September 28, 2013

Thirty Years Since Russia's Brush With Disaster (Source: America Space)
Praskovya Mikhailovna Strekalova did not want her son to fly into space. It was not just the fact that 43-year-old Gennadi Strekalov would be sitting atop thousands of pounds of volatile propellants, about to be blasted off the planet, but there was something inexplicable about her words of warning. Even though he had flown twice before, Mrs. Strekalova had an uncanny feeling that this one—his third—would end unhappily. Click here. (9/28)

How a Potential Government Shutdown Could Affect NASA (Source:
A government shutdown on Tuesday (Oct. 1) would force NASA to cease most of its operations and furlough the vast majority of its workforce, space agency officials say. Fewer than 600 of NASA's 18,000 or so employees would likely keep working through a shutdown, with the aim of ensuring the safety of human life and the protection of property, according to a plan the space agency submitted today (Sep. 27) to the Office of Management and Budget. (9/27)

Researcher Posts Protected Mars Papers to Protest Journal Paywalls (Source: Science)
A prominent critic of scientific journals that charge subscriptions to read government-funded research results has launched a high-profile protest by posting five copyrighted Science papers on his personal website. “I am taking a stand [on] the accessibility of research carried out by the government,” geneticist Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, tells ScienceInsider. “But I’m not interested in breaking the law.”

Eisen posted the papers without asking permission of the copyright holders, an apparent violation of U.S. law. But it would be up to the authors of the papers, not the journal, to take any legal action against Eisen, copyright lawyers say. Eisen says he was “astonished” to discover that the papers were behind Science’s paywall, and that NASA should have pushed to make them freely available because many of the authors were government employees. (9/27)

ISON is Comet of the Year, Not the Century (Source: Discovery)
The countdown clock is ticking to comet ISON’s hair-raising passage around the sun on Nov. 28, as it grazes the sun at a distance of only 1.5 times the sun’s radius. Astronomers continue reworking estimates of how much of an impression the far visitor will make to Earthbound observers.

The prognostication is so chancy that I couldn’t even get comet-hunting veteran Mike A’ Hearn of the University of Maryland to give me an estimate of how bright it might get. When pressed for a guess, A’Hearn waved his arms and said ‘perhaps moderately bright,’ which would make the nucleus dimmer than the stars in the Big Dipper. (9/27)

“Kuaizhou” Challenges U.S. Perceptions of Chinese Military Space Strategy (Source: UCS)
On Sep. 25 China launched another earth observation satellite. The spacecraft, identified as the Kuaizhou 1, is a small satellite that will be used for disaster management, operated by China’s National Remote Sensing Center. But the launch had a second purpose: to test a new solid-fueled launch vehicle the Chinese military plans to use to provide a rapid ability to replace Chinese satellites that might be damaged or destroyed by an enemy attack.

The U.S. military refers to this capability as Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). Having this capability would allow both militaries to rapidly replace satellites that might be damaged or destroyed in an anti-satellite (ASAT) attack with small but “good enough” satellites able to restore at least some of the functions of the satellites lost. The Pentagon’s ORS office, like the Chinese military, is also using non-military satellite launches for non-military partners to develop its ORS program. (9/27)

Letter-Writing Campaign Behind Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk’s Fight for Florida’s Spaceport (Source: Quartz)
The GAO must make a on the LC-39A  controversy by Dec. 12. Meanwhile, neither side is waiting idly by. A letter-writing campaign is underway that would impress the most hardened K Street veterans. It started way back in July, with two Alabama congressmen writing to Charles Bolden expressing their “concerns about providing the pad to one exclusive user.”

That was followed up on Sept. 5 by five US senators—from Louisiana, Washington, Oklahoma and Utah—who also had “concerns about plans to lease KSC’s Launch Complex 39A exclusively to one company.” More impressive was the response. On Sep. 13, both Florida senators wrote to Bolden expressing “support [for] NASA’s efforts to make the best use of its valuable infrastructure,” adding that the agency should “not yield to outside influence when determining what factors to consider in choosing partners.”

