September 12, 2010

KSC Engineers Work on Hypersonic Track-Launched Vehicle Design (Source: Space Daily)
As NASA studies possibilities for the next launcher to the stars, a team of engineers from Kennedy Space Center and several other field centers are looking for a system that turns a host of existing cutting-edge technologies into the next giant leap spaceward. An early proposal has emerged that calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets to be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled.

The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket's second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit. The aircraft would come back and land on a runway by the launch site. Engineers also contend the system, with its advanced technologies, will benefit the nation's high-tech industry by perfecting technologies that would make more efficient commuter rail systems, better batteries for cars and trucks, and numerous other spinoffs.

It might read as the latest in a series of science fiction articles, but NASA's Stan Starr, branch chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Kennedy, points out that nothing in the design calls for brand-new technology to be developed. However, the system counts on a number of existing technologies to be pushed forward. Click here to read the article. (9/12)

Just Like Other Municipalities, KSC Dealing with Infrastructure Issues (Source: Florida Today)
Most people's image of Kennedy Space Center likely revolves around seeing the launches of space shuttles from a distance or touring the expansive grounds on a bus filled with tourists. Kennedy Space Center is also a small city, with streets to repair, utilities to keep up and a downtown. The number is a moving target these days because of the ongoing shutdown of parts of the shuttle program, but KSC is the "second home" to about 14,000 employees.

We got a reminder of the center's operations this week when something very Earthly and seemingly mundane brought to a halt the out-of-this-world work done at KSC. A broken water main forced spaceport leaders to close the center to non-essential staff, leaving thousands of workers at home and halting work toward -- among many other things -- the scheduled launch of space shuttle Discovery in November. There was enough water to get by for the day, but to be safe, leaders decided not to use it up with the typical daily usage. So, most people stayed home. (9/12)

NASA Receives Failed Device From Gulf Oil Rig (Source: Wichita Eagle)
A Coast Guard official says the 300-ton device that failed to stop the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill after a rig exploded has arrived at a NASA facility in Louisiana for analysis. A week ago, the device was lifted from a mile beneath the sea and secured to the deck of the Helix Q4000. It was later transferred to a barge. NASA investigators plan to analyze it to determine why it failed. It is considered a key piece of evidence in ongoing investigations. (9/12)

NASA Engineer Quits Over Animal Experiment (Source: Galveston Daily News)
April Evans wrestled for weeks whether to quit her dream job working for NASA’s operations with the International Space Station. She concluded in March there was no other option but to resign after learning the space agency proposed a $1.75 million experiment to irradiate 18 squirrel monkeys to determine astronauts’ ability to withstand high levels of continuous radiation in deep space.

In late January, Evans overheard co-workers complaining about traffic delays from a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest near JSC. She called a friend who worked near the protest to get more information. “I thought it had to be untrue,” Evans said. “I was horrified.” Evans had worked for nine years on assembly operations and visiting vehicle operations to the space station. (9/12)

Decatur Loses Out in NASA Bill (Source: Decatur Daily)
Looking for leftovers? Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, left, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby got most of the post-Constellation program goodies for their home states, but Decatur’s United Launch Alliance was not in the mix. As U.S. senators carved up the leftovers of NASA’s Constellation program for their states, most of the meat went to Utah and Huntsville. United Launch Alliance, with its assembly plant in Decatur, got the bone.

The ranking Republican member of the committee that wrote the budget authorization that would effectively exclude ULA from participating in the development of a heavy-lift rocket was Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. “The Senate authorization bill calls for the use of solid-rocket motors that would not be common with (ULA’s) Delta IV,” explained George Sowers, ULA’s vice president of business development. “The Senate bill would push you away from using ULA-derived components.

“The Senate authorization bill was very prescriptive, basically telling NASA, ‘You’re going to have to build this exact rocket.’ I think that’s where everybody has a little bit of concern about Congress getting outside of its realm of expertise.” The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space report is unusually specific in dictating to NASA how it should use its budget. Its NASA budget bill passed by a voice vote without dissent. (9/12)

Hatch, Bishop Make Case to NASA Leader (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop met with the NASA administrator Friday to reiterate their complaints about the president’s space plan and press their case to continue work on the Ares rocket, built largely in northern Utah. Hatch called the conversation with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden “candid” and said President Barack Obama has charted “a political course” that will cost jobs and hurt the nation’s missile defense.

“I made clear to General Bolden that I will continue to work to reverse this wrong-headed proposal in the Senate,” Hatch said. Bishop said he was encouraged by Bolden’s willingness to talk, but “it remains unclear as to whether or not the administration will reconsider its plans to cede our position as global leaders in space to countries such as Russia, China and India.”

Editor's Note: It seems there growing opposition to both the House and Senate versions of the NASA Authorization Bill for FY-2011. I've heard that some industry groups are now lobbying for a Continuing Resolution instead of an authorization bill. (9/12)

Space Week Blasts Off for Utah Kids (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
The future of the nation’s space program may be in limbo, but students are rocketing ahead with Utah Space Week. This week, thousands of students in about 275 Utah schools are building model rockets, peering through telescopes and learning about the universe. More than 5,000 students from along the Wasatch Front got a chance Wednesday to hear former astronaut Kent Rominger speak about floating hundreds of miles above the Earth.

