February 15, 2012

Darpa Budget Supports Hypersonics (Source: Aviation Week)
New programs to continue research into boost-glide hypersonic weapons for tactical and global precision strike are included in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (Darpa) $2.82 billion budget request for fiscal 2013. The agency’s top line is essentially unchanged from fiscal 2012, but this disguises significant ramp-ups in spending on research into advanced cybersecurity and information technology to protect military networks. Darpa is seeking $25 million for cyber-sciences and $50 million for cyber-technology programs in fiscal 2013, almost double the 2012 spending. Funding levels are planned to double again by fiscal 2016. (2/15)

Germany, France Seek Space Common Ground (Source: Aviation Week)
France and Germany have faced substantial differences over the direction their largest space programs should take as economic turmoil in Europe has forced both countries to rethink a commitment to modernize the Ariane 5 launch vehicle while starting work on the rocket’s successor. Until recently, Germany has remained steadfast in support of a plan to invest €1 billion ($1.3 billion) for a new, more powerful Ariane 5 upper stage.

Although France initially supported the plan, dubbed the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME), in recent months top officials have suggested pressing ahead with a next-generation launcher while foregoing the Ariane 5 ME, a modernization effort they say would do little to lower the rocket’s considerable operating costs. Germany has been among the loudest critics of these costs, a fact that France is now using to sell the idea of a next-generation launch vehicle ahead of budget talks among the European Space Agency’s 19 member nations slated for November. (2/15)

Houston-Area Reps Again Press NASA on Awarding Enterprise to NYC (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA’s surprise decision to award the retired test-bed shuttle Enterprise to a river-front museum in New York City instead of Houston’s Johnson Space Center continues to stir controversy among Texans on Capitol Hill. Nine Texas Republicans led by Rep. Pete Olson, whose Sugar Land district includes JSC, are challenging NASA administrator Charles Bolden once again on virtually every aspect of NASA’s decision to move the Enterprise from a Smithsonian facility outside the nation’s capital to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

In the latest congressional broadside, the lawmakers and three allies from Ohio, Mississippi and Utah are seeking NASA documents delving into the Intrepid Museum’s alleged change of plans for displaying the Enterprise. A NASA official told the lawmakers in December that the space agency “has no plans to re-evaluate its decision to place the Enterprise at the Intrepid Museum and the museum’s plans remain in compliance with their obligations to NASA.” (2/15)

Minuteman-3 Missile Launch Planned at Vandenberg AFB on Feb. 25 (Source: LaunchAlert)
An Air Force Minuteman-3 vehicle will launch from Vandenberg AFB in California on Feb. 25, probably sending an unarmed warhead on a ballistic trajectory to the central Pacific. The Defense Department will release the launch window and other details a few days in advance. (2/15)

Germans Develop Laser for Space Debris (Source: Space Daily)
Researchers at the German Aerospace Center are developing an optical observation system with a powerful laser, the pulses from which can detect particles only a few centimeters in diameter and allow determination of their orbits. The concept was tested for the first time in January 2012, in collaboration with the Laser Station in the Austrian city of Graz. This is the first time that the orbits of spent launcher components have been measured using a laser in Europe. In the future, an even more powerful laser will be capable of deflecting these particles out of their orbits, causing them to incinerate as they re-enter Earth's atmosphere. (2/15)

Instant Eyes Set for Demonstration Launches with Military Customers (Source: Space Florida)
Instant Eyes, a new to market, mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by Rocket Lab Limited and Florida-based L2 Aerospace, completed a major milestone last week, with successful end-to-end flights in the US. As a result, the innovative technology is now moving on to prove its viability in military applications for government agencies later this spring.

Instant Eyes, along with its parent companies L2 Aerospace and Rocket Lab Limited, conducted the operational checkout flight of the mini UAV last week after extensive engineering test flights in New Zealand in 2011. Instant Eyes underwent realistic operational conditions during the flights, in preparation for operational demonstrations for NATO and U.S. Military users in March and April.

Instant Eyes is a hand held, rocket launched UAV designed to be used by front line troops, first responders and others that require real-time situational awareness. Rocket technology propels the UAV to approximately 2,500 feet altitude and provides high-resolution imagery, GPS and meta data within only 20 seconds of launch. Instant Eyes was named one of Popular Science Magazine’s “Top 100 Innovative Technologies of 2011.” (2/15)

Like a Roomba for Outer Space! Swiss “Janitor Satellite” Would Clean Space Junk (Source: NY Daily News)
The tidy Swiss want to clean up space. Swiss scientists said Wednesday they plan to launch a “janitor satellite” specially designed to get rid of orbiting debris known as space junk. The 10-million-franc ($11-million) satellite called CleanSpace One — the prototype for a family of such satellites — is being built by the Swiss Space Center. SSC’s director, Volker Gass, said it hopes to someday “offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites.”

Building the satellite means developing new technology to address three big problems, scientists say. The first hurdle has to do with trajectory: The satellite has to be able to adjust its path to match that of its target. EPFL said its labs are looking into a new ultra-compact motor that can do this. Next, the satellite has to be grab hold of and stabilize the debris at high speeds. Scientists are studying how plants and animals grip things as a model for what would be used. And, finally, CleanSpace One has to be able to take the debris, or unwanted satellites, back into Earth’s atmosphere, where they will burn on re-entry. (2/15)

Rohrabacher Not Happy With NASA Budget Plan (Source: Space Politics)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) criticized elements of the administration’s FY13 budget proposal, including funding for the Space Launch System (SLS). However, unlike Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who worried it and Orion were not getting enough money, he argued the “SLS Titanic” was getting too much. “By NASA’s internal estimates, the SLS and other components won’t be ready to launch astronauts to an asteroid until 2028, after we have spent over $130 billion towards the mission,” he said, adding that the same mission could be done faster and less expensively without the SLS.

Rohrabacher channeled his inner Mitt Romney: “If I had someone come to me and say they wanted to spend well over a hundred billion dollars when they knew the task could be done more quickly and less expensively, I’d say, ‘You’re fired.’” Rohrabacher did praise the request of $830 million for NASA’s commercial crew program, but called the limited funding for technology development, at the expense of the SLS and increased Earth sciences funding, “a travesty”. “Any more of this kind of ‘leadership’ and soon NASA’s entire budget will be consumed by JWST and the SLS, two things that won’t have made it off the launch pad ten years from now,” he concluded.

Editor's Note: Also unhappy with the proposed FY13 budget is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who dislikes the fact that money that she thinks should be going to SLS development would instead be used at Kennedy Space Center for infrastructure (that will be necessary to launch the SLS). It is unclear whether Sen. Bill Nelson will defend the budget proposal, which appears to fund many of the priorities he has supported in Florida. (2/15)

Space-Based Solar Power, Or Nuclear? (Source: NSSFL)
Space based solar power is not competing with coal, it only needs to compete with nuclear. The Obama administration has budgeted an additional $36B in loan guarantees for nuclear power, on top of the $18.5B from the Bush administraiton. Nuclear power stations are currently coming in at over $5 billion per GW. Space-based solar power (SBSP) can be done for much less than that, $1B to $4B per GW depending on assumptions? Furthermore, the US Govt is planning huge loan guarantees for Uranium enrichment facilities. Critics of Obama’s nuclear policy point to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office which said the failure rate for reactor loan guarantees can exceed 50%. (2/15)

UA Huntsville Scientific Team Helping Japanese Space Program Launch Safely (Source: UA Huntsville)
A team of scientists from The University of Alabama in Huntsville's Earth System Science Center is working with the Japanese space agency to develop new rules to protect spacecraft from lightning. Data from instruments being installed aboard a small jet will help the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) develop guidelines that can be used to determine which clouds over the Tanegashima Space Center launch site pose the threat of triggering a lightning bolt that could damage or destroy a launch vehicle.

A problem, according to Hugh Christian, an Earth System Science Center (ESSC) principal research scientist, is that when the Japanese apply NASA's rules for launch safety to their climatological conditions, they find those rules to be very restrictive. "For instance, NASA has what is called the 'thick cloud rule,'" he said. "Basically, any cloud above the freezing level that's 4,000 or more feet thick will stop a launch. Well, those kinds of clouds are very common during Japan’s winter launch window, and it is quite probable that in most cases those clouds are only very weakly electrified and pose no threat to launch safety. (2/15)

To Infinity and Beyond: Investing in Space Travel (Source: CNBC)
It’s no secret that the global economy is in trouble, so if you’re bored of the world of stocks and bonds and feel the tedium of a slowing market, the time may have come to explore a whole new world of investment: space travel. In a few years, passenger travel into the world beyond our own will be a reality, and as the lucrative possibilities for commercial trips into the galaxy continue to grow, now might be the time to leave the rat race and join the new and much more exciting space race, according to some space travel enthusiasts. Click here. (2/15)

Zubrin: Obama Wrecks Mars Program (Source: National Review)
In its budget submitted to Congress on February 13, the Obama administration zeroed out funding for NASA’s future Mars-exploration missions. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, currently en route to the Red Planet and the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2013, will be sent, but that’s it. No funding has been provided for the Mars probes planned as joint missions in 2016 and 2018 with the European Space Agency, and nothing after that is funded either. This poses a grave crisis for the American space program. Click here. (2/15)

Obama Signs FAA Funding Bill (Source: The Hill)
Disputes over aviation funding ended Tuesday when President Barack Obama signed a $63 billion bill into law that will fund the Federal Aviation Administration through 2015. Observers say the funding will speed up progress on a plan to replace the nation's outdated air traffic control system. Editor's Note: The new law also extends the waiting period for the FAA to develop and implement new regulatory approaches for commercial human spaceflight. (2/15)

India Lags Behind China in Rocket Program (Source: Times of India)
It was none other than a former chairman of ISRO who expressed concern on Tuesday about the sorry state of India's rocket development program. He was Prof U R Rao, who is still a part of ISRO as chairman of PRL (Physical Research Laboratory) Council. The PRL is an affiliate of ISRO. He recalled that in the 90s India had made considerable progress in the area of space sciences, and the country was leading in the field of satellite technology. "But, now China is ahead of us and we (India) have not made much progress in launch vehicle technology. They launch rockets having a capacity to carry payloads weighing nine tons, but we are limited to 2.5 tons," he said. (2/15)

Carolina Space Symposium to Host Speakers from NASA (Source: The Daily Tar Heel)
All systems are go for the first annual Carolina Space Symposium, a student-organized event featuring pioneers in the space industry that will be free to the public. On March 31, Hanes Art Center will host the event, which will cover everything from interstellar travel to how to start a space company and life beyond Earth. The symposium will last from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and include a live band, a networking session, a weather balloon launch and a free planetarium show. (2/15)

Japan to Set Up New Space Policy Panel (Source: Mainichi Daily News)
The government decided Tuesday to set up a space policy panel in the Cabinet Office that will advise Cabinet ministers on improvements to the country's space program, officials said. It is also considering establishing a space strategy office to serve as the control tower on space policies by adjusting measures taken by various ministries and agencies, they said. With the launch of the new panel, the Space Activities Commission, an organization under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, will be abolished. (2/15)

Editorial: Don't Retreat From Space (Source: Pensacola News Journal)
Reports that NASA, facing budget cuts, is cutting back the exploration of other planets — especially Mars — is distressing. Without a tough, inspiring goal, we believe it will be hard to maintain public enthusiasm for space exploration. We likely would only wake from our slumber when it became clear that China "owned" space, and was on its way to claiming the moon and Mars.

