February 21, 2015

New Rocket, Fewer Launch Pads In ULA’s Long-Term Strategy (Source: Aviation Week)
United Launch Alliance’s plan to field a new rocket engine with Blue Origin called the BE-4 is only step one of a larger strategic plan to take the company from a sole-source benefactor mentality to competing in a burgeoning commercial market. With that plan, ULA’s current launchers – the Atlas V (developed originally by Lockheed Martin) and Delta IV (developed originally by Boeing) – will likely be supplanted by a new, yet-to-be-named rocket design within the next decade.

The Atlas V and Delta IV are the workhorse rockets for DOD and have been since the early 2000s. But both have a limited future. Last year, former ULA's Mike Gass said the per-unit cost of an Atlas V 401 mission was $164 million; a Delta IV heavy mission was priced at $350 million. These prices are averages for the 36-core deal signed between ULA and the Air Force. Delta IV has a stellar launch record but is more expensive. Nonetheless, its heavy variant is one of a kind and is the driving reason why the family will remain active into the future.

That is until ULA or another company can build a replacement. ULA CEO Tory Bruno says the company is also developing a new upper stage to take the place of the legacy RL-10 built by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Dynetics that now mates with the Atlas V and Delta IV. He is also reducing the company’s infrastructure from five launch pads – supporting both launch vehicles – to two. One will be on each coast and will support operations for the Next-Generation Launch System (NGLS) as well as support the last Atlas V and Delta IV missions, Bruno. (2/17)

Launch Complex Reduction Strategy Could Boost Competitiveness Against SpaceX (Source: SPACErePORT)
Operating and maintaining launch pad infrastructure is expensive. United Launch Alliance (with much support from the Air Force) endures the costs and headaches for five launch complexes in Florida and California. Two for Delta-4, Two for Atlas-5, and one (in California) for Delta-2. ULA hopes it can reduce its footprint down to one launch complex on each coast. (A single launch complex can have more than one launch pad.)

At the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, this would mean getting rid of either LC-41 (Atlas-5) or LC-37 (Delta-4) and using only one of the facilities for both Delta-4 and the company’s next-generation rocket (Atlas-6?). Closing LC-41 seems the most workable solution, since it cannot be easily expanded and LC-37 is already designed for a second launch pad. Plus LC-37’s huge Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) could accommodate both Delta and Atlas vehicle cores. (Or ULA can close both pads and go with a clean-sheet design for a multi-vehicle launch complex at Space Florida's Shiloh site.)

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s launch facility footprint continues to grow, with two in Florida (LC-39A and LC-40), one in California (LC-4), a planned pad in Texas (Boca Chica) and an existing launcher test facility in Texas (McGregor). Plus SpaceX has landing barges on both coasts and planned landing complexes at the spaceports. So as SpaceX’s infrastructure costs grow, ULA’s will shrink…at least after their capital investment for two multi-vehicle complexes. (2/21)

If ULA Closes LC-41, SpaceX Could Use It (Source: SPACErePORT)
The potential closure of ULA’s Atlas-5 launch pad (LC-41) and relocation of their new post-Atlas vehicle to LC-37 would open LC-41 up for a new user. This would provide an interesting opportunity for SpaceX and Florida.

SpaceX’s current pad at LC-40 was once a twin of LC-41, both used for Titan-4 rockets. By taking over LC-41, SpaceX could forego the expense of developing, operating and maintaining a new spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, and instead operate LC-40 and LC-41 – and LC-39A -- as a single complex. These three pads are already located adjacent to one another, allowing streamlined O&M, efficient use of human and materiel resources, and support for every type of Falcon-9 mission. (2/21)

How Asteroid Mining Could Pay for Our First Space Colony (Source: Gizmodo)
Many of us dream of living on other planets, but are two things we'll need before it can actually happen: money and raw materials. Now some companies say they have a solution to this problem. They'll mine asteroids for valuable metal ores, and for basic resources like water that we'll need once we're far from Earth. Lucky for us, the cosmos is packed with the raw materials we need and crave. Click here. (2/17)

Boeing Breaks Ground for Commercial Crew Access Tower at SLC-41 (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Officials from Boeing, United Launch Alliance (ULA ), NASA, Space Florida and the Air Force attended a formal ground-breaking ceremony for a crew access tower at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Feb. 20. The event heralds the upcoming planned flights of Boeing's Commercial Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft atop an Atlas V 401 booster from the site - and the return of U.S. astronauts launching from a domestic company - from U.S. soil. (2/20)

Space Florida Finances Atlas Crew Access Infrastructure (Source: Florida Today)
Segments of the core tower structure will be built off site and then stacked in between ULA's busy schedule of unmanned launches. The project's cost was not disclosed. Space Florida, which has agreed to contribute at least $6 million to the project, has described it as costing at least $100 million. (2/20)

Learning Period Extension Could Depend on SpaceShipTwo Investigation Results (Source: Parabolic Arc)
During the FAA’s recent Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC, there was a lot of talk about extending the learning period and regulatory “moratorium” on commercial human spaceflight that expires on Sept. 30.

Having failed to fly into space in the decade since the restrictions were put into place, industry naturally wants yet another extension so they can continue learning their lessons. In the meantime, voluntary standards will suffice. The FAA is of another mind, wanting to have the authority to write a basic set of safety standards and to react quickly to situations as they develop.

The moratorium and learning period represent an implicit bargain between the government and industry. The federal government has given companies extraordinary  leeway to develop their vehicles and to take risks, with customers flying under an informed consent regime. State governments have gone further, passing laws that protect the industry from lawsuits except in certain circumstances. (2/20)

Aerospace States Group Picks Alabama for Leadership (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Aerospace States Association (ASA) represents the aerospace development and policy interests of several U.S. states, with lieutenant governors from multiple states (but not Florida) taking leadership positions with the organization. The group has picked Alabama's Lt. Governor Kay Ivey to serve as the ASA chairperson. The organization is also sponsoring the development of "chapter" organizations in its member states. Click here. (2/20)

Advanced Boosters Progress Toward Solid Future for SLS (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The giant boosters that will help shove NASA’s new monster rocket uphill are hitting milestones on two fronts. As Orbital ATK prepare for next month’s Qualification Motor -1 (QM-1) test firing of the five segment solid motor, teams are also testing the technologies required for the Advanced Booster – a motor that is set to provide SLS with extra upmass capability from the mid 2020s onwards.

The five segment version is a direct descendant of the four segment motor that pushed Space Shuttles through their first stage flight. While the test will produce a huge amount of data on the booster’s performance, the validation of the avionics system – responsible for igniting, steering and jettison of the boosters – will be critical. (2/20)

SES Decides To Be First To Fly on Enhanced Falcon 9 (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on Feb. 20 said it had agreed to be the inaugural customer aboard  an enhanced version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, a decision that SES said followed a careful review of Falcon 9’s more-powerful first stage engine block. (2/20)

Intelsat Warns Investors of Rough Ride ahead of Epic Growth (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat warned investors to expect a rough ride over the next year or two as the company awaits the arrival of its Epic high-throughput satellites and the revenue growth they are designed to provide. Intelsat said the market reaction to the Epic satellites – the first of which is scheduled for launch in early 2016 – has been about as good as expected, and that any reduction in per-megahertz pricing will be offset by higher-volume contracts. (2/20)

Europa Clipper Team Seeking Earlier Launch (Source: Space News)
The team working on the leading concept for a mission to Europa believes it can be ready for launch as soon as 2022, several years ahead of the schedule NASA officials recently stated. Barry Goldstein, Europa Clipper pre-project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said they are taking advantage of additional funding provided by Congress to accelerate work on the mission. (2/20)

World’s Largest Telescope Faces Opposition from Native Hawaiian Protesters (Source: Scientific American)
The broad-shouldered summit of Mauna Kea holds many meanings for many people: For astronomers, it’s a high-altitude playground of stars, among the best places on Earth to explore the firmament with minimal atmospheric distortion. For environmentalists, it’s a “sky island ecosystem” that hosts rare and altitude-sensitive species, including the wekiu bug found nowhere else in the world. For Hawaiian spiritual practitioners, it is the home of gods, the most holy place on Hawaii’s big island. (2/20)

Antares Failure Probe Finds Debris in Engine (Source: Reuters)
Last October's explosion of Orbital ATK Inc's Antares rocket may have been triggered when debris inadvertently left in a fuel tank traveled into the booster's main engine, two people familiar with investigations into the accident told Reuters. The sources said the preliminary findings suggest that a simple assembly mistake by Orbital ATK could have caused the explosion, which destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. (2/20)

Roscosmos Invites French Experts to Join Russian Space Projects (Source: Itar-Tass)
French specialists will take part in a number of Russian promising research and applied space programmes, according to an agreement signed on Friday after a meeting between head of Russia’s Space Agency (Roscosmos) Igor Komarov and administrators of France’s Nations Centre of Space Research (CNES) Jean-Yves Le Gall. (2/20)

Let’s Stop Pretending Going to Mars is for Mankind (Source: Guardian)
What struck me as I surfed through the Mars One profiles of shortlisted candidates and watched applicants’ interviews, was that the mission is surrounded by a certain rhetoric of progress. Going to Mars will move humanity forward and open up new frontiers; it will be a veritable leap for mankind. I watched a woman look forward to the day her statue will be planted on Mars’s red soil in honor of her services to mankind.

I watched a father willing to leave his wife and children behind for a chance to make this jump for humanity. I watched a young man speak of his application as a “sacrifice” for the rest of us. Through the glories of modern science, mankind is once again forging ahead. Then I thought of my village in south-eastern Nigeria. The roads are not paved, the electricity supply is erratic and infant mortality is high.

Are my townspeople included in this great leap for mankind? Have their lives changed since the last alleged leap, Armstrong’s slow walk across the moon? They use candles in a world where there are light bulbs. Their children die of infection in a world where there is penicillin. Yes, sometimes, technology trickles down. You would be hard pressed to find someone in my village without a phone, but charging it, that’s another issue. Click here. (2/20)

Will Virgin Suffer More Delays Due to Richard Branson’s Environmental Efforts? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The B Team, a group of high-level business leaders co-founded by Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson that’s committed “People Planet Profit”, has issued a call for “world leaders to commit to a global goal of net-zero greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 – and urged business leaders to match this ambition by committing to bold long-term targets.”

In a Feb. 5 press release, Sir Richard said, “Taking bold action on climate change simply makes good business sense. It’s also the right thing to do for people and the planet." Bold words. But, I have to wonder what would happen to Virgin Galactic if Branson actually took action on them. About the time the B Team was issuing its bold challenge, I saw a video of a SpaceShipTwo engine test here in Mojave.  A dark black plume of smoke rose over the desert as the rocket engine roared. (2/20)

SpaceX To Upgrade Drone Ship For Next Falcon Landing Attempt (Source" Aviation Week)
Forced to attempt its Falcon 9 first-stage recoveries at sea, primarily for safety reasons, SpaceX now plans to beef up the seaworthiness of its autonomous spaceport drone ship to handle more extreme weather and sea states. The vessel, which measures just 300 X 100 ft., with wings that extend the width to 170 ft., is not anchored and maintains position with station-keeping thrusters. (2/18)

10 GPS Myths: Busted (Source: USAF)
GPS has been broadcasting signals for nearly 40 years. During that time, a number of myths, misconceptions, conspiracies and falsehoods that have been raised. Let's examine 10 common myths surrounding GPS. This list is presented in no particular order. Click here. (2/20)

New Space Commerce Conference Planned in Houston (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. will be a keynote speaker at the inaugural Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom) Nov.17-19 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, focusing on the significance of exploring the business of space and its impact across vital market segments of the global economy. (2/19)

Miami's Fallen Star: Planetarium Fades to Black (Source: USA Today)
When engineers at Spitz Inc. created the Space Transit Planetarium star projector in the 1960s, they couldn't have imagined what would become of their revolutionary machines. Apollo astronauts used them to familiarize themselves with space travel. Planetarium officials in Denver hot-wired their projector to speed up the rotation of the stars for evening laser-light shows set to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

That long history will officially come to an end this year when the last functioning projector is retired in Miami. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is shutting its doors this fall and moving to a new facility on Miami's waterfront. A state-of-the-art digital star projector will replace the 49-year-old star projector. (2/20)

Five Path-Breaking Projects Under Development in India (Source: Economic Times)
ISRO has its hands full with new projects, some of which pushing up the potential use of space technology significantly. These include new heavy launch vehicles, cryogenic and semi-cryogenic engines, a moon and a solar mission and, if there is enough government support, human space missions as well. Click here. (2/20)

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