March 16, 2016

USAF: Cost Of RD-180 Termination Uncertain (Source: Aviation Week)
The head of  U.S. Air Force Space Command says there is no sure way to estimate the cost of a shift away from the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine for national security  space launches, because it is unclear what shape the U.S. launch industry will be in when the transition is completed in the early 2020s. “The number is going to be in the billions; there’s no doubt about that,” said Gen. John Hyten.

Hyten said uncertainty about the way forward in the U.S. launch industry is behind his service’s wide range of estimates of the cost of a shift away from the RD-180, which powers the workhorse Atlas V. Air Force Secretary Deborah James has told the Senate Armed Services Committee the figure could be as low as $1.5 billion, or as high as $5 billion.

“In reality, we don’t know what that will cost us,” Hyten said. “The reason we don’t know what it will cost us, and the estimates are so huge, is because we have so many assumptions about what the future’s going to look like. Are we going to have a Falcon 9 Heavy in the interim period between 2019 and 2022? What is the industry going to look like between ’19 and ’22? All of those questions we don’t know the answer to.” (3/15)

With One Weather Satellite Broken in Orbit, Air Force Halts Plans to Scrap its Sister (Source: Space News)
The Air Force is delaying plans to scrap a weather satellite on the ground because of problems a similar one is experiencing in orbit. Gen. Sam Greaves said that he has ordered that no "irreversible action" be taken with the DMSP F-20 satellite, which was scheduled to be scrapped after Congress declined in December to fund its launch. That decision is prompted by problems with the DMSP F-19 spacecraft, which stopped responding to commands last month. Air Force officials are now doubtful the F-19 spacecraft can be recovered. (3/15)

Legislators Plan to Increase NASA Budget Above $19B (Source: Space News)
House appropriators said Tuesday they will seek to increase NASA's fiscal year 2017 budget above its request of $19 billion. Republican and Democratic leaders of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA criticized the overall level of funding in the request, nearly $300 million below what the agency received in 2016. Members sought additional funding for the Space Launch System and a mission to Jupiter's icy moon Europa, for which the 2017 request asks for less money than those programs received this year. (3/15)

Poland and Ukraine Strengthen Space Ties (Source: Space News)
Poland and Ukraine are strengthening their space ties in response to Russia. Poland’s leading defense group PGZ signed a deal earlier this month with the State Space Agency of Ukraine to cooperate on space-related projects. That work will include development of launch vehicle and satellite technology, as well as satellite applications like remote sensing. The head of the Polish Space Agency said that with the cooperation, "we can become worthy competitors not only [in Europe], but throughout the world." (3/15)

Virgin Galactic Space-Tourist Bookings Back to Pre-Tragedy Level (Source: Bloomberg)
Bookings from would-be space tourists planning to fly with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. have recovered almost to the level seen before the fatal breakup of its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in October 2014. About 25 of 700 fee-paying clients withdrew from the program after the crash in the Mojave Desert in California caused it to be put on hold just months before the first commercial flight, Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer George Whitesides said. (3/15)

Aabar Group Increases Stake in Virgin Galactic (Source: Gulf News)
Virgin Galactic has had "positive" discussions with its major Abu Dhabi-based investor about increasing its stake. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said this week that his company's relationship with Aabar is "as strong as ever." Aabar has invested $380 million into Virgin Galactic and owns 37.8 percent of the space tourism and smallsat launch venture. Asked if Aabar had plans to increase its stake, Whitesides said he has had discussions with Aabar officials and that "the responses had been positive." (3/15)

Google X Prize Documentary Online (Source: Next Web)
A documentary about the Google Lunar X Prize competition is now available online. The nine-part "Moon Shot" documentary about teams competing to land spacecraft on the moon is freely available on Google Play, and will be on YouTube on Thursday. The documentary, which had its world premiere earlier this week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, follows some of the 16 teams still seeking $30 million in prizes. Click here. (3/15)

Israeli Tocket Technology Will Help Explorer Ease Onto Mars (Source: Times of Israel)
Man’s latest attempt to search for life on the Red Planet has a critical blue-and-white component – a propulsion system that will gently guide the newly-launched ExoMars spacecraft to the surface of Mars when it gets ready to touch down sometime in 2018. The craft’s propulsion system was developed by Rafael, the same company that developed, among other things, the Iron Dome missile defense system.

While known for its defense systems, Rafael is also active in the space business, specifically as the manufacturer of controllable propulsion and reaction control systems (RCS), which help “brake” the landing of satellites and missiles. This ensures that their fuel tanks do not crash into the ground as they land and ignite an explosion. (3/15)

China, Russia Planning Space Attacks on U.S. Satellites (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
China and Russia are preparing to attack and disrupt critical U.S. military and intelligence satellites in a future conflict with crippling space missile, maneuvering satellite, and laser attacks, senior Pentagon and intelligence officials told Congress. Air Force Gen. John Hyten said the threat to U.S. space systems has reached a new tipping point, and after years of post-Cold War stagnation foreign states are focused on curbing U.S. space systems. (3/16)

Space Mining Not Sci-Fi, Race Heats Up (Source: Herald Sun)
Space mining, extracting resources from near-earth asteroids, is "not science fiction any more". With these words, spoken by Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former director general of the European Space Agency, Luxembourg announced its entry into the space-mining race.

Dordain was appearing alongside Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's economy minister, as he unveiled the country's bid to be a pioneer in a whole new resources sector, one with quite literally infinite potential. That the small Duchy of Luxembourg should be challenging the current dominant player in space exploration, the US, might initially appear surprising. (3/16)

Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated (Source: Parabolic Arc)
U.S. regulations for commercial human spaceflight give the wide latitude to develop and fly their launch systems while providing substantial protections about being sued for injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. What follows is is a brief summary of the provisions, most of which have been in place since December 2004. Click here. (3/15)

As Cold as Ice and as Old as the Sun: Cool Findings on Comet Churi (Source: Space Daily)
Temperatures are warming up in the world of astronomy after a team of researchers discovered ice crystals on a comet, suggesting it could be as old as the solar system. An international research team discovered the ice in crystalline form on the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Churi for short, indicating that it was formed 4.6 billion years ago. (3/15)

Euro Space Spin-Offs Foster 400 New Companies (Source: Space Daily)
ESA business incubation has passed the milestone of 400 new companies. The initiative to profit from space technology and expertise to create new businesses and jobs in Europe also boosts local economies and Europe's competitiveness. Thanks to these start-ups and their entrepreneurs, leading-edge technologies and expertise from Europe's space programs are used to create smarter terrestrial applications. (3/14)

UAE's Space Program Offers New Opportunities (Source: Khaleej Times)
The UAE Space Agency is preparing the UAE space sector for developments in emerging space trends, commercial space, human space flights, resources from outer space and new space technologies.

Speaking at seminar organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, and United Nations Office for Outer Space on the challenges and opportunities within emerging space activities and civil aviation, Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency said as more investments are being made in the space sector, it is vital that we come together to address challenges and issues that we face globally within the industry. (3/16)

Lockheed Closing in on Hypersonic Aircraft Breakthrough (Source: Financial Times)
Lockheed Martin says it is close to delivering the capability for US fighter aircraft to reach six times the speed of sound. "We estimate it will cost less than $1 billion to develop, build, and fly a demonstrator aircraft the size of an F-22," said CEO Marillyn Hewson. (3/15)

Sentinel of Space Found in Alaskan Wilderness (Source: AFSPC)
Among the bears, moose, wolves and wolverines of Alaska's interior is a silent sentinel of space - Clear Air Force Station. Its personnel keep an eye on things above for the sake of tactical warning of ballistic missile attacks against the U.S. and Canada and space situational awareness.

