September 27, 2011

Accelerating Universe and Dark Energy Might Be Illusions (Source:
In 1929, cosmologists discovered that the universe is expanding — that space-time, the fabric of the cosmos, is stretching. Then in 1998, light coming from exploding stars called supernovas suggested that the universe is not only expanding, but that it has recently begun expanding faster and faster; its expansion has entered an "accelerating phase." This was bad news for the fate of the cosmos: An accelerating universe is ultimately racing toward a "Big Rip," the moment at which its size will become infinite and, in a flash, everything in it will be torn apart.

The discovery was bad news for the state of cosmology, too. Because gravity pulls stuff inward rather than pushing it out, cosmologists believed that the expansion of the universe ought to be slowing down, as everything in it felt the gravitational tug of everything else. They didn't understand the mechanism that seemed to be opposing the force of gravity, so to explain their observations, they invoked the existence of "dark energy," a mysterious, invisible substance that permeates space and drives its outward expansion.

Now, a new theory suggests that the accelerating expansion of the universe is merely an illusion, akin to a mirage in the desert. The false impression results from the way our particular region of the cosmos is drifting through the rest of space, said Christos Tsagas. Our relative motion makes it look like the universe as a whole is expanding faster and faster, while in actuality, its expansion is slowing down — just as would be expected from what we know about gravity. (9/27)

NASA's Associate Administrator for Science to Retire (Source: NASA)
Ed Weiler, who has worked almost 33 years as a leader in NASA's science exploration programs, will retire from the agency effective Sept. 30. Weiler most recently served as the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, directing a variety of research and science programs in Earth science, heliophysics, planetary science and astrophysics. Chuck Gay, the directorate's deputy associate administrator, will become the acting associate administrator until a permanent replacement is announced. (9/27)

GAO May Be Forced to Look at NASA's SLS Procurement (Source: Hobby Space)
Looks to me like the GAO will have to review the SLS procurement. There are several areas where the rules appear to be violated by the way NASA, under Congressional pressure, has planned the program. As the whitepaper points out, even if the NASA Authorization act pushes NASA towards this type of program, neither that bill nor any other relieves the agency of obeying the CICA restrictions for the SLS program. (9/27)

Piloted Orion/MPCV Test Flight Urged (Source: Aviation Week)
Lockheed Martin is moving out with development, test and production of the Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that would lift off atop the evolvable mega-rocket for piloted deep-space missions. A 70-metric-ton version of the eventual, much larger SLS, perhaps fitted with a Boeing Delta 4 upper stage, could sling astronauts around the Moon in 2016, under a test flight scenario that Lockheed Martin has discussed with NASA.

The demonstration mission would accelerate plans for the first human mission of the four-person MPCV by five years. With $6 billion of the agreed-upon total, NASA would ready the capsule for a series of milestone flight tests, beginning with a mid-2013 two-orbit unpiloted mission. Lockheed Martin has reserved a Delta 4 Heavy for the demanding unpiloted flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, though the choice of launchers is under evaluation.

A second test of the Orion/MPCV’s Launch Abort System would follow a year later. Also lofted from Kennedy, the spacecraft would rise atop a Peacekeeper missile first-stage solid-fuel rocket motor to 50,000 ft. for release of the unpiloted capsule in a test of the abort system guidance and navigation controls at maximum aerodynamic pressure. Nationwide, the Orion/MPCV program employs nearly 2,700 workers. Another 300-400 will be added as the test capsule reaches KSC. (9/27)

Space Junk Problem: Is a Solar Sail Ship the Answer? (Source: GCN)
NASA is planning to test one method that could, among other things, be used to clear orbital paths of the kind of space junk that UARS had become. The agency recently announced plans to test a large solar sail as part of its an upcoming round of Technology Demonstration Missions aimed at improving space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities. Solar sails aren’t new, but this one will be seven times the size of any previously flown, which NASA says will increase its utility for jobs such as deep-space exploration, advanced geostorm warnings and removal of orbital debris. (9/27)

NASA's Planet Hunter Needs Money to Keep Searching for Earth's Twins (Source: The Atlantic)
Other earths - rocky planets with liquid water and a decent atmosphere - would have the raw materials for life as we know it. Kepler can tell us how many of these earth-like planets there are, bringing us one huge step toward answering one of the most profound questions in science: are we alone? If we are, that'll be one stunning answer. If we aren't, that'll be a different kind of stunning answer.

