April 13, 2015

RD-180 Ban Threatens Russian Firm (Source: Defense News)
The future of one of Russia's most renowned space firms is in jeopardy, with the weight of Western sanctions, economic crisis and industrial decay coming to bear. In many ways, the Russians brought this on themselves. For nearly 20 years, NPO Energomash has produced its venerable liquid fuel RD-180 rocket engine exclusively for export to US space launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) to power its Atlas V rocket.

That was until last May, when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, angered by Western sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea two months earlier, declared Russia would ban exports of the engines for use in military launches.

Rogozin is the government's space industry czar, and his threats made many on Capitol Hill, already weary of Russian conduct, uneasy. Russian officials in September changed their tune, when Oleg Bochkarev, deputy chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission, denied plans to ban exports. "It wouldn't be profitable for us to do so. We produce and deliver the RD-180s, and they buy them," he said, accusing the US of trying to break the relationship. (4/13)

Why Do Foreign Astronauts Have To Be Able To Speak Russian? (Source: RBTH)
The working language at the International Space Station is English, but all the crews are now delivered to the station by a Russian ship. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, Soyuz is the only spacecraft used to carry astronauts to orbit.

Each crew has three people – one Russian, one American (who sits in the left seat of Soyuz during ascent into orbit) and another crew member, for instance a space tourist (who sits in the right seat). The commander of Soyuz is always Russian, while the foreign astronaut becomes the commander of the ISS. The astronaut in the left seat should communicate in Russian for the entire six hours, since the Mission Control Center gives commands in Russian, and an interpreter simply would not have time to translate it all. (4/13)

Walk-Out Planned Monday at University of Hawaii (Source: Civil Beat)
The protest over the construction of a large telescope on top of Mauna Kea continues. On Sunday, hundreds of people marched down South King Street in Honolulu to Iolani Palace, blocking lots of traffic on the way. Media reports put the eventual size of the protest at about 3,000 people.

Meanwhile, the Pūkoʻa Council, a Native Hawaiian group with representatives at University of Hawaii system campuses, has called for a system-wide walk-out among all “Native Hawaiian serving programs” on Monday at noon. “The walk-out will be supported by various professors, staff and students throughout the University of Hawaii system,” according to a media advisory from the council. (4/12)

Astronomical Versus Cultural Value of Mauna Kea (Source: KHON)
“Mauna Kea, because of its shape as a shield volcano, the air flows over it very smoothly, which makes the stars twinkle less. What we see as twinkling is actually blurring by the atmosphere. So we get the sharpest images on the planet from Mauna Kea. It’s also very dry at that altitude, So the water vapor absorbs light that we can’t see with our eyes," said Dr. Roy Gal at UH.

Those against the building of the telescope held a grassroots rally on Sunday. “It’s just really to give an opportunity to the people on Oahu who had this mana’o they wanted to share about the mountain Mauna Kea. This is a chance to come together, to bring all of the voices together. We didn’t know how much people were gonna turn out, but we’re really pleased in what’s happening today,” said Walter Ritte. Some young supporters say this isn’t just a fad, it’s a firm commitment to Native Hawaiian issues past, present, and future. (4/12)

Japan Begins National Security Space Buildup (Source: Defense News)
In January, Japan's Office of National Space Policy cemented a new 10-year space strategy that for the first time folds space policy into national security strategy, both to enhance the US-Japan alliance and to contain China.

Under the third Basic Plan, Japan's priorities go beyond building out its regional GPS-backup Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) navigation constellation, advancing its space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities and developing a maritime domain awareness (MDA) constellation. The country will also as much as double its Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) reconnaissance program to an eight-satellite constellation, and develop a space-based missile early warning capability. (4/13)

Mars, Science and “the Dictates of Biology and Human Culture” (Source: Salon)
A mass exodus from Earth is implausible. After all, it costs $50 billion just to send a dozen people to the Moon for a few days. Elon Musk may claim he’ll reduce the price of a trip to Mars to $500,000, which is a hundred thousand times less, but that seems unlikely at the moment. If the Earth becomes contaminated or inhospitable, we’ll have to live in bubble domes, fix it, or suffer through it. Nonetheless, in this century a first cohort of adventurous humans will probably cut the umbilical and live off-Earth. What issues will they face? Click here. (4/13)

Forget Musk's Mars: Billionaires Branson, Allen Seek Earth Orbit (Source: Bloomberg)
As Elon Musk dreams of missions to Mars, fellow billionaires Paul Allen and Richard Branson focus on breakthrough spaceflight closer to home: cheap cargo trips to Earth orbit. From startups to aerospace giant Boeing, entrepreneurs and for-profit companies are working to shake up a $6 billion commercial launch business whose crowded schedules may require years-long waits to loft $200 million communications satellites.

Instead of heavy boosters fired from conventional pads, the new rocketeers envision smaller spacecraft taking off from venues as varied as the remote South Pacific and a giant plane dwarfing Howard Hughes’s famed “Spruce Goose.” Cut-rate rides will let them loft the latest miniature satellites, which are being built for as little as $10,000 and deployed in swarms to monitor crops, create Web hotspots and track weather systems.

Allen and Branson’s ideas will be showcased this week in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Space Symposium trade show. The entrepreneurs share Musk’s aim of paring spaceflight costs. But unlike the SpaceX founder, they and their lower-profile peers are focused closer to Earth. Click here. (4/13)

Security Through Vulnerability? The False Deterrence of the National Security Space Strategy (Source: Space Review)
The United States' policy towards dealing with the potential use of weapons in space is one of deterrence. Christopher Stone argues that this strategy may be a flawed application of the concept of deterrence. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2731/1 to view the article. (4/13)

The "Flexible Path" Made Straight (Source: Space Review)
NASA adopted the "flexible path" approach to spaceflight as a more economical way to carry out human space exploration than a human return to the Moon. Roger Handberg described how this flexible path may be bending right back to the Moon. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2730/1 to view the article. (4/13)

Blue Origin's Suborbital Plans are Finally Ready for Flight (Source: Space Review)
Last week, Blue Origin announced a milestone in the development of an engine intended for its suborbital vehicle. Jeff Foust reports on the company's plans for testing that suborbital vehicle, as well as its orbital vehicle and engine plans. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2729/1 to view the article. (4/13)

International Lunar Decade: Scenarios for Long Term Collaboration in Space Development (Source: Space Review)
Can an international cooperation in lunar exploration open up commercial opportunities and expand the space economy? Vidvuds Beldavs describes how an "International Lunar Decade" could do just that. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2728/1 to view the article. (4/13)

Advisory Group Split on Commercial Spaceflight Export Reforms (Source: Space News)
Members of an industry group that advises the U.S. government on commercial space matters are in broad agreement that export restrictions on commercial human spacecraft should be eased, but sharply disagreed at a recent meeting on how to seek those changes.

The export reform debate at an April 1 meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) here revealed a lack of consensus on specific steps to remove manned commercial spacecraft from the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

ITAR is the set of rules governing exports of militarily sensitive items on the U.S. Munitions List (USML) and tends to be highly restrictive. Reforms enacted last year by the Obama administration moved many commercial satellites and components to the less restrictive Commerce Control List, but any space tourism vehicles — orbital or suborbital — equipped with propulsion systems were unaffected by the shift. (4/13)

USAF: Major Savings With New Launch Range Deal (Source: Aviation Week)
Launch range operations are not nearly as spicy a subject as the rockets that depend on them. But they are an essential utility for the U.S.’s growing space ambitions, and the Air Force says it is embarking on a new path to manage the ranges that will save millions of dollars annually. Detractors, however, warn that reduced cost for launch range operations will be a case of getting what you pay for.

Last November, a joint venture between Raytheon and General Dynamics—Range Generation Next (RGNext)—prevailed over five other competitors for a deal worth up to $1.8 billion over 10 years to consolidate three existing contracts for range support into one deal. Called the Launch and Test Range Integrated Support Contract (LISC), the transition to this new oversight went into effect April 6. By consolidating the contracts, the Air Force expects to save $95-115 million annually for range operations, says Col. Janet Grondin.

Some savings will come from consolidated oversight, but Grondin also cited efficiencies to be gained through the new approach. “LISC is a more cost-effective range contract than the previous structure,” Grondin says. “The contractor is on the hook to achieve the performance and . . . we have full confidence they will.” The prior deals were a cost-plus structure, meaning contractors were reimbursed for costs incurred doing the work. LISC is a fixed-price incentive-fee structure, a mechanism selected to control cost. (4/13)

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