February 24, 2011

Southwest Research Institute Buys Six XCOR Lynx Missions (Source: XCOR)
In a first for the reusable suborbital launch vehicle industry, XCOR Aerospace announced that the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a commercial entity, has purchased six suborbital flights to carry SwRI experiments as pathfinder missions for other SwRI suborbital clients. This is the first such contract SwRI has issued, and XCOR is proud to be chosen for this opportunity.

"When someone issues a commercial contract with their own money, this means something," said XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson. "XCOR feels SwRI signing their first contract with us demonstrates the superiority of the Lynx platform over others in the field. We have the ability to fly up to four times a day, quickly perform an experiment and then return it to the customer. In addition, we offer the best price in class versus the competition."

Each of the six flights will include a SwRI trained principal investigator / payload specialist. This group of talented individuals includes Dr. Alan Stern, former NASA Associate Administrator for Science, Dr. Dan Durda, who has campaigned in F-18s and Dr. Cathy Olkin, an experienced SwRI researcher. On these flights, the SwRI principal investigators will perform research using biomedical, microgravity, and astronomy imaging experiments conceived and prepared for flight at SwRI. SwRI has an option to purchase three additional flights at any time, providing more value for the money spent and greater flexibility for experimental research. (2/24)

Russia Postpones GLONASS Launch (Source: SpaceToday.net)
Unspecified technical reasons have postponed the launch of a Russian navigation satellite for 24 hours. A Soyuz-2.1 was scheduled to launch at 10:15 pm EST Wednesday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia and place a GLONASS-K navigation satellite into orbit. That launch has been rescheduled to Friday because of "technical reasons", without elaborating. The launch would be the first for the GLONASS system since three such satellites were lost in a Proton launch failure in December. Russia is working to fully reconstitute its GLONASS satellite constellation, its version of the American GPS satellite navigation system. (2/24)

NASA Glory Launch Postponed Again, to Friday (Source: SpaceToday.net)
The launch of a NASA earth sciences satellite on a Taurus XL was scrubbed early Wednesday because of a technical glitch. The Taurus XL was scheduled to launch at 5:09 am EST (1009 GMT) Wednesday and place NASA's Glory satellite into Sun-synchronous orbit. However, the countdown was stopped several minutes before launch because of an issue with a control console that was providing erroneous readings that controllers were not able to understand and resolve in time for the launch. NASA announced later Wednesday that the next launch attempt would be at the same time on Friday. (2/24)

Sotheby's to Auction Soviet Vostok Space Capsule (Source: RIA Novosti)
Sotheby's auction house announced on Thursday that it will auction a 1961 Soviet space capsule on April 12, the 50th anniversary of the first manned mission to space. The Vostok 3KA-2 spacecraft is the twin of the Vostok 3KA-3, which carried Yuri Gagarin into space. The 3KA-2 model lifted off 20 days before Gagarin's momentous flight carrying a cosmonaut mannequin (Ivan Ivanovich) and a live dog (Zvezdochka, or little star.)

The capsule, which was scorched during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, went on display at the gallery of the auction house on Thursday. It is expected to sell for between $2 million and $10 million, the Associated Press reported. The interior of the space ship, which contained 815 kg of instruments classed as "secret" until 1986, has been stripped for security reasons. The owner of the capsule, who wished to remain anonymous, bought it privately from the Russians years ago and felt the 50th anniversary was an appropriate time to sell. (2/24)

Maui Finds Its Place in Space (Source: Maui Weekly)
Astronomers and other scientists agree that the threat of catastrophic bombardment by natural objects from space is real and that steps need to be taken to meet that threat. Thousands of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are known to exist. At any time, one or more of these objects could emerge as a threat to our planet. “The only way to beat the odds is to locate every possible asteroid or comet that could pose a threat to the Earth,” said David Levy, co-discover of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994.

Exceptionally good observing conditions on Maui attract those who track potential threats to our planet. “Maui is a huge participant in the future space workforce,” said Larry Denneau, a senior software engineer for the PanSTARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System atop Haleakal√§) Moving Object Processing System. “As one of the software architects for the asteroid detection system, I am excited to see PanSTARRS begin to realize its potential as a hazardous asteroid finder, and to see the Maui community involved in discovering and tracking them,” he said. (2/24)

Up to 250 JPL Employees Could Face Layoffs as NASA Deals with Budget Uncertainties (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory plans to lay off an estimated 200 to 250 employees before the end of March as the space agency deals with evolving federal budget constraints, a JPL official said. President Obama's budget proposal calling for keeping NASA's budget flat at about $18.7 billion through fiscal year 2012 and beyond would mean delays in several projects now in the pipeline, while ongoing projects would be fully funded.

