O’Keefe Grilled About Space Initiative

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe faced some tough questions from US senators on Wednesday as they attempted to learn how the agency would actually pay for the ambitious plan presented by President Bush a few weeks ago. Senator Bill Nelson was concerned that Bush didn’t mention the space initiative in his State of the Union announcement just six days later, “if we don’t put the full weight of the president behind it, I’m afraid it’s going to fizzle.”

NASA Reorganizes to Support Bush Strategy

Image credit: NASA

NASA announced on Thursday that it would be reorganizing aspects of the agency to better support the new vision of space exploration laid out by George Bush earlier in the week. The Office of Exploration Systems was created, and will be led by Craig Steidle to build the equipment that will take humans back to the Moon. A special committee was appointed by the President, and is expected to deliver a more concrete plan for the space initiative within four months.

In a move designed to align the agency with the new exploration agenda outlined yesterday by President George W. Bush, NASA Deputy Administrator Frederick D. Gregory announced a comprehensive restructuring of the offices within Headquarters in Washington.

The alignment impacts NASA management, the strategic Enterprises, and the agency’s functional offices. The new alignment goes into effect immediately and reflects the new vision and the results of a comprehensive review of Headquarters operations, which first began when Gregory became Deputy Administrator in 2002.

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Craig E. Steidle is the new Associate Administrator, Office of Exploration Systems. Since retiring from the Navy in March, 2000, he has been an independent aerospace consultant. He was Chief Aerospace Engineer and Vice Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, which develops, acquires and supports naval aeronautical systems, when he retired.

The Office of Exploration Systems is established to set priorities and direct the identification, development, and validation of exploration systems and related technologies. Users and technologists will work together to enable a balancing of factors between requirements, program schedules and costs.

Steidle entered the Navy after graduating with merit from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. He trained as an attack pilot, test pilot and test pilot instructor. Steidle commanded the Navy’s F/A-18 Program, naval aviation’s largest production, research and development program, as well as the largest Foreign Military Sales Program. The Secretary of Defense presented Steidle with the Navy’s Outstanding Program Manager Award. While Director of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, the program was awarded the David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award.

Steidle earned Master of Science degrees in Systems Management and Aerospace Engineering. He is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Dr. J. Victor Lebacqz is the new Associate Administrator, Office of Aeronautics, which was previously known as the Office of Aerospace Technology. He has served as Acting Associate Administrator of the Office of Aerospace Technology since July 2003. He was appointed as Deputy Associate Administrator in December 2002.

The new Office of Aeronautics was created to reflect NASA’s commitment to aviation research and aeronautics technologies for the nation’s civil and defense interests.

“This alignment gives us the ability to specifically focus on our aeronautics and exploration systems,” Gregory said. “These management adjustments will give us new opportunities for more effective leadership, policy and program success.”

The changes are consistent with NASA’s ongoing responses to the management and cultural issues addressed by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. “We live in a different world than we did just a few years ago, and our management structure should reflect the priorities and objectives of our commitments,” Gregory added.

The Office of the NASA Administrator will be streamlined to allow for more independent leadership in areas vital to the execution of NASA’s vision and mission. Among the changes, three new independent offices will be created.

The new offices include:

* The Office of Chief Engineer is established to ensure agency development efforts and mission operations are planned and conducted using sound engineering
* The Office of Health and Medical Systems is established to ensure the well-being of the NASA workforce and to provide independent oversight authority for healthcare, related research and information
* The Office of the Chief Information Officer is established to manage the agency’s Information Technology (IT) investments, lead the development of an IT strategic plan, and create a roadmap to guide the agency’s IT programs and policies.
* The Office of Institutional and Corporate Management (Code O) is established to lead the oversight of NASA’s management systems, institutional, and corporate activities

Leadership for the new offices, as well as staffing requirements and resource allocations, will be addressed as the new alignment is implemented this calendar year.

For additional information about NASA and management programs on the Internet, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

Original Source: NASA News Release

NASA Tests New Rocket and Parachute Systems

Image credit: NASA

NASA has tested out rocket engines and parachutes that could help astronauts escape from the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) if there’s a problem on the launch pad. The RS-88 engines, which would launch the astronauts away from the OSP, were fired 14 times for a total of 15 seconds of operation. The parachutes were tested at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds and verified that the four main and single drogue parachutes were working as expected. NASA has several Pad Abort Demonstration tests planned for the future, which should give astronauts a better chance of surviving if there’s a problem with the spacecraft.

NASA has tested rocket engines and parachutes that could be instrumental in developing the first spacecraft crew launch escape system in almost 30 years.

The tests pave the way for a series of integrated Pad Abort Demonstration (PAD) test flights to support NASA’s Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program. Launch pad abort tests support development of a system that could pull a crew safely away from danger during liftoff. Knowledge gained from the testing will reduce the future design and development risks of a launch escape system that could be used for the OSP.

“PAD is the first launch pad crew escape system NASA has developed since Apollo,” said Chuck Shaw, PAD Project Manager at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston. “The engine and parachute tests followed successful vehicle wind tunnel tests in September.”

The engines were fired in tests at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., in November and December. A series of 14 hot-fire tests of a 50,000-pound thrust RS-88 rocket engine were conducted, resulting in a total of 55 seconds of successful engine operation. The final test was completed Dec. 11. The engine is being designed and built by the Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power unit of The Boeing Company.

The parachutes were tested at the Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., Dec. 9. The tests verify the function, performance and stability of an 80-foot drogue parachute and four 156-foot main parachutes. A 12.5-ton pallet, simulating the size and weight of a crewed vehicle, was dropped from 10,000 feet. The pallet descended to a soft landing under almost two acres of parachutes. A second set of parachute tests will be conducted at Yuma in spring 2004.

Integrated launch abort demonstration tests in 2005 will use four RS-88 engines to separate a test vehicle from a test platform, simulating pulling a crewed vehicle away from an aborted launch. Four 156-foot parachutes will deploy and carry the vehicle to landing. Lockheed Martin Corporation is building the vehicle for the PAD tests. “The separate subsystem tests will allow NASA and Lockheed Martin to begin integration of the test vehicle, its engines and parachutes over the next year,” Shaw said.

Seven integrated PAD test flights are planned during 2005/06. For the initial PAD flight test in mid-2005, a representative crew escape module will be mounted on a pusher propulsion module. Instrumented mannequins will represent a spacecraft crew during the tests.

NASA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin in November 2002, to design and build a crew escape and survivability system demonstrator and to establish a flexible test bed for use in support of the OSP program.

The OSP program will support U.S. International Space Station requirements for crew transport, rescue and contingency cargo. The OSP will initially launch on an expendable vehicle and provide rescue capability for at least four crewmembers. OSP could launch as early as 2008. Crew transfer for the Station is planned as soon as practical, but no later than 2012. The PAD project is managed at JSC for the OSP Program. The OSP Program is managed at MSFC.

Original Source: NASA News Release

SIRTF is Now the Spitzer Space Telescope

Image credit: NASA

NASA announced today that the Spitzer Space Telescope will be their new name for the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, which was launched a few months ago. The space observatory was named after the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr., who was an influential scientist and one of the first to propose building space-based telescopes. As part of the announcement, NASA also released a series of new images taken by the observatory, including a glowing stellar nursery, a dusty galaxy, and a disc of planet-forming debris.

A new window to the universe has opened with today’s release of the first dazzling images from NASA’s newly named Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility.

The first observations, of a glowing stellar nursery; a swirling, dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in the distant universe, demonstrate the power of the telescope’s infrared detectors to capture cosmic features never before seen.

The Spitzer Space Telescope was also officially named today after the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Jr. He was one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists, and in the mid-1940s, he first proposed placing telescopes in space.

“NASA’s newest Great Observatory is open for business, and it is beginning to take its place at the forefront of science,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Science, Dr. Ed Weiler. “Like Hubble, Compton and Chandra, the new Spitzer Space Telescope will soon be making major discoveries, and, as these first images show, should excite the public with views of the cosmos like we’ve never had before.”

