April 18, 2015

Report: Study Groundwater at Wallops Explosion Site (Source: DelMarVa Now)
The country was mesmerized Oct. 28 by the launch of the Antares rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, but not for what went right. About 15 seconds into flight, the rocket came tumbling back to the ground in a fiery explosion. Something went wrong and operators hit a kill-switch, detonating the rocket, which was bound for the International Space Station carrying supplies and experiments.

Despite initial concerns, and ash that rained down in the area, a final report on the environmental impact of the explosion shows only two recommendations moving forward — a groundwater study, and possible continued monitoring.

Water and soil inside and around the crater were found to have levels of perchlorate (which is used to produce rocket fuel) that could adversely affect workers, the report said, as well as high levels of two other fuel-related chemicals. Perchlorate levels were initially more than 600 times the maximum contaminant level allowed for drinking water. (4/16)

Sierra Nevada Extends Cooperation with German Space Agency (Source: SNC)
The cooperation builds upon the successful one-year Dream Chaser technical agreement signed in 2013. The new agreement, which extends through 2017, will continue the developmental work on advanced technologies the crewed and uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft. One of the cooperative activities completed this year was the Dream Chaser for European Utilization (DC4EU) study performed by SNC, OHB Systems AG (OHB) and DLR. (4/16)

Lawyers in Space (Source: Foreign Policy)
The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) Legal Subcommittee, meeting currently for the 54th time, is the primary international forum responsible for developing guidelines and laws for human activity in space. This group works on the legal problems that arise as companies, nations, and international bodies expand their presence beyond the planet. Some of these questions are both thorny and profound: On the agenda for this session, for instance? “Matters relating to the definition and delimitation of outer space.”

The committee is going boldly where few lawyers have gone before — but where more and more are headed, as human space exploration becomes increasingly democratized and commercialized. Monday’s symposium on “space traffic management” — this session’s first major conversation, following opening remarks in a fourth-floor boardroom — included presentations by experts from China, the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, the U.N. International Communication Union, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, among others. Click here. (4/15)

SpaceX To Land Reusable Launcher on Ground (Source: Defense News)
SpaceX hopes that the next attempt to land its Falcon 9 reusable launch vehicle will occur on solid ground. While not providing details of when or where that attempt would occur, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO, said that the company hopes its next attempted landing will take place on land, not at sea.

All tests of the reusable vehicle have occurred over water as a safety precaution, but the natural instability that occurs when a landing pad floating in the ocean has a very heavy rocket land on top of it has led to a series of near-misses for the technology. (4/15)

Space Industry Consolidation Continues as Companies Seek Vertical Integration (Source: National Defense)
Exelis Inc. and Harris Corp. here at the 31st annual Space Symposium have set up exhibit booths directly next to each other. By next year's conference, they will be occupying the same spot. Harris in February announced that it would acquire Exelis for $4.75 billion, making it the latest in a wave of consolidation for companies who do business in the space industry.

And mergers, large and small, continue. SolAero Technologies Corp. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, announced April 14 that it was acquiring Alliance Spacesystems LLC of Los Alamitos, California. SolAero manufactures solar power systems for satellites and Alliance makes composite materials that go aboard spacecraft. Brad Clevenger, SolAero CEO, spoke of the two companies' synergies.

The hall at the Space Symposium has lost some of its largest exhibitors as consolidation continues. The last few years has seen United Technologies Corp. in 2011 buy Goodrich Corp. for $18.4 billion and change its name to UTC Aerospace Systems. The year 2013 saw GenCorp. acquire Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne division and combine it with its competitor in the rocket motor business to form Aerojet Rocketdyne. More recently, satellite and rocket manufacturer Orbital Sciences acquired one of its chief suppliers, ATK. (4/16)

Air Force to Team with Rocket Makers on New Engine (Source: DOD Buzz)
The U.S. Air Force wants to partner with rocket makers — not engine manufacturers — in developing a new propulsion system that could replace Russian-made technology used on existing boosters, officials said. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Gen. John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, on Thursday at the Space Symposium discussed plans for the so-called public-private partnership to develop a new American-made rocket engine.

