July 4, 2013

NASA To Attempt To Revive Stricken Kepler Telescope in July (Source: Space News)
NASA engineers are preparing a plan to return the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope to service following a reaction wheel failure that shut down the four-year-old observatory in May. “I think the general feeling is that the odds are not good. We might see a wheel spin, but I suspect that it will not spin freely, that there will  be noise on it — vibrations — which would not make the science happy,” said Charlie Sobeck, deputy project manager at NASA’s Ames.

The May 15 failure of Kepler’s reaction wheel, needed to keep the telescope’s laser-like focus on its target stars, was the second of four wheels to shut down. The telescope needs three wheels to keep its gaze steady enough to catch the slight eclipses of starlight caused by orbiting planet passing by, relative to Kepler’s line of sight. (7/4)

Iraq Pullout: A Lesson for Space Development (Source: Citizens in Space)
The US military is scrapping $7 billion of equipment in Iraq because the cost of bringing it home exceeds the equipment’s value. This should be a lesson for space development. A resource is not a resource unless you can afford to extract it and move it where it needs to go.

There are many people who believe that lunar resources (or asteroids, or pick your favorite destination) obviate the need for cheap access to space. Many “new spacers” insist that the only correct way to reduce the cost of space is by using lunar resources, rather than reducing launch costs. Some have actually claimed that the “obsession” with cheap access to space has “held NASA back” for 50 years. (Apparently, they live in some alternate reality where the Apollo project did not happen.)

In reality, lunar resources are like armored personnel carriers in Iraq. It’s easy to talk about potential uses for either one, but neither one is valuable unless the logistical costs are affordable. For lunar resources, this includes the cost of transporting the necessary equipment and personnel to the Moon, in order to begin extraction, as well as the cost of transporting the extracted materials from the Moon to whatever other point in space where they might be useful. (7/4)

Lost Russian Satellites Were Uninsured (Source: Moscow Times)
The three Glonass satellites that were lost during Tuesday's botched Proton-M rocket launch were not insured, the Federal Space Agency said Wednesday. Only "unique" devices, such as the Fobos-Grunt space probe, are insured by the space agency, the report said. The Federal Space Agency raised the issue of insuring satellites with the government in 2011 after a number of setbacks hit the space agency, including the loss of three Glonass-M satellites and the Fobos-Grunt in failed launches.

But the draft bill is still being formulated by the agency, as is a resolution proposing subsidies for spacecraft insurance. An operation like yesterday's launch costs 4.4 billion rubles ($134 million). This would put the cost of insurance at about 480 million rubles — more than one-third of the space agency's entire insurance budget for 2012.

The space agency did not say how much money it received from the budget for satellite insurance in 2013. However, their insurance budget for 2012 fell from 1.97 billion rubles to 1.2 billion rubles, leading agency deputy head Anatoly Davydov to complain about a lack of support from the government. The current insurance rate for satellites varies between 13 and 17 percent of their cost, and the rate rises with each unsuccessful launch, deputy CEO of insurance company Sogaz Nikolai Galushin said. (7/3)

Kickstarter-Funded Lunar Mission Lets You Customise a Spacecraft (Source: WIRED)
A Kickstarter campaign is promising to democratize space exploration by giving members of the public the chance to design and launch their own spacecraft. The tiny spacecraft will be packed into a CubeSat Mothership and ejected when the correct orbit is reached, using its propulsion system. The crafts themselves, covered in solar cells, are just one twentieth of a millimetre thick and have a mass of less than a gram. But these devices will have the capacity to gather data for you to check on daily via your Android or iOS app.

Packed with optical and radio transceivers, the spacecraft come with the option of a single pixel optical sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, temperature sensor or strain gauges, depending how much money you're willing to spend. You can even hold your phone up to the sky and use the app's augmented reality function to find out where in space your craft is currently in orbit. (7/4)

Source: Proton-M Rocket Crashed Due to Premature Liftoff (Source: Interfax)
A Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass-M satellites may have crashed on Tuesday because it lifted off prematurely, i.e. before the first stage engines reached the necessary power, a rocket industry source close to the commission investigating the incident said. "The analysis of the telemetry data has shown that the rocket's liftoff occurred nearly half a second ahead of time. Hence, the engines had not reached the necessary thrust capacity by this time," the source said.

In this situation, "the automated emergency system performed nominally: upon receiving information indicating that the engines did not reach the full thrust capacity, it started an emergency procedure to direct the rocket away from the launch pad," he said. The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case over the crash of the Proton-M rocket, the Baikonur prosecutor's office said in a statement posted on its website.

"The Baikonur prosecutor's office is overseeing the investigation," the statement said. The Baikonur prosecutor's office is checking whether the law regulating preparations for launches and launches of rocket and space equipment was followed, at the order of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, the statement said. (7/4)

Human Resource Management Key to Russia's Space Industry Reform (Source: Xinhua)
The essence of Russian space industry reform lies in the human resource management rather than hardware upgrade, a local expert said in the wake of a failed rocket launch. "A new generation of workers and engineers must come to the industry. We need people who work not as much for money as for being proud of the outcomes of their work," Igor Marinin, editor- in-chief of the Cosmonautic News magazine, told Xinhua on Wednesday.

Those people must be cultivated "gradually and steadily" rather than "purchased" in the labor market in a quick fix way, Marinin said. Since December 2010, Russia has lost five communication satellites and Progress cargo spacecraft carried by Proton-M and Rokot rockets. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said after the explosion that President Vladimir Putin would sign a decree on the reshuffle of the space industry.

Rogozin, head of a governmental commission to draft the proposals on how the limping national space industry could be reformed, said the investigation and penalty on the launch failure would be harsh. "The decisions will be extremely severe toward those responsible for the failures," he said, adding that the Russian space industry must cease to exist in its current shape. The Russian government was considering a thorough dismantlement of the current management system in the space industry and replacing it with a simple vertically-integrated space-rocket corporation. (7/4)

Criminal Case Opened for Proton Crash at Baikonur (Source: Interfax)
The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case over the crash of the Proton-M rocket at the Baikonur complex, the Baikonur prosecutor's office said. "The investigative department of the Russian Investigative Committee at the Baikonur complex has opened a criminal case on this incident over evidence of a crime, put forward in the Russian Criminal Code Article 216 Part 1. The Baikonur prosecutor's office is overseeing the investigation," the statement said. (7/4)

Earth to be Farthest From Sun Friday (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
On Friday morning, the Earth will be at the farthest point from the sun on its annual orbit — but don’t expect a break from the heat wave. While our planet will be at the point called aphelion at 9 a.m. Friday, the distance from the sun doesn’t affect temperature much, said Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah. In fact, the Earth was closest to the Sun in frigid January.

Instead, what impacts Earth’s temperatures, and creates the seasons, is the tilt of the planet on its axis. During this time of year, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, which puts it higher in the sky and keeps it in the sky for much longer — 15 hours per day now compared to nine hours in January, Wiggins said. (7/4)

Now Even NASA's Going Gourmet (Source: San Francisco Weekly)
Space: the final food frontier. Or at least for NASA, which has a few major culinary projects in the works that could eventually trickle down to us earthlings. It turns out that food's actually a big problem for long-term space missions, like trips to Mars -- it's heavy and spoilable, and astronauts begin to suffer from "menu fatigue" after weeks of eating the same pre-packaged foods and begin to lose weight. The agency is working on ways to make meals more appetizing without overburdening its space craft.

One of NASA's initiatives is the Hawaiian Space Exploration Analog and Simulation: a group of six people living in a geodestic dome on the slope of a Hawaiian volcano for four months developing a way to cook in space. The crew of scientists don't have culinary backgrounds (though they were put through the paces at cooking school beforehand), and are equipped with a stove, oven, microwave, breadmaker, crockpot, and set of ingredients that's actually way more diverse than my pantry. (7/3)

NASA Calls For Private Lunar Lander Partners (Source: Aviation Week)
Piggybacking on the Google Lunar X Prize and various commercial endeavors, NASA has offered its expertise and test facilities to potential lunar-lander partners who might be able to help mount scientific missions to the Moon’s surface as early as 2018. A request for information published July 2 seeks concepts for “an industry-developed robotic lander that can be integrated with a launch vehicle for the purposes of supporting commercial (and potentially future NASA) missions.”

The U.S. space agency is interested in landers that can put two classes of payload on the lunar surface — 30-100 kg. (70-220 lb.) and 250-450 kg. Potential missions “of interest to NASA” include prospecting for volatiles at the Moon’s poles, sample return and setting up geophysical networks. (7/4)

Space Breeding Seeds to Bring Benefits to Chinese Medicine (Source: Xinhua)
The growth cycle of seeds for two plant species, which are used as raw materials for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), could be shortened after being bred in space, a medicine company announced on Thursday. The breeding in space took place during China's recent Shenzhou-10 spacecraft mission.

The Chengde Jingfukang Pharmaceutical Group Co., Ltd, in north China's Hebei Province, is now preparing for further breeding of Amur Cork-tree Bark and Atractylodes chinensis seeds at its base, said Li Shenming, company chairman. With the experience in space, the growth cycle of the seeds will be shortened and the effective components they contain will be strengthened, therefore, this will bring relief to any supply shortage of TCM raw materials, according to Li.

The space breeding seeds are expected to grow into high-quality plants and their planting areas will be expanded using hi-tech measures so that the medicinal plant resources can be protected, Li said. Su Guolin, director of the company's TCM material cultivation base, said the seeds experienced gene variation in space due to the conditions of intense radiation, micro-gravity and high vacuum. The company will implement trial planting after space breeding seeds are cultivated and selected, Su said, adding that the whole process will take four to six years. (7/4)

ILC Dover Unveils Innovative Space Suit (Source: Delaware Online)
When it comes to space-age clothing, function trumps form every time. Perhaps no company knows that better than ILC Dover, a Frederica-area firm that has designed, manufactured and tested space suits from the Apollo missions to today. Now, ILC is delivering the biggest innovation in cosmic wear since Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon in 1969.

