December 12, 2011

Competition and the Future of the EELV Program (Source: Space Review)
The US government is grappling with both the growing costs of existing launch vehicles and the emergence of new, if relatively untested, competitors. Stewart Money argues that the future of reliable, cost-effective space access depends on enhanced competition among launch providers. Visit to view the article. (12/12)

The Long-Term Vision Thing (Source: Space Review)
Many NewSpace ventures today have benefited from the stable financial support provided by a wealthy founder. Jeff Foust examines how two very different such companies have each found ways to maintain a long-term vision independent of near-term issues. Visit to view the article. (12/12)

A First Look at Austria's New Domestic Space Law (Source: Space Review)
The Austrian parliament recent passed a new law governing outer space activities by its citizens. Michael Listner provides an overview of the law and how it matches up with international agreements and treaties. Visit to view the article. (12/12)

Masten Releases Flight Opportunities and Payload Guide (Source: Masten)
Masten is also excited to announce the release of our Payload User’s Guide today. This should provide some information on the capabilities of our vehicles and the environment expected aboard our vehicles. Click here. (12/12)

Gingrich is Right About the Space Program (Source: Daily Caller)
Judging from his tone, Mitt Romney must have been hoping to paint Newt Gingrich as a spendthrift nut when he brought up Gingrich’s past support for a “lunar colony” at Saturday’s GOP debate, but Gingrich hit back with his usual bravado and made an important point:

“I’m proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology and telling them that some day in their lifetime, they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars,” he told the Ames, Iowa crowd. “And I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way.”

He’s right. We used to have a visceral connection to space. When NASA put a man on the moon in 1969, space flight turned overnight into the personification of the American spirit, an attitude that lasted well into the ’80s. I knew the astronauts’ names in kindergarten, and almost everybody I knew at the time could tell you who said “one giant leap for mankind.” The biggest movie franchise in the world was Star Wars — and Democrats even co-opted that term, derisively, of course, for President Reagan’s missile defense plan. (12/12)

Politifact Checks Out Gingrich Space Mirror Comments (Source: Politifact)
Politifact says it is "true" that Newt Gingrich has suggested building a mirror system in space to improve Earth's habitability. The fact-checking website uncovers the decades-old origin of the comment and looks into the idea's feasibility. Click here. (12/12)

Congress Increases Pentagon Budget by $5 Billion (Source: AP)
Congress has tentatively agreed to a $5 billion increase in the Pentagon's nonwar budget, documents show. The 1% increase would boost the Pentagon's nonwar budget to $518 billion. Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would receive $115 billion. (12/12)

Is There Anyone Out There? (Source: Pensacola News Journal)
Are we alone? For space exploration, that is THE great question. It is one of the fundamental questions for all mankind, an existential query that could answer — or create — basic questions about the fundamental nature of existence. And if we do find life elsewhere in the universe, what will it be? Water-based bacteria on Mars? Methane-breathing spiders on some far-flung planet? A coherent radio signal from some unseen entity in the depths of space? This week, as part of the ongoing public lecture series at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Dr. Wesley T. Huntress Jr. will talk about what scientists are doing to answer these questions. Click here. (12/12)

Life Possible on 'Large Parts' of Mars (Source: AFP)
Australian scientists who modelled conditions on Mars to examine how much of the red planet was habitable said that "large regions" could sustain life. Charley Lineweaver's team, from the Australian National University, compared models of temperature and pressure conditions on Earth with those on Mars to estimate how much of the distant planet was liveable for Earth-like organisms.

While just one percent of Earth's volume -- from core to upper atmosphere -- was occupied by life, Lineweaver said their world-first modelling showed three percent of Mars was habitable, though most of it was underground. The low-pressure environment of Mars means water cannot exist as a liquid and will vaporise on the surface, but Lineweaver said the conditions are right underground, where the weight of the soil gives the added pressure required. (12/12)

Black Holes: Don't Get Sucked In (Source: Guardian)
Astronomers have announced the discovery of the two biggest black holes ever seen, each one around 300m light years from Earth and with a combined mass equivalent to more than 30bn Suns. These cosmological objects are some of the strangest in our known universe, where the laws of physics seem to break down and space gets very strange. One thing we know, however, is that getting close to one is a bad idea.

Black holes begin as giant stars (at least six times the mass of our Sun) and, after billions of years they collapse in on themselves into a point smaller than the full-stop at the end of this sentence. Nothing nearby can escape the pull of the resulting gravity. Even at some distance outside the edge, it would take all the effort in the universe to resist getting pulled into orbit around the hole. Click here. (12/12)

Japan Launches Spy Satellite (Source: AP)
Japan successfully put a spy satellite into orbit on Monday and expects to complete its network of intelligence-gathering satellites with another launch next year. Japan's space agency, JAXA, said the launch from the remote southern island of Tanegashima went off without a hitch and the radar-equipped satellite is functioning properly. It was the second launch of the year, following a successful liftoff in September. Officials refused to provide details of the satellite's capabilities. (12/12)

Giant Asteroid Crash Altered Mercury's Spin (Source: Cosmos)
Mercury may once have orbited the Sun in a synchronous rotation, according to new calculations that suggest a collision with a large asteroid may have knocked Mercury into its unusual orbit. The rotation of rocky planets in our Solar System is determined by many factors. These include gravitational forces, friction between the mantle and crust, the initial spin state after the planet has formed and the 'obliquity' angle between the planet's equator and the plane of its orbit around the Sun. (12/12)

