April 1, 2011

SpaceX Will Announce "Next Big Thing" on April 5 (Source: SpaceX)
Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Technology Officer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), will hold a press conference on Tuesday, April 5 at 11:20 a.m. at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss his company’s latest venture. Click here for a teaser video.

Editor's Note: Speculation is that the announcement will be about SpaceX's plans for a heavy-lift rocket. SpaceX will have some difficulty accommodating a triple-core heavy-lift rocket at LC-40, given the pad's original design for Titan-4 rockets. Add the infrastructure requirements for carrying humans and one wonders if a retired (and NASA-modified) Shuttle launch pad might be a better option. (4/1)

Boeing: SLS Rocket Work Needed To Avert Layoffs (Source: Space News)
Boeing will be laying off some 800 employees this summer unless NASA immediately agrees to incorporate the company’s work on the canceled Ares rocket program into the agency’s planned heavy-lift rocket mandated by Congress, the head of Boeing’s space exploration division said March 31. In a briefing with reporters, Brewster Shaw said most of the Boeing workforce currently assigned to the U.S. space shuttle, plus those who have been working on the now-canceled Ares 1 rocket upper stage, have nowhere to go within the company other than to NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS).

Waiting for NASA to send out and evaluate bid requests for the work as part of a competitive procurement would take months, if not more than a year, Shaw said — too long for Boeing to maintain the staff now working on the shuttle and the expiring Ares 1 contracts. If the last space shuttle is launched in June as planned, Shaw said, Boeing would begin dismissing shuttle workers in July. If these engineers cannot transition into a new NASA heavy-lift launcher program, or find work in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development project, “then we will lose that work force,” Shaw said. (4/1)

Space Alliance, Houston Contractors Extend NASA Work (Source: Houston Business Journal)
United Space Alliance LLC, a Houston commercial space contractor, has negotiated six, one-month options with NASA valued at $436.5 million. The cost reimbursement contract provides for the continuation of services to support fly-out of the space shuttle manifest beyond Thursday. Scope of the work includes mission design and planning; software development and integration; astronaut and flight controller training; and space shuttle and International Space Station-related support to the Constellation Program.

United Space Alliance will perform the work at its facilities in Houston, Huntsville, Ala. and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Subcontractors will also do work at their facilities in Huntington Beach, Calif. Houston and Cape Canaveral, Fla. Those include: Boeing, Barrios Technology and Bastion Technologies Inc., all of Houston; Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa.; and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif. (4/1)

Tourism Officials Teaming to Market Space Launches from Wallops (Source: Eastern Shore Tourism Commission)
Tourism officials from Virginia Beach to southern Delaware will gather April 5 to discuss utilizing upcoming launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to attract visitors to the mid-Atlantic region. Nearly 50 officials will learn about the upcoming Department of Defense ORS-1 satellite launch from MARS at WFF, on a Minotaur 1 rocket this spring or summer and will discuss how to use this and other launches this summer as an additional attraction to visitors in the region. (4/1)

NASA Expected to Choose Heavy-Lift System No Sooner Than Late June (Source: AIA)
NASA will likely not be able to announce its final selection for a heavy-lift Space Launch System to replace the canceled Ares V until late June at the earliest, engineers told Congress this week. Officials also said that instead of being capable of lifting the full 130 metric tons ordered in the three-year NASA Authorization Act that Congress passed last year, the final design will likely instead evolve into a system that can orbit the full load, with incremental capabilities along the way. (4/1)

Soyuz Launch Site Ready for First Flight (Source: ESA)
The Soyuz site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is now ready for its first launch. ESA yesterday handed over the complex to Arianespace, marking a major step towards this year’s inaugural flight. Construction of the Soyuz site began in February 2007, although initial excavation and ground infrastructure work began in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Russian staff arrived in French Guiana in mid-2008 to assemble the launch table, mobile gantry, fuelling systems and test benches.

