May 26, 2011

$800M Feather in UA's Cap is So Much More (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
NASA's decision to award the University of Arizona $800 million for a robotic space mission is much more than a mere feather in our local cap. Yes, it will be the largest project the UA has ever had, as principal investigator Mike Drake said. And yes, the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory beat out two other finalists for the NASA New Frontiers grant: a mission to Venus headed by the University of Colorado in Boulder and a mission to the moon led by Washington University in St. Louis.

As important, the new project will deepen and extend the UA's already outstanding reputation in the space-exploration field. A team from the Lunar and Planetary Lab earlier led the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which cost $428 million and landed a robotic science laboratory on Mars in May 2008. (5/26)

Lawmakers Wary of NASA’s Space Station Logistics Plan (Source: Space News)
Members of a congressional panel questioned the wisdom of NASA’s plan to rely on two commercial companies to handle the critically important job of ferrying cargo to the space station after the space shuttle retires. During a May 26 hearing, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) accused NASA of “gambling the future of space station on the success of two very new launch systems.”

Hall, who serves as chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said NASA’s original plan to encourage companies to develop commercial launch capabilities and then award space station logistics contracts through competition was reasonable. The current approach, which is based on the assumption that Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will be capable of delivering cargo to the space station starting in 2012, is much riskier because NASA has no backup cargo vehicle to rely upon if the companies encounter severe technical challenges or schedule delays, he said.

“In spite of optimistic projections and even the success of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and Dragon capsule recovery, NASA’s commercial cargo partners have yet to demonstrate the ability to safely deliver cargo to the international space station,” said Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee. (5/26)

Proposals Sought for Spaceport America Visitor Experience (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the Visitor Experience for Spaceport America. "Spaceport America is all about creating new jobs and making New Mexico an even bigger tourism destination,” said Anderson.

The RFP calls for services in the following areas: attraction and exhibit development, visitor facilities design, marketing and branding, fundraising/sponsorship development, and market research services. Complete details are contained in the RFP issued and posted on the Spaceport America website, under the “Proposals” tab, here. (5/26)

PWR Lays Off 300, Including 69 at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Rocket-engine maker Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is laying off about 300 people, including 69 at its facility at Kennedy Space Center, the company said this week. The company, which has powered missions to virtually every planet in the solar system, cited a sluggish economy, uncertainty in the space industry and concerns about government spending as reasons for the job cuts.

The Kennedy layoffs were included in the state's regular announcements of major job reductions around the state. The company said it had already cut back in other areas, reducing spending on facility space, salaries and travel. Salaried workers who are being let go will receive severance packages that include benefits. (5/26)

NASA-Funded Scientists Make Lunar Watershed Discovery (Source: NASA)
A team of NASA-funded researchers has measured for the first time water from the moon in the form of tiny globules of molten rock, which have turned to glass-like material trapped within crystals. Data from these newly-discovered lunar melt inclusions indicate the water content of lunar magma is 100 times higher than previous studies suggested.

The inclusions were found in lunar sample 74220, the famous high-titanium "orange glass soil" of volcanic origin collected during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The scientific team used a state-of-the-art ion microprobe instrument to measure the water content of the inclusions, which were formed during explosive eruptions on the moon approximately 3.7 billion years ago. (5/26)

The Continuing Constellation Underfunding Myth (Source: Transterrestrial Musings)
The Armstrong/Cernan/Lovell op-ed blamed budget cuts for Constellation's troubles, but the numbers tell a different story. The truth is the exact opposite — NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate received $2.4 billion (17%) more than what was promised in the FY 2005 VSE budget. See the year-by-year numbers here.

In every fiscal year with the exception of FY07, Exploration Systems received hundreds of millions of dollars more than what was promised in the FY 2005 VSE budget. It is simply not true that Exploration Systems failed to develop Ares I, Orion, and the rest of Constellation on time due to budget cutbacks. The opposite is the truth — Ares I, Orion, and Constellation failed despite a 17% increase in the Exploration Systems budget. (5/26)

Congress Is Using Bad Numbers To Trash a Business Case (Source: NASA Watch)
When a witness testifies before this committee they are required to sign a "Truth in Testimony" from which the committee now posts on its hearing website (just look uner each witness' name for links). Yet the hearing charter that the committee posts on its site does not seem to be held to the same high standards. One glaring example:

"The terms of the contracts awarded to SpaceX and Orbital call for delivery of at least 40 metric tons (approximately 88,160 pounds) of cargo to the space station between 2010 and 2015 for $3.5 billion. SpaceX was awarded $1.6 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 12 cargo resupply missions. Orbital was awarded $1.9 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 8 cargo resupply missions.... Approximate cost per pound to ISS: Space Shuttle* - $21,268; Russian Progress - $18,149; Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) - $26,770."

Are full shuttle development costs, sustaining engineering, post-Challenger and post-Columbia fixes etc. included? Is any honest attempt whatsoever made to figure out what the development costs (mostly by the communist command economy Soviet Union) were for Soyuz/Progress system? Everyone knows that the Russians pick the highest cost they can get away with (they learned capitalism from us all too well). Yet this committee's staff provides these misleading numbers to the members of the committee to cite as facts. (5/26)

Boeing Exec Outlines Outlook for Defense and Space Unit (Source: Aerospace Daily)
Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing's defense and space unit, warned about long-term concerns related to budget cuts and industrial base health. Muilenburg described the market as "a tough defense environment right now." However, despite an overall reduction of around $18 billion in the fiscal 2011 U.S. defense budget, Boeing will see a $1.2 billion increase. “If you include NASA, that’s a $3 billion increase,” Muilenburg adds. Over the next five years, the company anticipates seeing an overall defense budget reduction of $78 billion in fiscal 2012-16. (5/26)

Tornadoes 2011: Watch Incredible Satellite Footage (Source: Huffington Post))
Americans following the recent tornadoes ravaging through the midwest have been captivated by the shocking amateur and professional footage constantly emerging from the region over the past several weeks. And while shots from the ground strive to capture the intensity of these natural disasters, the following clip taken by the GOES-13 satellite offers a sense of just how massive these storms can get.

The footage, depicting aerial views from space between May 20 and May 25, shows the tornado as it travels from Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri into Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. This includes the storms that prompted the horrific Joplin MO tornado on May 22 and the Oklahoma event two days later. Click here. (5/26)

UCF Scientist to Chase Down Asteroid for Historic Mission (Source: UCF)
One of the world’s leading planetary science experts is chasing down a nearby asteroid to help retrieve the first-ever sample from one in orbit. Humberto Campins, a UCF professor who discovered water ice on two different asteroids last year, has just gotten the go-ahead for the NASA-sponsored OSIRIS-REx mission.

The mission is a first-of-its-kind. The actual flight to the nearby asteroid will pose challenges because asteroids have unusual gravity fields and can rotate much quicker than planets. Navigating their space vehicle to land on this type of asteroid – millions of miles away from Earth – and scoop up a sample of “primitive” space rock also will be a first for the team.

While Campins is leaving the navigation to others on the team, he will work with lead investigator Michael Drake from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, on choosing the best spot on the asteroid for obtaining the sample and what this sample will tell us about the origins of life on Earth. The team had eagerly been waiting to see if NASA would select their project from a list of three finalists for a slot in the space agency’s New Frontiers Missions. (5/26)

Virginia Governor Sings Bill to Fund Spaceport Infrastructure (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell conducted a ceremonial signing into a law a state tax measure to redirect tax revenue generated from human spaceflights sold by Vienna, Va.-based Space Adventures. The measure is designed to help build commercial space launch infrastructure and support human spaceflights from the Virginia-based commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

SB1447 directs revenues to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority to support the expansion of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and to support human spaceflight in this decade. Gov. McDonnell noted that the space flight measure "will go far to encourage job creators to choose Virginia and invest in this state." Commercial space launch firms from around the nation are now taking a serious look-see at the space launch facilities at Wallops Island as a result of Virginia space law adopted over the past five years. (5/26)

Hawaii Takes Next Giant Leap With NASA Partnership (Source: Maui Now)
The state entered a new partnership with NASA today that marks a new step for Hawaii in space exploration. NASA and State officials have agreed to collaborate on a range of activities to promote America’s human and robotic exploration of space. The Governor’s office released a media advisory saying the partnership will contribute to the development of education programs and foster economic opportunities including new, high-tech jobs.

Under the agreement, the state is proposing to explore the development of a prototype International Lunar Research Park at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. Plans call for the use of Hawaii’s unique terrain, which is similar to that of the moon and Mars, to enable development and testing of tele-robotic and advanced automated vehicles. (5/26)

Astronomers Detect Most Distant Object in Universe (Source: Voice of America)
Astronomers have detected what is believed to be the most distant object in the universe - the remnants of a star that exploded with a burst of high-energy particles more than 13 billion years ago. Scientists hope the ancient gamma ray blast will shed new light on the formation of the universe. The 10 second gamma ray burst, detected in April 2009, occurred at a distance of 13.14 billion light years from Earth, far beyond any known quasar or galaxy. (5/26)

Ultimate Space Shots Still in Transit (Source: MSNBC)
In these days of instant gratification through digital imagery, it may seem strange that this week's unprecedented pictures of the International Space Station and the shuttle Endeavour linked together in orbit are still being processed. But that's essentially what's going on. The pictures are just now on their way to Moscow, contained on a batch of data-storage cards that are similar to the chips inside your digital camera. The data cards were left inside the Soyuz after it landed, and are due to be airlifted to Moscow on Thursday. (5/26)

Indian Telecom Agency for Auction of Space Spectrum (Source: Economic Times)
The telecoms department wants the lucrative space spectrum to be made available to only a clutch of licenced users through the competitive bidding route. It has recommended an early overhaul of the present system of allocating space airwaves on a first-come-first-served (FCFS) basis.

"The present system of space spectrum allocation should be reviewed by an expert committee to determine a more rational mechanism based on the maximum number of operators for various telecom and broadcasting services that the market can sustain, and thereafter, restrict the number of licensed users through competitive selection mechanisms," says an internal telecoms department note. (5/26)

Reversing Exposure to Radiation (Source: KRIV)
People like astronauts, deep sea divers, and those on the front lines of the nuclear disaster in Japan, are at a heightened risk for radiation. Finding a way to reverse radiation damage has been a huge challenge for the medical community. That is until now. NASA, the Johnson Space Center, several research centers, and a local company are hopeful they may have found the key to unlock the mystery.

"We put together a team of combined academia, the University of Pittsburgh, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Center for Space, as well as the industry. Amerisciences and NASA all working together to develop a formula to help crew members to resist radiation and oxidative stress while they're in space," says Dr. Jones. This group developed a special recipe, and Houston-based AmeriSciences produced the product.

"We have never had a good way to reverse radiation damage, at least not that I know of, and particularly that you can have a food-based product at the center of it makes it even more attractive. In other words, you don't have to take chemotherapy or some kind of strong drug to do it. You can actually have a food-based product to offset the effects," says Dr. Sabbagh. Click here to see the article. (5/26)

From Russia with Thrust (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
One of the little-noticed secrets of the worldwide launch industry is in the amount of Russian hardware and design experience that has gone into non-Russian rockets – including a good chunk of the U.S. industry. There also might be a bit of scandal involved, as one Russian manufacturer is accused of selling engines to United Launch Alliance for half price.

The Russian Comptroller's Office said Energomash sold its RD-180 rocket engines at half the production cost, according to a short report by RIA Novosti, losing $32 million as a result between 2008 and 2009. The RD-180 is at the heart of the Atlas V rocket built by Lockheed Martin and has been used on over 20 Atlas family launches, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a number of military and National Reconnaissance (i.e., spy) satellites, and the Air Force's X-37B orbital test vehicle. Click here to read the article. (5/26)

Did Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan Miss the Point? (Source: Space Politics)
Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan, in their op-ed, lament a lack of vision they see from the Obama administration. Here's an excerpt: "[Constellation] program enjoyed near-unanimous support, being approved and endorsed by the Bush administration and by both Democratic and Republican Congresses. However, due to its congressionally authorized funding falling victim to [OMB] cuts, earmarks and other unexpected financial diversions, Constellation fell behind schedule. An administration-appointed review committee concluded the Constellation program was “not viable” due to inadequate funding."

Funding originally projected for carrying out the Vision for Space Exploration didn’t materialize in later-year requests of the Bush Administration or in the appropriations bills passed by Congress. If there really was “near-unanimous support” for Constellation, then fully funding it shouldn’t have been a problem, right? What Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan miss in their op-ed is the current muddled situation regarding human spaceflight is not itself the problem, but instead a symptom of a deeper issue: space simply doesn’t have the same priority as it did 50 years ago, when it served as a proxy battlefield for the Cold War.

It’s easy to “support” a program by passing authorization legislation that provides policy direction but doesn’t include funding; backing up that policy with the funding needed to implement has been much more difficult, as recent years have demonstrated. Moreover, it’s not likely to get any easier in the years to come as members of Congress seek to cut federal spending. The challenge today is either to come up with a new compelling rationale for human spaceflight that makes it a higher priority and thus wins support for additional funding, or to find new ways to make do with less. (5/26)

Hearing Focuses on Perceived Higher Cost of Commercial Cargo (Source: Space Policy Online)
The hearing charter, prepared by committee staff, contains a table showing that the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) NASA is purchasing from SpaceX and Orbital Sciences will cost $26,700 per pound to ISS. By comparison, the cost for launch on the shuttle is $21,268 and on Russia's Progress is $18,149. The cost data do not include development costs, are considered proprietary information by the companies, and the shuttle costs assume four flights per year with a capability to deliver 16 metric tons to the ISS at a total annual program cost of $3 billion.

The document notes further that the costs for CRS would be higher if they were calculated the same way the shuttle costs were derived, by dividing the total CRS program cost by the mass delivered to the ISS. That cost would be $39,700 per pound. Other figures in the charter show that NASA will have spent $1.254 billion on commercial cargo by the end of FY2011 and its budget projections call for spending just over $5 billion for CRS between FY2011 and FY2016.

Committee staff also point out in the document that NASA was not supposed to sign contracts for any CRS until the companies had demonstrated their commercially-developed capabilities, but NASA has signed such contracts anyway and is using them to make progress payments to the companies. That means NASA "assumed significantly more risk for ensuring the success of the cargo providers," according to the document. (5/26)

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