Right now, the drive to find life elsewhere in the universe is in trouble. Two other important exoplanet proposals - The Terrestrial Planet Finder and the Space Interferometer Mission - have been put on permanent hold. The delayed James Webb Space Telescope is eating up more and more of NASA's science budget. And the general budgetary situation in Washington is bleak. Kepler keeps chugging along towards the end of its initial 3.5 year lifespan. But it needs a little more time to complete the work it was sent up to do. Normally, those funds would be easy to come up with, but given the belt tightening in Washington mission managers are getting genuinely nervous. (9/27)

NASA KSC and Space Coast Group Renew Collaboration (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA and the Economic Development Commission (EDC) of Florida's Space Coast on Oct. 3 will sign an agreement that continues economic development cooperation to support NASA's current and future missions and projects at the center. (9/27)

Already Unaffordable, SLS May Be In Violation of the Competition in Contracting Act (Source: SFF)
The Space Frontier Foundation voiced its strong support for a U.S. Congressional letter sent last week asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate possible violations of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) in NASA’s plans for buying a new super-heavy lift launch vehicle, frequently called the “Senate Launch System.” The Foundation urged the GAO to issue a “stay” on the project to prevent implementation of any contact modifications, extensions, or other actions until they complete a thorough investigation into the legality of NASA’s acquisition strategy for the Space Launch System. (9/27)

Venting Space Geek Frustration (Source: Daily Kos)
My zeal to explore - and indeed that of millions besides me - drives far beyond what the present state of politics (anywhere in the world) is implementing. I am tired of the endless compromising of the Space Age from a glorious Von Braunian vision of humanity mobilized to seek its destiny in the furthest reaches of the solar system into a poorly-funded, poorly-managed, aimless sideshow where handfuls compete for the rare privilege of spending a few weeks in Earth orbit while one or two robotic probes each decade are sent further. But there is hope - great hope. A hope that, like everything else worthwhile, takes an infuriating time gaining momentum.

I speak of SpaceX, and its leader Elon Musk (my personal hero). Musk is simultaneously using his business acumen and innovative talents to tackle solar energy, electric cars, and making space travel affordable - and he's winning. Slowly - eye-gougingly slowly - he is moving an entire world of immovable objects on the sheer power of daring and an inhuman ability to apparently work without sleep. But the heroic epic unfolding at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA is not what I want to focus on here. It is to ask the question, why is this man alone? Click here. (9/27)

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Programs Face Cuts (Source: Aviation Week)
The Air Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs expanded dramatically after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A decade later, the Air Force is trying to decide which of the programs it can rein in amid budget cuts. (9/27)

Obama Administration Decides Deeper Defense Cuts are Not an Option (Source: AOL Defense)
The White House had been hinting that it was opposed to cutting the defense budget any further than a planned $450 billion. And now, several areas of the Obama administration have made it clear that further cuts beyond the $450 billion cannot be sustained. (9/27)

Embry-Riddle Will Fly, But is Ineligible to Win Green Flight Challenge (Source: NASA)
NASA is now down to three teams competing for the NASA funded prize purse for the Green Flight Challenge sponsored by Google. They are PhoEnix, Pipistrel-USA, and e-Genius. The team from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) was disqualified for not having the required ballistic parachute installed in their aircraft and not being able to fly with two pilots as required. After being petitioned by ERAU and the other teams, the challenge organizers will allow ERAU to fly the course and collect flight data.

The CAFE board approved their request and everyone appeared pleased. The other teams were very supportive of ERAU. ERAU will be permitted to fly on noninterference basis – tomorrow they will take off on the fuel efficiency flight about 15-20 minutes after the others depart. (9/27)

Minotaur Rocket Launches Military Satellite From Alaska Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
A Minotaur-4 rocket launched a military TacSat 4 satellite from Alaska's spaceport on Kodiak Island. The Minotaur-4 was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. using elements of decommissioned Peacekeeper missiles. The launch phase of the mission appeared to be a complete success, including faring separation. Faring issues were blamed for the failure of a couple of previous Orbital Sciences Corp. launches. (9/27)

Sunspot 1302 Continues to Turn Toward Earth (Source: NASA)
A strong-to-severe (Kp=8) geomagnetic storm is in progress following the impact of a coronal mass ejection (CME) at approximately 8:15a.m. EDT (12:15 UT) on Sept. 26. The Goddard Space Weather Lab reported a strong compression of Earth's magnetosphere. Simulations indicate that solar wind plasma has penetrated close to geosynchronous orbit starting at 9am. Geosynchronous satellites could therefore be directly exposed to solar wind plasma and magnetic fields. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall. (9/27)

Beyond a Rocket and a Capsule - What NASA Needs for Deep Space Exploration (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
With the announcement of the heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), NASA has funding and clear direction to build a big rocket and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to carry a crew of four for 28 days. But if you look more closely, the agency needs to flesh out its technology portfolio quite a bit to get into the deep space exploration business. There are a lot of Powerpoint proposals floating around and some trial projects to further develop all the tools needed to go the Moon, an asteroid, or Mars. Click here. (9/27)

Bolden: New Rocket Differs from Constellation Because “It’s Going to be Disciplined” (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Right now the total [expected for exploration from Congress] is $3 billion a year...for the next five years. Inside that amount of money, in order to be affordable, Mark Geyers has got to bring forth a multi-purpose crew vehicle. Mark May at the Marshall Space Flight Center has got to bring together a heavy lift launch vehicle, and then the little pieces that go with it – getting the launch pad ready and everything.

