May 25, 2016

The House Makes its Counteroffer on NASA’s Budget (Source: Planetary Society)
Commerce, Justice, and Science—the House of Representatives’ subcommittee that oversees NASA spending—just released details on how they would fund the space agency in 2017. Overall, the news for the space program is very good: NASA’s topline would rise to $19.5 billion—$200 million more than the Senate’s proposal and $500 million more than the President requested. Should this pass into law, NASA would have its best top-line budget (adjusted for inflation) in six years.

The bill needs to be voted on by the full House, at which point it would need to be reconciled with a similar bill proposed in the Senate, which was released last month. Click here. (5/25)

Space Experts Say Sending Humans to Mars Worth the Risk (Source: Science News)
There’s a long-standing joke that NASA is always 20 years from putting astronauts on Mars. Mission details shared at a recent summit shows that the space agency is right on schedule. A to-do list from 2015 looks remarkably similar to one compiled in 1990. One difference: NASA is now building a rocket and test-driving technologies needed to get a crew to Mars. But the specifics for the longest road trip in history — and what astronauts will do once they arrive — remain an open question. Click here. (5/24)

How India is Quietly Becoming a Space Exploration Power House (Source: CSM)
India successfully launched a prototype space shuttle on May 23; a mini, unmanned space vehicle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator. The shuttle traveled to an altitude of about 40 miles above Earth's surface, short of the 62-mile barrier between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, before returning to Earth and into the Bay of Bengal.

"In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal-protection system, and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated," officials from the country's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), reported in an announcement Monday.

The space vehicle launch officially entered the country into the global race to develop a low-cost, reusable space shuttle, a feat considered critical to the feasibility of future space exploration. It also marks yet another recent milestone of India's burgeoning space program, securing the south Asian country's spot among the world's space exploration superpowers. (5/24)

Embry-Riddle Receives $500,000 From NASA to Study Kite-Surfing in the Stratosphere (Source: ERAU)
A team led by professors in the College of Engineering at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus have received one of eight NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Phase II grants for $500,000. The award will allow the faculty and student research team to continue developing a futuristic concept using unmanned aircraft to gather wind and solar power at 60,000 feet above the Earth that someday might lead to atmospheric satellites providing communications and surveillance capabilities, among other applications. (5/23)

Why NASA is Hitching a ride on Red Dragon (Source: Space News)
When NASA and SpaceX announced April 27 that they had modified an existing unfunded Space Act Agreement that involves the company’s “Red Dragon” Mars lander concept, it was, unsurprisingly, SpaceX that got all the attention. No company has ever flown a private Mars lander, and not even NASA has landed a spacecraft as large as SpaceX’s Dragon. Moreover, Red Dragon is the latest sign that SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, are serious about pursuing a long-term goal of Mars settlement.

But what’s in it for NASA? The answer might be summed up in two words: supersonic retropropulsion, a landing technology that the agency increasingly sees as critical to its own Mars goals. It’s necessary because other approaches — parachutes, airbags and even the “skycrane” system used by the Curiosity rover — can only land spacecraft weighing about a ton on Mars. A human Mars lander, by comparison, is likely to weigh up to several dozen tons. Click here. (5/23)

Boeing, SpaceX Progressing Toward Crew Launches (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing has joined two halves of a prototype Starliner crew capsule at Kennedy Space Center, where SpaceX continues to renovate a launch pad for launches of astronauts in Dragon capsules. Company representatives and NASA on Tuesday said they are making good progress toward launches of astronauts on test flights in late 2017 or early 2018 that aim to end U.S. reliance on Russia for rides to orbit.

