March 11, 2011

Don't Look Up: The Secret Space Plane Is Flying Again (Source: Time)
There's something sinister-looking about an airplane with no windows. If a Predator drone starts buzzing your neighborhood, you can be pretty sure it's not there to make friends. The same is true of a windowless space plane. The shuttle may be a flawed machine, but it's also an oddly friendly one — stub-winged and chubby, with little windows in the front that just beg for the smiling face of a pilot.

Not so the shuttle's new little brother, the 29-ft.-long (8.8 m), 15-ft.-high (4.5 m) Air Force space plane that launched in early March on what's billed as a seven-month mission, having completed an earlier nine-month flight in December. Unmanned and automated, the orbital test vehicle is named — with the marketing zing the military is famous for — the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), and is just a quarter of the size of the shuttle.

A pip-squeak ship like that ought to seem entirely harmless. But there's that opaque name and, yes, that windowless face, and the fact that the Air Force will say precisely nothing about what its job is. Even the place the OTV was built — the Boeing Phantom Works — has the scent of skulduggery about it. Click here to read the article. (3/11)

As Budget Debate Continues, Bolden Says Space Technology Spending Safe (Source: Space Politics)
Earlier this week the Senate rejected dueling FY11 spending bills, including both HR 1, which the House passed last month, as well as an alternative from Senate appropriators. Now it appears that the next step will be another short-term continuing resolution (CR), as the current CR expires next Friday. This CR would run for three weeks and include $6 billion in spending cuts, at least as proposed by House Republicans.

One ongoing concern regarding the budget deliberations has been the lack of funding for the agency’s revamped space technology program. The FY11 budget proposal included over $570 million for space technology, but neither the recent House or Senate bills included any explicit funding for the program. However, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said claims about the demise of the space technology program are unfounded.

“Our understanding is that we have the flexibility to conduct, for the most part, the space technology initiatives we want to do as long as we can go in and communicate with our stakeholders in the Congress and help them understand why we’re putting a priority on this,” he said. That is based, he explained, on the fact that the language in the proposed full-year CRs gives NASA the flexibility to allocate funding within its various accounts, so long as it communicates those plans with Congress. (3/11)

Bolden: Interim Steps Needed to 130 Ton Heavy Lift (Source: Space Politics)
Charles Bolden said he was trying to convince Congress that it’s not feasible for NASA to move ahead directly to a 130-metric-ton launch vehicle for the Space Launch System authorized by Congress. “We’re not going to build a 130-metric-ton heavy-lift vehicle. We can’t,” he said. “We continue to negotiate and discuss with the Congress why that is not necessary.”

The 2010 authorization act requires the initial development of a vehicle capable of carrying 70 to 100 tons into LEO, with later enhancement to 130 tons. The Senate full-year CR, though, suggested that the heavy-lift vehicle “shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons”. (3/11)

Pentagon Told to Expect More Budget Cuts (Source: AIA)
The Senate Budget Committee has warned the Pentagon that it can expect big budget cuts in the future, just as every other agency of the government can expect. The Obama administration ordered the Pentagon to slash $78 billion from the budget over five years in its 2010 budget, and judging from a committee hearing on Thursday, the Pentagon can expect to be asked to make more cuts in the future. (3/11)

NASA Looks to International Space Station for Future Focus (Source: AIA)
As NASA's space shuttle missions wind down, the agency is looking to the International Space Station and commercial research for its future, but it will need cooperation from Capitol Hill. The agency is assuming that Congress will give it enough money, about $600 million, to fly the space shuttle Atlantis on its final mission on June 28, however, if the funds are not approved, the STS-134 crew will fly the final mission on April 19. (3/11)

NASA Drones Test Aerial Refueling at Record-Setting Heights (Source: AIA)
Two drones -- a Northrop Grumman Proteus test aircraft and a NASA Global Hawk, flew as close as 40 feet apart while soaring at 45,000 feet in a record-setting test on Jan. 21. The test was conducted by NASA, Northrop Grumman and DARPA, the Pentagon's agency for defense innovations, to help engineers understand risks as they prepare for the first autonomous aerial refueling of two Global Hawks in 2012. (3/11)

Fueling Team Stays Busy with Cape Rocket Launches (Source: Florida Today)
Brian Fuerman's a busy man these days. For the second time in less than a week, a United Launch Alliance rocket fueled by Fuerman's team will blast off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Delta IV rocket will carry a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. The back-to-back launches have made this a demanding time for Fuerman, ULA's manager of environmental control systems, and his crew. (3/11)

Workers Watch Endeavour's Final Trip to Launch Pad (Source: Florida Today)
Endeavour has completed its final journey to the launch pad. Endeavour rolled out toward its launch pad for the last time Thursday as thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers and their families took in the majestic spectacle. The 18-story spaceship was bathed in powerful xenon floodlights as it crept out of the landmark Vehicle Assembly Building atop a mobile launcher platform and a giant crawler-transporter. (3/11)

Space Team Improves GPS Capability for Warfighters (Source: USAF)
Joint force warfighters around the globe will soon be able to assess real-time and future GPS accuracy, both where they are and where they're going, with a new capability developed by the 2nd Space Operations Squadron's Global Positioning System User Operations team here. The new capability uses the Google Earth software application to display data supplied by the GPS Operations Center for warfighters on the ground in places like Afghanistan.

It jumps way beyond the situational awareness tools warfighters are currently using, said Capt. Bryony Veater, the 2nd SOPS weapons and tactics flight commander. "Right now, users must view slides and other similar forms of displays to extrapolate the scenario they are looking for, whereas this tool lays everything on one viewable screen, " Captain Veater said. "It even displays the terrain warfighters will need to traverse during their operation." The new capability also creates a one-stop shop for ground-force mission planners who are looking for different forms of GPS core data. (3/11)

Polar Ice Melt Accelerating, But Data Flow May Cease (Source: Science)
Data published this week by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and colleagues revealed that Earth's ice sheets are melting at a rate that could mean more than 32 centimeters of global sea level rise by 2050. But scientists say their ability to continue to collect and analyze such data is threatened by the commercial sale of the some data, and the possible failure of a key satellite.

The paper draws upon and compares two techniques for measuring ice mass. The first is the so-called mass-balance method. It utilizes measurements from satellite and airplane images along with data from computer models to calculate the comings and goings of ice and to produce a total flux. The second is the gravity method, which utilizes NASA's GRACE satellite pair to essentially weigh the ice sheets from space.

The two methods validate each other well, the new paper shows, delivering comparable values for total ice loss, rate of loss, and acceleration of loss. When measuring trends, the GRACE data represent a shorter time series and, therefore, offer a larger margin of error. But scientists are worried that both tools are in jeopardy. "We're losing our capability to monitor the ice," says Eric Rignot, a scientist with the University of California, Irvine, and JPL and lead author on the study. (3/11)

Comment Sought on Moving Main Gate of NASA Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: DelMarVaNow)
NASA is seeking comments from the public on its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of potential impacts from proposed improvements at the Wallops Flight Facility main base entrance. NASA is proposing to improve the main base entrance to increase personnel safety and decrease congestion.

From 2006 to 2010, the Facility has seen an increase in traffic from an average of 1,200 vehicles to approximately 3,000 vehicles per day, respectively. In addition, the Facility processed more than 37,600 temporary badges in 2010. This is up from around 15,600 in 2006. (3/11)

Garver Sees Stennis as Role Model (Source: Sun Herald)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver was in South Mississippi on Thursday to reinforce the importance of NASA’s Stennis Space Center and to meet with employees there. “This is a unique facility for the government. It should be fully utilized,” she said. She held up Stennis -- where 20 to 30 percent of the costs are borne by other government agencies and companies -- as an example of how capabilities can be shared. With a flat budget for 2012, NASA is looking for ways to get the most for the taxpayer dollar. (3/11)

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