July 1, 2016

GPS Ground System Cost Breaches Nunn-McCurdy Limit (Source: Space News)
The Air Force formally declared a Nunn-McCurdy cost breach on the GPS 3 ground control system Thursday. The Air Force said it would notify Congress that the cost of the GPS Operational Control Segment, or OCX, program has exceeded its baseline by more than 25 percent. That notification could lead to the cancellation of OCX unless the Secretary of Defense determines the program is vital to national security, that no alternatives exist and that there is a plan to overcome its problems. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, is expected to complete a report on the OCX program by October. (6/30)

ULA Implements Layoffs in Florida, Other States (Source: Denver Post)
United Launch Alliance laid off 110 employees Thursday as the company carried out planned job cuts announced earlier this year. ULA said that 87 of the 110 employees were based at its headquarters in Colorado, with the rest at company facilities in Alabama, California, Florida and Texas. An additional 240 employees accepted company buyouts. ULA said in April it planned to cut up to 375 jobs this year, with more cuts expected next year, as it works to reduce its costs in the face of growing competition, particularly from SpaceX. (7/1)

Funding of Space Ventures Gets a Lift (Source: MIT Tech Review)
Commercial space exploration is no longer just for billionaires. Last week, a small Arizona startup closed a $15 million round of funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital firms Canaan Partners and Norwest Ventures. World View, which calls itself a “space balloon” company, was founded with the aim of sending tourists to the edge of space using balloons rather than rockets.

It’s the latest in a string of substantial space investments. Also last week, Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based company that organizes launches of small satellites, announced an $18 million round of financing to fund its own constellation of satellites for Earth imaging. The company wants to let anyone with a smartphone request images of any place on Earth in 90 minutes, for $90. Planetary Resources, another startup based in the Seattle area, raised over $20 million in May toward its long-term goal of mining extraterrestrial asteroids. (7/1)

New System Discovered with Five Planets (Source: Universe Today)
NASA’s planet-discovering Kepler mission suffered a major mechanical failure in May 2013, but thanks to innovative techniques subsequently implemented by astronomers the satellite continues to uncover worlds beyond our Solar System (i.e., exoplanets).  Indeed, Andrew Vanderburg (CfA) and colleagues just published results highlighting a new system found to host five transiting planets, which include: two sub-Neptune sized planets, a Neptune sized planet, a sub-Saturn sized planet, and a Jupiter sized planet. (7/1)

Russian Cargo Craft Tests ISS Docking System (Source: TASS)
A Progress cargo spacecraft undocked and then redocked with the International Space Station early Friday. The 30-minute flight was designed to test an improved manual docking system on the station that would be used as a backup should the normal automated docking system malfunction. NASA and Roscosmos said the brief flight was a success, although a Russian industry source reported the Progress spacecraft was "wobbling" when it docked back at the station because of an "additional pulse" of its engines. (7/1)

Intelsat Raises Funds with Debt Deal (Source: Space News)
Intelsat turned to a private placement of debt to repurchase some of its bonds after investment banks declined to participate. Intelsat said it raised $490 million in that private placement to repurchase bonds. While bondholders were willing to participate in the repurchase, Intelsat could not win support from investment banks to finance the deal after one firm, Aurelius Capital Management LP of New York, alleged that Intelsat had violated its bond covenants, claims that Intelsat denies. (7/1)

Taiwan Satellite Delays Allow Japan to Assist Remote Sensing Needs (Source: CNA)
Taiwan is relying on Japanese remote sensing satellites after a combination of spacecraft problems and launch delays. Taiwan Science and Technology Minister Yang Hung-duen said this week that the second of four reaction wheels on its Formosat-2 spacecraft malfunctioned June 21, preventing the spacecraft from being pointed accurately enough to carry out Earth imaging. A replacement satellite, Formsat-5, was supposed to launch early this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9, but delays traced back to last June's Falcon 9 launch failure have pushed back that launch until at least October. (7/1)

