November 10, 2010

SETI Astronomers Launch New Campaign to Eavesdrop on E.T. (Source:
In a vast cosmic experiment equivalent to hitting "redial," astronomers in a dozen countries are aiming telescopes to listen in once again on some of the stars that were part of the world's first search for alien life 50 years ago. The coordinated signal-searching campaign began this month to mark the 50th anniversary of Project Ozma, a 1960 experiment that was christened the world's first real attempt in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – or SETI. (11/10)

NASA Planning Repairs to Cracks in Discovery's External Tank (Source: Florida Today)
Two cracks in Discovery's external tank can be repaired at launch pad 39A, NASA officials say. "This is something we've seen before, something we've repaired before," said Kyle Herring, a shuttle program spokesman at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The cracks, each about nine inches long, were found near the top of one of the composite aluminum strips called "stringers" that run up and down the tank's ridged intertank.

They were found during inspections of cracked insulating foam that was spotted after Discovery's launch attempt scrubbed Friday because of a hydrogen gas leak. Similar problems have been repaired during tank manufacturing by replacing the cracked stringer with a reinforced one called a "doubler." The repair has not been performed at the pad before, but plans are being made to do so. Officials say there is still no discussion of rolling Discovery back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. (11/10)

Republicans Could Scale Back US Science Budgets (Source: Space Daily)
If Republicans hold to their pledge, non-defense related federal research spending could dip more than 12 percent to around 58 billion dollars compared to 66 billion requested by the White House for 2011. The Republican majority in Congress aims to slash spending to reduce the ballooning deficit.

"There is a risk that we may have a significant reduction in the science budget," said Patrick Clemins, director of the research and development policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Even before Republicans made sweeping gains in last week's elections, Republicans and Democrats agreed to scale back federal spending in order to try and get the deficit, which amounts to almost $14 trillion in national debt, under control.

President Barack Obama has also ordered all federal agencies that are not linked to national security to reduce by five percent their budget requests for 2012 compared to the 2011 budget year beginning October 1, 2010. But if Republicans hold to their pledge, non-defense related federal research spending could dip more than 12 percent to around 58 billion dollars compared to 66 billion requested by the White House for 2011. (11/10)

Webb Telescope Costs To Rise Another $1.5 Billion (Source: Space News)
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is expected to cost at least $1.5 billion more than current estimates and its launch will be delayed a minimum of 15 months, according to an independent review panel tapped to investigate escalating costs and management issues with the next-generation flagship astronomy mission. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) called for the independent review in June to identify the root causes of cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST.

“The Webb telescope will now cost $6.5 billion, $1.5 billion more than the estimate included in NASA’s February 2010 budget request, Mikulski wrote. “Its launch will be delayed by over a year, from June 2014 to September 2015.” Led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the JWST is an infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter foldable mirror and a deployable sunshield the size of a tennis court. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif., is prime contractor. An Ariane 5 rocket provided by the European Space Agency is slated to launch the observatory to the second Lagrange point. (11/10)

Fiscal Commission Takes Aim at Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Space Politics)
The co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, issued their proposal for reducing the federal budget deficit though a combination of discretionary spending cuts, mandatory spending savings, and tax reform. In particular, they identified $200 billion in “illustrative savings” in FY2015, $100 billion each in defense and domestic discretionary spending. Item number 24 (of 58) is the only one dealing directly with NASA:

"Eliminate funding for commercial spaceflight. The [NASA] plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial spaceflight. This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015."

The wording of the statement suggests that the co-chairs may not fully understand the purpose of this “subsidy”: it is not for “training of the potential crews of such flights”, but instead to help fund the development of those systems, for use by NASA for ISS crew access as well as potential private markets. (The $1.2 billion figure is also questionable, since it’s based on the administration’s original request that has since been altered by Congress. Commercial spaceflight advocates will need to sharpen their arguments about why spending federal dollars on commercial vehicle development is a wise investment. (11/10)

Deficit Commission Errs, Cut Would Outsource Human Spaceflight to Russia (Source: CSF)
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, representing 37 companies employing thousands of Americans nationwide, released a statement opposing in the strongest possible terms the “illustrative cut” to commercial spaceflight put forth today by the co-chairs of the Deficit Commission.

