WildBlue-1 satellite ready

WildBlue-1 satellite is ready for its December 8 launch on Ariane 5

The integration process has been completed for WildBlue Communications’ WildBlue-1 as the upper passenger on Arianespace’s fifth and final Ariane 5 launch of 2006.

This year-ending flight — scheduled for December 8 — will carry WildBlue-1 and SES AMERICOM’s AMC-18 spacecraft.

See their photo report from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, which details WildBlue-1’s integration procedure in the Ariane 5 Final Assembly Building. The report is posted as the November 28 Mission Update on Arianespace’s Website:



NASA’s Space Shuttle Program successfully fired a reusable solid rocket motor Thursday, Nov. 16, at a Promontory Utah facility. The two-minute test provided important information for nighttime shuttle launches and for the development of the rocket that will carry the next human spacecraft to the moon.

The static firing of the full-scale, full-duration flight support motor was performed at 6 p.m. MST at ATK Launch Systems Group, a unit of Alliant Techsystems Inc. in Promontory, Utah, where the shuttle’s solid rocket motors are manufactured.

The flight support motor, or FSM-13, burned for approximately 123 seconds, the same time each reusable solid rocket motor burns during an actual space shuttle launch. The Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Project Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages these tests to qualify any proposed changes to the rocket motor and to determine whether new materials perform as well as those now in use.

The motor firing also provided the Space Shuttle Program with data on how image quality is affected by night launch conditions. The data will help determine camera settings and techniques that are most suitable for future night shuttle launches and those which could possibly enhance imagery gathered during a day launch.

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Andrew Yau probes the stormy Sun-Earth relationship

Dr. Yau has spent much of his career probing the behaviour of plasma in outer space and he’s leading the development of the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe, ePOP. It will be launched on Canada’s small, but powerful and versatile CASSIOPE satellite in 2008.

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NASA has completed a milestone first review of all systems for the Orion spacecraft and the Ares I and Ares V rockets. The review brings the agency a step closer to launching the nation’s next human space vehicle.

NASA completed the thorough systems requirements review of the Constellation Program this week. Review results provide the foundation for design, development, construction and operation of the rockets and spacecraft necessary to take explorers to Earth orbit, the moon, and eventually to Mars.

“This review is a critical step in making the system a reality,” said Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. “I am proud of this dedicated and diligent NASA-wide team. We have established the foundation for a safe and strong transportation system and infrastructure. It is a historic first step.”

This is the first system requirements review NASA has completed for a human spacecraft system since a review of the space shuttle’s development held in October 1972. The Constellation Program system requirements are the product of 12 months of work by a NASA-wide team.

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Double Star mission extended

Earlier this month, ESA’s Science Programme Committee (SPC) unanimously approved a nine-month extension of ESA’s involvement in the China/ESA Double Star mission. Double Star is currently studying the Earth’s magnetosphere – the natural protective shield surrounding our planet – and its interaction with the solar wind.

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WASHINGTON — NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) recently marked its 30-year anniversary. The confidential reporting system is widely used by pilots and other airline employees to identify potential safety hazards.

Established in 1975 under a memorandum of understanding between NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the system collects, analyzes and responds to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports to reduce aviation accidents and improve safety. The confidential reports are also used to identify deficiencies and discrepancies in the National Aviation System that need to be remedied.

“Since the implementation of the Aviation Safety Reporting System in 1976, more than 474,000 reports have been submitted by pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, flight attendants and other airline personnel,” said Linda Connell, director of the ASRS. The system is located at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “Many of those reports have had a direct impact on making the nation’s airways safer, and we’re extremely proud of that safety record.”

“ASRS is an excellent tool that has helped us spot rare and infrequent emerging threats and hazards,” said FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nicholas A. Sabatini. “To continue putting downward pressure on the accident rate, we need this kind of information about trends, about precursors, and about what is going on every day in the aviation system.”

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Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that dark energy is not a new constituent of space, but rather has been present for most of the universe’s history. Dark energy is a mysterious repulsive force that causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate.

