August 19, 2011

Senators Disagree On Rocket Approach (Source: Aviation Week)
Senators who agree that NASA is taking too long to develop a design and procurement strategy for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress ordered last year cannot agree among themselves on exactly what that design should be. At issue is what kind of power will be used in the strap-on boosters needed to get the SLS off the pad, pitting powerful senators from both sides of the aisle against members of their own political parties.

In January NASA selected a preliminary SLS “reference vehicle design” that would use five-segment versions of the four-segment solid-fuel boosters built by ATK in Utah. In June, NASA's Charles Bolden finalized the SLS reference design, keeping the January design, but adding a competition for a liquid-fueled strap-on that would make the SLS “evolvable” to meet the congressional requirement of at least 130 metric tons of lifting capability. His decision came after Sens. Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and Richard Shelby urged him to compete SLS propulsion.

One likely competitor would be a liquid fuel booster developed by in California, and manufactured in Alabama. Aerojet and Teledyne Brown said their new joint venture could create as many as 1,400 new jobs in Alabama and California. Meanwhile, a group of other Senators on Aug. 2 urged Bolden and OMB Director Jacob Lew to take quick action on SLS, without a propulsion competition until after initial flight testing with the solid-fuel boosters built by ATK in Utah. (8/19)

Would a National Space Council Have Averted Our Current Space Gridlock? (Source: SPACErePORT)
During his first-term campaign, then-Senator Obama said he would re-establish the multi-agency National Aeronautics and Space Council (aka the National Space Council) to oversee a comprehensive and integrated strategy and policy for space-related programs. This is now listed as a "Promise Broken" by Politifact (click here).

Given the gridlock and consternation we have seen over the past several years on federal space issues, one wonders whether a National Space Council might have become a more authoritative voice for space policy and planning. Would such a council have been able to pay greater attention to the issues while President Obama deals with larger national and international concerns? Would a National Space Council have been able to broker more effective (and more rapid) compromises with Congress? Might such a body be proposed under a second term? (8/19)

Senators Wrongly Claim KSC Infrastructure Funds are for Heavy-Lift Needs (Source: SPACErePORT)
In their Aug. 15 letter to President Obama, Senators from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi took aim at NASA's proposed spending of SLS (heavy-lift) funds for SLS-related infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center. According to them, a separate 21st Century Launch Complex (21CLC) account "was specifically set up to remove obsolete structures at KSC and to modernize remaining facilities so they could accommodate both SLS and MPCV." They are wrong.

The 21CLC account was established for different kinds of upgrades at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (both KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station). Here's an excerpt from the document released by NASA when President Obama announced the program at KSC: "[21CLC] seeks to modernize the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), transforming them to provide the capabilities this Nation’s 21st century space programs will need. The effort is intended to augment NASA’s current and future operations to achieve safe, increased operational efficiency and reduced launch costs for all customers (industry, NASA, national security, etc)."

Although 21CLC investments would certainly benefit the agency's heavy-lift launch program, the account is clearly intended for broader improvements at the spaceport aimed at making it more competitive and cost-effective for commercial, military and NASA launch programs. The SLS program is supposed to include its own funding for vehicle-specific infrastructure requirements at the spaceport. At Florida's expense, these Senators are trying to maximize SLS funding for vehicle-development activities in their states. (8/19)

Aerospace Corridor Idea to Bring New Jobs to Mississippi and Louisiana (Source: WDAM)
Hundreds of new jobs could be coming to Mississippi and Louisiana. There is a move underway to create a partnership between the two states. Louisiana Senator David Vitter has proposed creating a Stennis-Michoud Aerospace Economic Corridor. The goal is to market and promote the neighboring NASA facilities together. The hope is to lure large aviation and aerospace companies and the jobs they bring to our region.

"For a corridor like this to work we need to erase the Pearl River and look at this as a region, not as two separate states," said Bobby Savoie with the Stennis-Michoud Corridor Alliance. "The best way to do it is to get the two governors and their economic development agencies to cooperate by entering into a formal agreement that they will, in fact, promote and market these two facilities together and actually put resources behind it. That means people and money to actually do the marketing and promotions," Michael Olivier said.

