November 19 News Items

U.S. Losing its Lead in Space, Experts Warn Congress (Source: Star-Telegram)
America's once clear dominance in space is eroding as other nations, including China, Iran and North Korea, step up their activities, a panel of experts told the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Thursday. Russia now leads the world in space launches. China recently became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to send its own astronauts to space. "China is laying the groundwork for a long-term space program with or without us," said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "We should worry if we're not out there with them."

In a competition once limited to the U.S. and the Soviet Union, 60 nations now have their own space agencies, panelists said. Thirteen nations have active space programs, and eight are capable of launching their own satellites into orbit. In the last 10 years, the number of countries with communications satellites or GPS systems in orbit has increased from 27 to 37. "Countries as diverse as Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, South Africa and Turkey have now become part of the so-called space club." (11/19)

Costa Rican Company Creates Plasma Rocket to Pick Up Space Trash (Source: Global Post)
Franklin Chang Diaz has great aspirations for his rocket: a mail-carrier for outer space, a garbage truck for orbital debris and, the ultimate goal, a shuttle to Mars. The Costa Rica-born physicist speaks nonchalantly about the day humankind will have moved entirely to outer space, while our precious Earth becomes “a protected park.” Click here to view the article. (11/19)

Burn-Through Blamed in Long March Mishap (Source: Space News)
China’s Long March 3A series of rockets is expected to return to flight before the end of this year following the conclusion of a state-run board of inquiry into the Aug. 31 failure of the vehicle’s upper stage. The investigation into the underperformance of one of two upper-stage engines during the flight, which placed Indonesia’s Palapa-D satellite into a useless orbit, concluded that failure was caused by a burn-through of the engine’s gas generator.

The board of inquiry into the vehicle’s first failure in 13 years concluded that the most likely cause of the burn-through was foreign matter or humidity-caused icing in the engine’s liquid-hydrogen injectors. To prevent a recurrence of the problem, the liquid hydrogen gas-feed system on future rockets will be fitted with a filter to prevent the passage of ice or other foreign objects. In addition, the gas generator in the third-stage engine’s liquid hydrogen cavity in the future will be purged before launch to prevent ice buildup. (11/19)

ULA To Delay Layoffs To January (Source: Florida Today)
United Launch Alliance will delay and reduce layoffs planned for Friday until Jan. 7. The layoffs, expected to affect up to 70 workers, now will affect 20 to 30 ULA employees the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, according to a letter from ULA President and CEO Michael Gass. The layoff delay was enabled by a funding increase from the federal government "for Delta IV launch capability enhancement." The additional funds reportedly totaled $10 million. ULA has two launches remaining this year, and nine scheduled next year.

"This (layoff) delay will allow our Cape launch team to remain focused on mission success for both the upcoming commercial Atlas V Intelsat-14 (Nov. 23) and Air Force Delta IV WGS-3 (Dec. 2) missions," said the letter from Gass. "Our best offense in preventing future reductions is a total commitment to prefect product delivery and 100 percent mission success for our government and commercial customers." Some 720 ULA employees work at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Nine workers were laid off on Oct. 1. (11/19)

AIAA Plans Aerospace Sciences Event in Orlando on Jan. 4-7 (Source: AIAA)
The AIAA will hold the 48th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting (including the New Horizons Forum and Aerospace Exposition) at the Orlando World Center Marriott on Jan. 4-7. This is a major multidisciplinary event for aerospace scientists and engineers from around the world. It provides an forum for scientists and engineers from industry, government, and academia to share and disseminate scientific knowledge and research results with a view toward new technologies for aerospace systems. New additions to the event for 2010 include a Jan. 4 session entitled NASA Research: Then and Now. The early-bird registration deadline is Dec. 7. Click here for information and registration.

Editor's Note: Four faculty members from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will serve on multiple panels during the event, and I'll be there in the audience. (11/19)

Analyst: Asia Threatens U.S. Military Dominance (Source: AIA)
A defense analyst at the Congressional Research Service says U.S. global military dominance is fading, threatening the "Pax Americana" that has ruled since the end of World War II. Stephen Daggett says the rise of Asian economies is shifting power to the east. "The days of the American Century were really in the last 50 years of the 20th century," Daggett said Wednesday before a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee. (11/19)

Hopes Dim for FAA Reauthorization Bill in 2009 (Source: AIA)
Despite pleas from the aviation industry -- and airports in particular -- the Senate appears unlikely to pass an FAA reauthorization bill by year's end. The Senate Finance Committee has yet to approve the measure, which would then require a debate by the full Senate followed by a conference to iron out differences with the House bill. The agency's current temporary authorization -- its seventh in two years -- is set to expire Dec. 31. (11/19)

Australian Space Science 'Making Gains' (Source: The Age)
A year after being advised to lift its game, Australia is making a leap forward in the field of space science, the federal government says. It has thrown $48.6 million at the problem, establishing a space science program and a space policy unit, and plans to set up a special space council bringing together top experts in the sector. The shift comes after a senate committee's report a year ago which found Australia was lagging well behind other countries in space science.

It said Australia was the only OECD country without a national spa ce agency and missing countless opportunities in a field driven by innovation and technology. Science Minister Kim Carr says a key change will come with the establishment of a Space Industry Innovation Council to oversee the improvement of the sector as a whole. (11/19)

Sri Lanka Signs Agreement to Set Up Space Agency (Source: Daily Mirror)
Sri Lanka has embarked on setting up a space agency yesterday with the signing of an agreement with the Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) that would pave the way for launching a local space agency which will lead the country to launch a geo satellite in three years. One of the major activities of the space agency is to launch a satellite. SLTRC Chief said there is a possibility of launching a satellite through a public partnership. “This may be a better option as the government may not have enough funds for it,” he said. (11/19)

Mexico Considering Space Agency to Develop Astronomy (Source: Xinhua)
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said on Wednesday that the nation is considering creating a space agency to boost the development of astronomy and space science. "Right now, the Congress is considering the creation of an aerospace agency, which already has a budget of 122 million pesos (9.38 million U.S. dollars) committed," Calderon said. The money is currently being spent on space-related projects via existing ministries and state-run bodies. In Latin America, Brazil and Costa Rica have well-known space programs. (11/19)

Editorial: Look Homeward, NASA (Source: Baltimore Sun)
The agency's Earth-science budget has been slashed at a time when it is most needed. Last month, 360 miles above the Earth, a little-noticed light went dark. It was the third and final laser on NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), developed and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. For the last 6 1/2 years, ICESat has been using precise laser measurements to determine how much the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are contributing to the rise of the global seas.

The situation with ICESat serves as a stark reminder that many of the remarkable capabilities that NASA has developed to help us understand our planet are living on borrowed time. NASA is best known for exotic projects that explore distant places, but many of NASA's greatest contributions to society have come from its Earth-observing satellites. I wish the loss of ICESat were just an aberration in an otherwise healthy global observing system, so we could continue to understand how and why our planet is changing. Unfortunately, this is only a hint of things to come. (11/19)

NASA Challenges Inventors to Improve Space Gloves (Source: Florida Today)
The gloves are off when it comes to the latest advancement in aerospace technology. NASA thinks a little competition and $400,000 in prize money might launch the latest in space hand wear during its Astronaut Glove Challenge at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

The goal of the challenge is to find innovative ways to reduce hand fatigue and create a lighter, stronger glove with greater dexterity and flexibility. If gloves do not exceed current NASA baseline standards, there will be no winner in the competition. (11/19)

Editorial: The China Card (Source: Florida Today)
For more than a decade, the U.S. and China have been joined at the hip as major trading partners with the countries driving the global economy. But one aspect of Sino-American relations has never made sense even as ties between the nations have grown: The lack of an agreement to make China a partner with the U.S. in space exploration, even though 16 other spacefaring nations long ago joined NASA to fund, build and operate the International Space Station.

We have strongly advocated that Washington ink such a pact and one may finally be in the offing with the White House announcement Tuesday during President Obama’s trip to China that it’s opening preliminary talks with Beijing on the subject. The agreement would bring benefits to both countries, and American and Chinese officials should strive to turn the proposal into reality as soon as possible. (11/19)

European Mischief Makers? (Source: Hyperbola)
An article run by Space News and authored by two former senior European Space Agency launcher officials that attacks sub-orbital tourism and hopes for commercial orbital transport. It is clear that ESA's leadership does not share these views. The organization has a policy on space tourism. The two authors may actually feel so strongly about the subject matter that the word hoax is, for them, a polite reference to the new industry.

This blogger got to feel the strength of anti-space tourism sentiment in Europe at a recent conference, where a senior technical official at an ESA center called suborbital travel "trivial" and a French space agency representative, who was also on the panel, had some harsh words as well. It is hard for space industry veterans to accept the claims of New Space when they have been working, sometimes for decades, in an industry that has launched much into orbit and never brought the cost down.

The argument this blogger had put forward is that the frequency of suborbital trips generates the revenue and wider business confidence that leads to the markets investing. This in turn leads to a virtuous circle of suborbital improvement, leading to point to point services, with further improvement, and finally reaching an orbital capability that will in part be reusable. (11/19)

Embry-Riddle Flight Teams Dominate Regional Contests from Coast to Coast (Source: ERAU)
On Nov. 14, 2,200 miles apart in San Diego, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla., the Golden Eagles and Eagles flight teams representing Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, dominated their respective regional competitions, winning in flight, ground, and overall team categories in regional Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON) competitions held by the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). The Eagles are based at Embry-Riddle’s East Coast campus in Daytona Beach. The Golden Eagles hail from the West Coast campus in Prescott, Arizona. (11/19)

There’s Water on the Moon, But Who Owns It? (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Ownership of the moon? On the one hand, it sounds like something only a legal academic might think about. But that’s not so, says Timothy G. Nelson, an international arbitration lawyer. Nelson says aerospace companies are already thinking about ways to make space exploration profitable. While it’s still decades away, Nelson says the possibilities are becoming more concrete all the time, and that it’s not too soon to think about the law and the moon.

The question is governed by international law, and some of the principles are actually fairly well developed. At bottom, when one asks such a question, he’s really asking about the law concerning the extraction of resources in a place where there’s no sovereignty. Incidentally, the fact that there is no sovereignty is reflected in an international treaty in 1967 [often referred to as the Outer Space Treaty], which essentially said that no country shall make any sovereign claims to the moon.

Of course, getting resources from the moon will take an enormous capital investment, and the trick in setting up a treaty will be to make it feasible to get private capital involved. If you don’t do that; if it’s something that’s overly regulated by a centralized U.N. framework, it won’t work. You have to make it such that private investors could sensibly commit the funds to go ahead and do the exploitation. Click here to view the article. (11/19)

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