November 4, 2011

U.S. Spaceflight: Commercial Versus Federal (Source:
All that was required in order to make the dream of COTS come true was a little bit of Federal money to prime that “engine of competition.” There were, however, a few flaws in the plan. Flaw number one came when NASA gave out the first $175 million. No “private” company can remain private once it hooks up to the I.V. that drips tax dollars--not that there is anything wrong with that. There are plenty of Federal contractors who do great work and spaceflight of any sort is hugely expensive.

Today, both SpaceX and Orbital are doing fantastic things and the US taxpayers are getting tremendous mileage for their dollars. The rub comes with those folks in the spaceflight and political circles who argue for a “pure commercial” space program... supported by more and more Federal dollars. Chief among these folks is President Obama who has gone to the greatest lengths to make this Federally subsidized, pure commercial paradox come true.

The simple fact is, the more Federal dollars a company takes, the less private they must become. This all turns into a dollars vs. the dreams tar pit. Each Federal dollar has a string attached and soon trying operate a program as efficiently as a private corporation turns into trying to sprint in a tar pit of Federal regulations and oversight. Click here. (11/4)

It's More Complicated Than Just "Commercial vs Federal" (Source: Hobby Space)
Aero-News' "Commercial Versus Federal" article is an astonishingly misleading and distorted depiction of NASA's commercial cargo and crew program. What is said is mostly wrong and what is left out is typically crucial. It's ridiculous, for example, to talk about the COTS program without pointing out (1) it is a fixed- price program rather than cost-plus; (2) incremental payments are only made as milestones are achieved; and (3) the companies more than match NASA's funding with private funding.

Rocketplane-Kistler was disqualified precisely because they failed to raise sufficient private investment. (They were passing their technical milestones.) Of the $800M spent by SpaceX so far on development of Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Dragon, only $300M came from NASA, the rest was from private funding. It's absurd not to point out that the commercial systems are being developed at far, far lower cost than if they were developed as NASA in-house led, cost-plus contracted projects.

The essayist goes on to mislead in multiple areas. For example, it absolutely is NOT law that NASA use only Federally operated systems for its human spaceflight program. And Constellation was canceled because it was grossly over-budget and many years behind schedule as clearly explained by the Augustine panel. NASA would have needed several billion dollars added to its annual budget to maintain Constellation and continue other programs such as the ISS. Click here. (11/4)

Soviet Hardware Enters NASA CCDev Initiative (Source: Aviation Week)
Excalibur Almaz, a Houston-based space tourism company distinguished by its plans to use refurbished Soviet-era military space station hardware for adventure travel and commercial research, has become the seventh participant in the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative. An unfunded Space Act Agreement will permit NASA participation in a series of systems requirements, launch vehicle, test plan, design compatibility, test and operational systems reviews through May 2012, according to NASA.

Earlier this year, the six-year-old company unveiled its unique hardware at its facilities on the Isle of Man, including a pair of Almaz military space stations and four three-person Reusable Re-entry Vehicles. The equipment was developed by the Soviets as military versions of the Salyut series of space stations. Seven Salyut and Almaz versions were launched between 1971 and 1982.

The company plans an unmanned flight test of a refurbished and upgraded RRV as soon as 2014, with manned orbital flights of an RRV with an expendable habitable service module to follow soon after. The launch of a commercial Almaz station would depend on the demand for orbital missions. EAI brings flight-tested vintage RRV hardware to the CCDev competition, including a crew escape system and the capability to touch down on land as well as water. (11/4)

Masten Provides Update on Launcher Program (Source: Masten)
Masten Space Systems is getting a lot of questions on where we’re at on our CRuSR flights and the answer there is “we’re still cooking.” We’ve been flying Xaero a lot. As in multiple days a week, multiple flights per day. We’ve also been flying Xombie quite frequently as we work to expand her capability. We wrapped up our Phase I SBIR with NASA KSC on the development of a Plume Impingement TestBed, and turned in a Phase II proposal.

