August 23, 2014

USAF Issues RFI for New Rocket Engine (Source: Defense News)
The US Air Force is officially looking into a replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. On Thursday, the service posted a request for information (RFI) on the government contracting website FedBizOps looking for information on “booster propulsion and/or launch system materiel options that could deliver cost-effective, commercially-viable solutions for current and future National Security Space (NSS) launch requirements.”

“Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) is considering an acquisition strategy to stimulate the commercial development of booster propulsion systems and/or launch systems for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class spacelift applications,” the solicitation said. “The Air Force has relied upon foreign sources for booster propulsion systems in the past.”

While the RFI does not specifically say so, it is clear this would be the start of a replacement for the RD-180, used by the United Launch Alliance in its Atlas V launch vehicle. Congress has expressed interest in developing an American-designed replacement after Russian leadership threatened to cut off the Pentagon earlier this year. on Wednesday, the Alliance took delivery of its first two RD-180s since Russia annexed Crimea. (8/22)

Tech Start-Up Just Restored My Faith in Humanity (Source: New York)
The email inbox of a tech writer is a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of garbage — thousands of pitches for ill-conceived, duplicative, morally bankrupt, or otherwise useless companies that, 19 times out of 20, have no larger bearing on the world. Recently, with things like Yo and Push for Pizza actually taking off, the tech industry has seemed almost competitively dumb, with companies falling over themselves to seek attention by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

And then, once in a long while, you come across something that reminds you that, yes, Silicon Valley is still doing some very worthwhile things. That happened to me yesterday, with a start-up called Planet Labs. Planet Labs makes small, cheap satellites and puts them into outer space to take high-resolution pictures of the earth. It was started in 2010 by a group of NASA engineers who got frustrated with how long government-funded space projects took to complete, and decided to strike out on their own.

It has raised something like $65 million from some of the same investors who backed Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, and other popular Silicon Valley companies. If you haven't heard of them, it's because they've been avoiding most interviews with the media until they're further along in the development process. I went to Planet Labs' office yesterday, after its PR rep invited me in for a tour. (The rep said he wasn't looking for me to write a story; he just wanted to show me the place. "No agenda," he wrote. I didn't believe him, but agreed anyway.) Click here. (8/21)

North Korea Nears Finishing Rocket Launch Site (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is close to completing a bigger rocket launch site that will allow it to launch much larger space vehicles than the object it set into orbit in December 2012. According to a report posted Thursday on 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Pyongyang will have the capacity to launch larger rockets — up to 50 to 55 meters in height — by the end of the year, presuming it has larger rockets that are operationally ready.

In December 2012, North Korea successfully put an object into orbit after a multistage rocket was launched from the same site, on the west coast of North Korea, about 50 miles northwest of Pyongyang. While North Korea called the rocket launch an attempt to put a satellite into space, other countries see the actions as a cover for a test of long-range missile technology. (8/22)

Abu Dhabi-Backed Spaceship Said to Host Lady Gaga Wedding (Source: Arabian Business)
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture part-owned by Abu Dhabi, could be set to host US singer Lady Gaga’s wedding when she performs the first music concert in space next year, reports claimed. The 28-year-old singer, who will play in Dubai in September, is to blast into outer space for a special concert as part of a music festival it is staging in the US in 2015.

The New York-based singer, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, will board the Virgin Galactic space ship and travel into outer space and sing one track at zero gravity, US Weekly magazine reported last year. The stunt will be part of Zero G Colony, a three-day hi-tech festival set to take place at Spaceport America in New Mexico and which will be staged approximately six months after the first Virgin Galactic commercial flight, which is due to take place in late 2014. (8/19)

Sea Launch Takes Proactive Steps to Address Manifest Gap (Source: Sea Launch)
Sea Launch announced today a series of cost-reduction measures designed to address an upcoming gap in the launch manifest of the Zenit-3SL system. According to plan, it is expected that Sea Launch will resume and start stepping-up its launch activity during mid-2015/mid-2016 time frame.

