Astronomy: May 2011 Archives

Keith's 19 May note: Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024.

The cost of JWST has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to $4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks $6 billion out of NASA's budget - money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.

If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise in the work force in academia, the private sector - and at NASA.

NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: "The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST's launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities."

Keith's 19 May 4:30 pm update: Note that NASA does not dispute the fact that Scolese mentioned that the annual $375 million spending rate would result in a slip to 2022-2024 - rather, that they are studying things ... stay tuned.

Keith's 19 May 7:15 pm update: According to Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains "We are not planning a Webb layoff in June".

NASA Watch stands by its sources.

Keith's 31 May note: According to a WARN Act filing, Northrop Grumman has notified the State of California that as many as 870 jobs could be eliminated in the next few months. This does not mean that all 870 jobs will be eliminated however. Some are in divisions that would have no possible involvement with JWST. Others might have JWST connections. When I asked Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains to characterize these layoffs, asking if there could be some JWST employees in the mix, he said "possibly". He then went on to say that these layoffs were being made across the company and that they had to do with internal corporate reorganization - and that no JWST jobs were being lost due to any direction from NASA. NASA Watch sources report that employees working on JWST at Northrop Grumman are indeed being laid off - however the total number is not known.

Lights In The Sky

Early Morning Skywatching and Teaching Satellite Concepts to Sherpas

"I got up early today to see the ISS and Endeavour fly over my house. Its always cool to see them flying in formation like this. This morning's viewing was at 4:48 am low in the North, so I was not sure I'd see things due to the brightening sky. As the two vehicles approached from due West I could only make out one fast moving light. But as the viewing geometry improved I was rewarded with two almost equally bright lights moving in clear association with one another - albeit briefly. Then the trees blocked my view. (My graphic is an attempt to draw what I saw.)

While I was waiting there for the flyby I thought back the film "The Right Stuff" where a group of wise aborigines ponders the night sky while sparks fly up from a fire. I wondered what sort of cosmology a modern stone age tribe in Borneo isolated from the rest of the world would think of all these lights in the sky moving in ways our ancestors would never have seen. Imagine what sort of cosmology they might have created to explain such lights."

Note: This video was sent to me by a reader after they read my original article: "Here's what you may have seen this morning - the Shuttle Endeavour leads the ISS, at about 4:50am (EDT) this morning. This handheld video was taken with my Canon S5-IS, with a maximum 12X optical zoom. It may not be "broadcast quality" but is presented as a tribute to the last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.- Michael Kowalchuk Ferdinand, IN"

Kepler's Astounding Haul of Multiplanet Systems, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"In particular, the Kepler systems with multiple planets are much flatter than our solar system. They have to be for Kepler to spot them. Kepler watches for a planet to cross in front of its star, blocking a tiny fraction of the star's light. By measuring how much the star dims during such a transit, astronomers can calculate the planet's size, and by observing the time between successive events they can derive the orbital period -- how long it takes the planet to revolve around its star."

Spitzer and Kepler Confirm New Extrasolar Planet, NASA

"A new planetary member of the Kepler-10 solar system was announced today. Using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, members of the Kepler science team confirmed a new planet, dubbed Kepler-10c."

Image of a Psychedelic Stellar Nursery

"An all-time favorite of skywatchers on both hemispheres, the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8 or M8) is among the most striking examples of a stellar nursery in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. Visible in small telescopes and binoculars its fuzzy glow reveals the type of chaotic environment where new stars are born."

Einstein Was Right

NASA's Gravity Probe B Confirms Two Einstein Space-Time Theories

"NASA's Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission has confirmed two key predictions derived from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which the spacecraft was designed to test. The experiment, launched in 2004, used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the hypothesized geodetic effect, the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, the amount a spinning object pulls space and time with it as it rotates."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Astronomy category from May 2011.

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