“The Spitzer Space Telescope is working extremely well. The scientists who are starting to use it deeply appreciate the ingenuity and dedication of the thousands of people devoted to development and operations of the mission,” said Dr. Michael Werner, project scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Launched Aug. 25 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth of NASA’s Great Observatories, a program designed to paint a more comprehensive picture of the cosmos using different wavelengths of light.

While the other Great Observatories have probed the universe with visible light (Hubble Space Telescope), gamma rays (Compton Gamma Ray Observatory) and X-rays (Chandra X-ray Observatory), the Spitzer Space Telescope observes the cosmos in the infrared. Spitzer’s unprecedented sensitivity allows it to sense infrared radiation, or heat, from the most distant, cold and dust-obscured celestial objects. Today’s initial images revealed the versatility of the telescope and its three science instruments. The images:

— Resembling a creature on the run with flames streaming behind it, the Spitzer image of a dark globule in the emission nebula IC 1396 is in spectacular contrast to the view seen in visible light. Spitzer’s infrared detectors unveiled the brilliant hidden interior of this opaque cloud of gas and dust for the first time, exposing never-before-seen young stars.

— The dusty, star-studded arms of a nearby spiral galaxy, Messier 81, are illuminated in a Spitzer image. Red regions in the spiral arms represent infrared emissions from dustier parts of the galaxy where new stars are forming. The image shows the power of Spitzer to explore regions invisible in optical light, and to study star formation on a galactic scale.

— Spitzer revealed, in its entirety, a massive disc of dusty debris encircling the nearby star Fomalhaut. Such debris discs are the leftover material from the building of a planetary system. While other telescopes have imaged the outer Fomalhaut disc, none was able to provide a full picture of the inner region. Spitzer’s ability to detect dust at various temperatures allows it to fill in this missing gap, providing astronomers with insight into the evolution of planetary systems.

— Data from Spitzer of the young star HH 46-IR, and from a distant galaxy 3.25 billion light-years away, show the presence of water and small organic molecules not only in the here and now, but, for the first time, far back in time when life on Earth first emerged.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Major partners are Lockheed Martin Corporation, Sunnyvale, Calif.; Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo.; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Boeing North America (now DRS Technologies, Inc.) Anaheim, Calif.; the University of Arizona, Tucson; and Raytheon Vision Systems, Goleta, Calif. The instrument principal investigators are Dr. Giovanni Fazio, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.; Dr. James Houck, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; and Dr. George Rieke, University of Arizona, Tucson.

The images are available at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu and http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov . Additional information about the Spitzer Space Telescope is available at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu .

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release

NASA Reforms Safety Panel

Image credit: NASA

NASA has set up a new safety advisory panel to replace the previous group that resigned back in September following the Columbia accident investigation report. The new ten members make up the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, and will be an independent group responsible for safety oversight of NASA operations. This new safety board will play a key role in helping to ensure the space shuttles are safe to return to flight later in 2004.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe today announced the new NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), which includes nine distinguished members and a new charter. The initial meeting of the new panel is expected soon.

“The Columbia Accident Investigation Board report clearly indicated we need to get back to basics with our safety assessment,” said Administrator O’Keefe. “By recommitting ourselves to the original concept for the ASAP, we believe a stronger, more focused advisory panel will benefit the entire agency well beyond our Return to Flight efforts.”

The ASAP was originally chartered by Congress in 1967 after the tragic Apollo One fire, to act as an independent body to advise the NASA Administrator on safety issues regarding operations, missions and other agency initiatives. The new charter calls for the ASAP to be composed of recognized safety, management and engineering experts from industry, academia and other government agencies.

Over the years, administrative procedures were added to govern the conduct of the panel. These procedures have been revoked, and the new panel will have the opportunity to develop its agenda in concert with the oversight findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

“By drawing on and tasking the technical support of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, the panel will have a deep capacity to conduct comprehensive, independent, external oversight of our safety systems, operations and culture. We welcome the members’ active participation in our efforts to emerge from the Columbia tragedy a smarter, stronger and safer agency dedicated to exploration,” said Administrator O’Keefe.

In late September 2003, 11 ASAP members and consultants resigned in the wake of the Columbia accident.

The new ASAP members are:

Rear Admiral Walt Cantrell, USN (Ret)

Former Commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
Member, NASA Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group
Former NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel member

Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, USN (Ret)

Former Commander, Naval Air Systems Command
General Manager, Military Systems Division, iRobot Corporation

Augustine Esogbue, Ph.D.

Professor and Director, Intelligent Systems & Controls Laboratory, School of
Industrial and Systems Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Major General Rusty Gideon, USAF (Ret)

Former Commander, U.S. Air Force Safety Center, and USAF Chief of Safety
Former Director of Operations, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command
Former Commander, Foreign Aerospace Science and Technology Center

Deborah Grubbe

DuPont Corporate Director — Safety and Health
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Former consultant, Columbia Accident Investigation Board

Rosemary O?Leary, J.D., Ph.D.

Professor of Public Administration and Political Science, Maxwell School of
Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York
Member, NASA Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group

John Marshall

Delta Airlines, Vice President Corporate Safety and Compliance, Atlanta
Co-chair, Commercial Aviation Safety Team
Board member, National Defense Transportation Association

Steve Wallace

Director, Office of Accident Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration
FAA representative to National Transportation Safety Board
Former Columbia Accident Investigation Board member

Rick Williams

Corporate Safety Director, Alcoa, New York
Former Director, Human Resources, Alcoa Primary Metals, Knoxville, Tenn.

Brigadier General Joseph Smith, USA — Ex-Officio Member

Director, U.S. Army Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala.

The new ASAP will begin with the original charter, signed by then-NASA Administrator James E. Webb. New provisions help assure an independent, long-term oversight of the agency’s safety policies and programs. Some of the revisions include:

* The new ASAP will report quarterly instead of annually
* The term for new members is two years, extendable to a maximum of six years in order to stagger terms of service and ensure a fresh perspective at regular intervals
* The new ASAP focuses on NASA’s safety and quality systems. ASAP will focus on industrial and systems safety, risk management, trend analysis and the management of these activities

“We’ve taken extra steps to ensure the independence of this panel,” said Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor. “While the original law and the new charter allow for NASA members, none of the new members is a current or former agency employee or contractor.”

The new ASAP is also expected to play an important role in the ongoing safety assessment and review of the Space Shuttle program after Return to Flight. “We intend for the ASAP to oversee our implementation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s recommendations long after the work of the Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group is completed,” added Administrator O’Keefe. “Our intent is to institutionalize a renewed commitment to safety, and the panel will help us assure that we follow through on that objective.”

The new Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel charter and member biographies are available on the Internet, at:

http://www.nasa.gov/news/highlights/returntoflight.html

Original Source: NASA News Release

NASA Selects Five Potential New Missions

Image credit: NASA

NASA has selected five proposals as part of its Small Explorer (SMEX) missions – these are low-cost, highly specialized missions to help advance science in a specific area. The candidates are: the Normal-incidence Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer, the Dark Universe Observatory, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, and the Jupiter Magnetospheric Explorer. Two finalists will eventually be chosen for launch by 2007-2008.

NASA recently selected candidate mission proposals that would study the universe, from Jupiter and the sun to black holes and dark matter. The proposals are candidates for missions in NASA’s Explorer Program of lower cost, highly focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft.

Following detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select two of the mission proposals by fall 2004 for full development as Small Explorer (SMEX) missions. The two missions developed for flight will be launched in 2007 and 2008.

NASA has also decided to fund as a “Mission of Opportunity” a balloon-borne experiment to detect high-energy neutrinos, ghostly particles that fill the universe.

“The Small Explorer mission proposals we received show that the scientific community has a lot of innovative ideas on ways to study some of the most vexing questions in science, and to do it on a relatively small budget,” said Dr. Ed Weiler, associate administrator for space science at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “It was difficult to select only a few from among the many great proposals we received, but I think the selected proposals have a great chance to really push back the frontiers of knowledge,” he said.

The selected proposals were judged to have the best science value among 36 submitted to NASA in February 2003. Each will receive $450,000 ($250,000 for the Mission of Opportunity) to conduct a five-month implementation feasibility study. The selected SMEX proposals are:

  • The Normal-incidence Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (NEXUS): a solar spectrometer with major advances in sensitivity and resolution to reveal the cause of coronal heating and solar wind acceleration. Joseph M. Davila of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt, Md., would lead NEXUS at a total mission cost to NASA of $131 million.
  • The Dark Universe Observatory (DUO): seven X-ray telescopes to measure the dark matter and dark energy that dominate the content of the universe with 100 times the sensitivity of previous X-ray studies. Richard E. Griffiths of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, would lead DUO at a total mission cost to NASA of $132 million.
  • The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX): a pair of cameras to image the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space with 100 times the sensitivity of previous experiments. David J. McComas of the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, would lead IBEX at a total mission cost to NASA of $132 million.
  • The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR): a telescope to carry out a census of black holes with 1000 times more sensitivity than previous experiments. NuSTAR would be lead by Fiona Anne Harrison of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, at a total mission cost to NASA of $132 million.
  • The Jupiter Magnetospheric Explorer (JMEX): a telescope to study Jupiter’s aurora and magnetosphere from Earth orbit. Nicholas M. Schneider of the University of Colorado at Boulder would lead JMEX, at a total mission cost to NASA of $133 million.

NASA selected a long-duration balloon payload as the mission of opportunity. The Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) would detect radio waves emitted when high-energy neutrinos interact in the Antarctic ice shelf. ANITA would be led by Peter W. Gorham of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, at a total mission cost to NASA of $35 million.

In addition, NASA selected a proposed mission for technology-development funding of the proposed instrument. Jean Swank of GSFC will develop a polarization sensitive X-ray detector. Swank will receive up to $300,000 over the next two years for her study.

The five selected SMEX proposals are vying to be the tenth and eleventh SMEX missions selected for full development. Recent selections include the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI), launched in February 2002; the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), launched in April 2003; and the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere mission (AIM), to be launched in 2006. The Explorer Program, managed by GSFC for NASA’s Office of Space Science, is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for physics and astronomy missions with small to mid-sized spacecraft.

Original Source: NASA News Release

NASA Orders Pegasus and Taurus Rockets for Future Launches

Image credit: Orbital

NASA has ordered four launch vehicles from Orbital Sciences Corporation, including two Pegasus and two Taurus rockets, for future missions. The Pegasus rockets will launch NASA’s Space Technology-8 and Small Explorer-10 missions. The Taurus rockets will launch the GLORY satellite and the Orbiting Carbon Observer. NASA has been working with Orbital for 12 years and purchased 25 rockets to launch various missions into space.

Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) announced today that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has ordered four space launch vehicles, including two Pegasus and two Taurus rockets, for U.S. government scientific satellite missions scheduled to be launched over a two-year period beginning in 2006. The orders were placed under the Small Expendable Launch Vehicles Services (SELVS) contract that was awarded to Orbital by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 1998.

The two new Pegasus vehicles will be used to launch the satellites designated for NASA’s Space Technology-8 (ST-8) and Small Explorer-10 (SMEX-10) missions. The two Taurus missions are scheduled to launch NASA satellites that Orbital is currently developing and manufacturing at its Dulles, VA facility. The first of the two new Taurus rockets will launch the GLORY satellite for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The second Taurus rocket will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observer satellite for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

With these new launch vehicle orders, NASA is continuing a 12-year relationship with Orbital for Pegasus and derivative rockets, which began in 1991. During this time, the space agency has purchased 25 Pegasus, Taurus and related launch vehicles for a wide range of Earth and space science and technology demonstration missions. Fourteen of these launches have been carried out to date, while another 11 are planned from 2004 to 2008.

“Orbital is very pleased with NASA’s continued commitment to our space launch vehicle products,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “We look forward to continuing the excellent working relationship that our launch vehicle team has established with its NASA counterparts. Together, our shared goal is to reliably support the scientific community’s use of small satellites for highly productive Earth and space science investigations.”

About the Pegasus Launch System
Pegasus is the world’s leading launch system for the deployment of small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. Its patented air-launch system, in which the rocket is launched from beneath Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft over the ocean, reduces cost and provides customers with unparalleled flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere on Earth with minimal ground support requirements.

First launched in 1990, Pegasus is the world’s only small launch vehicle to have earned NASA’s Category-3 certification, which allows the U.S. space agency to launch its most valuable payloads aboard the rocket. A Category-3 certification is achieved through a long-term record of highly reliable launch services, such as the current record of 21 consecutive successful Pegasus missions carried out since 1997.

About the Taurus Launch System
Orbital developed the ground-launched Taurus vehicle to provide a cost-effective, reliable means of launching satellites weighing up to 3,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. First launched in 1994, Taurus incorporates advanced structural and avionics technology proven on Pegasus and other operational launch systems and is designed for easy transportability, offering customers rapid-response launches from a wide range of locations.

About Orbital
Orbital develops and manufactures small space systems for commercial, civil government and military customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-orbit, geostationary and planetary spacecraft for communications, remote sensing and scientific missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense boosters that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also offers space-related technical services to government agencies and develops and builds satellite-based transportation management systems for public transit agencies and private vehicle fleet operators.

Original Source: Orbital News Release

New Space Plane Could Be Put on Hold

Key members of the United States Congress are asking NASA to postpone further work on the Orbital Space Plane until the government decides what its next steps in space are going to be. Expected to cost $13 billion over the next 5 years, the OSP would provide a new way to transfer crews to and from the International Space Station. Two contractor teams, Boeing and Lockheed Martin/Grumman/Orbital Sciences, are competing to build the OSP – the winning team would be selected by this summer. NASA acknowledged the request, but they haven’t said if they’re going to comply yet.

NASA Lab Will Study Astronaut’s Radiation

Image credit: NASA

NASA and the US Department of Energy have set up a new laboratory to study the effect of radiation on astronauts as they fly outside the Earth?s protective atmosphere. Located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, the $34 million NASA Space Radiation Laboratory will have 80 researchers annually. The teams will do a variety of experiments with the kinds of radiation found in space in hopes to better understand how it damages living tissue. This can help NASA predict risks and develop countermeasures when risking astronauts to long-term exposure to radiation.

Imagine a human spacecraft crew voyaging through space. A satellite sends a warning; energetic particles are being accelerated from the sun’s corona, sending dangerous radiation toward their spacecraft, but the crew isn’t worried. Long before their journey, researchers on Earth conducted experiments to accurately measure the hazards of space radiation and developed new materials and countermeasures to protect them.

To ensure the safety of spacecraft crews, NASA biologists and physicists will perform thousands of experiments at the new $34 million NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) commissioned today at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. The laboratory, built in cooperation between NASA and DOE, is one of the few facilities that can simulate the harsh space radiation environment.

“Scientists will use this facility as a research tool to protect today’s crews on the International Space Station and to enable the next generation of explorers to safely go beyond Earth’s protected neighborhood,” said Guy Fogleman, director of the Bioastronautics Research Division, Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR), at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Space radiation produced by the sun and other galactic sources is more dangerous and hundreds of times more intense than radiation sources, such as medical X-rays or normal cosmic radiation, usually experienced on Earth. When the intensely ionizing particles found in space strike human tissue, it can result in cell damage and may eventually lead to cancer.

Approximately 80 investigators will conduct research annually at the new facility. “The NSRL will enable us to triple the ability of researchers to perform radiobiology experiments and the resulting science knowledge,” said Frank Cucinotta, the program scientist for NASA’s Space Radiation Health Project at Johnson Space Center, Houston. “Scientists at universities and medical centers across the nation will use the facility to investigate how space radiation damages cells and tissues such as the eyes, brain and internal organs,” he said.

For each experiment, an accelerator produces beams of protons or heavy ions. These ions are typical of those accelerated in cosmic sources and by the sun. The beams of ions move through a 328-foot transport tunnel to the 400-square-foot, shielded target hall. There, they hit the target, which may be a biological sample or shielding material.

“Physicists will measure how specific particles interact with shielding material, ” said James Adams, the program scientist for the Space Radiation Shielding Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “We can use this knowledge to improve our ability to predict the effectiveness of various materials and to develop and test new materials.”

At NSRL, the radiation health team will perform extensive tests with biological samples placed in the path of the radiation. They will use the information to understand mechanisms of radiation damage to cells, predict risks, and develop countermeasures that mitigate radiation effects. “Advances in radiation detection, shielding and other radiation-mitigation techniques may be applied to workers in space and on Earth and may lead to improved use of radiation to treat disease on Earth and prevent radiation-induced illnesses,” Fogleman said.

Since the 1970s, NASA has been using particle accelerators to understand and mitigate the risks of space radiation. The NSRL will take advantage of the high-energy particle accelerators at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a DOE facility established in 1947. Construction of the new facility began in 1998, and was funded in part by NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Laser Powered Plane Takes Flight

Image credit: NASA

A team of NASA researchers have created a remote control plane that gets its power from a ground-based laser that tracks it as it flies around. The model plane has a 3.5 metre wingspan, and only weighs 300 grams. It collects energy from a bank of photovoltaic cells to power its propeller. Although this is just a prototype, future versions could be much larger and fly above a city indefinitely providing telecommunications services – it could be an inexpensive replacement for satellites.

Ever since the dawn of powered flight, it has been necessary for all aircraft to carry fuel onboard ? whether in the form of batteries, fuel, solar cells, or even a human “engine” ? in order to stay aloft.

A team of researchers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., and the University of Alabama in Huntsville is trying to change that.

They have now chalked up a major accomplishment? and a “first.” The team has developed and demonstrated a small-scale aircraft that flies solely by means of propulsive power delivered by an invisible, ground-based laser. The laser tracks the aircraft in flight, directing its energy beam at specially designed photovoltaic cells carried onboard to power the plane’s propeller.

“The craft could keep flying as long as the energy source, in this case the laser beam, is uninterrupted,” said Robert Burdine, Marshall’s laser project manager for the tests. “This is the first time that we know of that a plane has been powered only by the energy of laser light. It really is a groundbreaking development for aviation.”

“We feel this really was a tremendous success for the project,” added David Bushman, project manager for beamed power at Dryden. “We are always trying to develop new technologies that will enable new capabilities in flight, and we think this is a step in the right direction.”

The plane, with its five-foot wingspan, weighs only 11 ounces and is constructed from balsa wood and carbon fiber tubing covered with Mylar film. Designed and built at NASA Dryden, the aircraft is a one-of-a-kind, radio-controlled model airplane. A special panel of photovoltaic cells, selected and tested by team participants at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is designed to efficiently convert the energy from the laser wavelength into electricity to power a small electric motor that spins the propeller.

The lightweight, low-speed plane was flown indoors at the Marshall center to prevent wind and weather from affecting the test flights.

After the craft was released from a launching platform inside the building, the laser beam was aimed at the airplane’s panels, causing the propeller to spin and propel the craft around the building, lap after lap. When the laser beam was turned off, the airplane glided to a landing.

The team made a similar series of demonstration flights in 2002 at NASA Dryden, using a theatrical searchlight as a power source. The recent flights at the Marshall center are the first known demonstration of an aircraft flying totally powered by a ground-based laser. The demonstration is a key step toward the capability to beam power to a plane aloft. Without the need for onboard fuel or batteries, such a plane could carry scientific or communication equipment, for instance, and stay in flight indefinitely. The concept offers potential commercial value to the remote sensing and telecommunications industries, according to Bushman.

“A telecommunications company could put transponders on an airplane and fly it over a city,” Bushman said. “The aircraft could be used for everything from relaying cell phone calls to cable television or Internet connections.”

Laser power beaming is a promising technology for future development of aircraft design and operations. The concept supports NASA?s mission-critical goals for the development of revolutionary aerospace technologies.

Original Source: NASA News Release