February 14, 2012

Who is "Project Speed"? (Source: SPACErePORT)
"Project Speed" is the codename for a "rocket propulsion systems" venture that might locate operations on Florida's Space Coast (click here). With a direct-employment impact of 1,357 people (plus 883 indirect jobs), Project Speed would be a major player in the space launch industry. But what company is behind this program? Let's try to narrow it down...

It will be a liquid propulsion operation, because solid rocket motors require wide-open spaces for explosive safety. That would eliminate ATK and their Liberty rocket program. It could be Yuzhnoye's Mayak program, which recently publicly announced their desire to launch and manufacture in the U.S. It could also be one of the companies considering the development of liquid-fuel strap-on rockets for NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System, including either the Aerojet/Teledyne Brown team, or a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne team

Then there's SpaceX, which may be outgrowing their California-based Falcon rocket factory as they develop their new heavy-lift Falcon-Heavy rocket. And how about Orbital Sciences Corp. with their Antares rocket, or Stratolaunch with their air-launch Falcon rocket? These seem unlikely. Finally there's Sierra Nevada, but I don't think they intend employ so many people with DreamChaser. I'm guessing it is either Yuzhnoye or one of companies pursuing SLS, probably the latter. (2/14)

Scotland Battles Sweden to Get European Spaceport (Source: BBC)
The United States may be the home for Sir Richard Branson's space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, but, even though flights are not scheduled to take off until at least 2013, is he already looking for a European base? Despite there being a number of legislative and contractual conundrums to be solved before commercial services can begin, the excitement about the possibility of a holiday - albeit a short one - in space has already taken hold.

And the UK wants the place of expansion to be in Scotland. The Department for Business says that the UK is keen to attract commercial operations to the country and that Scotland remains a potential base for space tourism in the UK. But there are no firm plans for a spaceport in Scotland and there is one European country in particular that is trying to get a jump on the rest of the pack. It already has a functioning spaceport - Sweden. "There are a few places in the world trying to establish this but none has come as far as we have," says Karin Nilsdotter, chief executive officer of Spaceport Sweden. (2/14)

Tight Times Yield 'Tough Decisions' (Source: Florida Today)
The proposed NASA spending cuts are relatively small compared to cuts other agencies are facing. Obama’s proposal includes nearly $2.8 billion for the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and space capsule that will eventually transport astronauts to Mars. That’s about $240 million less than the program got this year from Congress. The proposed budget also would spend $830 million on the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Congress provided only $406 million for the commercial crew program in fiscal 2012, less than half what the Obama administration asked for a year ago.

Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget would allocate slightly more than $500 million to continue transforming Kennedy Space Center into a 21st century launch complex to accommodate both the Mars mission and the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, as well as other potential uses.

Paul E. Damphousse, executive director of the National Space Society, which advocates for space exploration, said NASA’s budget falls short of what’s needed to maintain a world-class program. But he conceded it could have been worse, given the fiscal environment. (2/14)

Annual Dark Sky Festival Planned for Apr. 14 in Harmony, FL (Source: NSS Florida)
The purpose of the Dark Sky Festival at Harmony is to expose the general public to the marvels of astronomy and the importance of protecting dark skies - not just for astronomy purposes, but also for the values that darkness provides to area wildlife. Our entire family-friendly festival is held outdoors in low light conditions on the streets, sidewalks and park located in Harmony Town Square. Click here. (2/14)

NASA FY-13 Budget Documents (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA's summary budget charts for FY-2013 are posted here. And here is a graphic on the future of American human spaceflight. (2/13)

Lost Worlds: Passing of an Age of Space Exploration (Source: KCET)
The 2012-2013 budget that President Obama rolled out will compel NASA to abandon future missions aimed at Mars and leave other planetary exploration projects in doubt. The $300 million in cuts to robotic exploration of Mars are supposed to backfill some of the cost overruns that have plagued the development of the James Webb Space Telescope. The orbiting telescope - set to launch in 2018 - is way over its proposed budget. It was supposed to cost $500 million and launch by 2007. Its cost is now over $6.2 billion and may reach $8 million.

