October 28, 2015

Exelis Investors End Suit Over $4.75B Sale To Harris (Source: Law360)
Exelis investors leading a suit over the defense technology contractor’s $4.75 billion sale to Harris asked an Indiana federal judge on Friday to approve a settlement with the companies, saying Exelis and Harris have provided documents to show the deal was fair. (10/27)

Northrop Grumman Win Helps Space Coast Rebound From Shuttle Retirement (Source: Florida Today)
Northrop Grumman's winning the contract to build the next generation Air Force stealth bomber contract is a big financial victory for Florida's Space Coast. As a result, Northrop is expected to add 1,500 local engineering and program management jobs, with an average wage of $100,000, between now and 2019 and to make an overall capital investment of $500 million at it facility at Melbourne International Airport.  The estimated economic impact of Northrop's expansion in Brevard is $294 million annually.

"It's hard to overstate the impact this project could have," said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Center for Economic Competitiveness. Snaith added: "That number of jobs with that average pay will have a significant impact on the regional economy.  That'll be a significant step towards rebuilding the space and aviation sectors on the Space Coast, which have struggled somewhat since the shuttle came to an end.  This would be a huge step forward." (10/28)

3 Convicted For Smuggling $30M In Electronics To Russia (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday said that it had secured convictions in New York federal court against three people accused of illegally exporting more than $30 million worth of sensitive microelectronics used in weapons and surveillance systems bound for Russian intelligence and military services.

A jury on Monday convicted Alexander Posobilov, Shavkat Abdullaev and Anastasia Diatlova on all counts, which included illegally exporting controlled microelectronics to Russia and conspiracy to do so, the DOJ said. Posobilov was also convicted of conspiracy to launder money. (10/27)

Orbital ATK Reports Quarterly Growth (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK reported increased revenue and income in its fiscal third quarter. The company reported a net income of $80 million on revenue of $1.135 billion for the three months ended Oct. 4, slight increases over the same quarter a year ago, before Orbital Sciences and ATK merged. Orbital officials said they are planning to carry out four cargo flights to the ISS over the next year, two launched on Atlas vehicles and two on Orbital's own Antares, and expects to hear the outcome of NASA's new commercial cargo competition as soon as next week. (10/27)

ULA Recruits Stratolaunch Executive in Reorganization (Source: Denver Business Journal)
ULA announced a revamped executive team Tuesday. The 11-person team includes both existing ULA executives, some in new positions, as well as some new hires. Among the new members of the executive team is Gary Wentz, the former head of Stratolaunch, who is now leads ULA's human launch services. The new executive team is part of a corporate restructuring that included the early retirement of a dozen veteran managers earlier this year. (10/27)

Air Force Considers Outsourcing of Satellite Operations (Source: Space News)
Several companies are interested in taking over operations of a fleet of military communications satellites. At least four companies identified interest in a request for information issued by the Air Force last month regarding outsourcing operations of the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) program. Those companies include Intelsat General, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, Northrop Grumman and SGT. The Air Force could commercialize WGS operations as soon as next year. (10/27)

SpaceX President Downplays Commitment To Building Broadband Constellation (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell on Oct. 27 downplayed the company’s 4,000-satellite broadband Internet constellation, saying the project remained “very speculative” pending a deeper assessment of its business case. SpaceX’s intentions with respect to a broadband Internet satellite constellation have been the subject of debate and occasional confusion in the industry since Jan. 15, when company Chief Executive Elon Musk announced the opening of a satellite production facility outside Seattle. (10/27)

Private Spaceflight Industry Aims to Shake Off a Rough Year (Source: Space.com)
It's been a tough year for private spaceflight, but the leaders of the burgeoning industry are determined to bounce back. Over the past 12 months, robotic resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) launched by both Orbital ATK and SpaceX failed, and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight, killing the vehicle's co-pilot and seriously wounding its pilot.

These accidents have slowed the progress of commercial spaceflight, but the industry is far from grounded. Orbital ATK and SpaceX plan to be flying again before the year is out, for example, and Virgin Galactic is nearly finished building SpaceShipTwo number two. "We're still pushing the frontier here — and it's hard, but it's worth it," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (10/27)

Spacecraft Discovers Thousands of Doomed Comets (Source: Space Daily)
For an astronomer, discovering a comet can be the highlight of a lifetime. Great comets carry the names of their discoverers into history. Comet Halley, Comet Lovejoy, Comet Hale-Bopp are just a few examples... . Imagine the frustration, though, if every time you discovered a comet, it was rapidly destroyed. Believe it or not, this is what happens almost every day to the most prolific comet hunter of all time.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, better known as "SOHO", is a joint project of the European Space Agency, or ESA, and NASA. Orbiting the sun at 1.5 million km, or 932,000 miles from Earth, the distant observatory has just discovered its 3000th comet-more than any other spacecraft or astronomer. And, just about all of SOHO's comets have been destroyed. (10/27)

NGA Considers Commercial Imagery Strategy (Source: Space News)
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is considering working with companies operating Earth imaging smallsats. In a strategy document released Monday, NGA said it was evaluating a variety of approaches to working with companies like Skybox Imaging, Planet Labs and BlackSky Global, who are developing constellations of smallsats for commercial Earth imaging applications. NGA may award initial contracts with companies like them as soon as 2017, but those efforts would not affect its current EnhancedView contract with DigitalGlobe. (10/27)

Establishing Priorities for Earth Observation Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers NASA a framework for prioritizing satellite observations and measurements of Earth based on their scientific value.

NASA's Earth Science Division conducts a coordinated series of satellite and airborne missions for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. Data from these observations are used to understand Earth as an integrated system and to support critical societal applications, including resource management, weather forecasts, climate projections, agricultural production, and natural-disaster response.

Like all federal agencies, NASA is operating in a constrained budgetary environment that necessitates making difficult choices among competing priorities for investment. For the Earth Science Division, this challenge is exacerbated by increasing demands for the information provided by its programs and missions, as well as by congressional and executive branch direction to undertake responsibility for sustaining a number of measurements that were formerly supported by other federal agencies. (10/27)

Budget Deal Adds $80 Billion (Source: Washington Post)
A two-year budget deal announced late Monday would increase spending for defense and other programs. The budget bill, filed just before midnight Monday, provides an additional $80 billion over the next two years, split evenly between defense and other discretionary programs. The bill also raises the debt ceiling until March 2017. The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, just before House Speaker John Boehner resigns at the end of this week. (10/27)

Russia Delays ISS Cargo Mission (Source: Tass)
The launch of a Russian cargo spacecraft has been postponed a month. Vladimir Solntsev, president of RSC Energia, said Tuesday that the launch of the first Progress-MS vehicle, an upgraded version of Progress-M cargo spacecraft, will slip from Nov. 21 to Dec. 21. Solntsev said the delay was required to complete work to correct problems from a failed Progress launch in April. That launch, like the upcoming Progress launch, use Soyuz-2 rockets, while two Progress missions since the failure used older Soyuz-U rockets. (10/27)

Halloween Asteroid is the Least of our Nightmare (Source: Tech Insider)
A skyscraper-sized asteroid will speed past Earth from an uncomfortably close distance this Halloween. Although 310,000 miles away may not sound close, the giant space rock is zooming by only a little farther away than the moon is from the Earth — close enough to spot with an amateur telescope, says NASA. It's also important to remember the 1,300-foot-wide asteroid, called 2015 TB145, is moving about 45 times faster than a speeding bullet.

NASA's formal way of cataloging such threats is through its near-Earth object (NEO) observation program. If an asteroid or comet passes within 1.3 astronomical units of the sun (1 au is 93 million miles, or the distance from the Earth to the sun), then NASA carefully tracks it as an NEO. As of October 24, we've discovered 13,271 NEOs, 877 of them more than 1 kilometer wide, 1,637 of them classified as potentially hazardous to Earth. (10/27)

Someone in Alabama Sold a Priceless Lunar Rover for Scrap Metal (Source: Motherboard)
During the Apollo missions, NASA only made a handful of lunar rovers. Three of them are still sitting on the surface of the moon. One of them is at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. And another was recently smashed into bits in an Alabama junkyard. According to documents acquired as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, a priceless lunar rover prototype designed for the Apollo missions was sold to a junkyard in Alabama for scrap metal sometime last year.

