October 25, 2011

White House OMB Backs Freeze on Defense Spending (Source: The Hill)
Jacob Lew, White House Office of Management and Budget director, has written a letter backing a Senate proposal to freeze defense spending. "The DOD funding level, a freeze, will sustain our strong military," Lew wrote. Matthew Leatherman, an analyst at the Stimson Center, said, "There should be no doubt that the build-down has begun." (10/25)

Congress Should Pass 4-year Extension for FAA, Mica Says (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says Congress needs to pass a four-year extension for the Federal Aviation Administration. The four-month extension to fund the FAA expires Jan. 30. Lawmakers disagree over the future of the Essential Air Service program and other provisions. (10/25)

Chinese Moon Probe is Tackling New Deep Space Mission (Source: MSNBC)
China's second moon probe is parked at a stable spot in deep space, called a Lagrangian point, as part of a new mission to study the sun and Earth's magnetic field. The multi-tasking spacecraft, called the Chang'e 2, completed its moon mapping mission earlier this year. Its new mission may be a signal of China's expanding prowess in space — not only for scientific purposes, but perhaps for showcasing strategic intentions, experts say.

The route from the moon to L2 — Lagrange point 2, a stable point on the side of the Earth opposite the sun — took Chang'e 2 all of 77 days. The spacecraft departed the moon in early June and parked at its new address in late August. At L2, Chang'e 2 is about 932,056 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. (10/25)

Senators Question ULA Monopoly (Source: SpaceKSC)
In the wake of a government audit that concluded the Defense Department has given a de facto monopoly to United Launch Alliance, Aviation Week reports that, "The top two senators from the Senate Armed Services Committee are calling for the U.S. Air Force to halt talks worth up to $15 billion with its top rocket provider owing to insufficient pricing data and management insight for the service to make 'informed decisions' for crafting a new buy strategy for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV)."

“Given the current climate of fiscal austerity, these developments are profoundly troubling,” says Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in an Oct. 21 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The pair call for the Air Force to pause negotiations with United Launch Alliance (ULA), which manages sales for the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles, until more detailed pricing data is available. (10/25)

SLS Flexibility: Exploration Roadmap Focus Taking Center Stage (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Teams at the main NASA centers are continuing to build up their involvement in the Space Launch System (SLS), ranging from mission operations in Houston, infrastructure evaluation at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and vehicle design at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Exploration roadmap details remain under evaluation, although NASA claim the vehicle’s “flexibility” is providing an intriguing range of options.

While a finalized exploration roadmap for SLS is still under design – under the leadership of former Space Shuttle Program (SSP) manager John Shannon – SLS’ now-known capabilities have allowed for a basic overview of what the vehicle will be used for. The opening two missions are believed to be set in stone, with SLS-1 and SLS-2 tasked with missions to the Moon – the first being an unmanned flight for the Orion (MPCV), scheduled for a 2017 launch date, followed by a crewed mission, as early as 2018/2019.

These flights will involve the Block I vehicle, which will loft Orion to its circumlunar trip around the moon, followed by a crewed lunar orbit mission. After those two flights, no definitive decisions have been made, but the options are starting to solidify. Firstly, the Lunar flybys may become a precursor for a crewed return to the Moon’s surface. Click here. (10/25)

Analysis Projects One Million Jobs at Risk from Defense Cuts (Source: Second To None)
An economic impact analysis projects more than one million American jobs could be lost as a result of defense budget cuts if the deficit reduction select committee fails to reach agreement on alternative balanced budget solutions and total cuts to defense reach $1 trillion. “Our analysis reveals bleak outcomes for both the defense industry and the economy as a whole if the budget sequestration trigger is pulled."

The cuts would lower projected GDP growth by 25 percent. “We cannot add .6 percent to the current 9.1 percent rate of unemployment, it would devastate the economy and the defense industrial base and undermine the national security of our country,” said Marion Blakey. Click here. (10/25)

Virgin Galactic's Flights Seen Delayed Yet Again (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Sir Richard Branson's space-tourism company won't start passenger flights for at least two more years and operations will ramp up significantly more slowly than previously anticipated, according to its chief pilot. In an interview, David Mackay said Virgin Galactic likely won't begin commercial flights until 2013.

"We would certainly like to be in commercial operation by then," said Mr. Mackay, a former airline captain and Royal Air Force test pilot. The new schedule marks another delay from the initial timetable that called for passenger flights to commence by 2008. That was subsequently revised to 2010, and again to early 2012. Lately, Virgin Galactic officials have declined to predict when paying passengers will be taken on suborbital thrill rides to the edge of space.

