June 7, 2012

Workers Repair Rocket Fuel Fumes Leak at KSC (Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center technicians in protective suits today repaired a leak of highly toxic rocket fuel fumes that caused the evacuation of two shuttle hangars on Wednesday. Nearly 60 people evacuated Orbiter Processing Facilities Nos. 1 and 2 around 1:30 p.m. after a technician reported smelling a whiff of hydrazine, the hypergolic propellant used to maneuver the orbiter in space, according to the KSC press office. (6/7)

NASA Reaffirms Decision To Cancel GEMS X-ray Astronomy Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA’s decision to cancel the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) X-ray telescope mission will cost the U.S. space agency roughly $13 million in contract termination fees, according to briefing charts GEMS officials prepared to make their case for sparing the mission. The GEMS team appealed the cancellation of their mission June 5, at NASA headquarters, but their request for clemency was denied, NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz said. (6/7)

SpaceX Stock Could be Next Year's Hottest Tech Play (Source: Money Morning)
It's been almost 43 years since millions of people sat perched in front of rabbit-eared television sets or tuned into AM radio stations, watching and listening in awe as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Some four decades later, space chatter is buzzing again, thanks to a privately owned startup firm called SpaceX. And things could get even more exciting and lucrative for investors as an initial public offering of the epic company looms.

Musk told Bloomberg News in February there is a very good chance SpaceX, founded in 2002, will go public in 2013. Tapping into the prowess of private enterprise will greatly augment SpaceX's endeavors. Its current commercial sales and government missions have helped it already amass $4 billion in revenue under contract. A SpaceX IPO could harvest the same frenzy and fervor that was incited during the dot.com era - a time quite familiar to Musk. He's one of the most accomplished and wealthy figures to materialize from the Web-based world. (6/7)

Scaled Composites Conducts SpaceShipTwo Taxi Test (Source: Parabolic Arc)
There has been renewed activity out here in Mojave on the SpaceShipTwo program as Scaled Composites gears up for a busy summer of flight testing. Scaled Composites conducted a taxi test on SpaceShipTwo on June 1 (see summary below), with the space plane spend three hours out on the runway. Three different pilots were at the controls as they tested new higher capacity brakes. WhiteKnightTwo was also flying solo over Mojave on Sunday. That is believed to be the 81st flight of SpaceShipTwo’s carrier aircraft. Scaled has not posted a test flight summary on its website yet. (6/7)

Pressure Now On to Launch ESA’s Sentinel Missions (Source: ESA)
The loss of the Envisat satellite is affecting services by Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program. Efforts are being coordinated with other space agencies to fill some of the gaps, but the situation adds further urgency to launch the Sentinel missions. Carrying an array of sophisticated instruments, Envisat provided a continuous stream of information about the state of our planet for 10 years.

Although it is planned to launch the first three Sentinel satellites in 2013, funding to operate the satellites in orbit, which comes from the European Commission, is not yet confirmed. Until the launch of the Sentinels, services already being offered through GMES relied heavily on data from Envisat, so its loss is having an effect. (6/7)

Asteroid Warning System Would Alert and Educate Public Worldwide (Source: Space.com)
The nations of the world need to work together to develop a warning and communication system that could mitigate the worst effects of a catastrophic asteroid strike, a new report stresses. Such a system would issue international warnings about possible impending strikes and educate the public about the threats posed by near-Earth objects. It also would call government leaders' and the public's attention to the scientific value and potential economic importance of asteroids. (6/7)

Mitsubishi Targets U.S. to Double Rocket Unit Sales (Source: Japan Times)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. said it will boost sales of rocket parts sales to companies in the United States, aiming to more than double revenue at its space unit. MHI, which launched its first commercial satellite last month, plans to increase sales to ¥100 billion in the next 10 years from about ¥50 billion at present, according to Shoichiro Asada, head of the firm's space systems operations.

The company will increase sales of engine parts and tanks for the Delta and Atlas launch vehicles of United Launch Alliance LLC, a Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp. venture. The major maker of trains, ships and planes is also seeking to launch more commercial satellites to compete with Europe's Ariane and Russia's Proton rocket systems to pare reliance on Japan government contracts. (6/7)

Private Space Industry Has Eyes For Texas, But Not Everyone’s On Board (Source: State Impact)
SpaceX is looking to expand their operation in Texas. Space X is undergoing the permit process with the FAA for a launch pad outside of Brownsville, at the southern tip of the state. A new Space X launch pad could be economically beneficial for the city. Gilberto Salinas of the Brownsville Economic Development Council says Space X could “change the game” in town. “The jobs that it would bring with it,” Salinas says, “it would bring about 600 [direct] jobs paying extremely well. It could drop our unemployment by one full percentage point.”

But not everyone is happy about the site Space X has chosen. The plot of land is surrounded by Boca Chica State Park – the home of several endangered species, including sea turtles, ocelots, jaguarundi, and piping plovers. Some are worried the launch pad would have a negative impact on the animals in the area.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in response to a request for data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said they are concerned about the endangered species known to be in the area nearby. The letter also cites several laws, like the federal Endangered Species Act, that must be considered in the approval of the proposal. (6/7)

North Korean Rocket Science: They're Playing Us (Source: Diplomatic Courier)
We Americans have a lot to worry about these days. We've got wars we're apparently losing, a hollow industrial base, too much unemployment, and a national debt that threatens to swallow us whole. We've also got the Chinese rapidly building up their armed forces and the Russians running interference for the Iranian mullahs. Then, last week, the media ran with another story to add to our worries. The North Koreans were getting ready to launch a rocket into orbit! This surely meant, from the accounts I read, a bunch of crazies were soon going to be able to throw nuclear warheads at us and our allies.

Breathlessly, the world waited as North Korean scientists put the finishing touches on their giant rocket. I tuned in and had myself a quiet laugh when it showed one of their technicians on the pad reaching into a hatch on the side of the rocket, apparently pulling at some wires or maybe turning a valve on the plumbing. My good humor was because I recognized the rocket. It was the Unha-3, a derivative of the rocket that North Korea has been trying to get to work since 1998. Based mostly on the old Soviet Scud rocket which in turn was based on the German World War II V-2 rocket, it is an unwieldy conglomeration of clustered engines stacked atop one another.

It can certainly be made to work, given enough luck, time, and money, but as a military weapon large enough to carry a nuclear warhead and actually hit a target, the Unha-3 isn't going to make the grade. It came as no surprise to me when it broke up and fell into the sea. Like the Scuds which Saddam Hussein hurled at Israel during the first Gulf War, they tend to come apart at the seams. (6/7)

US Warns Debris Genuine Threat to Orbital Space (Source: Flight Global)
On the agenda of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space meeting currently being held in Vienna is the increasingly urgent problem of space debris. As US deputy assistant secretary for space and defense policy Frank Rose outlined at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, where he stopped to brief journalists on his way to Austria, there has been a "massive spike" in the amount of debris in the past five years. (6/7)

Space Subcommittee Chair "Sets Record Straight" on Commercial Space Policy (Source: HCSST)
Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) responded to recent comments made by OSTP Director John Holdren, claiming responsibility for NASA's commercial space policy: "Mr. Holdren’s statement is, at best, misleading,” Palazzo stated. “The commercial orbital transportation services program was proposed by the Bush administration in 2005 and authorized by Congress. The COTS contract that funded the Space-X mission was awarded in 2006. The Commercial Resupply Services contract won by Space-X and Orbital was announced at the end of 2008. Let the record be clear.”

Speaking before an audience in New York last week, Dr. Holdren claimed that the space policies responsible for the recent, successful Space-X cargo mission to the ISS are “entirely new” and have been “initiated by this administration.” Editor's Note: The government's policy toward the use of commercial launch services "to the fullest extent feasible" dates way back to 1988. President George W. Bush's Constellation program would have developed Ares-1 instead of accelerating commercialization initiatives. President Obama elevated commercialization as a pillar of his NASA policy. As several commenters have posted: success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. (6/7)

NASA Cancels Small X-Ray Mission (Source: Nature)
NASA on Thursday cancelled a small astrophysics mission that would have studied the polarized X-rays streaming from black holes and neutron stars, after the mission was estimated to be running 20% to 30% over its $119 million budget. The mission, called the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small explorer (GEMS), had been selected in 2009 as a winner in NASA’s small explorer competition, and was scheduled for a 2014 launch. (6/7)

Surrey Satellite Turns to Xbox for Latest Technology (Source: Flight Global)
While many parents are understandably quick to criticize computer games as mindless time wasters with a narcotic grip on their offspring, engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) see in the latest addition to Microsoft's Xbox system a shortcut to resolving several conundrums of spacecraft design.

Xbox's Kinect add-on is a chocolate box-sized three-camera system that detects and analyses gamers' movements and translates them into control instructions. Inspired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who used Kinect to help a model helicopter achieve autonomous flight, SSTL's Shaun Kenyon wondered if this off-the-shelf capability could be used in space. (6/7)

U.S. Congress Urged To Renew Launch Liability Shield (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government’s top commercial launch regulator and space industry officials urged lawmakers to support an extension of at least five years for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch indemnification program during a June 6 hearing of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee.

