January 1, 2011

Engineers at Sierra Nevada Building New Generation of Spacecraft (Source: Boulder Daily Camera)
With the Shuttles retired, who will take the lead in going to the International Space Station? How does this country service large intricate space-probing instruments, like the Hubble Telescope? "The only option would be purchasing seats on a Russian Soyuz space capsule," said Mark Sirangelo, vice president of Sierra Nevada Corp. "On an economic basis, this could be billions of dollars paid to Russia while the station is up there. And if we have a (diplomatic) issue with them, they can cut off travel."

Or... "We think we can provide that service to NASA," Sirangelo said. Sierra Nevada is building what could prove to be the next generation, or one of the next generations, of space shuttle, albeit smaller and less all-encompassing. It's called the Dream Chaser and much of it is being designed and assembled in Boulder County.

Two hundred engineers at Sierra Nevada's offices in Louisville are some of the biggest brains behind it while University of Colorado aerospace graduate students help design the Dream Chaser, which sits in a cavernous basement room in the school's Engineering Center. Because the Dream Chaser will be launched into space atop an Atlas V rocket, Sirangelo said, it shouldn't run into the problems the shuttle program has experienced with debris falling off its launch vehicles. (1/1)

Brazil Cuts a Deal to Join European Astronomers (Source: Science)
Hoping to secure time on some of the world's most powerful telescopes, Brazil will pay more than €250 million over a decade to become a member of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The deal, signed by Brazil's Ministry of Science & Technology and ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw, will make Brazil the 15th member of ESO and the first from outside Europe, ESO said in a statement. ESO's telescopes are located in the host country of Chile. The agreement is part of a bid by Brazil's government to lift the quality of domestic science by joining big international projects. Brazil has also been negotiating entry into Europe's CERN particle accelerator. (1/1)

Editorial: It's Time to End NASA's Limbo (Source: Huntsville Times)
Uncertainty for NASA and the thousands of workers and contractors in Huntsville will continue as the new year begins, but this must be the year that Congress, the White House and NASA get their act together and partner mission with money. Against the backdrop of an underfunded Constellation program, President Obama's administration kicked up a firestorm in 2010 when it suggested killing Constellation and replacing it with a new commercial space industry nurtured by federal money.

Congress and the White House then spent most of 2010 trying to agree on a direction for NASA. The end result, which should put the creation of a new heavy-lift vehicle in the hands of Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center, now appears to be stuck: There's a direction, but a continuing resolution by Congress doesn't specifically point money to the new heavy-lift program, which means work might not get off the ground.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby's staff, however, says there's no reason NASA can't use 2010 Constellation funding to start on the new heavy-lift program. So, NASA says it can't spend on the new program, and Shelby says it can. The disconnect illustrates how critical it is that a long-term vision for NASA isn't just agreed on, but that it is funded adequately. (1/1)

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