December 4, 2015

Vega’s 6th Successful Launch Marks End of Rocket’s Demo Phase (Source: Space News)
The Dec. 3 launch of the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder fundamental-physics spacecraft marked the end of the long demonstration phase for Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher, which has now posted six successes in six launch attempts.

The Italian-led Vega rocket, which lifted off at 1:04 a.m. local time from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America, has completed its European Space Agency-financed test phase, which included multiple missions to showcase Vega’s versatility. (12/3)

Mars Instrument Problem Could Impact Mission (Source: Nature)
A problem with a key instrument for NASA's Mars InSight mission raises concerns about its March launch date. JPL confirmed reports Thursday that a vacuum-sealed sphere that holds three seismometers has suffered a leak that would degrade the instruments' performance. The French space agency CNES, which is providing the seismometers, is working to repair the leak before shipping the instrument to California to be integrated onto the spacecraft. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during a window that lasts most of March, and JPL said they remain committed to launching InSight during that window. (12/3)

Eutelsat Hopes to Cut Satellite Costs (Source: Space News)
Eutelsat is looking to cut the cost of its future satellites by at least 20 percent. The company's chief technical officer said that moving to all-electric propulsion on future satellites will decrease satellite mass and launch costs, and also extend the spacecraft's life, providing an initial cost reduction of 20 percent. The company is also looking at other technologies to further reduce spacecraft costs, with a goal of reaching 1 million euros per gigabit a second of bandwidth. (12/3)

Russia and UAE Agree on Space Cooperation (Source: Arabian Aerospace)
The space agencies of Russia and the United Arab Emirates signed a cooperative agreement Thursday. The memorandum of understanding between Roscosmos and the UAE Space Agency permits "extensive cooperation" between the two in training, ground station operations support, and "general awareness." No specific missions or other major initiatives were announced as part of the agreement. The UAE Space Agency is developing its first Mars mission, an orbiter scheduled for launch in 2020. (12/3)

Astronaut Is Going To Run The London Marathon In Space (Source: Huffington Post)
Next year's London Marathon will be out of this world. As more than 37,000 runners hit the streets of the English capital on April 24, 2016, British astronaut Tim Peake will run the race virtually, while strapped to a treadmill on the International Space Station.

Peake, 43, will cover the 26.2 miles while orbiting the Earth at approximately 17,000 miles per hour, according to a YouTube video posted by event sponsors Virgin Money on Friday. Using a special treadmill video app, Peake will be able to see how far he's run and exactly where he is on the marathon route at any given time. His progress will be charted by a virtual reality avatar wearing an astronaut suit. (12/4)

Virgin Galactic Pledges Low Cost for 747-Based Launch Service (Source: WIRED)
Virgin Galactic has announced it will launch satellites from a stratospheric trans-Atlantic aircraft repurposed as an aerial rocket platform. Sir Richard Branson's space flight company will use an old Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 aircraft to lift rockets to around 40,000 feet, and act as a moving launch platform for satellites.

Virgin Galactic said the 747-400 would enable cheaper launches than are possible with other systems. Virgin had already announced in September that it would offer launches of 200kg to a sun-synchronous orbit for less than $10 million, with options to launch as much as 400kg. Here's a promo video.

Editor's Note: Virgin says the air launch approach will avoid "the constraints of national launch ranges." But the air launch concept includes complexities and costs that will probably rival (and may exceed) those of newer simplified land-based launch pads, with only a negligible improvement in payload capacity. Plus, after recent capacity improvements, there are more major shifts on the horizon for our established launch ranges that should make throughput issues a only minor concern. (12/4)

Space Tourism Is Already Here (Source: Motherboard)
It’s easy to book a ticket to almost anywhere on Earth with a click of a mouse these days, but some travel companies have their sights set further afield: space. Currently, the reality of holidaying in orbit still seems pretty far-out—unless you’ve got millions of dollars to burn.

In the second episode of our Voyager series, made possible by travel tool, we visit Space Adventures, a US-based company that has been sending amateur astronauts into space since 2001. The glorified travel agency offers suborbital spaceflights, stays on the International Space Station, and even a circumlunar flight—all for suitably astronomical prices. Click here. (12/3)

Starting Over With California Space Center Plan (Source: Lompoc Record)
As it turns out, just about everything that has transpired since the Lompoc City Council ended the latest effort to create a regional space center strongly indicates the council majority made the right choice. Much of what the spokeswoman for the group behind the California Space Center proposal has said publicly since the council vote ending negotiations hints — convincingly — that the proposal lacked a rock-solid foundation.