“Astronauts will once again fly from the Space Coast,” said Lisa Colloredo, associate manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a panel kicking off the 44th Space Congress in Cape Canaveral. Company presentations included little detail on timelines, but SpaceX said it is on track to launch astronauts on a test flight to the International Space Station by late 2017. Boeing recently confirmed a slip of its crew test flight to February 2018. Click here. (5/25)

How Big is the Market for Small Launch Vehicles? (Source: Space News)
At first glance, the news looks good for a new wave of small launch vehicles under development. Several ventures are planning constellations of dozens or hundreds of small satellites for communications and remote sensing, all requiring launches in the next several years. Interest in cubesats, either for constellations or standalone missions, also seems to be growing by the year.

Less clear, though, is just how big that market is, and how much of it can be captured by small launch vehicles. Different assessments give widely varying forecasts for the number of smallsats to be launched in the next few years, depending how such satellites are defined.

Recent forecasts appear to be good news for small launch vehicle developers: there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of satellites available for them to launch in the next several years. However, those new launchers will have to compete with existing ways of launching smallsats, including flying them as secondary payloads or launching many of them at one time on a larger rocket. Click here. (4/11)

Space Florida Urges Florida Companies to Pursue NASA Tech Commercialization (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida has partnered with NASA's Technology Transfer Office at KSC inviting commercial industry, as well as Early Stage & Growth Stage companies, to develop and utilize NASA technology and Intellectual Property (IP) in the marketplace. Following an application process, NASA patented technology may be licensed for commercial use.

Space Florida has a number of R&D incentive programs that can assist companies who license NASA technologies, including its ever-expanding capital accelerator program. The commercial opportunities are enormous and NASA currently has over 1,400 patents available to the U.S. public from its 10 centers nationwide. Early and growth-stage companies should ask, “is there a NASA technology that can be integrated into my current technologies and systems?” Click here. (5/23)

SpaceX Alums Eye Easier Way to Get Mini Satellites Into Orbit (Source: PC Magazine)
Several SpaceX alums are working on an easier way of getting micro satellites into orbit. Former SpaceX employees Jim Cantrell and John Garvey, alongside Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences vet Ken Sunshine and aerospace expert Dr. Eric Besnard have launched Vector Space, which will allow customers to launch mini satellites "when you want and to your choice of orbit."

Vector will use small rockets measuring just 40 feet from tail to tip, to bring mini satellites anywhere into orbit. The rockets will be capable of carrying up to 55 pounds to a 250-mile orbit, according to Popular Science, which earlier reported on the company's launch, or 100 pounds at 125 miles from Earth's surface. (5/25)

Senate Schism on Russian Rocket Engines Continues (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today. Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue. The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday.

Senate appropriators and authorizers clashed last year over the number of Russian RD-180 rocket engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) may obtain for its Atlas V rockets for launching national security satellites. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), limited the number to an additional nine.

The Senate Appropriations Committee essentially lifted that limit in the FY2016 appropriations act at the urging of two of its most senior members -- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). ULA builds its rockets in Alabama. McCain vehemently opposes the appropriations action and SASC's FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- which is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor this week -- would repeal that section of the law. (5/24)

Sanders Supports Space Exploration (Source: Orange County Register)
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he supports space exploration. In an interview while campaigning in southern California, Sanders noted the pride created by achievements like the Apollo 11 moon landing, "and I would like to see that type of exploration to Mars and elsewhere continue." He did not provide any specific space policy details in the brief interview. Sanders continues to campaign for the Democratic nomination although he is far behind front-runner Hillary Clinton in the number of delegates. (5/25)

Four Wild Technologies Lawmakers Want NASA to Pursue (Source: Ars Technica)
John Culberson, a Texas Republican who represents one of the most conservative districts in the conservative state of Texas, is a proud member of the Tea Party and would like nothing more than to tear up Obamacare. But Culberson is also a science geek through and through, and while he’d like to cut the federal budget, he’d just as soon plough those savings into NASA to fuel new innovations.

“One of the biggest problems with NASA headquarters has been an absence of long-term goals,” Culberson told Ars. “I’ve done my best with this to give them some short-term and long-term goals based on the scientific decadal study and based on what the public has come to expect from NASA. I want to help NASA inspire the next generation.” Click here. (5/25)

Roscosmos Proposes International Team to Create Super-Heavy Carrier Rocket (Source: Space Daily)
The deputy head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos said that Russia offers its international partners to jointly create a new super-heavy-lift launch vehicle.

"The work on establishing the following means of the development of outer space - a joint creation of a super-heavy launch vehicle - may be organized within the framework of the international cooperation. We propose to our partners to create [the carrier rocket] together," Sergei Saveliev told reporters.

In April 2015, the Russian space agency abandoned plans to develop a super-heavy space launch vehicle after re-allocating funds and focusing on modifying a heavy Angara-A5 rocket to lift super-heavy loads. In late March, Roscosomos announced that Russia would show the design of a super-heavy space launch vehicle before the end of 2016. (5/25)

FAA AST Gets Modest Budget Increase From House (Source: Space News)
The FAA's commercial space office received a small but highly desired increase in its budget Tuesday. House appropriators approved an amendment to a transportation, housing, and urban development spending bill that transfers $1 million to the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, bringing its overall budget up to $19.8 million. That is the amount both requested by the administration and provided in the Senate's version of the bill. The FAA and industry advocates argued the office needs the additional money to hire staff and avoid backlogs on license applications and other regulatory activities. (5/25)

U.S. Could Gain Access to Protected Galileo NavSat Signals (Source: Space News)
The U.S. and Norway are likely to gain access to Galileo's protected navigation signal at a meeting next month. Philippe Jean, head of the Galileo unit at the European Commission, said the European Council will likely approve access to the Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal during a June 7 meeting, although additional negotiations will be required to discuss terms of access. The announcement was tied to the launch of the two latest Galileo satellites early Tuesday. (5/25)

NASA Planetary Stamps Coming to a Post Office Near You (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
At the end of May you will be able to hold the eight planets of our solar system and Pluto between your letter-sending fingers. The Forever stamps will feature NASA science images of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, according to a news release from NASA and the U.S. Postal Service. (5/25)

Senate Wants Review of Troubled GPS Ground System (Source: Space News)
A Senate bill would require a Nunn-McCurdy review of a troubled GPS ground system program. Language in the Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act, to be taken up this week by the full Senate, withholds $393 million from the Operational Control Segment (OCX) program until the Secretary of Defense conducts a Nunn-McCurdy certification of it.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which approved the bill earlier this month, argued that the Air Force was delaying a new cost baseline for the program that would have automatically triggered such a review. OCX's cost has already increased 22 percent, according to a Defense Department acquisition report issued earlier this year, and is expected to go even higher. (5/25)

Orbital Planning New Rocket to Compete for U.S. Military Launches (Source: Reuters)
Orbital ATK on Tuesday unveiled plans for a new rocket to compete against United Launch Alliance and Elon Musk's SpaceX for missions to launch U.S. military and commercial satellites. Orbital's Next Generation Launcher is based on the solid-rocket strap-on boosters that flew on NASA's space shuttles, Orbital Business Development Director John Steinmeyer said at the 2016 Space Congress conference in Cape Canaveral.

The company plans to buy the rocket's second stage from Jeff Bezos' space company, Blue Origin. Currently, ULA, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and Musk's SpaceX, are the only companies certified to launch U.S. military and national security satellites. "We're working cooperatively with the Air Force to make sure there's room for three players," Steinmeyer said in an interview with Reuters.

Orbital would launch the rocket from one of the space shuttle's old launchpads at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the Air Force maintained requirements for a West Coast launch site as well, Orbital could refurbish a pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Steinmeyer said. Orbital in January won an Air Force contract worth up to $180 million to develop rocket propulsion technologies. Steinmeyer declined to say how much Orbital was investing in the project. (5/24)

Problems for KSC's New Small-Vehicle Launch Pad? (Source: SPACErePORT)
KSC's plan to develop a new bare-bones small-vehicle launch pad within the fenceline of Launch Complex 39B is apparently getting more complicated. Dubbed Launch Complex 39C, the pad would accommodate a variety of users, including Rocket Lab, Firefly, Vector Space, and others who have publicly announced their intent to operate at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. It would be available while nearby LC-39B is not being used by NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), and maybe Orbital ATK's proposed new EELV-class rocket.

KSC Director Bob Cabana was asked during this week's Space Congress event about LC-39C and seemed to indicate that some issues are interfering with the project. It seems the evolving infrastructure requirements on the complex for SLS might be encroaching on its capability to accommodate the new small rocket pad. A presentation later in the day by Rocket Lab made no mention of LC-39C, but conveyed that the company is looking at alternative spaceports and is talking to the Air Force.

If NASA can't accommodate its small "Venture Class" launchers at LC-39C, where else might they fit on the Cape? LC-46 is one option. Another is LC-20. LC-20 has not recently been available because it is within the hazard area for Delta-4 launches from LC-37, but ULA intends eventually to abandon LC-37 and Delta-4 launches will become more rare until then as ULA shifts solely to the Delta-4-Heavy model. (5/24)

FAA and Air Force Seek to Harmonize Launch Safety Roles (Source: SPACErePORT)
At the 44th Space Congress, the FAA and the Air Force discussed ongoing (Congressionally directed) efforts to harmonize their responsibilities for range safety during commercial launches at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. For launches at other spaceports, the FAA has basically adopted the Air Force's safety rules and would impose those requirements on the spaceport operators, in lieu of developing a formal government range.

Removing the Air Force from the range safety process seems to be a popular idea during such discussions. But the Air Force described how a ship encroached the downrange launch hazard area for two separate launches from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, and that on the second instance they waived the safety rules and proceeded with the launch. This interesting tidbit illustrates an important, but little appreciated point: the Air Force can be more flexible than the FAA.

The FAA's adoption of the Air Force safety rules includes their promulgation into a rigid set of regulations carrying the weight of law, with a much more limited potential for waivers that reflect real-time, real-world situations. The Air Force, on the other hand, has a freer hand to allow such waivers. So, swapping Air Force oversight for FAA oversight may not be the best answer. (5/24)

Space Industry Lobbies to Blast Off Ahead of FAA Regulation (Source: Bloomberg)
A commercial spaceflight trade organization and 22 of its executive and associate member organizations spent more than $2.19 million lobbying the federal government in the first quarter, with much of the focus on fending off FAA safety regulations that the industry views as premature.

Overall lobbying expenditures by the Commercial Flight Federation and its current executive and associate members increased by 6.7 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, reflecting the fledgling industry's steady growth. Two lobbyists working on commercial spaceflight issues said the industry's priority is to avoid “premature” regulation of spaceflight safety that could stifle growth in the burgeoning industry.

The industry scored a victory in November with enactment of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which extends through 2023 a commercial space “learning period” that restricts the FAA from imposing safety regulations for humans flying on commercial spacecraft. The grace period had been set to expire this year. (5/24)

Fijian National Charged With Selling Defense Tech To China (Source: Law360)
A Fijian national is facing a criminal indictment in Washington federal court for allegedly attempting to sell sensitive technology used in missile and spacecraft navigation systems to Chinese customers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Friday.

In an unsealed indictment originally filed May 11, the CBP’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement alleges that William Ali, 37, traveled from his home in New Zealand to Seattle in order to acquire specialized accelerometers for eventual sale to China, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. (5/245)

UAE 'Must Take Risks' in Space Ventures (Source: The National)
Taking risks and accepting failure are important points for the UAE’s fledgling space sector to note. Speaking on the sidelines of the UAE Space Agency’s advisory committees meeting in the capital on Monday, one of its members said it was important not to fear making mistakes when dealing with space exploration.

“When you push the limits, there is always a possibility of failure and that should be acceptable – that’s the only way you can advance," said Dr Charles Elachi, director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president of the California Institute of Technology. (5/24)

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