April 29, 2014

Canadian Space Agency Picks Neptec Design Group (Source: CSCA)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has awarded a contract worth $1.35 million to Ottawa-based Neptec Design Group to continue work on Canada's contribution to ASTRO-H, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) next-generation space observatory, scheduled to be launched in late 2015. Neptec is building the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), which is an innovative measuring system that will help better calibrate the observatory's main telescope and significantly enhance the images it captures. (4/27)

Hall of Fame Induction on May 3 for Shuttle Astronauts Lucid and Ross (Source: KSCVC)
Legendary space shuttle astronauts Shannon Lucid, the only American woman to serve aboard the Russian Space Station Mir, and Jerry Ross, the first human to complete seven space shuttle missions, will be inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame during a ceremony held in the Space Shuttle AtlantisSM attraction at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (4/29)

Editorial: An Improvement in More Ways than One (Source: Space News)
In a sign that bipartisanship is still alive, if not necessarily well, in the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers drafted and passed a bill aimed at improving the nation’s weather forecasting capabilities without diverting resources from climate change research, a political hot-button activity. The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2014 (H.R. 2413) revises controversial language that was included in a version of the legislation introduced by House Republicans last year.

In addition to its several provisions aimed at improving NOAA’s near-term forecasting models, the bill, like the original version, lends comfort and support to several startups aiming to launch meteorological sensors and sell the data they collect to a range of customers including the U.S. government. It accomplishes this in part by removing what some perceive as legal barriers to NOAA’s use of commercially provided data and hosted payload arrangements.

That said, the hosted payload language, which would remove prohibitions against “the placement of weather satellite instruments on cohosted government or private payloads,” could use a little tweaking for clarity’s sake. Perhaps the activity could be recast as “the placement of weather satellite instruments as hosted payloads on government and commercial satellites,” or something similar. (4/29)

FSDC Applauds Florida Bipartisan Support for Weather Satellites (Source: FSDC)
Our nation's weather satellites have been at risk for the past several years. These satellites have been forced to operate beyond their intended lifespans, with insufficient planning and funding to replace them. Floridians live with the annual threat of hurricanes causing damage to life and property, so it is refreshing to see Florida members from both sides of the aisle come together to support a solution.

The Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) applauds Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL-3) for supporting the needs of NOAA and other agencies through their co-sponsorship of the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (HR-2413). The bill authorizes funding and provides other encouragement for badly needed weather and climate monitoring instruments to be launched aboard a variety of satellites. (4/28)

Grayson-Improved Weather Forecasting Bill Passes House (Source: Rep. Grayson)
A weather forecasting bill amended by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Grayson amended H.R. 2413 the ‘Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2014’ during a Science, Space, and Technology Environment Subcommittee mark-up to include a program focused on improving hurricane forecasting.

In its final form, H.R. 2413 establishes a research program within NOAA to “develop and extend accurate hurricane forecasts and warnings in order to reduce loss of life, injury, and damage to the economy.” The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1st. (4/2)

Student Team Wants to Launch Time Capsule to Mars (Source: Space.com)
A group of students wants to send a time capsule filled with images and sounds from life on Earth to Mars. The project, called Time Capsule to Mars, aims to develop and load three small, identical spacecraft with photos, messages, audio and video provided by people from around the world. By launching the small probes on a mission to Mars with messages aboard, the creators of the project hope to leave mementos of life on Earth for future humans traveling to the Red Planet. (4/28)

Dark Matter Could Send Asteroids Crashing into Earth (Source: Space.com)
Dark matter could sling lethal meteors at Earth, potentially causing mass extinctions like the cataclysm that ended the Age of Dinosaurs, Harvard scientists say. Physicists think the mysterious, invisible substance called dark matter makes up five-sixths of all matter in the universe. It was first detected by the strength of its gravitational pull, which apparently helps keep the Milky Way and other galaxies from spinning apart, given the speeds at which they whirl. (4/28)

Editorial: Roadmap to Mars (Source: Space News)
A spate of congressional interest in the goal of sending humans to Mars has cropped up in the past few months along with calls by space policy commentators for NASA to define a roadmap for human spaceflight. The Human to Mars Summit conference in Washington last week added to the discussion. In recent hearings, lawmakers asked about a roadmap leading to Mars and options for potential interim destinations. They also questioned how NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) concept  was relevant to the Mars goal.

NASA’s rollout of the ARM concept last year inadequately presented the context of its rationale and failed to fully describe its connection to the goal of enabling humans to reach Mars. I think that is now being corrected. The Planetary Society's “Beyond the Moon,” roadmap laid out a step-by-step series of milestones leading to a human Mars landing, emphasizing an ever-increasing series of human flight accomplishments — beyond the Moon and farther into the solar system with longer flight durations.

The 2009 Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee presented the concept of a so-called Flexible Path into the solar system to counter what it described as the unsustainable existing plan to return to the Moon and build a lunar base. The Planetary Society roadmap was very similar to the idea of a Flexible Path. President Obama essentially adopted the Flexible Path in 2010, with goals to reach a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s, culminating in a landing around 2040. I believe this path, with the deep-space asteroid milestones on the way to Mars, is a path we can all follow. (4/28)

International Space Station’s Orbit to be Raised by Over 2 Kilometers (Source: Itar-Tass)
The orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) was raised by 2.15 kilometers (1.3 miles) using the thrusters of the Progress M-21M cargo spacecraft docked to the ISS. The station was raised to the altitude of 415.2 kilometers (258 miles) to ensure better docking conditions of the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft, which is scheduled to blast off from Baikonur on May 28 to bring a new crew to the ISS. (4/29)

How to Land on Mars with Inflatable Flying Saucers (Source: Space.com)
Less than two years after placing the 1-ton Curiosity rover gently on the Martian surface, NASA is already dreaming up ways to land even bigger spacecraft on the Red Planet. The space agency is developing gigantic supersonic parachutes and lightweight, saucer-like inflatable "decelerators" that will slow the descent of heavy gear through the thin Martian atmosphere, thus allowing large objects — such as human habitat modules — to make it to the planet's surface in one piece. (4/28)

Orbital ATK Would Bring More Satellite and Rocket Work In-House (Source: Space News)
The merger between satellite and rocket builder Orbital Sciences and rocket motor builder ATK will create a company whose rockets and satellites depend a lot less on outside contractors, Orbital CEO David Thompson said. While not saying so directly, he strongly hinted that ATK will be replacing the Russian-sourced Antares first-stage engine. In addition, integrating ATK will put in-house the equivalent of 10-20 percent of the cost of a satellite, increasing Orbital’s vertical integration there, too.

Thompson said the company has been looking for several years to increase the vertical integration of its production lines, especially its rockets, where propulsion systems can account for 25-35 percent of a rocket’s total cost. Orbital has already developed, in-house, rocket electronics systems for launch-vehicle guidance and communications. “The big remaining challenge that we faced was propulsion,” he said. With ATK, he said, the company’s in-house share of production of its own rockets will go from 45-50 percent to 70-80 percent. (4/29)

Orbital ATK Could Benefit DOD Interests in Preserving Solid Propulsion Capabilities (Source: SPACErePORT)
In recent years, the Defense Department has become increasingly concerned about preserving the U.S. capability to produce large solid rocket motors. ATK has been a principal provider of these motors, and their production capability has been threatened with retirement of the Space Shuttle. The DOD wants to: "(1) sustain production capabilities for national assets; (2) keep critical design teams in place for future system needs; and (3) to the extent practical, preserve the option to satisfy new government demand in the future."

The ATK/Orbital merger could be a positive step toward meeting these DOD objectives by, for example, making Pegasus and Taurus more competitive for government and commercial launches. The merger could also lead to replacing the Antares' liquid first stage with a solid rocket motor, breathing new life into ATK's Liberty launch vehicle initiative, and making the solid-rocket option more competitive for NASA's Space Launch System. (4/29)

Earth's Cousins Might be Hard to Spot (Source: C/Net)
Unpack your bags and defrost your shipboard cryogenic chamber. New research out Monday suggests that it may not be as easy to identify potentially habitable planets as recent discoveries might have led us to believe. The popular method of looking for planets in distant galaxies is to analyze the light from those parts of deep space in search of "biosignatures," spectral indicators that could demonstrate the presence of certain elements that typically accompany life, like methane or oxygen.

