November 14, 2011

NASA Offers Buyouts to Federal Employees (Source: NASA Watch)
Several NASA locations are offering buyouts and early retirement packages to employees. The agency's headquarters in Washington on Nov. 7 offered buyout packages worth up to $25,000 per employee. While 147 employees are eligible for the offer, only 50 packages will be available. Employees must apply by Nov. 18. Four other NASA centers have extended separate buyout offers. KSC in Florida offered 150 buyouts through Nov. 7, targeting the budget and legal offices, information technology and general administrative personnel. (11/11)

Government Agencies Go Google+, (Source: Information Week)
Most of the agencies thus far have been posting news, multimedia, and information of the type one might expect to be posted on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Since joining Google+, NASA has been the most active of the new entrants with almost two dozen posts, mostly images and multimedia, and many of them different from information shared on other social media platforms. The page already has more than 18,000 followers. (11/11)

Will Tight Budgets Sink NASA Flagships? (Source: Science)
One big question that needs to be answered relatively soon is where NASA will find the money to complete the Webb telescope by 2018, provided Congress does not terminate the project. NASA officials have declared the $8.7 billion instrument an agency-wide priority and would like to take half of the addition $2 billion needed over the next 5 years from within the Science Mission Directorate. (The rest would come from other parts of the $18.5 billion agency.)

That plan is causing consternation among researchers outside astrophysics, who say that it is unfair for the planetary, earth science, and heliophysics programs to support an over-budget astronomy mission. "JWST has been held up as the most important thing to be done, at all cost," says Mark Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. "But it is not scientifically responsible to undermine other programs to cover JWST." (11/11)

NASA Glenn: The Money Pit (Source: WOIO)
In these tough times, it seems like everyone in Cleveland has been forced to cut corners. Except for Northeast Ohio's branch of NASA, who just bought a $20,000 dollar conference table, a $1,500 dollar office chair and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars remodeling! The best part? It's all with your money! Click here. (11/12)

GOP Senator: Millionaire Tax Breaks Exceed NASA Budget (Source: The Hill)
A leading Senate conservative is taking aim at tax breaks that he says amount to welfare for millionaires, a line of critique that usually comes from liberal Democrats. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report detailing special tax breaks for wealthy income earners that could give members of the supercommittee common ground for raising tax revenues. The report found millionaires enjoy about $30 billion worth of “tax giveaways” and federal grants every year — almost twice NASA’s budget, the report notes. (11/14)

Anniversary of Apollo 12 Launch Marks Milestone in Space Safety (Source: National Journal)
Efforts to get humans into space have always been fraught with danger, which has been underscored by a number of disasters and near-disasters. One such near-disaster was the launch of the Apollo 12 mission to the moon on Nov. 14, 1969, in which the Saturn V rocket that was being used to get astronauts Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean to the moon was struck by lightning—twice.

"What the hell was that?" Gordon radioed to the ground after the first hit, which caused a major electrical disturbance. Twenty seconds later, another strike hit the spacecraft. "Okay, we just lost the platform gang," reported Conrad, "I don't know what happened here. We had everything in the world drop out."
After it became clear that they had been hit by lighting and after the spacecraft's electrical systems came back, astronaut Conrad radioed to the ground that "I think we need to do a little more all-weather testing," to which the person on the other end responded: "Amen."

The Apollo 12 exerience did lead to greater consideration of atmospheric electrical activity when launching spacecraft, according to NASA, which produced an incident report analysis the following year of what happened and how similar incidents could be minimized in future launches. (11/14)

Dragon Moves to 2012, Making Atlas-5 MSL the Final Launch of 2011 (Source: SPACErePORT)
With the next SpaceX Dragon mission likely moved to January 2012 or later, the final 2011 launch tally at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport will be 10 (assuming the Atlas-5 NASA mission scheduled for Nov. 25 goes as planned). The already-completed launches include three Space Shuttles, three Atlas-5, two Delta-4, and one Delta-2. None of these 2011 launches were for commercial customers. An early look at the 2012 manifest shows eight launches, including four Atlas-5, two Delta-4, and two Falcon-9. (11/14)

Rocket Crafters Aims to Supply Trainer Craft for Space Pilots (Source: Rocket Crafters)
Rocket Crafters' newly formed Spacecraft Division is planning to develop privately funded dual propulsion (jet and hybrid rocket powered) trainers for civilian pilots to get stick-n-rudder training in high-performance rocket powered aircraft and suborbital capable spaceplanes. They plan to introduce a primary level trainer capable of teaching conventional-to-rocket powered flight transition before the end of 2012 and begin delivery of these exciting new jet/rocket powered aircraft to flight schools and aviation colleges beginning in 2013. Click here. (11/14)

Structures Spotted by Satellites in China's Gobi Desert Raise Questions (Source: Telegraph)
Vast, unidentified, structures have been spotted by satellites in the barren Gobi desert, raising questions about what China might be building in a region it uses for its military, space and nuclear programs. In two images, available on Google Earth, reflective rectangles up to a mile long can be seen, a tangle of bright white intersecting lines that are clearly visible from space.

Other pictures show enormous concentric circles radiating on the ground, with three jets parked at their center. In one picture from 2007, a mass of orange blocks have been carefully arranged in a circle. In a more recent image, however, the blocks, each one the size of a shipping container, appear to have been scattered as far as three miles from the original site. Another image shows an array of metallic squares littered with what appears to be the debris of exploded vehicles while another shows an intricate grid that is some 18 miles long.

