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Neil A. Armstrong: 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong, photographed inside the lunar module after landing on the Moon

Neil Armstrong, photographed inside the lunar module after landing on the Moon

THE FOLLOWING is a statement from the Armstrong family regarding the death of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong. He was 82.

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.”

“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.”

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.”

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.”

“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden regarding the death of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my deepest condolences to Carol and the rest of Armstrong family on the passing of Neil Armstrong. As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

“Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.”

“As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero.”

Additional information about Armstrong is available on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/

http://www.neilarmstronginfo.com/

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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VIDEO: Another trip around the Earth

HERE ARE SOME MORE fantastic short videos taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in Earth orbit. The ISS circles the globe every 92.5 minutes at a speed of about 27,745 kilometres per hour. This unique vantage points enables us to see the planet spinning below, with numerous countries, cities and landscapes passing underneath.

A couple of the videos show a point of view looking out the main window of the Station’s “Cupola“. The multi-window observation post attached to the side of the ISS gives astronauts and cosmonauts not only the ability to get great views of the Earth, but also to keep an eye on activities—such as spacewalks and spacecraft movements—outside the station.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Videos courtesy NASA.

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Cargo capsule set for launch

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

AT THE CAPE CANAVERAL Air Force Station (adjacent to the Kennedy Space Centre) in Florida, final preparations are being made for a historic launch at the end of this month.

The unmanned Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket, both privately developed by the SpaceX corporation, are due for launch on April 30 (USA time) on a combined test flight and cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA is providing seed money to SpaceX and a second company, Orbital Sciences, to develop and operate unmanned craft that can keep the ISS resupplied in the post-shuttle era.

SpaceX is intending to field a manned version of Dragon later this decade, capable of taking seven astronauts into low Earth orbit.

More information: NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation System

Dragon capsule is placed atop its cargo ring

Dragon capsule is mated to a "ring" that will sit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule attached on top sits fully fuelled on Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during a launch dress rehearsal.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images courtesy NASA / Gianni Woods / Jim Grossmann / Kim Shiflett.

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NASA head visits Australia

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who visited Australia this week.

THE ADMINISTRATOR OF NASA, Charles Bolden, was in Australia this week, flying the flag and interacting with students at a number of venues across the east coast.

Mr Bolden, a former astronaut (with four shuttle flights) and a former Major-General in the US Marines, became NASA Administrator in 2009. He came into the job at a challenging time, as the global financial crisis was underway and with science budgets under intense pressure.

At a lecture at the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, Mr Bolden spoke of the work NASA does in space and here on Earth, and encouraged students in the audience to work hard and follow their dreams.

He praised the work done by the staff at the tracking station at Tidbinbilla near Canberra. Known as the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, it is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, paid for the by the USA but staffed by Australians and managed by the CSIRO.

“Canberra is playing a critical role in tracking the Mars Science Laboratory that we’re going to be landing on Mars on August 6,” Mr Bolden said. “We’re really excited about everything they do.”

At the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Mr Bolden spent time with students and teachers involved in the Pathways to Space programme. Pathways to Space gives students a chance to learn more about science and technology by taking a “hands-on” approach, including operating rovers in a simulated Mars environment called the Mars Yard. They also get to work with professional scientists and engineers involved in space research.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

The Mars Yard, a simulated Mars environment, at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. This photo doesn't do it justice – it's a very slick working environment where students interact with science and technology professionals.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

Another view of the Mars Yard.

A remote-controlled Mars Yard rover

A remote-controlled rover in the Mars Yard.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the Mars Yard.

Administrator Bolden, more accustomed to flying space shuttles, takes the controls of one of the Mars Yard rovers.

Pathways to Space is a collaboration between the Powerhouse, the Federal Government, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, and CISCO Systems.

Taking the controls of one of the rovers, Mr Bolden spoke about the importance of encouraging students to put their ambitions into action and to think big … making the point that today’s students will be tomorrow’s explorers of Mars.

Your editor had a brief moment to speak with Mr Bolden, and we discussed the rarity of having a NASA Administrator visit Australia.

“I’m told there was only one previous occasion, way back in 1973, when Administrator Fletcher visited Australia as part of dealings to help set up the Deep Space Network here,” Mr Bolden said. “Let’s hope it won’t be another 30 years before another Administrator gets the chance to visit.”

More information

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Pathways to Space

Powerhouse Museum

Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex

Story and images by Jonathan Nally. Bolden portrait image courtesy NASA.

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LAUNCH VIDEO: Australian defence satellite

A NEW SATELLITE was successfully launched in Kazakhstan last week, which will improve communications abilities for Australian Defence Force personnel operating in the Middle East.

The IS-22 satellite was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch was managed by Intelsat, an international satellite service provider.

(With the video above, you might like to forward to the 3:00 point, as nothing much happens before then.)

The Australian Defence Force has purchased an Ultra High Frequency communications payload, which forms part of the satellite. More than 30 per cent of the satellite is dedicated to Australian Defence communications.

“This satellite means we will be able to transmit voice and data anywhere between the west coast of Africa and the east coast of Australia,” said Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare. “It will make it easier for commanders in Australia to provide troops on the ground with information faster and more effectively.

“It will also mean that troops can provide intelligence and information back to Headquarters.”

Currently, the ADF has limited use of United States’ satellites in this region.

The launch of the IS-22 means that Australia now has its own dedicated Defence satellite communications network in this region.

The satellite will also be used for commercial purposes, but Defence has put in place high level security measures including data encryption to protect ADF communication links.

The $269 million program has delivered the project on time and within budget. Intelsat is contracted to operate the satellite for 15 years after launch.

The following video from Boeing gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the satellite before launch:

Adapted from information issued by the Australian Government / Boeing / Intelsat.

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Space foil helps build safer cars

Hermes spaceplane

Europe’s Hermes spaceplane was intended to provide independent European manned access to space. Designed to take three astronauts to orbits of up to 800 km altitude on missions of 30–90 days, the spaceplane would have been launched using the Ariane 5 rocket.

A SPECIAL FOIL SENSOR developed to measure the pressure on a spaceplane’s wings during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere is now helping to build safer cars.

This ‘space’ foil has been transformed into a new super-thin and accurate sensor used by VW to measure every deformation suffered by cars during crash tests.

It all started in the early 1990s, when German engineer Paul Mirow was working on Europe’s Hermes spaceplane at Technical University Berlin. Hermes was planned as a reusable manned vehicle launched on Ariane 5.

To map the pressure distribution on the wings as Hermes returned through the atmosphere, a new sensor was needed because regular instruments were too bulky and added unrealistic drag. So Paul’s team turned to a special ‘piezoelectric’ foil to do the job.

Piezoelectric materials on a tooth

Piezoelectric materials were painted on a tooth to measure the forces exerted by a toothbrush.

Piezoelectric materials have a special property that converts physical effects like vibration and pressure into minute electric pulses. “It takes movement, forces or vibration, and turns it into an electrical signal,” Paul notes.

Super-thin sensor

In foil form, piezoelectric materials can serve as extremely lightweight sensors, able to cover an entire surface without distorting the results by adding drag.

“The piezoelectric foil is very thin, about 30 microns – a third of the thickness of a human hair,” explains Paul.

While other types of sensors create obstacles, with these piezoelectric foils, “You can just glue it to the surface, without creating any disturbances in the structure.”

The tests of Hermes’ wing in a hypersonic wind tunnel went well, and in 1995 Paul and his partners decided to adapt their piezoelectric foil for terrestrial applications.

One was even created for a dental company: “We painted a tooth with piezoelectric paint so they could measure the forces created by the toothbrush on the molar.”

Piezoelectric sensor

To map the pressure distribution on Hermes' wings as the spaceplane returned through the atmosphere, a new sensor was developed based on super-thin piezoelectric materials. They have a special property that converts physical effects like vibration and pressure into minute electric pulses.

Making cars safer

One of the most exciting applications was developed for VW to use in their crash tests.

At the yearly Hannover Fair, the German car company saw Paul’s products at the stand organised by ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office and its German partner, technology broker MST Aerospace.

VW hoped that the space sensors would solve a problem encountered in crash tests: sensors on cars are often destroyed at impact, making it difficult to collect highly accurate data throughout the crash process.

Contained in a highly flexible polymer film, the piezoelectric sensor is simply applied to the car’s surfaces. It moves with the metal as the car crashes, rather than being destroyed by the impact.

“The VW people asked, ‘is it possible to use this in crash tests?’” recalls Paul. “We said, ‘let’s try.’”

“We wanted to know at which moment which parts of the car are deformed,” explained Jens Weinrich, an engineer at VW.

“In a crash situation, it’s always a problem that you never know exactly what will happen.”

Crash test

The foil sensor is now used by German Volkswagen to measure their crash tests.

Paul’s firm developed a sensor in which each strip of foil contains 50 piezoelectric sensors, each about a square centimetre.

This makes it possible to measure exactly what is happening, and when, in exactly which places on the car. How fast is the metal bending? Is it bending 20º in one direction, or 60º in the other? And where precisely did it bend?

At the end of each strip, an equally thin, flexible printed circuit board with a 50-channel amplifier records the electrical impulses created by the mechanical deformations.

“We wanted not just qualitative, but also quantitative results,” said Mr Weinrich. “We wanted to know where it folded, and how much it folded.”

Following the development of the piezoelectric foil sensors, VW has now used them in a number of crash tests.

Adapted from information issued by ESA. Images courtesy ESA / D. Ducros / Mirow Systemtechnik GmbH / Volkswagen Media Service.

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New Australian satellite to launch

Artist's impression of the Jabiru-1 satellite

Artist's impression of the Jabiru-1 satellite, due to launch in 2014 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

IT WAS ANNOUNCED TODAY that Australian communications company NewSat has chosen Arianespace to launch its first satellite, Jabiru-1, in 2014.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, and Adrian Ballintine, founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewSat Limited (NewSat), today signed the launch services contract for the Jabiru-1 satellite at Satellite 2012 in Washington, DC.

Jabiru-1 will be boosted into geostationary transfer orbit by an Ariane 5 launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Geostationary transfer orbit is a “halfway” orbit, from which a satellite’s own rocket  motor then boosts it into its final orbit.

Jabiru-1 is currently being built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems using an A2100 platform. Weighing 5,900 kg at launch, it will be fitted with 50 Ka-band transponders configured in a variety of multi-spot, steerable and regional beams.

Launch of an Ariane 5 rocket

Launch of an Ariane 5 rocket

Jabiru-1’s high-powered capacity will provide flexible communication solutions to enterprise and government customers across Asia, the Middle East and eastern Africa. It offers a design life of 15 years.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by NewSat to launch their first satellite. Arianespace is particularly proud of this opportunity to serve a new Australian operator. For us, this latest contract provides further recognition of the outstanding quality and competitiveness of our launch services.”

The announcement comes only months after Arianespace also won the competition to launch Optus’ next satellite, Optus 10.

“Jabiru-1 is very important for us and we are very pleased to entrust Arianespace with its launch, since Arianespace sets the world standard in this market,” said Adrian Ballintine. “It is extremely important for us at NewSat to know that our first satellite will be launched by Arianespace and by Ariane 5, both synonymous with reliability and excellence.”

Arianespace is the world’s leading launch service & solutions company, providing innovation to its customers since 1980. As of 1st March 2012, Arianespace had performed 204 Ariane launches (298 payloads), 26 Soyuz launches (24 at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and two at the Guiana Space Centre) and the first launch of Vega. It has a backlog of 23 Ariane 5, 15 Soyuz and two Vega launches, equal to more than three years of business.

More information:

Arianespace

NewSat

Adapted from information issued by Arianespace.

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Gallery – NASA’s next spacecraft options

Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser spacecraft

Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser spacecraft under development by Sierra Nevada of Centennial, Colorado. Dream Chaser would launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket but land horizontally like the Space Shuttle. It aims to carry seven people into low-Earth orbit.

IN 2011, NASA SELECTED a number of companies to mature the design and development of a crew transportation system with the overall goal of accelerating a United States-led capability to the International Space Station.

The programme is called the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), part of the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2).

According to NASA, the goal of CCP is to drive down the cost of space travel as well as open up space to more people than ever before by balancing industry’s own innovative capabilities with NASA’s 50 years of human spaceflight experience.

Seven aerospace companies are maturing launch vehicle and spacecraft designs under CCDev2, including Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK); The Boeing Co.; Excalibur Almaz Inc.; Blue Origin; Sierra Nevada; and United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Artist's conception of the Dragon capsule

Artist's conception of the Dragon capsule under development by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California. The unmanned version of the Dragon capsule has already had one successful test flight. The second test flight, due for February 2012, will see it dock with the International Space Station (ISS). After that, it will go into revenue service taking cargo to the ISS. The manned version is still some years away from flight.

Artist's conception of the New Shepard spacecraft

Artist's conception of the New Shepard spacecraft under development by Blue Origin of Kent, Washington.

Artist's conception of the CST-100

Artist's conception of the CST-100 under development by The Boeing Co. of Houston. The CST-100 will be able to take up to seven astronauts to the ISS.

Artist's conceptions of the Atlas V and Liberty Launch vehicles

Artist's conceptions of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket (left) and the Liberty Launch Vehicle (right) under development by Alliant Techsystems Inc., both of which are being considered for NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Stratolaunch – a new way to get into space!

A HIGH-POWER TEAM of space and industry experts has come together to propose a radical new way of getting into orbit. Radical in size, that is, if not in overall concept.

The Stratolaunch project would see a huge carrier aircraft twice the size of a Boeing 747, carry a large rocket slung under its mid-section. The whole “stack” would take off like a normal aircraft and climb to altitude, whereupon the rocket would drop away, ignite its engines and shoot into orbit.

The carrier aircraft will be largest aircraft ever flown.

It’s a scaled up version of the system to be used by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

The Stratolaunch team is led by four famous individuals, prime among them being entrepreneur Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. There’s also Mike Griffin, former head of NASA; Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of the SpaceX rocket company; and Burt Rutan, the famed aeronautical designer who designed and built SpaceShipOne and the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo.

More information: Stratolaunch web site

Story by Jonathan Nally. Graphics courtesy Stratolaunch.

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Relive the Soyuz landing

THE EXPEDITION 29 CREW from the International Space Station returned to Earth today, having spent five-and-a-half months in orbit.

Sergei Volkov, Satoshi Furukawa and Mike Fossum rode the Soyuz TMA-02M capsule back to Earth, landing on the icy cold steppes of Kazakhstan.

This video shows remarkable footage of the re-entry, taken from the Space Station, plus post-landing activities as the astron/cosmonauts were removed from the capsule.

Towards the end of the video we get a good view of just how small the Soyuz is. With three people crammed inside, there’s almost no room to move.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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