Sunday, May 23, 2010

Articles of Interest

I've been out of town for a week. Here are some stories that were published while I was gone.

Florida Today reports that the USAF and ULA will try again tonight to launch a Delta IV rocket. The first attempt on Friday was scrubbed just a few minutes before launch. Tonight's 18-minute launch window begins at 11:17 PM EDT. I'll try to film it from my driveway in north Merritt Island if circumstances permit.

Florida Today editor John Kelly has a column today about work proceeding on Constellation despite its proposed cancellation. Kelly correctly notes that President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is only a proposal and must pass through the Congressional gauntlet first. I fear that what we get on the other end will be just another politically compromised government jobs program, but we'll see.

Speaking of government jobs programs, the Miami Herald reported that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene criticized Senator Bill Nelson simply because Obama's plan might reduce taxpayer-funded jobs at KSC. “I would rather see the space program stay here because the space program has spawned lots and lots of high-paying, great jobs in that area,” Greene is quoted as saying. Apparently it never occurred to him to question whether those "high-paying" jobs are actually required by the nation.

I sometimes wonder if the stagecoach industry reacted the same way when the horseless carriage came along ...

Back in my old home town, the Orange County Register published an opinion column that pointed out the hypocrisy of self-described conservatives attacking Obama's plan to privatize low Earth orbit access. Jeff Foust of the excellent Space Politics blog noted that the article contains an unsubstantiated claim that GPS technology saves more than $40 billion a year in interstate trucking, which in any case is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Aviation Week has an article on the politics of the budget process as it works its way through the Senate.

Constellation by its own admission was going to soak up funding from other NASA projects, which is one big reason why the Obama administration proposes cancelling the project. As I wrote on May 14, NASA was never intended to be a "space taxi" business but an aeronautics and space research agency.

A May 21 Aviation Week article outlines a number of "flagship" space testbed projects that will be possible due to the Obama proposal. Quoting from the article, the six projects are:

  • Concepts for spacecraft buses that could use NASA’s NEXT ion propulsion system and an advanced solar array for a 30-kilowatt solar-electric propulsion stage, and which would be scalable to higher power levels.
  • Flight architecture suggestions for on-orbit cryogenic fuel storage and transfer within a single vehicle and between separate vehicles, with a list of detailed questions to be answered.
  • Inflatable-module concepts that would follow earlier in-house work at NASA, with an inflatable shell opening around a central core that would be pressurized at launch.
  • Mission concepts using inflatable or deployable aeroshells for aerocapture at Mars and return to Earth of 10-ton vehicles, as well as precision landing on “both low-G and high-G worlds.”
  • Concepts for demonstrating closed-loop life support in a module on the International Space Station (ISS), and perhaps on an inflatable module flown under a separate flagship demonstration.
  • Concepts for using the ISS as a target for automated rendezvous and docking missions, accomplishing the docking with the low-impact docking system under development at Johnson Space Center.

Space News has an article about the Obama proposal relying more on international cooperation to cut military space costs. A forthcoming document from the Defense Department will outline the policy, according to Michael Nacht, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.

Nacht said anticipation of flat to declining military space budgets in the years ahead is the driving force behind the drafting of new policies intended to increase cooperation with other nations. The United States has a long history of international collaboration on civil space missions, and this can serve as a model for other mission areas, he said.

And just to show that you can't keep a secret any more, reports that amateur sky watchers may have found the USAF's secret X-37B spy plane in orbit.

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