NASA, ATLAS to Mature Portable Space Communications Technology

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Portable ground antenna stations could transform NASA’s space communications capabilities. With access to undeveloped regions, the mobile systems could bolster the return of spacecraft science, instrument health and other data to Earth.

NASA and ATLAS Space Operations, based in Traverse City, Michigan, are collaborating to test and develop this technology. The company’s compact, internet-managed antenna system called ATLAS LINKS will undergo testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to determine its compatibility with NASA’s ground-based communications network, the Near Earth Network.


NASA Selects Smallsat Technology Projects for SBIR Funding

Credit: NASA

NASA has selected nine small satellite technology projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Each contract is worth up to $750,000 over two years.

The proposals include:

Antara Teknik, LLC
Granite Bay, CA
Efficient and Secure Network and Application Communications for Small Spacecraft

Busek Company, Inc.
Natick, MA
Milliarcsecond Small Spacecraft Attitude Control System

CU Aerospace, LLC
Champaign, IL
Fiber-fed Advanced Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT)

Froberg Aerospace, LLC
Rolla, MO
Multi-Mode Micropropulsion

Gener8, Inc.
Sunnyvale, CA
Integrated Waveguide Optical Gyroscope

Innoflight, Inc.
San Diego, CA
Compact Multi-Protocol Modem

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Valley Tech Systems, Inc.
Folsom, CA
Affordable Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Reaction Control System

Vector Launch Inc.
Tucson, AZ
Flight Demonstration of a Micropump-based Stage Pressurization System

Summaries of the proposals follow.


Heat Vision and Jack: What Could Have Been

I was rather amused by all the misreporting about the results of NASA’s Twin Study this week. Some of the press reports made it sound like Scott Kelly had returned from a year in space as some sort of genetic mutation. Or something.

It made me think of this TV pilot from 1999 directed by Ben Stiller and starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson. It’s sort of a mashup of Knight Rider, The Fugitive, the Six Million Dollar Man and the Fantastic Four (minus 3). The late Ron Silver’s role in it is absurd in the best way.

I’m not entirely sure, but I think some of the gas station/diner exterior scenes were filmed at a standing set just outside of Mojave.

Not sure it would have made a very good series, but it would have been interesting to have seen them try. Oh, for what might have been.

Watch and enjoy!

NASA Television Coverage Set for Space Station Crew Launch, Docking

Expedition 55 crew members Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut are ready for their journey to the International Space Station that begins on Wednesday, March 21. Live coverage will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, are set to launch in the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft at 1:44 p.m. EDT (11:44 p.m. Kazakhstan time) March 21.


NASA Twins Study Confirms Preliminary Findings

Identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly, are the subjects of NASA’s Twins Study. Scott (left) spent a year in space while Mark (right) stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers are looking at the effects of space travel on the human body. (Credits: NASA)

Editor’s note: NASA issued the following statement updating this article on March 15, 2018:

Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins; Scott’s DNA did not fundamentally change. What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving.


NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Nearing the End as Fuel Runs Low

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Trailing Earth’s orbit at 94 million miles away, the Kepler space telescope has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays. At this rate, the hardy spacecraft may reach its finish line in a manner we will consider a wonderful success. With nary a gas station to be found in deep space, the spacecraft is going to run out of fuel. We expect to reach that moment within several months.


NASA Selects In-Space Propulsion Projects for SBIR Funding

NASA has selected six in-space propulsion projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The phase II contracts last for two years and are worth up to $750,000.

The awards include:

e beam, Inc.
Beaverton, OR
Cathode for Electric Space Propulsion Utilizing Iodine as Propellant

Plasma Controls, LLC
Fort Collins, CO
Iodine Hollow Cathode

Quest Thermal Group
Arvada, CO
Multi-Environment MLI: Novel Multi-Functional Insulation for Mars Missions

Streamline Automation, LLC
Huntsville, AL
Hybrid Propulsion Technology for Robotic Science Missions

TDA Research, Inc.
Wheat Ridge, CO
Novel Sorbent to Remove Radioactive Halogens and Noble Gases from NTP Engine Exhaust

WASK Engineering, Inc.
Cameron Park, CA
High Response Control Valve

Summaries of the proposals follow.


