Quick Takes (07-18-16)

VERBATIM | Follow the money, not the water

“When I was on the space station, I was asked this question by a reporter. And the question was, ‘Now that NASA has determined that, definitively, at certain times during the year there is liquid water on Mars, is that going to help us get to Mars any quicker?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It might. But if we found money on Mars, that would help us get there really fast.’ That’s what we need more than anything else.”

— Former astronaut Scott Kelly, during a presentation with his twin brother Mark Kelly at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference July 12 in San Diego.

Pathfinder 2’s rocky path

Legal questions have slowed a U.S. Air Force project to develop new ways to buy commercial satellite bandwidth. Under the Pathfinder 2 program, the Air Force proposed buying a transponder on one commercial satellite, and then use that to access capacity on the satellite operator’s entire fleet. However, questions raised within the Pentagon about its legal ability to barterfor access to other satellites have stopped the Air Force from issuing a request for proposals, making it unlikely it will be able to award a contract before the U.S. government’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Significant Digits

$22 billion
The 10-year market potential for small satellites, according to EuroconsulT, which  expects more than 3,600 smallsats to launch by 2026, with Planet, Spire, BlackSky Global and Satellogic accounting for more than 1,400 of them.

$50 million
The equity that Avanti Communications needs to raise, perhaps by selling off part of itself, under an export loan it expects to sign this fall.

3 years
How long Reaction Engines Ltd. had to wait before it recently started receiving some of the $80 million in grants the British government awarded in 2013 for work on its SABRE air-breathing rocket engine.

The number of new jobs Lockheed Martin expects to create by expanding its Astrotech Space Operations payloads processing business to move into the production of aerospace components and subsystems.

Credit: Jeff Burney for Spacenews

Credit: Jeff Burney for Spacenews

Pokémon No Go Zone

Pokémon Go, the hard-to-avoid smartphone game that uses “augmented reality” to superimpose game characters onto real life, became the summer’s surprise obsession after it was downloaded more than 15 million times in the first week since its July 6  release in the U.S. and Australia. One place still free from Pokémon characters, though, is the International Space Station. A NASA spokesman confirmed to Mashable that while the crew of the station do use smartphones, they are not connected to the Internet nor do they have access to app stores to download games. The phones are instead loaded with software to support research activities on the ISS. The crew, though, does have access to another augmented reality device on the station: Microsoft’s HoloLens, part of a project to see how such devices can help astronauts carry out tasks. Unlike the phones, the HoloLens does have a game, called RoboRaid, where the user has to battle alien robots that have “invaded” the station.

Artist’s concept of the satellite factory OneWeb is building just outside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: OneWeb

Artist’s concept of the satellite factory OneWeb is building just outside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: OneWeb

OneWeb, one year later

A year after unveiling its plans for a massive satellite constellation, OneWeb says it is on schedule. The company’s chief operating officer, Eric de Saintignon, said OneWeb has completed the preliminary design review for its 700-satellite constellation and should finalize the selection of subcontractors for those satellites by August. An initial set of 10 satellites will be built at an Airbus plant in France and launched on a Soyuz late next year before beginning full-scale production at a new factory in Florida. OneWeb says it has kept the cost of those satellites to within 5 percent of its original target so far. Meanwhile, construction of the new factory was given a boost July 6 when Space Florida approved a $3 million bridge loan for construction equipment and other resources.

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) lifts off June 22, carrying 20 satellites, including 13 provided by U.S. firms. Credit: ISRO

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) lifts off June 22, carrying 20 satellites, including 13 provided by U.S. firms. Credit: ISRO

House Science leadership seeks answers on Indian launch waivers

Leaders of the U.S. House Science Committee are seeking details on the Obama administration’s policy regarding launches of commercial satellites on Indian rockets.
In a series of letters issued July 6, committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and space subcommittee chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) sought information on the process by which the administration grants approvals for U.S.-built satellites to launch on India’s PSLV.

Current policy discourages the use of Indian rockets because of a lack of a commercial space launch agreement between the U.S. and India, but several companies have won approvals to launch their satellites on the PSLV. The issue has pitted satellite companies seeking improved access to space against launch vehicle firms concerned about competing with a government space agency.

jpss_mission_logoJPSS schedule worries

The launch of NOAA’s first next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite could face more delays, warns the U.S. Government Accountability Office. During a House Science Committee hearing July 7, a GAO official said launch of the first Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft is on schedule for March, but that the office “remained concerned” about that schedule, noting the spacecraft’s launch readiness date recently slipped by one month. Any delay in the JPSS launch raises the risk of a gap in data from a key instrument on the current Suomi NPP satellite that is at risk of failing.

VERBATIMYou say you want a devolution?

“I don’t have clarity on the exact breakup reasons for NOAA-16. It was not communicative at the time. It had been inert for some time. So it spontaneously devolved, or broke up. So we don’t know the root cause.”
— NOAA’s Stephen Volz, responding to a question at a hearing July 7 by the House Science Committee’s environment subcommittee about what caused the NOAA-16 weather satellite to break up last year.

Molly Macauley. Credit: Resources for the future

Molly Macauley. Credit: Resources for the future

Space economist murdered while walking dogs

The space community is mourning the death of Molly Macauley, a prominent space economist and longtime SpaceNews contributor who was killed July 8. Police in Baltimore said she was walking her dogs around 11 p.m. near her home in the city when she was stabbed. She died at a nearby hospital. Police said they did not have a suspect or a motive for the attack. Macauley, 59, specialized in studying the economics of the space industry, in particular Earth observation. At the time of her death she was vice president for research and a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, and also served on the steering committee for the ongoing Earth sciences decadal survey by the National Academies. “One of the great things about Molly was that she was non-ideological. I mean, she preferred free markets and such, but she always called it as she saw it,” said former NASA chief of staff Courtney Stadd. “We desperately need more of her kind in the community.”


csf_new-logoCSF rebrands

A commercial space industry group is rebranding to help make the field look cooler. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) unveiled a new logo and website design last week designed to show off the progress member companies are making in developing new launch vehicles and spacecraft.

“I think the space business is the coolest industry out there, but we were preaching to the choir” with the site’s older design, said CSF President Eric Stallmer.

Stars and Stripes for Juno

NASA’s Juno team spent Independence Day indoors awaiting confirmation that the $1.1 billion solar-powered spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. Juno fired its main engine for 35 minutes starting at 11:13 p.m. Eastern, slowing the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft enough to enter a 53-day orbit around the planet, as planned. Project officials said the spacecraft was in good health. Juno, a New Frontiers-class planetary science mission launched in 2011, will brave the powerful radiation environment around Jupiter to study the planet’s interior and its magnetic field through early 2018.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA