January 25, 2010

Ariane 6 Won't Replace Ariane 5 (Source: Hyperbola)
Media coverage of a new European rocket increasingly referred to as Ariane 6 is slowly building momentum. Much of this slow burn excitement is due to the belief that the new launcher will replace the continent's workhorse, Ariane 5. But it is likely it won't. The European Space Agency's effort to develop the Next Generation Launcher (NGL)--to give Ariane 6 its official name--is the Future Launcher Preparatory Program.

Rather than replace the Ariane 5, this blog thinks that the reality is somewhat different. NGL/Ariane 6 will in fact replace the Samara Space Center Soyuz-2 booster. Why replace Soyuz 2? Russia is not doing it self any favors by asking for a lot more rubles, almost twice more according to some sources, for Sinnamary Soyuz than it charges for the same rocket to be launched from its own territory. There is also the little matter of the European policy of guaranteed access to space

So why do it in the first place and have Soyuz in French Guiana? It is an interesting question and maybe linked to wider geopolitical assumptions dating back to the 1990s and a differing expectation of Euro-Russian relations. Or even Russian needs to keep the population of Samara employed. (1/25)

Congress Wastes No Time Tackling NASA Issues (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House Science and Technology Committee has a hearing scheduled for Feb. 3 on "Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency's Watchdogs." The NASA Inspector General, the top Government Accountability Office (GAO) staff person on NASA issues, and the chairman of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel are the witnesses. Although changes are expected, many members of the House S&T Committee expressed strong support for the Constellation program during hearings last year, so this could be shaping up to be a contentious year between Congress and the White House on space issues. (1/25)

NASA Outlines Flexible Path Precursor to Man on Mars (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With the official opening statements on the overhaul of NASA’s future expected “soon”, the realignment of NASA’s future goals will create a Human Space Flight path that will likely stretch out for decades. The end goal remains footsteps on Mars, but the approach may involve the use of deep space and Phobos as the precursor for a manned mission to the Red Planet.

It is still uncertain as to how much of the future plan will be outlined by – or via – President Obama, with some media noting the possibility of some form of a public announcement as soon as next week, or as late as the summer. However, it is known what some selected NASA managers are working on, which in turn is providing some level of information on what NASA will be undertaking in the coming years – pending the big question of NASA’s future budget support.

Despite what can only be described as politically-driven armwaving from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), very few people of power are taking any stock in their recommendations, notably to continue to focus on the Program Of Record (POR) based around Ares I, and their continued disdain at the evaluations to extend the shuttle program past 2010. (1/25)

NASA Budget Rollout Plans Taking Shape (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will unveil the U.S.space agency’s spending priorities for 2011 during a Feb. 1 press conference at NASA headquarters here, according to administration officials. President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget request is expected to realign NASA’s human spaceflight activities and investments to foster development of commercial systems capable of ferrying astronauts to the international space station.

Bolden is expected to discuss long-awaited details of the president’s funding proposal in the morning, followed by a press conference hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to rollout Obama’s research and development priorities — including those that affect NASA goals and funding — for the coming budget year, these sources said.The OSTP press conference is slated for 12:30 p.m. at the American Association for the Advancement of Science here. (1/25)

Sun's Appetite for Dark Matter May Affect Earth's Orbit (Source: Physics World)
Calculations made by a physicist in Italy suggest that the Sun is sucking up significant quantities of dark matter and this is causing observable changes to Earth's orbit. This latest research predicts that over the next few billion years the orbits of the planets should shrink considerably, with the Earth to Sun distance halving over this timescale.

Physicists believe that some 23% of the mass-energy content of the universe is made up of dark matter, a non-luminous substance that interacts gravitationally with ordinary matter. This dark matter is spread throughout the universe but clumps together at higher densities in the vicinity of visible bodies, thereby forming a "halo" around the Milky Way. Some researchers also believe that the solar system is home to an especially dense lump of dark matter. (1/25)

Deal Reached Between Kucinich, Science Center for NASA Glenn Admission (Source: WKYC)
The proposed move of the NASA Glenn Visitors Center from Brook Park to the Great Lakes Science Center in downtown Cleveland is a big step closer to reality now. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and the Great Lakes Science Center have resolved an issue involving free admission for young people to the NASA Glenn Visitors Center if it relocates downtown.

Kucinich argued that it's taxpayer-funded exhibits that make up the NASA Glenn Visitor Center. The visitors center had free admission for everyone at all times. The Great Lakes Science Center charges admission for everyone and those 2 years to 17 years of age must pay $7.95 admission. The agreement gives free admission every Tuesday to young people 18 years of age (or a student in kindergarten through 12th grade) and under to the Science Center and the NASA Glenn Visitors Center combined facility. (1/25)

First Space Hotel Under Construction (Source: WJLA)
Many people are thinking of going on vacation to someplace warm this winter. But soon you could be dreaming of an out this world vacation -- in space. The first space hotel is now under construction. Designed by architects, the three-bedroom, $3 billion Galactic Suite is set to lift off -- hotel guests and all -- in just two years.

Before the trip, guests will train for two months on an island, learning to live in confined spaces and how to function in zero gravity. Aerospace engineers are working on a prototype where guests could Velcro themselves to the walls, work out in a space spa, and take a shower using bubbles. Skeptics say space travel is more complicated and too dangerous for just anyone to try. Cost will be limiting as well. A three-day adventure will set you back $4 million. (1/25)

Lockheed Martin Supports Space Florida Undergraduate Academy (Source: Space Florida)
Lockheed Martin will support a spring 2010 Space Florida Academy for undergraduate students. The 5-day Academy will include students from several Florida universities and colleges. Space Florida conducts these STEM education events with the Florida Space Grant Consortium and NASA-KSC. “Lockheed Martin is proud to support the Space Florida Academy and endorses its strong commitment to the study of STEM,” said Mr. Adrian Laffitte, Director of Florida Government Relations at Lockheed Martin. Applications are now being accepted at http://www.spaceflorida.gov/undergrad.php. (1/25)

Death from the Skies? Ho-Hum (Source: Space Review)
A new report last week suggested that near Earth object survey efforts require significant additional funding. Jeff Foust examines why the relative lack of money so far may in fact be a rational decision, and what could be done to improve their funding prospects. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1550/1 to view the article. (1/25)

Prospects for Commercial Crew Growing (Source: Space Politics)
A couple of recent reports suggest that it’s increasingly likely that the new space exploration policy to be released in the near future by the White House will include a provision for funding a commercial crew development program. Space News reported Friday that the FY2011 budget proposal “would fund a multibillion-dollar effort to foster development of commercial systems” for transporting crews to and from the ISS. On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal said its own sources indicated a commercial crew transportation program would be in the budget proposal. The Journal, though, describes the administration’s support for the initiative as “murky” based on its sources, who claim that “the budget isn’t expected to outline a clear, long-term funding plan.” (1/25)

Aliens Might Not Be Friendly, Warns Astronomer (Source: Telegraph)
Scientists searching for alien life should get governments and the UN involved lest we unwittingly contact hostile extraterrestrials, a British astronomer has warned. Mr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said: "Part of me is with the enthusiasts and I would like us to try to make proactive contact with a wiser, more peaceful civilization." But he warned: "We might like to assume that if there is intelligent life out there it is wise and benevolent, but of course we have no evidence for this. (1/25)

Search for Aliens Should Start on Earth, Not Outer Space (Source: Telegraph)
The search for alien life forms should be conducted here on Earth rather than in outer space, scientists have claimed. Professor Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona University will tell a meeting at the Royal Society that the best way of proving that extra-terrestrial life exists elsewhere in the universe is to use evidence from earth.

Davies suggested that the search could focus on deserts, volcanic vents, salt-saturated lakes and the dry valleys of Antarctica - places where ordinary life struggles to survive - to find "weird" microbes that belong to a "shadow biosphere". (1/25)

Aliens Visiting Earth Will Be Just Like humans, Scientist Claims (Source: Guardian)
Governments should prepare for the worst if aliens visit Earth because beings from outer space are likely to be just like humans, a leading scientist is claiming. Extra-terrestrials might not only resemble us but have our foibles, such as greed, violence and a tendency to exploit others' resources, says Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University.

And while aliens could come in peace they are quite as likely to be searching for somewhere to live, and to help themselves to water, minerals and fuel, says Conway Morris. NASA's search for alien life is based upon the mantra "follow the water", a strategy reflecting the fact that, on Earth, where there's water there's life. (1/25)

Editorial: Space Race - Florida vs. Virginia (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Ever heard of Wallops Island? This small barrier island off Virginia's coast has the potential to threaten Florida's position as a leader in space flight. The island's primary resident is NASA, and it is prepped to become the 21st century's capital for manned space flight. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has pledged to make Wallops Island the best spaceport in America with annual state funding for the facility. Additionally, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has secured more than $35 million in NASA and other federal dollars for critical infrastructure upgrades.

If Florida does not retain its position as a leader in space innovation, businesses and employers statewide will lose billions of dollars generated by space-related activities. Florida is at a crossroads. Despite strong efforts by Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, Florida continues to neglect needed infrastructure investments to keep Cape Canaveral on the cutting edge.

For Florida to once again become competitive and maintain the Cape's as America's primary spaceport, steps must be immediately taken. First and foremost, Florida's congressional delegation must work together to reinstate federal space dollars to our state. We also need the governor's focus and leadership to make the space program a top budget priority. With thousands of jobs at stake, Space Florida's strategic plan must be fully funded and supported by the state Legislature. (1/25)

'Flat' Budget Likely for NASA (Source: Huntsville Times)
Over the next seven days, President Barack Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address and send a federal budget recommendation to Congress. The State of the Union is scheduled for Wednesday, and the federal budget rolls out Feb. 1. Don't expect a lot for NASA in either, space and military experts say. But Huntsville-based military programs should remain stable in Obama's budget request, they added.

"It's unlikely the president will say much about NASA in his State of the Union speech," said Huntsville lawyer Mark McDaniel, who advises members of Congress on aerospace issues. The White House, more than likely, will recommend that NASA receive about $20 billion for fiscal 2011. "That's about flat," McDaniel said. "It doesn't really keep up with inflation."

The Augustine Commission - Obama's NASA review board that weighed in on the space agency's future last year - suggested that the White House increase the NASA budget by at least $3 billion over the next five years, and then add another $1 billion each year after that. (1/25)

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