September 23, 2012

Gingrich Criticizes Romney-Ryan Space Plan (Source: NBC) 
One-time presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who promised during the GOP primary to create a U.S. moon colony if elected, criticized Mitt Romney's plan for space exploration as not being "robust" enough. "The Romney plan for space starts to move in the right direction but could be much more robust," the former House speaker told NBC News a day after the Republican presidential nominee unveiled his "Securing U.S. Leadership in Space" plan. "We could move into space much, much faster than we are. Romney is better than [President] Obama on space but could be bolder and more visionary." 

In a primary-season debate, following Gingrich's lunar colony remarks, Romney said: "I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired.' ... The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it's not a good idea." 

The space steps now put forward by the Romney-Ryan ticket do not go far enough in Gingrich’s eyes. “I was with Richard Branson in Yalta last week and his commitment to a dynamic private secure entrepreneurial model that works with innovators and risk-takers to put people into space inexpensively (compared to government rates) is a big example of the future,” Gingrich said in an email Sunday. (9/23)  

Records Show SpaceX Purshasing Land Around Texas Spaceport Site (Source: Brownsville Herald)
SpaceX is investing more than research in Cameron County. It is now a property owner in the county. SpaceX has been pur-chasing property in Cameron County since June, The Brownsville Herald found. However, local officials emphasized that this does not mean SpaceX has made the decision to settle here. “But it is a good sign,” Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said.

SpaceX did not respond to requests to comment on the options that the firm is said to have placed on tracts of land or on the land purchases that have been made in Cameron County. Other than the property that SpaceX is said to have placed options on, the firm this year has purchased at least three lots in the Spanish Dagger Subdivision under the name Dogleg Park LLC. Dogleg Park LLC is now listed as a property owner in the Cameron County Tax Office and the Cameron Appraisal District rolls.

The owner’s address is listed on the property tax deed as “1 Rocket Rd., Hawthorne, CA,” which is the address for SpaceX’s headquarters. The inspiration behind the company’s name Dogleg Park LLC could not be determined. But in space terms, NASA defines dogleg as a directional turn made in the launch trajectory to produce a more favorable orbit inclination. “It is not uncommon for major corporations to purchase real estate during the site selection process in different locations before their final decision,” said Brownsville's Gilbert Salinas. Click here. (9/23)

NASA Wants to Send Astronauts Beyond the Moon (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Top NASA officials have picked a leading candidate for the agency's next major mission: construction of a new outpost that would send astronauts farther from Earth than at any time in history. The so-called "gateway spacecraft" would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small astronaut crew and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars.

At 277,000 miles from Earth, the outpost would be far more remote than the current space station, which orbits a little more than 200 miles above Earth. The distance raises complex questions of how to protect astronauts from the radiation of deep space — and rescue them if something goes wrong. NASA Chief Charlie Bolden briefed the White House earlier this month on details of the proposal, but it's unclear whether it has the administration's support. Of critical importance is the price tag, which would certainly run into the billions of dollars.

Documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show that NASA wants to build a small outpost — likely with parts left over from the $100 billion International Space Station — at what's known as the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, a spot about 38,000 miles from the moon and 277,000 miles from Earth. At that location, the combined gravities of the Earth and moon reach equilibrium, making it possible to "stick" an outpost there with minimal power required to keep it in place. (9/22)

Lagrangian Outpost Would Spur Exploration Research (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
To get to the L-2 point, NASA would use the massive SLS rocket and Orion space capsule that it is developing. Construction of the outpost would begin in 2019, according to NASA planning documents. Potential missions include the study of nearby asteroids or dispatching robotic trips to the moon that would gather moon rocks and bring them back to astronauts at the outpost. The outpost also would lay the groundwork for more-ambitious trips to Mars' moons and even Mars itself, about 140 million miles away on average.

Placing a "spacecraft at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point beyond the moon as a test area for human access to deep space is the best near-term option to develop required flight experience and mitigate risk," concluded the NASA report. From NASA's perspective, the outpost solves several problems. In addition to giving purpose to SLS and Orion, which are being developed at a cost of about $3 billion annually. It involves NASA's international partners, using a Russian-built module and components from Italy.

And the outpost would represent a baby step toward NASA's ultimate goal: human footprints on Mars. But how the idea — and cost — play with President Barack Obama, Congress and the public remains a major question. The price tag is never mentioned in the NASA report. One NASA supporter in Congress — U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-FL — said he liked the idea. But he said it would require strong White House backing to convince Congress to finance it. Click here. (9/22)

Boeing and the Fear of Competition (Source: Behind the Black)
Boeing has indicated that it might shelve its CST-100 manned capsule, despite their recent almost half a billion dollar contract award from NASA. This possibility illustrates why Boeing is losing market share, not only in space, but in the aviation industry. The article suggests that the NASA contract might not be enough to pay for CST-100, and that Boeing is unsure there is enough private market to make up the difference.

I say bull hockey. The NASA subsidy is designed to help them develop the capsule, It will also provide them some financial cushion while they market to others. That they already have an agreement with Bigelow suggests that there are private customers who will buy this manned launch capability. Boeing just has to want to compete to get their business. Unfortunately, Boeing, like Lockheed Martin and the other old time big aerospace companies, has not had much interest in competing for market share for the past thirty years. Instead, they have been happy to feed off the easy government trough. (9/23)

Flight Not Guaranteed for Boeing's Commercial Crew Capsule (Source: Flight Global)
Boeing may yet shelve future development of its CST-100 capsule, despite a recent award of more than $460 million from NASA's programme to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). "Our base business case is based on transportation to ISS through 2020," says John Elbon, Boeing's vice-president of space exploration. Though not formalised, the company requires at least two flights per year from NASA to make the project viable.

"That's just for the ISS. That's kind of the basement," adds Elbon. More flights than those to the ISS are required he says, and Boeing is cautious about over-committing itself while future revenue streams are unclear. NASA has funding for two full awards and one partial award in the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap) program, to be doled out gradually according to established technical milestones. The two full grants were awarded to Boeing and SpaceX, while Sierra Nevada Corp. won the partial award.

While Boeing stands to gain at least $460 million by completing all 19 milestones during the 21-month base period, which would bring the CST-100 through the critical design review stage, an undisclosed, but significant, amount of additional funding may be gained through accomplishing 33 optional milestones. But the base-period investment alone may not be enough for Boeing to justify continued funding, which may bring CST-100 development to an end. (9/17)

Editorial: Romney Budget Cuts Would Affect NASA (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Take Gov. Romney's positions together — no cuts in military or Medicare spending, lower taxes on businesses, no tax hikes on the middle class — and it hard to see how a President Romney would steer the country toward a balanced budget without massive cuts in spending on every other part of the budget — health care, education, transportation, NASA, etc. If that's what he has in mind, he should make it clear. (9/2)

Obama Campaign Responds to Romney Campaign Space Paper/Comments (Source: Obama/Biden Campaign)
“In the past, Mitt Romney has criticized Washington politicians for pandering to Florida voters by making empty promises about space. After his event today, it’s probably time for Romney to have a talk with Paul Ryan. Congressman Ryan has repeatedly voted against NASA funding, and the Romney-Ryan budget’s cuts – if applied across the board – would cut funding for space exploration programs by 19 percent. (9/23)

Ryan Talks Liberty, Space Plans at UCF Campaign Stop (Source: Florida Today)
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Saturday derided President Obama’s space program. Ryan answered a series of questions from supporters at the town hall meeting. He derided the Obama administration’s space program, a sensitive subject in central Florida where thousands of jobs have been lost since the end of the space shuttle program last year.

Obama in 2010 cancelled the Constellation program, which was launched under President Bush’s administration as a successor to the shuttle program. The goal of the Constellation program had been to send astronauts back to the Moon and eventually on to Mars. Obama’s space initiatives emphasize cooperation with private companies in sending supplies and astronauts to the international space station and beyond. “He has put the space program on a path where we’re conceding our position as the unequivocal leader in space,” Ryan said. (9/23)

Romney and Ryan Say Obama Jeopardizes U.S. Leadership in Space (Source: LA Times)
As Paul Ryan campaigned near Florida’s Space Coast, Mitt Romney on Saturday released a plan for space exploration that said remaining the global leader in that arena is vital for the nation’s economic and security needs. With an eye toward impressing crucial Florida voters, Romney and his running mate also argued that President Obama  has allowed the nation’s space dominance to erode. "He has put the space program on a path where we're conceding our position as the unequivocal leader in space," Ryan said in Orlando.

Romney, who spent Saturday fundraising in California, criticized Obama in part for the fact that American astronauts have to be ferried to the International Space Station by Russia now that the space shuttle program has ended. “Today we have a space program befitting a president who rejects American exceptionalism, apologizes for America, and believes we should be just another nation with a flag. We have been put on a path that cedes our global position as the unequivocal leader in space,” the Romney plan argues. “The Russians are leading in human spaceflight right now. The Chinese may someday look down at us from the moon.”

The shuttering of the space shuttle program is a sensitive issue in Florida, where thousands lost jobs. The Obama campaign countered by saying that Romney was a hypocrite, noting that during the Republican primaries he criticized rivals who made promises about the space program while in Florida. Democrats also noted that Ryan has voted against NASA funding. (9/23)

SpaceX Readies Cargo Trip to Make History (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Cargo resupply is about to make the history books. On Oct. 7, the Dragon spacecraft of SpaceX, a private company, will be launched from NASA's Cape Canaveral complex. The mission will give new meaning and excitement to the task of hauling cargo. The unmanned private delivery will carry about 1,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. And with that delivery will begin what should be a long, exciting and productive relationship between space exploration and the U.S. private sector.

As the economy recovers from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, NASA's budget and plans have been squeezed. The kind of national mobilization that followed in the wake of John F. Kennedy's promise to send a man to the moon within a decade is a distant memory for NASA and its supporters. With Congress wrestling with a $16 trillion national debt, it's unlikely that the near future holds any major increases in federal funding for manned space exploration.

Fortunately, far-sighted entrepreneurs are giving the U.S. space program a needed boost. The future holds much more promise for private-sector space exploration, and perhaps much of it won't need government contracts. Unmanned flights and perhaps manned flights, funded by private corporations, may soon explore the solar system and try to mine asteroids for their resources. There is also the promise of "space tourism," which is already underway. The private sector has a lot to offer space exploration and its potential is likely to be seen in the 21st century. That, in turn, will benefit the Space Coast — and Volusia County. (9/23)

NASA, Space Exploration Deserve Better From Senate (Source: Florida Today)
You need not look far beyond the empty chairs at a space policy hearing in the U.S. Senate to know what advocates of space exploration should be worried about most right now. A panel of NASA leaders, distinguished space scientists and leaders from companies involved in developing space exploration systems were called to appear before a Senate committee with influence over national space policy.

Why? Two senators showed up to hear what they had to say. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat from Florida, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a [retiring] Republican from Texas. Taxpayers paid for the hearing expenses, and they’re paying billions of dollars each year for space exploration, enough to warrant some attention to be paid to the topic by their elected representatives.

The turnout of two senators for the hearing is indicative of the political climate facing the American space program. Interest and support are too narrowly centered around jobs in states with big aerospace hubs. There’s no shortage of political statements issued for big accomplishments like landing a rover on Mars. But an earnest, meaningful show of support for exploration seems limited. (9/23)

Space Coast Jobs Agency Alters Course to Aid Space Employees (Source: Florida Today)
Mass layoffs of local shuttle workers loomed in June 2010 when help arrived in the form of a $15 million emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Brevard Workforce said it planned to spend two-thirds of the money to get 1,350 laid-off contractors back to work through a program that shared employers’ cost to train them in new fields. Two years later, the “On-the-Job Training” program has served fewer than 160 people.

What has the local jobs agency done with the grant instead? Brevard Workforce requested and received permission to spend most of the money on more basic career services, like how to search for a job, write resumes, interview and network. “You would think we’d have every business in Brevard saying ‘Give me an OJT (On-the-Job Training candidate) for when I hire my next person,” said Brevard Workforce President Lisa Rice. “We don’t.”

The grant’s ultimate goal remains to serve a total of 3,200 displaced aerospace workers, with at least 2,240 finding new employment, targets Brevard Workforce is optimistic it will meet by the time the grant expires next June. On-the-job training requires a job to be available, of course. But in a sluggish economy, companies didn’t accelerate hiring despite the “OJT” program’s incentive: typically, paying half a new employee’s salary for up to 90 days or roughly $10,000 to offset training costs. Click here. (9/23)

Missed Goals May Hurt Workforce Grant Efforts (Source: Florida Today)
As of June 30, Brevard Workforce had $9.1 million left to spend of a $15 million National Emergency Grant awarded in 2010 to help displaced shuttle workers. The U.S. Department of Labor provided a first grant installment of $7.8 million. In April of this year, it approved the remaining $7.2 million and extended the grant one year to to June 14, 2013. Any money not spent by then must be returned.

Brevard Workforce has refocused the resources on “core and intensive” services such as workshops and one-on-one counseling that experts say are less expensive and can serve more people than job training. Most of the cost is for the staff needed to provide the services. There is no penalty if Brevard Workforce fails to achieve the grant’s goals for numbers of people served and employed, but agency officials said doing so could make it harder to win similar grants in the future. (9/23)

The Dish, Spiced Up (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
Australian ingenuity will save NASA about $800,000 and three months of down time when the 70-meter antenna at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex is shut for refurbishment in November. For a piece of extremely sensitive equipment that detects radio waves sent from Voyager 1 with half as much power as a fridge light, surface consistency to 0.1 millimeter is critical. It takes radio waves from Voyager 1 about 14 hours to reach Earth and by the time they arrive, they have faded markedly from 12 watts to 20 million times weaker than a watch battery.

Mechanical engineer John Phillips is the deputy antenna site facility manager and will be part of a team overseeing the replacement of the grout beneath the antenna and the painting of the dish. "It will do the same function but reliability will be improved. If you get deformation in the grout that supports the runner, the antenna itself is not as good," Mr Phillips said. The original plan was to jack up the antenna and bolt legs on to replace the grout in one go. "It would have cost twice that and they were estimating down time of more than 10 months."

The new plan will replace the grout in 60-degree sections and close it from November 12 to June 6. The new grout is impervious to oil and should last decades. "It's an epoxy with a crushed quartz mix. With the new grout, that should improve quality and the reliability of the antenna will have less down time." (9/23)

Indian PSLV to Launch 5 Foreign Satellites in December (Source: The Hindu)
The Indian Space Research Organization’s next PSLV launch slated for December this year will also put five small commercial foreign satellites in orbit. Among them is a 148-kg Canadian surveillance satellite, Sapphire. The satellites, weighing between 148 kg and 3 kg, would fly piggyback with the main satellite, SARAL, which was an Indo-French cooperative mission. The flight is slated for ‘12-12-12’: or December 12 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota. (9/23)

Florida Wants NASA Land to Develop Commercial Spaceport (Source: Reuters)
With an eye toward developing a commercial spaceport, Florida has asked NASA to transfer 150 acres of land north of the shuttle launch pads and the shuttle runway to Space Florida, the state's aerospace development agency. "Florida believes that the properties identified in this request are excess to the needs of the U.S. government," Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who is also chairwoman of Space Florida, wrote in letter to NASA chief Charles Bolden and Ray LaHood, secretary of Department of Transportation, which oversees commercial space transportation in the United States.

The letter, dated September 20, was posted on the state's Sunburst public records website. A week earlier, Space Florida agreed to spend $2.3 million for environmental studies, land surveys, title searches, appraisals and other activities to lay the groundwork for Cape Canaveral Spaceport, a proposed state-owned commercial complex that would be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration and operated like an airport.

"If we want to be satisfied with 10 to 12 government launches a year, I don't have to do anything," Space Florida president and chief executive Frank DiBello said. But he said those launches would likely end when commercial sites elsewhere are able to offer affordable rates. Click here. (9/23)

Ryan: “We Need a Mission for NASA” (Source: Space Politics)
Coinciding with the release of a space policy white paper by the Mitt Romney campaign, his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), mentioned space in a campaign appearance in Orlando: "The space program strengthens the entrepreneurial spirit and commercial competitiveness. It launches new industries and new technologies. President Obama campaigned quite a bit around Florida on the Space Coast in 2008 and made lots of promises. This is one of those other broken promises."

"We have presided over a dismantling of the space program over the last four years. He has put the space program on a path where we are conceding our global position as the unequivocal leader in space. Today, if we want to send an astronaut to the space station, we have to pay the Russians to take them there. [boos] China may someday be looking down on us from the Moon. That’s unacceptable. Mitt Romney and I believe that America must lead in space. [applause] Mitt Romney and I believe we need a mission for NASA, a mission for space program, and we also believe that this is an integral part of our national security."

Since it came up both in Ryan’s speech and the white paper, it’s worth remembering that the reliance on the Russians for access to the ISS is something that predates the Obama Administration: under the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration and NASA’s implementation of it, there was always a planned gap of several years between the retirement of the shuttle (in 2010) and the introduction of a replacement transportation system. (9/22)

Editorial: Romney/Ryan Space Position Lacks (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Romney/Ryan campaign's comments on space policy provide no specifics on how they would change the space program's current course. That they mention space at all seems to be proof that they're trying to appeal to Florida swing-state voters. But these Florida voters want details. They understand the issues and want to know whether Romney/Ryan will protect or increase NASA funding, support big programs with specific destinations and timelines. Instead the Romney/Ryan offers platitudes.

This lack of specifics is not much different from the Obama campaign, but with President Obama we know U.S. commercial rockets will soon carry astronauts, and the SLS will lift missions to asteroids (by 2025) and beyond. And--barring sequestration--we can presume that the NASA budget requests will be crafted to support these goals. With Romney/Ryan we have to hope that their pledge for deep across-the-board spending cuts won't be inconsistent with their promises for renewed U.S. international leadership in space. Romney says that NASA doesn't need more money and should instead have clearer priorities.

This reminds me of President Bush's "pay as you go" strategy for funding the Constellation program. Instead of requesting new funding for the program, President Bush and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin (now a Romney space adviser) cannibalized other NASA science programs to pay Constellation's vehicle hardware, primarily the ill-fated Ares-1 (in lieu of cheaper commercial alternatives). (9/23)

Romney Campaign Space Paper (Source: SpaceKSC)
From the Romney/Ryan paper: "The President’s disjointed collection of scientific projects lack guiding principles, plausible objectives, or a roadmap for long-run success. They also have left American astronauts to hitch rides into space on Russian spacecraft. America’s capabilities are eroding, and with each passing year will become more difficult to rebuild...  For the first time since the dawn of the Space Age, the United States has no clear plan for putting its own astronauts into space."

The current "gap" requiring U.S. astronauts to "hitch rides" on the Russian Soyuz was created by the Bush administration in January 2004. The United States has a very "clear plan for putting its own astronauts into space." It's called commercial crew. Contradicting his assertion, on Page 7 Romney essentially endorses the current commercial crew strategy. You can read the document and judge for yourself, but in my opinion this document has about as much integrity as all things Romney. Click here. (9/22)

Law will Boost California's Space Travel Industry (Source: Sacramento Bee)
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation intended to boost the fledgling private space travel industry. Brown said Friday he had signed the bill by Republican Assemblyman Steve Knight, which limits private space companies' liability from civil lawsuits. Under AB2243, the companies cannot be held liable for the injury or death of customers because of the obvious risks associated with space travel. They still can be sued in cases of gross negligence or willful disregard for participants' safety.The bill also does not limit the ability to sue parts manufacturers. Brown said the legislation will allow companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Company "to innovate and explore without the worry of excessive liability." (9/22)

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