December 1, 2012

NASA Still Making the Case for Commercial Crew (Source:
NASA's top administrators, baffled by continued congressional resistance to funding the agency's commercial crew program, this week said supporters should revamp how they advocate for privatized human spaceflight. After the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA is turning to the private sector to supply U.S. crew transportation to the International Space Station. Until a domestic provider becomes operational, NASA has procured astronaut seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles.

The commercial crew transportation initiative was announced by the Obama administration in February 2010, but nearly three years later, NASA's top managers are still selling the program's merits to lawmakers. Concerned that NASA was shortchanging other priorities, including the government-owned Space Launch System and Orion exploration programs, Congress declined to appropriate the White House's requested funding for the commercial crew program for the last two years.

NASA is spending less than half the money it said it needed for FY-2013. Congress was unable to pass a federal budget before the last fiscal year's spending package expired, and lawmakers extended funding to NASA and other agencies at FY-2012 levels. The continuing resolution runs until March 27 and extends the commercial crew program's $406 million annual budget for the first six months of fiscal 2013, affecting the rate at which the program can spend money. President Obama proposed giving the commercial crew program $830 million in FY-2013. (12/1)

Hernandez Considering Congressional Race Rematch (Source: Roll Call)
Astronaut Jose Hernandez confirmed he’s interested in challenging Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA, again. Hernandez, a Democrat, just isn’t sure when that will be: 2014 or 2016? “Democrats tend to show up in lower numbers than Republicans in off-years. It’s one of the concerns I need to worry about,” he told Roll Call in a brief Friday afternoon telephone interview. “Is it more winnable in two years or four years?” (11/30)

North Korea Plans Satellite Launch This Month (Source: Bloomberg)
North Korea will fire a long-range rocket this month in defiance of international sanctions as the totalitarian regime marks the anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death and as South Koreans go to the polls to elect a new president. The communist state will launch a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite atop an Unha-3 rocket between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.

South Korea “sternly” warned its neighbor against the plan, which it said would bring a “forceful response” from the world. The planned liftoff, from the Sohae Space Center about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of the capital Pyongyang, may complicate international efforts to engage North Korea. An unsuccessful attempt to fire a long-range rocket earlier this year cost the impoverished country a food-aid deal with the U.S. (12/1)

Economic Factors Behind North Korea's Naro Rocket (Source: Arirang)
The Naro is off the launch pad and scientists say they will perform detailed inspections this weekend of the component that led to the failure to launch the Naro on Thursday. Just 17 minutes before blast off - scientists abruptly halted the launch when the Thurst Vector Control or TVC in the second stage of the rocket malfunctioned.

The TVC is one of the main components that directly affects the direction of the rocket. Last month, the Naro launch was scrapped after the discovery that a Russian made rubber seal was broken. Previous two rocket launches failed in 2009 and 2010. All three first stage rockets of Naro were built by Russia's State Research and Production Space Center and South Korea built the second stage rockets.

Which begs the question, why is the South Korean government so determined for success? There are many leading economies around the world that have been in this business for many years, including Korea's neighbors, like China and Japan. So when you take this into account, Korea is playing catch-up." And what are the advantages economically that come into play with a successful rocket launch[Interview : ] "Some of the short term benefits is what the launch could actually have on production on different related parts and industries. (12/1)

Companies Bypassing New Mexico Without Informed-Consent Law (Source: New Mexico Business Weekly)
Rocket Crafters Inc. has several significant connections to New Mexico. NASA astronaut and Spaceport America board member Sid Gutierrez of Albuquerque sits on Rocket Crafters’ board, and John Roberts, its vice president and managing director of its suborbital transport group, lives in Elephant Butte. But the company has decided not to have any operations in New Mexico. A major reason, Roberts said, is because New Mexico hasn’t embraced an informed consent law that would absolve spaceport suppliers from lawsuits if something went wrong. (11/30)

X-37B Space Plane: Still in Search of a Mission (Source: All Things Nuclear)
On December 11, ULA is scheduled to launch its X-37B prototype space plane for the Air Force from Cape Canaveral for the third time. Its mission, however, still remains a mystery. The plane could carry out a range of missions, but in each case there are better, more efficient, and more cost-effective ways of accomplishing them. And because it is an Air Force project and its details are classified, the plane has generated confusion, speculation and, in some cases, concern about its actual purpose.

In April 2010, the Air Force launched the first of two prototype space planes, which stayed in orbit for seven months. In March 2011, it launched the second prototype, which remained in orbit for more than a year. This launch will mark the first prototype’s return to space. The ability to return to Earth carries a high price; most space missions don’t require bringing a spacecraft back to Earth, and the space plane makes no sense for them.

And if returning to Earth does make sense, spacecraft usually use parachutes, not wings and landing gear. (Craft that make an earth landing, like the Soyuz, use a set of parachutes and burn retrorockets just before landing to soften the impact. The Air Force has stated that the X-37B will allow it to carry out experiments in space over a long period of time and return them to Earth. Thus far, however, the Air Force has not provided any cost or capability analyses that compare the space plane with simpler spacecraft that return by parachuting to Earth. (12/1)

How NASA Fights Parts Counterfeiting (Source: Federal Times)
Across government, there isn’t a consistent method for detecting and mitigating the risk of counterfeit technology, and there have also been issues with inconsistent reporting of counterfeit parts. NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center uses five testing phases and inspections to ensure that aircraft parts are legitimate. Suppliers must complete a detailed survey about their capabilities, including where their parts are manufactured, and the center determines their weaknesses.

The center also requires contractors to document the parts they use, and parts are inspected and tested before any flight, said Steven Foster, lead specialist for procurement quality assurance at the center. Companies receive a weighted risk score, on a scale of one to 100, based on the survey results and other criteria. The higher the score, the lower risk the company poses to the center, with 52 being the threshold that helps the agency decide whether to do business with a company. (11/30)

Of Space and Men (Source: American Thinker)
The shuttle program reflected a shift in NASA's culture.  Engineering-on-the-edge gave way to bean-counting.  The shuttle program made economic sense only if it was a frequent flyer, so NASA sold it to Congress on the basis of 53 flights a year.  That was a fiction no one believed, yet the program went ahead anyway. NASA also needed to accommodate the egalitarian demands of raging boomers, so making the crews look like America was a priority. 

While that wasn't harmful in itself, it did expose people to the dangers of a highly experimental operation masquerading as routine travel. It was the lie of high-frequency flights that created the pressures that led to disaster.  For example, after Challenger, we learned that NASA repeatedly flew the shuttle despite knowing of prior failures of the systems that ultimately caused her loss.  The bureaucracy lost respect for the forces and lives it was playing with. NASA was an organization that lost its focus. (12/1)

Golden Spike to Unveil Plans Next Thursday (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The mysterious Golden Spike Company — which is said to be planning a privately-funded landing on the moon by 2020 — will hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. EST. Despite the company’s attempt to operate in stealth mode, quite a lot seems to be known about its plans. A Tumblr account run by an anonymous writer is providing additional details, like the involvement of Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Guy Laliberte as investors; a $120 million deal for a Falcon Heavy rocket; and that expeditions to be moon will cost about $2 billion apiece. Click here. (12/1)

NASA Says Orion Cracks Will Not Delay Debut (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers don’t expect three small cracks that appeared in the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle pressure vessel to delay the planned first flight of NASA’s next human spacecraft in 2014. The cracks in three adjacent radial ribs machined into the aft bulkhead did not go all the way through, and the vessel continued to hold pressure after the failure at 21.6 psi, according to a NASA spokeswoman. Part of the human-rating process, the tests are intended to verify engineering models and the capsule’s structural integrity. (12/1)

Putting Space Exploration Back on the Agenda (Source: The Engineer)
Space exploration probably isn’t at the top of most people’s priority lists if you ask them what areas of government spending should be protected from cuts. Persuading anyone that visiting Mars is more important than building schools, fighting disease or protecting against floods would be a near impossible task.

With Western governments still struggling to get their deficits under control, it’s not surprising that NASA’s budget is set to remain at its lowest rate (as a percentage of total spending) since 1959 for the next few years. Its European counterpart ESA has just agreed a €10bn budget for the period 2013-2017, effectively a big cut given that it has spent over €4bn this year alone.

Viewed through this lens, the short-term outlook for space exploration doesn’t look good. But there are a few other signs that we should feel more optimistic about the prospects for space – and there are plenty of ideas and enthusiasm out there to get excited about, even if the path to funding new projects isn’t clear. (11/30)

France May Reduce EADS Stake While Germany's Grows (Source: Reuters)
France and Germany are close to agreeing to a shake-up of EADS, Europe's largest aerospace group, by hiving off part of the French government's stake to make way for Berlin as a shareholder, sources familiar with the matter said. The deal is expected to be completed before the end of the year and would see a rise of state shareholdings in the Airbus parent to make way for German demands for parity with France -- offset by far fewer special rights than France currently enjoys. (11/30)

At Last, How Many Alien Civilizations are There? (Source: Astrobiology)
1961 was a special year: the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit Earth, while the American astronomer Frank Drake developed the now famous Drake Equation. This equation estimates the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy, supposing our present electromagnetic detection methods.

Looking to the Drake equation factors, it is obvious that none can be precisely determined by modern science. More than that, as we move from the left to right in the equation, estimating each factor becomes more controversial. The later terms are highly speculative, and the values one may attribute to each of them might tell more about a person’s beliefs than about scientific facts.

Among dozens of papers written about the Drake Equation, some have suggested new considerations for the formula. One such paper stands out for adding well-established probabilistic principles from statistics. In 2010, the Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone published in the journal Acta Astronautica the Statistical Drake Equation (SDE). It is mathematically more complex and robust than the Classical Drake Equation (CDE). Click here. (12/1)

KSC Tug Boats Push On (Source: America Space)
The two nineteen-foot push barges, PB-1 & PB-2, were used for three decades at KSC to maneuver the shuttle external fuel tank barge in and around the KSC turn basin. These little craft were an iconic fixture during the shuttle era and they, like their hefty charges, are fading into history. Both barges have been acquired by a Cocoa, Fla.-based company, Beyel Crane & Rigging, through the General Service Administration’s (GSA) bid process. “They are part of history and we are proud to recycle them into our fleet,” said Beyel spokesman Steve Beyel. (12/1)

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