December 24, 2012

NASA Planetary Division Management Responds to Community Concerns (Source: NASA Watch)
"Contrary to statements being made by some individuals in the science community, the recent announcement of the Mars 2020 rover has nothing to do with the current R&A selection rates nor has it impacted the current or projected amounts to be spent in the R&A program. The Mars 2020 rover will be designed to "conduct mobile surface-based science at a site selected for its ability to preserve evidence of life, and prepare for the future return of samples per the NRC Planetary Decadal Survey." (12/24)

FPL Will Match Your Holiday Donation for Florida STEM Education (Source: SPACErePORT)
This holiday season, Florida Power & Light Company wants to help teachers pay for classroom supplies. Thanks to a partnership with Adopt-A-Classroom, FPL will add $50 to any $25 or higher donation made to a qualified classroom in the Adopt-A-Classroom network. So, if you donate $25, we’ll match it with $50. If you donate $100, FPL’s contribution will be $50. The FPL match fund is capped at $45,000.

If you are a teacher or if you know a teacher that qualifies for this matching education fund, the more donors she or he is able to line up, the more matches FPL will be able to fund. The multi-school Space Coast robotics club, which has worked closely with NASA KSC on student-led robotics programs, is an excellent choice. Click here to learn about the FPL program, and here to donate to the hard-working teacher (Marian Passmore) responsible for the robotics program. (12/24)

Tech Titans of Tullahoma: One Foot in the Country, The Other in Space (Source: Chattanooga Times)
A few miles down a featureless highway, just past the sinking pond and the goose pond, there's a break in the trees. Suddenly, a fighter jet appears. Then another, and then a third pops into sight -- all held aloft on steel columns. Behind the motionless aircraft, a guarded checkpoint leads into one of the most advanced research facilities in the U.S., home to the nation's largest operational wind tunnel.

The sprawling 40,000-acre test site hosts advanced experiments for NASA, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force. No, it's not Oak Ridge or even Huntsville, Ala. Motorists who don't seek it out could go their entire lives without ever laying eyes on it. It's the entrance to Arnold Engineering Development Complex, located almost exactly halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville. Almost everything that moves, whether it's an 18-wheeler, an F-1 racing car or a ballistic missile, needs to be tested. These guys are the testing experts.

For better or worse, the town's fortunes are inextricably tied to the level of government and corporate interest in such experiments. About a third of the town works at the complex, and the rest either work for or sell products to base personnel. The city has one of the state's best school systems, fiber-optic Internet and more advanced technology in its 23 square miles than most countries possess in all their cities combined. Click here. (12/24)

SpaceX Grasshopper Test Reminiscent of DC-X, New Shepard (Source: Space Policy Online)
Watching the latest SpaceX Grasshopper test flight is reminiscent of an earlier program, the DC-X, sponsored initially by DOD's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and later by NASA. McDonnell Douglas, one of the country's leading aerospace companies at the time, was the prime contractor on the project and renowned former astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad was the project's leader at the company. 

Like SpaceX's Grasshopper, the goal was to demonstrate a reusable launch vehicle that took off and landed vertically, although it was shaped differently than Grasshopper. Subscale prototype DC-X and DC-XA vehicles achieved several successful tests between 1993-1996, ascending vertically, moving laterally, and then descending vertically. NASA took over the program in 1996 after BMDO determined it could no longer afford it. It flew its last flight in July 1996 when it was heavily damaged upon landing because one of the landing struts failed to deploy.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is not the only company interested in the DC-X dream of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL).  Blue Origin, owned by another Internet billionaire, Jeff Bezos, is designing the New Shepard system. NASA describes New Shepard as being "inspired" by the DC-X. Media stories report that some of the engineers who worked on DC-X now work for Blue Origin. (12/24)

NASA to Turn Asteroid Into Space Station (Source: The Hindu)
NASA scientists are planning to capture a 500,000 kg asteroid, relocate it and transform it into a space station for astronauts to refuel at on their way to Mars. It would be the first time a celestial object has ever been moved by humans, the ‘Daily Mail’ reported. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology will consider the $2.6 billion plan in the coming weeks as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade.

