Click the arrow to watch an animation of the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) relocation scheduled for today. Video source: ReelNASA YouTube channel.
I've been rather busy in the real world the last two weeks, so I'm behind in posting blog articles. Let's catch up on some news.
The International Space Station takes one small step today for commercial crew when the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) is relocated to make room for a new International Docking Adapter. The Unity module uses a docking adapter called the Androgynous Peripheral Attach System. The APAS design is descended from one developed by Russia for the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. The IDA will be compatible with the commercial crew vehicles that will fly to the station in 2017, assuming Congress doesn't cut the funding again.
Which the House Appropriations Committee did on May 20, reducing its Fiscal Year 2016 funding by 20% from the $1.2 billion requested by the White House. Congressional funding cuts of commercial crew have already extended NASA reliance on Roscosmos at least two years. The Committee also cut earth sciences funding. The money from the cuts was shifted to the Space Launch System boondoogle and planetary science missions. I wouldn't hold out much hope for the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore the commercial crew cuts; champion OldSpace porker Richard Shelby (R-AL) rules the roost on the Senate subcommittee that allocates NASA funding. He's been a vocal critic of commercial crew, demanding the money be spent in his state on the SLS.
Click the arrow to watch the House of Representatives debate and approve the SPACE Act. Original video source: C-SPAN.
Elsewhere in NewSpace, the House of Representatives approved on May 21 the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015. Click here for the bill's complete text. Most organized opposition came from Democrats led by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), a lawyer whose district includes NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Edwards has announced a 2016 run for U.S. Senate, replacing Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), another fierce protector of NASA pork for her state. The SPACE Act passed 284-133; 48 Democrats crossed the aisle to join with 236 Republicans to support the bill.
The U.S. Air Force announced May 26 that SpaceX is now certified for national security space missions. According to the press release:
SpaceX is now eligible for award of qualified national security space launch missions as one of two currently certified launch providers. The first upcoming opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services is projected to be in June when the Air Force releases a Request for Proposal for GPS III launch services.
The certification process was contentious at times; in March, an independent review concluded the Air Force “overstepped its bounds” by imposing unnecessary restrictions on SpaceX.
Closer to home, Florida Today journalist Dave Berman reports that Brevard County commissioners have approved $13.7 million in incentives to bring two aerospace projects to the area.
In the larger of the projects, rocket company Blue Origin would receive an $8 million grant as part of a $205 million to $220 million rocket-manufacturing operation it is considering at Exploration Park, a planned research and industrial complex outside Kennedy Space Center's south gate. The company would launch from Launch Complex 36, a state-run pad on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The company said it would employ up to 330 people at Exploration Park.
The grant money would come from the North Brevard Economic Development Zone, which uses property tax revenue generated by new commercial and industrial construction in North Brevard for projects that spur economic development in that part of the county. The County Commission created the zone in 2011.
Blue Origin, founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, also is expected to receive even larger incentives from the state, although details have not been disclosed.
The second project involves a Lockheed Martin renovation of an old Astrotech facility near the Titusville airport. The nature of the project was not revealed.
In closing, Florida Today space journalist James Dean reported May 23 that the NASA railroad engines have left for new homes. Over the last four decades, the three locomotives were used primarily to haul Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster segments through Kennedy Space Center property.
Click the arrow to watch a 2011 NASA documentary on the KSC railroad. Video source: NASAKennedy YouTube channel.