July 8, 2017

XCOR Lost ULA Engine Contract (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Despite laying off its 21 remaining employees, XCOR Aerospace isn’t dead yet. But, it’s not in real good shape, either. It turns out that a major blow to the company was the loss of a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop an upper stage for the Vulcan booster.

The primary impetus for the layoffs, Acting CEO and XCOR Board member Michael Blum said, is the loss of a contract for engine development that the company had with ULA. “The proceeds should have been enough to fund the prototype of Lynx, but ULA decided they’re not going to continue funding the contract. So we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation where we need to raise money or find joint developments to continue.”

Blum is quick to add, though, that the company is still a going concern. “Committed, early investors of the company are making resources available to have a core team on a contract basis to see through business development, joint venture, and fundraising opportunities.” (7/7)

Physicists Find Another Gravitational Wave to Suggest Einstein Was Right (Source: WIRED)
The previously detected gravitational waves also came from black hole collisions. “The event was a lot like our first detection, but the black holes were another two times further away,” says physicist David Shoemaker. Through number-crunching and star-simulating, the researchers determined the wave originated from a black hole 30 times the mass of the sun merging with another 20 times the mass of the sun. Click here. (7/7)

Skintight Space Suits for Mars (Source: Newsweek)
The space suit is torn between humanity’s two chief desires: exploration and protection. None more so than the one some of us will be wearing on Mars—which could determine astronauts’ survival while farther from Earth than humans have ever traveled before. But what people end up wearing on Mars is not just about being protected: What’s the point of going all the way to the red planet if we can’t act as humans do? We need to be able to bend down on one knee to collect a rock sample, or use our uniquely opposable thumbs to grip a tool and make a repair. Click here. (7/8)

SpaceX Poses a Mortal Threat to Boeing and Lockheed Martin's Space Business (Source: Motley Fool)
"I don't know how to build a $400 million rocket... I don't understand how ULA are as expensive as they are." So said SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell two years ago. It's also been two years since SpaceX urged Congress to consider flying its satellites on board $90 million SpaceX Falcon 9s, instead of on $400 million Boeing-designed Delta IVs from ULA.

But as it turns out, the joke is on Shotwell. ULA does not charge the U.S. government $400 million to put a satellite in orbit -- nor the $350 million that ULA advertises. Instead, ULA charges $422 million. ULA CEO Tory Bruno complained that the $422 million price cited in the article was a "cherry picked odd number" -- inasmuch as it applies only to launches in the year 2020, and ignores lower estimated prices in other years.

A bigger question is, what happened to ULA's efforts to drive down the cost of its space launches? Recall that in past statements, Bruno has said that ULA's ultimate goal is to cut its launch costs to as low as $99 million per launch once it gets its new Vulcan rocket into production. Vulcan is expected to begin flying in 2019, which one would think allows plenty of time for the Air Force to factor it into its 2020 estimates. Click here. (7/8)

NASA Awards Grants for Research, Flight Opportunities to 22 Universities (Source: SpaceRef)
Twenty-two universities across the country have been selected to receive NASA grants for research and technology development projects in areas critical to the agency’s mission. Nine of these universities will have the opportunity to test their research aboard the International Space Station.

The Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program supports science and technology research and development at colleges and universities in areas, such as remote sensing, nanotechnology, astrophysics and aeronautics. All of these are applicable to NASA’s work in Earth science, aeronautics, and human and robotic deep space exploration. Results of this research may be incorporated into ongoing agency work.

Editor's Note: EPSCoR generally includes states and territories that are underrepresented as participants in federally funded research and technology development. Included are 28 states plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Florida is not among the member states. (7/7)

Egress Options for NASA Astronauts on Launch Pad (Source: Aerospace America)
Some days, you want to stop the rocket and get off. I know the feeling. My crew’s STS-68 countdown in 1994 ended in lots of smoke but only five seconds of fire. A last-second engine shutdown left us still on Earth, swaying atop a fully fueled space shuttle — a volatile bomb, really — unsure of whether flames were climbing our orbiter or our fuel tank was coming apart. I unstrapped to help crewmate Jeff Wisoff prepare Endeavour’s hatch for opening, the first step in a possible emergency egress by our six-man crew.

As the industry gets ready to field two new, commercially owned spaceships, the contractors are working hard with NASA and former astronauts to give crews something we never had during the shuttle program: multiple options to escape from a looming catastrophe on the launch pad — in short, a sure way out on a bad day. Click here. (7/7)

NASA’s Supersonic Passenger Jet is One Step Closer to Takeoff (Source: Liberty Fighters)
NASA’s supersonic commercial aircraft plans are gaining speed. The agency’s new Quest Supersonic Transport has passed its initial design review, bringing a Mach barrier-cracking passenger plane one step closer to reaching glorious production.

The QueSST, as it’s called, is a joint project between Lockheed Martin and NASA designed to suss out a way to reduce sonic booms into a gentler “sonic thump.” On June 23rd, the two organizations concluded the prototype design they’d devised was capable of fulfilling that goal, according to a press release dropped on June 26th.

With the preliminary design review, or PDR, completed, the aeronautical agency will now move on to drumming up proposals to build the manned, full-scale version of the single-engined plane, which NASA says could be up and flying as soon as 2021. In the meantime, the agency will continue performing wind tunnel testing with Lockheed Martin to optimize the experimental plane’s final shape. (7/7)

Sorry Veep, America Already Leads the World in Space by a Large Margin (Source: Ars Technica)
If President Donald Trump has had one consistent message about space exploration both during his campaign and presidency, it's that America is doing badly in space. About a year ago during a campaign stop in Daytona Beach, Florida, Trump said, "Look what's happened with our whole history of space and leadership. Look what's going on, folks. We're like a third-world nation."

As Vice President Mike Pence has assumed duties over space policy, he has made a respectable effort to tour NASA and Air Force facilities around the country. But during these visits, he's also reiterated this Debbie Downer message. When he delivered a speech Thursday at Kennedy Space Center, Pence said that under the Trump administration, America will lead in space "once again" no less than eight times.

The subtext here is that America has fallen far behind in space—and that it needs strong leadership to get back on its feet. While there are definitely significant problems with US space policy—starting with the lack of a clear direction for human spaceflight and the funding to support those goals—no other nation can come close to the United States in space. Click here. (7/7)

Mike Pence Touches NASA Equipment Labeled 'Do Not Touch', Becomes Instant Meme (Source: Gizmodo)
Vice President Mike Pence made a big mistake during his tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center yesterday. He touched a piece of critical space flight hardware in the Orion clean room, despite the fact that there was a sign that clearly read, “DO NOT TOUCH.” So, of course, the photo is now a meme.

The original photo, taken by Mike Brown of Reuters, has gotten a life of its own online. Some people are simply making jokes about unwanted “touching” from Pence, while others have accomplished more elaborate photoshops—like the person who added President Trump’s infamous tennis photo. Reddit even has a Photoshop Battle going on. So if you’re inspired to create your own version of Pence’s weird NASA encounter, please share it with us in the comments. Click here. (7/7)

Small Sats Seeking Launch This Year Won't Find a Ride, 50 Launchers Under Development (Source: Space Intel Report)
As many as 50 small satellites awaiting launch this year will remain grounded because of a lack of suitable launch-service options, and many that find a launch will end up in less-than-ideal operating orbits, according to Britain’s Satellite Applications Catapult Ltd. But in what may be a confirmation of markets’ tendency to overreact, the Catapult’s survey found more than 50 rockets dedicated to small-satellite launches now under development.

For the many owners and operators of small satellites — here defined as weighing less than 500 kilograms at launch, and many less than 50 kilograms — a glut would be a nice change. Click here. (7/7)

Nobel Physicist Gives Update on Webb Telescope at July 11 Space Club Luncheon (Source: NSCFL)
John Mather, senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, will be the featured speaker at the National Space Club Florida Committee’s (NSCFL) July luncheon next Tuesday, July 11. Mather, a 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics winner, will speak on “Future Science and Brilliant Engineering with the James Webb Space Telescope.”

This new observatory will look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today. It is scheduled for launch from French Guiana atop an Ariane 5 rocket in October 2018. The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. EDT and will be held at the Radisson at the Port Resort’s pavilion in Cape Canaveral. (7/7)

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