September 29, 2013

Consultant Tapped for Shiloh Launch Site Environmental Study (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
A national consulting firm with offices in Jacksonville has been selected by the FAA to review the potential environmental impacts of building a commercial launch complex on NASA-owned land just south of Oak Hill. Cardno TEC will prepare the Environmental Impact Statement, a process expected to take between a year and 18 months and begin once Space Florida finalizes a contract with the company.

Thousands of acres of lands were acquired in the Shiloh area in the 1950s and 1960s to provide a buffer to NASA’s launch facilities. The land has since been managed as the Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. While the Volusia County Council and several city governments and chambers of commerce have endorsed the proposal, a broad range of fishing, historical and environmental groups oppose the plan, fearing its impacts to resources and public use.

Though NASA initially rebuffed Space Florida’s request to turn over land for the complex, NASA later agreed to support the process to determine what the environmental and other impacts of the complex could be. The process will include public meetings, biological assessments, wetland studies, air quality analysis, natural resource studies and land use planning. (9/29)

Russia’s Proton Rocket Successfully Launches From Baikonur (Source: Russia Today)
Russia’s Proton-M rocket, carrying the European Astra 2E communication satellite, successfully blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The booster is carrying a 6-ton Astra 2E satellite manufactured by French EADS Astrium for the satellite operator SES Astra. It was the first launch of a Proton rocket since July, when a booster, hauling three GLONASS navigation satellites, came crashing down into the cosmodrome moments after liftoff. (9/29)

Cygnus Arrives at ISS (Source: Space Today)
A commercial cargo spacecraft performed a rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday morning and was berthed to the station. The Orbital Sciences Corp. Cygnus spacecraft, making its first flight, gradually approached the space station early Sunday, maneuvering to 10 meters of the ISS before the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm grappled the spacecraft at 7:00 am EDT.

The arm then moved Cygnus into position for berthing to the station's Harmony mode, a process completed at 8:44 am EDT. Hatches between the Cygnus and ISS are scheduled to open on Monday. Cygnus is carrying 700 kilograms of supplies on this test flight, the last milestone before beginning regular commercial cargo deliveries to the ISS, and is scheduled to remain attached to the station for approximately a month. (9/9)

Falcon 9 Blasts Off From California (Source: Reuters)
An unmanned Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Sunday to test upgrades needed for planned commercial launch services. The 22-story rocket, built and flown by SpaceX, soared off a newly refurbished, leased launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base at noon EDT/1600 GMT.

The upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 has engines that are 60 percent more powerful than previous versions, longer fuel tanks, new avionics, new software and other features intended to boost lift capacity and simplify operations for commercial service. Privately owned SpaceX has contracts for more than 50 launches of its new Falcon 9 and planned Falcon Heavy rockets. (9/29)

SpaceX Falcon-9 V1.1 Demo Succeeds, Except Reusable Attempt (Sources: Space News, SPACErePORT)
Sunday's launch marked the sixth Falcon 9 rocket launch for SpaceX, but it was the first flight to include major upgrades to the 22-story rocket, which is designed to launch the planned crew-carrying Dragon space capsule. One was an addition to the first stage, which SpaceX designed to restart after separating from the second stage to see if it could perform maneuvers during re-entry as part of a reusability test.

SpaceX officials said the plan called for two first-stage engine maneuvers before the booster splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, but success was not guaranteed. According to Elon Musk, the booster relit twice (supersonic retro & landing), but it 'flamed out' due to a centrifuge effect that kept fuel from the engine as the stage tumbled. The company hopes to fly a reused first stage by the end of 2014. (To allow recoveries, the rocket will have to fly with 15% less payload for water landings, or 30% less for land touchdowns.)

Another improvement tested during the launch included a set of nine brand-new Merlin 1D engines arranged in a new circular pattern — that together can generate 1.5 million pounds of thrust in a vacuum, a 50 percent increase over previous Falcon 9 engines. The company has at least three more Falcon 9 rocket flights planned for 2013, all of which will launch satellites into orbit for customers using the company's launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (9/29)

Big Game Changer? Water in Mars Surface Makes a Huge Difference (Source: Digital Journal)
A lot of speculation about supporting human life on Mars has naturally related to sourcing water and sourcing hydrogen for energy from water. The new findings are basically a prelude to the sort of research required to explore Martian water as a resource.

The Martian samples contain less water than Earth’s soil. In a cubic foot (0.03 cubic meters) of Martian soil, about the size of a block that is a foot wide, tall and deep, "you can get maybe a couple of pints (0.47 liters) of water out of that," said Laurie Leshin. Two percent, using water recycling and water efficient technology, could equate to a giant leap for the hopes of interplanetary colonists and drastically simplify the problems of self-sufficient Martian colonies. (9/28)

Virgin Galactic Now Aiming for Spaceflight in February (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic is now hoping to get SpaceShipTwo into space on a test flight in February, according to multiple sources who attended the company’s gathering of future astronauts in Mojave on Wednesday. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson told about 300 future passengers that February is the new target date for having the six-passenger spacecraft fly above the Karmen line located at an altitude of 100 km (62 miles).

One attendee said that Branson didn’t project a lot of confidence about the February date. Others who are familiar with the troubled development of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid engine were less confident in Branson’s prediction. A flight in February is possible, they said, but it might not occur in 2014.

Virgin Galactic had been hoping to fly SpaceShipTwo into space by the end of this year. After the vehicle’s first powered test flight on April 29, Branson boldly predicted that he and his two children, Sam and Holly, would be on the first commercial flight on Christmas Day. (9/28)

Special Space Camp Graduation for Vision-Impaired Students (Source: Huntsville Times)
While Space Camp graduations are routine events at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the one that took place Thursday night was a little different. About 200 vision-impaired children graduated from Space Camp in a ceremony inside the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. It was one of the largest classes of vision-impaired students to graduate from Space Camp, according to space center spokesman Tim Hall. The students came from 25 states and six countries. (9/27)

Japan Aims to Beam Solar Energy Down From Orbit (Source: SEN)
The Japanese space agency JAXA is developing a revolutionary concept to put “power stations” in orbit to capture sunlight and beam it to Earth. The country has been looking for new power sources following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011, that destroyed much of the north-east of the country and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Many of the country’s nuclear reactors were closed due to stricter safety regulations after the emergency. Now JAXA is aiming to set up a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) by 2030. An array of mirrors would sit in geostationary orbit to collect solar energy and then transmits it to a power plant on the ground via microwaves or laser beams. (9/27)

Minerals Extraction is Also Part of India's Space Program Goals (Source: The Hindu)
It was a long-term goal of all space research organizations to extract not only gold but also other metals, minerals and energy from other planets said ISRO Chairman K.Radhakrishnan. In fact, active research was going on about tapping energy from asteroids, he said. (9/28)

GSLV D5 to Be Launched on Dec 15 (Source: Outlook India)
The launch of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which was deferred on August 19 following a flaw in the rocket, will take place on December 15, ISRO head said here today. "The launch... will now be held on December 15," ISRO chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan said. (9/27)

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