Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (May 23, 2013) -- The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-5) satellite for the U.S. Air Force was scrubbed today due to an issue associated with a ground support system helium pressurization line. The launch has been rescheduled for Friday, May 24, at 8:27 p.m. EDT at the opening of a 30-minute window. The forecast for tomorrow shows an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.
The decision made just over a year ago by the European satellite operator, Eutelsat, to rename its entire satellite fleet according to the GEO location where they are serving has led to confusion with respect to which satellite is which, especially when they relocate and are then renamed. To counter this confusion, Flightglobal/Ascend's SpaceTrak database, which is used by much of the space and related insurance industries, will henceforth rename all Eutelsat satellites according to the Eutelsat name followed by the international number (a number that does not change once a satellite is in orbit). This will be followed by the "official" Eutelsat name in brackets/parentheses.
For example, Eutelsat satellite located over 28.2 degrees East in the Geostationary orbital arc EUTELSAT 28A has now been renamed EUTELSAT 2001-011A (EUTELSAT 28A). This satelilte was originally launched as Eurobird 1.
The U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee received expert evidence as they discussed which destination man should make its first port of call on its way to the planets. Currently NASA and the Obama Administration is promoting a plan to capture a small asteriod which would be brought back to the Earth/Moon system using an unmanned spacecraft. Once there a manned mission would be sent to it to take samples. NASA has allocated $105 million to examine the technologies needed. But detractors of this idea say that the Moon would be a much better interim choice for manned exploration.
Most of the experts presenting to the committee thought that the asteroid plan was a poor idea and promoted returning to the Moon instead on the grounds that it would be easier to achieve and would give astronauts experience of exploration while proving key technologies.
Critics of the asteroid plan included Doug Cooke, a spaceflight consultant who was formerly in charge of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. He remains firmly in the "Moon-first" camp as does Steven Squyres, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy Cornell University. Also opposed to asteroid plan was the Chairman of the committee, Republican respesentative Lamar Smith, who said in his prepared statement; "The Administration originally proposed a mission to an asteroid in deep space. A recent National Research Council report found little support for the proposal. Without a consensus for the original plan, NASA haphazardly created a new asteroid retrieval mission."
One defender of the plan was Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society who co-wrote the Keck Institute for Space Studies Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study. He noted that such a project would be able to test out new electric propulsion technologies for long range missions.
It is not just those wanting mankind to return to the Moon who do not like the asteroid capture idea. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society and principal proponent of a "Mars First" strategy, has separately lashed the plan in a submission to Space News.as being poor value for money and a distraction from the main Mars effort.
NASA concept for Altair landing craft for lunar exploration. Courtesy: NASA
Comment by David Todd: NASA's original idea for a staged exploration strategy to Mars was to visit a passing "Near Earth" asteroid. However, such asteroid targets are few and far between. Worse they would undoubtedly be exploration time-limited. Now it seems that if NASA will not go to the asteroid, NASA wants an asteroid to come to it - albeit with the help of a NASA unmanned spacecraft.
This asteroid recovery idea is a foolish and expensive plan which will just divert funds from a proper manned progamme. Instead these funds should be directed as a limited manned lunar exploration programme - a project which is a much more achievable and which would achieve much more in the short term in terms of exploration and science and would give astronauts experience of exploration before living memory of lunar exploration disappears.
However, it has to be noted there are both financial and "mission creep" risks in going to the Moon as well. Some will inevitably push for a permanent manned lunar base to be established, but the expense of constructing and especially servicing this will diminish the chance of a Mars landing. As it is, costs of maintaining the International Space Station and its eventual successor(s) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), even with the benefits of commerical crew lift capabilities, will be enough to cope with. Thus for economic/cost reasons a manned moon base will have to wait until fully reusable launch vehicles and landing craft are eventually developed (possibly involving fuelling bases at the lunar Lagrangian points).
