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Rocket Lab selects Wallops for U.S. launch site

LC-2 groundbreaking

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — Small launch vehicle company Rocket Lab announced Oct. 17 that it will build its second launch pad, and first in the United States, at Wallops Island in Virginia.

The company, headquartered in the United States but with much of its operations in New Zealand, said it will build Launch Complex (LC) 2 at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility here. Construction of the pad is set to start almost immediately, with the company planning a first launch from the site in the third quarter of 2019.

Rocket Lab selected Wallops after what Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck called an “exhaustive nationwide search” for a launch site to complement its existing facility in New Zealand, known as LC-1. The company announced four finalists in July that included Wallops as well as Cape Canaveral in Florida, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska.

Wallops was the “clear winner” for several reasons, Beck said at a press conference here. “We’ve got a very aggressive time scale to build the pad, and Wallops had a lot of the team and infrastructure in place ready for us,” he said.

Wallops is also “relatively quiet” in terms of launch activity, he said, posing less of a challenge to meeting the goal of supporting as many as 12 launches a year of its Electron rocket. That factor helped rule out Cape Canaveral and its higher rate of launch activity. “The Cape is very, very busy,” he said. “That was one of the key critical factors for choosing Wallops.”

LC-2 will be built just south and east of Pad 0-A at Wallops, used by Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, which performs about two launches a year on average carrying Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Both Rocket Lab and Wallops officials anticipate few conflicts between Antares and Electron missions, given that the Electron won’t spend much time on the pad before launch and Northrop is also working to reduce the amount of on-pad time for future Antares missions.

Beck
Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, said he envisions LC-2 as a “boutique” launch site for customers seeking to launch to specific orbits, or prefer to launch from the U.S. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

Rocket Lab plans to spend more than $20 million on LC-2, which will be based on New Zealand’s LC-1 with only minor changes. “There are some small modifications that we intend to make, but you won’t see something that looks vastly different,” Beck said.

“Philosophically, we won’t be changing much between the two pads,” said Shaun D’Mello, Rocket Lab’s vice president of launch. The company will incorporate some lessons learned, he said, from their existing site in terms of operations and maintenance. “Largely we’ll operate the same.”

Beck said that LC-2 will be used primarily for customers, like U.S. government agencies, who prefer to launch from within the United States. “LC-1 will remain our high-frequency pad,” he said. “For LC-2, think of it more as a boutique pad for customers who want to remain in the United States and if they have a certain requirement around inclination.” LC-2 can support launches to inclinations between 38 and 60 degrees.

The Virginia state government will also be supporting the construction of LC-2. Dale Nash, executive director of Virginia Space, the agency that runs the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport, said the exact amount was proprietary, but the figure includes a $5 million grant from the state government that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam formally approved Oct. 16.

“There are economic incentives to get the pad built out” as well as a launch vehicle integration facility, Nash said. He also cited “in-kind contributions” in the form of the local workforce, which has experience building launch facilities. “It’s not all money, but money is a key part of it.”

Some of the specific details on how the facility will built are still being worked out, he said. “I won’t say we have figured it all out, but we have a very good idea of where we’re headed,” he said. “We know we can go do it.”

The new launch site will initially support 30 jobs, Rocket Lab said, growing to as many as 100 once the site’s launch rate ramps up towards its peak of one a month. That is welcomed by local and state officials, who have worked for years increase launch activity, and the economic benefits that come with it, at Wallops through efforts like building Pad 0-A for Antares. “This is a real shot in the arm for the Eastern Shore,” said Bill Wrobel, director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

“This new business highlights Wallops’ reputation as a leader in the space industry and will lead to its continued growth and success,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a statement. He, like retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski, has backed the launch site, many of whose workers live in neighboring Maryland. “I will keep working to support this facility and ensure strong federal investment in its missions.”

The announcement of LC-2 comes less than a week after Rocket Lab formally opened a new production facility in Auckland, New Zealand. That facility, opened Oct. 12 at an event that included New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and actor William Shatner from Star Trek. The new factory, which consolidates several smaller facilities, will be able to produce one Electron rocket a week, the company said.

Rocket Lab is also gearing up to resume launches after an extended hiatus caused by issues with a motor controller in the rocket’s first stage engines. Beck said the next Electron launch remains on schedule for November, to be followed by another in December carrying a number of smallsats as part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program.

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Stratolaunch founder Paul Allen dies

Allen SS1

WASHINGTON — Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft who backed the winning entry in a suborbital spaceflight competition and later funded development of a massive air-launch system, passed away Oct. 15.

In a statement, Vulcan Inc., Allen’s holding company, said that Allen, 65, passed away Oct. 15 in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Allen announced two weeks earlier that he had been diagnosed with the cancer again after being treated for it in 2009.

Allen is best known for founding, with Bill Gates, software giant Microsoft. He left the company in the 1980s after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, and turned to various other business pursuits, including ownership of several professional sports teams. At the time of his death his estimated net worth was $20 billion.

Among those pursuits was an interest in spaceflight. “I wanted to do something in rocketry that no one had done before,” he recalled in his 2011 biography Idea Man. That led to meetings in the late 1990s with famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan, who was pursuing ideas for suborbital vehicles to compete for the $10 million X Prize. The two reached an agreement in 2000 to develop what became known as SpaceShipOne.

Allen ultimately spent $28 million to fund SpaceShipOne, which won the renamed Ansari X Prize in October 2004 after performing two suborbital spaceflights less than a week apart. Allen said in his book that his investment in the project earned a “net positive return” for him through the prize purse, which was split evenly with Rutan’s Scaled Composites; licensing fees for SpaceShipOne technology from Virgin Galactic; and a tax writeoff for donating the vehicle to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where it is on display in a gallery alongside Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” aircraft and the Bell X-1 used by Chuck Yeager to break the sound barrier.

Allen returned to the space business in 2011 when he announced he was funding development of a new venture, Stratolaunch Systems, that would develop an air-launch system on a scale never before attempted. That concept involved the development of an aircraft with a wingspan longer than any other in the world that would be used as a platform for launching rockets.

“Stratolaunch will build an air launch system that will give us orbital access to space with greater safety, flexibility and cost effectiveness,” he said at a December 2011 press conference to announce the venture. He said then he planned to spend about ten times as much on Stratolaunch as did on SpaceShipOne.

At the time of that announcement, Allen said he expected the plane to start flying in 2015, with a first launch from it in 2016. Development, though, has taken longer than expected, while the company has changed direction several times on the rocket that would be used to launch it.

The plane is just now approaching its first flight, having performed its latest taxi test last week, reaching speeds of about 130 kilometers per hour. That test met all objectives, Jean Floyd, president and CEO of Stratolaunch, tweeted Oct. 11.

The company has relied on Allen’s wealth to fund its development, and the long-term view that Allen has taken. “His vision is to change the human condition,” Floyd said of Allen during a May 2017 panel discussion. “He’s not out to make a buck. He’s not out to get a return on investment.”

“I’m not saying he wants to lose money,” he added. “But Paul Allen has never talked to me about, ‘How much money am I going to make if I pull this off?’”

Vulcan, in its statement about Allen’s death, said that plans had been developed for continuing his various ventures after his passing, but did not disclose details.

“Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family,” said Bill Hilf, chief executive of Vulcan, in the statement. “There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.”

“Incredibly sad news. We deeply respect and admire Mr. Allen’s vision,” Floyd tweeted in response to the news of Allen’s death. “His legacy will be honored.”

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Soyuz launch to ISS aborted after booster failure; crew safe

Soyuz launch

Updated at 11:05 a.m. Eastern.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — An American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut are reported to be in good condition after a problem with their Soyuz rocket minutes after liftoff Oct. 11 forced them to abort their mission to the International Space Station and make an an emergency landing in Kazakhstan.

A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40 a.m. Eastern. The launch appeared to be normal until around first stage separation, when the crew reported a “failure” with the booster and feeling weightlessness.

NASA Television reported that the spacecraft was in a ballistic descent after apparently separating from the Soyuz rocket, making a return to Earth rather than heading to the International Space Station. Search and rescue crews arrived at landing site 20 kilometers east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan. They reported that the two people onboard were in “good condition” and were extracted from the capsule about 90 minutes after liftoff.

In a brief presentation at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight here Oct. 11, Mark Vande Hei, a NASA astronaut who returned from five and a half months on the ISS in late February, said the anomaly took place 119 seconds after liftoff, a second after first stage separation. He added the cause the the anomaly is still unknown.

The abort took place several seconds after the launch abort tower on top of rocket was jettisoned, leaving a shroud surrounding the Soyuz that has abort thrusters of its own. “Somewhere around 119 seconds, those thrusters on the shroud took the crew safely away from whatever the problem was,” he said.

Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague pose in front of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft in September. Credit: Victor Zelentsov/NASA
Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague pose in front of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft in September. Credit: Victor Zelentsov/NASA

The Soyuz was carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague, making his first spaceflight, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, making his second. The two were to arrive at the ISS about six hours after liftoff for a half-year stay.

“NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully,” the agency said in a statement issued about two hours after the launch. “NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

Roscosmos announced that a “state commission” has been formed to investigate the anomaly. No media updates are expected on that effort for the rest of the day.

A Soyuz failure could jeopardize continued operation of the International Space Station. Soyuz is currently the only means for crews to travel to and from the station, with commercial crew vehicles by Boeing and SpaceX not expected to be ready to enter service before the middle of 2019. The current Soyuz on the ISS, Soyuz MS-09, launched in June and has an orbital lifetime of about 200 days.

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Air Force awards launch vehicle development contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, ULA

SpaceX, ULA, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems were among the contenders for U.S. Air Force Launch Service Agreement contracts. Credit: SpaceNews graphic

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday it is awarding three contracts collectively worth about $2 billion to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance to develop launch system prototypes.

The funding is for the development of competing launch system prototypes geared toward launching national security payloads. Each company will receive an initial award of $181 million.

The Launch Service Agreements are for the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Northrop Grumman’s Omega and ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets. The awards are part of cost-sharing arrangements — known as Other Transaction Agreements — that the Air Force is signing with the three companies to ensure it has multiple competitors. The Air Force has committed a total of $500 million in OTA funds for Blue Origin, $792 million for Northrop Grumman and $967 million for ULA. SpaceX previously received an LSA award but did not make the cut this time.

The Launch Service Agreements will “facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two national security space launch service providers for future procurements,” the Air Force said in a news release.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

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ULA selects Blue Origin to provide Vulcan main engine

BE-4 hotfire

Updated 8:40 p.m. Eastern.

WASHINGTON — United Launch Alliance announced Sept. 27 that it has selected Blue Origin to provide the main engine for its next-generation Vulcan launch vehicle, a decision long expected by the industry.

In a statement, ULA said it will use a pair of Blue Origin BE-4 engines, using liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the first stage of its Vulcan rocket, expected to make a first launch in mid-2020. The company did not disclose the terms of its agreement with Blue Origin.

“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of ULA, in a statement.

“Today is a great day for the Blue Origin team. We are very honored that United Launch Alliance has selected Blue Origin’s LOX/LNG BE-4 as the engine that will power the first stage of their Vulcan rocket,” said Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, in a company statement. “We can’t thank Tory Bruno and the entire United Launch Alliance team enough for entrusting our engine to power Vulcan.”

The announcement comes four years after the companies first announced their partnership to develop the BE-4. While ULA also considered the AR1 engine being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne, Bruno long made clear that BE-4 was the front-runner to power Vulcan.

In an April 2017 interview, Bruno said he was waiting for Blue Origin to complete a set of tests of the BE-4 before making a decision. “The economic factors are largely in place now and the thing that is outstanding is the technical risk,” he said at the time.

Blue Origin first hotfired the BE-4 in an October 2017 test, and since then has gradually ramped up the test campaign.

“It’s performing quite well,” Smith said of BE-4 on a Sept. 11 panel at the World Satellite Business Week in Paris. “We’ve gone through several hundred seconds of firing, including an over 200-second firing of that engine, so we’re feeling very good about its progress and what we’re going to be able to deliver to the market, as well as for our own consumption.”

However, ULA remained tight-lipped about when it would pick an engine, with Bruno saying only that a decision would come “soon” or, more recently, “very soon.”

Blue Origin joins an industry team that includes Aerojet, who will provide the RL10 engine for the rocket’s upper stage, Northrop Grumman for solid-fuel strap-on boosters, L-3 Avionics Systems for the rocket’s avionics and Ruag for the rocket’s payload fairing.

“ULA has chosen the best systems available to create the Vulcan Centaur,” Bruno said in the statement. “These engines and components will ensure ULA continues to lead the way in space exploration, maintain our record of success and remain America’s launch vehicle for our nation’s most vital missions.”

Aerojet officials have played down the AR1 competition more recently, particularly after renegotiating an agreement with the Air Force that slows down engine development. The company now says the AR1 could serve as a main engine for future medium-class launch vehicles, although no such vehicles have yet been identified.

“A medium-class launch vehicle powered by a single AR1 is ideally suited to become a new workhorse rocket for the nation,” Aerojet spokesman Steve Warren said Sept. 24. “AR1 is the ideal engine for many possible solutions; it brings the right thrust level, size and performance to a wide variety of launch vehicles.”

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SpaceX signs up Japanese billionaire for circumlunar BFR flight

SpaceX BFR moon

ORLANDO — SpaceX announced Sept. 17 that a Japanese billionaire will be paying an undisclosed but significant sum to buy a flight of the company’s next-generation rocket for a flight around the moon carrying a group of artists.

In an announcement at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk announced the first private customer for its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) system will be Yusaku Maezawa, a 42-year-old former musician who founded Zozotown, a Japanese online fashion retail site.

In the proposed mission, scheduled for 2023, a BFR will launch and fly around the moon before returning to Earth, a flight lasting four to five days. On board the vehicle will be Maezawa as well as six to eight artists he will select through a process yet to be determined.

“I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself,” he said. “I choose to go to the moon with artists. I choose to invite artists from around the world on my journey.”

The artists that fly on the “#dearMoon” mission will be asked to create works of art after the mission inspired by the flight. “I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind, for children of the next generation,” he said. Maezawa has been active in the art community for some time, including establishing the Contemporary Art Foundation in 2012 to support young artists.

Yusaku Maezawa
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa speaks at the Sept. 17 SpaceX event about his plans to fly artists around the moon on a BFR mission. Credit: SpaceX webcast

Neither Maezawa nor Musk would disclose the price of the flight, but Musk said that Maezawa — who had been one of the two customers for SpaceX’s earlier plans for a circumlunar flight on a Dragon announced nearly 18 months ago, but since shelved — had already made a down payment.

“It will have a material effect on paying for the cost of the development of BFR,” Musk said of the mission’s price. “It’s a non-trivial amount. It has a material impact on the BFR program. It makes a difference.”

Maezawa has an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes. Musk said the estimated cost of the overall BFR development was about $5 billion. “I don’t think it’s more than 10 [billion dollars], and I don’t think it’s less than two” billion dollars, he said.

Musk also used the announcement to announce some changes to the BFR design, focused on the upper stage, or spaceship, portion. The interior cabin volume has been increased to at least 1,000 cubic meters, and up to 1,100. The vehicle also features three larger fins in the aft section, with landing legs integrated into them, and a pair of forward fins than can move.

Besides the changed fins, with improve the aerodynamic control of the vehicle when entering an atmosphere, the updated spaceship now has seven Raptor engines identical to the ones on the booster stage. “In order to minimize the development risk and cost, we decided to ‘commonize’ the engine between the booster and ship,” Musk said, adding that Raptor engines that are optimized for vacuum conditions could be added back in later.

Musk indicated the changes announced at this event should be among the last major changes in a design that has evolved significantly since being unveiled at the International Astronautical Congress nearly two years ago. “I feel like this is the final iteration in terms of broad architectural decisions” for BFR, he said, noting the changes compared to the previous version make this approach “slightly riskier” technically but the “right decision overall.”

BFR spaceship
An illustration of some of the changes to the BFR design Musk discussed at the Sept. 17 event. Credit: SpaceX webcast

An initial series of “hopper” test flights of the BFR spaceship are still planned to take place next year at SpaceX’s South Texas launch site under development. That would be followed by high-altitude, high-velocity flights in 2020, along with tests of the booster stage. “If things go well, we could be doing the first orbital flights in about two to three years,” he said, with “many” such test flights planned with crews before humans fly on the vehicle.

He offered a cautionary note about that schedule, though. “We’re definitely not sure” about the 2023 schedule for the circumlunar mission, he said. “You have to set some kind of date that’s the things-go-right date. Of course, we have reality, and things do not go right in reality.”

“It’s not 100 percent certain that we succeed in getting this to flight,” he said of BFR. “But we’re going to do everything humanly possible to bring it to flight as fast as we can and as safely as we can.”

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Viasat books ULA Atlas 5 for a ViaSat-3 satellite launch

Atlas 5 rocket. Credit: ULA

PARIS — United Launch Alliance beat out SpaceX and Arianespace to win a launch contract for an upcoming Viasat satellite.

The deal, announced Sept. 10, is ULA’s first commercial contract since taking full responsibility for sales and marketing of the Atlas 5 from Lockheed Martin in January.

ULA will launch one of the three ViaSat-3 satellites that Carlsbad, California-based Viasat has under development2. Viasat has not decided which of the three satellites will fly on Atlas 5 but said the launch will occur between 2020 and 2022.

Dave Ryan, Viasat’s president of space systems, told SpaceNews that the company was won over by ULA’s schedule reliability and the Atlas 5 rocket’s 78 consecutive successful missions.

In a statement, ULA CEO Tory Bruno echoed those points.

“ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle is the most reliable launch vehicle in the world and we could not be more pleased that Viasat, a leading satellite broadband innovator, has recognized the value the Atlas V can offer,” he said.

Viasat has shown less patience with launch delays than other satellite operators, having switched its ViaSat-2 satellite from SpaceX to Arianespace when it became clear that Falcon Heavy would not be able to launch the satellite in 2016. ViaSat-2 launched on an Ariane 5 in June 2017, allowing Viasat to continue adding satellite broadband subscribers in the United States where its ViaSat-1 satellite was already maxed out, and to add more business elsewhere.