A US Air Force Historian who happened to be passing through the small town of Blountsville, Alabama spotted the rover in the backyard of the person who ultimately ended up selling it, and alerted NASA in February of 2014. NASA apparently dragged its feet in recovering the rover, however: By December, it had been destroyed. (10/27)

Meet XCOR’s Latest Invention: The Trunnel (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A while ago, I mentioned that XCOR had developed some cool things that it hadn’t publicized yet.  Here’s one of them. Meet the trunnel. XCOR has modified a Ford F-250 pickup so that it conduct tests with a one-third scale model Lynx on the Mojave runway at 100 mph. Click here. (10/27)

Astrobotic Adds Another Google Lunar X Prize Team to Its Lander (Source: Space News)
Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based company competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, announced Oct. 27 it will fly another team’s rover to the moon on its mission, now planned for late 2017. Astrobotic said it will carry Uni, a five-kilogram rover being developed by Team AngelicvM of Chile, on its lunar lander. The agreement between the teams is similar to one Astrobotic announced in February with Japan’s Team Hakuto, with the teams sharing the cost of the overall mission and any prize money they win. (10/27)

House Bill Revives Ex-Im Bank Over Conservative Opposition (Source: AP)
A strong coalition of establishment-backed Republicans and House Democrats voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to revive the Export-Import Bank, dealing a defeat to tea party conservatives and Speaker-to-be Paul Ryan.

The House approved the measure 313-118 as 127 Republicans joined with virtually every Democrat to support the bank, whose charter expired June 30. Since then, the bank has been unable to approve new applications to fulfill its mission of helping overseas buyers get financing to purchase U.S. exports like airplanes and heavy equipment. Supporters say the bank helps sustain tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The legislation's fate is uncertain in the Senate. (10/27)

Wall-Less Hall Thruster May Power Future Deep Space Missions (Source: AIP)
Hall thrusters are advanced electric rocket engines primarily used for station-keeping and attitude control of geosynchronous communication satellites and space probes. Recently, the launch of two satellites based on an all-electric bus has marked the debut of a new era - one in which Hall thrusters could be used not just to adjust orbits, but to power the voyage as well.

Consuming 100 million times less propellant or fuels than conventional chemical rockets, a Hall thruster is an attractive candidate for exploring Mars, asteroids and the edge of the solar system. By saving fuel the thruster could leave room for spacecraft and send a large amount of cargo in support of space missions. However, the current lifespan of Hall thrusters, which is around 10,000 operation hours, is too short for most space explorations, which require at least 50,000 operation hours. (10/27)

NASA Spacecraft to Dive Into Icy Geyser on Enceladus (Source: Ars Technica)
On Wednesday, a school-bus sized spacecraft will dive out of the inky blackness of space more than one billion kilometers from Earth and zip through an icy plume that springs from the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Less than one-sixth the size of Earth’s moon—Enceladus has become one of the most intriguing bodies in the Solar System.

The spacecraft will not be able to determine whether anything lives in Enceladus’ global ocean, as its spectrometer can only detect molecules up to 100 atomic mass units. But the probe will be able to characterize the plume and help scientists devise a future orbiting mission to the tiny, icy world, one that will be equipped to find life. (10/27)

NASA Astrophysics Chief Wants To Put $1 Billion Missions Out for Competition (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Astrophysics Division should emulate the planetary science division and fund a line of competitively selected missions costing roughly $1 billion, the agency’s top astrophysics official told astronomers Oct. 21. “I’m a big fan of an Astrophysics Probe line that’s analogous to the planetary science New Frontiers line,” said NASA Astrophysics Director Paul Hertz. (10/27)

