June 26, 2012

Canada's MDA Acquires Loral (Source: Commercial Space Watch)
In what can only be described as a blockbuster deal, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (MDA) of Canada announced that it has acquired the larger company in Space Systems/Loral (SS/L). The announcement comes a day before the MDA's scheduled quarterly investor call and a day after they had announced a significant deal to provide the communications payload for the AMOS-6 Satellite. MDA will acquire 100% of of SS/L in a deal valued at US$875 million. SS/L is a global market provider of commercial communications satellites based in Palo Alto, California and has 3200 employees with US$1.1 billion in revenues in 2011. (6/26)

Sensors Designed for Next-gen Fighter Track NASA Sounding Rockets (Source: Space News)
Sensors designed for the U.S. Air Force’s F-35 aircraft monitored five NASA sounding rocket launches that took place in rapid succession this past spring, demonstrating the next-generation fighter’s ballistic missile detection, tracking and targeting capability. The suborbital rockets, launched March 27 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, were detected and tracked simultaneously by the electro-optical distributed aperture system (DAS) and electronically scanned radar array sensors. Northrop Grumman designed both sensor suites for the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin. (6/26)

ULA Delta IV NROL-15 - Launch Set for Friday, June 29 (Source: SpaceRef)
Due to the forecast for Tropical Storm Debby, the launch of a Delta IV carrying a national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office is delayed 24 hours. The launch is now planned for Friday, June 29 at 6:13 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The protective Mobile Service Tower will remain around the launch vehicle and is scheduled to be moved for launch Thursday evening. (6/26)

Space Junk Hazards Force International Response (Source: Space.com)
As more countries around the world build up their space capabilities, U.S. lawmakers are keen to address the growing issue of potentially harmful debris in orbit. But while policies have attempted to tackle the problem, no major strides have been made. In 2010, the White House released its sweeping national space policy for the country, which identified orbital debris and the long-term sustainable use of space as clear priorities. But so far, few changes have been implemented on the ground or in space, said Brian Weeden.

This is partly because experts are still working to understand the full extent of the issue. The U.S. military's Space Surveillance Network tracks roughly 22,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 4 inches (10 centimeters), which include broken satellite parts and spent rocket bodies. The catalog is maintained by the United States Strategic Command, which falls under the domain of the U.S. Department of Defense. (6/26)

Globalstar Says Disputes Settled With Thales (Source: Aviation Week)
Globalstar says it has buried the hatchet with spacecraft manufacturer Thales Alenia Space concerning prior legal disputes, and the companies have agreed to the terms of a commercial proposal for the purchase of additional Globalstar satellites. Gglobalstar currently has 18 of 24 second-generation satellites in orbit. The settlement with Thales ensures the spacecraft manufacturer will deliver a remaining batch of six satellites for launch later this year.

In addition, the companies agreed to the terms of a new contract to purchase six additional second-generation satellites to be built by Thales. The contract is expected to be signed “in the near future,” with work slated to begin this year, according to a June 25 statement from Globalstar. (6/26)

Houston Workshop Marks Key Step in Planning Future Mars Missions (Source: NASA)
A recent workshop conducted for NASA by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, marked a key step in the agency's effort to forge a new Mars strategy in the coming decades. A report that summarizes the wide range of cutting-edge science, technology and mission concepts discussed is available online.

Held in Houston June 12-14 and attended by scientists and engineers worldwide, the meeting was held to seek ideas, concepts and capabilities to address critical challenge areas in exploring the Red Planet. Discussions provided information for reformulating NASA's Mars Exploration Program (MEP) to be responsive to high-priority science goals and the challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

Participants identified a number of possible approaches to missions that can be flown to Mars in the coming decade that would make progress toward returning Martian samples -- a top priority of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey -- and make significant advances in scientific understanding of the planet, developing key technologies and advancing knowledge necessary for human exploration on and around Mars. (6/26)

Mock Mars 'Astronauts' to Help Cook Up a Mission Menu (Source: Space.com)
Among the many difficulties of sending people to Mars, the question of what they will eat is not the least of them. Scientists are preparing to send six people on a mock mission to the Red Planet to study how best to feed astronauts en route and once they arrive. The six crewmembers will live inside an ersatz space habitat in Hawaii for four months, eating a mix of instant foods and self-cooked meals made from shelf-stable ingredients.

The "astronauts" will fill out detailed food surveys to track their enjoyment of the foods, as well as their health and emotional states. The researchers hope to identify foods and cooking methods that could keep astronauts well-fed for an extended mission. They've already selected eight finalists, and must narrow it down to six prime and two backup crewmembers before they begin their stint on "Mars" in early 2013. (6/26)

Chinese President Praises Astronauts in Special Space Call (Source: Space.com)
The three Chinese astronauts currently in orbit aboard a prototype space lab module received a special call Tuesday (June 26) from China's President Hu Jintao. The Chinese president extended well wishes and spoke to the spaceflyers about the progress of their mission from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. "You have spent nearly 10 days in space, we care about you," Hu said. "How are you feeling?" (6/26)

US & UK Team Up to Protect Against Space Weather Threat (Source: Space.com)
The United States and the United Kingdom are teaming up to fight against a growing threat from space: sun storms. An international space weather agreement between the two countries will expand collaboration to protect against the potentially damaging effects of solar radiation, which is due to increase as the sun ramps up activity toward a maximum in 2013. NOAA and the United Kingdom Government Office for Science announced plans to share space weather resources and scientific expertise to guard valuable power and electronic infrastructure from solar outbursts. (6/26)

Reality Show on Mars Could Fund Manned Colony by 2023 (Source: Space.com)
A Dutch company aims to land humans on Mars by 2023 as the first step toward establishing a permanent colony on the Red Planet. The project, called Mars One, plans to drop four astronauts on Mars in April 2023. New members of the nascent colony will arive every two years after that, and none of the Red Planet pioneers will ever return to Earth. To pay for all of this, Mars One says it will stage a media spectacle the likes of which the world has never seen — a sort of interplanetary reality show a la "Big Brother."

"This project seems to be the only way to fulfill humanity's dream to explore outer space," theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Gerard 't Hooft, an ambassador for Mars One, said in an introductory video posted on the company's website. "It is going to be an exciting experiment. Let's get started." Mars One hopes to launch a communications satellite and a supply mission to Mars in 2016, then send a large rover to the Red Planet in 2018, according to the video. (6/26)

Pentagon’s Zombie Satellite Program Comes to Life (Source: WIRED)
The Pentagon’s intergalactic black-magic plot is getting ready to raise the dead. Dead satellites, that is. Last year, Darpa, the military’s blue-sky research agency, kicked off a program designed to harvest parts from unused communications satellites still orbiting the Earth, and then turn those bits and pieces — antennas in particular — into an array that operates as a low-cost “communications farm” for troops on the ground.

Now that program, called Phoenix, is entering a new phase. First, Darpa last week issued a bid to commercial satellite owners, asking for “a candidate satellite” that’ll act as a space-based guinea pig for initial evaluations of the technology requisite for the initiative. And today, the agency hosted a conference on “sustainable satellite servicing” — attended by academics, private companies and military experts — to discuss everything from the program’s regulatory challenges to more technical “operational considerations” necessary to revive dead satellites. (6/26)

Virgin Galactic to Launch Smallsats From WhiteKnightTwo (Source: Flight Global)
Virgin Galactic has announced reinvigorated plans to launch small satellites into orbit using its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, a unique Scaled Composites-built aircraft designed to ferry SpaceShipTwo to suitable altitude before launch into suborbital space. The smallsat launch system is reportedly a refinement of the LauncherOne concept, a program canceled in 2010. The LauncherOne system entailed using SpaceShipTwo to lift a disposable, air-launched rocket to 40,000 ft and launch satellites of up to 200kg (440lb) into low Earth orbit.

