Saturday, August 29, 2009

India Loses Contact With Its First Moon Mission

Sat Aug 29, 9:23 am ET

BANGALORE, India (Reuters) – India has lost all contact with an unmanned spacecraft conducting its first moon mission, the national space agency said on Saturday.

Communications with the Chandrayaan-1 craft broke down early on Saturday. "It is a serious problem. If we do not re-establish contact we will lose the spacecraft," said S. Satish, spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

The $79-million mission was launched amid national euphoria last October, putting India in the Asian space race alongside rival China, reinforcing its claim to be considered a global power.

A probe vehicle landed on the moon a month later and sent back images of the lunar surface.

But a critical sensor in the main craft, orbiting the moon, malfunctioned in July, raising fears that the two-year mission may have to be curtailed.

One of the mission's main aims was to look for Helium 3, an isotope which is very rare on earth but could be an energy source in the future in nuclear fusion.

ISRO has plans to send a manned mission to space in four years' time and eventually on to Mars.

China, U.S. May Cooperate On World's Biggest Telescope

Fri Aug 28, 11:59 am ET

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Astronomers from China and the United States may cooperate on building the world's largest telescope aimed at providing deeper insight into the very early stages of the universe, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The Thirty-Meter-Telescope (TMT), conceived and headed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), is expected to be completed in 2019, the official Chinese news agency said.

"It is a big undertaking and it will define the future of astronomy and astrophysics for about 60 or 70 years, so it will automatically involve a large international community," said Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau in an interview with Xinhua.

Xinhua said the university and Caltech are talking to Chinese astronomers and scientists about cooperation on funding and technology, although no final decision has been made.

Canada and Japan have signed up to the project, which needs total financing of $1 billion, it said.

The telescope, with a mirror 30 meters in diameter, will have the sharpest view possible of the universe and will pick up images of galaxies and stars forming 13 billion light years away. It will be located on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Problem Cancels Moon Rocket Test Firing In Utah

By PAUL FOY, Associated Press Writer Paul Foy, Associated Press Writer – Thu Aug 27, 7:42 pm ET

PROMONTORY, Utah – A mechanical failure forced a NASA contractor on Thursday to call off the first test firing of the main part of NASA's powerful new moon rocket.

The test wasn't immediately rescheduled as officials scrambled to learn the root cause of the failure.

Alliant Techsystems Inc. called off the rocket burn with just 20 seconds left on the countdown clock. Operators cited failure of a power unit that drives hydraulic tilt controls for the rocket's nozzle. The rocket was anchored to the ground in a horizontal position for the test.

It was a setback for a carefully staged, $75 million event that drew thousands of onlookers. Alliant hoped the routine test would prove the performance of a new program for space exploration that, like the test rocket, may not fly because of NASA budget problems.

There was no indication anything was wrong with the rocket itself, which packs 1 million pounds of chemical propellant, enough to boost a 321-foot-long vehicle 190,000 feet into the atmosphere.

At a news conference in Utah, officials said the power unit for the nozzle controls, which steer a rocket in flight, was robbed of fuel, apparently because of a faulty valve.

That had potential implications for the space shuttle, which uses a nearly identical system. Officials in Utah notified their counterparts at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where NASA has had to twice delay the launch of Discovery for other reasons.

The Ares test problem could introduce a new delay in the launch of Discovery, previously set back because of weather and again because of a problem with a different shuttle fuel valve.

Shuttle managers said Thursday they will examine what went wrong with Ares and decide by early Friday whether to go ahead with a launch set for 11:59 p.m. EDT Friday.

In Utah, Alliant executives said their valve problem had never before emerged to scrub a rocket's test firing. Engineers could have fired the rocket anyway, but they halted the two-minute burn because they wouldn't have been able to test the agility of the rocket nozzle.

"This test is really important to the program, and it's a rare occurrence to have a problem with a booster," said Charlie Precourt, Alliant's general manager for launch systems, who was a four-time shuttle astronaut. "We should have this sorted out shortly."

Alex Prisko, a NASA manager for the Ares booster rocket, said the delay would add no more than a few million dollars to the $75 million cost of making and testing the rocket.

The Ares rocket is the centerpiece of the plan started by President George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and then on to Mars.

That plan, and all of NASA's human space program, is under review by a special independent panel, which will make recommendations to President Barack Obama on Monday. Some space experts expect the Ares rocket program, which has already cost $7 billion, will be modified or canceled.

But Thursday's glitch won't be a reason for that, experts said.

Problems, delays and outright failures are common in tests of new rockets and was nothing to worry about, said two former top NASA officials.

"The development of all launch vehicles is spotty and checkered at best," said Scott Hubbard, once director of NASA's Ames Research Center and now a professor of astronautics and aeronautics at Stanford University. "The fact that they are having troubles is not surprising at all."

Even after more than 125 flights, the space shuttle gets glitches like this that causes delays, Hubbard said. The shuttle Discovery was delayed twice this week.

Former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern, now associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, said the company was prudent in not pushing with the test.

"This is a big deal, if it goes badly there are serious consequences," Stern said. But a delay in a test isn't necessarily a bad thing and shouldn't influence the White House's decision on whether to continue with the Bush moon program that features Ares rockets.

"This is a normal occurrence," Stern said.

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., contributed to this eport.