April 26, 2013

Budget Woes May Mean Schedule Slips, Employee Furloughs for NASA (Source: Flight Global)
NASA administrator Charles Bolden defended his case for fully funding the space agency's budget request of $17.7 billion in fiscal 2014 during congressional hearings this week. NASA is funding major programmes "at the lowest level that we believe we can deliver on time," says Bolden. He attributed some past schedule slips to funding shortages. For example, first flights of the commercial crew program to ferry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) have slipped from 2015 to 2018.

Crunched between the annual budget battles and a 10% cut imposed by sequestration, NASA is taking a hard look at what it cannot afford to do. Though it remaings the most well-funded space agency in the world, NASA is struggling to complete its three flagship projects - commercial crew, the space launch system (SLS) and James Webb space telescope (JWST) - while maintaining a plethora of smaller projects.

Legislators also questioned a line item in the FY2014 budget to fund a crewed mission to capture an asteroid and bring it into lunar orbit. Critics of the mission prefer destinations such as Mars or the moon. Bolden responded that a lunar flight would be "a factor of three" times more expensive than an asteroid mission. (4/25)

Bolden: NASA Is a $16 Billion Agency if Sequester Continues in 2014 (Source: Space News)
If sequestration continues beyond this year, NASA’s 2014 budget would fall to just over $16 billion, forcing civil servant furloughs and delaying substantially all of the agency’s marquee programs, Administrator Charles Bolden told Senate appropriators April 25. “We would become a $16.2 billion agency,” Bolden said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee. “Right now, we’re operating at $16.8 [billion] and we would go down to $16.2 [billion] in 2014,” Bolden said.

Sequestration phased in March 1 and, according to Bolden’s figures, took a $1 billion bite out of NASA’s 2013 budget — a 5.6 percent cut compared to 2012 levels. The 2013 budget was finalized March 26 when the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933) was signed. The White House is seeking $17.7 billion for NASA under the 2014 budget request unveiled April 10. President Barack Obama’s budget request ignores the effect of sequestration, a series of across-the-board cuts intended to reduce federal spending by about $1 trillion over 10 years. (4/25)

Bill Nelson Mulls Bid for Florida Governor (Source: Roll Call)
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, is considering a bid against GOP Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. “I’d say that’s true, that he’s considering it,” said Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin. “An awful lot of people have contacted him and asked him to do so. But — and as he’s said a number of times — he presently doesn’t have any intention of running. He’s got a job to do as a senator.”

Privately, top Florida Democrats described Nelson’s consideration as “fairly serious,”as Abby Livingston reported in Roll Call’s weekly Farm Team column. “It’s on the way to being fairly serious. I think he is going to take a very close look at it,” a senior Florida Democratic official told CQ Roll Call. “It’s not very far along. I wouldn’t tell you it’s likely … [but] I think he will really look at it.”

Democrats consider Scott a top gubernatorial target in 2014. But if Nelson runs and defeats Scott, what happens to his Senate seat? It’s complicated. Editor's Note: If he ran for Governor, Florida would lose a majority-party U.S. Senator with much seniority, who has actively supported the state's space interests in Washington. Despite his seniority, however, Nelson has had a mixed record of success when sparring with other Senators like Barbara Mikulski, Richard Shelby, and others on space issues. (4/25)

Einstein's Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet (Source: Space.com)
An extreme pair of superdense stars orbiting each other has put Einstein's general theory of relativity to its toughest test yet, and the crazy-haired physicist still comes out on top. About 7,000 light-years from Earth, an exceptionally massive neutron star that spins around 25 times a second is orbited by a compact, white dwarf star. The gravity of this system is so intense that it offers an unprecedented testing ground for theories of gravity.

Scientists know general relativity, proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915, isn't the complete story. While it does very well describing large, massive systems, it's incompatible with quantum mechanics, which governs the physics of the very small. For something extremely small, yet extremely massive — such as a black hole — the two theories contradict each other, and scientists are left without a physical description. (4/25)

Russia Set to Launch Glonass-M Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Soyuz-2.1B carrier rocket will lift off from the Plesetsk space center on Friday to deliver another Glonass-M navigation satellite into orbit, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. The satellite will join the existing Glonass constellation, which consists of 29 spacecraft. A Russian state commission has approved the launch and the rocket has been installed on the launch pad, Zolotukhin said, adding that it will be the fourth Glonass-M launch from Plesetsk in northern Russia. (4/25)

The Biggest Flaw in Mars One's Business Plan (Source: Discovery)
Press conferences often reveal flaws in projects during questions from reporters. In the case of the Mars One, it was the Q&A session that not only revealed flaws, it may have extinguished the entire business plan. Mars One, founded by Dutch entrepreneur and engineer Bas Lansdorp, is a non-profit company with the sole intention of starting a Mars colony by the year 2023. Through television rights and sponsorship deals, Mars One will generate a huge revenue stream that will not only fund the launch of four people to Mars, it will also found the basis of a colony on Mars...

Despite the tailing-off of public interest in the Apollo Program in 1970′s, Lansdorp says Mars One will maintain a high level of interest for the entire one-way mission to Mars. This is the key assumption that forms the foundation of Mars One. The fickle nature of television audiences aside, Lansdorp said that Mars One’s cash flow will be supplemented by the inevitable spin-off technology that will come from developing and supporting a Mars colony. Again, another assumption. Sadly, the assumptions made by Mars One are backed up by few facts.

Even by Lansdorp’s own admission, the television companies on Earth will unlikely have any control over the Mars colony. When discussing the colonists’ need for privacy (despite the fact they’d be signing up for a reality TV show), Lansdorp dropped a bombshell: “Mars One would not allow 24/7 coverage … the people of Mars wouldn’t allow it. If they don’t like a particular camera, they’d put a piece of duct tape over it and there’s nothing we can do about it. They are in charge.” Rather, he trusts that the colonists would be “proud” to show off their lives to the world. And there it is, the biggest flaw in using a reality TV model to fund a mission to Mars. (4/25)

NASA Chief to Lawmakers: Heavy Lift Rocket 'On Schedule' (Source: Florida Today)
NASA’s administrator tried to reassure wary lawmakers Thursday his agency isn’t foot-dragging on developing a rocket to take astronauts into deep space by the next decade. “We need a 70 metric-ton vehicle and we are on schedule, on target and on cost to provide that 70 metric-ton vehicle,” Charles F. Bolden Jr. told members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA funding.

Bolden said SLS remains one of the agency’s top three priorities, along with development of the James Webb Space Telescope and replacement of the shuttle, known as the Commercial Crew program. NASA simply doesn’t need more than the $2.73 billion it’s asking for SLS, he told subcommittee members. “We are confident that we can carry out his program with the budget that we had requested.” he said. (4/25)

NASA Responds to Shelby's Criticism on SLS Funding (Source: Huntsville Times)
"NASA is fully committed to developing and flying the most powerful rocket ever built," NASA spokesman David Weaver said, "and we are on track for a test flight of the Space Launch System in 2017." Sen. Shelby said NASA's budget plan does not reflect a real commitment. Weaver said agency leaders have "recommended investing more than $5.6 billion in SLS over the past three years, and have announced an ambitious human mission to explore an asteroid which utilizes the Space Launch System." (4/25)

NASA Selects Additional SBIR Phase-2 Projects (Source: NASA)
Due to funding availability, an additional 44 Phase II proposals under the 2011 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program have been selected for negotiation and publicly announced on Thursday, April 25th at 11:00 am. The combined award total for the 44 Phase II contracts is expected to be approximately $30 million. NASA initially selected 39 proposals to enter into negotiations for Phase II contract awards through the NASA SBIR Program on November 8, 2012 with a total value of approximately $27 million.

Editor's Note: Only one Florida-based project was among the 44 selected. The project is called: "Seeing Sound - Image Analysis of the Lift-off Acoustic Field" and it was submitted by Leaping Catch LLC of Titusville. Click here to see the entire list. (4/25)

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