Orbital ATK discloses details of rocket it’s developing with Air Force assist
The Next Generation Launcher will use solid motors based on those used by the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters in its lower stages, and an upper stage powered by Blue Origin’s BE-3U liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engine, a company official said Tuesday at the Space Congress conference in Florida.
The rocket would launch initially from a refurbished shuttle pad at the Kennedy Space Center.
Orbital received a contract from the Air Force earlier this year to support development, although a final decision on whether to pursue the vehicle is not expected until the middle of next year. [Reuters]
The U.S. Air Force is not in a hurry to launch military satellites on reused rockets. Claire Leon, director of launch enterprise at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said it would be a “long time” before the government would put a critical national security payload on a vehicle like a reused Falcon 9. Leon, speaking at the Space Tech Expo conference, didn’t elaborate on what it would take for the Air Force to be willing to launch on a reused vehicle beyond a need for “very high design margins.” [Los Angeles Times]
Roscosmos doesn’t expect to get another contract from NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Sergey Saveliev, deputy chief of the state space corporation, said no contracts exist for flights beyond 2018, and that he does not expect to sign new ones. NASA is funding development of commercial vehicles by Boeing and SpaceX that the agency expects to be certified to carry crews by 2018, although Boeing recently announced a delayed test schedule that pushed back a crewed test flight to early 2018. [TASS]
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he supports space exploration. In an interview while campaigning in southern California, Sanders noted the pride created by achievements like the Apollo 11 moon landing, “and I would like to see that type of exploration to Mars and elsewhere continue.” He did not provide any specific space policy details in the brief interview. Sanders continues to campaign for the Democratic nomination although he is far behind front-runner Hillary Clinton in the number of delegates. [Orange County (Calif.) Register]
Roscosmos plans to skip July’s Farnborough International Airshow in England. A Roscosmos official said the agency would not send a delegation to the popular trade show, but offered no additional details about its decision not to attend. Sanctions against Russia linked to its annexation of Crimea may have played a role in its decision to skip the event. [Sputnik]
A Senate bill would require a Nunn-McCurdy review of a troubled GPS ground system program. Language in the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, to be taken up this week by the full Senate, withholds $393 million from the Operational Control Segment (OCX) program until the Secretary of Defense conducts a Nunn-McCurdy certification of it. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which approved the bill earlier this month, argued that the Air Force was delaying a new cost baseline for the program that would have automatically triggered such a review. OCX’s cost has already increased 22 percent, according to a Defense Department acquisition report issued earlier this year, and is expected to go even higher. [SpaceNews]
The FAA’s commercial space office received a small but highly desired increase in its budget Tuesday. House appropriators approved an amendment to a transportation, housing, and urban development spending bill that transfers $1 million to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, bringing its overall budget up to $19.8 million. That is the amount both requested by the administration and provided in the Senate’s version of the bill. The FAA and industry advocates argued the office needs the additional money to hire staff and avoid backlogs on license applications and other regulatory activities. [SpaceNews]
The U.S. and Norway are likely to gain access to Galileo’s protected navigation signal at a meeting next month. Philippe Jean, head of the Galileo unit at the European Commission, said the European Council will likely approve access to the Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal during a June 7 meeting, although additional negotiations will be required to discuss terms of access. The announcement was tied to the launch of the two latest Galileo satellites early Tuesday. [SpaceNews]
A successful static fire test Tuesday evening sets the stage for the next Falcon 9 launch Thursday night. The test on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral is part of the customary pre-launch preparations for Falcon 9 missions. The rocket is scheduled to lift off at 5:40 p.m. Thursday carrying the Thaicom 8 satellite. As with previous launches, SpaceX will attempt to land the rocket’s first stage on a ship downrange from the launch site as part of its efforts to make the stage reusable. [Spaceflight Now]
Intelsat says that lower prices for satellite bandwidth is being offset by greater demand. Stephen Spengler, chief executive of Intelsat, said that downward pricing pressure on services by its new Epic high-throughput satellites is stronger than originally forecast, but that customers are contracting for more bandwidth. The customers on its first Epic satellite, IS-29e, are split between those moved from older Intelsat spacecraft and new customers, particularly in the aeronautical and maritime mobility sectors. [SpaceNews]
KBR is acquiring Wyle, a NASA contractor, for $570 million. KBR announced this week that Wyle will become a business unit within its Government Services segment when the deal closes, which is expected by Oct. 1. Wyle, with 3,800 employees, is one of NASA’s 25 biggest contractors and holds a $1.5 billion space medicine contract from the agency. Wyle also works with the Defense Department and other U.S. government agencies. [SpaceNews]