September 11, 2015

Boeing, Lockheed Split on Sale of ULA (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are reportedly at odds over whether to sell their joint venture, United Launch Alliance, to Aerojet Rocketdyne. Lockheed executives are said to be interested in the $2 billion offer for ULA, but Boeing is more reluctant, in part because of the prospect of winning business to manufacture hardware for ULA's next-generation Vulcan rocket. Boeing said in a statement that it considers ULA one of the most "important and strategic elements in our portfolio." (9/10)

ULA/Blue Origin "Expanded Production" Announcement is Vague (Source: Reuters)
ULA announced an agreement with Blue Origin for rocket engine production. The deal would "expand production capabilities" for Blue Origin's BE-4, the frontrunner to serve as the main engine for ULA's Vulcan rocket. The announcement, though, offered few details about the agreement, including where or how many engines would be produced, or any exchange of funds between the two companies.

Editor's Note: The scope of Blue Origin's anticipated Florida-based operations won't be revealed until next week, and the impact of the potential Aerojet-ULA deal could be dramatic. Is Blue Origin planning to manufacture engines or simply assemble their rockets in Florida? I guess there's always the opportunity for Aerojet to manufacture their rocket engines in West Palm Beach, where Pratt & Whitney had planned to manufacture U.S. versions of the Russian-designed RD-180. (9/10)

Aerojet Deal Could Protect its Future in the Rocket Business (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne makes more sense as the owner of ULA than does the shared ownership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, said Loren Thompson, a national security industry expert with the Washington, D.C.-based Lexington Institute. The stock market seems to like the match. Aerojet shares rose nearly 10 percent on Wednesday, the first full day of trading since news of the deal was revealed.

Editor's Note: The majority of the cost of any launch vehicle is in its engines. This Aerojet-ULA deal would vertically integrate the company (like SpaceX) and bring overall costs down. Also, Aerojet has favored an upgrade of the Atlas V with new engines, as opposed to a totally new Vulcan rocket now being designed by ULA. (9/10)

The Merger That Could Shake Up Private Space (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Under the proposed merger, the ULA would stay independent, though it's likely that any deal with Blue Origin would fizzle. It's important to note that the ULA has not yet commented on the offer one way or the other, and a lot of people consider Aerojet's offer to be a lowball for the ULA, which holds lucrative government contracts including the Vulcan.

Commentators seem to be split on the effect this deal could have on the aerospace industry. Some say it could spell doom for SpaceX, because it would unite three industry titans against a small upstart.  Some say it could spell doom for Aerojet, because it could make production of the Vulcan more chaotic and delay it even more, burn bridges with Blue Origin, and make the company rush to market with engines it lost out on in the first place.

We're getting ahead of ourselves there, though. For the deal to even go through, first Boeing and Lockheed would have to accept the merger, which seems unlikely given that Aerojet tried to become a part of the Vulcan already and came up short. It could be that the $2 billion offer comes back with more money attached, or it could be that the ULA says no way, continues the course with Blue Origin, and refuses to take on the AR-1 at all and finds another vendor, which further imperils Aerojet. (9/10)

Dealing with Cubesat Clutter (Source: Space News)
From the introduction of the cubesat format to July 2015, 231 of the small satellites were launched and another 44 were lost due to launch failures. As cubesats’ use continues to grow, debris mitigation and avoidance regulations are also becoming progressively restrictive in order to avoid a degradation of space use among space industry operators.

Because cubesats lack an onboard propulsion system, it is hard to perform a calculated re-entry operation at the end-of-life, causing most cubesats to violate international guidelines on appropriate deorbiting maneuvers. Matt Desch, chief executive of Iridium Communications Inc., said, “The proliferation of cubesats… present[s] new, potential problems” and they “are creating a new challenge requiring particular attention.” Click here. (9/11)

Soyuz Launches Galileo NavSats from French Guiana Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Soyuz rocket successfully launched two Galileo navigation satellites Thursday night. The Soyuz-2 rocket lifted off at 10:08 p.m. Eastern time from French Guiana and released the two satellites into their planned medium Earth orbits nearly four hours later. The satellites are the ninth and tenth operational Galileo satellites out of a planned constellation of 30. (9/10)

Japan Wants More Spy Satellites (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
The Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center plans to double the number of information-gathering satellites to eight. Under the plan, four more information-gathering satellites will be added to upgrade the nation’s monitoring capability over military-related facilities in foreign countries, while two other satellites will be launched to relay data from the information-gathering satellites to the ground, according to the center. (9/10)

'Red Dragon' Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch by 2022 (Source:
A mission that uses SpaceX's Dragon capsule to help bring chunks of Mars rock back to Earth for analysis could launch as early as 2022, researchers say. This "Red Dragon" project — which remains a concept at the moment, not an approved mission — would grab samples collected by NASA's 2020 Mars rover and send them rocketing back toward Earth, where researchers could scrutinize the material for possible signs of past Red Planet life.

The sample-return effort would keep costs and complexity down by using SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket and a modified version of the company's robotic Dragon cargo capsule, the concept's developers say. Red Dragon is "technically feasible with the use of these emerging commercial technologies, coupled with technologies that already exist," said Andy Gonzales, of Ames Research Center.

The Red Dragon team has developed the concept independently, without any involvement or endorsement by SpaceX, Gonzales said. NASA aims to grab and cache samples from a potentially habitable environment with its next Mars rover, which is scheduled to blast off in 2020. But the space agency does not yet have a firm plan or timeline for bringing this material back to Earth. (9/10)

Aldrin: The American People “Have Lost their Enthusiasm” for Space Exploration (Source: Salon)
On Wednesday night’s edition of “The Nightly Show,” host Larry Wilmore introduced a new segment called “L-Dub’s Book Club…Space,” and the first book he discussed on it just happened to be former astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s “Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet.”

“This is a normal book club segment that we’re starting tonight that just happens to be set in space,” Wilmore said. “Because like I said, I love space and we have the budget for it.”

“Welcome to Mars,” co-written with Marianne Dyson, is intended to inspire the next generation of space explorers, because the enthusiasm for it among children is currently “ho-hum,” according to Aldrin. “We can’t even get up there anymore,” he added, “we have to pay the Russians!” Aldrin explained that this is because of an enthusiasm gap. (9/10)

EU Not Boldly Going Where No One has Gone Before (Source: EU Observer)
It wasn’t a long time ago, nor was it in a galaxy far, far away, when Jose Manuel Barroso said he wanted the European Union to play a role in space exploration, which may include human spaceflight as well as robotic missions.  "The Commission … will argue that space exploration is important to the EU", he said in 2009, weeks before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, giving the EU the legal basis to be involved in space exploration for the first time.

A 2007 text by Barroso's Commission said the "international exploration endeavour has a significant political appeal in a vision of European identity". However, the current director of the Commission's space activities has told EUobserver the role of the EU in space exploration in the next two to three decades is likely to be very small. (9/11)

SpaceX Releases Interior Photos of Astronaut-Carrying Dragon (Source: The Verge)
SpaceX's new Crew Dragon capsule may be reserved for astronauts traveling to and from the International Space Station — but now you can take a virtual tour of the vehicle's insides. The company just released interior photos of the spacecraft, as well as a video showing closeups of its control panels and crew seats. The images offer our first glimpse at what the finished Crew Dragon will look like.

The photos show an interior that is sleek and smooth, with mostly black and white hardware. It gives off the vibe of a luxury sports car (which makes sense, given CEO Elon Musk also runs a high-end car business). The capsule has seven seats for crew, made of carbon fiber and Alcantara cloth. Video displays in front of the seats will provide information to the astronauts about the vehicle's position in space and the environment on board. There's even an environmental control system that astronauts can adjust in case the Crew Dragon's temperature is too hot or too cold. Click here. (9/11)

The Search for Luna 9 (Source: Air & Space)
Earth’s moon is a cemetery of space probes, hurled there by numerous nations over the last half-century. Whether they landed successfully or crashed in a useless plume of lunar dust, we usually lost sight of them. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been scanning the moon’s surface since 2009, has been key to spotting some of these milestone spacecraft.

It has sent back pictures of all six Apollo landing sites and that of Surveyor 1, NASA’s first moon lander, which went up in June 1966 to scope out the terrain ahead of the astronauts. Now the hunt is on for the coup de grĂ¢ce of moon memorabilia.

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union kept its lead in the space race by successfully landing the first spacecraft on another celestial body. Luna 9, a spherical spacecraft about two feet in diameter, was ejected from its descent stage and rolled to a stop in Oceanus Procellarum, better known as the Ocean of Storms. Click here. (9/11)

Satellite Operators See Narrow Window To Influence Pentagon (Source: Space News)
Commercial satellite operators aiming to fulfill a greater share of the U.S. Defense Department’s satellite bandwidth needs see the next 18 months as a crucial window for making their case with the customer as it explores its own next-generation systems.

