March 21, 2012

Congressional Doubts About CASIS (Source: NASA Watch)
During Wednesday's Congressional hearing, when asked about CASIS, the non-profit organization chartered to manage the U.S International Laboratory on the ISS, Charles Bolden did not know what the history behind CASIS was (how or why it was formed), did not know how many people worked there, and would not give a grade for its performance thus far. When Rep. Wolf noted that the Director of CASIS had quit recently and that this was like "the captain leaving the ship" Bolden said "they're just getting started". Rep. Wolf suggested that NASA needs to look at CASIS carefully saying "if they are not with it in 30-45 days we should pull it and give it to NSF".

Bolden replied that a letter was being sent to CASIS to remind them of their milestones and "if they they do not meet milestones we will find another way". Editor's Note: Handing responsibility over to NSF probably is not a good solution. Other national labs are typically owned by government agencies (mostly DOE) but are operated by non-government partners--sometimes corporations, sometimes universities (see my short essay here). The ISS is a very unusual example with many unique challenges. CASIS should be given a fair chance to do the job. (3/21)

Experimental Payloads Selected For Commercial Suborbital Flights (Source: NASA)
NASA's Flight Opportunities Program has selected 24 cutting-edge space technology payloads for flights on commercial reusable launch vehicles, balloons and a commercial parabolic aircraft. Sixteen of the payloads will ride on parabolic aircraft flights, which provide brief periods of weightlessness. Five will fly on suborbital reusable launch vehicle test flights. Two will ride on high-altitude balloons that fly above 65,000 feet. One payload will fly on the suborbital launch vehicle and high-altitude balloon platforms. The flights will take place in 2012 and 2013.

Editor's Note: Four of the selected payloads are from Florida university researchers, including a balloon-bourne ADS-B (space traffic management) project by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; two suborbital rocket-bourne regolith/dust-oriented experiments by UCF; a suborbital rocket-bourne cryogenic line chilldown experiment by the University of Florida; and a parabolic aircraft-bourne regolith experiment by UCF. The Embry-Riddle AS-B project is intended to graduate from balloon, to suborbital rocket, to orbital tests as a Cubesat or ISS payload. Click here. (3/21)

Von Braun's Favorite Wine Key to Wooing 1961 State Legislature (Source: Huntsville Times)
It's been more than 50 years but former Alabama Gov. John Patterson laughed a deep, hearty laugh at the memory. In an interview earlier this month, Patterson talked about the influence Wernher von Braun had on the development of the University of Alabama in Huntsville as it is today. Von Braun spoke before a rare joint session of the state Legislature in 1961, urging lawmakers to earmark money for the creation of a research facility at what is now known as UAH. The research facility, von Braun told lawmakers, was needed to keep NASA's presence in Huntsville as the nation embarked on the race to beat the Soviet Union to the moon.

That speech in Montgomery is a legendary part of Huntsville's history. "It went over very well and he was well-received," Patterson said. "And I had invited everybody (in the Legislature) out to the governor's mansion for lunch right after he spoke. We did a little research on him and discovered one of the things von Braun really liked was a luncheon wine known as Lancer's Rose... We had shipped in several cases of Lancer's Rose wine for lunch. Now the Legislature, in those days, was notorious for drinking. We had them out for lunch and they drank every bottle of that stuff. And they went back into session (after lunch) and immediately passed and appropriated the money for the construction and the starting of the University of Alabama in Huntsville." (3/21)

May Says SLS Program on Schedule (Source: Huntsville Times)
Space Launch System (SLS) Program Manager Todd May said the massive effort to design and build the next U.S. heavy lift rocket, NASA's largest development program, is on schedule and on track to meet the 2017 first mission launch. May said that despite the debate on the U.S. space program, NASA has a strategy and a program to carry it out.

"Some say there is no plan. But there is a strategy and a mission," he said. May sees that mission on several levels, viewing it in both space exploration leadership as well as national security. "We're losing the market, taking it on the chin from the Chinese and the Russians," he commented. "But as a nation we don't want to retreat from space exploration. We're focusing on beyond Earth orbit so what we learn will benefit all mankind." (3/21)

$24M Embraer Engineering Center Coming to Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer unveiled plans to add a $24 million engineering center to its existing operations at Melbourne International Airport. The 63,500-square-foot center will be built on a 13.2-acre site at a cost of $24.2 million, which includes construction costs and equipment at the center. When fully operational, the center is expected to employ 200 people with an average annually salary of $70,000.

Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Melbourne to announce the project. Already home to Embraer’s only North American aircraft assembly facility and global customer center, the company’s latest project will feature work done on design, certification and production of the company’s aircraft. State and local officials, including Space Florida, worked with Embraer for about six months to bring the engineering facility to Melbourne. (3/21)

Russia To Spike Plan To Recycle Satellite For Antarctic Broadband Access (Source: TechWeek Europe)
This week, Russian officials plan to de-orbit and sink a satellite that got mis-launched into the wrong orbit – despite a plan which could recycle that satellite to provide fast broadband to the most remote isolated area on earth. A botched launch last August put the $265 million Express-AM4 communication satellite into the wrong orbit, thanks to a Proton Briz-M rocket upper stage failure caused by a miscalculation.

Polar Broadband Ltd. (PBL) is working with satellite industry insurance experts and investors to salvage Express AM4, and both reposition and repurpose the satellite to serve one of the most remote communities on earth – the international science community in the Antarctic. Unless PBL can negotiate the repurposing of Express-AM4 in the space of a week, this capability will be drowned in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. (3/21)

Mercury Surprises: Tiny Planet Has Strange Innards and Active Past (Source:
The small, sun-scorched planet Mercury has an interior unlike that of any other rocky planet in our solar system and a surprisingly dynamic history, two new studies suggest. Using observations from NASA's Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury, researchers have found that the planet's huge iron core is even larger than they had thought, and it's likely overlain with a solid shell of iron and sulfur — a layered structure not known to exist on Earth, Venus or Mars. And there's more: Mercury appears to have remained geologically active for a surprisingly large chunk of its evolutionary history, researchers said. (3/21)

Seoul to Deal Sternly With North Korea's Planned Launch (Source: Itar-Tass)
South Korea will deal sternly with North Korea’s planned rocket launch, but will keep its door open to talks with Pyongyang, South Korean Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik said. South Korea will deal with it sternly, and will closely coordinate its actions with the international community, the minister said. He did not say, however, whether Seoul intends to take that issue to the United Nations Security Council if Pyongyang goes ahead with the launch.

The minister of unification expressed deep regrets over the planned launch, but stressed that he had not given up hope for improving relations with North Korea. “We will keep our door open to dialogue. I hope the North will respond to our sincere efforts,” the news agency quoted him as saying. Yu Woo-ik also stressed that South Korea remains the only country that can help revive the North’s economy. (3/21)

Space Tourism and Private Space Travel Must Be Safe, House Panel Says (Source:
The risks of space tourism and other private spaceflight missions must be clearly understood and addressed if the burgeoning commercial space industry is to succeed, House lawmakers told the FAA. "The public needs a clear understanding of the risks involved with commercial space transportation, and it will need to be convinced those risks are being effectively managed," said Acting Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL). (3/21)

GRAIL Lunar Gravity Mission Extended Until December (Source:
NASA has granted an extension of the GRAIL moon mission until December, allowing scientists to complete a more definitive map of the lunar gravity field from a lower orbit, according to agency officials and researchers. The $496 million mission was due to end in June. The twin GRAIL satellites entered orbit around the moon Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, then began taking science observations in early March. GRAIL's baseline mission was supposed to last about three months. (3/21)

NASA Watch Posts Interviews With NASA Commercial Crew Partners (Source: NASA Watch)
In a series of video interviews with Partner Managers, NASA provides a Commercial Crew Program Space Act Agreement status update. Clicks here to see what's going on with Blue Origin, Excalibur Almaz, ULA, Sierra Nevada, ATK, SpaceX, and Boeing. (3/21)

Bigelow Aerospace Ends Employee Furloughs, Resumes Hiring (Source: Space News)
Bigelow Aerospace, developer of inflatable space habitats that laid off almost half its employees in September, is ending a “furlough Friday” policy it had instituted for the remaining workforce and is looking to do some hiring, according to a company official. “The furlough has been terminated and new hiring is occurring,” Mike Gold, Bigelow Aerospace’s director of Washington operations and business growth, said. Gold would not say how many new employees Bigelow wanted to bring on, or what sort of work they would be doing.

