February 10, 2017

ULA Confirms March 1 for Launch Attempt of NROL-79 (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance has issued a statement announcing it is targeting a March 1 launch date for the flight of an Atlas V 401 rocket with a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from California's Vandenberg AFB spaceport. The NROL-79 mission had been delayed before this due to issues with the Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage. This past January, ULA stated the NROL-79 mission would be delayed, noting: “The team is actively working to resolve Atlas V second stage booster issues discovered during vehicle testing.” (2/9)

Blue Jets Studied From Space Station (Source: ESA)
For years, their existence has been debated: elusive electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere that sport names such as red sprites, blue jets, pixies and elves. Reported by pilots, they are difficult to study as they occur above thunderstorms. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen during his mission on the International Space Station in 2015 was asked to take pictures over thunderstorms with the most sensitive camera on the orbiting outpost to look for these brief features. (2/8)

FAA Awaiting Static Test Before Clearing Next Falcon 9 (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers at FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) want to see how a Falcon 9 test on Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center works out before clearing the SpaceX launcher for its first flight from the historic pad. George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said Wednesday there are a number of procedural issues as well with the first use of the leased NASA facility for a commercial mission. (2/8)

More Money, More Problems for the Commercial Space Launch Biz (Source: WIRED)
Last week was a rough one for the two largest US commercial space launch companies. On Thursday, United Launch Alliance confirmed it would lay off up to 400 people from its workforce by the end of the year, following a smaller round in 2016. Meanwhile, government investigators apparently reported a flaw in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets—crack-prone fuel-pumping fans.1

Those developments demonstrate how each company is racing to turn a profit sending payloads into space. In that sense, commercial rocket launching is just like any other industry: Cut costs and maximize profits. In ULA’s case, that means slimming the workforce. For SpaceX, the flaws reportedly detailed in the government investigation could indicate that the company has been streamlining its rocket manufacturing a bit too much.

These two companies are important in part because they’re both government contractors. In 2015, government contracts represented 69 percent of revenues in the $5.4 billion global launch industry. That same year, after a two-year long process, SpaceX got certification from the Air Force to bid for national security projects. Click here. (2/8) https://www.wired.com/2017/02/launching-rockets-business-hence-explosions-layoffs/

New SpaceX Launch From 39A is a Symbolic First (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The symbolism surrounding next week’s launch from a pad that has been dormant for more than five years hasn’t eluded former NASA launch director Bob Sieck. It will be the first time a rocket takes off from Kennedy Space Center since a space shuttle last sent astronauts into space in 2011. That’s exactly what billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to do as early as two years from now — launch a rocket carrying humans.

“They acquired the launch pad because they want to put our astronauts in their spacecraft and launch from there,” said Sieck, who retired after a 35-year NASA career in 1999. “That is a big deal. It’s absolutely symbolic we are launching from there.” SpaceX has targeted Feb. 18 as the next possible date for the launch of science experiments and cargo to the International Space Station aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Among the experiments and cargo heading there will be an investigation into auto-docking technology that could contribute to future exploration. (2/8)

Are You Ready to Hop a Ride on a 3D-Printed Spaceship? (Source: PC)
We already know flights aboard Boeing's Starliner spaceship will be comfortable and have a bit of flair, so it's only natural that the ships themselves will have futuristic parts, many of them fabricated in 3D printers. Approximately 600 of those parts will be spit out of 3D printers in a small factory in Connecticut—everything from propulsion system brackets to structures for the air revitalization system. While 3D printing has been used for aerospace parts before, including on fighter jets, the Starliner project represents one of the first times that production parts for space vehicles will be printed. (2/8)

It’s Official: Elon Musk’s SpaceX Has Made Reusability de Rigueur for Big Rockets (Source: Quartz)
Two years ago, the CEO of the world’s primary commercial rocket company thought Elon Musk’s idea of re-using rockets to bring cargo to space was “very uncertain.” “Loss of performance related to recovery, lower industrial rate, cost of rehabilitation of the stage, difficulty in convincing customers to use a used launcher, uncertainties about reliability,” Arianespace chief Stéphane Israël said, ticking off his concerns. “It would be a mistake to consider reuse the alpha and omega of breaking innovation in the field of launchers.”

Things have changed, perhaps thanks to the spectacle of seven SpaceX rockets returning to Earth after delivering their cargo to orbit. Now, the European space champion has a 15-person design team working on a rocket with a reusable second stage, intended to debut in 2030. The decision reflects how much the innovation of Musk’s SpaceX is driving competition in the rocket launch industry, despite setbacks that have raised concerns about the reliability of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. (2/9)

SpaceX Launch Moves to Feb. 18 (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX is now planning a Feb. 18 launch of a space station cargo spacecraft on its first mission from a historic launch pad. The company said Wednesday it is targeting that date for the launch of an upcoming Dragon cargo spacecraft, pending the outcome of a static-fire test on the pad and the assignment of a launch license from the FAA. The launch will be the first for SpaceX from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, previously used by the shuttle program. SpaceX plans to attempt a landing of the Falcon 9 first stage on a pad at Cape Canaveral, which it has done on two prior launches. (2/9)

Michoud Closed for Tornado Repair, Assessment (Source: CollectSpace)
NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans remains closed after a tornado hit the center Tuesday. Emergency crews are continuing to assess damage there, reporting that 40 to 50 percent of all of Michoud's buildings suffered some kind of damage, including five buildings with severe damage. Workers plan to reexamine the Vertical Assembly Center, used to weld components of the Space Launch System, after finding some electrical damage to a power substation there. Among the items damaged at Michoud was the first shuttle external tank, a structural test article stored outdoors that was "sent flying and destroyed" during the storm. (2/9)

Who Serves Smallsat Market Better, Large or Small Rockets? (Source: Space News)
Companies that operate large launch vehicles are working to better serve the smallsat boom. At a smallsat conference this week, representatives of several launch providers said they are working to provide more rideshare opportunities for smallsats. SpaceX is considering "multiple missions dedicated to flying secondary payloads" on its Falcon 9 rocket. They will face competition from a growing number of dedicated smallsat launch vehicles under development, some of which plan their initial launches this year.

Editor's Note: The boomlet in small rockets during the 1990s fell victim to multi-satellite launch capabilities of larger rockets. The main difference today is the tiny size of cubesats, which may find more economical and convenient launch services offered by the new crop of rockets designed explicitly for these microsatellites. (2/9)

Errant DARPA Announcement Triggered Orbital ATK Lawsuit (Source: Space News)
An errant contract posting may have been the trigger for Orbital ATK's lawsuit over a DARPA satellite servicing program. Orbital ATK filed the suit Tuesday, a day after DARPA briefly posted a contract announcement that stated it was awarding an agreement to Space Systems Loral for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. DARPA soon took down the notice, and had previously postponed a media teleconference about the RSGS award, but Orbital went ahead with the suit, citing SSL as the winner. (2/9)

NASA Renting Access to Neutral Bouyancy Pool (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA is renting out a giant pool used for astronaut training to help make ends meet. The Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center is used to simulate weightlessness conditions for training astronauts and practicing spacewalks outside the ISS. With NASA's requirement for the pool reduced since the completion of the station's assembly, NASA is renting out the pool about three days a week to companies, particularly in the oil and gas industries. NASA is open to additional commercial use of the lab, an official said, but with some limits: "We're not going to have an underwater wedding or anything like that." (2/9)

Two Georgia Spaceport Bills become a Launch Pad for Lawyers (Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Like their forebears, Camden County officials on the Georgia coast want to launch ships into the void. Spaceships. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, are racing through the General Assembly to help make it happen. The contents of House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 46 are identical and will ultimately converge into one vehicle — have been written with a single audience in mind: Lawyers.

Seriously. These pioneering, astronautical measures, Georgia’s first policy steps toward infinity and beyond, imagine the worst that can happen to a “space flight participant” — explosions on the launchpad, burning up on re-entry, dismemberment, emotional distress — and sets the rules for who can sue whom. It’s an odd thing, to shoot for the stars by contemplating disaster.

“The bill is simple. It changes the burden of proof for passengers on a rocket ship before they can recover their damages if they’re injured or killed — from one of ordinary negligence to gross negligence,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the author of SB 46. “It’s a signal to the industry that your state is open for business.” “If we can take business from Florida, I’m willing to do that,” said state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, the author of HB 1. (2/9)

Google Remakes the Satellite Business, by Leaving It (Source: The Atlantic)
Last week, Google pushed one of the most interesting sectors in Silicon Valley toward maturity—and brought a milestone in cartography closer to reality. It accomplished all that, paradoxically, by getting out of the market. From a business standpoint, here’s the news: Google sold its in-house satellite business, known as Terra Bella, to Planet, Inc.
Planet is a startup based in San Francisco that already operates a fleet of 60 orbiting cameras the size of shoeboxes.

With the acquisition, Planet is now the de facto leader in the small-satellite space, and it will add Terra Bella’s seven high-resolution satellites to its own constellation of medium-resolution craft. As part of the deal, Planet will give Google access to its growing archive of imagery for at least the next few years.

But the more interesting development has less to do with acquisitions and more with technological capacity. Planet also announced that it will deploy 88 small satellites later this month, as part of a rocket launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India on February 14. Assuming that most of the spacecraft make it to orbit intact, these satellites should become fully operational by the summer. (2/7)

Irish Team Lands €4.5m Rocket Launcher Contract (Source: Silicon Republic)
At €4.5m, the Dublin arm of engineering giant Curtiss-Wright has landed the largest ever contract related to European Space Agency activities. Calling it a key achievement for an Irish-based operation “working at the cutting edge of space technologies”, John Halligan Minister for Training and Skills, TD, has lauded a new multimillion-euro contract secured by Curtiss-Wright.

The company’s Ireland-based facility has been selected by Italy’s European Launch Vehicle (ELV) SpA to provide a telemetry data system for the European Space Agency (ESA)’s new Vega C Launcher System. At €4.5m, this is the largest ESA-related contract ever awarded to an Irish-based operation. It will see Curtiss-Wright provide ELV with a full telemetry system, including data acquisition, data handling and RF transmission. The Vega C development contract runs from January 2017 until the first launch in June 2019. (2/8)

NASA Investigation Into “Stolen Moon Rocks” Turns Into the Saddest Short Story (Source: MuckRock)
Back in 2014, NASA received a tip from a woman, name redacted, that her now-dead step-father had received a moon rock as a gift while working at Texas A&M. She claimed that this moon rock was “the size of a large apple” and weighed a little over a pound. The most conservative estimate would put the value around $2.5 million - at an estimated $275,000 per gram (the 1973 valuation adjusted for inflation), that would put the rock’s total value in the range of $125 million dollars. Click here. (2/9)

The Coming War in Space (Source: US News)
Gen. David Goldfein, the fighter pilot who now serves as the Air Force's top officer, had an unorthodox priority on his mind when he and the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat down for their first meeting with President Donald Trump on Jan. 27 to outline for the incoming commander in chief their top operational concerns.

"We talked about space more than any other topic," Goldfein recalls from that session in "the Tank," the Pentagon's secure facility for top-level meetings, "because there's this debate going on now, and will go on for the remainder of this year: Where are we headed in the business of space?"

Losing U.S. dominance in space could have wide-reaching effects, American officials fear, from limiting the ability to guide ships, foot patrols, manned jets, drones or missiles toward precision targets, to communicating with and saving wounded soldiers in the deep hinterlands of the Afghan Hindu Kush mountains, to more benign matters, like disrupting GPS systems that direct millions of American commuters and support domestic farmers who rely on them to steer combines in perfectly straight lines and maximize their crop yields. (2/8)

Here's What NASA's Europa Lander Could Look Like (Source: Popular Science)
While many of NASA's current missions are investigating Mars or various asteroids, a mission launching in the 2020s will land somewhere no human-made machine has landed before: Europa, the icy, ocean-filled moon of Jupiter. NASA has been talking about visiting Europa for years now, but last night the space agency dropped a 264-page report outlining the goals of the mission and which instruments they may want to send.

The mission would launch on NASA's next generation (and somewhat controversial) megarocket, the Space Launch System, and would be in addition to another mission, launching in the early 2020s, which plans to fly by the icy moon. The lander would use retrorockets and a sky crane to touch down softly (we hope) on Europa's surface. Click here. (2/8) 

New NASA Tech Can Survive Longer on Venus (Source: The Verge)
Surviving in Venus-like conditions is near impossible, even for machinery. The surface temperature is about 860 degrees Fahrenheit and the carbon dioxide rich-air has an atmospheric pressure about 90 times that of Earth. Just moving around on Venus would feel as if you were under water and deep underground, if the heat didn’t already obliterate your equipment. NASA, however, may have found a novel solution in the form of more resistant electronics.

The new circuitry can withstand the planet’s conditions for up to 521 hours, or about 100 times longer than the previous Venus mission electronics. “We demonstrated vastly longer electrical operation with chips directly exposed — no cooling and no protective chip packaging — to a high-fidelity physical and chemical reproduction of Venus’ surface atmosphere,” said Phil Neudeck, a lead electronics engineer on the project, said in a statement. “And both integrated circuits still worked after the end of the test.” (2/9)

New NASA TV Series Slammed As ‘Rip Off’ of ‘Hidden Figures’ (Source: The Wrap)
“Hidden Figures” stars Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer as three female, African-American NASA mathematicians who contributed to the space program and helped launch John Glenn into space. The film has been a critical and commercial success. It has a “fresh” score of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is up for an Oscar in the Best Picture category. Financially, the film has made $122 million domestically.

Jessica Chastain’s new show has the working title “Mercury 13” and will tell the story of an experiment created in 1960 by scientist and physician William Randolph Lovelace II, to see if women could pass the same rigorous physical and mental tests faced by the men of NASA’s Mercury program. (2/9)

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