September 20, 2014

ORS-4 Launch from Hawaii Delayed Until January (Source: Space News)
The first flight of an experimental low-cost launch system for small satellites and based in Hawaii has been delayed to early next year, an Aerojet Rocketdyne executive said. The launch of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-4 mission aboard the rail-launched Super Strypi rocket, originally scheduled for Oct. 2013, had been delayed to Nov. 2014, and now has been pushed to Jan. 2015, said Tyler Evans of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new Rocket Shop Defense Advanced Programs unit. Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing the rocket motors for the launch and is responsible for overall integration of the vehicle.

The delay, requested by the Air Force’s ORS Office, is due to what Evans described as “priorities at the launch site” at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. The range is used for, among other activities, testing of U.S. missile defense systems. Air Force officials did not respond to a request for comment. In August, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully conducted a third and final hot-fire test at Edwards Air Force Base in California of the first stage of the Super Strypi rocket. Previous tests were held in Aug. 2012 and Sep. 2013.

The three-stage, solid-fueled rocket is being assembled in partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Space Flight Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory. Project officials hope the new launcher, essentially a souped-up sounding rocket, will provide a low-cost launch option for small satellites, including cubesats, which are becoming increasingly popular with universities and government agencies. (9/19)

International Mars Invasion Gets Under Way (Source: National Geographic)
Mars is getting crowded. A new NASA orbiter slips into Mars orbit on Sunday, followed closely by India's first interplanetary probe, a comet, and then a rush of countries proposing their own entries to the new space race to Mars. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN) is scheduled to enter Mars orbit Sunday night after a ten-month journey. The $671 million mission joins NASA's two robotic rovers on the surface and two orbiters circling Mars, plus the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

That's if nothing goes wrong, of course—the red planet also holds the wreckage of NASA's Mars Polar Lander and Europe's Beagle 2, reminders of the history of Mars mission mishaps: Roughly half of all spacecraft sent to the planet have crashed or gone off course. Undeterred, a host of nations are planning or contemplating more trips to Mars. And then there's space entrepreneur Elon Musk of SpaceX, who dreams of putting human colonists on the planet.

Mars, say space policy experts, looks like the planetary destination of choice for the rest of the decade. "Bottom line—all the major spacefaring countries have had, will have, or hope to have robotic Mars probes," says space policy analyst Marcia Smith. Why Mars? "Fundamentally, all the investigations seem to revolve around the question of life on Mars," says space historian Roger Launius. (9/19)

Jeff Bezos: Space Case (Source: TIME)
Time was, billionaires had no shortage of bling to buy—a yacht here, a Learjet there, a professional football team if you happen to have your Sundays free. But that’s all so yesterday. The must-have, 21st-century toy for the man with real cash to burn is fast becoming a spanking new spacecraft company. That’s the way is seems at least, with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and, most enigmatically of all,’s Jeff Bezos and his double super-secret, my-lips-are-sealed Blue Origin.

Space travel is hard—exceedingly, often lethally hard. You can’t negotiate with physics or bully orbital mechanics. You can’t delete gravity’s Buy button. Elon Musk—so far—is making a real go of things. The rest are little more than dreamers until proven otherwise. It’s not business, fellas, it’s science. (9/19)

Boeing Isn’t Getting More NASA Money Because It’s Doing a Better Job than SpaceX (Source: National Review)
While some at NASA (and likely many at Boeing) would like people to believe the statement that “its design was further along than that of the SpaceX proposal and, in the opinion of NASA’s leadership, has the best chance of meeting the schedule,” that is simply untrue. In fact, it is because Boeing is behind SpaceX, and because its proposal to catch up will cost more, that it needs more money.

The statement that Boeing has met its goals “on budget” misleadingly implies that SpaceX has not. This, though, is nonsense, because both companies have fixed-price contracts. Any aspect of the work that costs more than the specified amount is eaten by the company, and no one, including NASA, other than the company itself has insight into whether or not that has occurred, so there is no basis for such an implication. With regard to schedule, NASA can have very different ideas of “progress” and “milestones” than the rest of us.

For instance, a “Critical Design Review” could count as a milestone, but all it is, really, is a meeting with Powerpoint presentations indicating the status of the project. In a NASA program, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to start actually building flight hardware (which there’s no indication that Boeing has actually yet done). SpaceX’s public rollout of its crewed version of the Dragon at the end of May, on the other hand, probably doesn’t count as a “milestone” in NASA’s eyes, because it probably wasn’t specified as one in their contract. (9/19)

A Longer Road Ahead, and Higher Costs, for Boeing's CST-100 (Source: National Review)
Boeing is perhaps “ahead” of SpaceX in paperwork, but SpaceX is far ahead in actually building and demonstrating flight hardware. It is very likely that they have much less actual development in front of them, in terms of bending metal, than does Boeing, which accounts for at least some of the higher costs for the latter. On top of that, though, is the fact that Boeing plans to use an Atlas V to launch its capsule, which costs much more than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher.