Under the original timetable, Virgin Galactic's pioneering rocket ship was supposed to take off every few days and relatively quickly morph into a fleet of spacecraft carrying hundreds of passengers each month. Mr. Branson and renowned aerospace engineer Burt Rutan—whose company designed the 60-foot-long, all-composite craft dubbed SpaceShip Two—have talked about transporting as many as 50,000 passengers over 10 years. Now, those ambitious growth projections again seem to have been substantially scaled back. (10/25)

NASA Tries To Squeeze SLS Into Flat Budget (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA will store some rocket engines, slow work on others and study still more as it struggles to squeeze the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) Congress has ordered into a flat, $3 billion annual budget for development. Early flights of the SLS will use surplus space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) and, as side-mounted strap-ons, the five-segment solid-fuel motors developed for the terminated Ares I crew launch vehicle’s first stage.

The J-2X upper-stage engine, which once was the “pacing item” for Ares I, will be slowed as managers try to maintain enough development momentum to avoid a costly stop and restart in engine development as the big new rocket “evolves” to the 130-metric-ton capability Congress wants.

The trick, for NASA and its existing and potential rocket contractors, will be to manage the development within the $3 billion in annual funding the agency hopes to get. NASA managers drummed that point home to contractors during an SLS industry day at Marshall Space Flight Center, but it offers scant solace to companies that have been struggling to keep their teams together while NASA determines its next moves. (10/25)

Epic Geomagnetic Storm Erupts (Source: Discovery)
There's an epic magnetic battle raging above our heads. On Monday, at around 2 p.m. EDT, a coronal mass ejection (CME) slammed into the Earth's magnetosphere. According to NASA's Space Weather Laboratory, the conditions were just right for the CME's magnetic field to compress the Earth's magnetosphere so much that, for a short time (between 3:06 p.m and 3:11 p.m. ET), energetic solar wind particles penetrated as deep as geosynchronous orbit -- home to hundreds of communication satellites.

Although the interactions between solar plasma and Earth's magnetic field are often invisible, tonight is an exception. Vast aurorae are rippling through the atmosphere at very low latitudes. The US was given a dazzling show as Spaceweather.com reports: "Northern Lights have spilled across the Canadian border into the contiguous USA. Sighting reports have come from as far south as Arkansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Maryland, New York, Ohio and central California. (10/25)

New KSC Visitor Tour Includes VAB (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is creating a tour that includes the opportunity to walk inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, the structure where space shuttles were assembled for launch. Very few people, aside from astronauts and NASA personnel, have been inside the 525-foot VAB in recent years. The new KSC Up-Close tour will be offered eight times daily for a limited time beginning Nov. 1. For a very limited time, tour guests may see a space shuttle inside the VAB as it’s prepared for future display in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. or Florida. (10/25)

Genetically Altered Astronaut Poo? NASA Wants to Know (Source: Discovery)
Has bacteria in astronaut poop left on the moon been genetically altered? Did solar wind and ultraviolet radiation destroy the flag at Tranquility Base, landing site for the first Apollo moon mission? Are the lunar rovers dented with micrometeoroid impacts? These are among the science questions raised by a NASA team tasked to come up with guidelines to preserve lunar artifacts before Lunar XPRIZE contenders arrive there in about two years.

About 28 teams are competing to send privately funded robotic spacecraft to photograph and explore the lunar surface. Winners can get bonuses if they visit lunar historic sites, a prospect that got NASA thinking about its property on the moon. Astrobiologists are interested in studying how bacteria in the astronauts' feces have fared after 40 years and if they have undergone gene mutation. Microbes also existed in clothes, food containers and other gear left behind on the moon. (10/25)

Washington Governor Tries Again for Space Shuttle (Source: News Tribune)
The governor has sent a letter offering to help NASA find a temporary home for a retired space shuttle, while California and New York ready permanent new homes. Seattle's Museum of Flight is ready to shelter a shuttle, while California and New York face fundraising and logistical challenges, Gov. Chris Gregoire wrote in a letter sent late Friday to NASA.

"While I share your desire to have these priceless artifacts seen by the largest number of people, the concept of storing them in any form of short-term facility with limited or no public access is unacceptable," Gregoire wrote. Seattle's museum will get a full-scale training mock-up that looks like the space shuttle without wings. A new $12 million building called the Space Gallery is being prepared for the display. A delegation from the museum met with Charles Bolden a few months ago and also offered temporary display space for one of the actual orbiters. (10/25)

Welcome to Copenhagen Suborbitals (Source: WIRED)
My name is Kristian von Bengtson, and I design and build spacecrafts. I have so much to show you and share with you. A little over three years ago my life changed. Everything I have learned, taught myself, loved and wanted to do was suddenly merged together in a split second: building my own space rocket with the right partner and crew. The ultimate DIY project.

It was in May 2008 I founded Copenhagen Suborbitals together with my newfound friend Peter Madsen. I met Peter who, like me, was at a crossroads in life in terms of projects. He had just finished his last home-made submarine, and I was back from NASA doing work on space capsules. Within a few minutes we joined forces and inside Peter’s submarine, under water, we planned how to conquer the universe without a single dime in our pockets.

