April 22, 2012

Multiple Launches Planned This Week (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A Russian Proton is scheduled to launch on Apr. 23 carrying the Yahsat commercial comsat. On Apr. 27, an Indian PSLV rocket will launch the RISAT-1 Earth observation satellite. On Apr. 28, a Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch two Beidou navigation satellites. Then on Apr. 30, a Falcon-9 will be launched to the International Space Station from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (4/22)

Landing is a Variable in NASA Commercial Crew Choice (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA managers looking for at least two commercial vehicles to take crews to the International Space Station have a choice of techniques for returning astronauts to Earth, from parachute landings on land to a gliding touchdown on a runway. As they consider system-level proposals for the third phase of the Commercial Crew Program, known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), space agency evaluators are pondering the eventual use of propulsive vertical landing proposed by SpaceX and perhaps the secretive Blue Origin.

Also on the table are the Boeing and Sierra Nevada entries presented at the National Space Symposium here this week, and an as-yet-undisclosed entry by ATK/Astrium based on the proposed Liberty Rocket. Boeing and Sierra Nevada both plan to use the Atlas V to launch their crew vehicles. The similarity stops there, and landing is a big difference. Boeing’s CST-100 capsule will ride parachutes to an airbag-cushioned land landing at one of three sites in the continental U.S., while the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser can return to a runway landing pretty much anywhere there’s 10,000 ft. of tarmac. (4/22)

An Overview of Stennis Space Center (Source: Biloxi SunHerald)
With some 5,000 employees, SSC has hundreds of scientists and technicians working in fields as varied as propulsion, geospatial technologies and underwater research. It has university operations from two states and has one of the world’s largest supercomputers. The largest tenant is the Navy and its oceanographic research community. It’s also the location of the National Data Buoy Center, the 500-employee NASA Shared Services Center, large data centers, geospatial and earth sciences activities and several university cooperatives.

It’s also a manufacturing center, where Lockheed Martin builds satellite components for the A2100 series of satellites and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne assembles RS-68 and J-2X rockets. SSC has tight security and 3,900 acres of developable land. There are also many more acres that are not yet considered developable. It’s close to three interstates and two commercial and one general aviation airports, and has access to water and rail transportation. (4/21)

GeoEye, Geostellar to Map Solar Power Potential of Every U.S. Rooftop (Source: GeoEye)
GeoEye announced a strategic relationship with Geostellar, an innovative technology company that is transforming the solar energy industry. Under the terms of the agreement, GeoEye will supply high-quality Earth imagery, digital surface models and other mapping data to help Geostellar dramatically expand its service. GeoEye also intends to take a small equity position in the company.

Geostellar has built a breakthrough analytics platform that automatically determines how quickly a given property owner can recoup an investment in solar energy. The company's platform models roof slope, shadows, weather patterns, local utility rates and solar energy subsidies to automate what has historically been a highly manual process. (4/19)

CarbonSat - On the Trail of Greenhouse Gases (Source: Astrium)
Astrium, Europe’s leading space company, will be pushing ahead with the preparation of CarbonSat, a new climate satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA), over the next 22 months. In early April 2012, ESA announced its decision to award Astrium a contract to define the CarbonSat satellite.

Under Astrium’s lead, an international team of engineers will move forward consolidating the various components that make up the CarbonSat satellite. CarbonSat will measure the global concentration and distribution of the two most important greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) – with unprecedented accuracy, providing climate scientists with essential data for climate analysis and for refining climate simulation computer models. (4/19)

Sensenbrenner: Discovery's Last Flight (Source: The Hill)
Poor planning has resulted in the crown jewel of NASA’s human spaceflight history, the Space Shuttle, being relegated to museums. President Obama cancelled Constellation, which was going to serve as the next program for human spaceflight. NASA has since begun development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to serve the agency’s human spaceflight needs. However, this system will not be mission ready for nearly a decade.

I believe that NASA should be retooled through new innovations and competitiveness for future generations. Although I have supported the space program in the past, I believe that problems exist within NASA. The agency must clean up its problems to ensure American space exploration in the future.

America’s role in space exploration is far from dead. In fact, it’s possible its best years are yet to come. I believe NASA can and should be the most impressive, forward-thinking, and successful space agency on the planet. This is an opportunity for a smarter, more efficient and effective agency that will inspire millions and advance human progress—just as the Space Shuttle Program did for generations. (4/18)

Ames Wins Invention of the Year for X-37B Heat Shield (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., has won the 2011 NASA Government Invention of the Year. Ames received the award for developing Toughened Uni-piece Fibrous Reinforced Oxidation-Resistant Composite (TUFROC), a low-cost, lightweight, two-piece, thermal protection system (TPS) for use on space vehicles during atmospheric re-entry at hypersonic speed. TUFROC, a patented technology invented by David A. Stewart and Daniel B. Leiser of Ames, has been successfully demonstrated on the X-37B Reusable Launch Vehicle. (4/22)

Northrop Grumman Donates $375K for Space Foundation Science Center in Colorado (Source: Colorado Springs Gazette)
Northrop Grumman is donating $375,000 to create a science center and teaching lab at the Space Foundation’s Colorado Springs headquarters. The facility, which will be known as the Northrop Grumman Science Center, will be used for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs for teachers and students and for community education outreach efforts.

It will include a Science on a Sphere laboratory, a room-size display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a 6-foot-diameter sphere — essentially a giant animated globe. The science center is the first major component of a visitors center under development at the Space Foundation’s headquarters. Construction on the science center will begin immediately; it could open as early as this fall. (4/21)

The Gap in US Spaceflight (Source: WIRED)
In July 1979 Skylab fell from orbit. Where the heck was the Shuttle, which was supposed to have saved it? The Shuttle was late. July 1979 also marked four years since Americans had flown in space. Much has been made of the current “gap in U.S. spaceflight.” Some even bemoan “the end of U.S. spaceflight.” Poppycock. You call this a gap? I’ll tell you about a gap. I was in 6th grade when the last crew left Skylab (February 1974). A year and a half later Apollo-Soyuz flew. Then, nothing – no Americans in space at all – until April 1981, when I was a sophomore in college.

There was no Internet then. NASA published infrequent mission updates on paper, and wasn’t always good about sending them via snailmail to space-cadet teenagers. During The Great 1970s Gap, humans continued to fly in space. Soviet cosmonauts on Salyut space stations. The Soviets still claimed (falsely) that they had never intended to send men to the moon. We had, they said, spent a lot of money and risked astronaut lives to race ourselves. Many spaceflight opponents repeated that propaganda.

Fast forward to April 2012. Nowadays, there is so much space news available that no one can keep up with all of it. Sadly, some seem unwilling even to try. Gloom and doom is apparently so much easier than finding the facts. The fact is, despite what you may have heard, U.S. spaceflight is alive and well, with more than half a century of experience under its belt. When the 22nd century dawns, one thing is certain: the current non-gap in U.S. spaceflight will be entirely forgotten, just as the real gap of the 1970s is forgotten now. (4/22)

Indian Mars Mission Planned in 2013 (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
Is there life on Mars? The Indian Space Research Organization plans find this out by sending Mars Mission in 2013, which will focus on life, climate and geology of the red planet. It will also conduct research on the origin, evolution and sustainability of life on Mars. Mission Mars precedes the second phase of the Moon Mission, Chandrayaan-2. According to the latest annual report of Isro, the space body has submitted the proposal for Mission Mars to the Central government for approval. (4/21)

SpaceX Marks the Spot for California Science Teacher (Source: KHTS)
Dorraine Petras, Curriculum Specialist in science for Stevenson Ranch Elementary, will be traveling to Cape Canaveral April 30 to watch the launch of the Space X Dragon spacecraft. She says she entered the NASA competition not thinking she had a chance to win. But when she got a congratulatory email she practically blasted into space herself.

“I started yelling. My husband was in his office and I ran in and I said ‘Guess what?! Guess what?! I was chosen, I get to go to Florida and get to watch Space X launch,” said Petras. Petras was one of 50 people selected out of 1,600 entries to watch the launch of the Dragaon spacecraft on its ambitious mission to dock with the International Space Station and return to Earth. (4/20)

Texas County Out of Space Race (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Willacy County entered the space race with the push of a button on May 13, 2003. After a 10-second countdown, a 10-foot, government surplus Super Loki rocket blasted off from Fred Stone County Park in Port Mansfield, headed on a trajectory over the Laguna Madre. A message scrawled on the fuselage said it all: “You carry the dreams of many.” Shooting from zero to 3,500 mph in 2 seconds, the rocket soared to about 180,000 feet into the atmosphere.

At the time, several communities across the country had hopes of creating a so-called “spaceport,” including Kenedy, Pecos and Brazoria counties and places in California, Florida and Virginia. The plan was to develop a permanent site for launching reusable commercial space vehicles.

But by 2006, interest had waned and Willacy County’s dream of becoming the Cape Canaveral of the Texas Gulf Coast never materialized, and lay dormant — until last June. That’s when Willacy County became a contender for a private space company’s launch site. But that opportunity, too, has faded. Now, SpaceX has narrowed its launch site search to three locations, none in Willacy County. SpaceX is focusing on a prospective launch sites at Boca Chica near Brownsville. (4/22)

Editorial: SLS is a Threat to JSC, Texas Jobs (Source: Houston Chronicle)
While NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is a well-intentioned program, we cannot afford to provide NASA with the extra $4-5 billion per year needed to make an SLS-based exploration strategy work. As a result, the human deep space exploration program is on the verge of collapse, which will have severe economic consequences for Texas as well as the nation. Unless something changes soon, the current situation will further degrade and could easily destroy critical human space exploration expertise at Johnson Space Center (JSC) that we will never regain.

Unless something changes soon, many thousands of high-wage Texas jobs will be lost forever. The costs of developing, let alone operating, the SLS within a fixed or declining budget has crowded out funding for critical elements needed for any real deep space human exploration program. We are wasting billions of dollars per year on SLS. There are cheaper and nearer term approaches for human space exploration that use existing launch vehicles. A multicenter NASA team has completed a study on how we can return humans to the surface of the moon in the next decade with existing launch vehicles and within the existing budget.

