July 4, 2010

Editorial: No Place for Jingoism (Source: New York Times)
The contrast in tone between the new national space policy unveiled by President Obama last week and the policy adopted by the Bush administration four years ago is striking. The Bush policy was jingoistic, unilateral in approach, and resistant to arms control in space. The Obama policy is cooperative, international in approach, and open to a verifiable arms control treaty to restrain the development of space weapons. The idea of an arms race in space or a space-based conflict is not science fiction. China knocked down one of its own satellites in 2007, and the United States did the same the following year. (Beijing offered no explanation for smashing a weather satellite; Washington said it needed to destroy the disabled spy satellite before it tumbled to earth and vented its toxic fuel.)

The United States has a clear strategic interest in curbing the spread of weapons that could destroy satellites from the ground or from perches in space. A treaty is the best hope of doing that. The military relies heavily on communication and intelligence satellites — more so than other nations’ militaries. The American economy is also hugely dependent on satellite communications. (7/4)

Members of Congress Praise Shuttle “Extension” (Source: Space Politics)
When shuttle advocates have talked about a shuttle program extension, they usually mean adding additional flights to the manifest, or at least stretching out the remaining flights over an extended period. Delaying the final two shuttle missions by a month and a half (for STS-133) and three months (STS-134), as NASA announced Thursday, doesn’t sound like much of an extension, but for two shuttle advocates in Congress, it’s a start. "Today’s news that the Shuttle program has been officially extended until at least February of next year is a welcome development that will help preserve jobs and ease the transition for the Space Coast,” Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) said in a statement. And from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX): “The decision to extend America’s shuttle program by moving these flights will safeguard our nation’s human spaceflight capability while providing needed support and equipment for the International Space Station.”

Both Hutchison and Kosmas would like to see more, but have different end states in mind. Hutchison, in her statement, called for one additional shuttle mission using the “Launch On Need” (LON) hardware that would be used for a rescue mission if there was a problem with STS-134. “The Administration must now work with members of Congress to add the launch-on-need flight as an actual shuttle flight as well,” she said, calling this “an important first step” as Congress and the White House work on “a bipartisan compromise on NASA’s future.” Kosmas also wants to see the LON hardware converted into an additional mission, but she wants more shuttle flights added as well “to fully service and support the extension of the International Space Station through 2020.”

Then there’s the issue of cost. The White House’s FY-11 budget proposal included funding for an additional three months of shuttle operations, though the end of calendar year 2010; shuttle managers have since found additional cost savings that can stretch this money into March, enough to cover the rescheduled STS-134 mission. Further delays, or the addition of the LON mission to the manifest, would require more funding. With that additional mission slated for late July or August of 2011, that would require nearly a complete fiscal year’s worth of shuttle funding, which would likely have to come from elsewhere within the agency. All that assumes, though, that there is a final FY11 appropriations at some point in the next year… (7/2)

Japan Spaceport's Facilities Decaying / Annual Repairs Outpaced by Salt Erosion (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
Facilities at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center, the base for launching this country's mainstay H-2A rockets, have seriously deteriorated due to age. Although repairs have been conducted at a cost of about 1 billion yen annually, the center's seaside location has led to rapid salt erosion, and countermeasures cannot keep up with the damage. Launches of H-2A rockets were transferred to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in April 2007, and liftoffs are scheduled for rockets carrying full-scale commercial satellites and information-collecting satellites. Thus the deterioration of the center's facilities is shaking the foundation of the nation's space development. Before the debut of H-2A rockets in 2001, the priority was on developing new technologies, and new rocket models were introduced less than every 10 launches. This led to drastic renovations in the center's facilities as well. (7/4)

The Final Frontier… for Your Portfolio (Source: Howe Street)
Forget about science fiction… cheaper private space access may actually be just around the corner. Earlier this month, PayPal founder Elon Musk’s space exploration company, SpaceX, moved us closer to that goal. It did so by successfully launching a medium-lift rocket into low Earth orbit. SpaceX was the first company to launch a privately funded rocket, Falcon 1, into orbit in late 2008. Other rockets being used by the defense industry are privately manufactured, of course, but they are the product of taxpayer funding. The Falcon is the first orbital platform that adheres to what we could consider an effort of free market entrepreneurship.

I strongly suspect that if space launch costs fall enough, we will be seeing space access put to commercial use in unexpected ways. How many people saw the eventual existence of Google, Facebook or even Musk’s own PayPal back when the Internet was a small government defense network? Even with more efficient designs and organizational structures, however, rocket technology of the kind being used by SpaceX suffers from the same drawback: propellant. More than 70% of the mass required to get to orbit is fuel. When we consider a possible return to the Moon, this rises to over 95%. Of course, Quicklaunch Inc. is working on resolving this problem. If you recall, I told Penny Sleuth readers about that emerging company back in March – and I told my Breakthrough Technology Alert readers about it well before then. (7/2)

Virgin Galactic CEO Talks About Company's Plans (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Virgin Galactic's first-ever CEO, George Whitesides, was in Las Cruces late last week to meet local and state officials and tour the Spaceport America site for the first time. Whitesides, 36, has been tasked with moving the company from researching and developing its space vehicle system to running a commercial space tourism business. Virgin Galactic is the spaceport's major tenant company and plans to eventually launch suborbital spaceflights from the state-financed spaceport, located in southeastern Sierra County. Click here to read the article and Q&A. (7/4)

Gamma Rays May Betray Clumps of Dark Matter (Source: New Scientist)
Clouds of dark matter the size of our solar system floating around the Milky Way may betray their presence by emitting gamma rays. Dark matter is thought to make up most of the mass of the universe, but as it does not interact with light, it has never been directly observed. Now computer simulations by Tomoaki Ishiyama of the National Astronomical Observatory in Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues suggest a way to detect it. Their model shows that the Milky Way should be littered with small clumps of dark matter, each about the size of our solar system. These would have been the first structures that formed in the universe. (7/4)

Russian Resupply Ship Docks at International Space Station (Source: Space Daily)
An unmanned Russian supply vessel docked Sunday without trouble at the International Space Station, two days after a technical glitch forced a similar maneuver to be aborted. Space officials said they managed to avoid the radio signal problems that forced them to abandon last week's docking of the Progress M-06M cargo ship, launched on June 30, is carrying 2.6 tonnes of fuel, food and water for the three Russia and three US astronauts on the station. (7/4)

Leaders Reconvene to Discuss Space Coast Workforce (Source: Florida Today)
The federal government is asking Brevard County leaders for guidance on how to invest tens of millions of dollars in assistance to help space workers -- and the area economy -- after the shutdown of the space shuttle program next year.

Local leaders who've been studying those specific issues aim to gather for a follow-up summit at 8:30 a.m. on July 12 at the Holiday Inn at Viera to track their progress and look ahead toward work that needs to be done before the federal government begins spending aid money in Central Florida. It's the second session of a strategy-building project called Overcoming the Space Challenge Through Regional Innovation. (7/3)

NASA = No Americans in Space Anymore? (Source: American Thinker)
American exceptionalism has been under attack for a long time. Now, with the Obama administration's new "plan" for NASA effectively ending nationally funded human spaceflight, we drop a torch others are grabbing.

The Bush administration instigated a flood of research and development throughout the nation by charging NASA with getting us back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. NASA began developing technologies for a new series of vehicles for this project: the Ares rockets and the Orion crew capsule, which together have been dubbed the Constellation program. Constellation represents five years of R&D and a $10-billion taxpayer investment, and it has demonstrated success. However, Obama has said that Constellation should be canceled because it was "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation."

It is true that NASA projects have often fallen behind schedule and have certainly gone over budget estimates. However, NASA is charged with exploring and studying space, which happens to be, well, out in space. It costs a great deal of money and skull sweat just to get out there, even if it's only to find out that your equipment doesn't work correctly. Schedule and budget problems are to be expected, as NASA is dealing with many unknowns. And they rarely fail in conquering those unknowns; U.S. footprints and flag are on the moon. (7/3)

Russian Cargo Ship 'Under Control' Official Says (Source: BBC)
A cargo vessel which failed to dock with the International Space Station is under control, a Russian space agency official has said. Mission controllers are still trying to establish what went wrong with the docking system on the ship. The spaceship was carrying food, fuel and other supplies, but the station is still currently well stocked. There will not be another attempt to dock the delivery vehicle before Sunday, officials said. (7/3)

Workers Put Finishing Touches on Soyuz Launch Pad (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Engineers in South America finished constructing the framework of a 17-story mobile gantry for the Soyuz rocket in June, but the installation of pad systems continues in hopes of launching the Russian booster from the new facility by December, an Arianespace spokesperson said Friday. The schedule is tight for December because of the late construction of the Soyuz pad's mobile tower, in which the rocket's satellite payloads will be bolted atop the vehicle. (7/3)

