September 16, 2012

Soyuz Capsule Returns Three from Space Station (Source:
A Soyuz capsule parachuted safely onto the Steppe of Kazakhstan at about 10:53 p.m. EDT, delivering Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin and Joe Acaba back to the Earth's surface after they completed their assignments aboard the International Space Station. (9/16)

Soyuz Rocket to Blast Off from Baikonur with European Meteosat (Source: Itar-Tass)
A Soyuz-2 modernized carrier rocket is to blast off from the Baikonur space launch center on Monday to deploy a European MetOp-B weather satellite into orbit. "The carrier rocket Soyuz-2 is to be launched with a Frigate acceleration unit at 20:28, Moscow time". The Soyuz-2 space rocket was developed and made at the Samara-based State space research center "Cskb-Progress". In combination with the Frigate acceleration unit, the rocket makes it possible to deploy spacecraft into every kind of orbits: low, medium, high-elliptical, sun-synchronous, geotransfer and geostationary ones. (9/16)

Grasshopper to Make its First Hop Soon (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an investor in SpaceX, was recently at the company’s Texas test facility and got a look at Grasshopper, SpaceX’s reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator. About a year ago SpaceX revealed its plans to develop a reusable version of the Falcon 9 rocket, including a first stage that would fly back to the launch pad. Grasshopper is the company’s first major step in demonstrating that ability to fly back and land vertically.

At the AIAA Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, California, on Tuesday, SpaceX’s Brian Bjelde said that Grasshopper will fly for the first time in the near future, having already completed a static test. “As of last week, we did a static fire of the engine on the Grasshopper,” he said. “Very soon we’re going to be a couple of little mini hops. Then we’ll do hops up to 1,000 feet, some hovers, maybe even higher.” The higher flights are pending approval of the FAA, which has given clearance for the initial, lower-altitude tests, he said. (9/13)

ATK's Liberty Launch Vehicle Faces Uncertain Future (Source: Flight Global)
After failing to win an award in the latest round of NASA's commercial crew vehicle development grants, ATK's Liberty launch vehicle remains on paper facing an uncertain future. According to Kent Rominger, "no way on internal funding can we finish the Liberty module, interfaces, design. We probably need on the order of $300 million to get the launcher to [critical design review]. And we're not investing that kind of money." "So we are on an order of magnitude less than that, keeping the program alive while finding the right investment structure," Rominger adds.

ATK and partner Astrium are examining adapting the launch vehicle for satellite launch, which may require large changes to the design, including the addition of third stage, which would introduce a new level of complexity to the rocket. "It throws phenomenal payload into LEO," says Rominger. "[But] there's not a huge demand for that, satellite-wise... GEO (geosynchronous orbit) is where a lot of the business is. In the GEO world we need to bring on a third stage." He declined to discuss possible third-stage providers.

One major issue with turning to the commercial satellite launch market is the need to price competitively. Flying a human-rated vehicle for NASA allows ATK to charge relatively high prices, while the international market for satellite launches is much more competitive. Flights for NASA would allow ATK to profit from a single launch per year, whereas the launch rate for satellites must be significantly greater. In terms of annual commercial launches, "with four we're healthy. We'd do a lot better at six," says Rominger. (9/13)

Prices, Demand, and SpaceX (Source: Behind the Black)
According to Space News: "A half-dozen industry officials interviewed here during the World Satellite Business Week conference organized by Euroconsult said they have never seen the commercial market book so much business on a rocket with so little flight heritage." What this tells us is that the established launch industry has for decades been sitting on its hands, unwilling to compete to lower prices. Because of this, many customers have been shut out of space, eager to launch their payloads but unable to do so because they couldn’t afford it.

Then SpaceX comes along, offering the services at a much lower price. It is not surprising that a lot of new and old customers immediately jump at the chance. They couldn’t get into orbit before because of price. Now they can at least afford to buy a ticket from SpaceX, even if that means they are taking a chance on a new rocket.

We can argue endlessly about whether SpaceX’s fees are really less than the space shuttle or SLS, but that really is beside the point. Even if SpaceX is right now more expensive than SLS, it is still the right way to go. A government-built rocket has no incentive to lower cost. Whatever price they predict now is certainly not going to shrink with time. A private company, competing on the open market, however, has to work to lower costs. If it doesn’t it loses customers and goes out of business. (9/15)

Endeavour Departure from Florida Delayed to Tuesday (Source:
Tomorrow's departure of the space shuttle Endeavour ferryflight has been postponed at least one day due to bad weather that would preclude a safe arrival into Ellington Field outside the Johnson Space Center tomorrow. The Ferry Flight Readiness Review was held at 1 p.m. EDT today and a thorough assessment of the weather followed to examined a cold front that has slowed in the Houston area.

