December 18, 2012

When the Air Force Wanted to Nuke the Moon (Source: Discovery)
The American reaction to Sputnik was diverse. Laymen and aerospace professionals alike were divided; some were unthreatened by the Soviet feat while others were fearful, eager to see national programs fast tracked to match the adversary in the new realm of space. United States Air Force Physicist Leonard Reiffel had a more drastic reaction. In 1958, he published a report that proposed nuking the moon.

The motivation for detonating a nuclear device, Reiffel wrote, "is clearly threefold: scientific, military and political." The report, innocuously titled A Study of Lunar Research Flights, focuses almost exclusively on the scientific benefits from such a mission. He envisioned soft landing three identical scientific instrument packages carrying seismometers and radiation detectors at random on the visible face of the moon. These stations would complement optical and spectroscopic observations from Earth.

But it's the military aspect of this proposal that's really interesting. Detonating a nuke on the moon would give scientists a look at the realities of nuclear weapons in space -- what to expect from those detonated by either the United States or by the Soviet Union. This experiment would teach scientists how to detect nuclear material in space. It would give them a clearer understanding of how capable and effective nuclear weapons would be in space, going a long way to determine whether nuclear warfare would even be feasible in space. Click here. (12/18)

Crippled N. Korean Satellite Could Orbit for Years (Source: CBS)
A North Korean satellite launched into space last week appears to be malfunctioning, but could remain in orbit for several years. North Korea says the satellite is working. U.S. officials have said it is tumbling in orbit, but even so, its successful launch into space marks a milestone in the impoverished country's technological advances.

Data from trackers in South Africa and Britain suggest the brightness of the satellite has been fluctuating, which indicates it is tumbling as it orbits. That likely means a malfunction in the probe's stabilizers, because it was designed to constantly point toward Earth. (12/18)

DARPA Plans Smallsat Imaging Constellation (Source: Aviation Week)
Doubts still hang over the military utility of small satellites, holding back progress on low-cost, quick-reaction systems that could be launched at short notice to fill gaps in space coverage. To prove their viability, DARPA has begun a program to demonstrate that small satellites produced and launched on demand can provide imagery on request directly to individual soldiers.

DARPA’s goal is to show that a constellation of 24 satellites, each weighing less than 100 lb., can be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) at a fraction of the cost of acquiring additional unmanned aircraft to provide the same imagery. Raytheon has received the first contract under the Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program. The $1.5 million contract is for the nine-month first phase to design a small imaging satellite. Darpa says other contracts will be awarded as well.

DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program is developing the booster to launch the SeeMe satellites quickly and affordably. Alasa is to be air-launched at short notice from a tactical fighter or business jet with minimal modification to the aircraft. (12/18)

Astronaut Research Holds Promise for Aging Treatments on the Ground (Source:
These conditions are risks for any space traveler, but they're also problems facing many seniors living on Earth. To accelerate scientists'  understanding of how the body ages, Canada's leading space and health agencies are pooling money and researchers, and plan to showcase the results of the research internationally.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will work with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to examine the medical issues associated with spaceflight and connect them to issues facing regular people on the ground. While researchers have investigated these topics for years, this new effort represents the first inter-agency formal step for Canada. The goal is to develop treatment for Earth-bound seniors. (12/18)

Florida Legislature Gears Up for Space Issues (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida's annual Legislative Session in Tallahassee will begin on March 5 and will run through at least May 3. Multiple space-related bills will be considered. Here's a list of Space Florida's priorities, and here's a list of issues that will be promoted during the 2013 Space Day event on March 6. In preparation for the annual session, House and Senate committees have been holding meetings to discuss proposed bills and budget requests. Space Florida President Frank DiBello will testify to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee during a Jan. 15 hearing. (12/18)

Politifact: Another Space-Focused Promise Kept By President Obama (Source: Politifact)
During his 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama pledged to increase the commercialization of government-developed technologies. Based on "partnerships aplenty at NASA", Politifact has now deemed this 2008 pledge to be a "Promise Kept". Click here to see why. And click here to see the status of all of President Obama's space-focused promises. (12/18)

