March 8, 2017

Space Startups Risk a Bursting Investment Bubble (Source: Space News)
Space startup companies seeking to raise money may face problems in the years ahead, particularly in satellite and launch markets where there are already a large number of ventures, investors and analysts warned. Chris Quilty, president of Quilty Analytics, warned that parts of the space industry may be in a “bubble” that will burst as too many companies seek additional rounds of funding.

Such consolidation, he noted, is already taking place in the Earth observation sector, with deals like Planet’s acquisition of Terra Bella from Google and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ acquisition of DigitalGlobe, both last month. “Some of that is just natural,” he said. “It’s going to happen in the market.”

What the industry needs to avoid, Quilty said, is what he called a “faceplant”: a large, well-funded venture running into financial problems. “Any time you get an industry where very high profile companies implode, it can sour the entire investment environment,” he said. (3/6)

Blue Origin Emerges as Force in Aerospace (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Both OneWeb and Eutelsat previously contracted with established launch providers, making their high-profile demonstrations of confidence in Blue Origin significant. The massive rocket that is slated to launch the satellites probably won’t fly until the end of the decade. Photographs of its first fully assembled primary engine weren’t released until this week. And despite his persistence, deep pockets and passion for space, Mr. Bezos hasn’t yet blasted any booster or spacecraft into orbit.

Still, developments in the past two days underscore that Blue Origin—-now boasting some 1,000 employees and facilities from Florida to the Northwest-—intends to use its New Glenn rocket to compete aggressively for commercial launches. Mr. Bezos also has indicated his aim is to develop a bigger, more powerful booster eventually capable of transporting astronauts deep into the solar system.

The two-stage version of New Glenn will be 270 feet tall and able to generate nearly 3.9 million pounds of thrust from seven main engines. A larger, three-stage version would be more than 310 feet tall. Editor's Note: I expressed curiosity weeks ago about the commercial viability of such a large rocket, given the availability of smaller rockets able to launch the same types of payloads. Maybe these Eutelsat birds will be larger than usual or fly two to a rocket, and maybe a larger number of OneWeb satellites would be flown on individual rockets. (3/8)

Inside NASA’s Daring $8 Billion Plan to Finally Find Extraterrestrial Life (Source: Ars Technica)
Through the HoloLens each of us wears, we watch this simulation of what might happen about 15 years from now on the icy, forbidding moon. The otherworldly illusion is shattered when a voice booms out; it's John Culberson, a conservative Republican politician from Texas. He wants to know what happens if one of the blinking instruments fail. Not to worry, he is told, all of the spacecraft systems are redundant. “Good,” Culberson replies. “The immensity of what you’re doing is too important in human history. You don’t want to miss this chance.” Click here. (3/6)

Blue Origin Adds OneWeb as Launch Customer (Source: Space News)
OneWeb has signed on as Blue Origin’s second customer for its New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, both companies announced March 8. In a tweet this morning, Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos said OneWeb has reserved fivelaunches using the rocket, bringing to six the number of missions in the New Glenn manifest.

OneWeb wants to have several launch options in the market for the 882 satellites the form “gen-one” of the OneWeb constellation, as well as the gen-two constellation that could grow by another 2,000 satellites. In an interview following the panel, Sprague said he isn’t sure how many satellites would launch per 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.

Bezos announced Eutelsat as New Glenn’s first taker March 7 during a joint appearance with Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer at the Satellite 2017 conference here. Before inviting Belmer up to the stage, Bezos revealed new details about the reusable rocket. New Glenn’s two-stage version is being designed to carry up to 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or 45 metric tons into low Earth orbit. Blue Origin anticipates first launch in 2020. (3/8)

Hughes Offers Fast Satellite Broadband to U.S. Customers (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Hughes is rolling out what it says is the fastest satellite broadband service for consumers in the U.S. The HughesNet Gen5 service will provide 25 megabits per second download speeds starting at $50 a month for residential customers and $70 a month for business customers. Hughes, facing competition from other companies offering broadband access with geostationary satellites as well as from low Earth orbit constellations under development, hopes to double its number of residential subscribers with this new service. (3/7)

Phase Four Plans Plasma Propulsion for Small Satellites (Source: Space News)
A California company plans to perform the first flight test of its plasma propulsion technology later this year. Phase Four announced Tuesday that its propulsion system will be flown on a Landmapper spacecraft by Astro Digital, a commercial remote sensing company, that is scheduled to launch late this year. Phase Four won a $1 million DARPA contract in 2015 to develop the technology, licensed from the Univ. of Michigan, that promises more effective propulsion for small satellites. (3/7)

Houston Spaceport Plans Advance with New Airport Control Tower (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Plans for a new control tower at Houston's Ellington Airport could also support its spaceport aspirations. The Houston City Council is scheduled to consider a request Wednesday for $12.4 million to build a new control tower for the airport, replacing one built 60 years ago and damaged in a 2008 hurricane. The new tower, twice as tall as the current one, would support existing aircraft activitiy as well as proposed future spaceflights. The airport received an FAA spaceport license in 2015. (3/7)

Taxpayers May Be on the Hook for the Next SpaceX or Orbital Rocket Failure (Source: Bloomberg)
Taxpayers may be on the hook the next time a space mission by SpaceX, Orbital ATK or another private company fails. NASA would partially indemnify private launch service providers from liability for injury, death or property damage for operations under contract with the federal government under legislation the House passed today by voice vote.

The measure, S. 442, would cap losses at $500 million for injury, death or damage to private property and at $100 million for damages to government property occurring under contract. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. SpaceX, Orbital and Sierra Nevada Corp. won contracts in January to haul cargo to the ISS under a NASA initiative to privatize routine spaceflight.

The bill reaffirms congressional commitments to the Orion Crew Capsule and the Space Launch System to get U.S. crews to the space station. Lockheed Martin Corp. is the prime contractor for the capsule and Boeing is the prime for the SLS. The bill states that it’s the policy of the U.S. to continue full utilization of the ISS through at least 2024. It would bar the use of foreign services to transport astronauts to the ISS, unless there isn’t a U.S. capability. (3/7)

SpaceX Welder's Bid For New Sex Bias Trial Shot Down (Source: Law360)
A California judge grounded a former SpaceX welder’s bid for a new trial on her claims that the aerospace company ignored sexual harassment and bias against her, ruling that SpaceX showing the jury a video of the welder winning a bodybuilding competition was not prejudicial. In October, a jury rejected Teasley’s claims. (3/7)

Blue Origin Plans Eutelsat Launch from Florida (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space company Blue Origin now has its first paying customer for a commercial launch, with European satellite company Eutelsat sending up cargo in 2021 or 2022. The two companies announced the new contract Tuesday in Washington, D.C. They didn’t specify a location for the launch, but a video released by Blue Origin shows a rocket taking off with a sketch of the company’s rocket plant at KSC in the foreground.

The announcement is the latest development to fuel growing competition in the commercial space industry. It also helps cement Florida’s role as the center of that emerging industry. Bezos is pursuing competition with SpaceX in the industry. SpaceX has been launching satellites and other payload regularly from the Cape for years. (3/7)

Chanel 'Launches' Rocket at Paris Fashion Week (Source:
Chanel launched a line of interstellar fashion — and a custom Chanel rocket — at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday (March 7). Fake sparks flew and clouds of "exhaust" filled the stage as the Chanel rocket lifted off from the center of the runway to the tune of Elton John's classic hit "Rocket Man." The staged launch looked impressively realistic, with support towers leaning aside as the rocket began to rise up from the floor. It did stop before hitting the glass ceiling of Paris' iconic Grand Palais museum, thankfully. (3/6)

Blue Origin Video Shows Florida Launch and Offshore Landing of Slightly Revised Rocket Design (Source:
The animated video shows a New Glenn rocket lifting off from what appears to be Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, which the company is leasing. High above the Earth, the rocket's first stage separates from the payload carrier, which then delivers a satellite into orbit; the first stage then returns to Earth and touches down vertically on a ship's landing pad. Click here. (3/7)

Our Launch Ranges Need Higher Throughput (Source: Space News)
Launch ranges need to rethink their operations in order to handle much higher launch rates promised by reusable rockets. Traditional range systems, said panelists at a Satellite 2017 session, are designed for low flight rates from expendable rockets, and may not be able to handle much higher flight rates promised by reusable vehicles in development. Reusable vehicles could also lead developers, like the Air Force, to reconsider how they approach satellite development. (3/6)

What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds (Source: Five Thirty Eight)
In NASA’s plan, during each six-month (or more) leg of the journey, the members of a small crew will strap themselves into a cramped spacecraft that offers limited opportunities for recreation, distraction or privacy. As they get farther from Earth, they’ll be increasingly isolated from everything they’ve ever known. Real-time communication with mission control or family members will become impossible.

All of that is a recipe for psychological stress, even above and beyond what astronauts have already experienced. So scientists are trying to identify the unique mental pressures that would accompany a trip to Mars so they can select crews who will cope the best, prepare them to handle the difficulties they will face, and learn how best to help them when they’re millions of miles away.

