June 17, 2014

NASA’s ‘Rocket to Nowhere’ Could Hijack Private Spaceflights (Source: Washington Times)
The space shuttle has been mothballed, and prospects of a new NASA ship to carry Americans to space are tarnished by setbacks and cost overruns. The only way an American astronaut can get into space now is to hitch a ride on a Russian rocket. Private space vehicles could be the better answer. SpaceX recently rolled out a manned capsule — privately funded — that could replace Russian Soyuz flights as the preferred way to take American astronauts into the heavens.

But a provision added by a Senate committee to the bill that funds NASA could keep these private rockets grounded. The provision is complex and deals with contacting for these companies to help the federal mission in space. Sen. Richard Shelby, (R-AL), would require the companies to provide figures of both the fixed-price cost as well as the cost-plus prices they would receive if paid by that method. Requiring private spaceflight contractors to calculate this additional, irrelevant set of numbers would consume thousands of man hours to calculate the complex, esoteric cost-plus system.

Mr. Shelby says all this extra effort is about transparency for taxpayers. Aerospace engineer Rand Simberg writes that it’s more likely to be about protecting NASA’s Space Launch System, an $18 billion rocket program with no defined mission. The program is headquartered at the Marshall in Huntsville, and its employees are Mr. Shelby’s constituents. Launching this “Rocket to Nowhere” will cost taxpayers at least a half-billion dollars every time it lifts off — if it ever does. It’s only fair, and in the long run more efficient, that private firms get a fair opportunity to compete for America’s space business. (6/17)

CNBC's Disruptors (Source: CNBC)
CNBC features private companies in 27 industries—from aerospace to enterprise software to retail—whose innovations are revolutionizing the business landscape. These forward-thinking upstarts have identified unexploited niches in the marketplace that have the potential to become billion-dollar businesses, and they rushed to fill them. Three space-focused companies are on the list, including SpaceX, Skybox Imaging, and Kymeta. (6/17)

A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2015 Budget Prospects (Source: Parabolic Arc)
After years of flat and declining budgets, it looks like NASA will get a funding boost this year from an unexpected source — Congress. The FY 2015 budget measures coming out of the Senate and House actually boost the President’s proposed $17.46 billion spending plan by about $400 million. The Senate would spend an even $17.9 billion, while the House spending plan is just slight under that level at $17.896 billion. Click here. (6/16)

CASIS Announces Grant Awards for Remote Sensing (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has announced grant awards for five projects focused on remote sensing and Earth observation. These awards stem from the CASIS Request for Proposals (RFP) “Remote Sensing From the International Space Station.” Click here.

Editor's Note: Among the winning projects is one from the Florida Institute of Technology. This project "seeks to advance the development of a new type of charge injection device sensor for Earth and space imaging that will improve upon existing charge-coupled device technology. (6/17)

Costs, Benefits of RD-180 Engine Replacement Debated (Source: National Defense)
The U.S. national security space community was left wondering this spring whether a Russian company would continue to supply it with engines needed to launch heavy payloads on its Atlas rockets. At issue was the RD-180, a first-stage engine needed to power the Atlas V. “Relying on Russian engines to launch satellites for our national security missions has always been bad policy,” said Rep. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-MD, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Language in the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill would provide $220 million to kickstart domestic production of a new first-stage rocket engine, which would replace the RD-180. That would only be a small down payment in an effort that would take several years and about $1.5 billion, experts interviewed said. Click here. (6/17)

ULA Signs Multiple Contracts to Pursue RD-180 Replacement (Sources: Denver Post, SpaceFlight Now)
United Launch Alliance has signed commercial contracts with multiple U.S. companies to pursue development of a liquid propulsion rocket engine to replace the controversial Russian-made RD-180. ULA will choose one U.S. company's concept by the fourth quarter of this year to supply launch-ready engines by 2019.

ULA did not identify which companies will undertake the engine studies. Jessica Rye, a ULA spokesperson, also declined to say how many companies signed the contracts with the launch provider. The contracts are for early-stage studies of a hydrocarbon-fueled engine optimized for first stage propulsion with "aggressive recurring cost targets," according to ULA. (6/17)

Russian Rocket Deal Needs Wing-Walking Approach (Source: The Hill)
While ongoing Russian behavior and actions could ultimately destroy any remaining basis for collaboration, it would be premature and shortsighted to end U.S.-Russian space cooperation that can continue to be mutually beneficial and a stabilizing force in the future. Moving forward, it is also important to make a clear distinction between collaboration, which is mutually beneficial, versus dependence and patronage, which are vastly different.

In addition to the foreign policy imperatives of developing a new engine, there is a need to maintain two fully certified launch vehicle families capable of reliably launching national security payloads. Without the development of a new engine, the U.S. runs a very high risk of being unable to maintain two independent launch vehicles, and runs a very real risk of replacing one perceived monopoly with another.

In the near term, the U.S. needs to continue to utilize RD-180 engines to provide assured access to space while concurrently developing a domestic replacement engine for use near the end of this decade. The best way ahead is a pragmatic path where the United States can utilize the RD-180 in the near term, while developing our own propulsion capabilities. Such an approach, with stable funding and political support, is what is needed at this moment if we are to truly put our national security and commercial interests first. (6/17)

America's Weapon in the US-Russia Space War (Source: CNBC)
Last month Elon Musk wowed reporters, pulling back the curtain on the spaceship that SpaceX hopes will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as 2016. The unveil of the Dragon V2 couldn't have come at a better time. Just two weeks prior, Russia's deputy prime minister vowed to bar NASA from hitching rides to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The fortuitous timing—along with the Dragon V2's sleek, futuristic design—could make the spacecraft an attractive option for NASA, which is also considering designs by Boeing and Sierra Nevada. But more important to SpaceX is the advance toward a core company objective: reusability. Dragon V2—unveiled just a month after SpaceX demonstrated technologies key to developing a reusable first rocket stage—can be retrieved, refurbished and relaunched, a concept with the potential to completely upend the economics of the spaceflight industry.

The reusable rocket stage is just the latest way SpaceX is disrupting a space launch industry in which it has already undercut its more traditional commercial launch competitors—including France's Arianespace and the Russian-U.S. joint venture International Launch Services (ILS)—by an estimated 25 percent to 35 percent, disrupting an industry that some analysts believe will be the biggest innovation economy in human history. (6/17)

Commerce Dept. Decision Boosts DigitalGlobe's Prospects (Source: USA Today)
The stakes for DigitalGlobe were high. Without Commerce's approval, the company would not be able to sell much of its highest-resolution imagery, shut out of a big part of the lucrative world market for satellite imagery. Congressional records show that DigitalGlobe spent $360,000 to lobby Congress and the federal government in the first three months of 2014, while none of the major competitors the company listed in its latest annual filing with the SEC reported any spending on lobbying.

Udall wrote President Obama a month ago urging him to accept DigitalGlobe's application to release its most advanced technology, arguing that the restriction hindered the company in the world market. "There are no restrictions on the image resolution that airborne imaging companies or foreign providers can offer," Udall wrote. "Yet with foreign commercial providers soon able to provide imagery at or better than the currently allowed commercial U.S. resolution limit of 0.5 meters, current restrictions on U.S. satellite-based commercial imagery providers put the United States at a competitive disadvantage." (6/17)

Air Products Wins NASA Liquid Nitrogen and Liquid Oxygen Contract (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has awarded a contract to Air Products and Chemicals Inc. of Allentown, Pennsylvania, to supply liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen to NASA’s Ames Research Center, California; Glenn Research Center, Ohio; and Marshall Space Center, Alabama. The firm-fixed price contract with an Economic Price Adjustment begins July 1. It has a maximum value of $10.5 million with a potential performance period of five years. (6/17)

NASA Returns to the Bottom of the Ocean (Source: Space Reporter)
Three and a half miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, 62 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, you will find Florida International University’s undersea research habitat: Aquarius Reef Base. This is the world’s only undersea laboratory, and four crew members, called aquanauts, live there. Aquarius is used for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). Activities conducted on the ocean floor, NASA says, will inform future International Space Station and explorations activities. NASA plans to use Aquarius twice this summer.

NASA officials further explain that the studies provide information that correlates directly to life aboard the space station, where crew members must frequently perform critical tasks that present constraining factors similar to those experienced in an undersea environment. “It is critical that we perform science applicable to NASA’s exploration goals in a high-fidelity space operational context. The extreme environment of life undersea is as close to being in space as possible." (6/16)

Lockheed Execs Defend All-purpose Orion (Source: Space News)
A week after a blue-ribbon panel said it makes little sense to build exploration spacecraft without specific destinations in mind, Lockheed Martin defended taking such a mission-agnostic approach with the Orion deep-space crew capsule it is building for NASA. The thrust of that defense was the size of NASA’s budget, which, according to Larry Price, is not large enough to do anything but build a modular spacecraft that could be adapted later for the many precursor missions that pave the way for a crewed Mars landing sometime in the 2030s.

“We’re managing the budget that we’ve got, and maximizing the pieces that we need in the near-term,” Price said in a June 9 interview here during Lockheed’s annual media day. Designing a spacecraft that can be adapted for several different missions is comparatively cheaper than what Price called “point design,” in which NASA and its contractors would design new spacecraft for every precursor mission on the road to Mars. (6/16)

Bobak Ferdowsi - Becoming a Space Explorer and a Meme (Source: MIT Tech Review)
Bobak Ferdowsi remembers the moment in 1997 when he was inspired to become an astronautical engineer. As he began his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington, images were arriving from NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission, and “seeing pictures from a vehicle that was actively being driven on another planet—I knew it was something I wanted to be part of,” he recalls.

So Ferdowsi changed his major to aerospace engineering and went on to MIT to earn a master’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, working with the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI). In 2003 he earned a post at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He joined a 30-person team that was beginning a nine-year effort to develop, launch, and land the Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover vehicle. (6/17)

Hubble Begins Search Beyond Pluto For Potential Flyby Targets (Source: Space Daily)
After careful consideration and analysis, the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee has recommended using Hubble to search for an object the Pluto-bound NASA New Horizons mission could visit after its flyby of Pluto in July 2015. The planned search will involve targeting a small area of sky in search of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) for the outbound spacecraft to visit.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system's formation 4.6 billion years ago. A KBO has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of 5 billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system. (6/17)

Pratt & Whitney Opens Jet Engine Center in West Palm Beach (Source: EFI)
Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera today joined United Technologies Corp. in announcing the grand opening of Pratt & Whitney’s new West Palm Beach Engine Center at the company’s West Palm Beach facility. The completed engine center includes a new state-of-the-art production facility that will support Pratt & Whitney’s ramp up for production of the PurePower PW1100G-JM engine for the Airbus A320neo aircraft and the F135 engine for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. (6/17)

Methane Research Boosts Hunt for Alien Life (Source: SEN)
A powerful new model that focuses on methane to detect life on planets outside of our Solar System more accurately than ever before, has been developed by University College London (UCL) scientists. Methane, the simplest organic molecule, is widely acknowledged to be a sign of potential life. Now researchers have developed a new spectrum for "hot" methane which can be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of Earth, up to 1,500K/1,220°C, something which was not possible before. (6/17)

Can We Protect Mars Explorers From Deadly Cosmic Radiation? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
As NASA eyes on a manned mission to Mars, Peter Guida—a medical scientist at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory in Brookhaven, N.Y.—is trying to tackle one of the biggest obstacles: hazardous radiation in space. He tells PopMech what cosmic radiation is and how we can protect astronauts against it. Click here. (6/16)

The Science of Deflector Shields: ‘Radiation Shelters’ On The Moon (Source: Medium)
Parts of the Moon’s surface have been shielded from radiation by extremely weak magnetic fields. Now researchers have worked out how and say their discovery could protect astronauts on long-duration space missions. Until now, numerous studies of magnetic deflector shields have suggested that they would have to be hugely powerful to do this job. But if weak fields can protect parts of the moon, they ought to be able to do the same for astronauts. The question is how. Click here. (6/16)

Elon Musk’s Destiny: Boba Fett or Han Solo? (Source: Space News)
While the idea of the quaint and peaceful Sputnik 1 as the first man-made object launched into space, representing our Roddenberry-esque harmonious nature, is a nice historical narrative, the sad truth is that mankind’s first journey to “boldly go” was undertaken by Nazis building rockets to murder civilians en masse during World War II. As such, outer space has long been used by the military not only for non-space-centered operations (as in militarized) but also as a weapons platform and as an arena of war (as in weaponized).

Humans carrying the tumult of war into the silence of the final frontier is a legacy that lingers to this day. However, the emergence of private entities such as Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. as major players in the arena of space development represents a force that could either accelerate these militaristic trends or nullify them. Click here. (6/16) 

NASA Changing the Way it Does Business (Source: Washington Post)
NASA is changing the way it is doing business, spending less on traditional contracts and partnering more with the private sector and local governments to further the growth of the commercial space industry. That transition promises to be a prime preoccupation for the agency’s new top lawyer, Sumara Thompson-King.

NASA is also working with Space Florida, the aerospace economic and development agency that was created by the Florida state legislature to explore ways the private sector could use Kennedy Space Center now that NASA no longer uses the shuttle landing facility there. (The last flight was the Atlantis, in 2011). SpaceX and Boeing have both won approval to use equipment and space at the center.

Space Florida “has been working and talking with us to manage the shuttle landing facility because they want to create a multi-user spaceport facility in that area,” she said. “There is a commercial industry, we all know it’s growing, so the state of Florida wants to encourage that industry. We are now engaged in more conversations and agreements with state and local governments to further commercial space activities.” Click here. (6/16)

Why Commercial Crew is Critical for Future Exploration (Source: Universe Today)
Why is NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop private human transport ships to low Earth orbit important?
That’s the question I posed to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden when we met for an exclusive interview at NASA Goddard. The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is the critical enabler “for establishing a viable orbital infrastructure” in the 2020s, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. Click here. (6/16)

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