ZERO-G Flights In Florida In March 2013 (Source: ZERO-G)
There's still time to get that special someone a gift they'll never forget. The ZERO-G Gift Package includes one ZERO-G Experience, a ZERO-G hat and a copy of The Space Tourist's Handbook for $4,950 + 5% tax. Flights from Florida are planned for March 16 from Miami, and March 23 from the Space Coast. Also, ZERO-G is accommodating research-only flights via the "Weightless Lab" program. The University of South Florida was among the most recent fliers on Nov. 19, taking advantage of a flight research incentive offered by Space Florida. Click here. (12/18)

PWR Reaches Upper-Stage Engine Milestone for NASA's Heavy Lift Rocket (Source: PWR)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully completed the last hot-fire test on the J-2X powerpack - an important step toward development of America's next rocket engine designed for human spaceflight. NASA has selected the J-2X as the upper-stage propulsion for the Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle. The J-2X powerpack tests were designed to evaluate the full range of operating conditions of the engine's components during flight. The powerpack was tested separately from the engine because it can be operated more thoroughly and at a wider range of conditions than a fully assembled engine. (12/17)

Fiscal Cliff Deal Could Spare NASA From Sequestration-Level Cuts (Source: Space Politics)
There are signs that the White House and Congress are approaching a deal to fend off the so-called “fiscal cliff”, including the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The two sides have exchanged proposals for a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to both discretionary programs and entitlements. The latest proposal would include $100 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs over 10 years, and an equal amount from defense spending. That would, presumably, provide a much softer blow to NASA and other programs than sequestration would impose.

That budget debate has had an impact on planning for the administration’s 2014 budget proposal. The Office of Management and Budget has slowed work on the 2014 proposal, awaiting the outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations. Federal agencies have yet to receive the “passbacks” from OMB regarding the agencies’ 2014 budget requests; those passbacks are traditionally issued around Thanksgiving. The release of the 2014 budget proposal will also likely be delayed, from early February perhaps into March. (12/18)

Congress Nears Completion of Defense Authorization (Source: Space Politics)
House and Senate conferees are expected to complete work this week on a final version of a defense authorization bill, reconciling differences between the versions passed by each chamber. One item to keep an eye on is the inclusion of any export control reform language: the House included a provision in its version returning to the president the ability to take commercial satellites and related components off the US Munitions List, but the Senate did not consider an amendment to add similar language to its version. (12/18)

Inouye's Passing Will Shift Senate Power (Source: Space Politics)
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also its defense subcommittee, passed away last week. Some reshuffling in the committee will result, including the possibility that one senator will take over the chairmanship of the whole committee and another of the defense subcommittee. One scenario could have an effect on NASA: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) could take over the defense subcommittee given that she has been active on it, even chairing one hearing earlier this year in Inouye’s absence.

That would mean, though, that she would have to relinquish the chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations subcommittee, whose jurisdiction includes NASA. Editor's Note: Mikulski has been a staunch supporter of NASA programs at Goddard Spaceflight Center and the Wallops Island spaceport. As chair of the NASA-focused appropriations subcommittee, her support is credited for saving the Webb Space Telescope and the buildup of several other programs. I wonder what this might mean for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who is gaining in seniority. (12/18)

China Closes Out 2012 With Turkish Satellite Launch (Source:
China'’s closing act on the orbital launch theater for 2012 took place Dec. 18 with the launching of the second Turkish made satellite, Göktürk-2, from the Jiuquan spaceport. Göktürk-2 was carried into space by a Long March 2D (Chang Zheng-2D) launch vehicle. Launch was schedule on December 19, but adverse weather conditions forecast at the launch site prompted a 24 hour advancement of the mission. (12/18)

GE to Buy Italy's Avio for $4 Billion, Doesn't Want Space Units
(Source: Wall Street Journal)
General Electric is on the verge of agreeing to a deal to buy Italian aerospace group Avio SpA for as much as €3 billion ($4 billion), according to people familiar with the negotiations. GE and European private-equity firm Cinven, which owns Avio, are aiming to announce a deal Thursday, the people said, though it still could be derailed at the last minute.

The Italian company makes components for commercial and military jet engines as well as propulsion systems for satellite launch vehicles. One issue that still needs to be sorted out before a deal is signed involves Avio's space business. According to a person familiar with the matter, GE isn't interested in acquiring that operation as part of the deal, and the two sides are working to structure it accordingly. (12/17)

Research Groups Bridge Political Divide on Defense Cuts (Source: The Hill)
Left- and right-leaning think tanks are coming together on how much the defense budget should be cut over the next 10 years, a survey by the National Security Network shows. The study shows that groups across the political spectrum suggest an average reduction of $510 billion, a much higher number than the defense industry has suggested is viable. (12/17)

DOD's First Sequestration Move Would Likely be a Job Freeze (Source: Federal Times)
Should sequestration take place, the Pentagon would most likely freeze hiring, then begin furloughs for workers, the Department of Defense says, while the federal court system would weigh layoffs and furloughs. The plans are being made throughout federal agencies as the deadline for finding a compromise on sequestration cuts inches nearer. (12/17)

At Long Last, Competition Comes to US Space Launches (Source: Flight Global)
The US Air Force, which purchases space launches on behalf of the entire US government, is drastically changing the way it buys rockets after years of rising costs. A memo from Department of Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall reportedly supports two approaches to purchasing space launches in an affordable way: pursuing a block buy of 36 cores from incumbent United Launch Alliance (ULA), and opening 14 launches to competitive bids.

ULA markets, builds and launches the Delta IV and Atlas V - collectively known as evolved expendable launch vehicles (EELVs) - which have, since their development in the late 1990s, held a firm monopoly on large government launches. The EELV program was meant to develop two competing launch vehicles, by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, with the expectation that a burgeoning commercial market would ensure plenty of demand for both and reduce launch costs for the US government.

For a number of reasons the expected market never developed, and the two US-based companies found they could not compete with Russian and European competitors. To preserve an important capability, US regulators allowed the companies to fold into a single entity - ULA - so both launch vehicles would remain in production. While ULA has lofted the occasional commercial satellite, for practical purposes its sole customer is the US government. Click here. (12/17)

NASA 2012 - Year in Review (Source: NASA)
So what is NASA doing now that the Space Shuttle is retired? Click here for an interactive web-based feature on how NASA spent its .04% of the federal budget in 2012. (12/18)

Canadian Proud to Lead ISS (Source: Florida Today)
A Russian rocket will blast off Wednesday, enabling Canada to take its next giant leap in space exploration. Strapped into a spacecraft atop a Soyuz rocket, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, NASA’s Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko are scheduled to launch at 7:12 a.m. ET from Baikonur spaceport. In March, NASA's Kevin Ford and two cosmonauts are scheduled to return to Earth. Before they depart, Ford will turn the station over to Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station — or any spaceship for that matter. (12/18)

The Obama Second Term and Space Policy (Source: Satellite Today)
The re-election of President Barack Obama for a second four-year term in a bitterly polarized political climate and era of crisis-level budget deficits can fairly be seen to promise a continuation of the status quo in U.S. Government space policy. That policy was led by the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget and the issuance of the Augustine Commission Report on the future of human space flight.

However, political currents, the rise of China as a space power and the quest for a legacy may push the Administration to try to do more with space policy. The Augustine Commission, among its recommendations, called for devolving responsibility for ferrying human crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial companies sponsored and partially incubated by NASA; for the ISS lifespan to be modestly increased; and for NASA to focus on more ambitious trans-low earth orbit robotic missions, like probes to asteroids and comets.

President Obama, like all second term Presidents, will be, throughout the next four years, a man in search of a legacy. While the sought-for legacy will principally be in economic recovery and domestic programs, the space sector may see a resulting renewal of interest by the Administration. Human space access capability has always been a source of national pride, albeit one often taken for granted while it existed, and now newly appreciated again. When times are tough, sometimes symbols of national pride can take on outsized significance. (12/18)

Q&A With Golden Spike (Source:
The Boulder-based company founded by former NASA scientists is embarking on a multibillion-dollar quest to provide privately funded moon missions. Here's a Q&A with Alan Stern. Q: How much will it cost to put the program together? How much will trips cost? A: It will cost about $7.5 billion to reach first landing; subsequent landings will sell for prices near $1.5 billion.

Q: Do you think people will be willing to pay that much? A: Very, very few people likely will, but we expect a healthy customer base to develop among space and science agencies around the world, as U.S. aerospace enables them to do what they never could before, i.e., explore the moon. Q: Who would be your target customers? A: Our primary customer targets will be moderate and high-GDP nations. Click here. (12/18)

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