March 23, 2017

Bill Praises NASA Education Programs Trump Seeks to Eliminate (Source: SPACErePORT)
President Trump's proposed budget would eliminate NASA's education office and the STEM education and research programs it manages. Yet Trump happily signed the NASA authorization bill that praises "the Administration's" NASA education programs.

The bill says "the Administration is uniquely positioned to educate and inspire students" in STEM; and "the Administration's" Education Office has "been effective in delivering educational content because of the strong engagement of Administration scientists and engineers in the Administration's education and outreach activities."

Furthermore, while NASA's national network of state-based Space Grant Consortia is threatened under the Trump budget plan, the newly signed bill says "the Administration's education and outreach programs, including the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, reflect the Administration’s successful commitment to growing and diversifying the national science and engineering workforce". (3/22)

NASA Report Recommends Cutting Kennedy Research Program (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A new report on NASA’s facilities recommends cutting a research program at Kennedy Space Center. It also recommends continued investment in other areas at KSC, including some activities at the Space Life Sciences Center run by Space Florida. The report, by the space agency’s inspector general, is aimed at eliminating overlap in NASA locations and, at the same time, updating aging facilities.

There’s only a one sentence reference to cutting the program at KSC, which is known as in-situ research utilization or ISRU. The report makes a clear recommendation that NASA’s Glenn Research Center, in Ohio, should take the lead on ISRU research: “Glenn will have a primary role in In-Situ Resource Utilization work, while Kennedy will divest of that activity.” Ray Lugo of the Orlando-based Florida Space Institute, said KSC’s ISRU program has been a big part of the local NASA Swampworks program. ISRU research has also occurred at the institute, which is part of UCF, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Tuesday’s report recommends that NASA move faster on cuts and streamlining that have been recommended throughout recent years. The report notes that “more than 70 percent of facilities are at least 50 years old… Moreover, as of September 2016, the Agency had approximately $2.4 billion in annual deferred maintenance costs.” (3/22)

SpaceX, Virgin Vets Bring New Launches to Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The leaders of a Arizona-based company that hopes to launch rockets from the Space Coast have some firepower on their resumes: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express. They are just a few of the companies that the space company Vector’s executive leaders have worked for in the past. Now, the company will show off one of its rockets in a new display at Kennedy Space Center at a press event on Saturday.

The event will include remarks from KSC Visitor Complex chief Therrin Protze, Space Florida's Frank DiBello and Jim Cantrell, Vector’s CEO. Cantrell served as SpaceX’s first vice president for business development. “There are a number of entrants into the small satellite launch provider market,” Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham said. “But Vector’s management team has as good a pedigree as any." The Space Coast launch site will be the third for Vector, joining one in Alaska and one on a barge in the Pacific Ocean off of California.

Editor's Note: Vector has been actively supporting Georgia's spaceport effort and told SPACErePORT recently that the company is considering both Florida and Georgia as a base of operations for East Coast launches. (3/22)

Musk on New NASA Legislation: “This Bill Changes Almost Nothing” (Source: Ars Technica)
"This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars," Musk tweeted. "Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it," he added.

Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an "authorization" bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program. (3/22)

North Korean Missile Explodes Within Seconds of Launch (Source: Newsweek)
A North Korean missile failed to launch this morning, according to the U.S. and South Korean defense officials. The U.S. military said it detected a missile that exploded “within seconds” of lift-off. South Korean defense officials are conducting analysis into what type of missile was launched. North Korean missile tests have increased in frequency this year. Earlier this month, a missile landed 300 miles off the coast of Japan, fueling international concern about the unpredictable state. (3/22)

Trump on Space: "That Sounds Exciting. But First We Want to Fix Our Highways" (Source: Ars Technica)
One of the biggest criticisms of NASA in recent decades is that the agency has become a "jobs program," namely that Congress is more interested in preserving civil servant and contractor jobs in representatives' home states and districts than in advancing the nation's exploration goals. This seemed particularly clear with the Space Launch System rocket, which was designed by Congress, in part, to keep major aerospace contractors working on rocket building after the space shuttle program ended.

During the signing ceremony, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) seemed to affirm this. "This means a great deal to the nation's space program, and it means a great deal to the state of Texas," Cruz said. At that point, Rubio joked that the bill meant Florida would continue to do more work on space than Texas.

Part of the role of a president, when it comes to US spaceflight policy, is to stand above parochial Congressional politics in order to safeguard the nation's overall interests in space. But Trump gave little indication that he's interested in doing this—or that he's at all interested in space. After Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said the bill would allow Trump to become the "father of the interplanetary highway system" because of the large rocket NASA is building, the president didn't seem impressed about the potential of sending humans to Mars or robotic probes to Europa. (3/21)

Trump's Defense Budget Raises Hopes for California Aerospace Firms (Source: KPCC)
President Donald Trump’s $1.1 trillion proposed budget blueprint released last week includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending. If some of that money ends up being spent building bombers or drones in California, it would be a big boost for the state’s once-thriving aerospace industry, which has seen employment cut in half since the end of the Cold War.

Still, local aerospace executives aren't allowing themselves to get too excited yet because of how vague the budget is and the fact it still needs congressional approval. "I hate to speculate on what might be," said David Blanco, president of Performance Ascent and co-chair of the SoCal Aerospace Council, a trade group. "We really don't know what's going to happen with the proposed budget."

