April 14, 2011

Air Force, NASA and NRO Ink Agreement on Launching with SpaceX (Source: Space News)
The three biggest U.S. government satellite-buying agencies have concluded a memorandum of agreement to establish rules permitting startup launch-services provider SpaceX to launch U.S. Air Force and other national security satellites. The memorandum, signed by the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), should be released this summer.

The agreement “is designed to ensure a consistent position on opportunities, certification and requirements for potential new entrants to space launch,” said Richard W. McKinney, Air Force deputy under secretary for space programs. “We expect to release new-entrant criteria by late this summer, and we expect to allow new entrants to compete for near-term launch missions.”

Briefing reporters after the speech, McKinney said the policy will set out hurdles that SpaceX will need to clear before its Falcon 9 Heavy rocket, now in development, is permitted to join the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA), in placing national security payloads into orbit. (4/14)

UTC Unit Moves to Diversify as Shuttle Ends (Source: Reuters)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is moving to diversify its business to reduce dependence on NASA amid an uncertain outlook for the U.S. space program, the company's president said on Wednesday. Jim Maser, president of the United Technologies (UTX.N) unit that supplies the space shuttle's main engine, also reiterated that layoffs and supplier exits from space work could ramp up later this year if NASA doesn't soon unveil a successor program to the shuttle.

The shuttle program is set to end this year, and NASA is looking to free up funds to develop new spacecraft capable of space missions. Maser said the agency's silence on a successor plan was leaving industry suppliers uncertain. (4/14)

The Source of the 130-Ton SLS Provision (Source: Space Politics)
So how did that 130-ton language get into the FY11 CR? According to the Huntsville Times, it was added by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA, at the request of another subcommittee member, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL). Aderholt’s north Alabama district is near, but does not include, the Marshall Space Flight Center, which would be the lead center for the SLS program. “Unfortunately, the signs I see are that NASA is more determined than ever to slow down the heavy-lift vehicle program,” Aderholt wrote in a letter to Wolf quoted in the article. Aderholt said in a later statement that the language reflected a joint effort with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and other members of the state’s congressional delegation to provide “a real future for our nation’s space program.” (4/14)

MDA Drops Target-Acquisition From Next Sats (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will not include a target-acquisition sensor in its forthcoming missile-tracking satellites, as part of an effort to streamline the system and control costs. The agency’s new design for its next space-based missile-tracking system will be simpler than the two Northrop Grumman Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites now conducting a demonstration in space. (4/14)

NASA Faces Awkward, Unfortunate Spaceflight Gap (Source: Space.com)
Some of the biggest hurdles facing NASA's future are the uncertainty surrounding the agency's human spaceflight program after its shuttle program retires, and the policy decisions that have limited its options to build something new while depending on private spaceships, a former NASA chief and other industry experts said Wednesday

"Currently, NASA is not permitted to replace the space shuttle with any mode of human transportation," said Michael Griffin, who served as the administrator of NASA from 2005 to 2009. "The decision has been made to acquire it commercially. I'm one of the strongest supporters on record of acquiring human transportation services commercially when that capability becomes extant. But, even when it becomes extant, I do not want to see government capability go away." (4/14)

Ames Hangar One's Walls Set to Come Down Starting Next Week (Source: San Jose Mercury News)
Hangar One is about to shed its skin. A contractor is set to start tearing the walls off the landmark Moffett Field structure next week, though it is not known on which day, Navy Base Closure Manager John Hill said Tuesday. Hill said the Navy's contractor, UK-based AMEC, will begin by removing panels on the southern side of the hangar and work northward. Work is expected to be finished at the end of this year or early next year. (4/14)

Budget Cuts May Force Pentagon to Reduce Troop Levels, Cancel Missions (Source: AIA)
President Barack Obama's goal of saving $400 billion on security spending over 10 years may require the military to reduce troop levels and scrap some military missions. The Pentagon's budget has roughly doubled since 2001, and the cutbacks are part of a larger effort to slash the budget deficit by $4 trillion over a 10-year period. (4/14)

Military Space Industry Assesses Looming Spending Cuts (Source: AIA)
Amid looming military space spending cuts, the Air Force and major space hardware manufacturers are being forced to reassess their positions. Speaking at a symposium this week, officials with the Air Force admitted they don't know whether essential know-how at the second- and third-tier levels in the U.S. space industrial base is threatened. Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, said several space-component sectors could face problems, but the status of the situation remains unclear. "It is difficult to get a good macro picture," she said, adding that her concern is that "we're going to find out about it later than any of us will be comfortable with." (4/14)