The service wants to award contracts to multiple firms to develop potential alternatives to the RD-180 engine, James said. The Russian design is made by NPO Energomash and used as a first-stage engine on the Atlas booster in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program — an arrangement that has drawn scrutiny in the wake of Russian military involvement in the Ukraine.

We would fund a number of launch service providers who would then start developing engine alternatives,” the secretary said. “They would, as part of this procedure, agree to make available to others whatever they develop in the way of a new engine.” She added, “The idea being that we would use government money for a number of companies, but they would have to put some of their own money in, as well.” (4/16)

Orlando Researcher Sentenced for Lying to NASA to Get Government Work (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
An Orlando-area businessman who formerly worked for Gartner Inc. has been sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $200,000 for lying to NASA to obtain federal contract work. Donatus “Don” Asumu pleaded guilty to lying about his employment status, concealing the fact that he was a full-time employee with Gartner, a global technology advising company.

Asumu, 52, was awarded research contracts from NASA because of the false information, according to court documents. Asumu was also ordered to turn in his car, a 2011 Nissan Juke, which the government said he bought with the fraudulent contract money. He will spend 45 weekends at the Brevard federal work camp. (4/16)

Why is Elon Musk Hellbent on Going to Mars? (Source: Slate)
There are two answers to this. One is the actual answer. The other isn't exactly wrong—it’s technically correct—but it’s incidental. And it turns out that’s not even really the right question. He doesn't necessarily want to retire on Mars, as was reported earlier, but he dows think "humans need to be a multiplanet species.”

He didn’t need to explain his reasoning; I agree with that statement, and I’ve written about it many times. Exploration has its own varied rewards ... and a single global catastrophe could wipe us out. Space travel is a means to mitigate that, and setting up colonies elsewhere is a good bet. (4/16)

Our Risky Dependence on Russia's Space Tech (Source: CNN)
The United States has gained much from its position as a space-faring nation. Indeed, U.S. access to space has provided incredible benefit to U.S. national security, defense and the economic well-being of the nation. And in order to effectively confront current and future conflicts, combat terrorism and counter the proliferating threats worldwide, our military depends on space-based capabilities, including intelligence, GPS, and communications satellites.

Unfortunately, as global threats increase and the need for assured space access accelerates, the U.S. is faced with a troubling reality -- we are far too reliant on Russian technology to meet our national security obligations. How?

For a start, we depend on the Atlas V rocket, which carries many of our most important satellites and is powered by the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. The fact that we rely on Russia, currently under sanctions for invading a sovereign nation, should reinforce the need for a change in our current course. (4/16)

A New Satellite for One of the Great U.S. Space Programs (Source: The Atlantic)
One of the U.S. government’s most useful science programs is also one of its least known. The Landsat program doesn’t produce images like the ones of astronauts playing golf on the moon nor geologists scaling an erupting volcano, but it has created one of the most important scientific repositories of data ever made.

Since 1972, one of the eight satellites in the Landsat program have photographed the entire Earth every 16 days. That means every place you’ve ever lived, worked, camped, run, swam, or looked at the stars—a picture of that place has been taken from orbit, more than 20 times per year, for more than four decades. You can even download those pictures from the web.

Landsat forms one internally coherent set of data that goes back four decades. This is part of what makes it so useful. And, on Thursday, it was announced that this continuity will be protected. NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have begun work on a new satellite in the program, to be called Landsat 9. The new satellite is scheduled to launch in 2023. (4/16)

USAF Worries SpaceX May Gain Monopoly if ULA Can't Use RD-180s (Source: Denver Business Journal)
United Launch Alliance isn't the only one concerned about its ability to stay in the space-launch business if Congress doesn't allow it access to some of the Russian-made rocket engines it has ordered. The U.S. Air Force worries that without congressional flexibility, ULA's launching business could be jeopardized, and the country could be reliant on a single rocket contractor — SpaceX — instead of ULA, said Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force. (4/16)

How Space Flight Affects the Human Body (Source: The Economist)
Mice, dogs and monkeys all became astronauts before humans did. On April 12th 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, when little was known about the effects spaceflight would have on him. These days, astronauts spend a lot longer in space than Gagarin did, and the effects add up over time. How does a trip to space impact the human body?

The first problem for spacefarers is keeping lunch down. Gravity's pull on the inner ear gives people on Earth a definite sense of "up" and "down". Without it astronauts can suffer from disorientation and nausea, or even lose the sense of where their arms and legs are. To prevent that, trainees take practice trips in planes nicknamed "vomit comets". These fly on parabolic trajectories, which means that for short periods, the plane and its occupants are falling at the same rate. That gives the impression of weightlessness. Click here. (4/16)

Brazil Pulling Out of Ukrainian Launcher Project (Source: Space News)
The Brazilian government is ending a decade-long project to operate Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 rocket from Brazilian territory following a government review that found too many open questions about its cost and future market success, the deputy chief of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) said.

It remains unclear whether the decision will force Brazil to pay Ukraine any financial penalties for a unilateral cancellation of a bilateral agreement. Over the years, the work to build a launch facility for Ukraine’s Cyclone at Brazil’s Alcantara spaceport has suffered multiple stops and starts as one side or the other fell short on its financial obligations to the effort. (4/16)

Would-be Small Sat Launcher: Don’t Count Out LEO Constellations (Source: Space News)
Technology advances since the space-telecom bust of the 1990s make it unfair to compare low-orbit communications constellations proposed by OneWeb and SpaceX to those that either evaporated from the drawing board or got bullied into bankruptcy by terrestrial competitors before the turn of the century, the chief technology officer of an aspiring launch services company said.

“Please don’t compare this go-round of [low Earth orbit] constellations with what happened with Iridium and all that,” Shey Sabripour, chief technology officer of Austin, Texas-based Firefly Space Systems said. Sabripour dismissed the industry’s déjà vu jitters, citing the maturity of satellite technology. Firefly is planning the first orbital Alpha launch in 2017, Sabripour said.

Editor's Note: The constellations might succeed, but will they use small-class launchers? Iridium flew without using the small launchers available at the time. Will today's constellations find it more economical to launch in larger groups aboard larger rockets? That's what happened in the 1990s. (4/16)

Brazil Bypassing the U.S. as It Builds out a Space Sector (Source: Space News)
The Brazilian government, which is determined to do in space what it did in civil aviation — move from a buyer of technology to a producer of commercial high-technology products — is multiplying bilateral agreements around the world with one major exception: the United States. Brazilian and non-Brazilian officials said the government remains in full anti-ITAR mode, doing whatever it takes not to use technology to which the U.S. government might one day deny access. (4/16)

Putin: Russia to Launch National Orbital Station by 2023 (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's plan to build a new space outpost was confirmed December 2014, by Oleg Ostapenko, head of Roscosmos space agency at the time. He said the new space station would also serve as a base for Russia's lunar program. President Putin said: "By 2023 we are going to create our own national orbital station in orbit… We will definitely bring this project to fruition, and, no doubt, it will be under our control." (4/16)

NewSat Seeks Bankruptcy Protection (Source: Space News)
Startup satellite operator NewSat Ltd. of Australia on April 16 filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors, with its executive team stripped of control and bankruptcy managers immediately asking for a restraining order against NewSat’s creditors. The bankruptcy filing, which was not unexpected given NewSat’s long agony, is the first formal satellite operator bankruptcy case in which the U.S. and French export-credit agencies have a substantial liability. (4/16)

Space Treaties are a Challenge to Launching Small Satellites in Orbit (Source: The Conversation)
Despite the tremendous potential offered by nanosats, it is important to recognize that launching and flying any satellite, no matter how small, is subject to strict rules under international law, as well as regulatory requirements in national legislation. But these rules are a constraint on the ability of small players to fly nanosats, irrespective of the availability and cost of orbital launches.

Launches of Australian-owned satellites are subject to Commonwealth legislation called the Space Activities Act. This was enacted in 1998, primarily to establish a set of rules for private companies proposing to launch satellites from various locations in this country. The regulatory scheme also covers overseas launches. The Act states that, where an Australian national is a responsible party for an overseas launch, an overseas launch certificate is required.

The reason why the Australian Government must authorize an overseas launch is that Australia has long accepted legal obligations for spaceflight activities under the international space treaties. (4/16)

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