June 3, 2011

SpaceX: Loren Thompson’s Deceit (Source: Forbes)
One of the oldest tactics in Washington is repeating a falsehood in a voice of deep conviction often enough that it eventually becomes the conventional wisdom. Loren Thompson, who masquerades as an independent, disinterested party, apparently believes in this approach. Repeating the distortions, innuendo and outright lies from his first blog post, Thompson — a paid consultant for big aerospace companies — is trying to sow doubt about SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft to make it seem that NASA is somehow betting the farm on an unproven company.

However, while SpaceX is currently the provider furthest along in the NASA effort to develop cargo and crew capabilities to serve the International Space Station (ISS), there are many others. NASA has a diversified portfolio of players, including Boeing and Orbital Sciences Corp. And in fact, SpaceX supports competition, which we believe is good for the entire industry, the taxpayer and the country.

Thompson seems to relish in going on about how SpaceX has missed its schedule, yet fails to acknowledge slips of major government developments like the now defunct Constellation moon program and the fact that it was costing NASA an order of magnitude more money for a program that was falling many years behind schedule before it was finally cancelled. Even the Space Shuttle, about to be retired after 30 years of service, was itself three years late to the launch pad. Click here. (6/3)

State Department's Budget to be Squeezed Even Tighter (Source: Defense News)
Congress reduced the State Department's budget for 2011, and now it appears that lawmakers will reduce it even further. The House Appropriations Committee announced plans to slash $11 billion from the budget of the State Department and foreign operations for 2012. The department had requested $47 billion for its 2012 budget, but the committee says it plans to reduce that figure to $36 billion. (6/3)

Lee Scherer, KSC's 2nd Leader, Dies at 91 (Source: Florida Today)
Lee Scherer, who led Kennedy Space Center through its last major transition between human spaceflight programs, will be remembered in a service later this month near his home in San Diego, Calif. Scherer, KSC's second center director from 1975 to 1979, died May 7 at age 91. (6/3)

Boeing to Lay Off 150 at KSC as Part of National Downsizing (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing will lay off 150 of its 515 Kennedy Space Center workers on Aug. 5, providing the last shuttle mission, scheduled for July 8, is complete. The layoffs could come later if the launch is delayed. Nationwide, 510 Boeing employees were issued layoff notices today. Some 260 employees in Houston and 100 in Huntington Beach, Calif., received them in addition to the KSC workers.

In addition, Boeing had previously announced about 35 layoffs on May 20 in the Checkout, Assembly and Payload Processing Services division at KSC. The company hopes to redeploy some personnel to the International Space Station and Commercial Crew Development programs in Florida, while aircraft assembly plants, such as the one gearing up in Charleston, S.C., could hire other Boeing workers from Florida. (6/3)

Moon Findings Muddy the Water (Source: Financial Times)
The discovery of significant amounts of water in and on the moon has raised questions about its origins. A new study, published last week in the journal Science, shows that there is far more water inside the moon than lunar geologists had realized. And it raises questions about the favoured theory for the origin of the moon: that it formed from material ejected by a huge impact in Earth’s early history.

Although the study points to the Earth and moon having a common origin, it is not consistent with the giant impact theory, because the water would have been driven off into space as vapour by such a cataclysmic high-temperature event. So the authors say that ideas about the early solar system may need revising. (6/3)

NASA Balks at Unified U.S. Govt. Rocket Procurement Plan (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Department of Defense and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) signed a memorandum of understanding in March formalizing a previously announced plan to commit to buying eight Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) cores per year, while NASA, the third signatory to the newly released memo, did not commit to a minimum EELV buy.

The memo also stated that the Pentagon and NRO by July 31 will publish a framework for allowing new entrants to compete to launch EELV-class national security payloads. The Air Force’s budget request for the EELV program in 2012 shot up nearly 50 percent to $1.76 billion, due to a combination of factors, including the ending of the U.S. space shuttle program and cancellation of NASA’s follow-on Constellation program.

Additionally, the government until recently had benefited from relatively low EELV prices that the government had last negotiated in 1998. NASA's decision not to commit to a specific number of EELV cores was made because each NASA mission is responsible for paying for its own launch, rather than having a single, dedicated funding line for all launch costs, said NASA’s assistant associate administrator for launch services. (6/3)

Despite Barriers, SES Invests Heavily in Indian Satellite Market (Source: Space News)
Regulatory barriers make gaining access to India’s satellite telecommunications market akin to drinking a keg of beer through a straw, but that is not stopping fleet operator SES from investing heavily there and setting its sights on capturing 40 percent of the Indian satellite television market in the next couple of years, SES officials said. (6/3)

Technical Issues Could Trim Life of NPP Instruments (Source: Space News)
Technical issues could limit the instrument payload on the first of a new generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites to three years of operation rather than the planned seven, according to a new report by NASA’s inspector general. The satellite itself, long delayed due primarily to development issues with the instruments, is designed for a five-year mission.

The June 2 report quoted NASA program managers as saying the instruments were developed in “an undisciplined environment” overseen by a tri-agency office led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Defense, with NASA as a junior partner. During development, the instruments “experienced technical and structural challenges that compromised their integrity,” the report said. (6/3)

Danish Amateurs Launch Homemade Rocket, Aim for Future Spaceflight (Source: Space.com)
A private Danish rocket launched into the sky on Jun. 3 on its first successful test flight — a trip that didn't reach anywhere near space but did mark a huge step forward for the team's plan to eventually loft people on cheap suborbital spaceflights. The Danish non-profit outfit Copenhagen Suborbitals launched its homemade rocket, called HEAT-1X from a floating platform in the Baltic Sea. (6/3)

How Typical is the Milky Way? (Source: Space Daily)
How unique is the Milky Way? To find out, a group of researchers led by Stanford University compared the Milky Way to similar galaxies and found that just four percent are like the galaxy Earth calls home. The research team compared the Milky Way to similar galaxies in terms of luminosity - a measure of how much light is emitted - and distance to other bright galaxies. They found galaxies that have two satellites that are as bright and close by as the Milky Way's two closest satellites, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, are rare. (6/3)

Microscopic Worms Could Help Open up Travel Into Deep Space (Source: Space Daily)
A space flight by millions of microscopic worms could help us overcome the numerous threats posed to human health by space travel. The Caenorhabditis elegans have also given experts an insight into how to block muscle degradation in the sick and elderly. The worms were flown into space for 11 days onboard Atlantis.

