FAA developing system to better integrate commercial launches
Current procedures call for closing off large areas of airspace for launches, which disrupts aircraft flight operations and poses problems as the number of commercial launches increase.
The FAA is working on ways to improve automated tracking of launches and reentries that can limit the airspace that needs to be closed off.
That system will be tested later this year for a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft reentry. [Wall Street Journal]
The U.S. Navy says a problem with the propulsion system on its new MUOS-5 satellite has stranded the spacecraft in its transfer orbit. The satellite, launched into orbit June 24, had been expected to reach geostationary orbit by early July. The Navy said Tuesday the spacecraft suffered a “failure of the orbit raising propulsion system” halfway into its 10-day transit into GEO, keeping the spacecraft in an intermediate orbit. The Navy says it is considering other options to raise the spacecraft’s orbit, and that the spacecraft is otherwise healthy. MUOS-5 is intended to be an on-orbit spare for the Mobile User Objective System that provides mobile communications. [SpaceNews]
A NASA advisory group is concerned that additional delays in commercial crew development could prevent NASA astronauts from reaching the station beyond 2018. NASA says Boeing and SpaceX, the two companies working on commercial crew systems, are making progress on “optimistic but achievable” schedules that would have their vehicles certified between late 2017 and mid-2018. A NASA Advisory Council committee, after a recent meeting, concluded it was likely those schedules would slip because of the technical complexity of any human spaceflight system. That raises concerns that the vehicles may not be ready by the end of 2018, when NASA’s agreement with Russia for Soyuz seats expires. The committee made no recommendations on what NASA should do, other than to have a backup plan of some kind. [SpaceNews]
Boeing, meanwhile, has nearly completed solution to technical problems that has delayed its commercial crew vehicle development. The company said it has resolved mass issues with its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and is also completing analysis of a design change to reduce aerodynamic loads behind the spacecraft during launch on an Atlas 5. Those issues caused Boeing earlier this year to delay its CST-100 test flights, pushing the crewed test flight from late 2017 to February 2018. Boeing says they have not encountered additional major issues with the spacecraft. [Spaceflight Now]
Vector Space said Tuesday it has an agreement for 21 launches from a Finnish company. Vector Space said that Iceye, a company planning a constellation of small radar satellites, will purchase 21 launches over a four-year period on Vector Space’s small launch vehicle under development. Vector Space successfully carried out a low-altitude test flight of a technology demonstrator vehicle over the weekend in California. [Ars Technica]
NASA’s chief technology officer for information technology will retire in September. Deborah Diaz, who had been at NASA since 2009, said Tuesday she will retire at the end of September. Diaz held similar roles in a number of other government agencies, from the Department of Homeland Security to the Patent and Trademark Office, prior to joining NASA. [FCW]
A Seattle-area company has won more than $2 million in contracts for a new kind of satellite thruster. The Hydros thruster, developed by Tethers Unlimited, electrolyzes water into hydrogen and oxygen, which are then ignited to create thrust. The company said it has a public-private partnership with NASA to provide a Hydros thruster for a NASA cubesat mission, and a separate contract with Millennium Space Systems for three of its Altair microsatellites. [GeekWire]
The tenuous atmosphere of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io freezes out every 42 hours. Astronomers observing Io at far infrared wavelengths were able to see the atmosphere freeze out when the moon passes into Jupiter’s shadow, dropping temperatures by more than 20 degrees Celsius. The frost evaporates when Io emerges from the planet’s shadow. Io’s atmopshere, whose pressure is only about one-billionth that of Earth’s, is made primarily of sulfur dioxide spewed from the moon’s volcanoes. [Science]
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. [collectSPACE]