April 23, 2012

A Shuttle's Transfer in an Agency's Era of Transition (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA formally delivered the space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian, flying the orbiter to Washington to take the place of Enterprise. Jeff Foust reviews the events of that transfer, and how it stirred up some old feelings and concerns about the future of the space program. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2071/1 to view the article. (4/23)

Pictures at an Exhibition (Source: Space Review)
What was it like to see the shuttle Discovery arrive in Washington? Dwayne Day offers a first-hand, photographic account of the shuttle's arrival and welcoming ceremony. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2070/1 to view the article. (4/23)

Does "Star Trek" Make Space Travel Look Too Easy? (Source: Space Review)
A recent comment by a space expert suggested that the "Star Trek" television shows and movies had made space travel look perhaps too simple. Andre Bormanis argues that this is an issue not about complexity but rather communications. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2069/1 to view the article. (4/23)

Hacking Space (Source: Space Review)
Spaceflight has long been seen as the exclusive realm of governments and large companies, but that perception may be changing. Jeff Foust reports on technical and financial innovations that are allowing small groups, even volunteers, make progress on rockets and related projects. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2068/1 to view the article. (4/23)

The Coming Golden Age (Source: Space Review)
Has the golden age of space exploration already passed us by? Eric Hedman looks at a little-known chapter in American history as evidence that the golden age is yet to come. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2067/1 to view the article. (4/23)

WSU Astrobiologist Proposes Fleet of Probes to Seek Life on Mars (Source: Space Daily)
A Washington State University astrobiologist is leading a group of 20 scientists in calling for a mission to Mars with "a strong and comprehensive life detection component." At the heart of their proposal is a small fleet of sensor packages that can punch into the Martian soil and run a range of tests for signs of ancient or existing life. They call the mission BOLD. It's both an acronym for Biological Oxidant and Life Detection and a nod to the proposal's chutzpah. The proposal, which comes as NASA is reevaluating its Mars exploration program, appears in the journal Planetary and Space Science.

The BOLD mission would feature six 130-pound probes that could be dropped to various locations. Shaped like inverted pyramids, they would parachute to the surface and thrust a soil sampler nearly a foot into the ground upon landing. On-board instrumentation would then conduct half a dozen experiments, transmitting data to an orbiter overhead. (4/23)

Cassini Sees Objects Blazing Trails in Saturn Ring (Source: Space Daily)
Scientists working with images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have discovered strange half-mile-sized (kilometer-sized) objects punching through parts of Saturn's F ring, leaving glittering trails behind them. These trails in the rings, which scientists are calling "mini-jets," fill in a missing link in our story of the curious behavior of the F ring.

"These findings show us that the F ring region is like a bustling zoo of objects from a half mile [kilometer] to moons like Prometheus a hundred miles [kilometers] in size, creating a spectacular show." Scientists have known that relatively large objects like Prometheus (as long as 92 miles, or 148 kilometers, across) can create channels, ripples and snowballs in the F ring. But scientists didn't know what happened to these snowballs after they were created. (4/23)

ILS Proton Launches YahSat Satellite (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
International Launch Services (ILS) have launched their third Proton-M rocket of the year on Monday. Lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was on schedule at 22:18 GMT, with the Proton’s Briz-M Upper Stage then tasked with deploying the large telecommunications satellite – which will occur after nine hours of flight. (4/23)

Russian Kvass May Help Astronauts Sustain Long Space Travel (Source: RIA Novosti)
A traditional Russian drink may help crews of interplanetary spacecraft to maintain healthy microbacterial balance in the intestines, a report by Russian scientists said. A group of Russian scientists from the Institute for Biomedical Problems monitored the changes in microbacterial levels in the intestines of the participants of the Mars-500 experiment, and the influence of certain probiotic substances, including kvass, on it. Kvass is a traditional Russian fermented beverage made from regular rye bread. It is classified as a non-alcoholic drink by Russian standards, as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically less than 1.2%. (4/23)

Mars Astronauts Risk DNA Damage (Source: RIA Novosti)
Future astronauts working on the Red Planet’s surface risk general changes in health at the DNA level because of increased radiation exposure, a prominent Russian academic said on Monday. “According to our estimates, researchers on the surface of Mars can expect a number of adverse factors, such as cardiac arrhythmia, reduced stability and performance, sensory impairments, as well as more long-term consequences in the form of changes at the DNA level, and demineralization of bone tissue,” Anatoly Grigoryev, the deputy head of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, told at a presentation at the International Symposium on the results of ground-based experiment Mars-500. (4/23)

Huntsville's NASA Budget Outlook 'Very Positive,' (Source: Huntsville Times)
The future of NASA's major project in Huntsville, the Space Launch System, looks strong, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told area business leaders here Monday. "I don't see that going crazy," Lightfoot said during a question session after a talk to the annual Washington lobbying trip of the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.

