August 30, 2012

Walls of Lunar Crater May Hold Patchy Ice, LRO Radar Finds (Source: Hobby Space)
Scientists using the Mini-RF radar on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have estimated the maximum amount of ice likely to be found inside a permanently shadowed lunar crater located near the moon's South Pole. As much as five to ten percent of material, by weight, could be patchy ice, according to the team of researchers led by Bradley Thomson at Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing, in Mass. (8/30)

Republicans' Plan for Space Program Mirrors Obama's (Source: Florida Today)
Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee have blown it on space. For two years, they have accused President Obama of bungling Brevard County’s signature industry. They hammered him for canceling Constellation, botching thousands of shuttle jobs and relying on the Russians for lifts to the Space Station until private U.S. rockets fly. But given a chance to do better, Republicans in Tampa approved a platform that calls for ... staying the course. And Romney have nothing to add between now and November.

“Fortunately, platforms are quickly forgotten because this egregious lack of specifics will not inspire voters on the I-4 Corridor,” said Dale Ketcham of UCF. “The great mystery is why, on this one issue, the GOP does not readily champion the private sector, yet the president does.” You’d think Romney, the Republican efficiency-expert-in-chief, would have something to say about continuing (or not) NASA’s efforts to privatize trips to low-earth-orbit. Maybe check out modernization work at KSC, if not fully embrace space as symbol of American exceptionalism.

For all the pain caused from Obama’s change of course, his surrogates have made a point of visiting Brevard to trumpet its successes, like Space X’s docking at the space station, Curiosity on Mars, and development of a heavy-lift rocket. “We leveraged the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector so NASA could do the hard things,” said Jim Kohlenberger. Romney and his party offer no alternative. Instead, they erected their biggest political stage right here in the I-4 Corridor — the most pivotal region in the biggest swing state. And they whiffed on an economic issue that matters to this region as much as it does anywhere else. (8/30)

ISS Crew Will Have to Manage Power Usage While Devising Fix for Bolt Problem (Source: Space Policy Online)
The six-person crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will have to manage how it uses electrical power for an indeterminate period of time while ground-based experts determine how to fix a recalcitrant bolt that thwarted a repair operation today.

NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide had three main tasks plus one "get ahead" assignment when they began their spacewalk. By the end of their near record-setting venture of 8 hours and 17 minutes, they had completed only one and a half of those tasks. The problem was a bolt they could not drive into a box containing a replacement Main System Bus Unit (MSBU) that connects the ISS's solar arrays with the station's electric distribution system. (8/30)

A Year on the ISS: Good for Tourists – and Science (Source: New Scientist)
Is the ISS set to get its own phantom? Reports are swirling that diva of London's West End Sarah Brightman, whose angelic voice lofted her to stardom in the original stage cast of Phantom of the Opera, is to begin training to become the next space tourist to visit the International Space Station. But before Brightman can make the music of the night in orbit, US and Russian space agencies will have to find a way to clear a seat on the Soyuz capsule, right now the only way for humans to reach the ISS.

Restarting rides for paying customers could be part of the impetus behind news that NASA is now mulling a longer tour of duty for astronauts on the space station: a full year at a stretch, beginning as soon as 2015. Although the ISS has been continuously occupied since 2001, astronaut crews have normally spent no more than six months at a time on board. This limit is mostly fixed by the Russian Soyuz, which carries passengers to the ISS and then stays docked to the station to serve as a landing vehicle: after about six months, the capsule's fuel has degraded too much to guarantee a safe return. (8/30)

Russian Companies Design Space Tourism Plane (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's NPO Molniya design bureau and the Myasischev Experimental Factory (EMZ) are designing a space-plane for sub-orbital "space tourism" and small satellite launch flights, according to a company specialists' report seen by RIA Novosti. The sub-orbital craft will be launched from a subsonic carrier aircraft such as the existing high-altitude Myasischev M-55 Geofizika or 3M-T transport aircraft. The 3-MT, a derivative of the Myasischev M-4 bomber which first flew in the 1950's, was used in the Buran space shuttle program in the 1980's to carry the orbiter as well as the Energiya carrier rocket.

The winged space-plane will take off from the launch aircraft and climb at 1,000-1,200 meters a second to 105-120 km altitude - at the edge of space - under power of a solid-fuel rocket motor. The number of passengers carried will be from four to 14, dependent on the type of carrier aircraft, the document says. The companies are also designing a variant of the air-launch system for placing small satellites in low-earch orbit, with a satellite and booster carried in the spaceplane's passenger compartment. (8/30)

Report: Canaveral Seashore to Sink by Century's End (Source: Florida Today)
Canaveral National Seashore will be almost completely under the ocean by the end of the century if greenhouse gases aren’t significantly cut, according to a report released Wednesday by two environmental groups. The groups examined global warming impacts to Canaveral and six other national seashores. In five of the seven seashores studied, at least half of the land would be inundated by an accelerating rate of sea-level rise they say could top 5 feet by the end of the century.

“The biggest threat to these seashores is that they will be largely or entirely covered by the ocean,” said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, one of the groups that published the study. A map in the report shows almost all of Canaveral seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, at just one meter above sea level, so potentially completely inundated by the end of the century. (8/30)

Nano-Sat Launch Challenge Slowed by NASA (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida had expected by now to finalize the rules and open registration for the NASA-sponsored Nano Satellite Launch Challenge, which would provide cash prizes for teams able to launch two Cubesat-sized satellites within a one-week period. Before moving forward with approval of the draft rules developed by Space Florida, NASA has issued a Request for Information on the nano-satellite market and approaches to address the market needs. Click here to view the RFI, which seeks responses by Sep. 10. Space Florida now hopes to have NASA concurrence to move forward with the Challenge sometime in October. (8/30)

Trojan Asteroid Found Sharing Earth's Orbit (Source; National Geographic)
A tiny space rock that's partially tethered to Earth by a gravitational leash is our planet's first known Trojan asteroid, astronomers say. Trojans are objects that exist in gravitationally stable regions in front of or behind another body, so that the two share the same orbit but never collide. Trojan asteroids have been found around Jupiter, Neptune, and Mars, and Saturn is orbited by a few groups of Trojan moons. Earth's newfound Trojan is about 1,000 feet (300 meters) wide and sits about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) in front of Earth. (8/28)

Olsen (R-TX): Congress, White House Must Work Toward Strong Space Policy (Source: The Hill)
Leaving the Moon in 1972 with no planned return was like winning the Super Bowl, then skipping the playoffs for more than forty years. America's absence from the field of human space exploration is not the result of a lack of talent, but from a failure to develop a game plan and the visionary leadership to see it through... America needs a clear and purposeful mission worthy of our nation’s continued investment to regain our leading role and remain competitive in the global space industry.

To accomplish this, we need a president with vision and the will to encourage and work with Congress to develop a comprehensive space policy. We need a leader who understands that American exceptionalism is embodied in pioneering efforts to explore the universe. Achieving these goals will result in countless innovations and inventions to improve our quality of life. Those who argue we do not have the resources or say government should not play a role in space exploration are short-sighted and wrong.

Our national security demands that we have better technology than China for our satellites and intelligence operations. Congress and the White House must make the national investments needed to maintain U.S. dominance in this arena. We must outline a clear, long-term human spaceflight strategy with specific, near-term goals. We should return to the Moon by 2020 with the larger goal of then setting foot on Mars. Congress can sensibly appropriate, authorize and enact multi-year funding to provide stability for the development of the complex space systems needed to achieve these goals. (8/30)

NASA and NOAA Use UAVs as Hurricane Trackers (Source: National Journal)
Researchers at NASA and NOAA are hoping a pair of military-surplus Global Hawk spy drones can provide new insight into the storms that routinely ravage the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Next week, the first of two Global Hawk aircraft is scheduled to arrive at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with a shakedown flight scheduled to happen soon after. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in coming weeks with officials hoping for a first flight in mid-September.

