April 5, 2014

Drones Again to Descend on Kennedy Space Center (Source: Florida Today)
They’ll be back. A fleet of small drones buzzed the sky near Kennedy Space Center recently, participating in the state’s first sponsored demonstration of the technology. The 21 flights performed during two days late last month served as practice for demonstrations Space Florida will lead in May, when the drone industry’s biggest annual conference will be held in Orlando. Editor's Note: The larger UAS demo event is now planned for May 11. (3/10)

Russia Sanctions Not Hurting Aerospace/Defense Industry Yet (Source: Aviation Week)
U.S. and European sanctions on certain Russians have not impinged on Western aerospace and defense industrial bases to any great extent, but possible reactions down the road do have analysts and executives concerned. To be sure, several stress points—starting with titanium supplies to manufacturers and some coproduction work—emerged quickly this month.

What is more, an executive order Obama signed two weeks ago would allow U.S. agencies to stop current work, such as a contentious deal by the Pentagon to provide Russian Mi-17 helicopters to Afghan air forces or for space station crew transportation. But the Mi-17s and Russian launches of U.S. astronauts will continue for now, apparently due to their importance to U.S. national interests such as enabling withdrawal from Afghanistan or keeping an orbital destination for the U.S.'s budding commercial crew launches. (3/31)

US, Russia Respond to Sanctions with Cooperation in ISS Debris Avoidance (Source: Aviation Week)
Within hours of a challenge to their growing alliance in space, NASA and Roscosmos demonstrated their resolve to sustain a hard fought partnership in the support of the 15 nation International Space Station. Late Wednesday, NASA announced the U.S. was severing most of its cooperative ties with Russian over alleged violations of Ukrainian sovereignty.

The one exception was cooperation in activities aboard the International Space Station, whose difficult orbital assembly began in late 1998. On Thursday, the U. S. and Russia demonstrated their resolve to overfly terrestrial differences by teaming to maneuver the ISS away from the threat of collision with a piece of orbital debris -- a payload deployment mechanism from a European Ariane 5 rocket. (4/4)

Scientifically Illiterate Congressmen Are Resigning the World to Ruin (Source: Motherboard)
The scene played out like pitch-black comedy on March 26th at the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's 2015 budget request hearing. In the hot seat, tasked with defending the president's call for steady funding for science programs: the renowned Earth scientist and top Obama adviser Dr. John Holdren. Accosting him from across the chamber: a parade of gleeful antagonists, some who seemed to relish their own scientific illiteracy.

They object to global warming, mostly. They do not believe it is our fault, or their fault, because nothing is. "We've had climate change since the day the Earth was formed, whenever that was, depending upon whatever you believe," said Representative Bill Posey (R-FL). "I remember the 70s, that was the threat. We're going to have a cooling that's eventually going to freeze the planet, and that was the fear before Al Gore invented the internet and those other terms." He has already made up his mind, even though he clearly has only a cursory grasp of the science he is talking about.

The mock questions, careless repetition of talking points, and baseless dismissals of fact were all set to the backdrop of freshly and deeply grim scientific forecasts about the warming world. Hundreds of climate scientists would just days later issue a meticulously considered plea to governments everywhere: Act. Make policy to reduce emissions. Brace for the storm, because it is already coming. (4/3)

Airbus Bests Thales Alenia-OHB Team for Weather Satellite Contract (Source: Space News)
Airbus Defence and Space has been selected to build Europe’s next generation of polar-orbiting meteorological satellites after an extended evaluation that hinged in part on whether bidders could guarantee equivalent work shares in both France and Germany, industry officials said.

The European Space Agency’s Industrial Policy Committee is expected to validate the choice of the agency’s bid-evaluation board, which preferred Airbus to competitor Thales Alenia Space, on April 11. Thales Alenia of France and Italy was teamed with OHB AG of Bremen, Germany. The 20-nation ESA has budgeted 800 million euros ($1.1 billion) for its share of the Metop Second Generation program, mainly to cover the costs of the design and construction of the first pair of Metop-SG satellites, to be launched around 2021. (4/4)

Why the Norwegian "Skydiving Meteorite" Came from Earth, Not Space (Source: SkyLights)
This was one of those mornings when instead of getting to my work I got ghastly distracted by some incredible news: A Norwegian skydiver has filmed how he almost got hit by a meteorite! Really sensational, if true. My first thought: Is this a joke, a hoax? It didn't look that way. The video came via a respected Norwegian broadcasting corporation (which in itself does not mean much these days) and looks professionally made.

Later I found a blog of a Norwegian Meteoritic Society explaining the incident in detail: It therefore happened almost two years ago, on 17th June 2012 near Østre Æra airstrip close to the town Rena in Norway. There have been extensive searches for the supposed meteorite on the ground, all without success. The case was kept secret (to keep professional and amateur meteorite hunters away, I guess) and is assured to be definitely no hoax. Ok, let's believe that.     

Because there are missing all of the essentials of a meteorite fall: no reports of a fireball, no sound, no seismic recordings. A meteorite of the size of the object in the video (which is unknown but can be assumed to be some centimeters perhaps) would not fall completely unnoticed. More doubts swashed in. A respected meteorite expert informed that the object in the video looks much too bright to be a meteorite. Real meteorites usually have a deep black crust, a result of the initial fireball. (4/4)

Coffman Supports Fair Approach to Evolved Expendable Launch Market (Source: Rep. Coffman)
Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) addressed General William Shelton, the Commander of Air Force Space Command about the necessity of new entrants in the Evolved Expendable Launch market to meet the same strict oversight rules as the incumbent provider, Colorado’s own United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Air Force stated that any new entrant looking to provide launches in the EELV market must meet the strict oversight requirements of mission assurance that have made ULA 100% successful in delivering 69 consecutive launches of our nation’s most secure national security space assets.

“I will continue to work with the Air Force to ensure the Department does not yield to any political pressure that would allow any new entrant to perform these missions unless they are certified to perform to the same rigorous standard expected of the incumbent, ULA,” added Coffman. (4/4)

Military Leaders Favor US-Made RD-180 Alternative (Source: Space News)
Senior U.S. military space leaders told a House subcommittee April 3 they backed the idea of developing an American-made alternative to the Russian-made RD-180 that powers the core stage of the U.S. Atlas 5, but said breaking existing contracts to buy and use the engines would be expensive and risky. Concerns about the U.S. military’s reliance on the RD-180 have heightened in the wake of Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea.

“I would be a strong supporter of [a U.S. alternative to the RD-180] if we could find the money,” Gen. William Shelton said. “I’m [also] one of those agencies who’s very interested,” said NRO chief Betty Sapp. Subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said finding the money was Congress’ problem and it was the military’s job to develop the strategy. Rogers said it was important to get the leaders on the record about their preference for a U.S.-made rocket engine.

Both DOD and the Air Force are conducting studies on continued reliance on the RD-180 and the feasibility of an alternative. Editor's Note: Does "alternative" mean U.S.-made RD-180s or a totally different engine? Let's not forget that the U.S.-produced RD-180s were originally going to be manufactured in West Palm Beach by Pratt & Whitney. That facility is still ready to host the work. (4/4)

NASA's Russia Boycott May Revitalise US Space Leadership (Source: New Scientist)
Cooling NASA-Russia ties may spark talk on reasserting US leadership in space, says a security expert... It would be hypocritical to say the least for the US to ban bilateral space relations with China over general displeasure with its form of government and policies on religious freedom, but continue business as usual with Russia after it had just annexed the sovereign territory of another country.

Undoubtedly, there will be finger-pointing in Congress about how and whose responsibility it is that the US is dependent on the Russians. Whether that for-the-camera, useless blame game can translate into much needed political will to accelerate backup plans for ISS transport remains to be seen, because acceleration and diversification would involve a lot of money.

Retaliation from Russia should not be ruled out, and the US needs to prepare for that. Congress likes to assert itself into space policy, and now seems a good time to do so. There are two immediate needs: accelerating the diversification of ISS transport options and rethinking the propensity of using space as a foreign policy surrogate. The bigger issue, however, is how to reassert US space leadership. Without finally dealing with that, the US may increasingly find itself being "pushed around" in space. (4/4)

Shelton Touts ORS-5 Satellite as Space Surveillance Gap Filler (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is hoping to bridge a potential gap in on-orbit space surveillance capabilities with a small satellite launching as soon as 2017 that would be developed by a rapid-response military space office that the service has proposed disbanding, a top Air Force officer said April 3.

Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-5 mission also would act as a pathfinder for technologies to be used in a follow-on to the current Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite. (4/4)

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