March 10, 2015

Weeks From Another Launch, SpaceX Keeping Pace with Manifest (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The next launch in SpaceX’s busy manifest this year is scheduled for March 21, when a Falcon 9 rocket will take off from Cape Canaveral and deliver Turkmenistan’s first satellite into orbit. The liftoff from SpaceX’s Complex 40 launch pad on Florida’s Space Coast will mark the Falcon 9 rocket’s fourth flight of more than a dozen missions on the docket for 2015. (3/10)

Japan’s H-2A Rocket To Launch UAE Earth Observation Satellite (Source: Space News)
Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) on March 9 booked its third export order for the H-2A rocket in a contract to launch the 350-kilogram Khalifasat Earth observation satellite for the United Arab Emirates’ government-owned EIAST organization. The launch is to occur in late 2017 or early 2018. Khalifasat, which will be the first spacecraft built with UAE personnel in charge from start to finish, will ride into a polar low Earth orbit as a secondary payload on the H-2A. The main passenger will be Japan’s GOSAT-2 satellite studying greenhouse gas levels. (3/10)

Aerojet Rocketdyne to Cut Hundreds of Jobs (Source: SpaceToday)
Aerojet Rocketdyne will cut about 10 percent of its current workforce over the next four years as part of a corporate restructuring. Its "Competitive Improvement Program" will reduce the size of its workforce, currently in excess of 5,000 employees, by about 10 percent. Many of those cuts will be concentrated on the company's headquarters near Sacramento, California. It

The company has 14 sites located in 11 states and plans to consolidate office space and relocate some manufacturing work. Editor's Note: After subsuming Pratt & Whitney, Aerojet Rocketdyne now owns a rocket engine manufacturing and test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Will this site grow or shrink (or be closed altogether) as part of this restructuring? (3/10)

KSC Corrects Audit's Findings of Illegal Hires (Source: Florida Today)
A routine review of Kennedy Space Center's hiring practices two years ago turned up some troubling errors. In eight cases, including administrative positions supporting KSC Director Bob Cabana and two other top managers, auditors found the center illegally excluded qualified military veterans from consideration for civil servant jobs, and some non-veterans.

The veterans were not awarded preferences they were due because of their military service, like extra points or the right to apply late. Non-veterans also missed out on opportunities when proper procedures weren't followed. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management's findings prompted NASA Headquarters to place KSC's Human Resources Office under special oversight for six months last year, during which it monitored and approved all hiring decisions.

NASA said that intervention was necessary because KSC's problems, if not corrected, could have put the entire agency at risk of losing the hiring authority granted to it by OPM. "It was a serious issue, and we had to dig down to the bottom of it," said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "We had to pound this one flat." (3/10)

New Space Race as NASA Prepares ISS Cargo Contract (Source: Washington Post)
Lugging groceries and supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station may not be as cool as ferrying the astronauts themselves into orbit. But the NASA contract to fly cargo to the station in unmanned rocket ships has attracted bids from high-profile companies in what analysts say is another indication of commercial spaceflight’s recent renaissance.

It appears that at least five space firms have submitted proposals for the work, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which didn't bother to bid on the work the last time. In a new sort of space race, the contract has touched off an intense competition between stalwart defense contractors and new space start-ups that have, in just a few years, shown they can compete. (3/10)

JSC Needs an Advocate (Source: Houston Chronicle)
For the brave astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the Earth's gravitational pull prevents humanity's only outpost beyond our planet from flying off into space. For politicians in Washington, the gravity of NASA's challenges is all too easy to escape. NASA lacks its own crew-capable rocket, and long-term plans for a mission to Mars remain severely underfunded. Yet the elected officials in charge seem to care more about making headlines than making progress. (3/9)

Mo Brooks at His Best When Championing Cause of NASA for Alabama's Fifth District (Source:
A congressman from the Fifth District of Alabama must be focused on NASA and the military, and Brooks has found himself on some influential committees. He is determined to increase the military budget "to assure our national security." That's all well and good, especially if done with a lot more creativity and oversight and a lot less Halliburton overspending.

