April 19, 2011

Assessing the CCDev-2 Losers (Source: NewSpace Journal)
So what about some of the companies that didn’t make the CCDev-2 cut? Perhaps the biggest surprise was that ULA didn’t receive any funding. The company was one of five first-round CCDev awardees and its launch vehicles factor significantly into the plans of other commercial crew development companies. ULA is likely to be back for future activities here, although perhaps as part of multiple teams rather than a standalone competitor.

Excalibur Almaz was a surprise finalist for CCDev-2, though few details about their proposal have been released. Iit’s likely the company will continue its commercial activities, although at what externally appears to be a slow pace. Orbital Sciences made a big splash last year with its commercial crew development plans, using a lifting body concept called Prometheus launched on an EELV. Failure to secure a CCDev-2 award will put the company into a tough spot. They may instead focus on their Cygnus commercial cargo program and Taurus 2 launcher.

Another surprise entry into CCDev-2 was ATK with their Ares-1 based Liberty rocket. Without CCDev-2 funding, will ATK continue work on this project? Moreover, would it be cost-competitive against alternatives like the Falcon Heavy? Finally, USA put forward a proposal to continue flying two of the orbiters, Atlantis and Endeavour, commercially. USA was not among the CCDev-2 finalists and their proposal was judged “an extremely long shot”. That may be an understatement now. (4/19)

NASA's Heavy-Lift Language (Source: Space Politics)
There is the language in the appropriations bill about a “130-ton” heavy-lift launch vehicle. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) took credit for that, saying he “added language to the final Continuing Resolution for 2011 that requires NASA to fully develop its heavy lift capability.” Last week Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) said he had worked with Shelby and others to get that provision into the final bill. Shelby added the provision “saves over 500 jobs at the Marshall Space Flight Center”.

That language has raised concerns that it short-circuits the NASA authorization act last year that mandated a 70- to 100-ton vehicle that could later be upgraded to at least 130 tons. A congressional source said that’s not the case. Early versions of the language did call for an initial lift capacity of 130 tons, but that word was stricken from later versions.

The language does require NASA to work simultaneously on the core elements as well as an upper stage that may be specific to the 130-ton version, but that work does not have to take place at the same pace, allowing NASA to focus more attention on an initial, smaller version while assuring Congress that it will evolve it later to the ultimate capacity. (4/19)

Editorial: Misplaced Priorities in Congress (Source: Space News)
One might think that Congress, having given itself an extra six months to pass a budget for 2011, now already half over, would get the easy funding decisions right. In the case of civil space, and in particular a next-generation weather satellite system, lawmakers flat out blew it. In providing just $382 million for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), brushing aside appeals from the White House and NOAA for an additional $528 million, lawmakers have all but guaranteed there will be a gap in U.S. weather forecasting capabilities.

Meanwhile, in a demonstration that Congress is primarily concerned with where taxpayer dollars are spent, rather than how, the budget bill provides $3 billion for deep space exploration hardware that for the moment has no mission. It seems unlikely in the lean budgetary years ahead that there will be funding to conduct meaningful exploration with the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle and the super-heavy-lift Space Launch System.

It isn’t like Congress didn’t have time to think this through. Capitol Hill got its first look at President Obama’s 2011 request in Feb.2010. Yes, the NASA request was highly controversial, and the White House failed to take into account the industrial-base implications of its proposal. But lawmakers have been at least as myopic, to the point of dictating the specifications of a giant rocket that would fly only rarely — perhaps once every year or two — yet require a standing army to maintain at a huge cost. (4/19)

SpaceX Wins NASA Contract to Complete Development Shuttle Successor (Source: SpaceX)
NASA has SpaceX $75 million to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. The Congressionally mandated award is part of the agency's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative that started in 2009.

"With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014," according to Elon Musk. He said the flight-proven Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft represent the safest and fastest path to American crew transportation capability. (4/19)

$92 Million for New Space Capsule (Source: Orange County Register)
Boeing has received $92 million from NASA to continue building a new, Apollo-style space capsule that carries seven astronauts and could become a workhorse for low-Earth-orbit transfers of astronauts and cargo. The contract, announced by Boeing Monday, will include Boeing Phantom Works in Huntington Beach and at least three other locations around the country.

Boeing is in the midst of deciding which parts of the contract would be carried out in each location, along with the precise number of workers assigned to the project, though the total is likely to grow from about 70 or 75 to between 200 and 250, said John Elbon, vice president and program manager for Boeing Commercial Crew Programs.

The new spacecraft, called the Crew Space Transportation vehicle or CST-100, might do more than ferry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. It could also supply a private venture, an inflatable space station being developed by Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas. And it would not splash down in the ocean, as the Apollo capsules did. It would land at White Sands (New Mexico), or Edwards Air Force Base. (4/19)

India's Dead End in Space (Source: Forbes)
"April is the cruelest month," wrote T.S. Eliot. In the next few weeks, India’s space agency will experience that firsthand as the unforgiving gaze of public scrutiny turns towards it. Two high-stake launches — that of a polar orbiting rocket and a communication satellite — are scheduled for this month and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) cannot afford to go wrong with them.

