Parabolic Arc Space Tourism ... and Much More Wed, 24 May 2017 17:24:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Aerojet Rocketdyne Selected as Main Propulsion Provider for XS-1 Vehicle Wed, 24 May 2017 17:22:42 +0000
DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program seeks to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would break the cycle of escalating launch costs and make possible a host of critical national security options. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, DARPA has awarded Phases 2 and 3 of the program to The Boeing Company. (Credit: Boeing)

LOS ANGELES, May 24, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), was selected to provide the main propulsion for the Boeing and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reusable Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). Aerojet Rocketdyne is a member of the Boeing team that recently announced an agreement to collaborate with DARPA to design, build and test a technology demonstrator for the agency’s XS-1 program.

The reusable experimental spaceplane is designed to deliver small satellites into orbit with high launch responsiveness. The main propulsion is based on the legacy space shuttle main engines (SSME).

“As one of the world’s most reliable rocket engines, the SSME is a smart choice to power the XS-1 launch vehicle,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “This engine has a demonstrated track record of solid performance and proven reusability.”

For the XS-1 program, Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing two engines with legacy shuttle flight experience to demonstrate reusability, a wide operating range and rapid turnarounds. These engines will be designated as AR-22 engines and will be assembled from parts that remained in both Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA inventories from early versions of the SSME engines. Assembly and ground testing will take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

“As threats to our nation’s space systems increase, it is imperative that we have the ability to rapidly deploy replacement assets,” added Drake. “This demonstration program is vitally important to maintaining assured access to space, which remains a top priority for our nation.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne can be obtained by visiting our websites at and


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Boeing XS-1 Video Wed, 24 May 2017 17:18:43 +0000

Video Caption: DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit. Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the Nation today is critically dependent.

In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, initially without an upper stage. If successful, the program could help enable a commercial service in the future that could operate with recurring costs of as little as $5 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage, assuming a recurring flight rate of at least ten flights per year—a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the U.S. military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Note that goal is for actual cost, not commercial price, which would be determined in part by market forces.)

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DARPA Picks Boeing for XS-1 Program Wed, 24 May 2017 17:16:30 +0000
DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program seeks to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would break the cycle of escalating launch costs and make possible a host of critical national security options. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, DARPA has awarded Phases 2 and 3 of the program to The Boeing Company. (Credit: Boeing)

WASHINGTON, DC (DARPA PR) — DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space.

The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit.

Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the Nation today is critically dependent.

“The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. “We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3—fabrication and flight.”

The XS-1 program envisions a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, roughly the size of a business jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. The vehicle would be launched with no external boosters, powered solely by self-contained cryogenic propellants. Upon reaching a high suborbital altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 3,000-pound satellite to polar orbit. The reusable first stage would then bank and return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours.

In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, with an additional final flight carrying the upper-stage payload delivery system. If successful, the program could help enable a commercial service in the future that could operate with recurring costs of as little as $5 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage, assuming a recurring flight rate of at least ten flights per year—a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the U.S. military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Note that goal is for actual cost, not commercial price, which would be determined in part by market forces.)

To achieve these goals, XS-1 designers plan to take advantage of technologies and support systems that have enhanced the reliability and fast turnaround of military aircraft. For example, easily accessible subsystem components configured as line replaceable units would be used wherever practical to enable quick maintenance and repairs.

The XS-1 Phase 2/3 design also intends to increase efficiencies by integrating numerous state-of-the-art technologies, including some previously developed by DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. For example, the XS-1 technology demonstrator’s propulsion system is an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, a version of the legacy Space Shuttle main engine (SSME).

Other technologies in the XS-1 design include:

  • Advanced, lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks to hold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants
  • Hybrid composite-metallic wings and control surfaces able to withstand the physical stresses of suborbital hypersonic flight and temperatures of more than 2,000o F
  • Automated flight-termination and other technologies for autonomous flight and operations, including some developed by DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program

XS-1 Phase 2 includes design, construction, and testing of the technology demonstration vehicle through 2019. It calls for initially firing the vehicle’s engine on the ground 10 times in 10 days to demonstrate propulsion readiness for flight tests.

Phase 3 objectives include 12 to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020. After multiple shakedown flights to reduce risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over 10 consecutive days, at first without payloads and at speeds as fast as Mach 5. Subsequent flights are planned to fly as fast as Mach 10, and deliver a demonstration payload between 900 pounds and 3,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

Another goal of the program is to encourage the broader commercial launch sector to adopt useful XS-1 approaches, processes, and technologies that facilitate launch on demand and rapid turnaround—important military and commercial needs for the 21st century. Toward that goal, DARPA intends to release selected data from its Phase 2/3 tests and will provide to all interested commercial entities the relevant specs for potential payloads.

