July 25, 2012

Russia, Belarus Continue Space Cooperation (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia-Belarus Union State has already implemented three space exploration programs and continue two more union projects, Union State Secretary Grigory Rapota told Itar-Tass on Tuesday, commenting on last weekend’s successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome of two satellites – Russia’s Canopus-B and Belarusian BKA. He also stressed that by 2013 the two countries plan to adopt common standards in the sphere of space activities. (7/25)

NASA Will Explore F-1 Upgrade For Heavy Lifter (Source: Aviation Week)
The powerful rocket engine developed in the 1960s to launch the first men to the Moon could be reprised in the 2020s as the powerplant for strap-on boosters that NASA hopes to use in heavy-lift human missions to Mars. Under a new NASA risk-reduction project, Dynetics Inc., a relative newcomer to space launch, will explore the idea for NASA in partnership with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

Rocketdyne built the 1.5-million-lb.-thrust F-1 engine for NASA, which mounted five of the kerosene-fueled behemoths in the Saturn V first stage to propel the massive Saturn/Apollo stack off the launch pad. The F-1—19 ft. tall, with a nozzle 12.5 ft. across—epitomized the scale of the flight hardware and ground infrastructure NASA used to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon. If NASA decides to fly it again, it probably will be tested in the same stands built for the F-1 at the agency's Marshall and Stennis field centers, stacked in the 40-story Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC, and launched from one of the pads built for the Moon program.

Dynetics scored big in a $200 million NASA effort to reduce the risk on advanced boosters for the planned Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress ordered as a government-owned deep-space alternative to the commercial vehicles the agency wants to use for transport to the International Space Station. Last week NASA selected the company to negotiate for three of six 30-month study contracts designed to reduce risk on the twin boosters that will be needed to raise the SLS capability from an initial 70 metric tons to the 130 metric tons the agency believes will be needed for human missions beyond low Earth orbit. (7/23)

Spy Satellite Companies Form Space Monopoly (Source: WIRED)
Earlier this year, the spy satellite industry was hit hard by defense budget cuts. For the top two commercial satellite companies, which survive largely by providing imagery to the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies, the cuts left only enough money for one to survive. Now budget austerity has forced the companies to merge together and create a new space monopoly with control over what we see from orbit.

Colorado-based satellite firm DigitalGlobe announced it’s merging with Virginia-based competitor GeoEye in a stock and cash deal worth $900 million. The merger works out in DigitalGlobe’s favor, which keeps its name intact and whose shareholders will control 64 percent of the new company. DigitalGlobe will also take over GeoEye operations. Best known for providing imagery for applications like Google Earth, the companies combined provide more than three-quarters of the U.S. government’s satellite images.

The company also has somewhat of a codependent relationship with the Pentagon. For one, the companies help serve a need for satellite images that the government’s own aging fleet of satellites can’t always fulfill. Meanwhile, the companies are dependent on funding from Congress and the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in order to stay afloat. This year, that funding got cut — severely. (7/25)

Parachutist 'Fearless Felix' Leaps from 18 Miles (Source: Florida Today)
Skydiver “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner has done it again. On Wednesday, Baumgartner took another stratospheric leap, this time from an altitude of more than 18 miles — an estimated 96,640 feet, nearly three times higher than cruising jetliners. He landed safely near Roswell, N.M. It’s the second test jump for Baumgartner from such extreme heights and a personal best. He’s aiming for a record-breaking jump from 125,000 feet, or 23 miles, in another month. He hopes to go supersonic then, breaking the speed of sound with just his body.

Longtime record-holder Joe Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet — 19.5 miles — in 1960 for the Air Force. Kittinger monitored Wednesday’s dry run from a mini Mission Control in Roswell. As he did in March, the 43-year-old Austrian ascended alone in an enclosed capsule lifted by a giant helium balloon that took off from Roswell. He wore a full-pressure suit equipped with parachutes and an oxygen supply — there’s virtually no atmosphere that far up.

He was in free fall for an estimated three minutes and 48 seconds before opening his parachutes. His speed and other details were not immediately available. NASA is paying close attention to this Red Bull-funded project dubbed Stratos, short for stratosphere. The space agency wants to learn all it can about potential escape systems for future rocketships. (7/25)

NASA's Skylab Reuse Study (1977) (Source: WIRED)
On 14 May 1973, the last Saturn V to fly, designated SA-513, launched the Skylab Orbital Workshop (OWS) into a 435-kilometer-high orbit about the Earth. Flight controllers soon realized that the 100-ton space laboratory was in trouble. Although they did not know it at the time – Skylab had launched into dense clouds, so could not be imaged during most of its ascent – 63 seconds after liftoff a design flaw had caused Skylab’s meteoroid shield to rip away. Shield debris had jammed one of the workshop’s two main electricity-producing solar arrays. The other array remained attached to Skylab’s side only at its hinge (forward) end.

Without the protection of the reflective meteoroid shield, temperatures within Skylab’s 11,303-cubic-foot pressurized volume soon soared, raising fears that its air would become tainted by outgassing from materials on board, film would be ruined, and food spoiled. NASA immediately began a Skylab rescue effort. Engineers developed deployable sunshields and tools for freeing the stuck main array, flight controllers carefully maneuvered Skylab to maximize the amount of electricity the ATM arrays could produce while reducing temperatures on board, and the first crew meant to board Skylab (designated Skylab 2 by NASA) hurriedly trained to become orbital repairmen.

On 25 May, the Skylab 2 crew of Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz, and Joe Kerwin lifted off in an Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) atop a Saturn IB rocket. After a failed attempt to pull open the one remaining main solar array with a hook extended from the open CSM hatch, they docked with and entered Skylab, then deployed a sunshield through an experiment airlock. Temperatures began to fall, but the Orbital Workshop remained starved for electricity. On June 7, Conrad and Kerwin succeeded in forcing open the surviving main solar array, saving not only their own 28-day mission, but also the 59-day Skylab 3 and 84-day Skylab 4 missions. Click here. (7/25)

Only One Question For NASA: Is Anybody Out There? (Source: Telegraph)
Since the Space Shuttle program was cancelled last year, America’s manned program has been in chaos. Officially, a new spacecraft called Orion, revealed earlier this month, will take American astronauts out of low-earth orbit for the first time since 1972, first back to the Moon, then to the asteroids and on to Mars. The first flights are scheduled for 2014, with the Moon missions slated for the 2020s.

But it won’t happen. There is no national leadership, no inspiration, no goal. Budgets will be cut, timetables will slip. The great thing about the Moon as a destination is that you can stand on the White House lawn and point to it. But NASA will not get funding to send astronauts to asteroids – for the simple reason that most American taxpayers don’t care about asteroids, even if they know what they are.

So what should NASA do? After all, the agency still has considerable funds at its disposal; more, theoretically, since the pointless Space Shuttles were finally grounded. Personally, I believe that it should, along with its international partners such as the European and Russian space agencies, refocus on one overriding goal – to search for life outside the Earth – and scrap more or less everything else. Click here. (7/25)

Dubbing Ride a "Lesbian Astronaut" Shortchanges Her Impact (Source: CultureMap Houston)
In the wake of Sally Ride's death, her legacy seems destined to be tinged with a more personal detail. A statement published on the Sally Ride Science website quietly revealed, after a lifetime of carefully-guarded privacy, her 27-year relationship with partner Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy. While Ride's relationship shouldn't be reduced to a footnote in her extraordinary life, this nonchalant, posthumous "coming out" isn't the story.

This longtime bond was well-known by her friends and family — but not by the media, which has picked up on Ride's sexual orientation and examined it from every angle, with "lesbian" tossed in headlines alongside "astronaut." The story is that Ride's history is brimming with female firsts. That she was selected, one out of 8,000 applicants, to the NASA space program at a time when women were only barely allowed. (7/24)

Astronaut's Legacy: A Boost for Women in Science (Source: CNN)
After two space shuttle flights in the 1980s, astronaut Sally Ride spent much of the rest of her life trying to encourage children, particularly girls, to give the sciences a shot. Ride, the first American woman in space, was part of a wave of women who entered the traditionally male disciplines of natural sciences and engineering in the 1970s. One of those she inspired was Catherine "Cady" Coleman, who told CNN's "Newsroom" that she never considered becoming an astronaut before meeting Ride in 1982.

