August 20, 2010

Lori Garver Thinks Stalemate Between Congress and White House is Over (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said Friday that she believes the Washington stalemate over NASA's future is over, and Marshall Space Flight Center will lead development of NASA's new heavy-lift rocket. "I do not feel like we are in a stalemate anymore," Garver said of the White House and Congress. "We are talking." What NASA wants now is "robust" work on a new heavy-lift rocket starting next year, Garver said. If Congress agrees with that priority, Marshall will lead the program. "Many things are still uncertain, but one thing is not uncertain," Garver said. "Marshall will lead the heavy-lift launch program." (8/20)

Editorial: Can We Turn Over America's Space Program to a “Space Cadet”? (Source: The Hill)
The New York Times describes SpaceX as a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings who are launching rockets while soaking up $1.6 billion from NASA. My work in this area makes me think that this is a risky gamble with someone like Musk, who promises the sky, the moon and the stars. He is out there at best — writing a 1,500-plus word piece on the Huffington Post titled “Correcting the Record About My Divorce,” and a 2,200-plus word defense of his role in Pay Pal on a high-tech blog. Somehow this does not seem like the right style for a company and a CEO that we should entrust with our space program and the effort to build the electric car. Certainly not such a large investment of our tax dollars — high-risk to be sure. (8/20)

DARPA Eyes Small Satellite Development (Source: Information Week)
The Department of Defense’s research arm is modifying a program to build a wirelessly connected small-satellite network to provide a more scalable set of technologies that can be integrated through open standards. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said it’s changing the focus of its System F6 program to “emphasize development of an open and ubiquitous space architecture," according to a press statement. To facilitate this, DARPA aims to “democratize” the process for building the system and allow an open community of researchers and developers to have more input, it said. (8/20)

Study Encourages Postgraduate Degrees in Space Sciences (Source: Astronomy & Geophysics)
Academics in the field have long thought that postgraduate degrees in astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science and particle physics are a good bet for careers. But now a survey has confirmed that they bring excellent long-term employment prospects and above-average salaries, within sciences and elsewhere, boosting the case for funding studentships in order to support science and industry. (8/20)

NASA Seeks To Ease Doubts About Commercial Crew Support (Source: Space News)
NASA is reassuring commercial space firms that it will be a supportive customer for privately built space taxis even as it cautions that Congress could stymie efforts to foster development of such vehicles. Agency officials said 35 companies had responded to a May 21 NASA solicitation seeking input on the fledgling commercial crew initiative that U.S. President Obama has proposed for a $5.8 billion investment over the next five years.

“We believe that we can fund up to four providers with that $5.8 billion,” said a NASA official. Commercial space advocates — including the companies aiming to build the private space taxis and launchers NASA says it needs — remain upbeat despite a series of legislative setbacks. The NASA official said if NASA is directed to invest less money in commercial crew than the nearly $6 billion it has requested, it will have to re-evaluate its plans. (8/20)

NASA Jump-starts Space Technology Program (Source: Space News)
Senior NASA officials are so eager to jump-start advanced technology efforts that they sought and won congressional approval to devote $36.5 million in 2010 funding to eight high-priority research projects. Those projects, which include joint efforts with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to investigate horizontal launch capabilities, in-orbit satellite servicing and power-beam propulsion, are set to begin immediately, said Robert Braun, NASA chief technologist. (8/20)

Aeropspace Company ATK Dazzles with Innovation Site (Source: Daily Sound)
National aerospace company ATK Space Systems and The Towbes Group on Thursday unveiled their new building in Goleta – a site that the company believes will be home to some revolutionary innovations. “Just about anything our ATK engineers can dream up whether it be solar arrays for the Orion capsule or large deployable space structures for earth monitoring systems that measure the health and climate of our planet, they can all be designed and manufactured here in Goleta using our homegrown talent and expertise,” Dave Messner, Vice President and General Manager of ATK, said in a speech in front of the newly finished building. (8/20)

NASA Considering June 2011 for Possible Shuttle Flight (Source:
Awaiting word on whether one additional shuttle flight will be approved by Congress and the Obama administration, NASA managers are protectively considering June 28, 2011, for launch of shuttle Atlantis on a rescue mission if a major problem threatens the crew of the final planned shuttle flight in late February. If not, and if NASA gets the required funding, the agency would launch Atlantis on an actual space station resupply mission to close out the shuttle program. (8/20)

When Moscow Stands In for Mars (Source: CNET)
A little over a year ago, six men emerged from an isolation facility at Russia's Institute for Biomedical Problems, apparently none the worse for their 105 days locked together in close quarters. In fact, they were relentlessly chirpy throughout the three-and-a-half-month sequestration, in spite of square footage that was probably less than that of your first apartment out of college, where you probably had fewer roommates. And many more windows.

But that was just the warm-up act. In early June, another sextet of 20- and 30-something males ducked their heads through soon-to-be-sealed hatches in the Moscow facility for the main attraction in the Mars500 project: a simulation exercise of a full-length trip to Mars and back that will last 520 days, or about 17 months. Alexey, Diego, Romain, and the three others will next see the natural light of day on November 6, 2011. (8/20)

SpaceX: Dragon Testing Will Determine Launch Schedule (Source:
SpaceX delivered the first space-worthy Dragon capsule to Florida in early August as engineers dropped a replica of the craft in the Pacific Ocean to simulate the ship's return from orbit. The Dragon arrived Aug. 4 inside SpaceX's hangar at Cape Canaveral's launch pad 40, according to a company spokesperson. The milestone followed deliveries of the Falcon 9 rocket's first and second stages on July 15 and July 31.

Officials won't discuss target launch dates due to uncertainties in preparation schedules, especially for a first-time vehicle like Dragon. "Dragon will launch as soon as it is ready, but it is unlikely to be September," Musk told Spaceflight Now on Friday. (8/20)

Jack Horkheimer: Ambassador to the Stars (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Amateur astronomy lost one its most iconic figures. Jack Horkheimer, known to millions as public television's ebullient "Star Gazer," died on Friday at age 72. The exact cause of death was not disclosed, though he had been battled chronic respiratory problems for decades. Horkheimer had been a fixture at the Miami Planetarium for more than 45 years, where he began as a volunteer and served as its executive director since 1973. But he'll be remembered most for his exuberant and often zany television persona, who helped us all appreciate the breadth and depth of eyeball-only astronomy. (8/20)

Asteroid Probe, Rocket Get Nod from Japanese Panel (Source:
The board governing Japan's space program last week formally approved a successor to the Hayabusa asteroid explorer and the Epsilon small satellite launch vehicle to continue development. The Space Activities Commission decision gives the Japanese government authority to request funding for the programs in its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in April. The government space panel, which has oversight of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, only gave the go-ahead for preliminary design work on Hayabusa 2, a mission projected to cost nearly $200 million. (8/20)

Recession Slows Wave of Retiring Aerospace, Defense Workers (Source: AIA)
With large numbers of aerospace and defense workers in the baby-boom generation reaching retirement age, many have feared a major wave of attrition and loss of experienced workers. But the recession appears to have changed all of that, and the retirement rate in aerospace in fact declined from 5.7% of eligible workers to just 2% in 2009, with 33% of workers eligible for retirement indicating that they were staying on because they were upside down on their 401(k)plans. (8/20)

Space Tracking Surveillance System Shows Some Successes (Source: AIA)
The two Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellites launched by the Missile Defense Agency above Earth in September are finally showing some achievements, despite initial problems in transmitting data. One of the satellite's tracking sensors detected and tracked a U.S.-owned satellite in June, and in another trial in July, the satellite detected a ground-based laser source from the Starfire Optical Range in New Mexico. (8/20)

NASA Supports New FAA Commercial Space Transportation Center (Source: NASA)
"Kennedy Space Center is pleased to participate in the FAA's new Center of Excellence," said Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana. "We look forward to active involvement in these research and development initiatives. This collaborative effort initiated by the FAA aligns perfectly with NASA's evolving relationship and support for a vital U.S. commercial space industry and with our vision of a 21st Century Space Launch Complex."

Kennedy is prepared to serve as a flight test center for COE research efforts as they evolve through cooperative agreements among the partner institutions. The COE's research and development will be targeted on focus areas defined by the FAA. "The FAA's new Center of Excellence will help build the nation's future space transportation capabilities," said Jim Ball, Kennedy's program manager for Strategic Partnerships. (8/20)

Virgin Galactic Spaceship-Launching Jet Damaged in 'Minor' Runway Accident (Source:
The huge mothership jet built to launch suborbital spaceships for Virgin Galactic suffered landing gear damage Thursday during a test in California's Mojave Desert, the aircraft's builders said. No injuries have been reported. A mechanical problem with the left-side landing gear on the WhiteKnightTwo jet caused the "minor incident," officials with Scaled Composites – the Mojave-based company that built the twin-fuselage carrier plane – said in a Thursday statement.

"Further information will be posted in due course," Scaled officials said in the statement. FAA officials have said the left-side landing gear collapsed. The runway incident at the Mojave Air and Space Port did not involve Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, the suborbital passenger-carrying spacecraft designed to be carried into launch position by WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShipTwo is also built by Scaled Composites. (8/20)

What's On Mercury? (Source: Discovery)
The solar system's innermost planet is not a pleasant place. Solar storms constantly bombard its surface, and intense daytime heat sizzles everything except its permanently shaded polar craters. NASA's Mariner 10 flew by Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, but it has taken NASA 33 years to launch a return trip. By planetary standards, Mercury is small. Signs of compression in the planet's plate tectonics even suggest that cooling has actually caused it to shrink over time. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up in density.

"Mercury has an extremely high density," Strom says. "In fact, the uncompressed density of Mercury is higher than any other planet or satellite in the solar system: 5.44 grams per cubic centimeter (5.78 grams per cubic inch)." Scientists believe that Mercury's core -- an immense iron body that accounts for roughly 75 percent of the entire planet's mass -- has helped the planet to win the density prize. They also suspect a fluid outer core generates the planet's magnetic field though convection. Of all the inner planets, only Mercury and Earth boast such a field. (8/20)

Shuttle Diplomacy: Museums Launch Bids for Retiring Space Planes (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The space shuttle fleet's looming retirement ends an era—and launches a new space race. This one is on the ground, among museums scrambling to land one of the three orbiters. NASA says it has received expressions of interest from 21 institutions. The competition has sparked intensive lobbying campaigns, massive fund-raising drives and a sprint for letters of support from astronauts, politicians and the public.

Because NASA has agreed to give the shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian, one of the museums not selected for the newly retired shuttles will get the Enterprise, a shuttle prototype and a museum centerpiece. NASA is offering the space planes free to qualified institutions as long as they pay for shipping and handling. The catch: those costs add up to $28.8 million per shuttle, including post-flight repairs and strapping the orbiters to a special 747 jumbo jet. The shuttles also must be displayed indoors, which for most museums means building a giant new structure. (8/20)

Clean Energy Systems Charge Students Up at Embry-Riddle (Source: ERAU)
This fall, engineering students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will be able to convert their passion for renewable energy into a degree, with a new track in Clean Energy Systems. The program, offered to mechanical engineering majors, will teach about turbines that convert wind and water power into electricity, systems that make energy from the heat of the sun, earth, and ocean, and systems for storing energy. (8/19)

Vote on New Mexico Spaceport Road Likely Today (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport officials are expected to vote today on what they say is a key step toward paving a southern road to Spaceport America. They'll vote on an agreement that would put Dona Ana County in charge of bidding out the paving project, while the New Mexico Spaceport Authority would pay the projected $11.5 million expense. Dona Ana and Sierra county officials also must OK the document for it to take effect.

Paving the 24-mile dirt route, which stretches from the Upham exit on Interstate 25 to the spaceport site, will shave the driving time from Las Cruces to the spaceport from about 1 hour, 40 minutes down to about one hour, officials said. (8/19)

Board Recommends Former Astronaut Nowak Retires (Source: WOKV)
A military board of inquiry is recommending a former astronaut retire from position with the Navy and accept a lower retirement package. The hearing at Naval Air Station Jacksonville focussed on Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut who plead guilty to felony burglary and misdemeanor battery charges in November. The charges stem from her February 2007 attack on Colleen Shipman, her romantic rival for another NASA astronaut, at Orlando International Airport. (8/19)

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Reveals 'Incredible Shrinking Moon' (Source: NASA Watch)
Newly discovered cliffs in the lunar crust indicate the moon shrank globally in the geologically recent past and might still be shrinking today, according to a team analyzing new images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft. The results provide important clues to the moon's recent geologic and tectonic evolution. (8/19)

Florida Tech to Help Lead Research Center (Source: Florida Today)
Florida Tech is a core member of a partnership that the FAA this week named to lead a new research center focused on commercial spaceflight. The Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation will be based in New Mexico on the campus of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, but Florida space officials say the state appears well positioned to receive a share of its research dollars.

Space Florida, the state agency charged with promoting the aerospace industry, in a board meeting this week committed $2 million over three years to provide those matching funds for Florida-based research. "I believe this will provide yet another powerful tool in ensuring Florida remains at the forefront of upcoming global commercial space initiatives," said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. Other state partners along with Florida Tech include the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion, or FCAAP, based at Florida State University. (8/20)

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