This NASA plan, which NASA leadership is trying to hide, would save JSC and create thousands of jobs in Texas. It is time for Texas' elected members of Congress to wake up and do something about it before it is too late. Editor's Note: These concerns are based on the expectation of flat or declining budgets for NASA for the foreseeable future. But many are arguing for a greatly expanded NASA budget. Those members of Congress who repeatedly insist that space exploration leadership is a matter of national security should take a few billion from the DOD budget to increase NASA's top-line. The Air Force's space budget is larger than NASA's entire budget. (4/22)

Pentagon Keeping Eye on Raytheon GPS Program Delay (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon's top weapons buyer is keeping close tabs on the ground control system being developed by Raytheon Co to operate current and future Global Positioning System satellites. The company says the system may be up to six months behind schedule. Frank Kendall, defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and other top defense officials raised concerns about delays in the Raytheon program during an annual review of the entire GPS system on April 10. (4/20)

NASA Held Up as a Model of Efficiency? Really? (Source: Florida Today)
If you’re a taxpayer frustrated with inaction by government and political leaders on the epidemic of over-budget, multibillion-dollar space boondoggles, you might want to count to 10 before you read on. Some in Congress have decided that the best way to fix one of America’s biggest budget-busting, behind-schedule space projects is to move the management of the project from the agency now screwing it up to NASA — an agency with a consistent track record of delivering big spacecraft projects billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland with influence over space policy issues and spending, is behind the move. She cites the ineffective management of NOAA as her reason. NOAA’s four major satellite programs are in various states of over budget and behind schedule to the point some in the industry are worried about dangerous gaps in our ability to forecast and warn people about hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather. (4/22)

Wolf’s Commercial Crew: Less Money, Less Competition, More Regulation (Source: Parabolic Arc)
We now know what the House has in mind for NASA’s “reconfigured” commercial crew program. I’ll let Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the House’s Science subcommittee, explain in his own inimitable way: Commercial Crew development is funded at $500 million, consistent with the current authorization and the report accompanying the House Budget Resolution. In light of limited budgets and the need to find the fastest, safest and most cost effective means of achieving a U.S. capability for access to the International Space Station, the bill directs NASA to winnow the commercial partners and advance the schedule for moving to traditional government procurement methods.

So, the House’s “fastest, safest and most cost effective” approach can be summed up as follows: A) Slash $350 million from the President’s request so NASA doesn’t have enough money to do the program the way it wants; B) Use the lack of funds to force NASA to down select earlier than it wants, thus limiting competition that will keep prices down; and C) Require NASA to use traditional government procurement methods as soon as possible, which will likely raise costs even further. Click here. (4/20)

The Whole World: The Power of Seeing the Earth From Space (Source: The Atlantic)
Just over 500 of the more than seven billion human beings that live on Earth have seen with their own eyes what the planet looks like from space. The experience, they say, is profound and humbling. "In one direction there's all of human history laid out in front of us. And we turn 180 degrees, there's nothing, forever and infinity," explained Andy Turnage, executive director of the Association for Space Explorers, an international professional organization for astronauts.

Turnage has not been to space himself, but works with astronauts from across the globe. He says seeing Earth from space -- apart from being hard to explain -- is invariably a sobering experience. "They realize that as an individual you really are a unique creature and you really can have an impact," he says on behalf of his astronaut members. (4/22)

Apollo Astronauts Celebrate 40th Anniversary Of Apollo 16 At KSC (Source: America Space)
With all the fanfare of the shuttle Discovery fly out to Washington this week another great milestone in space was being celebrated over at NASA’s Visitor Center. A small group of paying guests participated in a brief talk / question & answer session with former Apollo astronauts to mark the 40 anniversary of the flight of Apollo 16. The thirty minute event was attended by Luna Module Pilots (LMP) from Apollo missions 13, 14 & 16. Astronauts Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14) and Fred Haise (Apollo 13) gave highlights from their missions before answering questions. (4/21)

Stennis: Leveraging NASA's Assets (Source: Biloxi SunHerald)
What happened in Ohio a decade ago shows why Stennis Space Center guards its massive wooded buffer zone. In 2003, a multimillion-dollar, historic NASA rocket-engine test site was razed to make way for a Cleveland airport runway expansion. That couldn’t happen at SSC, where facilities are buffered from encroachment. “I think that is what really distinguishes SSC,” said Roger Simpson, rocket propulsion test program manager at Stennis.

Stennis is the most capable of the NASA sites where rocket engines are tested. It’s the last place in the country where NASA can test large, full-scale engines or whole rocket stages, and it’s involved in both federal and commercial programs. Though much of SSC’s growth has been outside the realm of propulsion, engine-testing activities have increased recently. So have calls from companies interested in Stennis, the center’s director said. Now SSC is offering an intriguing new carrot: the E-4 facility.

With the commercial space-flight industry playing a growing role, under-utilized NASA assets offer an opportunity at a time when resources are limited for both the federal government and companies. SSC is in the thick of it, and where it could lead is anybody’s guess. SSC is part of a Gulf Coast aerospace region that runs between New Orleans and Northwest Florida. (4/21)

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