May 24, 2011

Russia Says a Fifth of Defense Budget Stolen (Source: Reuters)
A fifth of Russia's state defense spending is stolen every year by corrupt officials, dishonest generals and crooked contractors, Russia's chief military prosecutor said. President Dmitry Medvedev says endemic corruption is holding back Russia's development, but anti-bribery groups say the problem has become worse since Medvedev was steered into the Kremlin by his mentor Vladimir Putin in 2008.

"Huge money is being stolen - practically every fifth rouble and the troops are still getting poor quality equipment and arms," chief military prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky told Russia's official gazette, Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "Every year more and more money is set aside for defense but the successes are not great," he said, adding that kickbacks and fictitious contracts were being used to defraud the state.

Editor's Note: Could similar concerns be behind the ongoing shakeup at Roskosmos and prosecutions within Russia's space industry? (5/24)

Conversations About the Future: Beyond the Shuttle (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Join us for a panel discussion about the future of U.S. spaceflight after the shuttle. Panelists are Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator for NASA; Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator from Florida; Garrett Reisman, former astronaut and Senior Engineer for SpaceX; Alan Stern, aerospace consultant and former Chief of Science Missions for NASA, and Dale Ketcham, Director of the Spaceport Research and Technology Institute at UCF. Moderated by the orlando Sentinel's Mike Lafferty. Click here for information. (5/24)

Farewell Spirit (Source: Space Policy Online)
Spirit is one of two MERs that landed on Mars in 2004. Its sister, Opportunity, continues to explore the Martian surface. Spirit got stuck in a sand trap when one of its wheels stopped working and stranded it in a position where its solar panels could not be recharged from the Sun. Essentially it froze to death. The mission was designed to last three months on Mars and thus vastly exceeded its design lifetime. (5/24)

SpaceX Responds To Forbes Contributor Loren Thompson (Source: Forbes)
Contributor Loren Thompson’s recent post on Forbes’ Business in the Beltway blog is the latest example of his transparent agenda to discredit commercial space providers that may provide significant competition to the big defense contractors that are his clients and benefactors. Mr. Thompson is a paid consultant for Lockheed Martin, which competes with SpaceX in various space ventures.

Mr. Thompson has a long history of attacking SpaceX in the press. He implies that the idea of introducing free market principles of open competition to the space industry is some sort of liberal Obama administration conspiracy. In fact, the plan to rely on commercial companies for access to low Earth orbit was initiated more than seven years ago under President George W. Bush as part of his Vision for Space Exploration. Furthermore, SpaceX openly competed and won the overwhelming majority of its NASA contracts in 2006 and 2008.

What makes SpaceX “the leading non-traditional launch provider to the space agency” is not its connections in Washington – as Mr. Thompson implies – but a demonstrated record of success that has shaken up the industry... Safe, reliable and affordable transportation of cargo and astronauts to low Earth orbit by an American company will save U.S. taxpayers significant money that can instead be invested in what NASA does best – exploration. Click here to read the article. (5/24)

Lesson for Obama: JFK's Global Push Into Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Fifty years ago today, President Kennedy asked the nation to "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth."... I believe there are lessons to be learned from John F. Kennedy's role in the Apollo program that are relevant to addressing today's unclear plans for resuming human exploration beyond Earth orbit.

...If President Obama hopes for a positive space legacy, he needs to emulate John Kennedy; without sustained presidential leadership, NASA will continue to lack the focus required for a space effort producing acknowledged international leadership and national pride in what the United States accomplishes.

...One other aspect of JFK's relationship to the U.S. space program may also be relevant to today's situation. Close Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorensen noted in a 1995 interview that "it is no secret that Kennedy would have preferred to cooperate with the Soviets" in space rather than initiate a costly space race. Click here to read the article. (5/24)

One Last Endeavor (Source: USAF)
The U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing provided flawless Eastern Range support for NASA¹s successful launch of the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour last Monday. A combined team of military, government civilians and contractors from across the 45th Space Wing provided vital support to the STS-134 mission, including weather forecasts, launch and range operations, safety and public affairs.