A former employee with knowledge of the company’s latest personnel moves told Space News that Bigelow employees had been working at reduced wages and taking one unpaid “furlough Friday” per pay period since last summer, and that the last of these was March 16. The former employee added that the new hires would likely be model makers who will start construction of a mock-up for the company’s BA-2100 Olympus module. That module would be even larger than the six-person BA 330 habitat, a structure with some 330 cubic meters of internal volume that Bigelow has been working on, and which the company intends to market to sovereign and private clients. (3/21)

India Expects To Increase Space Spending in Year Ahead (Source: Space News)
India expects to spend 67 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) on government space activities in the coming budget year — about 50 percent more than it ended up spending during the preceding 12 months, according to an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesman. While ISRO was allotted 66 billion rupees for the 2011-2012 budget year now ending, the agency spent just over 44 billion rupees as a result of various projects getting off to a slower start than anticipated, he said. (3/21)

NASA Initiaves Become Social as Tweetups Spur Interaction (Source: My Central Jersey)
NASA astronaut Mark Polansky was fascinated with space missions as a young boy growing up in Edison. “Back then, when I was in school and there would be a launch, they would stop classes, roll in a little black-and-white TV, and you’d get to watch everything live,” he's said. Fast-forward 40 years later to 2009 and Polansky and his astronaut colleagues made history by tweeting live from space.

Polansky, a graduate of John P. Stevens High School in Edison and known as @Astro_127 on Twitter, participated in one of the first NASA Tweetups back in September 2009. NASA Tweetup now is known as NASA Social to reflect the broader scope of the agency’s outreach and social community across multiple social-media platforms, including Facebook, Flickr, foursquare, Google+, Ustream, and YouTube. The next NASA Social is scheduled for April 19 taking place at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to welcome space shuttle Discovery to the national collection. (3/21)

Delta 4 Set for National Security Mission Next Week (Source:
Within the enclosed confines of the massive Space Launch Complex 6 pad at the southern end of California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, a site once envisioned to fly the space shuttle, a Delta 4 rocket and its classified satellite cargo are undergoing final preps for blastoff next week. Liftoff is scheduled for Thursday, March 29 on the NROL-25 mission to deploy a hush-hush payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the secretive government agency that designs and operates the country's fleet of orbiting spy satellites. (3/21)

Orion Crew Capsule Targeted for 2014 Leap to High Orbit (Source: Universe Today)
NASA is on course to make the highest leap in human spaceflight in nearly 4 decades when an unmanned Orion crew capsule blasts off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on a high stakes, high altitude test flight in early 2014. A new narrated animation (click here) released by NASA depicts the planned 2014 launch of the Orion spacecraft on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission to the highest altitude orbit reached by a spaceship intended for humans since the Apollo Moon landing Era. (3/21)

Groups Ponder Mock Mars Trip Aboard International Space Station (Source: Florida Today)
The U.S. and 15 global partners are considering a 500-day expedition aboard the International Space Station, an orbital adventure that would serve as a dry run for a round trip mission to Mars. Still several years off, the expedition would show whether human explorers could physically and mentally survive an interplanetary journey to Mars, land on the planet, operate on its surface and then return to Earth.

Aerospace specialists in the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada are analyzing the actions required before such a mission could be undertaken. The idea is to launch a Mars analog mission during the lifetime of the International Space Station, which now is expected to operate at least through 2020. To date, the 30 expeditions to the outpost have ranged between four and seven months. The typical mission: 180 days. The longest: 215 days.

Mars mission planners say it would take 500 days to travel to the red planet, explore its surface and then return to Earth. “Clearly, in order to be able to explore beyond low Earth orbit, we’re going to have to stay in orbit a little longer than six months,” Mike Suffredini said. Click here. (3/21)

Orbcomm Touts Recovery of Ship Identification Business (Source: Space News)
Satellite messaging service provider Orbcomm said it has won back customers of its ship-identification service following the successful launch of two microsatellites and is confident that its full second-generation constellation of 18 satellites will be in orbit by 2014 despite delays associated with its primary launch provider, SpaceX.

Orbcomm said its current 27-satellite constellation continues to provide full commercial service despite having passed its contracted in-orbit service life. The first second-generation Orbcomm satellite is now scheduled to be on board the second launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SpaceX Dragon cargo carrier to the international space station. This launch is tentatively scheduled for later this year, Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc J. Eisenberg said. (3/21)

Arianespace's Third ATV is "Go" for Liftoff to ISS (Source:
The Ariane 5 launch of Europe's no. 3 Automated Transfer Vehicle was given the green light today for a March 23 liftoff from the Spaceport in French Guiana on a servicing mission to the International Space Station. Today's approval came at the conclusion of a comprehensive Launch Readiness Review, which is performed before every Arianespace mission to review the "go" status of the launcher, its payload, the Spaceport's infrastructure, and the network of ground tracking stations. (3/21)

Can We Repurpose Space Assets? (Source: Air & Space)
The Russians launched a communications satellite, the Astrium Express-AM4, in August 2011. After a failure in its Proton launch vehicle (resulting in loss of contact and control), it was presumed lost. However, it survived and is trapped in a high-inclination orbit – a 20,000 by 650 km elliptical orbit (inclined 52° from the equator). Forcing it to operational geosynchronous (GEO) orbit would take most of its fuel, leaving the satellite with a very limited useful lifetime.

