May 13, 2016

McCain’s Committee Halves HASC’s RD-180 Allowance (Source: Space News)
The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of a defense authorization bill Thursday with language that lowers the limit on RD-180 engines United Launch Alliance can order for U.S. Air Force launches to 9, instead of the 18 in the House Armed Services Committee bill.

The Senate bill also includes language allowing the Air Force to spend up to half of the funding allocated for space propulsion work on launch vehicles like ULA’s Delta 4 that do not use Russian engines but cost more than the Atlas 5. The committee argued that, with $1.2 billion budgeted for a replacement launch system from 2017 through 2021, there is more than enough money available to carry out that work and offset the costs of switching launches to the Delta 4.

Meanwhile, Amendments to the House counterpart to that bill would relax restrictions on how the Air Force can spend funding for new launch systems. The National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Armed Services Committee last month requires the Air Force to spend no more than 25 percent of the funds authorized for space propulsion development on launch systems, with the rest going to develop of a new engine to replace the RD-180. (5/13)

Boeing Still Hoping to Capture the Flag with First Commercial Crew Mission (Source: Space News)
Technical issues and new requirements led Boeing to delay the first crewed CST-100 launch to early 2018. Issues with lowering the mass of the spacecraft and with the aerodynamics of the spacecraft and Atlas 5 during launch, along with new software requirements levied by NASA, forced Boeing to reschedule that crewed test flight to February 2018.

A pad abort test is now scheduled for October 2017, followed by an uncrewed test flight in December 2017. A Boeing executive said this week that it was the company's goal to still be the first company to fly astronauts to the space station, although Boeing's new schedule puts it months behind the latest schedule from SpaceX, the other company with a commercial crew contract. (5/12)

NASA Outlines Mars 'Red Dragon' Deal With SpaceX (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA expects to spend “on the order of $30 million” helping SpaceX send a modified Dragon vehicle to the surface of Mars in the 2018 planetary launch window, but the entry, descent and landing (EDL) data alone it may obtain in return would be a bargain at 10 times the price.

Officials believe an amendment to NASA’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with the ambitious spaceflight company could someday help the agency land heavy payloads on Mars using supersonic retropropulsion. NASA already is using infrared photography to study the technique on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first-stage landings.

Expanding that work to Mars with onboard cameras, sensors—and perhaps even imagery collected from below by one of the two NASA rovers operating on the planet—would be extremely useful to engineers at the space agency who are trying to figure out how to land 20-ton payloads there. Click here. (5/12)

Earth-Bound Problems of Stylish Spacesuits (Source: Boston Globe)
As fact and fiction continue to hurtle toward each other, last week brought the disturbing news that Jose Fernandez — the costume designer responsible for the superhero armor from “Batman v Superman’’ — has been tapped by Elon Musk to design SpaceX spacesuits. More disturbingly, Fernandez told the design magazine Bleep that SpaceX gave him two weeks to dream up his proposal and didn’t give him any technical input: “They are now reverse-engineering [it] to make [it] functional for space flight,” he said.

Fernandez has been creating Hollywood spacesuits and superhero gear for decades. (In fact, he may be the most important invisible hand in Hollywood behind the ever-increasing armament of superhero costumes.) That doesn’t necessarily make him an aerospace engineer, but that doesn’t seem to be what Musk was looking for. “He wanted it to look stylish,” Fernandez said of Musk. “[W]hen people put this spacesuit on, he wants them to look better than they did without it, like a tux.”

It appears couture is now what’s most valued in space. SpaceX’s rival Virgin Galactic announced earlier this year that it had tapped Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto’s brand Y-3 to design its spacesuits. His prototypes, unveiled in January, were dark and sleek — more ninja than superhero. Of course, Yamamoto isn’t an aerospace engineer either, and Y-3 prototype boots were made of leather, which wasn’t airtight last time we checked. (5/13)

SpaceX Countdown to Launch at Texas Spaceport (Source: KRGV)
Construction on a launch pad near Boca Chica Beach just started, and more construction will continue if the weather holds. People who live nearly a mile down from it can only wait. A small village sits on the last edge of land where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about to be the starting point of something big, and the anticipation is almost over. Thousands of people will get to see a rocket launch from Boca Chica. Click here. (5/13)

Ernest Shackleton Has in Common with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk (Source: Boston Globe)
One hundred years ago this week, Ernest Shackleton pulled off one of history’s most audacious missions. With just five shipmates and a 22-foot open boat, he’d undertaken an 800-mile voyage to summon help for the shipwrecked crew of the Endurance, after their failed attempt to reach and traverse the Antarctic continent. On May 10, after 16 days at sea, Shackleton reached South Georgia Island, and later led rescuers back to his stranded crew — all of whom, remarkably, survived.