Weather researchers have used or experimented with various unmanned vehicles for years (not to mention the original unmanned vehicles: weather satellites). But officials are now taking the technology to new levels. The three-year program is just starting, and for now NASA’s plan is focused on basic research, rather than real-time forecasting. Still, with a 116-foot wingspan and an ability to stay in the air for nearly 30 hours, the Global Hawk promises to be extremely useful for observing hurricanes.

But don’t look for drones to replace the famous manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft that fly directly into the middle of hurricanes anytime soon. Researchers have small UAVs that can survive the forces inside a hurricane, but they are too small to carry a wide range of sensors, Braun said. Larger aircraft like the Global Hawk, meanwhile, can’t handle such extreme weather. While manned flights into hurricanes can seem dangerous, only four such aircraft have been lost since 1943, the last one in 1974. (8/30)

Europe and China To Share Ocean-monitoring Satellite Data (Source: Space News)
Europe and China will exchange data from their ocean-monitoring satellites under an agreement signed Aug. 30, Europe’s meteorological organization, Eumetsat, announced. Under the agreement between Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat and China’s National Satellite Ocean Application Service (NSOAS), Eumetsat will provide NSOAS with data from the U.S.-European Jason-2 and Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellites, as well as Europe’s Metop polar-orbiting meteorological spacecraft. (8/30)

ATK to Perform Ground Test of GEM 60 Solid Rocket Motor (Source: ATK)
Alliant Techsystems will test a GEM-60 solid rocket motor, Thursday, September 6. The 60-inch diameter graphite epoxy motor (GEM) is a commercially provided, reliable, low-cost propulsion system. It measures 43 feet in length. GEM-60 motors have successfully boosted ULA’s Delta IV M+ launch vehicles since 2002. The test will validate a new nozzle for the GEM-60, previously provided by a supplier and now developed in-house by ATK. (8/30)

Armstrong's Last Mission: Bring People Back to Space (Source: CNN)
In 2010, Neil Armstrong returned to the public scene with a specific mission: to discourage budget cuts for the NASA space program. With the arrival of President Barack Obama to the White House in 2009, the U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee began an overhaul of his predecessor’s plans in order to make them mesh with economic reality.

In April 2010, Neil Armstrong, along with astronauts James Lovell and Eugene Cernan signed an open letter in which they said: “It appears that we will have wasted our current ten plus billion dollar investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” and they concluded with a call for America to “decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space."

Despite Armstrong’s efforts , on June 28, 2010, Obama presented at the White House the document National Space Policy of the United States of America, confirming the administration’s original plans: a focus on unmanned missions, an extension on the lifetime of the Space International Station until the end of the decade, the cancellation of the space shuttle and Constellation programs, and a collaboration with Russia and other private enterprises to send humans into space. (8/30)

Space Issues Continue to Influence Campaigns (Source: SPACErePORT)
During this campaign season, the visibility of space policy issues may have peaked with Newt Gingrich's comments about space exploration and lunar colonies. But although many pundits thought space would quickly fade away as a post-primary campaign issue, questions about our future in space continue to nag the candidates. We can credit many things for this staying power, including the Space Shuttle's retirement, Curiosity's landing on Mars, Neil Armstrong's death, SpaceX's successful mission to the Space Station, and efforts in Florida (a key swing-state) to pry stronger commitments on space from the Obama and Romney campaigns.

While the official GOP platform now has two paragraphs of generic support for space exploration, Gov. Romney has yet to offer any specifics on how he would change our current space policies. President Obama, meanwhile, has held up his support for commercial space development as an ongoing success that Romney seemingly should support, if it weren't for the fact that President Obama is making it happen.

