August 17, 2012

NASA Rocket Mission Carrying University Student Experiments (Source: NASA)
University students will put their academic skills to the test when atmospheric and technology experiments they developed fly on a NASA suborbital sounding rocket. The launch will take place between 6:30 and 10 a.m. on Aug. 23 from Wallops Island in Virginia.

Four university experiments will be flown as part of an educational project called RockSat-X, which is designed to provide students hands-on experience in designing, fabricating, testing and conducting experiments for space flight. The project is a joint effort between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium at the University of Colorado at Boulder. (8/17)

USAF Eyes SpaceX For Future GPS Launches (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force is considering SpaceX Falcon rockets for future Global Positioning System (GPS) launches, according to Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan, director of requirements for Air Force Space Command. During a presentation to the Space-based Positioning Navigation & Timing (PNT) national advisory board, Whelan also was asked by board members whether the service would consider triple launches of GPS satellites.

“Our friendly competitors are all doing triple launch,” said PNT board vice chair Bradford Parkinson. “Granted, our satellites are more complex, [but] nevertheless the economics are persuasive. Pressure on launch pads are persuasive. It would just cost a heck of a lot less.” Board chairman James Schlesinger noted that the Chinese now have three satellites that are simultaneously launched on a single launch vehicle.

Whelan replied that dual launch is being explored for the fifth and sixth satellites in the next-generation GPS III constellation. “We are trying to give ourselves options, whether it is single launch, dual launch ... or multiple launch,” Whelan said. The service also hopes that SpaceX will be able to provide multiple-launch capability in the future. (8/17)

NASA Awards Caltech Five-Year JPL Contract (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has awarded the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena a new five-year contract to manage the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The contractor's primary mission is to support NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in carrying out specific objectives identified in the SMD Science Plan. The contract is for $8.5 billion. The contract extends the agreement between Caltech and NASA for management of JPL beyond its current expiration date of Sept. 30. The new contract runs from Oct. 1 through Sep. 30, 2017. (8/17)

Your Chance to Tell NASA What It Should Do (Source: WIRED)
Should NASA send people to Mars? Build a moon base? Maybe unleash a fleet of awesome robotic probes to explore the solar system? You can now offer advice on what NASA’s plans should be. The National Research Council is conducting an independent study on NASA’s strategic direction, soliciting comments from experts in science, technology, and space policy — and they’re also asking the public to get involved. In their public comment section, the NRC asks what you think NASA’s vision, budget, and international collaboration program should be. But hurry — the public commenting period ends Aug. 17! Click here. (8/16)

NASA Seeks Concepts for Detecting Near-Earth Asteroids (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA is interested in instrument concepts for a mission of opportunity to be hosted on a US Government or commercial spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit that will be capable of detecting and tracking asteroids in orbits very similar to Earth's, including Earth-trojan asteroids. "Very-Near Earth asteroids" are envisioned as a set of asteroids to be discovered, in an orbit very similar to Earth's, that offer low delta-V solutions for human exploration missions. This RFI solicits information from potential sources for an instrument that can be delivered for flight as soon as 2016. Click here. (8/17)

'We're NASA and We Know It' Video Spoofs JPL Mars Team (Source: CS Monitor)
The folks at JPL have arrived. No, not just because the NASA center's best and brightest put the Mars rover Curiosity flawlessly on the surface of the Red Planet. But because they looked so cool doing it. So cool, in fact, that there is now a rap video on youtube lampooning their performance: "We're NASA and We Know It." The video is a tongue-in-cheek high-five to the group in pale-blue polo shirts who sat in mission control on a southern California foothill the evening of Aug. 5, watching as helplessly as the rest of the world as Curiosity entered its final "seven minutes of terror" en route to the surface of Mars. Click here. (8/17)

Ball Finishes Mirrors for Space Telescope (Source: Denver Post)
Scientists at Ball Aerospace & Technologies have completed the design and construction on the most challenging component of the James Webb Space Telescope — the surface mirrors. Ball designed the 18 mirror segments, which will compose the primary mirror and make it the most powerful, high-tech observatory sent into space.

