August 4, 2010

Congress Claims NASA Ignored Conflicts of Interest in ITT Space Network Deal (Source: Satellite Today)
A U.S. Congressional Science and Technology Committee claims NASA personnel at the Goddard Space Center ignored potential organizational conflicts of interest issues by allowing ITT Corp. to bid on and win a contract to operate the NASA satellite and Space Mission Communications Network, according to a report released Aug. 3.

NASA awarded ITT with a Space Communications Networks Services contract in October 2008 over Honeywell Technology Solutions, the program incumbent. Honeywell filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) later that month, and NASA has since extended Honeywell’s incumbency contract program through at least Oct. 9, 2010, with another six-month extension still a possibility. (8/4)

Rocket Launched in French Guiana with 2 Communication Satellites (Source: AP)
Two communication satellites that will provide broadcast services in the Middle East and rural Africa have been launched from French Guiana. The NILESAT 201 will provide direct-to-home television broadcast services to North Africa and the Middle East. The RASCOM-QAF1R will provide Internet access, direct TV broadcasts and long-distance domestic and international links across rural Africa. The satellites weighed a total of 6,200 kilograms (13,600 pounds) and were launched on Wednesday by the Ariane 5 rocket. (8/4)

South Carolina Company Plans Offshore Space Launches (Source: Hobby Space)
South Carolina's Palmetto Aerospace Corp. plans to profit by launching customer payloads into space on suborbital, orbital or escape trajectories. "We want to make launching a lot less expensive than it is now so many more schools, companies, and individuals can participate and benefit from space operations. We propose to launch expendable rocket vehicles of our design and manufacture into space from the sea off the coast of South Carolina." Click here for information. (8/4)

ARCA Will Launch Helen 2 Space Rocket From the Black Sea (Source: Google Lunar X Prize)
Romania's ARCA wants to be the first to launch a Romanian space rocket in a suborbital flight, toward their ultimate goal of winning the Google Lunar X Prize. "Helen 2" is a suborbital system consisting of a helium balloon with 0 pressure, that lifts a two stage rocket vehicle and payload European Lunar Lander (ELL). The payload is a pressurized capsule that carries avionics, such as accelerometers, cameras, satellite tracking systems, GPS, sensors, telemetry equipment, etc. Their launch is planned between Aug. 3-5. (8/4)

Why NASA's New Video Game Completely Misses the Point (Source: Popular Mechanics)
There is a scene in last year's first-person shooter, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, that puts you in the pressurized boots of an astronaut. While hitched to the outside of the International Space Station, you're asked by mission control to provide visual confirmation of an ICBM arcing through low Earth orbit. The sequence ends as abruptly as it begins, with the station blown to pieces, and you, the astronaut, sent tumbling into space. It's a bizarre and thrilling minute of doomed gameplay.

If only NASA's own astronaut simulator, Moonbase Alpha, was so brutish and short. Distributed for free online (via the Steam network) and developed in partnership with America's Army, the PC game is set on a lunar outpost in 2025. After a meteor strike disables the expedition's life-support systems, one or more players set out with tools, robots and rovers to get oxygen flowing again. It's a race against the clock—25 minutes, to be precise.

It's also excruciatingly boring, not to mention ill-timed. This past April, after hearing the recommendations of an independent panel on the future of human spaceflight, the Obama administration pulled the plug on a new manned mission to the moon. "We've been there before. Buzz has been there before," President Obama said during a speech on April 15 at the John F. Kennedy Center in Florida, referring to Buzz Aldrin, who attended the event. "There's a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do." (8/4)

Editorial: Military Space & a National Space Council: Unwanted Answer to Persistent Problem? (Source: Space News)
The 2008 Allard Commission report offered four recommendations toward moving beyond the current military space impasse. The first was to reinstate the National Space Council as an overarching body to coordinate space activities and arbitrate interagency disputes. They recognized that bureaucracies are unlikely to “fix themselves,” and require an external nudge or push.

As a candidate, President Obama promised to bring back the National Space Council, and his science adviser, John Holdren, reaffirmed this intention during his Senate confirmation hearings in February 2009. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) rightly noted that reviving the National Space Council, if done competently, could take space issues out of the hands of “some green-eyeshade person at the Office of Management and Budget” and put it in the hands of those substantively capable of assessing highly technical and politically forward-leaning policy issues.

A 2009 report by the Aerospace Industries Association also stated as its first recommendation, “Our space capabilities should be coordinated, at the highest level, as a singular enterprise.” While the presence of a National Space Council does not assure that military space transformation will occur, its absence almost certainly does assure that it will not. Until the National Space Council exists, and its importance is reflected by being placed under the supervision of the president’s national security adviser, military space capabilities and the integration of those capabilities into U.S. fighting forces will be limited by gridlock, and a source of argument and petty turf battles. (8/4)

Will Space Tourism Really Change Anything, or Simply Be a Joy Ride? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
There’s always been an intriguing question about the perpetually two-years-in-the-future era of mass space tourism: Will it create a new generation of the super wealthy who, having viewed the world from above and seen no borders, will dedicate their lives and fortunes to forging peace and saving the Earth from the environmental catastrophes it faces? Or will they simply want to spend another small fortune to go back like...immediately?

The answer will be key in determining whether space tourism will be a transformational experience its boosters claim or something else entirely. Richard Branson and his crew over at Virgin Galactic like to point to a future where a growing community of hundreds and then thousands of wealthy people who will suddenly become the world’s most enthusiastic environmentalists and put their money where their hearts are. Perhaps even green projects like the ones that Branson funds.

Editor's Note: My recurring question about space tourism is whether it will expand beyond joy-ride status and actually have an impact on providing new capabilities and lower costs for orbital space travel. Although much noise is being made about the potential for suborbital research using space tourism vehicles, I believe a viable orbital space tourism enterprise may be necessary for the industry to have a real and lasting impact. (8/4)

Giant Balloons Could Clear Out Space Junk (Source: New Scientist)
One way to prevent in-space collisions is to have satellites fire their own engines at the end of their useful lives in order to push themselves into Earth's atmosphere, where they would be incinerated. But this requires launching them with extra fuel, adding mass that drives up the cost of launch. Balloons would be a cheaper way to solve the problem, say engineers at Global Aerospace Corp. in California. Any new satellite could be launched with a folded-up balloon stowed on board. Once the satellite reached the end of its useful life, the balloon would fill with helium or another gas, creating extra drag as the balloon collided with Earth's tenuous outer atmosphere. A balloon 37 meters across would take just one year to drag a 1200-kilogram satellite from an initial orbit of 830 kilometers to an altitude low enough to burn up in the atmosphere. Without the balloon, this would take decades. (8/4)

Conservatives: Cuts to Big War Weapons Would Send Wrong Message (Source: AIA)
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates works to find savings in the Pentagon's budget, he is reportedly not ruling out big war weapons systems such as the next-generation ballistic-missile submarine and one or two of the Navy's 11 active carrier strike groups. Some pro-defense conservatives say the cuts would send the wrong message to countries such as China, Russia and other potential adversaries. (8/4)

Space Simulators Ready for Liftoff at Kentucky Magnet School (Source: AIA)
The Academy at Shawnee, an aerospace and technology magnet school in Kentucky, is adding space station and control room simulators in a $1.2 million effort to pique students' interest in aerospace careers. The school aimed for authenticity in the simulators, modeling its control room after Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. (8/4)

Huge Monument Honors California Ccompany's Aerospace Workers (Source: Orange County Register)
In its heyday, Autonetics was Anaheim's largest employer. A place where some 36,000 workers helped develop aerospace technologies that guided U.S. submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles – advancements that some credit with helping end the Cold War. The 188-acre Autonetics campus is now owned by Boeing and is a shadow of what it was in the 1960s through '90s, with about 5,000 employees split between Anaheim and Huntington Beach.

On Tuesday, hundreds of onetime Autonetics employees came back – not to work, but to remember. And to make sure others don't forget. They came to celebrate the unveiling of a monument to the accomplishments of Autonetics and the contributions the company made to the Anaheim community and to the nation. Boeing officials dedicated 14,000 square feet for the monument, which stretches 72 feet long and rises from 3 feet on one end up to 14 feet on the other. (8/4)

Rocket Launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility Completed (Source: NASA)
The launch of a NASA Black Brant X sounding rocket was successfully launched at 5:15 a.m. today from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This mission was to flight qualify the new production Nihka rocket motor, the third stage in the Black Brant X. The next Wallops launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than August 23. (8/4)

Nelson & Hutchison: Bill Challenges NASA to Evolve, Mind (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Fact: Life on Earth has improved by leaps and bounds from five decades of American space technologies adapted for industry, medicine and the home. Fact: America's space effort has created scores of companies and hundreds of thousands of jobs. It made America a more powerful nation after World War II.

Yet, 52 years after the first U.S. satellite, 41 years after the first manned moon landing and 29 years after the first shuttle, our space program is mired in debate over how, or even whether, we should continue to explore the unknown. Previous administrations talked of a return to the moon or a bold new mission, but didn't make the investment. In the Obama administration, advisers want the president to rely primarily on commercial space ventures.

Working with the White House, Senate colleagues and others, we have developed bipartisan legislation to get NASA on what we believe is the right track. The House is preparing a similar plan. In a nutshell, President Obama has declared Mars to be an ultimate goal — and, the bills now emerging from Congress provide a blueprint for NASA to lead the way for humans to explore beyond low-Earth orbit. (8/4)

Planetary Society Plans Pasadena Open House (Source: Pasadena Star News)
Earthlings are invited to explore the Planetary Society's new home base at an open house Thursday. The society recently moved from its former location of 25 years - a historic Greene and Greene-designed Craftsman home on Catalina Avenue - to 85 S. Grand Ave., a 3,000-square-foot bungalow at the former Vista del Arroyo Hotel.

Free public tours of the new headquarters will be given from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, and residents can also hear about the latest developments regarding the society's space exploration programs. (8/4)

Idaho Space Days (Source: Boise Weekly)
For Trekkies and presidents of chess clubs, Idaho Space Days is going to be hotter than a supernova. But for the rest of you cool kids, if you channel your inner geeks, Idaho Space Days might just provide a fun (and air-conditioned) opportunity to learn about space from retired NASA astronauts. Discovery Center of Idaho launched its fourth annual Idaho Space Days on Aug. 2 with a model rocket demonstration.

The six-day event will run through Saturday, Aug. 7, and is packed with presentations and activities related to space travel. This year's theme is Women in Space and features astronaut Barbara Morgan, who is a former participant in the Teacher in Space program. Wendy Lawrence, a retired astronaut who served on four shuttle missions in 10 years, will also speak at Space Days. Lawrence will share stories about her experiences in space and her perspective on what it was like to be a woman in space. (8/4)

As Space Priorities Shift, Orbiting Station Takes On a Central Role (Source: New York Times)
When a cooling-system pump on the International Space Station broke down over the weekend, NASA and the six astronauts on board responded with typical cool self-assurance. The space agency scheduled two spacewalks to repair the damage and said the astronauts, three Americans and three Russians, were in no danger. But the incident underlined a deeper concern about the orbiting station’s long-term health. If this or any other problem should result in a need to abandon the station, the United States’ human spaceflight program would lose one of its last remaining reasons for being. (8/4)

Space Allies Go After Martian Methane (Source: MSNBC)
The scientific instruments have been selected for the first U.S.-European joint mission to Mars, and they're going to be looking for methane. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will be loaded up with gadgets designed to sniff out whether the gas is being generated by geological or biological processes. Unexpected levels of methane were detected by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter in 2003, and the find was confirmed by ground-based observations supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation. One of the places where plumes of methane are rising into the Martian atmosphere is Nili Fossae, which is considered a prime target in the search for traces of Martian life. (8/4)

Pentagon's Space Partner Eyes New Frontiers (Source: LA Times)
Secretive Aerospace Corp., which makes sure that contractors' work on classified government space projects is being done properly, could find a new niche in the private sector. CEO Wanda M. Austin says Aerospace Corp. has the expertise to provide oversight of private space ventures as it does now for the military.

Aerospace Corp.'s warren of low-rise office buildings in El Segundo offers little clue to the work that goes on behind the double security doors, where thousands of scientists and U.S. Air Force officers toil in secrecy. The company, which gets almost all of its funding from the Pentagon, is responsible for overseeing many of the nation's most classified programs, including the development of multibillion-dollar spy satellites and rockets that lift them into space.

Aerospace is neither a defense contractor nor part of the Air Force, which manages military space programs. Aerospace is a federally funded brain trust for the Pentagon's $26-billion space program, which far exceeds NASA's budget of $18 billion and has increased almost 90% since 2000. Although it's not well known outside defense circles, it is regarded as one of the nation's most important assets. (8/4)

Orbiters' Final Resting Place Up in the Air (Source: Florida Today)
The wait continues to find out where NASA's space shuttle orbiters will spend their retirement. The delayed schedule for the final two space shuttle flights "also caused a delay in announcing the disposition of the space shuttle orbiters," said NASA spokesman Michael Curie. "NASA has not established a date for announcing where the space shuttle orbiters will go once they are retired."

NASA plans to send the orbiter Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. But dozens of communities nationwide -- led by Kennedy and Johnson space centers -- are competing to display Atlantis and Endeavour. The competition also has become political as Congress debates NASA policy. A Senate bill would give preference in the selection to a "historical relationship with either the launch, flight operations or processing" of shuttles. The provision was widely perceived as tipping the scales to Florida for launching shuttles and Texas for managing the flights. (8/4)

NASA Task Force to Meet, Talk Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
The head of a federal task force studying ways to replace lost NASA jobs will meet with displaced workers today at Kennedy Space Center as the deadline to get a plan to President Barack Obama nears. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who leads the task force with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, will tour the Space Life Sciences Lab, a facility NASA and local officials hope will anchor a 400-acre research and development complex called Exploration Park.

"Our goal has been to recommend ways to strengthen economic development along the Space Coast and throughout Florida's high tech corridor," said John Fernandez, assistant secretary of Commerce for economic development. Obama created the $40 million Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development in May to help diversify the area's economy and prepare workers for the "opportunities of tomorrow." He ordered it to report back to him by Aug. 15. (8/4)

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