August 27, 2014

Russian Defense Ministry to Withdraw From Use of Rokot Boosters in 2016 (Source: Itar-Tass)
In a bid to reduce the dependence on imports, Russia’s Defense Ministry intends to withdraw the Rokot light space launch vehicles from use starting from 2016, Commander of the Aerospace Defense Forces Lieutenant General Alexander Golovko said.

“The launches of the Rokot carrier rockets today are carried out in the interests of the Defense Ministry within the Federal Space Program and international cooperation programs,” Golovko told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. “Four launches are planned in the interests of the Defense Ministry — three in 2015 and one — in 2016. In the future, the Defense Ministry will be able to use the light carrier rockets Soyuz 2.1v and Angara for its tasks,” Golovko said. “Thus we will not depend on imports for light-class rockets,” said Shoigu. (8/27)

Chinese Team is Catching Up in Hunt for Dark Matter (Source: Science)
On Thursday, physicists in China reported the latest result in the search for particles of dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity holds the galaxies together. Researchers with the Particle and Astrophysical Xenon (PandaX) detector spotted no sign of their quarry, which isn't surprising because PandaX isn't yet as sensitive as a detector already running in the United States that hasn't seen anything either. Still, the finding is notable because the PandaX detector features a clever design that might enable it to vie for the sensitivity lead in the next year or so.

The new work "is very credible," says Richard Gaitskell, a physicist at Brown University and a member of the team working with the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, the current leader in sensitivity. Rafael Lang, a physicist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and a member of the collaboration building an even more sensitive detector known as XENON1T in Italy's subterranean Gran Sasso National Laboratory, agrees. PandaX researchers "are doing a great job in [catching up] and making extremely fast progress," he says. (8/26)

The Competition for Dollars (Source: Planetary Society)
One of the most common misperceptions about NASA is the amount of money the U.S. government spends on the agency. NASA competes for funding with all of the various entities that make up the federal government, but the agency is now confronting larger economic trends over which the space community has little control.

It’s worth looking into this topic a bit to help understand just what we have received for our investment in NASA over the past fifty years, and why we should continue to invest in space science. In this series of posts, I hope to do so in a way that clearly explains NASA’s position in the federal government and the U.S. economy, and hopefully shed some light on the nature of the budget challenges facing planetary science today. Click here. (8/27)

Regulating Asteroid Mining (Source: Space Daily)
The idea of mining asteroids is definitely in vogue. In the past few years commercial space advocates have been pursuing new private-sector space business activities. Profiting from orbital operations is not a new idea. Commercial space activities started in the early 1960s, with the launch of the first geosynchronous communications satellites.

Many thought these early commercial space ventures were just the beginning of a vast array of other commercially viable space applications. Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of potentially profitable concepts have been tested in the financial markets, but few have gotten beyond the drawing board.

Today, some 50 years after the first commercial space success, we can point to only a few sustained and successful private sector space operations. Surprisingly, geostationary communications satellite services remain as the largest commercial benefactor of the natural space environment. Click here. (8/26)

NASA's Asteroid Plan May be Cheapest Route to Mars (Source: USA Today)
NASA's asteroid redirect mission is meant to be a cheaper steppingstone to Mars than landing on the moon, and already scientists have identified three possible asteroids on which astronauts could land. The asteroid plan, would cost between $1.25 billion and $2.6 billion, not including the price of the rocket. Congress is split on support of the mission, which NASA estimates is needed in order to get humans on Mars by the 2030s. Click here. (8/26)

NASA Cancels Plan for Ohio Drone Competition (Source: Dayton Daily News)
NASA has scrubbed the launch of a long-anticipated UAS competition this fall, a program manager at the space agency confirmed Tuesday. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge was set Sept. 10-17 at Camp Atterbury, Ind., about two hours southwest of Dayton. A rescheduled date was not announced.

NASA and Development Projects Inc., an affiliate of the Dayton Development Coalition, organized the two-year competition offering $1.5 million in prize money. Sam Ortega, manager of NASA Centennial Challenges Program, said in an email the space agency and DPI “are reviewing the operations and resources necessary to execute this challenge successfully and fairly for all of the teams registered to date.” (8/26)

California State Senate Approves Drone Privacy Bill (Source: ASA California)
Legislation to protect the privacy rights of Californians passed out of the California State Senate on a bipartisan vote.  AB 1327, authored by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), Senator Ted Lieu (D- Redondo Beach), Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), and Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) protects the privacy rights of Californians by establishing basic restrictions on the government use of unmanned aerial systems, also known as “drones” for surveillance. (8/26)

NASA’s Space Launch System Moves from Design into Construction (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Today NASA announced it has formally switched the Space Launch System program from its “formulation” stage into “implementation,” a Rubicon of sorts known as Key Decision Point-C. This is the large rocket that NASA hopes one day will launch its astronauts to Mars. “We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said today. “And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey.”

Passing this “key decision point” is significant for NASA, and represents a significant commitment to the rocket program. To date NASA has spent only about 30 percent of the SLS’s estimated $9 billion development cost. Bolden’s decision greenlights spending the rest. It’s also worth noting in today’s announcement that the target date for the rocket’s first test flight is now November, 2018, nearly a full year later than the initial target of 2017. (8/27)

Aggressive SpaceX Puts Commercial Space Rivals on Notice (Source: Fortune)
It’s easy to think Elon Musk’s spaceflight company is more hype than reality, but look more closely at its competitors’ moves and you can see evidence of disruption. Last week, rumors concerning the value of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rippled across the Web after tech startup-watcher TechCrunch reported that private investment in the company valued it at “somewhere south of $10 billion.”

SpaceX quickly quashed the rumor. “SpaceX is not currently raising any funding nor has any external valuation of that magnitude or higher been done,” a company spokesman said in a statement. And so SpaceX ended the week just as it began it, despite having briefly enjoyed the status of a $10 billion industry behemoth. Perhaps the best way to evaluate SpaceX and its potential value isn’t in dollar figures or in audacious claims, but by observing what the upstart space firm is already doing to its competition in the commercial space industry.

That competition—mostly European space launch providers like France’s Arianespace and International Launch Services —has largely held a monopoly on commercial space launches since the U.S. retreated from the industry in the early 1980s. The $200 billion satellite industry makes up a huge and growing chunk of SpaceX’s nearly 40-strong launch manifest through 2018. If SpaceX’s competitors in Europe and elsewhere believe all this to be nothing but hype, they have a strange way of showing it. To even the casual observer, SpaceX’s competitors appear to be scrambling. Click here. (8/27)

Spaceport Indiana Offers Adult Space Camp (Source: Spaceport Indiana)
Why should kids have all the fun? That's Not Fair! So we are making it a little more fun for adults as we add a two day space camp just for them! Take a break from the normal weekend and join us on October 11-12. Create your own experiments and payloads and get ready to launch a platform to the edge of space on October 12th! Saturday night includes a BBQ and refreshments and then some rest for a big day of launching, tracking and recovery. This is designed for folks over 21 years of age. Click here. (8/26)

Space Coast Congressional Candidate Seeks NewSpace Development (Source: G. Rothblatt)
Gabriel Rothblatt, a Democrat, hopes to unseat Republican Bill Posey in November to represent Florida's 8th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Among the issues Rothblatt hopes to champion is the diversification of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport to include more "NewSpace" businesses and programs. Click here to see a new video describing his vision. (8/26)

Guardian of the Galaxy: The Woman Planning for a Space Catastrophe (Source: CNN)
When a disaster of a mega-proportion hits a city - from a terror attack to a hurricane - there are procedures in place to deal with the aftermath. Suggest that the source of a serious humanitarian crisis could lie in outer space, however, and many will assume you are talking science fiction. But one woman is on a mission to convince the world -- and especially governments and the United Nations -- to take threats such as potential asteroid strikes more seriously. Click here. (8/26)

NASA Picks Up $120M Option on Jacobs' Marshall Contract (Source: Space News)
NASA picked up a one-year, $120 million option on Tullahoma, Tennessee-based Jacobs Technology’s Engineering and Science Services and Skills Augmentation contract at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The option begins Sept. 27 and continues through Oct. 2, 2015, NASA said. Jacobs won the contract in 2012. Including the two-year base period and three one-year options — one of which has now been exercised — the total potential value of the deal is $600 million. (8/25)

DOD Officials Expand Space-Tracking Website (Source: USAF)
Defense Department officials announced additions to its space situational awareness program’s website. Maj. Gen. David D. Thompson, U.S. Strategic Command’s director of plans and policy, said the release of new high-quality positional information on space debris of an unknown origin will help owner-operators better protect their satellites from objects and ultimately create less space debris.

“We run a predictive program that shows where the objects are, where they will be in the future, and the potential for these objects to run into each other,” Thompson said. Thompson explained that most of the debris that is considered “objects of unknown origin” resulted from launches or space collisions, but has not been definitively identified by source. (8/26)

Effective Space Solutions Offers Space Towing Services (Source: Globes)
Effective Space Solutions, a new Israeli startup, is developing a solution, which it calls De-Orbiter, for towing satellites sent to the wrong place. Former head of Israel's space directorate and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) space division general manager Arie Halsband founded the company.

The company says that De-Orbiter could have helped the Galileo satellite, which was recently launched in the wrong direction. The company's technology is slated to become operational in 18 months. "We could have saved the satellite," Halsband says. "That was exactly the situation we're aiming at. Our micro-satellite was designed to provide space services, such as changing a location or communications problems between satellites." (8/26)

With Commercial Crew Award Close, Rivals Mull Future without NASA Funds (Source: Space News)
The three companies bidding to succeed the retired space shuttle as NASA’s means of sending astronauts to and from the international space station have different fallback plans for their respective vehicles should they get passed over for a final round of government development funding, the award of which is imminent. Representatives of these companies — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX — offered their perspectives. Click here. (8/26)

Antares Could Be Ready for Sun-synchronous Launches Next Year (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. expects to have U.S. government approval within about a year for using its Antares rocket to launch payloads to sun-synchronous orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore, a company executive said. “We’ve been working with NASA, the FAA and other agencies to get approval to fly high-inclination missions from the Wallops site,” said John Steinmeyer, a senior program manager at Orbital.

The earliest possible date for such a mission is still “a year or so out,” Steinmeyer said. Orbital has not identified any candidate payloads for a sun-synchronous launch. “Orbital has expressed an interest to NASA Wallops in flying southward to a higher-inclination/sun-synchronous orbit, though no specific mission or date has been proposed to the range,” NASA spokesman Jeremy Eggers wrote in an Aug. 7 email. “As far as what Orbital would need to do to fly this trajectory, that would depend on the details of the mission.” (8/25)

Musk Offers Statement on Launch Delay (Source: SpaceX)
“SpaceX has decided to postpone tomorrow's flight of AsiaSat 6. We are not aware of any issue with Falcon 9, nor the interfaces with the Spacecraft, but have decided to review all potential failure modes and contingencies again. We expect to complete this process in one to two weeks.

“The natural question is whether this is related to the test vehicle malfunction at our development facility in Texas last week. After a thorough review, we are confident that there is no direct link. Had the same blocked sensor port problem occurred with an operational Falcon 9, it would have been outvoted by several other sensors. That voting system was not present on the test vehicle.

“What we do want to triple-check is whether even highly improbable corner case scenarios have the optimal fault detection and recovery logic. This has already been reviewed by SpaceX and multiple outside agencies, so the most likely outcome is no change. If any changes are made, we will provide as much detail as is allowed under U.S. law.” (8/26)

Roscosmos Requests $155 Million to Help Europe Get to Mars (Source: Moscow Times)
Russian space agency Roscosmos needs 5.6 billion rubles ($155 million) to complete its share of a large-scale joint Mars exploration project with the European Space Agency (ESA), Interfax reported. The project, called ExoMars, began as a joint project between the ESA and NASA to send a pair of unmanned probes to Mars. But in 2012, budget cuts in Washington forced NASA to withdraw from the project, and Roscosmos was quickly tapped as a replacement.

One of the key objectives of the ExoMars mission is to search for life on the Red Planet. The mission involves two stages: one in 2016 and another in 2018. In both, unmanned probes will hitch rides on Russian Proton rockets. Such rockets, however, have seen a number of launch failures in the last three years.

The requested $155 million will pay for the two launches, as well as finance the completion of the 2018 ExoMars lander, which is being designed by Russia and outfitted largely with Russian scientific equipment, according to a draft federal space strategy for 2016-2025. (8/26)

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