July 20, 2010

Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan Support NASA Compromise (Source: NASA Watch)
"This past week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, chaired by Senator Rockefeller passed a bi-partisan Authorization bill for NASA for FY 2011- 2013 that does much to maintain President Kennedy's vision and align the agency with its original charter... This week, Chairman Gordon of the House Committee on Science and Technology released his Committee's version of the NASA Reauthorization Bill..."

"Each of these pending bills represent tremendous progress relative to our concerns expressed earlier to the Congress, and we hope that you will continue that progress as you prepare to adopt your NASA spending plan for FY 2011, and fully fund NASA at the requested level, as your House counterparts have done. We recognize that there are differences yet to be resolved. However, we are encouraged that these actions in both Houses of Congress have set the stage for our country's future in space." (7/20)

ASRC Wins NASA Engineering and Tech Services Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded the Multi-Disciplinary Engineering and Technology Services II contract to ASRC Management Services. The 8A small business set-aside contract has a minimum ordering value of $5 million and a maximum ordering value of $250 million. The period of performance is five years. ASRC will perform tasks toward the formulation, design, development, flight and non-flight fabrication, integration, testing, verification, and operations of spaceflight and ground system hardware and software, primarily at Goddard Space Flight Center. (7/20)

New Theory of Gravity Challenges our Understanding of the Universe (Source: The Star)
Erik Verlinde hopes he has turned the ideas of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton on their head. The 48-year-old string theorist, who teaches physics at the Institute of for Theoretical Physics at the University of Amsterdam, has a new theory on how gravity works – a theory that causes many to scratch their head in disbelief.

In layman’s terms, it goes like this: Gravity is information that is displaced. According to Verlinde, if you move around objects, which are made up of chunks of information, there is a force associated with the displacement of the objects. And that force is what gravity is. To come up with his theory, he had to leave behind the fundamental assumption that gravity even exists as a force. It has been contested by some, lauded by others. Verlinde is working on a second paper that will refine his theory. (7/20)

SpaceX Applauds Senate Approach to NASA Authorization (Source: SpaceX)
“We are pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee has recognized that the best and only near-term option for eliminating America’s reliance on the Russian Soyuz for astronaut transportation is the development and use of commercial systems, such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft” said Elon Musk, CEO & CTO, SpaceX. “For about the same amount that is currently being spent on purchasing seats on Russian launch vehicles, we can create thousands of high-tech, high-paying jobs right here at home.” (7/20)

HI-TEC Conference in Orlando Focuses on Technology Training and Education (Source: SPACErePORT)
Former NASA Astronaut Story Musgrave will give the opening keynote address for the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC), which runs from July 28-29 in Orlando. The event will include sessions on various programs to support technician-level workers in high tech industries, including aerospace. SpaceTEC, the Florida-based national certification and training consortium for aerospace technicians, will participate. Click here for details. (7/20)

Scientists Receive First CryoSat-2 Data (Source: ESA)
A better understanding of how Earth's ice fields are changing has come another step closer as the first data from ESA's ice mission are released to selected scientists around the world for fine-tuning. This release, which comes just three months after CryoSat-2 was launched, is the first milestone in the scientific exploitation of the mission's data. These data are essential for determining tiny variations in the thickness of ice floating in the polar oceans and in the large ice sheets that blanket Antarctica and Greenland. (7/20)

Texas Museum Works to Get Shuttle (Source: The Batt)
The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History is working to bring one of NASA’s retired space shuttles to the area. Project Director Zach Cummings started the petition to bring the shuttle to the Brazos Valley, one of two locations being considered in state. “The Museum’s dream is to display the magnificent shuttle in a new Museum of Science and History,” said a museum official. Bringing the shuttle to Brazos Valley could help the tourism economy and Texas
A&M University. (7/20)

Editorial: Let’s Work With Others on Space (Source: Journal Standard)
A recent column in the Journal-Standard implies that the “S” in NASA no longer stands for “space” because President Obama has changed NASA’s mission — “and space isn’t part of the story.” It asserted that Muslim-nation outreach is turning the agency's mission “from moon landings to promoting self-esteem.”

The truth is that Obama’s new direction for NASA does have to do with space, including a “decision to shift NASA’s focus away from moon landings in favor of space exploration that would result in the first manned missions to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the 2030s.” The decision is controversial and has been criticized by those who want retired space shuttles replaced and vehicles built for moon landings. However, part of Obama’s decision was based on the fact that the government can’t afford to pursue every project. NASA has to pick and choose.

Not everyone agrees with Neil Armstrong’s and Eugene Cernan’s criticism of NASA’s new direction. Dr. Robert Braun, NASA’s chief technologist, cites a previous “lack of investment” in technology. “For the past decade or so, the research and technology side of NASA has been in decline.” The agency, he says, will now work on things such as propulsion, “future robotic and human exploration missions,” better communications and more efficient concepts of landing. Braun declares, “We have big goals for our space program.” (7/20)

Ukraine to Launch Satellite for Azerbaijan (Source: Xinhua)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said on Monday that Ukraine is planning to launch "AzerSat," Azerbaijan's first satellite, with its rocket, according to news reaching here from Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Speaking at a joint press conference with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Gryshchenko said that they exchanged views on strengthening cooperation in the field of aviation and spaceflight, focusing on the joint satellite launch project. (7/20)

SpaceX’s DragonEye Set for Installation on Discovery (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
SpaceX's DragonEye (DE) relative navigation sensor – set to ride with Discovery on STS-133 – will be installed two weeks later than planned, following a laser rod failure during testing. Discovery – currently enjoying a smooth processing flow – will be conducting the second test for the sensor during her arrival at the International Space Station (ISS) in November. (7/20)

EADS Astrium in a Stable Orbit (Source: Flight Global)
Of all EADS's divisions, perhaps the one that has had the most radical - and at times painful - transformation is its space business, now branded Astrium. The creation of EADS brought together the national space assets of France, Germany, Spain and the UK. Each government protected its champion, yet the economics of commercial space meant that trying to keep all capabilities within its borders was doomed.

The solution was to create "centers of excellence", transferring departments from one country to another and axeing some national capabilities completely. All four countries, for instance, focused on composites. Francois Auque closed the UK and Germany and concentrated activities in France and Spain. "It was a huge job and required a lot of political will," he says of a restructure that cost €450 million ($567 million). I received a huge volume of letters explaining to me that I was destroying the jewels in the crown." (7/20)

Australian Laser System to Track Space Junk (Source: AFP)
An Australian company said it had developed a laser tracking system that will stop chunks of space debris colliding with spacecraft and satellites in the Earth's orbit. Electric Optic Systems said lasers fired from the ground would locate and track debris as small as 10 centimetreers (four inches) across, protecting astronauts and satellites. "We can track them to very high precision so that we can predict whether there are going to be collisions with other objects or not," said the company's CEO. (7/20)

ESA Picks Indra Espacio for Space-Tracking Demonstration Radar (Source: Space News)
Indra Espacio of Spain will lead development of a phased-array radar to demonstrate tracking of orbital debris and satellites passing over European territory under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA). The contract, valued at 4.7 million euros ($6 million), will include a radar transmitter to be developed by Indra and a receiver to be provided by Fraunhofer Institute for High-Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques of Wachtberg, Germany. Indra also will scout possible sites in Europe to locate the radar. (7/20)

House Legislation Would Undo White House's NASA Wish List (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A draft NASA bill being considered by the House Science Committee does not provide for an extra space shuttle mission and undercuts a compromise forged last week between the White House and Senate. The White House, Senate and House policy guidelines all provide for a topline NASA budget of about $19 billion, but the similarities end there.

The Senate compromise would immediately fund the development of a government heavy-lift launch vehicle and crew capsule for deep space missions. But it also calls for $1.6 billion in funding for commercial crew projects over the next three years, about half of the White House's proposal. The White House requested $3.3 billion for NASA to help pay for new privately-developed spacecraft to ferry astronauts. The draft House bill only provides for $150 million for Commercial Crew during the same three-year period.

Unlike the Senate legislation, the House bill does not authorize an additional space shuttle mission. The Senate bill directs NASA to fly an extra shuttle flight next summer. The authorization bills are just the first step in the budget process. Each body's appropriations committees must write legislation to provide funding to federal agencies. Any differences in Senate and House bills must be resolved before heading to the president's desk. (7/20)

Pentagon: Solid Rocket Industry Needs Consolidation (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. solid rocket motor industry is "over capacity" and needs consolidation, the Pentagon's top official for industrial policy said. "It is over capacity right now," Brett Lambert said at the Farnborough Airshow on Monday, adding a consolidation was long overdue. "We should have squeezed out that capacity 10 years ago."

Editor's Note: Be careful what you wish for. Last time the Pentagon urged the aerospace industry to consolidate, they ended up with a single provider of launch services and a problem with high launch prices due, in part, to a lack of competition in the industry. (7/20)

The House Presents its Own NASA Bill: Also a Boon for Houston (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Following a U.S. Senate committee's striking approval of a NASA budget bill last week, the House of Representatives has moved quickly to add its version of the space agency's budget. If approved, this bill will still have to be meshed with the Senate bill and the president will have to sign off on it. But if the House and Senate can agree on plans it seems unlikely to me that President Obama will oppose their deal.

I have only done a quick read of the bill. Like the Senate legislation it extends the life of the International Space Station and, significantly, it calls for NASA to develop a crew-carrying rocket and capsule to reach orbit. Instead of the Senate's deadline of 2016, however, the House bill calls for such a rocket to be ready by 2015. It appears to me that this bill does not add an additional space shuttle flight in the summer of 2011, as the Senate bill did. However it does provide $140 million over the next three years to help shuttle employees in their transition to new jobs. (7/20)

House Bucks Senate Compromise on NASA (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The House science committee on Monday unveiled a new guideline for NASA policy that threatens to upset a carefully-crafted compromise worked out by the Senate and White House last week. The measure, authored by the top Democrats and Republicans on the committee, calls for NASA to “restructure” the Constellation moon rocket program to help in the development of a new government rocket.

“Responsible stewardship of taxpayer-provided resources makes it imperative that... [NASA] builds on the investments made to date in the Orion, Ares I, and heavy lift projects,” notes the committee leaders, alluding to the $9 billion or more that Constellation has cost already. The two lawmakers want to continue Constellation or, at the very least, see NASA develop its own spacecraft and the new bill they co-authored budgets about $4 billion for the effort in 2011.

That’s about $1 billion more than what the Senate proposed, which aims to balance a new government rocket program sought by Congress with support for the commercial rocket business. Indeed, the House version budgets $64 million for commercial crew and cargo development in 2011 versus the $612 million included in the Senate version, according to sources who have seen both bills. (7/20)

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