What we see now is NASA putting a lot of money into the task of ferrying scientists back and forth to the International Space Station. Frankly, we don't see much of a payoff. Yes, it is embarrassing having to use Russian rockets to get there today, but what, really, are we going to get in terms of significant scientific advances from the space station? Turning NASA into an earth-orbit trucking company doesn't create much excitement, especially since many scientists already consider the space station an expensive toy looking for a real mission.

Yes, we need excitement in the space program. And not just because it inspires us to lift our heads beyond our small planet and see the stars — although that is important. Man has always needed something bigger than himself to drive toward. Mars represents a technological and spiritual challenge the people of the United States can respond to. Surrendering it to the Chinese would be tragic. (2/15)

Obama Wants $2.1 Billion for NASA's Florida Spaceport (Source: Reuters)
President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 budget for NASA boosts spending at the Kennedy Space Center, which bore the brunt of job layoffs at the end of the space shuttle program last year, the center director said on Tuesday. The president's $17.7 billion budget request for NASA for the year beginning October 1 includes $2.1 billion for the Florida spaceport, an increase of $323 million over this year's budget.

The center's proposed budget increase won't mean more NASA jobs, however. Bob Cabana told reporters he expects Kennedy Space Center's workforce to remain at about 7,500 employees through 2013. That number includes about 2,050 civil servants. More than 8,000 contractors, mostly in Florida, were laid off when the shuttles were retired last year. (2/15)

NASA Targets $830 Million Annually For Local Human Launch Capability by 2017 (Source: Florida Today)
NASA needs sustained funding at the levels President Barack Obama recommended this week for commercial vehicles to launch astronauts from Florida by 2017, officials said. “We think private industry could field a system in probably four or five years if they had adequate funding,” said Phil McAlister, head of commercial spaceflight programs at NASA Headquarters. “If we get less money than that, obviously it will slip that date out a little bit further.”

McAlister joined space industry representatives at a conference to discuss the next phase in development of commercial transportation services needed to return NASA crews to the International Space Station on American vehicles instead of Russian spacecraft. Editor's Note: With an increasing number of meetings like this on the Space Coast, we're seeing the tangible benefits of having NASA's Commercial Crew program office physically based at Kennedy Space Center. (2/15)

Colorado Senate Advances Space Liability Measure (Source: Denver Business Journal)
A once-controversial bill granting limited liability to companies operating spaceflights out of Colorado passed the Colorado Senate unanimously on Tuesday. Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Rep. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, is viewed as the key piece of legislation needed to help the Front Range Airport, which is six miles east of Denver International Airport, to get federal designation as a spaceport. (2/15)

Delta Mariner Relocated to Paducah for Dry Dock (Source: Murray Ledger & Times)
The Delta Mariner was expected to reach its next berth in a Paducah dry dock by dawn Tuesday. The vessel was cleared to travel Monday after salvage operations were completed on the ship that struck the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge near Aurora on Jan. 26. A U. S. Coast Guard official said an inspection team made up of the Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping cleared the vessel for departure shortly before 8 p.m. Monday evening. The vessel was scheduled to travel overnight to a dry dock at Paducah Marine Service, a repair facility in Paducah.

Crews finished cutting away the last bits of debris from the ship’s bow late Monday afternoon. Salvage operations were delayed for 36 hours over the weekend due to winds in excess of 30 mph. The equipment the crew was using to cut debris off the bow is rated for wind speeds no higher than 20 mph. The official does not know how long repairs will take in dry dock. The ship is carrying rocket parts from the United Launch Alliance’s factory in Decatur, Ala., for the U. S. Air Force and NASA. ULA does not expect the salvage and repair delays to effect scheduled rocket launches in April and August. (2/14)

How Do You Talk to an Alien? (Source: Big Think)
With SETI's search for extraterrestrial life getting a second lease on life, two questions must be raised: How do we make contact? And how do we make meaningful contact? That is to say, if we happen to discover signs of life on any one of the billions of candidates in our Milky Way galaxy, and we happen to be able to reach them with a message -- which may take tens of thousands of years until it is received -- are we all agreed on what message to send?

Hardly. The first radio transmission powerful enough to reach space was Hitler's message during the 1936 Olympics, which doesn't exactly show humanity in our best light. (In the 1997 film Contact this message is received by ETs and returned to Earth interlaced with data). While radio astronomy might be light years ahead today, there is still no universal agreement on how to represent the human race to extraterrestrial civilizations, let alone a protocol for what to do in the case a contact is made. Click here. (2/15)

Abu Dhabi Spaceship to Blast TV Star to Space (Source: Arabian Business)
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceline part-owned by Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, is in “early talks” to fly the winner of Simon Cowell’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ UK show into orbit for the world’s first ever performance in space. A spokesperson from talkbackThames, the UK production arm of TV conglomerate FremantleMedia, confirmed to Arabian Business the plans were still at an early stage and a final decision has not yet been made. (2/15)

Russia Launches Dutch Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Proton-M launch vehicle carrying the Dutch SES-4 (NSS-14) telecoms satellite lifted off on Tuesday from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan after a series of delays caused by technical problems. The blastoff was the 70th commercial launch of a Proton carrier rocket since 1995 under contracts concluded by International Launch Services Inc. (ILS). (2/14)

Student Rocket-Builders Join Top STEM Leaders at White House Science Fair (Source: AIA)
President Obama highlighted the efforts of team members, teachers and parents from a Presidio, Texas, school that worked to raise funds to participate in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) contest in remarks at the second White House Science Fair. (2/14)

Sex in Space (Source: Yale Daily News)
While astronauts are able to abstain from sex during six-month jaunts to the space station, the thought of withdrawing from this basic human activity for years is unbearable. NASA could invest in drugs that would prevent debilitating levels of arousal. After all, some birth control and antidepressant medications suppress libido. However, dosing people with enough chemicals to suppress an urge as fundamental as hunger reads like a dystopian novel. We might as well launch robots with human faces. (2/14)

NASA Announces Third Round Of CubeSat Space Mission Candidates (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 33 small satellites to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets planned to launch in 2013 and 2014. The proposed CubeSats come from universities across the country, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, NASA field centers and Department of Defense organizations. None were from Florida universities, but one is being developed by Kennedy Space Center. Click here. (2/14)

Vega Launcher Program Courts German Participation (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Buoyed by the successful first flight of Europe's Vega launcher, the head of the German space agency Monday moved to open negotiations to build a new upper stage to replace Vega's Ukrainian upper stage orbit-adjust engine. If a deal is made, a new upper stage would bring production of all Vega stages into European Space Agency member states. Germany is not one of the seven ESA member states contributing money to the Italian-led Vega program. (2/14)

NASA Hopes to Avoid Major Budget Shortfalls in Commercial Space Initiative (Source: CBS)
If Congress significantly reduces funding for the commercial crew initiative again, if NASA only ends up with $300 million to $400 million per year for the next five years instead of the $800 million or so per year that's currently envisioned, "I would say it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to do this program," said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters.

"We couldn't get there," he told reporters at an industry conference in Cocoa Beach. "Just one test fight is going to be a couple of hundred million dollars, probably. So that's your whole year's funding, right? So it doesn't really make sense at that kind of funding level. If we felt like that's all we could get, we would definitely re-evaluate the program." (2/14)

MDA Seeks Big Increase in Space Spending (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is seeking a significant funding boost for a space-based missile tracking system in an overall 2013 spending request that is 13 percent below the agency’s 2012 budget, according to Pentagon documents. The MDA is also proposing to revive a competitive interceptor development program whose proposed 2012 budget was slashed by Congress last year, documents show.

The overall 2013 MDA budget request is $7.7 billion, compared to the agency’s current year budget of $8.4 billion. This sum does not include missile defense efforts that are not directly overseen by the MDA, such as the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 interceptor. The Pentagon’s total request for missile defense efforts next year is $9.7 billion, down from $10.4 billion this year. (2/14)

Elusive Dark Matter Pervades Intergalactic Space (Source: Space.com)
A group of Japanese physicists has revealed where dark matter is — though not what it is — for the first time. As it turns out, the mysterious substance is almost everywhere, drooping throughout intergalactic space to form an all-encompassing web of matter.

Dark matter is invisible: It doesn't interact with light, so astronomers cannot actually see it. So far, it has only been observed indirectly by way of the gravitational force it exerts on ordinary, visible matter. On the basis of this gravitational interaction, physicists have inferred that dark matter constitutes 22 percent of the matter-energy content of the universe, while ordinary detectable matter constitutes just 4.5 percent. (2/14)

Space Probe Spots Weird Microwave Haze in Our Galaxy (Source: Space.com)
A European spacecraft has snapped new images of our Milky Way galaxy, confirming the puzzling presence of a shroud of microwave fog around the galactic core. The new images come from the European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft, which showed the odd microwave haze during a survey that also turned up previously unseen patches of cold gas where new stars are forming. (2/14)

NASA Awards Huntsville Operations Support Center Services Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected COLSA Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., for its Huntsville Operations Support Center (HOSC) contract. The estimated value of the contract, including all options, is approximately $94.6 million. COLSA will provide engineering, operations and maintenance, system development services and tools for the International Space Station and other program and project mission services. (2/14)

Teachers Fly Experiments on NASA Reduced Gravity Flights (Source: NASA)
More than 70 teachers had an opportunity to experience what it feels like to float in space as they participated in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston last week. The teachers flew aboard an aircraft that flies parabolic flight paths, which create brief periods of weightlessness. It is a key component of NASA's astronaut training protocol. The teachers were selected for the flights through NASA's Teaching from Space and Explorer School Programs. (2/14)

NASA in Huntsville Offers $200 Million in Research Work for New Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA in Huntsville formally offered contractors the chance Tuesday to submit research proposals for reducing the risks associated with its new heavy lift rocket boosters. The space agency expects to spend up to $200 million on the research, which had been announced in late January but not formally posted for responses.

"We're excited to see what innovative solutions industry will provide as we embark on this new capability -- enabling unprecedented missions beyond low-Earth orbit." NASA anticipates making multiple research awards funding by a total of $200 million. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 9. NASA expects the contracts that arise from the proposals will go into effect Oct. 1 for 30 months. (2/14)

Goldstone Facility Not Affected by Proposed NASA Cuts (Source: Desert Dispatch)
President Obama’s $3.8 trillion federal budget released Monday shifts funds within NASA to focus on different priorities like construction of a new space telescope and subsidizing private space firms at the expense of planetary exploration. The changes should not result in cuts to the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, said Veronica McGregor, a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which manages the facility. (2/14)

Why NASA's Really Into Making Video Games (Source: cnet)
The list of games that NASA has worked on is quite long. Among other things, it has created space-station and space-shuttle titles, it has given players a virtual walk on the moon and it has put users in charge of space-flight communications. In recent weeks, the space agency has launched two new games: an air traffic-control simulator for the iPhone called Sector 33, and a trivia game for Facebook called Space Race Blastoff. Click here. (2/14)

Mass. Wary of Air Force Base Cuts (Source: Boston Globe)
State and congressional leaders are bracing for a battle over a Pentagon plan to strip aircraft from one Air Force base in Western Massachusetts and possibly cut personnel at another. Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, the largest Air Force Reserve base in the country, is set to lose half the C-5 Galaxy planes assigned to the 439th Airlift Wing, according to an Air Force proposal made public last week. The nearby Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield is expecting details as early as this week about personnel cuts at Air National Guard bases nationwide. (2/14)

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