December 13, 2013

NASA Selects SpaceX to Begin Negotiations for Use of LC-39A (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected SpaceX to begin negotiations on a lease to use and operate historic Launch Complex (LC) 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.

The reuse of LC-39A is part of NASA’s work to transform the KSC into a 21st century launch complex capable of supporting both government and commercial users. KSC is having success attracting significant private sector interest in its unique facilities. The center is hard at work assembling NASA’s Orion spacecraft and preparing its infrastructure for the Space Launch System rocket, which will launch from LC-39B, adjacent to the pad SpaceX hopes to use.

While the GAO protest was underway, NASA was prohibited from selecting a commercial partner for LC-39A from among the proposals submitted in response to the agency's AFP that had been issued on May 23.  However, while the GAO considered the protest, NASA continued evaluating the proposals in order to be prepared to make a selection when permitted to do so.  After the GAO rendered its decision Thursday in NASA’s favor, the agency completed its evaluation and selection process. (12/13)

Group Urges Mission to Europa (Source: Planetary Society)
In light of today’s announcement that Europa is likely spouting its vaporized ocean water into space, The Planetary Society calls on the White House and Congress to approve a new mission to explore this enigmatic moon of Jupiter to better understand its potential to support life.

“We have to explore Europa,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “It will take a small adjustment to the Planetary Science budget to mount a mission that will have us solving problems that have never been solved before; there will be innovations and economic benefits. What if there are signs of life there? We would all think of our place in the scheme of things differently. It would utterly change the world.” (12/12)

94% of Americans Feel NASA and US Space Program Should be Maintained (Source: SpaceRef)
According to the latest YouGov Omnibus research, 94% of adult Americans surveyed feel it is important that NASA and the US space program are maintained. Men are more likely to have strength in the opinion with one in three (32%) stating it is extremely important for the United States to maintain NASA compared with one in four (23%) women. (12/12)

Aviation Schools Prep for Drone Job Boom (Source: Herald-Tribune)
Students are eager to cash in on the booming market for drone operators that's expected to develop after more unmanned aircraft become legal to fly in U.S. airspace, which could happen in the next few years. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, UND, Kansas State and others have added UAS programs. The first UAS master's degree program, focused on engineering, was launched at Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach, Fla., campus this fall.

For students, it all adds up to strong job prospects after graduation. "Whether it's designing a vehicle to go into forest fires or catch poachers in the Galapagos, they're getting opportunities to be part of the next generation of aerospace like no one else is," said Melanie Hanns, Embry-Riddle spokeswoman.

An industry commissioned study last spring predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000. Bonus!: Here's a news video about Embry-Riddle's Prescott Arizona program. (12/13)

EchoStar, Vivendi Abandon Talks on Brazilian TV Deal (Source: Space News)
EchoStar Corp. and the GVT subsidiary of French media group Vivendi on Dec. 13 said they have ended talks on a joint venture to develop a pay-television service in Brazil using EchoStar’s orbital slot at 45 degrees west longitude.

The collapse of the negotiations would appear to put Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar back to square one in figuring out how to monetize its $80 million investment in the orbital position, which the company won in mid-2011 in an auction organized by Brazil’s Anatel telecommunications regulatory agency. (12/13)

6th Boeing-built Wideband Satellite Enters Service (Source: SpaceRef)
The sixth Boeing Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite, funded by the Commonwealth of Australia - the program's first partner outside the United States - has been delivered on orbit to the U.S. Air Force, boosting communications capabilities for the U.S. military and its allies. (12/12)

Comtech Shaking Off the Army Blues, Taking Comfort in Wave of Commercial Orders (Source: Space News)
Satellite ground equipment manufacturer Comtech Telecommunications Corp. reported increased orders for the three months ending Oct. 31 and told investors that three years of downward revenue spiral will end this year. Comtech, which has suffered dual blows from the 2010 loss of a U.S. Army satellite telecommunications contract and the more recent U.S. government budget freeze, said it expects satellite television broadcasters to accelerate renewal of their ground equipment. (12/13)

Real Life Version of Gravity? Battle to Fix Space Station Problem (Source: News
If it weren't real, you'd think it was straight out of the film Gravity. A potential crisis situation is unfolding on the International Space Station - with Russia the only hope in the event of catastrophe. The problem: A fault in a flow valve that controls the temperature of the equipment on the station. At risk: Station Commander cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, Americans Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, Russians Mikhail Tyurin and Sergey Ryazanaskiy, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.

