November 17, 2011

Boeing Ships WGS-4 to Cape Canaveral Spaceport for January Launch (Source: Space Daily)
Boeing is completing final integration, test and launch activities on three Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites. WGS-4, WGS-5 and WGS-6 (right to left in photo) are the first WGS satellites in the Block II series, which includes a new radio frequency bypass that supports the transmission of airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery at approximately than three times the data rate of Block I satellites.

Boeing has shipped the fourth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to undergo final preparations for a scheduled January launch. The new WGS satellite will join three others that are already on orbit and carrying the bulk of satellite communications traffic for the armed forces and other government agencies. Built at Boeing's El Segundo manufacturing facility, WGS-4 is the first Block II WGS satellite. (11/17)

DRS Lays Off 70 at Space Coast Plant (Source: Florida Today)
Defense firm DRS laid off about 70 workers this week at its Melbourne factory, leaving about 430 employees. The reduction at DRS Tactical Systems, Inc., comes from a combination of program completion, funding slowdowns and routine staff changes, a spokesman said. (11/17)

Pentagon Successfully Tests Hypersonic Flying Bomb (Source: Space Daily)
The Pentagon held a successful test flight of a flying bomb that travels faster than the speed of sound and will give military planners the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world in less than a hour. Launched by rocket from Hawaii, the "Advanced Hypersonic Weapon" glided through the upper atmosphere over the Pacific before hitting its target on the Kwajalein atoll. The Pentagon did not say what top speeds were reached by the vehicle, which unlike a ballistic missile is maneuverable. (11/17)

HughesNet, WildBlue Subscriber Growth Stalls (Source: Space News)
The two main providers of consumer satellite broadband in the United States, Hughes and ViaSat, both reported zero growth in subscribers in the three months ending Sep. 30 in what they said was a temporary slowdown that will be reversed in the coming months. The figures nonetheless represent the first time since they introduced consumer satellite broadband that neither grew its subscriber base. (11/17)

Charles Bolden is Ushering in an Astronaissance (Source: Leadership)
In the normal course of human endeavor, it is quite commonplace to have people reaching extraordinary achievements; or being “first” among a group of competing peers in some activity; or being the first to accomplish something. But when these achievements are being logged in the uncertain and unknown realm of space travel, “commonplace” falls away and it becomes something else – something more amazing than usual. At least for us ordinary earthlings, that is.

For retired Marine Corps major general Charles Frank Bolden Jr., however, his achievements seem to be no big deal, judging by the matter-of-fact, even humble manner in which he speaks about them. If you did not know better, you would never guess that he is the first African American to be appointed as administrator of NASA; and that coming from the segregated Deep South of America in the early 1960s, he was among the first African Americans to successfully pursue a career as a military pilot and astronaut. (11/17)

NASA Unsure How Long Commercial Crew Program Will Be Delayed (Source: Florida Today)
NASA officials say the reduced funding for the commercial partnership to replace the space shuttle will delay the program two years and maybe longer. Congress this week is set to approve a 2012 budget for the space agency that funds the "Commercial Crew" program at $406 million -- less than half the $850 million the Obama Administration said would ensure a 2015 launch.

When lawmakers floated a $500 million allocation earlier this year, NASA responded by saying that would delay the first launch to 2017. Now that Congress has settled on $406 million, all NASA officials will say is that they're reviewing the impact posed by even fewer resources. Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana said he would not be able to comment yet on the impact less money would have. "Not until I have a chance to go back and really study it," he said. (11/17)

Obama Threatens Veto of Defense Authorization Bill (Source: National Journal)
The Obama administration threatened on Thursday to veto a major defense authorization bill because of language mandating that terror suspects be put under military custody, a sharp escalation of its battle with Congress over the future course of the war on terror. The Senate’s version of the bill includes language effectively requiring that al-Qaida suspects captured overseas – and potentially at home – be transferred from civilian custody to the military. The Pentagon opposes the provision. (11/17)

U.S. Presses Ahead On Space Code While China Ignores Us (Source: AOL Defense)
What if you crafted an international nuclear arms agreement and didn't get all the major nuclear powers to sign on? That's sort of the position the United States finds itself in as it pursues an international code of conduct designed to encourage international space cooperation to limit space debris and encourage information sharing about potential problems. Russia, India and the European Union all seem amenable to some sort of voluntary international agreement based on the European Union's Space Code of Conduct. But China? Not so much.

The State Department official charged with the day-to-day work on this issue, Frank Rose, made it very clear that China has declined to even discuss the concept, let alone engage in discussions or negotiations about how to implement such an agreement. Rose said that there have been "no substantive discussions" with China. However, "the U.S. is very interested in having this dialog with China," he added. Pressed, he conceded that we may not very far. "I think it's probably unlikely we will change their views," Rose said. (11/17)

Asteroid Debate Rises to Next Level (Source: MSNBC)
As of now, there's no comet or asteroid that's definitely due to smash into our planet, but experts say it's high time to figure out how to deal with the uncertainties, misunderstandings and political wrangling that will inevitably arise during the asteroid alerts to come. The public's interest in the harmless flyby was just a foretaste of what could happen when astronomers spot a rock that has a significant chance of hitting Earth. And it is a question of "when," rather than "if." Click here. (11/17)

German Firm Starts Selling Space Travel Insurance (Source: Reuters)
A German firm is to start offering space travel insurance, hoping to cash in on a new wave of 'ordinary astronauts' ahead of next year's first commercial space trips. Insurance giant Allianz will start offering its new space travel policies from the start of next year to coincide with the launch of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

So far about 450 people have reserved seats for the $200,000 (126,767 pound), five-minute trips into 'sub-orbital' space, the point where weightlessness kicks in and the curvature of the earth and blackness of space can be seen. Erick Morazin, the Allianz account director in charge of the plans, told Reuters that the while the prices were still being finalized, the most basic level of insurance for such trips was likely to start at around $700 and go up to as much as $10,000. (11/17)

Pluto's Hidden Ocean (Source: Astrobiology)
When NASA's New Horizons cruises by Pluto in 2015, the images it captures could help astronomers determine if an ocean is hiding under the frigid surface, opening the door to new possibilities for liquid water to exist on other bodies in the solar system. New research has not only concluded such an ocean is likely, but also has highlighted features the spacecraft could identify that could help confirm an ocean’s existence.

Pluto's outer surface is composed of a thin shell of nitrogen ice, covering a shell of water ice. Planetary scientists Guillaume Robuchon and Francis Nimmo, both of the University of California at Santa Cruz, wanted to find out whether or not an ocean could exist underneath this icy shell, and what visible signs such an ocean might produce on the surface. (11/17)

Yinghuo Was Worth It (Source: Space Daily)
The apparent loss of Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission has shocked the spaceflight community. There's been plenty of attention placed on this high-profile mission, but relatively little coverage of its piggyback payload, Yinghuo-1. This small satellite was set to become China's first Mars mission. The loss of Phobos-Grunt ended the mission of Yinghuo at the same time.

Yinghuo-1, which remains stored inside a truss structure beneath Phobos-Grunt, will probably make an uncontrolled re-entry before the end of the year. Yinghuo never even got a chance to unfurl its solar panels or perform any real operations in space. It would be tempting to declare this mission a total failure, but this is both unfair and untrue. Yinhuo-1 was a fairly low-cost and low-key way for China to begin its planetary exploration program. If the program is treated as an exercise in starting such a program, it should be considered successful. (11/17)

L2 Aerospace's "Instant Eyes" Among "Best of What's New" in Popular Science (Source: L-2)
This week, Popular Science Magazine released it’s “Best of What’s New for 2011” Awards, highlighting the top 100 innovative technologies in the world. Instant Eyes, a hand held, rocket launched UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) developed by Rocket Lab and L2 Aerospace, received an award in the “Security” category as one of the “World’s Most Innovative Technologies.” (11/17)

China, U.S. Use Same Tracking Base (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Australian officials said on Wednesday that they didn't consult the U.S. on a plan to allow China to use a space-tracking station in Western Australia that is also used by NASA, despite widespread concerns that the Chinese space program is largely controlled by the Chinese military.

The admission comes as a potential embarrassment to Australian authorities as they host U.S. President Barack Obama on his first official visit there. Mr. Obama on Wednesday unveiled plans to boost the U.S. military presence in the country, in large part to hedge against China's escalating firepower. An Obama administration spokesman said late Wednesday that he was unaware of the ground-station issue.

U.S. officials and experts have long expressed concerns that China's space program has potential military applications, including enhancing its ability to target U.S. aircraft carriers, and other Navy ships, with a recently deployed antiship ballistic missile. While the site's owner and Australian authorities say there's no risk of China accessing U.S. operations there, some experts say that China could use it to better position spacecraft for military surveillance. (11/17)

U.S. Commander Cannot Pin Down Satellite Anomaly (Source: Reuters)
The command responsible for U.S. military space operations lacks enough data to determine who interfered with two U.S. government satellites, anomalies behind perhaps the most explosive charge in a report on China sent to Congress on Wednesday. "What I have seen is inconclusive," General Robert Kehler, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in a teleconference from Omaha, Nebraska, home to the military outfit that conducts U.S. space and cyberspace operations.

China's military is a prime suspect, the bipartisan, 12-member commission made clear, though it added that the events in question had not actually been traced to China. The techniques "appear consistent with authoritative Chinese military writings" that have advocated disabling a foe's satellite control facilities on the ground in a conflict, the commission said. (11/17)

L-2 Aerospace May Build and Test Micro Aerial Vehicle on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
In Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers under attack by insurgents need to know if safety or danger lies over a mountain ridge. In Brevard County, a firefighter surrounded by a fast-moving brush fire needs a quick survey of potential escape routes. There’s no time to waste. Both might someday grab a flashlight-sized device called “Instant Eyes” from a backpack, launch the rocket-propelled sensor system skyward and within 20 seconds begin receiving high-resolution images of the surrounding terrain on a phone or laptop.

L2, which earlier this year received $500,000 from Space Florida to help complete prototypes, is close to choosing a primary manufacturing site for Instant Eyes, and two of the three potential locations are in Brevard County. Another $1.2 million from the state will support development of a next-generation product that “uses suborbital related techniques for implementation,” according to a public meeting agenda, and could also bring work to Brevard.

For Space Florida, the investments are part of a push to diversify the state’s aerospace sector beyond traditional government spaceflight programs, including more emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Though Instant Eyes measures nine inches long, weighs under a pound and only shoots up 2,500 feet, it is considered a miniature UAV. (11/17)

NASA Astronaut Ad: Competitive Salary, Some Travel (Source: Washington Post)
The job market may be dismal in some areas, but if you know how to fly a jet aircraft, have a sitting blood pressure of less than 140/90 and want to live in Houston, NASA may have a job for you. For the first time since 2007, NASA has put out a call for would-be astronauts. Despite its shuttering of the space-shuttle program, the agency needs to beef up its dwindling numbers of space men and women.

It posted a job application to on Tuesday for Astronaut Candidates. Starting salary range: $64,724 to $141,715. A report in early September concluded NASA needs to start recruiting or it could face a shortage of flight-ready astronauts within five years. NASA currently employs 59 astronauts, down from 150 a decade ago. (11/16)

Michoud Readies for New Life as Assembly Center for NASA Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
Seeing a four-door American sedan drive slowly by makes the size of Building 103 at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility finally real. Facts and figures blur together about the most-famous building at this legendary NASA facility covering 832 acres. Building 103 has 43 of those acres under one roof. The big orange space shuttle fuel tanks were made here, where there's literally room for factories within factories. Hurricane Katrina bounced off Building 103 like a wet Nerf ball.

But seeing workers pause at internal intersections to check for cars coming in the other direction will persuade anyone with any doubts: This place is a monster. The Michoud Assembly Facility, known at NASA by its acronym MAF, is actually managed by Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center. The MAF director, Steve Doering, has his office at Marshall and spends half of his time in Huntsville and half in New Orleans. The MAF will house construction of the core of the new heavy-lift rocket and its upper stage. Here is where contractors will mount the space shuttle main engines that will lift the new rocket to the core and also add its avionics and instrument ring. (11/16)

Space Pioneer: Humans Could Leave Earth ‘Irreversibly’ in Coming Decades (Source: US News)
In the early 1990s, Peter Diamandis decided he wanted to experience weightlessness—-unfortunately, the only zero gravity flights at the time were with NASA. He decided to create his own. "I spent many weeks and months trying to get on a zero-G airplane," he says. "Finally, I said, 'Forget it. I'm going to start it myself.'" Since then, Zero Gravity Corp., one of his (many) companies, has helped more than 12,000 people experience weightlessness.

Another company he founded, Space Adventures, has flown eight private citizens to the International Space Station, and his X PRIZE Foundation has been lauded by many for pushing forward personal space travel and other scientific innovation. Click here to read the interview.

Editor's Note: Zero-G Corp. flew another commercial mission from Florida last week, but only a handful of paying customers were onboard. Given the company's continued difficulty in attracting commercial fliers at $5,000 each, I wonder about the long-term strength of the market for suborbital space tourism with seats selling for between $100,000 to $200,000. (11/17)

Scientists Say Lakes Could Raise Odds for Life on Europa (Source:
The discovery of a reservoir of liquid water embedded in the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa could increase the chances for life in oceans deep beneath sheets of ice blanketing its surface, scientists said. Using data from NASA's Galileo probe, researchers created a model that could explain the formation of at two relatively dark, bumpy features in Europa's surface.

Called chaos terrains, the features resemble geologic activity observed on Earth's ice shelves and under glaciers covering volcanoes, according to NASA. The researchers' model postulates the features are actually subsurface lakes that serve as conduits between Europa's outer crust and oceans deeper below. The lake described is covered with floating ice shelves that might be collapsing in on themselves, restoring the subsurface ocean with nutrients, according to scientists. (11/17)

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