December 16, 2011

Another Successful Test for Antares Engine (Source: Orbital Sciences Corp.)
Orbital conducted another successful AJ26 hot fire acceptance test at Stennis Space Center. This latest test builds on a series of AJ26 tests conducted at Stennis since Nov. 2010. After the engine undergoes a post test imspection, it will be shipped to Wallops Island. The successful test means we have now tested all of the engines to be used in the first three Antares operational milestones -- the stage one hot fire test which will be conducted on the new Pad 0A, the Antares flight test, and the COTS demonstration. (12/16)

JSC, Texas A&M Mark Move of Space Shuttle Motion Simulator (Source: Market Watch)
NASA's Johnson Space Center and Texas A&M University will sign an agreement Dec. 19 to begin the move of the primary space shuttle launch and landing trainer, the Shuttle Motion Simulator, to College Station. The NASA-Texas A&M partnership will allow the university to house and showcase unique space shuttle training artifacts. The Shuttle Motion Simulator provided a full-motion simulation of shuttle launches and landings for every crew that flew on the shuttle. (12/16)

Is Jupiter Eating Its Own Heart? (Source: Science)
Jupiter is the victim of its own success. Sophisticated new calculations indicate that our solar system's largest planet, which weighs more than twice as much as all of the others put together, has destroyed part of its central core. Ironically, the culprit is the very hydrogen and helium that made Jupiter a gas giant, when the core's gravity attracted these elements as the planet formed. The finding suggests that the most massive extrasolar planets have no cores at all.

Astronomers call Jupiter a gas giant because it consists mostly of hydrogen and helium, which are gases on Earth. On Jupiter, however, enormous pressure from the planet's gravity squeezes most of the hydrogen into a metallic fluid that conducts electricity. The hydrogen and helium surround a central core made of iron, rock, and ice. The core, which weighs roughly 10 times as much as Earth, is a small component in a planet that weighs 318 Earths.

Now planetary scientists Hugh Wilson and Burkhard Militzer of the University of California, Berkeley, have performed quantum mechanical calculations to see what happens when magnesium oxide (MgO)—a key ingredient in the rock of Jupiter's core—is submerged in a hydrogen-helium fluid at the planet's heart. The temperature there is approximately 16,000 kelvin—hotter than the surface of our sun—and the pressure is about 40 million atmospheres. These conditions are so extreme that no experiment can reproduce them. (12/16)

Congress Finalizes Defense Authorization (Source: Space News)
Congress sent President Obama a defense authorization bill Dec. 15 that tightens oversight of the Pentagon’s primary satellite launching program and limits the discretion of U.S. satellite telecom regulators to license systems that might interfere with GPS signals. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program will be subject to stricter reporting requirements by changing its designation from a sustainment to an acquisition program. (12/16)

House Completes Action On Milspace Spending (Source: Space News)
The House of Representatives passed a finalized 2012 spending bill that provides $125 million for a “follow-on” military weather satellite system while adding $326 million to the Pentagon’s $468.7 million request for its primary satellite communications system. (12/16)

New Mexico Spaceport Seeks Support for IT and Space Operations (Source: Hobby Space)
Spaceport America has issued two Request for Proposals today. One for Space Operations Services and one for IT services. "The timeline is short, so check 'em out:" Click here. (12/16)

NASA Plans Commercial Crew Program Update at KSC on Dec. 20 (Source: NASA)
NASA will present an updated status of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) strategy on Dec. 20. The Forum will be held at the Press Site at Kennedy Space Center from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Program Forum’s key topics will include an update of the Commercial Crew Program procurement activities, and discussion of the CCP modified competitive procurement strategy announcement. (12/16)

Stratolaunch: A New Age of Low Cost Launch? (Source: Pajamas Media)
Air-launch increases the performance of a given launch vehicle, not only because it gets a slight “head start” into orbit by leaving from altitude and with some ground speed, but because the rocket nozzles can be optimized for space, since it doesn’t have to operate at sea level. This allows a significant improvement in fuel efficiency. But more important is the increase in operational flexibility. A fixed launch pad can’t avoid weather. It is also restricted in launch azimuth (the direction that the launch takes) because of geographical overflight constraints.

Moreover, an aerial launch platform can fly to the precise location needed to allow an injection into an orbital plane at just the right place and time to allow a rendezvous and docking with an orbiting object (such as the International Space Station, or a tourist hotel) within a few hours, rather than a day or two, which is typical for a launch from a more constrained pad. But there are some interesting regulatory issues that could add hundreds of millions in cost.