Ryan said ULA’s launch price, generally not the company’s strength, was also a significant factor in the award, though he declined to give specifics. The dearth of new geostationary satellite orders is being felt by launch providers, he said, making for more favorable negotiating terms for satellite operators.

“The marketplace right now helped us reach a mutually agreeable price,” he said.

Ryan said SpaceX and Arianespace were the closest contenders for the mission.

ULA will use its most powerful Atlas 5, the 551 variant (equipped with a 5-meter payload fairing and five strap-on boosters) to lift the heavyweight ViaSat-3 satellite.

Ryan said the Atlas 551 will also cut the orbit raising time for the ViaSat-3 satellite, which uses xenon-electric propulsion, by at least half, meaning the satellite would reach the geostationary arc some 36,000 kilometers up in three months or less.

Ryan said Viasat is not done signing launch contracts.

“For the diversity of our mission we continue to be in talks with Ariane[space] and with SpaceX,” he said.

Viasat has ambitions to be a global internet service provider, covering the planet with three high-throughput ViaSat-3 satellites each capable of a terabit or more of total capacity.

Viasat plans to launch the first ViaSat-3 satellite in 2020 and the third by 2022, Ryan said. The company has procured two ViaSat-3s, the first for the Americas and the second for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, from Boeing. A manufacturer selection for the last ViaSat-3, designated for the Asia-Pacific, is expected by the end of the year.

Viasat previously signed a launch agreement with Arianespace for a ViaSat-3 satellite on an Ariane 5 rocket. One more ViaSat-3 satellite awaits a launch provider, regardless of order.

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China just set new national launch record while putting up two more Beidou navigation satellites

A Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang carrying the 35th and 36th Beidou satellites (Credit: CALT)

HELSINKI — China’s launch of a pair of Beidou navigation satellites late Friday saw the country set a new annual launch record as its space activities ramp up.

A Long March 3B with a Yuanzheng-1 upper stage lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 7:52 p.m. Eastern Friday (11:52 UTC) sending two Beidou satellites directly into medium Earth orbits at around 22,000 kilometers altitude.

Success of the launch was confirmed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for the space program, around four hours after launch, following direct insertion of the satellites into preset orbits.

The launch was consistent with airspace closure notices issued days earlier which signaled impending activity. A post on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo suggests that partial booster or first stage wreckage had been discovered downrange in Guangxi province, to the southeast of Xichang.

The satellites are the 35th and 36th orbited for the Beidou system, China’s answer to the U.S. GPS precision timing and navigation system, following the first launch in 2000. The pair were developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China is seeking to complete the system of 35 active satellites by 2020 to provide global GNSS coverage, with 27 satellites in medium Earth orbits, five in geostationary orbit and three more in inclined geosynchronous orbits.

Along with civilian uses such as navigation and positioning, Beidou will also provide weapons targeting, guidance and other services for the People’s Liberation Army, removing previous Chinese military reliance on GPS.

New annual launch record

Friday’s launch was China’s 23rd of 2018, surpassing the national record 22 set during 2016. CASC is aiming to carry out around 35 launches in total this year, indicating a large jump in activity. Emerging commercial companies Landspace, OneSpace and Expace expected to further contribute to Chinese launches this year.

“[T]he U.S. government launches far fewer satellites than China does but U.S. military and intelligence satellites are far more capable than what China is putting up.”

The increased launch cadence underlines China’s intent to pursue a full range of space capabilities and technologies, but also indicates that the country has a long way to go to catch up with other powers.

“Launch rate is also not a very useful way to measure space power,” says Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank focused on space.

“The Soviets had a very high launch rate during the Cold War in part because they didn’t have the advanced imaging satellites the U.S. had that could send back photos electronically. They still had to launch film-based satellites and thus had to launch them more often. What matters a lot more is what those launches are putting into orbit.”

“For example, the U.S. government launches far fewer satellites than China does but U.S. military and intelligence satellites are far more capable than what China is putting up. And China’s launch rate is in part due to the fact that it is still building out the satellite constellations and capabilities that the U.S. already has,” Weeden says, also noting that China is still far below the launch rates set by the U.S. and USSR during the Cold War.

Along with the Beidou system, China is still building its civilian Earth observation system (Gaofen) and military counterpart (Yaogan), as well as weather (Fengyun) and ocean observation (Haiyang) satellite constellations among others. Each of these has or will see a launch in 2018.

In December, China will attempt the first ever soft-landing on the far side of the moon with the Chang’e-4 lunar lander and rover, following launch of a requisite relay satellite in May, in a repurposing of backup spacecraft to the 2013 Chang’e-3 lander and rover.

More significant is the return to flight of the Long March 5, the country’s heavy-lift rocket which failed during its second flight in July 2017 and brought a three-month cessation of launches.

The return to flight, which will use redesigned first-stage engines, is expected late this year, carrying a large, experimental high-throughput communications satellite, Shijian-20, to geostationary orbit.

China’s major space plans, including launch of space station modules, testing a new generation of crewed spacecraft and lunar exploration ambitions including a sample return, hinge on a successful flight of the third Long March 5.

Specially designed cargo ships, Yuanwang 21 and 22, will need to leave port on the Yangtze River in the coming weeks to collect the Long March 5 rocket components from Tianjin, north China, for transport to Hainan Island in the south for launch from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in November or December.

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Vice President Pence announces first steps towards creating a new military branch for space

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 11.16.47 AM

WASHINGTON — The debate is over. The United States will have a Space Force as a separate branch of the military.

In a joint appearance at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence laid out the Trump administration’s plan to create a U.S. Space Force. It was only seven weeks ago that President Trump directed DoD to begin the process.

The president has made it a priority to “restore America’s proud history of leadership in space,” Pence said. “Space is essential to the nation’s security and prosperity.”

The Defense Department has to “prepare for the next battlefield,” said Pence. “The time has come to establish the United States Space Force. It’s not enough to have an American presence in space, we must have dominance.”

Pence argued that the United States did not start this arms race. “Our adversaries already have transformed space into a war fighting domain and the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”

Pence acknowledged that creating a new branch “is not simple process.”

The vice president came to the Pentagon to release a report that Congress ordered in last year’s defense policy bill laying out options to create a separate service for space.  The report was to be released last week by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan but the White House asked for last minute revisions. Pence has been the administration’s point man for space issues and the White House decided he should be the administration official rolling out the DoD report.

The report says the “Department of Defense will marshal space resources into a Space Force. The Space Force will protect our economy through deterrence of malicious activities, ensure our space systems meet national security requirements, and provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces.”

The DoD report dated August 9 is titled “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense.” It leaves no doubt that the Pentagon is on board with the Space Force plan despite earlier reservations. It notes that “presidential leadership and congressional support have set the environment for dramatic improvement of our national space capabilities. The president has articulated a compelling vision for a Space Force that protects the U.S. economy and way of life.”

The report lays out four steps that it will take to start the reorganization the military with a goal of creating a fully independent Space Force within a few years, depending on how quickly Congress moves to pass legislation. Things could get contentious on Capitol Hill as the Space Force issue has taken a more partisan tone. Although Democrats have supported the idea in the past, some may withdraw support depending on the outcome of the mid-term election in November.

Without any new legislation and using existing authorities, DoD will establish several of the component parts of the Space Force. The second phase requires Congress to combine these components into the sixth branch of the armed forces.

The Pentagon immediately will take four actions:

Establish a Space Development Agency to develop and field “space capabilities at speed and scale.” Pence said this is needed to expedite innovation and lean out red tape.The Air Force has already begun to transform its Space and Missile Systems Center but DoD will “accelerate and extend this transformation to all services by creating a joint Space Development Agency.”
Develop a Space Operations Force to provide expertise to combatant commanders and the Space Development Agency, and surge expertise in time of crisis.
Create the governance and support functions of the Space Force. Many of these items will require changes to U.S. law. The Department will build a legislative proposal for congressional consideration as a part of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget cycle. Pence said the administration will create a single civilian position reporting to the secretary of defense to oversee the growth and expansion of the new branch. Initially an assistant secretary of defense for space, this position will be “key to the critical transition to a Secretary of the Space Force in the years ahead,” said Pence.
Stand up a U.S. Space Command, led by a four star general or flag officer, to lead the use of space assets. U.S. Space Command will be responsible for directing the employment of the Space Force. This also will require Congress to authorize a four-star general unless DoD moved to eliminate one of the existing four-star commands.

Congress’ most ardent proponents of a separate service for space commended Pence’s remarks. In a joint statement, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), respectively chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces said, “We have been warning for years of the need to protect our space assets and to develop more capable space systems. We are glad that the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength. We particularly appreciate Deputy Secretary Shanahan’s leadership on these issues and look forward to the establishment of a much-needed independent Space Force.”

SpaceNews.com

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

LeoLabs raises $13 million in Series A funding

SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley space mapping startup, announced July 26 it raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by WERU Investment of Tokyo and Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s early-stage investment group.

LeoLabs tracks spacecraft and debris in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. With the new Series A funding, LeoLabs plans to expand its radar network outside the United States and enhance its software platform, which offers applications for companies and organizations interested in spacecraft safety and space situational awareness, Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“We provide subscription services for low Earth orbit mapping and space situational awareness to satellite operators, the insurance industry and government agencies in the U.S. and globally,” Ceperley said.

Because of that global focus, Ceperley said he was gratified that LeoLabs’ latest investment round was led by investors with extensive contacts in Japan and Europe, two of the world’s space powers.

LeoLabs is not yet disclosing the location of its additional radars. However, the company plans to operate six radars around the world “within a couple of years” to track everything two centimeters or larger, approximately 250,000 objects, Ceperley said.

Once all six radars are operating, LeoLabs will give customers “many looks per day” at objects in low Earth orbit, which will be particularly important when a rocket launches or a satellite malfunctions, Ceperley said.

LeoLabs now employs 15 people. The company plans to expand its team to 25 in the next six month and anticipates further growth in 2019.

Low Earth orbit is expected to become increasingly crowded in the next decade as companies and government agencies send up constellations of Earth observation and communications satellites.

“We are excited about LeoLabs’ vision and the progress they’ve made on both the radar network and the Space Situational Awareness platform,” Julien Etaix, investment partner at Airbus Ventures of Menlo Park, California, said in the announcement. “As new mega-constellations come online in 2019 and new generations of operational and AI-based tools are required, LeoLabs is well-positioned as the logical foundation to serve all these activities.”

Tadashi Takiguchi, WERU Investment president and chief executive, said in the announcement, “LeoLabs’ impressive platform vision and deep radar expertise are perfectly timed to address the space debris problem in LEO. There is a universal need for more data among the global space community, and we believe LeoLabs will play a pivotal role in preserving LEO for future generations.”

Original Link

JWST suffers another launch delay, breaches cost cap

NASA will seek congressional reauthorization of the James Webb Space Telescope after an independent review found it would not be ready for launch until late March 2021 and break an $8 billion cost cap by 10 percent. Credit: NASA artist’s concept

RENTON, Wash. — NASA announced yet another launch delay for the James Webb Space Telescope June 27, pushing the flagship observatory’s launch to no earlier than late March 2021 while breaking a cost cap set by Congress.

NASA said it was now aiming for a launch of the telescope on March 30, 2021, nearly a year later than the May 2020 date that the agency announced three months earlier. That date came after a delay announced last September that moved the mission’s launch from October 2018 to the spring of 2019.

NASA also announced a new development cost estimate of $8.8 billion, which is 10 percent above the $8 billion cost cap established by Congress during a “re-plan” of the mission several years ago. The overall lifecycle cost of the mission, which includes operations after launch for at least five years, is $9.66 billion.

The new development cost breaches the cost cap, which will require Congress to formally reauthorize the mission. NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a media teleconference that the agency had filed a final breach report with Congress earlier this week because of both the cost and schedule slip and would seek formal reauthorization as part of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process.

“I think it’s too early to really give an exact sense of what’s happening there,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, of congressional reaction to the latest delay. He said his meetings gave the impression that Congress thought the science of JWST was still compelling, but it was premature to further assess the mood on Capitol Hill.

Jurczyk said NASA would need $837 million in additional funding in the “outyears” beyond 2019 compared to the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request published in February. The agency is currently working on its fiscal year 2020 proposal, he said, but didn’t indicate how much additional funding he expected NASA would need in 2020 versus later years.

The revised schedule and cost came after the completion of an independent review board that NASA chartered in March. That report offered about 30 recommendations that NASA had accepted to revise the development of JWST and its oversight of work at prime contractor Northrop Grumman.

“It was our assessment that there was still too much optimism built into the schedule,” said the board’s chair, Tom Young, even after the previous slip to May 2020. “We implemented in our view a more realistic assessment as to the time it would take to do these various events.”

Another factor was a problem discovered during an acoustics test at the end of April that caused fasteners in the spacecraft’s sunshield to come loose. That has caused a delay “something in the neighborhood of” six months, he said, to study the problem and retrieve fasteners that came loose inside the spacecraft.

The two-and-a-half-year delay in the JWST has five root causes, Young said, including human errors, embedded problems, lack of experience in new technologies like the sunshield, excessive optimism and systems complexity.

One such example of human error was damage to spacecraft valves when workers used the wrong solvent to clean them, having failed to check with the vendor. Such human errors, he said, accounted for 18 months of schedule delay and $600 million in additional costs.

Maintaining the new schedule requires implementing measures to minimize human errors and to identify other embedded problems with the spacecraft, according to Young. “If the recommendations on human errors and the recommendations on embedded problems are rigorously implemented, which I expect they will be, then I think we have a very high probability” of preventing problems that would have a significant schedule impact, he said.

Young, though, said that there was no reason to reconsider flying the mission at all. “JWST should continue because of the compelling science and because of JWST’s national importance,” he said.

Original Link

Eutelsat says it’s weighing a bid for Inmarsat

by

Inmarsat HQInmarsat’s London headquarters. Credit: Inmarsat

WASHINGTON — Paris-based satellite fleet operator Eutelsat confirmed June 25 that it is considering making an offer to aquire Inmarsat.

Eutelsat’s disclosure comes less than three weeks after London-based Inmarsat rejected an unsolicited acquisition offer from EchoStar. On June 8, Inmarsat said EchoStar’s offer, which neither company quantified, “very significantly undervalued Inmarsat and its standalone prospects.”

“Eutelsat Communications S.A. (“Eutelsat”) notes the recent speculation and confirms that it is currently evaluating a possible offer for Inmarsat,” Eutelsat said in statement. “There can be no certainty any offer will be made, nor as to the terms of any offer.”

Eutelsat said it is required by law to announce by July 23 whether it intends to make an offer for Inmarsat. 

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Original Link

Trump: ‘We are going to have the Space Force’

President Trump and Vice President Pence kick off the third meeting of the National Space Council June 18. Credit: YouTube

Trump can order the Pentagon to create a Space Force but only Congress can make it happen.

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday threw a wrench into the Pentagon’s carefully laid out plans to analyze how best to reorganize the military’s space forces. In remarks kicking off a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump pointedly directed the Pentagon to create a Space Force as a “separate but equal” branch of the U.S. military.

“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something,” Trump said. “I’m hereby directing the department of Defense and the Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement.”

Addressing Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump said, “If you would carry that assignment out, I would be greatly honored.”

According to sources, Trump’s remarks were not off-the-cuff. He had planned to make this announcement weeks ago, and Pentagon officials had been advised the president would be directing the creation of a Space Force at the June 18 National Space Council meeting. Trump mentioned his desire to have a Space Force at four different events in recent months, and the feedback he received was mostly positive, which motivated him to get the process started sooner rather than later.

So what comes next? Congress has to rewrite Title 10 of the United States Code that outlines the roles and missions of the armed forces. “The president proposes, but Congress disposes,” pointed out Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Loverro is an adviser to congressional committees and has been a proponent of a separate military service for space.

“Only Congress can organize the military,” Loverro told SpaceNews.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 1947 created the Air Force. The Air Force today oversees about 90 percent of the military’s space funding, programs and personnel. Conceivably the 2019 NDAA that is now going through the legislative cycle could create the Space Force, Loverro said, although Congress would have to give the Defense Department at least one or two years to execute such a large reorganization.

“General Dunford can do a lot in preparation for it,” he said. “But at the end of the day it requires Congress to create a new service.”

According to a defense official, “The Joint Staff will work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, other DoD stakeholders and the Congress to implement the President’s guidance.”

At the White House on Monday, Trump talked about the Space Force in the context of his broader concerns about the United States’ dominance in space being challenged by China and Russia.

Although he believes the military today is dominant in space, he wants more, Trump told Dunford: “Congratulations on your tremendous success but we’re going to have far more success.”

Creating a Space Force and promoting space exploration by NASA and the private sector will be “important for the nation’s psyche,” he said. “It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily. … We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’re going to be the leader by far.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement that the president wants the Pentagon to immediately begin the process to organize a Space Force. “The president’s National Strategy for Space calls for American leadership, preeminence, and freedom of action in space, and he sees a separate service focused on space as a critical piece of that end state,” said Shah. “The National Space Council and other White House offices will work closely with the Department of Defense on successful implementation of the president’s direction.”

The president’s directive sets the stage for a contentious debate as the House and Senate prepare to hash out a final version of the 2019 NDAA. The House almost certainly will be enthused by the presidential push for a Space Force. In the past two years it has led efforts to create a Space Corps, but the legislation was opposed by the Senate and by the Pentagon.

“Last year out of a lot of frustration and a commitment to do better in space, we set up a separate Space Corps,” Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry told reporters last week. The committee feels strongly that the U.S. military has to be better prepared and equipped to dominate in space, Thornberry said. “As we get all these briefings about what adversaries are doing, our dependence on space, it’s clear that we have to do better,” he added. “Organizational changes don’t fix all the problems. But on the other hand they can sometimes help make sure space gets the kind of priority it should have, like cyber, as a domain of warfare.”

A tweet by Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat that is closely involved in space issues, suggested the president should not yet assume the Space Force is a done deal. “The president told a U.S. general to create a new Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, which generals tell me they don’t want,” Nelson tweeted on Monday. “Thankfully the president can’t do without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important issues at stake.”

Original Link

Acquisition of Orbital ATK approved, company renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems

Orbital ATK developed the OmegA rocket to compete for national security launches. Credit: Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK will become Northrop Grumman’s fourth business sector.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday announced it has cleared Northrop Grumman’s $7.8 billion purchase of defense and space contractor Orbital ATK.

Orbital ATK will become Northrop Grumman’s fourth business sector, named Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. The other three are Aerospace Systems, Mission Systems and Technology Services. With the addition, Northrop Grumman’s sales for 2018 should reach $30 billion. Blake Larson will serve as corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems,

As a condition for the approval of the merger, the company will have to supply solid rocket motors “on a non-discriminatory basis under specified circumstances,” the FTC ruled.

Ensuring competition in the solid rocket motors industry is a key issue for the Defense Department because only two manufacturers remain in the business, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne. The Air Force plans to acquire a new strategic intercontinental ballistic missile, the so-called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, with Northrop Grumman and Boeing competing for the award. The intent was for both Orbital ATK and Aerojet to supply both prime contractors. The FTC decision requires Northrop Grumman to separate its solid rocket motors business with a firewall so it can continue to support Boeing.

It will be up to the Defense Department to ensure compliance with the firewall mandate.

Northrop Grumman  announced the $9.2 billion deal on September 18. To buy Orbital ATK, it paid $7.8 billion in cash and assumed $1.4 billion in debt.

Executives from both firms have pushed back on the idea  that the combination reduces competition in the defense and space sectors. “Our two companies represent a very complementary fit,” Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush told analysts. “We have very little overlap.”

Orbital ATK CEO David Thompson said last fall that the deal will give the company greater access to “technical and financial resources than we currently possess.”

The merger is coming to fruition as both companies move to increase their NASA and military space business. Orbital ATK in April unveiled a new intermediate to heavy lift rocket that was designed deliberately to compete for national security launches. Northrop Grumman recently secured a sole-source Air Force contract to develop next-generation missile-warning satellites.

Original Link

Air Force awards contracts to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman for future missile-warning satellite constellation

Space Based Infrared System satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Air Force will use “rapid procurement authorities” in the next-generation OPIR program and is targeting the first launch in 2023.

WASHINGTON — The Air Force has selected two contractors to begin work on a new missile-warning constellation.

The Air Force on Friday announced it will award two sole-source contracts to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for the next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) program. Lockheed Martin will develop the geosynchronous orbit satellites and Northrop Grumman will work on the polar system.

The GEO contract will be sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin Space to “define requirements, create the initial design and identify and procure flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit,” said an Air Force news release. The second contract will be sole-sourced to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems to define polar system requirements. Lockheed also will be responsible to conduct a payload competition.

The next-generation OPIR will succeed the current Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force wants improved missile warning capabilities that are more survivable against emerging threats. The plan is to launch a new system by 2023.

The Air Force will use “rapid procurement authorities” in this program and is targeting the first next-gen OPIR launch in 2023. “This establishes an aggressive goal of cutting four years off the current procurement process and supports the service’s commitment to field new capabilities at the speed of relevance,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement. “As we develop these new systems, speed matters. The next generation missile warning satellite will be a pacesetter.”

Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics said: “This is an important system for the nation, and to ‘go for the gold’ by targeting five years instead of nine years allows us to pick up the pace to defend the nation.”

The Air Force is the lead agency for procuring next-gen OPIR satellites. The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the acquisition program office.

The precise value of the contracts was not immediately available. According to sources, the next-gen OPIR system would include a minimum of three GEO and two polar satellites.

Original Link

Blue Origin switches engines for New Glenn second stage

Blue Origin’s BE-3 throttles during acceptance testing. Credit: Blue Origin

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin quietly changed the design of its New Glenn rocket around the beginning of the year in order to hold to a 2020 first launch and increase the range of orbital missions the rocket can complete.

Although the company’s website still shows New Glenn with a second stage powered by a reignitable version of the BE-4 it is developing to power the main stage of both New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, that configuration is now out of date.

A Blue Origin executive told SpaceNews the company is shelving development of a vacuum-optimized version of BE-4 and will instead use vacuum-optimized versions of flight-proven BE-3 engines for New Glenn’s second stage and optional third stage.

“We’ve already flown BE-3s, and we were already in the development program for BE-3U as the third stage for New Glenn,” said Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience. “It made a lot of sense for us to switch to an architecture where we get there faster for first flight.”

The BE-3U is the upper stage variant of the liquid hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine that has powered Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard spacecraft on seven suborbital test flights since its 2015 debut.

Mowry said switching to the BE-3U for New Glenn’s second stage will allow Blue Origin to conduct the rocket’s first launch in the fourth quarter of 2020. He declined to say how much time the engine change saves compared to the original configuration.

Blue Origin is developing two versions of New Glenn: a two-stage version designed to launch a wide range of satellites and a three-stage version for more demanding launches such as deep space missions.

Before making the change, Blue Origin intended to power the second stage of both versions with a single BE-4U engine. Now the company plans to forgo BE-4U development and rely instead on a pair of BE-3U engines to power the New Glenn second stage.

BE-4 enginesA group of BE-4 engines being assembled at Blue Origin’s Kent, Washington, facility. Credit: Blue Origin

The design change, which Mowry said was made a few months ago, means Blue Origin only needs two types of engines for New Glenn instead of three.

Mowry said New Glenn will need a longer second stage to accommodate the dual engine configuration.

Blue Origin declined to give the expected lift capability of the revised New Glenn configurations. Mowry said the liquid hydrogen-fueled BE-3 has a higher specific impulse, making it more efficient than the BE-4, which runs on methane and liquid oxygen. The BE-3 can produce 110,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared to the BE-4’s 550,000 pounds of thrust.

Blue Origin is already gaining early success in the commercial satellite launch sector, having secured eight missions with satellite operators around the world. But another motivation for tweaking New Glenn’s design is to reach tricky orbits for national security customers.

Blue Origin is lining up New Glenn to compete with United Launch Alliance and SpaceX in launching U.S. military satellites by giving the rocket enough muscle to reach every orbit specified in the Launch Service Agreement (LSA) solicitation the U.S. Air Force issued last fall. The solicitation — which has also drawn interest from Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne — specifies nine wide-ranging “reference orbits” the proposed launchers must be able to reach in order to qualify for Air Force funding.

The Air Force plans to help fund development of at least three launch system prototypes. Awards are expected in July.  

“If you look at LSA and all those mission profiles, we can serve all of those with a single version of New Glenn with this two-stage architecture,” Mowry said.

Blue Origin’s pursuit of defense business positions the company as a future competitor to ULA, who Blue Origin would also like to supply with BE-4 engines to for its next-generation Vulcan launch vehicle. ULA is still deciding between Blue Origin’s BE-4 and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 for Vulcan’s first stage.

Blue Origin's website still indicated as of late March that New Glenn's second stage would be powered by a BE-4U engine. A company executive, however, said Blue switched to BE-3U around the first of the year. Credit: Blue OriginBlue Origin’s website still indicated as of late March that New Glenn’s second stage would be powered by a BE-4U engine. A company executive, however, said Blue switched to BE-3U around the first of the year. Credit: Blue Origin

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NASA delays JWST launch to 2020

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, seen here during earlier testing, will now launch around May 2020 and is expected to breach an $8 billion cost cap that will trigger congressional action. Credit: NASA/Desiree Stover

Updated 6:20 p.m. Eastern with comment from Rep. Smith.

WASHINGTON — NASA announced March 27 that the launch of its next flagship astronomy spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be delayed an additional year and that the mission is likely to overrun its $8 billion cost cap.

The agency said that the mission, whose launch had already slipped from October 2018 to May-June 2019 because of technical problems, will now launch “approximately” in May 2020. A formal launch date will come this summer after the completion of additional reviews, including one by a new independent review board.

“With all the flight hardware 100 percent complete, we’re approaching the finish line for launch readiness. However, it looks like we have a ways to go before we cross that finish line,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, in a teleconference with reporters that itself experienced an interruption due to a glitch.

During the previous delay, announced in September 2017, NASA officials said that issues with the spacecraft bus and its sunshield led to the slip. This new delay is caused by a combination of new issues as well as a better understanding of the severity of those previous problems.

Among the problems described by Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator in NASA’s science mission directorate, include contamination of values in thrusters on the spacecraft bus, a problem identified last summer. “We didn’t know what that impact would be at the time” of the previous delay, he said, adding that the valves have since been refurbished and reinstalled.

Another issue has been problems with the deployment of the sunshield, a five-layer membrane the size of a tennis court designed to keep the telescope cold while in space. Deploying and then stowing the sunshield took about twice as long as original expected, with two more “deploy and stow” operations yet to take place.

During those tests, tensioning problems with the cables created what Zurbuchen called a “snagging hazard” that resulted in several small tears in all five layers of the sunshield membrane. Andrucyk said they’re making modifications such as the installation of Kapton springs to ensure the cables remain tensioned and “doghouse” mechanical fixtures that constrain any slack the cables might still develop.

Overall integration and testing of the telescope has also taken far longer than expected, even for those components not suffering technical issues. “We were rather optimistic in how we projected an [integration and testing] schedule,” said Andrucyk. “We’ve added some realism to that.”

NASA officials said on the call they would have a more refined estimate of the launch schedule for JWST in June, after additional reviews. NASA is also establishing an Independent Review Board that will be led by former NASA center director and aerospace executive Tom Young, who has served on many similar reviews of agency programs in the past.

NASA held off on estimating any cost increase for the mission, but in the announcement made it clear that it “may exceed” the $8 billion cost cap established by Congress in a 2011 replan of the mission, when cost overruns and delays threatened the mission with cancellation. The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, concluded any significant additional delay would cause a cost-cap breach.

“We have briefed the congressional staff about the likelihood of passing this breach mark, and informed them that the observatory is complete,” NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said. “It’s just a matter of putting the two halves together and getting the testing done of the total observatory.”

Under provisions of recent appropriations bills, including a fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill signed into law March 23, any overrun beyond the $8 billion cap is treated as the equivalent of a 30 percent overrun under federal law. That requires Congress to formally reauthorize the mission after receiving reports from NASA on breach and its corrective actions. If Congress does not authorize the mission 18 months after receiving those reports, NASA would not be allowed to spend any more money on it other than termination costs.

One key House member sharply criticized NASA for this latest slip. “Today’s announcement that the James Webb Space Telescope launch will slip again and likely go over the $8 billion development cost cap is disappointing and unacceptable,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, in a statement to SpaceNews. “These continued delays and cost overruns undermine confidence in NASA and its prime contractor, Northrop Grumman.”

“The James Webb Space Telescope is a crucial project and an investment in our future. I expect it to be completed within the cap and launched as close to on schedule as possible so we can look forward to the incredible discoveries it will bring,” Smith said in the statement, but did not explain how the mission could remain within that cost cap given those delays.

Scientists were also surprised and disappointed with the news of the lengthy delay. “It’s very unpleasant,” said Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona, co-chair of the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board, which was meeting here when the delay was announced. “This is a much longer delay than any of us have anticipated, and there will obviously be various consequences.”

In the media call, NASA said that even as the studies into JWST delays continues, it is taking steps to improve the management of the mission. That includes additional staff devoted to mission oversight at NASA Headquarters, and placing project managers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on site at contractor Northrop Grumman’s California facility. Management of JWST at Northrop Grumman will now directly report to the company’s president.

“We’re very confident that with these enhancements, we’ll get to a place that will allow us to have a higher confidence level that the telescope functions as expected before it travels to French Guiana” for launch on an Ariane 5, Andrucyk said.

The delay and likely cost overrun for JWST will have implications that go beyond the completion and launch of the space telescope. Zurbuchen acknowledged that it created perception issues for future large space observatories, like the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which itself is facing cancellation in the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request.

He noted that JWST is far more technically complex that WFIRST, which uses an optical system donated by the National Reconnaissance Office and without major deployable systems like the sunshield. “We’re not going to be in a situation that we are with Webb, in which there’s 10 miracles required,” he said.

The delay in JWST’s launch will also delay the science it will produce. Zurbuchen said that a call for proposals for the first cycle of observations, which were due next month in anticipation of a launch next year, will be postponed, but did not immediately provide a new date. The Space Telescope Science Institute later announced the deadline would be pushed back to no earlier than Feb. 1, 2019.

The delay could also affect the next astrophysics decadal survey, the report prepared by the astronomy community once per decade to determine priorities for space and ground-based observatories. Work on the new decadal was set to start ramping up this year in order to be complete by late 2020, a date that assumed that early JWST science would be complete and could influence the results.

“The question we’re going to discuss with the community overall is when the right time is to do the decadal survey,” Zurbuchen said. He planned to start discussions later in the day at the National Academies with astronomy committees meeting for Space Science Week there. “That discussion requires more than just NASA’s opinion.”

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Defense official: Trump is serious about creating a space force

President Trump signs an executive order. Credit: White House

Rep. Mike Rogers: “I am so excited to have the support of President Trump as we work towards this goal” of creating a space force.

WASHINGTON — After President Trump told Marines in California that he believed the U.S. military should have a space force, there was confusion. Was he serious? Was it an off-the-cuff riff? And why would he endorse an idea adamantly opposed by his own Defense Department?

The president apparently was not joking.

“He is very interested in ensuring that the department is best organized and equipped to achieve our vital missions in space,” Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told lawmakers on Thursday.

Rapuano testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces on the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for national security space rograms.

Also at the witness table were Gen. John ‘Jay’ Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, and Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who has led a congressional push to create a space corps, was visibly giddy. “I am so excited to have the support of President Trump as we work towards this goal and look forward to making it a reality in the near future,” he said.

Then Rogers pressed Rapuano to explain how the Pentagon plans to “implement the president’s direction.”

Rapuano said a reorganization of the military’s space component is being studied, as required by legislation passed last year. He said Trump would support any option that provides an adequate solution to the problem. “The president is very focused on outcomes,” he said. “He has prioritized space. He recognized the threats that have evolved, and the pace at which they evolve. He’s very interested in exploring any options that can provide enhanced capabilities.”

A review of how space forces might be organized is being led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. “The assessment of the space corps is one of those options that is getting close attention, among others,” said Rapuano. Shanahan will submit recommendation to lawmakers in August.

Rogers suggested that Trump’s endorsement of a space force essentially validates what his committee has been trying to do. “This hearing could not have come at a better time,” he said. “The Air Force has a lot of challenges in dealing with national security space.”

The United States faces “strategic competitors” in space, said Rogers. “Like they say in Alabama: If you can’t roll with the big dogs you should stay on the front porch.”

Rogers approved of the Air Force’s actions to increase spending on space systems and to start transitioning legacy satellites to more resilient constellations. “However, I still have concerns about the Air Force’s ability to move quickly and get the space segment, ground segment, and terminals all delivered on time and on schedule. I also remain concerned about the prioritization of space programs across the DoD and within the Air Force.”

But he complained that the Air Force’s wish list of “unfunded priorities” includes more than $350 million in space programs. “That’s really my biggest frustration. We’ve heard Air Force leaders talk about the increasing threats we face in space and declare that space is a priority mission. Yet, when the rubber meets the road, we see space programs given a backseat behind other Air Force programs. I didn’t see a lot of air dominance programs on that unfunded list.”

Given the president’s remarks on Tuesday, he said, “I anticipate that the department will accelerate its plans to embrace the formation of an independent space force.”

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper, of Tennessee, has been in lockstep with Rogers on this issue. He has made a point in the past that the space corps enjoys bipartisan support. “Note the excellent attendance by our Democratic colleagues,” he said at the hearing.

Most of the members, however, decided to save their questions for a classified session after the public hearing.

Raymond defended the Air Force’s efforts to put an “increased focus on space superiority.” He said the budget funded new capabilities, training and testing. “We still have the best space capabilities in the world,” Raymond said. “We have competitors that are moving very quick and we have to pick up the pace to stay ahead of that threat.” He noted the Air Force increased space funding by $7 billion over the next five years.

Rogers asked Raymond to submit a report explaining whether he has the resources he needs.

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SpaceX successfully launches Falcon Heavy

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy lifts off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on its inaugural flight Feb. 6. Credit: SpaceNews / Jeff Foust

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon Heavy successfully launched on its inaugural flight here Feb. 6, placing a demonstration payload into orbit and boosting the company’s interplanetary ambitions.

The Falcon Heavy lifted off at 3:45 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A here, after more than two hours of delays due to high upper-level winds. The two side boosters landed at pads designated Landing Zone 1 and 2 at the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The center core landed on a drone ship downrange, but the status of that booster was not immediately known.

The second stage entered orbit as planned eight and a half minutes after liftoff. A final burn, scheduled for about six hours later, will place the payload, a modified Tesla Roadster electric sports car, into a heliocentric orbit between the orbits of the Earth and Mars.

Two of Falcon Heavy's three core stages make a synchronized landing. The third core stage was programmed to land on a droneship at sea. Credit: SpaceX via Twitter.Two of Falcon Heavy’s three core stages make a synchronized landing. The third core stage was programmed to land on a droneship at sea. Credit: SpaceX via Twitter.

The launch is a long time in coming for SpaceX. At an April 2011 press conference, Musk said the vehicle would be ready for a first launch in 2013. Development difficulties, as well as higher priority given to the company’s Falcon 9 vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, delayed the vehicle’s first flight by several years.

During those delays, the launch market has evolved. Improvements in the performance of the Falcon 9 now allow it to launch large commercial communications that would have previously required the Falcon Heavy. Demand for such satellites has also dropped in recent years, based on declining numbers of orders of such satellites, as commercial operators weigh the effect proposed satellite constellations, as well as smaller satellites, have on their plans.

One potential market SpaceX may be targeting for Falcon Heavy is the launch of large national security payloads. The six-hour coast of the second stage after orbit insertion will simulate a mission to insert a payload directly into geostationary orbit, Musk said in a teleconference with reporters Feb. 5. Such trajectories are used for some Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office payloads.

