April 21, 2013

White House Statement on the Launch of Antares (Source: SpaceRef)
Following today's launch of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket, John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, issued the following statement:

"Today's successful test flight of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket from the spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, demonstrates an additional private space-launch capability for the United States and lays the groundwork for the first Antares cargo mission to the International Space Station later this year. The growing potential of America's commercial space industry and NASA's use of public-private partnerships are central to President Obama's strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in space exploration while pushing the bounds of scientific discovery and innovation in the 21st century." (4/21)

Orbital Successfully Launches Antares Rocket (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corp. completed a successful test launch of its new Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. Lift-off took place at 5:00 p.m. (EDT) followed by payload separation approximately 10 minutes later and mission completion at about 18 minutes after launch, once the rocket's upper stage completed planned maneuvers to distance itself from the payload.

The test flight demonstrated all operational aspects of the new Antares launcher, including the ascent to space and accurate delivery of a simulated payload to a target orbit of approximately 150 by 160 miles, with an inclination of 51.6 degrees, the same launch profile it will use for Orbital's upcoming cargo supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. (4/21)

Florida Universities and High Schools Compete in NASA Launch Competition (Source: NASA)
The NASA Student Launch Projects (SLP) challenges middle school, high school, and college students in designing, building, and launching a reusable rocket to 1 mile above ground level with a scientific or engineering payload. SLP is an 8-month commitment requiring teams to submit a series of reports and reviews, develop a Web site, provide educational engagement in their local community, and provide a timeline, a budget, and other requirements.

Each team is competing for various prizes including a grand prize of $5,000 sponsored by ATK Aerospace Group. The overall winner will be announced after the final reports are completed. Florida teams included Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Santa Fe College in Gainesville, University of Central Florida in Orlando, and University of Florida in Gainesville. (4/21)

Iridium, Harris Remain Upbeat on Satellite Venture (Source: Air Traffic Management)
Satellite operator Iridium and Harris are not only targeting air navigation service providers with their new space-based aircraft-tracking venture but also turning their attention to the cash-strapped US military. Iridium and Canadian air navigation service provider NAV CANADA last year formed the Aireon joint venture to put special ADS-B sensors on all 66 new Iridium NEXT satellites to track aircraft over oceans and other global blind spots from 2015.

Speaking at a Space Foundation conference last week, Don Thoma, president and chief executive of Aireon, told reporters the new space-based tracking system could save airlines an average of $450 in fuel costs by flying more optimal transatlantic routes. Aireon is negotiating agreements to sell the new service to global air navigation service providers although take-up to date appears lukewarm. Thoma said Aireon was also in active discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration about the new tracking capability, but that the aviation agency was not expected to sign a contract ‘for about 18 months’.

Bill Gattle, vice president of aerospace for Harris whose sensor technology collects data for US intelligence and other government agencies, said the Iridium NEXT satellite payload could carry three additional plug-in sensors. Gattle said this could allow the government to carry out space-based missions for cheaper than building and launching a bespoke satellite. (4/17)

Future of U.S. Space Policy (Source: The Atlantic)
This past Monday, the Council on Foreign Relations had an evening session in DC about whether America was taking the right stance toward space exploration. The question included whether the many balances involved in space policy -- between manned and unmanned flights, between commercial and government-sponsored efforts, between international and strictly American projects, between military and civilian motivations -- were being set the right way.

An admirably direct question from an audience member: Why, exactly, is manned space flight sensible? brought two interesting answers -- first Bob Walker's on the history of national exploration ventures in general, then Scott Pace's emphasis that a successful manned mission requires a broader range of competencies and achievements than almost anything else human beings try to do, and therefore is valuable in a skill-advancing sense. Pace also talks about how our plans for space exploration differ, depending on whether we see outer space as more similar to Mt. Everest or Antarctica. Click here. (4/20)

Space Telescope Cost, Schedule Unrealistic (Source: Florida Today)
A new, independent review of the James Webb Space Telescope hints at future delays. The $8.8 billion observatory, a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope that is considered the most important science project on NASA’s plate this decade, is on a probation of sorts. Why? Even using NASA’s most forgiving measures, the project is more than $4 billion over the budget set for it in 2009 (and that was several billion dollars over its original estimate).

Webb’s planners intended the great telescope to be flying by now, and operational. The latest launch estimate is “late 2018,” which means if everything goes perfectly for the next five years. But there are new technical threats. There’s a slim chance Webb won’t balloon to $10 billion. The latest dilemmas, according to a new General Accountability Office report, include the craft being overweight and at least two instruments being nearly a year behind in their delivery. (4/20)

Anomalously Large Moon Remains Key To Our Existence (Source: Forbes)
Science fiction has continually given us the notion that once our starships start surfing the Milky Way’s grand spiral arms, we’ll soon find ourselves on some sort of galactic A-list. But what if no one’s there to host an interstellar meet and greet? What if we’re very rare, if not truly alone as far our telescopes can see? Just this week, NASA announced that Kepler had discovered three terrestrial-type planets in their parent stars’ habitable zones.

Peter Ward says these discoveries don't change his hypothesis that our Earth is exceptional. "We know that earth-sized planets are out there. That does not make them “earth-like” necessarily... Animals are going to be extraordinarily rare because so many planetary processes are going to be detrimental to their [evolution]. The majority of planets are going to be where metallicities are highest — close to the centers of galaxies."

"But in the galactic center you are also so close to other stars. There, gravity is going to pull comets out from other stellar systems. How can complex life form if you get your ocean sterilized by a comet of 20 to 30 kms in diameter every 200,000 years? The center of the galaxy is also more susceptible to greater impact rates, more supernovae, and more gamma ray-bursts. Those three are animal killers." (4/20)

Bolden: Today's NASA Support Will Strengthen Future Missions (Source: cleveland Plain Dealer)
President Barack Obama has said that the "North Star" of strengthening the middle class, creating jobs and growing the economy guides him and his budget priorities. Needless to say, we at NASA love that metaphor as it reminds us of how much America's space program has meant to our nation and the world over the past 50 years.

From landing the first humans on the moon to helping build the world's strongest aerospace industry, to creating more than 1,800 spinoff inventions that are improving life and saving lives right here on Earth, NASA has played an indispensable role in the progress of America. And as our global village transforms itself into a highly competitive, technology-driven 21st-century community, the business of space is increasingly becoming the business of America.

That fact has not been lost on Congress or the president. Even in these tight budgetary times, support for NASA has remained strong, as evidenced by the bipartisan support we enjoy and the $17.7 billion 2014 budget the president has proposed for the agency. It is a budget that invests in American leadership in space exploration and scientific discovery, supports jobs and America's growing commercial space industry, drives innovation in space and aeronautics technology, and develops new science missions to reveal the unknown and increase our understanding of our home planet. (4/21)

Russia’s Progress Cargo Spacecraft to Be ‘Buried’ in Pacific (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Progress M-17M cargo spacecraft, which undocked from the International Space Station on April 15, will be "buried" in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, Russia's Mission Control said. “Progress’s engines will switch to the braking mode at 6:07 p.m. Moscow time [02:07 p.m. GMT] on April 21. The space freighter’s fragments that will not burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere will splash down at 6:58 p.m. Moscow time in the Pacific Ocean far from navigation routes,” Mission Control said. (4/21)

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