NASA funding is caught in a three-way tug of war for dollars that will be increasingly scarce as future administrations - whatever their party - struggle to write down the deficits that the irrational fiscal policies of the past 30 years created. Congress wants "men in space" (despite enormously high costs, minimal scientific returns, and limits where manned missions can go). Advocates of "big science" want hugely expensive, single-purpose projects like the Webb telescope (despite the risks inherent in big science projects). And planetary scientists want to sustain a program of relatively inexpensive orbiters and rovers to look at and crawl over the fascinating surfaces of the solar system.

Right now, Congress and "big science" are ascendant in the fight for NASA's deflating budget. Further exploration by robotic surrogates is waning and along with it, an era of discovery that began with the first missions to Mars in the 1970s. Both science and this nation's leadership in planetary exploration will probably never recover. (2/13)

Coloradans in Congress Back Spaceport Designation (Source: KGWN)
Republicans and Democrats representing Colorado in Congress are endorsing the state's request to be designated as a site for a spaceport. The designation would allow commercial space launches from the state. The five Democrats and four Republicans on Monday released a letter they sent to the FAA, which would decide on the designation. The letter says Colorado's aerospace and technology industries, educated workforce and universities make the state a good choice. (2/13)

Rolling Moon Boulder Photographed by NASA (Source: Telegraph)
NASA scientists have photographed a rock which rolled across the surface of the moon between 50 and 100 million years ago. The image, captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, shows a boulder which has tumbled down an incline on the Schiller crater, leaving behind it a pristine track. But far from being a recent event, the impact craters along the rim of the track suggest the rock moved as long as 100 million years ago.

Lunar scientist James Ashley wrote: "A casual glance might suggest that it happened last week, or even that its rolling might resume at any moment. However, closer inspection will detect a few craters that clearly superpose and therefore post-date the track, showing that this 9-meter diameter boulder stopped rolling some time ago." Click here. (2/14)

StenniSphere Museum to Close (Source: Hattiesburg American)
StenniSphere, the museum and visitor center at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, will close its doors to the public, beginning Wednesday. Closure of the museum and visitor center comes as the INFINITY at NASA Stennis Space Center science and education project moves forward. Various exhibits from StenniSphere, resident agencies at Stennis and other NASA facilities are being moved into the INFINITY facility to prepare for an opening this spring. Details will be forthcoming. StenniSphere opened to the public in May 2000. (2/14)

Cabana on Budget: "No Impact on Launch Services" (Source: America Space)
Kennedy Space Center Director and former space shuttle astronaut Robert Cabana briefly spoke with reporters concerning the impact that the 2013 fiscal year Budget proposal would have on the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC’s) ability to launch. Cabana stated that KSC fared well overall and that as far as launch services go there would be minimal impact to the workforce caused by the new budget proposal. He highlighted the progress that is being made on the Commercials Crew Program and that improvements to the KSC infrastructure are also moving ahead on schedule.

“When you consider the tough fiscal times that we are in and look at NASA’s overall budget, KSC did very well, Cabana said. “It allows us to continue with everything that we are currently doing, commercial crew; Space Launch System, and ground ops here at Kennedy Space Center – as well as turning KSC into a multi-user space port – so overall it is very good for Kennedy Space Center.” (2/14)

White House Budget Would Cut ORS and STP Space Programs in DOD (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The White House's fiscal year 2013 budget request calls for unclassified U.S. military space spending of about $8 billion, sustaining development of the Defense Department's legacy systems while terminating new weather satellites, the Operationally Responsive Space office, and the Air Force's Space Test Program.

The savings mark a reduction from President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget request, which called for $10.2 billion in military space spending. The Operationally Responsive Space office, headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., would be closed under the budget request. The Pentagon established the ORS program as a joint-force change agent in 2007 to demonstrate space systems on leaner budgets and rapid schedules.

The Space Test Program, also garrisoned at Kirtland, would receive $10 million in the budget request, a fraction of the program's $47 million funding level in the current fiscal year. The budget calls for the end of the Space Test Program, which has provided access to space for more than 500 military research payloads since 1965. The program would be terminated to reallocate funding to higher department priorities, the military said in a statement. (2/14)

Proposed NASA Budget Includes Funding for Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A likely flash point in President Obama's 2013 budget plan is funding for commercial spaceflight, a program that aims to use commercial rocket companies to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by mid-decade. Obama wants to spend $830 million for that effort next year, an amount nearly equal to what the White House proposed last year. Congress is less enthusiastic — budgeting roughly half that amount this year — and the two sides are expected to spar again over this program.

With no immediate successor to the Space Shuttle, NASA must rely on Russia to ferry its crew members to the station. NASA has committed $1.5 billion during five years for these seats. The White House wants to boost funding for commercial spaceflight to more quickly end the Russia arrangement, while Congress has advocated greater funding for NASA's next rocket and capsule. But to cover their bases, NASA officials said Monday that they would seek to get a congressional waiver this year that would allow them to buy seats from Russia beyond 2016. (2/13)

Walk Tall, SpaceX, But Please Tread Softly (Source: Scientific American)
We live in interesting times. Just as NASA’s most recent budgetary rearrangements seemingly threaten the very core of solar system exploration, with cuts that might pull the agency out of its participation in exciting efforts with Europe on the ExoMars project, the private space industry appears to be on an accelerating course to more real flights, real missions, and real exploration.

Elon Musk, the driving force behind SpaceX, has expressed his clear intentions to not only get humans to Mars in the next 10-20 years, but to get lots of humans to Mars, perhaps 10,000, perhaps many more. Such hubris could seem a little silly coming from almost anybody else, but Musk is poised to turn the spaceflight business topsy-turvy, making the missteps of others appear positively comical. If SpaceX says it’s going to Mars, it means it. Musk’s stated long-term motivation is nothing less than to ensure the survival of the species, by making us a multi-planet race.

Funnily enough I find myself agreeing with him on this point, but (as I’ll describe below) also very nervous about what happens during the process. In the grand experiment of evolution we have a remarkable opportunity to put members of our kind on other worlds. Even if, like Mars, these places are far from comfortable, they are really only another extreme environment, and we’ve become very, very good at coping with those. It may be that going interplanetary is ultimately too challenging, but we won’t really know until we try, and I think there is greater risk for the distant future of our species if we don’t make the attempt. (2/13)

Hungary Launches Its First Satellite Into Orbit (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Hungary’s first satellite, MaSat-1,was launched into space and started circulating in the orbit Monday. The satellite—-named using the word Magyar (the Hungarian word meaning “Hungarian”)—-was developed and built by students of the Technical University of Budapest, and was launched into low Earth orbit on the European Space Agency’s Vega launcher. (2/13)

Editorial: Promoting Responsibility In Space (Source: Space News)
Some members of the U.S. Congress are wary of any spacec code of conduct that might handcuff the U.S. military in space. In a Jan. 18 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, four Republican lawmakers in positions of influence expressed concern that the administration was preparing to negotiate an international agreement that could have “adverse impacts” on U.S. military and intelligence space operations, among other things.

It is perfectly reasonable for congressional skeptics to insist on having a full understanding of a code of conduct’s potential impacts on U.S. military and economic security. But the letter mischaracterized the situation by saying the administration intends to “negotiate an international arms control agreement similar to the code” as proposed by Europe and raised issues that presume details of an accord that has yet to be drafted.

The terms “arms control” and “treaty” were conspicuously absent from the Jan. 17 statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that seems to have prompted the letter. In declaring the administration’s intent to work with Europe and others to develop an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” the statement made clear that the United States would not sign any accord that constrains its national security space activities or ability to defend itself or its allies. (2/13)

United Space Alliance Continues to Lay Off Houston Employees (Houston Business Journal)
United Space Alliance LLC is moving forward with anticipated employee layoffs. On Feb. 8, NASA’s largest shuttle contractor filed paperwork to lay off 73 Houston workers. The company, equally owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has laid off thousands of employees since the notice of the end of the space shuttle program. Its next round of layoffs will take place on April 13 and impact workers at three Houston-area sites. (2/13)

NASA 2013 Budget Request Holds 'Steady Funding' for Heavy Lift Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
The White House is proposing "steady funding" for NASA's new heavy-lift rocket in the fiscal year 2013 budget request just rolled out in Washington. The budget proposed for the coming year is $1.88 billion, NASA financial officer Dr. Beth Robinson said. The new rocket is being developed at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center.

The total funding requested for NASA's exploration program is $2.76 billion, Robinson said. That figure that includes the heavy-lift rocket and the new Orion crew capsule also under development. The total NASA budget request, which now goes to Congress, totals $17.7 billion. That is just $100 million less than NASA received in the current fiscal year, but $700 million less than 2011. (2/13)

President Obama Outlines Flat Budget for NASA (Source: Houston Chronicle)
President Barack Obama has unveiled a steady-as-she-goes spending blueprint for the nation’s once vaunted space agency that hands NASA a flat line budget that could extend U.S. reliance on Russian spacecraft to reach the space station until 2017. The sobering road ahead featuring a total request for $17.7 billion reflected what NASA leaders dubbed “a constrained fiscal environment” and “tough but sustainable choices” that will limit the space agency to “laying the groundwork for ground-breaking discoveries” rather than making the discoveries themselves.

Obama’s spending guidelines leave open the possibility that U.S. astronauts will be reaching the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft into 2017 rather than aboard U.S. commercial spacecraft once expected to take over from the space shuttle as early as 2015.

The plan also budgets for a full up manned test flight by the deep space spacecraft “as early as” 2021 – a target date that clearly could slip depending on the level of support by presidents and congresses that follow Obama. That spacecraft would be used to reach asteroids by 2025 and martin orbit by 2035. (2/13)

$22 Million Upgrade Sought for NASA Plum Brook Station (Source: Morning Journal)
NASA’s 2013 budget request asks for $22 million to upgrade the world’s largest vacuum chamber at Plum Brook Station in Perkins Township. The budget request would invest the money to refurbish the Space Power Facility’s electrical and mechanical systems. The facility, also known as the SPF-1, can reproduce the airless condition of outer space. (2/13)

U.S. Military Space Spending To Decline 22 Percent in 2013 (Source: Space News)
Funding for unclassified U.S. military space programs and activity would decline by 22 percent, to $8 billion, under the 2013 Pentagon spending request released by the White House Feb. 13. The Pentagon attributed the proposed funding decline to reduced procurement plans for satellites and launch vehicles, along with the cancellation of the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), which was done at the behest of Congress. The U.S. Air Force halted work on DWSS program Jan. 17. (2/13)

Dark Matter Found Lurking at Edges of Galaxies (Source: Discovery)
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is the gift that keeps on giving. This ambitious project to map the night sky has been collecting data since 2000 and making it available to researchers all over the world. Now, Japanese scientists have used the data on 24 million galaxies to conduct a new computer simulation revealing how the mysterious dark matter might be distributed around those galaxies -- even stretching into interstellar space. Click here. (2/13)

Rocket Company May Come to Titusville (Source: Florida Today)
An aerospace company is considering developing rocket propulsion systems in Titusville, a project it says will employ 1,357 people, as well as create 883 spinoff jobs for the economically struggling community. The Titusville City Council on Tuesday will hear details of the proposal, and in two weeks will be asked for approval more than $4 million in tax breaks over 10 years to help lure the company to a site at Space Coast Regional Airport in south Titusville. In addition, the Brevard County Commission next week will consider $4.08 million in tax breaks for the project.

“It’s an exciting new opportunity” for the Titusville area that would “significantly help our economy,” said Laura Canady, Titusville’s acting economic development director, who has been working with Brevard County, Titusville and area economic development officials to help bring the company to Titusville. The company has not been publicly identified, and is being referred to as “Project Speed” in county and city documents. It also is considering three other sites outside Florida for its expansion. Click here. (2/13)

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