January 16, 2012

Stuck in a High-Priced Box (Source: OpenMarket.org)
ULA just got an Air Force contract for nine launches, which I guess means they didn’t get the 40-launch block buy they were hoping for, and that SpaceX (and the GAO) has been fighting against. The price? One and a half billion bucks. That's about $170 million per launch. Their problem is a classic one of the launch industry — fixed costs too high, and flight rate too low, resulting in high cost per flight, which in turn makes it harder to get more business to increase the flight rate to bring down their prices.

The only thing keeping them alive is that, for now, they have a monopoly sustained by the government because it can’t afford to lose the capability for satellite delivery. But if Falcon Heavy becomes reality, and builds up a reliability record at a price of $120 million a flight, ULA will be in a world of hurt. They aren’t helped by the fact that Congress refuses to consider allowing NASA to use them for its human exploration activities, instead insisting that the agency build its own ridiculously large rocket and expensive for which no one else will have a use.

ULA has two options: continue to lobby the government to subsidize them, or to use some of the money they’re getting for this purchase to invest in reducing their costs to compete. Presumably, as one example, that’s why they’ve been working with XCOR to develop a replacement for the RL-10 upper-stage engine (which if they succeed will in turn put a lot of pressure on another high-cost aerospace company, Pratt & Whitney-Rocketdyne). But ultimately, real competition is the only way that we’re going to reduce the costs to the levels we need to do useful things in space. (1/16)

A Step Closer to Mapping the Earth in 3D (Source: Space Daily)
After a year in service, the German Earth observation satellite TanDEM-X, together with its twin satellite, TerraSAR-X, have completely mapped the entire land surface of Earth for the first time. The data is being used to create the world's first single-source, high-precision, 3D digital elevation model of Earth. (1/16)

Florida Lunar X-Prize Team Adds New Partner (Source: Omega Envoy)
Omega Envoy, the Floridian team that is competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) is proud to announce that they have gained another high-quality partner – Workforce Central Florida. Workforce Central Florida (WCF) is the region’s workforce expert, an authority for workforce planning, programs, and the labor market. WCF connects employers to the largest pool of talent in the area and provides worker resources and training. (1/16)

LightSquared Claims Bias in GPS Interference Testing (Source: Space News)
LightSquared is charging “bias and inappropriate collusion” following the latest round of U.S. government testing that showed the company’s revised operating plan for its hybrid satellite-terrestrial broadband network serving North America will cause harmful interference to GPS applications.

LightSquared, backed by hedge fund billionaire Philip Falcone, also said it filed a complaint with NASA’s inspector general Jan. 12 claiming the process by which the government evaluated its network was compromised by a conflict of interest. One of the government’s key advisers on the matter, the company said, is a board member of Trimble, a major manufacturer of the GPS receiver equipment affected by the interference issue. (1/16)

Kepler Space Telescope Could Find Exomoons (Source: Physics World)
NASA's Kepler space telescope could be used to find exomoons, which are the moons of planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. That is the claim of an international team of astronomers, which says that careful analysis of data collected by Kepler could reveal if such exoplanets are circled by moons. The results could have major implications for astronomers' understanding of how moons form. It could even provide important information about the probability of there being life elsewhere in the universe. (1/16)

Russians on ISS Drill Manual Docking Operation (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russians of the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 30 crew are improving their manual docking skills ahead of the arrival of the first this year Progress cargo spacecraft, which will be blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on January 26. “Today, flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Oleg Kononenko have a three-hour training session on the TORU (Teleoperated Mode of Control) subsystem, the Mission Control Centre (MCC) outside Moscow told Itar-Tass on Monday. (1/16)

Florida Aims to Draw Unmanned Aircraft Industry (Source: Destin Log)
The president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, the agency responsible for attracting new businesses, says Florida lags behind other states but is catching up. Gray Swoope was the keynote speaker Friday at the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council’s roundtable symposium at Ramada Plaza Beach Resort. The session’s theme was “A New Perspective of Economic Development in Florida.”

One of the fastest growing industries in the country — which Florida and Northwest Florida are both targeting — is the development and operation of unmanned vehicles. Mark Bontrager, vice president of Space Florida, also spoke at Friday’s breakfast. The main goal of Space Florida is to position the state as a global leader in the space and aerospace industries.

The federal government soon will designate six specific areas around the country for unmanned air flights. Bontrager hopes one or more of them will be in Florida. “We want to help position Florida as the place to test, manufacture and develop applications for these very, very important systems,” Bontrager said. The EDC already has made unmanned vehicles a priority and created a group last year focused on bringing more development to the area. Click here. (1/16)

NSSFL Introduces "Space Locals" Lecture Series (Source: NSSFL)
The Central Florida chapter of the National Space Society introduces an exciting new venture for our members: Space Locals. This monthly series will feature space professionals who work locally for the benefit of space science or the space industry. Unlike a traditional lecture series, these talks will be part lecture and part group discussion. All attendees are welcome and encouraged to participate regardless of training or background. This will be an opportunity for anyone in our community to learn about and express opinions on the topic of the month.

Our inaugural event on Feb. 4 will feature Dr. Philip Metzger on the topic of using robotics and space resources. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at 2:00 p.m. at the Cypriana Restaurant on East Colonial Drive. Click here for details. (1/16)

Virginia Governor Touts Commercial Space Growth at Wallops Island (Source: Spaceports Blog)
"Growing commercial space industry at Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore" of Virgina were amoung the remarks of Virginia's Governor Robert F. McDonnell in his 2012 State of the Commonwealth address to state legislators and the citizens of the state. McDonnell has been a strong supporter of the ongoing commercial spaceport infrastructure development at the Virginia-based commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

He suported a nearly $3-million state revenue operating boost in the last two-years and he has proposed $4-million in the next two-year state budget for the spaceport. The Virginia governor is leading a strong reorganizational effort of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, in keeping with his gubernatorial campaign promise to do so. State Delegate Joe May is leading the administration's legislative effort in the House while Sen. Mark Herring offers the bill in the Senate. (1/16)

SpaceX Postpones Station-bound Dragon Launch (Source: Space News)
SpaceX has postponed the scheduled Feb. 7 launch of its Dragon logistics capsule to the international space station for unspecified reasons. “We believe there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work and will optimize the safety and success of the mission,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said. “We are now working with NASA to establish a new target launch date, but note that we will continue to test and review data. We will launch when the vehicle is ready.” (1/16)

ULA Names Mike Leinbach Director of Human Spaceflight Operations (Source: SpaceRef.com)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that Mike Leinbach has joined the company as the Director of Human Spaceflight Operations. "We are fortunate to have Mike with his wealth of human spaceflight experience join the ULA team," said George Sowers, ULA's vice president of Business Development.

"His background in leading overall space shuttle launch activities for more than a decade, executing 37 space shuttle launches, will be invaluable as we develop human spaceflight capabilities for our Atlas and Delta systems." Prior to joining ULA, Leinbach had a distinguished 27-year career with NASA at Kennedy Space Center. Beginning in 2000, he led the launch team for all space shuttle missions. (1/16)

Big Science in an Era of Tight Budgets (Source: Space Review)
Advances in astronomy are dependent in part on the development of new large -- and expensive -- observatories on the ground and in space. Jeff Foust reports on the concerns raised by astronomers and other scientists that constrained budgets could threaten to put advances in astronomy on hold. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2007/1 to view the article. (1/16)

US Rebuffs Draft EU Code of Conduct: Is Something Waiting in the Wings? (Source: Space Review)
Last week a top State Department official announced that the US had decided not sign on the European Union's proposed space Code of Conduct. Michael Listner examines the reasons for that move and if the administration has an alternative approach in the works. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2006/1 to view the article. (1/16)

Mystery Persists Over Russian Spacecraft Fall Site (Source: AP)
Russian officials say they still have no firm information where a failed Mars moon probe plummeted to Earth, the day after it went down. News agencies had cited Defense Ministry spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin as saying Sunday that fragments of the craft fell in the Pacific Ocean off Chile's coast. But Zolotukhin told The Associated Press Monday that estimate was based on calculations, and no witness reports had been received. The deputy head of Russia's space agency, Anatoly Shilov, told state news channel Vesti that agency data assumed the craft broke up somewhere over Brazil. (1/16)

Volunteers Wanted for Planet Hunt (Source: BBC)
Members of the public are being asked to join the hunt for nearby planets that could support life. Volunteers can go to the Planethunters website to see time-lapsed images of 150,000 stars, taken by the Kepler space telescope. They will be advised on the signs that indicate the presence of a planet and how to alert experts if they spot them. "We know that people will find planets that are missed by the computer," said Chris Lintott from Oxford University. (1/15)

Climate Cycle Reveals Titan as Earth-Like (Source: Cosmos)
Saturn's moon Titan is more Earth-like than thought, with two distinct layers in the lower atmosphere that affect the moon's wind patterns, dune spacing and cloud formation. Researchers used a three-dimensional climate model of Titan's atmosphere together with an analysis of dune locations and measurements from the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe to discover how the moon's lowermost atmosphere interacts with its surface. (1/16)

ISRO Declines to Disclose Probe Report on Antrix-Devas Deal (Source: Economic Times)
India's premier space agency ISRO has declined to make public the report by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed high-level committee, which went into alleged irregularities in the controversial S-Band spectrum deal between Devas Multimedia and its commercial arm Antrix Corporation. While hearing an appeal filed under the Right to Information Act, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said the disclosure of information would impede the process of investigation and declined the copies of the report. (1/16)

Pentagon Interest in Cybersecurity, Space May Ease Contractors’ Pain from Cuts (Source: Washington Post)
Plans by the Pentagon to invest more in cybersecurity and space-based capabilities may ease the blow for defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin that are facing cuts in other programs. The Defense Department intends to beef up spending on computer network protections and satellite intelligence systems while targeting troops for cuts under a global strategy released last week. Funding levels, which were not specified, will be detailed in next month’s federal budget proposal. (1/16)

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