Today’s Tidbits: April 9, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: April 9, 2018

Here are our tidbits for April 9, 2018:  WSJ reports Northrop Grumman responsible for Zuma loss, AFSPC Vice Commander relocates to the Pentagon, Orion Span plans a hotel in space. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

WSJ:  Northrop Grumman’s Payload Adapter Caused Zuma Loss

The Wall Street Journal reports today that “[g]overnment and industry experts have tentatively concluded that engineering and testing errors by Northrop Grumman Corp.” caused the loss of the super-secret Zuma satellite in January.

All that is known publicly about the satellite is that it was built by Northrop Grumman for an unnamed government agency, launched into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9, and disappeared.  While some intimated that the Falcon 9 failed, speculation primarily centered on the premise that a faulty Northrop Grumman-provided payload adapter prevented the satellite from separating from the Falcon 9 second stage and both were destroyed when the second stage reentered Earth’s orbit as planned.

Gabrielle Batkin, Vice President, Legislative Affairs, Northrop Grumman. Credit: Northrop Grumman.

The Wall Street Journal article basically confirms that scenario, although it says the satellite did “break free” from the second stage before reentry, but was too low to be recovered.  It cites the cost of the satellite as $3.5 billion.  Read more at: [].

Northrop Grumman is also under scrutiny because of integration problems with NASA’s $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope that has pushed its launch date from October 2018 to May 2020, at best.  NASA officials cited “avoidable errors” by Northrop Grumman including use of an incorrect solvent that damaged valves in the propulsion system that then had to be refurbished and a propulsion system transducer that was incorrectly powered and damaged.  NASA has established an Independent Review Board to give an external assessment of whether the May 2020 launch date can be achieved.

The company announced today that it has appointed veteran Capitol Hill staffer Gabrielle Batkin as its new Vice President for Legislative Affairs.  Batkin has extensive experience on the Hill and at one point in her career was Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee.  More recently, she was Democratic staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

AFSPC Vice Commander Moves to Pentagon

Lt. Gen.. David D. Thompson, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command. Credit: Air Force.

Debate continues over how the Air Force can best organize itself to ensure that space activities receive adequate attention in a service more focused on the “air” side of its responsibilities.  Last year, it created an “A11” Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations position at Headquarters Air Force (HAF) in Washington with a three-star general at its helm, but Congress abolished the position before it really got underway.

Instead, the Air Force has elevated and relocated the position of  Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) to the Pentagon.  It is now a three-star position  (Lieutenant General) instead of two (Major General).  David D. Thompson, who was the two-star Vice Commander of AFSPC  has been promoted to Lt. Gen. and now will sit at the Pentagon instead of at Peterson Air Force Base, CO.  Thompson, is, in fact, the very same person the Air Force planned to put into the A11 position, so it has gotten most of what it wanted, though Thompson will continue to report to AFSPC Commander Gen. Jay Raymond, not to the Air Force Chief of Staff.   Thompson’s new job is to “integrate operations, policy, guidance, plans, strategy and requirements of AFSPC space efforts with HAF, the Intelligence Community, the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and other agencies….”   Read more at: []

AFSPC’s second in command is now the “Deputy” Commander, a two-star position currently filled by Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner.

Orion Span Plans Luxury Hotel in Space

In case you missed it, last week a company called Orion Span announced plans to build a space hotel, Aurora Station, in Earth orbit.  Anyone can put down an $80,000 deposit to reserve a spot on the 12-day journey whose “all inclusive” pricing starts at $9.5 million. The facility can accommodate six guests at a time.

The deposit remains in escrow and is fully refundable until 6 months before launch, according to the website.  The company says Aurora Station will be launched in 2021 and accept its first guests in 2022.

The company tweeted today that four months of reservations have been booked already.

The company’s focus clearly is the “authentic astronaut experience” business, but it is billing Aurora Station also as a place to conduct microgravity research or in-space manufacturing.

Orion Span joins at least three other companies planning to build commercial space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO):  Axion Space, Ixion (a venture of Nanoracks, United Launch Alliance, and Space Systems Loral), and Bigelow Aerospace, which has a prototype expandable module attached to the International Space Station (ISS) now.  NASA is hoping that the commercial sector will build LEO space facilities to replace the ISS.  In its FY2019 budget request, NASA is proposing to end direct U.S. support for ISS in 2025 and transition to leasing LEO facilities from private sector operators.

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