Without any chance of turning in a business plan, with a fraction of sense, to someone with money, we decided just to begin and to make this endeavor an open source and non-profit project. We wanted to leave it to people to decide if they wanted to donate some money. Today three years later we are blessed with thousands of donors, many sponsoring companies, and about 30 fantastic and hard-working part-time specialists. Click here. (10/25)

Expendable Launcher Market to be Worth $53 Billion Through 2020 (Source: Military Aerospace)
The global market for large rockets designed to launch satellites and humans into Earth orbit and beyond -- known in the industry as expendable launch vehicles -- will be worth $53 billion in the decade from 2011 to 2020, and will involve the production of 693 launch vehicles, predict analysts from Forecast International. The launch industry is recovering from a market downturn brought on by an overabundance of supply that depressed prices and made it difficult for providers to turn a profit, analysts say. (10/25)

SpaceX Unveils Dragon Spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: WESH)
SpaceX has taken the wraps off its newest spacecraft, intended to fly to the International Space Station. If NASA gives approval, the Dragon spacecraft will become the first privately built spacecraft to dock with the Space Station. SpaceX is targeting a launch date of Dec. 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Click here for the video. (10/25)

Woman Speaks Out About Moon Rock Seizure (Source: Press-Enterprise)
When NASA agents swooped into a Lake Elsinore Denny’s earlier this year, authorities said they seized a purported “moon rock” from a woman who had been trying to sell it for $1.7 million. What they didn’t mention -- the woman was a 4-foot-11, 74-year-old grandmother who, along with her now-deceased husband, had worked at North American Rockwell, a NASA contractor during the early years of the space program.

Sitting at the dining room table in her modest Lake Elsinore home, Joann Davis said Monday that she has yet to be charged with a crime, though a NASA agent accused her of possession of stolen property. She said NASA agents found out she had the Apollo 11 moon rock -- actually a speck of lunar material embedded in a decorative paperweight -- because she emailed them to ask for advice about selling it.

The rock is rightfully hers, she said. It was one of many items of space-program memorabilia her husband received as gifts through his work, she said. Davis said she couldn’t believe what happened to her at Denny’s May 19. She said she was treated roughly and interrogated for two hours outside the restaurant. (10/25)

Space Launch System is Key to Stennis’ Future (Source: Biloxi Sun Herald)
After 50 years of testing rockets, John C. Stennis Space Center personnel will be busy for decades to come with what’s been hailed as the most powerful rocket ever built-- a propulsion system that could be taken to Mars and other parts of the solar system. NASA's plan to develop a new Stennis test stand four years ago made it clear NASA was planning to stay in South Mississippi -- home to the largest rocket engine testing facility in the United States-- for decades to come.

“What I predict is the Space Launch System is going to be another 30 to 40 years of engine tests,” said Patrick Scheuermann, John C. Stennis Space Center director. The first Space Launch System flight is expected to take place in 2017, but some of the testing has already begun. The Space Launch System is a major development for Stennis, but rocket testing isn’t all that’s done there. Today, more than 30 government agencies, academic institutions and private businesses have operations there. (10/25)

NM Gov. Martinez Warms Up to Spaceport (Source: Alamogordo Daily News)
We finally have some encouraging words from Gov. Susana Martinez about Spaceport America. The words came during her first visit to the site for dedication of Virgin Galactic's terminal building and hangar. Earlier, Martinez skipped ceremonies dedicating the 10,000-foot runway. And in January, she had some discouraging words for the Legislature about the spaceport's finances and the necessity of private industry to pick up further costs.

But she was all smiles when posing for pictures with Virgin Galactic owner Sir Richard Branson. Her positive comments didn't get much coverage, but Albuquerque Journal reporter Rene Romo interviewed her later. Martinez said during her public comments at the dedication that she is so impressed with Virgin Galactic that she may have to add a suborbital flight to her bucket list. She said her visit to the spaceport increased her enthusiasm for the project. She said she never was unenthusiastic about it. She just wanted to make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely. (10/25)

Firms Look to Hitch Rides to Orbit for Small Satellites (Source: Denver Post)
Sending a small satellite into space is not cheap, though rocket companies and "hitchhikers" believe ride-share programs may be the answer in tight budget times. For aerospace companies, universities, researchers and even NASA, ride-sharing on rockets with hefty primary payloads offers an affordable alternative for satellites that may weigh up to 440 pounds. For some rocket companies, it's a potential source of business, and for others, it's already happening. Click here. (10/25)

Does China's Space Program Threaten U.S.? (Source: People's Daily Online)
Exploring space is the common pursuit of mankind. The achievement of China's manned space program will surely be the common wealth of mankind. However, when space experts from around the world applauded the launch of Tiangong 1, talk of a Chinese "space threat" emerged in the United States.

Why are many Americans so sensitive to China's space achievements? David M. Lampton, the greatest U.S.-based living authority on China and director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview in January that Europe was facing economic problems, and Japan also had its own problems. The United States, while facing fewer problems than its allies, was still very sensitive. Probably this is why the Americans are so sensitive to China’s space achievements. Click here. (10/25)

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