December 2, 2010

Defying Politics: Why the Obama Plan Is Good for NASA (Source: Scientific American)
For supporters of Constellation, President Obama's proposal for commercial launches and a "flexible path" for exploration was a call to arms. Even the reclusive Neil Armstrong came out to question it, and over the summer Congress tore it apart. The Senate agreed to a stripped-down version; the House of Representatives rejected it altogether. As an end-of-September fiscal deadline loomed, the House caved in and went along with the Senate.

The charm of Obama's plan is that it seeks to disentangle NASA from vested interests. NASA will set the price and technical specifications of orbital launches and leave the details to private enterprise. It will be able to spread its eggs among many baskets rather than putting them in one. The plan thus fights the political pressures with the only force that might be more powerful: the profit motive.

Space businesses have a strong incentive to buy equipment and hire people for their technical merit rather than because their congressional representative was able to bring home the bacon. That's one reason why Obama's plan met with so much opposition. Still, Congress ended up mostly going along with it--and that will help to let NASA be NASA." Click here to read the article. (12/2)

DirecTV Sees Strong Growth by 2013 (Source: Wall Street Journal)
DirecTV Group Inc. on Thursday laid out the financial picture of the satellite-TV provider for the next three years, including the expectation to generate roughly $30 billion in annual sales and serve 30 million customers by 2013. For the fourth quarter, the company expects to add 200,000 customers, bringing its total base to 19.1 million. (12/2)

Website Hosts Space Transcripts (Source:
The crew of Apollo 13 never made it to the moon. But now the entire transcript of their conversation with NASA, along with the radio transcripts of other early space ventures, are now available online. Andrew Godwin, a British programmer, launched to publish the radio transcripts of the earliest manned missions to space. The site allows visitors to search, browse and link back to specific portions of the transcripts of each mission. Click here. (12/2)

Kaptur, Others Urge Obama to Fund Plum Brook Research Station (Source: Sandusky Register)
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and five other Ohio lawmakers have written to President Barack Obama, urging him to fully fund Plum Brook Research Station in Erie County and NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "We are committed to a bright future for NASA Plum Brook and its incomparable assets," Kaptur said. "Continuing the improvements and investments there will create the jobs of the future and even more technological innovation." (12/2)

Near-Term Funding On ISS Extension Uncertain (Source: Aviation Week)
There’s a move afoot in Europe to have ISS running costs assumed by the European Union, which sees space exploration as a key part of its plans to play a major role in space. But clarifying the EU space road map is likely to take one or two years. In addition, there is disagreement between Germany, which foots the biggest part of Europe’s ISS bill, and France, the No. 1 space spender, on how much funding should be approved for the station extension. Bringing the two sides together may involve horse-trading for the booster that will replace the Ariane 5, which could continue up to ESA’s next ministerial summit in 2012.

Meanwhile, Europe is exploring near-term alternatives to a planned payload return capsule. ESA sees the Advanced Recovery Vehicle (ARV) as a first step toward developing a full-fledged unmanned and perhaps manned space transportation capability. ARV would be based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) used to resupply the ISS. (12/2)

Study Predicts Distribution Of Gravitational Wave Sources (Source: Space Daily)
A pair of neutron stars spiraling toward each other until they merge in a violent explosion should produce detectable gravitational waves. A new study led by an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, predicts for the first time where such mergers are likely to occur in the local galactic neighborhood.

According to Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, the results provide valuable information for researchers at gravitational-wave detectors, such as the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington. (12/2)

Carter: 'The Space Shuttle is Just a Contrivance to Keep NASA Alive' (Source: Houston Chronicle)
While the hottest news topic going is the remarkable trove of 250,000 private diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, I've stumbled upon another admission by a U.S. public official that's equally candid having to do with NASA. A regular reader and commenter, Gary Packwood, sent me along this tidbit from former President Jimmy Carter's White House Diary, published in September.

The following lines, Gary says, came on page 63 of the book in an entry for the date of June 9, 1977. "We continued our budget meetings. It's obvious that the space shuttle is just a contrivance to keep NASA alive, and that no real need for the space shuttle was determined before the massive construction program was initiated." Ouch. Tell us what you really think, Mr. President.

The acerbic comment was written less than five years after the last Apollo flight, and just under four years before the first orbital flight of the space shuttle. It would be interesting to get former President Carter's opinion on the shuttle program today, just months before its end. (12/1)

Wyle Completes First Rocket Engine Test at San Bernardino Facility (Source: Wyle)
Wyle engineers successfully demonstrated Wyle's new liquid fuel rocket engine test system, a major component of the state-of-the-art rocket engine and fluids test facility at San Bernardino. The test firing, featuring a U.S. Air Force-supplied thrust chamber assembly for a multiple-start rocket engine which uses self-igniting hypergolic fuels for ignition, required sophisticated controls and redundant safety systems. (11/29)

Are Florida Programs Among the Low Hanging Fruit for NASA Budget Cuts? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Senator Nelson seems resigned to the fact that NASA probably will be funded through a "continuing resolution" for FY-11, and be lucky to receive its FY-10 level of funding, which is about $300,000 less than has been authorized. To deal with the shortfall, a NASA official testified that funding for a program of KSC infrastructure upgrades could be delayed ($429 million is authorized for the program in FY-11).

Given the present situation in Washington, there is much potential for even greater cuts for NASA in FY-11 and beyond, which suggests to me that the KSC upgrades may be an easy target for permanent reduction. Another program of concern is the $100 million that President Obama seeks to transfer from NASA's budget to mitigate the economic impact of the Space Shuttle's retirement in Florida and other states. $40 million would come to Florida in the form of Economic Development Administration grants ($35M) and a $5 million first-year investment in a new FAA Commercial Space Transportation Technical Center at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Other threatened programs with potentially large Florida impacts include the development of a new heavy-lift rocket, KSC-based management of the commercial crew and cargo program, the Orion spacecraft development, a KSC management role in some Flagship Technology programs, and the addition of STS-135 as the final Space Shuttle flight. (12/2)

Sanswire Announces New Corporate Headquarters at Kennedy Space Center (Source: Sanswire)
Sanswire Corp., a developer of lighter-than-air unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and related technologies is relocating its corporate headquarters to a facility located on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center, effective December 1. "We believe our access to the resources at the Kennedy Space Center will enable us to accelerate the development and testing of our UAV airships," said the company's president.

"We look forward to working together with Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast to not only execute on our strategic goals but to have a positive economic and technological impact for the Space Coast," said another company official. Click here for more. (12/2)

Astrobiologists: Deadly Arsenic Breathes Life Into Organisms (Source: ASU)
Evidence that the toxic element arsenic can replace the essential nutrient phosphorus in biomolecules of a naturally occurring bacterium expands the scope of the search for life beyond Earth, according to scientists who are part of a NASA-funded research team. It is well established that all known life requires phosphorus, usually in the form of inorganic phosphate. In recent years, however, astrobiologists have stepped up conversations about alternative forms of life. (12/2)

Discovery Could Alter Search for Extraterrestrial Life (Source: NASA)
The finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup that replaces phosphorus with arsenic will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. "We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic," said a the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?" (12/2)

House Passes New Short Term CR (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House passed a new short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) today to keep the government operating through December 18. The current CR expires on Friday. The legislation (H. J. Res. 101) is short, simply changing the expiration date of the current CR. Its future in the Senate is unclear, however. All 42 Republican Senators have vowed to filibuster any legislation until the government is funded and the Bush-era tax cuts are extended for everyone. The latter is a major source of contention with the President, who wants to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but not the wealthy. (12/2)

NASA is Latest Casualty of Politics (Source: State Column)
It seems space travel may be the latest casualty of Capitol Hill politics. NASA’s latest launch pad initiative will be halted due to a lawmakers’ reluctance to pass a spending bill. “Congress’s dysfunctionality [sic] is causing paralysis,” Florida Sen. George LeMieux said at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Congress and the White House agreed on a NASA budget, but lawmakers will not approve the funding for it, Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said. As much as $300 million could leave the Florida economy should congress fail to pass a bill allowing funding for the project. (12/2)

NASA Still Threatened by Deficit Commission Recommendations (Source: Space Politics)
Even if NASA is not specifically included in the commission's list of cuts, the proposal isn’t good news for the agency. The final report would cap discretionary spending in 2012 at 2011 levels, then cut it the following year back to 2008 levels before allowing growth at half the rate of inflation in following years. That’s potentially more jarring than the co-chair’s earlier proposal, which would have capped 2012 spending at 2010 levels then made one-percent cuts annually through 2015.

Assuming across-the-board cuts, under the final report’s scenario NASA’s budget would go down to about $17.3 billion in 2013, compared to $18.5 billion (a one-percent cut from the $18.7 billion NASA got in 2010 and thus would get in 2012) it would get in the co-chair’s proposal. (The administration’s FY11 budget proposal projected a NASA budget of $19.96 billion in 2013.) And as for those who would argue that NASA should somehow be insulated from these cuts, the final report notes, “Every aspect of the discretionary budget must be scrutinized, no agency can be off limits, and no program that spends too much or achieves too little can be spared.” (12/2)

Nelson: No Griping and Moaning with Smaller Budget (Source: Space Politics)
Going into the hearing some hoped that Nelson in particular would use the hearing to push to fund NASA at the authorized level of $19 billion. Instead, though, he argued that in the event NASA gets funded at the 2010 level of $18.7 billion (through the use of a year-long CR), it should not stop the agency from implementing most programs in the authorization act. “We want to see this law implemented without a lot of griping and moaning and groaning if we’re able to get that kind of appropriation,” he said. (12/2)

Astronaut Corps Could Face Cuts in Battle Over NASA Budget (Source: AIA)
A maximum of three shuttle missions are left on the calendar, and White House science advisers are studying NASA's 64-member astronaut corps -- and warning that cuts may be in the offing. "It's reasonable to say the astronaut office should be smaller," said Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut and part of a 2009 presidential commission on the future of NASA. "How much smaller depends on ... what you want these guys to be doing." (12/2)

NASA Seeks Nonprofit to Manage Space Station National Lab Research (Source: NASA)
As the International Space Station transitions from its assembly phase to full utilization as a unique scientific outpost, NASA is investing in the station's future use by ensuring a wide pool of organizations outside the agency have access to the orbiting lab. NASA is seeking an independent, nonprofit research management organization to develop and manage the U.S. portion of the station, which was designated a national laboratory in 2005.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, in addition to extending station operations until at least 2020, also directed NASA to establish this organization to manage station research by other U.S. government agencies, academic institutions and private firms. NASA will host a public forum for organizations that want to learn more about the cooperative agreement from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 10, in Washington. Click here for details.

Editor's Note: Florida has had a strong interest in being part of the ISS National Lab program. Space Florida manages a large state-owned laboratory at KSC, built specifically for ISS research. Situated near the launch site (and hopefully landing site) for ISS experiments, this lab could become a ground-based element of the National Lab complex. (12/2)

Intersputnik Seeks Two Satellites to Protect Slots (Source: Space News)
The 25-nation Intersputnik organization is preparing to send out bid requests to prospective builders of two telecommunications satellites that the Moscow-based group would deploy for its own use in order to keep rights to orbital slots. Intersputnik must occupy the two slots, at 16 degrees west and 78 degrees east, with spacecraft by 2015 or return the frequency assignments to the general pool maintained by the International Telecommunication Union, the UN affiliate that coordinates orbital positions and frequencies. (12/2)

France Orders Two Recon Satellites (Source: Space News)
The French Defense Ministry on Dec. 2 announced it has ordered two high-resolution optical and infrared reconnaissance spacecraft from Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space in a $1.1 billion contract that calls for the first satellite to be launched in Dec. 2016. The spacecraft will succeed France’s current Helios 2 reconnaissance satellites, both of which are healthy in orbit and expected to well exceed their nominal five-year service life. Helios 2A was launched in December 2004, with Helios 2B launched in December 2009. (12/2)

Boeing Plans More Acquisitions, Increased International Sales (Source: AIA)
Boeing, whose Defense Systems has bought 10 companies in three years, plans to further expand with smaller acquisitions and increase its international sales as the U.S. military faces cutbacks, said Dennis Muilenburg, president of Boeing's defense unit. Foreign contracts now make up about 18% of Boeing's defense sales, and the figure should grow to 25% in five years, he added. (12/2)

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