May 26, 2017

Workforce Crunch Threatens Central Florida Aerospace/Defense Growth (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida and CareerSource Brevard sponsored a workforce workshop last week, bringing together industry, academia and government officials concerned with the region's tightening aerospace workforce. Companies are increasingly frustrated that area universities and colleges are not producing enough workers to fill the Space Coast's growing number of high-skill defense, aviation and space job openings. The companies are increasingly poaching workers from their local competitors, causing a rise in labor costs in a region that historically has been praised for its low costs for business.

Plans are slowly emerging for improved academic degree, training and certificate programs. Apprenticeship programs also seem to be a popular solution, but fitting these into an academic framework, with credits and certifications, is a challenge. Unfortunately, funding for addressing the problem has been drying up in Tallahassee and Washington as conservative legislatures give more attention to cutting government expenditures. One thing is clear: if the state's historic aerospace/defense growth trend is to continue, universities, community colleges, and industry must collaborate and urge the state to pay increased attention to the workforce challenge. (5/26)

NASA's Delay of Megarocket Launch Puts Competition in Spotlight (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA’s delay in ferrying astronauts to the moon comes as competition has heated up, with SpaceX and Boeing aiming to build passenger capsules and heavy-lift craft — and launch them from Florida — by the end of next year. “You can make a strong argument that NASA is in a space race with SpaceX right now,” said Ray Lugo, director of UCF’s Space Institute. “The commercial guys have a much more streamlined process.”

NASA recently announced that a maiden voyage of its behemoth Space Launch System would be pushed back from November 2018 into at least 2019, with human flight on SLS waiting until a second mission aimed at 2021. The delay followed a report from the Government Accountability Office that called the optimistic timeline “likely unachievable.” The delay “is unfortunate, but not surprising,” said Phil Larson, who previously worked with SpaceX and who was former space policy adviser to President Obama.

NASA relies heavily on a federal budget that fluctuates from year to year. The testing phase for its vehicles can take more time while dealing with layers of governmental approval. Private companies, like early-stage startup firms, can work directly with private financial backers or billionaire CEOs when making adjustments. That can include NASA as a client. (5/26)

University Students Innovate at KSC-Based NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Students from dozens of universities across the United States gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA’s 2017 Robotic Mining Competition (NRMC). Students showcased and competed with their robotic concepts, which could potentially be used by NASA on actual future off-Earth mining. The competition challenges university teams to build a mining robot that can traverse simulated Martian chaotic terrain, excavate regolith, and deposit it into a collector bin within 10 minutes.

Designed to engage students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, NASA said that it will directly benefit from the competition by encouraging students’ development of innovative and clever concepts for future In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). ISRU is the idea that spacecraft can utilize resources at a particular off-Earth landing site to create fuel and consumables rather than hauling everything out of Earth’s gravity well. This saves fuel and weight. Editor's Note: This event also featured a Women in STEM mentoring event. I hope our local aerospace contractors had a strong recruiting presence at the competition. (5/26)

Posey Introduces Legislation to Allow Passengers on Experimental Aircraft (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) has introduced legislation that would authorize experimental aircraft such as WhiteKnightTwo to carry spaceflight participants and crew for training and research purposes. The measure, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), would enable Virgin Galactic and other operators to avoid the time consuming and expensive process of having their aircraft undergo FAA certification.

In addition to WhiteKnightTwo, H.R.2571 could open the door for passengers to train aboard retired military jet fighters. The legislation has been on the wish list of Virgin Galactic and the commercial spaceflight industry for a number of years. (5/26)

Engineering KSC's Transformation (Source: NASA)
NASA's Kennedy Space Center has transformed from a government-focused center into a spaceport open to many different users with their own unique needs and goals. Making the transformation ultimately successful is now in the hands of spaceflight specialists at Kennedy including the center's corps of professional engineers.

Having historically solved a slew of launch system, spacecraft and ground support equipment issues, Kennedy's engineering team now supports private companies just starting out in space, offers guidance to established aerospace companies and designs and builds the massive ground machinery that will launch NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

"What we really bring to the table is extremely competent engineers who know how to pull together complex projects," said Scott Colloredo, deputy director of the center's Engineering Directorate. Colloredo was instrumental in laying out an approach for the multi-user spaceport in the wake of the Space Shuttle Program's retirement. "We essentially re-architected the space center from shuttle to this multi-user spaceport. In Engineering, we're now executing what we set out to do and that's mainly through supporting the programs." Click here. (5/25)

Boeing's Phantom Express Could Launch, Land at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
Asked where the flight activity would occur, a DARPA spokesman responded in an email, “The Cape.” Air Force maps have identified Launch Complexes 16 and 20 as sites the XS-1 program could potentially use. Landings presumably would target Kennedy Space Center’s former shuttle runway, now operated by Space Florida. (5/25)

Posey, Bridenstine Sponsor STAR Act (Source: SPACErePORT)
Congressmen Bill Posey (R-FL) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) have introduced HR-2571, the Spaceflight Training and Astronaut Reform (STAR) Act during the 1st Session of the 115th Congress in Washington DC. The bill would authorize the operation of Space Support Vehicles (aircraft operating at FAA-licensed spaceports to simulate spaceflight conditions for pilot, crew and participant training, and for spaceflight hardware testing).

The vehicles would operate under FAA experimental permits along with a FAA-issued Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year produced a Congressionally mandated study of Space Support Vehicles and whether they should be regulated as a separate category by the FAA. Examples include Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two, ZERO-G Corp.'s G-Force One, and Starfighters Aerospace's fleet of F-104 supersonic jets. The bill would establish a new regulatory framework allowing these vehicles to perform astronaut training flights. (5/26)

Why New Zealand's Tiny Rocket Launch is Such a Big Deal (Source: Tech Radar)
This isn't competition for SpaceX. The rocket, named 'It's a Test', was just 17 meters tall – substantially shorter than SpaceX's 70-meter Falcon 9, or NASA's 110-meter Saturn V that took men to the Moon. The design is made entirely of carbon composite, comes with a partially 3D-printed engine, and is not reusable.

It carried no cargo, but has now proved that it's capable of hefting about 150 kg into orbit. That's not a lot – a high-end Earth observation or telecoms satellite weighs tons. But Rocket Lab's Electron launcher is perfect for companies that only need something simple in orbit.

That means it can be cheaper. A NASA launch can easily cost more than $100 million, whereas a lift into orbit from Rocket Lab costs just $5 million. If you don't mind sharing space with other satellites, a small cubesat that can perform basic experiments or take pictures of the Earth can be put into space for just $77,000. (5/25)

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