"If we can make a small reduction in workforce now we will have enough money to keep going for the remainder of the year," Richard O'Toole, executive manager of JPL's office of legislative affairs, said Wednesday. The decision to lay off up to 250 employees was made about month and a half ago, O'Toole said, in response to ongoing uncertainties in the 2011 budget and had nothing to do with the proposed 2012 budget. (2/24)

NASA on the Defense (Source: AJC)
After President Obama unveiled his budget in 2010, I wrote a blog about how the U.S. space program had been taking its lumps in the Congress. A year later the story is much the same. NASA's Administrator Charles Bolden just doesn't move many on Capitol Hill who are on the fence about funding the agency. A week ago, NASA took its lumps in the GOP budget cutting bill that made it through the House. At first, the GOP shielded the space agency from sizeable cuts, but on the floor both parties joined to change that.

For example, Democrats and Republicans pulled almost $300 million out of NASA and shifted that to grants for local police in the popular COPS program. NASA was lucky that so many Republicans defected during a later vote on $22 billion in extra cuts, because those reductions would have gone across-the-board, and hit the space agency in the chops.

When I started covering the space program in the 1980s, NASA's budget was about 1% of the overall federal budget. Now it is less than one-half of one percent - and threatening to get even smaller. It hasn't helped that American space policy has zigged and zagged among different packages of goals from administration to administration, as the budget slowly increased, but always seemed under siege. (2/24)

List of NASA CCDev Callbacks Grows to Eight (Source: Space News)
NASA is proceeding with plans to award roughly $200 million to companies developing technologies in support of the agency’s commercial space transportation goals. NASA contacted eight companies in February, inviting ATK, Blue Origin, Boeing, Excalibur Almaz, Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and ULA to Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss their proposals for a second round of awards under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. NASA hopes to make the awards in March. (2/24)

Europe's ATV Supply Ship Has Docked with the Space Station (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Europe's second Automated Transfer Vehicle has arrived at the space station with seven tons of fresh supplies, rocket fuel and propellant. The ATV control center is located in Toulouse, France. Engineers in Moscow and Houston supported the ATV arrival. (2/24)

Rep. Adams Packs Room for Talk with Space Coast Residents (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams reiterated her support for continued human spaceflight during a wide-ranging discussion with constituents Wednesday night in Titusville. She said sending astronauts into space should be NASA’s priority, rather than the agency spending $1 billion on climate change research. That comment and others gained the backing of most of the 100 people who packed a county meeting room in Titusville for the event. (2/23)

Texas Man Enters Plea in Hacking of NASA (Source: AP)
A Texas man who prosecutors say hacked into the computer systems of a Minnesota company and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has pleaded to one count of wire fraud. Prosecutors announced that 26-year-old Jeremey Parker of Houston entered his plea on Wednesday. A sentencing date has not been set. In his plea agreement, Park admitted to stealing about $275,000 from a company, and he also admitted that in September 2009 he hacked into two NASA computers that supported oceanographic data being back to Earth from satellites that was available to paying researchers. Parker made the data freely available. NASA spent about $43,000 to repair the damage. (2/23)

Shelton Visits 45th Space Wing (Source: AFSPC)
Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command Commander visited Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Tuesday and Wednesday. This was his first visit since assuming command last month. Gen. Shelton's primary message was about his priorities, which he called "my three No. 1's, because they all equally important". They include: 1) Support the Joint Warfighter; 2) Get control of the cost of space programs; and 3) Normalize and operational cyberspace operations. (2/23)

Hoped-for Space Shuttle Atlantis Flight Now Planned (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA’s hope to fly three more space shuttle flights, including Thursday’s launch of Discovery, now appear close enough to be met that managers are counting on it. Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager for NASA, said that agency budget crunchers are confident they have found the money to launch and fly Atlantis on one extra flight this year.

Until now, NASA had been counting for sure on only two more space shuttle launches: Discovery, plus that of Endeavour as early as April 19. The proposed final mission for Atlantis, known as as STS-135, was sought, but not officially funded. While it still might not be firmly funded, and while NASA’s funding still can change, Moses said NASA now is counting on it. It could launch as early as June 28. (2/23)

Space Buffs Can Blast Off With These Must-Have NASA iPhone and iPad Apps (Source: Appolicious)
With NASA’s long-running space shuttle program winding down in the coming months, interest has peaked in attending one of the last few remaining launches at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Here are a solid set of iOS (iPad/iPhone) titles are a must-have for all serious space buffs, no matter where you’ll be watching these final launches from! Click here. (2/23)

New Mexico’s Bet on Space Tourism Hits a Snag (Source: New York Times)
Somewhere off a dusty road in southern New Mexico sits a hulking horseshoe-crab-shaped structure and a two-mile-long slab of concrete flanked by mesas and mountains. Welcome to Spaceport America, the country’s first facility built specifically for commercial space travel — an endeavor that the state envisioned as the epicenter of a fledgling industry where tourists would pay large sums to take suborbital flights into space.

These days, though, after years of planning and debate, New Mexico’s grand ambitions for Spaceport have come down to earth, its future entwined with the state’s struggling economy. Though more than 400 people have put down flight deposits totaling more than $55 million, it is still not exactly clear when the first flight will launch. Gov. Susana Martinez removed the Spaceport’s supervising board, pushed out its executive director and began a review of the project’s finances, saying the Spaceport needed more robust private investment. Click here to read the article. (2/23)

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