June 6, 2012

California Spaceflight Limited Liability Bill Sails Through House, Now in Senate (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Legislation that would limit the liability of spacecraft operators if they injure or kill passengers during flights has passed the California House of Representatives 73-0 and is now up for consideration in the State Senate. The measure had its first reading in the Senate and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Judiciary for review. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Knight of California’s 36th district and promoted by Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt, would require that passengers sign an informed consent agreement acknowledging that spaceflight is dangerous before flying. (6/6)

Envisat Failure Changes ESA Calculus on Sentinel Launches (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) on June 13 will ask its member nations to reverse their earlier position and agree to launch a series of environment-monitoring satellites starting in late 2013 despite the absence of funds to operate them, ESA and European government officials said. Buckling under pressure from Earth observation data users since the unexpected failure of the Envisat satellite in April, ESA will ask its ruling council to approve contracts to launch the Sentinel environmental satellites during a June 13-14 meeting at ESA headquarters in Paris. (6/6)

Essay: CASIS Must Succeed, And It Can if We Make it So (Source: CASIS)
The International Space Station is an engineering and space operations marvel, but those achievements aren’t nearly enough to make it successful. To succeed, the ISS has to do much more than simply fly, maintain, and improve itself. It has to become an effective research facility, carrying out world-class research across the space and Earth sciences, microgravity sciences, materials and life sciences.

In addition, it has to demonstrate to taxpayers that microgravity commercial processes and applications are viable moneymakers in Low Earth Orbit, and that America’s $100 billion investment in a lasting home in space was money well spent. CASIS is now the manager of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. Owing to a slow and unfocused start, tumultuous changes in management after barely six months, and pressure from those who lost the ISS National Lab management contract competition, some have called for CASIS to be removed from the job barely nine months after it was selected. Any move to retire CASIS — still in its infancy — and replace it with a still greener successor would be ill advised, I believe. Click here. (6/6)

NASA's Cool New Telescopes May Sit Idle for Lack of Cash (Source: Florida Today)
What's better than getting two free space telescopes so powerful they could help unravel the mysteries of dark energy? Having the money to launch them. Like an antsy teenager with a new car but no money for gas, NASA finds itself in a bit of a quandary. It's excited about the gift of two Hubble-sized telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office, but not sure it has the cash to put them to full use. (6/5)

Astronaut Leland Melvin Gives Free Lecture in Melbourne (Source: Florida Today)
An astronaut who flew twice on the shuttle orbiter Atlantis will deliver a free public lecture in Melbourne this week on space exploration and education. Now NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin will talk about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education as part of the International Space University Space Studies Program at Florida Institute of Technology. (6/6)

Defense Firms Say Deep Job Cuts May be Coming (Source: Wall Street Journal)
If Congress doesn't act to stop possible sequestration cuts, defense firms may announce widespread job cuts this fall, leaders of several large firms said. "It is quite possible that we will need to notify employees in the September and October time frame that they may or may not have a job in January, depending upon whether sequestration does or doesn't take effect," said Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Robert Stevens. (6/6)

Senate Panel Seeks Cap on Defense-Contractor Pay (Source: Bloomberg)
The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to cut compensation for defense contractors' workers by 70%, to a maximum of $230,700. The Professional Services Council, which represents some 350 contractors, says such a cap would force contractors to lose skilled workers. (6/6)

Newfound Object is Faintest Distant Galaxy Seen at Universe's Edge (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have found the faintest galaxy yet seen in the deep, distant reaches of space, an object whose light has taken 13 billion years to reach us. The tiny galaxy, which existed about 800 million years after the Big Bang created the universe, is among the top 10 most distant objects known. (6/6)

Iran Space Center Now '80% Complete' (Source: Aranian Aerospace)
Iran's new space center, which will be used to launch both its own and other Islamic nations' satellites, is now 80% complete according to news reports. Currently, Iran has two space exploration facilities - a launch center near Semnan, 200 kilometers east of Tehran, and a satellite monitoring site outside Mahdasht, about 70 kilometers west of the Iranian capital.

Iranian defense minister, Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi has not provided any timeline for the launch. He also failed to announce the location of the new center, which will be named after the Islamic republic's founder Ayatollah Khomeini. Vahidi said the first satellite to be launched from the new center will be the Tolo, which will be carried into orbit by the Iranian-made Simorgh light booster rocket, according to the official IRNA news agency. (6/6)

Private Space Efforts Good for Northern Colorado (Source: TimesCall.com)
There might come a time when successful space travel isn't news. At some point, a private company sending provisions into space for long-term residents of one space station or another will be greeted with a yawn, or perhaps even complaint if the launch comes during the middle of the night and the noise and light awaken residents nearby. That point is not yet now, however. The successful launch and return of the SpaceX Dragon capsule demonstrated that private industry in the U.S. has the brains and capital to develop the final frontier.

For those who live in Northern Colorado, the accomplishment could foreshadow future industrial efforts by regional aerospace companies, including Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems and Boulder-based Ball Aerospace, that produce equipment that regularly is used by space agencies and their partners. Research at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Colorado in Boulder make this an area where top minds seek expertise and then set up shop. (6/6)

Editorial: NASA Could Do Great Things With More Funds (Source: Roll Call)
For more than 50 years, America’s inspiring strides in space exploration earned the respect of adversaries and allies alike. The Apollo missions launched explorers to the moon. The space shuttle flights united 15 nations to build the International Space Station. Today’s robotic explorers travel the solar system unlocking planetary secrets.

Decades of U.S. space successes have paid big dividends — remarkable technological advances that have boosted the American economy, strengthened national security, enriched our lives and created opportunities for all. Now our next-generation space exploration goals are threatened. For the past 20 years, NASA’s budget has remained static or declined, slowing our exploration pace to a crawl. The 2013 NASA spending plan submitted to Congress totals $17.7 billion — less than half of 1 percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget.

This means that less than half of a penny of each dollar the government spends goes toward American space programs. By comparison, we spend almost 10 times as much on the Department of Agriculture and 40 times as much on national defense in a federal budget that is increasingly dominated by commitments to Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements. It’s time to dream big, recommit and reinvest by gradually doubling NASA’s budget to $35 billion, or 1 percent of the federal budget. (6/6)

Hernandez Advances in California Election (Source: LA Times)
Central Valley voters were choosing Republican Rep. Jeff Denham and former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat, to compete for a newly drawn congressional district this fall. Although the 10th Congressional District leans Republican because of its conservative voting patterns, Democrats enjoy a small registration edge. The district was expected to become a battleground as the two parties fight for control of the House of Representatives.

There was no incumbent House member living within the district until Denham changed residences to seek reelection there. Democrats recruited Hernandez, who drew a lot of attention when he returned to the district to announce his run. District registration is 41% Democratic, 38% Republican, and 16% of voters state no party preference. (6/6)

The New Space Race (Source: National Interest)
Shortly after the Dragon space vehicle arrived at the ISS, John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology, described the feat as “a key milestone in President Obama's vision for America's continued leadership in space.” That vision, made public in February 2010, called for commercial companies—with a substantial infusion of cash and technical support from NASA—to assume the task of ferrying astronauts to the space station after the Space Shuttle retired.

NASA itself would shift its focus to developing new, innovative technologies to fly beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and the moon, to the asteroids and Mars. There’s still a long way to go before this new strategy is fully validated. SpaceX and the other firms vying for NASA contracts will need to demonstrate reliability over time. They also must meet the more stringent requirements associated with sending humans into space. Nevertheless, SpaceX's success gives grounds for increased optimism that commercial companies will ultimately fill the void left by the shuttle’s retirement and avoid the need to rely solely upon the Russians for this service. (6/6)

Is Space Getting Too Politicized? (Source: WIRED)
Now that the 2012 Presidential field is officially set, the candidates can finally focus on the question that is on everyone’s mind: what would you, as President, do with NASA? How would you guide the American space program? Ok, so space exploration isn’t exactly a high salience issue for most of the country, but it does loom large for several swing state constituencies, most notably the Space Coast of Florida. Click here. (6/6)

China Calls for Inclusive Development of Outer Space (Source: Xinhua)
China advocates peaceful use of outer space and will strive for inclusive development of outer space, a senior Chinese diplomat said here Wednesday. The notion of achieving the inclusive development of outer space proposed by the Chinese government contained three aspects, said Cheng Jingye, China's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna.

