March 10, 2017

Jeff Bezos' Rocket Company Teams with New Florida Satellite Maker OneWeb (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Two new players on the Space Coast — OneWeb and Blue Origin — are teaming up to build and launch satellites in Central Florida, reinforcing the foothold that private space flight is gaining in the region. OneWeb founder Greg Wyler announced Wednesday that the company has contracted for five launches of its satellites on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is under development and will be built in Brevard County.

Local manufacturing of satellites and rockets has been historically scarce in Florida. Plenty of contractors provide support, services, parts and engineering, but Cape Canaveral hasn’t been known for large-scale manufacturing. The two companies are both planning to start hiring soon, for a total of 550 people.

“We will be busy making satellites in Florida,” Wyler tweeted Wednesday and tagged Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos, also the founder of Amazon, tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Wyler.(3/8)

Space Traffic Management Inching Forward with New Ventures (Source: Space News)
The Space Data Association and Analytical Graphics, Inc. hope their partnership will be the next step in improving commercial space situational awareness capabilities. The organizations announced March 6 they reached an agreement to launch an updated Space Data Center Space Traffic Management service that will provide satellite tracking, radio frequency spectrum management, and conjunction warning services to companies.

Two years ago, the organization began a review to see how it could grow its SSA capabilities. One of the key takeaways was to create an independent database for satellite tracking that relies less on information provided from the companies themselves. The previous system would often take information from the satellite operators and then try to predict an orbit. But it became clear that had “biases or errors” he said, noting that the position of some satellites was found to be as far off as 14 or 15 kilometers from their actual location. That meant that the accuracy of avoiding collisions wasn’t where it needed to be.

The goal with working more closely with AGI is “reducing risk and improving reliability,” he said. “The risk of collision in geostationary has been analyzed and found to be higher than previously understood,” said Paul Welsh, vice president of business development at AGI. “The accuracy, the transparency, the availability [of information], the number of objects, all those things are going up.” (3/10)

Allen Hopes His ‘Ginormous’ Stratolaunch Plane Will Fly This Year (Source: GeekWire)
The world’s biggest airplane is staying on track to take to the air for the first time by the end of this year, according to Paul Allen, who made billions of dollars as Microsoft’s co-founder and is now spending millions of dollars on the Stratolaunch air-launch system. Allen provided an update on Stratolaunch and dropped hints about future space endeavors.

The key to the launch system is a twin-fuselage plane that incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jets, with a wingspan that stretches out to a record-setting 385 feet. That’s twice the wingspan of a 747, and more than the length of a football field. “It is … I can’t even figure out the right adjective. Is it ‘ginormous’? I don’t know,” Allen joked. “It’s pretty darn big. The tail is 50 feet high, just the tail. It’s probably the biggest carbon-composite vehicle ever constructed.”

“The plane is really coming along,” Allen said. “We’re going to hopefully be flying it later this year.” After flight testing, Stratolaunch is destined to serve as an air-launch platform. The six-engine plane should be powerful enough to carry rockets weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds up to a high altitude, then drop those rockets to launch payloads into orbit from midair. Orbital ATK has agreed to build the rockets, and there could be other launch partners as well. (3/9)

Congressmen Pressure USAF to Engage in ULA's Vulcan Engine Decision (Source: Ars Technica)
Two members of Congress are pressing the Air Force to make the decision on what engine to use on ULA's Vulcan rocket. In a letter to the acting Air Force secretary, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said that the Air Force should not provide funding for ULA's development of Vulcan unless the service has "full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making" of the engines the vehicle will use. ULA has yet to formally choose an engine for Vulcan, but has long considered Blue Origin's BE-4 the front-runner over Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1.

It is difficult to avoid ascribing at least some political motives to the letter. In January, Aerojet Rocketdyne said it would produce the AR1 rocket engine in Huntsville, Alabama, creating 100 new jobs near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Already, another Huntsville company, Dynetics, has become a subcontractor for the engine’s main propulsion system. (A spokesman for Rogers didn't not reply to a request for comment).

The US government announced last year that its initial investment in the AR1 engine would cost up to $536 million. The government has not yet invested any funds directly on BE-4 development; before ULA's investment, Blue Origin had spent its own money and a couple of years developing the BE-4 engine. (3/9)

Orbital ATK Expects Decision on Liberty-Class Launcher By Early Next Year (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK says it expects a "go/no-go decision" by early next year on a new large rocket it's designing under an Air Force contract. The "Next-Generation Launcher" would use, as currently proposed, lower stages derived from shuttle solid-rocket boosters and an upper stage powered by a version of Blue Origin's BE-3 engine. Orbital ATK CEO Dave Thompson said if the Air Force decides not to fund continued work, the company would scale back its own investment in the vehicle. (3/9)

New Mexico Bill Would Let Spaceport America Keep Client Information Secret (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The bill, under consideration in the state legislature, would modify state public records laws to keep documents related to spaceport business dealings confidential. Such confidentiality, spaceport officials said, is needed to allow the state-owned facility to do business with commercial ventures reticent to share proprietary information. The spaceport would still keep revenue information public. (3/9)

Orion Parachute System Tested in Arizona (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA's Orion spacecraft successfully tested its parachute system this week. An instrumented test module, shaped like the Orion spacecraft, was released from a C-17 cargo plane above the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona Wednesday. The capsule released two drogue chutes and three main parachutes in a descent profile designed to simulate a launch abort. The test is the second of eight planned to quality the parachute system for used on crewed Orion flights. (3/9)

North Korea a Challenge for Space Security (Source: Space News)
North Korea poses unique challenges to space security, experts warn. At a panel this week, space security experts said that while countries like Russia and China have incentives to remain peaceful in orbit, in order to protect their own assets, such restrictions aren't applicable to North Korea. "You can’t necessarily deter that because they don’t have a lot to lose from it," one person said of North Korea in a panel this week about space issues for the new administration. (3/9)

ILS Plans Larger Proton Payload Fairing, Defers Work on Smaller Proton Variant (Source: Space News)
International Launch Services is adding a larger payload fairing for its Proton rocket, but deferring development of one of two smaller versions of the vehicle announced last year. The company, which markets the Proton to commercial customers, announced that Proton manufacturer Khrunichev was developing a payload fairing five meters in diameter that will be available for launches starting in the first quarter of 2020. The vehicle’s current payload fairing is four meters in diameter. (3/9)

Space Florida Keeps Low Profile During Legislative Debate on Economic Development (Source: SPACErePORT)
This year's Legislative Session in Tallahassee is a minefield for economic development issues, with legislators proposing agency eliminations, budget cuts, and increased oversight for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Amid the lawmakers' criticism of these organizations, Space Florida has been a bright spot, with a solid track record of major aerospace business recruitment and expansion projects.

Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida were established as quasi-government public/private partnerships after the state eliminated its traditional Department of Commerce about two decades ago. They were then an innovative solution to what was viewed as the Commerce Department's bloated monolithic bureaucracy. Now they are viewed by ultra-conservative lawmakers as purveyors of "corporate welfare." Space Florida is trying hard to remain under the radar.

Why is Space Florida different? The state's space agency is structured as a transportation authority, a special district, and a 'special purpose entity' with empowerment to make innovative financial deals. When I worked for the state several years ago, I recommended that the state create a collection of entities similar to Space Florida, each focused on a different 'targeted industry' sectors. While Space Florida focused on aerospace, other small agencies could be empowered to support the biomedical industry, the IT industry, film and television production, etc. (3/9)

NASA Just Found a Lost Lunar Spacecraft After 8 Years (Source: Popular Mechanics)
As space travel becomes more and more common, the amount of space junk polluting the vastness of space will only increase. A new technological application of interplanetary radar by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab could be a major boon in solving the problem seeing as it just found a lost spacecraft orbiting the moon. "We have been able to detect NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO] and the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar," said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL.

"Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located." However, finding the dormant craft, India's Chandrayaan-1, "required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009." India's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, is most famous for finding water particles on the moon and is a craft of national importance for the south Asian country. (3/9)

Do Fast Radio Bursts Come From Alien Space Travel? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Fast radio bursts (FRB) are perhaps the most mysterious phenomena we observe in the cosmos. Earlier this year, astronomers announced they had pinpointed an FRB for the first time in a dwarf galaxy that sits three billion light-years away. These intense blasts of radio waves last only 1 to 5 milliseconds, and they have perplexed astronomers since the first one was discovered in 2007.

The leading theories suggest that FRBs come from incredibly volatile cosmic events, such as material being ejected from supermassive black holes, the explosions of superluminous supernovae, or rotating magnetars that lash surrounding material with their immense magnetic fields. But researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have proposed a much more enticing theory. What if FRBs aren't natural phenomena at all, but rather come from a massive artificial structure used to power alien spacecraft?

"Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven't identified a possible natural source with any confidence," said Harvard professor Avi Loeb in a press release. "An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking." The idea is that FRBs come from an immense alien power plant that is used to propel ships using light sails. A powerful beam of light can propel a reflective surface in the vacuum of space, which is the basis for light sail technology. (3/9)

Shotwell on SpaceX Launch Backlog: “We Will Definitely Catch Up” (Source: Space News)
SpaceX intends to conduct six Falcon 9 missions this year using rocket stages that have already flown before. The first such mission, SES-10 for Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES, is scheduled to happen by the end of the month, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said March 8 at the Satellite 2017 conference here.

Shotwell also anticipates that using Falcon 9 rockets with pre-flown first stages will enable the company to execute on its backlog, which is currently loaded with customers that expected to have their satellites launched in 2016. SES-10 was one such mission. “We do anticipate reflying about six vehicles, [with] pre-flown boosters this year, which should take some of the pressure off of production,” Shotwell said. (3/9)

OneWeb and Blue Origin, A Match Made in Florida (Source: Space News)
OneWeb wants to have several launch options in the market for the 882 satellites that form “gen-one” of the OneWeb constellation, as well as the gen-two constellation that could grow by another 2,000 satellites. Sprague said he isn’t sure how many satellites would launch per New Glenn mission, as it depends on whether New Glenn is used for the first- or second-generation of satellites.

OneWeb has previously stated that the mass of the first-generation satellites would be 150 kilograms, but the specifications of the second generation have yet to be decided. OneWeb has 21 Soyuz launches booked with Arianespace, plus options for five additional Soyuz and three of the future Ariane 6 rocket. With Virgin Galactic, OneWeb has 39 missions with LauncherOne, the company’s air-launched vehicle that uses a modified Boeing 747 jetliner. OneWeb Satellites, the joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space, is currently contracted to build 900 satellites total. (3/8)

Think Twice About Escaping Earth to an Exoplanet (Source: The Atlantic)
What’s not explained is how we’re expected to avoid bringing the crop blight with us, or why agriculture would be more viable on a desert world than one that still has some harried remnants of life. Listen to these narratives for long enough and you start to think that the problem is our Earth itself, that there’s something evil buried deep below the soil, that it’s one giant haunted house to be fled.

As if whatever ghosts swarm around this place were here before we created them. All these visions of humanity’s destiny in the stars, whether they’re brought on by curiosity or desperation, imagine that we could turn lifeless planets into gardens. But all that’s happened in living memory is the precise opposite. Wastelands are already growing on this earth, steadily drying out farmlands into scrub or burning forests into lifeless ashy mud.

What will happen to an earth that’s wasteland already? Fleeing into outer space isn’t a solution to any of our problems; it’s not even running away from them. Exploring the galaxy just means giving the problem more room in which to expand. (3/8)

Congress Has Told NASA What it Wants Space Agency to Do (Source: Huntsville Times)
Congress has now told NASA what it wants the space agency to do in future. But it's still a mystery what President Trump wants and how much money NASA will get to do the job. Did Tuesday night's House vote approving the NASA Authorization Act of 2017 really clarify anything, then? The same bill that cleared the House by voice vote cleared the Senate by unanimous consent on Feb. 17. It sets policy for NASA and recommends $19.5 billion in funding for fiscal year 2018.

Among other things, the NASA authorization act says Congress supports: a) Operation of the International Space Station until at least 2024 and possibly 2028; b) The Space Launch System being developed in Huntsville, Ala., and Orion capsule programs; c) A study showing how America can send humans to Mars in 2033; and d) The Mars 2020 rover, a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope.

Congress doesn't support the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission NASA planned as a stepping stone to Mars and asks NASA to go back to the drawing board for other ideas. NASA is funded at $19.28 billion this year, but that appropriation is part of a continuing resolution that runs out April 28. NASA and the rest of the federal government will need new budgets by then or another funding resolution to keep operating. (3/8)

Orbital ATK Announces Fourth Quarter Financials (Source: Business Wire)
Orbital ATK announced preliminary unaudited financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2016. Orbital ATK reported GAAP revenues of $1,272 million for the fourth quarter of 2016, up 11% compared to $1,145 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. GAAP income from continuing operations, before interest, income taxes and non-controlling interest (which the company refers to as operating income) was $114.9 million for the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to $94.3 million in the comparable 2015 period. (3/8)

Facebook Willing to Invest in Satellite User Equipment (Source: Space News)
Facebook wants to help the satellite industry drive down costs on user equipment so it can leverage space technology to bring internet access to the rest of the planet. Wesley Wong, the social media network’s point-man for strategic technology partnerships and sourcing, said that Facebook continues to view satellite as one of the best ways to bridge the digital divide, and wants to collaborate with more satellite companies to reach that desired outcome. (3/8)

How Barack Obama Ruined NASA Space Exploration (Source: The Hill)
Whomever President Trump chooses as NASA administrator, it is useful to look back on how profoundly and adroitly President Barack Obama crippled the space agency’s efforts to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. When Obama came into office, he did what a number of other presidents have done to determine their goals for NASA: he formed a presidential commission to study the space agency and come up with some recommendations.

The Obama administration made two critical errors. It had not consulted with Congress or anyone else when it developed its plans to kill Constellation. The White House also blatantly pulled a bureaucratic dodge that was apparent even to a first-term member of the House from the sticks. To kill a popular program, one studies it to death. Nowhere in the Obama plan was there a commitment to send astronauts anywhere.

Congress mandated the development of the Orion spacecraft and the heavy-lift Space Launch System, with designs meticulously spelled out to deny NASA any wiggle room to play slow walk games. These bits of hardware will be available around the end of the decade along with commercial vehicles. Obama wasted eight years that might have been spent getting Americans beyond low Earth orbit. The Journey to Mars has been the ObamaCare of space exploration--expensive, unsustainable, and not designed to do what it is alleged to do. (3/8)

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