“We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees XS-1. “Demonstration of aircraft-like, on-demand, and routine access to space is important for meeting critical Defense Department needs and could help open the door to a range of next-generation commercial opportunities.”


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Rocket Lab Reschedules Flight Test for Thursday Wed, 24 May 2017 13:57:53 +0000
First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab Press Release

Rocket Lab, an American-New Zealand aerospace company, has postponed the test launch of its Electron vehicle today due to weather conditions. The planned launch attempt will now take place on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab, says poor weather is delaying the launch attempt of Rocket Lab’s first test rocket titled ‘It’s a Test’.

“Similar to yesterday, high altitude cloud created a risk of tribo-electrification. Our team were able to fuel the vehicle and prepare it for flight, but worsening weather conditions meant we were forced to delay. We’ll have another go tomorrow. The team did a great job today, and our operations are running smoothly.

“We were targeting a 2pm launch where there was a window clear of triboelectrification, but a front quickly moved up the country and closed the window of opportunity to launch.

“We have weather scientists on site who advise us in real time about changing conditions, as well as using weather balloons and satellite data to assess if launch criteria is met.

“We’d like to thank local residents, supporters and emergency services for their patience.

“Because this is a test launch, our weather constraints are more restrictive than they will be during commercial operations. We are focussed on the best possible weather conditions for launch. This is so we can focus on testing the rocket as a priority, rather than its ability to deal with adverse weather conditions.

“Safety is Rocket Lab’s number one priority and we are following guidelines set by the FAA and NASA around weather and launch safety.”

During the test phase, it’s common for planned launches to be postponed to ensure ideal conditions. The launch attempt will now occur on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

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NASA FY 2018 Budget Fact Sheet Tue, 23 May 2017 19:54:15 +0000 The President’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget
Maintains NASA’s world leadership in space and increases cooperation with industry.

NASA Fact Sheet

NASA’s budget ensures our nation remains the world’s leader in space exploration and technology, aeronautics research and discovery in space and Earth science. The budget supports developing the technologies that will make future space missions more capable and affordable, including partnerships with the private sector for a variety of activities, such as transportation of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. The budget also continues the development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System and Exploration Ground Systems that will send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit in the early 2020’s. The budget also keeps the Webb Telescope on track for a 2018 launch; builds on our scientific discoveries and achievements in space; and supports the Administration’s commitment to serve as a catalyst for the growth of a vibrant American commercial space industry.

Science – $5,711.8 million

  • $1.9 billion for Planetary Science, keeping on track the Mars 2020 rover and the next selection for the New Frontiers program and including formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.
  • $1.8 billion for Earth Science, including a plan to continue the 44-year Landsat record of global land-imaging measurements. Terminates five Earth science missions (PACE, RBI, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, CLARREO Pathfinder).
  • $816 million for Astrophysics, continuing support for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Explorers Program, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
  • $534 million for the James Webb Space Telescope, maintaining its 2018 launch date.
  • $678 million for Heliophysics, supporting the launches of Solar Probe Plus, Solar Orbiter Collaboration, and research to improve space weather modeling.
  • Continues development of about 30 missions and operation of over 60 missions producing leading-edge science.
  • Funds over 10,000 U.S. scientists in universities, industry, and government labs through over 3,000 openly competed research awards.

Human Exploration and Operations

  • Includes $3,934.1 million for Exploration ($4,030 million including exploration facilities), and $4,740.8 million for Space Operations.
  • Continues commercial development of U.S. crew transportation systems that will support the International Space Station by the end of 2018, ending the need to pay Russia for crew transportation services.
  • Enables use of the International Space Station as a platform to identify and quantify risks to human health and performance, develop countermeasures, and develop and test technologies that protect astronauts during extended human exploration missions; conduct world class science to improve life on Earth; and further commercial activities in LEO.
  • Continues development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew vehicle to send astronauts on deep space missions.
  • Furthers Advanced Exploration Systems development and demonstration of systems and foundational technologies – often through public-private partnerships – for future exploration missions, including deep space habitation, while eliminating the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

Space Technology – $678.6 million

  • Through public-private partnerships, enables the U.S. aerospace community to find technologies at the “tipping point” and make them viable for use by industry, NASA, and other government agencies in order to accelerate the transfer and commercialization of these technologies.
  • Transforms satellite servicing investment to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry as well as application by NASA and other government agencies.
  • Continues development of high-powered solar electric propulsion to meet demands by U.S. aerospace industry, and for NASA exploration missions.
  • Completes Laser Comm Relay Demo flight hardware and begins system integration and testing.
  • Grows and utilizes the U.S. industrial and academic base with a steady cadence of early stage technology activities conducted by the NASA workforce, academia, and businesses large and small within the aerospace industry.

Aeronautics Research – $624.0 million

  • Advances aeronautics research, bringing major advances in the safety, capacity, and efficiency of the air transportation system while minimizing impacts on the environment and enabling new markets such as commercial UAS operations.
  • Develops transformative capabilities that enable the U.S. aviation industry to maintain and advance its global leadership and contribute to the nation’s economic growth and job creation.
  • Enables award of a design and build contract for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator X-Plane, which will demonstrate quiet overland supersonic flight and open a new market to U.S. industry.

Safety, Security and Mission Services and Construction & Environmental Compliance and Restoration

  • Includes $2,830.2 million for Safety, Security, and Mission Services and $496.1 million for Construction & Environmental Compliance and Restoration.
  • Funds Agency-wide mission support operations, including facilities and environmental activities.
  • Increases funding to strengthen agency-wide cybersecurity to protect data, systems, and operations.
  • Ensures NASA infrastructure and assets are safe, secure, environmentally sound, and operate efficiently.

Education – $37.3 million

  • Terminates the Office of Education and provides $37.3 million for close-out costs.
  • The STEM Science Activation program within NASA Science will continue to deliver science content to learners of all ages through cooperative agreements. NASA Science does not intend to take ownership of programs formerly funded by the Office of Education.
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Trump Budget Would Cut NASA Funding, Cancel 5 Earth Science Missions & End Education Office Tue, 23 May 2017 15:56:05 +0000 President Donald Trump released a proposed national budget today that would cut $561 million from NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2018, including closing NASA’s Education Office and canceling five Earth Science missions.

NASA would see its budget reduced from $19.6 billion this year to just below $19.1 billion. The space agency received just under $19.3 billion in fiscal year 2016.

The total budget is close to the $19.1 billion contained in a budget blueprint the Trump Administration released in March.

The table below shows that reductions are spread across the agency, with three exceptions.

FY 2018 PBR
Space Operations (ISS, Commercial Crew) $4.95 billion $4.74 billion -$210 million
Exploration (SLS, Orion, Ground Systems) $4.324 billion $3.934 billion -$390 million
Science $5.765 billion $5.712 billion -$53 million
Space Technology $686.5 million $678.6 million -$6.9 million
Aeronautics $660 million $624 million -$36 million
Education $100 million $37.3 million -$62.7 million
Safety, Security & Mission Assurance $2.769 billion $2.830 billion +61 million
Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration $360.7 million
$496.1 million +$136.4
Office of Inspector General $37.9 million $39.3 million +1.6 million
TOTALS: $19.653 billion $19.092 billion -$561 million

Exploration, which funds Orion, Space Launch System and related ground systems — would see a reduction of $390 million, which is unlikely to please Congress.

There would be a $210 million cut in Space Operations, which funds the International Space Station and Commercial Crew programs.

The administration cited “competing priorities” in terminating five science missions, including: Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder.

The five missions are an increase over the four missions the administration proposed canceling in a budget blueprint released several months ago. The RBI mission was added to the list.

This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. (Credits: NASA/NOAA)

The DSCOVR satellite, which is a NOAA-NASA spacecraft parked at a spot 1 million miles from Earth, would continue to operate. NASA has said that shutting off the Earth-viewing instruments would save about $1.2 million per year.

The administration justified the canceled programs as follows:

The missions proposed for termination are lower-priority science missions that cannot be accommodated under constrained budgets. The proposed termination of these five missions restructures the NASA Earth science portfolio within the available budget in a way that causes the least impact to NASA’s ability to execute a balanced, comprehensive Earth science program that meets the highest priorities of the science community.

The RBI would have flown on a future weather satellite to make measurements of the Earth’s reflected sunlight and emitted thermal radiation. Similar instruments flying now and planned for near-term launch will continue to provide continuity for the data record. Additionally, the instrument has experienced cost growth and technical challenges, as technological innovations for RBI have proven more difficult than anticipated to implement.

DSCOVR, OCO-3, and PACE were not identified as high-priority NASA missions in the previous Earth Science Decadal Survey, which reflects the science community’s consensus views on Earth science space-borne priorities.

The DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments (currently in space) provide images of the sunlit side of the Earth and measure the energy reflected and emitted from it. These instruments do not contribute to the core DSCOVR mission of providing measurements for space weather.

OCO-3 would have investigated the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth. These measurements are currently being taken by NASA’s OCO-2 mission, and future measurements are planned by other nations.

The PACE mission would have provided atmospheric aerosol measurements and ocean color measurements, some of which are being provided by existing U.S. and European satellites.

The CLARREO Pathfinder mission would have demonstrated measurement technologies for a larger, more expensive, potential future mission focused on improving detection of climate trends. This demonstration mission is in the earliest stages of implementation and is eliminated to achieve cost savings.

NASA’s Education budget would be cut by $100 million to $37.3 million, a reduction of $62.7 million. The funding would pay for closing out the office and its programs.

The Trump Administration gave the following rationale for closing the office.

The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a focused NASA-wide education strategy, including challenges in providing oversight and integration of Agency-wide education activities. Comprehensive evaluations of major programs have not been conducted. Additionally, while output data (e.g., number of people funded, number of papers generated, number of events supported) has been tracked, outcome-related data demonstrating program effectiveness has been insufficient to assess the impact of the overall Office of Education portfolio. Given these challenges and current fiscal constraints, the Budget proposes to terminate this office and proposes $37 million for close-out costs.

Some areas of the budget would see increases. The space agency would received an additional $136.4 million in its construction and environmental remediation and compliance budget. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida suffered damage from a hurricane. Its Michoud facility in New Orleans was hit by a hurricane.

The Safety, Security and Mission Assurance budget — which pays for operations — would see a $61 million increase. NASA’s Office of Inspector General would see its budget rise by $1.6 million.

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SpaceX Dragon to Deliver Research to Space Station Tue, 23 May 2017 14:29:09 +0000
Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) technology undergoes testing (Credits: Deployable Space Systems, Inc.)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Dragon spacecraft for its eleventh commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station June 1 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39A. Dragon will lift into orbit atop the Falcon 9 rocket carrying crew supplies, equipment and scientific research to crewmembers living aboard the station.

The flight will deliver investigations and facilities that study neutron stars, osteoporosis, solar panels, tools for Earth-observation, and more. Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered to the orbiting laboratory:

New solar panels test concept for more efficient power source

Solar panels are an efficient way to generate power, but they can be delicate and large when used to power a spacecraft or satellites. They are often tightly stowed for launch and then must be unfolded when the spacecraft reaches orbit. The Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), is a solar panel concept that is lighter and stores more compactly for launch than the rigid solar panels currently in use. ROSA has solar cells on a flexible blanket and a framework that rolls out like a tape measure.  The technology for ROSA is one of two new solar panel concepts that were developed by the Solar Electric Propulsion project, sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

The new solar panel concepts are intended to provide power to electric thrusters for use on NASA’s future space vehicles for operations near the Moon and for missions to Mars and beyond. They might also be used to power future satellites in Earth orbit, including more powerful commercial communications satellites. The demonstration of the deployment of ROSA on the space station is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Investigation studies composition of neutron stars

Neutron stars, the glowing cinders left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas, are the densest objects in the universe, and contain exotic states of matter that are impossible to replicate in any ground lab. These stars are called “pulsars” because of the unique way they emit light – in a beam similar to a lighthouse beacon. As the star spins, the light sweeps past us, making it appear as if the star is pulsing. The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explored (NICER) payload, affixed to the exterior of the space station, studies the physics of these stars, providing new insight into their nature and behavior.

Neutron stars emit X-ray radiation, enabling the NICER technology to observe and record information about its structure, dynamics and energetics. In addition to studying the matter within the neutron stars, the payload also includes a technology demonstration called the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT), which will help researchers to develop a pulsar-based, space navigation system. Pulsar navigation could work similarly to GPS on Earth, providing precise position for spacecraft throughout the solar system.

Investigation studies effect of new drug on osteoporosis

When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone that is already lost. The Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis (Rodent Research-5) investigation tests a new drug that can both rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving health for crew members.

Exposure to microgravity creates a rapid change in bone health, similar to what happens in certain bone-wasting diseases, during extended bed rest and during the normal aging process. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation build on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

Research seeks to understand the heart of the matter

Exposure to reduced gravity environments can result in cardiovascular changes such as fluid shifts, changes in total blood volume, heartbeat and heart rhythm irregularities, and diminished aerobic capacity. The Fruit Fly Lab-02 study will use the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to better understand the underlying mechanisms responsible for the adverse effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on the heart. Flies are smaller, with a well-known genetic make-up, and very rapid aging that make them good models for studying heart function. This experiment will help to develop a microgravity heart model in the fruit fly. Such a model could significantly advance the study of spaceflight effects on the cardiovascular system and facilitate the development of countermeasures to prevent the adverse effects of space travel on astronauts.

Investigation shapes the way humans survive in space

Currently, the life-support systems aboard the space station require special equipment to separate liquids and gases. This technology utilizes rotating and moving parts that, if broken or otherwise compromised, could cause contamination aboard the station. The Capillary Structures investigation studies a new method of water recycling and carbon dioxide removal using structures designed in specific shapes to manage fluid and gas mixtures. As opposed to the expensive, machine-based processes currently in use aboard the station, the Capillary Structures equipment is made up of small, 3-D printed geometric shapes of varying sizes that clip into place.

Using time lapse photography, on-ground research teams will observe how liquids evaporate from these capillary structures, testing the effectiveness of the varying parameters. Results from the investigation could lead to the development of new processes that are simple, trustworthy, and highly reliable in the case of an electrical failure or other malfunction.

Facility provides platform for Earth-observation tools

Orbiting approximately 250 miles above the Earth’s surface, the space station provides views of the Earth below like no other location can provide. The Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) facility, developed by Teledyne Brown Engineering, hosts Earth-viewing instruments such as high-resolution digital cameras, hyperspectral imagers, and provides precision pointing and other accommodations.

This National Lab-sponsored investigation can produce data to be used for maritime domain awareness, agricultural awareness, food security, disaster response, air quality, oil and gas exploration and fire detection.

These investigations will join many other investigations currently happening aboard the space station. Follow @ISS_Research for more information about the science happening on station.

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U.S. Air Force Awards Four Study Contracts for Weather Mission Tue, 23 May 2017 13:46:39 +0000 LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center recently awarded four study contracts worth approximately $500,000 each to EO Vista, Millennium Space Systems, Orbital ATK, and Raytheon Company – Space and Airborne Systems. These companies will provide concept reports to address space-based cloud characterization and theater weather imagery solutions by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Currently, the Air Force relies on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) and other programs to provide cloud characterization, whereby satellites analyze cloud detection, cover and temperature, and, theater weather imagery, whereby satellites record visible satellite images of atmospheric conditions. Together, these missions are referred to as Space Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM) Electro Optical Infrared (EO/IR) capabilities. The SBEM EO/IR mission has been performed by the DMSP satellite constellation for over 50 years and the Air Force is exploring new long-term solutions to continue this mission.

“The weather mission is of critical importance to national security. We made it a point to reach out to small business, academia, research institutions, and established industry partners to drive innovative solutions while remaining focused on cost savings,” said Dr. Stephen Pluntze, deputy director of SMC’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate. “These four study contract awards will put us on a path to ensure long term tactical and strategic weather mission areas are addressed while providing significant value to the government and the taxpayer”.

The four studies will lay out how each contractor’s proposed solution will address future cloud characterization and theater weather imagery solutions. Once completed, the Air Force will review each concept for viability and consider them to inform potential follow-on programs.

SMC’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate provides global, persistent, infrared surveillance and environmental monitoring capabilities to our warfighters and the nation. EO Vista is headquartered in Acton, Massachusetts. Millennium Space Systems is headquartered in El Segundo, California. Orbital ATK is headquartered in Dulles, Virginia. Raytheon Company, Space and Airborne Systems is headquartered in El Segundo, California.

SMC, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Air Force’s center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

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Defense Officials Describe Priorities for Operating in Contested Space Domain Tue, 23 May 2017 13:38:41 +0000
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying AFSPC-6 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37. (Credit: ULA)

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2017 — Space enables everything the joint force does and the national security space architecture must protect and defend that capability in a contested environment, officials from the Air Force, the intelligence community and the Defense Department told a House panel in recent testimony.

Air Force Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command and Air Force Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component-Space for the U.S. Strategic Command testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee on priorities and posture of the national security space enterprise for fiscal year 2018.

Joining Raymond and Buck were Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and John Hill, performing the duties of deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.

Space Domain

“Today there is nothing we do, and I repeat, nothing we do as a joint force that isn’t enabled by space,” Raymond said. “Integration has been our strength [but] we find ourselves at the intersection of high reliance and vulnerability in the space domain.”

Space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea, he added, and potential adversaries are developing capabilities to deny the United States access to and benefits of the space domain.

“Let me be very clear; we do not want a conflict that extends into space,” Raymond said, “but one way to keep that from happening is to make sure that we’re prepared for it and [can] fight and win that conflict if it were to occur.”

The general’s near-term priorities include the following:

— In partnership with Sapp and the NRO, operationalize the National Space Defense Center — formerly the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Stratcom;

— Improve space situational awareness;

— Make space architecture defendable, and

— Continue to professionally develop Air Force Space Command airmen.

Space Freedom

Buck said in his remarks that an overhaul is needed for the national security space architecture to guarantee freedoms in, through and from space.

“This is a challenge because our national security space architecture and processes were largely conceived to provide services or commodities during an era when our most significant coal orbital threat was debris,” he told the panel.

Today, he added, the responsibility is to gain and maintain space superiority, and some areas require continued focus and vigilance:

— Continue to normalize operations across the enterprise, improving foundational intelligence and providing robust indications and warning;

— Continue the work to deliver a next-generation battle space awareness and command-and-control capability;

— Review and update authorities and rules of engagement for space operations, and

— Continue to push fielding capabilities on operationally relevant timelines.

Space Intelligence

In her testimony, Sapp said NRO develops, acquires, launches and operates the nation’s overhead intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance architecture.

“We are the foundation of U.S. global situational awareness,” she said, “and we contribute to global intelligence and military and Homeland Security operations” while helping form national policy and achieve diplomatic goals.

But staying ahead of adversaries who threaten U.S. space capabilities is a challenge, Sapp said, noting that adversaries are making space a priority and the United States is not keeping pace.

“I believe we have not made the investment that would indicate space is a priority or fundamental to the U.S.,” she said.

“Our requirements, budget and acquisition processes are disconnected and none of them moves quickly.” Sapp added. “… We must have processes that are integrated, that move faster and that demonstrate greater risk tolerance. We must recommit to space as a national priority and imperative.”

In his remarks, Cardillo said NGA is the main provider of geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, for the Defense Department and the intelligence community. His agency’s support to military services, combatant commands and warfighters includes safe navigation, precise targeting, disaster recovery and tailored intelligence support, among others.

An explosion of data, he told the panel, “has driven the GEOINT discipline beyond the limits of human interpretation and explanation. By combining all the data now available to us with the use of algorithms, automated processing, machine-to-machine learning and artificial intelligence, we believe we can automate as much as 75 percent or more of the rote tasks we perform today.”

Getting to that point, Cardillo added, will require significant investments in IT architecture and research and development.

Also, he said, conservative estimates over the next 10 years predict that more than 9,000 commercial satellites will be launched, compared to fewer than 1,500 in the last 10 years.

Accordingly, he added, NGA and NRO will partner to engage with the most mature of the new commercial space providers via commercial GEOINT activity.

“Through it,” Cardillo said, “we will identify and evaluate emerging commercial GEOINT data and services against those needs that we capture and maintain.

Space Security

In his remarks to the panel, Hill said the Defense Department today considers space security “in an era when Russia and China present anti-access area-denial strategies intended to prevent or counter U.S. intervention in crises or conflicts.”

Diplomatic solutions remain the preferred option to settling national differences, he said, but U.S. space posture underwrites deterrence by enabling the military to globally project power, rapidly respond to crises, swiftly and precisely strike and simultaneously command forces in multiple theaters.

Potential adversaries understand the U.S. reliance on space systems and many perceive this as a vulnerability, Hill said, making the attack of U.S. military space systems “a most tempting choice.”

He added, “Disabusing them of such misguided notions is a strategic priority.”

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Planetary Resources Hires Lawyer Tue, 23 May 2017 13:11:40 +0000 REDMOND, Wa., May 22, 2017 (Planetary Resources PR) – Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, announced today that it has named Brian Israel as General Counsel. Mr. Israel will oversee the legal, regulatory, and compliance functions for the company, its parent, and Planetary Resources Luxembourg. The company’s vision is to expand humanity’s economic sphere of influence into the Solar System by providing resources for people and products in space, with a near-term goal of identification, extraction, and refinement of water from near-Earth asteroids.

