March 25, 2011

Editorial: Send the Space-Bureaucrats to Mars (Source: Mass. Daily Collegian)
As the space shuttle Discovery is decommissioned and retired from service, it is time to rethink the role that our government has to play in the future of space exploration. The reason for this is that it is necessary to contemplate whether the resources that have been and will be allocated to the space program has been worth the output it has produced. Despite all of the praise that has been heaped on NASA for the past decades, it is clear that its output is the subject of hype and that it has also been an organization that has been imprudent in its utilization of resources.

If there is to be future progress in space exploration, then what needs to happen is not sending highly specialized, billion-dollar missions into space for the curiosity of scientists and welfare for the aerospace industry. Instead, what must happen is a dramatic decrease in the costs in order for mankind to have any future in space and this is a task of economizing resources that is best left to the free market.

Eventually, all talk about NASA and the future role of government in space exploration must come down to a judgment regarding whether a bureaucracy put in place by the government is the best means of attaining the ends desired. Here, there can be only an unequivocal answer: no. (3/25)

How to Dress for Space Travel (Source: Science Friday)
Of the suit he wore on the moon, Neil Armstrong wrote, “it was tough, reliable, and almost cuddly.” But that cuddly suit, made by the company Playtex, had some stiff competition (literally) from rival rigid, metal designs. This video features archival NASA footage of mobility tests for several spacesuit prototypes. Armstrong's suit was one of the most technologically advanced outfits ever created. Nicholas de Monchaux, author of the book Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo talks about the surprising history and iconic design of the Apollo 11 spacesuit. Click here. (3/25)

DoD Mulls Commercial Bandwidth Investment (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is considering a long-term investment in commercial Ku- and Ka-band satellite communications capabilities to serve users in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, according to a March 15 request for information on the Federal Business Opportunities website. The goal of the potential program is to reduce the cost of satellite communications in the region; the agency would budget about $440 million for the service, which would have to be available by the end of 2014. (3/25)

Justice, Commerce Departments Seen as Possible Source of Extra Funding for NASA (Source: Space News)
Congressional appropriators could tap the funding accounts of the U.S. departments of Commerce and Justice to help cover what some see as a $1 billion shortfall in NASA’s $18.7 billion spending plan for 2012, which allocates less money for a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule than Congress directed last year.

“There’s over a billion-dollar difference between the budget request and the authorized levels in [20]12 for the launch system and the crew vehicle, and now that falls squarely back on the shoulders of [the appropriations committees] to try and figure out where to come up with that money,” said a panelist at a March 23 Women in Aerospace (WIA) breakfast on Capitol Hill. (3/25)

Orbcomm Plans Different Orbit for Next-Generation Satellites (Source: Space News)
Satellite two-way messaging and machine-to-machine (M2M) services provider Orbcomm will send its second-generation constellation of satellites into a different orbit from the first generation to provide better coverage of Canada, northern Europe and other high-latitude regions, Orbcomm's CEO said. Orbcomm's 18 second-generation satellites are scheduled to be launched starting this year. (3/25)

Neck & Neck Race To Be First In Tracking Ships From Space (Source: Space News)
Com Dev of Canada and Orbcomm of the U.S. are racing each other to launch satellites this year to establish position in what both believe will be a large and profitable new business in providing satellite-based ship monitoring for global coastal authorities, with both hoping to be first to market.

Both have faced launch delays on their selected U.S., Russian and Indian rockets that have cost them revenue in the near term. What both are now counting on is that the fresh launch dates in mid-2011 will be respected, allowing them to enter the automatic identification system (AIS) business as soon as possible. (3/25)

Japan Reopens Space Station Control Room After Quake (Source:
Japan has reopened its primary mission control center for part of the International Space Station, 11 days after it was damaged by the massive earthquake that struck the country. An inspection ensured the facility is safe for workers. The center is the home of JAXA's mission operations for the Japanese Kibo laboratory on the space station, as well as for the unmanned H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) cargo ships that ferry supplies to the orbiting lab. (3/25)

