May 21, 2012

Mike Griffin to Unveil Non-Partisan Space Policy Goals (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will call on Congress to establish space exploration policy goals which transcend partisan political differences, enhancing the future of the US space program and its ability to cooperate more fully with its international partners.

This ought to be interesting. Griffin has done nothing but try to derail the current Administration’s space agenda. He is a member of space advisory board for Mitt Romney’s campaign. And he’d probably like nothing more than to have his old job back as NASA administrator in a Romney government. All these activities are within his rights as an American. I’m just not sure he should be espousing on what qualifies as non-partisan space policy goals on behalf of an organization that is supposed to be largely above politics. (5/21)

How would the Public React if SETI Found Evidence of Alien Life? (Source: Guardian)
'In a sense, we've run that experiment,' says Seth Shostak, chief alien hunter at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Conspiracy theorists believe that the US government wouldn't trust the public with such knowledge. According to Seth: "There are a lot of people who think that finding life would be enormously disruptive. In this country people say, well if you guys find a signal, the government would shut it down, you'd keep it quiet, and the reason given for that is that it would disrupt society. Well there's no evidence for that at all." Click here. (5/21)

Nice Work, SpaceX (Source: Aviation Week)
It's hard to watch an on-pad abort without a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. The engines have fired and then shut down. The rocket is just sitting there, filled with fuel and liquid oxygen, and the smoke of ignition still wreathes the pad. There hasn't been much opportunity to see how SpaceX handles operations. The public link to their launch loop Saturday morning showed that they do know what they're doing. Pad aborts are hard to do. The company's performance Saturday morning was an encouraging harbinger of what may come in the future. (5/21)

Ames Supports Dragon Heat Shield Technology (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The successful re-entry in late May or early June of the cutting-edge Dragon spacecraft from its demonstration flight to the International Space Station will be enabled in part by thermal protection system (TPS) technologies developed, tested and flight-qualified at Ames.

“We wouldn’t be here without the help of NASA – the core technologies developed by NASA have made this day possible,” said Elon Musk after the successful Dragon re-entry in 2010. “The performance of the heat shield was spectacular. In an exercise of caution, we designed the heat shield to not just handle Earth orbit re-entry, but to actually be able to handle a worst-case, off-nominal lunar and Mars re-entry, so it’s an extremely capable heat shield and opens up a lot of possibilities.” (5/21)

Funding Humans to Mars (Source: Space Review)
Developing a compelling case to fund decades-long efforts to send humans to Mars has been challenging for space advocates and government agencies. Frank Stratford suggests an alternative mechanism that could make such missions possible without necessarily putting them at the forefront. Visit to view the article. (5/21)

Tiptoeing Back to the Moon (Source: Space Review)
While attention in recent weeks on commercial space activities has been focused on ventures like Planetary Resources and SpaceX, teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition make slow but steady progress. Jeff Foust report on how teams will have to deal with one complication for their lunar exploration plans: taking care not to disturb historic lunar landing sites. Visit to view the article. (5/21)

Separation of Powers Battle over a Space Code of Conduct Heats Up (Source: Space Review)
Last week the House of Representatives approved a defense authorization bill that includes a provision effectively preventing the administration from implementing a space code of conduct. Michael Listner examines the battle shaping up between the White House and some members of Congress. Visit to view the article. (5/21)

House Defense Bill Defies Threat of Presidential Veto (Source: Reuters)
The National Defense Authorization Act, which the House of Representatives approved last week, appears to set the House up for a clash with President Barack Obama. The measure, which approves $642.5 in defense spending next year, exceeds the president's military spending plan and faces the threat of veto. (5/21)

NASA Plan to Boost Jobs Draws Criticism (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A rift is developing within NASA over whether the space agency's primary mission should be to help create jobs or to put spacecraft into Earth orbit. NASA officials have been emphasizing the goal of promoting high-tech jobs while aerospace experts say NASA needs to focus on safety and human spaceflight.

