July 31, 2012

Is Exploring Mars Worth the Investment? (Source: LA Times)
Is Mars exploration a good investment? It certainly doesn't come cheap. It's hard to calculate a total price tag, but over the 48 years that NASA has been launching missions to Mars, Americans have spent a significant sum. The Viking missions alone cost nearly $1 billion — in 1970s dollars. The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity cost a total of about $1 billion to build and operate as well. Curiosity, as the Mars Science Laboratory rover is known, is over budget at $2.5 billion.

Some in the federal government have suggested it's time to roll back the spending. President Obama's fiscal plan for 2013 would cut NASA's funds for Mars exploration from $587 million to $360 million. Proponents insist Mars science is vital for the U.S. More visits to our next-door neighbor could answer lingering questions about Earth's history, reinforce U.S. prestige and get more children interested in science. It also could bring humanity closer to answering the ultimate question: Are we alone in the universe? Click here. (7/31)

Glenn Loses Another Congressional Advocate (Source: Space Politics)
NASA’s Glenn Research Center is already losing a strong supporter in Congress with the departure of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who lost the Democratic primary for his redrawn district against another incumbent, Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Now it appears the center will lose another advocate: according to multiple reports, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rep. Steven Latourette (R-OH) is expected to announce today that he will retire at the end of his term, ending what was expected to be a relatively easy reelection bid. His decision to retire “is related to displeasure with his role in Congress,” the Plain Dealer reported.

LaTourette, while not active in general on space issues, has spoken out when it has affected NASA’s Glenn Research Center, near his district, or elsewhere in the state. He opposed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, along with a large number of other members of the Ohio delegation, concerned that it could lead to job cuts at Glenn. He sought a GAO review of NASA’s shuttle site selection process in 2011 after the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton failed in its bid to secure a shuttle orbiter. He also criticized some of his Alabama colleagues in 2010, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), for allegedly diverting funding from Glenn to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “The biggest pigs were the guys down in Alabama,” he said at the time. “They were always trying to take stuff away from NASA Glenn, and it was because of Sen. [Richard] Shelby.” (7/31)

Ad Astra Reaches Plasma Propulsion Milestones (Source: Aviation Week)
Ad Astra Rocket Co. is reporting advances in the performance of its 200-kw Vasimr plasma rocket engine prototype and its first demonstration of Constant Power Throttling (CPT), a unique feature of the experimental powerplant. Representatives of the seven-year-old commercial space propulsion company plan presentations on the developments at the 48th annual AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference in Atlanta on July 30. Ad Astra was founded by former NASA astronaut and plasma physicist Franklin Chang-Diaz with the goal of reducing interplanetary travel times.

June characterizations of the VX-200, Ad Astra’s 200-kw prototype, revealed a 10% improvement in efficiency at intermediate values of specific impulse below the 5,000-sec. optimal point demonstrated at the company’s suburban Houston lab in 2009 and 2010. The efficiency improvements were achieved through design improvements in critical engine components, “fine-tuning” the radio-frequency power system settings and upgrades to the software that controls the engine during startup and firing, Ad Astra says. (7/31)

Shatner vs. Wheaton: Star Trek Stars Narrate Mars Rover’s 7 Minutes of Terror (Source: WIRED)
In two new NASA videos, actors William Shatner and Wil Wheaton each submit their entry for hammiest narration of the Mars Science Laboratory’s entry, descent, and landing sequence on the Red Planet. But which Will does a better job at conveying the excitement and danger of this landing: the Original Series captain (Shatner) or the Next Generation wunderkind (Wheaton)? See the videos and vote for your favorite here. (7/31)

Labor Department Rules WARN Notices Not Needed for Sequester (Source: Space Policy Online)
Companies do not need to send out layoff notices 60 days in advance of the potential sequester in order to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act according to a ruling from the Labor Department. The ruling sparked an angry retort from House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA). Representatives of several aerospace companies told HASC they were concerned about complying with the WARN Act when it remains decidedly unclear as to whether the sequester will happen or what its impact on specific programs could be.

The Labor Department ruled that layoff notices should not be sent. "To provide such notice would be inconsistent with the purpose of the WARN Act." It said that although sequestration is a possibility, "it is also known that efforts are being made to avoid" the Labor Dept. said. "[t]hus, even the occurrence of sequestration is not necessarily foreseeable." Other factors also make the potential impacts of sequestration unknowable and therefore potential layoffs are "speculative and unforeseeable," it added.

