Sunday, May 31, 2015

NASA Developing Plans for Human Missions to Cislunar Space in 2020s

WASHINGTON — While NASA does not yet have specific plans for human missions beyond 2021, the agency is in the early stages of developing a sequence of missions in cislunar space in the 2020s to prepare for later missions to Mars. Those plans, which could involve both international and commercial partners, would test out habitation modules and other technologies on missions around the moon ranging from several weeks to a year. “The concepts that we’re working on today call for us to begin in the early ’20s with a set of missions involving Orion to get some early experience in cislunar space, leading to a series of longer missions,” said Skip Hatfield, manager of the Development Projects Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, during a session of the Humans to Mars Summit here May 6. Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) Although NASA has notional plans for a series of Orion missions launched by the Space Launch System in the 2020s, the last firm mission on the agency’s books is Exploration Mission (EM) 2, the first crewed SLS/Orion flight, scheduled for 2021. One of those future missions would likely send astronauts to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but the date of that mission depends on when — or if — that asteroid arrives in cislunar space. NASA has instead discussed human missions to cislunar space as part of the “Proving Ground” phase of its overall human Mars exploration strategy, called “Journey to Mars.” That phase, between the current “Earth Reliant” and long-term “Earth Independent” phases, is intended to test out technologies and gain experience before sending humans to Mars. A key purpose of those missions, Hatfield said, would be to test habitat modules and related systems that could be used for Mars expeditions. “The next big thing we need to do if we’re going to go long distances is the habitation system,” he said. “There are a lot of things that go into this next step.” Studies have looked at two different approaches for developing these habitation modules. One concept involves developing a series of smaller modules that could be launched with Orion spacecraft using the upgraded Block 1B version of the SLS. Those launches, starting as soon as EM-3, the second crewed SLS/Orion mission, could accommodate modules weighing up to 10 to 12 metric tons, said Matthew Duggan, space systems manager at Boeing.

The advantage of this approach, he said, is it allows habitat modules to be launched for “free” — that is, without the need of a dedicated launch. “With every Orion mission, you’re adding something useful and you’re aggregating this larger and larger vehicle in cislunar space,” he said. The disadvantage, said David Smitherman, technical manager of the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, is that it is less efficient. He proposed using one or two large modules flown on dedicated SLS launches, which he argued can save mass and provide more volume than a collection of small modules. “The mass actually comes down a little bit as you go from a three-module set to a two-module set to a single module, even though you’re increasing volume all along the way,” he said, citing research to be published later this year. NASA is augmenting its internal planning with a series of study contracts awarded earlier this year under a program called Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP. Seven of the twelve NextSTEP studies cover either habitation modules or their key subsystems. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is using its NextSTEP award to study habitat technologies leveraging the company’s proposed Jupiter system for transporting cargo to the International Space Station, as well as the capabilities offered by Orion. “Orion is a highly capable spacecraft designed to keep crews alive in this environment for a long period of time,” said Lockheed Martin space architect Josh Hopkins. “That means you can keep the outpost for the first several flights to be relatively small and inexpensive.” What happens once the NextSTEP studies are completed next year is not yet clear, Hatfield said, and will depend in part on the results of the studies. “That’s something we have to work out,” he said, adding that part of his current work includes drafting an acquisition strategy that could incorporate international or public-private partnerships for some elements. Although the technical and programmatic structure of those cislunar missions remains to be developed, there is widespread agreement that such missions are needed before human missions to Mars. “We cannot take that giant leap to a thousand-day Mars mission straight from the ISS,” Hopkins said. “We need something that is on the edge of deep space.” 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Russian Statement on Proton Failure Leaves Questions

PARIS — The May 29 statement by Roscosmos on the May 16 Proton rocket failure confirmed initial suspicions of a third-stage engine issue but otherwise left many questions unanswered about the failure’s origin. Here is the full-text version of the best translation we have found: The Roscosmos Agency Commission investigating the failed launch of the Proton-M with the Centenario spacecraft May 16, 2015 from Baikonur Cosmodrome announced the outcomes of its work. Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) The commission members (representatives of the customer, Roscosmos and the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, heads of industry R&D institutes and production facilities) performed an analysis of the Proton-M and its components manufacturing process, the process of acceptance, transportation, testing and processing, as well as telemetry and ranging information. Conclusion: Abnormal termination of the Proton-M flight was caused by the Stage 3 Steering Engine failure due to increased vibration loads occurring as a result of the imbalance of the turbo pump unit rotor caused by the degradation of its material properties at high temperatures, and improper balancing. By the order of Roscosmos head Igor Komarov, Khrunichev Space Center and its subsidiaries are developing an action plan to address the causes of the accident, which includes: Changing materials used for the turbo pump rotor shaft manufacturing; Revision of the turbo pump rotor balancing techniques; Upgrade of the steering engine turbo pump mount to the main engine frame, and others. The Commission also identified a number of deficiencies in the enterprises’ Quality Management System. An action plan to address these will be developed within a month. The date of the Proton-M next launch will be announced by Roscosmos in June 2015. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

NASA Selects 9 Instruments for Europa Mission

WASHINGTON — NASA announced the selection of nine instruments it plans to fly on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa May 26, but agency officials were vague about whether the instruments, or the overall mission, could meet an aggressive schedule sought by some in Congress. NASA said the nine instrument concepts, selected from 33 proposals submitted by scientists last year, will be flown together on a spacecraft with the goal of determining whether Europa can support life, although not necessarily if the icy moon hosts life today. “All of these instruments are designed to increase our rather limited knowledge of Europa,” said Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist at NASA Headquarters, during a briefing about the instrument selection. “They’re doing that by helping us probe the big question, which is, ‘Is Europa habitable?’” Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) The nine instruments include cameras to provide high resolution images of the moon’s surface, magnetometers to measure the depth and salinity of the moon’s subsurface ocean, a radar to probe Europa’s icy crust, and spectrometers to determine the composition of the surface as well as material ejected by plumes. John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani In addition to the nine instruments chosen for the mission, NASA selected a tenth instrument, a mass spectrometer, for additional technology development. This instrument will not be flown on the mission but will instead be developed for potential use on other spacecraft. Niebur said NASA anticipates spending about $10 million on the instruments in the next year, and $110 million over the next three years. “That will get us to a key decision point where we decide if we’re going to continue on with the instruments,” he said, as well as calculate a full cost estimate for the instrument suite. The mission the instruments would fly on is still in its earliest phases of development. “Now that we’ve made the selection of the instruments, we’re going to begin their accommodations on the mission concept,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science division. That mission will likely be based on a concept that has been under study at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory known as Europa Clipper. In that mission, the spacecraft would go into orbit around Jupiter and make dozens of flybys of Europa, a less expensive approach than going directly into orbit around the moon. Green said the Europa mission should enter its formulation phase by Oct. 1, the start of the U.S. government’s 2016 fiscal year. Although work on the mission is just beginning, NASA said they selected the instruments now because they typically have long development schedules. “We wanted to get a head start on the instruments as they’re often the long poles in the development of something as complex as a mission to Europa,” John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science, said at the briefing. NASA’s announcement comes as the agency is facing new pressure from Congress to accelerate the mission’s schedule. While NASA sought $30 million for the mission in its fiscal year 2016 budget request in February, a spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee May 20 provides $140 million for the mission, and also requires the mission to launch no later than 2022, using the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani NASA officials hedged when asked if the instruments, or the mission itself, could meet that schedule. “They could be ready in the early 2020s,” Niebur said of the selected instruments, “but that’s also dependent upon how much money is in the budget for us to give them for that work.” “We expect it to be launched in the 2020s,” Green said of the mission. “Whether it’s mid, or a little early or a little later, needs to be worked out based on a much firmer cost estimate and a profile that would support it.” Niebur emphasized that the goal of the mission, whenever it is launched, is to determine whether Europa could support life, not to detect life itself. “We don’t have a ‘life detector,’” he said. “We currently don’t even have consensus among the scientific community as to what we would measure that tell everybody with confidence that this thing you’re looking at is alive.” Green, though, said he knew what he would do if the mission somehow detected life on Europa. “I would immediately retire,” he said. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ariane 5 Lofts Pair of DirecTV Satellites

AMSTERDAM — Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket on May 27 successfully delivered two direct-broadcast television satellites into transfer orbit for DirecTV Group of the United States — one for U.S customers, the other for Mexico — in the vehicle’s 65th consecutive success and the second of six missions planned for 2015. El Segundo, California-based DirecTV said both satellites were healthy in orbit and sending signals, as did the satellites’ two manufacturers in separate statements. Operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America, the Ariane 5 first separated the 6,200-kilogram DirecTV-15 satellite, built by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe, followed by the 2,962-kilogram SkyM-1 spacecraft, which was in the vehicle’s lower berth.

DirecTV-15 is the second satellite ordered by the U.S. satellite television giant that will employ so-called reverse-band frequencies for ultra-high-definition (UHD) television broadcasts. Long used for Earth-to-satellite uplinks, frequency regulators have allowed its use for downlinks to open up new spectrum as broadcasters accommodate bandwidth-hungry UHD. The DirecTV-14 satellite, built by SSL of Palo Alto, California, debuted reverse band for DirecTV and was launched in December 2014. Ka-band payloads are now common to DirecTV’s North American fleet. The company has more Ka-band capacity in orbit than anyone else, and more homes receiving Ka-band signals than the combined customer base of the two U.S. consumer satellite broadband providers, Hughes Network Systems and ViaSat Inc. In addition to reverse-band capacity in the 17-gigahertz spectrum, DirecTV-15 carries 28 Ka- and 25 Ku-band transponders. DirecTV said it is capable of operating at any of the company’s five orbital slots over North America — at 99.2 degrees west and 102.8 degrees west in Ka-band, and at 101 degrees, 110 degrees and 119 degrees west in Ku-band. DirecTV-15 will be stationed at 102.8 degrees west for now and is designed to deliver 18 kilowatts of power to its payload at the end of its contracted 15-year life. SkyM-1, built by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, will be used by DirecTV-owned Sky Mexico from 78.8 degrees west for customers in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. SKYM-1 has two reverse-band transponders in addition to its core payload of 24 Ku-band transponders. It is built to provide six kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year life. Orbital ATK said it has enough fuel for 20 years of operations. The two satellites together weighed nearly 9,200 kilograms. The Ariane 5’s Sylda platform that separates the two satellites and other satellite-integration hardware added about 760 kilograms to the total mass that was carried into orbit. The commercial space-launch sector, including satellite insurance underwriters, is paying especially close attention to the Ariane 5 launch rate this year because both Evry, France-based Arianespace, which operates the Ariane 5, has a full manifest until 2017. Its principal competitor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is also fully booked and has yet to demonstrate its ability to launch its Falcon 9 rocket, which usually carries a single satellite payload, with high frequency. The May 16 failure of a Russian Proton rocket, the fourth in four years, has left Arianespace and SpaceX as the only two vehicles regularly servicing the commercial market. Arianespace had said early in the year it may be able to conduct seven Ariane 5 launches in 2015, depending on satellite customers’ on-time arrival, even as it juggles demand for the company’s medium-lift Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket and the light-class Vega. But more recently the company has said six Ariane 5 campaigns is more likely. 

SpaceX Falcon 9 Certified for Military Launches

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force has certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch military satellites, completing a nearly two-year process that at times strained the two parties’ relationship and establishing a competitor to United Launch Alliance in the national security marketplace. The Air Force announced the decision May 26, clearing the way for Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX to bid on military launches beginning this year with one of the service’s next-generation GPS 3 positioning, navigation and timing satellites. “This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in the press release. “SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”

 Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) Denver-based ULA has had the U.S. national security launch market all to itself since it was created in 2006 through the merger of the rocket-making operations of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which previously were bitter rivals in this industry sector. Air Force officials originally expected SpaceX to earn certification by the end of 2014, but the service announced in January that about 20 percent of the work remained. The delay led the Air Force to re-evaluate its certification process. The process entailed a thorough Air Force review of three successful Falcon 9 launches, the last of which took place in early 2014. Among the problems that delayed certification as identified in a March report by an independent panel was SpaceX’s expectation that its successful track record was enough to win certification and the Air Force’s push for design changes to the Falcon 9. According to industry sources, SpaceX’s practice of tweaking certain parameters of the rocket in between launches also was a factor. “This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder chief executive, said in the May 26 release. “We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well.” The Air Force says it dedicated more than $60 million and 150 people to the certification process, which was established in a 2013 Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with SpaceX that the service has declined to release in any form. In the May 26 release, the service said certification involved 2,800 discreet tasks including verification of 160 payload interface requirements, 21 major subsystem reviews and 700 audits to establish a technical baseline. The decision comes less than three weeks after the Air Force announced it had revised the agreement so that SpaceX could earn certification even with several issues outstanding provided the company presents a mutually acceptable plan and schedule for resolving them. Among those open issues identified by the Air Force: SpaceX integrates satellites with its rockets horizontally, but the Air Force prefers vertical integration; SpaceX’s planned addition of GPS-based launch vehicle tracking; information assurance; and secure flight termination. To date, SpaceX is the only company besides ULA to win certification for military launches. SpaceX is developing a much larger rocket called the Falcon Heavy that is expected to debut later this year or next year. SpaceX in April sent the the Air Force an updated letter of intent outlining a certification process for the Falcon Heavy, a process the company hopes to complete by 2017. Meanwhile, the newly certified Falcon 9 will compete head to head against ULA’s workhorse Atlas 5, whose future availability is in question due to a congressional ban, whose final terms are in a state of legislative flux, on the Russian-built engine that powers its first stage. ULA, which is phasing out its Delta 4 rocket, hopes to field a new vehicle dubbed Vulcan around 2020 but continue launching Atlas 5s until around 2025. - See more at:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Brightest Galaxy in the Universe Found

