July 22, 2014

SNC Completes Major Dream Chaser NASA CCiCap Milestone (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has successfully passed Milestone 9, the Risk Reduction and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Advancement Testing milestone, for several critical Dream Chaser systems under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. Milestone 9 culminated in a major comprehensive review of various hardware systems. To date, SNC has received 92 percent of the total award value of the CCiCap agreement. (7/22)

More Eyes on the Skies (Source: New York Times)
The future, it is often said, belongs to those who plan for it. And astronomers have been busy working the proverbial smoke-filled rooms (or whatever passes for them today) where the destiny of big science is often shaped and crisscrossing one another in airports on fund-raising trips. Now they are about to have something to show for it.

More than a decade after competing groups set out to raise money for gargantuan telescopes that could study planets around distant stars and tune into the birth of galaxies at the dawn of time, shovels, pickaxes and more sophisticated tools are now about to go to work on mountaintops in Hawaii and Chile in what is going to be the greatest, most expensive and ambitious spree of telescope-making in the history of astronomy.

If it all plays out as expected and budgeted, astronomers of the 2020s will be swimming in petabytes of data streaming from space and the ground. Herewith a report card on the future of big-time stargazing. (7/22)

Rep. Lamar Smith: Why We Explore Space (Source: The Hill)
A poet once wrote that a person’s reach should exceed their grasp. By that, I believe he meant that we should try for worthy goals, even if we don’t always achieve them.  At a fundamental level, space exploration — the mission of NASA — is about inspiration. This inspiration fuels our desire to push the boundaries of the possible and reach beyond our own pale blue dot.

The first human footsteps on the moon are now a distant memory.  And America’s ability to return to the moon, Mars or other worthy destinations is slipping. When the president canceled the Constellation program in 2010, our chance to explore beyond low-Earth orbit was significantly delayed. To the dismay of the American people, the administration made it clear that human space exploration was not a priority.

These setbacks have fueled a sense that America is falling behind, with our best days behind us. Today, America’s finest spaceships and largest rockets are found in museums rather than on launch pads. The administration’s continued focus on costly distractions is harmful to our space program. The Obama administration continues to advocate increasing climate change funding at NASA at the expense of other priorities such as space exploration. Click here. (7/22)

SGT Wins NASA Human Spaceflight Support Contract (Source: Space News)
NASA awarded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT) a nine-year contract worth up to $1.3 billion to provide mission and flight crew operations support for the international space station and future human space exploration. The contract includes a pair of options that would keep SGT on as NASA’s main space station support contractor until Sep. 30, 2024 — the date through which the White House in January proposed extending the station’s orbital mission.

SGT employs about 1,950 people now and will ramp up to about 2,400 after the Integrated Mission Operations Contract 2 award phases in Oct. 1. Major SGT subcontractors under the new ISS support contract include Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions, Gaithersburg, Maryland; GHG Corp., Webster, Texas; and GeoControl Systems and Cimarron Software Services, both in Houston. (7/22)

Transportation: Florida is the Best State in America (Source: Washington Post)
The nation’s roads and bridges aren’t in good shape. Twenty-five percent of bridges are rated deficient or obsolete. Fourteen percent of roads are in poor condition. And if Congress can’t reach a deal on the Highway Trust Fund soon, repair work could grind to a halt by early August. But amid the potholes and crumbling pylons, one state stands out: Florida ranks near the top in nearly every measure of road transportation.

Just 4 percent of the Sunshine State’s roads are in disrepair, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Seventeen percent of the bridges in Florida are obsolete or deficient. In both cases, only a handful of states rank higher. Part of what sets Florida apart, according to experts, is that it has a system of tolls, user fees and taxes that ensures infrastructure funding keeps flowing. Gas taxes in Florida, the 11th-highest in the country, add about 36 cents to the cost of a gallon of fuel. The state’s gas tax, tolls and user fees adjust each year based on inflation.

Editor's Note: Perhaps this is why Florida's Department of Transportation is now able to invest over $10 million every year for space transportation infrastructure. Meanwhile, rocket fuels are exempt from Florida tax. (7/21)

Editorial: The Second-Best Plan (Source: Space News)
Recently, an advisory committee assembled by the National Research Council (NRC) published a report titled “Pathways to Exploration” calling for redirection of NASA’s human spaceflight program. The NRC report translates as follows: NASA should build a lunar base. The NRC committee authors never present this as their conclusion. Rather, they attempt to induce the reader to draw it by concluding that NASA's ultimate goal should be the human exploration of Mars.

There are three paths to get humans to Mars: (a) Perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Then send humans to Phobos, then send humans to Mars; (b) Build a space station at Lagrange point L2, then send astronauts to the Moon, then send astronauts to near-Earth asteroids, then send astronauts to Phobos, then send humans to Mars; and (c) Build a Moon base, then send humans to Mars. Options (a) and (b) make no sense. So choose one of the remaining options.

The most serious problem with the report is the way that the authors avoid competent discussion of the real alternative. If our goal is to send humans to Mars, and we understand that engaging in diversionary activities is counterproductive to that achievement, then instead of engaging in diversionary activities, we should send humans to Mars. The authors however, actually want to build and operate a Moon base, and so to buy (several decades of) time for such an effort, they raise several challenges that supposedly must be solved before a humans to Mars program. Click here. (7/21)

Editorial: What Happened to Commercial Space? (Source: Florida Today)
During the 1990s, with the Cold War over, the launch companies knew they needed new customers to sustain their business. Space planners asked, what’s next for the Space Coast? Their answer came from the growing information economy and its need to move ever-increasing heaps of data around the world. The future they saw for the Cape was in commercial launching of commercial satellites.

The head of Florida’s first space agency said the Cape might see as many as “50 launches a year.” What a wonderful prospect. Didn’t happen. Though we’ve had a number of commercial space shots from the Cape (10 percent of the worldwide total of 400), the boom in new business so confidently predicted never arrived. Commercial space launches from the Cape ran into four obstacles.

The first was the U.S. Air Force. Unprepared for the pace and needs of commerce, the Cape’s Air Force operators had trouble shifting from emphasis on reliability above all to the commercial world’s balanced priorities, where cost is king and reliability is just another pricing element offset through insurance. As commercial space inched forward through the Cape’s bureaucracy, all that growing mass of data to be moved around the world found easier, cheaper paths. Here in U.S., the bulk of our data flows through fiber-optic cable and bounces back and forth between a half-million microwave towers. Click here. (7/22)

Russian Cargo Craft to Host Experiment After Delivering ISS Supplies (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Progress M-23M resupply spacecraft is due to get undocked on Tuesday from the International Space Station (ISS) and embark on an autonomous scientific flight to study the impact of its engines on the plasma of the Earth's ionosphere. Another Progress cargo ship is to be launched on July 24. It will bring fuel, food, water and oxygen for the crew and various experiments and equipment. (7/21)

The Future of Moon Exploration, Lunar Colonies and Humanity (Source: Space.com)
A rocket carrying more than a dozen privately built probes touches down on the moon. The robots burst from the vehicle in a race to beam back high-definition video and other data while roving the surface of Earth's nearest natural satellite. The people of Earth watch a broadcast of the race as the rovers roam (or stall) in the lunar dust.

The motives that drove teams to send these robotic emissaries to the moon might be different — ranging from inspiring a country to starting a sustainable, commercial endeavor — but they have all flown the more than 200,000 miles (321,000 kilometers) to the moon, riding on a wave of commercial hopes that rest on the lunar surface.

Could this be what the start of a lunar revolution looks like 45 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing? For some of the people involved with a private race to the moon, that hypothetical scenario could become reality in a little more than a year. (7/21)

Alien Planet Has Longest Year Known for Transiting World (Source: Space.com)
A newfound alien planet is one for the record books. The alien planet Kepler-421b — which crosses the face of, or transits, its host star from Earth's perspective — takes 704 Earth days to complete one orbit, and thus has the longest year known for any transiting alien world, researchers said. (For comparison, Earth orbits the sun once every 365 days, and Mars completes a lap every 780 days.) (7/22)

Russia Sanctions Aren’t Rocket Science, Except When They Are (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Russia doesn’t have much leverage amid calls for tougher international sanctions following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, but it does have the space rocket engines the Pentagon still loves, and some U.S. politicians love to hate. The prospect of the U.S. running out of RD-180 engines, used to launch its most sensitive military and intelligence satellites, faded last month after weeks of hand-wringing in the corridors of Congress and the Pentagon.