The weakness in President Obama's space record has been a lack of specifics on how the U.S. human space exploration program will move us beyond low Earth orbit. No one expects that to change before the election in November, as the President's near-term approach has been to develop the prerequisite technologies before settling on a specific destination. Friends in NASA have told me the agency is shying away from near-term specifics to avoid having them torn apart by partisan and pork-barrell politicians in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. (8/30)

Romney, Republicans, and Space (Source: Behind the Black)
The GOP Platform's vagueness on space suggests that Romney has remained undecided since his speech in January partly because he has seen the success of Dragon and SpaceX. He — and the party — are no doubt increasingly realizing that NASA-built is not necessarily the only option. Moreover, the federal debt weighs heavily on the mind of this party, which makes proposing any grand space effort impractical and impolitic at this time.

Thus, the most important factor in deciding this battle will be the success or failure in the next few months of the SpaceX and Orbital Science launches to ISS. If their private effort continues to succeed, they will give clout to the tea party politicians. “Let private space do it! They will get it done faster and cheaper, and we will be able to better balance the federal budget.”

If either fails, however, political power will shift to the pork politicians. They will continue to fund the boondoggles, but little will get built, and we will end up having to wait another few more decades before anything really happens in space. (8/30)

City Moves Forward With spaceport Designation Process (Source:
Midland International Airport officials expect to make their way through the application for a spaceport designation during the next nine months. The Midland City Council this week amended a contract between the airport and Parkhill, Smith & Cooper that will allow the firm and a team of experts to work on the elements necessary to complete the application for a commercial space launch site.

The contract was amended for costs of up to $628,502. Marv Esterly, director of airports, already has gone through the initial steps with the FAA. The team put together by Parkhill, Smith & Cooper will meet for the first time in September and work on the next steps needed for the application. The designation is needed to allow XCOR Aerospace to test its reusable winged launch vehicle, the Lynx, from Midland. The company agreed in July to develop a headquarters and research and development facility here as part of a $10 million economic development incentive deal. (8/30)

New Research Eclipses Existing Theories on Moon Formation (Source: Space Daily)
The Moon is believed to have formed from a collision, 4.5 billion years ago, between Earth and an impactor the size of Mars, known as "Theia." Over the past decades scientists have simulated this process and reproduced many of the properties of the Earth-Moon system; however, these simulations have also given rise to a problem known as the Lunar Paradox: the Moon appears to be made up of material that would not be expected if the current collision theory is correct.

If current theories are to be believed, analyses of the various simulations of the Earth-Theia collision predict that the Moon is mostly made up of material from Theia. However, studying materials from both Earth and the Moon, shows remarkable similarities. In fact, elements found on the Moon show identical isotopic properties to those found on Earth. Given it is very unlikely that both Theia and Earth had identical isotopic compositions, this paradox casts doubt over the dominant theory for the Moon formation.

A group of researchers have now made a significant breakthrough in the story of the formation of the Moon, suggesting an answer to this Lunar Paradox. They explored a different geometry of collisions than previously simulated, also considering new impacts configurations such as the so-called, "hit-and-run collisions," where a significant amount of material is lost into space on orbits unbound to the Earth. (8/30)

Atlas V Rocket Successfully Launches NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (Source: SpaceRef)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) spacecraft for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Thursday. This was ULA's 7th launch of the year, the 32nd Atlas V launch and marked the 63rd launch since ULA was formed in December 2006. (8/30)

Party Platforms Don't Equal Policy Implementation (Source: Space Policy Online)
Party platforms usually are fairly general documents since they must appeal to a broad range of interests within the party. Presidential candidate Barack Obama made a number of promises about the space program during his 2008 campaign, but they were not part of the 2008 Democratic party platform. That document said only that Democrats would "invest in a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration." By comparison, the 2012 Republican platform devotes an entire two paragraphs to the topic.

We will learn next week what the Democrats say in their 2012 platform about the future of the space program, and as the weeks pass, if the Republican or Democratic presidential nominees have anything more specific to say themselves. (8/30)

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