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PT Telkom collocates satellite with Intelsat while planning two HTS satellites

Space News - May 22, 2017 - 3:39pm

WASHINGTON and JAKARTA, Indonesia — In the midst of a continuing fleet expansion, Indonesia’s state-owned telecommunications company PT Telkom is collocating one of its satellites with an Intelsat satellite over the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking at the APSAT 2017 conference in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta on May 17, PT Telkom’s Chief Strategy Officer David Bangun said the company is in the early stages of developing two high throughput satellites (HTS) for its constellation, which currently consists of three satellites: Telkom-1, Telkom-2 and Telkom-3S.

Intelsat and PT Telkom, in a joint statement released May 21, said that PT Telkom has moved the 12-year old Telkom-2 C-band satellite to the same orbital slot as Intelsat-5, a 20-year-old C-band satellite at 157 degrees east. The companies said that the move “allows Telkom to efficiently manage its satellite fleet while expanding its use of Intelsat services to complement PT Telkom’s network.”

“Our collaboration with Telkom demonstrates the value we place on working with other satellite operators to optimize the potential of our services in the region,” Intelsat’s vice president of business development Jay Yass, said in a prepared statement. “As our Intelsat EpicNG high throughput satellites are introduced to the Asia region, with Intelsat 33e currently in service and Horizons 3e late next year, collaborations such as this are essential to bringing the best solutions to the region.”

The move signals a positioning by both operators to prepare new services in a region where HTS is exploding in popularity. Last week China Satcom and Indonesian operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara both announced plans for new high throughput satellites for the Asia-Pacific. Additionally, Paris-based Eutelsat has a high-throughput Ku-band payload on Eutelsat-172b, a triple-payload satellite that also carries traditional C- and Ku-band capacity, launching next week on an Arianespace Ariane 5.

Bangun said that PT Telkom expects all three of its satellites, including the 42-transponder Telkom-3S satellite launched in February, will be “fully occupied in a short time,” and that more satellites are on the drawing board.

“Telkom currently is planning to have at least two HTS satellites in near future,” he said, adding that both satellites are “still in early phase of planning.”

PT Telkom has one satellite under construction today with Space Systems Loral, designated Telkom-4, which will be for fixed satellite services.

Cell phone users specifically are driving the need for HTS capacity, Bangun said. PT Telkom has an estimated 170 million mobile subscribers that are increasingly seeking bandwidth-intensive services.

“Mobile services will be the most optimum solution to deliver broadband services in Indonesia, and backhaul solutions will be the ‘killer application’ for HTS satellites in Indonesia,” he said.

PT Telkom and Intelsat hinted at future collaborative plans by saying they “will also analyze the potential to expand services at 157° East.” This could take the form of a condosat arrangement, where the operators agree to put distinct payloads on a shared satellite platform in space. In February 2015, Intelsat and Azerbaijan’s national satellite operator Azercosmos ordered a condosat from Space Systems Loral to build Intelsat-38 and Azerspace-2 on the same spacecraft bus.

Intelsat also has an Asia-Pacific HTS satellite, Horizons 3e, that the company ordered from Boeing in November 2015. The satellite, to be operated by a joint venture with Japan-based Sky Perfect Jsat, is to complete Intelsat’s global coverage with its EpicNG-branded HTS capacity.

Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, told SpaceNews May 22 that PT Telkom has been a customer of Intelsat since the operator became a commercial entity in 2001, and was a signatory on the creation of Intelsat back in 1964. She said Intelsat 5, manufactured by Hughes and launched in 1997, is expected to continue operating in an inclined orbit until at least 2020. Intelsat has no intention of trying to own Telkom-2, she added.

Bangun estimated that PT Telkom’s current fleet serves less than 10 percent the actual demand for bandwidth in Indonesia. Better transmission technologies will cause today’s latent demand to “increase exponentially,” he said.

Costs for satellite infrastructure, including that needed for cellular backhaul, need to come down as well, he said. Bangun said PT Telkom views fiber as its priority, and conducts 90 percent of the cellular backhaul within Indonesia’s urban areas using terrestrial infrastructure. Installing base transceiver sites (BTS) needed for satellite backhaul costs 50 percent more than fiber, he estimated.

Bangun said Indonesia’s obsession with smartphones has created demand that is stable enough that PT Telkom can use it as a metric for future business plans. That includes trying to figure out a price point for direct-to-home broadband internet — a service commonly cited as having high potential for HTS, but with few successful examples beyond Hughes, ViaSat and Eutelsat.

“Indonesian people, they’re willing to pay for smartphones — that’s why smartphone penetration is like 60 percent in Indonesia,” he said. “They are willing to pay for smartphones, but for the recurring billing, they limit themselves to $5, or $10. So if we deliver gigabits to homes, could the business plan be feasible with $10?”


Media Invited to Demonstration of NASA UAS Traffic Management Technologies

NASA Breaking News - May 22, 2017 - 2:52pm
Media are invited to see the latest technologies NASA is working on as part of its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) project Thursday, May 25, at the Reno-Stead Airport in Reno, Nevada.

NASA TV Coverage Set for May 23 Space Station Contingency Spacewalk

NASA Breaking News - May 22, 2017 - 2:30pm
NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer are preparing for an unscheduled spacewalk outside the International Space Station Tuesday, May 23. Live coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

NASA to Discuss First Science Results from Juno Mission to Jupiter

NASA Breaking News - May 22, 2017 - 1:25pm
Scientists from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter will discuss their first in-depth science results in a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, May 25, when multiple papers with early findings will be published online by the journal Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

Delta 4 replacement ready by 2023, top general says

Space News - May 22, 2017 - 1:09pm

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force expects a replacement for the Delta 4 Heavy rocket will be ready by 2023, with one of several vehicles under development able to take its place, Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, told a House committee May 19.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, Raymond said that the Air Force expects to have uninterrupted access to heavy launch for national security missions.

Several companies have heavy-lift vehicles in development, including SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Glenn, that could replace the Delta 4 Heavy built by United Launch Alliance.

The Air Force has purchased launches on seven more Delta 4 Heavy rockets, Raymond said, though one launch will be a NASA mission. The final launch is scheduled for 2023.

“We’re comfortable that we will have a new capability online that will be able to support the requirements going forward,” Raymond said.

The Air Force also has three more Delta 4 Medium rockets left, with the last launch scheduled for 2019.

National Reconnaissance Office Director Betty Sapp told members of Congress that heavy launch is “essential to my mission” of launching spy satellites and other intelligence assets.

There is still time, Sapp said, to see how replacements develop before the U.S. needs to make a definitive decision on retiring the Delta 4.

“I believe we have time to see how the new programs mature before we cannot go back on the Delta 4 Heavy,” she said. “We’ve got it funded for launch through 2023, so we have some time to make the right decisions.”

Engine trouble

The Air Force is also looking for a replacement for ULA’s other rocket, the Atlas 5. The vehicle has been at the center of criticism on Capitol Hill because it uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine.

Purchases of RD-180 engines were one of the few exceptions granted when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia following that nation’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Ensuring that the Air Force had reliable access to space by using the RD-180 was considered the paramount need, but both the Air Force and ULA have been looking for a replacement, with plans to phase out use of the engine.

Raymond said that the Air Force is monitoring commercial development of launch systems, including reusable rockets, but that it does not change the service’s ultimate goals.

“Our strategy remains three things: assured access to space, competition, and to get off the RD-180 engine,” he said.

ULA is currently searching for an engine for its Vulcan rocket, which is intended to succeed the Atlas 5 and Delta 4. The company has said the leading candidate is the BE-4 liquid methane engine under development by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. That engine will also be used on Blue Origin’s New Glenn heavy launch vehicle.

However, the company reported that, on May 13, testing of the engine went awry and it lost a set of powerpack testing hardware.

Raymond said the incident is “regrettable, but isn’t uncommon in development efforts.”

“I think this adds credibility to our strategy to make sure there’s multiple engines being developed…I think we have visibility, pretty significant visibility, into all these processes, although it’s Blue Origin’s final ultimate decision” on when the rocket might be ready, he said.

The general added that when ULA makes a decision on what engine to use for its Vulcan rocket, “obviously the Air Force is a significant customer of that launch service.”


Weather delays first launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket by at least a day

Space News - May 22, 2017 - 11:44am

Weather has delayed the first launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket by at least a day.

The company said Sunday that high winds at its New Zealand launch site prevented the company from rolling the rocket out to the pad, pushing back the launch by a day to late Monday.

The company said its first launch, carrying on an inert payload, is scheduled for a window that runs through late next week.

