November 1, 2011

NASA And Space Florida Partner In Space Launch Challenge (Source: NASA)
NASA has signed an agreement with the Space Florida to manage the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, one of the agency's new Centennial Challenges prize competitions. The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to launch satellites with a mass of at least 2.2 pounds (1 kg) into Earth orbit, twice within the span of one week. The new challenge has a NASA-provided prize purse of $2 million.

The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in propulsion and other technologies, as well as operations and management relevant to safe, low-cost, small payload delivery system for frequent access to Earth orbit. Innovations stemming from this challenge will be beneficial to broader applications in future launch systems. They may enhance commercial capability for dedicated launches of small satellites at a cost comparable to secondary payload launches -- a potential new market with government, commercial, and academic customers.

Space Florida submitted a proposal last spring in response to a NASA solicitation for this partnership opportunity. They will now begin detailed preparations for the challenge, publishing rules and then registering competitors. The first competition launch attempt is expected to take place in the summer of 2012. NASA's Centennial Challenges program provides the prize purse for the technology and innovation competitions. The competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships. (11/1)

Senate Differs From House on NOAA and FAA Space Funding (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House and Senate are far apart on overall funding for NOAA. The House committee approved $4.5 billion; the Senate approved $5.0 billion. The President's request was $5.5 billion. However, regarding the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), the two are quite close: $901 million in the House versus $920 million in the Senate, compared to the request of $1.07 billion.

The two also were fairly close in their recommendations for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), approving about half of what the President requested. The request was $26.6 million, a significant increase from its FY2011 level of $15 million. The House committee approved $13 million, while the Senate approved $15 million.

After the House passes its bill, with whatever amendments are adopted, the two chambers will have to reach a compromise and the President will have to agree with it, so there still are several steps to go. Congress will need to pass an appropriations package before Nov. 18 to avoid a full or partial government shutdown. (11/1)

Senate Approves NASA Budget Cut (Source: Florida Today)
By a 69 to 30 vote today, the U.S. Senate today approved legislation that would cut NASA's 2012 budget by $509 million, or 2.8 percent, to $17.9 billion. The budget includes $500 million for development of commercial spacecraft and $3 billion for work on the giant Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule for deep space exploration missions. It also includes $500 million for the James Webb Space Telescope, targeting a 2018 launch.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Monday during a visit to Kennedy Space Center that it was a "minor miracle" NASA's budget hadn't been cut more, and that the agency had fared well compared to many others. The Senate bill must now be reconciled with a U.S. House version that proposes a deeper overal cut of $1.6 billion, to $16.8 billion. It includes only $312 million for commercial space vehicles and would kill the Webb project.

The 2012 fiscal year began Oct. 1, but the government has been operationg under a temporary budget that continues 2011 spending levels through Nov. 18. The Senate vote today covered spending plans for multiple agencies in additon to NASA. (11/1)

Editorial: NASA Glenn Reaches Out to the Future (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
NASA's Glenn Research Center was born in secrecy. With war raging in Europe and the Pacific -- and America's entry a matter of time -- the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics broke ground in January 1941 for a hush-hush airplane engine research lab on the edge of what's now called Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. By the time engineers and scientists reported for work on May 8, 1942, America was at war, and the researchers quickly adopted a culture of relentless technological innovation -- and monastic silence. Click here. (11/1)

NASA Funds Research Into 'Tractor Beams' (Source: Telegraph)
NASA has begun funding research into "tractor beams" – specially honed lasers that would allow future space missions to reel in scientific samples. US scientists have allocated $100,000 for studying how lasers could be used by both spacecraft and robotic vehicles exploring a planet's surface. "Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn't fanciful or beyond current technological know-how," Dr. Paul Stysley said.

NASA first became interested in the technology with a view to clear orbital debris to make a path for spacecraft but soon realised that it would require a far more powerful laser than those currently available. The current research grant will be used to explore three different methods for collecting samples from the atmosphere and the surface of a planet being explored. (11/1)

Companies Say Commercial Space Investment Worth It, Lawmakers Aren't So Sure (Source: Huntsville Times)
Government investment in commercial space transportation will be a good one because it will be cost-effective and end NASA's reliance on Russian spacecraft to get crews to low-Earth orbit, executives of private space companies told a House committee hearing last week. The business leaders urged lawmakers to support NASA's commercial crew development program, but committee members questioned the long-term viability of the business model, which promotes commercial spaceflight in addition to transporting crew members to the International Space Station.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, expressed concern that a market for spaceflight doesn't exist beyond NASA. "It does not seem to me that there's really a commercial market in the sense that you might have with airline flights," he said, adding that if NASA is the private sector's only customer, the cost per launch might end up increasing. But representatives from SpaceX, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Sierra Nevada and ATK said the market extends beyond the government. Click here. (11/1)

U.S. Air Force Pushes To Reduce EELV Costs (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force is continuing work to reduce the cost of buying United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV and Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, which will remain the only vehicles for orbiting certain payload classes until new launch entrants are certified. The Air Force came under scrutiny for its fiscal 2012 budget plan, which suggested negotiating a multiyear buy of 40 rocket cores from the Lockheed Martin/Boeing joint venture over five years.

