Friday, July 30, 2010

APU Testing for Discovery

Space Shuttle
At NASA Kennedy Space Center's Orbiter Processing Facility-3, crews continue preparing shuttle Discovery for its upcoming mission. Testing of the spacecraft's auxiliary power units 1, 2, and 3 gearbox will continue through Friday.

At NASA's Johnson Space Center, the STS-133 crew will train in the Virtual Reality Lab on robotics for spacewalk support.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

NASA Selects Sounding Rockets Operations Contractor

WASHINGTON -- NASA selected Orbital Sciences Corp.'s, Technical Services Division in Greenbelt, Md., for the agency's Sounding Rockets Operations contract. The total value of this indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity cost-plus incentive fee contract is $310 million. The period of performance is five years.

Orbital Sciences will coordinate and implement NASA's overall Sounding Rockets Program and provide services and supplies as necessary to complete individual missions and projects. Services include designing, fabricating, integrating, and performing flight qualification testing of sub-orbital payloads; providing launch vehicles and associated hardware; and conducting various activities associated with subsequent mission launch operations.

Additional services to be provided under the contract may also include special engineering and technical support, education and outreach activities, and environmental studies.

The majority of the work will be done at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, which manages the agency's sounding rocket program.

Space shuttle workers receive layoff notices

Nearly 1,400 employees were sent layoff notices this week from NASA's space shuttle contractor, United Space Alliance.

Of those 1,400 employees, 902 workers in Florida will be laid off, according to United Space Alliance spokeswoman Kari Fluegel. This layoff is related to the shutdown of the space shuttle program, Fluegel said.

"Previously we let everyone know that this was coming today...this week is when we are notifying specific employees," Fluegel said. The job cuts won't take effect until October 1, but will also involve 478 workers in Texas and 14 in Alabama."Our work scope and our work content is slowly ramping down as we finish up tasks," Fluegel said.

"We have to scale down," Fluegel said. Because of high operating costs, the current space shuttles are being phased out and replaced by a new spacecraft that will travel beyond the International Space Station's orbit.

To finish off, a $100 billion project of two remaining flights are scheduled for the U.S. space agency, but Congress is considering new plans for NASA beginning October 1, which would add a third flight to the station next summer. If the third flight is scheduled, United Space Alliance won't come up short for employees after the October 1 cutback. "Planning for that additional flight is included with this process," Fluegel said.

More layoffs might be in United Space Alliance's future."We expect a smaller, but another lay off action" sometime next year, Fluegel said. After that, it depends on how many missions the station has next year, she added.

The current layoffs follow two previous cutbacks, one in October 2009 and the other in June 2010, totaling 743 shuttle workers. That makes the upcoming layoffs the largest cutback for United Space Alliance, totaling 1394.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NASA Opens Online Voting For Next Desert RATS Exploration Site

NASA Space Exploration
WASHINGTON -- NASA is inviting the public to choose an area in northern Arizona where explorers will conduct part of the annual Desert Research and Technology Studies, known as Desert RATS.

"Desert RATS is an annual test where NASA takes equipment and crews into the field to simulate future planetary exploration missions," said Joe Kosmo, Desert RATS manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We want the public to be a part of this."

From July 27 through Aug. 8, space enthusiasts can vote where to send the Desert RATS team, which includes engineers, scientists and astronauts. To cast your vote, visit:

The website features interactive panoramic images of lava, rocks and desert for the public to choose as the most interesting destination to explore. The location that receives the most votes will be announced Aug. 16. Astronauts will visit that site to perform field geology and collect rock samples.

The Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., took the panoramic images of terrain and geologic features in early 2009 at Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona.

"It is essential to involve the public in NASA's exploration program to engage and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers," said IRG Director Terry Fong. "We want people of all ages to be able to actively participate, contribute and collaborate in meaningful ways to NASA's activities."

The Desert Rats 2010 mission also involves field testing two space exploration vehicles, which could allow astronauts to spend two or more weeks living, working, and traveling across different planets. Astronauts will use two such vehicles to explore a lava flow and test data collection methods, communications protocols, mission operations, and advanced technology. Desert RATS is sponsored by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.

Bright objects float away from space station

The spacewalk Tuesday was meant to replace a video camera and update cable connections to a module of the International Space Station.

However, the question every space buff wanted an answer to is: "What was that I just saw floating away?"

Two objects drifted away during astronauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko's six-hour assignment.

When the first one swam by, even NASA was befuddled as to what it was.

"Meanwhile here on the ground in Houston, flight controllers have been taking a look at the object seen floating away earlier in the spacewalk around 12:44 a.m. Central time," said the voice on the live NASA feed of the spacewalk.

"Still working to identify exactly what that object was, but they were able to determine that it does seem to have floated below the space station and it should not pose any sort of a problem for the space station as far as posing a debris threat."

Later, NASA spokesman Rob Navias said the object may have been a clamp used to attach cables, and it might have been left outside during a previous spacewalk.

An hour or so after the first fly-by, a small round object made its way into the darkness of space.

"Team here moving the cameras to follow another object that seems to have floated away," the NASA voice said this time. "A small round object that you can see in the middle of the screen here... Possibly a washer or something similar."

Navias said officials will do a photographic analysis to figure out what it was.

But, he said, "It's not unusual at all to have one or two objects float away during the course of a six-and-a-half hour procedure outside an orbiting space station."

The astronauts replaced a video camera that will monitor the docking of future Automated Transfer Vehicles, or supply ships.

They will then attach cables connecting the rest of the station to the Russian Rassvet research module.

Monday, July 26, 2010

NASA Simulates Space Exploration At Remote Arctic Crater Site

WASHINGTON -- NASA personnel are among a group of international researchers who are in the Canadian Arctic assessing concepts for future planetary exploration as part of the Haughton-Mars Project, or HMP-2010.

Scientists are using the arid, rocky environment of the Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Canada to simulate conditions that might be encountered by explorers on other planetary bodies. The latest edition of the HMP-2010 began July 19 and includes three weeks of crew and mission control activities and robotic testing.

"Explorers, such as geologists, often find themselves with a set of observations they would have liked to make, or samples they would have liked to take, if only they had been able to stay longer at a site," said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Our work this year is to study how remotely -operated robots, perhaps even vehicles previously used for crew transport, can be used to perform follow-up work."

Using robots for such follow-up work could save astronauts from performing tedious, repetitive or time-consuming activities. Surveying a site could take hundreds to thousands of readings using ground-penetrating radar, spectrometers, or geotechnical instruments. Additionally, robots could make measurements and take pictures that complement or supplement those initially taken by humans.

Mission planners speculate that in the future, there could be substantial amounts of time between crewed missions for robots to perform research work at a range of destinations.

During HMP-2010, NASA will deploy robots developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. The robots, known as K10s, are equipped with a variety of instruments including 3-D scanning lidar, color imagers, spectrometers and ground-penetrating radar. The K10s will map systematically above and below ground structures and characterize rocks, soil and landscape of key areas at Haughton Crater.

NASA also will conduct a series of experiments designed to examine how future surface systems, such as crew rovers, might be repositioned robotically from one location to a new rendezvous location with astronauts.

"Poor lighting and low resolution of satellite imagery can make a planned route look very simple from above," said Matt Leonard, deputy manager of the Lunar Surface Systems Project (LSS) at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "But once we are on the ground, we can see obstacles we couldn't before that make the route unexpectedly challenging. We will study how to use ground robots to scout alternative safe routes, categorize hard-to-detect obstacles and examine how best to prepare for venturing into unknown terrain."

In addition to working around unexpected roadblocks during future planetary convoys, the LSS experiment team will study how a robot on a set route with a fixed schedule can conduct science tasks, such as taking samples or gathering images. The team will work with a K10 robot and HMP's MARS-1 Humvee Rover field exploration vehicle to simulate a large planetary crew rover equipped with science instruments.

The activities in Canada support both the Moon and Mars Analog Mission Activities Program in the Science Mission Directorate and the Exploration Technology Development Program in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Haughton-Mars Project is an international, multidisciplinary field research project focused on the scientific study of the crater and surrounding terrain on Devon Island. The site's polar desert setting, geological features and microbiology make the crater a good site for moon and Mars analog studies. HMP-2010 is managed by the Mars Institute in Moffett Field, Calif., in collaboration with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

Discovery Preps Continue Through the Weekend

The fuel and oxidizer feed connections on space shuttle Discovery's right Orbital Maneuvering System, or OMS, pod were completed overnight in Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Technicians are scheduled to conduct integrated hydraulic testing today and during the weekend work on Discovery's thermal protection system, or heat shield tiles.

The six STS-133 astronauts will resume training on Monday at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston after returning from their week of summer vacation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NASA Astronaut Sends First Signed Message from Orbit


WASHINGTON -- The number of languages used on the International Space Station has recently increased. In addition to those spoken in the 15 countries that have had representatives aboard the space station, American Sign Language, or ASL, is now included. NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson has sent a message in ASL from the station to the deaf community.

In the video, Caldwell Dyson answered several questions about living and working aboard the station and how she became interested in sign language.

"I am truly grateful for this opportunity on behalf of the deaf community and the multitudes of students who will benefit from seeing their language spoken in space," Caldwell Dyson said. "It is my hope that this video will help inspire our next generation of scientists and explorers."

As NASA's missions advance beyond Earth's orbit, the agency will continue its efforts to highlight its diverse workforce. NASA strives to assist the next generation of researchers to gain access to science-related fields.

Friday, July 23, 2010

NASA astronaut sends first message in sign language from space station


For the first time, NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson has sent a message in American Sign Language (ASL) from the International Space Station to the deaf community.

In the video, Caldwell Dyson answered several questions about living and working aboard the station and how she became interested in sign language.

"I am truly grateful for this opportunity on behalf of the deaf community and the multitudes of students who will benefit from seeing their language spoken in space. It is my hope that this video will help inspire our next generation of scientists and explorers," said Caldwell Dyson.

As NASA's missions advance beyond Earth's orbit, the agency will continue its efforts to highlight its diverse workforce.

NASA strives to assist the next generation of researchers to gain access to science-related fields.

Caldwell Dyson will work on several other videos targeted to users of ASL.

When the videos are completed, they will be posted on the NASA's website.(ANI)

House committee supports additional shuttle flight


A House committee on Thursday approved an amendment to a bill that would clear NASA to launch an additional shuttle flight next summer to deliver critical supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

The move came as the House Committee on Science and Technology was reviewing its version of NASA's $19 billion 2011 funding package. The Senate version of the appropriations legislation already included the additional flight. But major differences remain in other key areas, including how much money goes to support development of a new private-sector manned launch industry, the timetable for development of a NASA heavy-lift rocket for deep space exploration, and plans for a new government-designed manned spacecraft.

Even so, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said in a statement that the House legislation "sets a clear, sustainable, and executable path for NASA, especially in the area of human space flight."

The Obama administration earlier this year proposed canceling NASA's Constellation moon program, including the Ares I and Ares V rockets the agency had planned to build to replace the shuttle. The Orion crew capsule that would have been launched atop the Ares I rocket would be converted into a space station crew lifeboat.

At the same time, the president called for a transition to private-sector rockets and capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, allowing NASA to focus on development of new heavy-lift rockets and capsules for eventual flights to nearby asteroids and, eventually, to Mars.

But the president's plan would defer work on a heavy lifter until 2015, delaying deep space missions beyond low-Earth orbit until the middle of the 2020s in favor of near-term development of advanced technologies.

Supporters of the administration's space policy applauded the shift to private-sector launch services, arguing that increased efficiencies and innovation would open up the high frontier to more extensive--and routine--use. Under the administration's proposed budget, NASA would spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur development of private-sector launch services.

But critics decried the proposed write-off of some $9 billion already spent on the Constellation program, the long development cycle proposed for eventual deep space missions, and the reliance on as-yet-unproven commercial launchers and capsules.

The House and Senate versions of NASA's appropriations package both cut out the moon as NASA's next major goal and both extend space station operations through 2020 as requested by the president. But both reduce funding for commercial manned space initiatives. The Senate version provides $1.3 billion over the next three years while the president's initial proposal called for $3.3 billion. The House version would provide just $450 million over the next three years.

The Senate version also would accelerate development of a heavy lift rocket, using components of the Constellation program where possible, for initial flights as early as 2016. The House version would stretch out development to around 2020. Both versions also call for development of a government-sponsored crew capsule, based on the Orion design, for deep space exploration and possible space station support.

"I have the sense that the rest of the policy community thinks the Senate bill is a reasonable compromise we can live with," said a space policy analyst who asked not to be named.

In 2004, the Bush administration directed NASA to finish the space station and retire the shuttle fleet by the end of fiscal 2010. An additional $600 million later was promised to pay for shuttle operations through the end of calendar 2010 and shuttle program managers came up with additional savings to cover costs through early 2011.

NASA currently has just two flights on its shuttle manifest. First up is a mission by the shuttle Discovery, scheduled for launch November 1, to deliver spare parts and equipment to the station in a logistics module that will be permanently attached to the lab complex.

In keeping with NASA's post-Columbia safety policies, the shuttle Endeavour will be available for possible rescue duty if any major problems develop that might prevent a safe re-entry for Discovery's crew.

Assuming a rescue flight isn't needed, Endeavour will be launched February 26 to deliver the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer physics experiment to the space station along with additional supplies and spare parts.

The shuttle Atlantis is being processed to serve as the rescue vehicle for Endeavour's crew. NASA managers have been lobbying for months to win approval to actually launch Atlantis on a final flight next June to deliver one last load of equipment.

By launching Atlantis with a reduced crew of four, a second shuttle would not be required for rescue duty. If a problem prevented a safe re-entry, the yet-to-be-named Atlantis astronauts could seek safe haven aboard the space station and rotate home aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

It would not be easy and it would take months to cycle all four crew members back to Earth aboard already planned Soyuz flights. But supporters believe the benefits of a final resupply mission outweigh the risks and justify the $1.6 billion needed to extend the shuttle program through mid-2011.

"This mission will help minimize the spaceflight gap by stretching out the human spaceflight capabilities into mid 2011," Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a Florida Democrat, said Thursday, introducing an amendment for "contingent authorization." "This additional launch provides the most risk-free logistical support in the next year...I urge you to support my amendment and to authorize this critical shuttle mission in order to preserve our workforce and maximize the investments we've made in the International Space Station."

The amendment, which passed on a voice vote, would pay for the flight by transferring funds from NASA's space station and exploration budgets.

"I think the White House is on board with it," the policy analyst said.

Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico was speckled and streaked with small clouds on July 20, 2010, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image. Between the clouds, however, a silvery-gray streak of oil remained visible offshore of the Mississippi River Delta. The tan-colored waters around the river delta are full of sediment.

In photo-like images such as this one, oil is most visible when it is located in the sunglint part of the scene—the place where the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water gets blurred into a wide bright strip by small waves and ripples.

Our recently published Gulf Oil Slick Images: Frequently Asked Questions explains why oil is most visible in the sunglint part of satellite image and why the Earth Observatory doesn’t post new images of the slick every day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Boeing space capsule could be operational by 2015

Boeing executives pulled back the curtain on their concept for a commercial human space capsule this week at the Farnborough International Airshow, saying the CST-100 spacecraft could be ready for operational space station flights by 2015 if NASA awards contract money next year.

The aerospace giant is teaming with Bigelow Aerospace to develop a market for commercial human space transportation. Boeing's CST-100 capsule could service Bigelow's planned private space stations, but NASA's commitment to commercial crew initiatives "closes the business case" for the transport system, said Roger Krone, president Boeing Network and Space Systems.

"The money that NASA has proposed being invested in commercial crew allows us to close the business case," Krone said during a Monday briefing at the Farnborough airshow in England. "Without that, we would have a difficult time and it would be a difficult decision for us to decide to proceed without that funding, primarily because it's an indication that NASA is supportive of this kind of approach (and) would purchase the services later."

Boeing is also counting on Bigelow's vision for privately-built human-tended space stations to be realized.

"We do believe very strongly in space commerce," said Brewster Shaw, Boeing's vice president and general manager of space exploration. "It turns out that Bob Bigelow, bless his heart, is the closest thing to actual space commerce besides the U.S. government at this particular time, for human beings."

Robert Bigelow joined Boeing's presentation at Farnsborough and said his company's first space station made of inflatable modules could be in orbit and ready to serve customers by 2015.

Bigelow's first space complex is designed to be more than half the size of the International Space Station. A second Bigelow outpost would be even larger than the ISS.

"For commercial crew transportation system to work, there has to be more than just ISS," Krone said. "The business cases won't close on just supporting ISS."

Affordable space transportation is crucial to Bigelow's business model. The price for a roundtrip to the company's first space station would be nearly $25 million, most likely using the CST-100 capsule and an Atlas 5 rocket, Bigelow said.

"We think the combination of those two vehicles is a very good solution for space transportation," Bigelow said. "So it comes down to can they be constructed in an affordable way, and can we change that paradigm for cost for transportation."

About 75 percent of Bigelow's revenue would pay for transportation services, he said.

The White House requested $5 billion for NASA's commercial crew program during the next five years, enough to procure at least two competing human spacecraft developed by industry, according to NASA officials.

Legislation in the Senate would cut in half the Obama administration's proposed budget for commercial crew. The first draft bill from the House of Representatives would provide even less funding than the Senate version.

"It would be very difficult for us to make a decision to move out if there is no decision in Congress to support commercial crew," Krone said.

The CST-100 capsule would carry up to seven astronauts at a time to and from the International Space Station and Bigelow's space complex. It would take just one day to reach the space station, less than the travel time for the space shuttle or Russian Soyuz spaceships, according to John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing's commercial crew transportation system.

Boeing's spacecraft design could accommodate missions with any number of crew members, even fully automated unmanned flights. It is designed to stay in orbit for up to seven months, return to Earth and touch down on land with airbag cushioning, Elbon said.

Early design work on the CST-100 has been funded under a NASA Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev, contract worth $18 million. The funding will continue through October, when engineers will convene for a systems-level critical design review.

Elbon said the capsule design is aimed at safety, simplicity and reducing recurring operations costs. Each spacecraft will be able to fly up to 10 missions.

"We focused on a capsule shaped similar to Apollo," Elbon said. "We focused on selecting systems that have been used in previous space programs, and we focused on just the we can take the launch vehicle risk out of the equation."

The craft is compatible with existing Atlas 5, Delta 4 and Falcon 9 rockets, Elbon said.

The Atlas 5 and Delta 4 are in the early stages of being human-rated by United Launch Alliance. The Falcon 9 is designed to eventually carry human cargo, according to SpaceX.

A pusher launch abort system would be added to carry the capsule away from a rocket mishap, Elbon said.

The CST-100 will lean heavily on Boeing heritage from the Apollo, space shuttle and space station programs. The craft will also use automated navigation, rendezvous and docking technologies tested on the Pentagon's Orbital Express demonstration satellites in 2007, according to Boeing officials.

A Boeing spokesperson said the company is not yet releasing the CST-100's exact dimensions, but the capsule would be larger than the Apollo command module and smaller than the Orion capsule, which NASA was planning to be the next government-owned human spacecraft.

Elbon described the company's baseline schedule for the capsule, including a series of test flights in 2014 leading up to the first crewed mission led by two test pilots.

The capsule could be operational in 2015, Elbon said, but the schedule hinges on further NASA funding to Boeing.

The CCDev contract would need to be extended beyond October and a full CST-100 development contract should be awarded in the summer of 2011 to reach operational capability by 2015, according to Edmund Memi, a Boeing spokesperson.

Boeing is pressure testing a structural article of the CST-100, testing environmental and life support systems, conducting drop tests using airbags, and integrating avionics with the automated docking system from Orbital Express, Elbon said. The cost of Boeing's proposal isn't being released.

"The estimated cost is considered competition sensitive, but it would be substantially lower than an Orion-based version and would be competitive against other company proposals," Memi wrote Wednesday in an e-mail to Spaceflight Now. "Cost of development would also be dependent on the flight rate to be delivered and used to support ISS and Bigelow."

SpaceX says it can outfit its Dragon spacecraft for crew transportation within three years for approximately $300 million, but the Dragon is already on the verge of its first unmanned flight and much of its design work is already completed.

Memi said the CST-100's development would be "considerably cheaper" than the estimated $5 billion needed to turn the Orion capsule into a space station lifeboat.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Russia to invest US$810M in new space launch site


KOROLYOV, Russia - Russia will build a new US$810-million space launch site as part of its efforts to defend its share of the increasingly competitive space launch market, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday.

Like in Soviet times, Russia dominates the global space industry, carrying out 37% of last year’s 78 launches around the world, according to the U.S.-based Space Foundation non-profit group.

But it faces growing competition from Europe, Asia and the United States as the market becomes increasingly commercialised.

Mr. Putin, whose ambition is to restore Moscow’s Soviet-era might, said the new Vostochny launch pad in Russia’s Far East region of Amur would be built in three years.

“I would like to stress that our task is to strengthen Russia’s positions in the global market of space services. We need to be competitive. The situation in global market is such that we will cope with this task,” Mr. Putin said.

“I hope that Vostochny will become the first Russian national cosmodrome of civilian use, that it will guarantee us full independence in our space activities,” he told a meeting of space industry officials.

The new facility aims to rival Kazakhstan’s Baikonur launch site when it opens for unmanned flights in 2015 and manned flights in 2018. Russia has been leasing Baikonur for US$115-million per year since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The current Baikonur lease ends in 2050.

Mr. Putin said the new launch pad would service all Russian space activity, including manned space flights, transport rockets and future inter-planetary missions.

Russia’s Soyuz manned spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles have been the main workhorses serving the International Space Station (ISS) since the U.S. Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

The last manned U.S. space shuttle to the ISS is due to take off in 2011.

The government agreed to build the new site in 2007, at the height of the economic boom when the state coffers swelled with oil cash. But the project was delayed by the financial crisis.

Russia hopes to secure 15% of the global market in space services by 2015, said Anatoly Perminov, the chief of Russian space agency Roskosmos. He did not say what market share Russia currently holds.

Launches account for a small fraction of the US$261.6-billion invested in space services in 2009, according to the Space Foundation.

The satellite Industry Association said launches and ground equipment accounted for US$54.4-billion of the revenue earned by the satellite industry in 2009. The remainder was from the manufacture and servicing of satellites.

SpaceX plans demonstration flight

The first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket expected to fly the first in a series of NASA demonstration missions in September is resting in its Launch Complex 40 hangar.

The roughly 100-foot long, 12-foot wide booster and its nine Merlin engines arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base from Texas late last week on an oversized flatbed truck, wrapped in protective tarps.

"We're glad to see their first stage arrive here," said George Diller, a NASA spokesman at Kennedy Space Center. "This is the first NASA-sponsored test flight, so it's a significant first step toward having a commercial payload service to the space station."

Delivery of the liquid-fueled rocket stage came six weeks after Falcon 9's successful maiden voyage on June 4.

The flight delivered the rocket's upper stage and a simulated Dragon spacecraft to their intended orbit -- a "bull's-eye," according to SpaceX.

That rocket's first stage broke up when it hit the ocean, but it's recovery was not a mission objective. Engineers have been working to correct some unexpected roll that occurred during liftoff and second-stage engine firing.

The second Falcon 9 flight, now targeted for the second week of September, is the first under a NASA program intended to prove that Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is ready to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 missions to the space station through 2016. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., has another contract.

The supplies will be crucial to the station's long-term operations after the shuttle program retires next year.

The first demonstration flight under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program will fly a real Dragon spacecraft for the first time.

The capsule is supposed to separate from the upper stage and orbit the planet up to three times before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean and being recovered.

At least one, possibly two, additional demonstration flights are planned before a first station supply run next year, if all the tests go well.

SpaceX plans to deliver the rocket's second stage and the Dragon next month.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Station Crew Prepares for Spacewalk and Conducts Science


The six Expedition 24 crew members aboard the International Space Station continued their preparations for an upcoming spacewalk and worked on science activities Wednesday.

Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko prepared equipment they will take out of the Pirs docking compartment and into space during a six-hour spacewalk scheduled to begin the evening of July 26. The space walkers will prepare the recently delivered Rassvet module with a Kurs automated rendezvous capability for future automated dockings by Russian spacecraft. It will be Yurchikhin’s third spacewalk and the first for Kornienko.

Commander Alexander Skvortsov continued to unpack cargo from the ISS Progress 38 cargo ship that docked July 4.

In the U.S. segment of the station, Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Doug Wheelock joined up for several hours to conduct eye examinations. After Wheelock set up and checked out the Health Maintenance System, they took turns as subjects for an eye examination scan executed by one of the others standing in as the Crew Medical Officer.

Walker also worked with the Smoke and Aerosol Measurement Experiment that measures the distribution of particle sizes in smoke from the on-orbit combustion of several materials found in the space station. The results will allow an evaluation of the performance of existing U.S. spacecraft smoke detectors.

Caldwell Dyson spent time with the Capillary Flow Experiment that investigates capillary action (the tendency of a liquid to rise in narrow tubes or to be drawn into small openings) in the absence of gravity. The findings will improve current computer models that are used by designers of low gravity fluid systems and may improve fluid transfer systems on future spacecraft.

Researchers can learn more about opportunities to develop and fly science experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) at the NASA ISS Research Academy Aug. 3-5 in League City, Texas.

Senate committee reviews possible NASA budget compromise today

The hoped-for compromise between Congress and President Barack Obama over NASA's future is taking shape in Washington, congressional sources say.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meets in executive session today to review - and possibly approve - a $19 billion NASA budget for fiscal year 2011 released Tuesday by Chairman Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V. (See the full bill below).

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, chairs the Commerce subcommittee that authorizes NASA spending and will introduce the bill.

"We are building consensus in what has otherwise been a consensus-less position of the future of the manned space program," Nelson said Monday on the Senate floor.

The president has proposed killing the Constellation rocket program now being developed by NASA in favor of commercial rockets to haul crew and cargo to the International Space Station.

"These commercial companies would, in this authorization bill, have the direction as to how they go about man-rating their systems in order to have the safety, when you strap human beings on to rockets that defy the laws of gravity, to take a human being into low-Earth orbit to rendezvous and dock with the space station and to return safely," Nelson said.

"The next thing on which we are building a consensus is to accelerate the development of a heavy-lift vehicle. The president said no later than 2015. We are going to authorize NASA to start in 2011 and to take a lot of the existing technology and build upon that ...."

A new heavy-lift rocket could be very good news for Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center, which houses much of NASA's propulsion expertise, depending on what "existing technology" is built upon.

But local sources say the details of any compromise, while obviously important, are less important now than the fact that movement is finally under way.

Movement means NASA supporters may have a shot at passing a 2011 appropriation through both houses of Congress this year. That would avoid the need for a continuing resolution that keeps spending at 2010 levels and Constellation's fate unresolved.

A Senate aide speaking on background also confirmed Wednesday that all sides - including the administration - have been talking.

"The Commerce Committee has been working on a bipartisan basis to develop a strong and forward-looking reauthorization bill for NASA," the aide said. "There has been great interest from all sides on the best way for the agency to move forward. Working with the administration, Republicans on the committee, and numerous other stakeholders, the committee has been able to reach a sensible center."

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, declined comment Wednesday on the discussions.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Taurus 2 rocket could launch astronaut crews from Florida

The firm is contending for rights to launch future NASA astronaut crews to the International Space Station, but it faces stiff competition from SpaceX, Boeing Co., and other companies.

NASA wants to transition human transportation to low Earth orbit to private industry after the shuttle's retirement, but it will be several years before any company can demonstrate crew flights.

Orbital is already operating under a NASA contract to develop the unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter and the Taurus 2 rocket. The vehicles are scheduled for their first test flight next summer, according to Frank Culbertson, senior vice president and deputy general manager of Orbital's advanced programs group.

Culbertson's division oversees Orbital's human space progams.

In addition to the test flight, NASA has ordered eight operational Cygnus and Taurus 2 missions to deliver cargo and supplies to the space station through 2015. SpaceX was awarded 12 logistics flights using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

The resupply flights will blast off from a launch pad now under construction at Wallops Island, Va. Orbital chose Wallops due to strong political support from the state of Virginia and its proximity to the company's headquarters near Washington, D.C.

"At the time, it looked like Florida was going to be really busy," Culbertson said.

In a speech Tuesday at a luncheon of the the National Space Club Florida Committee, Culbertson said Orbital could reconsider launching Taurus 2 rockets from Cape Canaveral if the company receives a contract to fly astronauts.

