New International Space Race Heats Up

Michael Belfiore has an excellent roundup of the nations that are leading the way in the new international space race over at Popular Mechanics:

With a flurry of international efforts toward satellite launch capabilities (from home), getting back to the moon and putting citizens in space, some experts say we are looking at a new space race–one focused on total space dominance. And should we be worried? After all, the first space race had at its core a battle for who could build the biggest intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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Opinion: Japan, Britain and North Carolina Need Clear Directions in Space

A Real Ministry of Space
The Space Review

“The common perception of Britain when it comes to space is one of apathy. Andrew Weston argues that there is considerable public interest in space in the UK, waiting to be harnessed by the British government in the form of a coherent policy.”

Govt vision on space must be clear, concise
The Yomiuri Shimbun

“The basic law on space came into effect late last month, finally providing a system that allows the nation’s political leaders to promote Japan’s space policy.

“Space development involves a huge amount of money and considerable risks. It is important, therefore, for concrete goals and schedules to be fully disclosed in the basic program.

“If the government fails to provide the whole picture of the program, including its planned investments, private companies will hesitate to participate in it.”

Up, Up and Away, Triangle
The News & Observer

NewSpace Consultant Jeff Krukin suggests that North Carolina’s Research Triangle could be a hotbed of space tourism activity if government, industry and universities work together.

“The key is treating space transportation the same way we treat terrestrial transportation — vehicles are developed, owned and operated by competing companies. Governments provide the regulatory framework, conduct basic technology research and development and become a consumer of the resulting products and services.”

Space Agencies Meet in Montreal to Coordinate Space Exploration Plans

JAXA Press Release

Representatives of 11 space agencies from around the world gathered in Montreal, Canada July 10 – 12 to continue the coordination of programs to extend human and robotic presence throughout the Solar System.

In May 2007, multilateral space agency discussions resulted in the release of “The Global Exploration Strategy – The Framework for Coordination.” This “framework document” – the product of a shared vision of space exploration focused on solar system destinations where humans may someday live and work – represented an important first step in coordinating space exploration efforts toward common goals. The Framework Document envisioned a coordination mechanism to facilitate international planning, leading to the establishment of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).

During the Montreal ISECG meeting which was hosted by the Canadian Space Agency, the participating agencies made significant progress in a number of areas that will facilitate cooperation. Among accomplishments were the establishment of an ISECG secretariat, that will be initially hosted by ESA, plans for conducting effective public engagement, and development of tools for sharing information on exploration capabilities and mission plans across agencies.

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VSE Update: Cislunar Architecture, Propellant Loss, and Commercial Communications

Some updates on plans for sending humans back to the moon, courtesy of Rob Coppinger over at Flight Global….

ESA considers cislunar space station for lunar exploration
“The European Space Agency, Russia and Japan are all considering a cislunar orbital complex that could consist of a habitation section and a resource module that would provide power and fuel and possibly be a safe haven for Orion crew exploration vehicle crews.”

NASA begins work to solve boil-off problem
“NASA has started the contractor selection process for its lunar surface thermal control system study that could find a solution to the biggest hurdle in its plans to return to the Moon: stopping propellant loss.”

ESA in favour of commercial lunar communications
Bernhard Hufenbach, ESA’s human spaceflight directorate’s head of strategy and architecture office, speaks enthusiastically of commercial communications services for a lunar outpost.

Japan Unveils First HTV Cargo Carrier

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has unveiled the first flight model of its H-II Transfer Vehicle, which is set to deliver cargo to the International Space Station in summer 2009, Aviation Week reports.

The 10-meter long, 16.5-metric ton cargo ship will be the heaviest vehicle ever launched by Japan. It will be lofted into orbit by the country’s new Mitsubishi H-IIB rocket. The HTV is capable of supplying the station with about 6 metric tons of equipment and supplies. It will supplement Russia’s Progress and Europe’s ATV freighters.

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.

Logistical Challenges Ahead for International Space Station

Over at Flight Global, Rob Coppinger looks at the logistical challenges that lie ahead for the International Space Station over the next several years as the facility grows and the space shuttle is retired.

The challenges include completing construction of the Japanese Kibo module, expanding the station’s crew size to six, and keeping the facility supplied with a combination of American, Russian, European and Japanese cargo freighters.

Japan Becomes More Assertive as ISS Role, Expectations Grow

With the first part of its Kibo module delivered to the International Space Station, Japanese space officials are becoming more assertive as they face growing expectations to make good on their 20-year-old commitment to the orbiting laboratory, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports.

“Though Japan is the last of the participating nations to have a facility attached to the ISS, the country is now a full-fledged member of the spacefaring community, and no longer needs to feel shy about pushing its own agenda vis-a-vis the United States, Russia, the European Union and other member nations,” staff writers Koichi Yasuda and Makoto Mitsui report.

They have an interesting account of a disagreement that occurred between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as Takao Doi and his colleagues were connecting the module to ISS during the recent Endeavour flight.

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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times (Japan)

This should be the best of times in space for Japan. The first section of the nation’s Kibo module was successfully attached to the International Space Station last week. Videos of a smiling Takao Doi floating weightless in the new module were beamed down to a proud nation.

However, Japan finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. In an article titled Space development proves financial black hole, Yomiuri Shimbun staff writer Keiko Chino explores efforts by Japanese policymakers to chart a course for the country amid widespread discontent with falling government space spending and skepticism over its 1 trillion yen, 20-year investment in the space station.

The Liberal Democratic Party launched a full-scale review of space policy in February. Last year, the party submitted a bill calling for “the establishment of a space development strategy headquarters, to be chaired by the prime minister, to allow the country to conduct research aimed at industrial and security purposes,” Chino reports.

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Cleaning Up the Orbital Junkyard

In an Air & Space story titled “Satellite Smashers,” Tony Reichhardt looks at the increasing threat posed by orbital debris. The space garbage, which comes from everything from spent rocket stages to anti-satellite tests, can disable automated spacecraft and puncture human habitats when it hits them at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

NASA’s Nicholas Johnson is conducting a comprehensive study of options with debris experts from the United States, Japan and Europe. The group will present their findings to the International Academy of Astronautics next year.

“No easy or cheap solutions have yet been identified,” Johnson said. “Some of the ideas are technically outlandish, some are technically feasible. If you want to spend tens of millions to retrieve a single rocket body, you can do it. But it doesn’t make any sense economically.”

Konnichi Wa, Kibo

Japanese Astronauts in zero g
Credit: NASA

As the first section of the Japanese Kibo module is attached to the International Space Station this week, Air & Space Magazine takes an in-depth look at the country’s small but ambitious human spaceflight program.

Former NASA astronaut Dan Berry talks with Japanese astronauts and space agency officials about their goals for the future and the cultural challenges they face in working with Americans and other members of the space station program.

Japanese Module Added to Space Station

Japanese Module

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi remarks on the opening of the the Japanese Logistics Module. Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson is at right. Credit: NASA TV

NASA PRESS RELEASE

Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi were the first to enter the Japanese Logistics Module – Pressurized Section (JLP). Marking the beginning of Japan’s scientific work aboard the station, the new module was opened module at 9:23 p.m. EDT Friday. The STS-123 and Expedition 16 crews continue transferring supplies and equipment into the JLP from space shuttle Endeavour.

The JLP is the first component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.

Operating Canadarm2, the station’s robot arm, Mission Specialists Robert Behnken and Léopold Eyharts grabbed the shuttle’s boom sensor and handed it off to Endeavour’s robot arm in preparation for stowage on the station’s S1 truss later in the mission.

The station’s arm operators grappled the Canadian-built Dextre at 9:59 p.m. Friday. Canadarm2 successfully powered up Dextre 11 minutes later.

When Dextre was removed from Endeavour’s cargo bay after the shuttle docked to the station, ground teams ran into problems routing power to the pallet on which the robot is being assembled. The teams tried troubleshooting the problem with a software patch early Friday morning, but were not successful.

STS-123 Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman will spend the night in the station’s Quest Airlock in preparation for the second spacewalk of the mission, which begins Saturday. The purpose of this “camp out” is to purge the nitrogen from their bodies before their planned exit at 8:23 p.m. Saturday. Linnehan and Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman completed the mission’s first spacewalk early Friday morning.

Japan marvels at its Moon movies

The BBC has a great story about the HDTV footage sent back from lunar orbit by the Japanese Selene (Kaguya) spacecraft. The story features links to three spectacular videos that were unveiled this week at Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.