September 10, 2011

House Approps Subcommittee Halves Request for FAA Space Office (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) recommended only half of the Obama Administration's request for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. George Nield, who heads that office, defended the $26 million request in testimony to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May.

The request was 74 percent higher than what it had received for FY2010 and FY2011. That office facilitates and regulates the commercial space launch and reentry business. Nield said at the hearing that he expected a ten-fold increase in the number of commercial launches and pointed to new initiatives such as the Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at Kennedy Space Center, FL and a "prize" program. Several members of that committee, which authorizes the office's activities, were critical of the sharp increase.

The appropriators apparently were skeptical as well. The draft bill they approved on Thursday states that "not to exceed $13,000,000 shall be available for commercial space transportation activities." That is less than the $15.2 million the office received for FY2010 and FY2011. This is only the first step in the FY2012 appropriations process. (9/10)

Two New Canadian Astronauts Certified (Source: SpaceRef)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that its two new astronauts, Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, have successfully completed their two-year basic training at Johnson Space Center. Hansen and Saint-Jacques have been assigned duties that will continue to broaden and perfect their skills. Both will work at JSC. Jeremy Hansen will be assigned to the International Space Station Operations Branch and will assume the role of Crew Support Astronaut for Expedition 33/34. David Saint-Jacques has been assigned for duties within the Robotics Branch, which will include training and operations related to the European Robotic Arm. (9/10)

Embry-Riddle Schedules Six Astronomy Open Houses (Source: ERAU)
Six times during the new academic year, the Physical Sciences Department at Embry-Riddle will invite the public to come to its Daytona Beach Campus Creekside Observatory to explore the stars and planets through the university’s telescopes. The Astronomy Open Houses are free and open to all ages and will run from 8-11 p.m. (weather permitting) on the following dates: Sept. 16, Oct. 28, Nov. 18, Feb. 10, March 9, and April 13. Professors and astronomy club members will be available to provide information and assist in the operation of the telescopes. For more information and a map, visit (9/10)

NASA Launches Twin Satellites to Moon from Florida Spaceport (Source: AFP)
NASA on Saturday launched a $500 million pair of washing-machine-sized satellites on a mission to map the Moon's inner core for the first time. The twin spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a three-month journey to the Moon at 9:08 am (1308 GMT) aboard a Delta II rocket. "Liftoff of the Delta II with GRAIL, on a journey to the center of the moon," NASA commentator George Diller said upon blast-off of the GRAIL mission, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory. (9/10)

Obama Administration Accused of Sabotaging Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Space News)
Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Nelson flatly accused the White House of trying to sabotage the nation’s human spaceflight program after a leaked NASA documents said a congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket (SLS), crew capsule (MPCV/Orion) and associated infrastructure could cost nearly $63 billion through 2025. The senators, both staunch SLS supporters, blasted the cost figures as a “wildly inflated” contrivance of the Obama administration, which they said is seeking to “undermine America’s manned space program.”

They said the upper range of the cost estimates are ”based on an imaginary ‘acceleration’ of SLS development,” nearly double an indepenent estimate provided by Booz Allen Hamilton. NASA's most conservative scenario is based on the administration’s 2012 budget request and assumes a no-growth budget for the next five years and an SLS cost of $41.6 billion, with the first crewed flight of the MPCV/Orion in 2021. This version of SLS would fly once every two years, after that. A larger verson would not be ready until the 2030s.

The high-end estimate assumes a funding scenario where SLS development is accelerated so that the rocket and its crew capsule can achieve a greater flight rate. In this scenario, costs through 2025 would be about $62.3 billion, and the 70 metric-ton SLS variant would fly crewed missions once a year beginning in 2018. Also included in this scenario is $4.5 billion for “in space elements,” which could include things like Earth-departure stages, landing craft and in-space propellant storage. A 130 metric-ton version of SLS would be ready in 2021, under this scenario. (9/9)

Rohrabacher: Heavy-Lift Cost Estimate "Ridiculous" (Source: Space News)
Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has advocated redirecting funds from SLS to NASA’s effort to nurture commercially developed systems for ferrying crews to and from the international space station, said the cost estimates are grounds for terminating the heavy-lifter program. “If true, these estimates are ridiculous,” Rohrabacher said. “There is no way that the American people want us to spend more than $60 billion for a space exploration program that includes only one manned spaceflight before the end of the decade. Congress just canceled Constellation last year for these very same reasons.”

At least one contractor slated for a major role in SLS, rocket-engine maker Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, was critical of the leaked SLS cost information. “Sound decisions aren’t made on sketchy financials leaked to The Wall Street Journal,” Jim Maser, president of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, said. “Our opinion of this is that it’s highly sensational and not validated.” (9/9)

Greason: SLS/Orion Have Same Affordability Issues as Constellation (Source: Space News)
“The way NASA does accounting, you can make the numbers come out to be anything you want it to be,” said Jeff Greason, chief executive of XCOR Aerospace. “It’s a deliberately opaque process.” Greason said the SLS and MPCV appear to have the same affordability issues as Constellation. “The essential feature of Constellation was that it couldn't be done within NASA’s budget, and I do not see anything in the proposed SLS-MPCV architecture that changes that,” Greason said.

Greason served on an independent expert panel that in 2009 reviewed Constellation. Led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, that panel concluded that Constellation was unaffordable and lauded the progress of the emerging commercial spaceflight industry, effectively endorsing Obama’s approach before it became official administration policy.

Editor's Note: I still believe all of this could have been avoided if Ares-1 was not part of Constellation in the first place. Constellation should have relied on commercial cargo/crew services alongside a DIRECT-style Shuttle-derived heavy-lifter. (9/10)

Lawmakers Call for More Testing for LightSquared (Source: The Hill)
Government officials and lawmakers at a House Science Committee hearing Thursday said more testing is needed of LightSquared’s proposed wireless network because it could interfere with Global Positioning System devices, including those used to track hurricanes and other weather patterns. The hearing was a setback for wireless startup LightSquared, which has already invested billions of dollars into its hybrid service that would rely on both satellites and land-based cell towers to provide wholesale broadband access. (9/9)

Astronomers Find Invisible Planet 650 Light-Years Away (Source: TIME)
Searching for planets around distant stars isn't easy. A few of the hundreds of extrasolar planets discovered so far have been found the old-fashioned way — by taking the planets' pictures through powerful telescopes. But the vast majority have called for more ingenious approaches. Planet hunters have found extrasolar planets by watching for the subtle wobble in a star's position as a planet's gravity tugs it back and forth. They've noted the almost imperceptible dimming of a star's light as a planet passes between it and Earth.

But a new way to find planets may be the most ingenious yet. Writing in the Astrophysical Journal, Harvard graduate student Sarah Ballard and several colleagues have announced the discovery of a world orbiting a star about 650 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Lyra, whose presence was revealed by its gravitational pull on another planet — a planet that itself can be detected only indirectly. (9/9)

Globalstar Doesn't Want Next Soyuz Launch (Source: Interfax)
A date for the launch of a Russian Soyuz-2-1A rocket equipped with a Fregat upper stage and carrying six U.S. Globalstar-2 satellites from the Baikonur spaceport has not been set yet. "It will probably take place following the launch of a Soyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress M-13 freighter, which has tentatively been set for October 14," the source said. The Russian side has been trying to persuade foreign specialists to permit the launch of the Globalstar-2 satellites on October 8, but these negotiations have so far been unsuccessful, he said. (9/9)

NASA Says Crashing Satellite is Low Risk to Public (Source:
NASA expects an abandoned research satellite to crash back to Earth later this month, scattering more than 1,000 pounds of debris somewhere on the surface as rest of the craft vaporizes in the upper atmosphere. Officials said 26 components from the Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, will survive re-entry and reach Earth's surface. The total mass of the objects expected to make it to the surface is more than 1,100 pounds.

But officials said the satellite will most likely come down over the ocean or an unpopulated land mass. There is a 1-in-3,200 chance a piece of debris could injure or kill a person, according to an assessment by NASA. UARS was built before NASA and international standards were employed to limit human casualty risks to less than 1-in-10,000. (9/9)

India Overtakes Canada in Space Competitiveness in 2010 (Source: Winnipeg Free Press)
Experts are worried about a report that shows India has moved ahead of Canada in space competitiveness and that Canada is also losing ground to other big players in space. The 2011 Space Competitiveness Index, compiled by U.S. consulting firm Futron, also says government delays in presenting a long-term space plan are offsetting Canada's competitive advantages.

There are concerns the delays may even put Canada behind in the space robotics sector where it has built a worldwide reputation with its iconic Canadarm. Futron's recently released analysis of the 10 leading space nations reveals Canada lost its sixth-place ranking to India in 2010. The analysis compares how countries invest in and benefit from the space industry. (9/10)

Production of China's Jumbo Rocket Proceeds for Pre-2015 Maiden Voyage (Source: Xinhua)
Production on a major part of China's Long March-5 large-thrust carrier rocket has been completed and its maiden voyage is expected to take place during the country's 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015). The entire production of the new generations of rockets, including the Long March-5 and -6, will be housed in a large industrial base in north China's Tianjin Municipality. The Tianjin Aerospace Industry Base, with an area of 1.2 square miles, has been built with a total investment of more than $938 million.

It is designed to meet China's growing demand for space technology research and development over the next 30 to 50 years. By integrating the industrial chain, the base will be able to produce an entire spectrum of rockets of different sizes and types for the nation's moon probe project, space station and other projects, according to the corporation. The construction of a 220,000-sq.m. workshop for new-generation carrier rockets has been completed at the base, he said. (9/10)

UARS Satellite to Fall to Earth (Source: National Geographic)
It's coming from outer space. Sometime in the next few weeks, pieces of a defunct NASA satellite will rain down on an unlucky patch of Earth. Precisely where and when the space debris will hit home are not yet known, though the U.S. government will have a better picture of the so-called "debris footprint"—expected to be roughly 500 miles (805 kilometers) long—as the satellite's date with destiny draws near.

The doomed spacecraft, known as the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), was carried aloft by the space shuttle Discovery in 1991 to study Earth's atmosphere. When the satellite was switched off in 2005, it became another piece of potentially hazardous space junk, so NASA nudged it toward Earth, aiming for a downward trajectory that would cause the craft to burn up in the atmosphere.

Now the satellite itself will become a type of experiment: Can an uncontrolled 6.3-ton object plummet out of orbit without hitting anybody? NASA said there's generally little danger of death by space debris. Since the dawn of the Space Age some five decades ago, no human has been killed or even hurt by an artificial object falling from the heavens. (9/9)

Blue Origin Failure Unlikely Show-Stopper (Source: Aviation Week)
The failure of Blue Origin’s second test vehicle is not necessarily a failure of the company’s efforts to begin launching scientists and space tourists on a reusable suborbital rocket. Nor will the failure affect NASA’s plans to use private operators to transport cargo and crew to the Space Station. The company’s vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) test vehicle reached 45,000 ft. and Mach 1.2 before “flight instability” triggered the range safety system and shut down the vehicle’s engines, letting it crash in the desert near its West Texas test site. (9/9)

“The vehicle used during the test was intended for suborbital trajectories, with no crew capsule, no abort system, and used a very different engine,” a NASA official says. “NASA does not foresee any negative ramifications of this test flight anomaly on the company’s ability to perform on its CCDev 2 SAA with NASA.”

Instead of the three-seat capsule intended for the suborbital VTVL vehicle, the failed test vehicle carried a dome-shaped “close-out fairing,” Bezos says. When operational, the vehicle “will be fully reusable and capable of flying three or more astronauts to an altitude of over 328,000 ft. (above 100 km) for science research and adventure,” the Blue Origin CCDev proposal states. (9/9)

More U.S. Companies Seek to Export Space Goods to India (Source: Soaring Over Shar)
India beckons and more U.S. companies are responding. According to a spokesperson at the U.S. Department of State, the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) received a total of 165 applications for so-called "USML Category XV" exports to India from 55 applicants for the period from January to September 2011 whereas last year during the same period, DDTC received 99 applications from 41 applicants.

"USML Category XV" refers to a broad category of items on the U.S. Munitions List listed as "Spacecraft Systems and Associated Equipment." Both the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and more specifically, the International Traffic In Arms Regulations apply here.

Since the signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement between the Government of India and the U.S. Government, DDTC has approved several licenses for the export of USML hardware for incorporation into several civil spacecraft manufactured outside of India which identified India as a potential launch location. (9/9)

Adams Supports Proposed FAA Tech Center at KSC (Source: SPACErePORT)
After a contentious hearing where FAA commercial space chief George Nield was grilled about plans for an FAA Tech Center that would be located at KSC, FAA and NASA officials were concerned that funding for the Tech Center might not be approved by Congress. Planning for the Center stalled and its future remains in question. Last week, Congresswoman Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, made it clear that she supports the Tech Center, including to Congressman John Mica (R-FL), the powerful chairman of the House Transportation Committee. (9/9)

A Long Mission to ‘Mars’ for Colombian Man (Source: Miami Herald)
While the future of U.S. manned space flight in doubt, one Colombian is coming back from ‘Mars.’ After kicking Martian dust off his boots, and turning his back on the Gusev crater, Diego Urbina climbed back into the landing module to begin the long, lonely ride back to earth — sort of. Urbina is one of six men on a 520-day mission to the Red Planet that never leaves Moscow. The program is designed to simulate a trip to Mars to evaluate the effects of prolonged isolation, limited communication and cramped living quarters on the human body and psyche.

Born in Bogotá to a Colombian father and Italian mother, the 28-year-old Urbina has not breathed fresh air, seen the sky or talked to his loved ones since he was locked in the simulator June 3, 2010. He’s slated to “land” back on earth Nov. 5. In a letter from simulated deep space, Urbina said that despite sharing cramped living quarters and facing a battery of tests and experiments, monotony and feelings of isolation are prevalent. One of the movies that resonates most with the crew is Stanley Kubrick’s classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The film and book come pretty close to describing the loneliness of life in space,” Urbina wrote. (9/9)

Russia Finds Cause of Progress/Soyuz Crash (Source: Reuters)
A production fault that cut off the fuel supply caused the crash of an unmanned spacecraft last month that has grounded launches to the International Space Station, Russia's space agency said. Roskosmos said an investigation into the Progress supply craft's crash on Aug. 24 found that a blockage in the motor of the upper-stage Soyuz rocket had prevented fuel reaching the gas generator, causing the engine to shut down. (9/9)

NASA Telescope Funding Plan Not Supported by All (Source: National Journal)
A NASA proposal to spread the cost overruns for the James Webb Space Telescope among all of its divisions is going over like a lead balloon among at least some researchers, who are concerned that sharing the telescope’s costs will imperil funding for their projects. Among these scientists are a group of 14 prominent planetary researchers, who signed on to an editorial on Thursday rejecting the NASA cost-sharing plan. “Resources of other NASA programs...are now threatened to cover current and future JWST costs,” according to the editorial.

The House had cut all funding for the telescope from NASA’s FY2012 budget proposal. The telescope, operations for which will be based in Maryland, may have a better chance in the Senate, though, where Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of NASA’s budget. (9/9)

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