May 9, 2012

Please pardon the infrequent and incomplete updates. I am on vacation this week.

Shuttle's End Launches New Space Era (Source: AIA)
The conclusion of the space shuttle program is the start of what could be an exciting new era in space exploration -- if NASA gets the funding it needs, writes Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. "As we approach another election cycle and potentially another budget showdown between the White House and Congress, stable funding for space programs is once again at risk," Blakey writes. "Can we afford to keep pushing the boundaries of the space frontier? In my view, we can't afford not to." (5/9)

Space Veterans Offer NASA Their Liberty Launch System (Source: MSNBC)
At a time when NASA’s human-spaceflight budget is frozen and likely facing cutbacks, the company that built the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters says it has developed a complete astronaut transportation system using America’s existing launch facilities. If NASA lends its support to the system, known as Liberty, the project could end America’s dependence on the Russians to fly its astronauts in as little as three years. ATK says Liberty would be a complete commercial crew transportation system, including the spacecraft as well as ground and mission operations. All of its elements would meet NASA’s requirements for carrying humans, ATK says.

Test flights expected to begin in 2014, first crewed flight in 2015, available for NASA and other customers by 2016. Liberty could be used for space tourist flights as well as flights to private-sector space stations. Price per seat projected to be lower than the $60 million that the Russians are charging NASA. Development would proceed even if NASA provides no support, but without NASA funding, there's "no way I can meet a schedule" for the first crewed flight in 2015, Liberty program manager Kent Rominger says. (5/9)

ATK Announces Complete Liberty System for Commercial Crew (Source: HobbySpace)
ATK has developed Liberty into a complete commercial crew transportation system, including the spacecraft, abort system, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations, designed from inception to meet NASA’s human-rating requirements with a potential for the first test flight in 2014 and Liberty crewed flight in 2015. The company also announced Lockheed Martin will provide support to the ATK and Astrium Liberty team as a major subcontractor on the project.

“Our goal in providing Liberty is to build the safest and most robust system that provides the shortest time to operation using tested and proven human-rated components,” said Kent Rominger, vice president and program manager for Liberty. “Liberty will give the U.S. a new launch capability with a robust business case and a schedule that we expect will have us flying crews in just three years, ending our dependence on Russia.”

Liberty's test flights are expected to begin in 2014, with a crewed mission anticipated in late 2015. The current schedule will support crewed missions for NASA and other potential customers by 2016, with a price-per-seat that is projected to be lower than the cost on the Russian Soyuz rocket. (5/9)

Next Steps in Export Control (Source: Space Politics)
Last month the Defense Department released the final version of the so-called “Section 1248″ report describing the national security implications of moving satellites and related components off the US Munitions List (USML) and thus out of the restrictive jurisdiction of ITAR. The report found that most items can, in fact, be moved off the USML to the less restrictive Commerce Control List (CCL), with the exception of purely military and intelligence satellites and component unique to them as well as remote sensing satellites with “high performance parameters”. (5/9)

Appropriations Amendment Cuts $126 Million from NASA (Source: Space Politics)
Members of the House of Representatives narrowly accepted an amendment late Tuesday night cutting NASA’s budget by $126 million. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), transferred $126 million from NASA’s Cross-Agency Support account to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program in the Department of Justice. The amendment passed 206-204, with 61 Republicans joining 145 Democrats in support of the amendment.

The amendment was one of several debated on the House floor during the day and evening Tuesday that sought to transfer money from NASA, particularly the Cross-Agency Support account, to other programs in the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill. It was, though, the only one to pass. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, was clearly exasperated by those proposed amendments, noting the Cross-Agency Support account supports many critical NASA activities and is not, as it might appear, to be some kind of slush fund. (5/9)

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