Water-Powered Spaceship Could Make Mars Trip on the Cheap (Source:
Spaceships powered primarily by water could open up the solar system to exploration, making flights to Mars and other far-flung locales far cheaper, a recent study has found. A journey to Mars and back in a water-fueled vehicle could cost as little as one space shuttle launch costs today, researchers said. And the idea is to keep these "space coaches" in orbit between trips, so their relative value would grow over time, as the vehicles reduce the need for expensive one-off missions that launch from Earth. Click here. (3/25)

Work Stopped on Alternative Cameras for Mars Rover (Source: JPL)
The NASA rover to be launched to Mars this year will carry the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument already on the vehicle, providing the capability to meet the mission's science goals. Work has stopped on an alternative version of the instrument, with a pair of zoom-lens cameras, which would have provided additional capabilities for improved three-dimensional video. The installed Mastcam on the Mars Science Laboratory mission's Curiosity rover uses two fixed-focal-length cameras: a telephoto for one eye and wider angle for the other.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built the Mastcam and was funded by NASA last year to see whether a zoom version could be developed in time for testing on Curiosity. "The possibility for a zoom-camera upgrade was very much worth pursuing, but time became too short for the levels of testing that would be needed for them to confidently replace the existing cameras," said a JPL official. (3/25)

NASA Plans Open Source Summit on March 29-30 in California (Source: NASA)
NASA's first open source software development summit will be held on March 29-30 at the agency's Ames Research Center. The event will bring together engineers, policy makers and members of the open source community. They will discuss challenges within the existing open source policy framework and propose modifications to enhance NASA's development, release and use of software. Click here for information. (3/25)

Endeavour To Demo Orion Relative Navigation (Source: Aviation Week)
Endeavour’s final flight, a 14-day STS-134 mission to the International Space Station, could feature an unusual amount of activity around the orbiting science laboratory, including a re-rendezvous demonstration of the relative navigation sensors developed for the Orion spacecraft. The mission also could include a “family portrait” of the outpost and docked spacecraft that would be taken by a Soyuz crew. The portrait was proposed for Discovery’s last mission, but the idea was eventually rejected. (3/25)

Marshall Space Flight Center Works Well With Local Small Businesses (Source: WAFF)
Administrators at NASA think the Marshall Space Flight Center is doing a good job working with small businesses. The center was awarded the NASA small business administrator's cup for the second time in three years. The award honors NASA'S most effective small business program in the country. City leaders say the relationship between the two groups is crucial to the success of Huntsville's economy. They say that's why it's so important for congress to get budget in place for NASA. (3/25)

Women in Aerospace (WIA) Picks 2011-2012 Scholarship Recipient (Source:
The Women in Aerospace (WIA) Foundation has announced Ms. Salvador A. Valdes as the recipient of the WIA Foundation Scholarship. Ms. Valdes, a senior in aerospace engineering at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), will receive a $1,000 scholarship to be applied to the 2011-2012 academic year. Ms. Valdes is a private pilot, avid motorcyclist, poet, and undergraduate researcher in the aerospace controls lab at UCLA. (3/25)

Juno Is Solar Marvel Bound for Jupiter (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s Juno mission will probe Jupiter’s atmosphere in search of clues to how the largest planet in the Solar System, and the Solar System itself, were formed from a primordial cloud of gas. Jupiter is probably the oldest planet, but it keeps its secrets veiled beneath the clouds and massive storms we can see from Earth. By sending Juno beneath the planet’s radiation belts in a polar orbit that takes it just 3,000 mi. above the cloud tops, scientists hope to unravel some of those mysteries with sounding measurements that should reveal the planet’s composition and structure. (3/25)

Seattle Has Gallery, Need Space Shuttle (Source: News Tribune)
A mixture of confidence, optimism and fear of jinxing their chances keeps Seattle's Museum of Flight employees from discussing the possibility of not receiving one of the much-desired space shuttles NASA is about to retire. “We’re not even thinking in those terms,” museum spokesman Mike Bush said this week. “It’s the rarest of artifacts anywhere, and there is no better place for a space shuttle.” A $12 million Space Gallery built specifically to house a shuttle is under construction across from the main museum and should be completed by July.

The Museum of Flight is among 29 institutions nationwide competing to be a final destination for the Discovery, Endeavour or Atlantis. The Enterprise, a prototype used for landing tests that never flew in space, also might be up for grabs if the Discovery is given to the Smithsonian Institution as rumored. The Seattle museum is considered a front-runner and has taken bold steps with the expectation that a shuttle eventually will arrive piggybacked on a 747 airplane. (3/25)

Outer Space Due for a Little Spring Cleaning? (Source: Daily Camera)
You might think that outer space is so big that it would be immune from the junk effect. Yet because most of the stuff we send into space occupies a relatively small region less than 2,000 kilometers from the surface of Earth, space is more like my cluttered office than it is the expansive basement of your average McMansion. Low-Earth orbit is littered with defunct satellites, spent rockets and even astronaut trash.

NASA's Orbital Debris Program estimates that there are almost 20,000 pieces of large debris ( "large" being a technical term for "bigger than a grapefruit" ), half a million particles measuring between 1 and 10 cm in diameter, and tens of millions of pieces of even tinier detritus, like paint flakes, circling the Earth today. All of that trash endangers active satellites and can even pose a threat to astronauts on the space shuttle and aboard the International Space Station. (3/25)

JPL Scientist Presents on NASA's $320 Million NEOWISE Project (Source: PCC Courier)
JPL scientist Amy Mainzer presented the findings of NASA's recent mission to space, the $320 million advanced telescope, NEOWISE, in the Lillian Vosloh Forum on Friday. The presentation, "The Year I Saw the Universe," drew a crowd to the Forum composed of students, staff and community members. (3/25)

How the Cost of NASA’s Next Big Space Telescope Skyrocketed (Source: Science News)
An independent panel reported the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is running a minimum of $1.4 billion over budget, bringing the total cost to at least $6.5 billion. This may lead to the cancellation of another highly touted NASA mission to probe the nature of dark energy and extrasolar planets. The panel found that JWST managers at Goddard Space Flight Center consistently underestimated the cost of the telescope. Lack of money in one year forced scheduled work to be deferred to the next, keeping contractors on the payroll longer and doubling or tripling the cost of their labor.

Poor cost management and reporting practices went unchallenged by NASA Headquarters, reflecting “the lack of an effective cost and programmatic analysis capability at headquarters,” the panel concluded. But the problem appears to go beyond mismanagement. Interviews with current and recently retired NASA officials, astronomers and the GAO reveal a culture of deception when it comes to estimating the cost of large NASA missions. Given the limited supply of money for new projects, those with proposals are encouraged to underestimate the true price tag, and those who question the estimates are ignored or reprimanded. (3/25)

Air Force Space Command Vice Commander Promoted to Lt. Gen. (Source: AFSPC)
The Air Force Space Command vice commander received his third star on March 21. Surrounded by family, friends and well wishers, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Basla was elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in a promotion ceremony here at AFSPC Headquarters. (3/25)

Bolden: Blame Inflation for Higher Russian Cost (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden compared Russia to an "old-time full service" gas station Thursday to justify a new deal that raises the cost of a ride to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz from $51 million to nearly $63 million in 2015. Bolden signed a new two-year, $753 million agreement with Russia last week to assure space station access for American astronauts through June 2016. The price per seat is $51 million now and will rise to $56 million in 2013 before going to almost $63 million in 2015.

The price is going up "because of inflation," Bolden said in Huntsville, not because Russia is taking advantage of the end of the American space shuttle program. "That's not just for a ride," Bolden said. Russia provides two years of "intense" astronaut training, most of it in Moscow, plus room and board, he said. "It's not like a bus ticket or an airplane ticket," Bolden said. "You used to be able to go into a gas station and get full service... We get full service from the Russians, old-time full service." (3/25)

Staten Island Pol Leading Charge to Get Retired Shuttle (Source: Staten Island Advance)
The City Council will ask NASA to retire one of three space shuttles at New York City's Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. A resolution by Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) passed the Council earlier this week. The bill formally requests that the space agency allow the Intrepid to be the permanent home for at least one of retiring space shuttles Discovery, Endeavour or Atlantis.

"We are the cultural capitol of the country, and having this piece of U.S. history will certainly add to the museum experience of our residents and the millions of national and foreign tourists who visit each year," Ignizio said. "The Intrepid is one of the premier institutions of New York and by far the most fitting home for retired spacecraft. I am pleased that the museum has been actively engaging NASA and has committed to constructing a fitting exhibit." (3/25)

Agency Helps NASA's Aerospace Workers Find Jobs (Source: Federal Computer Week)
The Office of Personnel Management is teaming with NASA to help aerospace workers affected by the end of the 30-year space shuttle program find government jobs. OPM Director John Berry sent a memo to federal chief human capital officers March 24 that requested that they expand their recruitment efforts to include the more than 6,000 soon-to-be-displaced aerospace employees, who have expertise in areas such as IT, engineering and program management.

NASA has created a website on which federal agencies can post jobs and find additional information about the skills of the employees looking for new jobs. Details associated with filing positions, such as job posting and on-site interviews at the Kennedy Space Center, will be coordinated between agency hiring officials and the NASA human resources team at the Kennedy Space Center, according to the memo. (3/25)

Astronaut Mark Kelly Says Giffords Starting to Grasp Horrific Attack (Source: Florida Today)
Critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is just now starting to recognize and deal with what happened during the horrific Jan. 8 shooting rampage that killed six and left her with severe injuries, her astronaut husband said Thursday. Less than 11 weeks after the assassination attempt, Giffords can talk, comprehend conversations and walk with assistance, veteran astronaut Mark Kelly said.

"She's doing remarkably well. She's improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries, that is very significant and pretty rare," said Kelly, who will command the 25th and final flight of shuttle Endeavour next month. He said it appears increasingly likely that Giffords will be able to travel to Kennedy Space Center and attend Endeavour's launch, which is scheduled for 7:48 p.m. April 19.

Giffords, an avid supporter of NASA who sits on a House subcommittee that oversees the agency, spends most of her day in therapy at a rehabilitation hospital in Houston. "She gets staff briefings from her staff when they're in town on what's going on in her office and the district and what's going on in Congress," Kelly said. (3/25)

Small Businesses Contribute to NASA's Mission (Source: White House Blog)
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “What America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

Nobody knows that better than those of us associated with NASA. Spaceflight today would not exist without the spark of innovation that drove us to build rockets and computers and robots. And small businesses helped us achieve our greatest missions. Small businesses have always been an integral part of NASA. Small businesses have built parts for launch vehicles and planetary science missions, they help us manage our facilities and our data and help keep our organization running smoothly.

Small business is crucial not only to NASA, but to the nation. And federal procurement opportunities for women, minority, veteran-owned and small businesses are critical to the economy and to sustaining economic development. In 2010, NASA awarded approximately $2.3 billion directly to small businesses, an increase of almost 15 percent from the year before. NASA’s large, prime contractors awarded an additional $2 billion in subcontracts to small businesses. (3/24)

Engineer's Fall from Launch Pad Still Being Probed (Source: AP)
NASA says there were no safety gear malfunctions in last week's death of a launch pad worker. The engineer fell to his death March 14 from the shuttle launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. Endeavour was being prepped for an April liftoff. NASA said the worker wasn't wearing a safety harness, nor was he required to be wearing one. There is no evidence of foul play. The investigation continues. United Space Alliance employee James Vanover was killed in the fall. The 53-year-old was about to be laid off because the shuttle program is ending. Vanover was checking for debris on the pad, nearly 200 feet up, when he fell. (3/25)

Scientists to Reap Benefits of Private Spaceflight Revolution (Source:
A research institution that has inked landmark deals with two private spaceflight firms may be performing experiments in suborbital space within two years. The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) bought seats on suborbital flights from both XCOR Aerospace and Virgin Galactic. SwRI's experiments are already built and ready to go, and the institute is now waiting on the spaceflight companies — but that wait may not be terribly long, according to one scientist.

"No one can guarantee when they will finish their flight-test programs, what setbacks they may have, what twists and turns there are along the way," said Alan Stern, vice president of SwRI's space division. "But I think there's a very good chance that we'll be flying a couple of years from now, in early 2013, and potentially somewhat sooner... By splitting our funds across two different providers, we think we're in a lower risk position," Stern said. (3/25)

UK and France: Big Difference in Space Investment (Source: BBC)
Wednesday presented an excellent example of the challenges faced by science-based industries in the UK; and, in particular, the space sector. In its Budget announcement, the London government singled out space as one of the key areas of commercial endeavor that would help pull the country out of its current economic woes. Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a package of regulatory reform and gave it a small sum of money to start a national Space Technology Program (UKSTP). This program will be primed with £10m from the Treasury and £10m from private industry.

But here’s the thing. As George Osborne was making his Budget announcements in the House of Commons, across the Channel in France the government there was also unveiling a package of support for its space sector. The value of this package? 500 million euros...that amounts to £440m. It is part of Le Grand Emprunt (“The Big Loan”), a colossal bond-financed investment in a variety of fields, but principally in those related to research and education. The money on offer to space is so large the French haven’t decided yet where to spend it all.

At this point, I’m reminded of Formula One motor racing, that most hi-tech of sports. BBC’s legendary commentator Murray Walker, in talking about investment and development in F1, used to say: “To stand still in this business is to go backwards.” And this is the problem now faced by the British government. It’s in a race, also, and the country in the next garage is currently out-investing it on a large scale. And that’s true in a number of garages down the pit lane. (3/25)

Pressure Suits: Requirement or Afterthought for Space Tourists? (Source: Lurio Report)
At February's FAA space transportation conference one panel focused on the need for pressure suits for spaceflight participants. Orbital Outfitters is to be the supplier of pressure suits for XCOR’s Lynx. My recollection is that Virgin Galactic has not to date made a definitive decision on whether or not to use pressures suits, contingent on results as vehicle work continues.

Orbital Outfitters contended that while there may be a low chance of catastrophic cabin depressurization, “What if you’re the person on that one trip [where it does occur?]... There are no other alternatives (that I know of) to a pressure suit in terms of providing truly independent protection for passengers and crew in the event of a hull breech or life support failure.” Without that protection, the consequences for passengers and crew in such a situation is virtually certain death; if that event took place before the industry had sufficient vigor, the result...could be just as bad.

Taken together with an extensive and rigorous enough program of test flights [to ensure vehicle and life-support system operability], the projected risk of not using a pressure suit could end up “in the noise.” However, despite such testing, for example, a rougher than normal engine burn could affect the alignment of seals or valve functions. (Something precisely analogous to this caused the deaths of cosmonauts Dobrovolsky, Volkov and Patsayev on Soyuz 11 in 1971.) According to Orbital Outfitters: “Building a suit into a new system during development can add complexity and expense; [but] adding a suit to an existing system can be an order of magnitude more challenging” (3/25)

NASA Test Supports Better Rocket Science (Source: NASA)
NASA put the squeeze on a large rocket test section last week in Huntsville. Results from this structural strength test will help future heavy-lift launch vehicles weigh less and reduce development costs. This trailblazing project is examining the safety margins needed in the design of future, large launch vehicle structures. Test results will be used to develop and validate structural analysis models and generate new “shell-buckling knockdown factors” — complex engineering design standards essential to launch vehicle design.

The aerospace industry’s shell buckling knockdown factors date back to Apollo-era studies when current materials, manufacturing processes and high-fidelity computer modeling did not exist. These new analyses will update essential design factors and calculations that are a significant performance and safety driver in designing large structures like the main fuel tank of a future heavy-lift launch vehicle. (3/24)

COM DEV Posts Mixed Financial Results (Source:
COM DEV saw revenues decrease in the first quarter (Q1) of 2011 as compared to Q1 in 2010 from $56.7 million to $48.7 million but saw new orders rise to $59 million as compared to $51 million a year ago. COM DEV's commercial segment saw a small decrease in revenues of 2.9% while its military segment saw an 11.1% increase. However the civil (government) sector saw a decrease of 46.7% over the same period last year. (3/25)

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