September 20 News Items

Air Force Changing Procurement Approach for Atlas-5, Delta-4 (Source: Space News)
The Air Force is changing the way it buys Atlas-5 and Delta-4 rockets from United Launch Alliance (ULA) in a bid to cut costs and increase throughput at its launch ranges, which have suffered from bottlenecks in recent years, according to a service official. Col. Gary Henry, commander of the Air Force Launch Range Systems Wing, said the service plans to begin buying Atlas-5 and Delta-4 rockets in blocks, assigning satellite payloads to individual vehicles at a later date. Under current practice, the Air Force buys the rockets one at a time for specific payloads roughly three years ahead of the target launch date.

The Air Force also is considering changing how it pays Denver-based ULA to maintain two launch vehicle production lines when demand in recent years has only been sufficient to support one at healthy production rates. The Air Force currently has separate Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Capability contracts with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which developed the rockets separately prior to the 2006 creation of ULA. The EELV Launch Capability contracts do not cover individual launches; rather, they pay for infrastructure, workforce and overhead costs associated with maintaining the two production lines. “We are working with ULA to consolidate those into a single contract, and that will help generate some efficiencies on the business side,” Henry said.

Buying those rockets in bulk would give the Air Force better economies of scale and decoupling them from specific payloads at the time of purchase — such vehicles are referred to in industry parlance as white tails — would provide more flexibility in terms of scheduling launches, Henry said. The current scheme has created bottlenecks at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. — by far the busier of the Air Force’s two main launch ranges — due in part to satellites not being delivered on time. Having a stable of rockets available to be assigned as payloads roll off the production line would help alleviate the problem, Henry said. (9/19)

Garver: No Change for the Sake of Change (Source: Space News)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says she and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden have spent much of their first 60 days in office preparing the agency to chart the course it will pursue under U.S. President Barack Obama. “We didn’t come here to have change for change’s sake, but to more effectively manage NASA’s unique capabilities and resources for the better of the country,” Garver said in a Sept. 16 interview here. “We are … formulating a plan for going forward and obviously working with the mission directorates to see that they are going to be willing to take on the challenges of where it is the space agency plans to go under this administration.” (9/19)

NASA Officials Warn of Tight Budgets Ahead (Source: Space News)
Tight budgets will mean NASA must make its mission relevant to the American public, inspiring young people to enter technical and scientific fields and delivering new capabilities that grapple with climate change and assist with natural disasters around the globe, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said Sep. 16. Although she mentioned space exploration in passing, Garver studiously avoided discussion of the agency’s post-space shuttle manned spaceflight plans during a speech at an AIAA conference in California. Instead, Garver urged NASA to evolve and become more open to cooperative teaming arrangements with the commercial sector and international partners. (9/19)

Former Hill Aide To Lead NASA Legislative Affairs (Source: Space News)
A former aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is expected to be named to head NASA’s legislative affairs office, according to government sources. L. Seth Statler is currently acting assistant commissioner of congressional affairs at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in the Department of Homeland Security. He previously served Hoyer as a member of the House Appropriations Committee staff. Prior to working for Hoyer, Statler served as a legislative aide to former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), according to the site, which states that Statler earned a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Maryland. (9/20)

NASA Launches Rocket at Virginia Spaceport, Dozens Report Strange Lights (Source: AP)
NASA says it successfully launched a rocket in Virginia as part of an experiment, and the blast may have caused dozens of people to report seeing strange lights in the sky. The space agency said it launched the Black Brant XII on Saturday evening to gather data on the highest clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. About the time of the launch, dozens of people in the Northeast started calling local television stations to report seeing strange lights. The calls came from as far away as Boston, which is about 380 miles northeast of the launch site. The rocket is designed to create an artificial cloud. NASA hopes the experiment will provide information on the formation and properties of noctilucent clouds, which occur at high altitudes. (9/20)

Lift Off for SpaceX (Source: Florida Today)
After just five launches, SpaceX. has landed a pair of commercial contracts to use its Falcon 1e rocket to launch satellites. It's too early to say if this success means the California company is NASA's best hope for the commercial development of space, which appears to be the approach set for the future direction of the U.S. space effort. However, the contract awards for the 7-year-old SpaceX show that a U.S. launch enterprise can compete in the international launch market. SpaceX has won a contract to loft 18 satellites, weighing 330 pounds each, for ORBCOMM of New Jersey. It also signed a deal to launch an Earth observation satellite for European aerospace giant EADS Astrium. In both cases, SpaceX won in open competition on the world launch market, which includes several government-supported launch companies and a couple of established U.S. companies who rely heavily on the U.S. government and military business. (9/20)

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