April 16, 2014

$4B Over Budget, Four Years Late: Meet Northrop's Problem Program (Source: Wash. Business Journal)
More than a decade after a prime contract was awarded for the development of the Hubble Space Telescope's successor, NASA's largest science project remains on shaky ground. First, the good news: Program costs for the James Webb Space Telescope being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. have remained stable for the last few years, ever since the project was rebalanced with a 78 percent increase to the cost estimate.

That, of course, propelled total program costs to $8.83 billion, from a baseline estimate in 2009 of about $5 billion. Unfortunately for Northrop, most of the budget increase was to accommodate ballooning development costs. Those went from $2.58 billion in 2009 to $6.19 billion with the 2011 rebalancing — a 140 percent change. (4/16)

The Coolest Spaceships Ever Built, Compared by Size (Source: WIRED)
There are a lot of online resources for information about space history, but none can rival the combination of thorough and adorable you’ll find at Historic Spacecraft. The site is full of information about recent and past launches, old space programs, and much more, but it owes its unique charm to the drawings of spacecraft that appear on its pages. There’s something about their simplified lines and geometric orientations, reminiscent of a childhood textbook, that is perfect. Click here. (4/16)

Meet the Next Generation of Planetary Rovers (Source: Motherboard)
Want to go scuba diving on the Saturnian moon Enceladus? Get in line. When NASA announced the discovery of a subsurface ocean the size of Lake Superior on the tiny moon it inspired a new rush of speculation about how we might land a rover on Enceladus' alluring surface.

“There’s such a large amount of interest in this small body,” Luciano Iess, lead author of the Endeladus study, told Motherboard last week. “You could deploy a rover that could penetrate through this rather thick ice layer with heat. You can melt the ice and then by gravity, the submarine would get pushed down and would, sooner or later, end up in the ocean. It’s complicated, but that’s the target.” Click here. (4/16)

Beer-Drinking Fundraiser for Shuttle Aircraft Exhibit (Source: Huntsville Times)
Only in Huntsville would craft beer and a shuttle training aircraft used to train astronauts somehow fit together without raising a lot of eyebrows. Drink a Monkeynaut India Pale Ale or any brew from Straight to Ale on Thursday night and a portion of your purchase will help support the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's efforts to land the Gulfstream II (G-II) Shuttle Training Aircraft in Huntsville. (4/16)

NASA Langley in Hampton and Virginia Partner on Feasibility Studies (Source: Daily Press)
NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and the commonwealth are collaborating on research projects to address environmental issues in agriculture, ecological forecasting, water resources and air quality. According to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office Tuesday, NASA participants in its Applied Sciences' DEVELOP Program will co-locate temporarily within the office of the Secretary of Technology in Richmond to help design feasibility projects to address community concerns and public policy issues. (4/16)

Pentagon Threat Assessor Feels Better about Space Assets (Source: Space News)
A top Pentagon intelligence official said April 15 he is more confident today than he was a year ago about the intelligence community’s understanding of U.S. national security space systems and the threats they face. For the past several months, top Defense Department leaders have told Congress that U.S. military and intelligence satellites face a growing threat from nations actively developing counterspace capabilities. (4/16)

Egyptian Satellite to be Launched (Source: SIS)
"Egypt Sat" will be launched on April 16. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said the new satellite will be launched by Russia from the base of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. He noted that Egypt Sat would serve industrial, agricultural, mineral, planning and environmental fields in Egypt. It can also help to support development projects in the Arab region, he added. (4/16)

NASA Has Good Reason Sending Germs From Dinosaur Into Space (Source: Huffington Post)
NASA is known for sending astronauts into space. Now it's sending germs. The strange-but-true space mission is intended to give scientists a better sense of how bacteria behave in microgravity -- important knowledge as the space agency gears up for long-duration manned missions into deep space. Just check out this YouTube video from University of California, Davis researchers, who are leading the effort. Click here. (4/15)

Student NASA Design Fits Like a Glove (Source: The Battalion)
For their senior design project, a group of eight engineering students from different disciplines are working on a virtual reality glove to be utilized while training future NASA astronauts. Matthew Torres, senior electrical engineering major, said NASA is trying to build a virtual environment that will help astronauts get acquainted with their work environment — space.

“Right now they build full-scale mock-ups of the environments in space that they train in and they are scaling it down to a virtual environment that is contained in a 12-foot dome.” The team is composed of three electrical engineers, a computer engineer and four industrial engineers — twice the size of a normal senior design group. Senior electrical engineering major Ivan Gomez said NASA was initially asked for a way to interact with the virtual environment, but the group members decided to take it to the next leve. (4/15)

Curiosity's Priority Switches from Driving to Science (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Beginning its most extensive scientific survey in a year, the Curiosity Mars rover is employing cameras, mineral-sniffing spectrometers, a rock-zapping laser and potentially its impact drill at a study site named "the Kimberley" on the robot's trek toward Mount Sharp. The rover is taking a break from sustained driving campaign across the floor of Gale Crater, a 96-mile-wide impact basin just south of the Martian equator.

Scientists designated the Kimberley site as one of several waypoints on Curiosity's route from Yellowknife Bay, a shallow depression where the one-ton rover's instruments found an environment that was once habitable to microbial life, toward the mission's ultimate objective at Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mountain believed to harbor layered clay minerals, an indicator of a wetter time on ancient Mars. (4/15)

SpaceX Plans 2015 Heavy-Lift Launch at LC-39A (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
SpaceX signed a 20-year lease Monday to operate and maintain one of Kennedy Space Center's historic launch pads, and the company plans to debut the world's most powerful rocket at the facility next year. The agreement turns over control of Launch Complex 39A to the commercial space transportation firm, which plans to use the launch pad for the the initial flights of the Falcon Heavy, a mega-rocket featuring 27 first stage engines generating nearly 4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. (4/16)

Can This 1970s Spacecraft Explore Again? (Source: io9)
The countdown is on to rebuild communications with a spacecraft before it drifts past this summer. The craft has functional instruments, but NASA has no budget to reactivate the program, so it's up to private donors and dedicated volunteers to recapture the abandoned spacecraft. Launched in the 1970s, repurposed & renamed in 1980s, the ICE/ISEE space explorer still had 12 of 13 functional instruments in the 1990s.

Now it's flying past the Earth, beeping out its willingness to chat, but we ripped out the Deep Space Network antenna array in 1999, and no longer have the ability to respond. An international team of engineers is working on a private solution, but needs funds to rebuild the past and send new commands to slide the spacecraft into a new orbit. Click here. (4/16)

Can NASA Sustain its Golden Age of Planetary Exploration? (Source: Planetary Society)
Lately, multiple news outlets have reported on the possible cancellation of the Opportunity rover, the longest-running Mars surface mission in history. Less reported, but equally important, is that NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), currently orbiting the Moon, is in the same situation.

Most people find this mind-boggling. The cost to run both missions is around $25 million dollars per year, about 2% of the budget of NASA's Planetary Science Division, and approximately 0.15% of NASA's total budget. For missions that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and launch, surely we can find a small amount of money to keep them running? Click here. (4/16)

An Inside Look at NASA's Deep Space Network (Source: Motherboard)
Eccentric chemical engineer and Jet Propulsion Lab co-founder Marvel "John" Whiteside Parsons was born a century ago this year, while JPL itself first got its name 70 years ago. This year also marks the 45th anniversary of the Moon landing which, it goes without saying, remains one of humankind's most significant accomplishments yet. But these other touchstones aside, this month NASA/JPL highlighted a much less publicized landmark in its history. Click here. (4/15) http://motherboard.vice.com/read/an-inside-look-at-nasas-deep-space-network

Bolden: Congress Should Invest in NASA, Commercial Space Program (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Strained relations with Russia created new concerns for NASA officials recently, who are calling for measures to end dependence on the Soyuz rocket to get American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). At a JSC news conference, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden faced questions from reporters about the issue and his recent testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations.

Bolden lobbied lawmakers for NASA’s $848 million budget request at last week’s hearing, which he said would fund commercial space partnerships to enable American spacecraft to fly crews to low Earth orbit by 2017. Pointing to successful partnership with private companies such as Space X, Bolden said it was time for lawmakers to invest in NASA and the U.S. commercial space industry. (4/15)

Capitalism and Politics...in Space! (Source: American Spectator)
NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization mission not only includes efforts to robotically capture and manipulate an asteroid into the moon’s orbit, but also aims to land humans on an asteroid by 2025. If the mission is successful, it will be the first time humans have left low earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972. This mission will serve to build capabilities in robotics and launch technology for the eventual goal of landing on Mars in 2030.

“Great nations do great things,” Senator Marco Rubio said of the U.S. space program, insinuating that the Chinese government has a lot of soul-searching to do before it can be qualified as great. In a hearing last week, Sen. Rubio asked how we are supposed to invigorate a new generation in the same way our parents' generation experienced the lunar landing. Could it be as simple as publicizing the asteroid initiative? It's not like NASA is trying to sell overpriced health plans to young people. They are robotically manipulating our solar system! (4/15)

Now Hear This (Source: Space KSC)
Last week while I was in Washington, D.C., three space-related hearings were held on Capitol Hill. I didn't attend any of them, much as I would have liked, but all three are now archived on my YouTube channel if you want to watch. Click here. (4/15)

China's President Xi Urges Greater Military Use of Space (Source: Reuters)
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the air force to adopt an integrated air and space defence capability, in what state media on Tuesday called a response to the increasing military use of space by the United States and others.

While Beijing insists its space program is for peaceful purposes, a Pentagon report last year highlighted China's increasing space capabilities and said Beijing was pursuing a variety of activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis. Click here. (4/14)

Canadian Space Chief Says Business as Usual on ISS, Despite Russian Sanctions (Source: Times Colonist)
The head of the Canadian Space Agency says sanctions taken against Russia for its invasion of Crimea are not affecting operations on the International Space Station. NASA is continuing co-operation related to the space station but has severed its ties with Russia and forbidden its employees from travelling to the country. (4/15)

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