March 16, 2015

ViaSat Dons U.K. Fig Leaf To Buy American with Ex-Im Loan (Source: Space News)
Satellite broadband hardware and services provider ViaSat has concluded terms for a $524.9 million direct loan from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to cover the costs of the ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite to be launched in mid-2016 from Florida. The loan, which will finance California-based ViaSat’s purchase of a satellite from another California company and its launch by yet another Californian, is an example of the creative uses to which export-credit-agency funding can be put in search of favorable loan terms.

The fig leaf needed to secure the deal (which is not the first of its kind) is a heretofore unknown ViaSat subsidiary in Dorset, England – ViaSat Technologies Ltd. – which is the Ex-Im Bank’s counterparty. Under the terms of the loan, $476 million may be used to finance up to 85 percent of the costs associated with the construction and launch of ViaSat-2, with the remainder set aside for other expenses associated with the loan. (3/16)

Editorial: We Need To Expand the Conversation About Space (Source: Space News)
Bob Werb, is fond of saying that the job of the Space Frontier Foundation is to change the conversation about space. And despite 26-plus years of activist work, it can feel like not much has really changed. In the U.S., the president and Congress are arguing. The partisan rancor in Congress has Democratic and Republican members arguing past each other, even as space policy is a nonpartisan issue. And, of course, the time between elections gets shorter and shorter (didn’t we just have one?).

And yet the conversation has changed. Private spacecraft are visiting the crown jewel, the International Space Station, and NASA has publicly stated that the next space station(s) must be privately owned and operated. Today’s discussions about space activities aren’t merely about exploring space, but about developing and settling it. Everyone — from NASA to the president — has started to embrace a bigger vision than exploration; that vision now includes pioneering.

A majority of Americans do not support returning to the moon or going to Mars, and just a little over 50 percent of them support increasing funding for human spaceflight. This tells us what our next project is — we need to expand the conversation about space, not just change it. (3/16)

U.S. Military Faces Weather Coverage Gap over Hot Zones (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has warned lawmakers that it may have to depend on Chinese, Indian or Russian satellites as early as 2017 for weather coverage of the war-wracked region that includes the Middle East and Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for that broad region, has been relying on Europe’s geostationary-orbiting Meteosat-7 satellite for constant weather coverage. But in 2014, Europe’s civilian meteorological satellite organization, known as Eumetsat, said it would not replace Meteosat-7 (3/16)

ITU Grapples with Small-satellite Regulatory Challenge (Source: Space News)
The astonishing increase in the number of small satellites being launched singly or by the dozen has caused friction between international regulators on the one side and, on the other, satellite developers and some national governments that look the other way instead of enforcing the rules, industry and regulatory officials said.

Officials at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency that regulates orbital slots and radio frequencies, said they are girding for even more regulatory challenges as ostensibly well-financed companies planning low-orbiting constellations to offer global Internet access seek frequency coordination at the agency.

Anticipating the stresses on the international regulatory regime caused by swarms of mainly low-orbit smallsats, the ITU in 2012 asked its specialists to consider a separate regulatory regime dedicated to these kinds of spacecraft. The idea behind the initiative, which was backed recently by the U.S. Satellite Industry Association, was that current ITU rules were ill-fitting for owners of low-budget small satellites. (3/13)

Kosmotras Denies Reports of Suspending Russian-Ukrainian Rocket Launches (Source: Sputnik)
Kosmotras will launch a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket despite earlier media reports that the company's space contracts may be disrupted amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. "We inform our current and future customers that media reports about the suspension of the Dnepr program are untrue. All works by ISC Kosmotras are carried out in accordance with previously agreed schedules." The company planned to carry out five Dnepr carrier rocket launches in 2016-2017. (3/16)

Launch Pad for Soyuz at Vostochny 80% Ready (Source: Itar-Tass)
The launching pad for Soyuz rockets at Russia's Vostochny spaceport under construction is about 80% ready, said Alexander Mordovets, a deputy director of Russia’s special construction authority. He said primary attention is paid to works in premises meant for technical equipment. "More than 70% of such premises have already been commissioned," he said. (3/15)

No Deadlines for Construction of Angara Launch Pad at Vostochny (Source: Itar-Tass)
No decision has yet been taken on contractors and the deadline of the construction of a launching pad for Angara rockets at the Vostochny spaceport, said Alexander Mordovets. "We have resources to begin a preparatory stage for the construction of a second launching pad - for Angara rockets, but so far we have no information on when the construction is to start," he said. (3/15)

Why Aerojet Will Win The Race To Replace Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Forbes)
SpaceX has two possible paths forward for a heavy launch vehicle: one that would in effect bolt together the engines from three Falcon 9s for a grand total of 27 engines in the first stage; and an advanced rocket engine generating over 600,000 pounds of thrust called Raptor that the company began testing last year. Neither of these projects is likely to come to fruition in a timeframe that can satisfy congressional intent with regard to ending use of Russian engines. 

