April 15, 2011

Space Shuttle Leaves Trail of Opportunity in its Wake (Source: Financial Times)
“The whole concept of NASA retiring the shuttle was to enable more exploration outside of low-Earth orbit. The shuttle can’t go outside of there, so maybe there are other methods we can use to go there for cheaper”, NASA's Ed Mango says. “It started with the idea that NASA development programs can become very expensive and NASA really should be focused on things we haven’t done before”.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have said they will compete in the astronaut transport, cargo and even space tourism industries. Others are trying to get a slice of the market, including Virgin Galactic, which is building a spaceport facility in New Mexico, and SpaceX, which is working on reusable orbital rockets. NASA will offer private companies training and safety certifications. In addition, NASA facilities such as KSC will offer logistical services to the highest bidder, just like an airport offering gates to different airlines.

“NASA struggles with what role it plays going forward, it needs to change things, it is not the only rocket-maker in town now and this is what is going to create commercial opportunities”, says Howard Haug of Space Florida. Space Florida cites business opportunities in launch systems and satellites to technologies that could only be developed and used from low-Earth orbit, such as monitors to predict weather and agricultural fertility, and new forms of energy. Then, of course, there is the ultimate in adventure tourism. (4/15)

Minotaur Launch Schedule in Limbo After Taurus Mishap (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Two small U.S. military satellites are queued up and waiting to ride into space on Minotaur rockets in May, but managers want to make sure the boosters are immune from the glitch that doomed the launch of a NASA science mission in March. NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp. are investigating the cause of the March 4 failure of a Taurus XL.

The clamshell-like nose cone responsible for the March 4 Taurus mishap uses similar components as the Minotaur 1 and Minotaur 4 launch vehicles being prepared for a pair of flights in May. A Minotaur 4 rocket is being prepared for liftoff as soon as May 14 from Kodiak, Alaska. Its payload will be the Naval Research Laboratory's TacSat 4 experimental communications satellite.

Workers at Wallops Island, Va., have already stacked a smaller Minotaur 1 rocket on the launch pad. Liftoff from Virginia's Eastern Shore is scheduled for no earlier than May 30 with the U.S. military's ORS 1 spacecraft, a tactical Earth observation satellite for the Pentagon's Operationally Responsive Space office. TacSat 4 is already at its Alaska launch site, and ORS 1 is awaiting shipment to Virginia. (4/15)

Cause Identified for Ariane 5 Launch Abort (Source: Space News)
The March 30 launch abort of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket after the main engine had been ignited was caused by one or more components attached to the engine nozzle that prevented the nozzle from moving freely during ignition, the head of the Arianespace launch consortium said. The suspect components have since been removed, and replacements tested and installed on the Ariane 5 ECA rocket. The launch has been rescheduled for April 22. (4/15)

DARPA Wants Telescopes to Protect Military Satellites From Space Junk (Source: Space.com)
Satellites that support U.S. military missions around the world can fall prey to collisions with space junk, tiny meteoroids and even enemy microsatellites. Now the Pentagon's DARPA division has begun deploying new ground-based telescopes that can take wide-angle views of small deep-space objects and keep the space sentinels safe.

The innovative design of DARPA's telescope can provide the same space surveillance data "in a matter of nights" that existing telescopes require weeks or months to provide, according to Lt. Col. Travis Blake. "Currently we have a 'soda straw' view of deep space, where we can only see one narrow segment of space at a time," Blake said. (4/15)

United Space Alliance Announces Major Workforce Reduction (Source: CBS News)
United Space Alliance, the space shuttle prime contractor, will eliminate half its remaining workforce -- up to 2,800 jobs -- this summer, soon after NASA launches its final two shuttle missions in April and June. Through earlier layoffs and attrition, USA's workforce in Florida, Texas and Alabama has dropped from around 10,500 in October 2009 to a current level of around 5,600.

In late July or early August (after Atlantis completes its final mission), the company will implement another major workforce reduction, affecting between 2,600 and 2,800 employees across the company. Of that total, 1,850 to 1,950 job losses are expected in Florida, 750 to 800 in Texas and 30 to 40 in Alabama. (4/15)

Space Florida Provides Update on State Legislation (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida’s priority bills for Florida's 2011 Legislative Session have been moving through committees very well with much support from members of the legislature. The Space Business Incentives Act, sponsored by Senator Altman and Representative Crisafulli, (SB1224 & HB873) only has one committee stop left in the Senate, and the House version has already been passed.

The Aerospace Jobs and Tuition Tax Credit, sponsored by Senator Altman and Representative Workman, (SB790 & HB143) has also been passed by the House and likely has two committee stops left in the Senate. The spaceflight informed consent legislation, sponsored by Senator Simmons and Representative Goodson, (SB652 & HB703) which was amended to cover subcontractors, is on the House floor on second reading and was passed by its last committee stop in the Senate.

Additionally, Space Florida’s budget as proposed by the Senate is $10.04 million (recurring general revenue), which matches the Governor’s budget request, while the House is at $7.84 million (non-recurring general revenue). This will be an issue we look forward to working out with the members in budget conference in week eight of session. (4/15)

Iridium Next Prepares to Ride the Falcon (Source: Universe Today)
Iridium Next might have launched their last suite of satellites on Deltas, Protons and on the Long March - but the next wave will be all about the Falcon 9. To date, Iridium NEXT is the largest commercial space launch contract with any single entity. All total, the contract is worth an estimated $3 billion. Iridium Communications plans to launch the 72 satellites of the Iridium Next constellation atop eight Falcon 9 rockets, each with nine satellites aboard.

Sixty-six of these satellites will be fully operational; the remaining six will be on-orbit spares (in case there is a contingency with any of the operating satellites). Iridium will also have nine additional ground spares. But Iridium has plans to further maximize the value of these satellites by selling space on them so that other firms can attach sensors or experiments. (4/15)

Embry-Riddle Research Supports Orbiting Fuel Depots (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle student and faculty researchers have been frequent fliers aboard NASA's microgravity research aircraft, exploring ways to mitigate the pesky effects of microgravity on fluids in propellant tanks. With five parabolic flights under their belt, the team's research has caught the attention of industry sponsors like United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is interested in solving these same challenges for the future development of on-orbit fuel depots.

With ULA's support, the Embry-Riddle team's work now includes the simulation of on-orbit propellant storage and transfer techniques aboard Centaur upper stages. One of ULA's propellant depot concepts would involve the coupling of two Centaur stages to serve as orbital liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen filling stations for deep-space exploration missions. In addition to ULA, the Embry-Riddle team has been working with KSC's expendable launch vehicles program office, and has received funding support from the NASA-sponsored Florida Space Grant Consortium.

To advance their work on a prototype fuel storage/transfer system, the team hopes to move beyond the short-duration simulated microgravity they've achieved with parabolic flights. They hope later this year to have their experiment manifested aboard one of NASA's upcoming commercial suborbital microgravity research flights, possibly a Masten Space Systems vehicle launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (4/15)

Chinese Official Urges U.S.-Chinese Space Cooperation (Source: Space News)
A top Chinese government space official on April 14 appealed to the U.S. government to lift its decade-long ban on most forms of U.S.-Chinese space cooperation, saying both nations would benefit from closer government and commercial space interaction. He specifically called for cooperation on manned space flight, in which China has made massive investment in recent years. (4/15)

Florida Ranks 14th in SBIR Phase II Awards (Source: SSTI)
Florida small businesses won 47 SBIR Phase II awards in 2009 (the latest available data), from agencies including NASA (4), NIH (10), NSF (1), DOT (1), DOD (28), DOE (2), and ED (1). The Phase II awards were partially the result of successful Phase I grant projects. Florida ranked 14th nationwide in the number of Phase II awards for 2009, The top 10 states were: California (423), Massachusetts (291), New York (138), Virginia (128), Colorado (115), Maryland (112), Texas (87), Ohio (77), Pennsylvania (72), and New Jersey (66). (4/15)

Florida Reps Support Bill to Change Shuttle Distribution (Source: Rep. Chaffetz)
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced HR 1536, the “Space Shuttle Retirement Act.” The bill would establish sites in Texas, Florida, California, and Virginia (Smithsonian Museum) as the final homes of retiring NASA Space Shuttles. Cosponsors include Reps Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rich Nugent (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Gene Green (D-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Al Green (D-TX), and Ted Poe (R-TX).

“After hearing many of my colleagues in Congress cry out: ‘Earth to NASA,’ I am seeking to restore common sense and fairness to the Space Shuttle retirement home debate,” said Congressman Chaffetz. “Instead of relying on political guidance systems, these decisions must be steered by history and logic. My legislation would designate the retirement home of the three Space Shuttles based on the location and history of the Shuttles’ launches, landings, and mission support, the fourth based on the Smithsonian’s role in preserving American artifacts.” (4/15)

Rocket Launches From California Coast (Source: AP)
A rocket carrying a national security payload has been successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast. The Atlas 5 rocket blasted off shortly before 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Vandenberg officials said the satellite was carrying a classified payload from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees the nation's constellation of spy satellites. (4/15)

Colliding Black Holes Twist and Stretch Spacetime (Source: Discovery)
How would you go about visualizing the violent mess in the wake of a black hole collision? As physicists are realizing: with great difficulty. Understanding how spacetime will respond as two supermassive black holes collide has perplexed astrophysicists for some time. But with the help of some clever theoretical tools, a group of physicists have found a nifty way of understanding how spacetime reacts under some of the most extreme forces in the cosmos.

At the point where the black hole's well goes from "sloping" to "vertical", anything that falls into this well cannot get out. This limit is known as the "event horizon," the point at which even light cannot escape. Now, to complicate matters even further, start spinning the black hole. What happens to spacetime then? Not only has it been warped to such an extreme that anything that strays too close is lost to oblivion, but the spinning action causes "creases" in spacetime. The creases will rotate with the black hole, a phenomenon known as "frame dragging."

So we have extreme warping and frame dragging, how can these characteristics be visualized? How do they interact? At points within the warped spacetime, we can imagine a grid of arrows. Each arrow acts like a compass, but instead of pointing at a magnetic object, they are directed by the force of gravity. By linking these arrows, researchers were able to construct a "map" with two different types of lines that represent the warping of spacetime. One set of lines have been dubbed "tandex lines" and the other, "vortex lines." Click here. (4/15)

Amid Jamming Worries, Tests For GPS Receivers (Source: Aviation Week)
Manufacturers and users are racing to test untold numbers of GPS receivers for susceptibility to jamming as the threat of interference from a planned U.S. nationwide broadband wireless network turns a harsh spotlight on the vulnerability of the satellite navigation system upon which aviation and the public have come to depend.

Receiver testing is under way in the certain knowledge that telecommunications company LightSquared’s plans to deploy 40,000 high-power transmitters beginning this year will interfere with GPS. What is not known is the extent of interference; and under the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) conditional approval of LightSquared’s plans, the GPS community only has until June 15 to determine the extent and find solutions. (4/15)

Closure for FY-11 Budget: Congress Approves $18.45 Billion for NASA (Source: Space News)
Congress included $18.45 billion for NASA in the hard-fought spending compromise lawmakers passed April 14 to fund the federal government for the last five months of the 2011 budget year. Formal passage of the budget compromise Congress and the White House reached April 8 to avert a government shutdown brings an end to the uncertainty that has frustrated decision making at NASA since last October. But it also leaves NASA with a budget some $240 million below last year's level.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the spending legislation, H.R. 1473, despite his party's objections to many of the $38 billion in cuts it contains. Most of the NASA savings were achieved by funding Space Operations — an account that includes the international space station and soon-to-be-retired space shuttle — at about $600 million below the 2010 level and denying increases the White House sought for Aeronautics and Education. There's also no funding specified for Space Technology, a roughly $300 million account NASA hopes to boost to $1 billion next year. (4/15)

KSC Has Lost Over $500K In Items Since 2008 (Source: WFTV)
A new "lost inventory" list shows Kennedy Space Center sometimes has difficulty keeping track of its most basic equipment. The agency has lost more than $519,000 worth of items since 2008. The list includes a host of smaller items, three handheld radios, nine computers and printers, six digital cameras, and that's only the start. There were also big ticket items, like a $100,000 digital recorder, an $18,000 reflectometer and even a $3,000 golf cart. Some items may have been removed as garbage. Others were lost in a move. (4/15)

Curacao to Become Part of Space Tourism Race (Source: Caribbean 360)
The small Dutch-speaking island of Curacao will be catapulted into history when it becomes the launch pad for a Dutch business venture into space. A group of Dutch businessmen are to offer space trips for private individuals from 2014 with crewed single-passenger flights taking off from Curacao for about 35 minutes at a cost of $ 95,000 dollars. The first flights are to take off on 1 January 2014. (4/15)

Texas Congressmen Threaten to Block Shuttle From Coming to New York (Source: NY Post)
Houston has a problem with being snubbed as a destination for one NASA's retiring space shuttles and 16 Texas congressmen Thursday threatened legislation to block one from going to New York City.

On Tuesday, NASA announced institutions in Los Angeles, Cape Canaveral, and outside Washington, D.C., would get retiring shuttles, while New York City's Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum was awarded the Enterprise, a prototype that never left Earth. On Thursday, 15 Republican House members and one Democrat wrote to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden demanding answers and warning "we will do everything in our power in Congress, including legislation to prevent funding of the transfer, to stop this wasteful decision" to give New York City the piece of space exploration history. (4/15)

New Inductions for U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (Source: Hometown News)
KSC's Visitor Complex will host a May 7 celebration to honor the induction of the 10th group of shuttle astronauts into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, an event that will include autograph signings and other events with many space heroes. Retired Air Force Colonel Karol J. "Bo" Bobko and Air Force Lt. General Susan Helms, will join the ranks of legendary space pioneers, bringing the total number of inductees to 79. (4/15)

Ukraine and Brazil Want to Build International Space Center in Alcantara by 2014 (Source: Interfax)
Ukraine and Brazil want to implement a joint project to build a large international launch center in Alcantara by 2014, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said. "We are discussing a very ambitious project with Brazil on the construction of a very large space port," he told Ukrainian journalists on Thursday.

"We agreed to work through this project to such an extent that we could implement it in the shortest possible time – within two to two-and-a-half years," the Ukrainian premier said. According to Azarov, Ukraine intends to take part both in designing and in the construction of the spaceport, as well as to provide launch vehicles for it. The parties are discussing the possibility of parity financing of the space center's construction. (4/15)

Schumer Wants Enterprise to Land at Stewart (Source: Mid-Hudson News)
Stewart Airport at Newburgh is certified as an alternative landing field for the space shuttle because of its 18,000 foot long main runway. Although no shuttle has ever landed at Stewart, US Senator Charles Schumer would like the Intrepid Museum-bound Enterprise to be flown into Stewart and then be brought to its final resting place by barge on the Hudson River. He made his request known to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. (4/15)

NOAA Chief Sounds Alarm Over Likely Weather Data Gap (Source: SpaceFlighNow.com)
The administrator of NOAA warned lawmakers this week the United States could face eroding weather forecast capabilities due to insufficient funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System, a new series of civil spacecraft to monitor severe storms, observe major disasters and collect information for long-term climate prediction models.

Like many federal agencies, NOAA was hit with a significant funding reduction in the budget bill passed by Congress Thursday. The agency's procurement budget, which includes satellite development, was reduced by $25 million from the 2010 level to $1.34 billion through the end of September. That's more than $700 million less than the spending requested by NOAA for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. (4/15)

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