May 13, 2010

With NASA's Future Uncertain, Armadillo Aerospace in Race To Privatize Final Frontier (Source: Dallas Observer)
Play it in slow motion, cue the orchestra and cut to a fluttering flag, and this scene could beat the richest Hollywood cliché. The rocket men are returning from their mission, seven of them in matching blue jumpsuits, mission patches on their sleeves. Riding on a massive flatbed truck, they bounce down the road cut through an open field, their rocket still hot from its launch.

For those in "the industry," alternately called "NewSpace" or "Alt Space" or, to be more precise, "," their timing couldn't be better. In February, President Obama announced that he'd cut from this year's NASA budget the Constellation program, the space shuttle's replacement, putting an end to its slow progress and ballooning costs. Click here to view the article. (5/13)

Embry-Riddle Team Competes in KSC-Based Lunabotics Mining Competition, May 27-28 (Source: NASA)
The Lunabotics Mining Competition is a university level competition designed to engage and retain students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The challenge is for students to design and build a remote controlled or autonomous excavator (lunabot) that can collect and deposit a minimum of 10 kg of lunar simulant within 15 minutes. The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the lunar simulant, the weight and size limitations of the lunabot, and the ability to control the lunabot from a remote control center. Twenty two teams from around the nation are ready to compete at the Kennedy Space Center Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 27-28. Click here for information. (5/13)

Australia Looks to Join the Space Age (Source: Flight Global)
There was a time when Australia stood proud as a pioneer of orbital spaceflight. The successful orbital flight of WRESAT made the country only the fourth - after the USSR, USA and France - to design and build a satellite for launch from its own territory. WRESAT flew from the Woomera test range north-west of Adelaide aboard a modified American Redstone rocket in 1967. The mission successfully completed 642 polar orbits before burning up on re-entry, but remains the country's sole launch.

Since then, the country's involvement in space science and industry has "drifted and the sense of purpose has been lost", according to a 2008 Australian Senate report. Now, the government hopes to join the space age with a more coherent vision. In early May the second round of the four-year, A$40 million ($36 million) Australian Space Research Program (ASRP), part of a four-year, A$46.8 million Australian Space Science Program, concluded. The program also created a dedicated Space Policy Unit within the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. (5/13)

Aderholt Conspires with Armstrong, Cernan to Defeat Obama Space Plan (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-AL, met Wednesday with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan to "discuss ways to defeat the president's plan to cancel the NASA Constellation program." "It is quite an honor to partner with astronaut greats Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan in fighting to preserve our nation's phenomenal space program," Aderholt said. (5/13)

DOD: Chaotic Space Traffic Needs Rules, Less Secrecy (Source: AFP)
A top US general on Thursday called for international rules to control chaotic space traffic, warning satellites are increasingly at risk of collision. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was no longer possible for the United States and other countries to keep vast numbers of orbiting satellites a secret. "We're going to have get to some level of regulation. Nobody wants to do that," Cartwright told a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The general said he is daily faced with the question: "How many people are going to run into each other in space today if we don't cajole, plead with somebody to move out of the way in the next orbit cycle? "How many people are going to step on each other's signals?" More than 50 years after the start of the space age there are still no globally agreed rules for orbital tracks, as there are for flight paths for aircraft. (5/13)

Delta Marks a 50-Year Milestone (Source: Florida Today)
Chuck Ordahl laughs when reminiscing about the history of Delta rockets and how many times he heard the program wouldn't live to see another day. The Delta was designed as just an interim launch vehicle with a manifest of only a dozen launches. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Delta launch. That was 348 launches ago.

"This Delta program has had nine lives," the 75-year-old former chief engineer and vice president with the Delta program said via telephone from his California home. "There were a couple times in my career when we were wondering, 'Where are we going to go next month or next year?' Here we are decades later still doing this." (5/13)

US Satellites Shadow China's Submarines (Source: Asia Times)
The People's Liberation Army's Navy (PLAN) submarines cannot spot United States satellites high overhead as the submarines leave their bases at Sanya on Hainan Island, Qingdao in Shandong province and Ningbo in Zhejiang province, and head for deeper water.

Detecting submarines via satellite is a form of Non-Acoustic Anti-Submarine Warfare (NAASW). Lasers, infrared and other detectors and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) in space may be used as part of this NAASW activity. Satellites might see subtle undersea disturbances caused by submarines, watch wave patterns on or beneath the sea surface, or detect subtle variations in ocean temperature.

Over the next 18 months, the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) - operator of the US spy satellite fleet - is planning multiple satellite launches, and China must assume that one or more of these new US surveillance satellites will help support US Navy efforts to locate and track PLAN submarines. (5/13)

Iridium Makes Down Payment on Iridium Next Launches (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Iridium Communications has made a $19 million deposit with a launch-services provider to lock in contract terms for the launch of its second-generation Iridium Next constellation and expects to select a prime contractor for the 66 satellites this summer. Iridium is also opening two new fronts against its competition this year, reducing the price of its telephone handsets to prepare for a lower-priced offering by Inmarsat of London, and rolling out a two-way personal satellite tracking device to attack a market being developed by competitor Globalstar. (5/13)

KSC in Focus for Transformers-3 Film Crew (Source: Florida Today)
Transformers could be battling on the Space Coast later this year, as scenes from the upcoming sci-fi action movie "Transformers 3" will be filmed at Kennedy Space Center and possibly other local sites. Local filming is scheduled to take place for about eight days in September, around the time of a scheduled space shuttle launch, according to Brevard County Film Commissioner Bonnie King. She said it will be the biggest film shot locally in more than a decade. (5/13)

Editorial: Obama's NASA Plan in Limbo as Congress Fights His Proposals (Source: Florida Today)
The fate of President Obama's NASA plans remain in doubt as Congress keeps pushing back on his proposal to kill the Constellation moon project and ferry astronauts to orbit aboard private rockets. Members are proposing a grab bag of options, making the muddy waters worse and raising more questions about the future of U.S. space exploration when answers are needed.

They should start coalescing around an alternative policy that could be brought forward for scrutiny and debate, because the longer the uncertainty lasts, the more difficult it becomes for NASA to move forward. Continued Congressional wrangling could stall the Obama plan for many months or derail it entirely, substituting a program of unknown size, shape and cost. The gamesmanship can’t last forever, and Congress should get its act in gear. (5/13)

Dog on the Menu for Chinese Astronauts (Source: Daily Telegraph)
Yang Liwei, the 44-year-old military pilot who commanded the Shenzhou Five mission in 2003, revealed the menu on-board the spacecraft in his autobiography, The Nine Levels between Heaven and Earth. "Many of my friends are curious about what we eat [in space] and think that the astronauts must have some expensive delicacies, like shark's fin or abalone," he wrote. "Actually we ate quite normal food, there is no need to keep it a secret," he added. He listed a menu including braised chicken, steamed fish and dog meat from Huajiang county in Guangdong, which is famed for its nutritional benefits in China. (5/13)

Subcommittee Adjusts Budget for Military Space Programs (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) cut $182 million from the $9.9 billion FY2011 request for unclassified national security space programs today. Additions include $50M for communication satellite technologies; $40M for ORS; $51.2M for Army GPS receivers; $28M for Atlas/Delta common upper stage development; and $5M for a Navy satellite communication project.

Reductions include $300M from the NPOESS program; $40.9M from "High Integrity GPS"; and $30M from the Space Based Surveillance. Overall, the subcommittee's adjustments amount to a budget reduction of $182 million. Click here to read the article. (5/12)

Rockefeller: NASA Budget Not Just About Jobs (Source: The Hill)
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on Wednesday stressed that it was short-sighted to gauge the White House's proposed 2011 NASA budget solely in terms of the jobs it creates or destroys. "Too many, including myself, defenders of the status quo for NASA -- be they many or be they few -- base their views solely on the job impact," he said. "I don't think we can afford to do that."

"NASA's first mission must be to do what's best for the nation," the chairman continued. "The American people deserve the best from their space program and NASA's role cannot stay static." (5/12)

Former Astronauts Unhappy with Obama Space Plan (Source: AP)
The first man to walk on the moon said Wednesday that President Barack Obama's plans to revamp the human space program would cede America's longtime leadership in space to other nations. Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut on the moon, told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that the Obama plan was short on ambition, including the decision to alter the Bush administration's goal of establishing a permanent presence on the moon.

Cernan said that he, Armstrong and Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell agreed that the administration's budget for human space exploration "presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to 'nowhere.'" Lovell, while not present at the hearing, issued a statement opposing Obama's NASA budget. (5/12)

Sea Launch Says Energia Will Finance its Bankruptcy Exit (Source: Space News)
Commercial launch services provider Sea Launch Co., which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization since June 2009, said May 12 that a joint-venture company with Russia’s RSC Energia as its principal partner has agreed to invest $140 million to pull the company out of bankruptcy-court supervision and back into service.

Sea Launch said Energia Overseas Ltd. has also agreed to provide Sea Launch with $200 million in working capital to get back into its business of launching heavy telecommunications satellites into orbit from a floating Pacific Ocean platform stationed at the equator for each launch campaign. If the plan is approved, Energia will own 85 percent of Sea Launch’s equity. Sea Launch’s unsecured creditors, meaning those who will not receive cash compensation for their unpaid bills, will own 15 percent. (5/12)

Mike Griffin, Master Manipulator (Source: NASA Watch)
According eye witnesses, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan showed up a little early before their hearing on Capitol Hill. They arrived at the special waiting room accompanied by Mike Griffin. This synchs with the widely-held suspicon that not only did Griffin help write Neil Armstrong's prepared comments, but also that Griffin has been spearheading much of the behind the scenes lobbying against the Obama Space policy on Capitol Hill. Gee, I hope he is registered ... Stay tuned. (5/12)

NASA Looking to Six-Legged Robot to Bbuild Human Outpost on Mars (Source: Computerworld)
NASA officials said it expects a six-legged robot now under development to be on its way to Mars by 2015. NASA is building a six-legged robot that can walk or roll on wheels, and, it hopes, ultimately help set up a habitat on Mars for the later arrivals of astronauts. The robot, dubbed Athlete, has been in development for the past five years at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The robot is designed to move easily across the various types of terrain on the moon, on Mars or even on an asteroid. (5/12)

Does Atlantis Have One Extra Flight In Her? (Source:
Could space shuttle Atlantis get a reprieve from retirement and fly again next year to truck a load of supplies to the International Space Station? Well, no one knows the definitive answer yet. Many have urged NASA to do it. The program has the fuel tank and solid rockets to power the mission. But, thus far, the space agency hasn't formally started planning the flight, nor does it have the funding from Congress.

The ability to even contemplate the bonus extension stems from the post-Columbia philosophy of always having a rescue vehicle available to mount an emergency retrieval of astronauts stranded in orbit by a damaged shuttle unfit for re-entry. (5/12)

Rubio Speaks to Space Workers About Future (Source: Florida Today)
US Senate candidate Marco Rubio said Wednesday that the United States can’t be No. 2 when it comes to space. “I’m a true believer in how important the space program is to America,” the Republican from West Miami told a group of space-industry leaders gathered for a roundtable discussion following an afternoon tour of the Kennedy Space Center. Rubio spent much of the hourlong meeting asking about the outlook for space and soliciting ideas on where the program needs to head. (5/12)

Intelsat: GAO Rejects Competitors' Protest of Navy Contract (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on May 12 said the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has rejected protests by three companies alleging anti-competitive behavior on the part of an Intelsat subsidiary, paving the way for the activation of a U.S. Navy satellite-services contract valued at $543 million over five years. (5/12)

Intelsat Reports First Quarter 2010 Results (Source: Intelsat)
Intelsat reported revenue of $621.1 million and a net loss of $102.6 million for the three months ended March 31, 2010. "Our attractive contract backlog, which increased to $9.5 billion at the end of the first quarter, provides stability to our business and visibility into our future revenue streams.” (5/12)

Qatar Satellite to be Launched by Arianespace in 2012 (Source: Zawya)
Manama Qatar is set to launch its first satellite at the end of 2012 to provide superior coverage across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. The $300 million deal to launch and operate the satellite, named Eshail, will include launch aboard an Ariane rocket. (5/12)

NASA’s Muddled Message on Human Space Flight (Source: Parabolic Arc)
I listened to most of the Congressional hearing today. Rather than getting into the specifics of what everyone said, let me comment on what I think the Obama Administration has been missing during the last three months: an ability to define and lay out on a clear message. Obama’s policy is actually quite simple. It starts with the following basic reality, which the Augustine Committee pointed out with crystal clarity: "Constellation is unaffordable under any realistic budget."

NASA needs to repeat this over and over again for it to sink in. Congress either has to accept that reality, or it must provide a massive boost in funding needed to make the program work. My guess is the money isn’t really. If you accept that basic point, there are several clear alternatives. Click here to view the article. (5/12)

Hutchison Can't Count (Source: Space KSC Blog)
The Houston Chronicle reports that the lame-duck U.S. Senator from Texas plans to argue Shuttle should be extended because it's supposedly safer than Soyuz. Let's do the basic math for her. Fourteen astronauts have died on Shuttle — seven on Challenger in 1986, and seven more on Columbia in 2003.

Soyuz has suffered no deaths since 1971, during its early days. One cosmonaut died on the initial Soyuz 1 flight in April 1967 when his parachute failed. Three more died on Soyuz 11 in June 1971 when a valve was left open after undocking from the Salyut space station and the cabin depressurized. (5/12)

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