Electron is a small rocket designed for launching satellites weighing up to 150 kilograms. [Stuff]

More News

Astronauts will perform an unscheduled spacewalk Tuesday to replace a faulty electronics box outside the ISS. NASA said Sunday that flight controllers approved plans for the spacewalk to replace the multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay box, which failed Saturday. The failed MDM is one of two fully redundant units that controls the operation of the station’s solar arrays and other hardware. The failure hasn’t affected station operations, but controllers decided to replace the MDM with a spare unit as soon as possible. Astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will replace the unit in a spacewalk scheduled to last two hours. [SpaceNews]

NASA is facing cuts across a wide range of programs in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal. That proposal is scheduled for release Tuesday, but a leaked document from early May, outlining the overall federal budget request, showed cuts in NASA science, exploration and space operations programs compared to what the agency received in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill signed into law early this month. The budget proposal offers $19.092 billion for NASA, a cut of more than $560 million from what Congress appropriated in 2017. [SpaceNews]

U.S. Air Force leadership believes that it should retain space operations as part of its mission. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said at a Senate hearing last week that he opposed ideas to create a “Space Corps” within the Air Force that some argue could be a first step towards an independent military branch. Goldfein said the idea “would actually move us backwards” because of the disruption that organizational change would cause. Goldfein also acknowledged the need to improve military space acquisition, an issue raised by the GAO in a new report. [SpaceNews]

An Air Force reorganization would make the head of Air Force Space Command a combat commander. In testimony last week, Gen. Jay Raymond, the current commander of Air Force Space Command, said the reorganization would make him the Joint Forces Space Component Commander. That move would give the head of Space Command warfighting powers, which that position currently lacks. Such a move could help streamline military space operations and provide a better link between requirements for space capabilities and their operation. [Breaking Defense]

Space Florida has been spared cuts in the latest state budget. Florida legislators approved a budget that provides Space Florida, the state’s space development agency, with $19.5 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the same amount as the agency received last year. Space Florida avoided cuts that other state economic development agencies received in the budget, in part because some legislators see the office as more of a transportation agency than an economic development one. [Florida Today]

Two maneuvering Russian satellites have resumed operations after being quiet for more than a year. The Cosmos 2491, 2499 and 2504 satellites attracted attention for performing in-space maneuvers after launches between 2013 and 2015, rendezvousing with the upper stage that launched them. After being idle for a year or more, Cosmos 2499 and 2504 started maneuvering again in recent weeks, with one of them passing close to debris from a Chinese satellite destroyed in a 2007 anti-satellite missile test. The maneuvers have raised alarms in the West that these may be tests of anti-satellite weapons, although others note that such satellites would have other applications as well. [The Daily Beast]

China’s first space laboratory module is scheduled to reenter as soon as October. The Tiangong-1 module, launched in 2011, hosted two crews of Chinese astronauts on Shenzhou missions in 2011 and 2013, but the spacecraft stopped functioning in March 2016. Chinese space agency officials say the spacecraft’s orbit is slowly decaying, and that Tiangong-1 will reenter some time between October 2017 and April 2018. Most of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere upon reentry. [gbtimes]

Jeff Bezos said he wants to build a base in the lunar polar regions as part of his long-term space aspirations. Bezos, speaking to a student audience at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Saturday, said a permanent human base at the poles is part of his vision for ultimately millions of people to live and work in space. That base would be supported by robotic landers, taking advantage of technology advances like machine learning to help build the base before humans arrive. Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, recently revealed plans for a lunar cargo delivery system called Blue Moon it seeks to develop in partnership with the government. [GeekWire]

Russian company RSC Energia has started work on a new medium-class rocket called Fenix. Yevgeny Mirkin, general design engineer at Energia, said initial design of the rocket has started, with a goal of starting test flights in 2022 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The rocket would be capable of placing 17 metric tons into low Earth orbit and 2.5 metric tons into geostationary orbit. [Interfax]

Astronomers are observing an unusual star whose brightness suddenly dimmed last week. The star, official known as KIC 8462852 but commonly called “Tabby’s star,” has a record of irregular changes in brightness, including a new decrease first spotted early Friday. Some have argued that the fluctuations in brightness are due to “alien megastructures” surrounding it, but other, more natural explanations of the phenomenon also exist, such as comet swarms or sunspot activity. [Space.com]

