March 13, 2013

Sequester Could Slash Jobs at NASA Research Center in Ohio (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio could lose more than 150 jobs due to budget cuts from the sequester, according to Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. "The sequester is not a smart instrument -- it just ravages things in its path," said Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought. "NASA Glenn happens to be in its path at this moment." (3/11)

The X-37B: Exploring Expanded Capabilities for ISS Missions (Source:
As NASA and its new commercial partners continue to push toward the era of realized commercial crew transportation to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Boeing has released a paper detailing the potentiality of expanding the capabilities of the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B reusable space plane for cargo and crewed missions to LEO – a proposal, which for unknown reasons, appears to have been pushed aside by NASA’s commercial space division. Click here. (3/12)

Senate Spending Bill Less Generous to NASA than House Version (Source: Space News)
NASA’s budget for the remainder of 2013 would be nearly $300 million less under a stopgap spending bill introduced March 11 in the U.S. Senate than it would under a bill approved March 6 by the House of Representatives. Congress has just two weeks to enact new spending legislation needed to keep U.S. government agencies operating past March 27. Both bills would leave NASA with significantly less funding than the $17.8 billion the agency received in 2012 after the across-the-board budget cut known as sequestration is imposed.

House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was among the 151 Democrats who voted against the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933) when it came to the House floor March 6. But he said he would vote for the Senate’s amended version — provided he gets a chance. “I think we have a majority of votes on the House floor for the Senate alternative, if the Republican leadership will put in on the floor,” Hoyer said. (3/12)

U.S. Back in Plutonium-238 Production for Space Probes (Source: Space News)
After a 25-year hiatus, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has produced its first plutonium-238, a nonweapons-grade radioactive isotope used as a power source for space probes. “We’ve been working quite closely with DOE on a restart program,” NASA’s planetary science chief Jim Green said during a webcast Mars exploration planning group meeting Feb. 27.

“They’ve developed a series of processes that have encapsulated neptunium and put it into a reactor at Oak Ridge, radiated it for a month and now the analysis is clear that we did indeed generate plutonium. This is a major step forward,” Green said. (3/13)

Ancient Mars Was Capable of Supporting Life (Source: Space Safety)
The Curiosity Mars rover, currently located within Gale Crater, initiated the first use of its drill tool in February. Geological features and the presence of minerals at the site have shown that Yellowknife Bay was once the home of flowing water, possibly in the form of a river or lake. The minerals were formed from fresh water reacting with olivine and other igneous rocks, which are also present in the area. The drill tool was used to bore into rock, and the powdered dust was examined using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments.

The results of the sample analysis have shown that this particular region of Mars was once capable of supporting microbial life. The instruments have shown the presence of hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon, which are considered to be the building blocks of life. Additionally, analysis has shown that the presence of calcium sulfate in the sample indicates that the water that once flowed in Gale Crater was likely to be of neutral, to mildly alkaline pH. (3/12)

Florida Aviation/Aerospace & Defense Industry Directory Survey (Source: FLDC)
Enterprise Florida is compiling a new Directory to catalog Florida’s aviation/aerospace and defense companies and their capabilities. Enterprise Florida is the state’s official economic development organization, whose chairman is the Governor of Florida. This Directory will be used as one of the primary tools for marketing Florida’s aviation/aerospace and defense industries.

It will be distributed to industry professionals during all Team Florida Missions, international events and programs in which Enterprise Florida participates. Targeted international distribution will include leading global aviation events such as the Paris Air Show, Farnborough Air Show, Singapore Air Show, and through EFI’s network of international offices."  Click here. (3/12)

NASA and Paragon Sign Agreement to Support Inspiration Mars (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA will support Inspiration Mars planning and technology under a new Space Act Agreement. NASA will evaluate the aerocapture and reentry phases of Paragon's proposed Inspiration Mars Mission using baseline vehicle architecture and Paragon-defined mission parameters, NASA will use its unique expertise and facilities to predict the aerodynamic and aerothermal environments during the Earth reentry maneuvers and assess the performance of critical vehicle systems, such as the thermal protection system (TPS).

Research and analyses already performed and published by NASA, in support of other missions involving high-speed returns to Earth, will be leveraged to the maximum extent possible to assess the particular conditions of the Inspiration Mars mission, NASA will support the partner in identifying any technology gaps in the baseline design in these critical areas and recommend farther analysis and outline plans to mature the needed technologies.

NASA will also conduct parametric analyses on aerocapture/reentry conditions that are outside of the baseline mission parameters in order to help the partner optimize return flight options. NASA will also conduct ground-based testing of the TPS materials to verify their performance under Mars return conditions and validate the material response modeling tools. (3/12)

Frank DiBello Honored for Promoting Opportunity Between Florida and UK (Source: Space Florida)
The UK Trade & Investment Group (UKTI) granted Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello the “Consul General’s Special Recognition Award.” UKTI helps companies establish and grow their high-value investments in the UK and assists UK-based companies succeed in the global economy.

UKTI recognized DiBello for his role in driving prosperity, and commercial and research opportunities between the UK and Florida, including signing a Memorandum of Understanding that has led to trade missions and job creation in both the UK and Florida. Winners of the Innovation Awards were selected by a committee of judges, which included Her Majesty’s British Consul General in Florida and UKTI’s senior trade and investment executives. (3/12)

DiBello: Shiloh Land Survey, Review Continues (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said Tuesday that the state is proceeding with a survey and environmental review of land at the north end of Kennedy Space Center where it hopes to develop a commercial launch complex. DiBello praised the state's partnership with NASA and the Air Force but said a commercial spaceport could help bring another 12 to 20 launches a year to the Cape.

NASA has not yet approved the state's request to take over ownership of 150 acres in the former citrus community of Shiloh, but KSC Director Bob Cabana said the agency is working with the state to enable commercial space operations at the Cape. DiBello said Space Florida believes it can still make the most compelling business case to SpaceX. If the project moves forward as planned, DiBello said the Shiloh complex could support launches by 2016 or 2017. (3/12)

NASA's Michoud Facility Manufactures Liquid Natural Gas Tanks for Lockheed Martin (Source: NASA)
NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the agency's only large-scale advanced manufacturing facility, soon will be building liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks with commercial applications on Earth. In a ceremony Tuesday that included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Lockheed Martin announced it is drawing on the unique experience and equipment at Michoud to manufacture the LNG tanks.

The new LNG manufacturing activity represents another innovative use of this storied human spaceflight production facility. It also is the continuation of NASA's commitment to build on the legacy of the Space Shuttle Program and be an engine of economic growth in the nation. Lockheed Martin said it has received initial orders to manufacture cryogenic tanks for fueling LNG-powered vessels. Lockheed Martin will adapt production equipment used to manufacture the external tank for the space shuttle to a wide range of liquefied natural gas supply chain applications. (3/12)

Arianespace Chief Likely To Take French Space Agency Helm (Source: Space News)
Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall is all but certain to be named president of the French space agency, CNES, in the coming weeks following his nomination to the post by the French prime minister. The question now is how much influence Le Gall will have in naming his own successor at Europe’s launch service provider.

The Evry, France-based Arianespace consortium is owned mainly by the industrial companies that built the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket and are positioning themselves to be contractors for the next-generation Ariane 6 vehicle, whose development funding will be up for a vote of European governments in mid-2014. (3/12)

First SBIRS Craft Has Communications Problem (Source: Space News)
As it prepares to launch the second satellite in its next-generation missile warning constellation, the U.S. Air Force continues to wrestle with a communications glitch on the first craft, which reached orbit almost two years ago but has yet to begin operations.

Air Force Col. James Planeaux, director of the Infrared Space Systems directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, said March 12 that officials discovered the irregularity with the first dedicated Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite last year. The problem initially appeared intermittently and then resurfaced more frequently during two months of trial testing in fall 2012. (3/12)

Earth-Sized Planets in Habitable Zones More Common Than Previously Thought (Source: Penn State)
The number of potentially habitable planets is greater than previously thought, according to a new analysis by a Penn State researcher, and some of those planets are likely lurking around nearby stars. "We now estimate that if we were to look at 10 of the nearest small stars we would find about four potentially habitable planets, give or take," said Ravi Kopparapu. "That is a conservative estimate," he added. "There could be more."

Kopparapu detailed his findings in a paper accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters. In it, he recalculated the commonness of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of low-mass stars, also known as cool stars or M-dwarfs. Scientists focus on M-dwarfs for several reasons, he explained. The orbit of planets around M-dwarfs is very short, which allows scientists to gather data on a greater number of orbits in a shorter period of time. (3/12)

NASA Rockets Into Social Space, But Lacks a Clear Mission (Source: The Verge)
It was dark and chilly in Austin on Sunday, March 10th, the night that NASA planned to break the Guinness World Record for "largest outdoor astronomy lesson." The cold front had cleared the clouds, leaving the stars bright and stark in the sky, and the 526 space geeks in NASA ball caps and T-shirts didn’t mind the temperature – they were happy to participate, even though the talk was just a basic demonstration on light and color. Some even lugged their own telescopes.

At 8:35PM, Dr. Frank Summers, the master of ceremonies and a Hubble astrophysicist, stopped abruptly to make an announcement. "Those of you with smartphones," he said, with a triumphant pause, "You can tweet that we have just finished the world’s largest outdoor astronomy lesson!" The world record attempt was just one hour out of NASA’s multi-day programming at South by Southwest Interactive, the infamous digital conference.

Twitter hit its tipping point here, the legend goes, and so many big brands have started to make the trek. This is NASA’s first year among them, part of a larger effort to cultivate a "hipper, more accessible" image and reach new audiences. But it may be missing the mark on both counts. NASA’s social strategy draws some people in, but there are signs that things need to change — much like NASA itself. (3/12)

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