McKeon issued a blistering rebuke. Calling the Labor Department's ruling "politically motivated," he accused President Obama of focusing "on preventing advance notice to American workers that their jobs are at risk" instead of working to get Senate Democrats to the negotiating table to resolve sequestration. Republicans and Democrats blame each other for the sequestration situation. (7/31)

GOP Lawmakers Want Obama to Take Action on Sequestration (Source: FOX News)
Republican lawmakers are criticizing President Barack Obama over possible sequestration defense cuts and the expiration of tax cuts, calling for action on both. "No matter who or what was responsible, the president of the United States is commander-in-chief. He's the only one," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The White House counters that sequestration was put into place by lawmakers of both parties as a deficit-cutting measure and that Congress could halt the cuts by raising taxes on higher-income earners. (7/30)

Sequestration-Report Legislation Moves to President (Source: WRWR)
A measure that would require the government to detail how sequestration budget cuts would take place has cleared the House and Senate and now moves to President Barack Obama. The bill calls for the Office of Management and Budget to report within 30 days on the cuts. (7/27)

NOAA Weather Satellites are a Critical Need (Source: Lakeland Ledger)
Without full funding for NOAA weather satellites, the nation is at risk during severe weather -- times when early warnings save lives, writes Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. "We can't let sequestration take weather forecasting back to the 1960s," she writes. "NOAA satellite systems are saving lives and money at a time when our weather is becoming more and more volatile." (7/30)

Virginia Governor Targets Defense Spending, But Opposes Sequestration (Source: Washington Times)
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says that defense spending must be reined in if Congress is serious about getting the nation’s fiscal house in order but opposes the $500 billion in automatic defense cuts under last year’s debt deal, warning they would weaken national security, kill jobs and devastate his state’s defense industry.

Thought to be on the short list of potential vice-presidential picks for Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney, Mr. McDonnell’s willingness to place defense spending on the chopping block puts him at odds with the former Massachusetts governor, who has railed against President Obama’s attempts to reduce the size of the Pentagon budget and vowed to beef it up. (7/29)

New Market Forecast Sees Demand for Suborbital Reusable Vehicles (Source: NewSpace Watch)
The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation has posted a market study paper by The Tauri Group that provides a 10 year forecast for demand for commercial suborbital reusable vehicles (SRV). It estimates that baseline SRV demand will support daily flights, with users in six distinct market areas over the 10-year forecast. The dominant SRV market is Commercial Human Spaceflight, generating 80% of SRV demand from about 8,000 high net worth individuals (net worth exceeding $5 million) from across the globe who are sufficiently interested and have spending patterns likely to result in the purchase of a suborbital flight at current prices.

The second largest source of demand is Basic and Applied Research, accounting for about 10% of forecasted demand. Research uses unique SRV capability in four areas: atmospheric research, suborbital astronomy, longitudinal human research, and microgravity. The remaining 10% of demand is generated by Aerospace Technology Test/Demonstration, Education, Satellite Deployment, and Media/PR. (7/31)

NASA's Historic Hangar S Faces Bitter End (Source: Florida Today)
The space agency is in the midst of a post-shuttle era examination of all its facilities at KSC and Cape Canaveral. The goal: Determine which facilities will be needed to move ahead with the development of new rockets and spacecraft for deep space missions; which facilities might entice commercial space taxi companies, and which facilities no longer have a reason for being.

“Unfortunately, there are some buildings that aren’t sustainable anymore, some that we can’t really afford to maintain,” said Tom Engler, deputy manager of the Center Planning and Development Office at KSC. “[Hangar S] is a 60-plus-year-old building. It has a lot of maintenance issues, and it’s actually beneficial to the center to put them on the abandon list and then eventually demolish them because they are too expensive for us to maintain.” The annual operating cost at Hangar S: $148,000. (7/31)

Despite Slow Start, Eutelsat Execs Bullish on Ka-Sat Service (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on July 31 sought to reassure investors that its Tooway Ka-band broadband service, while growing more slowly than expected, has lost none of its longer-term promise. Eutelsat said the use of 16 APSK modulation technology has squeezed additional capacity out of Ka-Sat, which is capable of 90 gigabits per second of throughput instead of the initial 70 gigabits per second. (7/31)

Smallsats Growing In Utility (Source: Aviation Week)
Small satellites, once the realm of one-off low-budget science missions and undergraduate engineering classes, have come full circle with the growing realization among hard-pressed, high-end users that the little birds can do the big jobs, too. The smallest of them—-cubesats-—are rapidly evolving into an operational commercial, scientific and military technology. Higher up the payload-weight scale, the high cost per pound of launching payloads and the growing skill of spacecraft miniaturizers are making satellites that are small enough to ride as secondary payloads attractive to a variety of customers, particularly if they can be mass-produced or produced rapidly in single units.