Government auditors suggested the strategy was proposed without enough data to bolster a sound rationale. Since then, the Air Force has revised its approach to the fiscal 2013-17 procurement strategy and asked ULA to provide a “cost matrix” that provides a range of options that don’t limit the service to a specific number of vehicles. The range is 6-10 vehicles per year for three to five years, according to Maj. Tracy Bunko, an Air Force spokeswoman.

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of the Space and Missile Systems Center, says that the Air Force intends to award this contract to ULA next spring. Guaranteeing an amount of work for the incumbent would seemingly be at odds with a plan to reduce cost by introducing competition into the system. But Pawlikowski says the Air Force is trying to get the best out of both efforts: reducing the cost of near-term buys from ULA while establishing conditions for competition to further lower prices. (11/1)

NASA Acknowledges JWST Replan Will Delay Science Missions (Source: Space News)
Saving the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) means that some other NASA science missions slated for launch after 2015 will have to be delayed, NASA acknowledged in a report delivered to Congress in late October. NASA, however, did not say in the report which missions might be delayed. “That is still in discussion, even for 2012, within NASA and the administration,” JWST Program Manager Rick Howard said.

Howard also held to the line, which NASA has repeated since the summer, that specific offsets to pay for JWST will not be identified until President Obama delivers his 2013 budget request for NASA to Congress. That traditionally takes place in February. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, demanded in September that NASA identify its planned JWST budget offsets prior to the publication of the 2013 budget request. (11/1)

Germany: Upgrade Ariane 5 Before Making Successor (Source: Aviation Week)
German aerospace center DLR expects France to uphold the two countries’ commitment to upgrade Europe’s current Ariane 5 launch vehicle before starting development of a successor, despite recent statements by a top French official that cast doubt on available funding for both. A DLR official said that Germany trusts a 2010 agreement between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fund the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) — which is expected to be adopted in late 2012 — when ESA’s ministerial council meets to determine the agency’s multiyear budget.

Early design work for the midlife upgrade began in 2008, including development of a restartable cryogenic upper stage that would boost the rocket’s performance and enable simultaneous launches of multiple satellites into different orbits. However, in an Oct. 18 interview, French Research Minister Laurent Wauquiez said it is unclear whether there is enough funding in the forthcoming budget for both the midlife upgrade and a post-Ariane 5 rocket development. (11/1)

Mayors Urge Swift, Clear NASA Direction (Source: Huntsville Times)
Sometimes, stating the obvious is necessary to keep momentum on the issue at hand. That's the premise behind a letter last week to President Obama by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Both want the Obama administration and NASA to move swiftly on plans for the next heavy-lift rocket for America's space program.

The mayors urged quick finalization of all aspects of the Space Launch System being designed by Huntsville's Marshall Flight Center and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (crew capsule) being developed by Houston's Johnson Space Center. (11/1)

Why NASA's Going-Out-of-Business Sale Is Good News for Florida (Source: TIME)
With the shuttles mothballed, the U.S.-manned program grounded and once buzzing control centers and launch pads standing empty, NASA announced this week that it will surrender three major KSC buildings to private industry and is perfectly happy to put more of its infrastructure up for grabs as well. To NASA old-timers, it was one more bit of ignominy for a sadly diminished brand. To the aerospace industry and the state of Florida, however, it looks like smart business.

NASA's willingness to carve up bits of itself and hand them over to private industry is as much a real estate issue as anything else. The agency has always had an easier time building infrastructure when the money is flowing than unbuilding it when the funding spigot has been turned off, simply because Washington doesn't often pick up such wind-down costs. But in the case of the aerospace community in Florida, that's not necessarily bad. Available buildings and an idle but highly qualified workforce are catnip to industries looking to relocate — provided the state can offer the tax breaks and other incentives to make the move worthwhile.

"We're focused on job creation," says DiBello simply. "We're offering them Florida's workforce." He is even courting other countries with fledgling space programs that might not want to build their operations from a standing start. Click here. (11/1)

Rivian Automotive Venture Gearing Up on Space Coast (Source: Florida Trend)
The countertrend to the homogenization at the big automakers is a boomlet in startup car companies marketing an array of niche vehicles, including exotic sports models and a raft of vehicles with "green" appeal. Rivian Automotive's car is a sporty, mid-engine, 2+2 coupe (the rear seats are somewhat of a formality) that aims to provide the handling characteristics of a Porsche Cayman and deliver more than 60 miles per gallon — more fuel efficiency than a Toyota Prius. Scaringe says the car will meet five-star safety standards and sell for less than $30,000.

Scaringe says almost all of the parts in his car, including the engine, will be built to Rivian's specifications by outside suppliers. His factory — location in Brevard County to be announced — will require no big stamping presses and no paint shop, serving simply as an assembly site for the parts. Scaringe says he expects to be actually producing cars for sale by late 2013 or early 2014 and says he can achieve above-average margins.

Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello: Rivian has an "almost perfect application of defense and space technology applied to a next-generation automotive platform." Space Florida was intrigued enough by Scaringe's effort that it purchased his first prototype and had NASA engineers test it for structural integrity. A Rivian spokesperson says the results "validated" the company's engineering approach. (11/1)

Cube-Sats - Small Satellites for the Common Man (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
In 1998, Bob Twiggs, a professor at Stanford University, began a program to provide students affordable platforms for designing and deploying satellites from rockets as "hitchhiker" payloads. The military uses this platform today as do many countries. Now, literally hundreds of Cube-Sats are in orbit, investigating earthquake modeling, space weather phenomenon, demonstrating technologies for more complex and larger satellites. Professor Twiggs turned most of the intellectual property over to students to enable them to build a business, which they have done. (11/1)

Rep. Adams on Boeing Commercial Crew Announcement, Jobs Coming to Space Coast (Source: SpaceRef)
"Any day that I can say jobs are going to be created in Florida's 24th District is a good day. Florida's Space Coast has experienced devastating job losses since the ending of the Shuttle Program. So the announcement today that The Boeing Company plans to locate its Commercial Crew program headquarters at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is welcomed news."

"Boeing chose Kennedy Space Center because it is a world class launching and integration facility with the best technologically equipped assets in the world. So there is no question why Boeing has chosen to have the center of their commercial crew program at Kennedy. Additionally, they recognize the highly skilled workforce and synergy that comes from being locally integrated with your customer."

Editor's Note: This reminds me that Boeing's decision is, in part, a result of NASA's decision to base its Commercial Crew Program Office at KSC. Contractors tend to congregate around the government's program-management location. This story might be different if this NASA office was headquartered in Houston or Huntsville. (11/1)

The Asterisk in Boeing's Commercial Crew Announcement (Source: Space Politics)
There is one catch to the Boeing CST-100 deal at KSC, hinted at in the company's press release with this caveat: “Pending the continued selection of Boeing for future Commercial Crew development and service contracts, and sufficient NASA funding...” Boeing, of course, has to be competitive enough to win funding in future rounds of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program against competitors like Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX.

But, as Boeing hints, the NASA funding has to be there in the first place, and the battle over the 2012 budget-—where NASA requested $850 million, but the House and Senate have offered only $312 million and $500 million, respectively—-is not an optimistic sign. The only person to go on the record for full funding for the program in FY-12 was Space Florida's Frank DiBello. But with the Senate expected to wrap up work this week on the “minibus” FY-12 appropriations bill that includes NASA, time is running out to add funding for this program. (11/1)

ITT Spins Off Defense Unit Into Separate Company (Source: AP)
ITT Corp. split into three companies on Monday. The firm spun off its water-equipment company into Xylem Inc. and its defense unit into ITT Exelis Inc. Xylem began trading today under ticker symbol XYL, ITT Exelis under symbol XLS. (11/1)

Is NASA Now Part of Obama's "We Can't Wait" Campaign Theme? (Source: NASA Watch)
The Atlanta Journal Constitution says: "The White House continues to run with the new theme of President Obama, "We Can't Wait," making the argument that if the Congress won't approve Obama Administration initiatives, then the President will do what he can on his own." This theme appeared to be featured in President Obama's quote on NASA's news release: "The next era of space exploration won't wait, and so we can't wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs. That's why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery."

This is interesting. An Obama 2012 campaign slogan is used in an official NASA press release. Just Google "Obama we can't wait" and you will see this campaign phrase embedded in virtually everything that the President says these days - especially when it relates to employment. (10/31)

NASA Kennedy Space Center Hosts Energy Forum on Nov. 11-13 (Source: NASA)
NASA and partners from the LAUNCH: Energy forum will discuss innovative ideas during a three-day forum Nov. 11-13. LAUNCH: Energy is part of an initiative to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to sustainability challenges through a series of forums. It is the third forum in the series. During the forum, 10 international participants will showcase new innovations that could address energy problems on Earth and in space. Visit for information. (10/31)

Optus 10 to Launch Atop Ariane 5 (Source: Space News)
Singtel Optus will launch its Optus 10 telecommunications satellite aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in mid-2013 following a contract announced Oct. 31 by the Arianespace commercial launch consortium. Arianespace said Optus 10, which is under construction by Loral in California, is expected to weigh 3,200 kilograms at launch. It will therefore likely be a secondary passenger aboard the heavy-lift Ariane 5, riding to geostationary orbit together with a larger telecommunications satellite. (10/31)

Would You Explode in Space? (Source: New York Times)
Science-fiction films often depict people being killed by going out an airlock into space. What would that be like? In the near-vacuum of space, death would most likely occur within a couple of minutes, but consciousness would be lost in about 15 seconds as oxygen failed to reach the brain, NASA scientists determined after animal research in the 1950s and ’60s.

Death by vacuum is not spectacular or instantaneous, unless the subject tries to hold his breath. In that case, the delicate lungs are likely to rupture as the gases within them expand. The skin is sufficiently strong to prevent the body from exploding, however. An accidental experiment on a human occurred in 1965 at what is now Johnson Space Center when a spacesuit leaked in a vacuum chamber. Repressurization began within 15 seconds, and the subject survived. Click here. (10/31)

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