Thursday, December 25, 2014

Articles of Interest

In the earliest days of this blog, I had an Articles of Interest series that was no more than a dumping ground for minor stories I didn't think merited a full-blown article.

Well, a lot of small stories have piled up on this side of the digital transom, so welcome back to Articles of Interest.

NASA issued a press release December 23 announcing unfunded Space Act Agreements with various companies. Space Act Agreements, or SAAs, are an informal legal arrangement between NASA and the private sector that avoids the formal structures of government contracting bids. Some members of Congress object to SAAs because they view it as a means for NASA to circumvent the political porkery often associated with the formal contracts.

An unfunded SAA means that no money changes hands. The commercial cargo and crew partnerships are funded, meaning that NASA establishes milestones for a partner to complete. If the partner succeeds, it receives a payment from NASA. An unfunded SAA simply means that each party assumes responsibility for its own costs.

The four companies were selected for a NASA initiative called Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities. According to the press release, those collaborations are:

  • ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.
  • Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.
  • Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.
  • United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.

Florida Today published an article December 23 from the News Service of Florida about state agency Space Florida planning to update or reactivate two pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Board members of Space Florida, the state's aerospace arm, have agreed to put up a combined $6.4 million as part of two matches with the state Department of Transportation for improvements at Launch Pad 36 and Launch Pad 41 ...

As for the launch-pad projects, the more costly of the two, shielded under the code name Project Mountain, has Space Florida putting up $6.15 million for improvements to Launch Pad 41, including a new tower to make the facility capability of servicing human flights ...

The work at Launch Pad 36, which for more than 40 years was used for Atlas rocket launches, including the Pioneer, Surveyor and Mariner probes, is for an unnamed company referred to as Project Pineapple that is anticipated to spend $34 million at the site and employ 100 people within five years.

The state's money, $250,000, would go to upgrades in safety, the block house annex and the communications system at the site, along with construction of a new fuel and oxidizer storage area, test pad and landing pad.

The Launch Complex 41 program seems rather obvious. United Launch Alliance needs a tower to lift crew to the Boeing CST-100 that will launch atop the Atlas V in about three years.

Last September, NASA issued a request for proposals to begin the second round of commercial cargo delivery contracts to the International Space Station. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have the current contracts, but those will expire in a few years.

A month after NASA issued the proposal request, the Orbital Antares rocket blew up shortly after launch October 28 at Wallops, Virginia, losing the third Cygnus cargo delivery run. That would seem to open the door to other competitors, the beauty of NewSpace.

Space News reported December 16 that Boeing will consider developing a cargo version of CST-100 they will propose under this bid. Sierra Nevada also proposed Dream Chaser as a delivery vehicle. Presumably SpaceX and Orbital have also submitted bids.

Unlike Orbital's Cygnus, which burns up on re-entry, CST-100 and Dream Chaser return to Earth and can be re-used. The cargo version of SpaceX Dragon currently lands in the ocean; NASA doesn't want to use one of those again because of exposure to salt water. The crew version of Dragon, called the Dragon V2, is designed to soft-land on a pad. CST-100 would land in the U.S. southwest desert using parachutes and air bags, while Dream Chaser can land at airport runways.

In April, Sierra Nevada signed a letter of intent with the Houston Airport System to explore landing Dream Chaser at Ellington Airport. That would give Sierra Nevada the unique ability to deliver returned payloads to NASA's doorstep at Johnson Space Center, where most of NASA's ISS operations are based.

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