April 27, 2017

Meet The World’s Most Advanced Telecom Satellite (Source: Aviation Week)
ViaSat-1 was a technical marvel when it entered service over North America five years ago, with 10 times the capacity of any Ka-band satellite previously launched. But its beams filled up quickly. Boeing-built ViaSat-2, which was supposed to launch from Kourou on April 25, will have a throughput of 300 Gbps, offering more than double the capacity and seven times the coverage area of ViaSat-1. That will open new avenues for Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat to expand its broadband internet services.

And as it prepares for the $600 million ViaSat-2 to come online later this year, the company already has embarked on an ambitious development of ViaSat-3, a family of three 1,000-Gbps satellites aimed at taking its network global by the early 2020s. “It’s Moore’s Law for bandwidth,” says Chairman and CEO Mark Dankberg, referring to the exponential expansion of computing power during the last half century.

Dankberg, who founded ViaSat in his house in 1986 and took it public a decade later on the Nasdaq exchange, believes technical advances have reduced the cost of space-based connectivity to the point where the company can thrive where others failed spectacularly. In the late 1990s, investors poured billions of dollars into an array of projects that aimed to provide broadband connectivity via satellites. Most of them never even made it to space. “Astrolink spent $1.5 billion and ended up with a bag of parts,” says Dankberg, referring to a venture backed by Lockheed Martin. (4/26)

Cruz (and Nelson) Look to Boost Space Industry (Source: The Hill)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at a hearing on Wednesday called for expanding commercial investment in the space industry. "With our sight set on the heavens, which President Kennedy referred to as ‘the new frontier,’ it is only fitting that the nation born on the last frontier should continue to lead the way in the new frontier," Cruz said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, which he chairs.

"America must expand commerce and ultimately settlement into space. And we must do it first.” The panel heard from CEOs from space industry companies, including the chief of Blue Origin, a NASA contractor dealing with payload and flight services. Cruz questioned the witnesses about regulations that are hampering the commercial space industry. "The world is much safer with America as the global leader of this planet,” Cruz said.

“And the world will similarly be safer and stronger if the United States and our ideals of free enterprise and free speech are the driving force of commerce and settlement throughout the galaxy.” Democrats also expressed support for easing commercial partnerships with NASA. “Right around the corner, there are exciting new endeavors in space enabled by partnerships with NASA and the entrepreneurs and innovators in the private sector,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Click here. (4/26)

Cruz Open to Space Treaty Update (Source: Space News)
Sen. Ted Cruz says he's open to updating the Outer Space Treaty to better support commercial space activities. Cruz, at a Senate space subcommittee hearing Wednesday on commercial space regulations, said it may be time to revise the 50-year-old treaty to reflect "new and innovative activity within space." One of the hearing's witnesses, Robert Bigelow, backs such a move to enable commercial activities on the moon and elsewhere. Other witnesses focused on federal regulatory issues, from funding for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to streamlined licensing of reusable launch vehicles. (4/27)

Speculation About SpaceX's First Classified Mission (Source: Space News)
The first SpaceX mission for the National Reconnaissance Office may be carrying a data relay satellite intended for an elliptical orbit. Satellite observers suspect that the launch of the NROL-76 mission, scheduled for Sunday morning, will place a Boeing-built satellite into a Molniya orbit to provide coverage over polar regions. Boeing may have purchased the launch from SpaceX as part of a delivery-in-orbit contract for the NRO, rather than NRO directly purchasing the launch. (4/27)

NASA Auditor Dings Agency on Poor Space Suit Planning and Investment (Source: Space News)
NASA auditors are concerned about the status of the agency's current spacesuits and development of new ones. In a report Wednesday, the NASA Office of Inspector General warned that the current inventory of spacesuits used for ISS spacewalks may not be sufficient to support station operations into the 2020s, particularly if the station's life is extended beyond 2024. The report found that NASA has spent nearly $200 million on new spacesuit designs over the last eight years, but still runs the risk of not having a new suit ready for testing on the ISS by 2024. NASA agreed with a report recommendation to create a formal plan for spacesuit development by the end of September. (4/27)

Listening In on Alien Broadcasts (Source: New Scientist)
Even if there are many alien civilizations in the galaxy broadcasting, we may never hear them, according to a one analysis. That study concluded that, even if there are radio signals from a large fraction of the stars in the galaxy, the average number of signals that we could detect may be less than one because of limitations of how long the signals would last and how well they could be detected. Other scientists argue that the study makes assumptions that make its conclusions overly pessimistic. (4/27)

Ping Pong in Space (Source: GeekWire)
The first live 4K video feed from the ISS featured a game of ping pong. Astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson showed off life on the ISS in a live broadcast associated with the National Association of Broadcasters' annual conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. During the session they played ping pong using water droplets and performed other simple experiments. NASA has provided 4K, or ultra-high-definition, video from the ISS before, but Wednesday's event was the first live 4K video stream from space. (4/27)

UAE Space Agency and Algerian Space Agency Strengthen Ties (Source: Arabian Aerospace)
The UAE Space Agency has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with its Algerian counterpart the Algerian Space Agency. The MoU defines a framework for collaboration in the peaceful use of space, in line with the UAE Space Agency’s strategic plans to enhance collaboration with international stakeholders in the sector. The MoU covers various aspects of the peaceful use of outer space, as well as collaboration in the fields of policy-making, regulations, space science, technology, and human capital development in the space sector. (4/27)

New Players Trigger New Space Race, GPS III Update (Source: GPS World)
A host of new entrepreneurial and government players entering the space sector created an underlying sense of excitement that a new “space race” has begun. The space industry landscape is changing — and putting long-experienced government players and government contract monopolies on notice. A primary theme at the Space Symposium was development of missions and programs to shore up national cyber and space security. Japan, for example, had previously banned all military use of space assets, but the country has established new laws in part due to growing threats from countries such as North Korea.

Europe also has joined the club of providers of navigation services and has formally acknowledged the need to defend its member countries against cyber threats. Elzbieta Bieńkowska outlined a three-point space strategy for Europe that incentivizes innovation, including investment in R&D projects, but also prompts Europe to officially view space as a security asset. “We for the first time recognize that space is a strategic asset and a central element of Europe’s strategic autonomy. Europe must ensure its own security,” she said. Click here. (4/26)

The First Space Launch System Flight Will Probably be Delayed (Source: Planetary Society)
It's looking likely that the first flight of NASA's new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, will slip beyond its November 2018 launch date. The space agency has yet to announce any official schedule changes. But a recent report by NASA's Office of Inspector General, along with dates provided by internal sources, an agency-wide schedule review currently in progress, and welding challenges involving the core stage liquid oxygen tank, all point to a probable delay.

Last year, after our Rocket Road Trip to NASA's southern spaceflight centers, we noted that despite an impressive amount of progress on infrastructure upgrades, the big rocket's launch schedule was razor-thin. Now, following a February tornado that disrupted operations at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, all signs are starting to lean towards a slip. (4/26)

Here Is the Trump Transition Team's Big Plan for NASA (Source: Popular Mechanics)
If you feel like NASA's been in limbo lately, you're not alone. "NASA has been kind of stuck for much of the last decade," says Jack Burns, who serves as a member of President Trump's NASA transition team. "After the shuttle stopped flying, people were even confused as to whether NASA existed any longer—I mean it was that bad."

On a recent visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder where Burns teaches and works, Popular Mechanics sat down with the astrophysics professor to learn a little about what we can expect from NASA in the coming years. Up first: flying people to space again. American astronauts haven't flown to orbit on an American launch vehicle since the last Space Shuttle flight in July 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides on the Russian Soyuz rocket, and the U.S. has been paying for the privilege. The new NASA wants to change that. Click here. (4/26)

Blue Origin and Other Space Companies Urge Congress to Boost FAA’s Funding (Source: GeekWire)
When senators asked executives from Blue Origin and other commercial space ventures what they could do to help them at a Senate hearing today, they received an unusual reply: Give more money to the regulators at the FAA. ”It may be rare for companies to be pushing for more funding for their regulators, but we really think this is a case where it could be a good investment for the country,” Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said during a Senate space subcommittee hearing.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, also known as AST, is responsible for regulating and encouraging development of private-sector launch companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX. AST’s budget for the current fiscal year is just a little less than $20 million, or just a little more than 0.1 percent of the FAA’s total budget of $15.9 billion.

As more commercial operators are entering the space business, AST is having to ramp up its regulatory machinery to handle the upswing. And the commercial operators say they’re feeling the bottleneck. Rob Meyerson, the president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture, urged Congress to increase AST’s budget “to allow the office to operate as a responsive and effective agency.” (4/26)

This Photo Will Make You Want to Go to Space (Source: Mashable)
I know that this is a weird thing for a space reporter to admit publicly, but here's the truth: I've never had any desire to travel to space. Let's just say that I've seen one too many rockets explode to make me comfortable with flying up to space. But I have to say, photos like this one, of an uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station on April 22, make me rethink my hard-line stance against space travel. Click here. (4/26)

Aldrin Wants To Serve As ‘Strong Adviser’ On US Mission To Reach Mars (Source: Huffington Post)
Buzz Aldrin has said he wants to serve as a “strong adviser” in the mission to reach Mars but admitted he doubts it will happen during Donald Trump’s presidency. The second man on the moon attended the Republican’s inauguration in January and met with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss space policy last month. “I think there’s a desire to want to rush and do things and I don’t think we can rush and try and get to Mars during his (Trump’s) first term or second term.” (4/26)

Cassini's First Pass Between Saturn and its Rings Goes Flawlessly (Source: LA Times)
Great news for Cassini fans: The NASA spacecraft sent word that it successfully completed its first pass through the uncharted territory between Saturn and its rings late Wednesday. Hopefully the next 21 orbits through this never-before-explored space will be just as successful. More than 100 members of the Cassini team and their families gathered in the Von Karman Auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge to await the news.

The first signal, indicating that the spacecraft was alive, came right on time at 11:55 p.m Pacific, to cheers and fist pumps. About 10 minutes later, another set of signals confirmed that Cassini was beaming science and engineering data across more than 750 million miles of space from the Saturn system to Earth. (4/27)

GAO Sustains Protest Of $48M NASA Contract Award (Source: Law360)
The Government Accountability Office upheld a contractor’s protest over a $48 million NASA contract in a decision made public Tuesday, finding the space agency failed to scrutinize the realism of the winning bid’s cost and potential conflicts of interest related to a subcontractor on the proposal. NASA failed to conduct a cost-realism analysis of a safety and mission support services proposal, or SMASS III, from Cleveland-based Alphaport Inc. that assumed a very high retention rate of staff from the previous contractor. (4/26)

No comments: