Quick Takes (08-15-2016)

Antares return to flight will wait until September

Orbital ATK is postponing the launch of its next Cygnus mission to the ISS until September. The company announced Aug. 10  that the launch, previously scheduled for Aug. 22, had been pushed back to the latter half of September due to what company executives said were “a variety of interrelated factors” involving both its Antares launch vehicle and ISS activities. The company, in a conference call to discuss its quarterly financial results, also said that the commercial communications satellite market is weaker than expected and would thus contribute less revenue. Orbital ATK’s stock dropped sharply Aug. 10 when the company said it would restate earnings because of accounting errors on a U.S. Army munitions contract.

U.S. Air Force looks to head off weather gap

The U.S. Air Force is seeking ideas from industry regarding how to prevent gaps in weather data. The Air Force issued a broad agency announcement Aug. 3 seeking solutions for cloud characterization and theater weather imagery by 2019. Those solutions could include the purchase of a satellite or data from a commercially operated spacecraft. White papers are due Aug. 15, with up to five study contracts, each worth up to $500,000, to be awarded in December.

JPSS-1 launch slips two months

The launch of NOAA’s first next-generation polar orbiting weather satellite has slipped two months. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration confirmed Aug. 5 that the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System 1 spacecraft, which had been scheduled for January 2017, has been delayed until March. NOAA said  “recent tests of the flight and ground systems” led to that decision, but did not elaborate on the specific issues causing the delay. Delays in the JPSS-1 launch raise concerns about a potential data gap because of problems with an instrument on the current NPP Suomi spacecraft.

Another GPS-3 launch out for bid

The U.S. Air Force is seeking bids for another GPS 3 satellite launch, pitting SpaceX against United Launch Alliance. The Air Force issued the solicitation Aug. 3 for proposals to launch the GPS 3-3 satellite, due Sept. 19. In April, the Air Force awarded a $82.7 million contract to SpaceX for the GPS 3-2 satellite launch in what was to be the first head-to-head competition between SpaceX and ULA, although ULA elected not to bid for that mission. Since then, ULA’s leadership has stated it expects to participate in future competitions.

Inmarsat blames SpaceX for blown deadline

Inmarsat says it will miss a regulatory deadline for a broadband satellite service in Europe because of SpaceX launch delays. The company said it will miss a Dec. 1 deadline for bringing a satellite-terrestrial aeronautical broadband service into service because the Europasat/HellasSat-3 will not be launched by SpaceX until the first half of 2017. Industry observers are split about whether the delay could cost Inmarsat access to that spectrum.



Hillary Clinton laughs with Futuramic employees during an Aug. 11 stop at the Warren, Michigan, tool and engineering company. Credit: Michael Davidson for Hillary for America

SLS on the campaign trail

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned NASA’s Space Launch System in passing during a campaign speech Aug. 11.

Clinton, speaking at the Macomb County, Michigan company Futuramic, said, “I got to see what’s happening here to help build the SLS rocket that is going to go from Macomb to Mars.”

Futuramic provided tooling to help build the SLS core stage. The Detroit-area company has shifted focus from the automative industry to aerospace and is currently a member of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a Washington-based advocacy organization.

Clinton has rarely talked about NASA or space policy during the campaign to date.


LEGO-women-of-NASABrick by Brick

A LEGO set designed to honor some of NASA’s famous women has collected enough votes for an official company review. The “Women of NASA” set honors five women, including astronauts and scientists, using LEGO “minifigs” and other items. The proposal, submitted to the LEGO Ideas website, received 10,000 votes, enough to qualify it for a company review and possible production. LEGO will make a decision on whether to produce the set, and any others that reach the 10,000-vote threshold by September, in January.


VERBATIMProof of life

“The primary purpose of this lander is to search for evidence of life. As I mentioned to the [Science Definition Team] two days ago at their meeting, mission success in NASA’s mind for this mission, which is 23 or so days long, is that on day 25 we have a press conference at NASA Headquarters and announce that we’ve found life.”

— NASA’s Curt Niebur, discussing a Europa lander mission currently under study during an Aug. 11 meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group in Flagstaff, Arizona.