ULA, on the other hand, has joined forces with Blue Origin for an all-new engine powered by liquid natural gas. ULA claims it can fly by 2019 (the proposed deadline for halting the use of Russian engines). And then there is Aerojet Rocketdyne. Aerojet is sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into developing a 500,000-pound thrust engine it calls the AR-1. Unlike the hydrogen propellant used on Delta and the liquid natural gas used by Blue Origin, Aerojet’s kerosene fuel can be stored at ambient temperatures. 

Because the AR-1 engine will be so similar to the technology used on the Russian engines, it can fit into the back end of existing Atlas rockets — meaning there is no need to develop a new launch vehicle that must be separately certified, which is what ULA will have to do with Blue Origin's engine. This isn’t just a question of whether it will work, it’s a question of how long the Air Force will take to approve it for launching payloads that in some cases will be worth over a billion dollars. (3/13)

Invasion of Space Germs: Yesterday and Today (Source: Space Safety)
As  prospects of a Mars sample return mission or even a manned mission to Mars are becoming increasingly realistic, the danger of biologic invasions from space or, on the other hand, the danger of contaminating other celestial bodies with terrestrial microbes attracts more of the scientific community’s attention.There is obviously reason to worry. There are many examples from the past when a microbe, plant, bug or mammal, virtually innocent in its original habitat, caused havoc when transferred to another continent. Click here. (3/16)

Rocking Aurora Point to Large Ocean on Jupiter's Moon Ganymede (Source: Aviation Week)
Images from the Hubble Space Telescope appear to confirm suspicions that Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the largest natural satellite in the solar system, has a vast sub-surface saltwater ocean. Submerged beneath a 95 mile-thick mostly ice layer, the ocean's depth is estimated at 60 miles, 10 times greater than the Earth's. The findings place Ganymede alongside Europa, another Jovian moon, and Enceladus, a moon of Saturn's, as recent candidate bodies among the solar system's outer planets with watery environments potentially suitable for biological activity. (3/13)

Public Desktop Application Has Potential to Increase Asteroid Detection (Source: SpaceRef)
A software application based on an algorithm created by a NASA challenge has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers. Analysis of images taken of our solar system’s main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter using the algorithm showed a 15 percent increase in positive identification of new asteroids.

During a panel Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, NASA representatives discussed how citizen scientists have made a difference in asteroid hunting. They also announced the release of a desktop software application developed by NASA in partnership with Planetary Resources. (3/15)

New XCOR Leader Will Lead Expanding Company, Including Florida Expansion (Source: XCOR)
XCOR Aerospace, Inc. announced today that executive John Gibson II has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer and President of the company. Mr. Gibson succeeds Jeff Greason, who is transitioning to Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Greason will dedicate his time to Lynx development, XCOR’s orbital system and other crucial projects.

As CEO, Mr. Gibson leads XCOR Aerospace with locations in Mojave, California and Midland, Texas as well as subsidiary XCOR Space Expeditions in Amsterdam. XCOR will also be establishing its manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (3/15)

Is NASA Building a Huge Rocket to Nowhere? (Source: Bloomberg)
When NASA puts a human on Mars, a mission scheduled to take place from 2035 to 2040, the plan is to travel there with the aid of the largest rocket in space history. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Space Launch System (SLS) is an integral part of NASA’s Orion program, which plans to orbit the moon, rendezvous with asteroids, and eventually take humans to Mars.

In many respects, the SLS has become to Orion what NASA’s massive Saturn V rocket was to the Apollo lunar missions—an expensive symbol of NASA’s engineering leadership. Yet critics are quick to note that, unlike during the Apollo era, NASA’s budget is now severely constrained; several promising private ventures may be able to lift heavy things into orbit at a fraction of what Uncle Sam is spending. (3/10)

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