The U.S. Air Force is expected to undertake an analysis of alternatives for wideband satellite capacity that will help determine its way forward on a follow-on to its 10-satellite Wideband Global Satcom system. The first glimpse of that program is expected to come as early as the Air Force’s fiscal year 2018 budget request. That would leave less than 18 months for commercial satellite operators to spell out what they can offer as an alternative to government-owned satellites like WGS.

Industry officials have long bemoaned the government’s satellite bandwidth purchasing practices as inefficient, making it difficult for commercial operators to prepare for future government needs with cost-effective solutions. They also argue that a single Defense Department entity should be responsible for determining how to meet the military’s bandwidth needs. (9/11)

Indian Government  Needs to Decide on Human Spaceflight (Source: The Hindu)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman A. S. Kiran Kumar on Thursday said it was for the Government and the country to decide when to undertake manned space mission. Answering questions from students, he said that the country has to make up its mind on human space program. On its part, the ISRO was working on developing certain critical technologies for the proposed mission. “We need to wait for the nation to decide when we want to put a man in space,” he added. (9/10)

O Columbia: A 70-Minute Chamber Opera Worth Exploring (Source: Houston Press)
When composer Gregory Spears (The Bricklayer) asked his cousins who live in the Houston area what stories they thought should be told, they kept returning to the space program, he says. He and librettist Royce Vavrek, both based in New York City, had wanted to work together and knew the Houston Grand Opera's HGOCo was accepting proposals.

The result is the 70-minute chamber opera O Columbia which not only tells the tragic story of the Columbia space shuttle that broke apart upon re-entry and resulted in the deaths of all seven crew members, but of the drive for exploration that preceded it (cue Sir Walter Raleigh), the account of a teenage Houston girl Becca determined to be part of NASA's space program as well as the journeys of astronauts and engineers of the future, pushing out ever farther despite the dangers inherent to space travel. (9/10)

Pluto Close-Ups From New Horizons Boggle Astro-Minds (Source: NBC)
A new set of images has been received from the New Horizons spacecraft, showing close-up images of Pluto taken on July 15 (and only just recently processed) while it was passing by the dwarf planet at high speed — but not so fast it couldn't see terrain so varied it's astonishing astronomers. Click here. (9/10)

Army, Space Agency Benefit From Partnership (Source: Redstone Rocket)
While their missions may differ – one is dedicated to defending the nation, the other to space exploration – the science and knowledge base behind how Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal employees accomplish those missions is closely aligned. That shared know-how has resulted in a series of partnerships between MSFC and Redstone Arsenal tenants, allowing both the Army and NASA to work smarter, faster and in a more cost-effective manner, better serving the taxpayer.

There are 42 active partnerships between MSFC and Redstone Arsenal tenants, with even more – close to 100 – existing between Marshall and the Department of Defense overall. Each collaboration has a story, with some serving the Arsenal as a whole, such as the widening of Martin Road, to others fulfilling the tactical need of a specific partner. Some partnerships are brought forth from high-level negotiations between leadership, others where an engineer or technologist has simply found a project they’re working on might be of benefit to someone else. (9/10)

Intergalactic Love Story to Film at Spaceport America (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico will serve as a main shooting locale for a new film called The Space Between Us. The New Mexico Film Office said the production, described as a love story between two teens from different planets, will start shooting Sept. 16 in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Truth or Consequences.

Peter Chelsom, who directed Serendipity and Shall We Dance, directs the new film, which stars Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson and BD Wong. The production will employ at least 100 New Mexico crew members and about 30 New Mexico principal actors, as well as an estimated 1,000 in background talent.

Spaceport America Director of Marketing Tammara Anderton said Hollywood has shown “tremendous interest” in renting the facility as a shooting site. The spaceport, whose primary tenant, Virgin Galactic, has yet to begin full flight operations, is located on 18,000 acres near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. (9/10)

India to Launch Nano Satellites for US at the End of September (Source: Hindustan Times)
ISRO will this month launch from Sriharikota four nano satellites named Lemur from the United States. Besides, it will also launch one nano satellite from Canada and one micro satellite from Indonesia. This will be for the first time that India will be launching a satellite of the US. All these international customer satellites would be launched as co-passengers to the national primary satellite Astrosat.

The launch is expected to take place this month end. These international co-passenger satellites are primarily meant for maritime applications using Automatic Identification System (AIS). While the four US satellites together weigh around 28 kg, that from Canada will weigh around 14 kg and the one from Indonesia weighs around 76 kg. (9/10)

What Scientists Say About Elon Musk's Idea to Nuke Mars (Source: LA Times)
Elon Musk might think it's a good idea to warm up Mars with thermonuclear weapons so humans can live on it, but scientists are raising red flags about the idea. The average temperature on Mars is similar to that of Antarctica in the winter, said Brian Toon, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who co-wrote a paper in 1991 about making the Red Planet habitable.

Thermonuclear weapons could be used to warm the planet, but that might not be enough to warm it to “earthlike” levels, said Joshua Bandfield, an affiliate associate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and a senior research scientist at the Boulder-based Space Science Institute. And detonating nuclear weapons on Mars would change the terrain and make it harder to understand how the planet works, he said. (9/10)

China's Indigenous SatNav Finds Increasing Market Presence (Source: Xinhua)
China's indigenous satellite navigation system is achieving increasing market presence in the country, with most new GPS gadgets compatible with it, according to an industry report released on Thursday. At least 80 percent of such gadgets and services sold in 2014 in China were compatible with the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), an alternative to U.S.-operated GPS, said the report by the CNSS and LBS Association of China.

Services based on the BDS have been used not only for industrial purposes such as geographic surveying, traffic monitoring and agriculture, but also car navigation and positioning services on mobile phones, the report said. China launched the 18th and 19th satellites for the BDS in July, a step closer to the target of a complete constellation of 35 satellites and achieving global coverage by 2020. According to the report, China's satellite navigation industry reported an annual revenue of 134.3 billion yuan (21.32 billion U.S. dollars) in 2014, up 29.1 percent from 2013. (9/10)

Want To Hack The Mars Rover? Take A Look At Its Intel-Owned Operating System (Source: Forbes)
There’s a simple flaw inside a widely used operating system, though not one most would be familiar with, called VxWorks. It happens to be the same software used to control parts of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover and many critical infrastructure systems, whilst another flavour of the OS is used in Boeing 787 Dreamliners and military helicopters.

Certain versions, used by tens of thousands of machines at the very least, are also carrying a vulnerability that can be exploited from anywhere with an internet connection, according to researcher Yannick Formaggio, from Canadian outfit Istuary Innovation Labs.

Speaking at the 44Con conference in London this morning, Formaggio said he’d looked into the software following a request from a client working in the critical infrastructure industry. Formaggio and his fellow researchers created their own “fuzzing” tool, which threw data at VxWorks to see where errors occurred. (9/10)

Patent Decision May Not Spell End of Blue Origin-SpaceX Dispute (Source: Space News)
A decision by Blue Origin to withdraw most of the claims in a contested patent represents a near-term victory for SpaceX, but might not be the end of a dispute between the two companies regarding reusable launch vehicle technology. In a “Final Judgment and Decision” issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board approved a request by Blue Origin to cancel 13 claims in a patent covering the landing of rocket stages on oceangoing vessels.

While the board’s decision is a victory for SpaceX, Blue Origin is not giving up on the overall patent. Earlier this year, the company filed what’s known as a “reissue patent application” that seeks to amend the original patent. “This is a patent owner saying, ‘There’s a problem with my original patent. I want to rewrite my patent and turn in the old one,’” Andrew Rush explained.

Such a strategy, he said, is not uncommon among patent holders in similar disputes. In those cases, the patent holders choose to withdraw the claims of their original patent while simultaneously filing a reissue patent application with revised claims intended to avoid the prior art that triggered the dispute. “It looks like they’ve retreated, but they haven’t given up by any means,” he said. (9/10)

Air Force Assigns New Delta 4 Rocket Launch fro California Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
There’s a new launch being added to Vandenberg Air Force Base’s schedules — another Delta 4 rocket flight for the National Reconnaissance Office. The Air Force’s Launch Systems Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles announced this week it would award the National Security Space mission on an EELV-class launch vehicle.

The rocket order goes to United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 using the Medium+ (5,2) configuration vehicle, which is a five-meter upper stage and two strap-on solid rocket boosters. Launch is anticipated in October 2017 from SLC-6. (9/10)

UK Team Plans 'Unsent Letter' to Aliens (Source: BBC)
A network of UK researchers has decided to compose a message to aliens - but they are divided over whether such a message should be sent into space. The group will enter the Breakthrough Message contest, which offers a $1m prize for creating a digital missive that represents human civilization. That prize accompanies a new effort to accelerate the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Experts have argued for decades about the wisdom of broadcasting into space. Listening out for aliens is one thing, but trying to contact them raises myriad concerns about what happens when civilizations collide. The diversity of views was obvious at a conference of the UK Seti Research Network (UKSRN) in Leeds, where the group's 20 members were split down the middle in an informal vote. Click here. (9/10)

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