July 28, 2012

House Committee to Look at Suborbital Spaceflight and Astronaut Artifacts (Source: Space Politics)
Just before the House is scheduled to recess until after the nominating conventions, the House Science Committee is planning to take up a couple of space-related issues. On Aug. 1, the committee’s space subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The Emerging Commercial Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle Market”. Representatives of three suborbital vehicles developers—-Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace-—and others will testify about the industry. It’s not clear if this is tied to any planned legislation or is instead more of a fact-funding hearing.

The following day, the full committee will markup up legislation regarding ownership of astronaut artifacts. The bill, HR 4158, would confer onto astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs ownership of any “expendable item” used on those missions that are now in the possession of the astronauts, as well as “other expendable, disposable, or personal-use items” they used. (Lunar material is specifically excluded from the bill.) (7/26)

NASA Still Not Worried About Sequestration (Source: Space Politics)
A top NASA official said Thursday that the agency remained confident that budget sequestration could be avoided, even though they were starting to think about the potential effects should those automatic budget cuts take effect. “If you talk to the leadership in the administration or Congress, most people believe it’s not going to happen,” said NASA chief of staff David Radzanowski. “They’re confident because the alternative is not good policy.”

He did say, though, that the agency was starting to examine what might happen if those across-the-board cuts did take effect in January. “We’ve started thinking about what it woud mean, in general,” he said, adding that he expected at some point there would be some guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on planning for sequestration. “A lot of the significant planning is going to be happening in maybe September or October.” (7/27)

For NASA, There's No Liftoff From Politics (Source: USA Today)
Always reaching for the stars, NASA often finds itself mired in earthbound politics. Born in the Cold War, beset by tragedies and buoyed by triumphs, the $17.7 billion space agency once more faces debate in the post-space shuttle era. Once again, an administration's plans for NASA face congressional criticism, scrutiny from a blue-ribbon panel and demands for more funds that set parts of the agency against one another. "You cannot have a public space agency without politics playing a role. That's only right when the taxpayers are paying the bills," says planetary scientist Daniel Britt of the University of Central Florida.

This month in Washington, Britt and his colleagues visited congressional staffers to voice support for more missions to explore nearby planets, projects cut by NASA. "We tell them that space exploration is an area where the U.S. leads the world, and we'd like to see it stay that way," Britt says. Some in Congress, such as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, want more manned missions to the moon. Some, such as Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, want more robot missions to Mars. Then there are those such as Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, who said NASA "is dead, and the corpse must be buried as soon as possible" at a Florida debate.

In his tenure, Charlie Bolden has often defended the 2010 Obama administration space policy, which would send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars around the mid-2030s. Big-ticket priorities of the space agency are:
a heavy-lift rocket; commercial missions to the Space Station; and a 2018 launch for the Webb Space Telescope. Each one comes with political fighting attached. Click here. (7/28)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Isn't Mad at You, America -- But He *Is* Disappointed (Source: The Atlantic)
Since the Apollo era of the 60s, NASA's budget has been steadily shrinking. And our national fascination with space has been declining along with it. Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to turn things around. As does Bill Nye. As does astronaut Leroy Chiao. As does Paul Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt is the director of a proposed documentary: Fight for Space, a feature-length film exploring the future of the space program.

Proposed on Kickstarter, the project -- with 22 days left -- is less than $10,000 away from its $65,000 funding goal. It has, so far, more than 1,400 funders. And that's due, in large part, to the trailer Hildebrandt created for the film, (click here) a powerful video in itself, and one that manages to walk that fine between indignation and inspiration. (7/28)

Could There Be Life on Five Newly Discovered Planets? (Source: BBC)
Is life on other planets possible? Well a team of American astronomers certainly seem to think so. Five new planets were discovered by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope earlier this year and even though they're 10,000 light-years away from us, we have a lot in common. They rotate round their star in a similar way to Earth as it goes round the Sun.

So scientists at the Arecibo Observatory in America studied the planets to see if they have the right geography, temperature and amount of gravity for livings things to exist there. They came up with a list of planets that are most likely to have life on them; Gliese 581g, Gliese 667Cc, Kepler 22b, HD85512b and Gliese 581d. Josh Winn, who wrote the report said, "It's telling me that the solar system isn't some fluke. The fact that the sun's rotation is lined up with the planets' orbits, that's probably not some freak coincidence." (7/28)

Russian Rocket Puts Four Satellites Into Space (Source: Xinhua)
A Russian "Rokot" rocket with one military and three civilian satellites on board blasted off from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia. The rocket was launched at 5:35 a.m. Moscow time. One military satellite, two Gonets-M telecoms satellites and a Yubileiny-2 scientific microsatellite successfully reached the designated orbit at 7:21 a.m. The 107-ton light Rokot launcher is a derivative of the Russian RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It contains two original lower stages of the ICBM and an upper stage for space payloads. (7/28)

SpaceX Revolutionized Industry, But Killed Celebrity Astronauts in the Process (Source: PolicyMic)
There was a time in American history, when just about everyone over the age of 5 knew these names: Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter H. “Wally” Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr. and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton. We always listed them this way, too – in alphabetical order, with their nicknames and suffixes affixed to them as though they made a permanent honor roll in our minds. Schoolchildren could recite them; I could. I always misspelled Alan Shepard’s name for some reason and to this day, have to look it up to make certain I get it right.

These men were our rock stars, in the era before there were rock stars. They were our heroes; our everymen; the finest of the bravest and best. They were the ones who had The Right Stuff to go into space – they were the first astronauts. Idolatry doesn’t even begin to describe how Americans felt and thought about these seven individuals; celebrity doesn’t describe their status. They were interviewed relentlessly; visited the president at the White House; they were the Grand Marshalls of the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Their wives were on the cover of Life Magazine, for heaven’s sake!

Editor's Note: Don't blame SpaceX! The space shuttle program took us in circles for 30 years, gobbling up a lot of money and political capital that might otherwise have funded real human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. (7/28)

Boeing Ships Third GPS IIF Satellite to Florida for Launch (Source: GPS World)
On July 9, Boeing shipped the third of 12 GPS IIF satellites for the U.S. Air Force from the company's Satellite Development Center in El Segundo to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, aboard a Boeing-built C-17 Globemaster III airlifter. SVN-65 is scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of this year aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket. It will join the first and second Boeing-built GPS IIF satellites, launched May 27, 2010, and July 16, 2011, to continue the sustainment and modernization of the GPS network. (7/28)

Editorial: Mars Mission Would Boost U.S. Economy (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The U.S. has a confidence problem. While the economy seems to be slowly improving, many Americans believe our best days are behind us. We are constantly barraged with stories of our inevitable decline - and of the rise of other nations at our expense. Yet the U.S. can still maintain its position as the leader in technology and innovation, and space exploration capabilities and technology can play a key role. When provided with a far-reaching, ambitious mission, NASA is capable of having a much more dramatic impact on our national morale - and, as a result, our economy - than any other federal agency.

A bold and sustainable space program has the power to inspire our students to enter into science and engineering studies, create highly skilled jobs that will fuel our economy for years and stimulate the national psyche. To fully harness this potential, the U.S. should commit to the goal of landing a crew on Mars by 2030. A human mission to the Red Planet will be one of the most important and inspirational events in world history. It will show in no uncertain terms that we are once again taking forward-looking, inspired steps in science.

The world will take notice. To gauge the impact a Mars landing could have, one need only recall that when Mars Pathfinder landed in 1997, the NASA websites received 550 million hits in a single week - at a time when far fewer people had Internet service. Imagine the level of online activity that would be wrought by a human Mars mission. The prospects for innovation over the upcoming decades are numerous and would give the United States a chance to take the helm during what could be one of the most exciting periods in human history. (7/28)

Danish Space Travel Team Launches Private Rocket Test (Source: Space.com)
A Danish group of amateur spaceflight enthusiasts launched a homemade rocket Friday (July 27) on a trial flight to test vital technologies for a private manned spacecraft. The team Copenhagen Suborbitals launched its two-stage unmanned rocket SMARAGD-1 from a floating platform in the Baltic Sea to test long-range communications gear, rocket stage separation systems and other equipment needed for its planned larger crewed spaceship. The rocket was expected to reach an altitude of about 12 miles (20 kilometers) during the test flight, according to a mission description.

The launch marked the first mission for the non-profit Copenhagen Suborbitals since a 2011 test flight of its HEAT-1X rocket and a space capsule prototype. The group is now developing a small, one-person space capsule (called Tycho Deep Space) that resembles a miniature Apollo spacecraft. About 50 Copenhagen Suborbitals team members watched over the launch from a mission control ship on loan from the Danish National Guard. (7/28)

NASA Plans for Morpheus Lander at Shuttle Landing Facility (Source: NASA)
NASA's Morpheus lander at will be on view at the agency's Kennedy Space Center at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 1. The vehicle arrived at KSC Friday to begin a series of tests during the next three months. Morpheus is a prototype lander engineers can use to integrate technologies for future spacecraft that could land on a variety of destinations in our solar system. The technologies include a new propulsion system that uses liquid oxygen and methane, two "green" fuels that could be manufactured on other planetary bodies.

Morpheus also is testing technology capable of identifying and avoiding surface hazards to enable a safe and accurate landing anywhere on a planetary surface and under any lighting conditions. Morpheus is one of 20 projects comprising the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. AES projects pioneer new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating capabilities and validating concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The lander underwent testing at JSC in Houston for almost a year in preparation for its first free flight at KSC. Once Morpheus has performed several successful free flights there, it will fly about a half a mile-long approach that simulates avoiding hazards in a landing field. Teams have spent the last two months creating a hazard field of craters and rocks at the end of the runway of KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). (7/28)

GAO Sees Progress In EELV Acquisition Strategy (Source: Aviation Week)
A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) follow-up on U.S. Air Force procurement plans for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) finds progress or completion on six of seven recommendations. The July 26 report evaluates progress, but makes no new recommendations. Also coming this summer, GAO says, is the certified pricing proposal from United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Atlas V and Delta IV booster cores. The proposal will detail pricing for different launch quantities across several contract lengths.

This addresses GAO’s recommendation in September that the service reassess the length of the proposed block buy. Meanwhile, GAO says, the Defense Department plans to award a single-year bridge contract in fiscal 2013, while the Air Force continues data gathering, including subcontractor costs. Another point relevant to pricing is whether the number of launches expected for EELV actually occur in fiscal 2013-2017. Without an accurate confidence assessment, GAO says the service “could find itself with a significant oversupply of launch vehicles, potentially requiring storage, retest, and retooling.”

Editor's Note: Space Florida supports the storage of Atlas V solid rocket motor assets at a facility originally built for the Titan IV program at Camp Blanding, a Florida National Guard base west of St. Augustine. If the streamlined EELV acquisition strategy leads to fewer assets in storage, this could impact the Camp Blanding operation. (7/28)

Aquarium Ready for Fish on Space Station (Source: Discovery)
Yes, it's the moment we've all (secretly) been waiting for: Fish In Space! But before you go getting too excited and start asking the big questions -- like: if there's a bubble in a microgravity aquarium, what happens if the fish falls into it? Let's ponder that for a minute... -- it's worth pointing out that the fish aren't actually in space right now (their habitat has just been delivered to the space station) and this fishy experiment isn't just to see how fish enjoy swimming upside down, there's some serious science behind it.

Like... to see how fish enjoy swimming upside down. While aquariums provide a relaxing pastime for humans on Earth, recreation is not the goal behind the new Aquatic Habitat (AQH). Instead, researchers will use this unique facility to look at how microgravity impacts marine life. The un-fished (as in, there's no fish in it, yet) AHQ arrived at the ISS aboard the unmanned Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle "Kounotori 3". (7/28)

Gamma-Ray Glow Hints at Dark Matter in the Center of Our Galaxy (Source: Science)
The coming decade will be the decade of dark matter, some scientists say, as efforts to detect the mysterious stuff will either pay off or rule out the most promising hypothesis about what it is. But astronomers may have already detected signs of dark matter in the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy, a pair of astrophysicists now says.

Data from NASA's space-borne Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveal an excess of gamma-rays coming from the galactic center that could be produced as particles of dark matter annihilate one another, scientists say. "There's definitely some source there, and it fits with the dark matter interpretation," Abazajian says. But other researchers say the excess could be an artifact of the way these scientists modeled the gamma-ray flux, or it could originate from more mundane sources. (7/28)

Florida's Space Coast Seeks to Reinvent Itself (Source: CNN)
As John Bundy loads his red commercial lawn mower into a flatbed trailer, it's hard to believe he used to manage a team of NASA shuttle workers. Bundy, who sports a scruffy beard and speaks with a thick, Southern drawl, worked at the Kennedy Space Center for 31 years, the last six years as a manager in the Orbiter Processing Facility, a shuttle hangar. He is one of 8,000 shuttle workers laid off or facing termination from KSC after the end of NASA's shuttle program. This month marks one year since the program ended with the launch and landing of Shuttle Atlantis.

After his layoff in October 2010, Bundy searched for work for months before starting his own lawn business. Today, most of Florida's former shuttle workers have found work, according to a recent survey conducted by Brevard Workforce. Of the 5,690 former shuttle workers who responded to the survey, 57% said they are working, while the remaining 43% are either retired or unemployed. Of the 3,234 who said they have found employment, most of them, 72%, say they are working in Florida.

Florida authorities say they've made steps toward transforming the Space Coast into more than just a launch site for shuttles. That, according to the state's Space Coast Economic Development Commission, has helped "put a serious dent" in Brevard County's unemployment rate, which is 9%. For years, the Space Coast Economic Development Commission in connection with Space Florida, the state's economic development agency, has worked to attract a more diverse aerospace industry that includes design and manufacturing. Click here. (7/28)

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