Clear AFS is an 11,500-acre installation about 80 miles southwest of Fairbanks. It is one of more than 20 geographically separated units within the 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Clear AFS is home to the Air Force's 13th Space Warning Squadron and is the oldest missile warning site in North America. (3/15)

Wandering Jupiter Could Have Swept Inner Solar System Clean (Source: Science News)
A wandering baby Jupiter could help explain why there are no planets closer to the sun than Mercury and why the innermost planet is so tiny, a new study suggests. Jupiter’s core might have formed close to the sun and then meandered through the rocky planet construction zone.

As the infant Jupiter moved, it would have absorbed some planet-building material while kicking out the rest. This would have starved the inner planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — of raw materials, keeping them small and preventing any other planets from forming close to the sun, say planetary scientist Sean Raymond and colleagues. (3/15)

UCF Contributed to Experiment Riding on Next Atlas V Rocket (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
University of Central Florida professor Joshua Colwell can admit it: the experiment he’s sending to space doesn’t have the pizzazz of a gecko-like adhesive test or a fire experiment. But if man ever reaches Mars or land on an asteroid, the Strata-1 experiment his team will contribute to will be crucial.

The UCF experiment, done in partnership with Texas A&M University, will “study the properties and behavior of soil found on asteroids, comets, the Moon and other worlds,” the release said. The device that will conduct the experiment was supplied by UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research. (3/15)

On the Hunt for a Mystery Planet (Source: Nature)
Astronomer Scott Sheppard runs through his checklist as he settles in for a long night of skygazing at the Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Between twilight and dawn, he will methodically direct Subaru's enormous 8.2-meter mirror — one of the largest in the world — to stare deeply at one patch of the sky, then another and another.

Several hours later, he will look at the same areas for a second time, and after that, a third. By comparing the staggered images, the researchers can hunt for objects that move ever so slightly over the course of a few hours. These would be distant worlds beyond Pluto, in the most extreme reaches of the Solar System. This is the realm of the long-sought Planet X. (3/15)

ULA Scores two Air Force Contracts to Develop Domestic Rocket Engine (Source: Decatur Daily)
United Launch Alliance landed two of four government contracts awarded for the development of new rocket engines that will phase out U.S. dependency on Russian-built engines for space flight. If successful, the new engine will help assure the future viability of ULA’s planned Vulcan rocket slated for a maiden flight in 2019.

The announcement comes as Congress pushes tight restrictions to block the U.S. military from using any rocket powered by the Russian-built RD-180 engine. Those restrictions come in response to tensions with Russia about Ukraine and Syria and the Pentagon’s desire to lower launch costs through competition. (3/14)

Politicians Determined to Kill the US-Russian Space Joint Venture (Source: Huffington Post)
The list of collateral damage from the geopolitical standoff between US-Russia continues to grow. The latest victim is the successful rocket engine joint venture that lifts most of the American commercial and military satellites into space. America's access to space depends mainly on ULA's Atlas V rocket, and which is powered into space by the powerful engine that is RD-180, produced by Russia's NPO Energomash.

The use of Russian advanced engines dates back to the early 1990s, but even further for over several decades as the US and Russia began collaborating in the 1975 with the joint Soyuz-Apollo mission. The advanced Atlas V rocket with its RD-180 engine completed testing in 2001, and since then, it has powered over 50 American missions to space, including many military ones. Despite the spotless safety record and compelling cost, what used to be the poster child for US-Russian cooperation is now under attack as a threat to US national security. (3/14)

Florida Governor Vetos Space Item, Approves Others (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida Governor Rick Scott acted fast to exercise his line-item veto authority over budget items that were approved last week by the state's legislature. At approximately $250M, the veto amount roughly equals the amount he requested (but didn't get) for a Florida Enterprise Fund for economic development incentives. There was one aerospace item included on the veto list, $600K for the Space Walk of Fame in Titusville. (3/15)

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