March 19, 2010

Satellite Makers Prepare For Downturn (Source: Aviation Week)
Virtually all market indicators suggest the telecom satellite industry will continue to resist the lingering economic malaise, but how much that will benefit satellite manufacturers and launch providers remains to be seen. Revenues and earnings are surging in the fixed-service satellite (FSS) sector, which accounts for the lion’s share of industry business, driven by higher prices and hot demand from emerging nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, this expansion may not translate into new satellite purchases because the big wave of fleet renewals is passing.

SES, which has 14 satellites in the pipeline, says it will start winding down satellite expenditures in 2011 and by 2014 expects to spend barely 15% of revenues on new hardware, compared to 50% now. Eutelsat, which has four spacecraft under construction, will for all intents and purposes complete its present phase of fleet modernization after it places orders to replace three 1998-2000-era spacecraft, executives say. This is anticipated within 12 months or so. (3/19)

ULA Backs Obama NASA Plan (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
It’s been awhile since the White House got some good news from Capitol Hill in response to its controversial new plan for NASA. But that losing streak ended Thursday when the head of United Launch Alliance — a jointly-owned partnership of defense giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin — offered his “full support” to the proposal during a U.S. Senate hearing on the future of American spaceflight. “The administration’s plan makes long-overdue investments in research, technology and upgrades to our launch ranges that are essential to ensuring the United States remains the world’s leader in space,” said Michael Gass, CEO of United Launch Alliance.

Many NASA allies in Congress have vehemently opposed the new NASA plan because Constellation was supposed to replace the space shuttle after its 2010 retirement and generate high-tech jobs in states such as Alabama, Texas and Florida. Lawmakers also have griped that the proposal would give NASA less control over astronaut missions. By announcing its support, ULA has shown a possible new path forward. The alliance flies two rockets, the Atlas and Delta, and is responsible for putting satellites and science experiments into space for NASA and military customers. (3/19)

Sen. Nelson: Use NASA Commercial Crew Money for Heavy Lift? (Source: Space News)
As the Senate Commerce Committee begins work on a 2010 NASA authorization bill, science and space subcommittee chairman Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is questioning whether $6 billion the U.S. space agency is seeking for developing a commercial crew taxis might be better spent on a heavy-lift rocket that could take humans beyond low Earth orbit. Nelson told a NASA Kennedy Space Center-area audience March 19 that he expects U.S. President Barack Obama to “revamp his budget” and set specific goals for the nation’s human spaceflight program when he visits Florida April 15 to talk space.

“Now, if he doesn’t do that, it makes our job a little rougher,” said Nelson, speaking to a forum at Brevard Community College. “But I can tell you that we have a consensus that what we will do in the Senate at least is put money into aggressive [research and development] of a heavy lift [rocket],” Nelson said. “And to try to take parts that we already have --- and obviously what we already have are parts of the Ares rocket ... and utilize that as we start to develop this heavy lift capability.” (3/19)

NOAA Budget Request Includes Funds To End NPOESS Contract (Source: Space News)
Northrop Grumman faces possible termination of its multibillion-dollar contract to build a next-generation weather satellite system for the U.S. government, and many of the company’s key responsibilities on the newly revamped program are being handed over to NASA, according to a senior government official. (3/19)

Rep. Gordon Dismisses Rumor he Traded Healthcare Vote for NASA Job (Source: The Hill)
Tensions flared on the House floor Friday after Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) dismissed and criticized a colleague's claim that he traded his healthcare vote for the White House's eventual nod to lead NASA. "If it was offered to me, I would not accept," Gordon told the chamber, praising current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and stressing his decision to support Democrats' healthcare bill, which he announced Thursday, was his own.

But Gordon also took a shot at Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Friday, to whom Gordon sourced the rumor that he had traded his healthcare vote for a NASA sweetener. He repeatedly pressed Chaffetz to explain "why he said what he did and where he got that information." Chaffetz, however, dodged the question. "I think it's important that we pay attention to those types of things," the congressman said. "This is no doubt an emotional, deep debate." (3/19)

Escape Rocket Motor for NASA Moon Ship Passes Test (Source:
Though NASA's moon program is slated for cancellation by President Obama's 2011 budget, the agency is carrying on developing moon vehicles for now, with an escape rocket motor for the agency's planned Orion moon ship passing its second ground test. NASA contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK), which built the solid propellant-powered motor, conducted the test Thursday at its facility in Elkton, Md. (3/19)

SpaceX President: We Can Fly Cheaper than Russians (Source: Earth Times)
As lawmakers weigh the pros and cons of turning over US manned spaceflight to contractors, one commercial hopeful vowed Thursday that her firm could fly U.S. astronauts to the space station for less than a trip on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said she could guarantee her company would be able to provide at least three flights to the International Space Station (ISS) for less than $50 million dollars a seat. A ride on the Soyuz currently costs the NASA $51 million dollars per astronaut, and that price is likely to rise when current agreements expire. (3/19)

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