November 24, 2015

McCain Phses to Keep RD-180 Ban (Source: Space News)
Sen. John McCain wants appropriators to keep an RD-180 engine ban in place. McCain said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran that appropriators should not circumvent limits on the number of RD-180 engines established in defense authorization bills.

Sen. Richard Shelby said last week that he would seek to allow the Air Force to acquire as many RD-180 engines as needed until a replacement is available. "Recent attempts by the incumbent contractor to manufacture a crisis by prematurely diminishing its stockpile of engines," McCain said in a letter, referring to United Launch Alliance, "should be viewed with skepticism and scrutinized heavily." (11/23)

Blue Origin Launches and Lands (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepard vehicle on a suborbital test flight Monday. The uncrewed vehicle flew to a peak altitude of 100.5 kilometers and top speed of Mach 3.72 from the company's West Texas test site. Its crew capsule parachuted to a landing while its propulsion module made a powered vertical landing. A hydraulics problem on an April test flight prevented the module from landing safely.  (11/24)

Japan Launches Commercial Satellite (Source:
An H-2A rocket successfully launched a communications satellite for Telesat Tuesday. The upgraded H-2A lifted off at 1:50 a.m. Eastern time after a short delay due to a boat in restricted waters. The Telstar 12 Vantage satellite separated from the upper stage at 6:17 a.m. Eastern. The launch was a rare commercial mission for the H-2A. (11/23)

Aerojet Gets Boost with NASA, Boeing Contracts (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced two contracts Monday valued at nearly $1.4 billion. The company signed a $1.16 billion contract with NASA to restart production of the RS-25 engines that will be used on future launches of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The company also announced a $200 million contract with Boeing to provide the propulsion system for the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle. Both awards were expected, as Aerojet Rocketdyne has been building RS-25 engines since the shuttle program and has been working with Boeing on the CST-100 since 2010. (11/23)

Planet Labs Boosts Staff (Source: Planet Labs)
Planet Labs has hired three new executives, including one experienced in stock offerings and acquisitions. Among the new hires is David Oppenheimer, who will be chief financial officer. He is described as a "serial CFO" who has worked with several startups in initial public offerings of stock as well as mergers and acquisitions.  Also joining the company are Andy Wild as chief revenue officer and Karthik Govindhasamy as senior vice president for spacecraft engineering. (11/23)
Will NASA Ever Send Astronauts To Pluto? (Source: Forbes)
With its nitrogen-dominated atmosphere and water-rich icy surface, Pluto seems much more hospitable than even the most sanguine planetary scientists would have wagered a decade ago. But could it ever play host to an Antarctic-styled research station? That is, as a base to routinely house researcher/astronauts out to give humans a foothold in the outer reaches of our solar system?

“The biggest obstacle is going to be how far you are from the Sun,” Will Grundy, head of New Horizons’ surface composition team and a planetary scientist at Lowell Observatory, told me. In really rough numbers, says Grundy, we get a thousand watts per square meter from the Sun and it’s only one watt per sq. meter at Pluto, so you have to make up the extra 999 watts to keep the temperature comfortable. (11/24)

XCOR Founders Leave Company (Source: Space News)
Three co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have left the company. XCOR said Monday that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were "stepping back" from the company; a third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, is also leaving. Greason will remain on the company's board. XCOR is developing the Lynx suborbital spaceplane, the prototype for which is being assembled for test flights. The company has not released a schedule of when those flights will begin. (11/23)

Major Management Shakeup Leaves XCOR’s Future in Question (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
XCOR announced the departure of two of the founders of the organization in an apparent management reshuffle on Nov. 23. “We owe both men a lot of gratitude for all the time, energy and groundbreaking ideas they have been contributing to our company and the industry and of course we look forward to possibly working together in the future,” said XCOR’s CEO Jay Gibson.

Missing from the press release were status details on the company’s other two founders, Aleta Jackson and Doug Jones. Shortly after the release went public, Jackson announced she was no longer with the company. Doug Jones, the fourth founder appears to still be at XCOR. Speculation about the departures can be found on blogs and forums all over the internet. As of the posting of this article, no one at XCOR has returned SpaceFlight Insider’s inquiries about the situation.

Editor's Note: This follows the departure of other key staff when the company began its transition from Mojave to Midland, Texas. This may not be a sign of programmatic trouble, but Midland should be concerned as it has built an entire spaceport program around XCOR. Texas and Midland have put millions of dollars behind XCOR and companies like Orbital Outfitters with the expectation that a vibrant commercial spaceflight industry would take root. (11/24)

Launch Schedule Changes Affect ISS Crew Rotation (Source: Sputnik)
Changes in launch schedules are affecting crew rotations for the ISS. Three current ISS crewmembers will return to Earth Dec. 11, 11 days earlier than planned to accommodate the delayed launch of a Russian Progress cargo mission, now planned for Dec. 21. Their replacements, now scheduled to launch Dec. 15, said they will stay on the station for seven months instead of the previously scheduled six. (11/23)

Garver: NASA Must Shed "Socialist" Approach to Space Exploration (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA's former deputy administrator says the agency should not try to compete with the private sector. At a recent panel, Lori Garver said some at NASA approached her after SpaceX announced its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, asking her to talk SpaceX out of it since it might compete with NASA's plans. "NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians," she said. "Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration." (11/23)

Mars Will be a Ringed Planet (Source:
Mars will one day become a ringed planet. A new study confirmed earlier analysis that one of the moons of Mars, Phobos, will break up because of the planet's gravitational pull in about 20 to 40 million years. That breakup will create a ring of debris orbiting the planet that will gradually reenter over the next 100 million years, according to the new study. (11/23)

Space-Faring Tardigrade (Water Bear) Has the Most Foreign DNA of Any Animal (Source: Meta)
The tardigrade, also known as the water bear, is renowned for many reasons. The nearly indestructible micro-organism is known to have the capacity to survive extreme temperatures (-272C to 151C), and is the only animal able to survive in the vacuum of space.

The humble water bear can add another item to its exhaustive list of superlatives. Sequencing of the genome has revealed that a massive portion of the tiny organism’s genome is of foreign origin. Indeed, nearly 17.5% of the water bear’s genome is comprised of foreign DNA, translating to a genetic complement of approximately 6,000 genes. These genes are primarily of bacterial origin, though genes from fungi and plants have also been identified. (11/23)

NASA Restarts RS-25 Engine Production for SLS (Source: Space Daily)
NASA selected Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to restart production of the RS-25 engine for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, and deliver a certified engine. SLS will use four RS-25 engines to carry the agency's Orion spacecraft and launch explorers on deep space missions, including to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit and ultimately to Mars. (11/24)

Space Travel Transcends Current Politics (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
Russia and the United States play leading roles in international cooperation for the ISS — but the two countries recently clashed over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine last year, and over reactions to the situation in Syria.

I had thought that space development cooperation was seriously set back because of the negative impact from their souring relations, which could be called a new type of Cold War, but a Japanese expert in space development said reality surpassed expectations. “Space development has not been affected by political conflicts, and the United States and Russia have not changed their cooperative attitudes,” the expert said. (11/23)

UAE National Space Program Lifts Off (Source: The National)
High school and university students from across the UAE now have the chance to directly shape the future of space exploration. Two competitions giving students the opportunity to watch their experiments blast off on a rocket to the International Space Station were announced on Tuesday at the launch of The National Space Program in Abu Dhabi.

In the initial stages of the programme, The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s English-language newspaper, has partnered with the UAE Space Agency and Boeing in launching the contests during UAE innovation Week. Competitions include Genes in Space, a contest that challenges high school students to create a DNA analysis experiment, and the Satellite Launch project which will see a university team build a data-driven satellite – winners of both projects will see their creations launched into space. (11/24)

Bacteria Build Bendy Plastic that Astronauts Could Use for Tools (Source: New Scientist)
Sheets of plastic made by E. coli can fold into whatever shape you desire. Astronauts on long missions might one day rely on such bacterial origami to make tools on the go. On a spacecraft, every inch of storage space is precious, says astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild of NASA’s Ames Research Center. There’s a strict limit to how much you can fit in a launch vehicle. (11/24)

Earth Might Have Hairy Dark Matter (Source: NASA JPL)
A new study proposes the existence of long filaments of dark matter, or "hairs." Neither dark matter nor dark energy has ever been directly detected, although many experiments are trying to unlock the mysteries of dark matter, whether from deep underground or in space.

According to calculations done in the 1990s and simulations performed in the last decade, dark matter forms "fine-grained streams" of particles that move at the same velocity and orbit galaxies such as ours. "When gravity interacts with the cold dark matter gas during galaxy formation, all particles within a stream continue traveling at the same velocity," Prézeau said.

But what happens when one of these streams approaches a planet such as Earth? Prézeau used computer simulations to find out. His analysis finds that when a dark matter stream goes through a planet, the stream particles focus into an ultra-dense filament, or "hair," of dark matter. In fact, there should be many such hairs sprouting from Earth. (11/24)

Firefly Aims To Build the ‘Model T of Rockets’ (Source: Space News)
At least 25 companies have announced plans to build rockets to meet the growing demand for small-satellite launches, but Firefly Space Systems does not plan to blend into that pack.

“The driving theme of our company is to distinguish ourselves as soon as possible from the crowd that talks about doing this and to join an elite group of people that can actually field technology to get things to space,” said Thomas Markusic, Firefly chief executive.

Markusic, a propulsion engineer who worked at NASA, the U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin before founding Firefly, plans to build a family of simple expendable rockets offering dedicated rides for satellites weighing less than 1,000 kilograms. (11/24)

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