May 2, 2010

More Astrobiology Missions Likely (Source: Aviation Week)
When the National Academies make their recommendations on what planetary science missions NASA should fund over the next decade, expect the search for life or evidence of past life in the Solar System to be an overarching theme. In the coming year, the survey will winnow the 28 candidate missions down to “something that’s actually affordable, and make concrete recommendations to NASA on what should fly,” says Steve Squyres. But whichever missions make the final cut, astrobiology will remain “a key driver” of Solar System exploration during the coming decade, he says. Click here to read the article. (4/30)

Pilot Barrington Irving Inspires Kids to Reach New Heights (Source: Miami Herald)
Captain Barrington Irving wasn't born with the passion to fly. The pilot, who not only became the youngest, but also the first black person to fly around the world, discovered his life's calling by chance. While working in his parent's bookstore, he happened to meet a pilot who invited him to tour the cockpit of a Boeing 777.

Irving is now trying to inspire South Florida kids and teenagers to embark on careers in aviation. His nonprofit foundation is running a seven-week summer program that will expose students to the basics of aerodynamics, robotics, rocketry, green technology and the business side of aviation. The S.T.E.M Academy -- which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- will run from June 21 to Aug. 6. It is aimed at students in grades four through 12.

Irving's organization has hosted smaller summer programs in previous years, including one that had participants build an airplane from scratch -- that Irving eventually test flew himself. This summer program is bigger than the rest, with space for 300 students. Registration is currently open for the program, and an informational open house takes place on Tuesday at Opa-locka Executive Airport. Click here for information. (4/30)

Test Flights Will Help Jobs Crisis (Source: Florida Today)
From the "every little bit helps" department: Don't be too quick to scoff at the billion or so dollars that some U.S. senators are trying to add to the NASA budget for test flights. Sen. Bill Nelson seems to have support on some influential Senate committees for adding almost $1 billion to NASA's budget over the next five years for tests that could help lead to a Saturn V class super rocket needed for human flights beyond Earth's orbit.

There are good reasons why Nelson, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and others inside and outside the agency continue to lobby for what seems like a small amount of funding to keep a flight-testing program alive in the short-term. A scaled-back test flight plan, based on variants of the Ares I, is on the books inside NASA. The money Nelson is after could fund a flight per year from about 2012 to 2015, employing hundreds or maybe even 1,000 people after the space shuttle retirement.

The flights would not be a waste. Rather, they would be set up to test systems critical to the design of a heavy-lift rocket and even to some of the short-term privatized efforts to deliver crew to the International Space Station. NASA could test in-flight its launch abort systems. That's technology that will be needed regardless of what rockets are chosen in the short-term, or the long-term, to fly astronauts to low Earth orbit or beyond. Click here to read the article. (5/2)

VSH Spacecraft Study Nearly Done (Source: Aviation Week)
Dassault and Swiss partners are close to wrapping up study efforts on a potential human-rated suborbital vehicle, the so-called VSH. Study efforts into VSH, a six-passenger, 11-metric-ton, air-launched vehicle, have been underway since 2004. Two years ago Dassault partnered with Ruag, ETHZ and the Lausanne polytechnic to further refine the concept under the K-1000 project.

Dassault now says the fact-finding report from that effort is nearing its conclusion. Conceptually, VSH would have the suborbital vehicle separate from its carrier platform at 25,000 ft. and a speed of Mach 0.7. At that point a liquid oxygen-kerosene booster would ignite to propel the vehicle to above 100 km. (60 mi.) altitude, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 3.5.

VSH grew out of the Vehra air-launched reusable hypersonic vehicle initiative. The project also draws on work that the European Space Agency conducted in the 1990s on the Hermes spaceplane, which was abandoned. VSH is not Dassault’s only space-related engineering exercise. The company also is working on use of the Rafale fighter as a small satellite launcher, in partnership with the French space agency CNES. (4/30)

New Mexico Ranch Would Have Been Resort, Office, Parking Site (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Landeene said the family that owns the ranch had offered to sell it to the state for $2.5 million and that the ranch was being appraised for the authority "to see if it's affordable and what we might use it for." He said possible uses included serving as a dude ranch or resort tied to the spaceport and as a location for additional spaceport offices and parking, as well as another runway.

"This parcel, in my opinion, provides a very real value in a direction that in my mind is required," Landeene said. "This would be an ideal fit for the spaceport. So we are doing our due diligence and seeing where it will lead." He added, "We have not made any decisions. That would go to the spaceport board." The Spaceport Authority asked Landeene to come up with a more detailed plan for use of the Jornada Ranch, but he never completed the plan, according to Homans and Gary Whitehead, also an authority member. (4/30)

Ranch Deal Was Second Controversy for Spaceport Director (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Last month it was a questionable "in-state preference" given to the contractor chosen to build Spaceport America's hangar and terminal facilities. Toni Balzano, deputy cabinet secretary for the Economic Development Department, said the preference translates into a 5 percent credit given to state companies to make them competitive with outside bidders.

Balzano said Spaceport director Landeene was "not available to talk to the media," after he told the Journal that the Spaceport Authority had submitted an application with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" to renovate a fire station in Truth or Consequences as a spaceport visitor center. Balzano said the submission has not occurred and the intent to do so caught at least some members of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority board by surprise. "The board decided it's best if he (did) not open his mouth right now," she said. (4/7)

Editorial: A Virginia Spaceport — And How it’s Part of Jefferson’s Legacy (Source:
The extraordinary American Thomas Jefferson — the astronomer, the mathematician and the earth scientist — has been far less recognized than his achievements as statesman, philosopher, humanitarian, educator and the founder of the University of Virginia. Yet his affection for astronomy, science and mathematics left a significant footprint in Virginia lasting two centuries. Through his many letters, the third president’s interest in space is well known and documented.

While the 21st century observer cannot express with any certainty what Mr. Jefferson would say of Virginia having its own commercial spaceport at Wallops Island on the Virginia Eastern Shore; it is not difficult to suggest that his frequent study of the moon, planets and stars, would lead to the rational conclusion of his support of commercial spaceflight opportunities launched from his home state. (5/2)

Economic Roadmap Key to Post-Shuttle Growth (Source: Florida Today)
It is going to take everything from holding "reverse job fairs" to creating a database of Brevard County companies and their capabilities to deal with the economic challenges that will come with the end of the space shuttle program. That was the word from the 250 or so business and community leaders who gathered in a hotel ballroom Friday for a five-hour summit aimed at developing an economic roadmap for the county.

"We are going to bring back jobs and a whole new economy to Brevard County," said Lisa Rice, president of Brevard Workforce, which sponsored the meeting along with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast and Florida Today. Doing so will require developing a strategy that bubbles up from various networks within the community rather than one devised -- and imposed -- by hierarchal leaders, said Ed Morrison, an adviser at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, who helped direct Friday's session. "We can't keep forcing old solutions to try to work." (5/1)

SpaceX Set for Historic Journey (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket on its first test flight next week, a big step in establishing a commercial spaceline to fly freight and passengers to the International Space Station. The 180-foot rocket and a test model of the company's Dragon spacecraft are scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on May 11.

For firm founder Elon Musk, it's showtime. "We're super excited to be launching from Cape Canaveral," Musk said. "It's like opening on Broadway." For others, the flight will be a measure of President Barack Obama's controversial plan to kill NASA's moon program -- dubbed Project Constellation -- and instead invest in developing commercial "space taxis" for astronauts traveling to and from low Earth orbit. The plan is encountering opposition in Congress. The odds of success on the first launch of any new rocket are about 50-50. A failure would give ammunition to the plan's detractors.

"I hope people don't use us as a bellwether for commercial space," Musk said. The reality is that aerospace giants like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and their joint venture United Launch Alliance are more likely to win initial NASA contracts for commercial crew transportation. (5/2)

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