November 10, 2015

ORBITEC Expands Vortex Rocket Engine Family with New Propellants (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s wholly-owned subsidiary Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) recently completed successful testing and demonstration of three different propellant combinations for its existing 30,000-pound thrust vortex rocket engine. Completing this advancement in less than a year, ORBITEC is rapidly progressing its offering of engines for orbital maneuvering, upper-stage engines that ignite at high altitude, and small-to-medium-scale air and ground launch stage engines.

These tests demonstrate the ability to transition use of different propellant combinations in the same core rocket engine design with slight changes to accommodate a specific combination of fuel and oxidizer, including propane and kerosene fuels with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and liquid oxygen oxidizers. This latest development offers customers a suite of engines scalable to higher thrust levels and customer-selected fuel combinations from a single core rocket engine design. (11/10)

GAO Scraps Challenge To $1.2B NASA Maintenance Award (Source: Law360)
A Tennessee company cannot challenge a $1.2 billion NASA maintenance contract awarded to a PAE unit, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a decision released Monday, finding the agency properly deemed the protestor’s bid flawed. According to the GAO, NASA was well within its rights to select PAE’s Syncom Space Services LLC, or S3, for a massive contract to service technical facilities at Stennis Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center. (11/10)

NSBRI Funds Tech Companies [One in Florida] (Source: NSBRI)
Two small companies developing state-of-the-art medical technologies have been selected to receive grants from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI). LumosTech, Inc. is a Stanford University-based startup company developing a programmable mask that uses light therapy during sleep to adjust a person to a new time-zone.  eVision Smart Optics, Inc. of Sarasota, Florida is developing electronic smart glasses that can change eye prescriptions, as needed. (11/9)

Seattle's Would-Be Space Tourism Consultant on Planning for Liftoff (Source: Inverse)
Seven space tourists have paid their way into orbit. That’s it. But the prohibitive price tags and technological hurdles stiff-arming the mass market don’t concern Sean McClinton, a Seattle-based luxury travel consultant determined to see a million people clear the atmosphere in his lifetime.

The founder of the 400-strong group Space Entrepreneurs, McClinton is on an economic mission, sure — he wants to provide boutique orbital options — but he’s also a humanitarian. McClinton is obsessed by the Overview Effect, the theory that anyone who looks down on their homeworld will want to save it. McClinton wants to make a business of converting people with the means to travel upwards to the nebulous pro-Earth cause. (11/9)

FAA Plans December 7 Meeting on Georgia Spaceport Project (Source: Tribune & Georgian)
The FAA plans a December 7 public meeting to present information and gather public comments about Spaceport Camden. The public scoping meeting will be held from 5-8 p.m. Citizens can submit their comments in writing to the FAA. From 6-6:15 p.m., an FAA representative will provide an overview of the environmental process. From 6:15-8 p.m., citizens can submit their comments verbally. (11/9)

Dark Matter Uncovered (Source: Cosmos)
Much of the matter in the universe consists of stuff we can't see. It is dubbed "dark matter" and we know it must be out there. Without dark matter, rapidly spinning galaxies would not have sufficient gravitational glue to hold their stars and gas clouds together. Click here. (11/10)

What it Takes to be an Astronaut Nowadays (Source: CBC)
NASA is looking to recruit new astronauts who want to head to the Moon and Mars. But what it is looking for is a moving target, according to a former astronaut-candidate with the Canadian Space Agency. Geoff Steeves, associate professor with the University of Victoria and instructor at the International Space University shares his thoughts on what it takes to make it into space these days. Click here. (11/9)

First Residents Coming to New Russian Spaceport Town (Source: Tass)
First residents of the city of Tsiolkovsky that is being built in the vicinity of the Vostochny space center also under construction in Russia’s Far Eastern Amur region will begin to settle in their new homes in November-early December 2015, Andrei Okhlopkov, a deputy chief of the center for operation of ground-based space infrastructure facilities, said on Monday. (11/10)

Licensing Georgia's Spaceport Camden (Source: Brunswick & Glynn County EDC)
As you’ve probably heard by now, Camden County has a real opportunity to establish a commercially operated spaceport. The FAA is moving forward with licensing the spaceport but the first step is to prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study. Before the FAA will move forward, they want to know that the spaceport has public support.  Please shoot an email to the FAA voicing your support for Spaceport Camden. Click here. (11/9)

For SpaceX, Rapid Growth Brings Many Challenges (Source: Space News)
The latest employee lawsuit against rocket maker SpaceX makes clear that the emerging entrepreneurial space industry is not immune to the labor pains that the more traditional companies have dealt with for years. The lawsuit, filed Oct. 19 by former SpaceX technician Stan Saprito in California’s Superior Court for Los Angeles County, alleges that the company violated state law by not properly accounting for overtime and forcing workers to go more than five hours without a 30-minute meal break.

Whether or not there is any merit to Mr. Saprito’s lawsuit remains to be seen. In a statement, SpaceX denied the claims and said it would refute them in court. SpaceX is easily the biggest and most recognizable of the new breed of entrepreneurial space companies fueled by Silicon Valley venture capital and the accompanying work ethic.

SpaceX has crossed the threshold from feisty startup to established player, with the obligations that go with it. The company now has 4,000 employees and is under tremendous pressure to work off its substantial commercial backlog even as it seeks to make inroads into the lucrative government launch market. (11/9)

Arecibo Observatory Director Quits After Funding Row (Source: Nature)
Physicist Robert Kerr uses irony to describe the first hint of trouble: “Radio quiet,” he calls it. After four years as director of the Arecibo Observatory, home to the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, he says, he was suddenly out of the loop: contacts at NSF, which owns the Arecibo Observatory, and SRI International, the contractor that runs it, stopped returning his e-mails and phone calls.

After a month of silence, Kerr was stripped of his role as the observatory’s principal investigator. Shortly afterward he resigned from his other post, as operations director. Kerr traces his departure to a disagreement over a possible windfall for the Puerto Rico observatory. In late July, he publicly criticized the NSF for planning to cut its contribution to Arecibo if the facility began taking payments for helping in a private survey for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

NSF officials say that his assertions were inaccurate and that its communication with Kerr never lapsed. Whatever the facts, some Arecibo observers see Kerr’s exit as an ill-timed loss for a storied, but financially threatened, scientific facility that faces a murky future. (11/9)

Astrotech Reports Quarterly Financials (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech’s first quarter of fiscal year 2016 loss from continuing operations was $3.5 million, compared to $1.3 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. The increase reflects 1st Detect’s larger sales team and R&D investment. At September 30, 2015, the company had $28.6 million in cash, short term investments, and an indemnity receivable; there was no debt.

Editor's Note: Astrotech Corp. sold its satellite processing business to Lockheed Martin, which for some reason kept the name and operates "Astrotech Space Operations" as a wholly owned subsidiary, located near the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (11/9)

Ice Volcanoes Spotted on Pluto, Suggest Internal Heat Source (Source: Science)
Researchers on NASA’s New Horizons mission have discovered evidence on Pluto for what appears to be two cryovolcanoes—volcanoes built out of frozen ice that once oozed molten ice from the inside of the dwarf planet.

The discovery points to an internal heat source that, at some point in Pluto’s past, drove the melting of interior reservoirs of volatile ices, such as nitrogen and methane, that then erupted at the surface. It also suggests that the cryovolcanoes were a way for Pluto to periodically rejuvenate surface supplies of these volatile ices, which sublimate into the thin atmosphere and are eventually lost to space. (11/9)

Overcoming Non-Technical Challenges to Cleaning up Orbital Debris (Source: Space Review)
Dealing with the growing threat of orbital debris requires more than just technical solutions. Al Anzaldua and Dave Dunlop describe regulatory and other concepts to help implement solutions to mitigate and remediate orbital debris. Visit to view the article. (11/9)

Future's Past: The Astronauts of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Source: Space Review)
More than 45 years after its release, "2001: A Space Odyssey" remains one of the classics of science fiction, and one of the most influential films on the American space program. Dwayne Day discusses a panel session at a recent conference featuring the actors who played two astronauts in the movie. Visit to view the article. (11/9)

Adding Layers to 3-D Printing in Space (Source: Space Review)
Last year saw the first successful demonstrations of 3-D printing on the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports on how one company is looking to build on this to develop new applications of this technology in space. Visit to view the article. (11/9)

The Lunar Electrical Power Utility (Source: Space Review)
Any development on the Moon, by either governments or commercial entities, will require access to significant amounts of electrical power. A group of lunar exploration advocates argue that the creation of a lunar power utility could help foster that development. Visit to view the article. (11/9)

Virgin Galactic Recruits Female Test Pilot Kelly Latimer (Source:
Kelly Latimer, the first female research test pilot ever to join what is now NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, has joined Virgin Galactic as the spaceflight company's newest pilot. Latimer, a retired a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, worked on NASA projects such as the 747 space shuttle carrier aircraft, the T-34 and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a flying astronomical observatory. (11/9)

SpaceX Conducts Test Rollout for 39A Transporter/Erector (Source:
SpaceX has conducted a rollout of its giant Transporter/Erector strongback system at the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A. The test rollout – from the company’s newly constructed Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) – allowed engineers to conduct a variety of checks, in preparation for transporting the first Falcon Heavy rocket to the historic pad next year. (11/9)

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