April 7, 2017

Generation Orbit Wins Phase II SBIR for Air-Launch Development (Source: GO)
Generation Orbit has won a Phase II SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory for development and flight testing of the GOLauncher 1 (GO1). The single stage liquid rocket, launched from a Gulfstream III business jet, will conduct its inaugural flight test in 2019, reaching Mach 6 within the atmosphere. The flight will mark the initial operational capability of the world's first commercially-available hypersonic test bed, empowering hypersonic researchers with affordable and flexible access to hypersonic flight environments.

This effort is a follow-on of the Phase I and Phase II SBIR Contracts awarded to Generation Orbit by AFRL in July of 2014 and August of 2015, respectively. Editor's Note: GO ultimately plans to air-launch microsatellites to orbit, from Jacksonville's Cecil Spaceport. (4/6)

America's Space Commanders Rattle Their Lightsabers (Source: The Atlantic)
"In no uncertain terms, space is a war fighting domain, not because we want it to be but because adversaries are threatening peaceful use." So says an April 4 tweet from USAF Space Command. And last week, Navy Vice Admiral Charles Richard, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said during a conference in Washington, D.C., that “while we’re not at war in space, I don’t think we can say we’re exactly at peace, either.”

If war breaks out, it will be fought amongst the hundreds of communications, weather, navigation, and reconnaissance satellites circling Earth. Satellites can be destroyed by ground-based missiles, disabled by lasers, hacked by actors on Earth to knock out transmissions, or stalked and beaten up by spacecraft designed to hunt enemy hardware.

There are currently about 1,400 operational satellites orbiting the planet at various altitudes, according to a database maintained by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an American nonprofit group. The U.S. dominates the field with nearly 576 satellites, compared to Russia’s 140 and China’s 181. The U.S. has an edge, but having more assets can mean more vulnerabilities. (4/5)

Russia Opens 1st Ground Station to Monitor Orbital Debris in Brazil (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's first ground station of the Automated Warning System on Hazardous Situations in Outer Space (ASPOS OKP) aimed at monitoring orbital debris was opened in Brazil, a spokesman of the Roscosmos state corporation said. "The main goal of the ASPOS OKP is to monitor dangerous approaches of the devices operating on orbit with orbital debris and to follow falling satellites... The facility is located at the Pico dos Dias Observatory [in Brazil's western Minas Gerais state]," the spokesman said. He added that the Brazilian facility was the first of the four specialized centers being created by Roscosmos for the needs of the ASPOS OKP. (4/5)

Lunar Missions Gaining Popularity Among Space Powers (Source: Space News)
Leaders of a number of space agencies made the case for going to the moon before heading to Mars. In a panel session at Space Symposium Tuesday, the heads of several national space agencies said they were interested in missions to the moon, including establishing a base or "Moon Village" there, before sending humans to Mars. NASA's current plans call for missions in cislunar space, but not the lunar surface. NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said those plans do support "work with our international partners on what we do on the surface of the moon." (4/5)

China Describes Lunar Ambitions at Colorado Symposium (Source: Space News)
The head of China's space agency laid out bold ambitions for his space program Wednesday. In a speech at Space Symposium, Yulong Tian said China has a number of lunar and Mars missions planned, including a lunar sample return mission, Chang'e-5, scheduled to launch in November. China's long-term robotic exploration plans also include missions to Jupiter, asteroids and Venus. (4/5)

Japan Plans Launch of Three Satellites to Augment GPS (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan is planning to launch three satellites in the next year to augment satellite navigation services. The Japanese space agency JAXA showed off Wednesday one of the Michibiki satellites it plans to launch during the 2017 fiscal year for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System. The satellites, in inclined geosynchronous orbits, improve the GPS system in urban areas and elsewhere where obstacles, like tall buildings, can block the basic GPS signals. The first Michibiki satellite launched in 2010. (4/5)

Blue Origin Ready to Support NASA Lunar Missions with Blue Moon (Source: Space News)
If NASA’s human spaceflight program is redirected back to the Moon, Blue Origin is ready to support it with its proposed “Blue Moon” lunar lander system, said company president Robert Meyerson. Blue Moon can “cost effectively soft-land large amounts of mass onto the lunar surface,” Meyerson said at the 33rd Space Symposium here, his first public comments about the system since its existence was first reported in March by the Washington Post. “Any credible first lunar settlement is going to require such a capability.” (4/6)

NASA Funds Ideas from Science Fiction (Source: GeekWire)
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, also known as NIAC, has been backing far-out aerospace concepts for almost 20 years. It started out as the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, modeled after the Pentagon’s DARPA think tank. NIAC’s latest crop of 22 tech projects was announced this week, and they include a few concepts that were virtually ripped from the headlines of science fiction’s pulp magazines. Click here. (4/6)

How Being Deaf Made the Difference in Space Research (Source: Air & Space)
In the late 1950s, researchers faced many unknowns about the effects of space travel on the human body. How would motion sickness impact the ability of astronauts to function and survive? To better understand and manage potential dangers, they looked to the deaf community. The U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine and the newly formed NASA recruited deaf people for weightlessness, balance, and motion sickness experiments. Researchers selected test subjects that met specific criteria.

All but one of the selected test subjects became deaf from spinal meningitis, which impacted their inner ear physiology. This meant they could endure motion and gravitational forces that make most people nauseous. The ability to withstand intense movement turned the so-called “labyrinthine defect” into a valuable research asset—no matter the test of equilibrium, the deaf participants simply never got sick. Click here. (4/7)

Hawaiian Company Making Windows for Commercial Spacecraft (Source: Bloomberg)
Big windows like those envisioned for Blue Origin’s capsule add cost and complexity to designing spacecraft because larger glass panes have to be thicker, adding weight to a vehicle that needs to be as light as possible, said Bill Goodman, vice president of space systems at HNu Photonics of Kahului, HI. A 22-inch diameter window on the International Space Station is about 3 1/2 inches thick, made from layers designed to withstand collisions with fast-moving dust particles, maintain air pressure within the capsule and a final layer that improves visibility through the thick window, he said. Despite the high cost, big windows will be a good marketing ploy for space tourism, Goodman said. (4/5)

Blue Origin Still Planning Commercial Suborbital Flights in 2018 (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said April 5 that his company was still hoping to start flying people on suborbital space tourism flights by the end of next year, while suggesting crewed test flights will not start this year as previously planned. Bezos backed away from earlier statements that called for flying people on test flights later this year. “We’re going to go through the test program, and we’ll put humans on it when we’re happy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 2017 at this point. It could be.” (4/5)

Orbital ATK Confident in Prospects for Large Launch Vehicle (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK says it is well positioned to win a U.S. Air Force competition early next year to support continued development of a new large launch vehicle to serve government and commercial users. The company announced April 3 that it was making progress on what it calls the Next Generation Launch (NGL) program, on which the company and the Air Force have spent a combined $200 million to date through awards made as part of an effort to develop a replacement for United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.

Mike Laidley, vice president of the NGL program at Orbital ATK, said the next major milestone for the program is the release this summer of a request for proposals from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) on the next phase of that effort, called the Launch Service Agreement (LSA). The Air Force plans to make up to three LSA awards in early 2018 to complete prototype vehicle development, including certification test flights.

The NGL vehicle uses a combination of solid- and liquid-propellant stages. The lower two stages are solid motors, based in part on solid rocket motors the company built for the space shuttle and NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Editor's Note: The new Orbital ATK rocket would share a launch pad (LC-39B) with NASA's heavy-lift SLS rocket at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Virginia spaceport planners (and some NASA officials) had high hopes not long ago that larger vehicles like this one would one day be able to operate at Wallops Island. (4/6)

Goldman Sachs: Space-Mining for Platinum is 'More Realistic Than Perceived' (Source: Business Insider)
Goldman Sachs is bullish on space mining with "asteroid-grabbing spacecraft." In a 98-page note for clients seen by Business Insider, analyst Noah Poponak and his team argue that platinum mining in space is getting cheaper and easier, and the rewards are becoming greater as time goes by.

"While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower. Prospecting probes can likely be built for tens of millions of dollars each and Caltech has suggested an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft could cost $2.6bn," the report says.

$2.6 billion (£2 billion) sounds like a lot, but it is only about one-third the amount that has been invested in Uber, putting the price well within reach of today's VC funds. It is also a comparable to the setup cost for a regular earthbound mine. (An MIT paper estimates a new rare earth metal mine can cost up to $1 billion, from scratch.) (4/5)

Dream Chaser to Use Europe’s Next-Generation Docking System (Source: Parabolic Arc)
ESA and a team of European industrial contractors led by QinetiQ have finalised an agreement with Sierra Nevada Corp. for the use of Europe’s International Berthing Docking Mechanism on the Dream Chaser spaceplane. Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser is being developed as a reusable, lifting-body, multi-mission spacecraft capable of landing at commercial airports or spaceports that can accommodate large commercial aircraft anywhere in the world. (4/6)

Changes Set for Spaceport America Tours (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Follow the Sun Tours was running tours of the spaceport from the visitors center in Truth or Consequences. Tourists signed up online or arrived in person. The company also brings in tour groups on coaches from Albuquerque and El Paso.

Follow the Sun Tours will continue to bus in tourists from Albuquerque. The spaceport authority has lined up a new tour company to handle the tours from the visitors center in Truth or Consequences. An announcement will be made soon about the new tour company and an upgraded visitor experience. (4/4)

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