They include tolerance for space environment, tolerance for all countries and tolerance for the entire mankind, he said. He made the remarks on the first day of the 55th session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) held from June 6 to 15 at the United Nations Office in Vienna.

China believes that the promotion of the inclusive development of outer space is needed to deal with larger challenges worldwide, Cheng said, adding that it would bring benefits to all countries and the entire mankind, particularly for those countries not yet having the space capability. (6/6)

European Union Launches Latest Space Regulation Efforts (Source: AFP)
Europe's rule-making bureaucracy is moving forward with plans to introduce some earthly order to the unruly heavens, unveiling its latest efforts Wednesday to regulate outer space. The European Union, which is leading a global initiative to introduce an international code of conduct for spacecraft, presented the newest draft of its extra-terrestrial regulations. A top concern is the ever-increasing field of space debris that orbits the earth. Spent rocket fuel tanks, disused space probes and a myriad of other man-made objects circle the earth at great speeds, posing a risk to space shuttles and satellites.

"Space is a resource for all countries in the world, and those which do not yet have space activities will have them in the future," the EU said in a statement. "Therefore, the EU considers (it) necessary to ensure greater security in outer space." More than 110 representatives from 40 countries gathered in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss the latest draft of the EU's "International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities", first launched at the end of 2008. The initiative is already backed by several space-faring nations, among them the United States, Japan and India. (6/6)

Dish Weighs Appeal of FCC Orbital Slot Ruling (Source: Space News)
Satellite television broadcaster Dish Network Corp. on June 5 said it may appeal a U.S. regulatory decision denying Dish’s right to an orbital slot that the company has left vacant since mid-2009. Dish, through its Dish DBS subsidiary, said the $68 million in carrying value it had assigned for the 148 degrees west orbital location will be written off against the company’s second-quarter earnings.

“We are currently evaluating whether to challenge” the decision of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Dish said in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Dish had access to 32 direct-broadcast satellite channels from the slot at 148 degrees west and had occupied the position until August 2009, when its EchoStar 5 satellite was retired. The location has sat empty since then, with Dish telling FCC that it would decide at some future date what satellite would be moved there. (6/6)

Defense Chiefs Signal Job Cuts (Source: Wall Street Journal)
U.S. defense contractors are preparing to disclose mass job cutbacks ahead of November elections if Congress fails to reach a deficit-reduction deal by then, industry officials said. Firms including Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. may idle thousands of workers at the beginning of the year, they said, when more than $50 billion in new defense cuts could take effect—along with similar reductions across federal agencies. (6/6)

Drones Could Soon be Flying in Florida Skies (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Drones that have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected terrorists in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan soon may be patrolling the skies over Florida and the rest of the United States. But rather than launching missiles, domestically flown drones could fill a variety of peaceful roles, from aerial photography and land surveying to law-enforcement duties such as monitoring red-light running and speeding. They also could be used for clandestine surveillance, triggering privacy concerns from civil-rights experts who worry about indiscriminate snooping on law-abiding citizens, not just criminal suspects.

What ultimately happens and under what restrictions are up for debate right now. The FAA, at the behest of Congress and President Obama, is devising rules that by 2015 should determine how drones can safely share airspace with the nearly 340,000 commercial and private planes aloft every day nationwide. Some of the testing could be done in Florida. The FAA could pick the six testing sites by December.

"We have lots to offer," said Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer for Space Florida, which is courting the FAA on the state's behalf. Kuzma estimates as many as 50 companies in Florida are involved in some way with manufacturing drones. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach is one of the few institutions in the country that offers a degree in unmanned systems. (6/6)

Dawn Deep in the Asteroid Belt Orbiting Vesta (Source: Space Daily)
Far from Earth, on the opposite side of the sun, deep in the asteroid belt, Dawn is gradually spiraling around the giant protoplanet Vesta. Under the gentle pressure of its uniquely efficient ion propulsion system, the explorer is scaling the gravitational mountain from its low-altitude mapping orbit (LAMO) to its second high-altitude mapping orbit (HAMO2). Dawn spent nearly five months in LAMO, circling the rocky world at an average altitude of 210 kilometers (130 miles) as it acquired a fabulous bounty of pictures; visible, infrared, neutron, and gamma ray spectra; and measurements of the gravity field. (6/4)

