June 2, 2013

Attention Readers: I'll be on holiday for the next week and therefore my updates to the SPACErePORT will be sporadic.

Should NASA Catch an Asteroid? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
One comedian joked that NASA's newest mission proposal sounds like it came from a 6-year-old boy: Send an unmanned spacecraft to capture an asteroid in a giant bag; then drag it to a stationary spot that astronauts can eventually visit. Space-agency leaders, who unveiled the mission last month, said it would provide an objective for the new heavy-lift rocket and capsule that NASA is now spending $3 billion a year to develop for future manned missions.

They said the mission's estimated cost of $2.6 billion would fit within the agency's budget constraints, unlike more expensive goals such as a return to the moon. According to NASA documents, the spacecraft developed to capture the asteroid could become the model for one that could intercept a space rock headed for a cataclysmic collision with Earth.

Under NASA's proposal, the unmanned spacecraft would capture the asteroid as early as 2017, and astronauts would visit as soon as 2021. Supporters of the mission say its sheer audacity, along with its technical challenges, could energize scientists, engineers and the general public. But critics still question why NASA would divert its limited resources from more ambitious goals. (5/31)

DiBello: Plan Shows NASA Still Turns Obstacles Into Opportunities (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The concept of identifying and capturing an asteroid that keenly interests us, then moving it out of its existing orbit to near the moon for hands-on research, is quirky, brilliant and exactly what we need to do at this point in our nation's history.

This mission uses the vehicles and spacecraft that are already being funded, designed and built right now, without requiring an additional major infusion of cash for significant new destination hardware. Grabbing a celestial body and moving it was once science fiction. Now it is real, it is achievable, and we must seize the opportunity, while we are developing the much-needed technologies and capabilities for longer-range manned missions to farther-out destinations in the solar system.

This nation and its next generation of explorers need a dream they can trust will be there for more than just a few years. The vision of going to the moon or Mars is important, for all of us, but program and career decisions need to be based on reality. (5/31)

NOAA Cuts Deal with Congress To Avoid Furloughs (Source: Space News)
NOAA told its 12,000 employees on May 31 that it had cut a deal with Congress to avoid sequester-related furloughs. "I’m pleased to report that this evening the Department of Commerce transmitted a plan to Congress that will avoid all furloughs in NOAA. This was possible because of an increase in flexibility in how we use our funding within the Department, “ acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan wrote in an all-hands memo sent out at 11:39 p.m. EDT. “Because of this new development we are cancelling our intent to furlough all 12,000 of our employees.” (6/1)

NASA Hails Flyby Asteroid’s Potential for Alternative Energy, Exploration (Source: My San Antonio)
As Obama’s new budget boosts NASA funding for asteroid detection and mitigation, experts participating in a White House Google+ Hangout today described their hope that QE2 might be captured, sampled and mined for resources. QE2 contains about one trillion liters of water and a substance called cabonaceous chondrite, which could be used as fuel to power future space missions in an economically viable way.

“The only thing that has driven humanity to explore the world in the last hundred years is looking for resources,” said Peter Diamandis, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, during the Google+ Hangout. “If we had an economic engine, it would allow us to explore space in a vibrant and consistent fashion.” Asteroids might be able to bring space exploration and settlement out of the realm of science fiction. (5/31)

Spaceport America Tours to Draw Tourists (Source: WKOB)
People come to visit the Land of Enchantment for many reasons. KOB Eyewitness News 4 got a look at the newest thing bringing in tourists from all over the world. And when they see it, they can't help but dream. A bus may not take you to the edge of the stratosphere, but it will take you to the place that soon will. "I wanna go! Can we put it on the credit card?" said Truth or Consequences resident Debbie Niles - a tourist on the Follow the Sun Tours bus en route to the Spaceport.

"How could you not look at this stuff and dream," Niles siad. "That hopefully, that someday I could be on one of those. Be one of those six people in the back of one of those spacecraft." Anthony Arroyo said he is dreaming. He and his dad Joe made the father and son trip from California. It's way cheaper than what the space tourists will pay - $200,000 per person. But everyone on the tour is still hoping.

"Some people from Australia and they heard about it in their newspaper so we're very excited. And people from London," Bleth said. And Follow the Sun Tours is taking people from all over the planet to see the Spaceport. The tours run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (5/31)

Go Behind The Scenes Of the Russian Space Program (Source: Forbes)
NASA is winding down its missions and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is still preparing its first mission into space for non-astronauts (now projected for the end of the year.) But for roughly $14,000 a person, space aficionados can go behind the scenes in September of the  space program the U.S. used to race, timed to the launch of the Soyuz spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.

The specialized tour operated by the adventure company MIR is an outgrowth of a special relationship that company founder Douglas Grimes has with the former Soviets due to volleyball. “I’ve played volleyball since I was 6 and the Soviet Union dominated volleyball,” he says. “Eventually, I met people on the Soviet Olympic team, we did a volleyball exchange during Perestroika and then advanced to citizen exchanges. MIR means peace and world in Russian.” (5/31)

SLS Prepares for PDR – Evolution Eyes Dual-Use Upper Stage (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is deep into preparations for the key milestone of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR), which “kicks off” in June. Meanwhile, an interesting glimpse into the long-term plan for SLS points towards the favored use of a dual-use Upper Stage – powered by up to four RL-10 engines – known as the “Duce”. While Ares I had managed to get through the PDR stage prior to its demise, major SLS elements – such as the Core Stage – are already fast approaching the point of maturity Ares I’s Upper Stage had achieved.

As such – and despite a compressed schedule to make its debut launch target in 2017 – SLS is on track and continues to enjoy several months of schedule margin. Of course, as with any rocket, SLS’ development thus far has not been trouble-free, with engineering teams successfully mitigating problems such as a required change to the slosh baffle design on the core stage. (6/1)

When You Think Gyroscopes, Think the Future of Spacesuits and Jet Packs Too (Source: Washington Post)
Draper Laboratory is teaming up with NASA, MIT and others to take on the challenge of making it easier for astronauts to move through space both inside and outside a spacecraft. Their work centers around incorporating control moment gyroscopes (CMGs) into astronauts’ space suits and jetpacks. Today, CMGs are used in satellites, on the space station and in the Simplified Aid for Extravehicular Activity Rescue (SAFER) — a device used in emergencies when astronauts are separated from the space station.

Draper is developing a spacesuit called a Variable Vector Countermeasure suit, or V2Suit, which uses CMGs to assist in balance and movement coordination. The suit has a set of “wearable modules” about the size of a deck of cards, each equipped with a CMG. The modules are placed on various parts of the body to create a network. The wearer of the suit would then be able to set which direction is “down” relative to his or her own body, and the suit would respond accordingly, with each CMG generating torque to simulate resistance. (6/1)

Army Corps of Engineers Supports Wallops Spaceport Facility Development (Source: FedBizOps)
The Norfolk District, Corps of Engineers is contemplating a firm fixed priced contract for the Design-Build construction of a 16,000 square foot Mission Launch Control Center located at the Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Virginia. The primary functions of the building are support of the mission launch control for Launch Pad A and Launch Pad B, and launch control for Sounding Rockets Program Office. The magnitude of construction is between $5,000,000.00 and $10,000,000.00. (5/24)

Asteroid Strategy: To Deflect You Must Detect (Source: Florida Today)
Ninety-nine percent of 1 million asteroids that could wipe out metropolitan areas as large as Los Angeles remain undiscovered, but scientists must detect them to deflect them, experts said Friday. The big problem: “Finding them,” said former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, head of the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to build, launch and operate a powerful space telescope to do just that.

Most asteroids are charcoal dark, difficult to detect and track. Watch the 1998 Hollywood disaster hits Deep Impact or Armageddon to see the type of planetary catastrophe that could be triggered in a collision. “We’ve got to not get hit at all. Zero tolerance,” Bill Nye said. (6/1)

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