Culbertson said it would take Orbital three or four years to field human-rated rocket and spacecraft from the point of a firm contract award. More Taurus 2 launch sites, including Florida, could also be required if Orbital signs deals to launch a large number of satellite payloads on the Taurus 2, according to Culbertson. Other locations under review include Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Kodiak Island, Alaska, for polar orbit launches.

Culbertson, a former astronaut, said Orbital is still discussing opportunities to launch the Taurus 2 from several facilities at Cape Canaveral. One vacant launch pad is Complex 36, the former home of Atlas rockets. Complex 36 is managed by Space Florida, a state government's aerospace economic development agency.

A Space Florida spokesperson did not respond to questions Tuesday, but Orbital considered Complex 36 in its first search for a suitable Taurus 2 launch site. Meanwhile, construction of the primary Wallops launch site is on track for completion by the end of 2010.

The launch pad base and horizontal integration facility are both under construction, and workers have erected a 30-story water tower to dampen liftoff acoustics, Culbertson said.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Indian American – Sunita Williams to again head off into space

The Indian American, Sunita Williams, (44) who currently holds the record for the longest space fight in history for a female astronaut, will yet again head off into space in June 2012 to board the space station that was her home between December 2006 and June 2007. The space station, called Soyuz 31, will also become home to cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide as was announced on Friday by all three agencies. Their mission is to begin undocking the Soyuz 31 from their small station, the Expedition 33, of which Williams will be the commander.

The first time Sunita Williams went into space she cut her ponytail for donation to the Locks of Love organization. Another one of her fellow astronauts aboard the space station also donated her pony tail which they brought back down to earth aboard the Discovery.

Williams received her training from the United States Navy, where she logged over 2770 hours of flight training in more than 30 different aircraft. She was approached in 1998 from NASA to become part of their elite team of astronaut trainees.

PSLV launch a great success: Madhavan Nair

G. Madhavan Nair, former chairman of ISRO applauded the 16th consecutive launch PSLV C15, in his speech at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology.

The vehicle carried the indigenously built Cartosat 2B remote sensing satellite, Alsat from Algeria, two satellites from Swiss and Canadian universities and a small satellite ‘Studsat’ built by a conglomerate of colleges from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Dr. Nair emphasized the need inspire students towards the path of experimentation and discovery, creating successful entrepreneurs. He has said that though the country has considerable indigenous talent, much of our technology is imported. This has to be stopped and as a measure, large investments should be made in science and technology.

Four areas of immediate attention were highlighted, which would ensure social development, food security, health security, energy security and education.

Food security could be achieved by the use of genetically enhanced crops and better storage techniques. Energy security, while hindered by the large population, could be achieved by the extensive usage of alternative energy sources and efficient storage devices. Health security required a development of indigenous diagnostic techniques, changing drug distribution system and development of nano materials.

J. K. Kuncheira, principal, RIT, chaired the session. Other speakers included M. S. Jayamohan, M. Jalaja and T. Sasikumar.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

That’s no UFO . . . it’s a space station

A UFO investigator says there is a perfectly logical explanation for a set of strange lights being reported in the night sky in Central Alberta.

A handful of people from the area, including one person from Blackfalds, have contacted him after seeing a bright light moving across the southern sky. Adding to the intrigue, a dimmer light was seen following it for awhile, as if attached, and then suddenly darting away.

No worries, says Brian Vike, a self-taught UFO researcher from Houston, B.C., and creator of the web blog, The Vike Factor, Into the Paranormal.

Conditions have been perfect for watching the International Space Station and, from time to time, the space flights that deliver its supplies. That is most likely the dimmer light that was seen following the space station and then seeming to dart away, Vike said on Tuesday.

People living close to Red Deer can see the space station for themselves on Thursday.

The station will appear lightly over the west-southwest horizon at 10:35 p.m. But make sure you’ve got a good angle on the horizon and don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Information posted on the NASA’s Skywatch website has it up for only three minutes, reaching a maximum height of 27 degrees.

Depending on where you’re watching from in relation to the space station’s orbit, it can be directly overhead on some nights, said Vike.

Internet users interested in finding out when the space station will be visible can go online to for an interactive menu based on the country and city in which they are located.

Vike also noted a separate investigation recently after receiving numerous reports, dating back to New Year’s Eve, of bright orange lights in the sky.

“Think about it. They’re on days like July 1,” says Vike.

He has determined that the lights are actually Thai or Chinese lanterns, alternately called UFO balloons.

ommonly lit during the same special occasions that call for fireworks, the devices work much like a hot-air balloon, with a candle lit inside a globe.

The unit rises as the air in the globe warms up. From a distance, it’s quite bright and could be difficult to identify, said Vike.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Leading NASA contractor set to cull more than 1,000 jobs

Ramifications connected to the upcoming retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet are reaching beyond the what, where and whens of delivering supplies to the orbiting International Space Station.

Affecting real people and real jobs back on terra firma, Houston-based United Space Alliance, one of NASA's leading space shuttle contractors, has announced it plans to cull around 15 percent of its total U.S. workforce on October 01 of this year.

Announced in a statement released on Tuesday, that percentage equates to more than 1,000 employees, with 800 to 1,000 expected to go from facilities in Florida, 300 to 400 from Texas, and about 10 from Alabama.

According to United Space Alliance president Virginia Barnes, all workers that lose their jobs will be given severance packages along with assistance in training for future job interviews and career transitions.

Speaking with the BBC News website, Keith Cowling, editor of NASA Watch, has warned there are many more job cuts to come as the shuttles head towards retirement.

“People being laid off now is just the beginning,” he said. “Many more thousands will be laid off as the shuttle programme is wound down.”

There are two officially scheduled shuttle missions remaining on NASA's mission calendar, which will see the aging vehicles withdrawn from service in early 2011.

NASA is still waiting for government approval for a proposed mission extension that would involve a final supply run to the International Space Station in June of 2011. It hopes to have an answer by August.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Overdue supply ship docks with International Space Station

The unmanned Progress M-06M spacecraft, which failed to dock with the International Space Station a few days ago, succeeded in a second attempt Sunday. Russian officials said that today's docking went flawlessly and exactly as planned, save for the fact that the docking occurred two days behind schedule.

NASA officials made clear that in the event of a total failure of the cargo ship, the orbital outpost's crew would have had enough surplus supplies to utilize until October or possibly November. By that time, a space shuttle and another Progress spacecraft would have arrived at the station to deliver supplies.

According to NASA, Friday's abort was most likely due to the faulty activation of a TV transmitter, which led to loss of telemetry and the initiation of an abort sequence. This, in turn, caused the spacecraft to fly past the station. The station's crew, however, were never in any danger, as the craft bypassed the outpost at a safe distance. The spacecraft, which was launched last week, delivered food, water, oxygen, and other utilities to the orbiting American-Russian crew.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last 2 shuttle flights delayed, final trip in 2011

NASA's space shuttle program will keep going until next year.

The space agency made it official Thursday after weeks of hints of launch delays: More time is needed to get the cargo ready for the final two shuttle flights. What's more, a decision regarding a possible third — and really last — mission is off until at least next month.

Managers agreed to postpone the next-to-last shuttle launch until Nov. 1. Discovery had been scheduled to fly to the International Space Station with a load of supplies in September.

The very last mission now has a Feb. 26, 2011, launch date. Endeavour will close out the 30-year shuttle program by delivering a major scientific instrument to the space station.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer — a particle physics detector — is getting a makeover in Europe to ensure a longer working life once it's attached to the space station. The extra work repeatedly has delayed the Endeavour flight, which initially was targeted for this month and then slipped to November.

As for the possibility of an extra shuttle mission, NASA officials said no decision is expected before August. The space agency would like to fly Atlantis one more time, next June, before the fleet is retired. Officials had hoped for an answer by now to start training a crew and preparing the payload.

The White House would need to sign off on any additional mission. NASA estimates it could cost as much as $200 million a month to keep the shuttle program going beyond 2010. The original plan — set forth in 2004 by President George W. Bush — was to quit flying shuttles this year.

Regardless of the outcome, shuttle Atlantis is being prepped to be on standby for a potential rescue mission for Endeavour's crew.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration released its official space policy. President Barack Obama wants future exploration to be more global, with multiple countries teaming up to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and, after that, to Mars.

Obama has directed NASA to focus on those long-range goals, with private companies eventually taking over the business of getting cargo and astronauts to the space station. The California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, successfully flew its Falcon 9 test rocket last month.

Until a commercial rocket is ready to start hauling passengers, American astronauts will continue to hitch rides to and from the orbiting station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Each seat costs NASA tens of millions of dollars.

Mercury astronaut John Glenn, a retired senator and one-time shuttle flier, said last week he'd rather see that money go toward keeping the shuttles flying until there's a reliable replacement.

Friday, July 2, 2010

NASA postpones the final two launches of the space shuttle program

NASA announced on Thursday that the final two missions of the space shuttle program have been delayed till November and February because of delays related to the preparation of the last spare-parts load to the International Space Station (ISS).

According to the new launch plan disclosed by NASA managers, space shuttle Discovery's launch on a cargo re-supply mission has been postponed from September to November 1; and the space shuttle program's final mission - involving Endeavor's hauling of the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector to the ISS - has now been re-scheduled for February 26.

Since the last flight of the shuttle program will result in the lay off of thousands of shuttle workers, the change in schedule of the final two flights will help some of the workers hold on to their jobs for another three months.

NASA has refrained from disclosing any other reason - other than the delay in getting the equipments to be carried to the ISS - for the changed scheduledof the final lap of the shuttle program.

Nonetheless, another probable reason behind the move is that s number of spacecraft launches have been scheduled at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for 2010-end.

In a statement, NASA spokesman Kyle Herring said: "There's a lot of what I call highway traffic around the station; it ultimately made the most sense to pick November 1" for Discovery's last flight.