September 29, 2012

SpaceX Completes Hold-Down Engine Test in Preparation for Falcon-9 Launch (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket fired nine main engines on a Florida launch pad Saturday, completing a major test before lifting off on an International Space Station resupply flight Oct. 7. The two-stage rocket rolled to the launch pad Saturday morning, and a computer-controlled sequence filled the booster with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants beginning around midday. The Falcon 9's fuel tanks were pressurized in the countdown's final moments, leading to ignition of the rocket's nine first stage Merlin engines at 1:30 p.m. (9/29)

Chavez Gives Midnight Speech to Launch Chinese-Built Satellite (Source: Bloomberg)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke until 12:40 a.m. Caracas time on state television as the nation celebrated the launch of its second Chinese-made satellite into orbit last night. “This is only possible under revolution,” Chavez, who is bidding for a third six-year term in an Oct. 7 election, said. “We’ve entered the future.” The Miranda satellite, as it’s known, was launched from China late yesterday and will conduct observation of the Earth to support agriculture and housing projects in the South American country. (9/29)

India's GSAT-10 Communication Satellite Launched Successfully (Source: ISRO)
The launch of ISRO's 101st space mission, GSAT-10 satellite, has been a success. At 3400 kg, GSAT-10 is the heaviest Indian satellite that ISRO has built. After a smooth countdown lasting 11 hours and 30 minutes, the Ariane-5 launch vehicle lifted off right on schedule at the opening of the launch window. After a flight of 30 minutes and 45 seconds, GSAT-10 was injected into an elliptical Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), very close to the intended one. (9/29)

GA Airports, States Race to Serve Outer Space  (Source: AOPA)
State and local officials are scrambling to create launch and landing facilities for a new generation of spacecraft, led by Virgin Galactic’s passenger ships VMS Eve (the first edition of WhiteKnightTwo) and VSS Enterprise (the first of five SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft). It is reminiscent to some of the golden age of aviation: a proliferation of spacecraft designs vying to be among the first to transport paying customers into space, and a growing list of state and local governments seeking to woo them with launch and landing sites.

An active spaceport could draw one of several companies gearing up to grab a slice of what’s projected to be a billion-dollar industry within a decade, with jobs created to build and support the operation. The benefits are expected to extend to local schools and colleges, with aerospace sparking demand for trained workers with science, technology, engineering and math skills.

In many cases, existing licenses are held by facilities with vertical launch capabilities, but a growing number of airport operators hope to draw spacecraft that follow the Virgin Galactic model, utilizing traditional jet engines to lift off and climb to altitude, and then lighting rockets to climb into black sky. Editor's Note: Florida now has at least three General Aviation airports that either have received--or are planning to obtain--FAA spaceport operator licenses: Cecil Field, Space Coast Executive Airport, and Dade-Collier Airport near Miami. (9/29)

LightSquared Seeks a Fresh Signal (Source: Wall Street Journal)
LightSquared Inc., the wireless venture controlled by hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, on Friday sought regulatory approval for a plan it believes will overcome the technical problems that have postponed its launch of a next-generation network and tipped the company into bankruptcy protection. In a filing with the FCC, LightSquared said it would use its broadband network in a way that would address concerns that its signals interfere with global positioning systems. In a second filing, the company said it would forgo using the airwaves that triggered those GPS interference worries in the first place. (9/29)

Adjusting to 'Mars Time' with Coffee, Naps, and Bright Blue Light (Source: LA Times)
As NASA's Mars rover Curiosity continues its meandering route across the planet's rocky surface, a team of engineers and scientists back on Earth are having their own Martian experience: They're learning to live on "Mars time" by adjusting to its slightly longer, 24.65-hour day.

Those extra 39 minutes and 35 seconds may seem like a small difference, one easily absorbed into the variable nightly sleep schedule of the average human. But it’s not a one-time change like jet lag; instead, it’s like traveling across a time zone every single day. So adjusting to even a slight change in schedule is difficult for people to deal with.

