April 14, 2010

Top Five Companies To Watch: United Space Alliance (Source: Space News)
During the 15 years since Lockheed Martin and Boeing formed United Space Alliance (USA) to take over the day-to-day operations of NASA’s space shuttle fleet, the Houston-based venture has on occasion talked about taking the orbiters off NASA’s hands and operating them as a commercial launch service. But with the shuttle slated for retirement this fall after flying its four remaining missions, USA has less-lofty ambitions: finding new work.

While USA has other NASA-related contracts, the vast majority of the company’s employees work on the space shuttle. Until recently, USA had been counting on NASA’s Constellation shuttle replacement and lunar exploration program to absorb a sizeable piece of the company’s work force. USA was well positioned to continue providing launch operations support at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the shuttle replacement system — the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Ares 1 launcher. Moreover, the company had secured subcontractor roles for itself on the teams selected to build those vehicles.

Now that the Constellation program has been marked for cancellation, however, USA is scrambling to line up government contracts, looking as far afield as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for new opportunities. In early March, for example, a USA executive told Space News the company thinks its Florida-based work force — accustomed to the logistical challenges of maintaining complex and critical hardware — would be well suited for repairing and overhauling combat vehicles returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. (4/14)

Mysterious Radio Waves Emitted from Nearby Galaxy (Source: New Scientist)
There is something strange in the cosmic neighborhood. An unknown object in the nearby galaxy M82 has started sending out radio waves, and the emission does not look like anything seen anywhere in the universe before. "We don't know what it is," says co-discoverer Tom Muxlow. The thing appeared in May last year, while Muxlow and his colleagues were monitoring an unrelated stellar explosion in M82 using the MERLIN network of radio telescopes in the UK. A bright spot of radio emission emerged over only a few days, quite rapidly in astronomical terms. Since then it has done very little except baffle astrophysicists. (4/14)

Old Space Hands Aren't Buying Obama Plan (Source: MSNBC)
Call it NASA: The Next Generation. The president is pointing America toward a new direction in space, and some heroes from NASA's long-ago glory days don't like it. But others in a younger generation are excited about the president's vision. New rockets to the moon have been canceled. And the space shuttles are about to be mothballed. Instead, the Obama administration wants to rely more on private companies to fly into space over the next few years, while also working to develop a big, new government rocket ship. But the plan lacks details, and neither a specific initial destination nor a spacecraft has been settled on. (4/14)

Lynn Details Defense Department's Space Strategy (Source: USAF)
From the commander in chief in the White House to an Airman manning an observation tower on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, space is the domain that ties them together. Space provides critical capabilities for the Defense Department and the organization must change its space strategy as the situations and conditions change, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said at the National Space Symposium.

Space gives the department four critical advantages, he said: to strike precisely, to navigate with accuracy, to communicate with certainty and to see the battlefield with clarity."These advantages make U.S. forces more accurate and agile than ever before," Mr. Lynn said. "They extend the range of American military power. They have changed the nature of warfare."

Space allows Airmen to fly unmanned aerial vehicles over Afghanistan from their battle stations in the United States. And, space-based global-positioning system satellites provide the capability enabling the extremely precise targeting that's necessary for overseas counterinsurgency operations, Mr. Lynn said. (4/14)

Editorial: In Space, No One Hears You Flip-Flop (Source: Washington Times)
When President Obama arrives in Florida today for his space summit, he will bring considerable baggage with him. When running in the primaries to be the Democratic nominee, he promised to cancel the space-shuttle replacement program, known as Constellation, to pay for new education initiatives. As a candidate in the general election, he famously changed course, promising to accelerate Constellation and close the gap between its arrival and the shuttle's departure from the nation's space capabilities. His first-year actions started to make good on the promise. Then, with his fiscal 2011 budget request, the president changed course again, proposing cancellation of Constellation, as he had promised in his earlier incarnation. Truly, it must be said that the president has delivered on his promise of change - he changes every year. (4/14)

Orion Lite Won't Reduce NASA Russian Dependence (Source: Hyperbola)
President Obama's decision to resurrect Orion as an ISS escape capsule, we are told, will reduce NASA's dependence upon Russian crew transport services. This could not be more wrong. The ISS nominally has six crew, and for that Russia is providing four three-crew Energia Soyuz TMA spacecraft a year. Orion Lite will not launch crew, it launches unmanned for an automatic rendezvous/docking and then sits there, but until when?

It is not needed for an emergency return. Soyuz have been docked to the station for the emergency return role ever since station has been inhabited. So Orion Lite is not reducing Russian flights to the station and it is simply not needed for the escape role. It is true that the US has been "responsible" for crew emergency return under the ISS framework agreement for some time. Perhaps Orion Lite means NASA doesn't have to pay some sort of crew transport premium on those $51 million, now $56 million, seat prices, because Soyuz was not supposed to be an escape capsule. (4/14)

Obama Kept Some Promises About NASA and Spaceflight, But Broke a Big One (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
President Obama is taking some flak for his space policy priorities. But there was little secrecy about what he planned to do with the nation's space program once he won office, and with one exception — cancellation of the Constellation system, the successor to the Space Shuttle — he has stuck to what he promised. PolitiFact.com, a St. Petersburg Times Web site, found 19 campaign promises related to space. Of these, PolitiFact determined that the president has kept 12, a 63 percent success rate, far higher than his across-the-board success rate of 22 percent.

"The President has in fact kept most of his space-related promises," said Edward Ellegood, a space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. "It's the few he hasn't yet kept that are causing big problems in Florida." Obama had said during the campaign that he would "endorse the goal of sending human missions to the moon by 2020, as a precursor in an orderly progression to missions to more distant destinations, including Mars." (4/14)

Orbital Would Use COTS Boost To Augment Taurus 2 Testing (Source: Space News)
If Congress approves NASA’s plan to add $300 million to its 2011 budget to develop commercial cargo delivery systems for the space station, Orbital Sciences Corp. likely would use its share of the funding to augment ground testing of its planned medium-lift Taurus 2 rocket and possibly conduct an additional test flight of the vehicle. (4/14)

Nitrogen Valve in Station's Coolant Plumbing Stuck (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Engineers are troubleshooting a stuck valve in a nitrogen tank assembly that's needed to pressurize a new ammonia coolant tank installed on the space station by the Discovery astronauts. If ground commanding does not resolve the problem, a spacewalk could be required to install a spare nitrogen tank assembly to avoid a major powerdown due to higher temperatures caused by the changing orientation of the station's orbit with respect to the sun. (4/14)

NASA to Launch Human-Like Robot to Join Space Station Crew (Source: NASA)
NASA will launch the first human-like robot to space later this year to become a permanent resident of the International Space Station. Robonaut 2, or R2, was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors as a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.

The 300-pound R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 will launch on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for September. Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness. (4/14)

Hawaii, NASA Reach Agreement (Source: KITV)
Hawaii and NASA came to an agreement on Tuesday. The governor held a news conference with the director of NASA's Ames Research Center to sign a partnership agreement. The collaboration involves research into advanced aviation, space exploration and science. Hawaii has a long history with NASA from helping train astronauts for moon landings to the observatories on Mauna Kea and Haleakala.

"The first collaboration will be to train University of Hawaii engineering students and professors how to design and build a satellite. Some students will come to NASA Ames to work with our scientists on small satellites," said Pete Worden, with NASA Ames Research Center. NASA officials said the satellite will be named "Hawaii Sat." (4/14)

Pentagon Looks For Next Move After Proposed Constellation Cut (Source: Defense News)
U.S. Air Force Space command chief Gen. Robert Kehler said the Air Force is working with the Pentagon and NASA to determine how it will fill potential gaps in its solid and liquid rocket motor supplies in light of the president's proposed cut of NASA's Constellation rocket program.

"The challenges are; propulsion and making sure we have a way forward for propulsion" for both solid and liquid fuel rockets, said Kehler during an April 13 briefing with reporters during the National Space Symposium here. "What we do about it depends on" how much of the president's proposed budget for NASA is ultimately implemented. (4/14)

11,800 Direct Jobs to Result From NASA’s Investment (Source: CSF)
Newly released results from The Tauri Group, an independent, analytic consulting firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, reveal that the new NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program will result in an average of 11,800 direct jobs per year over the next five years, nationwide. The Tauri Group study was commissioned by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation for an objective estimate of jobs resulting from NASA’s proposed spending of $5.8 billion on Commercial Crew and an additional $312 million on Commercial Cargo from FY2011 to FY2015. (4/14)

Virginia Funding Aimed at Spaceport (Source: Virginia Pilot)
Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing additional funding for the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority on the Eastern Shore. Under proposed budget amendments outlined Tuesday, the governor would increase funding in the biennial budget by a total of more than $700,000. The authority and Orbital Sciences Corp. entered an agreement under which the company would invest at least $45 million and create 125 jobs, provided the authority oversaw improvements at the spaceport. (4/15)

CubeSat Experiment Off the Ground for Embry-Riddle Students (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
All the signs of an all-nighter were there: College seniors huddled into a cubbyhole, dressed casually with tousled hair, unshaven, unshowered. On the desk, a coffee cup, a protractor and a chocolate bunny. A ladder leaned on a corner. Just outside, a whiteboard displayed a punch list for launch day, starting with 5 a.m. checks on equipment, including their CubeSat and its carrier high-altitude balloon.

On the computer screen before the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University seniors Tuesday, one of the displays showed a sideways "S" in yellow. A green line tracked closely to the yellow line over a map of Florida's east coast. Minutes before, they had launched a mini-satellite, or a "cubesat," from the roof of the nearby College of Aviation building, and the green line was showing them the cube sat was about where they had expected it to be.

There is a lot of interest at Embry-Riddle in the upper atmosphere, in addition to space, but the opportunity to fly small satellites is rare and expensive. So six students built their own cubesat using items as pedestrian as Styrofoam, toilet tank balls and duct tape. They also constructed their own electronic boards and circuitry and software, bringing the cost of the payload to about $1,000. The class project's cost came to about $3,700. Partial funding came from the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium. (4/14)

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