May 31, 2010

Grayson Critical of Commercial Space Plan (Source: Space Politics)
During last week's space hearing in Washington, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) compared the capabilities of NASA with the commercial sector when it comes to responding to a spaceflight crisis like Apollo 13. “I told the NASA administrator recently that my sense is that if a commercial enterprise had been running the space program at the time of Apollo 13, then all of those hundreds of engineers, mechanics, and other astronauts who worked so hard to make sure that the three men returned to Earth safely would have been replaced by one 20-year-old in a Grateful Dead t-shirt working on a laptop.” (5/27)

HASC and Constellation (Source: Space Politics)
To listen to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has taken a strong stand against NASA’s plans to cancel most of Constellation. “There is report language, which meets our (committee’s needs), where we went almost two pages criticizing NASA’s decision to cancel the Constellation [program] without recognizing the impact it would have on our defense industry,” he told a newspaper. He said the language was “a win” for those fighting for Constellation.

The language of the report, though, suggests that Rep. Bishop may have overstated his point. The section is actually only about one page worth of material and much of it does not address Constellation at all. The challenges of maintaining the SRM industrial base, it notes, “are made worse by the proposed termination of ... Constellation ... Defense officials have estimated that the cost of propulsion systems could increase from 40 to 100 percent because infrastructure costs currently shared by [DOD] and NASA would be passed on to the Department of Defense... “Any DOD strategic plan should include NASA, and any NASA plan should include the Department of Defense.”

The HASC report cites unnamed “defense officials”, but back in March Rear Admiral Stephen E. Johnson, director of strategic systems programs for the Navy, told a Senate committee that he expected DOD costs to increase by only 10-20 percent. Nowhere does the section explicitly criticize NASA, only noting the impact NASA’s plans make on SRM planning for DOD, which already is facing its own issues of “sustaining currently-deployed strategic and missile defense systems or maintaining an intellectual and engineering capacity to support the next-generation rocket motors." (5/31)

Another Senate Candidate Visits Space Coast (Source: SPACErePORT)
U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek will visit the Space Coast this week to discuss space industry issues with local leaders. Meek is currently a congressman from the Miami area and is considered to be the likely democratic nominee for the seat currently held by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL). Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will participate. (5/31)

NASA Lunabotics Contest Draws College Students to Titusville (Source: Florida Today)
Chris Farnell sat in "mission control" and used a laptop computer to navigate his team's robot through an obstacle course designed to replicate the moon's surface. The 26-year-old electrical engineering student and his teammates from the University of Arkansas competed against 21 other universities in the NASA-sponsored Lunabotics Mining Competition. The two-day event was held at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Teams are given 15 minutes to maneuver robots they built in the Lunarena, a 24-foot by 25-foot box filled with a light, fluffy soil, similar in texture to the terrain on the moon. Students sitting in a small room and viewing their robots via video cameras have to guide them from one end of the box, through an obstacle course filled with rocks, to the other. (5/28)

Ohio State Students Send Experiment to Space (Source: The Lantern)
Ohio State aerospace engineering students are sending an experiment to the International Space Station. The experiment will examine the effects of microgravity, the low-gravity environment of space, on the growth of ceria, an oxide of a rare-earth metal that increases the rate of other chemical reactions. Ceria has a crystal structure, which means that its atoms are arranged in a 3-D pattern. The microgravity of space enables the enhanced growth of ceria crystals. (5/26)

NASA Finds New Criticism and Skepticism Before Congress (Source: New York Times)
The head of NASA was buffeted with more criticism and skepticism before Congress on Wednesday as he sought to defend the Obama administration’s proposal to revamp the space agency. Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, said Congress had still not been told enough to make informed decisions about the president’s plan to cancel the space agency’s Constellation program. (5/26)

Utah Congressman Asks NASA: Will Changes be Safer for Astronauts? (Source: Standard-Examiner)
Federal lawmakers grilled a leading NASA official Wednesday about the proposed changes to the Constellation space program -- a change that could mean serious job losses to a Utah company. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, held a photo of an unidentified Utah worker who lost his job last week at ATK, one of the contractors for the Constellation program.

"I hope I can tell him he lost his job because the government was going to save money or come up with a program that was safer for astronauts ... not because we are choosing winners or losers /26)in the free market," said Bishop at a hearing of the House Committee on Science and Technology. This month, ATK reduced its payroll by 247 people, mostly by layoffs, blaming changes to defense spending in the missile and shuttle programs. (5/26)

Albuquerque Firm Lands Spaceport Contract (Source:
An Albuquerque company will build the fences and security gates at the New Mexico spaceport after landing a $937,000 contract. Valley Fence Company was selected over three other firms. The work calls for construction of chain-link fences and gates throughout the Spaceport America property, including perimeter fencing and access gates to create a secured airfield. (5/26)

Budget and Personnel Turmoil Further Cloud NASA's Future (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Congress and NASA continue to spar over the agency's priorities, even as new budget projections and agency personnel shifts announced Wednesday riled lawmakers who vowed to block White House proposals to outsource manned missions to commercial operators. Mr. Bolden, for example, disclosed that it could cost NASA more than $4.5 billion to build and deploy a crew rescue vehicle for the space station, which is being developed by prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. Current administration budget proposals don't include any of those costs, and NASA officials so far haven't identified other NASA accounts from which they expect to get those funds. (5/26)

Oklahoma Works to Promote Aerospace Industry (Source: NewsOK)
The Oklahoma Aerospace Institute was created in 2008 by House Bill 3098 as an organization within the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. OAI’s mission is to create a partnership of service providers to respond to the needs of Oklahoma’s aerospace industry in the areas of education and training, research, and economic development. OAI establishes and promotes public-private collaboration among businesses, manufacturers, military installations, educational institutions, nonprofit research institutions, and local and state governments to maintain and expand the aerospace industry in Oklahoma.

Over the next few years, you’ll see enhanced efforts to establish Oklahoma as a world-recognized center of excellence for the diagnostics, examination and repair of new composites and strong metals. You’ll see continued growth in the military sector, such as Tinker Air Force Base, which is expanding and hiring more highly trained professionals. We have a number of state financial incentives in place and shovel-ready locations that are very attractive to companies who consider locating or expanding here. We also have the Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat that has a space-launch corridor approved by the FAA. It is poised for expansion as the commercial space-related industry expands. (5/26)

Panel Urges Japan to Build Unmanned Lunar Exploration Base by 2020 (Source: Japan Today)
An advisory panel in a draft recommendation report urges the Japanese government to build a 200 billion yen unmanned lunar exploration base by 2020. The panel calls for conducting short-term exploration on the moon in 2015 and building a base with photovoltaic power generation and telecommunications systems by 2020 to look into the inner structure of the planet over more than 12 months. The draft report envisages wheeled robots for lunar exploration, although bipedal walking robots have also been considered. It also calls for a 90 billion yen program to develop technologies for manned lunar exploration by around 2020. (5/26)

Court Denies Nowak Probation Termination (Source: Florida Today)
Considering objections from Lisa Nowak's victim, an Orlando judge Monday denied the former astronaut's request to terminate her probation for attacking a fellow military officer over a mutual love interest. According to documents from the Ninth Circuit Court, Nowak was eligible for termination once she reached the halfway mark of her one-year probation period. But the judge instead loosened her sentence to administrative probation, which does not require the Navy captain to report to a probation officer. Florida law says administrative probation is reserved for a defendant who "represents a low risk of harm to the community." (5/24)

Ariane Rocket Debris Washes Ashore on Hilton Head Island (Source: WTOC)
What goes up, must come down. And over the weekend a piece of a rocket washed up on the beach on Hilton Head Island. And as you can imagine it created quite a spectacle. "There were all kinds of sound-dampening devices adhered to the inside," said Jerry Gentile. The space debris sat on the beach surrounded by deputies and caution tape until Sunday night. That's when crews moved it to the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Headquarters. While it looks like a giant piece of metal, experts say it's actually pretty buoyant. It has a honeycomb material on the inside and a yellow material on top feels like insulation. (5/27)

Human-Rating Commercial Vehicles (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA will try to “tailor” the approach it takes to human-rating commercial vehicles for its astronauts, looking for middle ground between the prescriptive approach it has taken with its own human spacecraft and the analysis it gave Russia’s Soyuz vehicles before U.S. astronauts started flying on them. NASA is at the end of months of internal effort to release a request for information (RFI) from industry on commercial crew vehicles to carry its astronauts and those of its non-Russian partners to the Space Station.

Administrator Charles Bolden says the RFI includes “the draft of human-rating standards for commercial crew” as the first step in an “incremental” transition away from U.S. government-operated human spaceflight to low Earth orbit. Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance, says the draft is intended to shape a discussion with potential commercial crew transportation providers over just how to ensure their vehicles are safe enough to get crews to the space station and elsewhere in low Earth orbit, without imposing requirements that don’t make sense for launch vehicles that have been flying for years.

“With the Soyuz we had an up-and-running system that had a very good track record,” O’Connor said. “They’d gone some 50 some-odd flights on that system without a fatality ... What we did was what I think of as a reactive assessment of, not compliance with something we would call human-rating requirements, but equivalence.” (5/25)

Dealing with Galaxy 15: Zombiesats and On-Orbit Servicing (Source: Space Review)
A solar storm last month turned a mild-mannered communications satellite into a rogue spacecraft drifting through the GEO belt and threatening to disrupt operations of other satellites there. Brian Weeden reviews the current situation involving Galaxy 15 and its implications for on-orbit servicing and related policy issues. Click here to view the article. (5/24)

Twin Hurdles for Commercial Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Review)
One of hottest areas of debate about the president’s new vision for NASA is its reliance on commercial providers to transport crews to low Earth orbit. Jeff Foust describes the debate about the capabilities of companies to do so safely, and the commercial viability of such ventures. Click here to view the article. (5/24)

KSC Role in Launches Not Required in Draft Plan (Source: Florida Today)
Private companies flying astronauts to the International Space Station won't be required to launch from KSC, NASA said. "It's basically up to commercial entities to define what makes sense for them," said Doug Cooke, the associate administrator in charge of exploration programs.

