June 26, 2010

The Budget Debate Heats Up (Source: Space Politics)
It appears that NASA has complied, at least partially, with a request by a House committee for documents about the FY11 budget process. NASA apparently sent over documents to the House Science and Technology Committee Friday evening, which staff members are now reviewing. The committee demanded the documents last week after NASA was not forthcoming with earlier requests for information about aspects of the budget.

Meanwhile, six senators have written to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, asking him to abandon efforts to slow down Constellation by requiring contractors to withhold funds to cover termination liability. In the letter the senators cite concerns about “inconsistent treatment and the counter-productive effect of withholding funding” on NASA contractors. The letter was organized by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and signed by Sens. Robert Bennett (R-UT), Jon Cornyn (R-TX), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), George LeMieux (R-FL), and David Vitter (R-LA). While the signers are all from states that have perhaps the most to lose from the cancellation of Constellation, interestingly, neither Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), [Sen. Bill Nelson,] nor Alabama’s two senators signed the letter.

All this comes as the House is expected to finally start to take action on the NASA budget proposal. Next Tuesday afternoon the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will markup its version of the FY11 spending bill, which includes NASA. The House is also expected to take up next week a supplemental appropriations bill for FY10, including deciding whether to include language similar to the Senate version that requires NASA to fund “continued performance of Constellation contracts” with the remaining funding this fiscal year. (6/26)

Six Senators Write Bolden About Constellation Contracts (Source: Florida Today)
Six senators from rocket-building and -launching states urged NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to stop trying to cut off nearly $1 billion in funding for the Constellation program. The letter Friday from Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., and others is the latest salvo in the congressional battle to protect the return-to-the-moon program that President Barack Obama proposed to abandon.

The dispute is that as Congress debates Obama's budget, NASA began sending letters to contractors telling them to hold $994 million in anticipation of potentially terminating the program. But as part of a spending bill for the current year, Congress prohibited NASA from cancelling Constellation until lawmakers vote on Obama's budget.

In his June 9 letter explaining to move to lawmakers, Bolden said the action was intended to "pace" Constellation funding rather than "terminate" it. That move angered lawmakers particularly in states such as Utah and Lousiana that build Constellation's Ares rocket. "The president's plan wastes billions of dollars and years of valuable time," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who organized the letter. (6/25)

Chinese Shenzhou Vehicle Eyed as ISS Backup to Russian Soyuz (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Roscosmos chief Anatoly Perminov said the International Space Station partners are awaiting a response from China on an invitation to join the project. The interesting aspect is why the offer was made: Russia doesn’t want to be solely responsible for crew transport once the space shuttle retires.

“This is rather dangerous, any expert recognizes that. There must a backup for the Soyuz.We wish some country would have it, and we contacted China with its human spaceflight program mature enough to maintain crew transportation in the program, asking to join the ISS partnership. However there was no response,” Perminov said.

Oh, I can’t imagine this going over very well with Congress. Not. At. All. NASA issued a formal statement about this story on Friday: “We checked and confirmed with the director of the Russian Federal Space Agency human space flight program that Russia has not issued an invitation to China to join the International Space Station Program.” (6/26)

New Boeing Spaceship Targets Commercial Missions (Source: Space.com)
As NASA's space shuttle fleet draws close to retirement, aerospace juggernaut Boeing is hard at work developing a new capsule-based spaceship to fly people to and from the International Space Station. The new Boeing space capsule is a project using the company's recent $18 million award from NASA to advance the concepts and technology necessary to build a commercial crew space transportation system. It is one of several efforts by different U.S. companies to come with new spaceships to fill the void left by NASA's retiring shuttles.

"We're right on schedule for all of our demonstrations," Reiley told SPACE.com. "We've done 50 to 60 percent of our milestones, and all of them have been on time or ahead of time." At the heart of Boeing’s new spaceship design is the CST-100 capsule, which will look similar to the cone-shaped Apollo and Orion spacecraft. Boeing plans to launch the CST-100 capsule from Florida, but has yet to determine which rocket will carry it into space.

The spacecraft is being designed for compatibility with a variety of rockets, in much the same way that commercial satellites are. This will give Boeing the flexibility to select an appropriate rocket later in the development process. And while NASA has outlined a launch target for 2016, the new capsule could be rolled out sooner than expected, which could help fill the gap in future human spaceflight should NASA scrap its Constellation program. (6/26)

Orbital Urges NASA To Hold Orion Lifeboat Competition (Source: Space News)
An Orbital Sciences Corp. executive told a Capitol Hill audience June 24 that the contract for the space station crew lifeboat NASA has been directed to build should be put out for bid rather than assigned to Lockheed Martin without a competition. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Congress in May the agency expects to spend roughly $4.5 billion on a crew lifeboat based on the Orion capsule Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has been designing since 2005 to fly astronauts on Moon missions President Barack Obama intends to shelve. (6/26)

Ariane 5 Launches Arab and South Korean Satellites (Sources: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Europe's Ariane 5 commercial launcher carried out another uneventful trek to orbit Saturday night, successfully deploying a powerful broadcasting satellite for the Arab world and a unique spacecraft to see and communicate with South Korea. The rocket roared away from a jungle launch base on the northeastern coast of South America atop the thrust produced by its hydrogen-fueled main engine and twin solid boosters.

Tracking eastward across the Atlantic Ocean and then Africa during the half-hour flight, the cryogenic upper stage delivered the required push to reach a geosynchronous transfer orbit with Arabsat 5A and COMS, the Communication, Ocean and Meteorological Satellite. (6/26)

Patent Purchase Cleared Way for Iridium Next Satellite Contract (Source: Space News)
A patent-mining company that owned much of the intellectual property supporting the Iridium constellation of low-orbiting mobile communications satellites has sold these and other patents to satellite builder Thales Alenia Space in a transaction that Thales Alenia Space said was crucial for Iridium’s future development.

The transaction was completed June 1, just hours before the satellite manufacturer signed a $2.1 billion contract to build 81 satellites for Iridium’s second-generation constellation. Cannes, France-based Thales Alenia Space embedded the value of the Iridium patents into its contract with Virginia-based Iridium Communications. (6/26)

Orbital Debris, Planetary Defense, Space Sustainability Issues Detailed Before UN (Source: Newswise)
Dealing with the troublesome trend in the growth of Earth-circling orbital debris is a major element to ensure the sustainability of space. Moreover, human and environmental security can be maximized by global cooperative use of space systems to benefit all of humanity.

These were among the topics highlighted by Secure World Foundation (SWF) during the Fifty-third session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held June 9-18 in Vienna, Austria. “In all of our work, we actively promote the development of sound policies to support the long term sustainability of outer space activities and the peaceful use of space activities for the benefit of Earth and its peoples,” explained Dr. Ray Williamson, SWF’s Executive Director. (6/26)

Boeing Rocket Lab set to open July 2 in Santa Ana (Source: Seattle PI)
The Boeing Rocket Lab will open to the public July 2 in the 8,000-square-foot "cube" at Discovery Science Center, in Santa Ana, California. "Boeing Rocket Lab is the first phase of our Space Exploration Gallery, a $6 million expansion project that will further Discovery Science Center's mission of engaging guests through interactive, hands-on exhibits," Center President Joe Adams said.

The exhibit includes a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 main rocket engine, which powers the Boeing Delta IV family of rockets. Visitors standing underneath the engine's nozzle will experience the sensation of a rocket launch through fog, light, sound and video effects. There also are stations that explore the chemistry of rocket fuels and let guests launch rockets using compressed air or compressed air and water. (6/26)

Smaller Planets Rule the Galaxy (Source: Discovery)
Like Indiana Jones opening a new vault of buried treasure, the much-awaited first year treasure trove of NASA Kepler space telescope observations of distant planets went public last week. Or at least some of the data have, as reported by Nicole Gugliucci regarding the dilemma of long-sought exoplanet detections being released to everyone after a one-year propriety period.

Several science papers from the Kepler team were immediately posted on the Internet, and will be published in journals once peer-reviewed. The targets are cautiously called "planet candidates" until follow-up dynamical observations can be done from ground-based telescopes.

Nevertheless, Kepler's first harvest provides an entirely new vista on the exoplanet landscape. This is thanks to Kepler’s unique ability -- enabled by being located in space -- to detect comparatively small planets passing in front of (transiting) their stars. This produces as very slight dimming of light (a fraction of a percent) coming from the star. The dip is only clearly measurable from above Earth’s atmosphere for the deep starfield sampled by Kepler. (6/26)

At Companies Tied to NASA, Casualties of a Changing Mission (Source: New York Times)
In the political battle over the nation’s space program, the first casualties are people like Donny Smith, an engineer who received his layoff notice Monday. “I’ve been preparing, trying to find something else to move to,” said Mr. Smith, who works for Bastion Technologies, one of the companies NASA has hired to help design rockets to return astronauts to the moon as part of its Constellation program.

Workers at Bastion and elsewhere are caught in a growing conflict between Congress, which has banned NASA from canceling any part of Constellation, and agency leaders who have directed program managers to scale back their work while preserving the parts that would fit into the new space policy proposed by President Obama. The entire layoff brunt so far is landing on people like Mr. Smith and not NASA government employees. In Huntsville, Ala., often called the Rocket City, Mayor Tommy Battle said he had heard that 700 people could be affected in his city. Nationwide, NASA has estimated that 2,500 to 5,000 jobs could be lost. (6/26)

No comments: