March 20, 2013

SpaceX’s Merlin 1D Engine Achieves Flight Qualification (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX's Merlin 1D engine has achieved flight qualification, a major milestone for the next generation Merlin engine. Through a 28 test qualification program, the Merlin 1D accumulated 1,970 seconds of total test time, the equivalent run time of over 10 full mission durations, and is now fully qualified to fly on the Falcon 9 rocket. The program included four tests at or above the power (147,000 pounds of thrust) and duration (185 seconds) required for a Falcon 9 rocket launch. (3/20)

With Change in Cosmic Rays, Voyager 1 Enters New Region of Space (Source: AGU)
Thirty-five years after its launch, Voyager 1 appears to have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and exited the heliosphere. The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy.

On August 25, 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays – cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system – spiked to levels not seen since Voyager's launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels. (3/20)

DOD Faces Budget Cuts Through 2021, Report Warns (Source: Defense News)
The Pentagon will be operating under ever-slimmer budgets through 2021, and the military may have to cut forces, raise the cost of health coverage for beneficiaries and take other steps to cut costs, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The projected budget cuts are needed for the Defense Department to stay within the limits of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the report says. (3/19)

With Notice This Week, DOD Furlough Begins April 25 (Source: Politico)
Workers at the Pentagon will begin receiving notices warning of impending furloughs, the first of which will begin April 25. Up to 800,000 civilian workers at the Defense Department face furloughs, which will occur in stages to Sept. 21. The furloughs are the result of sequestration, which Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., says the federal government is "not going to be able to avoid" the first year. (3/18)

Voluntary Layoffs at Lockheed to Cope with Budget Cuts (Source: Reuters)
Lockheed Martin has accepted voluntary buyouts from 243 midlevel managers, and says that while it's not planning further cuts, it will continue to scrutinize staffing levels. The managers at the firm's information systems and global solutions division will receive severance packages as part of the voluntary layoff, which was offered to 4,000 employees. (3/19)

NASA Wants Plutonium, Nuclear-Powered Generators (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA wants to develop a pair of nuclear-powered generators that can aid future space missions where such power is needed, says Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary sciences division, who spoke recently at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Conference. In addition, the space agency wishes to restart production of Plutonium-238, Green says. (3/19)

FSDC Meeting "Space Locals" Discussion to Focus on Launch Weather (Source: FSDC)
The next regular FSDC meeting will be held on April 6 at 2:00 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach. The meeting will include a Space Locals discussion with William Roeder. Roeder will discuss Eastern Range weather operations and the impact of weather and lightning on launch operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This event is free and open to the public. Click here. (3/20)

Lawmaker Calls for NASA Data Review After Scientist Arrested (Source: Flight Global)
NASA appears to have blocked public access to a server containing thousands of technical documents amidst charges by one US lawmaker over lapses of security involving a Chinese national who was hired as a contractor and was arrested while attempting to return to China. The developing story centers on the recent actions of Bo Jiang, a research scientist employed at NASA's Langley research center.

On 18 March, Wolf called on NASA to take down all public technical information so it could be reviewed for potential violations of export control laws, which tightly regulate spacecraft and satellite components. Wolf also called for "an immediate review" of foreign nationals with NASA credentials, and an audit of NASA contractors that employ foreign nationals on NASA property.

Editor's Note: Bo Jiang was reportedly "studying imagery enhancements" at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), a consortium of universities with close ties to Langley. Among other things, NIA has also been working on commercial spaceflight safety issues, but it is unknown whether Jiang had any involvement with space transportation R&D at NIA. (3/20)

Spring Space Camp Planned at KSC Visitor Complex (Source: KSCVC)
Spring Camp Kennedy Space Center (KSC) provides young people ages 8 to 14 with an inspiring week of fun and enriching space activities. The camp, themed “Out of This World Science,” will be held March 25-29 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During spring Camp KSC, young people explore the wonders of living in space, experiment with unusual chemical reactions, and train like an astronaut by engaging in space shuttle mission simulations. Click here for information and registration. (3/20)

Latvia Joins ESA (Source: ESA)
Latvia becomes the seventh country to sign the European Cooperating State Agreement with ESA. This agreement strengthens Latvia’s relations with ESA as the country follows Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Estonia and Slovenia in joining this status. (3/20)

$3 Million Donation Puts Pan-STARRS Telescope Back on Track (Source: University of Hawaii)
The cancellation of earmarks by the U.S. Congress in 2011 left Pan-STARRS, one of the University of Hawaii’s flagship programs, $10M short of the funds needed to complete the historic 2-telescope system—and on the verge of folding. Thanks to an anonymous $3M gift made through the University of Hawaii Foundation, Pan-STARRS will survive the cuts and continue astronomy research of global import. (3/18)

Apollo Engines Recovered From Atlantic Ocean Floor by Bezos Expeditions (Source: Boing Boing)
A space history project led by founder Jeff Bezos has exciting news out today: Apollo mission F-1 engines have been recovered from deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic ocean, as the "F-1 Recovery Project" years in the making reaches a successful conclusion. "We're excited to be bringing a couple of your F-1s home," Bezos said to NASA.

"Nearly one year ago, Jeff Bezos shared with us his plans to recover F-1 engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s," responded NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "We share the excitement expressed by Jeff and his team in announcing the recovery of two of the powerful Saturn V first-stage engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean." Click here. (3/20)

Texas Business Incentive Fund Scrutinized (Source: Mother Jones)
Watchdog groups have long argued that the Texas Enterprise Fund, a taxpayer-funded program that has awarded more than $487 million to big businesses that set up shop in the Lone Star State since 2004, is a slush fund that allows Gov. Rick Perry to reward allies and political donors. A bipartisan group of state senators is pushing a bill that would subject the Enterprise Fund to an independent state audit. Perry and his allies may have reason to fear a higher level of accountability.

In 2010, the Texas Observer found that since the fund's inception in 2003, 20 of the 55 Texas Enterprise Fund grant recipients had given money directly to Perry's campaign or the Republican Governor's Association. A look at awards since 2010 shows the practice of handing money to Perry donors continues, albeit on a smaller scale: About 15 percent of companies that have received money from the fund since 2010 donated to Perry's campaign, according to records maintained by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.

There is currently about $140 million in the fund. Auditing experts say having three GOP officials sign off on the Enterprise Fund's projects is not comparable to an audit. Perry maintains that the fund gives Texas a competitive edge and has brought more than 56,000 new jobs to the state and generated more than $14.7 billion in capital investment. But the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice found that by the end of 2010, companies getting cash from the fund were only creating about 37 percent of the number of jobs promised. (3/20)

NASA to Congress: Don’t “Pour Money” Into NEO Programs (Source: Space Politics)
Events like last month’s Russian meteor and close approach by asteroid 2012 DA14—coincidental but taking place just hours apart—raised public awareness in the potential threats posed by near Earth objects (NEOs). It would also seem to be an opportunity for NASA in particular to seek additional funding to support its NEO detection efforts, which are lagging behind Congressionally-mandated goals for discovering these objects.

Yet, at a hearing Tuesday on the issue by the House Science Committee, NASA administrator Charles Bolden seemed to downplay the threat and ask that additional money not be allocated to NEO programs—at least not at the expense of other NASA programs.

“We could come out of this hearing and decide that we really want to pour money into NEO detection and characterization, and that would not be the right thing to do,” Bolden said. He instead supported the overall 2013 budget request for NASA, which he said is “striking that proper balance” among the agency’s priorities. Bolden’s rationale was that NEO impacts large enough to pose a threat were rare events. (3/20)

Draft Satellite Export Regulations Expected in April (Source: Space News)
U.S. government officials expect to complete in April a draft version of regulations that will remove some satellite hardware and technology from the U.S. Munitions List, a registry of militarily sensitive technologies whose exports are tightly controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Those items that are taken off the list will fall under the export regulatory jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which industry officials expect will ease the licensing process. The regulations are being drafted following the passage of legislation passed late last year that gives the U.S. president the authority to determine licensing jurisdiction for space-related items. (3/19)

NASA Program to Detect Asteroids Falls a Decade Behind Schedule (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
NASA is a decade behind in meeting a congressional mandate to detect meteors capable of destroying a city, and needs a telescope in space to improve tracking, the nation’s top science officials said. NASA’s leaders said most large asteroids that may trigger a global catastrophe have been found and tracked, and an impact within the next several centuries is unlikely. Smaller objects are harder to track, arrive more often and are less lethal.

“Unfortunately, the number of undetected potential ‘city killers’ is very large,” John Holdren, assistant to President Barack Obama for science and technology, said today at a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “It’s in the range of 10,000 or more.”

A meteor blast over Russia Feb. 15 put fresh focus on efforts to send a spacecraft into an asteroid to show incoming objects can be knocked off a collision course. The Air Force wasn’t aware of the meteor until it streaked toward Earth, General William Shelton said. He declined to elaborate. (3/19)

Will NASA’s Married Astronauts be Considered for the Private Mars Mission? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Of NASA’s 50 astronauts there are about five married couples — some are more private than others — and presumably these might be candidates for an Inspiration Mars mission. But would they be willing to go? One of these couples is Doug Hurley, ace pilot on the final shuttle flight, and Karen Nyberg, who is making her second trip into space later this spring to spend half a year on the International Space Station.

On Tuesday Nyberg and the other two members of Expedition 37 held a crew news conference at Johnson Space Center, so I took the opportunity to put the question to Nyberg: Have she and Doug discussed it, and would they go? “No, we haven’t discussed it per se,” she said. “We have a son, and if he couldn’t go then I don’t think we would go. And there’s my dog, and my friends. A question like that is hard to answer until the possibility arises, but right now I’d have to say no. But you never know until it gets down to it.”

Some of NASA’s married couples do not have children, however, such as Andy Thomas and Houston native Shannon Walker. If Tito’s proposed mission to Mars does move forward, for me the astronaut selection process will be one of its most interesting parts. (3/19)

Sun Storm Forecast: Tiny Chance of Havoc (Source: New York Times)
In 1859 the Sun erupted, and on Earth wires shot off sparks that shocked telegraph operators and set their paper on fire. It was the biggest geomagnetic storm in recorded history. The Sun hurled billions of tons of electrons and protons whizzing toward Earth, and when those particles slammed into the planet’s magnetic field they created spectacular auroras of red, green and purple in the night skies — along with powerful currents of electricity that flowed out of the ground into the wires, overloading the circuits.

If such a storm struck in the 21st century, much more than paper and wires would be at risk. Some telecommunications satellites high above Earth would be disabled. GPS signals would be scrambled. And the surge of electricity from the ground would threaten electrical grids, perhaps plunging a continent or two into darkness. Click here. (3/19)

Asteroid Threat Collides with Earthly Budget Realities in Congress (Source: Space News)
In the wake of the Feb. 15 meteor strike in Russia and a close asteroid flyby on the same day, members of Congress asked NASA, White House and Air Force officials what they are doing to combat the threat during a March 19 hearing. By and large, the experts stressed that the two space rock events were a coincidence and that the chance of a catastrophic asteroid impact any time soon is remote.

“The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive causalities and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large that it makes sense to take the risk seriously,” President Obama's science adviser John Holdren told the House committee. Still, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said it was “not reassuring” to learn that NASA has so far detected only about 10 percent of the near-Earth objects that are wider than 140 kilometers across.

Holdren estimated that there may be hundreds of thousands of such objects within one-third the distance from Earth to the sun that remain unknown. In 2005, Congress directed NASA to detect, track and characterize 90 percent of these space rocks — near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters — by 2020. The space agency’s chief, Charles Bolden, said March 19 that NASA was unlikely to meet that deadline given its current budget. (3/19)

ULA Atlas V Launches Space-Based Infrared System GEO-2 (Source: SpaceRef)
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the second Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-2 satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 5:21 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. ULA launched the first satellite in the constellation, GEO-1, aboard an Atlas V on May 7, 2011. This was the 3rd ULA launch of the year, the 37th Atlas V mission, and the 69th ULA launch since the company was formed in December 2006. (3/19)

Satellite Makers Assess Chinese Competitive Threat Differently (Source: Space News)
Commercial satellite manufacturers on March 19 disagreed on whether China, whose launch-services industry is well established, presents a similar threat in satellite building. Jean-Loic Galle, chief executive of Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, said the Chinese are unlikely to present a serious competitive threat in the near term. Galle, whose background is in the area of air-defense and other radars, said China was viewed as a threat in air-defense radars 15 years ago.

Since then, he said, the Chinese radar manufacturers have been largely unable to crack a market still dominated by Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Thales. “I am not afraid of competition from the Chinese,” Galle said. “They have a ways to go.”

John Celli, president of Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., disagreed, saying too many high-quality engineers from China and other “proscribed” nations are graduating from top U.S. engineering schools but unable to secure residents’ status in the United States. Force to return to their home countries — including China — these engineers ultimately will raise the manufacturing quality of their countries' products. (3/19)

New Boeing Satellite Platform Drawing Lots of Customer Interest (Source: Space News)
Boeing is reviewing 14 separate requests for information or bid solicitations for commercial telecommunications satellites from prospective customers interested in the company’s new all-electric 702SP satellite design. Boeing has not sold an all-electric satellite since it created a sensation in the industry in March 2012 with the news that it had booked its first 702SP customers with a four-satellite order from Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) of Hong Kong and Satmex of Mexico.

The satellites use electric rather than chemical propulsion not only to maintain their position in orbit, but also to climb to geostationary position from the transfer orbits where they are left by their launch vehicles. The several hundred kilograms of weight savings that comes from ditching the chemical propellant means that a mid-size satellite effectively becomes a small spacecraft capable of being launched, two at a time, aboard a Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket. (3/19)

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