Instead, while working on longer range interplanetary transport craft (possibly using electric propulsion).and landing craft for full Mars landing missions, NASA could quite easily undertake some Apollo-class limited lunar exploration flights as a simpler interim project. In effect, this limited lunar exploration plan would be what Project Gemini was to Project Apollo of the 1960s: a limited but very successful operational test precursor to Apollo which successfully cleared key capabilities of orbital rendezvous and docking, as well as techiques for Extra-Vehicular Activity.
Much of the hardware for a such a new limited lunar project is close to fruition. NASA is on the way to having a capable heavy lift launch vehicle in SLS, along with its very promising and now part-ESA-financed* Orion manned spacecraft (*using monies owed to NASA). All that is needed now is a suitable manned landing craft. As such, it maybe just the right time to dust down the mothballed Project Constellation Altair design.
After a one month mission in orbit, the Russian Bion M1 mission's capsule carrying animals and plants separated from the equipment module of the Bion-M spacecraft at 0232 GMT on 19 May and initiated re-entry. The capsule landed at 0312 GMT. circa 100 km northeast of Orenburg in Russia, near the Kazakh border. The mission involved experimenetal tests were conducted to examine the effect of microgravity and space radiation on space biological samples. Bion-M1 carried eight Mongolian gerbils, 45 mice, 15 geckos, snails, tilapia fish and containers with various microorganisms and plants. Most of the animals died on the flight due to a technical malfunctions with the gerbils being killed by oxygen starvation, while the fish died when the aquarium malfunction. Only 6 of the mice survived.
President Barack Obama has posthumously awarded fomer astronaut and first US female in orbit, Dr. Sally Ride, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award is the highest US civilian honour that can been bestowed.
Ride made her first flight in 1983 on STS-07 and few again a year later on STS-43L (both on the Space Shuttle Challenger). In 1986, Ride served on the Rogers Commission investigating the STS-51L Challenger accident. She was instrumental in making sure that hidden details of the Solid Rocket Booster "O" ring test failures in cold temperatures reached other members of the panel including Physicist Richard Feynman. This factor was later cited as the principal cause of the failure.
Dr. Sally Ride on STS-07 in June 1983. Courtesy: NASA
Ride's Space Shuttle truth-teller/whistleblower role came out only after her death in 2012. Likewise, it was only then that it was publicly revealed that Ride had been in a same-sex relationship since the breakdown of her marriage. Having left NASA in 1987, as a physics graduate and as an educator she later devoted her life to encouraging girls to get a scientific education. It was only after her death in 2012 that it was revealed that Ride had been in a same-sex relationship since the breakdown of her marriage.
President Obama said, "We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women. Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy."
In all the enthusiasm about Tim Peake's planned spaceflight to the International Space Station in November 2015 (which might be thought of as a de facto "thank you" for the UK's extra funding to ESA), and how it might promote the so called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in education, the question many schoolchildren and students will be asking is: which subjects and which career path do I need to do to get into space?
Strangely, the Minister for Universities and Science, the Rt Hon David Willetts MP made sure to note that he was NOT promoting STEM subjects as a way to become an astronaut. Citing former Army Apache helicoptor and test pilot, Tim Peake, as an example, Willetts thought that more practical skills like flying/pilot training would be better for those wanting to be astronauts in future than having a science-based degree though he noted that STEM subjects would help those wanting to work in the space industry.
Willetts said while he was encouraging STEM subject uptake as being good for the space industry and the nation in general, he was averse to forcing school children and young adults from taking subjects at university that they did not really want to do. "I believe in people being free to choose the courses that most interest them." said Willetts noting that arts subjects can lead to rewarding careers as well.
Peake agreed that the main key was to find what you are particularly passionate about and be as good at it as you can. "There are astronauts who are school teachers.engineers, scientists, doctors, and pilots. Any career path can lead to to being an astronaut."
While Peake's mission running order is not yet decided, it is likely to have some element of microgravity research, especially as the UK is a recent contributor to ESA's European Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS) microgravity research programme. There is also a chance that Peake will mount a spacewalk as part of his mission, having done neutral buoyancy tank training. "I have done several months over in Houston, I went through what is known as the novice flow and skills flow which qualifies me in the EMU (Extravehicular Mobilty Unit) suit." said Peake. Peake is also qualified on the Russian Orlan suit as well.
Tim Peak in initial EVA training in Neutral Buoyancy Tank at European Astronaut Centre, Cologne in 2010. He later went to Houston to EVA qualify on the NASA spacesuit. Courtesy ESAPeake noted that he would like to stand on Mars on day even if his career may be over by the time that mankind achieves that aim. More realisticallly, there is a genuine outside chance that Peake might one day visit a Chinese space station. Thomas Rieter, ex-astronaut and now head of human spaceflight at ESA, noted that discussions with the Chinese over future cooperation had started but that they were at a very early stage.
Comment by David Todd: While they may be right in noting that individuals tend to do best in subjects they enjoy most, Peake and Willetts are a bit wrong in not suggesting that a degree in a STEM subject would improve a candidate's chances of selection as an astronaut. For the best chance of becoming an orbital-class astronaut, the traditional routes into space still hold: either be an exemplary pilot, or be a science/medicine or engineering specialist (or at least have degree in these subjects), or, even better, both. Peake himself was an army officer and test pilot, but did actually gain a degree in Flight Dynamics as part of his training at the Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down (which was actually awarded by the University of Portsmouth).
There is no evidence that lawyers, linguists, archeologists and historians are yet being made into astronauts in preference to those holding STEM expertise, though rich business types are making it - even if they have to pay for themselves via space tourism programmes.
One trend will probably happen however. Rather than having specialised astronauts: pilots, EVA (Extra-vehicular Activity) experts, and scientific specialists, that the Space Shuttle tended to carry, future astronauts on long range missions to the Moon, asteroids and planets, will probably have to be "jacks of all trades" like Apollo astronauts, given their smaller crews. That is, they will have to be skilled pilots, AND be experts at EVA, AND have good STEM subject degrees - with geology, engineering and medicine probably being the most useful.
While STEM knowledge, at least to a background degree level, will probably be essential, Willetts was right to hint that like becoming pilot would be a good route in. Pilots, like divers, explorers and other "operational types", apart from being fit and having practical and problem solving experience, also usually have the psychological make-up to be able to think quickly and calmly in dangerous situations. This can mean the difference between mission success and failure and sometimes the difference between life and death.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has formally converted two optons to construction orders for two weather satellites GOES T and GOES U from Lockheed Martin. The satellites were originally ordered as options in 2010 of the batch deal for GOES R and GOES S (delayed after a contract appeal from 2008). According to space news, the new deal is GOES T option/order is worth $175.9 million, and the GOES-U option/order is worth $139.7 million,
Reuters reports that China has made an extreme alititude suborbital rocket launch which may be an anti-satellite weapon. The launch of the rocket on 15 May, elements of which reached 10,000km altititude, is thought by US government experts to be a possible test of a new anti-satellite missile. The remnants of the test fell into the Indian Ocean. The altitide achieved was the highest ever achieved by a non-orbiting object since 1976.
Meantime, on 15 May, the US Navy made its third successful inteception test of its Standard Missile SM-3 Block 1B variant which is known to have both anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite applications. This new variant of hte missile is now expected to go into full production. The Standard SM-3 Block 1B was launched from the U.S.S. Lake Erie striking and destroying a target missile launched from Kauai, Hawaii.
Standard Missiles were originally developed to arm cruisers and destroyers of the US Navy in a more conventional endoatmospheric anti-aircraft and anti-missile role. The latter role may soon be needed as it has emerged that Russia has delivered the latest versions of its supersonic anti-ship missile, the Yakhont to Syria's government. With a range of 300km and in having such fast attack speeds, these impressive missiles (India's Brahmos is a licenced copy) could hold off Western naval forces from making an intervention in the current civil war in Syria. Having said that, at such ranges, such missiles usuually have to be targeted remotely; either via satellite targeting or via maritime aircraft.