Editor's Note: I disagree with some comments here. While avoiding the constraints of a ground-based launch pad, an aircraft of this size will have its own performance and operational (including weather) constraints. Those constraints will have to align with the rocket's own operational constraints, and rockets are especially finicky with all the systems and subsystems required to be perfectly "go" for launch at T-0. Adjusting many of the rocket's subsystems can't be done while in-flight. And with these complexities, trying to synchronize a launch window with an orbiting rendezvous may be more difficult than envisioned. (12/16)

White House Responds (Kind Of) to Petition to Shift DOD Funds to NASA (Source: SPACErePORT)
OSTP Assistant Director Damon Wells this week issued a response to this "We The People" petition initiated in September, urging the White House to "Reallocate Defense Funds to NASA." The response dwells mostly on NASA's programs and priorities, and devotes a paragraph to DOD space-related activities. Only one sentence seems to address the substance of the petition: "Each year, careful consideration goes into identifying the appropriate funding levels to support that mission, with final appropriations determined by the U.S. Congress." Click here. (12/16)

Comet Lovejoy Survives Solar Close Call (Source: ABC News)
Take a look at the video that goes with this story. It shows a celestial close call -- a comet, called Comet Lovejoy, appearing to plunge headlong into the sun, but finally missing by only 87,000 miles (about a tenth of the sun's diameter) and emerging from behind it. Comets are devoured by the sun frequently. They are essentially flying snowballs, clumps of rock, dust and ice hurtling through space, and they are easily vaporized by the sun's fierce heat. Lovejoy survived -- and it was all captured by the SOHO spacecraft, hovering in solar orbit about a million miles from Earth. SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, was launched by NASA and the European Space Agency in 1995. (12/16)

Vega to Fly ESA Experimental Reentry Vehicle (Source:
The 2014 launch of ESA's IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle on a Vega rocket is now in detailed planning. Launched into a suborbital trajectory from the Kourou Spaceport, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new critical technologies for future reentry vehicles. It will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on entering the atmosphere. It will collect data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps. IXV will then descend by parachute into the Pacific Ocean for recovery and analysis. (12/16)

Space Coast Unemployment Edges Lower as Workforce Shrinks (Source: Florida Today)
The unemployment rate statewide and in Brevard County dropped in November. However, Brevard’s incremental drop from 11.2 percent in October to 11.1 percent in November was caused by a loss of about 2,500 people in the labor force, as that many workers either stopped looking for work or moved away.

The number of employed Brevardians dropped by 1,907 to 230,922. In short, there were fewer jobs available but even fewer workers looking for them in the county that has struggled since thousands of space industry workers were laid off after the last space shuttle flight in July. Statewide, an 8,500-job increase lowered the state unemployment rate to 10 percent, the lowest since May 2009, when it was also 10 percent. (12/16)

NASA Budget Further Reduced in Last-minute Spending Deal (Source: Space News)
NASA is poised to lose an additional $325 million or so under the omnibus spending package Congress is poised to adopt Dec. 16 to avert a U.S. government shutdown. The 2012 Final Consolidated Appropriations Bill, which was posted Dec. 15 on the House Appropriations Committee’s website, includes a 1.83 percent across-the-board cut for all nondefense related discretionary spending, including NASA, NOAA and a number of other federal agencies funded in the so-called minibus spending bill Congress enacted in November. (12/16)

NASA Decision Increases Schedule Risk, May Force INKSA Waiver (Source:
NASA's decision to give up insight and influence in the design of privately-developed space vehicles could cause delays in the resumption of U.S. human spaceflight, officials said. A reduction in funding from NASA's expectation this year will also likely push back operational manned missions of commercial spacecraft until 2017, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the agency's human exploration and operations directorate.

