December 17 News Items

Obama Backs New Launcher and Bigger NASA Budget (Source: Science)
President Obama will ask Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars, ScienceInsider has learned. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

Although that Augustine Panel suggested a $3 billion boost to NASA's $18.7-billion-a-year budget in order to take a firm next step in human space flight, Obama's support for a $1 billion bump next year represents a major coup for the agency given the ballooning deficit and the continuing recession. And NASA just won a $1 billion boost from Congress for 2010 in a bill signed by the president.

According to knowledgeable sources, the White House is convinced that scarce NASA funds would be better spent on a simpler heavy-lift vehicle that could be ready to fly as early as 2018. Meanwhile, European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base, saving the U.S. several billion dollars. And commercial companies would take over the job of getting supplies to the international space station.

Ares-1 Would End, But Huntsville Would Stay Busy (Source: Science)
The new NASA policy would jettison Ares 1. To appease congressional critics like Sen. Shelby, the Administration hopes to ensure that research and development work on the new rocket would proceed without significant job losses at NASA centers like Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

It's not clear when the new policy will be formally announced. One White House source said that it could come as early as next week, while another hinted that it would wait until Obama’s State of the Union address in late January. Another possibility is that the decision would simply be part of the president's 2011 budget request to Congress on 1 February. Given the White House's preoccupation with health care and climate change, however, NASA officials and their industry backers see the new policy as welcome proof that Obama also cares about space flight. (12/17)

JAXA GX Rocket Plan Scrapped After Cost Overruns (Source: Mainichi)
Japan's government has decided to cancel the GX rocket development program due to mounting costs and poor profitability forecasts, ministers have announced. The government's Strategic Headquarters for Space Development (SHSD) estimated the total project budget, including the launch of two test models, to reach 94 billion yen. The project's cost is unlikely to attract demand from domestic and overseas satellite markets, leading to the cancellation. However, the SHSD will continue to promote the development of the liquid natural gas (LNG) engines originally specified for the GX rocket, and has requested 5.8 billion yen in the fiscal 2010 budget. (12/17)

70 Years of Wonder at NASA Ames (Source: Mountain View Voice)
It will be 70 years this Sunday, Dec. 20 since a small group of aeronautical researchers, with national defense in mind, took over part of Moffett Field. The year was 1939, and the U.S. government was watching closely as Nazi Germany built up an unprecedented air arsenal. The resulting facility has been on the cutting edge of aeronautics research ever since. NASA Ames was built by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA's forerunner until 1958) as the U.S. sought to compete with the Germans in aeronautical research.

In 1941, the first wind tunnel constructed at Ames was immediately put to use working on World War II fighter planes, including the P-51 Mustang, which had an aerodynamically induced vibration fixed by Ames researchers. The vast complex of wind tunnels at Ames includes the world's largest, which features a massive air intake mouth that opens to the Bay's wetlands. Engineering marvels themselves, the wind tunnels are basically mazes of tunnels of varying size, some with steel reinforcements several inches thick to withstand pressure caused by incredible air speeds. (12/17)

Senate Panel Approves Launch Indemnification Measure (Source: Space News)
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved legislation Dec. 17 that would extend federal liability protection for commercial space launch providers against catastrophic events through 2012. Under the measure, the U.S. government would continue to indemnify commercial launch operators against third-party claims for launch-related damages that exceed $500 million, up to a total of $1.5 billion. After the $1.5 billion threshold is reached, the liability reverts to the commercial launch operator.

First established by Congress as part of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments of 1988, the commercial space transportation risk-sharing liability and insurance regime has been extended four times. With the current extension set to expire at the end of December, the U.S. House of Representatives in October approved a three-year extension. (12/17)

Orbcomm Settles with Insurers of Defective Satellites (Source: Space News)
Satellite two-way messaging service provider Orbcomm Inc. will receive a $44.25 million claim for defects on the six satellites it launched in June 2008 following a settlement with its insurance underwriters. The company had filed a $50 million claim, but accepted a reduction based on an analysis of the remaining value in two of the six satellites. Accepting the lower figure permits Orbcomm to avoid any negotiations with insurers over satellite ownership. The company will retain title to the two satellites that are still operating, which might not have been the case if underwriters had agreed to the full $50 million payout. (12/17)

ESA Approves Collaborative Mars Program with NASA (Source: Space News)
European Space Agency (ESA) governments on Dec. 17 gave final approval to a two-part Mars exploration program to be conducted with NASA, confirming their commitment to spend 850 million euros ($1.23 billion) on missions in 2016 and 2018. ESA has estimated that it will need 1 billion euros for what it calls the ExoMars mission, but that figure includes operating the orbiter, lander and rover associated with the mission. The missing 150 million euros will be solicited during a meeting of ESA government ministers in late 2011 or early 2012. (12/17)

South Korean Space Center Selects XCOR's Lynx for Suborbital Operations (Source: XCOR)
South Korea's Yecheon Astro Space Center has selected XCOR Aerospace as its preferred supplier of suborbital space launch services. Operating under a wet lease model, XCOR intends to supply services to the Center using the Lynx Mark II suborbital vehicle, pending United States government approvals to station the vehicle in the Republic of Korea.

XCOR is committed to working with the US Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and other agencies of the US government to comply with relevant laws, regulations, policies and procedures. XCOR has engaged specialized export control consultants from the Commonwealth Consulting Group of Arlington, Virginia, and legal counsel from the Washington, D.C. office of the international firm Bingham McCutchen, to assist in this first of a kind effort.

Yecheon Astro Space Center is a non-profit entity that operates multiple space related activities including: aerospace training center; astronomy research center; planetarium; a commercial space camp with centrifuge; and commercial helicopter tourism operation in the South Korean State of Gyeongsangbuk-do, approximately 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Seoul. (12/17)

Space - Expanding the Frontiers of Risk (Source: Lloyds)
Since Sputnik entered orbit and its first crackly signal beeps were picked up back on earth, we have come to rely on satellites for what we see and how we communicate – and even for what the weather will be like. Their ability to warn of impending disasters has saved countless lives. They may even be used to help save the planet. Satellites could be used to generate solar power that could reduce our reliance on harmful fossil fuels. Our insatiable appetite for new technology is driving demand for a new generation of bigger, more complex satellites. But even after 50 years’ experience, launching and operating satellites remains a risky business and there are new perils on the horizon.

The new-generation satellites cost as much as $350 million – two or three times as much as traditional satellites – and with the Ariane 5 rocket able to deliver two satellites into space in one mission, a problem during launch could be catastrophic and wipe out much of the available insurance capacity. Once in orbit, if a new ‘processed payload’ satellite suffered even a relatively minor loss of power, a number of its transponders (which carry the communication signals) may have to be shut down to allow its power-thirsty digital processor to remain running. Click here to view the article. (12/17)

Orbital Awarded New Contract for Intelsat Communications Satellite (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has been selected by Intelsat to design, build and deliver the Intelsat 23 (IS-23) commercial communications satellite. The satellite will be based on Orbital’s flight-proven STAR-2 platform. The IS-23 satellite will generate 4.8 kilowatts of payload power and carry 15 active Ku-band and 24 active C-band transponders. The spacecraft will provide communications services for the Americas, Europe and Africa. It is the 28th Orbital-built geosynchronous communications satellite ordered by customers throughout the world since 2001 and will be the 10th in the Intelsat fleet. (12/17)

Moon Poses Radiation Risk to Future Travelers (Source: Discovery)
Future lunar explorers counting on the moon to shield themselves from galactic cosmic rays might want to think about Plan B. In a surprising discovery, scientists have found that the moon itself is a source of potentially deadly radiation. Future lunar travelers face a radiation dose 30 percent to 40 percent higher than originally expected from radioactive lunar soil.

Cosmic rays are believed to create a secondary -- and potentially more dangerous -- radiation source by blasting particles in the lunar soil which then become radioactive. "The moon is a source of radiation," said Boston University researcher Harlan Spence, the lead scientist for LRO's cosmic ray telescope. "This was a bit unexpected." While the moon blocks galactic cosmic rays to some extent, the hazards posed by the secondary radiation showers counter the shielding effects, Spence said. (12/17)

Earth's Upper Atmosphere Cooling Dramatically (Source:
When the sun is relatively inactive — as it has been in recent years — the outermost layer of Earth's atmosphere cools dramatically, new observations find. The results could help scientists better understand the swelling and shrinking of our planet's atmosphere, a phenomenon that affects the orbits of satellites and space junk.

The data, from NASA's TIMED mission, show that Earth's thermosphere (the layer above 62 miles or 100 km above the Earth's surface) "responds quite dramatically to the effects of the 11-year solar cycle," said one researcher. Knowing just how the energy flowing out from the sun naturally impacts the state of the thermosphere also will help scientists test predictions that man's emissions of carbon dioxide should cool this layer. (While that may seem to contradict the idea of global warming, it has long been known that carbon dioxide causes warming in the lowest part of the atmosphere and cooling in the upper layers of the atmosphere.) (12/17)

No Extra Money for Her Majesty's Space Agency (Source: Flight Global)
Think of a space agency and what comes to mind is probably NASA and Moon landing achievements. The UK government's decision to have its own NASA may thus look like a step towards a bold national future in the cosmos, but reality is likely to be much closer to the ground. The UK government's announcement that it would form an executive agency for space comes after years of reviews about what more the country could do for spaceflight, and the government has an enthusiastic space champion in its minister of state for science and innovation, Lord Paul Drayson of Kensington.

Drayson is an engineer turned entrepreneur and as a government minister has regularly spoken in support of UK astronauts and reusable launch vehicles. In announcing the new agency he even suggested a name: Her Majesty's Space Agency. After the agency announcement, Drayson said there will be no extra money and under the Labour government's own plans there can be no change to space spending until 2011 at the earliest. Even the executive agency announcement does not initiate the immediate creation of such an organisation. Instead, according to BNSC director general David Williams, a process to decide "the exact nature of the funding and structure" will start. (12/17)

Aerospace Leaders Focus on Jobs at Industry Summit (Source: AIA)
Jobs were a central topic at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit on Wednesday, where industry executives warned that program cuts are threatening the industrial base. Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Co.'s integrated defense unit, noted that for the first time in a decade, the company has no major warplane in advanced stages of R&D, making it harder to attract and keep engineering talent. David Hess, president of Pratt & Whitney, said that "the administration ought to do whatever they can to try to sustain and grow" the industrial base. Though employers laid off fewer workers than expected in November, the Aerospace Industries Association has warned the industry could shed 30,000 jobs this year. (12/17)

Despite Recession, Aerospace Exports Create $54 Billion Surplus for U.S. (Source: AIA)
Aerospace exports fell 17% this year as international customers, both civilian and military, cut back on spending amid the global economic slowdown. The Aerospace Industries Association reported that overall trade in aerospace products resulted in a net surplus of $53.9 billion for the U.S., a 6% decline from 2008 levels. (12/17)

NASA Looks at Sewage in Oceans to Grow Oil-Producing Algae (Source: AIA)
NASA is developing a method to grow large quantities of oil-producing freshwater algae that are deployed inside bags offshore near where sewage is dumped. The algae can then be converted into biofuel. The OMEGA system uses the energy of the ocean's waves to have algae in the bags feed on sewage, and it releases cleansed water into the ocean through forward osmosis. Nevada-based Algae Systems, which has licensed the NASA technology, plans to operate algae bioreactors off the coast of Tampa, Fla. (12/17)

Children 1, Astronaut 0 (Source: New York Times)
In the end, the astronaut could not outwit the children. Wednesday, Greg Chamitoff, an American astronaut, resigned a long-running correspondence chess game against a group of children from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash. They had started the game in Sep. 2008 while Chamitoff was stationed aboard the International Space Station. NASA had asked the United States Chess Federation about having Chamitoff play a game against some of the federation’s members. Stevenson was chosen as an opponent because the school had won two sections of the 2008 National Scholastic Chess Championships.

Chamitoff had taken a light-weight chess set with him on his six-month mission and during lulls he had played games against workers at the six mission control stations around the world. Once he began the game against the children, each side made a move every few days, on average. The children often decided their moves. Other times, they narrowed their choices to three or four possibilities and then federation members and anyone else following the game voted online on what to play. (12/17)

New Mexico Spaceport Officials Seek way to Reduce Liability (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
New Mexico spaceport officials will again seek legislation that would effectively reduce legal liability for companies that launch from Spaceport America. The proposed bill would require that passengers on spaceflights sign a consent form, acknowledging the risks of the trip. It would have the effect of reducing liability tied to general risks associated with flights. But "it doesn't provide liability from gross negligence or anything like that," said an official.

A similar bill was pitched during the regular 2009 legislation. But Geno Zamora, economic development department general counsel, said the measure was more extensive and would have resulted in "blanket" immunity from liability. He said lawmakers didn't like that idea, the reason next year's proposal has been scaled back. Reducing the liability would reduce insurance costs for flight companies. (12/17)

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