Today’s Tidbits: October 28, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: October 28, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for October 28, 2019: X-37B back home after 780 days; AF wants input on future launch architecture; GWU Space Policy Institute job opening; Isakowitz Fellowship applications open.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Air Force X-37B  Sets Another Record on Fifth Flight

The super-secret Air Force X-37B spaceplane returned to Kennedy Space Center early Sunday morning (3:51 am ET) after another record-setting mission.  Launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on September 7, 2017, it remained in space for 780 days — more than two years — well past its design of 270 days.

DOD’s uncrewed X-37B spaceplane lands at Kennedy Space Center, FL, October 27, 2019, after 780 days in space.

The Boeing-built X-37B looks like a small space shuttle orbiter and, indeed, has its origins at NASA.  Originally designed as an Orbital Space Plane to bring crews home from the International Space Station (ISS) in an emergency, NASA cancelled the program in 2004 after President George W. Bush reoriented the human spaceflight program towards returning astronauts to the Moon rather than ISS utilization.  The program then was transferred to DOD.  It does not carry a crew.

Boeing built at least two (OTV-1 and OTV-2). This was the fifth flight, OV-5, in total for the program.  Flights began in 2010 and the vehicles have accumulated 2,865 days in space all together.

First flight: 2010, 224 days
Second flight: 2011-2012, 469 days
Third flight: 2012-2014 674 days
Fourth flight: 2015-2017, 718 days
Fifth flight: 2017-2019, 780 days

What the vehicles do on orbit is largely known only in classified circles.  The Air Force says that the X-37B performs “risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies” and this particular mission hosted experiments from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), among others, and provided “a ride for small satellites.”  []  The only payload specifically mentioned by the Air Force is AFRL’s Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader which tested “experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment.” []

Air Force SMC Begins National Security Launch Architecture (NSLA) Study

The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) released a Request for Information (RFI) on Friday for a wide-ranging study on “innovative developments in launch, on-orbit maneuverability, and commodity transport architectures for on-orbit servicing” for 2025 and beyond.

The Air Force is currently engaged in Phase 2 of its launch services procurement for contracts to be awarded in 2020-2024 for launches that will take place through 2027.  This study will inform Phase 3 and covers experimental, small, medium/heavy launch capabilities.  Responses are due November 19.  More information is on the FedBizOpps website. []  SMC will hold an “industry day” in December.

The U.S. launch landscape is in the midst of major change.  It wasn’t long ago that United Launch Alliance (ULA), the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, was the only company certified to launch national security satellites on its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.  But competition from companies like SpaceX and congressional direction to discontinue use of the Atlas V because it uses Russian RD-180 rocket engines instigated a paradigm change.  SpaceX became certified to compete for what was then called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contracts in 2015.  In March 2019, the Air Force renamed the program National Security Space Launch (NSSL) since rockets are not necessarily expendable any more. SpaceX reuses its first stages and Blue Origin is also developing reusable rockets.  Congress required the Air Force to change the name in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said last week that it will be bidding on the Phase 2 contracts both with Atlas V (for which it can take orders from DOD through the end of 2022) and its new Vulcan rocket.  SpaceX, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman also reportedly are bidding on Phase 2 (although Blue Origin has filed a protest on how the rules are written).

This new study is for a broader range of rockets, including small rockets of which there are a number of competitors. It also will look at satellite servicing, an up-and-coming industry. Northrop Grumman launched its first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) just last month.  It will dock with the 18-year old Intelsat 901 communications satellite, which has run out of fuel, and provide propulsion and attitude control so it can resume operations.  That is just one of many concepts out there for satellite servicing.

GWU Space Policy Institute Seeking Tenure-Track Professor

Henry Hertzfeld, Director, GWU Space Policy Institute

George Washington University has an opening for a tenure-track professor or associate professor for its Space Policy Institute (SPI), probably the best known academic program for anyone interested in a space policy career. Created by renowned space policy scholar and historian John Logsdon, its current director is Henry Hertzfeld, a distinguished space economist and lawyer. In between, it was headed by Scott Pace, who is now the Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council.  Very prestigious place.

The minimum qualifications are a Ph.D. in a field relevant to space policy and a record of sustained and continuing high-quality research, teaching experience and/or applications of theory to practice in government, industry, non-profit or international organizations.  More information is available at [].

Isakowitz Fellowship Applications Open

If you are still a student, applications are open for the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program. College juniors, seniors and graduate students who intend to pursue a career in the commercial spaceflight industry may apply though December 2, 2019. []

Matthew Isakowitz

The paid summer internship and mentorship program is for students who are “passionate about commercial spaceflight.”  Fellows are placed at one of the leading commercial spaceflight companies and matched to positions that may include assignments in engineering designs, market studies, strategic planning, policy evaluation, and business analysis and development.

The program was created in memory of the wonderful Matt Isakowtiz (1987-2017) who was, indeed, passionate about commercial space.  The Fellowship program is led by members of his family, including his dad, Steve Isakowitz, who has a long career in government and commercial space and is currently President and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation.



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