January 14, 2011

Moon Mining Idea Digs Up Lunar Legal, Treaty Issues (Source: Space.com)
Lunar resource mining could help spur a wave of trade, travel and exploration throughout the solar system. The good news is that moon-mining operations appear to be legal, experts say. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 — which forms the basis of international space law and has been signed by the U.S. and other major spacefaring nations — prohibits countries from exercising territorial sovereignty over the moon or other celestial bodies. But it doesn't prohibit resource extraction, though it's not entirely clear that mining companies would own the stuff they extract.

The Moon Treaty of 1979 sought to set up a regime governing how the moon's resources would be used. The Moon Treaty remains more or less irrelevant today; it has been ratified by just a handful of nations, none of them big players in spaceflight and space exploration. However, the legal fuzziness could be a problem for outfits contemplating a moon mining endeavor, which could have initial costs running into the billions of dollars. Some space entrepreneurs agree that resources on the moon and other celestial bodies won't be used to their full extent unless companies have explicit property rights and title.

Comprehensive new legislation should aim to take the ambiguity out, space law expert Wayne White said. "If you really are talking about a multibillion-dollar endeavor, if I were the lawyer for that company, I would say, 'Don't make that investment until we have legislation in place,'" White said. "You have to really own the ground upon which you've placed these really valuable facilities," Robert Bigelow says. Bigelow Aerospace is drawing up plans for a quick-deploy lunar base, using the company's expandable space habitats. "You have to instill the ingredients of profit and benefit into the equation." (1/14)

Astronaut Hernandez Leaves NASA (Source: Florida Today)
Jose Hernandez, the Californian son of Mexican migrant farm workers, is leaving NASA's astronaut corps after flying one shuttle mission, the agency announced. Hernandez, 49, joined NASA as a materials engineer in 2001 and was accepted as an astronaut in 2004, a class told it might never fly on the shuttle following the Columbia disaster. NASA said Hernandez has taken a position in the aerospace industry.

"Jose's talent and dedication have contributed greatly to the agency, and he is an inspiration to many," Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson said in a statement. "We wish him all the best with this new phase of his career." Hernandez is the second astronaut to leave NASA early in 2011. The agency on Jan. 4 announced five-flight veteran Marsha Ivins was moving on. Sixty-two active astronauts remain. (1/14)

Union Leader at NASA Glenn Fears Loss of Proposed Program (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
A top union official at NASA Glenn Research Center says she's fearful that the center could lose leadership of a proposed space technology development program. The union has heard "mixed reports" about who in NASA will lead the Exploration Technology Development and Demonstration Office, said union official Sheila Bailey.

The new technology development office was to be funded at $1.8 billion over five years, under a NASA strategy unveiled last spring by President Obama. NASA Glenn, known for its research expertise, was to manage the program and dole out grants to other NASA centers, universities and businesses focused on developing technology for space travel. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said this morning that a top NASA official told him in a meeting during the holidays that NASA Glenn would lead the program. (1/14)

CAGW Issues NASA Spending Cut Alert (Source: CAGW)
Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) issued its weekly spending cut alert aimed at the Constellation Program, NASA’s multibillion dollar Moon/Mars initiative. As CAGW noted in both an Issue Brief and the June 2010 Porker of the Month, the cost of the Constellation program has gone into the stratosphere, and is no longer affordable.

...The Orion space capsule has already cost the government $4.8 billion, requires another $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011, and will not be operational until 2014. As WESH in Orlando has noted, commercial providers have already demonstrated the same capabilities at one tenth of the cost of the still in development Orion capsule. (1/14)

Life's Asymmetry May Come from Space (Source: Physics World)
Processes taking place in outer space, and not on Earth, are likely to have led to the biological molecules found exclusively in either a left-handed or right-handed form. That is the conclusion drawn from recent experiments carried out at the SOLEIL synchrotron facility near Paris in which a number of simple molecules found in star-forming regions exposed to polarized radiation created amino acids with an imbalance of left- and right-handed molecules. (1/14)

ESA Presses for Greater Agreement on Spaceflight (Source: Flight Global)
European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain has renewed calls for all spacefaring nations to press for agreement on a joint transport system to ensure reliable, flexible and economical access to the International Space Station. Wide agreement that space exploration beyond the ISS could succeed only as a partnership between many nations also implied the need for a common transport policy Dordain said this morning at ESA's headquarters in Paris.

To move beyond the age of unilateral decisions about what systems to develop - and Dordain admitted ESA's bid to develop its Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo system, now being readied for its second launch to the ISS, fell into this category - it would be necessary to decide collectively where there needed to be redundancy and on a set of common interface standards. (1/14)

2011 'Year of Rockets' for Europe (Source: BBC)
2011 will be the "year of launchers", says ESA Chief Jean-Jacques Dordain. Europe expects to have three different rockets operating from its French Guiana spaceport in coming months. The Ariane 5 will be joined by the Russian Soyuz and a new small launcher called Vega. A completely new launch facility has been constructed for Soyuz in French Guiana, allowing the Russian-built vehicle to shift some of its operations to Guiana from its traditional home in Kazakhstan. Vega will use the old Ariane 1, 2 and 3 pad, which has been renovated for the purpose. (1/14)

ViaSat Pushes Back Launch for Loral to Repair Damaged Satellite (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The launch of ViaSat's first high-capacity broadband communications satellite will be delayed several months after receiving damage while being moved inside a factory in California, the company announced Thursday. The powerful spacecraft was supposed to launch on an International Launch Services Proton rocket this spring. The launch is now scheduled for this summer.

"All costs related to the repair and retesting of the satellite are being assumed by the manufacturer of ViaSat 1," according to a ViaSat statement. The spacecraft's contractor is Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California. ViaSat says the satellite will be the highest-capacity satellite in the world at the time of launch. The new satellite will deliver high-speed Internet to more than one million subscribers. (1/14)

NASA Invites Students To Send Experiments To The Edge Of Space (Source: NASA)
NASA is inviting student teams to design and build experiments the agency will fly into the stratosphere, a near-space environment, more than 100,000 feet above the Earth. NASA's second annual Balloonsat High-Altitude Flight competition is open to student teams in ninth to 12th grades from the United States and its territories. Each team of four or more students must submit an experiment proposal to NASA by Feb. 11. Click here for information. (1/14)

NASA Unveiling New Rocket Integration Facility At Wallops (Source: NASA)
NASA will unveil its new rocket integration facility at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 21. The Horizontal Integration Facility will support medium class mission capabilities. The first user will be Orbital Sciences Corp. with its Taurus II launch vehicle. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and other NASA and industry officials will participate. (1/14)

Israel, NASA to Cooperate in Launch of Satellite into Space (Source: Jerusalem Post)
NASA and the Israeli Space Agency will sign a deal in the coming days on the joint launch of an Israeli satellite into space, IDF Maj.-Gen. (res) Prof. Itzhak Ben Ze'ev said Friday. The satellite will help map the planet of Venus, Ze'ev said speaking at a lecture at the Ashkelon Academic College. (1/14)

Senator Moves to Help NASA Quit Funding Canceled Program (Source: NextGov)
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, took quick action on Thursday to end contracts for an already-canceled Constellation space program after NASA's inspector general argued that the cash-strapped agency would waste more than $215 million funding it by the end of next month due to a fiscal catch-22. Nelson, a leading voice in the Senate on space issues, has written legislation repealing the provision. The money, Nelson said, should be spent on future space projects. (1/14)

Rep. Posey Was Prophetic: NASA Bill Asked Too Much for Too Little (Source: Sunshine News)
While Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, and NASA spar over the status of the new heavy-lift rocket, Space Coast Congressman Bill Posey has some additional thoughts. Posey, who clairvoyantly declared on the floor of the House of Representative on Sept. 29 that Congress' authorization bill "asks NASA to do too much with too little," said:

“We need to reprioritize overall NASA funding so that human space flight is given the highest priority and we put the brakes on funding increases for other initiatives that the administration wants to grow like global-warming research. Global-warming research is performed by a multitude of other federal agencies while human space flight is exclusive to NASA,” Posey said.

As Posey presciently observed last September during debate on the NASA authorization bill: "There's something in this bill for everyone to hate. Sure enough." The congressman added, "Hopefully, the appropriations process can move this country back on the right path." (1/14)

How Moon Science Gave Us the DustBuster (Source: Space.com)
When people first began using cordless, handheld vacuums to clean up dust and crumbs around the house, few probably saw a connection between their household Hoover and outer space. But, the same technology that helped Apollo astronauts drill for rock samples on the moon eventually returned to Earth and gave rise to the battery-operated miniature vacuum cleaner. Black & Decker's DustBuster was introduced to American consumers in 1979, but the company developed most of the inner workings for the device as the result of a partnership with NASA for the Apollo moon landings between 1963 and 1972. (1/14)

Mike Haridopolos to Challenge Bill Nelson in Florida (Source: Politico)
Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos has decided to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, giving the two-term incumbent the first challenger of his reelection campaign. A prodigious fundraiser who helped his party win a veto-proof majority in the state Senate last year, Haridopolos said he remains focused on the job of leading the Senate through the next legislative session but was moving ahead with “low-key” preparations to run against Nelson.

“Like Marco Rubio proved, I think you need to get in early and prove that you’re serious about the race. But I am more serious at this point about balancing the budget without a tax increase,” Haridopolos said. “We have a $3.62 billion [state budget] shortfall,” he said. “All my focus is on cutting $3.62 billion over the next, roughly, 120 days.” Several other Florida Republicans are circling the Senate race, including Rep. Connie Mack, state Rep. Adam Hasner and former Sen. George LeMieux. (1/14)

Com Dev Anticipates Turnaround in 2011 (Source: Space News)
Satellite-component builder Com Dev International of Canada on Jan. 13 reported sharply lower revenue and profit for the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, as expected, but said continued strength in the commercial satellite sector had swelled the company’s order book, making a turnaround likely in 2011. The Canadian company, which has substantial operations in Europe and the United States, said the commercial, civil-government and military satellite programs that had torpedoed its 2010 results were nearing completion and would no longer pose problems. (1/14)

$215 Million for Unneeded Constellation Elements If Congress Doesn't Act (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA's Inspector General warned Congress that the agency will spend $215 million by the end of February on unnecessary elements of the Constellation program if Congress does not act quickly to relieve the agency of restrictions in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. That figure could grow to $575 million by the end of FY2011.

NASA is being funded by a Continuing Resolution that carries over the language from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Included is a provision that prohibits NASA from terminating the Constellation program or initiating a replacement until Congress directs it to do so in a future appropriations act. That has not happened even though Congress passed the 2010 NASA authorization act directing NASA to initiate a somewhat different program. NASA is caught between the two laws.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) said this is an issue that appropriators must deal with "in an expedient manner, in order to avoid wasteful spending." He added that his committee will provide "strong Congressional oversight" of NASA's human spaceflight program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the Science and Space subcommittee, has already written legislation to repeal the provision, saying that "every dime counts in our space program right now, we can't afford to be wasting money." The Senate is in recess until Jan. 25; presumably the bill will be introduced then. (1/13)

New Mexico Spaceport Transition Team Begins Work (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Governor Susana Martinez has activated a Spaceport Transition Team to review and advise the Governor and Economic Development Secretary-designate Jon Barela on the Spaceport America’s operations, financing, and contracts. Transition team members include the Director of Requirements at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; former NM Governor Garrey Carruthers; former NASA astronaut Sid Gutierrez; and others. (1/13)

The Best Way to Measure Dark Energy Just Got Better (Source: SpaceRef.com)
The best way of measuring dark energy just got better, thanks to a new study of Type Ia supernovae led by Ryan Foley of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He has found a way to correct for small variations in the appearance of supernovae, so that they become even better standard candles. The key is to sort the supernovae based on their color. (1/13)

Lunar X-Prize Team Receives 2nd Round of Funding from eSpace (Source: Next Giant Leap)
Next Giant Leap LLC (NGL) announced that it has received a second round of funding from eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship (eSpace). NGL was initially selected for the eSpace incubator program last April. Based upon NGL's continuing progress, including their recent NASA Innovative Lunar Data Demonstrations contract award, the eSpace board approved a second round of funding. (1/13)

South Africa to Launch Own Satellites (Source: IT Web)
Over the next five years, South Africa plans to develop a formal space program, says science and technology minister Naledi Pandor. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will hold workshops on a 20-year satellite launch plan for the country at the end of this month, with the strategy aimed at enabling SA to launch its own satellites. As part of this program, and in light of the lessons learned with the delays experienced in the launch of SumbandilaSat, the minister said the department is also looking at redeveloping SA's launch capabilities through defining a 20-year launch plan. (1/14)

U.S. Likely to Lift Ban on India Soon (Source: Times of India)
The U.S., which imposed curbs on trade with defence entities like ISRO and DRDO following India’s nuclear tests in 1998, has set in motion regulatory changes to lift the ban soon, thus fulfilling a commitment made by President Barack Obama. A formal notification to lift the ban by the U.S. Department of Commerce for this purpose is in advanced stage. Official sources said a formal notification could well be issued before the scheduled India visit of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke from February 6-11. (1/14)

Build-up of Static Electricity Turned Satellite into Zombie (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
In a remarkable reversal of fortune, Intelsat is on the verge of returning a crippled communications satellite to service over North America, company officials said Thursday. The Galaxy 15 satellite stopped responding to commands and sending telemetry after an anomaly last April 5, beginning a slow drift east along the equator from its original position 22,300 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Its powerful C-band communications payload continued broadcasting television signals, threatening to interfere with other spacecraft as Galaxy 15 moved uncontrollably nearby through geosynchronous orbit.

The April 5 malfunction can likely be attributed to electrostatic discharge, or shock from static electricity, a concern for all satellites in space, according to Tobias Nassif, Intelsat’s vice president of satellite operations and engineering. Investigators from Intelsat, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Aerospace Corp. are completing an inquiry into the Galaxy 15 anomaly. The team has settled on two potential causes for the glitch - both encompassing software effects of a static charge - and will release its report in February, Nassif said. (1/14)

WikiLeak: Galileo Satnav System Called 'Stupid Idea': US Cable (Source: AFP)
The head of a German firm working on Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system called it a "stupid idea" being pushed by France for military reasons, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed Thursday. According to an October 2009 cable from the US embassy in Berlin obtained by WikiLeaks and released by Norwegian daily Aftenposten, the head of German satellite firm OHB Technology, Berry Smutny, made the comments to US diplomats in Berlin. "I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests," Smutny was quoted as saying in the cable. (1/13)

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