The wing also provided its vast network of radar, telemetry, optical and communications instrumentation to facilitate a safe launch on the Eastern Range. "As always, the 45th Space Wing is pleased to have supported NASA on another successful and safe launch," said Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, commander, 45th Space Wing.

"Speaking on behalf of the entire Eastern Range team, congratulations and best wishes to the crew aboard Endeavour as they support our nation's human-space program. It¹s been our honor to be part of Endeavour's final mission to space." (5/24)

ZUBRIN: Treating Space Like the American West (Source: Washington Times)
In the history of the old frontier, the creation of the transcontinental railroad served as the decisive move enabling the settling of the continent. Can we today deliver a similar master stroke and open the way to the full and rapid development of the new frontier, space? Can we open a “transorbital railroad”? I believe so. The core idea is simple.

Instead of funding NASA to spend the next decade developing another white elephant to replace the Space Shuttle, let’s just take a quarter of the shuttle’s budget and use it to set up a regularly scheduled launch service to orbit using the most cost-effective boosters on the commercial market.

One-quarter of the shuttle program would provide a budget of $1.2 billion per year. This could buy 15 launches per year, or one every 24 days, with a total lift capacity of 795 metric tons. This is nearly 10 times the annual delivery capability of the shuttle program - which over the course of its 30-year history averaged about 80 tons per year - at one-quarter the cost. Click here to read the article. (5/24)

NASA Preparing to Put Astronauts on Commercial Rockets (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA wants private companies such as Boeing or SpaceX to put astronauts on their rockets by mid-decade, to provide the next American space vehicles to replace the space shuttles. And it's setting up a new Commercial Crew Program office at Kennedy Space Center to set standards for how to do it.

More than 200 senior executives from dozens of private space companies are meeting with NASA officials here this week to talk about what NASA – and the companies -- can expect when the agency's new program becomes operational. "We are set to have Soyuz go through 2015. So we need to have a system that is ready at or near that time," said Ed Mango, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "The longer we have tax dollars go overseas, that's probably not a good thing."

Mango's office – only about 50 employees now and possibly 100 soon – doesn't come close to replacing the shuttle program, which at its peak employed more than 10,000 at KSC. But NASA's decision to establish it here, with a branch office at Houston's Johnson Space Center, ensures that KSC will be the future hub of private rocket activity, said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida. (5/24)

Astronauts Sail Past Halfway Point of Long Flight (Source: AP)
The astronauts on NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight hit the halfway point of their 16-day journey Tuesday, marveling over earthly vistas and expressing sadness over Endeavour's looming retirement. Endeavour's six astronauts took it easy on their eighth day in orbit. On Monday, they said goodbye to three space station colleagues who landed safely in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. Now there are just nine men — representing the U.S., Russia and Italy — aboard the shuttle-station complex. (5/24)

Milky Way Galaxy Is Bent Like a Sombrero (Source:
A newfound stretch of the Milky Way reveals that our galaxy's distant rim is warped like the edge of a sombrero, and that our galaxy may be far more symmetrical than previously thought, scientists say. Astronomers know the Milky Way is shaped like a spiral, but how many arms this spiral possesses has long been a matter of debate.
Recently, scientists have suggested that our galaxy has only two major arms, the Perseus Arm and the Scutum-Centaurus Arm, stretching out from a central bar, with our sun lying relatively near the Perseus Arm. Now scientists have more evidence supporting this two-armed structure, but they add a twist to this idea, literally. They suggest the Scutum-Centaurus Arm has a bend to it, warping the edges of the Milky Way. (5/24)

Shuttle Crew Works With Key Life Support System (Source: Florida Today)
The Endeavour astronauts are hauling supplies and equipment between their shuttle and the International Space Station today while working with a key outpost life support system. With the shuttle and the station linked together 220 miles above Earth, the Endeavour crew also took time out of a light duty day to talk with reporters from television, radio stations and newspapers. (5/24)

Black Holes are Spinning Faster (Source: Astronomy Now)
Supermassive black holes located in the hearts of galaxies are spinning faster than they ever have before, perhaps as a result of recent merging events, according to researchers. Although invisible, black holes give themselves away by the churning disc of material that swirls around them before being swallowed, becoming hot and emitting radiation in a final death cry. Twin jets are also often associated with black holes, the spin of which is thought to be important in their generation. (5/24)

Florida Hires Masten For Suborbital Flight Demos (Source: Aviation Week)
Space Florida has hired Masten Space Systems for a series of suborbital demonstration flights from Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The $400,000 launch services contract includes multiple flights of Masten’s vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) reusable suborbital vehicle, called Xaero.

The contract is the second for Masten’s suborbital launcher within a week. NASA on May 13 announced it was hiring Masten and Armadillo Aerospace to fly four suborbital science payloads, including an (Embry-Riddle) propellant storage and transfer system and a precision landing technology demonstration. The Space Florida contract enables Masten, which is based in Mojave, Calif., an opportunity to get hands-on experience operating at the Cape.

Space Florida considers the program not just a boon for Masten, but also a way to set guidelines, operating requirements and facilities fees for other new vehicles that may be looking to fly out of Florida. The agency also plans to spend an unspecified amount of money to cover range costs and facilities upgrades at Launch Complex 36. (5/24)

SETI Talks Seminar Series Includes Weekly Talks (Source: SETI Institute)
The 'SETI Talks' Seminar Series is a weekly scientific colloquium held in Mountain View, California. We have speakers from around the Bay Area and beyond talk about their latest science results. Every Sunday we archive a new talk online, with almost 140 now available here. Latest talks include 'New Horizons' by Alan Stern, 'Evidence for a Subsurface Ocean on Titan' by Francis Nimmo, and 'Habitability of Martian Permafrost' by Aaron Zent. You can view a quick intro to the series here. (5/24)

NASA: Lockheed Will Build MPCV under Orion Contract (Source: Space News)
The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) NASA is directed to develop by Congress to send humans into deep space will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the Orion prime contractor since 2006, will continue working to develop the MPCV.

"As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track," said Charles Bolden. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The spacecraft will have a pressurized volume of 19.5 cubic meters, with nearly 9 cubic meters of habitable space. (5/24)

Lawmakers Continue to Debate FAA Reauthorization Bill (Source: AIA)
House Democrats are warning that passage of long-term legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration is in doubt. A bill to temporarily extend the FAA was approved by the House in a voice vote earlier this week. Republicans, however, are aiming to reduce the FAA's funding and make it more difficult for air and rail unions to form. Democrats argue that such restrictions are putting the legislation in jeopardy. (5/24)

Lunar Lander Made with 'Home Depot Engineering' (Source: Discovery)
A scrappy team of NASA engineers is testing a prototype robotic lander, hoping to build into a machine the quick thinking and precision piloting Neil Armstrong needed to land on the moon. Along the way, managers want to shake up the status quo at NASA, which has spent the past 30 years managing and operating the multi-billion space shuttle and space station programs.

The initiative is called Project Morpheus. For now, it's just the seed of a spacecraft, a testbed for autonomous flight and an alternative, methane propulsion system. But the ultimate goal, says project manager Matt Ondler, is to land a humanoid robot on the moon. Project Morpheus epitomizes what Ondler calls "Home Depot engineering," low-budget projects that encourage scrounging hardware, using existing facilities and partnering with startup companies that are not traditional government contractors.

NASA has been getting a refresher course in ingenuity from a handful of commercial space companies, including Armadillo Aerospace, its partner in Project Morpheus. The Texas-based firm is testing technologies for suborbital spaceships for tourists and to fly science payloads. Ondler's team is focused on two technologies: an autonomous landing system that can identify and avoid hazards such as boulders, craters and steep cliffs; and a liquid methane propulsion system. (5/24)

NASA Heavy-Lift Looking Like Ares 5 (Source: Space News)
We are hearing with increasing clarity that the congressionally mandated heavy-lifter will look an awful lot like the Ares 5, the behemoth NASA began designing in 2006 for manned Moon missions. Ares 5 did not factor into the Obama administration's flexible-path approach to getting astronauts out of low Earth orbit.

Nevertheless, the Space Launch System likely will feature side-mounted solid rocket boosters and an upper stage design -- and contracts -- brought over from the defunct Ares 5 program. Its lox-hydrogen-powered core stage would be built by the winner of an open competition.

When Congress demands that you get started right away on a heavy-lift rocket that can lift as much as Ares 5 -- and make maximum use of existing infrastructure, hardware, designs and contracts -- it should come as no surprise if the new rocket ends up looking a lot like the old rocket. It's not exactly rocket science. (5/24)

Debate Over Dark Energy Reality Reignited (Source: Cosmos)
A major survey of more than 200,000 galaxies has provided the strongest evidence so far for the existence of mysterious 'dark energy', according to Australian astronomers. Proof that this unknown quantity is real would revolutionize our understanding of the laws of physics, explaining why the universe appears to be expanding at an increasing rate and will tell us if, when, and how it might end. It could also resolve a century old 'mistake' in Einstein's Theory of Relativity. (5/24)

The Challenge Of Putting Astronauts on a Near-Earth Asteroid (Source: MIT Technology Review)
What next for the human exploration of space? One idea is to send the next generation of astronauts to explore a near Earth asteroid. Let's set aside, for a moment, the question of whether human exploration of space is viable and look at the supposed benefits of visiting a passing rock.

First, asteroids are of enormous scientific interest, being remnants of the primordial Solar System. Second, they need to be well-characterized so that we can head one off should it ever come our way. And finally, they may provide the raw materials and resources for future missions which can use them as stepping stones to Mars and beyond.

But what makes near Earth asteroids particularly inviting from an engineering point of view is their small velocity relative to Earth. A small delta-V, as rocket scientists call this, means less fuel and more payload. And that translates into longer missions with a better scientific return. That raises an obvious question: which asteroid do we aim for? Click here tor read the article. (5/24)

SETI Pushes Ahead (Source: Astronomy Now)
As Mark Twain might have said, the reports of SETI’s death are greatly exaggerated. As a key instrument in SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) has hit the buffers. A network of forty-two 6.1-meter radio dishes in northern California, the ATA was placed into ‘hibernation’ in April and staff laid off as funding to maintain its operation dried up. The media proclaimed the end of SETI, but a new survey of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft is showing that there is life beyond the ATA.

This May astronomers procured the Robert C Byrd Green Bank radio telescope, which at 90.4-meters is the largest steerable radio dish in the world, to pursue potential alien signals from 86 Kepler candidates. The survey will acquire 24 hours – amounting to about 60 terabytes – of data in total that, after a rough analysis, will be passed onto the one million SETI@home users around the globe for their computers to analyze. (5/24)

ISS Astronauts Land Safely in Kazakhstan (Source: AFP)
A Soyuz space capsule carrying an Italian, a Russian and an American back from the International Space Station has landed safely in Kazakhstan. Russia's Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, and NASA's Catherine Coleman landed in the correct location to the east of the town of Jezkazgan after spending 159 days in space, mission control said in a statement. (5/24)

Tripped Breaker Interrupts Space Station Science (Source: Florida Today)
The Endeavour astronauts replaced an International Space Station circuit breaker that tripped Monday, bringing to a halt the flow of data from a new $2 billion cosmic ray detector and other science payloads on the outpost. The data outage lasted about five or six hours. But U.S. astronaut Ron Garan, a flight engineer aboard the station, was able to reroute cabling to save imagery taken during an unprecedented Soyuz spacecraft departure from the outpost. (5/24)

New Russia Manned Spaceship to Fly 30 Days Independently (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Energia Space Corporation develops not just a new manned spaceship, but a system of spaceships, said Roskosmos official Alexei Krasnov. The corporation carries out gradual modernization of the Soyuz spaceship, that will take three years. All the ship’s systems are fully modernized and will have newly developed technologies which will be used in future in a new manned system.

The systems of ships, including a heavy and lighter versions, has also a freight model. The heavy ship, Krasnov continued, can fly independently up to 30 days, undock from the ISS and fulfil special tasks during an independent flight.

The lighter version of the ship will be designed for the delivery of a crew according to a shorter trajectory than now: a flight to the station will take not two days, but much shorter time. This series will also include a freight version of a ship, capable of bringing to the station several times more cargoes than the present-day Soyuz. (5/24)

UK Skylon Spaceplane Passes Key Review (Source: BBC)
A revolutionary UK spaceplane concept has been boosted by the conclusions of an important technical review. The proposed Skylon vehicle would do the job of a big rocket but operate like an airliner, taking off and landing at a conventional runway. The European Space Agency's propulsion experts have assessed the details of the concept and found no showstoppers.

They want the next phase of development to include a ground demonstration of its key innovation - its Sabre engine. This power unit is designed to breathe oxygen from the air in the early phases of flight - just like jet engines - before switching to full rocket mode as the Skylon vehicle climbs out of the atmosphere. (5/24)

They’d Take a One-Way Ticket to Mars (Source: Washington Post)
Why would anyone take a one-way trip to Mars? We asked some of the people who wrote to the Journal of Cosmology about the mission to describe themselves and the reasoning behind their interest. Following are excerpts from their e-mails: Paul E. Gregersen, 61, Clarno, Wis. - I am married (she would not be happy with me if I was able to go); clergyperson with the United Methodist Church 2002-present; retired 1st Sgt USMC March 1996; retired from health care administration after 34 years in 2007.

"I believe the older generation would be a good fit for this trip. We are rather mature, lived a good life in most cases. Perhaps we could give back something to further space exploration for future generations. My hope would be that enough of us would go so that we could be comforted by a number of individuals rather than just a select few. I am not concerned about a return trip, as I believe within a decade that would be feasible also." Click here to read the article. (5/24)

What NASA Risks By Betting On Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Source: Forbes)
As the final launch of the Space Shuttle approaches this summer, NASA is preparing to bet the future of its human spaceflight program on non-traditional and largely unproven launch providers. Foremost among these so-called commercial space companies is SpaceX. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is widely lauded in the media, where his pronouncements on the bright future of commercial space travel are frequently highlighted without much scrutiny.

You don’t have to be a believer in conspiracy theories to wonder why senior government officials are so committed to going the commercial route in space. The questions begin with a business strategy that isn’t just disruptive, but downright incredible. Mr. Musk says that he can offer launch prices far below those quoted by any traditional provider — including the Chinese — by running a lean, vertically integrated enterprise with minimal government oversight that achieves sizable economies of scale.

There isn’t much serious research to demonstrate that the pent-up demand Musk postulates really exists, nor that the price reductions he foresees are feasible. He has suggested in some interviews that launch costs could decline to a small fraction of current levels if all the assumptions in his business plan come true, and he has posted a commentary explaining how SpaceX is already able to offer the lowest prices in the business. Click here to read the article. (5/24)

Legacy Space Companies Running Scared (Source: Washington Examiner)
China isn't the only place worried that they will not be able to compete with upstart launch companies like SpaceX -- traditional American cost-plus space contractors are starting to worry as well. In a Forbes posting by the Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson, he disingenuously warns us all about the dangers of relying on the company.

Why does Mr. Thompson write these tendentious pieces? Why so many misstatements? The Lexington Institute claims to be a free-market libertarian entity, which is funny, because according to Harper's magazine, it's actually "the defense industry’s pay-to-play ad agency.” Lockheed Martin is a major contributor. Lockheed Martin has contracts being threatened by the new way of doing space business. Follow the money. And then recognize these hit pieces for what they are. (5/24)

Why NASA Can’t Move Forward (Source: TEA Party in Space)
NASA cannot build a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV). Not because they do not have the talent, but because the talent cannot overcome the lobbyists. Just look at this headline: “Huntsville lobbying team heads to Washington to listen, not just talk“. NASA is stuck in 1969, not because they want to be, but because of actions like this.

As TEA Party members we judge all issues through our core values. We fight for fiscal responsibility, we fight for limited government, and we fight for access to free markets. None of these core values are exemplified by Alabama, MSFC, and their gang of lobbyists. However, companies and organizations like ULA, SpaceX, XCOR, Armadillo, and Astrobotic do exemplify our core values… even if they do not want to admit it. These companies and organizations have to meet a payroll and they have to deliver services or they don’t get paid, unlike MSFC and the failed Constellation program. (5/24)

Maryland Governor Launches New Space Business Development Initiative (Source: Gov. O'Malley)
Gov. Martin O’Malley unveiled a bold new initiative to increase the business development and commercialization opportunities of the state’s space industry at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt. Speaking before over 500 members of the Roundtable, the Governor reinforced a commitment to this vibrant sector and outlined new policy initiatives and investments in Maryland: The Business of Space Science.

“Working side-by-side with our congressional delegation and our 'Space Senator,' Barbara Mikulski, we will pursue program policies to leverage our federal facilities and institutions of science and discovery to unlock the enormous economic and employment potential of Maryland’s space sector,” Governor O'Malley said. “The breakthroughs and innovations occurring in Maryland at NASA, NOAA, Johns Hopkins, APL and other institutions represent new frontiers for commercialization and business development in areas like carbon monitoring, manufacturing and life sciences." (5/24)

Maryland Governor Wants a Space Business Incubator (Source: Maryland Daily Record)
The state will start an incubator for space-related businesses and take other steps to “unlock the enormous economic and employment potential of Maryland’s space sector,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said. The Department of Business and Economic Development will house a space authority to direct the state’s efforts to nurture the industry. The space office will likely consist of two staffers and have $600,000 in annual funding starting in fiscal 2012, which begins July 1.

The incubator will open sometime that year, DBED spokeswoman Maureen Kilcullen said. The department is in discussions with Goddard, the University of Maryland, College Park and the Maryland Technology Development Corp. about the incubator. DBED expects the facility to be located in Prince George’s County adjacent to the university or Goddard campus. DBED estimates there are 18,000 space industry jobs in the state already with an average yearly salary of $110,000. (5/24)

Despite Legislative Setbacks, Hawaii Still Supports Space (Source: Pacific Business News)
If you could bottle the energy generated by Jim Crisafulli, you’d have enough fuel to power a rocket to the moon. Crisafulli is head of the state’s Office of Aerospace Development and serves as the point man for the growth of Hawaii’s space industry. He’s quick to tell you about a new agreement with NASA that calls for the development of test sites on the Big Island for technology that would be used in the exploration of the moon and deeper space.

Crisafulli will wax poetic about the possibility of building a lunar research park on the Big Island and the international implications that would have. It’s amazing that Crisafulli can maintain his enthusiasm despite the setback that Hawaii’s space industry experienced during the recent legislative session. Three bills, including one that would fund a spaceport license, were rejected in the final days of the session.

The actions by lawmakers could be sending the wrong message to NASA and others in the space industry that Hawaii isn’t interested in taking the lead when it comes to space research. But Crisafulli said this isn’t the case. He said the bills had the support of the legislators, but when it came down to deciding between funding space programs and balancing the budget, lawmakers had no choice. “I’m now getting letters to NASA with assurances that it had noting to do with a lack of state support or interest,” he said. (5/24)

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