June 14, 2015

Don't Prolong NASA's Dependence on Russia (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
At the Group of Seven meeting in Germany this past week, President Obama was talking tough on Russia. He urged his fellow leaders to stand together against "Russian aggression" in Ukraine by maintaining economic sanctions against Moscow. Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate committee was advancing legislation that would add two more years to America's extortionate payments to Russia for transporting U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

Now they'd be flying Putin Air until at least 2019. NASA has been stuck relying on Russia's space agency to ferry U.S. astronauts into low-Earth orbit since the end of the space shuttle program in mid-2011. Round trips now go for more than $70 million a seat.

The cost isn't the only objectionable part of this arrangement. It cedes significant control over the U.S. space program and its access to the station, a $100 billion investment, to Russia and its rogue president, Vladimir Putin. And Russian spacecraft have experienced a series of malfunctions in recent months. (6/14)

NASA Offers VAB High Bay for Commercial Launch Vehicles (Source: NASA)
NASA will issue an Announcement for Proposals (AFP) seeking proposals from qualified entities interested in using KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building, High Bay 2 (VAB HB2) to provide commercial space launch services, including assembly, integration, and testing of launch vehicles. In addition to VAB HB2, KSC has three (3) Mobile Launcher Platforms (MLPs) available for use in the provision of commercial space launch services. (6/12)

NASA Awards $100,000 to Winning Team of Robot Challenge (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded $100,000 in prize money to the Mountaineers, a team from West Virginia University, Morgantown, for successfully completing Level 2 of the Sample Return Robot Challenge, part of the agency's Centennial Challenges prize program. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) hosted the event June 10-12 at its Worcester, Massachusetts, campus. This was the fourth year NASA and WPI held the Sample Robot Return competition. (6/13)

Comet Lander Wakes Up (Source: BBC)
Philae, the first spacecraft to land on a comet, was dropped on to the surface of Comet 67P by its mothership, Rosetta, last November. It worked for 60 hours before its solar-powered battery ran flat. The comet has since moved nearer to the Sun and Philae has enough power to work again. An account linked to the probe tweeted the message, "Hello Earth! Can you hear me?"

On its blog, Esa said Philae had contacted Earth, via Rosetta, for 85 seconds on Saturday in the first contact since going into hibernation in November. "Philae is doing very well. It has an operating temperature of -35C and has 24 watts available," said Philae project manager, Dr Stephan Ulamec. Scientists say they now waiting for the next contact. (6/14)

Satellite Makers Take A Page From Tech Industry (Source: Aviation Week)
The Silicon Valley space race set off at breakneck speed last fall, when plans for rival Internet constellations surfaced with a Google-backed proposal from SpaceX and OneWeb, a start-up that counts Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm among its investors.

Despite the flurry of discussion surrounding these new constellations, none has yet proved it can get beyond filing frequency allocation requests to the International Telecommunication Union.

But in the scramble to compete for a chance to build such cutting-edge constellations, established satellite makers accustomed to producing a handful of high-dollar spacecraft each year have already learned a few things from Silicon Valley, where tech powerhouses are demanding the production of hundreds of small birds per year at a cost of around $1 million each, and even less. (6/14)

Airbus vs. Boeing: The Final Frontier (Source: Aviation Week)
The rivalry between Airbus (Static C4, Hall Concorde 17) and Boeing (Chalet 321, Chalet 324) slipped the surly bonds of Earth in March when the American company launched its first two all-electric satellites. The spacecraft, each carrying multimedia and television payloads, were the first two of Boeing's 702SP vehicle, which dispenses with chemical boosters and is propelled to operating altitude using electric ion engines.

The drawback is that the spacecraft must fly an oval-shaped transfer orbit, maneuvring toward its geosynchronous position using the lower-powered electric engines. This takes around six months, whereas a chemical-powered spacecraft would get there in a couple of weeks. The big gain is in weight savings: around half the mass of a geosynchronous satellite is taken up by liquid fuel. (6/14)

Airbus Safran Works On Ariane 6 (Source: Aviation Week)
A joint venture of the space divisions of Airbus Group and Safran, dubbed Airbus Safran Launchers, is getting started on a successor to the Ariane 5 that could be ready to fly in 2020. The company submitted its industrial proposal to ESA for the design and development of the next-generation launcher under a contract expected to be worth $3.2 billion, excluding development of a new launch site at Europe's Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Approved in by ESA's 20 member governments in December, Ariane 6 is designed to compete with Proton and SpaceX on the commercial market while satisfying the needs of institutional customers well into the future. (6/14)

SpaceX, Arianespace Go Head-to-Head (Source: Aviation Week)
A spate of Proton launch mishaps has created a de facto duopoly of Arianespace and SpaceX, two companies vying to dominate the global commercial launch market. With Russia's heavy-lift Proton grounded following its eighth launch failure in five years – and with the U.S. Falcon 9 rocket yet to prove it can operate on a monthly basis – the global commercial satellite industry is facing a dearth of options for lifting large spacecraft to orbit.

At the moment, the only reliable option for launching large commercial telecom satellites is Europe's workhorse Ariane 5. Managed by commercial launch consortium Arianespace, the vehicle lifts-off five or six times a year carrying medium and heavy payloads to geostationary orbit in a single mission. But with a manifest booked into 2017, Ariane 5 is not a viable ‘Plan B’ for satellite fleets facing potential delays owing to Proton or SpaceX setbacks, a situation that is already affecting the bottom lines of commercial operators. (6/15)

China Aims to Send Craft to Mars in 200 Days with Electric Thrusters (Source: Want China Times)
China is looking to develop an "interstellar" weapon based on electric thruster technology to send a spacecraft to Mars in just 200 days. Electric propulsion is still regarded as relatively weak but is still strong enough to propel humans into space at significantly lower costs than traditional propulsion systems, which is why the technology is regarded by the international aerospace community as the way of the future.

China has developed this technology by itself as other parties such as the United States, Russia, the European Union and Japan are all keeping their research confidential. The development has reached a stage where China believes it will be able to send its first electric propulsion satellite into orbit by around 2020. (6/14)

Branson Will Not Give Up Space Tourism Project Despite Deadly Crash (Source: Sunday Express)
Sir Richard has vowed that he will make the space tourism project a success. He said: “We’ll make it safe and affordable for people. We never give up. I’ve invested £50million on this project and we’ll continue until it happens.” Sir Richard had earlier told how the crash had made him question whether the space project was worth the risk. He said: “I got a very firm answer to that question immediately when I landed in Mojave.

He also revealed that he is trying to raise £260 million from investors for his One Web internet venture. The money raised will be used to help fund the development and construction of a satellite network that will enable people to receive high speed internet access on the go. The satellites will be put into orbit by rockets operated by his Virgin Galactic space tourism venture. (6/14)

European Space Chief Suggests Making Room for China, India on Station (Source: Reuters)
The incoming head of the European Space Agency said in a published interview that the International Space Station should be opened up to astronauts from India and China. The $100 billion space station is a habitable research outpost backed by 15 countries including the United States, Russia and Germany. China and India are not part of the group.

"We need to get away from the principle of being a closed club," said Johann-Dietrich Woerner. The space station is funded through 2020 and an extension until 2024 is under discussion. An extension would give NASA more time to develop the technologies needed for eventual human missions to Mars, the long-term goal of NASA's human space program. (6/14)

The Saga of the Planetary Society's LightSail-A (Source: Spacefight Insider)
On May 20, 2015, the Planetary Society’s LightSail-A was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 501 booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. An experimental minisatellite that tests the concept of the solar sail, the spacecraft’s mission is a dry run for LightSail-1, a full-fledged solar sailing demonstration mission currently planned for 2016.

Although the spacecraft suffered a software glitch and two separate signal losses that appear to have been caused by the batteries going into safe mode, the mylar solar sails were deployed on June 8.

Although LightSail-A is in too low of an orbit, with too much atmospheric drag being placed upon it to actually use sunlight for propulsion, LightSail-1 will operate in a higher orbit and will attempt to demonstrate solar sailing. If successful, it will be followed by LightSail-2 and LightSail-3. The purpose of LightSail-A was to test the solar sails and observe their tension in preparation for the later flights. (6/14)

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