March 16, 2012

NuSTAR Launch Delayed Due to Launch Vehicle Issues (Source: NASA Watch)
The planned launch of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission has been postponed after a March 15 launch status meeting. The launch will be rescheduled to allow additional time to confirm the flight software used by the launch vehicle's flight computer will issue commands to the rocket as intended. The spacecraft will lift off on an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket, which will be released from an aircraft taking off from the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (3/16)

SpaceX Completes Important Commercial Crew Milestone (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX continues to prepare for our upcoming test flight in which we will attempt to send the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. At the same time we continue making rapid progress in our efforts to prepare the Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. Recently, SpaceX completed another important milestone – the first NASA Crew Trial, one of two crew tests as part of Space’s work to build a prototype Dragon crew cabin. For this milestone SpaceX demonstrated that our new crew cabin design will work well for astronauts in both nominal and off-nominal scenarios.

It also provided our engineers with the opportunity to gain valuable feedback from both NASA astronauts and industry experts. The engineering prototype includes seven seats as well as representations of crew accommodations such as lighting, environmental control and life support systems, displays, cargo racks, and other interior systems. During the daylong test, SpaceX and NASA evaluators, including four NASA astronauts, participated in human factors assessments which covered entering and exiting Dragon under both normal and contingency cases, as well as reach and visibility evaluations. (3/16)

Editorial: Arizona Billboard Bill Needs Limits to Protect Astronomy (Source: Arizona Republic)
Arizona's clear, dark nighttime skies are some of our richest assets. They've paid off in a thriving astronomy and optical sector -- and now, they could snag hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments. Plus millions of dollars a year in operating expenses. Here's the economic development Arizona needs. Here's a field where Arizona has an undisputed competitive edge. Here's where Arizona has the ability to be a global player.

But the Legislature will jeopardize this enormous asset if it approves electronic-billboard legislation without including safeguards for dark skies. House Bill 2757 is a reaction to last November's state appeals-court ruling that electronic billboards violate the Arizona Highway Beautification Act. The bill would allow digital billboards, with their changing messages, on interstates and state highways. (3/16)

Clues to 'Weird' Saturn Moon Found in Earth's Ice (Source:
Astronomers hoping to shed light on how Saturn's "weird" moon Iapetus developed over time are taking cues from climate research of icy surfaces right here on Earth. Iapetus' bizarre two-toned appearance — with one dark side and one bright side — has puzzled astronomers since the moon was first discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1671. To better understand how this oddball Saturn moon formed and evolved, researchers are now studying the temperature variation across Iapetus' differing surfaces by measuring the moon's microwave emissions. (3/16)

Russia to Launch New ISS Module in 2013 (Source: Xinhua)
Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos denied reports Friday of a delay to the launch of the new multi-purpose Nauka lab for the International Space Station (ISS). "The launch has been planned for the second half of 2013. No decisions about a delay have been made," said Alexei Krasnov, head of Roscosmos' department for manned flights. Earlier Friday, a source told Interfax the launch had been pushed back until at least spring 2014. (3/16)

Chinese Space Program On the Rise (Source: CBC)
The retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet and a number of recent failures in the Russian space program have focused attention on China’s space program. With three manned flights under its belt, numerous satellite launches and a reliable launch platform in its Long March rockets, China is taking large steps in cementing itself as a space-faring power. The release of a white paper in 2011 detailed China’s ambitions for space travel, including plans to put space stations in orbit, as well as exploration beyond earth’s orbit that could one day lead to manned missions to the moon. (3/16)

Roscosmos Takes On NASA (Source: Russia, Beyond the Headlines)
The Russian space agency Roscosmos has submitted to the government a draft strategy for space development through 2030. The strategy lays out a plan to accomplish what the Soviet Union failed to achieve – the launch of several long-term space missions to Mars and a manned flight around the moon. Surprisingly, the agency plans to do all this mostly within the constraints of the budget already at its disposal. Agency head Vladimir Popovkin announced earlier that the agency hoped to accomplish all its goals with a budget of between 150 and 200 billion rubles; it has already been allocated 150 billion rubles for this year. (3/16)

Space Foil Helping to Build Safer Cars (Source: ESA)
A special foil sensor developed to measure the pressure on a spaceplane’s wings during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere is now helping to build safer cars. This ‘space’ foil has been transformed into a new super-thin and accurate sensor used by VW to measure every deformation suffered by cars during crash tests. (3/16)

Arabsat, Eutelsat Still Open To Compromise Over Contested Orbital Slot (Source: Space News)
The heads of two satellite fleet operators involved in a game of orbital-slot chicken said they remain open to a compromise despite two years of fruitless discussions mediated by a United Nations affiliate. Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen and Khalid A. Balkheyour, chief executive of Arabsat, conceded that the most recent talks had ended with no real progress. (3/16)

NRC: NASA Should Phase Out Lower-Priority Aeronautics Activities (Source: NASA Watch)
According to the National Research Council, at a time when NASA's aeronautics funding is at a historic low, the agency needs to restart its highly successful flight research program, rather than devote most of its efforts to small-scale research. To accomplish this, the agency should phase out lower-priority aeronautics activities and select two to five programs with the greatest potential. (3/16)

Troubles for Proposed NASA-Supported Tech Business Incubator in Colorado (Source: NASA Watch)
A Space Act agreement signed in late 2010 by NASA and the Colorado Association for Manufacturing & Technology (CAMT) created a partnership aimed at speeding up the commercial roll-out of aerospace and energy technologies. It has been estimated that the business park could house up to 100 companies and create 10,000 jobs. These absurd claims were being parrotted by local politicians, newspapers, business groups, real estate brokers and everyone who wanted to be the first to tell the public the good news.

CAMT notified state economic development staff this week that CAMT is looking for a new location. CAMT pulled out of Loveland once it was clear the new owners of the former Agilent campus had no intention of subsidizing salaries for CAMT leadership through leases from the project. The “Space Act Agreement” was unfunded by design and largely a publicity stunt between Thorndike and a friend at NASA.

The technologies in question are those left behind the government is willing to pay anyone to try and commercialize... There was no discriminator in the ACE Project making Loveland a place companies wanted to move to get these contracts; despite constant spin to the contrary by the city and local media. Editor's Note: According to one NASA Watch commenter, Loveland will continue working with NASA to try and commercialize technologies and has approved $150,000 to begin matching Loveland companies with NASA's most valuable technologies. Click here. (3/15)

Republican Urges LightSquared's Approval as Sides Make Final Push (Source: The Hill)
Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MS) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to not block wireless startup LightSquared's planned 4G network in a filing with the agency. "This technology is too important to the 260 million Americans looking forward to the affordable access that only LightSquared can provide, to close the door at this point, and I urge you to do everything you can to find a solution,” Nunnelee wrote in a formal comment to the FCC. (3/16)

NewSat's KA-Band Satellite to Launch on Ariane-5 in 2014 (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket will launch the all-Ka-band Jabiru-1 telecommunications satellite for startup operator NewSat of Australia in late 2014 under a contract that Ariane 5 operator Arianespace announced. The 5,900-kilogram Jabiru-1 is expected to have a capacity of 7.6 gigahertz distributed among 50 transponders feeding 24 spot beams. The satellite, under construction by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., will be stationed in the Indian Ocean region at an orbital slot that Southbank-based NewSat has yet to specify. (3/16)

BodyMedia Armbands Monitoring Astronauts' Exercise Aboard ISS (Source: Bradenton Herald)
BodyMedia, Inc., a developer of wearable body monitors designed for health and wellness, announced that its BodyMedia FIT Armbands are being used to help advance space exploration projects including International Space Station missions as well as The Mars Society's efforts to lay the groundwork for human exploration of the Red Planet. BodyMedia armbands track calories burned, steps taken, level of physical activity and sleep patterns, utilizing a proprietary four-sensor system that collects 5,000 data points per minute. (3/16)

Iridium NEXT Launches Aerospace Scholarship Program (Source: Iridium)
Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:IRDM) announces the launch of the Iridium NEXT Mission Team Scholarship program. The endowment is a multi-year commitment by Iridium NEXT partner companies to support the development of innovative young aerospace engineers. Thales Alenia Space, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin, Boeing and SEAKR, along with Iridium, have already committed almost half of the anticipated $250,000 endowment, and corporate participation is expected amongst the 30 Iridium NEXT Mission Team members. The scholarship program will be administered by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation, and will begin distributing awards to undergraduate students for the 2012-13 academic year. (3/15)

Europe Joins Russia on Robotic ExoMars (Source: Aviation Week)
Jilted by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to press ahead with its ExoMars program in partnership with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which plans to contribute Proton launch vehicles and a new entry, descent and landing system to the ambitious two-pronged Mars mission in 2016 and 2018. Russia’s arrival as the savior of ExoMars is not without cost, however, as ESA will now have to fund development of a rover for the 2018 mission that NASA had previously planned to share. (3/15)

USAF Orders Continue For WGS (Source: Aviation Week)
Boeing’s Wideband Global Satcom began merely as a gapfiller project to provide communications for the U.S. military, but 11 years later the WGS satellites have become the backbone for shuttling the Pentagon’s wideband data. And at a time when the Pentagon is planning to cut $487 billion over 10 years, WGS is being hailed as an example of an efficient satellite procurement. This productivity shows in the Pentagon’s orders. WGS started in 2000 as a two-satellite buy to bridge a gap until the ambitious, but now defunct, Transformational Satellite Communications (TSAT) constellation began operations. Today, Pentagon officials are planning to buy at least 10 of the WGS satellites. (3/15)

Looking for Interplanetary Defense Work? (Source: iWatch News)
We were shocked to read on Discover magazine’s website last week that an asteroid 450 feet across, lurking just now on the other side of the sun, stands a (remote) chance of smacking us — or someone else on earth — in about 29 years. Scientists presently judge the probability to be around 1 in 625, which seems like a substantial upgrade from the usual estimate of a one in 5,000 chance that a major asteroid will hit Earth in the next century.

More will be known next year, after new calculations, and everything hinges on the asteroid — with the mild name of AG5 — passing through what astronomers are calling a space “keyhole” that could bend its orbit toward earth sometime in 2023. So there will be some time to prepare. But frankly we can see the opportunity for some defense industry contracts right now, and it’s not hard to pick out a front-runner.

With uncanny foresight, some scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory prepared this video that was uploaded to YouTube in the middle of last month extolling how their newest Cray supercomputer can model the impact of an “energy source” on an asteroid. Robert P. Weaver, identified only as an R&D scientist at the New Mexico lab, narrates how the shock wave from a one-megaton-sized explosion — he never mentions the “n” word, for the nuclear weapons at the heart of the lab’s work — would blast a much larger asteroid into smaller bits of rock. (3/15)

Near-Miss Asteroid Will Return Next Year (Source: ESA)
When it whizzes past Earth in 2013, a newly discovered asteroid is going to miss our planet – but not by much. The 50 m space rock is expected to come closer than many satellites, highlighting the growing need to keep watch on hazards from above. An amateur team discovered the unusual asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA14, on 22 February. Its small size and orbit meant that it was spotted only after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the Moon. (3/15)

The Shuttle Launch Like You Have Never HEARD It Before Thanks to Skywalker Sound (Source: Gizmodo)
I've seen many launches of the space shuttle from the point of view of the rocket booster, but none, none I tell you, match this one. It's simply amazing for one reason: the sound. Put your headphones on and listen. Michael A. Interbartolo III, at NASA's Johnson Space Center, tells me it was created in collaboration with Ben Burtt Jr and Skywalker Sound. They did a masterful job at remixing and enhancing the sound, from liftoff to splash down. Click here. (3/15)

North Korea to Launch Satellite (Source: Voice of Russia)
North Korea has said that it will launch a ‘working’ artificial satellite from the 12th to the 16th of April. The satellite has been designed and built by North Korean experts on the basis of North Korea’s own technologies, an official of the Space Exploration Committee said. According to reports, the satellite will be launched to commemorate another birth anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Jong-il. The day is marked in North Korea as a national holiday on April 15th . The neighbouring Japan is concerned about the planned launch. Tokyo feels that Pyongyang uses satellite launches to cover the test-firing of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. (3/16)

North Korea to Launch Application Satellite Next Month (Source: Xinhua)
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is to launch in mid-April a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by itself with indigenous technology to mark the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung, the official news agency KCNA reported Friday. (3/16)

Editorial: Good News on Exploring Mars (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
Telling NASA to back off from its threats to eliminate funding for two future robotic missions in the ongoing exploration of Mars, a congressional committee last week was certainly heading in the right direction on the issue. Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, rejected a request from NASA that would shift funds from the Mars missions to other projects, including a cost-overruning telescope.

Sure, it's a local issue for the San Gabriel Valley - what people in other parts of the country might even consider a pork-barrel issue. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where most of the nation's - and the world's - Mars science originates, is right here in La Ca ada Flintridge, and is operated by Caltech in Pasadena. A local congressman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, reacted in an appropriately local way: "While this decision does not in itself stave off possible future cuts, it will enable Congress time to fully analyze - and I hope reject - NASA's poorly thought-out plan to diminish the Mars program. It is a very positive step in the right direction," he said. (3/16)

KSC’s Revamp to Include New Centerpiece HQ Building on Central Campus (Source:
A new Headquarters building is set to rise from the ground at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), a building which is part of the overall revamp of the Florida spaceport. While the noise of spacecraft being launched from KSC won’t be heard again until at least 2014, the sound of construction is already ringing out, as KSC prepares to launch both NASA and commercial vehicles. (3/16)

Editorial: A Code for Outer Space, as Seen From the State Dept. (Source: New York Times)
Re “Hands Off the Heavens,” by John R. Bolton and John Yoo (Op-Ed, March 9): From GPS navigation to cellular communications, the benefits of space permeate our lives and are vital to our national security and economy. Maintaining American leadership is absolutely critical. But orbital debris and irresponsible actions in space have increased the chance of collisions that could have damaging consequences for the United States and others.

As more nations and organizations use space, the United States must work with our allies and partners to minimize these problems. The United States is joining with the European Union and others to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities to reduce the potential threat to American space assets by endorsing nonbinding best practices and transparency and confidence-building measures.

It is important to clarify several points with respect to the code. It is still under development, we would not subscribe to any code unless it protects and enhances our national security, and the code would not be legally binding. An International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities would be like the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation adopted by the previous administration and would not require Senate advice and consent. (3/16)

ViaSat Won't Try To Block Loral's Delivery of Satellite to Rival (Source: Space News)
Satellite broadband provider ViaSat Inc., which has sued satellite builder Loral for patent infringement and breach of contract, will not seek a temporary injunction to stop Loral from delivering a broadband satellite in May to ViaSat’s biggest competitor. ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg said the late arrival of ViaSat’s patents relating to satellite broadband systems have left the company with too little time to mount an effort to get a court order forbidding Loral from delivering the Jupiter-1/EchoStar 17 satellite to Hughes Network Systems. (3/16)

ESA Ruling Council OKs ExoMars Funding (Source: Space News)
The ruling council of the European Space Agency (ESA) on March 15 agreed to continue funding a Mars telecommunications orbiter and atmospheric gas analyzer mission for launch in 2016, which along with an entry, descent and landing module will be launched on a Russian Proton rocket donated by the Russian space agency. The council’s decision will permit the ExoMars industrial team led by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, to proceed with work on the 2016 mission under a full development contract. (3/16)

NASA Launches Comet-Hunting iPhone Game (Source:
Ever wanted to steer a robotic spacecraft toward a comet rendezvous in deep space? Now there's an app for that. NASA's new free iPhone game Comet Quest puts players at the controls of the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, which is slated to arrive at the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. The real Rosetta will drop a lander onto the comet's nucleus, then spend roughly two years studying the icy wanderer from orbit.

Comet Quest parallels the actual mission. Players must deploy a lander in a scientifically interesting area; receive data from the lander; transmit lander and orbiter data back to Earth; and keep Rosetta safe from dangerous chunks of material blasting off the comet's surface. Players earn points by accomplishing all of these tasks, then can rack up even more by correctly answering comet quiz questions at the end of the game. (3/16)

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