A newfound galaxy 12.5 billion light-years from Earth is the most luminous one known in the universe, blazing more brightly than 300 trillion suns, a new study reports.

 The engine behind the galaxy's brilliance may be a supermassive black hole, researchers said. Such behemoths lurk at the heart of most, if not all, galaxies; material spiraling down into the black holes' maws heats up tremendously, emitting huge amounts of light in visible, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.

 If this is indeed what's going on with the newly discovered galaxy, which is known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, it raises an interesting question: How did the supermassive black hole get so big, so fast? After all, astronomers are seeing the object as it existed 12.5 billion years ago, when the universe was just 1.3 billion years old. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

 The black hole may simply have been born big, researchers said.

 "How do you get an elephant?" study co-author Peter Eisenhardt, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "One way is start with a baby elephant."

 But there are other possible explanations as well.

 "Another way for a black hole to grow this big is for it to have gone on a sustained binge, consuming food faster than typically thought possible," said study lead author Chao-Wei Tsai, also of JPL. "This can happen if the black hole isn't spinning that fast."

 The feeding rates of black holes are limited by the light emitted by superheated infalling material, which pushes away surrounding gas. The more slowly the black hole spins, the less future food it blasts away into space, researchers explained.

 Such supermassive black holes "could be gorging themselves on more matter for a longer period of time," said co-author Andrew Blain, of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. "It's like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years."

 NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft — for which Eisenhardt serves as project scientist — spotted WISE J224607.57-052635.0 along with 19 other "extremely luminous infrared galaxies," or ELIRGs. The powerful light from the ELIRGs' cores heated up surrounding dust clouds, which then emitted infrared radiation that WISE detected.

 "We found in a related study with WISE that as many as half of the most luminous galaxies only show up well in infrared light," Tsai said.

 The new study appears in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Best Space Stories of the Week – May 24, 2015

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane launched on another mystery mission, Russia's Proton rocket failed during a satellite launch and astronomers found the most luminous galaxy in the universe. Here's a look at's top stories of the week.

Mysterious X-37B military space plane launches again

 The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B soared into orbit on its fourth mystery mission Wednesday (May 20) in a launch that also lofted the Planetary Society's LightSail solar-sailing craft.

Another Russian rocket failure

 A Russian-built Proton rocket failed during a communications satellite launch over the weekend, dealing another blow to the nation's space program.

Astronomers find the most luminous galaxy in the universe

 A newfound galaxy is the most luminous one known in the universe, blazing more brightly than 300 trillion suns. [Full Story: Brightest Galaxy in Universe Found]

25th anniversary of Hubble's first photo

 NASA's Hubble Space Telescope may have launched 25 years ago last month, but Wednesday (May 20) marked another big anniversary for the famous observatory — a quarter-century since it took its first photo. [Full Story: Hubble Telescope Opened Its Space Eyes 25 Years Ago Today (Photo)]

2013 Chinese rocket launch may have been anti-satellite test

 The U.S. Defense Department is suggesting that the May 2013 launch of a Chinese rocket that it branded at the time as suspicious was a test of a technology designed to counter or destroy satellites in geosynchronous orbit. [Full Story: Pentagon Says 2013 Chinese Launch May Have Tested Antisatellite Technology]

Another 'golden record?'

 NASA's New Horizons Pluto probe may end up with one final mission after its work exploring the outer solar system is done — carrying a message to advanced alien civilizations. [Full Story: NASA Pluto Probe May Carry Crowdsourced Message to Aliens]

Solar-sailing cubesat's orbital trial set to begin

 The nonprofit Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft, which launched Wednesday (May 21), will conduct an orbital test mission that aims to help pave the way for future solar-sailing vessels.

