October 27, 2012

NASA Visitor Centers Draw Millions (Source: Business Wire)
NASA Visitor Centers boldly go where most other museums and entertainment venues have not gone before: provide unique family ‘edutainment’ in world class facilities that not only showcase NASA’s rich history with its diversified collection of priceless space artifacts, but offer quality family entertainment offerings with wildly interactive exhibitions, engaging well-themed shows and demonstrations as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes tours.

“Millions of visitors are drawn to them, and it gives our sponsors exclusive opportunities that other venues just can’t offer.” As the nation’s space program turns 50 this year, along with the recent successful Mars landing, nearly four million visitors from around the world are drawn -now more than ever- to the nation’s 10 visitor centers that are conveniently located in major metropolitan cities from coast to coast including California, Florida and Houston.

The NASA Visitor Centers include Kennedy Space Center in Florida; Johnson Space Center in Texas; U.S. Space & Rocket Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama; Glenn Visitor Center at Great Lakes Science Center in Ohio; Virginia Air & Space Center at Langley Research Center in Virginia; Ames Research Center in California; Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland; Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and Dryden Flight Research Center in California. (10/26)

'Fearless' Felix Baumgartner: Mars is a Waste of Money (Source: Telegraph)
Given the way in which he achieved his fame, it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume that Felix Baumgartner would be a champion of space exploration. But the Austrian daredevil, who traveled to the edge of space before jumping back to Earth, has branded NASA's aim to discover whether there is life on Mars a waste of money. He  urged the US Government to divert the money it spends on Mars toon environmental projects on Earth.

Mr Baumgartner, whose Red Bull Stratos mission was watched by more than seven million people around the world, also took aim at Sir Richard Branson after the Virgin boss hinted that his company could attempt to break the Austrian's record. Sir Richard said that he was approached by someone in 2005 who wanted to jump from 400,000ft using Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, saying: "Such a record is theoretically possible. However, the timing wasn't right."

"It sounds like kind of a joke because it looks like he wants to use our positive momentum and gain publicity on his side and that is kind of lame." He said that the idea of someone leaping from 400,000ft was "completely insane... You have seen on TV how hard it is to go up 129,000ft and how hard it is to come down." (10/26)

Throwing Money Into Space (Source: Economist)
spaceflight start-ups all admit this about their fledgling industry: that the pie remains firmly lodged in the sky. At a meeting of such "astropreneurs" in Seattle on October 16th, Tom Nugent, president of wireless power company LaserMotive, admitted that investors remain understandably reluctant to stump up cash for ventures where a failure of technology could take months to rectify, cost many millions of dollars, or even human lives.

Chris Lewicki, the Chief Asteroid Miner (his official title) at Planetary Resources, an extra-terrestrial prospecting company which plans to mine asteroids for rare metals, proudly listed Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google among the firm's investors. But he added that neither would advise anyone’s grandmother to commit her life savings to the venture.

The problems with financing private space enterprises are legion. Many new aerospace technologies are highly capital- and labour-intensive, have long development timelines, serve markets that are nascent (if they exist at all) and rely on launch systems that can be slow, expensive and unreliable. Selecting the best investments also demands a level of expertise that is, well, "rocket science". (10/26)

U.S. Satellite Plans Falter, Imperiling Data on Storms (Source: New York Times)
The United States is facing a year or more without crucial satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks, a result of years of mismanagement, lack of financing and delays in launching replacements, according to several recent official reviews. The looming gap in satellite coverage, which some experts view as almost certain within the next few years, could result in shaky forecasts about storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Experts have grown increasingly alarmed in the past two years because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launch of the next replacement, known as J.P.S.S.-1, has slipped to 2017, probably too late to avoid a coverage gap of at least a year. Prodded by lawmakers and auditors, the satellite program’s managers are just beginning to think through alternatives when the gap occurs, but these are unlikely to avoid it. (10/26)

Probe Begins on Naro Defect (Source: Arirang)
Korean and Russian engineers are now investigating a glitch with the Naro rocket that prevented its scheduled launch on Friday. A helium leak was discovered five hours before the due launch in Goheung, South Jeolla Province. Authorities cited a torn rubber seal and a resulting leak in the connection between the first stage rocket and the launch pad that released the helium gas.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute and Russia's Khrunichev Space Center are probing the exact cause. For now, the Korea institute says they will pinpoint and fix the problem. The launch is likely to be rescheduled for next month after notifying the international aerospace authorities. (10/27)

Antares Rocket Tests Halted by Hurricane Sandy (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Threats of high winds and flooding from Hurricane Sandy are forcing Orbital Sciences Corp. to suspend tests of its Antares rocket and secure facilities at a coastal launch site in Virginia. The Antares rocket's first stage was moved Oct. 1 to the launch pad at Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore for several weeks of testing, fueling exercises and an engine hotfire ahead of the new launcher's first liftoff.

Workers at the coastal launch site are sealing doors on the Antares horizontal integration facility and closing access doors, disconnecting propellant lines, and safing systems on the rocket's first stage on the launch pad. The Antares first stage, designed by Yuzhnoye and built by Yuzhmash in Ukraine, will remain on the launch pad. Parts for two more Antares rockets are housed inside Orbital's hangar about one mile from the pad. (10/26)

KSC Could Host Military and Commercial Operators in the OPFs (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
while Boeing’s CST-100 has agreed to take up residency inside OPF-3. One of the most likely customers for one of the two remaining OPFs is Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), which is looking at KSC options to host their Dream Chaser vehicle. However, SNC is keeping their cards close to their chests, citing the need for a clean floor environment, as opposed to housing their Dream Chaser fleet in the midst of gantry platforms and hypergolic hardware, all of which was very specific to the Shuttle orbiters.

KSC managers are already fully aware that some work would be required to make the OPFs more attractive to the likes of Dream Chaser, who have evaluated – and used the “baby orbiter” as an example in NASA presentations – “clean floor processing” concepts. Another potential vehicle that has often been cited as a likely candidate to set up a processing base at an OPF is the USAF’s X-37B.

The main question for that option would be the security a military vehicle would require, especially when the two remaining OPFs are practically next door to each other – likely resulting in a commercial neighbor for the USAF space plane. Despite that not being an ideal scenario for the X-37B, NASA claims an OPF used for a military vehicle – without specifically citing the USAF vehicle – could be provided with the reassurance of separated facility from a security standpoint. (10/26)

SLS Engine Could Replace Russian RD-80 on Atlas V (Source: Aviation Week)
Before the dust settles from the post-shuttle shift in human access to space, the U.S. could find itself with a big new high-performance hydrocarbon rocket engine to boost NASA's planned heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) off the pad. There is a chance it might even replace the Russian-built RD-180 that carries the Atlas V.

A dual-use rocket burning refined petroleum-1 (RP-1), a form of kerosene, instead of liquid hydrogen or solid fuel, might hit the sweet spot in next-generation U.S. space launch needs. It could give NASA enough thrust to build its congressionally mandated 130-metric-ton heavy lifter, while removing Russia from the critical path to launching sensitive national security payloads.

One of Marshall's projects is finding “intersecting interests” for collaboration in rocket propulsion, and large hydrocarbon engines may fill the bill. NASA is in talks with the Air Force about joining the Hydrocarbon Boost Technology Demonstrator program, a relatively low-level AFRL effort to develop advanced kerosene rocket technology. Among the AFRL contractors on the program is Aerojet, which is developing a 1-million-lb.-thrust, LOX-rich staged combustion kerosene-fueled engine. (10/26)

ORBITEC Completes Rocket Engine Test (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Orbital Technologies Corp. said Friday it has successfully flight-tested its new rocket engine in Mojave, California. The Madison company put its rocket engine in an airframe designed by Garvey Spacecraft Corp., Long Beach, Calif. Orbitec has been developing the engine for the last 10 years. The demonstration shows that Orbitec's engine is ready for future applications with the military, NASA and commercial customers, the company said. (10/26)

Wanted: Marketing Expert to Sell Space Program in Uncertain Times (Source: Huntsville Times)
Wanted: young marketing professionals skilled in social media, digital media and legacy media to sell America's space program. Primary target market: the public. Secondary target market: the people who are running America's space program. The second half of that assignment sounds strange. Shouldn't the space professionals already be cheering?

Several panels at this month's Von Braun Space Symposium in Huntsville did a lot of venting about the future. Good things are happening in space, panelists agreed, but there are nagging issues - too many nagging issues -- that threaten America's progress in space. And they start with the marketplace. On the launch side, American companies launched either zero or one commercial satellite last year, depending on how you count it. The American launches that did occur were satellites for government clients such as the Navy and Air Force.

...Ann Zulkosky, a staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, also got a lot of nods when she stressed the need for everyone in the space community to remember that they thrive together or fail apart. "It's an 'and' issue," Zulkosky said. Commercial and government. Democrats and Republicans. Congress and the White House. Click here. (10/26)

The Strange Planets of 'Fomalhaut' -- A Spectacular Alien Star System (Source: Daily Galaxy)
Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile discovered that planets orbiting the star Fomalhaut must be much smaller than originally thought. The discovery was made possible by exceptionally sharp ALMA images of a disc, or ring, of dust orbiting Fomalhaut, which lies about 25 light-years from Earth. It helps resolve a controversy among earlier observers of the system.

The ALMA images showed that both the inner and outer edges of the thin, dusty disc have very sharp edges. That fact, combined with computer simulations, led the scientists to conclude that the dust particles in the disc are kept within the disc by the gravitational effect of two planets — one closer to the star than the disc and one more distant.

Their calculations also indicated the probable size of the planets — larger than Mars but no larger than a few times the size of the Earth. This is much smaller than astronomers had previously thought. In 2008, a NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image had revealed the inner planet, then thought to be larger than Saturn, the second largest planet in our Solar System. However, later observations with infrared telescopes failed to detect the planet. (10/26)

How Far Into Space Have Human Broadcasts Reached? (Source: Planetary Society)
Humans have been broadcasting radio waves into deep space for about a hundred years now, since the days of Marconi. That, of course, means there is an ever-expanding bubble announcing Humanity's presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way. This bubble is astronomically large (literally), and currently spans approximately 200 light years. But how big is this, really, compared to the size of the Galaxy in which we live (which is, itself, just one of countless billions of galaxies in the observable universe)? Click here. (2/24)

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