A feasibility report prepared by NASA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists outlined how they would go about capturing the asteroid. An ‘asteroid capture capsule’ would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket and directed the asteroid between the Earth and the Moon. Once close, the asteroid capsule would release a 50 ft diameter bag that wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings, the paper said.

The craft would then turn on its thrusters, using an estimated 300 kg of propellant, to stop the asteroid in its tracks and tow it into a gravitationally neutral spot. From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space. NASA declined to comment on the project because it said it was in negotiations with the White House, but it is believed that technology would make it possible within 10-12 years. (12/24)

Senate Passes $633 Billion Defense Authorization Bill (Source: The Hill)
A bill authorizing $633 billion in defense spending for the current fiscal year awaits the signature of President Barack Obama after being passed by the Senate on Friday. The president opposes the legislation and has promised to veto it, but both houses of Congress passed the bill with majorities large enough to override a presidential veto. (12/21)

When Dragon Made Commercial Spaceflight a Reality (Source: SEN)
(Sen) - 2012 was the year of the Dragon - the first private spacecraft to deliver cargo supplies to the International Space Station. It took SpaceX, the privately owned space business founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, just 10 years to design and build Dragon, and the rocket which launched it.

In the last two years SpaceX has achieved a number of firsts. In June 2010 the company's Falcon 9 had its inaugural flight and became the first private rocket to reach orbit. In December 2010 Falcon 9 had its second launch, and this time its Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket and entered orbital flight for the first time. After orbiting Earth twice it splashed down safely in the Pacific ocean and SpaceX became the first company to return a privately operated spaceship from orbit.

Both 2010 flights were part of the testing phase of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program under which NASA agreed to outsource space station deliveries to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital) subject to demonstrating their ability to do so safely. After establishing that it could put Dragon into orbit, and the spaceship's navigation worked, the next step was for Dragon to attempt to berth with the space station. That demonstration came in May this year, and in achieving the objectives set by NASA, SpaceX became the first private company to visit the ISS. (12/24)

SpaceX Tests Grasshopper Again (Source: Daily Telegraph)
SpaceX have released footage of their new resusable Grasshopper rocket successfully launching - and landing again safely. The private space engineering company tested the vertical take-off and landing vehicle prototype at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas last week. Grasshopper, powered by a Falcon 9 rocket and Merlin 1D engine, rose to a height of 130ft (40m) and hovered in the air before landing safely on the launch pad below, using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control.

The latest effort was one giant leap for the Grasshopper compared to its previous two test flights which have seen the rocket hover at six feet and 17 feet off the ground respectively before landing. SpaceX are developing a new generation of reusable rockets that can launch, fly and land, in order to cut down on the expense of commercial space travel. Click here to see the video. (12/24)

SpaceX’s Entry Into Military Launch Market Draws Lockheed Jab (Source: Washington Post)
SpaceX is poised to break into the U.S. military’s $70 billion launch market after winning its first missions from the Pentagon. The Defense Department on Nov. 27 directed the Air Force to end a launch monopoly held by the government’s two biggest contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. A week later, the service awarded the trial missions to SpaceX.

Robert Stevens, CEO of Lockheed, poked fun at SpaceX’s inexperience. ULA has launched “hundreds of billions of dollars" of satellites on 66 consecutive missions, Stevens said. “I’m hugely pleased with 66 in a row from ULA, and I don’t know the record of SpaceX yet," he said. “Two in a row?" Although ULA has a successful launch record, it has struggled to control costs.

The average price of its Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets is estimated at $464 million a launch, more than double a previous estimate of $230 million, according to the Pentagon. “Cost doesn’t matter at all if you don’t put the ball into orbit," said Stevens. "I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes." (12/24)

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