June 17, 2010

Panel Demands NASA Documents to Support Budget (Source: New York Times)
Annoyed that NASA has been slow to explain how it plans to overhaul the human space-flight program, a Congressional committee is demanding that the agency provide a host of records related to its budget request for 2011. The space agency missed a Wednesday deadline to update its budget request with details of its new plan. In a letter sent Thursday to the NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., leaders of the House Committee on Science and Technology wrote, “Congress must now insist upon the production of all materials NASA relied upon in formulating its proposal.” The committee said NASA should provide these documents by next Friday. (6/17)

NASA Administrator Sees Qatar-US Programs (Source: Gulf Times)
NASA administrator Charles Bolden has said that Qatar and the US will work together to develop science, technology and educational programs in the future. Bolden spoke at the residence of US Ambassador to Qatar Joseph LeBaron, where he discussed the approach of President Obama’s administration to science and technology, and reaffirmed the commitment the US president made in his Cairo speech one year ago to improving relations with the Muslim world. Bolden visited Doha having been to Egypt, and during his brief stay here he met the ministers of education and environment as well as other government officials. (6/17)

South Korea Agrees to India's Space Launch Use Suggestion (Source: ANI)
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday agreed to Indian External Affairs minister S.M.Krishna's suggestion to launch ROK satellites on Indian launch vehicles. A statement issued on behalf of both leaders said: "Referring to the MOU of cooperation, signed last January between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Krishna suggested that ROK satellites could be launched on Indian launch vehicles. President Lee agreed with the suggestion and asked his officials to do the necessary follow-up." (6/17)

University of Hawaii Gets NASA Grant (Source: Pacific Business Journal)
A proposal from the University of Hawaii was one of 24 accepted this week by NASA. The government agency awarded $16.8 million in grants to various colleges and universities nationwide in an experimental program designed to stimulate competitive research. More than $740,000 will go to the UH proposal. Professor Trevor Sorensen, who is also the principal science investigator for the UH Manoa team, explained that his team’s work will center around creating a system to operate multiple spacecraft missions, such as small satellites. Some of the satellites will be launched from Hawaii. (6/17)

Taking Out the Trash: What Can Be Done About Space Debris? (Source: National Defense)
What goes up doesn’t necessarily come down when it comes to manmade objects orbiting the planet. During the last 52 years, the space-faring nations of the world have trashed the low, medium and geosynchronous orbits where their satellites operate. The Air Force is improving its ability to monitor all the active and dead satellites, spent rocket boosters, collision wreckage and debris from anti-satellite tests that threaten commercial, scientific and military satellites alike. A new satellite dedicated to monitoring space is expected to be launched this year, and the service says it is improving its ability to predict possible accidents.

Until recently, though, little thought was given to ideas that would remove the trash itself. But that has changed. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA are teaming up to find out what, if anything, can be done to clean up space. It will be a daunting challenge, both technically and financially, experts said. (6/17)

Vasimr Prototype Makes New Strides (Source: Aviation Week)
Ad Astra Rocket Co., led by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, reports new strides in the performance of its experimental 200-kw. Variable Specific Impulse Magneto-plasma Rocket (Vasimr), the VX-200, which the company is developing as a commercial propulsion source for a range of future deep space and possible near-Earth missions. The company, headquartered near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, intends to make use of the International Space Station’s national laboratory status to place a two-stage prototype, the VF-200-1, on the orbiting laboratory for propulsion testing in mid-2014.

Earlier this week, Ad Astra completed a six-month round of testing in which it dramatically improved the timing and performance of the startup of the VX-200’s 30-kw. first stage. Other testing in the company’s large vacuum chamber verified efficiencies of greater than 50% in the conversion of electricity to thrust through 112 kw., with combined first- and second-stage operations. The company’s engineers plan to resume efficiency testing later this year, Chang-Diaz says. (6/17)

Orbital VP Featured at Next Space Club Luncheon on July 13 (Source: NSCFC)
Frank Culbertson, Senior Vice President of Orbital Sciences Corp., will be the featured speaker at the July 13 luncheon of the National Space Club's Florida Committee. The event will be held at the Radisson Resort at Port Canaveral. He will discuss Orbital's plans and programs for commercial spaceflight. Visit http://www.nscfl.org for information and to RSVP by July 7.

