January 23, 2011

Florida Left Holding the Bag in NASA Wrangling (Source: SPACErePORT)
Congress has successfully brought NASA to a virtual standstill while billions of dollars are spent on hardware that may never fly. It is increasingly likely that NASA's top-line budget will be substantially reduced in FY-11 and beyond, with several programs of specific interest to Florida--including some proposed by President Obama to mitigate the economic and workforce impacts of the Space Shuttle's retirement--clearly on the chopping block.

Presumed gone in the budget are $40 million in NASA funds for an Economic Development Administration grant program and an FAA Tech Center for space transportation. On life-support are funds ($1.9 billion) for spaceport upgrades at KSC and a role for the center in multiple "flagship technology" development programs. And still at risk are NASA's Shuttle-derived heavy-lift launch vehicle, Orion crew capsule, KSC-based commercial crew and cargo program, and the addition of STS-135 as the final Space Shuttle mission.

Making matters worse, the White House last week threatened that the International Space Station could fall victim in the budget battle if Congressionally imposed cuts are as deep as Republicans seek. President Obama will release his proposed FY-2012 budget within the next few weeks. Florida space industry leaders are hopeful that his Florida-oriented priorities for 2011 remain priorities for 2012. (1/22)

25 Years Later, Challenger Lives On in Tallahassee (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
The 25th anniversary of the explosion has sparked somber memories for local residents who worked for NASA or have an interest in space exploration, but many of them say the memory of those lost lives on in the Challenger Learning Center Education Programs throughout the country and in Tallahassee. Click here for information on the Challenger Center's programs. (1/23)

Update on Ukraine/Brazil Cyclone Launch Effort at Alcantara (Source: Parabolic Arc)
According to Yuri Alekseyev, head of Ukraine's space agency: "In September, the first stone was laid at the future site of the launch complex [in Alcantara, Brazil]. Several hundred hectares of land have been cleared of forest. The launch pad digging works (8 m below ground level) have been started already. However, currently there was a rainy season, and it disturbed the construction works. Nevertheless we’re just a little behind the schedule, signed in May. Also, a problem remained with financing. Brazil is ahead of us in this regard. Yet in 2010 Ukraine fulfilled its obligations. The rest should be solved...

"This project is cooperation between Brazil and Ukraine, and it is beneficiary to both parties. Brazil hasn’t simply laid the territory, but invested its money into infrastructure: roads, port, providing refueling tanks. Ukraine is responsible for developing the launch vehicle, launching complex, control stations etc. That is, we were preparing the ground infrastructure. Costs were both Brazilians and ours – 50 / 50.

“It is very important for the development of Ukrainian space industry and national production, that currently hundreds of companies in the country are involved in implementing the project...We can not say that Ukraine can’t afford the project. We can afford it indeed. It is just the crisis period isn’t the easiest time to implement such ambitious programs. Nevertheless, to date Ukraine fulfilled its obligations, and this is important." (1/23)

Editorial: Heavy-Lift Trouble (Source: Florida Today)
Nothing comes easy for NASA. The agency survived a fierce debate about its future last year with Congress approving and President Obama signing into law a two-track approach for the next generation of spaceflight: Private companies will use their rockets and spacecraft to launch astronauts into orbit from Cape Canaveral, while NASA develops a heavy-lift vehicle and capsule for future manned missions into deep space and Mars.

Congress also laid down a marker: NASA would be given $11 billion for the rocket and have it finished by 2016 — no ifs, ands or buts — using a mix of hardware from the shuttle program and the canceled Constellation moon program.
It was an imperfect solution — the idea of politicians telling engineers how to build a rocket didn’t sit well with many in the space industry and left us concerned too.

NASA’s heavy-lift and its Apollo-like manned spacecraft are estimated to eventually create about 2,000 jobs at its Kennedy Space Center launch site. Should the rocket program go south the jobs would go with it. Its demise would also negate the need for a $3 billion modernization plan at KSC to turn it into a 21st century spaceport. Together, that could turn KSC into a relic with private companies launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That can’t happen. NASA has to bring its new rocket project to the launch pad on time and within budget — for once. (1/23)

Editorial: Private Firms Could Fill the Void (Source: Florida Today)
If NASA’s heavy-lift rocket program stalls, could the commercial sector meet the challenge? No evidence exists that it could not. Whether it should is a decision for Washington. But could it? Yes. The business model would likely resemble the successful Commercial Cargo Program, with multiple competitors on contracts where payment is based on achieving milestones, not the traditional cost-plus format.

The design would probably follow the Augustine Commission’s concept of many launches of modest-sized rockets with on-orbit fueling depots instead of one huge rocket. The relationship between the industry and Kennedy Space Center would strengthen considerably compared to now, where the private sector is just providing access to the International Space Station. Both would need one another for reasons that are at once historical, technical and political.

Historically, because the nation will need the comfort level that comes from processing and launching at KSC. Technically, because only NASA has the experience in Earth departure stages, KSC infrastructure and more. And politically, because aligning with KSC will give this new program additional political cover in Washington, where neither party would wish its opponent to accuse it of hurting voters in the I-4 corridor. (1/23)

Errant Satellite To Be Back In Business Soon (Source: Aviation Week)
Intelsat appears poised to recoup use of Galaxy 15, the wayward “Zombie Sat” that terrorized telecom satellite neighborhoods around the globe until it was brought under control late last month. Among those breathing the biggest sigh of relief are the FAA, which is faced with the prospect of purchasing another transponder to ensure sufficient redundancy for its Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) out of its tight budget if the spacecraft cannot be recovered. (1/23)

Sun Provides Earth with Less Energy Than we Thought (Source: Physics World)
Researchers in the US claim to have the most reliable estimates yet of the amount of energy that the Sun provides to Earth – and it is less than previously thought. The findings will give scientists more robust solar data to feed into climate models, though much more work needs to be done to fully understand the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. (1/23)

Looming NASA Funding Fight Creates Stress for Alabama Lawmakers (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA's share of the federal budget is threatened by a furious Washington debate about government spending that is causing headaches for one Alabama lawmaker and could cause headaches for another. A $1.4 billion cut would approach the $1.8 billion NASA hoped to spend this year on the new heavy-lift rocket Congress ordered last year in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. Work on that rocket would be led by Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA officials have said.

One thing NASA has done in the meantime is turn up the heat on one of its biggest critics, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL. Shelby has been criticized for inserting language in an earlier appropriation requiring NASA to keep spending money (up to $500M this year) on the Constellation program until a new budget is passed. Steve Cook isn't buying that NASA is forced to waste a half-billion dollars. If Shelby hadn't assured some continued funding, he said, NASA wouldn't be be able to spend any money on any rocket program right now. And it has plans to spend more than $1 billion in Constellation money this year on work that will translate to the new rocket.

Shelby's offices says NASA can move forward with heavy-lift, because "it was appropriated in previous years as a part of an existing program of record (the Ares V Project of the Constellation Program). It is not a new start and therefore not subject to the restrictions on such activities inherent in a (continuing budget resolution)." "It is noteworthy," a Shelby staffer said,"that NASA headquarters used similar logic to press ahead with a commercial crew program, but chose not to do so for (the heavy-lift vehicle)." (1/23)

Challenging Times Ahead for Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks (Source: Huntsville Times)
For North Alabama's freshman Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, the challenge is balancing his credentials as a budget hawk and a defender of NASA. Brooks says it really isn't that hard. NASA is one government program that brings real value to the American taxpayer, he says, and as soon as NASA and the White House decide what they want to do, he's ready to help.

"I am very happy to help carry the water for NASA and to try my best to get the votes to fund these programs that NASA believes it should be doing for the American people," Brooks said recently, "but NASA is uniquely situated with its expertise to know what those programs ought to be." Brooks may never have to face a choice, some observers think.

If they don't need his vote to pass budget cuts, the House Republican leadership could help preserve Brooks' seat by agreeing to let him vote against them and in favor of NASA. "If they're smart about the political theater," said political science professor Dr. Jess Brown of Athens State University, "they'll cut NASA and let the Republicans from NASA states protest and then put a little back in the budget for them." (1/23)

Dual-Fluid Single-Launch Propellant Depots (Source: Selenian Boondocks)
Back in early 2009, Frank Zegler (of ULA) and I both independently came up with the concept for a LOX/LH2 propellant depot of decent propellant capacity that could be launched on a single Atlas V. The basic idea is pretty simple The end result is that with a Centaur diameter depot LH2 tank, you can store around 30 tons of propellant. It’s a bit on the small side, but enough to fully refuel a Centaur or Delta-IV upper stage in orbit. It has both propellant and oxidizer. It requires no orbital assembly, no EVAs, no new tank tooling, etc.

The depot tank and depot center section together weigh less than 2 tons, so you can actually use the Centaur to deliver a depot like this to anywhere in cislunar space, and with good passive shielding (sun shields etc) to Mars orbit or to a NEO you want to visit. If you have depots in both LEO and at L1 or L2 you get into the range that you can do very interesting things. Click here for details. (1/21)

As China Eyes the Stars, U.S. Watches Warily (Source: Washington Post)
China's grand ambitions extend literally to the moon, with the country now embarked on a multi-pronged program to establish its own global navigational system, launch a space laboratory and put a Chinese astronaut on the moon within the next decade. The Obama administration views space as ripe territory for cooperation with China. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called it one of four potential areas of "strategic dialogue," along with cybersecurity, missile defense and nuclear weapons. And President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao vowed after their White House summit last week to "deepen dialogue and exchanges" in the field.

But as China ramps up its space initiatives, the diplomatic talk of cooperation has so far found little traction. The Chinese leadership has shown scant interest in opening up the most sensitive details of its program, much of which is controlled by the People's Liberation Army (PLA). At the same time, Chinese scientists and space officials say that Washington's wariness of China's intentions in space, as well as U.S. bans on some high-technology exports, makes cooperation problematic. (1/23)

Alien Life Deemed Impossible by Analysis of 500 Planets (Source: Telegraph)
There is no hope of finding alien life in space because conditions on all other planets are too hostile, a leading astronomer has claimed. Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard, made the claim that we are alone in the universe after an analysis of the 500 planets discovered so far showed all were hostile to life. Dr Smith said the extreme conditions found so far on planets discovered outside out Solar System are likely to be the norm, and that the hospitable conditions on Earth could be unique.

“We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” he said. He pointed to stars such as HD10180, which sparked great excitement when it was found to be orbited by a planet of similar size and appearance to Earth. But the similarities turned out to be superficial. The planet lies less than two million miles from its sun, meaning it is roasting hot, stripped of its atmosphere and blasted by radiation. (1/23)

Astronauts' Families Insist Focus be on Learning, Not Loss (Source: Florida Today)
It was a dream come true for Dick Scobee and his wife, June. Their separate careers, his an astronaut, hers a teacher, were intersecting. Dick was about to lead a crew of six as the commander of shuttle Challenger on a flight dubbed the Teacher in Space mission. Among his crew was high school social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space program. With her participation renewing interest in the shuttle program, millions of people, including thousands of students, watched on television as Challenger launched on that bitterly cold Jan. 28 morning.

"Everyone knows how they died and to this day they remember where they were and what they were doing when it happened," June Scobee-Rodgers said via telephone from her home in Chattanooga, Tenn. "It was such a crushing blow to us that these loving people wouldn't be remembered for how they lived. We needed to focus on the positive." June and the family of the other crew members decided that the message of learning -- which had so defined the Teacher in Space mission -- must live on. Twenty-five years later, it has in the form of dozens of Challenger learning centers reaching more than 400,000 students worldwide. (1/23)

The End Of An Era For NASA (Source: International Business Times)
This month NASA issued a report saying it would not likely be able to deliver on a crew-capable orbital vehicle by 2016. Citing budget constraints - "none of the design options studied thus far appeared to be affordable in our present fiscal conditions," it appears that the age of manned space flight in the United States will soon go on hiatus, and possibly end. (1/23)

Update on Mexico’s Space Agency Development (Source: PR Log)
Mexico’s Space Agency is a new division of Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. Mexico’s Space Agency still lacks a Director and a meaningful budget pending the findings of four space policy public forums which finalize next week in Puerto Vallarta. The presenters are jockeying for position to advance their agendas and locations into Mexico’s Space Agency Policies. One of the decisions expected from these forums are the location of Mexico’s Space Agency sites.

The Governor of Jalisco has offered MX$100-million to fund one of the Agency's new sites; other states are also in contention. The anticipated economic benefits to the chosen locations are significant because the Space Agency will attract highly-skilled, high-paying jobs. Mexico’s Space Agency is giving priority to locations with universities, private aerospace industry and research centers nearby.

The main focus of the Puerto Vallarta Forum is to review human resource requirements for Mexico’s Space Agency. The goal of the forum is to match the human skills to the technical requirements of Mexico’s Space Agency’s primary projects and areas of investment. After the Puerto Vallarta Forum there will be a final closed-door forum to consolidate the findings of the four forums. This results forum will take place in March in Mexico City with the objective to create a draft of Mexico’s space policy and development plan to present to legislators for further review, discussion and budget allocation. (1/23)

Space-Based Solar Power Set for 1st Test (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
A team of scientists from several organizations will begin tests this spring on a space-based power generation technology using satellites. The technology would start by generating electricity from sunlight in space, convert the power into microwaves and then send it to Earth, the team said. The planned test will attempt to convert a strong electric current into microwaves and transmit them 10 meters away in a simulated outer space environment at Kyoto University.

The group comprises scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., IHI Corp. and Kyoto University. A successful test would likely accelerate the goal of putting a space-based power generation system into practical use by 2025. Mitsubishi Electric has proposed what it calls the Solarbird project, in which 40 relatively small 200-meter solar power generating satellites would be launched. This could produce 1 million kilowatts of electricity, equivalent to a nuclear power plant.

The key to making the system practical hinges on the efficient conversion of electricity into microwaves. The experiment will be conducted in a room that does not reflect electromagnetic waves to mimic the conditions of space. If the team succeeds in converting a strong electrical current into microwaves and transmitting them about 10 meters, it will then start work on reducing the weight of the power generation equipment and improving the transmission technology. The team hopes to launch a trial satellite sometime after 2016. (1/23)

Whitesides Gives Update on Virgin Galactic (Source: @feff_foust)
Virgin Galactic's George Whitesides says that if the U.S. Government allows the export of the WhiteKnight-2 / SpaceShip-2 system, the first non-U.S. location for Virgin Galactic would be Abu Dhabi. Whitesides also said Virgin Galactic will spend about $500 million before operations begin in 2012, but the company's cash flow will be positive "very quickly" once operations begin, flying about 500 passengers in the first year.

Space Adventures Sells Commercial Lunar Flight (Source: @jeff_foust)
Space Adventures chief Eric Anderson says his company has sold one seat for a circumlunar flight for $150 million. He wouldn't reveal the name of the circumlunar customer other than to say it's a recognizable name. One more commercial seat is available aboard the three-seat Russian-commanded Soyuz spacecraft, which would launch around 2015 if the second seat is sold. Click here for information. (1/23)

Mars 500 Crew Reaches "Mars" (Source: The Independent)
More than 40 years after Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the surface of the moon, the multinational crew of Russia's Mars 500 experiment will finally leave their spaceship in the coming weeks, and venture out – into an adjacent sandpit. The "spaceship" for the simulated journey to Mars is in fact a cylindrical metal pod located in a scientific institute in north Moscow. For the last 233 days the six crew members have been locked inside to simulate the conditions of a trip to Mars.

After their grueling eight-month "journey", the crew will begin their orbit of the Red Planet on 1 February, and will touch down on 12 February. They will step out into the sandpit, meant to simulate the surface of Mars, and perform a number of experiments, before re-entering the capsule for the long journey back to Earth. Click here to read the article. (1/23)

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