July 17, 2015

GAO Questions SLS Cost Estimates (Source: Florida Today)
A new study raises questions about the schedule and cost of NASA's Space Launch System. The GAO report questioned the credibility of cost estimates for the SLS, and argued the program had little margin to stay on schedule for a launch by November 2018. Much of the program's earlier schedule margin was lost because of repairs to tooling to build the SLS core stage. (7/17)

Debris Threat Sends ISS Astronauts to Shelter (Source: AP)
The crew on the ISS briefly sheltered in their Soyuz spacecraft as a piece of orbital debris passed close to the station. The three-person crew spent nearly an hour in the Soyuz as a precaution when ground controllers determined the debris, from a Russian weather satellite, would pass close to the station.

Controllers identified the debris too late to maneuver the station away from it, but the object missed the station by about three kilometers. It's the fourth time in the station's history that crews have had to "shelter in place" in their Soyuz vehicles because of debris threats. (7/17)

Clinton Supports Space Exploration (Source: Politico)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she supports the space program, including efforts to search for near Earth objects. Asked at a New Hampshire town hall Thursday whether she thought space exploration was still relevant, she replied, "I really, really do support the space program." She noted in passing searches for near Earth objects that could pose a threat to the Earth. "We should, on a security basis, be mapping the meteorites and the meteors and all the other things that people — asteroids — that people worry about," she said. (7/17)

Ex-Im Could Survive in Highway Bill (Source: LA Times)
The Ex-Im Bank may find new life in a must-pass highway funding bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would allow advocates of the bank to include a five-year reauthorization of the bank in a highway trust fund bill that must pass by the end of the month. That maneuver should make the reauthorization easier to pass, getting around Ex-Im's conservative critics. The bank, used frequently in recent years by satellite manufacturers and launch service providers, had its authorization expire at the end of June, preventing it from completing new deals. (7/17)

ILS Now Selling Angara Rides (Source: ILS)
International Launch Services is now selling launches of Russia's Angara 1.2 rocket. Commercial launches of the Angara, flying from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, are available starting in 2017. The Angara 1.2 is the smallest version of the Angara family of vehicles, capable of placing 3 tons into low Earth orbit. The rocket has launched once, on a suborbital test flight a year ago. (7/17)

SSTL Seeks Customer for Fourth DMC3 Satellite (Source: Space News)
SSTL is trying to find a customer to fund a fourth DMC3 Earth imaging satellite. Three of the satellites, launched earlier this month, are leased to a Chinese company that paid for their construction and launch, but SSTL says it has parts for a fourth that would allow it to be built within six months should a customer sign up. The owner of the fourth satellite would also gain access to the full DMC3 constellation. (7/17)

Blue Origin Preps for Suborbital Research with NanoRacks (Source: Space News)
NanoRacks and Blue Origin are teaming up to provide suborbital flight services for research and educational payloads. NanoRacks will offer standardized payload accommodations and integration services for payloads seeking suborbital flights on Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle. NanoRacks currently provides similar services for space station payloads, and the company believes suborbital flights could be useful to test payloads before flying to the ISS. Blue Origin flew its New Shepard vehicle to an altitude of 93.5 kilometers in April, but was unable to recover its propulsion module. The company says test flights will resume later this year. (7/17)

After Pluto, What Next for NASA? (Source: Bloomberg)
Interest in space nowadays is increasingly commercial. Intrepid entrepreneurs ply the heavens. Satellite startups are pursuing intriguing new business opportunities. At the same time, the thrill of exploration remains. The possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe looks increasingly plausible. And NASA's Kepler mission has discovered hundreds of new planets beyond the solar system -- some of them very much like our own. Space hasn't looked this interesting in a generation.

Which makes articulating a vision for the U.S. space program all the more important. NASA's next major ambition -- getting people to Mars -- is electrifying, yet the plan to get there is expensive, behind schedule and excessively vague. A more realistic accounting of the costs involved, which seem certain to stretch into the hundreds of billions over the next two decades, is vital.

If the U.S. wants a sustained presence on Mars, it will need the help of private enterprise. Companies have made substantial progress in pushing down the costs of rocketry. Occasional (and useful) failures aside, they're also doing commendable work supplying the Space Station. There's good reason to think that such companies -- under NASA's supervision -- could eventually develop far cheaper ways to get to Mars. Such an arrangement could even serve as a blueprint for the next era of space exploration. (7/16)

Fly with an Astronaut at the KSC Visitor Complex (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
We have all wondered what it would be like to strap into a rocket bound for the deep black of orbit with the rocket jockeys who lived the dream during the Space Shuttle Program. Wonder no more. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is now giving you the opportunity to strap into the Shuttle Launch Experience with two-time shuttle veteran Robert C. Springer from July 16-19. Click here. (7/15)

Russia Starts Implementation of Fundamental Space Industry Reform (Source: Space Daily)
Russia is starting to implement comprehensive reforms to its space industry, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Wednesday. The establishment of two large holdings, specialized in engine building and instrument-making has already been planned, Rogozin said.

"We are effectively commencing the implementation of a fundamental reform of the space industry. We now need to undertake several top-priority measures. Firstly, establishing authorities to manage the state corporation, namely the Supervisory Board." The announcement comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a package of draft laws on the issue on Monday. (7/15)

Space Florida Launch Pad Renovated for Orion, Minotaur Rockets (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Space Florida, the Sunshine State’s organization tasked with the maintenance and expansion of the aerospace industry, announced one of Cape Canaveral’s sites, Launch Complex 46 (LC-46) would be renovated to support upcoming missions. This comes at a time when the term multi-user spaceport is used and with this latest announcement, a new player could be making their way to historic Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

If everything proceeds according to schedule, Orbital ATK will be the next firm to use SLC-46. Under a $23.6 million agreement with the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, the aerospace firm will use a Minotaur IV booster to launch the ORS-5 SensorSat spacecraft. That mission is set to fly in Mid-2017.

NASA is also planning on using the site, which last supported a launch on Jan. 27, 1999 with the flight of a Lockheed Martin Athena 1 rocket with Taiwan’s first satellite, ROCSAT-1. SLC-46 is designed for smaller launch vehicles, which make it optimal as the location for the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2). NASA is currently planning on conducting that launch in 2019. (7/16)

Planetary Resources’ First Spacecraft Successfully Deployed (Source: SpaceRef)
Planetary Resources, Inc., the asteroid mining company, announced today that its Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft deployed successfully from the International Space Station’s (ISS) Kibo airlock and has begun its 90-day mission. The demonstration vehicle will validate several core technologies including the avionics, control systems and software, which the company will incorporate into future spacecraft that will venture into the Solar System and prospect for resource-rich near-Earth asteroids.

The A3R launched to the ISS onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 in April as a part of the CRS-6 crew resupply mission. “Our philosophy is to test often, and if possible, to test in space. The A3R is the most sophisticated, yet cost-effective, test demonstration spacecraft ever built. We are innovating on every level from design to launch,” said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc. “By vertically integrating the system at our facility in Redmond, we are in constant control of every component, including the ones we purchase off the shelf and the others that we manufacture using 3D printers.” (7/16)

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