February 26, 2012

Mars, Europa Missions Battle for Scarce NASA Funding (Source: SpaceflightNow.com)
NASA's statements about resuming Mars missions later this decade irked some scientists promoting voyages to the outer planets, who said that if the flagship Mars rover was canceled, the decadal survey explicitly prioritized a Europa mission over other, less-ambitious Mars projects. A mission to closely observe Europa has been on scientists' wish list for more than a decade." (2/26)

NASA Raids Outer Planets Budget To Fund Fast Start on Mars Reboot (Source: Space News)
Meanwhile, with the funding changes described in the operating plan, NASA will now be spending only $9 million on outer planets programs in 2012. Those funds will all go toward studies for missions to the planetary science community's highest-priority outer-solar-system destinations: Jupiter's icy moon Europa, the gas giant Uranus and faraway Neptune. A concept study for a mission to Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, is planned for 2013. (2/26)

New Nike Shoe with Space Theme Causes Frenzy (Source: CBS News)
Sneaker fanatics who lined up outside stores overnight got their first crack Friday at a new outer-space themed Nike basketball shoe, getting so unruly in some cities that police were called to restore order. In Orlando, Fla., more than 100 deputies in riot gear quelled a crowd awaiting the release of the $220 Foamposite Galaxy. In at a mall in Hyattsville, Md., one person was arrested for disorderly conduct.

And in Greenwood, Ind., police said they canceled a Nike release after 400-600 people showed up at a mall and were "panicking to get to the front of the line." The shoes, part of a space-themed collection, are a draw for so-called "sneakerheads" who collect signature sports footgear and can resell it online at a marked-up price, sometimes for hundreds more than retail. (2/26)

Mining on the Moon: Gold, Fuel, and Canada's Possible Role in a New Space Race (Source: Winnipeg Free Press)
Canada could play a key role in a new international space race, with the next sprint to the moon gearing up as an extra-terrestrial gold rush. Industry insiders will be watching closely this week as the heads of the world's five biggest space agencies get together in Quebec City, where the partners on the International Space Station will discuss more than just the future of the orbiting lab.

They will also address an idea gaining currency in business and scientific circles: that within human reach lies an unfathomable wealth of resources, some of them common on Earth and others so exotic that they could change the way we live. Canada could figure prominently in any discussion about lunar exploration, with nearly one-quarter of the world's top mining companies headquartered here and this country also known for robotics like the famous Canadarm. (2/26)

Putting a Price on Gingrich's Lunar Plans (Source: Space Politics)
In an effort to answer that and other questions about the fiscal policies of the candidates, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget issued a report this week estimating the costs of some of those policies. The bipartisan group examined the proposals from the four major remaining candidates—Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and Ron Paul—and estimated how much they would cost or save the taxpayers. On page 17, it looks at Gingrich’s plan to “Establish a Moon Base and Manned Mission to Mars”.

The report sets a range of prices for the plan, from $140 billion in a “low-debt” scenario to $270 billion in an “intermediate-debt” scenario up to $620 billion in the “high-debt” scenario. The committee got those estimates from a review of two earlier reports, one by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that looked at several potential funding scenarios for NASA’s then plans for space exploration, and a two-page document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that summarized the estimated costs for an international lunar base. (2/26)

Editorial: Spaceport Must Have Liability Law (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
We are disappointed that legislation that would have put Spaceport America on equal footing with private spaceports in other states did not pass the New Mexico Legislature this year, and encourage sponsors Sen. Mary Kay Papen and Rep. James P. White not to give up on it. The bill would have provided limited protection from lawsuits for suppliers and manufacturers who will be doing business with Virgin Galactic and other companies that will operate from Spaceport America in the coming years. Texas, Florida and Virginia have already passed similar bills, and a bill in Colorado is advancing through the state Legislature there.

In 2010, the New Mexico House and Senate unanimously passed a bill providing liability protection to the spaceport itself. But this time it got hung up in committee — the Judiciary Committee on the Senate side and Business and Industry Committee on the House side. In both cases, members of those committees believed that the bill went too far in protecting companies that could potentially be complicit in a deadly accident. While we disagree, we also think that there could be room for compromise.

Even the spaceport's most ardent supporters would not suggest that suppliers and manufacturers be given a free pass for shoddy parts and products that endanger lives. It is absolutely critical that a solution be found. New Mexico has a leg up on what we are certain will be a competitive race for commercial space launches, but other states are getting into the game and will exploit any advantages we give them. (2/26)

Govt Action Against ISRO Scientists Demoralizing (Source: Rediff)
Top aerospace scientist Roddam Narasimha remains non-committal on the government's request to reconsider his decision to quit the space commission. Asked if he would reconsider his decision to resign from a position he held for about 20 years, Narasimha chose not to give a direct answer. "We will see what happens. I have nothing more to say", he said. Narasimha, who had probed the controversial Antrix-Devas deal, quit upset over the action against former Indian Space Research Organization chief G Madhavan Nair and others in connection with the deal. (2/26)

ESA Inks Meteosat Contract, Ending Procurement Turmoil (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The European Space Agency signed a nearly $1.8 billion contract Friday for six geostationary weather satellites, selecting Thales Alenia Space to lead an industry team building the next-generation spacecraft for launches beginning in 2017. The agreement for the Meteosat Third Generation, or MTG, satellites will ensure continuous European weather observations through at least 2037, according to an ESA announcement.

