Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bigelow Aerospace establishes space operations company to look at commercial space station market

WASHINGTON — Bigelow Aerospace has established a space operations subsidiary whose first task will be to study the market for the company’s commercial space stations as it grapples with competition from China and NASA.

Bigelow Space Operations, formally announced by Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow Feb. 20, will handles the sales, customer service and ultimately the operations of the commercial space stations that Bigelow Aerospace will manufacture.

The first task for the new company, Bigelow said in a conference call with reporters, is to perform a detailed market study for the company’s B330 expandable modules, and future larger variants, to determine what demand exists and whether it’s worthwhile to proceed with the launch of the first two B330 modules in the early 2020s.

“We intend to spend millions of dollars this year in drilling down, hopefully, to a conclusion one way or the other as to what the global market is going to look like,” he said. That work will be finished by the end of this year, at which time he said the company would offer some qualitative public assessment on the size of the market.

Bigelow Aerospace has been soliciting potential customers, primarily governments, for its proposed space stations for more than a decade. Bigelow said that, from 2005 to 2007, the company signed memoranda of understanding and letters of intent with eight countries that expressed an interest in using those stations. However, the global economic crisis in 2008 soured that interest as those countries, he said, “went from fantasizing about ambitious space programs for human beings in LEO to worrying about whether or not they’re going to default tomorrow on their national debt.”

Bigelow said that interest has picked up in recent years, including from some of those original relationships with other nations. However, he expressed concern about potential competition not from other companies also planning commercial space stations, but instead the space programs of China and the United States.

China is developing its own space station that is expected to enter service in the early 2020s. It has been in talks with a number of countries, including some International Space Station partners, about using the station. “They are offering very attractive terms and conditions and features that the commercial sector is going to have a horrible time trying to compete with,” he said. “That’s a huge disadvantage that exists today.”

A bigger concern for him, though, was NASA’s plans for exploration beyond Earth orbit, which seeks to attract the same set of ISS partner nations as it ends direct funding of the ISS in the mid-2020s.

“NASA itself is a competitor,” he said. “Those ISS partners are now being courted to participate in deep space operations and [Lunar Orbiting Platform] Gateway and other kinds of programs, and they may not have much money left in terms of being a customer for LEO.”

Bigelow called upon the Trump administration to step in and find a solution to the problem, although he did not advocate for any specific approach. “I get an uneasy feeling that there is not a plan, there is not something in place, to actually embrace all of the partners” for commercial LEO operations, he said.

He said later he has not had any discussions yet with White House officials on this topic, and that the company didn’t plan to attend the Feb. 21 meeting of the National Space Council. “We really are available to discuss this topic with the administration and expose the problem that we see exists not only from a commercial standpoint, but a political standpoint,” he said.

Despite the market uncertainty, Bigelow Aerospace is proceeding with the construction of its first two B330 modules. He said the modules are on schedule to be ready for launch by the end of 2021, with four more modules “in the queue.” The company is also working with other companies to arrange the launch of those modules and transportation of crew and cargo to them, with a minimum of eight flights per year.

“Money has changed hands between our company and other companies,” he said, including a “seven-figure study” with one company regarding launch of the modules and placing reservations for crew and cargo missions. He didn’t identify the companies he was working with, but Bigelow announced a partnership with United Launch Alliance in April 2016 that would lead to launching the B330 on the largest version of ULA’s Atlas 5.

Those plans, though, are dependent on the outcome of the market study to be performed by Bigelow Space Operations. “We will pause at launch contracts if we do not see, by the end of this year, a viable business case,” he said. “If it turned out to be that, we would pause after developing two B330s. They would be sitting on the ground, waiting for deployment, if, in fact, the business simply weren’t there.”

To carry out that market study and other work, Bigelow Space Operations plans to grow to three or four dozen employees by the end of the year. A few key people have been hired since January, including a chief operating officer and vice president of global sales. The company could ultimately grow to 400 to 500 employees once B330 modules are launched and operating, Bigelow said.

Bigelow Space Operations also announced a partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages the portion of the ISS designated as a national laboratory. That partnership, which will initially involve payload integration services for the ISS, could expand to giving a CASIS a role for managing research on future B330 modules.

“We believe in CASIS,” he said, despite criticism of their work utilizing the ISS. “We believe in them continuing their existence regardless of what happens to the station, because they’re helping to energize embryonic companies.”

Bigelow Space Operations’ work could expand beyond low Earth orbit as well. Bigelow Aerospace and ULA released plans in October 2017 for a “lunar depot” using a B330 module launched into lunar orbit on ULA’s Vulcan rocket and next-generation Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage upper stage. That depot could be served by versions SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle.

The company has other concepts for using B330 modules for a lunar base. “We’d love to participate with partners in this,” he said, saying Bigelow Space Operations would have the ability to be partners on such platforms “wherever they might be: doesn’t matter if they’re in LEO or on the lunar surface or a lunar depot.”

Read More: http://spacenews.com/bigelow-aerospace-establishes-space-operations-company-to-look-at-commercial-space-station-market/

Mike Pence to lead talk on America 'winning' the moon, Mars and 'worlds beyond'

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday will oversee a discussion on America's plans to travel once more to the moon, and then to Mars and "worlds beyond" when he leads a meeting of the National Space Council at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Leaders in the civil, commercial, and national security sectors will brief Pence during the "Moon, Mars, and Worlds beyond: Winning the Next Frontier" meeting about the United States' space endeavors at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The names of the companies participating in the meeting have not been released and the vice president's office did not respond to a request for comment. The topic for Wednesday's meeting is expected to be regulatory reform, according to SpacePolicyOnline.com.

Pence will tour the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch facilities and Kennedy Space Center during his two-day trip to Florida.

The White House's space council held its first meeting in October. President Trump revived the council after nearly 25 years of inactivity. Pence said the group's goal is to help the administration develop and implement long-range strategic goals for U.S. space policy.

Pence, chairman of the council, vowed then that "America will lead in space again."

Source: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/mike-pence-to-lead-talk-on-america-winning-the-moon-mars-and-worlds-beyond/article/2649458

Monday, February 19, 2018

ISRO technically ready for human space missions

ISRO technically ready for human space missions

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is ready with technologies needed for human space missions and only political clearance is needed, according to a senior professor.

Delivering the spotlight address at the fourth ORF-Kalpana Chawla Space Dialogue here today, B N Suresh, Honorary Distinguished Professor of the ISRO, said as far as ISRO is concerned, its team is ready to undertake such missions.

This year's Dialogue was kicked off on Thursday night with the inaugural address by Lt. Gen. Amit Sharma, former Commander-in-chief, Strategic Forces Command and special address by Sunil Gupta, Secretary, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. ORF Chairman Sunjoy Joshi delivered the welcome address.

Prof. Suresh said ISRO is now working on building the heavy lift launch vehicle that can lift five to eight tonnes of payload. These vehicles will be backed by highly powerful Cryo Engine Cluster .

He said the future plans of heavy lift launch vehicles are designed to allow India to launch reusable vehicles, heavy platforms and human space missions.

Looking at the growing use of small satellites, India is also working on a small satellite launch vehicle also, Prof Suresh said.

ISRO is also working on to master recovery of the space capsule and developing a reusable launch vehicle that would reduce the cost and allow reuse of the vehicle.

Prof. Suresh said all of India's launch capabilities are in sync with the civilian programme, but not defence.

He noted that from a scratch in the 1980s, India's space launch capabilities have improved exponentially to launch 104 satellites in one go.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. V G Khandare, former Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency, delivering another spotlight address on 'Utilisaton of Space for Military Purpose: A roadmap for India', underlined the need for India to develop capabilities to launch heavier space assets, to match China's capabilities.

He felt that China has an edge over India with more satellites and launch centres.

He also said India has a long way to go, needs to learn from its adversaries and be able to use its space capability as a deterrent for war and conflict.

In the inaugural address, Lt. Gen Amit Sharma said while militarisation of space is very difficult to stop, India should take an active role in stopping the weaponisation of space.

He said right now, there is also no clear clarity on what kind of weapons are prohibited in the space, as the treaty talks of only weapons of mass destruction. "Are kinetic weapons allowed? Are laser weapons allowed? Unfortunately, there is no clarity on these issues," he said.

Lt. Gen Sharma said with ISRO mastering the job of building satellites, this job should now be left to the private sector, and ISRO should concentrate on newer, tech-advanced areas.

He also stressed the need to build capability to look after the assets in space. In his special address, TRAI Secretary Sunil Gupta said the open sky policies of his organisation is going to be further streamlined, noting that it believes in "technology neutral".

 He also made it clear that the TRAI is against putting restrictions on foreign satellites just because they are foreign. "That is not the right way. We have to see what role these satellites play," he said.

 Gupta also underlined the need for making satellite clearances much easier.

 ORF Chairman Sunjoy Joshi noted that while the Indian space programme is already 40 billion dollars, the world commercial space market stands at 380 billion dollars. And it is expected to go up to at least 2.7 trillion dollars in the next three decades, according to Bank of America's Merrill Lynch.

 Though the US holds more than 40% market share in this industry, the US successes has been coming not from NASA alone but from a dynamic, innovative private sector actively encouraged and promoted by NASA and the DOD, Joshi pointed out.

 "Goldman Sachs today calls space the next investment frontier. And as this new race heats up, there will as always have winners and losers. Some countries will race to encourage private companies to literally rocket the sector forward far more vigorously and swiftly than would be the case if left to governments alone. Others will struggle with the regulatory frameworks in this area," Joshi said.

 The three-day conference will see top scientists, policy-makers, practitioners, and all other stake-holders debate various topics and issues. The valedictory address will be delivered tomorrow by Dr. V K Saraswat, now NITI Aayog Member and a former Director General of the DRDO and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister.

Source: http://www.sify.com/finance/isro-technically-ready-for-human-space-missions-news-finance-scqsKafaajjfg.html

Thursday, February 15, 2018

95 new exoplanets discovered during NASA's K2 mission

Scientists have confirmed 95 additional exoplanets outside the solar system based on analysis of NASA's K2 mission data.

Since the first planet orbiting a star similar to the solar system's sun was detected in 1995, more than 3,300 exoplanets -- ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter -- have been found.

The first data from the K2 was released in 2014, with the latest findings released in a paper published in the Astronomical Journal.

"We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries," Andrew Mayo, a doctoral student at the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, said in a press release.

The work also involved colleagues from institutions such as NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Tokyo.

"Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science," said Mayo, who started the research when he was a senior at Harvard College. "As more planets are discovered, astronomers will develop a much better picture of the nature of exoplanets which in turn will allow us to place our own solar system into a galactic context."

In 2009, NASA sent Kepler on the hunt for exoplanets in a specific part of the sky. A mechanical failure in 2013, however, caused the telescope to drift. Astronomers and engineers saved the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically, calling the second mission K2.

The scientists analyzed several hundred signals to determine which signals were created by exoplanets and which were caused by other sources.

"We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft. But we also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger," Mayo said.

One of the planets detected was orbiting a bright star.

"We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet," Mayo said. "Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories."

Scientists hope to find more exoplants from upcoming space missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. That includes finding rocky Earth-sized planets that might be capable of supporting life.

Among the early discoveries from Kepler in 1995 was an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler 10b, located about 540 light years away.

Source: https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2018/02/15/95-new-exoplanets-discovered-during-NASAs-K2-mission/3011518722771/

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Orion spacecraft planned for lunar mission begins construction by Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has begun producing the Orion spacecraft that is planned to send NASA astronauts on a journey around the Moon. NASA’s Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2) which is currently slated for a 2022 launch date has seen the first two components of the craft’s pressure vessel welded together.

“Each of these spacecraft are important, but we realize that the EM-2 capsule is special as it’s the first one to carry astronauts back out to the Moon, something we haven’t done in a long time. It’s something we think about every day,” said Paul Anderson, director of Orion EM-2 production at Lockheed Martin via a company-issued release.

Engineers working at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility located near New Orleans welded together the first two parts that are planned for use on the EM-2 mission which should see astronauts travel to the Moon. If everything goes off without a hitch, this flight should mark the first time that a crew has been sent to the Moon’s vicinity since the Apollo 17 mission which took place in December of 1972.

The first weld conducted on the EM-2 pressure vessel joined the the forward bulkhead with the vehicle’s tunnel section – which forms the top of the structure.

“Orion has tremendous momentum. We’re finishing assembly of the EM-1 Orion spacecraft in Florida, and simultaneously starting production on the first one that will carry crew,” said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for Orion via a release issued by Lockheed Martin. “This is not only the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its production will be more efficient than any previous capsule. For example, look at the progress we’ve made on the EM-2 pressure vessel compared to the first one we built. The latest version is 30 percent lighter and has 80 percent fewer parts. That equates to a substantially more cost-effective and capable spacecraft.”

Orion’s pressure vessel is designed to be able to handle to harsh environs of space which will be required when sending astronauts the 252,088 miles (405,696 km) between the Earth and the Moon. As with most vehicles that are developed and produced as part of an ongoing series, changes have been made to the EM-2 design from the prior vessel.

“The EM-1 and EM-2 crew modules are very similar in design, but we’ve made a lot of improvements since we built EM-1, including processes, scheduling, and supply chain, all contributing to a lower cost and faster manufacturing,” Anderson said.

The pressure vessel should continue to undergo construction through this summer in Michoud. During this time, it should see its three cone panels, large barrel and the aft bulkhead added. According to Lockheed Martin, seven bulkheads make up the Orion spacecraft’s pressure vessel. These are made up of machined aluminum alloy pieces which engineers weld together, these are light in weight, but still very strong.

The Trump Administration has been pushing to have the space agency’s low-Earth orbit operations handed over to commercial entities, with the White House stating its intention to hand the sole LEO destination, the International Space Station, to private companies. With station operations handled by private firms, NASA should be freed to focus on deep space exploration – enter Orion.

NASA and Lockheed Martin are hoping to have EM-2’s pressure vessel shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in September of this year (2018). Once there, it will continue to undergo testing and final assembly.

Source: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/lockheed-martin-organizations/orion-spacecraft-planned-lunar-mission-begins-construction-lockheed-martin/

Monday, February 12, 2018

NASA budget proposal plans end of NASA funding of ISS, seeks commercial transition

WASHINGTON — NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal will include plans to end funding for the International Space Station in 2025, but leaves open the possibility of handing part or all of the station over to private operators.

The budget proposal, due to be released Feb. 12, will include a request for $150 million to support the development of commercial capabilities in low Earth orbit to succeed the ISS, for which NASA could be a customer, according to an internal agency document obtained by SpaceNews.

As part of a congressionally-mandated ISS transition plan yet to be released, NASA examined several options for the station’s future, according to that document. Those options ranged from continuing the ISS “as is” beyond 2024 to deorbiting the entire station, as well as options to operate the station as a public-private partnership or transfer parts of the station to a private platform.

The approach the administration has chosen is one that would end NASA funding of the ISS in 2025, while offering support for the development of commercial successors. “In support of enabling a timely development and transition of commercial capabilities in LEO where NASA could be one of many customers in the mid-2020s, the Administration is proposing to end direct Federal support for the ISS in 2025 under the current NASA-directed operating model,” the document states.

The 2019 budget proposal will offer $150 million “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS – potentially including elements of the ISS – are operational when they are needed.” The document says “increasing investments” above that $150 million will be included in future years’ budget requests.

The end of federal funding for the ISS would not necessarily mean the end of the station, or at least some parts of it, according to the document. “[I]t is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” it states.

The goal of that effort would be to have commercial facilities in operation by the time NASA funding for the ISS ends in 2025, with NASA potentially being a customer of those facilities to support its research needs, such as for exploration beyond Earth orbit. “It is the intent of NASA and the Administration to maintain seamless access to a human platform in LEO that meets NASA’s and the Nation’s goals,” the document states.

Less clear is how such a plan would be coordinated with the station’s international partners. Russia in particular has expressed an interest in developing its own space station after the ISS, potentially using some of the modules the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, plans to add to its segment of the station in the next few years. The station’s other key partners — Canada, Europe and Japan — have not strongly expressed either a desire to continue using the ISS beyond 2024 or supporting development of other facilities in LEO.

The NASA document notes that the station’s international partners are each at a different state in planning for operations of the ISS beyond 2024. “NASA will continue to consult with the partnership regarding ISS transition in order to ensure consensus and the effective implementation of the ISS Program,” the agency document states.

Any effort to end NASA operations of the ISS in the mid-2020s is likely to face strong congressional headwinds, based on comments made since rumors of the plan leaked last month. Several key members of Congress, representing both houses and both parties, have expressed opposition to the idea of ending station operations in 2025.

Among them is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. “We have invested massively in the ISS. It has produced enormous benefits to the United States and the world, and we should use that asset as long as it is technologically feasible and cost-effective to do so,” Cruz said in a Feb. 7 speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference here.

Asked after the speech if there was any chance the ISS would end in 2024, he said he didn’t believe so unless there was a technical reason for ending the station at that point. However, Cruz left open the door to keeping the ISS operating after 2024 as a public-private partnership of some kind.

“I think all of us are open to reasonable proposals that are cost-effective and that are utilizing the investments we’ve made in a way that maximizes their effectiveness,” he said.

Source: http://spacenews.com/nasa-budget-proposal-plans-of-nasa-funding-of-iss-seeks-commercial-transition/

Monday, February 5, 2018

Distant Earth-like planets could harbor water — and maybe life

Several planets in a distant solar system have temperatures that could sustain liquid water, thought to be a key for life, a series of studies released Monday report.

The planets, which scientists say are the best-studied worlds outside our solar system, “remarkably resemble Mercury, Venus, our Earth, its moon and Mars,” said Amaury Triaud, a University of Birmingham astronomer who co-authored one of the studies.

The worlds in question circle a dim star called TRAPPIST-1, which shares its name with the Belgian-operated telescope (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) located in Chile. It's also a reference to the famous Trappist beer.

Astronomers peering through the scope first discovered the system two years ago and continue to uncover more details about the star and its worlds.

The new studies say that, as had been theorized, all of the planets are rocky and not gaseous.

The planets' densities, now known much more precisely than before, suggest some planets could contain up to a whopping 5% of their mass in water — 250 times more than the oceans on Earth.

According to the new research, the fourth planet in the system, known as TRAPPIST-1e, is the most Earth-like. Of the known exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, 1-e is the one that's most similar to the Earth in size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star, according to researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland.  

It's also the only one of the seven planets that is somewhat denser than Earth, and it is not ruled out that liquid water exists on its surface. 

Scientists are able to calculate the densities of these planets because they are lined up in such a way that when they pass in front of their star, our telescopes can detect a dimming of its light, NASA said. The amount by which the starlight dims is related to the size of the planet. 

“Densities, while important clues to the planets’ compositions, do not say anything about habitability," said Brice-Olivier Demory, study co-author from the University of Bern. "However, our study is an important step forward as we continue to explore whether these planets could support life."

The star and its planets are less than 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, according to NASA. Despite being so "close" to Earth, relatively speaking, the star is too dim and too red to be seen with the naked eye or even with a large amateur telescope.

The next step in exploring the TRAPPIST system will be with the help of the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. NASA's newest scope, scheduled for launch in 2019, will orbit the earth and be able to delve into the question of whether these planets have atmospheres and, if so, what those atmospheres are like.

The new studies were published Monday in the journals Nature Astronomy and Astronomy and Astrophysics.