To further complicate matters, Blanco points out that since 2013, military spending has been capped because of sequestration limits agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans. Lifting the cap requires 60 votes in the Senate, meaning eight Democrats would have to break ranks, which is seen as unlikely. (3/22)

What’s the Point of Going to Space if You Don’t Make Booze? (Source: WIRED)
Liquor comes from ingredients that astronauts have already grown in space. Fermenting and distilling the stuff in the cramped, zero-gravity, one-bad-chemical-reaction-and-oh-dear-god-you’ve-blown-a-hole-in-the-hull conditions on board a spacecraft would be tricky, sure. But if we can put a person on the Moon, well…. Click here. (3/22)

Wheel Damage Could Mean Beginning of End for Mars Rover (Source: Science)
Unfortunately for NASA’s Curiosity rover, you can’t call a mechanic on Mars. A NASA image taken 19 March shows that one of the zig-zag treads, or grousers, on Curiosity’s left middle wheel has broken. Two such tread fractures have occurred in the past 8 weeks, the space agency reports. Because the treads carry the rover’s weight, damage to them is more significant than the other holes and tears that have been punched into the thin aluminum wheels as the rover crossed terrain peppered with sharp rocks.

Though the broken treads spell the beginning of the end for the rover, the end is not yet nigh. Ground tests on identical wheels suggest that when three grousers on a single wheel have broken, that wheel has reached 60% of its useful life. The rover is aging in other ways, too. Problems with its drill means Curiosity may not get to perform key experiments with its main chemistry instrument. (3/22)

Congress Mulls Options for Space Station Beyond 2024 (Source:
The United States' ability to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s depends in part on cutting back or ending government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, the head of a congressional subcommittee that oversees NASA said Wednesday.

"We ought to be aware that remaining on the ISS [after 2024] will come at a cost," U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space, said. "Tax dollars spent on the ISS will not be spent on destinations beyond low Earth orbit, including the moon and Mars," Babin said. "What opportunities will we miss if we maintain the status quo?" (3/22)

Brazil Ramps Up Domestic Space Satellite, Rocket Programs (Source: Reuters)
Brazil is developing technology to send domestically-made satellites into space with its own rockets by the end of the decade, aerospace executives and officials said ahead of the launch of the nation's first defense and communications satellite by Arianespace. The launch marks a renewed effort to expand Brazil's long-standing aeronautics industry into space, with Embraer SA, the world's third-largest commercial planemaker, seeking to consolidate a local supply chain.

A "micro-satellite" which Embraer-subsidiary Visiona would be able launch within two or three years, could serve key missions in Brazil, from tracking hydroelectric reservoirs and deforestation to monitoring its remote 17,000-km border. Researchers at Brazilian air and space institute IAE are also developing proprietary rocket technology that could deliver micro-satellites into low orbit by 2019. "The demand is there," Bonini said. "It's just a matter of the government setting priorities."

Prioritizing Brazil's space program has gotten tougher in recent years as the country struggled with what is now its worst recession on record and the government embarked on an austerity program that has hit defense and research spending. While Visiona awaits definition of Brazil's next satellite, Bonini said he is seeking more stable revenue sources, such as contracts for processing images from arrays of micro-satellites. Visiona booked about 8 million reais in sales from that service alone last year, he said. (3/22)

Will Anyone Win the Google Lunar X-PRIZE? (Source: Air & Space)
Back then, it looked a lot more like a race. Announced in September 2007, the Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition sponsored by the web giant to spur private investment in lunar exploration. The challenge is this: Teams must land a spacecraft on the moon, dispatch a rover at least 500 meters (about a third of a mile) across the surface, then transmit high-def video and images from the rover’s camera back to Earth.

The first team to launch in 2017 (originally it was 2014) and land on the moon gets $20 million; the second gets $5 million. Another $5 million in bonuses is available to teams for other achievements, like if their spacecraft make it through the lunar night—that is, if they endure the weeks of sustained cold (minus 173 degrees Celsius) while the moon is in shadow on battery power and then “reawaken” once solar power is again available. Click here. (3/22)

Rocket Lab Now a $1 Billion Business (Source: Gisborne Herald)
The Series D funding round increased Rocket Lab’s total level of investment to US$148 million. The company is now valued at more than US$1 billion. Sir Ste​phen Tindall, a Rocket Lab investor since 2013, said he saw Mr Beck as an inspired innovator pioneering a new path for industry in New Zealand. To meet demand, the American-New Zealand company is expanding its engineering and business units in both the United States and New Zealand. (3/22)

Mysterious Equipment Spotted on SpaceX Drone Ship at Port Canaveral (Source: Florida Today)
Stephen Marr had his suspicions when he photographed a mysterious piece of equipment atop SpaceX's drone ship at Port Canaveral on Monday. "I knew there was something different there," Marr, 34, said. Reddit users quickly propelled Marr's clear, high-resolution photo to the top of the website's SpaceX community and so began discussion that the object was likely a highly anticipated robot that would interact with Falcon 9 first stages.

"Optimus Prime," as some have nicknamed it, could one day secure first stages after they land on SpaceX's autonomous spaceport drone ships. Like previous upgrades, it could cut down on costs, number of required personnel and turnaround time between launches. It could also improve safety. The device is “in the testing phase” and is a “future capability” that SpaceX plans to introduce as soon as it passes the test regimen. (3/22)

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