Editor's Note: Last year I wrote this op-ed about using a similar "Aerospace Alliance" to advocate for the development of a NASA heavy-lift rocket. The Aerospace Alliance is a collaboration between Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida that was initially set up for the Air Force tanker competition. They thus far haven’t linked up for this common-interest space issue. Indeed, the State of Florida seems to have never really joined the Alliance as a full partner; the Northwest Florida "Great Northwest" partnership is instead representing the state's interests. The Alliance will be meeting in Northwest Florida on Sep. 15-16. (8/10)

Major Property Transfer at NASA Stennis Space Center (Source: NASA)
An Aug. 24 ceremony will mark the official transfer of a 1.6-million-square-foot facility to NASA's Stennis Space Center, positioning the south Mississippi site for years of major expansion. Participants include Sen. Thad Cochran and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. In 2009, Stennis Space Center was designated a "project-ready" site for high-tech businesses seeking new locations. It was the first Mississippi site to gain the technology park certification, which identifies locations that are ready for use and relatively risk-free for businesses.

Sites must meet high criteria in such areas as availability of infrastructure, utilities, transportation and facilities. With acquisition of the former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant facilities, NASA will increase the total facility space at Stennis by about 33 percent. A dozen employers, including Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, the Government Printing Office and the Department of Energy already are located in portions of the space. More companies and government tenants are expected. (8/16)

PWR Sponsors "Future Space" Site to Urge Space Policy Action (Source: PWR)
"The future of space exploration in the United States is at a crossroads. The situation is urgent, and time is running out. Constellation was cancelled on Feb. 1, 2010, and a year and a half later, we still don’t know what future space will be. There was a six year gap between the last Apollo launch in 1975 and the first Shuttle launch in 1981. But the Shuttle program was started in 1972, so there was a three-year overlap in work for the industry. And even though the NASA budget for going forward with the Shuttle was much less than its budget for Apollo in the 60s, everybody knew what that budget was going to be and could adjust to it, and to the future." Click here. (8/19)

Another Round of Belt Tightening (Source: Space Politics)
While work on FY-2012 budgets is slowly making progress in Congress, federal agencies are already working on their planned 2013 budgets, preparing submissions to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Those agencies, including NASA, are now being given guidance from the White House to be ready to trim their budgets. OMB director Jacob Lew said agencies should be ready to cut their budgets by five to ten percent. “Unless your agency has been given explicit direction otherwise by OMB, your overall agency request for 2013 should be at least 5 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation,” Lew says in the memo.

In the case of NASA, which received $18.485 billion in 2011, the memo’s guidance would require the space agency to submit a budget no greater that $17.56 billion (a five-percent cut) as well as a version no higher than $16.64 billion (a ten-percent cut). However, House appropriators have approved a budget that would give NASA just $16.8 billion in 2012, which means that, if that spending level holds, the 2013 proposal would represent a much more modest cut over 2012.

Those proposed cuts, Lew said, should be targeted on certain programs rather an across-the-board cuts or other budgetary sleight-of-hand. However, he also said there was an opportunity for agencies to “double down” on specific programs “because they provide the best opportunity to enhance economic growth.” In a separate blog post, Lew said that just because OMB is asking for proposals with five- and ten-percent cuts doesn’t mean the administration will enact them. (8/19)

Uncertainty in Washington Could Lead to More Alabama Job Cuts (Source: WAAY)
More uncertainty in Washington could lead to more job cuts locally. According to Congressman Mo Brooks this uncertainty of future funding is costing jobs. Employers don't know if their project will be funded. Madison County could now face an addition 600 layoffs in the near future. Congressman Mo Brooks says these layoffs wouldn't happen if the White House would follow the rules.

“We have appropriated $1.8 billion dollars for a heavy lift vehicle that will fully employ the Marshall Space Flight Center community that would avoid these layoffs but for whatever reason the white house is refusing to follow that law,” said Congressman Mo Brooks. (8/19)

Feds Carving Up U.S. Airspace For Drone Tests (Source: AOL Defense)
Unmanned military aircraft may soon have a permanent home in U.S. commercial airspace, according to a Defense Department official. The Pentagon and the FAA are carving out between four to 10 "bubbles" in civilian airspace above the U.S. to test UAS, said Steve Pennington, executive director of the Defense Policy Board on Federal Aviation.

These airspace bubbles will be located across the country and provide DoD and the FAA space to show that UAS can fly in heavily-traveled commercial airspace in all conditions across the United States. The sites will not be co-located with existing DoD sites that have been cleared to fly UAS in the United States. However, he said the new airspace sites will likely butt up against those DoD-owned sites. DoD will begin preliminary site selection for those locations by the end of 2012, Pennington said.

Creation of these airspace bubbles was part of the FAA reauthorization bill proposed earlier this year. Lawmakers tabled passage of the FAA bill until September, when Congress is set to return from its summer recess. Once passed, Pennington predicted that there would be a lot of "political jockeying" by lawmakers to land one of the test sites, given the money and resources DoD plans to pump into the effort. Click here. (8/19)

AUVSI Plans Space Summit at UCF on Aug. 31 (Source: AUVSI)
The AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter is sponsoring a Summit on the Future of Space in Orlando on Aug. 31 at UCF. The Summit will promote a timely discussion about the future of space and will increase the public awareness of ongoing research and mission planning. This AUVSI event is co-sponsored by UCF's Institute for Simulation and Training (IST) and Craig Technologies and will bring together a diverse group from academia, industry, and government.

We are delighted to have as our guest and keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Abell, Lead Scientist for Planetary Small Bodies at Johnson Space Center. He will help educate our community about how we can achieve one of the stated objectives of U.S. Space Policy for human spaceflight which is Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) exploration by 2025. This one-day event will provide opportunities to interact closely with Dr. Abell and other leaders in space. Click here for information. (8/19)

Space Station Commercial Cargo Carrier Arriving At NASA Wallops (Source: NASA)
NASA's partnership with industry to develop transportation to the International Space Station reaches another milestone on Aug. 24. The Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, which will carry supplies to the station, is scheduled to arrive at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. During the next several months, Orbital's engineering team will integrate the PCM with the Cygnus service module that includes the spacecraft's avionics, propulsion and power systems.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for a demonstration flight early next year on an Orbital Taurus II launch vehicle under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreement with the company. Cygnus will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's pad 0A at Wallops. (8/19)

Massive Engineering Project May Be Our Best Chance at Colonizing Space (Source: io9)
Space colonization has reached an impasse, for reasons far more fundamental than a lack of money for the Space Shuttle program. There is simply no way humans can travel easily offworld without using massive amounts of rocket fuel to escape the gravity well — and that's both expensive and environmentally unsustainable. So how will we get off this rock? That was the subject of a three-day conference last week, where scientists and enthusiasts talked about plans to build a space elevator.

This enormous engineering project would allow us to haul materials, and eventually people, into high orbit without rockets. Some say the project could get started within a decade, and NASA is offering prizes of over $1 million to people who can come up with materials to make it happen. Here's what needs to happen before you can ride an elevator into space, according to speakers at the Space Elevator Conference. Click here. (8/19)

Chinese Launch Failure Will Not Affect Space Module Launch (Source: Xinhua)
The launch of a Chinese unmanned space module, the Tiangong-1, will not be affected by the failed launch of an experimental orbiter on Thursday, an expert said Friday. Qi Faren, a chief designer of China's "Shenzhou" spacecraft family, said that the carrier rocket for the Tiangong-1 is different from that used for the experimental orbiter SJ-11-04, which failed to enter Earth's orbit due to a malfunction of the rocket. (8/19)

World’s Largest Radio Telescope Project Will Not Include U.S. (Source: Richmond Daily Journal)
After economic downgrades and a lack of funds shut down NASA’s shuttle program, many Americans are uncertain about the future of our country’s space exploration. Space exploration helps us understand the universe we live in, and gain a better understanding of the planet we call home. Planning is underway for what will be the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA). What may be hard for many to swallow who grew up watching shuttles take off and dreaming about being an astronaut is that America won’t be involved in the project. (8/19)

Information From Space, Via Alaska, for 20 Years (Source: Juneau Empire)
In 20 years of existence, the Alaska Satellite Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has gathered millions of data bits from satellites through its giant antennas. Scientists have used the view from space to study things that are hard to see any other way, including the amount of northern sea ice that forms (or fails to form), or the slight inflation of an Aleutian volcano that may hint of an eruption.

