March 24, 2010

NASA to Devise New Spending Plan to Placate Congress (Source: Wall Street Journal)
NASA is scrambling to come up with a new budget proposal to placate congressional critics as senior members of the House Appropriations Committee say that White House's plan for the agency won't fly on Capitol Hill. The Obama administration had initially proposed to allocate $6 billion over five years for a program that eventually would outsource manned space missions to private companies. Members of the appropriations subcommittee, including Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, its ranking Republican, have told NASA in recent weeks that they won't support the White House's proposed budget.

If there is such work, though (which presumably would have to be supported by the White House), NASA administrator Charles Bolden wasn’t letting on during the subcommittee’s hearing about the budget proposal this afternoon. Bolden reiterated his wholehearted support for the plan. “I think that the budget that we got is the best budget for the nation and the best budget for NASA, and it essentially represents what I recommended to the president,” Bolden said during questioning from Wolf. (3/23)

Embry-Riddle Supports KSC Workshop for Commercial Space Industry (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA sponsored a Commercial Space Transportation Industry Workshop on Wednesday and Thursday at KSC, in cooperation with Space Florida, the U.S. Air Force, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (the luncheon sponsor). The workshop facilitated a technical exchange between KSC and both established and emerging space transportation companies. Discussion centered on how KSC and the Eastern Range can best be modernized and otherwise improved to enable and support the commercial space transport industry and other users. The President's proposed FY 2011 budget has included a line item for $1.9 billion to address such needs.

KSC officials said they will work closely with the commercial launch industry, the Air Force 45th Space Wing, and other stakeholders to update the KSC master plan for spaceport development, and to gain insights to plan for and prioritize investments should Congress authorize the proposed initiative. Companies participating in the workshop included the known contenders for the anticipated NASA initiative for procuring commercial crew transportation services to the International Space Station, and other entrepreneurial providers developing suborbital launch systems. (3/24)

Common Crew Capsule Approach Favored by Bolden (Source: Space Politics)
NASA administrator Charles Bolden told lawmakers he favors a “common crew module” that could be launched on multiple vehicles, rather than have each potential commercial crew provider develop their own spacecraft. “One of the things I would like to do is to help them use some of the research and development money that we have to help build a common crew module that could be interchangeably used on a number of launch vehicles,” he said. Such an approach would result in cost savings and simplify training for crews, he said. “I would like to help the commercial entities design a single crew module because it’s good for us to train in… and that can be used interchangeably on any launch vehicle.” Left unsaid is whether such an approach would incorporate any elements of Orion. (3/24)

Hunt is On for Obama Meeting Site (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
It remains to be seen what exactly White House plans are for the April 15 meeting, which is now being called a “Space Conference.” NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver was at Kennedy Space Center last week scoping out possible venues for the meeting. Her choices are the Operations and Checkout (O&C) building that was recently refurbished as a factory to assemble the Orion crew capsule that is now on the Constellation chopping block; the Operations Support Building 2; the Training Auditorium; the Debus Center at the visitor complex; and the Saturn Center.

According to KSC officials, Garver really liked the O&C building because it was designed to be energy-efficient and could be used to assemble commercial capsules that would launch from nearby pads. The location of the meeting isn’t the only aspect of the conference taxing officials’ minds. Administration insiders are still discussing various formats as well as whom to invite to the event. There is some talk about a Town Hall meeting with space workers, but many people — not least KSC Center Director Bob Cabana — are reportedly opposed to the idea because tensions are running high at KSC.

As many as 9,000 shuttle workers are set to lose their jobs when the shuttle stops flying, perhaps later this year. The sad part is that despite all the rhetoric flying around, no program – neither Obama’s nor Constellation – is likely to offset those numbers anytime soon. (3/24)

Commercial Crew Launch Approach Debated in Congress (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
In response to lawmaker questions, Thomas Young, a former Lockheed Martin executive, said the White House plan was untenable and that NASA should not rely on new commercial rockets to transport astronauts. “In my view, this is a risk too high and not a responsible course. The commercial crew option should not be approved,” he said. Young, however, had a narrowly defined definition for what commercial rockets entailed and did not include the Atlas V or Delta IV rockets, run by a joint venture of defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Michael Gass, head of the United Launch Alliance partnership, recently told Congress that ULA could do its own version of commercial crew after the space shuttle is retired this year. Young’s comments instead appeared directed at new commercial companies such as SpaceX, which is working to design a spacecraft capable of taking NASA cargo to the Space Station. The company also aims to one day carry crew into orbit and has designed its capsules in preparation of this possibility.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, argued against Young’s logic and said that the U.S. has a long tradition of relying on commercial companies for domestic priorities, including delivering mail by air or building railroads to link the nation’s cities. He said using commercial companies could significantly reduce government costs and still do the mission, citing upcoming efforts by SpaceX to launch the first flight of its Falcon 9 rocket after getting less than $300 million from NASA to design a spacecraft capable of transporting cargo. (3/24)

China To Complete Wenchang Space Center By 2015 (Source: Space Daily)
China's fourth space center, Wenchang, will be put into service between 2014 and 2015, not in 2013 as it was previously announced. Located in a forest of coconut palms on the northeast coast of the Hainan tropical island, Wenchang will be the country's first low-latitude space center. Its latitude of only 19 degrees north of the equator will contribute to lower fuel consumption and maximum payload. (3/24)

Cosmos has Billions More Stars Than Thought (Source: AFP)
Astronomers may have underestimated the tally of galaxies in some parts of the Universe by as much as 90 percent, according to a study reported on Wednesday in Nature, the weekly British science journal. Surveys of the cosmos are based on a signature of ultraviolet light that turns out to be a poor indicator of what's out there, its authors say. In the case of very distant, old galaxies, the telltale light may not reach Earth as it is blocked by interstellar clouds of dust and gas -- and, as a result, these galaxies are missed by the map-makers. (3/24)

Florida Lt. Gov. Wants to Debate President on Space (Source: Florida Today)
Florida's lieutenant governor doesn't fool around when looking for a debate opponent. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general, issued a public challenge Wednesday to President Obama, who is widely regarded as a highly skilled orator and debater. Kottkamp said he wants to debate the merits of a new space exploration program with the president, who is scheduled to be in Florida next month for a space summit. Obama's recommended budget for fiscal year 2011 calls for an end to the space shuttle program, which could lead to several thousand jobs being lost at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (3/24)

A New Hope for Obama NASA Plan? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Congressional opposition to a new White House plan for NASA appears to have softened slightly, as Democratic lawmakers on a key U.S. House panel said they would be willing to work with the administration during a Tuesday hearing with NASA chief Charles Bolden. Democratic members of the House subcommittee that controls NASA spending were not as hostile to the proposal as their counterparts on the House Science and Technology committee. Support from the appropriations committee – who write the budget — is critical.

“I think this will be a collaborative process,” said U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice. “My sense is that there is a lot of openness on all sides.” But Republican lawmakers reiterated concerns that canceling Constellation — and its aim of returning astronauts to the moon — amounted to surrendering U.S. supremacy in space. They also raised concerns about using commercial rockets, rather than an in-house program such as Constellation.

“Can you imagine the United States government having to lease the USS Harry Truman from Northrop Grumman?” asked U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, responding to an earlier characterization that Bolden made about “leasing” spacecraft for NASA missions. The most heated exchange came when U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, asked Bolden which country — the United States or China — would send humans to the moon next. Bolden started to respond by saying it didn’t matter — because the U.S. already has been there — when Wolf cut him off. “Well it does to me,” he snapped. “It does to me, and I think it matters, with all respect, to a lot of Americans.” (3/24)

Air Force Eyes Northrop as Builder of Military Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department is developing requirements for its next-generation weather satellite system and might tap Northrop Grumman to build it, possibly using the contract vehicle already in place for a now-defunct effort to field a joint civil-military constellation, according to a senior Pentagon official. Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems since 2002 has been the prime contractor for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was intended to satisfy the climate and weather data needs of military and civilian users. The program was hobbled by an ineffective tri-agency management structure and encountered years of cost growth and delays. NPOESS cancellation was announced in February. (3/24)

Where's the Science in the UK's Space Agency? (Source: New Scientist)
The UK Space Agency has been launched, to much excitement and enthusiasm. Forty million pounds was announced to set the whole thing up. It will be located alongside the ESA offices in Harwell, Oxfordshire. The UK space industry, we were told, supports 68,000 jobs directly and indirectly, and contributes £6 billion to the economy. The plan is to grow this over the next 20 years to create 100,000 jobs and contribute £40 billion a year to the economy. But largely absent from the morning's announcements was any mention of science. In the UK, it seems space is about revitalizing manufacturing industry now that we have lost faith in the financial sector to make the country prosper. It is not about science, astronomy or planetary exploration. (3/24)

ERC Wins NASA Ames R&D Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has contracted with ERC Inc., of Huntsville, Ala., for space technology research and development activities at the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The contract has a maximum value of $45 million. ERC Inc. will support the Space Technology Division in the Office of the Director of Exploration Technology at Ames. The division develops technologies used to design and fabricate prototype hypervelocity vehicles that could travel in the atmospheres of Earth and other planetary bodies in the solar system. (3/24)

Space Coast Rally Planned Before Obama Visit (Source: Florida Today)
The location and format for President Obama's planned April 15 space conference in Florida remain unconfirmed by the White House. But NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Tuesday during congressional testimony that he expects the president to tour KSC facilities and possibly talk to employees. "It is intended to be a space conference in Florida where the president and members of Congress will participate," Bolden told lawmakers. "The primary purpose of the president is to allow him to provide his vision to the nation and the world, actually, and also to allow him to have an opportunity, which he has not so far, to at least see some of the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, and hopefully talk to some of the workers and the like."

Space Coast residents are planning a community space rally to send the president a message that the current budget proposal is unacceptable, according to organizers. An April 11 rally in Cocoa is being organized by Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher. Fisher's office today confirmed the attendance of U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge. Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is also confirmed. (3/24)

More NASA From Bolden (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is asking Congress to be patient as his agency grinds out the details of the turnabout space program embodied in the Fiscal 2011 White House budget request, telling lawmakers that more programmatic information will be released soon. Bolden also says he has been in touch with U.S. Air Force Sec. Michael Donley and top military and intelligence officials on their mutual need for a heavy-lift launch vehicle. And he says he personally would like to “lease” commercial human-rated vehicles that NASA’s astronauts could pilot to the International Space Station (ISS), guided by a mixed team of NASA and contractor personnel at Mission Control Center – Houston.

“Very soon we will be announcing program office assignments needed to carry out the president’s vision, and challenges to NASA. Other details will become available in the coming weeks.” Those details still must clear the White House review process that apparently stymied releases of the full NASA budget along with the rest of the federal request on Feb. 1. Although Bolden took the blame personally for the uncoordinated budget release, members of the panel continued to express frustration that they still have not received a full explanation of the White House plan for the space agency. (3/24)

Embry-Riddle Plans Another Astronomy Open House (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle's Creekside Observatory is planning a March 26 Open House for students and the public. The event will be held between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Visit for information. (3/24)

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