November 8, 2011

NASA To Try Full-Duration J-2X Engine Test (Source: Aviation Week)
Rocket engineers at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are slated to attempt a 500-sec. hot-fire test of the J-2X engine this week, running the Saturn-heritage upper-stage propulsion system through a full-duration burn for the first time. Testing of the human-rated J-2X is being slowed to free funds for development of a throwaway version of the space shuttle main engine (SSME) that is also baselined for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS).

But the upcoming test is a critical milestone in the development of what is planned to be the next U.S. government space launch vehicle. The test comes after an unexpected automatic shutdown earlier this month 140 sec. into a hot-fire test of the sole J-2X development engine. The shutdown was attributed to a programming error. (11/8)

New York Museum Seeks State Money for Space Shuttle’s Home (Source: New York Times)
We have liftoff on the quest for more than $40 million of public financing for a new museum that would house Enterprise, the prototype for the space shuttles. Officials of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan have taken their pitch for government support of the proposed museum out from behind closed doors.

To bolster their appeal, they have armed themselves with a study estimating that a museum focused on science and space exploration would draw hundreds of thousands of additional visitors to the city and create about 1,200 jobs. The study was commissioned by the museum. (11/8)

Commercial Advocates Call for More Funding, Less Rules (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A coalition of more than three dozen space leaders – including Frank DiBello of Space Florida – are calling on Congress to fully fund commercial spaceflight in the 2012 budget and limit regulations that they argue could impede spacecraft development. The letter comes as Congress is going through the final round of debate on how much money it should give to NASA next year and how much it should spend on commercial spaceflight.

President Barack Obama has proposed $850 million while the Senate and House have suggested levels closer to $500 million and $300 million respectively. Advocates of commercial spaceflight – especially those who want to see these companies ferry U.S. astronauts to the Space Station by mid-decade – have argued that budget cuts would postpone, by a year or more, the time frame in which commercial flights would be ready.

“We urge the Congress to fund the development of commercial crew launch capabilities to orbit at or very close to the full $850M request level, even if that means slowing other new development efforts within NASA,” the advocates wrote. Click here. (11/8)

Institute Wraps Up Data Collection in Russian Mars Mission Simulation (Source: SpaceRef)
For the past 17 months, researchers with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) collected data to evaluate the impact of prolonged operational confinement on the sleep, performance, and mood of six crew members during a Mars mission simulation in Moscow. The 520-day simulation, which concluded Nov. 4, was conducted by the State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation - Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

As the only U.S. organization participating in the simulation, NSBRI monitored the multi-national crew's rest-activity patterns, performance and psychological responses to determine the extent to which sleep loss, fatigue, stress, mood changes and conflicts occurred during the mission. (11/8)

Singapore Resident Planning Two Missions (Source: Straits Times)
Michael Blum paid a total of almost $380,000 for two trips into space. His first trip is expected to take place soon after test flights end next year. His flights will take off from New Mexico and Curacao island in the Caribbean. Editor's Note: The article wasn't specific, but it appears that Mr. Blum has bought tickets for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and XCOR's Lynx. (11/8)

NASA Aims For 2014 Orion Test Flight at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
NASA aims to launch an early test flight of its Orion crew exploration vehicle from Cape Canaveral in 2014 to test its heat shield and other atmospheric reentry systems. The most likely launch vehicle: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy that would fly out of Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, would fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing in the Pacfic Ocean. The spacecraft would be recovered by Kennedy Space Center workers using operations planned for future human exploration missions. (11/8)

The Plutonium Problem: Who Pays For Space Fuel? (Source: NPR)
When NASA's next Mars rover blasts off later this month, the car-sized robot will carry with it nearly eight pounds of a special kind of plutonium fuel that's in short supply. NASA has relied on that fuel, called plutonium-238, to power robotic missions for five decades. But with supplies running low, scientists who want the government to make more are finding that it can sometimes seem easier to chart a course across the solar system than to navigate the budget process inside Washington, D.C.

