August 1, 2013

Notes From Colorado Springs - Cape Canaveral Privatization (Source: SPACErePORT)
Air Force Space Command hosted a meeting on July 18-19 in Colorado Springs to discuss the potential for shifting management of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range to a non-DOD partner. This concept has been discussed for decades but seems now to be a serious alternative for the Air Force as a means to reduce its costs for space operations. The meeting included about 50 participants, many of them part of the Air Force study group that has been looking for cost-saving options.

The study is a Capabilities-Based Assessment that was started almost a year ago and previously identified several alternatives. Those were later narrowed down to "Four +1" -- the +1 being the radical spaceport/range management shift discussed at this meeting. The meeting was held in Colorado Springs (rather than at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport) due to sequester-related travel restrictions. The Air Force 45th Space Wing was not directly represented at the meeting because of these travel restrictions.

Also represented at the meeting were FAA AST, NASA KSC, Space Florida, the Florida Dept. of Transportation, Jacksonville's aviation authority, Alaska's spaceport authority, several launch industry representatives, and range safety consultants. A decision on whether to continue to explore the +1 option further is expected by the end of the year. (8/1)

Notes From Colorado Springs - Inherently Governmental Functions (Source: SPACErePORT)
There's a big difference between the launch site infrastructure at Cape Canaveral, and the Eastern Range systems that support in-flight telemetry, tracking and communications. The Air Force funding mechanisms often don't distinguish between the two in its budgeting and planning at the Cape, which could present problems if they move forward with the outsourcing/transfer effort. One key difference is that the Eastern Range, with its public safety role, could represent an "inherently governmental" capability while the launch pads and other infrastructure could effectively be developed, operated and maintained by non-government entities.

It doesn't seem prudent to put the "inherently governmental" range safety responsibility into the hands of a non-regulatory entity. It would be like the FAA giving up responsibility for airspace within the National Airspace System. The Eastern Range users have expressed their desire for a simplified, single-entity regulatory approach, so transferring range safety responsibility to the FAA makes sense in the long-term, while some form of spaceport authority would be best positioned to manage the launch site infrastructure.

To make this feasible, some significant level of funding would probably be needed to offset the loss of Air Force investment. A federal "block grant" approach was discussed, evolving toward the way airport infrastructure is often funded, with a mix of grants, user fees and taxes, and creative financing. The big lingering question is whether there is a sufficient commercial market can be captured at the Cape to make this work. (8/1)

Notes From Colorado Springs - Unintended Consequences with Cape Changes? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Range users represented in Colorado Springs were not overly supportive of the privatization concept, mainly based on the potential for increased costs for their launch operations. The Air Force annually covers hundreds of millions in costs at the Cape that are not passed along to launch companies. Although many of these costs could be substantially reduced under a new non-military management structure, the users were concerned that those costs would be transferred to the spaceport's users.

Other government and commercial users might also have problems with the considered changes, especially if the Eastern Range's existing high-end systems would be diminished to provide a lower-cost capability. The Navy, NASA and other potential Air Force users, for example, can require expensive "test-range" functionality that goes beyond the requirements for most routine space launches. Eliminating this functionality could make the Cape less attractive for launch test programs.

This would be especially worrisome to the state's economic development officials, since the Navy has major investments and a large workforce at the Cape, and the Eastern Range itself employs over 800 contractors and civil servants who's jobs could be lost with an Alaska-style range approach. Again, we have a choice between preserving an inefficient government-sponsored high-employment program, or ushering in a new era of streamlined operations and commercial competitiveness. (8/1)

Notes From Colorado Springs - An Option for Reducing Range Costs (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Colorado Springs meeting was a learning opportunity for the Air Force sponsors, featuring presentations by multiple quasi-government transportation authorities. The Jacksonville Aviation Authority was able to describe how they turned Cecil Field (a former military aviation base) into a diversified and sustainable aviation/spaceport facility. Alaska Aerospace provided a briefing on their commercial spaceport operations, including their low-cost solution for range safety.