Air-launched rockets, though long a popular concept, are currently provided only by Orbital Sciences using the Pegasus, which launches from a converted Lockheed L-1011 and can put 443kg into orbit. Stratolaunch, another Scaled Composites design currently on the drawing boards, is planned to use the largest aircraft ever built to launch SpaceX-designed rockets with 13,000kg payload capacity. XCOR, another suborbital launch provider, plans to use its Lynx vehicle to launch smallsats into orbit from suborbital space. (6/26)

University of Florida Astronomer Reports Rare Case of Gravitational Lensing (Source: UF)
You could say that the odds of seeing it were astronomical. Yet there it was, 10 billion light-years from Earth, the most massive galaxy cluster ever seen at such a distance – with a gravity field so strong that it distorted the light of the galaxy behind it in a rare display called gravitational lensing.

“When I first saw it, I kept staring at it, thinking it would go away,” said University of Florida astronomer Anthony Gonzalez. “The galaxy behind the cluster is a typical run-of-the-mill galaxy with a lot of young stars, but the galaxy cluster in front of it is a whopper for that range. However, it’s really the way that the two systems are lined up that makes the occurrence truly remarkable.” Gravitational lensing, or bending of light from the distant galaxy, has never been observed behind a cluster at this range. (6/26)

Thailand Delays Decision on NASA Use of Air Base (Source: CBS News)
Thailand will not meet a U.S.-imposed deadline for a decision on whether to allow the American space agency NASA to use a key air base for a climate study that critics fear could be a cover for military purposes. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday that her Cabinet had agreed to have lawmakers debate the NASA project on the impact of Asian emissions on clouds, climate and air quality, but only after Parliament reconvenes Aug. 1.

That is too late for the project, which was to have been conducted out of U-Tapao naval air base in August and September. NASA had set the end of June as the deadline for Thailand's decision on the project. The Cabinet could have made a decision Tuesday, but it might have been open to legal challenge as needing parliamentary approval. (6/26)

Boeing Says its Space Taxi Engines Have Passed a Testing Hurdle (Source: Huntsville Times)
Boeing and its partner Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne say they have completed a series of tests on a thruster designed to power Boeing's entry in the American space taxi sweepstakes. Boeing is competing with several other companies for NASA contracts to supply the International Space Station with a new spacecraft of its design.

Boeing's planned craft -- dubbed the CST-100 -- will have 24 thrusters to control its maneuvers in space and during re-entry. During tests conducted at White Sands, Boeing said a thruster was fired in a vacuum chamber that simulated a space-like environment of 100,000 feet. The tests "verified the durability of the thrusters in extreme heat," Boeing said, as well as checking its valves and overall performance. (6/26)

Editorial: Tours of Marshall Help Showcase What NASA Does (Source: Huntsville Times)
Resuming bus tours of Marshall Space Flight Center will be great way to boost public interest in NASA and MSFC's role in America's space program. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is commended for working to make that happen. Longtime residents will remember the bus tours to the test stands and to the fascinating Neutral Buoyancy Tank where astronauts practiced weightless maneuvers before the program shifted to Houston in the 1990s.

The center's bus tours were discontinued after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beginning July 16, visitors to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center will have the option of taking a bus to the historic Redstone test stand where Wernher von Braun's rocket team conducted test firings while watching from an underground bunker nearby. Another stop that is sure to wow visitors will be the International Space Station Payload Operations Center - the 24-7 control room for the orbiting space station. (6/26)

China’s Space Exploration has Various Implications for Africa (Source: The Citizen)
China has over the past two decades been largely going it alone in efforts to set up a space station after exclusion from the five-nation International Space Station (ISS) program by a US veto. If all goes according to plan, China will have its own fully fledged space station in the next decade. This will be a huge boost not only for China’s scientific advancement but also her global reputational capital.

Among other reasons motivating the US to exclude China from the ISS—jointly run with Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Union—-is the jitters that China could appropriate space technology for military purposes. While ESA seems to have been at ease with China’s involvement in the ISS, the US has maintained a nay position as witnessed by the tightening of laws in 2011 nixed possibility of such co-operation any time soon. With few resources to mount their own space programs, African countries now have greater choice in benefiting from the scientific proceeds of space exploration beyond NASA or ESA.

Editor's Note: The Congressionally imposed U.S. policy of stiff-arming Chima from participating in the ISS, and from other interactions with NASA, has not stopped them from making major leaps on their own...exacerbating the concerns of U.S. China hawks. One wonders if it might have been a wiser policy to bring China into the international partnership. Better to keep tabs on--and benefit from--their investments and advancements. (6/26)

Lunar Paranoia Haunts US Establishment (Source: Global Times)
The successful launch of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft has attracted worldwide attention. People in some countries, while approving China's rapid progress in space technology, feel it a shame that their own role in space has largely slowed down. Such responses are generally normal. However, a recent article published by Foreign Policy, "Red Moon Rising," astoundingly depicts China's lunar exploration plan as first step toward a "moon colony."

The author, US professor John Hickman, predicts that Washington is wearing blinders if it thinks the 1968 Outer Space Treaty will prevent a Chinese lunar land grab. He believes Beijing might seek to assert extraterrestrial territorial sovereignty, effectively declaring part of the moon's surface Chinese territory. The evidence Hickman cites is that Beijing plans to put a man on the moon by 2020, and its space agency has suggested establishing a base on the moon. Hickman comes to the conclusion, "let's not write off a Chinese moon colony as sheer fantasy."

If the logic of this article makes sense, then the US has long occupied the moon, as it landed Neil Armstrong there 43 years ago and planted its national flag. Even if China can put a man on the moon within one decade, it will still be half a century behind the US. US ambitions came much earlier. This ludicrous, aggressive perspective discloses the distorted mentality of a few Americans facing the rapid rise of China. (6/26)

Chinese Astronauts Set to Return (Source: Space Daily)
Chinese astronauts will return to Earth in several days after completing the major tasks, and measures have been taken to ensure a safe return. "Just like everyone else, I am eagerly expecting their safe and early return," said Wu Ping. They will stay in the Tiangong-1 lab module for another three to four days, and will then manually maneuver the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to part from the Tiangong-1 space lab module and end their space journey within one day.

Measures have been prepared to ensure the safety of the astronauts, who will get back to Earth in a return capsule, she said, adding that the returning technology has been "very mature". Backups of the key devices aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft have been prepared, and engineers have conducted strict quality control and double-checks on the reentry system, said Wu. The ground search, rescue and medical personnel have repeatedly exercised for the return, who will use helicopters to find and transfer the three astronauts to safe places as soon as possible, she said. (6/26)

NASA Working on Supersonic Jet, Faster Than Concorde (Source: Daily Mail)
NASA has partnered with Boeing, Gulfstream and Lockheed Martin on a supersonic jet that could exceed the Concorde's record speed. The supersonic jet could travel the more than 12,000 miles from London to Sydney in four hours. The planes, which seat 12, are expected to retail for $80 million. (6/25)
NextGen Will "Fundamentally Change" Air Travel (Source: Air Transport World)
NextGen has already produced tangible benefits for the aviation industry, experts say. "NextGen is a full transformation," said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation for the Aerospace Industries Assn. "It's an inflection point in our airspace unlike anything since radar ... it will fundamentally change how we do air transport."

Editor's Note: The Florida NextGen Testbed at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Tuesday sponsored a demonstration of new aviation weather system technologies. The NextGen Testbed is a collaboration with several aerospace industry partners and the FAA, working together to develop and demonstrate new technologies aimed at improving the efficiency of air travel. NextGen technologies could also support the inclusion of space transportation vehicles into the National Airspace System, and support space traffic management above the NAS. (6/26)

CASIS Solicits Protein Crystal Research Projects (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced a solicitation for proposals in relation to advancing protein crystallization using microgravity. The RFP seeks to identify projects within the field of crystallography, which CASIS will support through grant funding, facilitation of service provider partnerships, and flight coordination to and from the ISS.

