December 15, 2015

Soyuz Launches with ISS Crew (Source:
A Soyuz spacecraft is en route to the International Space Station after a successful launch this morning. A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft lifted off on schedule at 6:03 a.m. Eastern from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and entered orbit nine minutes later. The Soyuz spacecraft is carrying Tim Kopra, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake to the ISS. The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the station at 12:24 p.m. EST. (12/15)

Schedule Setbacks Hurting $11B Satellite Program, GAO Says (Source: Law 360)
A pattern of missed deadlines in recent years contributed to the delay of a satellite launch now scheduled for late next year by NOAA, according to a study from the Government Accountability Office. GAO also said the delay of the launch, which will be part of the nearly $11 billion Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R program, will increase the chances that NOAA temporarily loses a backup option in the case one of its currently active satellites fails. (12/14)

Why We’re Going Back to the Moon—With or Without NASA (Source: Ars Technica)
If we really want to go back, there are essentially three pathways. One is the traditional NASA way, an all-government approach with huge contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin devouring lucrative cost-plus contracts. This has proven too expensive during past efforts to leave low-Earth orbit, first with the Space Exploration Initiative in the early 1990s and again during Constellation.

A second way is an all-commercial approach, led by private investors who might sell the water to NASA for rocket fuel or dredge up silicates in the lunar regolith and fabricate solar cells for use on the Moon or to beam power back to Earth. Opportunities abound, but as yet no company has been able to build a strong business case. Such proposals come with high upfront costs and distant profits.

A final pathway to the lunar surface involves some manner of public-private partnership, in which governments buy low-cost services from private companies. While NASA has disdained the Moon since 2010, its policies may change. Europe, too, is interested in an international partnership to develop the Moon as a follow-on project to the International Space Station. Click here. (12/15)

Cecil Spaceport's Path to Move Jacksonville into the Space Race (Source: Jacksonville Business Times)
Cecil Spaceport will lose money for its first four years, but its management team anticipates generating a small profit in year five. Funded mainly by grants, the space port — the only horizontal site on the East Coast — is trying to capture 40 percent of the state's market, the management team said in strategy documents the Business Journal obtained Monday.

The “Strategic Business Plan Executive Summary” outlines the group's plan to accomplish something other cities are also struggling to create: a viable and profitable private spaceport. The report was released to the Business Journal in response to a records request. “We won't be profitable in the short term,” Rusty Chandler said to the Business Journal. “This is for those who come after us.” Click here. (12/15)

Space Highlights of 2015 (Source: Aviation Week)
Space was an exciting frontier in 2015, with New Horizons’ Pluto flyby and the confirmation of water on Mars’s surface dominating the news. But commercial competition in space was also an important trend. Click here. (12/15)

Will New Small Launch Vehicles Expand Smallsat Market? (Source: Aviation Week)
An ongoing chicken-or-egg question in the space industry is whether there would be a market for more small satellites if there were small launch vehicles, or demand for small boosters if there were more smallsats. One side of that dilemma is being resolved with the dramatic growth in plans to launch constellations of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites down to the breadbox size of cubesats. And there is a corresponding increase in activity on the launcher side.

A conventional approach is being taken by startups Firefly Space Systems and Rocket Labs, which are developing vertically launched, liquid-oxygen/kerosene-fueled small boosters that use carbon-composite structures, 3-D-printed engines and other technologies to reduce cost. Rocket Labs’ Electron (see photo) is planned to fly in 2016 and place 150 kg (330 lb.) into 500-km (270-nm) sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) for $4.9 million. To fly in 2018, Firefly’s aerospike-engined Alpha is to place 200 kg into SSO for $8 million.

Others are taking a less traditional route to lower launch costs for smallsats, with CubeCab, Generation Orbit and Virgin Galactic among those developing air-launched boosters with reusable first stages—the carrier aircraft. Virgin is at the upper end of the market, with its 55,000-lb. LauncherOne designed to place 200 kg into SSO after release from its Boeing 747-400 mother ship, for $10 million, beginning in 2017. (12/11)

CIA Monitoring of the Soviet Manned Lunar Program (Source: Space Review)
With the declassification of more records, we are gaining a better idea of how much the CIA knew about the Soviet human spaceflight program, and when. Dwayne Day looks at those documents to see how the CIA tracked the development of a Soviet program to send humans to the Moon. Visit to view the article. (12/14)

Launch Failures: the Predictables (Source: Space Review)
Launch failures always come as a surprise, but some failures were, in retrospect, more predictable and preventable than others. Wayne Eleazer discusses some of those failures and how warning signs leading up to them were overlooked. Visit to view the article. (12/14)

Staking a Claim to Space Resources (Source: Space Review)
A small portion of a new commercial space law, dealing with space resources, has gotten an outsized degree of attention in recent weeks. Jeff Foust reports on the issues some have raised with that section of the bill and how US industry and government officials are defending it. Visit to view the article. (12/14)

Powering a Moon Base Through the Lunar Night (Source: Space Review)
One of the major challenges to supporting a lunar base is keeping it powered during the two-week lunar night. Joseph Barrett Bland, Michael Abramson, and Roger Arnold explore concepts for doing so using various beamed power approaches. Visit to view the article. (12/14)

The Space Shuttle Made in Switzerland (Source: SwissInfo)
A company led by Swiss engineer Pascal Jaussi is building a space shuttle by combining technologies from all over the world. Jaussi founded Swiss Space Systems in 2013. Through the firm, he is pursuing his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. The company’s goal is to make space accessible by developing, manufacturing and operating suborbital spaceplanes. Click here. (11/30)

Ellington to Get New Air Traffic Control Tower (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The Houston Airport System has been awarded a $3.1 million state grant to help build a new air traffic control tower at Ellington Airport, a project expected to top $7 million. "This is an important step forward for Ellington Airport, and a critical project to ensure the vital aviation operations based there can be carried out safely and efficiently," Houston Airport System director Mario Diaz said. The current tower was damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. (12/14)

Orbital ATK Launches New Target Vehicle for Missile Defense Test (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK successfully launched a Patriot Target Vehicle (PTV) for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). Orbital ATK’s PTV served as an intercept target for the U.S. Army Lower Tier Project Office (LTPO) Patriot missile defense system. The PTV was launched from Fort Wingate into the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. It flew a southerly trajectory over WSMR and was intercepted by the Patriot Advance Capability-3(PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor system during reentry. (12/14)

Spaceplanes vs Reusable Rockets – Which Will Win? (Source: The Conversation)
Launching satellites, spacecraft and people into space is expensive because we only use our launch vehicles once. After delivering their payloads into orbit, our rockets either burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. Imagine how expensive a transatlantic flight would be if aircraft made only a single flight before being scrapped – this is the situation with the commercial space industry.

Rocket fuel accounts for only 1,000th of the total launch cost, with the rest largely accounted for by the one-shot, disposable launch vehicle. Engineers have spent decades on this problem, and finally two different solutions have emerged: US-based SpaceX has built a rocket that can return to base, using its rocket engines to land vertically, while UK-based Reaction Engines is touting Skylon, a spaceplane built around its hybrid turbojet/rocket SABRE engine, which can travel into space – but takes off and lands on a runway like an aircraft.

Both solutions are promising. Both have significant financial support. But which approach is more economically sound? Will one solution render the other obsolete? Using the best information available, with support from BBC Sky at Night Magazine, I’ve tackled this question. Click here. (12/14)

UP Aerospace Plans Microsat Launcher (Source: Aviation Week)
Suborbital launch provider UP Aerospace is developing a dedicated cubesat launch vehicle that draws on the company’s experience with its rail-launched SpaceLoft sounding rocket. The Denver-based company completed its 10th SpaceLoft mission, for NASA, in early November. The Spyder launch vehicle is being designed to launch up to six 1U-size cubesats—10 X 10 X 10 cm (4 X 4 X 4 in.)—to a 200-nm low Earth orbit for a target cost per flight of $1 million. (12/14)

XCOR Engineers Announce Major Breakthrough in Engine Technology (Source: SpaceRef)
XCOR Director of Engineering and acting CTO Michael Valant announced today that his team has reached an important milestone in the development of the reusable 5K18 Lynx main propulsion rocket engine. His engineers were able to 'close the loop' of the thermodynamic system under test conditions, a key technology for the Lynx sub-orbital vehicle.

This technology includes a novel method to drive essential engine parts using waste heat from the rocket engine, thus eliminating the need for adding large, heavy compressed gas tanks to the vehicle. This propulsion system is an essential part of the Lynx “instant reusability” because it allows the vehicle to be flown multiple times per day without costly servicing of components. In addition, XCOR engine technology could be used to benefit other rocket-propelled vehicles in the same way. (12/14)

Stanford is a Pushover Compared With NASA’s Astronaut Program (Source: Newsweek)
NASA recently announced its next call for astronauts—it will accept applications beginning December 14 until February of next year—and the agency’s recruitment process makes the most competitive colleges look downright lax.

The agency received 6,113 applications between November 15, 2011, and January 27, 2012, according to Patrick Forrester, a veteran astronaut and deputy chief of the astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Only eight people—four men and four women—were selected. That means just 0.13 percent of applicants made it through.

Once applicants meet some minimum requirements, Forrester says, panelists in areas like biology, aviation and education narrow the pool down to roughly 400 “highly qualified” candidates and send out requests for references. After another round of cuts, 100 to 120 candidates go to Houston for a week for an interview with the astronaut selection board, extensive medical testing, psychological testing and team-building exercises. (11/24)

Simulating Human Space Missions - Are Earth Analogs Helpful? (Source: Air & Space)
The European Concordia Station in Antarctica hosted several ESA doctors and scientists during this past winter. Their aim is to gain an understanding of the physiological and psychological effects of long-term confinement and isolation of small human groups—a project promoted as important and necessary to prepare for the day when humans will journey to Mars and undertake other long-duration missions in space.

Articles describing these efforts could leave readers thinking that hazardous, isolated long-duration voyages were a new and unknown form of human activity. A typical narrative will emphasize how the crew is “trapped” in an alien and hostile environment and forced to “get along” with their crewmates while trying to remain alert, functioning and sane—imagining that no immediate help, or pre-arranged escape to safety, is possible.

People working in a setting where the menacing threat of death is constantly present is very dramatic. But do we really know so little about human endurance in these situations that current Earth simulations are relevant research for future mission to the planets? Click here. (12/14)

'Star Wars’ Class Wars: Is Mars the Escape Hatch for the 1 Percent? (Source: Newsweek)
The world sucks right now. Terrorism. Climate change. Political acrimony. Nonstop Justin Bieber songs. It’s nice to know Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have a plan. They will help the richest people in the world go to Mars and start over, leaving the other 99 percent to suffer on a dying, warring planet. The only solace for those of us left here will be that the Biebs should be prosperous enough to go with them.

This is the unspoken flip side of Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’s Blue Origin. The space travel companies say they are creating a way for the human species to endure by populating other planets. But the bottom line is that only the wealthy will have the means to move to Mars. Musk’s target ticket price is $500,000 a person in 2015 dollars, and that’s just to get there. Imagine the new outfits you’ll have to buy to go with that space helmet. Click here. (12/14)

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