Satellite-laden Iridium Embraces Cellphones Again (Source: Aviation Week)
Cellphones killed Iridium once, but in its second coming the satellite phone maker and owner of the biggest satellite fleet is relying on them to secure its future. For all their seeming ubiquity, cellular services cover only about 8 percent of the globe, leaving large regions where the only way to communicate is to use a satphone made by Iridium Communications or one of its smaller competitors.

Investors have taken notice, pushing up the stock of the company nearly 50 percent over the past eight months. Unlike its competitors, Iridium’s satellite constellation covers the entire globe, including the poles, and its array of 66 satellites dwarfs the fleets of its rivals. Inmarsat has 11; GlobalStar has eight and is aiming to have 32 in orbit by the year-end; Thuraya has three, with one planned. (6/5)

Wolf Gives Ground on Commercial Crew (Source: Space News)
A key congressional critic of NASA’s commercial crew acquisition strategy has backed away from his insistence that the agency truncate the ongoing competition and proceed immediately with the selection of a single contractor. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced June 5 that he had reached a deal with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that clears the agency to sign funded Space Act Agreements this summer with multiple companies developing privately operated crew transportation systems for the international space station (ISS).

“I remain convinced that the approach outlined in the committee’s report is the most appropriate way forward for the program,” Wolf said in a June 5 statement. “However, in an effort to prevent any disruption in the development of crew vehicles to return U.S. astronauts to ISS as quickly as possible, I have reached an understanding with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an exchange of letters that will allow the upcoming Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase to proceed under a revised, more limited management roadmap and with an [sic] fiscal year 2013 funding level at or near the Senate Appropriations Committee approved amount.” (6/5)

Cut The Budget By Cutting Republican Sacred Space Cows (Source: OpenMarket.org)
Over at Forbes, Cato’s Doug Bandow says that the Republicans need to lead by example: "Presumptive Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney talks tough on spending while proposing few specific reductions-—he doesn’t want to anger anyone by targeting their favorite programs. He also promises to greatly increase military outlays, adding more than $2 trillion over the next decade."

A big earmark that he doesn’t mention (because few policy analysts pay much attention to the civil space program) is a huge one called the Space Launch System. This is a rocket that NASA never asked for, and for which there is no need or defined payloads, or funding with which to develop and procure them, but to which Congress (or more precisely, those few in Congress on key committees who actually care and pay attention to how NASA spends its money) insists on diverting $2 billion of the agency’s budget each year.

It’s not Republican pork per se, but it has abundant Republican support in those states and districts in which it is being slowly built (at least until it ultimately gets canceled). SLS should certainly be on the table as part of a broad and serious package of deficit reduction through spending cuts. Editor's Note: SLS is not a rocket that NASA has not asked for. Congress (mainly the Senate) simply is forcing NASA to accelerate its development, using Space Shuttle components as the basis for its design. (6/5)

Congress and NASA Reach Deal on Space Taxis (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican who heads the House appropriation subcommittee with NASA oversight, said today that the program would fully fund two companies — and could partially fund a third. That’s down from as many as four companies, according to Wolf.

“This downselect will reduce taxpayer exposure by concentrating funds on those participants who are most likely to be chosen to eventually provide service to ISS,” he said in a statement. The deal also would lay the groundwork for NASA to impose stiffer regulations on the companies competing to develop the rockets and capsules — a priority for Wolf — while giving NASA more leeway to nix contracts if it thinks aspiring companies are overselling their capability and financial health. (6/5)

SpaceX Flight Opens Doors for Military Payloads (Source: Reuters)
SpaceX's successful flight could open the door to a long-desired and more elusive customer - the U.S. military. Dragon's launch was the third successive flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which debuted in June 2010. Flying three times successfully was among the criteria the company needed to meet to become eligible to compete for military business under a new program designed to draw competition into a field now monopolized by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (6/5)

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