Falcon Heavy climbs to orbit during its Feb. 6 debut. Credit: Craig Vander Galien for SpaceNewsFalcon Heavy climbs to orbit during its Feb. 6 debut. Credit: Craig Vander Galien for SpaceNews

Falcon Heavy is designed to place up to 64 metric tons into low Earth orbit and 26.7 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit. Those figures, Musk said, assume using booster core based on the upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9, whose first flight is later this year. This demonstration launch used older versions of the booster core with somewhat less performance.

The payload for this demonstration flight is Musk’s own red Tesla Roadster, an unconventional choice that has attracted attention and some criticism. A mannequin wearing a spacesuit like that SpaceX has designed for its commercial crew program is sitting in the driver’s seat of the car.

The car should be in its heliocentric orbit for several hundred million years, Musk estimated, making multiple close passes to Mars. The car is equipped with three cameras, in addition to a large number of sensors on the upper stage. “The most fun still will be the three cameras that are mounted in the roadster,” he said Feb. 5. “They really should provide some epic views if they work and everything goes well.”

Musk, in comments before the launch, said the company was not focused on using Falcon Heavy for crewed missions, including sending a Crew Dragon carrying two people around the moon, a mission the company announced less than a year ago, as the company focuses instead on development of the next-generation, and much larger, BFR reusable launch vehicle. However, Musk said the company could revisit that decision should Falcon Heavy suffer delays.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Shanahan to take over duties of principal space adviser

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. (DoD photo)

Shanahan has issued new “Guidance for Increasing Lethality and Warfighting Readiness in Space.”

WASHINGTON — Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will be taking on the duties of space adviser that previously resided with the secretary of the Air Force, according to a Jan. 17 memorandum sent to Defense Department military and civilian leaders.

In the memo, titled “Guidance for Increasing Lethality and Warfighting Readiness in Space,” Shanahan lists a number of changes that will be made to the management and organization of the national security space enterprise.

The most important shift is Shanahan assuming the oversight of the military space portfolio that previously resided with the secretary of the Air Force. Shanahan’s memo was written in accordance with Section 1601 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.

In a related action also aimed at complying with NDAA provisions, the Air Force moved to establish a three-star vice commander of Air Force Space Command resident in the National Capital Region.

These are the “first steps to implementing and embracing congressional direction on changes to the space enterprise,” said space industry consultant Mike Tierney, of Jacques & Associates, who reviewed the memo on Thursday.

The memo makes it clear that the Air Force is not losing any of its Title 10 authorities. Title 10 of the U.S. Code provides the legal basis for the roles, missions and organization of each of the military services. “The department of the Air Force will continue to be principally responsible for organizing, training, equipping and presenting ready Air Force space forces to combatant commanders.”

The memo directs immediate implementation of the following changes:

The position and office of the Principal DoD Space Advisor are terminated and the duties responsibilities, personnel and resources of that office will be transferred to Shanahan on an interim basis. Current PDSA Director Dr. John Stopher will lead the staff and report directly to Shanahan.

The commander of Air Force Space Command will serve a term of at least six years and serve as a Joint Functional Component Commander under the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Air Force Space Command will consult with the DoD chief information officer to “evaluate, develop, and make recommendations on the procurement of commercial satellite communications services and provide any recommendations to the Deputy Secretary of Defense by August 1, 2018.”

The position of deputy chief of staff for space operations (A-11) will be terminated and the Air Force is directed to take steps to reorganize its headquarters’ space function. As mandated by the NDAA, Shanahan disestablishes the Defense Space Council, designates the “Operationally Responsive Space” office as the “Space Rapid Capabilities Office,” and directs the Air Force to ensure that the office focuses on rapid acquisitions.

The National Space Defense Center will be transitioned from an experiment to a functioning command center in support of joint and interagency space capabilities.

The Commander of U.S. Strategic Command will submit a “joint warfighting concept of operations” to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chief of staff of the Air Force will be responsible for developing joint space requirements. And the secretary of the Air Force is directed to begin a comprehensive review of Air Force acquisition organization and authorities regarding space.

Also in accordance with section 1601 of the NDAA, Shanahan will engage a federally funded think tank not affiliated with the Air Force to study the pros and cons of having a separate military department responsible for the national security space activities of the Department of Defense.

An interim report has to be submitted to Congress by August 1, 2018 and a final report no later than December 31, 2018.

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Air Force to create three-star ‘vice commander’ post to manage space activities

U.S. Department of Defense headquarters

A new “vice commander of Air Force Space Command” would be based in the Washington, D.C. area — not in Colorado Springs.

WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has notified the congressional armed services committees of a new plan to create a three-star position that would directly support U.S. Space Command.

The post would be “vice commander of Air Force Space Command,” and would be based in the Washington — not in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Air Force Space Command is headquartered.

This is part of a broader effort by the Air Force to comply with a legislative mandate to increase focus on space and make it a higher priority on the Air Force’s agenda.

“Recently, the Secretary of the Air Force notified the defense congressional committees of Air Force actions to implement the provisions of H.R. 2810, Section 1601 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act,” Air Force spokesman Maj. William Russell told SpaceNews in a statement.

He said Air Force will establish a three-star vice commander of Air Force Space Command to be located in the national capital region. That office would “assist the commander of Air Force Space Command with his/her responsibility to organize, train and equip space forces.”

This plan comes just weeks after Congress in the 2018 NDAA nixed a previous plan to create an Air Force three-star “deputy chief of staff for space operations,” dubbed A-11. Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John Raymond announced the A-11 decision in April with much fanfare at the National Space Symposium. The intent was to nominate then Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command Maj. Gen. David D. Thompson to the position. Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee derided the idea and led a push to eliminate the A-11, calling for space forces to have more autonomy within the Air Force.

It is not clear whether the Air Force intends to select Thompson to serve in the new D.C.-based vice commander slot. Thompson since July has been special assistant to the commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner is the two-star deputy commander of Air Force Space Command, a job that would remain in Colorado.

Russell pointed out that the Air Force “will not establish the position and office of the deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for space operations.” And the service continues to “review acquisition management and governance to implement this act as well as acquisition reform authorized in previous defense authorization legislation.”

A Capitol Hill source said a move to create a new three-star office may make sense for the Air Force, but it might not go over well with lawmakers who want less bureaucracy. “The rhetoric on the Hill has been about removing boxes from the org chart,” the source said. “Adding a new slot may not resonate on the Hill.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry did not comment specifically on the Air Force proposal on Tuesday during a breakfast meeting with reporters. In general, he said, his committee will be “watching very carefully” how the Air Force goes about implementing the NDAA provisions concerning the management of space. The House voted for the creation of a stand-alone space corps within the Department of the Air Force but the proposal was rejected by the Senate.

“What we came up with in last year’s NDAA was a compromise that did not set up a separate space corps but did try to improve accountability for space,” Thornberry said. “It’s too early to say how well that’s worked. We’re just in the early days.”

Many lawmakers remain doubtful that the Air Force is “culturally” able to focus on space as much as it does on air operations, Thornberry said. “You can move boxes around. You can spend more money. But you still have to give it the priority that is required, not only for war fighting, but for our national day-to-day life,” he said. “Those of us who have received classified briefings are increasingly concerned about the country’s ability to continue to depend on space in our daily lives as we have.”

The strategic forces subcommittee led by Chairman Mike Rogers “has done great work raising the issue and coming up with what it seemed to me was a very sensible answer,” Thornberry said. Rogers and other members of the HASC have made it clear that the debate over the space corps is far from over.

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Earth science decadal report recommends mix of large and small missions

The decadal survey recommended that NASA augment its existing program of record of Earth science missions in operation or under development with both a number of large missions and smaller “Explorer” spacecraft. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — A report setting priorities for the next decade of Earth science missions recommends that NASA pursue a mix of large and small missions to help better understand the changing nature of the planet.

The report, released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in an event here Jan. 5, includes a portfolio of proposed missions that it believes can fit within NASA’s Earth science budget assuming it grows at the rate of inflation, but with “decision rules” for delaying missions should those budgets fall short.

The proposed missions, along with the existing “program of record” of missions in service today or under development, are intended to help scientists better understand the ways that the climate, water cycle, soil and other resources are changing, research the report argues can be uniquely done with satellites.

“Earth science and applications are a key part of the nation’s information infrastructure, warranting a U.S. program of Earth observations from space that is robust, resilient, and appropriately balanced,” the report states.

That dependence on Earth science data was emphasized at the event. “If you go back 10 or 12 years, we were in a different place when it came to Earth information from space,” said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences at University of Colorado and co-chair of the committee that developed the report. Society, he argued is now much more dependent on such data. “This really is pervasive in our daily lives.”

The report, he said, embraced the paradigm that such information is critical to daily activities, while figuring out how to effectively collect such information within constrained budgets. “The challenge to the community is to find a way to do these things ambitiously, effectively, and cost effectively,” he said.

Missions large and small

The report proposes a range of missions to continue those observations, augmenting the program of record. At one end is a series of five “Designated” missions to perform observations considered essential to the overall program. Those missions, with costs estimated between $300 and 800 million each, could either be directed missions run by NASA or competed within the scientific community.

The report does not include specific missions for the Designated category, but rather general proposals to study “targeted observables” considered to be of the greatest scientific interest. Those concepts include:

  • A mission to measure aerosols in the atmosphere using a spacecraft equipped with a backscatter lidar and polarimeter, with an estimated cost of no more than $800 millon;
  • A mission to study clouds, convection and precipitation using a spacecraft with a dual-band radar, similar to the CloudSat mission, with an estimated cost of no more than $800 million;
  • A mission to measure mass change in snow, ice and ocean water, similar to the recently-ended GRACE mission and upcoming GRACE Follow-On mission, with an estimated cost of up to $300 million;
  • A mission with a hyperspectral imager to study surface biology and geology and with an estimated cost of no more than $650 million; and
  • A mission with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that would be a successor to a joint NASA-ISRO SAR spacecraft under development to study surface deformation and change, with an estimated cost of no more than $500 million.

The study also recommends that NASA establish a new line of medium-class Earth science missions, called Earth System Explorer. The program would fly three competitively selected Earth science missions over the decade, each with a $350 million cost cap, that would be limited to studies in one of seven areas, from measurements of greenhouse gases to ocean surface winds and currents.

Abdalati highlighted this proposed Explorer program as one area that would take advantage of innovation and competition to do more for less funding. “We are actually pretty excited about this because it really is an opportunity to push the community into more of what we call ‘NewSpace’: smaller, more agile systems and creative partnerships that will allow much more to be done with the limited resources that are available.”

Another report recommendation is an effort dubbed “Incubation,” and would fund work on instruments, missions or other technologies needed to carry out some high-priority science missions. The report envisions spending $20 million per year on this effort, with the flexibility to use it to take advantage of “unexpected opportunities that occur on sub-decadal scales.”

“It’s a variety of things that allows us to advance to the point where we can do them in a reasonable way in the next decade,” said Bill Gail, chief technology officer at Global Weather Corporation and the other co-chair of the decadal survey committee.

The report also recommended expanding NASA’s existing Venture Class of Earth science missions, which includes standalone spacecraft as well as instruments and suborbital flight opportunities, to include ways to provide continuity for some key observations at a lower cost.

“It’s a challenge to the community to come up with very low cost methods of establishing continuity of observation,” Abdalati said. The goal, he said, is to find ways of maintaining those data sets desired by scientists while staying within limited budgets.

Fitting into constrained budgets

The use of competition and emphasis on innovation and cost caps is intended to fit as much science into budget projections that, in the best case, will rise only at the rate of inflation for the next decade.

“The committee is confident, based on analyses of technical readiness and cost performed during the study, that the recommended observations have feasible implementations that can be accomplished on schedule and within the stated cost caps,” the report stated.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for improving what we do within the research part of the community,” Gail said. That includes, he said, the greater use of commercial data and commercial systems to carry out those observations. “We need to be working aggressively to make that happen.”

The decadal survey does include decision rules on what programs to cut should funding fall short of the inflationary growth projected. Those rules call for initially delaying the largest missions, and then delaying the medium-sized Designated missions and reducing the cadence of Explorer missions if additional cuts are needed.

However, Abdalati said that those decisions rules would break down if Earth science faces “draconian” budget cuts in the coming years, a level that he didn’t specify. The Trump administration did propose a cut of nearly 10 percent to NASA’s Earth science program, including the termination of several missions and instruments under development.

“The decision rules are intended to absorb a modest level of reduction,” he said, such as a flat budget or a slight reduction. For bigger cuts, he said NASA should consult with the National Academies’ Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space. “There does come a point where the whole thing has to be looked at.”

The report, however, does include flexibility should budgets increase more than expected. “In particular, if you look at the Earth System Explorer category, there are seven worthy observables and only three opportunities for flight,” Gail said. “Because we’ve set that up as a competition, it does scale nicely. More resources would mean that you would have four competitions in the decade instead of three.”

Recommendations for NOAA and USGS

The report went into fewer details about two other agencies with Earth science missions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. Both agencies are carrying out their own existing programs of record, which for NOAA include the GOES geostationary orbit and JPSS polar orbit weather satellite programs, and for USGS the Landsat series of spacecraft.

The report did recommend greater collaboration with international partners, citing as one example China, which will be shifting this year at least one of its weather satellites into an early morning polar orbit to complement American and European satellites. “As the world’s largest nation with a robust space program, China… has the potential to fill gaps in our own program,” the report stated, while acknowledging the policy obstacles for such cooperation.

The report also called on NOAA to become a leader among government agencies in the use of commercial data sources, “assessing both their benefits and risks in its observational data portfolio.” NOAA completed a first round of its Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, and plans to start a second round this year.

“We’re early on in understanding how commercial observations get integrated into the operational system or even a research system,” Gail said. “But we see a very positive future for this.”

The report calls on USGS to ensure user needs are met by current and future Landsat spacecraft, while working with NASA to reduce development costs of those satellites. “Both parties need to work hard to bring down future costs of the Landsat system,” Gail said.

Implementation

How the report’s recommendations will be implemented in the coming years is not yet clear. The release of the report is likely too late to influence the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, set for release as soon as next month. Moreover, the report noted that, even with inflationary growth for NASA’s Earth science budget, money won’t be freed up from current missions to start new ones like those proposed in the report until at least fiscal year 2020.

“The committee recognizes that resource constraints are likely to remain a practical concern during the next decade, and that new resources must be applied wisely when available,” the report stated.

The agencies discussed in the report have yet to comment on the report’s findings, but the report does have the endorsement of University of Oklahoma scientist Berrien Moore, who was co-chair of the previous Earth science decadal survey released in 2007.

“The report is very innovative, particularly in its ability to scale against budgets,” he said at the briefing. “I think that’s extremely powerful.”

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President to sign space policy directive Monday

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 30 establishing the National Space Council in a White House ceremony. A similat event Dec. 11 will mark the administration’s first space policy directive. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Updated 9:55 a.m. Eastern.

NEW ORLEANS — President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign his administration’s first space policy directive in a White House ceremony Dec. 11, one that will formally direct NASA to send humans back to the moon.

A White House schedule of the president’s activities, released late Dec. 10, includes a 3 p.m. Eastern “signing ceremony for Space Policy Directive 1.” The schedule didn’t provide additional details about the event or the document, but a White House official later confirmed that the directive is linked to human space exploration policy.

“The president, today, will sign Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1) that directs the NASA Administrator to lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the Moon, and eventually Mars,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in an statement Dec. 11.

The directive, Gidley said, was prompted by initial work of the National Space Council, which was reconstituted by the president in a June 30 executive order and held its first public meeting Oct. 5. “The president listened to the National Space Council’s recommendations and he will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” he said.

The event will coincide with the 45th anniversary of the last crewed mission to land on the moon. The Apollo 17 lunar lander touched down on the moon on Dec. 11, 1972. Statements from administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, has have made clear their interest in human lunar missions.

“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said at the first meeting of the reconstituted National Space Council Oct. 5 at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.

Pence, at that meeting, directed NASA to provide a 45-day report on plans to carry out such missions. “The Council is going to need the whole team at NASA to work with the Office of Management and Budget to provide the president with a recommended plan to fill that policy,” Pence told NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot at the meeting.

Lightfoot, speaking at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council Dec. 7, said the agency had delivered a version of the report on those plans to the Council. “We continue to work with the Space Council on that action, and they’re reviewing the preliminary draft of that now,” he said. “Once that report becomes more final, we’ll share more information.”

Some space advocates fear that a renewed emphasis on a human return to the moon could delay plans for eventual human missions to Mars. At a Dec. 7 briefing by Explore Mars, a Mars advocacy group that recently held the fifth in a series of workshops on affordable Mars mission architectures, representatives said they were not opposed to human lunar missions provided they fit into a broader plan that supported Mars missions as well.

“The one thing we want to make sure is to follow the guidelines that the National Academies set out in their ‘Pathways’ report, which is don’t go down any dead ends,” said Joe Cassady, a member of the board of directors of Explore Mars, referring to the 2014 “Pathways to Exploration” report by the National Academies that examined the various approaches to human missions to the moon, Mars and asteroids.

“Anything we do there should have a feed-forward component that takes us in the direction of Mars,” he said of any lunar missions.

NASA’s planning for the Deep Space Gateway, a cislunar outpost, could support lunar missions while also laying the groundwork for expeditions to Mars, he said. “You can envision that, with partners, surface exploration can be undertaken utilizing the gateway.”

Congress has already offered its view of NASA exploration priorities in the form of NASA authorization legislation. The latest NASA authorization, signed into law in March, endorses a “stepping stone approach to exploration” with “missions to intermediate destinations in sustainable steps” while maintaining a long-term goal of human missions to Mars.

That bill directed NASA to develop an “initial exploration roadmap” that outlined its plans, to be delivered to Congress by Dec. 1. A separate provision instructed NASA to perform an independent assessment of the feasibility of a human mission to Mars specifically in 2033, due 180 days after the bill’s enactment in March. NASA has not announced the status of either report.

Those reports, and the administration’s actions, have given space exploration advocates some hope for a more detailed strategy for human missions beyond Earth orbit, be they to the moon or Mars. Jeff Bingham, a former Senate staffer, said at the Explore Mars event that the National Space Council can play a key role in creating a “final consensus” on those plans.

“I think we’re coming close now to an opportunity that I think was presented by the more recent legislation that Congress passed,” he said, referring to the roadmap provision in the 2017 authorization act.

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