The satellite was insured and payment has been collected on the mishap of the launch but the Russians have yet to decide on what to do with this wayward satellite circling Earth in the “wrong” orbit. Recently they indicated that there is enough fuel to conduct a controlled re-entry and descent, guiding the satellite to a safe, watery grave somewhere in one of the Earth’s oceans.

Must this be the fate of a newly orbiting space asset? True, it is in the wrong orbit for its original use as a commercial communications satellite, originally headed for 36,000 km above Earth to GEO, but what if instead it were repurposed? A company called Polar Broadband has an interesting idea about turning this mishap around and using it for a good purpose. Though not for its original users, they see a way to use this communication satellite for an assignment it is now suited to do. Click here. (3/21)
China’s New Digital Imaging Satellites Boost PLA Recon (Source: America Space)
Data from China’s two new “ZY-1” digital imaging spacecraft indicate the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) now has access to color high resolution electro optical satellite imagery. The first of the new civil/military dual use spacecraft designated ZY-1-02 was launched last Dec. 22, 2011, while the second satellite ZY-1-03 was launched on Jan. 9 this year. There was no ZY-1-01 spacecraft.

It is possible that Chinese secret military spacecraft have even higher resolution. But images taken by the new ZY spacecraft show that the new satellites are capable of showing aircraft details, military vehicles and the weapons systems on U. S., Indian, South Korean and other potential adversary warships, especially if enlarged by experienced image interpreters. Readers can do this as well by clicking on the images here (then again if a second roughly labeled image appears) or using their fingers to enlarge images on iPads and iPhones etc. (3/21)

Russian Android Being Designed to Help Astronauts on Spacewalks (Source: Itar-Tass)
Magnitogorsk designers are working on the SAR-400 android for helping astronauts on spacewalks. “The android will assist Russian astronauts. It may examine the spaceship exterior for possible cracks and adjust equipment. The robot may be used inside a spaceship, as well,” the source said. Both astronauts and the mission control center may operate the android, Android Technology Research and Production Company Technical Director Vladislav Sychkov said. “The operator needs to wear a vest and gloves with sensors. SAR-400 will repeat movements of the operator and transmit video, audio and even tactile data,” he said. (3/21)

NASA Seeks Space Launch System Advanced Development Solutions (Source: NASA)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has issued a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for advanced development proposals to support the nation's next heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). NASA is soliciting proposals from industry and academia for innovative advanced development in areas including concept development, trades and analyses, propulsion, structures, materials, manufacturing, avionics and software. These efforts will focus on affordability and sustainability of the SLS as it evolves from a 70-metric-ton vehicle to a 130-metric-ton vehicle. Click here. (3/21)

Mojave Air and Space Port Tenants to Get Fiber Communications (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The companies at the Mojave Air and Space Port are developing some of the most aircraft and spacecraft in the world. But, the one thing they’ve been lacking is access to modern fiber optic communications. That will be changing soon. Airport officials are negotiating with Race Technologies to bring the service to the airport and its more than 60 tenants. (3/21)

FAA Agency Lays Out Future of Space Flight (Source: Washington Post)
The space shuttle program may be over, but that doesn’t mean the space industry is dormant. George Nield, the head of the FAA's Office for Commercial Space Transportation (AST), laid out some possibilities about where the industry may go after the space shuttle. He is expecting a busy year, with a slate of private space launches. In his remarks to a House panel, Nield said space tourism will grow to a billion-dollar industry within 10 years. To accommodate the increase in launches, he is asking for a 2 percent increase in AST’s 2013 budget. (3/21)

Weather Delays NASA Five Rocket Mission From Virginia (Source:
NASA has rescheduled the launch of five suborbital sounding rockets from the Wallops Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream to midnight to 3 a.m., March 22. This morning's launch attempt was postponed because of poor weather conditions. A significant criteria for launch to proceed is clear skies not only at Wallops but also at viewing sites in New Jersey and North Carolina. Low clouds at the launch site and in New Jersey prevented this morning's attempt. (3/21)

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