May 11, 2012

ExoMars Mission Back on Brink of Collapse (Source: Space News)
Europe’s ExoMars mission to launch a lander, a telecommunications orbiter and a rover to Mars narrowly escaped cancellation early this year when Russia stepped in to replace NASA as a partner but is once again facing collapse, according to government and industry officials. Even the program’s biggest supporters would not give it more than an even chance of surviving its next do-or-die session, a May 16 meeting of the council of the European Space Agency (ESA).

At this meeting, ExoMars backers, led by Italy, Britain and France, will be asked to evaluate whether, given the project’s tortured history, it can still make its 2016 launch date for the lander and telecommunications orbiter. The rover, and a Russian-European lander, would be launched in 2018. Both launches would be provided by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, under the current program proposal.

Of particular concern is whether the addition of a Russian nuclear power source to the lander, which will enable it to function for a full martian year rather than the previously planned several days, can be done quickly enough, and without threatening the orbiter, to make the 2016 launch window. (5/11)

Shared Space the Safest Way (Source: Space Daily)
There will be some in the US media who will use the Shenzhou IX mission to claim that China is ahead and that the US has lost its way in space. But while domestic budgetary disputes have complicated US space planning, it is worth remembering that NASA carried out its first space station mission to its huge Skylab spacecraft back in 1973. By this time, NASA had already conducted multiple landings on the Moon. Thus, China's human spaceflight accomplishments should not be viewed as a threat.

As a second-generation space power, China's biggest hurdle is not technology, but operational experience. Like all space-faring nations, China is likely to make some mistakes. Many in the international community, and some in China, view the orbital debris generated by China's 2007 anti-satellite test as such a mistake. How China deals with these mistakes and how well it works with international partners will be important measures of its future success in space. (5/11)

Stott Wows Space Coast Students with Visit (Source: Florida Today)
What began as an e-mail exchange from space culminated with a visit by astronaut Nicole Stott to Pinewood Elementary on Thursday. Last year, while Stott was a crew member on the final mission of shuttle Discovery, she received a request from family friend Danny Mills, a quality inspector for United Launch Alliance. He asked Stott if she would e-mail his son Daniel, who was then in third grade at the Mims school.

Dressed in her blue astronaut uniform, Stott regaled the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on Thursday with stories from space. “You will hear me say the words ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘cool’ a lot,” said Stott, who has a 9-year-old son who attends school in Cocoa Beach. “Because everything about traveling in space is all of those things to me.” (5/11)

Former USA Facility Could Become 'Port of Call' Venture (Source: Florida Today)
Planning is under way to convert the 63,000-square-foot United Space Alliance facility on Astronaut Boulevard into a “Port of Call” complex featuring commercial, transportation and hotel facilities near Port Canaveral. Barry Brown is Cape Canaveral’s planning and development director. Click here. (5/11)

House: NASA Must Make 'Immediate' Choice for Commercial Crew Program (Source: Florida Today)
NASA is being directed to speed up its selection of a company to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. A spending bill the House approved Thursday says NASA needs to make an “immediate” choice of a company for the commercial crew program. Currently, NASA is providing subsidies to four companies vying to develop a system that could carry astronauts to the station by 2017. And the program calls for NASA to award its next round of funding to at least two companies this summer. (5/11)

Colorado's DigitalGlobe Fights Takeover Attempt (Source: KUNC)
DigitalGlobe is fighting a takeover attempt by a Virginia-based company. Both DigtalGlobe and GeoEye which is based in Herndon, Virginia operate fleets of satellites that use high-resolution cameras to provide satellite imagery to U.S. government agencies, including those involved in national security. They also provide images used in Google Maps. Both companies are roughly the same in terms of revenue. DigitalGlobe recorded revenue of $339 million last year, compared with $356 million for GeoEye.

But, based on stock price and the number of shares outstanding, DigitalGlobe is valued at about $746 million, compared with $572 million for GeoEye. Company officials have characterized the offer as a hostile takeover attempt and said GeoEye does not recognize what they call DigitalGlobe’s superior financial performance and better capabilities of its satellites. (5/11)

The Earth Should Be Monitored More Carefully (Source: Economist)
Europe’s largest Earth-observing satellite, unexpectedly stopped talking to its users on the Earth below. Since then those users have been frantically trying to re-establish contact. They rely on Envisat’s radars and other sensors for a wide range of measurements, from the temperature of the oceans to the chemistry of the stratosphere. Scientists have used it to gauge ocean conditions for shipping and to investigate earthquakes; its data have been the basis of thousands of scientific papers. (5/11)

Doubt Over Future Missions After Envisat's Demise (Source: DW)
The Envisat mission has come to an end, and some say the next generation of Earth-monitoring satellites isn't coming quickly enough. The European Space Agency (ESA) says the mission has ended for Envisat, the largest Earth-monitoring satellite in history. The satellite was launched in March 2002, but failed to call in as usual on April 8 of this year. Although only designed to function for five years, the eight-ton behemoth lasted twice as long, spending a decade measuring the land, oceans and ice of Earth. (5/11)

Private Space Station Designer Watching SpaceX Mission Closely (Source: WMFE)
The SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station is now scheduled to blast off in just over a week's time, and other private space companies are watching closely to see if the mission succeeds. One company is hoping to partner with SpaceX to put private space stations in orbit. Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral was delayed earlier this month so more testing could be done on the computer software. Mike Gold, from Bigelow Aerospace, is keeping a close eye on the progress of the mission. (5/11)

Spacemen to NASA: Cool it On Global Warming (Source: Washington Times)
To the long list of right-wing, knuckle-dragging know nothings who dare question “global warming,” environmentalists can add six Apollo astronauts, two rocket men who flew aboard Skylab and a pair of former directors of the Johnson Space Center (JSC). These veterans of America’s space program are among the 49 retired NASA employees who recently asked the agency to halt what they consider its unscientific advocacy of climate alarmism.

In a letter to NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr., these rocket scientists, space explorers and other men and women of reason requested that “NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites.” They added: “We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data.

With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled. “The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements,” the March 28 letter continues. (5/11)

Commercial Spaceflight Plans Soar at Expo (Source: NBC Los Angeles)
Don't look now, but commercial space travel has morphed from pipe dream to growth industry. "We're going to take up people, space tourists," said Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace. "Science missions, upper atmosphere research, even carrying experiments for kids from classrooms." A mockup of XCOR’s Lynx reusable rocket ship was displayed this week at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Flight testing the Lynx is expected to begin by next January, and the first commercial flight could take off within 18 months.

Rival Virgin Galactic is already accepting reservations for its planned suborbital space flights. "None of us feel we're in a race," Nelson said. "It's really about safety first. We want to get to space, but we want to do it safely. XCOR was one of the exhibitors at the first-ever Spacecraft Technology Expo. Other major participants included Boeing and SpaceX. The three-day run wrapped up Thursday afternoon. (5/11)

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