Editor's Note: Orbital is planning to launch cargo to the Space Station aboard its Taurus-2 rocket from Wallops Island. The company also launches military Minotaur rockets to orbit from multiple locations, potentially including Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. While Wallops Island is the intended site for cargo launches to the Space Station, there's much speculation that Orbital will operate human-rated Taurus-2 missions from Florida. (6/17)

When is the Right Time to Start Heavy Lift? (Source: Space Politics)
One area of debate about NASA’s proposed new direction that has gotten less attention than the future of Constellation or commercial crew is development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle. The proposed plan would defer a decision on an HLV until as late as 2015, while working on technologies that could either be utilized by it or otherwise affect such a vehicle. However, in the outline of the authorization bill being contemplated by the Senate Commerce Committee, development of an HLV would be moved up to 2011, in part to serve as “a contingency capability to the ISS” in some manner.

In a white paper released Wednesday, Marshall Institute president Jeff Kueter examines this issue. While he calls the administration’s approach “reasonable enough”, he notes the criticism that it “lacks focus” and has uncertainties and potential delays associated with any such effort, as well as the impact of a delay on the industrial base. “The risk with the current approach is that the U.S. will be left without a viable program for deep space exploration in the latter years of this decade and the early 2020s,” he writes. He suggests something of a middle ground: don’t pause the development of an HLV, but also continue the R&D program proposed in the new plan in some form in parallel.

Meanwhile, the Planetary Society supports HLV development, but asks: "should it be funded now, five years before we really need it, given that there are no funds yet available to build the spacecraft that will use heavy-lift?” However, one of the society’s board members, Neil deGrasse Tyson, endorsed an accelerated HLV development in a letter to Congress last month “provided it does not compromise the budget projections the White House has given for the agency.” (6/17)

If There's Life on Mars, It Could be Right-Handed (Source: New Scientist)
Life may be left-handed, but it shows flashes of ambidexterity. That could complicate the search for life on other worlds, but it may also help clear up some puzzling findings from NASA's Viking Mars landers. Many amino acids, sugars and other molecules that are important for life are chiral - they come in two forms that are mirror images of one another. Life tends to prefer one form over the other, using only right-handed glucose molecules, for example. However, bacteria appear to be less selective.

Henry Sun of the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, and his colleagues fed two chiral compounds - lactic acid and the amino acid alanine - to microbes collected from deserts and lakes around the world. They found that while bacteria naturally prefer the right-handed version of lactic acid and the left-handed version of alanine, they were able to adjust to consume the mirror versions within hours. (6/17)

SpaceX Undercut Competition To Clinch Head-turning Iridium Deal (Source: Space News)
SpaceX, which has made a habit of turning heads in the industry since it was created in 2002, did so again on June 16, announcing a firm $492 million contract with mobile satellite services operator Iridium to launch its second-generation constellation of 72 satellites. The implied price — $6.8 million for each 800-kilogram Iridium satellite launched into a 780-kilometer orbit — is at a level not seen in the launch industry since Russian and Ukrainian rockets were first introduced into the commercial market in the mid-1990s. These vehicles’ prices have since risen sharply.

“Clearly this is a great deal,” Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said. “That’s why we wanted to lock in prices as quickly as we could.” To put SpaceX’s pricing strategy context, an official with one non-U.S. company planning a telecommunications satellite said he recently sought price quotes from SpaceX, from the Indian Space Research Organization and from China Great Wall Industry Corp. SpaceX, he said, was the least expensive of the three.

Musk offered several reasons for how SpaceX has been able to offer such low prices, including the company’s decision to make and assemble most Falcon parts on its own. At some other U.S. rocket builders, he said, “you need to go to the third level down on the subcontracting chain before you see anybody actually cutting metal.” (6/17)

Arianespace Watching SpaceX Closely (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s progress toward operational credibility is being watched closely in Europe, whose Ariane family of vehicles has dominated the commercial market for more than 20 years. Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), said that Europe needed to learn from what SpaceX is doing. He acknowledged that part of the company’s recipe — a single manufacturing and production facility — would be difficult to replicate in Europe because each ESA member nation wants work for its own industry in return for helping financing the Ariane system. (6/17)

Air Force Sees Hypersonic Weapons and Spaceships in Future (Source: Space.com)
A recent Air Force scramjet test has hinted at a future where hypersonic vehicles streak through the sky at many times the speed of sound around the world, and perhaps even open up access to space. The experimental X-51A Waverider used a rocket booster and an air-breathing scramjet to reach a speed of Mach 5 and achieve the longest hypersonic flight ever powered by such an engine on May 26. That technology might not only deliver cargo quickly to different parts of the globe, but could also transform the space industry and spawn true space planes that take off and land from the same runway.

The wealth of possibilities offered by aerospace vehicles that can ride their own shockwaves likely explains why the project has drawn support from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), NASA, and the U.S. Navy. "We could have in the future such things as hypersonic weapons that fly 600 nautical miles in 10 minutes," said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory. (6/17)

Gates Prepares for DOD Budget Cuts Battle (Source: AIA)
The Pentagon has been able to escape the Office of Management and Budget's mandate to other agencies to slash 5% from their budgets, but as the ballooning deficit puts more pressure on the administration to make more cuts, the Pentagon could face a budget reduction as soon as next year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described a plan for having the military find $100 billion in savings over the next five years to help spare the Pentagon the kind of severe cuts it experienced in the 1990s. (6/17)

Pentagon: Arms Treaty Won't Limit U.S. Missile Defense Plans (Source: (AIA)
Amid criticism from some Republicans that a new arms reduction treaty with Russia could limit Pentagon missile defense plans, Pentagon officials testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to reassure Congress that the treaty would pose no restrictions. Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he believes the Russians realize the U.S. plans to continue to develop missile defenses, but Republicans expressed skepticism. (6/17)

Latest NASA Salvo Leading to Layoffs (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
NASA headquarters began playing hardball this past week in the fight with Congress over its budget, telling major contractors they must curtail work on the Constellation program or they may be in violation of federal spending rules. The surprise move brought angry reaction from various corners of the country as aerospace contractors went public with their fears that possibly 5,000 jobs could be lost before the end of the year – including quite a few in the Clear Lake area. (6/17)

The Coffee, He Thinks. The Coffee's a Concern. (Source: Esquire)
Only one hundred single-serving pouches of instant were allotted for him on Expedition Six, stowed in the galley in a metal drawer with a black net stretched over its mouth to make sure the pouches wouldn't float away. But for all the care in the universe, it's been more than two months since the shuttle delivered him and his coffee to the International Space Station, and there aren't one hundred pouches in that drawer anymore. Looking out his window at the orbital sunrise, Donald Pettit, the mission's science officer, finishes taking mental stock of the supply and decides, Jeez, this is the sort of morning coffee was made for.

He puts on his glasses, pulls himself out of the sleeping bag that he's anchored to the wall, pushes his way out of his private quarters--about the size of a phone booth, in Destiny, the last link in the station's chain of modules--and finds his center of gravity. With it, he propels himself in clean, practiced movements, like a swimmer who's found his stroke, toward the other end of the station, a couple of modules and a little less than 150 feet away. There, his commander, Captain Kenneth Bowersox, and the Russian flight engineer, Nikolai Budarin, lie zipped away, still asleep. Pettit opens the metal drawer and takes out a pouch, a silver bag with powder packed hard into the bottom of it. He fills it with hot water that was once his breath and begins hunting for a straw.

Everything is always taken through a straw. Except that Pettit has learned to squeeze his coffee out of the straw in tiny, perfect spheres, which hang suspended in the weightlessness, waiting for him to bite them out of the air or, if he's feeling playful, to pinch them between chopsticks and pop them into his mouth. He does that because he can up here, and he can't down there. That's all the reason he's ever needed. Click here to read the article. (6/17)

Use Of Commercial Earth Observation Data To Triple (Source: Space Daily)
Euroconsult has released a comprehensive study analyzing the mechanisms defense and security agencies will use to satisfy their image intelligence (IMINT) requirements over the coming decade. In its new report "Earth Observation: Defense and Security, World Prospects to 2019," Euroconsult forecasts government procurement of commercial satellite Earth observation (EO) data will reach $2.6 billion by 2019, up from only $735 million in 2009. (6/17)

ESA's Rosetta Set for Asteroid Encounter (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The European Space Agency (ESA) comet-chaser Rosetta spacecraft is heading for a close encounter with asteroid Lutetia. Scientists dp not yet know what Lutetia looks like up-close but the two will meet on Saturday, July 10 in space. Rosetta will encounter Lutetia flying to within 3200 km of the space rock. Rosetta started taking navigational sightings of Lutetia at the end of May so that ground controllers can determine any course corrections required to achieve their intended flyby distance. The close pass will allow around 2 hours of good imaging of asteroid Lutetia. The spacecraft will instantly begin beaming the data back to Earth and the first pictures will be released later that evening. (6/16)

South Korea to Ask Russia for 3rd Rocket Launch (Source: Yonhap)
South Korea will ask Russia for a third launch of a space rocket after the cause of last week's botched liftoff is fully determined, a government official said Wednesday. The second locally assembled Naro-1, also called the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), lifted off from the Naro Space Center off the country's south coast at 5:01 p.m. Thursday but it blew up at an altitude of 70 kilometers, about 137 seconds after blastoff.

"Under the pact, if either of the two planned launches is determined to have failed, KARI has the right to ask for another launch and Russia is technically bound to respect the request," the official said. He said that while there is a "clause" that allows South Korea to withhold slightly more than US$10 million of the original $200 million it has to pay the Russian space agency for the Naro-1 project, there is every possibility that an understanding on a third launch can be reached. Of the money that has to be given to Russia, roughly 95 percent has already been paid. (6/17)

Editorial: New Mexico Spaceport Needs Stability, Structure in 'New' Director (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
In April, when state Taxation and Revenue Secretary Rick Homans was asked to split his time between that job and his new position as interim director of the Spaceport Authority, we stressed the importance of getting a full-time director on board as quickly as possible. The national search led by Homans is now over and the new permanent director is ... Rick Homans. Homans had also served as the Spaceport Authority director in 2007. He left that position to pursue a job in private industry. Not long after that he was back for a second stint in Gov. Richardson's cabinet - he had earlier served as secretary of economic development.

Our hope is that Homans brings some much-needed stability to the position, which has been lacking since the emergency six-hour closed door meeting by the authority board in April, after which former director Steve Landeene suddenly decided that he needed to spend more time with his family. Our concern is that Homans had this position before, and left for what he believed to be greener pastures.

This is a critical time for the spaceport. Construction is accelerating. Among the items on his to-do list will be signing an agreement with White Sands Missile Range about operations, amending a Federal Aviation Administration license, and building a paved southern road to the site. It is absolutely imperative that Homans sees this project through to completion. (6/17)

Bolden Gives Houston a Huge Edge in the Decrepit Old Space Shuttle Race (Source: CultureMap Houston)
Much fuss has been made about the "stiff" competition for the two remaining space shuttles set to be retired by NASA this year. The Discovery is headed to the Smithsonian, which leaves the Atlantis and the Endeavor shuttles with some 20 cities hoping to house a space shuttle exhibit. Houston seems like an obvious choice because JSC houses mission control and the entire Astronaut Corps. It's called "Space City" for a reason. Austin has offered more than $28 million toward repairing and delivering one of the aging artifacts.

Did we forget that it's NASA Administrator Charles Bolden who gets to make the final call? Who has lived in Clear Lake for years and years? And, who the Chronicle reports, assured Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee that the Johnson Space Center "has all the assets that NASA wants?" Don't worry Houston, we've got circumstance on our side. We'll more than likely find out this summer that we get to spend $50 million preparing and transporting the shuttle to a new 53,000-square-foot addition to the JSC. (6/17)

Dozens of phone satellites to launch from Vandenberg (Source: Lompoc Record)
The majority of next-generation spacecraft for a satellite phone system will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets. The contract to launch Iridium Next is valued at $492 million, and SpaceX is expected to launch the bulk of the satellites, the companies said. (6/17)

Hubble: Jupiter Flash Caused by Meteor (Source: Discovery)
Regarding the recent flash on Jupiter, the Hubble has confirmed there is no impact bruise, which tells us a lot about the thing that caused the fireworks nearly two weeks ago. Although other theories have been floating around as to the origin of the flash, an impact remains the most likely explanation. But this impact was caused by an object that was too small to penetrate deep into the clouds. It burned up as a bright meteor high in the atmosphere. Any trace of the meteor vaporized, it was simply too small to slam into Jupiter's clouds, generate a fireball and create an impact bruise.

In addition to the "what shot Jupiter?" detective work, Hubble also investigated the mysterious disappearance of the planet's Southern Equatorial Belt (SEB). It was thought that a sudden atmospheric shift had occurred, causing a band of ammonia clouds to rise above the SEB, obscuring it from view. Hubble has revealed that this is the most likely explanation. "Weather forecast for Jupiter’s Southern Equatorial Belt: cloudy with a chance of ammonia," said Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Colorado. Great work Hubble, two Jupiter mysteries solved in one go! (6/17)

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