The measures include staff reductions at Sea Launch’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland and its prime contractor, Energia Logistics, Ltd., located in Long Beach, California, as well as a reduction of operating expenses associated with laying-up the Sea Launch Commander and Odyssey vessels.  Taking these vessels out of service temporarily during inactive periods has been performed by Sea Launch previously and is common practice in the marine industry. (8/22)

Executives Talk About Midland’s Space Venture (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
The idea of a West Texas oil town as the future site of space travel, much less a place with a secondary industry, is not that far-fetched in the minds of two prominent private space industry insiders. Orbital Outfitters CEO Jeff Feige and Holder Aerospace partner Livingston Holder talked with the Reporter-Telegram on Wednesday after presenting the design of the altitude chamber complex to be constructed at Midland International Airport’s spaceport. They discussed how fitting a spaceport would be for Midland.

“(Midland) is an oil town a long way from anywhere,” said  Feige, CEO of a space suit and vehicle mockup company that will be relocating to the spaceport. “But for the most part ... what our customers do ends up being done in places that are relatively remote.” Feige differentiated the current and future homes of one of its customers, XCOR Aerospace, by saying Midland is a metropolis compared to Mojave, California. Mojave is a desert town like Midland but its population is a mere fraction of the latter’s, as the U.S. Census Bureau counted a population of 4,238 in 2010.

Holder talked about having done past space testing in desert environments, such as Mojave and Edwards Air Force Base, which is located in California as well. In those types of places, restaurant choices amount to McDonald’s, Burger King and Denny’s, he said. “When people said the Denny’s was the best restaurant in town, I say, ‘really?’” Holder said. “You try a couple of places, and then you do say, ‘Denny’s is the best place in town.’ That’s the top of the food chain in Mojave, so to speak.” (8/21)

Companies Detail Spaceport Altitude Chamber (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
The design of Orbital Outfitters’ altitude chamber complex, one of the key components of Midland International Airport’s spaceport, was unveiled in-depth Wednesday during a Midland Development Corp. meeting. The complex features three chambers -- a vacuum system, an observation room and safety support systems -- according to a presentation made by co-developers Holder Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters. Two of the chambers will be used to test the space suits that Orbital Outfitters are custom-building for XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx space vehicle.

The other purposes of the chambers are to test equipment and train personnel in simulated normal and emergency flight conditions. In other words, the chambers create a vacuum environment. To achieve the simulated conditions, the chambers are attached to two large outdoor vacuum tanks, which allows air to rapidly flow out of the chambers. The smaller, two-person suit chamber rapidly decompresses to a 100,000-foot altitude environment in less than five seconds, while the larger, 10-person cabin chamber decompresses to a 60,000-foot altitude environment in less than 15 seconds. (8/21)

SpaceX Set to Launch Again Tuesday, FAA Gives DragonFly Final Approval (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is set to soar again from Cape Canaveral early Tuesday morning with the AsiaSat 6 satellite. The launch window is set from 12:50-4:05 a.m. EDT (0450-0805 GMT). SpaceX is set to conduct a static fire of the Falcon 9's engine today. Meanwhile, the FAA has issued its final environmental assessment for flights of SpaceX’s experimental DragonFly vehicle at the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas. (8/22)

SpaceX Targets Early Tuesday Satellite Launch from Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
A commercial communications satellite has been secured inside a payload fairing in preparation for its planned launch early Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff of the 224-foot rocket and AsiaSat 6 satellite is targeted for 12:50 a.m. Tuesday, at the opening of a window extending to 4:05 a.m. at Launch Complex 40. (8/22)

SpaceX Test Rocket Explodes in Texas (Source: Florida Today)
A SpaceX test rocket exploded in Texas today when a problem was detected and on-board systems automatically destroyed the vehicle, the company said. No one was injured during the test at SpaceX's facility in McGregor, Texas, and the vehicle stayed within its designated test area, according to a statement the company posted on Twitter.

"Rockets are tricky," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a separate Twitter message. The flight was part of SpaceX's effort to develop rocket stages that launch and land vertically, enabling them to be reused and thus lower launch costs. SpaceX said the lost Falcon 9 Reusable Development 1 vehicle, or F9R, used three rocket engines and was flying a test that was "particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test."

The company did not say if the test failure would impact plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and commercial communications satellite from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport next week. The Falcon 9 rocket being readied for launch today successfully fired its main engines in a standard pre-launch test at Launch Complex 40. The launch was scheduled for 12:50 a.m. Tuesday, but according to at least one report will be moved to the same time on Wednesday, for reasons unrelated to the Texas incident. (8/22)

SpaceX Gets 10-Year Tax Exemption for Texas Site (Source: AP)
Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas. The county's governing board on Thursday also approved a draft of an economic agreement with SpaceX. County Judge Carlos Cascos said details of the agreement are being withheld until SpaceX signs it. He expects that to happen next week. (8/22)

SpaceX Workers Launch 3rd Suit, Allege Racist Policies (Source: Law360)
SpaceX employees on Monday launched a putative class action suit in California court accusing it of fostering a racist working environment in which certain workers were subjected to slurs and passed over for promotions, making this the third employee suit to befall the rocket manufacturer in less than a month. Plaintiffs Namon Nolan Allen and Shawonna Ross accused SpaceX of instituting policies that allowed abusive verbal behavior to persist and not allowing African-American and gay employees to be given the same opportunities. (8/22)

Arianespace Reports Galileo Orbital Injection Anomaly (Source: Arianespace)
Complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit. Investigations are underway. More information will be provided after a first flight data analysis to be completed on August 23, 2014. (8/22)

VAB Gets Renovations for Orion/SLS (Source: AmericaSpace)
For anyone who has made the journey to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the view is unforgettable. As one drives along NASA Causeway (past the lush trees and, sometimes, alligators), the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building—one of Florida’s largest buildings at a staggering height of 525 feet—comes into sight, resplendent with its American flag and “meatball” logo. For many, the VAB represents the ingenuity of the American space program.

Completed in 1965, the building was the home of Saturn V rockets and space shuttle stacks well before the vehicles left their launch pads. Now, the VAB is getting ready for NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicles, as it undergoes modifications for the Orion/Space Launch System (SLS) program. Click here. (8/22)

NASA Interns Explore Space Careers (Source: Voice of America)
The U.S. space agency has its eyes on the future - not just future missions, but the scientists who will plan and carry out those missions. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington, a summer internship gives college, post-graduate and high school students a chance to work on projects in a variety of space-related fields. In return, these interns bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective.

Louis Parent enjoyed working with space robots. The University of Illinois mechanical engineering major is wrapping up his 10-week internship at Goddard, which he calls “probably the best internship” he’s ever had. “They had me work on a real project that really mattered, have some important data that what people do here and really contribute to real science and real engineering.” (8/22)

Roscosmos Intends to Spend About $298 Million on Removing Orbital Clutter (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is planning to spend 10.8 million rubles to develop a new spacecraft that would be used to remove space debris which is locked in a geostationary orbit, such as decommissioned satellites and used-up boosters, according to Izvestia.

The agency intends to deploy the spacecraft, codename Liquidator, to clear up the geostationary orbit over the equator, which is 36 thousand kilometers above sea level. Satellites in this area, which is sometimes called the Clarke orbit or Clarke belt, appear stationary because they are locked in place relative to the Earth. As a result of this feature, the geostationary orbit is where communication and broadcasting satellites mostly operate. (8/22)

The Curious Case of a Deleted Forbes Commentary on SpaceX (Source: Space Politics)
SpaceX is no stranger to both strong support and harsh criticism of its activities, particularly in political circles. Last month, for example, three members of the House of Representatives asked NASA for details on an “epidemic of anomalies” they claimed the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have experienced. One criticism of SpaceX, though, may have gone too far.

On Friday, Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute and a regular contributor on defense issues for, published an op-ed on Forbes titled “When SpaceX Falters, Washington Looks The Other Way”. As the title suggests, he claimed that some in Washington, including NASA and the White House, were playing down those anomalies as SpaceX “struggled” to meet its commitments.

By Friday night, though, that link above went to an error message. The op-ed was no longer available on the site, although it is preserved in places like Google’s cache. Neither Thompson nor Forbes have commented on the piece’s disappearance from the website. However, it did make claims that are difficult to verify, or may simply be incorrect. Thompson’s piece started with a “story making the rounds in Washington’s space community” that the White House pressured the National Reconnaissance Office to move ahead with certifying SpaceX for launching its payloads. (8/19)

Aldrin Endorsement Fails to Launch Alaska Pol's Nomination (Source: Space Politics)
Buzz Alrdin endorsed Alaska Lt. Governor Mark Treadwell in his bid to unseat inclumbent Sen. Mark Begich. Aldrin mentioned Treadwell’s role as chairman of the Aerospace States Association (an organization traditionally chaired by a state lieutenant governor) and his support for the state’s launch site at Kodiak. “I admire his work to help build and build business for the Kodiak Launch Site,” Aldrin wrote. “Most importantly, I support what he’s done to make sure that the Last Frontier contributes to the next frontier in further space exploration.”

“For his part, Aldrin said that he does not generally make endorsements,” the Treadwell campaign notes. However, it’s not unprecedented. In 2008, he endorsed a candidate in a Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th congressional district, although that candidate lost in the primary, and Bill Posey won in the general election. In 2006, Aldrin campaigned for Nick Lampson in his race for the House seat formerly held by Tom DeLay; Lampson won, but lost a reelection bid two years later. Aldrin’s endorsement didn’t help Treadwell: he finished third in the three-person race for the Republican nomination. (8/20)

Aerospace Industry Boosts S.C. Economy, Report Says (Source: WCSC)
The aerospace industry in South Carolina contributed $17 billion to the state economy in 2013, according to a report from the University of South Carolina. Aerospace, which employs more than 102,000 residents, is also one of the top growth industries for South Carolina. Boeing selected South Carolina as the location for its 787 facility in 2010. (8/21)

Ball Starts Construction of Clean Room at Colorado Facility (Source: Boulder County Business)
Ball Aerospace & Technologies held a groundbreaking ceremony for a clean room at its site in Boulder, Colo. Ball has partnered with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute to "develop scientifically advanced applications that improve the quality of life on Earth through environmental monitoring instrumentation," said Cary Ludtke, vice president and general manager of the operational space business unit at Ball. (8/21)

NASA Shows Feasibility of Electric Power for Efficient VTOL Flight (Source: Extreme Tech)
An unmanned, electrically powered craft developed by NASA can take off vertically and convert in flight to an airplane-like configuration for efficient cruising, before converting again to land vertically. The GL-10 Greased Lightning uses power-dense batteries and leverages the considerable weight-distribution advantage of electric motors over heavy fuel-burning engines. The experimental design demonstrates the feasibility of electric power for future aircraft that will eventually replace highly inefficient helicopters, according to this article. (8/20)

NASA Selects 26 Space Biology Research Proposals (Source: NASA)
NASA's Space Biology Program will fund 26 proposals to investigate how microbes, cells, plants and animals respond to changes in gravity. The research will be conducted aboard the International Space Station. The research will help uncover new basic knowledge that other NASA researchers and engineers can use to solve problems confronting human exploration of space or that could lead to new biological tools or applications on Earth.

Editor's Note: Four of the projects are from the University of Florida, including: Effects Of Spaceflight On Ocular Oxidative Stress And The Blood-Retinal Barrier; Early Stage Plant Adaptation To Spaceflight - Molecular Responses Of Arabidopsis To The Transition From Terrestrial Environment To Space; Epigenetic Change In Arabidopsis thaliana In Response To Spaceflight - Differential Cytosine DNA Methylation Of Plants On The ISS; and Global Transcriptome Profiling To Identify Cellular Stress Mechanisms Responsible For Spaceflight-Induced Antibiotic Resistance. (8/21)

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