January 22, 2015

How Boeing and SpaceX Won Commercial Crew Amid Schedule Concerns (Source: Space News)
Recently released government documents offer more details about how Boeing and SpaceX won NASA commercial crew contracts last September, but also describe how agency officials evaluating the proposals were concerned about the ability of all three competitors to stay on schedule. Click here. (1/22)

NASA and Space Coast EDC Form ‘Strategic Alliance’ (Source: Florida Today)
NASA and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast announced Wednesday they have formed a “strategic alliance” aimed at bringing cutting-edge technologies and resources to help solve manufacturing and technology challenges for various industries.

While helping regional small and medium-sized businesses with access to NASA’s talent pool and advanced technologies, the alliance also is meant to to boost the area’s economy by helping companies grow and be more efficient. The program is part of NASA’s national pilot program for regional economic development. (1/21)

10 Things To Watch In The 2016 Budget Request (Source: Aviation Week)
Six years into his presidency, President Barack Obama is planning to finally submit his budget request to Congress on time—meaning the week of Feb. 2 this year. In it, he will deliver what is likely to be his last meaningful budget push, as the president's final budget request is made during a lame duck year. Among the space-related items to watch for are: a new rocket engine, ULA launches, and next-gen satellites. Click here. (1/22)

Branson Says Satellite Array 'Will Get 3 Billion Online' (Source: BBC)
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson is among those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He spoke to the BBC's Joanna Gosling about Virgin Galactic's part in a venture to create 'an enormous array of satellites around the earth'. Sir Richard said the business would 'help reach the three billion people in this world who don't have internet access". (1/21)

Why is Fidelity investing in SpaceX? (Source: CNN)
Google is an innovative company that's throwing billions of dollars at everything from drones and satellites to wearable tech, driverless cars and contact lenses that measure glucose levels in tears. Fidelity? It runs a boatload of mutual funds that invest in the stock and bond markets. That's not exactly cutting-edge. Fidelity's investment is a bit curious.

This type of long-term venture does not mesh with the myopic "What are you doing to beat next quarter's estimates?" mentality of Wall Street traders and money managers at big hedge funds. A spokesperson for Fidelity would not comment about why the firm was making an investment in SpaceX, simply saying that it was done "on behalf of the mutual funds." (1/21)

Putin Backs Creation of Giant Russian Space Corporation (Source: Moscow Times)
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday backed the creation of a sector-spanning space corporation designed to revitalize the commercial rocket industry and advance Russia's growing cosmic ambitions. Putin said the plan to unite the federal space agency, Roscosmos, with United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) in a new corporate behemoth that will retain the Roscosmos name was "the right proposal" during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. (1/21)

Spaceport America is Riding on Too Few Shoulders (Source: Rio Rancho Observer)
There is a cowboy adage: “Never rope anything that you can’t get your rope back off.” Another adage: “If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.” Starting in 2003, then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pushed the Spaceport construction in the Legislature. A vote to tax citizens in the connected three counties was set.

So I voted for the SpacePort tax in the Doña Ana County election and continue to support the venture. In my March 2007 column, I noted: “... the problem is that it is something never been done before.” Despite my approval of the project, I have been critical of the venture’s singleness. It rides on few shoulders. The New Mexico Spaceport currently has a huge 4-year-old runway that is hardly used. In fact, the entire facility is a couple years old while the critical mass of activity for success is not happening. (1/21)

Did Two More Iridium Satellites Collide with Space Debris? (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Two mystifying incidents last year involving separate Iridium communications satellites have experts wondering whether the spacecraft collided with tiny fragments of space junk. Both satellites kept operating after inexplicably shedding debris, puzzling engineers who are concerned about the population of small objects in orbit that cannot be tracked by the U.S. Air Force’s network of sensitive radars and cameras. (1/22)

Obama’s State of the Union: Just the Space Parts (Source: Space News)
Every year, the space community tunes into the State of the Union speech to see what the President might say about space in the address. And, nearly every year, those people are disappointed by the end of the speech, as space gets crowded out by other domestic and foreign policy priorities.

This year, however, was different. In two separate portions of the hour-long speech, President Barack Obama mentioned NASA and its programs, both to explore the solar system and to the study the Earth. Obama offered no new initiatives for the space agency in the address, but that space was mentioned at all was a pleasant surprise to many.

The first mention of the space agency came about halfway into the address, where the president referenced the Dec. 5 test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the upcoming launch of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly — in the audience as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama — on a one-year mission at the International Space Station. (1/22)

Cruz, Obama Agree on Mission to Mars (Source: The Hill)
You may have to go to Mars to find common ground between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and President Obama. Cruz broadly ripped Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address for doubling down “on the failed policies of the last six years” and ignoring the message of “the crushing electoral losses in the midterm elections.” But Obama’s call for a manned mission to Mars met with Cruz’s cautious approval.

As chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Science and Space, Cruz is a central player in the debate. But he questioned whether Obama’s vision for a Mars mission is sincere given what he called the administration’s “devaluing of space exploration, devaluing of the hard sciences and diverting both funds and manpower to extraneous political agendas.” Other conservatives are skeptical about making Mars a priority when the economy is just beginning to recover from a long period of sluggish growth, and federal spending remains a concern. (1/22)

If Earth Falls, will Interstellar Space Travel be Our Salvation? (Source: The Conversation)
Some climatologists argue it may be too late to reverse climate change, and it’s just a matter of time before the Earth becomes uninhabitable – if hundreds of years from now. The recent movie Interstellar raised the notion that we may one day have to escape a dying planet. As astrophysicists and avid science fiction fans, we naturally find the prospect of interstellar colonization intriguing and exciting. But is it practical, or even possible? Or is there a better solution? Click here. (1/22)

Planet Labs Raises $95 Million From Investors (Source: Satellite Today)
Planet Labs, operator of a constellation of 73 small Earth observation satellites, has completed the first closing of the majority of its $70 million Series C round which, led by Data Collective, garnered support from both new and existing investors. In tandem with the closing of a $25 million debt facility from Western Technology Investment, the complete financing round amounts to $95 million.

Planet Labs also opened a new office this month in San Francisco and announced that Data Collective’s co-Managing Partner Zachary Bogue will join the company’s board of directors. Tom Barton, COO of Planet Labs said the company is delivering data to customers, such as Woolpert and Geoplex, and is actively seeking new partnerships. Following the destruction of 26 satellites in the Oct. 28, 2014 Antares launch failure, the company quickly manifested two more satellites aboard the SpaceX CRS-5 mission through NanoRacks. (1/21)

SpaceX Satellite Plan is a Throwback to 1990s (Source: New York Times)
Elon Musk's satellite dream is a throwback to the 1990s. The pioneering Teledesic tried something similar around two decades ago but failed. The question for SpaceX is whether the equation has yet changed enough. Today's demand for broadband is far stronger and more universal. It also is still expensive to lay fiber-optic cable. Yet many of Teledesic's challenges still exist. Click here. (1/22)

Billionaires Battle for the Internet in Space (Source: CNN)
A handful of ultra-rich guys are racing one another to deliver the Internet from the sky. The latest is SpaceX, which just got $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity. Some of that money will be used to bolster CEO Elon Musk's plan to launch hundreds of Internet-signal satellites into space.

Then there's Virgin's Richard Branson, who last week poured a ton of money into OneWeb. The company wants to launch a fleet of 648 microsatellites to bring high-speed Internet and phone service "to people living in underserved areas." Tech industry billionaires are obsessed with this idea for two reasons: capitalism and philanthropy. Whoever owns the skies has the opportunity to be the telecom operator of the future. (1/21)

Tory Bruno is the Candid New Voice of ULA (Source: AdWeek)
Sure, you've heard of (and might even be Twitter-stalking) Elon Musk and Richard Branson, but you're likely not familiar with one of their most influential peers. Tory Bruno is CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The combined effort was created in 2006 and has since essentially been the go-to contractor when the U.S. government needs to get something into space.

ULA has been facing increased competitive pressure from SpaceX in recent years, resulting in a 2014 restructuring that brought in Bruno (a 30-year Lockheed veteran) to help reduce launch costs by as much as 50 percent. While SpaceX and Virgin Galactic get most of the public's attention when it comes to privatized space flight, Bruno is working to raise the image of the more established ULA.

One of the most interesting and visible ways he's doing that is by getting personally involved in Twitter. Bruno's tweets range from real-time launch updates and proud recaps of successful missions to taking jabs at competitors and chatting cordially with an account called @FakeToryBruno. (1/21)

Ukrainian Space Workers Rally for Back Pay (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Workers at the A.M. Makarov Southern Machine-Building Plant (PA Yuzhmash) in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine held a rally to protest the lack of pay and work. The workers build Zenit and Cyclone-4 boosters as well as the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle and the fourth stage for Europe’s Vega rocket.

They are also involved in Dnepr, a decommissioned ballistic missile that has been converted into a satellite launcher. Since last July, employees have been working only three days per week and are paid $200 to $300 only once or twice per month. There’s also been a lack of new orders for their products. The company owes about $150 million in back salaries and other payments, according to the Interfax. (1/21)

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