JPL Mass Layoff Unlikely Despite Budget Cut (Source: LA Times)
Despite a $50-million budget cut, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge probably won't face another round of mass layoffs, a legislative affairs official for the agency said. Federal spending reductions have put support for space exploration and other science programs in jeopardy, but JPL's budget will remain relatively stable at $1.5 billion for the coming year. The laboratory will probably be able to avoid "another large change in workforce," said Richard O'Toole, manager of legislative affairs. (12/12)

U.S. Air Force Plans Reusable Space Booster (Source: Aviation Week)
Stretched between growing operational space demands and shrinking budgets, the U.S. Air Force is funding the first major research phases of a reusable booster system (RBS) intended to replace its costly expendable launchers. Initial steps under the RBS-FGE program will include flight and ground experiments as well as demonstrations to address “aeromechanics, configuration, and flight performance; structures and materials; flight controls and health management; flight systems and propulsion; and ground systems and operations,” the Air Force says.

The technology road map is expected to support the eventual development of two versions of the RBS: a single, reusable first stage and expendable cryogenic upper stage for medium-lift missions; and two reusable boosters, cryogenic core stage and upper stage for heavy-lift and growth missions. Although the value of the initial contracts to Andrews Space, Boeing and Lockheed Martin is only $2 million each, the agreements are potentially worth up to $250 million over the next five years.

The awards come on the eve of unprecedented budget cutbacks and appear to underline the importance the Air Force attaches to a concept that promises to slash launch costs by more than 50% compared to the conventional Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)... However, the RBS faces major technology hurdles on the path to planned deployment beyond 2025, when it could begin to replace the current Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles. Click here. (12/12)

Boeing Hires Last Shuttle Commander (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing has hired retired Navy captain and former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of the last shuttle mission in July, to help develop the company's commercial crew capsule. A veteran pilot and commander of three shuttle missions, "Fergie" officially retired from NASA last Friday and will join Boeing this Friday. (12/12)

ESA, NASA, Russia Redesign ExoMars (Source: Aviation Week)
Science chiefs from the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have begun laying the ground work to redesign a two-pronged robotic Mars mission to accommodate greater participation by Russia. The ExoMars mission was upended earlier this year by uncertainty surrounding NASA’s ability to fund the joint campaign.

ESA Director of Science and Exploration Alvaro Gimenez-Canete met with his agency counterparts — NASA Acting Associate Administrator for Science Charles Gay and Roscosmos Deputy Head Anatoli Shilov — to establish a pair of trilateral working groups charged with redesigning ExoMars with full Russian participation in mind, in exchange for launching the 2016 leg of the campaign on a Russian Proton rocket.

Editor's Note: I know that at least one member of Congress who represents the Cape Canaveral Spaceport is unhappy with the NASA's willingness to trade away U.S.-based launch opportunities when the agency establishes international partnerships for space missions. (12/12)

The Science of Warp (Source: Salon)
Q: In your opinion, is time travel possible? A: There are ways in which it might be possible, but there are problems with all of those. I think it’s conceivable that time travel is possible. If someone put a gun to my head and made me make a yes or no prediction, I would predict no — with what we know now. Twenty years ago, I think the answer would have been that it just wasn’t possible.

We have learned some things about general relativity in the last 30 or 40 years or so, which make us take, at least for some of us in the profession, the idea of it being possible more seriously. But, still, one would have to say that the odds are against it. You might run into problems with time travel that you don’t run into with superluminal [faster than the speed of light] travel. The correct statement is that backward time travel is not yet possible and may never be. We can travel forward in time. Click here. (12/11)

Editorial: Gingrich Likes Grand Space Concepts (Sources: New York Times, Spaceports Blog)
So why am I not more excited by the Gingrich surge? In the first place, Gingrich loves government more than I do. He has no Hayekian modesty to restrain his faith in statist endeavor. For example, he has called for “a massive new program to build a permanent lunar colony to exploit the Moon’s resources.” He has suggested that “a mirror system in space could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.” I’m for national greatness conservatism, but this is a little too great.

Here's Gingrich's response to some space policy criticism: “I grew up in a generation when the space program was real, where it was important, and frankly it’s tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized,” Gingrich responded. “I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive entrepreneurial way.” (12/8)

Yuri Koptev to Head Phobos-Grunt Investigation (Source: Space Policy Online)
Former Russian space agency (Roscosmos) Director Yuri Koptev has been named by his old organization to head an investigation into what went wrong with the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. (12/11)

Virgin Galactic Industry Day Drew 200 Suppliers to Spaceport America (Source: Parabolic Arc)
“Commercial space travel will soon be a reality.” That was the message that resonated loud and clear on Oct. 18, 2011, at the first-ever “Industry Day,” hosted by Virgin Galactic and its production company, The Spaceship Company, in cooperation with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. The event was designed to actively recruit high-quality local and international suppliers eager to join both companies in making history with the emergence of the world’s first commercial spaceline.

More than 400 interested suppliers registered for the chance to attend the invitation-only event, which was held at Spaceport America near Las Cruces, N.M. Two hundred lucky companies secured invitations, including a substantial number of U.S. and in particular, New Mexico-based suppliers, as well as some from more distant locales like Great Britain and Israel. (12/11)

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