October 20, 2011

Orbital Announces Third Quarter 2011 Financial Results, Anticipates Taurus-2 Delay (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. reported its financial results for the third quarter of 2011. Third quarter 2011 revenues were $342.2 million, up 9% compared to $314.5 million in the third quarter of 2010. Third quarter 2011 operating income was $24.7 million, compared to $19.4 million in the third quarter of 2010. Net income was $16.5 million, compared to net income of $10.6 million in the third quarter of 2010.

Launch vehicles segment revenues increased $10.7 million, primarily due to increased production work on target launch vehicles and Taurus-2 rockets, partially offset by decreased activity on Minotaur vehicles and missile defense interceptors... However, continued delays in completing construction and certification of the Wallops Island launch complex are expected to result in an approximately two-month schedule delay for the first Taurus-2 test flight, moving it from late December 2011 to late February or early March 2012. (10/20)

NASA Delta-2 Launch Delayed at Vandenberg Spaceport in California (Source: Launch Alert)
The launch of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base has been retargeted for Friday, Oct. 28. The postponement will allow time to complete the necessary engineering review before the payload fairing is installed around the spacecraft. The launch window on Oct. 28 is unchanged and extends from 2:48:01 a.m. - 2:57:11 a.m. PDT. (10/20)

First Russian Rocket Launch from South America Delayed by Fueling Problem (Source: Space.com)
The launch debut of a Russian rocket from a European-run spaceport in South America was delayed on Oct. 20 by a fueling glitch, launch officials said. The Soyuz rocket was expected to launch two new satellites for Europe's Galileo navigation system at 6:34 a.m. EDT from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

"Following an anomaly detected during fueling of the Soyuz launcher's third stage, the final countdown has been interrupted," Arianespace officials said in a status update. "The Soyuz and its two Galileo satellites, along with the launch facility have been placed in a safe mode." The launch is now planned for 6:30 a.m. EDT on Friday. (10/20)

Dwarf Planet 'Snow White' Has Water Ice and Maybe Atmosphere (Source: Space.com)
A mysterious little world nicknamed "Snow White" is covered in ice and may sport the wispy remnants of an atmosphere, a new study of a dwarf planet that lies outside Neptune has found. Even though Snow White — officially known as 2007 OR10, and orbiting the sun as part of the Kuiper belt — is actually red, half of the surface is covered by water ice that probably spewed from ancient cryovolcanoes, researchers said. The dwarf planet's reddish hue likely comes from a thin layer of methane, the last gasps of an atmosphere that has been bleeding off into space for eons. (10/20)

United Technologies Reports $1.32 Billion in Q3 Earnings (Source: AIA)
United Technologies reported earnings of $1.32 billion for the third quarter, compared with $1.2 billion for the same quarter last year. "This was another solid quarter for UTC, with continued organic sales growth across all six of our businesses," CEO Louis Chenevert said. However, the company has noticed a cooling-off in customer orders for heating and air-conditioning systems. (10/20)

Arianespace Loses Thaicom Business to SpaceX (Source: Bangkok Post)
Thaicom Plc, Arianespace's only customer in Thailand, said it would enter into contracts with the satellite builder Orbital Sciences and the launch-service provider SpaceX for the construction and launch of the Thaicom 6 satellite by mid-2013 in a $160-million project. Thailand is Arianespace's fourth-biggest market in Asia behind Japan, India and Australia. Arianespace has provided satellite launching service for Thaicom for 14 years.

"We expect to lose the Thai customer for the first time, with a potential revenue loss of $100 million as a satellite launching service, as Thaicom used Arianespace to launch all five of its satellites previously," said Richard Bowles. Arianespace's annual revenue stood at one billion US dollars.

However, Mr Bowles warned Thaicom that using the new satellite launching service might result in a 30% chance of failure due to SpaceX's lack of launching experience. He acknowledged that the company's launching fee was double that of the US-based SpaceX. Mr Bowles said he accepted Thaicom's decision but said that if there was any change in the decision, the company's Ariane 5 and Soyuz rockets could be options for Thaicom 6. (10/20)

SpaceShipTwo “Dropped Like a Rock” During Test Flight Stall (Source: Parabolic Arc)
According to one observer of the craft’s rapid descent, “It dropped like a rock and went straight down. Typically, it takes 11 minutes to land, but this time it was only seven minutes before they were on the ground. It was a nail-biter … but that’s how you learn.”

George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive officer and president, said the glide flight included a third seat flight test engineer onboard SpaceShipTwo for the first time. “A good capability for us to have for this phase of test,” he told SPACE.com. “Yes, apparently the tails exhibited stall characteristics in the test — which was a steep nose down maneuver.”

Whitesides confirmed that SpaceShipTwo was ultimately able to carry out a nominal landing. “Scaled is looking at the data now, but doesn’t anticipate any major issues,” Whitesides said. “This is why we flight test, to fully explore the aerodynamic flight envelope.” (10/20)

Branson on Virgin Galactic's Environmental Impact (Source: Fast Company)
"Because our technology is brand new and not 40 years old as NASA's was, we will be able to put someone into space for less than the environmental price of an economy class ticket from London to New York and back. So almost no carbon output at all. And I think that we might almost be able to, when we fly in a year's time, be zero-carbon. The way that we're heading towards that is that the profits we make from our airline businesses we invest in clean fuels."

"On top of that, we can put satellites into space for almost no carbon output because we're launching them from 60,000 feet rather than land-based satellite launches. So we definitely will bring the carbon footprint of space travel down quite dramatically. The building we just built in New Mexico is LEED certified, and every single thing that happens there was done with the environment in mind." (10/20)

ISS Orbit Raised Three Kilometers (Source: RIA Novosti)
The orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) has been raised by 3.1 km (1.9 miles), a spokesman for Russia's Mission Control said. The maneuver was carried out late on Wednesday using the engines of Russia’s Zvezda module, which were switched on for 106 seconds. (10/20)

Florida Kids Excel in National Rocket Competition (Source: Hobby Space)
Contestants in the fifth annual 'Reach for the Stars' National Rocket Competition had to build and launch their own solid-fuel powered rocket. The competitions were held in their area by schools, scouts, youth groups and Challenger Learning Centers. The closest average landing by parachute to a target after two launches wins. Local winners' results were submitted to the national competition.

Three of the winners, Marc Kolling, Jo’nae McCullough, Mari Hernandez received trophies and launched their rockets at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida. They continued their celebration with their families by visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Also, honored for their involvement in Helping Kids Reach for the Stars and celebrating with a launch were Lori Bradner and George Bartusk; teachers with the Central Florida Aerospace Academy.

Marc Kolling competed at Laurel Elementary School, in Poinciana, Florida under teacher, Michael Bastedo and Assistant Principal, Shannon Young. Mari Hernandez launched with Membership Development Specialist, Patricia Hemenway of the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. This is the second national win for Ms Hemenway and her Girl Scouts. (10/20)

SpaceX Completes Key Milestone to Fly Astronauts (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has successfully completed the preliminary design review of its revolutionary 'pusher' launch abort system, a system designed for manned missions using its Dragon spacecraft. This represents a major step toward creating an American-made successor to the Space Shuttle. NASA's approval of the latest design review marks the fourth successfully completed milestone under the agency's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and demonstrates the innovation that's possible when NASA partners with the private sector.

With the latest design review approved by NASA, SpaceX can now start building the hardware at the heart of its innovative launch abort system. The SpaceX design incorporates the escape engines into the side walls of Dragon, eliminating a failure mode of more traditional rocket escape towers, which must be successfully jettisoned during every launch. (10/20)

China's Moon Ambitions: What Do the Experts Say? (Source: MSNBC)
Bigelow said his analysis of China's moon threat was based on two years of observing the space policy landscape, rather than personal discussions with the Chinese. Generally speaking, experts on Chinese space policy say that it's too early to judge the nation's long-term intentions. "I think it is a little bit of a stretch to think about whether the Chinese will be laying claim to the moon," said Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. "I would be very surprised if they had any plans one way or the other."

