December 29, 2011

NASA Funds Near Space Corp. to Advance Titan Balloon Research (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Near Space Corporation (NSC), a leading innovator of terrestrial and planetary exploration balloon technology, has received a Phase Two NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award to fund work that will help enable future airborne exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan. NSC’s winning proposal was among 85 selected from a total pool of 428 submissions.

The Titan Saturn System Mission (TSSM), a proposed joint NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) effort, plans to send a Montgolfiere, or hot air balloon, to Saturn’s moon. If implemented according to the mission baseline, TSSM will launch a spacecraft in 2020 that will insert a probe into Titan’s atmosphere in 2030. The balloon component of that probe will function as a wind-driven, airborne sensor platform for approximately six months. The research to be conducted under this two year Phase Two NASA SBIR effort will improve the ability to forecast the balloon flight characteristics on Titan. (12/29)

Separating Space Tourism from Ballooning (Source: Newspace Journal)
“Space tourism doesn’t have to be rocket science,” reads the subheading of a New Scientist article about a proposed high-altitude passenger balloon concept that would take people to the edge of space. The “bloon” concept, by Spanish company zero2infinity, features a six-person pressurized capsule carried to an altitude of 36 kilometers (118,000 feet) by a giant balloon. Four passengers, paying €110,000 (US$142,000) each, will spend two hours at that altitude, gazing down on the Earth, before gently descending to a landing.

It sounds like an interesting experience: an opportunity to gaze down on the Earth at altitudes three times higher than a commercial jetliner in what appears to be a luxurious setting (according to a brochure describing the overall experience). It may turn out to be a profitable niche for zero2infinity. However, contrary to New Scientist, it is certainly not space tourism. Click here. (12/29)

Six Globalstar Satellites Healthy After Soyuz Launch (Source: Space News)
A Russian Soyuz rocket on Dec. 28 successfully launched six Globalstar mobile-communications satellites in the third of a planned four Soyuz liftoffs scheduled to place Globalstar’s 24 second-generation spacecraft into low Earth orbit, Globalstar and launch services provider Arianespace announced.

Globalstar said the satellites were healthy in orbit. Operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and equipped with the restartable Fregat upper stage — and using a different third-stage configuration than the Soyuz variant that failed at launch on Dec. 23, destroying a Russian military communications satellite — the Soyuz 2.1.a vehicle placed the six 650-kilogram Globalstar spacecraft into a 920-kilometer low Earth orbit. (12/29)

Orbcomm Revises Launch Schedule with Space Station-Bound SpaceX Flight (Source: Space News)
Orbcomm's new launch schedule for its 18 second-generation satellites with SpaceX scraps a planned early-2012 launch of a single satellite but results in three spacecraft being placed in orbit later in the year. The revised launch schedule reduces risks for both Fort Orbcomm and SpaceX. The companies had been struggling with plans to launch a prototype Orbcomm satellite aboard SpaceX’s next Falcon 9/Dragon flight to the international space station.

SpaceX and NASA, along with the other space station partners, had been discussing for months whether having the Falcon 9 rocket drop off Dragon near the station, where it is designed to be grabbed by a robotic arm for attachment to the orbital complex, before firing its engines to carry an Orbcomm satellite into a different orbit was not overly ambitious for the inaugural Dragon mission to the station. Orbcomm announced separately that it had agreed to purchase the Logistics Management division of PAR Technology Corp. for $6 million in cash and common stock, rising to $10 million if the business meets certain revenue targets. (12/29)

China Outlines Space Priorities, Including Debris Mitigation, New Rockets (Source: Space News)
The Chinese government on Dec. 29 issued a broad statement on its five-year space program, saying top priorities include developing three new launch vehicles — including a rapid-response launch system — and mitigating its contribution to space debris. The 17-page white paper, “China’s Space Activities in 2011,” reiterates China’s focus on lunar exploration, with robotic lunar landers and a lunar sample-return mission slated for launch by 2016. Click here. (12/29)

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