We’ve got to meter the development of those programs so that we get to certain milestones yet to be determined. But we’ve pretty much got a good idea of what they’re going to be and we should be telling you here pretty quickly what those milestones are going to be... What’s going to be different? It’s going be disciplined, it’s going to be the way we do business and things like using students to help us develop modules, which we did not do before … really integrating students and academia into this. (9/27)

Bolden: JSC’s Role Will Stay the Same (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Look for a leaner, more disciplined NASA in the future. And, look for the Johnson Space Center to continue its same role in the driver’s seat in the years ahead. That was the message NASA Administrator Charles Bolden brought to the Johnson Space Center Monday. But it won’t come without changes, he wanted to make clear. “We have to be affordable and we have to change the way we do business,” he said. “We direct the space program from here, and that’s not going to change. If you go to the Chris Kraft Mission Control Center, that’s where we’ve always controlled human space flight and we will continue to do that.” (9/27)

NASA Wants Internet Access In Space (Source: Information Week)
As space agency plans to send humans further into space, communications is a key challenge. NASA hopes to extend the use of the Internet across the solar system as one of a host of key enabling technologies to help achieve future goals for human space exploration. Among other technologies, a new international exploration plan calls for the expansion of the Internet throughout the solar system by developing advanced communication and space internetworking capabilities.

NASA and other agencies will test the technology by setting up disruptive tolerant networking nodes on the International Space Station to try to figure out how to handle long time delays and communications interruptions that come with deep space communication, according to the document. (9/27)

Vulture UAV Could Replace Downed Satellites (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Navy is showing interest in DARPA’s Vulture solar-powered, ultra-endurance unmanned aircraft as a means of providing communications to carrier strike groups if satellites are knocked out. The Vulture program is developing technology for an unmanned aircraft able to stay aloft for up to five years. Boeing is designing a full-scale demonstrator with 30 days of endurance, which is planned to fly in the first quarter of 2014. (9/27)

Planetary Exploration's Radioactive Decay (Source: Space Review)
NASA's exploration of the outer solar system has been enabled by the use of plutonium-powered RTGs that generate electricity where solar panels would be ineffective. Jeff Foust reports how declining stocks of a plutonium isotope, and policy battles regarding how to fund its production, jeopardize future planetary missions. Visit to view the article. (9/26)

Defending Apollo (Source: Space Review)
The recent movie "Apollo 18" has been panned by many critics, including in the pages of this publication. Dwayne Day argues that this movie does has some redeeming qualities, though, that should not be overlooked. Visit to view the article. (9/26)

Virginia Hits Back at Florida, Seeks Atlas Launches for Wallops (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virginians are pushing back against Florida efforts to maintain its monopoly on human spaceflight. Jack Kennedy, a board member of the Virginia spaceport authority, sent this email to supporters: "Space Florida is getting really aggressive and negative to the possibility of human commercial space launch from Wallops Island... I strongly urge you to communicate with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Congressman Frank Wolf and Senator Mark Warner, in particular. Ask that they call upon Boeing to openly pledge to launch the Atlas-V from Virginia under the NASA Commercial Crew program by 2015." (9/26)

Tea Party Praises Congressional Complaint to GAO Against SLS (Source: TPIS)
Tea Party in Space (TPIS) endorsed Congressman Tom McClintock’s (R-CA) letter asking the GAO to investigate NASA’s plans to issue $32 billion in “no bid” contracts for the Space Launch System. “The GAO should stop this anti-competitive plan before it goes any further,” said TPIS President Andrew Gasser. (9/27)

NASA Sets Space Launch System Industry Briefing (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, agency procurement officials, and Space Launch System Program managers will meet with contractors and small-business entrepreneurs Sept. 29 for the Space Launch System Industry Day in Huntsville. NASA will brief industry representatives on the agency’s acquisition strategy for the Space Launch System program and provide an overview of the program, its organization and specific vehicle requirements. The event takes place from 7:55 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. CDT during the Marshall Space Flight Center’s quarterly Small Business Alliance Meeting. (9/27)

NASA Panel Recommends Rotating Agency Personnel Embedded with Space Firms (Source:
NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) have recommended that NASA personnel embedded at commercial companies should be rotated, in order to avoid them “going native”, which they fear threatens rule bending as the teams’ working relationship becomes closer over time. (9/27)

SpaceX Awaits Decision on Combining COTS Missions and Secondary Payloads (Source:
SpaceX is waiting on decision to see if they can combine their next two Dragon COTS missions. A decision is due on whether SpaceX will be allowed to combine the second and third demonstration flights to the ISS, which would result in a full mission through to the arrival at the Station. This decision is believed to be imminent, and will be made via Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier.

