NASA Testing Of Commercial Engine Flies High

You see a lot of smiles around the E-1 Test Stand at John C. Stennis Space Center these days. Engineers involved in testing Aerojet's AJ26 rocket engine for Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II space launch vehicle have good reason to smile.
In fact, they have several good reasons given that the partnership between NASA
, Orbital and Aerojet is off to such an impressive start. Two successful tests of an AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital's Taurus II rocket recently wrapped up at Stennis.
The two tests were so successful that Orbital engineers decided a planned third test was unnecessary. The AJ26 engine used in the testing was removed from the E-1 stand on Jan. 24, and will be returned to Aerojet in Sacramento, Calif. to be refurbished and used on an upcoming Taurus II mission.
The same day the engine was removed, the first flight engine was installed to begin regularly planned "acceptance testing" at Stennis.
The AJ26 flight unit will be tested in February, and then delivered to Orbital at the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for integration with the rocket's first stage core.
Orbital's Taurus II rocket will first be used to carry out commercial cargo supply mission to the International Space Station.
Orbital is developing the cargo logistics system under the joint Commercial Orbital Transportation Services research and development project with NASA, and is scheduled to carry out the first of eight cargo missions under the Commercial Resupply Services contract beginning in early 2012.

U.S. human spaceflight and the road ahead

The USA first lofted a human into space in 1961. Within only a dozen years of that ride around the Earth by astronaut Alan Shepard, NASA landed 12 men on the moon and launched the Skylab space station.
The space shuttle era began in 1981, when shuttle Columbia launched from Cape Canaveral. Since then, the shuttle has lifted off 132 times, returning safely to Earth on all but two missions: Challenger's launch on Jan. 28, 1986, and Columbia's return flight on Feb. 1, 2003.
Three more shuttle missions are planned, one each for the remaining shuttles.
Discovery is due to launch Feb. 24 and go to the space station with a load of supplies and a storage cubicle. Endeavour is to launch April 19 and also go to the space station. It will carry more supplies and a multimillion-dollar physics experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
NASA has a final flight set for June 28. Shuttle Atlantis will take supplies to the space station and return a faulty pump. But NASA does not have funding yet for the few hundred million dollars to pay for the mission.
The mission scheduled for April was to be commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly. But Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was critically wounded in a shooting this month, and it's not clear whether Kelly will fly his mission with her in rehabilitation.

NASA looking for business at KSC

NASA is spreading the word that the Kennedy Space Center is open for business even after the space shuttles stop flying later this year.
The space agency put out a formal notice Monday that the facilities at the space center are available to commercial space businesses.
Among the facilities available are the space center's two launch pads; the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the orbiter is mated with the rockets and fuel tank; the hangars where the shuttles are parked when they're not flying; and the landing strip where the shuttles touch down after completing a mission.
NASA has three more space shuttle flights planned before the program ends, most likely at the end of June.
The Center Planning and Development Office is the business development arm of the center. Responsible for all non-procurement partnerships and development, this office serves as Kennedy Space Center’s “front door” for potential new internal and external partners seeking to do business with Kennedy Space Center. Area development managers are listed on the contact page and are eager to work with prospective clients.

Kennedy Space Center also has many technology partnership opportunities for prospective customers, which include technical and lifecycle simulation laboratories. In addition, the Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) focuses on small business and technological transfer opportunities. The IPP Partnership Seed Fund improves NASA's ability to meet mission technology goals by providing seed funding, as well as bridge funding to enable larger partnerships and development efforts. The IPP is instrumental in providing for an increased range of technology solutions, broadened technology portfolios, and larger pool of qualified commercial providers.

Nasa adds new shuttle flight – the final one for the fleet

Nasa does not yet know where it will get the money, but the space agency has added another shuttle launch to its schedule – the final one for the fleet.
The agency set a target launch date of June 28 for shuttle Atlantis and started preparations for the 135th and last shuttle flight.
The four-member crew will take up supplies to the International Space Station, make one spacewalk, and return a faulty pump that has bedevilled engineers.
Now three missions remain before Nasa retires its shuttle fleet this year. Shuttle Discovery’s last mission is planned for February 24, Endeavour’s in April.
The decision allows different parts of the shuttle programme to start work on Atlantis’ 12-day flight, including astronaut training and mission planning, Nasa spokesman Michael Curie said.
Originally Atlantis was planned as an emergency-only rescue mission if needed for the Endeavour crew.
Last year, the Obama administration and the US Congress clashed over the future of the human space programme and came up with a compromise that authorised one extra shuttle flight – the Atlantis mission. But congress never gave Nasa the few hundred million dollars needed for the extra flight, leaving the agency in a quandary about whether the flight was real or not.

NASA prepares climate science launch

NASA says it's nearly ready to launch a new Earth-observing research satellite, scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California next month.
The Glory mission, scheduled for Feb. 23, will improve understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate, and will continue a legacy of long-term solar measurements intended to address key uncertainties about climate change, a NASA release said Thursday.
Once in orbit Glory will join a fleet called the Afternoon Constellation or "A-train" satellites, a group of Earth-observing satellites, including NASA's Aqua and Aura spacecraft, that flies in tight formation.
Glory will fly in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 438 miles and is intended to collect data for at least three years.
"Glory is going to help scientists tackle one of the major uncertainties in climate change predictions identified by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the influence of aerosols on the energy balance of our planet," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington. "This mission also marks the first satellite launch under President Obama's climate initiative that will advance the United States' contribution to cutting-edge and policy-relevant climate change science."

The Deep Impact mission

The Deep Impact mission was planned to help answer fundamental questions about comets, which included what makes up the composition of the comet's nucleus, what depth the crater would reach from the impact, and where the comet originated in its formation. By observing the composition of the comet, astronomers hoped to determine how comets form based on the differences between the interior and exterior makeup of the comet. Observations of the impact and its aftermath would allow astronomers to attempt to determine the answers to these questions.
The probe was originally scheduled for launch on December 30, 2004, but NASA officials delayed its launch, in order to allow more time for testing the software. It was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on January 12, 2005 at 1:47 p.m. EST (1847 UTC) by a Delta 2 rocket.
Deep Impact's state of health was uncertain during the first day after launch. Shortly after entering orbit around the Sun and deploying its solar panels, the probe switched itself to safe mode. The cause of the problem was simply an incorrect temperature limit in the fault protection logic for the spacecraft's RCS thruster catalyst beds. The spacecraft's thrusters were used to detumble the spacecraft following third stage separation. NASA subsequently announced that the probe was out of safe mode and healthy.

NASA updates space shuttle target launch dates for two flights

NASA is targeting 4:50 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24, for the launch of space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission to the International Space Station. The liftoff of shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 flight is planned for 7:48 p.m. EDT on April 19, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The target dates were selected Thursday during the Space Shuttle Program's weekly Program Requirements Control Board meeting.
NASA sets official launch dates for each shuttle mission following agency Flight Readiness Reviews, which typically occur about two weeks prior to launches. All target launch dates are subject to change.





Jan. 20, 2011

H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)


Logistics and resupply

Jan. 28, 2011


ISS Progress 41

Logistics and resupply

Feb. 24, 2011



EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4)

Permanent Multi-Purpose Module (PMM)

Feb. 15, 2011


Ariane 5

Logistics and resupply

March 29, 2011


Soyuz TMA-21
Expedition 27

Crew transport

April 19, 2011



EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC3)Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)

December 2011


Russian Proton

Multipurpose Laboratory Module with European Robotic Arm (ERA)

NASA telescopes help identify most distant galaxy cluster

A team of astronomers has uncovered a burgeoning galactic metropolis, the most distant known in the early universe. This ancient collection of galaxies presumably grew into a modern galaxy cluster similar to the massive ones seen today.

The developing cluster, named COSMOS-AzTEC3, was discovered and characterized by multiwavelength telescopes, including NASA’s Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, and the ground-based W.M. Keck Observatory and Japan’s Subaru Telescope.

Johannes Staguhn, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Astrophysical Sciences in the Krieger School’s Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, contributed data to uncover the nature of a main cluster member.

“This exciting discovery showcases the exceptional science made possible through collaboration among NASA projects and our international partners,” said Jon Morse, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Scientists refer to this growing lump of galaxies as a proto-cluster. COSMOS-AzTEC3 is the most distant massive proto-cluster known and also one of the youngest, because it is being seen when the universe itself was young. The cluster is roughly 12.6 billion light-years away from Earth. Our universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. Previously, more mature versions of these clusters had been spotted at 10 billion light-years away.

NASA Spacecraft Tracks Raging Saturn Storm

A powerful electrical storm is currently blasting across the planet. According to NASA, this is primarily an electrical storm with lightning bolts 10,000 times more powerful than those on Earth. NASA's Cassini spacecraft is currently trolling our solar system and captured the image of the storm. The satellite is currently on a five-month mission to monitor Saturn and its moons.
This storm is about the size of the planet Earth! Saturn's electrical storms do look a lot like our Earth-bound thunderstorms, but they are much larger. Storms on Saturn are thousands of miles wide. Their lightning bolts produce radio signals thousands of times more powerful than those produced by our thunderstorms.
According to NASA: "Lightning flashes within the persistent storm produce radio waves called electrostatic discharges." The Cassini Satellite first detected these discharges on Nov. 27, 2007. The storm itself was spotted by Cassini's cameras on Decmber 6th.
How long do these storms last? "The electrostatic radio outbursts have waxed and waned in intensity for five months now," said NASA Official George Fischer, "We saw similar storms in 2004 and 2006 that each lasted for nearly a month, but this storm is longer-lived by far."
A NASA press release adds: "The new storm is located in Saturn's southern hemisphere--in a region nicknamed "Storm Alley" by mission scientists--where the previous lightning storms were observed by Cassini."

NASA Throws Cash at Suborbital Flight, Piggybacking on Space Tourism

NASA's previous solicitations for proposals have covered advanced aerospace and space-bound technologies, as well as cheap, quiet future commercial jets. The latest proposal, from the Flight Opportunities Program under the Office of the Chief Technologist, is a little different: It's all about getting technology and test experiments into microgravity on the cheap, by shooting them into sub-orbital space at about 60 miles up rather than into orbit.

The Flight Opportunities program is specifically designed to boost the development of the new commercial space business in the U.S., which is being led by consumer-carrying companies such as Virgin Galactic and bigger business efforts like SpaceX. Virgin, along with a number of still rather mysterious companies, like Jeff Bezo's Blue Origin, is aiming at flying paying passengers into suborbital space inside a handful of years--and it seems this new NASA proposal is aimed squarely at the spacecraft of these companies.

The benefits of having frequent, reliable, low-cost access to microgravity via these third parties are obvious for NASA--it can test and re-test various technological tricks and fixes on a much more frequent and cheap basis than having to launch its own expensive sounding rockets. The quick turnaround times between commercial flights could even allow for near real-time fixes and adjustments to be made.

NASA Telescopes Help Find Most Distant Galaxy Cluster

Astronomers have uncovered a burgeoning galactic metropolis, the most distant known in the early universe. This ancient collection of galaxies presumably grew into a modern galaxy cluster similar to the massive ones seen today.

The developing cluster, named COSMOS-AzTEC3, was discovered and characterized by multi-wavelength telescopes, including NASA's Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, and the ground-based W.M. Keck Observatory and Japan's Subaru Telescope.

