October 30, 2014

Atlas Launches GPS Satellite From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
An Atlas-5 rocket carrying a GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force successfully launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Wednesday. It was the 50th Atlas-5 mission since the rocket's first flight in 2002. The Atlas-5 is operated by United Launch Alliance. (10/29)

Alliant Tech Evaluating Merger Plans After Orbital Rocket Explosion (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Alliant Techsystems Inc. said it is evaluating any potential implications from Tuesday night’s explosion of Orbital Sciences Inc.’s Antares rocket, a hint their plans to merge could be in jeopardy. Alliant Tech and Orbital Sciences Inc. disclosed plans in April to merge in a $5 billion deal and related spinoff that would create twin powerhouses supplying space services and serving the booming U.S. recreational shooting market.

Editor's Note: A Space News tweet said Orbital's CEO believes the launch failure should have no impact on the planned merger with ATK, or on projected 2014 revenue/earnings. Meanwhile, Orbital shares fell 14% before trading began on Wednesday. (10/29)

Students Lost Science Experiments in Antares Explosion (Source Washington Post)
For months, students across the United States and Canada conducted scientific experiments. Some wanted to know how crystals would change without gravity. Others wondered whether plants would grow or how fast milk would spoil in space. Nearly 1,600 pounds of science and research was loaded onto a cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station.

And Tuesday evening, it was all destroyed. Many students watched as an unmanned Antares rocket exploded above its launchpad in Wallops Island, Va. Some saw it on video from the classroom. Others, like students from Knoxville, were “close enough to feel the percussion of the blast.” “I think the adults took it harder in the room than the kids did,” said Serena Connally, a sixth-grade science teacher in Texas. (10/29)

NASA Is Kicking Space Station Technology Up to the Next Level (Source: NBC)
NASA has pioneered new technologies on the International Space Station for years, but the space agency's latest technological twists are venturing into science-fiction territory. For example, the next generation of camera-equipped, free-flying robots could usher in an age when remote-controlled gizmos check out the space station's far corners, unassisted by humans on board. But couldn't that open the way for a robot to go rogue, as HAL did in "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Click here. (10/29)

Russian Cargo Ship Docks with ISS (Source: Space Policy Online)
Cargo launches to the International Space Station (ISS) usually are so routine that they barely get mentioned in the news, but the docking of a Russian Progress spacecraft this morning (October 29) is noteworthy following the failure of a U.S. Antares rocket last night. If nothing else, the Progress docking demonstrates that there are several ways to get cargo to the ISS and while the Antares failure is disappointing, it is not a showstopper for ISS operations. (10/29)

NASA Anticipates Orion's First Flight (Source: Space.com)
NASA's planned launch of Orion on Dec. 4 sets the stage for a dramatic journey through the Van Allen Belts, where the unmanned capsule with collect data crucial to future manned missions before it returns to Earth. After the splashdown, if all goes well, NASA will have completed a critical test for its work charting a course for human space exploration. A new NASA video outlines just what should happen on Orion's journey. (10/28)

India and Space (Source: Frontline)
After the phenomenal success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has turned its attention to the maiden flight of its biggest launch vehicle so far—the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV-MkIII)—in November. Click here. (10/29)

Mock Satellite Destroyed to Study Space Junk Collisions (Source: Space.com)
Talk about a "bang up" job. A full-scale lookalike of a modern satellite was destroyed in a ground test chamber recently to help scientists better grasp the effects of space collisions. The DebriSat test was designed to help researchers craft better models for how satellites break up. The data produced from the test might help people working in the orbital debris community as well. Click here. (10/29)

November 1 Anniversary for Space Coast's 321 Area Code (Source: Liftoff.net)
On Nov. 1, 1999, Florida Governor Jeb Bush placed the First Official Phone Call from the Public Service Commission Hearing Room in Tallahassee to the Teleconferencing Room at Kennedy Space Center where Center Deputy Director James Jennings took the first call with Robert Osband, the local resident that proposed the new code. (10/29)

Delay Saved NanoRacks External Platform from Antares Failure (Source: Space News)
Houston-based space services firm NanoRacks unknowingly dodged a bullet when it shifted a $10 million piece of equipment off the Antares rocket that exploded moments after liftoff Oct. 28 from Wallops Island, Virginia. Needing more time for testing, NanoRacks decided last month to wait for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s fourth paid cargo run to send the External Research Platform to the international space station. (10/29)

Russian Manufacturer: Antares Engines Not to Blame (Source: Guardian)
The Russian maker of the engine used in the unmanned US supply rocket that exploded after liftoff in Virginia denied on Wednesday that its product was at fault for the catastrophe. The launch phase of the Antares rocket relied on two AJ-26 engines that were originally produced in the 1970s for a failed Soviet moon program and later modernized for US space flights. Speculation quickly centered on the Soviet-based engines, which have failed in tests, when the rocket exploded in a giant fireball after takeoff on Tuesday night.

