May 28, 2016

Russia Ahead of U.S. in Space Rocket Engine Technology (Source: Interfax-Ukraine)
Russia is ahead of the United States in the field of space rocket engine technology, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. "We are ahead of them in some areas, for instance in space rocket engine technology," Rogozin wrote. He also said that the press had misquoted his statement on Russia lagging behind the United States in space exploration. (5/27)

Russian Space Industry Nine Times Behind U.S. Says Rogozin (Source: Moscow Times)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has been left red-faced after telling reporters that “Russia will never catch up to the United States in the space race,” the Interfax news agency reported. “Our space industry has fallen behind the Americans ninefold. All of our ambitious projects require us to up productivity 150 percent – and even if we manage that, we will still never catch up with them,” Rogozin originally said to Interfax Friday. (5/27)

Commercialization Of Space: Three Cheers For The Mundane (Source: Forbes)
If commercial space travel is going to be a Thing, there needs to be a way to actually make money at it, and selling joyrides to celebrities doesn’t seem particularly viable.

There’s a sense, then, in which it’s essential that the field become really, really boring. That is, if launching stuff into orbit (or beyond) is going to exist and expand, it needs to get to a place where the primary concern is not some grand vision of future generations of humanity colonizing the stars, but turning a profit in the here and now. (5/27)

Small Satellites Are Back, with Down-to-Earth Expectations (Source: LA Times)
Suddenly, everyone from the U.S. government, commercial satellite companies, universities and even high school students needs to have a small satellite. And that is fueling another boom, in Southern California and across the West, in companies dedicated to giving the satellites a ride to space.

By one estimate, 210 satellites weighing less than 110 pounds will be launched this year, to do such things as map the Earth, expand broadband access and track packages on shipping vessels. That's up from just 25 launches in 2010. The number is expected to double again in five years.

In the last six months, at least half a dozen new launch vehicle firms aimed at the small satellite market have cropped up, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense analysis company. Click here. (5/27)

Movie Filmed at Spaceport America to Premiere This Summer (Source: KRQE)
 A new movie filmed at Spaceport America is scheduled to premiere later this summer. “The Space Between Us” is about a group of astronauts traveling to Mars to help colonize it. One astronaut dies giving birth. At 16 the boy searches for clues about his family and the planet Earth. The production employed hundreds of New Mexicans. (5/27)

Americans to Keep Flying to Space on Russian Engines Even After 2018 (Source: Sputnik)
Even though NASA will not sign a new contract for the delivery of US and European astronauts to the International Space Station by Russia’s Soyuz carrier rockets when the current contract runs out in 2018, it will still rely on Russian engines to man the space outpost.

The Russians are “very, very good at” creating alloys that allow the engine to withstand certain temperatures and pressures, Senator Bill Nelson said at a 2014 hearing on Capitol Hill. While NASA is working hard to develop its new space boosters, it still can’t afford to stop using Russia’s RD-1280 engines. In 2014 Washington banned their imports on,ly to start buying them again after realizing the lack of any working analogues anywhere else.

NASA is currently modernizing its Antares booster rocker as an alternative to the Atlas V for the Cygnus Orbital Science cargo ship using Russia’s RD-181 engine. The first launch of the upgraded Antares rocket is scheduled for July 2016. (5/28)

Rosetta spacecraft Finds Key Building Blocks for Life in a Comet (Source: Reuters)
Scientists for the first time have directly detected key organic compounds in a comet, bolstering the notion that these celestial objects delivered such chemical building blocks for life long ago to Earth and throughout the solar system.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft made several detections of the amino acid glycine, used by living organisms to make proteins, in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists said on Friday.

Glycine previously was indirectly detected in samples returned to Earth in 2006 from another comet, Wild 2. But there were contamination issues with the samples, which landed in the Utah desert, that complicated the scientific analysis. "Having found glycine in more than one comet shows that neither Wild 2 nor 67P are exceptions," said Rosetta scientist Kathrin Altwegg. (5/27)

XCOR Shifting Focus From Spaceplane to Revenue-Producing Engine Work (Source: Parabolic Arc)
From what I’m hearing, XCOR's layoffs are part of a retrenchment to focus on projects that are bringing in revenue, such as the upper stage engine XCOR is developing for ULA. It appears that many people working on the Lynx suborbital space plane were laid off.

The company’s burn rate — what it was spending every month — was just too high, especially as it is maintaining facilities in Mojave, Calif., and Midland, Texas. It’s also been a while since XCOR has made any announcements about new fundraising rounds.

Work on the Lynx — which has been under construction for about four years — is being suspended. The last update on its progress from XCOR, provided at the Space Access 2016 Conference in April, indicated that one wing had been built by the manufacturer and funds were required to construct the second wing. (5/28)

Spacepower in the Middle East (Source: SpaceWatch)
The unique, open geography of the Middle East combined with the rapid dissemination of technologies such as high-resolution Earth observation satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile devices such as smart phones, social media, and the emergency of big data and artificial intelligence are causing a dramatic change in the character of war and diplomacy.

This change offers Middle East governments and others in and out of the region opportunities to enhance their national security, but at the same time can also restrict their ability to act in secrecy, or at least it will change expectations of how long such actions will remain secret. Click here. (5/27)

China and Arab States Agree to Promote Beidou Use in Middle East (Source: SpaceWatch)
China and the League of Arab States (LAS) agreed to promote the use of China’s BeiDou global navigation satellite system (GNSS) at the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum held in Doha, Qatar, on 16 May 2016.

The BeiDou system is a rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s GLONASS, and Europe’s Galileo. At present BeiDou consists of 20 satellites in both medium-earth and geostationary orbits, and aims to have a total of 30 satellites providing global GNSS coverage by 2020.

The priority for Chinese policy makers and satellite engineers is to make the current constellation available to countries involved in China’s ambitious ‘One Road, One Belt’ initiative that aims to revive the ancient land and maritime trade routes that connected Europe and the Middle East with China, known as the Silk Road. (5/27)

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace Battle for DARPA Space Contract (Source: Inverse)
Three groups are vying to lead the designs behind DARPA's XS-1 Program, which aims to make a craft that can go to space and launch satellites 10 times in 10 days. On Monday the agency set the deadline for July 22, at which point it will pick between the designs of three groups, Northrop Grumman, partnered with Virgin Galactic; Boeing, partnered with Blue Origin; and Masten Space Systems, partnered with XCOR Aerospace.

The winner of the public-private partnership with be awarded $140 million in DARPA funding to build the submitted designs for the reusable rocket. Click here. (5/27)

SpaceX Delivers Thaicom GEO Satellite, Sticks Fourth Landing (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral and climbed into space Friday, propelling a Thai television relay satellite into orbit and achieving its third dramatic ocean landing in a row, adding to SpaceX’s growing inventory of recovered rocket boosters.

The Falcon 9’s first stage landing in the Atlantic Ocean gives SpaceX four previously-flown boosters in its inventory. One of the returned rocket bodies, which made the first successful landing on land in December, will be put on display at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The Falcon 9 stage that made the first-ever landing on the offshore barge, or drone ship, in April is the vehicle SpaceX wants to launch again. (5/27)

Russia Flight Tests Anti-Satellite Missile (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
Russia conducted a successful flight test of a developmental anti-satellite missile on Wednesday that is capable of destroying satellites in orbit, American defense officials said. The Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile was launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility, located 500 miles north of Moscow, said officials familiar with the situation.

The missile was monitored by U.S. intelligence satellites and the test appeared to be successful. The launch marks another major milestone for Moscow’s efforts to develop weapons capable of destroying U.S. navigation, communications, and intelligence satellites, a key strategic advantage. (5/27)

Russia's Energia Corp. Estimates Space Tourism Market at $1 Billion (Source: RBTH)
The space tourism market is estimated at $1 billion, Energia Rocket and Space Corporation Vice-President Alexander Derechin said. He also said the market for commercial manned flights was worth $1 billion overall, including multi-entry systems (commercial winged spacecraft) - $500 million, manned flights to low near-Earth orbits - $300 million, suborbital flights - $100 million and deep space flights - $100 million.

"This is our idea of space market fragments," Derechin said in comments on the presented data. Seven tourists have visited outer space, and one of them did that twice. All the tourists traveled aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft built by Energia Corporation.

Space Adventures was the operator of those flights. The company said it was ready to organize a tour around the Moon onboard a Soyuz spaceship for a fee of $150 million per person. The latest tours to the near-Earth orbit cost about $40 million. (5/27)

SpaceX Scheduled to Nearly Triple Launches This Year (Source: LA Business Journal)
SpaceX has officially scheduled 17 launches for 2016, nearly tripling the company's six rocket launches last year, Spaceflight Now reports. The company plans to continue the trend by launching its fifth rocket of the year and attempt its third sea-based landing tonight at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

The firm’s ability to keep pace with its own schedule will be tested this summer as it starts launching multiple rockets per month. Several rocket launches scheduled this year were delayed from their original mission dates in 2015. (5/26)

STEM Attention Needed for U.S. to Lead in New Space Race (Source: Press-Telegram)
In the U.S., to maintain our place as a leader in space exploration and the development of technology and capability, we must continue to invest in our most valuable resource — today’s elementary, high school and college students. They are tomorrow’s space designers and travelers.

If we don’t invest and drive change, the consequences could be severe. According to DoD, in the next 10 years, roughly 30 percent of its civilian engineering workforce will become eligible for retirement, taking with them decades of experience. Outside the DoD, research presented in the 2014 Business Roundtable report found a similar trend — more than half of the CEOs surveyed cited a lack of STEM skills in the workforce as a “significant problem” for their companies. (5/27)

Gohmert: NASA Wouldn't Send Gay Couples to Colonize in Space (Source: Raw Story)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) argued on the House floor Thursday that the strive for LGBT rights is a mistake because NASA would never send a gay couple into space (except for Sally Ride). Gohmert created a fantasy scenario: if we had 40 people to choose from for a spacecraft that would save humanity, how many of them would be homosexuals? Though, Gohmert didn’t seem to consider how many of them would be botanists like Damon’s character.

“You’re wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah, you have that ability to be a modern day Noah, you can preserve life,” he continued. “How many same-sex couples would you take from the animal kingdom and from humans to put on a spacecraft to perpetuate humanity and the wildlife kingdom?” (5/27)

Annual Output of China's Satellite Industry Tops 200 Billion Yuan (Source: Xinhua)
The annual output value of the Chinese satellite industry has exceeded 200 billion yuan ($30 billion), according to China's top aerospace administration. Satellite technology has been widely used in various domains in China, covering agriculture and forestry, water conservancy, housing construction, environmental protection and disaster relief, among others, said Tian Yulong, chief engineer of State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

China has been making steady progress on commercial remote sensing satellites and will complete the building of a national aerospace infrastructure system for civil use in the next five years, Tian said. China will launch nearly 100 new satellites for remote sensing, communication, broadcasting and navigation from 2016 to 2020, Tian said. Tian also said China has signed more than 100 cooperative agreements with more than 30 countries on aerospace technology, and exported production overseas. (5/27)

Bezos Praises Progress Made on Blue Origin's BE-4 Rocket Engine (Source: Inverse)
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is making significant progress in its quest to invent an American-made alternative to the Russian rocket engine it currently uses. In an update Wednesday, Bezos writes that Blue Origin has commissioned the first of two new test cells that will support further risk reduction testing for the BE-4 engine. (5/27)

'Made In Space' Likely To Expand In Jacksonville (Source: WJCT)
Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush and head of product strategy, Spencer Pittman, were in Jacksonville last week, where they were visiting from the company’s headquarters in Mountainview, California. The two met in Jacksonville three years ago while they were both checking out the city’s start-up scene. Rush has a physics degree from the University of North Florida and had just graduated from Stetson University law school.

The company, under a NASA contract, has built and operated a 3D printer on the International Space Station, making basic replacement parts for the station and satellites. The challenge of sending up already-assembled parts is they must be engineered to withstand the intense shaking and gravitational forces of rocket liftoff, which last about 10 minutes. But if parts can be built in space, raw materials can be sent up far more cheaply and quickly to be used in the onboard printer.

Right now, the company has about 20 people working in its main engineering office in California and seven employees in its Jacksonville operations and business-development office in Mandarin. They expect to add about 20 employees over the next year. They are on the lookout for people with expertise in robotics; electrical, mechanical and software engineering; and business development. (5/27)

Layoffs at XCOR Aerospace (Source: Parabolic Arc)
I’m getting reports about layoffs at XCOR this morning at their operations in Mojave and Midland. I don’t have a precise number, but it seems to have been a significant staff reduction. Some of the folks working on Lynx were let go. Another employee posted on Facebook that this was his last day because he was going to work for SpaceX in Florida. I don’t know what this means for the company or for the Lynx space plane project. I will provide some more details when I know them.

Editor's Note: Such layoffs call into question whether the Midland TX spaceport can thrive with a weakened anchor tenant. Orbital Outfitters and Agile Aero are other tenants at the spaceport and both are tied to XCOR. Midland recently announced plans to pursue a vertical launch capability, though it seems a far-fetched idea for an inland spaceport. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Texas, launch startup Firefly Space says they will hire over 60 new workers before year's end. (5/27)

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