June 14, 2014

Navy: Solid-Fuel Rocket Engine Industrial Base in Danger (Source: National Defense)
The Navy is on track with plans to replace its Ohio-class submarines and extend the lives of its Trident D5 missiles, but a weakened solid-fuel rocket motor industrial base threatens to drive up costs for the latter program, the head of the service’s nuclear program said. There is declining demand from the Air Force and NASA for rockets fueled by solid propellants, said Vice Adm. Terry Benedict.

The Navy maintains a continuous production capability of 12 motors per year — the minimum sustaining rate — but it cannot bear the full weight of sustaining the industrial base. “If NASA decides to use liquid propulsion systems for their advanced booster, it will result in significant future cost increases for the Navy’s D5 and the Air Force’s [intercontinental ballistic missile] rocket loaders, but it will also result in diminished critical skills in the solid rocket motor industry production lines that I believe puts the entire specialized industry at risk,” he said.

Editor's Note: Interesting timing for this Navy statement, as Lockheed Martin is pressing forward with its solid-fueled Athena, Orbital Sciences/ATK is considering a solid-fuel first stage for Antares and Thunderbolt (for Stratolaunch), and NASA must choose between solid- and liquid-fuel options for SLS boosters. The Athena and Orbital/ATK's Taurus both use Castor-120 solid rocket motors, which are roughly the same as the D-5 motor used for the Navy's Trident missiles. I guess what's needed is a stronger market for commercial sales of these launch vehicles. (6/13)

Real Hurdle to Mars Mission is Politics, Not Technology (Source: Florida Today)
ackling in-space propulsion, oxygen recycling and radiation protection is daunting enough. But the most formidable challenge in sending astronauts to Mars just might be the politics playing out on Earth. There's near-unanimous support on Capitol Hill for making the Red Planet the next grand destination for America's space program. Paying for it, enlisting international partners, and deciding exactly how to get there? Not so much.

"The problem for this all along has been political will," said former NASA historian Roger Launius, senior curator for space history at the National Air and Space Museum. "And the political will has not been present for a Mars mission. Ever." Political will essentially means money.

It's true that Congress and the administration differ on how to get to Mars. Many lawmakers want to use the moon as a staging point, while NASA wants to redirect an asteroid into the moon's orbit and use it as a stepping-stone on the way to Mars. But lawmakers appear reluctant to spend hundreds of billions over the next few decades to make the mission a reality. That largely reflects a lack of interest among their constituents, experts say. (6/13)

USAF Rejected SpaceX Offer To Launch GPS 3 Satellites for $80M Each (Source: Space News)
Months before the U.S. Defense Department disclosed plans to award a sole-source contract to United Launch Alliance for a block of national security satellite launches, the Air Force turned down an unsolicited bid from Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to launch the service’s GPS 3 navigation satellites for $79.9 million each, according to new filings in federal court.

In a timeline detailing events in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program and filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims June 4, SpaceX said it submitted the proposal on Aug. 16, 2012. On Sept. 18, 2012, the Air Force rejected the proposal, “explaining that the GPS III satellites ‘may be acquired by competitive methods’ from ‘certified launch providers,’” the SpaceX timeline said.

Editor's Note: This is a shame. If the Air Force wants to qualify Falcon-9 for military launches and help ensure the rocket's reliability, there is no better way than to assign non-critical payloads like GPS to SpaceX. This would provide a series of identical missions to hone the launch team's processes while allowing the Air Force to observe and collect data on the vehicle. (6/13)

NASA Centennial Challenges Focus on Lunar CubeSats (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Centennial Challenges program seeks input on two challenges being considered for start in 2014. The first challenge will award up to $3,000,000 in cash prizes to registered competitors that are able to meet or exceed technical objectives for 1) propulsion, 2) communication, and 3) longevity while in lunar orbit. The second challenge will award up to $1,500,00 in cash prizes to registered competitors that are able to meet or exceed technical objectives for 1) communication and 2) longevity beyond lunar distances.

Up to $1,000,000 will also be awarded for successful competition of Ground Qualification Competition reviews. The proposed challenges would be carried into trans-lunar trajectory of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) on the first launch (EM-1) of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion planned for Fiscal Year 2018 or on non-NASA vehicles that the competitor secures. (6/13)

Bulgaria Joins European Space Agency (Stadart News)
MPs approved an agreement between the Bulgarian government and the European Space Agency. The ESA is an intergovernmental organization that implements space policy in Europe. Of all EU member states only Bulgaria and Croatia have not signed agreements with the ESA. The country's ESA integration will provide access of Bulgarian enterprises to ESA projects. Due to the lack of an agreement with ESA, Bulgarian enterprises were not allowed to participate in projects funded by it, even as subcontractors. (6/13)

Earth May Have Underground 'Ocean' Three Times That on Surface (Source: Guardian)
After decades of searching scientists have discovered that a vast reservoir of water, enough to fill the Earth’s oceans three times over, may be trapped hundreds of miles beneath the surface, potentially transforming our understanding of how the planet was formed.

The water is locked up in a mineral called ringwoodite about 660km (400 miles) beneath the crust of the Earth, researchers say. Geophysicist Steve Jacobsen co-authored the study and said the discovery suggested Earth’s water may have come from within, driven to the surface by geological activity, rather than being deposited by icy comets hitting the forming planet as held by the prevailing theories. (6/12)

Cracks May Hint at Ancient Ocean on Pluto's Moon Charon (Source: NBC)
When NASA's New Horizons probe streaks past Pluto, scientists will be looking for cracks in the surface of its biggest moon, Charon, to figure out whether it was ever warm enough to maintain a subsurface ocean. It seems hard to believe, considering that the surface temperature on Pluto and its moons is thought to be 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-229 degrees Celsius). But scientists say it's theoretically possible for Charon to have had a hidden sea of liquid water. (6/14)

India Panning to Launch French Satellite SPOT 7 on June 26 (Source: India Times)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is planning to launch its next rocket PSLV C23 carrying a French remote sensing satellite SPOT 7, along with four others from Sriharikota spaceport on June 26, a senior official said on Friday. SPOT 7 is an Earth observing satellite, similar to Indian Remote Satellite System (IRSS), he said, adding four other satellites would also be launched on the same day. (6/14)
Alibaba Site Offer Lynx Rides in Asia (Source: Bloomberg)
Taobao, the online retailer of Alibaba Group, is where one goes to pick up cheap children’s clothes, Chinese history books, and maybe even some generic (or fake) headache medicine. Now add a product for the rich and adventurous: quickie trips into outer space, reports the China Daily on June 13. As of Thursday, those with plenty of cash to spare can turn to Taobao to book a 6-7 minute trip straight up, complete with weightlessness, offered by Dutch company Space Expedition (SXC).

The basic deal: 599,999 yuan ($96,600) for a Pioneer Astronaut rocket trip that takes one 61 kilometers above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center. The Premium package, or Founder Astronaut, costs 1.39 million yuan ($224,000) and takes one up a little more than 100 kilometers. The spaceship: the Lynx, a piloted, two-seat, reusable, liquid rocket-powered suborbital vehicle, is now being developed by XCOR Aerospace. (6/14)

Herschel Spies Budding Stars and a Giant, Strange Ring (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Herschel Space Observatory has uncovered a weird ring of dusty material while obtaining one of the sharpest scans to date of a huge cloud of gas and dust, called NGC 7538. The observations have revealed numerous clumps of material, a baker's dozen of which may evolve into the most powerful kinds of stars in the universe. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions. (6/14)

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