January 17, 2012

Embry-Riddle Sponsors Suborbital Research Conference (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has signed on as a sponsor of the 2102 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. The event will be held on Feb. 27-29 in Palo Alto, California. Click here for details. I'll be there representing both Embry-Riddle and the FLORIDA SPACErePORT. (1/17)

Clinton Commits U.S. to Work on Space Code of Conduct (Source: Space Policy Online)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement committing the United States to working with the European Union and other countries to develop a "code of conduct" to ensure the long term sustainability of the space environment. Secretary Clinton cautioned that "the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies."

Nonetheless, the United States wants to work with other countries to "reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations." Click here to see the one-page fact sheet from the Department of State. Editor's Note: This "code of conduct" thing doesn't quite seem like an "arms control" initiative, as is being reported by some of the more hawkish news outlets. (1/17)

We Need an Edge From Space (Source: Huffington Post)
When asked this question some might answer with the traditional "Because it's there." Fine for a mountain, insufficient for a frontier. There are as many reasons to open the space frontier as there will be humans to go there, and if history is our guide, although at first it will be only a few, the numbers will grow enormously. But the real reason, the one necessary and sufficient reason we are called to the space frontier, is buried deep within us.

It is a feeling, a knowing in our hearts when we look starward on a clear night. The same feeling that some of our earliest ancestors had as they looked across a new valley, or stood upon the shores of unsailed oceans. First fear, then curiosity, and then, for some, a calling. A calling which pulls us to go, to see, to do, to be there. It has created us and we have always responded to it.

In space we will continue to redefine ourselves, as hundreds, then thousands, then millions of us take our places at the edge of the human realm. The value of what it means to be human will increase, as the lives of individuals, settlements and towns remain under constant threat of death by the harsh forces we find there. (1/17)

Test of Orbital’s Antares Rocket Slips to April as Pad Work Continues (Source: Space News)
A hold-down test of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket, a prerequisite for the launch vehicle’s maiden flight, likely will not be completed before April because of ongoing tests and certification work on the vehicle’s launch pad at Wallops Island. “It’s really an integrated form of testing that's going on now, as we speak, and we're looking at completing that, hopefully, by the first of April,” said Billie Reed, director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Reed said that the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority, the state entity that manages operations at the spaceport from which Orbital will launch, is still completing certification of individual systems. These include more than 130 pressurized vessels needed to support the launch of the liquid-fueled Antares. The authority is also working on what Reed called “integrated system performance and functional testing,” the purpose of which is to ensure that the various launch support systems and software at Orbital’s pad are working harmoniously. (1/17)

Will 2012 Finally Be NewSpace’s Year to Shine? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Successful Virgin Galactic powered flights using a full engine would be a major milestone in a development effort that began almost 7.5 years ago. Virgin Galactic could put to rest persistent stories that engineers are still experiencing difficulty scaling up the hybrid propulsion system from SpaceShipOne for use on its much larger successor. And the missions would pave the way for commercial flights of the six passenger vehicles to begin.

Just next door to SpaceShipOne’s hangar in Mojave, XCOR is gearing up to build the Lynx Mark 1, the company’s high-altitude prototype. Flight ready hardware is already filling the 1940’s era hangar. The big event will be the arrival of the composite fuselage in a few week’s time. Can they fly by the end of this year? Probably, but it could be tight. There’s a lot of work ahead. And XCOR is an engine company that’s now building a spaceship, which could be a significant learning curve.

Three other American companies — Armadillo, Blue Origin and Masten — are continuing development of their reusable suborbital vehicles this year. We can expect all three firms to push their vehicles to ever higher altitudes as the year goes along. With the exception of Masten’s vehicles, these spaceships will first fly experiments and eventually people on suborbital flights. If things go well, 2012 will be the year that suborbital space market will begin to come into its own. Click here. (1/16)

Manned Russian Rocket Launches from South America Look Doubtful (Source: Space.com)
The European Space Agency has long harbored hopes that it could launch humans aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft from its French Guiana spaceport, but this is likely impossible, SPACE.com has learned. The agency has claimed in the past that such future manned Soyuz TMA flights need only infrastructure changes at the launch site to be realized, yet ESA has known since 2004 that the spacecraft can't be launched from the South American territory.

An ESA study conducted between 2002 and 2004 found that because the Soyuz has not been designed to land in the sea, a French Guiana launch that had to be aborted would endanger the spacecraft and its crew as it would likely have to ditch in the Atlantic Ocean. The Soyuz spacecraft have always landed on land in the former Soviet territory of Kazakhstan.

Editor's Note: The Soyuz launch pad at French Guiana is designed to facilitate human missions. And even though the Soyuz capsule may not be compatible with an ocean-abort landing, I guess the rocket remains "human rated" and could possibly carry other crew-carrying capsules, maybe from U.S. providers. (1/17)

China Aiming to Push Forward with Ambitious Near-Term Schedule (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With two successful launches already under their belts for 2012, the Chinese are aiming to advance on their record-breaking 2011 with an ambitious schedule which includes two milestone crewed space missions – the first of which is expected to launch in March. A total of 24 launches may take place this year, further laying the foundations for the rest of the decade. Click here. (1/17)

"Sophisticated" 4th Graders Choose Ebb & Flow as GRAIL Names (Source: Space Policy Online)
A fourth grade class in Bozeman, MT won the competition to name NASA's two GRAIL spacecraft. The GRAIL mission is mapping the Moon's gravity field. The winning names are Ebb & Flow, a reference to the tides here on Earth that are caused by gravitational interaction between the Moon and Earth. (1/17)

NASA Langley Gate Closing Hurts Area Businesses (Source: Daily Press)
A change to employee access at NASA Langley Research Center is having a negative impact on local businesses. NASA Langley's back gate on Wythe Creek Road used to be open to both incoming and outgoing traffic from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. In October incoming access was changed to 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. because budget cuts eliminated the gate guard. This added an additional two-mile drive for employees to get back into work via the front gate. Since then local businesses, and particularly restaurants, have seen a drop in lunchtime business. (1/16)

NASA is Still a Go (Source: Yale Daily News)
My friends and family keep throwing cold water on my passion for space exploration. They believe news reports that President Obama cancelled the human spaceflight program, dooming NASA to slowly wither and die, and they try to nudge me away from denial. Fortunately, their narrative is wildly inaccurate; space exploration is poised for an exciting future.

The national media confuses the deserved cancellation of the space shuttle program with the death of space exploration. In reality, commercial companies will soon replace the outdated space shuttle to launch cargo and crew into orbit around Earth. NASA will no longer focus on providing taxi service to the International Space Station. Rather, a quest to explore the uncharted cosmos with both robots and humans will exploit the imaginative possibility of space. In short, NASA is recapturing the excitement of the Space Race — without the fear of the Cold War. (1/17)

Russia to Test if US Radar Caused Failed Space Probe (Source: Voice of America)
Russia says the failure of its space probe that was intended to travel to a moon of Mars could have been caused by radiation from U.S. radars. Space official Yuri Koptev said Tuesday he will head a government commission that will test whether the Phobos-Grunt probe was affected by U.S. radars. He says an experiment will be done where a model Phobos is subjected to radiation similar to that from U.S. radars. (1/17)

Professor's Aim: Avert Asteroid Hit (Source: DesMoines Register)
Iowa State University professor Bong Wie stood in Hungary’s gilded parliament building in May with a modest plan that might one day save the planet. His idea: avert a catastrophic asteroid strike on Earth by launching a nuclear weapon to intercept the object, a difficult engineering problem that carries enormous legal, political and ethical hurdles. The notion of launching a nuclear strike against an asteroid, while not new, gained momentum after Wie created the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at ISU in 2008 — the first of its kind at a U.S. university. Click here. (1/17)

Forget Space Beer, Order Meteorite Wine Instead (Source: Discovery)
Chances are, when you pop open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, you expect to savor certain aromatic flavors, or "notes", depending on the wine: fruit forward, perhaps, with hints of pepper and leathery tannins, and just the faintest whiff of... meteorite???

