Quick Takes (02-15-16)

Verbatim | So you’re saying there’s a chance?

“Experts tell me it’s technically possible to get this done by FY19. That’s what we’re charging toward; that’s what the law has told us to do. We’re working toward that. It’ll be challenging. It’s a risky proposition to have it done by 2019, but it’s possible.”
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James answering questions during a Feb. 10 Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing about the earliest an American-made rocket engine could be ready to replace the Russian RD-180 that powers United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.

Luxembourg’s high hopes for asteroid mining

Asteroid-DwarfsLuxembourg seeks to jump-start an asteroid-mining sector by creating financial incentives and a regulatory framework that will ensure companies have rights to resources they extract, similar to provisions in a recently passed U.S. law.

The initiative has already lured U.S.-based Deep Space Industries to create a Luxembourg subsidiary.

In a Feb. 3 press briefing wit Luxembourg Vice Prime Minister Etienne Schneider, former ESA boss Jean-Jacques Dordain said the tools Luxembourg is making available to space-mining companies means they “have no more excuses to go to California.”

Schneider, though, cautioned that Luxembourg is not providing a tax haven for space miners.

“There is no special tax treatment for these companies,” he said. “Companies will be coming for the infrastructure we have here and for the R&D support we are going to give them.”

R&D tax credits are available in the United States as well, and Schneider conceded that the intellectual and financial effervescence of Silicon Valley exerts a powerful pull on European engineering talent. But he said Luxembourg offers advantages that are difficult for the U.S. federal or state governments.

“Our R&D system gives me the opportunity to reimburse 45 percent of the company’s R&D investment,” he said. “It’s quite attractive for international companies to do their R&D in Luxembourg.”

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

Arianespace to do SpaceX’s heavy lifting

The ViaSat-2 high-throughput communications satellite under construction at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems will now launch in early 2017 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket instead of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, whose inaugural flight has been delayed at least until late summer. ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg told investors Feb. 9 the company preferred Arianespace’s firm date to an earlier SpaceX date with many question marks still attached to it.

“We’re extraordinarily sensitive” to service introduction delays for ViaSat-2, Dankberg said, saying the satellite ultimately would generate around $45 million per month of revenue, or 10 times the level of ViaSat-1. ViaSat also offered new details about a $1.4 billion global broadband system it plans to develop. The five-year effort calls for the construction of three ViaSat-3 Ka-band satellites to provide inexpensive broadband services around the world. Boeing will build the satellites, which will be launched on Ariane 5 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

James Clapper. Credit: ODNI/Flickr

James Clapper. Credit: ODNI/Flickr

A man of (relatively) few words

Each year, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offers his worldwide threat assessment detailing the dangers the United States faces. A section of the report is devoted to explaining threats to national security satellites. Defense Department officials preach that space is more contested, congested and competitive than ever and that emerging threats from Russia and China are escalating.

The number of words Clapper devoted to space threats has risen in each of the last four reports:
2013: 109
2014: 129
2015: 142
2016: 275

Verbatim | Exploring Strange New Worlds

“The truth is that the only thing we can hope to know for certain about our future is that it is uncertain. Growing up in the segregated South, I never dreamed my own journey would take me to the United States Marine Corps as a combat pilot, let alone to space or to that mysterious planet known as Washington, D.C.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, giving his “State of NASA” address Feb. 9 at the Langley Research Center in Virginia

Name Game

LightSquared, a communications company whose plans have raised GPS interference concerns, is rebranding itself as Ligado Networks. The company, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last year, is proceeding with plans to provide broadband communications using spectrum near that used by GPS. Those plans have generated concerns in recent years by GPS users about potential interference, but Ligado says it is working with companies that make GPS receivers on proposals to alleviate any interference. The company also operates the SkyTerra-1 L-band
communications satellite, serving North America.