May 28 News Items

Harris Wins $736M Data Center Contract for Weather Satellites (Source: AIA)
Harris Corp. could earn as much as $736 million under a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration contract to build data processing systems for advanced weather satellites. The Lockheed Martin-built satellites, scheduled to launch beginning in 2015, will use advanced sensor technology to provide meteorologists with up to 20 times more weather data.

"This award will generate nearly 300 jobs for the aerospace industry and will ensure NOAA remains on the cutting edge of satellite technology." The contract, which has an estimated value of $736 million, requires Harris to design, develop, test and implement the GOES-R ground system. The award was the result of a full and open competitive procurement process following federal acquisition regulations. Editor's Note: This is good news for Space Coast workers facing Shuttle layoffs. (5/28)

China to Launch Mars Probe Atop Russian Rocket (Source: Reuters)
China's first Mars probe is expected to be launched in the second half of this year on top of a Russian rocket, the latest milestone in the nation's ambitious space program. Yinghuo-1, or Firefly Light-1, weighs 115 kgs (253 lb) and passed an important test, said Zhang Weiqiang, deputy secretary of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. The probe has an expected life of two years and would go into orbit around Mars in 2010 after a 10-month, 380-million-km journey, Zhang said. The probe won't land on Mars, but would only orbit and monitor the planet, he said. (5/28)

Space Coast County Tops State in Math/Science Education (Sources: SPACErePORT, Florida Today)
Among Florida's 67 counties, Brevard County has consistently been among the top two for K-12 math and science test scores. This year's FCAT test scores have been announced and Brevard once again is at or near the top at most grade levels. The county's high performance could have much to do with the prevalence of space and aerospace industries, including the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (The state's other top-performing county is Okaloosa, which is home to the huge Eglin Air Force Base and related businesses.) Click here to for test score information for various grade levels. (5/28)

SpaceX Could Reuse Dragons Built for One-Time NASA Use (Source: Space Politics)
Under NASA's program for commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station, SpaceX is developing its Dragon capsule to ride atop its Falcon-9 rockets from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, speaking at the ISDC-2009 event in Orlando, said NASA wants to use a new Dragon capsule for each ISS resupply mission. Since SpaceX is developing the Dragon capsules to be reusable, the company plans to reuse the NASA capsules for commercial DragonLab missions. (5/28)

Space Florida Head Confirmed (Source: Florida Today)
Interim Space Florida President Frank DiBello was confirmed Tuesday by the agency's executive board. The executive board also awarded a severance package worth $60,000 to outgoing president Steve Kohler, who resigned under pressure from the governor. As interim president of the state's agency to promote the space industry, DiBello will receive $54,000 for his 90-day term. The longtime space industry consultant came in second to Kohler three years ago when the job was created. He has asked to be considered for the job permanently.

Beginning his duties Tuesday, DiBello met with Brevard's Workforce Development Board, which will play an important role in retraining thousands of space industry workers as the shuttle program ends in 2010. The executive committee has approved new job duties for the agency president that require a development, growth and expansion plan for Cape Canaveral and a workforce retention plan. The Space Florida Board of Directors will meet June 24 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center to vote on endorsing the executive committee's proposals. (5/27)

Spaceflight Spiritual Issues Research Presented at ISDC (Source: SPACErePORT)
Former NASA engineer Mike O'Neal presented his research on spiritual support for space exploration at the ISDC-2009. This was the first presentation of his NASA-supported research of several years ago. O'Neal conducted extensive interviews with astronauts and officials from various government agencies who send personnel into isolated and dangerous situations, to identify their practices and mechanisms to support the spiritual needs of these personnel. O'Neal presented at ISDC during a Human Factors panel chaired by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University researcher Jason Kring. (5/28)

Virgin Galactic Updates ISDC on Future Plans (Source: SPACErePORT)
Virgin Galactic chief Will Whitehorn during his presentation at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Orlando, said Virgin plans to support the June 19 groundbreaking for New Mexico's "Spaceport America" with a flyover by the White Knight 2 aircraft. Virgin also plans the first unpowered test flight of their SpaceShip-2 spacecraft before the end of 2009. When asked about conducting missions in other U.S. locations, Whitehorn said Florida's summertime weather is unfavorable for SpaceShip-2 re-entry/landing operations, though he offered that Florida's winter-months weather would be more favorable with the absence of thunderstorms. (5/28)

Space Station Gets Busier, But For How Long? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
More than eight years after an inaugural crew of three opened the space station for business, the orbiting outpost is finally upgrading to a six-member crew, an event that NASA says will enable it to finally begin serious scientific research. Up to now, station crews have spent about three hours a week on science; the rest of their time was devoted to ensuring the station stayed aloft. The station — roughly the size of a football field — until recently lacked both working laboratory space and accommodations for more than three members.