A software repair would be the easiest option. A space walk the most complicated. But NASA has not yet decided on that. NASA said it is investigating the situation on the ISS but stressed it posed no immediate danger to the crew, thanks to a backup system. The astronauts on board are "in good shape'', and comfortable after the cooling system problem, said mission team manager Kenny Todd. (12/13)

With China's Help, Bolivia Certifies 64 Engineers to Operate Satellite (Source: (Xinhua)
Bolivia on Thursday certified 64 Chinese-trained engineers to operate the country's telecom satellite "Tupac Katari" that will be launched into orbit on Dec. 20. "The certificates presented today ... are for specialists in the ground control system of the satellite," said Ivan Zambrana, director of the Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) at a certification ceremony.

Among the trainees, 30 are trained for ground control, operation and maintenance, while the other 34 are trained for aerospace and satellite design and manufacturing. Another ten are still receving training. On Dec. 14, 2010, the Bolivian government and Chinese firm Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) signed a contract for building "Tupac Katari". Almost three years later, the plan is in its final stage. (12/13)

China's First Lunar Probe to Land on the Moon This Weekend (Source: CNN)
China's first lunar rover is expected to land on the moon on Saturday, less than two weeks after it blasted off from Earth, according to Chinese media reports. The landing will make China one of only three nations -- after the United States and the former Soviet Union -- to "soft-land" on the moon's surface, and the first to do so in more than three decades. (12/13)

Chinese Spacecraft Gets a Close Look at Asteroid Toutatis (Source: LA Times)
Space rock, or space rocks? A new study of asteroid 4179 Toutatis suggests the large asteroid that zips past Earth every four years is actually a collection of rocky fragments held together by gravity. "We may conclude that Toutatis is not a monolith, but most likely a coalescence of shattered fragments," the researchers wrote.

The study, published Thursday, is based on images of the asteroid collected by the Chinese space probe Chang'e-2. After completing its primary mission to study the moon in 2011, Chang'e-2 was positioned to take images of Toutatis just after the asteroid made a much-hyped close approach to Earth last December. (12/13)

Sixth Conference on European Union Space Policy (Source: Inside GNSS)
The 6th Conference on European Union Space Policy will take place at the European Commission's Charlemagne Building, in Brussels, Belgium on January 28 and 29, 2014. (12/13)

Senate Passes Launch Indemnification Bill, But Time May Have Run Out (Source: Space Politics)
The good news for the commercial launch industry: late Thursday, the Senate passed a three-year extension of the third-party commercial launch indemnification regime, which is due to expire at the end of this year. “The certainty of a three year extension will help the U.S. commercial space industry continue to grow and thrive, both here in Florida and around the country,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

The bad news, though, is that since the House passed only a one-year extension last week, the Senate’s three-year extension needs to go back to the House for passage there. And, late Thursday, the House adjourned after passing the budget deal announced earlier this week and the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill, with no plans to reconvene (except in pro forma sessions) until January 7.

With launch indemnification slated to expire at the end of this month, this means either the Senate will have to go back and approve the one-year version the House passed, or wait until the House returns in January, thus creating a lapse in the indemnification regime. (12/13)

One Last Liftoff for Longtime VAFB Employee (Source: Times-Press Recorder)
A phone book and a call to General Dynamics at Vandenberg Air Force Base landed Michael Kelley a 33-year career launching satellites aboard Atlas rockets. Set to retire in January, the Arroyo Grande resident’s final Atlas rocket mission as a United Launch Alliance employee occurred late at night Thursday, Dec. 5.

For most of his time at the base, Kelley has worked with spacecraft matters helping integrate the payloads onto the rockets. The Atlas 5 carried a top-secret satellite as its primary cargo plus 12 CubeSats tagged along for the ride. The CubeSats for this mission are “my guys,” he said. They rode on a special carrier affixed to the top of the rocket that Kelley had input on designing. (12/12)

GAO Statement on Blue Origin Bid Protest (Source: GAO)
On Dec. 12, the GAO denied a protest filed by Blue Origin, challenging NASA’s stated interpretation of an announcement for proposals (AFP) for the lease of Launch Complex 39A. Blue Origin maintained in its protest that the AFP provided for a preference in favor of a multi-user (as opposed to an exclusive use) approach to utilizing the launch pad. NASA took the position that neither approach was favored by the AFP.

GAO agreed with NASA, and in its decision concluded that there was no preference for either approach, and that the AFP merely requires different information depending upon which approach is being offered. The GAO decision takes no position on the relative merits of the proposals that have been submitted to NASA. NASA currently is in the process of evaluating proposals submitted by Blue Origin and SpaceX, and the agency has, as yet, reached no conclusions. (12/12)

NewSpace 2, OldSpace 0 (Source: Space KSC)
The week has seen two defeats dealt to the opponents of NewSpace. In June, Orbital Sciences sued ULA, claiming they illegally prevented the sale of the RD Amross RD-180 engine in the U.S. by claiming exclusive rights in this country. ULA uses RD-180s on the Atlas V. Orbital hoped to acquire them for its Antares rockets, which currently use a limited supply of Russian N-1 engines left from their lunar program in the early 1970s.

ULA claimed RD Amross can't legally sell to Orbital, and Orbital hasn't proven any actual loss. The judge rejected ULA's request on Dec. 10 and ordered the parties to prepare for pre-trial conferences in attempt to negotiate a settlement. The other NewSpace win came today when the GAO rejected a Blue Origin protest claiming NASA had improperly conducted its search for a company to lease LC-39A. ULA backed Blue Origin's complaint, and for good measure five U.S. Senators who have benefitted from ULA campaign contributions sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden supporting Blue Origin. (12/12)

Brazil, Thales Alenia Space Ink Satellite and Tech Transfer Contracts (Source: Space News)
The Brazilian Space Agency, AEB, on Dec. 12 signed a five-year technology-transfer contract with Franco-Italian satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space as part of a wider partnership that includes a commercial contract under which Thales Alenia Space will build a civil-military telecommunications satellite. (12/12)

GAO Denies Blue Origin LC-39A Lease Protest (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin’s bid to lease a disused space shuttle launchpad from NASA will get no help from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which on Dec. 12 denied a protest from the Kent, Wash.-based company that challenged the fairness of NASA’s method for choosing a lessee.

Blue Origin has been at loggerheads with SpaceX about leasing Launch Complex 39A at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport for months. SpaceX wanted exclusive use of the pad, which the company said could be used to launch the Falcon Heavy booster it is developing. Blue Origin — whose case was supported by its business partner United Launch Alliance (ULA) — wanted to make the pad a multiuser facility. Click here. (12/12)

Mandates Put the Squeeze on NASA Core Earth Science Missions (Source: Space News)
In an era of flat budgets, the NASA Earth Science Division’s growing role in offering sustained observations of various phenomena including ozone profiles and incoming solar energy is likely to diminish available funding for core missions, said Mike Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth Science Division.

“We were given a $40 million plus-up to begin this job in 2014 and no additional funds beyond that,” Freilich said Dec. 11 at the American Geophysical Union conference here. “So this responsibility will be coming out of the core.” NASA’s 2013 Earth Science budget totaled $1.65 billion.

In its 2014 budget blueprint, the White House assigned NASA the task of providing sustained observations of solar irradiance, ozone profiles and Earth’s radiation budget, which previously were the responsibility of NOAA. In addition, the White House directed NASA to work with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop plans for the next two decades of sustained land imaging, carrying on work performed by the Landsat Earth-imaging constellation. (12/12)

A Review of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA took another step last month to regaining the ability to launch astronauts from U.S. soil. On November 19 NASA published a Request for Proposal (RFP) calling for companies to submit bids on the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). CCP is a blended approach to space launch designed to utilize the extensive commercial aerospace infrastructure as a cost-effective alternative to maintaining and operating a fleet of shuttles. Click here. (12/12)

U.S. Air Force Decision To End CHIRP Mission Was Budget Driven (Source: Space News)
The federal budget crunch has led the U.S. Air Force to decommission an experimental missile warning sensor hosted aboard a commercial satellite after 27 months on orbit. As recently as July, the service announced it was extending the life of its pioneering Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) mission that launched in September 2011. CHIRP was installed and launched into orbit aboard the SES-2 telecommunications satellite owned by fleet operator SES of Luxembourg. (12/12)

Ozone Hole Won't Heal Until 2070, NASA Finds (Source:
The banning of ozone-depleting chemicals hasn't yet caused detectable improvements in the Antarctic ozone hole, new research suggests. Instead, changes in the South Pole's ozone hole from year-to-year are likely the result of natural variations in wind patterns, researchers said. The findings suggest that measuring the total size of the ozone hole says little about ozone depletion, and that it's misleading to use the hole's extent alone to measure environmental progress. (12/12)

India's Mars Mission Makes First Key Course Correction (Source: Flight Global)
India’s bid to put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars continues on track, following successful completion of the planned first major trajectory correction manoeuvre following the Mangalyaan mission’s boost away from Earth orbit. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) ordered a 40.5s burn of its 22-Newton thruster during the mid-course correction, with the spacecraft 2.9 million km away from Earth. (12/12)

Melco To Build Japan’s GOSAT-2 Environmental Satellite (Source: Space News)
Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Melco) will build the GOSAT-2 greenhouse-gas-monitoring satellite for Japan’s space agency, with a launch scheduled in 2017. Tokyo-based Melco said it is currently under a preliminary engineering contract with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, for GOSAT-2, which will be followed in April by an authorization to proceed with full-scale development. (12/12)

Space Lander of the Future Takes Fiery Flight (Source: New Scientist)
Untethered and, more importantly, not exploding this time around, NASA's Morpheus lander roared into life and climbed 15 meters above a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday. Designed to be a test bed for future lunar, asteroid and planetary cargo lander designs, the liquid oxygen and methane-powered spacecraft then hovered and nudged itself sideways before landing 7.5 meters from where it took off -– missing a target by just 15 centimeters. (12/12)

Element Essential for Life Found in Supernova Remains (Source:
Phosphorous — one of the essential elements for life — has been discovered in the cosmic leftovers from a star explosion for the first time, scientists say. The finding is one of two discoveries of elements in deep space that may give scientists clues to how life is possible in the universe, researchers said. The second discovery by a second team of scientists found traces of argon gas in a distant nebula. (12/12)

Titan’s Rivers, Lakes, and Seas Mapped in Incredible Detail (Source: WIRED)
Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have created this beautiful mosaic mapping the northern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, which is full of rivers, lakes, and seas. “Titan is a very alien place that looks very Earth-like,” said planetary scientist Stephen Wall, leader of Cassini’s radar team.

The material filling Titan’s lakes is not water but rather hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, which are typically gases on Earth but remain liquid at Titan’s average temperature of −180 degrees Celsius. Ever since Cassini started radar mapping the frozen moon in 2004, researchers have seen that Titan is a weird and wet world. But Cassini’s scans missed the true extent of some seas, including the biggest, Kraken Mare. (12/12)

The Tough Task of Finding Fossils While Wearing a Spacesuit (Source: Astrobiology)
Someday, human explorers might momentously discover fossils on Mars, proving that the Red Planet once supported extraterrestrial life. An interplanetary expedition of this sort will have overcome major obstacles, such as spacecraft design and the rigors of a many-month voyage. Yet a more subtle challenge to this hypothetical mission's success must, too, be addressed: astronauts will have to perform effective field work while clad in airtight, probably unavoidably cumbersome spacesuits. Click here. (12/12)

Galileo Achieves First Airborne Tracking (Source: ESA)
ESA’s Galileo satellites have achieved their very first aerial fix of longitude, latitude and altitude, enabling the inflight tracking of a test aircraft. ESA’s four Galileo satellites in orbit have supported months of positioning tests on the ground across Europe since the very first fix back in March. Now the first aerial tracking using Galileo has taken place, marking the first time ever that Europe has been able to determine the position of an aircraft using only its own independent navigation system. (12/12)

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