The first two Soyuz launchers arrived from Russia by sea in November 2009 to be assembled in the new preparation and integration building. From now on Arianespace is responsible for the Soyuz launch site and will begin the campaign this month to qualify its launch operations. A launch rehearsal will ensure that the Soyuz and the new facilities work together perfectly, while allowing the teams to train under realistic launch conditions. (4/1)

India's Opts for Caution on Return to Launch Pad (Source: Flight Global)
After two failures of its heavy lift Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) in April and December last year, India is taking a cautious approach to resuming launch operations of the vehicle, delaying a planned first-quarter mission for its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) says a PSLV launch schedule is awaiting tests of the high-temperature tolerance level of a key component of the vehicle. The future of the heavier GSLV - and with it India's manned and Moon mission plans - depends on an Indian-developed cryogenic upper stage whose failure ended the April 2010 mission after 293s. Russian-built stages have been used for other flights, but are no longer available. (3/31)

Russia Could Postpone Cargo Spacecraft Launch (Source: Interfax)
Russia could postpone the launch of a Progress M-10M cargo spacecraft from the Baikonur space center scheduled for April 27 for two days so as not to hamper the flight of U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour, Alexei Krasnov, the chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) manned spaceflight department, told Interfax-AVN on Friday. (4/1)

Fallen Giant: The Soviet Space Industry (Source: RIA Novosti)
Ordinary Russians see little connection between space exploration and economics. If anything, they see expensive space programs as a permanent drain on the nation’s resources. Some are inclined to take it personally, as if the dark vacuum of space somehow sucked the money right out of their pockets. Space is beyond the realm of the rational and, therefore, beyond the realm of economics.

But Russia’s space program was built, in part, by ordinary Russians using ordinary steel. Space exploration was considered a national priority in the Soviet Union, with the funding to match. Elaborate production chains were set up, the necessary infrastructure was built, and state-of-the-art technologies were developed virtually from scratch. Aerospace specialists were paid stable salaries and received good housing, both of which were in short supply in the command economy of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet space program symbolized the victory of brains and willpower over a seemingly insurmountable legacy of technical and economic backwardness under the tsars. Cosmonauts could not go anywhere without being recognized. Rocket and spacecraft designers were supposed to keep a low profile and inhabit their own private world. They even used pseudonyms to join the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Click here to read the article. (4/1)

The Astronauts of Planet Earth (Source: Financial Times)
In the 50 years since Yuri Gagarin first soared into space, 520 men and women have taken their own space odysseys. They have come from 38 countries, carried on American, Russian and, recently, Chinese vehicles. All have been proud to represent their nations. Now, in a special issue honoring their achievements, FT Weekend Magazine has interviewed an astronaut from 35 of these countries. The project involved 17 writers, 11 languages and a rather flustered mission control – but it resulted in stories as diverse and entertaining as the voyagers themselves. May we present … the astronauts of Planet Earth. Click here. (4/1)

Globalstar Reports Growth but Faces U.S. Regulatory Hurdle (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Globalstar said its annual revenue increased in 2010 for the first time since 2006 in what the company said was the beginning of a return to full service and profitability promised by its second-generation satellite constellation. Globalstar nonetheless said it faces challenges in meeting its debt obligations in the coming years, and that it is currently unable to offer second-generation satellite service in North America because of a lack of regulatory approval.

Globalstar’s debt covenants, following a revision, oblige the company to be able to offer service in the United States from its new satellites by Aug. 31. U.S. regulators have declined to allow this until France, which is the licensing authority for Globalstar’s second-generation constellation, registers the system with the United Nations. It was unclear why this registration, under the U.N. Outer Space Treaty and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, was not done previously. (4/1)

Station Crew Might Dodge Space Debris (Source: Florida Today)
International Space Station managers are monitoring debris from a 2009 collision of satellites that could force the station and its three crew members to dodge out of the way. An avoidance maneuver was planned for around 10:45 p.m. EST on Friday, but a final decision on whether it is necessary is expected three hours earlier. (4/1)

In NASA’s Lens, Mercury Comes Into Focus (Source: New York Times)
It is the planet Mercury, and this month it is ready for its extended close-up. On Wednesday, NASA showed off the first pictures taken by its Mercury Messenger spacecraft since entering the planet’s orbit on March 17. The Messenger is to spend at least a year photographing, measuring and studying Mercury. The visit to Mercury is the last frontier of planetary exploration that NASA will reach for quite some time.

“This is the last of the classical planets, the planets known to the astronomers of Egypt and Greece and Rome and the Far East,” said Sean C. Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the mission’s principal investigator. “It’s an object that has captivated the imagination and the attention of astronomers for millennia.” Click here for photos from the Huntsville Times. (3/31)

Are International Connections More Important Than Local Partners in Innovation? (Source: SSTI)
Innovative firms rely on global pipelines and communication more than local interactions to increase their innovative capacity, according to a new paper. The authors examine the practices of 1604 firms in the five largest urban regions of Norway, and find that international cooperation is the main source of product and process innovation. The authors found little evidence that local interactions lead to radical or incremental technological advancement. This conclusion comes with several caveats, but suggests that the roots of innovative capacity lie in factors that drive a firm to establish links to more distant institutions and resources. (3/30)

Space Tourism Flights Small Step Closer for UK Base (Source: Press & Journal)
Space tourism flights from a Moray airbase moved one small step closer to becoming a reality last night after the UK Government announced plans to look again at legislation which prevents launches. Speaking on the first day of a consultation on the UK Space Agency’s strategy for 2011-15, Science Minister David Willetts said he hoped to see sites such as RAF Lossiemouth being used as ports to the final frontier in the future.

“We have started the process to rationalize our regulation so as to enable Britain to be an effective competitor in the space scene,” he said. “It would be great to see vehicles being launched from the UK again – to see Virgin Galactic launched from Lossiemouth, for example.” He said the government had already been in talks with the company and that founder Sir Richard Branson had welcomed the news. (4/1)

Dark Matter Could Be the Life of the Party for Starless Planets (Source: Space.com)
There may be worlds that float through intergalactic space in darkness without stars to warm them. Such lonely planets, endlessly adrift in night, might seem too cold and dark to ever serve as homes for life. But mysterious, unseen dark matter could help make warm these starless planets and make them habitable, a new study suggests. The idea may be a bit out there, but it’s not impossible, researchers say. (3/31)

Subcommittee Democrats Urge Clarity and Realism for NASA (Source: U.S. House Dems)
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review NASA’s exploration program as it transitions toward the development of the new launch and crew exploration systems directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The head of NASA’s Exploration Systems Directorate, a space policy expert, and an industry representative were questioned by Subcommittee Members on the pace of NASA’s progress in moving forward with designing a space transportation system within the parameters of the Authorization Act.

Acting Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) said, “Through the 111th and 112th Congresses, this Committee has held several hearings to discuss the future of NASA’s exploration program as it faced budget challenges and considered serious changes to its mission. Despite these ongoing discussions, we still have not received concrete answers on how NASA plans to transition away from the Constellation Program and achieve the goals outlined by Congress in the 2010 Authorization Act.”

Mr. Costello identified four areas where clear answers were lacking and in which he hoped to get more information , namely (1) the status of NASA General Counsel’s review of how existing Constellation contracts can be modified to carry out work on the crew capsule and heavy lift launch vehicles, (2) an exact timeline and date for when NASA will start work on the new vehicles, (3) evidence that the vehicle programs have a real future at the current funding levels, and (4) concrete goals and benchmarks to measure the program’s success. (3/31)

Pratt & Whitney Pushing for Direction on Space Travel (Source: Palm Beach Post)
The end of the space shuttle program will mean more job cuts at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's operations in northwestern Palm Beach County. Company officials say they're unsure how many workers will be laid off after the final shuttle launch, which is scheduled for June. "There's going to be some reductions this summer, but we haven't finalized that," Jim Maser, president of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, said in an interview today.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has the contract to build and maintain the space shuttle's main engine, and that work is done by Pratt employees in Florida, California and Mississippi. Pratt's Palm Beach County employees work on the shuttle's turbopumps. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's staff in Palm Beach County has shrunk from 800 last year to 650 this year. That number is likely to fall further after the final launch. (4/1)

Politics Might Get in Way of Bid to Get Shuttle (Source: Galveston Daily news)
Space Center Houston officials are making a final push to bring a retired shuttle orbiter to Houston, but some say politics might prevent the spacecraft from calling the country’s manned spaceflight center home. The decision is up to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Fred Griffin, chairman of a space tourism subcommittee created by Space Center Houston’s board of directors, said he fears President Barack Obama’s administration will influence Bolden’s decision.

“We’d win hands down based on merit,” Griffin said. “The shuttle was developed, engineered and controlled here, but it boils down to politics. We’re a red state, and some of the other contenders, like Ohio, are swing states.” Bipartisan members of the Texas delegation on Capitol Hill sent a letter Monday to Bolden that expressed concern about a provision in the Air Force’s FY-12 budget request for $14 million to prepare and display Atlantis at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (4/1)

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