The proposal’s chief proponent, Eva Blaisdell, now has said a collateral proposal to develop the ghost-like Valley Drive-In Theatre site on North H Street into an IMAX theater may have died with the space center deal.

Blaisdell insists she and her backing group are working on strategies to salvage the space center and drive-in property proposals, while at the same time essentially warning Lompoc officials that “other cities” are pleased that the Lompoc deal is off, which enhances the possibility that another community will play host to what developers refer to as a $460-million deal that could supercharge a region’s economy. (12/3)

JPL CubeSat Clean Room: A Factory For Small Spacecraft (Source: NASA JPL)
There was a time when you could find spacecraft clean rooms in two sizes -- - big and bigger. After all, these harsh-white, sterile environments have to handle very large spacecraft, support equipment, and a small legion of highly trained technicians and engineers.

Here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, we have two monster clean rooms of our own -- called High Bays 1 and 2. In these hallowed, dustless halls, the likes of the Voyager, Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and the Curiosity Mars rover were assembled, disassembled, re-assembled, tested and packed for shipment to NASA launch pads and finally, for launch into space. (12/3)

NAC Ponders NASA’s Mars Tech Investment Priorities (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA may have to focus its cost-constrained technology investments on human missions launched into an Earth/Moon proving ground through the 2020s rather than placing boots on the Martian terrain in the decade to follow, members of the NASA Advisory Council were told during a meeting this week. (12/3)

URS and Yang Duck False Claims Suit Over NASA Replacement Tires (Source: Law360)
A Florida federal judge tossed a False Claims Act suit alleging URS Federal Services Inc. and a subcontractor filed more than 1,000 fraudulent claims on work replacing tires for NASA, ruling Wednesday that the government’s allegations fell short. U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell gave the government until Jan. 4 to amend its complaint to include more-specific claims that URS and subcontractor Yang Enterprises' practice of replacing vehicle tires more frequently than necessary was actually fraudulent. (12/3)

Extraterrestrial Patent Infringement (Source: Space News)
Space technology is advancing rapidly and human activity in outer space is more common than ever before. Often space technology is protected by a patent. A patent is a territorial right, meaning that it applies only to the territory (including the air space of that territory) in which the patent is granted.

For example, a U.S. patent provides the patent owner with a legal means to prevent others from exploiting the invention covered by that patent without his or her permission in the United States only. If the invention is not covered by a patent granted in any other jurisdiction, others are free to make, use or sell the invention in those other jurisdictions.

But, given that a patent is a territorial right, can a patent afford protection of an invention whose commercial exploitation requires that it be made, used or sold in outer space? This is becoming an increasingly important question as we see human space activity on the rise with ever greater presence and research aboard space stations, more and more satellites and also the opportunity to experience space becoming more attainable for everyone through space tourism with companies such as Virgin Galactic. (12/2)

Statement From TMT Regarding Hawaii Court Ruling (Source: TMT)
“We thank the Hawaii Supreme Court for the timely ruling and we respect their decision. TMT will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have.  We are assessing our next steps on the way forward. We appreciate and thank the people of Hawaii and our supporters from these last eight-plus years.” (12/3)

Spaceport Opinions Flying as Scoping Meeting Draws Near (Source: Tribune & Georgian)
Discussions about Spaceport Camden are kicking into high gear now that the environmental impact statement (EIS) is being prepared and the county’s environmental subcommittee begins the arduous task of identifying areas of concern. The FAA, which conducts the EIS at the county’s expense, is seeking public comments and is planning a Dec. 7 meeting in Kingsland to collect statements and questions from area residents. (12/3)

Seattle Space Race (Source: KCTS)
Looking beyond the billionaire space race, Seattle is already home to an established space industry that has been quietly operating under the radar for decades. Bob Uptagrafft, Executive Director of the Northwest Aerospace Alliance, says it’s no surprise the city is a perfect space hub.

“The seeds were planted years ago by the success of aerospace,” says Uptagrafft. “If we look at local companies, like [Aerojet] Rocketdyne as an example, they have for the last 30 years been producing booster jet rockets that drive satellites through space.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne, located in Redmond, is a veteran among Seattle space companies. Since they opened their doors in 1968, the company has designed and built small rockets to maneuver in-space spacecraft and satellites. “Rockets from Redmond” have powered space probes and landers that have visited all the planets of our solar system. (12/1)

Should We Go to Mars or Back to the Moon? (Source: Universe Today)
First, the case for the Moon. Obviously, the Moon is close and it only takes astronauts a few days to get there, land on the surface and continue our scientific exploration of this world – which we still know very little about. Although it’s expensive, going to the Moon could eventually pay for itself. There are vast reserves of Helium-3 [and other resources].

The Moon makes sense as a testing ground, for humanity to perfect the techniques of surviving and thriving off planet Earth. If we can make it there, then we stand a chance of going the distance as a true interplanetary species.

To say there’s science to be done on Mars is an understatement. There are so many different terrains, with different geologic features. There’s the outstanding question of whether there was ever life on Mars, and if it’s there now. Sending humans to Mars is much more complicated and expensive than sending them to the Moon, and the level of space-based infrastructure would be much greater. Click here. (12/3)

Kiwi Rocket Firm Set to Land Satellite Contract (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Rocket Lab is on the verge of announcing a contract to launch satellites into space as it works on a new schedule for the test program. "We're now fully booked for 2017-2018 and we're continuing to book more customers.

"The growth has been very strong," said chief executive and founder Peter Beck. He could not reveal details of the new customer - which will be in addition to NASA and a company that will send probes to the Moon - but said the company was rapidly stepping up production of its Electron Rocket. (11/30)

Virgin Switches to 747 to Carry Satellite Launcher (Source: BBC)
Sir Richard Branson is reassigning one of his old Virgin Atlantic 747-400 jumbos to the service of space. The jet will be the launch platform for the satellite rocket being developed by another of the entrepreneur's companies - Virgin Galactic. The 747 will carry this booster to high altitude where it will be released to ignite its engine and go into orbit.

Virgin Galactic will be air-launching its tourist spaceplane, SpaceShip Two, from underneath a smaller twin-fuselage jet vehicle, and originally had planned for the satellite rocket to use the same platform. But the performance requirements of the booster have driven engineers to seek an alternative carrier.

The old 747-400 jumbo can handle this. Coincidentally, it used to fly in its Virgin Atlantic livery under the nickname "Cosmic Girl". It will now get a new paint job in the Virgin Galactic colors. One of the advantages of an air-launched model for satellites is the freedom to base the carrier jet at many locations. It is not restricted to a fixed pad location. (11/3)

Might the FAA Inherit the Space Traffic Management Role? (Source: Space News)
The White House and members of U.S. Congress are in early discussions about how to give the Federal Aviation Administration a greater role in monitoring the space environment and heading off collisions between commercial satellites, a task currently handled by the U.S. Air Force, sources tell SpaceNews.

The discussion has a sense of urgency, sources said, as several new businesses, many with ties to Silicon Valley, have plans to launch hundreds of satellites in the coming years. With that in mind, proponents are asking Congress to move quickly to find a new home for space traffic management.

Any such shift likely would have the blessing of the Pentagon. Leaders from Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command have said they would like to lessen the burden on military space operators so they can concentrate on preparing for potential conflicts in space. (12/3)

Will Congress Support Expanded Regulatory Role for FAA? (Source: Space News)
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), a member of both the House Armed Services and Space, Science and Technology committees, said Nov. 16 the Defense Department has inherited the space traffic control role by default. “The DoD needs to focused on fighting wars in space,” Bridenstine said at a workshop sponsored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

While the idea of offloading the military’s space traffic management responsibilities routinely resurfaces every few years, a lack of consensus over who would take over has kept it from making any real progress, although the FAA is the only agency consistently mentioned.

“We keep hearing [the Air Force] shouldn’t be the FAA for space,” Bridenstine said. “Which says to me, maybe the FAA should be the FAA for space.” Bridenstine stressed that as a conservative Republican he generally opposes new regulations for industry. But in this case, new rules might be necessary he said. (12/3)

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