June 15, 2013

NanoRacks Gains Venture Funding (Source: Xconomy)
NanoRacks, the Houston space-science startup located a stone’s throw away from NASA, announced today it has raised $2.6 million. Emerge, a Brussels-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage startups in telecom and e-commerce, is the lead investor to the tune of $1.5 million in the Series A round for NanoRacks. Chris Cummins, NanoRacks’ CFO, says the remainder of the investment is largely from individuals from Texas and California.

He added that the money will be used to fund development of the company’s external platform—a test bed for advanced electronics and materials experiments—that is mounted outside onto the International Space Station. It would be located on the “back porch” of the station’s Japanese module. Being outside in space “gives you an entirely different environment for radiation; there’s a vacuum,” says Jeffrey Manber, NanoRacks’ CEO and founder. NanoRacks next plans to return to space in April 2014. (6/14)

FCC Probes ‘Warehousing’ of Satellite Orbital Locations (Source: TV Technology)
In the fixed satellite service (FSS) two companies-- Intelsat and SES Americom--dominate the listings for fixed satellite service, while EchoStar and DirecTV dominate the DBS listing. Satellite operators with a large fleets have advantages when a satellite fails--witness how Intelsat handled the Galaxy 15 “zombie satellite” with little interruption to either its customers or those using the SES Americom satellites that Galaxy 15 passed on its trip east.
Such a concentration of licenses and orbital locations--particularly in the FSS--has lead to allegations that certain FSS operators are “warehousing” sat orbital locations and frequencies, and are keeping competitors from purchasing slots on their birds. That assertion comes from a Notice of Inquiry (FCC 13-79) released late last week.

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry states: “The questions we ask in this Notice are intended to solicit comment about the effects of this consolidation. In particular, we seek information about whether FSS providers that have vertically integrated are engaging in vertical foreclosure or other conduct that has harmed consumers of satellite communication services; or whether satellite operators are engaging in conduct that has resulted in efficiencies and lower costs that benefit consumers. (6/13)

GenCorp Completes Acquisition of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (Source: Parabolic Arc)
GenCorp announced today that it has completed the acquisition of substantially all operations of the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne business from United Technologies Corp. GenCorp will combine Rocketdyne with Aerojet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GenCorp, and the combined businesses will operate as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc., headquartered in Sacramento, California.

As part of the Rocketdyne transaction, GenCorp will acquire UTC’s 50% interest in the RD Amross joint venture following receipt of Russian regulatory approvals. “The addition of Rocketdyne almost doubles the size of our company and provides additional growth opportunities as we build upon the complementary capabilities of each legacy company, including their talented people and innovative technologies.” (6/14)

Florida Space Tourism: Major Star Wars Expansion Planned at Disney World (Source: Theme Park Insider)
It looks as though Walt Disney World has gotten the green light for a project to remake the Disney's Hollywood Studios park. Multiple sources have told me the long-awaited dream of theme park geeks everywhere is actually happening. Disney's moving ahead with both Cars Land and Star Wars Land at the Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. This appears to be a five-year project, putting completion in 2018, though Disney could choose to throw money at it and accelerate it by a year. (6/13)

Collins & Lampson: Space Exploration Is Imperative to Innovation and Inspiration (Source: Huffington Post)
Space exploration is remarkably compelling for most Americans, a challenging pursuit that distinguishes the United States as a global leader, while ensuring a steady stream of innovative technologies that strengthen the economy and, just as importantly, inspiring our youth to dream big.

Starting with our individual careers as a NASA astronaut and a member of Congress, we've regularly witnessed the enthusiasm and pride that accompany our space exploration endeavors. Those observations have not changed with our more recent professional activities, which often place us before audiences of all ages. Whether it's a gathering of community leaders, business and professional groups or school children, those we encounter are awed by American accomplishments in space. They are full of questions about what we intend to do next and what it means for them.

As a nation, we must put politics aside to ensure that expanding the space frontier occupies a prominent place on our national agenda. We need strategic, adequately funded and aggressively paced programs to keep America at the summits of technical innovation and exploration. Click here. (6/13)

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission May Lack a Viable Target (Source: Innerspace.net)
A Future in Space Operations presentation earlier this week by Dan Adamo, which can be found here, highlights a potential serious problem with NASA’s proposed asteroid capture mission. The presentation focuses on a “V” plot  which shows a range of Near Earth Asteroids grouped into three different classes by their orbital characteristics.  Some NEAs falling within in the V meet the basic guidelines as outlined in the NEO HSF Accessible Targets Study (HNATS) for a crewed mission.  

The guidelines call for the asteroid to be in a certain size range, be accessible with a certain minimal velocity change to get there and back, as well as fall within the a few degrees of Earth’s own orbital plane. Finally, the asteroid’s orbits must place them within reach of Earth’s within the time frame of the proposal, by 2030. There are a number of known NEAs which might otherwise be ideal, but which are on long orbits which carry them too far from Earth for consideration.

As it turns out, even though the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) relieves NASA of the difficulties of an extended duration manned mission to travel to an asteroid and study it, the new criteria imposed; a close Earth approach, diameter of 7 – 10 meters, and a mass of around 500 metric tons, appears to reduce the number of possible targets to zero. Meaning that as of this  moment, NASA does not have a target that aligns with the plan to capture and return to it Cis-Lunar orbit in time to neatly coincide with an early mission for the Orion spacecraft. Oops. (6/14)

Draft NASA Authorization Bill Nixes Asteroid Retrieval Mission (Source: Space News)
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has  begun drafting a NASA authorization bill that would hold the agency to a top line of about $16.87 billion, bar funding for a planned asteroid rendezvous mission, and divert money for Earth observation into robotic missions to other parts of the solar system, according to an official summary of the bill.

The bill also would authorize NASA to spend $700 million annually on the Commercial Crew Program --  up from the $500 million Congress authorized in 2010  --  and require the agency to report every 90 days on the effort. Click here. The House Science space subcommittee has scheduled a June 19 hearing on the NASA Authorization Act of 2013.  NASA Advisory Council Chairman Steven Squyres and former Martin Marietta chief executive A. Thomas Young have been called to testify. Click here. (6/14)

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