Many of C. elegans' 20,000 genes perform the same functions as those in humans. Experts in human physiology wanted to study the effectiveness of RNA interference (RNAi), a tried and tested technique which regulates gene expression in diseased tissue, and whether this technique could be employed to reduce or control the dramatic muscle loss experienced by astronauts during spaceflight.

The results of this research have shown that RNAi, which is already the subject of more than a dozen clinical trials to target illnesses ranging from cancer to asthma, functions normally in space flight and could be used as a viable option to treat and control muscle degradation in spaceflight. Their discovery will not only be of interest to astronauts but will also help people who suffer from muscle wasting caused by illness and old age. (6/3)

Opportunity Passes Small Crater and Big Milestone (Source: Space Daily)
A drive of 482 feet (146.8 meters) on June 1, 2011, took NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity past 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) in total odometry during 88 months of driving on Mars. That's 50 times the distance originally planned for the mission and more than 12 times the distance racehorses will run next week at the Belmont Stakes.

Opportunity has passed many craters on its crater-hopping tour. One of the youngest of them is "Skylab" crater, which the rover passed last month. Rocks scattered by the impact of a meteorite surround the resulting crater in a view recorded by Opportunity on May 12. (6/3)

Chinese Aerospace Execs Plead to Attempting to Violate US Arms Embargo (Source: Washington Post)
Two Chinese aerospace executives pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to attempting to violate the U.S. arms embargo against China by purchasing thousands of military-grade microchips. The guilty pleas from Hong Wei Xian, 32, and Li Li, 33, represent the latest in a series of prosecutions targeting both traditional and economic espionage efforts from Beijing, said a U.S. district attorney. (6/3)

‘Worms from Hell’ Unearth Possibilities for Extraterrestrial Life (Source: Washington Post)
For the first time, scientists have found complex, multi-celled creatures living a mile and more below the planet’s surface, raising new possibilities about the spread of life on Earth and potential subsurface life on other planets and moons.

Nicknamed “worms from hell,” the nematodes, or roundworms, were found in several gold mines in South Africa, where researchers have also made breakthrough discoveries about deep subterranean single-cell life. (6/3)

Aerojet, Teledyne will be Rocket Partners (Source: Sacramento Bee)
Aerojet announced a joint venture Thursday to make rocket engines with Teledyne Technologies Inc. The alliance with Teledyne is mostly aimed at Huntsville, Ala., where Aerojet and Teledyne have operations. The goal is to build engines for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Facility, which is also in Huntsville. (6/3)

Gruber Cosmology Prize Honors ‘Dark Matter’ Astronomers (Source: UC Berkeley)
University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Marc Davis will share with three other astronomers the 2011 Cosmology Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, the foundation announced on June 1. The astronomers were honored for their computer simulations more than 20 years ago that convinced the world of the existence of “dark matter” and set off a so-far fruitless search to find out what it is. (6/3)

'Mars 500' Mission: One Year On (Source: Ria Novosti)
It is a year on Friday since six men were sealed inside a mock spaceship in Moscow to simulate a 520-day roundtrip to Mars. The would-be astronauts - three Russians, a Chinese, a Frenchman, and an Italian - have lived and worked to a strict timetable since they clambered into a cramped capsule in a Moscow car park on June 3, 2010.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems experiment, called Mars 500, is designed to test how humans can cope with the stress of a return trip to the Red Planet. With only limited contact with the outside world and no access to natural light, the men have been undergoing regular medical and psychological checks to see just how well they were doing.

The crew, who spent 250 days working on maintenance and scientific experiments before a 30-day stint performing tasks on a simulated Martian surface, are currently on their "return trip" to Earth. (6/3)

New Oil Money Fueling Modest Space Dreams and Political Heartburn (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Venezuela all have two things in common: Oil wealth and expanding space ambitions. Two of the three countries have put in orders for satellites, with the third starting its own space agency and hinting it will add a satellite of its own. Click here to read the article. (6/3)

Senator Inouye and How Hawaii Compares to Outer Space (Source: Maui Time)
If you've ever thought Hawaii exists on a different planet, you're right—sort of. The terrain in parts of the state is similar to that of Mars and the Earth's moon, making it an ideal staging ground for space-program testing. Hence a new partnership between UH Hilo and NASA, trumpeted last week by officials on all sides.

"Hawaii has been part of America's space activities from the beginning of the space program, when Apollo astronauts trained in the islands for their historic missions to the moon," Gov. Abercrombie said in a statement. "This partnership with NASA will broaden educational and employment opportunities for our local families and bring dollars into our economy." (6/3)

NASA Rocket Launch Scheduled June 9 from Wallops Island (Source: SpaceRef.com)
A test of several new rocket technologies will be conducted June 9 on a Terrier- Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket from NASA's Launch Range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The new technologies being tested include the Small Rocket/Spacecraft Technology (SMART) platform, Autonomous Flight Safety System, Low Cost Telemetry Transmitter, and an electrohydrodynamic-based thermal control unit. (6/3)

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