October 22, 2011

NASA Is Considering Fuel Depots in the Skies (Source: New York Times)
By considering a proposal to put filling stations in the sky, NASA is looking to accelerate plans to send astronauts to distant destinations. The filling stations — NASA calls them propellant depots — would refuel a spacecraft in orbit before it headed out to the moon, an asteroid or eventually Mars. Currently, all of the fuel needed for a mission is carried up with the rocket, and the weight of the fuel limits the size of the spacecraft.

Next month, engineers will meet at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss how propellant depots could be used to reach farther into space and make possible more ambitious missions using the heavy-lift rocket that NASA is planning to build. The discussions grow out of a six-month NASA study of propellant depots, completed in July.

However, the space agency has rejected the study’s most radical conclusion: that NASA could forgo the heavy-lift and use existing smaller rockets, combined with fuel depots, to reach its targets more quickly and less expensively. Those targets, for the next two decades at least, include a return to the moon or a visit to an asteroid. (A trip to Mars is unlikely until at least the 2030s.) (10/22)

DiBello: A Question of Money, Not Competition (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
In a recent op/ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, much seems to have been made of alleged efforts by Space Florida and others to stifle the growth of Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia as a potential competitor spaceport. Nothing could be further from the truth, but this incident provides a great opportunity to again draw attention to what we do oppose: the corrosive costs of duplicative federal infrastructure and wasteful spending. This is about the taxpayer, not the state!

This is not about Florida versus Virginia! (Although some politicians would have you believe that.) This is about wasteful federal spending at a time when federal tax dollars and budgets are becoming more constrained, and we all need to be more efficient and frugal in how we allocate them. We do object to NASA adding to its inventory of infrastructure for launching human spaceflight, particularly when the agency has existing capability that is already so grossly underutilized.

As every government agency and business is painfully aware, infrastructure is very expensive. Having too much of it consumes resources and inhibits investment in the future. That is why both the president's National Space Policy and Congress' NASA Authorization Act of 2010 specifically direct the agency to identify and shed infrastructure that is deemed duplicative. The Inspector General's Office just kicked off an agency-wide audit to ensure NASA was doing just that. Click here. (10/22)

Gingrich Calls for Privatizing Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Politics)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he would “absolutely” privatize human spaceflight if elected president. Gingrich was asked about NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), being developed as required by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. “I think it is disgraceful the way getting into space has been turned into a political pork-barrel. It’s an abuse of the taxpayer and an abuse of America’s future...It is a tragedy that between bureaucrats and politicians we have reduced NASA to the point where we are relying on Russian rockets to get to the space station.”

“I would call for a total replacement of the current structure of NASA with a brand new system that is aggressively designed to challenge free enterprise,” he said. He went on to discuss his preference for prizes to enable exploration as an alternative to traditional government-led programs. “If you had taken 5 or 10 percent of the NASA budget in the last decade and put it into a prize for the first people to get to the Moon permanently, you’d have 20 or 30 folks out there getting to the Moon, we’d already be on the Moon, and the energy level would be unbelievable.”

Not surprisingly, the Space Frontier Foundation strongly supported Gingrich’s comments in its statement, while noting that it was not endorsing Gingrich or any other candidate. “We are gratified to hear Speaker Gingrich bring his years of experience and obvious intellect to the discussion of space policy,” said Foundation chairman Bob Werb. “Fiscal responsibility and a strong space program can go hand in hand, if we leverage the genius of the private sector.” (10/22)

Ohio Paper Donates Full Page Ad to Space Shuttle Enterprise Petition Effort (Source: SpaceRef)
The quest to land retired Space Shuttle Enterprise at the National Museum of the United States Air Force received a major boost when Paul Noah, the publisher of the Dayton City Paper, donated a full page ad supporting the White House petition effort in the Oct. 18th LWV voters guide issue. (10/22)

Damage From Falling Satellites? Insurance Will Cover It (Source: New York Times)
The odds of a satellite fragment hitting your little patch of earth are extremely low. But not to worry: if you are unlucky enough to have some space shrapnel fall on your house or car, standard insurance policies will most likely cover the damage, says the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group. “Damages caused by falling objects,” including falling satellites, are generally covered, the institute says. (10/22)

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