May 15, 2015

White House Opposes Engine Provisions in Defense Bill (Source: Space News)
The White House disagrees with the House Armed Services Committee over how to wean the Defense Department (and ULA) from using Russian-made RD-180 engines to launch military satellites. Lawmakers also provided $220 million for a new rocket engine. Air Force officials are wary of developing an engine that launch companies do not want and instead want to spend the money more broadly on launch vehicle development.

But in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016, the committee said the money should go strictly to development of a “rocket propulsion system, and the necessary interfaces to the launch vehicle, to replace non-allied space launch engines.” The White House views this approach as shortsighted.

“While rocket engines are a major component of a launch vehicle, they are only one of many critical components,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a May 12 statement of administration policy. “These components must be designed and developed together to meet the ultimate cost and performance goals, not only for the launch vehicle but also for the support, operations, and production infrastructure as well." (5/14)

NSF Should Help Build Massive Telescope in Hawaii, Says Senior Appropriator (Source: Science)
Representative John Culberson (R–TX) says he’s not butting in. But he wants the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pay a significant share of the $1.55 billion cost of a massive telescope to be built in Hawaii.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is the dream of a consortium of universities, foundations, and national observatories in the United States, Canada, China, India, and Japan. It would be one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. The consortium has raised between 75% and 80% of what’s needed and has long hoped NSF would be a major backer.

But the agency has yet to commit. In 2013, it gave the TMT consortium a 5-year, $1.25 million grant to study how the agency might participate in the international project, an effort that could lead to a formal proposal to the agency in 2017. (5/14)

Is Our Planet Bulking Up on Space Dust and Meteors? (Source: Arizona Republic)
Although scientists' opinions vary greatly on the amount of meteors and space dust that land daily on Earth (their estimates are from 5-million metric tons to 300-million metric tons), other estimates I have heard are from 20-billion to 80-billion tons a year. Wouldn't you think this would make the earth become bigger? Click here. (5/14)

Futuristic Laser Space Engine Passes Its First Test (Source: Popular Mechanics)
In 2013, Y.K. Bae scored funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program to study an amazing new kind of propulsion: Thrust that comes not from liquid rockets but from lasers continuously fired at the spacecraft, which would steadily gain momentum in the frictionless vacuum of space. It's called the Photonic Laser Thrust system, and it could drastically reduce the amount of fuel needed for space missions. And now, Bae has announced that lab tests of the technology were successful.

In the experiment, Bae fired a laser at a one-pound mock spaceship on a frictionless track and successfully produced thrust. The laser bounced continuously between two mirrors inside a cavity at the bottom of the simulated spaceship, building momentum of 1.1 milliNewtons. (5/14)

Pentagon Says 2013 Chinese Launch May Have Tested Antisatellite Technology (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department is suggesting that the May 2013 launch of a Chinese rocket that it branded at the time as suspicious was a test of a technology designed to counter or destroy satellites in geosynchronous orbit. China characterized the launch as a scientific sounding rocket mission, but the U.S. Air Force said the vehicle’s trajectory was inconsistent with that explanation. (5/14)

Time to Get Serious About Space Threats (Source: The Hill)
62 miles above the Earth's surface is the beginning of space. It would be nice to believe that space is a place of peace and science, but it is all too clear that at least two of our potential adversaries are weaponizing space. The United States must take these threats seriously and respond accordingly in order to defend ourselves and our allies while deterring potential adversaries from acting irresponsibly in space. 

Both China and Russia have openly admitted that they have or are developing counter-space capabilities. These capabilities could range from jamming of GPS signals and satellite communications, to blinding or damaging our satellites with ground-based lasers, to destroying a satellite with a missile. China has in fact tested anti-satellite missiles at least twice in the past two years.

Russia, meanwhile, has launched an undeclared object into space which our military now believes to be some sort of microsatellite. We do not know Russia’s intentions, but an object like this could be used to jam or directly attack our satellites. (5/14)

Government Spending on Space Declines (Source: Parabolic Arc)
According to Euroconsult’s newly released research report, Profiles of Government Space Programs, world government expenditures for space programs decreased by 4% to $66.5 billion in 2014. The decrease in U.S. military space expenditures combined with the impact of adverse exchange rates on Russia had a considerable influence on global trends as the two countries together account for 65% of space expenditures worldwide. Government spending excluding the U.S. and Russia actually increased by 8% in 2014. (5/13)

Alabama Team Wins National Rocketry Contest (Source: AIA)
Alabama's Russellville High rocket team is the winner of the Team America Rocketry Challenge, beating the field of 100 other participants. The team will now compete in the International Rocketry Challenge at the Paris Air Show. (5/13)