Given the many unknowns related to implementing a major shift in management/control of the Cape, don't expect any quick decisions. However, one cost-saving alternative that should receive near-term support is the implementation of an Autonomous Flight Safety system for launch operations. It is entirely possible now to replace the Eastern Range's basic functionality with a lower-cost system that relies on space-based tracking and telemetry and redundant, automated flight termination capabilities. (8/1)

ATK Reports First Quarter Operating Results (Source: SpaceRef)
ATK reported operating results for the first quarter of its Fiscal Year 2014. Orders were $1.4 billion, representing a book-to-bill ratio of approximately 1.3, driven by strong orders in the Aerospace and Sporting Groups, partially offset by orders decline in the Defense Group. First quarter sales were flat year over year at $1.1 billion. Net income for the quarter was up 1.7 percent to $72.1 million compared to $70.9 million in the prior-year quarter. Prior-year as adjusted net income was $45.6 million. (8/1)

NSBRI Wants Ideas To Support Space Crew Health and Performance (Source: Space Daily)
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is soliciting for ground-based, analog definition and flight definition research proposals to develop safe and effective countermeasures and technologies that will reduce the significant biomedical risks associated with human space travel. These discoveries will not only enable safe and productive human spaceflight, but will also have the potential to improve life on Earth.

The Human Exploration Research Opportunities (HERO) announcement entitled "Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions" was released jointly with NASA's Human Research Program on July 30, 2013. NSBRI is soliciting for research proposals to augment the project portfolios of its Cardiovascular Alterations, Human Factors and Performance, Musculoskeletal Alterations, Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors, Sensorimotor Adaptations, and Smart Medicine and Technology scientific research teams. (8/1)

21st Space Wing Gets New Commander (Source: AFSPC)
Col. John Shaw took command of the 21st Space Wing from outgoing commander, Col. Chris Crawford, at the wing change of command ceremony July 26. Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, commander of U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Functional Component Command for Space and 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), presided over the ceremony. (7/30)

Commercial-Space Contenders Visit KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Two years since astronauts last launched from here, companies today will gather at Kennedy Space Center to learn more about contracts that NASA hopes will close the post-shuttle gap in U.S. human spaceflight. NASA plans to award contracts next summer to one or more companies to finish designs and certify the safety of commercial rockets and spaceships that could fly crews to the International Space Station by 2017.

The fixed-price contracts likely also will include the first commercial flights of crews to the station. “We felt like that was necessary in order to get the cost-sharing that we want and the partnership approach that we would like to see during this phase,” Phil McAlister, head of commercial spaceflight programs at NASA headquarters, told a NASA Advisory Council committee this week. (7/31)

With the Shuttle Done, Paul Allen Sees Opening in Space (Source: Washington Post)
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen calls his newest venture Strato­launch, a system designed to lift 13,500-pound payloads — satellites, science experiments, cargo and, eventually, humans — into low-Earth orbit, where the space shuttle used to fly and where the international space station still dwells. Construction of the aircraft is underway in California, with test flights planned for the end of 2016 and the first mission to occur in late 2017 or early 2018.

Stratolaunch hopes ultimately to host six to 10 missions per year. But will Stratolaunch really take off? Space is expensive, and all aspiring entrepreneurs must eventually decide whether there will be enough demand for launches to enable them to recoup their investment. Allen, Stratolaunch’s sole funder, has not discussed his expenditures.

“The first reaction is skepticism, because this is an immense airplane and a medium-sized rocket, and there will be competitors,” said John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “But then I think, ‘These are awfully smart people, and they’re technically sound, and they must see something.’” Stratolaunch is considering multiple sites for its operations, including the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Click here. (7/29)

Space Code Debate and the Right to Self Defense Under Article 51 (Source: Space Daily)
Advancement in science and technology in the last two decades has transformed the debate on national security in a considerable manner. In particular, outer space has become a critical topic for many countries concerned with the future of socioeconomic and security development that relies on space-based services. In addition, a renewed emphasis on hard power and the proliferation of space technology has made the potential for space weaponization much more real.

Efforts are being made to write new "rules of the road" to govern outer space activities in order to reduce the potential for weaponization of space. While there are several existing mechanisms and institutions - including the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and the European Union's proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (ICoC) - that address some of the current and emerging challenges, they have all been found wanting.

The ICoC represents a particularly ambitious initiative because it seeks to establish norms of behaviour for all space activities, whether civilian or military in nature. While many of the concerns and objections that have been raised in respect of the ICoC have been procedural, there have also been problems raised regarding its content. One serious objection relates to Article 51 of the UN Charter, namely the right to self defence which is a key clause in the ICoC. Click here. (8/1)

Job Cuts Loom as EADS Changes Name to Airbus (Source: Reuters)
EADS will take the name of its flagship brand Airbus and target higher profits by combining defense and space units, Europe's top aerospace group confirmed on Wednesday, in a move that could involve job cuts. The company warned the move could lead to restructuring charges later in the year - a standard sign of layoffs ahead. But it also deferred politically sensitive decisions until after German elections in September by promising a detailed review. The changes will come into affect starting from January 1, allowing time for what could be lengthy talks with unions. (7/31)

Delta 4 Rockets Readied for Two Launches in August (Source:
The payloads are attached and final preparations are underway for two national security satellites heading for different orbits aboard ULA Delta 4 rockets in August, one at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the other at Vandenberg AFB in California. The Air Force's sixth Wideband Global SATCOM satellite was loaded aboard its Delta 4 in Florida last Tuesday, July 23 for blastoff Aug. 7. Meanwhile, workers on the West Coast are readying a massive Delta 4-Heavy for blastoff from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 6 on Aug. 28. (7/31)

The NASA Lunar Science Institute Gets a New Name and Expanded Focus (Source: Universe Today)
Back in 2008 when NASA was looking to return to the Moon with the Constellation Program, the NASA Lunar Science Institute was established to bridge the science and exploration communities and promote lunar research. Now that NASA is looking at destinations such as asteroids and Mars, as well as the Moon, NLSI will be expanding its reach as well. It starts with a new name that reflects a broader area of research.

“Our new name is a long one, it’s called the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, or SSERVI,” said Yvonne Pendleton, the director of NLSI/SSERVI, in a podcast interview with me for the Institute. “It is going to expand beyond our interest of the Moon to include not only the Moon but also near Earth asteroids and the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.” (7/31)

NASA Planning ISS Module Relocations to Support Future Crew Vehicles (Source:
International Space Station (ISS) program managers and engineers are working on long-term plans to support future crew and cargo vehicles, including the installation of a new docking system onto the station for use by future commercial crew vehicles, along with the relocation of some Station modules, in order to free up ports for use by future crew and cargo spacecraft.

The existing ISS docking ports on the ISS need to be converted to the new standard, before any commercial crew vehicles can dock to the outpost. Docking is required for crewed vehicles since it allows for rapid departure from the ISS in the event of an emergency, without first having to manually disconnect multiple cables and perform lengthy unberthing procedures. By contrast, berthing is a process where a vehicle is flown to a point below the ISS, whereupon the vehicle is captured by the station’s robotic arm and positioned close to a Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) port the ISS,

Currently, the station has one usable port for docking – Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) located on the Forward end of the Node 2 module. Another PMA (PMA-3) is also on the ISS, however in its current location (the Port side of Node 3) it is inaccessible for docking. Both PMA-2 and PMA-3 feature a Russian-designed docking interface as was used by the now retired Space Shuttle fleet. However, the new fleet of commercial crew vehicles currently planned to begin arriving at the ISS in late 2017 will use a new docking interface, known as the NASA Docking System (NDS). (7/31)

Pentagon Would Get $594B Under Senate Panel Measure (Source: Defense News)
The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a 2014 budget for the Pentagon that lowers the Overseas Contingency Operations funding from White House-recommended levels and reins in spending on the F-35 joint strike fighter jet. The $594 billion spending bill increases funding to destroyer and submarine programs above the Navy's request and provides $77.8 billion for war funding. (7/30)

An Intergalactic Travel Bureau in Midtown Manhattan (Source: The New Yorker)
The other day, a woman set out for a midtown Manhattan storefront to plan a trip to space, in a bid to escape the sweltering heat. After weaving past Times Square tourists, she entered the Intergalactic Travel Bureau, on West Thirty-seventh Street. “Can I interest you in a space vacation?” asked a smiling travel agent wearing a jaunty hat.

After a brief discussion of the woman’s travel goals—no warm weather!—a trip to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, was recommended. Temperatures tend to be several hundred degrees below zero on Titan, and underneath its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere, it offers the possibility of long walks along the shores of methane lakes. “They probably smell like cow farts,” the agent said, “but you’ll be in a space suit.” The woman was sold. The agent searched among stacks of papers for a price list, and did some quick calculations.

The quote, unfortunately, was billions of dollars. And there the spell was broken: the Intergalactic Travel Bureau was not, in fact, facilitating actual space vacations; the travel agent was really Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist. She was one of eight scientists involved with the project, which was first staged in the U.K. by Guerilla Science, an outreach organization that combines science with performance art. Olivia Koski, a physicist turned journalist, and Jana Grcevich, who studies dwarf galaxies in the astronomy department at Columbia, brought the pop-up travel bureau to New York City. (7/29)

XCOR-ULA Engine Project Taking Page from Auto Industry (Source: Space News)
At first blush, there may not be too much in common between driving a car and maneuvering a satellite in orbit, but that may be changing. With backing from United Launch Alliance (ULA), privately owned XCOR Aerospace is working on a type of piston engine for a prospective upper-stage rocket motor that is similar to what is used in cars and motorcycles.

“It’s a dramatically different kind of upper-stage engine,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president of Atlas and Delta programs. “Instead of rotating turbo-machinery, it’s basically a piston-type engine, more like in a car, except operating with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. You gain some manufacturing efficiencies. The indications are that it would be a much simpler and less expensive engine to build,” he said. (7/31)

Next Round of Commercial Crew Round Likely To Support Only Two Competitors (Source: Space News)
Competition in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will probably get a little thinner in the fourth round, an agency official said. “I don’t believe we are going to be able to carry three in the next round,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, told the NASA Advisory Council’s (NAC) Human Exploration and Operations Committee. “I think two would probably be sufficient to maintain competition.” (7/31)

Satmex Acquisition Gives Eutelsat’s Latin America Presence a Jolt (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat is buying Mexican operator Satmex for $831 million in cash plus the assumption of $311 million in Satmex debt to establish a big position in the growing Latin American market, Eutelsat announced July 31.

The transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the year, ends a long agony for Satmex, which in recent years has struggled with dissenting owners who could not agree on a growth strategy, with bankruptcy reorganization and, more recently, with the Mexican government’s arrival as a potential competitor in Satmex’s home market. (7/31)

Raytheon, Lockheed Martin Remain Hopeful on Space Fence (Source: Space News)
Executives from the two companies bidding for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation space-object tracking system, known as the Space Fence, have said they believe the long-overdue contract award is coming soon, despite the uncerainty surrounding the program. (7/31)

Can We Push the Planet into a Runaway Greenhouse Apocalypse (Source: Scientific American)
Mainstream scientific consensus is that the sun will in some seven billion to eight billion years evolve into a red giant star that will scorch and perhaps even engulf Earth. Yet when that happens, Earth will already have been dead for billions of years, and will more resemble present-day Venus. As the sun slowly brightens over time on its path to becoming a red giant, it will eventually cross a critical threshold in which its luminosity surpasses our planet’s ability to dissipate absorbed radiation out into space.

The end result will be a “runaway greenhouse” in which the planet loses its water to space and bakes beneath a crushing atmosphere of almost pure carbon dioxide. Earlier this year, for the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million (ppm), surpassing a preindustrial average of about 280 ppm for the past several million years. Pessimistic projections from a UN Panel on Climate Change forecast atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soaring beyond 1,000 ppm later this century.

A new paper argues that “the runaway greenhouse may be much easier to initiate than previously thought.” Indeed, the study suggests that without the cooling effects of certain types of clouds, modern Earth would already be well on its way to broiling like Venus. The disturbing result hinges less on carbon dioxide and more on humble water vapor, which recent investigations have shown absorbs solar radiation more efficiently than previously believed. Click here. (7/31)

What Powers the Van Allen Radiation Belts? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Space physicists have confirmed that electrons in the heart of the radiation belts surrounding Earth are accelerated to relativistic energies locally, rather than coming in from afar. These charged particles are trapped, forced to spiral up and down along magnetic field lines at tremendous speeds. Ever since, space physicists have struggled to understand how the belts' electrons get accelerated to relativistic energies. Electromagnetic "storms" from the Sun were surely involved, buffeting Earth's magnetosphere as they raced past in the solar wind, but how? Click here. (7/31)

Cold, Blue World: 'Small' Alien Planet Captured on Camera (Source:
A gas planet about four times the size of Jupiter may be giant, but it's one of the smallest alien planets ever captured on camera, according to a new study. The planet's relatively small size and far distance from its star, called GJ 504, marked a milestone for Japan's Subaru Telescope, which took the discovery images in 2011, according to Adam Burrows, a co-author of the study. (7/31)

Obama Nominates Astrophysicist to Lead NSF (Source: Nature)
Astrophysicist France Anne Cordova has been tapped to head the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which has been run by an acting director since March 2013. President Barack Obama announced the pick on 31 July. If confirmed, Cordova would fill the gap left by Subra Suresh, who announced his resignation in February, after serving less than half of his six-year term leading the US$7 billion agency. (7/31)

Beam Me Up, Scotty? That Might Take Some Time (Source: Discovery)
Ah, the teleporter; a fantastic device for beaming people around space at the speed of light. Not only is this mode of transportation useful for keeping Star Trek episodes to within their 60 minute timeslot (keeping boarding, flying, atmospheric reentry, landing, un-boarding from shuttlecraft to a minimum), it could revolutionize space travel in the real world — no more rockets! Just beam people into orbit!

Alas, apart from a tiny handful of experiments on entangled photons, teleportation is, in a practical sense, pure science fiction. But let’s just assume that, for argument’s sake, the technologies to turn a human body into pure data were to be invented in the future. How long would it take to transfer all that data from Point A to Point B? Click here. (7/31)

EADS Merges Defense And Space Units, Goes For Airbus Brand (Source: Aviation Week)
EADS has decided to make significant changes to its corporate structure and put the entire company under the Airbus brand. The board of directors followed a proposal put forward by CEO Tom Enders to change the company’s name to Airbus Group. Defense and space units Cassidian and Astrium will be merged and called Airbus Defense and Space. Eurocopter also will lose its current brand and be re-launched as Airbus Helicopters.

The changes come after a strategy review led by Enders over the past few months and follow the collapse of merger talks with BAE Systems in the fall of 2012. “We no longer strive for a balance between commercial and defense/space,” Enders told analysts July 31. “We are completely comfortable with this mix.”

The Airbus Group will consist of the civil aircraft business, which at €36.9 billion ($49 billion) in annual revenues is almost twice as big as all of the company’s other activities combined; Airbus Defense and Space (€13.7 billion), and Airbus Helicopters (€6.3 billion). The company also is reviewing its minority shareholdings in other companies—such as Dassault—and may decide to sell those, but Enders says it is too soon to speculate about that situation. (7/31)

X-Rays Reveal Hidden Complexities of Old NASA Gear (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Have you ever wanted to see what was inside some of the items that NASA engineered to get men to accomplish feats like spacewalking and golfing on the moon? X-rays of such space gear are a part of a traveling exhibit called “Suited For Space” which is now at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., until Dec. 1. The exhibit is due to hit Tampa, Philadelphia, and Seattle in 2014. So far, no new Texas stops are planned, but the exhibit will be traveling until 2015. It was in Tyler in the summer of 2012, and is the only Texas stop so far. (7/31)

Loads Challenges Remain For SLS Design (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA is revealing its most detailed assessment yet of the design challenges that are being tackled as part of its plan to develop and test the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle for human exploration from 2017 and beyond. While the overall SLS effort remains on track, and even ahead of schedule in some cases, NASA says significant design issues have had to be overcome in some areas to cope with the unexpectedly high liftoff and ascent loads of the powerful vehicle.

The key challenges have been encountered, and so far successfully addressed, in adapting the modified space shuttle five-segment solid booster to the SLS core stage, as well as in designing the interim cryogenic propulsion system (ICPS) that will power the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle out of Earth orbit. The ICPS sits atop the main core stage and forms part of the integrated spacecraft and payload element (ISPE) of SLS-1000X, which is the designation for the initial variant.

Analysis indicates that on liftoff and during initial ascent, the “vehicle twangs and imparts lateral loads” says Rene Ortega, SLS spacecraft and payload integration office chief engineer. The lateral loads at liftoff are expected to be produced mostly by north-south winds over the launch pad, while ascent lateral loads will be generated by aerodynamic buffeting. To reduce the potential impact on the RL 10B-2 and the rest of the ICPS, NASA plans to incorporate a stabilizer liftoff restraint and release system at “T-zero” as well as additional system damping. (731)

NASA Turns 55: An Ars Technica Tribute to Space Flight (Source: Ars Technica)
This week, NASA celebrated its 55th anniversary. On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which authorized the creation of a new civilian agency. The act formalized the United States' predominantly military space operations and also marked the end of the 42-year-old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which previously provided oversight on the existing disparate pre-spaceflight activities underway across the country. Click here. (7/31)
Astro Mad Men: NASA's 1960s Campaign to Win America's Heart (Source: The Atlantic)
After successfully completing the flight that would make him the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn gave a speech at his hometown high school. His old teachers, the astronaut joked, would be "very surprised" to learn, as news accounts had it, that he had "received straight A's all through school." His football teammates would be similarly shocked to learn that even while Glenn had sat on the bench, they had sought guidance from him about gaining "a few more yards."

The people who knew John Glenn, The Guy before he became John Glenn, The Astronaut, the newly minted hero suggested, must be amazed to read all the gushing accounts of their classmate's various "prowesses." Glenn was poking fun at the inevitable trajectories of heroism: the wide-eyed exaggerations, the casual polishings, the careful erosions of inconvenient facts. But he was poking fun, more specifically, at a legal document: a contract between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Life magazine. Click here. (7/31)

Enceladus’ Icy Jets Pulse to the Rhythm of its Orbit (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA’s Cassini probe, which is orbiting Saturn, has provided some of the most beautiful imagery we’ve seen transmitted from beyond the confines of our terrestrial home. Sure, Saturn itself is great and all, but the gas giant’s rings and moons are simply fantastic. There’s Titan, with its thick, hazy atmosphere and methane cycle—complete with rivers, lakes, and precipitation. And then there’s Enceladus—the smooth, icy wonder that might harbor a liquid water ocean beneath its surface.

Enseladus' geysers have attracted attention for good reason. Simple organic compounds like methane, propane, and formaldehyde have been detected in the plumes of water, as has ammonia. That gets people excited about what kind of chemistry could be going on beneath the surface—and whether it might even include biochemistry. And then there’s the most basic question: why is the interior of Enceladus so warm, anyway?

The prevailing explanation is that it’s caused by gravitational variations, which go about squeezing and stretching Enceladus. This is caused by its slightly elliptical orbit around Saturn. The shape changes happen pretty rapidly, as Enceladus completes a lap around Saturn in just under 33 hours. As it turns out, the plume was over three times brighter in infrared (meaning more water was coming out) when Enceladus was farthest from Saturn compared to when it was closest. The geysers are clearly modulated by the gravitational interaction with Saturn. (7/31)

Senate Committee Approves NASA Authorization Act With No Republican Support (Source: Space News)
Only days before Congress was scheduled to adjourn for its annual August recess, the Democrats who control the Senate Commerce Committee united to make their party’s point that sequestration does not apply to authorization bills and approved a NASA Authorization Act that would allow appropriators to fund the agency at $18.1 billion in 2014.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2013 (S. 1317) cleared the committee July 30 on a straight 13-12 party line vote. A handful of amendments were also tacked on, by unanimous consent, to the 75-page measure, which allows $400 million more for NASA in 2014 than the White House is seeking. The bill, spearheaded by Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), may now be considered by the full Senate, which would have a chance to propose new amendments when, and if, the measure makes it to the floor. (7/31)

NASA Pushing to Keep 'Space Taxi' Competition Going (Source: Reuters)
NASA is pressing ahead with a program to fly its astronauts on commercial spaceships despite budget uncertainties that threaten to undermine a heated competition for its business. Since 2010, when the U.S. space agency begin partnering with private companies interested in developing space taxis, and May 2014, when the current phase of the so-called Commercial Crew initiative ends, NASA expects to have spent about $1.5 billion on the program.

The Obama administration is requesting $821 million for the program for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on October 1. Congress previously halved the administration's requests to $406 million in 2012 and $498 million in 2013. "The biggest risk to the program is prematurely eliminating competition," Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters, told an advisory committee meeting on Tuesday.

"The goal of the Commercial Crew program is safe, reliable and cost-effective human space transportation to low-Earth orbit. Competition gives you a good price, but the partners know that safety and reliability are important criteria for NASA so they are battling to be the safest, to be the most reliable and to be the most cost-effective," he said. (7/31)

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