Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced a $100 million project to develop interstellar spacecraft technology.
Milner’s Breakthrough Starshot project will work on technology that would allow chip-sized spacecraft to be accelerated by laser light sails and travel at up to 20 percent the speed of light.
Such a spacecraft could travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, in about two decades.
Pete Worden, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, will lead the program, with an advisory board that includes Milner, physicist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. [Scientific American]
Intelsat will be the first customer for Orbital ATK’s satellite servicing effort. The companies announced a contract Tuesday where Orbital ATK’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) will dock with an Intelsat satellite, yet to be identified, and take over propulsion and attitude control for up to five years. That vehicle is slated for launch in late 2018. The MEV would allow spacecraft that are running out of fuel but otherwise working well to continue operating for several more years. Orbital ATK hopes to build and launch five MEVs in five years, and later expand the vehicle’s capabilities from life extension to refueling and repair. [SpaceNews]
Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) formally introduced his comprehensive space policy bill Tuesday. The American Space Renaissance Act includes a wide range of policy provisions for military, civil and commercial space. Bridenstine, in a speech at the 32nd Space Symposium, said the bill is needed to maintain U.S. leadership in space in response to growing threats. He acknowledged that the bill is unlikely to pass in its present form, but that provisions could be incorporated into other bills. [SpaceNews]
A top Pentagon official said a new space operations center was the result of a change in thinking about space. In an interview en route to the 32nd Space Symposium, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said that the Defense Department no longer considers space to be a “sanctuary” but instead assumes “our space constellation will be under threat from the earliest moment.” That led to the development of the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center to conduct experiments regarding threats to satellites, in some cases involving actual satellites. [SpaceNews]
Aerojet Rocketdyne argued that its AR1 engine is the only direct replacement for the RD-180. A company executive said Tuesday Aerojet has invested $70 million of its own funds on the engine to date on the AR1, a total that will exceed $250 million while the Air Force provides up to $534 million. Aerojet claims the AR1 avoids the expense of reworking the launch vehicle and ground systems that would be required if United Launch Alliance decides to use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, which runs on methane instead of kerosene. Even if ULA does select the BE-4 for its Vulcan rocket, Aerojet believes the AR1 will be developed and flown on some other launch vehicle. [SpaceNews]
Raytheon says its next-generation GPS ground control system has passed a key early test. The GPS Operational Control Segment (OCX) passed its first formal qualification test last month, the company announced Tuesday. OCX has suffered cost and schedule issues that could require the U.S. Air Force to use older systems for the first GPS 3 satellites, limiting the ability to take advantage of the satellites’ new capabilities. [SpaceNews]
Airbus is developing a “Plan B” should the British government not renew a military satellite communications contract. The British Defence Ministry is widely expected not to renew a 19-year, $5 billion contract for the Skynet 5 system when it expires in 2022, and instead take a more conventional approach for procuring and operating follow-on satellites. The Skynet 5 deal involves a type of public private partnership known as a Private Finance Initiative that has fallen out of favor in the UK. Airbus hopes that, even if the UK decides to buy future satellites, it will contract with a service provider to handle operations. [SpaceNews]
NOAA plans to issue its first solicitation for commercial satellite weather data this summer. That request for proposals will be for GPS radio occultation data will be the first for the agency’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot, an effort to buy commercial data to supplement that from its own satellites. The pilot program received $3 million in 2016, and NOAA is requesting $5 million for it in 2017. [SpaceNews]
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos looks forward to flying in space on his company’s vehicles. In an on-stage interview at the Space Symposium, Bezos said he has undergone centrifuge training as part of preparations for both suborbital flights on Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle as well as later orbital flights on a future crewed spacecraft the company plans to develop. Bezos said while Blue Origin competes with a number of other companies in the suborbital and orbital launch business, he did not see it as a winner-take-all race, and hopes that competing firms are also successful. [GeekWire]
A French court has lifted the seizure of funds intended for Russian space organizations. French officials had previously seized $700 million in payments from French firms to Roscosmos and the Russian Satellite Communications Company in response to an arbitration ruling that Russia owes the former shareholders of oil company Yukos $50 billion. Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said he was optimistic that the court’s decision would stand. [TASS]
A Space Florida event next week could involve satellite constellation company OneWeb. The state space development agency said Tuesday it would hold an event at the Space Life Sciences Lab at Kennedy Space Center on April 19 regarding a new initiative. Space Florida hasn’t offered additional details, but Space Florida is about to award a contract for a spacecraft development facility at Cape Canaveral, and OneWeb has indicated Florida is a likely site for the factory that will build its 900 satellites. [Orlando Sentinel]
Don’t Fly Me To The Moon
“I looked at this, and it was expensive. It was like $200 million or something. And I said, ‘Yeah, but has it ever been tested?’ They said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Well, isn’t that a little risky?’ They said, ‘Well, for $400 million we’ll test it for you.’ Maybe I’ll wait on that one.”
– Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, describing in an on-stage interview at the 32nd Space Symposium Tuesday how he was pitched an opportunity to take a circumlunar flight on a Soyuz spacecraft.