September 16, 2011

Don't Get Between Mike Griffin and A Microphone (Source: Tea Party in Space)
It seems of late that our friend, Mike Griffin is inserting himself into the NASA limelight again. Never mind this is the man who is solely responsible for the situation we are in at the moment. Dr. Griffin was the father of the failed and canceled Constellation program. What is really happening is Dr. Griffin is wanting his old job back. Why should he get that opportunity after squandering away seven years, $11-13 billion and leaving us to rely on the Russians for rides into space?

Dr. Griffin will be wailing away next week on capital hill in front of politicians who do not want exploration of space but jobs in their districts. They will listen intently as he spins his tale of how only this rocket can return America to its destiny in space. The politicians refuse to question what will actually fly on this rocket. You see, nothing is planned or budgeted to fly on top of this monster rocket. By the time we really start doing ANYTHING with this rocket it will be the 2030s. Do you realize that is 20 years away? (9/16)

Senate Approves Stopgap Measure to Avert FAA Shutdown (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The Senate passed legislation on a 92-6 vote that will avert a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and keep highway and aviation programs at current funding levels for a few months. The House has already approved the measure, which has the support of the Obama administration. (9/16)

Senate Committee Approves $513 Billion Defense Bill, Cuts Weather Satellite Project (Source: Bloomberg)
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $513 billion defense spending bill for next year that would cancel a Northrop Grumman satellite project, among other cuts. The panel said it is terminating the Northrop Grumman-lead Defense Weather Satellite Systems, which the Air Force planned to begin in 2018, citing a “difficult and confusing set of management issues” and “uncertainty in cost estimates.”

“Each of these areas of risk indicate the system is not on a sound acquisition footing despite” a program restructure 18 months ago, the committee report says. The panel provided a $150 million termination fee to Northrop to end its current contract. The Air Force in May authorized Northrop to start working on the system. (9/15)

Senate's NASA Budget Requires SLS Action to Allow Commercial Crew Funding (Source: Space Politics)
The Senate includes $500 million for Commercial Crew, but only $307.4 million will initially be available. The remaining $192.6 million would be released only after NASA publishes “the notifications to implement acquisition strategy” for SLS and starts to execute “relevant contract actions in support of development of SLS”.

The Senate also requires NASA to “develop and make available to the public detailed human rating processes and requirements to guide the design of all crew transportation capabilities” funded by NASA, be they government- or commercially-operated. It also directs NASA to limit its use of Space Act Agreements for future CCDev rounds, although NASA is already planning to move to contracts (incorporating some elements of such agreements) for the next CCDev procurement. (9/15)

Senate's NASA Budget Includes Funds for Plutonium Production (Source: Space Politics)
The Senate's FY-2012 budget bill for NASA provides $10 million for NASA to transfer to the Department of Energy to restart plutonium-238 production, although it’s not clear if that will be useful since other appropriators failed to provide matching funding in the DOE budget. (9/15)

Soyuz Landing Rattles Nerves During Communications Breakdown (Source: Huffington Post)
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three returning astronauts from the International Space Station touched down safely Friday in the central steppes of Kazakhstan, but not without rattling nerves after a breakdown in communications. Repeated calls to the Soyuz TMA-21 capsule from Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow, went unanswered for several minutes, well after the craft had de-orbited. Communication was eventually established between the crew and an Antonov fixed-winged aircraft circling the landing site. (9/16)

Ohio celebrates Strengths and Goals During National Aerospace Week (Source: SpaceRef)
Success in the aerospace and aviation industry means having balanced access to cutting-edge technologies and the ability to build and deliver the high-tech parts, instruments and devices that fuel the industry. As this growth continues both domestically and globally, businesses need an ideal environment that combines a business-friendly climate, deep industry knowledge base, a well-educated workforce, dedicated universities and research institutions, and most importantly a strong supply chain to get products to market.

As the nation recognizes National Aerospace Week this week, Ohio celebrates its historic strengths and goals for future industry success. Ohio delivers on its promises to be the ideal environment for aerospace companies to thrive. Ohio's aerospace and aviation industry is the nation's leader in advanced propulsion and power technology. The state boasts more than 1,000 private companies, more than 100,000 workers, two federal laboratories, a network of higher education institutions and numerous nonprofit organizations engaged in the aerospace industry. (9/16)

NASA Opts for Fixed-Price Contracts for Commercial Crew Transport (Source: Hobby Space)
Despite protests from industry and several advocacy groups, NASA is going with the contracting method they decided upon several months for procuring commercial crew transportation services to/from the International Space Station. Instead of the Space Act Agreement approach used in the COTS cargo demonstration program, they will go with standard contracting but supposedly modified to reduce the overhead costs and intrusive interference that would normally come with such contracts. (9/16)

Neutron Star Smash-Ups May Forge Gold (Source: New Scientist)
Where did all the gold come from? Violent collisions between dense former stars may be why gold, lead, thorium and other heavy elements exist in such abundance. Only hydrogen, helium and lithium were present after the big bang. Ordinary stars then fused elements up to the mass of iron. Anything heavier was created when smaller atoms captured neutrons, some of which then decayed into protons.

A slow version of this process might occur in massive stars, but that could only account for about half of the remaining heavy elements. Rapid neutron capture is needed to explain the other half, including gold and lead, says Hans-Thomas Janka at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany. Now new simulations by his team show that mergers of neutron stars can do the trick. (9/16)

NRO Chief Protects Tech, Procurement Budgets (Source: Aviation Week)
The health of the U.S. classified satellite fleet is solid, says the director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). U.S. Air Force Gen. (ret.) Bruce Carlson, however, declines to speculate on how the secretive organization, which designs and operates classified U.S. spacecraft, will fare in upcoming budget talks as Washington sorts out a national debt reduction plan.

Carlson also notes that he has been able to “preserve” historical funding levels for science and technology projects – which were typically around 8% of the budget but had recently dipped to closer to 5%. This account supports leading-edge work that allows for the deployment of innovative technologies. (9/16)

The U.S. Will Conquer Deep Space with Russian Engines (Source: RIA Novosti)
The United States has announced it is developing a heavy rocket for deep space expeditions. It might use Russian-made engines which is the result of house-cleaning in the U.S. space industry. The initial design includes detachable side rocket boosters. The U.S. team has experience with the technology used in such booster sections from the Shuttle days.

But this approach has been challenged by an opposition that stresses the need to use cutting-edge technology through competition in the industry. This group is headed by a consortium of Aerojet and Teledyne. Aerojet is known for developing another promising U.S. carrier: the Taurus II, which is expected to use Russian NK-33 rocket engines. In the mid-1990s, Aerojet procured about forty of these engines at the giveaway price of $1 million a piece.

But the Taurus II has a murky future, while such a mammoth project as the SLS has political guarantees. Aerojet says it can redesign the AJ-26 (the name given by the firm to its NK-33s), start production and develop an oxygen-jet fuel booster for the SLS based on the AJ-26. However, the chances of such an extravagant design being accepted are small, not only because the idea is a bit exotic but also for political reasons. (9/16)

Test Flight Could Bring 2,000 KSC Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
Preparations for a 2017 test flight of NASA's giant new rocket for deep space exploration could add up to 2,000 jobs at Kennedy Space Center, the center director said Thursday. "Those folks will need to be here processing the rocket for the launch," KSC chief Bob Cabana said. Cabana expects the jobs to start coming online in 2014 or 2015, reversing the sharp drop in contractors that accompanied the shuttle fleet's retirement this year.

Total KSC employment is expected to drop to about 8,200 within a year or two, down from 15,000 in early 2009. It's now about 9,000. Cabana expects the total to rebound to about 10,000 "in the 2016 timeframe" as engineers and technicians prepare the 320-foot Space Launch System for an unmanned test launch. The job projections are very preliminary, and actual numbers will depend on contracts yet to be awarded.

