December 10, 2010

U.S. Military in Talks to Share Fireball Data from Secret Satellites (Source:
For decades, the U.S. Department of Defense has operated classified spacecraft loaded with high-tech gear to carry out a range of reconnaissance duties. But the satellites have also spotted the high-altitude explosions of small asteroids--or "bolides"--that routinely dive into the Earth's atmosphere, and talks are under way to offer scientists access to that data. (12/10)

New Committee Chair Ralph Hall Backs NASA (Source: KERA)
Rep. Ralph Hall says preserving government funding for NASA will be one of his goals as chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. Hall says the space program is not yet ready for the type of privatization sought by President Obama. "If you're really a conservative you long for a day when anybody...can launch their own missiles and not have the government do it. But that day's not yet, It's a time when you need government backing and sure tax money to see you have successful launching and safe launchings," he said. (12/10)

Hutchison Hails Successful SpaceX Mission (Source: The Hill)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) congratulated SpaceX for becoming the first commercial firm to launch and recover an orbiting spacecraft. “This launch represents an important milestone that reflects the wisdom of the balanced approach outlined in the recently enacted NASA authorization law," she said. "Supporting the development of these commercial activities will allow NASA to focus its efforts on the development of a new launch system and crew exploration vehicle to move beyond low-Earth orbit."

Hutchison's statement references the NASA reauthorization passed in September that largely eliminated the nation's human spaceflight program in the near term in favor of the Obama administration's plan to boost funding to the commercial space industry. Critics, including Hutchison, fought back against the plan, arguing it would leave the U.S. reliant on nations such as Russia to ferry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. (12/10)

SpaceX Lobbying Efforts Detailed (Source:
SpaceX, through its political action committee and employees, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal political candidates in recent years, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates. SpaceX has rapidly expanded its government influence efforts, spending more than $563,000 on federal lobbying in 2009 alone.

Through Sept. 30 of this year, federal records indicate the company has spent more than $436,000 on professional lobbying services, largely in pursuit of government support and funding amid competition from a number of wealthy aerospace industry competitors. And this year, ten of the company's 15 federally registered lobbyists have previous experience working for the U.S. government.

They include three former members of Congress: House Majority Whip William H. Gray III (D-PA), Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-TX) and Bob Walker (R-PA). SpaceX's lobbying expenditures, while growing rapidly, still remain just a fraction of those made by well-established (and well-heeled) aerospace firms such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and others others. (12/10)

Mind if I Take This? It's From Space (Source: National Journal)
No reporter likes to be interrupted halfway through an interview—-unless by a call from Space. On Wednesday, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly politely asked to interrupt an interview with National Journal about his upcoming voyage on the Endeavour space shuttle to take a call on his BlackBerry. "Can I put you on hold for one second? It's my brother calling from the International Space Station."

"There's a little bit of a delay, but it's not that bad. Sometimes [astronauts on the space station] have Internet access, though it's very slow. Normally, when you send them an e-mail, it just sits over at Mission Control for a couple hours before they sync up the Outlook mailbox on the Station." (12/10)

Anticipating Collisions Between Spacecraft and Space Junk (Source: MIT Technology Review)
In September, a piece of debris broke off from a 19-year-old nonoperational NASA satellite 330 miles up in the sky. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which is responsible for monitoring the more than 22,000 satellites and other objects in orbit, detected the event, plotted out the fragment's orbital path, and determined that it was headed for the International Space Station (ISS). If it hit the $100 billion laboratory, the junk could cause catastrophic damage.

Upon receiving the warning, NASA decided to maneuver the spacecraft out of the path of the debris, a task that it now performs about twice a year. The threat of such a collision has more than doubled in just the past two years, says Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris. (12/10)

Proton To Return to Flight in December (Source:
Russia’s Proton rocket will return to service at the end of December to launch a large commercial telecommunications satellite following a government inquiry that found the vehicle’s Dec. 5 failure was caused by overfueling of its upper stage. The state commission investigating the failure has cleared Proton’s three lower stages from any involvement in the malfunction.

Commercial Proton rockets marketed by Virginia-based ILS use the same lower three stages but a different upper stage, called Breeze M. The Glonass launch used a new version of the Russian Block DM upper stage. The new version of the Energia-built Block DM stage features larger fuel tanks.

In what appears to have been a remarkable oversight, the personnel fueling the stage did not account for the larger tanks and added 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms more fuel than had been planned. As a result, the Proton’s third stage, suffering from the additional weight it was carrying, underperformed. (12/10)

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