Hi Ho Hi Ho, It’s Over the Cliff We Go….

It looks like we’re going over the old fiscal cliff tonight. No deal has been finalized and the current Congress will end its session later today without a vote.

If we’re lucky, the Senate will reach a deal by the end of today, and the new Congress will vote on it when it convenes on Thursday. If the deal looks like it will pass, the markets will react calmly when they re-open on Wednesday. And there will be few if any disruptions in government operations due to the New Year’s holiday and the short gap.

On the other hand, if….Ah, I really don’t even want to think about it.

In the meantime, Happy New Year! And enjoy this parody video. It nicely sums up how I feel about Washington right now.

UPDATE: Well, the Senate and House approved a compromise measure on New Year’s Day that adjusted tax rates on the highest income Americans and postponed action on the issue of automatic cuts in federal programs (sequestration) by two months. So, in about 60 days, I imagine we’ll be going through all this again.

Actually, the scenario I outlined in the original post in terms of Congress voting was wrong. If they had not reached a deal, the new Congress would have had to start all over again because it will have new members. That would have caused delays and negative reactions from the markets.

Spaceport America — Hanging By a Proverbial Thread

“So when you’re near me, darling can’t you hear me

S. O. S.
The love you gave me, nothing else can save me
S. O. S.
When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?
When you’re gone
Though I try how can I carry on?”

— ABBA, “S.O.S.”

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The Save Our Spaceport (S.O.S.) Coalition is up and running with a website to support for an extension of the informed consent law for Virgin Galactic and other future tenants of Spaceport America.

So, after lengthy negotiations, years of construction, extravagant promises of new jobs and businesses by politicians and a British billionaire, and the investment of $209 million in taxpayer’s money, New Mexico faces the following stark choice in the new year:

Sign away all the rights of passengers and their heirs to sue for injuries or deaths aboard space vehicles except in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm


Face the prospect of having an empty spaceport miles from anywhere with no discernible use when Virgin Galactic picks up and goes elsewhere and no one else will move in.

This would be funny (or even farcical) if it didn’t involve so much public money.


The Space Show Schedule

This week on The Space Show with David Livingston….

1. Monday, Dec.31, 2012, 2-3:30 PM PST (5-6:30 PM EST, 4-5:30 PM CST): HAPPY NEW YEAR! TOM OLSON joins us for our annual space year in review. Looking back on 2012 and looking forward to 2013.

2. Tuesday, January 1, 2013 7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE. NO SHOW TODAY DUE TO NEW YEARS.

3. Friday January 4, 2013, 9:30-11 AM PST (11:30- 1 PM CST, 12:30PM-2:00 PM EST): We welcome back DR. RICHARD OBOUSY, DR. ERIC DAVIS, AND DR. HAROLD SONNY WHITE for advanced propulsion updates, Icarus Interstellar, and more.

4. Sunday, January 6, 2013, 12-1:30 PM PST (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST). We welcome back PAUL DAMPHOUSSE, Executive Director of NSS. We will be talking about NSS, the coming ISDC and more.

Commercial Launch Indemnification Extension Still Not Approved

Capitol Building
If the “fiscal cliff” fiasco is not sufficient evidence of Congress’s complete dysfunction, consider the following bill that extends the expiring commercial launch indemnification regime by two years. The House of Representatives approved the measure on Nov. 13 and sent it along to the Senate the following day.

2d Session
H. R. 6586

To extend the application of certain space launch liability provisions through 2014.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    Section 50915(f) of title 51, United States Code, is amended by striking `December 31, 2012′ and inserting `December 31, 2014′.

Passed the House of Representatives November 13, 2012.

The bill changes a single date in the current law and is not controversial. Yet, it has not been acted on yet by the Senate even though the current regime expires at midnight on Monday.

Under the law, commercial launch operators are protected against third-party losses that exceed the amount of insurance coverage they purchase. The federal government picks the costs of any damages above those levels.

If the law is not extended, then the commercial launch industry — which just becoming competitive again in the global market — will face hikes in their insurance rates. At least until the new Congress can consider a new bill next year.

ESA Agrees to Explore Closer Cooperation With European Union

ESA logoBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

In a declaration adopted at their November meeting, ESA’s ministers tasked Director General  Jean-Jacques Dordain with overseeing as process designed to evolve the space agency and to improve its cooperation with the European Union (EU).

The move comes in response to an effort by the European Commission to forge closer links between the two independent organizations, which have overlapping responsible for space policy and activities on the continent. These efforts could eventually end up with ESA coming under the control of the union sometime during the next decade.


Popovkin Talks Brightman Flight, State of Russian Space Industry

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Izvestia has published a lengthy interview with Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin, who touched upon issues that included singer Sarah Brightman’s planned space tourism flight, upcoming Angara flight tests, American interest in purchasing a new rocket engine, Russia’s launch record in 2012, and the general state of the industry.

Key excerpts, courtesy of Google Translate, are reproduced below. All the sections involve translated quotes except for the one on Angara flights.

On Sarah Brightman’s Planned Space Tourism Flight

“We are not opposed to training, but so far we have no contract to that effect has been signed. By agreement between Roscosmos and NASA planned extremely long expedition to the ISS crew of two in 2015, people will spend at the station for a year. At the same time, the warranty term of the spacecraft Soyuz in orbit – no more than six months. That is, during the extremely long expedition ship docked to the ISS needs to be changed. Question – how to do it? You can put it in two tourists and 10 days to return back. The second option – to do some expedition. But the 10-day expedition is impractical – in fact it will be hidden in the performance of tourism trained astronauts. You can extend the life of the expedition up to 40 days, but then on the ISS will not be six and nine. All this pulls the start of another cargo ship ‘Progress,’ and this is serious money we are unlikely to find, as the program up to 2015 is already laid out. Therefore, we have not decided who to put in two free seats. Send our trained astronaut to have it on 10 days to fly there in fact a tourist by the state – perhaps it is not entirely justified. Moreover, our European colleagues have told us that they would like to purchase a vacant chair for her astronaut. Now we weigh all the ‘pros’ and ‘cons.’ Plan to take a decision in the I quarter of next year.”

Russia Plans $70 Billion in Space Spending Through 2020

Roscosmos_logoRussia will spend about $70 billion on its space industry through the end of this decade in an effort to improve capabilities and foster innovation, according to media reports:

Russia will spend 2.1 trillion rubles (about $70 billion) under a state program for the development of the national space industry in 2013-2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday….

“The program will enable our country to effectively participate in forward-looking projects, such the ISS [International Space Station], the study of the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies in the solar system,” he said.


Orbital Eyes Spring ISS Demo Flight for Cygnus

Artist's conception of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus freighter approaching the International Space Station.
Artist’s conception of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus freighter approaching the International Space Station.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is planning two launches of its new Antares booster over the next four months, with the second carrying a Cygnus freighter destined for berthing at the International Space Station:

A successful demonstration flight of Orbital’s two stage Antares rocket from MARS including an inaugural rendezvous of its Cygnus cargo craft with the six-person orbiting science laboratory targeted for April would bring the Dulles, Va., based company’s abbreviated five-year development effort under the COTS initiative to a successful close.

It also would trigger the start of a $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement awarded to Orbital by NASA in late 2008. Orbital would join SpaceX to provide the 15-nation station program with the second U.S. re-supply source envisioned by NASA for the post-space shuttle era when COTS program planning began in 2005.

“We would certainly expect, if we go in April with the demo mission, to carry out at least one CRS mission in 2013, but that is really driven by NASA’s needs and paced by NASA,” Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski says. “Orbital could certainly do two.”

…The workload seemed likely to push a COTS required orbital test flight of the Antares with a Cygnus mass simulator into February 2013, Beneski said. The test flight does not involve a space station rendezvous.

Read the full story.

SFF Parties as Tax Evading Benefactor Walt Anderson Ends Prison Term

Mircorp_logoWith it being Saturday already back on the East Coast, former MirCorp CEO and convicted tax evader Walt Anderson is now a free man. And the Space Frontier Foundation is partying like its 1999.

Anderson, whose company MirCorp leased the Russian space station Mir during that final year of the 20th century, has been under house arrest at his parents home in Virginia since July as part of a nearly 8-year prison term in what the federal government has called the largest individual tax evasion case in history. He served most of the term in a federal prison in New Jersey.

The Space Frontier Foundation — which benefited from Anderson’s financial largess prior to his stay in the Big House — is having a “Flaming Mir” party in his honor on Saturday night at a restaurant in McLean, Virginia. The foundation is paying for drinks, light appetizers and desserts only, and it recommends attendees eat dinner before arriving. The RSVP email is rsvp@spacefrontier.org


Titanic Star Kate Winslet Headed for Space with Virgin Galactic — NOT

Kate Winslet during the dedication ceremony for the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space in Oct. 2011. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

UPDATE: Apparently this story isn’t true. “A rep for the Academy-Award winning actress tells E! News that this story is false while adding that it “was invented a while ago” but has since ‘been adapted to fit this week’s events.’ Wow, British tabloids just going around making up shit about celebrities. Who knew?

Congratulations are in order for newlywed and latest confirmed celebritynaut Kate Winslet.

The “Titanic” star got hitched earlier this month to Ned Rocknroll, the Richard Branson nephew formerly known as Ned Abel Smith. Media reports in Britain indicate that Leonardo DiCaprio walked his “Titanic” co-star down the aisle during the secret ceremony in New York.

According to a breathless exclusive in The Sun, Winslet has a ticket to space aboard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, now undergoing flight testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The Sun is a little confused about precisely how Winslet got the ticket. A photo caption claims that Rocknroll, who works part-time for Virgin Galactic, bought a $200,000 ticket for his new bride.

The story claims that Branson gave the ticket to Winslet for free for rescuing his mother from an August 2011 house fire on the billionaire’s Necker Island resort.

Winslet, who is on her third marriage, and Rocknroll, who is on his second, met during that stay on the island and hit it off.  They both attended the dedication ceremony for the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space at Spaceport America in October 2011.

NASA Issues RFI for New Upper Stage

NASA LOGONASA has issued a request for information (RFI) from companies interested in providing a common upper stage for use on future planetary missions. According to the RFI:

NASA is interested in utilizing a complete and independent upper stage that is compatible with existing launch vehicles using an industry standard set of payload adapters and electrical connectors. Of primary interest is a stage that provides an approximate delta-V capability of 3,000 m/sec (~10,000 ft/sec) given a payload of 500 kg (1100 lbs) and is able to support a payload range of approximately 400 to 3800 kg (880 to 8400 lbs). Both larger and smaller systems are of interest as well.


NASA Puts Orion Backup Parachutes to the Test

Three 300-pound main parachutes gently lower a mockup Orion capsule to the ground during a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on Dec. 20. (Credit: NASA)

Yuma Proving Ground, NM (NASA PR) — NASA completed the latest in a series of parachute tests for its Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona, marking another step toward a first flight test in 2014. The test verified Orion can land safely even if one of its two drogue parachutes does not open during descent.

Orion will take humans farther into space than ever before, but one of the most challenging things the multipurpose vehicle will do is bring its crew home safely. Because it will return from greater distances, Orion will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of more than 20,000 mph. After re-entry, the parachutes are all that will lower the capsule carrying astronauts back to Earth.


ORBCOMM, SpaceX Reach New Agreement on OG2 Satellite Launches

Falcon 9 launch. (Credit: Chris Thompson)
Falcon 9 launch. (Credit: Chris Thompson)

ORBCOMM and SpaceX have reached a new $42.6 million agreement on for the launch of 18 OG2 communications satellites aboard Falcon 9 rockets over the next 18 months. The satellites were originally scheduled to be launched by smaller Falcon 1e rockets, but SpaceX opted not to develop the launch vehicle.

ORBCOMM disclosed the new agreement in a regulatory filing. The deal replaces one worked out between the two companies in August 2009. The launches are scheduled to take place between the second quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014.

The regulatory filing is reproduced after the break.


Energia Completes Design of Soyuz Replacement, Eyes 2017 Test Flight

PPTS-01RSC Energia announced that it has completed the design of Russia’s next-generation human spacecraft, which is intended to debut the same year that the Soyuz will reach its 50th anniversary:

The proposed spacecraft is commonly known as PPTS (or Prospective Piloted Transport System) and RSC Energia won the tender to build it in 2009. Initially, 2015 was named as the date of the first test flight, but that was then shifted to 2018. Now, [Energia Chief Vitaly] Lopota has brought the test date forward again.