January 31, 2010

How to Build a Shuttle-Derived Heavy-Lift Program (Source: Space Review)
A regional alliance may be the key to winning support for a Shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher. In late October, elected officials from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi joined together to establish the Aerospace Alliance, described as a “private/public organization that will establish the Gulf Coast and surrounding region as a world class aerospace, space and aviation corridor.”

Despite its broadly described mission, the Alliance was formed first and foremost to support Northrop Grumman’s pursuit of the Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar KC-45 aerial tanker program, which would spread high-paying manufacturing jobs among the participating states. The need for a Shuttle-derived heavy-lift rocket can give this Alliance an additional high-profile purpose, and an opportunity to establish a powerful voting bloc in support of a single common-interest issue. Click here to view the article. (1/31)

Nelson: Build a Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a close adviser to President Obama, predicts the administration will direct NASA on Monday to develop a super-sized rocket to send astronauts on missions beyond Earth orbit. The Central Florida Democrat and former astronaut also says Obama shouldn't pump all of a $6 billion NASA budget increase into the development of commercial crew transportation services. Some of the increase should be put toward building a new heavy-lift launch vehicle.

"My concern is that if all that $6 billion goes just to commercial rockets, then that's going to push the development of (a new NASA heavy-lift) rocket well into the next decade, and that just means we get behind China and Russia," Nelson said. "I think they will announce on Monday (a research-and-development) program to develop the new (heavy-lift) rocket. I just hope that it is not a puny R&D development that will push us off well into the next decade before we have the new rocket." (1/30)

Texas Lawmakers Balk at Cutting Human Spaceflight (Source: Dallas News)
Everyone in Washington wants fiscal restraint these days – except when it comes to their priorities. Case in point: NASA. Texas lawmakers in both parties are girding for battle with the Obama administration over the future of human spaceflight. Many of the same lawmakers routinely accuse the president of sending deficits into the stratosphere.

"It's a matter of priorities," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "We can find that money in other parts of the budget." Reports last week indicated that President Obama wants to abandon the Constellation program that George W. Bush launched in 2004, effectively ending the human spaceflight effort.

In the current fiscal climate, with the national debt topping $13 trillion, the White House doesn't see that as a high enough priority. Others disagree. "I do believe that we need to cut spending [but] ... we should focus on things that are important and cut in areas that are less so," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the top Republican on the committee that oversees NASA. She called it "very short-sighted. ... We've already made such an investment." (1/31)

Who to Watch in Private Space Taxi Field (Source: AP)
Here are some leading companies that are or could be developing a private space taxi system to take astronauts to the International Space Station. More firms may join in. Click here for info on SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada Corp., Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bigelow Aerospace. (1/31)

Change in Space for NASA: Renting the Right Stuff (Source: AP)
Getting to space is about to be outsourced. The Obama administration on Monday will propose in its new budget spending billions of dollars to encourage private companies to build, launch and operate spacecraft for NASA and others. Uncle Sam would buy its astronauts a ride into space just like hopping in a taxi. The idea is that getting astronauts into orbit, which NASA has been doing for 49 years, is getting to be so old hat that someone other than the government can do it. It's no longer really the Right Stuff. Going private would free the space agency to do other things, such as explore beyond Earth's orbit, do more research and study the Earth with better satellites. And it would spur a new generation of private companies — even some with Internet roots — to innovate. (1/31)

Ben Bova: Politcs In Space (Source: Naples News)
It’s bitterly true that the exploration of the universe depends on down and dirty politics here on Earth. Former President John F. Kennedy pushed the Apollo program to upstage Soviet Russia’s space endeavors — and to make Americans forget about the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. Kennedy placed major NASA facilities in southern states such as Florida, Mississippi and Texas to win political support from those states. The Manned Space Flight Center was sited near Houston, of course, to keep former Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson happy.

But NASA’s Ares I launcher is woefully over budget and facing a host of technical problems. To his credit, Obama is heeding the advice of the Augustine panel. The president wants to turn to private companies to provide transportation to and from the ISS. This is the kind of assured market that entrepreneurs need to build new launch vehicles and create a profitable space industry. But pork-barrel politics still bedevils the space program. NASA is not happy with having its Ares I program scrapped, even though Obama has directed the agency to develop a simpler but vitally necessary heavy-lift booster.

Several senators, led by Richard Shelby, R-Ala., fear that canceling the Ares I program will cause layoffs in their states. Shelby inserted language into the 2010 NASA funding authorization that requires the agency to get congressional approval before changing the program. In the meantime, the Obama White House is moving to increase NASA’s budget by about $1 billion this year, short of the $3 billion recommended by the Augustine commission, but a step in the right direction. On to the stars! But only if we can get past the pork barrels. (1/31)

Editorial: Congress Must Show NASA its Backbone (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Sadly, for the future of our children, grandchildren and the security and prosperity of our nation, it's now official: President Barack Obama has killed our human-spaceflight program. This should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to President Obama. He signaled his intentions loud and clear when he was Sen. Obama and still on the campaign trail. In late 2007, candidate Obama went on record as saying he planned to pay for his $18 billion education plan by taking it out of the hide of NASA.

For those who still strongly believe it's imperative that the United States human-spaceflight program remain pre-eminent, they need to face this cold, hard fact. The president thinks it's a complete waste of time and money. Period. In the president's new budget, there is no money for the Constellation program. This is the next-generation human-launch system replacing the all-but-retired space-shuttle fleet, which was being developed to return our astronauts to the moon.

So, no money for Ares I, no money for the Ares V cargo rockets, and no money for our astronauts to get themselves into space. No. For at least the next decade or more, that critically important arena will be left to the People's Republic of China with its military-run space program, Russia, India and the European Union. For politically correct reasons, Obama has unilaterally and quite irresponsibly and dangerously decided that the United States is out of the human-spaceflight business. (1/31)

Destination Phobos: Humanity's Next Giant Leap (Source: New Scientist)
Phobos is a name you are going to hear a lot in the coming years. It may be little more than an asteroid - just two-billionths of the mass of our planet, with no atmosphere and hardly any gravity - yet the largest of Mars's two moons is poised to become our next outpost in space, our second home. Although our own moon is enticingly close, its gravity means that relatively large rockets are needed to get astronauts to and from the surface. The same goes for Mars, making it expensive to launch missions there too - perhaps even prohibitively expensive. But that doesn't mean that humans have nowhere to go.

One option the Augustine report suggested would take NASA crews to nearby asteroids and to the moons of Mars. "The bulk of the cost of a Mars mission is getting people to the surface and back again," says Pascal Lee, chairman of the Mars Institute. "If you wait for everything to be ready, it will be decades. Phobos offers us a way to get to the very doorstep of Mars." Because Phobos is so small, the gravitational field it generates is weak, so much so that once you have established yourself in Martian orbit, landing and take-off from Phobos needs only the smallest of impulses. That means it is cheaper and easier to send spacecraft to distant Phobos than to send them to the surface of our own moon. (1/31)

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