July 29, 2010

Showdown Over Space Policy (Source: MSNBC)
Rocketeers ranging from SpaceX's millionaire founder to the maverick engineers behind the DIRECT heavy-lift design effort are sounding the alarm over a space spending bill due for consideration by the House on Friday. Their bottom line: Support the Senate version of the bill instead. H.R. 5781, the House's version of the $19 billion NASA authorization bill for fiscal 2011, lops off most of $6 billion being sought by the Obama administration for boosting the development of commercial spaceships capable of bringing astronauts to the International Space Station over the next five years.

Instead, it would put more money into the internal NASA rocket development program - although not as much as previously budgeted under a plan that an independent panel said was "not viable." Many folks on the entrepreneurial space frontier say the House spending plan is so deficient that the Senate version must prevail, even though it also short-changes commercial space development. They say the alternative could be an extended period of dependence on the Russians for crew transport. (7/29)

NASA Bill Headed for Vote in House (Source: Space News)
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a NASA authorization bill as early as July 29 that would set funding levels and provide policy guidance to the space agency over the next three years, according to House aides. The bill (H.R. 5781), approved by the House Science and Technology Committee July 22, fully funds NASA’s $19 billion request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, but guts a White House proposal to spend $5.9 billion over the next five years fostering development of commercial vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from Earth orbit.

Although the measure includes $150 million for privately developed space taxis through 2013 and another $300 million in the form of government-backed loans or loan guarantees, it would also continue much of the work being done under NASA’s Constellation program, a 5-year-old effort to build new rockets and spacecraft optimized for lunar missions that the White House has targeted for termination.

Congressional aides said the measure is expected to be brought to the House floor under a suspension of the rules, a procedural move that limits amendments to a bill during floor debate but which requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. Senior Democratic and Republican members of the House Science and Technology Committee, which drafted the bill, have met with House leaders to discuss the bill, according to a House aide, who said the members were “reasonably confident” of obtaining the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass it. (7/29)

Stealth Funding for NASA's Constellation (Source: Discovery)
A provision in a bill passed by Congress this week that allots $59 billion to amp-up the war in Afghanistan contains orders for NASA to not cancel any contracts in its embattled Constellation moon program. An independent review board convened by the White House determined the program, which aimed to land astronauts on the moon by 2020, had no chance of reaching its goal because the government failed to fund it properly.

The Obama administration wants to end the program and invest in new technologies and commercial spaceflight instead. Bills pending in the House and Senate kill Constellation in name, but keep some of its programs, including a capsule known as Orion. The United States has spent about $9 billion on Constellation so far, with total program costs estimated at more than $110 billion.

Buried in 92 pages of Senate amendments to the war bill, however, is a paragraph about NASA stating that funds previously appropriated for Constellation should remain available for Constellation contracts and that “performance of such Constellation contracts may not be terminated for convenience by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in fiscal year 2010." (7/29)

Measat Shareholder Bids for All of Company (Source: Space News)
A Malaysian billionaire is bidding to purchase the portion of satellite fleet operator Measat that he does not already own in an offer that has received preliminary approval from the company’s board of directors and values its equity at more than $500 million. Ananda Krishnan and his Measat Global Network Systems Sdn. Bhd. (MGNS) are offering 4.20 Malaysian ringgits per share for 159 million shares, or 667 million ringgits ($209.1 million) for the 40.4 percent of Measat that MGNS does not own. The price represents a 10 percent premium over where Measat was trading on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. The MGNS offer gives an implied value of Measat’s equity of some $513 million. (7/29)

France Rethinking Investment in Megasat Satellite (Source: Space News)
A French government bond issue that had set aside $325 million for satellite broadband technologies, including a small Ka-band satellite, may be redirected toward locally managed subsidies for consumer broadband satellite terminals. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France’s state secretary for development of the digital economy, said it has proved difficult to win government consensus to spend the bond issue’s proceeds on a couple of large infrastructure projects such as the construction of a satellite. (7/29)

UF Scientist: Space Farms Could Mine Minerals From Moon Dirt (Source: Space.com)
Future manned missions to the moon or Mars could use plants as bio-harvesters to extract valuable elements from the alien soils, researchers say. Now they hope to launch new experiments to follow up on tests done with plants and lunar regolith during NASA's Apollo program that landed men on the moon.

"In spite of the fact that we absolutely admire the innovative science done in the Apollo era, the question of whether a plant could grow if you plop a seed in lunar regolith hasn't been answered," said Robert Ferl, a geneticist at the University of Florida. Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul, another geneticist at UF, hope to pick up where the Apollo-era experiments left off. Renewed research could take advantage of the powerful tools developed in the past several decades for studying molecular biology and genetics, and see how plants react on a molecular level by turning on or off their genes in response to regolith. (7/29)

Aerospace Machinists Support H.R. 5781 (Source: AmericaSpace.org)
Life just got a bit tougher for those in Congress, especially on the Democratic side, thinking of opposing H.R. 5781. Today, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers wrote of support for H.R. 5781. As noted in the IAM’s letter: "We believe that this bipartisan effort by the House Science and Technology Committee represents a viable way forward for NASA and America’s human space flight program."

"H.R. 5781 provides for an additional Space Shuttle launch, dependent upon a thorough safety review; supports the continuation of the International Space Station until 2020; continues development of the safest and most advanced manned space vehicle, the Orion spacecraft; accelerates the development of a new heavy lift launch system that will enable missions beyond low earth orbit; makes a significant investment in space research; and, rebuilds the long neglected infrastructure of Kennedy Space Center." (7/29)

Musk Talks SpaceX with Stephen Colbert (Source: Comedy Central)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared on the Colbert Report where he discussed his plans for SpaceX with host Stephen Colbert. See the interview at http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/341483/july-28-2010/elon-musk. (7/29)

House Approves Constellation Language, But Does it Still Matter? (Source: Space Politics)
The House approved the Senate version of an FY10 supplemental appropriations bill that includes a provision regarding NASA. That provision, which the Senate added in May, requires that FY10 Constellation funds “shall be available to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts, and performance of such Constellation contracts may not be terminated for convenience.” The language was designed to reinforce a provision in the original FY10 bill that prevented NASA from terminating Constellation programs without Congressional approval.

Editor's Note: Based on language in House and Senate authorization bills for NASA, the agency will probably be able to restructure, rather than cancel, current Constellation contracts so the companies can proceed with similar work on what will likely be a Shuttle-derived heavy lift rocket, the Orion capsule, and other activities. Ares-1 will likely be the big loser in this restructuring. (7/29)

Cabana: KSC Future Will be Bright – Eventually (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
As Congress fights with itself and the White House over the future direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program, the top NASA official in Florida told local leaders Thursday that the Kennedy Space Center faced a challenging but ultimately bright future. "I see a great future for KSC," center director Robert Cabana told several hundred community boosters, elected officials, union members and industry executives gathered for the annual "Community Leaders Briefing." But short-term challenges – including mass layoffs – are looming, he added.

Unlike previous briefings, this year's gathering resembled a pep rally for a high school football team after a losing season rather than the traditional "state of Kennedy Space Center" update. Cabana said everybody on the Space Coast has finally accepted or needed to accept that the space shuttle program – with only two planned missions remaining – was coming to a close and that its replacement, the Constellation moon program, was dead, killed by Congress and the White House for being too expensive and behind schedule. (7/29)

Harris Corp. Lands NASA Program Contract (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Harris Corp. was awarded a contract for NASA’s Crew, Robotics, Avionics and Vehicle Equipment (CRAVE) program as part of a team led by Oceaneering Space Systems Inc. The team is working under a five-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract with a ceiling value of $70 million. CRAVE contracts cover a wide range of tasks for human spaceflight programs supported by Johnson Space Center’s engineering directorate in Houston, including the space shuttle, space station and exploration. Contracts may include communications, avionics and ventilation systems, space suit modifications and new hand tools for astronauts. (7/29)

