September 22, 2015

Russia Investigating Two New Embezzlement Cases at Vostochny Spaceport (Source: Tass)
Two new criminal cases of embezzlement during the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East are being investigated by the Amur region police. "Investigators of the Russian Interior Ministry’s investigative department for the Amur region have opened a criminal case against the former director of the company, which built the Vostochny cosmodrome’s automobile roads and railways. He is suspected of large-scale embezzlement," the Interior Ministry said.

According to preliminary information, in September 2012, the Federal State Unitary Enterprise (FSUE) in charge of the spaceport construction and a limited liability company, headed by the suspect, concluded a subcontract on the construction of spaceport’s automobile roads for the federal needs. In July 2013, the two organizations signed additional agreements — on the railway construction by the subcontractor. (9/21)

Saturn’s Largest Moon Titan Could Have Sun-Warmed Swirling Seas (Source: New Scientist)
And now, the shipping forecast for Titan. Missions to explore the oceans on Saturn’s largest moon might have to contend with powerful currents driven by solar energy. Titan is the only place in the solar system, besides Earth, that has large bodies of liquid on its surface, though its seas are composed of hydrocarbons such as methane rather than water. Now researchers have built simulations of currents in the large seas in the moon’s northern hemisphere, using maps created from radar data collected by the Cassini probe. (9/21)

Life-Hunting Mission Would Bring Samples Back from Saturn Moon Enceladus (Source:
In the not-too-distant future, a spacecraft could deliver samples from an alien ocean to Earth, where scientists would scrutinize the material for signs of life. Scientists are developing a mission concept that would send a probe flying through the plume created by the 100-odd geysers erupting from the south polar region of Saturn's ice-covered moon Enceladus.

These geysers blast water, salts and organic compounds from the satellite's subsurface ocean far out into space. The mission, known as Life Investigation for Enceladus (LIFE), would collect samples of this stuff, then send it winging back to Earth in a return capsule. LIFE is not on NASA's books; it remains a concept at the moment. Tsou estimates the sample-return effort could be mounted for $700 million or so — about 30 percent the cost of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity mission. (9/21)

Do These NASA Paintings Reveal the Future of Space Colonization? (Source: Forbes)
In the early 1970s, space exploration was ascendant. Men were on the Moon. Astronomy was in the news. For NASA , the most pressing question was how to ride the momentum. A Princeton physicist named Gerald O’Neill persuaded the agency that the next stage was colonization. Click here. (9/21)

The Space Plane NASA Wanted to Use to Build Solar Power Plants in Orbit (Source: Motherboard)
At the height of the oil crisis in the 1970s, the US government considered building a network of 60 orbiting solar power stations that would beam energy down to Earth. Each geosynchronous satellite, according to this 1981 NASA memo, was to weigh around 35,000 to 50,000 metric tons. The Satellite Power System (SPS) project envisaged building two satellites a year for 30 years. Click here. (9/21)

NASA Awards Orbital ATK Contract to Research Aerospace Propulsion Tech (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK has been awarded a Research and Technologies for Aerospace Propulsion Systems 2 (RTAPS2) contract by NASA to provide advanced space propulsion system technologies. NASA developed the RTAPS2 contract as part of aerospace research activities at the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

RTAPS2 makes it possible for qualified industry partners to develop, demonstrate and verify advanced propulsion system technologies as part of NASA’s aerospace research programs. Research and development efforts in these technologies will address a wide variety of propulsion issues for subsonic, supersonic, hypersonic and rotorcraft transportation vehicles, as well as addressing issues pertaining to aviation safety and space exploration missions. (9/22)

UrtheCast’s Pivot from Station to Constellation (Source: Space News)
In the middle of June, UrtheCast unveiled the first high-definition video produced by one of the company’s two cameras mounted on the International Space Station. At that time, the company was known just for those two cameras, with plans to add an additional camera and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) instrument to the station later in the decade.

Within a week, however, UrtheCast announced a significant shift in plans. On June 19, the company said it was developing a 16-satellite constellation in partnership with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL). Eight of the satellites will carry high-resolution cameras and the other eight SAR payloads. Three days later, UrtheCast announced it was acquiring a European remote sensing company, Deimos Imaging, that currently operates two satellites. Click here. (9/22)

Planet Labs Takes Rash of Launch Failures in Stride (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
No one had ever lost 26 satellites at once until a launch failure bit Planet Labs last year, temporarily setting back the San Francisco startup’s ambition to map the globe every day. Adding to the sting of last year’s Antares rocket crash in Virginia, Planet Labs lost another eight spacecraft aboard a failed launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster in June.

They were mass-casualty events, at least for the little robots Planet Labs is constructing and deploying around the planet to survey every part of Earth with unparalleled regularity. With a fresh batch of shoebox-sized craft now safely aboard the International Space Station after launching Aug. 19 inside Japan’s HTV cargo craft, Planet Labs is ready to take a big step in recovering from losing two cadres of Earth observing satellites in the last year. (9/22)

New Mexico Firm Wins NASA Payload Integration Contract (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
ATA Aerospace in Albuquerque won a five-year contract this month worth up to $505 million with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to provide payload integration services for satellites. “It’s by far our biggest contract to date,” said ATA Aerospace managing member Anthony Tenorio. “It’s a huge win for us and something we’ve been chasing for quite awhile.”

ATA Aerospace is a joint venture between Applied Technology Associates in Albuquerque and Maryland-based ASRC Federal Space and Defense. The partners will provide a range of research and development services under the contract — an indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity arrangement worth a minimum of $5 million and up to $505 million. That includes mechanical engineering and related services, such as design, development and fabrication of hardware and software systems, as well as testing, verification and operation  of spaceflight and ground systems. (9/21)

Argentina Consolidates as Latin American Satellite Leader (Source:
When Ariane 5 flight VA226 launches on September 30, the orbital slot for the 81 West geostationary position will finally get its long-term dweller that it has been promised for over 17 years. Riding along with the Sky Muster satellite, ARSAT-2 is the second geostationary satellite designed and manufactured in Argentina (and all of Latin America).

ARSAT-2 is the younger twin of ARSAT-1. It is a near copy of the first Argentinean geosynchronous orbit satellite, with the only difference being the payload and associated structures. The story begins with the separation of the Argentine military forces from the national space program in the early 1990s.  Given the dire economic situation of the country and the general disarray of the space program that was struggling to organize itself, the government auctioned the exclusive use of satellite Ku-band in the country. (9/21)

South African Company Launches Africa's first ESA Standard Clean Room (Source: NewSpace Systems)
NewSpace Systems, a South African Western Cape-based company which specializes in the manufacture of satellite components, just launched their own European Space Agency standard Clean Room facility in the wake of securing 22 contracts from 11 countries worldwide in their second year of operation.

British CEO James Barrington-Brown who decided to make South Africa his home because of his love of the country is delighted about their progress after making a profit during their first year of operation. Six months into their second year they already have 22 contracts secured from countries such as Argentina, Sweden, Italy, China, Netherlands, South Korea, USA, and Israel. (9/22)

Stratolaunch Systems Announces Executive Changes (Source: Bloomberg)
Jean Floyd has been named CEO of Stratolaunch Systems. Floyd succeeds Gary Wentz who successfully led the project since 2011. Most recently, Floyd was vice president and general manager for the civil and defense division at Orbital ATK, where he managed P&L responsibilities of Human Space Systems, National Security Space, Science and Environmental, and Advanced Flight Systems. (9/22)

Blue Goes to Florida (Source: Space Review)
Last week, as expected, Blue Origin announced plans to build and launch a new orbital rocket from Florida's Space Coast. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the announcement and how they fit into the company's, and its billionaire founder's, long-term goals. Visit to view the article. (9/21)

A Village on the Frontier: The Subtleties of Space Symbolism and Rhetoric (Source: Space Review)
When a cheering crowd celebrated New Horizons' successful flyby by waving American flags, it struck some people as jingoistic. Dwayne Day discusses how the language and symbols of space advocates and space programs can be interpreted differently by different cultures. Visit to view the article. (9/21)

An Alternative Space Pilgrimage (Source: Space Review)
Many space enthusiasts travel to Florida to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and its famous exhibits. Jeff Foust suggests those with a strong history in space history make a side trip to a nearby, small museum for some additional artifacts of the early Space Age. Visit to view the article. (9/21)

Review: Rocket Ranch (Source: Space Review)
The Kennedy Space Center is going through some of its biggest changes in decades, but they pale in comparison with the work 50 years ago to build its original facilities. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a look at KSC's early history, mixing technical details with the anecdotes of those who worked there. Visit to view the article. (9/21)

Asteroid-Mining Plan Would Bake Water Out of Bagged-Up Space Rocks (Source:
A new way to harvest asteroid resources is being eyed as a possible game changer for space exploration. The patent-pending innovation, called "optical mining," could allow huge amounts of asteroid water to be tapped, advocates say. This water, in turn, could provide relatively cheap and accessible propellant for voyaging spacecraft, lowering the cost of spaceflight significantly. Click here. (9/21)

Manned Mission to Mars Is Closer to Reality Than Ever (Source:
NASA is closer to putting boots on Mars than it's ever been before, the space agency's chief says. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, said he envisioned becoming the first person to explore Mars when he checked in for astronaut training at Houston's Johnson Space Center in 1980.

Back then, a crewed Red Planet mission was believed to be 30 years away, Bolden said. That proved to be an overly optimistic assessment, of course. But NASA's current goal of getting astronauts to Mars in the 2030s is eminently achievable, Bolden added. (9/21)

Elon Musk Wants to Change How (and Where) Humans Live (Source: Vogue)
Of all his ventures, though, it’s SpaceX, which Musk founded because he was frustrated with the pace and cost of government-sponsored space exploration, that feels the grandest and, by definition, the most otherworldly. Even with a string of setbacks (most recently the doomed launch of the Falcon 9 cargo rocket, which blew apart shortly after takeoff last June—on Musk’s forty-fourth birthday, no less), the company seems poised to grow into a major force in the aerospace industry. Click here. (9/21)

Congressional Ex-Im Bank Lapse Impacts Orbital ATK Too (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK says it lost a contract for a satellite because of the lapse in the Ex-Im Bank's authorization. A company official said that it lost out on a contract for Azerbaijan's Azerspace-2 satellite because it no long had access to Ex-Im Bank financing for it. The contract, not yet formally announced, went to SSL, which is owned by Canada's MDA Corp. and can access Canadian export credit financing. U.S. satellite manufacturers said they are at a disadvantage now competing for many satellite contracts since customers are increasingly requiring export credit financing options. (9/21)

ISS-Based Earth Science Experiments Ineligible for NASA Venture Program (Source: Space News)
Earth science experiments planning to use the ISS need not apply to a new NASA competition. The Earth Venture Mission-2 announcement of opportunity, released by NASA earlier this month, specifically excludes instruments installed on the ISS, instead allowing only free-flyer spacecraft. That move comes as NASA has increasingly played up the station's role as a platform for Earth science investigations. (9/21)

SSTL Satellite Aims for Quick, Low Cost Imaging Capability (Source: BBC)
A British smallsat manufacturer has released details about a satellite launched this year to demonstrate low-cost Earth-imaging technologies. The 80-kilogram satellite, code-named "Carbonite," launched as a secondary payload on an Indian PSLV mission in July. The spacecraft, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), is intended to be demonstration of low-cost satellites that can be built quickly, while providing relatively high-resolution images and video. SSTL has yet to release any images taken by the spacecraft, which SSTL officials said is due to the company being busy working on other satellites. (9/21)

Canada Hopes to Help De-Orbit Envisat (Source: Space News)
Canada is seeking a role in any future mission to deorbit Europe's Envisat spacecraft. Officials in Canadian industry, and the Canadian Space Agency, believe the country's expertise in space robotics could allow it to provide a robotic arm and capture tool to grapple the spacecraft. Envisat is considered one of the largest orbital debris threats, and the European Space Agency is considering a mission in the early 2020s to deorbit the spaceport to eliminate that risk. (9/21)

Mars Settlement Debate Continues (Sources: Space News, New York Times)
Should humans settle Mars? No, argues Ed Regis in the New York Times. Regis, the author of a book on the Hindenberg disaster and "pathological technology," says a human journey to Mars would be hazardous, and people would only arrive to a "a dead, cold, barren planet" that is hostile to life. Yes, says Rick Tumlinson in a SpaceNews op-ed. Tumlinson says a "mental shift is presently occurring" regarding human exploration of Mars, with international and commercial partnerships playing major roles. Settlement, he says, is key: science "is something you get if you do settlement (the reverse does not apply)." (9/21)

Plutonium Still Scarce, Production Restart Still Slow for Needy NASA (Source: Space News)
Ever since 2013, when NASA shelved development of a new plutonium battery four times more efficient than those used today, the agency has been forced to come up with creative solutions for missions to sunlight-deprived destinations, or pass on missions that cannot be done with solar power alone.

NASA’s Europa Multiple Flyby mission, which is still in the early Phase A part of its life cycle and not yet under construction, plans to use a large array of solar panels for its journey to the icy Jovian moon. NASA is tightly rationing the plutonium-238 that fuels radioisotope power systems so could not spare any of it for the Europa mission.

Where no alternative for a radioisotope power appears possible, NASA has simply taken a pass. Such was the case in 2012 when NASA passed on two nuclear-powered missions and selected the solar-powered Mars lander InSight as its 12th Discovery mission. Click here. (9/21)

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