July 14, 2010

Nelson's Positive Changes Could Outweigh Negative Ones for Florida (Source: SPACErePORT)
The compromise legislation supported by Senator Nelson taps the brakes on NASA's Commercial Crew program at KSC, but it does not kill the program. NASA would instead spend much of 2011 setting the stage for the commercial initiative...including a focus on prerequisite human-rating requirements and improvements at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport under the 21st Century Launch Complex program...at least that's what some folks are saying.

Meanwhile, the acceleration of a heavy-lift development program will generate tons of work at KSC, and could present opportunities far beyond the kinds of infrastructure projects that would be funded. For example, with the development of an "in-line" Shuttle-derived rocket (currently favored by NASA folks studying the alternatives), KSC would become an ideal location for developing the huge composite fairings that would house payloads and upper stages riding atop the modified orange external tanks. Such a manufacturing capability could be leveraged to support other aerospace composites programs, and would be attractive for aircraft component development.

And what about Orion? Sen. Nelson wants to shift Orion back into deep-space mode (instead of being a Space Station rescue capsule). But multiple companies are eager to develop similar vehicles for NASA and commercial customers, and they're lobbying for the chance to do it. Whatever happens in the capsule category, Florida would still be an ideal site for their assembly and refurbishment, since it already has a virtual lock on launching them. (7/14)

NASA Considers Five-Month Asteroid Mission (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Among the missions being considered by NASA under President Obama's "flexible path" plan is a five-month round trip to an asteroid (1999AO10). With two weeks at the asteroid, astronauts would perform fly-around reconnaissance, deploy tele-operated robotic probes, "dock" and perform ultra-low-g EVA exploration, take samples, and conduct seismic studies. Click here for a slide from a NASA planning presentation. Editor's Note: This is exciting stuff. I can't understand why so many people think President Obama's plan represents the end of U.S. human space exploration. (7/14)

Next Cape Rocket Launch Delayed 10 Days (Source: Florida Today)
Cape Canaveral's next scheduled rocket launch has been delayed 10 days, from July 30 to Aug. 10, the Air Force announced. Engineers need more time to test a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket component that will help the protective fairing around the mission's payload separate properly during ascent. The mission will launch the first in a new series of military communications satellites in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency program, or AEHF. (7/14)

Florida Firm Grows with Virginia Spaceport Efforts (Source: CCT)
Command and Control Technologies Corp. reported record first-half revenues for 2010 on support to commercial space contracts with the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority and Orbital Sciences Corp. CCT is designing and implementing several pad control subsystems for the new Launch Complex 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. This launch complex will support the first flights of the new Orbital Taurus II launch vehicle.

Control systems developed by CCT will support the cryogenic and RP-1 fueling operations, engine testing, launch vehicle erector hydraulic systems, environmental control systems, and water deluge operations. CCT’s Command and Control Toolkit product has also been selected by Orbital to support launch control systems operations and launch sequencing. CCT is a computer technology company specializing in mission critical automation systems and software tools that enable decision-focused situation awareness. Visit www.cctcorp.com for information. (7/14)

Virginia, New Mexico and California Plan Senate Bill Fix (Source: Space Politics)
Multiple amendments are being proposed for the Senate's NASA authorization bill. One, submitted by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), would restore funding for the commercial crew program to the levels in the administration’s proposal, taking funds from the heavy-lift and crew capsule programs. Warner would put the crew capsule out for competition. An amendment by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) would explicitly authorize full funding—-$15 million a year-—for the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program. Yet another amendment is planned by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to restore funding for the Flagship Technologies program.

Commercial advocates like the Space Frontier Foundation are endorsing the Warner amendment. “Does the US Senate want to preserve a few thousand politically important, government funded jobs for a few more years, or would it rather stimulate the creation of millions of new private sector jobs that will last into the 22nd century?” the organization asks.

Editor's Note: Although most of these changes would also benefit Florida, if NASA's budget for the coming year is to remain at $19 billion it doesn't seem likely that they can coexist in the bill. (7/14)

Editorial: Do We Need More Than One Commercial Crew Vehicle? (Source: Space News)
Can NASA afford two crew vehicle programs, the Orion/crew rescue option and a commercial crew program? Is keeping both programs really worth the sacrifice likely to be made on technology investments critical to enabling exploration beyond Earth orbit? Is this, as the Augustine report stated, “perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources?” If the Orion/CRV only serves as a lifeboat, then that’s not much useful capability for the estimated $4 billion to $7 billion price tag (the equivalent of the James Webb Space Telescope), especially when the crew escape capability could be provided by a commercial crew vehicle, should it be decided so.

On commercial crew, many on the Hill have voiced deep concerns that NASA would be betting the farm on unproven commercial suppliers with no proven track record. This allegation might or might not be true, depending on who is selected, but that’s not where the real problem is. A more fundamental issue with commercial crew is that NASA intends to use a fixed-price acquisition approach, and therein lies a recipe for disaster. Fixed-price contracts are not well-suited for complex and risky technical developments, such as a new spacecraft design. While fixed-price contracts make it easy for the government to predict budgets, it does this by foisting maximum risk on the contractor, who may or may not be prepared for it.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we must think.” And so, we must think through this very complicated, intertwined political, programmatic, policy problem, but the debate has not shed much light on the possibilities for compromise, and many questions remain. (7/14)

Editorial: A Third Way - APEX (Source: Space News)
A potential alternative to ponder: America’s Program for Exploration (APEX). Combine the best of Orion and commercial crew to close the gap, reduce our reliance on international suppliers, and develop a domestic capability for crew transportation; not just for NASA astronauts, but for all Americans who want to go to space. First step, NASA and potential private users, such as Bigelow and others, should jointly work out top-level performance requirements for an integrated crew transportation program (e.g., number of crew, performance, lifetime, etc.).

A scaled-back Orion could potentially serve as the basis for the new vehicle, but that would depend on how closely the combined NASA and commercial requirements match up to Orion, so that’s a possibility but not a foregone conclusion. The objective is to balance capabilities against cost, with strong emphasis on reducing recurring cost. More capability could eventually be added through a spiral development program to meet deep space exploration needs.

Second step, leverage the investment already made in Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) and human rate those vehicles. With sufficient performance, a proven flight record, and a comprehensive mission assurance program already in place, EELVs offer the quickest and safest path to close the gap on the launcher side. Leveraging existing EELVs would dramatically reduce the burden on NASA’s budget by alleviating the need to develop a new 25 metric-ton class launcher. (7/14)

ETC Contracts Top $92 Million for Air Force, Navy Support (Source: ETC)
Over the last eighteen months Environmental Tectonics Corp. was awarded three major aeromedical equipment contracts totaling $92 million dollars for new joint-service Aeromedical Center of Excellence (COE) complex at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. ETC is scheduled to provide a total of six training and research devices for the COE complex including: an Authentic Tactical Flight Simulator-400 (ATFS-400 Phoenix) for pilot training, a Gryphon GL-6000 Disorientation Research Device for human factors research, and a suite of four Falcon Altitude Chambers used for research and pilot physiology training. Editor's Note: ETC is the owner of NASTAR, a training facility for spaceflight participants. (7/14)

200th Test Launch Of A Minuteman III Missile (Source: Space Daily)
The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Prime Team, led by Northrop Grumman Corp., participated in the 200th scheduled operational test launch of an ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 16. Designated Glory Trip 200GM-1, the launch at 3:01 a.m. PDT marked more than 40 years of demonstrated accuracy, availability and reliability of Minuteman III on-alert deterrence. It carried a single, inert reentry vehicle atop a fully modernized booster, guidance set and post-boost vehicle. (7/14)

Record-Breaking X-ray Blast Briefly Blinds Space Observatory (Source: Space Daily)
A blast of the brightest X-rays ever detected from beyond our Milky Way galaxy's neighborhood temporarily blinded the X-ray eye on NASA's Swift space observatory earlier this summer, astronomers now report. The X-rays traveled through space for 5-billion years before slamming into and overwhelming Swift's X-ray Telescope on 21 June. The blindingly bright blast came from a gamma-ray burst, a violent eruption of energy from the explosion of a massive star morphing into a new black hole. (7/14)

NASA Releases Latest Newsletter on Orbital Debris (Source: NASA)
Although more than 4,700 space missions have been conducted worldwide since the beginning of the Space Age, only 10 missions account for one-third of all cataloged objects currently in Earth orbit. Six of these 10 debris-producing events occurred within the past 10 years, despite the decades-long efforts of the international aerospace community to eliminate the creation of long-lived debris. Click here to read NASA's latest newsletter on orbital debris. (7/14)

Letter From Former NASA Astronauts in Support of Commercial Crew Transport (Source: SpaceRef.com)
"Dear Senator Mikulski: The 2011 budget request for NASA has generated much debate about the right course for America in space. You have raised the issue of safety as an indispensable component of any new plan for NASA, and we wish to express our appreciation for your leadership in ensuring that safety is at the center of this debate. Both as astronauts and as citizens who care passionately about the future of human spaceflight, we write today to communicate our views on this critical issue.

Let us be clear: we believe that that the private sector, working in partnership with NASA, can safely develop and operate crewed space vehicles to low Earth orbit. We have reached this conclusion for a number of reasons. ...The success of NASA's proposed Commercial Crew program is critical. By allowing the private sector to take on the transportation of crew to low Earth orbit, NASA will finally be able to direct its resources and focus on human exploration beyond, and we strongly feel this direction for the agency is the right one. Editor's Note: Twenty-four astronauts signed this letter, including Sam Durrance and Norm Thagard from Florida. (7/14)

Amid NASA Job Losses, Alabama Anticipates Good News from Farnborough (Source: AIA)
While Alabama faces more layoffs due to the ending of the space shuttle program, the state's governor, Bob Riley, said he will sign an agreement next week to bring more jobs. The agreement is to be signed a the Farnborough International Airshow but could not be disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement. (7/14)

More Alabama Aerospace Job Cuts Announced (Source: WAFF)
An aerospace and defense company in Huntsville has received some disheartening news. Tuesday, 14 employees from ATK were told they'd be out of a job. ATK employs 84 people at its Huntsville location, and has maintained a strong presence in the Rocket City for more than 30 years. The primary reason for the cuts is the ending of the space shuttle program, and also because the work on ARES has slowed down, especially the upper stage. (7/14)

Packing Up for Jupiter (Source: Denver Post)
Lockheed Martin employees are in the midst of assembling the Juno spacecraft in south Jefferson County, equipping it with "armor" to withstand the radiation rigors of Jupiter. Juno is scheduled to be launched by United Launch Alliance in August 2011. It will begin a year-long mission of exploring Jupiter's origin and evolution in 2016.

The first of eight instruments was installed this month, along with a centimeter-thick titanium "vault" the size of an SUV trunk that will shield the electronics hub. Lockheed designed and is building the spacecraft, vault, avionics and solar arrays, said Tim Gasparrini, Lockheed's Juno program manager. About 300 Lockheed employees worked on the project at its peak. (7/14)

NASA Awards Rapid Response Space Works Contract (Source: NASA)
Serving as a contracting agent for the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, NASA has selected Millennium Engineering and Integration Co., of Arlington, Va., to receive a contract for Rapid Response Space Works (RRSW). Millennium will provide support for the ORS Office within the Department of Defense. In partnership with the DOD, NASA will play a role in planning, acquisition and operations of ORS efforts.

Specifically, the company will design, develop, build, operate and sustain the RRSW to enable rapid access to space for DOD. The RRSW activities include mission coordination, design, development, procurement, assembly, integration, test, on-orbit support, launch support and ground system support. (7/14)

Rocket Launch Could Sway Children Into Science (Source: CBS4)
Some elementary students from Denver Public Schools had the chance to construct and launch their own rockets Tuesday. It may appear to be just another summer activity, but the event was part of a bigger effort to launch the students into science-related careers someday. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science got a grant from United Launch Alliance -- a Colorado company that builds rockets for the government. It gave the museum $70,000 for its "Rocket Works" program. (7/14)

Hutchison Comments on Senate Bill, Which Rejects Obama's JSC Plans (Source: Houston Chronicle)
A draft budget bill for NASA released by the Senate on Tuesday suggests Congress will not accept President Obama's proposed revision of the space agency without a fight. The Senate bill seeks to extend the life of the space shuttle program by a year, accelerate development of a heavy-lift rocket and preserve elements of the Houston-based Constellation Program.

"The proposed bill as it stands transitions NASA's skilled work force to an executable long-term mission, and it preserves and utilizes our $100 billion investment in the International Space Station," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Hutchison negotiated the Senate bill, which will be considered by the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation on Thursday, with committee chairman Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and former astronaut Bill Nelson, D-Fla. (7/14)

Taurus 2 Rocket Could Launch Astronaut Crews from Florida (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Orbital Sciences Corp. could reevaluate moving some of its Taurus 2 rocket missions from Virgina to Florida if the company wins a contract to launch astronauts or stacks its backlog with satellites, a senior company official said Tuesday. The firm is contending for rights to launch future NASA astronaut crews to the Space Station, but it faces stiff competition from SpaceX, Boeing, and other companies.

Culbertson said it would take Orbital three or four years to field human-rated rocket and spacecraft from the point of a firm contract award. More Taurus 2 launch sites, including Florida, could also be required if Orbital signs deals to launch a large number of satellite payloads on the Taurus 2, according to Culbertson. Other locations under review include Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Kodiak Island, Alaska, for polar orbit launches.

Culbertson, a former astronaut, said Orbital is still discussing opportunities to launch the Taurus 2 from several facilities at Cape Canaveral. One vacant launch pad is Complex 36, the former home of Atlas rockets. Complex 36 is managed by Space Florida, a state government's aerospace economic development agency. (7/14)

Editorial: Breaking the Impasse (Source: Florida Today)
The deadlock in Congress over President Obama’s plan for NASA’s future could be coming to an end with a compromise bill that faces a key committee vote Thursday. The measure, crafted by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, has bipartisan support and might finally provide a clearer picture of where the program is headed... But the real impact is what would happen next on two fronts:

A) Speeding up development of a new NASA-led heavy-lift rocket with the work starting in 2011, much sooner than the 2015 date in the president’s plan. The rocket would rely heavily on shuttle systems such as the solid rocket boosters planned for the Ares rockets that were canceled with the Constellation moon program.

B) Reinstating the full development of the Orion spacecraft that would carry astronauts, and which also was killed with Constellation. Obama has since stepped back some, supporting a stripped-down Orion that would serve as a lifeboat to the International Space Station. (7/14)

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