July 29, 2012

UTC Creates New Aerospace Systems Unit with Goodrich Acquisition (Source: Parabolic Arc)
United Technologies Corp. has created a new UTC Aerospace Systems business unit by acquiring aerospace parts maker Goodrich Corporation and combining it with UTC’s Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems, which has been making spacesuits, life-support equipment and other components for America’s space program for nearly 50 years. To finance its Goodrich acquisition, UTC has agreed to sell Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for $550 million, and its Hamilton Sundstrand Industrial unit for $3.46 billion. (7/29)

Contract Awarded for 10th WGS Satellite (Source: SpaceRef)
The U.S. Air Force has awarded a $338.7 million contract modification to Boeing for production of the 10th satellite for the Wideband Global Satellite Communications program. This contract award ensures the continuation of critical wideband communications support to the warfighter. WGS-10 is a part of the WGS Satellites 7 to 10 contract. WGS-10 also includes the new wideband digital channelizer -- nearly doubling satellite bandwidth over the current WGS configuration. (7/28)

Why You Should Be More Interested in Mars Than the Olympics (Source: Huffington Post)
This summer, if you want the world's best story of international human triumph, you'll have to look past London. You'll have to look 200 million miles away, in fact, to discover a spectacular feat of endurance more grueling than the longest ultra-marathon. You'll have to look to Mars. Yes, the planet. And the dream team that's about to land NASA's nuclear-powered super rover called Curiosity. This one-ton, laser-beam-blasting wonder is going to land on Mars via a "sky crane." The Curiosity story is a modern epic of explorers on the path to discovering a second genesis.

It will be a tiny blip on our summer radar -- landing somewhere between the shot put finals and the Kimye engagement rumors -- before it fades away without any of us ever knowing its true brilliance. Why won't you hear about it? Because NASA isn't going to tell us. Sure, they'll tell you a little bit -- press conferences about what they discovered, an inspirational video. NASA partners will create fun websites, and bits of awesome will trickle out. But there is a larger narrative tragedy, and it's a bigger conspiracy than any tinfoil-hatted crank could come up with -- a conspiracy born out of fear.

It wasn't always like that. NASA used to be great at telling exciting stories. They had us with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions and their cavalier space plans and suicidal rocket jockeys. Now, not so much. They will hide this amazing story behind a sneaky cloak of boring jargon, tricking us into thinking we shouldn't care. It took them a while to get to this place, where they're so frightened of failure that they're willing to sacrifice their greatest asset: the ability to inspire. It's a damn shame. And it's keeping you from getting more excited about what's going on in outer space than on the women's hurdling track. (7/29)

Editorial: There's Still Hope for NASA (Source: Houston Chronicle)
To borrow from Mark Twain, reports of NASA's death are greatly exaggerated. The space agency and the Johnson Space Center are very much alive, if not as visible as they were in the days when Mission Control was doing its regular televised turns during manned space missions. That is the reality-grounded message being delivered by Mike Coats, the JSC's director.

Despite budget and personnel cuts, JSC is handling the formidable task of running the International Space Station and managing development of the Orion spacecraft while wrestling with the even more formidable task of keeping public support for space exploration from lagging. It has been a while since NASA has had a "Wow!" moment. At the top of its mission list is welcoming the role of private firms into space, rather than resisting those efforts or berating them.

But the going gets tougher in the political arena, where NASA and JSC have taken some serious hits in their budgets and faced even more serious questioning of their mission over the past few years. The results are obvious and troubling. Part of the problem, we conclude after hearing Mike Coats, is that the NASA budget too often gets caught up in the tangle of pork-barrel and partisan politics. So many elected officials express little interest in space - until they learn that there are jobs in their district or state that come from the space program. (7/29)

Largest Rocket in Colorado History Launches and Flies High (Source: KOAA)
It's the biggest of it's kind to launch in Colorado, and it went up with applause from thousands Saturday. We got to watch the take off at a rocket event hosted by the Southern Colorado Rocketeers. Thousands watch as rockets launch one after another. While some are small, others are much larger, but the one everyone was waiting for is called the "Future." This rocket stands 25 feet tall and was built by interns at United Launch Alliance and Ball Aerospace. (7/29)

Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt: US Flags Still Standing at Apollo Sites (Source: CollectSpace)
Forty-one years ago on Monday (July 30), Apollo 15 astronauts David Scott and James Irwin planted an American flag on the moon. It was the fourth star-spangled banner to be deployed on the lunar surface, out of the six that would ultimately be raised by each of the U.S. manned missions to land on the moon between 1969 and 1972.