The $3.2 billion MTG program is jointly managed by ESA and Eumetsat, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. Most of the project is funded by ESA, which pays for up-front development costs, while Eumetsat funds sustainment, ground systems and operations. (2/26)

Space Advocates to Host Lunch with Nick Lampson (Source: Ultimate Clear Lake)
Space Advocates for Lampson will host a lunch on March 1. Lampson, a former Congressman and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas' 14th Congressional District, seeks to work with the president and both parties to pump life into NASA and the space program. At the lunch, attendees can share ideas and discuss issues with Lampson. (2/26)

Searching for Life in the Depths of Enceladus (Source: DLR)
Is there life under the icy crust of Enceladus? The Cassini spacecraft has confirmed the existence of active ice-spewing fissures on the surface of Enceladus. Giant jets of water ice are shot into space by these 'cryovolcanoes'. Flying through these icy fountains, Cassini detected organic compounds that could hint to the possibility of life.

If Europe's plans for a future mission to Enceladus do become reality, German researchers would like to study this water source for traces of life. In support of that endeavor, the German Aerospace Center is sponsoring a collaborative project entitled 'EnEx – Enceladus Explorer', which was launched on 22 February 2012.

But the researchers are immediately faced with several problems. Firstly, landing directly on a cryovolcano is too risky. Secondly, these possible traces of life could already have been destroyed during their forceful ejection from the fissure and subsequent exposure to the hostile conditions of outer space. For this reason, the researchers are interested in obtaining samples from the depths of Enceladus. (2/26)

Budget Cut at NASA Not Expected to Affect Stennis (Source: Picayune Item)
A $70 million reduction in appropriations to NASA’s budget is not expected to affect jobs or funding at Stennis Space Center. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver met with members of the local media at Stennis on Thursday to address the new budget. She said the nation’s space program has requested $17.7 billion for the coming fiscal year, which is about a $70 million reduction from last year’s appropriations. (2/26)

NASA is Taking JPL Workers for Granted, Schiff Says (Source: Pasadena Sun)
The congressman demands that NASA work to preserve JPL's planetary science budget. Addressing hundreds of Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists on Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) vowed to wage political war against proposed NASA cuts that could slash jobs and cripple JPL's efforts to explore Mars.

JPL stands to lose millions of dollars and possibly hundreds of workers under President Obama's plan to cut more than $300 million from NASA's 2013 planetary science budget. The proposal eliminates $226 million in future Mars work, much of it at JPL, in favor of other NASA objectives. (2/26)

NASA Moves Contractor Jobs as Needed (Source: Florida Today)
It’s natural for people dealing with post-layoff issues to be bitter and point out flaws in the organization they left behind. The people who’ve left the space shuttle team are no different. One of their recurring complaints about NASA is that the contractor work force was gutted, but the people who worked for the government have kept their jobs.

The calls and emails have come in with increasing frequency, it seems. They’re asking the same basic question: Why, if NASA dramatically downsized the space shuttle program, did so few NASA government jobs go away? And, what are all of those government workers doing out at Kennedy Space Center with no shuttle flights?

An analysis last year of federal government payroll data by USA Today showed that NASA had among the lowest percentages of people laid off or fired among all federal agencies. In the shuttle’s final year of flight, the agency had just 13 people let go out of a nationwide workforce of almost 19,000 people. Click here. (2/26)

Spectacularly Bright Object in Andromeda Caused by 'Normal' Black Hole (Source: RAS)
A spectacularly bright object recently spotted in one of the Milky Way's neighboring galaxies is the result of a "normal" stellar black hole, astronomers have found. An international team of scientists, led by Dr Matt Middleton, of Durham University, analysed the Ultraluminous X-ray Source (ULX), which was originally discovered in the Andromeda galaxy by NASA's Chandra x-ray observatory. They publish their results in the journals Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and Astronomy and Astrophysics. (2/26)

Global Aerospace Summit 2012 will be held Apr. 16 in Abu Dhabi (Source: Arabian Aerospace)
The Global Aerospace Summit 2012 will be held in Abu Dhabi from 16-17 April. Hosted by Mubadala Aerospace, this is an exclusive forum bringing together international and regional senior executives from across the aerospace, aviation and space sectors for a two day event that will promote cross industry thought leadership and discuss future growth strategies. The Summit is also significant as the results of Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification, aided by multibillion dollar investments in aerospace manufacturing, airline expansion and airport development, become visible to the industry at large. (2/24)

Mars Shaping Up as NASA Budget Battleground (Source: Space Policy Online)
Mars is the Roman god of war, an apt connection as budget battles heat up with the release of NASA's FY2013 request. Lines are being drawn in the space science community generally and among planetary scientists specifically as everyone fights for scarcer resources. Future plans for Mars probes are at the center of the debate. All eyes are on Congress to see if it will save the planetary exploration budget and, if it does, what will be sacrificed in this zero-sum budget environment.

NASA's total budget would decline by only a small amount if Congress appropriates the President's request, but a $300 million cut to NASA's $1.5 billion planetary science budget is sparking controversy. The complaints come both from those who believe that budget suffered because of overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and those who feel that NASA is trying to salvage some sort of robotic Mars exploration program at the expense of exploring other places in the solar system. Click here. (2/25)

Romney In No Rush to Go Back to the Moon (Source: Space Politics)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was speaking at a town hall in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Friday when he was asked—unexpectedly, perhaps, given the locale—-about NASA planetary exploration efforts. Romney, according to CNN’s account of the event, “said he would study different options”, a response along the lines of the space policy he laid out nearly a month ago in a Florida speech. But he had a little more to add specifically about racing China for a human return to the Moon, POLITICO reported:

"And I know China is headed to the Moon. They’re planning on going to the Moon, and some people say, oh, we’ve got to get to the Moon, we’ve got to get there in a hurry to prove we can get there before China. It’s like, guys, we were there a long time ago, all right? And when you get there would you bring back some of the stuff we left?" That response would suggest that a human lunar exploration effort wouldn’t be a high priority for a Romney Administration, something that’s perhaps a bit surprising given that his team of space policy advisers includes former NASA administrator Mike Griffin.

Editor's Note: What an odd statement from Romney. President Obama used similar "been there done that" words when he abandoned Constellation's moon goal in favor of other (still somewhat fuzzy) goals for NASA. Romney seems to have reached the same conclusion, despite having people like Mike Griffin advising him. I wonder how Romney would respond if asked specifically if he supports the President's vision for developing commercial crew capabilities. (2/25)

MoonNext Mission Planned by ESA for 2018 (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning a one ton lunar lander robot probe for the Moon's south pole in the 2018 time-frame designed to demonstrate precision landing capability. The project has been dubbed The MoonNext mission. The high capacity cargo lander would be launched aboard Ariane 5 rocket. The mission would be launched from Kourou in 2018 taking a few days to transfer from Earth to a Low Circular Lunar orbit. A landing would then take place at the Lunar south pole and the deployed equipment and payload would be operational for one year once on the moons surface.

Once set upon the lunar surface, it would release a small Moon rover to trundle across the regolith (soil) and to potentially explore polar craters on the Moon hiding vast reserves of water-ice deep in their shadows. A a two-day pan-European lunar meeting to be held in Berlin, Germany on 19th and 20th April 2012 to be held under the umbrella of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s European nodes. (2/25)

Pratt & Whitney Shifts Some Focus to Solar Energy (Source: Palm Beach Post)
For decades, Pratt & Whitney's buzz-cut image has been molded by its work on engines that power space shuttles and F-16 fighter jets. Now, the aerospace firm is shifting some of its focus to solar power. Pratt & Whitney is playing a crucial role in the construction of Crescent Dunes, a $1 billion solar plant in the Nevada desert that promises to create green energy to run air conditioners in Las Vegas.

It's an endeavor that requires no shortage of engineering feats. The project includes more than 10,000 billboard-sized mirrors that reflect sunlight to a receiver atop a 650-foot tower. The receiver will be heated to more than 1,000 degrees, heat that will be used to create steam that produces electricity. The jump from jets and rockets to solar plants isn't such a stretch, said Randy Parsley, a 35-year veteran of Pratt & Whitney's Palm Beach plant.

"It's surprisingly similar," said Parsley, a manager for renewable and alternative energy. "It's the same degree of difficulty." The difficulty comes from Crescent Dunes' ambitious goal of churning out solar power even at night. The project works by pumping molten salt to the top of the tower, where it's heated and then piped back to the ground, where it creates steam that turns a turbine. The plant is being built by SolarReserve of Santa Monica, Calif., a company that's paying Pratt & Whitney $50 million to apply rocket science at a lower altitude. (2/25)

The Trillion Dollar Space Enterprise: How The Lynx Will Change The World (Source: SETI.org)
Fully resuable spacecraft are the critical enabler for regular, low cost and safe access to space, and such access will enable space utilization in ways we've only dreamed about in the past. Much as the early ARPANET laid the foundation for a multi-trillion dollar enterprise revolving around the internet, early reusable spacecraft like the Lynx suborbital vehicle will establish the beginnings of a multi-trillion enterprise revolving around the Earth and our solar system. This talk will lay out a vision of a future space-based Trillion Dollar Enterprise based on a series of realistic and fun "What-ifs." Click here. (2/25)

No comments: