May 25, 2010

XCOR and Masten Partner for NASA Landers Business (Source: XCOR & Masten)
XCOR Aerospace and Masten Space Systems have announced a strategic business and technology relationship to pursue jointly the anticipated NASA sponsored unmanned lander projects. These automated lander programs are expected to serve as robotic test beds on Earth, on the lunar surface, Mars, near Earth objects and other interplanetary locales, helping NASA push the boundaries of technology and opening the solar system for future human exploration. (5/25)

Delta-4 Launch Delayed Again (Source: Decatur Daily)
A Delta IV rocket made in Decatur’s United Launch Alliance plant is struggling to get off the ground. Six seconds before its scheduled launch Monday night from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the United States Air Force scrubbed the mission for the third time. The launch was scrubbed Friday because signals between the GPS satellite and the launch control center failed. On Sunday, launch managers scrubbed the launch because they needed more time to solve the problem. Monday, a steering problem on a solid rocket monitor caused the delay. The next launch will not be before Thursday, after space shuttle Atlantis returns from a 12-day mission. (5/25)

GAO Says NASA Didn't Break Law with 'Study Teams' (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA hasn't broken the law by spending nearly 13,000 hours of staff time planning what comes after the Constellation rocket program, the Government Accountability Office said Monday, but it must be careful not to cross the legal line while Congress continues to debate whether Constellation will end. The GAO investigated NASA's recent activities in response to a March request from U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, R-Huntsville; U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville; and 13 other representatives. (5/25)

Save the Space Program, Houston Readers Say (Source: Houston Business Journal)
Houstonians are protective of the region’s NASA jobs, according to responses to the latest BusinessPulse survey. Houston Business Journal asked readers if it was a waste of time to save the human space flight program, and 73 percent responded “no - we need space exploration/save jobs.” Of the other response choices, 14 percent said the program was not worth saving, while another 10 percent chose “yes - Obama will do want he wants anyway.” (5/25)

Phoenix Mars Lander Officially Dead (Source: National Geographic)
The lights have officially gone out for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. After several unsuccessful attempts to reestablish communication, a picture of the lander taken from orbit shows at least part of the craft's solar panels has broken off. Phoenix shines with a bluish tint in a shot taken July 20, 2008, by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In a picture taken May 7, 2010, the lander is darkened by a covering of reddish material.

Phoenix now appears smaller, and its shadow has changed shape. "We assumed that one of the most likely things that would cause it to perish over the winter would be ice buildup on the solar arrays, causing them to collapse," said Barry Goldstein, project manager for the Phoenix team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (5/25)

First Orion Capsule Coming Together (Source: Universe Today)
The first Orion crew capsule is rapidly taking shape as assembly work to construct the skeletal framework of the first pathfinder Orion capsule – the Ground Test Article – or GTA, is nearing completion. The Lockheed Martin team building Orion is just one weld away from completing the framework of an Orion cabin at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. “Our work is continuing with the funding which is still approved until September 2010. Orion is a very functional vehicle. All subsystems will be state of the art...Orion is not Apollo on Steroids," said Larry Price.

“We are building on what is known and it’s a very contemporary approach. The flight avionics are very similar to commercial airliners. We can take advantage of the latest advances in avionics and computing. Orion has been designed for long duration interplanetary functionality to operate beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for 6 months or more to visit the Moon, Asteroids, Lagrange points and other targets of interest for scientific investigation”, Price explained. (5/25)

Norm Augustine Explains How Committee Concluded Constellation 'Unsustainable' (Source: Huntsville Times)
The man whose blue-ribbon panel gave President Obama the argument he used to kill NASA's Constellation program came to Huntsville Monday expecting "deep concern, even hostility" from a town with 2,200 Constellation jobs at risk. Norm Augustine was right. He got direct, even blunt questions, and the applause was polite but tepid after his luncheon speech to the regional chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Augustine chaired the committee that reviewed the choices facing America's space program last year. The president has since chosen one of its suggested options, which is to kill the Ares rocket parts of Constellation while preserving the Orion capsule in modified form, provide startup funding for commercial launch companies, and focus NASA on deep-space research. He isn't on a tour defending the commission's findings, Augustine said. "You invited me," he said, "and I'm here." Click here to view the article. (5/25)

CAGW Releases Issue Brief on NASA Constellation Program (Source: CAGW)
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released an Issue Brief on NASA's Constellation program. The program is the latest in a series of troubled post-Apollo NASA human spaceflight programs, plagued by slipping deadlines and ballooning costs. "The brutal reality is that the Constellation program has become a symbol of the ‘old NASA,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.

In 2006, the GAO estimated that the total budget required for implementing the Constellation Program (through initial lunar missions) was nearly $230 billion. In 2009, the GAO concluded that “while the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.”

Efforts to terminate this enormously wasteful and ineffective program have encountered the usual congressional interference. Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have attached a measure protecting funding for Constellation to an emergency war funding bill. (5/25)

Aerospace, Military Contracting Merger Activity Lifts Off Again (Source: AIA)
As private equity emerges to support deals that lenders are still shying away from, merger activity in the aerospace and military contracting industries is picking up. As many as 35 mergers, worth a total of $2.33 billion, have already taken place this year, compared to the 25 deals worth $96.2 million in the same period last year, which was the lowest level of activity in a decade. And while the value of the transactions has surpassed even the same period in 2008, the level is still well below the $11.76 billion peak seen in 2007. (5/25)

Aerospace Industry Faces "Intellectual Disarmament" (Source: AIA)
More than 20% of Boeing Co. workers have already reached the company's optional retirement age of 55, leading Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh to worry about "intellectual disarmament" as fewer young people choose to study math and science. State leaders in Washington estimate 21,000 aerospace workers will be needed to replace retirees over the next decade, while nationwide the industry will need more than 129,000 workers over five years, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. (5/25)

Black Hole Shoved Aside, Along With 'Central' Dogma (Source: Science News)
Supermassive black holes are shiftier beasts than astronomers suspected. A new analysis reveals that the giant black hole at the core of the highly studied galaxy M87 somehow got displaced about 22 light-years from the galaxy’s center. “This result signals a necessary shift in the supermassive black hole paradigm,” said David Batcheldor of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. The prevalence of off-center black holes “could represent a significant change in our understanding of supermassive black holes, galaxies and the ways in which they may interact with each other,” he added. (5/25)

More Salvos Fired in NASA Moon Program Fight (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The congressional battle over NASA’s future has morphed into trench warfare, as neither proponents nor opponents of the agency’s troubled Constellation moon rocket program has been able to overcome the legislative gridlock. The latest two attempts to break through came today, as the House science committee plans to meet Wednesday to debate President Obama’s plans to replace the space shuttle with commercial rockets. Four House members are asking their colleagues to sign a letter that asks Obama to quickly make a decision about a heavy-lift rocket that could take explorers beyond low-Earth orbit — and consider pieces of the Constellation program, which already has cost has cost $9 billion.

The letter never mentions Ares I or its heavy-lift brother the Ares V, but it notes that it is in the “nation’s best interest to leverage the investments made in Constellation over the last 5 years, into a beyond low Earth orbit exploration program, today.” At the same time, proponents of the White House plan are touting the support of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, which today came out against Constellation. (5/25)

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