Space & Planetary Science: June 2012 Archives

B612 Foundation Announces First Privately Funded Deep Space Mission

"In a press conference at the California Academy of Sciences Thursday morning, the B612 Foundation unveiled its plans to build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission - SENTINEL - a space telescope to be placed in orbit around the Sun, ranging up to 170 million miles from Earth, for a mission of discovery and mapping."

Now Everyone Can Build a Satellite Like NASA: Online!

"Make your game choices carefully and you could build a satellite very similar to NASA's next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, the original inspiration for this game. ...Build It Yourself: Satellite" gives everyone a chance to be an engineer and an astronomer by learning about the different instruments that can go on different kinds of space-observing satellites, and seeing what kind of cosmic discoveries they might make. Hopefully it will inspire someone to become a real engineer or a space scientist."

Keith's note: Too bad this game is not totally realistic so as to let people play with schedule and cost. This way they'd REALLY learn how NASA satellites are built (or not built). Another useful feature would be the ability of one game to affect other user's games when costs go up to mimic the ability of Webb to suck money out of other projects. What SMD should have chosen for emulation is one of the Mars Science Rovers - THAT is good spacecraft design - one worthy of use in inspiring the next generation - not the bloated and tardy Webb.

Printing The Moon, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

"As clever as we thought we were, we were not the first team to tackle the issue of generating high resolution imagery. Someone tried to do much of what we were doing today - but did so with technology available in the 1960s. We were recently contacted by someone who had seen our project's Facebook page. His name is Joe Watson and he worked on a project that used computer printers that worked like giant electric typewriters - but using varying sizes of squares instead of letters. With this system and a lot of creativity, Watson and his team created immense high resolution versions of Lunar Orbiter images from which topographic maps were made."

Ice Found in Shackleton Crater on the Moon, NASA

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has returned data that indicate ice may make up as much as 22 percent of the surface material in a crater located on the moon's south pole."

Researchers Find Evidence of Ice Content at the Moon's South Pole, MIT

"If humans are ever to inhabit the Moon, the lunar poles may well be the location of choice: Because of the small tilt of the lunar spin axis, the poles contain regions of near-permanent sunlight, needed for power, and regions of near-permanent darkness containing ice -- both of which would be essential resources for any lunar colony."

White House and Agencies Focus on Space Weather Concerns, EOS

"[Tamara Dickinson, a senior policy analyst with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)] said that there has been an increased awareness about space weather in the White House and that President Barack Obama recently has requested briefing memos on the topic. She highlighted several efforts the administration is taking related to space weather, including a forthcoming national Earth observation strategy, which could be released in July and will include an assessment of space weather. She explained that the strategy document will be part of the fiscal year 2014 presidential budget request and that it will be updated every 3 years."

Keith's note: Given our civilization's ever-expanding reliance upon space-based assets, a sprawling terrestrial power and communications grid, and plans for human travel in (and beyond) low Earth orbit, this makes a lot of sense and is long over due.

You can track news and space weather reports on Twitter at @spaceweather

"NASA is sponsoring a three-day workshop to actively engage the technical and scientific communities in the early stages of a longer-term process of collaboration that bridges the objectives of the sponsoring NASA organizations. This workshop will be held June 12-14, 2012, at the Lunar and Planetary Institute."

Meeting website with Livestream feeds of sessions.

For NASA's Huge Mars Rover, Stakes High for Landing Success,

"There's no doubt that the MSL rover is a high-stakes Mars mission. As one high-ranking NASA Mars mission leader recently said: "We know it will land ... but the only question is how fast will it be going?"

NASA MSL Teleconference

"NASA will host a media teleconference at noon EDT, June 11, to provide a status update on the Aug. 5, 2012, landing of the most advanced rover ever to be sent to Mars."

Keith's note: MSL has been in the development pipeline for a long time. Indeed it was supposed to have flown 2 years ago but cost overruns/delays forced a postponemnt. In other words, NASA Has had a lot of time to think ahead beyond MSL - and what to do if something goes wrong. When I asked NASA SMD a few months back if they had a plan for what to do if MSL does not make a sucessful landing, the answer was "there is no plan". No back up. No Plan B.

Keith's update: Contrary to what SMD has told me before, Dave Lavery says that a contingency plan is being put in place for a variety of scenarios that MSL might have to encounter- including mission failure. PAO says that they will try and release some of that plan. It a little odd that they are still working on this plan will MSL is en route to Mars given how close they were to launching MSL several years ago. Also, Michael Meyer said that if MSL is lost that "certainly a second MSL (maybe not identical) should be built an flown since having a mobile laboratory on the surface of Mars is very important" to future missions including sample return.

- NASA's Out of Date Search for Life on Mars, earlier post
- MSL Was Launched WIth Incomplete and Flawed Software, earlier post
- JPL's Overruns and Gutting Mars Exploration, earlier post

NRO Gifts NASA Two Leftover Space Telescopes, SpacePolicyOnline

"The CAA's response to the newswas rather muted. The reaction was surprisingly flat for a community that received a fairly valuable gift. At a media teleconference later in the day, NASA's Michael Moore, deputy astrophysics division director,estimated thatabout $250 million in mission costs could be avoided by using one ofthe NRO telescopes. He added that the telescopes cost about $75,000-$100,000 to storeat the manfacturer's (ITT Excelis) facilities in Rochester, NY. In response to a question atthe media teleconference, Hertz said he thought CAA members were "excited at the possibilities," while Dressler acknowledged that some people "need to have a lot more time" to consider the situation. This is a "sharp right turn," he added, compared to what was recommended in NWNH."

'Free' spy telescopes come to NASA with a cost, Nature

"But on Tuesday, NASA was still keeping relatively quiet about the apparent windfall. "We're not pushing this information like we normally do," said Michael Moore, NASA's acting deputy director for astrophysics."

Keith's note: OK. So the status quo seems to be grumpy, cautious, etc. about another means to accomplish THEIR expensive long term astronomy plan without any sudden "right turns". Are there not other uses that this hardware could be put to - ones that have minimal involvement with these stuffy folks who are all set in their high-cost way of doing business? Every time I have tried to engage NASA's representatives about out-of-the-box thinking about alternate ways to use these telescopes from NRO they quickly retreat into their shells saying "its too early to discuss this". Well gee, they have had a chance to talk about this among themselves for a year and a half! If this behavior persists I am afraid that NASA will simply be spending the equivalent of someone's college education every year storing the stuff in Rochester, New York. Remember Triana aka 'Goresat'? Where is it now?

Its interesting how NASA's human exploration programs all seek a "flexible path" as they structure their programs and missions, yet NASA's space science programs seem to lack that capability - or any interest in emulating it.

Spy agency gives NASA two spare Hubbles, Washington Post

"I'm told by a government engineer with knowledge of the new instruments that they're "a successful part of an otherwise failed program on the NRO side."

NASA has a mission for grounded spy telescopes, SpaceflightNow

"But the 94-inch aperture on the NRO optical system will permit Hubble-class resolution over a wide field-of-view - imaging a swath of the sky 100 times larger than Hubble can see in a single exposure."

U.S. Launches Costly Overhaul of Spy Satellites, LA Times (1995)

"It's like looking at the world through a soda straw," said one defense industry consultant of the existing spy satellites. The 8X program would redress that shortcoming by covering roughly 800 to 1,000 square miles in each photograph, with roughly the same resolution as the existing satellites..."

In Death of Spy Satellite Program, Lofty Plans and Unrealistic Bids, NY Times (2007)

"The panel reported that the project, called Future Imagery Architecture, was far behind schedule and would most likely cost $2 billion to $3 billion more than planned, according to records from the satellite agency, the National Reconnaissance Office. ... It took two more years, several more review panels and billions more dollars before the government finally killed the project -- perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects. The story behind that failure has remained largely hidden, like much of the workings of the nation's intelligence establishment. ... The team also wanted an optical system that could take wide-angle images, showing large areas on the ground, as well as tightly focused, detailed pictures of small objects. The goal, to use an oversimplified analogy, was a revolutionary zoom lens. "

8 June Update

Donated Space Telescopes are Remnants of Failed NRO Program, Space News

"Among Boeing's subcontractors on the canceled program was a division of Eastman Kodak of Rochester, which for years had built the mirror assemblies for the nation's spy satellites. That division was sold to ITT Exelis in 2004. In an email, ITT Exelis spokeswoman Irene Lockwood confirmed that her company built the hardware. "Since developing and building the two partial telescope assemblies in the late 1990s-early 2000s, ITT Exelis has stored the hardware in one of our Rochester facilities. As the future space missions for the telescopes evolve, ITT Exelis will work with NASA to determine how best they can be used."

NASA's Stubby Hubbles and Fumbled PR

"Moore said that the hardware had been "declassified" so that NASA could use it. So, I asked, since it was "declassified", what the names of these telescopes were and if we could have photos of the hardware. Moore declined to provide the names of the telescopes - or of anything NRO was providing, said that we could not have photos (because things were classified), and that we should go talk to the NRO's public relations office. For starters, telling someone to talk to the NRO public affairs office is like suggesting that I find the nearest brick wall to talk to. What had me a bit baffled was why NASA could not provide photos of declassified hardware - suggesting that it was not really declassified at all. So which is it - declassified or not?"

Keith's note: But wait. This image was posted on MSNBC captioned "A redacted photo shows one of the telescopes transferred from the National Reconnaissance Office to NASA." and the source is "A. Dressler via National Academies". NASA refuses to issue images to the media but they give the same imagery to the NAS and they release it to the media? But NASA can't?

Keith's update: J.D. Harrington at NASA PAO tells me "I'm told that this is an old picture of the Hubble Space Telescope in its ground handling fixture being moved in the clean room during integrated testing and is not related toany classified hardware. It was included by the author of the CAA presentation yesterday to provide some levity to his somewhat dry science discussion." Dressler was on the media telecon yesterday when NASA refused to provide photos. So.... a senior representative of the National Academies of Science (Dressler) is issuing photos that they either claim are authentic and/or know are not authentic - and do so after hearing that NASA cannot/will not release them.

NASA is holding a semi-stealth media telecon - but only for selected media - and I got 13 minutes advanced notice. Alas, NASA claims that they are not holding "media telecons" about the NRO telescopes and they tell this to media during a "media telecon". Goofy.

NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy, Washington Post

"The U.S. government's secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens. They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics."



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