"This exciting discovery showcases the exceptional science made possible through collaboration among NASA projects and our international partners," said Jon Morse, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Scientists refer to this growing lump of galaxies as a proto-cluster. COSMOS-AzTEC3 is the most distant massive proto-cluster known, and also one of the youngest, because it is being seen when the universe itself was young. The cluster is roughly 12.6 billion light-years away from Earth. Our universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. Previously, more mature versions of these clusters had been spotted at 10 billion light-years away.

Planck Mission Peels Back Layers of the Universe

The Planck mission released a new data catalogue Tuesday from initial maps of the entire sky. The catalogue includes thousands of never-before-seen dusty cocoons where stars are forming, and some of the most massive clusters of galaxies ever observed. Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant contributions from NASA.

"NASA is pleased to support this important mission, and we have eagerly awaited Planck's first discoveries," said Jon Morse, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "We look forward to continued collaboration with ESA and more outstanding science to come."

Planck launched in May 2009 on a mission to detect light from just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, an explosive event at the dawn of the universe approximately 13.7 billion years ago. The spacecraft's state-of-the-art detectors ultimately will survey the whole sky at least four times, measuring the cosmic microwave background, or radiation left over from the Big Bang. The data will help scientists decipher clues about the evolution, fate and fabric of our universe. While these cosmology results won't be ready for another two years or so, early observations of specific objects in our Milky Way galaxy, as well as more distant galaxies, are being released.

AIM-Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere

The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite mission is exploring Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs), also called noctilucent clouds, to find out why they form and why they are changing.

The AIM mission has been extended by NASA through the end of FY12. During this time the instruments will monitor noctilucent clouds to better understand their variability and possible connection to climate change. Individual instrument data collection status, as well as spacecraft and instrument health, will be monitored throughout the life of the mission and reported periodically

The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) is a satellite to conduct a 26-month study of noctilucent clouds (NLCs). It is ninetieth Explorer program mission and is part of the NASA-funded Small Explorer program (SMEX). On April 25, 2007 AIM was boosted into a 600 km (370 mi) high polar orbit by a Pegasus-XL rocket, which was air-launched from the Lockheed L-1011 Stargazer aircraft operated by Orbital Sciences.

The noctilucent clouds AIM is to study, also known as polar mesospheric clouds, occur in the Earth's atmosphere at altitudes of roughly 80 kilometers (50 mi) above the surface, far higher than other clouds. The AIM mission will help determine what factors — temperature, water vapor, and dust particles — lead to the formation of these clouds. The clouds seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon: they were first seen in 1885, and lately seem to be occurring more frequently.

NASA'S Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

Extreme Planet Makeover

The "Extreme Planet Makeover" on the NASA/JPL PlanetQuest site lets you roll up your sleeves and create your very own planet.

Balance five factors to create an Earth-like habitable world, or get wild and make your own extreme exoplanet. Use the Image Gallery feature to compare your creation with those of other Earthlings. Once you've finished creating the exoplanet of your dreams, download a picture of your custom world for posterity.

NASA Chat: The Quest for Planets

A new planet discovery will be announced Monday Jan. 10 during the 'Exoplanets & Their Host Stars' presentation at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) conference in Seattle, Washington.

Kepler is NASA's first mission to look specifically for Earth-size planets in the habitable zones (areas where liquid water could exist) around stars like our sun. Kepler will spend 3-1/2 years surveying more than 100,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our Milky Way galaxy. More than 300 exoplanets have been discovered previously, most of which are low-density gas giants such as Jupiter or Saturn in our own solar system.

Natalie Batalha of the NASA Kepler Mission Team will be online answering your questions about this new planet finding on Monday, Jan. 10 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST / 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. PST. Natalie will be chatting with you live from the conference in Seattle.

Joining the chat is easy. Simply visit this page on Monday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST / 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. PST. The chat window will open at the bottom of this page starting 15 minutes before the chat. You can log in and be ready to ask questions at 3:30 p.m.

NASA Research Team Reveals Moon Has Earth-Like Core

State-of-the-art seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our moon has a core similar to Earth's.

Uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the moon's formation. The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo -- a natural process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field.

The team's findings suggest the moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles. Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles. The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulfur, echoing new seismology research on Earth that suggests the presence of light elements -- such as sulfur and oxygen -- in a layer around our own core.

The researchers used extensive data gathered during the Apollo-era moon missions. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers deployed between 1969 and 1972, which recorded continuous lunar seismic activity until late-1977.

Andromeda is So Hot 'n' Cold

This mosaic of the Andromeda spiral galaxy highlights explosive stars in its interior, and cooler, dusty stars forming in its many rings. The image is a combination of observations from the Herschel Space Observatory taken in infrared light (seen in orange hues), and the XMM-Newton telescope captured in X-rays (seen in blues). NASA plays a role in both of these European Space Agency-led missions.

Herschel provides a detailed look at the cool clouds of star birth that line the galaxy's five concentric rings. Massive young stars are heating blankets of dust that surround them, causing them to glow in the longer-wavelength infrared light, known as far-infrared, that Herschel sees.

In contrast, XMM-Newton is capturing what happens at the end of the lives of massive stars. It shows the high-energy X-rays that come from, among other objects, supernova explosions and massive dead stars rotating around companions. These X-ray sources are clustered in the center of the galaxy, where the most massive stars tend to form.

Andromeda is our Milky Way galaxy's nearest large neighbor. It is located about 2.5 million light-years away and holds up to an estimated trillion stars. Our Milky Way is thought to contain about 200 billion to 400 billion stars.

Rover Will Spend 7th Birthday at Stadium-Size Crater

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a Dec. 31, 2010, view of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on the southwestern rim of a football-field-size crater called "Santa Maria."

Opportunity arrived at the western edge of Santa Maria crater in mid-December and will spend about two months investigating rocks there. That investigation will take Opportunity into the beginning of its eighth year on Mars. Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, Pacific Time) for a mission originally planned to last for three months.

Bob Benson: Tales of Chilly Research

As the weather gets colder in Maryland, Bob Benson tells tales of winters he used to know in Minnesota, the South Pole, and Alaska. A five-decade career studying Earth's ionosphere – the part of Earth's atmosphere that reflects radio communication waves – has taken him to some extreme latitudes.

Standing in the corner of Bob Benson's office is a microfilm reader. You know, the big, boxy machine that was used to look up archived newspaper articles before such things were an Internet search away. That machine is one of the tools Benson has used to scan decades worth of data throughout his 46 years at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He studies the ionosphere – the swath of our atmosphere filled with electrons and ions stretching from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth's surface – and the data he studied from various ionospheric satellites were displayed on 35-millimeter film.

"We had thousands of these boxes," he says, holding up a small cardboard box in which a film lies curled. "When I first came here, we'd go pull them from a drawer at the National Space Science Data Center at Goddard and do analysis with a machine like this."

Discovery External Tank Repairs Begin Monday as Engineers Analyze Data

Technicians working on space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are off for the New Year holiday weekend. On Monday, they'll begin repairs on three support beams, called stringers, that recently were detected to have small cracks on their tops.

Engineers at various NASA centers continue to analyze data from testing and X-ray type image scans collected during the past week of all 108 stringers on the outside of the external tank's ‪intertank section. The image scans showed four small cracks on three stringers on the opposite side of the tank from Discovery. Managers decided Thursday to have those cracks repaired in a similar fashion to repairs made on cracks on two stringers found after Discovery's Nov. 5 launch attempt.

The repair work is estimated to take 2–3 days. Any further work will be evaluated thoroughly during the week after additional data and analysis are reviewed.

Managers also continue to evaluate an option to perform known and practiced modifications on some stringers. Before breaking for the holiday, technicians reconfigured scaffolding to provide access for the modification work, should it be required. A decision may be made on that work as early as Monday.

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