ATV Maneuvers Within 11 Meters of ISS

31 March 2008

The Jules Verne ATV today approached the International Space Station to within 11 meters of the docking port on the Russian Zvezda module. The approach was part of a second ATV demonstration day which clears the way for the first rendezvous and docking attempt on 3 April.

“I’m known for my understatements, but the only word that comes to mind about today is impressive,” said John Ellwood, ESA’s ATV Project Manager. “It was impressive to see how Jules Verne, the staff at the ATV Control Centre, the control centres in Moscow and Houston pulled together today. It was a perfect dress-rehearsal for Thursday.”

Today’s maneuvers included the first demonstration of the critical optical navigation system, using the European-developed Videometer technology. It was confirmed that ATV can use this system to autonomously navigate to within 11 m of the ISS.


NASA: Up to 6,400 Jobs Lost as Shuttle Retires

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that up to 6,400 contractors could lose their jobs at the Kennedy Space Center after the space shuttle is retired in 2010.

In a report due out on Tuesday, the space agency estimates that the contractor staff could fall from about 8,000 today to between 1,600 and 2,300 in 2011. Employment would begin to pick up in subsequent years as NASA prepares to launch its new Ares/Orion system. Far fewer employees will be needed to launch the new system.

Virgin Galactic Eyes Australia’s Gold Coast as Launch Site

Sir Richard Branson literally dropped in on Bond University in Australia on Sunday, giving a wide-ranging speech to students there. The British billionaire made a surprise helicopter stop at the school, where he told students that Virgin Galactic would consider putting a spaceport along the Gold Coast for its suborbital tourism flights.

“I think the Gold Coast region is where we would take off from. You never know,” Branson said. has the full story.

Rideau Institute, Auto Workers Seek Release of Information on MDA Sale


TORONTO/OTTAWA, March 30 /CNW/ – The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Rideau Institute publicly released a letter written by their legal counsel calling upon Industry Minister Jim Prentice to release information regarding the purchase of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ (MDA) important Canadian space information systems, including RADARSAT-2 and the maker of the Canadarm by U.S.-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

Citing procedures regarding “Third Party Representations” which are set out under the Department’s Guidelines – Administrative Procedures issued pursuant to section 38 of the Investment Canada Act, the letter calls upon the Minister:

  • to seek permission from ATK to release any undertakings the U.S firm made to the government in support of its application;
  • to describe steps taken by the department in evaluating the compatibility of ATK’s application with other Canadian government policies; and
  • which departments, provinces and territories have been consulted about the application, as required by the Investment Canada Act.


Scramjets: The Secret to Single-Stage Spaceplanes?

Mike Snead assesses the role that scramjets could play in opening up the space frontier to routine, aircraft-like operations in an article in this week’s Space Review. Snead has written a detailed article assessing the pro’s and con’s of this approach that is definitely worth a look.

Can NASA Afford Flagship Mars, Outer Planet Missions?

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin recently announced that the agency would cut back somewhat on Mars exploration so it can focus the outer planets. The space agency hopes to launch a “flagship” mission to either Jupiter or Saturn while at the same time funding a Mars sample return mission at the end of the next decade.

The big question is: Can NASA afford it all? Taylor Dinerman explores this question in an essay in this week’s edition of The Space Review.

Horowitz Deems Ares I Vibration Problems Fixable; NASA Schedules April 3 Briefing

Shuttle astronaut turned consultant Scott Horowitz says that vibration problems on NASA’s Ares I rocket are easily fixable, Aviation Week reports.

“You can mitigate this throughout the whole vehicle,” Horowitz told AvWeek. “You can do it on the top of the first stage. You can do it on the interstage. You can do it by the orientation of the tanks. When you get up to the [Orion crew exploration vehicle] CEV and the service module, then you can put shock absorbers in the seats.”

Horowitz is a four-time shuttle veteran who is now works as a private consultant for ATK, contractor for the Ares I first stage. He is also advising NASA. Horowitz headed up NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate during the early stages of Ares development.

NASA will provide an update on the findings of the Ares 1 thrust oscillation focus team on Thursday, April 3, at 2:30 p.m. EDT. The teleconference will be broadcast live at

The Rocketsandsuch blog has a far gloomier assessment of the thrust problem revolving around the additional weight the fixes would add to the Ares launch vehicle and Orion capsule.


An Emerging “Horse Race” in Suborbital Tourism

Jeff Foust takes a look at what one expert calls an emerging “horse race” between companies in the suborbital tourism arena over at The Space Review.

Although Virgin Galactic has gotten much of the attention, XCOR, Rocketplane Global, Armadillo Aerospace, EADS Astrium and other companies are competing to send tourists on the ultimate joy ride. They are all taking somewhat different approaches to this challenge.

