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By | December 17, 2007

      Space Rocket Engine Passes Test: ATK

      Alliant Techsystems [ATK] demonstrated a critical capability of its liquid oxygen (LOX)/methane rocket engine by igniting it in a vacuum chamber, ATK announced.

      The test demonstrated the viability of a LOX/methane rocket engine for a lunar ascent mission.

      This test engine was designed for 3,500 pounds/feet thrust to bracket the expected thrust range of a lunar ascent engine. The successful vacuum chamber test is the latest in a series of tests. ATK previously test-fired a 7,500 pounds/feet LOX/methane engine at sea-level.

      The company expects to conduct additional tests of its LOX/methane engine technology over a wide range of operating conditions to simulate the environment that an operational engine must occupy during a lunar ascent.

      Data collected from this test series will be instrumental in determining performance parameters and the optimal scale of a flight-weight LOX/methane engine, according to ATK.

      The company will conduct these tests at its test facility in Ronkonkoma, NY.

      The ascent engine is a critical propulsion system on the lunar lander and it’s required to return the astronauts from the lunar surface to rendezvous with the Crew Exploration Vehicle circling overhead in lunar orbit.

      A LOX/methane propellant combination offers significant performance benefits over other propellant combinations, according to ATK.

      The engine also is significantly lighter-weight and can provide increased safety margins for the lunar lander design, in terms of allowable weight of the ascent module.

      "Initial tests have already shown performance levels that meet or exceed engine requirements," according to Bill Rutley, ATK senior program manager. "We took what we learned on the 7,500 pounds/feet engine and incorporated design changes into the 3,500 pounds/feet engine to improve its performance. Based on the latest test data, our vacuum specific impulse will surpass 350 seconds."

      Aegis Open-Architecture System Sent To Ship

      The Navy approved transfer of a fully open-architecture Aegis weapon system for installation on a cruiser, Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] announced.

      It will be installed in the Bunker Hill (CG 52) during its depot modernization period in February.

      Aegis open architecture will allow the Navy to update systems with commonly available commercial off-the-shelf computing hardware and open system software, enabling the service to more easily implement technology refreshes and capability upgrades to the weapon system as they are developed in the future.

      Bunker Hill is the first of 22 cruisers scheduled for modernization with the new system over the next decade.

      In 2012, the Navy will begin a similar modernization program for the 62-ship class of Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke destroyers.

      In addition to the United States, Aegis is used by Australia, Japan, Norway, South Korea and Spain.

      NASA, Foreign Space Agencies, To Join In Mars Soil Sample Mission

      NASA will work with foreign space agencies on making plans and requesting recommendations for a joint mission that will bring soil samples back from Mars, NASA announced.

      The ability to study soil from Mars here on Earth will contribute significantly to answering questions about the possibility of life on the red planet, according to NASA.

      Returned samples also will increase understanding of the useful or harmful properties of Martian soil, which will support planning for eventual human exploration of Mars.

      A task force named the International Mars Architecture for Return of Samples, or IMARS, recently met in Washington to lay the foundation for an international collaboration to return samples from Mars.

      NASA hosted the meeting. IMARS meeting participants included representatives from more than half a dozen countries and NASA, the European Space Agency, or ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

      IMARS is a committee of the International Mars Exploration Working Group, or IMEWG. The group was formed in 1993 to provide a forum for the international coordination of Mars exploration missions.

      The samples-gathering mission would occur in the next decade.

      Scientists reviewed past engineering work on a Mars sample return mission, international science priorities, and sample receiving facility requirements. The IMARS team made significant progress in many of the key issues associated with the integration of science and engineering challenges. The team established a common strategy for launching a Mars sample return mission and achieving scientific objectives that can be met only by returning Martian soil to Earth.

      The next steps in preparing for a Mars sample return mission include more detailed international trade studies on engineering and mission specifics, greater detail on science and sample requirements, and definition and requirements for Earth-based facilities. IMARS will address the technical issues in upcoming meetings, along with preliminary discussions of the possible roles of interested nations and agencies.

      Lockheed Official Drolet Retires

      Robert "Bob" Drolet, senior director of Huntsville operations, will retire in February after 15 years with Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], the company announced.

      Under his leadership, the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Huntsville, Ala., grew from approximately 100 people in just one building, to more than 630 employees and six buildings, the newest of which was just completed.

      Before joining Lockheed in 1992, Drolet served 29 years in the Army, retiring with the rank of brigadier general. He was program executive officer for Army Air Defense and held various commands and staff positions, including Pentagon assignments and tours in Germany and Vietnam.

      He received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Air Medals and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star.

      He holds a master’s degree from Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

      Tevepaugh Appointed

      As Drolet retires, Lockheed Martin Space Systems is creating a new position, vice president of Northern Alabama operations, to support Lockheed business activities in the region.

      This position will be filled by James "Jim" A. Tevepaugh, who has served as vice president of target and countermeasure programs. He has 30-years of experience in the aerospace industry.

      Weather Satellite Delivered For Launch

      The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F-18 Block 5D-3 spacecraft was delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for launch in July, Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] announced.

      The bird was built under contract for the Air Force by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif.

      The Block 5D-3 series accommodates larger sensor payloads than earlier generations. They also feature a larger capability power subsystem; a more powerful on-board computer with increased memory — allowing greater spacecraft autonomy — and increased battery capacity that extends the mean mission duration.

      DMSP is used for strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air.

      Equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite that can image clouds with visible-view and infrared systems, the satellite collects specialized meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions.

      That DMSP constellation comprises two spacecraft in near-polar orbits, C3 (command, control and communications), user terminals and weather centers. The most recent launch of a DMSP spacecraft took place on Nov. 4 last year from Vandenberg. That launch marked the second of the Block 5D-3 satellites.

      Including F-18, three DMSP satellites remain to be launched. Those not at Vandenberg being prepared for launch are maintained at Lockheed operations in Sunnyvale for storage, functional testing and upgrading. The spacecraft are shipped to Vandenberg for launch when requested by the Air Force.

      Since 1965, 44 Lockheed Martin DMSP satellites have been launched by the Air Force. Now in its fourth decade of service, the DMSP has proven itself to be a valuable tool in scheduling and protecting military operations on land, at sea and in the air. The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base manages the DMSP program.

      Spacecraft, Stood Up By One Date With A Comet, Decides To Court Another

      The EPOXI spacecraft is shifting course so it can ogle a comet in a flyby that will occur in 2010, NASA announced.

      NASA has approved retargeting EPOXI for a flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Oct. 11, 2010. Hartley 2 was chosen as EPOXI’s destination after the initial target, comet Boethin, could not be found. Scientists theorize comet Boethin may have broken up into pieces too small for detection.

      The EPOXI mission melds two science investigations — the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization and the Deep Impact Extended Investigation. Both investigations will be performed using the Deep Impact spacecraft.

      In addition to investigating comet Hartley 2, the spacecraft will point the larger of its two telescopes at nearby exosolar planetary systems late next month to observe several previously discovered planetary systems outside the solar system.

      It will study the physical properties of giant planets and search for rings, moons and planets as small as three Earth masses.

      It also will look at Earth as though it were an exosolar planet to provide data that could become the standard for characterizing these types of planets.

      "The search for exosolar planetary systems is one of the most intriguing explorations of our time," said Drake Deming, EPOXI deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "With EPOXI we have the potential to discover new worlds and even analyze the light they emit to perhaps discover what atmospheres they possess."

      The mission’s closest approach to the small half-mile-wide comet will be about 620 miles. The spacecraft will employ the same suite of two science instruments the Deep Impact spacecraft used during its prime mission to guide an impactor into comet Tempel 1 in July 2005.

      If EPOXI’s observations of Hartley 2 show it is similar to one of the other comets that have been observed, this new class of comets will be defined for the first time. If the comet displays different characteristics, it would deepen the mystery of cometary diversity.

      Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., began directing EPOXI towards Hartley 2 Nov. 1. They commanded the spacecraft to perform a three- minute rocket burn that changed its velocity. EPOXI’s new trajectory sets the stage for three Earth flybys, the first on Dec. 31. This places the spacecraft into an orbital holding pattern until time for the optimal encounter of comet Hartley 2 in 2010.

      "Hartley 2 is scientifically just as interesting as comet Boethin because both have relatively small, active nuclei," said Michael A’Hearn, principal investigator for EPOXI at the University of Maryland, College Park.

      EPOXI’s low mission cost of $40 million is achieved by taking advantage of the existing Deep Impact spacecraft.

      JPL manages EPOXI for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

      The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. [BLL] Boulder, Colo.

      Lockheed Martin Opens Orion Vehicle Lab

      Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] opened a new space Exploration Development Laboratory (EDL) that will support the Project Orion and Constellation Program.

      The Orion crew exploration vehicle is the next-generation human spaceflight vehicle that will transport up to six astronauts to and from the International Space Station and up to four to the moon and destinations beyond.

      Orion will begin manned flights in 2015, replacing the space shuttle fleet that will retire in 2010, leaving a half-decade gap when the United States won’t be able to fly even one astronaut into low Earth orbit.

      The 10,000 sq. ft. Exploration Development Laboratory is a funded by Lockheed and its teammates United Space Alliance (a joint venture of Lockheed and The Boeing Co. [BA]), and Honeywell as part of an integrated network that includes facilities in Denver, Glendale, Ariz., and Arlington, Va.

      The laboratory network is designed to reduce cost and schedule risk by providing an early opportunity to perform systems level avionics and software testing for Orion in a realistic environment in the development phase of the program.

      Cleon Lacefield, vice president and program manager of Project Orion for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said that testing "in this new facility has already begun and we successfully completed the first Pad Abort 1 avionics systems test for Orion last week."

      The EDL in Houston is located adjacent to Johnson Space Center, enabling the Lockheed Martin team to work closely with NASA Project Orion and Constellation Program personnel early in the development and testing phase to gain clarity on requirements. This location allows the team to take full advantage of the breadth of human space flight experience in Houston, including early involvement and collaboration with astronaut flight crew members and flight controllers, according to Lockheed.

      Initial testing of critical systems will be done in the EDL, including the guidance, navigation, and control, automated rendezvous and docking, crew interfaces, and software development processes.

      Avionics system testing will be performed to reduce risk prior to abort flight testing at White Sands Missile Range and Kennedy Space Center.

      EDL testing also will include system integration tests and mission tests that employ the "test like you fly" philosophy. The Lockheed Martin team also is working closely with NASA on a Human Engineering mockup that will be used to perform fact finding activities, such as reach zone, panel displays, internal lighting assessment, seat mockup and development, docking hatch development, crew stowage, hand controller development, and other human interface devices.

      Following EDL testing, the next phase of tests will be done at the NASA Crew Exploration Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory (CAIL). Verification of requirements in the EDL ensures that certification in the CAIL will be successful, greatly reducing software development risk.

      TSAT Gear Completes Third Test, Boeing Announces

      The Boeing Co. [BA] completed the third demonstration of its next generation processor/router (NGPR) technologies for the Transformational Satellite Communications System Space Segment (TSAT SS), Boeing announced today.

      The NGPR Spiral tests used realistic, operational scenarios designed to show increased functionality and performance of Boeing’s Path-to-Flight NGPR Brassboard, which replicates the function and configuration of the operational space segment payload.

      Boeing collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory to conduct the tests in September and October, which are part of the Boeing risk reduction system definition phase contract. Previous demonstrations of the router include NGPR-1 in March 2006 and NGPR-2 last February.

      Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, said, "We are now poised to move on to the next step, which is to begin building the TSAT system."

      The Boeing team completed the spiral demonstration ahead of schedule, allowing additional tests to be conducted and extending the risk reduction value of the demonstration.

      That team includes Cisco, Hughes, IBM [IBM], Harris Corp., Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. [BLL], LGS Innovations, Raytheon Co. [RTN], General Dynamics Corp. [GD] C4 Systems, L-3 Communications [LLL], BBN Technologies, EMS Technologies, SAIC and Innovative Communications Engineering.

      The team submitted its TSAT Space Segment proposal to the Air Force July 30. The Air Force is expected to announce the winner of the multi-billion-dollar TSAT space segment contract next year.

      Brazil, Argentina Launch Rocket In Low Trajectory

      Brazil and Argentina launched a rocket from Brazil that rose to an altitude of 75 miles in a flight lasting less than 10 minutes, according to news wire reports.

      The VS30 rocket carried experiments of the two nations.

      Brazil has launched rockets previously, and the two nations have cooperated for almost a decade on space-related activities.

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