Alaska Spaceport to Host Missile Defense Test Launches (Source: Alaska Public Media)
Alaska's spaceport on Kodiak Island has won a major deal with the Missile Defense Agency. Alaska Aerospace Corporation said the contract, valued at up to $80 million over six years, will support an "indefinite number" of launches to test the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system from Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska, the launch site located on the island. The spaceport, which has rebuilt its launch facilities after an explosion in a 2014 missile test, has been struggling to line up new missile or space launch customers. (6/30)

FAA AST to Support Italian Spaceflight Regulations (Source: ANSI)
The Italian Space Agency signed a cooperative agreement Thursday with the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The agreement will allow the FAA to support the development of regulations for commercial suborbital spaceflight in Italy. Roberto Battiston, head of the Italian Space Agency, said the work could eventually lead to the development of a commercial spaceport in the country. (6/30)

Boeing Sponsors New Attraction at Kennedy Space Center (Source: Florida Today)
Boeing will be the corporate sponsor of a new attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The complex hosted a "topping off" ceremony Thursday for its new Heroes and Legends attraction, which will host the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. It will be sponsored by Boeing and marks the first corporate sponsorship of an attraction there. The new attraction is scheduled to open Nov. 11. (6/30)

DARPA Relaunching Hypersonic Project (Source: Flight Global)
The decades-old idea of bringing together a turbine engine and a ramjet for hypersonic flight in a craft that can take off from a runway is being revived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA, which dubs the program the Advanced Full Range Engine, is calling for bidders this month and is aiming to launch the project in fiscal 2017. (6/27)

Boeing Says Russian Co. Can't Trim $325M Sea Launch Loss (Source: Law 360)
Boeing blasted a Russian aerospace company in California federal court Monday for trying to trim $20 million off the $325 million it owes for a failed rocket-launch joint venture, arguing the company's contentions that another joint venture investor already paid that amount have been heard and rejected before. RSC Energia has already tried and failed twice to convince the court that its $325 million share of Boeing's $515 million in judgments should be reduced by $19.9 million. (6/28)

NASA Has Payloads List For SpaceX Red Dragon (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA is ready to help Elon Musk land a Dragon capsule on Mars and is taking a wait-and-see approach to sending its own expensive instruments along with it. The U.S. space agency has an internal list of potential scientific payloads for the “Red Dragon” mission the SpaceX founder and his engineers hope to launch in 2018. NASA is ready to spend “on the order of $30 million” to assist that first private mission to Mars. (6/30)

China Announces Success in Technology to Refuel Satellites in Orbit (Source: Xinhua)
China has successfully completed the in-space refuel of orbital satellites following last week's launch of a new generation carrier rocket, the National University of Defense Technology announced. Similar to air refueling for planes, the process refuels a satellite in orbit in a microgravity environment and will extend a satellite's functional life and boost its maneuver capabilities considerably. (6/30)

I Think it’s Time to Bet on the Guys with 21st Century Rockets (Source: Ars Technica)
In a first, the secretive Blue Origin rocket company invited the world to watch its Sunday launch, live. Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle accelerated to 2,142mph, ascended into space, and returned to Earth 10 minutes later. Not that all that much of the world watched. It was Father’s Day, after all, and Blue Origin doesn’t have quite the cachet of SpaceX to draw in the masses. Moreover it’s easy enough to dismiss the achievements of Blue Origin—it’s just a small rocket, after all, and this only an unmanned suborbital flight.

Nevertheless, Sunday’s launch affirmed a singular, increasingly inescapable fact about the future of spaceflight: reusable rockets represent the future of the aerospace industry. SpaceX has proven that it can safely return large orbital rockets to Earth, both on land and at sea. With Sunday’s flight, Blue Origin has now definitively taken the next step, turning a rocket around and flying it again. Four times. Click here. (6/30)

End is Nigh for Rosetta: Spacecraft Will Crash Into Comet (Source: Ars Technica)
After launching 12 years ago and achieving its primary mission of reaching an orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the aging Rosetta spacecraft will now die. On September 30, the European Space Agency says it will command Rosetta to crash into the comet it has been following since 2014.

