October 28, 2011

Was Obama the First President to "Terminate America's Ability to Put Humans in Space"? (Source: Politifact)
Another chain e-mail critical of President Barack Obama has been making the rounds. The e-mail proceeds to offer roughly three dozen "firsts" about Obama, all of them highly unflattering. We can’t check each and every claim in the e-mail, but we decided instead to spot-check a claim that Obama is the "First President to terminate America’s ability to put a man in space."

With the end of the space shuttle program, it’s correct that the U.S. no longer has the ability to send an astronaut into space by a domestic launch. But when we contacted space experts for their view, they agreed that it would be unfair to blame only Obama. "President George W. Bush directed NASA to shut down the shuttle program, with full knowledge that there would be a multi-year gap for human spaceflight," said Edward Ellegood, a space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Whether one wants to blame Bush or Obama for our current predicament turns out to be irrelevant to the question raised in the e-mail. Richard Nixon, perhaps in conjunction with Gerald Ford, would be the one to qualify for the unwanted title of "first president to terminate America’s ability to put a man in space" -- not Obama. We rate this claim Pants on Fire. Click here. (10/28)

Space Debris Collisions a Growing Risk, Experts Warn (Source: Guardian)
The second unscheduled re-entry of a spacecraft into Earth's atmosphere within a month highlights the growing danger from falling debris, according to legal experts. As lower orbits closer to Earth become more congested with communication and observation satellites, there is a greater chance of collisions, said Professor Sa'id Mosteshar, director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law. "At the moment the cost of insuring the launch [of a rocket] is much higher than for its life in orbit, but the balance is going to change as the risk becomes greater," he said. (10/28)

Italy and Japan Together in Space (Source: Avio News)
A delegation of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), led by president Enrico Saggese, has visited Tokyo for the "Italy in Japan" event. ASI and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) held an important meeting where they discussed the foundations that need to be laid in order to intensify collaboration in some strategic areas such as disaster management, aerospace propulsion and the International Space Station. The two agencies signed new agreements, one relating to the mission CALET (CALorimetric Electron Telescope) on board the ISS, and one on oxygen/methane propulsion research. (10/28)

Former Space Council Director: Decline of NASA is a Long Way in Making (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
For the first time in 40 years, there is no American access for humans to space. “Today, the U.S. civil space program is broken,” said Mark Albrecht, former executive secretary of the now defunct National Space Council. “And our national security space program is not far behind.” Albrecht said the lack of leadership since the end of the Cold War has caused NASA to lose importance.

He said the International Space Station, which took over 20 years to build and cost $100 billion, was deemed of marginal utility for science by the National Academy of Science. The current program, after the end space shuttle program, has no goal and no mission and is “the space equivalent of a bridge to nowhere,” he said. It was designed and forced on NASA by the U.S. Congress, he said, and the lack of a compelling mission rationale will result in its failure.

The first flight of the new heavy lift vehicle won’t be until 2017 and capable of carrying astronauts until 2021, “that’s if it stays on cost, on schedule, as it does today.” He said it’s too expensive, too slow and too old.
“We’re not focused enough on a culture of innovation,” Albrecht quoted Internet entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal. (10/28)

United Launch Alliance's Atlas V Russian Glass House (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
Can the United Launch Alliance (ULA) continue to bash NASA's purchase of astronaut launch services from Russia while continuing to buy the first-stage engine for its Atlas V rocket from Russia? Judging from ULA testimony on Capitol Hill, it doesn't expect anyone in Congress to notice and the media to just drive on.

ULA is promoting the Atlas V as the logical choice as the U.S. rocket for commercial crew services to the International Space Station (ISS). For the first stage of the Atlas V, ULA uses a single RD-180 main engine, “designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash” boasts the company's website. Lockheed Martin highlights the relationship on its website as a “space systems partnership.“ Without the RD-180, the Atlas V – with 27 successful launches since 2002 – doesn't get off the ground.