Webb is meant as a replacement to the Hubble Space Telescope, currently in low Earth orbit, but will far surpass its predecessor's capabilities. Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems is the principal contractor on the telescope and commissioned Ball for the optics system's development, design, manufacturing, integration and testing. (8/17)

Florida, National Space Club Embrace Commercial Endeavors (Source: NASA)
Charles Lindbergh made the world a smaller place when he took off in his single-engine "Spirit of St. Louis" plane to embark on the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. NASA continues to make the solar system a smaller place through human and robotic expeditions to low Earth orbit, the moon and distant planets according to the agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Manager Ed Mango.

"We are on the threshold of creating many more Lindbergh moments," Mango said during the National Space Club Florida Committee's August luncheon on Aug. 14. As the club's guest speaker, Mango described how the U.S. continually taps into its innovative spirit to make seemingly impossible missions possible, from routinely providing transatlantic passenger flights aboard commercial airliners in the mid-1950s, to astronaut John Glenn's first orbital mission in '62 and NASA's Apollo 8 mission around the moon in '68. (8/17)

Xombie 750 Meter Downrange Flight, Precision Landing (Source: Masten)
You may have noticed we’ve been flying Xombie a lot lately doing some interesting things. We just finished the third leg of a flight campaign on Xombie that expands the boundaries of what we believe to be the nation’s leading terrestrial landing testbed. We are working hard to deliver a way to test systems at the component level instead of waiting to test multiple complex systems all at once. Our landing testbed clients, who include NASA’s JPL and The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory (among others), find great value in leveraging commercial platforms to mature technologies that will enable future exploration.

Tuesday we completed the third envelope expansion flight in this campaign, which pushed Xombie to new speeds, distances and altitudes. As far as we know, the 750 meter translation flight represents the longest terrestrial translation flight ever undertaken by a rocket powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing craft. Click here for details and video. (8/17)

Sun is Most Perfect Sphere Ever Observed in Nature (Source: Guardian)
The sun is the most perfectly round natural object known in the universe, say scientists who have conducted precise measurements of its dimensions. As a spinning ball of gas, astronomers had always expected our nearest star to bulge slightly at its equator, making it very slightly flying-saucer shaped. The planet Jupiter demonstrates this effect well. Its high rate of spin - once every 10 hours - means that it is almost 7% wider across its equator than the distance from pole to pole.

Now a team led by the University of Hawaii's Dr Jeffrey Kuhn have made the first precise measurement of the sun's equatorial bulge, or its "oblateness". The results were a big surprise. "We were shocked," says Kuhn. The sun doesn't bulge much at all. It is 1.4m kilometers across, but the difference between its diameter at the equator and between the poles is only 10 kilometers. (8/17)

NASA’s Dawn Mission Addresses Second Reaction Wheel Loss (Source: Aviation Week)
The Dawn mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have slowed the probe’s scheduled Aug. 25 gravitational escape from Vesta until early September while controllers checked out high friction readings from a second spacecraft reaction wheel. The condition is not expected to affect the second leg of its eight-year main belt asteroid mission to Ceres, or data collection at the dwarf planet.

The difficulty, which triggered a software shutdown of the spacecraft pointing device on Aug. 8, should not interfere with Dawn’s scheduled arrival at Ceres in February 2015. Dawn is equipped with four reaction wheels, though orbital data-gathering operations normally require three. The first Dawn reaction wheel loss, in June 2010, prompted the development of a “hybrid control” strategy that relies on two reaction wheels and hydrazine thrusters on the probe for data-gathering by the spacecraft’s collection of four cameras and spectrometers. (8/17)

Editorial: India's Misplaced Mission to Mars (Source: Live Mint)
India’s cabinet has approved the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) mission to Mars with a launch slated next November. India’s mission is estimated to cost Rs.450 crore. According to ISRO, the aim of India’s mission to Mars will be to focus on life, climate, geology, origin, evolution and sustainability of life on the planet. The Orbiter will be placed in an orbit of 500 X 80,000km around Mars, and will carry nearly 25kg of scientific payloads onboard.

While it may be commendable that a successful Indian mission may allow the country to be only one among a handful of countries that have made it to Mars’ orbit, but nothing much beyond that: For all practical purposes, ISRO remains tied down with many problems. For one, a proposed Mars mission has been on the anvil for at least three years. In the time that India is still deliberating a manned mission to the moon, NASA—-despite severe budgetary cuts-—had gone ahead with missions of the scale of Curiosity.

While it is to ISRO’s credit that it has developed a lot of its technology indigenously, at a fraction of what agencies such as NASA spend and on the back of a history of technology denial, the other reality is that several other countries such as Israel and China have either surged ahead or are hot on India’s heels. Tellingly, India is yet to become the preferred destination for the launch of microsatellites, a domain that the agency claims to be a specialist in. Unless it ramps up its pace, a trip to Mars might be little more meaningful than nationalist chest-thumping. (8/17)

Britney Spears and Mars Rover Curiosity Share Tweets (Source: People)
Britney's fans are out of this world – literally! Spears, whose 2000 music video for the song "Oops! … I Did It Again" took place on Mars, has Tweeted at NASA's rover Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet Aug. 5. "So @MarsCuriosity... does Mars look the same as it did in 2000?" she posted on Twitter this week.

And the rover, which has already started to send images back to NASA and reportedly has a nuclear battery and a laser that can vaporize rock, wrote back! "@britneyspears Hey Brit Brit. Mars is still looking good," reads a post on Curiosity's official Twitter page. "Maybe someday an astronaut will bring me a gift, too. Drill bits crossed ;)" (8/17)

How to Mine an Asteroid (Source: Popular Mechanics)
To mine an asteroid, a company like Planetary Resources first has to find one that promises a good return on investment. But asteroids don't glitter like stars. They are small, dark, and easily obscured by the distorting effect of Earth's atmosphere. The best way to hunt for them is with a telescope floating in space. At the Bellevue, Wash., headquarters of Planetary Resources, chief engineer and company president Chris Lewicki is assembling the components of the first privately owned space telescope, the Arkyd 100 series.

The 44-pound spacecraft will be smaller and simpler than any government-funded space telescope. The $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope has a 94-inch-diameter primary mirror; Arkyd's mirrors will be 9 inches wide. Hubble has a wide field of view, as well as other instruments to scan objects in distant space. Arkyd needs only to look in our own solar system for targets. Being small saves money: Rockets carrying larger sats could also haul these telescopes as secondary payloads, decreasing launch costs.

Planetary Resources plans to build a fleet of space telescopes to help drive the per-unit cost down to less than $10 million. Having multiple telescopes is insurance in case one fails. "We need to make something in an assembly line," says Lewicki, a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars mission manager. "We can't just build one precious jewel that we treat with kid gloves." Click here. (8/17)

The Tech We'll Need to Mine Asteroids (Source: Popular Mechanics)
To tap the riches of space, first we'll need to build up ambitious infrastructure, such as fuel depots, and tools to work on asteroids, such as low-gravity sifters. Click here. (8/17)

Florida Angling to Cash In on Drones (Source: Tampa Tribune)
If Space Florida has its way, you might look up sometime next year and see a drone overhead. The state's aerospace development agency is leading an effort to make sure Florida capitalizes on federal plans to allow civilian uses of unmanned aerial vehicles in the nation's unrestricted airspace. While many people think drones are only used by the military, more common missions in the burgeoning field might range from assisting law enforcement officers looking for criminals to helping farmers predict the weather. Many would fly only a few hundred yards above the ground.

The effort could mean drones making test flights out of MacDill Air Force Base, over the Gulf of Mexico and the Avon Park Air Force Range, among other places throughout the state, according to Jim Kuzma, Space Florida chief operating officer. For a state hit hard by the end of the space shuttle program, the stakes are huge, Kuzma said. (8/5)

Orbital Sciences Corp. Announces Scholarship Recipients (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corp. announced the recipients of the company's 2012 Orbital Scholars program that provides scholarships to support the undergraduate education of children of Orbital's employees. This year, 12 applicants were chosen to receive scholarships based on selection criteria that included academic achievement, strong work ethic, desire to succeed, and acceptance at an accredited college or university. (8/17)

ATV Reboost of ISS Cut Short (Source:
A reboost of the International Space Station's orbit by Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) ended earlier than planned Wednesday. Thrusters on the ATV-3 vehicle, also called Edoardo Amaldi, currently docked to the ISS were scheduled to fire for a little over a half-hour Wednesday to raise the station's orbit by 7.7 kilometers. However, software on the ISS shut down the thrusters before completing the planned burn.

ESA reported that a temperature alarm was triggered in one of the ATV's thrusters not being used for the reboost, but instead of continuing the burn, the station's software shut down the thrusters. The cause of the both the alarm and the shutdown remain under investigation. The remainder of the originally planned reboost is now scheduled for August 22. (8/17)

Medusa Space Ends Deal With Atrius Holdings (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Medusa Space, LLC executed an agreement with Atrius Holdings on July 5th to sell them 50% ownership of Mycroft (patent pending) technology. A successful closing of escrow was to occur within 10 business days. Atrius then assigned the Agreement to Global Resource Energy, Inc. As of today, neither Atrius nor GBEN have closed the initial agreement, much less the follow on payments required. Several notices were provided to the companies and a final default notice with option to cure was issued by Medusa Space and ignored by the companies. Therefore the agreement is terminated. (8/17)

NSF Wants to Get Rid of Two Major Telescopes (Source: NASA Watch)
In 2011 NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) commenced a Portfolio Review process in order to review the entire portfolio of AST-supported facilities, programs and other activities. The goal was to recommend to AST how support for existing facilities, programs, and activities should be prioritized and interleaved with new initiatives recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal surveys. Among the recommendations of that report are that the NSF's Green Bank Telescope and Very Long Baseline Array be fully divested from the NSF Astronomy Division's portfolio. (8/17)

Medvedev Sets September Deadline for Roscosmos Overhaul (Source: Space News)
The Russian government has given Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, until mid-September to propose ways to improve quality control in Russia’s space industry, particularly its launcher sector, in the wake of the Aug. 6 failure of a Proton rocket carrying two telecommunications satellites. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in Aug. 14 remarks to Russian government and industry officials, said the number of failures in recent years is inexcusable for an industry in which the government continues to invest heavily. He said government space spending between 2012 and 2015 is scheduled to be 650 billion Russian rubles, or about $20.4 billion. (8/17)

ULA Asks U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks for Help Fighting Launch Business Threat (Source: Huntsville Times)
United Launch Alliance managers used a tour of their rocket planet here Thursday to lobby U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks for help against a threat to their government launch business. "You know I support competition, but first it has to establish capability," Brooks, R-Huntsville, told the executives on the sprawling assembly floor where ULA builds Atlas and Delta rockets.

The Air Force is trying to drive down launch costs, but assure a reliable launch source while new competitors emerge. To do that, the Air Force was planning to award ULA a contract this summer for 46 rockets to meet military needs to 2017. Now, that five-year deal is reported on hold. "We welcome the competition [from other launch companies]," ULA production manager Daniel Caughran told Brooks. However, Caughran and other ULA executives cited factors including reliability and capacity to meet launch needs they said must be considered. Those are ULA assets, they said.

The ULA executives agreed to work with Brooks' office to develop a letter to Panetta countering claims in the Rogers-Ruppersberger letter. "We're not going to experiment with our satellites," Brooks said. ULA Chief Operating Officer Dan Collins said the plant is ramping up production from eight rockets a year to 12 or 13. "We had hiring associated with that where we've added a couple of hundred jobs here at the plant," Collins said. (8/17)

NASA May Lose a Second Key Backer with Nelson Facing Tough Race (Source: Space News)
NASA will be missing one of its top congressional supporters next year with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and another, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), is in a struggle to keep his seat, Space Policy Online reports. Nelson, an avid supporter of NASA’s human spaceflight program who flew on the space shuttle in 1986, faces a tough race against the Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV.

Mack, the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III and husband of U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), represents a Gulf Coast district far from the Space Coast, and his stance on the space program is unclear. Nelson and Hutchison helped forge a compromise with the White House on the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that backed development of the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, along with reliance on commercial companies for transportation to and from the international space station. Editor's Note: Mack was the only Florida Congressman who voted against the 2010 bill. (8/17)

Last Two Shuttles at Kennedy Space Center Swap Places (Source: Florida Today)
During another occasion marking a shuttle program “last,” Kennedy Space Center crews on Thursday lightened the mood with a likely first: a shuttle sporting “bling.” Endeavour backed out of its processing hangar for the last time with one wheel covered by a spinning silver hubcap with cutouts of five orbiters, the number that flew in space. Endeavour swapped places with Atlantis, pausing for a final meeting before both depart for museums — Endeavour across the country to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis down the road to the KSC Visitor Complex.

Endeavour is scheduled to take off atop a 747 carrier aircraft one month from today. It will spend its final weeks here inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, before moving to the runway Sep. 14. Atlantis is targeting a Nov. 2 roll to the Visitor Complex. Atlantis took Endeavour’s spot in Orbiter Processing Facility-2, the last of three orbiter hangars that is still actively used. (8/17)

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