Plutonium-238 gives off heat that can be converted to electricity in the cold, dark depths of space. It's not the same plutonium used for bombs. But during the cold war, the United States did produce this highly toxic stuff in facilities that supported the nuclear weapons program — although those facilities stopped making it in the late 1980s.

For a while Russia sold us some of the material, but that source has dried up too. In 2009, a report from the National Research Council warned that the day of reckoning had arrived and that quick action was needed. Space exploration advocates point out that it will take years to get the plutonium production process started, so delays now could have consequences later. Click here. (11/8)

Russia to Launch Space Vehicle to Moon in 2015 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian space vehicle Luna-Glob will be launched to the moon in 2015. A Zenit rocket that has proved to work well is expected to be used to carry the Luna, Lev Zeleny, said. Based on the technical decisions taken in the Phobos-Grunt creation, some other interplanetary stations are planned to be developed, including Venus-D, Mercury-P, Luna-Glob, Mars-Grunt (Soil) and others. (11/8)

US Collaboration on Space With Chinese Regime Debated (Source: Epoch Times)
Critics of the administration’s willingness to engage the Chinese regime in matters involving space exploration and science and technology more generally jousted with defenders of the administration’s policy at a recent congressional hearing. A hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations was chaired Nov. 2 by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to discuss “the inherent dangers of transferring America’s leading edge science to China.”

Rohrabacher mentioned the “Hughes and Loral scandals,” during the early 1990s and the lessons that NASA and OSTP should draw from them. Two American satellite companies, Hughes Electronics Corp. and Loral Space & Communications, pursuing commercial ventures with the Chinese, provided their space engineers with technical rocketry data and tips on fixing problems after the Long March space launch vehicle (SLV), carrying U.S.-made satellites, crashed on two separate occasions destroying the payloads. (11/8)

Pushing for Saucer Rides at Spaceport America (Source: KRQE)
A New Mexico scientist is hoping to take tourists visiting Spaceport America for rides in man made flying saucers. Lindsay Quarrie is the Chairman of Space Sciences Corp., a Lemitar based research and development company, that has signed on as a distributor of the m200, a flying saucer and other experimental aircraft.

Right now Quarrie has his sights set on Spaceport America for the first commercial saucer rides. “Visitors could come and they could fly on this ‘HALO’ as we call it, a hover airlift and logistics operations vehicle which would take them up about 10 feet and take them across the desert,” Quarrie said. It’s called the ‘Flying Saucer Experience’ and Quarrie said it would fit in perfectly at Spaceport America’s Visitor’s Center. (11/8)

Six-Month Stay on ISS Russian Segment Costs $150 Million (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Russia is marketing a six-month stay aboard its segment of the International Space Station for $140-150 million, according to the National Space Agency of Ukraine. These were the prices quoted last year during talks with Roscosmos officials about spending a Ukrainian cosmonaut-researcher to ISS. The most recent statement on the space agency website, dated Nov. 4, indicates the effort is now on hold. (11/7)

Dust Off Those Air-Launched Space Concepts (Source: Aviation Week)
Over the years, there have been more air-launched satellite booster concepts than I have had curries. Now DARPA has come up with another one -- the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program. DARPA prides itself in having no corporate memory, so the fact it has tried the air-launch approach before is of no concern to the agency.

In fact, several previous DARPA air-launch projects are among the more than 150 past concepts listed in an interim report from the DARPA/NASA Horizontal Launch Study (HLS). The study, which looks at ideas dating as far back as 1981 (and the USAF's Air Launched Sortie Vehicle), is intended to identify horizontal launch system concepts. The interim report was released to help bidders for the ALASA program refine their ideas.

