June 21, 2012

NASA Launches Suborbital Rocket From Wallops Island (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
NASA launched a Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket this morning from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket, carrying 17 educational experiments built by university instructors and students from across the country, lifted off at 6:40 a.m. According to an announcer on the space agency's webcast of the launch, the rocket can reach 2,902 mph maximum velocity.

The launch window was from 6 to 10 a.m. and after test rockets were fired, the sounding rocket was expected to launch around 6 a.m. It was postponed a short while to allow boats to move out of the safety zone offshore. The two-stage rocket carried the experiments to an altitude of 73 miles before splashing down into the water off the coast, according to NASA. The experiments were recovered and will be studied. The next launch from Wallops Island is scheduled for July 20. (6/21)

Mining in Space (source: Boulder Weekly)
Initially, the asteroid prospecting will be done with swarms of small orbiting space telescopes smaller than a lecture podium. (For comparison, spy satellites can be as long as an 18-wheel truck.) The company has already built prototypes. These telescopes can also be used for terrestrial imaging at a fraction of the cost of contemporary military and civilian observation satellites, which will make remote imaging from space available and affordable to a vastly expanded pool of new users — and will provide early revenue for Planetary Resources. “The reason we are focused on tiny little telescopes,” Lewicki said, “is that they are really, really cheap.” (6/21)

Harris Satellite's Aim: Even Safer Skies (Source: Florida Today)
In a major step forward in its growth from provider of satellite parts to actual payloads, Harris Corp. on Tuesday announced its role in building a crucial satellite component that could vastly improve air traffic control. This new business venture is expected to improve the safety and efficiency of airline travel by giving air traffic controllers a global tracking ability current radar systems cannot, even over oceans, mountains and remote areas. (6/21)

Air Force Space Command Gets New Vice Commander (Source: AFSPC)
Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) welcomed its newest vice commander as he pinned on his third star during a ceremony here recently. Lieutenant General John Hyten made his return to AFSPC after serving as Director of Space Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, in Washington D.C. Lt. Gen. Hyten is a career space officer with a multitude of assignments ranging from operational assignments. (6/21)

Mars Odyssey Spacecraft Bounces Back from Glitch at Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
NASA's veteran Mars Odyssey spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet is out of the woods after a glitch stalled the probe's science operations earlier this month. The 11 year-old orbiter went into protective safe mode on June 8 after its onboard computer detected a problem with one of the three reaction wheels that control its orientation. One of these wheels jammed temporarily, so mission controllers instructed Mars Odyssey to use a spare it had onboard.

Mars Odyssey uses a trio of spinning reaction wheels to maintain its orientation in space without the use of thrusters, which consume precious thruster fuel. Until recent tests this week, the spare wheel on Mars Odyssey had not turned since before the spacecraft launched toward the Red Planet in 2001. A shakeout of the wheel spun it up to 5,000 rotations per minute, mission managers said. With the spare wheel up and running, Mars Odyssey has successfully shifted out of safe mode (which pointed the spacecraft at Earth for better communications) to its normal downward direction facing Mars, called nadir. (6/21)

New Tours Go Behind the Scenes at Kennedy Space Center (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
All my life, space travel has been mentally filed under "futuristic," but I'm learning to think of it in a historical context too. New tours at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex give glimpses of NASA's past by allowing access to areas that have not been open to the public in decades. Last week, the Launch Control Center Tour, which brings guests into one of the famed firing rooms, was added to the lineup.

The LCC was a hub of activity for engineers for all 152 launches in the Apollo and space shuttle programs. The building is adjacent to the much larger, iconic Vehicle Assembly Building — the longtime shuttle home with a gargantuan American flag and NASA logo on its exterior walls. Upstairs in Firing Room 4, the atmosphere is eerie. There's a time-capsule vibe to it, as if no one has been working there in decade. In fact, the room was full of NASA officials for the final shuttle mission last July. (6/21)

Eight Years Later, is Suborbital Industry Finally Ready for Liftoff? (Source: NewSpace Journal)
On June 21, 2004, Scaled Composites made history in the skies above the just-renamed Mojave Air and Space Port in the high desert of Southern California. Scaled’s White Knight carrier aircraft took off from the airport, with the SpaceShipOne suborbital spaceplane attached underneath. The White Knight crew released SpaceShipOne, which fired its hybrid rocket motor several seconds later. With Mike Melvill at the controls, SpaceShipOne ascended towards space, achieving a peak altitude of 100.124 kilometers (328,491 feet) before gliding back to a runway landing at Mojave.