NASA Emphasis on Private Flights as a Jobs Engine Leads to Scientific, Safety Worries (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Putting U.S. astronauts aboard private spacecraft originally was intended to accelerate the pace and slash the cost of manned exploration. But now, National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials are debating whether the plan's main goal should be fostering jobs to stimulate the economy. Tension between boosting science or the economy erupted during a meeting earlier this year at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Addressing a group of high-level outside advisers, Lori Garver emphasized that the primary aim of outsourcing cargo and crew transportation to private industry is to promote thousands of high-tech jobs. Alarmed, aerospace experts on NASA's safety panel shot back that the program's direction should remain focused on long-standing engineering and performance criteria: building rockets and capsules able to reliably reach Earth's orbit. Critics of the agency say moves to play down short-term transportation goals in favor of broader economic stimulus are clouding the future of U.S. human spaceflight and raising questions about safety.

The disputes are heating up as SpaceX prepares to launch the first private cargo mission to the international space station. The White House hopes to capitalize on such commercial initiatives—and NASA's projections of resulting job growth—as another high-profile bid to boost the economy. Emphasizing job creation is hardly novel for NASA, which during the Cold War began spreading facilities and payrolls across many states partly as a strategy to lock in congressional support for big-ticket items. Contractors routinely trumpeted employment impacts for specific states or regions. (5/21)

Before Humans Step Into Commercial Spaceflight, Laws Need to Make Next Leap (Source: UNL)
SpaceX’s launch to the International Space Station opens a new era in commercial spaceflight. It also raises a new round of questions about what laws govern private space companies and what legal obstacles may impede future human space travel, a space law expert said. If commercial space carriers’ shuttling of supplies to the ISS, as with Dragon, evolves into the ferrying of astronauts and other human passengers into space, then a new set of legal issues will emerge, said Frans von der Dunk, professor of space law at the University of Nebraska.

“For a commercial vendor, bringing cargo to the International Space Station is relatively simple if it’s correctly arranged and includes the involvement of the partners in the ISS venture, if appropriate,” von der Dunk said. “However, the next step already looms.” That phase involves human cargo, he said. In our post-Space Shuttle world, only Russia currently has the capability to bring humans to the station and back, which likely will bring rapid rise to commercial space companies with plans to transport astronauts to the ISS. Click here. (5/21)

Stratolaunch Progress Report (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Stratolaunch project is moving along at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Two 747-422s are being stripped for parts to build the mammoth rocket launching platform, which will be the biggest aircraft in the world. Meanwhile, the first of two hangars is nearing completion at the other end of the spaceport. Click here for some photos. (5/21)

Orbital Sciences CEO Criticizes DoD's Proposed 'Block Buy' Of EELVs From ULA (Source: Defense Daily)
The Pentagon’s proposed “block buy” of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) from United Launch Alliance (ULA) will perpetuate a “long-term, high-cost monopoly,” according to comments from Orbital Sciences Corp.'s CEO. (5/21)

LightSquared Showed How Not to do Business in D.C. (Source: Space News)
“LightSquared’s debacle,” the Post says, “is a cautionary tale in Washington, where vast fortunes are made and lost at the hand of regulators.” Coming from the secretive world of hedge funds as founder of Harbinger Capital, Falcone was ill equipped to deal with the openness of the federal regulatory process, the Post reports. With the right political and lobbying skills, LightSquared could have succeeded, observers said.

“Doing business with Washington, D.C., is very risky, even when you have an incredible idea that can save an industry from a rapidly growing threat,” telecom and tech analyst Jeffrey Kagan said. “Do it the right way and you win. Do it the wrong way and you are LightSquared.” (5/21)

Welcome to the Multiverse (Source: Newsweek)
Einstein said: “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in creating the world.” That’s how Einstein, in his characteristically poetic way, asked whether our universe is the only possible universe. The reference to God is easily misread, as Einstein’s question wasn’t theological. Instead, Einstein wanted to know whether the laws of physics necessarily yield a unique universe—ours—filled with galaxies, stars, and planets.

Or instead, like each year’s assortment of new cars on the dealer’s lot, could the laws allow for universes with a wide range of different features? And if so, is the majestic reality we’ve come to know—through powerful telescopes and mammoth particle colliders—the product of some random process, a cosmic roll of the dice that selected our features from a menu of possibilities? Or is there a deeper explanation for why things are the way they are?

In Einstein’s day, the possibility that our universe could have turned out differently was a mind-bender that physicists might have bandied about long after the day’s more serious research was done. But recently, the question has shifted from the outskirts of physics to the mainstream. And rather than merely imagining that our universe might have had different properties, proponents of three independent developments now suggest that there are other universes, separate from ours, most made from different kinds of particles and governed by different forces, populating an astoundingly vast cosmos. (5/21)

Intelsat Files for $1.75 Billion Initial Public Offering (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on May 18 filed for a $1.75 billion initial public offering (IPO) of stock in a long-awaited transaction that will test investors’ belief in a satellite telecommunications sector that no longer offers double-digit growth rates but remains highly profitable once the initial barriers to entry are cleared.

The Intelsat filing, made with the New York Stock Exchange and managed by Goldman Sachs, will also answer the question of whether the market is willing to set aside Intelsat’s $16.2 billion in debt as of March 31 to focus on what Intelsat says are the industry’s solid cash-generating fundamentals. (5/21)

Telerobotics Offers Third Way for Space Exploration (Source: New Scientist)
Space exploration may have a new direction. In the 1960s, humans did the exploring but since the last moon landing in 1972, NASA's only explorers beyond low Earth orbit have been semi-autonomous robots. Now the agency is pondering a third approach, sending astronauts who would remain in orbit around alien worlds and explore via robotic rovers.

On Earth, human-controlled robots are used for tasks ranging from delicate surgery to exploration of the deep sea. But in space, robotic "telepresence" could be even more promising. Telerobotics would be orders of magnitude more productive for exploration than semi-autonomous robots like the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, says NASA's George Schmidt, an organizer of the Exploration Telerobotics Symposium at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Nothing beats having human cognition and dexterity in the field," he says.

But there is a hitch in trying to control from Earth a robot that's exploring another planet: the huge time lag as the signals travel back and forth. Real-time reactions are needed for it to work. For example, surgeons can perform operations well as long as the robot responds to their actions within about half a second. Greater latencies cause problems. (5/21)

KSC Master Plan Rewrite Underway (Source: Florida Today)
KSC’s master plan has not received a major revision since 2003, Trey Carlson said. That was a year before President George W. Bush announced his now-scrapped plan to create a lunar outpost and sent astronauts to Mars. Now, Carlson’s department has drafted a 44-page master-strategy rewrite through 2031 — much of which “flies in the face” of typical NASA planning. For example, new safety guidelines must be set “so Company A doesn’t make a mistake and blow up Company B,” he quipped. These concepts were approved in February at NASA headquarters. Now, Carlson’s office will spend the next 12 to 15 months fleshing out details. Click here. (5/21)

“Privatizing” Space: Uncle Sam Still Pays the Bills (Source: City Watch)
The temptation to celebrate the privatization of space exploration—-the unleashing of all those entrepreneurial billionaires to take us where we haven’t been before—-is understandable. But it’s also misguided. Uncle Sam is still the indispensable player in this venture. The U.S. government, via NASA, has paid SpaceX about $350 million over the past five years, which is about half of the company’s budget.

(The rest has come from Musk’s fortune and other contracts.) The company’s launches—-from Omelek Island in the Pacific, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and from Cape Canaveral-—depend on government infrastructure. In an August report, NASA estimated that it would have cost almost $4 billion for NASA to develop the Falcon 9 using a traditional approach, while it could be done with $1.7 billion using a more “commercial” approach. SpaceX has spent, says Musk, $300 million to develop the Falcon 9. Click here. (5/21)

Design Dilemma: Redundancy Adds to Complexity (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The last-second abort on Saturday of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s test flight to the international space station highlights a fundamental aerospace design dilemma: adding redundancy sometimes leads to its own problems. The company's Falcon 9 rocket, with a cluster of nine identical first-stage engines, is a prominent example of engineers relying on extra levels of redundancy. The goal is enhanced reliability, greater safety and enough thrust to blast more than 11 tons into low-earth orbit. (5/21)

4 Reasons Why the SpaceX Launch Scrub Was Not A Failure (Source: PolicyMic)
At 4:55 a.m. on Saturday, hordes of space enthusiasts held their breath as engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center prepared to see SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket off to the International Space Station (ISS) — a mission which, if successful, would have been the first private one to accomplish its aim of being the first private vehicle to dock with the station. As the countdown timer at Cape Canaveral, Fla. neared zero, the rocket’s engines revved before shutting down with half a second to go. With the spacecraft still grounded, the mission was soon officially aborted.

To sync up with the ISS’ orbit, the rocket must be launched during a near-instantaneous window that grows earlier by approximately 20 minutes per day. Thus, even the slightest errors mandate that the mission be shelved for the day, resulting in a highly anticlimactic experience for those watching. But in spite of this temporary disappointment, there are still many reasons to be optimistic about SpaceX and its potential as a future space industry pioneer.

1) An aborted mission is not a failed one; 2) For a scrubbed mission, a 72-hour turnaround is exceptional; 3) SpaceX has already made leaps and bounds for the space industry; and 4) NASA knows what it is doing with its funds. Click here for the entire story. (5/21)

Is Private Industry Ready for Space (Source: CBC)
Until now, space has belonged to government- and military-backed projects. The California-based company is sowing the seeds for private enterprise above Earth’s atmosphere, but some have questioned whether private industry is ready for such an expensive and dangerous undertaking. “Why not?” is the simple response from Julie Payette, former chief astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency.

She likens the beginning of private space travel to the development of commercial aviation and the transportation sector in general, but says differences lie in the safety level, because of the environment and complexity of sending people to space. “That doesn’t mean they can’t do it,” she says. "It's in the best interest of a commercial company that would offer space flight to people to do it properly, because they are not going to stay in business [otherwise].” (5/21)

First GPS III Launch Delayed by Up to a Year, OCX by Two Years (Source: Inside GNSS)
The launch of the first GPS III satellite has slipped to 2015 and completion of the ground control system is now delayed by up to two years, according to the chief of the Air Force’s space operations “We'll be ready to launch the first GPS III in 2015, but it now appears the next generation GPS Operational Control System, or OCX, won't be ready for about a year or two after that,” General William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command said. the first GPS III satellite had been expected to launch sometime in 2014.

The slip in the satellite’s launch date, however, is not due to development problems with the spacecraft, according to the program’s primary contractor. Several sources familiar with the program suggested that the launch delay might be due to a shortage of launch capacity. The Air Force did not respond to questions about the delay by press time. (5/2)

Sea Launch Prepares for Intelsat 19 Launch on May 31 (Source: Sea Launch)
The Sea Launch vessels have departed Sea Launch Home Port in Long Beach, California for the equator, in preparation for the launch of the Intelsat-19 satellite owned by Intelsat. Liftoff is planned for 10:23 p.m. PDT on May 31, at the opening of a 120-minute launch window. Upon their arrival at 154 degrees West Longitude, the Sea Launch team will initiate a 72-hour countdown. After ballasting the Launch Platform Odyssey to launch depth, the team will roll out and erect a Zenit-3SL rocket on the launch pad, execute final tests and then proceed with fueling operations and launch. All personnel on the Launch Platform will transfer to the Sea Launch Commander for liftoff. (5/21)

No comments: