December 24, 2015

Inmarsat Places Big Contract with Airbus for New Satellites (Source: BBC)
Inmarsat, the British satellite telecommunications company, has awarded the contract to build its next-generation constellation to Airbus and Thales. Two spacecraft have been ordered at a cost of roughly 550m euros (£405m). They will be built at the aerospace giant's factories in Portsmouth and Stevenage in southern England. Inmarsat provides mobile connections to ships, planes, oil and gas platforms, and the broadcasting industry. (12/24)

Pentagon Vows Tough Scrutiny of Raytheon GPS Control System (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon's chief arms buyer on Tuesday vowed "very intense management" of Raytheon Co's work on a ground control network for new global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and said the department would revisit other options if Raytheon's performance did not improve.

Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall told Reuters he believed a new plan that delays completion of the ground system by two years would ultimately succeed, but said the U.S. Defense Department - and he personally - would remain vigilant. Kendall approved the revamped schedule after a Dec. 4 review of the troubled program, whose projected cost has more than doubled to $3.6 billion, including inflation. (12/24)

SpaceX Rocket Landing: Dawn Of New Space Age? (Source: Information Week)
The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner -- each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime.

The objective of reusable rockets is to lower the across-the-board costs for space flight, which could result a series of developments including new types of space ventures, including commercial flights and space tourism. "With lower costs and competition, prices could fall, stimulating demand for more access to space," said Scott Pace.

Farther in the future, these types of reusable rocket technologies could help drive down costs low enough to make a mission to Mars -- something Musk has stressed the importance of -- a more financially feasible goal. (12/24)

Russia Tries Becoming Market For The Next SpaceX (Source: Forbes)
In a sign of things to come in the Russian space business, tiny Dauria Aerospace in Moscow sold two Perseus-brand micro satellites to earth imaging firm Aquila Space in California. Total value of the contract, not counting licensing fees, was put at $6 million, Dauria said. Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, used to be only game in town. But in October, the government said that Roscosmos, like NASA in the U.S., will now allow private companies access to the market of space services within four short years.

“By 2020, we plan to form an effective system of support for Russian corporations on the market of space services and allow private companies onto the market,” Rogozin said during a tech forum in Moscow in October. He did not say whether foreign firms like SpaceX in the U.S. would be allowed to bid for projects. The U.S. and Russia have an open relationship on space exploration. Both share equal responsibility on the International Space Station, regardless of geopolitical spats on Earth. (12/24)

ULA Could Buy as Many as 30 More Russian-made RD-180 Engines (Source: Space News)
U.S. government launch services provider United Launch Alliance is evaluating a proposal to purchase as many as 30 more RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket despite a congressionally imposed ban on using the Russian-built hardware in its primary national security market. (12/23)

ULA Orders RD-180 Engines to Serve Civil, Commercial Contracts (Source: ULA)
ULA has ordered additional Atlas engines to serve our existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers until a new American-made engine can be developed and certified. While ULA strongly believes now is the right time to move to an American engine solution for the future, it is also critical to ensure a smooth transition to that engine and to preserve healthy competition in the launch industry.

We are moving smartly with our engine partners, Blue Origin and our backup Aerojet Rocketdyne, but this type of development program is difficult and takes years to complete. Until then, this bridge contract will allow ULA to provide the reliable, affordable launch services our civil and commercial customers depend on from us while the new, American engine is being developed. (12/23)

We Do Need Russian Rockets, for a While Longer (Source: Space News)
It’s not easy to contradict Congress, but its legislation to bar the use of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine from launching U.S. security payloads, as Robert Bunn so eloquently points out, is truly a classic example of shooting oneself in the foot. The relatively minuscule economic benefit Russia gains from the sale of these engines is dwarfed by the loss their eradication created in operational capability of U.S. security systems.

It was on my recommendation to Michael Wynne, then president of the General Dynamics Space Systems Division (GDSSD), that he issued the purchase order to NPO Energomash to develop the RD-180 for the Atlas launcher, designed and then operated by GDSSD. My recommendation was based on the fact that there was then (over 20 years ago!) no U.S. engine of comparable quality, performance, cost and reliability. By the way, there still isn’t. (12/23)

Department of Energy begins Making Plutonium Destined for Deep Space (Source: CSM)
Plutonium-238 is the fuel of choice for deep-space exploration. But for nearly 30 years, nobody in the United States was making it. On Tuesday, that all changed. The Department of Energy announced that 50 grams of the stuff had been made by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. (12/23)

ORS Office Gets Funding Boost (Source: Space News)
The Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office received nearly three times its requested budget in the final omnibus bill. The office received $18.5 million in the omnibus, versus an original request of $6.5 million. The bill did not specify the use of the additional funding. The ORS Office is leading work on a small satellite to measure wind speed and direction near the ocean surface, replacing an aging Navy satellite, and could be asked to work on a new space surveillance satellite. (12/23)

China Finds Unique Moon Rock (Source: New Scientist)
China's Yutu rover has found a different kind of rock on the lunar surface. Scientists said basaltic rocks analyzed by the rover had concentrations of iron oxide, calcium oxide and titanium dioxide different from rocks elsewhere on the lunar surface returned by U.S. and Russian missions. Yutu, which landed two years ago, is continuing to return data although it has been immobilized since shortly after landing. (12/23)

Zenit Could Rise Again as Fenix (Source: Tass)
The Zenit rocket might be reborn as the Fenix. The Russian space agency is still considering developing the Fenix rocket as part of its plan for the next decade despite serious budget cuts, according to an industry source. The rocket would be similar in capability to the Zenit, which flew what may have been its final mission earlier this month, and could use the same rocket engine in its first stage. (12/23)

Comets Could Pose Risk to Life on Earth (Source: AFP)
Giant comets in the outer solar system could pose a great risk to life on Earth than previously believed. Astronomers said a family of objects known as centaurs, icy bodies orbiting beyond the orbit of Saturn, are deflected into orbits that cross the Earth once every 40,000 to 100,000 years. A typical centaur is up to 50 to 100 kilometers across, and once in the inner solar system would break up into a swarm of debris "making impacts on our planet inevitable" over periods of up to 100,000 years. Scientists said searches for near Earth asteroids should be extended to look for these larger and more distant objects. (12/23)

Nelson: SpaceX Landing Promises Change for Central Florida (Source: WMFE)
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says SpaceX’s thrilling landing of a spent rocket after it launched 11 satellites into orbit will transform central Florida. The central Florida Democrat says the historic achievement will drive down the cost of spaceflight and bring new entrepreneurs and more innovation to the industry. (12/23)

Rocket Security for the Rocket City - Thanks to Senator Shelby (Source: Huntsville Times)
In Huntsville, we know rockets. Rocket science is what we do and who we are. We've watched the rockets we've designed and tested vault us into outer space, explore galaxies, advance science, position critical satellites and defend our country. We understand how critical they are to our future – both in terms of national security and in ensuring our position as a global technological leader.

Unfortunately, a lengthy geopolitical struggle on Capitol Hill was seriously jeopardizing America's rocket production, and in turn, our national security and defense. Thanks to Senator Richard Shelby, the newly approved congressional appropriations bill included language that would keep rockets in production at United Launch Alliance's plant in Decatur, and in turn, save 1,000 assembly jobs. (12/23)

Physicists Figure Out How to Retrieve Information from a Black Hole (Source: Science)
Black holes earn their name because their gravity is so strong not even light can escape from them. Oddly, though, physicists have come up with a bit of theoretical sleight of hand to retrieve a speck of information that's been dropped into a black hole. The calculation touches on one of the biggest mysteries in physics: how all of the information trapped in a black hole leaks out as the black hole "evaporates." Click here. (12/23)

Editorial: Spaceport Asset Building Should be a Priority (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
It’s a pretty cool thing that Midland is involved in the space industry. That really has been the average Midlander’s reaction to having space industry/aerospace companies such as XCOR and Orbital Outfitters relocate to Midland. It’s pretty cool. After all, we don’t fly into an airport but a spaceport -- specifically Midland International Air & Space Port. That doesn’t happen when you land in Dallas, Houston or Las Vegas.

Over a longer period of time, this community’s ownership of the space industry must be greater than thinking of its spaceport as a feather in our cap. Midlanders must own it. We believe that right now our community should concentrate on asset-building at the spaceport. Spaceport Business Park will only be as successful as our community’s commitment to having assets for companies looking to relocate. (12/23)

Under New Space Program Russia Will Send Five Probes to Moon (Source: Tass)
A new draft of the federal space program for 2016-2025 envisages creation of five Moon probes, according to the acting general director of the NPO Lavochkin research and industrial association. "The Moon program envisages development of five probes: Luna-Resurs-1 orbital apparatus, two Luna-Resurs-1 landing modules and Luna Glob and Luna-Grunt," he said. According to earlier reports, Russia’s Moon program provides for the launch of four probes. (12/23)

Look Ahead To Another Ambitious Year In Space (Source: Aviation Week)
Human-spaceflight managers will spend a lot of time in 2016 winnowing what promises to be a huge pile of applications for NASA’s next astronaut class. It is remotely possible that at least one of the youngest candidates they select to fly in space will walk in the dim sunlight of Mars someday, or at least look down on the planet from one of its moons.

The U.S. space agency plans to work well into 2017 finding the best of the best for the job. Going to Mars will be “the biggest thing human beings have ever done,” in the words of Administrator Charles Bolden, and NASA wants to get it right. The work to reach Mars is already underway, and the pace of preparation will accelerate in 2016. Click here. (12/23)

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