Rosetta sees 'balancing rocks' on comet

 The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft spotted three boulders, each balancing on a small contact area, on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Space weather and alien life

 Earth regularly endures violent ejections of material from the sun, but could similar eruptions in other solar systems make alien planets inhospitable to life?

New insights into supernovas

 Debris blown off a dying star collided with its companion, creating a blast of ultraviolet radiation that is helping scientists to better understand the evolution of one of the key tools to measure the expansion of the universe.

Dragon returns to Earth

 SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule returned to Earth Thursday (May 21), wrapping up the private spaceflight company's sixth cargo mission to the International Space Station. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

India OKs Budget for Building, Launching 15 PSLV Rockets by 2020

PARIS — The Indian government’s Union Cabinet on May 21 approved a budget of $484 million to build and launch 15 PSLV rockets between 2017 and 2020, meeting a demand for 4-5 launches per year “with the possibility of clinching commercial launch service contracts,” according to the office of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. The budget of 30.9 billion Indian rupees covers the vehicles’ production, program management and the launch campaigns. The rocket has completed 25 operational missions. In addition to carrying Indian government science, navigation and Earth observation satellites, the vehicle has won commercial business from outside India. Commercial customers have included included government and commercial operators from Europe, Canada, Algeria and, most recently, from the United States. Skybox Imaging of Mountain View, California, owned by Google Inc., won a waiver from the long-standing U.S. ban on commercial launches from India to launch one of its optical Earth imaging satellites on the PSLV. Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) The most recent launch, PSLV-C27, was successfully conducted in March, placing an Indian regional positioning, navigation and timing satellite into an inclined geostationary orbit. The 15-rocket order approved May 21 is for launches numbered C-36 to C-50. The prime minister’s statement said the 15-rocket PSLV order would place “a greater focus on enhancing the level of participation by the Indian industry. PSLV has made the country self-reliant in launching satellites for Earth observation, disaster management, navigation and space sciences.” - See more at:

House Approves Commercial Space Bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with a number of commercial space policy provisions May 21, despite objections from some Democratic members about the bill’s language and warnings that the Senate is unlikely to adopt it. The House passed H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, on a 284–133 vote after nearly two hours of debate. Nearly 50 Democrats joined almost all the chamber’s Republicans in voting for the bill. The act combines four commercial space bills approved by the House Science Committee in a May 13 markup. The cornerstone of the bill is a section dealing with commercial launch issues, including extending the “learning period” limiting safety regulations for people flying on commercial spacecraft, and indemnification for third-party damages from commercial launches, through 2025. Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) “This bill is the future of space,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, during floor debate of H.R. 2262. The bill, he said, “facilitates a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space sector.” Other members argued that provisions of the bill went too far. “H.R. 2262 is an unbalanced bill that simply doesn’t adequately protect the public’s interest,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, who led the debate against the bill. Edwards specifically mentioned the bill’s extendsion of the regulatory learning period, as well as requiring spaceflight participants to sign cross-waivers of liability with launch providers. The bill, she said, “puts policy in place that favors industry over policy that ensures balanced consideration for those people the industry will serve.” House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is the lead sponsor of the SPACE Act. Credit: C-SPAN screen capture She and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) also criticized the speed with which the House took up the bill, noting there were no subcommittee markups of the four original bills that make up the SPACE Act, as well as no hearings in this Congress regarding the space resources section of the bill. “Moving this legislation without really addressing these issues is, I believe, negligence on the part of the Congress,” said Johnson. The bill’s Republican sponsors, however, defended both the bill’s language and the speed at which it was considered. House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said a draft of the original SPACE Act was provided to Democrats in October. “Unfortunately, the minority party did not come back for five months,” he said. Edwards introduced an amendment to replace the text of the SPACE Act with S. 1297, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. That bill, approved by the Senate Commerce Committee without debate May 20, contains many of the same launch-related provisions as the House bill, but with an extension of the learning period and launch indemnification only through 2020. Edwards argued that the House bill had a “snowball’s chance” of being passed by the Senate, which is more likely to take up its own bill that has bipartisan support. “The Senate bill doesn’t have everything I would like to see in a commercial space bill,” she said. “However, it has a core set of provisions that I think we and the industry can support.” Republicans, though, opposed the amendment, noting that the Senate bill did not include the SPACE Act’s sections on space resource utilization, commercial remote sensing, and changes to the Office of Space Commercialization. Smith added he opposed the amendment since “it would abdicate the responsibilities of the House” in developing its own version of the bill. The House defeated the Edwards amendment on a 173–236 vote that fell almost exactly on party lines. Six other amendments, making only minor changes to the bill, passed on voice votes.

ViaSat Sees Falcon Heavy as Pacing Item in Growth Plans

TOULOUSE, France – Satellite broadband hardware and service provider ViaSat Inc. on May 19 said it is facing capacity limits on more than half the beams on its ViaSat-1 satellite and that the situation will worsen until ViaSat-2 is in orbit. The company reported much higher per-subscriber monthly revenue in the three months ending April 3 compared to the previous three-month period, but slowing subscriber growth – up 1.6 percent, to 686,000 from where it stood as of Jan. 2. The slowing growth is directly attributable to the dwindling capacity aboard the ViaSat-1 satellite’s high-demand beams. In a conference call with investors, ViaSat Chief Executive Mark. D. Dankberg said ViaSat-2 construction at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California, is on schedule and that the satellite will move into final testing sometime this summer. Advertisementgoogletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1418322387828-0'); }) ViaSat-2’s launch, aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket built by SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is scheduled to occur no later than September 2016. A SpaceX spokesman said May 21 that the company still expects to conduct the vehicle’s inaugural flight by the end of this year. ViaSat expects to be the third or fourth customer for the Falcon Heavy. Dankberg said ViaSat’s contract with SpaceX gives ViaSat a seat at SpaceX Falcon Heavy design reviews as the vehicle completes its flight certification milestones. “We have pretty current information and if we believe that [the late-summer 2016 launch] moves materially, we’ll disclose that,” Dankberg said, adding that ViaSat “will have some contingency plans” in the event the SpaceX launch is delayed beyond an acceptable date. He declined to specify the alternatives. ViaSat has an option with European launch-service provider Arianespace, but whether that could be exercised to provide for a launch in 2016 is unclear. Evry, France-based Arianespace has said its Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket is fully booked into 2017. ViaSat-2 is designed as a new-generation satellite that will give ViaSat much more flexibility in allocating bandwidth to demand. He said it was not impossible that Boeing may face delays in testing, but that so far the satellite’s construction is keeping to schedule. “Right now people ought to be a little more focused just on the launch vehicle” rather than the satellite’s construction, Dankberg said, referring to risk of Viasat-2 delays. ViaSat-1 provides a total throughput of well over 100 gigabits per second, but as is the case with other Ka-band high-throughput satellites of its generation – competitor Hughes in the United States and partner Eutelsat in Europe operate similar satellites – capacity cannot be moved from low-to high-demand regaions. Dankberg reiterated the company’s policy of not compromising on average user bandwidth availability by loading more customers onto the high-demand beams. So supply limits will slow growth in these areas until fresh capacity is launched. One mitigating factor for ViaSat is the company’s effort in spreading satellite broadband to commercial airlines, notably JetBlue of the United States for now, with United Airlines on the way. As of April 3, Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat had equipped 338 commercial jets with its Exede in the Air service, versus 276 aircraft three months earlier. A total of 519 commercial airline terminals had been delivered – including the 338 in operation — compared to 447 at the end of December. Airline demand growth is Important to ViaSat especially because airline connectivity demand is naturally spread evenly over multiple geographic regions, easing the strain on the high-demand beams. Dankberg said Exede in the Air can support “dozens of simultaneous streaming users on a single airplane,” a claim he said has recently been put to the test by JetBlue and Amazon, which have reached an agreement on Amazon’s Prime service access on JetBlue flights. Thirty smartphones, tablets, Amazon Kindles and other devices were placed on a JetBlue flight over the East Coast of the United States, all at once in video streaming mode. “Well, obviously it worked,” Dankberg said, adding that despite this one jet’s heavy demand, none of the other 300-plus aircraft flying the same route that day suffered a loss of bandwidth. “We’re confident that no other in-flight WiFi could do that even years from now without creating a black hole of bandwidth that would cut off dozens or hundreds of other aircraft from getting any service at all,” Dankberg said. ViaSat-2 will add capacity and extend the current Exede in the Air coverage to air routes to Mexico, the Caribbean and Mexico. In recent months ViaSat has said its consumer satellite broadband business would focus on filtering prospective subscribers before they end up being disconnected for nonpayment. A parallel effort has been made to educate service centers so that they do not lure customers accustomed to unlimited bandwidth.