But the Kuznetsov company in the Russian city of Samara suggested the blame lay not with its NK-33 engines, which formed the basis for the AJ-26 engines, but rather with their later modification in the United States, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

“Due to certain specifics, it’s not possible to talk about the construction details of the rocket itself and the interaction of its systems during launch, since this is the field of American specialists,” Kuznetsov’s press service said. “However, it’s important to note that during yesterday’s launch, the AJ-26 first-stage engines, which are a modification of the NK-33, were functioning normally.” (10/29)

Arianespace Signs Contract for Ten Vega Launchers (Source: SpaceRef)
Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, and Pierluigi Pirrelli, Chief Executive of ELV (European Launch Vehicle), signed a contract confirming Arianespace's order of ten Vega launch vehicles from the Italian manufacturer. The ten Vega launchers ordered today, representing more than three years of business for Arianespace, will enter service at the end of 2015. (10/29)

Orbital Remains Committed to Next Commercial Cargo Bid (Source: Space News)
Orbital’s planned November bid to NASA for a follow-on space station logistics contract, called Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2, will proceed as scheduled. CEO David Thompson said this bid had always featured an upgraded Antares rocket with a new first-stage engine to replace the Russian AJ26 engine used now. (10/29)

NASA's Asteroid-Capture Mission Won't Help Astronauts Reach Mars (Source: Space.com)
NASA's bold asteroid-capture mission is an expensive distraction that does little to advance the agency's overarching goal of getting humans to Mars, one prominent researcher argues. For the past 18 months, NASA has been working on a plan to drag an entire near-Earth asteroid, or a boulder plucked from a large space rock, into lunar orbit using a robotic probe.

The captured asteroid could then be visited by astronauts aboard the agency's Orion crew capsule, ideally by 2025 at the latest. "The principal reason that ARM makes no sense is that it is a misstep off the path to Mars," Binzel told Space.com. "There's nothing about sending humans to Mars that requires us to capture an asteroid in a baggie. That's a multibillion-dollar expenditure that has nothing to do with getting humans to Mars." (10/29)

Space Mining Company Loses Test Vehicle on Antares (Source: Forbes)
Planetary Resources, a company developing technology that they hope will one day mine asteroids, lost a test vehicle after an unmanned NASA-contracted Antares rocket exploded shortly after takeoff. Among the cargo was Planetary Resources’ ARKYD 3, a test vehicle that was to orbit Earth. Deep Space Industries, another company developing technology to mine asteroids in space, offered their sympathies. (10/29)

NASA Has Eye on Congressional Critics Following ISS Launch Disaster (Source: Flight Global)
No-one was hurt on the ground, early indications pointed to the survival of at least some of the launch pad infrastructure. However, at a press conference later in the evening, NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier acknowledged Congressional critics of NASA’s private sector launch partnerships, which will see Boeing and SpaceX ferrying US astronauts to the ISS from 2017, a service currently bought from the Russians.

Noting that the rockets which will carry US astronauts will not use the Antares’s AJ-26 main engines, William Gerstenmaier on several occasions underscored that space launches are a “tough business”. As for upcoming human launches by private contractors, he says that he and NASA have been “pretty open with our Congressional friends in Washington, explaining how difficult our launch business is”.