That flight was the first time a commercially-developed crewed spacecraft flew into space—if only briefly crossing the 100-kilometer Kármán Line that is a commonly-used demarcation of space. That flight, and the two that followed in late September and early October of 2004 that claimed the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE, were supposed to be the beginning of a new era of commercial spaceflight. That future, though, has been on hold for a while. The final SpaceShipOne flight, on October 4, 2004, remains to this day the last commercial suborbital human spaceflight.

“When it comes to private spaceflight, the future always seems to be two years away,” Alan Boyle quipped in 2007, summarizing the state of the industry. At that time, for example, Virgin was planning to put SpaceShipTwo into commercial service by late 2009, a date it missed. Now, though, the future may be a little closer than two years off. Click here. (6/21)

NASA: Private U.S. Spacecraft Could Save Agency Millions (Source: US News)
The head of NASA's manned flights told a Senate committee Wednesday that future trips to the International Space Station operated by private U.S. companies would save NASA money and bring millions of dollars to American enterprises. "I believe the prices will be cheaper than what we have to pay for Soyuz," he said. The agency has planned to begin flying aboard an American company's spacecraft by 2017, but "some think they can provide a crewed flight earlier, in 2015."

Crewed flights aboard American-operated flights wouldn't just be good news for NASA, it could also be a boon for American companies. As the Russian government does now, American companies could sell seats aboard their spacecraft to astronauts from countries that want to send manned missions into space, said Mike Gold, testifying on behalf of Bigelow Airspace. (6/21)

UF Research: Metal-Poor Stars are Rich With Small Planets (source: UF)
Planets as big as Earth but smaller than Neptune are likely even more common in our galaxy than previously believed, according to a statistical analysis of recent results from NASA’s Kepler mission. The results help bolster the case for future missions aiming to discover and characterize Earth-like planets. The study, co-authored by University of Florida associate professor of astronomy Eric Ford, is being published today in the journal Nature. The study was led by Lars Buchhave of the University of Copenhagen. (6/21)

US Businessman Bids for Space Tourism With Soviet Craft (Source: Russia Times)
Space tourism will be given a new dimension with plans to blast people to the moon and back in an old, Soviet spacecraft – for £100 million a pop. US space entrepreneur Art Dula, founder and chief executive of Excalibur Almaz, is planning to send 30 people to the moon and back by 2025 in the first manned moon mission since Apollo 17 in 1972.

He has bought two 1970’s-era Soviet space stations and four re-entry capsules from Russia and plans to take his first paying customers to space by 2015. Dula told RT that anybody going with his company into space would not only have to be rich enough, but also must be made of the right stuff physically and psychologically. Although much of the flying will be computer-controlled, all necessary training – including the skills needed to fly the craft – is provided.

Dula, who describes himself as a space lawyer, received the first funding for the project seven years ago. He explains that until now his firm has been “flying under the radar” and keeping a low media profile, in order to make sure most of the work was done before going public. (6/21)

Editorial: Will China Overtake America in Space? (Source: CNN)
China's space plans are ambitious, incremental and extensive. Should Americans be worried that China will overtake us in both space exploration and military capability in space? No, not yet. Part one of China's Project 921, a 30-year plan for space exploration that was approved in 1992, is complete. This is progress, indeed. Project 921 is the result of China's fear of being left behind in the development of space technology.

Part one was about attaining human spaceflight. Part two -- which is where China is now -- focuses on testing advanced technologies, like maneuvering and docking. Part three envisions a large (about 20 tons, the size of Skylab) space station. A manned mission to the moon was never included in the plan and has only recently become a topic of discussion in China. When talks do come up of putting a Chinese on the moon as early as 2016, they can rile U.S. officials and engender international prestige for China.

But China is not overtaking the United States in space. It is, however, advancing. The execution of China's space program has led to "tortoise and hare" comparisons with the U.S. China launches a mission about every two years, but takes large steps with each one and has a much longer timeline for achieving its goals. What China has that the United States lacks -- and what may give the Chinese an advantage over the long run -- is patience. (6/20)

NRL: Orbital Dust-Up Could Reduce Space Debris (Source: NRL)
"Hundreds of near-misses occur each year between orbital debris and operational satellites," says Gurudas Ganguli, head, NRL Space Analysis and Application Section at the Plasma Physics Division. "Dust, similar to that which naturally fills the near-Earth environment, can be deployed artificially in a narrow altitude band to enhance drag on debris and force re-entry."

The essential idea is that dust, if artificially deployed on orbit in opposite direction to the debris trajectory, can induce an enhanced drag on the debris. The novelty is that by choosing the dust characteristics, for instance, mass density, size, etc., it is possible to synchronize the rate of dust and debris descent. This offers the possibility to clear a very large volume of small debris by deploying a modest amount of dust, 20 to 40 tons, in a narrow layer and "sweeping" of the debris volume by the dust layer. (6/20)

No Bot Wins Robot Challenge (Source: MSNBC)
Not all missions are successful, and such was the case for last weekend's $1.5 million Sample Return Robot Challenge, backed by NASA and presented at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. The robo-showdown was supposed to pit autonomous rovers against each other in a race to roll around a course, collect samples and return them back to base, using the sorts of technologies that would be available to interplanetary robots. That means no GPS, no compass, no Internet.

Eleven teams registered for the competition, and six showed up in Worcester — but none of the teams could collect a sample during an official run. "Hopefully, all the teams will continue to improve their robotic systems and return to participate in future NASA Centennial Challenges," NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck said. (6/20)

Astrium Receives $17M To Study Evolution of European Space Cargo Hauler (Source: Space News)
Astrium Space Transportation will study two possible evolutions of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo carrier, including one that would perform active removal of debris from low Earth orbit, under contracts with the European Space Agency (ESA) that were announced June 21. The two contracts, with a combined value of 13 million euros ($17 million), are for work through the end of this year.

The studies will be used in late November by a conference of ESA governments to determine whether a NASA-friendly, less-costly ATV evolution or a riskier new vehicle should be the preferred way forward. Two options will be examined. In the first, ATV’s service module will be modified to perform a similar function — propulsion and avionics — on NASA’s Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle, which is now in development. (6/21)

Commercial Space Travel May Bring Science Benefits (Source: Space.com
Launching NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard commercial spaceships may have its risks, but the payoffs from lower-cost flights to the orbiting outpost, and expanded scientific use of the microgravity environment, are expected to be considerable, industry officials told lawmakers. By supporting the development of new private spaceships, NASA will be able to purchase flights to and from the space station with reduced cost and oversight.

"These two things are allowing NASA to focus its talents on the bigger goals: the utilization of the International Space Station and developing the next generation of hardware and skills that will allow us to extend human presence in the solar system beyond low-Earth orbit," Gerstenmaier said. (6/21)

UK Space Agency To Build 4 Instruments for Solar Orbiter Mission (Source: Space News)
The UK Space Agency will invest $18 million to develop four of the 10 scientific instruments to fly aboard Europe’s Solar Orbiter mission in 2017. Solar Orbiter, a collaborative effort between the 19-nation European Space Agency and NASA, is designed to study the sun’s surface and atmosphere. Astrium of Britain is building the satellite under a contract valued at $390 million. The mission’s total budget is estimated at about $1 billion including the provision and integration of the 10 instruments, the satellite’s launch and operations. (6/21)

Why NASA Should Nab an Asteroid (Source: Popular Mechanics)
NASA and its partners snatch a small asteroid from deep space, bag it for delivery, and tow it into a safe orbit around our moon. There the captured asteroid creates an easy stepping-stone for astronaut explorers who want to explore an ancient rock from the dawn of the solar system, and creates a target for miners who might extract valuable water and metals. If successful, the grab demonstrates that humans could divert a dangerous space rock if necessary.

