June 16, 2012

China Launches Shenzhou 9 (Source: SpaceToday.net)
A Long March rocket successfully launched Saturday a spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including China's first female astronaut, on a mission to dock with an experimental space lab module. The Long March 2F rocket lifted off at 6:37 am EDT (1037 GMT, 6:37 pm Beijing time) Saturday and placed the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft into orbit about nine minutes later. The spacecraft is carrying a three person crew of Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang, and China's first woman in space, Liu Yang. Shenzhou 9 will dock in a few days with the Tiangong-1 module launched last year on a mission expected to last about two weeks. (6/16)

NASA Plans Contribution to European Jupiter Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA plans to make a $100 million science contribution to the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) program, a large-scale science mission planned by the European Space Agency (ESA) that will launch in 2022 to observe the gas giant and its moons. U.S. science teams may propose studies as either principal investigators supplying instruments or instrument components, or as co-investigators on European science teams that provide their own instruments. NASA intends to formally solicit proposals June 28, and intends to spend $100 million over the lifetime of the program. (6/15)

Dispute Over Iranian Satellite System Gets More Complicated (Source: Space News)
The two-year satellite frequency dispute that has pitted Iran and Saudi Arabia against France and Qatar has taken an unexpected turn with protests over Iranian satellite broadcasts into Bahrain and Iran’s apparent inability to fill an orbital slot with its own satellite. The dispute is primarily between satellite operators but also involves the governments that represent them before international satellite frequency and orbital-slot regulators. Click here. (6/15)

New Delta 4 Engine Variant is Part of ULA Cost Cutting Strategy (Source: Space News)
The June 28 launch of a U.S. spy satellite aboard a Delta 4 Heavy rocket will debut a new and more-powerful and fuel efficient variant of the vehicle’s RS-68 main engine that the company says will help cut costs and add flexibility to its fleet. ULA plans to incorporate the RS-68A on all versions of the Delta 4 starting around 2015, thus eliminating manufacturing variability and costs — both on the engine itself and on related first-stage hardware.

The Air Force has devised a strategy for reducing the EELV costs, the main thrust of which is a so-called block buy under which the service would commit to purchasing a combined six to 10 Atlas 5 and Delta 4 booster cores during a three- to five-year period. But the GAO urged the service to hold off on the block buy until it gets better cost data from ULA. The report argued, among other things, that the service could wind up with excess rocket inventory by committing to a multiyear block buy.

In a congressionally mandated response to the report, which was dated March, the Air Force cited a number of factors that would help keep launches on schedule and thereby keep inventories down. Among them are the Atlas “white tail” and Delta Fleet Standardization initiatives — the latter entailing the common RS-68 engine — which the service said would “increase flexibility in booster assignment, which further reduces the likelihood of launch delays.” (6/15)

Demise of GEMS May Cost Orbital 150 Jobs, Doom Pegasus (Source: Space News)
The cancellation of NASA’s Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) X-ray telescope mission could cost up to 150 Orbital Sciences Corp. employees their jobs and may force the Virginia-based satellite and launch vehicle manufacturer to retire its reliable but underbooked Pegasus XL rocket. The 150 vulnerable jobs amount to 9 percent of Orbital’s 1,700-person Northern Virginia workforce. Orbital employs 3,800 nationwide, including a large Arizona presence.

Work on the GEMS spacecraft was in its early stages at Orbital when NASA canceled the 3-year-old program last month citing cost and schedule growth. Orbital acknowledges GEMS had outgrown the $105 million cost cap NASA initially set, but disputes a recent external review that concluded GEMS would cost more than $150 million and not be ready to launch until 2015 or later. Orbital says the GEMS team can get the job done for the $135 million funding level NASA approved in January and make its 2014 launch date.