The problem? A senior Russian politician threatened to pull the plug on shipments of the engines in retaliation for the first round of Ukraine-related sanctions. The threat didn’t materialize, and the joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. that uses the engines last month assured that a new batch would arrive in August, topping up an existing supply that was deemed sufficient for another two-and-a-half years of satellite launches. (7/21)

RD-180 Not Needed To Launch All U.S. Air Force Payloads (Source: Space News)
There is a considerable amount of press these days about how the Russians are withholding the sale of the RD-180 rocket engine for the Atlas 5 launch vehicle, which reduces our defense space launch capability. This is absolutely wrong. The Delta-4 always had the capability to launch all defense space missions from the first day of the EELV. The Atlas 5 never had that total capability because the Atlas program did not bid the heavy vehicle and necessary launch capability out of Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

The Delta 4 program initially considered using existing Russian engines, both liquid oxygen (LOX)/RP-1 and LOX/hydrogen. However, the Air Force requirement of having to bring manufacturing into the U.S. was a cost and International Traffic in Arms Regulations issue. Overall, the internal launch vehicle trade studies didn’t differ significantly between the LOX/RP launch vehicle and the LOX/hydrogen vehicles. Click here. (7/21)

Consolidated Launch Range Award Now Expected in September (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force’s long-delayed award of a multibillion-dollar contract to support the nation’s two main launch ranges has been pushed back again, this time until September 2014. Award of the Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract (LISC) had been targeted for the second quarter of 2014 after the service acknowledged late last summer that an expected 2013 award was not going to happen. That delay gave the service more time to determine the portion of the contract to be set aside for small businesses. (7/21)

Canadian Aerospace Companies Get Government Support (Source: Times Colonist)
The federal government said two aerospace companies based in Quebec — Avior Integrated Products Inc. and Techniprodec Ltd. — will receive a combined $1.38 million in repayable funding to help improve productivity. The move comes as Ottawa and the province work to strengthen the sector's position in the aerospace industry with several announcements at the Farnborough International Airshow in Britain.

Avior will receive a $1 million loan from the government on a $5.5 million investment to boost capacity for the production of wing structures, fuselage and cockpit components, the government said on Wednesday. The money will be used to improve the plant, upgrade existing equipment and buy new specialized equipment. The initiative will add 75 jobs. The firm specializes in the manufacture of hybrid structures made from metal and advanced composite materials.

Meanwhile, Techniprodec will get a $375,000 loan on a total investment of $750,000 that will help the company acquire specialized equipment for helicopter parts and landing gear components for Messier Dowty and Heroux-Devtek. About six jobs will be added to the Montreal-based company. The announcement comes a day after two other aerospace companies made commitments to build their operations in Montreal over the next three years, creating about 480 jobs. (7/21)

Guns, Butter and and Rockets: The Economics of Spaceflight (Source: Space Safety)
Economics has always affected spaceflight. The sheer cost of space missions causes even the world’s most affluent nations to plan their activities carefully. So many missions that are technically feasible have never materialized for lack of funding. To date, only three nations have developed the capability to launch astronauts into orbit. Click here. (7/21)

SpaceWorks Releases Global Launch Vehicle Market Assessment (Source: SpaceWorks)
Every year SpaceWorks produces a Nano/Microsatellite Market Assessment to capture the growing number of future nano/microsatellite (1 - 50 kg) missions requiring a launch. The assessment is based on publicly announced nano/microsatellite projects and programs as well as quantitative and qualitative adjustments to account for the expected sustainment of current projects and programs. This study presents high-level launch vehicle performance characteristics for 2013 in order to determine whether the current launch vehicle market can sufficiently meet growing demand in the nano/microsatellite mass class. Click here. (7/21)

California Hastens Tax Breaks to Lure Aerospace Industry (Source: Bloomberg)
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law earlier this month granting a $420 million tax break for aerospace companies to help Boeing and Lockheed Martin bid for a lucrative U.S. bomber contract. After Northrop Grumman, which also is bidding for the federal business, complained about favoritism, state lawmakers promised help for Northrop, too, when the legislature returns from vacation next month.

California was at the center of the U.S. aerospace business before defense cuts led to loss of more than half the industry’s jobs in the state from 1990 to 2000. The tax incentives and other promises to ease regulatory hurdles are part of a push by Brown and lawmakers to woo back high-paying jobs at a time when the 76-year-old Democrat suffers from a perception that he is unfriendly to business. (7/18)

The Public-Private Future of NASA (Source: Federal News Radio)
"We're now on a very positive track to get our astronauts in space on these commercial vehicles. We should have been funding this earlier, and we wouldn't have this gap," Lori Garver, general manager of the Airline Pilots Association and former deputy director of NASA, said of the agency's progress after ending the space shuttle program. Garver spoke about the future of NASA with Women of Washington radio hosts Gigi Schumm and Aileen Black.

When it comes to programs that incorporate the private sector into space travel, Garver said, "In my view, this is the perfect way that NASA can help advance our technology in this country, our capability in space, and help us sustain an exploration program." As for the struggle to increase funding for NASA, "The government is there to support status quo and it's very hard to challenge status-quo funding," she said. "The public should be seeing, and hopefully letting their members of Congress know, that these are valuable missions for NASA." (7/16)

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