"I'll hit it a few times so it'll stay up here for a few million years," Irwin said to Scott, as he used a hammer to drive the flag's pole into the ground on July 30, 1971. Well shy of Irwin's estimate, it took less than four decades for doubts to begin that the Apollo 15 flag — along with the five others that preceded and followed it to the moon — was still standing. Now, a NASA probe orbiting high above Hadley Rille has gave proof that the flag is still there. (7/29)

The Reality Of Investing In Space Exploration (Source: Investopedia)
Space exploration has long been one of those endeavors that many try to argue has to be the domain of national governments. Not only does space exploration carry a huge price tag and uncertain economic returns that are anathema to companies, but many pundits and observers have worried that their involvement will somehow sully the virtues of pure science and/or lead to unrestrained land-grabs that will be hard to adjudicate in on-the-ground courtrooms.

Nevertheless, private company involvement in space is not only a reality today, but it has been reality for quite some time. NASA didn't build the Saturn-V rocket, Boeing did. Likewise, private companies have been building, launching and operating satellites for decades, as well as supplying NASA, the European Space Agency and other government/military space programs with vehicles, components and so on.

All of that said, it does seem that we are finally on the cusp of real private involvement in outer space. From space station resupply vessels to space tourism to, perhaps, even off-world mining, companies like Orbital Sciences, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic seem to be serious about establishing a viable place for private industry outside our atmosphere. Click here. (7/29)

Super Rocket Review Positive, But Let's Not Celebrate Early (Source: Florida Today)
NASA’s new super rocket is moving forward, passing two important review milestones this week and progressing into preliminary design. NASA leaders talked up the progress this week and credited the streamlined nature of its internal reviews of the rocket’s development. That’s good, given the United States’ need to field a rocket for the nation’s future human exploration missions as soon as possible.

It’s a cause for concern , however, if the review did not thoroughly answer questions about the program’s development. Here’s why. NASA historically has been criticized by outside investigators and auditors for clearing big, multi-billion dollar projects like the Space Launch System without fully understanding the potential technical risks and without fully acknowledging possible cost-growth issues.

The result? Expensive, super-difficult projects get green-lighted based on overly optimistic assumptions. That tends to lead to gigantic schedule delays and eye-popping cost overruns. NASA’s track record on those kinds of problems is consistent, and not in a good way. The vast majority of NASA projects of this magnitude, during a period of decades, have come in years late and hundreds of millions of dollars — often billions of dollars — over budget. (7/29)

China's Growing Space Power (Source: National Interest)
Commentators often refer to China as an “emerging space power.” This characterization understates China’s current space capabilities. China has in many respects already reached the top tier of spacefaring nations-—with profound implications not only for America’s own interests in space, but also for the much-touted “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region.

While initially starting well behind the two original space powers, China has slowly but steadily added accomplishments to its space portfolio. In 2011, it conducted nineteen space launches—twelve less than Russia that year but one more than the United States. It has manufactured satellites for domestic use and marketed satellites for export, with customers in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. Chinese spacecraft already have orbited the moon, and Beijing has signaled its intention to land an unmanned probe and possibly even astronauts on the lunar surface. (7/29)

Enceladus: Home of Alien Lifeforms? (Source: Guardian)
Enceladus is little bigger than a lump of rock and has appeared, until recently, as a mere pinprick of light in astronomers' telescopes. Yet Saturn's tiny moon has suddenly become a major attraction for scientists. Many now believe it offers the best hope we have of discovering life on another world inside our solar system. The idea that a moon a mere 310 miles in diameter, orbiting in deep, cold space, 1bn miles from the sun, could provide a home for alien lifeforms may seem extraordinary. Nevertheless, a growing number of researchers consider this is a real prospect and argue that Enceladus should be rated a top priority for future space missions. (7/29)

Russian Cargo Spacecraft Re-Docks with ISS (Source: Xinhua)
The Russian cargo ship Progress has successfully re-docked with the International Space Station (ISS) early Sunday, after the failed attempt five days ago. The unmanned Progress M-15M, which arrived at the ISS in April, undocked from the station early Monday morning to conduct engineering tests and try out the upgraded Kurs-NA rendezvous system. But the first re-docking attempt failed due to certain problems in the freighter's new Kurs-NA rendezvous system. No problems were reported about Sunday's second attempt in the video streamed from Russian mission control. (7/29)

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