November 13 News Items

SpaceX Protests Award of Launch Contract to Orbital (Source: Space News)
SpaceX has challenged an Air Force launch services order placed with Orbital Sciences Corp., arguing that under federal law the contract should have been competitively awarded. On Sep. 14, the Air Force issued a task order to Orbital to launch NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft using surplus missile hardware. Orbital has been launching government satellites with Minotaur rockets based on ballistic missile motors since 2000.

The five-stage Minotaur-5 rocket, the largest of the Minotaur family, has yet to make its debut. SpaceX believes it can provide the launch services with either its Falcon 1e or Falcon 9 rocket at a cost savings to the government. The Air Force never inquired with SpaceX as to whether it could meet the mission’s requirements, the company said. The protest could revive a long-running but recently dormant policy debate over whether the use of excess missile hardware to launch satellites undermines the U.S. commercial space industry.

SpaceX claims Orbital’s contract award violates the Commercial Space Act of 1998, which among other things requires the U.S. government to buy launch services from U.S. commercial providers whenever possible. The law also states that ballistic missiles cannot be used for space launches unless the secretary of defense certifies their use will result in cost savings to the government. SpaceX claims using the Minotaur-5 for this mission will not result in cost savings for the government, and that the government made no attempt to seek out alternative providers before issuing the contract. Click here to view the article. (11/13)

Ofeq-8 Nearing Launch on Israeli Rocket (Source: Space News)
Israel is readying its newest spy satellite, Ofeq-8, for launch by the middle of next year, but production orders for a next-generation Ofeq-9 are stalled pending a cost-sharing and technical agreement with a prospective partner country. The Ofeq-8, in final construction at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will be launched into low Earth orbit by Israel’s indigenous Shavit launcher, also built by IAI. Israel lost its Ofeq-6 in September 2004, when it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea due to an electrical malfunction that failed to ignite the Shavit’s third-stage motor. (11/13)

DigitalGlobe Raises Outlook on Strong 3Q Results (Source: Space News)
Commercial imagery satellite operator DigitalGlobe posted higher revenue and income for the third quarter of 2009 and raised its full-year outlook following the successful Oct. 8 launch of the company’s third high-resolution remote sensing satellite, WorldView-2. In a Nov. 10 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Longmont, Colo.-based company said net income for the three months ended Sept. 30 was up slightly, year over year, to $14.6 million. Revenue rose about 7.5 percent, to $71.8 million, compared with the same period last year. DigitalGlobe’s year-to-date net income, however, was down 16 percent to $33.6 million. (11/13)

Water Found on Moon, Scientists Say (Source: New York Times)
There is water on the Moon, scientists stated unequivocally on Friday, and considerable amounts of it. “Indeed yes, we found water,” Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator for NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, said in a news conference. The confirmation of scientists’ suspicions is welcome news both to future explorers who might set up home on the lunar surface and to scientists who hope that the water, in the form of ice accumulated over billions of years, could hold a record of the solar system’s history.

The satellite, known as Lcross (pronounced L-cross), slammed into a crater near the Moon’s south pole a month ago. The impact carved out a hole 60- to 100-feet wide and kicked up at least 24 gallons of water. “We got more than just whiff,” said Peter H. Schultz, a professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator of the mission. “We practically tasted it with the impact.” (11/13)

Defective Satellites Hobble Orbcomm’s Business (Source: Space News)
Satellite two-way messaging service provider Orbcomm said it is prepared to take its insurers to court to force them to pay a $50 million claim for satellite failures that occurred both during and after the period that the company’s policy was in effect. Orbcomm also said one of its key services, providing Automatic Identification System (AIS) data on ships to the U.S. Coast Guard and other customers, is at risk because of an apparently identical defect on six satellites launched in 2008. These satellites are the focus of the insurance dispute. The company has filed a $50 million claim with its insurers covering the loss of all six satellites.

Orbcomm is unlikely to get any in-orbit relief until late 2010 at the earliest. Sierra Nevada Corp. is building Orbcomm’s 18-satellite second-generation constellation under a $117 million contract signed in May 2008, and has promised to have the first group of six satellites ready for launch starting in late 2010. The 18 satellites will be launched by five SpaceX Falcon 1e rockets under a $46.6 million contract, with the launches to occur between late 2010 and early 2014. (11/13)

Why Ares-1 Should Fly (As a Satellite Launcher) (Source: SPACErePORT)
Last month, National Reconnaissance Office chief Bruce Carlson expressed his agency's growing frustration that its Atlas and Delta space launch options were too limited. With too few launch sites and only one launch company under contract, Carlson sees a bottleneck that inhibits our nation's capability to deliver intelligence-gathering satellites to orbit. That same month, a group of private-sector satellite operators formed the "Coalition for Competitive Launches" to expand the availability of Atlas-5 and Delta-4 rockets for commercial missions. Developed under the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, these highly capable rockets are marvels of engineering. But although they were intended for dual government/commercial role but they have remained largely unavailable for commercial missions.

From Carlson's perspective, according to Space News, "part of the solution is more NASA involvement in launch efforts." Without realizing it, NASA may already have done a huge favor to NRO and the Coalition for Competitive Launches. By funding technology development for Ares-1, and sponsoring risk-reduction with the recent Ares-1X test flight, NASA has positioned Alliant Techsystems (ATK) to enter the market for government and commercial satellite launches. If Ares-1 is canceled by NASA, ATK could propose to add an Ares-1-like vehicle to the Air Force's EELV program, meeting Carlson's desire to expand the number of launch sites, launch companies, and launch vehicles to meet our nation's large-satellite launch demand.

The big question is whether ATK could offer such a vehicle at a competitive price, including the cost for a new launch pad and processing facilities. SpaceX is way out in front of ATK on this opportunity, with a February 2010 debut for its Falcon-9, so ATK might also have some doubts about whether the government/commercial satellite market is strong enough to support four launch vehicle programs. If ATK does decide to pursue other markets for Ares-1, Florida's Space Coast (and the thousands of workers soon to lose their Space Shuttle jobs) would have the best of both worlds: an operational Ares-1 and whatever other system NASA develops to replace it. (11/13)

Excalibur Almaz Linked to Sea Launch Investment (Source: Space News)
The unidentified investor group providing initial financing to Sea Launch Co., the commercial launch provider that is in bankruptcy proceedings, includes an Isle of Man-based space tourism company, according to industry sources. The company, Excalibur Almaz Ltd., includes on its board George Abbey, former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; J. Buckner Hightower, described in company documents as chief fundraiser; Art Dula, who has a long history of dealing with Russian space ventures; and Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut. Excalibur Almaz was created in 2005 to refurbish Russia’s Almaz spacecraft and transform it into a capsule for week-long trips to space by paying customers. The company said it owns “several Almaz spacecraft, including reusable re-entry vehicles and space stations.” (11/13)

Editorial: Bring Sea Launch to Florida (Without the Ships) (Source: SPACErePORT)
The group of space industry investors poised to pull Sea Launch LLC out of bankruptcy should consider ditching the company's offshore launch platform in favor of launching their Ukrainian/Russian Zenit rockets from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Back in the early 1990s, before they went ahead with the floating-platform approach, the Sea Launch team was encouraged to consider operating on-land at the Cape, but at that time the Eastern Range was a much more expensive and difficult environment for new commercial companies, especially companies flying former Soviet Union rockets. A mid-Pacific platform could steer clear of landside red-tape, while offering heavier-lift and both equatorial and polar flight profiles.

With a launch rate averaging less than four per year since 1999, Sea Launch was never able to justify the sky-high cost for developing and operating their floating infrastructure. They also have yet to launch a non-equatorial mission. I would wager that their operating costs are currently higher than if they were launching from a land-based spaceport, even with the associated red-tape. The main benefit they've accrued from operating at sea has been their ability to launch heavier satellites due to their equatorial location. In a move apparently intended to reduce costs for lighter satellite launches, the company has already begun to move some missions to a "Land Launch" operation at Kazakhstan's Baikonur spaceport.

Times have changed at the Eastern Range, and the environment now seems more accommodating for new commercial launchers, including rockets with major foreign components. Adding the Zenit to the Cape's stable of launch vehicles could be a game-changer for the company, positioning it not only for lower-cost commercial launches, but also potentially for U.S. government missions if the Air Force and NASA get serious about expanding the number of competitors eligible to launch their payloads. (11/13)

NASA Offers $400,000 Prize for Super Space Glove (SourcE: InfoWorld)
If you can build a high-tech glove that can move easily and operate effectively in the vacuum of space, NASA may have $400,000 for your effort. That’s the amount of money up for grabs in the 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge set for Nov. 19 at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla. NASA said the competition will test gloves from at least two contestants that will measure the gloves' dexterity and strength during operation in a glove box that simulates the vacuum of space. The challenge will be conducted by Volanz Aerospace in a format that brings all competitors to a single location for a "head to head" competition to determine the winning Team(s). (11/13)

Shuttle Logistics Facility Considered for DOD Operations (Source: Space Florida)
A high-level team from the Pentagon and NASA HQ will meet on Nov. 16 to discuss potential opportunities to use the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot (NSLD) at Cape Canaveral for the repair and refurbishment of military hardware returning from Iraq over the next two-to-five years. The estimated value of refurbishment activity is $25B. Pilot projects at the NSLD have demostrated its capability to perform this type of work.

If the bid for NSLD consideration is successful, the work could maintain (and possibly grow) the existing 300+ engineers and technicians presently committed to maintaining flight hardware and ground support equipment for the Shuttle Program at the NSLD, which is scheduled to be closed (and its employees laid off) next year. Progress to date has been funded and orchestrated by the Department of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program. (11/13)

NASA Studies Heavy-Lift Rocket Alternatives (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
In the wake of criticism that NASA's next-generation Constellation Program rockets are behind schedule and over budget, teams of agency engineers are hastily reviewing alternative designs for a new heavy-lift rocket. Among the options they are looking at: a rocket made of the space shuttle's external fuel tank, engines and solid-rocket boosters that has been championed by freelance engineers and hobbyists, and a successor to the Saturn V that once carried astronauts to the moon.

The study, ordered last month by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as a "top priority," is supposed to be finished by Thanksgiving so Bolden can present it to President Barack Obama to help him chart a new course for America's space policy. Bolden told managers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Kennedy Space Center to set up a "special team" to evaluate alternatives to the Constellation Program's Ares rockets. The first launch of Ares I — scheduled for 2015 — could be delayed until 2017.

The study team is focused on designs that can be developed quickly and cheaply, using existing engines and motors. The team is trying to figure out how much each would cost to launch and operate — and whether it could be upgraded later to a more-powerful version if funding becomes available. Still, it remains unclear whether any of the designs will be seriously considered by the Obama administration — or whether there will be enough money to build any of them during the next decade. Click here to view the article. (11/13)

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