May 22, 2014

Boeing Looks to Commercial Satellites to Offset Defense Slide (Source: Reuters)
Boeing is well-poised to boost its commercial satellite business from today's 30% to as much as 40% within six years, helping offset a downturn in defense spending, says Craig Cooning of Boeing's space and intelligence systems business. The company's satellite division is open to acquisitions and is courting Google and Facebook as possible customers. "A lot of companies are all scrambling for their piece of the pie, and that pie has gotten a lot smaller," Cooning says. "At Boeing, we're in a unique position because we have this strong balance between our commercial work and our military work." (5/21)

Germany’s Budget Straightjacket Complicates Ariane Funding Outlook (Source: Space News)
Germany has informed that European Space Agency that German spending on launch vehicles will remain flat for the next decade, a decision that complicates the agency’s already difficult attempt to secure funding and design consensus for a new-generation Ariane rocket.

Because of Germany’s weight in any realistic rocket-funding scenario in Europe, the German decision means the 20-nation ESA will be limited to annual launcher budget of around 850 million euros ($1.2 billion) per year between 2015 and 2024. During this same period, the agency plans to introduce an upgrade to the existing Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, a new Ariane 6 vehicle and improvements to its new Vega small-satellite launcher. (5/22)

Ariane 6 Can Hit Cost Target (Source: Flight Global)
European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain has underscored the agency’s confidence that it can meet the ambitious cost and performance targets set for its all-new Ariane 6 heavy launcher. But Dordain made no secret of the challenge ahead as he and his ESA colleagues push to firm up the design of the rocket that must not only replace the hugely successful Ariane 5, but do so at less than half the cost.

Dordain’s “duty” is to go to the December 2014 Luxembourg meeting of ESA member state science and industry ministers with a firm plan that will convince them to continue funding the project. Ariane 6 was greenlighted at the ESA ministerial meeting in Naples in November 2012, which tasked Dordain with delivering a launcher that could fly nine times a year and cost €70 million per launch, from 2021. Failure, he adds, would be “dramatic” for the entire European space industry.

Part of the Ariane 6 cost-reduction plan is to do away with liquid fuel main stages for an all-solid and modular design (pictured) – essentially an assembly of stages from ESA’s new Vega light launcher, first flown in 2012. But the critical ingredient will be to move away from the unwieldy industrial organisation behind Ariane 5, which was designed not for efficiency but to satisfy European political realities that match national governments’ financial input with workshare. (5/22)

One Astronomer’s Quest to Expose the Alien-Built Canals of Mars (Source: WIRED)
Percival Lowell was quite convinced that an alien race occupied Mars. And he even had the evidence to prove they existed: an immense network of canals carved into the Martian surface that he spied through a telescope. This saga begins in 1888, when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli announced that he had observed what he called canali on Mars. To Schiaparelli, these were purely natural features of the landscape. That’s because canali is Italian for channels, not canals.

That’s not how it was translated into English, though. So, along comes Lowell, who takes the idea of “canals” on Mars and gets … a bit carried away with it. In 1894 he built the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, with a world-class telescope, so he might prove that a desperate Martian race had built “a system whose end and aim is the tapping of the snow-cap for the water there semiannually let loose; then to distribute it over the planet’s surface.” (5/22)

Air Force 'Not Happy' with Delays on Lockheed GPS Satellite (Source: Reuters)
A top U.S. Air Force general said she was disappointed about delays on the first Global Positioning System III satellite being built by Lockheed Martin, but believed the company is taking steps to meet its commitments. Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center, said Lockheed was exploring a range of options for the program, including replacing Exelis Inc, the subcontractor that has run into trouble with the satellite's navigation payload. (5/21)

ORS Is In, Even At SMC; Watch Out Air Force Acquisition! (Source: Breaking Defense)
For years the Air Force space acquisition mafia fought the idea of Operationally Responsive Space. Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), for the most part, made fabulous, big and really expensive satellites at a wonderfully slow pace. Operationally Responsive Space posited cheaper and more rapidly built smaller satellites. They weren’t nearly as capable but they could be launched much more quickly and at lower cost than could those big birds.

For years the Air Force refused to fund the ORS program, only to have a sometimes weary Congress keep funding it. Today, ORS won its spurs when Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the head of SMC and former deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, declared before reporters that: “As we go forward, the objective will be to use those principles (of ORS) more broadly within space acquisition.” (5/22)

China's "Moon Palace 1" Experiment Succeeds (Source: People's Daily)
On May 20, three volunteers from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) walked out of their closed lab - "Moon Palace 1" - after a 105-day experiment which was a resounding success. The complete term for the vessel is "earth-based experimental unit for a closed ecological system used for life support in a moon base". This is an artificial enclosed ecological system composed of plants, animals and microorganisms. The essentials for human life, such as oxygen, water and food, can be recycled and regenerated in the system, so as to provide the astronauts with an environment similar to the earth.

