March 23, 2011

Sandy Adams Asks NASA to House Retired Shuttle at KSC (Source: Sunshine State News)
With only two more space shuttle flights scheduled before the program is terminated, a congresswoman from Florida turned up the heat this week on NASA administrators as the Sunshine State dukes it out with other locations to house the retired orbiters. Freshman Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams sent a letter on Tuesday to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, asking for one of the retired orbiters to be housed at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

“From the very beginning of the shuttle era at NASA, Kennedy Space Center has been the epicenter for shuttle activity,” argued Adams in the letter. “Florida celebrates the victories and mourns the losses at NASA as a family,” continued Adams as she reviewed the program. “We all mourned the loss of the seven brave souls aboard the space shuttle Challenger in January of 1986."

Adams asked that Bolden remember the role Florida played in the shuttle program and house a retired orbiter at KSC. "I urge you to consider the important role the people of Florida have played in this era of exploration and adventure, and that you choose to house one of the shuttles at the KSC complex,” wrote Adams. “I ask that you remember the sacrifices NASA astronauts and workers have made, the families who are being affected by the new direction at NASA, and all of the people whose lives will be forever changed as we move forward to the next chapter in NASA’s mission.” (3/23)

The British are Coming! … To the Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A British trade delegation will make its way to the Space Coast next week and plans to discuss ways in which the nation that used to own Florida can foster commercial space flight together. Gov. Rick Scott met with the U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. Nigel Sheinwald in Tallahassee on Wednesday to talk about potential trade opportunities. “We want to make sure there are opportunities in the years and decades to come,” the ambassador said.

Sheinwald addressed the Florida Senate, where he announced the Space Coast trip and briefed senators on the “austerity measures” and tax increases his country was imposing in order to balance its own budget. He also referenced his nation’s investment in high-speed rail as one way the country was trying to generate jobs — a reference that probably didn’t sit well with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who supported rail before he was against it. (3/23)

Space Movie Would Send Renegade NASA Employees to the Moon (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
Doug Liman's untitled Moon project at Paramount may be getting back in orbit. Liman set up the film project, at one time known as Luna, at DreamWorks back in 2007, after which it migrated to Paramount. Jake Gyllenhaal remained attached at both homes. The story centers on a renegade group of former space employees, led by an Eastern European woman, who travel the world, stealing space equipment in an attempt to go back to the moon to acquire an energy source. The last item to steal -- or in this case, kidnap -- is an ex-NASA employee. (3/22)

Plutonium Concerns Addressed for Upcoming Rocket Launch (Source: CFNews13)
NASA and Brevard County emergency leaders are launching a campaign to reassure the public steps are being taken to make an upcoming rocket launch as safe as possible. It's not your typical payload. On board the Atlas V is the next Mars rover. The 9-foot-long, nearly 2,000-pound rover is powered by plutonium. There is concern radiation could be released should the rocket explode over Florida's East Coast. Officials briefed Brevard County Commissioners about the upcoming launch Tuesday morning.

A multiagency safety team, including the EPA and FEMA, will be on site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the launch. A nuclear power source is being used to travel the great distance to Mars and last throughout its two-year mission. Officials said there's a 96 percent chance of a successful launch, and only a .2 percent chance of a plutonium release in the launch area in the event of a failure. They said people in that area could be exposed to radiation doses less than a dental X-ray. (3/23)

Canada to Review Aerospace Policy and Programs (Source:
Canada's Harper administration released its 2011 budget, followed by statements from all three opposition parties that they would not support it in its current form. This has led to speculation the government will fall and trigger an election for either May 2 or May 9. One key item in the budget, should it go forward, is a comprehensive review of aerospace policy and programs.

This appears to be a significant change in attitude by the government. A Long Term Space Plan developed by the Canadian Space Agency after consultations with other government departments, academia and industry, has been shelved for several years now waiting for approval. As well, a new military space policy which was to be released in January also had not been approved. And recently industry has been complaining that there was not enough funding for R&D.

Now, it appears the government is willing to listen and at least do a comprehensive review of the whole aerospace sector including the space sector and Department of Defense space initiatives. In so doing the government says it aims to develop a new federal policy framework to support these sectors and benefit Canadians. (3/23)

Study: Wallops Impact Set at $400 Million (Source: DelMarVaNow)
A new study says government and business operations at Wallops Island have an economic impact of nearly $400 million, including almost $200 million in the lower Eastern Shore region -- comprised of Accomack and Northampton counties in Virginia and Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties in Maryland.

Accomack County alone receives around $78 million in value from Wallops, according to the report, which also says business and government activities at Wallops support 1,206 jobs in the county and a total of 2,341 jobs in the region, plus another 704 outside the area. Additionally, the impact on tax revenue is $2.6 million a year in state and local taxes and $2.3 million in federal taxes. (3/23)

Learn About Future Space Missions at UCF Town Hall Meeting (Source: UCF)
The University of Central Florida is hosting a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 31, about NASA’s planetary missions in the next decade. The public meeting is sponsored by the National Research Council, which just completed the Decadal Survey 2013-2022 for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in room 102 of the Engineering II Building on UCF’s East Orlando campus. (3/23)

Sen. Udall Touts Dream Chaser Space Vehicle Developed in Colorado (Source: Daily Camera)
Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp. is positioning itself to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station after NASA's space shuttle program ends later this year. Company officials hope to have the Dream Chaser Orbital Space Vehicle, which began development in 2005, operational in 2014 to ferry crews and cargo to and from the International Space Station.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) toured Sierra Nevada and the new space vehicle Tuesday as part of his Colorado Workforce tour, then led a town hall-style discussion with about 150 employees. "I'm here to be an advocate for the Colorado aerospace industry," Udall said. "We're going to be subject to buying seats from the Russians at $63 million a seat. That will quickly add up."

Udall noted that the company, with no debt, is "very well positioned" to make investments on projects like this. Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada said the company has put tens of millions of dollars into the Dream Chaser and also received funding of $20 million from NASA last year. Sierra Nevada partnered with aerospace engineering students from the University of Colorado in building the model craft and flew it in December in the Mojave Desert. (3/23)

Houston Delegation Presses President Obama on Retired Shuttle (Source: Houston Chronicle)
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and other members of the Texas Congressional Delegation are pressing President Obama to ensure that Houston, the home of human spaceflight, obtains a retired orbiter. Click here to see a copy of their letter to the President. (3/23)

Brown Dwarf a Cool as Coffee Found (Source: MSNBC)
Astronomers have found a star that's only as hot as a cup of coffee, making it a candidate for the coldest star known. That is, assuming it's a star. While a cup of coffee may sound hot — the newly discovered object is about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) — our sun is about 10,000 degrees F (5,500 degrees C). So, by comparison, it really is quite cold.

The object is considered a brown dwarf, a cosmic misfit that's cold enough to blur the lines between small cold stars and big hot planets. Astronomers consider brown dwarfs failed stars because they lack the mass and gravity to trigger the nuclear reactions that make stars shine brightly. The newly discovered brown dwarf, identified as CFBDSIR 1458+10B, is the dimmer member of a binary brown dwarf system located about 75 light-years from Earth. (3/23)

Weird Saturn Radio Signals Puzzle Astronomers (Source:
Saturn is sending astronomers mixed signals — radio signals, that is. NASA's Cassini spacecraft recently found that the natural radio wave signals coming from the giant planet differ in the northern and southern hemispheres, a split that can affect how scientists measure the length of a Saturn day. But the weirdness doesn't stop there, researchers say. The signal variations — which are controlled by the planet's rotation — also change dramatically over time, apparently in sync with the Saturnian seasons. (3/23)

France To Invest $710 Million in Space Competitiveness (Source: Space News)
The French government announced four launch vehicle and satellite projects that will receive a combined $710 million in state aid designed to spur innovation. The four projects are a next-generation rocket to succeed today’s Ariane 5 and Europeanized Soyuz vehicles; an ocean-altimetry satellite mission with the U.S.; an upgraded multimission microsatellite platform; and investment in new telecommunications satellite technologies to keep French industry competitive on the world marketplace. (3/23)

Space Shuttle: Stunning Success or Dismal Failure? (Source: Foreign Policy)
NASA and amateur space enthusiasts portray the Shuttle program as a resounding success, but a more sober appraisal of the program's impact leads to a much less favorable verdict. The Space Shuttle was expected to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space for a multitude of missions. It never came close to achieving this goal. In retrospect the goal proved impossible due to high refurbishment costs, program delays, and the inappropriate use of humans where robots would have been better.

It is difficult to estimate the overall direct and indirect cost of the Space Shuttle program, but it must be well over $100 billion. As these overruns occurred, funds to pay for them were extracted from the science projects the Shuttle was intended to support. Costs of science experiments launched by the Shuttle were also inflated by the need to certify the instruments as "man rated." Even such unique feats as repairing the Hubble Space Telescope seem less meritorious when one realizes that the repair mission expense was $1 billion and put astronauts lives at risk. That same $1 billion could have been used to build and launch a new Space Telescope. (3/23)

The Crowded Skies (Source: MIT Technology Review)
Spaceports are being built around the U.S. to facilitate a wave of space tourists, with six nonfederal spaceports already licensed in locations including New Mexico and Oklahoma. From these ports, companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin plan to operate spacecraft that will provide tourists with at least a peek above the atmosphere. That is causing a headache for the FAA, which has to figure out how to integrate space flights into the national air traffic control system.

The problem is that pilots launching into space or returning home cannot make sudden changes in their craft's altitude and direction in response to an air traffic controller: after an initial rocket boost, most designs are unpowered, gliding or parachuting back to Earth. To avoid the potential for disaster, these flights have been conducted in "sterile airspace," which establishes a zone from which other aircraft are forbidden.

To date, because space launches are relatively infrequent, it has been possible to establish these zones as needed. But daily flights from multiple locations will necessitate a more systematic approach. The FAA began thinking about this issue in the late 1990s, and last August it established an industry-academic-government Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation to develop new air traffic control rules (and settle other regulatory issues) for the commercial space industry. (3/23)

Moscow Reopens for Space Tourism (Source: MIT Technology Review)
The era of space tourism began in 2001, when the American multimillionaire Dennis Tito bought a ticket to the International Space Station aboard a three-person Russian Soyuz craft. Other private space travelers followed, but these trips were halted in 2009: the expansion of the station's crew from three to six required that all Soyuz seats be reserved for crew members. However, the larger crew meant Russia had to expand its production capacity so it could launch four, rather than two, Soyuz spacecraft annually.

In fact, with current capacity a fifth vehicle could be fabricated per year, if a customer willing to pay for the entire spacecraft shows up. These vehicles are the latest "digital Soyuz" model, which can be flown by a single professional cosmonaut, leaving room for two paying passengers—twice as many as previously. After fruitless negotiations last year with current station partners as well as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, India, and Malaysia, the Russians kicked off 2011 by signing a contract with Space Adventures, the firm that had managed the earlier tourist flights, to begin offering seats on the extra Soyuz in 2013. (3/23)

Florida Students Prepare Launch for Rocketry Challenge (Source: AIA)
A group of eighth-graders from Kirby-Smith Middle School Challenger Learning Center, in Jacksonville, Fla., is working to build a rocket for its fifth year in the national Team America Rocketry Challenge. The competition is the largest model rocket competition in the world, with as many as 600 teams vying in May to represent the U.S. and attend the Paris International Air Show in the summer. (3/23)

Air Force Launches $250 Million Reusable Booster Initiative (Source: Dayton Business Journal)
A new $250 million U.S. Air Force program to develop a reusable booster system for space flights has been launched from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Air Vehicles Directorate, which is based at Wright-Patt, issued the request for proposals on Monday.

Officials anticipate awarding up to three contracts for the project, where winners would compete for individual tasks of experiments and demonstrations that address technology, processes and other attributes of a reusable booster system, or RBS. Air Force officials envision an RBS that includes a reusable rocket and an expendable upper stage rocket. The reusable rocket would be launched vertically and return, landing aircraft style on a runway, after carrying the space craft to a point where the expendable rocket could take over. (3/23)

Construction of Spaceport Unit Will Resume (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Construction of an aircraft rescue and firefighting building at Spaceport America, stalled since November, is scheduled to resume. The Spaceport Authority’s former executive director, Rick Homans, halted work on the $2.9 million building because of concerns about how the first-floor space would be used and whether it was sufficient to meet the needs of future tenants. The project had been launched by Homans’ predecessor Steve Landeene. New Spaceport Authority chief Christine Anderson has lifted the stop-work order after determining “that the original design was fine and we would move forward.” (3/23)

European States Finally Agree to Space Station Extension (Source:
European Space Agency member states agreed last week to continue their involvement in the International Space Station program through 2020, but the nations will re-evaluate funding at the next space ministers' meeting in 2012. ESA member states participating in the space station program committed 550 million euros, or about $777 million to cover their share of the outpost's exploitation program until the next ministerial council meets in 2012. (3/23)

Would a Human Spaceflight Decadal Survey be Useful? (Source: Space Politics)
Tucked away in last year’s NASA authorization act is a provision for a National Academies study on human spaceflight. The study’s scope, timeframe, and use of the National Academies has caused many people to liken this to the decadal surveys used in various space science disciplines. But would such a study be effective? “Part of the problem, the reason why we’ve been going around and around and around, is that we have not been forced to reach a consensus” on the goals of human spaceflight, said NASA’s Phil McAlister.

“This is why I believe in this Academies-like study that will allow the human spaceflight community to come together, like the science community has done for years and years, effectively,” said McAlister. But Marcia Smith, who previously worked at the National Academies, is more skeptical. Given the human spaceflight community's diverse interests, she doesn't believe a consensus position can be reached. McAlister still believes a decadal survey, as imperfect as it might be, would be better than the current state of affairs. “I don’t see any plan for getting this community together that even has a hope or a chance as good as the decadal,” he said.

Editor's Note: McAlister served as NASA's chief staff member supporting the Augustine Panel. There was high hope that the Augustine Panel's final report would bring the human spaceflight community to a consensus position on a future direction for human space exploration. It did not. I agree that an independent--perhaps even international--review would be better than our present situation. (3/23)

UK Space Given Budget Boost (Source: BBC)
The Chancellor George Osborne has promised regulatory change and some extra money to help boost the competitiveness of the UK space sector, which is growing at about 10% a year. £10m will go to fund new technologies used in spacecraft systems. Mr Osborne has also signaled changes to the Outer Space Act. These reforms are designed to lower the sector's insurance costs and to make it easier for future space tourism companies to operate out of the UK.

The government says it has recognized the success the British space sector has achieved in recent years and wants to offer it further support to maintain and grow its global market position. Annual turnover is worth some £7.5bn, and employment is rising at about 15% a year. The best performing areas are in so-called downstream activities - services such as satellite broadcasting and telecommunications. But even the upstream sector - such as satellite manufacturing - has been performing well, averaging annual growth of 3% over the period 2006/07 to 2008/09. (3/23)

Mikulski Touts Wallops Island as Primary East Coast Spaceport (Sources: WMDT,
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chairwoman of the subcommittee responsible for NASA appropriations, was on hand at Wallops Island this week for the opening of a new rocket processing facility. "With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in Florida, this becomes THE East Coast space port," she said, adding: "Wallops really packs a wallop." The new building, at 250 feet long, 150 feet wide and 60 feet high, dominates the Wallops Island skyline. It was built in 16 months and has space to assemble two Taurus II rockets simultaneously. Click here for a video. (3/23)

UCF Professor Aids Students to Launch Experiment Into Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
UCF students are aiming for the stars, literally. With the help of one professor, students prepare to launch their experiment aboard a rocket to learn the initial process of planet formation. Blue Origin, a privately owned rocket company, is sponsoring up to six experiments to fly aboard its space vehicle, New Shepard. The company selected three proposals, one of which was from Joshua Colwell, a UCF physics professor. There are currently six undergraduate students and two graduate students working on the experiment.

According to Colwell, Collide 3 is the name of the experiment. It is a continuation of Collide 1 and Collide 2, which flew on the space shuttle program in the late 90s. Colwell decided to make three replicas of the experiment, each with different parameters to test the outcome of the study. Colwell said the experiment is as simple as dropping marbles into sand.

The experiment will automatically be set off by a motorized arm that will drop a marble onto a pool of sand. This will be done at very low velocity and will simulate what happens when particles collide in space. There is a camera in each box that will record what happens so the film can be analyzed once the rocket returns to Earth. (3/22)

Iran Claims They've Built A 'Flying Saucer' (Source: Daily Mail)
It's not clear how far or how high it can fly – or even how big it is and what makes it take off. But an aircraft created by scientists in Iran is, they claim, the world’s first flying saucer. Called the Zohal - or Saturn in English - it said the unmanned spaceship is designed for 'aerial imaging' but added it can be used for 'various missions'. The hardline Fars news agency illustrated its story with a photo of a flying saucer, akin to one appearing in a 1950s Hollywood B-movie, hovering over an unidentified wooded landscape.

The reports gave no indication of the spaceship’s size. But they indicated it was small by claiming, somewhat bizarrely, that it can also fly indoors. Iran, which prides itself on its 2,500 year-old civilisation, is also keen to show that it is at the cutting edge of modern science. Tehran’s ambitious space programme alarms the West because the same technology used to send missiles into space can be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles. (3/22)

NASA Ames Wins Agency Awards for Inventions (Source:
NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has won two agency awards: the 2010 Government Invention of the Year Award and the 2010 Commercial Invention of the Year Award. Ames received the Government Invention Award for developing the Future ATM (Air Traffic Management) Concepts Evaluation Tool, or FACET, software that creates simulations for managing air traffic scenarios.

"As the world's population grows and air travel demand increases, our airspace will become more crowded," said Banavar Sridhar, NASA senior scientist for Air Transportation Systems. "FACET helps air traffic management researchers find ways to increase airspace capacity and establish more efficient routes with the least impact on the environment, thereby saving fuel and minimizing emissions." (3/22)

The Importance Of Being Magnetized (Source: Space Daily)
Our nearest planetary neighbors, Mars and Venus, have no oceans or lakes or rivers. Some researchers have speculated that they were blown dry by the solar wind, and that our Earth escaped this fate because its strong magnetic field deflects the wind. However, a debate has arisen over whether a magnetic field is any kind of shield at all.

The controversy stems from recent observations that show Mars and Venus are losing oxygen ions from their atmospheres into space at about the same rate as Earth. This came as something of a surprise, since only Earth has a strong dipolar magnetic field that can prevent solar wind particles from slamming into the upper atmosphere and directly stripping away ions. (3/23)

Loral to Provide Broadcast Satellite for Australia, New Zealand (Source: Space Daily)
Loral has announced that it has been awarded a contract to manufacture a spacecraft for Australian telecommunications service provider, SingTel Optus. The satellite, Optus 10, will be used to augment the existing fleet of SingTel Optus satellites and to assure the highest level of ongoing service into the future. Optus 10 is planned to be launched in 2013. (3/23)

A Mix of NASA and Private Sector Astronauts (Source:
Of necessity, NASA is in the process of moving toward a model of paying for services and data, rather than maintaining and operating its own spaceships. That means contractor astronauts will increasingly work with government employee astronauts, and the line will become increasingly blurred. Very likely Reisman, Bowersox, and the other astros moving into the private sector will still visit Space Station, but they will collect checks from their private sector employers rather than the government. I can also foresee a day in the not-to-distant future when NASA will act as supplier to the private sector as well as customer, for instance hiring out its astronaut training facilities to private companies. (3/22)

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