December 15, 2011

Chile to Launch Satellite Into Orbit This Week (Source: Santiago Times)
Chile`s government seeks to prove its mettle as a competitor in space technology. The Russian rocket Soyuz will launch six satellites into outer space on Friday, one of which will be the Chilean satellite FaSat Charlie, classified as an Earth Observation Satellite. It will be the third outer-space apparatus that Chile has put into orbit.

Chile’s Defense Minister AndrĂ©s Allamand called the launch “a milestone that culminates a multi-year process to put a satellite in orbit.” The satellite will be used to send information for urban and agricultural planning, according to a statement by the ministry of defense. FaSat Charlie will be accompanied by five French military satellites and will be launched from a space station in Kourou, French Guyana. (12/15)

Supernova Caught in the Act (Source: NSF)
The earliest detection ever of a Type Ia supernova has led to unparalleled observations of the initial stages of the stellar explosion and characterization of the nature of the stars that formed it. On Aug. 24, 2011, astronomers discovered a nearby Type Ia supernova--the earliest detection ever--with help from a machine-based, real-time, classification system. The early detection and close proximity of the stars set the stage for unprecedented observation of the initial stages of a Type Ia supernova. Click here. (12/15)

Satellites to Watch Comet's Death Plunge Through Sun Today (Source:
A newly discovered comet is set to make a death dive into the sun's atmosphere today (Dec. 15), and scientists will have a ringside seat to watch its fiery demise. The ill-fated comet Lovejoy is on course to plow through the sun's blisteringly hot outer atmosphere - called the corona - making its closest approach to our star at around 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 15. At that point, Lovejoy should be just 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) from the solar surface. (12/15)

Vega Moves Closer to its First Liftoff (Source: ESA)
The integration of Vega’s first, second and third stages is now complete at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The new rocket is moving full speed ahead towards its maiden flight at the end of January. The first Vega launch campaign began in November with the installation and testing inside the mobile gantry of the hundred-ton solid propellant first stage, the P80, and the Interstage-1/2 structure that links the first two stages. (12/15)

Stratolaunch: a Contrarian View (Source: NewSpace Journal)
The more I thought about Stratolaunch, the more questions developed in my mind about this venture. From a technical standpoint, I don’t doubt that the Stratolaunch team has the ability to develop what they’re proposing. Instead, I’ve been pondering this question: what problem does this system solve? That’s the key question for any business venture, not just a launch vehicle company. What can Stratolaunch do that others can’t do, or do as well or as cheaply? Air launch has its advantages, but also carries with it some disadvantages and other issues.

That, coupled with what the company has released about its technical capabilities, leads me to wonder if the Stratolaunch system will really be that competitive over more conventional launch systems in service or under active development today. Issues to consider include system development costs, operational flexibility, and market limitations. Click here. Editor's Note: I agree that Stratolaunch may be a solution in search of a problem. Seems like it might primarily be a Paul Allen vanity project. Maybe the carrier aircraft could also serve some military heavy air cargo demand. (12/15)

NASA Changes Course on Commercial Crew (Source: Space Policy Online)
On the same day that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) praised NASA for adopting a firm fixed price contract approach for the next phase of its commercial crew program, NASA announced that it changed its mind and will stick with its current Space Act Agreement (SAA) procurement strategy instead. The agency also officially acknowledged that a funding shortfall for commercial crew in FY2012 means that commercial crew services will not be available until at least 2017 and therefore it will need to purchase more seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to and from the ISS. (12/15)

GAO Gives NASA Good Marks for ISS Spares Planning (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) generally gave NASA good marks in a report released today for its planning for spare parts to enable the International Space Station to continue operating at least until 2020. The only caveat GAO offered is that NASA needs to continually assess its needs as it gains more experience with ISS operations over the next decade. (12/15)

Citing Budget Uncertainty, NASA Switches Commercial Crew Procurement Approach (Source: Space News)
NASA is modifying plans for fostering development of commercial crew taxis, announcing Dec. 15 that it will continue using flexible Space Act Agreements instead of shifting to a more traditional government contract. The U.S. space agency had planned to release a request for proposals Dec. 19 for the Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract, a 21-month effort to get at least two competing spacecraft designs ready to enter production. (12/15)

California Space Complex Gets Historic Designation (Source: LA Times)
For half a century, the sprawling 110-acre aerospace complex in Redondo Beach has played host to the development of the nation's most advanced and secret spacecraft. Known as Space Park, the site was built at the height of the Cold War after the launch of Sputnik for engineers to develop a high-powered rocket that could deliver a nuclear warhead 6,000 miles away in less than an hour to virtually wipe out an entire city: the intercontinental ballistic missile. (12/15)

Did a U.S. Radar Research Station Disable Russia's Phobos Probe? (Source: Scientific American)
Responding to shame over the nation's Mars program, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to criminally prosecute those responsible if possible. Soon after Medvedev's comments, a former high-ranking Russian officer found a more convenient scapegoat in a remote Alaskan radar facility. But an analysis of the timing and physics involved shows that there is little basis for the claim.

