July 12, 2011

House Panel Denies Funding for DSCOVR, COSMIC-2 Missions (Source: Space News)
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee is set to vote July 13 on a 2012 spending bill that denies funding for a pair of NOAA satellite programs, one to provide advance warning of solar storms, the other a collaborative project with Taiwan. The House appropriations bill also would trim $50 million from NOAA’s $617.4 million request to develop a new generation of geostationary orbiting weather satellites. It appears the savings would be applied to help kick-start NOAA’s polar-orbiting weather satellite program, which was delayed by the protracted 2011 budget process. (7/12)

Congress Grills NASA Chief Over Next Big Rocket Design (Source: Space.com)
A congressional panel grilled NASA chief Charlie Bolden on July 12 on Capitol Hill, repeatedly asking him why the space agency has yet to choose a design for its next-generation heavy-lift rocket. Last year Congress gave NASA until mid-January 2011 to pick a design for the rocket, known as the Space Launch System, that will carry astronauts on deep space missions. NASA still has not made an official decision, and members of the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology took Bolden to task.

"We've waited for answers that have not come. We've pleaded for answers that have not come," committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) told Bolden. "We've run out of patience." Hall said the committee reserves the right to open an investigation into the delays, but he hopes it won't come to that.

"The White House has done you wrong, but nonetheless you have to answer for these continued failures," said Hall, whose panel is made up of 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats. Though many of the Republicans blamed President Barack Obama for NASA's perceived problems, Bolden said the buck stops with him. "You have the right guy here to criticize," Bolden said. "I am the leader of America's space program." (7/1)

Rocket Decision Still Weeks Away, NASA Chief Says (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA has yet to deliver that plan on the so-called Space Launch System and won't have a decision until late summer at the earliest. "While I would hope to have a final decision to announce this summer, the absolute need to make sure our SLS program fits within our overall budget constraints suggests it could take longer," Bolden said. "We cannot rush a critical decision that will drive NASA's activities for several decades."

As it stands, Bolden and top NASA officials already have settled on a vehicle design — essentially an Apollo-like crew capsule atop the shuttle's external tank, with two strap-on boosters on either side. But Bolden said NASA is waiting on cost estimates to ensure it is affordable. "We know this program will likely cost tens of billions of dollars over many years," he said. "This will likely be the most important decision I make as NASA administrator and I want to get it right." (7/12)

Bolden Not Interested in Houston-Based Shuttle (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee asked NASA's Charles Bolden whether he supported her proposal for the Smithsonian Institution to loan space shuttle Discovery to Houston for 15 years, arguing that Houston’s historical place in space should be “respected and rewarded.”

Bolden’s reply was curt: “I don’t really have a comment on that Congresswoman. We have a plan in place and we intend to carry out that plan.” I think that’s a no. In any case thank you, Sheila, for getting Bolden on the record. It’s something at which I’ve failed, but not for lack of trying. (7/12)

NASA Adds 13th day to Atlantis Flight; Shuttle Now Due Back July 21 (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space shuttle Atlantis will send the final sonic boom, maybe ever from a NASA spacecraft, across Central Florida shortly before 6 a.m. on July 21. As expected, NASA increased Atlantis’ mission by one day and bumped its return to Earth to 5:56 a.m. Eastern Time, July 21. (7/12)

Carmack Launches Micro Rocket Prize (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Armadillo Aerospace’s John Carmack has launched a competition for launching a small rocket above 100,000 feet. The Carmack 100kft Micro Prize is $5000 USD, and has been augmented with a further $5000-$5500 from other benefactors. The collection of the prize from each benefactor is up to the prize winner. Click here for details. (7/12)

Scrapping Webb Space Telescope Would be Short-Sighted (Source: Guardian)
No one now debates whether Hubble was worth its delays and budget overruns, and yet its successor the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) now faces the axe for similar reasons. Twenty years on, it is hard to overstate the impact that Hubble has had on science, and on the public imagination. Yet today the US government is on the brink of scrapping NASA's successor to Hubble, the multi-billion dollar JWST.

What would cancellation mean for science, and for society? To me, the Hubble experience is key. What would we have missed in the past 20 years without Hubble? Needless to say, seeing JWST among the "extraneous, duplicative and unnecessary programs" that the House has proposed to cut comes as a shock. The crucial point to the proposed budget is that the money taken from the JWST mission is removed from the NASA budget entirely. It will not go into other missions or research grants. (7/12)

Chris Kraft Urges Delay in Retiring Shuttles (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Former Johnson Space Center Director Chris Kraft spent much of his long career making sure NASA had crossed all its I's and dotted all its T’s before each space mission -- from Mercury through Apollo and Gemini to the space shuttle -- and that it had a backup plans for the many missions. Now he worries that is not being done today, and he and a number of retired astronauts have written to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to suggest holding up on retiring the space shuttle.

Kraft and other former space officials said they believe the shuttle fleet should be kept in service to provide the capability of independent repair spacewalks if the ISS is crippled by a systems failure or accident. (7/12)

Space Junk Solution in the Works (Source: MSNBC)
Today, orbital-debris trackers at NASA and the U.S. Strategic Command can keep track of only the tip of the iceberg: About 20,000 pieces of space junk have been cataloged, but experts estimate that somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 objects larger than a centimeter (half an inch) are in Earth orbit. At orbital speeds of up to 17,500 mph, even an inch-wide piece of debris could destroy a satellite or damage the space station if it struck in the wrong place.

That's where the $3.5 billion Space Fence comes in. The existing radar tracking system, known as the Air Force Space Surveillance System, uses VHF and UHF frequency bands to track orbital debris, but those wavelengths are too wide to catch the small stuff. The new system will be far more sensitive because it'll operate in finer-resolution S-band wavelengths.

But that's just the start: The next-generation Space Fence will also rely on high-performance computing to identify and keep track of orbital paths for what's likely to be hundreds of thousands of bits of orbiting junk. That should provide better "predict-ahead ability." (7/12)

Post Shuttle Scientific Illiteracy: Are America's Smartest Days Behind Her? (Source: TIME)
Patriotic turns of phrase get shopworn fast. "Land of the free and home of the brave" is coded deeply in our linguistic consciousness. The free and brave idea was exactly what was on my mind last week when I was at the Kennedy Space Center for the final launch of NASA's space-shuttle program. It's hard to watch 4.5 million pounds of explosive machine lift off the pad with four human beings aboard and not be impressed by the pure brass it takes just to build such a monster.

And it's hard to look around at the thousands of reporters and hundreds of TV cameras reporting every moment of the event — in real time, to the whole globe — and not reflect that the First Amendment was an awfully nifty idea. The problem is, the land of the free and home of the brave is in danger of becoming — not to put too fine a point on it — the land of the dunderhead, and my trip to Cape Canaveral drove that point home. It's no secret that as a people, we're rapidly losing the basic fund of knowledge we need if we're going to function well in a complex world. (7/12)

SpaceX Names Mark Bitterman Senior Vice President of Govt. Affairs (Source: SpaceX)
Former Orbital Sciences executive and industry leader Mark Bitterman is joining SpaceX’s Washington office as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. Bitterman joins SpaceX after serving in a similar role at Orbital for 19 years. Bitterman spent nearly two decades at Orbital Sciences Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of launch vehicles, satellites and missile systems. Hired as director of government relations in 1992, he rose to senior vice president of government and external relations in 2000. (7/12)

The Last Pilots (Source: Esquire)
Despite the end of the shuttle, NASA still has astronauts — and plans on hiring more. But for the first time in its history, they won't be fliers anymore. The astronauts are NASA's best barometer, its most vital sign. The agency's history can be read in their changing numbers and faces and CVs.

In 2000, there were 149 astronauts lodged into their offices at the Johnson Space Center — a record number, plucked from the military and national laboratories to fill spots on dozens of shuttle flights and long-duration missions to the International Space Station. Today, only around sixty astronauts remain.

More than twenty have left the agency in the last year alone. They want to rocket into space more than anything else in the world, and they know that NASA won't get them there anymore. NASA's last two pilot recruits, Randolph Bresnik and James Dutton, came aboard in 2004. They've each flown only once, and each of them only just made it into space, with six and four missions to go, respectively. For the foreseeable future, NASA doesn't need pilots. (7/12)

What Happens to NASA's Shuttle Workers After Atlantis? (Source: Washington Post)
Workers who are tasked with the more traditional, routine work, may find it less motivating to be attached to projects that have not happened yet and that the public doesn’t know about. This takes us to the question of NASA’s talent needs for the future. The skills required to develop a new project are quite different than those required to maintain and execute an existing project. What happens to the employees that have been working for decades on the latter when the work shifts to the former?

This is a question that businesses face almost every day when products and strategies change. For a long time, the typical corporate response was to assume that most employees can move into the new roles. Maybe some training and time will be required to get oriented, but that’s worth doing. The more recent approach has been the opposite: The assumption now is often that new and very different tasks require new and very different employees. Move out the old and bring in the new.

In the case of NASA, however, there are reasons to believe that bringing in a new group won’t work so well. Putting together complex projects like these requires a great deal of tacit knowledge—things you can only learn by doing. And for the most part, there’s no other employer out there doing anything similar. This isn’t like Microsoft hiring from Google. (7/12)

The Space Program's Leadership Black Hole (Source: Washington Post)
There are too many leaders of the U.S. civilian space program, and not enough leadership. These several leaders at this point are not in agreement regarding how best to transition away from 30 years of the space shuttle being the visible centerpiece of the U.S. human space flight effort. Attempts at leadership without agreement among leaders is a recipe for short-term confusion and longer-term drift.

But isn’t space program leadership the responsibility of the NASA administrator and deputy administrator, selected by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate? It would certainly be desirable for that to be the case. Yet that would require some form of consensus among the country’s overall policy and political leadership regarding NASA’s future direction, and that agreement is sorely missing.

So NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver find themselves pulled between the rather incompatible directions coming from the White House and those emerging from the elements in Congress with a particular interest in NASA. (7/12)

Editorial: Reject NASA Cuts (Source: Florida Today)
Every day, there’s another example of the dysfunction in Congress, and this tale proves it again with potentially disastrous results for the Space Coast. Members of a House subcommittee that oversees NASA funding went on a tear last week, doing what’s popular on Capitol Hill: Attacking President Obama and his post-shuttle space policy, which calls for NASA to use private rockets and a NASA heavy-lift rocket to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and, later, deep space.

But rather than come to NASA’s aid, what did they do? The committee voted to cut its budget to $16.8 billion, a 9 percent reduction that would badly hurt efforts to get private rockets flying around 2015 from Cape Canaveral, a program that holds the most promise to return Americans into orbit on U.S. launchers soon. The funding level is $1.6 billion below last year and $1.9 billion below the president’s request.

The Space Coast’s two House members — U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams and Bill Posey — should do everything possible to make sure the money is reinstated. The debate over NASA’s future was settled last year with bipartisan passage of the NASA Authorization Act, which was supported by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Posey and other members of the Florida’s delegation. It called for the dual-track private rocket and NASA heavy-lift rocket approach. (7/12)

Space Program is Changing, Not Ending (Source: Bakersfield Californian)
I'm under 40 -- the first U.S. moon landing happened five years before I was born. Throughout my lifetime, space exploration was not a miracle so much as foundational history. By the time I was 10, movies like "Star Wars" and "Alien" were "old" movies. People of my generation have been ambivalent about the a U.S. government-funded space program while feasting on an endless supply of movie and TV dramatizations of space travel endeavors that could never be funded publicly.

For instance, at a bare minimum, I'd like to pay a reasonable sum to visit the moon in a comfortable, tastefully decorated shuttle with free Wi-Fi, cellphone capability and a continental breakfast. Not gonna happen -- just imagine Congress trying to appropriate funds for that. But I can imagine my great-grandkids exploring space that way on a commercial flight someday. I hope so, anyway. (7/12)

Inc. Spotlight on SpaceWorks Enterprises (Source: Inc.)
Before a new space concept reaches development, most organizations require that the design receives a fair and unbiased assessment by an independent firm. That's where Atlanta-based SpaceWorks Enterprises comes in. The company, comprised of only 18 engineers, examines and appraises new space technologies at a conceptual level, directing the developers on the feasibility and payoff of a proposed technology.

The company, which is ready to enter its 11th year of operation in August, was originally a side project of John Olds' while he was a professor at the Georgia Tech's Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. After several years of consulting on the side, Olds finally took a leave of absence from Georgia Tech and, with the help of his wife Melinda, officially launched SpaceWorks on August 1, 2000. Melinda, who also helped finance the endeavor, still serves as the company's part-time CFO. Click here to read the article. (7/12)

Editor's Note: SpacewWorks does a great job managing a "Fast Forward" working group of industry, government and university officials (including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) to track progress on various point-to-point spaceflight and hypersonic flight programs. (7/12)

Globalstar-2 Launch Now Scheduled for July 13 (Source: Arianespace)
In order to complete the Soyuz launch system’s reconfiguration to a launch-ready mode, the Arianespace-Starsem ST-23 launch has again been postponed. The mission is now slated for liftoff on Wednesday, July 13 at 8:27 a.m., local time at Baikonur Cosmodrome. (7/12)

China Launches New Data Relay Satellite (Source: Telegraph)
The rocket carrying the Tianlian I-02 satellite blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The satellite, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, was carried into space on board a Long March-3C carrier rocket. It is the second second data relay satellite the country has launched. The two satellites will form a network to offer data relay and measurement and control service for China's spacecraft and planned space stations. (7/12)

NASA Outreach Program Assists Peregrine With Research for Optionally Piloted Aircraft (Source: FRC)
The NASA funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) strives to transfer the knowledge and technology of the space program to small businesses. Through SATOP, the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), a SATOP Space Alliance partner, provided Computational Fluid Dynamics research assistance to Peregrine, a manufacturer of an emerging Optionally Piloted Aircraft (OPA) derived from a FAA certified aircraft. (7/6)

NASA Offers Perspective on Debt Struggle (Source: Financial Times)
Heated arguments about the costs and benefits of space travel are still loud enough to drown out the noise from the rockets. The U.S.’s public debt problem, and the standoff over raising the debt ceiling, fuels the debate. But the reality is that, as far as the nation’s financial difficulties are concerned, NASA has almost become an irrelevance. NASA’s annual bill of $15bn-$20bn over the past two decades is real money, but at 0.5 per cent of federal spending last year, it is a rounding error in relation to the other moving parts of the debt puzzle.

The numbers are useful, however, for contextualizing the war of words between Democrats and Republicans over who is to blame for today’s deficit. Suffice it to say that NASA has little to do with this earthly black hole. America’s finances have sunk to $10,000 billion in the red – 200 times the top end of estimates for the total cost of the 35 shuttle trips over the same period. Analysis by Pew shows that by far the biggest cause of this deterioration (54%) was falling tax receipts, the cause of which is divided evenly between recessions and tax cuts in the Bush era.

By contrast, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for only a 10th of the hole, while the Obama administration’s much-criticized 2009 stimulus package contributed only 6 per cent to the collapse. Still, even the latter is about three times the entire estimated space shuttle budget since the program’s inception. (7/11)

Editorial: Sandy Adams’ Space Problem (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
While the nation paid tribute to the shuttle program’s accomplishments Friday, freshman Rep. Sandy Adams was using the launch to go after the president. Adams’ office started with an obligatory “end of an era” observation before tearing into the president’s space policies. Asked what she would say to the workers losing their jobs, Adams stumbled through the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” but couldn’t finish without returning to her talking points. Her message: Barack Obama is to blame for a lack of direction in the U.S. space program.

Adams’ position on the space program is something of a quandary for a freshman Republican who has aligned herself with the Tea Party. NASA has never been an efficient spender of the public’s money, but it’s one of the few programs where Adams wants to keep dumping money, in part because she’s worried about the Chinese going to the moon to do…what?

She might be a fiscal conservative, but Adams was willing to spend untold amounts of money to keep the shuttle flying and government-supported workers on the payroll, including continuing to fund the shuttle probably for another five or 10 years at a cost of $450 million per mission. Criticizing Obama’s space policy puts Adams in the uncomfortable position of criticizing the shift from a top-down program that’s run by government to one that encourages private entrepreneurs. Seems like that’s the kind of shift a conservative like Adams might embrace a little more enthusiastically. (7/11)

No Malfunction With Globalstar Sats or Launch Vehicle (Source: Space Daily)
Covington LA (SPX) Jul 12, 2011 - Globalstar, Inc. reports that there will an additional delay in the launch of six new Globalstar satellites. The launch of the second-generation satellites was originally targeted for July 11, 2011 at 8:59 a.m. Baikonur local time and was rescheduled for July 12, 2011 at 8:43 a.m. (7/11)

MILA Tracks its Last Launch and Landing (Source: Space Daily)
With its beginnings rooted deeply in the historic days of Apollo, the MILA Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network Station has played a key role throughout the 30 years of the Space Shuttle Program. But just as the shuttle program is drawing to a close, so is the long history of MILA. "The end of MILA is officially six weeks from wheelstop. That's it. We hand the keys back to Kennedy Space Center and we walk away," says MILA Station Manager Martyn Thomas. "The MILA mission ends."

The Merritt Island Launch Annex, simply known to most as MILA, sits in an area somewhat remote from the main hub of processing and launch facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Located west of Kennedy's Visitor Complex and about a mile south of NASA Causeway, the small building is surrounded by a field of complex antennas, dishes and arrays used to perform its vital role: Tracking the space shuttle during launch and landing. (7/11)

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