Sierra Nevada Awarded Contract to Support Exelis on NASA Satellite (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Space Systems was competitively selected by Exelis to develop and build the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) Azimuth Rotation Module (ARM) for the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) mission. Exelis is the prime contractor to NASA for the RBI. (5/14)

Opponents: Telescope on Haleakala was Rammed Through by State Leaders (Source: Hawaii News Now)
The $300 million Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the summit of Haleakala is halfway completed. It could become Hawaii's third largest telescope, unless the state's high court decides to halt construction. Legal experts said that could happen if the Supreme Court sides with Hawaiian activists, who claimed the project's supporters rammed it through the permitting process. "Our hands are tied. It's a done deal," said the late Kahu Charlie Maxwell in 2010. "I've told them many times that it shouldn't happen. It's an insult on our culture."

The allegations center on the late Sen. Inouye's staff and University of Hawaii leaders, who critics say pressured a Land Department hearings officer. They cited emails describing secret meetings with the Land Board and its former chief William Aila. The hearings officer called those meetings improper. (5/13)

Mystery Methane on Mars: The Saga Continues (Source: Astrobiology)
Is the Red Planet giving off methane? The question has taunted scientists for nearly 50 years, ever since the Mariner 7 spacecraft detected a whiff of the gas near Mars’ south pole. Researchers retracted the finding a month later after realizing that the signal was in fact coming from carbon dioxide ice.

Then in 2003 and 2004, earthbound telescopes and orbiting spacecraft rekindled the mystery with reports of large methane clouds in Mars’ atmosphere. Most of Earth’s methane comes from living organisms, though a small fraction can form when rocks and hot water interact. A burp of methane on Mars would indicate that the planet might be more alive than previously thought—whether biologically or geologically. Click here. (5/14)

Strange Signal from Space May Solve One of Science's Greatest Mysteries (Source:
A clue to one of the biggest questions in cosmology — why regular matter, rather than antimatter, survived to fill the universe — may have been found in data from a NASA space telescope.

A new study suggests that gamma-rays (high-energy light) detected by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope show signs of the existence of a magnetic field that originated mere nanoseconds after the Big Bang. In addition, the researchers on the new study speculate that the magnetic field carries evidence of the fact that there is far more matter than antimatter in our universe. (5/14)

Spaceport America Goes to Market Enabling Low-Cost Access to Space (Source: Spaceport America)
With construction winding down, Spaceport America is officially open for business following today's approval of a new go-to-market strategy and five-year business plan by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority's (NMSA) board of directors. The plan was presented to the board by Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson.

The value proposition is complete when combined with Spaceport America's flexible fly/lease/build offering which enables commercial space companies to literally design their own spaceport supported by 24/7 security, EMT and fire protection. "In parallel with its core aerospace business activities, Spaceport America is rolling out a diverse portfolio of non-aerospace revenue streams designed around the brand attributes people associate with the promise of commercial space, while providing economic stimulus for New Mexico and STEM education for future generations." (5/14)

Eutelsat Growth Slowed by Ka-band Saturation, DoD Downturn (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on May 12 said downward pressure on its U.S. Defense Department business is longer-lasting than expected and that the struggles of its Russian television customers is also weighing on results. The company also said growth in subscribers from its large Ka-Sat Ka-band consumer broadband satellite was slowing as Ka-Sat’s beams over higih-demand regions in Britain, Ireland and France reach saturation. (5/14)

Russian Space Cargo Ship Crash Blamed on Soyuz Rocket (Source:
A robotic Russian cargo spacecraft failed to reach the International Space Station as planned last month because of problems with its rocket, Russian space officials say. The unmanned Progress 59 space freighter blasted off atop a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 28, and was tasked with delivering about 3 tons of food, fuel and other supplies to the orbiting lab.

Now, a preliminary investigation has revealed that Progress 59's issues stemmed from a too-early separation of the Soyuz's third stage, officials with Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency, announced Tuesday (May 12). This glitch stranded the freighter about 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) below its target altitude. (5/14)

Private Space Race Tightens in Mojave (Source: Bakersfield Californian)
Even as Virgin's timeline to fly its first paying customers to suborbital space has been seriously delayed by the company's fatal accident last fall, Mojave-based XCOR Aerospace has continued to develop its own suborbital launch system. Now the company's Lynx Mark I spacecraft, a horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing vehicle, has reached another milestone, XCOR said in a news release.

The sleek two-seater is being assembled at XCOR's Hangar 61 at Mojave Air and Space Port, about 60 miles east of Bakersfield. There, engineers and technicians have bonded the strakes -- an aerodynamic surface used to improve the flight characteristics of an aircraft -- to the plane's fuselage. It's a critical step in development, XCOR President and Chief Executive Jay Gibson said. (5/13)

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