April 24, 2012

New Concept Calls for Coalitions in Space Operations (Source: National Defense)
U.S forces on the ground, air and sea routinely enter into coalitions with allies. It is time for similar cooperation to exist in space, Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Kehler introduced the "Combined Space Cooperation" concept in a speech at the Space Symposium here. "Our competitive edge [in space] is eroding," he said. There are more space-faring nations than ever. The U.S. military depends on space systems for essential functions such as navigation and communications. Adversaries see space systems as an Achilles' heel. (4/24)

SpaceX Comments on Rescheduled Launch (Source: SpaceX)
"NASA and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have approved SpaceX’s request to set May 7th as the target launch date for the upcoming COTS 2 mission. We will send out updated information on launch activities in the coming days." (4/24)

Reusable Successor To EELV Moving Ahead (Source: Aviation Week)
A truly reusable, quick-response launch system has been an elusive dream of the U.S. Air Force since the dawn of the space age, but now the service is taking the first steps toward a real capability as plans for a reusable booster system (RBS) come together. Dubbed Pathfinder, the demonstrator is a subscale vehicle aimed at proving the concept of a vertical-launch-and-horizontal-landing first stage.

Researchers hope to show that the system could cost up to 50% less to launch than the Air Force's current Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) family. As all missions take place from coastal locations, the vehicle can only be recovered if it returns to land after launching the second-stage payload at a point somewhere above Mach 5.5 and 150,000 ft. altitude. For such a concept to be feasible, it must be capable of executing a demanding about-turn or “rocket-back” maneuver, which has never been demonstrated before, and returning from downrange using its own rockets.

The Pathfinder vehicle is designed to prove the concept. Pathfinder is expected to lead to a larger-scale demonstrator and, ultimately, a full-scale reusable successor to the current EELV family, which is being retired in 2030. AFRL expects to select a winning concept in the September-November period from the three designs submitted by Andrews Space, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (4/24)

Boeing's Private Space Taxi to Take Flight by 2016 (Source: Space.com)
With NASA's space shuttle fleet now permanently grounded, aerospace giant Boeing is aiming to fly astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a new private spaceship as early as 2015 or 2016, company officials say. Boeing's CST-100 capsule is being designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft will initially launch from Florida atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket, but the company is not ruling out other booster options in the future, officials have said. (4/24)

Latin American Market Drives Hispasat Growth (Source: Space News)
Spanish satellite operator Hispasat on April 24 reported modest growth in revenue in 2011 and a more-substantial increase in gross profit, saying its business in Latin America grew at double-digit rates. The Madrid-based company, whose large Amazonas 3 satellite for coverage of Brazil is slated to launch in 2013, said its Latin American business accounted for 49 percent of its total 2011 revenue, up from 44 percent in 2010. (4/24)

James Cameron's Trillion-Dollar Question (Source: Bloomberg Business Week)
As skeptics of the new company’s mission have pointed out, the challenges are enormous, and with current technology, the cost of bringing minerals back from an asteroid to Earth are so great as to dwarf the considerable market value of the minerals themselves. There’s another, less discussed hurdle, though: figuring out whether it’s legally possible to stake a claim to an asteroid in the first place. Property rights, after all, are often a contentious issue for miners here on Earth, where we have a well-established set of laws governing the question. What would that look like in the wild west of space? (4/24)

Is Planetary Resources Already a NASA Contractor? (Source: NASA Watch)
It looks like Arkyd er, I mean, Planetary Resources, is already using NASA STTR money to develop its telescope spacecraft. 2011 money to be precise - a total of $124,000. Why didn't they bother to tell anyone about this today? First they do a switcheroo on their name and purpose - not telling the NASA/JPL asteroid study team what they were really up to. Now they are being less than forthcoming on their existing business relationship with NASA. What else are they not telling us? Click here. (4/24)

Worker Found Dead at KSC Launch Pad (Source: AP)
A custodial worker has been found dead at a Kennedy Space Center launch pad. The male worker was found Tuesday afternoon in a building located under the liquid oxygen tank at Launch Pad 39A. That was the launch pad used during the final space shuttle launch last summer. The cause of death was not immediately known, and the man's identification was not made public pending notification of next of kin. The man worked for a contractor that performs custodial work at the space center. (4/24)

Abu Dhabi One Competitor in the Race to Space (Source: The National)
As Abu Dhabi becomes the latest aspirant to unveil plans for a spaceport, it is worth remembering that the number of countries that have announced plans for commercial launch sites exceeds the number of space tourists who have taken off from private spaceports. But that is deterring few from entering this new space race. "We need to make space accessible just like we conquered the air one century ago," says Abdul Nasser El Hakim, the minister of economic development for the Caribbean island nation of CuraƧao, which hopes to have a spaceport by 2014. Yet the task of launching a spacecraft remains a Herculean feat - and building a financially successful launchpad may be harder still. (4/24)

Let the Shuttle’s Demise Awaken Gingrich’s Space Dreams (Source: Bloomberg)
As Discovery finished the journey to its nursing home in the Virginia countryside, the obvious thought crossed my mind: Newt is right. This isn’t a thought that has often crossed my mind, especially over the past several months, but on the matter of space exploration and the role it has played in teaching Americans that they are capable of performing exceptional acts of creativity and bravery, Newt Gingrich is exactly right.

So I called him and told him so. He is, from what I’m told, still busy running for president. But he seemed happy to talk about space and the terrible mistake the Obama administration made by canceling the Constellation program, which was meant to get Americans back to the moon. Gingrich was particularly keen to talk about his Republican rivals, who had savaged him during a debate in Florida for proposing that the U.S. -- mainly with private funding -- establish a colony on the moon.

Gingrich told me he was “shocked that night” by Romney and Santorum. “If I had been clever, I would have said to Romney, ‘You would have fired Christopher Columbus and John F. Kennedy because they were proposing daring and large things. They were proposing to go out and discover entire new worlds, and they did.’” Gingrich would make a lousy NASA chief, and I wouldn’t trust him with private money, either. But I would hire him as the space program’s resident philosopher and noodge. (4/24)

“This Devil Ship”: The Tragic Tale of Soyuz 1 (Source: America Space)
Late in April 1967, an unusual announcement was made by the Soviet news agency, Tass. A few days earlier, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov had been launched into orbit aboard the new Soyuz spacecraft. In time, it was hoped that Soyuz would demonstrate rendezvous, docking, space station operations and possibly expeditions to the Moon. Chief Designer Sergei Korolev had dubbed Soyuz “the machine of the future” – an appropriate epithet, considering that its descendants are still operational today – and Komarov’s launch had been accompanied by a euphoric fanfare, for it was the first manned Soviet space mission in more than two years.

Within a few short hours of launch, however, that euphoria turned into agony. In a few carefully crafted sentences, it was revealed that Soyuz 1 had “descended with speed” from orbit, due to “a shroud line twisting”. The devastating result, 45 years ago today, was “the premature death of the outstanding cosmonaut”. More than four decades later, details about the tragedy have steadily trickled into the Western consciousness...and they have revealed a harrowing disaster, still shrouded in myth, mystery and rumor. Click here. (4/24)

Lunar Mining Data Sought, As LRO Finds Lost Moon Rover (Source: America Space)
With lunar and asteroid mining a strong new topic of interest, the high resolution mapping capabilities of spacecraft like NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) are of increased importance. This is especially so because LRO is carrying several sensors specifically devoted to collecting data for future man tended robotic lunar surface mining operations. This data will be equally useful to asteroid mining operations because it too involves working in a vacuum.

LRO is also, in effect, bringing historic Soviet Moon missions back to life as a wave of new lunar surface missions is in development in U. S. commercial industry as well as by the governments of China, Russia and India. One of the biggest finds of LRO’s three years in lunar orbit is the discovery of the missing Lunokhod-1, the first robotic Moon rover. It was finally pinpointed in the center of the giant Imbrium Basin after 42 years on the surface of the Moon. (4/24)

Air Force to Step Up Space-Junk Tracking (Source: DOD Buzz)
The Air Force will improve its ability to track space junk later this year when airmen begin using a new suite of equipment to help them watch it all, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said last week. Schwartz said “debris management” — monitoring all the old parts of rockets, satellites and other human-made stuff that’s in orbit along with today’s working space traffic — is a top priority for the Air Force. (4/24)

Asteroid Mining Venture Starts with Space Telescopes (Source: MSNBC)
The venture known as Planetary Resources eventually plans to go asteroid mining — but the first step in the billionaire-backed business plan is to launch an orbital fleet of "personal space telescopes" capable of looking out into the heavens or back down on Earth. Planetary Resources' first hardware project is what's known as the Arkyd-101 personal space telescope.

Chris Lewicki hopes the personal space telescope will do for astronomy what the personal computer did for information technology. Planetary Resources plans to put the instrument into Earth orbit to survey the sky for potential targets — asteroids that come close enough to Earth often enough to make them reachable, and have a spectral signal that would make them good candidates for mining. The main target is C-type or carbonaceous asteroids, which are dark and not so easy to detect with existing instruments. (4/23)

Congress on Wrong Side of New Push for Commercial Space Enterprise (Source: SPACErePORT)
Commercial human spaceflight, CASIS sponsoring commercially marketable ISS research, private-sector space stations, lunar and asteroid mining, property incentives for space colonization...it seems the stage is being set for a new era of commercial space enterprise. It's a vision that has largely been embraced by NASA, but strangely dismissed by many members of Congress.

They complain that Commercial Crew is premature, despite decades of commercial launch experience by established companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ULA. They say companies like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin are speculative. They laugh when Newt Gingrich calls for lunar colonization. They shift money in NASA's budget away from commercial launch development and toward the kind of "big government" programs they normally would condemn.

This posturing seems both partisan and parochial. On one hand, conservative members seem to be opposing the policy positions of the current President on purely political terms. On the other, members are trying to slow or reverse the loss of NASA jobs and funding in their districts. In both cases, these members represent a Congress that is basically standing in the way of an inevitable evolution toward commercial space enterprise. (4/24)

To the Asteroids and Beyond (Source: Smithsonian)
The next chapter in American space exploration may unfold in Seattle when a startup called Planetary Resources has its coming-out news conference. Last week it sent out a cryptic press release, announcing that the company “will overlay two critical sectors–space exploration and natural resources–to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” Analysts offered an instant translation: It plans to mine asteroids.

Not a big leap to draw that conclusion, especially since one of the principals of Planetary Resources is Peter Diamandis, the space entrepreneur behind the X-Prize competition, and a man who recently told an interviewer, “Ever since childhood, I wanted to do one thing–be an asteroid miner.” (The rich apparently are different from you and me.)

What makes this undertaking much more than one man tilting at asteroids, however, is the band of billionaires behind it. Drum roll, please: Film director and ocean explorer James Cameron, Google co-founder Larry Page, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Google board member Ram Shriram, former Microsoft exec and two-time space tourist Charles Simonyi and Ross Perot, Jr., the suitably wealthy son of the former presidential candidate. (4/24)

Moon Express (the Other Space Mining Group) Recruits Tech Visionaries (Source: Moon Express)
Moon Express has recruited a scientific advisory board of renowned planetary scientists to support the development of the company's commercial lunar robotic missions and plans to explore and ultimately mine the Moon for precious planetary resources. Moon Express Chief Scientist and former NASA Associate Administrator in charge of all the Agency's science, Dr. Alan Stern, selected the advisory board of internationally recognized leaders within the lunar science community. The Moon Express SAB includes:

Dr. Jack Burns/University of Colorado: NASA Lunar Science Institute (NSLI) Node PI, Astronomer & former Chair of the NASA Advisory Council's Science Committee; Dr. Randy Korotev/Washington University: Lunar Geochemist; Dr. Steve Mackwell/LPI: Head, Lunar and PIanetary Institute (LPI); Dr. Wendell Mendell/LPI: Lunar Generalist, Exploration Expert & former Chief, NASA Office for Lunar & Planetary Exploration for Constellation; and Dr. Clive Neal/U. of Notre Dame: Chair, NASA Lunar Exploration Advisory Group.

Over the last year, Moon Express hosted a series of intensive lunar science workshops to assess the scientific evidence for platinum group metals deposited on the Moon through eons of asteroid bombardment, and the advisability and technical feasibility of mining and recovering the materials for use on Earth and in space. "The results of these workshops are compelling," remarked Dr. Stern. (4/24)

Facebook Page Backs SpaceX Coming to Brownsville (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Social media has entered the SpaceX project with a South Texas attorney creating a Support SpaceX Coming to Brownsville Facebook page. The page appeared last week and about a week after it was announced that Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is considering Cameron County has a location for its launch site. South Texas is one of three sites under review. The other locations are in Florida and Puerto Rico. Harlingen attorney Ric Barrera said he is in no way affiliated with SpaceX. He only wanted to start up a "grassroots" support for the project that could be a historic event for the area if selected. (4/24)

Mars Planning as Tough as an Actual Mission (Source: Flight Global)
As NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft crossed the halfway mark en route to its 6 August landing and deployment aboard the Curiosity rover that will carry it around the Martian surface to collect and test soil samples, the US space agency this month has kicked off a new round of planning for future missions to our nearest neighbour.

The next good opportunities to reach Mars will come in 2018 and 2020, when it will relatively near to Earth, so NASA is gearing up to plan a mission that can put to good use some $700 million to $800 million nominally budgeted for Mars in that timeframe. The Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) is semi-independent of NASA, and is charged with taking in ideas from scientists worldwide to help it advise the agency on how best to advance its scientific and human exploration objectives. A mission in the late 20-teens or early 2020s could be part of a broader challenge, raised by President Barack Obama, of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. (4/24)

Lockheed Martin Names New President of Commercial Launch Services (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Lockheed Martin announces that Robert Cleave has been named president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services (LMCLS) effective May 1, 2012. Cleave succeeds Jack Zivic who is retiring at the end of April following 28 years of service with the company. In his new role, Cleave will lead and expand the company’s launch services business encompassing sales, marketing, contracting and mission management for the commercial Atlas and Athena family of launch vehicles. He will report directly to John Karas, vice president and general manager of Human Space Flight at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. (4/24)

NASA Transferring Expertise, Knowledge to Private Commercial Crew Companies (Source: NASA)
A critical element of NASA’s support to our CCDev2 partners is the exchange of knowledge and experiences NASA has gained over our 50-year history of human spaceflight. One way we transfer knowledge and experiences is though the distribution of current and historical technical products. For CCDev2, NASA has received nearly 500 requests from our partners for NASA products, including design, manufacturing, test and evaluation, and operations information they wish to use to help mature their crew transportation systems.

The most requested documents, to date, are the ISS Cargo Transport Interface Requirements Document and International Docking System Standard (IDSS) Pass-Through Requirement. Both documents are needed to understand the interfaces needed to successfully dock to the ISS. Both historical as well contemporary documents are playing key roles in SpaceX’s development of the Dragon capsule launch escape system, required to ensure crew safety during launch and powered flight. (4/22)

New Eye for Giant Russian Telescope (Source: Sky & Telescope)
For nearly 20 years, from 1975 until the completion of the Keck I telescope in 1993, Russia (or, officially, the Soviet Union) had the world's largest optical telescope. Situated on Mount Pastukhov in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian seas, the Bolshoi Teleskop Azimutal'ny — Large Altazimuth Telescope — has a primary mirror 238 inches (6.05 m) across. Conceived in 1960 to dethrone the 200-inch Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain, the BTA gave Russian astronomers serious bragging rights.

But while it might have been the biggest reflector, it was never really the best. For one thing, Mount Pastukhov has proved notorious for poor atmospheric seeing, strong winds, and changeable weather. Also the reflector's immense dome, 174 feet (58 m) high, is spacious to a fault. All that steel and concrete makes it nearly impossible to match the temperature inside with what's outside, degrading the optical performance further.

All those woes might have been tolerable were it not for the quality of the telescope's optics, which have been subpar from the outset. In mid-2007, the original 42-ton mirror was gingerly transported down through the Caucasus range and returned to Lytkarino, a trek that took 3½ weeks. Then opticians tackled the surface imperfections the only way they could: they ground them off! (4/24)

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