assistant Secretary Terry Yonkers, Navy Vice Admiral Michael Vitale and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“These meetings focused on Florida military installations which are vital to the state's economy and the cornerstone of America's defense and aerospace industries, which, combined, employ nearly 1 million Floridians,” wrote Lane Wright, the governor’s press secretary. The talk with Bolden was considered mostly a courtesy discussion.

“The experienced and dedicated Florida work force stands ready to tackle the challenges of building a 21st century space program,” said a NASA official. “From the launch of a new commercial space industry to getting a new heavy-lift launch system off the ground, the administrator and lieutenant governor believe the future of business growth and job opportunities in Florida is bright." Carroll chairs the Space Florida board. (9/29)

Virgin Galactic Nears Spaceship Crew Choice (Source: Aviation Week)
Virgin Galactic is close to finalizing the initial flight crews for its space tourism and science operations. Three pilots will make up the first crew who will fly both the SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle and WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mother ship. “There were 550 applicants, and we downselected to the finalists this summer,” says Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides.

He adds that the first announcements are expected “this fall.” The three pilots will fly with Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay, who recently made his first sortie in WK2. Minimum requirements for candidates include graduation from a recognized test pilot school and at least one tour of instruction at a school.

Editor's Note: In the (Congressionally mandated) absence of new FAA regulations for human spaceflight, I believe Virgin Galactic plans to fly without a formal "flight attendant." While it maximizes profit per flight, this also presents a challenge if flyers become disoriented, ill, or unruly as they float within the cabin. They'll have only a short amount of time to strap themselves in before SpaceShipTwo descends, and the two pilots may not be prepared to assist. (9/29)

House Now Nags NASA for Delayed In-Orbit Fuel Depot Documents (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
Poor NASA Administrator Charles Bolden can't catch a break, it seems. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is asking NASA to forward over its analysis and conclusions about on-orbit fuel depots – documents he says Bolden promised back in July. Worse yet, he's trying to enlist the help of former NASA Administrator (and current Obama space policy critic) Michael Griffin.

Rohrabacker, a vocal opponent of NASA's heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), sent a letter dated September 26 to Griffin, an event unearthed by Hobby Space. On-orbit fuel depots were presented in NASA's initial Human Exploration Framework on May 25, 2010, but have now been “dropped,” according to the Congressman. He'd like to know how and why the decision was made. (9/29)

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