Because we have evolved within a 24-hour day, our bodies are tightly synchronized with that schedule. Deviating from it has been shown to lead to sleepiness, difficulty thinking and solving problems, and even workplace accidents -- something no one wants to happen while they're planning the next movements for the $2.5-billion mission. Click here. (9/29)

China Launches 2nd Satellite for Venezuela (Source: CNN)
China launched a second satellite for the Venezuelan government Saturday, state media reported, days before President Hugo Chavez runs for re-election. The observation satellite named Miranda launched from the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu. It is Venezuela's second satellite in orbit, according to the Venezuela State News Agency, AVN.

The first one -- a telecommunications satellite -- was launched by China in 2008. It is named after Venezuelan independence hero, Simon Bolivar, the news agency said. President Hugo Chavez, along with cabinet members and the Chinese ambassador to Venezuela, watched the latest launch from his palace in Caracas. (9/29)

Warm Temperatures on Mars May Improve Chances for Habitability (Source: LA Times)
Among the Mars rover Curiosity’s many gadgets and gizmos is a weather station, and since landing it has been showing some surprising numbers: Temperatures that are as high as 6 degrees Celsius (42.8 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s substantially warmer than expected. The temperatures on Mars’ surface are dramatically different during the day and during the night, when they drop to a frigid -70 degrees Celsius. That’s because Mars has a very thin atmosphere, so heat from the sun escapes after it sets.

Felipe G√≥mez says it is too early to know whether they are observing a real trend or just a “blip.” But for now, the data are giving the Mars rover team reason to take a break from shooting lasers at rocks and crafting painstaking courses across the planet’s surface to do something much more pedestrian: chit-chat about the weather. (9/28)

Editorial: There is Still Need for Space Exploration (Source: Foster's Daily Democrat)
It is with mixed emotions that we read a report early this week from Reuters that began: "With an eye toward developing a commercial spaceport, Florida has asked NASA to transfer 150 acres of land north of the shuttle launch pads and the shuttle runway to Space Florida, the state's aerospace development agency." According to Reuters, similar commercial spaceports have been set up in New Mexico, as well as Alaska, Virginia and California.

At first the editorial board here wanted to let out a cheer: "The U.S. space program is not dead." But the free enterprise spirit in us finds it hard to envision loading the costs of space exploration and utilization back onto taxpayers, now that the budgetary tether has been, somewhat, released. Despite being tight with a tax dollars, the editorial board here believes it is the role of government to foster much-needed research and development, to foster job growth and promote a strong economy.

To that end, NASA and the federal government should look favorably on turning over unused acreage and facilities to entities such as Space Florida. But in doing so, NASA and the military need to retain at least a loose hold to what goes on so our nation's defenses will not suffer and past space ventures will continue to bear fruit. (9/29)

Aircraft Carriers in Space (Source: Foreign Policy)
Last month, Small Wars Journal managing editor Robert Haddick asked whether new technology has rendered aircraft carriers obsolete. Well, not everyone thinks so, especially in science-fiction, where "flat tops" still rule in TV shows like Battlestar Galactica. Michael Peck spoke with Chris Weuve, a naval analyst, former U.S. Naval War College research professor, and an ardent science-fiction fan about how naval warfare is portrayed in the literature and television of outer-space.

How has sci-fi incorporated the themes of wet-navy warfare? How have warships at sea influenced the depiction of warships in space? There are a lot of naval metaphors that have made their way into SF. They are analogs, models of ways to think about naval combat. When people started writing about science-fiction combat, it was very easy to say that a spaceship is like a ship that floats on the water. Click here. (9/28)

ATV-3 Finally Undocks From the ISS Following Eventful Stay (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
After accidentally extending its stay at the International Space Station (ISS), Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) has successfully undocked from the orbital outpost on Friday. The extension of its stay nearly resulted in it conducting a Debris Avoidance Maneuver (DAM) for the ISS on Thursday morning, prior to managers deciding the debris threats would not pass close enough to the Station. (9/28)

Yeast Studies on ISS: Treatment Potential For Infections on Earth (Source: SpaceRef)
Yeast. It's a good thing. It makes bread rise, turns grape juice into wine, and is essential in the production of beer. And in our bodies, yeast -- specifically the yeast Candida albicans -- helps us maintain a healthy personal ecosystem. However, when our immune systems are stressed, Candida albicans can grow out of control. When that happens, the yeast becomes so plentiful that infections can result in the mouth, throat, intestines, and genitourinary tract. (9/28)

FCC to Review and Update Satellite Licensing Rules (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed today to open a comprehensive review of satellite licensing and operating procedures. The most recent wholesale review was in 1996. The FCC oversees use of the radio frequency spectrum by the private sector, including assignment of specific frequencies to satellites and their associated ground stations and, in the case of geostationary communications satellites, orbital locations. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce serves that role for government users. (9/28)

Russians Face Their Space Crisis (Source: NBC)
A veteran Russian cosmonaut’s cynical and bitter words about the dire state of the Russian space industry seemed to spell his own career’s abrupt end after his return to Earth from the International Space Station. But within a week, his unprecedented public criticism was echoed and elaborated on by Russia's top space officials. Perhaps telling the truth is catching on in Moscow, but perhaps it's already almost too late to save the Russian space industry. Over the past two years, program leadership has appeared powerless to stop a series of embarrassing failures in spacecraft launchings and flight operations that have cast the future of the entire program in doubt. (9/28)

Orbital Cleared To Begin Pad Operations at Wallops (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has been cleared by NASA to begin launch pad operations at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. NASA is responsible for certifying that Pad 0-A, from which Orbital plans to launch all of its space station cargo missions, is safe. That certification has been slow in coming. The company blamed the state of Virginia, which operates MARS through the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority, for the delay.

“Once the rocket is hooked up, it will be four to six weeks before we do the hot-fire test.” In the hold-down test, an Antares first stage powered by two kerosene-fueled AJ-26 engines will be hooked up to Pad 0-A and fired for 30 seconds, Beneski said. Orbital had planned to move the Antares first stage out to the pad Sept. 27 but had delayed the rollout because of a “battery issue” with one of the transport vehicles used to haul Antares from its hangar to the pad, Beneski said. (9/28)

Arianespace Launches Two Satellites From French Guiana (Source: NBC)
Arianespace has launched two satellites from the South American country of French Guiana that will provide telecommunication services to the Eastern Hemisphere. The ASTRA 2F will provide direct-to-home broadcast services to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The GSAT-10 satellite will serve the Indian Space Research Organization and provide direct-to-home broadcasting and radio-navigation services. The Ariane5 launcher was carrying a total of 22,500 pounds when it placed both satellites into orbit Friday. (9/28)

ESA May Have Role In NASA Mars Sample Mission (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA has decided it can do a Mars sample-return mission on its own, but it will continue to collaborate with the European Space Agency on Mars exploration despite dropping out of Europe's ExoMars program last year. Even though Europe has shifted to working with Russia on ExoMars, the program's 2016 orbiter could help provide data and command relays between Earth and a 2018 NASA rover on the surface of Mars. However, it remains to be seen if there will be such a rover, and what it could do if NASA finds the funds to build it.

The U.S. space agency has 4-6 months to decide how it will proceed under its reduced Mars-exploration funding plan. That decision will be shaped by a new set of mission options from the agency's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) instrument landing system, and possibly by congressional signals on fiscal 2013 funding levels for Mars. Also in the mix is the role of potential collaborators outside NASA's Science Mission Directorate, including the European Space Agency (ESA). (9/28)

ULA Wins $1.17 Billion Launch Capability Contract (Source: Reuters)
The Defense Department on Friday awarded United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, a contract valued at $1.17 billion to provide satellite launches using its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. The Pentagon said the contract would run through September 30, 2013. The venture provides launch services to send U.S. military and intelligence satellites into space under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. (9/28)

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