"When I'd think of what they look like, it's those Mercury Seven standing in front of an airplane, a bunch of guys that were older than me with not as much hair," she said. "And suddenly you meet Sally Ride, and it became clear to me that maybe this is something I can pursue." Coleman joined the Air Force, became an astronaut and has racked up more than 4,300 hours in space, including two space shuttle flights and a five-month stint aboard the international space station. (7/25)

Why Sally Ride Waited Until Her Death to Tell World She Was Gay (Source: NBC)
In life, Sally Ride became famous as America's first woman in space — and in death, she's now added to her fame as the first acknowledged gay astronaut. A spokeswoman for Sally Ride Science, Terry McEntee, said Ride and her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, who is the company's chief operating officer and executive vice president, worked out the phrasing of the announcement before Ride's death. Sally Ride's sister, Bear Ride, explained why the former astronaut kept quiet about her sexual orientation.

"In her inherent Norwegian reticence — in this and so many aspects of her personal life (wrestling with pancreatic cancer, for example) — she just didn't talk much (see Norwegian comment, and add to that the typical tight-lipped scientist thing). If you read interviews from years and years back, you'll see that there was always a major frustration that she didn't comment much on 'how it feels to be the first American woman in space' — she just didn't think that way. She wanted to get the job done. Her personal feelings were just that: personal. Not right or wrong — simply Sally. Everyone who knows her well really got that about her." (7/25)

Alone in the Void (Source: New York Times)
Sometime this year Voyager 1, a probe sent from Earth 35 years ago, will cross a threshold no human-fashioned object has reached before. Passing through a sun-driven shock wave at the edge of the solar system, it will reach the icy dominions of interstellar space. Voyager is one of the fastest vessels we’ve ever blown out of Earth’s gravity well. Still, after three and a half decades of hyper-velocity spaceflight, it will take another 700 centuries for the craft to cross the distance to the nearest star.

Short of a scientific miracle of the kind that has never occurred, our future history for millenniums will be played out on Earth and in the “near space” environment of the other seven planets, their moons and the asteroids in between. For all our flights of imagination, we have yet to absorb this reality. Like it or not, we are probably trapped in our solar system for a long, long time. We had better start coming to terms with what that means for the human future.

Of course, we know this, on some level. But in a culture saturated with inbred notions of “progress” and an obsession with worlds seemingly just beyond our grasp, there is an expectation that sooner rather than later, we will be building an interstellar culture. In a kind of cosmic version of Manifest Destiny we assume that, unless something terrible happens, our science will be taking us to the stars sometime in the next few hundred years. Simply say “warp drive” to just about anyone and see if they know what you mean. Click here. (7/25)

Nunavut’s ‘Martian Colony’ a Go-To Spot to Extra-Planetary Tech Tests (Source: National Post)
For the 16th year running, a team of NASA-backed scientists are flying into the remote barrenlands of Nunavut’s Devon Island to mimic life in a Martian colony. “[It] just takes you to Mars as soon as you go there,” project director Pascal Lee told a CBC camera crew during a weekend stopover in Iqaluit. Mr. Lee, a veteran of Antarctic research, first proposed the idea of a High Arctic Mars simulator while in post-doctorate studies at Cornell University.

The National Research Council soon shined to the idea, and by 1997, Mr. Lee was on his first exploratory trip to the island’s 20-kilometer-wide Haughton Crater. Smashed into the tundra 20 million years ago by a hunk of errant space debris, the crater is ringed by networks of canyons and channels that are “astonishingly” similar to Mars, Mr. Lee said in a 2008 web video.

Today, the crater is home to two separate space-research facilities. The cylinder-shaped Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS), constructed in 2000, is operated by the Mars Society, an international non-profit devoted to the exploration and ultimate settlement of Mars. Mr. Lee’s Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), which shares an airstrip with FMARS, is backed by NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, the U.S. Marine Corps and a litany of private sponsors. Click here. (7/25)

Lockheed Raises Forecast for Space Systems Division (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin raised its forecast for 2012 revenue and profit at its Space Systems division, saying the transition of several military satellite programs from development to production status will offset a decline in other areas of the business. In addition, the company said its two 50-percent-owned joint ventures — launch services provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) and NASA services provider United Space Alliance (USA) — would generate more profit in the second half despite the fact that USA is closing down as a delayed consequence of the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle.

Houston-based USA’s closure in the third quarter will result in a one-time spike in equity earnings distributions from the company. “With the closeout of USA we actually expect an additional improvement” in the second half of this year, Lockheed Martin Chief Financial Officer Bruce L. Tanner said in a July 24 conference call with financial analysts. “We lose that spike in 2013 and beyond.” (7/25)

Lockheed Martin 2Q Profit Up (Source: AP)
Lockheed Martin posted a 5 percent increase in second-quarter net income thanks in part to strong commercial satellite deliveries. For the quarter ended June 24, Lockheed Martin earned $781 million, up from $742 million in the same quarter last year. The recent quarter's results included $97 million in charges related to recent job cuts at the company's aeronautics and space systems businesses. (7/25)

Florida County Approves Cash Incentive for XCOR Relocation (Source: Florida Today)
The Brevard County Commission approved $182,000 in economic incentives for XCOR Aerospace, which is proposing a rocket development project in Brevard County. The vote was 3-1. The company said its potential operations at Kennedy Space Center would create 152 local jobs. County Commissioner Trudie Infantini voted against the proposal. She said she supports the jobs, but not the approach of economic incentives through upfront cash before the jobs are created. Because the project would by on KSC property, a more traditional approach of property tax breaks for the company tied to job creation would not work in this case.

Editor's Note: After XCOR recently announced plans to locate a "Research and Development Headquarters" in Texas (using a $10 million incentive package), the company was careful to point out that they weren't planning to totally vacate their existing operations at California's Mojave spaceport. They said they will require a long-term presence at Mojave. Florida folks were afraid that only XCOR flight activities might come to the state, while manufacturing stayed in California. Now it looks like the opposite is true. (7/24)

Space Firm Says Canadian Mars Plan Won`t Get Off the Ground (Source: Canada.com)
Canada`s contribution to ExoMars, two robotic Mars missions scheduled to begin in 2016, is nearly dead despite last-ditch efforts to salvage it. NASA and the European Space Agency planned the missions together, but NASA backed out early this year to save money. With ESA scrambling to get Russia as a partner, the Canadian Space Agency hoped Canada`s role of building and using science instruments on the missions might survive.

But a senior executive of the Quebec company hired to build the spectrometer -- which looks at gases in the thin atmosphere of Mars -- says his company thinks the Canadian role is likely finished. He said his firm`s contract is now limited to "close-out activities." These involve preserving the details of the instrument that his company never got a chance to build. (7/24)

Firing Room Modifications at KSC Focus on Flexibility (Source: NASA)
For more than 40 years, the Firing Rooms of the Launch Control Center, or LCC, have served as the "brain" for launches at NASA's Florida Spaceport. Space agency and contactor personnel staffed consoles monitoring every aspect of launch countdowns. Whether an Apollo-Saturn rocket or the space shuttle, the focus was always on one program. In the near future, however, the Kennedy Space Center control rooms could support a variety of upcoming launch vehicles.

Kennedy's Launch Complex 39 is now transitioning to be able to support multiple users such as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System, or SLS, and spacecraft for the Commercial Crew Program. The Firing Rooms are also being modified to be more generic in nature for upcoming programs. That adaptability will be crucial as NASA moves forward. About six months ago, crews began removing the legacy consoles, cables and flooring from Firing Room 3, much of which had been in place since the Apollo era. (7/25)

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