To Lt. Gen. Nikolay Rodionov, a retired commander of Russia's ballistic missile early warning system, U.S. technology could have caused the rocket malfunction. In a November 24 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rodionov said "powerful American radars" in Alaska "could have influenced the control systems of our interplanetary rover." (12/15)

Russia's Ambitious Space Plans (Source: Xinhua)
For Russians, 2011 was one to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their country's first human flight into space and was proclaimed the Year of Cosmonautics. In 2011, Russia allocated some 75.8 billion rubles (2.45 billion U.S. dollars) for its space programs, 13 percent more than in 2010. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced in April that the country should conduct half of the world's space launches, up from the current share of 40 percent. He even revealed that Russia has been developing nuclear engines for expeditions to the Moon and other planets.

In June, when the last U.S. space shuttle completed its mission to the ISS, Russia's space agency Roscosmos proudly announced that "the era of the reliable (Russian spaceship) Soyuz has begun." The country has also made public its plans to build a brand-new spacecraft to replace the Soyuz by 2015 and a new cosmodrome in the Amur region in the Far East. Besides, some 13 countries have used Russian rockets to put their satellites into orbit.

The growth of Russia as a space power is recognized even by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as NASA has decided to make the Russian language a basic knowledge for astronaut trainees. "Russia has preserved and even strengthened its leading position in space explorations," President Dmitry Medvedev said in June. Click here. (12/15)

Slowpoke Meteor Broke Apart Over Ontario (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
A relatively slow-moving meteor flashed across southern Ontario on Monday night and astronomers are looking for help in picking up any pieces it likely left behind. Astronomers from the University of Western Ontario in London caught the fireball on camera as it made a fiery appearance in the sky. "Finding a meteorite from a fireball captured by video is equivalent to a planetary sample return mission," said Peter Brown, the Director of the university's Center for Planetary & Space Exploration. (12/15)

Sierra Nevada Will Test Dream Chaser in Huntsville (Source: Huntsville Times)
An agreement announced Wednesday between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corp. will bring the company's mini-space shuttle Dream Chaser to the Rocket City for testing. Sierra Nevada is one of four companies competing to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station under NASA's commercial crew development program. The other three are Boeing, Blue Origin and SpaceX Technologies.

Wind tunnel tests on the Dream Chaser will take place at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Marshall has a 14-square-foot wind tunnel that can conduct tests at subsonic, transonic and supersonic wind speeds. Transonic speeds are close to Mach 1, the speed of sound, or 760 mph at sea level, and the facility can achieve wind speeds as great as Mach 5, Marshall said. (12/15)

Building the Roadmap for SLS – LEO/Lunar Options (Source:
With evaluations continuing into NASA’s future crewed exploration aspirations, the foundations behind what should be a definitive roadmap – otherwise known as Exploration Systems Development (ESD) Design Reference Missions (DRM) – are starting to come to light, as outlined in the Space Launch System (SLS) Concept Of Operations (Con Ops) document.

The Roadmap – when announced – will lay out NASA’s flagship goals for the next 20 plus years. This task is under the stewardship of former Space Shuttle Program (SSP) manager John Shannon, who’s team have not released any information into their effort since it began months ago. While the team is under no obligation to provide a running commentary to the public or media, the lack of a roadmap for SLS remains one of the main criticisms charged against the vehicle which will cost several billion dollars before it even flies. Click here. (12/15)

Soviet Space Patriarch Dies at 99 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Rocket designer Boris Chertok, a man whose name figures in almost every major Soviet space achievement and one of the greatest space pioneers in history, has passed away at his home in Moscow at the age of 99. From 1940-1945 he studied at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. In 1945-1946 he took part in the examination of the captured rocket industry of Nazi Germany. In 1946 he was enlisted with NII-88, secret rocket design bureau headed by legendary Sergey Korolev, the founder of the Soviet space program. For many years Chertok was deputy to the father of the USSR space exploration program. (12/15)

LinkNASA Developing Space Harpoon (Source: TPM)
NASA scientists are working on a new spacecraft that can chase after comets, dodge chunks of debris while locking into a stable position as they rotate, and fire off a retrievable harpoon that returns to the craft with soil samples, which eventually make their way back to a laboratory on Earth. The point of all this is to collect samples without having to land on the comet’s surface, an understandably tricky endeavor.

Another advantage of the harpoon concept consists in the line that would tether the harpoon to the spacecraft. A free orbit around a comet would be difficult to stabilize because comets have practically no gravity. The harpoon line would hold the spacecraft in a set position above the surface until the harpoon extracts itself. (12/15)

Power Interrupted, Restored at Johnson Space Center (Source: KHOU)
Power was restored at the Johnson Space Center Thursday morning following repairs to a nearby transmission tower that was damaged in a car accident. Officials said the space center’s systems and facilities were back to normal and planned to open the center around 12 p.m. The tower was hit by a pickup truck on Wednesday around 1 p.m.. The truck’s driver was heading south on Space Center Boulevard when the driver lost control, crossed the median and plowed into the tower. (12/15)

Hall Questions Implications of NASA Commercial Crew Announcement (Source: Rep. Ralph Hall)
"Today’s announcement by NASA to continue using Space Act Agreements for the upcoming design phase acknowledges the difficulties confronting the Agency as it attempts to stay the course on stimulating development of a commercial crew industry. This approach should allow the Agency to continue engaging two or more companies to design crew transportation systems.

The disadvantage of using Space Act Agreements is that NASA cannot impose its safety requirements as would be possible under a normal acquisition. Therefore, it is vitally important that NASA and its industry partners work cooperatively to ensure the highest level of crew safety, even in the absence of safety requirements.

Given current federal budget constraints, I continue to be concerned about NASA’s ability to afford contracting with two or more companies to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Time is of the essence. We need to be able fully utilize our Space Station until the end of this decade, and we also need to end our reliance on other countries to ferry our astronauts. (12/15)

King: Reports of JSC's Decline are Greatly Exaggerated (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Many people seem to believe that the decision to end the space shuttle program means that the Johnson Space Center has been all but boarded up. I recently had the opportunity to tour the control center at JSC. What I found was that, to paraphrase Mark Twain's famous line, the reports of JSC's demise have been greatly exaggerated. While JSC is certainly not the frenetic center of activity that it was during the Apollo or shuttle missions, there are still a lot of very cool things going on there.

To start, JSC is still the command center for the International Space Station. Because the ISS does not involve a lot of dramatic launches and is constantly circling above, we tend to downplay its significance and overlook the incredible amount of activity going on there. Just keeping the ISS in the sky is no small feat. JSC daily makes adjustments to avoid space junk and lift the spacecraft out of orbital decay. Controllers at JSC monitor every aspect of this incredibly complex piece of the equipment, as well the health of the crew. (12/15)

‘Space Junkie’s’ Collection on Display at Space Coast Museum (Source: CFnews13)
A self-professed space junkie's collection is now on display for the public to see, thanks to his tedious work and donation to a local museum. “I was buying seven newspapers a day and taking the articles out,” said Robert Bergman. Bergman is from Madison, Wisc. It’s far enough away from NASA and the Kennedy Space Center to wonder why he took the time over the last few decades to save articles about the space shuttle and its 135 missions.

The reason was because he loves it. “I save up a bunch of them, sit down and start cutting them all out,” Bergman said. He meticulously cut, placed and glued them in 22 scrapbooks, which culminate STS 1 to the final shuttle mission. Now at 86 years old, the retired medical equipment engineer wanted to preserve them. “So I'm glad they found a home here,” Bergman said.

Their new home is 1,300 miles away from his at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville. It’s right across the Indian River where all shuttle launches lit up the sky. “Got to be a passion with him,” said Charlie Mars, the museum’s president. Mars said he is honored to have the collection, to be seen among the amazing relics and items from all across space history. (12/15)

Next-Gen GPS Satellite, Accurate to Within Three Feet and Indoors, Ready for Testing (Source: Popular Science)
Were America’s NavSat handlers perhaps feeling slighted when it was revealed that the new Apple iPhone 4S would augment its existing GPS coverage with Russia’s GLONASS constellation? The U.S. is getting ready to launch a new generation of Global Positioning System satellites starting in 2014--part of a $5.5 billion upgrade--and the first prototype has been delivered for testing to Lockheed Martin.

The new satellites, called Block III, are set to make America’s GPS constellation more powerful, more reliable, and more accurate on the ground. Right now, GPS is reliable for a location fix to within ten feet of a person’s actual location. Block III satellites should cut that margin of error down to within three feet. Boosted signals should also boost penetration and coverage, making receivers on the ground more accurate when under tree canopies or in so-called urban canyons where coverage is presently spotty. It should even make indoor GPS somewhat better. (12/15)

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