Lightfoot was answering Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who wanted to know if the city should try to reform a congressional space association to keep funding stable, especially in the lame-duck period following this fall's presidential election. Lightfoot recently moved from director of Marshall Space Flight Center to acting NASA associate administrator, the highest-ranking civilian post in the agency. (4/23)

Musk On The Business And Future Of Space Travel (Source: Forbes)
“This is not the path to go to maximize riches,” Elon Musk told me when I asked him about the business of space travel. “It’s a terrible risk adjusted return. But it’s gotta happen. I think that for me and a lot of people, America is a nation of explorers. I’d like to see that we’re expanding the frontier and moving things forward. Space is the final frontier and we have to make progress.”

He intends to go to Mars. When I asked him if he was g0ing to stop off at the Moon first, he told me that it’s not a priority. “I’m okay with going to the moon, but we’ve seen that movie before and remakes are never as good. It would be more significant to have a base on the Moon, rather than just going back.” Click here. (4/23)

French Pleiades Satellite Aiding Effort To Revive Envisat (Source: Aviation Week)
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Envisat spacecraft remains stable in orbit after unexpectedly ceasing communication with ground stations April 8, according to optical, radar and laser observations of the spacecraft. With a recovery effort under way, ESA and its international partners are attempting to determine whether the Earth-observation satellite has entered “safe mode” — an indication that it could be revived. But efforts to reestablish contact with Envisat have so far been unsuccessful.

The French space agency CNES turned its new high-resolution Pleiades satellite on Envisat April 15 and has been snapping images of the disabled spacecraft, which passed at a distance of roughly 100 km (62 mi.). Flight specialists and engineers are now using the images from the EADS Astrium-built spacecraft to determine the orientation of Envisat’s power-providing solar panel. (4/23)

House, Senate Lawmakers Raid Commercial Crew Account (Source: Aviation Week)
In Washington, when the administration proposes, Congress disposes. That was certainly the case this week with NASA’s $830 million budget request for development of a commercial crew vehicle (CCDev) to provide rides to the International Space Station. Instead, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cut the request by about $300 million and provided more funding for the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle and the heavy-lift Space Launch Vehicle (SLS).

The move did not come as a complete surprise. Two of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s most senior Republicans — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), have publicly skewered NASA Administrator Charles Bolden for investing in “speculative commercial companies.” The full committee approved the recommendation April 19. And the House appropriations subcommittee that deals with NASA spending piled on as well, cutting CCDev to $500 million, $25 million below the Senate committee’s request in a markup the same day. (4/23)

SpaceX Launch Could Slip One Week (Source: SpaceX)
"After reviewing our recent progress, it was clear that we needed more time to finish hardware-in-the-loop testing and properly review and follow up on all data. While it is still possible that we could launch on May 3rd, it would be wise to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected. As a result, our launch is likely to be pushed back by one week, pending coordination with NASA." (4/23)

Honeywell Exceeds Q1 Expectations (Source: Fox Business)
Strong aerospace sales lifted Honeywell's first-quarter net earnings to $823 million, or $1.06 a share, compared with $705 million, or 90 cents per share a year ago. The results, which beat expectations, came after strong U.S. sales, which helped the firm overcome weakness in Europe. (4/23)

Pentagon: Govt Sats Can Fill Gap From Commercial-Satellite Cuts (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon says it can use government-owned planes and satellites to make up for the loss of commercial satellite imagery due to budget cuts. Government-supplied satellite imagery has grown significantly, helping to fill the gap, said Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. (4/23)

Satellite Firms are Interested in Military Deal (Source: Washington Post)
The Air Force says a number of commercial satellite firms are interested in its proposal to launch its communications equipment on commercial satellites. Under the deal, the military would piggyback its drone surveillance or radio communications on commercial satellites. (4/23)

Spaceport America's Evolving Plans Rile Hatch Officials (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A reworked Spaceport America plan for deciding where to build tourist centers has riled Hatch officials, who say it throws a major wrench in their hopes for a welcome center just off the Interstate 25 exit to their community. The state spaceport authority changed course in recent months, opting to field proposals from would-be sellers of land, instead of using site recommendations made previously by local advisory panels, officials said.

The problem, said village of Hatch Mayor Judd Nordyke, is "we have no idea where it's going to go now." "We went to the trouble of annexing the area we thought they were going to put it," he said. "Now, we've got 600 acres of desert scrubland that's basically within the city limits, but what the future holds? We have no idea." And a major hurdle to placing the center on the west side of the interstate is the $2.5 million estimated cost of extending utilities, including water and wastewater, across the Rio Grande and interstate, Nordyke said.

That's money the village can't afford, but, because the owner of the prospective site had agreed to donate the land to the spaceport for free, the assumption was that the spaceport would be able to share in the expense. But spaceport funding is shrinking. New Mexico Spaceport Authority officials recently curtailed their budget for two welcome centers — one in the Hatch area and one in Truth or Consequences — and a main visitor center at the spaceport site to
pay for a runway extension sought by the spaceport's main client, Virgin Galactic. (4/22)

Two N.M. Companies Win $2M in Spaceport Contracts (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority announced two contract awards totaling about $2 million to New Mexico companies. Western Building & Development LLC of Las Cruces was selected for a $1.6 million contract to serve as spaceport general services contractor. Western will develop policies and procedures for support for all general services activities including: building and utility maintenance and repairs; interior and exterior building maintenance; janitorial services; fuel storage operation and maintenance; motor vehicle and aircraft fueling; foreign object debris removal; and grounds-keeping and landscape maintenance.