We were awarded a contract with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program that will allow us to compete for up to $5M of flights in three different levels. We continue to receive interest in our vertical landing capability. We added three full-time employees, including a full-time CEO. We’re at 12 full-time now. We have nearly completed engine qualification testing on the engine now dubbed “Scimitar” – and it’s a beauty. Throttles between 1100lbf and 300 lbf, is flight weight, and incorporates a number of new technologies. Click here for a video.

Editor's Note: During visits to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, and in meetings with Space Florida and others, I notice that Masten--according to some schedules in-print--is supposed to start flying from the Cape by the end of 2011. This update from Masten makes no mention of those plans. (11/4)

Three Glonass-M Satellites Launched from Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
A Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites has blasted off Baikonur, Kazakhstan. “The Proton-M rocket with a Briz-M booster and three Glonass-M satellites aboard took off at 4:51 p.m. Moscow time on Friday,” the Federal Space Agency said. (11/4)

Largest Ever Gamma-Ray Pulsar Discovered (Source: Cosmos)
An uncharacteristically strong magnetic field in a globular cluster has been detected, confirming the presence of a previously unknown, extremely powerful luminous gamma-ray pulsar. Researchers using the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) in the U.S. said the detection of this millisecond pulsar (MSP), which whirls at 43,000 revolutions per minute, will improve our understanding of the physics of hard-to-detect dense matter and magnetic forces in the galactic field. (11/4)

Some Experts Question Washington's Space Commitment (Source: Florida Today)
Some leading space experts are worried a lack of money and vision in Washington threatens the future of the U.S. space exploration program to the advantage of other countries. Priorities like the Webb Telescope and long-planned Mars sample return missions risk being unduly delayed — or scuttled — by budget pressures on Capitol Hill. “We are at a watershed moment,” said Scott Hubbard, a Stanford University astronautics professor who served as NASA’s first Mars Program director. (11/4)

Alternative Approach to GPS Modernization Could Reap DOD Savings (Source: Space News)
The goals of the U.S. Defense Department’s $22 billion GPS modernization effort could be accomplished more quickly and at less cost than currently expected by allocating more resources to receiver upgrades and leveraging a commercial satellite program, a new study concludes.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study, the Pentagon could reduce the GPS system’s vulnerability to signal jamming by equipping planned military receivers with better antennas and inertial navigation systems, the ability to receive data from the Iridium satellite communications system, or both.

Any of the three alternative approaches would yield a significantly more robust system eight years sooner than the 2026 date now anticipated, the study said. Cost savings would range from $1.3 billion to $3.3 billion, depending on the alternative selected, the study said. (11/4)

When is a Hosted Payload Not a Payload? (Source: Space News)
One passage in the U.S. Space Transportation Policy has raised concerns in the hosted payload community: United States Government payloads shall be launched on space launch vehicles manufactured in the United States, unless exempted by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

Some hosted payload advocates worry that language like this, if retained in the new space transportation policy, could become an obstacle to the greater use of hosted payloads in the future. Given the small market share of American launch vehicles in the commercial launch market, most commercial satellites are launched by non-American vehicles, like the Ariane, Proton, and Zenit. If strictly interpreted, it would seem to either require government agencies to get administration approval for hosted payloads or sharply limit the number of opportunities for flying hosted payloads.

Or does it? It all depends on how the term “payload” is defined. For satellite manufacturers and satellite operators, payload refers to, in essence, the heart of the satellite: its transponders, cameras, or other instruments that are the reason for flying the spacecraft. But for launch providers, payload typically means something else: the satellite or satellites the rocket is carrying to orbit. Click here. (11/4)

The Space Race is Quickly Becoming a Commercial Endeavour (Source: MacLeans)
NASA doesn’t plan on building more shuttles. The space agency is shifting its focus to deep space exploration, and intends to buy rides into low Earth orbit from private companies instead. Like a commercial airline, these companies will sell rides not only to NASA, but to academics, businesses, and the curious public, too. A handful of ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs are backing some of the most ambitious ventures in space travel.

For these entrepreneurs, vanity may play as big a role as the pursuit of NASA contracts. Branson arrived at the recent dedication of Spaceport America by rappelling down the side of the terminal, spraying a bottle of champagne before taking a swig. And Elon Musk, who has said he wants to retire on Mars, sees his company as similar to “the shipbuilding industry in the time of Christopher Columbus,” says a SpaceX spokesperson. Click here. (11/4)

Griffin/Pace: Propellant Depots Instead of Heavy Lift? (Source: Space News)
Considerable recent attention has been devoted to the possible use of orbiting fuel depots for human exploration beyond Earth orbit. In this concept, large propellant tanks are placed in a suitable low Earth orbit (LEO), to be filled by multiple launches of medium-payload-class vehicles, i.e., a few tens rather than a hundred or more metric tons of payload capacity. These depots are then used to refuel upper stages, which arrive empty in LEO after launch from Earth.

Advocates believe that the money saved by not building a heavy-lift vehicle will more than compensate for the cost and inefficiencies entailed in bringing the required mass of propellant to orbit in smaller packages. The fuel depot concept may be — we think will be — valuable when propellant can be harvested from in-space resources. Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to exploit such resources, and so for now fuel depots are an answer to a question that is at best premature. Click here. (11/4)

Griffin/Pace Fail to Refute Case for Propellant Depots (Source: Hobby Space)
The Griffin/Pace essay is filled with silly straw-men arguments and with Griffin's notorious obliviousness to budget reality and the crucial need to lower costs. Griffin and Pace are living in a marvelously magical land where: NASA's budget is $30B and growing rather than $18B and dropping; NASA's overhead and fixed costs are not counted in the cost of development of NASA's vehicles; and development, overheard and fixed costs are not counted in the operation of NASA's vehicles (thus making for magically low marginal cost estimates).

With Pace's assistance, this essay perfectly illustrates the obstinacy, the sophistry, the void of imagination, and the bullying brow-beating tactics that made Griffin's tenure at NASA such a disastrous one. Unfortunately, many in Congress continue to listen to him and the disaster looks to linger on at the agency for several more years. Click here. (11/4)

China's Space Exploration Highlights Korea's Defunct Program (Source: Chosunilbo)
Advanced countries are downsizing their space exploration plans due to fiscal burdens. This has created an ideal environment for China to gain a lead in the space race. The Chinese People's Liberation Army is spearheading the country's space program, leading to predictions that China's increasing reach into space will affect the global military and political balance of power.

China's accomplishments in space development offer a stark contrast to Korea's own space program, which has been stuck in limbo for the past 10 years. While Seoul was pushing ahead with the launch of the Naro space rocket using a Russian-made booster, efforts to build a homegrown space launch vehicle have been shelved since around 2002.

The government has set a goal of developing the country's first space launch vehicle by 2021, but a lack of interest by both the authorities and public has cast doubt on whether it will come to fruition. The time has come for Korea to recalibrate its approach to space-related programs and look for ways to cooperate with advanced countries, including in the joint development of components. (11/4)

Six Astrium Satellites to Launch on Second Soyuz at Kourou (Source: Astrium)
Astrium is prime contractor for all six satellites to be launched in mid-December by the second Soyuz launcher to lift off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The PlĂ©iades 1 Very High Resolution (VHR) Earth observation satellite recently left Astrium’s site in Toulouse for Kourou. The four satellites of the Elisa constellation and the Chilean satellite SSOT arrived in Kourou on Oct. 21. This will be the first time that six satellites developed by Astrium are launched simultaneously. (11/4)

Astrium Picked To Build DirecTV 15 (Source: Space News)
Astrium Satellites of Europe, in a rare contract win in North America, will build the large DirecTV 15 television broadcasting satellite for DirecTV Group under a contract announced Nov. 4 by both companies. DirecTV said Nov. 3 that it is accelerating the launch of its DirecTV 14 and the just-ordered DirecTV 15 spacecraft to protect against the possible in-orbit failure of DirecTV 10, whose primary propulsion system failed this summer. (11/4)

China Opens 'Space' Post Office on Docked Spacecraft (Source: Collect Space)
China opened a new post office on Nov. 3 with a street address that is 213 miles (343 km) above the Earth. Coinciding with the country achieving its first ever docking in space between the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module, the "China Post Space Office" opened for business both on the ground in Beijing Aerospace City and, at least virtually, on board the newly established orbital complex.

Like any postal facility, the office will process letters and, in this case, e-mails, making it possible for the public to write Chinese astronauts, or "taikonauts," on the ground and in space. The space post office will offer domestic and international delivery as well as philatelic products, with more services expected to be introduced as China's aerospace industry eventually expands. (11/4)

Space Exploration Is Best In Hands of NASA, Not Private Sector (Source:
Much is often made of the free market as a force for innovation, and rightly so. Many are looking at the emergence of Virgin Galactic and Boeing’s commercial space business as proof that the private sector is the best avenue for progress in space travel. But the same constraints that make the free market such a powerful environment for change are not ideal for the long-term planning necessary for space travel.

That is why when it comes to space, the government agency NASA is better suited for innovation and progress. In terms of innovation, the private sector is not suited to long term projects. This is because corporations are based on quarterly reporting. If a project takes 20 years to complete, or even just to show some progress, that project is less likely to receive continual funding. Managers will see money flowing into a program every quarter but with no return on investment. Click here. (11/4)

Mars500 Was Limited in its Realism (Source: Nature)
The Mars simulation exercise was a long way from simulating the pressures of a real mission to Mars, some observers point out. Even though they were isolated and subjected to simulated emergency situations, such as power cuts, the crew members were not presented with any real risk. "The fact that any one of them could bang on the door and ask to be let out does detract from the simulation," says Jason Kring, a human factors psychologist at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Perhaps a better place to run such an experiment would be in a remote place such as Antarctica, says Sheryl Bishop, a biostatistician and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. "I rue the lost opportunity," she says. "They could have done this exact experiment in an environment that was truly remote and in the winter months was truly dangerous."

Kring has other concerns. "I'm disappointed that there were no women," he says. "I think the first mission to Mars will have a woman on board." Kring and others have looked closely at the effect of mixed-gender crews, and he thinks that having both men and women is crucial. A team is more civilized with women and men present together, he says. Click here. (11/4)

Gabrielle Giffords Vows To Return To Congress (Source: Huffington Post)
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords vows to return to Congress in a new book that details months of intense therapy and her emotional battle to come to terms with what happened when a gunman opened fire in front of a Tucson grocery store. The book is written by Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, but Giffords delivers the last chapter – a single page of short sentences and phrases entitled "Gabby's Voice" in which she says her goal is to get back to Congress.

"I will get stronger. I will return," she vows. Giffords, 40, stunned colleagues by appearing on the U.S. House floor in Washington on Aug. 1 to vote for the debt ceiling deal, but she has focused most of her time on her recovery at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation center in Houston. Editor's Note: Rep. Giffords is the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. (11/4)

Student Experiment Planned for US National Lab on International Space Station (Source: ASGSB)
The American Society of Gravitational and Space Biology has signed with NanoRacks to launch a sophisticated student payload. The selected payload will study insect flight behavior in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. Click here. (11/4)

Air Force Cutting 97 Civilian Jobs at VAFB (Source: Lompoc Record)
The Air Force is axing nearly 100 civilian jobs at Vandenberg Air Force Base, or about 7 percent, as part of a servicewide reduction. Vandenberg's eliminated jobs - 62 by April 1 and 35 by Oct. 1 - mostly come from support positions such as civil engineering, communications, services, as well some command staff functions including public affairs, protocol and legal offices. While 55 of the positions are vacant, 42 are not and those workers will get pink slips. However, efforts are being made where possible to move employees into open positions if their skills are suitable.

The base has 1,300 Air Force civilian jobs along with hundreds of military members, defense contractors and other civilians jobs, officials said. "I am wholeheartedly committed to minimizing the impact of budgetary reductions and organizational restructuring on Vandenberg's civilian workforce," said Col. Richard Boltz. Overall, the Air Force cut some 9,000 positions and intends to cut another 4,500 in a yet-to-be-announced future round aimed at achieving a goal established by the Defense Department.

Editor's Note: With 9,000 positions to be cut nationwide, I would not be surprised if job losses are soon announced by the 45th Space Wing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base. (11/4)

Obama Talks Space with Florida, Texas TV (Source: Space Politics)
President Obama did a series of short interviews with local television stations around the country. These interviews included stations in Houston and Tampa, and in both cases the topic of space came up, particularly in relation to the economy and jobs in Texas and Florida.

To Houston’s KTRK, he said: “I’m hugely committed to manned spaceflight, but I want to make sure that we’re doing it right and that we’re not wasting taxpayer money... What we’ve said with NASA is we need to retool to take that next big leap forward in space. The shuttle program had a wonderful run, but the truth of the matter is that the next phase, including the Orion project, was way behind schedule and didn’t seem to be meeting its budget objectives.”

To Tampa’s WTVT, he said: “We are, for example, working with NASA and the private sector to bring additional jobs into central Florida... Boeing just made an announcement that we’re very happy about.” That was a reference to a deal announced Monday where Boeing would set up CST-100 operations at the Kennedy Space Center, employing up to 550 people by mid-decade. (11/4)

Government Business a Bright Spot for Eutelsat (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat said its division selling satellite capacity to government customers — mainly the U.S. government — in the Middle East and North Africa increased revenue by nearly 26 percent in the three months ending Sep. 30 and was the star performer in an otherwise lackluster quarter. Eutelsat’s Multiusage business has grown enormously in the past decade with the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, increasing to $49 million during the quarter. (11/4)

Efforts Evolving to Reshape the Cape (Source: Florida Today)
On a color-coded chart of Kennedy Space Center facilities, blue represents the center’s new way of doing business and the Space Coast’s hopes for a thriving space industry. That’s the color designating former space shuttle and other government-only facilities that are now being opened to commercial users, like the hangar Boeing will use to build a privately operated human spaceflight capsule.

“KSC is being compelled to reinvent itself,” said Joyce Riquelme, manager of the center’s planning and development office. “Unlike the Apollo transition, this time we have a vision and a plan.” The plan to reshape the Cape as a hub for commercial space activity was the subject of a panel discussion Thursday at the SunComm 2011 conference, hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association at the Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hilton.

Government and industry officials promised greater diversity in local space operations and missions in the coming years, but no guarantees that the more than 8,000 contractor jobs lost with the 30-year shuttle program would easily be replaced. Carol Scott, with NASA’s Kennedy-based Commercial Crew Program, said her office is busy working with six other companies and finalizing technical requirements for the vehicles and how their safety will be certified. (11/4)

China's Space Industry to See Accelerated Expansion Over Next 10 Years (Source: Xinhua)
China's space industry will develop quickly over the next 10 years as the country pushes ahead with its space programs after its first space docking on Thursday. Lab modules, a space station and 10 to 20 spaceships will be launched into space over the next 10 years. The country will spend around 300 billion yuan ($47.47 billion) in manufacturing those craft.

There are 20 or so space voyages being planned in China, a newspaper reported, citing Wu Ping, spokeswoman of China's manned space program. The spaceflights will shore up demand for spacecraft manufacturing and launch services. Space infrastructure has been included as one of China's strategic new industries which the government plans to foster over the next five years. (11/4)

Russia to Launch Glonass Satellites on Nov. 4 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will launch a Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass navigation satellites from the Baikonur space center on Friday after a 24-hour delay due to technical reasons, a source in the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said. It will be the first launch of a Proton-M rocket with Glonass satellites from Baikonur since the failed launch last year which destroyed three Glonass-Ms. (11/4)

Alliant Suffers as Defense Sees Cuts (Source:
As defense and aerospace sales declined, Alliant Techsystems' fiscal second-quarter profits fell 18 percent. The company reported revenue of $1.1 billion, down from $1.2 billion in the previous year, reflecting lower sales on NASA space programs and military small-caliber ammunition and explosives. Net income was $80 million compared with $97 million in the previous year's second quarter.

A slowdown in the aerospace business, largely due to the end of the U.S. space shuttle program and cuts in defense spending, will continue to drag on the company's financial results. The company is the largest supplier of rounds to the U.S. military, and about half of its revenue comes from the Department of Defense. (11/4)

Orbital Teamed with Three NASA Explorer Mission Finalists (Source: Orbital Sciences)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has secured important roles as the industrial partner to three of five finalists for the next round of NASA’s small space science missions. Under the space agency’s Explorer Program, which provides flight opportunities and funding for heliophysics and astrophysics missions, each of five teams will receive $1 million to conduct 11-month mission concept studies. NASA plans to select two of the five finalists in early 2013 for full program funding with targeted launch dates in 2016. (11/4)

Why Did Boeing Choose a Lousy Name for its Spacecraft? (Source: SignOn San Diego)
NASA says its important to inspire a new generation of aerospace engineers. Boeing says the same. So why are they producing spacecraft and satellites with names that bore or confuse the public? I began wondering about it last week when NASA launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) from Vandenberg Air Force Base. You have to dissect the name to figure out what the satellite does.

Then there's Boeing's proposed manned spacecraft, which has been named Crew Space Transportation-100, or CST-100. That's the best Boeing can do? The CST-100? Why did Boeing choose a lousy name for its spacecraft? Apollo and Orion are both catchy names. Certainly Boeing can come up with something better than CST-100. I mean, it's newest passenger jet is called the Dreamliner. (11/4)

More Simulated Mars Missions Planned (Source: MSNBC)
More make-believe Mars missions will be getting under way here on the home planet. Next month, the nonprofit Mars Society will begin its 11th field season at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. Teams of volunteers cycle through tours of duty at a lonely-looking habitat in a Marslike desert environment. Part of the job is to go out in faux spacesuits and simulate surface exploration, but there are also experiments aimed at testing technologies and procedures that could come into play during a real Mars mission.

The deadline has passed for this season's crew selection, but if you want to volunteer, there's always next year. If you're selected to participate, you'll have to pay a fee and cover some of your travel expenses. The project's organizers also say you'll definitely have a "leg up" in the selection process if you're working on a research project that could yield publishable results.

During the summer, the Haughton-Mars Project provides a home away from home for researchers on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic, one of the most Marslike places on Earth. Researchers from around the world have conducted Mars analog experiments at Haughton Crater for more than a decade. (11/4)

Sen. Warner Speaks Out for Commercial Crew (Source: Spaceports Blog)
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) placed comments into the Congressional Record regarding the NASA commercial crew funding and development at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Over the past month, there have been communications between space advocates from Florida and Virginia over commercial crew program and human spaceflight on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

"Senator [Bill] Nelson and I arrived at what I believe is a fair compromise that will allow us to pursue advances in the commercial cargo and commercial crew fields and harness the innovation and cost savings that the private sector can provide...Supporting development of the commercial space industry will also help create steady, well-paying jobs and spur economic growth--not only in urban tech corridors, but also in more rural areas where launch facilities are located such as the Wallops Island facility in my home State of Virginia."

Warner went on to include: "Moving forward with the CCDEV program will also result in additional opportunities for development at [Wallops] and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. I have supported the Wallops facilities in Virginia since my time as Governor... Providing funding for the CCDEV program at authorized levels...will help us drive competition in the commercial space industry and will provide opportunities for facilities such as Wallops to further develop their launch infrastructure and provide steady, high-wage employment in areas that sorely need it." (11/4)

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