November 25, 2015

Japan Hopes for More Commercial Launch Business (Source: Space News)
The successful launch of a communications satellite could unlock future commercial launch orders for Japan's H-2A rocket. The H-2A successfully launched Telesat's Telstar 12 Vantage satellite Tuesday on the first commercial mission for the launch vehicle. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the prime contractor for the H-2A, hopes to sell up to three commercial launches a year of the vehicle while seeking to reduce the vehicle's costs. (11/24)

NASA Considers Uses for Cislunar Habitat (Source: Space News)
As NASA works on plans to fly humans on long-duration missions between the Earth and moon in the 2020s, the agency is also starting to think about what astronauts would do on those flights. While NASA officials have talked for months about the possibility of developing cislunar habitats as an intermediate step in its plans for eventual human missions to the moon, the concept received an official endorsement in NASA’s “Journey to Mars” report published in October. (11/24)

NASA Finalizes Change To Accounting Rules For Contractors (Source: Law360)
NASA is finalizing a temporary rule aimed at simplifying the accounting procedures it requires of contractors, according to a notice that will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. The rule will make final a temporary change adopted in August, which increases the monetary threshold that determines whether NASA property in the contractor’s possession needs to be formally reported to the agency. The capitalization threshold, which previously was $100,000, will move permanently to $500,000. (11/24)

Could DSCOVR help in the hunt for exoplanets? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Could a space weather satellite be helpful in in the ongoing hunt for exoplanets? It now turns out it just might. According to a team of scientists led by Stephen Kane from the San Francisco State University, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), launched in February of this year to study space weather, could make a significant contribution to the search for distant alien worlds.

DSCOVR, operated by NOAA, was designed to monitor the solar wind and forecast space weather around Earth. It is equipped with two NASA instruments that are used to observe the Earth in detail: the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) and the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC). EPIC provides high-resolution spectral images of the Earth, whereas NISTAR is designed to measure the reflected and emitted energy from the entire sunlit face of our planet.

According to Kane and his colleagues, data obtained by these instruments provide a unique opportunity to help in the search for extrasolar worlds by monitoring the Earth as if it were an exoplanet. They findings were detailed in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server. (11/24)

Obama is About to Give Private Space Companies a Big Break (Source: Fortune)
A bill currently awaiting President Obama’s signature would exempt private spaceflight companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic from most U.S. government oversight for the next eight years.

The legislation would extend a so-called “learning period” for the industry until at least 2023, keeping agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration from regulating commercial space companies as closely as the rest of the aerospace industry. The bill also covers ownership and extraction of resources in space (think: asteroid mining) and extends U.S. commitment to the International Space Station into the next decade. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week. (11/24)

Will Reusable Rockets Bring Us Closer to Consumer Space Travel? (Source: Marketplace)
The New Shepard can now be reused, a goal for many aerospace firms. “What is a big deal is to be able to reuse any part of the actual rocket, and to be able to reuse, particularly, the engines, because that’s what costs a lot of money,” said Marco Caceres, who's with the aerospace consultancy Teal Group.

Lowering costs could make space tourism more viable, according to travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt with Atmosphere Research Group.  That said, Harteveldt said space travel has a long way to go before it will become cheap or commonplace. “Don't expect to see $69 trips into space any time soon,” he said. Click here. (11/24)

Commercial Space Travel: a Decade of Broken Promises (Source: Tech World)
Commercial space travel does seem to be on the horizon – but the past decade seems to be mainly one of over-hype and under-delivery. Here are just a few of the times companies have promised – and failed – to deliver commercial space travel. Click here. (11/24)

NASA's New Spaceship Looks Sleeker Than a Sports Car (Source: Business Insider)
Elon Musk's rocket company, SpaceX, just got NASA's green light to start ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017. SpaceX already has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the ISS, but now it has finally convinced the space agency that its Dragon spaceship can safely transport humans. Take a look inside the sleek new space capsule that future astronauts will travel in. Click here. (11/20)

Musk Lauds Bezos' Suborbital Accomplishment (Source: Huffington Post)
Blue Origin is a rival to Elon Musk's SpaceX, another private company invested in the development of advanced rockets and spacecraft. Blue Origin's "historic" controlled landing edges out SpaceX in the race to create a successful reusable rocket, according to The Verge.

Musk offered a lukewarm congratulation to Bezos on Twitter this morning, calling the New Shepard a "booster" instead of a "rocket." Musk also noted the importance of distinguishing between "space" and "orbit" in another tweet, an apparent knock at Bezos' description of the New Shepard's landing.

Blue Origin will spend the next few years in testing before sending humans into space, Bezos said. Although he didn't offer an estimate for ticket prices aboard future commercial space flights, Bezos told CBS that he "can't wait to go." (11/24)

Blue Origin Beats SpaceX in Landing Reusable Rocket (Source: Popular Science)
In an historic first, the private company founded by Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos has become the first to land a reuseable rocket that's traveled to and from space. On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launched 330,000 feet into the air. An unmanned crew capsule separated from the rocket on its way up, completing its own successful landing. Then the rocket grazed the lower reaches of space before returning to Earth and slowly touching down in a blaze of glory.

Blue Origin competitor SpaceX has been attempting similar landings with its Falcon 9 rocket (on floating landing pads in the Atlantic Ocean), but it hasn’t quite managed to stick its landing yet. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter early this morning to congratulate Blue Origin for succeeding in its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) test, but would like to point out that the rockets aren’t quite going high enough, or fast enough, to compete with his own company. (11/24)

Why You Shouldn't Compare Blue Origin's Rocket Landing to SpaceX (Source: The Verge)
For the past year, SpaceX has been trying to gently land its Falcon 9 rocket after launching it into space. The goal is for a large portion of the Falcon 9 to touchdown on a floating barge at sea post-launch, but the two times SpaceX has tried it after a return from space, the rocket was unable to stick the landing. A recovery of the rocket would be a major step toward making a fully reusable rocket — something that’s never been done before.

Is it fair to compare Blue Origin with SpaceX and the types of landings they're trying to achieve for their vehicles? Not exactly. The New Shepard isn't meant to go as far up as the Falcon 9, however, which is echoed in the rocket's shape. The vehicle is only designed to take people to sub-orbital space for about four minutes.

To be fair, the part of the Falcon 9 that SpaceX is trying to recover doesn't actually reach orbit, either. The company is only looking to land the first stage of the vehicle — the long rocket body that houses the main engines and most of the fuel. This section breaks apart from the rest of the rocket in sub-orbital space before falling back to Earth. Yet it reaches an ultimate height of 124 miles, twice the height of the 62-mile height at which New Shepard starts falling. (11/24)

Boeing Seeks 'Alter Ego' Presumption In Sea Launch Trial (Source: Law360)
Boeing asked a California federal judge Sunday to sanction a Russian state-controlled space company's subsidiaries with a presumption that they are legally indistinct from their parent, as the aerospace giant seeks to recoup $111 million it says they owe over a failed Sea Launch satellite-launching joint venture. (11/24)

Why NASA Couldn't Just Use Hubble Telescope to See Pluto (Source: CBC)
As NASA continues to release highly detailed, unprecedented images of the dwarf planet Pluto captured by the New Horizons probe, it raises the question: Why couldn't it have just used the powerful Hubble telescope to capture the same scenes, instead of sending a spacecraft across the solar system on a $700-million (US) mission? Why is Hubble able to get extremely detailed images of galaxies and nebulae millions of light years away, but when it comes to taking pictures of Pluto, it shows up as a blurry ball?

The answer is straightforward but perhaps not intuitive. Pluto may be close, but it is very small. Galaxies millions of light years away appear larger (as seen from Earth), and that is why the Hubble is able to photograph them in more detail, and why NASA had to send a spacecraft to get good photos of Pluto. (11/16)

NASA Announces Partnership With Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Last week, NASA announced that it had selected Virgin Galactic as a partner in its Collaborative Opportunities program. As part of this new partnership, NASA will provide Virgin Galactic with technical expertise and access to test facilities to aid the development of our LauncherOne small satellite launch service. Specifically, NASA’s Ames Research Center experts will provide analysis, simulation, and expertise related to LauncherOne’s concept of operations, aerodynamics system, thermal protection systems, and materials.

This announcement represents our third competitively-bid partnership with NASA; previously, NASA announced it has purchased flights on board both SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne, with which it will fly dozens of experiments and small satellites built by universities, start-ups, and government labs. While we are proud to be a privately-funded and commercially-operated business, we are also thrilled to be working with an organization as iconic and successful as NASA. (11/23)

Air Force Official Sees Issues with Space Launch Priorities (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. could struggle to promote competition in its space launch program while also maintaining two independent ways to launch satellites and ending U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines, a top U.S. Air Force official said. "You're going to have to choose two of those three. I don't think you can get all three in the next four or five years," William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told reporters.

His comments came after ULA said it would not bid to launch the next global positioning system (GPS) satellite, effectively ceding the competition to privately held SpaceX. ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, said it was unable to submit a bid in compliance with the competition's rules because of how the contest was structured, and because it lacked Russian-built RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket.

LaPlante and other Air Force officials have urged Congress to allow ULA to use additional Russian engines for military launches until a new U.S.-built engine is available. The ban still affects 9 of 29 engines that ULA had ordered from Russia, but not paid for, before Russia annexed Crimea. ULA has said that five engines approved for ULA's use by Congress last year were assigned to other missions and were not available for use in a bid for the new GPS launch. (11/24)

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