Unless Congress acts, the FAA program created in 1988 to shield launch providers from the cost of a catastrophic accident that exceeds the amount of insurance coverage operators are required to carry is set to expire Dec. 31. Witnesses urged lawmakers to extend the liability shield saying that it provides important protection for the growing field of U.S. companies developing orbital and suborbital vehicles. (6/7)

European Re-entry Capsule Grounded after Russia Withdraws Launch Offer (Source: Space News)
A European atmospheric-re-entry capsule that was 10 years in development and whose construction has been completed for months may never get off the ground following cancellation of a low-cost launch aboard a converted Russian missile, the capsule’s builders said June 6.

The European Space Agency (ESA), with a large contribution from the Italian Space Agency (ASI), spent an estimated 50 million euros ($65 million) developing the European Experimental Reentry Test Bed, called Expert, starting in 2002. Carrying 150 different sensors, the 1.6-meter long, 450-kilogram Expert was designed for launch to an altitude of about 120 kilometers before being released for ballistic descent. (6/7)

SpaceX and Space Politics (Source: EE Times)
Now, a pissing match has erupted over who should get the political credit for the success of the SpaceX mission. The commercial cargo and crew program under which SpaceX and other competitors operate was created, according to the chairman of the House Science Committee’s space panel, by the Bush administration in 2005. Congress authorized funding for the program, and SpaceX received its contract the following year.

Good for the Bush administration, which did not fund a successor to the space shuttle, and the Congress. Point for them. At a hearing on Wednesday (June 6), space panel chairman Steven Palazzo, attacked the Obama administration for taking credit last week for the success of the SpaceX mission. We’ve got some news for the petty politicians: The credit for the success of the SpaceX first test flight goes to the engineers, designers, technicians, code jockeys, metal benders and managers at SpaceX along with NASA program administrators.

If not for the months of testing and retesting, weeks of painstaking validation of the software code needed for spacecraft navigation and communications with the space station, this test flight would not have achieved all of its goals. SpaceX and its visionary founder Elon Musk did what they set out to do. The politicians who control NASA’s budget and profess support for commercial space should drop the partisan crap and provide the funding necessary to build on the success of the first commercial flight to the space station. (6/7)

Sierra Nevada Completes Dream Chaser Preliminary Design Review (Source: Flight Global)
Sierra Nevada has completed the preliminary design review (PDR) of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a crucial design milestone for the vehicle. "There are a lot of PDRs, and this was the full system, so this is pretty important for us," says Mark Sirangelo, vice president and head of space systems at Sierra Nevada. "The vehicle is now going to be outfitted for everything that we need to do to do the autonomous drop tests, which are scheduled for third quarter of this year."

Passing PDR will earn the company $12.5 million, and marks the 13th milestone Sierra Nevada has passed under the second commercial crew development (CCDev2) contract. CCDev2 contracts are intended to stimulate development of a reusable spacecraft for shuttling astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Three other companies - Boeing, Blue Origin and SpaceX - were selected for CCDev2. (6/7)

One Shuttle Already at Museum, Two More to Go (Source: AP)
The space shuttle prototype Enterprise moved to its new home Wednesday, the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River in New York. NASA's three real space shuttles — the ones that rocketed into orbit — also will spend their retirement in museums. One is already on display. The other two will follow by year's end. Here's a quick look at each ship's status. (6/7)

Cassini Plasma Spectrometer Turns Off (Source: NASA JPL)
The Cassini plasma spectrometer instrument (CAPS) aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft was turned off between Friday, June 1 and Saturday, June 2, when a circuit breaker tripped off after the instrument experienced some unexpected voltage shifts. Engineers are currently investigating this issue, which they believe is due to short circuits in the instrument. In June 2011, the instrument was turned off because of similar problems, but was switched on again in March 2012 once investigators determined that tin plating on electronic components had grown "whiskers" large enough to contact another conducting surface and carry electrical current, resulting in a voltage shift.

At that time, it was believed that these "whiskers" were not capable of carrying sufficient current to cause any damage, and the voltage shifts didn't have any effect on normal spacecraft operations because the power subsystem is designed to operate in the presence of such shifts. (6/7)

Spy Satellite Merger Fizzles, Preventing Space Monopoly (Source: WIRED)
More than three-quarters of the U.S. government’s satellite images don’t come from government satellites. They’re provided by two companies, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. So alarms began to ring in Washington in February, when those two companies started talk to become one, forming a monopoly in space and radically altering the economics of the commercial satellite industry and how we see the Earth from above.

Months of friendly merger talks were sparked by fears of military budget cuts that made both companies think of joining forces to avoid huge losses. On May 6 DigitalGlobe turned down a surprise $792 million hostile takeover bid from GeoEye. But talks continued … until now, it seems. According to an industry official familiar with the negotiations, the chances of the two companies combining are growing slim, in large part because key congressional panels won’t allow the satellite budget to get cut. “It appears that Congress is being receptive to the importance of having two companies in space,” the official said. (6/7)

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