Under the revised plan, the shuttle would leave Tuesday, spend only one day in Houston, then resume the original schedule for a sunrise Wednesday takeoff on the flight leg to El Paso and refueling before going into Edwards Air Force Base later Wednesday. Arrival in Los Angeles would come mid-day Thursday. (9/15)

Editorial: Time for America to Make Miracles Again — with Obama (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
President Obama has maintained strong support for NASA and formed new partnerships with industry to achieve new ambitious goals. While the other candidate claims the current administration is waging war on business, President Obama has been busy building a strong commercial space industry. Click here. (9/16)

Obama on Space in Florida (Source: Politico)
While Obama was in the neighborhood of the Kennedy Space Center, he praised NASA for the successful landing of the spacecraft Curiosity on Mars last month. Obama called Curiosity “an incredible achievement that speaks to our sense of wonder and can-do spirit.” He said the landing serves as “an example of what we do when we combine our science, our research, our ability to commercialize new products, making them in America.” (9/9)

Virgin Galactic to Keep Promise of Free Spaceflights (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Would you hitchhike to space if you got a free ride? Virgin Galactic, when courting Sierra County voters to OK a crucial sales tax to help fund Spaceport America more than four years ago, made an out-of-this world promise: If voters passed the tax, one person annually from Doña Ana or Sierra Counties would be given a free lift to suborbital space, once operations began.

A separate-but-similar pledge was made by the company in 2006, when it lobbied New Mexico legislators and the public to allocate a large chunk of state funding to build the spaceport. For paying passengers, tickets are valued at $200,000. Now that Virgin Galactic is edging closer and closer to the reality of suborbital spaceflight, with the first launches expected to happen at Spaceport America in December 2013, will the company remember those pledges?

Asked last week, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO for the past two years, said the company hasn't forgotten. But they have not had much free time to lay out the groundwork for sending residents to suborbital space. The company has been preoccupied, so far, with creating the vehicles needed for spaceflight, Whitesides said. "I think we're all open to the idea to figure out some structure to get New Mexicans into space," he said in a phone interview. "But there will be a lot of work to do that. We're very open to those ideas we discussed a couple of years ago." (9/15)

NASA Budget Faces $1.3B cut Next Year Under Sequestration (Source: Huntsville Times)
A new White House budget forecast released Friday says NASA will lose more than $1.3 billion next year if the automatic budget cuts take place. Congress and the White House can still make a deal, and most observers think that will happen to avoid going over the so-called "fiscal cliff." However, neither side is eager to act before the November election in the hope voters will give them more power in the negotiations. So, the stage is set for a lame duck session of congress between November and the date the cuts take effect -- Jan. 3. (9/15)

Sunita Williams Assumes Command Aboard Space Station (Source:
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who holds the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, took charge of the International Space Station Saturday (Sept. 15), becoming only the second female commander in the orbiting lab's 14-year history. Williams took charge of the space station from Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who is returning to Earth on Sunday after months commanding the outpost's six-person Expedition 32 crew. Williams launched to the station in July and will command its Expedition 33 crew before returning to Earth in November. (9/15)

KSC Visitor Complex Adds $10 Parking Fee (Source: Florida Today)
Plan to pay for parking at the Visitor Complex on your next trip to the space tourist attraction. The KSC Visitor Complex recently instituted a $10 parking fee for automobiles and motorcycles and $15 for motor homes and RVs. Admission is $50 for adults. Parking remains free for annual passholders. The attraction showcasing man’s accomplishments in space exploration is following a practice used by other popular theme parks in Central Florida to generate revenue.

“That fee goes to support the maintenance, development and operations of the visitor complex,” said Andrea Farmer, spokesman for the KSC Visitor Complex. Florida attractions struggling to increase revenue the past few years have looked to parking fees as a way to remain profitable, according to an industry expert. (9/15)

After Return from ISS, Crews Take Weeks to Readjust (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. astronaut Joe Acaba is scheduled to return to Earth today after four months in weightlessness, while flight medical officers launch a six-week effort to help him readjust to gravity. Acaba, who taught science at Melbourne High in 1999 and 2000, is scheduled to depart the International Space Station at 7:11 p.m. EDT today.

Strapped into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, Acaba and two cosmonaut colleagues are supposed to start a supersonic atmospheric re-entry at 9:57 p.m. The three space explorers will hit the upper fringes of the atmosphere at an altitude of about 400,000 feet, and then they’ll begin feeling the first tugs of gravity after 125 days in space.

Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin might feel weak, woozy and clumsy. They could have difficulty concentrating. They could be nauseous. They could have trouble walking a straight line. All three are in for lengthy physical rehabilitation programs. (9/15)

Pingpong Ball 'Satellites' Fly to Edge of Space (Source: NBC)
A do-it-yourself space program is gearing up to return to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, floating above the world and the boundary between sky and stars. All manner of payloads, a majority of them contained in pingpong balls (dubbed PongSats) created by students from all over the globe, will be carried by a series of weather balloons later this month.

“We’re flying 1,600 PongSats, six MiniCubes, three high-altitude advertisements, two TV commercials and three weddings! Not actually weddings, but proposals … a dedicated ring-bearing vehicle and another set of rings and wedding favors.” Seven vehicles are to be let loose Sept. 29, five of them to 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and two to 120,000 feet (36,576 m). That means the two highest flying vehicles will be released 22 miles (36 kilometers) above Earth. The flights will lift off from the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. (9/14)

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