March 20, 2010

FAA, NASA Vie for Authority Over Commercial Space Safety (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Congress hasn't yet voted on White House proposals to outsource manned space flights to private enterprise, but the concept already is prompting a bureaucratic tussle over which federal agency should be responsible for ensuring the safety of such flights. The FAA believes it should be the agency in charge, while NASA believes the flights fall under its jurisdiction. The dispute came into public view Thursday during a hearing of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee. The panel's chairman, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, home to thousands of NASA jobs, indicated that he views the space agency as the final arbiter of astronaut safety.

The FAA, which currently has safety oversight of rocketships intended to blast tourists to the edge of space, hopes to expand that authority to cover planned commercial rockets designed to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting international space station, and eventually on exploration missions deeper into space. George Nield, the official in charge of commercial space transportation at the FAA, told the Senate panel his agency sees such oversight as practically inevitable because "we have a regulatory environment that works right now."

Bryan O'Connor, the head of NASA's safety and mission assurance office, told the subcommittee that his agency is developing its own, independent safety requirements covering proposed commercial transportation of astronauts. With "appropriate respect for out safety lessons learned in the past," he said, NASA intends to seek comments shortly from industry on the issue of future safety standards. (3/19)

ILS Proton M Launches with EchoStar XIV Satellite (Source:
International Launch Services (ILS) has launched the EchoStar XIV telecommunications satellite via their veteran Proton-M launch vehicle and Breeze-M upper stage on Saturday. Lift-off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan was on time. ILS has made three contract announcements for launches in 2011 and 2012 – taking their backlog to 22 missions. (3/20)

LeMieux Moves Against Obama NASA Plan Through FAA Legislation (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
U.S. Sen. George LeMieux of Florida joined with five Republican colleagues Thursday in filing new legislation aimed at blocking President Obama’s attempts to cancel NASA’s Constellation moon rocket program. The measure, an amendment to an FAA bill, underscores congressional opposition to Obama’s new NASA plan, which ends the Constellation program that was supposed to replace the space shuttle after the aging orbiter fleet finished its final four missions this year.

It reinforces languages filed in a massive spending bill last year that prohibits the Obama administration from terminating Constellation programs this year without the approval of Congress. That provision has caused headaches for NASA. It must continue Constellation projects already underway while trying to meet White House orders to avoid signing new contracts — as Obama wants NASA to spend the money instead on developing new technologies. “The ultimate determination on the future of the space program rests with Congress, not a budget proposal submitted by the administration,” says LeMieux. (3/19)

Nelson: Heavy-Lift Rocket Development Would "Cushion the Blow" at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
The U.S. Senate will direct NASA to develop a super-size rocket and a spacecraft for missions beyond Earth orbit, the senior senator from Florida said Friday. Flight-testing for the rocket at KSC would help offset some of the 9,000 space jobs likely to be lost as a result of shuttle fleet retirement and the proposed cancellation of NASA's moon program.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told attendees of a space forum that the Senate also is drafting legislation that would push commercial companies -- with contracts to fly cargo or crews to the International Space Station -- to hire people from the Space Coast work force, Nelson said. "It is my hope that we're going to get additional work that is going to cushion the blow after the last space shuttle mission is flown," said Nelson, D-Orlando. (3/19)

Sea Launch Receives Court Approval for Additional Financing (Source: Sea Launch)
Sea Launch received final approval on Mar. 17 from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on its motion to secure a second tranche of debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in the amount of $12 million from Space Launch Services, LLC (SLS). SLS also provided the first tranche of DIP financing in the amount of $12.5 million to Sea Launch, pursuant to an earlier court order dated December 3, 2009. The funds will provide working capital for continued Sea Launch operations while the company proceeds through its Chapter 11 reorganization. Sea Launch is planning to submit its Plan of Reorganization to the court shortly, as a step toward emerging from Chapter 11 status. (3/20)

ORS-1 Sensor Damaged, But Satellite is on Schedule (Source: Space News)
Work on a secondary instrument for a Pentagon reconnaissance satellite was interrupted when two of the sensor’s focal planes were broken by a subcontractor, but the spacecraft remains on schedule for launch in November. Fairchild Imaging of Milpitas, Calif., is under contract to provide the sensor for a secondary imaging payload that will fly on the ORS-1 satellite. The company irreparably damaged one of the focal planes Feb. 24, and then another on March 13, Air Force spokeswoman Valerie Skarupa said. Spare parts will be used to assemble a replacement unit, and the satellite remains on track for its planned launch date, she said. (3/20)

Air Force Plans Competition For 2nd SBSS Contract Award (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force’s decision to hold a fresh competition to build a second Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) system satellite is an example of a government agency made gun-shy by “a protest-rich environment” in which losing bidders often challenge government contract awards, according to a Boeing official. He said Boeing, which teamed with Colorado-based Ball Aerospace to build the first SBSS satellite, was prepared to enter into a firm, fixed-price contract for the second SBSS, which is intended as an identical copy of the first. Instead of awarding a sole-source contract to Boeing and Ball, the Air Force has elected to hold a competitive bidding round with the intention of awarding a new contract this year. (3/20)

Are We Alone in the Universe? (Source: Financial Times)
On a misty morning in 1960, a young astronomer called Frank Drake pointed the Green Bank radiotelescope in West Virginia at a nearby star, Tau Ceti. He listened for signals from any alien civilization that might inhabit its planetary system. Silence. Then Drake reoriented the 26-meter dish towards a second star, Epsilon Eridani. The startled astronomer picked up a strong radio signal that could not come from a natural source. But before he could start decoding the alien message, he learned that it actually emanated from a secret terrestrial source: a defense radar establishment.

Fifty years later, Drake is the grand old man of the field he founded, which quickly became known as Seti, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The amount of data has expanded immensely but the story of Seti is still radio silence, punctuated by occasional false alarms. Indeed, not only have astronomers failed to find evidence of alien intelligence, they still do not know for sure that any life exists beyond Earth, even simple micro-organisms. (3/19)

NASA to Launch Festive Celebration of Space (Source: NASA)
Yuri’s Night Bay Area (YNBA), a stellar celebration of space exploration with music, dance, technology and art, returns to NASA’s Ames Research Center on Saturday, April 10, 2010 from noon to midnight. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the celebration, which commemorates the anniversary of the first human spaceflight, by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 and the first space shuttle mission 20 years later. Last year, there were Yuri’s Night events in 217 cities in 47 countries. (3/19)

Moon Clash May Have Given Jupiter a Ring (Source: New Scientist)
Jupiter may have a new ring that was created by a smash between moons. The possible ring appears as a faint streak near Jupiter's moon Himalia in an image taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The telescopic camera aboard the Pluto-bound probe snapped the ring in September 2006 as the craft was closing in on Jupiter in the lead-up to a close encounter with the planet the following February. (3/19)

WorldSpace Announces Potential Decommissioning of Satellites (Source: Washington Post)
WorldSpace, a bankrupt satellite radio company, is running so low on funds that it is preparing to send its satellites to a premature death. The Silver Spring company has been in Chapter 11 since October 2008 and announced this week that negotiations with a lender and prospective buyer had fallen apart. "WorldSpace is planning for a potential de-commissioning of its satellites and reviewing its strategic alternatives in light of the termination of negotiations," the company said in a news release. (3/19)

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