July 20, 2015

ULA Looks to Break ‘Short Leash’ (Source: Wall Street Journal)
With Elon Musk’s commercial space company poised on Monday to announce recovery plans from last month’s dramatic rocket launch failure, its more-established rival is battling economic and political challenges that are in many ways tougher to overcome.

Skyrocketing launch costs over the years combined with controversy over longstanding dependence on Russian engines have forced United Launch Alliance into a strategic reassessment that already has shuffled its leadership and altered its business plans. The company also is seeking financial and policy assistance from lawmakers for current and next-generation booster rockets, at a time when space budgets face some of the deepest cuts among Pentagon programs.

ULA owners Boeing and Lockheed Martin have tightened the financial reins as they face competition from SpaceX, even as the annual launch rate has dropped by nearly half. The aerospace giants shared almost $500 million in equity profits from ULA, when it still had a monopoly on the business of blasting the Pentagon’s most important satellites into orbit. But since then, “they’ve had us on a very short leash,” ULA chief Tory Bruno said. (7/20)

Officials Delay First GNSS Authorization; Light-Squared Tries to Leverage Issue (Source: Inside GNSS)
The U.S. stance on satellite navigation has long supported international cooperation and a degree of interoperability. In 2010 the Obama administration even adopted a space policy that said foreign satnav services could be used “to augment and strengthen the resiliency of GPS.”

That was easier in the abstract, however, when the only fully functional GNSS was GPS. Now, with other GNSS services coming online, American officials want to think things through again.

In fairness, U.S. satellite navigation policy has been complicated by more than the advent of other constellations. The White House adopted its space policy at the same time as its freshly minted broadband plan, and it seems unlikely anyone anticipated the bare-knuckle spectrum fight that would ensue. (7/20)

'Trillion Dollar Baby' Asteroid Has Wannabe Space Miners Salivating (Source: Forbes)
A large asteroid making a pass by Earth this weekend is believed to be worth more than the entire economy of Japan and it’s got observers of the space mining industry (still more of a concept than an actual industry, really) looking to a near to medium-term future when we might be able to do more than just wave as it flies past.

Asteroid 2011 UW158 will pass just 1.5 million miles from our planet today, putting it about six times further out than our moon but many more times nearer to us than Mars or Venus. While it’s only believed to be about a half mile across, the platinum core of the thing could be worth over 5 trillion dollars.

One of the most high level companies that could be in a position to exploit opportunities like 2011 UW158 is Planetary Resources, which deployed its first spacecraft from the International Space Station this week (a small flyer meant to test some of the basic technologies that will later be used in a space telescope to spot potential asteroid mining targets). Click here. (7/20)

Kazakhstan to Turn Historic Russian Spaceport into Tourist Hotspot (Source: Tourism Review)
Kazakhstan has big plans for Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, the first and biggest working facility for space launches – they want to convert it into a tourist attraction, in hopes that space age enthusiasts will flock to the desert steppes to watch vessels being launched into outer space.

The big plan devised by Kazakhstan's Investment and Development Ministry includes the construction of viewing stations, where visitors would be able to watch rockets being launched, as well as the institution of a new protocol for tourist visits to the facility, which would allow for larger groups of visitors to satisfy their curiosity at once.

The project seems to be well underway at this point, seeing as foreign investment is already being favorably discussed, and the new structures that would be built upon the basic ones already in place to be used by the facility’s personnel during launches, which are mainly lacking in comfort, are meant to be finished by the end of 2017. (7/20)

NASA Still Has the Capacity to Awe Us (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Last week, the world got a lesson in what exceptionalism looks like. A roomful of scientists held their collective breath, hearts racing, as a small probe rendezvoused with the planet Pluto and its moon Charon. It took 9½ years for New Horizons to travel the 3 billion miles to its destination. It was 72 seconds late. (7/20)

Emirates Space Mission Hopes to Launch New Era in Middle East (Source: Guardian)
When asked if he was nervous, 32-year-old Omran Sharaf was unequivocal. “Of course,” he says. “The reputation of the nation depends on this.” If all goes well, the United Arab Emirates will have a space probe orbiting Mars by 2021 – a first for an Arab world embroiled in endemic conflict.

And, as the man leading the Emirates Mars Mission, Sharaf has a lot on his plate. “It’s the first time we go to Mars,” he says. “I have to say, I think the team doesn’t sleep. But it’s something we have to do if we want to progress and move forward. If we can reach Mars, all challenges for the nation should be doable.”

Announced in July 2014 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the UAE’s vice-president and Dubai’s ruler, the Emirates Mars Mission is expected to launch in July 2020 sending the probe hurtling on the 60 million km journey to the red planet. It is expected to arrive seven months later, half a century to the year since the founding of the country, a union of seven emirates on the Arabian gulf. (7/19)

NASA Refuses to Comment on Extension of Agreement with Russian Space Authority (Source: Tass)
NASA neither confirmed nor disclaimed the information it has been discussing with the Russian space authority, Roscosmos, a possible extension of the agreement on delivery of US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by Russian Soyuz spaceships. NASA’s press service told TASS they would rather refrain from comments.

The recent accident with the US Falcon-9 during the launch of Dragon cargo ship to the ISS is among possible reasons to search extension of the agreement. Privately owned SpaceX will be using a similar carrier to launch its ships, which is designed on the basis of the cargo ship. The accident threatens SpaceX’s plans to make and test the ship by 2017.

Nor can NASA be sure Boeing will manage to produce by that time another private ship for flights to the orbital complex. Thus, the space agency will have to continue using services of the Russian space authority to deliver its astronauts to the ISS. The current agreement’s term is to 2017, and it may be now extended for another year, or even more. (7/20)

Waiting for GSLV (Source: Business Standard)
The Indian Space Research Organization completed two important missions in July. It operationalized the GAGAN, which is a global positioning system (GPS) aided geo-augmented navigation system. GAGAN will provide air navigation services over the Bay of Bengal, South East Asia, the Indian Ocean, West Asia and Africa. Last week, ISRO also launched five commercial British satellites with a total mass of 1,440 kg in its heaviest commercial launch till date.

The space agency has delivered many successes in the past. The most spectacular were the Chandrayaan moon mission in 2008, and the ongoing Mars Orbiter Mission, when ISRO became the only space agency to place a craft in orbit around Mars in its very first attempt. Last year also saw the launch of the solar-powered GSAT-14 (Geosynchronous Satellite-14), which replaces the ageing GSAT-3. That GSAT-14 launch featured the test run of a cryogenic engine. There was also one successful launch of the GSLV-III rocket with a larger cryogenic engine.

But technology for the key GSLV platform has not yet stabilized. GSLV can launch heavier satellites of up to 4,000 kg while the GSLV-III under development could ramp capacity up to around 6,000 kg. This is crucial if ISRO is to be taken seriously as a commercial player. There have been multiple launches with payloads exceeding 4,000 kg by many agencies over the last decade. The heaviest commercial satellite developed, the Terrestar-1, has a mass of nearly 7,000 kg. ISRO can currently handle only a fifth of that. (7/20)

Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner kick off new search for E.T. (Source: America Space)
Russian high-tech billionaire Yuri Milner teamed up with the world’s most famous scientist, British physicist Stephen Hawking, to announce a new $100 million effort to detect signals from alien civilizations. The Breakthrough Listen initiative was unveiled Monday during a webcast from the Royal Society in London.

“It’s time to commit to finding answers to the search for life beyond Earth,” Hawking said. Milner, who was an early investor in Facebook and Twitter, plans to spend the $100 million over the next 10 years to back a radio search using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia – plus a search for laser signals by the Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder Telescope in Northern California. "This was once a dream,” Milner said. “Now it is a truly scientific quest.”

Just in case signals from aliens are detected, a parallel effort known as Breakthrough Message has been set up to formulate a transmission “to describe ourselves and our planet in language that other minds can understand,” Milner said. A million dollars in prizes will be set aside for a competition to create the message, with details to be announced later, according to Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation. Druyan said the effort would include a debate over “whether or not it’s wise to send a message.” (7/20)

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