Mr. Israel joins Planetary Resources from the United States Department of State, where he served in the Office of the Legal Adviser since 2009. For more than five years, Mr. Israel was the lead lawyer responsible interpreting and applying the United States’ international legal obligations to contemporary and contemplated commercial space activities. He led the U.S. Government’s approach to the international legal dimensions of space resource utilization at home and abroad, including as United States Representative to the Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space from 2012 to 2016. Beyond the space domain, Mr. Israel brings deep expertise in the legal dimensions of advanced technology development and regulation. He has published and lectured on public international law, space law, the law of the sea, environmental law, the Arctic, intellectual property law, and innovation policy in the United States, Canada, and Japan.

Chris Lewicki, President and CEO, Planetary Resources, Inc., said, “Brian’s extensive experience and global perspective are unique strategic assets as our operations become increasingly multinational. Our investors are multinational. We now have operations in Luxembourg. And our customer base will be global. Brian is a creative and strategic thinker, and he is uniquely placed to help Planetary Resources achieve its mission.”

Brian Israel said, “I’m thrilled to join this extraordinary team, which has “the right stuff” to make the audacious mission of Planetary Resources a reality. The idea of harnessing the resources of outer space predates spaceflight itself. But path-breaking innovation requires more than an idea.  It is about execution. This team knows how to execute.”

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OneWeb Moves Forward With Broadband Satellite Constellation Mon, 22 May 2017 14:13:52 +0000 OneWeb says it is on track with its broadband satellite constellation.

OneWeb told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its 800-plus-satellite constellation is on schedule and ready to fulfill the FCC’s goal of broadband coverage of all U.S. territory to reduce the digital divide.

For satellite broadband providers, Alaska appears to be the flavor of the month. In view to a competition for in-flight broadband service provision, in-flight-connectivity provider Gogo Inc. recently leased an aging SES-owned satellite and had it moved into a position for Alaskan and Hawaii coverage….

OneWeb, which for regulatory purposes is also known as WorldVu Satellites, said its final assembly line for the first 10 of its 880 satellites would be in operation at the Airbus Defence and Space plant in Toulouse, France, in June.

Airbus is a 50% shareholder of OneWeb Satellites, whose principal operations will be conducted in Exploration Park, Florida, where two production lines are being built.

The first 10 satellites will be used to validate OneWeb system performance. Full production-rate launches, aboard Europeanized Russian Soyuz rockets, is expected to start by the end of 2018, with each Soyuz carrying up to 36 OneWeb satellites, each expected to weigh about 150 kilograms.

Read the full story.


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Rocket Lab Postpones First Electron Launch Attempt Mon, 22 May 2017 14:04:36 +0000
First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab postponed the first launch attempt of its Electon booster on Monday due to high winds. company officials said.

The delay occurred on the first day of a planned 10-day launch window at the company’s base on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company plans to try again as early as Tuesday if conditions are acceptable.

The first Electron carries an inert payload. Rocket Lab plans three flight tests of the booster with inert payloads before launch satellites.

Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.


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Jain Optimistic About Flying to Moon on Rocket Lab’s Electron “or Some Other Rocket” Mon, 22 May 2017 13:56:01 +0000
Naveen Jain

Moon Express’s Naveen Jain is optimistic his company and the Rocket Lab will be ready to fly to the moon by the end of the year n an attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Moon Express is building a lander and hopper in an effort to win the $20 million first prize. Rocket Lab is hoping to launch the maiden flight of its Electron booster as early as Tuesday.

As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon….

Jain notes Moon Express—not Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Blue Origin—remains the only company to secure all the necessary permissions from the US government to launch beyond low-Earth orbit toward the Moon. And in January, his co-founder (and current CEO) Bob Richards announced the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.

Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.

“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”

Read the full story.

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This Week on The Space Show Mon, 22 May 2017 13:40:11 +0000
This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, May 22, 2017: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome JOSH GUILD of The Space Frontier Foundation to tell us about the upcoming June NewSpace Conference to be held in San Francisco, CA.

2. Tuesday, May 23 , 2017: 7-8:30 PM PDT, 10-11:30 PM EDT, 9-10:30 PM CDT: No show today as I am finally undergoing my long delayed dental surgery.

3. Wednesday, May 24, 2016: John Batchelor is on a fact finding working travel project. There will be no Hotel Mars program this week. .

4. Friday, May 26, 2016: 9:30-11AM PDT, 12:30-2 PM EDT, 11:30AM-1 PM CDT: We welcome back DR. SCOTT PACE for space policy updates and more.

5. Sunday, May 28, 2017: 12-1:30 PM DST (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): No show today due to the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.

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Cube Quest Challenge Team Spotlight: Ragnarok Industries Mon, 22 May 2017 07:44:01 +0000
Heimdallr Cubesat (Credit: Ragnarok Industries)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — Ragnarok Industries is busily working on its Cube Quest Challenge entry, a 6U smallsat named Heimdallr. The spacecraft will feature electric propulsion to reach lunar orbit, explains Luigi Balarinni, chief executive officer and co-founder of the firm.

A big plus in their design and building of Heimdallr is partnering with a diversity of space industry companies, furthering their objective of advancing CubeSat applications in the near future.

Heimdallr features automated command and control software to reduce the human resources required for mission operations of the craft. This includes automated download of telemetry data, secure uploading of commands, and various flight plans dependent on the mission.

Radiation protection

“It’s an exciting time,” Balarinni said, having formed the company at the start of 2015 to answer the call of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge. Heimdallr features a set of gimbaled deployable solar panels to maximize available spacecraft energy. That power level allows for use of electric ion propulsion onboard the small CubeSat.

Heimdallr is a three-axis stabilized CubeSat featuring cold gas propulsion for momentum dumping.

However, there is one essential factor that’s been taken on by the group: radiation protection of key spacecraft elements. “You don’t have the protection from low-Earth orbit, therefore you have to ensure the proper shielding,” Balarinni points out, be it from radiation, single event upsets and other destructive effects. “It is hard work and definitely exciting. There is no lack of motivation here,” he said.

Prize-winning attributes

Balarinni says he’s very pleased with the number of partnerships established with space-related groups to build the very-capable Heimdallr.

As blueprinted, the company’s Cube Quest entry is destined to spiral in toward the moon and then circularize itself into a lunar orbit. It would showcase several prize money-winning attributes – such as competing in the data packet challenge – but then will move out from lunar orbit.

“We want to park Heimdallr in a Moon-Earth L1 point, a halo orbit,” Balarinni said, a position in space useful to the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT). “We’re working with AMSAT so they can bounce their messages off of our spacecraft … the biggest party ever.”

Additionally, Balarinni said that tucking Heimdallr into a moon-Earth L1 point “would go a long way to see how long spacecraft parts last … along with a great chance for the AMSAT radio community to be able to make contacts.”


Ragnarok Industries is engaged in double-duty. That is, designing a Cube Quest competitor and also attempting to commercialize spacecraft know-how afterwards.

“We have to be prepared for not being selected,” Balarinni said, “so we’re pursuing a commercial venture at the same time, taking advantage of our platform for possible retooling. So that is our own internal motivation.”

In terms of commercializing their knowledge beyond Cube Quest, Balarinni and his team are looking into Earth-based polar broadband markets, from in-flight internet, supporting Arctic and Antarctic stations, as well as the needs of maritime oil, gas, and mining industries.

“It’s a perfect size market for us. We have a platform and that’s what we’re starting to seek investment for in the months ahead,” he said.

Business model

Balarinni feels that these are exciting times with so many startup companies using CubeSats.

“There is this party going on in low-Earth orbit,” he said, “and it’s becoming fairly competitive to actually pick a niche and go for it. That’s why we have chosen to go beyond low-Earth orbit and use a higher orbit. To do that you need to have radiation-hardened parts, and that’s one aspect of our business model.”

The future of CubeSats is bright indeed, Balarinni said. “I feel in the years to come we’ll see interplanetary CubeSats and a new standard for landers that everyone can follow.”

One such target may well be Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. To do that you would require a radiation-hardened CubeSat, Balarinni notes.

Today, a very healthy market exists for CubeSat components that work in low-Earth orbit, and also beyond. You have the chance to mass-produce CubeSat components to bring down the unit price and have high reliability, Balarinni said. “There’s something very beautiful about this moment.”

Giving back

Recently, Ragnarok has partnered with Emergent Space Technologies to offer mentors and materials to a group of aspiring, young satellite developers at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia. The educational mission gives students the opportunity to develop and fly a CubeSat mission. Their satellite, dubbed “TJ REVERB,” is on track to launch in late 2018. Commands will be uploaded from the high school classroom and data downloaded on subsequent passes using the amateur radio frequency band. Up to three radios will fly on the CubeSat to perform in-class experiments, led by high school instructor Michael Piccione.

More about Cube Quest

The Cube Quest competition offers a total of $5 million to teams that meet the challenge objectives of designing, building and delivering flight-qualified, small satellites capable of advanced operations near and beyond the moon. The competition is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by the Centennial Challenges Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information about the Cube Quest Challenge, visit:

For more information about Centennial Challenges, visit:

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