June 22, 2013

Can Far-Out Funding Strategies Save Space Exploration? (Source: The Verge)
Once in orbit, the Sunjammer solar sail will unfurl, catch the energy of solar wind — essentially a stream of charged particles — and gently pull the craft towards the Sun. The Sunjammer will also carry the cremated remains of a few hundred wealthy Earthlings, stowed in metal discs that serve as ballast for the craft and protect it by absorbing solar radiation.

Paid submissions of text, photos, sounds, and video from thousands more — profound thoughts, surely, but probably also memes, pet photos and YouTube clips — will fill the radiation-hardened drives onboard. The probe's name will be linked to a corporate sponsor — the Mercedes Sunjammer, perhaps, or the Pepsi Sunjammer, making it the first spacecraft funded by the sale of naming rights. Click here. (6/21)

Aerojet Rocketdyne To Support Competing Hydrocarbon Engines (Source: Aviation Week)
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s merger leaves the company with two entries in the NASA competition for a propulsion system to power advanced strap-on boosters for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) in development, and the company apparently will keep both in play until the market makes a choice.

Aerojet has been building on work with the U.S. Air Force to propose a 1-million-lb.-thrust, hydrocarbon-fuel engine designated the AJ-1E6 for the NASA application, which would use four of the staged ox-rich combustion cycle rocket engines to power each of the twin strap-on boosters needed to get the SLS to the 130-metric-ton capability mandated by Congress.

Meanwhile, Rocketdyne is teamed with Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., on a $73.3 million study contract to demonstrate components of an Apollo-era F-1 kerosene main engine, updated with modern manufacturing techniques, to power the advanced boosters. At 1.8 million lb. of thrust, only two of the big old engines would be needed for each booster. (6/21)

Europe Tests Reusable Spaceship (Source: Reuters)
The European Space Agency is preparing to launch an experimental reusable spaceship next summer following a successful atmospheric test flight this week. A mock-up built by Thales Alenia Space was dropped from a helicopter flying 1.9 miles above the Mediterranean near Sardinia on Wednesday to check its handling and parachute system, company officials said.

The 14.4 foot long (4.4 meter) craft, known as "IXV" as it is an intermediate experimental vehicle, splashed down in the ocean and was retrieved by an awaiting ship. The test flight clears IXV for a follow-on demonstration run beyond the Earth's atmosphere in August next year. That program, in turn, paves the way for an orbital prototype dubbed "Pride", slated to launch in 2018. (6/21)

U.S. Hopes Court Ruling, New Studies Will Break Impasse on MUOS Station (Source: Space News)
U.S. government officials hope an Italian appeals court ruling and results from a pair of health studies, all expected within a month, will help break an impasse that has halted work on a critical U.S. military satellite ground station in Sicily.

Construction of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) ground station in Niscemi, Italy, was halted in April following months of protests sparked by concerns about harmful electromagnetic radiation that might be emitted from the site. The station is one of four being built for MUOS, a U.S. Navy satellite system intended to serve mobile forces.

U.S. officials say the Sicilian ground station remains on schedule for now, but that every day construction crews are idle will make the deadline for completion more difficult to meet. Crews will need 14 months to complete the project once the work resumes, leaving little room for additional delays given that MUOS is planned to be fully operational by 2015. (6/21)

Lawmakers on Both Sides, Experts Pick Apart Draft NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Space News)
U.S. House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized a draft NASA authorization bill for underfunding an already overburdened agency, while expert witnesses warned that the proposed legislation would ultimately undermine the expanded human spaceflight enterprise its authors sought to create.

The latter point was driven home when Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) asked during a June 19 congressional hearing when NASA would be able to land astronauts on Mars — a central goal of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s initial draft of the 2013 NASA Authorization Act — if it was held to the funding levels outlined in the bill. Click here. (6/21)

US Team Captures Gold in 2013 International Rocketry Challenge (Source: Raytheon)
Three students from the Georgetown, Texas, 4-H rocketry club took home gold medals after placing first in the sixth annual International Rocketry Challenge at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. The U.S. team, sponsored by Raytheon, reclaimed the title from the French team, which placed second. The U.K. team finished third. Each team was congratulated by the President of France, Francois Hollande.

The International Rocketry Challenge is the culmination of three separate competitions held annually around the globe -- the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), UKAYRoC and the French Rocketry Challenge. Each contest brings together teams of middle and high school students to design, build and launch model rockets in hopes of inspiring young minds to become engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). (6/21)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes Tests on America's Next Rocket Engine (Source: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
The leading rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (GY) company, announced today that it successfully completed the first in a series of full motion hot-fire tests on the J-2X engine at John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. NASA has selected the J-2X as the upper-stage propulsion for the evolved 143-ton (130-metric ton) Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle.

"This successful test was extremely important in that it provided valuable information on how the engine will operate during flight as it steers humans aboard the Space Launch System to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit and ultimately to Mars," said Walt Janowski, program manager, Aerojet Rocketdyne. "The live fire also gives us an opportunity to ensure that the A-1 test stand, where the J-2X was gimbaled, will be ready to test the RS-25 engines, which will be used to power the core stage of the SLS in 2017." (6/21)

NASA Joins European-Japanese Mission to Mercury (Source: Discovery)
NASA plans to add a science instrument to a dual-orbiter mission to Mercury called BepiColombo, a joint project of the European and Japanese space agencies. The U.S. contribution consists of an instrument, called Strofio, which is intended to map the tenuous and ever-changing pocket of gases enveloping the innermost planet of the solar system. (6/21)

SpaceX Will Launch Turkmenistan Satellite (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX was awarded a contract with Thales Alenia Space to launch Turkmenistan NSSC to geostationary transfer orbit in late-2014 or early 2015 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. “We appreciate Thales’ confidence in our ability to safely deliver Turkmenistan’s first satellite to orbit,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO. The satellite will enable Turkmenistan to operate its first National System of Satellite Communications in order to secure and enhance the country’s communication means. (6/21)

Launch Schedule Emerges for Europeanized Soyuz (Source: Space News)
The race among six payloads for the four launch slots this year aboard the Europeanized version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket appears to have been settled by delays encountered by two of the six, European government and industry officials said. The result is a Soyuz manifest from Europe’s Guiana Space Center, on the northeast coast of South America, that looks like this:

The commercial O3b Networks will place four of its Ka-band broadband satellites on each of two Soyuz vehicles this year, with the first launch scheduled for June 24 and the second in September. The European Space Agency’s Gaia science satellite is also on time for a fall Soyuz launch.

The fourth and final payload for Europe’s Soyuz this year likely will be two Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites. These will be the first two of a contracted 22 satellites being built by a consortium led by OHB AG of Germany and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain, with Surrey providing the payloads. (6/21)

Orbital Frustrated By Lack Of Antares Engine Options (Source: Aviation Week)
Orbital Sciences is scrambling to find a liquid-propulsion rocket engine that is in production and available for export to the U.S. to pave the way for its new Antares rocket, the centerpiece of a bid to compete for commercial and government work for decades to come. But just as NASA is finally turning to commercial launch providers, the Virginia-based company is running into roadblocks that jeopardize the rocket's future after only one launch.

Orbital hopes to sell Antares well beyond the 16 missions it has already won through NASA's first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract. But, industry officials say the company must solidify a propulsion path by early next year in order to compete for the next batch of CRS missions for NASA. That contract is potentially worth billions and would help keep Antares in production as Orbital chases its ultimate goal of winning contracts to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites.

The NK-33 engine that powered Antares' first flight was built decades ago by Russia's Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet's remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s. Orbital officials say its only current alternative is the RD-180 engine made in Russia by NPO Energomash. But the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which operates the U.S. Air Force's Atlas V and Delta IV fleets, holds exclusive rights in the U.S. to buy the RD-180. (6/21)

Orbital Sought RD-180 Access Through Air Force, DOD, Congress (Source: Aviation Week)
Over the last four years, Orbital has inquired about purchasing the RD-180 from ULA, RD Amross and Energomash. “We could never get to first base on that,” says Michael Hamel, the company's senior vice president of corporate strategy and development. Requests for support from the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress were also met with silence, company officials say.

They suggest that these roadblocks amount to anticompetitive practices by ULA, which holds a monopoly for large government launches and uses the RD-180 to power the Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). Sparked by Orbital's concerns, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether ULA's exclusive arrangement with Russia's RD Amross violates antitrust laws.

But, the company is not waiting for the outcome of this review to move forward. Officials are already reviewing alternatives, though the only viable option is currently the RD-180, Hamel says. Orbital has also looked at the RD-181, RD-191 and RD-193. These are either still in development, or not yet approved for export. The RD-191 is the propulsion system being developed for Russia's Angara rocket. (6/21)

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