May 18, 2017

A New Rocket Company Is Offering an Affordable SpaceX Alternative (Source: Futurism)
On May 21st, a ten-day test launch window will open for aerospace pioneers Rocket Lab, who aim to capitalize on the small satellite revolution by developing a smaller rocket at a far lower price. And, it costs SpaceX $62 million (unless they reuse a rocket) to leave Earth’s orbit, Rocket Lab hopes to accomplish something similar at a mere $4.9 million per flight. They also plan to make flights more regular — the current wait time is around 2 years.

The company is able to cut so much of the cost because they are using a much smaller rocket — 16.7 meters (55 feet) long — to correspond with the decreasing size of satellites. It is only meant to lift loads between about 150-227 kg (330-500 lbs), which is minuscule compared to its predecessors, which were as tall as 61 meters (200 ft) and designed to transport thousands of pounds of space gear. (5/17)

FAA Licenses Rocket Lab Launches From New Zealand (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) has licensed Rocket Lab for three test launches of its Eloctron booster from New Zealand. The license, issued on May 15, authorizes the new booster to carry inert payloads into Earth orbit on each of the flights. Rocket Lab has established a 10-day window beginning on May 22 for the maiden flight of the new booster. Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg  (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit. The flights by the New Zealand-American company will take place from a launch pad on Mahia Peninsula on Hawkes Bay. (5/18)

Vector Space Aims to Expand Launch Ranges with Minimal Infrastructure Pads (Source:
Vector is unique in that it aims to make use of not only the standard ranges in the United States, but also expand launch capability to any location licensable in the U.S. while also investigating the option of launching their rockets from barges in the middle of the ocean. For its land-based operations,Vector Space is not looking to completely abandon the standard launch ranges the U.S. offers – at least, not in the near-term.

In fact, the company’s language used on its website makes clear that all of the published data for orbits, payload mass to different orbits, and cost to customer plans are all based on launches from either the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida on the Eastern Range or from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Vector has already announced plans to make use of the Space Florida-owned LC-46 for the inaugural launches of its Vector-R rocket beginning in 2018. Speaking in March, Jim Cantrell, Vector Space CEO and co-founder, stated that “We need precisely what that [pad] has.” With 105 flights already booked, it’s no surprise that while the company wants to introduce some degree of freedom from the well-established launch ranges – to secure and have greater control over its launch rate and to provide its customers with a wider range of launch options – that it must also rely heavily on those ranges during its formative years. (5/18)

Use of NASA's Proposed LC-39C Pad Questionable with SLS Interference Possible (Source:
According to John Garvey, Vector Space co-founder and CTO, “We looked at LC-39C [NASA's proposed small pad within the fenceline of LC-39B], but I think there are some serious challenges from a programmatic perspective. “The question we asked was: ‘When they put an SLS vehicle on 39B, and it’s on there for four months, will we still be able to launch during that period,’” questioned Mr. Garvey.

“I can tell you that the program guys are not going to be excited about having someone launch a rocket off in relative proximity to their multi-billion dollar national resource. So we had to ask ourselves ‘What’s easier’? Is it easier to try and work around that or go to another pad that’s got a lot more separation and that doesn’t worry the main program?” Editor's Note: Orbital ATK also plans to share LC-39B with NASA's SLS rocket. (5/18)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests 3D-Printed Rocket (Source: UPI)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has successfully tested a 3D-printed engine in a series of 17 experiments. The engine being tested is a liquid oxygen/kerosene, regenerative cooled, liquid rocket thrust chamber assembly design. The series of exercises cover the performance, reliability, range and durability of 3D-manufactured engines. Aerojet Rocketdyne says these engines are a 500 percent increase in thrust level and performance from their orginial Baby Bantam prototype. The Baby Bantam draws its name from having a thrust capacity of only 5000 pounds, which was tested in 2014. The current full-sized Bantams can be extended up to 200,000 pounds of thrust. (5/18)

Mars Journey Likely To Test Human Risk Limits (Source: Aviation Week)
As NASA charts a course to Mars for human explorers with ever more capable hardware and software systems, policymakers, mission managers and those who launch nonetheless face some tough ethical issues. Those issues include the physical and psychological risks astronauts are sure to face as they are exposed to higher levels of radiation, possible severe and even fatal illness or injury, and personal tragedies unfolding back on Earth.

Though astronaut crews typically spend five to seven months aboard the International Space Station, in an emergency they are but 250 mi. and several hours from a return to Earth. The Apollo missions to the Moon lasted but six to 12 days. The human journey to Mars, which NASA intends to lead in the 2030s, will span two to three years and range millions of miles from Earth. Click here. (5/17)

Arianespace Lofts Soyuz Carrying SES Satellite (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Soyuz rocket carrying an SES satellite lifted off this morning. The Soyuz launched from French Guiana on schedule at 7:54 a.m. Eastern carrying the SES-15 satellite. The Boeing-built spacecraft, weighing 2,300 kilograms, carries a Ku-band payload with connectivity to gateways in Ka-band, as well a Wide Area Augmentation System hosted payload for the FAA to support GPS use in aviation. Spacecraft separation is scheduled for more than five hours after liftoff. (5/18)

Senators Urge Protection of NASA's Education Programs (Source: US Senate)
Nearly one third of the U.S. Senate has signed a letter calling on appropriators to fund NASA's education office. The letter, released Wednesday, was signed by 32 senators, led by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. The letter asks the subcommittee to restore funding for NASA's education office. The administration's fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint, released in March, offered no funding for the education office, which received $100 million in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill. The senators asked that funding be restored to the office "because its mission is critical to boosting the nation's workforce competitiveness." A detailed fiscal year 2018 budget request is expected to be released next week. (5/18)

NASA Prepping for Europa Lander Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA is preparing to solicit proposals for a Europa lander mission despite uncertain funding for it. NASA issued a "community announcement" Wednesday stating it would issue an announcement of opportunity later this year for instruments that could fly on the proposed lander. NASA will use fiscal year 2017 funding to support Phase A studies of about 10 proposals in 2018 and 2019. NASA is going ahead with these plans even though the administration's fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint included no funding for a Europa lander mission. That mission, though, has as a strong advocate in Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. (5/18)

Mars Society Disses NASA's Mars 'Plan' (Source: Washington Post)
The founder of the Mars Society is not a fan of NASA's latest human exploration plans. Robert Zubrin criticized NASA's plan for a cislunar outpost, called the Deep Space Gateway, as "NASA's worst plan yet" in an op-ed and reiterated that criticism during a panel session this week. "There is not a plan" to go to Mars, said Zubrin at the forum. "This is random activity." Zubrin has long advocated for concepts that would send humans to Mars as soon as possible. (5/18)

FAA and NASA Outline Emerging Airspace Drone Strategy (Source: Air Traffic Management)
Two notional scenarios NASA is exploring to integrate drones into US airspace include both a portable model that would move between geographical areas and a persistent model that would provide continuous coverage for a specific area. NASA is the FAA's lead partner in UTM development and together, the two organizations have developed a Research Transition Team (RTT) which is split into four subgroup areas of research: concepts, data, sense and avoid (SAA), and communications/navigation.

NASA said that neither the portable or persistent solutions would require human monitoring of every vehicle. Instead, operators would use data to make inputs only when initiating, continuing, or terminating a drone flight. Since drone pilots would be inherently more reliant on a robust data exchange to authenticate themselves and declare their intentions, that same data can be used to better inform the general aviation (GA) pilot community about precisely where and how drones will be operating. (5/18)

Science Committee Members to Trump: Stop Spreading Fake News (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Seven Democratic members of the House Science Committee have sent a letter to President Donald Trump telling him he should not rely on fake news, debunked research and misinformation when setting science policy. “We are concerned about the process by which you receive information,” the one-page letter begins. The letter was signed by Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). (5/18)

Miles of Antarctic Ice, Sliding Into the Ocean (Source: New York Times)
Ice sheets flow downhill, seemingly in slow motion. Mountains funnel the ice into glaciers. And ice flowing from the land into the sea can form a floating ice shelf. Glaciers in certain areas have been undercut by warmer ocean waters, and the flow of ice is getting faster and faster. The acceleration is making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration.

Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate. Click here. (5/18)

Trump Signs NASA's Budget Bill for 2017 (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
On Tuesday, President Trump signed S.442 -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act for the 2017 fiscal year. The bill funds NASA's space exploration and operations, aeronautics, safety, security and mission services, education and the salary for the agency's inspector general, among others. The budget shifts money around in ways that reflect Trump’s stated intentions to have the agency focus less on monitoring Earth’s vital functions and more on space exploration.

These shifts worried Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), whose district includes Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge. “It seems to be more of the continuing assault on climate science, and that’s deeply concerning,” Schiff said.

Cutting NASA’s Education Funding will Hurt Workforce, Senators Argue (Source: The Verge)
A group of senators have an important message for the people who help decide NASA’s budget: don’t cut the space agency’s education funding. In an open letter released today, 32 senators led by Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are calling on members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to keep NASA’s Office of Education intact. That contradicts what President Trump requested in his budget for fiscal year 2018.

Overall, Trump’s budget request didn’t slash too much money from NASA’s annual funding, but it did call for the cancellation of some Earth science missions, as well as the complete elimination of NASA’s Office of Education. The reasoning had to do with the office’s strategy and performance, according to the request:

“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 request also noted that duties of the office should be taken over by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate instead. Click here. (5/17)

SpaceFlight Purchases Elecctron Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight)
Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, today announced the purchase of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to increase the frequency of its dedicated rideshare missions. The Electron is an ideal launch vehicle for dedicated and rideshare missions, especially those serving difficult-to-come-by launch destinations such as mid-inclination orbits for remote sensing satellites.

In late 2015, Spaceflight began its dedicated rideshare launch service with the purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 and now expands the rocket partnership to Rocket Lab with the Electron. Dedicated rideshare for smallsats is a new launch alternative that blends cost-effective rideshare pricing (where several payloads share the same launch to a specific destination) with first-class service, typically associated with buying a private rocket. (5/17)

Despite Delays, NASA's SLS Program Working Through Learning Curve (Source: WAAY)
The first time any group of people sets out to do something, there's almost always going to be some unforeseen difficulties. That holds true with NASA's SLS rocket, most of which is being built for the first time at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans. "We had an incident at MAF and we've got a mishap investigation board convened and they're in the process of working through that," said John Honeycutt.

In February, a tornado hit Michoud, damaging areas of the factory that produce the SLS. NASA also faced some difficulties welding the first large tanks for the SLS and had to reevaluate their welding processes.  Most of those issues have been tackled, and as Honeycutt says, is part of building a rocket for the first time. "We are looking at options on how to keep making good progress on the flight hardware, as well as backfill the qualification hardware," Honeycutt said.

But the program marches on. Test articles are arriving at Marshall for structural testing and qualification, and flight articles are on the machines at Michoud. "I'm one step closer to that flight readiness review where I say I have done the analysis, and the testing, and the verification to say that this rocket is ready to fly," Honeycutt said. (5/17)

Russian Rocket Chief Throws Some Shade on Elon Musk's Moon Plan (Source:
The head of Russia's most prominent spaceflight company questioned whether Elon Musk's SpaceX will be able to launch people around the moon next year and said Russia plans to revive tourism flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2020.

"As for the state of affairs specifically at Elon Musk's company, it would be difficult to carry out such a mission in 2018, and even in 2020," Vladimir Solntsev, general director of RSC Energia, the primary contractor for Russia's human spaceflight program, said in a wide-ranging Q&A with the Russian news agency TASS.

"Nobody has yet even seen the designs. There’s no launch vehicle, no spacecraft," Solntsev added. "The Crew Dragon spacecraft designed for missions to the ISS and Falcon 9 launch vehicle are a far cry from a spacecraft and a rocket that are needed for a mission towards the moon." (5/17)

New Super-Heavy Space Rocket to be Less Costly to Make Than Energia to Recreate (Source: Tass)
Russia’s new super-heavy space rocket will turn out 30% less costly to develop than a hypothetical project for recreating the abandoned Soviet-era Energia project, the Energia space rocket corporation said. "Transition to a three-stage pattern of the carrier rocket and rational use of oxygen-hydrogen fuel has allowed for slashing the overall research and development costs of developing a new super-heavy rocket by 30%," a news release says. (5/17)

China Great Wall Industry Corp Lands Indonesian Commercial Satellite Order (Source: Space News)
China Great Wall Industry Corp. has clinched a contract with an Indonesian joint venture to build a replacement for a satellite that is running out of fuel early due to an underperformed Long March launch. CGWIC also received a non-binding agreement for a second satellite with PSN — a Ka-band high-throughput satellite called PSN-7 that would deliver 100 Gbps of capacity through 104 spot beams covering Indonesia, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. (5/17)

Spaceport America's Problematic “Democratization of Space Travel” (Source: Paste)
In 2008, voters in Sierra County approved a tax hike that would provide the funds necessary to build a compound promoted by millionaire Richard Branson as part of his Virgin Galactic venture. Cutting public school budgets, and holding off on city water system repairs, Sierra County generated five million dollars by 2014 to put toward the first commercial spaceport in the world, with big hopes of becoming a leader in the aerospace industry, and in anticipation of a massive boon to local economy.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a business which was to be a primary lessee of Spaceport America, had once promised that commercial flights would be regular fare by 2011. Those plans were stalled early on and then further delayed after the tragic test flight of SpaceShipTwo over the Mojave Desert in October of 2014. Meanwhile, the greater population of the county banked on the pipe dreams of the wealthy, and have yet to see any return on them.

For years, taxpayers in and around T or C (where, one might note, the average income is around $15,000 annually and one-third of residents live below the poverty line) have continued to bootstrap the cost of the spaceport—which averages around $500,000 each year to maintain, a burden that was meant to be shouldered by the sponsorship of big businesses flying out of the hub. For now, the 12,000 foot runway meant to send travelers into the stars remains empty and the playing field that was meant to be leveled through access to the wonders of the universe has only served to tip small town New Mexicans further into poverty. (5/17)

International Space Station’s Orbit Raised by 350 Meters (Source: Tass)
The Mission Control Center has carried out a maneuver to increase the average altitude of the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS). "The maneuver has been completed," the press service said. The correction maneuver began at 00.35 Moscow Time and lasted for 13 seconds. It was carried out with the help of engines of the Zvezda service module. The average altitude of the station’s flight orbit was increased by 350 meters to 405.1 km. The maneuver was conducted to ensure favorable conditions for the landing of Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft scheduled for early June. (5/17)

Launches From Georgia's Camden Spaceport Could Start In 2020 (Source: WJCT)
The latest player in the growing U.S. commercial space industry is in Camden County, Georgia, about an hour north of downtown Jacksonville. Earlier this month, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law the "Georgia Space Flight Act," which clears the way for the proposed Camden Spaceport — an idea that’s been kicking around for at least a decade. County Administrator Steve Howard is in charge of the spaceport project.

“We envision the spaceport to be much like an industrial park but the only difference is we have to do another layer of due-diligence. And that due-diligence requires us to go through the process with the FAA and one of the milestones is an environmental impact statement that you’re required to do and that’s what’s underway now.” The study will take two years to complete.

Of special concern to environmentalists is the effect vertical launches could have on the protected Cumberland Island National Seashore, with the proposed rocket-launch site less than five miles away. However, Jacksonville’s Cecil Field Spaceport is approved for horizontal rocket launches — that’s when rocket-carrying planes blast them into space from over the Atlantic Ocean. (5/17)

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