It’s an annual event that, this year, has taken on a new significance: President Barack Obama is expected to speak about his plans for the nation’s space program today. They include canceling most of NASA’s Constellation program, which aimed to return humans to the moon, and increasing NASA’s budget by billions of dollars to encourage development of commercial transportation for astronauts traveling to and from the International Space Station, among other things. (9/12)

Into the Future: New Mexico a Launchpad for Space Tourism (Source: El Paso Times)
Sometime within the next two to five years, Cathy Culver of San Jose, Calif., will board a commercial spaceship in Southern New Mexico and travel to the edge of space. She will experience weightlessness for precious minutes like a giddy astronaut, look outside the spacecraft's circular windows, and see breathtaking views of the Earth below and absolute darkness above.

Culver, a laid-off aerospace industry systems engineer, is paying $200,000 for the greatest adventure of her life, a sub-orbital space flight that will take off and land at New Mexico's Spaceport America. New Mexico's commercial space flight launch complex -- a 10,000-foot runway and a futuristic-looking hangar-terminal -- is rising on an 18,000-acre patch of desert, 50 miles north of Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences.

The state is building the spaceport to accommodate Virgin Galactic, touted as the world's first tourist space line. The next revolution in space flight and exploration is taking shape in our backyard, not far from El Camino Real, the dusty, sometimes dangerous trail that brought Spanish explorers and settlers from Mexico City to New Mexico in 1598. (9/12)

Huntsville Company Working to Get Army Satellites Into Orbit 'On the Cheap' (Source: Huntsville Times)
In Huntsville in the late 1950s, a group of determined scientists and engineers working for the Army designed rockets and engines and fired them on test stands at Redstone Arsenal. Their goal was to put a small satellite into orbit, take the ultimate high ground and forever change the ways we think about Earth and space. It's happening again.

Engineers at Dynetics are working with the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, leading a team to create a rocket system that can very quickly and very cheaply place "nanosatellites" into orbit. Tim Pickens, chief propulsion engineer at Dynetics, said a relatively low launch cost - about $1 million - is the revolutionary idea driving the project, "not technology, not high performance. Could it be done on the cheap? Those were the considerations."

"From the Army's standpoint, we are interested in very small satellites that could be providing direct downlink information to the warfighter in the field," said John London, of the SMDC Technical Center. He is program manager for the Multipurpose NanoMissile System - or MNMS, routinely pronounced "M&Ms." (9/12)

Bring Back the Manned Space Program (Source: American Thinker)
President Obama should bring back the manned space program. He cancelled Constellation, which was destined to return the US to the moon, while maintaining a low orbit manned capability. It is time to reverse this policy. If there is one thing that clearly validates America's exceptionalism it's that there is an American flag on the moon. And therein lies the problem. That flag was put there, for the most part, by buzz-cut white males, wearing short sleeved white shirts and skinny ties.

For our first post-colonial, citizen-of-the-world President, such an image is akin to a modern-day Oedipus' desire to put out his own eyes. Is it any wonder that deep sixing the space program was high on his "to do" list, right after sending that bust of Churchill back to the British. We are now in the humiliating position of trying to catch a ride on Russian rockets. Meanwhile, NASA is reduced to "outreach programs" for Muslims, so they can feel better about themselves. If it were left to Obama and Bloomberg there would, no doubt, be a NASA kiosk in the Ground Zero mosque for this very purpose.

We must have men in space. We must have the ability to put them there. We are indeed exceptional . This should be a rallying cry for the Republicans, the Tea Party, Sara Palin, and anybody else who still sees America as something special. Editor's Note: I include items like this in SPACErePORT not because I agree with them, but to show the kind of [ill-informed] thinking on space issues that is supported by some [fringe] publications. (9/12)

International Cooperation is Good, But China Presents Challenges (Source: Space Policy Online)
During the "Space Day" part of the 3rd Annual Washington, D.C. Space and Cyber Conference of the University of Nebraska's College of Law, participants considered the implications of the Obama Administration's National Space Policy and many pointed to its emphasis on international cooperation. Deborah Plunkett of the Air Force's Office of the General Counsel characterized space situational awareness (SSA) as "the most legally ripe area of cooperation."

Greater cooperation in SSA -- wherein satellite operators would have more knowledge of where other satellites and pieces of debris are located in order to avoid collisions -- will have to address a number of challenges, including respecting "historic agreements" on data protection, she said. With major challenges in U.S.-China relations, space cooperation with China - which was not ruled out as a possibility in the new policy - still may be some time off. When asked about cooperating with China, NASA's Lori Garver said just like the inclusion of Russia in the International Space Station, "human spaceflight cooperation will not be a NASA decision."

Her response echoed earlier comments that "whether we can cooperate in space [with China] depends on whether we can cooperate on the ground" and that "cooperation needs to start with baby steps." Cclick here to read the article. (9/12)

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