Closest to home, Brooks "understand(s) the value of America's space program" and is "fighting to preserve NASA spending." Of his Space Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology, "We're committed to human space flight, the kinds of missions that are the predominant focus of the Marshall Space Flight Center." Best of all, there is an initiative "to shift funds internally in NASA to all aeronautics and space." (3/9)

LightSail Arrives in Florida for Atlas Launch (Source: Planetary Society)
A cadre of CubeSats including The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft completed a cross-country journey from California to Florida, where they await installation as a secondary payload aboard an Atlas V rocket. NASA and the U.S. Air Force also released the nomenclature of the rocket’s primary and secondary payloads, and a preliminary launch date has been set for May 6. (3/9)

Want ‘California Girl’ Sally Ride Statue in US Capitol (Source: Frontiers Media)
With the recent death of space icon Leonard Nimoy and the revitalized careers of William Shatner and out-now George Takei, younger generations may not know that Nichelle Nichols portrayed the first African American woman in space as communications officer Lt. Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek. She was an inspiration to millions of girls and young women in the mid-1960s and beyond.

California State Sen. Ricardo Lara thinks girls from around the world can and should be inspired by the real deal—Sally Ride, a physicist and Angelino who made history on June 18, 1983 when she became the first American woman and at age 32, the youngest astronaut in space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Lara and out Principle co-author Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins have introduced Senate Joint Resolution 4 to place a statute of Sally Ride in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol to represent California. (3/9)

Colorado Aerospace Day Planned at State Capitol on March 25 (Source: CSBR)
Join the Colorado Space Business Roundtable, Colorado Space Coalition, and numerous Colorado businesses, educational institutions, and other aerospace partners for a day at the Colorado State Capitol on March 25. People are welcome to come for all or part of the day. The largest attendance is expected between 10:00 AM and lunch and again during the afternoon reception. Click here. (3/9)

China's Test Spacecraft Simulates Orbital Docking (Source: Space Daily)
China has run tests close to the moon simulating an unmanned docking procedure needed in the country's next lunar mission. The service module of the unmanned lunar orbiter currently in space to trial such techniques entered a target lunar orbit after breaking maneuvers, and flew to a suitable position for orbital docking between Tuesday and Saturday. (3/9)

GenCorp Changing Name to Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings (Source: GenCorp)
GenCorp Inc. (GY) today announced that its Board of Directors has approved changing the company's corporate name to "Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc." The new corporate name was selected to honor the predecessor companies' heritage. The company's name change is being announced concurrently with the competitive improvement program for subsidiary, Aerojet Rocketdyne. (3/9)

Public Gets Chance to Image Mars From Orbit (Source: SEN)
The European Space Agency (ESA) are making a camera on board its Mars Express orbiter available to the public for a three-day period in May, giving the opportunity for schools, astronomy clubs and other science groups to submit imaging requests for one of eight observation slots.

The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC)—being dubbed the Mars webcam—was originally intended only to provide visual confirmation of the Beagle2 lander separation, but the simple, low-resolution camera has been recommissioned to deliver good quality pictures of Mars, including cloud and atmospheric activity as well as surface features. (3/9)

The Space Architects Shaping Our Future (Source: Guardian)
Fifty years from now, says Brent Sherwood, there will be a different kind of honeymoon on offer. “Imagine a hotel with a view that’s changing all the time,” says the NASA space architect, “where there are 18 sunrises and sunsets every day, where food floats effortlessly into your mouth – and where you can have zero-gravity sex. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?” Click here. (3/9)

'Habitable' Super-Earth Might Exist After All (Source: Discovery)
Despite having discovered nearly 2,000 alien worlds beyond our solar system, the profound search for exoplanets — a quest focused on finding a true Earth analog — is still in its infancy. It is therefore not surprising that some exoplanet discoveries aren’t discoveries at all; they are in fact just noise in astronomical data sets.

But when disproving the existence of extrasolar planets that have some characteristics similar to Earth, we need to take more care during the analyses of these data, argue some astronomers. But the exoplanet signal for Gliese 581d has been called into doubt. Gliese 581d isn’t the only possible exoplanet that exists around that star — controversy has also been created by another, potentially habitable exoplanet called Gliese 581g. (3/9)

Upgraded Falcon 9 May Need Additional Certification (Source: Aviation Week)
An optimized Merlin 1D engine and other enhancements to the Falcon 9 v1.1 will give SpaceX the ability to lift commercial communications satellites to orbit while continuing to develop the rocket’s reusable core stage. SpaceX says the improvements include a 15% boost in thrust for the rocket’s nine core-stage engines, as well as super-chilled propellant and a 10% increase in the volume of the upper-stage tank.

A year ago Elon Musk said he planned no major improvements to the Falcon 9, though he said SpaceX would be “chilling the propellant to densify it, to get more propellant load for the given volume.” The change would enable the rocket to carry more fuel, even with heavier payloads, enabling the core stage to return to Earth for a controlled landing on a SpaceX drone-barge off the coast of Florida.

The downside of such changes, however, is that they could require additional government work to certify an upgraded Falcon 9 -- if SpaceX seeks it --  to carry sensitive civil and military payloads. Editor's Note: A larger upper stage might allow earlier first-stage separation. A closer stage separation would allow easier first-stage returns to the spaceport. (3/9)

NASA Won't Use Refurbished Falcon Stages for Science Payloads (Source: Aviation Week)
Although NASA and the Air Force expect to complete their respective Falcon 9 certification efforts mid-year, NASA says once the vehicle is certified to launch riskier missions, in the future it does not plan to fly science payloads on SpaceX launchers utilizing refurbished Falcon 9 cores. “Our current Category 2 certification effort assumes the use of an un-refurbished core stage,” says a NASA spokesman. (3/9)

NASA Urged To Develop Post-ISS Strategy (Source: Space News)
Even though the ISS appears likely to remain in use well into the next decade, some in the space industry are pressing NASA to start developing a strategy for what comes after the ISS, an approach that may rely heavily on commercial facilities. Currently, the five ISS partners — Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States — have agreed to operate the ISS only through 2020. In January 2014, the Obama administration proposed extending ISS operations to at least 2024.

Even if the other partners agree to continue ISS operations to 2024 or later, some say now is the time to develop a strategy for transitioning from the ISS to another facility to avoid any gaps in low Earth orbit operations. NASA officials acknowledge that now is the time to think about its post-ISS strategy, but say a successor to the ISS is unlikely to be a station built and operated by the space agency. (3/9)

Air Force Sounds Alarm Over Ban on Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Space News)
A congressional ban on the use of Russian engines to launch U.S. national security payloads will hamstring ULA in competitions for military business starting as early as this year, the U.S. Air Force has warned. The Air Force said only “a very small number” of rocket engines currently on order from Russia meet the criteria for exemption from the ban in response to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Editor's Note: Doesn't Ukraine manufacture rocket engines? Maybe the U.S. can help Ukraine's crippled space industry by purchasing more of these Soviet-era engines there. (3/9)

SpaceX Leaves Searing Impression on NASA Heat Shield Guy (Source: Space News)
Soon after he began working with SpaceX, Dan Rasky was sitting in a conference room listening to nine or 10 engineers discuss the best way to produce heat shields for the Dragon space capsule when SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk turned to him and asked, “Dan, what do you think?”

Rasky, a longtime NASA veteran and one of the inventors of the heat shield material under discussion, suggested SpaceX manufacture the heat shield in house to optimize its properties for Dragon and gain the flexibility to modify its properties for future spacecraft. What happened next shocked him. Musk said, “That’s what we are going to do.”

At NASA, where Rasky had worked for nearly two decades, a decision of that magnitude only would have been made after multiple meetings, discussions and assessments of competing solutions. Click here. (3/9)

U.S. To Consolidate Control of Missile Warning Assets (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has successfully demonstrated the ability to control its varied space-based missile warning assets with a single ground system, which is still under development. Currently, the Air Force relies on separate ground systems for its three space-based missile warning capabilities. The new Mission Control Station, or Increment 2 of the SBIRS ground network development effort, will control all three systems. (3/9)

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