Moon Palace 1 is composed of one comprehensive cabin and two plant cabins, with a total area of 160 square meters and a total volume of 500 cubic meters. It is China's first and the world's third bio-regenerative life support base. It will play a significant role in China's manned moon-landing, in setting up a moon base, and in carrying out future Mars exploration projects and other space programs.

According to Liu Hong, the core of Moon Palace 1 is the Bio-regenerative Life Support System (BLSS), the most advanced closed loop life support technology yet developed, and one that can ensure the long-term survival of astronauts in outer space. During the experiment the three volunteers planted five grain crops, fifteen vegetables, and one fruit in the plant cabin. They harvested the grain, vegetables and fruit, and processed and ate them. Click here. (5/22)

Shelby 'Makes No Apologies' for NASA Votes that Benefit Alabama (Source: Huntsville Times)
Richard Shelby's office, responding Wednesday to a report criticizing the Alabama senator's role in NASA programs, says he "makes no apologies" for pushing NASA's human space flight program in the Senate. The comment followed a May 18 story in the Houston Chronicle quoting unnamed sources accusing Shelby and other senators with NASA centers in their states of harming NASA by turning the agency into "jobs programs for their districts and states." (5/22)

Texas Town Wants to Take Backup NASA Mission Control from Huntsville (Source: Huntsville Times)
A news report says a Texas company is negotiating with Johnson Space Center to move its backup Mission Control from Huntsville to Texas. KBTX quotes a local businessman saying talks are moving forward. "We've had several meetings now at Johnson Space Center and had them up to Bryan several times, so those are going really well. Two weeks from now we'll be going over the first draft of the report with them," Matt Leonard told KBTX.

He is president of Texas Space, Technology, Applications and Research (TSTAR). Bryan, Texas, is a suburb of College Station. NASA's backup mission control is now located at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center. That's where controllers already handle all of the science aboard the International Space Station, and the center has facilities to accommodate controllers from Houston, as well. Mission Control uses the Huntsville center when it has to evacuate Houston because of hurricane threats. The Texas developers now wanting to take that control center are telling NASA they are much closer to Houston. (5/22)

Are We Alone in the Universe? (Source: American Spectator)
The recent findings of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler telescope have revealed that there may be 400 billion stars in our single galaxy, and at least 70 percent of them have planets. One in every five stars may have planets that have the capacity to be “Goldilocks planets” of a suitable temperature and distance away from their suns to foster microbial life. And there are 150 billion other galaxies to search.

A variation of Murphy’s law—“whatever can happen will happen”—suggests that we are not alone. It would be a statistical oddity, one could say a “space oddity.” “Finding life would be the most important discovery in human history,” said Congressman Lamar Smith in today’s hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. (5/22)

Public-Private Partnerships Among Alternatives on RD-180 (Source: Defense News)
The undersecretary of the US Air Force wants to see alternatives to a Russian-made engine, but that doesn’t mean the service should immediately begin developing its own. “I don’t know that we should pursue building an alternate engine,” Eric Fanning said. “But I do think we need to explore ways to mitigate our reliance on the RD-180.

"One [alternative] could be building an alternate engine, but that could mean inside the Air Force or as part of a public-private partnership. So even that has multiple options inside of it.” Asked what a public-private partnership could look like, Fanning indicated it could be a way for the service to avoid having to foot the entire bill of a new engine, something he is “very concerned” about. (5/22)

Musk Show in Washington Roils Rivals as Fans Applaud (Source: Bloomberg)
It’s been quite a show since Elon Musk arrived in Washington, picking fights with competitors, suing the world’s largest military and jumping into a U.S.- Russia dispute that may risk international space cooperation. The CEO of SpaceX which is seeking to break into a roughly $70 billion Pentagon satellite launch market, operates outside the traditional ways of seeking influence and building relationships in the nation’s capital.

While Musk might be in danger of alienating federal contractors and agencies, the 42-year-old billionaire’s efforts to spur competition and cut government costs have won support among lawmakers and an advocacy group.

“A lot of people would look at that and say, ‘You’re biting the hand that feeds you,’” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based nonprofit group. “But he’s been shut out of the launch business. I applaud them for thinking out of the box and taking any advantage possible to break into the government’s launch business.” (5/22)

Upgraded Space Shuttle 'Pumpkin-Suit' Tested For Asteroid Mission EVA (Source: NASA)
NASA is testing a next generation Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES), formerly ACES, for possible use on extra-vehicular activities. Astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen, tested the suits underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center. Click here. (5/21)

Second SLS Mission Might Not Carry Crew (Source: Space News)
Instead of sending astronauts beyond Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program, NASA might use a Space Launch System mission slated for 2021 as a potentially unmanned test flight for a new upper stage Boeing would build as part of its pending SLS prime contract.

Boeing and NASA are close to finalizing an SLS contract that would call for building a new so-called Exploration Upper Stage to replace the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion stage the space shuttle-derived heavy lift rocket will use in 2017 to launch the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule to the same distant lunar retrograde orbit where NASA has proposed parking a small asteroid. (5/21)

ULA's Launch Costs Rival SpaceX, a Better Overall Value, CEO Says (Source: Denver Business Journal)
United Launch Alliance's “bulk buy” contract with the U.S. Air Force prices its rocket launches close to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, making ULA a better value given its record of reliability, the company’s leader said. Michael Gass, CEO of ULA, revealed specific pricing details not previously known about the five-year, $11 billion ‘bulk buy’ contract it won from the Air Force in December.

Gass wants to counter claims by SpaceX that the startup’s launches would be as much as 75 percent cheaper than ULA’s. “For the first time, we’ve said enough is enough with this misinformation they’re bandying about,” Gass said. ULA’s contract to supply 36 rocket-booster cores to the Air Force and national security agencies puts ULA prices between $164 million and $350 million, depending on the size of the payload being launched, how many rocket booster cores are needed and on the payload’s destination.

ULA’s average price per rocket booster could dive below as $100 million if another 14 rocket boosters ULA has committed to produce are included, Gass said. SpaceX says that ULA is a monopoly that has escalated costs for rocket launches because it faces no competition. SpaceX has also questioned whether the ULA's use of Russian-made rocket engines in its Atlas V rockets is a risk to national security given strained relations with Russia. (5/21)

Prove It With Competition! (Source: SPACErePORT)
Allowing SpaceX and ULA to compete for an Air Force launch contract, with apples-to-apples pricing terms, would be an interesting way to determine how much each company's launch services will cost. Just a few years ago, NASA was complaining that the price for a basic Atlas-5 (401 model) increased to $187 million, from $124 million a few years prior. "Rocket costs are going crazy and mostly up," said Steve Squyres, in a report recommending that NASA pursue a bulk-buy strategy like the Air Force has done. (5/22)

Falcon-9 Certification - What Is It? (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA's approach has been for a vehicle to achieve three successful flights in a common configuration to be certified as a "low risk" vehicle. The Air Force apparently has a different approach. To address differences in the certification approaches, a 2011 "coordinated strategy" was developed to "enable competition and provide a consistent path for new entrants to compete for U.S. Government missions." Under this strategy, the Air Force established a "New Entrant Certification Guide" (NECG), based on NASA procedures for payload and launch vehicle risk classification.

But a 2013 GAO report highlighted problems with the Air Force's implementation of this certification strategy. According to GAO, each agency may have a different determination of the number of successful launches required, the types and amount of data required from the launch company, the order of steps toward certification, and the meaning of "common vehicle configuration." Also, the Air Force has added 'prerequisites' that go beyond the NECG, such as a minimum lift requirement of 20,000 pounds, and a requirement for vertical payload integration.

The Air Force also worked with ULA to revise its payload interface specification requirements -- based on Atlas-5 and Delta-4 capabilities -- requiring new entrants to change their own designs while in the process of certification (with impacts on both cost and schedule). Click here for a NASA certification requirements matrix, and here for a briefing on the GAO report. (5/22)

Losing Access to RD-180 Would Prove Costly, Pentagon Panel Warns (Source: Space News)
Losing access to the Russian-made RD-180 engine would have a “significant impact” on the U.S. military space program, and the options to work without the rocket are limited, according to a new Pentagon study. The so-called Mitchell Report paints a bleak outlook for the American launch landscape without the engine. The committee was led by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mitch Mitchell, vice president of the Aerospace Corp. Mike Griffin, a former NASA administrator, was the committee’s deputy chairman.

Losing the RD-180, and thus at least temporarily grounding Atlas-5, would delay as many as 31 missions, costing the U.S. as much as $5 billion. The report recommends accelerating the current schedule of RD-180 purchases but to avoid U.S. co-production of the RD-180 engine. An American-made version of the RD-180 “does not improve the situation” and that ULA cannot ramp up the production of its Delta-4 rocket to avoid delays.