So when astronomers spy a planet like the recently publicized discovery of Kepler-186f which looks to be close in size to Earth, orbiting within the habitable zone of its star and showing possible biosignatures, there's reason to get excited. But a team at the University of Toronto has published findings that demonstrate certain conditions that could produce a false positive for a habitable exoplanet.

They suggest that to be able to spot more Earth-like planets with a high enough degree of certainty to rule out possible false positives would require a space telescope about 10 times larger than our largest telescopes, either in space or on Earth. "Inferring a biosphere on an exoplanet might be beyond humanity's reach in the foreseeable future," Hanno Rein said. (4/29)

Orbital Merges With ATK Units (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has entered into a definitive agreement with Alliant Techsystems to combine Orbital and ATK’s Aerospace and Defense (A&D) Groups to create a $4.5 billion, 13,000-person space, defense and aviation systems developer and manufacturer. The new company, to be called Orbital ATK, will serve markets for space launch vehicles and propulsion systems, tactical missiles and defense electronics, satellites and space systems, armament systems and ammunition, and commercial and military aircraft structures and related components.

As part of the transaction, ATK will spin off its Sporting Group, which focuses on commercial sporting equipment, to its shareholders. The tax-free stock-for-stock merger-of-equals transaction will combine Orbital’s small- and medium-class satellite and launch vehicle product lines with ATK’s rocket propulsion, composite structures and space power systems to produce even more capable and affordable space and missile defense products.

David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and CEO, will be President and CEO of the new company; Blake Larson, President of ATK’s Aerospace Group, will serve as its COO; and Mr. Garrett E. Pierce, Orbital’s CFO, will hold the same position in the new company. Other key management positions will be determined prior to the transaction’s closing, with an equitable and balanced selection of senior executives from each company expected in the new organization. (4/29)

Orbital ATK Would Benefit From Supplier Integration (Source: SPACErePORT)
Propulsion systems (liquid and solid rocket engines) represent the largest cost component for most launch vehicles. Orbital's Taurus and Pegasus rockets use solid rocket motors supplied by ATK. The new Orbital ATK company will benefit from having the majority of their rockets' major parts produced in-house, similar to the low-cost approach now taken by SpaceX. (4/29)

SpaceX Sues Air Force to Launch GPS Satellites (Source: DOD Buzz)
SpaceX has sued the U.S. Air Force to open more satellite launches to competition. While the Air Force has said the so-called block buy of ULA launches was needed to lock in prices and curb rising launch costs, SpaceX says it effectively boxed them out of military business, especially because the agreement includes medium-sized GPS satellites that could fit inside its Falcon 9 rockets.

The company is seeking but hasn’t yet received certification to carry national-security payloads. SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences Corp., already has a contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station. The company completed its latest cargo resupply mission earlier this month. It also has multiple agreements with commercial companies. Editor's Note: Opening DOD launch opportunities is not only of interest to SpaceX, but also Orbital ATK, with medium- and heavy-lift systems like Antares, Stratolaunch, and Liberty(?). (4/28)

Dem Donor (Musk) Wants Defense Contracts (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
A billionaire Obama donor trying to break into a market for Defense Department contracts says he will save taxpayers millions, but military officials and defense policy observers warn he could end up costing the country money and leaving the Pentagon reliant on an industry greenhorn. The policy fight pits defense industry kingpins against an upstart contractor with little experience, high media visibility, and a hefty political footprint that includes deep ties to the Obama White House.

Billionaire SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said his company could save taxpayers millions if allowed to compete for missions set aside as sole source ULA contracts. “This exclusive deal unnecessarily costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and defers meaningful free competition for years to come,” Musk said in a Friday statement announcing a legal complaint to compel the Pentagon to consider SpaceX bids for EELV contracts.

The Air Force does not share Musk’s optimistic projections for the costs of competitive bidding for those contracts. "There is no question that [ending ULA’s sole-source contract] would add extra expense into the launch program,” Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, recently told the House Armed Services Committee. “And I’m talking about significant expense.” (4/29)

Musk Pulling Political Strings? (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
A defense industry source with knowledge of the contracting process said that Musk’s political sway in the Obama administration has been conspicuous in its fight with ULA. “There’s no question, [SpaceX is] working the political angle both at the White House and Congress,” the source said. “They went to the Hill and [falsely] convinced quite a number of people that there’s something nefarious going on” in the reduction of competitively bid EELV contracts.

Musk is a major political donor. He has given to both sides of the aisle, but was very supportive of President Obama’s reelection effort, joining a cast of Democratic moneymen in California in 2011 for a $35,000-per-plate fundraiser for the president. (4/29)

CA Gov. to Decide on Tax Break for Spacecraft Manufacturers (Source: San Francisco Business Times)
California’s manufacturers like it; tax collectors don’t. Sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk is a bill that would give SpaceX and other commercial space companies a 10-year exemption on property taxes. The law,  Assembly Bill 777, would target propulsion systems that are shot into space. “This is something that will create tremendous ripple effects in the entire manufacturing economy in California,” said Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

The reasoning for the bill -- besides the obvious motivation of keeping and expanding jobs in California -- is that rockets shouldn't be taxed because they don't stay in California. They don’t even stay on Earth. The legislation by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Torrance Democrat, is backed by SpaceX, the commercial space flight company headed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk of Tesla. (4/29)

MDA Selected to Define Robotic Concepts for Deep-Space Missions (Source: Parabolic Arc)
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) has received two contracts from the Canadian Space Agency to define critical technologies and assess potential contributions that Canada could make to future space exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. MDA will assess application of Canadian robotic technologies to potential missions such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and the Deep-Space Habitat Mission at EML-2 (Earth-moon libration point 2) proposed in the Global Exploration Roadmap. (4/29)

Spaceport America: Ready, Set, Wait (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
As Virgin Galactic trains pilots in California and prepares to bring them to Spaceport America to train some more, New Mexico is bringing together the infrastructure and preparing for tourists and jobs for New Mexicans. But setting that first launch date depends on a lot of other things.

“We have to get through the development stage happening now in California,” Virgin's Mark Butler explained. But in the meantime, New Mexico prepares for the big day. “I’m pretty happy about where we are,” Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson said. “We have a showcase of a spaceport. We know what a spaceport should look like. Theirs are drawings, and ours are real.” (4/29)

Virgin Galactic Draws Albuquerque Ccompanies Into Orbit (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
Virgin Galactic's Mark Butler spoke with ABF about New Mexico's role in spaceflight: "It’s safe to say the benefits are coming through for this area. We do have a policy of buying local. Quality is the caveat. We’ve started looking for a variety of suppliers and services. We need janitorial services and technical services."

"I do a lot of business in Albuquerque for parts and materials we need, from glass, to flooring and furniture. Suppliers from the south (of the state) are limited. We use many resources from Albuquerque, including Ultramain Systems, HB Construction, Progressive Construction Management and our architects are out of Albuquerque." (4/28)

Arianespace Halts Vega Launch for Umbilical Problem (Source: Arianespace)
Arianespace had planned to launch a Kazakh remote sensing satellite on Monday night aboard their Vega launch vehicle. Arianespace observed a non-compliant behavior of the payload’s ventilation umbilical during countdown after the gantry’s withdrawal. According to its quality policy, Arianespace has decided to perform an inspection of its facilities. (4/29)

Money, Political Will Needed to Put America Back in Space Race (Source: Austin Statesman)
A near future of moon colonies and trips to Mars seemed so certain 45 years ago as NASA prepared for the first moon landing in July 1969. But after a dozen American astronauts went to the moon, bunny-hopped about and came home with 840 pounds of rocks, no giant leap for space exploration followed.

Talk of reaching Mars never ended, however, and the talk is central to a proposed bill appropriating $17.6 billion for NASA that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is scheduled to take up Tuesday. Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, whose district includes parts of Austin, chairs the committee. (4/28)

Inmarsat Says Launch Schedule Unaffected by Russia Sanctions (Source: Reuters)
British satellite operator Inmarsat said the launch program for its Global Xpress network would not be affected by sanctions against Russia, which builds the rockets that carry them into orbit. The company's new satellites, made by Boeing, are carried on the Russian Proton Breeze M rockets launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The first Inmarsat satellite for its new faster broadband network was launched in December, and two more are scheduled to launch by the end of 2014. (4/29)

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