September 18, 2011

China Return to Flight with Long March 3B/E Launch of ChinaSat-1A (Source:
China returned to flight with the launch of a military communications satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, exactly one month after the launch failure that destroyed the SJ-11 ShiJian 11-04 military satellite. The launch of this new communications satellite, the ZX-1A ZhongXing-1A (ChinaSat-1A) tok place on Sunday using a Long March 3B/E (Chang Zheng-3B/E) launch vehicle. (9/18)

Editorial: NASA Can't Afford to Fail with New Rocket (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Think of the new rocket plan NASA belatedly unveiled this past week as a Hail Mary pass in football — a last-chance bid for success. The rocket would be history's most powerful, built to carry astronauts and huge payloads to deep-space destinations, starting with asteroids and culminating with Mars. Those who believe the United States should maintain its leadership in space exploration — we're among them — can't help but be excited at the plan's ambitions, especially after three decades of space shuttle trips to low Earth orbit.

But the cost of developing the rocket, even at NASA's optimistic estimate of $30 billion over the next decade, would demand a significant financial commitment from a Congress that is increasingly bent on cutting spending to bring down deficits. Even if the space agency does get all the money it says it needs, some analysts doubt the dollars will be enough to keep the rocket on its current schedule of a test launch by 2017 and a manned launch by 2021. And more money will be needed for missions once the rocket is developed.

NASA must do a better job of keeping the new rocket program on time and on budget. We agree with U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, the Orlando Republican whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, who said of NASA, "The days of unaccountable calendar and cost overruns are over." Adams and other members of Congress need to keep the pressure on the agency to meets its commitments. (9/17)

Time for NASA (Marshall) to Deliver (Source: Huntsville Times)
No place knows rockets better than Huntsville. A decision this week that Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center will lead the development of a heavy-lift rocket comes with this advice for Washington: commit to it and stay out of the way. It takes a long-term commitment to build a sophisticated spaceship that can rocket humans to a speeding asteroid, to Mars or into the vast unknown of our universe.

The mandate to develop "the most powerful rocket ever" can't fall victim to the whims of on-again, off-again program shifts by Congress or a new administration. That's not to say there shouldn't be oversight. Policymakers should make sure contracts are awarded on merit, not politics. Audits can ensure that money is spent wisely. Americans won't tolerate $1,000 toilet handles caused by lax oversight or burdensome regulations.

Huntsville's Marshall center has the kind of right stuff to design a rocket for the deep space missions of tomorrow. Putting the program here at least puts the development goal on the right flight path. Editor's Note: Marshall's legacy of failed launch vehicle programs does not inspire confidence that the new heavy-lift rocket will meet budget and schedule targets. (9/17)

Senate Approps Says DOD Should Allow Competition in Space Launch (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) wasn't the only military space program of concern to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The appropriators also singled out the need for more competition in the space launch arena for comment. The committee said it supports DOD's plan to buy eight EELV rockets per year for the next five years in order to "stabilize production capacity and control costs."

But they stressed that DOD's goal really should be to significantly reduce the cost of launch. Competition is the solution, it said. "The Committee intends to examine future budget requests to balance the need to stabilize the EELV industrial base with the need to promote competition. Therefore, [DOD] is urged to retain flexibility with its block-buy acquisition strategy as opportunities for competition by new launch entrants become available."

SpaceX has made no secret of its desire to offer space launch services to DOD with its existing Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle it plans to develop. On its website, the company asserts that "If allowed to compete, SpaceX can help [DOD] save at least one billion dollars annually in space launch services." (9/18)

NASA Plan Won't Make Up for Job Losses (Source: Galveston Daily News)
NASA’s announcement of the new space launch system, while welcome news for many in the space program, won’t bring many new jobs to the area in the near future. It will not replace the jobs lost when the shuttle program was shut down, said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

From February of last year to the end of this month, about 3,800 jobs will have been lost, Mitchell said. “What it really does is it stabilizes our current workforce..Without the heavy launch rocket, our community would continue to somewhat flounder and be adrift with no clear direction...Best case scenario, we might see 200 new jobs out of it,” Mitchell said. (9/18)

Want a Job at Marshall? Chances Better This Fall Than Last (Source: Huntsville Times)
Want a job in Huntsville building a rocket to Mars? Or just want to keep the aerospace job you have? Your chances look brighter today than a week ago. But for the immediate future, the job market remains unsettled. Layoffs were planned at NASA contractors around Huntsville this month as current programs end with the fiscal year, and the effect on those layoffs of last week's surprise announcement of a new NASA rocket wasn't clear at week's end.

NASA decided last week to go forward with building new rocket big enough to carry cargo or astronauts to deep-space destinations such as asteroids or Mars. Assuming Congress goes along, a fairly big assumption, it will be an $18 billion program averaging a $3 billion annual expenditure through 2017. And that's just to build the unmanned test rocket. Billions more would be needed to build rockets for actual missions. (9/18)

Whitesides on the Future of Space Travel (Source: Mashable)
If Virgin Galactic can succeed at creating a fleet of spaceships that can bring hundreds or thousands of people into space on a regular basis, George Whitesides believes it would change humanity. “It recasts our relationship with the universe,” Whitesides explains, noting that he grew up in an era where space was the realm of the few and the elite. He believes that commercial spaceflight would change how we live and how we travel.

