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Rocket Headed for Space Station Explodes After Liftoff

Posted October 28, 2014 by Anonymous
Rocket Headed for Space Station Explodes After Liftoff

[HTML1] An unmanned Antares rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station exploded just seconds after taking off this evening. The rocket, which launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia at 6:22 pm ET, was operated by the Orbital Sciences Corporation. The cause of the “catastrophic anomaly” is not clear, and […]

The post Rocket Headed for Space Station Explodes After Liftoff appeared first on WIRED.



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Sierra Nevada "Lawyering Up" to Defend Dream Chaser Space Plane

Posted October 20, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Brian Orlotti

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the builder of the Dream Chaser orbital space plane, has stepped up its legal fight against NASA in the wake of SNC’s not being awarded part of the latest in a series of contracts to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) beginning in 2017.

On Sept 16th, NASA announced its selection of the Boeing Company and SpaceX to receive $6.8Bln USD ($7.6Bbln CDN) in Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Of the two, Boeing was contracted to receive the larger share of $4.2 Bln USD ($4.73Bln CDN) with SpaceX getting $2.6Bln USD ($2.93Bln CDN).

The decision has generated controversy since Boeing has received more funding than rival SpaceX for performing the same mission with comparable spacecraft (the Boeing’s CST-100 versus the SpaceX Dragon V2) and also because SNC had been considered a favoured candidate.

All three companies had received funding in earlier rounds of commercial crew contracts, which were designed specifically to encourage multiple and redundant designs for less than the cost of traditional single sourced approaches such as the NASA Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). NASA was widely expected to drop at least one commercial crew candidate in the latest funding round.

But on Sept 26th, SNC filed a protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding the CCtCap awards and NASA issued a stop-work order shortly thereafter. Then, on Oct. 9th, NASA lifted the order on the grounds that any delay in implementing the CctCap contracts would put the ISS and its crew “in jeopardy.”

In response, SNC filed suit on October 15th in the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to reinstate the stop-work order. The Court of Federal Claims began hearings on October 17th and has until Jan. 5, 2015, to rule on the case.

At this point, someone decided that the best way to defend against a suit would be to begin leaking confidential documents.

According to both the October 16th, 2014 Innerspace post “Hold On A Minute! SNC Files New Motion for Dream Chaser,” and the October 11th, 2014 Aviation Week article “Why NASA Rejected Sierra Nevada’s Commercial Crew Vehicle,” a leaked memo signed by NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations William H. Gerstenmaier stated that SNC’s price advantage was offset by “the lowest level of maturity” of the Dream Chaser’s design. The Dream Chaser, according to the memo, faced “significantly more technical work and critical design decisions” than its rivals, and also involved more schedule uncertainty.

The leaked documents also commented on why Boeing was being paid so much more money for doing pretty much the same amount of work as its two competitors.

I consider Boeing’s superior proposal, with regard to both its technical and management approach and its past performance, to be worth the additional price in comparison to the SNC proposal,” stated Gerstenmaier, at least according to the leaked memo.

Of course, SNC isn’t totally dependent on NASA funding to keep the doors open at the Dream Chaser facility.

In December 2013, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) announced a funded study, called the Dream Chaser for European Utilization (DC4EU) program, to investigate ways in which Europe might take advantage of the Dream Chaser crewed space plane technology. As outlined in the January 8th, 2014 SpaceFlight Now article, “Europe eyes cooperation on Dream Chaser space plane,” the ESA will also partner with the DLR to study European launch options under the DC4EU program.

Best of all, as outlined in the January 14th, 2014 BBC News article, “Dream Chaser mini-shuttle given 2016 launch date,” the Dream Chaser is currently self funded for at least one unmanned orbital test flight in November 2016, using an Atlas V rocket, from Kennedy Space Center.

As outlined in the October 15th, 2014 Space Daily article, “SNC contracted for U.S. military technology demonstrator satellite,” the firm also has other product lines and is not likely to drop off the face of the Earth anytime soon.

But there is at least one parallel between SNC’s response to the CctCap contract awards and last year’s battle between SpaceX and the Jeff Bezos owned aerospace company Blue Origin, over the use of Launchpad 39 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In both cases, a company believing itself wronged through favoritism sought to delay its competitors through legal means, to the detriment of the industry as a whole. In the case of Blue Origin vs SpaceX, aggressor Blue Origin lost.

Brian Orlotti.
Will aggressor SNC succeed in this new dispute? By blocking the progress of SpaceX and Boeing, an SNC victory could hamper the growth of the NewSpace industry.

Only time will tell which path the industry chooses.

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Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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Space Agency Heads Congregating in Toronto on September 29th

Posted September 22, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black

Berndt Feuerbacher.

It wouldn’t be an International Astronautical Congress without public pronouncements from the heads of the largest government space agencies and the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014), which will be held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th – October 3rd, will certainly be following in this tradition.

Expected to join moderator and past International Astronautical Federation (IAF) president Berndt Feuerbacher on Monday, September 29th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) for the traditional IAC Heads of Agencies plenary are the following government space agency representatives:

Charles Bolden.

Charles Bolden, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Given that each representative will be expected to provide an introductory presentation on the latest developments from their respective agency and then take at least a few questions from the audience, it is assumed that Bolden will talk about why Boeing received so much more money than SpaceX ($4.2Bln USD for Boeing, as compared to $2.6Bln for SpaceX), for a contract to do pretty much the same thing last week, as part of the latest round of the NASA commercial crew program.

Xu Dazhe.

Xu Dazhe, the administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Coming off the successful International Planetary Congress, another major space conference, which was held Sept 10th to 15th in Beijing, China for the first time, the Chinese leader is likely to be focused on questions of international co-operation and recognition for China’s new role as a major space power. 

Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA). He’s held the position since 2003, which makes him perhaps a little more experienced than his colleagues at the other space agencies. Dordain will likely face questions over the ESA next generation Ariane 6 launcher and the competition it faces from the US based SpaceX.

Denis Lyskov.

Denis Lyskov, the government secretary and deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS). With ROSCOSMOS head Oleg Ostapenko unable to attend (no doubt for political reasons), the far duller Lyskov, who is considered unlikely to discuss “trampolines” or “space gecko’s,” is expected to focus on the future expansion plans the agency has been dutifully running up the flagpole over the last year to see if anyone salutes.

Walt Natynczyk.

Walter Natynczyk, the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Natynczyk, seemingly one of the shyest and most reticent CSA presidents in a long time, will likely keep his comments focused on longstanding Canadian government concerns over “international co-operation” and “collaboration” with the other space agency heads. 

Naoki Okumura.

Naoki Okumura, the president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Well into the second year of the five-year implementation phase of Japan’s updated basic plan on space policy, the JAXA head will likely want to talk the JAXA “application-focused approach” to space system development and the new JAXA small satellite platform, which Japan hopes to sell to other countries.

K. Radhakrishnan.

K. Radhakrishnan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Expect Radhakrishnan to focus his comments on the ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which should to enter orbit around Mars this week.

The plenary will be held on Monday, September 29th from 1:30pm – 3:00pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) in Hall F on level 800.

It looks like a good show, well worth attending.

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Hadfield in China for International Planetary Congress; PM to Follow in November

Posted September 14, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Brian Orlotti

Chris Hadfield. Photo c/o Paul Chiasson/ Canadian Press.

Several events over the past few weeks have highlighted China’s growing influence both in space affairs and the world at large.

For example, the International Planetary Congress, a major space conference, is being held Sept 10th to 15th in Beijing, China for the first time. The event is organized by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) in co-operation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), a group which represents some 400 astronauts/cosmonauts from 35 nations.

The Congress’ theme is “Cooperation: To Realize Humanity’s Space Dream Together.” Chinese astronauts (called Taikonauts) will present reports from their previous spaceflights and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, will present an invitation to the international community to join China in building its upcoming space station.

Last summer, Chinese officials stated that China’s 60-ton multi-module manned station is being fast tracked, with the first module to be launched in 2018 (two years earlier than previously announced). Additional modules are to be launched in 2020 and 2022.

As stated in the September 10th, 2014 Canadian Press article “Chris Hadfield to attend international space conference in China,” retired astronaut Chris Hadfield will be attending as Canada’s sole representative and will participate in a discussion panel with Chinese taikonauts on common space mission experiences.

According to the article, Hadfield, a former ASA president, said that he hopes that the Congress will spur a new round of international cooperation in space and, while China’s long term goals would include a manned Lunar base, the best model for that might be the existing international partnerships which helped to build the International Space Station (ISS).

Although Hadfield tiptoed around the International Planetary Congress’ political significance, the desire to work with the Chinese at either the governmental or private level was apparent when he stated:

Even if they (the Chinese) don’t make a direct overture, it is still 100 people who are quite influential in the space business having a chance — without a specific political agenda — to get together and talk about opportunities and build further relationships.

Hadfield’s remarks come on the heels of his July 2014 visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as outlined in the August 11th, 2014 post “Hadfield in Emirates, Russia in Lather & UrtheCast in Orbit,” when he publicly stating his interest in  helping the UAE to set up its own space agency and launch a Mars probe in 2021.

