McCain’s committee halves HASC’s RD-180 allowance

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The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of a defense authorization bill Thursday with language that lowers the limit on RD-180 engines United Launch Alliance can order for U.S. Air Force launches to 9, instead of the 18 in the House Armed Services Committee bill.

The Senate bill also includes language allowing the Air Force to spend up to half of the funding allocated for space propulsion work on launch vehicles like ULA’s Delta 4 that do not use Russian engines but cost more than the Atlas 5.

The committee argued that, with $1.2 billion budgeted for a replacement launch system from 2017 through 2021, there is more than enough money available to carry out that work and offset the costs of switching launches to the Delta 4. [SpacePolicyOnline]

Meanwhile, Amendments to the House counterpart to that bill would relax restrictions on how the Air Force can spend funding for new launch systems.

The National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Armed Services Committee last month requires the Air Force to spend no more than 25 percent of the funds authorized for space propulsion development on launch systems, with the rest going to develop of a new engine to replace the RD-180.

Amendments submitted in advance of floor debate on the bill would raise that cap to 31 percent. Even the 25 percent cap is a change from the original stance by the chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who originally sought to use the spending exclusively for engine development. [SpaceNews]


More News
A provision in a Senate appropriations bill for NASA would appear to benefit two Alabama companies. Report language in the bill directs NASA to spend $30 million of its space technology funding on a small launch technology program that makes use of capabilities developed for the Super Strypi, a vehicle that failed in its first and only launch last year. Sources claim that language is designed to benefit Dynetics and Zero Point Frontiers, two companies involved with that technology. The provision, backed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), is seen as the latest evidence that Congress treats NASA’s space technology program as a fund to be raided to support other programs. [Ars Technica]

Technical issues and new requirements led Boeing to delay the first crewed CST-100 launch to early 2018. Issues with lowering the mass of the spacecraft and with the aerodynamics of the spacecraft and Atlas 5 during launch, along with new software requirements levied by NASA, forced Boeing to reschedule that crewed test flight to February 2018. A pad abort test is now scheduled for October 2017, followed by an uncrewed test flight in December 2017. A Boeing executive said this week that it was the company’s goal to still be the first company to fly astronauts to the space station, although Boeing’s new schedule puts it months behind the latest schedule from SpaceX, the other company with a commercial crew contract. [SpaceNews]

Intelsat is giving bondholders a chance to cash in early. The company is offering to buy existing bonds that are due in the early 2020s for between $710 and $755 per $1,000 of principal, to a maximum of $625 million. Those values are above what Intelsat’s bonds are currently trading for, given concerns by investors that Intelsat will have trouble servicing all of its debt. The company issued in March $1.25 billion in secured debt due in 2024, suggesting that the company might make another offer for bonds after this one in the near future. [SpaceNews]

Intelsat, meanwhile, has ordered a new communications satellite from Space Systems Loral. The Intelsat 39 satellite will replace the Intelsat 902 satellite, providing C- and Ku-band services in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from 62 degrees east. The announcement didn’t state when the spacecraft would be delivered for launch. [SSL]

A quartet of NASA spacecraft has provided scientists with a better understanding of how space weather develops. The four Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft, launched last year, have flown through a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection, which allows energy from the sun’s magnetic field to leak into the Earth’s magnetosphere, triggering storms. Those observations surprised space scientists, who thought that magnetic reconnection would be “turbulent and messy” and difficult for the spacecraft to study. [Science]

Two former astronauts will enter the Astronaut Hall of Fame this weekend. A ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Saturday will formally induct Brian Duffy and Scott Parazynski into the hall, bringing its membership to 93. Duffy flew on four shuttle missions, commanding two of them, from 1992 to 2000. Parazynski flew on five shuttle missions from 1994 to 2007, including the STS-95 mission in 1998 that included John Glenn and the STS-120 mission in 2007, where he performed an unplanned spacewalk to repair a solar array on the space station. [Spaceflight Now]

Note: an article cited in yesterday’s newsletter stated that a shuttle external tank would be moved across the streets of Los Angeles on Friday, May 20. That move is instead scheduled for Saturday, May 21, according to the California Science Center, which will be the new home of the tank.


Better to Look Good Than Feel Good

“It used to be that spacesuits — derived from the bulky, utilitarian pressurized suits worn by aviators and test pilots in the early 20th century — inspired civilian culture. Remember moon boots? Rocket fins? Jumpsuits? The iMac? But we’ve come full circle. Now, as space flight moves into the civilian world, pop culture is dictating design: The legacy of the iPod is that we now expect technology to look cool, even when it’s a life-support system. Without being too prejudicial, it’s safe to say that this all sounds like a recipe for disaster in zero gravity. But at least you’ll look amazing when it happens.”

– S.I. Rosenbaum, discussing how companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have turned to people outside the aerospace industry to develop flight suits and spacesuits. [Boston Globe]