Successful spaceflight opens the door to faster travel and more exploration. Point-to-point transit via low orbit could dramatically speed up international flights, connecting the world even further. And safe, consistent space travel opens up the possibility of commercial space stations, trips to the moon and exploration beyond.

The journey of making space travel as common as an airplane flight starts with Spaceport America and the first flights of SpaceShipTwo. While it will cost you a pretty penny ($200,000) to book a flight on one of Virgin Galactic’s ships now, the hope is that the cost will dramatically drop as private companies become more efficient at getting people out of Earth’s atmosphere. (9/18)

'Sexy' Spacecraft Names Would Inspire (Source: Discovery)
NASA launched a science mission to the moon last week with the forgettable name GRAIL, for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. I kept wondering if the engineers could have added the acronym HOLY. Say, for High Orbiting Lunar Year. A spacecraft called HOLY GRAIL might get public attention, especially among Monty Python fans. An evocative name for a space endeavor will not only get public interest but also be inspirational and memorable too. And this can't help but garner support.

Jeff Brooks points out that in the early days of the Space Race pioneering missions had equally pioneering names: Ranger, Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and of course, Pioneer. Some of the more recent space probe names have gotten mushy: New Horizons (Pluto flyby), and Dawn (asteroid orbiter). Mushier still are Mars rover names: Spirit, Opportunity and... Curiosity. One of the most confusing headlines I've read was "NASA Builds Parachute for Curiosity."

NASA named all these rovers in national student competitions, but when I talk to middle school classes I typically get much more exciting names from the students. My favorite: Red Rover. How about famous pop culture couples like Thelma & Louise, Bert & Ernie, Smoky & The Bandit, or Terrance & Phillip (for “South Park” fans). NASA’s newly announced heavy lift rocket needs a brawny name. How about Zeus? (9/18)

Cost of Telescope Continues to Swell (Source: Florida Today)
The price of the budget-gobbling James Webb Space Telescope keeps growing and growing. The telescope, perhaps the most important space science mission of the next decade, is now going to cost taxpayers at least $8.7 billion. What's more, there are legitimate questions as to whether the spacecraft will be ready to launch in the next decade even if Congress agrees to another multibillion dollar bailout.

The Webb project began in the late 1990s and, in NASA records, space agency officials estimated the total cost would be $1.6 billion. Management targeted the observatory for launch as early as this year. Every few years since, the project's veered off track and gotten re-evaluated, re-planned and re-priced.

"NASA has completed a JWST replan that assumes a revised life-cycle-cost of about $8.7 billion and a launch readiness date of October 2018," agency spokesman Trent Perrotto said in a written statement. "The $8.7 billion life-cycle-cost includes development, launch, and five years of operations and science costs. (9/18)

Falling Satellite Could Hit Sweden (Source: The Local)
An out of use 6.5-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, known in the science circles as UARS, is expected to fall from orbit late next week and it could strike Sweden. Experts cannot forecast the exact locations of landfall, but based on the satellite’s current orbit and inclination, the strike zone is calculated to be somewhere between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south of the equator, according to NASA.

Sweden extends between the 55th and 69th northern latitudes, which theoretically puts everything south of Gothenburg at risk, but NASA experts say the risk is considered minimal and calculate that it is a 1-in-3,200 chance that piece would actually hit a person. (9/18)

Latest Tumbling Satellite Fails to Warrant Space Intercept (Source: Global Security Newswire)
U.S. officials say they have determined that the UARS satellite re-entry risk to humans does not warrant a pre-emptive intercept. The impending re-entry of UARS is reminiscent of another dysfunctional U.S. spacecraft that in early 2008 was on the brink of leaving orbit and hurtling toward the Earth's surface. Then-President Bush decided the DOD would shoot down the "USA-193" spy satellite using a specially modified sea-based Standard Missile 3.

Pentagon officials at the time justified the intercept on the basis that if the spacecraft were allowed to enter the atmosphere on its own, any wreckage could prove dangerous to someone discovering it on the ground, because it might still contain toxic hydrazine rocket fuel. Shooting down USA-193 at a precisely targeted location in space instead would shatter the fuel tank into small pieces that would be more likely to burn up and fall harmlessly into an ocean, officials said back then.

Many skeptics cried foul, unable to believe the government's scenario -- that hydrazine would make it through descent without burning up, land on ground rather than in the Earth's vast oceans or unpopulated areas, and be encountered close-up by humans -- actually justified the high-technology intercept. Another possible Bush administration motive was to protect secret technologies on board the spycraft from even a remote chance of discovery on the ground by blowing them up prior to re-entry, some experts surmised. (9/18)

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