Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Russia to Launch Commercial Space Station By 2016

Associated Press [5:05am (EST) September 29, 2010]

MOSCOW – A private Russian space firm and a state-controlled spacecraft manufacturer are planning to build and operate the world's first commercial space station and expect it to launched by 2016.

Sergey Kostenko, chief executive of the Moscow-based Orbital Technologies, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the station will cater to space tourists and researchers.

Kostenko said the station will initially be equipped to host seven people but will be capable of significant expansion.

The Russian state space agency, which stands to benefit from the proposed station by leasing launching pads for service modules, says it could be used as a safety back-up for the International Space Station in emergencies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

[U.S.] Air Force to Launch Satellite to Keep Close Eye On Space Junk

Denise Chow, Staff Writer – 4:06pm (Friday, September 24, 2010)

A new U.S. Air Force satellite built to track space junk and other spacecraft orbiting Earth is set to launch tomorrow (Sept. 25) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite, called SBSS, is part of an evolving goal to dramatically improve awareness of space debris and other objects around our planet, Air Force officials said.

"Every day, threats to our nation's valuable satellites and space platforms are growing," said Col. J.R. Jordan, vice commander of the Space Superiority Systems Wing at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, in a statement. "SBSS will revolutionize our ability to find and monitor objects that could harm the space assets we depend on for security, communications, weather forecasting and many other essential services." [Worst Space Debris Moments Ever]

The 2,277-pound (1,031 kilograms) SBSS satellite system will be launched into orbit on a Minotaur 4 rocket, designed by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. Liftoff is set for 9:41 p.m. PDT (12:41 a.m. Sept. 26 EDT, or 0441 GMT).

The satellite was originally scheduled to launch in Oct. 2009 but was delayed due to technical concerns with its rocket launch vehicle.

Space Junk Sentinel

There are about 500,000 known pieces of space junk orbiting around our planet. Of those, about 21,000 objects are larger than 4 inches (10.1 cm) in diameter, and are being tracked by the Department of Defense as part of the Space Surveillance Network. These are items such as spent rocket stages and broken satellites.

Space junk – even tiny pieces of it – can be dangerous because they orbit the Earth at high speeds and pose risks for impacts and collisions.

The SBSS satellite will provide data for the Air Force's Space Surveillance Network, which already keeps an eye on orbital debris. Aerospace juggernaut Boeing is responsible for the overall SBSS program management.

The Colorado-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. developed, designed, manufactured, integrated and tested the satellite, using the Boeing-built onboard mission data processor.

The overall cost of the SBSS program is about $858 million, Air Force officials said.

Sensors In Space

The SBSS spacecraft will be equipped with a visible sensor mounted on an agile, two-axis gimbal. This device will give ground controllers the flexibility to quickly move the camera between targets without needing to reposition the satellite itself or expend additional fuel.

"With its gimbaled camera, reprogrammable onboard processor and open-ground-system architecture, SBSS can respond quickly to today's changing mission requirements and adapt to meet tomorrow's threats as well," said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. "Boeing looks forward to putting these advanced capabilities into action for the Air Force."

The SBSS satellite will collect data to be used in conjunction with observations from ground-based radars and telescopes, but with one clear advantage. As the Air Force's only space-based tracker, SBSS will not be limited by weather, atmosphere or time of day.

"The SBSS team is ready to go on Sept. 25," said Todd Citron, director of the Boeing Advanced Space and Intelligence Systems. "We've thoroughly rehearsed all plans and procedures, the Satellite Operations Center has been configured for flight operations, and the SBSS satellite and Minotaur launch vehicle are completing final preparations. We're looking forward to putting this spacecraft into orbit so that it can perform its vital mission."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NASA Sends Shuttle Discovery to Pad For Last Time

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn, Ap Aerospace Writer – Mon Sep 20, 7:57 pm ET

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Discovery is headed to the launch pad for the last time.

NASA moved Discovery out of its hangar Monday night. The 3 1/2-mile trip to the pad was bittersweet for the space agency, which has only two shuttle missions remaining.

Discovery is set to lift off Nov. 1 for the International Space Station. Endeavour will follow in February to wrap up 30 years of shuttle flight.

Scores of shuttle workers and their families gathered to watch Discovery take its last ride to the pad atop a giant transporter.

Several hundred contract employees will lose their jobs Oct. 1 in a continuing wave of layoffs. NASA's future is uncertain because of disagreement in Washington over the next rocketships.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seats On Boeing Spaceships Could Go Up For Sale

By JOSHUA FREED, AP Business Writer Joshua Freed, AP Business Writer – Wed Sep 15, 5:44 pm ET

MINNEAPOLIS – Boeing and a space tourism company announced a deal on Wednesday to sell tickets on rocket rides to the International Space Station. Now Boeing just has to build a spaceship.

Space Adventures Ltd. has already been selling seats aboard the Russian-built Soyuz spaceship. Its last passenger was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who paid $35 million for a 10-day trip.

Now, Boeing says Space Adventures will sell seats on its planned CST-100, which would carry seven people. NASA has been encouraging aerospace companies like Boeing to develop spaceships that can carry government-sponsored astronauts as well as paying tourists to the space station. The idea is to spread around the cost of NASA missions while also boosting privately funded space efforts.

Big questions remain. Congressional funding isn't assured. And Boeing and Space Adventures will have competition from a California company called SpaceX, which is also seeking NASA work for space station missions.

So far, seven customers have ridden on eight flights through Spacecraft Adventures.

The trips will be for millionaires, at least for now. Boeing and Space Adventures executives didn't have pricing details, but said on a conference call that prices would be "competitive" with the cost for a flight on the Soyuz craft.

The more people fly to space, the sooner the cost will come down, said Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. He said people ask him when it will cost, say, $40,000, or $4,000, instead of close to $40 million.

"I don't know," he said, "but I know that it'll never be $40,000, or $4,000, if it doesn't start off at $40 million. ... We'll get there. Until launch technology radically changes, the price is still going to be quite expensive."

Boeing's CST-100 is a reusable capsule with a round bottom and pointed top that, from the outside, bears some resemblance to the Apollo capsules launched beginning in the 1960s. Boeing is doing design and testing work now, and hopes to have the craft ready in 2015.

Boeing plans to build two at first, which would be used for testing and then refurbished for missions. Each spaceship would need about six months in between flights to have its heat shield restored and its systems tested, said John Elbon, vice president and program manager for Boeing Commercial Crew Transportation Systems.

"Together we can open space to more people, and expand a new market, and I find that terribly exciting," said Brewster Shaw, a former astronaut and vice president and general manager of Boeing's Space Exploration division.

Anderson, of Space Adventures, said he's aiming to reduce the months of training that precede flights on the Soyuz craft, which includes Russian language training that won't be needed on the U.S.-led flights. He said shorter training will encourage more people to sign up, while still being sufficient to get them ready for the flight.

He objected to the notion that the people who accompany government-sponsored astronauts are "tourists."

"It's not the case that a bunch of people show up to the station in their flowered T-shirts with sunglasses on," he said. "I think this is much more about private citizens who are opening the frontier alongside government space explorers, and are doing so in a very serious fashion with lots of serious work behind it."

Still, the Cirque du Soleil founder wore a red clown nose on his trip.

Boeing Co. shares fell 3 cents to close at $62.73.