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Obama Space Conference: Not the President's Only Event April 15

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

Who will be invited to President Obama's space "conference" in Florida on April 15 and what will happen there remains a mystery, but at least we know it's not the only reason he'll be in Florida. Jeff Foust at notes that the President will be attending two fundraisers in Miami that day, one at the home of rock singer Gloria Estefan and her husband for $30,400 a couple.

And while not a mystery, there had been some anticipation that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch might take place about that time as a demonstration of the potential of commercial crew. However, SpaceX has announced that the first flight of Falcon 9 will occur no earlier than May 8. In an emailed message very late on April 2, company spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said that Space X was working with the supplier of key components of the Falcon 9's flight termination system to supply final data to SpaceX and the Air Force for "review and acceptance."

Meanwhile, was worried that its invitation to the April 15 conference had been lost in the mail, but Representative Bill Posey (R-FL) apparently has not received his either. In a March 30 letter to the President, Rep. Posey said that he had not been invited yet and would "very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in the event with you." Rep. Posey is a strong supporter of the space shuttle program and a co-sponsor of H.R. 4804 that would prohibit terminating the shuttle until certain conditions are met to ensure the continued operation of the ISS until at least 2020.

New ISS Crew Members Safely On Board

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 successfully docked with the International Space Station early today (Sunday). The hatches were opened at 3:19 am EDT according to NASA. The ISS crew complement is now back up to six.

Events of Interest: Week of April 5-9, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

With Congress still in recess and most people in Washington out enjoying the stunning beauty of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, it will be another quiet week for space policy aficionados. The only event we have on our calendar is a NAC subcommittee meeting at the end of the week.

Thursday-Friday, April 8-9

  • NASA Advisory Council, Planetary Science Subcommittee, NASA Headquarters
    • April 8, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm EDT
    • April 9, 8:00 am - 3:00 pm EDT

Air Force Set to Launch X-37B

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

In about two weeks, the Air Force is scheduled to launch an unusual payload on an Atlas 5 booster - an automated mini space shuttle. Designated the X-37B, it is the product of a cancelled NASA program to build an Orbital Space Plane (OSP) that was to take crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA terminated that program when President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004 and the ISS fell out of vogue because the money used for ISS and OSP was needed instead to return humans to the Moon and someday go on to Mars.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and later the Air Force continued work on the winged vehicle, which is reportedly about one-quarter the size of the space shuttle. Now called the Orbital Test Vehicle, reports say that it can stay in orbit for up to nine months before returning to Earth with whatever payload it carries. Its mission is classified so there has been no public announcement about what it will carry on its maiden launch April 19 and its future thereafter is uncertain.

The X-37B is one of a long line of experimental (X) air- and space-planes. The X-15 of the 1950s and 1960s is perhaps the best known of the series.

Editor's Note: As many rue the imminent end of the U.S. ability to launch people into space, one must ask whether X-37B might be a shortcut to reestablishing such a capability. This is only a test flight, of course, and costs and technical risk would have to examined, but perhaps this is a fortuitous convergence of national security and civil requirements that kept one of NASA's previous human space flight efforts alive despite the erratic course of U.S. human space flight policy.

New Space Station Crew Up and Away

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 lifted off as scheduled in the early hours this morning EDT. Docking is scheduled for 1:26 am on Sunday.

Yvonne Brill Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Mar-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Yvonne Brill, inventor of the hydrazine-hydrazine resistojet propulsion system for geostationary communications satellites, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame today. She is one of 15 inventors honored this year. Ms. Brill started her career with Douglas Aircraft in the 1940's and eventually went to work for RCA at a time when the company built satellites. It was there that she invented the engine.

Another inductee today was Roger Easton, who developed the Timation navigation system that is at the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Space was not the dominant theme today, however. Among the other inductees were Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan (both posthumously) for their invention of the modern demand regulator that enabled SCUBA (self contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving; Ralph Baer, the inventor of videogames; Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver, who created Post It notes - the office product one cannot live without; and S. Donald Stookey, a glass genius who -- accidentally -- invented the glass that makes CorningWare possible.

A full list of the inductees and their truly impressive inventions is available on the National Inventors Hall of Fame website. This Hall of Fame was created by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and a group of intellectual property attorneys to recognize and celebrate "individuals responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible." Its first inductee in 1973 was Thomas Edison for his invention of the electric lamp.

The PTO is part of the Department of Commerce, and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke appeared by videotape, apologizing that he could not be there in person for this event, which had to be rescheduled from its original date because of the huge snowstorms in Washington. Several Members of Congress also participated by videotape to acknowledge the inventors from their districts. Neal Conan, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, was master of ceremonies.

Shuttle and Soyuz Each Getting Ready for Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Mar-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The next five days will witness the launch of both a Soyuz and a Space Shuttle to visit the International Space Station (ISS).

Soyuz TMA-18 is scheduled for launch on Friday, April 2, at 12:04 am EDT. It will take three new crew members to the ISS: Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko, and American Tracy Caldwell Dyson. They will join the three ISS crew members already there: Russa's Oleg Kotov, America's T.J. Creamer, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi. Soyuz is expected to dock with the ISS on April 4, the day before the Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for its own visit to the ISS.

Discovery is set to launch at 6:31 am EDT on Monday, April 5. Its STS-131 mission is to deliver new science racks and ammonia tanks. The STS-131 crew is composed of six Americans and one Japanese: Alan Poindexter, Jim Dutton, Rick Mastracchio, Clay Anderson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, and Naoko Yamazaki.

A total of 13 people will be aboard the ISS for the two-weeks the shuttle is docked. NASA points out that it will be the first time two Japanese have worked together in orbit (Noguchi and Yakazaki), and the first time four women will be aboard the ISS at the same time (Caldwell Dyson, Metcalf-Lindenburger, Wilson and Yamazaki).

To keep up on ISS comings and goings, check out NASA's ISS website.

China's Hainan Island: Luxury Villas... and a Launch Site

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Mar-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Today's New York Times article about the luxury boom on China's Hainan island omits one very important aspect of the island's future -- its role as a space launch site for China's newest launch vehicle.

The newspaper focuses on Hainan as "a potent symbol of China's economic vitality" that is "viewed with a mix of awe, envy and disgust" by the Chinese, but nary a word is said about the launch site under construction for China's Long March 5 launch vehicle or its potential role in China's purported plans to send people to the Moon. Construction of the Hainan Space Launch Center recently began and is expected to be completed in 2013, with the first Long March 5 launch the following year. Hainan will be the southernmost of China's four launch sites, 19 degrees from the equator.

The Long March 5 is being designed to launch 25 tons into low Earth orbit, roughly equivalent to a Delta 4 heavy. Chinese media stories talk about its use for launching geostationary satellites, space stations, large satellites, and deep space probes. If China wanted to send people to the Moon as many in the West speculate, it is the most likely launch vehicle to support such a goal.

Hainan is a big island -- about the size of Belgium according to the New York Times. As Mr. Yin Liming of China Great Wall Industry Corp. said at the CSIS Global Space Development Summit last November, the Long March 5 is touted as being "non-toxic and pollution free," so the golfers and yachters should have nothing to worry about.

NASA's $500 Million Rocket Missing Just One Thing: The Rocket It Was Made For: Washington Post

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Mar-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post has an interesting article this morning about the view of the new Obama plan for human space flight from the Kennedy Space Center perspective. Summary of House Hearing on NASA's Exploration Plans Now Available

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 27-Mar-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A summary of the March 24, 2010 hearing on NASA's exploration plans by the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee is now available. Find it under "Our Hearing Summaries" on the left menu or just click here.

Events of Interest    

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