But Cabana estimated between 1,300 and 1,600 people would be needed to work on the heavy-lift rocket and related ground systems. Another 300 to 400 would perform final assembly and checkout of Orion, which NASA hopes to fly with a crew for the first time in 2021. "In the early years it's going to use up existing hardware, so if there are jobs associated with those early years for Florida, it's not clear that they are significant," Space Florida President Frank DiBello said. (9/16)

Japan's Venus Probe Unlikely to Enter Orbit Fit for Atmospheric Observation (Source: Mainichi Daily)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it will probably be impossible for its damaged space probe Akatsuki to enter an orbit around Venus close enough to observe the planet's atmosphere with high accuracy, the mission's objective. JAXA conducted a test ignition of the probe's main engine on Wednesday to prepare for another attempt to send it into orbit in 2015. But the thrust produced was only one-eighth the amount anticipated, the space agency said. (9/16)

Pluto's Icy Exterior May Conceal an Ocean (Source: New Scientist)
Pluto could hide a liquid ocean beneath its icy shell. Temperatures on Pluto's surface hover around -230 °C, but researchers have long wondered whether the dwarf planet might boast enough internal heat to sustain a liquid ocean under its icy exterior. Researchers say there is a good chance it does. They calculate that an ocean depends on two things: the amount of radioactive potassium in Pluto's rocky core, and the sloshiness of the ice that covers it. (9/16)

Russia Postpones Next Manned Space Flight to ISS (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, has rescheduled the launch of its next manned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) so that new crewmembers will take off for the station on November 14, the agency's head, Vladimir Popovkin, said. One more manned space flight to the ISS has been postponed from December 20 to December 21, Popovkin added. (9/16)

Russia: SpaceX Mission Won't Dock with ISS (Source: RIA Novosti)
The U.S. private space capsule Dragon will conduct a flight near the International Space Station (ISS), but docking between them is not planned, Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center said on Friday. SpaceX has earlier announced plans to launch its Dragon capsule toward the orbiting lab on November 30, with a historic docking slated for nine days later.

Earlier Russia said it will not allow the SpaceX vehicle to dock with the ISS unless its safety is fully tested. "We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety is proven," said Alexei Krasov, head of the human spaceflight department of Roscosmos. "So far we have no proof that this spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety. (9/16)

NASA: SpaceX Dragon Docking Decision Not Made Yet (Source: NASA)
From a NASA Tweet: "Sorry, despite RIA Novosti reports, a decision has yet to be made regarding the upcoming @SpaceXer test flight to ISS. [It is an] incorrect story." (9/16)

India's Second Spaceport to be a ‘Polar Shift'? (Source: The Hindu)
The national space agency may be planning to separate its two satellite launchers fully or partially and move some or all polar or PSLV launches to a new second site when — or if — it happens in the coming years. ISRO's lone spaceport, the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, launches the smaller PSLV and the heavier GSLV rockets.

A new launch complex could be located further North of SDSC, so that it would be closer to the MoD's Balasore test range in the neighbouring Odisha. To build a new complex from scratch along with its tracking, telemetry, command centres and an on-site solid propellant plant could take many years and Rs 10,000-20,000 crore. There was no official confirmation on this. (9/16)

Arianespace to Launch BepiColombo on First European Mission to Mercury (Source: Arianespace)
The European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace signed a contract for the launch of the BepiColombo spacecraft, designed to explore the planet Mercury. The launch is scheduled for July 2014, using an Ariane 5 ECA launcher from the Guiana Space Center, Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. BepiColombo is a joint scientific mission led by ESA in conjunction with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). (9/16)

Senate Panel Okays $500M for Space Station Crew Taxis (Source: Daily Breeze)
SpaceX welcomed a Senate committee's approval of $500 million in NASA funding next year to develop commercial crew taxis to the International Space Station, known as the Commercial Crew Development Program. SpaceX is one of several companies that have received NASA funding for development of the spacecraft.

In a statement, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said: "The United States needs alternatives for carrying American astronauts, and we need them as soon as possible. The investments made by this legislation will accelerate efforts to return America to launching astronauts and reduce our dependency on Russia. With the failure of the Soyuz booster last month, this effort is more important than ever."

"NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program is the most fiscally responsible means to rapidly advance human spaceflight. It has protected taxpayer dollars with fixed-price, pay-for-performance contracts. It fosters competition that forces companies to compete on reliability, capability and cost. And it leverages private investment--making taxpayer dollars go further," said Musk. (9/16)

Space Station Trio Lands Safely In Kazakhstan (Source: NASA)
Three International Space Station crew members safely returned to Earth Thursday, Sept. 15, wrapping up a six-month mission. NASA's Ron Garan, Expedition 28 commander Andrey Borisenko and flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev, both of the Russian Federal Space Agency, landed their Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan at 11:59 a.m. EDT. The trio, which arrived at the station on April 6, had been scheduled to land on Sept. 8, but that was postponed because of the Aug. 24 loss of the Progress 44 cargo ship.

Before leaving the station, Borisenko handed over command to NASA's Mike Fossum, who leads Expedition 29. He and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa of Japan and Sergei Volkov of Russia are conducting research and maintenance aboard the station. (9/16)

Israel’s Spacecom Enlists ILS To Launch Amos 4 Satellite (Source: Space News)
Israeli satellite fleet operator Spacecom has contracted with International Launch Services (ILS) for the launch of the Amos 4 telecommunications satellite in late 2012 or early 2013 aboard an ILS Proton M/Breeze M rocket. Industry officials said a contract for the launch of the 4,500-kilogram Amos 4 has been signed and that the satellite will ride solo aboard the Proton vehicle, operated from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (9/16)

Brazil's Star One Nears Deal with Loral for C5 Satellite Launch (Source: Space News)
Brazilian satellite fleet operator Star One is in final negotiations with satellite builder Loral for the planned development and 2014 launch of the Star One C5 satellite to replace the aging Brasilsat B4 satellite. (9/16)

U.S. Spy Satellite Chief Says Programs Now on Schedule, Cost (Source: Bloomberg)
The director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office said the nation’s spy satellite programs are now on schedule and cost. NRO chief Bruce Carlson told reporters that the agency’s major programs, which he said number between 10 and 15, are meeting performance objectives while proceeding on time and within budget. Two years ago, Carlson said, two-thirds of those programs were graded either “yellow or red” in the Pentagon’s grading system. “Today it’s green -- all of our major system acquisitions. I think we’ve hit stride,” he said. (9/15)

New Rocket Plan Promises Little Relief to JSC’s Workforce (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA’s selection of a design for a powerful rocket to carry American astronauts deep into space over the next 30 years offers little immediate relief for the beleaguered workforce at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Roughly 3,800 NASA employees and contractors have lost their jobs in Houston since February 2010 with retirement of the shuttle fleet and cancellation of the back-to-the-moon Constellation program.

The current workforce of NASA employees and contractors totals about 14,000 — including 3,400 government employees and 10,600 aerospace contractors. Initial work on the new heavy lift rocket will be centered at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., not in Houston.

Editor's Note: Likewise for Florida's Space Coast. Although near-term infrastructure and ground-system design/development work is expected at KSC, the skills needed won't align directly with those of the launch operations workforce recently laid off after the Shuttle's retirement. The real near-term action for SLS is in Alabama, and launch operations and mission management activities are several years away. (9/15)

The Political Storm Clouds Over GPS (Source: DOD Buzz)
The Air Force’s top space boss confirmed Thursday that a proposed new national broadband network partly backed by a Democratic campaign contributor causes “severe interference” to the military’s ability to use the Global Positioning System.

DoD and federal witnesses told a House panel on Thursday that they won’t let the new network begin operation until they’re confident it won’t interfere with the military’s GPS, but their appearance came after a report in the Daily Beast that the White House had pressured the head of Air Force Space Command, Gen. William Shelton, to change what he planned to tell the subcommittee. Republicans appeared ready to use the connections to try to embarrass the White House. (9/15)

Monster Rocket Will Eat America’s Space Program (Source: Space Frontier Foundation)
The Space Frontier Foundation called Wednesday’s announcement by NASA that it will attempt to build Congress’s giant monster rocket a disaster that will devour our dreams for moving humanity into space. Rather than breathing life into a dying space program, it may well kill new initiatives to greatly expand US space exploration and settlement efforts. The Foundation is certain that much like Constellation before it, the Senate Launch System will never stay within its budget or schedule, and in the end will be canceled.

SLS will become the most cannibalistic program in NASA’s history, consuming innovative programs attempting to lower costs by using commercial firms to fly astronauts into space, new technologies that would make exploration more affordable, and of course the payloads the new rocket is supposed to carry. (9/15)

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