Boeing isn’t getting more money because it is “ahead” or “has a better chance of succeeding.” It is getting more money because, simply put, it needs it in order to ultimately catch up. Though Congress has been pressuring it to narrow down to a single provider to “save money,” it continues to insist (as does the Air Force with its satellite-launch capability) on resiliency and redundancy, and it’s willing to pay for it. That is why it is seemingly willing to pay more for less with Boeing — as a backup. (9/19)

Commercial Crew Contracts: What's Included? (Source: Space News)
The fixed-price contracts cover the development and certification of the spacecraft, including a series of five reviews culminating in certification of the vehicles to carry NASA astronauts. Each contract requires at least one test flight to the ISS with both NASA and private-sector crew members onboard. The contracts also include at least two and as many as six operational flights per company to the ISS, each carrying four astronauts, once NASA certifies each company’s vehicle.

Each flight will also be able to transport 100 kilograms of cargo to and from the station. In the months leading up to the announcement, there was speculation that NASA would make “one and a half” awards: a full-sized contract to one company and a smaller one to a second company that would allow it to make limited progress. NASA officials, though, said that the scope of the two contracts is the same. (9/19)

ULA/Blue Origin Engine Leads to 'Entirely New' Rocket (Source: National Review)
The ULA/Blue Origin engine collaboration announcement revealed that four years of development lay ahead, so its earliest use would likely be in 2019. And it won’t simply replace the engines in the Atlas and Delta. The Atlas and Delta both use different fuels (kerosene and liquid hydrogen, respectively) and the new engine will burn methane. What this means is that any rocket that utilizes the engine will be of an entirely new design.

And there will only be one of new rocket to use these engines, since the Air Force will have a backup with SpaceX and be unwilling to continue to subsidize two rockets for ULA. What it will be called — Atlas, Delta or neither — is completely unknown at this time. But the move (which cut out the established engine manufacturer Aerojet-Rocketdyne and leaves its corporate viability potentially in doubt) was a sign of just how desperate ULA has become to solve its dual problems of relying on Russian rocket engines and its inability to currently compete with SpaceX on cost.

It’s also a sign of just how technologically disruptive to a moribund American launch industry Mr. Musk has been, something for which he should be applauded. We now have two billionaires competing to be the first to put, in Mr. Bezos’s words on Wednesday, “millions of people in space.” Let the race, and the new vibrant American space age, begin. (9/19)

Particle Detector Finds Hints of Dark Matter in Space (Source: MIT)
Researchers at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science have released new measurements that promise to shed light on the origin of dark matter. The MIT group leads an international collaboration of scientists that analyzed two and a half years’ worth of data taken by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) — a large particle detector mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station — that captures incoming cosmic rays from all over the galaxy.

Among 41 billion cosmic ray events — instances of cosmic particles entering the detector — the researchers identified 10 million electrons and positrons, stable antiparticles of electrons. Positrons can exist in relatively small numbers within the cosmic ray flux. An excess of these particles has been observed by previous experiments — suggesting that they may not originate from cosmic rays, but come instead from a new source. The new AMS results may ultimately help scientists narrow in on the origin and features of dark matter — whose collisions may give rise to positrons. (9/19)

Russia Plans to Boost Space Monitoring Capability by 2018 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will build a network of advanced laser-optical and radar stations in the next four years to boost its space object recognition capability, the Defense Ministry said. "The new network will largely improve space monitoring by Aerospace Defense Forces, expand the range of controlled orbits and decrease the size of detected objects by 2-3 times," the ministry's spokesman, Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. According to Zolotukhin, the first new stations will be built in the Altai and the Primorye Territories. The network will comprise over 10 advanced space monitoring stations by 2018. (9/19)

ViaSat Eyes Urban Customers, Touts Aviation Broadband Service (Source: Space News)
Satellite consumer broadband service provider ViaSat Inc., saying its Exede service in the United States is already penetrating urban markets once thought impossible for satellites, views its addressable market as including “tens of millions” of U.S. residences, company President Rick Baldridge said. Some market analyses have concluded that satellite broadband’s total addressable market in the United States is no more than 4 million subscribers. (9/19)

Thales Alenia Steps Up Efforts To Sell Earth-Observation Satellites Abroad (Source: Space News)
Space hardware manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, having watched rival and sometime partner Airbus Defence and Space win Earth observation satellite contracts without Thales help, is introducing an all-Thales observation satellite platform and a new, lighter radar reconnaissance product for export markets, Thales Chief Executive Jean-Loic Galle said.

One of the first tests of the optical observation product’s competitiveness is likely to be in Colombia, which is organizing an international competition for a satellite with a better-than-1-meter ground resolution. Thales Alenia Space officials said the company has cut its costs across all its business lines to win telecommunications awards. Until late 2013, Thales had been largely absent from the winners’ circle in global telecommunications satellite competitions. (9/19)

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