December 16 News Items

Florida Launch Total Hits 17 in 2009, Fewer Likely in 2010 (Source: SPACErePORT)
After only seven launches in 2008 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the initial published manifest for 2009 included a whopping 22 missions. However, the annual launch schedule is subject to frequent changes and rarely ends up meeting its initial targets. With no more Florida launches scheduled, the total for 2009 was 17, five fewer than originally planned. Included were four Atlas-5, four Delta-2, three Delta-4, five Space Shuttles, and one Ares-1X.

Heading into 2010, one published manifest currently shows 13 launches in the pipeline. Included are three Atlas-5, three Delta-4, two Falcon-9, and five Space Shuttles. The 2010 manifest likely will grow as new missions are accepted by the Air Force for Eastern Range support, but it probably won't exceed the total for 2009. (12/16)

Pelosi Not a ‘Big Fan’ of Manned Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
If NASA wants to get more money from Congress, the agency will have to override the skepticism of at least one powerful critic: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat told reporters today that NASA faces sharp “competition for the dollar” in 2011 spending bills and a “fierce determination” by Democratic leaders to reduce the deficit. “If you are asking me personally, I have not been a big fan of manned expeditions to outer space in terms of safety and cost. But people could make the case – technology is always changing … and that could change depending on the technology,” she said in a press conference with regional reporters. (12/16)

Obama Space Announcement Will Wait Until February (Sources: Florida Today, Space News)
President Obama and the head of NASA met in the Oval Office on Wednesday and discussed the future of the nation's space exploration program. "The President confirmed his commitment to human space exploration, and the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a sustainable path to achieving our aspirations in space," said White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro. Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and crewmate of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, talked about the findings of a White House review panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine and options the committee presented in a report delivered in October. A senior NASA official reiterated today that the White House intends to wait until the February budget rollout to unveil the new space exploration plan. (12/16)

NASA Increases Funding Available to Virginia Commercial Spaceport (Source:
NASA plans to issue a modification to increase the contract ceiling on the Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) task order contract with the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) operating under the name Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Port (MARS) for launch site services supporting government-sponsored missions conducted from Wallops Island. This modification will increase the contract ceiling value to $43,400,000, and will increase the scope of the contract to support the current and long term capability of GSFC/WFF to provide launch service infrastructure to safely and successfully launch small/medium class orbital launch missions for NASA, other federal organizations, and NASA's commercial partners. (12/16)

Alien 'Water World' Found (Source: MSNBC)
Astronomers say they have detected a planet just six and a half times as massive as Earth - at a distance so close its atmosphere could be studied, and with a density so low it's almost certain to have abundant water. The alien world known as GJ 1214b orbits a red dwarf star one-fifth the size of our own sun, 40 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. "Astronomically speaking, this is on our block," David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said. "This is a next-door neighbor. For perspective, our own TV signals have already passed beyond the distance of this star." He said the planet was detected using an array of eight off-the-shelf, 16-inch telescopes equipped with commercially available cameras. (12/16)

Moon's Radiation Tolerable for Explorers (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
The NASA spacecraft circling the moon on a reconnaissance mission for future astronauts has found that potentially toxic radiation from the sun is tolerable for any new generation of lunar explorers who may return there, scientists report. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flew over the site where another spacecraft named LCROSS blasted the surface of a darkly shadowed crater with an empty rocket casing in October and confirmed that the moon holds copious amounts of water in its rocks. That spacecraft ended its mission crashing onto the surface soon after. (12/16)

Organics Reportedly Found on the Moon (Source: Discovery)
Indian researchers say they have found organic matter on the moon, a discovery that may be seconded by U.S. teams analyzing a plume of debris kicked up by the deliberate crash of a rocket body into a lunar crater. Finding organic materials on the moon could help scientists understand the history of comet and meteorite impacts, as well as provide valuable resources for future lunar travelers or colonies.

Indian Space Research Organization scientists announced last week that a probe dispatched from the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter detected chemical signatures of organic matter. The Moon Impact Probe, or MIP, separated from the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter on Nov. 14, 2008, and flew into Shackleton Crater, located on the moon's south pole. Initial results from LCROSS show some organic material was present in the debris plume, though exactly what and how much has not yet been determined. (12/16)

Trough Deposits on Mars Point to Complex Hydrologic Past (Source: PSI)
Catherine Weitz, a senior scientist at the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute, has reported new evidence for multiple, water-related geologic processes on Mars. She and her colleagues studied light-toned deposits (LTDs) within troughs of the Noctis Labyrinthus region in western Valles Marineris using data gathered by three Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) instruments: the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the Context Camera (CTX) and the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

"We analyzed ten troughs containing well-exposed LTDs, and we found a lot of variability that we didn't expect to see," she said. "We found that each of the troughs with LTDs has a unique mineralogy, and, therefore, the processes occurring in each trough were very localized." One LTD included dozens of beds of varying thickness, brightness, color and erosional structure, suggesting that significant amounts of water once existed there. In addition, sulfates were mixed with clays within the deposits, indicating that ph levels may have fluctuated between acidic and alkaline conditions. (12/16)

NASA Builds Ares Launch Pad Amid Political Uncertainty (Source: AIA)
NASA is continuing to build a 345-foot-tall mobile launch platform for the Ares I, despite uncertainty over the rocket's future. NASA says the MLP will be completed in April 2013, but experts say Ares I and its Orion crew capsule might not launch until 2017, if at all. (12/16)

New NASA Governance Structure Under Development (Source: NASA Watch)
All of NASA's field center directors met Tuesday in a closed door session in one of the Administrator's Conference Rooms on the 9th floor of NASA HQ. In addition to all of the center directors who were seated around the table, a dozen or so staffers stood around the periphery of the room. Their collective task was to work out and then agree upon a new governance structure for the agency - one that would best implement the new (revised) direction that the White House is providing to NASA. There are apparently 5 or so specific areas that the agency will be re-organizing itself to implement. As such, there may be a recasting of the "directorate" model in favor of "divisions". All of the participants were sworn to secrecy and were not going to be leaving the room until a new governance model was agreed to. What did they decide upon? Stay tuned. (12/15)

Astronomers Discover 11 New Planets (Source: USA Today)
Astronomers have unveiled a plethora of planets, with more Earth-like ones likely on the way. In separate studies, teams report up to 11 planets orbiting the stars 61 Virginis (with three confirmed), HD 1461 (one confirmed and two more likely) and 23 Lib (four confirmed) and HD 134987 (one more likely.) International teams using the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia and the Keck Telescope in Hawaii made the discoveries. Astronomers have detected more than 400 worlds orbiting nearby stars since 1995. (12/16)

The Free Market Conquers the Galaxy (Source: McDowell News)
Inevitably, like all government projects, the cost of the Space Shuttle far exceeded the budget and was years behind schedule. By the time of the first launch in 1981, the pride of America's space program was less utilitarian and wildly more expensive than the sales pitch had implied when President Nixon signed the lay-away contract in 1972. After 127 missions, two disasters, 14 lives and an estimated $174 billion, the cost of each shuttle flight will have been about $1.3 billion when the thing is retired next year.

Enter Richard Branson, eccentric British entrepreneur and head of the Virgin Group Ltd, whose products and services range from cheap cell phones for trendy teenagers to luxury air travel and now "space tourism." The cost is mere $200,000 with a $20,000 deposit due at booking. Virgin Galactic says it expects to sell 250 or 300 tours. That's a gross of $60 million at the most for the planned career of the vessel.

Some have questioned the viability of the project. Are there enough customers willing to pay for no more than an couple of hours' kicks? The question need not trouble anyone other than Branson and his investors. Certainly there are literally millions of people on the planet who could reasonably part with $200,000 without breaking the bank. How many want the experience? Who knows? Who cares? That's the beauty of it. The only people risking anything are the entrepreneurs and the customers. (12/16)

Gaia to be Launched From Europe’s Spaceport on a Soyuz Rocket (Source: ESA)
Gaia, ESA’s next-generation star mapper, will be carried into space by a Soyuz-STB/Fregat launch vehicle from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The mission builds upon the heritage of precision stellar mapping exemplified by ESA's now-completed Hipparcos mission. Gaia will map 1000 million stars at unprecedented levels of precision, with the objective to use its census of stars to clarify the history and origins of our Galaxy. (12/16)

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