February 16, 2012

Air Force Wants Legislation to Improve Spaceport Capabilities (Source: SPACErePORT)
During a panel session at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, in Washington DC, an Air Force official said the service would like to see some legislation aimed at removing restrictions on "augmentation." Augmentation refers to the use of non-federal funding to improve or expand infrastructure developed for military programs. The existing restriction has prevented such non-federal investments as a means for unfairly attracting federal programs.

Unfortunately, the restriction also has prohibited state and industry investments to improve launch capabilities at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Air Force last year supported language that would have amended federal "Title 10" to allow augmentation, at least in the case of space launch infrastructure. The legislative initiative did not succeed. The language was originally part of a broader agenda of changes to Title 10 and other Titles, aimed at making Air Force launch sites more accessible and competitive for commercial users. The Air Force apparently narrowed the list of changes to those encompassed in Title 10. (2/16)

Space Bill is Gov. Scott's First Bill Signed Into Law in 2012 (Source: Sunshine State News)
Gov. Rick Scott signed the Senate Bill 634 Thursday, which is expected to make it easier for Space Florida to access state and federal transportation money to improve launch facilities. Scott held a ceremony for the signing, the first bill to be signed this year, with sponsors Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who also serves as chairwoman of Space Florida. Scott has proposed $15 million in state transportation money for spaceport infrastructure improvements. The Senate on Wednesday designated $10 million for Space Florida. (2/16)

GOP is Using Automatic Defense Cuts Issue Against Obama (Source: Politico)
Republicans are using President Barack Obama's refusal to derail $1 trillion in potential automatic Pentagon cuts as a campaign issue, especially in states with military bases and defense contractors, this feature says. The across-the-board cuts, which would be triggered over failure to cut the deficit, could eliminate thousands of jobs particularly in Virginia, California and Florida, a study commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association found. (2/16)

President's Budget Seeks $2.1 Billion for 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 Florida spaceport is in the early phases of reconfiguring the shuttle launch pads, equipment and processing facilities to accommodate other users, such as Space Florida. Last year, Space Florida took over one of the shuttle's processing hangars and leased it to Boeing, which wants it for its space taxi work.

NASA's 2013 spending plan includes $41 million for the Kennedy Space Center's planned multi-purpose launch facility. Another $404 million would go toward upgrading ground support systems in preparation for launches of NASA's new heavy-lift rocket. (2/16)

Telespazio Nabs Six Contracts Worth a Combined $146 Million (Source: Space News)
Satellite ground systems and Earth observation services provider Telespazio on Feb. 16 announced it had won six contracts worth a combined 112.1 million euros ($146 million). The biggest of the contracts, valued at 86 million euros, is a five-year agreement with the French space agency, CNES, and launch services provider Arianespace to provide telemetry, control and telecommunications services for five years at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport. (2/16)

Ukraine Approves Five-Year Space Program Worth $323 Million (Source: Itar-Tass)
Ukraine’s government adopted a draft concept of the state scientific and technical space program for 2012-2017. Planned financing of the program makes 2.58 billion hryvnias ($323 million), where 1.12 billion hryvnias ($140 million) are the budget’s money. Ukraine plans to make distanced probing of the Earth from the space, several scientific space researches. The state program is expected to give an impetus to development of space technologies. (2/16)

Commercial Crew Push Has Texans Concerned (Source: Aviation Week)
President Obama’s proposed 2013 NASA budget of $17.771 billion, just $59 million below this year’s spending plan, has many at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston relieved they were spared deep cuts. Yet there is a simmering concern of an imbalance between investments in commercial crew systems intended to ferry astronauts to low Earth orbit and the agency’s own Orion/Space Launch System for future deep-space destinations.

The concern is based on the $830 million NASA is seeking in 2013 to foster the development of commercial crew transportation services. “A lot of us are relieved the administration did not cut NASA’s overall budget, but we need to make sure the money is in the right bucket,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, after the budget request was released Feb. 13. “The SLS and the MPCV need to be funded at the levels to support the schedule NASA is committed to, and right now that funding does not support that schedule,” Mitchell cautioned.

