NASA announces Orion program will continue

NASA announces that the Orion program will continue, though under a different name.

This is a non-announcement, made to appease those in Congress who are requiring NASA to build the program-formerly-called-Constellation. NASA will do as Congress demands, and in the process will build nothing while spending a lot of money for a rocket and space capsule that can’t be built for the amount budgeted.

White House shuts out Herald scribe

Obama transparency: The White House has shut out a reporter because it disliked the slant of the newspaper’s news coverage. In the administration’s own words:

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to a Herald request for full access to the presidential visit. “My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” Lehrich wrote.

FAA wants your opinion about commercial space rules

The government marches on! The FAA wants your opinion about its future commercial space regulations.

Or to put it another way, how to stifle a newborn in the womb. In 2004 I said the new law allowing this kind of regulation was going to hurt the new space industries. We are about to see, with the FAA’s regulatory effort here, exactly how that will play out.

And I don’t think it will be good.

Are astronomers finally going to push for a replacement for Hubble?

Astronomers are considering the merger two space missions to create a new optical/ultraviolet space telescope. The mission would be designed to do both deep cosmology and exoplanet observations.

The two communities would both like to see a 4–8-metre telescope in space that would cost in excess of $5 billion. “Our interests are basically aligned,” says [Jim Kasting, a planetary scientist at Pennsylvania State University]. Such a mission would compete for top billing in the next decadal survey of astronomy by the US National Academy of Sciences, due in 2020.

This story is big news, as it indicates two things. First, the 2010 Decadal Survey, released in August 2010, is almost certainly a bust. The budget problems at NASA as well as a general lack of enthusiasm among astronomers and the public for its recommendations mean that the big space missions it proposed will almost certainly not be built.
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No deal

No deal. Key quote:

If Democrats are not going to do even minor surgery on Medicare and Medicaid and Republicans are not going to raise taxes, there is no hope of big budget deal to cut a deficit now running at 11 percent of gross domestic product.

And that raises another question. How long can the Federal Reserve continue financing these deficits? China, choking on U.S. debt, is reportedly beginning to divest itself of U.S. bonds. Japan will need to sell U.S. bonds to get hard currency to repair the damage from the earthquake and tsunami. And the Fed is about to end its QE2 monthly purchases of $100 billion in U.S. bonds. Where is the Fed going to borrow the $125 billion a month to finance this year’s deficit of $1.65 trillion, and another of comparable size in 2012? Bill Gross’ Pimco, the world’s largest bond fund, has sold all his U.S. bonds and begun to short U.S. debt. Pimco is betting that the value of U.S. Treasury bonds will begin to fall.

We may be about to enter a maelstrom.

Catching up with the future of the U.S. space program

As I have been traveling for the past week, I have fallen behind in posting stories of interest. Two occurred in the past week that are of importance. Rather than give a long list of multiple links, here is a quick summary:

First, NASA administrator Charles Bolden yesterday announced the museum locations that will receive the retired shuttles. I find it very interesting that the Obama administration decided to snub Houston and flyover country for a California museum. In fact, all the shuttles seem to be going to strong Democratic strongholds. Does this suggest a bit of partisanship on this administration’s part? I don’t know. What I do know is that it illustrates again the politically tone-deaf nature of this administration, especially in choosing the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight to make this sad announcement.

Second, the new budget deal (still pending) included NASA’s budget, with cuts. While requiring NASA to build a super-duper heavy-lift rocket (the program-formerly-called-Constellation) for less money and in less time than was previously allocated to Constellation, the budget also frees NASA from the rules requiring them to continue building Constellation. Since the Obama administration has no interest in building the super-duper heavy-lift rocket and has said it can’t be done, I expect they will use the elimination of this rule to slowdown work on the heavy-lift rocket. I expect that later budget negotiations will find this heavy-lift rocket an easy target for elimination, especially when it becomes obvious it is not going to get built.
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The 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight

I am on the road today, so posting will be light. Though I have many things to say about today’s historic anniversary, fifty years after the first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, I simply won’t be able to post them. However, I plan to express some of my thoughts on the John Batchelor Show at 11:30 pm (Eastern time) tomorrow. Listen in live, or on his podcast posted shortly after the live show.

The ironies, however, are amazing, and quite depressing. On the same day we celebrate the start of manned space exploration, NASA administrator Charles Bolden will announce where the United States’s three retired shuttles will be put on display. Note also that he does this on the thirtieth anniversary of the first shuttle flight. It is almost as if the Obama administration’s desire to kill the American government space program is so strong that they have to rub salt in the wound as they do it.

I say this not so much because I am in favor of a big government space program (which I am not) but because the timing of this announcement once again illustrates how astonishingly tone-deaf the Obama administration continues to be about political matters.

SpaceX Unveils Plan for World’s Most Powerful Private Rocket

SpaceX unveils its plan for the Falcon 9 Heavy, what would be the world’s most powerful private rocket.

The new rocket will be able to carry about 117,000 pounds (53,000 kilograms) of cargo to orbit – about twice the payload-carrying capability of the space shuttle. The Falcon Heavy would launch more than twice as much weight as the Delta 4 heavy, currently the most powerful rocket in operation. Only NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket, which last launched in 1973, could carry more cargo to orbit, SpaceX officials said.

Musk said the rocket should lower the launch cost of cargo to about $1,000 per pound, about one-tenth the cost per pound on NASA shuttle launches.

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