Latest News

China Successfully Launches Tiangong-1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

China's top leaders were either at the Beijing Command and Control Center or the Jiuquan launch site for the successful launch of Tiangong-1, China's first space station module.

China's CNTV English-language news channel carried the launch live. The on-time liftoff was at 9:16 pm Beijing time (9:16 am EDT). Cameras on the ground and on the rocket provided excellent visual coverage of the launch on a clear night in the Gobi desert.

The final orbit will be about 350 x 200 kilometers according to commentary on CNTV. No one is aboard Tiangong-1. It is an automated docking target. Three spacecraft are scheduled to dock with it over the next two years. First will be the unoccupied Shenzhou 8, planned for launch in about a month.

Wolf Presses OMB on JWST Replan Details

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, wants the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to tell Congress where it plans to get the money to pay for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) overrun.

In a letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew today, Rep. Wolf said that if the White House does not tell his subcommittee what NASA activities it plans to cut in order to make funds available for JWST, he will have to assume that JWST is no higher a priority than NASA's other programs. The letter says --

"While acknowledging that substantial cuts will be necessary, the Administration has so far failed to identify a single specific proposal to offset the increase in JWST spending above the levels contained in the President's fiscal year 2012 request. Either no offsets have been proposed because JWST really isn't a top priority, or the Administration is hoping that remaining silent will force Congress to act unilaterally and thereby take sole ownership of the cuts necessitated by the Administration's actions. No matter which explanation is correct, continuing silence is neither fair nor acceptable to the Congress and to members of the scientific community who will be deeply impacted by the ultimate outcome of the JWST debate."

Wolf reminded Lew that the House and Senate will be meeting "in the coming weeks" to negotiate NASA's FY2012 appropriations level and funding for JWST "will be one of the most significant issues considered." For Congress to make "a truly informed decision," it needs to understand "both the value of JWST and the value of opportunities that may be precluded" by shifting money from other activities into JWST. He made clear that if OMB did not provide the information before the conference negotiations begin, "I will consider that to be an indication that JWST is no higher in priority than any other existing or planned NASA activity."

NASA has said that it will reveal the future spending plan for JWST when it submits its FY2013 budget request in February.

The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, chaired by Wolf, recommended termination of the JWST program. The full committee agreed. The Senate Appropriations Committee, conversely, voted to provide more funds than requested for JWST in FY2012 to ensure that it could be launched in 2018. Neither the House nor Senate has voted on the CJS bill, yet.

China Readying for Tiangong-1 Launch Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

China's Xinhua news agency reports that the launch of the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) experimental space station module will take place tomorrow, September 29, just after 9:00 pm Beijing time (which is 12 hours ahead of EDT).

The launch window is open from 9:16-9:31 pm Beijing time (9:16-9:31 am EDT) according to Xinhua. The module is experimental and its primary purpose is for docking tests. China plans to launch at least three Shenzhou spacecraft to dock with it. The first two, Shenzhou 8 and 9, will be unoccupied; the third, Shenzhou 10, will carry one Chinese astronaut (referred to in the West as a "taikonaut") according to Xinhua.

The docking tests are steps towards an eventual permanently-crewed space station. Chinese news sources have mentioned various dates for that space station over the years. Today's report from Xinhua says it will be launched "around 2020."

Shenzhou is the spacecraft China uses for its taikonauts and is similar to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Shenzhou 1-4 were uncrewed test flights. The first Chinese taikonaut flew on Shenzhou 5 in 2003. In 2005, Shenzhou 6 was launched with two taikonauts. Shenzhou 7, launched in 2008, carried three taikonauts, two of whom performed China's first spacewalk.

Shenzhou 8 is scheduled for launch a month after Tiangong-1. It will be unoccupied and conduct two docking tests before returning to Earth. Details of the Shenzhou 9 flight were not discussed in the article, but it apparently also will be unoccupied since the article focuses on Shenzhou 10's flight with a taikonaut. The one-person crew for that mission has already been chosen and is in training and will perform manual rendenzvous and docking tests with Tiangong-1 according to Xinhua.

The article did not specify the launch dates for the Shenzhou spacecraft, saying only that Shenzhou 8 will launch one month after Tiangong-1, and the other two will be launched "in the next two years."

Yvonne Brill Awarded National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Yvonne Brill was selected by the White House today as one of the five recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Brill, who had a long career with aerospace and satellite communications companies including RCA Astroelectronics and Inmarsat, is being recognized "For innovation in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous and low earth orbit communication satellites, which greatly improved the effectiveness of space propulsion systems."

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, and of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board, Brill has received many honors for her pioneering work on in-orbit propulsion for communications satellites. Last year she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and she is one of only four women ever to be elected as Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Brill is the only woman among the five individuals receiving the technology medal this year. The White House press release names those five and the seven recipients of the National Medal of Science:

National Medal of Science

Jacqueline K. Barton
California Institute of Technology
For discovery of a new property of the DNA helix, long-range electron transfer, and for showing that electron transfer depends upon stacking of the base pairs and DNA dynamics. Her experiments reveal a strategy for how DNA repair proteins locate DNA lesions and demonstrate a biological role for DNA-mediated charge transfer.

Ralph L. Brinster
University of Pennsylvania
For his fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice. His research has provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture.

Shu Chien
University of California, San Diego
For pioneering work in cardiovascular physiology and bioengineering, which has had tremendous impact in the fields of microcirculation, blood rheology and mechanotransduction in human health and disease.

Rudolf Jaenisch
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
For improving our understanding of epigenetic regulation of gene expression: the biological mechanisms that affect how genetic information is variably expressed. His work has led to major advances in our understanding of mammalian cloning and embryonic stem cells.

Peter J. Stang
University of Utah
For his creative contributions to the development of organic supramolecular chemistry and for his outstanding and unique record of public service.

Richard A. Tapia
Rice University
For his pioneering and fundamental contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis and for his dedication and sustained efforts in fostering diversity and excellence in mathematics and science education.

Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan
New York University
For his work in probability theory, especially his work on large deviations from expected random behavior, which has revolutionized this field of study during the second half of the twentieth century and become a cornerstone of both pure and applied probability. The mathematical insights he developed have been applied in diverse fields including quantum field theory, population dynamics, finance, econometrics, and traffic engineering.

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Rakesh Agrawal
Purdue University
For an extraordinary record of innovations in improving the energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquefaction and separation. These innovations have had significant positive impacts on electronic device manufacturing, liquefied gas production, and the supply of industrial gases for diverse industries.

B. Jayant Baliga
North Carolina State University
For development and commercialization of the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor and other power semiconductor devices that are extensively used in transportation, lighting, medicine, defense, and renewable energy generation systems.

C. Donald Bateman
For developing and championing critical flight-safety sensors now used by aircraft worldwide, including ground proximity warning systems and wind-shear detection systems.

Yvonne C. Brill
RCA Astro Electronics (Retired)
For innovation in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous and low earth orbit communication satellites, which greatly improved the effectiveness of space propulsion systems.

Michael F. Tompsett
For pioneering work in materials and electronic technologies including the design and development of the first charge-coupled device (CCD) imagers.

The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.

Weiler To Retire from NASA on Friday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), is retiring at the end of this week.

NASA formally made the announcement today. Chuck Gay, SMD Deputy Associate Administrator, will take the helm while a replacement is sought.

Weiler is on his second tour as SMD chief. An astrophysicist who was chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, Weiler rose to head NASA's space science enterprise from 1998-2004, then was appointed Director of Goddard Space Flight Center. He returned to his previous job in May 2008 after Alan Stern resigned rather suddenly.

He joins several other NASA officials who have left or will leave the agency, including the head of SMD's astrophysics division, Jon Morse. Morse and his wife, Laurie Leshin, who was Deputy Administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD), both joined the faculty at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute. Doug Cooke, Associate Administrator for ESMD, is retiring effective October 3. ESMD recently merged with the former Space Operations Mission Directorate to form the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Summary of JPSS Hearing Now Available

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 27-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A summary of last Friday's hearing on NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System is now available. It can be download by clicking here or from our left menu under "Our Hearing Summaries." The hearing was held by two subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee with witnesses from NOAA, NASA and GAO.

Found! NASA Specifies When and Where UARS Reentered

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

In a videotaped statement today, NASA's orbital debris expert Nicholas Johnson announced precisely when and where the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) reentered. Earlier the agency said it might never know for certain.

Johnson said the location was 14.1 degrees South latitude, 170.2 degrees West longitude, near the Christmas Islands. The agency has received no reports from people on airplanes, ships or islands that they witnessed the reentry, which occurred at 04:00 GMT September 24 (midnight EDT).

Where There's a Will There's a Way: Shutdown May be Averted

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

National Journal, The Hill, and Politico are reporting that a deal has been struck in the Senate that will keep the government operating after Friday.

The complete details are still emerging, but the key that broke the deadlock was news from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that its funds would last through the end of this week instead of running out tomorrow. That means the agency does not need more money in FY2011, which ends Friday.

FEMA had said it needed $1 billion to get through the rest of FY2011 and House Republicans had demanded offsets for that $1 billion of the $3.5 billion included in the Continuing Resolution (CR) it passed on Friday. The Senate killed that measure.

The Senate has now agreed to provide the same amount of disaster relief funding ($2.65 billion) for FEMA from the beginning of FY2012, which starts on Saturday, as what was provided in the House-passed bill. Since FEMA does not need the $1 billion for FY2011, then the House-passed offsets are moot and the two sides can agree on that issue. The House tied together the FEMA funding with the CR to fund the government through November 18. A CR is needed because none of the 12 appropriations bills that would fund the government in FY2012 has passed Congress yet.

The House is scheduled to meet only in pro forma session this week -- today and Thursday. Members are in their districts or otherwise out of town. Ordinarily they would want to vote on these measures instead of passing a bill like this by unanimous consent. Thus, the Senate also passed a CR to fund the government through Tuesday until the House returns to regular business and can vote on the CR that lasts until November 18. The House could pass that bill by unanimous consent.

The upshot of all this complicated political maneuvering is that a government shutdown on Friday likely has been averted.

Until November 18, at least.

NASA to Reveal New Asteroid Search Findings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA will hold a press conference on Thursday (September 29) to reveal new findings about asteroids from its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

The press conference is at 1:00 pm EDT at NASA Headquarters and it will be aired on NASA TV. Panelists are:

-- Lindley Johnson, NEO program executive, NASA Headquarters

-- Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

-- Tim Spahr, director, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

-- Lucy McFadden, scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

UPDATE: China May Launch Space Station Test Module Soon

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE (Sept. 26 EDT): Xinhua reported today that the launch would be later this week (Thursday or Friday Beijing time) because of poor weather conditions.

The long awaited launch of China's Tiangong-1 spacecraft may take place in the next few days. It is a step in developing a Chinese space station.

China's news agency, Xinhua, reported on September 20 that the launch window would be open from September 27-30. Presumably that is in Beijing time, which is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, so that window could begin on September 26 EDT.

The plan is for Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) to dock with an unoccupied Shenzhou 8 spacecraft that would be launched later this year. There are no plans for Chinese astronauts (taikonauts) to occupy either module. Instead, this is a docking test in preparation for an eventual occupied space station.

Tiangong-1 will be launched on a Long March II-F from China's Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert, which is used for all of its human spaceflight launches. The launch was delayed while Chinese officials determined the reasons for the failure of a different version of the Long March rocket in August.

Events of Interest


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: