January 12, 2012

China Launches Again, Second of 2012 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
For their second launch of 2012, the Chinese have launched the FengYun-2F geostationary meteorological satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center using their Long March 3A (Chang Zheng-3A-Y22) rocket from pad LC3. Developed by the Shanghai Academy of Space Flight Technology (SAST) and China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), this meteorological satellite series had already seen the launch of four operational satellites, with two more scheduled before the new FengYun-4 satellites enters service. (1/12)

NASA: New Aircraft Technologies Can Increase Energy Efficiency Nearly 50% (Source: Flight Global)
A suite of technologies now in development can deliver a new airliner by 2025 that is 40-50% more energy efficient and generates 30-40dB less noise, according to results of a NASA study. NASA last year funded three contractors - Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman - to each develop new airliner concepts that could enter service around 2025 specifically designed to meet a set of ambitious targets for emissions reductions.

If current budget plans survive, NASA's aeronautics branch hopes to select one of the designs to produce a 737-sized subscale test vehicle in 2016, with the ultimate goal of proving the technologies required for a new, 767-sized cargo or passenger aircraft as early as nine years later. (1/12)

NASA'S Orion Spacecraft to Land in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama (Source: NASA)
A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft will make a cross-country journey, giving residents in three states the chance to see a full scale test version of the vehicle that will take humans into deep space. Orion will make stops during a trip from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to Kennedy Space Center. The stops include Jan. 23-25 at Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City; Jan. 27-29 at Victory Park and the American Airlines Center in Dallas; and, Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. Engineers, program officials, astronauts and NASA spokespeople will be available to speak with the media and the public. (1/12)

Cape Gets Six Of Nine Launches In $1.5B Pact (Source: Florida Today)
Six of nine critical national security missions to be launched by United Launch Alliance under a $1.5 billion Pentagon contract will blast off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in the 2014 timeframe, from Launch Complexes 37 and 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. They include three Delta-4 missions (AFSPC-4 and two GPS) and three Atlas-5 missions (MUOS-3, NROL-33, and NROL-67). (1/12)

Don’t Pass the Buck, Roskosmos! (Source: RIA Novosti)
The head of Roskomos, Vladimir Popovkin, has insinuated that the embarrassing failure of Phobos-Grunt could be attributed to a shadowy plot of some kind. To back up this claim, Popovkin pointed out that there is something “inexplicable about the problems with our spacecraft when they’re [on the other side of the planet and can’t be monitored properly].” Vague insinuations of sabotage are a dogwhistle for those who are more than eager to write off any such failure on the work of Russia’s enemies abroad.

Unfortunately for Popovkin, any thinking person will immediately see his words for what they are – without a concrete theory as to how and why Phobos-Grunt may have been sabotaged, this looks to be a classic means of passing the buck. Admitting a technical failure makes an agency look way, way better than hinting at the possibility of sabotage. The fact that Popovkin merely hinted is what makes it look particularly bad – a bolder claim would at least make Roskmos look as though it’s willing to put its reputation on the line. (1/12)

Shuttle Main Engines Leaving KSC (Source: Florida Today)
A Kennedy Space Center team this morning packed up a space shuttle main engine to be trucked to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi next week, as NASA transfers the engines from the shuttle program to the agency's new heavy-lift rocket. The engine will be the third shipped from KSC, the second that has flown in space. Twelve more will follow, with the last expected to leave Florida around April. (1/12)

First Ringed Planet Beyond Solar System Possibly Found (Source: Space.com)
An enigmatic object detected five years ago in space may be a ringed alien world comparable to Saturn, the first such world discovered outside our solar system, scientists now say. The finding, announced here yesterday (Jan. 11) at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, came from studying an unsteady eclipse of light from a star near the mysterious body. (1/12)

Commander Emphasizes Foundational Space Capabilities (Source: AFSPC)
Space efficiencies and effectiveness, the importance of STEM education and foundational levels of space capabilities were highlighted by the Air Force Space Command commander. General William Shelton said the future of space transportation in the U.S. is completely dependent on more efficient and much less expensive space launch and that launch underpins much of the command's business.

General Shelton discussed cost-savings initiatives like the command's block buy strategy for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles and multiple launch capabilities. "I can see multiple launch concepts becoming much more prevalent in these times of decreasing budgets, proving once again that necessity is truly the mother of invention," he said. Aging infrastructure was also on the general's mind and he noted the facilities at both Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg AFB are 50 to 60 years old. Additionally, the two launch locations aren't standardized.

In addition to tackling development, standardization and budgetary challenges, the general also discussed the importance of technical education to the future of space. General Shelton said the lack of technology-focused graduates in America could constitute a national security issue in the broadest sense. "Over 30 percent of the people in the aerospace industry nationwide will be eligible to retire next year, and that number grows to 40 percent by 2014," he explained. He called for partnership between industry and academic institutions to encourage STEM education and careers. (1/12)

U.S. Won’t Adopt EU Code of Conduct for Space (Source: Space News)
“It’s been clear from the very beginning that we’re not going along with the code of conduct,” Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said. Asked why the U.S. government would not sign the document, Tauscher said, “It’s too restrictive.” The European Union has been working the voluntary code of conduct for several years, laying out rules of the road for operating satellites and other space vehicles as space becomes increasingly congested. The idea is to minimize the chances of collisions or misunderstandings that could escalate, and to minimize or mitigate space debris.

“We made it very definitive that we were not going to go ahead with the European Code of Conduct; what we haven’t announced is what we’re going to do, but we will be doing that soon,” Tauscher said. Some U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns that the nonbinding agreement would tie the U.S. military’s hands in space. “We’ve advanced further technologically in development and actual deployment of these systems than anyone else, and ... codes of conduct tend to ... constrain our military,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said. Hinting at new U.S.-written rules of the road for space, Taushcer said, “You wouldn’t be surprised to find out that we’ve found a nice sweet spot.”

The Pentagon had concerns with the European strategy for space traffic management, but there are also “ways to deal with it,” according to Michael Krepon. “If [a] satellite is stealthy, or we want it to be stealthy, how does that fit into a traffic management system?” he said. "If you want to move [such] an object in space do you provide advance notice of this or how do you handle that?” If the Obama administration is going ahead with a new strategy, then the Pentagon’s concerns have likely been addressed, Krepon said. (1/12)

Lockheed Wins Orders for Two More GPS 3 Satellites (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver will build the third and fourth satellites in the next-generation GPS 3 navigation constellation under a $238 million contract modification awarded by the U.S. Air Force. By ordering two satellites at once, the Air Force will benefit from production efficiencies at Lockheed Martin, the company said. (1/12)

Boeing Begins NASA Solar Electric Propulsion Study (Source: Space Daily)
Boeing has begun work on a four-month NASA contract to develop a mission concept study for solar electric propulsion technologies. Under the $600,000 firm, fixed-price contract, Boeing will evaluate concepts that combine high-power solar arrays with advanced electric thrusters to power spacecraft and payloads to high Earth orbit and deep space destinations. (1/12)

Lockheed Wins Contract for GPS III Launch and Checkout Capability (Source: Space Daily)
The U.S. Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin a $21.5 million contract to provide a Launch and Checkout Capability (LCC) to command and control all GPS III satellites from launch through early on-orbit testing. (1/12)

Re-Entry Imminent for Russian Mars Probe (Source: Space News)
Roscosmos said its large Phobos-Grunt spacecraft likely will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 15-16. With an estimated weight of more than 13,000 kilograms including fuel, Phobos-Grunt will mostly burn up as it plummets through the atmosphere, but 20-30 pieces weighing a total of no more than 200 kilograms are likely to hit the Earth’s surface. The pieces that survive, notably the small lander that was designed to bring back samples from Mars' moon Phobos, could come down off the east coast of southern Africa. (1/12)

2011 International Launch Tally Shows U.S. Failure to Gain Market Share (Source: Moon and Back)
Eighty-four orbital launches were conducted in 2011. Nineteen of these were internationally competed commercial launches. Six of the 84 were unsuccessful flights involving a Russian Rockot, a Russian Proton, two Russian Soyuz vehicles, a U.S. Taurus XL vehicle, and a Chinese Long March 2C. One of those flights, the Proton, was a commercial mission carrying an Express AM4 communication satellite.

For the United States, a commercial launch is considered one that has been procured through a competitive bidding process or has been licensed by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. In 2011, out of 18 total launches conducted by the U.S. none were commercial. However, the FAA did license one launch, that of a Sea Launch mission carrying Eutelsat’s Atlantic Bird 7. Sea Launch missions are licensed by the FAA because operations are partly conducted on U.S. territory.

Russia continues to dominate in total number of launches (32). China surpassed the number of orbital launches conducted by the United States (18) for the first time in history. In terms of commercial flights, a trend continues: Russia and Europe lead the way with commercial launches, usually in that order. China conducted two commercial launches and there was only a single Sea Launch mission. The U.S. conducted no commercial launches in 2011. (1/12)

A Look Ahead at 2012 Launch Plans (Source: Moon and Back)
SpaceX's first of 12 contracted Dragon cargo flights to ISS is tentatively scheduled for February. The company no longer markets the Falcon 1, and payloads for this vehicle have since been reassigned to Falcon 9. SpaceX may have its busiest year yet with five Falcon 9 missions planned, including two destined for ISS. ULA expects about 14 flights of the Atlas V and Delta IV from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and Vandenberg in California, none will be commercial.

Orbital Sciences Corp. will introduce its Antares vehicle early in 2012, from Virginia’s spaceport. The first Antares flight will carry a test version of the Cygnus cargo vehicle. Orbital is contracted to provide eight Cygnus flights to ISS through 2017. Orbital expects in 2012 to launch two Antares flights, two Pegasus XL flights, and a few Minotaur flights for the Air Force.

Russia will likely launch about 30-35 flights, probably 40 percent commercial. Arianespace is expected to launch more than its average of about 6-7 flights, including Ariane, Soyuz and Vega vehicles. China is expected to launch between 10-15 vehicles in 2012, including a crewed Shenzhou 9. India will likely launch about 4-5 PSLV vehicles, and maybe one GSLV. Japan will launch an HTV to ISS and two H-IIAs carrying a variety of science payloads. Finally, Iran may launch more than one payload into orbit aboard its Safir 2 vehicle. (1/12)

Singers Beyonce and Jay-Z May Shoot Music Video with Virgin Galactic (Source: The Sun)
Record execs are inquiring behind the scenes about filming on one of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic craft. Flights on the six-seater ships, due to launch later this year, will cost £780,000 each and blast passengers 70,000ft into Earth's atmosphere. The video would be shot when passengers experience six minutes of weightlessness. (1/12)

ESA Chief Threatens To Cancel Launch of Sentinel Satellites (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is maintaining its position that it will cancel the planned 2013 launching of a series of Earth observation satellites co-financed with the European Commission unless the commission commits to financing their operation beyond 2014, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said Jan. 9. Dordain said the agency has retained legal ownership of the Sentinel 1A, Sentinel 2A and Sentinel 3A satellites until they are in their operating orbits. As the sole owner, he said, ESA has no need to seek European Commission approval to leave the spacecraft on the ground. (1/12)

Florida Students Launch Balloon to View Edge of Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Twenty-eight members of the Astronomy Club at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland worked for several months to prepare a giant latex weather balloon bearing a box of cameras and data-collecting equipment. They sent the probe aloft last weekend, with the aim of reaching 100,000 feet — high enough to peer across the threshold of the universe. The students' balloon may well have attained its lofty goal, but mechanical mishaps caused it to become lost upon re-entry and not all its cameras functioned properly.

The students were attempting to replicate the success of a similar launch last year which produced startlingly clear photos of a blue earth and black space. With grants totaling $1,200 from NASA and the Toshiba America Foundation, the students bought three video cameras, a still camera, GPS devices, a cell phone and a $100 weather balloon big enough for a man to stand inside. Also aboard was the project's mascot, a stuffed animal in an astronaut suit named Space Bear.

The students secured the equipment in a simple styrofoam cooler wrapped in a gold foil NASA space blanket designed to provide insulation and act as a radar reflector should aircraft draw near. The team launched the balloon Saturday. Hours ticked past, but no signal was heard from the GPS indicating where the balloon had landed. But the next day someone spotted the rig on a dirt road near the Kissimmee River, about 70 miles east of its launch point. (1/12)

Appraiser Looks for Space Memorabilia in Huntsville (Source: WAFF)
Regency Superior will hold a free appraisal clinic this weekend in Huntsville. The clinic is an effort to find items related to space exploration that the company can put up for auction this summer. Regency Superior Appraiser Alan Lipkin says now is the time to sell memorabilia since prices are at an all-time high.

Lipkin said space memorabilia prices have been rising at a rate of 5-to-10% a year for the last 20 years. "It is a great way to increase your wealth," said Lipkin. Lipkin has visited Huntsville half-a-dozen times in recent years and said he likes to see items related to Dr. Werner Von Braun. Lipkin is looking for items such as autographed documents and other scientific materials. (1/12)

The High Cost of Government Waste (Source: The American)
Many promising space exploration proposals have been abandoned over the years in the name of more pressing social priorities. There are many ways to measure the cost of wasteful spending in the decades since the Apollo moon landings-—the size of the current national budget deficit, surveys showing Americans’ growing mistrust of government, or the number of duplicative and inefficient federal programs.

Yet perhaps the most disheartening metric is the number of promising space exploration proposals that have been abandoned in the name of “more pressing social priorities.” Only now, as the nation finally comes to terms with the very overspending that was supposedly being avoided, does the price of undisciplined domestic spending, combined with a failure of technological nerve, begin to become painfully clear. Multiple polls have documented the public’s increasing disappointment and even anger over their country’s lack of progress in space, feelings that in retrospect are clearly justified. Click here. (1/12)

Editorial: Cutbacks in Space, Military Spending Could Undermine U.S. (Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
The Chinese initiative in space is an important element of its overall plans to continue to build its economy, and more importantly, modernize and place its military might on parity with the U.S. This push for dominance in space exploration by the Chinese government comes at a time when both the U.S. and Russian space programs are conversely forsaking their space programs and erasing expectations for future manned space flight.

Meanwhile, President Obama now seeks significant cuts in defense spending. Defense and space exploration are inter-related not only in terms of scientific achievement, but national security. The continued buildup of Chinese military and now space program makes the new Obama cutbacks in military spending and continued defunding of NASA imprudent in these terms and carries significant implications for our long term security and competitive economic abilities that could haunt us decades from now. (1/12)

An Indian Perspective on China's Space Progress (Source: IDSA)
It is important for India to realize the relevance of Chinese achievements in space technologies. But at the same time India need not get into the competitive mode. It is necessary to critically view and analyse Chinese achievements in the area of manned space missions. China’s ambitions of a manned lunar landing should not unnerve India, and it should avoid getting carried away by news of such Chinese missions. These technologies were developed by the US and the former Soviet Union almost four decades ago and China is not breaking any new ground.

It must also be kept in mind that China’s manned space mission has no direct social or strategic significance. Further, a costly and technologically challenging experiment like the International Space Station (ISS) has achieved limited success in terms of offering path breaking benefits to humanity. China’s space station program is definitely a demonstration of its technological prowess. However, it would take decades to understand the actual, tangible benefits of such program. Nevertheless, such programs could help the space industry grow further and facilitate the development of new technologies with uses in other fields, including the military.

As a result, there is significant discussion and concerns about China overtaking India in the space arena. However, in order to understand the edge China has achieved over India, it is important to go beyond blind comparisons. This is particularly so with regard to programs like manned space flights and the Space Station. It is important for India to contextualize the relevance of these from the point of view of social, technological, commercial, and strategic benefits to itself. (1/12)

SpaceX to Begin Testing on Reusable Falcon 9 Technology This Year (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will begin testing on a vertical propulsion landing system later this year, part of a long-term project to evaluate the potential of creating a fully-reusable version of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle. SpaceX believe a fully and rapidly reusable orbital class rocket would provide a critical breakthrough for the human race’s ambition of becoming a multi-planetary species.

These plans were unveiled by SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk back in September of last year, plans which called for an improved Falcon 9, featuring first and second stages that would fly back to the launch site under their own power – something no other aerospace company has achieved. Mr Musk had previously hinted at such an ambition in 2009. (1/12)

US Natural Resources Alternative: To the Moon for Magnesium? (Source: Resource Investing News)
As the US presidential election heats up in coming months, how the nation addresses its natural resource needs is likely to come up in debates between the Republican Party candidate and President Barack Obama. Questions regarding energy security have certainly been politically charged in past elections, but this year, the dominance of China in the metals market and what alternatives there are to breaking the status quo is likely to be raised by the candidates.

Newt Gingrich, for instance, has already outlined his hopes for mining the moon not only for rare earths, but also for minor metals including magnesium. While Gingrich’s bid for the White House still remains up in the air, his comments at a public debate in Des Moines, Iowa last month have given traction to the idea that the moon is indeed a possible source of resources critical for industrial as well as military expansion. (1/12)

The U.S. Didn’t Shoot Down Russia’s Mars Probe, But It Could Have (Source: Slate)
Sometime this weekend, Phobos-Grunt will crash into the Indian Ocean. It took more than a decade and some $163 million to build Phobos-Grunt, so it its inexplicable failure was understandably frustrating for the Russians. But in a bizarre interview, Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Russia's space agency, alluded to foul play: "We don’t want to accuse anybody, but there are very powerful devices that can influence spacecraft now. The possibility they were used cannot be ruled out," he said.

He insinuated that the United States was to blame: "the frequent failure of our space launches, which occur at a time when they are flying over the part of Earth not visible from Russia, where we do not see the spacecraft and do not receive telemetric information, are not clear to us." The claim that Phobos-Grunt was shot down is absurd.

But that's not because it would be hard to do. It's easy—if you can launch satellites—to destroy them, and to do so with deniability isn't much harder. Had the United States wanted to destroy Phobos-Grunt, it could have. But it’s hard to fathom why—not least of all because doing so would have messed with a couple of scientific missions piggy-backed onto the Russian probe: a Chinese Mars orbiter and an experiment run by the Planetary Society. (1/12)

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