October 1, 2011

Space Debris Could Hit Us With Some Weighty Legal Conundrums (Source: Guardian)
After the anti-climax of Nasa's upper atmosphere research satellite (UARS) falling into the Pacific, rather than on anyone's head, it will be only a few weeks until we need to start anxiously peering skywards once more for the return of Rosat, a German x-ray satellite telescope. UARS raised the question of who would be legally responsible if satellite debris did hit someone, which becomes ever more likely as the amount of junk in orbit around the planet grows – NASA says an average of one tracked piece of debris has fallen back to Earth each day over the last 50 years, most of them burning up in the atmosphere.

According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the so-called Magna Carta of spaceflight, the country where the object was launched is absolutely liable. UARS also gives a glimpse into the fantastically niche area of space law, which throws up all sorts of interesting questions – for example, under whose law would you prosecute an American astronaut who assaulted an English astronaut in the Russian part of the international space station? (America would have first dibs.) Inventions created on the station are patented in the country which has jurisdiction over the module in which the work was done.

Just don't ask about what nationality a baby born on the moon would have. The UN moon agreement does not consider the possibility. A fundamental principle of our current space treaties is that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries ... and shall be the province of all mankind". This arguably causes a tension with the commercialization of space. Click here. (10/1)

New York Would Like to Display Shuttle Alongside a Strip Club (Source: Beaumont Enterprise)
New Yawkers just spit in the eyes of every tee’d off Southeast Texan who believes that Texas should be home to one of the four discontinued space shuttles. It seems officials in New York City have had a change of heart when it comes to where the shuttle should be located. Originally, it was slated to be displayed alongside the aircraft carrier that is home to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. No longer. Instead, they’d like to place one of Houston’s finest next to a strip club; grab a bagel, see the shuttle, catch a lap dance. Makes perfect sense. (10/1)

Obama Reiterates Commitment to Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Policy Online)
In an interview with Orlando's WESH TV, President Obama said that he is "committed" to the human spaceflight program. The interview focused primarily on the Florida economy and jobs, and the upcoming election. WESH stated that 9,000 jobs were lost when the "manned space program shut down... and we're not planning to have any more manned spaceflights until 2025." WESH raised the concern about losing expertise as well as public support by waiting so long to "put men back into space."

The President did not correct WESH by pointing to the commercial crew flights planned for 2015-2016, or mentioning ongoing operations of theSpace Station. President Obama responded with: "I am absolutely committed to manned spaceflight," but we are in a time of transition and "probably should have done a better job of planning this out 20 years ago." He said that technology needs to be revamped and launch vehicles improved. He said he decided "to emphasize human spaceflight.

"That's part of what makes America great and it sparks the imagination" here and around the world. But there needs to be time to develop "new technologies, more effective rockets" and learn how to build environments so people can remain in space for longer periods of time. There will a "huge amount of investment" in those areas. "...We are trying to figure out how [to] move ... engineers, scientists and technicians ... into these new projects to develop that next stage of human spaceflight." (10/1)

Mark Kelly Retires From Navy (Source: Daily Beast)
Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, retired from the Navy on Saturday. He announced he would be retiring in June, saying he wanted to spend more time helping Giffords recover and spend more time with his daughters. Giffords is recovering after being shot in the head in January during a shootout that killed six and wounded 13. Kelly commanded the space shuttle Endeavour’s last launch in May, and he and Giffords are currently writing a memoir. (10/1)

Virgin Galactic’s Upcoming Spaceflight Plans (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides said SpaceShipTwo has not been in active test flights in recent months. “We’ve had the vehicle basically in the hangar for the last couple months... working on some mods,” he said. Test flights through the rest of this year will still be unpowered, and plans call for integrating SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor into the vehicle early next year and start rocket-powered flight tests. “Our current aspiration is to try to get to some definition of space by the end of next year,” he said.

He was vague on what “some definition” is; while the Kármán line, a widely-used definition of space is 100 kilometers, US government agencies award astronaut wings for flights to 50 miles (80 kilometers). After that, he said, entering commercial operations will depend on two “big tasks”: transferring flight operations form Mojave to Spaceport America in New Mexico (a formal dedication of the spaceport’s main terminal building is planned for October 17), and getting a launch license from the FAA. (10/1)

Rocket's Red Glaring Error: China Plays America the Beautiful During Launch (Source: Guardian)
The lift-off was flawless. The orbit immaculate. But while China's leaders were celebrating the triumphant launch of Tiangong-1 space lab on Thursday, viewers of state television footage were treated to a bizarre choice of soundtrack: America the Beautiful. To mark the launch, the Chinese space agency and China Central Television (CCTV) released a proud animation, set to rousing orchestral strains, of the "Heavenly Palace" thrusting skyward, lofting above the Earth and docking with a Shenzhou crew capsule.

The only problem being that the backing music in question is America the Beautiful – more or less an unofficial national anthem of the United States. It could hardly be more different from the music associated with the launch of China's first rocket in 1970. That satellite transmitted the Cultural Revolution anthem, The East is Red, extolling the virtues of the Communist party and Chairman Mao.

The choice of soundtrack for the Tiangong launch raised several questions. Is this the work of an idealist seeking to usher in a new era of trans-Pacific co-operation, a nationalist who wants to colonise American culture as well as outer space, or simply a propaganda gaffe? (9/30)

India: We Don't Need to Mimic China (Source: Times of India)
It is natural for China's impressive launch of an unmanned space labora-tory to evoke a competitive response from India. The Tiangong-1 represents the first step towards China acquiring a fully functional space station, a target Beijing hopes to achieve by the end of the decade. This would make China only the third nation after the US and Russia to establish a permanent platform in space. And given the economic slowdown in the West, China with its resources is expected to be at the forefront of space exploration over the next few decades.

Having said that, neither is India capable of matching these standards in the short term nor should it try to mirror China move for move. India has its own space program that it can be proud of. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is credited with several successful satellite launches over the years, including the Chandra-yaan-1 lunar probe. ISRO's services are today sought by foreign space agencies for launching satellites.

Yet we are behind China, which can claim to have independently sent astronauts into space and is currently trying to perfect advanced space technology. Far from competing, it would be prudent for India to emphasize the autonomy of its space program, which has its own history and evolution. We should allow our space endeavours to materialize at their own pace. Besides, trying to catch up with China would mean heavily investing in our space program at the cost of more pressing needs. (10/1)

NGA Bracing for New Congressional Scrutiny of EnhancedView Funding (Source: Space News)
The agency that contracted with two commercial companies to purchase Earth observation imagery for 10 years is bracing for fresh questioning of the $7.3 billion program from a U.S. Congress hunting high and low for budget cuts. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is not predicting it will come through the process unscathed. But one year into the planned 10-year EnhancedView program, the agency sees nothing in it that would not stand up to the scrutiny, Duncan Scot Currie said. His office is going all-out to brief Congress on EnhancedView’s status in hopes of limiting the damage. (9/30)

Two Asteroids Zip Between Earth and Moon (Source: Space.com)
A small asteroid zipped by Earth well inside the orbit of the moon on Sep. 30, the second space rock encounter for our planet this week. "Small asteroid 2011 SM173 passed Earth at a safe distance of 180,000 miles (0.8 lunar distance)," NASA's Asteroid Watch program announced. Asteroid 2011 SM173 was about 56 feet wide, making it about the size of a house. Its flyby came just four days after the pass of another space rock — the asteroid 2011 SE58 —which actually came even closer to Earth. The 33-foot wide asteroid 2011 SE58 slipped within 147,000 miles of Earth on Sep. 26. (10/1)

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