The unqualified admiration it elicited from the public for its success with the moon mission in 2009 seems like a distant memory now. A year of glitches in satellites and rockets rounded off with allegations of a scam has put ISRO under immense pressure and its credibility is in question like never before. If nothing else, ISRO has been guilty in recent years of letting its public image deteriorate steadily and of doing nothing to arrest the slide by encouraging an open debate about its functioning.

The situation spun out of control when a series of mishaps hit and the public turned skeptical about the space agency. The failure of the indigenously developed cryogenic engine in April 2010 and then the crash of the launch vehicle GSLV-F06 in December were bad enough, but the nation soon came in for another nasty surprise: The ISRO-Devas Multimedia deal for broadband spectrum that politicians and media described as a scam bigger than the 2G corruption scandal. (4/19)

PSLV Launch Countdown Progresses Smoothly (Source: CIOL)
India's next Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle is expected to blast off on Wednesday at 10.12 a.m. and will carry a total payload of 1,404 kg. The 54.5-hour countdown for the April 20 launch of the PSLV rocket, which will put India's Resourcesat-2 and two other satellites into orbit, is progressing smoothly in Sriharikota. (4/19)

Sierra Nevada Corp. Gets $80M From NASA for Space Project (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s space division, based in Louisville, received $80 million in NASA funding, officials announced Monday. The financial boost is expected to create 100 new jobs in the area. The space division of Sierra Nevada Corp. is developing the Dream Chaser reusable spaceplane to transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). (4/19)

Upcoming Launch at Wallops Expected to Attract Hundreds (Source: WHSV)
The upcoming launch of a military satellite is expected to bring hundreds to the lower Eastern Shore. The surveillance satellite is scheduled for launch aboard a Minotaur rocket in May or June from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. More than 250 invited guests are expected for the launch. And about 50 employees working on the launch will arrive four to six weeks before launch. (4/19)

Editorial: Dayton, Houston Earned Space Shuttles (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
NASA's recent announcement concerning the final destinations of the space shuttles was supposed to be based upon qualifications that were clear, measurable and unbiased. The "winning" cities had to demonstrate how they met the criteria set by the agency, which included educational programs to teach and inspire youth to pursue knowledge in the sciences, accessibility, display plans and climate-controlled housing.

No one can say that the selection criteria were flawed, and it would be difficult to prove that each of the winners did not meet every one of them. So given the understandable disappointment on the part of the 17 cities that did not receive a prize, how can a case be made that the process was anything but fair? (4/19)

50th Space Wing Officials Accept Ground System Upgrades (Source: USAF)
Officials at the 50th Space Wing in Colorado accepted two Global Positioning System ground system upgrades during a ceremony on April 14. The ceremony signified a group effort between wing, Air Force Space Command and the Space and Missile Systems Center officials and their continued commitment to improve and maintain the current GPS Operational Control Segment leading up to the next generation ground segment set to be deployed in 2015. (4/19)

Observers Confirm Identity of Last Week's Atlas Payload (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The National Reconnaissance Office has successfully deployed vital replacement spacecraft over the past seven months to rejuvenate nearly all of its satellite constellations. The secretive government agency responsible for designing and operating the U.S. fleet of spy satellites conducted this remarkable launch surge in a tightly packed timeframe using Atlas 5, Delta 4-Medium and -Heavy rockets, plus the light Minotaur 1 vehicle. Click here for the rundown. (4/19)

Latest SpaceX Engine Test Could Make For A Good Show (Source: KWTX)
The latest in a series of rocket tests may be a sight to see. SpaceX has announced their plans for a 90 second test to occur before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19. Kirstin Brost, communications manager for SpaceX, said "Given that the test may occur after dark, local residents may get a good view of the flames shooting out of the engines from our test stand." (4/19)

California Manufacturer AR Tech Wins Space Launch Company Award (Source: AR Tech)
United Launch Alliance LLC awarded AR Tech, a subsidiary of A&R Tarpaulins Inc., its 2010 Small Business Recognition Award. The space launch company chose AR Tech from among many of its worldwide suppliers of products and services. Founded in 1976, the Fontana-based company has provided United Launch Alliance with fabric aerospace products since ULA’s inception over four years ago. (4/19)

South African Minister Launches the IAU Global Office of Astronomy for Development (Source: IAU)
The South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, today launched the IAU Global Office of Astronomy for Development at the headquarters of the South African Astronomical Observatory. The Global Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) is a partnership between the IAU and the South African National Research Foundation to coordinate a wide range of worldwide activities designed to use astronomy as a tool for education and development. (4/19)

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