Sounds great! So what does the ULA think about NASA buying seats on the Russian Soyuz to get crew to the International Space Station (ISS) when it goes before Congress? “Now that the shuttle is retired, our nation is wholly dependent on the Russians to transport our own crews to and from ISS,” ULA Vice President George Sowers said. “Currently the government of Russia is NASA's sixth largest contractor, receiving over $350M per year. Not only does this represent thousands of high tech jobs sent overseas, but it's ceding our leadership as a space-faring nation.” (10/28)

Raytheon Profit Falls 3% on Lower Sales (Source: Bloomberg)
Raytheon's third-quarter profit declined 3 percent after sales and profit at its Integrated Defense and Network systems units fell. Income excluding some items fell to $489 million from $504 million a year earlier. Sales outlook for the year was cut to the range of $25 billion to $25.3 billion, from $25.5 billion to $25.9 billion. (10/28)

Ball Corp. Net Down 42% on Business-Consolidation Costs (Source: MarketWatch)
Ball Corp.'s third-quarter profit fell 42%, as business consolidation and discontinued operations weighed down the bottom line, masking strong gains in metal beverage packaging segments. For the quarter ended Oct. 2, Ball reported a profit of $132.1 million, down from $227.5 million. Revenue increased 11% to $2.26 billion. (10/28)

Super-Rocket to Use Ares-1 Mobile Launcher, Shuttle Crawlers (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA intends to upgrade one of its Apollo-era treaded crawlers and an inactive mobile platform built for the canceled Ares launcher program to support the agency's colossal super-rocket, officially called the Space Launch System, in time for a test flight in 2017. According to KSC Director Bob Cabana, the platform will be solely used by the Space Launch System, while the Shuttle's mobile launch platforms, which date back to the 1960s, could be available to commercial users.

Editor's Note: Although ATK won't have access to the Ares-1 mobile platform for its proposed Liberty rocket, they still will have access to a lot of other NASA-owned or NASA-funded Solid Rocket Booster infrastructure and equipment from the Shuttle program at KSC and other locations. This might do much to reduce their startup and operational costs for Liberty. (10/28)

Rocket at Pad for Critical Station Cargo Launch (Source: Florida Today)
A Russian rocket that will attempt to launch a critical cargo mission to the International Space Station on Sunday was rolled to its pad today in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz-U rocket carrying a robotic Progress spacecraft, planned at 6:11 a.m. EDT Sunday, will be the first since a third-stage engine failure doomed an Aug. 24 Progress launch. NASA TV coverage begins at 6 a.m.

Sunday's launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome must be a success to avoid the station being left without a crew next month. Crews are launched atop the very similar Soyuz-FG booster. If the cargo rocket performs properly, a crew of three astronauts and cosmonauts would plan to launch to the station Nov. 13, about a week before the current crew of three is due to return home on Nov. 21. (10/28)

Layoffs Continue at USA, Mostly in Florida (Source: Florida Today)
United Space Alliance's total employment dipped below 3,000 with the loss of another 54 workers, including 43 based at KSC. The workforce for NASA's lead space shuttle contractor is down more than 70 percent from its peak of 10,500 in January 2005 [when the company was Florida's largest aerospace employer]. After the layoffs, USA now has 2,980 employees across the country as follows: Florida - 1,532; Texas - 1,408; Alabama - 40.

Houston-based USA said ongoing layoffs were necessary to align the workforce with the scope of the company's current contract work and budget. Each employee received 60 days notice and were eligible for a severance of four to 26 weeks of pay, based on years of service, plus a bonus for those deemed to have critical skills. The company has also provided career transition training. (10/28)

Alabama-Built Delta II Launches from California with weather Satellite (Source: Huntsville Times)
A Decatur-built Delta II rocket launched successfully from Vanderberg Air Force Base on Friday carrying a weather satellite. The rocket, built at the United Launch Alliance rocket plant in Decatur is carrying the NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite for NASA and NOAA. The satellite will collect data on atmospheric and sea surface temperatures, humidity, land and ocean biological activity, as well as cloud an aerosol properties, according to NASA. (10/28)

ATK Promotes Liberty (Rocket) (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
ATK is ramping up momentum in promoting its Liberty Launch System for trips to the International Space Station (ISS). Based on a hybrid approach combining solid rocket booster technology originating from the Space Shuttle program with a second stage using the Ariane 5's cryogenically-fueled first stage, ATK is currently working with NASA's Commercial Crew Program-2 (CCDev-2) on an unfunded basis, but has its sights set to offer a cost-effective replacement for United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles.

To date, the company has put in “north of $10 million” of its own money into research and development. ATK Vice President Charles Precourt told an October 26 House Science Committee hearing on NASA's commercial manned spacecraft efforts that there is a lot of interest from third-parties to provide investment – if the NASA would show interest through further funding.

Liberty will have the capability to deliver up to 44,500 pounds of payload to low-Earth orbit at a price Precourt says will be “under $200 million.” The rocket will have enough capacity to carry any of the currently proposed spacecraft “with margin” to low Earth orbit and to ISS. It also is capable of carrying cargo or satellites in the same range as the Delta IV EELV heavy launch vehicle (which costs between $200-300 million). (10/28)

ULA, Air Force Close to Big Launch Deal (Source: Denver Business Journal)
The U.S. Air Force, the biggest customer of Colorado rocket company United Launch Alliance, is closing in on the first bulk buy of launches that could be worth as much as $15 billion. Colorado-based ULA may win a commitment for as many as 40 rocket boosters from the military and intelligence community in the next five years — despite recent buzz about an upstart rocket company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, being allowed to compete for such work. (10/28)

NASA Glenn Shows Off Technologies to Automakers and Suppliers (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
For decades, scientists and engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center have developed lightweight materials, efficient batteries and high-tech computer models in hopes of building spacecraft. Now the center hopes to use that expertise to improve cars and trucks in the future. "Many of the technologies we're developing [can apply directly] our nation's top priorities," said Robert "Joe" Shaw, Glenn's deputy director of technology partnerships and planning.

On a national level, NASA has expanded its mission in recent years from focusing on space exploration to helping maintain technological leadership in the United States and to help improve the nation's economy. Shaw said outreach efforts to the auto industry is a concrete example of what such a policy change will mean to people in this community. "We want to show that the $700 million invested here was well spent," Shaw said. On Thursday, the research center hosted a technology symposium to introduce its technologies to automakers and automotive suppliers. (10/28)

Braun: Space Technology is a Critical Investment for Our Nation’s Future (Source: The Hill)
American technological leadership is vital to our national security, our economic prosperity and our global standing. The U.S. is the nation we are today because of the technological investments made in earlier decades, because of the engineers, scientists and elected officials who had the wisdom and foresight to make the investments required for our country to emerge as a global technological leader. That commitment accelerated our economy through creation of new industries, products and services. They have yielded lasting benefits.

Aerospace remains a strong component of our national fabric and is the largest positive contributor to our nation’s trade balance. However, this technological leadership position is not a given. To remain the leader in aerospace technology, we must continue to perform research and invest in the people who will create the breakthroughs of tomorrow, preserving a critical component of our nation’s economic competitiveness for future generations. (10/28)

Race to Mine the Moon Heats Up (Source: FOX News)
Moon, we just can’t quit you. NASA has shifted its goals from returning to the moon to visiting an asteroid or even Mars, but not everyone has given up on going back. The space agency's attention deficit has sparked a race among private companies eager to return to Earth's satellite. The latest competitor is Astrobotic Technology, a spinoff of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Its goal: to mine the moon for water and fuel. And a deal with NASA plus a contract for rides on private rockets means the company may be the first to go back.

“We are in the first three months of a two-year contract,” David Gump, president of Astrobotic, said. "We'll have a field-tested robot that will be able to go to the poles" on the moon to extract water, methane and more, he said. Astrobotic isn't the only company that hopes to dig up the moon. Moon Express, which sees greenbacks in all that lunar "green cheese," is also in the race, along with 24 other teams, many fueled by the Google Lunar X Prize. (10/28)

Houston Chooses a Side in War Over Commercial Space (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The future of western spaceflight is up for grabs, and it’s essentially a no-win battle between the status quo (NASA) and commercial providers trying to wrest away the job of flying astronauts to orbit after half a century of space agency dominance. On one side there’s SpaceX and other companies seeking some government support to accelerate their progress. To succeed these companies need some money, hundreds of millions, not billions, and they need some workable regulations from NASA.

The latter means that NASA cannot layer upon the private rocket plans onerous and duplicate safety requirements. But SpaceX founder Elon Musk says that appears to be what is now happening. Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, has a similar view. At issue is whether commercial space should be given the funds to succeed, and a reasonable list of requirements to safely carry astronauts into orbit.

So where does Houston fall in this debate? From a completely parochial standpoint Houston does not immediately gain from commercial spaceflight. This is because designing and controlling the rockets that launch astronauts has traditionally been done here. If its done by a company in California that’s lost jobs and prestige for this community. It’s therefore not too great of a surprise that the mayors of the city of Houston and Huntsville have written a letter to President Obama in support of continuing NASA’s prominent role in rocket development. (10/28)

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