Canadians Invest in Space Travel (Source: Windsor Star)
The Canadian Space Agency has awarded two contracts to MDA and a contract to the University of Calgary to develop three different concept studies for Canada's participation in NASA's New Frontiers program -- the next space mission to another celestial body in our solar system. MDA is a corporation originating in British Columbia that provides innovative electronic solutions for complex customer requirements. (7/3)

New Satellite Will Monitor Debris in Earth Orbit (Source: AP)
A new U.S. Air Force satellite will provide better surveillance of hundreds of satellites and thousands of pieces of space debris that could crash into American assets circling the Earth. If all goes as planned, the $500 million Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite will have an unobstructed view of increasingly heavy traffic in Earth orbit. The satellite is scheduled for launch Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (7/3)

Officials Try Again to Dock Resupply Vessel to Space Station (Source: CNN)
Officials with the International Space Station have agreed to a second docking attempt for a wayward Russian supply craft scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The Progress cargo vessel, a resupply craft, was trying to dock with the space station when a technical problem occurred about 20 minutes before the scheduled docking time, a NASA spokeswoman said. (7/3)

Editorial: GOP Shouldn't Back Socialism in Space (Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
The word "socialism" has been bandied about a lot during the last year and applied to many situations that are a long way from the traditional understanding of the word. While it may well be rational to argue that any increase in the size, power or impact of government advances us on "the road to socialism," the same thing can be said about the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind or the majority of other laws enacted by Congress during the last 221 years. Interestingly, there is a change being proposed by the Obama administration that would put America's space program on the road to capitalism.

Not only is the Obama administration proposing ending this socialist "Constellation" boondoggle, they want to use a big chunk of the money saved to promote competition among private sector players who are to both own and control the means of production, with government's role limited to buying needed services, and maintaining a regulatory environment that is to encourage innovation while protecting public safety. This economic system is commonly called "capitalism." You might think that Republicans would support this move from real socialism to real capitalism. You would be wrong. Aside from a few notable voices, like Newt Gingrich and Dana Rohrabacher, Republicans have been either silent or opposed.

You might think that Florida's Republicans in particular would embrace this change because it means more jobs for Florida than the prior "program of record." You would again be wrong. Maintaining the socialist status quo seems to be more important than either Republican ideology or jobs for the people of Florida. (7/3)

Is Conservative Support for Constellation “Hypocrisy”? (Source: Space Politics)
Earlier this week, a group of House members led by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) introduced legislation intended to compel NASA to spend its FY2010 Constellation funding on program activities, and not hold it in reserve to cover contract liability costs. Aderholt explained this as necessary to protect a human spaceflight program threatened by the White House’s plans for NASA. Referring to layoffs already underway to comply with the administration’s use of the Antideficiency Act, he said, “President Obama and NASA are putting American jobs in jeopardy because of a drastic proposal that isn’t even actual law.”

That argument—-that potentially thousands of jobs could be lost if the plan goes through—-is being criticized by some conservatives as contradictory, and even, in the words of one, an example of “hypocrisy”, given Republican opposition to other administration initiatives like stimulus spending. “You can’t criticize the idea that government should create jobs through stimulus programs and then go out and stop the elimination of an unnecessary over-budget space program just because it will save jobs in your district,” argued Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute. (7/2)

Barriers Ahead for Export Control Reform? (Source: Space Politics)
There is Congressional opposition to one element of the reform plan, the creation of a single export licensing agency. Some people on the Hill, according to the report, are worried about repeating the mistakes made when a number of agencies were put together in the Department of Homeland Security, as the creating of a single licensing agency would require bringing together people from existing offices in the Commerce, Defense, and State Departments. “It’s a massive change for a single agency, and rationale has not yet been provided,” said a congressional source. (7/2)

Space Poll May Have Been Inaccurate (Source: Space Politics)
About a month ago Daily Kos published a poll on space spending performed by polling firm Research 2000, that had some interesting results, including that Republicans were more likely to think we spend too much on space. Yesterday the site announced that the polls the company performed for Daily Kos were “likely bunk” based on an independent analysis that found irregularities in the data. Not all the polls were analyzed in the study, and the space spending poll was not specifically mentioned, but “I no longer have any confidence in any of it, and neither should anyone else,” Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas said in a post yesterday. (6/30)

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