January 7, 2011

Telecom Industry Staves Off Predicted 2010 Downturn (Source: Space News)
Twenty-six commercial geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites were ordered in 2010, a slight decrease from 2009’s 30-satellite harvest that nonetheless disproved analysts’ warnings that the cyclical industry was headed for a downturn. (1/7)

NASA Has Boosted COTS Funding by Additional $40 Million Since October (Source: Space News)
NASA has boosted its investment in two logistics services being developed for the international space station by $40 million so far this year, and plans to double that payout by the end of March despite the fact that Congress has yet to appropriate the necessary funds for the effort, according to an agency official. The additional payouts to Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX cover newly created ground-test milestones for their respective cargo delivery systems. (1/7)

Budget Holdup Will Delay NOAA Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
Congress’s inability to pass any full-year spending bills for 2011 will likely delay the launch of two civilian weather satellites by more than a year, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesman said. With so much budget uncertainty, development of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) has proceeded over the last three months at a much slower pace than planned, agency spokesman John Leslie said in an e-mailed response to questions. (1/7)

Aerospace Contributes $7.6 Billion to Virginia Economy (Source: Bloomberg)
A new study says the aerospace industry contributes $7.6 billion to Virginia's economy each year. The study released Friday by Gov. Bob McDonnell's office also says the industry supported more than 28,000 workers in 2009. It was the first comprehensive economic study of the industry in Virginia. The study was sponsored by the Virginia Department of Aviation, and conducted by the Performance Management Group at Virginia Commonwealth University. (1/7)

"First Commercial Spaceport"? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Spaceport America officials have been careful to describe the facility as "the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport", a term that refers to its being designed and developed specifically for commercial use. However, recent articles about Spaceport America try to shorten that clunky descriptor by calling it simply--and inaccurately--the "world's first commercial spaceport".

So which is the world's first commercial spaceport? Some might say it is the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, where Arianespace has been launching commercial payloads since 1982. The first FAA-licensed U.S. commercial launch was a 1989 suborbital mission from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The first FAA commercial launch site (or "spaceport") license was issued in 1996 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

And despite the fact that these spaceports accommodate commercial launch companies, are they really "commercial spaceports"? The organizations that operate these FAA-licensed spaceports are not businesses themselves, they are typically state-established quasi-government space transportation authorities...the first of which was the Spaceport Florida Authority, created back in 1989. (1/7)

Risk Reduction Flight Could Precede Taurus-2 Cygnus Trip to Station (Source: Spaceports Blog)
A Taurus-2 launch target date of Dec. 14 has been set for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s first Cygnus cargo capsule delivery to the International Space Station. The launch would take place from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, Island, Virginia. A “risk-reduction” Taurus-2 mission, which is still awaiting funding approval from Congress, may precede the Dec. 14 launch.

A number of Virginia space advocates are urging Orbital and others to seek human-rated flights from the commercial spaceport prior to 2015. Orbital's human spaceflight ambitions don't rely on the Taurus-2 rocket or Cygnus space capsule. The Taurus rocket's "performance is limited," so the company would instead launch a proposed mini spaceplane atop an EELV rocket. Thus far, Orbital plans to conduct those launches from Florida. (1/7)

Marshall Center Layoffs (Sources: Huntsville Space Professionals, NASA Watch)
Rumors are circulating about more MSFC layoffs. Word is that they have been ongoing, but in small enough numbers they have not been released to the media, nor received a lot of attention. Word is also there will be a Jacobs ESTS all hands tomorrow about potential related and their numbers are already down to around 290-300 employees from around a 1000 in the summer. That is Jacobs ESTS alone. Word is also that civil servant layoffs are also in process. (1/7)

Astrotech Secures Navy Satellite Processing Contract (Source: SpaceRef.com)
Astrotech Space Operations announced that the Department of the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) awarded the company a new contract for payload processing services in support of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) Program. Astrotech Space Operations has committed to provide payload processing support for up to five satellite launches for MUOS under the contract. (1/7)

Updated SpaceX Launch Manifest Includes 27 Missions (Sources: SpaceX, HobbySpace)
SpaceX's published launch manifest currently includes 27 missions through 2017. Twenty-three of the launches are planned for the Falcon-9, while four will use the smaller Falcon-1e rocket. The Falcon-1e launches will all occur from the company's South Pacific Kwajelein Atoll launch pad. Three of the Falcon-9 missions will be from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, meaning 19 Falcon-9 launches are planned from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Sixteen of the Cape Canaveral Falcon-9 launches would carry Dragon capsules for either COTS demonstrations or for resupplying the International Space Station. (The two COTS flights in 2011 may be combined into one mission if NASA accepts SpaceX's proposal to do that.) Four of the Falcon-9 commercial payload (non-Dragon) missions--two from Florida and two from California--are listed as potentially flying from Kwajelein, depending on range availability at the mainland spaceports. Click here to see the manifest. (1/7)

Space Coast Car Company Reaches Milestone (Source: STARnet)
Avera Motors, a startup automobile venture based on Florida's Space Coast, completed its first prototype in late December. The car's frame and engine developments have direct ties to NASA and other aerospace technologies. Space Florida has taken delivery of the vehicle and has recruited NASA KSC to validate performance characteristics and a variety of technologies within. Once that process is complete, Avera will incorporate NASA findings into improvements on an initial production run of the vehicles.

Space Florida is already working with the company and a variety of governmental and private entities to help secure future tests of the program. If Avera selects Florida for its long-term manufacturing operations, it is expected to employ approximately 1,200 highly-skilled workers by 2015. This would be a significant win for Florida during what will undoubtedly be a difficult economic period to come. (1/7)

More Shuttle Workers Face Layoffs (Source: WESH)
Another round of layoffs was expected along the Space Coast on Friday as the space shuttle program winds down. United Space Alliance will make the cuts despite a NASA announcement that the launch of Discovery will be delayed again. USA has been the lead contractor for the space shuttle, and as the program is phased out, fewer workers are needed. (1/7)

Interstellar Travel Not Possible Before 2200, Suggests Study (Source: Technology Review)
How soon could humanity launch a mission to the stars? That's the question considered today by Marc Millis, former head of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project and founder of the Tau Zero Foundation which supports the science of interstellar travel. This is a question of increasing importance given the rate at which astronomers are finding new planets around other stars. Many believe that it's only a matter of time before we find an Earth analogue. And when we do find a place with the potential to host life like ours, there is likely to be significant debate about the possibility of a visit.

By looking at the rate at which our top speed and financial clout are increasing, and then extrapolating into the future, it's possible to predict when such missions might be possible. The depressing answer in every study so far is that interstellar travel is centuries away. Click here to read the article. (1/7)

Strange Mini-Asteroid Born by Huge Space Rock (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have discovered a new kind of asteroid — a strange mini-world with a unique and violent history that could reveal more clues about the early solar system. The asteroid, called 1999 AT10, is a miniature space rock born when a collision blasted it out of its rocky parent Vesta, which is the second-largest asteroid in the solar system.

The mineralogical composition of 1999 AT10 suggests that unlike many other asteroids, it did not originate from the outer rocky crust of its parent asteroid Vesta, but from the deeper layers underneath. Until now, no asteroid like it has ever been seen. Vesta is of particular interest because this summer it will be the first destination of NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The discovery of 1999 AT10 could help determine the thickness of Vesta's crust, and reveal details about its internal structure, scientists say. (1/7)

NASA Stuck in Limbo as New Congress Takes Over (Source: Space.com)
Based on claims by new House Speaker John Boehner (R–Ohio), who said his party will aim to cut non-military discretionary spending back to 2008 levels, the space agency could be in for some serious budget cutbacks. Unfortunately, NASA is stuck halfway between an old space-exploration vision and a new one, without definitive instructions from lawmakers on which direction to follow.

"There's going to be a lot of hard negotiations," said space policy expert Roger Handberg, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. "NASA's problem is it's not a priority. When they start slicing and dicing, NASA may be the one that gets to 'contribute to the cause.' I think it could be a disaster for the government part of the program." (1/7)

Certifying Soyuz (Source: Wayne Hale's Blog)
The way the FAA grants airworthiness certificates to new aircraft is fundamentally different than the way NASA certifies new spacecraft. There are some good reasons for the difference. There is an old saying that the airworthiness regs have been paid for in blood and a review of aviation history would bear that out. Those regs are generally simple, direct, and not open to much interpretation. Airworthiness regs are generally considered to be performance based. That is to say, a new aircraft must demonstrate that it can perform to the requirement. Certifying a new aircraft design takes lots and lots of flight hours.

Launch vehicles and spacecraft are much more expensive than aircraft. And, with few exceptions, they are not reusable – the reason for that is another topic for another day. So launching dozens of test flights to demonstrate different safety requirements is not an economically viable option. Generally the number of test flights is few; one, two, maybe three, sometimes none. Meeting certification requirements is a matter of engineering analysis, computer simulation, piece-part testing, and standards on parts and design.

There are some exceptions in the space vehicle world; the NASA Launch Services Program can certify new launch vehicles to be used to launch some satellites to orbit based on the past performance of launch vehicles. A rocket that has successfully launched several times (the magic number is 11) is subject to much less scrutiny than a brand new vehicle which is untried. Delta, Atlas and Pegusus are partly certified on the basis of past performance. But that is not how NASA has ever certified a spacecraft for human conveyance – except Soyuz. Click here for more. (1/7)

Florida Legislative Meetings Include Space Briefings (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Legislature will conduct several weeks of "interim" committee meetings in advance of the March 8 kickoff of the state's annual Legislative Session. These meetings will begin on January 11 in Tallahassee. On this first day of meetings, Space Florida's Frank DiBello will brief the Economic Development & Tourism Committee, and a NASA Kennedy Space Center representative will brief the Energy & Utilities Committee on NASA renewable energy programs. (1/7)

Pentagon Seeks Biggest Military Cuts Since Before 9/11 (Source: New York Times)
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that the nation’s “extreme fiscal duress” now required him to call for cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, reversing the significant growth in military spending that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The White House has told the Pentagon to squeeze that growth over the next five years, Mr. Gates said, reducing by $78 billion the amount available for the Pentagon, not counting the costs of its combat operations. The decision to go after the Pentagon budget, even while troops remain locked in combat overseas, is the clearest indication yet that President Obama will be cutting spending broadly across the government as he seeks to reduce the deficit — and stave off attacks from Republicans in Congress who want to shrink the government even more. (1/7)

USAF EELV Safe from Pentagon Cuts (Source: Flight Global)
In a plan that would ultimately cut billions from existing Pentagon programs, at least one space project is safe, according to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program was among the projects Gates said would actually increase in procurement under his cost saving measures. The EELV is necessary to "to assure access to space for both military and other government agencies while sustaining our industrial base," the Pentagon says. Funds to speed up the procurement would come from trimming other Air Force programs. (1/7)

New Subatomic Particle Could Help Explain the Mystery of Dark Matter (Source: Scientific American)
Neutrinos are the most famously shy of particles, zipping through just about everything—-your body, Earth, detectors specifically designed to catch them—-with nary a peep. But compared with their heretofore hypothetical cousin the sterile neutrino, ordinary neutrinos are veritable firecrackers. Sterile neutrinos don’t even interact with ordinary matter via the weak force, the ephemeral hook that connects neutrinos to the everyday world. Recently, however, new experiments have revealed tantalizing evidence that sterile neutrinos are not only real but common. Some of them could even be the stuff of the mysterious dark matter astronomers have puzzled over for decades. (1/7)

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