February 15, 2011

Scientists Excited Over NASA's "Wildly Successful" Comet Flyby (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were ebullient when they revealed findings from Tuesday's Stardust spacecraft encounter with comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft made its closest approach at a distance of about 112 miles, snapping a total of 72 images. NASA scientists last viewed Tempel 1 in 2005, when their Deep Impact spacecraft came in contact with the comet. This time, they're able to view Tempel 1 right after it passed close to the sun.

"The mission is very successful - I would say wildly successful - because we did target the comet exactly as we were trying to," said Ben Clark, a research scientist with the Space Science Institute who was at JPL for the event. "The quality of the data is extremely high and we're finding out several things that are increasing our knowledge of comets - one, how they change, because this is the first time we've had an opportunity to view a comet more than once," Clark said. (2/15)

Rep. Posey Says President's Budget Ignores NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Sunshine News)
Space Coast Congressman Bill Posey, R-FL, says Barack Obama's budget ignores the NASA Authorization bill the president signed into law last year by decreasing funding for the next human spaceflight launch system from $2.6 billion to $1.8 billion and decreased funding for a new crew vehicle from $1.4 billion to $1 billion. NASA officials have complained that the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president asked NASA to do too much with too little for advancing human space flight and the next generation launch vehicle.

“After the administration let NASA flounder for the past two years, a flawed NASA authorization bill was finally agreed to and signed into law. Now the administration is proposing to ignore this law, placing a higher priority on global warming research and making cuts to the next generation launch vehicle,” said Posey. “Over two years ago, the president promised to close the space gap, but now he seems intent on repeating the events that created the space gap in the first place – putting in place a new rocket design and then trying to underfund the effort, ensuring that it will never happen and ceding American leadership in space to China and Russia.” (2/15)

Marshall Space Flight Center Director Says NASA Budget Promotes Legacy (Source: WHNT)
If Congress passes the proposed FY-12 NASA Budget, Marshall Space Flight Center will lead the planning and development of the nation's next heavy lift vehicle. It's called the space launch system. "It fits right into what our capabilities and skills are, and I think continues our legacy," said Marshall Center director Robert Lightfoot. One of the casualties of the proposed budget, however, is a robotic program. "We were going to manage that, but again, that was just a management opportunity, but some of that, we got back through the space launch system activities," said Lightfoot.

Marshall will also staff two offices: the Technology Demonstrations Missions Program Office, where engineers will work on the flight test program, and the Centennial Challenges Program Office, where they'll solve technical problems. If the budget passes, officials say the center stands to lose 50 jobs. (2/15)

Sirius XM Radio Posts a 4th-Quarter Loss (Source: CNBC)
Sirius XM Radio Inc. reported a fourth-quarter net loss, pressured by higher operating expenses and larger losses from debt and credit facilities. The subscriber base rose 8 percent in 2010, but provided a 2011 revenue outlook below Wall Street's view. Sirius XM reported a net loss of $81.4 million for the period ended Dec. 31 compared with net income of $11.8 million a year earlier.

Revenue improved to $735.9 million from $676.2 million, but missed Wall Street's estimate of $738.2 million. The company had 328,789 net subscriber additions in the quarter compared with 257,028 in the year-ago period. Total operating expenses increased to $664.3 million from $592.5 million during the quarter. For the full year, Sirius XM reported net income of $43.1 million, compared with a net loss of $538.2 million in the prior year. (2/15)

Two Embry-Riddle Alumni Launch into Space (Source: ERAU)
Space shuttle Discovery’s final launch will be a landmark event for Embry-Riddle – the first time that two of its alumni will serve together in space. U.S. Air Force Col. B. Alvin Drew Jr. and Nicole P. Stott are assigned as mission specialists on the STS-133 flight to the International Space Station (ISS), the second space flight for both of them. Discovery's launch is currently scheduled for 4:50 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Click here to see a video about the two alumni astronauts. (2/15)

Ariane 5's Mission With The Automated Transfer Vehicle Is Postponed (Source: Space Daily)
Tuesday's Ariane 5 mission with Europe's second Automated Transfer Vehicle has been postponed following a hold during the final countdown at the Spaceport in French Guiana. A "red" indication for the launch site stopped the countdown at just prior to 4 minutes before the scheduled liftoff. The launch has been delayed by 24 hours. (2/15)

Scientists, Telescope Hunt Massive Hidden Object in Space (Source: CNN)
You know how you sometimes can sense that something is present even though you can't see it? Well, astronomers are getting that feeling about a giant, hidden object in space. And when we say giant, we mean GIANT. Evidence is mounting that either a brown dwarf star or a gas giant planet is lurking at the outermost reaches of our solar system, far beyond Pluto.

