November 15, 2011

Nunn-McCurdy Breachers Fare Well (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. defense department now knows that its big weapons programs can incur multiple cost breaches and still not experience one penny of punishment from appropriators. Take FY-2012 appropriations, in which four programs with multiple breaches have so far not seen any funding cuts. In 10 programs analyzed by Aviation Week, which represent $7.7 billion in the fiscal 2012 budget request, the House cut 1% and the Senate 7%.

The Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites are unscathed in the House and Senate appropriations bills. So are the Army’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System and the Javelin missile. The Navy line for the F-35 is untouched. However, the Senate did cut the Air Force F-35 line by 9%, and its advance procurement by 29%. In March, a GAO report listed 47 programs that experienced Nunn-McCurdy cost-growth breaches from 1997-2009; 18 of those had multiple breaches. (11/15)

Commercial Crew Funding Far Short of Target (Source: Florida Today)
NASA's newly approved 2012 budget won't help reduce the gap in launches of astronauts from Florida. The budget offers $406 million for the development of private space taxis that will be the next U.S. vehicles to carry crews to the International Space Station after the shuttle.

That's less than half the $850 million the Obama administration requested and well below the $500 million the Senate had approved. It's a step up from the $312 million the House had offered. NASA has said anything less than full funding for the program could delay flights on U.S. vehicles from 2016 to 2017, though it's possible increased funding in later years could make up for this year's shortfall. (11/15)

NASA Sharing Underwater Training Facility With Petroleum Industry (Source: NASA)
Astronauts and oil field workers will share a training facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston thanks to a new agreement that takes advantage of excess capacity at the agency's underwater training pool. Raytheon Technical Services Co. of Dulles, Va., NASA's contractor for operations at the Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near Johnson, has signed an agreement to partner with Petrofac Training Services in Houston.

Petrofac will use the NBL to provide survival training for offshore oil and gas workers. NASA will continue training International Space Station crews there for space walks. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program and the completion of space station assembly, the time required for NASA spacewalk training has decreased. (11/15)

NASA Extends MESSENGER Mission (Source: JHU)
NASA has announced that it will extend the MESSENGER mission for an additional year of orbital operations at Mercury beyond the planned end of the primary mission on March 17, 2012. The spacecraft's unprecedented orbital science campaign is providing the first global close-up of Mercury and has revolutionized scientific perceptions of that planet. (11/15)

What Would Happen if an Asteroid Hit Earth? (Source: Metro)
The last time an asteroid of a similar size came this close to Earth was in 1976, when asteroid 2010 XC15 came within 190,000 miles. Our next encounter is expected with asteroid 2001 WN5 in 17 years. Dr McMillan estimates it could be three times the size of the last week’s passing asteroid. If an asteroid that big hit Earth, it would be catastrophic. ‘The calculations suggest that if a 1km diameter asteroid were to hit the Earth, the aerosols thrown into the upper atmosphere would stay up there for a couple of years.

‘It would make the Sun so dim that it would shut down agriculture for two years. That’s what we call a civilization-ending asteroid,’ he said. But don’t panic just yet: ‘Something a kilometer in diameter probably doesn’t hit the Earth more often than an average of half a million years,’ said Dr McMillan. Click here. (11/15)

Getting Our Priorities Straight: SLS Vs Propellant Depot in a Greater Context (Source: SpaceRef)
The debate over heavy-lift versus propellant depots does not address the fundamental issue that has led us to today's sorry state of affairs. The fundamental concern is that NASA and the BEO exploration program are utterly irrelevant national needs in today's trying times. Money is certainly not the problem.

Today the Department of Energy has a $40 billion dollar loan/subsidy/industry support budget most notoriously known by the $500 million dollar-plus failure of a loan to Solyndra. These loans, and any failures associated with them, have been justified by the fact that this program has funded "high risk" and "innovative" programs designed to help the U.S. transition to alternative energy sources.

If you examine the use of stimulus funds from the American Recovery Act you will find a similar pattern. This expenditure has totaled well over $100 billion dollars since 2009, more than twice the entire NASA budget over this same period. The simple fact is that BEO space exploration is NOT considered by either party as truly contributing to the economic competitiveness of the nation, and considering the goals of ALL of the architectures developed by NASA since 2006, it is not that hard to see why. Click here. (11/15)

Budget Compromise Could Send Infrastructure Funding to KSC (Source: SPACErePORT)
The "Minibus" appropriation package includes $3 billion for the SLS heavy-lift launcher program, with up to $315 million devoted to ground operations at KSC. Together with the $168 million budgeted for 21st Century Launch Complex, this could result in up to $483 million for infrastructure upgrades at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (11/15)

Democrats Press for Administration Commitment to NASA-European Mission (Source: House Dems)
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled, “Exploring Mars and Beyond: What’s Next for U.S. Planetary Science?” The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on the prospects for the future exploration of Mars and implications of the current fiscal crisis on the future of U.S. planetary science.

After questioning the witnesses about the lack of a firm Administration commitment to the joint NASA-ESA Mars program despite a scientific consensus on the importance of the initiative, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) stated that the Subcommittee needed to hear from OMB as to why the joint program is being stalled. OMB failed to assign a witness to participate in the hearing. (11/15)

NASA Grows Audience, Credibility Through Tweetups (Source: Arizona Daily Sun)
Rocket science isn't easily explainable in 140 characters, but NASA is asking a group of people to do just that with a series of VIP tours for some of its ardent Twitter followers. The events called tweetups offer ordinary science fans a behind-the-scenes look at the space agency's facilities that can include its astronauts and scientists. In exchange, many participants -- whose day jobs range from church office worker to baker -- narrate their day through tweets, photographs and videos.

NASA's imagination-grabbing work gives it a bigger pool of fans to draw from than many companies or government agencies, and it sets itself apart further with its egalitarian approach to social media. While it's not unusual for an organization to give special access to journalists or influential bloggers, experts say NASA sets itself apart by inviting people who may only have a few dozen followers. (11/15)

Lawmaker: Stalemate Over Union Issue May Lead to FAA Shutdown (Source: Politico)
A labor provision in the FAA reauthorization bill could lead to another shutdown of the agency, says Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV. Republican lawmakers support a provision that would overturn a National Mediation Board rule allowing airline and railroad employees to form unions by a simple majority vote. Rockefeller said House Republicans refuse to compromise on the provision, but a spokesman for Rep. John Mica, R-FL, says he continues to be willing to compromise on all aspects of the bill. (11/15)

Arianespace to Launch Satellite for DIRECTV Latin America (Source: Arianespace)
Arianespace and DIRECTV announced a new launch contract for a satellite providing services for DIRECTV Latin America. The launch will take place in 2014 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on an Ariane 5. Arianespace has already been contracted to launch DIRECTV-14 and 15 within the same time frame. This new contract is the 9th signed in 2011 by Arianespace for the launch of a commercial satellite. (11/15)

How Crony Capitalism is Undermining the Space Program (Source: Weekly Standard)
The crony capitalism represented by the failed “green energy” firm Solyndra has gotten a lot of media attention lately, but much lower on the public’s radar is a much bigger example of corporate pork over at the national space agency—and it’s bipartisan. Let’s call it Shuttlyndra. Here’s how it works.

A little over a year ago, Congress approved a NASA authorization bill that mandated the agency to spend billions in taxpayer dollars over the next few years on a congressionally specified giant rocket with no defined mission and no budgets with which to build payloads for it.

This boondoggle, called the Space Launch System (SLS), is based on hardware derived from the now-obsolete Space Shuttle program. It is expected to have a minimum of $18 billion in development costs with a first flight six years from now. However, based on history, most expect that schedule to slip and the price tag to increase far above that by the time it is operational over a decade from now. (11/15)

Explore Space With A Spacecraft The Size Of A Postage Stamp (Source: Computer World)
A graduate Aerospace Engineering student from Cornell University may have a solution to let anybody explore outer space, and he was inspired by a single speck of dust. Zac Manchester has compared the way in which dust travels effortlessly around in flight, moving on thermal currents void of gravity, no matter the size. He also looked at the size and expense of the current spaceships launching into space and thought, "Why not make spacecraft considerably smaller, cheaper, and accessible for everyone?" Click here. (11/15)

Minibus Appropriations on Track for Enactment by Friday (Source: Space Policy Online)
The "minibus" appropriations bill that includes NASA, NOAA and the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is on track for passage by Friday when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires. Conferees reported the bill late yesterday. The House Rules Committee will consider the rule to accompany the bill (allowing for its consideration by the full House) on Wednesday.

NASA will get $17.8 billion for FY2012, close to what the Senate approved ($17.9 billion). Although it is almost $1 billion less than the request ($18.7 billion), it is almost $1 billion more than the House committee approved. NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System is funded at $924 million compared with the $1.07 billion request or the $901 million approved by the House committee or the $920 million approved by the Senate. FAA's AST office is funded at $16.3 million, a sharp decrease from the $26.6 million request, but more than either the House committee or the Senate had approved ($13 million and $15 million respectively). (11/15)

Olson: China’s Space Program Threatens U.S. National Security (Source: The Foundry)
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) completed a critical milestone in its young, yet ambitious, space program. China’s unmanned Shenzhou 8 successfully completed an automated rendezvous and docking with their prototype space station module, Tiangong 1. This docking exercise is a critical development in China’s quest to launch and operate its own manned space station in Low-Earth Orbit.

As China moves ahead with enhancing their space capabilities, the U.S. shuttle program has ended with no successor in place and an unclear future. We have no independent access to space for several years at the minimum as a result. The reality is that China will likely have a fully operational space lab, and perhaps even a space station, orbiting Earth by 2020. Not ironically, that is the very same year the International Space Station (ISS) may be decommissioned.

If that becomes a reality, China could host the only permanent human presence in space. This scenario poses a grave threat to American national security, not to mention to our stature as a world leader... It would be folly for the U.S. to underestimate the threat posed by the growing capabilities of the Chinese space program. The new threats America faces from China are a powerful reminder of why we must invest in human space exploration with a clear mission and national support. China understands that space is the ultimate high ground. (11/15)

Mixing Metaphors: Human Spaceflight and Military Dominance (Source: SPACErePORT)
Rep. Pete Olson's (R-TX) op-ed in The Foundry makes a familiar argument about space being the "ultimate high ground" for global dominance, and that the current lack of a U.S. human spaceflight capability is allowing China to capture that high ground. A similar argument comes from Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who likens space to the embattled "Golan Heights" in Israel. In essence, they claim that China's unchallenged human presence in space will militarily endanger U.S. security.

What they fail to explain is how China's "taikonauts" in space represent a threat to anything but U.S. pride. The U.S. Air Force long ago determined that there is no strategic military value to having humans in space, and the continued presence of U.S. astronauts (and those from Russia and our other allies) on the International Space Station is strictly focused on peaceful research and exploration.

The not-uncommon warning that China could soon claim the Moon as their own is also far-fetched. Militarily, the Moon is a useless rock and China would waste trillions of yen trying to establish and maintain a military presence there. So, while we should remain concerned about China's growing unmanned military capabilities in space, they have nothing to do with the need to increase NASA's budget for space exploration. (11/15)

U.S. Copied Russian Technology for Dream Chaser (Source; Las Cruces Sun-News)
Did you know the United States copied a Russian space ship and adapted it in the 1990s to a manned orbital space plane called the HL 20? The HL 20, whose design has its origins in the BOR-4 Russian space plane, is now being adapted by SNC into the Dream Chaser. The Dream Chaser is a manned orbital space plane and one of two efforts by private industry to launch cargo and crew to the Space Station under NASA's Commercial Crew Development program (CCDev) program. (11/15)

Cecil Spaceport Bill Advances -- With a Major Revision (Source; Florida Times-Union)
Legislation that could help attract space-related companies to Cecil Field has been fast-tracked in the Florida Senate but was stripped of a major provision Monday that some called an overreach by Space Florida. In 2010, the FAA made Cecil Field the nation’s eighth licensed spaceport. The move authorized the facility for horizontal takeoffs and landing of launch vehicles that can reach space.

A bill filed by state Sen. Stephen Wise and state Rep. Lake Ray would officially designate Cecil Field as a spaceport territory at the state level. That recognition would allow Space Florida to offer incentives to attract space-related companies to the area. The designation would also include Cecil Field in Space Florida’s master plan, which includes, among other things, funding infrastructure upgrades. That part of the bill everyone agrees on. But a second provision has taken heat and was removed Monday by members of the Senate Consumer Affairs Committee.

It would have allowed Space Florida to designate as a spaceport territory land that had already been licensed by the FAA. Opponents said it was an overreach because Space Florida could make the designation without legislative approval, and over the heads of local governments who might oppose such a move. “That was never the intent, to be able to run all over the state and name everything spaceport territory,” lobbyist Chris Snow said. (11/15)

Congress Close to $17.8 Billion Budget Compromise for NASA (Source: Florida Today)
Lawmakers have tentatively approved $17.8 billion for NASA in fiscal 2012, including money for two key priorities — the James Webb Space Telescope and a program that will team NASA with private companies to develop a replacement rocket for the space shuttle. The final figure is much closer to what the Senate pushed for. Negotiations aimed to reconcile a bill approved by the Senate that would have provided $17.9 billion for the space agency with a House bill that included $16.8 billion. (11/15)

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