Now, with six full-time members, the crew can take on research projects, including nearly 100 new experiments that range from the study of the human heart in spaceflight to how bacteria respond to solar radiation and the vacuum of space. But even as the station celebrates the milestone, talk has begun on when its life should end. NASA's budget plans call for the station to shut down in 2016, although there has been a recent push in Congress and abroad to extend its life until 2020.

"It would be a huge waste to cut the cord on this $100 billion investment after 2016, so soon after it becomes fully operational," said Edward Ellegood, a space-policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "Now they can perform more of the science functions that the station was intended to accommodate." Now, President Barack Obama has asked that an independent, 10-person team assess the future of American space exploration, including how to replace the shuttle and whether to keep the station flying at a cost of about $2.5 billion annually over the next five years. (5/27)

Early Info on Augustine Panel Members (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
It's been nearly three weeks since the Obama White House announced it would name a 10-member commission to examine NASA's human spaceflight programs and goals, with a particular eye on its troubled Constellation rocket program. Since then, retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine has been named the chair, but there's been no announcement of who the members will be. Here are the names of eight members we've been able to nail down:

Christopher Chyba (Princeton University), Sally Ride (physicist and a former NASA astronaut), Lester Lyles (Retired Air Force General), Edward Crawley (MIT), Bohdan "Bo" Bejmuk (Boeing), Jeff Greason (XCOR Aerospace and the Personal Spaceflight Federation), Wanda Austin (Aerospace Corp.). (5/28)

Louisiana Senator Seeks Earmark for Michoud Conversion (Source: Times-Picayune)
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has requested $3.8 billion in earmarks in the 2010 federal budget, including $87.5 million to make sure that Boeing's Michaud facility is equipped to "move seamlessly" from building Space Shuttle tanks to production of NASA's Ares rockets. (5/27)

Cautions by NYT on NASA Nominees (Source: Space Politics)
In an exception to accolades offered at many media outlets on President Obama's nomination for NASA leadership, the New York Times offers some words of concern. The paper is not opposed to Bolden and Garver necessarily, but unlike others is also not immediately won over by them. “Unfortunately, General Bolden lacks deep expertise in space science and engineering and his past ties with the aerospace industry will raise conflict of interest problems,” the editorial states. Garver, it adds, “has no technical background or major managerial experience but knows the agency and its issues.” (5/28)

NASA Extends Space Station Transport Contract with Russia (Source: NASA)
NASA has signed a $306 million modification to the current International Space Station contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation and related services in 2012 and 2013. The firm-fixed price modification covers comprehensive Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, crew rescue, and landing of a long-duration mission for six individual station crew members. (5/28)

Space Station: Boon or Boondoggle? (Source: MSNBC)
Now fully staffed, it's time for the ISS to become scientifically productive. NASA has been promising a rich scientific harvest from a permanent, well-equipped laboratory in Earth orbit where the absence of gravity would reveal secrets not possible anywhere else. Until now, most of the crew's time in orbit was spent just maintaining the station. "We do everything in a gradual ramp-up as we learn to operate with a full crew aboard," said Mark Uhran, NASA's assistant associate administrator for ISS. But even within the agency, the program has skeptics.

"I hope the space station becomes extraordinarily, scientifically productive, but it is not today," said David Leckrone, the senior scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the agency's most successful and well-regarded programs. Uhran said it is too early in the station program to gauge its success on scientific output, which so far has been meager. The agency's Web site lists 172 station-related research papers — many of which were not published in peer-reviewed journals. References to Hubble-related published science results, in contrast, number more than 3,500. "Judging the station at this time on its scientific output is a red herring," said John Logdon, a space policy analyst with George Washington University. "It's just getting started." (5/28)

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