Quick Takes (01-18-16)

Five Hundred Million Dollar Shave Club

DMSP satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin Artist's Concept

DMSP satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin Artist’s Concept

“We spent $500 million that could have been used to support national security. Instead, it’s going into the trash. I presume it’s going to be made into razor blades.”
— U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) at a Jan. 7 House Armed Services Committee hearing, complaining about the U.S. Air Force’s DMSP-20 weather satellite that was built, placed into storage, and now likely will be scrapped.

American Renaissance
A key member of Congress is planning to introduce a wide-ranging space reform bill this spring even though he doesn’t expect the legislation to pass. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said Jan. 12 he is working on a bill called the American Space Renaissance Act that would include a variety of policy changes ranging from use of Russian rocket engines to purchases of weather data from commercial satellites. Bridenstine said he’s under “no illusions” the whole bill will pass, but some sections could be incorporated into other legislation.

Driver’s Seat
A European Commission official said Jan. 12 the commission should play a role in developing Europe’s next-generation rocket. Philippe Brunet. Credit: EDA[/caption] Philippe Brunet, speaking at a space policy conference in Brussels, said that European officials should take a bigger role in designing the vehicle to come after the Ariane 6 since the commission is now the largest customer for European launch services.

Philippe Brunet. Credit: EDA
Not everyone agrees with Brunet’s logic. “If I buy 1,000 Mercedes cars, do I then get to design the vehicles? Customers should be consulted, not invited into the design room,” a European industry official said privately.
Brunet also suggested that the European Space Agency should be investing more in reusable launch vehicle technology, citing recent achievements by Blue Origin and SpaceX.

Expanded Frontiers
Two potentially habitable moons of Saturn have been added to the list of potential destinations for a $850 million New Frontiers planetary science mission NASA expects to launch by 2024. The agency notified scientists it would accept proposals for missions to what it called “Ocean Worlds,” defined as Titan and Enceladus, when it releases the formal announcement of opportunity in January 2017. Other potential destinations range from the south pole of the moon to comets.

Titan Mare Explorer, which would have landed a spacecraft in one of the Titan's hydrocarbon lakes, was a finalist in the last Discovery mission competition in 2012. Credit: JHUAPL/Lockheed Martin Artist's concept

Titan Mare Explorer, which would have landed a spacecraft in one of the Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes, was a finalist in the last Discovery mission competition in 2012. Credit: JHUAPL/Lockheed Martin Artist’s concept

Credit: The Atlantic Council

Credit: The Atlantic Council

VERBATIM | Diplomacy Works?

“There have been subsequent [anti-satellite] tests by China, but none of them have been debris generating. At the State Department, we like to attribute that to the huge international outcry.”
— Mallory Stewart, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for emerging security challenges and defense policy, speaking at an Atlantic Council event in Washington held Jan. 11, the anniversary of the Chinese military’s deliberate destruction of the defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite in 2007.

Protest Sustained

Intelsat won its protest of a U.S. military satellite bandwidth contract awarded to competitor Inmarsat last fall, but what happens next is not clear.

Intelsat took its concerns to the U.S. Government Accountability Office in October after the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) awarded the Commercial Broadband Satellite Program Satellite Service contract, valued at up to $450 million, to Inmarsat. The GAO has not yet released details about its decision to sustain Intelsat’s protest, or said whether it will require DISA to recompete the contract. Inmarsat’s low price for the contract, more than $100 million below the bids from Intelsat and Airbus Defence and Space, surprised many in the industry since the contract’s bandwidth requirements forced bidders to lease capacity from each others’ satellites. A U.S. government official familiar with GAO practices said siding with Intelsat has nothing to do with whether Inmarsat bid at below cost. “If a company decides, for reasons of its own, to buy into a contract with terms that make a profit unlikely, that is the company’s issue and not something GAO would be concerned with,” the official said. “The only exception would be if, for some reason, the contracting agency had insisted that no buy-ins were allowed.”

Start Your Engines

Blue Origin BE-3 engine. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin BE-3 engine. Credit: Blue Origin

The U.S. Air Force tapped Orbital ATK and SpaceX to develop rocket propulsion technologies the firms pitched as a way to end U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines.

Orbital ATK will get at least $46.9 million, and up to $180 million, for work on a solid-fueled Common Booster Segment, GEM 63XL strap-on boosters, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U upper stage engine.

The solids and upper stage engine figure into United Launch Alliance’s plans for Vulcan, its Russian-engine-free nextgeneration rocket. But Orbital ATK also says it is developing a competing rocket for intermediate and heavy payloads.

SpaceX will receive at least $33.6 million, and up to $61 million, for work on its Raptor methane-fuel engine.

The Air Force said it may award additional contracts over the next few months.

ESA's Rosetta mission posted this illustration in memory of David Bowie. Credit: ESA/Design & Data GMBH

ESA’s Rosetta mission posted this illustration in memory of David Bowie. Credit: ESA/Design & Data GMBH

The space community paid its respects to David Bowie, who died Jan. 10 at the age of 69. “’And the stars look very different today.’ RIP David Bowie,” tweeted NASA, quoting a line from one of Bowie’s most popular songs, “Space Oddity,” that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performed on the space station in 2013. Others who marked the singer’s passage included astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Tim Peake, the British astronaut currently on the space station and widely known as “Major Tim.”

ESA gets a Budget Boost

The European Space Agency’s 2016 budget is up 18.4 percent compared to 2015 on the strength of higher contributions by several member governments, especially Italy, and substantially increased investment by the European Commission. The biggest increase went to rockets, but Earth observation still commands the biggest slice of ESA’s budget pie.