Another confrontation between Congress and the administration over commercial crew development could be in the works. “These reductions will slow the development of the SLS and Orion crew vehicle,” warned Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Texas lawmaker is among those who believe NASA’s Orion/SLS could be called upon to serve as the space station’s crew transportation backup, if the commercial initiative flounders. “The administration remains insistent on cutting SLS and Orion to pay for commercial crew, rather than accommodating both,” Hutchison said. (2/16)

Musk: My Life in Business (Source: GQ)
What I'm doing at SpaceX is in a different league to people like Richard Branson and [Amazon founder and Blue Origin pioneer] Jeff Bezos. Our vehicles have around 100 times more energy than Richard Branson's. What he's doing is great - in fact, I've bought a ticket! But there is a pretty big distinction: what he's doing will be a really fun joyride, but there's no path to making life multi-planetary, which is our goal. We want to put life on Mars. Click here. (2/16)

ISS May Become Martian Flight Simulator (Source: Voice of Russia)
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has suggested expanding the length of future expeditions to the International Space Station from the current six months to a year and even longer to provide for the next step in space exploration – manned spaceflights beyond low-Earth orbit. With the ISS expected to remain operational until 2020, Rocosmos believes that the remaining time should be used to simulate long-duration interplanetary flights in orbit along with similar experiments on Earth, the latest of which, Mars-500, ended last November.

A crew of six volunteers spent 520 days in complete isolation in an experimental facility at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in Moscow, simulating a full-length return trip to Mars. The same experiment would be far more valuable if performed aboard the ISS. Here’s what Roscosmos’ manned flight programs director Alexei Krasnov has to say on the subject: "We and our colleagues are discussing the possibility of repeating the experiment in real spaceflight conditions aboard the ISS...The main aim is to model the self-sustainability of onboard systems, above all life-support systems." (2/16)

NASA, We Have a Problem: Why America is Lost in Space (Source: The Conversation)
We need to recall that, in the US system, all the President can do is request funds. It’s now up to Congress to accept or modify the President’s requests. In this process, sectional interests (including members of Congress whose constituents fear for their jobs because of the proposed cuts) can be expected to lobby furiously for these old jobs to be protected across the US. Some wiser heads may see beyond preservation of the status quo and seek to restore NASA as an institution which innovates, leads and inspires. Sadly, these elected representatives are likely to be in a minority.

The NASA budget tells us three things about America’s approach to space: 1) The rhetoric of collaboration in the US national space policy notwithstanding, the US actually struggles to collaborate in space matters and values collaboration less than going alone; 2) The US regards space as an environment over which it seeks to maintain its supreme reign. This is best demonstrated by having the best and brightest manned space program on Earth; 3) This supremacy in space is the overriding political and strategic objective of the Obama administration, with astronomy and planetary science running a poor second. (2/16)

LightSquared's Plan B: Swapping Airwaves (Source: Wall Street Journal)
LightSquared Inc. may seek to exchange its wireless airwave licenses for similar ones operated by the U.S. Department of Defense in a last-ditch effort to revive its mobile broadband service, according to people familiar with the company's plans. The possible strategy shift comes a day after the Federal Communications Commission said it wouldn't allow LightSquared to operate its network because of interference concerns.

LightSquared had been criticized by the Defense Department, legislators and makers of farm equipment and Global Positioning System devices, who say its network signal operates too close to those used for GPS and could interfere. In comparison, the Defense Department airwaves—used primarily for aircraft testing—operate on a frequency farther away from GPS signals making it less likely to cause any jamming, the people said.

Such an airwaves swap would be difficult—it's not clear the Defense Department would be interested in such an exchange and LightSquared would need to raise additional funds. The swap is among several options the company is considering in response to the FCC action on Tuesday, those people said. (2/16)

New Rocket Guidance Paves Way For Inexpensive Space Research (Source: WIRED)
Masten Space Systems and Draper Laboratory have successfully tested an autonomous rocket powered lander aimed at testing new guidance systems for future unmanned spacecraft. The rocket-powered vertical take-off and landing test is part of a NASA program initially aimed at developing inexpensive, reusable vehicles that can carry research experiments on suborbital flights. The program will also be used to test flight guidance and technologies for landers heading to the Moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond.

Editor's Note: This rocket is very different from others that have launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, but it has been approved by Air Force safety officials for launches from Launch Complex 36. Imagine the difficulty they had approving a rocket that loiters and returns vertically in the vicinity of billions of dollars of infrastructure at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, instead of speeding away to an ever safer distance. (2/16)

Is Shenzhou Unsafe? (Source: Space Daily)
The recent announcement that China will fly its next Shenzhou spacecraft without a crew aboard is a shock. It completely goes against a tide of recent official statements and general feelings within the spaceflight community. It's also represents an abrupt change in status for China's human spaceflight program, which has been making steady strides forward with recent missions.

Recently, there were rumours that the Shenzhou 9 mission would be delayed from its expected March-April launch window to June. This didn't seem to be a big issue. The delay was fairly short, and would probably allow engineers to fix any minor technical issues that could have been revealed on the test flight of Shenzhou 8. We had no indication that anything was seriously wrong.

We now know, thanks to Chinese state media, that Shenzhou 9 will be launched in June, as suspected. But there will be no astronauts on board. This is probably the greatest shock that space boffins have seen from China in years. Why the sudden change? It seems clear that there must be technical issues at work, and they must be fairly serious. (2/15)

US Eyes Growing Global Cooperation on Satellites (Source: Reuters)
The United States, in a review of future satellite needs, is examining opportunities to increase international collaboration and orders from commercial providers, a senior U.S. Air Force official said on Wednesday. Richard McKinney, deputy undersecretary for space programs, said separate reviews are under way for four current satellite systems that warn military commanders of enemy missile launches, provide secure military communications, track what is going on in outer space, and monitor weather on Earth.

He said the reviews should be completed this spring to help inform budget decisions for the fiscal 2014 year. The Pentagon is looking at how to improve the resiliency of current systems, increase international collaboration, and in the case of military communications, the role of commercial providers. Click here. (2/15)

Obama's Budget Would Drop Funding at NASA Langley by Nearly 4 Percent (Source: Daily Press)
NASA Langley Research Center’s budget would decrease nearly 4 percent under President Barack Obama’s 2013 spending plan. The Hampton facility, which specializes in aeronautics, earth science and spaceship design, would receive $738 million, or roughly $29 million less than the current fiscal year.

It would shed 17 civil service positions through attrition, bringing its total civil service workforce down to 1,873 plus 38 students, Langley spokeswoman Marny Skora said. There could be cuts to Langley’s 1,700-person contract workforce but Rob Wyman, also a Langley spokesman, declined to speculate how many. “It all depends on how the contract companies manage it,” he said. Jacobs Technology administers Langley’s 10-year, $950 million ROME contract. Jacobs has laid off dozens of contractors since October 2010. (2/15)

Rocket to be Flown Into Active Aurora From Alaska Site (Source: News-Miner)
A NASA sounding rocket to gather information on space weather conditions which affect satellite communications will be launched north of Fairbanks. The launch window from the Poker Flat Research Range opened Monday and is active through March 2. The University of Alaska Fairbanks says in a release that the two-stage, 46-foot rocket will be launched through an active aurora.

Findings will allow scientists to understand space weather and how it affects how radio waves travel through plasma. During a period of high sun activity called solar maximum, the university says ionized gases from the sun could interfere with Global Positioning Systems, satellite internet and other signals. Data gathered from this launch could help people who design GPS. (2/15)

NASA Will Spend $200M On SLS Risk Reduction (Source: Aviation Week)
Risk reduction for the advanced strap-on boosters that will be needed to give NASA’s planned Space Launch System (SLS) the 130-metric-ton lift capability to low Earth orbit ordered by Congress will cost as much as $200 million over a 30-month period. NASA on Feb. 14 released its expected NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for the advanced-booster risk mitigation, saying that it will make “multiple awards” for analysis and hardware demonstrations “and anticipates $200 million total funding.”

In addition to solid-fuel and liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen propulsion systems, the agency is interested in boosters that use kerosene as fuel for its high thrust off the pad. Possible engines for that work include the Russian-built RD-180 that powers the Atlas V, an uprated version of Aerojet’s AJ26 modification of the Russian NK-33 engine for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares commercial cargo booster, and even the Rocketdyne F-1 that powered the first stage of the Saturn V Moon rocket.

