April 26, 2014

Russian Sanctions Have Killed Canadian Satellite Launch (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
The Conservative government’s hard line on sanctions against Russia has scuttled the launch of a key Canadian military satellite that was to be put into orbit by a Russian rocket. Officials with the Canadian Space Agency and the spacecraft’s builder, Com Dev, are now trying to find another country or private company willing to send the surveillance satellite into space.

The move to cancel the June 19 launch of the satellite comes as the Canadian government continues with sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine. Canada has imposed economic penalties on a number of Russian companies and individuals and cancelled a planned military exercise with the Russian air force. It also expelled an attaché from the embassy in Ottawa. (4/24)

Why Not GPS for Falcon-9? (Source: SPACErePORT)
A couple weeks ago I suggested that the Air Force should consider assigning GPS launches to SpaceX... "Remember Delta-2 and its stellar record of successful launches? This record was built on a steady stream of nearly identical GPS launch missions, which allowed McDonnell Douglas to perfect its vehicle processing operations. This would be a good low-risk approach to getting the Falcon-9 going for military missions."

At ~3,600 lbs, GPS satellites are relatively small and lightweight, undersized for EELV rockets. Putting them on Delta-4 or Atlas-5 rockets allowed phase-out of the smaller (and cheaper) Delta-2 while shoring-up the EELV manifest. They are also lower-risk payloads, often launched to replace on-orbit spares that are integrated into the 24-32 satellite GPS constellation. So, they are low-risk payloads that can fly more cheaply on smaller Falcon-9 rockets, allowing SpaceX to gain Air Force launch experience and perfect their processing and launch operations procedures. (4/26)

Military's Bold Phoenix Satellite-Recycling Project Enters New Phase (Source: Space.com)
An ambitious Pentagon effort to repair and recycle satellites in Earth orbit has moved one step closer to reality. DARPA awarded prime contracts to eight companies earlier this month, advancing its Phoenix satellite-servicing program to Phase 2 of development. "Phase 1 not only showed the feasibility of our robotic tools and assembly techniques, but also validated the concept that we could build new satellites on orbit by physically aggregating satlets in space," DARPA program manager David Barnhart said. (4/25)

Habitable Exoplanets are Bad News for Humanity (Source: The Conversation)
Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the distance from a star in which we might expect liquid water, and perhaps life. What did not make the news, however, is that this discovery also slightly increases how much credence we give to the possibility of near-term human extinction. This is because of a concept known as the Great Filter.

The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighbourhood in which life might evolve? This apparent absence of thriving extraterrestrial civilisations suggests that at least one of the steps from humble planet to interstellar civilization is exceedingly unlikely. The absence could be caused because either intelligent life is extremely rare or intelligent life has a tendency to go extinct. (4/25)

Move Over Exoplanets, Exomoons May Harbor Life Too (Source: The Conversation)
In the Star Wars universe, everyone’s favourite furry aliens, the Ewoks, famously lived on the “forest moon of Endor”. In scientific terms, the Ewok’s home world would be referred to as an exomoon, which is simply a moon that orbits an exoplanet – any planet that orbits a star other than our sun.

Although more than 1,000 exoplanets have been discovered since the first one was found in 1995, only a handful of those are thought to be habitable, at least by life as we know it. New research shows that exomoons, too, could provide habitable environments. Although we are yet to find exomoons, we have good reasons to believe that there should be many, even more than exoplanets. (4/25)

A New Lifeform Takes Root on the ISS (Source: NASA)
"We call it 'Veggie'," says Gioia Massa of the Kennedy Space Center. "It's a plant growth chamber designed to make gardens thrive in weightlessness." Massa, who leads the Veggie science team, has been working on the project for years.  Veggie's heritage traces back decades to experiments with plants on board the Russian space station Mir and NASA's space shuttle.  In all that time, NASA astronauts have never tasted home-grown food in space—but that could soon change.

Veggie solves the problems of weightlessness using 'plant pillows.' "Basically, these are bags of 'space dirt' and slow-release fertilizer," explains Trent Smith, the project manager from KSC. "Wicks inserted into the bags draw water into the soil where it cannot float away." In addition to guiding water, the wicks act as a kind of gardening stake. (4/25)

Canada to Pay for Ditched Launch Contract, Misled Russia on Its Military Puropose (Source: RIA Novosti)
Canada will have to pay – both in terms of money and reputation – for a decision to ditch the launch of its satellite by a Russian rocket, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. Commenting on the Canadian media reports that the government’s hard line on sanctions against Russia has scuttled the launch of what was described to be a “key Canadian military satellite,” Rogozin wrote in his Twitter that Canada will “certainly” have to pay the forfeit.

In addition, the Canadian government exposed the true military purpose of its satellite, claimed to be a civilian one, he said. “The Canadians screwed things up. They refused to launch the satellite and admitted that it was a military one, despite earlier assurances of its civilian purpose,” Rogozin said. (4/25)

Camp Kennedy Space Center Offers Day Camps for Inquisitive Kids (Source: KSCVC)
For a summer camp experience that educates, entertains and engages children ages 8 to 16, Camp Kennedy Space Center day camp provides young people with an inspiring week of fun and enriching activities. Camp KSC runs Monday through Friday for nine weeks beginning June 9. This year’s theme – Space Shuttle Atlantis: From Sketch Pad to Launch Pad – focuses on the orbiter and the global impact of its 33 missions into space.

Along with many other activities, campers will experience the new home of Space Shuttle AtlantisSM, participate in a simulated Space Shuttle Mission, engage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities, learn hands-on about the science of space travel, and hear real-life stories from a shuttle astronaut. For the first time, programs have been added for students entering 10th and 11th grades. (4/25)

Girls Design Experiment for Space Station (Source: Washington Post)
“Awesome.” That was the word I heard most often from four eighth-grade girls at St. Peter’s School as they talked about their microgravity experiment that will be conducted on the International Space Station. “Our experiment is actually going into space!” team member Maureen Egan told me. Awesome it is to hear girls talk about a science project with the enthusiasm and understanding that these four do. They’re excited that their experiment, “Oxidation in Space,” is the first to win from the state of Missouri as part of Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 5.

The girls, members of Team Defying Microgravity, had to design an experiment that could be done in a Fluid Mixings Enclosure, or FME, a slender 6.7-inch long silicone tube with clamps to keep any solids or liquids separate until the apparatus is aboard the space station. The 15 experiments selected from 1,344 proposals will be ferried to the space station as part of Payload Charlie Brown on the Antares rocket with an Orb-2 Cygnus vehicle. The girls hope to see the rocket’s June 9 launch from Wallops Island, Va. but their latest challenge is finding money for airfare and lodging. (4/25)

Falcon-9 Barge Landing? Maybe Not Without Paying Blue Origin First (Source: SPACErePORT)
Alert reader M. Cyzio points out that any plans for SpaceX to land a Falcon-9 stage on an ocean barge may require a payment to Blue Origin, which in 2011 filed for a patent on the idea. At the time, critics complained that Blue Origin was attempting to unfairly capture ideas that have 'prior art' (having been documented before as ideas, but without efforts to patent). Here's a copy of the patent information. (4/25)

California Space Industry tax Break Heads to Gov. Jerry Brown (Source: Sacramento Bee)
With no debate, the California Assembly on Thursday voted 70-2 to send Gov. Jerry Brown a bill offering a ten-year property tax break to private space firms. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi has promoted the bill as ensuring California can become a hub for the burgeoning private space industry, led by firms like Hawthorne-based SpaceX. Reviving southern California's once-mighty aerospace industry has been a recurring theme for Muratuschi, who has also touted the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. (4/24)

SpaceX Names Texas as Site of its Commercial Launch Facility (Source: Ars Technica)
Elon Musk let slip that SpaceX has chosen southern Texas as the location where it will build its own launch facility. Musk made the spaceport location announcement near the end of the news conference in response to a question from the audience. SpaceX has been searching for a location to build its own spaceport for some time and had narrowed the search down to Florida, Georgia, or Texas. Musk said SpaceX is still waiting on "an environmental clearance from the FAA," and that the company expects to have the spaceport up and running "in a couple of years." (4/25)

North Dakota Department of Commerce Ready to Start Testing (Source: FAA)
The FAA announced that the first of six test sites chosen to perform unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research is operational more than two-and-a -half months ahead of the deadline specified for the program by Congress. The FAA today granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce team a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES small UAS at itsNorthern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. The COA is effective for two years. The team plans to begin flight operations during the week of May 5. (4/21)

Why Elon Musk is Throwing his Biggest Potential Customer Under the Bus (Source: Washington Post)
Elon Musk wants a bigger piece of the space market, and he's willing to sue his biggest potential customer to get it. The space entrepreneur says he will file a protest against the U.S. Air Force on Monday so that his company, SpaceX, can compete for federal space launch contracts. The protest carries the weight of a lawsuit. Speaking to reporters Friday, Musk took aim at the Pentagon, including lambasting its continued reliance on Russian made rocket engines that may be a violation of U.S. sanctions.

Editor's Note: Filing a procurement protest is not 'throwing the customer under the bus.' It is an often-used tool by players like Lockheed Martin and Boeing too to challenge the outcome of hotly contested contract awards. (4/25)

Musk: Eastern Range "Really Helpful" Supporting Stage Flyback Planning (Source: ShitElonSays.com)
"Yeah, we've actually worked with Air Force Range Safety to identify several locations at Cape Canaveral where we can land the stage. They've actually been really helpful. At first we were concerned that range safety might be obstructionist but they've actually been more than supportive, and there's several places where we can land. It kinda depends on how tightly we can control the landing point and I think if we can demonstrate tight control there is a lot of places at the Cape where we can land." (4/25)

Elon Musk's Comments on Launch Pad Locations (Source: ShitElonSays.com)
"Our primary location is Florida at Cape Canaveral. We've got our pad 40 on the Cape Canaveral side and then pad 39A on the NASA side and we're actually building out 39A with the ability to do the Falcon Heavy. So, probably the first Falcon Heavy launch will be out of the 39A pad... For the future we expect most launch activity to go out of the [Cape Canaveral Spaceport]. We're also developing a launch pad on the south coast of Texas... We're waiting on the final environmental approvals for that. We're expecting to get those soon, and we'll probably have that site active in a couple of years. Then, of course, we've got our site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for polar launches." (4/25)

Let Us Clarify: SpaceX Spaceport "Probably" Will Come to Texas (Source: Houston Press)
On Friday SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that SpaceX is definitely totally coming to Texas to build a launch pad. Kind of. That's what the Houston Chronicle reported as breaking news with a headline that came off like the spaceport in Texas is a done deal. However, an offhand answer to a question at the end of a press conference isn't the same as an actual announcement of clear-stated definitely-going-to-happen intentions.

It's true that SpaceX has been buying up property near Brownsville in south Texas and it's true that Musk has been asking for perks from both the folks of Brownsville and the state legislature. But here's the thing: land can be bought and incentives can be secured, but until the launch pad that will send SpaceX's Falcon 9 and the Falcon 9 heavy to orbit is actually built, Musk can change his mind and plans can change. (4/25)

McCain Wants Investigation of Air Force EELV Contract (Source: Space Policy Online)
Following on the heels of SpaceX's announcement earlier today that it is filing suit against the Air Force for its block buy contract of satellite launches from the United Launch Alliance (ULA), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sent two letters to the Department of Defense (DOD) asking questions about that contract. One letter is to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and the other to DOD's Inspector General (IG).

The letter to James asks about what McCain says is the "apparently incomplete and incorrect nature" of her testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the Dec. 2013 award of a sole source block buy contract of 36 core vehicles from ULA. SpaceX is filing suit against the Air Force for awarding that contract without competition. McCain says that James's testimony about the contract appears to be "specious" because she said that it was for "heavier launches" that no new entrant -- e.g., SpaceX --  has been qualified to meet.

The separate letter to DOD's Inspector General asks for an investigation into four issues related to DOD's decision to significantly reduce the number of national security space launches available for competition above the 36 core vehicles in the Dec. 2013 contract. Initially there were to be 14 launches in FY2015-2017 set aside for competition with "new entrants" like Space X, but the number recently was reduced by half. McCain questions the rationale and whether DOD is aggressively pursuing competition in procuring launch services as promised. (4/25)

Watch NASA's Morpheus Fly and Make a Smooth Landing at KSC (Source: Endagadget)
NASA's Morpheus lander has gone a long way since it crashed and burned in 2012. The agency's vertical landing and takeoff test vehicle now has a number of successful flights under its belt, including one that's just concluded at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. On this most recent flight, the lander easily traversed 1,300 feet at a speed of 36mph for 98 seconds, proving that it has a future in delivering cargo to space. Click here. (4/25)

ViaSat Awarded $283M in Lawsuit Against Loral (Source: ViaSat)
A federal court jury has awarded ViaSat $283 million in damages in its patent infringement and breach of contract case against Space Systems/Loral (SS/L). The jury found SS/L infringed three ViaSat patents relating to its ViaSat-1 high-capacity satellite system and breached the non-disclosure agreements and manufacturing contract between the parties. During trial, SS/L dropped its counterclaim alleging ViaSat had infringed an SS/L patent.

ViaSat has requested that the court enter a permanent injunction prohibiting SS/L from manufacturing or selling infringing satellites or satellite components, including the continued manufacturing of infringing satellites currently under construction. Additional issues remain for the court to rule upon that could ultimately impact the amount of the award, and any final ruling and award in the case is subject to appeal. (4/25)

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