Shelton Asks Industry for Help to Develop Leaner Space Capabilities (Source: AIA)
Air Force Gen. William Shelton, chief of the Air Force Space Command, says budget cuts are forcing officials to look at new ways to deliver space capabilities at lower costs and with lower-risk approaches to development. In a talk at the National Space Symposium, Shelton said he has reached out to the industry for help in looking for better ways to "do the mission we are charged with doing." (4/14)

Standard Interface Vehicle Offers Mass Production (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program has launched what could be a pioneering development in the annals of military spacecraft, the Standard Interface Vehicle. Built by the Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., the experimental satellite, which went into orbit last November, is designed around a standardized space vehicle and standard interfaces for its payloads. Click here to read the article. (4/14)

Drug Potency – What Happens in Space? (Source: Springer)
Some of the Pharmaceuticals intended for the treatment of minor illnesses of astronauts in space may require special packaging and reformulation to remain stable for long periods in the space environment. That’s according to Dr. Putcha and her colleagues from NASA, Johnson Space Center. Their findings, published online in AAPS Journal suggest that some of the pharmaceuticals stored on space flights may have shorter shelf-life than they do on Earth.

Pharmaceuticals used on space flights are packed and dispensed in special flight-certified containers and stored in compact flight kits. They may be exposed to the unique environ-mental factors of space missions such as radiation and excessive vibration in addition to variations in temperature and humidity. (4/14)

Budget Agreement Gives Huntsville Green Light for New Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
Congressional and Huntsville space community leaders are praising last Friday's budget deal for giving NASA money and authority to start work now on a new heavy-lift rocket. But as details of the agreement between the White House and Congress came out this week, Huntsville space boosters stopped short of an all-out celebration.

"It remains to be seen what this administration will do with this," Dynetics Corp. executive vice president Dave King said. "Now that it is authorized and appropriated, we'll see." The agreement gives NASA $18.5 billion for the 2011 fiscal year and sets aside "not less than $1.8 billion" for the new heavy lift rocket. Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center has been named the program office for the new rocket, meaning it will oversee all of its components. (4/14)

Gator Explores KSC Industrial Area (Source: CFnews13)
NASA tweeted this photo Wednesday of an alligator wandering around the Kennedy Space Center. The caption: "At least he used the crosswalk!" There was no immediate word on what happened to the gator. (4/14)

Long Shot: NASA Contractor Could Keep Flying Space Shuttles (Source: Space.com)
While NASA is already planning the particulars of how to retire its space shuttles —– including announcing this week which museums will get to display them — a bid to continue flying the orbiters as a commercial service is still in the works, even if it is considered a long shot.

United Space Alliance (USA), a prime NASA contractor, is working on a plan to commercially fly the Atlantis and Endeavour space shuttles twice a year following the construction of a new external fuel tank. The idea was first discussed in February but did not seem to gain much traction. Still, USA is not giving up. (4/14)

Texas Lawmakers Demand Answers on Houston Shuttle Snub (Source: KTRE)
Rep. Ted Poe (TX-02) and Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22) were joined by other members of the Texas Delegation in sending a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden requesting an explanation for why he is sending a retired shuttle orbiter to New York City instead of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. (4/14)

Hale: Why Houston Did Not Get A Shuttle (Source: Space News)
Immediate reaction from many people in the Houston area was that the Orbiter disposition decision was politically tainted. For example, this was the explanation of my old Rice classmate Annise Parker, her honor the Mayor of Houston. Maybe there is some truth to that. It’s hard to say what goes on inside the Washington beltway with any certainty.

But my suspicions lie closer to home. Houston didn’t get an orbiter because Houston didn’t deserve it. KSC is Houston's only real competition for closest historical tie to the shuttle, no disrespect to Marshall, Stennis, Dryden or other NASA centers. But Houston is blasé about the shuttles. Houston and Texas have come to regard NASA and JSC as entitlements. We deserve JSC and the shuttle just because of who we are.

Not true. Anything worthwhile is worth fighting for. No disrespect to those who spearheaded the effort to bring the shuttle here, but the response was lackluster. The local politicians gave lip service, some weak letters to the NASA administrator and little else. We got a limp editorial or two in the local newspaper. The movers and shakers downtown barely lifted a finger. Its hard to tell if Austin and the Texas Legislature even knew what was happening. (4/14)

Air Force To Seek Info on Commercial Launch Options for STPSat-3 (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force intends to release a broad agency announcement this spring seeking potential commercial options to launch an experimental satellite that is nearing completion but currently is without a ride to orbit, a service official said. A piggyback ride on a commercial mission is one of a number of options for launching the second Space Test Program-Standard Interface Vehicle (STP-SIV), known as STPSat-3, said Air Force Col. Carol P. Welsch, commander of the Space Development Group at the Space Development and Test Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Another option is piggybacking on a government mission, she said. (4/14)

Space Junk Raises Alarm (Source: Flight Gloabal)
In January 2007, China successfully tested an anti-satellite missile, destroying one of its redundant spacecraft orbiting about 800km (1,290 miles) above the Earth. In April 2011, one of the 3,000 pieces of debris that test created passed close enough to the International Space Station, orbiting at around 400km, to raise concerns of a collision. (4/14)

Life Beyond Event Horizon Possible (Source: Cosmos)
While black holes continue to intrigue astrophysicists, a new theory suggests planets with advanced life could hypothetically exist within their boundaries. Drawing from previous notions that subatomic particles such as photons have stable orbits inside the structure of black holes, the theory states that planets could also find steady orbits inside spinning, supermassive black holes and safely inhabit this theoretical domain. The idea is predicated on planets voyaging through a black hole's event horizon - the imaginary gravitational boundary-line beyond which nothing, even light, can escape. (4/14)

Shelton: Now is the Time To Ponder New Space Architectures (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is likely to face increasingly austere budgets in the years ahead, and with a steady set of mission requirements, it must plan future space missions differently, the commander of Air Force Space Command said April 12. Though the Air Force will be recapitalizing its existing satellite fleets for the next decade or longer, now is the time to plan for the mix of capabilities the military needs beyond then, Gen. William Shelton said. (4/14)

Government Risks Missing Iridium Hosted Payload Opportunity (Source: Space News)
The biggest-ever opportunity for placing hosted payloads on a telecommunications satellite system may be partially lost because of slow-moving government bureaucracies, Iridium Communications Chief Executive Matthew J. Desch said April 13. The second-generation Iridium Next constellation of 66 operational satellites in low Earth orbit is scheduled for launch starting in 2015. The company has reserved power and space on each satellite for payloads from third parties.

Despite the initial enthusiasm among government agencies, it now appears that the U.S. Department of Defense, seen as a big potential customer, may be unable to seize the occasion to place sensors on the Iridium system. It is not for a lack of interest. Desch said U.S. military officials appear more enthusiastic than ever about the hosted-payload opportunity, which is being promoted not only by Iridium but also by commercial satellite operators whose fleets are in higher, geostationary orbit. (4/14)

Dozens Apply for Space Pilot Jobs (Source: MSNBC)
Virgin Galactic is looking for three good space pilots to fly its suborbital SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, which is already in the midst of flight tests. Although astronaut experience is preferred, it’s not necessary. But if you’re not an experienced test pilot, don’t bother. More than 150 would-be spacefliers have sent in their applications since the job posting went up on Monday, Virgin Galactic spokeswoman Christine Choi said. And the in-box is due to remain open until April 30. (4/14)

China Donates Satellite, Meteorological Systems to 16 Asian Countries (Source: People's Daily)
The director of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) Zheng Guoguang presented representatives from 16 Asian countries with integrated satellite broadcasting and receiving stations and the CMA's meteorological information comprehensive analysis and processing system on behalf of the Chinese government on April 11. The recipients of the equipment are Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tadzhikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Editor's Note: This is another example of China's use of space as a diplomatic tool to generate goodwill and build new markets for its space products and services. Meanwhile, attempts toward similar outreach by NASA to Muslim nations has been strongly condemned by many members of Congress. (4/14)

Book Now for Curacao Space Travel with XCOR (Source: Radio Netherlands)
The space port has not yet been built, the space ship is not yet ready for production, but Space Expedition Curaçao (SXC) has so much faith in the whole enterprise that space tourists can now reserve seats on a trip to outer space. The first flights are to take off in 2014. A promotional video full of references to glorious moments in space travel was the opening act of a press conference during which SXC announced that ticket sales from the Caribbean island of Curaçao. The press conference was held at in Amsterdam. KLM Director Erik Varwijk and former Martinair CEO Martin Schröder were given front-row seats during the event. (4/14)

Decision to Send Shuttle to L.A. is 'Shameful,' 'Tawdry Politics,' Critics Say (Source: LA Times)
Los Angeles' surprise win in its bid to house NASA's space shuttle Endeavour has sparked anger in Texas and Ohio, which were seen as favorites to land one of the three retiring spacecraft. Texans couldn't understand how their state, home to NASA's Mission Control, could be passed over for a space shuttle. Nor could people in Ohio, site of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. They called for a congressional investigation and charged that politics played a role in NASA's decision. (4/14)

Pentagon Tentatively Endorses Code of Conduct in Space (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Department of Defense has tentatively concluded that a European code of conduct for spacefaring nations is consistent with U.S. interests and likely will be adopted by the U.S. government, a senior Pentagon official said April 13. Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, insisted that no decision has been made on adopting the code of conduct, which is a gentlemen’s agreement-type of document that has no force of law. (4/14)