Japan's Space Exploration Plan Takes Off (Source: VOA News)
An expert advisory panel is urging the Japanese government to move forward with its $2-billion moon exploration program. The plan includes sending wheeled robots to the moon within the next five years and creating an unmanned space station on the moon by 2020. The robots would have solar panels, an observation device and be able to gather geological samples. The materials would then be sent back to Earth by rocket. The robots would work from the lunar base, which will be located at the moon's south pole. (7/29)

Planetary Society Urges Debate on NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society issued a statement about the request that the U.S. House of Representatives suspend the rules when voting on the NASA Authorization bill: "The U.S. House of Representatives is being asked today to bring a highly controversial NASA Authorization bill (H.R. 5781) to the floor for a quick vote before Congress heads out of town for its summer break. The NASA bill would be taken up under procedures to "suspend the rules" that limit debate and do not allow amendments or changes to the bill. The future of the space program is too important to rush through a controversial change in policy."

They are concerned that the bill abandons any significant investment in exploration technology, effectively eliminates the Administration's approach for engaging the commercial sector, establishes a program of loan guarantees that the Administration did not request, and seeks to reinstate programs that have been determined to be unsustainable. It also proposed no specific exploration goals for U.S. human spaceflight, a serious omission that was recognized after the tragic loss of life on the shuttle Columbia. Human space flight should be worth its cost and risk, and, as the Augustine Committee stated after an independent review of the U.S. human spaceflight program, "worthy of a great nation." (7/29)

Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life' (Source: BBC)
Researchers have identified rocks that they say could contain the fossilised remains of life on early Mars. The team made their discovery in the ancient rocks of Nili Fossae. Their work has revealed that this trench on the dark side of Mars is a "dead ringer" for a region in Australia where some of the earliest evidence of life on Earth has been buried and preserved in mineral form. The team, led by a scientist from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in California, believes that the same "hydrothermal" processes that preserved these markers of life on Earth could have taken place on Mars at Nili Fossae. (7/29)

Air Force Will Streamline Launch Manifest Strategy (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
Future U.S. military satellites will be matched to Atlas and Delta launch vehicles as late as six months before launch, a new strategy the Air Force hopes will limit cascading delays stemming from late payload deliveries. The new slot manifest concept will begin in early 2011, when three Air Force payloads are candidates to launch on two Atlas 5 rocket flight opportunities.

Instead of pairing a payload with a launch slot up to two years in advance, rocket assignments will remain fluid until a point between six and 12 months before liftoff. At that time, Air Force officials will select a primary and backup payload for a single launch slot. The decision will be based on spacecraft readiness and mission priority, according to the Air Force. Editor's Note: The new manifesting approach should provide more flexibility for additional commercial and NASA launches to be added. (7/29)

Raytheon Beats Street Despite U.K. Contract Dispute (Source: AIA)
Raytheon Co. reported lower second-quarter profit after taking a $274 million charge related to a canceled contract in the U.K. Minus the special charge, operating income was $1.27 a share, topping Wall Street estimates. The company said the cancellation of its contract with the U.K. Border Agency was unjustified, and it plans to pursue unpaid bills through litigation. (7/29)

Northrop Grumman Raises Full-Year Forecast on Strong Q2 Profit (Source: AIA)
Boosted by increases in sales and a tax benefit, Northrop Grumman exceeded Wall Street expectations on its second quarter profit -- and improved its forecast for the year. The defense giant reported net earnings of $711 million, or $2.34 a share for the second quarter, compared with $394 million, or $1.21 a share a year earlier. Profit amounted to $2.58 a share, adjusted for items. Analysts predicted $2.19 a share. (7/29)

Gates, Pentagon Officials to Meet with defense Execs on Cutting Costs (Source: AIA)
Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will meet with Pentagon officials and 15 top executives in the U.S. defense industry. On the agenda are the Pentagon's cost-cutting efforts and its push for better deals when it buys weapons and services from the industry. An official said the meeting was designed to create a dialogue with the industry, and the efforts come as the Pentagon works to eliminate excess from its annual budget and free up $101 billion over five years to use for modernization accounts. (7/29)

Is NASA Being Set Up To Fail (Again)? Analysis (Source: Popular Mechanics)
In all of the furor over the president's new space policy, announced in February with the release of its planned NASA budget, and with all of the hyperbolic commentary about how commercial space isn't ready to take on the tasks of delivering astronauts to orbit, one stark fact has received far too little attention. Simply put, NASA has not successfully developed a new launch system in three decades. The last one was the Space Shuttle, and it was successful only by the minimal criteria that it eventually flew.

It has not been for lack of trying. The history of the agency over the past quarter of a century is littered with failed attempts to build a new system to replace it. This extends from the X-30 Orient Express of the late eighties and the X-33/VentureStar program of the late nineties, through the Space Launch Initiative early in this decade, to the recently canceled Ares program.

Unfortunately, the White House and the space agency didn't adequately coordinate with Congress before it rolled out its new plan, and it ran into a buzz saw on the Hill, because for most of those overseeing the NASA budget there, the primary purpose of the agency is not to accomplish useful things in space, but to ensure continued jobs in the states and congressional districts of its overseers. Over the past two weeks, the empire has struck back. Click here to read the article. (7/29)

Xtraordinary Adventures Announces Suborbital Space Thrill Rides on XCOR’s LYNX (Source: StreetInsider)
Xtraordinary Adventures, in conjunction with RocketShip Tours, is taking reservations on The Lynx, XCOR Aerospace's newest fully reusable rocket powered suborbital vehicle, to reward Corporate Executives worthy of the prize. Xtraordinary Adventures and RocketShip Tours offer a complete package of training, medical screening and suborbital flight for $95,000, less than half the price of Virgin Galactic at $200,000, and $7000 less than Space Adventures’ $102,000 price tag making the LYNX the best value in the space tourism industry. Current plans call for first civilian liftoff to begin in early 2012 after a thorough and successful flight test campaign. (7/29)

Marveling at Wonders Out of This World (Source: New York Times)
When I was very young, I cherished a collection of “space cards” — trading cards that accompanied packs of bubble gum — offering exotic visions that supposedly would soon be within reach: space ships gliding through Saturn’s rings; explorers enduring a Venus dust storm; loopy Technicolor Martians making their first contact with visiting Earthlings. Some of those half-century-old imaginings may have been outlandish, but the cards left their mark, assisted by decades of science fiction that confidently assumed we were on the brink of an era of pioneering exploration. In a way, we were, though not quite as those cards suggested. But the appetite they whetted remained.

The images on view at a remarkable exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum here could well serve as inspirational space cards for this century. But they possess far greater power than those old naïve fantasies. They are vividly, compellingly real; they astonish and bewilder, luring the viewer into a state of wonder. Click here to view the article. (7/29)

Engineer Launches Bid to Land Shuttle in Aggieland (Source: Houston Chronicle)
A surprise bidder has emerged for a space shuttle once the vehicles are retired: College Station. The Aggie engineer championing his alma mater says the coastal location of Space Center Houston, which has run a more public bid, would put an irreplaceable shuttle at too great a risk from hurricanes.

"None of us involved in this want to see the shuttle on the nightly news with a bunch of debris floating around it," said Zachary Cummings, an ocean engineer and entrepreneur. The logical conclusion, he reasons, is to display the shuttle on the Texas A&M University campus, which is centrally located to Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. (7/29)

Hints of Earth Splash a Saturnian Moon Landscape (Source: New York Times)
The level of Ontario Lacus, a lake on Titan, has fallen 15 feet in the last four years, according to measurements by the Cassini spacecraft. The level of Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in the southern hemisphere of this Saturnian moon, has fallen by some 15 feet over the last four years, causing its shore to recede by as much as 6 miles in some places. Other lakes nearby have similarly receded, according to radar measurements made by the Cassini spacecraft.

However, if prolonged spells of 90-degree temperatures have you yearning for a refreshing icy dip, there are still plenty of bathing opportunities on Titan. Of course the lakes there are made of liquid methane — and the 90 degrees of temperature are on the Kelvin scale, near enough to absolute zero to challenge even the most cosmically adept polar bear. The atmosphere is nitrogen and methane. (7/29)

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