Orbital, meanwhile, has been struggling to find payloads for the Pegasus XL, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the rocket’s flight rate. Pegasus launched five times from 2004 to 2008. In the preceding five-year period, it flew 10 times, including four flights in 2003 alone, according to an online mission history maintained by Orbital. Orbital does not see another solid opportunity for Pegasus until 2017 or later. About 100 people work on the Pegasus program. (6/15)

NASA Takes Custody of Cargo Returned Inside Dragon (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
During a ceremony inside a Texas warehouse on Wednesday, SpaceX turned over to NASA more than a half-ton of cargo returned from the International Space Station during last month's commercial resupply mission. The handover was the flight's final objective, and it occurred 13 days after the privately-owned Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of a nine-day mission.

With the exception of a few time-critical cargo bags removed while Dragon was still at sea, NASA took receipt of the hardware returned from the space station Wednesday at SpaceX's rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station through 2015. (6/15)

Mickey on Mercury? That's Goofy! (Source: MSNBC)
We've had the Face on Mars, the Smiley Face on Mars, even the Elephant Face on Mars — and now we've got the Mickey Mouse Face on Mercury, courtesy of NASA's Messenger probe. The mousy shape comes from three overlapping craters in Mercury's southern hemisphere, northwest of a larger crater known as Magritte. The biggest crater in this scene, which serves as Mickey's head, measures about 65 miles (105 miles) across. Click here. (6/15)

Hey, Kids! Send Your Stuff Into Orbit (Source: MSNBC)
Wanna do some space science? You no longer have to be a professional researcher, or even a grown-up, to get your experiment into orbit. A new program called DreamUp is offering slots on the International Space Station's experimental racks to school groups for as little as $15,500 a pop, and you can use credit-card reward points to help cover the cost. "We are committed to lowering the barriers for entry to space research," Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks, said in a news release announcing the program. "This is a double win. This first-of-its-kind student experiment donation platform will help create a world-class experience for students." (6/15)

Shuttle Trainer Crew Cabin Coming Soon to Seattle Museum (Source: Museum of Flight)
The 28-foot-long crew cabin section of the Museum's full-scale space shuttle trainer is scheduled to be delivered to the Museum on June 30 via NASA's "Super Guppy" cargo plane. The plane will be flown from NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston by Seattle astronaut Greg Johnson and is scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m. after a fly-by over Lake Washington and the Seattle Center. Arriving with Johnson will be astronaut and University of Washington alumnus Janet Kavandi, Director of Flight Crew Operations at NASA JSC. (6/15)

Dalai Lama Disses Space Tourism (Source: Financial Times)
Known as a peacemaker, the Dalai Lama inadvertently took on the Virgin business empire in a speech to business leaders in Leeds as he criticised the idea of visiting space as a commercial enterprise. Tibet’s spiritual leader criticised the idea of taking holidays in space, outlined by Will Whitehorn, former president of Virgin Galactic, who preceded him on stage.

“You are fortunate people. You can do more about ecology,” the Dalai Lama said. “You must not take vacations, to Africa, to Asia, North Pole, South Pole, the moon, spending millions of dollars. It is a waste. “Nobody says their legacy is a luxury lifestyle. If you have done something for needy people, that is your legacy.” (6/16)

The Moon Still Beckons... to Russia, Anyway (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Looking to remain a major player in space, Russia is at the forefront of a new wave of interest in the moon. They're even talking about building a cosmonaut base up there. The moon disappeared from NASA's radar screen in January 2010, when the Obama White House canceled the Bush-era Constellation program and its plan to return to the lunar surface by 2020. The space agency today is focused on privatizing cargo and astronaut transport to the International Space Station, then sending explorers to nearby asteroids in the late 2020s. But the moon just won't go away. Our nearest cosmic companion keeps popping up in discussions of where robots—and humans—should head next in space.

In the last 10 years, the U.S., Japan, Europe, India, and China have resumed the robotic exploration of the moon. Both China and Japan have expressed interest in returning human explorers there, with China announcing late last year a series of technological steps leading to a manned lunar mission. But while NASA is thinking about lunar robots, Russia is thinking bigger. Russian space agency head Vladimir Popovkin confirmed that Russia has long-range plans to send cosmonauts to the moon. "We're not talking about repeating what mankind achieved 40 years ago," he said. "We're talking about establishing permanent bases." (6/16)

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