February 27, 2013

“Inspiration Mars” Plans Private Human Rendezvous with Red Planet (Source: SPACErePORT)
In yet another example of aggressive private-sector initiative in space, the Inspiration Mars Foundation seeks to send two people on a pathfinder mission to the Red Planet and back (without landing on Mars). The window for launching such a mission is short and opens on Jan. 2018. The 501 day mission would be the longest-ever human spaceflight and would tackle various technological and physiological challenges.

Although vehicle details are not yet finalized, the plan could include an expandable module--similar to those made by Bigelow Aerospace--attached to the top/front of a Dragon or CST-100 capsule. Earlier concept studies for Inspiration Mars featured a single SpaceX launch, but a two-launch approach might be necessary to integrate the expandable module.

This endeavor, along with the growing number of other audacious commercial space programs, highlights for many the Government’s diminishing capability or resolve to implement an aggressive exploration program in a timely and affordable fashion. One wonders if we wouldn't have seen this kind of commercial innovation had Constellation not been cancelled. (2/27)

NASA's Prepared Response to Inspiration Mars (Source: NASA)
In advance of anticipated questions about the Inspiration Mars initiative, NASA has prepared the following statement: "This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration's overall space policy and the enthusiasm to tap the innovative spirit of the private sector and share the interest people have in Mars exploration. It's a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers. "

"NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans." (2/27)

After Swallowing Rival GeoEye, DigitalGlobe Hungry for More (Source: Space News)
Geospatial imagery and services provider DigitalGlobe, having digested rival GeoEye, said it is hungry for more purchases and that acquisitions will be its primary midterm focus for its increasing cash flow. Once DigitalGlobe works through the one-time costs of the GeoEye deal, and completes payments on its WorldView-3 satellite, scheduled for launch in mid-2014, it will generate cash that will be used for external growth, CEO Jeffrey Tarr said. (2/27)

Vizada Acquisition Fuels Astrium Growth in 2012 (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services company reported a 17 percent increase in revenue for 2012 from 2011 and an equivalent increase in pretax profit, with backlog declining by 13.6 percent as a result of satellite and rocket deliveries made during the year. Astrium reported revenue of 5.82 billion euros ($7.7 billion) and earnings before interest and taxes of 312 million euros, or 5.4 percent of revenue, the same margin as in 2011. Astrium generated new orders of nearly 3.8 billion euros in 2012, and as of Dec. 31 its backlog stood at 12.7 billion euros, down 13.6 percent from a year ago. (2/27)

Cape Canaveral Commander Headed to NRO (Source: Space News)
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton is leaving Cape Canaveral for Chantilly to take the No. 2 job at the National Reconaissance Office (NRO). As the Defense Department agency that builds the nation's fleet of classified spy satellites, the NRO is one of the Cape's biggest launch customers. Cotton, 49, wil replace Maj. Gen. Susan Mashiko, the former program executive officer for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. (2/26)

Interest Building in Shiloh Launch Site on KSC Property (Source: Florida Today)
A proposed state-run launch complex inside Kennedy Space Center has drawn strong interest from another growing private space firm, public records show. Blue Origin says Space Florida’s proposed “Shiloh” site would be a good fit for tests of a reusable booster and eventual launches of cargo and crews to orbit. “Blue Origin is keenly interested in conducting orbital launch operations at the Shiloh facility,” the company said in response to state request for information from interested launch providers.

Blue Origin was the only company to respond in writing to the state’s request by a deadline last month. However, Space Florida says it has held discussions with SpaceX and at least one other firm it has not identified. The state’s aerospace development agency last year asked NASA to give it roughly 150 acres in the former citrus community of Shiloh, just inside the northern border of KSC and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near the Brevard-Volusia county line.

If it moves forward, the Shiloh complex could house one or two pads for launches of non-government missions. SpaceX has publicly stated its interest in a pad operated independently from NASA and the Air Force, and is scouting suitable locations in several states. Blue Origin also strongly endorsed the idea that commercial and government missions should have separate, dedicated launch facilities, similar to commercial and military aircraft. Blue Origin said it plans about 12 orbital launches a year, on average, but offered no timeframe. (2/27)

The Coming R&D Crash (Source: Washington Post)
One of the few things Republicans and Democrats have been able to agree on in recent years is that the government should be spending more on basic scientific research — the sort of research that, in the past, has played a role in everything from mapping the human genome to laying the groundwork for the Internet. “Government funding for basic science has been declining for years,” Mitt Romney wrote in his 2010 book No Apology. “It needs to grow instead.” In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama sounded a similar note: “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.”

So it’s notable that the exact opposite is, in fact, about to occur. Thanks to budget pressures and the looming sequester cuts, federal R&D spending is set to stagnate in the coming decade. The National Institutes of Health’s budget is scheduled to drop 7.6 percent in the next five years. Research programs in energy, agriculture and defense will decline by similar amounts. NASA’s research budget is on pace to drop to its lowest level since 1988.

As a result, scientists and other technology analysts are warning that the United States could soon lose its edge in scientific research — and that the private sector won’t necessarily be able to pick up the slack. “If you look at total R&D growth, including the corporate and government side, the U.S. is now at the low end,” says Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). “We’re seeing other countries, from Germany to Korea to China, make much bigger bets. And if that persists for long enough, it’s going to have an impact.” (2/26)

Weather Predictions Will Be Harder After Cuts (Source: Washington Post)
Sequestration cuts will make it harder to predict potentially dangerous weather events, and could undermine public safety, experts say. The Commerce Department says the cuts will shrink the number of flight hours for NOAA surveying aircraft, lose expertise when staffers leave and reduce maintenance on radar and other systems. (2/26)

MDA to Help Map Asteroid (Source: SpaceRef)
Canada's MDA has received a contract for CA$15.8 million from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for the preliminary design of an advanced technology solution for NASA's New Frontiers OSIRIS-REx mission, the next planetary science mission to another celestial body in our solar system. The total contract value for initial phases received to-date are valued at $19 million.

NASA plans to launch a spacecraft in 2016 to study and return an asteroid sample to Earth in 2023. As the spacecraft comes within seven kilometers of the asteroid, MDA's solution will be used to perform comprehensive surface mapping operations that provide topographical maps that will assist in navigating the spacecraft towards the asteroid and identifying potential sample acquisition sites. (2/27)

Revised Space Leadership Preservation Act Not Cosponsored by Posey (Source: Space Policy Online)
A day before a hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee, a revised version of the Space Leadership Preservation Act has been introduced. The text of the new bill, H.R. 823, is somewhat different from the version introduced in the last Congress. One change, for example, is that the NASA Administrator would be appointed for six years rather than 10.

The co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), will testify before the Space Subcommittee of the HSS&T Committee tomorrow morning at 10:00 to explain what they hope the bill, if passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, would accomplish. Wolf chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA. Culberson is a member of that subcommittee. Editor's Note: Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey had sponsored an earlier version of this bill but is not among those who have reintroduced it. (2/26)

AIAA Plans Congressional Visits Day on March 19-20
(Source: AIAA)
American Society for Gravitational and Space Research and the AIAA Life Sciences and Systems Technical Committee and Microgravity Processes Technical Committee members join with AIAA to visit Capital hill and discuss key issues with law makers and their staff. The dates of the congressional Visits are March 19-20. Go to https://www.aiaa.org/CVD2013/ to register. The event is free. Students are welcome to participate. You must be an AIAA national member to register for the event. As of this writing, we will have 13 students coming from across the U.S. (2/26)

First Space Tourist Sets Sights on Mars (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A group headed by multimillionaire Dennis Tito, who in 2001 became the first space tourist, on Wednesday is expected to outline plans for a private manned mission to circle Mars by 2018. Mr. Tito, an investment tycoon and space exploration booster, doesn't have a rocket, spacecraft or financing for the venture, according to industry officials familiar with the project. He plans to disclose the venture in Washington, D.C., alongside executives with Paragon Space Development Corp. His trip to the international space station is considered the first example of space tourism. (2/26)

NASA Signs Up US Navy for Opening Three Orion Splashdowns (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
An agreement has been signed with the United States Navy to provide splashdown recovery support for NASA’s Orion spacecraft through to the crewed Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2). The support will include Navy boat teams and a Landing Platform-Dock (LPD) ship, with two exercises scheduled ahead of the EFT-1 mission. Originally, NASA envisioned a return to terra firma, aided by an airbag landing system on the Orion spacecraft.

However, Lockheed Martin was forced to remove this system ahead of their Orion 607 design cycle, as engineers battled to delete mass from the spacecraft, due to performance shortfalls with the Ares I launch vehicle. The mass deletion effort removed 1,200 lbs from Orion.

Unfortunately, the loss of weight proved to be inadequate, as the Orion 607 vehicle then underwent what what was called the “Zero Base Vehicle” effort, in order to “pull out everything, with the minimum capabilities reduced to the single or zero fault tolerance level,” ahead of returning capabilities piece by piece, all while avoiding a breach of their mass properties limitations. Prior to the Orion 607 change, the test schedule promoted Orion’s ability to land on both land and water. (2/26)

Harris Nabs Weather Satellite Study Contract (Source: Space News)
Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., will study options for the ground system of a next-generation U.S. military weather satellite system under a U.S. Air Force contract. The study will examine ground system options for various satellite architectures, including those that disperse sensors among multiple relatively platforms, the Air Force said in a press release. That concept is known as disaggregation.

The contract value was not disclosed, but similar contracts from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, awarded under a June broad agency announcement for a follow on military weather satellite system, have ranged from $6 million to $12 million. The Air Force plans to request funding for full-scale development of the system, intended to replace the legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites — of which the service has just two remaining — in 2015. (2/26)

NASA Announces Fourth Round of CubeSat Space Mission Candidates (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 24 Cubesats to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets planned to launch in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The proposed CubeSats come from universities across the country, a Florida high school, several non-profit organizations and NASA field centers. The selections are from the fourth round of the CubeSat Launch Initiative.

The selected CubeSats will be eligible for flight after final negotiations and an opportunity for flight becomes available. Among the CubeSat developers are three Florida organization, including NASA KSC, the University of Florida, and Merritt Island High School. Click here. (2/26)

Congress, NASA IG Assessing NASA's Use of Space Act Agreements (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA's use of Space Act Agreements (SAAs) is coming under scrutiny both by Congress and by NASA Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA, sent two letters to Charlie Bolden inquiring about the agency's use of SAAs. The first was sent in January requesting a list of all foreign and domestic SAAs.

The second was sent today alerting Bolden that more questions will be forthcoming about some of them. Wolf asked NASA to share all the information with the chair of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). House SS&T is NASA's authorizing committee, which sets policy and recommends funding levels.  Wolf's committee is the one that actually gives the money to NASA (and other agencies under its jurisdiction) in conjunction with its Senate counterpart.

NASA was given authority to use Space Act Agreements, also called "other transaction authority," in the law that created the agency in 1958.  SAAs have garnered a lot of attention since NASA began using them for its commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.  Under those SAAs, companies are paid only when they meet agreed-upon milestones, but the government has less insight into what they are doing than with traditional contracts executed under Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Click here. (2/26)

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