Three days later, all 27 Florida representatives to the house wrote to Bolden to “commend NASA for undertaking an open, competitive process” and urging “a timely decision [which] is in our national interest.” Though Bezos is the richer of the two, Musk seems more willing to pay for decent lobbyists. (9/28)

Maven Mission to Mars Focuses on Atmosphere (Source: Florida Today)
Bathed in orange light and with two black solar wings outstretched, NASA’s Maven spacecraft on Friday looked as if it might already be orbiting Mars. That destination is still a year away, but the $671 million mission is approaching its Nov. 18 blastoff from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport atop an Atlas V rocket.

Unlike previous missions that have orbited, landed or roved on Mars, Maven is interested less in the planet’s surface than its upper atmosphere. Eight instruments will study the thin atmosphere and the sun’s influence upon it to understand its history. (9/27)

Pentagon Sees Decisions on U.S. Weather Satellite in Next Months (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon is expected to reach decisions in coming months on how to meet its weather forecasting needs after the 2012 termination of a nearly $15 billion program being built by Northrop Grumman Corp, a senior official said. Douglas Loverro said Pentagon officials were weighing the possibility of replacing the large satellite system that Northrop was slated to build with a series of smaller, less expensive satellites in the $200 million to $300 million range.

Those decisions, expected in several months, would help the Pentagon move toward what it describes as a "disaggregated" approach to national security satellites, said Loverro. By building and launching a larger number of smaller satellites, officials have said they hope to reduce the threat that U.S. national security needs could be compromised by an attack on a single large satellite. (9/27)

The Supremely Bad U.S.-Russian Plan to Nuke Asteroids (Source: Foreign Policy)
There are, of course, some hypothetical scenarios in which a nuclear explosive might be the best solution to an asteroid barreling toward our little planet. (That's the thing about hypothetical scenarios.) But the likelihood of a very large asteroid impact is extraordinarily small to begin with, and the scenarios in which a nuclear explosive would be necessary are those in which we would see the asteroid in time to act, but not with so much time that we could fashion a non-nuclear response.

This is a vanishingly small subset of an already unlikely class of threats. The real problems are the asteroids that we won't see until after they hit us. The meteor that exploded over Russia in February struck out of the blue. And a system of nuclear interceptors is of no use against asteroids we can't detect. Click here. (9/27) 

'Made in Space!' Astronaut Sews Dinosaur Toy from Space Station Scraps (Source: CollectSpace)
There is a dinosaur on board the International Space Station where there wasn't one before. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who since May has been working as a flight engineer as a member of the orbiting outpost's resident crew, revealed the toy dinosaur floating on the space station on Thursday (Sep. 26).

Nyberg, a self-described crafter whose hobbies including quilting and sewing, packed threads, sewing needles and small fabric samples for her trip to space. But to make the dinosaur, she scavenged materials that she found around her orbital home. "It is made out of velcro-like fabric that lines the Russian food containers [that are] found here on the International Space Station," Nyberg wrote about the doll. "It is lightly stuffed with scraps from a used t-shirt." (9/27)

Chinese Super-Heavy Launcher Designs Exceed Saturn V (Source: Aviation Week)
Chinese engineers are proposing a Moon rocket more powerful than the Saturn V of the Apollo missions and matching the payload of NASA's planned Space Launch System (SLS) Block 2, the unfunded launcher that would put the U.S. back into super-heavy space lift.

Drawing up preliminary designs for the giant Long March 9 launcher, Chinese launch vehicle builder CALT has studied configurations remarkably similar to those that NASA considered to lift 130 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO). One of the two preferred Chinese proposals has a similar configuration to the design finally adopted for SLS Block 2, though the takeoff mass for both CALT concepts, 4,100-4,150 tons, is greater. On that measure, at least, China wants to build the largest space launcher in history. (9/27)

Spectrum Cops Advising Small-Satellite Owners of Obligations (Source: Space News)
The agency that regulates global wireless frequencies and satellite orbital positions on Sept. 27 warned owners of small satellites that they are not exempt from the rules that bind the rest of the satellite industry. Officials from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a Geneva-based United Nations affiliate, said they did not want to discourage the explosion of small-satellite applications and business plans sweeping the industry.

