February 27, 2010

California Space Day Sacramento Planned for May 25 (Source: CSA)
Members of the California Space Authority will meet and discuss space policy and regulatory issues with state legislators and key executive branch officials in Sacramento on May 25. The goal will be to ensure a greater awareness of the impact of space enterprise on the every-day lives of ordinary Californians, advocate a positive, supportive business climate, and promote science, math and hands-on, contextual learning in our public schools. Participants will assemble for orientation in the morning, be placed into teams for appointed meetings throughout the day, lunch with members of the Governor's Administration and enjoy an evening reception with members of the Legislature and their staffs. Click here for information and registration. (2/26)

New Non-Profit to Focus on Mars Exploration (Source: Parabolic Arc)
We are pleased to announce the formation of Explore Mars, Inc. (www.exploremars.org). Explore Mars is a project oriented group that was created to promote science and technology innovation and education with a use for Mars Exploration. Through a series of technology innovation awards, scientific symposiums and workshops, Mars analog work, technology demonstrations, and other programs, we provide a platform for scientists and “citizen scientists” to engage in meaningful space exploration research and development in the private sector. (2/25)

Wallops Adds $43 Million Contract (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
NASA announced it has increased its support contract to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island to provide launch services for rockets going into space from there. The addition to the contract has a potential value of about $43 million through May 2014, according to NASA.

Improvements are under way at Wallops to provide enhanced launch services for small- and medium-class orbital missions for NASA as well as for other federal entities, including the Air Force and for commercial companies. "We are very pleased to be partnered with NASA to provide launch services for NASA launch missions over the next several years," Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority Executive Director Billie Reed said. (2/27)

India Space Budget Rises, Including Human Spaceflight (Source: Business Standard)
India's human space flight program got a major boost as the General Budget on Friday proposed a significant allocation to it and also sought increase in funds for setting up an indigenous global positioning system. The budget includes Rs 150 crore for the human spaceflight program under which the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans to develop a space vehicle to put a two-member crew in space and get them back safely. (2/27)

Astronauts Face New Frontier: Unemployment (Source: AOL News)
For 40 years, the American astronaut has been an icon of bravery and derring-do. But could these elite fliers be about to get their pink slips? The White House wants crews to get to and from the station on spaceships that would be built and operated by private companies -- and perhaps flown by private employees.

In the face of that proposal, the space agency will soon ask an independent panel to assess how big the astronaut corps should be, what role it should play and how to run a "cost-effective" space-exploration program, according to NASA budget documents released Monday. NASA chief Charles Bolden, himself a former shuttle astronaut, has made it clear that nothing is sacred. (2/27)

Scientist Eyes 39-Day Voyage to Mars (Source: AFP)
A journey from Earth to Mars could eventually take just 39 days -- cutting current travel time nearly six times -- according to a rocket scientist who has the ear of NASA. Franklin Chang-Diaz, a former astronaut and a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says reaching the Red Planet could be dramatically quicker using his high-tech VASIMR rocket, now on track for liftoff after decades of development.

The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket -- to give its full name -- is quick becoming a centerpiece of NASA's future strategy as it looks to private firms to help meet the astronomical costs of space exploration. Hopes are now pinned on firms like Chang-Diaz's Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company. (2/27)

Kehler Praises Successful 2009 For Air Force Space Command (Source: USAF)
Gen. C. Robert Kehler said in a year defined by mission shifts, the more than 46,000 people of Air Force Space Command chose to thrive, allowing joint forces to navigate with accuracy, see with clarity, communicate with certainty, strike with precision and operate with assurance.

"I credit the sharp and steadfast men and women of Air Force Space Command with our unprecedented success in 2009," General Kehler said. "We provided space, missile and cyberspace capabilities with an unwavering commitment and focus on mission success." (2/27)

NASA Propulsion Plans Resonate with Some in Rocket Industry (Source: Space News)
NASA’s plan to devote significant funding beginning next year to develop a new main-stage rocket engine following the cancellation of the agency’s Ares 1 and Ares 5 launcher programs is in line with what some industry officials have called for in recent months as a way to maintain U.S. core competencies in propulsion.

NASA is considering using some of the $3.1 billion it is requesting for heavy-lift and in-space propulsion research over the next five years to develop a U.S. counterpart to the Russian-built RD-180 engine that powers United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. While NASA announced Feb. 1 that its 2011 budget proposal included nearly $560 million next year for a heavy-lift and propulsion R&D program, agency officials provided few details on how they intend to spend the money. (2/27)

Project M: Robonaut to the Moon (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Johnson Space Center has an innovative solution to returning to the Moon but this time with a Robonaut or R2. A Robonaut-based, tele-operated mission to the Moon could be accomplished within 1,000 days of the go-ahead, NASA claims. With the NewSpaceEra coming with the American civil space program, the R2 may be a path into exploring the Moon to find economic viability for humans. (2/27)

Virginia Proposal Supports NASA FY11 Budget (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The Virginia House of Delegates is expected to take-up House Resolution No. 21 this week commending the NASA and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) for fostering greater development of commercial space launch services and particularly supporting fiscal policies that serve to enable the Virginia spaceport to maximize its commercial space launch potential.

The measure offered in the state legislature comes immediately after the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority passed an almost identical resolution February 23, 2010 at a meeting in Richmond. A July 1, 2013 "sunset clause" for the Virginia Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act is also on the verge of being removed by the Virginia legislature next week. An identical bill is offered by State Senator Ralph Northam. (2/26)

Rutan’s Clarifies His Thoughts on NASA's Commercial Shift (Source: Space Politics)
Some people were surprised when the Wall Street Journal reported that Burt Rutan submitted a letter to Congress critical of the administration’s move to commercialize human spaceflight. “That would be a very big mistake for America to make,” according to a brief excerpt of the letter quoted by the Journal.

However, Rutan has since issued a statement claiming that the newspaper “chose to cherry-pick and miss-quote” his comments. His statement made clear he is not opposed to NASA supporting commercial human spaceflight. “In short, it is a good idea indeed for the commercial community to compete to re-supply the ISS and to bring about space access for the public to enjoy. I applaud the efforts of SpaceX, Virgin and Orbital in that regard and feel these activities should have been done at least two decades ago,” he writes.

He is concerned about “a surrender of our preeminence in human spaceflight”, but is not a supporter of Constellation because of its lack of “technical breakthroughs”. “I do not think that NASA should ‘give up’ on manned spaceflight, just that they should be doing it while meeting” two criteria: achieving technical breakthroughs through basic research, and providing inspiration for students to pursue careers in science and engineering. (2/26)

Armadillo Supports NASA Commercial Shift (Source: Space Politics)
Another supporter of NASA's commercial shift is John Carmack, the founder of Armadillo Aerospace. Regarding Constellation, he said “...honestly, I thought the program was going to drag on for another half decade and piss away several more tens of billions of dollars before being re-scoped due to failure to deliver." Turning to the commercial sector for transportation to LEO of cargo and crews “may be the most beneficial thing NASA has ever done”. (2/26)

Meek Hopes NASA Can Do Both (Source: Space Politics)
Congressman Kendrick Meek, a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Florida, wrote “Establishing commercial spaceflights is critical to maintaining our nation’s leadership in space, but we cannot rely on private expeditions to take the place of NASA-administered spaceflights just yet...It will take decades to build a safe and functioning commercial program.” He adds that the thousands of jobs expected to be lost in Florida with the retirement of the shuttle is “simply unacceptable”. (2/26)

Nelson Likes Elements of NASA Budget Proposal (Source: Space Politics)
During last week's Senate subcommittee hearing on NASA's future direction, Chairman Bill Nelson said... "There’s a lot that’s good in this budget from this senator’s perspective,” citing increased funding for aeronautics and science as well as the extension of the ISS beyond 2015 and new technology development efforts. The key problem, he said, is that the way the budget was rolled out gave the perception that the administration was killing the human spaceflight program.

Among other things, he wanted a clear statement of the long-term destination of human space exploration (which, as he’s stated previously, he believes should be Mars), and “continued testing of a booster as a technology testbed, a robust heavy-lift vehicle program, and the continued development of a spacecraft for the missions beyond low Earth orbit”, which Nelson later called “Rocket X”. (2/26)

Mystery Group Invests More in Bankrupt Sea Launch (Source: Space News)
Commercial launch-services provider Sea Launch Co., which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since June, on Feb. 25 received $3 million in cash from the same group of investors that provided initial financing to keep the company in operation. Further payments totaling $9 million will be distributed in three monthly increments starting in March on condition that Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch begins to secure commercial launch contracts.

Sea Launch’s current financial backers have set specific requirements that the company sign up to six launch contracts in order to receive the full $12 million, according to court documents. A group identifying itself as Space Launch Services LLC and the Heinlein Prize Trust, apparently consisting of the same people, has been paying Sea Launch’s currently minimal operating expenses since the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. This group is presumed to be among those who will take Sea Launch out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, perhaps as soon as this summer.

Editor's Note: The investors have separately been reported to be backers of the Excalibur Almaz commercial space station initiative. This blogger has advocated that the investors should take advantage of Florida's launch infrastructure funding and other incentives to move their Zenit launch system onto Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Removing the high-cost ocean platform and ship from their operation would save billions (and raise money by their sale to other non-space users). (2/27)

Virginia Tax Measure for Space Not in Budget (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Virginia state legislators are having the toughest legislative session in decades with the state budget cuts amounting to over $4 billion over the next two years and creating at atmosphere that led to the defeat of measures in the Senate and House of budget amendments to divert sales taxes and/or state income tax earnings from human spaceflight to the operational budget of the state's commercial spaceport.

Since the measures lacked "revenue specific" numbers, the money committees of the legislature took the safe approach and did not include the measures in the state budget for the next two years, according to a Senate spokesperson.

It is safe to expect an effort to get Wampler budget language into a bill in 2011 as opposed to inclusion into the state budget. The measure is only expected to generate revenue for Virginia's commercial spaceport operations if commercial human spaceflight income or sales taxes with a nexus to state jurisdiction. (2/27)

Fate of a Temecula Spaceflight Venture is Unknown (Source: Press-Enterprise)
By 2006, a Temecula company had vowed to launch test flights of a vehicle that would one day allow civilians to fly into space. Four years later, Sprague Astronautics' Web site is the only thing to get off the ground -- and it hasn't been updated in years.

Company President and CEO Bill Sprague can't be reached and a board member said he hasn't heard from Sprague in a year. His Temecula office is closed, the phone number has been disconnected and e-mails to him went unreturned. The Temecula business license listed under Sprague Astronautics' old name, AERA Corp., is expired, as are Sprague Astronautics' incorporation papers in Nevada.

In 2008, Sprague said his company was still active. "We've kind of gone into a hiccup," he said. "We're going to make personal spaceflight happen." Editor's Note: Remember all those companies that were pursuing the Ansari X-Prize? Only Scaled Composites remains viable. The X-Prize Cup was supposed to become an annual fly-off for these companies, but it's doubtful that the event will happen again. (2/27)

Florida Legislature Kicks Off Session With Key Space Issues (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida lawmakers face a $3.2 billion budget shortage as the 60-day Legislative Session kicks off on Tuesday. The shortage is smaller than in previous years, but after recent program/spending cuts and the depletion of federal assistance funding, this year will be a particularly difficult one.

As part of a "reprioritization of needs" for a budget of over $60 billion, lawmakers will consider requests for several tens of millions of dollars to mitigate job losses resulting from the Space Shuttle's retirement and the proposed cancellation of Constellation. They also will consider bills to establish incentives within a Space Florida Commercial Launch Zone, and divert space-related tax revenues for reinvestment by Space Florida.

Other bills could change the makeup of Space Florida's board, expand aerospace workforce development programs, and enable investments in space-related R&D to diversify the space industry beyond its limited role in launch operations. (2/27)

Florida Space Day Planned (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida space industry leaders will gather in Tallahassee on March 3 for "Space Day" events and visits with the Governor's Office and legislators, as they kick off this year's Legislative Session. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will participate. (2/27)

ATK's Astronaut Fights Obama's Space Plan (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
ATK's Charlie Precourt, a former astronaut who is in charge of the company's Ares-1 program, is accusing nameless NASA political appointees of disenfranchising “the ENTIRE leadership team in the agency who are our nation’s brain trust on how to execute our space program.” It’s a charge that almost begs to followed by a clap of thunder and a scream, as the implication is that rockets could soon be falling from the skies along with astronauts, satellites, telescopes and space stations because NASA is being run by hobbyists.

Some folks inside NASA and in Congress say ATK has been behind the sniping at NASA’s deputy administrator Lori Garver. The not so-thinly veiled broadside against her in Precourt’s email appears to lend further credence to the charges. It’s hard to understand how this will help ATK going forward as some could see it as a declaration of war on NASA’s political leadership and is almost certain to strengthen Garver’s hand. (2/27)

Suborbital Safety: Will Commercial Spaceflight Ramp Up the Risk? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Ever since the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, almost a quarter of a century ago, the watchword above all others at NASA has been "safety." Unfortunately, watchwords don't necessarily create actual safety, as we learned a little over seven years ago, with the loss of her sister ship Columbia.

Despite NASA's own checkered safety record, the last refuge of those defending Ares I, which the Obama administration has proposed canceling in the new budget request, is that it will somehow be safer than the commercial vehicles proposed to replace it. Also, some of the proposed replacements, such as the existing Atlas V and Delta IV, have excellent reliability records. But now safety has come up in another context of the new space policy—suborbital flight.

Last week, officials from both NASA and the FAA addressed the issue of the circumstances under which the new commercial suborbital vehicles, such as those under production by Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace and Blue Origin, will be used to carry NASA-sponsored payloads and personnel. Click here to read the article. (2/27)

FAA and NASA Join Efforts for Space Tourism (Source: Federal News Radio)
The 2011 budget request for NASA has the agency using commercial space launch companies taking astronauts to the International Space Station. How safe would that be? Commercial space launches come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Dr. George Nield explains how this will work. Click here to listen to an interview with FAA AST Director George Nield. (2/27)

How Will We Insure Space Travelers? (Source: Smart Planet)
No question about it, we’re on the verge of an era of commercial space travel. And there are a number of private-sector companies ready to launch, including Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), Virgin Galactic, United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin), Alliant Techsystems Inc., Orbital Sciences, EADS Astrium, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited, Space Adventures, Blue Origin, and Armadillo Aerospace. Virgin Galactic.

So now we would have a completely new kind of vehicle that would transport humans through extremely dangerous and lethal environments. How do we deal with such new and uncharted risks from an insurance point of view? To be sure, we could certainly draw on aviation insurance as a start, but zipping around outside the Earth’s atmosphere is another kettle of fish altogether. One would assume that commercial space flight could involve trips to the moon, perhaps to develop and tap into the natural resources there.

While I have no actuarial tables on this, I would suggest that the chances of being killed on such a flight are much greater than, say, being in a plane crash. Insuring the hardware and spacecraft are another area to consider. Space travel insurance… Perhaps we’ll see the birth of a new industry sector in the near future. (2/27)

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