And, he went on: “The important thing is we don’t overreact to this failure. That we really understand what occurred… and that we fix it, and fix it with some confidence.” This failure, he says, was a “reminder of how difficult this business is, how careful we have to be. How the small things matter in this launch business”. But Gerstenmaier, in a further remark clearly aimed at everyone associated with launches in NASA and its contractors, says: “Don’t get over-confident.” (10/29)

Lockheed Martin Opens Colorado Commercial Satellite HQ, Adds Hundreds of Jobs (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. Wednesday opened the new headquarters for its commercial satellite business, heralding the addition of hundreds of local jobs by Colorado's largest private-sector aerospace employer. About 200 guests gathered at the company's 4,000-employee campus near Waterton Canyon in Jefferson County to mark the opening. Lockheed Martin Space Systems (LMSS) is moving its communications and remote sensing satellite-building operation from Newtown, Pennsylvania, a location it's closing as part of a larger restructuring. (10/29)

MIT Scientist Proposes Asteroids as Destinations Before Mars (Source: Boston Globe)
Asteroid scientist Richard Binzel is often preoccupied by questions about the rocky bodies that sit in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. Spraypainted styrofoam asteroids hang from the ceiling of his MIT laboratory -- evidence of his passion for a topic that usually captures public attention only when one passes too close for comfort.

Which is why it might be surprising that Wednesday in the journal Nature, Binzel makes a strong case for why we should think about asteroids not for their scientific value, but as destinations for human space travel.

Millions of near-earth asteroids sit further away from the moon, but much closer than Mars. Those, Binzel argues, offer appealing destinations for trips that could test equipment and protocols as technology and systems are developed capable of ferrying people further and further -- and eventually all the way to Mars. Click here. (10/29)

Supersonic Laser-Propelled Rockets (Source: The Optical Society)
Scientists and science fiction writers alike have dreamt of aircrafts that are propelled by beams of light rather than conventional fuels. Now, a new method for improving the thrust generated by such laser-propulsion systems may bring them one step closer to practical use. The method is being developed by Russian physicists Yuri Rezunkov and Alexander Schmidt.
A number of systems have been proposed that can produce laser propulsion. One of the most promising involves a process called laser ablation, in which a pulsed laser beam strikes a surface, heats it up, and burns off material to create what is known as a plasma plume—a column of charged particles that flow off the surface. The outflowing of that plasma plume—essentially, exhaust—generates additional thrust to propel the craft.
In their Applied Optics paper, Rezunkov and Schmidt describe a new system that integrates a laser-ablation propulsion system with the gas blasting nozzles of a spacecraft. Combining the two systems, the researchers found, can increase the speed of the gas flow out of the system to supersonic speeds while reducing the amount of burned fuel. (10/29)

Canadian Space Agency President Departs After 15 Months (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Well, that was quick. Retired Gen. Walter Natynczyk will depart his post as president of the Canadian Space Agency next month after only 15 months on the job. He will replace Mary Chaput as deputy minister of Veterans Affairs effective Nov. 3. (10/29)

Orbital's Rivals Have Opportunity to Get NASA Cargo Business (Source: Bloomberg)
As Orbital Sciences Corp. halts rocket launches for potentially a year or more while it investigates a catastrophic explosion seconds after liftoff, rivals are poised to jockey for a new slate of private spaceflight contracts. Boeing and Sierra Nevada each plan to bid in the coming weeks on the next round of multibillion-dollar awards to fly cargo to the International Space Station.

While Orbital also plans to jump in, it will be doing so with its rockets grounded. “It may be that Orbital may look very weak,” said Marco Caceres, director of space studies at Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group. “If anything, this opens up more opportunities for other companies. A failure like this could have jarred the door open just enough.” (10/29)

Space Case Donald Trump Hates Private Enterprise Now (Source: Wonkette)
America’s Top Political Analyst Donald Trump had some thoughts on the wider symbolic significance of the event. He tweeted: "The U.S. rocket that blew-up and crashed yesterday is emblematic of the United States under Obama. Nothing works, be it a rocket or website."

NASA, starting under GW Bush but increasingly under Obama, has been doing a lot of these private contractor things, and they’ve generally been pretty successful. Apparently, Mr. Trump is unaware of the tendency of highly volatile rocket fuel and oxidant to sometimes explode and crash to the ground in a fiery flameout, something you’d think the promoter of several bankrupt casinos, conspiracy theories, and a rumored but never-launched presidential campaign might understand. (10/29)

How Will Orbital's Grounding Affect Virginia Spaceport Efforts? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Orbital Sciences and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) have had a spotty relationship and it could get worse after Tuesday's Antares explosion. Orbital sued the state in 2013 for $16.5 million in launch pad construction expenses, primarily for an Antares transporter/erector vehicle that the state had refused to purchase because it was designed solely for the Antares and couldn't be used by other candidate VCSFA customers.

It seems a deal was struck that required Orbital to modify the transporter/erector after Tuesday's launch, but that modification is now at the heart of a separate lawsuit filed by Orbital against one of its manufacturers. It is unknown whether the modified transporter/erector will be used for Orbital's next-generation Antares, which will see its current Russian-supplied engines replaced, possibly with solid rocket motors provided by ATK after a planned Orbital/ATK merger.

The failed launch obviously damaged the state-owned launch pad (and possibly the transporter/erector), but the extent of that damage has not yet been reported. Perhaps worse than the destruction of property is the lengthy downtime now faced by VCSFA as repairs are made and the cause of the launch failure is determined and corrected. Orbital is the launch pad's only active customer, so any lengthy downtime may cut deeply into VCSFA's revenues. (10/29)

NRO Contractor Engility Acquires Rival TASC for $1.1 Billion (Source: Space News)
Engility Corp. will acquire rival systems engineering company TASC in a $1.1 billion all-stock deal, Engility announced Oct. 27. Both firms are based in Chantilly, Virginia, near the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds the nation’s spy satellites and is a key customer for the two contractors.

Tony Smeraglinolo, Engility’s chief executive, will hold on to that title for the combined company, and John Hynes, TASC’s chief executive, will become chief operating officer, according to an investor presentation on Engility’s third-quarter results. TASC has more than 4,000 employees and a funded backlog of $385 million. (10/29)

What Science Lost in the Antares Rocket Explosion (Source: WIRED)
Science took a big hit in the Antares explosion. Almost a third of the payload (by weight) consisted of science experiments that ranged from a student project studying how pea shoots would grow in zero gravity to a high-tech camera that would have been the first to monitor meteors from space. All of the cargo was packed into the Cygnus spacecraft. Click here. (10/29)

Launching on the Cheap has had Disastrous Consequences in the Past (Source: Washington Post)
When reporters asked the first U.S. man in space, Alan Shepard, what he thought about as he sat atop a Mercury launch vehicle, he's said to have responded, "The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder." That sentiment may hang heavy over the launch failure at a NASA facility near the coast of Virginia on Tuesday night.

The cause of the failure remain unknown. But Orbital has marketed the Antares as a "cost effective" way to launch payloads, due at least in part on its reliance on recycled Soviet-era rocket engines — a move that has drawn criticism from some, including competitor SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk. Here's what he told Wired in a 2012 interview:

"One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere." (10/29)

Aerojet Stock Drops After Antares Failure (Source: Market Watch)
Aerojet Rocketdyne's parent company GenCorp saw its stock drop sharply Wednesday after RBC Capital analysts suggested a link between the company and the Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket that exploded was likely. The stock GY, -5.36%  fell 6.9% through morning trade. Less than two hours after the open, volume was already more than two-thirds the full-day average. (10/29)

Crashed Antares Partly Developed in Ukraine (Source: RIA Novosti)
The first stage work of the US Antares, which exploded seconds after lift-off on Tuesday, was conducted by Ukrainian state design office Yuzhnoye, according to the company's website. "The Antares LV stage one core structure was developed by Yuzhnoye State Design Office, manufactured by Yuzhny Machine-Building Plant (YMZ) in cooperation with Ukrainian companies: Khartron-ARKOS (Kharkov), Kievpribor (Kiev), Khartron-YUKOM (Zaporozh'e), CHEZARA, RAPID (Chernigov) et al," the company said on its website.

According to nasaspaceflight.com, the Antares' first stage is loosely based on the Zenit rocket also developed by Yuzhnoye. The rocket is powered by a pair of AJ26-58 rocket engines – modified versions of the NK-33 engines developed by the Soviet Union in the '70s. (10/29)

Russia’s Federation Council Ratifies Space Cooperation Agreement With Cuba (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's Federation Council has ratified the intergovernmental agreement with Cuba on cooperation in exploring and using space for peaceful purposes on Wednesday. The agreement was signed on February 21, 2013 in Havana, Cuba and is aimed at creating organizational and legal foundation for the formation and development of cooperation projects between Russia and Cuba in the field of satellite communications, broadcasting and satellite navigation. (10/29)

No comments: