February 25, 2012

Minuteman III Launches From Vandenberg (Source: Launch Alert)
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched during an operational test at 2:46 a.m. Feb. 25 from Launch Facility-09 on north Vandenberg. Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, was the launch decision authority. 30th Space Wing Western Range safety operations went as planned during the flight test. (2/25)

The Mars Rover Stays in the Picture (Source: MSNBC)
One of the trickiest things that NASA's Opportunity rover does on Mars is take a look at itself — but for the six-wheeled rover, it's been a vital part of its eight-year-plus mission on the Red Planet. This picture illustrates why the occasional once-over is so important: Because Opportunity relies on solar power, mission controllers back on Earth need to know how much dust is accumulating on the rover's solar panels. It's been a while since the dust has been swept off by Martian winds, and so there's quite a bit of dust covering the power-generating cells right now. Click here. (2/25)

Spaceport America Looks to Issue Contracts (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is looking for companies to perform the fit-out design for Spaceport Operations Center at Spaceport America as well as maintenance, grounds keeping, road maintenance and a variety of other services. The NMSA issued a pair of request for proposals on Friday for the operations center job as well as one for a general services contact.

The scope of work for the operations center RFP includes providing labor and materials required for: space planning and schematic design; selection of interior building finishes; construction administration services for the interior build-out effort; architectural and MEP Engineering and in other areas. For the general services contract, the scope of work required includes providing labor, supervision, management, supplies, materials, tools and equipment to perform: maintenance planning and scheduling; building and utility maintenance and repairs; interior and exterior building maintenance; janitorial services; motor vehicle and aircraft fueling and other jobs. (2/24)

How to Prevent Interplanetary Pandemics (Source: WIRED)
Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain represents a real – if remote – possibility of harmful interplanetary contamination. That’s right, all that lies between you and this horror story is NASA’s Planetary Protection Office (PPO), with its understated motto to keep watch over “all of the planets, all of the time.”

Planetary protection deals with both sides of the interplanetary coin: it must prevent the transfer of Earth-based life to other celestial bodies (known as forward-contamination, which would complicate the detection of any native biology), and avoid the introduction of any extraterrestrial biota to life on this planet (back-contamination). To the more sober-minded members of the public, planetary protection seems foolhardy at best and wasteful at worst: after all, both forward- and back-contamination of sites like Mars has almost certainly already happened. (2/24)

China Launches Beidou Navigation Satellite (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
China launched another satellite Friday for the Beidou space-based navigation network, continuing the system's expansion after it began trial service in December. A Long March 3C rocket lifted off at 1612 GMT (11:12 a.m. EST) Friday from the Xichang space base in southwest China's Sichuan province. It was 12:12 a.m. Saturday at the launch site, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

The 18-story launcher, boosted by twin strap-on engines, flew east from Xichang and deployed the Beidou payload in an oval-shaped geosynchronous transfer orbit stretching more than 22,300 miles above Earth at its furthest point. Built by the China Academy of Space Technology, the spacecraft will maneuver itself to a circular orbit over the equator, where it will join the Beidou fleet. (2/24)

6 Teams Vie for U.S. Air Force Launch Range Support Contract (Source: Space News)
Six U.S. industry teams are gearing up for a long-delayed U.S. Air Force launch range modernization and support contract potentially valued at $3 billion over 10 years, with a final request for proposals expected this spring followed by an award before the end of the calendar year.

The Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract (LISC) will consolidate three separate contracts covering operations, support, maintenance, modernization and logistics at the Air Force’s two main launch ranges: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Currently that work is divided among three separate contracts held by CSR, InDyne, and ITT Exelis.

According to solicitation information posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the LISC contractor will support range functions including launch vehicle command destruct, communications, weather monitoring, radar operations, telemetry, data handling and modeling and simulation. The ranges support satellite launches, missile tests and other activities. (2/24)

NASA Raids Outer Planets Budget To Fund Fast Start on Mars Reboot (Source: Space News)
NASA is starting the planning process for its scaled-back robotic Mars exploration program immediately and will use 2012 funds previously slotted for work on outer planets missions to shore up the effort. NASA will spend about $30 million in 2012 on its retooled Mars exploration program, a cross-agency effort known in budget documents as Mars Next Generation.

In total, NASA plans to spend approximately $700 million on the mission. It is tentatively penciled in for launch in either 2018 or 2020. Mars Next Generation was conceived to fill the void NASA’s planetary science program created after big cuts in the White House’s 2013 budget request forced NASA’s exit from the joint ExoMars sample cache-and-return campaign with the European Space Agency and Russia. Those missions remain slated for 2016 and 2018. (2/24)

NASA Co-Hosts Minority Males In STEM Symposium (Source: NASA)
NASA's Office of Education will join the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in hosting a Minority Males in STEM Symposium on Feb. 28. The day-long program will focus on ways to increase participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields for students from under-represented racial and ethnic groups. (2/24)

Iran Decision, British About-face Among Surprises at Radio Frequency Conclave (Source: Space News)
International radio frequency and orbital slot regulators have agreed to allow Iran access to an orbital slot for its planned Zohreh-1 telecommunications satellite despite the fact that Iran missed repeated deadlines for putting the satellite into use, according to a decision of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC). But the same WRC delegates who allowed Iran to return to the orbital slot also applauded an earlier decision by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that denied Iran access to the slot because of the missed deadlines. Click here. (2/24)

Atlas V Lifts Off From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
An Atlas V rocket carrying a new Navy communications satellite blasted off into a blue evening sky today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The 7.5-ton spacecraft is now on a three-hour journey toward its initial operating orbit. The satellite is the first of five Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft being built by Lockheed Martin under a $5.3 billion Navy contract.

Designed with 3G cellular telephone technology, the spacecraft will enable U.S. ships, aircraft and troops “on the move” to communicate around the clock, in any weather, and in even the most difficult environments, such as heavy-wooded regions covered with thick forest canopies or urban canyons. (2/24)

JPSS Cost Estimate Rises To $12.9B through 2028 (Source: Space News)
NOAA expects to spend up to $12.9 billion on its new polar-orbiting weather satellite program through 2028, a sum that will cover the cost of new civilian spacecraft needed following the cancellation of a Pentagon weather satellite system, according to a Feb. 21 briefing by the head of the NOAA’s satellite division.

The revised life-cycle cost estimate for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is up $1 billion from the previous estimate and covers an additional four years of operations NOAA attributes to “an extended period of satellite performance,” according to briefing charts posted on the NOAA Satellite and Information Service website. (2/24)

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