December 17, 2014

SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An ocean-going cargo barge modified to serve as a landing pad for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster is set to depart the Port of Jacksonville for a journey into the Atlantic Ocean ahead of Friday’s launch of a space station cargo mission from Cape Canaveral. The barge will be stationed about 200 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral — or about 165 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C. — for Friday’s Falcon 9 launch, which is set for 1:22 p.m. EST. (12/16)

Mississippi Senator Defends Fighting for Mothballed NASA Facility (Source: The Tribune)
Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi was unbowed Tuesday in the face of disclosures that he kept alive funding to complete a $349 million Mississippi rocket-testing project, only for it to be immediately mothballed because it was part of a canceled NASA program. “Congress agreed that it was not in the best interests of taxpayers, in Mississippi or elsewhere, to allow the site to sit incomplete, abandoned, and neglected, quickly falling into a state of disrepair,” Wicker said. (12/16)

Everything You Need to Know About Friday's SpaceX Dragon Launch (Source: Popular Mechanics)
On Friday, December 19, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will drop off an unmanned Dragon spacecraft in orbit and send it on its way to the International Space Station. Then, if all goes well, the rocket's first stage will turn around, fly itself back to Earth, and land on a platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Click here. (12/16)

SpaceX Gets Economic Incentive for Texas Site Expansion (Source: Waco Tribune)
Waco City Council pledged its share of $3.3 million of city-county incentives Tuesday that will allow SpaceX to expand its rocket testing facility. SpaceX is in line for $3 million in incentives from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. in exchange for adding 300 jobs and making $46.3 million in capital improvements to the McGregor facility. McLennan County would provide half the funding, and commissioners are set to vote on the package next week. (12/17)

Astrotech Pursues Stock Buyback (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corporation a company that specializes in the commercialization of valuable space and defense technologies for uses in industrial process control, explosives detection, research and healthcare markets, today announced that its Board of Directors has approved a share repurchase program authorizing the company to repurchase up to $5.0 million of its common stock through December 31, 2015. (12/17)

Pittsburgh Team Gets XPrize Awards, But Contest's Future in Doubt (Source: Pittsburgh Tribune)
Google's Lunar XPrize contest awarded $750,000 Tuesday to a Pittsburgh team from Carnegie Mellon University and Astrobotic, even as the fate of the contest is unclear. The Milestone Prizes, one for imaging and one for mobility, arrive as Google announced that the $30 million contest to land a rover on the moon has been extended until the end of 2016.

However, the extension and the contest hinge on one of the teams in the competition submitting a launch schedule by Dec. 31, 2015. Astrobotic is the first team to be awarded Milestone Prizes, although there may be more awarded in January, according to Google. CEO John Thornton said he is pleased with the prizes but would not confirm that the team would have a launch schedule in hand by the deadline. Astrobotic is one of five teams in the running for Milestone Prizes. (12/16)

Orbital to Buy Billion Dollars' Worth of RD-181 Rocket Engines from Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s Energomash has concluded a contract to deliver rocket engines to the US corporation Orbital Sciences. The engines will be used for the first stage of Antares rockets beginning 2015. Energomash will deliver 60 engines to Orbital, according to a high-ranking Roscosmos source. There is a contract to supply 20 engines, and the work has already started to deliver the first two units in June, and there are two more options, each for 20 units. (12/17)

Orbital's RD-181 Decision Comes After Coordinating with Congress (Source: Aviation Week)
Congressional concern about Russian aggression in the Crimean peninsula led to a ban in the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on using RD-180s purchased after Russia occupied the Ukrainian territory on Feb. 1. Grabe said that legislation will not affect the deal to buy RD-181s from Energomash. “We’ve coordinated with all relevant congressional committee staffs to keep them informed of our decision,” Grabe said.

“Certainly the NDAA places future restrictions on the use of the Russian engines for national security space applications. Our application is in civil space. There’s a long history of U.S.-Russian cooperation in civil space, dating back to Apollo-Soyuz in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. Since our immediate objective is in civil space supporting the International Space Station, it’s got a slightly different twist or perspective than supporting national security space. (12/16)

Boeing Offers CST-100 For ISS Cargo Contract (Source: Space News)
As Boeing begins work on its NASA commercial crew contract, the company is proposing to use a version of the same spacecraft to transport cargo to the international space station. Company officials said they submitted a proposal earlier this month for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 competition, a follow-on to the existing CRS contracts held by Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX to ferry cargo to and from the station.

The cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft will be based on the crewed version. Boeing will remove spacecraft components not needed for crew missions, like its launch abort system and environmental controls, to free up room in the spacecraft for cargo. The cargo version of CST-100 would, like the crewed version, launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The cargo version will also be able to return cargo to Earth, landing in the western U.S. like the crewed version.

Editor's Note: Wow! ULA must realy be committed to bringing its costs down to compete against SpaceX (and Orbital). Based on their pricing trends for military missions, ULA wasn't expected to become a strong player in the ISS crew/cargo arena. (12/16)

ULA is Obviously Feeling the Need to Compete (Source: SPACErePORT)
Over the years, industry watchers like me have surmised that the high cost of Atlas and Delta launches may primarily be attributable to the price the Air Force has been willing to pay. This suggests that ULA priced itself out of the commercial market because the government market was so lucrative. The ongoing moves at ULA toward commercial competitiveness show that SpaceX is a real threat to ULA's government market dominance. The company now needs to offer a lower-priced service to the government, which in turn makes it more competitive for commercial missions. (12/16)

Gamma Ray Bursts May Repeatedly Wipe Out Life (Source: Science News)
Deadly invisible jets of high-energy radiation may short-circuit life throughout the universe. A study concludes that these gamma-ray bursts occur frequently enough in about 90 percent of galaxies to sterilize planets, including Earthlike worlds that would otherwise be ideal for life. Earth itself has been zapped, the study suggests, perhaps contributing to one or more of the planet’s mass extinctions.

Some scientists say the study doesn’t properly account for the resilience of life, particularly if that life is protected by an ocean or an ice shell. Nonetheless, the paper’s sobering conclusions may temper recent optimism about the prospects for extraterrestrial life, particularly regarding the discovery of Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. (12/16)

Spacecraft Spots Probable Waves on Titan’s Seas (Source: Science)
It’s springtime on Titan, Saturn’s giant and frigid moon, and the action on its hydrocarbon seas seems to be heating up. Near the moon’s north pole, there is growing evidence for waves on three different seas, scientists reported. Researchers are also coming up with the first estimates for the volume and composition of the seas. The bodies of liquid appear to be made mostly of methane, and not mostly ethane as previously thought. And they are deep: Ligeia Mare, the second biggest sea with an area larger than Lake Superior, could contain 55 times Earth’s oil reserves. (12/16)

NASA, Rockwell Collins to Study Single-Pilot Cockpit (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A study by NASA and Rockwell Collins Inc. will explore the possibility that pilots operating alone could one day receive assistance from co-pilots on the ground during busy periods of the flight. The study is prompted in part by an anticipated shortage of pilots: Boeing has projected that 533,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed over the next 20 years. (12/14)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests 3D Printed CubeSat Propulsion System (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has successfully completed a hot-fire test of its MPS-120 CubeSat High-Impulse Adaptable Modular Propulsion System. The MPS-120 is the first 3D-printed hydrazine integrated propulsion system and is designed to provide propulsion for CubeSats, enabling missions not previously available to these tiny satellites.

The project was funded out of the NASA Office of Chief Technologist’s Game Changing Opportunities in Technology Development and awarded out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. The test was conducted in Redmond, Washington. (12/15)

Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline as Astrobotic Wins First Milestone Awards (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The deadline for winning the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has been moved back again. The XPrize Foundation has announced a one-year delay in the prize to Dec. 31, 2016, contingent upon at least one team providing “documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015, for all teams to move forward in the competition.”

The foundation also announced that Astrobotic and its partner, Carnegie Melon University (CMU), had won the first two of a series of milestone awards aimed at providing funding to the teams. XPrize and Google will award up to $6 million in milestone prizes next month. “We continue to see significant progress from our Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, most recently demonstrated in the pursuit of the Milestone Prizes,” XPRIZE President Robert Weiss. (12/16)

Drones, Balloons, Satellites Hold the Key to Worldwide Internet Access (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Drones, balloons and the latest technology in geostationary satellites could pave the way for global network coverage, bringing the Internet to an additional 4 billion people. (12/14)

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