All of this action takes place through one of the most noticeable features of the Fairbanks landscape: a 10-meter dish on the UAF campus, and similar antenna in the woods a bit west it. The Alaska Satellite Facility has received data from eight NASA satellites, two satellites owned by Canada, a satellite owned by 13 European countries, and a satellite owned by Japan. (8/19)

Europe and Russia Aim for Mars (Source: MSNBC)
A top space official says Europe and Russia will follow up on their simulated 520-day mission to Mars with a real flight to Mars and back — although there's not yet any time frame set for the mission. The pledge came on Wednesday from Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of the European Space Agency, during his visit to Russia's MAKS air show near Moscow. He said ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency would "carry out the first flight to Mars together," according to a report from the RIA Novosti news agency. (8/19)

Atlantis Engines Removed for Shuttle's KSC Retirement, Heavy-Lift Re-Use (Source: Florida Today)
Removal of the last set of main engines to help propel a space shuttle into orbit is under way at Kennedy Space Center. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne crews on Thursday pulled out the first of three 14-foot-long, 7,800-pound engines from Atlantis, which launched July 8 and landed July 21 to end the 135th and final shuttle mission. Work to remove a second engine was to begin Friday, followed by the last on Monday.

While NASA's three orbiters are bound for museums -- Atlantis will be displayed at Kennedy's Visitor Complex -- the engines' fate is uncertain. They could be reused by a heavy-lift rocket NASA is charged with building, but the agency has yet to release its plans -- prompting subpoenas last month from U.S. senators. (8/19)

Virgin Galactic Eyes Passenger Connectivity for Space Flights (Source: Flight Global)
I can see it now. The tweets. The FaceBook updates. The miles high boasts. "I'm tweeting from space!!" Why? Because Virgin Galactic is looking to offer in-flight connectivity to passengers on its suborbital space tourism flights (they obviously won't need any seat-back entertainment for that ride). Sir Richard Branson is studying his connectivity options for SpaceShipTwo.

But what might he choose? If you're going up and back to space, the aircraft would effectively serve as the satellite. In other words, it won't need to talk to a satellite, but rather a great big ground dish (a steerable antenna) that's talking to the aircraft. Says a source: "The actual band used is X-band, which is in the gigahertz range. One of the big things of Ham Radio is you get a dish and bounce signals off spacecraft, or bounce them off the moon, so it's moon bounce communications." (8/18)

SpaceX Looks for an Extra Base (MSNBC)
Even as SpaceX prepares for its first visit to the International Space Station, it's looking for another spaceport to handle a whole different kind of launch traffic. Elon Musk said that SpaceX is thinking about establishing an additional base for launching Falcon rockets, to supplement its facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the pad that's currently being renovated at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Last month, local officials in Texas hinted that SpaceX was ready to invest up to $50 million in the Gulf Coast Regional Spaceport, south of Houston. Musk told me that he hadn't yet decided where the third base would be located, but he made it sound as if he was firmly set on expanding operations. He also explained why an extra space base was on SpaceX's agenda:

"We do intend to develop a third launch facility. Texas is one of the possible states. But we're also looking at... Puerto Rico, potentially another location in Florida, potentially Hawaii. And there are a few other locations that could work. So we're trying to make the right decision for the long term." Editor's Note: SpaceX could use one of the Space Shuttle's launch pads to support human spaceflight while LC-40 is used for cargo and satellite launches. (8/18)

Sierra Nevada to Use Virgin Galactic Craft for Tests (Source: @Jeff_Foust)
Lohn Curry of Sierra Nevada said the company plans to use WhiteKnight-2 on a non-interference basis for captive carry and drop tests of the Dream Chaser test article at Dryden in California. (8/18)

Report Identifies ET Invasion Scenarios (Source: MyFox New York)
A team of American researchers have produced a range of scenarios in which aliens could attack the earth, and curiously, one revolves around climate change. They speculate that extraterrestrial environmentalists could be so appalled by our planet-polluting ways that they view us as a threat to the intergalactic ecosystem and decide to destroy us.