“If it is a horse race, who will win the ultimate prize: not just the first vehicle to enter the market, but the one that wins the market in the long run?” Foust writes. “The diversity of technical approaches, from the takeoff and landing techniques to the number of passengers, makes any predictions difficult.”

Rand Simberg has a few comments about Jeff’s article over at Transterrestrial Musings that are worth a look.

NRC to NASA: Don’t Lower Radiation Standards for Lunar Missions

In a potential blow to NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, the National Research Council released a report today calling on the space agency to conduct more research on cosmic radiation before sending astronauts to the moon and Mars. NASA should not lower its radiation exposure standards to reach these goals.

The Committee on the Evaluation of Radiation Shielding for Space Exploration’s report (PDF) said the “lack of knowledge about the biological effects of and responses to space radiation is the single most important factor limiting prediction of radiation risk associated with human space exploration.”

As a result, prolonged operations on the moon could be curtailed. Mars exploration, which would require long transit times and stays on the the surface, could be ruled out entirely until scientists and engineers develop better ways of protecting astronauts.

The committee’s chairman, James van Hoften, told Reuters that NASA doesn’t fully understand the radiation risk, nor is the agency adequately funding research into how to properly protect astronauts. NASA is using old data, including research done on Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors.


Canadian Space Agency to Recruit New Astronauts


Longueuil, Quebec, March 31, 2008 – The Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry Canada and the Minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), announced at the Agency headquarters today that the CSA will begin a national astronaut recruitment campaign at the end of May 2008, to select astronauts to join its Canadian Astronaut Corps.

“Canadians are inspired when they see our astronauts in space, and they will be proud to learn that even more Canadian astronauts are about to be recruited,” said Minister Prentice. “I am pleased to join the Canadian Space Agency to announce this new national astronaut recruitment campaign. By May 2009, two astronaut candidates will be selected and will begin their training to represent Canada in future space exploration missions.”


Will Florida Lure Orbital’s COTS Program Away from Virginia?

One interesting bit of news that came out of the Space Access ’08 conference in Phoenix involved efforts by Florida to lure Orbital Sciences’ COTS program away from Virginia.

NASA recently awarded the Dulles, Virginia-based company with a $170 million contract to develop commercial transport to the International Space Station under its COTS initiative. Orbital Sciences will operate out of Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Jim Muncy of PoliSpace told conference attendees that Florida is trying to convince Orbital to move the program south, according to an account of his talk on Rand Simberg’s Transterrestrial Musings blog.

“You should see the list of things that Orbital wants from Florida to get them to move there from Wallops,” Muncy is quoted as saying. Simberg’s post provides no elaboration.


Space Access ’08 Roundup

The recently-completed Space Access ’08 conference in Phoenix brought together some of NewSpace’s leading figures to discuss the road ahead for space commercialization.

Rand Simberg blogged the conference. Below are links to some of his stories on Transterrestrial Musings:

Jim Muncy Speaks
The PoliSpace founder speaks about the presidential campaign, NASA’s support of commercial space, and Florida’s efforts to lure Orbital Sciences Corporation’s COTS program away from Virginia.

Rocketplane Global Update
An update from the Oklahoma-based tourism company.

XCOR Presentation
The Mojave-based company discusses its high-altitude Lynx vehicle.

Armadillo Aerospace
John Carmack talked about Armadillo’s unsuccessful efforts to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and looks to the future.

Unreasonable Rocket Update
Paul Breed discussed his company’s efforts in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

New Wyoming Space Company
Frontier Astronautics’ Tim Bendel discussed ways for start-up companies to raise capital.

Conference Wrap-up
The conference’s wrap-up session.

Japan Views China’s Space Development as Possible Threat

China’s growing expertise in space and rocket development is causing concern among its neighbors. A review by the National Institute for Defence Studies, a Japanese think tank, says that China’s program is “a vital means of achieving military competitiveness against the United States.”

“The organisations engaged in China’s space development have strong ties to the People’s Liberation Army and a considerable number of its satellites are presumably intended for military purposes,” the review states.

Brazil to Increase Space Co-operation with China

The Xinhua news agency reports that Carlos Ganem, the new head of the Brazilian Space Agency (BSA), wants to deepen his nation’s space co-operation with China.

The two nations are already working together on a remote sensing program. Last Setember, a Chinese Long March rocket launched the jointly-developed CBERS 2B satellite into orbit.

Xinhua also reports that Brazil will launch a satellite with Argentina and work with the Ukraine to reconstruct a rocket base.

Could a Really, Really Big NERF Ball Clean up Orbital Debris?

After 50 years of exploring space, humanity has left millions of pieces of debris floating around in orbit. Although many of these pieces are quite small, they are flying around so fast (17,500 mph in low orbit) that when they hit something, it’s a very bad day.

Live Science‘s Jeanna Bryner takes a look at some of the wilder ideas for cleaning up the celestial junkyard, including one that involves an over-sized NERF ball.