November 15, 2012

Minuteman III Test Missile Launches from Vandenberg (Source: USAF)
An Air Force Global Strike Command Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a simulated reentry vehicle was launched during an operational test at 3:07 a.m., Nov.14 from Launch Facility 10 on North Vandenberg. The purpose of the launch program is to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command officials. 30th Space Wing Western Range safety operations went as planned during the flight test. (11/14)

Save Our Spaceport Coalition Meets Thursday in Albuquerque (Source" Las Cruces Sun-News)
The Save Our Spaceport Coalition will meet in Albuquerque. The group is dedicated to pass a new law limiting the liability for space accidents in order to ensure the future of Spaceport America and save thousands of jobs in aerospace, tourism, and construction. The coalition includes the space industry, the aviation industry, state tourism, economic development groups, education organizations, and legislative sponsors.

Scheduled to speak are the Tourism Association of New Mexico, Raton Public Schools, a defense contractor, representatives from New Mexico State University, and Virgin Galactic. Supporters are seeking to pass legislation to prevent lawsuits against the manufacturers and suppliers of space vehicles for human commercial space flight. (11/15)

Five Reasons Mars May Have Never Seen Life (Source: Forbes)
After decades of following the water, the reality that “life as we know it” may never have gotten a foothold on Mars’ surface, at least, has arguably taken root within the planetary science community. If life ever was or is lurking on the Red planet, it’s been extremely coy about revealing itself. The recent news that the Mars Curiosity rover has thus far detected no Methane is reminiscent of the frustration that followed the still contentious 1996 announcement that the Alan Hills Mars meteorite (ALH 84001) showed evidence of microfossils. Click here. (11/15)

Kepler Completes Prime Mission (Source: America Space)
NASA’s Kepler mission marked two major milestones this week as the space telescope scans the heavens for planets like our own. The first of these, the completion of Kepler’s prime mission (which lasted for three and a half years) was quickly followed by the second milestone – the beginning of its extended mission which might last four years. To date, Kepler has been used by researchers in discovering more than 2,300 potential planets and has confirmed more than 100.

Kepler has so far identified hundreds of possible Earth-sized worlds, some of which reside in the habitable zone, the region in a solar system where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. This is according to a press release issued by the space agency. This data gleaned from Kepler’s findings could provide scientist with their first opportunity to find Earth-like planets. None of the current candidates is precisely Earth-like. Click here. (11/15)

Meteorites Reveal Warm Water Existed on Mars (Source: U. of Leicester)
Hydrothermal fractures around Martian impact craters may have been a habitable environment for microbial life. The study determined that water temperatures on the Red Planet ranged from 50°C to 150°C. Microbes on Earth can live in similar waters, for example in the volcanic thermal springs at Yellowstone Park, the scientists behind the research point out. The research is based on detailed scrutiny of Mars meteorites on Earth using powerful microscopes in the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy. This was followed-up by computer modeling work at The Open University. (11/15)

Roscosmos verifying Proton Rocket Fall in Altai Village (Source: Interfax)
Federal Space Agency specialists are studying the trajectory of the second stage of the Proton-M rocket, which brought the Intelsat 23 telecom satellite to orbit on October 14. A Baikonur Space Center source told of the alleged fall of a rocket fragment in the yard of a house in Balykcha immediately after the launch. The village is located eight to ten kilometers away from the designated place of the Proton-M second stage fall.

"Specialists are calculating the second stage's flight parameters after the separation of the third stage and modeling trajectories of possible fragments," he said. A fragment of the rocket might have fallen over the village because of its proximity to the launch trajectory and the direction of winds on the launch date, the source said. (11/15)

Globalstar Sees Uptick in Two-way Voice Calls (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Globalstar on Nov. 14 said it had begun to see an uptick in the use of its low-orbiting satellite constellation for two-way voice calls after five years of declines caused by satellite in-orbit failures. The company said the last six of 24 satellites under construction to replenish the constellation are scheduled for launch in February aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. (11/15)

Laptop with NASA Workers' Personal Data is Stolen (Source: Reuters)
NASA was informing employees this week that a laptop computer with personnel information such as social security numbers was stolen from a locked car two weeks ago, potentially putting thousands of workers and contractors at risk. The laptop, issued to an employee at NASA headquarters in Washington, was password protected but its disk was not fully encrypted. "Information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals," wrote Richard Keegan, the agency's associate deputy administrator. (11/15)

Solar Array Problem Dents Loral Profit (Source: Space News)
Loral on Nov. 14 reported increased revenue but a sharp drop in operating profit for the nine months ending Sep. 30 as it booked charges including $22 million for a solar-array problem on one of its satellites. Loral also reported that a satellite under construction will cost the company $22 million more than expected because of customer penalties and increased manufacturing charges. (11/15)

Astronomer Tycho Brahe 'Not Poisoned', Says Expert (Source: BBC)
The 16th-Century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe is unlikely to have been poisoned, according to a researcher studying his remains. The body was exhumed in 2010 in a bid to confirm the cause of his death. Brahe was thought to have died of a bladder infection, but a previous exhumation found traces of mercury in hair from his beard.

However, the most recent tests have found the levels of mercury were not high enough to have killed him. Some have speculated that he was killed on the orders of the Danish king, or by fellow astronomer Johannes Kepler, who also later gained fame. A team of Danish and Czech scientists have been working to solve the mystery by analysing bone, hair and clothing samples. (11/15)

Launch of Canadian Satellites by India Delayed Until January (Source: SpaceRef)
In yet another delay, the launch of two important government satellites, NEOSSat and Sapphire along with two university built nanosatellites has been postponed from its Dec. 12 launch date to Jan. 12. No reason has been released publicly for the delay. The satellites are part of a secondary payload set to launch on India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C20 with the joint Indo-French SARAL satellite as the primary payload.

NEOSSat will be the first space telescope dedicated to the search for near-Earth asteroids. NEOSSat is the result of a university-industry collaboration and will spend half the time looking for these small interplanetary objects that could potentially impact the Earth and cause great damage. NEOSSat will spend the other half of its time searching for satellites and space debris in orbit around the Earth in a research project sponsored by a DND agency, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). (11/15)

Spaceport Firefighters Unhappy with Post-Shuttle Contract Change (Source: Florida Today)
Stephen Whitney is one of about 85 firefighters at Kennedy Space Center whose situations changed dramatically when the security contract at the spaceport changed hands near the end of the space shuttle program. As the nature of the work needed at KSC changed, NASA opened the security contract to new bids. G4S Government Solutions in Palm Beach Gardens lost the contract at first, but the British company got the decision overturned after a lengthy legal battle.

This year, G4S tried to reduce costs during union negotiations, prompting picketing by firefighters. The protests were called off Oct. 1 when the deadline to settle the contract passed and G4S implemented new terms without the union’s approval, said Kevin Smith, president of the Transport Workers Union. Firefighters’ salaries, which average about $25 per hour, were not cut.

But the union estimates each firefighter lost about $20,000 per year from the combined impact of reductions in benefits such as retirement, stipends and uniform allowances, among others. Reductions in hours and overtime also impacted take-home pay. Insurance premiums more than doubled, according to the firefighters. (11/14)

Alien Seekers at SETI Get $3.5 Million Donation (Source: San Francisco Business Times)
Franklin Antonio, chief scientist at Qualcomm Inc., gave $3.5 million to the SETI Institute, which looks for extraterrestrial life. SETI -- short for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- will spend the money on the Allen Telescope Array in California, which used to be run by the University of California, Berkeley. Now SETI uses the radio telescope array, which has some 350 antennas, to search for possible signals from aliens. (11/14)

Hawaii's PISCES Space Program Gets $2.3 Million Boost (Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald)
The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems received a $2.3 million boost in funding officials hope will make the state-backed initiative more appealing to NASA and other space agencies. The funding includes $1.8 million geared for the space center’s plans to expand its facilities and $500,000 to cover operations, said Rob Kelso, who began serving as PISCES’ executive director Nov. 1.

The money will improve PISCES facilities, including the construction of a space technology research and development complex, to provide not only testing grounds, but also the ability to design and develop technologies. Specifics on the plans will be released at a later date. With the expansion, PISCES hopes to do more than just test rovers, said Kelso. It has four areas it would like to grow: planetary surface robotics; in situ resource utilization; skylight and lava tube traversing; and habitation. (11/14)

Links Restored to Russian Satellites As Cable Fixed (Source: RIA Novosti)
A broken communications cable which severed Russian links with civilian satellites has been repaired, Russian telecom operator Akado said on Thursday. “The broken cable has been restored. Now the operator is testing the communications line together with [Russian space agency] Roscosmos,” company spokesman Denis Rychka said. Three teams worked at the site outside Moscow to repair the cable, he said. (11/15)

Exploration Alternatives: Propellant Depots to Commercial Lunar Base (Source:
As NASA managers continue to work modifications to an unreleased exploration plan, one that has a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) at its center, the highly popular concept of an exploration highway – enabled by propellant deports – continues to gain positive overviews. Such a technology may also be involved in a major new commercial effort that will soon be announced.

From the standpoint of the general public, NASA’s exploration goals appear to be no further along from when they were first announced by Charlie Bolden, despite what continues to be a large amount of interesting and positive work behind the scenes. Officially, the Agency has ambitions to launch their new HLV, the SLS, in 2017 and 2021, both on missions that will conduct orbital visits of the Moon – the latter being crewed.

NASA will then aim to conduct mission(s) to a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) in the 2025s, followed by the ultimate goal of sending a crew to Mars in the 2030s. To any space flight follower, the goals may be interesting, but the time-frame and costs are unattractive, not least because the very nature of such multi-billion dollar missions over a period of decades – and potentially several changes of government – risks downstream cuts and even cancellation. Click here. (11/15)

XCOR Picks ATK for Lynx Wing Work (Source: XCOR)
XCOR Aerospace has issued the initial phase of a two-phase contract to ATK’s Aerospace Structures Division for the detailed design and manufacture of the Lynx Mark I suborbital reusable launch vehicle (RLV) wings and control surfaces. The initial wing and control surface design has been developed by XCOR to rigorous design standards to enable the craft to perform tens of thousands of flights to and from suborbital altitudes exceeding 100 kilometers. ATK will create a detailed design ready for manufacture, working with structural and flutter analysis experts. (11/14)

NASA Official Details Recent SpaceX Mission Anomalies (Source: Space Policy Online)
ISS program manager Mike Suffredini said that SpaceX is still trying to determine what happened to the Merlin engine that malfunctioned during last month's Falcon-9 launch. NASA is participating in the investigation, he said, and a fault tree analysis is underway. Several other problems also arose during the mission.  While berthed to the ISS, one of the three computers on the Dragon spacecraft failed. Dragon can operate with only two computers, and SpaceX chose to proceed with the two functioning units rather than trying to fix the faulty unit while on orbit. 

Dragon experienced other anomalies because of radiation as well. One of three GPS units, the Propulsion and Trunk computers and Ethernet switch all experienced "suspected radiation hits," but all were recovered after a power cycle. SpaceX is considering whether it needs to use radiation-hardened parts instead, but noted that "rad-hardened" computers, for example, not only are more expensive, but slower.

Problems with one of the Draco thrusters and a loss of all three coolant pumps after splashdown also marred the mission.  The Glacier freezer onboard Dragon used to return scientific samples from the ISS was at -65 degrees Centigrade instead of the required -95 degrees C when it was accessed three hours after splashdown. Suffredini said that some of the samples "exceeded limits" (presumably temperature limits), but that the limits were conservative. How much of a problem the warmer temperature could cause apparently is not yet clear. (11/14)

Gritty Atlantis Will Not Be Like Other Shuttle Attractions (Source: Florida Today)
Shuttle Atlantis is off the ground as work begins to lift the orbiter into place at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Last week, park guests got a sneak peak at Atlantis in its new home, a $100 million expansion scheduled to open next summer. Tim Macy explained why Atlantis won't be cleaned, and other aspects of its new display. It’s real space dust, and there are dings on the bottom of it. The tiles have little marks on them; there are burn marks on the back. There was a question we had about 18 months ago, should we have it cleaned up? There was a resounding “no”; everybody at the table said absolutely not. It’s cool to look at. Click here. (11/15)

China Space Program: Threat or Boon to Mankind? (Source: AOL Defense)
China announced over the weekend that it would go ahead with its long-planned launch of its Shenzhou 10 spacecraft in early June 2013, which in and of itself isn't big news. But it serves to remind the U.S. and Russia and India and all of its neighbors that China continues to press ahead with its ambitious manned and military space program.

Dean Cheng, one of America's top experts on the Chinese military and its space program, outlined the current state of the Chinese program. On the national security side, the Peoples Republic of China pledged to build a "high resolution, multispectral Earth constellation," known to ordinary mortals as a bunch of spy satellites. On the sort of civil side (all space programs are run and funded by the Peoples Liberation Army) military, China committed to "one or two more space labs to lay the foundations for a Chinese space station of around 60 tons by 2020," Cheng said.

And they will begin studies "that will eventually lead to a manned moon mission" between 2026 and 2030. None of this will change, Cheng believes, because it is in the five year plan. "This commits the Chinese no matter how the leadership battle shakes out," he said, noting that the leadership transition should be complete in the next few days. In terms of science, Cheng sounded distinctly unimpressed with the Chinese focus: "The Chinese are talking a little bit about science exploration, but not much." Instead, the Chinese Communist Party is focused mostly on manned missions, which Cheng argues are seen by the leadership as indicators of comprehensive national power. (11/15)

Air Force Receives Bids for Debris-Tracking Space Fence (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have submitted bids to the U.S. Air Force for construction of a network of radars to scan the sky and detect small fragments of space debris with unprecedented precision. The defense contractors are competing for a contract worth up to $3.5 billion to build the radars under the Air Force's Space Fence program, which aims for a ten-fold improvement in space tracking capability over the Air Force Space Surveillance System radar network, which has been operational since 1961.

The Air Force has paid each company $137 million since 2009 to work on designs for the Space Fence. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon developed working prototype radars to demonstrate the concepts could detect objects in space. The first Space Fence radar will be based at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The military plans to build at least one other Space Fence radar installation, but officials have not announced a site for the second facility. (11/15)

Will NASA's Next Space Capsule Land Like a Helicopter? (Source:
It looks like NASA is getting a little more creative with its landing systems. A team of researchers recently tested a new rotor landing system in the 550-foot fall Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The idea is for spinning blades to take the place of parachutes to enable soft and controlled landings on land instead of the ocean.

The rotor re-entry and landing system is designed for capsule-inspired spacecraft like the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle that should fly before the end of the decade. It's an appealing system because it marries the stability and control of a helicopter to the simplicity of an unpowered system; wind passing over the rotors as the capsule descends through the atmosphere is enough to make the blades turn. And keeping the airflow around the blades' hinges balanced is enough to ensure the blades don't wrap around the spacecraft when they hit the wind. Click here. (11/13)

Future of NASA Space Exploration May Lay in Private Sector, With Robots (Source: Examiner)
If one wants to explore the surface of the moon or Mars, tele-operated robots are the way to go. Human operators, using exoskeleton controls and virtual reality goggle on a space station, would control robots as they traverse the surface of alien worlds, combining the flexibility of human astronauts and the cheapness and ruggedness of robots.

Of course, the human operators would have to be sustained, either at the planned NASA deep space station at the Earth/Moon L2 point or in a space station circling Mars. They would be subjected to the perils of radiation and microgravity. But at least the expense of landing humans on the surface of a planet would be avoided, until the decision is made to colonize the moon and/or Mars. By that time, tele-operated robots would have already built the surface base and made it ready for human occupants. (11/12)

Reusable Rocket Makes Highest Test ‘Hop’ (Source: RIA Novosti)
A prototype of a reusable space rocket has made its highest “hop” yet as part of testing to determine whether it can return from space flight and land back on the ground intact. In the test, which took place in the US state of Texas on Nov. 1, the “Grasshopper” reusable rocket lifted off its launch pad and rose 17.7 feet (5.4 meters) into the air before gently easing back down to land on the pad, the website said. The test lasted eight seconds.

The “Grasshopper” reusable rocket prototype consists of two stages and stands 227 feet (70 meters) tall. It is being developed by the private US spaceflight company SpaceX, which says such reusable systems would dramatically reduce costs of space travel. Click here to see the video. (11/15)

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