January 11, 2012

India Developing Space Shuttle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The design of the winged vehicle by Indian Space Research Organization, the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), has been approved by the National Review Committee. An ISRO official said design-related issues have been addressed and presented to the National Review Committee and clearance obtained to go ahead to build the RLV-TD. The RLV-TD is a first step towards realizing a Two-Stage To Orbit (TSTO) re-usable launch vehicle. The RLV-TD will act as a flying test-bed to evaluate various technologies — hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air breathing propulsion. (1/11)

XCOR Reveals Lynx Test Schedule (Source: Flight Global)
Spacecraft designer XCOR has revealed details of a plan to achieve first flight of the Lynx Mk1 later this year and to expand the suborbital market far beyond space tourism. First flight for the Lynx already has been delayed by two years after XCOR discovered a deep stall problem with the original Lynx design. That issue has now been overcome through design changes to the wing, allowing XCOR to begin final assembly within a few weeks.

The first major piece of structure - the fuselage of the Mk1 version -- will be delivered to XCOR the week of 16 January, said Andrew Nelson. Next month, XCOR will tender work packages for building the cockpit pressure vessel and strakes in February, with delivery of the two subassemblies scheduled in April in May. Taxi tests are scheduled to begin in October or November, which will be quickly followed by a short hop and finally a brief first flight by the end of the year. (1/11)

Challenges Face U.S. Military Launch Ability (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. must overcome the growing challenges of rising launch costs and aging propulsion systems if it is to gain much needed efficiencies and maintain its global lead, warns Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command. Making the case for urgent action in the face of severe budget cuts, Shelton argues strongly in favor of the development of new main and upper-stage engines, which he believes are pivotal to the future of U.S launch capability.

Shelton says “to get better in space launch we need newer, more efficient engines to enable much more robust access to space.” Although the past 81 consecutive national security launches mark “an unprecedented record” for U.S. space launch, Shelton says “we pay a huge financial premium for that success.” Alternatives must be found to offset these costs, he adds. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we want to do launch on the cheap, but there are places we can look to reduce costs without affecting our sterling record of success,” he says.

Although engine performance is currently adequate, Shelton believes the real benefits could be found in improving manufacturing processes, which he adds “leave a lot to be desired.” Citing the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10, he says each engine “requires more than 8,000 man touch hours — more than a hand-built Lamborghini if you can believe that.” (1/11)

First Space Bill Passes Senate Floor Vote in Tallahassee (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Legislative Session began on Tuesday and by the end of the day the first space-related bill was passed by the full Senate. The bill cleared several committee votes prior to the annual Session, during pre-Session hearings late in 2011, allowing the bill to go directly to the Senate floor so early in the Session. The bill, SB634, focuses on defining "launch support facilities" to allow future spaceport infrastructure projects to be funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. A companion bill must now be passed by the House of Representatives, and then signed by Governor Scott. (1/11)

NASA Launches Suborbital Research Rocket from Virginia Spaceport (Source: WUSA)
NASA says it has successfully launched a suborbital sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore. The federal space agency says the launch of the NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket occurred Wednesday morning. The vehicle is under development to support NASA science missions. NASA says the next rocket launch from the Virginia facility is scheduled for no earlier than March 15. (1/11)

Galaxy Hosts 100 Billion Planets, in New Estimate (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Astronomers said Wednesday that each of the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way probably has at least one companion planet, adding credence to the notion that planets are as common in the cosmos as grains of sand on the beach. "Planets are the rule rather than the exception," said lead astronomer Arnaud Cassan at the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris. He led an international team of 42 scientists who spent six years surveying millions of stars at the heart of the Milky Way in the most comprehensive effort yet to gauge the prevalence of planets in the galaxy. (1/11)

NASA's Kepler Mission Finds Three Smallest Exoplanets (Source: NASA JPL)
Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission have discovered the three smallest planets yet detected orbiting a star beyond our sun. The planets orbit a single star, called KOI-961, and are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars. All three planets are thought to be rocky like Earth but orbit close to their star, making them too hot to be in the habitable zone, which is the region where liquid water could exist. Click here for a graphic comparison. (1/11)

Two Planets With Twin Stars Found (Source: Discovery)
Fresh on the heels of the discovery of a planet orbiting two parent stars comes the finding that far from being a fluke, such systems are common throughout the galaxy. Until four months ago, the idea of a planet with two suns in its sky was relegated to the realm of science fiction, such as Tatooine, the home world of Star Wars’ hero Luke Skywalker. But new observations from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting space telescope shows it's not fiction, after all.

The surprising find from a team of scientists using the Kepler telescope of a planet called Kepler-16 b, a Saturn-sized gas giant orbiting a pair of stars about 200 light years from Earth. Now, two more planets circling pairs of stars have been found, a discovery that indicates such systems are not only possible, but highly probable throughout the galaxy. (1/11)

SAIC Wins NASA Contract (Source: SAIC)
SAIC was awarded a prime contract by NASA to provide construction phase services, value engineering and total building commissioning services in support of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Facilities Management Office. The follow-on contract has a one-year base period of performance, four one-year options, and a contract value of more than $11 million if all options are exercised. Work will be performed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. and NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (1/11)

ULA Gets $1.5 Billion Air Force Contract for Nine Launches (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Denver a $1.5 billion firm, fixed-price contract that runs through June 2014 and covers a total of nine launches. The Air Force purchased five Atlas 5 launches and four Delta 4 launches. Atlas 5 will launch the Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program-19, Mobile User Objective System-3 and three National Reconnaissance Office missions. Delta 4 will launch a mission known as Air Force Space Command-4, two GPS satellites, and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program-20. (1/11)

Space Florida Announces Sub-Orbital Flight Incentive Program (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida will sponsor a sub-orbital flight program intended to stimulate market interest in microgravity research via sub-orbital and parabolic flights from Florida. The Space Florida Sub-Orbital Flight Incentive Program will provide a partial reimbursement for customers to fly research payloads from Florida, equal to one-third of the published list price of an approved flight provider, up to a maximum of $10,000.

It is anticipated that a wide variety of flight providers will participate in the program. At this time, Masten Space Systems, Starfighters/StarLab and Zero G Corporation have shown interest, and it is probable that the number of participating flight providers will increase as the program grows.

"I believe this is a step in the right direction to facilitate additional job creation and university research in Florida," said Senator Thad Altman, chairman of the Florida Senate Subcommittee on Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security. "As pointed out by the subcommittee, Florida needs to make advances in space-related university research and this incentive will facilitate that movement." (1/11)

European Space Agency Members Approve Flat 2012 Budget (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) will have 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) to spend in 2012, essentially flat from 2011 as a decline in contributions from its member governments is offset by increased payments from the European Union’s executive commission, ESA officials announced Jan. 10. In what may be an unprecedented development, it is Germany, and not France, that will be ESA’s biggest investor in 2012. (1/11)

European Space Agency Lets Struggling Members Pay Slowly (Source: BusinessWeek)
The European Space Agency says it is allowing some member-states that are struggling with heavy debts and big deficits to pay their contributions more slowly. Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain would not name the countries that asked for "payment plans" but he said they were all small and their contributions account for about euro12 million ($15 million). The agency's total budget for 2012 is euro4.02 billion ($5.12 billion). (1/11)

U.S Air Force Now Expects To Order 10th Wideband Global Satellite (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force constellation of satellites designed to transmit high-resolution imagery and videos continues to expand as U.S. allies appear ready to pledge financial support for one spacecraft and the U.S. Congress provides funding for another. As a result of steadily rising demand for global satellite communications services, the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) fleet of X- and Ka-band satellites, which originally was expected to include six satellites, now is likely to include 10 spacecraft. (1/11)

Critical-Skills Bonus to Expire for Shuttle Workers (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
When the next big group of space-shuttle contractors is laid off in April, it will be the last time some depart with a special bonus rewarding them for skills that were deemed essential to flying the final missions safely. NASA and lead contractor United Space Alliance introduced the $100 million "critical skills" bonus in 2008, concerned about being able to retain the right personnel as shuttle program wound down. Both say the added incentive to stay on the job — which offered eligible USA employees between 15 and 26 weeks of pay on top of their standard severance package — was a success. (1/11)

