March 16, 2017

NASA Works to Streamline Processes for Multi-User Spaceport (Source: Space Daily)
To support a growing private sector space economy, NASA's Kennedy Space Center has transformed its portion of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport into a multi-user installation capable of handling the needs of a variety of companies from launch processing through recovery. NASA, the FAA, and the Air Force, enabled by the Commercial Space Launch Act, are working together to simplify the steps to certify commercial launches from Kennedy Space Center's multi-user spaceport.

"...We are taking this opportunity to examine all of the government requirements and eliminate those that are not necessary," said NASA's Janet Petro. "We will maintain safety, but if there are requirements that are unnecessary, then no one benefits." NASA does not levy any additional licensing requirements beyond the minimum for commercial launch operations, Petro explained.

Additionally, NASA's Launch Services Program, which procures launch vehicles for NASA spacecraft, has developed processes to shorten the path to launch in recent years as the industry and government work toward making launch processes more efficient and cost effective. (3/9)

ECLSS Put to the Test for Commercial Crew Missions (Source: Space Daily)
Extensive evaluations are underway on the life support systems vital to successful flight tests as NASA prepares to return human spaceflight to the United States. One of the most intensely studied systems is called ECLSS. Short for environmental control and life support system and pronounced 'e-cliss,' the system is a complex network of machinery, pipes, tanks and sensors that work together to provide astronauts with air and other essentials during missions for NASA's Commercial Crew Program to and from the International Space Station. (3/9)

Trump Looks to Reform Air Traffic Control (Source: USA Today)
President Trump has proposed removing air traffic control operations from the FAA and giving them to a private corporation. Supporters of the plan say reforming air traffic control will shelter it from annual budget disputes. This has been a top priority for most airlines while still contentious in Congress.

The main reason airlines, the controllers’ union and congressional advocates want the change is to avoid annual spending disputes and worker furloughs in recent years. More stable funding is needed, according to the advocates, to spur the FAA’s multi-year modernization program called NextGen, which is upgrading ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS to track and guide planes. (3/16)

Service Uses Satellites to Rrunway Obstacles (Source:
Airports can now use satellites to identify and manage obstacles that could pose a risk to flight safety, thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA). Of the 48,000 airports around the globe, only about a quarter can allow aircraft to land in poor weather and only 500 airports have a specialist on site to pinpoint obstacles that might exceed height restrictions within flight paths.

With ESA’s help, Ascend XYZ in Denmark has developed a service for airports to record potential obstacles. Airport restrictions Using satellites and aircraft combined with smart web-based software, airports can identify and manage obstacles that could pose a risk to flight safety in the restricted aerial zones around the airport. The service uses satellites and aircraft combined with smart web-based software. (3/14)

SpaceX Beat ULA on Cost for GPS Launch Contract (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s lower cost compared to its competitor was the major factor in winning a contract for a GPS 3 launch, an Air Force representative said Wednesday. “Price was a major factor,” said Claire Leon, the launch enterprise director for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which oversees acquisitions for many space systems and services.

Meanwhile, Leon said that the Air Force has no plans to fly payloads on Falcon 9 rockets with previously-flown first stages. The service has specifically requested SpaceX not to fly re-used hardware. “We would have to certify flight hardware that had been used which is more qualification, more analysis, so we’re not taking that on quite yet,” she said. “If it proves to be successful for commercial, we might consider that in the future.” (3/15)

Blue Origin Plans Crewed (Suborbital) Launch Within a Year (Source:
The spaceflight company Blue Origin, which was founded by CEO Jeff Bezos, plans to launch its first crewed flight to suborbital space soon. "We're trying to get to our first human flights within the next year. That's a laser focus for the team right now," said Erika Wagner, Blue Origin's business development manager. The launches would occur at the company's private Texas spaceport using the New Shepard reusable rocket. (3/14)

UCF Prof: Building a Mars Colony? You'll Need a Team of Astronaut 'MacGyvers' (Source:
Colonizing Mars will be no easy feat. It will require billions of dollars and years of specialized research led by some of the smartest scientists and engineers in the world. It will demand advanced technologies, yet to be invented — new kinds of spacecraft, for example, advanced rocket propulsion, deep-space life-support systems and high-speed communications.

But when humans arrive at the Red Planet, their best chances for success and survival will depend on simple materials, low-tech solutions and a broad set of problem-solving skills that will allow people to adapt.

"Here on the Earth, when we go to a remote location to do an engineering development project, we've learned that taking high-tech equipment isn’t really the right approach. What you want is appropriate technology," said planetary scientist Phil Metzger, who is also a co-founder of NASA Kennedy Space Center's Swamp Works. "You want technology to be maintained using the local resources and local labor." (3/14)

SpaceX Launches EchoStar From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched into a starry moonlit sky Thursday from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, making a speedy trek across the Atlantic Ocean to place a commercial television broadcast satellite into orbit for EchoStar. The nearly 23-story rocket, powered by nine Merlin 1D engines, ignited and blasted off from historic launch pad 39A at 2 a.m. EDT. Liftoff was pushed back 25 minutes Thursday out of concern for unfavorable high-altitude winds. High winds also scrubbed a launch attempt Tuesday. (3/16)

Supersonic Planes Are Mounting a Comeback—Without That Earth-Shaking Boom (Source: WIRED)
Two things explain why you aren’t jetting across the country at the speed of sound: cost, and noise. Forty-eight years after the Concorde made its first flight, supersonic commercial aircraft remain enormously complex and prohibitively expensive. They also generate an inevitable sonic boom so disruptive that Congress banned the Concorde from overland routes.

But advancements in materials and aerodynamics, coupled with an industry embrace of business jets, could see commercial aircraft achieving Mach 1 or better within a decade. Big names like Lockheed Martin and startups backed by Airbus and Virgin Galactic see a day when you’ll fly from New York to Los Angeles in about two hours. One study found a potential market for 450 supersonic aircraft, and notes that the technology to build them is within reach, assuming the FAA eases restriction on overland flights, which account for 75% of commercial air travel. Click here. (3/15)

Lockheed Martin Says Mars Base Camp Possible by 2028 (Source: Florida Today)
While NASA evaluates how soon it can send astronauts on a loop around the moon in an Orion capsule, Lockheed Martin is promoting a concept that would send crews on a three-year trip around Mars in just over a decade. "This is all doable in the next 10 to 12 years," said Tony Antonelli, a former NASA space shuttle pilot who heads advanced civil space programs for Lockheed Martin, lead contractor for the Orion spacecraft being assembled at Kennedy Space Center. (3/14)

Trump Budget Proposal Cuts ARM, Earth Science Missions, Education (Source: Space News)
A fiscal year 2018 budget proposal released by the Trump administration March 16 would cancel NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and several Earth science programs, but spares NASA the deeper cuts proposed for many other agencies. The budget blueprint document requests $19.1 billion for NASA, a cut of about one percent from the $19.285 billion it received in 2016. NASA, like other government agencies, is currently operating under a continuing resolution that funds programs at 2016 levels.

Targeted for cancellation in the budget proposal is ARM, a NASA program to fly a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth object, retrieve a boulder from its surface and fly back to lunar orbit, where astronauts would visit it on a future Orion mission. ARM has enjoyed lukewarm support, at best, in Congress, with many members expressing opposition to a mission they claim does not support long-term exploration goals.

The budget proposal also seeks to eliminate NASA’s Office of Education, which received $115 million in 2016. “The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a NASA-wide education strategy and is performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the agency,” the document stated. One area getting a budget increase is NASA’s planetary science program, which would receive $1.9 billion in the administration’s request, up from $1.63 billion in 2016. (3/16)

Firefly Space Systems Assets to be Sold (Source: Space News)
The assets of Firefly Space Systems, a company that was developing a small launch vehicle before encountering financial [and legal] problems last year, will be sold this week in an auction organized by a little-known company backed by a Ukrainian entrepreneur. An undated public notice states that “virtually all” of the assets of Firefly Space Systems will be sold at a public auction scheduled for March 16 in Menlo Park, California. Those assets include the company’s physical assets as well as “general intangibles” that include patents and other intellectual property.

The auction was announced by EOS Launcher, Inc., a company described in the announcement as the secured party in a loan agreement with Firefly dated Oct. 20. That agreement, whose specifics are not described in the notice, is dated three weeks after Firefly announced it was furloughing its staff because of financial problems stemming from an investment that fell through.

Thomas Markusic, co-founder and chief executive of Firefly, said in an October interview that the company was looking to raise short-term capital at the time to keep the company running for four months while considering its options. Those options, he said then, could include a sale of the company. Prospective bidders must provide a $100,000 deposit and also deposit funds for their proposed maximum bid into an account 24 hours before the auction. EOS Launcher, though, reserved the right to bid without making an advance deposit. (3/15)

NASA Plans to Make a Telescope Out of the Sun (Source: Engadget)
As NASA astronomers peer further and further into space, they require ever larger and more powerful telescopes to do so. That's why one team of researchers from the Jet Propulsion Lab have proposed using the biggest object in our solar system, the Sun, as a cosmic magnifying glass.

Massive objects will bend the space around it and cause the path of objects traveling within that space -- including light itself -- to curve as well. And, under the right conditions, that light can bend just enough that it magnifies the view of space behind it. This is known as gravitational lensing and astronomers have leveraged its effect for years to help boost the visual prowess of our telescopes. We discovered the exoplanet Kepler 452b in this manner and that thing is hundreds of millions of light years away.

Despite the technical difficulties, the payoff for actually implementing this system would be huge. Currently, we have difficulty separating the exoplanet and its host star in our imaging. Like the TRAPPIST-1 shots that came out earlier this week, generally what you get is an amorphous blob of pixels. But with the Sun as a gravitational lens, telescopes equipped with starshade technology will be able to see the exoplanet itself. (3/15)

Lockheed Martin Plans Some Atlas 5 Overlap with Vulcan (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin plans to keep the Atlas 5 rocket in flight concurrently with United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket for the first five years of operations. Atlas 5 is Lockheed Martin’s principal contribution to the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, which mainly serves U.S. defense and civil government customers using the Atlas and Delta rocket families. Additionally, Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services carries out Atlas 5 missions for commercial customers.

“We will be flying both vehicles for some period of time until we are absolutely certain that the Vulcan system can maintain the cadence, and the rhythm and reliability that our customers are expecting of us,” Steve Skladanek said. “Right now we are anticipating something on the order of a five-year overlap between the two systems.” (3/10)

Athena: a Failed Approach to Small Satellite Launchers? (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin has ended its effort to return a small-to-medium-lift launch vehicle to market. A meaningful customer base for the Athena family of vehicles has again proven too difficult. The company was hoping to tap into the growing small-satellite launch market with the two-stage Athena 1c and three-stage Athena 2c, capable of sending 700 kilogram and 1,800 kilogram payloads to low Earth orbit, respectively.

“We are no longer actively marketing it,” Skladanek said. “If someone is interested in flying with Athena, we still have an asset available, so we could resurrect that system, but right now we are not actively marketing it.” Lockheed Martin has performed only a handful of missions with the Athena family, which the company co-produced with Alliant Techsystems — the latter of which is now part of Orbital ATK — since the mid-1990s. Athena has a performance record of seven flights, of which two failed.

Editor's Note: Two of the first Athena missions were conducted from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, at Launch Complex 46, which was converted by the state's Spaceport Authority from a Navy missile test site into a commercial space launch facility. (3/10)

Flashback 2014: Alaska Picks Athena for State Spaceport Infrastructure Investment (Source: Space News)
In 2014, Alaska Aerospace Corp. picked Athena as its go-to launcher for small- and medium-lift missions at the Pacific Spaceport Complex. Lockheed Martin was planning an upgraded version of the rocket called Athena 2S, capable of orbiting payloads between 1,900 and 3,000 kilograms. The Athena was picked from four proposals to provide medium-lift launch services from the spaceport.

The state was offering up to $25 million, appropriated by the state legislature in 2012, to companies willing to use Kodiak for launches of their vehicles. Upgrades to the launch pad were also funded, in-part, from the state’s insurance payout from a failed military launch failure at the site. An integration facility in Anchorage was also planned to support Athena launches and other aerospace activity, which Lockheed Martin included in its proposal. (3/14)

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