But they said a failure of these small satellites — whether they weigh 1 kilogram or several hundred — to follow the rules on registering frequencies and orbits ultimately may do the industry a disservice. “The rules are legally binding on all ITU member states,” said Attila Matas of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, which handles satellite registrations. “The rules are also binding on cubesats because they are using spectrum resources.” (9/27)

Thales Alenia Space Lands Egnos Support Contract (Source: Space News)
Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy will perform operations, support and maintenance work on Europe’s GPS satellite navigation overlay system for eight years under a contract valued at more than 120 million euros ($162 million). The contract, with Telespazio of Rome, includes minor mission upgrades to Europe’s Egnos system, which uses terminals on telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit, and a network of ground stations, to validate the accuracy of the GPS medium-orbit constellation. (9/27)

Industry, FAA Look To Stay One Step Ahead of Congress with Draft Safety Document (Source: Space News)
In an attempt to forestall congressional direction of the process, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation has produced a 50-page list of safety practices that could serve as the cornerstone for future commercial human spaceflight safety regulations.

Formally known as “Draft Established Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety,” the document is the result of information gathering that began last year when FAA officials started sitting in on monthly conference calls with the agency’s industry-led Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).

Under the Commercial Space Launch Act of 2004, the FAA may set rules to protect the uninvolved public from commercial spaceflight activities, such as launches, but it may not regulate industry participants until October 2015 unless there is a catastrophic accident before then. (9/27)

Industry Hopeful as U.S. Air Force Weighs Commercial Satellite Lease (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is contemplating a procurement of commercial satellite capacity covering western Africa in a demonstration that industry officials hope is an indication of the Defense Department’s willingness to break buying habits that they say are outmoded and inefficient.

In a request for information released Sept. 16 on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems (SMC) Center in Los Angeles said it was interested in leasing multiple transponders for the remainder of a geostationary-orbiting satellite’s life on behalf of U.S. Africa Command. In the most optimistic of outlooks, the proposed demonstration is a game changer. More cautious assessments describe it as a largely symbolic gesture — at least until a contract is awarded. (9/27)

Air Force Range Support Consolidation Award Delayed to Second Quarter of 2014 (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has delayed one of its biggest and most hotly contested space procurements of the year — a contract to support the Air Force’s two main launch ranges — to the second quarter of 2014. The Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract (LISC) is a 10-year program that consolidates three contracts currently supporting the Air Force’s launch ranges at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

In spring 2012, as many as six industry teams were gearing up to compete for the contract, potentially valued at $2.5 billion to $3 billion. They expected the Air Force to award a contract in March 2013. But the request for proposals for LISC did not get finalized until March 2013, at which time the contract award was targeted for the fourth quarter of the calendar year. Industry officials had been expecting an announcement sometime in October.

Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski said plans now call for awarding the contract in the second quarter of 2014. She did not cite a reason for the delay, but said source selection began May 30. “We are currently experiencing significant duplication of work because no single contractor is responsible for total system performance of the Eastern Range and Western Range,” she wrote. (9/27)

Branson Has 'Another Idea' For Cheap Space Travel (Source: Discovery)
In an interview earlier this week, Virgin boss Richard Branson hinted that he has “another idea” for cheaper space travel. “The next ten years will be quite expensive (for space tourism) … that will enable us to bring the price down quite considerably over the years to come,” said Branson while being interviewed by Business Insider in New York promoting the B-Team, a non-profit ethical business initiative.

“We do have another idea, which we’re going to announce in about four months time, which will enable people to travel into space very cheaply — not everybody, but quite a few people who never expected to go into space, but we’re going to unveil that in about four months time.” When pushed for more details on his plan, Branson laughed and said, “I always say too much. I’ve already said too much. Thank you though!” (9/27)

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