July 1, 2017

Take a Closer Look at SpaceX’s Recovered Falcon 9 Rockets (Source: Observer)
In order to guide a Falcon 9 booster back to Earth, SpaceX utilized a set of 4 aluminum grid fins. Elon Musk said that the current fins are always taken to the threshold of how much heat they could withstand. Sometimes, the aluminum fins even ignite. To solve this problem, SpaceX forged 4 solid titanium grid fins and flew them for the first time on last Sunday’s Iridium-2 mission. “Flying with larger & significantly upgraded hypersonic grid fins,” Musk tweeted. “Slightly heavier than shielded aluminum, but more control authority and can be reused indefinitely with no touch ups.” Cick here. (7/1)

The Complete Visual History of SpaceX’s Single-Minded Pursuit of Rocket Reusability (Source: Quartz)
Reusing the first stage of a rocket, the largest and most expensive component because of its cluster of nine powerful engines, has been part of SpaceX’s goals since the beginning. The latest launches are a sign it is starting to become routine. But until recently, the mere idea was scoffed at by the most experienced players in the industry. Rockets were only economical as “expendable” systems, used once and abandoned. Click here. (7/1)

Trump’s New National Space Council is Already Baffling the Space Industry (Source: Quartz)
With no fanfare, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order today to re-form the National Space Council, creating a new body to coordinate space policy across the government. Vice president Mike Pence will chair the council, which president Clinton shut down in 1993. Its work will include coordinating space spending between NASA, the Air Force, and intelligence agencies, and leading the US through a period in which a burgeoning private industry is trying to lower the cost of space access and start doing business in orbit and beyond.

Today’s long-awaited event doesn’t signal a strong commitment by the White House. It wasn’t included in the president’s pre-announced schedule, andWhite House spokespeople declined to confirm or deny it was happening until minutes before the event began. Holding an un-televised event on the Friday before a holiday weekend isn’t a way to gin up popular support for a bold space agenda.

“I’ve heard this rumor for several days and am perplexed as to why [the White House] isn’t making a big deal out of it,” tweeted Marcia Smith, who has observed US space policy for four decades as a congressional aide and then editor of Space Policy Online. “And having waited so long, why not wait a couple weeks more and do it on July 20?” (7/1)

SpaceX is Having a Very, Very Good Year... So Far (Source: Mashable)
SpaceX is having a pretty great year. It's only June and the Elon Musk-founded company has already launched nine missions to orbit, exceeding their previous annual launch total of eight. (Not to mention the fact that two of those launches occurred within 48 hours of one another last weekend.)

Musk and others working for SpaceX have long said that their ultimate goal is to make private spaceflight — including rocket landings, launches, reused spacecraft, etc. — feel routine to the general population. This year is starting to prove out that idea more and more. We're beginning to lose track of how many rocket landings SpaceX has successfully performed (it's 13, by the way, but we had to count).

"So nine itself is not blowing out their previous record. However, the significance comes from the fact that it's only June, so they have time to pass their previous record by a wide margin," Bill Ostrove said. "Another factor in SpaceX's favor is the fact that they successfully conducted three launches in June. If they can continue launching two to three satellites per month they could pass their old record by a wide margin." This would put them on par (or beyond) ULA, which launches about 12 to 15 times per year. (7/1)

No Space for New Space at Space Council Rollout (Source: Ars Technica)
Neither Pence nor Trump directly addressed this issue in their remarks, which were largely platitudes about making America great again in space. However, the composition of the crowd was illustrative, as it seemed to favor NASA's traditional contractors, who are building the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. After the event, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration noted that many of its members were invited. Most of these companies are prime- or subcontractors on the SLS rocket and Orion.

The coalition's president, Mary Lynne Dittmar, noted how NASA's deep space program supports a wide industrial base across the country, saying, "These programs are critical to our 50-state supplier network, our national industrial base innovation and manufacturing job creation in so many communities across the country."

The primary advocate for new space companies, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, was not invited to the event. SpaceX's Elon Musk and Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos were asked to attend, but neither could make it on short notice. One official involved in the new space community said, "If you were not with Alabama or SLS, you weren't getting into the event today. They didn't want any commercial space there." (7/1)

Will NASA Suffer as Trump Administration Tightens Control? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order reconstituting the National Space Council under Vice President Mike Pence to better coordinate space policy and activities across the government. Experts are split on whether the council will succeed in its goal or simply add another level of frustrating bureaucracy on top of the existing system. There is another concern, however, that has received minimal attention thus far.

This is the first step of the White House imposing more control over NASA. Step 2 will come when Trump gets around to nominating a new administrator and deputy administrator to lead the space agency. I am concerned about what will happen at that point. The administration has already proposed eliminating all or parts of five environmental projects from NASA’s budget as well as closing down NASA’s education program. I fear worse may be to come.

I worry that a new leader at NASA could take similar steps in an effort to align the space agency with the administration’s political ideology. That could be very bad for the space agency in the long run. NASA is the gold standard in terms of government agencies. It’s widely respected the world over for its achievements and its integrity. It routinely wins polls as the best place to work in government. And it operates in a very open manner with the press and the public. (7/1)

Reasonable Compromise on Spaceport America Funds (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The New Mexico Finance Authority reached a reasonable compromise recently when it agreed to let the Spaceport Authority use excess money from a local gross receipts tax to help fund operations at the spaceport for one year. Spaceport officials had been seeking permanent use of the money, while opponents requested that its use be ended immediately. Instead, the Finance Authority approved usage for one year, with plans to revisit the issue next year.

