August 4, 2017

The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe (Source: New York Times)
In the early spring of 1977, Larry Zottarelli, a 40-year-old computer engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, set out for Cape Canaveral, Fla., in his Toyota Corolla. A Los Angeles native, he had never ventured as far as Tijuana, but he had a per diem, and he liked to drive. Just east of Orlando, a causeway carried him over the Indian and Banana Rivers to a triangular spit of sand jutting into the Atlantic, where the Air Force keeps a base. His journey terminated at a cavernous military hangar.

A fleet of JPL trucks made the trip under armored guard to the same destination. Their cargo was unwrapped inside the hangar high bay, a gleaming silo stocked with tool racks and ladder trucks. Engineers began to assemble the various pieces. Gradually, two identical spacecraft took shape. They were dubbed Voyager I and II, and their mission was to make the first color photographs and close-up measurements of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons. Then, if all went well, they might press onward — into uncharted territory.

It took six months, working in shifts around the clock, for the NASA crew to reassemble and test the spacecraft. As the first launch date, Aug. 20, drew near, they folded the camera and instrument boom down against the spacecraft’s spindly body like a bird’s wing; gingerly they pushed it, satellite dish first, up inside a metal capsule hanging from the high bay ceiling. Once ‘‘mated,’’ the capsule and its cargo — a probe no bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle that, along with its twin, had nevertheless taken 1,500 engineers five years and more than $200 million to build — were towed to the launchpad. Click here. (8/3)

Small Rockets, Big Dreams: The Race to Space Heats Up (Source: Ars Technica)
When most people think of a rocket launch, they think big. The Space Shuttle, Falcon 9, and Atlas V all stand well over 50 meters tall, and any of those would tower above the Statue of Liberty. They were made to lift heavy things, weighing anywhere from 10 tons to considerably larger, into orbit around Earth. But in recent years there has been a lot of noise in the small rocket industry, promising cheap, expendable boosters capable of carrying a few hundred kilograms into space.

As always in the aerospace industry, some of these efforts were overhyped or had wildly optimistic timelines. For example, the industry suffered a notable failure late last year when Firefly Space Systems declared bankruptcy. However, a number of other companies have made tangible progress this year, making it clear that this generation of small satellite launch vehicles is closing in on their first commercial flights. Click here. (8/4)

This Space Fashion Simply Sends Us Into Orbit (Source: USA Today)
The fashion industry is discovering what we in Florida have known for decades: Space is hot. Or should that be haute? "Space is the new black," said menswear designer Nick Graham, who introduced his "Life on Mars" collection during Men's Fashion Week in January. Along with chiseled-jawed models in metallic sharkskin suits, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Bill Nye the Science Guy walked the runway during the New York show. Click here. (8/4)

NASA Contracts with BWXT Nuclear Energy to Advance Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Technology (Source: NASA)
As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those concepts.

Part of NASA's Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project could indeed significantly change space travel, largely due to its ability to accelerate a large amount of propellant out of the back of a rocket at very high speeds, resulting in a highly efficient, high-thrust engine. In comparison, a nuclear thermal rocket has double the propulsion efficiency of the Space Shuttle main engine, one of the hardest-working standard chemical engines of the past 40 years. That capability makes nuclear thermal propulsion ideal for delivering large, automated payloads to distant worlds. (8/2)

Orbital ATK Kicks Off Follow-On Station Cargo Contract, Targets Next Antares Launch in October (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
As Orbital ATK engineers aim for the next launch of the company’s Antares rocket from Virginia this fall, early planning for missions to keep the International Space Station supplied through the early 2020s is already underway. The Cygnus supply ship is booked for at least 10 more hardware delivery missions to the space station, joining SpaceX’s Dragon freighter and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spaceplane in the U.S. fleet of unpiloted commercial cargo transporters under contract to NASA.

Orbital ATK plans to send heavier loads, and perhaps large unpressurized elements, to the space station in the future. SpaceX’s Dragon and Japan’s HTV supply ship currently haul up payload packages and spare parts for mounting outside the complex. NASA has penciled in Oct. 11 for Orbital ATK’s next station cargo launch aboard an Antares rocket from pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a launch complex located NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. (8/3)

Raytheon Escapes 5th Try At $1B Satellite FCA Suit (Source: Law360)
A California federal judge on Thursday shot down a former Raytheon engineer’s fifth try at a $1 billion False Claims Act suit over a satellite sensor contract, saying his latest amended complaint failed to fix problems with previously tossed allegations. (8/3)

Texas Man Admits He Smuggled U.S. Space Technology to China, Russia (Source: Daily Beast)
A businessman in Plano, Texas, pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling U.S. space technology to China and Russia by using his companies as a cover. Peter Zuccarelli, 62 years old, said he tried to profit from smuggling the radiation-protected microchips, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He reportedly used his eyeglass-lens companies to buy the microchips from U.S. manufacturers and then shipped them to customers in the other countries with incorrect labels. Such microchips are typically used in space probes and satellites, but they can also be used for ballistic missiles in the military. (8/4)

With Planetary Protection Office Up for Grabs, Scientists Rail Against Limits to Mars Exploration (Source: Science)
Since its arrival on Mars in 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has zapped and drilled ancient rocks in the hopes of finding evidence for past life. But it may never get a chance to investigate something far more exciting: the possibility that martian microbes exist today. In the coming years, as the rover trundles up the side of Aeolis Mons, it will pass rocks that, seen from orbit, seem to host mysteriously intermittent dark streaks—perhaps marking seasonal water seeps. But NASA’s planetary protection office, charged with keeping earthly microbes from colonizing other bodies, has said it may nix a visit. It fears that Curiosity could contaminate this so-called special region because the rover was not fully sterilized before launch.

To Alberto Fairén, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, that makes no sense. Sooner or later humans—biped rovers that can’t be sterilized—will set foot on the planet, hopelessly confounding any hope of finding indigenous life, he and several colleagues argue in an op-ed in press this month in the journal Astrobiology. “We need to investigate Mars’s special regions carefully and fully prior to human missions,” he says. Click here. (8/3)

America’s Future in Space is Both Commercial and Traditional (Source: Space News)
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a great panel session discussing the role of commercial space in returning America to the moon. I look forward to an active future in space that only a truly competitive market can bring. However, my recent service on President Donald Trump’s transition team at NASA has led me to understand that treating space policy as though it were a team sport will not get us there. The future is complex and challenging and we will need the amazing capabilities and scale of the traditional players to get there. In that spirit, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to friends in both camps.

It’s great that NASA appears to be surviving this year’s government budget cutting unscathed. The House Appropriations Committee in July recommended a nearly $19.9 billion budget for NASA for 2018, about $800 million more than the Trump administration requested and nearly $300 million more than Congress approved for 2017. Click here. (8/3)

Blue Origin Passes Over Houston Spaceport in Favor of Alabama (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Houston Spaceport lost out on a rocket engine manufacturing facility that could have brought a $200 million investment and 342 well-paying jobs. Blue Origin, the space company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, instead chose the established workforce and political sway of Huntsville, Alabama. The project was expected to jump-start development at the Houston Spaceport, which wants to create a cluster of aerospace companies but has just one tenant. Losing the Blue Origin project was a disappointment, but those involved remain optimistic that Houston will land its next project and the spaceport will prove to be economically viable. (8/3)

SpaceX Alum Now Launching for One-Twentieth the Cost of SpaceX (Source: CNBC)
A company building tiny rockets is only a few launches away from cracking open a multi-billion dollar market. Vector Space Systems on Thursday flight tested its Vector-R launch vehicle from Spaceport Camden in Georgia. The FAA-approved launch reached its targeted height of 10,000 feet while carrying a commercial payload which included packages from NASA, Astro Digital and the Center for Applied Technology.

The launch, partially funded by NASA, was a critical step in Vector's plan to become the top transporter of micro-satellites. "The money in these vehicles is made in making a lot of them and flying a lot of them," CEO Jim Cantrell told CNBC. Cantrell's company is building the Vector-R rockets to meet demand from companies that can't foot the bill to ride along with SpaceX or United Launch Alliance but still need to put satellites in orbit. (8/3)

Ferrofluid Propulsion for Nanosatellites (Source: Universe Today)
When it comes to the future of space exploration, some truly interesting concepts are being developed. Hoping to reach farther and reduce associated costs, one of the overarching goals is to find more fuel-efficient and effective means of sending robotic spacecraft, satellites and even crewed missions to their destinations. Towards this end, ideas like nuclear propulsion, ion engines and even antimatter are all being considered.

But this idea has to be the strangest one to date! It’s known as a ferrofluid thruster, a new concept that relies on ionic fluids that become strongly magnetized and release ions when exposed to a magnetic field. According to a new study produced by researchers from the Ion Space Propulsion Laboratory at Michigan Tech, this concept could very well be the future of satellite propulsion. (7/13)

Vector Launch Failed to Sway Georgia Spaceport Opponents (Source: Spaceport Facts)
The rocket flown from Camden is legally classified as a Class 3 Amateur rocket and is exempt from the normal safety considerations required for orbital and satellite launching rockets. It is important to note that just like their May 2017 launch, Vector's videos of the launch do not show parachute deployment or the condition of the rocket after it landed.
Pictures show that Vector had telemetry equipment on site and should know exactly how high their rocket went. Maybe if they had disclosed that airspace had been cleared to 5,500 feet, but the rocket made it only to 1,000 or 2,000 feet, it would be an indication that the 2,000-mile drive to Camden wasn't really worth it. Is that why they did not want the public or press to witness the launch?
Meanwhile, Camden County claims "making history", whatever that means. The question elected officials have failed to answer for 2+ years is how a tiny rocket company from Tuscon that hasn’t made it to 5,000 feet, without a commercially viable rocket, can launch from Spaceport Camden anytime in the foreseeable future and repay taxpayers for their $25 million investment. (8/3)

Vector Launches Test Rocket from Spaceport Camden (Source: Brunswick News)
The liftoff of the prototype Vector-R launch vehicle, scheduled for 8 a.m. was delayed multiple times, including once for an auto-abort ignition detection failure. Finally, around 12:15 p.m., many of the more than 50 people in the parking lot listened to the countdown on their smart phones before turning their eyes to the horizon to see history being made. After waiting more than four hours, many said they were disappointed.

Despite the crowd’s disappointment, Vector officials described the launch as a “key milestone” in its attempts to provide commercial orbital launch services. The rocket traveled straight into the air, traveling less than 10,000 feet before falling back to earth. A small parachute opened on the descent to get the rocket's nose pointing toward the ground before a larger one opened at 1,000 feet to return the vessel to earth intact.

An ongoing environmental assessment conducted by the FAA due to be completed later this year will likely determine if rockets are ever regularly launched into orbit from the site. Supporters believe a spaceport could generate support industries that could generate high-tech jobs in Camden County. Detractors say the county has already spent millions of dollars on a project that will never be approved because most of the launch trajectories are over Cumberland Island National Seashore. (8/3)

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