April 26, 2016

Bill Would Reshape Air Force Spending for RD-180 Replacement (Source: Space News)
The House's defense authorization bill would force the U.S. Air Force to spend new engine development funding solely on a main engine. The draft of the bill would forbid the Air Force from spending money on contracts for upper stage engines, strap-on boosters or overall launch vehicle concepts. That would affect contracts the Air Force awarded earlier this year to Orbital ATK, SpaceX and ULA, but would preserve one with Aerojet Rocketdyne for work on its AR1 engine. (4/25)

Safran Chief Confident of Rocket Ariane 6 Joint Venture Progress (Source: Space News)
One of the partners in Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) is confident the joint venture should be fully operational by the beginning of July. Safran Chief Executive Philippe Petitcolin said he expected "technical and administrative formalities" involving the creating of the joint venture to soon be resolved. That effort is in parallel with an ongoing European Commission antitrust inquiry into ASL's majority stake in Arianespace, scheduled to conclude by late July. ASL will be the prime contractor for the Ariane 5 and future Ariane 6 launch vehicles. (4/25)

Bill Would Force Air Force to Clarify Space-Based Battle Management (Source: Space News)
A House committee is planning to withhold funds from the U.S. Air Force until it gets more details about a battle management system. The draft defense authorization bill would withhold $18 million from the Air Force until it provides a clearer plan about the JSpOC Mission System, a billion-dollar effort to upgrade hardware and software used for space surveillance and related activities, including detecting threats to satellites. Committee staff say they want to see clear requirements and an acquisition strategy for the system before lifting the hold on the funds. (4/25)

Vector Space Plans to Enter Crowded Microsatellite Launch Market (Source: Space News)
Another small launch vehicle company hopes to find a niche at the very small end of the market. Vector Space Systems announced Tuesday it has raised a seed round of more than $1 million for work on its Vector small launch vehicle.

That rocket, based on technology under development for several years by Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, would launch satellites weighing 25-45 kilograms for $2-3 million a launch. The company believes their vehicle will be attractive to companies developing smallsats who don't want to rely on secondary payload opportunities. The vehicle is scheduled to enter commercial service in 2018. (4/25)

Possible Meteorite Strike In Maryland (Source: WBAL)
Federal officials will be investigating whether a meteorite struck an area just outside Washington, DC. WJLA-TV reports firefighters found the rock while responding to a brush fire in Bowie, Maryland early this morning. The Bowie Volunteer Fire Department knocked down the fire and tweeted photos of the scene, which showed a small crater and charred debris.

No injuries were reported. NASA, however, seems to doubt the link between the strike and the fire. Mike Kelley, a program scientist in NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, told WTOP that that's not even possible, that meteorites “on a small scale do not start fires. "They’re not hot enough when they reach the ground," Kelley said. (4/25)

Who's Better? Gov. Scott Says Florida Better Than California (Source: Tampa Tribune)
Taking his quest to lure jobs from other states up another notch, Gov. Rick Scott got Florida to start airing radio ads blasting California's decision to raise the minimum wage. Florida's economic development agency will use taxpayer money to pay for spots that will run on Los Angeles and San Francisco radio stations ahead of a trade mission Scott is taking next week to the Golden State.

"Ready to leave California?" asks the ad. "Go to Florida instead - no state income tax and Governor Scott has cut regulations." Florida's unemployment rate right now - 4.9 percent - is slightly better than California's 5.4 percent jobless rate. California, however, has bested Florida in the last year in job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. California, the state with the country's largest population, has added nearly 421,000 jobs while Florida has added more than 234,000.

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said California would "extend a warm welcome" to Scott so he can learn what's happening in the state. "Since his last 2,000 mile cross-country jaunt, California has added twice as many jobs as Florida, while paying down debt, building a robust rainy day fund and taking bold action on issues Governor Scott continues to ignore, like climate change and poverty," Westrup said in an email. (4/25)

'Lack of Political Wwill' Strains Space Program Mission to Mars? When? (Source: OpEd News)
On Friday, China announced that it plans to land a rover on Mars by 2020. The Russian Federal Space Agency is working with the European Space Agency . Every major power in the world has some form of interest in Mars. Like 1961, when Russia first rocketed Yuri Gagarin into orbit and the U.S. was afraid that Russians would beat us with the first actual man on the Moon, the race is on.

The U.S. should again set its priorities to be able to claim that it first stepped foot on the Red Planet. Unfortunately, we are not. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, Americans dreamed of the possibilities in spaceflight. We were certain that in the not-too-distant future, an astronaut would land on Mars. However, 47 years after the moon landing, the U.S. is no closer to that goal.

The U.S. still has its eyes on Mars -- at least that's what the government leads us to believe. Astronaut Scott Kelly was back on Earth after spending 340 days in space on March 2. His year in space was part of a NASA study involving both him and his twin brother, Mark, a former astronaut, on space travel and the human body in space versus on Earth. This was in preparation for a theoretical Mars mission. (4/26)

U.S. Air Force’s War to Destroy America’s Space Industry (Source: National Interest)
The U.S. Air Force appears to have formulated the perfect plan for wrecking the already struggling domestic space launch business. Take a sector that has struggled for years with too little demand to create an efficient launch program, add new entrants to further divide the market, force everyone to compete based on price and not safety for launch services, allow the participants to create improbable plans for future launch vehicles – some based on unproven propulsion technologies – and tie your primary launch services provider to the purchase of Russian rocket engines that could be cut off at any moment.

Things were dicey enough when Space-X entered the list, competing with the then-monopoly launch services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), for access to military and national security payloads. At least ULA had an unparalleled record of 100 successful launches in a row. Its major failing was that it was using relatively old technology of which a critical part, the first stage rocket motor for its Atlas V heavy lift rocket, was the Russian-built RD-180 motor.

The nation is on the ragged edge of losing its ability to maintain assured access to space. In fact, ULA recently refused to bid on a contract to launch a national security payload claiming it had committed its entire stockpile of RD-180s to other customers. The use of excess Minuteman rockets and engines would depress launch prices and undercut any effort to sustain a domestic solid rocket motor industrial base. (4/25)

Why SpaceX's Falcon 9 Isn't the World Changer You Expect (Source: Management Today)
It’s easy to see why there’s such excitement about Falcon 9 and reusable rockets. Except, of course, Falcon 9 isn’t really a reusable rocket. It’s still a two-stage launcher designed to deliver SpaceX's Dragon craft into space, and only one stage is designed to be recoverable (rather like the space shuttle, only commercial) – something that Sadlier says would reduce costs by around 30%, not 99%. ‘It’s an amazing innovation, but it’s kind of a baby step.’

Baby step – not a term you’d normally associate with Musk. The entrepreneur has an uncanny ability to generate excitement about his businesses, matched only perhaps by the late Steve Jobs. Yet while Tesla is actually making serious inroads in the automotive market, it’s harder to justify the hype around SpaceX.

In fact, in 2014 SpaceX was only NASA’s 6th biggest contractor, taking in $573m – or 3.7% of NASA’s budget, far behind CalTech, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital Sciences. Even the recoverability of Falcon 9 isn’t that groundbreaking. Aside from Blue Origin’s New Shepard, which landed after a space launch in November, the Russians are also well on the way to developing recoverable modules for their Angara rocket. (4/25)

What Does Living in Space Do to Your Body? Here’s What We Know So Far. (Source: Fortune)
Scott and Mark [Kelly] are ideal test subjects. They’re about “as similar in nature and nurture as you can get – identical twins, both astronauts,” said Susan Bailey, a professor of radiation cancer biology and oncology at Colorado State University, and one of the study’s investigators. Click here. (4/25)

Assembly of China's Heavy-lift Long March-5 Rocket Begins (Source: CRI English)
China has started to assemble a new generation of the heavy-lift Long March-5 rocket, which is scheduled for launch later this year. Using non-toxic and pollution-free propellant, the 60-meter-long rocket with a liftoff weight of over 800 tons will be equipped with 4 strap-on boosters.

"After the assembly is finished in the first half of this year, it will take a little more than a month to test it to ensure that the product is in good shape. The first launch will be made after it is out of the plant in the latter half of the year." The new generation of rockets will come in 6 slightly different models - for manned space travel, as well as for the lunar and Martian exploration programs. (4/26)

New NASA Budget Eats the Seed Corn of its Journey to Mars (Source: Ars Technica)
The Senate proposes to add nearly a billion dollars to NASA's rocket budget this year to speed up development of the SLS. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the rocket. The primary problem is that NASA doesn't really need it yet. It has proposed a test flight in 2018, and then a few human missions in the mid-2020s that would basically be reflying 1968's Apollo 8 mission, in which astronauts flew out to the Moon and back. There are no other missions because of the simple fact that NASA cannot afford to use the expensive rocket.

So the Senate is telling NASA to hurry up and build a rocket for which it has no real use for human exploration in the 2020s. Unfortunately, once the rocket is built, the expenses don't end. Ground crews must be kept ready, supply lines kept open, and contractors taken care of. These fixed costs can be enormous. For the space shuttle, those costs amounted to about $2.5 billion annually—whether the vehicle flew or not—and the SLS uses a lot of similar components.

It would make a lot of sense for NASA to hurry up and build the rocket if it had a deadline to go to Mars, a mandate, and the funding to do so. But it doesn't. The motivation seems primarily to be keeping people employed. All the while, it is not clear who in the US Senate is looking out for NASA's actual exploration programs. A sensible plan would identify a clear destination and then develop all of the groundbreaking technologies needed to get there. (4/22)

Beyond Drake's Equation --"Life on Other Planets is More Optimism Than Science" (Source: Daily Galaxy)
"Fossil evidence suggests that life began very early in Earth's history and that has led people to determine that life might be quite common in the universe because it happened so quickly here, but the knowledge about life on Earth simply doesn't reveal much about the actual probability of life on other planets," said Edwin Turner. "Information about that probability comes largely from the assumptions scientists have going in, and some of the most optimistic conclusions have been based almost entirely on those assumptions."

Two researchers proposed in 2012 that the idea that life has or could arise in an Earth-like environment has only a small amount of supporting evidence, most of it extrapolated from what is known about abiogenesis, or the emergence of life, on early Earth. Instead, their analysis showed that the expectations of life cropping up on exoplanets — those found outside Earth's solar system — are largely based on the assumption that it would or will happen under the same conditions that allowed life to flourish on this planet. (4/25)

Coming In Hot! Next SpaceX Landing Adds Risk (Source: Ars Technica)
With a launch tentatively set for May 3 during the early morning hours, SpaceX plans to deliver a Japanese broadcast satellite into orbit 22,000km above the planet's surface. This means that the first stage will accelerate to a greater velocity, moving almost parallel to the surface and away from the launch site, before it releases the second stage and the primary payload. This trajectory will leave the vehicle with far less fuel to arrest this horizontal motion, and to control its descent to the barge waiting below.

The company needs to master the art of ocean-based landings because SpaceX estimates that only one-half of its launches will have enough fuel to fly back to the coast, where it has a ground-based landing zone, after fulfilling their primary missions. The May 3 launch attempt, with its challenging landing conditions, will go a long way toward determining how much SpaceX has learned so far. (4/25)

Rocket for Stratolaunch Remains a Mystery (Source: Space.com)
Vulcan Aerospace continues to assemble the world's largest aircraft at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, but its builders are remaining mum about the Stratolaunch project's biggest mystery: What rocket will the air-launch system carry aloft to place satellites into orbit? Stratolaunch Executive Director Chuck Beames said he could not talk about the launch vehicle strategy yet, but he promised a series of announcements over the next year about the program and the company's "NextSpace" vision.

Company officials said they expect to begin commercial operations within four years. The Stratolaunch carrier plane looks a lot like Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo; both are dual-fuselage aircraft with space for a launch vehicle in between. The main difference between the two is size: the Stratolaunch mothership will have a 385-foot wingspan, weigh as much as 1.2 million lbs. without the rocket, and be powered by six 747 engines. (4/25)

Congress Seeks Partnership on Major Space Policy Legislation (Source: Space Daily)
Congressman Doug Lamborn has partnered with Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as an original cosponsor on the American Space Renaissance Act. This legislation will permanently secure the United States as the world's preeminent space-faring nation. The comprehensive and bold reform bill covers national security, civil, and commercial space policies and programs. (4/25)

A Launch Company, and Industry, in Transformation (Source: Space Review)
United Launch Alliance found itself on the hot seat last month after a executive made controversial comments at a university seminar that leaked out. Jeff Foust reports that behind the controversy are insights into the transformation that company, and the broader launch industry, are undergoing. Click here. (4/25)
An Overview of the American Space Renaissance Act (Source: Space Review)
Earlier this month, Congressman Jim Bridenstine introduced a wide-ranging space policy bill. Michael Listner begins a three-part examination of its contents by looking at the section discussing military space issues. Click here. (4/25)
Of India and ICBMs: Two Current Concerns for American Small-Satellite Launch (Source: Space Review)
Developers of small launch vehicles in the US have recently raised two policy concerns: easier access by American satellite to Indian rockets, and the potential commercial use of excess ICBM motors. Cody Knipfer explores those issues and how they could influence the development of a new generation of commercial launchers. Click here. (4/25)

Ask the Astronaut: Do We Have the Knowledge to Send Humans to Mars? (Source: Air & Space)
Getting to Mars is a very big technical challenge. We don’t yet know all the technologies or techniques we will need to send humans safely to Mars and back. Here are some of the major challenges we face. (4/25)

Soyuz Lifts Sentinel Earth Observation Satellite After Fourth Launch Attempt (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
After replacing a faulty inertial measurement system blamed for a scrubbed launch attempt Sunday, a Soyuz rocket headed to space from French Guiana today with five satellites, including the next spacecraft for Europe’s multibillion-dollar Earth observing network and a French experiment to probe the validity of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. (4/25)

Hubble Telescope Captures Sharpest Image Yet of Mysterious Red Rectangle (Source: Space.com)
A striking new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope delivers a deep look into a mysterious cosmic object called the Red Rectangle Nebula. The Red Rectangle, so named because of its bizarre shape and striking color, is a nebula — a cosmic cloud of gas and particles. In this case, the nebula is formed by the central star, HD 44179, which is reaching the end of its life and shedding most of its mass into space. Click here. (4/25)

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