January 16, 2011

U.S. Air Force To Adopt Block Buys of Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force plans to implement a new acquisition strategy that relies more on multisatellite purchases with the intent of eliminating the funding fits and starts that have plagued space programs in recent years, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said. More stable R&D funding for space programs and increased use of fixed-price contracts will also be elements of the new Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency effort that begins with the 2012 budget request.

The first space system to receive this treatment will be the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications fleet, Donley said. AEHF prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is currently under contract to deliver four spacecraft. The Air Force is also likely to use a block buy approach for the fourth and fifth Space Based Infrared System spacecraft, a government source said. (1/16)

ATV Johannes Kepler Gears Up For Journey to ISS (Source: Space Daily)
ATV-2 is almost ready for launch on 15 February from Europe's Spaceport. It will be the heaviest load ever lofted into space by the Ariane 5 rocket, making the 200th flight of the European launcher even more spectacular. ESA's latest Automated Transfer Vehicle space ferry, named after the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, is now fully fuelled, its oxygen tanks are filled and most of the cargo from ESA and NASA is placed inside.

Only last-minute cargo of up to 400 kg will be added two weeks before launch using a special access device. While the first ATV in 2008 performed a series of demonstrations on its way to the International Space Station (ISS), Johannes Kepler will head directly to its destination. The planned journey includes some extra days to allow for possible delays, but the docking has to take place on 26 February to meet the busy ISS schedule. (1/16)

Extra Shuttle Mission This Year in Doubt (Source: Space Daily)
Delays in the space shuttle Discovery's mission for repairs to its fuel tank raise doubts about an extra shuttle mission this year, U.S. officials say. Two more shuttle trips were planned before the aging three-orbiter fleet was to be retired when a third, final mission was approved by Congress last year. But funding for the measure has not been appropriated as the country operates under a continuing resolution, freezing NASA at 2010 funding levels until Congress can agree on a formal budget. (1/14)

NASA Needs Billions to Get Lockheed Martin's Orion Into Space (Source: New Mexico Business Weekly)
Recent NASA reports show the agency doubts it can meet current Orion launch deadlines without more money. After Constellation was canceled, intense lobbying kept Orion alive, preserving many of the 3,600 jobs at Lockheed and its subcontractors. Under NASA's new strategy, commercial companies will compete to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA will oversee the creation of a separate spacecraft and rocket to take astronauts deeper into space. Orion remains NASA's best deep-space option, meaning it will be tapped to carry the first astronauts to fly past the moon. That is, unless expenses make the capsule unsustainable for NASA. NASA has spent $4.9 billion on Orion since 2006. NASA expects to reach a new contract this year to keep Lockheed Martin building Orion.

The NASA report to Congress says Orion's recurring costs will be cheaper than any previous U.S. space craft. Even so, NASA doesn't believe Orion can fly by the end of 2016 without more funding, the report said. The space agency predicts another $6.6 billion to $7.1 billion will be needed to get Orion ready by 2015. (1/16)

Orion: Why So Much? (Source: HobbySpace)
I understand that Orion has some degree of enhanced capability over Dragon and CST-100 for deep space operations, but I don't understand why those enhancements enhance the cost by several billion dollars. It would be interesting to know exactly what those 3,600 employees "at Lockheed and its subcontractors" are doing. (That number apparently doesn't include what must be a substantial number of NASA employees involved in Orion.)

SpaceX currently has about 1100 employees and has developed, built, and flow Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Dragon. If NASA's billions were going towards a roomy reusable in-space transport vehicle, the cost might be worth it. I expect that a system comprised of a long duration version of the Dragon docked to a Bigelow habitat along with a booster module could be developed for a fraction of Orion and yet offer far more livable conditions [for missions beyond low Earth orbit]. (1/16)

Shuttle 'Spiders' Work Up High (Source: Florida Today)
The ocean view was fine from 200 feet up launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. But if David Schuermann took a careless step, only a harness and 10-foot lifeline would stop him from plummeting to Discovery's mobile launcher platform below. If the safety equipment worked, the lead rigger on United Space Alliance's appropriately named "high crew" would be left dangling inches from the shuttle's external tank and left solid rocket booster. (1/16)

St. Augustine Man Part of Historic SpaceX Project (Source: StAugustine.com)
The early December successful launch and recovery of the SpaceX Dragon capsule was the experience of a lifetime for 22-year-old Nat Price of Butler Beach. Price, in his fourth year at the University of Florida, was selected as one of two interns by SpaceX to work on the project. SpaceX aims to become the first commercial company to send a spacecraft into the orbit of Earth and survive re-entry. (1/16)

Spaceport America Faces Delays, Tough Questions (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
New Mexico's Spaceport America has hit turbulence. Once aimed at completion last year, the $209 million taxpayer-financed project in the southern New Mexico high desert stands half-finished. In her first two weeks in office, a wary new governor sacked both the Spaceport Authority's board and its executive director.

Records show the ambitious project launched under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has faced construction delays and a lack of planning. Competition from other states interested in commercial space flights continues to loom. There's also the prospect that the state may need to spend an additional $10 million to $20 million to build a second runway to deal with the problem of crosswinds. (1/16)

NASA Glenn Director Says New Work Must Wait for Federal Budget (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Ramon "Ray" Lugo, director of NASA Glenn Research Center, said today that a new technology-development program that the center is to manage will not begin until the House and Senate resolve their differences and pass President Obama's proposed 2011 budget. Lugo said Glenn will continue with existing projects but "new-start" projects cannot go forward without the new budget. (1/16)

Bova: NASA Should Look to the Stars While Others Run ‘Space Ferries’ (Source: Naples News)
Of course, private enterprise has been operating in space for many decades, launching communications and other types of satellites for paying customers. Launch services is a billion-dollar-per-year business. But SpaceX’s recent success can lead to a new era, in which private companies provide transportation for cargo and human passengers to and from the International Space Station. And more.

President Barack Obama decided that NASA should stop running a ferry service and turn to private enterprise to furnish transportation to and from the space station. So SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corp. and several other companies are building rocket launchers and spacecraft to take over the job. Washington provided subsidies and markets for the railroads and commercial aviation in their early days. Once those technologies proved themselves, private enterprise built profitable industries from them.

We are at that point in space today. Taxpayer investment has developed rocket technology to the point where private enterprise can now step in and, we hope, move farther and faster than any politics-bound government program could. With transportation to the space station as a dependable base, private companies can move to develop new industries in space — including tourism. (1/16)

Airship Builder Returns to KSC (Source: Florida Today)
A Maryland company has relocated to Kennedy Space Center with the intention of refining and selling its 111-foot unmanned airship, adding another player to an economic niche that could help the move the county beyond the loss of the space shuttle program. Sanswire Corp. opened an office Dec. 15 near Space Florida's offices at the KSC Visitor Complex. It will have just a handful of people on staff initially but could employ dozens of engineers and technicians if and when buyers come forward or government funding is secured. (1/16)

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