Shackleton’s story is routinely taught in business schools. The aim is to help students learn how good leaders adapt to changing circumstances and work to keep a team confident and motivated, even under dire conditions. I’ve been thinking about Shackleton frequently in recent months — not about his leadership qualities, but about the economic context that propelled his explorations and what it can teach us about today. Click here. (5/13)

Regulating Outer Space: Making Space Commerce a Priority (Source: Foreign Affairs)
The U.S. space industry is about more than just space exploration. It is a source of innovation that helps drive the global economy, with revenues of about $330 billion in 2014. However, the emergence of new private space capabilities has revealed gaps in current U.S. law and regulations. For example, there are today no clear governmental authorities for licensing most in-orbit operations, such as satellite servicing, or private research or tourist facilities in Earth orbit.

Some legal scholars who study the application of international law in space argue for updating the space treaties to deal more directly with commercial activities. A practical approach to addressing international space commerce is the creation of voluntary guidelines, such as those dealing with orbital debris, that are then codified into national regulation. Individual states can thus decide how best to apply international norms domestically.

What is certain is that the interests of the U.S. commercial space industry will be served by stable and supportive international rules that promote (rather than hinder) innovation and economic growth. As has always been the case, the pioneers, not the late adopters, get to create and shape the rules. U.S. leadership in building international norms and practices is a crucial element to retaining its strategic advantages in space. (5/12)

Iraqi Christians Blast U.S. for Focusing on Space Exploration Instead of Stopping ISIS (Source: Christian Daily)
A priest in Iraq has revealed that many Iraqi Christians are blaming the United States government for acting too late against the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in their hometowns. They even decry the fact that the United States had more time for space exploration instead of making the necessary steps to protect them from the atrocious Islamic radical group. (5/12)

New Company Aims to Store Cloud Data in Space (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A small startup called Cloud Constellation Corporation has announced plans to build a space-based cloud storage network called SpaceBelt. Cloud Constellation announced it completed a Series A funding round. The funding will be used to accelerate the development of their satellite network. However, it has yet to be reported how much funding the company received nor who invested.

The SpaceBelt network will utilize a combination of Earth-orbiting satellites and secure ground networks to let cloud service providers, multifaceted businesses, and government entities store vast amounts of data securely in space and allow clients to retrieve their information in fractions of a second. (5/13)

JPL's New Chief Has Big Plans for Space Robots (Source: WIRED)
Jet Propulsion Laboratory is kind of a misleading name. NASA‘s southern Californian center doesn’t really make rockets or jets or anything propulsive these days. Nope, JPL builds robots that explore the solar system: Curiosity, Voyager, Galileo, GRACE. On July 1, the center’s legacy becomes the responsibility of Michael Watkins.

He’ll be fine. Watkins is a twenty-year NASA veteran who has been mixed up in nearly every important JPL project during that time. And he has only been away from the center for a year—he’s leaving his brief stint as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin to come back. In addition to being director of JPL, he is also vice president of CalTech, where the NASA center shares a campus in Pasadena.

JPL doesn’t typically get too mixed up in astronautics, but its expertise on the red planet will give it a bigger role in NASA's human space mission. And that’s not all. JPL is planning robotic journeys to other mysterious nooks, to look for life, and understand the how the planets came to be. But hey, don’t take it from me. Click here. (5/12)

EchoStar Seeks to Expand Satellite Broadband Service to Latin America (Source: Space News)
EchoStar's Hughes division is looking to replicate its U.S. satellite broadband success elsewhere. The company, which has more than 1 million subscribers in North America, is leasing capacity on Eutelsat and Telesat satellites to enter the Latin American market, particularly Brazil. The company is also planning to enter the European market with a mobile broadband satellite scheduled for launch this summer, although the company has offered few details about exactly what kind of services it will provide with the satellite. (5/11)

Boeing Starliner Crewed Debut Slips to 2018 (Source: GeekWire)
The first crewed flight of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft will slip to 2018. Leanne Caret, head of Boeing's defense, space and security division, said Wednesday that the first crewed flight of the spacecraft was now scheduled for 2018. That flight, a milestone in its NASA commercial crew contract, was previously scheduled for late 2017, allowing the company to meet the goal of certifying the vehicle to carry NASA astronauts by the end of that year. Caret did claim that, despite the slip, Boeing will still be the first commercial crew vehicle to carry astronauts. (5/11)

Boeing Joins Starliner Domes at Florida Spaceport to Form First 'Full-Blown Capsule' (Source: CollectSpace)
Boeing's plans to launch NASA astronauts to the space station took on a new shape this month, as a test vehicle for the company's commercial crew spacecraft came together in Florida. Engineers and mechanics working in the same hangar where space shuttles were once maintained joined the upper and lower pressure domes for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Structural Test Article (STA). The test spacecraft's two halves formed Boeing's first example of the capsule. (5/12)

U.S. and China Discuss Space Safety Cooperation (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese and American officials met this week to discuss space safety. The meeting, in Washington, included Wang Qun, director-general of the Department of Arms Control at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose. Chinese officials said the meeting included discussions on unspecified "bilateral cooperation" on space safety issues and multilateral initiatives. (5/11)

More Embezzlement Problems at Vostochny Spaceport (Source: Tass)
Russian officials have announced another embezzlement case involving the Vostochny Cosmodrome. The government's Interior Ministry said Wednesday they have opened a criminal case involving a company hired to do "building and assembly works" at the new spaceport in Russia's Far East. The head of that company reportedly used an advance payment of more than $1 million for that work to pay off personal debts. (5/11)

Asteroid Mining - What the Heck (Source: Space Daily)
The concept of commercializing space has become quite popular among entrepreneurs who sense that there are many possible profit-making opportunities awaiting adventurers willing to attempt exploitation of the last frontier. Over the past half-century few private companies have successfully exploited the space environment.

The obvious winners so far have been communications companies that have established constellations uniquely suited to take advantage of outer space in order to provide services to customers on Earth. Many others have tried and failed to create businesses that lead to profits. (5/12)

Orion Gets More Pressure Testing at KSC (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA and Lockheed Martin have successfully conducted a proof-pressure test of the Orion spacecraft slated to fly Exploration Mission 1. The test of the crew module portion of the spacecraft is just the latest in a series of steps the spacecraft will undergo before it is sent around the Moon in 2018.

The spacecraft’s crew module is where the astronauts will spend their time when they venture to a chunk of an asteroid towed into lunar orbit or to other possible destinations. According to a release issued by the prime contractor on Orion, Lockheed Martin, this portion of the spacecraft will serve as the backbone for many of Orion’s systems such as propulsion, avionics, and parachutes. (5/12)

Russia Runs First Tests of Next-Generation “Federation” Manned Spacecraft (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The first tests of the Russian next-generation crewed spacecraft called “Federation” have just been conducted, according to the vehicle’s manufacturer RKK Energia. The company announced last week that the spacecraft’s man-machine interface elements were successfully examined on a unique ergonomic simulator.

The simulator imitates the crew workstations in the vehicle’s command module and the crew working conditions, including the use of rescue spacesuits.

The tests were based on algorithms derived from the activity of spacecraft crews during various flight phases. The engineers checked launch, insertion, autonomous flight, and docking processes. They also carried out a series of tests to examine the flight phase toward an orbiting space station as well as circumlunar trajectories. (5/12)

How Politics Could Disrupt the SpaceX Rocket Revolution (Source: LA Times)
"Traditional launch providers see their market being threatened by nontraditional entrants," said Loren Thompson, aerospace analyst with the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank. "Basically, this is competition between launch providers over market share and money that in the political process gets related to local interests."

In 2015, United Launch Alliance spent $1.4 million on lobbying, up from $1 million the year before, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal campaign contributions and lobbying efforts on its website That same year, SpaceX spent $1.7 million on lobbying, up from $1.5 million in 2014. Click here. (5/12)

Georgia Spaceport Costs Grow Along with High Hopes (Source: Tribune & Georgian)
Camden County leaders are hoping a proposed commercial spaceport will be the economic boon that coastal Georgia needs, but they acknowledge there is some financial risk involved. So far, the county has spent about a million dollars on the effort, which is about the same amount of money required to pave a few miles of road or buy a few fire trucks. County administrator Steve Howard says it is worth the investment because the payoff stands to be so big.

There are more spaceport-related expenditures to come, but much is unknown until the FAA issues a draft environmental impact statement. This will be the first official indication of whether the site is viable as a spaceport and what mitigation, if any, the site will need before being cleared for launches. Click here. (5/12)

Bruno: Why ULA's Delta Rockets Aren't the Answer to the Atlas RD-180 Engine Problem (Source: The Hill)
When it comes to the future of national security space launch, everyone agrees on three things: competition is good, affordability is paramount and we must transition to all-American engines as soon as possible. What no one agrees on, however, is the best way to achieve that third objective. But if you agree with the first two tenets, there’s only one solution to the third, and that’s to keep flying the Atlas V until the next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket is ready.

Some say the answer is to retire the Atlas and fly Delta instead — after all, it has an American engine already built in. Here’s why that’s not a good answer for warfighters or taxpayers: It’s too expensive; It will stifle competition; and It will put a damper on innovation. Click here. (5/12)

Northrop Grumman Expansion Approved; May Create 1,900 Space Coast Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
Northrop Grumman has received the green light from City Hall to expand its campus at Orlando Melbourne International Airport, creating space for 1,900 new employees to help design and manufacture the Air Force's Long Range Strike Bomber.

Officials tout Northrop Grumman's multi-billion-dollar bomber contract as one of the Space Coast's biggest-ever economic development projects. 'Tuesday night, the Melbourne City Council unanimously approved a site plan detailing the defense contractor's enlarged Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence. The number of projected new employees has increased from earlier estimates of 1,500 to 1,900, said Cindy Dittmer, community development director. (5/12)

This Is the Last Thing You Want to See When Looking Out the ISS Window (Source: Gizmodo)
A quarter-inch diameter chip was found by British astronaut Tim Peake on a window inside the Cupola module of the International Space Station. Caused by a space debris impact, it’s not a big crack nor could it do any harm to the multi-layered station window—but it’s still not a nice thing to see when you’re in orbit.

It was probably caused by “a paint flake or a small metal fragment no bigger than a few thousandths of a millimeter across,” according to the European Space Agency. It’s amazing that a tiny speck of debris, one you cannot even notice on Earth, can do such damage at orbital speeds. This also indicates that the threat of space debris is something that cannot be ignored. (5/12)

Antares First Stage Rolled Out for Test (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new engines is rolled from NASA Wallops Flight Facility’s Horizontal Integration Facility to Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport  Pad-0A on May 12, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test in the next few weeks. The team will continue to work meticulously as they begin final integration and check outs on the pad and several readiness reviews prior to the test. The window for the stage test will be over multiple days to ensure technical and weather conditions are acceptable. (5/12)

Competing Amendments Relax Restrictions on Air Force Rocket Funding (Source: Space News)
When the House Armed Services Committee took up its annual defense authorization bill in April, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) added a provision meant to block the U.S. Air Force from spending precious propulsion funds on anything other than development of a replacement for the Russian RD-180 engine that powers the Pentagon’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.

“Let me be clear. We have a Russian engine problem. But we do not have a launch vehicle problem,” Rogers said. Rogers’ main-engine-only stance put him at odds with ULA, which wants to use Air Force funding to develop Vulcan as a partially reusable successor to the Atlas 5 rocket ULA built in Rogers’ home state.

By the time the House Armed Services Committee completed its markup April 28, the HASC’s version of the NDAA had been amended — with Rogers support, as it turns out — to let the Air Force to spend up to 25 percent of its space propulsion budget on launch projects other than developing a new main-stage rocket engine. Click here. (5/12)

Robotic Mining Competition Coming to KSC (Source: AMF)
Teams of undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the nation will demonstrate their excavator robots May 16-20 at the KSC Visitor Complex in Florida. More than 45 teams have designed and built remote controlled mining robots to traverse the simulated Martian terrain and excavate simulated Martian dirt. During the competition, the teams’ robots will go head-to-head to determine which machine can collect and move the most regolith within a specified amount of time.

Although the competition is for college students, the event offers many opportunities for students of all ages. The event also will offer additional STEM activities for students of all ages. For more information on the competition, associated activities and social media links to participate virtually, visit (5/12)

One Small Stip(ulation) for NASA, One Giant Burden for Exploration (Source: Ars Technica)
Amid the vast firmament of NASA’s $19 billion portfolio, with its exploration aims spanning from planet Earth to the edge of the visible universe, $30 million may not seem like all that much money. Yet sometimes principle matters, especially when that principle illustrates the political headwinds buffeting the space agency as it seeks to push humans outward into deep space.

When appropriators were writing a budget for NASA last month, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) designated $30 million in spending for “small launch technology” for the coming fiscal year. The last couple of years, however, the US Senate has added a new wrinkle. Appropriators not only cut the space technology budget, they further squeezed the remainder by specifying what NASA must work on rather than leaving those decisions to the agency’s rocket scientists.

“It’s sad, because the whole space technology budget has just became an earmark haven for these guys,” said one aerospace engineer. He was one of a half-dozen engineers and space policy experts familiar with the budgeting process that Ars spoke to for this story. All were granted anonymity because Shelby, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee over NASA’s budget, has outsized power to punish those who openly oppose him. (5/12)

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