August 13, 2011

Insult to Injury: KSC Infrastructure Upgrade Funding Threatened (Source: SPACErePORT)
President Obama last year proposed that $429 million would come to NASA Kennedy Space Center in FY-2011 (and $1.9 billion over five years) to modernize NASA infrastructure at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport under the 2st Century Launch Complex (21-CLC) program. The Congressional budget stalemate for FY-2011 resulted in a 21-CLC appropriation of only $128 million and effectively prevented any significant spending during the fiscal year.

Current KSC plans for infrastructure upgrades still hover at around $410 million, but much of this money would come from the Congressionally mandated heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) program, to meet the specific launch site needs of this vehicle. The 21-CLC funds had been intended for broader investments to make the spaceport more competitive for a variety of government and commercial launch programs.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives has put forth an FY-2012 budget for NASA that now includes only $60 million for 21-CLC. Meanwhile, advocates for Marshall Space Flight Center are said to be maneuvering to minimize KSC infrastructure spending from the SLS account, to allow more to be used for the vehicle's design and development in Huntsville. Florida advocates for KSC say these and other threatened cuts to KSC programs add insult to injury while the Space Coast suffers an economic crisis caused by the Space Shuttle's retirement. (8/13)

Holdren: White House Still Supports NASA Policy (Source: Space Politics)
John Holdren, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) conveyed last week that the administration was still committed to the NASA policy it unveiled just over 18 months ago, as well as a little frustration about how it’s been communicated to the public. “The president and Charlie [Bolden] and I have all been accused from time to time of not having a vision, of not having a destination, of not having a plan, and I think that’s just misinformation,” Holdren said.

All three of those elements exist, he claimed, are essential to meeting those objectives. “I have had some discussions with the president about whether it’s time for another major presidential speech about our space policy and our space program and our priorities.” The president, he added, has been tied up with other issues, “but now that that’s done, we’re going to come back to all these other issues that need his attention, and I think one of them will be the space issue.”

That space policy, he said, is based on three “pillars” for human spaceflight: extending ISS to at least 2020, developing commercial crew system, and advanced technology investments. “These three pillars were fully supported by me and by Charlie Bolden,” he said. He criticized Congress, though, for trying to get NASA to work on those priorities plus the immediate development of a heavy-lift vehicle without sufficient funding. (8/13)

Are We All Extraterrestrials? Traces of DNA in Space (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
If you watched the Perseid meteor shower, you witnessed a process that scientists have increasingly come to regard as the vehicle for delivering basic building blocks of organic life to Earth. A team of scientists appears to have added some critical components to the list of space-borne building blocks raining onto Earth's surface: a class of chemicals called nucleobases. Nucleobases combine to carry the genetic information found in DNA molecules, the molecules that orchestrate an organism's form and functions. (8/13)

Vikram Sarabhai’s Statue Unveiled at India Space Center (Source: DNA)
To commemorate the pioneer of space research in India on his 92nd birth anniversary, the Space Applications Center (SAC), ISRO, Ahmedabad unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Dr Vikram Sarabhai on its campus on Friday. The full size statue of Dr Sarabhai, the first of its kind anywhere, is a unique combination of art and craftsmanship. (8/13)

Gagarin Statue Placed in London for 50th Anniversary (Source: @GTWhitesides)
Here's a photo of the new Yuri Gagarin statue in London. It was given to the UK by Russia, to mark 50th anniversary of human space flight. Click here. (8/13)

Huntsville Group Moves to License Space Camp in China (Source: Huntsville Times)
The commission that oversees the U.S. Space & Rocket Center approved an option to enter into a licensing agreement with the Mactus Group for a space camp in China. The revised arrangement includes a license fee of $1 million for one location only.