Cheng said the Chinese were clearly interested in lunar exploration. "They will have all the pieces in place in the 2021-2025 time period to think about putting a man on the moon," he said. But he doubted that China would try to do anything inflammatory — for example, rolling up the American flag at Tranquility Base and putting a Chinese flag in its place. "Incendiary stuff, not likely," Cheng said.

It's more likely that China would want to see an international body such as the United Nations in charge of lunar exploration and exploitation, Cheng said. He pointed to the example of the Law of the Sea Convention, which governs the use of marine resources but has not yet been ratified by the U.S. Senate. He said they'd definitely oppose an arrangement in which non-governmental entities are in charge. (10/20)

Russia and Europe Launch a Tricky Partnership (Source: Der Spiegel)
The Russians' new rocket launch complex at French Guiana, 13 kilometers from the European Ariane-5 launch pad, is sealed off by three layers of barbed wire, checkpoints, teams of guards, video cameras and electric fences. "No details!" Jean-Claude Garreau snaps at a group of journalists at the site. "No detailed photos. This here is highly confidential!"

Europe's Ariane launch vehicle has an unusual disadvantage in this new space race: It's too powerful. With its state-of-the-art hydrogen propulsion system, it can heave a payload of more than 10 metric tons into a geostationary orbit. But since most satellites weigh less than half as much, impatient customers are often forced to wait a long time before another satellite is found for a cost-saving tandem flight.

Russia's Soyuz spacecraft has the opposite problem. Based at the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, the rocket isn't powerful enough to cope with the size of many telecommunications satellites. The spaceport in French Guiana offers the Russians an elegant solution. While the Soyuz can only hoist a 1.7 ton payload into orbit from the launch site in Baikonur, its performance jumps to three tons at the equator. (10/20)

Space Taxi Delays Spur Bigelow Aerospace Layoffs (Source: Reuters)
A start-up space company building inflatable habitats for commercial and government lease has laid off half its staff because of delays developing space taxis needed to fly people to the outposts, the company president said on Wednesday. Robert Bigelow, a hotel entrepreneur and founder of Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace, had hoped space taxis, also needed by NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, would be available by early 2015.

Those spacecraft, however, are not expected to be ready to fly until at least 2016, extending the amount of time the United States is dependent on Russia to fly crews to the space station, at a cost of more than $50 million per person, and delaying the debut of Bigelow's commercial outposts, which need spaceships to ferry customers to and from orbit.

Bigelow has agreements with the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates for use of its space habitats. The company already has flown and tested two prototypes in orbit. But uncertainty about when space transportation will be available, coupled with global economic concerns, prompted some of the clients to postpone their programs. Bigelow, in turn, pared its 115-member workforce down to 51, Bigelow said. (10/20)

Record-Breaking Photo Reveals a Planet-sized Object as Cool as the Earth (Source: Penn State)
A photo of a nearby star and its orbiting companion -- whose temperature is like a hot summer day in Arizona -- will be presented by Penn State Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kevin Luhman during the Signposts of Planets conference at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on 20 October 2011. A paper describing the discovery will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

"This planet-like companion is the coldest object ever directly photographed outside our solar system," said Luhman, who led the discovery team. "Its mass is about the same as many of the known extra-solar planets -- about six to nine times the mass of Jupiter -- but in other ways it is more like a star. Essentially, what we have found is a very small star with an atmospheric temperature about cool as the Earth's." (10/20)

All Together Now: Shuttle Engines Ready For Re-Use (Source: Universe Today)
That’s a lot of power under one roof! For the first time in… well, ever… all fifteen Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) are together inside NASA’s Engine Shop at Kennedy Space Center. They will be prepped for shipment to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi where they’ll become part of the propulsion used on NASA’s next generation heavy-lift rocket: the Space Launch System. (10/20)

Milky Way’s 'Missing Satellites' (Source: Hindustan Times)
Two researchers from Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg have explained why galaxies like our Milky Way have so few satellites around them – the ‘missing satellites’ problem. They have revealed for the first time the existence of a new signature of the birth of the first stars in the Milky Way. More than 12 billion years ago, the intense ultraviolet light from these stars dispersed the gas of our galaxy’s nearest companions, virtually putting a halt to their ability to form stars and consigning them to a dim future. (10/20)

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