Latest News

Hall Slated to Chair House Science and Technology Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Politico reports that Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has been chosen to chair the House Science and Technology Committee in the next Congress. Rep. Hall, a Democrat turned Republican, is a strong supporter of human spaceflight and NASA in general. The recommendation still must be voted upon by the full Republican caucus, but the vote is considered a formality. The octogenarian is a beloved figure in the aerospace community.

Falcon 9/Dragon Press Conference About To Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Watch the press conference on the successful flight of Space X's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft live on NASA TV.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden just issued this statement.

SpaceX To Decide Tonight About Launch Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

SpaceX released the following statement about the rescheduled Falcon 9 launch tomorrow. The message is that there are two cracks in the engine nozzle of the second stage engine (rather than one as reported yesterday) and they are still deciding on the path forward. They will announce tonight whether the launch will take place tomorrow or not.

Here is the text of the SpaceX announcement:

UPDATE: COTS Demo 1 Launch Activities

SpaceX engineers are analyzing two small cracks in the aft end of the 2nd stage engine nozzle extension. These cracks are in a region near the end of the nozzle extension where there is very little stress and so they would not cause a flight failure by themselves. However, further investigation is warranted to ensure that these cracks are not symptomatic of a more serious problem.

A decision on whether or not to attempt launch on Wednesday will be provided this evening [Tuesday].

The bell shaped Merlin Vacuum nozzle extension is made of niobium sheet alloy, measures 9 feet tall and 8 feet at the base diameter, and thins out to about twice the thickness of a soda can at the end. Although made of an exotic refractory alloy metal with a melting temperature high enough to boil steel, this component is geometrically the simplest part of the engine.

It is important to note that the niobium nozzle extension increases the efficiency of the Merlin engine in vacuum and is installed by default on all upper stage Merlin engines, but that efficiency increase is not required for this mission. The nozzle extension is most helpful when launching very heavy satellites or to maximize throw mass to distant destinations like Mars. The most likely path forward is that we will trim off the thinnest portion of the nozzle extension, which is where the cracks are located, perform a thorough systems check and resume launch preparation.

Patrick Kennedy Wants Commitment to "Inner Space" on 50th Anniversary of His Uncle's Moon Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

On May 25, 2011, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 speech to Congress on Urgent National Needs that included the call to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. To commemorate the anniversay of that "Moon speech," JFK's nephew, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), is proposing a national commitment to researching "inner space" instead of outer space.

In an interview with The Hill newspaper, outgoing Rep. Kennedy explained his reasoning. Rep. Kennedy has battled with addiction problems throughout his life and announced soon after the death of his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, that he would not run for reelection. Instead, he wants to focus on mental health issues and told The Hill that he is discussing with his cousin, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the idea of using the anniversary of her father's speech committing the nation to exploring the Moon to call for a similar commitment to research on mental health, or "inner space."

"It's a scientific endeavor of equal significance, if not greater, and of equal if not greater complexity," Rep. Kennedy is quoted as saying.

Falcon 9 Launch Slips to No Earlier Than Wednesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The first COTS launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and its Dragon spacecraft will slip to Wednesday at least according to NASA.

The delay is due to discovery of a 3-inch long crack in the engine nozzle on the Falcon 9's second stage. The company is considering its options -- repairing it or getting a replacement from California -- and NASA promised more information about the launch schedule when it's available.

"Sputnik Moment is Back" Says President Obama

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

It's not a rallying cry for the space program, but President Obama invoked the impact that the 1957 launch of Sputnik had on the United States in a speech today about the U.S. economy and workforce.

"In 1957, just before this college opened, the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. And that was a wake-up call that caused the United States to boost our investment in innovation and education -- particularly in math and science. And as a result, once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries, and jobs.

"So 50 years later, our generation's Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment. If the recession has taught us anything, it's that we cannot go back to an economy that's driven by too much spending, too much borrowing, running up credit cards, taking out a lot of home equity loans, paper profits that are built on financial speculation. We've got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth.

"We need to do what America has always been known for: building, innovating, educating, making things. We don't want to be a nation that simply buys and consumes products from other countries. We want to create and sell products all over the world that are stamped with three simple words: "Made In America." That's our goal."

He made the speech at the Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The White House said the President chose that venue because Forsyth exemplifies "not just how America came to lead the world in the 20th Century, but how it can regain that status unambiguously," pointing to the community college's success in granting degrees in fields needed for 21st Century industries.

UPDATE: Setback for Russia's GLONASS System

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This is updated with further details from RIA Novosti.

Russia's GLONASS navigation satellite system suffered a setback today when three satellites were lost in a failure of their Proton launch vehicle.

The GLONASS satellites are launched in groups of three. What caused the Proton to fail is under investigation, but Russia's Itar-TASS news agency quoted an unnamed Russian aerospace industry official as saying "The rocket's engine gave a much bigger impetus than planned, and the orbiting unit separated at an altitude much higher than the designated one."

The Voice of Russia website downplayed the effect of the loss on the satellite system, which is conceptually analogous to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Like GPS, 24 operational satellites are needed for a fully functioning system. For many years, Russia could not maintain that number, but it recently became a governmental priority. Although Voice of Russia reports that there are 26 GLONASS satellites in orbit including "two in reserve," Aviation Week points out that "two are spares and the other four are not operational." Thus the constellation is still short of the 24 needed for global, three-dimensional coverage.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti added that the satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean 15,000 kilometers north of Honolulu. That news source says that three of the on-orbit GLONASS satellites are not functional, rather than four as reported by Aviation Week. It does confirm that the three lost today were intended to complete the operational network.

Events of Interest: Week of December 6-10, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The folllowing events may of interest in the coming week. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

During the Week

Congress passed a second Continuing Resolution (CR) last week to keep the government operating until December 18, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly has said that his plan is for the Senate to adjourn by December 17. In these last remaining two weeks of the 111th Congress, it will either pass an omnibus funding bill to keep government agencies operating for the rest of FY2011 or kick the can down the road again with another CR. It is anyone's guess as to which path it will be, as Congress wrangles with associated issues such as extending unemployment benefits and the "Bush era" tax cuts. Anything can happen in the crazy days at the end of a Congress, especially when the party in power of one of the chambers is about to change. We will try to keep you apprised of any actions that would affect space activities.

Meanwhile, we can all hope that the commercial sector will move a step forward this week with a successful launch of Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

Monday, December 6

  • NASA pre-launch teleconference for the Falcon 9 COTS launch, 1:30 pm EST, NASA TV

Tuesday, December 7

  • Scheduled launch of Falcon 9: window is open from 9:03 am to 12:22 pm EST. NASA TV will cover the launch from the T-5 minute hold.

Wednesday, December 8

  • Space Transportation Association breakfast with NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese, 8:00 am EST, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building (contact to register)
  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting via teleconference, 11:00 am EST

SpaceX Static Fire Test Successful

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The static fire test of SpaceX's Falcon 9 succeeded this morning on the third try. The goal was firing the engines at full thrust for 2 seconds, which the company said on its Twitter account (SpaceXer) was accomplished. See photos of all nine engines firing at

Second SpaceX Static Fire Test Aborted; Third Attempt Possible Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

SpaceX tried again this morning, Saturday, to conduct a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket in advance of a scheduled orbital launch next week. The first attempt was aborted yesterday at T-1.1 seconds because of high chamber pressure in one of the nine Merlin engines that power Falcon 9. The test this morning was aborted at 9:30 am; SpaceX engineers are troubleshooting the problem and may try again later today according to, which is covering the test live. The window is open until 3:00 pm.

The orbital launch, scheduled for December 7, is part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to assist SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to service the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has a pre-launch press conference scheduled for Monday at 1:30 pm EST that will be carried on NASATV.

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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