The theoretical object, dubbed Tyche, is estimated to be four times the size of Jupiter and 15,000 times farther from the sun than Earth. Astrophysicists think data from NASA's infrared space telescope WISE will confirm Tyche's existence and location within two years. The presence of such a massive object in the solar system's far-flung Oort Cloud could explain a barrage of comets from an unexpected direction.

Its 27 million-year orbit could also explain a pattern of mass extinctions on Earth, scientists say. Brown dwarfs are cold "failed" stars; their dimness and lack of heat radiation can make them hard to detect. Gas giants are huge planets – like Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune – that are made up of gases and may lack a solid surface like Earth's. (2/15)

NASA's $18.7-Billion Budget: How Much Do You Contribute? (Source: Life's Little Mysteries)
The Obama Administration just announced a $3.73 trillion FY-2012 budget and $18.7 billion of that will go to NASA. But how much are you, personally, contributing to space exploration? We did the math, and it turns out that a little more than half a penny of every federal tax dollar ends up at NASA. That means that a family with the median household income ($49,777 according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which pays $6,629 of federal taxes, pays the space agency... $33. For the sake of comparison, a median-income family contributes about $1,192 to the military budget. (2/15)

Military Space Budget is Usually Larger Than NASA's (Source: SPACErePORT)
The $18.7 billion proposed by President Obama for NASA in FY-12 is substantially larger than the $10.2 billion proposed for unclassified military space activities. However, the classified portion of DOD's budget--which includes billions in space-related projects--reached over $50 billion in 2009. DOD's non-classified space budget typically rivals NASA's entire budget, and it usually exceeds NASA's budget when classified space programs are included (see these 2008 OMB charts). In FY-05, combined DOD classified and non-classified space spending was budgeted at $19.8 billion, while NASA's budget was about $14 billion. (2/15)

Gates Offers to Reduce DOD Spending to Pass 2011 Budget (Source: AIA)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered to reduce the Department of Defense's 2011 spending request by $8 billion on Monday as he warned of a crisis that could occur if Congress fails to pass an FY-11 Pentagon spending measure. The measure has been stalled for months, and the Department of Defense has been operating under a continuing resolution that limits Pentagon spending to $526 billion. The Pentagon meanwhile unveiled a $671 billion 2012 budget request on Monday. (2/15)

Obama's $671B Defense Budget for 2012 Could Face Battle in Congress (Source: AIA)
President Barack Obama's defense budget plan for 2012 calls for about $671 billion, including $553 billion for the Pentagon's regular operating budget and $118 billion in wartime spending. The plan would represent the first decrease in total defense spending since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and is $37 billion less than the current year's request. However, the plan may have trouble in Congress, where senior lawmakers are opposed to such reductions. (2/15)

White House Proposes Nearly 1% Boost for Homeland Security Budget (Source: AIA)
The U.S. homeland security budget would increase almost 1% under a plan proposed by the White House on Monday. The proposal requests $43.2 billion for homeland security in 2012. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has indicated that it plans to purchase additional body scanners. The request includes funding for the scanners. (2/15)

Sun Erupts With Most Powerful Solar Flare in 4 Years (Source: Space.com)
The sun unleashed its strongest solar flare in four years on Feb. 14, hurling a massive wave of charged particles from electrified gas into space and toward Earth. The solar storm sent a flash of radiation that hit Earth in a matter of minutes. Now a huge cloud of charged particles is headed our way. These coronal mass ejections, as they are called, typically take around 24 hours or more to arrive. They can spark spectacular displays of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, at high latitudes and sometimes even into the northern United States.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation. The mega flare, which registered as a Class X2.2 flare on the scale of solar flares, was the first class X flare to occur in the new solar cycle of activity, which began last year. The sun is now ramping up toward a solar maximum around 2013. (2/15)

Beam Me Up: Could Lasers Launch Rockets? (Source: Discovery)
NASA is looking at an alternative launch technology that uses lasers or microwaves to heat up rocket fuel. The system could launch payloads -- and maybe in the future people -- several times per day. The biggest hurdle to the technology right now is cost. Overcoming gravity is not easy. Conventional rockets are 97 percent fuel and tanks. Even NASA's mighty Saturn 5 moon launchers had just 3 to 5 percent available for payloads.

A new technology under study would use ground-based lasers or microwaves to zap a heat exchanger on the rocket, releasing more energy from the fuel. The heat exchanger works like a hot plate, spiking the temperature of the fuel to more than 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,704 degrees Celsius), which significantly increases the rocket's thrust. Startup costs to build the ground facility would be high, but supporters say overall launch costs would be sharply reduced. (2/15)

Yanukovych Promises Support to Ukrainian Space Rocket Projects (Source: Interfax)
The Ukrainian space rocket technologies have good prospects, and the state will support this industry, said President Viktor Yanukovych. "We plan to step up [the development of] this sector significantly," Yanukovych said on Tuesday. The government is working to ensure "the organizational and financial implementation" of the most significant programs in Ukraine's space rocket sector, including those involving international cooperation, he said.

In particular, the president mentioned such projects as the building of the Cyclone-4 space rocket system at the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil, the Dnepr space rocket system to carry research satellites into space from the Baikonur space center and from the pads of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) Yasnenskaya rocket division, and the new Ukrainian multifunctional missile system Sapsan. (2/15)

Lawmakers Push to Cut NASA Climate Funding, Boost Manned Space Flight (Source: Utah News)
Two Utah Republicans joined four House colleagues last week in a letter that said the $1.4 billion used for climate satellites and related NASA research should be spent instead on the manned space flight program, which Bishop said in a news release was “the purpose for which the agency was originally created.”

“Limited resources force us to make important decisions with regard to the objectives of all federal departments and agencies, including NASA,” said Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL). “NASA’s primary purpose is human space exploration, and directing NASA funds to study global warming undermines our ability to maintain our competitive edge in human space flight.” (2/15)

Commercial Space Proponents Hail Obama's NASA Budget (Source: Sunshine State News)
Though flat, the Obama administration's $18.7 billion NASA budget is "good news for Florida and the nation," says Space Florida chief Frank DiBello. The president's spending plan includes "a more significant commitment to the commercial crew program in the near term. That means we can get back to flying sooner than any other alternative that's out there," DiBello said.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation also hailed what it called "strong support for commercial spaceflight" in the FY-12 proposal. “In this constrained fiscal environment, commercial spaceflight is more important than ever. NASA’s commercial crew program will result in significant savings to the U.S. taxpayer, and will cut the amount of money the nation has been sending to Russia every year," said CSF President Bretton Alexander.

DiBello said the White House's budget plan "reflects a more emphatic endorsement of commercial crew and commercial cargo to support the International Space Station in the near term." DiBello believes that's good news for Florida, which is recruiting commercial-launch ventures to locate at Cape Canaveral. This month, Space Florida signed a memorandum of understanding with Bigelow Aerospace, which intends to launch its first Orbital Space Complex from the Cape in 2014. (2/15)

Florida Officials React to NASA Budget Proposal (Source: Florida Today)
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL): "Not only does the president's budget lead us further into debt, it is misguided in its approach, increasing funding for climate change research instead of programs that create jobs like human spaceflight. This further highlights his inability to adequately address what the country's economic priorities should be."

Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL): "The president promised to close the space gap, but now he seems intent on repeating the events that created the space gap in the first place -- putting in place a new rocket design and then trying to underfund the effort, ensuring that it will never happen and ceding American leadership in space to China and Russia."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL): "In this time of necessary budget cuts, NASA does well compared to most other agencies. But the president's budget does not follow the bipartisan NASA law Congress passed late last year. The Congress will assert its priorities in the next six months."

