June 12, 2017

GAO: Feds Disproportionately on the Hook in Case of Satellite Failures (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Friday analyzing the risk incurred by the government on expensive satellite programs, finding that the contracts leave the financial burden upon government agencies  in cases of failure. The GAO studied twelve satellite programs at DOD, NASA, and NOAA. Program funding totaled at $52.1 billion.

Most government satellite acquisition contracts have on-orbit incentive structures, which are payments that are made based on the satellite’s performance in space. However, these can vary widely in what percent of the contract it encompasses. The study found that this contract structure is actually rather effective, though the government incurs disproportionate risk compared to contractors. The risk is often not realized because, according to the industry experts and satellite studies, failures are rare. But when a failure occurs, DoD carries a big financial burden. (6/12)

Compact Fusion Rockets Could Be the Future of Interplanetary Space Missions (Source: Seeker)
Fusion-powered rockets that are only the size of a few refrigerators could one day help propel spacecraft at high speeds to nearby planets or even other stars, a NASA-funded spaceflight company says. Another use for such fusion rockets is to deflect asteroids that might strike Earth and to build manned bases on the moon and Mars, the researchers say.
Instead of chemical rockets or ion drives, scientists have also suggested using fusion rockets propelled by the same nuclear reactions that power stars. These rockets would not only be efficient, but also generate vast amounts of electricity.
However, so far, no one has built a fusion reactor that generates more energy than it consumes. Moreover, the fusion reactors that are under development are huge, making them difficult to hoist into space. But now, researchers funded by NASA are developing small fusion rockets. The aim for the fusion drives is to get about 1 kilowatt of power per 1 kilogram of mass. A 10-megawatt fusion rocket would therefore weigh about 10 metric tons. "It would probably be 1.5 meters in diameter and 4 to 8 meters long," Paluszek said. (6/12)

WTO Rules State Subsidies to Boeing are Illegal (Source: BBC)
In a landmark trade ruling, the World Trade Organization found tgat Boeing has illegally benefitted from billions of dollars from the most anti-competitive type of subsidy. These so-called "prohibited" subsidies are considered the most serious form of anti-competitive practice as they require an undertaking from the company in receipt of them to promise not to operate in other jurisdictions.

You can have the money if you promise you won't open plants elsewhere - in this case even in another US state. This particular subsidy was offered by Washington State - home of Boeing's vast Everett and Renton plants - and covers the development of its wide bodied 777X aircraft. Previous examples of this kind of ruling usually require immediate repayment - a sum that by some estimate could approach $9bn, a figure Boeing itself, however, hotly disputes. (6/10)

Branson Back to Making Predictions About SpaceShipTwo’s Schedule (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Now that the second SpaceShipTwo Unity has five glide flights under its belt, the “we’ll fly when we’re ready, we don’t make predictions” era appears to be officially over at Virgin Galactic. “I certainly would be very disappointed if I don’t go up next year. And I would hope it’s earlier than later in the year,” Richard Branson told British GQ. “The programme says that we should be [testing] in space by December, as long as we don’t have any setbacks between now and then.”

The prohibition on Sir Richard making schedule predictions was imposed after the ‘we’ll have a new ship ready to fly in six months’ estimate following the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo on Halloween 2014 turned out to be only so much hot air. (It took about two years.) Before the accident, Branson’s hopelessly optimistic and perpetually inaccurate predictions for the start of commercial flights were the subject of much public skepticism. (6/12)

A Hidden Figure in Plain Sight (Source: Space Review)
Fifty years ago this month, the US Air Force selected the first African-American astronaut, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. John Charles recalls Lawrence’s life and tragic death, and the gradual integration of the astronaut corps. Click here. (6/12)
GSLV Mark III: ISRO’s New Launch Vehicle (Source: Space Review)
Last week, India successfully launched the first GSLV Mark III, the country’s most powerful launch vehicle to date. Ajey Lele explains the importance of this rocket in making the country increasingly self-sufficient in space. Click here. (6/12)
New Challenges for Planetary Protection (Source: Space Review)
Plans by both NASA and private ventures to send more ambitions missions, including eventually humans, to Mars create new challenges for protecting Earth life from Mars and vice versa. Jeff Foust reports on some of the issues being discussed by an ongoing committee review of planetary protection policies. Click here. (6/12)
Acknowledging Some Overlooked Satellites (Source: Space Review)
Official satellite catalogs do not include everything in Earth orbit. Charles Phillips discusses why that creates a safety issue for those unlisted objects whose orbits are low enough to pose a reentry risk. Click here. (6/12)

NASA Suborbital Launch at Virginia Spaceport Suffers Delays (Source: WMDT)
NASA Wallops has resumed attempts to launch a sounding rocket, but is still suffering from delays. A launch of a Terrier-Improved Malemute scheduled for Sunday night was postponed because of boats in a hazard zone. NASA plans to make another attempt to launch the rocket tonight. Several attempts earlier this month were postponed by range or weather issues. The rocket will release chemicals in the upper atmosphere to create artificial clouds that could be visible along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New York. (6/12)

NASA Balloon-Borne Research Project Fails in Texas-Based Mission (Source: NASA)
For the second time in as many months, a NASA balloon mission has ended in failure. NASA said that it lost the Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry (BETTII) astronomy payload when the payload separated from its parachute while descending to the ground at the scheduled end of a brief balloon mission Friday.

The payload was destroyed, but there were no reports of injuries or damage as it fell in a remote area northeast of Sterling City, Texas. Two more balloon flights are on hold while an investigation into this failure takes place. A balloon mission last month ended prematurely over the Pacific Ocean because a leak in the balloon, resulting in the loss of its cosmic ray instrument payload. (6/12)

German Group Plans Bakery on ISS (Source: CollectSpace)
An experiment flying to the ISS next year will be the first to attempt to bake bread in space. The "Bake in Space" experiment, developed by a German group, will attempt to create bread rolls using a compact low-energy oven and a special dough. The experiment will test if the system can create a "palatable, but crumb-free" bread. Concerns about crumbs floating in weightlessness have kept bread off spaceflight menus for decades, with tortillas substituting for them in many cases. (6/12)

DOD Considers South America for Geospatial Intel Gathering (Source: Space News)
South America can serve as a laboratory for testing new geospatial intelligence capabilities, according to a senior military official. U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, head of U.S. Southern Command, said his command is using geospatial intelligence, including satellite imagery, to keep track of activities by drug cartels. Such intelligence is also used for disaster recovery and monitoring illegal mining and deforestation. Tidd said he is open to using new approaches and technologies, including stratospheric balloons. (6/12)

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