NASA will also need to purchase more seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for U.S. astronauts to fly to the space station in 2016 and 2017. The current agreement expires in the spring of 2016 at a cost of about $63 million per seat. The agency needs a Congressional waiver to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act for the seat purchase, which would be prohibited under current law. (12/16)

AIA Predicts Aerospace-Sales Increase for 2011 and Decline for 2012 (Source: AIA)
The Aerospace Industries Association projected a sales increase of more than 3.5% in 2011, to $218 billion. However, sales for 2012 are projected to decline in 2012 due to military budget cuts. "2012 will be a tough year because of the uncertainty and unpredictability,” said AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey. AIA predicts a decline of 2.1% in military aircraft sales for 2012, which will be partially offset by an increase in civil aircraft. (12/16)

Lawmaker Offers Debt-Reduction Plan That Spares Defense (Source: AOL Defense)
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-CA, has introduced a debt-reduction plan that spares the military. "Over half of the deficit reduction efforts to date have come out of the military," McKeon said. "The troops simply don't have any more to give." McKeon's proposal calls for a 10% reduction in staff over 10 years across the federal workforce. Editor's Note: With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama's FY-2011 military budget request was "nearly equivalent to the military spending of all other nations in the world combined," according to Lawrence Wittner. Here's a chart. (12/16)

Congress Passes $662 Billion Defense Bill (Source: FOX News)
Congress passed a $662 billion defense bill Thursday after agreeing to compromises on a provision for handling some terrorist suspects. The Senate voted 86-13 in favor of the measure, while the House voted 283-136. The bill now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature. (12/16)

Thaicom and AsiaSat To Share New Satellite (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Thaicom of Thailand has agreed to pay competitor AsiaSat of Hong Kong $171 million over 15 years for the use of one-half of an AsiaSat satellite to be placed in a Thai orbital position in an arrangement that will permit Thailand to preserve its rights to the slot, the companies announced Dec. 15. The AsiaSat 6 satellite, built by Loral, will be launched in 2014. Thaicom will have access to up to half of the satellite’s 28 C-band transponders and will pay AsiaSat $170 million in installments over the satellite’s 15-year life. The satellite will be renamed AsiaSat 6/Thaicom 7. (12/16)

Launch Costs Could Put Damper on NASA Earth Science Missions (Source:
NASA’s Earth Science Division will be able to launch two missions per year under its current budget outlook if the agency can find reliable, affordable rides into orbit for those spacecraft, said Michael Freilich, the division’s director. But Freilich acknowledged that is a big if, explaining that rising launch costs make "one or two" missions a year more likely. In light of recent launch failures, NASA Earth science officials are "carving money out of our budget for more expensive but hopefully more reliable launch vehicles," Freilich said. (12/12)

Belarus to Build 'Best Spacecraft' - Lukashenko (Source: RIA Novosti)
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday the former Soviet republc would build the best spaceship the world has ever seen. Lukashenko, once famoulsy dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the United States over the country’s poor human rights record, said he had spoken with the country's leading scientists on the “construction of our own spacecraft.”

“We agreed: the craft will be the best in the world,” Lukashenko told an energy conference in Minsk. “Who would have thought in the 1990s that we’d be making a spacecraft?” the 57-year-old former collective farm boss asked. On Wednesday, Belarus signed an agreement with Russia on space cooperation and announced plans to launch its BelKa-2 satellite early next year. The first BelKa crashed on liftoff in 2006. (12/16)

Soyuz is Cleared for Second Arianespace Launch from Kourou Spaceport (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace's no. 2 Soyuz mission from French Guiana has been given the launch go-ahead, moving preparations into their final phase for a nighttime liftoff tomorrow with six satellite passengers. This authorization followed the launch readiness review, which validated the mission-ready status of Soyuz, its satellite payloads, the Spaceport's ELS launch site, and the tracking network that is to follow the mission on its Sun-synchronous orbit deployment trajectory. (12/16)

NASA Concludes 2011 Testing of J-2X Engine (Source: Space Daily)
NASA conducted its final J-2X rocket engine test of the year Dec. 14, the 10th firing in a series of tests on the new upper-stage engine that will carry humans farther into space than ever before. The J-2X engine was test fired on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, in south Mississippi. The test was performed at the 100 percent power level. (12/16)

Is There Profit in Outer Space (Source: Space Daily)
Any company in the business of space must be prepared for extreme complexity, as technical, logistical, regulatory, political, operational, and management challenges collide. The up-front costs are tremendous; the returns are uncertain. Tolerance for error is close to zero, yet the materials and engineering must push the bounds of what is currently possible. And though they seem innumerable, every contingency must be planned for. This isn't just rocket science; it's the business of rocket science. Click here. (12/16)

Civilian BRAC Could Affect NASA Properties (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Civilian Property Realignment Act, House Bill 1734 and Senate Bill 1503, is being called the "Civilian BRAC". It would establish a six-year Civilian Property Realignment Commission to reduce the government's inventory of real property. Federal agencies (including NASA) would be required to "submit current data on all federal civilian real property and recommendations for the sale or other disposition of such property and for operational efficiencies." (12/16)

Former Space Coast Congressman Takes Helm of Industry Group (Source: SPACErePORT)
Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) has in recent years been a champion of space industry issues in Tallahassee. AIF's past president, Barney Bishop, recently stepped down to form his own lobbying firm, with a stated focus on space industry issues, among others. Now AIF has a new president who brings his own history of support for space issues. Former Space Coast congressman Tom Feeney has taken the helm at AIF. Feeney, a Republican who represented Kennedy Space Center, lost his seat in Congress in 2008 to Democrat Suzanne Kosmas. He is also a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. (12/16)

NASA Reverses on Regulation-Laden Commercial Deals (Source: Florida Today)
NASA, which is getting only half the money it wanted to develop privately operated spacecraft, changed course on how it plans to launch the next stage of that program — a move that will provide the space agency with less oversight but more flexibility amid funding uncertainties. William Gerstenmaier said the lack of funding made it “really tough” to lock in a firm fixed-price contract with enough companies to keep moving forward on the plan to develop a commercial vehicle to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

So they opted for a more flexible contracting procedure under the Space Act that will keep at least two, possibly more, private companies in the running and still allow NASA to sign off when the companies achieve certain milestones. "It gives us some flexibility from a budget standpoint to make as much progress during this time as we move forward,” he said.

The Obama administration had asked for $850 million in fiscal 2012 for the Commercial Crew Development program, but the spending agreement Congress struck last month provides $406 million. Future funding is in doubt too, because lawmakers remain focused on cutting spending. (12/16)

NASA: CCDev 2 Partners Progressing Smoothly on Milestones (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s industry partners continue to demonstrate design and development progress for their commercial crew transportation systems. During the past two months, five more official milestones and one formal interim step for a future milestone were accomplished on the road to eventual commercial space transportation services. In total over the past eight months, NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners have completed 26 of the 62 milestones. Click here. (12/16)

NASA Asks Heavy-Lift Contractors to Help Keep Costs Low (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA's message to 60-plus contractors wanting to work on its new heavy-lift rocket Thursday was: "Help me help you." Contractors gathered at the Marshall Space Flight Center are preparing to bid on $200 million worth of work that boils down to one complicated question. How can NASA develop and build more powerful new rocket boosters on a flat budget while keeping risks and operating costs low?

The new engine - NASA says it can be solid fuel, liquid fuel, whatever - will power future heavy lift rockets to destinations such as asteroids and Mars. The first two heavy-lift rockets in the development process will fly using a combination of existing solid-rocket motors, unused space shuttle main engines and a new J-2X upper stage engine. The contractors have nine months to draft proposals for building the boosters that come next. They must be more powerful than anything now, low-risk and affordable to operate. (12/16)

Russia Space Agency 'Bans Foreign Travel' (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
They may be working to reach the final frontier, but employees of Russian space agency Roscosmos face going no further than Russia for their holidays. Roscosmos' new chief Vladimir Popovkin has imposed a formal ban on managers and staff employed by its rocket-making subsidiaries taking holidays abroad, the Izvestia daily said, quoting an internal directive. The Soviet-style edict applies to workers who are judged to have knowledge of particularly important or secret information connected to Russia's rocket industry.

It applies not only to subsidiaries of Roscosmos but also companies with which it has concluded contracts for work deemed to be of a sensitive nature, Izvestia said. The only exception, it said, is if an employee can prove that they are in need of medical treatment abroad that is unavailable in Russia. "This is an official document and it is part of other official rules about questions of ensuring security," said a Roscosmos official. (12/15)

Huntsville's Dynetics to Provide Systems Integration for Stratolaunch (Source: Huntsville Times)
Dynetics is taking a major step in its space business with the announcement this week that Stratolaunch Systems has selected Dynetics to provide overall technical integration and the mating and integration system hardware for a revolutionary air launch system.

It's a move that Dynetics officials say could establish Huntsville as a leader in the commercial space launch business. "This air launch system will be a game changer in the space launch industry," said David King, executive vice president of Dynetics. "We will play a vital role in the development of this system, which will have a major strategic impact on the future of spaceflight in Huntsville and the United States." (12/16)

Semi-Finalists Announced for Conrad Foundation Awards (Source: Conrad Foundation)
We are thrilled to announce the 2011-2012 Spirit of Innovation Challenge Semi-Finalists. This year, the student teams exceeded our expectations in regards to innovation and creativity when applying STEM principles to their product concepts. These 80 teams will be competing to earn one of 15 spots to attend the annual Innovation Summit at NASA Ames Research Center in California in April. Click here. (12/16)

China Celebrates Success of Space Docking Mission (Source: Xinhua)
China held a rally on Friday to celebrate the success of the country's first space docking mission between the target orbiter Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft. President Hu Jintao, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, gave a speech at the meeting. Members of the Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang also attended the meeting. (12/16)

Branson in Israel to Tout Space Tourism (Source: Haaretz)
Richard Branson, the British business magnate and chairman of the Virgin Group, was in Israel this week to attend the Bezeq Expo communications conference. One of his businesses is Virgin Galactic, the first commercial space travel firm in the world, which plans to offer suborbital space trips to the general public. Although the firm's actual flights are still in the experimental stage, the company is already selling tickets for space travel and has reportedly taken orders from more than 500 future space travelers from around the world. No Israelis have yet bought tickets on the flights, but some have shown interest. (12/16)

Phobos-Grunt Crashing to Earth in January (Source: Huffington Post)
A Russian spacecraft bound for a moon of Mars and stuck in Earth's orbit will come crashing back next month, but its toxic fuel and radioactive material on board will pose no danger of contamination, the Russian space agency said. Between 20 and 30 fragments of the probe with a total weight of up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) will survive the fiery plunge and shower the Earth's surface between Jan. 6-19, Roscosmos warned in a statement. The rough area of where the fragments could fall could only be calculated a few days ahead of its plunge. (12/16)

Bolden: Hiring Veterans at NASA (Source: NASA)
NASA and the military have a long and storied history. Our earliest astronauts came from the military because we wanted people who had test pilot experience and the willingness to face dangerous situations. Many members of the current astronaut corps are members of the military, including five people in our newest astronaut class and the current commander of the International Space Station. As the leader of our nation's space program, and a proud Marine, I am committed to hiring as many veterans as I can at NASA. The President has called on NASA to once again tackle the big things for which we're known. And that's just the kind of challenge at which I know my military brothers and sisters excel. (12/16)

'Dream' Space Telescope for Military Could Spy Anywhere on Earth (Source:
If the U.S. military wants live video of a missile launcher vehicle halfway around the world, it must rely upon spy planes or drones in danger of being shot down. Tomorrow, the Pentagon wants space telescopes hovering in geosynchronous orbit that could take real-time images or live video of any spot on Earth.

Contrary to Hollywood's ideas, today's spy satellites that orbit the Earth at fast speeds and relatively lower altitudes can only snap photos for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Taking live video of a single location would require satellites to hover by matching the Earth's rotation in geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles high — but creating and launching a space telescope with the huge optics arrays capable of seeing ground details from such high orbit has proven difficult.

As a solution, DARPA — the Pentagon's research arm — envisions a lightweight optics array made of flexible membrane that could deploy in space. Ball Aerospace has just completed an early proof-of-concept review as part of a DARPA contract worth almost $37 million. "The use of membrane optics is an unprecedented approach to building large aperture telescopes," said David Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace. (12/16)

DARPA Maps Out Air-Launch Plans (Source: Aviation Week)
While Paul Allen and Burt Rutan plan to air-launch Elon Musk's Falcon booster from a six-engined, 385ft-span mothership, DARPA is looking at the other end of the scale with its new Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program. This aims to air-launch 100lb satellites into low Earth orbit from an essentially unmodified aircraft, such as a business jet.

The objective is to reduce the cost of launching small satellites at least three-fold, to less than $10,000/lb - or a total including range costs of less than $1 million to launch a 100lb payload. The belief is that, as a launch platform, an aircraft will provide higher performance, more frequent flights and greater flexibility in launch site and orbit.

DARPA plans for multiple teams to each conduct 12 launches in the first half of 2015 under the $164 million ALASA program. Demonstration goals include launching a payload within 24hr of call-up; selecting the orbit after take-off of the launch aircraft; and rapidly departing a threatened airport to launch from a remote site within 12hr. (12/16)

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