“Actions must be taken in [FY-2014] to mitigate current risk and preserve future options,” the summary reads. The report says 38 Atlas-5 missions are on manifest, but ULA and RD-Amross have only 16 RD-180 engines on hand. That number is expected to shrink on May 22 with the launch of an NRO mission. In a best case scenario, the loss of the RD-180 would mean delaying nine missions for an average of two years, costing taxpayers about $2.5 billion. In a worst-case scenario, as many as 31 missions would be delayed for an average of 3.5 years and cost $5 billion, the report said. (5/21)

Safety First? It's Time for a Fresh Look at the Risks of Spaceflight (Source: NBC)
Rand Simberg argues that there's a connection between the current troubles with Russia and America's post-Apollo space policy. "The reason that we're dependent on the Russians," he said, "is because we're chickensh*#," he said. In his book "Safe Is Not an Option," Simberg argues that America's space program has stagnated because it's become so risk-averse.

The way he sees it, policymakers learned the wrong lessons from the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster and the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia. Rather than doubling down on an expensive launch system, NASA and Congress should have looked to more reliable, more commercially viable alternatives, he says. And Simberg fears that they're making the same mistake with the heavy-lift Space Launch System, which is arguably more expensive than the shuttle.

Some members of Congress argue that spaceflight has to be expensive, and has to be under the control of the government, because commercial launch providers may not measure up to their safety standards. But Simberg says the bureaucratic fixation on complete safety is wrong-headed. Click here. (5/21)

Space Florida and NASA FSGC Announce 2014 Summer Interns (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium have picked five Florida college students for the 2014 Florida Space Internship Program. The interns will work 10 weeks at the Space Life Sciences Center (SLSL) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Students participating in this year’s program include:

Shaun Abdelkarim of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Mary Elizabeth Bishop of Florida State College at Jacksonville; Kimberly Cranmore of the University of Central Florida; Jessica Page of the Florida Institute of Technology; and Fernando Valbuena of the University of Central Florida.

“The goal of this program is to help inspire and train Florida’s next-generation of aerospace engineers,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. “By working hand-in-hand with our state’s robust network of universities and SLSL research tenants, these internships offer an immersive experience that will give students a unique advantage when entering the work world.” (5/21)

Morpheus Flies with Lasers at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
During a test flight Thursday at Kennedy Space Center, laser sensors aboard a prototype lander will attempt to map a simulated lunar landscape, identify the best landing site and guide the vehicle to a precise touchdown, a combination NASA says it has never attempted demonstrated before. "Neil Armstrong looked down and didn't like what he saw, so he flew over a bunch of hazards and finally landed as he was running out of gas," said Chirold Epp, manager of the sensor project. "So, no, he didn't have this capability."

NASA's unmanned Morpheus lander is scheduled to lift off at 2:30 p.m. on its second-to-last flight planned at KSC, representing the culmination of a test program that began with a fiery crash in 2012, but has since seen 10 consecutive successes of the rebuilt "Bravo" vehicle. (5/21)

SpaceX Plans DragonFly Landing Tests (Source: NBC)
SpaceX, has provided fresh details about its plan to test a Dragon capsule that can use retro rockets to make a soft landing on Earth — and perhaps eventually on Mars. The prototype test project, code-named DragonFly, would be conducted at SpaceX's test facility near McGregor, Texas, according to a draft environmental assessment released by the FAA.

The document is part of the regulatory requirements for issuing an experimental permit for the tests. In the 76-page FAA document, the DragonFly RLV is described as a 7-ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The program calls for a series of increasingly ambitious tests, starting with a parachute-assisted landing and proceeding to a full propulsive landing and rocket-powered hops. Here's a video. (5/21)

Exelis Nabs Contracts for NASA, JAXA Climate Sensors (Source: Space News)
Exelis Geospatial Systems nabbed a pair of contracts, one of them potentially worth more than $200 million, to provide climate-monitoring sensors for NASA and the Japanese space agency, JAXA. The company will build the Radiation Budget Instrument that will fly on the Joint Polar Satellite System 2 weather satellite, tentatively slated to launch in 2021. (5/21)

U.S., Three Allies Sign Space Situational Awareness Accord (Source: Space News)
The U.S., Australia, the U.K. and Canada have signed a memorandum of understanding to work more closely together on space situational awareness activities, the U.K. announced. “The partnership will allow for more effective and coordinated use of their space capabilities through cooperation on activities such as identifying and understanding what objects are in space, ensuring uninterrupted satellite operations, and avoiding satellite collisions,” the U.K. statement said.

The root of the relationship dates back, at least in part, to 2010 when the four countries participated in a joint war game. In recapping the event for a November 2010 edition of the Air Force’s magazine for cyber professionals, Gen. Robert Kehler, then the commander of Air Force Space Command, said, “There may be inherent value in evolving the Joint Space Operations Center to a Combined Space Operations Center.” (5/21)

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