From the NASA side, only one real concern has been noted over recent months, relating to “Secondary Payloads” riding with the Falcon 9 into orbit. SpaceX – working to maximize the cost-effectiveness of their COTS/CRS missions – decided to include multiple ORBCOMM small satellites as passengers on the Falcon 9's second stage, allowing them to be deployed after the Dragon separates from the Falcon 9.

Another source has pointed to a different problem, this time with the “Stakeholders” – notably the Russians, who appear to be unsatisfied with the “performance data” supplied to them from the COTS 1 flight. The scenario points to a potential negative decision resulting in the COTS 2 mission in January, 2012 – which was the latest placeholder for the combined C2/C3 mission. It is likely no decision will be known until it is officially announced by NASA. No date has been set for such an announcement at this time. (9/27)

Ex-Astronauts Caution Congress (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. is in danger of losing its primacy in space exploration, and the economy stands to suffer as a result, two legendary moonwalkers told the House Science Committee Sep. 22. Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong and Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, the first and last men, respectively, to walk on the Moon, told the panel that retiring the space shuttle without an alternative U.S. vehicle will make it harder to interest young students in the difficult math and science courses necessary to sustain the U.S. economy in the competitive global environment. (9/27)

Chinese Spacecraft Ready for Mission (Source: Xinhua)
Last-minute preparations for the launch of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft began at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Monday, meaning the vehicle can soon embark on a mission that will eventually have it dock with a spaceship. That feat, if carried out successfully, will mark the completion of China's first rendezvous and docking mission. At the launch site on Monday afternoon, crews were putting in place pipes and cables that will be used to inject fuel into the rocket that will carry Tiangong-1 into outer space. Without complications from the weather or other causes, the Long March II-F rocket will lift off from the launch center on Thursday or Friday. (9/27)

Bolden on Houston's Orbiter Loss: Embrace Future, Leave Past Behind (Source: Houston Chronicle)
During a visit to Johnson Space Center on Monday NASA administrator Charles Bolden took responsibility for a decision that ultimately denied the city of Houston its request to display a retired shuttle orbiter. A report by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin released in August concluded that a decision by Bolden overturned initial recommendations to award an orbiter to Houston. Bolden changed the process to favor the most heavily trafficked museums in tourist cities.

As a result museums in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and at Florida's Kennedy Space Center won the right to display retired space shuttles. "I'm trying to make sure, as the NASA administrator, that we expose the largest number of people from this country in the ability to see and touch and be close to an orbiter," Bolden said. He added that it's time for the city of Houston to move on, and to embrace its role in the future of NASA, not cling to its past. (9/27)

NASA Scientists Receive Presidential Early Career Awards (Source: NASA)
President Obama has named four NASA scientists as recipients of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The NASA recipients and 90 other federal researchers will receive their awards in a ceremony on Oct. 14 in Washington. The PECASE awards represent the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. (9/26)

NOAA Makes Plans For Funding Cuts, Data Gap (Source: Aviation Week)
NOAA is working with the Obama administration to shield its multibillion-dollar weather satellite program from suffering collateral damage in congressional spending wars. And with a gap in polar-orbiting satellite coverage becoming more likely, the agency is also making contingency plans to share data with other nations. (9/27)

NASA Awards Architectural Contract For New Complex at KSC (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected Hunton Brady Architects, P.A. of Orlando to provide design, engineering, and other professional services required to develop a Central Campus Complex at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Central Campus Complex involves consolidating multiple facilities through new construction, the progressive deconstruction of targeted facilities and the potential renovation of existing facilities.

The new indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract begins Sept. 27, with a five-year base ordering period and potentially five, one-year options. The maximum potential value of this contract is $25 million. The Central Campus Complex project will be designed to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Silver status and strive for the highest achievable rating based on life cycle costs. (9/27)

NASA Awards Architectural Contract For Bridge Work at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc. of Tallahassee to provide architect engineer studies, designs and other professional services required for replacement bridges and rehabilitation of existing bridges at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (collectively the Cape Canaveral Spaceport) in Florida. The new indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract begins Sep. 27 and has a maximum potential value of $30 million. (9/27)

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