“This proposed cut would have disastrous consequences for NASA and the Nation. Commercial Crew now represents the primary means of transporting U.S. astronauts to orbit following retirement of the Space Shuttle. Commercial Crew will in fact result in substantial cost savings to the U.S. taxpayer. Eliminating Commercial Crew would result in total reliance on Russia to get to the Space Station and result in the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs here in the United States,” stated Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Alexander added, “The bottom line is that elimination of NASA’s Commercial Crew program will cede human spaceflight to Russia. Commercial Crew is the fastest way to reduce the gap following Shuttle retirement, minimizing the time we are dependent on buying seats from the Russians. Some commercial providers have publicly committed to significant cost savings on a per-seat basis as compared to the Russian alternative. (11/10)

NASA Awards Modular Space Vehicles Contract for DOD (Source: NASA)
Acting as a contracting agent for the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, NASA has selected five companies to receive a contract for Modular Space Vehicles (MSV). NASA selected ATK Space Systems Inc. in Beltsville, Md.; Miltec Corp. in Huntsville, Ala.; Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif.; PnP Innovations Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M.; and Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks, Nev., to help develop multi-mission modular space vehicles. (11/10)

NASA Test Fires Orbital's Taurus-2 Engine (Source: NASA)
NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi conducted a successful test firing Wednesday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II space launch vehicle. The initial test, the first in a series of three firings, lasted 10 seconds and served as a short-duration readiness firing to verify AJ26 engine start and shutdown sequences, E-1 test stand operations, and ground-test engine controls. (11/10)

ATK Sets Rocket Priorities Under Continuing Resolution (Source:
Responding to guidance directing NASA to lean on space shuttle and Ares rocket technologies for a new heavy-lift launch vehicle, rocket-builder ATK is fast-tracking work on parts of an extended five-segment solid-fueled booster likely to be incorporated on future exploration missions.

ATK is putting other portions of the five-segment motor design on the back burner, choosing to focus on technologies most likely to be used on a heavy launcher. ATK is still receiving federal funding for the Ares 1 rocket first stage, despite its cancellation by the Obama administration and in a NASA authorization bill signed into law last month. Thanks to a continuing resolution, which continues funding for NASA programs near last year's levels, ATK is continuing development of a five-segment solid rocket motor originally designed for the Ares-1. (11/10)

Space Enterprises Among Future Small Business Prospects (Source: Businessweek)
The most successful entrepreneurs are those who don't follow the herd but anticipate the needs of the market earlier than the competition. Among the 20 "Small Businesses of the Future" highlighted by Businessweek are four space-related enterprises, including Asteroid Mining; Lunar Tour Guide; Nanosatellites; and Space Hotels. (11/10)

DOD Faces Challenges Commercializing Space Tech Through SBIR Program (Source: GAO)
DOD is working to commercialize space-related technologies under its SBIR program by transitioning these technologies into acquisition programs or the commercial sector, but has limited insight into the program's effectiveness. DOD has invested about 11 percent of its fiscal years 2005-2009 R&D funds through its SBIR program to address space-related technology needs. Also, DOD is soliciting more space-related research proposals from small businesses. Click here to download the new GAO report. (11/10)

Senate Panel to Hold Nov. 18 Hearing on NASA's New Course (Source: Florida Today)
A key Senate panel will hold a hearing Nov. 18 on NASA's plans for changing the space agency's course. The science committee drafted the policy legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law that supports commercial rockets to reach the International Space Station while still developing a NASA rocket to reach asteroids and Mars.

But for lack of a spending bill, Congress hasn't specified how much precisely to spend over the next year on commercial rockets or an extra shuttle mission that is envisioned in the policy legislation. The election, which will change leadership of the House from Democratic to Republican in the new year, made spending decisions even more unpredictable than usual.

Lawmakers return Monday for a lame-duck session that could spill into December, to resolve spending and taxation issues. Republican leaders in both chambers have suggested freezing current spending levels for government agencies, which could hinder Obama's proposal to boost NASA. (11/10)

Big Government's Final Frontier (Source: American Spectator)
There's something about space policy that makes conservatives forget their principles. Just one mention of NASA, and conservatives are quite happy to check their small-government instincts at the door and vote in favor of massive government programs and harsh regulations that stifle private enterprise. It's time to abort that mission. Loren Thompson, writing in the Forbes Business in the Beltway blog, recently suggested that President Obama's space policy represents the "end of the road" for U.S. manned space flight. Yet Thompson is simply repeating a defense of pork barrel politics that would play well in Huntsville or Houston.

Moreover, his claim that President Bush had a plan that "might have one day carried astronauts to Mars," while Obama's version is "a science fair that literally goes nowhere," misrepresents both plans. The canceled Constellation program, former NASA administrator Mike Griffin's flawed implementation of Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, focused on the moon, and was an unaffordable redo of Apollo, with no capability or plans to go to Mars, and poor prospects for returning to the moon for that matter.

What Mr. Thompson derides as a "science fair" is the development of new technologies that will enable affordable visits not just to the moon, but to asteroids, the moons of Mars, the Martian surface, and points beyond -- at much lower cost. On its cost and schedule trajectory, Constellation would have created a gap of at least seven years -- until 2017 at the earliest -- during which we would have had to continue to purchase Soyuz launches and capsules from Russia, to use for crew changeouts and as lifeboats for the International Space Station. This is particularly ironic, because under the Bush plans, the ISS itself would be abandoned two years earlier, in 2015! Click here to read the article. (11/10)

Space Grant Consortium Plans Workshop for NASA Climate Change Grant Opportunity (Source: FSGC)
NASA will soon be releasing a funding opportunity under the new Innovations in Global Climate Change Education (IGCCE) project. IGCCE will be accepting proposals from minority institutions, community colleges, K-12 school districts with high minority populations, and non-profits focused on underrepresented minorities. The Florida Space Grant Consortium will sponsor an in-person and webcast workshop on Dec. 3 to discuss this opportunity with Florida organizations. The event will be held at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. Register by Nov. 29. Register at (11/10)

Indo-US Pact on ISS A Bolt From the Blue for Space Scientists (Source: Times of India)
ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan declared at the International Astronautical Congress in Prague that there is no immediate plan of India partnering with the 17-member US-led International Space Station (ISS). But the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama on Monday states just the opposite. The Singh-Obama statement though said India and the US will "seek ways to colloborate in future lunar missions, international space station and human space flight..."

ISRO officials on condition of anonymity admitted that it was an " embarrassing situation." This blatant contradiction on the important space-cum-foreign policy issue comes around 45 days after the ISRO chief's statement at the Prague meet. It has triggered speculation among space officials that there could have been a communication gap between ISRO, the prime minister's office and external affairs ministry. (11/10)

India to Launch New Communication Satellite in December (Source: Mangalorean)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is expected to close 2010 with the launch of communication satellite GSAT-5P, which will replace the ageing INSAT 2E to ensure continuity of service for telecom and television channel customers. ISRO is also likely to open the New Year with the launch of Resourcesat-2, an earth observation satellite. First to escape the earth's gravity sometime between Dec 10 and 15 will be ISRO's heavy rocket called the geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) carrying GSAT-5P to replace the aging INSAT 2E launched in 1999. (11/10)

Iran's Space Program: Lots of Talk, But a Chance to Shine (Source:
Iran has its sights set on putting an astronaut on the moon by 2025, after becoming the first Islamic nation to put its own payload into space last year. But the grand goal of getting to the moon may be among the least of the benefits Iran expects to reap from its expanding space program. Iran's motivations for a space program are most likely practical: developing possible ballistic missile technology and building international prestige as a message to friends and enemies alike, analysts say.

"They will clearly use dual-use technology for a military buildup, and as long as they at least dabble in human spaceflight, they get advantageous press coverage on that as well," said Joan Johnson-Freese, professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College. Iran launched its first domestically built satellite in February 2009 and promises more satellite launches in 2011. It also has offered to help any other Muslim countries with developing their own space programs. (11/10)

Iran Lashes Out at Russia for Scrapping Missile Deal (Source: UPI)
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lashed out Russia accusing it of "selling out" his country to the United States for scrapping a missile deal. The Kremlin called off the deal last in September citing U.N. sanctions against the Islamic republic over its controversial nuclear program. Western analysts and officials have long feared that Tehran could reverse engineer the Russian system, turning into an offensive weapon. (11/10)

China Shows Space Skills with Satellite Rendezvous (Source: AP)
China has pulled off a tricky and uncommon feat in space flight, maneuvering one of its satellites to within about 300 yards of another while they were orbiting Earth, space analysts say. Some analysts view the rendezvous as a potentially ominous sign of China's ability to carry out a hostile act or espionage against a rival satellite in space. Others say it could have been a test of docking skills. China is not saying why it conducted the August maneuver, but it comes as the nation is ambitiously expanding its space program. (11/10)

China Studying 1-Million-Lb.-Thrust Engine (Source: Aviation Week)
China is studying a rocket engine with thrusts of 300-500 tons (660,000-1.1 million lb.), up to four times as powerful as its current equipment, while also working on reusable space launchers, senior leaders have told a U.S. industry delegation. The pace of Chinese launches is accelerating. China has launched 11 satellites this year, has two at their launch sites preparing to go and will follow them with one more, making it 14 for the year. Next year it will launch 20.

Yang made the remarks to the first trade delegation to China organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics—-which was warmly received by the Chinese, eager to enhance relations, even though U.S. law continues to forbid technical ties between the two national industries. (11/10)

Russia, Kazakhstan Agree to Speed Up Work on Baiterek Complex (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia and Kazakhstan intend to speed up the work on the joint project of the Baiterek rocket-space complex at the Baikonur cosmodrome. Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov acknowledged that delays about the implementation of the project are connected with technical complications in designing new Russian Angara booster rockets. We assume the responsibility for the delay with flight-testing the Angara heavy booster rocket at the Plesetsk cosmodrome,” Perminov said.

Russia at the moment was waiting for Kazakhstan resuming the financing of the project now suspended, he said. Russia and Kazakhstan have agreed to develop the Baiterek complex at the Baikonur cosmodrome with a high level of ecological safety. The booster rocket, depending on the number of upper stages, will be able to put into a low orbit a payload of up to 30 tons. This project is based on a similar Russian Angara project. It was initially planned to stage the first tests of the booster rocket in 2010-2011.

Editor's Note: Descriptions of the Baiterek project are a bit fuzzy. Originally proposed as a new Baikonur launch complex for Russia's Angara family of rockets, the project now appears to be focused on a slightly different rocket...perhaps a made-in-Kazakhstan heavy-lift variant of the Angara. Meanwhile, Russia is developing the Vostochny spaceport in the nation's far-east for Angara and other vehicles, to reduce its reliance on Baikonur and to eliminate the $115 million annual rent Russia must pay to Kazakhstan to launch from there. (11/10)

Europe’s Vega Small-Satellite Launcher Ready for its Closeup (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A representative P80 first stage for Vega is now on the launch pad in French Guiana, marking a milestone in preparations for next year’s introduction of this lightweight vehicle, which will be operated by Arianespace in commercial missions. The P80 first stage was rolled out to the Spaceport’s Vega launch zone on October 26 as the initial step in combined testing of Vega with its ground-based infrastructure. This full-scale stage is complete with instrumentation, and has been filled with a simulated load of solid propellant. (11/10)

SSTL Satellite Steps Aside to Reduce Space Junk (Source: SSTL)
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has successfully repositioned the UK-DMC-1 spacecraft, which is reaching the end of its operational life, using unspent propellant to reduce the orbital lifetime and the probability of generating space debris. (11/10)

DARPA Looks at Space Junk Options (Source: Aviation Week)
Could a real-life version of Watto, the unpalatable space junk dealer from the Star Wars movies, one day be the space warrior’s best friend? DARPA says the removal of spent vehicles and dead satellites, by de-orbiting or up-orbiting and possible salvaging, could be the only long-term solution to the growing threat of space debris. Until recently, such solutions were the realm of science fiction, but the urgency of the problem is changing that picture.

DARPA warns the risk of unavoidable catastrophic collisions between objects in loww Earth orbit (LEO) is growing, and last year invited concepts for possible orbital debris-removal capability. DARPA is part of a growing international group calling for active, cost-effective and innovative system concepts for dealing with space junk.

Removal strategies divide along orbital lines, with LEO trending to de-orbiting and GEO toward hybrid up-orbiting, storage and salvage solutions. LEO proposals include drag-inducing electro-magnetic tethers, gravity gradient tapes and the ultra-thin balloon concept called Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device (GOLD) developed by Global Aerospace Corp. (GAC). “We’ve looked at an orbital tender that would carry 12-15 de-orbiting units,” says GAC's president. These would be attached to the junk and inflated, dramatically increasing aerodynamic drag. (11/10)

EOS Welcomes Australian-U.S. Partnership to Track Space Junk (Source: Xinhua)
An Australian company, Electro Optic Systems (EOS) on Wednesday welcomed the joint Australian-U.S. partnership to boost tracking of space debris. A leader in the field of space tracking, EOS has been operating laser space-debris tracking stations in Western Australia and the Australia Capital Territory. "EOS expects to be fully operational with the world's first automated laser tracking site for space debris by 2012, and we look forward to supporting Australian government initiatives to address this global problem in collaboration with the U.S." (11/10)

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