Science fiction or a glimpse into our space future? Right now, a team of space scientists and engineers put together by the Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena, Calif., is urging NASA to pursue this futuristic mission to help America's space agency achieve its mission of operating beyond low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. I was an astronautics and asteroid consultant to the team, which spent six months analyzing techniques for pulling off the asteroid grab. Our conclusion: NASA could execute this affordable mission within 10 years. (6/20)

Asteroid-Hunting Venture Wants YOU... to Suggest Crowdfunding Projects (Source: MSNBC)
Planetary Resources, the billionaire-backed private venture that's aiming to hunt down and mine near-Earth asteroids, is looking for suggestions about projects that could attract extra funding through Kickstarter-style campaigns. Co-founders Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson invite ideas for how the company might produce an excess number of space telescopes for use by collaborators.

"To offer you a chance to actually get involved, we’ve been tossing around the idea of adding additional capacity in our production run, and either offering you access to a portion of our orbiting spacecraft — or — if there’s enough demand, actually build you an additional Space Telescope for your own use," Diamandis wrote. "We'd probably do this through a Kickstarter campaign, but ONLY if there's enough interest." (6/20)

Secret Satellite Data System Launched Via Atlas V (Source: AmericaSpace)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 carried what experienced analysts believe is a top secret Satellite Data System (SDS) relay spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This National Reconnaissance Office NROL-38 mission marks the 50th Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) flight for United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U. S. Air Force. (6/21)

RocketMotorTwo Test Firings Begin in Mojave (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Tests on RocketMotorTwo have begun in Mojave, which is a step toward integrating the engine into the SpaceShipTwo fuselage. The one interesting element is that unlike other test summaries, this one does not mention the length of the burn, which means it was a short duration event with a key emphasis on evaluating the test environment at the Scaled facility. They were evaluating the test stand, data acquisition system, and other elements. (6/21)

NASA Banking on Commercial Crew To Grow Space Station’s Population (Source: Space News)
NASA is banking on its Commercial Crew Program to increase space station crew capacity to seven from the current six — something that could happen as soon as 2017 if Congress increases the program’s budget. “We would definitely increase the crew size on ISS to seven crew members,” said NASA's William Gerstenmaier. “We think that will increase the research capability onboard station and allow us to do more national lab research and be more effective in utilizing space station.” (6/20)

Bigelow: U.S. Launch Prices Must Drop to Make Commercial Space Enterprise Viable (Source: Space News)
A Bigelow official at a June 20 Senate hearing said space transportation prices will have to fall substantially before any business plan involving a payload — crew or cargo — becomes palatable to private enterprise. “Those prices must come down from the sixty-plus-million-dollar range,” said Mike Gold. “They must come down dramatically for there to be a business case from the private sector.”

Bigelow is developing inflatable space habitats that it wants to market primarily to foreign governments. The company has sent two prototype modules into space on Russian rockets but says it cannot afford to develop or fly an operational habitat until cheaper space transportation is available. Gold said Bigelow needs a domestic transportation option because it is too expensive to comply with U.S. export control policies; Bigelow spent about $1 million on export control compliance for the two Russian launches it bought. (6/20)

NASA Set To Host Future Female Explorers (Source: NASA)
Eighty-four female high school students from 29 states will plan a simulated mission to Mars and experience life as an engineer or scientist when NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston hosts two events focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in June and July. The Women in STEM High School Aerospace Scholars project, or WISH, is sponsoring two six-day summer camps for rising high school seniors.

The young women will work in teams with female NASA mentors to develop mission plans for launching to Mars, living and working there, and integrating the many components necessary for a successful planetary mission. They will work within the confines of a fictitious budget and build several small mockups of vehicles to demonstrate a successful launch and landing of the Mars spacecraft. Editor's Note: Five Floridians are included, from Englewood, Weston, Lake City, Ocala, and Pembroke Pines. (6/20)

US Government, Industry Support Launch Liability Indemnification (Source: Flight Global)
Witnesses representing US government agencies and the commercial spaceflight industry supported extending insurance indemnification for commercial spaceflight launches during a 20 June US Senate Science and Space subcommittee hearing. The indemnification is scheduled to expire on 31 December.

The FAA, NASA and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) voiced their support for the extension, along with industry representatives from space habitat manufacturer Bigelow Aerospace and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Through the indemnification, commercial launch providers are only required to purchase insurance for up to $500 million. (6/20)

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