Focused on delivery of 15,000lb to orbit, the HLS has identified launch system concepts and potential subsonic flight demonstrators. DARPA and NASA studied top-mounted launch concepts based on 747. A380 and An-225 carrier aircraft, as well as bottom-mounted concepts based on a dual-fuselage C-5 and derivatives of Scaled Composites' White Knight. (11/7)

Russia Aims for First Conquest of Mars (Source: AFP)
Russia on Wednesday launches a probe for Mars that aims to collect a chunk of a Martian moon and become Moscow's first successful planetary mission since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia hopes the mission will mark a triumphant return to interplanetary exploration, a field from which it has been entirely absent over the last decades even as US probes explored the farthest reaches of the solar system. (11/7)

The Canadian Space Agency Prepares for Possible Budget Cuts (Source: SpaceRef)
The Canadian Space Agency is preparing for a possible budget cut, one which could significantly affect the agency. The possible cut comes as no surprise. After all, the government has indicated many times this year that cuts to all departments were possible. What was not expected is the possible size of the cuts.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was tasked to provide two budget cut scenarios to the government. One in which it cut its budget by 5% and the other by 10%. SpaceRef has learned that all programs came under review. The CSA was told not to just make a blanket 5 or 10% cut but to critically review every single program, a difficult and time consuming task. The result of the reviews helped shape the budget cut scenarios the government will use when deciding what, if anything, to cut from the CSA budget. (11/7)

The Heavy-Lift Empire Strikes Back (Source:
There was a leak of an internal NASA document a couple weeks ago that showed what a waste of money the Senate Launch System is, by presenting an analysis that using existing launch systems and orbital storage of propellants will cost tens of billions less and accelerate by several years the schedule under which we could be sending humans beyond earth orbit. If this gets publicized much, it is a huge threat to the Senate Launch System, particularly given that NASA is going to have to be looking for places to cut, in the current and future budgets.

Accordingly, defenders of the status quo are desperately fighting back. On Thursday, there was an op-ed at Space News by former NASA administrator Mike Griffin and former associate administrator and current head of the Space Policy Institute at GWU (and former colleague and longtime friend of mine) Scott Pace, defending the SLS and sowing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt with multiple straw men and disingenuous cost analyses about alternate approaches. (11/7)

How the Defunct NASA Space Shuttle Program is Improving Solar Power (Source: Smart Planet)
NASA’s defunct space shuttle program could end up helping utility companies and even homeowners figure out how to avoid costly siting mistakes and boost solar power output. The three decades of data collected by the shuttle program is still proving its worth. Researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego used measurements from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to predict changes in elevation — dips, hills, mesas and valleys — and more importantly, the shadows they create.

Shadows are more than just an annoyance to solar installers and large-scale power plant developers. They can be expensive. Large-scale models used to calculate potential solar power output currently don’t take elevation into account. Which means solar power planners are missing key data that will help them determine the optimal site for an installation. A poorly sited solar array will generate less power and that means a longer return on investment for the homeowner or utility.

The project focused on California because that’s where most solar power plants are located. But the space shuttle data could be used to create models for other regions as well. Researchers used elevation data collected on a near-global scale by astronauts aboard the Endeavor space shuttle during an 11-day mission in February 2000. The data was compiled into a high-resolution digital topographic database of most of the planet. (11/7)

KSC Encourages Employees to Apply for Astronaut Class (Source:
KSC employees have been encouraged to apply for NASA’s latest astronaut class, as the transition from purchased seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles to the International Space Station (ISS), to the fleet of commercial vehicle options in the middle of the decade, and eventually with Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS), picks up. Wanting to be an astronaut still holds the same lofty excitement as it always has, despite the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet from NASA missions.

While there has been a level of negative impact to the public’s perception that NASA has given up on the Human Space Flight game, NASA is working on the awareness of the future roadmap for domestic human launches – set to begin no earlier than 2015 - even within their own centers. “NASA is still in the human space flight business, with a permanent crew on the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2020,” noted a memo sent to the KSC workforce. That means NASA is going to continue to require astronauts to support ISS operations and provide crew support for development of... Orion - and the Space Launch System (SLS)." (11/7)

Heritage Hardware Key To NASA Heavy-Lifter (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA managers are relying on hardware developed for other human-spaceflight programs to flatten the development budget on the planned heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) to squeeze it within a spending cap of $1.2 billion a year. The big new rocket is being designed with affordability and sustainability considerations at least as important as performance. Click here. (11/7)

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