Senate Approves NASA CFO

Jeffrey DeWit (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

The nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to run NASA might still be in limbo, but the Senate did accomplish something involving the space agency: confirming Jeffrey DeWit to serve as the chief financial officer (CFO).

“It is encouraging to see more members of the agency’s leadership team being named,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement. “Jeff’s solid financial background will be a tremendous addition as we continue to advance our nation’s aeronautic and exploration initiatives.”

DeWit formerly serves as state treasurer of Arizona and chairman of the Arizona State Board of Investments. He was elected to a four-year term as state treasurer in 2014, and he said he did not plan to run for reelection this year.


New Laws Unlock Exciting Space Era for UK

LONDON (UKSA PR) — New laws are set to get Royal Assent today (15 March 2018) which will unlock an exciting era of British space innovation, exploration and investment.

The Space Industry Bill will enable the first commercial space launch from UK soil in history, creating the potential for hundreds of highly-skilled jobs and bringing in billions of pounds for the economy.

The passing of the Bill, the most modern piece of space industry legislation anywhere in the world, means British businesses will soon be able to compete in the commercial space race using UK spaceports.


Airbus Launches OPTIMA Photonics Payload Technology Project

STEVENAGE, England, March 15, 2018 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has launched the OPTIMA project, which will deliver a proof of concept demonstrator for the use of photonic payloads in telecommunications satellites.

The OPTIMA project, which is led by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage and part of Horizon 2020 funded by the European Commission, comprises specialist partners from across Europe, including: DAS Photonics, CORDON Electronics, SODERN, IMEC and Polatis. Airbus Defence and Space will define, assemble and test a photonic payload demonstrator based on the components and equipment developed by the other members of the consortium.


ILS Secures Additional Orders for Proton Medium Vehicle

Proton launches EchoStar 21 satellite. (Credit: Roscosmos)

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — ILS, a leading provider of commercial launch services, announced multiple launch assignments for Proton Medium launches that will include the use of both the 4.35 meter and the new 5.2 meter payload fairing. The missions will take place beginning in late 2019 from Pad 24 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


U.S. Air Force Awards Launch Contracts to SpaceX, ULA

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The U.S. Air Force has announced the awarding of launch contracts to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and rival United Launch Alliance. SpaceX’s firm-fixed-price contract totals $290,594,130 while ULA was awarded a firm-fixed-price contract worth $354,811,947.

“This contract provides launch vehicle production, mission integration/launch operations/spaceflight worthiness and mission unique activities for a GPS III mission, with options for two additional GPS III launch services,” the Air Force said about the SpaceX contract.

“This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and two offers were received,” the press statement said. “Fiscal 2017 and 2018 space procurement funding in the amount of $96,937,905 will be obligated at the time of award.”

ULA’s contract is for the launch of the AFSPC-8 and AFSPC-12 satellites to geosynchronous orbit.

“This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and two offers were received,” the Air Force said. “Fiscal 2017 and 2018 space procurement; and fiscal 2018 research, development, test, and evaluation funding in the amount of $354,811,947 will be obligated at the time of award.”

Rocket Lab Plans for Electron Commercial Flight

Electron soars into orbit. (Credit: Screenshot from Rocket Lab webcast)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif., March 13, 2018 (Rocket Lab PR) — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has today confirmed its next launch will be the company’s first fully commercial flight. Two Lemur-2 cubesats for launch customer Spire Global will be on board the upcoming launch, with the full manifest to be confirmed in coming weeks.

The flight’s name was put to a vote on social media, with “It’s Business Time” coming out as a clear fan favourite and a continuation of company’s previous flight names, “It’s a Test” and “Still Testing”.