May 7, 2012

NRC Finds U.S. Earth Science Program In Jeopardy (Source: Aviation Week)
The nation’s NASA- and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-administered Earth observation program is at risk of collapse, the victim of poor strategic planning, budget shortfalls and cost overruns, according to a National Research Council assessment. The NRC panel says the effort is largely sustained by the extension of current missions and efforts to find data-gathering alternatives to new satellite systems. Even with recent notable successes, the overall effort is losing ground on multiple fronts, according to the panel’s report. (5/7)

U.S. Commercial Crew Options May Be Limited (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA managers and engineers evaluating the latest batch of proposals for private spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station fear their choices ultimately will be limited. There are growing concerns on Capitol Hill that it will be too expensive to back more than one design.

NASA received proposals for capsules, a lifting body and perhaps other approaches to transporting humans to and from low Earth orbit. But the House of Representatives is set to consider appropriations legislation this week directing an “immediate downselect” to a single commercial crew design. In an election year, “immediate” probably means later rather than sooner, perhaps in a lame-duck session after votes are counted. And NASA was working last week to find backing for an amendment removing the quick-selection language before the House vote, scheduled for May 8. (5/7)

UF Astronomer: Some Giant Planets in Other Systems Most Likely to be Alone (Source: UF)
“Hot Jupiter-type” planets are most likely to be alone in their systems, according to research by a University of Florida astronomer and others, made public today. "Hot Jupiters” are giant planets beyond our solar system, roughly the size of Jupiter but orbiting close to their parent stars and thus much hotter than the Earth or Jupiter, said UF professor Eric Ford. They have very short orbital periods, completing a turn around their stars in fewer than 10 days. This study provides new insights into how they are formed. (5/7)

Looking for Earths by looking for Jupiters (Source: Carnegie Institution)
In the search for Earth-like planets, it is helpful to look for clues and patterns that can help scientist narrow down the types of systems where potentially habitable planets are likely to be discovered. New research from a team including Carnegie’s Alan Boss narrows down the search for Earth-like planets near Jupiter-like planets. Their work indicates that the early post-formation movements of hot-Jupiter planets probably disrupt the formation of Earth-like planets. (5/7)

Apollo Commanders Back Call For Quick Commercial Crew Selection (Source: Aviation Week)
As the House of Representatives begins debate on funding legislation that would direct NASA to move quickly to pick a single commercial crew vehicle for public support, the commanders of three Apollo missions to the Moon endorsed the approach. Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and James Lovell, commanders of Apollo 11, 17 and 13, respectively, told Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. space agency, that they support his panel’s approach to commercial crew vehicle development.

“It seems unlikely that NASA will receive significant budgetary relief in the foreseeable future,” the three retired astronauts wrote in a May 4 letter to Wolf. “Consequently, it is mandatory to maximize return on the limited funds available to access low Earth orbit. An early downselect would seem to be prudent in order to maximize the possibility of developing a crew-carrying spacecraft in time to be operationally useful.” (5/7)

Spaceflight Inc. Unveils the Sherpa In-Space Tug (Source: Flight Global)
Spaceflight Inc. has unveiled its Sherpa in-space tug vehicle to inject hosted payloads into different orbits. Two versions of Sherpa will be built. A smaller version will be capable of accelerating a payload to 400m/s change in velocity, or delta-v. The larger version will be 2,200m/s delta-v. The system will be used on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. A sun-synchronous test flight is planned for early 2014, with a first operational mission for late 2014. (5/7)

Huge Asteroid Is Still the Central Villain in Dinosaurs’ Extinction (Source: New York Times)
For some 30 years, scientists have debated what sealed the fate of the dinosaurs. Was an asteroid impact more or less solely responsible for the catastrophic mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous geological period, 65 million years ago? Or were the dinosaurs already undergoing a long-term decline, and the asteroid was merely the coup de grâce? Click here. (5/7)

US Military Seeks Rapid Satellite ID in Crowded Space (Source:
U.S. military observers can have trouble identifying satellites whizzing overheard in Earth's crowded space lanes. A new Pentagon effort aims to find the unique visual signatures of individual satellites for quick identification, regardless of whether such satellites belong to friend or foe.

DARPA hopes such signatures — remotely seen from ground or space sensors — could even help identify different satellites made by the same manufacturer. But it's not easy. Satellites' orbits may often change between overhead passes, and it's getting more difficult to spot individual satellites in a space becoming more crowded with vehicles, satellites and pieces of leftover space junk. (5/7)

National Academy of Sciences Questions Missile Shield (Source: AP)
More questions are being raised about whether the European missile-defense shield can protect the U.S., this time by the National Academy of Sciences. The academy outlined in a letter to lawmakers its doubts about the shield system and recommendations that part of the system be discontinued. (5/7)

The Triway into Space Declaration (Source: Space Review)
Space advocates often argue whether future exploration and commercialization efforts should focus on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids. Peter Kokh and Al Anzaldua explain why advocates for all three destinations should join forces to ensure appropriate funding for technologies that can be used to realize everyone's goals. Visit to view the article. (5/7)

EnhancedView's Cloudy Future (Source: Space Review)
Late last week GeoEye announced an offer to acquire its chief rival in the commercial remote sensing market, DigitalGlobe, a proposal that was quickly rebuffed by DigitalGlobe. Jeff Foust reports that while there may not be a merger or acquisition involving those companies now, proposed cuts in the government's EnhancedView program could lead to major changes in the industry in the near future. Visit to view the article. (5/7)

Space Merchants and Planetary Mining (Source: Space Review)
Although Planetary Resources got plenty of attention last month with its long-term plans to mine asteroids for water and other resources, it's not the only company with an interest in mining solar system bodies. Ayodele Faiyetole discusses the potential benefits of this emerging commercial interest in extraterrestrial resource extraction. Visit to view the article. (5/7)

SpaceX ISS Launch Reset for May 19 (Source: Discovery)
SpaceX is still wrangling with NASA over the software needed to berth the privately owned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. That issue, combined with the upcoming launch of three new crewmembers to the orbital outpost, is triggering another delay in SpaceX's trial run to the station, a $100 billion outpost owned by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada that orbits about 240 miles above Earth. (5/7)

ULA Workers Reject Strike; Contract in Effect (Source: Huntsville Times)
Unionized workers for United Launch Alliance failed to authorize a strike during a Sunday vote, leading to a three-year contract being accepted despite the majority rejecting it, according to union officials. The contract affects roughly 450 employees in Decatur and 400 more workers at sites in California and Florida. Phillip Carr, chairman of the union's negotiating committee, had said the company wanted to freeze new hires out of a retirement plan. Officials at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had recommended that their members reject the three-year deal and authorize a strike. The current contract had expired over the weekend. (5/7)

It's Star Wars: Travel Agency Takes on Virgin's Galactic (Source: Times Live)
A local intergalactic travel agency is taking on Sir Richard Branson in a quest to prove that it was the first captain in South Africa's space tourism enterprise. In a letter delivered to Virgin Galactic Travel and Tourism's development department in London last night, Orbital Horizon explained that it was the first agent in South Africa to offer flights to outer space and that Virgin was not playing fair.

"We'd like to make clear that we are all for competition. In fact we are glad to see Virgin Galactic arrive; we've been wondering when they'd eventually come join the party," said Orbital Horizon owner Brad Inggs yesterday. In March last year Inggs announced in The Times that he, as a qualified space tourism specialist, was authorised to sell tickets for trips on the RocketShip Tours/XCOR Aerospace Lynx spacecraft. (5/7)

Texas Officials Quiet on Space Launch Site Project (Source: AP)
Proponents of a Texas space base reportedly are getting little encouragement from state officials. Leaders of the Texas space industry are eagerly anticipating the test launch of a private cargo ship to the International Space Station later this month. They hope to persuade SpaceX to develop a launch site in far South Texas.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tells the Houston Chronicle that Brownsville-area officials have been actively involved in pushing the project forward, but "there's not been that much at the state level." Texas Space Alliance founder says Texas must "wake up, not just embrace it but get ahead of it." A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry declined to comment on the state's posture. (5/7)

Editorial: A World Class Visitor Experience at Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
There is no doubt that Spaceport America is well on its way to delivering on the promises made to the state taxpayers. I'm happy to report that 99 percent of the spaceport's Phase One construction is complete, and we should be receiving a certificate of occupancy on the Gateway to Space building and the Spaceport Operations Center shortly. More than 1,000 New Mexicans have worked on the project so far, and more than $12 million in GRT has come back to the state and local counties since the beginning of construction.

In addition, more than $5 million has gone to spaceport-related education since 2009 and we have achieved global media coverage promoting the state of New Mexico valued at over $40 million since the facility's groundbreaking. Virgin Galactic has moved into an office in Las Cruces and will begin paying lease fees to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) this summer on the Gateway building. So far we've hosted 15 other launches from four other customers, seven of which have occurred on my watch in the last year. We have been busy! Click here. (5/7)

Is Texas Forfeiting the Private Space Race? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Later this month, a U.S. company plans to make the first private spaceflight to the International Space Station. Much of the space community views the launch by SpaceX as a watershed moment - the opening of the heavens to private industry, and a glimpse of the public-private nature of future spaceflight. The launch also comes as Texas' future in space is increasingly tenuous, with Johnson Space Center's role unclear amid a NASA that won't have its own functional rocket for at least a decade. (5/7)

How Google Execs Get Flying Privileges at NASA Ames (Source: NBC Bay Area)
You know the name Google, but have you heard of H211? It's the private holding company named after a hangar at NASA's Moffett Field. Inside that hangar sits a fleet of airplanes that have been parked there since 2007. So how does Google play into this? The same men who run Google are the principals of H211. Ken Ambrose is the Executive Director and Vice President of H211. He usually shies away from the spotlight.

In an interview on the tarmac at NASA, NBC Bay Area's Stephen Stock said to Ambrose, "There are some critics who say wait a minute, this is just a well-connected, well heeled, well financed group of people flying their private jets in and out of a government run facility.""I don't think we're doing anything all that unusual. We're willing to do it and we're willing to pay for it," Ambrose answered Stock.

And pay they do. According to an agreement with NASA, H211 shells out $113,365.74 a month. That's a third more rent than they'd have to pay at most other airports. "Why is it so important for H211 to be here, here at NASA," Stock asked Ambrose who answered. "Good question.It's expensive, but it's proximate." (5/7)

Musk: On the Brink of Re-Inventing Space Travel (Source: Daily Maverick)
Mars may not be the place to raise your kids, according to Elton John. “In fact, it’s cold as hell,” he continues in Rocket Man. But if South African-born entrepreneur and owner of SpaceX Elon Musk has his way, the average person who saves a bit will soon be able to go there. Click here. (5/7)

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