December 17, 2010

Congressional Budget Measures Lose Traction in Lame Duck Session (Source: Space Politics)
It looks like the final FY-2011 budget for NASA and other federal agencies won’t come until well into calendar year 2011. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled from consideration an omnibus spending bill introduced earlier this week because there weren’t 60 votes to stop debate. Last week the House passed its own year-long continuing resolution (CR) with NASA funding levels and other provisions similar to the Senate bill, but POLITICO reports that the Senate is also unlikely to vote on that. Instead, both the House and Senate will have to pass another CR to fund agencies at 2010 levels, most likely into February. (12/17)

House Science Committee Taking Shape (Source: Space Politics)
In the House, the leadership and membership of the House Science and Technology Committee is taking shape after Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) was picked last week to chair the committee. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), as expected, has been selected by House Democrats to be the ranking member. Also, former committee chair Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will serve as vice-chair, handling “mean things” that Hall said he wouldn’t to do as chairman. Sensenbrenner, who chaired the committee from 1997-2001, took on the vice-chairmanship under a deal whereby Hall will back Sensenbrenner to be the committee’s top Republican in two years when Hall reaches his term limits on the committee.

Among Republicans selected to serve on the committee is Rep.-elect Mo Brooks (R-AL), elected in November from the district that includes NASA Marshall. Brooks succeeds Parker Griffith, who was on the committee when first elected as a Democrat two years ago; he lost his committee post when he switched parties a year ago, but was able to participate in some hearings. (12/17)

France’s Industrial Policy and Future of the Space Sector (Source: French Embassy in Washington)
“France’s space ambition is a strategic priority (...) Guaranteed autonomous access to space is non-negotiable.” On Dec. 14, President Sarkozy went to the French department of Eure to pay a field visit devoted to French industry and more particularly the future of the space sector. During this visit, the President reaffirmed that space was a strategic sector bringing growth and jobs. He drew attention to France’s active role in building the European aerospace industry and to the competitiveness of French industry globally (40% of the commercial communication satellites market and 50% of the accessible market for launchers). (12/17)

'Tanking test' Yields No Initial Clues to Shuttle Fuel Tank Mystery (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA staged an important test of Space Shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank on Friday, filling it with half-a-million gallons of supercold rocket fuel. But engineers initially found no unusual stresses that would explain why the tank's structural ribs cracked before a launch attempt last month.

Inspection teams went to the launch pad to inspect the shuttle after the tank was filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen and then pressurized. But KSC spokesman Allard Beutel said the team saw no signs of cracks or "anything out of the ordinary." The "tanking test" was done to help NASA figure out why the insulating foam on the tank – and the tank itself -- cracked when Discovery was readied for a Nov. 5 launch attempt. The launch was scrubbed initially by a leaky gas line, and then four cracks were found on the outside of the tank. (12/17)

NASA: February Shuttle Launch Timeline Will Be A Challenge (Source: WESH)
Early results from Friday's Space Shuttle tanking test showed no leaks and no additional cracks in the tank. Discovery's launch is tentatively set for Feb. 3, but the chairman of the mission management team said Friday it will be a challenge to get the shuttle ready by then. (12/17)

Could We Detect Trees on Other Planets? (Source: New Scientist)
It sounds like a zen koan. If a tree on an alien world falls, would we notice? Christopher Doughty of the University of Oxford and Adam Wolf of Princeton University think we just might. They say the shadows cast by trees would change the amount of light a planet reflects as it orbits its star. When the planet is behind its star as seen from Earth – as the moon is during its full phase – the trees would cast little visible shadow, while at other points in its orbit the shadows would grow longer from Earth's perspective. Future telescopes should be able to search for these changes in brightness, they say. (12/17)

Microwave Radiation Map Hints at Other Universes (Source: New Scientist)
Collisions between our cosmos and other universes may have left round "bruises" in a map of ancient cosmic radiation. Our universe is thought to have expanded rapidly in a process called inflation in the first moments after the big bang. Some physicists suspect inflation is still happening, starting up in some regions while stopping in others, such as the part of the universe we live in.

New universes are continually popping into existence like bubbles in a vast, expanding sea of space-time. Many of these universes should be carried away from one another as soon as they form. But universes born close together could collide if they are expanding faster than the space between them. (12/17)

Astronauts Inc.: The Private Sector Muscles Out NASA (Source: Time)
In the face of contracting federal budgets and an expanding private sector, the NASA of the golden years is being blown up and rethought — transformed from a government operation into a public-private partnership that, so its advocates say, will replace the politics, stodginess and glacial pace of Washington with the speed, nimbleness and accountability of the marketplace.

That door had been creaking open for a while, but the Obama Administration — facing towering debts and a nation in no mood to spend big on an indulgence like space — has kicked it wide. Now SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are vying for government recognition and contracts. So too are traditional aerospace giants like Lockheed and Boeing, whose rockets are not currently intended to carry astronauts but, they insist, could be redesigned to be safe for humans in short order and at a reasonable price. Click here. (12/17)

LRO Creating Unprecedented Map of the Moon (Source: On Orbit)
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is allowing researchers to create the most precise and complete map to date of the moon's complex, heavily cratered landscape. "This dataset is being used to make digital elevation and terrain maps that will be a fundamental reference for future scientific and human exploration missions to the moon," said Dr. Gregory Neumann of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"After about one year taking data, we already have nearly 3 billion data points from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter on board the LRO spacecraft, with near-uniform longitudinal coverage. We expect to continue to make measurements at this rate through the next two years of the science phase of the mission and beyond. Near the poles, we expect to provide near-GPS-like navigational capability as coverage is denser due to the spacecraft's polar orbit." (12/17)

NASA Continues Commercial Rocket Engine Testing for Taurus-2 (Source: NASA)
NASA conducted a test fire Friday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus-2 space launch vehicle. The test at the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supports NASA's Commercial Transportation Services partnerships to enable commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station. (12/17)

Overview of Space-Related Provisions in Defense Authorization (Source: Space Foundation)
The Space Foundation has posted a document that highlights space-related provisions in the proposed Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 in the exact language from H.R. 6523, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. To read or download a copy, click here. (12/17)

China Ends 2010 with Record 15 Launches (Source:
Ending a record breaking year, China launched its seventh satellite as part of their large navigation system via their Long March 3A – otherwise known as the CZ-3A Chang Zheng-3A (Y18) – launch vehicle. The launch of BeiDou-2 ‘Compass-I2′ took place from the Xi Chang spaceport on Friday.

Like the American and Russian counterparts, Chinese system will have two kinds of services: a civilian service that will give an accuracy of 10 meters in the user position, 0.2 m/s on the user velocity and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy; and the military and authorized user’s service, providing higher accuracies. The first phase of the project will see the coverage of the Chinese territory, but in the future the Compass constellation will cover the entire globe. (12/17)

Youth Urge NASA to Bring Shuttle to Dayton (Source: Dayton Daily News)
Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, on Thursday delivered more than 1,000 letters written by Greene and Clark county elementary students urging NASA to award one of the retiring space shuttles to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Austria said he hopes the students’ letter campaign will help NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden deliver a shuttle to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (12/17)

Dream Chaser Model Drops in at NASA Dryden (Source: NASA)
NASA Dryden supported helicopter air-drop flight tests of a 5-foot-long, 15-percent scale model of the Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft design under a Space Act Agreement between the two organizations. The company's planned full-size Dream Chaser vehicle, based on the NASA HL-20 lifting body, is designed to carry up to seven people to the International Space Station and back. The vehicle is slated to launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket and land horizontally on conventional runways.

Dryden provided ground and range safety support, including a T-34 chase aircraft for photo and video imagery. The Center also provided scheduling and flight test operations engineering support, along with hangar facilities and workspace. The captive carry and drop flights of the 88-pound model helped validate various aspects of the Dream Chaser vehicle's configuration and performance, such as flight stability and aerodynamic data for flight control surface deflections. (12/17)

House Readies Short-term CR (Source: Space News)
The House of Representatives was expected to take action on a short-term spending measure to continue funding the federal government at 2010 levels through Dec. 21, giving the U.S. Senate time to complete work on a longer-term spending package for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Dec. 17.

Senate Democrats scrapped efforts Dec. 16 to approve a massive spending package for 2011 in the face of mounting Republican opposition to the $1.1 trillion measure. The House is awaiting Senate action on a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through February at 2010 levels. The Senate could also take up H.R. 3082, a $1.09 trillion continuing resolution that would fund the government through Sept. 30 that the House narrowly adopted Dec. 10. (12/17)

Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle Now Taller, Heavier (Source: IANS)
India's satellite launch vehicle, which is scheduled to blast off Monday with an advanced communication satellite to retire one sent up in 1999 and ensure continuity of telecom, TV and weather services, is now taller by two meters and heavier by four tons as compared to its standard configuration. The Indian Space Research Organization's standard configuration for the geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) rocket is a height of 49 meters and 414 tons in weight at lift-off. (12/17)

Fuel Error Cost Russia Three Navigation Satellites (Source: AFP)
The costly launch failure that caused Russia to delay the deployment of its own satellite system was the result of a fuel miscalculation, a commission charged with probing the accident said Friday. A Proton-M rocket failed to reach its initial orbit during the December 5 launch, causing it to dump the three high-tech Glonass-M satellites near the Hawaii Islands. It marked an embarrassing setback to Russia's much-publicized attempts to introduce a global rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS). (12/17)

Arianespace to Launch ESA’s First Sentinel Satellite on Soyuz (Source: ESA)
ESA and Arianespace have signed a contract for the launch of Sentinel-1A, the first Earth observation satellite to be built for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program. Sentinel-1A is scheduled for launch in December 2012 by a Soyuz rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. (12/16)

Russia in Contact with Soyuz After Glitch (Source: Reuters)
Russia said on Thursday it was in full contact with the international space station and its Soyuz spacecraft after a brief loss of contact with the craft that will soon become the mainstay of the international space program. Russia's mission control had lost communication with the Soyuz craft for several hours. (12/16)

Current Iridium Fleet Expected To Last Until 2017 (Source: Space News)
An outside assessment has concluded that the current 66-satellite Iridium constellation will remain operational until 2017 and that the mobile satellite service would remain viable even if the fleet was reduced to 36 satellites, Iridium Communications officials said Dec. 16. (12/16)

Astronauts Blast Off to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin in Space (Source: Telegraph)
Astronauts from the US, Russia and Italy blasted off on a mission which will see them celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first man in space, while themselves orbiting the earth at a distance of 250 miles. The Soyuz TMA-20 launched on Thursday from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, using the same launch pad where Yuri Gagarin, the Russian Cosmonaut, set off on his historic mission in April, 12, 1961. (12/16)

Pluto Has Oceans Under Ice? (Source: National Geographic)
Frigid Pluto, home to some of our solar system's chilliest real estate, may well harbor an ocean beneath its miles-thick ice shell, new research suggests. Despite its extreme cold, the dwarf planet still appears to be warm enough to "easily" have a subsurface ocean, according to a new model of the rate at which radioactive heat might still warm Pluto's core. And that ocean wouldn't be a mere puddle, noted planetary scientist Guillaume Robuchon. Rather, the ocean could be 60 to 105 miles (100 to 170 kilometers) thick beneath a 120-mile (200-kilometer) layer of ice. (12/17)

Launching Spacecraft Becoming More Expensive (Source: Examiner)
Although it has been stated that expanding launch service providers will reduce the cost of launching spacecraft to orbit – this does not appear to be happening. In fact, scientists trying to get send their probes to distant planets – have noted an increase in the expense. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) which is slated to launch next year as well as missions to Jupiter and the moon are all being impacted by the bad economy and rising cost of launch vehicles.

With competitors such as Orbital Sciences and SpaceX entering the game, it was thought that cost-to-orbit would diminish – rather the opposite appears to be taking place. The White House has heavily supported a program based off of commercial space groups entering the field and therein, theoretically, lowering cost. This does not appear to be taking place however. (12/16)

Sun's Gravity Could Be Tapped to Call E.T. (Source:
Our own sun might represent the best communications device around, if only we could harness its power, scientists say. If the sun's gravity could be used to create a giant telescope, people could send and receive intensely magnified signals that could allow us to call an alien civilization, some researchers propose.

According to Einstein's general relativity, the sun's behemoth mass warps space-time around it, which actually bends light rays passing by like a giant lens. If a detector was placed at the right focal distance to collect the light, the resulting image would be extremely magnified. (12/16)

NASA's Arsenic Life-Form Scientist Answers Critics (Source: AFP)
The NASA-funded scientist whose discovery of a bacterium that thrives on arsenic prompted an avalanche of criticism responded Thursday with a statement answering questions about her research. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, lead author of the study, also reflected about her experience as a young scientist thrust into the heart of a web-fueled controversy.

"While the team prefers to address questions through a peer-reviewed process, Felisa Wolfe-Simon and (co-author) Ron Oremland have provided some additional information here as a public service, and to clarify their data and procedures." She emphasized that the answers had not been peer-reviewed and were "provided on behalf of the authors only as a public information service while more formal review of their responses to comments sent to Science continues."

A list of scientific explanations to three of the top questions is contained in the statement, available online at "We freely admitted in the paper and in the press that there was much, much more work to do by us and a whole host of other scientists," it concludes. Wolfe-Simon and her co-authors have remained largely silent since the controversy erupted, and after her official responses were posted online she let loose with a series of comments on Twitter about the experience. (12/16)

'Human-Rating' Document Hits the Web with New Name (Source:
NASA last week released updated requirements for commercial space operators to meet when carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, but the agency says not to call it "human-rating." The document released Dec. 10 is the second iteration of an evolving set of requirements, standards and processes the agency will levy upon commercial space vehicles with NASA crews.

After considering recommendations from industry following the release of a commercial human-rating plan in May, NASA published and baselined a consolidated list of criteria in a document named "Commercial Crew Transportation System Requirements for NASA LEO (low Earth orbit) Missions." Why the name change? NASA wanted to avoid confusion between standards for commercial spaceflights to the space station and government-run exploration missions to deep space destinations. (12/16)

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