For clues to what astronauts will face, researchers at NASA and other organizations are relying on various analogs. They’ve studied long-term missions to the International Space Station and to other isolated, extreme environments where humans live in confined spaces. Click here. (3/6)

Scientists Discover the Heavens Are Hell (Source: Bloomberg)
No event is free of controversy these days -- not even the discovery of seven habitable planets that hit the news late last month. For a few days, drawings of those tranquil spheres loomed above the tumult of earthly affairs -- the presidential tweets, the protests, the botched Oscars. But then a friend, who happens to be trained as a biologist, wrote to me complaining that by declaring these worlds “habitable,” NASA’s PR people were promoting a space-exploration delusion. Click here. (3/6)

Why the World Should be Wary of Elon Musk’s Space Race (Source: The Conversation)
Want to fly to the moon? Well, now you won’t have to bother with all those years of rigorous astronaut training – all you need is a huge wad of cash. Elon Musk, technopreneur, has built a small spaceship called Dragon and if you slap down enough money – maybe a hundred million dollars or so – he’ll fly you to the Moon. The first flight is set for 2018, a target so ambitious it verges on the incredible.

Musk would tell you he’s not using taxpayer funds for his moonshot and that his SpaceX venture is a private commercial business. But SpaceX’s only significant customer so far has been NASA – a taxpayer-funded agency that pays it to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. And even before SpaceX had delivered anything, NASA made a massive investment in the firm to get it up and running. Any claim that SpaceX is purely a commercial business, then, is also incredible.

The “colonisation” theme of space expansion is also problematic since it signifies a potential re-emergence of the social injustices and environmental disasters wrought by past colonial ventures. Being a fan of “space colonisation”, then, can be likened to rejoicing in the displacement of native peoples and celebrating the destruction of wilderness. (3/6)

GAO Sides With NASA On Tech Services Contract (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has shot down a contractor's protest over a technology support contract for a safety center at NASA's Glenn Research Center, finding the evaluation of the contractor's nearly $30 million rejected proposal was within the space agency's discretion. Ohio-based Alphaport Inc. had claimed that NASA treated the company's $29.4 million proposal for a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract unfairly when assigning a lower rating to the proposal's management plan than to that of winning contractor Banner Quality Management Inc.'s. (3/6)

Ex-Virgin Galactic boss Will Whitehorn based The Hydro on Spaceport America in New Mexico (Source: Scottish Sun)
A former Virgin Galactic chief has revealed Scotland already has its own ‘Spaceport’ hidden in plain sight – The SSE Hydro. The country has three locations on the shortlist to become the UK’s first-ever launchpad to the stars, aiming to send spacecraft into orbit by the year 2020.

But Scots-born Will Whitehorn, who was Sir Richard Branson’s right-hand man for more than 20 years before taking over as chairman of the SECC, insists it’s the Glasgow venue that is simply out of this world. And he reveals for the first time how he based the design of the futuristic-looking Hydro — which has seen megastars such as Beyonce put in stellar performances — on the £170million Spaceport America he helped construct in New Mexico. (3/6)

NASA Wants to Make a Box 100 Million Times Colder Than Outer Space (Source: Inverse)
The aptly named Cold Atom Laboratory will be about the size of an ice chest, and NASA is finishing it up so they can send it up to the International Space Station this summer. The box, known as CAL, freezes gas atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero — a physically impossible temperature that’s so cold that all atoms would stop moving entirely.

At a billionth of a degree above absolute zero (negative 459.67 Fahrenheit), however, atoms still move, slightly. They just behave in crazy ways. At temperatures like they’ll experience inside CAL, atoms can take on a new form of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. This is where the normal rules of physics stop applying, and quantum physics steps in. (3/6)

Jeff Bezos Reveals Blue Origin's Finished Rocket BE-4 Engine (Source: Inverse)
On Monday, Jeff Bezos took a moment to brag a little. It wasn’t about Amazon Studios’ Oscar wins or about technology being used by his massive retail empire. It was about Blue Origin, his Kent, Washington-based aerospace company. With two photos, Bezos showed off the first-eve BE-4 rocket engine, which the Blue Origin is making to relieve the United States from having to depend on Russia-made RD-180 engines to carry Astronauts to the International Space Station.

Blue Origin has been working on the BE-4 for quite some time. The company had initially hoped to shoot for a test flight by 2017; it’s unclear now whether that’s feasible, given that the BE-4 will still need to undergo a series of ground tests first. However, the company looks like it should be ready to use the new engine for commercial flights by 2019, as planned. Bezos also mentioned that two more fully assembled BE-4 engines should be ready soon. It’s still unclear where the engine is headed after leaving Washington. (3/6)

How Crazy Is SpaceX's Moon Mission? (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX works faster and cheaper, and that's one reason it seems so confident about lapping NASA. Its lunar tour will launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket, a variant of the company's successful Falcon 9, which has been through dozens of launches, including resupply flights to the International Space Station. Its Dragon capsule has also completed cargo missions, and the Dragon 2 -- designed for humans -- will be launched twice later this year.

Maybe more important, the price is right: Development of the Falcon 9 cost just $390 million, compared to the $1.7 billion to $4 billion that NASA would've spent on the same project, as one study found. A launch on the Falcon Heavy is priced at just $90 million, while estimates of an SLS launch range from $500 million to $1 billion.

But NASA's risks may be even greater. For one thing, it may be launching astronauts atop an untested rocket, an idea that Donald Trump's administration recently asked the agency to study in the hopes of speeding things up. NASA has attempted that only once, for the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981, and the consequences were nearly disastrous. NASA will also incur substantial new costs in fast-tracking Orion. (3/6)

NASA’s Requested Budget of $19 Billion is a True Bargain (Source: MarketWatch)
NASA has requested a $19 billion budget for fiscal 2017. That’s a lot of money. Some would argue that it would be better to add that amount to the defense budget. Others, that it should be used to help the needy and resolve glaring social problems plaguing U.S. society. Others still might say that investing in technology instead would help improve our quality of life.

However, that would be superficial thinking, and here’s why: Investing in space exploration isn’t about spending money so that the trained officers in funny suits can bounce around in low gravity and make awesome YouTube music videos. It’s about understanding the universe we are part of, so we can better solve the issues that affect us here on Earth. And as you will see, NASA has done more than its share of that work. (3/6)

A New Space Race Has Begun (Source: Weekly Standard)
The Dragon Spacecraft in question will be the Dragon 2, the human-carrying version of the space capsule that has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station since 2012. The crewmen it carries will be two private customers, who "have already paid a significant deposit"; who "will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration," pending "health and fitness tests."

SpaceX's moon mission will be launched atop its in-development "Falcon Heavy" rocket, which will make its first test flight this summer. When the Falcon Heavy launches, it will become the most powerful rocket in the world, and the most powerful of all time, except for the 60's Saturn V moon rocket. It will remain the most powerful rocket in the world for about a year, until NASA tests its new SLS rocket. The SLS will then become the most powerful rocket of all time, except for the Saturn V.

If everything goes right, a few months after the Dragon 2 carries astronauts for the first time, SpaceX and NASA will both attempt to send astronauts around the moon. These moon missions will be the first hurdle of an incredible race, whose finish line is on the surface of Mars, where both NASA and SpaceX plan to go next. SpaceX is racing to stay ahead of a pack of private space companies. At the moment, SpaceX is at the top of private space flight pyramid, but it will have to fight to stay there. (3/6)

Launch Bottleneck Keeping Smallsat Growth in Check (Source: Space News)
Small satellite companies will generate impressive returns, but first the industry needs more launch opportunities and help reaching new customers, according to speakers at the Satellite 2017 conference.

“The launch bottleneck is causing issues,” said Craig Clark, Clyde Space chief executive. Many companies were unable to send their satellites into orbit in 2016 due to multiple launch delays. As a result, firms were unable to generate data and revenue. “We would have seen faster growth if launch capacity was there,” he added. While dozens of companies are developing and testing rockets to serve the small satellite market, it will take time for new launch vehicles to prove their merit.

Editor's Note: Whether or not the smallsat market demand is sustained, improving the throughput at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport is a necessity. While Autonomous Flight Safety is a big step in the right direction, other technological, process, and infrastructure improvements are needed to allow launches (and landings) on a daily basis. (3/6)

Brooks: NASA Funding Cuts Possible in President Trump Budget (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA could see funding cuts to help make way for President Trump's plan to build up the military, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks said Monday. Brooks, R-Huntsville, made a brief reference to possible cuts at NASA during a 30-minute speech to business and community leaders. Brooks spoke as about 70 protesters picketed across Clinton Avenue from the civic center, demanding that Brooks hold a town hall meeting. Brooks repeated his stance Monday that he had no intention of holding a town hall.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Brooks' north Alabama district provides about 6,000 jobs for civil servants and contractors and was the site for development of the space agency's new deep-space rocket, SLS. During his speech, Brooks praised Trump's economic policies and said that it could eventually lead to roughly $1 trillion in federal tax revenues - which, Brooks said, would help reduce or eliminate the national debt. But in Brooks' next sentence - as the NASA logo flashed on the giant video screens - the four-term congressman offered some potentially grim news for Huntsville's space community. (3/6)

Teleports Groaning Under the Strain of Proliferating Satellites (Source: Space News)
In the past, Wayne Haubner told his team at VT iDirect that future satellite hubs would need to be 10 times as capable as their predecessors at one-tenth the price. That improvement no longer seems adequate. “I think I need 50 times the performance at one-tenth the cost,” Haubner, VT iDirect senior vice president for engineering and emerging technologies, said March 6 at the Satellite 2017 conference here. “The satellite capabilities are growing so fast that we have to be very aggressive at being able to leverage those capabilities.”

New satellites promise 10 or 100 times the capacity of their predecessors, but teleports can’t grow 10 or 100-fold. In fact, they need to shrink. Like the evolution of laptop computers, “they need to become smaller, more capable and cost less,” Haubner said. Panelists agreed that far more teleports will be needed. “We are going to go from a handful of teleports around the world to dozens or hundreds,” Haubner said. (3/6)

Smallsats Could Help U.S. Mitigate Losses in Space Conflict (Source: Space News)
The U.S. must be prepared to lose satellites in the event of a conflict, but smallsats and dispersed systems can help ensure key capabilities remain operational. “Space dominance, if it ever existed, is not in our future,” said Dale Hayden, senior researcher at the Air Force’s Air University, noting the proliferation of anti-satellite technology worldwide.

One of the ways to deter an attack is to increase how much that attack might cost an adversary. Military officers hope that spreading systems across multiple satellites makes it economically and logistically infeasible for adversaries to attack U.S. capabilities. Rather than having to shoot down one satellite to destroy a capability, an enemy would now have to shoot down dozens or hundreds of satellites. (3/6)

Arabsat Orders its First Made-in-Saudi Satellite (Source: Space News)
Arabsat has ordered a new telecommunications satellite from two Saudi Arabian entities that have worked with Lockheed Martin to learn how to build spacecraft. Lockheed Martin built Arabsat 6A and Hellas-sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 under a 2015 contract that included the U.S.-based aerospace giant committing to pursue the establishment of a joint-venture company with Taqnia Space Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, to produce future satellites in Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Arabsat announced that it had signed an agreement with Taqnia Space to build Arabsat-6D, a Ka- and Ku-band satellite for television, broadband and in-flight connectivity that it will co-own with KACST at 44.5 degrees East. Financial terms of the Arabsat-6D order were not disclosed. Arabsat-6D is expected to launch in 2019, although no launch contract has been announced. (3/6)

China to Develop Air-Launch System (Source: Reuters)
China will develop rockets that can be launched into space from aircraft, a senior official said, as Beijing aims to send hundreds of satellites into orbit for military, commercial and scientific aims. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology has designed a solid-fuel rocket that could carry a 100 kg (220 lb) payload into low Earth orbit, said Li Tongyu, the head of the agency's carrier rocket development.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has prioritized advancing China's space program, saying it was needed to enhance national security and defense, although its progress still lags behind the United States and Russia. Li said the rockets would be carried by large Y-20 strategic transport planes before being launched and that the academy planned to eventually develop a larger rocket that could carry a 200 kg payload. (3/6)

Vega Rocket Launches Europe's Newest Earth 'Sentinel' Satellite (Source:
Europe launched its latest Earth-observation satellite, a spacecraft that will help scientists monitor natural disasters and track land use and water pollution around the globe. The Sentinel-2B satellite lifted off atop a Vega rocket from Europe's spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana. The spacecraft will settle into a polar orbit about 490 miles above Earth.

Sentinel-2B is the second member of the two-satellite Sentinel-2 constellation; its twin, Sentinel-2A, launched into an identical orbit in June 2015. Together, Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B will help researchers keep tabs on the world's forests, changes in land cover and other activities occurring on the planet. (3/6)

Private Cygnus Spacecraft to Launch NASA Cargo to Space Station From Florida (Source:
The private spaceflight company Orbital ATK is targeting March 19 for its seventh cargo flight, dubbed OA-7, to the International Space Station. Packed with supplies and science gear, the Cygnus cargo craft is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during a 30-minute launch window beginning at 10:56 p.m. EDT.

Along with more than 7,500 lbs. (3,400 kilograms) of cargo and supplies for the astronauts aboard the space station, Cygnus will carry several science experiments, including dozens of cubesats, a new habitat for growing plants and targeted cancer therapies. During a prelaunch teleconference Monday (March 6), Henry Martin, small-satellites mission coordinator for NanoRacks in Houston, noted that 38 cubesats, or microsatellites, will hitch a ride to space on the Cygnus cargo craft. (3/6)

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