All of the sites are on the borders of Gansu province and Xinjiang, some less than 100 miles from Jiuquan, the headquarters of China's space programme and the location of its launch pads. The purpose of the structures is unknown, but some experts suggested that they might be optical test ranges for Chinese missiles, to simulate the street grids of cities. Click here. (11/14)

Lockheed Martin Celebrates Opening of NextGen Technology Test Bed (Source: Space Daily)
Lockheed Martin, the FAA, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and a consortium of industry partners have opened the Florida NextGen Test Bed, a laboratory where new and emerging Next Generation Air Transportation (NextGen) concepts and technologies can be demonstrated and validated. The FAA's NextGen initiative is designed to improve travel through an integrated, adaptable air transportation system, enabling aircraft to adjust to factors such as weather, traffic congestion, flight patterns and security issues.

The NextGen Test Bed, located at Daytona Beach International Airport (DBIA), was established by the Integrated Airport Initiative (IAI), comprised of aviation industry leaders who wanted to share their expertise to advance NextGen. Lockheed Martin and ERAU created the IAI in 2006. Today, its membership has grown to 15 partners, including DBIA, Barco, Boeing, CSC, ENSCO, Frequentis, GE, Harris, Mosaic ATM, NATS, Sensis and Volpe.

Editor's Note: In addition to new technologies for traditional aviation management The Testbed is positioned to support the integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems and commercial spaceflight operations through the National Airspace System. (11/14)

Harris Corp. Plans Engineering Center Expansion (Source: Florida Today)
Harris Corp. will invest $100 million to build a massive engineering center that will reshape its aging Palm Bay campus while creating 100 permanent jobs and 300 construction jobs. Construction of the six-story, 450,0000-square-foot high-tech engineering center will begin in mid-2012 and be complete in 2014, Harris officials said. Harris has already completed the initial design and approval phase. (11/14)

Honeywell Aerospace Eyes International Markets (Source: AIN Online)
Honeywell Aerospace is looking at markets beyond the borders of the U.S. "It used to be the case that 80% of customers, suppliers and manufacturers were in the United States," said Paolo Carmassi, a company executive. However, that picture has changed in the past 10 years as demand has shifted east. (11/14)

An Uncertain Future for Solar System Exploration (Source: Space Review)
Tight budgets and other factors are putting pressure on NASA's planetary exploration programs. Jeff Foust reports on what that means for long-term plans for missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system. Visit to view the article. (11/14)

Staring Into the Eyes of the Dragon (Source: Space Review)
China is building up its space-based reconnaissance systems in a bid to match American military capabilities. Dwayne Day describes what is driving Chinese plans, and what vulnerabilities that effort introduces. Visit to view the article. (11/14)

Space War and Futurehype Revisited (Source: Space Review)
Visions of overwhelming US military space superiority have long appeared dubious to many, something that is especially the case today given new fiscal realities. Nader Elhefnawy revisits those visions of the US as an "astrocop". Visit to view the article. (11/14)

Phobos-Grunt: Legal Analysis of Potential Liability and Options for Mitigation (Source: Space Review)
Russia launched its Phobos-Grunt Mars mission last week, but the spacecraft remains stranded in a decaying Earth orbit that could cause it to reenter within weeks. Michael Listner examines some of the legal implications and remedies for yet another uncontrolled satellite reentry. Visit to view the article. (11/14)

Russia Still Hopes to Save Mars Mission (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia has time until the beginning of December to establish contact with its Phobos-Grunt unmanned spacecraft that is stranded at a low-Earth orbit after launch, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said. “We estimate that the Phobos-Grunt will fly until January, and to make it perform its mission we still have time until the beginning of December,” head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin said.

Popovkin said the probe is moving along a 200-km orbit and has “communication windows” with ground control stations for about 2 minutes at a time. In order to establish communications with Phobos-Grunt, the specialists reduced the power of the signal sent to the probe, since the first contact with the spacecraft was originally planned at a much higher trajectory, and widened the “communication window.” All attempts to receive a signal from the spacecraft have so far been unsuccessful. (11/14)

Russia Mars Probe May Fall to Earth in January (Source: AFP)
A Russian probe that was to visit a moon of Mars but is stuck in orbit around the Earth could burn up in the Earth's atmosphere in January. Vladimir Popovkin denied that the Phobos-Grunt probe was considered lost and said scientists had until December to try to re-establish contact, re-program the probe and send it on its planned trajectory to Mars. "The probe is going to be in orbit until January, but in the first days of December the window will close" to re-program it, he said. (11/14)

Singapore Family Books $1 Million Virgin Space Flight (Source: AFP)
A Singaporean businessman, his wife and two children have paid $1 million to become the first Asian family to fly together on space-tourism airline Virgin Galactic, the company announced Monday. "I had lunch yesterday with a guy who got in touch with us in Singapore, and over lunch he signed his contract for not just a seat, but for a whole flight," Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough said. (11/14)

NASTAR Featured at IITSEC Conference in Orlando (Source: NASTAR)
NASTAR parent company Environmental Techtonics Corp. (ETC) will discuss the capabilities of the NASTAR Center for commercial spaceflight training during the annual IITSEC conference in Orlando on Nov. 29 - Dec. 1. IITSEC is the world's premier simulation and training conference and exhibition. (11/14)

China Sets Up Management Body for Orbiting Space Lab (Source: Xinhua)
China has established an operation committee for management of the country's first space lab module, Tiangong-1, during its two-year orbit of earth. The committee will deal with operations planning, technical appraisal and flight control of the target orbiter after the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft returns to earth after its mission, the official website of China's manned space program said. (11/14)

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