November 14, 2015

Lawmakers Charge U.S. Access To Space At Risk Due To Pentagon Inaction (Source: Forbes)
A bipartisan group of 14 congressional heavy-hitters representing California sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter complaining that the Pentagon “is not meeting its legal obligation” to sustain an industrial base capable of assuring U.S. military access to space.

The letter cited recent industry moves in response to changing market conditions and congressional mandates aimed at stopping the use of Russian rocket engines; it said the moves were eroding the reliability of an already fragile launch sector.  But the main focus of the letter was on the failure of Air Force leaders to prevent recent trends from leading to a potential collapse in space-launch capabilities. The letter appears to have been inspired by California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne. (11/13)

Flightless or No, SpaceX Investors Say its Value has Grown 15% Since January (Source: Quartz)
With all the focus on fund-manager Fidelity’s 25% markdown of its investment in Snapchat last week, one of the few private investments the firm boosted flew under the radar: Fidelity said its stake in Elon Musk’s rocket-maker SpaceX grew by 15% since January, which would value the company at more than $11.5 billion.

This is despite SpaceX’s explosive launch failure in June, and the six months delay in returning to operations—which has had outsiders focused on the company’s growing pains as it establishes itself as a serious player in the space access industry and contemplates new ventures in satellite construction.

Fidelity invested in SpaceX in January 2015, putting up $16.75 million to join Google in a $1 billion fundraising round. At the time, SpaceX said the two new investors owned just under 10% of the company, suggesting a valuation of just over $10 billion. (11/13)

Could Georgia's Spaceport Provide Competition for Jacksonville's? (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Cecil Spaceport — Jacksonville's own planned facility at Cecil Airport where objects will be launched into space via special airplanes — is one step closer to completion, with a key federal approval to start to move forward with construction. On Tuesday, the environmental assessment of the area was completed with no further comments or questions from the FAA.

“There were portions of the ramp we could complete prior to the environmental assessment,” said Kelly Dollarhide, airport manager for Cecil. “But now there are major portions that can be completed. As we get any final comments from the FAA, the process should go quickly. We hope to have it completed by end of November.”

Meanwhile, Cecil might be getting some company with a new spaceport planned for nearby, but that won't mean it's getting any new competition. Camden County, Georgia, is planning its own space center just an hour's drive from Cecil but with one big difference from Jacksonville's facility: Camden County is planning a vertical launching port, while Jacksonville's launches horizontally. (11/13)

Why We Need a New Definition of the Word 'Planet' (Source: LA Times)
Is it time for a new definition of “planet”? Planetary scientist Jean-Luc Margot says the answer is yes. The current definition was decreed by the International Astronomical Union just nine years ago. The problem is, it applies to only bodies within our solar system.

Margot proposes solving this problem with a new, simpler definition that would apply to the thousands of known worlds that orbit stars other than the sun. More of these so-called exoplanets are being found all the time thanks to NASA’s Kepler space telescope and other planet-hunting observatories. “We have thousands of bodies that need classification right now,” he said. (11/13)

ITU Aircraft-Tracking Decision Bolsters Aireon (Source: Space News)
Global governments’ approval of radio spectrum permitting aircraft to provide additional tracking data to satellites reduces the chance of another lost jet like Malaysian Airlines MH370 and immediately improves the business case for mobile satellite services provider Iridium Satellites and its Aireon LLC aircraft-tracking affiliate.

The decision, made Nov. 11 by the 163 governments attending the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in Geneva, came only after military users of nearby frequencies were assured that their Identification, Friend or Foe signals would not be upset by the civilian flight-tracking service. (11/13)

Outer Space: The Final Frontier of Biopharma R&D (Source: BioPharma Dive)
To hear drug makers speak of the innovation and scientific potential that drives their projects, you might get the impression that the sky's the limit in the contemporary life sciences industry. But the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) wants to take biopharma to even greater heights—all the way to the U.S. National Laboratory in the International Space Station (ISS).

CASIS has the lofty—and, let's just admit it, downright cool—goal of encouraging companies and innovators down here on Earth to take their research to the cosmos. The organization was tasked with overseeing the ISS U.S. National Lab by NASA in 2011, and describes its mission as maximizing "use of this unparalleled platform for innovation, which can benefit all humankind and inspire a new generation to look to the stars."

That means an intimate involvement with the life sciences industry, from which several major players have already begun to take advantage of the National Lab's unique offerings. Now, CASIS has a message for the industry at large: If you're interested in the possibility of taking your R&D efforts beyond the bounds of Earth, the National Lab is open for business. (11/11)

FDOT Publishes Handbook for Spaceport Projects (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Department of Transportation has created an Aviation & Spaceports Office that supports the distribution of transportation infrastructure funding for spaceport projects in the state, in cooperation with Space Florida. Click here for a description of how this office supports space transportation initiatives, including their publication of a new Florida Spaceports Project Handbook. (11/14)

USAF Awards ULA $373M Contract Modification for Rocket Production Services (Source: GovCon Wire)
United Launch Alliance has been awarded a $373.3 million contract modification by the U.S. Air Force to provide launch vehicle production services for two National Reconnaissance Office rockets. The Defense Department said Thursday that ULA will support the configurations of a Delta IV Heavy and an Atlas V 421 for the agency.

ULA will perform work through Jan. 30, 2019, at the company’s facilities in Alabama and Colorado as well as at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida. The AF Space and Missile Systems Center in California is the contracting activity and will obligate $105 million at the time of award from the military branch’s fiscal 2016 missile procurement funds. (11/13)

U.S.-Russian Talks on Venus Mission Resume (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA has resumed discussions with Russia on a potential joint robotic mission to Venus in the late 2020s after the Ukraine crisis stalled the partnership, according to scientists involved in the talks. Russian scientists have studied the Venera-D mission to Venus more than a decade as a follow-up to the Soviet-era Venera and Vega probes to the second rock from the sun. (11/12)

Two-Stage Process Formed Moon, Simulations Suggest (Source: Science News)
Rocks on Earth and the moon are nearly identical — except when they’re not. Now new computer simulations might be close to figuring out why lunar samples are in many ways chemically identical to counterparts on Earth and yet missing a few key ingredients.

Easily vaporized elements, known as volatiles, are largely missing from moon rocks but might be sequestered deep in the lunar interior. This core is hidden beneath a crust that accumulated in a second phase of moon formation, planetary scientist Robin Canup reported. Click here. (11/13)

Our Moon Would be a Planet Under New Definition of Planethood (Source: New Scientist)
When is the moon not a moon? If a new proposal for defining planethood is adopted, the moon could be considered a planet in its own right. The meaning of the word “planet” has been a sore point since 2006, when, after a hurried argument, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) adopted a definition demanding that a planet be nearly round and be massive enough to have accreted or flung away other objects in its orbital neighborhood.

Famously, this excludes Pluto, recently revealed by the New Horizons mission to be a stunningly complex world. Even astronomers who are quite happy with Pluto’s dwarf-planet status have misgivings about the definition. Its criteria are vague, and it refers only to our solar system – so it excludes the thousands of worlds detected around other stars since the definition was written. Click here. (11/13)

VAB Receiving Fire Suppression System Upgrades (Source:
Kennedy Space Center’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is continuing its preparations to host the Space Launch System (SLS) and commercial rockets, with modifications from the ground up. The revamp includes a modernization of its inner workings, including the fire suppression system – a key safety element for the massive building. (11/12)

Orbital ATK Showcases 'Enhanced Cygnus' Ahead of December Launch (Source: AmericaSpace)
Three weeks before its long-awaited return to flight, Orbital ATK showed off its next Cygnus cargo spacecraft, which will deliver more than 7,000 pounds (3,100 kg) of supplies to the incumbent Expedition 45 crew of the International Space Station (ISS) in early December.

The mission will be the first ISS-bound cargo mission to be executed under the auspices of Orbital ATK. As well as representing the first Cygnus to fly since last year’s catastrophic loss of ORB-3, the mission will also demonstrate the new “Enhanced” configuration of the cargo ship, whose Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) is longer and can deliver an approximately 60 percent larger haul of payloads and supplies than its predecessor. (11/14)

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