Now at a distance of more than 850 million km from the Sun, Rosetta's two solar arrays cannot collect enough power to guarantee the spacecraft's heaters will keep it warm enough to survive. Instead of putting Rosetta into hibernation, which engineers believe is not survivable, Rosetta will follow its Philae lander to the surface of the comet. (6/30)

Paying for the Road to Mars (Source: Space News)
While the world’s focus, understandably, is on the amazing technologies being demonstrated by SpaceX and Blue Origin, it is their financial and strategic plans that may matter most. Unlike NASA or anyone else in the space industry, SpaceX and Blue Origin have plans to pay for their goals in space. The idea of major space projects paying for themselves, unfortunately, is just as unprecedented as the companies’ technologies. Click here. (6/30)

The Mystery of Tabby’s Star (Source: Air & Space)
Popular interest in Tabby’s Star—also known, less imaginatively, as KIC 8462852—continues as Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyjian just reached her $100,000 fundraising goal to look further into the spectral anomalies of this mysterious object. Tabby’s Star has been on the radar of alien intelligence enthusiasts ever since the discovery of anomalous and substantial (up to 20 percent) drops in its light curve.

The drops were irregular and lasted between 5 and 80 days. Why the excitement? Because there’s a small—make that miniscule—chance that the dips in brightness are caused by artificial constructions built by alien civilizations. 

This notion, however, is difficult to support. First, Tabby’s Star is an F-type star nearly 1,500 light years away. Main-sequence F stars are heavier than our Sun, and most have a life expectancy of less than two billion years. Here on Earth, it took more than 4.5 billion years for the first technological species (us!) to appear. Thus, any planet around KIC 8462852 would not be expected to be inhabited by complex or intelligent life. Click here. (6/29)

NASA Open to Using Silver-treated Water in Space, Despite FDA Opposition (Source: Space Safety)
Scientists have had to figure out how to recycle and disinfect water to be reused in space. Curiously, the two principal spacefaring nations, the U.S. and Russia, have developed completely different approaches in solving the problem. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains vehemently opposed to the idea of using silver as a bactericide. Research into silver’s bacteria-busting attributes are also repeatedly obstructed by the agency.

Unfortunately for the FDA, it apparently has no jurisdiction up in space, as both U.S. and Russian astronauts will now be taking advantage of silver as a water purifier. The fact that this element is now the primary method of keeping astronauts alive says a lot about its therapeutic potential.

“Due to widespread growth in the use of colloidal silver as a biocidal agent, development of a simple and cost efficient method of silver testing is valuable,” admits NASA on its website. “On station, silver is used as a biocidal agent based on its antimicrobial properties in the potable water system.” (6/30)

NASA Awards Contract to Increase Water Recovery on Space Station (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has selected Paragon Space Development Corporation, a small business headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, to develop a system that will increase the rate of water recovery from the urine of astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The contract is valued at $5.1 million for the delivery of one Brine Processor Assembly (BPA), and is sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division. Work on the contract will be performed at Paragon Space Development’s Tucson facilities.

The technology, currently scheduled for flight in 2018, will undergo a test demonstration on the space station to verify it further closes the “water loop,” with a goal of achieving at least 94 percent recovery of water from urine. The Water Recovery System, currently used on station, captures and processes astronaut urine, but additional unrecovered water remains in the resulting effluent (brine). The BPA assembly will be used to reclaim more water from the brine. (6/30)

Weezer Honor NASA Mission With New Song 'I Love The USA' (Source: Rolling Stone)
In August 2011, NASA launched an unmanned probe named Juno towards Jupiter. Juno is scheduled to enter the planet's orbit on July 4th, and the excitement around this achievement inspired a pair of new tunes from Weezer and Trent Reznor.

Weezer announced the arrival of "I Love The USA" with an enthusiastic tweet on Wednesday night: "Celebrating @NASAJuno’s historic landing on 7/4 w/ a new song!" The band's contribution starts as a simple piano ballad before building towards a climactic guitar solo and patriotic sentiments like, "F*** yeah, this place is great!" (6/30)

NASA Putting SpaceX's Crew Dragon Through the Wringer (Source: Popular Science)
In a spacecraft that's built to carry humans, the "pressure vessel" is the part of the structure the astronauts inhabit on their way to the International Space Station. The pressure vessel keeps air in and the vacuum of space out, and maintains a pressure that's friendly to Earthlings. Basically its job is to keep them alive despite the hazards of spaceflight. So, you know, no pressure.