What Would an Alien Megastructure Look Like? Sci-Fi Authors Weigh In (Source: Space.com)
A star is dimming for reasons that astronomers can't explain. Observations by NASA's Kepler space telescope revealed that the star KIC 8462852, which lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth, dimmed dramatically and strangely several times over the past few years. Researchers aren't sure what's going on, and they have posited that some sort of light-blocking "alien megastructure" is a possible — though unlikely — explanation. Click here. (10/27)

Where should NASA Land Humans on Mars? (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
th NASA's full commitment to sending humans to Mars as its top priority mission, the space agency has begun discussions with scientists on the question, Where on Mars? Space agency officials are holding a three-day workshop this week in Houston with a gathering of interested scientists to trying to figure out where the first human astronauts should land. (10/27)

How Filthy is the ISS? (Source: Washington Post)
Let’s face it: Floating 220 miles above Earth in a sealed space station for months doesn’t sound like the most sanitary venture. After all, even inhabitants of the junkiest dwellings on land have the benefit of occasional fresh air. Earlier this year, astronaut Scott Kelly described the International Space Station’s singular aroma as something akin to a mixture of antiseptic and garbage.

There's no positive way to spin that one. But how clean (or dirty) is the International Space Station? New research on the spacecraft’s unique bacterial population contains some reassuring news — and a few icky insights. In their quest to characterize the cleanliness of the ISS, scientists from NASA studied a HEPA filter that had been on the craft for 40 months. They also got their hands on two bags of dust from the ISS vacuum cleaner.

The team compared its data to debris from NASA cleanrooms on Earth. Skin bacteria called Actinobacteria were much more prevalent on the ISS — not surprising for a place that serves as a full-time astronaut apartment. Samples from the vacuum bags boasted critters like Staphylococcus, which can cause diseases ranging from food poisoning to skin infections. The findings suggest that astronauts pick up more skin microorganisms with their vacuums than with their filters — and that the air being circulated through the ISS is much cleaner than its surfaces. (10/27)

Aerojet Confident in Long-Shot Contest Against Bezos’s Space Company (Source: Washington Post)
Aerojet Rocketdyne, an engine builder with roots in the earliest years of space flight, is taking an increasingly aggressive stand to try to get its product into the rocket being designed by ULA for government launches. ULA has long had a monopoly on launching national security satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence community.

Company executives said they are confident that they will ultimately be able to convince ULA that their engine is the better option. Aerojet has invested a lot of time and money into the development of an engine, and if ULA doesn’t buy it, it’s not clear who would. So the company is not giving up on what may be a long-shot bid.

Van Kleeck said that Aerojet has been working on its engine for years and would hit the 2019 target that ULA has said is its goal. She also said that the AR-1 is more versatile than Blue’s engine, the BE-4, because it would work in the Atlas V as well as the Vulcan, the rocket ULA is developing. (10/27)

Welcome To the Ghost Town That Virgin Galactic Built (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Five years from now, this hunk of remote ground will be the place for shuttling tourists to suborbital space, launching small satellites, and serving as a hub for all things new space. Or so the tenants of Spaceport America and the New Mexico state government hope. But right now, the easiest thing to notice about Spaceport America is that it's empty. There's a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo in an otherwise empty hangar and a garage full of firetrucks for emergencies that aren't happening yet. Click here. (10/27)

Russia Plans to Grant Private Companies Access to Space Services Market (Source: Sputnik)
Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, will allow private companies access to the market of space services by 2020, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Tuesday. “By 2020, we plan to form an effective system of support for Russian corporations on the market of space services and allow private companies onto the market,” Rogozin said. (10/27)

Russia Slates Manned Moon Landing for 2029 (Source: Sputnik)
A manned lunar landing by Russian cosmonauts is planned for 2029, the head of the Russian Space Agency Energia said Tuesday. “A manned flight to the moon and lunar landing is planned for 2029,” Vladimir Solntsev said. The Energia chief, a spacecraft components manufacturer, said Russian scientists were building a new spacecraft made of composites specifically for moon missions. Its maiden flight is scheduled for 2021. (10/27)

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