November 23, 2011

Will Italy Build Modules for Future Chinese Space Stations? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Now that China has its Tiangong-1 space station in orbit, the rising space power has a great bargaining chip for concluding cooperative agreements with other nations. This week, China signed a deal with Italy that could see the Italians helping to build future Chinese space stations and flying their astronauts to them.

Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Enrico Saggese was in Beijing on Wednesday to sign a cooperative agreement with China National Space Administration (CNSA) President Chen Qiufa. The deal covers science and exploration, space transportation, Earth observation, telecommunications, satellite navigation, and education, according to an ASI press release. (11/23)

Russia's Mars probe Starts Making Regular Contact (Source: MSNBC)
The European Space Agency said a ground station in Australia has made repeated contacts with Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe. The reports sparked a growing glimmer of hope for a mission that seemed as good as dead a day earlier. ESA said the job was particularly challenging because it was hard to get a precise fix on the spacecraft for a narrow-beam transmission, and because Phobos-Grunt's antenna was optimized to receive low-power transmissions in deep space.

A response came in the form of a simple confirmation from the probe that it had executed commands to switch on its transmitter. The second contact lasted only six minutes, and more data would probably be required to diagnose Phobos-Grunt's problem. If the probe can be revived, James Oberg said it could rank as "the biggest 'space rescue' since Apollo 13, Skylab and the iceberg space station Salyut 7."

Some have suggested that the opportunity for a round trip to Phobos and back has already been lost. Others say engineers had until the end of the month to fix the probe's engines and send it on a path to Phobos. Russian scientists could fix the problem if the probe failed because of a software flaw, but some experts think that the failure was rooted in hardware that's difficult to fix. (11/23)

The Rocket in Nelson's Pocket (Source: SpaceKSC Blog)
When the Space Launch System design was announced Sep. 14 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Florida's Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson whipped out a pen and proceeded to point with great pride at an illustration of the new heavy-lift vehicle. Nelson dubbed it "the Monster Rocket," the phallic symbolism of his rhetoric apparently lost on him. Critics dubbed the SLS the Senate Launch System, because it had no mission or destination.

Its design was dictated by Congress, specifically members of the Senate space subcommittee, led by Nelson and Texas' Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Its primary purpose seemed to be perpetuating pork to their states. In the weeks since the Sep. 14 announcement, Nelson has repeatedly used the phrase "monster rocket," without explaining why we should be impressed by the size of the vehicle. What is this obsession Nelson has with the size and power of the rocket?! Does he think that bragging about building a "monster rocket" is going to get him votes?! (11/23)

How Space Tourists are Prepared for Suborbital Flight (Source: Flight Global)
Aspiring suborbital fliers can prepare themselves for g forces and weightlessness with the NASTAR Center's simulation-based training program. Costumed in blue suits, members of a small group are pacing back and forth, exhaling through pursed lips like actors preparing for a monologue. But this is no stage play. These are civilians who are about to take a flight in NASTAR's Phoenix Space Training Simulator (STS) 400, the core component of a suborbital spaceflight training course offered to future passengers of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

The STS-400 is a 25', 12-ton dual-gimbal centrifuge: one of only two in the world which realistically and simultaneously creates g forces in three different bodily axes. Its riders are practicing a maneuver called "positive pressure breathing", which protects their lungs during the g force experienced in the simulator and, ultimately, on the ride to outer space and back. (11/23)

Enterprise Now Officially, Officially Gone to New York? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA officially awarded space shuttle Enterprise to New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum back in April. But since then the museum has had difficulty meeting some of the promises of its application to get an orbiter, and some Houston politicians have hoped to snag the orbiter for Space Center Houston. Now, according to the CollectSpace, New York will still get a shuttle regardless. The report comes just days after the U.S. House passed a bill demanding accountability from institutions receiving a retired orbiter. (11/23)

The Competition Between Solar and Nuclear Energy Moves to Mars (Source: New York Times)
NASA’s last two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003 and carried solar panels, but the new Mars rover that the space agency is scheduled to launch on Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral uses nuclear power, a fact that did not escape the partisans of nuclear power here on Earth.

But it turns out that both nuclear power and solar power in space have problems. The solar panels on Spirit and Opportunity are gallium-arsenide, a chemistry that is used on Earth but is a niche product, where very high production per square inch is required. Per unit energy produced, if rooftop space is not an issue, silicon-based cells are far less expensive.

Solar power worked acceptably on Mars, but with some difficulties. Dust storms sometimes blotted out 90 percent of the sun’s light, and dust collected on the panels themselves; project scientists referred to “cleaning events” when some kind of wind current reduced the dust coating on the cells. (11/23)

Reduced Budget Threatens Delay in Private Spaceships (Source:
This year's NASA budget halves the requested funding for the agency's commercial crew transportation program, placing the initiative's goal of ending U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft by 2016 in jeopardy, according to NASA officials. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden cautioned legislators on the consequences of a smaller commercial crew budget. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the funding of NASA's commercial crew program needs to be increased.

NASA is currently working with four spacecraft builders in funded agreements worth up to $315.5 million to mature the design of their vehicles. The next phase will be open to all companies regardless of their participation in the program so far. With the budget reduction, NASA will have to select fewer companies or slow the pace of development to start the next round of competition. NASA would prefer to maintain multiple companies in the program as long as possible, possibly through flight tests and crew transport operations. (11/23)

Record Crowds Expected at NASA Mars Rover Launch (Source:
NASA is expecting throngs of people to attend the launch of its newest Mars rover on Saturday (Nov. 26), according to agency officials. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), or Curiosity rover, is scheduled to lift off on Saturday at 10:02 a.m. EST. The crowd size is expected to break previous records for the launch of a robotic spacecraft, NASA officials have said. (11/23)

NASA Hosts Second Annual Education Stakeholders' Summit (Source: NASA)
NASA's Office of Education will host the second Education Stakeholders' Summit Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Virginia. The summit's theme is "An Innovative Solution for the STEM Workforce of Tomorrow." A major conference focus will be the One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI). The program's goal is to build a robust NASA infrastructure for attracting students and facilitating their entry into the NASA workforce through a variety of internships, fellowships and scholarships. (11/23)

Florida Gets Middle Rank in Forbes List (Source: Forbes)
Florida received an overall rank of 24th in a Forbes comparison of the best states for businesses and careers. Categories included business costs (Florida ranked 36), labor supply (13), regulatory environment (15), economic climate (44) growth prospects (13), and quality of life (37). The rankings for other "space states" included Virginia at #2, Colorado at #5, Texas at #6, Oklahoma at #13, Louisiana at #30, New Mexico at #32, Alabama at #37, Ohio at #38, California at #39, Alaska at #42, and Mississippi at #46. Click here. (11/23)

Still Time to Register for Rocketry Challenge (Source: AIA)
There is still time to sign up for the 2012 Team America Rocketry Challenge! We are looking for middle school and high school teams that think they can fly a rocket with a two egg payload to 800 feet with a flight time of 43-47 seconds and bring back the eggs uncracked. If you know students up for the challenge we would encourage you to sign them up for the 2012 Team America Rocketry Challenge. We are extending the registration deadline until Dec. 13, 2011. Click here. (11/23)

ESA Makes Contact with Russia’s Stranded Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft (Source: Space News)
A European Space Agency (ESA) tracking antenna in Australia on Nov. 22 established communications with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which has been stuck in low Earth orbit since its launch Nov. 8 following an unexplained engine failure, ESA and Roscosmos, announced Nov. 23. A fresh attempt to load commands to the spacecraft will be made late Nov. 23 as Phobos-Grunt again becomes visible, for a period of no more than six or eight minutes, to the Australian station. An ESA official said Nov. 23 that the agency is weighing whether to add its antenna in Spain’s Canary Islands to the task. (11/23)

China's Space Docking Tech Granted 15 Patent Certificates (Source: Xinhua)
China's State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) on Tuesday conferred 15 patent certificates to the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), developer of the docking mechanism for China's first space docking mission. Led by the SAST, Chinese scientists developed the docking mechanism and ground-experiment systems for the successful mission. Forty five patent applications regarding the docking technology have been submitted to the SIPO. (11/23)

Patent Dragon Awakes (Source: Financial Post)
Those who deride China for failing to take patent protection seriously might just be provoking a sleeping dragon. China, experts argue, has intentionally maintained a lax intellectual property enforcement regime for decades, waiting until its internal invention industry had become strong enough to warrant something more robust.

More patents will soon be filed in Beijing each year than in Washington, D.C., and Chinese entrepreneurs are stealing the attentions of Silicon Valley pundits and investors. Many believe the Chinese patent dragon is beginning to show signs of stirring. Once that happens, experts say, foreign firms looking to do business there will need to worry less about losing IP to China’s infamous underground economy and more about losing an IP infringement case in a Chinese courtroom. (11/23)

Next Man on the Moon May Well Be Chinese (Source: Macleans)
In terms of technology, Tiangong-1 isn’t a major step forward. The Chinese spacelab, currently unmanned, has a small compartment where up to three astronauts can stay for short periods; it’s been compared to NASA’s Skylab, launched in 1973, or Russia’s first space station, launched in 1971. But China isn’t dallying: since its manned space program was approved in 1992, it has moved at breathtaking speed.

China launched an astronaut into space in 2003, becoming one of just three nations with its own human space flight capabilities (the U.S. and Russia are the other two). Last year, for the first time, it launched more satellites than the U.S., and it’s the only country building a space station by itself. After 2020, China hopes to put a man on the moon. “They’re trying to place themselves in the category of superpower,” says Swansea University’s Michael Sheenan, who studies international space politics. “The Tiangong-1 launch is a step in that direction.” (11/23)

EADS Welcomes Germany's Purchase of 7.5% Stake (Source: Reuters)
EADS welcomed an investment by Germany, as the country purchased a 7.5% stake in the European aerospace group. "The decision clarifies the evolution of the controlling shareholding in Germany and ends some uncertainty," said CEO Louis Gallois at the Dubai Airshow. (11/23)

More Than One Million Jobs at Risk (Source: AIA)
A new economic study projects more than a million job losses in the aerospace and defense industry if the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction cannot balance the budget by December 23, as prescribed by the Budget Control Act. (11/23)

GOP Presidential Candidates Assail Defense Cuts (Source: AP)
Republican presidential candidates expressed dismay in a campaign debate Tuesday about budget cuts that the Defense Department will face. "We need to protect America and protect our troops and our military and stop the idea of 'Obama care,' " Mitt Romney said. The Pentagon faces almost $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. (11/23)

Thales Alenia Developing Software Solution for Globalstar Satellite Problem (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Globalstar Inc. has concluded an agreement with the builder of its second-generation satellite constellation that likely will permit these 24 satellites to operate for 15 years in low Earth orbit even if their momentum wheels fail. Under the agreement, satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy will develop a software patch to be sent to the orbiting Globalstar satellites to overcome momentum-wheel failures that have taken one satellite out of service and threaten others. (11/23)

OHB and Astrium Going Head-to-Head for Galileo Contract (Source: Space News)
Two industrial consortia plan to submit bids on Dec. 1 to manufacture at least six Galileo navigation satellites for the European Union in a competition that will test how badly they want the work, government and industry officials said. With no more than around $270 million to spend on the satellites, the European Commission is hoping that the two teams, both led by German companies, will be willing to accept razor-thin profit margins to win this next slice of Europe’s highest-profile satellite program. (11/23)

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