The thought-provoking scenario is one of many envisaged in a study entitled "Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis." It divides projected close encounters into "neutral," those that cause mankind "unintentional harm" and, more worryingly, those in which aliens do us "intentional harm." Click here. Editor's Note: Contrary to many reports, this paper was not sponsored by NASA in any way. Click here. (8/18)

Stephen Colbert’s Head Goes Into Space (Source: Tech Crunch)
The folks at Makerbot made a bust of Stephen Colbert and gave him a copy when they appeared on his show a month or so ago. Not content to let it just moulder in the shop, they decided to attach it to a weather balloon and send it up over Long Island. The resulting video and images are striking. Click here. (8/19)

Chinese Scientists Have Plan to Save Earth from Asteroid Hit (Source: RIA Novosti)
A group of Chinese scientists have proposed using a solar sail to prevent the possible collision of Apophis, a 46 million ton asteroid, with the Earth in 2036. The asteroid, which is 270 meters in diameter, will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000-38,000 kilometers in 2029. In 2036 Apophis may come back and collide with Earth on April 13, 2036. to place a small spacecraft with a solar sail into a retrograde orbit in order to change the asteroid’s trajectory. (8/18)

Exoplanets Team Wins Hubble 'Coup' (Source: UKPA)
An international team of scientists led by the UK is aiming to answer some of the biggest questions facing astronomy after securing a "major coup" on Nasa's Hubble space telescope. The team is planning to explore the atmospheric conditions of planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets, in one of the largest research programs of its kind. Large programs on the Hubble space telescope have historically produced data with a lasting legacy.

The team, led by the University of Exeter in Devon, says that securing nearly 200 hours' use of the telescope makes its project one of the biggest ever. The research will focus on "Hot Jupiters", exoplanets which are similar in size to Jupiter but with temperatures of 1,000 degrees or more because they orbit so close to their respective stars. (8/19)

NASA Conducts More Tests on Orion MPCV (Source:
A special prototype of NASA's planned deep space vehicle is undergoing vigorous testing this month to help engineers design the capsule that could one day take astronauts to destinations such as an asteroid or Mars. The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is based on capsule designs that were originally intended for NASA's Orion spacecraft. Lockheed Martin is modifying the original capsule design to meet the new requirements of a vehicle to take astronauts on long-duration missions to deep space destinations. (8/19)

Vegans on Mars? PETA Says Yes, Please (Source:
Most space fans hope that humans will eventually reach Mars. As for cows and chickens, that's another question. Animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has sent a letter to space entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of rocket company SpaceX, urging him to make any SpaceX missions to Mars vegan.

"We can get off on the right foot on our new biosphere by ensuring that SpaceX crafts traveling to Mars are stocked only with vegan food and that Mars' colonists commit to enjoying an animal-free diet once they've arrived," the group wrote in the Aug. 8 letter. (8/9)

Synthetic Life Could Help Colonize Mars, Biologist Says (Source:
Synthetic organisms engineered to use carbon dioxide as a raw material could help humans settle Mars one day, a prominent biologist says. Man-made, CO2-munching lifeforms are already in the works, geneticist Craig Venter said. Venter and his team, who made headlines last year by creating the world's first synthetic organism, are trying to design cells that can use atmospheric carbon dioxide to make food, fuel, plastics and other products. (8/19)

Colliding Solar Systems Spell Disaster for Habitable Planets (Source: Astronomy Now)
Computer simulations have revealed the reason why some exoplanets are inclined at large angles and why this might lead to habitable planets being evicted from planetary systems. Planets are thought to form within giant discs of gas and dust which surround young protostars. Clumps of material start to stick together and eventually collide with each other to create a protoplanet, which then sweeps up even more material from the disc.

This protoplanetary disc rotates in the same direction as the protostar and should result in planets orbiting in the same plane as the equator of the star. However, there are many exoplanets which have broken the rules and orbit at large angles from the equatorial plane. What makes these systems so different? A team of German and British astronomers have discovered that if a protoplanetary disc, which they dub the “bullet”, collides with another disc known as the “target” then the bullet disc will steal material from the target disc.

This extra gas and dust will result in the bullet disc moving from the equatorial plane of the star to a plane which is at a large angle from the stars equator. The chance of such collisions between discs rises if the discs exist within a star cluster. “Encounters between stars and/or protostellar objects are expected to be highly likely or even unavoidable in dense clusters like the Trapezium Cluster in the Orion Nebula,” (8/19)

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