Lockheed Martin Orion capsule completes structural testing

Lockheed Martin‘s Orion spacecraft has finished structural testing and is structurally prepared for its first launch in September, 2014.

The capsule was tested to 110% of expected loads from such traumatic events as launch, separation and re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

“The static loads campaign is our best method of testing to verify what works on paper will work in space,” says Charlie Lundquist, NASA‘s Orion crew and service module manager. “This is how we validate our design.”

Small cracks discovered in 2012 after limited structural testing raised concerns about the design of the Lockheed spacecraft. Though Lockheed repaired the damage and expressed confidence in its solution, the formal completion of structural tests is a relief to both the company and NASA.

Orion is scheduled for a first flight in September, 2014, atop a Boeing Delta IV launch vehicle. Though not capable of reaching the velocity necessary to escape Earth’s gravity well using the Delta IV, NASA projects the capsule will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with 84% of the energy required for a lunar flight.

Orion will enter orbit propelled by the Space Launch System, a Space Shuttle-derived series of solid rocket motors capable of boosting such payloads as far as the Moon and even Mars. SLS will not fly until 2017 at the earliest, and even then with a temporary upper stage adapted from the Delta IV.


India and France will hold a joint naval exercise

India and France will be holding a joint naval exercise off the Goa coast on April 17, which is mainly aimed at honing the skills of Indian Navy in tackling anti-piracy and anti-submarine operations.

“The 30-hour exercise would begin on April 17 morning”, said Commander Guillaume Fontarensky, commanding the anti-submarine Destroyer ‘FNS Montcalm’, currently docked at Goa’s Mormugao Port Trust (MPT), before initiating exercises with the Indian Navy.

The exercise is the part of a larger naval drill held annually between the French and Indian navies.

“Such kind of smaller exercises are held to increase the understanding between the two navies in between the larger drill”, said Fontarensky.

“The exercise, scheduled off the Goa coast, would hone the skills of Indian Navy in anti-submarine and anti-piracy operations”, the commander said, adding a common procedure would be developed by both the navies to fight against submarines of hostile nations.

He said the details about participation from Indian counterpart would be known only after the session on Monday.

Meanwhile, Francois Richier, French Ambassador in India, told reporters that such an exchange was crucial for ensuring safety of the Indian Ocean.

“The threat can come from anywhere, even from under the sea. This is very important for ensuring safety of the Indian Ocean”, the Ambassador said, adding the threat of piracy in Indian Ocean has diminished to a great extent on the back of crackdown on the sea brigands by various navies.

“The number of attacks by pirates has decreased of late, compared to the past”, Richier said.



Israel, Gaza exchange heaviest strikes since cease-fire

Palestinian militants launched rockets into southern Israel, while the Israel Air Force launched airstrikes.

JERUSALEM — Israel and Gaza have exchanged some of the heaviest airstrikes since the truce negotiated in November which ended Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense on the Strip.

The Israel Air Force launched its first airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since the cease-fire late on Tuesday night, responding to three mortar shells which were fired at the Negev on Tuesday.

Palestinian militants fired two more rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, which exploded on open ground near the Israeli town of Sderot, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The latest hostilities were sparked by anger in Gaza over the cancer-related death of a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel, Reuters reported. The prisoner, Maysar Abuhamida, will be buried tomorrow in Hebron, in the West Bank.

The Palestinian government has been calling for massive demonstrations, and in a press release held Israel responsible for Abuhamida’s death.

“We will not allow shooting of any sort [even sporadic] toward our citizens and our forces,” said Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s new defense minister and a former military chief of staff, in response to the rocket launches from Gaza, the Associated Press reported.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, said Israel’s airstrikes were a clear violation of the cease-fire. “We call on international parties to intervene immediately to end the Israeli escalation and also the violations against the prisoners,” he said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

In Gaza, Hamas is rapidly losing popularity. A recent poll shows 55 percent of Palestinians supporting a two-state solution, which is absolutely rejected by Hamas, and greater support for Fatah candidates than those from Hamas.

Israel was dominated on Wednesday by news of heightened military alertness on almost every border. An Israeli Defense Forces patrol was shot at on Tuesday in the Golan Heights and responded by shelling Syrian rebel positions.

The Syrian civil war is now pretty much felt routinely on Israel’s northeastern border. For people living in the Golan Heights, the sounds of mortar and shelling are a daily presence. Farmers tending their fields have seen mortar shells land meters from them. This is a sea change in living conditions for people who have lived on an absolutely quiet border, despite the formal state of war since the Six Day War in 1967.

Wounded Syrian civilians and rebels have also become a constant presence as they request medical assistance on the Israeli border. To handle the growing demand, the IDF has set up a field hospital on the northern Golan Heights.

The assessment of the head of Israeli military intelligence, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is that as soon as the rebels are done with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “they will come after us.” The growing influence of Al Qaeda and similar movements among the various rebel groups operating in Syria is being monitored very closely, and causing significant anxiety.

Causing even greater anxiety is the situation next door, in beleaguered Lebanon, where Hezbollah, which depends on the Assad regime for its survival, is growing more desperate.

The Israeli military is openly concerned that Hezbollah will return to bombarding the Israeli north with missiles as a way of drawing attention away from its predicament, and as a show of strength.