Unless one of those companies chooses to fly from KSC, the center's traditional role as the launching point for U.S. missions could be dramatically reduced for years after the shuttle program's retirement. But the Space Coast would likely remain a hub for human spaceflight because most of the companies expected to compete to launch crews -- including United Launch Alliance and SpaceX -- would fly rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (5/26)

Florida Senator Joins Call for NASA Inquiry (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Florida, asked that NASA’s inspector general investigate the recent reassignment of Jeff Hanley, who on Wednesday lost his position as head of NASA’s Constellation moon program. Hanley has defended Constellation, even as the White House wants to cancel key parts of the program to make way for a new strategy that would replace the space shuttle with commercial rockets to ferry astronauts to the Space Station.

“This is yet another example of NASA taking actions to cancel the Constellation Program, and that is a violation of law,” said LeMieux, referencing a provision that Congress passed last year that forbids NASA from killing Constellation in 2010. “This is a very serious issue that affects the future of our nation’s space program and thousands of Floridians.” U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has made a similar request. (5/27)

Lockheed Weighs Colorado Layoffs, Other Cuts for Orion Program (Source: Denver Post)
Lockheed Martin officials have begun looking throughout the Orion crew-capsule program for savings that can be used to cover possible contract termination costs. Those savings could include layoffs of some of the 600 to 650 Lockheed employees in Colorado who are working on the NASA spacecraft. "We're implementing a 20 percent adjustment across the program," Lockheed spokeswoman Joan Underwood said. Cost efficiencies being implemented now include finding positions on other company programs for Orion workers and not purchasing hardware that isn't needed yet. (5/28)

Editorial: Protecting Public Safety, Post-Shuttle Economy (Source: Florida Today)
Two critical Brevard County issues started coming into better view late this week, and the public should stay engaged in both because of their long-term impacts to the community. The first involves the county’s budget crisis, with county commissioners facing a $37.5 million shortfall that will require cuts everywhere, including public safety.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s Cabinet-level task force to craft a post-shuttle job strategy for Brevard and Central Florida has begun fact-finding missions that will result with a plan on the president’s desk in mid-August. Officials have started meeting with key local players, including Brevard Workforce and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. They’ve also listened to Space Florida, the state’s space business recruiting arm.

That’s a good start, and the dialogue should continue with administration officials putting their recommendations in their final report. The White House wants to invest $40 million to ease shuttle job losses in the short term and develop a long-term plan to diversify the region’s economy. That’s a rare opportunity that can pay big dividends, if done right. (5/29)

MSU Robot Digs Most "Moon Dirt," Wins NASA Contest at KSC (Source: MSU)
A Montana State University student-built robot won a national contest at the Kennedy Space Center Friday by digging the most simulated moon dirt in 15 minutes. Defeating robots from 21 other colleges and universities, Montana MULE removed 21.6 kilograms of regolith from a giant sandbox. That was far above the 10 kilograms required to qualify in the contest and far ahead of the nearest competitor in NASA's first Lunar Regolith Excavator Student Competition. (5/28)

Man Accused of Stealing Sally Ride's Flight Suit (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Every time they passed a replica of astronaut Sally Ride's flight suit on their visits to NASA or Space Center Houston, Calvin Dale Smith would laugh, his wife recalled. She told NASA investigators her husband would comment that he knew where Ride's original flight suit was, but he always remained very secretive about it.

Smith, 56, of Houston, is now in federal custody after being accused of stealing the original flight suit used by Ride, the first American woman to travel into space, court records show. Smith, of the 1600 block of Richvale Lane, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on suspicion of theft of government property. He is accused of receiving, concealing and keeping nearly $10,000 in property belonging to the U.S. government, including the NASA flight suit, an Omega watch used on two shuttle flights and machine parts used in NASA's space program. (5/29)

NASA Glenn Building to Stay Open for 16 More Months (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
A building that's home to hundreds of contract workers at the NASA Glenn Research Center would remain open for at least 16 more months, under a plan that has local officials breathing easier. Earlier this year, NASA Glenn officials raised the specter of moving workers out of the 1960s-era building to raze it, along with a smaller building on the 19-acre site. Demolition would mean the loss of 320 jobs and some $400,000 a year in income tax for Fairview Park, until a new office building emerged on the site. (5/28)

Moon Rocks Weren’t Lost — Just Shelved (Source: Columbia Daily Tribune)
Fragments of a moon rock collected during the Apollo 17 mission and given to Missouri are safe and sound in the basement of the state Capitol — not lost, as was indicated in a news report last weekend. The article reported that 19 states, including Missouri, could not account for the “goodwill moon rocks” given to states to commemorate NASA’s last manned mission to the moon. After reading the story, staff at the Missouri State Museum went looking for it, said Linda Endersby, interim museum director. (5/28)

How Short Can a Planet's Year Be? (Source: New Scientist)
That's the question raised by a planet orbiting its star in less than an Earth day. The planet, named 55 Cancri e, was discovered years ago. It is a "super-Earth" – a world with a mass several times that of Earth – and orbits a star like our sun. Now researchers say gaps in the observational record meant the planet's orbital period – originally thought to be about three days – was miscalculated. Their analysis shows that the planet's true year is 17 hours and 41 minutes. There may be a planet around the star SWEEPS-10 with an even shorter year, but its existence is unconfirmed. (5/28)

Space Adventures to Develop Suborbital Vehicles (Source: MIT Technology Review)
Long before Virginia-based space tourism company Space Adventures became synonymous with flying millionaires to the International Space Station, the company planned to open the market for suborbital space tourism. Today the company announced a partnership that returns it to its suborbital origins. Space Adventures is partnering with Armadillo Aerospace, the Texas-based small aerospace company founded by famed game developer John Carmack, to develop a suborbital vehicle to carry customers to at least 100 kilometers altitude. The design of the vehicle is still to be determined. (5/27)

Kiwis Join NASA in $375 Million Satellite Project (Source: Dominion Post)
Kiwi scientists have joined forces with NASA in a bid to launch a $375 million satellite to collect the most accurate data yet on greenhouse gases. The project, to help scientists understand how fast greenhouse gases leave and enter the atmosphere, is part of a research program which the Obama Administration is proposing to spend $3.6 billion on. (5/28)

DiBello: Legislature Earns a STAR (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
Millions of stakeholders are closely watching the aerospace industry, and this past session, our Legislature let every one know that Florida is committed to a vibrant future as a leader in global space sectors. From Pensacola to Pembroke Pines, tens of thousands of direct employees, small businesses and major suppliers and service providers can rest assured that their leaders recognize the significance of aerospace, and are committed to it for their future and the future of Florida.

This past session, $32 million in budget programs were passed that will provide the foundation Florida needs to demonstrate its commitment to comprehensive economic development targeted to retaining and expanding Florida's space industry. As the state's space industry advocate, we will use these resources wisely. We're setting a new aggressive posture as we compete in commercial markets, and we will pursue every government civil and military program and project that should be based here.

The federal government and even the global aerospace industry are already taking notice of Florida's competitiveness. Sophisticated initiatives give state and regional economic development and work force organizations the right tools to successfully compete for new jobs and new investment. (5/28)

Work Starts on Jobs Plan (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez visited Central Florida Thursday as part of his efforts to develop a plan to invest $40 million to help soon-to-be-jobless space workers by bringing in industries that can put them back to work. "We're in the fact-finding mode," Fernandez said. "We're collecting data and information on a lot of the great work that's already been going on in the Space Coast region. The next phase is going to be an aggressive outreach effort."

Fernandez is laying the groundwork for the detailed plan, to be presented to President Barack Obama by Aug. 15, advising how the money should be spent to sustain the space industry workforce. Some 8,000 workers will be jobless when the shuttle stops flying after two more missions. (5/28)

Coalition Wants UK Space Lift-off (Source: BBC)
The new science minister David Willetts says space is an important growth sector for the UK economy and he intends to do all he can to support it. "I believe in the space industry," he said. "Britain has a comparative advantage and we will carry on backing space." He said the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition would pick up where the previous government had left off and would put "energy into the program".

UK space had witnessed some key developments just prior to the General Election. These included the establishment of an executive space agency, and the production of a major report that set out a strategy to grow the British space industry over the next 20 years, creating 100,000 jobs in the process. (5/28)

Congress, White House Mull Extra Space Shuttle Flight (Source:
A key NASA supporter in Congress is beginning a formal push for an extra space shuttle flight, as NASA officials prepare to present options to top Obama administration officials next month. Sen. Bill Nelson is putting language approving an additional space shuttle mission into the Senate's NASA reauthorization bill this year, the Florida Democrat wrote in a letter to President Obama this week.

NASA is preparing the shuttle Atlantis to fly on a rescue, or "launch on need" flight next year should the final shuttle flight be forced to take refuge on the International Space Station due to heat shield damage. An external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters will also be in place to support the rescue mission. (5/27)

No National Boundaries as New ISS Crew Gets Ready for Take-Off (Source: Russia Today)
The next crew to go to International Space Station has been unveiled in Moscow. One cosmonaut and two astronauts have passed rigorous tests and will leave for orbit in about two weeks. The crew – which consists of Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker from NASA – will spend a total of 164 days on the ISS. Last week the crew members went through pre-flight training sessions and passed exams on mockups of a Soyuz space shuttle and the Russian segment of the ISS. (5/31)

Falcon-9 Poised For Friday Launch (Source: CFL-13)
The test flight of a new rocket on the Space Coast could happen by the end of the week. SpaceX has been working for weeks on its new Falcon 9 rocket. The company was hoping to have gotten a test flight in by now, but their work was pushed back several times, most recently because of delays with the launch of a Delta IV rocket earlier in May after four failed attempts. SpaceX said the launch won’t happen until Friday at the earliest. The company has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to launch more than a dozen Falcon rockets. (5/30)

Bipartisan Task Force to Find Ways to Cut $100B in Defense Spending (Source: AIA)
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said on Thursday that he and a bipartisan group of three other congressmen are appointing a task force to identify areas where at least $100 billion a year could be slashed in defense spending. Frank criticized President Barack Obama's exemption of the Pentagon from a discretionary spending freeze as "a terrible decision," and argued that only national security spending should be exempted from the freeze. (5/30)

Official: NASA has Economic, As Well as Scientific, Role (Source: AIA)
NASA's chief technologist says the space agency has a role to play in reviving the U.S. economy. With the Obama administration focusing budget priorities on "research and technical innovation," Robert Braun said NASA can help "get us out of the current slump. It's going to improve our competitiveness and generate new products." Braun made his pitch during a Thursday visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. (5/30)

Mars was Wet, But Was it Warm? (Source: Astrobiology)
On Mars today, water is frozen solid. The average temperature of the Red Planet is negative 55 degrees Celsius (-67 F), and when the temperature rises -- the highest recorded temperature is a balmy 20 degrees C (68 F) -- this ice turns directly into a gas, skipping the liquid phase entirely because of the low atmospheric pressure.

Mars may have had a thicker atmosphere and liquid water on its surface between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago. Satellites orbiting Mars have taken images of ancient ocean shorelines, river beds and canyons – features all thought to be caused by flowing water. The chemistry of the martian soil also suggests that liquid water may have been present once on the surface. If so, then perhaps life could have emerged on Mars during this time in its history.

Many scientists think Mars was cold when it was young – cold enough so that surface water should have been frozen solid. One way around this problem is if the chemistry of the water was such that it could remain liquid at lower temperatures. On Earth, the salt in seawater prevents it from freezing at the same temperature as freshwater. For early Mars to be cold but still wet, however, the water would have had to be much saltier than seems likely. (5/31)

Russia, U.S. to Create First Joint Satellite Navigation Venture (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russian Space Systems corporation and the U.S. Trimble Navigation Group have signed an agreement to create a joint satellite navigation venture in Russia. Each of the companies will hold a 50% stake in the Rusnavgeoset company, which will produce Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) geodetic network infrastructure systems, a statement posted on Russian Space Systems' website said.

GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System), the Russian equivalent of the U.S. GPS (Global Positioning System), is designed for both military and civilian use. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters. Federal and local government agencies, as well as large companies are expected to purchase the equipment to be produced by Rusnavgeoset. (5/31)

Langley Director Offers Statement on Center's Labs (Source: Daily Press)
The National Research Council (NRC) selected and tasked the Committee on Assessment of NASA Laboratory Capabilities to assess the status of NASA's laboratory capabilities and to determine whether they are equipped and maintained to support NASA's fundamental research activities. Overall, Langley management finds the report to be generally accurate and thorough. It should help us re-establish the vigor of our research capability and mission. The systemic issues regarding our facilities and labs are ones that Langley and the Agency have and will continue to address. In 2003 Langley advocated and the Agency supported our repair by replacement strategy -- aka New Town.

We have moved forward with New Town with the construction of Phase 1 in progress, the design of Phase 2 underway, and the groundwork for Phase 3 initiated. New Town, along with our Lab Consolidation efforts, will greatly revitalize our infrastructure. The NRC report overstated the workforce trend that "LaRC is moving toward an all-contractor technical workforce." As you know, this is not the center strategy. (5/30)

Air Force Museum in Dayton Hopes to Land Retired Shuttle (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
The birthplace of aviation wants to be the space shuttle's retirement home. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton is campaigning to add one of three soon-to-be-mothballed NASA space shuttles to its collection of more than 400 aerospace vehicles and missiles. Museum officials predict its arrival would draw an extra 1 million visitors annually to the facility, create 700 jobs and add $40 million to the state's economy. (5/30)

Kiwi Scientists Aiding New Space Shuttle Design (Source: 3News)
A futuristic type of aircraft that will take astronauts to space is being designed with the help of Kiwi scientists from Canterbury University. NASA wants to replace its space shuttles with a hypersonic aircraft that can fly at speeds of up to 5,000 km/h and a vital part of the project is to make sure it doesn't overheat. Associate professor Susan Krumdieck is part of the team helping design the heatshield for an aircraft that'll carry astronauts to an orbiting space station. (5/30)

ILS to Put Two Satellites Into Orbit for Russian Gazprom (Source: Itar-Tass)
International Launch Services (ILS) has announced the contract for the ILS Proton launch of two commercial satellites, YAMAL 401 and YAMAL 402, for Russian satellite operator, Gazprom Space Systems. Gazprom is the parent company of Gazprom Space Systems and is the world’s largest producer of natural gas. The launches are scheduled for 2012-2013 from the Baikonur spaceport. (5/30)

NASA To Ramp Up Robotic Exploration Missions (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s new technology and commercially themed exploration strategy promises to dispatch new waves of robotic spacecraft on rapidly paced missions to pave the way for human exploration, rather than carry out scientific agendas. Agency officials outlined the strategy at a two-day NASA Exploration Enterprise Workshop in Galveston, Texas.

Since it cannot cancel Constellation contracts or staff new program offices yet due to congressional restrictions, the space agency hopes the outreach will hasten a transition as soon as the lawmakers reach an agreement on Fiscal 2011 spending that triggers the shift in policy, said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for exploration. The new initiative increases the number and pace of robotic missions capped at $200 million, $800 million and $1 billion, while NASA serves as a catalyst for a new commercial human spaceflight capability to low Earth orbit. (5/28)

Editorial: Keep the Shuttle Flying (Source: Houston Chronicle)
If NASA sticks to current plans, the majestic Atlantis space shuttle that soared over the Houston night sky last week has completed its last mission. Along with two other shuttles in the fleet, the most complex flying machines ever created by man will be consigned to museums at the end of the year even though they remain at the peak of their performance capabilities. The Atlantis will be maintained as a rescue vehicle until the last scheduled shuttle flight by Endeavour is completed.

The end of the program will create a gap of several years in which the United States will have to purchase $55 million tickets on Russian craft to ferry our astronauts to a space station largely funded by American dollars. Given the monumental sums being spent in the name of national security in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's hard to understand why that same rationale doesn't justify $200 million a month to maintain the shuttle and its unrivaled capabilities for putting Americans in orbit until an alternative launch system is operational. (5/29)

Wanted: Retired Space Shuttles (Source: Florida Today)
On April 15, hundreds of New Yorkers donning space suits took the subway from Grand Central to Times Square -- a line known as the shuttle -- where they joined political leaders in an attention-getting push to get a retired space shuttle orbiter for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The Intrepid is among about 20 sites across the country interested in acquiring either Atlantis or Endeavour. (Discovery has been promised to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.)

Most of the top contenders (in Ohio, Texas, and Oklahoma) are making very public attempts in their efforts. They include architectural renderings of new buildings, slick "Land the Shuttle" campaigns and Web site, Facebook pages and Twitter sites, community initiatives and astronaut endorsements. The approach at KSC is decidedly more low key, which has gotten the attention of some community and tourism leaders. The privately operated KSC Visitor Complex has submitted its proposal to NASA. With all of the funding in place -- NASA is requiring $28.8 million, Visitor Complex officials say the brouhaha behind getting a shuttle is not what's important.

"I think we've been active earlier than most folks were, and I think there's just a style difference in how you do that," said Bill Moore. The visitor center's approach is so low-key, it seems, that few know much about it. Moore has denied requests for a copy of the proposal, saying it's proprietary information. Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said the "low-key" approach isn't the way to go, especially when other cities have been so active. (5/30)

Asteroid Probe 'on Home Straight' (Source: BBC)
An unmanned Japanese spacecraft designed to return samples from an asteroid has completed an important step on its journey back to Earth. Hayabusa achieved the second and largest of four engine firings designed to guide the probe back home. The probe visited the asteroid Itokawa in 2005, making close approaches designed to capture soil samples. But the mission has been plagued by technical glitches affecting the engines and communications with Earth.

It remains unclear whether the probe managed to grab material from Itokawa; scientists will have to open the capsule to find out. The craft is now roughly 7,600,000km from our planet, according to Jaxa. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on 13 June, landing at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia. (5/31)

Lost Moon Rocks Spark a Mystery (Source: Florida Today)
Some of the rocks collected on mankind's greatest adventure, the six human expeditions from here to the moon, are lost. President Richard Nixon gave the priceless lunar samples to all 50 states and more than 100 countries after the first and last missions to the moon, to demonstrate the shared nature of the United States' achievement. His goal: Give people worldwide a chance to see a little piece of our moon.

Four decades later, many of the samples can't be found. Some were taken by government leaders after they left office or perhaps given away to colleagues, friends or relatives. Some turned up on the black market. Some were relegated to museum storage rooms. Others might be on display in obscure museums or government buildings, but we can't know for sure because nobody kept track.

A special agent turned college professor, a private space memorabilia enthusiast and an armada of graduate students are trying to change that. They're playing detective, working to unlock a mystery of history, running down every missing rock and lobbying to get them back on public display where they belong. (5/30)

Rural Broadband Passes Space Test (Source: The Engineer)
The Highly Adaptable Satellite (HYLAS) 1, which is being developed by Astrium for the satellite-broadband operator Avanti Communications, has successfully completed a month-long test campaign designed to expose the satellite to space. HYLAS 1 will bring high-speed broadband services to remote rural areas across Europe, using its ‘highly adaptable’ payload, developed by Astrium. The payload is designed to allocate varying amounts of power and bandwidth to the different regions within its footprint, reacting to traffic demand. (5/28)

European Space Agency Seeks To Lessen Dependence on U.S. Propulsion Providers (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is promoting the creation of European expertise in certain propulsion technologies to avoid technology-transfer roadblocks associated with U.S. components even if the U.S. hardware is substantially less expensive, ESA officials said. These officials said that they have been forced into the policy by the fact that for its satellite programs, ESA requires that it be able to understand the source of a problem that crops up either in ground testing or in orbit.

Editor's Note: This is a clear example of how U.S. export control restrictions are harming U.S. commercial competitiveness in the global space industry. (5/28)

NASA Told To Expect Longer Wait Between SpaceX Demo Flights (Source: Space News)
SpaceX has informed NASA that it should expect an eight-month wait between the first and second test flights of the company’s Falcon 9-launched Dragon space capsule. SpaceX's first COTS demonstration flight remains slated for July even though the first test launch of the Falcon 9 rocket has slipped into June. However, the second of three COTS demos SpaceX is obliged to fly under its $278 million agreement with NASA is now not expected to occur until March 2011 — about five months later than NASA had been expecting. (5/30)

Europe’s Launch Infrastructure Costs Loom Large Amid Fiscal Crisis (Source: Space News)
Confronting a budget crisis that likely will take years to resolve, European governments have begun debating how to manage the increased operating costs associated with three separate launch vehicles and launch installations at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. A parallel debate is taking place over whether Europe’s governments can afford to invest in a major improvement to the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket even as they start designing a vehicle to succeed it.

In an illustration of how the discussion is being played out, the head of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said here that he is “totally against the idea of an Ariane 6 vehicle.” But Johann-Dietrich Woerner said Germany could, at least in principle, support co-investment in an improved Ariane 5 even as work starts on a successor rocket. (5/30)

NASA Langley's Building Plan in Doubt (Source: Daily Press)
NASA Langley Research Center started modernizing its aging campus, but there's no guarantee it'll finish the job. In fact, a retired Langley administrator said the odds are "pretty darn grim" given the recession and political infighting surrounding President Barack Obama's plan to scrap NASA's return mission to the moon. The plan, dubbed New Town, is a 10-year, $200 million building project that would centralize the campus by replacing sprawling World War II-era structures with a cluster of environmentally friendly offices and laboratories.

Langley Director Lesa Roe said New Town would address many of the unflattering observations made in a recent National Academy of Sciences assessment of Langley's research capabilities. The report, which looked at five other NASA centers, found the agency's labs "marginally adequate" and inferior to those of the Department of Energy and some universities. NASA brass so far has committed tens of millions of dollars to the New Town project for a new administration building and a cafeteria/conference center. Langley plans to upgrade its labs next, but it has yet to receive funding. (5/28)

SpaceX’s Elon Musk Running Out of Cash (Source: Space News)
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told a California divorce court in February that he was out of cash and had resorted to borrowing from friends to cover monthly household expenses exceeding $90,000. Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk, is seeking a financial settlement that includes $6 million cash and a 5-percent ownership stake in SpaceX. Musk says he does not have the money to give her.

“About four months ago, I ran out of cash,” Musk wrote in a Feb. 23 court filing. “In order to pay the court’s prior fee orders and to continue to support Justine and the children at the level to which they are accustomed, I had to obtain emergency loans from personal friends. These loans are the exclusive source of cash that I have. If I did not take these loans, I would have no liquid assets left.”

According to the same court filing, Musk pays himself a salary of $1,690 a month to run SpaceX and another $2,773 to run Tesla Motors, the electric car company he hopes to take public this year with a $50 million assist from Toyota. The article links to court documents showing that Musk collected $4.15 million in interest payments from SpaceX between 2005 and 2007. (5/28)

Ambitious Plans in Japan (Source: Space News)
Japan will seek to double spending on its space industry over the next 10 years, the idea being to spur private-sector technology development and promote exports. “The government concluded it is necessary to expand the private sector’s stake in the industry and make inroads into overseas markets.”

Whether this will actually come to pass is a big ”if” given the fact that in recent years Japan has struggled to maintain any growth in space spending, forcing numerous projects to be stretched out. Moreover, Japan isn’t any better than the United States at sticking to future-year space budget plans. (5/27)

NASA May Open Competition for Space Station Crew Lifeboat (Source: Space News)
ASA officials are quietly assessing whether to hold a new competition to build an emergency lifeboat for space station crews, a move that would scuttle current plans to use the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule for that purpose under an existing contract that would only have to be modified. “Continuing on the current contract is the option being assessed, but there is forward work to verify that it is contractually appropriate and the best approach for the emergency return module acquisition,” a NASA official said. (5/28)

Air Force Launches Long-awaited First GPS 2F Satellite (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force on May 27 successfully launched the first of a new generation of GPS satellites aboard a Delta 4 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The GPS 2F-1 satellite was placed into a roughly 17,600-kilometer orbit and joins an operational constellation of 30 previous-generation GPS satellites. (5/28)

L.A. County to Buy Missile-Warning Satellite? (Source: Space News)
Los Angeles County officials are being urged to consider using satellites to detect wild fires soon after they begin, according to the Los Angeles Times. And not just any satellites. L.A. County's Quality and Productivity Commission says in a new report that the county should take a look at the satellites the U.S. military uses to detect missile launches. "Since a missile flame has characteristics similar to a wildland fire, the system can readily detect fires," according to a county report. (5/26)

Azerbaijan Firms Up Satellite Contract with Orbital (Source: Space News)
The government of Azerbaijan has contracted with Orbital Sciences Corp. to build the nation’s first telecommunications satellite following an agreement between Azeri authorities and Malaysia’s Measat satellite operator on sharing an orbital slot, the Azeri government and Orbital Sciences said. The Azersat spacecraft will be launched in 2012 into the 46 degrees east longitude orbital position now occupied by Measat’s Africasat 1 spacecraft. It likely will be launched aboard a Zenit rocket from Baikonur. (5/28)

Bigelow Commercial Space Stations Could Require 150 Launches Through 2020 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA’s newly released 2010 Commercial Space Transportation Forecasts report indicates that Bigelow Aerospace’s two planned Sundancer space stations would generate substantial demand for commercial launch services over the next 10 years. These new stations could create significant additional demand for commercial launches: in excess of 150 launches through 2020 according to company projections. With the initial launch of station modules in 2014, that would amount to an average of more than 20 launches annually over a seven year period. The number of launches would ramp up during the later years as both the Sundancer 1 and 2 stations became operational. (5/30)

Virginia Spaceport Plans Open House (Source: Spaceports Blog)
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is celebrating its 65th Anniversary with a public open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 5, 2010. Visitors can meet with researchers and see the Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus spacecraft during an open house June 5 at the facility on the Eastern Shore, according to a NASA news release. Cygnus is expected to carry supplies to the International Space Station next year from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport next year after the space shuttle fleet is retired. (5/30)

Record Skydive Set for New Mexico (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian daredevil, hopes to to break a 50-year-old record this summer in New Mexico when he begins a sky dive from 120,000 feet, or almost 23 miles above the earth’s surface jumping from a capsule and going nearly 700 mph down breaking the sound barrier. It’s unclear where in New Mexico Baumgartner’s jump will happen. It’s sponsored by Red Bull, which probably adds to New Mexico’s allure as a place for far-out, space-related stuff - like those recognized along the New Mexico Space Trail.

The previous record for highest sky dive was set in 1960 when U.S. Air Force jumper Joe Kittinger started a descent from 102,800 feet near White Sands, New Mexico, CNN tells us. The sport of breaking the Kittinger record and launch the extreme sport of space diving in the next decade has been discussed for the past few years among space advocates. (5/30)

Editorial: Hang Together or Hang Separately (Source: Space News)
I criticized the administration for badly presenting their new plan for human space exploration when they rolled out the NASA budget that they would present to Congress. Instead of focusing on a funding increase for NASA and on a new American initiative to send humans farther and longer into space, their message was lost among headlines about cancellation and cutbacks. While proposing that the United States plan an ambitious exploration program that no other country in the world could possibly undertake in the foreseeable future, they were criticized for giving up American leadership.

Like I said: I criticized the administration for this. And then I did the same thing. I assumed that when everyone recovered from the shock of seeing the reset button hit, the positive aspects of the plan would become apparent. Instead, the shock spread too quickly, and the notion that the U.S. was giving up on human space exploration reverberated through both the space community and the general public.

What this public reaction proves is that the American people care deeply about NASA and human space exploration. Despite a few editorials and some op-eds proposing that we save even more money by letting robots do all our exploring, the overwhelming popular sentiment expressed over the past several weeks is for the United States to lead the world in space exploration: human and robotic. (5/30)

Editorial: Han Solo or Darth Vader? (Source: Space News)
Following the April launches of the Air Force X37B and the DARPA hypersonic glider, I received multiple international media inquires. The questions were pointed. Why the Pentagon secrecy? Was this another step forward in the American march toward the weaponization of space? Won’t these tests trigger an international space arms race? Did these signify that Obama Administration views on weaponization were as zealous as those of the Bush Administration?

Americans (including many government officials) blithely still see America as the Han Solo “hero” in space, an image well-deservedly created during the Apollo Program. Meanwhile though, times have changed and much of the rest of the world now hears the eerie voice of Darth Vader when the U.S. speaks about its space ambitions — or conducts tests on dual-use technology that are shrouded in secrecy.

Especially with the human spaceflight program currently in “redesign,” the earlier message of America leading mankind off planet Earth and into the solar system and beyond has been garbled into something far less positive, with Americans unaware, unconcerned or both...The message America seems to be sending globally about its space aspirations is being received as less about strategic leadership than in the past, and far more about militarily dominating the heavens through (potentially) offensive technology — and that message is largely viewed as threatening. (5/30)

Divorcing Musk From SpaceX (Source: SpaceKSC Blog)
Many canards are circulating around the Internet in an attempt to discredit President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal. For some reason critics have fixated on one company, SpaceX. Its founder and CEO, entrepreneur Elon Musk, is currently going through a divorce. A website quoted Musk's divorce papers as stating he had "run out of cash" four months ago. Obama critics quickly seized on this to falsely claim that SpaceX is out of money and about to go bankrupt, but a SpaceX executive quickly refuted the allegation.

SpaceX vice president Larry Williams said SpaceX is unaffected by Musk's personal finances. Williams said that although Musk remains SpaceX's largest shareholder "he is only one of a number of investors at this point." Other large investors, he said, include Menlo Park, Calif.-based Draper Fisher Jurveston and the Founders Fund, a San Francisco firm managed by one of Musk’s former PayPal partners. (5/30)

Were Aliens Found at Ohio State University? (Source: NPR)
when Ohio State Professor Jerry Ehman sat at his kitchen table on Aug. 18, 1977, and saw six numbers and letters on the computer printout in front of him — six symbols that have become one of the grandest riddles in modern science — he chose the simplest expression of all. He took a red pen, circled the letters and then wrote: "Wow!"

Eighteen years earlier, two Cornell physicists had tried to imagine how an intelligent alien civilization might try to signal Earth. We should look, they said, for a radio transmission. They guessed that the aliens would choose a frequency that would mean something to creatures who know math and chemistry. Hydrogen atoms resonate at a particular rate: 1420 megahertz (MHz). So look, they said, for a signal coming in at 1420 MHz. And look for something loud, something that would catch our attention.

And on Aug. 15, in it came, exactly as predicted. What Jerry saw was, yes, a radio signal and, yes, a radio signal very, very close to 1420 MHz (it was 1420.4556, just a smidge from where it was expected). It lasted 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. It was loud. And the transmission had the shape that had been predicted. If you look at this printout, you will see this sequence of letters and numbers: 6EQUJ5. (5/30)

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