Named one of the best inventions of 2012 by Time Magazine (dismissed by others as a glorified garbage bag), ILC’s Z-1 development suit was developed to explore alien surfaces, float outside a space station and withstand space radiation. And it comes with these nifty fluorescent green stripes in tribute to Buzz Lightyear of “Toy Story.” Click here. (7/3)

Langley Leads Effort to Develop New Spacecraft Leak Detection Technology (Source: Aviation Week)
Subtle but detectable changes in background sound levels about a spacecraft may offer a new technique for preventing a catastrophic air leak. The risk of collision between the continuously staffed International Space Station and manmade orbital debris or difficult to detect micrometeoroids is a constant concern. A leak aboard the space station would sound an alarm, warning astronauts to head for their two Soyuz crew transports and possible escape to Earth.

Or, if they had the time and wherewithal, the astronauts could attempt to quickly close off a leaking module to prevent the need to abandon the station. However, pinpointing the source of a breach behind the equipment racks that cover much of the inner hull of the six-person orbiting science lab could take some time-consuming detective work by astronauts faced with a crisis. The Ultrasonic Noise Background Test, led by Eric Madaras, a NASA Langley Research Center aerospace technologist, may offer an alternative. (7/3)

Rocket Crash Likely to Hit Launch Underwriters (Source: Post Online)
The failure of the rocket is the fifth such incident to hit the Russian space program since December 2010 and the third in 12 months. "It will have a knock on effect on commercial satellites that were due to launch this year," an emergency committee said. "Historically the Russians have been incredibly quick to sort out problems and then start flying. But the suggestion is that because this is the fifth failure in a short time, we could see a much bigger delay," they added, noting that launch underwriters receive premiums at the time of launch, meaning that such delays can see expected income also pushed back.

One broking source suggested that launches using Proton rockets could be delayed by at least three months.
"Those insurers will only be paid their money when a launch actually takes place," they said. The next launch was scheduled for 21st July, carrying a commercial ASTRA 2E broadcast satellite for Europe. (7/3)

White Dwarf Morphs into Massive Pulsing Crystal (Source: Discovery)
Astronomy lets us peer into some of the strangest corners of physics in ways that are incredibly hard (or impossible) to reproduce in a laboratory setting. For example, a recent discovery of pulsations from a massive white dwarf star has allowed astronomers to imagine a crystallized, semi-solid ball of oxygen and neon the size of our planet. Click here. (7/3)

International Commission to Decide on Resumption of Proton-M Booster Launches (Source: Itar-Tass)
A special commission set up by International Launch Services /ILS/ will decide on the resumption of launches of the Proton-M booster rocket, after it receives the conclusions by the Russian experts who are looking into the latest Proton-M crash, ILS reported on its website.

The press service of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center said "setting up a special commission by International Launch Services is a standard procedure. "After an accident, ILS creates a commission comprising customers, insurers and experts. They familiarize themselves with the results of work by the Russian accident board represented by Khrunichev Center specialists before making a decision," it said. (7/3)

NASA: New Composite Fuel Tank Passed Test, Could Save Weight on Future Rockets (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA has successfully pressure-tested a large cryogenic fuel tank made of composite materials. The space agency calls the test results obtained at Marshall Space Flight Center a "game-changing" step toward a new generation of lighter rockets.

Today's technology requires metal tanks strong enough to withstand the pressures involved, but the weight of the metal counts against the engines' lifting power and limits other cargo. NASA has been trying to develop lighter composite tanks but the composites have had a tendency to leak at the joints. The new tank, built by Boeing in Washington, solved those problems, NASA said. (7/2)

A Strategy for NASA? (Source: Huffington Post)
Last week, the House Subcommittee on Space released a draft of their proposed NASA Authorization bill, which lays out in law NASA's goals and objectives over the next three years. The House bill opposes the White House's proposal for NASA to capture an asteroid and put it in orbit around the Moon. This is the third major tectonic shift in NASA's top-level objectives in the 10 years following the 2003 disintegration of the Shuttle Columbia as it turned to Earth.

The Columbia disaster sparked a debate about NASA's purpose and strategy. Yet, too frequently, the word "strategy" is thrown around with zestful abandon to mean tactics, plans, vision, mission, goal, objective, budgeting, methodology, or anything that involves deciding how to allocate resources going forward. The increasingly arbitrary use of the term "strategy" vastly complicates the task of evaluating the agency's options. Click here. (7/3)

SpaceX Presses Ahead on Crew Testing at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX set the stage for a critical pad-abort test coming up at Cape Canaveral, passing a NASA review that’s part of an effort to certify Dragon spacecraft to fly astronauts. Late this year or early in 2014, a Dragon spacecraft will be mounted on a test stand at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40, where SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rockets. Countdown clocks will tick to zero and abort engines on the Dragon will ignite, boosting the spacecraft to an altitude of about 5,000 feet.

“They’re going to pretend it’s a bad day and abort off that test stand,” said Jon Cowart, a deputy partner manager with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Office at Kennedy Space Center. If all goes well, spacecraft parachutes will deploy, and the Dragon capsule will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. A capsule recovery operation will follow. The test will be the first of two designed to show that a Dragon and an astronaut crew could survive worst-case launch abort scenarios. (7/3)

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