May 21, 2013

NASA Operating Plan May Reverse Congressional Increase in Planetary Science (Source: Space Politics)
NASA’s operating plan for fiscal year 2013 will reportedly reverse the increases awarded to the agency’s planetary science program by Congress, according to a report. The Planetary Exploration Newsletter (PEN) reported Wednesday that the operating plan, which details any tweaks NASA plans to make to the final FY13 appropriations passed in March, will return planetary science to the approximately $1.2 billion in the original FY13 budget request.

Congress has included $1.415 billion for planetary science (before an across-the-board rescission and sequestration) in its budget, but the operating plan would fund the program at $1.196 billion (post-rescission and sequestration, it appears), compared to an original request of $1.192 billion. Moreover, some programs within planetary will feel sharper cuts, as the appropriations bill earmarked $75 million of planetary funding to study a Europa mission.

NASA’s Discovery program would get a 33% cut over what Congress approved, while Mars exploration would be cut by 20% from the request. The numbers in the PEN report are based on drafts of the operating plan they obtained; the final version of the operating plan was due to Congress on May 10 but, as of earlier this week, had not been submitted (but was in final preparations, according to sources.) The magnitude and timing (with just over four months remaining in the fiscal year) of the cuts worries many in the planetary community. (5/17)

An FAA License for Lockheed Martin for Reentry of Orion from Earth Orbit (Source: NASA Watch)
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the FAA is announcing the availability to issue a reentry license to Lockheed Martin Corp. for the reentry of the Orion MPCV from Earth orbit to a location in the Pacific Ocean. (5/21)

Light Crystals? (Source: WIRED)
In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.

Wilczek’s idea met with a muted response from physicists. Here was a brilliant professor known for developing exotic theories that later entered the mainstream, including the existence of particles called axions and anyons, and discovering a property of nuclear forces known as asymptotic freedom (for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004). But perpetual motion, deemed impossible by the fundamental laws of physics, was hard to swallow. Did the work constitute a major breakthrough or faulty logic? Click here. (4/30)

Japan's Epsilon Rocket Debut and H-2B Launches in August (Source: Space News)
Japan will debut its new Epsilon small rocket Aug. 22 with the launch of a planetary observation satellite from the Uchinoura Space Center on Japan’s southeastern coast. JAXA also announced it will launch an H-2B heavy-lift rocket carrying cargo to the international space station as early as Aug. 4 from Tanegashima Space Center.

The solid-fueled Epsilon rocket will carry the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere, or Sprint A, spacecraft to Earth orbit, JAXA said. From there the satellite will make observations of other planets in the solar system in ultraviolet spectral bands. The upcoming H-2B launch will carry JAXA’s fourth HTV cargo capsule to the space station. (5/21)

X Prize Eyes New Contests for Spaceflight Innovation (Source:
The organization whose big-money prizes helped get the private spaceflight industry off the ground isn't done issuing high-profile challenges to spur exploration of the final frontier. The nonprofit X Prize Foundation, which awarded $10 million to a groundbreaking private spaceship in 2004 and is currently offering $30 million in prize money for a private race to the moon, will be announcing further spaceflight challenges in the future, said Gregg Maryniak, the organization’s corporate secretary. (5/20)

NASA Launching Cosmic Experiment From Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: Space Daily)
When did the first stars and galaxies form in the universe? How brightly did they burn their nuclear fuel?\ Scientists will seek to gain answers to these questions with the launch of the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRIment (CIBER) on a Black Brant XII suborbital sounding rocket between 11 and 11:59 p.m. EDT, June 4 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (5/21)

Johnson Space Center Could Play Part in Asteroid Mission (Source: Aviation Week)
According to Charles Bolden and JSC Director Ellen Ochoa, JSC could play a role coordinating and executing asteroid exploration initiatives highlighted in the agency's proposed $17.7 billion budget. Orion is set for a 2021 mission to visit a small asteroid. "JSC has been involved for the last several months in looking at the feasibility, how we might carry this out. We will be one of the prime integrators and coordinators, I believe. So there is lots of good work in the budget for the Johnson Space Center," Ochoa said. (5/20)

NASA Administrator Visits California Centers (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visits all three of the agency's centers in California this week, highlighting progress on the asteroid mission, commercial crew transportation and space technology development. Bolden will tour of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft on May 22 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.

On May 23 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Bolden will see a prototype ion thruster being tested for NASA's mission to capture and relocate an asteroid. On Friday, May 24, at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Bolden, Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden and Rep. Mike Honda (17th congressional district) of California will visit Ames' Space Shop to see work being done on PhoneSat nanosatellite technology and 3-D printing which is a critical part of President Obama's push for building a strong American manufacturing sector. (5/20)

Vanderbilt Takes Top Prize in NASA Student Launch Challenge (Source: NASA)
The Aerospace Club of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., took first prize in the 2013 annual NASA Student Launch Projects challenge, in which student teams design, build and fly small rockets with science payloads to an altitude of 1 mile and return them safely to Earth. After two consecutive third-place finishes, Vanderbilt beat 35 other colleges and universities to win the $5,000 top prize, provided by ATK. The University of Louisville in Kentucky and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, won second and third place, respectively, in the April 21 "launch fest" near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. (5/20)

Launch of Military Satellite From Florida Delayed a Day (Source: Florida Today)
This week's planned launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral has been pushed back by a day to Thursday. The rocket carrying a military communications satellite is now targeting liftoff at 8:27 p.m. Thursday, the opening of a 32-minute window. The official forecast shows a 40 percent chance of favorable weather conditions. (5/20)

Kickstarting Our Interstellar Future (Source: Discovery)
On Aug. 15, 2013, some of the most forward-thinking experts in interstellar science will accumulate in Dallas, Texas, for the world’s first Starship Congress. Headed by Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group motivated to research new space technologies, the Congress will be a forum for “scientists, physicists, engineers, researchers, urban designers, representatives from international space programs and present-day commercial space operators, as well as popular and well-known interstellar speakers and space journalists” to “share their visions for how the future of spaceflight and exploration may unfold.”

But like any conference, funding is needed. So this weekend, Icarus Interstellar began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for the Starship Congress. Should the campaign be fully funded (before the deadline of June 16), donors will receive a range of goodies from free Congress tickets to becoming an official sponsor for the event. (5/21)

How Kepler Could Die and Keep Giving (Source: Discovery)
NASA hasn’t given up on resurrecting its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, but even if the observatory can’t be saved, scientists expect it already has accomplished its goal of finding a habitable, Earth-like planet. They just don’t know it yet. “We have quite a bit of data that needs to be fully processed,” said William Borucki, lead Kepler scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. (5/21)

Globalstar Reaches Debt Deal with Bond Holders (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Globalstar on May 20 said it has reached an exchange agreement with bond holders and is nearing a broad debt-restructuring agreement with the French export-credit agency, Coface, to give the company time to rebuild its business.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Covington, La.-based Globalstar, which recently launched a second-generation of 24 satellites into low Earth orbit, said the Coface agreement, once concluded, will delay most principal repayments until 2016. (5/21)

Editorial: Stay on Top of the James Webb Space Telescope (Source: Space News)
During an April 23 hearing that focused primarily on NASA’s strategic human spaceflight activities, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to comment on reports of instrument delivery delays on the agency’s flagship astronomy observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope. Mr. Bolden’s response: “That’s news to me.”

That was the wrong answer. Wrong not because it isn’t true — it’s perfectly plausible that Mr. Bolden had not been informed about any new issues with the program, perhaps because there are none, or at least none that might threaten its schedule. Indeed, Mr. Bolden’s response was one that is commonly used to indicate some measure of surprise at the question or statement that prompted it.

But therein lies the problem. Clearly the head of an agency with a $17 billion annual budget cannot be expected to keep close track of all of its programs, even flight projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars. But this is the James Webb Space Telescope, by far NASA’s biggest science development program, which has a history of massive cost overruns, lengthy delays and a price tag that at last check was a whopping $8.8 billion. (5/20)

Editorial: The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Space (Source: Space News)
In 1950, Flood and Drescher at Rand Corp. formalized the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” which explains why individuals would not cooperate even when it is in their best interests to work together. Since then the classic differential game has been expanded to include social norms and metanorms, many players and diverse rules of engagement, such as whether players might have some knowledge of how the others respond. The fundamental two-player, non-zero-sum game almost always evolves to the worst outcome for all. However, real or societal penalties for defection and understanding that others are willing to cooperate change the outcome.

ESA's Sixth European Conference on Space Debris exposed diligent accomplishment in the world’s space community. Virtually all stakeholders contributed, including the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Spain, South Korea and others in every hemisphere from Scandinavia to Argentina, Europe and Asia. All presented their operational concepts and techniques for perceiving dangerous close approaches among satellites, avoiding collisions and mitigating consequences.

All emphasized the need for essential orbit and satellite architecture data and information. The consequences of the current data deficit were described and quantified. The nature of fragmentation and collisional damage and debris production is much better understood than ever but still evolving. Although estimates of the evolution of the near-Earth debris population do not uniformly predict cascading catastrophe, it is unanimous that the rate of increase of debris must be diminished and that action is necessary to mitigate the debris risk to active and productive satellites. (5/20)

Zubrin: NASA’s Asteroid Absurdity (Source: Space News)
NASA recently announced that it has embraced the idea of an asteroid retrieval mission as the central goal of its human spaceflight program for the next decade or two. According to the agency’s leadership, this mission will accomplish a number of important objectives, including delivering a science bonanza, demonstrating a technology useful for planetary defense, creating a large cache of materials in space that can provide in situ resources to support space exploration activities and achieving the president’s goal of flying a mission to a near-Earth asteroid as a way of breaking out of geocentric space and demonstrating human deep-space capabilities necessary for subsequent missions to Mars.

Since this initiative will cost many billions of dollars and, by diverting the entire multibillion-dollar human spaceflight program for decades, impose an opportunity cost amounting to many tens of billions of dollars, it is imperative that these claims be examined critically to see if any of them are true. Let us therefore consider each of them in order. Click here. (5/20)

Are We Alone? (Source: Brisbane Times)
Surely, you might assume, we cannot be alone in the universe. After, all barely a week goes by without scientists unearthing yet another distant exoplanet, as planets outside our solar system are called. The latest discovery, reported in the US journal Science, is of an exoplanet 130 light years away with an atmosphere of water vapour and carbon monoxide. (A light year is the distance travelled by light in one year, namely 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers.)

This mysterious world, known prosaically as HR8799c, was found by splitting its reflected light into different wavelengths to uncover the tell-tale signature of molecules in its atmosphere. Chances of finding life there, at least as we know it, are low: HR8799c harbours no methane which on Earth is emitted by many organisms.

The exoplanet is one of four planetary youngsters, estimated to be between 30 and 100 million years old. They are all hot monsters, with surface temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees and masses ranging from five to 13 times that of our solar system gas giant, Jupiter. Click here. (5/20)

Destructive Rocket Motor Tests in California (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Scaled Composites conducted a static fire of an engine on Friday that startled everyone who heard it at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The nozzle and engine casing ended up separated from the test rig and was on the floor outside the small fence that surrounds the test site. Scaled says that is exactly what they planned to do. The company is describing it as a “a non-flight experimental rocket motor in which flaws had been intentionally introduced to improve knowledge of different design components."

Meanwhile, Scaled says Sierra Nevada Corp. conducted an extended burn on a RocketMotorTwo engine the same day down in Powoy, California. The test log provides no idea how long the burn lasted; like every other entry in the log going back about seven months, no time is given. But, it doesn’t appeared to have blown up. (5/20)

XCOR Flight Planned in New Sci-Fi Movie Production (Source: Screen Daily)
Distributor Cinipix has joined forces with Patricia A Beninati and Michael K Anderson’s Centerboro Productions to produce the sci-fi action film Newcomers. The producers plan to send XCOR Aerospace’s commercial spacecraft the Lynx into space to shoot exclusive footage for the film. Former NASA Astronaut Col Richard A Searfoss will pilot the craft. Newcomers will tell the story of a former NASA Astronaut who saves the Earth from an alien invasion with help from the commercial space industry. (5/20)

Hangar One for Rent: No NASA Ties Needed (Source: Mountain View Voice)
In an unprecedented move for NASA Ames Research Center, historic Hangar One at Moffett Field is being offered up for any use akin to its original purpose -- no ties to NASA's mission required. Officials will  use a legal provision in the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 111) to allow such a deal. The GSA is expected to request proposals this spring for the restoration and long-term lease of Hangar One from NASA as well as the option to operate the Moffett Federal Airfield, which NASA officials have complained is a drain on its budget.

So far only Google's founders have offered to pay the estimated $30-plus million it would cost to restore the 1930s hangar -- stripped to a bare frame last year in a toxic cleanup by the Navy -- in exchange for the right to park their fleet of private planes inside.

"Section 111 gives us unique authority," said David Haase, branch chief of the GSA, in a presentation to members of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board on May 9. "Unlike enhanced use leasing authority NASA has used in the past, this will allow tenants to use the property for any use (they) would want to see within (section 111). Before partners would need to have some direct connection to NASA." He added that "if 111 does not work, I don't know what Plan B is." (5/20)

Historic Preservation Approach Could Be Used for KSC Facilities (Source: SPACErePORT)
Section 111 of the Historic Preservation Act (allowing for the adaptive re-use of historic structures) is being used at NASA Ames to lease-out Hangar One. Meanwhile, NASA KSC faces its own challenges with historically significant facilities. If NASA Ames' use of Section 111 is successful, perhaps NASA KSC can use the same approach.

Section 111 would allow NASA KSC (and the Air Force at CCAFS) to establish and implement alternatives for historic property that are not needed for current agency purposes...if the lease will adequately insure the property's preservation. Lease proceeds can be retained by the agency to help maintain other historic properties (excess proceeds must be given to the Treasury). (5/20)

Flywheel (Source: New York Times)
Reaction wheels like the ones that NASA officials say have failed aboard the Kepler spacecraft, effectively ending its mission to detect potentially habitable planets outside the solar system, are simple devices, at least in concept. But making ones that can survive the rigors of a rocket launching and then spin for a long time to keep a spacecraft properly oriented —- in Kepler’s case, to keep its telescope precisely pointed at the same field of stars —- is difficult.

“Really simply, it’s an electric motor turning a flywheel,” said Doug Sinclair, whose Toronto company, Sinclair Interplanetary, makes tiny reaction wheels for suitcase-size satellites. Kepler’s wheels are bigger because Kepler is bigger (with a mass of more than a ton), but they function in the same way: The rapidly spinning flywheel is accelerated or decelerated, producing a corresponding slow rotation of the spacecraft in one direction or the other. There must be at least three wheels, one on each of three perpendicular axes.

A spacecraft’s thrusters could also be used to control orientation, but there is a limited amount of propellant aboard. Reaction wheels use electricity, which can be produced in essentially unlimited supply by a spacecraft’s solar panels. But in some situations thrusters must still be used. The solar wind can cause a small, constant rotation of the spacecraft that can push reaction wheel to its operational limit. When that happens, a thruster can be fired to rotate the spacecraft in the opposite direction and slow the wheel, a procedure referred to as a “momentum dump.” (5/20)

SES Government Division Shrugs off U.S. Budget Sequestration (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on May 17 said its government division has felt no pain from the U.S. government budget cuts known as sequestration. Luxembourg-based SES reaffirmed its forecast of 4.5 percent revenue and gross-profit growth in 2013 and said it has sold more than half the new capacity on four satellites scheduled for launch by the end of the year. (5/20)

Boldly Go? Can Humanity Afford ‘Star Trek’-Like Space Exploration? (Source:
The public has no shortage of enthusiasm for fictional spacefarers, as this weekend's box-office win by the newest "Star Trek" film proves. Yet the real-life U.S. space agency finds itself strapped for cash these days. With federal budgets tightening and NASA feeling the pinch, some space advocates are asking, "Can humans afford to reach the stars?"

Believe it or not, experts are looking into the finances of not just relatively short-term missions to Mars and the moon, but also long-term prospects of 'Trek'-ian proportions. It may be possible to find the money, they say, but it would likely take some policy changes — and those changes could start today. Click here. (5/20)

Governor Vetoes Space Projects (Source: Florida Today)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $350 million from the state’s new budget. The governor eliminated $2 million to help create a Space Exploration Research Lab at Florida Tech. Scott noted that there was no way to objectively measure the lab’s return on investment to Florida taxpayers, as well as pointing out that state already funds Space Florida and other aerospace related initiatives. Editor's Note: Also vetoed was a $250,000 appropriation for Florida Space Week, which would have expanded the number of Central Florida elementary school students who visit KSC under the annual program. (5/20)

President Obama: Sally Ride Gets Presidential Medal of Freedom (Source: SpaceRef)
President Barack Obama announced he will award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. 95/20)

Those Magnificent Spooks and Their Spying Machine (Source: Space Review)
Forty years ago this month, NASA launched its Skylab space station, only to find the station was damaged during its ascent to orbit. Dwayne Day examines the little-known role played by a spy satellite to help NASA assess the damage to Skylab before launching a repair mission. Visit to view the article. (5/20)

Kepler's Uncertain Future (Source: Space Review)
Last week a reaction wheel on NASA's Kepler spacecraft failed, putting the future of the extrasolar planet hunting spacecraft into jeopardy. Jeff Foust reports on efforts to rescue or repurpose Kepler, and why, even with the failure, the spacecraft's exoplanet discoveries will continue. Visit to view the article. (5/20)

Futures Imperfect (Source: Space Review)
Science fiction has long offered a variety of visions of what the future of spaceflight might be like. Dwayne Day looks at three movies slated for release later this year that offer differing visions of humans in space. Visit to view the article. (5/20)

Washington is Stinting NASA, as Usual (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Oh Washington, why do you toy with NASA so? Back in 2009 President Obama convened the Augustine commission to provide a full overview of NASA’s human spaceflight program, and determine the best course of action to take. The committee’s principal finding was, simply, this: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals. Alas no one in Washington bothered to listen to this advice, then or now.

After the president received the report, he and Congress eventually worked out a plan, in July 2010, that directed NASA to continue developing a space capsule and rocket that would allow the space agency to begin launching humans to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit in the 2020s. I remember quite clearly standing in Rocket Park back in October 2010, when the Texas Congressional delegation took to the podium and patted themselves on the back.

I worried about the stability, the commitment of Washington to NASA and human spaceflight, and whether there was actually enough money in the plan to do what Congress was asking NASA to do. Now let’s jump forward three years. For fiscal year 2012, the 2010 law authorized a budget of $19.45 billion, including $4.05 billion for the development of a new spacecraft and rocket. And what did NASA receive? It’s FY 2012 budget was actually $17.77 billion, and the spacecraft and rocket received $3.00 billion. (5/20)

How Space Tourism Could Help Save Planet Earth (Source:
Opening spaceflight up to the masses could help spark a global conservation ethic that stems the tide of environmental destruction on Earth, NASA's science chief says. Seeing our fragile Earth hanging alone in the blackness of space tends to be a life-altering, or at least perspective-changing, experience. If more people around the world are treated to that unforgettable sight, humanity might handle the planet with a bit more care, said John Grunsfeld.

Grunsfeld is a former NASA astronaut who flew on five space shuttle missions. He said the view looking down changed dramatically from his first flight to his last. "The Earth looks totally different now," Grunsfeld said. "We are very visibly and significantly modifying the surface of the Earth, modifying the atmosphere. You can see that easily from space."

Back in the 1960s, Apollo astronauts noted that national borders aren't visible from space. But this inspiring observation, which lent some much-appreciated perspective at the height of the Cold War, is no longer true, Grunsfeld said. "It looks like a Rand McNally map. You can see where there's rich countries and poor countries," he said. "You can see where people have agriculture and irrigation and where people don't. It's very clear." Click here. (5/20)

Pentagon Plans For Up To $500B in Cuts (Source: Defense News)
Pentagon officials will present three different budget proposals to the defense secretary that include cuts of up to $500 billion, according to sources. The officials working on the proposals are involved in the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which wraps up at the end of May, and will present possible $100 billion-cut, $300 billion-cut and $500 billion-cut budgets, including suggestions on where to find the savings. (5/19)

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