May 20, 2010

Busy Schedule for Rocket Obama Wants Scrapped (Source: New York Times)
The rocket that President Obama wants to kill is not dead yet. NASA managers in charge of the rocket, the Ares I, which is part of the program to send astronauts back to the moon, have put together an ambitious testing program to accelerate its development, including a flight in November 2014 with astronauts aboard. That would be four months earlier than NASA’s current schedule, which calls for the first manned flight in March 2015, and much faster than the 2017 date predicted by a blue-ribbon panel that reviewed NASA’s human spaceflight program last year.

Delays and rising costs are the primary reasons the Obama administration cites for its desire to kill the moon mission and turn over to private companies the business of launching astronauts. But loud objections have come from some members of Congress, particularly those in Texas, Florida and Alabama, the homes of the NASA centers undertaking most of the development work for the moon program, known as Constellation.

Senator Bill Nelson said, “If I had to guess right now, I’d say that the Senate is going to come out with some continued testing for an Ares I-X vehicle, to keep the options alive.” In the latest version of the plan, a second flight test, with a fully developed first stage but a dummy second stage, would launch in March 2013. Mr. Hanley said that flight could include a high-altitude test of the launching abort system that is designed to pull the crew capsule away from the rocket in case of trouble. (5/20)

Space and Science Organizations Support NASA 2011 Budget Proposal (Source: Planetary Society)
A dozen non-profit organizations, representing science and engineering constituencies as well as the public, issued a statement of support for the human space exploration plan outlined in NASA's proposed FY-2011 budget. The Joint Statement says, in part: "We believe this is an opportunity for NASA to craft the exploration strategy in partnership with science and applied science that includes the International Space Station, safe and cost-effective access to low Earth orbit, robotic precursors, and other missions." Click here to read the statement. (5/20)

Sen. Warner Steps-Up for Commercial Space (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner that caught the eye of the NewSpace community with his pro-commercial space comments during last week's Senate hearing on space. "I do think there’s interesting opportunities to leverage off of things like the X PRIZE Foundation and the kind of energy that that generated in this sector...I think it [commercialization] holds some great possibilities and opportunities...for Wallops.”

Space advocates throughout Virginia were pleased to see Senator Warner step-up in the committee to provide support to the fledgling commercial space sector taking root on the Delmarva Peninsula. Additional commercial space launch orbital carriers are being welcomed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. (5/20)

Whitesides Says Space Tourism is Just “a Small Number of Years” Away (Source: MSNBC)
When asked how soon Virgin Galactic will begin operations, George Whitesides said "It’s going to be sooner than you think...we want to make sure that the experience is safe...You know, Richard Branson is going to be on the first commercial flight, so you can be sure that it’s going to be very safe...I think a small number of years is the answer.” (5/20)

Japan Launches Venus Probe and Solar Sail (Source: MSNBC)
A powerful new Japanese spacecraft and experimental solar sail have blasted off together to start a six-month trek to explore Venus and cosmic parts beyond. One mission is aimed at uncovering the secrets of Venus and its cloud-covered surface, while the other could become the first interplanetary solar sail to fly successfully in space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is backing both spaceflights. (5/20)

Loral Announces Milestone in NASA Ames Project (Source: Loral)
Loral announced its support for NASA's new direction in conjunction with the preliminary design review for the propulsion system that it is building for a spacecraft that will study the lunar atmosphere. May 19 marked an important milestone in SS/L's contract to provide a propulsion system to NASA Ames Research Center for the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. The review confirmed that the preliminary design of the propulsion system meets all system requirements. (5/20)

Lockheed Martin Realigns Commercial Space Systems Structure (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has aligned its Commercial Space Systems unit within the company's Global Communications Systems business, a new organizational structure designed to enhance synergies and efficiencies in providing advanced communications solutions to government and commercial customers around the globe. (5/20)

SpaceX Selects New Placeholder Date For Falcon 9 (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX is targeting May 27 or May 28 for the maiden launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, which is being readied for flight at Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The 180-foot rocket had been listed on the Air Force Eastern Range schedule for launch this coming Sunday. However, the California-based company and subcontractor Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense Co. of Simsbury, Conn., still are working with the Air Force to qualify the Flight Termination System for the Falcon 9. (5/20)

Delta IV GPS Launch Rescheduled for May 21 (Source: USAF)
The launch attempt of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV with the Air Force's Global Positioning System IIF-01 satellite has been rescheduled for May 21. During normal processing for launch, mission managers determined a piece of ground support equipment used to control one of the swing arms on the Fixed Umbilical Tower was not operating correctly and needed replacing. Replacing this GSE component will add one day to launch processing. The launch is rescheduled for Friday, May 21, with a launch window of 11:25 - 11:43 p.m. EDT. (5/20)

Official: Secret Air Force Space Plane Likely Not a Weapon (Source: AIA)
Amid speculation that an unmanned, robotic Air Force space plane that launched in April could be a new space weapon or weapon platform, one former Air Force official says the plane is more likely an orbital spy vehicle. The X-37B space plane was launched under heavy secrecy, prompting some space technology experts to express concern that it could raise worries among nations such as China and Russia about U.S. military capabilities in space. (5/20)

Bolden at Odds with Nelson on Ares I Tests (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
On most space issues, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and NASA Chief Charlie Bolden stand together. But the old friends seem to have found one major point of disagreement: Obama’s plans to cancel Ares I. Nelson wants to continue testing the Ares I to help NASA build a bigger rocket that could one day land astronauts on a nearby asteroid (and save a few hundred Florida jobs in the process). “It will not only be important to...building a heavy-lift’s going to be critical to the solid rocket motors that protect this country’s national security,” Nelson said.

But the White House has resisted this effort, largely because it says Ares I testing would cost too much and impede plans to use commercial rockets for ISS transport. “I can’t pay for an Ares I today. It’s too expensive,” said Bolden. “That’s an easy decision for me because it wipes out everything...It is incredibly costly for me to go off and try a series of Ares I tests to support a heavy-lift at the present cost of solid rocket motors. Now, there is an answer. Get the cost down. And ATK says they can do that. But we’re not there right now.”

Right before that statement, Bolden elaborated: “Ares I is not important to the continued development of heavy-lift unless the nation decides that it needs to preserve the capability to develop large segmented solid rocket motors. And that decision still has to be made. Right now, we’re leaning toward liquids. And if you’re leaning toward liquids, why would you spend a lot of time using Ares I as a development vehicle if that’s not going to part of the mix?” (5/20)

Fiengold Bill Attempts Constellation Cancellation (Source: Space Politics)
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 3356, intended “to increase the maximum age for children eligible for medical care under the CHAMPVA program, and for other purposes.” The first section of the bill alters the maximum age, and the second section (of two) does, well, “other purposes.”: It would authorize the "Cancellation of Human Lunar Mission Under Constellation." (5/20)

Chicago Planetarium in the Running for Shuttle (Source: AP)
The president of the Adler Planetarium says the institution on Chicago’s lakefront is in the running to receive one of three soon-to-be retired space shuttles. Adler president Paul Knappenberger said Wednesday that the Adler is one of 21 planetariums and museums around the nation under consideration by NASA. (5/20)

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