June 24, 2010

Laid Off Huntsville Workers Could End Up With Defense Jobs (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Despite NASA’s efforts to end the Constellation program, things may not be entirely bleak for workers in Huntsville. The Alabama city is experiencing a net growth in defense jobs as a result of decisions made by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which was created to consolidate U.S. military bases. Approximately 2,300 BRAC jobs will soon move to the area, and only 15-20 percent of the people now holding those jobs are expected to move with them. If 20 percent or 460 people come, that still would leave about 1,800 jobs to fill locally.

Editor's Note: One of the concerns of Florida officials is that space workers at KSC will be forced to move to Alabama (or South Carolina, where Boeing is expanding its aircraft manufacturing) to obtain employment that matches their skills. The "brain drain" would not only impact NASA's future plans, but also the region's economic competitiveness. (6/24)

Space Shuttle External Tank Inventory (Source: CFL-13)
So what's the story on how many External Fuel Tanks are available for the Space Shuttle? I heard a rumor that there were components manufactured, but not assembled, for at least a couple more ETs. I checked with NASA. There are some tank components available, but only for a flight or two, it looks like. And it would take time to properly prepare what is available. As to cranking up the assembly again, in the unlikely event that the decision is made to keep flying shuttles, that would also take a couple of years or more, I'm told, to get the assembly line going again. Click here for the details. (6/24)

SpaceX Plans Another Round Of Tests (Source: KWTX)
Local (Texas) rocket engine developer SpaceX is scheduled to begin another round of tests for its Falcon 9 rocket engine this week. The first test could occur anytime between noon and 8:30 p.m Thursday and will only last about ten seconds. A second test is scheduled in the days that follow and will last about 30 seconds. The Falcon 9, along with SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, was recently selected by NASA to resupply the International Space Station starting in 2011. (6/24)

Harris Corp. Wins $140 Million NASA Deal for Satellite Network Tech (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Melbourne-based Harris Corp. has won a contract worth $140 million to produce next-generation technology for ground-based stations of NASA's communications-satellite network. Harris snagged the deal from General Dynamics Corp., lead contractor for NASA's satellite-modernization work. The five-year deal calls for Harris to replace existing ground equipment used by NASA's Tracking and Data Relay System with advanced computers, high-speed modems, signal processors and other equipment. The company will also boost the network's reliability, efficiency and maintenance while reducing costs. (6/24)

Japan Lab Finds Trace of Gas in Deep Space Asteroid Pod (Source: AFP)
Japan's space agency said it had found a trace of gas Thursday in a capsule thought to contain asteroid dust that was brought back to Earth after a multi-billion-kilometer space journey. Researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Sagamihara Campus in Kanagawa began opening the Hayabusa capsule, a process expected to take about a week, JAXA said. Using an optical microscope, they plan to analyze the inside of the container, which was shielded by a Frisbee-sized capsule. Opening the capsule on Thursday, they collected a trace of gas. "We still don't know exactly what kind of gas it is, but the researchers confirmed a trace of low-pressured gas in the capsule," a spokeswoman said. (6/24)

Misconceptions Swirl Around Obama Space Plan (Source: Space News)
Since its announcement earlier this year, President Barack Obama's new space exploration vision for NASA has met with a firestorm of outcry, confusion and misunderstanding. Some of the most common misconceptions are that the plan would take NASA out of the business of human spaceflight, that the President has introduced an untenable gap in U.S. spacefaring ability, and that NASA's budget has been slashed. There have also been claims that the new plan was a secret political scheme designed by hidden architects behind closed doors. NASA's leaders are trying to set the record straight, and the agency is ultimately hoping that the fervor will die down and people will come to embrace the new direction – which aims to send astronauts to visit an asteroid by 2025. (6/24)

Water Flowed on Mars More Recently Than Thought (Source: Space News)
Water flowed on Mars as recently as several hundred million years ago when sunlight melted a thin layer of glacier ice, researchers now say. The evidence lies in dozens of channels on Mars carved by melting glacier water during the cold, dry period that has dominated the red planet for the past 3.5 billion years, researchers said. Such youthful evidence surprised scientists, because it suggests that running water existed on Mars much more recently than previously found. (6/24)

Job Fair at Space Center for Workers Facing Layoffs (Source: CFL-13)
A job fair was held Thursday at Kennedy Space Center for workers facing layoffs when the shuttle fleet retires. An estimated 8,000 to 9,000 space shuttle workers at KSC are expected to lose their jobs. The job fair is for current KSC employees, a second job fair will be held for workers who have already lost their jobs. (6/24)

NASA Kicks Off New University Competition, for Inflatable Habitat "Loft" Concepts (Source: NASA)
The X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is a university level competition designed to engage and retain students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. The challenge is for a senior and graduate level design course in which students will design, manufacture, assemble, and test an inflatable loft that will be integrated onto an existing NASA built operational hard shell prototype. Concepts are to be self-deploying in a specified time, will install to a standard interface on NASA's hard shell Lab, and will meet total mass and volume constraints in both stowed and deployed configurations. Concept shapes and sizes will be determined by the proposer while meeting the constraints of the design requirements. Visit http://bit.ly/aRlxn1 for information. (6/24)

Space Florida Makes Commitment to Green Automaker Avera Motors (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida has approved an R&D partnership with Avera Motors, a new Central Florida automotive company. The company has developed and plans U.S. manufacturing of innovative performance vehicles that are ultra-efficient, environmentally-friendly and affordable. Space Florida will support Avera Motors' demonstration of unique technologies tied to the new vehicle. Space Florida will purchase a prototype from Avera and plans to work with NASA to validate its new technologies. The vehicle development and testing phase will result in approximately 25 local jobs over the next six months. (6/24)

Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development (Source: USDOC)
The Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development today launched an interactive Web site to encourage public comment on ways to promote economic growth and sustainability in the Space Coast region as it adapts to changes in America’s space program. The site offers valuable information about the work the Obama administration is doing to create jobs in the region by fostering a more supportive entrepreneurial environment. Public comment can be shared on the Task Force Web site at: http://www.nasa.gov/spacecoasttaskforce. The Task Force will review all input. (6/24)

Arianespace Delays Rocket Launch (Source: AP)
The launch of a European rocket that is to put two satellites into orbit has been postponed in French Guiana because of technical problems. An Arianespace statement says an investigation has been started to figure out the cause of a launcher subsystem anomaly on the Ariane 5 rocket. The mission was delayed Wednesday evening during the final countdown. The rocket and its two payloads will remain in a safe standby mode on the launch pad. (6/24)

Editorial: Flawed Leadership by NASA Admin. Charles Bolden (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden may have one of the hardest jobs in Washington, D.C. He's trying to sell a skeptical public and Congress on President Obama's plan for space, which includes grounding the shuttle and scrapping its successor. Many lawmakers represent regions, including Florida's Space Coast, that have been counting on federal jobs and dollars from those two programs. As a former astronaut, Mr. Bolden speaks with authority on space issues. But spearheading a transformation in any area of public policy also calls for other assets, including skill in navigating the corridors of power and a sensitivity to public appearances.

Mr. Bolden weighed in against NASA's participation with the U.S. Navy in a project to develop ocean-based biofuels. He wrote in a series of e-mails that he did not think NASA should be the lead federal agency looking at alternative fuels. On its face, this is a defensible position. NASA is under tremendous budget pressure, and its leader is right to be wary of taking on commitments when the agency doesn't have enough money to adequately fund its core, space-related activities. NASA shouldn't spread itself too thin — especially now. But Mr. Bolden registered his opinion after running the biofuels project past Marathon Oil Corp., a Houston-based company that has invested in a different biofuels venture. Marathon advised against it. (6/24)

FAA Asks Industry for GPS Backup Ideas (Source: Flight Global)
The US FAA will hold a 3-day public meeting on 10-12 August in Stanford, California to gather industry ideas on alternative positioning, navigation and timing (APNT) methods that could be used if global navigation satellite services (GNSS) are interrupted. At present, the FAA says it uses a variety of non-GNSS equipment, including distance measuring equipment, VHF radio, instrument landing systems and radar surveillance, for APNT services. However the agency notes that with the coming of its space-based next generation air transportation system (NextGen), legacy backup systems will not provide the minimum level of APNT performance needed. (6/24)

Despite Orders, NASA Keeps Funding Projects (Source: Wall Street Journal)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's bid to launch astronauts aboard private rockets faces mounting opposition in Congress, but it also appears to be placing him at odds with some of his own agency officials. The White House wants to kill existing manned exploration programs, and invest more than $5 billion in the next few years to outsource astronaut transportation to companies that would build and operate commercial rockets and spacecraft on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's behalf.

As part of the strategy to use private boosters to put crews into orbit, Mr. Bolden in recent weeks issued directives intended to immediately halt or sharply curtail funding for continued work on some big-ticket projects. They include the family of Ares rockets being developed by Alliant Techsystems Inc. However, midlevel NASA contracting officials in the past few days released more than $160 million to Alliant. Andrew Hunter, a NASA budget official, said Wednesday the action was intended to prevent Alliant from being forced to abruptly stop all Ares work and lay off employees. Lockheed Martin Corp. also got the green light to receive $80 million for other work related to a crew capsule. (6/24)

Public Sees a Future Full of Promise and Peril (Source: Pew Research Center)
Many Americans see dramatic scientific and technological advancements on the horizon, with big developments in medicine, engineering, space travel and computers. In the wake of recent shifts in NASA’s plans for manned missions to the moon and the imminent end of the space shuttle program, Americans by and large remain optimistic that astronauts will land on Mars in the next 40 years.

However, fewer now say this is likely than did so 11 years ago (63% today, 76% in 1999). While there are few demographic differences in predictions about space exploration, college graduates are more doubtful than others; 57% of college graduates say astronauts will definitely or probably land on the red planet within 40 years, while 67% of those without college degrees expect this to happen.

The public is more divided when it comes to other space-related scientific advancements. Half (50%) say that by 2050 there definitely or probably will be evidence that humans are not alone in the universe, while 45% say that this evidence probably or definitely won’t exist by then. And about as many people anticipate that within 40 years ordinary people will be able to travel in space (53%) as think it unlikely this will happen (45%). (6/22)

Was Venus Once a Habitable Planet? (Source: ESA)
ESA's Venus Express is helping planetary scientists investigate whether Venus once had oceans. If it did, it may even have begun its existence as a habitable planet similar to Earth. These days, Earth and Venus seem completely different. Earth is a lush, clement world teeming with life, whilst Venus is hellish, its surface roasting at temperatures higher than those of a kitchen oven.

But underneath it all the two planets share a number of striking similarities. They are nearly identical in size and now, thanks to ESA's Venus Express orbiter, planetary scientists are seeing other similarities too. Billions of years ago, Venus probably had much more water. Venus Express has certainly confirmed that the planet has lost a large quantity of water into space. It happens because ultraviolet radiation from the Sun streams into Venus's atmosphere and breaks up the water molecules into atoms: two hydrogens and one oxygen. These then escape to space. (6/24)

Suborbital Rocket Launched from Wallops Island (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
A Terrier-Orion suborbital sounding rocket launched at 7:17 a.m. Thursday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. By 7:20 a.m., an official said that the launch appeared to be a success. The rocket carried 11 university experiments that were developed in part with a weeklong workshop on how to build small experiments for launch aboard suborbital rockets, a NASA news release said. A boat is expected to travel out more than 40 miles from shore to retrieve the rocket from the water, according to a NASA webcast. The students whose experiments were on board will have them returned for study. (6/24)

"Superstorm" Found on Exoplanet (Source: Space Today)
Astronomers announced this week evidence for a powerful "superstorm" in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet. They found signs of powerful winds in the atmosphere of HD 209458b, a "hot Jupiter" exoplanet orbiting just 0.05 AU from its parent star. Astronomer studied the planet as it transited the disk of the star, using a high-resolution spectrograph mounted on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to measure variations in carbon monoxide lines as light from the star passes through the planet's dense atmosphere. Those spectral variations indicated that winds in the atmosphere are blowing at speeds of 5,000 to 10,000 km/h, likely caused by the fact that the planet is tidally locked to the star so that only one side is heated, causing large temperature variations and thus powerful winds. (6/24)

India Tells US to Remove ISRO and DRDO From Blacklist (Source: Business Standard)
India has asked the U.S. to remove its two state-run frontline technology establishments ISRO and DRDO from the entities list, in apparent anticipation of Washington and New Delhi opening cooperation in hi-tech systems. India has also asked American companies to invest in defense sector in the country with the visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma assuring that the major changes in the liberalization of FDI policy were under debate.

"Now that the Indo-US relationship has gained a new momentum with the Strategic Dialogue, it makes no sense to keep vital research organizations like Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) and Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in the entities list", Sharma said. (6/24)

Russia, Europe May Join Forces to Protect Earth From Asteroids (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian space officials and members of the European Commission will meet in early July to discuss joining forces against thousands of potentially hazardous asteroids, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said. Despite the growing concern about the asteroid threat, no anti-asteroid defense programs have been developed in practice so far, with only several theoretical concepts being studied. At a meeting in Moscow on July 7, the European Commission will consider Roscosmos's proposal to start a joint anti-asteroid project with the European Union. (6/24)

Moon Orbiter Marks a Milestone (Source: MSNBC)
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter began orbiting the moon one year ago today, and in honor of the anniversary, the space agency is offering a gallery of "10 cool things" observed by the space probe. This picture, documenting elevation on the moon's far side, is the most psychedelic pic in the set. The big blue blotch is the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest impact craters in the solar system.

The moon's south polar region is also home to the coldest place in the solar system, which counts as another cool thing on NASA's list. And how can we forget all those pictures of Apollo landing sites, which should take care of the moon-hoax myth once and for all. Do conspiracy theorists really think NASA can keep a secret from a multigenerational team of planetary scientists, spread across 15 institutions around the world? The truth is out there ... and it's pretty cool. (6/24)

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