June 30, 2016

Europe's ULA Finalized (Source: Reuters)
Airbus and Safran have finalized the creation of their launch vehicle joint venture. Two companies announced they had closed the deal to create Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) that will be responsible for the manufacturing of the Ariane 5 and future Ariane 6 vehicles. ASL was already managing that work while their parent companies worked out final terms of the agreement. Under that new deal, Safran will pay Airbus 750 million euros ($835 million), 50 million euros less than originally planned, to give the companies a 50-50 share of ASL. (6/29)

SpaceX Gives NASA Discounted Rides After Cargo Mission Failure (Source: Space News)
NASA negotiated discounts and other considerations from SpaceX after the failure of a Dragon cargo mission last year. A report issued this week by the NASA Office of Inspector General said that NASA received discounted pricing on five additional cargo missions added to SpaceX's existing contract, as well as other "significant consideration" from the company to help compensate for the loss of the Dragon on a June 2015 mission to the International Space Station. The report praised NASA for negotiating those discounts, but also recommended that the agency improve how it investigates commercial cargo launch failures to better understand both technical and other causes. (6/29)

Canada Plans Arctic Satellite Coverage (Source: Space News)
Canada is planning a multibillion-dollar satellite system to provide communications for the country's Arctic regions. The Enhanced Satcom Project system, estimated to cost Canadian $2.4 billion (US$1.9 billion), would include at least two satellites in elliptical orbits to provide 24-hour communications, a Canadian military official said this week. The Arctic region is not well served by satellites in geostationary orbit because of its high latitudes, requiring alternative approaches. Enhanced Satcom Project replaces Polar Communications and Weather, a concept studied several years ago by the Canadian Space Agency but shelved because of its high price. (6/29)

Ceres Bright Spots are Salts Formed by Water (Source: Space.com)
Bright patches seen on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres are salts that form in the presence of liquid water. Scientists reported in the journal Nature Wednesday that the bright patches seen in the floor of one crater by NASA's Dawn spacecraft are sodium carbonate, a salt that on Earth is formed when water evaporates from a lake or hot springs. Scientists had previously speculated that the bright patches were ice or Epsom salt. A related study, also based on Dawn data, suggests that Ceres' surface is made primarily of rock and not ice. (6/29)

Japanese Space Agency to Trial Electric Cable for Space Junk Removal (Source: Kyodo)
The Japanese space agency JAXA will include a space debris removal experiment on an upcoming ISS cargo flight. The next HTV, or Kounotori, mission to the station, scheduled for launch this fall, will include a tether that will deploy from the spacecraft after it departs from the station at the end of its mission. The spacecraft will run a current through the tether to test its ability to use the Earth's magnetic field to slow down. That technology, JAXA believes, could be used to help deorbit space debris. (6/29)

Ocean Data Streaming In From International Satellites (Source: BBC)
Ocean scientists are reveling in the bounty of data being provided by satellites. Altimeters on six satellites are now providing scientists with data on the height and shape of the sea surface, which in turn supports applications ranging from weather forecasting to marine science. The data, coming from satellites operated by the U.S., Europe, India and China, are being used by both government agencies to understand the conditions of the ocean as well as by companies monitoring ocean currents for shipping and drilling work. (6/29)

Why America's Space Renaissance Starts in Oklahoma (Source: Ozy)
Jim Bridenstine’s journey to space began in the dusty plains of Oklahoma. Picking his way through the wreckage left by a horrific tornado that had killed dozens days before, Bridenstine was stunned. Elementary schools and neighborhoods had been “absolutely eliminated,” as the battle-tested Navy Reserve pilot described the scene later. “Who would have thought there was that much power in a tornado?”

The answer to that internal struggle is why Bridenstine sits here in his Washington, D.C., office three years later, his desk cluttered with science and technology magazines. The legislator recently proposed the American Space Renaissance Act, the most starry-eyed package since the days of John F. Kennedy.

When Bridenstine took a seat on both the House Committee on Armed Service and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology shortly after assuming office for Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2013, he was hoping to use satellite tech to better predict the kind of storms that ravaged his state. But since taking the post, Bridenstine has expanded his horizons and crafted a far more ambitious plan for the next frontier.  (6/30)

Getting Hooked on Space (Source: Jerusalem Post)
"The don't look for the most experienced individuals, they look for the most passionate individuals,” says mechanical engineer Gedi Minster, who certainly fits the bill. In July, he will be one of 13 Israelis participating in the Space Studies Program organized by the International Space University.

The program – which rotates through various campuses around the world and hosts lecturers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency – is being held in Israel for the first time, at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Some of the biggest names in the field of space exploration will take part, including famed American astronaut Buzz Aldrin. (6/30)

Commercial Space Exploration—A Next Frontier for Manufacturers? (Source: Industry Week)
Within the U.S. market, NASA’s role has changed in relation to developing the space industry. Early on NASA themselves developed and sponsored the technology and manufacturing necessary to reach the moon. In recent years they’ve outsourced the development of private approaches to companies that have in effect developed dual-use technologies, for NASA and for private commercial use.

One key is developing re-usable rocket launchers, which would drive down the cost of space flights. If that price could be driven down further, space flights would be cheaper and support any number of commercial applications such as travel, R&D, manufacturing of drugs and metal alloys, and possibly even new living environments. (6/30)

Scientists Discover New 'Dark' State of Hydrogen (Source: Cosmos)
Physicists have uncovered a new state of hydrogen dubbed "dark hydrogen", which is neither a metal nor a gas, and suggest it is lurking in gas giant planets. Stewart McWilliams from the University of Edinburgh and colleagues from China and the US squeezed pure hydrogen in the same conditions as the interior of massive planets and found an intermediate state between a gas and a metal.

This transitionary state does not reflect or transmit visible light, but does pump out heat. “This observation would explain how heat can easily escape from gas giant planets like Saturn,” co-author Alexander Goncharov says. Despite being the simplest element in terms of structure, with one electron, one proton and one neutron, and the most abundant element in the universe, there's plenty scientists don't know about hydrogen. (6/30)

Is Jeff Bezos's Secretive Rocket Company Coming Out of the Shadows? (Source: CSM)
Aerospace manufacturing company Blue Origin announced yesterday in an email that it has broken ground on a new factory in Florida. The 750,000 square foot factory will manufacture and test Blue Origin’s orbital rockets. "It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action," wrote founder Jeff Bezos in an email to reporters. "We’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again."

Blue Origin, known for its secrecy, emerged from the shadows on June 19 to announce that it had tested its fourth reusable rocket. That launch also marked the first time Blue Origin offered a live webcast of the launch event for space afficionados. Competitor SpaceX has webcasted many of its launch events.

Mr. Bezos announced this week that all parts of the company’s orbital rocket, except the engine, will be manufactured in the new Florida facility. The engine, called the BE-4, is being developed in conjunction with the United Launch Alliance at Blue Origin’s home facility in Kent, Wash. – for now. “Initial BE-4 engine production will occur at our Kent facility while we conduct a site selection process later this year for a larger engine production facility to accommodate higher production rates.” (6/30)

NASA IG Wants Better Mishap Investigation Policy for Commercial Cargo Launches (Source: Space Policy Online)
The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that praised NASA for some aspects of its management of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with SpaceX, but reiterated earlier concerns about the independence of mishap investigations into these "commercial cargo" launch services. NASA concurred with most, but not all, of the OIG's recommendations.

On the positive side, the OIG concluded that "NASA is effectively managing its commercial resupply contract with SpaceX to reduce cost and financial risk." It has "taken advantage of multiple mission pricing discounts" and negotiated "significant consideration" after the 2015 failure including reduced prices for five launches awarded thereafter.

However, the report criticized NASA for not having "an official, coordinated, and consistent mishap investigation policy for commercial resupply launches, which could affect its ability to determine root cause of a launch failure and corrective action." (6/29)

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