All of that means the pressure vessel has to be vigorously tested on a brand new spacecraft like SpaceX's Crew Dragon. The Crew Dragon is shaping up to be the first privately owned vehicle to carry astronauts to the space station next year or in 2018. Click here. (6/30)

Brexit's Impact Stretches From Deep Space To Nuclear Fusion (Source: NPR)
The U.K.'s fraught decision to exit the European Union was motivated by everyday issues such as trade and immigration. But its impact could soon be felt in some of Europe's most esoteric locales — like particle accelerators.

Many scientific organizations, such as high-energy physics laboratory CERN, based in Switzerland, and the European Space Agency (ESA), were actually formed before the European Union. British membership in these organizations would not be directly affected, but its role could change. The U.K. wing of the pan-European aerospace company, Airbus, is putting ExoMars together. Brexit could cause export-control problems or other industrial snags.

Airbus could even decide to move a portion of its U.K. manufacturing facilities to Europe, though it's unlikely to happen quickly. Womersley adds that Britain may end up paying more for scientific projects because its financial contributions to European organizations are paid in pounds. The pound has dropped by 10 percent against the U.S. dollar since the June 23 vote. (6/29)

Virgin Galactic Preparing for Busy LauncherOne Future (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
While Virgin Galactic prepare to restart test operations with its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, the company has revealed an ambitious future for its LauncherOne system – including a home base in California that is currently “too big” for their needs, but will allow for the expectation for dozens of missions per year. LauncherOne will be tasked with a multi-orbit, multi-payload ride for numerous small satellites via its air-launch system. Click here. (6/30)

Orbital Insight Raises $20 Million to Wring Actionable Intelligence from Satellite Imagery (Source: Space News)
Investor enthusiasm remains strong for companies that provide information drawn from Earth observation satellites, judging by $20 million in new investments for geospatial data company Orbital Insight.

Orbital Insight announced June 27 that it raised $15 million in Series B funding from venture capital groups and garnered another $5 million in investment and product development work for In-Q-Tel, the non-profit investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community. (6/30)

Russia, Mexico Continue Talks on Space Cooperation (Source: Sputnik)
Russia and Mexico continue negotiations on the issue of agreement on space cooperation. "I can say that work on a cooperation agreement in the sphere of space area is in progress. There is a draft agreement, we are in talks with them on the issue," Russian Ambassador to Mexico Eduard Malayan said. (6/30)

NASA Awards Grants to Nine Informal Learning Institutions [Three in Florida] (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded almost $10 million in grants to informal education organizations in seven states to help inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers. The organizations include two botanical gardens, five museums, one foundation and one NASA visitor center. The selected projects include botany experiments focused on growing food in space, technology challenges using caves as an analog environment for other planets, hands-on aviation exhibits, and a traveling exhibit focusing on life in Earth’s extreme environments.

Three of the organizations are in Florida, including DNC Parks & Resorts at KSC, Inc., Kennedy Space Center, Florida; Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, Coral Gables, Florida; and Orlando Science Center, Orlando, Florida. Click here. (6/30)

KSC Visitor Complex Tops Off Heroes & Legends Attraction (Source: Florida Today)
Raising a silhouette of a pioneering rocket plane above its entrance, NASA and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Thursday morning celebrated completion of the initial structure that will house the new Heroes & Legends attraction, scheduled to open to the public on Veterans Day. A steel beam signed by construction workers, VIPs and Visitor Complex employees and guests later was expected to be hoisted about 30 feet to ceremoniously top off the building. (6/30)

This Stinky Perfume Smells Like a Comet (Source: Seeker)
Ah, the sweet smell of a comet as it soars across the night sky ... stardust and rainbows with a hint of fresh mint, right? Wrong. More like cyanide and cat pee with a heaping helping of rotten eggs.

If you think you'd like to experience that in person, you're not alone; researchers from The Open University in England and ESA's Rosetta science team recently commissioned scent specialists at The Aroma Company to concoct a custom scent that more-or-less accurately portrays the various compounds found in the coma of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, first sniffed by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2014. (6/30)

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