The launch-cost consideration may change, as the growing interest in small spacecraft attracts a new generation of small launchers designed to carry them. And the spacecraft themselves are increasingly capable, with government money flowing into the arena in search of a way to do more with less. Government interest in small satellites is not limited to cubesats, or even to spacecraft. DARPA is spending $46 million to find ways to launch satellites weighing up to 100 lb. on 24-hr. notice for less than $1 million. And the Air Force and NRO consider small satellites a way to lower risk in national security spacecraft by adding redundancy in orbit. (7/31)

Masten Visits Florida In Advance of Upcoming Launches (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida on Tuesday organized an opportunity for officials from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Central Florida, and Florida Institute of Technology to visit with officials from Masten Space Systems at Launch Complex 36, where Masten plans to launch its Xaero reusable rocket in coming months. The first Florida flights will be to about 1,000 meters (planned for after they achieve 5-kilometer altitudes at Mojave), to demonstrate their safety and operational procedures to the Air Force and NASA.

Later flights from Florida would take advantage of the over-water range to do things that cannot currently be done at Mojave and other land-locked sites. 30-kilometer test flights are planned back in Mojave after the 5-kilometer flights are achieved. Ultimately, Masten plans to go orbital from Florida. They even have plans for lunar missions that would retrofit a Centaur upper stage for a lunar lander. Here are some photos from the visit. (7/31)

Report Calls NASA Essential for National Security (Source: TASC)
Maintaining and advancing an international leadership role in space is an essential component of national security for the United States, according to a new report by TASC, Inc. The report details ways in which NASA can strengthen the country's national space security posture, foster international collaboration and benefit the economy, even during times of budget austerity.

With approximately 60 nations now operating in space and the expertise of other space agencies on the rise, U.S. space technological superiority is rapidly being challenged. Maintaining U.S. leadership in space is complicated by the fact that NASA, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community and the private-sector aerospace industry all face stagnant or declining budgets for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, as the luster of the space shuttle and moon missions fades, many Americans wonder whether space exploration remains essential to our nation's future. (7/31)

Aerojet SEP Study Demonstrates Affordability Enhancement for NASA Exploration (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet completed a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) mission concept study for NASA Glenn Research Center that demonstrated the ability to reduce the mission cost for NASA Human Exploration cargo missions by more than 50 percent through the use of existing flight-proven SEP systems. Self-funded under a collaborative Space Act Agreement, Aerojet's SEP mission concept study yielded a solution that uses the same flight-proven electric propulsion approach that supports the Air Force Advanced-Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) SV-2.

By providing the aerospace community with SEP vehicle designs that operate at power levels ranging from 9 to 30kW and that use flight-proven technologies, Aerojet provides both a low-risk, affordable approach to NASA Exploration cargo missions and a stepping stone to next-generation higher power SEP transportation vehicles. (7/31)

China Tests Powerful Rocket Engine for New Booster (Source: Space.com)
China tested a new rocket engine Sunday (July 29) for a more powerful, next-generation booster that will be used to help the country construct its first space station in orbit, and for future missions to explore the moon, according to news reports. The new liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene engine is being designed for China's planned Long March 5 rocket, which will be more powerful than the current Long March 2F rockets that have been used to launch a space lab test module and an astronaut crew on missions to test docking technologies in low-Earth orbit. (7/31)

Why Mars Again? A Look at NASA's Latest Venture (Source: AP)
Why Mars again? The big unknown remains. Scientists want to know if any form of life ever existed there, and that means microscopic organisms. Since the 1960s, spacecraft have zipped past, orbited or landed on Mars in this quest. Two small NASA rovers that arrived in 2004 explored different craters and one is still functioning today. Curiosity is the most ambitious effort ever, but it's not the be-all and end-all. During its two-year exploration, it will try to answer whether the giant crater where it lands had the right conditions to support microbes. But future missions would still be needed for more answers. (7/31)

China to Land First Moon Probe Next Year (Source: AFP)
China has said it will land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time next year, as part of an ambitious space program that includes a long-term plan to put a man on the moon. China's third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013 and attempt to land and transmit back a survey of the moon's surface. If it succeeds, experts said it would be the first craft to land on the moon as part of a mission -- as opposed to performing a controlled crash landing at the end of one -- since the Soviet space program achieved the feat in the 1970s. (7/31)

Russian Space Freighter Departs From Space Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian Progress M-15M cargo spacecraft undocked early on Tuesday from the International Space Station (ISS) to depart on a three-week scientific mission before being buried in the Pacific. The spacecraft will conduct a series of scientific experiments under the Radar-Progress project. The project focuses on the study of space engines impact on the ionosphere. (7/31)

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