In 2007, voters in both Doña Ana and Sierra Counties approved increases in their local gross receipts tax to help fund construction of the spaceport. The measure passed by less than 1 percent in Doña Ana County, and only after then-Gov. Bill Richardson had warned that failure to pass the tax hike would kill the deal.

Revenue from the new tax has paid off about $43.8 million in bond debt for the spaceport’s construction, with another $74.2 million in payments due through 2029, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. At issue is money collected from the local tax in excess of what is needed to make payments on the bond. (7/1)

Space Junk Solution? Tiny Cubesat to Test New De-Orbiting Thruster (Source: Space.com)
A tiny satellite that reached orbit last week will make history when it comes back down to Earth later this summer. The D-Sat cubesat, which was developed by Milan-based startup D-Orbit, soared into space atop India's PSLV rocket on June 23. D-Sat is fitted with an independent thruster system known as the D-Orbit Decommissioning Device (D3), which is designed to help mitigate the growing space-junk problem.

When D-Sat's mission comes to an end in July or August, D3 will guide the satellite to a controlled destruction in Earth's atmosphere — the first-ever such maneuver for such a small spacecraft, D-Orbit representatives said. D-Sat's purpose is to demonstrate the technology, with the aim of inspiring commercial satellite manufacturers and operators to consider it for their missions. (7/1)

SpaceX Dragon Departure From ISS Slips to Monday (Source: NASA)
Due to a forecast of unacceptable sea states in the Pacific Ocean in the prime opportunity splashdown zone, SpaceX and NASA have elected to delay the return of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft to Monday, July 3.The splashdown zone for Monday has an acceptable weather forecast and is closer to port in Long Beach, California. Splashdown is expected around 260 miles southwest of the California coast. (7/1)

NASA Has Found 16,000 Asteroids Near Earth. Don't Panic. (Source: Vox)
Billions of years ago, when the solar system formed, it left behind large chunks of space rocks that weren't big enough to become planets. There are millions of such rocks, called asteroids, in our solar system. An estimated 1 million to 2 million large asteroids exist in the space between Mars and Jupiter.

In 1998, and then again in 2005, Congress told NASA to find these objects and make plans for diverting ones that posed a risk to Earth. More than 16,000 of them are considered near-Earth objects because sometimes they come as close as a mere 28 million miles from us — a hair's breadth away in cosmic terms. NASA is mainly trying to detect the small- and medium-size asteroids that could damage cities. (7/1)

Vice President Pence to Visit NASA’s Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: NASA)
Vice President Mike Pence will visit NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, July 6. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage for parts of the visit starting at noon EDT with Air Force Two’s arrival at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway, as well as a special address to the center’s workforce at 12:50 p.m.

The Vice President will tour Kennedy and learn more about the center’s work as a multi-user spaceport for commercial and government clients, as well as see the agency’s progress toward launching from U.S. soil on spacecraft built by American companies, and traveling past the moon, and eventually on to Mars and beyond with the help of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket. (6/30)

Identifying Illegal Waste Sites from Space (Source: Trajectory)
UK startup Air and Space Evidence—the self-proclaimed “world’s first space detective agency”—is launching a new “Waste from Space” service that will use satellite imagery to identify illegal deposits of waste on Earth. The service is an application of the company’s newly developed semi-automatic detection model, which combines satellite data with machine learning algorithms to locate large swathes of unidentified materials—the worst of which can contain up to hundreds of thousands of tons of trash.

Air and Space Evidence received funding this year from the European Space Agency, Open Data Incubator for Europe, and the Scottish EPA to research its waste surveillance capability and run preliminary tests. In product trials, the algorithms were 71 percent at pinpointing unlicensed waste sites. Waste crimes such as illegal dumping cause significant environmental degradation and public health risks, and are estimated to cost the UK £604 million each year in cleanup costs and lost revenue from taxes. (6/30)

AIA Leads Call to Address NOAA Satellite Interference Issue (Source: AIA)
The Aerospace Industries Association is a leading voice in opposing plans by Ligado to share spectrum currently used by weather satellites, citing the need to address interference issues. "Contrary to the assertions in Ligado's FCC advocacy and recent media blitz, its proposed terrestrial operations continue to pose a significant interference risk to numerous parties that receive real-time weather and related environmental information from [NOAA], certified GPS receivers and aeronautical safety SATCOM relied upon by the aviation industry, and Iridium's 869,000 government and commercial subscribers," states a letter signed by AIA, AccuWeather, Iridium, the International Air Transport Association and many other groups. (6/30)

Raytheon Continues Support for Astronaut Training at JSC (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA has awarded Raytheon Company a new contract to continue mission support at the space agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) located in Houston, Texas. The new $154-million contract allows the company to provide technical and engineering support at the facility for the next seven years. (6/30)

Space Sector Stable but Still Dwarfed by the Aviation Sector (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade association representing leading aerospace and defense (A&D) companies in the U.S., has recently published its report entitled “2017 Facts & Figures”, which reveals key numbers about A&D industry’s economic impact. Among other things, the summary highlights the condition of the space systems sector as part of the A&D industry.

According to the document, in 2016, the U.S. A&D industry supported 2.4 million American jobs. By industry group, employment for 2016 accounted for the following: 547,900 for aeronautics/aircraft, 79,000 for space systems, 140,900 for land and sea systems, and 77,700 for cyber. Employment in the space systems sector has been stable during recent years as since 2011 the number of jobs in this segment fluctuates between 79,000 and 80,800.

However, sales in this sector remained stagnant. In 2016, space systems generated $40.4 billion out of $450.1 billion overall attributed to A&D firms producing end-use goods and services. This value has not exceeded $42.2 since 2010. (6/30)

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