Today’s Tidbits: January 7, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: January 7, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for January 7, 2019:  Nick Cummings joins SpaceX, NASA extends comment period on draft Discovery AO, DigitalGlobe loses WorldView-4. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Nick Cummings Joins SpaceX

Nick Cummings. Credit: Cummings’ LinkedIn page.

Nick Cummings is joining SpaceX’s Washington office effective tomorrow (January 8) to work on civil space development programs. Cummings was former Sen. Bill Nelson’s top space staffer on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation for the past four years as Democratic staff director for the Space, Science, and Competitiveness subcommittee.

Cummings came to Capitol Hill from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where he was an operations engineer for the ISS and Space Shuttle payloads processing directorate (2001-2005), operations manager for Constellation and Exploration Ground Systems (2005-2011) and Exploration Integration Manager (2013-2014).  He spent October 2011-December on detail to Nelson’s office and then came on board full time in 2015.  He has a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech and a M.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Central Florida.

Comment Period of Discovery Draft AO Extended

NASA issued a draft Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for the next selection in its Discovery series of mid-sized planetary exploration missions on December 12, 2018.

Comments on the draft were due January 16, but Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, tweeted today that the deadline is being extended, no doubt because of the government shutdown.  More information will be forthcoming.

The plan was to get comments back on the draft on January 16 and release the actual AO on February 28, but that date also is likely to slip.  More information is on the Discovery 2019 AO website. []

NASA has small, mid-sized, large, and “flagship” planetary exploration missions.  The Discovery series incorporates both small Missions of Opportunity and mid-sized ($500 million) probes that are competitively-selected and led by Principal Investigators (PIs) — scientists who put together teams to propose and execute missions.

The Discovery program was initiated in 1992 to provide regular opportunities for scientists to compete to develop and launch planetary exploration missions. The missions are cost capped and the development time from mission start to launch can be no more than 36 months.  The goal was to launch a Discovery mission at least every two years, but that is budget dependent.  NASA has launched 12 Discovery probes so far.  The first, NEAR, was the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid (Eros).  The most recent, InSight, just landed on Mars to study the structure of its interior.  Among the 10 in between were spacecraft that studied the Moon, Mercury, and a comet nucleus; two that returned samples of interstellar dust and atoms of the solar wind; and the Kepler space telescope that searched for and found hundreds of exoplanets.

The next two will be Lucy, which will perform a reconnaissance of the Trojan asteroids orbiting in tandem with Jupiter, and Pysche, which will explore the giant metal asteroid Psyche 16.  They are scheduled for launch in 2021 and 2023 respectively. The missions chosen from this new AO would launch in the mid-2020s.

The larger PI-led missions are called New Frontiers and cost about $1 billion.  Two of those met milestones on New Year’s Eve:  OSIRIS-REx, which went into orbit about the asteroid Bennu; and New Horizons, which flew past Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule.

The most expensive “flagship” missions cost well over $1 billion and are “directed” missions where NASA assigns a program manager.  They include the Curiosity rover on Mars and the planned Europa Clipper probe to study Jupiter’s moon Europa.

DigitalGlobe Loses WorldView-4

Illustration of WorldView-4 satellite. Credit: DigitalGlobe

Maxar Technologies revealed today that one of its commercial imaging satellites, WorldView-4, has failed.  Launched in November 2016, Maxar said its control moment gyroscopes (CMGs) failed and the satellite no longer can control its orientation. Thus it no longer can provide usable imagery of the Earth.

Lockheed Martin built the satellite and Honeywell provided the CMGs.  It generated $85 million in revenue for Maxar in 2018. The satellite is insured for $183 million and Maxar said it will seek full payment from its insurers.

Maxar’s business unit, DigitalGlobe, is the survivor of the original U.S. commercial remote sensing satellite companies that trace their origins to the 1990s.  A company named WorldView was, in fact, the first U.S. company to receive a commercial remote sensing satellite license in 1993.

Commercial remote sensing got a boost in the early 2000s when the U.S. intelligence community decided to purchase considerable amounts of commercial imagery that it could more easily share than the ultra-classified “exquisite” imagery obtained by its own reconnaissance satellites.  It provided substantial support to two companies, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, but in the 2010s decided it could support only one.  DigitalGlobe won, merging with GeoEye in 2013.

Maxar noted today that WorldView-4 was acquired by GeoEye prior to that merger.  It was built to provide commercial imagery that has a resolution of 30 centimeters.

DigitalGlobe was acquired by Canada’s MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) in 2017.  MDA also acquired Space Systems Loral (SSL) and ultimately rebranded itself as Maxar Technologies with four business units:  DigitalGlobe, SSL, Radiant Solutions, and MDA.  It also decided to become a U.S. rather than Canadian company and just completed that process on January 2.

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