Investigators used Hubble to find that dark energy was already boosting the expansion rate of the universe as long as nine billion years ago. This picture of dark energy is consistent with Albert Einstein’s prediction of nearly a century ago that a repulsive form of gravity emanates from empty space.

Data from Hubble provide supporting evidence that help astrophysicists to understand the nature of dark energy. This will allow scientists to begin ruling out some competing explanations that predict that the strength of dark energy changes over time.

Researchers also have found that the class of ancient exploding stars, or supernovae, used to measure the expansion of space today look remarkably similar to those that exploded nine billion years ago and are just now being seen by Hubble. This important finding gives additional credibility to the use of these supernovae for tracking the cosmic expansion over most of the universe’s lifetime.

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When Russian flight controllers encountered difficulties during a recent International Space Station cargo rocket docking, NASA called on a special — although little-known — Amateur Radio team to stand by if needed. Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Ops Team “ISS Ham Contingency Network” volunteers around the world immediately swung into action. Within 15 minutes of receiving the call from Johnson Space Center, Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, reported the ISS Ham Contingency Network was ready to provide any necessary communication support.

“The ARISS teamwork was very effective,” ARISS Secretary-Treasurer Rosalie White, K1STO said. “Its members learned a great deal, and they impressed NASA with how quickly the system was brought up.”

During the October 26 Progress docking, NASA says, Russian flight controllers were unable to confirm whether an automated antenna on the rocket had retracted as commanded. If still extended, the antenna could have interfered with the final latching of the supply ship to the ISS. To avoid disturbing the softly docked cargo ship and to aid the crew with docking maneuvers, the ISS orientation was allowed to drift freely.

During free-drift mode, however, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) — which handles communication between the crew and Mission Control in Houston — can be lost. That’s because the station’s solar arrays may not directly face the sun, causing a drop in onboard power.

Awakened at 2 AM, ARISS Australian team member Tony Hutchison, VK5ZAI, put out a blind call on VHF to the ISS crew, although no answer was needed at that point. Others available to cover later passes included Gerald Klatzko, ZS6BTD, in South Africa; Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, at ON4ISS in Belgium; Dick Flagg, AH6NM, and Nancy Rocheleau, WH6PN, at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu; and Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, and Mark Steiner, K3MS, at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s WA3NAN. Each of these Earth stations has a track record of being able to sustain reliable communication with the ISS.

The call-up marked the first time that NASA had asked for such Amateur Radio assistance since the initial crew came aboard the ISS in November 2000. Ransom says that by remaining available to ensure solid communication while Mission Control staff dealt with the docking issue, the ISS Ham Contingency Network provided Mission Control with an additional layer of security.

Once the antenna retraction problem was resolved, the contingency network stood down, but NASA’s request and the ensuing ham radio activity did serve as a valuable drill, ARISS said.

NASA says Expedition 14 Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, KE5GTK, and flight engineers Mikhail Tyurin, RZ3FT, and Thomas Reiter, DF4TR, opened the hatch to the supply ship October 27 to unload supplies.

WildBlue-1 satellite arrives in French Guiana

WildBlue-1 has begun its pre-launch checkout at the Spaceport following the satellite’s arrival in French Guiana this week.

The satellite is one of the world’s first all Ka-band commercial spacecraft, and will be used by Colorado-based WildBlue Communications, Inc. to provide direct two-way wireless Internet access to homes and small offices in the contiguous United States.

The Mission Update on Arianespace’s Website highlights WildBlue-1’s arrival and has the latest information on the upcoming mission — which will be Arianespace’s fifth dual-satellite heavy-lift flight in 2006.


Dr. John C. Mather wins Nobel Prize for Physics

The Nobel Prize Committee announced Tuesday that NASA scientist and Goddard Fellow Dr. John C. Mather is this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics. Mather is currently serving as senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope program.

Mather shares the prize with George Smoot of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. They received the award for their work that helped cement the Big Bang theory of the universe and deepened our understanding of the origin of stars and galaxies.

“I was thrilled and amazed when I found out we won the Nobel Prize,” Mather said. “The dedicated and talented women and men of the COBE team collaborated to produce the science results being recognized. This is truly such a rare and special honor.”

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