December 19, 2011

Space Tourism's Climate Costs and Solutions (Source: Columbia Environmental Law)
The rise of a commercial space industry threatens our own planet's climate. In a study released in October 2010, climate scientists concluded that as few as 1,000 rocket launches per year would cause worldwide climate change. This revelation presents both a problem and an opportunity. While NEPA and the CAA partially address the licensing of commercial spaceflights by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), neither space law nor current environmental law respond sufficiently to the environmental threat posed by this industry.

This leaves the United States with the opportunity to problem-solve at an industry's birth, before damage is done. A large increase in the number of rocket launches per year would greatly alter temperatures at both the tropics and at the poles, causing significant sea ice loss. The atmosphere is sensitive to rocket emissions generally, and is particularly sensitive to black carbon emitted by the industry's hybrid rockets, as black carbon can remain trapped in the stratosphere for years. Click here. (12/19)

Secondary Payloads (Like Cremains) Lower Cost of Satellite Launches (Source: Bacon's Rebellion)
Earlier this month, news of a proposed Virginia tax incentive for sending cremated remains into space went viral around the globe. Stories appeared in Germany, the Arab Emirates, Australia and throughout the United States. Most mocked the idea. All missed the underlying storyline of opportunity to boost primary satellite payloads at a significantly lower cost than exists today. There is more to the story of the state tax credit than meets the eye.

If Virginia’s Legislature were to adopt a tax credit to seed the Virginia market for launching cremated human remains into low earth orbit, the buyers of mortuary space science would defray costs associated with carrying the primary satellite payloads to orbit. In many cases, the primary payloads of rockets lofting from Wallops Island are scholarly and scientific, involving students learning engineering and science skills. (12/19)

Powerful Nigerian Satellite Ready for Liftoff from China (Source:
China will launch a massive Nigerian communications satellite Monday to link Africans with television programming, education services and navigation signals. Manufactured by the China Academy of Space Technology, the Nigcomsat 1R satellite will replace a craft that lost power and failed in November 2008, less than 18 months after its launch on a Chinese rocket. Nigcomsat Ltd., a company chartered by the Nigerian government, will operate the satellite for up to 15 years. (12/19)

Smallest Black Hole Just a Heartbeat (Source: Astronomy Now)
Using NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), astronomers have detected the pulsating heartbeat of what may be the smallest known black hole. They are usually known for their imposing size – indeed, the largest supermassive black holes, capable of swallowing our Solar System whole several times over, were reported just last week – but now RXTE has found a black hole that could represent the lower boundary for a black hole’s mass at just three solar masses.

Known as IGR J17091-3624 after the astronomical coordinates of its sky position, the black hole is one half of a binary system that feeds on its normal star neighbour and was identified by its distinctive X-ray emission. Gas syphoned off the star circles around the black hole and is heated to millions of degrees, hot enough to shine in X-rays. (12/19)

Successful Pleiades 1A Launch Has Tense Moments (Source: Space News)
The successful launch Dec. 17 of the French Pleiades 1A high-resolution civil/military optical Earth observation satellite was accompanied by several minutes of tense silence as mission control at Europe’s Guiana Space Center awaited word from Moscow that Pleiades had been released into orbit. In one of many examples of what it means to import Russia’s Soyuz rocket for use at Europe’s spaceport, it is Moscow, and not the launch control facility at Kourou, that received telemetry confirmation from the vehicle’s Fregat upper stage that the satellite was separated as planned.

“We were a little on edge for a few minutes there when there was no word about successful separation of Pleiades despite the fact that mission chronology clearly showed separation should have occurred,” one official said. The delay stood in contrast to the normal procedure at Jupiter Mission Control, where trajectory and related milestones — separation of boosters, rocket stages and the payload fairing, and then the separation of the satellites — is announced as they occur by the director of operations and broadcast to all those witnessing the launch. (12/19)

Russian Rocket Debris on Caribbean Beach Now a Tourist Attraction (Source: CNN)
On the island of Petit Tabac the Grenadines, a tour operator and 12 guests discovered a Russian spacecraft on the beach with cameras and some electrical parts still attached. It is now clear from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados that this piece of wreckage is indeed a Russian Soyuz 3 Rocket launched from French Guiana on Oct. 21. A camera apparatus and electronics are now missing from debris. In neighboring Barbados, it is alleged that a similar piece of de
bris with similar markings was recently found. Click here. (12/19)

Decatur Could Also Reap Rewards of Stratolaunch (Source: Decatur Daily)
Decatur could benefit from Stratolaunch. Stratolaunch has had headquarters in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park about four months, but the company’s existence was made public only last week. Steve Cook, director of space technologies for Dynetics, said the mating structure will be assembled in a 226,000-square-foot facility his company will open in April. Stratolaunch has two major pluses for Decatur.

First, it will bring money into north-central Alabama through its headquarters staff and Dynetics, which already has about 40 employees working on the project. That number is expected to grow. Cook said there also will be opportunities for suppliers to get contracts. Second, the project will enhance the area’s image as a center for cutting-edge technology and home to rocketry experts.

In the short term, it doesn’t appear Stratolaunch would compete directly against United Launch Alliance, which assembles rockets in Decatur. Both Cook and Chris Chavez, a ULA spokesman, said Stratolaunch’s payloads will be smaller than those using ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. Stratolaunch has numerous technological hurdles to overcome to make its proposed launch system a reality, but it’s a welcome addition to our neighborhood. (12/19)

Secret Plan Would Have Resurrected Shuttles for Commercial Operation (Source:
Behind the scenes as NASA prepared to deactivate the Space Shuttles, details of a major proposal were revealed to NASASpaceflight, pointing to what was the last – but by far the most comprehensive – attempt to return the Shuttle to flight operations. The plan – held under an agreed embargo so as not to damage negotiations – involved billions of dollars of private investment being pumped back into shuttle operations, saving Atlantis and Endeavour to return to flight operations no earlier than the end of 2014.

Even before Atlantis had landed for the final time, opponents to shuttle extension were citing the problem of key contractors shutting down, all based around President Bush’s decision to retire the fleet following the completion of ISS assembly. This challenge would have been partially mitigated by potential changes to the contracts and mechanisms used by NASA during the Space Shuttle Program (SSP).

“One of the advantages of our purely commercial approach is that it allowed our engineers to consider alternative suppliers and advances in manufacturing, materials, processing, and production across the globe and across several industries,” noted Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, who helped lead strategic development and served as the primary government and industry liaison for the team designing the restart plan. Click here. (12/19)

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