Today’s Tidbits: November 12, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: November 12, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for November 12, 2018:  election update; Rocket Lab success; JAXA tests reentry capsule from ISS.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Election Update

Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has won the Arizona Senate seat vacated by Republican Jeff Flake.  She and her opponent, Republican Rep. Martha McSally, have been in a neck and neck race since election day, but the Associated Press called the race for Sinema today and McSally conceded this evening.

Sinema’s win brings the composition of the Senate beginning in January to 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats (including two Independents, who caucus with the Democrats–Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King), and two races yet to be decided.  The split in the Senate today is 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats.

So far, Republicans won three Democratic seats (Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota) and Democrats won two Republican seats (Arizona and Nevada).

The undecided races are the Florida contest between incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott that is in a recount, and the Mississippi race between incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy that led to a run-off election.

The Mississippi run-off is scheduled for November 27.  Under Mississippi law, if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election is held between the top two contenders.  According to Politico, Hyde-White had 41.5 percent to Espy’s 40.6 percent on election day. The winner will serve the remaining two years of the term of Sen. Thad Cochran who retired in April due to illness.  Hyde-White was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to fill the slot from then until this election.

The Florida Senate race is undergoing a mandatory machine recount because the margin between Nelson and Scott was less than 0.5 percent. If, after the machine recount, the difference is less than 0.25 percent, a hand recount will be required.  The machine recount is expected to be completed by November 15 at 3:00 pm ET, although Florida allows overseas and military ballots to be received until November 16.

Several House races remain too close to call.  Politico reports eight undecided contests while the Associated Press says there are 10.  Over the weekend, one Congressman who has been prominent in space policy debates for the past three decades, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), lost his seat to Democrat Harley Rouda 52-48 percent. He is a controversial figure for many reasons, but in terms of space policy was an advocate for commercial space long before it became popular and one of the few vocal opponents of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

Rocket Lab Success

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from its launch site in New Zealand on the It’s Business Time mission, Nov. 11, 2018 EST. Credit: Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab finally got its second orbital launch of the Electron rocket off the pad in New Zealand on Sunday night Eastern Standard Time (Monday in New Zealand).  Designated “It’s Business Time,” it was the company’s first commercial launch following a successful test launch in January.

Sunday’s launch placed six very small (cubesat) satellites into orbit: two Lemur-2 satellites for Spire Global; one Cicero satellite for GeoOptics, built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems; two Proxima satellites for Fleet Space Technologies; and one satellite that is a STEM project of six high schools in Irvine, California — the Irvine CubeSat STEM program.  It also carried NABEO, a drag sail technology demonstrator designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmbH to deorbit small satellites.

Spire and GeoOptics both have contracts with NOAA to provide radio occultation data as part of the agency’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program.  Spire’s Lemur-2 satellites also carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment for tracking ships.

Rocket Lab founder and President Peter Beck heralded the launch as a new era of “rapid and reliable” access to space even though this launch was delayed from April.  Still, its next launch, for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program, is scheduled for next month.

NASA awarded “Venture Class Launch Services” firm fixed-price contracts to Rocket Lab and two other companies in October 2015: Rocket Lab, $6.9 million; Firefly, $5.5 million; Virgin Galactic, $4.7 million.  Rocket Lab is the first of those to successfully place satellites in orbit.

Rocket Lab is expanding beyond New Zealand for launch sites.  It signed an agreement on October 17 to build a launch site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia.  The company claims it can launch up to 120 times a year from its New Zealand launch site and will be able to conduct monthly launches from Wallops.  NASA regularly launches sounding rockets from Wallops and Northrop Grumman launches Antares rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) there.

Electron is one of a number of small launch vehicles under development to provide rapid access to space for small payloads.  It can launch a maximum of 225 kilograms  (about 500 pounds) to orbit, but very small satellites (cubesats and nanosats) are becoming popular for government agencies, companies and educational organizations.

JAXA Tests Reentry Capsule from ISS

JAXA’s HTV7 spacecraft after release from the International Space Station (ISS) using Canadarm2 (upper right). Credit: NASA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully tested a small reentry capsule over the weekend to demonstrate the ability to return small payloads to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS).

The test was part of JAXA’s HTV7 (Kounotori7) cargo resupply mission to ISS.The HTV spacecraft itself is not designed to survive reentry, but just before it entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up, it released the HTV Small Re-entry Capsule, which successfully splashed down in the ocean off Japan and was recovered.  The capsule can accommodate 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of material.

JAXA’s HTV is the largest of the four robotic cargo ships that resupply the ISS.  Launched on September 22, 2018 (UTC, September 23 JST), HTV7 berthed with ISS on September 27 (UTC, September 28 JST) and delivered 6.2 metric tons of scientific experiments, supplies, and equipment, including new lithium-ion batteries. It remained at ISS for 41 days.

Russia’s Progress spacecraft and two U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft — SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus — are the other cargo resupply vehicles.  The next Cygnus will launch from Wallops Island, VA on Thursday.  The next day, Russia will launch Progress MS-10.  The next SpaceX Dragon is scheduled for December 4.

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