Also attending the conference are some 30 space travelers from the US, including active NASA astronauts. The Americans  are attending as private citizens and ASE members, however, and not as official NASA representatives. NASA is prohibited  by US law from space cooperation with China.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the 5th Canada China Business Forum, which was held in Beijing, China in February 2012. As outlined  in the September 12th, 2014 Canadian Press article “Canada-China investment treaty to come into force Oct. 1,” the Canadian PM will revisit China in November 2014. Photo c/o Canadian Press

Stronger ties with China in space could very well flow from Canada’s now-stronger economic links with China. As outlined in the September 12th, 2014 National Post article “Ottawa ratifies foreign investment deal with China despite tensions,” the Canadian government last week recently ratified the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), a controversial 31-year foreign investment agreement with China.

Critics of FIPA say that the agreement will grant China control of Canada’s national resources while blocking Canadian businesses access to protected Chinese industries. FIPA advocates claim that the agreement will allow Chinese capital to flow into Canadian industry, spurring job creation and growth in a time of economic difficulty.

Brian Orlotti.
History has shown again and again that leadership vacuums are inevitably filled. Should the space programs of the US, Europe and Russia continue to remain in stasis, others are ready to step in and fill the void.
____________________________________________________________

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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Industry Minister Allocates $6.7Mln to Develop Space Apps

Posted August 9, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black
Minister Moore on Thursday. Photo c/o CBC.
Spending almost $7Mln CDN to develop a series of applications (“apps“) for satellite derived data seems a little expensive in a country chock full of software developers offering up their services for free at events like the annual International Space Apps Challenge.

Of course, that’s not the impression intended to be conveyed by the August 7th, 2014 Industry Canada press release, “Industry Minister Moore announces support for new space technologies that will provide crucial information about the Earth.”

The announcement that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) would be awarding contracts worth a total of $6.7Mln CDN to develop new applications for satellite derived Earth imaging data was intended to bolster Canadian claims of competitiveness in the fast growing but crowded commercial marketplace. 

But while space has always been difficult to get to and operate in, the development of applications intended to utilize the data collected from space has always followed pretty much the same processes and methodologies as any other software development project.

This is why NASA, Google, Yahoo, HP, the World Bank and others banded together to create the International Space Apps Challenge in 2012.

As outlined in the May 19th, 2014 post “CDN “SkyWatch” wins “Best Use of Data” at Int’l Space Apps Challenge,” a Canadian team even won the 2014 Challenge by designing and building (over a single weekend) an application which takes worldwide observatory data and combines it in an easy to understand, twitter-like set up to plot the data on on Google Sky.

Of course, in the absence of any real innovation and as outlined in the August 7th, 2014 Government of Canada list of organizations scheduled to receive a contract, the CSA funding will be provided to 3vGeomatics, AECOM, Array Systems Computing, ASL Environmental Sciences, C-CORE, Effigis Géo-Solutions, GHGSat, the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Kepler Space Inc., MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and PCI Geomatics as per the standard CSA operating procedures.

The individual awards are each around $500,000 CDN and most of the applications being developed will use commercially available RADARSAT 2 derived synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data.

But will the CSA awards preserve Canadian competitiveness in the growing Earth imaging applications industry?

Yeah, Right….

UPDATE:

As per the the August 18th, 2014 Government of Canada press release, “The Government of Canada announces investment in innovative mapping system for first-ever global surface water survey,” the Federal government has allocated an additional $3.3Mln CDN to Georgetown-based manufacturer, Communications and Power Industries Canada Inc. (CPI Canada), to develop the extended interaction klystron (EIK), a satellite radar component that will:

generate pulses used to gather surface information. This investment will support local high-technology jobs and economic growth while the resulting information could help Canada more efficiently manage water resources, prepare for potential flooding, and help avoid costly damage from flooding or drought. 

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will survey 90 percent of the globe, studying the Earth’s lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans. SWOT data could lead to improvements in many water-related services in Canada, including operations at sea and water management systems, and will provide measurements for lakes and rivers in Northern Canada for which none currently exist.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, and as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Waterloo Journal article, “Waterloo makes public most complete Antarctic map for climate research,” the University of Waterloo:
has unveiled a new satellite image of Antarctica, and the imagery will help scientists all over the world gain new insight into the effects of climate change.

Thanks to a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT-2 program, and the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network (CCIN) at UWaterloo, the mosaic is free and fully accessible to the academic world and the public…

Only time will tell if the open source development model has staying power, but this looks like a good start.

Canada can create useful instruments to place in space with funding from the Federal government while the data derived from those programs is provided for free to the public which paid for the data. 

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