January 16, 2014

Coincidence or Counteroffensive? NASA Broadens SLS Defense (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA this week stressed advantages of its new deep-space rocket that haven't gotten a lot of press lately. The presentation came less than two weeks after the agency's own former deputy administrator said the big new rocket should be canceled. Coincidence, or NASA counter-offensive?

Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator who left NASA to head the airline pilots' association a few months ago, took aim at the Space Launch System in a radio interview. SLS, which Congress forced on the White House after President Obama canceled its predecessor program, is wasteful old technology, Garver said Jan. 2. It's a program more about feeding NASA's vested interests than doing breakthrough science, she said. Click here. (1/16)

DARPA Chief Says Space Programs Are Too Slow and Costly (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department’s space program risks being rendered “ineffective” because of high costs and lengthy development cycles, the director of DARPA says. Arati Prabhakar, DARPA’s director, likened what happens with military space programs to ducks freezing into place on the water.

There’s “something going on inside the national security community in space that’s actually quite troubling,” Prabhakar said during a science and technology forum. “That has to do with how slow and costly it is for us today to do anything we need to do on orbit for national security purposes.” U.S. military satellite development programs can take up to a decade and cost billions of dollars.

DARPA is beginning an effort to design a reusable spaceplane that could debut in 2018 and deliver payloads into low Earth orbit for less than $5 million a launch. Additionally, the agency has technology development contracts to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Virgin Galactic  to develop an air-launched system designed to place satellites weighing up to 45 kilograms into orbit for $1 million each. (1/15)

SpaceX Drives Sharp Increase in Projected Launches at Cape (Source: Space News)
The busiest U.S. spaceport is planning to support up to 21 rocket launches in 2014, a 50 percent increase from 2013, the commander of the 45th Space Wing said. The planned uptick comes as the Air Force contends with personnel and financial cutbacks at the facility. “With fewer resources, it’s time to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to throw money at our problems,” Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno said.

Most of the projected boost in the Cape’s launch business is due to SpaceX, which is ramping up its commercial satellite launching services. SpaceX, which launched Thaicom-6 on Jan. 6, has reservations for an additional 9 launches, with an option for an 10th, according to the Air Force. But whether SpaceX will be able to carry out that many launches remains to be seen — the company in previous years has fallen short of its launch projections.

United Launch Alliance, meanwhile, has 10 missions planned, four of its Delta 4 rocket and six of the Atlas 5. The first Atlas 5 is slated to launch a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Jan. 24. The increase in commercial activity at the Cape is not expected to affect the military’s overall launch budget because SpaceX reimburses the Air Force for all support costs, Armagno said. (1/15)

Air Force Hopes to Boost Efficiency as Budget Pressures Mount (Sources: Space News, SPACErePORT)
The Air Force 45th Space Wing has initiated an "Igniting Innovation" initiative aimed at improving efficiency at Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range. At a recent event, Gen. Nina Armagno spoke of the Wing's commitment to updating or eliminating outdated rules and procedures. “We need to think outside the box and to find new efficient ways of doing business, Armagno said. “We’re looking into our own processes, infrastructure, equipment and even our overall culture to see where we can make improvements.” (1/16)

ViaSat Sees Future in Aeronautical and Maritime Broadband Markets (Source: Space News)
Satellite broadband hardware and service provider ViaSat Inc. is pitching its future ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite as just as much a mobile broadband asset for maritime and aeronautical use in the Atlantic as an addition to its existing U.S. consumer broadband business.

The satellite’s coverage area extends east to the border of Britain and includes much of the Caribbean to the south. Under construction by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., as part of a $358 million contract, ViaSat-2 is scheduled for launch in mid-2016. (1/15)

Two More Contracts for ILS as Türksat 4A Pre-Launch Campaign Begins (Source: America Space)
With less than a month to go until its first mission of 2014, International Launch Services (ILS)—the joint U.S.-Russian company which operates all commercial Proton-M rockets out of Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan—has secured two key contracts to loft major payloads into orbit next year.

Yesterday (Tuesday), ILS announced that it will launch the high-powered Intelsat DLA-2 communications satellite and today (Wednesday) it also reported that it will also deliver Eutelsat 9B into orbit. Both missions are anticipated to take place in 2015. The Reston, Va.-based ILS is currently targeting 10 February for its next Proton-M mission to insert Turkey’s Türksat 4A communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. (1/16)

NASA Gets Some Funding for Mars 2020 Rover in Spending Bill (Source: LA Times)
Congressional negotiators released a $1.1-trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2014 fiscal year that’s more generous to NASA’s scientific endeavors than the White House’s proposal, but it may be too soon to celebrate, officials said this week. The massive federal spending bill would give NASA’s planetary science division $1.345 billion -- $127 million more than the White House budget request, reflecting a commitment in Congress to space exploration, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said.

“Each year we seem to be going through this drill where the administration savagely cuts planetary science and we have to restore the funding,” said Schiff, whose district includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge; the lab operates the Mars rovers. “And it's my hope that we can put an end to that.” (1/15)

Brooks Votes 'No' on Spending Bill Despite NASA, Military Spending (Source: Huntsville Times)
Despite NASA and military spending levels he liked, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) voted against a $1.1 trillion spending bill for 2014 that easily cleared the House of Representatives. Brooks was one of only 67 representatives and 64 Republicans to vote against the bill compared to 359 in favor.

"Washington has again failed the American people," Brooks said in a statement. "While there are NASA and national defense spending provisions in the omnibus I support, I decline to endorse with my vote a process that empowers a select few to draft a trillion-dollar spending bill that increases America's already perilous $17.2 trillion debt." (1/15)

NASA to GAO on Protest Over $2B SAIC Contract: You Got it Wrong (Source: Washington Business Journal)
NASA has responded to the Government Accountability Office's decision to sustain a protest over a nearly $2 billion contract award to Science Applications International Corp. And it's saying the GAO got it wrong. That response came by way of a motion to reconsider, filed with the GAO Jan. 6, 10 days after GAO decided to sustain a protest over NASA's $1.76 billion contract for medical, biomedical and health services supporting NASA human spaceflight programs.

Wyle Laboratories argued that SAIC's proposal, which came before the company's September split, didn't reflect the manner in which the contract will be performed, the costs associated with it or the corporate entity that will perform it. So what is a motion to reconsider? Ralph White, managing associate general counsel at the GAO, tells me it means NASA is claiming an error of fact or law in the protest decision. A spokeswoman from NASA did respond to my request for more details. (1/16)

Tight Funds Threaten Commercial Crew Safety, Panel Warns (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Squeezed spending on the commercial spacecraft meant to ferry astronauts to the space station means the safety of the space taxis may be threatened, a NASA panel has warned. "NASA is being perceived as sending a message that cost outranks safety," the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said in a new report. (1/15)

Sierra Nevada Passes Another NASA Milestone for Dream Chaser (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. recently completed its Certification Plan Review for the entire Dream Chaser Space System (DCSS). This major accomplishment represents Milestone 7 under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement, the third phase of development under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to develop privately owned and operated crew vehicles to access low-Earth orbit.

In passing Milestone 7, the DCSS has successfully completed one of the most critical milestones on the road to Dream Chaser full design certification and outlined how SNC would operate its first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS). (1/16)

China considers Manned Moon Landing (Source: Universe Today)
Is China’s Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar lander the opening salvo in an ambitious plan by China to land people on the Moon a decade or so hence? Will China land humans on the Moon before America? It would seem so based on a new report in the People’s Daily- the official paper of the Communist Party of China – as well as the express science goals following on the heels of the enormous breakthrough for Chinese technology demonstrated by the Chang’e-3 Mission.

The People’s Daily reports that “Chinese aerospace researchers are working on setting up a lunar base,” based on a recent speech by Zhang Yuhua, deputy general director and deputy general designer of the Chang’e-3 probe system. No humans have set foot on the moon’s surface since the last US lunar landing mission when Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt departed 41 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972. (1/16)

What Kind of Wrist Watches do Astronauts Wear in Space? (Source: Michel Herbelin)
An extraordinary job requires an extra special wrist watch. Why would it be any different for someone who happens to be spending their working day hovering miles above the Earth’s atmosphere?

Astronauts may not be on the same planet as everyone else but this doesn’t mean they can lose track of time. Like most things in space, the zero gravity conditions, pressurised cabins and bulky space suits means that any run of the mill wrist watch won’t be fit for the job. Click here. (1/16)

The VASIMR Rocket May Be The Future Of Space Flight (Source: News92)
A private company located near NASA JSC is developing an electric powered rocket, which has the ability to travel farther and faster through space, using less fuel. The company behind it is Ad-Astra, founded by former astronaut Franklin Chiang Diaz. Director of technology on the project is Mark Carter.

“Vasimr stands for Variable Specific Impulse Magneto Plasma Rocket… the idea is to propel as small amount of propellant as you can so that you don’t have to haul a huge amount of propellant into space.” Carter says Vasimr is not a rocket for launching or landing, but once you’re in space, it has many uses.

“If you want to go on beyond low earth orbit, if you want to tug things back and forth to the moon, its a lot more cost effective.” The engine is designed to use super-heated gases to create plasma. “The best thing to do with plasma when you get it hot is to let it go and that’s what this system does.” (1/16)

Anderson to Lead Spaceport America in Key Year (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
About to cap of her third year on the job, Christine Anderson may be facing the most significant to date in her role as executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. The agency runs the $212 million Spaceport America, which, if all goes well, could see the first commercial launches by its major tenant, Virgin Galactic, this year. It's an agency shift from construction and set-up to hosting the world's first commercial suborbital spaceflights. Click here. (1/15)

Should NASA Ames Be Renamed After Sally Ride? (Source: Space.com)
Should NASA's Ames Research Center in northern California be renamed to honor Sally Ride, America's first woman in space? The news that Congress has renamed NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center for Neil Armstrong got me thinking: If NASA were to name its centers today, who would the space agency honor?

I think a clear case can be made that Kennedy and Johnson space centers in Florida and Texas, respectively, would retain their names for the roles those two presidents played in Apollo. Robert Goddard is known well enough for his leading role in early rocketry to also continue serving as the Maryland center's namesake.

The John H. Glenn Research Center in Ohio and the newly designated Armstrong Research Center in California would also likely rank on any list drafted today (considering they were renamed such in recent years). I am not sure you can say the same for NASA's Ames (Research Center), Marshall (Space Flight Center in Alabama) or Stennis (Space Center in Missouri). Click here. (1/16)

Lichen on Mars (Source: Astrobiology)
Humans cannot hope to survive life on Mars without plenty of protection from the surface radiation, freezing night temperatures and dust storms on the red planet. So they could be excused for marveling at humble Antarctic lichen that has shown itself capable of going beyond survival and adapting to life in simulated Martian conditions.

The mere feat of surviving temperatures as low as -51 degrees C and enduring a radiation bombardment during a 34-day experiment might seem like an accomplishment by itself. But the lichen, a symbiotic mass of fungi and algae, also proved it could adapt physiologically to living a normal life in such harsh Martian conditions. Click here. (1/16)

Astronaut Gut Reaction: The Microbiome in Space (Source: New Scientist)
Going to space changes a person. But humans aren't the only space travellers we need to consider: microbes can change after just a few days without gravity. Now scientists worry that the bugs astronauts bring with them in their guts may turn traitor in space.

The human body isn't just one organism, but an entire community teeming with millions of microbes, so there's a whole community of new questions that spacefarers need to think about. In a report released last week, scientists at the US National Academies highlighted the extent of our ignorance about the way microbes behave in space, and how best to treat astronauts who get sick.

The report cited studies showing that Salmonella typhimurium, known for causing food-borne illness, can change its genome to become more virulent after just a few days in space. And studies have also shown that spaceflight can shorten the shelf lives of medications. Click here. (1/16)

Schedule for Full-Up Orion Test Flight To Be Reassessed (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Overweight and struggling with design delays, the European-built service module for the Orion crew exploration vehicle may not be ready for a much-anticipated test flight by the end of 2017. The preliminary design review for the Orion spacecraft's critical engine and power element is now on track for May after a six-month delay to contend with weight issues.

"We need to work on some mass issues, which is normal in a development," ESA's Thomas Reiter said. "We need to look into some aspects of the propulsion system [and] secondary structure. Those are the main areas where we needed some consolidation."

Reiter said ESA and its European contractor, Airbus Defence and Space formerly known as Astrium, decided in the autumn to push back the preliminary design review in consultation with NASA and its Orion contractor Lockheed Martin. ESA announced the delay of the review in November, saying "it was the aim not to affect the critical path of the project and to minimize the effect on the overall schedule." (1/16)

Shiloh Site Plans Trouble Wildlife Service (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
As public hearings on Space Florida’s plans to develop a commercial spaceport in southern Volusia County draw closer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is raising concerns about the project’s potential to “significantly and adversely impact” the natural resources, wildlife and ecotourism in the Indian River Lagoon system and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The state’s aerospace agency hopes to develop a commercial spaceport on roughly 200 acres just north of the Volusia/Brevard county line on land owned by NASA but managed as part of the national refuge. The land, in an area known as Shiloh, is west of Kennedy Parkway and south of Oak Hill.

Last week, Cynthia K. Dohner, regional director for the Wildlife Service in the Southeastern U.S., sent a 31-page “technical assistance letter” to the FAA detailing its concerns about potential impacts of those launches and facilities to the Indian River and Mosquito lagoons, wildlife and the 1.2 million annual visitors. Click here. (1/15)

SpaceX Leaning Toward Texas for Commercial Spaceport (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
While a review process for Space Florida’s proposed commercial spaceport in Volusia County gets underway, it appears increasingly likely that one of its hoped-for partners in the venture, SpaceX, may develop a spaceport in Texas instead.

SpaceX already launches rockets at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. And NASA announced in December it also would contract with SpaceX to take over the former shuttle launch pad 39A at the Space Center. But, SpaceX also is looking for its own private launch site. State officials said they were competing with Texas, Georgia, Puerto Rico and others to land Musk’s company.

SpaceX officials have stated they expect to make a decision this year. Volusia supporters and Space Florida officials say while they still hope to do business with SpaceX, they’re also looking to work with other companies that make up the $300 billion a year industry. For example, they said Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, also has expressed interest in the Volusia site. (1/15)

Russia’s Proton to Launch Intelsat Ssatellite in 2015 (Source: Itar-Tass)
International Launch Services (ILS), a leading commercial launch service provider, in 2015 will place into orbit one of two new satellites of Intelsat - the world’s largest consortium of satellite communication, using Russia’s Proton carrier rocket, ILS spokeswoman Karen Monaghan said on Tuesday. (1/15)

Interview with XCOR's Andrew Nelson (Source: Space Trade)
From mining asteroids, to clearing up space junk, to building space ports and developing cutting edge reusable space vehicles that can launch tourists or science payloads into orbit, the potential for commercial space activity is growing rapidly. But the current regulatory environment is in a game of catch-up with technological developments in the industry, with laws and regulations governing low orbit space flight borrowed from other industries or devised during the Cold War. Click here. (1/15)

Three Rockets Launched from Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia supported the successful launch this morning of three Terrier-Orion suborbital rockets for the Department of Defense. The rockets were launched within a 20-second period that began at 4:09 a.m. EST. The next launches currently scheduled from Wallops are a NASA suborbital sounding rocket in late April and Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket in May. (1/15)

Space Launch System Could Make ‘Outside the Box’ Science Missions Possible (Source: NASA)
When it comes to scientific probes exploring the far reaches of our solar system, the rules could be changing. The human spaceflight community joined the space science community Jan. 13-14 at the Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting. There, scientists heard from the Space Launch System (SLS) Program about the capabilities and progress being made on the rocket, and discussed the potential benefits it also could bring to robotic exploration of the outer solar system.

Currently under construction, NASA’s Space Launch System will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle. Designed to enable human exploration missions to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars, SLS is working toward a first launch in 2017. For that first flight test, the rocket will be able to launch 70 metric tons (77 tons) of payload into low-Earth orbit, almost three times what the space shuttle could carry. (1/15)

Dates Set for Arianespace's First Three Missions of 2014 (Source: SpaceRef)
Arianespace has announced the timeframe for its initial three missions this year - covering two Ariane 5 liftoffs and one Soyuz flight - that will kick off the company's busy 2014 launch manifest. Lofting five payloads in total, these missions will commence this year's accelerated pace from the Spaceport, as Arianespace targets 12 missions from French Guiana in 2014 based on payload availability, which would surpass the company's previous yearly-record of 10 launches during 2012. (1/15)

Commercial Crew Partners Aim to Capitalize, Expand on 2013 Successes (Source: NASA)
Several companies, working closely with NASA, ended 2013 with an impressive string of achievements to build on in 2014 as the American aerospace industry continues to develop and demonstrate commercial human spaceflight capabilities with the potential to support both commercial and government customers.

The year will be pivotal for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) as the agency looks to announce one or more awards by August for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts that would lead to operational crewed flights to the International Space Station. NASA intends to use new commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the station within the next three years. (1/14)

Congress Rejects Cuts to Planetary Exploration…Again (Source: Planetary Society)
The FY2014 Omnibus spending bill, now before the U.S. Congress, once again rejects cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division that were sought by the White House. The Planetary Society commends Congress for this action, and strongly encourages the White House to prioritize Planetary Science in its future budget requests commensurate with its strong public and legislative support.

The Society supports the passage of this bill for its additional Planetary Science funding as well as its overall funding levels allocated for NASA. Congress plans to allocate $1.345 billion for NASA's Planetary Science Division, $127 million more than requested by the White House. We strongly support the increase, but note that the number is well below the program's historical average of $1.5 billion per year. (1/14)

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