December 11, 2014

Compromise Appropriations Bill Includes $220 Million for New Rocket Engine (Source: Space News)
U.S. lawmakers have included $220M in a 2015 spending plan for the development of a new liquid engine rocket to replace the Russian-made RD-180 that powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket. The money was included in the omnibus spending bill despite an objection from the Air Force, which said there is no clear path for acquiring a new engine and that it would require extensive changes to any of the launch vehicles at its disposal.

Report language accompanying the bill, which funds most federal activities for the remainder of the current fiscal year, or through September, gives the Air Force six months to come up with a strategy for risk reduction and technology maturation for the new engine. Editor's Note: Why invest taxpayer funds when the private sector seems intent on investing its own money for new engines?

Note to Editor's Note: Part of the original RD-180 deal with Russia gave the IP rights to Pratt & Whitney, which at the time was the lead U.S. partner in the deal, allowing for future U.S. production of the engines. After a string of mergers and acquisitions, I have heard various reports that Aerojet Rocketdyne, ULA, and/or RD Amross now control that IP. One option is to set up a U.S. based RD-180 production line, though ULA has already decided on another alternative for Atlas 5. (12/11)

China Launches Reconnaissance Satellites (Source: SpaceToday)
China has launched what Western observers believe to be a trio of naval reconnaissance satellites. A Long March 4C rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan spaceport and placed the Yaogan-25 payload into orbit. Reports described Yaogan-25 as a single satellite intended for scientific experiments and civil applications. Western observers believe Yaogan-25 is instead three formation-flying satellites used for naval reconnaissance. (12/11)

France Starts Work on Eavesdropping Satellite Despite Funding Uncertainty (Source: Space News)
The French Defense Ministry has contracted with Airbus Defence and Space, and Thales for initial work on France’s first operational eavesdropping satellite even as it struggles to align military space program goals with a 2015 budget that has not been fully secured, French government and industry officials said.

Under a contract valued at about 325 million euros ($406 million), France’s arms procurement agency, DGA, expects Airbus and Thales to begin work on the CERES electronics-intercept program in March, with the three satellites to be launched into low Earth orbit in 2020. (12/10)

DARPA Prepares to Launch "Satlets" (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
DARPA's Phoenix program grabbed a lot of attention in 2012 when it announced a plan to revive old satellites by mining them for parts and constructing a new satellite around them. Now, the pieces are coming together for the program’s first space launch. On Tuesday, Seattle-based launch broker Spaceflight announced that it has signed an agreement to carry Phoenix’s first spacecraft.

It’s slated to launch some time in the third quarter of 2015 as a secondary payload on a rocket, probably a SpaceX Falcon 9. The first DARPA Phoenix spacecraft won’t be an orbiting satellite factory. Instead it will be an already completed spacecraft, called eXCITe, built from smaller parts. Constructed by NovaWurks, based in Los Alamitos, Calif., the spacecraft will be made out of a set of identical “satlets,” which the company dubs HiSats, for Hyper-Integrated Satlets.

Each measures about 20 by 20 by 10 centimeters and is effectively a self-contained spacecraft, with its own computer, power, communications capabilites, and propulsion. But Talbot Jaeger, NovaWurks founder and chief technologist, says they’re designed to be combined together. (12/11)

Pollution from Rocket Explosion Contained to Crater (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
NASA says that tests have shown the environmental effects of the explosion of the Antares rocket in late October appear to have been contained to the impact crater adjacent to the spaceport pad. Samples of the air, soil, surface water and ground water did not reveal any an hazards or environmental impact. A public meeting is planned on Monday to discuss cleanup efforts and answer questions about remediation. (12/10)

Asteroids, Not Comets, Gave Earth Most of its Water (Source: Physics World)
Most of the water that sustains life on Earth probably came from asteroids rather than comets. That is the conclusion of scientists working on the Rosetta space mission, who have measured the levels of hydrogen isotopes in the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the comet is much greater than the ratio found on Earth, which suggests that comets supplied Earth with only a small fraction of its water.

Although water blankets 71% of the Earth's surface, its abundance puzzles scientists. The Earth formed with the other planets in a disc of gas and dust around the newborn Sun. This protoplanetary disc was hot close to the Sun and cold far away. Because the Earth is close to the Sun, it formed in a hot region that should have been fairly dry. So how did the Earth get its water?

Altwegg says that most terrestrial water likely arose from asteroids that hit the Earth. By studying meteorites – most of which come from asteroids – scientists know that asteroids have terrestrial deuterium levels. (12/10)

Future of USAF is Air, Space, Cyberspace Integration (Source: AFSPC)
The commander of Air Force Space Command talked about the fundamental relationship between space operations and everyday life - not only for the military, but for the American people. Gen. John E. Hyten, the AFSPC commander, explained the complexities of global space operations, and how they're a seamless and invisible part of day-to-day living.

"We don't ever want to go to war in space, but we need to be prepared to fight a war in that environment," he said. "You figure out how to operate through that threat environment. One of the oldest precepts in war is the best way to avoid war is to be prepared for war." His future plans for AFSPC include integrating space and cyber, the ability to command and control space assets, and increasing space situational awareness - all to prepare for that environment. (12/9)

NASA Says SLS and Orion Will Slip to 2018 Despite Extra Funding (Source: Space News)
As U.S. lawmakers criticized the Obama administration at a Dec. 10 hearing for not requesting sufficient funding for NASA’s Orion and Space Launch System programs, a top NASA official said no amount of additional funding at this point would allow them to be ready for a 2017 launch. NASA's William Gerstenmaier told members of the House space subcommittee that the middle of 2018 was now the agency’s planned launch readiness date for the SLS. (12/10)

Embry-Riddle Patch Flies Aboard Orion (Source: ERAU)
The Orion spacecraft that launched atop a Delta-4 Heavy rocket was carrying an Embry-Riddle logo patch in the crew module, thanks to alumnus David Pintel who graduated in 1999 and now works as an engineer for Lockheed Martin. The spacecraft launched in the morning, orbited the earth twice then splashed down in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles off San Diego, after about four hours in space. Pintel plans to retrieve the patch once the craft is recovered by a Navy ship. He will then send it back to the university as a keepsake. (12/5)

Russian Internet Game Developer Plans Microsatellite Launcher (Source: Pravda)
Sergei Burkatovsky, known as one of the creators of the popular online game World of Tanks, is to invest from five to ten million rubles in Lin Industrial, a Russian developer of carrier rockets. The investment will be used to create ultra-light rocket "Taimyr". Chief Designer at Lin Industrial, Alexander Ilyin, said that the funds would be used to develop and test a prototype of a modular ultralight "Taimyr" carrier rocket with a thrust of 50 kg.

"Taimyr" will be able to launch smaller spacecraft into orbit, such as student-made satellites. The man explained his participation in the project with his devotion to space exploration. Lin Industrial is a party at Skolkovo space cluster and soon expects to receive from him minigrant of 5 million rubles. Consulting agencies estimate the global market of small spacecraft at more than $2 billion. "With the "Taimyr" rocket, we expect to take up to 30 percent of the market," said Ilyin. (12/10)

New U.S. Spending Deal a Mixed Bag for Science (Source: Science)
NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) appear to be among the winners—relatively speaking—in a spending deal reached Tuesday night by lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, with both agencies receiving modest funding boosts. But research budgets at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy would remain flat. (12/9)

Light Beams Let Data Rates Soar (Source: Space Daily)
You may know opals as fiery gemstones, but something special called OPALS is floating above us in space. On the International Space Station, the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) is demonstrating how laser communications can speed up the flow of information between Earth and space, compared to radio signals. (12/10)

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