June 15, 2012

NASA And FAA To Discuss Commercial Human Space Transportation National Goals (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acting Administrator Michael Huerta will participate in a media teleconference at 11 a.m. EDT Monday, June 18, to discuss advancements in commercial spaceflight. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's website here. (6/15)

Florida Defense Contract Award Revenue Down Nearly $1 Billion (Source: FLDC)
Florida's economy would have had a much bigger mountain to climb over the last few years if not for the defense sector. As other major industries and sectors shrank, Florida's 20 military installations and thousands of defense businesses saw growth. The defense economic sector in Florida is over $60 billion and accounts for about 10% of the state's economy. Of that, Florida defense businesses - large, medium, and small - contribute $13.3 billion in revenue earned from direct federal contract awards and provide high wage, 21st century jobs we all want here.

However...that contract award amount is down from $14.1 billion in 2010, and even $14.2 billion in 2009, and those jobs are in danger of being lost for good or to other states. Last year's decline was the first in over a decade, and the trend continued, in a much bigger way, this year. This new and daunting challenge facing Florida will create a drag on the state's economy. The total proposed federal budget cuts over the next decade, about $1 trillion, will make things even worse. (6/15)

Original Space Shuttle Mock-Up to Come Out of Hiding (Source: LA Times)
When NASA officials were mulling over where to send each of four retired space shuttles, no fewer than 21 museums across the country fought to land one in their cities. Some of the most well-known museums in the country put forward elaborate plans on how they could afford the multimillion-dollar undertaking of displaying such an outsized piece of space history.

This week, officials in the city of Downey turned their attention to another shuttle, long forgotten to most of the world. Sitting in a nondescript warehouse in Downey, under a coat of dust and waves of plastic sheeting, is a full-scale mock-up — largely made of wood and plastic — built in 1972 by shuttle manufacturer Rockwell. For decades, the 122-foot-by-78-foot model has remained hidden away at the former manufacturing site that was the cradle of the nation's space program.

But that's set to change. On Tuesday, the Downey City Council approved the temporary relocation of the mock-up to a large tent on a nearby movie studio parking lot where, starting late this summer, people may be able to catch a glimpse of it. "Except for some school trips years ago, it's never been open to the public," Downey Councilman Mario A. Guerra said. Click here. (6/15)

Washington Next Stop For Mars Recovery Planning (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s Mars Planning Program Group (MPPG), armed with an array of new ideas for exploring the red planet in the wake of budget cuts, is now preparing to send its recommendations forward to the murky realm of Washington politics, with its reputation for bold visions and vague follow-through. “Budget is the driver. It’s not a matter of what you can do. It’s a matter of when you can do it,” says Doug McCuistion, NASA’s Mars Program director.

A quick verdict from Washington policymakers on a more affordable blueprint could be wishful thinking. A closely contested presidential election and Congressional politics could place NASA’s proposed 2013 spending plan, with its near 40% cut in Mars spending and prospects for deeper reductions to follow, under the thumb of a budgetary continuing resolution, preventing a meaningful, high-level restructuring of its exploration strategy until well into 2013. A change in administrations could snarl efforts to establish a new Mars strategy even longer. (6/15)

Astronauts to Hold Summer Olympics in Space (Source: Space.com)
To mark the upcoming Olympic Games in London, a crew of astronauts due to launch to the space station this summer is planning an orbital sporting event for the occasion. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Japanese Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko are due to launch July 14 to the International Space Station. Their planned four-month stay in space will overlap with the London 2012 Olympics July 27 to Aug. 12, so the sporty spaceflyers have something up their sleeves to celebrate the event.

"We're just tossing around ideas right now, what kind of sport event we can do. That's something I'm looking forward to," said Hoshide. Astronauts have staged orbital sports before. In fact, for the last Olympic Games, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the 11 astronauts aboard the space station and the space shuttle Endeavour, which was docked there at the time, recreated the event in orbit. (6/15)

Liu Yang, China's First Female Astronaut (Source: Xinhua)
An eloquent speaker and a lover of cooking, Liu Yang is well-poised to be the first Chinese woman in space. When she watched the news on television of China's first manned space mission in 2003, the pilot couldn't help but wonder: What would the Earth look like from outer space? Nine years later, Liu is getting the opportunity to find out herself as China's first female astronaut, taking her place among three Chinese chosen to crew the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft. The 33-year-old will be in charge of medical experiments during the mission. (6/15)

Air Force's Secret X-37B Space Plane May Land This Weekend (Source: Space.com)
A robotic Air Force space plane that has spent more than a year in orbit on a mystery mission is slated to come back down to Earth this weekend, perhaps by Saturday, Air Force officials say. The Air Force is aiming to land its secret X-37B space plane, which has spent 15 months in space, on Saturday (June 16) at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. But that timeline is dependent on the weather and other considerations, officials said. (6/15)

Water Recovery of Falcon-9 Stages No Longer Planned (Source: SPACErePORT)
After the first two Falcon-9 launches from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, SpaceX teams were hoping to recover the rockets' first stages to see if on future missions the nine engines could be refurbished and reused. In both cases the engines were lost at sea. Now, with long-term plans for powered vertical landings for both stages of its Falcon-9 rockets and its Dragon capsules, SpaceX has abandoned plans for water recovery, according to spokeswoman Kirsten Brost Grantham. Here's a video showing how the powered landings would work, including a conceptual landing pad located adjacent to the Space Shuttle runway at the spaceport. (6/15)

Orbital Books First Order for Higher-power Satellite Platform (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corp. on June 14 said it had booked an inaugural order for its new, higher-power telecommunications satellite design. Orbital has invested heavily in its GeoStar 3 satellite platform, designed to deliver 7 kilowatts of power to its communications payload, up from 5 kilowatts for Orbital’s current satellite design. Going from 5 to 7 kilowatts gives Orbital a wider market. (6/15)

Orbital Sees Slight Delays with Antares (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. now plans to test-fire the first stage of its Antares rocket in late July or early August at their new Wallops Island launch pad in Virginia — a month later than the schedule announced in late April. A successful test-firing will be followed by a demonstration flight of the two-stage Antares vehicle, without the Cygnus cargo module, in August or September.

The first Antares-Cygnus flight, designed to carry cargo to the international space station, then would occur in November or December. Antares and Cygnus would begin regular cargo deliveries to the station, under Orbital’s Cargo Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, at a rate of two flights per year starting in 2013. (6/15)

Kazakhstan Permits Russia to Make Unplanned Launches from Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
Kazakhstan has permitted Russia to make unplanned launches from Baikonur. “We have reached a basis agreement on Kazakhstan’s permission of unplanned launches. I think that is a good agreement, which will assist the settlement of all sensitive problems,” Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said on Friday. (6/15)

U.S. Foreign Military Sales Hit $50 Billion (Source: Defense News)
With a $29.4 billion sale to Saudi Arabia of Boeing fighter jets, the U.S. so far has made $50 billion in government-to-government military sales this year, already topping 2011's $30 billion. The U.S. is working hard to close a $1.4 billion sale to India of Boeing Apache helicopters, says Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. (6/14)

Senator Says Action on Defense Cuts is Needed Before Election (Source: AOL Defense)
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says action on sequestration cuts must come in the fall, before Election Day, to avoid layoff notices going out at defense and aerospace firms. "It's very, very likely that there will be no sequestration because 90% of us don't want it to happen," Levin said. Editor's Note: The cuts that would occur with sequestration would almost certainly impact DOD space spending. (6/14)

United Technologies to Sell More Businesses (Source: AP)
The chief financial officer of United Technologies Corp. said Thursday that the industrial conglomerate will sell more businesses. UTC is selling several units to raise as much as $3 billion to help finance its $16.5 billion purchase of airplane parts manufacturer Goodrich Corp. UTC announced in March that it will sell its rocket fuel and wind power companies and three industrial units of its aerospace parts maker Hamilton Sundstrand.

Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes said UTC is now looking at “strategic alternatives" for UTC Power, the company’s fuel cell business, and a “couple other" subsidiaries. “We’re not done yet," he said. “There are a few more to go." It’s the second time in as many months that a top executive of United Technologies signaled that UTC Power will likely be unloaded. (6/14)

America’s Response to China’s Challenge in Space (Source: Heritage Foundation)
The Shenzhou-IX mission highlights China’s ongoing efforts in space. In the 2011 Chinese space white paper, one announced goal was “100 rockets and 100 satellites” during the ongoing Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011–2015). For 2012 alone, the Chinese are hoping to launch 30 satellites over the course of 21 launches. An unstated objective for the Chinese is to equal or surpass the U.S. in space. In 2011, the Chinese launched 19 payloads into space, compared with 18 U.S. launches. This was the first time in history that China had more launches than the U.S. did.

China also announced "studies" in a crewed mission to the moon. This is a clear signal that Beijing intends to eventually have its astronauts plant the flag of the PRC on the lunar surface. China is building not only the Long March-5, a heavy lift booster, but also the Long March-6 and -7, which will provide it with a full range of modernized launch systems capable of reaching low, medium, and geosynchronous orbits. China also intends to develop a high-resolution, multi-spectral earth observation system; in short, China will field its own spy satellites.

Meanwhile, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, the U.S. no longer has the ability to place its own astronauts into orbit, currently relying on the Russian space program to reach the International Space Station. For the U.S., the question is whether there will be a coherent response to the Chinese challenge. (6/15)

Tiangong's Big Tasks (Source: Space Daily)
The flight of the first crew to China's Tiangong 1 space laboratory is another step in China's most ambitious human spaceflight project to date. Tiangong 1 is barely larger than the Shenzhou spacecraft that are used to visit it. It's not large enough to be a real space station, and it will spend most of its lifetime unoccupied. However, this module gives China a strong foothold in spaceflight. Just getting Tiangong 1 into orbit was an achievement. This represents an entirely new spacecraft. Some of the technology it contains is almost certainly recycled from the Shenzhou spacecraft that China has flown since 1999, but much of it is new. (6/15)

China Plans Medical Research Aboard its Space Lab Module (Source: Xinhua)
China will conduct space medical experimental research on Tiangong-1 space lab module in the upcoming manned space flight, China's manned space program spokeswoman Wu Ping said Friday. It is a key task to ensure the astronauts' physical health and high working efficiency as the orbiting flight time will continuously increase in the later space station phase, Wu said. During the upcoming manned space docking mission between the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft and the Tiangong-1, three major aspects of aerospace medical experimental research will be conducted, she said. Click here. (6/15)

Dawn Easing into its Final Science Orbit (Source: NASA JPL)
After successfully completing nearly five months scrutinizing the giant asteroid Vesta at its lowest orbit altitude, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will begin its final major science data-gathering phase at Vesta on June 15, at an average altitude of 420 miles (680 kilometers) above the surface. Over the past six weeks, Dawn has been gently spiraling up from its lowest orbit - 130 miles, or 210 kilometers, above the surface - to the final planned science orbit, known as high-altitude mapping orbit 2. Observations obtained from this orbit will provide a companion set of data and images to those obtained during the first high-altitude mapping orbit phase, completed in October 2011.

A key difference will be that the angle of sunlight hitting Vesta has changed, illuminating more of its northern region. The principal science observations planned in this new orbit will be obtained with the framing camera and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. (6/15)

Incoming! Solar Storms On the Way (Source: MSNBC)
For the second day in a row, the sun has sent a blast of electrically charged particles toward Earth — and according to SpaceWeather.com, that means we're in for a double shot of geomagnetic activity early Saturday. But not to worry: The most noticeable effect of the twin M-class blasts should be heightened auroral displays. Both of the coronal mass eruptions, or CMEs, originated in a sunspot region known as AR1504, which is currently pointing in Earth's direction. AR1504 has been shooting off a series of flares in recent days, including an M1.2-class flare on Wednesday and an M1.5 today. None of the flares have approached the X-class level, which would have the potential for significant disruptions in power grids or satellite-based communication. (6/14)

City Block-Size Asteroid 2012 LZ1 Zips by Earth (Source: Space.com)
A newly discovered asteroid the size of a city block cruised past Earth well beyond the orbit of the moon Thursday night (June 14), providing a rare treat for scientists and telescope-equipped observers. The 1,650-foot-wide (500-meter) near-Earth asteroid 2012 LZ1 came within 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers) of our planet during its closest approach at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday. Since that's about 14 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, the asteroid was never close enough to threaten Earth, or to be seen by most backyard skywatchers. (6/14)

1983: Lunar Base or Space Station? (source: WIRED)
In Dec. 1983, the National Science Foundation’s Division of Policy Research and Analysis enlisted Science Applications Incorporated (SAI) to compare the science and technology research potential of an Earth-orbiting space station and a base on the moon. In its report, which was completed on Jan. 10, 1984, SAI cautioned that, because its study was performed “in a very short two-week period,” it could offer only “a preliminary indication” of the relative merits of a space station in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and a lunar base.

Though SAI did not say so, its study had a short turnaround time because its results were meant to be made available to the White House ahead of President Ronald Reagan’s planned announcement of a NASA space station program during his Jan. 25, 1984 State of the Union Address.

To conclude its report, SAI noted that both the LEO station and the lunar base could be completed in about a decade. The LEO station would, however, serve a broader science user community and would provide an OTV base in LEO for eventual lunar base use. The SAI team argued that the LEO station was a reasonable near-term (for the next 10 years) objective, while the lunar base would yield obvious benefits in a long-term (50 years) space program. Click here. (6/15)

Envisat - Legal Issues with the Threat of a Massive Space Debris (Source: Space Safety)
An advanced remote sensing satellite designed to provide accurate data on the Earth environment, Envisat leaves the space community after 10 years of stunning images and continuous measurements that made possible more than 2500 scientific publications[1]. Launched by the European Space Agency in 2002 to ensure the continuity of data measurements with the European Remote Sensing Satellites ERS-1 and 2, the satellite abruptly stopped communicating last April, soon after its 10th birthday.

However, the natural “death” of Envisat, with its 8 tons weight and the size of a schoolbus, does not only mean the loss of a useful tool for measurements, but also the birth of a new massive “space debris” and the consequent growth of the population of “space junk” polluting Low Earth Orbits. Destined to remain in a very populated orbit for about 150 years, posing repeated conjunction and collision hazards to other spacecrafts, the Envisat case triggers a series of legal and political issues, as unambiguous solutions are sought to a problem that seems to be more and more pressing.

The adoption of collision avoidance maneuvers or end-of-life measures are until now not imposed by any binding Treaty and are accordingly left to the goodwill of States. In such a context, and especially since such maneuvers require fuel, thus reducing the lifespan of space objects and causing add-up expenditure, the right to access space itself for all spacefaring countries results as unsecured. Click here. (6/15)

China's Sea Divers, From 6,055 Meters Below, Wish Shenzhou-9 Success (Source: Xinhua)
The three sea divers Ye Cong, Cui Weicheng and Yangbo inside China's manned deep-sea submersible Jiaolong delivered their best wishes to the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft launch from 6,055 meters below the sea of the Mariana Trench on Friday. The dive, which began at 9 a.m. local time Friday (2300 GMT Thursday), is the first of a series of six scheduled ones to attempt the country's deepest-ever 7,000-meter manned dive. (6/15)

Strike Into Space (Source: Biz Community)
The announcement of South Africa's first Accredited Space Agent (ASA), Vanessa Rothery, by Virgin Galactic, took place on the 2nd May at Virgin Atlantic in Johannesburg and was followed by a spectacular launch at Turbine Hall the next day. Attending the launch was Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic's Commercial Director, who commented: "Virgin Galactic is on track to become the world's first commercial spaceline and South Africans can now book their seats and join Virgin's founder Sir Richard Branson and over 500 other first-time space travelers from around the world." (6/15)

Canadian Space Agency Scraps Mars Rover Plan (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
A plan to send a Canadian rover to Mars in 2018 is dead, the Canadian Space Agency has confirmed. MDA, Canada’s biggest space engineering company, had combined with NASA to design a Mars rover. The machine was supposed to fly in 2018 aboard a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission, until NASA ran short of money and pulled out. The Europeans have tentatively partnered with Russia to keep ExoMars alive, but Gilles Leclerc, director general of space exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, confirmed Wednesday they don’t want the MDA rover. (6/15)

July 5 Date Set for Ariane-5 EchoStar Launch (Source: Broadband TV News)
Arianespace’s next Ariane 5 flight (VA207) is scheduled to lift off on Thursday, July 5 with the EchoStar XVII high-throughput relay platform for Hughes Network Systems, and the MSG-3 meteorological spacecraft for EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites). The VA207 flight’s Ariane 5 currently is in the Spaceport’s final assembly building, ready for integration of the EchoStar XVII and MSG-3 satellites. (6/15)

Indian Mars Program Preferred Over Solar Mission (Source: DNA)
India’s mission to Mars will be launched next year, ahead of the mission to study the sun which was earlier scheduled to kick off in 2013. Delays in getting the instrumentation ready for the Aditya-1 sun mission, under the aegis of Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), and Mars coming close to Earth over the next two years, has led to a change in the space mission schedules.

Aditya-1 is taking a lot of time to develop, as it is the first of its kind developed in India. Meanwhile, ISRO’s Mars project got a big boost when it received a budgetary allocation of Rs125 crore for its launch earlier this year. ISRO has three Mars launch windows – 2013, 2016 and 2018. The first launch window is some time in November 2013. (6/15)

Space Exploration Enthusiasts Say US Program Adrift (Source: Voice of America)
NASA has ambitious plans for exploring Mars with the robotic rover called Curiosity, scheduled to land on the red planet in August. But NASA's long-range plan to send a human crew there by 2030 is under fire from critics, who include some former NASA astronauts and managers. The critics doubt such a mission will ever come about and some also question whether it should. Many veterans of NASA's glory years, such as former Johnson Space Center Director Chris Kraft, are critics of the agency's plan to send astronauts to Mars.

“That objective is ludicrous. It cannot be done. It cannot be done technically and, more importantly, it cannot be done financially,” Kraft said. Kraft says the new Space Launch System proposed by NASA at a cost of around $5 billion is too expensive and that it would be better to utilize existing rocket systems for exploration beyond earth's orbit. He also says an ambitious goal like sending humans to Mars requires a detailed plan with intermediate, preliminary steps, like establishing bases on the moon.

NASA's Constellation program did include such steps, but President Barack Obama cancelled it in 2010 with approval from many scientists, who wanted a more ambitious goal. Editor's Note: In canceling Constellation's lunar base plan in favor of asteroid missions, I think President Obama actually backed a less ambitious (or at least less difficult) program. (6/15)

The Politics of Going Interstellar (Source: Forbes)
Though several far-sighted minds see the value of pursuing starflight, national and global priorities seem to be based on reactionary, near-term group-think. Also, many consider that it is not time to pursue starflight until after we’ve made it easier to get into orbit and have colonies on the moon and Mars; reasonable learning steps. So, NASA remains pre-occupied with near-term human spaceflight goals.

The lesson from recurring patterns in history, however, suggests that it is best to pursue both the next-obvious actions and the revolutionary advances that could circumvent those nearer-term actions. By evoking the goal of starflight, it forces us to look beyond extrapolations of existing methods, to seek the breakthroughs that could change everything, the breakthroughs that others can’t explore. But it is difficult to comprehend the imperative of starflight.

NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Program (BPP)ended when ‘all’ NASA propulsion research was canceled in late 2002. The culprit was a congressional earmark to build a propulsion research lab in Alabama. That building cost more than all the propulsion research funds put together, hence, no more research. Click here. (6/15)

NASA Teams Evaluating ISS-Built Exploration Platform Roadmap (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA’s Human Architecture Team (HAT) are nearing the end of their support activity phase for what could be the major focal point for exploring deep space destinations. The Exploration Gateway/Platform – constructed from international modules at the ISS, before being deployed to EML2 – would see greater involvement from “existing launchers” in building the staging ground for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

Mainly referred to as the Exploration Gateway – but also known as the Exploration Platform or L2 Waypoint – the concept calls for the launch of several modules for construction at the International Space Station (ISS), prior to departing to Earth-Moon Lagrange (EML) point 2, part way towards the Moon, serving as a deep space outpost.

Several conceptual versions of the Gateway have been developed since it first started to gain mentions in the Exploration debate last year. However, the concepts that involve the use of a large amount of existing hardware are understood to be the most viable, with costs further mitigated by the use of existing launchers to loft the hardware to the ISS. Click here. (6/15)

NASA Exploration Roadmap Development Faces Political Headwinds (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Several documented dates for the completion of an exploration roadmap have come and gone over the last several months, mainly due – it is claimed – to the uncertainty with NASA’s long term budget projections. However, a baseline of sorts does exist. Two heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) missions would launch Orion capsules to lunar orbit and back, the first uncrewed and the second crewed, with a four-year gap inbetween.

While this four year gap is painfully uninspiring, the rest of the current plan is painfully undefined, with NASA leadership continuing to use an almost scripted line of “heading to an asteroid in the mid 2020s, followed by Mars in the mid 2030s“. It is likely such leaders are unable to say any more, given the political direction they have to abide by, and the impossibility of setting specific targets and dates that range decades – and many administrations – into the future. (6/15)

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