NASA Looks to Extend SpaceX, Orbital Commercial Cargo Contracts for Two Year

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NASA intends to extend its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts with Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX by up to two years, according to a pre-solicitation notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

The notice said the extensions until December 2017 would be done at no cost to the government. NASA awarded both contracts in December 2008 for cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) with not to exceed values of $3.1 billion apiece.

The contract extensions, which would be done one year at a time, would involve a delay in the new round of commercial cargo contracts, known as CRS2, which NASA intends to open for competitive bidding.

“This extension is expected to be executed one year at a time so that if a new provider competing for the above mentioned CRS2 contract can demonstrate their ability to deliver cargo early then it would be possible to award CRS2 contracts such that the second year of the extension would not be required,” the notice states.

Blue Origin, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation are all developing orbital spacecraft that could compete to fly cargo to the space station.  All of the spacecraft are several years from flying.

NASA Commercial Crew Partners Complete Space System Milestones

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WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s commercial space partners continue to meet milestones under agreements with the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), as they move forward in their development of spacecraft and rockets that will transport humans to destinations in low-Earth orbit.

The achievements in February are the latest development in a cycle that is seeing all four industry partners meet their milestones in their Commercial Crew Integrated Capability and Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreements with the agency.

Blue Origin, The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) are developing unique transportation systems and face challenging evaluations and tests in 2014. CCP’s engineering team is working closely with its partners as they develop the next generation of crewed spacecraft. Ultimately, NASA intends to certify and use commercial systems to fly astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station, and back.

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Interorbital Completes Successful Test Flight

Interorbital launch at FAR. (Credit: Interorbital Systems)
Interorbital launch at FAR. (Credit: Interorbital Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Interorbital PR) — At 12:15 on March 29, 2014, Interorbital Systems’ Common Propulsion Module Test Vehicle (CPM TV) thundered off its mobile launch unit on its maiden flight. The rocket’s 7,500-lb thrust engine performed flawlessly propelling the 1200-lb rocket to Mach 1+ within seconds over the FAR Launch Area. The 30-foot long CPM TV rocket is a boiler-plate test version of the identical rocket units that will make up Interorbital’s modular orbital launch systems.

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This Week on The Space Show

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This week on The Space Show with David Livingston:

1. Monday, March 31, 2014, 2-3:30 PM PDT(5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome PATRICK RITCHIE to discuss the space & STEM aspects of the SXSW event recently held in Austin, TX. Visit the event website for an overview prior to our Monday discussion: http://sxsw.com.

2. Tuesday, April 1, 2014:, 7-8:30 PM PDT (10-11:30 PM EDT, 9-10:30 PM CDT): We welcome KEVIN HEATH President and CEO of Waypoint 2 Space, the new space & astronaut training center near JSC.

3. Friday, April 4, 2014, 9:30-11 AM PDT (12:30-2 PM EDT; 11:30 AM-1 PM CDT): We welcome back DWIGHT STEVEN-BONIECKI regarding his new book, “Live TV From The Moon.” .

4. Sunday, April 6, 2014, 12-1:30 PM PDT (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT). We welcome DR. BEHROKH KHOSHNEVIS to discuss contour crafting. Be sure to visit his website prior to the show at www.craft-usc.com.

Astrobotic Successfully Tests Lunar Landing System

PITTSBURGH, PA, March 31, 2014 (Astrobotic PR):  Astrobotic Technology announced today that its autonomous landing technology, the Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS), performed successfully throughout an open-loop flight campaign on the Masten Aerospace Xombie, a vertical-takeoff vertical-landing suborbital rocket. Testing was conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA in February 2014. The test was made possible through funding by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which is managed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

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CASIS Chairperson Resigns to Take Over National Science Foundation

France Córdova
France Córdova

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL., March 31, 2014 (CASIS PR) – The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced that France Cordova, Ph.D., has resigned from its board of directors as she will become the new director for the National Science Foundation. Previously, Dr. Cordova served as the chairperson for the CASIS board of directors. With her departure, Lewis M. Duncan, Ph.D., has been named interim chairperson.

Since December 2012, Dr. Cordova has honorably served as the chairperson for CASIS, where she was the official spokesperson for all board-related matters and presided over all board meetings. Dr. Duncan will now assume such responsibilities. Over her tenure, Dr. Cordova was instrumental in the continued growth of CASIS as the manager of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, including presiding over the first CASIS-sponsored research payloads sent to the station.

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SpaceX Static Fires First Stage of Reusable Falcon 9

Video Caption: SpaceX successfully test fired the first stage of F9R—an advanced prototype for the world’s first reusable rocket—in preparation for its first test flight in the coming weeks. Unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust increases with altitude; F9R generates just over a million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space.

The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year. Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.

Greetings From Death Valley!

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Greetings from Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California — 190 feet under sea level.

I’ve been here since Friday evening for a very cool NASA event. MarsFest is an annual outreach event of NASA Ames, JPL and the National Park Service. It’s basically several days of field trips and lectures talking about Death Valley as an analog for Mars exploration.

On Saturday, we visited a couple of sites, including Bad Water where there are life forms similar to what might exist on Mars. Earlier today, we received a guided tour of Ubehebe Crater, a volcanic formation at the north end of the park that has features similar to Gale Crater on Mars which the Curiosity rover is exploring.

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Salt flats at Bad Water in Death Valley. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

It’s been a very interesting and informative weekend. Death Valley is really spectacular, and it was greatly enhanced by having experts who work here on a regular basis explaining the features of it. I wish I had made it up here for the previous two MarsFests.

Orbital Sciences Begins Work on 81 Iridium NEXT Satellites

Iridium NEXT spacecraft (Credit: Iridium)
Iridium NEXT spacecraft (Credit: Iridium)

Gilbert, AZ 27 March 2014 (OSC PR) – Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced that it has started production of 81 satellites for the Iridium NEXT program as part of a contract between Orbital and Iridium’s prime contractor, French-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space.

Orbital will complete the assembly, integration, test and launch support phases for this second-generation global communications satellite constellation at its satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, AZ. The commencement of production also signifies the opening of a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) at the Gilbert facility, which allows Orbital to reduce program costs by importing foreign-sourced hardware from Thales Alenia Space.

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Mars One Begins Work on Simulation Mars Home for Crew

Mars colony (Credit: Mars One)
Mars colony (Credit: Mars One)

Amersfoort, The Netherlands, 27 March 2014 (Mars One PR) – Mars One is excited to announce the launch of a simulation project to replicate the future Mars human outpost here on Earth.

Mars One will soon begin the process of construction of the first simulation outpost, which will be used for training selected astronauts and teams. The main purpose of an early version outpost is for potential crew members to gain early experience in the actual environment which will become their home on Mars.

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SpaceShipTwo Back on the Ramp

mojave_tower_sunset_smBy Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After a couple of months inside the hangar undergoing modifications, SpaceShipTwo is outside on the ramp today at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

Scaled Composites engineers are running the suborbital space plane through pressure tests on the cockpit, according to sources. The vehicle does not have an engine installed.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo last flew under power on Jan. 10, completing a 20-second burn of its hybrid nitrous oxide-rubber engine and reached an altitude of 71,000 feet. The ship flew again in an un-powered glide flight one week later before going into the hangar for changes.

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Falcon 9, Atlas V Launches Delayed Due to Range Problem

Falcon 9 lifts off with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

The scheduled Sunday launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been postponed due to problems on the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Test Range, officials said.

Reports indicate that there was a fire that has knocked out a radar system needed to track the flight. The Air Force is not able to repair the system in time.

The Falcon 9 will launch a Dragon cargo vehicle to the International Space Station. It is the third commercial cargo flight of 12 that SpaceX will conduct under a contract with NASA.

Earlier this week, ULA was forced to postpone the launch of an Atlas V rocket with a spy satellite aboard due to the same range problem.

No new dates have been set for either launch.

Andrews Space Completes Qualification of New 6U CubeSat Solar Panel

Andrews Space 6U CubeSat solar panel. (Credit: Andrews Space)
Andrews Space 6U CubeSat solar panel. (Credit: Andrews Space)

Seattle, WA, March 26, 2014 (Andrews PR) — Andrews Space (Andrews) today announced that they have successfully completed space qualification of their new 6U solar panel. This qualification effort extends the qualified power systems products for small satellites applications beyond batteries and satellite power management to now include solar panels. The solar panels provide a simple power generation solution for 6U CubeSat form factors and can be easily combined to create more complex strings for microsatellites. The panels are a complementary addition to the CORTEX 130 Electrical Power System card and CORTEX Battery Unit; in combination these products provide a complete electrical power solution for your small spacecraft.

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Project MERCCURI Crowd Sources ISS Research

Co-investigator Darlene Cavalier sampling the Liberty Bell for microbes as part of the International Space Station Project MERCCURI investigation. (Credit: National Park Service)
Co-investigator Darlene Cavalier sampling the Liberty Bell for microbes as part of the International Space Station Project MERCCURI investigation. (Credit: National Park Service)

By Jessica Nimon
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Host Natalie Morales from the Today Show wiped Al Roker’s weather wall, as well as a camera and teleprompter with a cotton swab back in October. But just what did she and her co-host Willie Geist expect to find? They were citizen scientists looking for microbes—the tiny invisible, bacteria, viruses and fungi that may live on the sampled surfaces. Once captured, these televised swabs joined the Project MERCCURI collection that includes samples from museums, historical monuments and sporting venues. This massive “crowdsourced” gathering effort’s full name is Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the International Space Station, which references its mission to send the litany of microbes to the space station for research.

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SpaceX Receives $4.2 Million in Early Integration Study Funds From USAF

Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded a $4.25 million contract to SpaceX to perform “early integration studies of SpaceX’s launch vehicle Falcon 9 v1.1 and USAF space vehicles projected to launch as early as 2017.”

“The early integration studies are unique to each potential launch service provider and its own launch vehicle configuration,” according to the official notice from the Air Force. “SpaceX, as the sole owner and manufacturer of the Falcon 9 v1.1, possesses ‘unique capabilities’ for this requirement (studies) because the study is on SpaceX’s own unique launch vehicle. SpaceX possesses its own specific knowledge and resources of the launch vehicle it manufactures. With the unique capabilities, the study of the Falcon 9 v1.1 can only be satisfied by SpaceX.”

The contract award includes an option for an additional study.