July 15, 2011

Strictly Business: Q&A with Bob Rice of Mojave Air & Space Port (Source: Bakersfield Californian)
An era is ending with the conclusion of America's 30-year space shuttle program. NASA says it is not ending space exploration, but any future manned flights will probably be collaborative efforts with other nations, most likely Russia. We decided to check in with the Mojave Air & Space Port to see where things stand with private space exploration. Click here to read the interview. (7/15)

Space Shuttle Boss: Lessons Justified Cost (Source: Aviation Week)
When I was asked to write an opinion piece on whether the space shuttle program was worth the cost, I immediately agreed because I have a significant bias toward justifying the program that has dominated my career at NASA. However, because I am very interested in accurately describing the legacy of the shuttle program, I have attempted to make an objective evaluation.

Over 30 years, the shuttle cost $3-5 billion per year for production and operations, plus the loss of two orbiters and flight crews and the potential opportunity cost of focusing NASA’s best engineers and technicians on this program. Out of the yearly budget of $3-5 billion, the shuttle program spent roughly $400 million per flight.

The rest was required for the fixed costs of a human spaceflight program, including the specialized labs, test facilities, control centers, integration cells and the expert personnel to staff them. In fact, the program paid for over 90% of the costs of running facilities such as the Kennedy Space Center, the propulsion test stands at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Mission Control Center in Houston. Click here. (7/15)

Former NASA Chief: Shuttle Was Oversold (Source: Aviation Week)
As the crew of Atlantis and their controllers go through—one more time—the complex, demanding, yet rewarding process of conducting the final space shuttle mission, it is appropriate to reflect on the legacy left to us from the years of designing, building and flying this amazing machine.

Because of its duration at the center of human spaceflight plans and activities, because of the gap between promise and performance, because of the money that has been spent on it, because of what it can do and what it cannot do, because of its stunning successes and its tragic failures, the space shuttle has dominated the professional lives of most of us who are still young enough to be working in the space business.

These career experiences were different in detail, but common in their pattern, for many—if not most—of the space professionals of my generation. So as we design for the future, what can we learn from having built and flown the shuttle, loved and feared it, exploited and been frustrated by it? Click here. (7/15)

Suborbital Skydiver to Jump From Interobital Systems Rocket (Source: Parabolic Arc)
World-renowned skydiver/daredevil Olav Zipser has chosen Mojave rocket manufacturer Interorbital Systems as the launch provider for his attempt to break Joe Kittinger’s 1960 high-altitude jump record.

Zipser will forego the previous balloon-lift method used by the current record-holder, and instead will jump from an IOS SR 145 rocket. The launcher will propel Olav to an altitude of over 40 kilometers (about 25 miles)—higher than any manned balloon can possibly go—where he will eject from the launch vehicle and FreeFly back towards Earth in what he intends to be the longest, fastest, and highest skydive in history.

Olav leaves in two weeks for Russia, where he will attend the MAKS Air Show and begin a stay at Star City, for training and collaboration on the development of a supersonic spacesuit that can be used as an economical rescue/return alternative for astronauts and space tourists. For more about Olav’s aviation sports research and his fascinating career, click here. (7/15)

Director Says New Mexico Spaceport Spending Will End by 2013 (Source: Las Cruces Bulletin)
Spaceport America’s new director promised lawmakers that the state shouldn’t have to support operation costs within a couple of years. Through customers using the $209 million spaceport and partnerships with private industry, New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson told Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) members that she plans to ask for only one more year of state support to operate her office.

The first major construction phase is nearly complete for Spaceport America, located in desert ranchland between Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces. Anderson said there’s still much work to be done to get everything operational. (7/15)

Firms Seeking To Offer Military Frequencies Await DoD’s Blessing (Source: Space News)
Over the next several years, at least two commercial firms will launch communications satellites that can operate at frequencies reserved for U.S. government users, opening up new avenues for the Defense Department (DoD) to meet its ever-increasing bandwidth demand. But it remains to be seen whether the Pentagon will support the licensing of these satellites and buy capacity from them. (7/15)

Talks, Mediation Fail To Settle Iran-France Frequency Dispute (Source: Space News)
Iran and France remain deadlocked over access to satellite frequencies at a crowded location in the orbital arc despite months of discussions and two formal attempts at mediation by the international body that regulates orbital positions and broadcast frequencies, government and industry officials said.

The issue is viewed by some as a test case of whether the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has the will to impose regulatory order on a global satellite industry in which political and financial stakes appear to be increasing. (7/15)

Proton Rocket Launches Satellites for Kazakhstan and USA (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
A Proton-M rocket was launched from Baikonur on Saturday to deploy KazSat-2 /Kazakhstan/ and SES-3 /USA/ communication satellites. The 191-foot-tall Proton booster rocketed away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 2316 GMT (7:16 p.m. EDT), trailing a flickering blue flame from six first stage main engines generating 2.5 million pounds of thrust. (7/15)

Father and Son at Shuttle's Start and End (Source: MSNBC)
They’re just a father and his son, out taking pictures at a shuttle launch. But these pictures reflect 30 years of history. On the left, Chris Bray and his father, Kenneth, stand out in the crowd that gathered to watch the first space shuttle lift off on April 12, 1981. Thirty years later, Chris and Kenneth commemorated the last shuttle launch by striking the same pose. The pictures have been viewed almost 700,000 times on Chris Bray's Flickr photo gallery. Click here. (7/15)

Shuttle's End Opens New Era, New Legal Issues in Spaceflight (Source: University of Nebraska)
The space shuttle’s final mission marks the end of an era, but also opens an unprecedented age of private and commercial spaceflight. This new era will require international collaboration to keep watch over the practice, a UNL professor and internationally renowned space law expert said this week.

Frans von der Dunk said that in the short term NASA will be dependent on other countries' vehicles for manned spaceflights to the International Space Station. But in the long run this may be beneficial both for the United States and other countries. Click here. (7/15)

Editorial: Outliving the Space Age (Source: Morgan County Citizen)
My 16th birthday present was a book, "By Space Ship to the Moon," which showed men exploring the moon, building space stations and making space walks. I made a bet with my mom that men would land on the moon in our lifetime. “No way,” she said, “maybe your lifetime but not mine.”

Most of the activities described in my book took place over the past 50 years. Man went to the moon, built an international space station and a space shuttle to take scientists and supplies there. I had the heady experience of working on a space-based missile interceptor designed to knock down incoming missile warheads in space. But one thing not described in my book was the end of the space age.

The Obama administration has cancelled the program to return to the moon, retired the space shuttle and will bring down the International Space Station in 2020. Thousands of NASA engineers and technicians are receiving layoff notices this summer. The space age is over. Last July, President Obama told NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that his highest priority should be "to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations." (7/15)

P&W Rocketdyne Fires J-2X Engine (Source: Flight Global)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has announced the first firing of the J-2X, the liquid fuel rocket that will power the second stage of the Space Launch System. The firing, conducted at the Stennis Space Flight Center, lasted 1.9s. The test was successful, said Walt Janowski, P&W Rocketdyne J-2X program manager. "All the measured data looks pretty good, all the hardware inspections post-test look pretty good," he said. (7/15)

No Easy Solutions for Hangar One (Source: Mountain View Voice)
NASA headquarters and House Republicans now appear to view the demolition of Hangar One as a real possibility, but it would "make a mockery" of federal historic preservation law and "ignores years of discussion by the local community and government agencies," preservationists say in a letter to be sent to Washington D.C.

Federal funding is the only practical way to re-skin historic Hangar One, preservationists say, and any plans by NASA to demolish it or transfer it to another agency could take many years, cause degradation of its exposed frame and lead to legal complications, including a potential lawsuit over demolition. (7/15)

A New Frontier in Space Travel: The Law (Source: NPR)
The challenges of commercial human space flight are as much about laws and regulations as they are about technology. It will be the FAA's job to license those flights, just as it licenses commercial aircraft flights today. And there will be some significant differences in how the agency deals with space flight.

"I'm convinced in the next few years we're going to see multiple companies flying several times a week," says George Nield, head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. "And that will mean hundreds of launches every year, with thousands of people getting to experience space flight firsthand."

"In some ways, I think the situation we're in is analogous to the barnstorming era," says Michael Mendelson, who is in space law in Washington, D.C. In the early days of aviation, pilots would perform aerobatic tricks and then offer adventurous spectators rides on their newfangled flying machines. Click here. (7/15)

NASA and ULA To Announce New Commercial Crew Agreement (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) will announce a new commercial crew agreement on Monday. ULA is jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and offers launch services on the Delta IV and Atlas V families of launch vehicles. It won one of the awards in NASA's first CCDev competition in 2010.

NASA issued a press release today that there will be press conference on Monday at 11:00 am Mountain Time (1:00 pm EDT) at ULA's Colorado headquarters to announce a new agreement. The press release did not indicate if the press conference would be streamed live or not, but if so it will probably be at http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio. (7/15)

Evidence for an Extrasolar Planetary Lithosphere? (Source: Cornell)
The presence of elements heavier than helium in white dwarf atmospheres is often a signpost for the existence of rocky objects that currently or previously orbited these stars. We have measured the abundances of various elements in the hydrogen-atmosphere white dwarfs G149-28 and NLTT 43806. In comparison with other white dwarfs with atmospheres polluted by heavy elements, NLTT 43806 is substantially enriched in aluminum but relatively poor in iron.

We compare the relative abundances of Al and eight other heavy elements seen in NLTT 43806 with the elemental composition of bulk Earth, with simulated extrasolar rocky planets, with solar system meteorites, with the atmospheric compositions of other polluted white dwarfs, and with the outer layers of the Moon and Earth. Best agreement is found with a model that involves accretion of a mixture of terrestrial crust and upper mantle material onto NLTT 43806.

The implication is that NLTT 43806 is orbited by a differentiated rocky planet, perhaps quite similar to Earth, that has suffered a collision that stripped away some of its outer layers. (7/12)

India Launches Comsat on PSLV (Source: Parabolic Arc)
ISRO launched the GSAT-12 communications satellite into orbit today from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre aboard the PSLV-C17 rocket. The satellite, which weighs in at 1,410 kg (3,102 lbs.), has 12 Ext-C Band transponders that will augment communication services within India. (7/15)

Capture the (STS-1) Flag (Source: Collect Space)
President Obama revealed Friday that a flag flown on the first space shuttle mission, STS-1, was flown on the last, STS-135, to be left on the ISS as a "capture the flag moment" for a commercial company launching the first astronauts to the International Space Station. The flag's inclusion aboard shuttle Atlantis had been held a secret by the STS-135 crew. (7/15)

President Obama Speaks with Orbiting Crews (Source: Space Policy Online)
The President said that he watched the STS-135 launch on TV there at the White House. He thanked everyone who has worked on the shuttle and space station programs. He inquired about the robotic refueling demonstration the crews will perform and commented on the flag that was brought to the ISS.

It was flown on the first shuttle mission and will stay on ISS until the next crew launched from American soil arrives -- a "capture the flag moment" according to the President. The President also acknowledged the anniversary of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the first time American and Soviet cosmonauts met in space. (7//15)

Can Twitter Save NASA? (Source: PC Magazine)
Although our nation's space program faces an uncertain future, NASA's fierce embrace of Twitter and other social media to connect with the public may prove to be the space agency's saving grace. Left to my own devices, I might never have seen a space launch in person despite a lifelong interest in astronomy and space science. But thanks to NASA's aggressive public outreach through social media, I was a Twitter correspondent at two launch tweetups (for the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2010).

Not only did I get to see world-class technology in action and meet some incredible people, I was awestruck by the immense work the space agency puts into making its missions safe and successful. Editor's Note: I participated in that same NASA Tweetup and this week received an invitation to a Tweetup organized around NASA's upcoming Juno launch. (7/15)

Fast-Track MPCV (Source: Aviation Week)
As someone involved with NASA at a senior level, I am troubled by the path our space plan is on. After a massive investment in the ISS, we must now pay Russia $63 million per seat for ISS crew transport. This is risky: Prices could skyrocket; U.S. access could be halted during world political crises; Soyuz could be grounded for technical reasons; ISS could need repairs, but our inability to access, repair and re-boost it would result in its loss, like Skylab.

The multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV) could provide assured U.S. crew access to ISS, but NASA wants it delayed to wait for the Space Launch System (SLS). Such a long gap would be devastating to U.S. human spaceflight expertise, industrial capability and our astronauts.

National human spaceflight capability should be restored quickly, the MPCV accelerated and the flight-proven Delta IV Heavy used as an interim launcher to provide more time to develop commercial crew transports before the SLS is ready. (7/15)

NASA Astronaut Welcomes China into Space Brotherhood (Source: Reuters)
"China being in space I think is a great thing. The more nations that get into space, the better cooperation we'll have with each," Atlantis astronaut Rex Walheim said during an in-flight interview with Reuters. "Space is one of the biggest international brotherhoods we have." (7/15)

President Obama and NASA Deputy Administrator Address Floridians at White House (Source: SPACErePORT)
President Obama made a surprise visit to a group of Florida community leaders invited to the White House on Friday to learn about his administrations efforts on energy, the environment, education, healthcare, and other issues. A few space industry representatives (myself included) were among the invitees. President Obama addressed the group immediately after NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver provided an update on NASA's plans and their impacts on the state. (7/15)

Wallops Island Spaceporet Postpones Launches (Source: AP)
NASA is postponing until next year the launch of two experimental rockets from its Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Two rockets had been launched last Saturday and a second pair of rockets had been expected to be launched this week. The postponement will allow scientists to review results from the first launching and make adjustments to the project. (7/15)

Men to Mars from Vandenberg? (Source: Independent)
As NASA puts to rest its 30-year-old space shuttle program, a private space transportation company is accelerating space travel with a new launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. SpaceX discussed its plans to replace the existing Titan IV launcher with a new launch pad for the Falcon Heavy — which, upon completion, will become the world’s largest launch vehicle by a factor of two.

In the long term, SpaceX’s development of the Falcon Heavy fits into its mission “to make human life multiplanetary” by sending “large numbers of people” to Mars. Although Musk acknowledges that a mission to Mars may not be achievable for many years, he said the company is committed to “going to go as far and as fast as we can” toward achieving its ambitious goal. (7/15)

U.S. Space Leadership No Longer a Sure Thing (Source: Houston Chronicle)
This generation of Americans has never known a time we did not lead the world in space. But it has not always been this way. President Kennedy's announcement of the Apollo program is famous for its bold call to "take longer strides," but it also included a blunt warning to America that failure was possible because the Soviets were so far ahead.

America learned the lessons of that era well. Once we took the lead in space, we never gave it back. But that could be changing — and changing fast. When the shuttle program ends with Atlantis' landing, the United States - for the first time in years - will have no capability to launch astronauts into space. To get our people to and from the orbiting space station, we will have to rely on Russian launches - at more than $60 million a seat.

And it's not just a question of the shuttle. Earlier this year, America delayed a critical weather satellite launch until 2016, potentially reducing forecast accuracy by 50 percent and creating the first such coverage gap since the 1960s. While budgets are tight in an era of deadly tsunamis, tornados and extreme weather, the word "myopic" - literally and figuratively - comes to mind. (7/15)

PolitiFact: Rubio Says the U.S. Will Pay Russia $50 Million per Astronaut (Source: Politifact)
"From now on, we have to pay the Russians $50 million an astronaut to send Americans to the space station." The crux of this claim comes from contracts NASA has signed with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation, rescue and related services. Basically, Rubio's right there on the costs. But he fails to note that NASA has had contracts with Russia since 1993. And while $50 million or $63 million sounds expensive, it's still less than maintaining a separate space program. We rate this claim Mostly True. (7/15)

Boeing, KSC in Talks About Space-Taxi Building Site (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing is in negotiations with NASA and Space Florida to build a commercial space taxi in a former shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center. If it pans out, the deal would bring hundreds of jobs to KSC starting in the next 12 to 18 months, when the center's employment will be at its lowest level since the end of the Apollo program.

John Elbon, the manager overseeing development of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft, said Space Florida and KSC were still working out which facilities would be made available, including the hangar that formerly housed the orbiter Discovery. "Those discussions to my knowledge haven't completed yet," he said. "Until they complete, we can't really talk about a firm deal down there." (7/15)

Astronauts Woken Up by Second Computer Failure (Source: AP)
After getting a little free time Thursday, the last space shuttle crew was woken up to deal with a second computer failure on Atlantis. The astronauts switched to another of the five main computers on board, and NASA said the shuttle was in "stable condition with no concerns for the crew's safety." A computer had also failed on Sunday.

The crew had gone to bed late Thursday afternoon, but Mission Control woke them up about 1½ hours later because of the failed computer. NASA said they would troubleshoot the problem on Friday. Sunday's computer glitch occurred just before the shuttle linked up with the International Space Station. Engineers said the problem was likely caused by a bad switch throw. That computer was working again Monday after new software was installed. (7/15)

Company Chases NASA's Dream (Source: MSNBC)
NASA likes the idea of a mini-shuttle spaceship so much that they're paying Sierra Nevada Corp. $100 million to start developing it. The result is a case of deja vu all over again: Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser space plane is based on a design NASA considered more than 20 years ago.

Sierra Nevada is updating the HL-20 lifting-body design for the 21st century, using carbon composite construction techniques and state-of-the-art avionics. If NASA likes what it sees and provides further funding, the Dream Chaser could be ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station as early as 2015.

Just last week, Sierra Nevada Space Systems' chairman, Mark Sirangelo, signed an agreement with NASA to use facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the development and launch of the Dream Chaser. (7/15)

Stripped Down Discovery Rolls Towards Retirement at KSC (Source: Universe Today)
Space Shuttle Discovery was briefly on public display on Wednesday July 13 as she emerged from the hanger at the Kennedy Space Center where she has been undergoing processing for retirement since her final landing on the STS-133 mission.

It was a rather stark and sad moment because Discovery looked almost naked and downtrodden – and there was no doubt that she would never again fly majestically to space because huge parts of the orbiter were totally absent.

Discovery was stripped bare of her three main engines and orbital maneuvering pods at the rear and she had a giant hole in the front, just behind the nose, that was covered in see through plastic sheeting that formerly housed her now missing forward thrusters. Without these essential components, Discovery cannot move 1 nanometer. (7/15)

Hangar One Advocates Respond to Funding Loss (Source: Mercury News)
Demolishing Hangar One would be "unacceptable" and would "make a mockery" of preservation law, a Moffett Field stakeholder group said Thursday, in light of the news that federal funding to restore the hangar was cut this week.

The Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board voted Thursday to send a letter to NASA officials and legislators expressing support for the landmark hangar. The massive structure is currently being stripped of its PCB-laden walls by the Navy, which formerly operated Moffett Field and is responsible for cleaning up toxins there.

After a years-long debate over who would pay to replace the hangar's siding, it appeared a potential solution was in the works when NASA's 2012 budget included $32.8 million to re-skin the hangar. However, on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee removed that funding from NASA's budget. (7/15)

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