Orbital Eyes Next Antares Flight in July

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Two RD-181 integrated with the Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). A “hot fire” test on Pad 0A is scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. (Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach)

Two RD-181 integrated with the Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). A “hot fire” test on Pad 0A is scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. (Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach)

Orbital ATK reported today that it is making good progress on its upgraded Antares rocket, which has been grounded since a catastrophic launch accident in October 2014.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch Set for Early Friday Morning

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Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is targeting Friday, May 6 at 1:21 a.m. EDT for the launch of the JCSAT-14 communications satellite. The launch will be webcast at http://www.spacex.com.

The company will attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage on an off-shore barge as it successfully did last month.

Deep Space Industries, Luxembourg Government Announce Prospector-X Mission

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MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (DSI PR) — Asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries, together with the Luxembourg Government and the Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement (SNCI), the national banking institution in Luxembourg, have signed an agreement formalizing their partnership to explore, use, and commercialize space resources as part of Luxembourg’s spaceresources.lu initiative.

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Airbus Defence and Space to Lead EU Orbital Debris Project

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Airbus_Defence_and_Space_logoTOULOUSE, France — Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, will lead the project TeSeR (Technology for Self-Removal of Spacecraft) team to develop technology to reduce the risk of spacecraft colliding with debris in space.

Together with its ten European partners, the company will develop a prototype for a cost-efficient and highly reliable module to ensure that future spacecraft don’t present a collision risk once they reach the end of their nominal operational lifetimes or suffer an in-service failure. The module may also function as a removal back-up in the case of a loss of control over a spacecraft.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission

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Video Caption: The OSIRIS-REx mission, launching in September 2016, plans to return a sample of asteroid Bennu to Earth in 2023 so that scientists can study pristine material left over from the early solar system. Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator for OSIRIS-REx, provides an overview of this asteroid sample return mission.

Learn more at http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex and http://www.asteroidmission.org.

Orbital ATK Sued Over Satellite Servicing Venture

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orbital_ATK_logoSpaceNews reports on the latest litigation in satellite land:

Orbital ATK is facing a lawsuit from its former partner in the ViviSat satellite servicing venture, claiming Orbital improperly shut down the joint venture to pursue the servicing business on its own.

In a suit filed April 29 with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, U.S. Space LLC alleges that Orbital ATK violated the terms of a management agreement regarding operations of ViviSat to take control of the company and dissolve it in April, a maneuver U.S. Space called in court filings “a double-cross of cosmic proportions.” The lawsuit was first reported by the legal publication Law360.

U.S. Space and ATK Space Systems created ViviSat in 2010 to develop and commercialize a satellite servicing system later known as the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). Under the original teaming agreement, ATK was primarily responsible for technical development of the MEV, while U.S. Space was responsible for financing and business development.

ATK supplied about $3 million through March 2013 to fund ViviSat’s operations, according to court papers. However, when ViviSat said in late 2012 that it needed an additional $200,000, ATK requested an amendment to the management agreement that would tie the funding to business development milestones.

The revised agreement, signed in April 2013, included an “amendment trigger” that would effectively give control of ViviSat to ATK, including three of four seats on its board of directors, if ViviSat didn’t achieve those milestones. That agreement also allowed the ViviSat board to dissolve the company by a majority vote.

The dispute involves whether VivaSat met the milestones in time. Orbital ATK says the suit is without merit.

Editor’s Note: This is a fine story that digs into the details of the lawsuit. My only question is: where has SpaceNews been for the last six months since the Virgin Galactic-Firefly litigation became public?

It’s a helluva story involving some rather explosive claims by two major NewSpace companies. Firefly would be effectively put out of business by a rival if Virgin wins. The lawsuit certainly qualifies as news every bit as much as the VivaSat lawsuit. Yet, it hasn’t merited a single story by the leading space news website. It’s disappointing.

NASA Selects CubeSat & NanoSat Proposals for SBIR & STTR Awards

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Two ESA CubeSats, the student-built AAUSat-5 and the professional technology demonstrator GomX-3, were deployed together from the International Space Station on 5 October 2015, going on to separate to begin their missions. (Credit: NASA)

Two ESA CubeSats, the student-built AAUSat-5 and the professional technology demonstrator GomX-3, were deployed together from the International Space Station on 5 October 2015, going on to separate to begin their missions. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has selected at at least 28 proposals involving Cube-, nano- and micro-sats for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) Phase I awards.

The total includes 23 SBIR and five STTR projects. Companies are partnered with university researchers for the STTR awards.

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UK Space Agency Appoints Interim CEO

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Katherine Courtney

Katherine Courtney

PARIS (ESA PR) — The UK Space Agency has appointed a new interim Chief Executive, Katherine Courtney.

Katherine Courtney’s early career was spent developing new products and services in the global telecoms industry as a senior executive with both major multinationals and a series of start-up companies. She moved to the public sector in 2003 to lead the UK government’s National Identity Scheme Programme and then went on to lead a number of other flagship programmes including the development of Universal Credit, Growth Vouchers, Business Growth Service and UK Small Business Commissioner – steering four cross-cutting pieces of legislation through Parliament. The theme running throughout her career has been creating growth and efficiencies through technological innovation. She holds a Masters of Business Administration from London Business School.

The UK Space Agency’s chief executive leads a team of 60 who manage the UK’s civil space policy, regulation and programmes. She is responsible for realising the agency’s aims of increasing the size of the UK space industry, using space to understand planet Earth and the universe, and improving public services such as weather forecasting and communications.

XS-1 Moves Forward, Stratolaunch Booster Remains Mystery

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Credit: DARPA

Credit: DARPA

A couple of program updates that I wrote for Space.com in recent weeks:

US Military’s Satellite-Launching XS-1 Space Plane Could Fly in 2019

DARPA has received authorization to spend $146 million on the next phases of the program, which is enough to select one of the three companies and move forward. It’s not enough to finish the program, so the selected company will need to come up with funds of its own. DARPA hopes to down select by the end of the year.

Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman are the leads for phase 1 of the program. However, phases 2 and 3 are open to all U.S. aerospace companies. DARPA had an industry day for the project on April 29.

What lies at the end of the rainbow. Stratolaunch Systems, that's what. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

What lies at the end of the rainbow? Stratolaunch Systems, that’s what. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Rocket for Giant Satellite-Launching Stratolaunch Airplane Remains a Mystery

Birdzilla remains more zilla than bird. The plane is still under construction, but the company has yet to announce what rocket(s) it will use.

The most recent update I’ve heard through the grapevine is that much of the aircraft is assembled. That’s a good sign, but it could also mean that much of the interior work — which can take a long time — remains to be done.

Last year, the company said it were considering more than 70 different booster configurations, which means they were talking to everyone and anyone with a rocket, an engine or plans for them.

In July, I asked Chuck Beames whether Burt Rutan & Scaled has once again put the flying machine ahead of the rocket, as they did with SpaceShipTwo. He said no, and assured me that they would make an announcement about the booster(s) in the fall.

That time came and went. Officials now say that they expect to make a series of announcements in the coming future.

FFD Completes Round of Spacesuit Testing with Project PoSSUM

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Infrared cam shot of PoSSUM Academy participants Michael Long and Abdelraouf Elwaqad testing FFD space suits in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s suborbital spaceflight simulator. (Credit: Nicholas Mercury Carlstrom)

Infrared cam shot of PoSSUM Academy participants Michael Long and Abdelraouf Elwaqad testing FFD space suits in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s suborbital spaceflight simulator. (Credit: Nicholas Mercury Carlstrom)

BROOKLYN, NY, May 3, 2016 (FFD PR) – Last month, Final Frontier Design (FFD) completed another round of space suit testing in Daytona, Florida as part of Project PoSSUM, in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU).

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Surrey Satellite & BridgeSat to Develop Satellite Laser Communications

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surrey_logoENGLEWOOD, Colo., and BOSTON, Mass., April 12, 2016 (Surrey Satellite & BridgeSat PR) Surrey Satellite Technology US LLC and BridgeSat Inc. are pleased to announce a partnership to work towards developing a free-space optical communications system that will provide secure data downlinks from satellites to a proprietary ground network at faster speeds than equivalent radio frequency solutions.

Under this partnership, Surrey will build the flight laser terminal units that will communicate with BridgeSat’s global ground network. Together, Surrey and BridgeSat aim to provide users with a “one-stop” solution to transmit data at up to 10 gigabits per second, per link.

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NASA Selects Paragon’s In-space Fuel Depot Tech for SBIR Phase I Award

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TUCSON, Ariz, May 03, 2016 (Pargon SDC PR) – Paragon Space Development Corporation® (Paragon) and partner Thin Red Line Aerospace (TRLA) received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from NASA to provide a unique solution that will extend the life of cryogenic upper stage rockets.

The useful life of a standard upper stage is no more than a few hours. The thermally isolating structure is a key piece to allowing systems to operate for weeks or months on orbit, giving upper stage platforms additional flexibility for payload maneuvering and deployment timing as well as direct use of upper stages for commercial and scientific use.

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Space Renaissance Act Calls for Major Changes in Commercial Policies

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By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-OK) proposed American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) would bring about significant changes in the nation’s commercial space policy, with a much larger role for the Department of Transportation and a revamping of activities within the Commerce Department.

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Generation Orbit Signs Space Act Agreement With NASA Armstrong

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Flight Experiments Testbed (Credit: Generation Orbit)

Flight Experiments Testbed (Credit: Generation Orbit)

ATLANTA — Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) is pleased to announce the signing of a Space Act Agreement with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) to collaboratively pursue the flight test and envelope clearance for the GOLauncher 1 air launched rocket vehicle.

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Caltech Names Michael Watkins as Next JPL Director

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Michael Watkins

Michael Watkins

PASADENA, Calif. (Caltech PR) — Michael M. Watkins, the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Space Research at The University of Texas at Austin, has been appointed director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president at Caltech, the Institute announced today.

Watkins will formally assume his position on July 1, 2016. He succeeds Charles Elachi, who will retire as of June 30, 2016, and move to the Caltech faculty.

Watkins is an internationally recognized scientist and engineer. Prior to assuming his current position at The University of Texas in 2015, he worked at JPL for 22 years, where he held leadership roles on some of NASA’s highest-profile missions. Watkins served as mission manager and mission system manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover; led review or development teams for several missions including the Cassini, Mars Odyssey, and Deep Impact probes; and was the project scientist leading science development for the GRAIL moon-mapping satellites, the GRACE Earth science mission, and the GRACE Follow-On mission, scheduled for launch in 2017. He last served at JPL as manager of the Science Division, and chief scientist for the Engineering and Science Directorate.

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