Crystallography is the technique used to determine three-dimensional structures of protein molecules. Protein crystallization when performed in space may produce large, better-organized crystals, allowing more focused drug development. CASIS believes that this RFP will lead to the production of better crystals in the microgravity environment than can be grown on Earth. In turn, the results will spur greater commercial interest in future opportunities on Station and generate more research for the ISS National Lab. (6/26)

Isle of Man Joins in Britain's Space Race (Source: Metro)
Britain is renowned for its contribution to space exploration in the same way France is for cricket. Think of the British space program and men in anoraks firing off homemade rockets on a moor somewhere springs to mind. Yet away from the limelight, a flourishing space industry has been quietly building up at a remarkable rate, partly as a result of our early fondness for satellite television. Much of the sector is concentrated on the Isle of Man, where low corporate taxes have lured a cluster of space entrepreneurs from around the world.

Space now stands on the threshold of a commercial revolution that has seen SpaceX, a US private company, win a £2.5bn contract from Nasa to resupply the International Space Station. British companies too have plans of extraordinary ambition that would propel them to the forefront of commercial space flight.

Excalibur Almaz's market research has identified enough people willing to part with that sort of money, but Mr Dula said: ‘The person who pays for that first trip is going to be in the history books alongside Neil Armstrong.’ Once they have managed to find 29 customers paying for the first missions, EA will be able to cut prices and open up the market to the slightly less rich. (6/26)

GeoEye Shares Fall on NGA Contract Cuts (Source: SpaceToday.net)
Commercial remote sensing company GeoEye said Monday it would continue development of its next satellite despite receiving word from its primary government customer that it would reduce funding on contracts with the company. In letters GeoEye filed with the SEC late Friday, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) informed GeoEye it would not fully renew its contract for imagery with the company, and would not provide additional funding to help pay for the development of the company's latest satellite, GeoEye-2.

Company officials said in a conference call Monday that they were optimistic that Congress would provide funding to the NGA to restore the imagery contracts, and that the company had enough funds on hand to keep GeoEye-2 on track for a 2013 launch. Shares in GeoEye closed Monday down 22% for the day, after being down by as much as 30% earlier in the day. (6/26)

Lockheed Martin Commercial GEO Satellites Surpass 1,000 Years In Orbit (Source: SpaceRef)
The Lockheed Martin (LMT) commercial geostationary (GEO) communications satellite fleet has achieved a significant milestone by accumulating 1,000 years of in-orbit operations. JCSAT-13, built for SKY Perfect JSAT, and VINASAT-2, manufactured for Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, were successfully launched May 15 and are the 100th and 101st satellites in the Lockheed Martin fleet.

SATCOM 1, launched Dec. 13, 1975, was Lockheed Martin's first commercial GEO satellite. Many cable television companies used SATCOM 1 as the springboard for launching their businesses. SATCOM 1 was also the first satellite used by traditional broadcast television networks in the United States to distribute programming to some of their local affiliate stations. (6/26)

Antares Added to NASA Launch Contract (Source: Space News)
NASA has added Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket to the NASA Launch Services (NLS) 2 contract the agency awarded the Dulles, Va.-based company and several other launch providers in 2010. The NLS 2 contract is an indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery contract that NASA uses to order launch services. An on-ramp provision allows new providers and launch vehicles to be added to the contract annually. (6/26)

SpaceX and Orbital Fire Up Their Engines (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Two loud rumbles in the south of the United States marked two milestones for the country’s drive to regain its space flight independence, as SpaceX and Orbital both fired their new engines. SpaceX’s Merlin 1D rumbled for a full mission duration firing, while Orbital’s AJ-26 continued its testing ahead of its debut on their Antares launch vehicle. In preparation for the debut of Antares, the AJ-26 has been undergoing testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC), with the latest test taking place on Monday. (6/26)

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