Atlas V Launch Planned Tonight at Vandenberg AFB (Source: Launch Alert)
Tonight's launch of an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg AFB remains on schedule. The rocket is slated to lift-off at 9:24 p.m. PDT, the start of a launch window of unknown duration, and carry a classified payload into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. However, the odds of acceptable weather at launch time are only 30% because of excessive winds. In the event the launch is scrubbed, similar weather condition will persist Friday night and over the weekend. (4/14)

Competitors are Wooing California Space Industry (Source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
California is the birthplace of so much that we take for granted in the 21st century. It spawned the film industry, the personal computer, the Internet and clean technology. It did this by offering an environment that fostered growth and attracted innovators from around the globe. However, this entrepreneurial leadership is in jeopardy. We are at risk of losing our newest high-tech creation, commercialized spaceflight, to states which are actively recruiting firms with subsidies, lower taxes and more favorable regulatory environments.

New Mexico, in particular, is doing a fantastic job actively courting California’s space startups. Companies like XCOR Aerospace, which took root here, are considering moving to the Land of Enchantment as the state builds a modern-day “Star City” in the desert outside of Truth or Consequences. This need not happen.

California has the ability to not only keep homegrown firms but also to attract other space companies with its unparalleled environment, lifestyle and resources. We have a rich pool of talent educated by world-class universities like Stanford and UCLA and nurtured by the old-line aerospace companies. We also have premier venture capital firms in Menlo Park which provide unparalleled access to funding and networking connections to the iconic Silicon Valley companies that revolutionize the world. Click here. (4/14)

Local Schools Proud of Space Shuttle Tiles (Source: Florida Today)
The shuttle heat shield tiles protect the orbiters from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. NASA distributed roughly 7,000 of the lightweight tiles to schools and colleges. As Brevard County residents revel in the announcement that Atlantis will retire here, more than three dozen local schools are celebrating new NASA acquisitions of their own -- albeit on a much smaller scale.

NASA awarded shuttle heat shield tiles to 7,000 schools and universities, including at least 40 on the Space Coast. All schools passed an application process to receive the 6-inch by 6-inch tiles, which protects the shuttle from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. (4/14)

Editorial: New Reality for NASA (Source: Florida Today)
Since the 2010 cancellation of the NASA Constellation program, the organization has seemed in extremis. Astronaut-heroes and politicians railed that President Obama had killed the American human spaceflight program, having pulled the plug on an Apollo redux program doomed from inception by an impossible goal-resource mismatch. Now, having goals and working within reality, NASA has developed the beginnings of a plan forward. Reality for NASA has three parts.

First, flat is the new up where budgets are concerned. Administration and bipartisan congressional support for NASA is evidenced by its budget being largely flat. Second, NASA can expect “help” from Congress, though sometimes tied to “strings” such as supporting programs in particular districts and member policy positions. Third, NASA does not determine its own goals; it gets guidance from the White House, which is then tweaked and funded to greater or lesser degrees by Congress. NASA implements. (4/14)

Why We Should Embrace the End of Human Spaceflight (Source: Salon)
On April 19 the space shuttle Endeavor will be launched, on the penultimate mission of the program. The end of the space shuttle program will mean that the U.S. will have to rely on Russian rockets to deliver American astronauts to space, pending the development of private commercial spaceflight. It is tempting to say that this is an outrage; that the effective end of the American manned spaceflight program is a national humiliation; that the program's demise is yet another symbol of the gap in mentality between the confident, ambitious Kennedy-Johnson years and today's solipsistic, penny-pinching America. It is tempting to say all that, but the temptation should be resisted.

The truth is that the American space program is flourishing. In recent years Mars has been visited by the Phoenix lander and the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. At the moment the Messenger probe is orbiting Mercury and the New Horizons probe is scheduled to pass Pluto in 2015. With the help of the orbiting Kepler space telescope, more than 500 planets in other solar systems have been identified. We live in the greatest age of cosmic exploration in history, even if the public pays little attention because there are no astronauts to engage in white-knuckle landings or to clown around for the cameras.

The worst enemies of human spaceflight are its proponents. Their arguments are so weak that you keep waiting for the real, knock-down argument, which never comes. The success of robot space probes has discredited the idea that machines are too stupid to do science in space. When that argument for human spaceflight collapses, those that remain are preposterous. (4/14)

Houston's Snub Only Getting Worse: Forced to Give Up Shuttle Gear to Other Cities (Source: Houston CultureMap)
As if losing the space shuttles to New York and Los Angeles wasn't bad enough, it looks like Houston's Space Center is going to take another hit. Along with the retiring space shuttles, which are heading to Florida, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., NASA published a list of space shuttle artifacts to be distributed to museums and science centers around the country this summer when the shuttle program is ended. Sadly for Houston, many of those artifacts now booked for other museums are currently found at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. (4/14)

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