At least that's what you'd savor if you were drinking a bottle of Meteorite, possibly the very first wine on the market aged with a meteorite that fell to Earth from space. It's the brainchild of Ian Hutcheon, an Englishman now working in Chile, who thinks the infusion of a bit of meteorite gives his wine a "livelier taste." What would possess a man to make wine with meteorites? For Hutchinson, it's a natural dovetailing of interests. He owns a local vineyard in Chile's Cachapoal Valley, and has a longstanding interest in astronomy. (1/17)

Forecast Fine for Year's First Cape Launch (Source: Florida Today)
There's little chance weather will stall the first launch of 2012 from Cape Canaveral Spaceport, a planned 7:38 p.m. EST Thursday blastoff of a Delta IV rocket carrying a next-generation military communications satellite from Launch Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The most recent forecast from the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron shows only a 10 percent chance that strong ground winds could become a factor during the window that extends to 9:11 p.m. (1/17)

A Sea of Spacetime Foam? (Source: Scientific American)
“Is space digital?” We often speak of the fabric of space, as if it were continuous, but is it instead a kind of patchwork of jittering, foamy quantized bits? Craig Hogan, a physicist at the University of Chicago and director of the Fermilab Particle Astrophysics Center, is hoping to find out. He and his colleagues plan an experiment that will attempt to measure how information, matter and spacetime behave at the tiniest of scales—-the Planck scale. If the experiment succeeds, it will change what we currently think we know about the nature of space and time, suggesting a new architecture of physics. Click here. (1/17)

More Water Than Ever Found on Moon (Source: TIME)
There are a whole lot of forbidding places in the solar system, but the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the moon have to be near the top of the list. Found in the northern and southern lunar poles, the PSRs are low-lying spots — often deep in the bowls of craters — that never receive so much as a breath of warmth or a flicker of light from the sun. As a result, they don't go through the same heating and cooling cycle as the rest of the moon, where temperatures soar to 200°F during lunar daylight and plunge to –200°F at night. Instead, the PSRs remain in an unending deep freeze.

That ought to make those areas unlikely places for astronauts ever to visit, much less settle — except for one little wrinkle: if there happened to be water ice nearly anywhere on the surface of the moon, it would boil away the instant it felt the solar fires; at the poles it would last forever. In 2010, scientists discovered that even at lower latitudes, the moon is not entirely dry, with faint traces of ice surviving beneath the surface, making lunar soil about twice as wet as the sands of the Sahara — which by moon standards is practically drenched.

Now, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has found that the PSRs indeed have a whole lot more water than that, with up to 2% of the surface in those blacked-out regions consisting of ice crystals. Water ice was likely imported to the moon by incoming comets, a bombardment similar to the one that many astronomers believe helped fill the earth's oceans. (1/17)

Who Owns Space History, the Public or the Astronauts? (Source: Universe Today)
Former NASA astronaut Jim Lovell came under fire last week when he sold a personal memento from his tenure with space agency at an auction – the 70-page checklist from the famous Apollo 13 mission that didn’t land on the Moon. The sale has reopened the ongoing debate over who owns NASA artifacts and photographs, the astronauts or the public. In Lovell’s case, the checklist is so valuable because it contains Lovell’s hand written calculations he used to navigate the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft after its oxygen tank exploded.

That’s a pretty important piece of history for many collectors. Bids on the historic item surpassed $388,000. But now NASA is questioning whether Lovell had the right to sell the item and profit from its sale. For now, the checklist – along with a lunar module identification plate and a hand controller from Apollo 9 sold by former astronaut Rusty Schweickart and a glove Al Shepard wore on the Moon on Apollo 14 sold at the same auction – is locked in an Heritage Auctions vault until the issue is resolved.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that there have been “fundamental misunderstandings and unclear policies” regarding items astronauts took home from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab mission. These “misunderstandings and unclear policies” aren’t new. Last summer, NASA filed a lawsuit against Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell after he tried to sell a 16mm video camera he used on the Moon. Mitchell the camera would have been left on the Moon had he not brought it home. It’s been sitting in his personal safe since 1971. Click here. (1/17)

Programming Error May Have Doomed Russian Phobos-Grunt Probe (Source: Space Policy Online)
Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars mission may have failed because of a computer programming error according to unofficial Russian sources. Officially, a special Russian commission headed by former Russian space agency director Yuri Koptev continues to investigate what led to the failure. However, other news reports postulate that "the most likely culprit ... was a programming error in the flight control system."

According to one, post-failure tests showed the processor on the main flight control computer would overload in 90 percent of cases. "Following the initial failure, as ground controllers apparently succeeded in activating the X-band transmitter onboard the spacecraft, new problems arose" because the transmitter was not deactivated when the spacecraft was "flying in the shadow of the Earth for prolonged periods of time." Consequently, "the probe slowly drained its rechargeable power batteries and then its emergency power source... leading to a complete deactivation..." (1/17)

Space on Earth (Source: Reason)
At the Mojave Spaceport, I’m a guest of Michael Massee of Mojave Spaceport tenant XCOR, a 30-employee company founded in 1999 to help build an active space transport and exploration industry. XCOR has already built two successful rocket powered airplanes, the EZ-Rocket and the X-Racer. The company’s EZ-Rocket sits in one corner of the hangar, showing none of the strains one might expect of a homebuilt airplane shot around by rocket power.

Massee shows me the toggles that activated the rocket, the fire suppression switch, even the fuel dump. XCOR has launched dozens of rocket plane flights and thousands of rocket engine firings without once experiencing a “hard start” (rocketeer euphemism for “explosion”) or other serious harm. XCOR investor Lee Valentine, also chairman of the board for the Space Studies Institute (an exploration advocacy group), boasts to me of XCOR’s rocket engines’ unusual longevity and reusability.

XCOR’s main goal now is building and flying the Lynx, a suborbital vehicle to take tourists, experiments, and small satellite payloads out of this world. The company is also developing a new fuel pump, which will also be used by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that does most of the heavy private rocket-launch service these days. Click here. (1/17)

Wallops Island May Become Premier Tourist Attraction (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
Though it's still in the planning stages, tourism officials around Delmarva have been taking one small step toward positioning Wallops Island as a premier tourism destination for space launch enthusiasts. They're even brainstorming slogans like "The Rocket Riviera."

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, mentioned at Monday's meeting of the Greater Ocean City Economic Development Committee that marketing Wallops as "America's first space coast" has been an ongoing effort. Jones said area tourism officials got interested when Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) got involved with bringing more NASA jobs to Wallops Island Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Tourism experts and business leaders from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia have been brainstorming how to market space tourism since mid-2010, when Wallops hosted a retreat on the topic. A main goal is to create a sort of booster rocket for the local economy by marketing the region for space tourism, and luring more off-season visitors. (1/17)

Editorial: Spaceport America's Southern Road Key to Success (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The recent announcement that a full environmental impact study will not be needed for construction of a proposed southern road to Spaceport America was great news for businesses in Doña Ana County looking to take advantage of the influx of well-heeled space tourists expected by next year. Without a southern road, those traveling to and from Spaceport America would need to turn off Interstate 25 at Truth or Consequences, making it more likely visitors would spend their lodging and dining dollars in communities north of Las Cruces.

If all goes well and the county is able to begin construction by the end of the year, it is expected that work can be completed and the road ready to go by the end of next year. While the county is managing the project, Spaceport America will cover the $10 million to $11 million for materials and labor to build the road. Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant for Spaceport America, hopes to begin blasting space tourists into sub-orbit by next year, but that timeline is dependent on safety tests taking place now in California for the spacecraft that will be used at Spaceport America.

In the meantime, Mark Butler, a senior program manager with Virgin Galactic, has moved from the United Kingdom and has set up office in Las Cruces to oversee operations at the spaceport. Construction of the main terminal building is wrapping up, and Virgin Galactic expects to move in and begin paying rent in the next couple of months. It has taken longer than expected, but things are starting to come together. A paved southern road to the spaceport is a key part to the puzzle. (1/17)

Russian Scientists Mock U.S. Radar Theory on Mars Probe (Source: RIA Novosti)
The theory that Russia’s Mars mission failed due to a U.S. radar is extremely “exotic,” Russian scientists said on Tuesday. Phobos-Grunt, Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades, was launched on November 9 but it was lost due to a propulsion failure and fell back to Earth on Sunday. The crash could have been caused by a powerful electromagnetic emission from a U.S. radar in the Pacific Ocean, the Kommersant daily reported. The source stressed that it was more likely an accident rather than an act of sabotage.

“Consider the power of the impact. I don’t think the Americans have radars capable of ensuring such power at such an altitude [about 200 kilometers],” said Alexander Zakharov of the Russian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute, where the Phobos equipment and research program were developed. He suggested the theory was just a blind to cover up some people’s mistakes. (1/17)

U.S. to Launch Space Arms-Control Initiative (Source: RIA Novosti)
The United States is launching a new space arms-control initiative, as a Russian official accuses a U.S. radar of being behind the failure of Russia’s Mars probe. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce the initiative later on Tuesday. The plan will draw on a 2008 European Union draft code of conduct for space, an unnamed administration official told the paper.

“The United States has decided to enter into formal consultations and negotiations with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct,” the official said. “We believe the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct is a solid foundation for future negotiations on reaching a consensus international code,” the official said, adding negotiations to sign the code may stretch well into next year.

In 2008, Washington rejected an international treaty proposed by Russia and China to ban the use of weapons in outer space. John R. Bolton, a former US. ambassador to the United Nations, dismissed the initiative as “mindless.” “The last thing the United States needs is a space code of conduct,” he told the Washington Times in e-mailed comments. “The ideology of arms control has already failed in the Russian 'reset' policy, and it is sure to fail here as well.” (1/17)

Regulating the Final Frontier (Source: The Lawyer)
New arbitration rules for outer space disputes have been launched recently by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. This is part of a growing trend by arbitration institutions to establish rules tailored to the needs of particular sectors in an increasingly competitive market for arbitration services. The PCA’s optional rules for the arbitration of disputes relating to outer space activities were drafted by an advisory group of leading space law experts, based on the widely used and respected UN Commission on International Trade Law rules.

The new rules recognise the importance and growth of the global space industry. With growth comes potential new entrants and increased competition, which will inevitably lead to disputes. Engaging in space activities involves substantial investment and a complex network of contracts. Constructing and launching a communications satellite typically requires an investment of hundreds of millions of pounds, so it is important for parties to have the protection of an effective dispute resolution mechanism should things go wrong. (1/17)

New Space-Arms Control Initiative Draws Concern (Source: Washington Times)
The Obama administration is launching a new space arms-control initiative that critics say will lead to restrictions on U.S. military activities in space, a key U.S. strategic war-fighting advantage. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to announce the initiative as early as Tuesday. The plan will be built on work contained in a European Union draft code of conduct for space that the Pentagon and State Department have criticized as too restrictive.

“The United States has decided to enter into formal consultations and negotiations with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct,” said an administration official familiar with the announcement. The U.S. government has rejected space-arms talks promoted by Russia and China at the United Nations as a covert attempt to limit U.S. military space operations, but the administration official called the EU draft code an improvement. (1/17)

No comments: