January 15, 2011

Shuttle Discovery's Lead Spacewalker Hurt in Accident (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Space station veteran Timothy Kopra, scheduled for launch Feb. 24 aboard the shuttle Discovery, was injured in a bicycle accident Saturday, a NASA official said. The injury was not life threatening and the NASA official, citing medical privacy issues, provided no additional details. But multiple sources said Kopra may have broken his hip, raising the prospect of a significant impact to the already-delayed mission.

NASA does not train backup crews and a replacement, even a recently flown veteran, would need time to rehearse spacewalk scenarios and receive mission-specific training for Discovery's flight. How long that might take, if required, and what impact it might have on the shuttle's launch date is not yet known. (1/15)

Sidemount HLV: HEFT, Lies and Videotape (Source: Air & Space)
The Congressionally mandated report of NASA's Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) says that under its existing budget and schedule, the agency cannot develop the new heavy lift vehicle specified in the new authorization bill. The report reads very much like the 2005 Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), featuring a heavy-lift rocket remarkably similar to the Ares family of rockets--rockets the Augustine Committee said were unaffordable. But not included in the HEFT report to Congress is an HLV option that NASA found meets all legal requirements and fits within the budget and schedule assumptions of HEFT.

Last summer, a study group at Johnson Space Center released a report that resurrects an old concept of replacing the Shuttle orbiter on the existing stack with a payload fairing and engine pod. This configuration, called Shuttle Side-Mount (updated from the old “Shuttle-C” concept) was not considered by the HEFT study team, but meets the specific language of the new authorization. The advantage of SSM is that, as it is a minimal modification of the existing stack, it uses all of NASA’s existing launch and processing infrastructure – launch pads, mobile crawlers, scaffolding in the VAB and fabrication facilities in Michoud and Utah. Click here to read the article. (1/15)

Congress Specified "In-Line" HLV Approach in Report Language (Source: Space Politics)
According to an article in Air & Space magazine, NASA responded to a Congressional heavy-lift rocket mandate by saying "they can’t do it on the money and schedule specified, even though they themselves have in hand a report that shows how it can be done [using a "Side-Mount" design]." However, the Senate's report language accompanying the NASA authorization bill works against a sidemount concept:

"The Committee anticipates that in order to meet the specified vehicle capabilities and requirements, the most cost-effective and ‘evolvable’ design concept is likely to follow what is known as an ‘in-line’ vehicle design, with a large center tank structure with attached multiple liquid propulsion engines and, at a minimum, two solid rocket motors... The Committee will closely monitor NASA’s early planning and design efforts to ensure compliance with the intent of this section."

The HEFT concepts included in the NASA report, as well as the Jupiter designs proposed by the DIRECT team, would satisfy that language. A sidemount concept, though, not being in-line, would violate that language. Report language does not contain the force of law, but not being responsive to it would likely raise questions among those in Congress who got that section into the report (as noted by the “closely monitor” language in the same section). (1/15)

Editor's Note: Although it may fit within Congress' cost and schedule requirements, the Side-Mount option is a problematic one for human spaceflight, which is one of the Congressional HLV objectives. A side-mounted crew capsule would be exposed to foam and ice shedding risks similar to those that led to Columbia's loss, and in-flight abort scenarios would be more tricky. Consistent with the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), an "In-Line" HLV approach (with the capsule on top) would be safer for astronaut crews. (1/15)

Vulcan? Time to Start Giving Extrasolar Planets Proper Names (Source Economist)
Astronomers are a curious bunch. Some like to name things. Others prefer numbers and letters. Those who study the solar system fall into the former camp. Every planet, asteroid, moon, mountain and crater has its name. Mankind’s mythologies have been ransacked so thoroughly that the need to identify each orbiting rock has resulted in such curiosities as Zappafrank, Lennon, McCartney and even Bagehot. Those who study other planetary systems have been more restrained. Planets orbiting stars beyond the sun are labeled merely with the name of the star and a suffix letter.

Even if planets and moons were found round Alpha Centauri, as envisaged by the writers of “Avatar”, they would not get glorious monikers like Polyphemus and Pandora. They would just be letters—and lower-case ones, to boot. That is sad. Though the nominative diarrhea of the solar system may have gone a little far, a well-chosen name is both picturesque and memorable. Perhaps, therefore, it is time to change the convention and give such a name to an extrasolar planet. And an ideal candidate has just turned up—one that matches one of astronomy’s own myths: the legendary, non-existent planet Vulcan. (1/13)

Online Fact Sheets Track NASA FY-11 Budget Request, Constellation (Source: Space Policy Online)
Two SpacePolicyOnline.com fact sheets track President Obama's FY-2011 budget request for NASA, and the status of the debate over Constellation. The budget document provides tabular data comparing the request and its projections for FY2012 and FY2013 with the NASA authorization bill. The Constellation fact sheet summarizes debate over the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program following President Obama's proposal to cancel NASA's Constellation program. Click here for the budget document, and here for the Constellation document. (1/15)

Giffords Charity Established (Source: Giffords Leadership Fund)
To honor the victims of the recent tragedy in Tucson and their families, we have started a fund in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' name to support future leaders in earth and space sciences, engineering and policy. In her 112th Congress swearing-in speech, Gabby talked about the need for leadership. She also strongly supports earth and space sciences, as well as technology innovations and public policy that benefit our nation. The Fund was started by friends and supporters of hers from Tucson and the Space community. Click here. (1/15)

ESA Putting Arianespace Finances Under the Microscope (Source: Space News)
European governments have ordered a detailed audit of the sources and uses of money at the Arianespace commercial launch consortium and its industrial suppliers as a condition of granting the company’s request for what may be a permanent financial aid package to assure its ongoing financial viability, European government and industry officials said.

They said the audits, being led by the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) with the help of outside accounting experts, should settle the issue of whether Europe’s launch vehicle organization is unable to report a regular profit because it is overpaying its shareholder suppliers or otherwise wasting money, or because mediocre financial results are inevitable at any enterprise building and launching space-launch vehicles. (1/15)

Aerojet Guns for Lead Roles On New Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Space News)
As NASA settled last year on a Congressionally mandated heavy-lift launch vehicle design based on propulsion technologies already in development, rocket-engine manufacturer Aerojet was making a case for opening up key elements of the launcher to competition. Aerojet — the smallest of the three main U.S. propulsion firms — told NASA last month that it wants a shot at unseating ATK and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne if the agency moves forward with a heavy-lift rocket that incorporates the five-segment boosters and J-2X engine. (1/15)

NASA Managers Discuss Prospect of Bigelow Inflatable on ISS (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
International Space Station program officials at Johnson Space Center held a two-day meeting last week to discuss the prospect of adding a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable module to the ISS. The Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM)
The purpose of the inflatable module would be a simple, limited capability stowage volume, similar in purpose to the currently on-orbit Japanese Logistics Platform (JLP), which serves as a stowage module for scientific equipment from the Japanese Pressurised Module (JPM) laboratory. The module would be certified to remain on-orbit for two years.

The module would be a collaboration between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, with NASA HQ providing funding, the ISS National Laboratory Program providing project management, and NASA providing all Government Furnished Equipment (GFE), which includes the Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM), Flight Releasable Grapple Fixture (FRGF), smoke detector, fan, and emergency lights. Bigelow would provide the inflatable and inner core structure of the module, and perform all required flight analysis. (1/15)

China Developing New Rocket Engines (Source: Aviation Week)
China is advancing its space capabilities by developing staged combustion, an engine technology that is likely to offer greater performance for the Long March 6 and 7, two of a family of launchers that the country will field around the middle of the decade. The smaller of the two, the Long March 6, may be the first to go into service, beating the flagship third member of the family, the Long March 5 heavy launcher. A new 18-metric-ton-thrust engine “is a high-altitude liquid oxygen and kerosene engine with a staged combustion cycle and has been indigenously designed by China,” says national space contractor CASC. (1/11)

Air Force To Request $1.8 Billion for EELV Program as Costs Skyrocket (Source: Space News)
Projected budgets for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program will rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years as the cost of materials has increased sharply and the service buys more rockets to provide stability for the industrial base, according to government and industry sources.

The Air Force plans to request $1.78 billion for its primary launch vehicle program in 2012, some $450 million more than it previously planned to request for 2012, a government source said. The service’s five-year budget plan for EELV totaled $6.3 billion in its 2011 spending blueprint, and that figure will rise to $10 billion in the request it sends to Congress in February, the source said.

At least some of the money needed to cover rising EELV costs will be drawn from other space programs, and among the missions likely to get squeezed is space surveillance, sources said. NASA, which pays only the incremental costs of the launches it orders, in September announced a new 10-year contract vehicle that it will use to buy launches from ULA and other companies. The increased launch costs have come as a surprise to some at NASA. (1/15)

Spaceport America Directors Dismissed (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Members of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority board of directors are out, dismissed Friday afternoon by Gov. Susana Martinez. She said in a statement that she wanted a fresh start for Spaceport America because of financial concerns. Martinez announced today that she also had removed the appointed members of the Labor and Industrial Commission and ousted Johnny Cope from the Transportation Commission. She said all appointees were being evaluated and cuts were being made to balance the state budget. (1/15)

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