July 16, 2012

Utah’s ATK Will Have Big Hand in Hubble Successor (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Thanks to the Magna operations of aerospace contractor Alliant Techsystems Inc. scientists soon will peer into the deepest regions of space and unlock more secrets to the cosmos. Alliant (ATK) was recognized Monday by NASA and contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems for its contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the Hubble Telescope that will launch into space in 2018 and take pictures of galaxies born more than 13 billion years ago. (7/16)

NASA Will Likely Pick Safer, Cheaper Future Missions (Source: America Space)
The near Earth asteroid Eros as seen by NASA NEAR spacecraft, the first Discovery mission. Photo Credit: NASA
Space exploration isn’t cheap, and unfortunately money is not something NASA has in excess at the moment. Currently, three missions are currently vying for the next $425 million NASA will award as part of its Discovery program. Given the agency’s current budgetary climate, it’s likely cost will weigh heavily in the final decision.

The Discovery program began in 1992 as a way to provide scientists and engineers an opportunity to assemble their own teams and design their own planetary missions. The goal is to deepen our knowledge of the solar system through a larger number of smaller missions that use fewer resources and shorter development times. The three mission currently vying for the next Discovery launch are a probe that will drill into the surface of Mars, a probe that will explore a comet, and a spacecraft that will sail the methane lakes of Titan.

It’s been a long time since NASA has picked a Discovery mission. Five years to be exact. The lag is due in part to the rising cost and complexity of mission proposals, which is in turn affecting the program as a whole. Mission selection is increasingly displaying an adversity to risk. “The real threat to Discovery is that it is slowing down,” planetary scientist and principle investigator behind the New Horizons mission to Pluto Alan Stern said. (7/16)

NASA Gives the Delta 2 Rocket a New Lease on Life (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
One of the world's most reliable space boosters ever built, suspended in a state of uncertainty for the past several months, won a rebirth today when NASA purchased three more Delta 2 rockets for future launches. The United Launch Alliance-made vehicle was dealt a bleak future when the U.S. Air Force left as the Delta 2's anchor tenant in 2009 and NASA flew what was its final planned payload on the medium-class launcher last October.

With no future missions on the manifest, it was possible that the workhorse rocket would fade away into history despite hardware available to build five more vehicles. NASA's contracting arrangement established in 2010 didn't even include the Delta 2 as a option when buying rockets for science spacecraft deployments, but that changed with an "on-ramp" deal last fall that put the rocket back in the lineup for space agency satellites to chose.

Then came today's announcement that literally breathed new life into venerable rocket program, assigning three satellite launches to the Delta 2 that will occur from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch trio and all of the assorted processing support, oversight, engineering and telemetry costs amount to $412 million. First up is OCO 2, the replacement Orbiting Carbon Observatory built after the original spacecraft was lost in a Taurus XL launch failure in 2009. Next will be SMAP, the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite in October 2014, then JPSS 1, the first civilian weather observatory in the Joint Polar Satellite System launching in November 2016. (7/16)

Delta-2: 'New Lease' or 'Last Breath'? (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA's decision to award three launches to ULA's Delta-2 rockets may be more like a "last breath" than a "new lease on life". The NASA contract allows ULA to launch three of its five remaining Delta-2 rockets, and there's no word on plans by ULA to re-start the production line. The three launches will take place in California, but will probably use ULA launch personnel based in Florida. Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport--home to the Delta-2 since 1988--has been deactivated, leaving little chance that any of the remaining rockets will lift off from the Cape. (7/16)

NASA Selects SpaceX to Launch Jason-3 Mission (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has selected SpaceX to launch the NOAA Jason-3 spacecraft in December 2014 aboard a Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket from Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The total value of the Jason-3 launch service is approximately $82 million. This estimated cost includes the task ordered launch service for the Falcon 9 v1.0, plus additional services under other contracts for payload processing, launch vehicle integration, mission-unique launch site ground support and tracking, data and telemetry services. NASA is the procurement agent for NOAA. (7/16)

Engineers Study Options for Realtime Data During Mars Landing (Source: CBS)
Unexpected problems with a NASA science satellite in orbit around Mars could briefly delay receipt of telemetry from the agency's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory rover during the spacecraft's dramatic seven-minute descent to the surface Aug. 6, officials said Monday. While the issue with the orbiting Odyssey satellite will have no impact on the rover's ability to successfully execute its autonomous entry, it could mean an additional period of nail biting before confirmation the so-called "sky crane" landing technique actually worked. (7/16)

Communion on the Moon: The Religious Experience in Space (Source: The Atlantic)
Before the launch this weekend of three human beings into the ether of space around the Earth, before they boarded their Soyuz spacecraft, and before the rockets were fired, precautions were taken. Not the humdrum checklists and redundancies of space exploration -- assessing the weather, the equipment, the math -- but a preparation with a more mystical dimension: the blessing, by a Russian Orthodox priest, of the spacecraft, as it sat on the launchpad on the Kazakh steppe.

The discordance is obvious: Here we are, on the brink of a new expedition to space, a frontier of human exploration and research that is the capstone of our scientific achievement. "The idea of traveling to other celestial bodies reflects to the highest degree the independence and agility of the human mind. It lends ultimate dignity to man's technical and scientific endeavors," the rocket scientist Krafft Arnold Ehricke once said. "Above all, it touches on the philosophy of his very existence." His secular existence.

And yet here is a priest, outfitted in the finery of a centuries-old church, shaking holy water over the engines, invoking God's protection for a journey to near-earth orbit. That these two spheres of human creation co-exist is remarkable. That they interact, space agencies courting the sanction of Russian Orthodox Christianity, is strange. (7/16)

Comtech Shutting Down Small Satellite-Builder AeroAstro (Source: Space News)
Comtech Telecommunications Corp. is closing down its AeroAstro small satellite manufacturing business following the loss of a contract with the U.S. Navy to build a star-mapping satellite, according an industry source. Virginia-based Comtech AeroAstro had struggled of late due to cutbacks in U.S. government spending, and the cancellation of the Navy’s Joint Milli-Arcsecond Pathfinder Survey, or JMAPS, mission was the last straw. (7/16)

Medical Society Addresses Light Pollution (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Researchers are raising several possible health concerns related to nighttime light exposure, among them a higher risk of cancer. I usually think of light pollution as astronomers’ concern. Who else would mind if the sky glow is so bright that it washes out Orion? But the issue has a broader reach than my petulance. Fighting light pollution isn’t merely about seeing stars; it’s about being sensible in our usage and reducing waste.

Still, I was surprised to see that the American Medical Association recently released a report entitled “Light Pollution: Adverse Health Effects of Nighttime Lighting.” It’s a review of some of the available research literature on nighttime lighting’s effect on people; it doesn’t present new research done by the AMA, although many of the results considered come from the authors' own work. (7/16)

Cape Canaveral Firm Wins $24.9 Million Army Contract (Source: FLDC)
IAP World Services Inc., Cape Canaveral, Fla., was awarded a $24,966,439 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the services in support of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Work will be performed in Fort Irwin, with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2013. (7/16)

Editorial: Put Space Policy On the Presidential To-Do List (Source: MSNBC)
With the lack of jobs and the shape of America’s economy today, I'm sure space exploration isn't on top of the must-do list for President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. When asked if we should spend tax dollars to go to the moon, the great Walter Cronkite used to say, "We can’t spend a dime on the moon, son. There’s not even a McDonald’s up there." Cronkite’s little joke was his way of pointing out that every dollar NASA spent went to creating jobs and long-lasting institutions on Earth.

Looking to the future, President Barack Obama wants private aerospace companies to fly Americans on routine trips to Earth orbit. Meanwhile, NASA will focus its talents on deep-space missions, sending astronauts to where they have never been. Most space veterans agree with those goals, Mr. President, but with a cautionary note: Don't prop up the newcomers while giving short shrift to America's most experienced aerospace companies. This happened before, when the White House took the contract from the experienced and gave it to the inexperienced. In 1967, the Apollo 1 astronauts paid with their lives in a launch-pad fire.

Governor Romney, you say, "America must once again lead the world in space. We need to bring together government, research institutions, and the private sector to establish a clear mission for our national space program." Governor, the truth is that NASA needs to use the spaceflight hardware and facilities it already owns, and spend only what taxpayers can afford. If it did, America could once again lead the world in space. Take it from a reporter who has covered NASA for every day of its five decades in existence: America’s space program does not need another busload of suits with untanned faces stabbing holes in the air, debating over things about which they know little. Click here. (7/16)

Orion Program Deep Into Production, Processing and Testing for EFT-1 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
After a somewhat unhappy childhood, that included an abrupt and costly cancellation, the Orion program is now full speed ahead for its Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1). The Orion tasked with the 2014 mission is now being outfitted in Florida, as adapter hardware related to EFT-1 – and its debut on the Space Launch System (SLS) – heads towards production. Click here. (7/16)

The Hour of the Wolf (Source: Space Review)
In the late 1960s, there was a battle between men and machines for the future of United States military reconnaissance. Dwayne Day examines newly-declassified documents that offer new insights into how unmanned spysats won out over the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2121/1 to view the article. (7/16)

Texas Warms to NewSpace (Source: Space Review)
Last week XCOR signed a deal with the city of Midland, Texas, to set up its headquarters and an R&D facility there. Jeff Foust reports on the specifics of the deal and how it may be the latest sign that Texas is showing a greater interest in attracting entrepreneurial space ventures. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2120/1 to view the article. (7/16)

Space Code of Conduct: The Challenges Ahead (Source: Space Review)
A proposal for an international, but voluntary, code of conduct for space activities will be a topic of debate and negotiation later this year. Ajey Lele warns that the voluntary nature of the proposed code could strongly hinder its effectiveness. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2119/1 to view the article. (7/16)

Commercial Crew Providers Aplenty (part 2) (Source: Space Review)
A wide range of companies have shown an interest in NASA's commercial crew program, offering a variety of technical approaches. Anthony Young looks at some of these concepts that could soon be selected by NASA for additional work. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2118/1 to view the article. (7/16)

NASA Taps Australian Fossils for ET Clues (Source: The Australian)
Australia's ancient fossil sites revealing the dawn of life are helping NASA scientists in their quest to find extraterrestrial life on Mars. The US space agency is funding work at an Ediacaran fossil site in South Australia's Flinders Ranges to help it identify what the earliest signs of life look like. (7/16)

Defense Companies Scramble to Retain Talented Workers (Source: Defense News)
As the aerospace and defense industry faces a downturn, companies are working hard to retain talent. They also face another challenge: Experienced defense workers are aging and fewer new employees are waiting in the wings. (7/16)

Republicans Go on the Offense on Defense Cuts (Source: The Hill)
GOP lawmakers and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are scaling up attacks on President Barack Obama over the pending sequestration cuts to defense. Major defense-industry states are considered key to November elections. The campaigns of both parties are likely to focus in those areas. (7/16)

Former Shuttle Workers Still Face Difficulty (Source: Huffington Post)
A year after NASA ended the three-decade-long U.S. space shuttle program, thousands of formerly well-paid engineers and other workers around the Kennedy Space Center are still struggling to find jobs to replace the careers that flourished when shuttles blasted off from the Florida "Space Coast." Some have headed to South Carolina to build airplanes in that state's growing industry, and others have moved as far as Afghanistan to work as government contractors.

Some found lower-paying jobs beneath their technical skills that allowed them to stay. Many are still looking for work and cutting back on things like driving and utilities to save money. More than 7,400 people, who once had labored on one of history's most complicated engineering achievements, lost their jobs when the shuttle program ended last July. KSC's current workforce of 8,500 workers is the smallest in more in than 35 years. In the middle of the last decade, the space center employed around 15,000 workers.

James Peek, a 48-year-old quality inspector for the shuttles, has applied for 50 positions with no success since he was laid off in October 2010. He has taken odd jobs glazing windows for a luxury hotel in Orlando and working as a security guard. He has no health insurance and incurred a $13,000 bill when he was hospitalized for three days last May. (7/16)

Scot to Lead the Way in Space Tourism (Source: Deadline News)
Virgin Galactic have chosen Scot-born David Mackay as the chief pilot for their commercial space flights. Pilot Mackay started flying in 1977 whilst studying aeronautical engineering at Glasgow University, eventually becoming a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 captain after a successful career in the Royal Air Force. He became involved in the Virgin Galactic project soon after its inception, having flown the SpaceShipOne simulator. In 2009, he joined the team full time as its test pilot, and recently became its chief pilot. (7/16)

Charlie Duke: 'Galactic' Tourism May Really Take Off (Source: Daily Mail)
The future looks bright for space tourism. I’m not sure whether there will ever be a Hilton hotel on the Moon, as was suggested in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Probably not a 100-room hotel, but who knows? A trip to the Moon, for the average person, would, of course, be the thrill of a lifetime. As Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin said, the Moon has ‘magnificent desolation’. I was overcome with the beauty of it. It’s the starkness of the terrain, the contrast between the bright Moon and the dark sky – it would be a wonderful place for any tourist to visit.

I’m really excited about Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline. I met Sir Richard several years ago and admired his enthusiasm. Since then, I’ve met a number of people who have paid their money to be passengers on one of his commercial space flights and they can’t wait to go. I would love to take the Virgin Galactic trip into space – it would be tremendous. (7/16)

Canada and France Plan Balloon Launch Site in Ontario (Source: Globe and Mail)
France had a problem. The country’s space agency has been at the forefront of ballooning for a half-century, sending helium-filled balloons high into the atmosphere to study everything from ozone depletion over the North Pole to monsoons in West Africa and the accuracy of satellite solar cells. But these mammoth balloons, which can stretch as tall as the Eiffel Tower and as wide as an NHL arena, require wide-open spaces to be launched, hard to find nowadays in France.

Enter Timmins, Ontario. The Northeastern Ontario mining city will become home to a new space-balloon launch site, a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES). Canada’s space agency is committing $10-million to the cost of construction and flights in which it participates, while the French are providing their expertise and balloons, pledging to fly one in Timmins about every two years. Canada will also be involved in French missions in other countries. (7/16)

Scientists Salute Sunita’s Feat (Source: Asian Age)
The 39th scientific assembly of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR-2012), the world’s largest interdisciplinary forum on space science that is currently under way at the Infosys campus here, has saluted the distinctive accomplishments of Indian-American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on Sunday after she took off for her second space voyage from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (7/16)

Is Pluto a Binary Planet? (Source: Discovery)
A reader wrote to me to make the case that Pluto really has only four moons, not five. He argued that the largest moon in the system, Charon (found in 1978), is really a planet in its own right. Why? Because Charon is 12 percent the mass of Pluto. That may not seem like much, but our moon is only one percent the mass of Earth. Pluto's four other moons are a very tiny fraction of the mass of the system. The consequences are that Pluto and Charon pivot like a waltzing pair of ice skaters around a center of mass. So do the Earth and moon, but the center of mass, or barycenter, is inside Earth's radius.

However, alien astronomers watching Earth transiting the sun would note the passage of our moon as well. They might catalog Earth as a "double planet." That was the reader's point. The four outer satellites don't really orbit Pluto; they follow strictly Keplerian orbits (the orbital period is directly related to orbit size) around the system's center of mass, which lies between Pluto and Charon. Pluto and Charon complete one pivot around each other every 6.3 days.

When we see pair of stars twirl around a barycenter they are classified as binary stars. (The photo of Pluto and Charon at left could easily pass for a binary star.) Binary systems account for at least half of the stars in our galaxy. Binary stars are thought to be born through the fragmentation of the collapsing nebula that condensed to form them. (7/16)

Editorial: Space Pioneers Have Shifted From Public to Private Sectors (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
If the Space Shuttle were around today, it would cost more than $1.6 billion per launch. It is hard to imagine a better example of the private sector's amazing ability to out-compete government bureaucracy. One shuttle launch could pay for 29 SpaceX launches, and leave $34 million to spare. Unfortunately, the government has been going in the opposite direction.

Under President Obama's new NASA budget, money is shifted from the successful parts of NASA, like its robotic exploration program, to areas which produce nothing tangible, such as its environmental sciences program. Obama's budget manages to cut every part of NASA that actually works, including planetary science programs, technological development programs, and many important future Mars missions - without saving any money! As none other than Neil Armstrong, who is rarely outspoken, puts it, NASA is basically doomed to yet another decade of doing nothing in space. (7/16)

Florida Space Workers Struggle After Shuttle's End - Can't Find Comparable Jobs (Source: Washington Post)
Some local employers are finding that the former space workers’ salary demands are sometimes too high. “STOP sending former Space Center employees,” one employer wrote to Brevard Workforce, the local job agency, in a comment included in its monthly committee report. “They have an unrealistic salary expectation.” Taxpayer money for job training programs for displaced shuttle workers also is dwindling a year after the program ended.

Adding to the difficulties of finding a new job is the age of many of the former shuttle workers. Many spent their entire careers working on the space shuttles and are now in their 50s and 60s. Some shuttle workers had been holding out hope that the program announced after Constellation’s demise — a heavy-lift rocket system that would launch astronauts in an Orion space capsule — would offer immediate widespread job opportunities. But NASA won’t have unmanned test launches of the Space Launch System for another five years, and the first manned mission won’t be for about another decade.

Many of the former space workers find camaraderie and job tips each Friday at the weekly breakfast of the Spacecoast Technical Network, a group created by former Kennedy Space Center workers. Just hours before 70 members dined on eggs, biscuits and coffee at a recent meeting, three Chinese astronauts parachuted back to Earth in a capsule halfway around the world. Click here. (7/16)

Has NASA Selected DreamChaser? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Sierra Nevada Corporation has ramped up the hiring process for its Dream Chaser program in advance of a scheduled NASA announcement of the next round of commercial crew funding. NASA is expected to announce the new round of funding soon. Agreements between NASA and funded commercial crew companies are finalized in advance of the public announcement, which indicates the company might already have been notified and is seeking to fill positions that it will need to create. On the other hand, this could be precautionary to ensure that if the company does receive an award, the human resources department is set to begin recruitment right away. (7/16)

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