U.S. Air Force eyes Ariane 5 launches as a stopgap
Speaking at a conference this week, the Air Force’s launch enterprise director, Claire Leon, said the Pentagon has started a study to determine the feasibility of using the Ariane 5 for national security payloads.
That analysis is ongoing, but additional meetings between Arianespace and the Air Force are planned.
Use of the Ariane 5 could provide a stopgap as United Launch Alliance transitions from the Atlas 5 to the Vulcan and new providers enter the market, but would require significant changes in national space policy.
U.S. government payloads are required to launch on rockets built in the United States. Exceptions are carved out for:
- No-exhange-of-funds agreements involving international scientific programs
- Launches of secondary technology demonstrator or scientific payloads for which no U.S. launch service is available
- Hosted payload arrangements on spacecraft not owned by the U.S. government
NASA is using the no-exchange-of-funds exemption to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 aboard an Ariane 5 that the European Space Agency is paying for as part of its contribution to the $9 billion project.
Under the current National Space Transportation Policy, last updated in 2013, the Air Force would need a White House waiver to buy an Ariane 5 launch for a U.S. military satellite. [Wall Street Journal]
The U.S. Senate is seeking increased oversight of the National Reconnaissance Office. The Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act would require the Pentagon’s Comptroller General to provide annual assessments of NRO programs, arguing that the Government Accountability Office doesn’t have sufficient access to study potential cost overruns or schedule delays. Betty Sapp, director of the NRO, said last year that 11 of 12 major NRO programs were on budget, with the 12th running 6 percent over budget. [SpaceNews]
The static fire test of an Antares first stage is scheduled for next week. NASA said Wednesday that static fire test, from a launch pad on Wallops Island, Virginia, is planned for May 31 between 5:00 and 8:15 p.m. Eastern. The 30-second test will test the performance of the stage and its new RD-181 engines. A successful test would clear the way for the first Antares launch since an October 2014 failure, most likely in early July. [NASA]
A new report calls on NASA and the NSF to make greater use of cubesats for science missions. The report, prepared by a National Academies’ Space Studies Board committee, saw considerable benefits for cubesats in a wide range of science missions, particularly those that can make use of dozens or hundreds of satellites in constellations that would not be feasible using larger spacecraft. The report recommended NASA centralize its management of cubesat missions and make investments in enabling technologies. [SpaceNews]
India’s next step in the development of a reusable launch vehicle will be to have the vehicle make a runway landing — once it builds a runway. On Monday’s test of India’s Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator, the winged vehicle flew to an altitude of 65 kilometers before it glided to landing at sea, where it was not recovered. On the next flight, India’s space agency ISRO wants to fly a vehicle back to a runway landing, but must first build a runway five kilometers long at its spaceport. ISRO officials didn’t estimate when that runway would be ready for that RLV test. [The Hindu Business Line]
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Gogo says it won a satellite broadband contract for an airline fleet based on its capabilities, not its cost. Gogo said it offered much higher bandwidth and coverage than Inmarsat for a contract it won earlier this month to outfit up to 137 aircraft for British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia Airlines. Industry rumors suggested Gogo provided much lower pricing than its competitors to get the deal. Michael Small, chief executive of Gogo, said the company is paying 70 percent less for satellite bandwidth than a year ago because of a glut in capacity. [SpaceNews]
NASA has fired back against a study that claimed that its efforts to detect and characterize asteroids was flawed. A paper submitted this week by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technologist at Microsoft, claimed measurements by the NEOWISE mission created inaccurate estimates of asteroid sizes. NASA, in a statement, defended its work, arguing that Myhrvold’s alternative approach yields sizes that are significantly inaccurate for asteroids that have also been measured by other means, such as through stellar occultations. Myhrvold insists that his approach is correct, and that some of “the most senior people who work on asteroids” agree with him, although he did not name those scientists. [Washington Post]
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) signed a contract Wednesday for the world’s largest telescope. The $445 million contract with the Italian-led ACe Consortium covers the construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). The telescope’s primary mirror will be 39 meters across, making it the largest in the world. Work on the telescope will begin after completing a final design review in eight to nine months. [BBC]