March 15, 2010

Houston Mayor to Rally Support for NASA in Washington D.C. (Source: KRIV)
From a conference room at city hall, Houston Mayor Annise Parker set her sights on Washington D.C. And a recent decision by the Obama administration to cancel funding for a program that could result in nearly 7,000 lost jobs at Johnson Space Center. In addition to job losses, Parker says the area could face projected economic losses of $560 million. The administration's decision to cut funding for the project was announced last month, and quickly rattled small business owners who operate near the space center. (3/15)

Alabama Congressman Asks GAO if NASA is Violating Law with Constellation Shutdown (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether NASA is violating the law by beginning to shut down the Constellation space exploration program without Congressional approval. In a letter sent Friday and co-signed by 15 other NASA state representatives, he asked the GAO to determine whether NASA's work on "a new, unauthorized plan," for the space agency violates the law.

The letter alleges that NASA is "instructing its employees to conserve FY10 funds," citing the "Anti-Deficiency Act," a law that prohibits government agencies from committing to spend money that won't be appropriated. The letter also asks whether NASA is violating the Impoundment Act by withholding fiscal 2010 money rather than proceeding with contracts. (3/15)

Evidence for Life on Mars May be Staring us in the Face (Source: New Scientist)
The footprint of life on Mars may have been plain to see all along in the sulphurous minerals that litter the planet's surface. What's more, the next Mars lander should be able to detect the evidence.

No mission to Mars has ever found complex carbon-based molecules, from which life as we know it is built. But sulphur is everywhere on Mars - it is more abundant there than on Earth - and it could contain one of the signatures of life. On Earth, the activity of some microbes converts one class of sulphur-containing compounds, the sulphates, into another, the sulphides.

The microbes prefer to work with the lighter sulphur-32 isotope, so the sulphides they produce are relatively deficient in the heavier isotope, sulphur-34. Planetary scientists have long wondered whether we could use this pattern to discern signs of life on Mars. Now the prospects for this technique look better than ever. (3/15)

Satellite Industry Performance Pleases Wall Street (Source: Space News)
Wall Street analysts, looking past the multiple equity-market failures that have marked the satellite industry in recent years, on March 15 gave a bullish assessment of the sector in general and of the established fixed-satellite services (FSS) industry in particular. The analysts even found good news in the auction of the two satellites owned by ProtoStar Ltd., a startup direct-broadcast satellite television operator that failed when it could not secure regulatory rights to the orbital slots into which it had launched the spacecraft or to the necessary broadcast frequencies. (3/15)

Martian Moon in Spotlight (Source: MSNBC)
Fresh imagery from Europe's Mars Express orbiter shows the Martian moon Phobos in sharp, 3-D detail. This isn't the first time Phobos has gotten its close-up, but interest in the irregular moon is rising - in part because it's increasingly seen as a steppingstone for Mars-bound astronauts. Last month, NASA shifted its focus from sending humans back to the moon to a "flexible path" that includes the moons of Mars as potential destinations. The idea is that low-gravity locales such as Phobos (and Mars' other moon, Deimos) should be easier to get to because they're more accommodating for landing and ascent. (3/15)

NASA Sets Tests For Discovery & Maintains Aim For April 5 Launch (Source: Florida Today)
NASA will run tests later this week to determine whether its safe to fly shuttle Discovery despite valve trouble that cropped up over the weekend during a critical propellant-loading operation at KSC. The tests, if successful, could provide managers with the data required to prove Discovery could launch as scheduled on April 5 and still fly its International Space Station outfitting mission safely. (3/15)

Aerojet and Orbital Complete Main Engine Testing for Taurus II (Source: Orbital)
Aerojet and Orbital Sciences Corp., along with Aerojet's Russian partner, SNTK, announced that a series of NK-33 rocket engine tests conducted in Samara, Russia were successfully completed in support of the development of Orbital's Taurus II launch vehicle.

The purpose of the extended-time testing of the NK-33 engine, on which the AJ26 first-stage engine for the Taurus II rocket is based, was to demonstrate a 'hot-fire' duration equal to two times a normal Taurus II acceptance testing and launch profile duty cycle. Over the last two weeks, three tests were conducted by SNTK with a cumulative duration of more than 600 seconds. These tests verified the significant technical margins on engine performance and durability required by Orbital's Taurus II. (3/15)

Florida Jobless Rate Exceeds 11%, Will Likely Rise (Source: Highlands Today)
Florida's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 11.9 percent in January 2010, up 0.2 percentage point from the December revised rate of 11.7 percent, and up from 8.7 percent a year ago, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. January's rate equals the May 1975 rate, the highest in the recorded series. Florida's unemployment rate remained higher than the national average, which was 9.7 percent in January. Editor's Note: Workforce official are expecting a sharp spike in the jobless rate in coming months, perhaps as high as the mid teens. (3/15)

SpaceX and Loral Sign Contract for Falcon 9 Mission (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX and Loral have signed an agreement for the launch of an SS/L manufactured satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 as early as 2012. For this mission, Falcon 9 will launch from the SpaceX launch site at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and insert the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). (3/15)

ILS Proton to Launch Two Intelsat Satellites (Source: ILS)
International Launch Services (ILS) announced two firm missions with the ILS Proton launches of the Intelsat 21 satellite and the Intelsat 23 satellite. Intelsat 21 is under construction by Boeing with a launch planned in early 2012. The Intelsat 23 satellite is being built by Orbital Sciences Corp, and is slated to launch in late 2011. Both launches would be from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. (3/15)

Obama's NASA Plan Agitates Florida (Source:
When President Barack Obama revealed his plan for the nation's space program, he turned to Buzz Aldrin to explain the new direction, one imagined as more innovative and ambitious. "As an Apollo astronaut, I know the importance of always pushing new frontiers," Aldrin said on Feb. 1. "The truth is that we have already been to the moon, some 40 years ago."

So with a pioneer's imprimatur, Obama moved to scrap NASA's planned return to the moon and push onward, with the help of private industry. But Obama sparked a scathing backlash in Florida. The entire congressional delegation is fighting to preserve an iconic industry with a major presence in the state. The battle reached such a pitch last week — with politicians stoking fears about thousands of lost jobs and the Russians and Chinese overtaking our cosmic might — that Obama said he will travel to Florida on April 15 to explain himself. (3/15)

Kremlin: Agreement Close on Nuclear Disarmament Treaty (Source: AIA)
An agreement between the U.S. and Russia on a nuclear disarmament treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expired in December could be near, according to the Kremlin. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly expressed satisfaction with the preparations for the accord, and they emphasized that firm dates could be set to submit a draft agreement to the heads of state for signatures.

Editor's Note: The START treaty had an impact on various space launch initiatives in the U.S., effectively preventing the use of certain deactivated missile assets for space launches, and rendering some U.S. launch pads unusable for converted missiles. I'm told that the new treaty might eliminate some of those barriers. (3/15)

X-37 Unmanned Space Plane Set to Launch April 19 (Source: AIA)
After long delays, the Air Force says the X-37 unmanned space plane will be launched into orbit on April 19. The spacecraft, which began as a NASA project and can fly itself down from orbit to a runway landing, has already flown in various in-atmosphere tests. It has been shipped to Florida, where it will be mounted on the Atlas V launch rocket and sent into orbit next month. (3/15)

As Options Diminish, Russian Prices are Going Up (Source: Florida Today)
Supply and demand is simple. Even the Russians get it. Just look at how Russia's capitalist space program is dealing with the changing market for delivering astronauts to the International Space Station. As the United States eliminates its only other option, the fare for hitching a ride with the Russians is skyrocketing.

A few years back, when we needed them badly, the Russians came through. Space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. Our space program was paralyzed. The shuttles were grounded. We had no other way to get crews to the space station and back. They gave our astronauts a ride, at $20 million a seat. That was also the going rate for space tourists aboard the Soyuz space capsule. Then, the Russians knew the space shuttles would fly again. They needed our presence on the outpost. They needed us to help finish construction of the orbiting laboratory.

The next grounding of the space shuttles is different. It's coming soon. It's permanent. The Russians know this. That changes the market dramatically. So, when the American space program's leaders went to negotiate a new deal for delivering our astronauts to the space station after shuttle retirement, the price had gone up: $51 million a seat, for six seats. (3/15)

Space Available on Lunar Expeditions (Source: AstroBotic)
Astrobotic Technology will carry 240 lbs. (109 kg) to the Moon for researchers and marketers as part of its maiden expedition in 2012 to win the Google Lunar X Prize. Science instruments, prototype exploration devices and commercial packages will be carried at $700,000 per pound, plus a $250,000 fee per payload to cover the engineering costs of integrating it into either the expedition’s lander or its solar-powered robot.

The company posted a technical description of the service on its Web site, along with a “Request for Information” asking potential users to characterize how they would use this capability. Potential near-term applications include investigations to confirm and characterize water – either from volatiles at the poles or from the ephemeral surface traces found everywhere on the Moon. Other investigations might produce oxygen from lunar soil and characterize how surface rovers and later human explorers might get access to underground volcanic caves. Click here for information. (3/15)

Space Export Control Reform: A Proposed Way Forward (Source: Space Review)
Many in the space industry expect progress on export control reform from both the White House and Congress in the coming weeks. Christopher Stone examines the various arguments on the subject and offers a way ahead that preserves security while supporting the industry. Visit to view the article. (3/15)

Shuttle Supporters' Last Stand? (Source: Space Review)
When NASA's 2011 budget proposal was released last month, much of the debate initially centered around the cancellation of Constellation and related initiatives. Jeff Foust reports that there's more attention now, though, to an issue once thought settled: the retirement of the shuttle. Visit to view the article. (3/15)

Mike Griffin's Greatest Mistake (Source: Space Review)
Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin famously -- or perhaps infamously -- described Constellation as "Apollo on steroids" Taylor Dinerman argues that he would have been better off trying to sell its core elements as an American Soyuz. Visit to view the article. (3/15)

Obama Picks a Tea Party Tax Day For His Space Summit (Source: Space Review)
Some in the space industry were surprised not just that President Obama would hold a space conference next month, but also that he would choose "Tax Day" for it. Michael Huang wonders if this is a deliberate attempt by the administration to politicize the issue. Visit to view the article. (3/15)

US is Counting on a Commercial Space Race (Source: Florida Today)
Astronauts' next American ride after the shuttle could be on a space plane resembling a miniature shuttle orbiter, an Apollo-style capsule or a gumdrop-shaped module. The spacecraft are among projects that would compete for billions of dollars under President Obama's plan to kill the Constellation moon program and rely on the private sector for crew transportation. The plan could benefit Florida because most of the spacecraft would fly from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, carrying NASA crews and other customers into low Earth orbit. But skeptics question whether a strong commercial market for human spaceflight will materialize to help reduce costs, or if the new vehicles will be ready sooner than -- or be as safe as -- the NASA rocket and capsule now pegged for cancellation. Click here to view the article. (3/15)

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