March 30, 2015

Discovery Lives (Source: Space Review)
NASA received last month more than two dozen proposals for the next round of its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. Jason Callahan examines what we know about the various mission concepts submitted and the implications for NASA's overall planetary science program. Visit to view the article. (3/30)

NASA Rearms in its Battle with Mission Skeptics (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA announced that it had selected an option for its Asteroid Redirect Mission that involves collecting a boulder from an asteroid and returning it to cislunar space. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons why NASA selected that option and why skeptics of ARM in general appear unlikely to be won over. Visit to view the article. (3/30)

The Ides of Mars One (Source: Space Review)
Mars One, the private venture planning one-way human missions to Mars, has suffered from setbacks and bad publicity recently. Dwayne Day describes how one aspect of the venture's plan, the development of a reality TV show about the mission, would have been difficult to pull off even without the recent problems. Visit to view the article. (3/30)

India's Indigenous Satellite Navigation System (Source: Space Review)
On Saturday, India launched the fourth in a series of navigation satellites, bringing the nation closer to offering a regional navigation system independent of GPS. Ajey Lele discusses India's system and why the country, like a number of others, is deciding to develop its own satellite navigation system. Visit to view the article. (3/30)

Can SpaceX Really Cut the Cost of Space Travel by 75%? (Source: Motley Fool)
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell promised last week that if the Air Force will allow the company to bid on its launch contracts, SpaceX will put U.S. government satellites into space at a price much cheaper than ULA charges. How much cheaper?

According to a transcript of the proceedings, Shotwell told Congress it would cost "on the order of $80 million to $90 million" apiece to put a Falcon 9 rocket in low Earth orbit, or "$150 million to $160 million" to build and launch a Falcon Heavy (a Falcon 9 rocket with two additional boosters). Averaged across both rocket types, she put the cost at about $120 million. (3/30)

Bruno: Acquisition Regulations Contribute to Current High ULA Costs (Source: Motley Fool)
Tory Bruno said ULA charges $164 million to build and launch a single-core Atlas V 401, versus SpaceX quoting an $80 million to $90 million price tag for a single-core Falcon 9. But Bruno argued there are good reasons for this -- and good reason to hope ULA can drive its prices down in future years. For the time being, though, the truth appears to be that ULA launches are not four times as expensive as SpaceX's. They're only twice as expensive.

For one thing, Bruno said ULA's biggest rockets are bigger and more capable than SpaceX's biggest rockets. Thus, they can do more -- lift more satellites per launch, and lift some satellites that are too big for SpaceX to get off the ground at all. At the upper end of the capability scale, Bruno said ULA's rockets are worth the premium price ($350 million for a Delta Heavy) because they can do things SpaceX cannot.

SpaceX says its new Falcon Heavy will close this gap. But Bruno pointed out that his company is also working under a stricter regulatory regimen ("FAR 15," referring to the "federal acquisition regulations") than the FAR 12 regimen that governs contracts with SpaceX. He argued that working under FAR 15 adds to ULA's costs, and said that if the government will permit ULA to work under FAR 12, then the company's costs will decline. (3/30)

NASA Moon Orbiter, Mars Rover Face Budget Chopping Block (Source:
Despite a forward-looking and overall healthy NASA planetary science program budget, two on-duty spacecraft are now on the chopping block. The government's current budget proposal for NASA just isn't enough to cover everything, said James Green, head of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Green noted that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the veteran Red Planet robot, the Opportunity rover, are now zeroed out in President Obama's NASA budget for fiscal year 2016. (3/27)

NASA Mercury Probe Trying to Survive for Another Month (Source:
A NASA Mercury probe isn't ready to finish its groundbreaking work at the solar system's innermost planet just yet. Last week, NASA's Messenger spacecraft executed the first of a series of engine burns designed to lift the probe's orbit slightly and delay its inevitable impact into Mercury's surface by up to a month. (3/29)

New NASA Partnerships with Industry for Deep-Space Capabilities (Source: SpaceRef)
Building on the success of NASA’s partnerships with commercial industry to date, NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.

Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep-space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars. Click here. (3/30)

Is This Thing On? (Source: Slate)
It’s been more than 50 years since astronomers carried out the first systematic attempt to hunt for radio signals from civilizations beyond our solar system—a quest known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. During that time, our telescopes have heard only deafening silence—which has some scientists wondering if it’s time for Earthlings to start the conversation.

Proponents of “Active SETI” believe that, instead of just passively listening for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, we should be actively reaching out to our galactic neighbors—that is, we should be using our most powerful radio transmitters (like the giant dish-telescope at Arecibo, in Puerto Rico) to send messages in the direction of the nearest stars.

“In the past we’ve always assumed that any extraterrestrial civilization with the capacity to detect us will automatically take the initiative to make contact, sending us a powerful signal to let us know they exist,” says Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and a leading proponent of Active SETI. “But there may be civilizations out there that refuse to reveal their existence unless we make it clear that we want to make contact.” (3/30)

Chinese Scientists Mull Power Station in Space (Source: Xinhua)
The battle to dispel smog, cut greenhouse gases and solve the energy crisis is moving to space. Chinese scientists are mulling the construction of a solar power station 36,000 kilometers above ground. If realized, it will surpass the scale of the Apollo project and the International Space Station, and be the largest-ever space project.

The power station would be a super spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit equipped with huge solar panels. The electricity generated would be converted to microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth. After devoting more than half a century to space technology research, Wang Xiji, 93, is an advocate for the station: "An economically viable space power station would be really huge, with the total area of the solar panels reaching 5 to 6 square kilometers." (3/30)

Russia to Consider Training First Guatemalan Cosmonaut (Source: Space Daily)
Moscow will consider a request for a Guatemalan cosmonaut to be trained in Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "We have received a request to consider whether a Guatemalan cosmonaut could be sent to a training center in Russia. Of course, we will consider this request," Lavrov said.

The request has been addressed to the Russian Federal Space Agency, which will consider it alongside other countries participating in the International Space Station project, Lavrov added. Guatemalan Carlos Morales added that he hopes that the first Guatemalan cosmonaut will go into space thanks to the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center. (3/30)

Boeing is Customer No. 1 For AGI’s ComSpOC Service (Source: Space News)
The recently launched ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B satellites are making their way to geostationary orbit with support from AGI’s new Commercial Space Operations Center, or ComSpOC, under a contract with Boeing. The contract is the first for the ComSpoc, which tracks satellite orbits and space debris using a network of optical and radio-frequency sensors combined with proprietary software.

AGI is marketing the service as adjunct to the U.S. government’s Joint Space Operations Center, a which supports the U.S. military and provides warnings of potential orbital collisions to other satellite operators. (3/30)

ESA Spaceplane Test Flight a Complete Success (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
European Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV ) was launched on a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Feb. 11. The spacecraft was then released into a suborbital trajectory, and flew autonomously, reentering and splashing down into the Pacific Ocean after 100 minutes. This crucial test for ESA has exceeded scientists’ expectations as IXV behaved flawlessly, responding to conditions so precisely and promptly.

“The launch was a complete success, all parameters collected so far confirm that the vehicle behaved well, as planned,” Stephane Dussy, IXV Spacecraft Operations Manager and Avionics System Engineer, told “We extracted the flight recorders from the vehicle and the memory from the infrared camera. All these experimental data will be analyzed in details in the coming months.” (3/30)

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