September 16 News Items

California State Among Universities Winning NASA Research Grants (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected six universities that serve large numbers of minority and underrepresented students to receive research grants totaling nearly $30 million. The funding will help the universities establish significant, multi-disciplinary scientific, engineering and commercial research centers that contribute substantially to NASA programs. Among the winners is California State University in Long Beach, which will manage a Center for Human Factors in Advanced Aeronautics Technologies. (9/16)

Google Lunar X Prize Teams Taking Shape (Source:
Nearly two years into the competition for the Google Lunar X Prize $30 million purse, teams are lining up financing, establishing partnerships and tinkering with rover prototypes. The international competition announced in September 2007 to land a rover on the moon, travel 500 meters and send back high-definition imagery has attracted 19 teams with participants from 42 countries, Nicole Jordan, X Prize Foundation team liaison, said during a Space Frontier Foundation conference here in late July. Teams range from an open-source collaboration of engineers and software developers to highly structured partnerships featuring prominent aerospace firms, universities and investment banks. Click here to view the article. (9/16)

More Evidence for Venus' Watery Past (Source: Astronomy Now)
The Venus Express spacecraft has measured concentrations of water vapour in the planet’s atmosphere and found proof that the solar wind has stripped away Venus’ once plentiful oceans. Measurements of water vapour in the Venusian atmosphere by the SPICAV (Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus) and VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) instruments on the European Space Agency mission have shown that the ratio of heavy water (which contains the isotope deuterium instead of hydrogen) to normal water is nearly twice as high above the cloud tops compared to its value in the lower atmosphere. This suggests that the heavier water has not been able to escape Venus’ gravity as easily as normal water. (9/16)

Northrop Grumman Chief Retiring (Source: AP)
Northrop Grumman Corp. said Ronald Sugar will step down as chairman and CEO at the end of the year, ahead of his retirement in June 2010. Sugar, 61, will be succeeded as CEO by Northrop President and Chief Operating Officer Wesley G. Bush, 48, effective Jan. 1. Sugar will serve as chairman emeritus starting Jan. 1 and will continue to advise the company through June 30. (9/16)

Ames Supports New Government Computing Initiative (Source: Mountain View Voice)
Aiming to save billions on infrastructure costs, the federal government is following in the footsteps of Silicon Valley by building its own Google-like server farms and Internet applications with the help of NASA Ames researchers. The White House's first-ever chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, said the Obama administration began working on the initiative in March to address the "duplicative" nature of the federal government's computer networks, "where you have 23 data centers in one agency." (9/16)

Astrotech Wins Sole-Source KSC Contract (Source:
NASA KSC plans to issue a sole source, Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contract to Astrotech Space Operations for commercial payload processing support for East Coast expendable launch missions launching between Fiscal Years 2011 and 2013. The missions are scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida, on Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELVs) and Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs). The IDIQ contract will provide for the issuance of a task order for each mission during the contract period. (9/11)

Satellite Coalition Pushes to Open up Launch Market (Source: Space News)
Four large commercial satellite fleet operators have hired former U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman John Warner to persuade the U.S. government to permit wider access to U.S. and Chinese rockets, the companies announced Sept. 16. The satellite operators — Intelsat, SES, Telesat and EchoStar — say the current global commercial-launch market has been reduced to “Russian and French companies.” They want the U.S. government to nudge United Launch Alliance (ULA), which manufacturers the U.S. Delta and Atlas vehicles, to broaden production to appeal to the commercial market.

Boeing and Lockheed say they can't make a reasonable profit when offering their Delta-4 and Atlas-5 rockets at prevailing commercial prices. They say current market prices are 10-20% below their current corporate profit targets. Editor's Note: Even after spinning off their launch business to the lower-cost United Launch Alliance joint venture, it seems foreign providers like Arianespace are still more competitive. (9/16)

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Won't Accept Space Florida Presidency (Sources: NASA Watch, Orlando Sentinel)
NASAWatch has confirmed that Shana Dale will not be taking the job as Space Florida's president, and has accepted a job elsewhere. Another reliable source, this one close to the Orlando Sentinel, also says that Dale sent an email to friends last night, saying that she was not taking the Space Florida job. On Tuesday, Space Florida announced that its board's presidential search committee had selected Dale from a field of five candidates who were all vetted and interviewed last week. The committee was working on drawing up a contract yesterday and was due to put the decision to a vote by the full board in a teleconference on Thursday. Brevard community leaders, upset by Dale's selection, are pressing Space Florida for the scoring sheet and criteria that led to Dale's selection. There are concerns that the selection process may have been flawed or somehow tainted. (9/16)

Smallest Exoplanet is Shown to be a Solid, Rocky World (Source: ESA)
The confirmation of the nature of CoRoT-7b as the first rocky planet outside our Solar System marks a significant step forward in the search for Earth-like exoplanets. The detection by CoRoT and follow-up radial velocity measurements with HARPS suggest that this exoplanet, CoRoT-7b, has a density similar to that of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Earth making it only the fifth known terrestrial planet in the Universe. The search for a habitable exoplanet is one of the holy grails in astronomy. One of the first steps towards this goal is the detection of terrestrial planets around solar-type stars. (9/16)

Ares Skepticism Grows at Space-2009 Event (Source: Popular Mechanics)
It has long been conventional wisdom, going all the way back to Apollo, that heavy lift was a prerequisite for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, but this summer has seen several cracks start to appear in that consensus. First, partly as a result of white papers circulated among its members in the last few weeks, the Augustine panel itself has championed the concept of propellant depots. But defenders of the current approach have claimed that the ideas aren't fleshed out, and are too complex and expensive. This week, at an AIAA annual meeting on space, several technical papers have more to say on the subject of getting back to the moon with existing launch systems.

While Boeing and Lockheed Martin can smell the Ares blood in the water, they still both have lucrative contracts for the Constellation program (Orion for Lockheed Martin, and the Ares I upper stage for Boeing), and they can't afford to upset the apple cart unless they know that the program is definitely dead. Three years ago, Lockheed Martin got itself into hot water with the former administrator, Mike Griffin, at the AIAA meeting in San Jose, where they held a joint press conference with Bigelow Aerospace announcing a study to "human rate" the Atlas V to service Bigelow's planned facilities. Griffin reportedly called upper management there to complain about the potential threat these plans posed to maintaining political support for Ares.

But Lockheed Martin and Boeing's young joint offspring, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), has little to lose. Like the United Space Alliance that operates the Shuttle and ISS for NASA, the company was formed in a shotgun wedding at the request of the Air Force three years ago to consolidate manufacturing and launch operations of Boeing's Delta and Lockheed Martin's Atlas rockets, in the hope that it would save money. The new venture has military, commercial and even NASA customers, but only for unmanned missions. It was shut out of the human spaceflight program four years ago when Griffin made the decision to instead have NASA develop and operate the Ares vehicles. The papers ULA is presenting this week show the kind of innovation and boldness that NASA has been avoiding since then, with its decades-old, unaffordable and unsustainable (in the opinion of this author) "Apollo on Steroids" approach. (9/16)

China's Great Leap Upward (Source: Telegraph)
The Chinese space program, run by the military, has broken ground on a new space center in southern China from which it will launch a new generation of rockets. The Wenchang Space Satellite Launch Center on southern Hainan Island, projected to be completed in 2013, is the latest manifestation of China’s ambition to build its own space station. The new site is being constructed to accommodate the Long March CZ-5 carrier rocket, which is expected to become the signature vessel of China’s manned space and space station programme and can be used to launch satellites or shuttles. (9/16)

NASA Moves to Unload Field Lab Property (Source: Ventura County Star)
NASA is moving forward with plans to unload its property at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the hills south of Simi Valley. NASA owns 452 acres at the 2,850-acre former rocket engine and nuclear test site, which is polluted with chemical and radiological contamination. The space agency declared its land as excess property in a report submitted Monday to the U.S. General Services Administration, the federal office assigned to selling, leasing or transferring federal surplus property. The GSA will begin the process of offering the property to other federal agencies. If none accept, GSA would offer it to the state, nonprofit groups, schools, museums and municipalities. If there are still no takers, it would then go out to bid in the private sector. (9/16)

House Panelists Decry Space Privatization (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Members of the House Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday questioned a government commission report that suggested the U.S. could move away from a NASA-launched space vehicle to a private, commercial conveyance. The comments from committee members were welcomed by Alliant Techsystems. The company employs up to 5,000 people in northern Utah and is producing the solid-rocket motor that will be used on the planned Ares 1 launch vehicle that will blast humans back to the moon. ATK also is working on an emergency crew-ejection system for the Orion capsule. Committee members were "very rational," said Charlie Precourt, a former astronaut and now vice president and general manager of Space Launch Systems for ATK's Space Systems Group. "I would say that they are assessing things with a clear-headed view and the message that there's no program more viable than the Constellation-Ares-Orion program we're on." (9/16)

Planetary Society Urges Support for the Augustine Committee Conclusions (Source: Planetary Society)
During Norm Augustine's testimony to the House Science Committee, elected officials made a number of important conclusions and suggestions for changes in Constellation, the currently planned U.S. human spaceflight program. “The Planetary Society agrees with their principal conclusion that human space exploration requires a gradual buildup of the NASA budget to at least $3 billion above the current level by 2014,” said Louis Friedman, Society Executive Director. “We also concur with their specific suggestions about changes to NASA’s planned program.” Those specific suggestions were:

Continue U.S. use of the space station beyond 2015 to build on the successful international partnership to prepare for human exploration beyond Earth orbit; Retire the shuttle as planned in 2011, stating that “interim reliance on international crew services [for access to space during the gap in U.S. capability] is acceptable;” Develop an Ares V “light,” a single flight of which would take astronauts to Earth orbit while a dual flight could be used for heavy-lift beyond Earth orbit – a change to the current Ares I/ Ares V plan; Strengthen the incentives to the commercial providers to meet the ISS schedule milestones and missions to Earth orbit, and Encourage new investment in a “a technology development program [that] would re-engage the minds at American universities, in industry and within NASA.” (9/16)

NASA Faces 'Kennedy or Nixon' Moment, Former Chief Says (Source: New Scientist)
With NASA in a budget crisis, the US faces a historic choice between boosting human space exploration like President Kennedy did in the 1960s or confining astronauts to low-Earth orbit like President Nixon did a decade later, former NASA chief Mike Griffin told a congressional committee on Tuesday. But while some members of Congress expressed support for a budget boost for the agency, it remains to be seen whether a majority will support such a plan. Griffin, now a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, compared the situation to a choice between following in the footsteps of Kennedy, who spurred Congress to fund the Apollo moon program, and Nixon, who later shut it down.

The budget proposed for NASA in May is not sufficient to pursue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, he said. "With the budget in front of us, we're poised to behave not like the Kennedy administration but the Nixon administration, where after spending literally a fortune to develop the spaceships of Apollo we threw them away," he said. "Do today's leaders want to be remembered like John Kennedy or Richard Nixon?" (9/16)

Texas Lawmakers Press for More NASA Funding (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Texas members of Congress on Tuesday led ringing bipartisan support for a $3 billion surge in annual NASA spending to protect the existing manned space program. Their advocacy on NASA's behalf came as a thinly veiled warning to President Barack Obama to help put the beleaguered program back on track. Members of the 43-member House committee backed the added spending, which came in recommendations to Obama by the Augustine Panel. The Committee on Science and Technology heard Augustine's testimony as Obama faced a decision on the panel's option to boost NASA spending by approximately $3 billion a year by 2014.

“Why don't we just fund the program we've all agreed to?” declared Rep. Ralph Hall, the committee's senior Republican. “Why should multibillion-dollar bailouts of banks and insurance companies come at the expense of our talented scientists, engineers and technicians who make the impossible look easy?” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, returned to her former committee to endorse the added spending. “This Congress has an obligation to the American people to find that $3 billion,” she said. “We asked you to call balls and strikes and you did a very good job of that,” added Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, whose congressional district includes NASA's Johnson Space Center. (9/15)

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