Quick Takes (07-04-16)

Fireworks ahead of the Fourth

SLS-QM-2NASA declared the final test of the Space Launch System’s solid rocket boosters a success June 28. The Qualification Motor 2 (QM-2) test, carried out at Orbital ATK’s Utah test site, fired a five-segment solid rocket booster cooled to the lower end of its operating range of temperatures. Agency officials said at a post-test press conference that an initial review of the data collected during the two-minute test indicated the booster performed as expected. NASA will use two of the shuttle-derived boosters on its Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, whose first launch is on track for late 2018.

Significant Digits

30,000 pounds
The payload mass China’s newest rocket, the Long March 7, is capable of hauling to low Earth orbit. The heavy-lift Long March 5 debuting later this year is built to haul 55,000 pounds to LEO, about the same as United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy.

$20 million
The amount of capital geospatial data firm Orbital Insight raised from a Series B round led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) and a separate investment from In-Q-Tel, the the U.S. intelligence community’s non-profit investment arm.

$8 million
The annual savings Aerojet Rocketdyne expects to to achieve by consolidating its six business units into two —Space and Defense — and eliminating 10 senior positions.

The number of jobs United Launch Alliance said June 30 it’s eliminating through a mix of layoffs and buyouts.


NASA withdraws from Istanbul COSPAR meeting

A week before suicide bombers struck Istanbul’s main airport June 28, killing more than 40 people, NASA had already decided not to let agency personnel attend a major space conference there this month.

In a June 21 memo, Al Condes, the associate administrator for international and interagency relations, said NASA had decided not to sponsor travel for NASA employees and contractors who planned to attend the biannual Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research, scheduled for July 30 to Aug. 7 in Istanbul. That will prevent them from attending an international space science conference that typically attracts more than 2,000 attendees.

Condes cited a State Department travel warning for Turkey that warned of “increased threats from terrorist groups” throughout the country, although not specifically Istanbul. “As Administrator [Charles] Bolden has consistently stated, the safety of our NASA family is paramount,” he wrote.

That move drew criticism from Len Fisk, a former NASA official who is the current president of COSPAR. NASA’s decision, he said in a statement to SpacePolicyOnline prior to the airport attack, “demonstrated that it has no intention of exerting strategic leadership in the world, and that terrorism should be rewarded.”

Despite both NASA’s decision and the attack, the conference will proceed. “Clearly the program will be affected and sessions modified to varying degrees,” COSPAR said on its website. “Remote presentation is being investigated.”

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

Dragon Discount

NASA negotiated discounts and other considerations from SpaceX after the failure of a Dragon cargo mission last year. A report issued last week by the NASA Office of Inspector General said that NASA received discounted pricing on five additional cargo missions added to SpaceX’s existing contract, as well as other “significant consideration” from the company to help compensate for the loss of the Dragon on a June 2015 mission to the International Space Station. The report praised NASA for negotiating those discounts, but also recommended that the agency improve how it investigates commercial cargo launch failures to better understand both technical and other causes.

Apple makes a mixtape for NASA’s Juno mission

As Juno was nearing its July 4 arrival at Jupiter, NASA unveiled a partnership with Apple to promote the mission. Apple released a 9-minute video featuring Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton and several musicians. Apple also released songs by recording artists in a variety of genres, from rock to country, inspired in some way by Juno.

Apple vice president Robert Kondrk speaks on a panel with Diane Brown, NASA’s Juno program executive, left, and Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, right, at a Juno outreach briefing June 30. Credit: NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

Apple vice president Robert Kondrk speaks on a panel with Diane Brown, NASA’s Juno program executive, left, and Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, right, at a Juno outreach briefing June 30. Credit: NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

Bolton said the purpose of the collaboration was to encourage outreach not just in the sciences, but also the arts. “That’s what this collaboration represents. It was great to work with and learn that Apple had that same vision of science, art, and technology,” he said.

The collaboration is being handled through a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement, said Diane Brown, NASA’s Juno program executive, similar to agreements NASA has signed with entertainment companies in the past. “There’s no transfer of funds either way,” she said.

That collaboration will continue after Juno enters orbit. Robert Kondrk, Apple’s vice president of content and media apps said the company will release an “interactive guide” about the mission this fall. “As musicians become inspired by this mission, we encourage them to reach out to us,” he said, “because we can make more music.”