July 17, 2012

Is the Life of an Astronaut Worth $28 Billion? (Source: DVice)
NASA takes the lives of its astronauts very, very seriously. Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars (which advocates for a one-way trip to Mars with reliance on local resources for a return), argues that the premium NASA places on safety is crippling the agency, and that "the mission has to come first."

It's conceptually difficult to put a dollar value on the life of a person, but Zubrin's argument is this: NASA almost didn't send a shuttle to fix the Hubble Space Telescope because there was a documented one chance in 50 of vehicle failure. That's a 2% chance of killing seven people, which works out to a 14% chance of killing one person. Hubble is a $4 billion asset, from which Zubrin infers that NASA values the life of one astronaut at about $28 billion. This is a lot.

Obviously, safety is and should be important. What's being looked at here is how far NASA can reasonably pursue safety versus the amount of risk we're willing to take on to achieve new heights. So the question, really, is this: What amount of resources is it reasonable to allocate to attaining a reasonable amount of safety? Even if a figure like $28 billion per astronaut (including the cost of the training, the vehicle, etc) isn't reasonable, there are no clear rules as to how much a human life is worth. Click here. (7/17)

Goddard Hopes to Save Beloved Tree (Source: Baltimore Sun)
Employees at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, a group accustomed to looking skyward, have been forced to focus a bit more on the ground after last month's powerful storm ripped a large, low branch from an iconic tree on the Greenbelt campus. The nearly 200-year-old willow oak, known to Goddard workers as the "Tree of Life," had been spared from destruction three years ago when architects decided to make it a prominent landscaping feature of the new Exploration Sciences Building.

Pictures taken after the storm on June 29 show the tree torn open, with the trunk split nearly to the roots and the massive bough lying on the ground. An arborist who examined the damage believes the tree can be saved, according to a spokesman for the agency. Cables will be used to support remaining limbs, and the bare wood will be treated several times a year. (7/17)

As Winter Sets In, Titan Continues to Surprise (Source: America Space)
More than three decades since the Voyagers beheld the opaque orange haze of its thick atmosphere and invited scientific inquiry into the nature of what – surface, slush or seas – lay beneath, Titan continues to serve up unending surprises and mysteries. Since the summer of 2009, the tilt of its orbit around Saturn has caused its northern and southern hemispheres to effectively exchange season...and produce startling climatic change.

With an equatorial diameter of 5,150 km, Titan is bigger than Mercury and a little smaller than Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, making it the second-largest natural satellite in the Solar System. It is also the only moon known to possess a dense atmosphere – a thick, nitrogen-rich soup, laced with methane and various hydrocarbons – and since the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft in July 2004 it has only grudgingly surrendered its secrets. (7/17)

Air Force Museum to Receive NASA's Crew Compartment Trainer (Source: USAF)
After many months of intensive planning, the first steps have been put in motion to move NASA's first Shuttle Crew Compartment Trainer from Johnson Space Center to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. CCT-1, which was one of three trainers built to train astronauts for space missions, is scheduled to arrive at the museum, which is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, later this summer.

For more than 30 years, CCT-1 was housed in Johnson Space Center's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in Houston. It was used to train crews from STS-1 through STS-135 as a high-fidelity representation of the Space Shuttle Orbiter crew station for on-orbit crew training and engineering evaluations. Using the trainer, astronauts learned how to operate many of the orbiter sub-systems in more than 20 different classes. (7/17)

Solar System Robotic Missions We'd Like to See (Source: WIRED)
When it comes to exploring the far reaches of our solar system, robots rule. Man may have left footprints on the moon but our probes have landed on or orbited every single other planet as well as countless asteroids and comets, beaming back valuable data and amazing images. The next few years will see greater milestones, with a rover scaling a mountain on Mars and a spacecraft getting the first close-up view of Pluto.

But there’s always more to be done. Eager planetary scientists would love to get new information about each body in our solar system and numerous propositions have been made, including missions to fly through the clouds of Venus or drill down to the ocean on Europa. Here, we take a look at some of the coolest missions that we would love to see happen some day. Click here. (7/17)

NASA Conducts Mission Simulations in Hawaii (Source: NASA)
NASA is conducting a nine-day field test starting Tuesday outside Hilo, Hawaii, to evaluate new exploration techniques for the surface of the moon. These mission simulations, known as analog missions, are performed at extreme and often remote Earth locations to prepare for robotic and human missions to extraterrestrial destinations. The In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) analog mission is a collaboration of NASA partners, primarily the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), with help from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES). (7/17)

Gagarin Launch Pad Set for Repairs (Source: Itar-Tass)
Gagarin’s Start, a launch site at the Baikonur cosmodrome named after Yuri Gagarin, who made the first ever manned spaceflight, will be closed for major overhaul in 2014, the head of the federal space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, told reporters on Tuesday. In October 2012 cosmonauts will fly into orbit from the 31st launch pad that had not been used since 1980s. “According to our plans, the first launch site (Gagarin’s Start) will be closed for major overhaul beginning from 2014,” he said. (7/17)

Russia’s Soyuz-2.1V Rocket to be Launched by Yearend (Source: Itar-Tass)
The first launch of Russia’s Soyuz-2.1V light carrier rocket will take place at the end of 2012, the head of the federal space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, said. At present, the carrier rocket’s trials are underway.
“If everything goes normal, we will launch Soyuz-2.1V in the fourth quarter of the year,” he said. “There is already a long queue of potential customers – only commercial launches exceed ten,” Popovkin said. “We worried that it will compete with an Angara light carrier-rocket, but the flow of customers is such that they will compete with each other.” The carrier rocket should be launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. (7/17)

Editorial: It's Decision Time for Future Spaceflight at NASA (Source: NBC)
The country cannot afford waste. A prudent NASA should take advantage of the $6.6 billion worth of spaceport facilities and flight hardware that it bought and paid for — facilities that are now growing grass in the Florida sun. NASA should be doing everything possible to launch American astronauts from their own Cape Canaveral pads. Instead, the agency is doing everything but. It’s been drifting, delaying and courting upstart aerospace companies to build what’s already been built, ignoring the days when America was clearly No. 1.

Taxpayers invested $1 billion in 1960s dollars ($6.6 billion in 2012 dollars) to build their country’s sprawling launch and landing facilities. But when the space shuttles were grounded for good, that spaceport began a slow slide back to seed. NASA decided to turn America’s space program over to a patchwork of private companies; short-change America’s great rocket and spacecraft facilities; and ask the taxpayers and private businesses to rebuild it all again in California, Texas and Colorado in the name of commercialization.

President Barack Obama's plan calls for turning over space deliveries in low Earth orbit to private businesses, so NASA can build the heavy-lift rockets and advanced spacecraft needed to send Americans into deep space. Most space experts, even most of the plan's critics, would say there's nothing wrong with that. Mr. President, now you just need to select truly ready-to-fly rockets and spacecraft. Click here. (7/17)

Japan and ISS Ready for Launch of Japanese Cargo Ship (Source: NASA)
NASA is readying for the launch and arrival of an unpiloted cargo spacecraft to supply the International Space Station. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) "Kounotori 3" H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV-3, is set to launch at 9:06 p.m. July 20 (11:06 a.m. Japan time on July 21) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The 16.5-ton HTV-3 is carrying almost 4 tons of supplies and experiment hardware. It will launch atop an H-IIB rocket. The launch will begin a weeklong journey to the station. (7/17)

ATK's Liberty Completes Final Milestone for Commercial Crew Program (Source: ATK)
ATK successfully completed the last Liberty space transportation system milestone under the company’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA for the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev-2). The final milestone under the SAA was a Program Status Review (PSR) for the Liberty system. During the PSR, the Liberty team presented NASA with detailed progress of the program, including integrated master schedule, DAC cycle status, system requirements, software status, flight test plan, system safety review, ground processing certification plan and schedule for initial operation capability.

Currently, Liberty’s schedule includes unmanned test flights in 2014 and 2015, followed by the first crewed flight in late 2015 with Liberty astronauts. Commercial operational flights to take NASA astronauts to the ISS would begin in 2016. ATK also hosted a Liberty Supplier conference the day following the PSR. This meeting, held in Florida, brought together more than 20 of Liberty’s major suppliers to support Liberty development activities. (7/17)

Editorial: Dark Clouds on Horizon for NASA and NOAA (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
The U.S. will be left vulnerable in severe weather events without adequate funding for government satellites, writes Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. "We can't let sequestration take weather forecasting back to the 1960s," she writes. "NOAA satellite systems are saving lives and money at a time when our weather is becoming more and more volatile." (7/17)

More Aerospace Workers Needed in Washington (Source: KOMO)
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, wants to encourage an interest in aviation and aerospace among younger workers in Washington state. "Half of the Boeing workforce will be eligible to retire in five to seven years, meaning that's when there will be a big demand for workers," she said during a tour of a Boeing supplier in Seattle. (7/15)

North Carolina Leaders Call for Action on Budget Sequestration (Source: AIA)
Thirty-four leaders of North Carolina's aerospace and defense community have written to North Carolina's congressional delegation, urging quick action on legislation to repeal $500 billion in aerospace and defense program cuts scheduled to begin in less than six months. (7/17)

At NASA Dryden, Futuristic X-48C Gets Ready to Fly (Source: CNet)
If you want to know what the future of airplane design looks like, you might have to make your way out to the middle of the Mojave Desert. Tucked away inside a nondescript warehouse building at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center here, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Boeing, and Cranfield Aerospace are working on an entirely new kind of plane, one which they hope could someday revolutionize aviation. Click here. (7/13)

Virgin Galactic Hopes For Inaugural Flight Next Year (Source: NBC)
Starting next year, Virgin Galactic will officially begin its regular sub-orbital service, anointing a half-dozen new astronauts every week. Last we heard, Virgin Galactic had said it would start launching passengers "once it believes it is safe to do so and has received all regulatory approvals," but Sir Richard Branson announced last week that he personally would be the first commercial passenger to ride SpaceShipTwo into orbit, and that the inaugural flight would happen sometime next year.

For the first year of operation, Virgin Galactic plans to make just one flight a week, but assuming everything goes well and that the fleet of five spacecraft and five carrier aircraft arrive on schedule, you can expect a minimum of one flight per day by the second year of operation. That's seventy new astronauts every week, each one of whom will (in exchange for the modest sum of $200,000), enjoy three days of training at Spaceport America followed by a flight up to 62 miles and several minutes of weightlessness. (7/17)

J-2X Engine With Nozzle Extension Goes the Distance (Source: Space Daily)
Stennis MS (SPX) Jul 17, 2012 - NASA engineers conducted a 550-second test of the new J-2X rocket engine at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on July 13. The J-2X engine will power the upper-stage of a planned two-stage Space Launch System, or SLS. The SLS will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads, and provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. (7/17)

More Smart Indians Opting to be Space Scientists (Source: Space Daily)
More and more smart graduates and research scholars across India are opting for an exciting career in space science, as evident from thousands of applications the space agency gets every year, of late. "On average, about 150,000 graduates and scholars apply every year for postings in our organization though we select about 300-400 on merit and long-term commitment to become space scientists," Indian Space Research Organization chairman K. Radhakrishna said.

Interestingly, the state-run ISRO, which was losing young scientists and scholars in droves earlier for a lucrative career in other sectors, especially the IT industry, and to its overseas counterparts, has also been able to retain as many over the past five years. (7/17)

India Expanding its Space Capabilities (Source: IANS)
India is boot-strapping its space-based assets to meet the growing demand for enhanced services in communications, broadcasting remote-sensing and navigation, a top space agency official said. “To meet the rising demand for multiple space-based services spanning communication, navigation and earth observation, we are enhancing our capacity in terms of rockets, satellites and ground-based systems,” state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan said.

Radhakrishnan said for optimal utilization of space resources cost-effectively, ISRO was building heavier rockets and dedicated satellites for communications and television broadcasting, remote sensing and navigation applications. “We are doubling our rocket launches soon to deploy as many heavier communication and earth-observation satellites for meeting the growing demand of service providers, state-run organizations and security agencies.” (7/17)

Developing Technologies For Living Off the Land...In Space (Source: Space Daily)
Each spacecraft, crewed or robotic, encounters an extraordinary spectrum of vast resources throughout its journey. From the first space missions onward, space architects and scientists have considered incorporating these space resources into their designs to improve efficiency and guarantee the survival of hardware and people in space. This practice of harnessing resources at the exploration site is called in-situ-resource utilization (ISRU).

As we embark on deep-space missions with weeks- or months-long travel times, ISRU becomes increasingly important because resupply missions are expensive and exclusively relying on them may put crews at risk. Long-duration habitation, surface systems and human life support systems will evolve through NASA's capability-driven approach to exploration, but even the most sophisticated designs must include ISRU components when possible. Mission capabilities and return on investment multiply when human consumables and spacecraft propellant can be harvested from extraterrestrial environments. (7/17)

Cobham Staffing Up To Meet Demand from Astrium (Source: Space News)
Cobham Aerospace Communications will add up to 25 percent new staff to its waveguide-production facilities in Britain and France to meet demand from manufacturer Astrium Satellites as part of a contract valued at up to $21.8 million over 18 months, Cobham announced July 16. England-based Cobham said the waveguides will operate on Astrium-built telecommunications satellites in the Ka-, Ku-, C- and X-band radio frequencies for a variety of telecommunications, direct-to-home television and broadband satellites. (7/17)

Orbital Sciences Awards GYLP Follow-on Order for Cygnus Satellite Batteries (Source: GYLP)
GS Yuasa Lithium Power, Inc. (GYLP) has been awarded a follow-on order by Orbital Sciences Corp. to deliver batteries to be used aboard the Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft supporting NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program for the International Space Station. The order from Orbital is for battery sets for Cygnus spacecraft that will carry out missions 4 through 8 of the CRS contract. (7/17)

NASA's Next Mars Rover "Lands" on Xbox Kinect (Source: WIRED)
If you are a space geek like me and tuned in to the latest NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) press conference, you probably weren’t expecting anything unusual either. Surprise! The last person on the panel, Jeff Norris of JPL, introduced the fruit of a NASA-Microsoft partnership: Mars Rover Landing for Microsoft Xbox Kinect. The game uses body motions to take you through the “seven minutes of terror” landing sequence for the MSL to release the Mars Curiosity rover. (7/17)

Curiosity Landing Confirmation Could be Delayed by Orbiter Glitch (Source: Huffington Post)
NASA is just 20 days away from landing a car-size rover on Mars, but mission managers might have to wait a little longer than anticipated to learn whether the challenging touchdown succeeds or not. A glitch in an aging Mars orbiter may compromise Earth's communications with Curiosity slightly, forcing the mission team to wait a few more agonizing minutes to learn the fate of their $2.5 billion rover.

In early June, a NASA spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet, called Mars Odyssey, suffered a malfunction on one of its reaction wheels, an instrument that helps control the probe's attitude in space. The glitch does not pose a risk to Curiosity's impending arrival at the Red Planet, officials said. But Mars Odyssey's original orbit would have given it a complete view of Curiosity's landing, so the probe had been pegged to act as an orbiting outpost to relay communications and data back to mission managers on Earth. (7/17)

NASA Drops In on Yuma (Source: KSWT)
A test space capsule is safely aboard a military C-17 aircraft, ready to be dropped from 25,000 feet on Wednesday morning above Yuma, Arizona. The drop will test NASA's parachute system for the Orion space program. "Parachutes are very complex. It's not like a wind tunnel where you can put a piece of hardware into a known set of conditions and get a good data set from it. So, unfortunately, we have to do a very rigorous set and sequence of tests in order to put the parachute through the various types of conditions that it could experience on any given day," explains NASA Aerospace Engineer, Chris Johnson. (7/17)

Editorial: Time to Create a Department of Space (Source: CNN)
Now that a new door is opening for commercial space, perhaps it's time to consider a U.S. Department of Space, a department with a Cabinet-level director who can play a vital role in international space exploration. Why? It's the right economic climate, merging national pride, prestige and the motives of the profit-minded entrepreneur. It will prevent logistical headaches by coordinating global space projects and private space companies and helping NASA focus on the agency’s core competencies. It will save money by increasing efficiencies within the private and public space bureaucracies. And it's attractive to the new guard...the new generation will accept this new structure because it's not married to the past. Click here. (7/17)

Basic Principles of Space Policy Ready by Year End (Source: Itar-Tass)
A draft document laying down the basic principles of state space policy will be prepared by the end of the year, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. “Before the end of the year the space industry will submit the basic principles of space policy of the Russian Federation and we will examine them thoroughly,” Rogozin, who is responsible for the space industry, said. The document will also address issues “related to reform in the industry and optimization of production in order to get out of the narrow niche of space carrier”, Rogozin said. (7/17)

NASA Builds Menu for Planned Mars Mission in 2030s (Source: AP)
Through a labyrinth of hallways deep inside a 1950s-era building that has housed research that dates back to the origins of U.S. space travel, a group of scientists in white coats is stirring, mixing, measuring, brushing and, most important, tasting the end result of their cooking. Their mission: Build a menu for a planned journey to Mars in the 2030s.

The menu must sustain a group of six to eight astronauts, keep them healthy and happy and also offer a broad array of food. That's no simple feat considering it will likely take six months to get to the Red Planet, astronauts will have to stay there 18 months and then it will take another six months to return to Earth. Imagine having to shop for a family's three-year supply of groceries all at once and having enough meals planned in advance for that length of time. (7/17)

Russian Soyuz Docks with Space Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, Mission Control said. “The docking was carried out in an automatic mode at the scheduled time according to directions from Earth,” a spokesman for the Mission Control said. (7/17)

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