Western has said it plans to maximize the use of qualified vendors, contractors and employees located in Sierra or Doña Ana counties. Western’s basic time and materials contract has an estimated value of up to $1.66 million. A $294,000 operations center fit-out design contract was awarded to SMPC Architects of Albuquerque. SMPC will provide interior design development including construction drawings, selection of interior building finishes, and construction administration services for the interior build-out effort, the authority said. (4/22)

Editorial: Final Frontier Shows Promise for New Mexico Economy (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
New Mexico appears to be on the launchpad of the new economy, with private-sector business picking up where government-funded NASA is leaving off. Albuquerque-based Emcore Corp. has landed a multimillion-dollar contract to design, build, test and deliver solar panels for a new “classified” spacecraft. Building on the synergy created by Spaceport America in the southern part of the state, Emcore has a two-year, nearly $6 million contract with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. for the solar panels.

That’s in addition to a $13 million contract to design and build solar panels for the Solar Probe Plus, set for launch in 2018 to explore the sun’s outer atmosphere; a contract to design and build 32 solar panels for NASA Ames’ Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer moon orbiter, scheduled for launch next year; and Solar panels that are powering instruments on the Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled to reach Mars this summer.

That expansion is the engine of economic recovery and economic development, and the rationale behind limiting the liability of New Mexico spacecraft parts manufacturers at the Spaceport. Next session, lawmakers need to re-launch the legislation, which would apply only to passengers who have been extensively debriefed on the risks of space flight and have signed a waiver, and would make the state competitive with other spaceport states by encouraging related, private-sector businesses to locate north of Las Cruces. (4/23)

'Rocket City Rednecks' Denied Entry to Student Launch Event (Source: Huntsville Times)
Cast and crew members of the hit television series "Rocket City Rednecks" showed up at NASA's Student Launch Initiative on Sunday but were reportedly turned away at the gate by NASA officials. Travis Taylor, or the "ringleader" on the show, and his crew showed up, apparently unannounced, at Bragg Farms on Sunday with a large rocket strapped onto the bed of a beat-up, old, white Ford pickup. They wanted to launch the rocket alongside the students participating in the competition. Though NASA officials wouldn't comment on the incident, Taylor said during filming of a scene outside the launch area that NASA told his crew launching their rocket would not be safe. (4/22)

Explosion, Fireball Reported in Nevada, California (Source: AP)
A loud explosion heard across much of Nevada and California on Sunday morning rattled homes and prompted a flood of calls to law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, some reporting fireball sightings. The sound and the light show were likely caused by a meteor that entered Earth's atmosphere, astronomers said. "It made the shades in my room shake hard enough to slam into the window a couple times," said Nicole Carlsen of the Reno area. "I kept looking for earthquake information, but (there was) nothing. I even checked the front of my house to make sure no one ran into the garage. I wish I had seen the meteor." (4/23)

DARPA Releases Cause of Hypersonic Glider Anomaly (Source: AP)
An unmanned hypersonic glider likely aborted its 13,000 mph flight over the Pacific Ocean last summer because unexpectedly large sections of its skin peeled off, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said Friday. The Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., atop a rocket and released on Aug. 11, 2011, was part of research aimed at developing super-fast global strike capability for the Department of Defense.

A gradual wearing away of the vehicle's skin was expected because of extremely high temperatures, but an independent engineering review board concluded that the most probable cause was "unexpected aeroshell degradation, creating multiple upsets of increasing severity that ultimately activated the Flight Safety System," the statement said. (4/20)

Russian Scientist: People to Land on Mars in 'Next 40 Years' (Source: RIA Novosti)
The world may see a manned spaceflight to Mars in the first half of this century, a prominent Russian academic said on Monday. "I think [a manned trip to Mars] will take place in the first half of the current century," Anatoly Grigoryev, the deputy head of Russia's Academy of Sciences, told a news conference in Moscow dedicated to the findings of a simulated mission to the Red Planet concluded last year.

A somewhat similar timeframe was suggested by U.S. President Barack Obama in April 2010, when he said it should be possible to send humans to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s and return them safely to Earth. In July 2002, Grigoryev, then the director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems which ran the Mars500 project, pledged to a manned mission to Mars by 2015. (4/23)

University of Idaho Presents NASA Space Colonization Research (Source: NASA)
The University of Idaho, in coordination with NASA, is hosting a panel on the research it has done on alternative energy storage capability and how it can be used on Earth and in future space colonization May 2 at the university’s main campus. Joe Law, Ph.D., and a team of four student interns will discuss high-speed flywheel designs that could provide safe, reliable and convenient energy storage for intermittent energy generation technologies, such as solar and wind. (4/19)

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