An Apollo 11 lunar sample bag that was the subject of a recent legal dispute will be auctioned this summer. Sotheby’s plans to auction the bag at its first space-themed auction in more than 20 years on July 20 in New York. The bag was mistakenly sold by federal marshals in 2015 to an Illinois woman, who sent the bag to NASA to confirm its authenticity. When NASA refused to return the bag, she sued, and a federal court ruled she was the rightful owner of the bag. [collectSPACE]


Weird energy beam seems to travel five times the speed of light

New Scientist:Space - May 22, 2017 - 9:30am
The galaxy M87 emits a jet of plasma that looks like it’s breaking the cosmic speed limit – here’s how it manages the trick

NASA to Discuss FY2018 Budget Proposal, Provide Virtual Tours of Centers

NASA Breaking News - May 22, 2017 - 9:12am
NASA will hold a series of events May 23, highlighting the agency’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, including a televised State of NASA address by acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and Facebook Live virtual tours of NASA’s 10 centers, where innovation is enabling exploration and discovery.

Astronauts to replace faulty electronics unit in unscheduled ISS spacewalk

Space News - May 22, 2017 - 5:52am

WASHINGTON — NASA astronauts on the International Space Station will carry out an unplanned spacewalk May 23 to replace an electronics box that failed over the weekend, the agency announced May 21.

Astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will perform the spacewalk to remove a data relay box known as a multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) on the station’s truss, which controls the operation of solar arrays and other hardware on the station’s exterior. The failed MDM, designed MDM-1, is one of two such fully-redundant units.

MDM-1 malfunctioned on the afternoon of May 20, NASA said, and ground controllers were unable to restore the unit. Although the other MDM is working normally, allowing the ISS to continue regular operations, NASA station managers approved plans for the “contingency” spacewalk May 21 to replace MDM-1 with a spare unit already on the station.

During the two-hour spacewalk, Whitson will replace the failed MDM unit while Fischer carries out an unrelated task to install wireless communications antennas on the Destiny module. That task was planned for a May 12 spacewalk but deferred when that EVA, which started late because of a problem with a water umbilical inside the station’s airlock, was cut short.

The MDM-1 unit that failed had been installed less than two months earlier during a March 30 spacewalk by Whitson and Shane Kimbrough. The cause of the failure is not known, NASA said.

This is not the first time astronauts have had to perform an unplanned spacewalk to replace a faulty MDM. In April 2014, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson performed a spacewalk to replace a similar unit that failed earlier that month. The two were able to successfully replace the unit in a spacewalk lasting a little more than 90 minutes.


The Outer Space Treaty and The Free Enterprise Act: Is international space law a help or a hindrance?

Space News - May 21, 2017 - 11:27am

On May 23, the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on how the Outer Space Treaty (OST) will impact the future of American commerce in space. This hearing follows the release of a draft House bill that addresses the regulation of private space activity titled the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (FEA) of 2017. These two events go hand in hand because Section 10 of the FEA requires the White House to issue a report within 180 days of enactment explaining:

  1. How the OST and other space treaties “impede… private sector investment.”
  2. The benefits and drawbacks of withdrawal from the treaties.
  3. Whether the U.S. should propose amendments to the OST.

Conspicuously absent is the following question: how does the OST benefit private investment? If Congress asks the White House to focus primarily on how the OST impedes private investment, the content of the report will be predetermined to focus on the flaws in the treaties without enumerating their many benefits. Such a report could set the stage for withdrawing from the treaties, which would be catastrophic for the future of private sector investment (and I am normally not a catastrophizer).

Could the OST be improved by amendment? Certainly. Much has been written about certain aspects of the treaties that no longer fit the modern realities of space commerce, such as not providing for the transfer of space object registrations, but the benefits of the OST far outweigh its flaws. After all, the U.S. was a primary drafter of the OST and the U.S. delegation was committed to providing for the encouragement and protection of private industry, despite the fact that the treaty was drafted when the current state of space commerce was a distant dream. It is because of the OST that U.S. companies can operate freely in a safe and orderly environment. This is the result of provisions in the treaty that preserve peace in space, recognize the legality of private activity in space, ensure the “free use” of outer space by countries and their nationals, prevent other countries from appropriating celestial bodies and require that nationals of other countries operate in “due regard” to the activities of U.S. companies.

Perhaps most importantly, in the current age of expanding private activity in space, Article VI of the OST preserves law and order in space by requiring countries to take steps to ensure that their nationals act in accordance with international law. Now that private operators outnumber government operators, Article VI has become critical to prevent a chaotic environment in space. U.S. companies do not want to operate in the Wild West. The criticism that Article VI requires burdensome regulation is a phantom. All that is needed to comply with Article VI is a process for the government to “authorize and continually supervise” private actors to ensure that they are not engaging in activity that violates international law (e.g. placing nuclear weapons in orbit or operating without “due regard” for the space activities of others.) The current procedures for launch and reentry licenses serve as a ready model.

Despite the many benefits of the space treaties, the tone of the Free Enterprise Act adopts a rather defensive tone toward international law that gives the impression that the treaty obligations are an enemy to private industry. For example, Section 80103(c) lists those international obligations to be considered when determining if a proposed mission complies with international law. However, it is an abbreviated list that omits some important obligations, among the most notable being the obligation to operate “with due regard” to the operations of others. Some might argue that only certain provisions of the treaties apply to private entities. Although there is something to this argument, it is a dangerous slippery slope. The legal reality is that if any private activity runs afoul of any obligations, these violations will be imputed to the country of nationality.

Also potentially problematic is the “presumption” (in the same section of the bill) that any certifications made by an operator regarding compliance with international law shall be deemed sufficient to satisfy those international obligations. This may set a harmful precedent regarding the level of government oversight required under Article VI. Are we comfortable with Russia and China making similar presumptions? The bill also allows for the presumption that as long as private entities observe “best practices… using reasonable commercial efforts,” their activity will be deemed to fulfill or international obligations. As an industry advisor, I see the reason and benefit of this provision – but the use of best practices to interpret treaty obligations may not sit well with the international community since it is not a recognized method of interpretation under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

We are all well aware of U.S. political realities. But we must also remember that we face certain international political realities. Space is a global commons that relies on international law in order to maintain its sustainability. The example set by U.S. legislation will shape the laws of other countries who have already begun to follow our lead in the regulation of private space activity. We must take care to maintain a clear tone of respect for international law in our statutes. If the U.S. is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as cherry-picking international obligations and interpreting away obligations by deferring to best industry practices, we should not be surprised if other countries once again follow our lead.

This editorial should not be taken as an indictment of the Free Enterprise Act. The draft bill includes many fine features and I believe the legislative process should go forward. However, during this process I urge Congress to consider how best to send the message to our international partners that the U.S. respects and values the benefits of international law.


Mark J. Sundahl is the Charles R. Emrick Jr.-Calfee, Halter & Griswold Professor of Law at Cleveland State University.


Here's what you need to know about the Electron rocket, which is set to launch from New Zealand

Planetary Resources - May 19, 2017 - 6:35pm
Rocket Lab's Electron, a light-lift launcher for small satellites, is ready to make its debut test flight from a peninsula in New Zealand.

Astronomers scramble as ‘alien megastructure’ star dims again

New Scientist:Space - May 19, 2017 - 2:16pm
Tabby’s star’s weird behaviour has been blamed on everything from asteroids to aliens. Now astronomers are racing to watch its dimming in action

2018 budget proposal to spread cuts across NASA programs

Space News - May 19, 2017 - 1:47pm

WASHINGTON — More than $560 million in budget cuts will be spread across many NASA programs, from science to human spaceflight, when the White House releases its complete fiscal year 2018 budget proposal next week.

The White House is expected to release its full 2018 budget proposal May 23, more than two months after issuing a “budget blueprint” that provided highlights of the proposal. Individual agencies, including NASA, will also provide greater details about the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

However, on May 18 the policy think tank Third Wave published a spreadsheet that it said it received from an anonymous source, dated May 8, that provided details about the spending proposal. That includes requested funding for NASA down to the account level, although not in greater detail.

The overall funding for NASA included in the spreadsheet is $19.092 billion, essentially identical to the $19.1 billion listed in the budget blueprint released in March. The amount for aeronautics, $624 million, also matches the amount listed in that blueprint.

The spreadsheet suggests that most major NASA accounts will see cuts compared to what Congress provided in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill enacted earlier this month, which gave NASA $19.653 billion overall. Science would receive a little more than $5.71 billion, $53 million less than what it received in 2017.

The document doesn’t specify how that science funding will be allocated among NASA’s four science divisions and the James Webb Space Telescope. However, the budget blueprint said that the administration would request $1.8 billion for Earth science, $121 million less than appropriated for 2017, and $1.9 billion for planetary science, $54 million more than the record funding level that division received in 2017.

Exploration, which includes the Space Launch System, Orion and related ground systems, as well as other research and development, would get $3.934 billion in the request, $390 million less than in 2017. The budget blueprint didn’t specify an overall spending level for Exploration, but did state SLS, Orion and ground systems would get $3.7 billion, more than $200 million less than in 2017.

Space Operations, which funds operations of the International Space Station, commercial cargo and crew transportation, and other spaceflight support activities, would receive $4.74 billion in the request, $210 million less than the request.

Other NASA accounts getting cuts compared to the omnibus include aeronautics, which received $660 million in 2017, and space technology, which would get a $7.9 million cut to $678.6 million in the 2018 request.

Some accounts that fund NASA support activities, by contrast, would get more money in the 2018 request. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, an agency support account, would see its budget increase in 2018 by more than $60 million to $2.83 billion. Construction would get a $135 million increase to $496 million, while the Office of Inspector General would get a $1.4 million increase to $39.3 million.

The leaked spreadsheet included $37.3 million for education, even though the budget blueprint stated that the administration would seek to close NASA’s Office of Education. The spreadsheet did not disclose how that money would be spent, but the amount could be allocated for science education activities that NASA bookkeeps in its science directorate.

When formally released, the full budget proposal will mark only the beginning of a long process where Congress drafts appropriations bills that may end up bearing only a faint resemblance to the original proposal. Key appropriators have already suggested they will use the budget proposal as a guide, but will not be bound by it.

“The budget is important. It’s a good starting point,” said Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, in a May 3 presentation to the Space Studies Board of the National Academies here. “If the funding is recommended in the president’s budget, it makes my job a lot easier.”

Culberson, though, said he would seek to increase funding for NASA, including the agency’s planetary science division. Despite the record funding for planetary science in the proposal, it specifically excludes a proposed Europa lander, a project that is of particular interest to Culberson.

“The appropriations bill is it,” he said. “What matters is the appropriations bill.”


Two NASA Astronauts Inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame

NASA Breaking News - May 19, 2017 - 1:45pm
Two veteran NASA astronauts, Ellen Ochoa and Michael Foale, joined the ranks of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Friday.

LIGO could detect gravitational waves’ permanent space-time warp

New Scientist:Space - May 19, 2017 - 11:33am
When gravitational waves permanently distort space-time, it causes a “memory” signal – which may help LIGO find some of the universe’s most exotic objects

All booked: Virgin Galactic says suborbital spaceflights are full until 2021

Space News - May 19, 2017 - 9:47am

Virgin Galactic says its suborbital spaceflights are booked until 2021.

Stephen Attenborough, commercial director of Virgin Galactic, said that anyone buying a ticket today for a SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceflight is unlikely to fly until 2021 because of the backlog of about 650 customers already holding tickets.

Attenborough said that estimate was based on starting commercial flights in 2018.

The company has been reticent to set schedules for beginning commercial service, although founder Sir Richard Branson said earlier this year he would be disappointed if regular suborbital flights were not underway by the end of next year. [The Australian]

More News

An SES communications satellite is in orbit after a successful launch Thursday. The Boeing-built SES-15 satellite separated from its Fregat upper stage more than five hours after launch Thursday morning on a Soyuz from French Guiana. The spacecraft is SES’ first all-electric satellite, decreasing the spacecraft’s mass to permit a launch on a Soyuz. The satellite has a mix of traditional and high-throughput Ku-band beams and a Wide Area Augmentation System payload for the FAA. [SpaceNews]

Chinese satellite operator China Satcom plans to support the country’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative with new services. The initiative seeks to enhance trade with improved infrastructure on routes linking China with Africa, Asia and Europe. China Satcom plans to increase its maritime and aviation communications services in support of that effort, citing as examples services it provides to Indonesia’s navy and police. [SpaceNews]

The cost of two test stands build for NASA’s SLS nearly doubled as the agency sought to accelerate their construction. A report this week by NASA’s Office of Inspector General found that the stands, designed for load testing of the rocket’s liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks, cost 87 percent more than originally planned. NASA paid a premium to build the stands in an effort to keep them on track to support a first SLS launch by the end of 2017. Ultimately, that accelerated schedule was not needed as the first SLS launch has now slipped to 2019. Design changes to the stands also caused their cost to increase. [SpaceNews]

DARPA may finally be close to awarding a contract for the XS-1 spaceplane program. A recent report indicated that DARPA is in the final stages of selecting a contractor for Phase 2 of the Experimental Spaceplane 1 program, which seeks to develop a reusable first stage for low-cost launches of medium-sized payloads. That award was expected near the end of last year but postponed for unspecified reasons. Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman each had Phase 1 contracts, but DARPA said that other companies were also eligible for the Phase 2 contract. [Space.com]

The Satellite Industry Association backs an effort by the FCC that would end “net neutrality.” SIA said it supported a decision by the FCC Thursday to advance a proposed rule that would no longer treat internet service providers as utilities. In a statement, SIA President Tom Stroup said the planned move will restore a “nurturing innovative environment” for satellite and other broadband providers. The decision has been criticized in other quarters for potentially making the internet less open. [SIA]

The Pentagon has named a new head of space policy. The Defense Department announced Thursdaythat Secretary of Defense James Mattis had selected Stephen L. Kitay to be deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Kitay, a former U.S. Air Force officer, was previously on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, serving as its national security space expert. [Defense Dept.]

Astronomers have discovered a moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the distant reaches of our solar system. The dwarf planet, 2007 OR10 and informally known as “Snow White,” is 1,530 kilometers in diameter and is in an elliptical orbit in the Kuiper Belt. Hubble observations of the dwarf planet revealed that it has a moon circling it, although astronomers said they aren’t able yet to calculate its orbit or determine the size of the moon. [Space.com]

An unnamed astronaut left NASA last year after admitting to faking taxi receipts. The NASA Office of the Inspector General found that the astronaut submitted more than $1,600 in fraudulent taxi receipts for rides that were in fact provided by friends. The matter was referred to a U.S. district attorney, who declined to prosecute because of the low dollar amount. The astronaut resigned from NASA in December, but the documents did not disclose the identify of the astronaut. [Gizmodo]

Saturn 5 engines salvaged from the ocean floor will go on display this weekend at a Seattle museum. The F-1 engine components from two Apollo missions were recovered in a 2013 expedition funded by Jeff Bezos and later restored. The Museum of Flight will display the recovered hardware along with an an intact model of the giant engine used on the Saturn 5’s first stage. The engines will be in a new exhibit with other Apollo-era artifacts. [GeekWire]


Air Force lays out its case for keeping space operations

Space News - May 19, 2017 - 8:53am

WASHINGTON – Separating space operations from the Air Force would hamper the service’s efforts to address threats in orbit, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said May 17.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Goldfein argued that setting up a separate “Space Corps” within the Air Force — similar to the Marine Corps within the Navy — would only cause confusion.

“I don’t support it at this time,” Goldfein told the senators. “Right now, as we make this transition from a benign to a warfighting environment…any move that actually ends up separating space as opposed to integrating space, I would argue is a move in the wrong direction.”

The Air Force has been facing questions on reorganizing military space operations from lawmakers, many of whom are weighing whether to eventually create a separate space force.

But Goldfein argued that it’s not the time to try to set up a new service.

“Right now, to get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down,” he said. “Whether there’s a time in our future where we want to take a look at this again, I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”

It’s a topic that will likely spring up again May 19, when Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, testifies before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), one of the leading advocates for creating a special force.

The Senate hearing came as the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog office, released a report detailing continuing concerns with of the Defense Department’s manages the acquisition of military space systems such as satellites.

“GAO has reported over the years that DoD’s culture has generally been resistant to changes in space acquisition approaches and that fragmented responsibilities have made it difficult to coordinate and deliver interdependent systems,” the report said.

Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO, told the committee that past attempts to fix space acquisitions haven’t been very successful.

“We didn’t make a particular recommendation because we think how it affects operations needs to be taken into account,” she said. “But I will say that the solutions tried to date that don’t separate space as people think it should be separated haven’t worked very well.”

Part of the reason it doesn’t work is that budgets for space systems often get sacrificed in favor of other military programs, Chaplain said.

“People in these prior studies and today believe that there needs to be some kind of segregation to protect the space budget, to leverage expertise from the workforce, and it’s to really clearly designate who’s in charge,” she said. “So if it’s not going to that, it needs to be some kind of solution that does those things.”

Air Force leadership doesn’t want to lose responsibility for space, and is creating a new three-star position – known as the A-11 – on the Air Staff that will oversee military space matters.

Goldfein and Chaplain both agreed, however, that streamlined acquisition is needed. The general said that he wants to see a single person be the ultimate authority in overseeing and executing space acquisitions and contracts, much in the way that contracting is handled now for more traditional purchases like aircraft.

Chaplain cautioned that in addition to streamlining authority, the Air Force — or Congress — is going to need to take a hard look at the way the contracts themselves are being executed.

“We’re hearing issues about systems engineering, contractor performance, lots of management and oversight issues that really seem to persist,” she said.

The GAO reported estimated that some of the service’s leading satellite programs are ballooning in cost from their original estimates.

The Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite constellation was originally projected at $6.9 billion, but is now closer to $15 billion, the report said. And the Air Force’s missile-warning constellation, the Space Based Infrared System, has grown from $5 billion to more than $19 billion.

The subcommittee session was also the first hearing for newly minted Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson since her confirmation May 8.

Wilson said that she has been impressed at the changes the Air Force has made to better address threats in space, but noted that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“There’s been a lot going on in the last 18 to 24 months to change the culture in the Air Force, to develop better training methods, develop new techniques for dominating in space, and the assumption that space will be a contested domain,” Wilson said, adding that it was a subject she was looking forward to getting involved with.


Orbital ATK discusses Antares rocket's future, confirms new NASA cargo mission

Planetary Resources - May 19, 2017 - 7:00am
Company officials say they have no plans to retire Antares, which has secured its first mission order under the second round of NASA's commercial cargo flights, known as CRS-2.

Report criticizes development of SLS test stands

Space News - May 19, 2017 - 6:32am

WASHINGTON — A rush to complete two test stands needed for development of the Space Launch System caused their cost to nearly double, even as the overall program suffered delays, according to a new report.

The May 17 report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the cost of the two test stands built at the Marshall Space Flight Center for testing SLS propellant tanks increased by more than 87 percent, to $76 million, as the agency overlooked potential long-term cost savings in a effort to expedite their construction.

NASA entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2013 to construct Test Stands 4693 and 4697 at Marshall, on the grounds of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal. The Corps of Engineers then awarded a contract to an Alabama construction company, Brasfield & Gorrie, to build the stands. The stands are large steel structures designed to perform load testing on the rocket’s liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks to simulate the conditions the tanks will experience during launch.

At the time of the contract award, NASA sought to have Test Stand 4693, for liquid hydrogen tank testing, done by May 2015 and Test Stand 4697, for liquid oxygen tank testing, by September 2015. NASA paid a $7.6 million premium for a compressed construction schedule in order to meet a planned December 2017 deadline for the first SLS launch.

The development schedule for SLS slipped, though, pushing back the first launch to November 2018 and, more recently, to some time in 2019. NASA was unable to recoup that premium because of the fixed-price nature of the contract.

The OIG report concluded that costs also increased because of changes in the design of the test stands. Those design changes were in large part caused when testing requirements for the tanks matured as the program advanced.

NASA had originally budgeted $30 million and $10.5 million for Test Stand 4693 and Test Stand 4697, respectively. The final costs for the two stands, OIG found, were $53.7 million and $22.3 million, with the construction completed in late 2016. The $76 million total cost represented an increase of 87.6 percent over the original budget.

“In short, rushing the decision regarding the test stands to support a December 2017 first flight raised the cost of constructing the stands by tens of millions of dollars,” the report concluded.

The report also criticized the decision to build the stands at Marshall without seriously considering alternative sites, notably the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The cost of building the liquid hydrogen tank stand at Stennis, Marshall officials said, was 23 percent more than the original cost of Test Stand 4693, but the OIG report noted that estimate was not originally documented and had to be recreated for the audit.

That analysis also did not take into account the lifecycle costs of the stands, in particular transportation costs. The tanks, built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, must be transported by barge to Marshall, a circuitous route that takes two weeks and costs $500,000. Transporting the tank to Stennis would take less than one week and cost $200,000.

“Without a thorough analysis of alternative construction sites, including complete life-cycle cost analysis to include operations and maintenance costs, as well as transportation of test articles through the expected useful life of the stands, it remains unclear whether NASA made the most cost effective decision for the Program and the Agency in the long run,” the report stated.


NASA Highlights Science on Next Resupply Mission to International Space Station

NASA Breaking News - May 18, 2017 - 5:37pm
NASA will host a media teleconference at 10 a.m. EDT Friday, May 26, to discuss select science investigations launching on the next SpaceX commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station.


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