September 27, 2012

Editorial: Romney and Obama Space Plans (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
With Florida once again considered a must-win state in this year's presidential race, space policy is finally lifting off as an issue for the candidates. Some coincidence, huh? Paul Ryan rightly declared that the U.S. space program needs a clear mission — ironic, because the policy statement didn't offer one. Meanwhile, President Obama's campaign gave him credit for the burgeoning commercial space industry, the Mars rover mission and a long-term plan for deep-space exploration. All positives, but each falls short of securing U.S. space leadership.

Floridians, who have seen the state lose thousands of space jobs, should be hopeful but skeptical about the candidates' proposals. In 2008, Obama vowed to narrow the gap between the end of the shuttle and the next manned program. After he was elected, he canceled the next program and replaced it with another one that will probably widen the gap. Voters who consider space a national priority should demand details from both campaigns.

Editor's Note: This editorial says President Obama's program to "narrow the gap" will probably widen it. I don't think this is true. The now-canceled Ares-1 would not have launched its first crewed mission until 2017-2019, yet NASA's current Commercial Crew program will likely have U.S. astronauts flying by 2015-2017 (and at a fraction of the Ares-1 cost). (9/27)

We’ve Already Passed the Tipping Point for Orbital Debris (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
More than 20,000 objects larger than a softball have accumulated in Earth’s orbit. About 1,000 of those objects are spacecraft that carry active payloads. But the rest could best be called junk, the by-product of thousands of launches and routine spacecraft deployments, nearly 200 explosions, and several collisions. Many years ago, early orbital debris researchers predicted that parts of Earth’s orbit could eventually become so crowded that accidental collisions would fuel a self-reinforcing boom in the hazardous debris population—even if we put a stop to future launches.

That runaway debris generation scenario, often called the Kessler syndrome, may seem far off. But in fact, the sheer density of derelict objects in orbit has already exceeded what many consider to be the mathematical point of no return. In some of the most congested regions of low earth orbit, this point was actually passed more than 10 years ago, although the onslaught of chain-reaction collisions will likely take decades to pick up steam. (9/27)

Space Debris Delays Japan's Satellite Experiment (Source: Xinhua)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Thursday it has decided to postpone an experiment to release satellites from the International Space Station (ISS) due to approaching space debris. The experiment planned for the early hours of Friday is scheduled to launch five small satellites provided by the Fukuoka Institute of Technology and Tohoku University. The looming space debris may require the ISS to change its orbit, according to the national aerospace agency. (9/27)

ISS Cancels Twin Debris Dodge via ATV-3′s Extended Stay (Source:
After accidentally extending its stay at the International Space Station (ISS), Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) was set to help the Station conduct a Debris Avoidance Maneuver (DAM) on Thursday morning. However, the orbital dodge was cancelled, after the two pieces of debris were determined to present less of a threat. (9/27)

Japan Commercializes H-IIB Rocket (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI) has concluded an agreement with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) under which the company will begin launch services using the heavier-capacity H-IIB rockets. Following the successful launch of H-IIB launch vehicle No. 3 on July 21, MHI said it will now handle all H-IIB launches commencing with No. 4.

The H-IIB rocket, which was jointly developed by JAXA and MHI, is, along with the H-IIA, one of Japan's primary large-scale launch vehicles. Since its first launch in 2009, the H-IIB has recorded three consecutive successes. Compared with H-IIA rockets, which MHI has been commissioned to launch since 2007, the H-IIB can perform launches of large satellites double in weight. MHI plans to aggressively explore the global market for diverse launch needs, including commercial satellites. (9/27)

A Long Time Ago in Galaxies Far, Far Away (Source: The Independent)
Of all the images of space, this one is possibly the most enigmatic. It shows a tiny patch of sky, about the size of penny held 75 feet away, stuffed with more than 5,500 galaxies composed of hundreds of millions of stars. What makes this image so spectacular is that this tiny field of view in the southern sky near the constellation of Fornax seems to be devoid of anything when viewed through telescopes on Earth.

It is only when this patch of sky is observed through the powerful Hubble Space Telescope that it becomes so alive with cosmic objects. And just to add to the enigma: the patch of sky is just one of 30 million that make up the complete cosmic panorama. Click here. (9/27)

U.S. Air Force Targets 2015 To Start Weather Satellite Program (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force will not seek funding in 2014 for a next-generation weather satellite system but hopes to begin work on the long-deferred program the following year. Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said the Air Force expects to spend the next year working on an analysis of alternatives for the next-generation system. The Pentagon is already well into deliberations on its 2014 budget request, which along with the proposed budgets for other U.S. government agencies will be submitted to Congress in February. (9/26)

Ukraine Dragging Feet on Joint Decision With Russia on Dnepr Rocket's Fate (Source: Itar-Tass)
The decision on the Dnepr space program has been postponed at least for a month, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. “If we do not get any documents [from Ukraine] that will allow us to assess the input and act pragmatically within the framework of this partnership, we will propose our own version,” Rogozin said. “This will take more time, about a month,” he added.

The Dnepr conversion program, initiated by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s, calls for using RS-20 ICBMs removed from combat duty for launching spacecraft. Discussion on the issue had been on with Ukrainian partners “for a long time” and during a meeting of the presidents of the two countries in Yalta in July, they instructed their governments to “calculate the real cost” of the program.

“Up to date we believe that the distribution of input of the three parties and the benefits to be received by each of them is opaque,” Rogozin said. None of the previous deadlines for the submission of required documents was met. On the whole we do not see any substance behind the words and promises made by the Ukrainian colleagues,” Rogozin said. (9/27)

Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP): Start of the Deep Space Economy (Source: NASA)
The objectives of the Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP) project are to examine and evaluate the feasibility of asteroid mining in terms of means, methods, and systems. This study decomposes the challenge of asteroid mining into four key efforts: 1) Mission design, including trajectory and logistics from an Earth-Moon Lagrange Point (EMLP) to the asteroid and return to that EMLP; 2) Spacecraft design including propulsion and Mission operations; 3) Mining technology for microgravity and vacuum operations; and 4) How these efforts can add up to a business case for asteroid mining. Click here. (9/27)

CASIS Director Speaks at Museum Docent Meeting (Source: SpaceKSC)
A representative of the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) will be at Monday’s (Oct. 1) monthly meeting of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum docents. CASIS manages the U.S. National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. Duane Ratliff, the director of operations, serves as a critical interface to the NASA ISS program office, coordinating the planning and execution of CASIS-managed payloads. Although this is a docent meeting, it’s open to any and all who wish to attend. The meeting starts at 7:00 PM, but the speaker usually starts around 7:30 PM. Here's a map. (9/27)

FAA Announces NextGen Metroplex in Florida (Source: AIN Online)
The Federal Aviation Administration has announced a public-private collaboration to bring the first stages of the Next Generation Air Transportation System to Florida. Dubbed the NextGen metroplex, the initiative will apply a key component of NextGen to airports in and around Miami, Orlando and Tampa. The technology is expected to save 8 million gallons of jet fuel on flights into and out of the Florida metroplex annually. (9/26)

Politics, Money (Not Technology) Holding up NextGen (Source: Politico)
No use blaming mechanical malfunctions. Technology isn’t holding up a revolutionary shift in air travel as much as policy and politics. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, promises to redefine the aviation industry by replacing Cold War-era ground systems with new-age satellite navigation.

This should make flying more manageable by enhancing safety, dropping fuel costs, minimizing delays and creating quicker flights. It also could help offset a massive passenger influx over the next decade. But that will only happen if issues over how to handle the transition and who should cover the tab ever get resolved. “As a business proposition, this is a no-brainer,” House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI) said. “The risk is a timing delay. But it’s the human side of it. Not the technology side of it.”

Planning for the satellite system began almost a decade ago with expectations of full implementation by 2025. In the multistage revamping process, many of the mechanical aspects appear on track. The Federal Aviation Administration has set up initiatives in eight major airports that test an essential NextGen component known as performance-based navigation. Last week, the agency announced a contract (to Harris Corp.) that will change voice communications to a digital system. (9/27)

Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ Found by Nazis is From Space (Source: Nature)
A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin. Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-cm high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart, and his colleagues.

In a paper published in Metoritics & Planetary Science, the team reports their analysis of the iron, nickel, cobalt and trace elements of a sample from the statue, as well as its structure. They found that the geochemistry of the artifact is a match for values known from fragments of the Chinga meteorite. The piece turned into the ‘iron man’ would be the third largest known from that fall. (9/26)

Two Launches Scheduled from Spaceport America in October (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Spaceport America will host suborbital launches by Armadillo Aerospace and UP Aerospace, each of which will mark a “first” for the desert launch base. In early October, Armadillo will launch a STIG-B rocket from Spaceport America. The booster is set to exceed the 100-kilometer boundary of space and will be the first launch ever FAA licensed launch at Spaceport America. On Oct. 23, UP Aerospace will launch a SpaceLoft suborbital rocket that will carry NASA-sponsored and New Mexico student payloads. It will be the first mission sponsored under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program to reach space. (9/27)

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