Obama Budget Spares NASA, Ames Research Center (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
President Obama's budget proposal leaves NASA and NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View virtually intact. $755 million would be provided for the Ames center. The Ames budget hasn't grown since 2008, but the center stands to gain in the coming fiscal year from an additional $900 million in high-technology research for other federal agencies like the Defense and Energy departments, said Simon P. (Pete) Worden, the center's director. (2/15)

KSC's Cabana Sees No Huge Programs (Source: Florida Today)
With a dramatically smaller workforce, Kennedy Space Center in 2012 will begin preparing for life after the shuttle under the president's proposed $18.7 billion NASA budget. Center Director Bob Cabana said he expects a combined contractor and civil service workforce of about 8,500 next year, down from about 13,000 now and 15,000 two years ago.

After three more shuttle missions planned this year, Cabana said KSC would begin to lay the groundwork for a future that should be less dependent on a single program like the shuttle or Apollo. "Are we going to build up to some huge program again?" he said. "I don't see that happening. I think our challenge is to provide diversity in the work that comes here to the Kennedy Space Center." (2/15)

Budget Reshapes KSC Modernization Plan, Adds Commercial Crew/Cargo Office (Source: Florida Today)
Under President Obama's FY-12 NASA budget proposal, KSC in 2012 would begin a long-term effort to modernize its launch infrastructure for new rockets and spacecraft, but with much less money than hoped. A program to transform KSC into a "21st Century launch complex" would spend $128 million in 2012 and about $470 million over five years. That's down from the $500 million in 2012 and $1.9 billion overall that President Barack Obama recommended last year. Next year's total, however, would roughly double when including money dedicated for the heavy-lift rocket project.

Cabana said work would likely continue on KSC's two launch pads, one of which is already being dismantled, and the center's gates could be moved to allow construction of a research and development park outside them. Kennedy is expected to serve as the home for the program that will manage flights by NASA crews and cargo on commercial rockets that are still in development, for which the budget proposes $850 million next year. (2/15)

NASA Glenn Research Center to Receive Budget Increase in Fiscal 2012 (Source: Crain's Cleveland Business)
NASA Glenn Research Center will receive $100 million more in fiscal 2012 than it received in fiscal 2010 if Congress passes the NASA budget proposed by the Obama administration. The center's budget would increase to $809 million in fiscal 2012, which begins on Oct. 1. That's up from $707 million in fiscal 2010. NASA Glenn fared better than the rest of the federal agency. Most of the increase in the proposed budget for NASA Glenn can be attributed to a category called Space Technology, a relatively new category focused on the development of technology for deep space exploration. NASA Glenn also received an increase in its aeronautics budget. (2/14)

NASA Langley Could Get $927 Million (Source: DailyPress.com)
NASA Langley Research Center would receive a huge boost under the Obama administration's 2012 budget, but don't expect more jobs in Hampton Roads. The $18.7 billion spending plan, outlined Monday by NASA brass, would direct $927 million to Langley, a 32 percent increase from the facility's $700 million budget in 2010. The windfall is due in large part to Langley's evolving role in space technology development, a field growing at the expense of the agency's decision to scale back its human spaceflight program.

Pending Congressional approval, Langley will direct the agency's "Game Changing Technology Development" program, the middle of a three-tiered system that focuses on research and development. Langley Director Lesa Roe said some of the program's roughly $200 million will remain in-house but most will be awarded to industry, academia, and other government agencies. (2/14)

NASA Proposes Group to Manage Research on Space Station (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The White House's proposed 2012 NASA budget envisions taking outsourcing to new heights: it calls for setting up an independent, non-profit organization that eventually would coordinate and oversee all research conducted on the international space station. The concept is part of NASA's $18.7 billion budget request, which also scales back by roughly $1.5 billion what the Obama administration projected last year for NASA.

In what appears to be the biggest departure from previous White House policy pronouncements, the budget documents describe a transition from building the space station to using it as the primary platform for research by NASA as well as a wide range of academic, corporate and international entities. Under the plan, NASA itself gradually would lose control over the types of research and the specific researchers authorized to use the space station

To "coordinate and oversee" such disparate research agendas, in 2012 NASA intends to set up and contract with a new, independent organization that in the beginning would be responsible for screening, approving and supervising all outside scientific endeavors on the space station. But as NASA's own research offices complete their projects, the plan envisions the independent reviewers gaining sole authority to make decisions about extending or renewing any research effort. (2/14)

Martinez Pushes Private Funds for New Mexico Spaceport (Source: Cibola Beacon)
Gov. Susana Martinez, in announcing her appointments to the Spaceport Authority Board of Directors, once again stressed that the project in southern New Mexico should be completed by private funding. “New Mexico's taxpayers have made a significant investment in the Spaceport project. It's time to see the project through to completion by bringing in private funding.” (2/14)

NASA Largely Spared Big Cuts in Obama Budget (Source: National Journal)
President Obama’s controversial vision for America’s space program may have already come face to face with fiscal reality. NASA largely dodged major cuts under his proposed budget released today, but the plan reveals some significant reallocation of funds and doesn’t appear to include any of the $6 billion boost that he promised to provide over five years.

The question now is how Obama’s NASA plan will fare in the budget-slashing frenzy in Congress, where House Republicans have called for a $379 million cut for the space agency’s budget. However, politicians traditionally have been loathe to cut the jobs the space program provides, a concern that crosses party lines.

On February 4, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sent a letter to Obama in which he urged the president to preserve the compromises worked out last year. So far it appears that Obama has heeded that call. The test now becomes whether Congress will, too. (2/14)

Pentagon Seeks To Boost Spending on EELV Rockets (Source: Space News)
The White House is seeking $10.2 billion for unclassified military space activities in 2012, a figure that represents a 3 percent increase over the 2011 request driven by what would be a major funding boost for the Pentagon’s primary launch vehicle program. The Air Force is seeking $1.76 billion for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program next year, some $450 million more than the service estimated it would need in the budget blueprint it sent to Congress one year ago.

According to the budget documents, the EELV increase would enable the Air Force to purchase four new rockets during 2012. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted recently that funding for the program would be increased to, among other things, help stabilize the U.S. launch vehicle industrial base. The Air Force’s 2010 EELV budget is $1.14 billion, and the service requested $1.18 billion in 2011. Those budgets were designed to support the purchase of three rockets in each of those years, the documents said. (2/14)

NOAA's Request Includes $1B for Joint Polar Satellite System (Source: Space News)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is requesting $1.07 billion for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) in its 2012 budget request to Congress. If approved, that money would help program officials trim some, but not all, of what is projected to be a 12 to 14 month delay in the production of the first two weather satellites which agency officials originally planned to launch in 2014 and 2018, NOAA officials said. (2/14)

NASA Still Being Torn Between Commercial Space and Its Own Rockets (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As has been the case for some time, NASA is being asked to straddle a fence and support both commercial access to low-Earth orbit and build its own fleet of new space vehicles. In this budget environment, however, there's just not enough money to do both. In the President's proposed budget, NASA would spend $850 million on commercial crew services, but just $2.8 billion on a new NASA rocket and crew vehicle.

A key point to consider is that NASA believes it cannot build the rocket and crew capsule the Senate wants with the budget the Senate bill provided. So the President's budget bill, providing less money still for NASA rockets, means that the development of a heavy lift vehicle would be delayed for some time, probably late in this decade at least. Anyway, the table is now set for further wrangling as NASA continues to walk the line between a firm commitment to supporting commercial space development or trying yet again to build a new generation of rockets, but perhaps not getting to either destination. (2/14)

Climate Science, Asteroid Detection Big Winners in NASA Budget (Source: Science)
In the NASA budget details are significant winners and losers. Earth science would grow from $1.439 billion to $1.797 billion in 2012, though House Republicans are sure to attack a program focused on understanding global change. Funds for near-Earth object observations would quadruple to $20.4 million. And NASA Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson said the agency will kill a dark-energy mission in the hope that it can collaborate more cheaply with the European Space Agency. She added that details on how the agency will fund a massive cost overrun in the James Webb Space Telescope won't be ready until this summer. (2/14)

No comments: