July 17, 2011

Insurers Prepare for Post-Shuttle Space Industry (Source: Business Insurance)
The end of the NASA space shuttle program spells opportunity for space insurers and brokers as commercial ventures will take astronauts, equipment and even tourists into space. While there are few immediate changes for insurers because the shuttle has carried no commercial payloads since the Challenger disaster in 1986, NASA already is funding various commercial launch systems, which should mean more business for insurers, said Simon Clapham, London-based head of the marine division at Liberty Syndicates, a Liberty Mutual Group Inc.-owned Lloyd's of London insurer.

With the retirement of the shuttle, NASA is looking to nurture the commercial U.S. space capability and has awarded contracts to resupply the space station to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. It is also funding the development of other spacecraft systems—-including those by Blue Origin, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp.-—to deliver astronauts and cargo into low-earth orbit.

The move is an opportunity for insurers to create new liability products and expand their first-party launch and in-orbit offerings, said Jeff Poliseno, Washington-based chief executive of Aon Risk Solutions' international space brokers practice, a unit of Aon Corp. While NASA will continue to be largely self-insured, commercial operators carrying astronauts and cargo to the space station will need third-party liability insurance to maintain their commercial space licenses, said Chris Kunstadter, senior vp for space at XL Insurance in New York. (7/17)

American Space Research: An Also-Ran? (Source: Huffington Post)
You can hear the sounds of gnashing teeth and wringing hands. The Space Shuttle is loping towards the sunset, leaving the U.S. without its own means for putting people in orbit for the first time in a half-century. And the James Webb Space Telescope, the anointed successor to the Hubble, is apparently being marched to the gallows by a Congress unwilling to feed its growing maw for money.

For a generation, this country led the way in both space exploration and astronomy. So it's clearly a wrench to see America -- whose cultural soul was forged by frontier heroes -- giving up the final frontier. You've read the opinions and you've heard the arguments. The Shuttle's functions can be replaced by private-sector rocketry, so the current dependency on Russian launch vehicles is nothing more than a hiatus, a pause while we shift gears. This assessment, although possibly tainted with Pollyannaish optimism, seems fair.

But the threat to the Webb telescope is more menacing. "Bad move" sums up the analysis of those who argue that forsaking this major observatory will make the U.S. an also-ran in astronomical research. Exploration and new knowledge are singular hallmarks of our species. They are our finest accomplishments. When we sacrifice them in the name of immediate needs -- a tactic that sounds humane -- we, in fact, give up an essential aspect of our humanity. (7/17)

Commercializing the Moon: the Lunar X Prize and Beyond (Source: The Engineer)
The race is on to tap into the commercial potential of the Earth’s nearest neighbor. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the last manned voyage to the Moon. The Apollo 17 astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt (the latter, a geologist, the only scientist-astronaut of the Apollo program) left the Moon on 17 December 1972, leaving behind them a plaque bearing the words: ’Here man completed his first explorations of the Moon.’

With the last mission of the space shuttle underway and NASA’s plans for future manned missions to space seemingly on hold, it might seem odd to talk about the Moon as a target for exploration. But for a number of organizations, the race to the moon is back on, with the prize of increased scientific knowledge and, some are convinced, of enormous financial gains. Google is funding a Lunar X Prize, one of the competitions organised by the US-based X Prize Foundation, aimed at solving technology-based problems without public funding. (7/17)

Flag Soared to the Moon, But Not Bids for 3 Scraps (Source: New York Times)
They were three fabric scraps trimmed from the flag later planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission. They never made it to the moon, but rather were discarded in a trash bin and recovered by Thomas Moser, a NASA engineer. And now — mounted to a poster with a nice photograph, and signed by Mr. Armstrong himself — they have sold for $45,000.

The price was less than Mr. Moser had hoped for. As the featured attraction in an auction of space memorabilia in Beverly Hills, Calif., on July 9, the flag pieces had been offered for a minimum of $100,000. When the highest bid — about $50,000 — fell far short of that, Mr. Moser and the auction house changed plans and instead offered the scraps to the highest bidder in a private sale. (7/17)

Editorial: The United States Ends its Adventure in Space (Source: Straight)
The last shuttle mission actually ushers in an era when the only hope of getting into space for the few remaining American astronauts will be to hitch a ride on a Russian or Chinese rocket. Most of them will have to find jobs elsewhere. And however brightly the sun shines, the day when the United States finally gives up on manned space flight is not a good day.

U.S. rockets will still put satellites into orbit. The older ones were built by the military or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the newer models will be built by private companies that claim they can boost cargo into space at a much cheaper price. But they won’t be able to put a human being in orbit for a very long time, if ever.

This is not to say that the U.S. should have kept the shuttles going indefinitely. They weren’t safe. They were not cost-effective either: they each flew on average only once a year during their 30 years of service. NASA had perfectly sensible plans to replace the shuttles. In 2004, former president George W Bush approved an ambitious NASA plan to build a new generation of powerful rockets to deliver people and materials into near-Earth orbit more cheaply, but also to put a permanent manned base on the moon by 2020. (7/17)

NASA Heavy-Lift Supporters Wonder Why Project Isn't Moving (Source: Huntsville Times)
On May 24, NASA gave aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin the green light to build the $8.1 billion Orion crew capsule for deep space missions. This week, NASA signs its latest in a series of contracts to fund competing industry plans for a private space taxi to the International Space Station. But at a hearing last week, NASA could give Huntsville Congressman Mo Brooks no idea when the operational plan will be approved and work begin on the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's new two-stage heavy-lift rocket. The plan is now being reviewed in the Office of Management and Budget, Charles Bolden said.

Bolden also couldn't answer Brooks' question about how much of $1.8 billion appropriated for the new rocket this year by Congress will be spent in Huntsville. Huntsville is the designated lead center for the rocket. What's wrong with this picture, say Alabama aerospace and government leaders, is that every part of last year's grand compromise between the White House and Congress over manned spaceflight is moving forward - except the big rocket centered in Huntsville.

"In my opinion, NASA's SLS program is stalled because the White House doesn't really want to do it," former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Friday. Griffin, who led NASA during the previous rocket program that Obama killed, has been a persistent critic of NASA's current direction. Editor's Note: I think things would be quite different now if Mr. Griffin's Ares-1 rocket wasn't part of the Constellation architecture. (7/17)

No Stranger To Spaceships, N.M. Builds A Spaceport (Source: NPR)
NASA is counting on America's private sector to come up with a new way to get people, equipment and supplies into space. That means there's a lot of money to be made in shuttling back and forth to the space station, and several companies are competing in a new race to space. Defense contractors like Boeing are in the game, as is Virgin Galactic — the private space tourism company owned by British business tycoon Richard Branson.

Whatever the new space vehicle is, it'll need a place to park. Enter Spaceport America, a company building a kind of airport for spaceships. According to the people behind Spaceport America, the future of commercial space travel begins near the tiny New Mexican town of Truth or Consequences, where America's first commercial spaceport is under construction.

The state has already poured in $200 million into financing the spaceport. Much of that was approved back in 2007, when New Mexico was flush with a $500-million surplus. This year, the state expects a $450-million deficit. Martinez wants the private sector to pick up the tab for the spaceport when state financing winds down in 2013. It's Andersen's job to get more businesses to take up residence in the spaceport so it will eventually pay for itself. (7/17)

First Angara Rocket to be Made Before End of 2012 (Source: Interfax)
The first launches of the new Angara carrier rocket in light and heavy modifications from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region will be held in 2013, a Khrunichev official said. "The launch of the light machine - the first half of 2013, the launch of the heavy machine - the second half of 2013. Both are feeling good, I am absolutely certain. So far we see no reason not to fulfill the president's decree," he said.

The first Angara-1.2 light carrier rocket in a state of fairly high readiness, he said. "It is already standing at the assembly workshop, and we will have to assemble it before the end of next year. We could have done it earlier, but there are elements of certain unpreparedness of the cosmodrome," Nesterov said. "Prior to the first Angara, there will definitely be an experimental machine to undergo comprehensive tests of the launch pad, so that we do not kill the first rocket," Nesterov said. (7/17)

Phobos-Grunt Mission to be Launched in November (Source: Interfax)
The implementation of space exploration programs will be among the priorities of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said. "The first step in realizing these priorities will be the launch of the Spektr-R, which is due to take place on Monday. We are supervising preparations of the following scientific apparatuses, including the Phobos-Grunt mission, which will certainly fly in November without any delays," Popovkin said.

Russia plans to place three more Spektr-class astrophysical laboratories into orbit before 2018, he said. "The Spektr-RG X-ray telescope will be launched in 2013, the Spektr-UF ultraviolet observatory in 2015, and the Spektr-M telescope in 2017-2018," he said. (7/17)

Roskosmos: No Alternative to Baikonur Cosmodrome (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia has no and will have no alternative to Baikonur Cosmodrome in the foreseeing future, head of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Vladimir Popovkin said. Popovkin said, “As of today there is no alternative to Baikonur Cosmodrome. And there will be no alternative to it in the foreseeing future.” The new Vostochny Cosmodrome’s main goal “is to try out future technologies”. At present, a Russian space design bureau is working on a middle class rocket booster with increased lift capacity that will be launched from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Popovkin stressed.

He also said plans to launch rockets from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Amur Region, remained unchanged. The Roskosmos head said, “I’m convinced that our task – to make the first launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome in 2015 and to make the first manned launch in 2018 – will be fulfilled...“Nobody cancelled this term,” he said. (7/17)

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