October 26, 2011

Astronomers Discover Complex Organic Matter in the Universe (Source: SpaceRef)
In today's issue of the journal Nature, astronomers report that organic compounds of unexpected complexity exist throughout the Universe. The results suggest that complex organic compounds are not the sole domain of life but can be made naturally by stars. The scientists show that an organic substance commonly found throughout the Universe contains a mixture of aromatic (ring-like) and aliphatic (chain-like) components.

The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble those of coal and petroleum. Since coal and oil are remnants of ancient life, this type of organic matter was thought to arise only from living organisms. The team's discovery suggests that complex organic compounds can be synthesized in space even when no life forms are present. (10/26)

Robotics Experts Call for Greater Human-Robotics Interface in Space Missions (Source: Nuntsville Times)
NASA's increasing reliance on robots to assist human space exploration efforts was the subject of a panel discussion Tuesday at the 4th annual Von Braun Memorial Symposium at UAH. "Can we have both robotics and human exploration of space?" was the question posed to a panel consisting of academics and NASA officials. Though the question has often been phrased as an "or" question, panel members felt it should be rephased as an "and" question. (10/26)

Telenor Reports Improved Revenue, Profit (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Telenor Satellite Broadcasting of Norway on Oct. 26 said its revenue and gross profit have improved since the beginning of the year and that it has begun loading customers onto an aging satellite in inclined orbit at a new orbital slot. Oslo-based Telenor also said it is expanding its customer base for maritime communications to ships equipped with VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, antennas that permit high-speed links. (10/26)

ViaSat-1 Launch Is Milestone for Isle of Man (Source: Space News)
The Isle of Man, which has made the space industry a keystone of its economic growth strategy, has reached a milestone with the launch of the first-ever satellite using one of its own orbital slots. ManSat LLC, which assists the Isle of Man government in filing for orbital positions and broadcast frequency rights with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said the ViaSat-1 Ka-band broadband satellite will be operated from a Man-registered slot at 115 degrees west in geostationary orbit. (10/26)

'Doomsday' Comet Elenin is Dead (Source: Space.com)
The wimpy comet Elenin, which vaulted into the public spotlight as a so-called harbinger of doom, has met its own demise, and its remains won't be back for 12,000 years, NASA scientists say. The comet made a swing through the inner solar system in recent months, coming closest to Earth on Oct. 16, but by that time all that was left were crumbs. The fate of comet Elenin, it seems, was sealed in September during its closest approach to the sun. (10/26)

China to Launch Shenzhou-8 Early November (Source: Xinhua)
China will launch the spacecraft Shenzhou-8 in early November at the Jiuquan spaceport. The unmanned spacecraft is expected to perform China's first space docking with Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, a space lab module that was launched in September. The spacecraft and its carrier rocket, an upgraded Long March-2F, were transferred on Wednesday morning on a 20-meter-wide railway to the launch pad. (10/26)

Scientists Counting on NPP Amid Programmatic Turmoil (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Originally conceived as a testbed satellite to prove the advanced designs for future U.S. government spacecraft, the NPP mission blasting off Friday has been thrust to an entirely new level of importance for meteorologists now facing a gap in data from space. Its NPP name once stood for the NPOESS Preparatory Project, the trailblazer for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that aimed to combine civilian and military weather spacecraft into a single program.

But NPOESS was besieged by an ineffective management structure, money woes and long delays, ultimately leading to the outright cancellation last year. The civil and military weather programs were instructed to go their separate ways in developing the next fleets of satellites, which won't be ready to fly for several years. So the NPP satellite is no longer viewed as just an experimental platform. Now, it must supply meteorologists with the observations needed for weather forecasting over the next several years. (10/26)

Strange Hollows Discovered on Mercury (Source: NASA)
NASA's MESSENGER probe has discovered strange hollows on the surface of Mercury. Images reveal thousands of peculiar depressions at a variety of longitudes and latitudes, ranging from 60 feet to over a mile across and 60 to 120 feet deep. "These hollows were a major surprise," says David Blewett. "We've been thinking of Mercury as a relic – a place that's really not changing much anymore, except by impact cratering. But the hollows appear to be younger than the craters in which they are found, and that means Mercury's surface is still evolving in a surprising way."

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted similar depressions in the carbon dioxide ice at Mars' south pole, giving that surface a "swiss cheese" appearance. But on Mercury they're found in rock and often have bright interiors and halos. "We've never seen anything quite like this on a rocky surface." If you could stand in one of these "sleepy" hollows on Mercury's surface, you'd find yourself, like Ichabod Crane, in a quiet, still, haunting place, with a black sky above your head. (10/26)

Space Shuttle Petition Reaches Goal for White House Consideration (Source: Columbus Business First)
A Columbus man is trying to get the White House's attention on his efforts to review the NASA decision to send a retired space shuttle to New York instead of Dayton. The man launched an online petition Sep. 22 on the White House website challenging the decision and has garnered more than 5,500 signatures, the newspaper reports. At least 5,000 signatures were needed to get a White House staff member to review the petition. (10/26)

Virgin Galactic Selects First Commercial Astronaut Pilot From Competition (Source: SpaceRef)
Just over fifty years ago, an historic competition for the first pilots to fly into space yielded the Mercury Seven astronauts. Today, from an intense selection process with more than 500 applicants including some of the best pilots in the world, Virgin Galactic has selected former USAF test pilot Keith Colmer as the first astronaut pilot to join the commercial spaceline's flight team.

Colmer will join Chief Pilot David Mackay to begin flight training and testing, leading to operational missions to space with Virgin Galactic's revolutionary vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Additional selections will be made as the company nears commercial operations. Colmer brings 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental aircraft test flight experience plus more than 10 years of combined military experience in USAF spacecraft operations and flying. He has logged over 5000 hours in over 90 different types of aircraft. (10/26)

NASA Evacuates Astronauts from Deep-Sea Training (Source: NASA Watch)
NASA evacuated a crew of astronauts Wednesday from an underwater lab off the coast of Florida where they were training for a trip to an asteroid, due to the approach of Hurricane Rina. "Crew decompressed overnight and will return to surface shortly. Hurricane Rina just a little too close for comfort," the US space agency said. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) team climbed aboard support boats that were waiting at the surface and they were expected to be on dry land by 9:00 am (1300 GMT)." (10/26)

Excalibur Almaz Gets an Unfunded CCDev Agreement (Source NewSpace Journal)
The ranks of companies with Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) awards from NASA has quietly grown by one. The charter for a hearing on the program today by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee reveals that NASA has signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement with Excalibur Almaz on October 17. There are no other details about the contents of the agreement, including what work it covers and over what schedule.

Excalibur Almaz is now the third company with an unfunded SAA, after NASA signed similar agreements with United Launch Alliance in July and with ATK in September. Both of those were greeted with press releases by NASA and the companies, as well as press conferences. There has yet been no formal announcement about this new agreement by either NASA or Excalibur Almaz. (10/26)

Dollar Gap May Delay Commercial Launches (Source: Florida Today)
The post-shuttle “gap” in astronaut launches from Florida could extend to 2017 if Congress doesn’t boost funding for commercial space taxis, NASA warns. The U.S. will depend on Russia for access to the International Space Station until one or more commercial vehicles are ready. But lawmakers so far have offered hundreds of millions less than NASA requested for the commercial effort in 2012, with six times as much going to a deep space exploration system that won’t fly a crew for a decade.

If development of commercial spacecraft is slowed, reliance on the Russians — at a cost of roughly $60 million per seat — would be prolonged. “That’s the choice,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said at a commercial spaceflight conference last week. (10/26)

Senators Ask Air Force to Suspend Talks with ULA (Source: Aviation Week)
Two lawmakers from the Senate Armed Services Committee are asking the U.S. Air Force to suspend talks with a rocket provider until more detailed pricing is available. "Given the current climate of fiscal austerity, these developments are profoundly troubling," wrote Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., in a letter. The Air Force is negotiating with United Launch Alliance for up to $15 billion in rockets. (10/26)

Twin-Balloon Airship Hits High Frontier (Source: MSNBC)
An unmanned twin-balloon airship rose to nearly 100,000 feet over the weekend — marking the latest milestone for JP Aerospace, an all-volunteer group that's aiming to send balloon-borne payloads into space. Research balloons have risen to heights in excess of 135,000 feet (42 kilometers), but JP Aerospace claims that Tandem set an altitude record for a powered, steerable airship.

The entire Tandem craft weighed 80 pounds, with the balloons accounting for 20 pounds of that weight.
Powell said Tandem is being developed as a "high-altitude backhoe" that can be used as a launch platform for small research rockets, a mothership for hypersonic craft, a construction platform for high-altitude research stations and a precursor for JP Aerospace's "Airship to Orbit" program. (10/26)

NASA Lauds Progress of Commercial Space Companies Ahead of Hearing (Source: Space News)
On the eve of a congressional hearing on its effort to nurture privately owned vehicles for ferrying astronauts to the international space station, NASA issued a report saying four companies receiving federal funding under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 2 program are making “substantial progress toward achieving crewed spaceflight in the middle of the decade.”

“In just six short months since the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners were selected, they have completed 21 of the 57 planned milestones,” NASA said in the Oct. 25 report. The milestones, representing a total of $32.4 million in federal funding, include airbag drop tests of Boeing’s proposed CST-100 capsule and various technical reviews of other planned crew-carrying vehicles. (10/26)

Company Plans Air-Launch Microsat Launch System (Source: Generation Orbit)
Generation Orbit Launch Services is as a new venture dedicated to the creation of a fast, flexible, and dedicated nanosatellite (1-30 kg) orbital payload delivery service. The service, called GO Launcher, will use existing high-speed jet aircraft and mostly existing rockets. Click here.

Editor's Note: This is one of multiple air-launch microsatellite delivery systems under development. Here's a photo of one being developed by Embry-Riddle students in collaboration with multiple industry partners. (10/26)

Wayward Air Force AEHF-1 Satellite Arrives at Geosynchronous Orbit (Source: SpaceRef)
The U.S. Air Force's first Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite completed a 14-month journey to reach its intended operational position in geosynchronous orbit, Oct. 24. The AEHF team will now start an approximately four-month detailed test and checkout phase of all spacecraft systems before the Space and Missile Systems Center transfers satellite command authority to Air Force Space Command's 14th Air Force in early 2012.

Shortly after its Aug. 2010 launch, the AEHF-1 experienced an anomaly with the bi-propellant propulsion system, which was intended to place the spacecraft near its operational orbit. A joint team of Air Force, Lockheed, Aerospace Corp. and Aerojet engineers designed a sophisticated campaign of approximately 500 burns: one phase using hydrazine thrusters and the other using the Hall Current Thruster electrical propulsion system. The plan delivered AEHF-1 to its intended orbit while maintaining its required 14 years of mission life. (10/26)

Virgin’s Delays Hardly Surprising (and Not Necessarily as Long) (Source: NewSpace Journal)
According to a Wall Street Journal article about Virgin Galactic, "passenger flights [won't begin] for at least two more years and operations will ramp up significantly more slowly than previously anticipated...[and the company] likely won’t begin commercial flights until 2013." These two points are at least potentially contradictory. Starting commercial flights in 2013 doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t start “for at least two more years”, given it’s now October 2011: it’s possible that they could start in early 2013, with a delay of a little over one year.

The second issue is that this delay should not be considered a surprise. Pronouncements in recent weeks and months indicated that commercial service would start, at best, in late 2012, with 2013 as a more likely date. For example, Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides said at the beginning of this month that the company would “try to get to some definition of space by the end of next year”, implying that they would still be performing test flights at the end of 2012. (10/26)

Boeing's Spaceship to be Assembled at Kennedy Space Center (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing next week will confirm plans to assemble a commercial space capsule in one of the former shuttle hangars at Kennedy Space Center, work that could create more than 500 jobs. The company on Tuesday emailed invitations to VIP guests for a 10 a.m. Monday event at a hangar that formerly housed the orbiter Discovery. Boeing in July revealed it company was in discussions with NASA and Space Florida -- and other states -- about facilities suitable for manufacturing work on its seven-person CST-100 capsule.

The spacecraft is one of four whose development NASA is helping to fund under a program that hopes to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil again by the middle of the decade. Boeing plans to launch the capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. NASA is expected to transfer the hangar officially called Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3 to Space Florida, which would lease it to Boeing, according to a source knowledgeable about the deal. (10/26)

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