The boosters must also be able to support the whole weight of the SLS on its mobile launch platform, and fit through the doors of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. That means they can be no taller than 235 ft., and not make the complete SLS vehicle any wider than 67.5 ft. They must also generate no more than 4g acceleration, and a maximum dynamic pressure of 800 lb. of force per square foot, according to the solicitation. (2/15)

Human and Humanoid Robot Shake Hands in Space First (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Astronauts and robots have united in space with a healthy handshake. The commander of the International Space Station, Daniel Burbank, shook hands Wednesday with Robonaut. It's the first handshake ever between a human and a humanoid in space. NASA's Robonaut was launched aboard space shuttle Discovery last February. Crews have been testing it to see how it one day might help astronauts perform space station chores.

On Wednesday, ground controllers activated computer software that enabled the robot to extend its right hand, fingers outstretched. Burbank took the mechanical hand and pumped it up and down, as the robot's fingers tightened around his hand. "The first human-humanoid handshake in space," Burbank proclaimed. A cheer went up in the control room in Huntsville. (2/15)

'Xombie' Rocket Makes First Free-Flight for NASA (Source: AP)
A privately built rocket has made its first free-flight in the California desert as part of a NASA program exploring vertical landing systems for solar system exploration. The autonomous flight occurred earlier this month at the Mojave Air and Space Port about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Masten Space Systems' unmanned rocket named Xombie lifted off the ground, flew horizontally and landed at a pad 164 feet away. The demonstration lasted 67 seconds.

In 2009, Masten won a $1 million prize in a NASA-backed simulated lunar landing contest using the Xombie rocket. The space agency awarded Masten and another company, Armadillo Aerospace, $475,000 in 2010 to test vehicles that could carry small payloads to "near-space" — altitudes between 65,000 feet and 350,000 feet. Click here for a video of the flight. (2/15)

NASA Dreams of Floating Space Station Twixt Earth and Moon (Source: Tech News World)
NASA is looking toward the moon as it cooks up new ideas for the future of space exploration, but one of the more compelling ideas it has in mind isn't a moon base -- not quite, anyway. NASA is sketching out plans for a space station that would hang out at a point in the sky known as "EM L-2" -- a spot where an object the size of a space station can remain stationary relative to the Earth and the moon.

NASA is looking into setting up a base near the moon to further space exploration. As it's envisioned, the base will go into a halo orbit of the Earth-moon libration point 2, known as "EM L-2," above the far side of the moon. Placing a spacecraft at a Lagrangian point was one of the ideas for a space mission that space scientists put forward. Click here. (2/14)

FCC Signals Intent To Pull LightSquared License (Source: Space News)
The FCC said Feb. 14 it intends to revoke LightSquared’s conditional authority to deploy a ground-based mobile broadband network that tests have shown will interfere with GPS applications, including aviation safety. The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) concluded that “there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference” to GPS signals caused by LightSquared’s proposed network. (2/15)

Are Russia's Recent Space Woes a Sign of Larger Problems? (Source: Space.com)
A string of high-profile failures in Russia's space program recently has left NASA hoping its space partner can get back on track soon. But some in the space industry are wondering if the issues are simple bad luck, or represent a deeper problem. Click here. (2/15)

Why Ancient Star Clusters are All the Same Size (Source: New Scientist)
Why do the universe's oldest star clusters tend to be roughly the same size? New simulations suggest it's because galaxy mergers destroyed the smaller ones. Globular star clusters are ancient, spherical blobs of stars. Most are a few hundred thousand times the mass of our sun. The scarcity of much bigger clusters is no surprise, as they would form more rarely – but why are there so few small ones? Click here. (2/15)

NASA to Deliver Commercial Research Equipment to Station (Source: NASA)
NASA, Astrium Space Transportation and NanoRacks LLC are teaming up to expand the research capability of the International Space Station through delivery of a small commercial centrifuge facility that will conduct molecular and cellular investigations on plant and animal tissue. The centrifuge enhances NanoRacks' existing suite of lab equipment aboard the space station, which includes microscopes and a plate reader used to detect biological, chemical or physical activity in samples.

Astrium Space Transportation handed over the research centrifuge to NanoRacks LL, during a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 14 in Houston. Astrium North America adapted the centrifuge -- originally built by Kayser Italia for use on space shuttle missions -- for use in the station's NanoRacks Platform-3. The commercial research team funded the centrifuge. (2/15)

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