"We're attempting to renegotiate (the license agreement) with Mactus," said Daniel Wilson, a commission member. "I think the revised option substantially improves our position." The 25-year license agreement would have renewal options. The commission learned late last year that outgoing center CEO Larry Capps had signed an agreement to license four space camps in China at $1.75 million each. (8/13)

Boeing Spends $4.4 Million on 2Q Lobbying (Source: Bloomberg)
Boeing spent $4.4 million lobbying the government during the second quarter on issues including federal defense and aviation spending and foreign relations. The lobbying bill was down a little from the nearly $5 million it spent during the April-June period in 2010. Boeing has interests ranging from commercial aviation to defense, space, and more recently, cyber security. (8/13)

Latest Round of NASA Cutting Threatens 600 Jobs in Huntsville (Source: Huntsville Times)
The latest round of NASA downsizing is threatening another 600 Huntsville jobs, officials said Thursday. How many will actually be laid off isn't clear, but is expected to be fewer than the number warned in accordance with federal law. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said Friday that NASA leaders told Alabama lawmakers three weeks ago that upcoming layoffs would be in the 200-400 range. "Anything inconsistent with that, that's disappointing," Brooks said. (8/13)

Hypersonic Flight: Japan's HYFLEX Deserves a Closer Look (Source: Japan in Space)
The first and only flight of Japan's Hypersonic Flight Experiment (HYFLEX) happened in February 1996. Some readers might wonder why I elect to engage in this exercise, injecting HYFLEX into the broader coverage of the HTV-2 testflight. It is, they might argue, kind of like comparing apples to oranges. I disagree because each of these experimental hypersonic flights - albeit happening many years apart - involved hypersonic performance on a sub-orbital trajectory.

The dimensions of HYFLEX are often overlooked. It weighed just over 1000kg with a length of 4.4m along with a wingspan of 1.36m and a height of just over 1m. This modest attempt by the then National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) along with the NAL and ISAS did succeed. A malfunction of the flotation device for this spacecraft is what sent HYFLEX to the bottom of the Pacific. Otherwise this testflight was a remarkable event. (8/13)

DARPA's Growing Micro Satellite Appetite? (Source: Aviation Week)
If scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) get their way, in a few years’ time there may be networked clusters of dozens or even hundreds of small, cheap, easily replaceable satellites working together to take the place of the large, expensive hardware currently floating around in orbit.

The Pentagon-funded researchers have spent several years, tens of millions of dollars (and a couple of canceled contracts) working on something called System F6 (Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft). The goal of the program is to create clusters of small satellites tied together by ad hoc wireless networks that allow them to autonomously share tasks while trading off missions if any one satellite fails. DARPA says it wants to conduct an in-orbit demonstration in 2014-15. Click here. (8/13)

To Make Mankind Great Again, Push to Mars (Source: Discovery)
Last weekend, at the 14th International Mars Society Convention in Dallas, Texas, the message was clear: it is imperative that we send a manned mission to Mars. The slogan was: "Mars or Bust." This may sound dramatic, but as highlighted by Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin during his closing speech, human spaceflight is at a crossroads and it's anyone's guess as to whether U.S. manned exploration beyond low-Earth orbit will ever become more than a Cold War memory.

Zubrin blames manned spaceflight stagnation squarely on a lack of leadership in space. Many other speakers echoed this criticism. As we all know, U.S. spaceflight is dominated by politics -- political agendas wax and wane with each administration that takes office -- it's little wonder NASA is currently suffering from a serious bout of confusion. Projects are funded, cut and then canceled on a shockingly frequent cycle. The economy has slumped, only adding to the political pressure to do very little in the way of investment for manned spaceflight. (8/13)

'Earth-Mars' Collision May Have Happened in Alien Solar System (Source: Science)
A planet the size of Mars races toward a planet like Earth, smashes into its crust and mantle, and ejects debris that conglomerates into a large moon. Sound familiar? It's what scientists think happened billions of years ago to Earth. But the same drama may have unfolded much more recently around a nearby star in the constellation Hercules.

Known as NLTT 43806, the star is a white dwarf—a dim, dense, and dying sun about the size of Earth—located roughly 50 light-years away. "It is unique among known white dwarfs," says Benjamin Zuckerman. "Its surface has a very high aluminum abundance and a relatively low iron abundance." That's strange, because most stars show the opposite pattern: much more iron than aluminum. Throughout the universe's life, stars have forged far more iron than aluminum, so iron nuclei normally outnumber aluminum by 10 to 1. (8/13)

NASA Sets Contract with Colorado Small-Rocket Company (Source: Denver Post)
NASA has selected Up Aerospace, a Highlands Ranch small-rocket company, and six other companies to fly suborbital research flights. "Essentially, this means NASA buys the rocket rides and gives the flights away to qualified researchers — from universities or private industry," said Jerry Larson, president of Up Aerospace. Larson said he won't know until later this month how many launches on his 20-foot SpaceLoft XL rockets that NASA will buy and what the payloads will be.

The launch cost will be one-tenth as much as it would be for government, he said. For Up Aerospace, the award means a chance to expand and potentially hire people. "People have been waiting in line" to work for a small company like his, Larson said. (8/13)

Lockheed's Orion Spacecraft Undergoes Ear-Splitting Launch Simulation in Colorado (Source: Denver Post)
A model of a spacecraft intended to explore deeper in space than ever before is being blasted today at Lockheed Martin Space Systems with the sound-induced vibrations it would encounter during a launch. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — referred to as Orion MPCV — was mated Friday with a launch pad emergency system at Lockheed's Waterton Canyon facility for testing at 150 decibels, which is above the sound threshold for pain.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor on Orion, having won the initial $3.9 billion contract in 2006. Funding for the spacecraft has been in doubt several times as NASA's budget and future have been debated. Costs are now estimated at about $4.5 billion. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall — who was briefed Friday by Lockheed officials — said the entire Colorado congressional delegation supports the program and pledged he "will make the case that we need to invest in Orion." (8/13)

Experts Worry Astronauts Will Leave NASA (Source: Daily Caller)
NASA is at a crossroads. The agency faces nearly a decade without the launch of American rockets, leaving some to question whether the U.S. will lose its astronaut corps and its place as a leader in space. “I firmly believe if we lose this talent, it won’t be to another state or industry, but to another country,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, at a recent meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (8/13)

Industry Clusters: The Modern-Day Snake Oil (Source: Washington Post)
A recent study provides one more argument against government officials who tout “industry clusters” as the Holy Grail of regional growth and innovation. The formula for creating these clusters is always the same: Pick a hot industry, build a technology park next to a research university, provide incentives for businesses to relocate, add some venture capital and then watch the magic happen.

But, as I have noted before, the magic never happens. Most of the top-down cluster-development projects in the United States and around the world have died a slow death in relative obscurity. Politicians who held the press conferences to claim credit for advancing science and technology are long gone. Management consultants have cashed in their big checks. Real estate barons have reaped fortunes, and taxpayers are left holding the bag.

Regional planners eager to replicate the job growth of areas such as Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park use them as examples of government-sponsored clusters that worked. While it’s true that World War II investments in defense-related research at Stanford planted the seeds for Silicon Valley’s semiconductor industry, that forest burned down long ago. The Valley has reinvented itself many times since then. Meanwhile, Research Triangle Park achieved its success decades ago but, in my opinion, has lost momentum in the Internet era. (7/14)

California Company Building Rocket for NASA (Source: Ventura County Star)
A Camarillo company is building a rocket chosen by NASA to carry science and research experiments into the upper atmosphere. The local company, Whittinghill Aerospace, is one of seven businesses NASA recently selected to carry out two-year contracts worth a combined $10 million. How much Whittinghill will be paid is yet to be determined and will depend on the number of flights each rocket makes.

The rockets will go into "near space" to study technologies to help people explore, travel and live in space and in low orbit. The Whittinghill rocket will be about 30 feet long, 2 feet in diameter and weigh about 4,000 pounds. It is being built for a spring launch, possibly from the Mojave Desert or Point Mugu. (8/13)

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