Space Club Presents National Defense Award to GPS Leader at Cape (Source: Florida Today)
Air Force Capt. Steven Nielson, chief of the GPS division at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, received the Florida National Defense Space Award from the National Space Club Florida Committee. Created in 2005, the award recognizes significant achievements and contributions made by Department of Defense personnel while on duty in the state of Florida. Nielson is responsible for overseeing the launch of Global Positioning System satellites at the Cape. (1/11)

2012 a Busy Year for Rocket Launches on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
Citing a busy 2012 launch schedule, the director of Florida’s storied rocket range said Tuesday that’s proof there is life after NASA’s shuttle program. “We are alive and well, and we are in business here in Central Florida,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton, commander of the Air Force 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range, the nation’s prime rocket-launching region.

A dozen launches are scheduled from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the coming months, including missions that are critical to the International Space Station as well as U.S. troops operating in theaters around the world. “So folks, we are busy,” Cotton told members of the National Space Club Florida Committee at a luncheon in Cape Canaveral. “With the exception of the month of March, there is something going on at the Cape throughout the year.” (1/11)

Florida Space Day Focuses on New Plans (Source: Florida Today)
Space industry advocates visited the state Capitol for Florida Space Day, an annual blitz of lobbying and public outreach convening in Tallahassee for the first time in the post-shuttle era. Legislators who opened the 2012 session Tuesday will hear from the leaders of Space Florida, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, plus major contractors and workforce and economic development officials about plans to reshape the state’s $8 billion industry.

The advocates’ legislative agenda includes support for three bills that would continue efforts to attract commercial space activity to replace some of the work lost with the shuttle’s retirement last July. “It’s clearly a critical time in the industry, and we need to maintain the momentum that we started with the support we received from the Legislature in the past two years,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. (1/11)

NASA in Huntsville Seeks Interim Engines for First Heavy-Lift Rockets (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA turned to the aerospace industry this week seeking two interim engines to boost the upper stages of its first new heavy-lift rockets. NASA is racing to develop its new heavy-lift rocket system in time to meet a congressional deadline of a first flight in 2017. Published reports say that Marshall doesn't leave time to fully develop the J-2X engine planned as the eventual upper stage booster. The J-2X will be used in later versions of the new rocket system.

Instead, NASA will use the temporary fix of purchased engines to lift the upper stages on the first two launches of the new system into lunar trajectory. The new rocket system, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), includes a big booster and an upper stage containing an Orion capsule. The first booster will be able to lift 70 metric tons, and the first launch in 2017 aims to send an unmanned Orion capsule to the moon and back. The second SLS flight in 2021 will send a manned capsule on the same journey. (1/11)

No Need to Panic Over Chinese Space Plans (Source: Pajamas Media)
So, China released a paper outlining its space plans the other day, and it’s apparently driven some pundits loony. In a post titled “The Obama Legacy: Ceding Earth To Islamists And The Moon To China,” Tammy Bruce was quick to bash the Obama administration over what she perceives as its feckless space policy. Over at IBD, Andrew Malcolm similarly blames the Obama administration for what he declares a “crippling” of the U.S. space program (apparently unaware that the real culprit is Congress, on a bi-partisan basis, in its pursuit of pork).

But the latest and most egregious comes from conservative commentator Cal Thomas, who manages to get at least two things wrong in his opening paragraph. While the original Vision for Space Exploration had a goal of a lunar return by 2020, one had to be delusional to believe that Constellation, as it was being implemented, had a prayer of doing so. In 2009, the Augustine Panel essentially said as much, which is why the administration came up with a new policy that, while not explicitly declaring a lunar return as a goal, would have made it possible sooner in a much more affordable way.

Also, the notion that the Chinese are doing this only because we don’t seem to be makes no sense. Does Thomas really think that these plans only arose from an absence of our own, and that they wouldn’t be pursuing the moon if we were? He implies that the Chinese will be sending men to the moon within five years, but that’s not what the white paper says. China said it will “conduct studies on the preliminary plan.” Or perhaps it will contemplate the possibility of conducting such studies. Either way, no taikonauts are going to be making footprints on the moon any time soon. (1/11)

Editorial: The Free Market’s New Frontier (Source: Washington Times)
America’s adventuresome spirit is not dead yet. President Obama, the naysayer in chief, may have grounded NASA’s government-issued astronauts, but space entrepreneurs are making plans to tank up and take off on their own. Meanwhile, thanks to Mr. Obama’s disinterest, NASA has been left behind to watch from the ground as the future of manned space flight unfolds. In 2010, the president terminated the Constellation program, the successor to the now-mothballed space shuttle. (1/11)

Flashback: Gingrich/Walker Washington Times Editorial: Obama's Brave Reboot for NASA (Source: Washington Times)
Despite the shrieks you might have heard from a few special interests, the Obama administration’s budget for NASA deserves strong approval from Republicans. The 2011 spending plan for the space agency does what is obvious to anyone who cares about man’s future in space and what presidential commissions have been recommending for nearly a decade.

The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry in 2002 suggested that greater commercial activity in space was the proper way forward. The Aldridge Commission of 2004, headed by former Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, made clear that the only way NASA could achieve success with President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration was to expand the space enterprise with greater use of commercial assets. Most recently, the Augustine Panel made clear that commercial providers of space-launch services were a necessary part of maintaining space leadership for the United States. (2/12/2010)

NASA Funds Balloon-Borne X-ray Telescope (Source: Astronomy Now)
A new X-ray telescope developed by an international team of scientists will float within the Earth’s atmosphere on a one-day mission to calculate how fast black holes spin. A professor at Washington University has received NASA funding to explore some of the most exciting X-ray sources in space, namely black holes. The balloon-borne telescope X-Calibur, which will be flown in spring 2013 or autumn 2014, will float 40 kilometers above the Earth in the stratosphere.

It will detect "hard" X-rays with energies between 20 - 60 kilo electron volts (keV), which have a higher penetrating energy than “soft” X-rays, which have energies less than 12 keV. The GEMS satellite (Gravity and Extreme Magnetism) lead by Dr Jean Swank of the Goddard Space Flight Center, with which Krawczynski is also working, will be flown at roughly the same time as X-Calibur and will be sensitive to soft X-rays. (1/11)

New ERAU Building to be Finished in July (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
Plenty of activity and machinery can be seen at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach as construction continues on several projects. Construction of the new Jim W. Henderson Administration and Welcome Center at the university's main entrance off Clyde Morris Boulevard is expected to be completed by the end of July.

The $12 million, 35,000-square-foot building replaces the one destroyed by the 2006 Christmas tornado. In other Embry-Riddle news, Fitch Ratings affirmed its "BBB+" rating on Embry-Riddle's $164.6 million in revenue and refunding bonds issued through the Volusia County Educational Facilities Authority. The outlook was upgraded from stable to positive. The outlooks states that the university's "steady operating surpluses and a growing balance sheet cushion reflect an improved credit profile."

Fitch anticipates Embry-Riddle will have continued surpluses and states the university expects to spend $100 million to $110 million of cash through fiscal 2014 for capital projects. "Through careful financial management, ERAU has been able to generate consistent operating surpluses and grow its available funds," the ratings state. (1/11)

Why ET Isn't Phoning Us (Source: Everett WA Herald)
The discovery of exoplanets has sparked discussion about other life in the universe. Columnist Charles Krauthammer addressed the topic, saying the news comes at the right time: "As the romance of manned space exploration has waned, the drive today is to find our living, thinking counterparts in the universe. For all the excitement, however, the search betrays a profound melancholy -- a lonely species in a merciless universe anxiously awaits an answering voice amid utter silence."

Whoa. "A lonely species in a merciless universe anxiously awaits an answering voice amid utter silence?" Really? Is that what really causes anxiety among humans? Krauthammer says it makes no sense that we haven't heard from our counterparts out there somewhere. "As we inevitably find more and more exo-planets where intelligent life can exist, why have we found no evidence -- no signals, no radio waves -- that intelligent life does exist?"

Some scientists suggest we haven't heard anything because "advanced" civilizations have an unfortunate way of destroying themselves. (So much for "intelligent life.") On Sunday, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking marked his 70th birthday. He was unable to attend a conference in his honor, but sent a recorded message, in which he repeated his call for humans to colonize other worlds. (1/11)

No comments: