Saturday, August 29, 2015

Third Inmarsat-5 communications satellite launched

When the third Boeing-built Inmarsat-5 satellite, which is now in orbit, becomes fully operational later this year it will provide the technology and coverage necessary for worldwide high-speed broadband access.

Officially named Inmarsat-5 F3, Boeing reports the satellite sent signals from space following its launch yesterday on an International Launch Services Proton launch vehicle. After reaching final orbit, the spacecraft will undergo testing and checkout before becoming operational. The spacecraft will support the Inmarsat Global Xpress network.

“The Inmarsat Global Xpress network will be the first high-speed Ka-band broadband network to span the world,” said Rupert Pearce, CEO, Inmarsat. “New technology and engineering design will allow us to steer capacity where it’s needed most and adjust to shifting subscriber usage patterns and evolving demographics over the minimum 15-year life span of the network."

Each of the three Inmarsat-5 satellites provide seamless, global broadband communications coverage to users worldwide on land, at sea, and in the air. The first two Inmarsat-5 Global Xpress satellites were launched December 2013 and February 2015, respectively. A fourth Boeing-built Inmarsat-5 (F4) is scheduled for delivery in mid-2016.

US Forest Service calls for avionics upgrade aboard fire mapping plane

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service - Utah Acquisition Support Center, is conducting market research regarding the availability of potential sources to complete the avionics/engine instrumentation refurbishment of plane N149Z, a Beechcraft B200C King Air (this aircraft is currently used for infrared fire detection and mapping). The Forest Service announced the avionics upgrade in a Sources Sought Notice released Friday.

“This will require that all avionics and engine indicating systems be removed to allow for installation of a Garmin G1000 system accompanied by a Becker Audio System,” officials said in the notice. “Several new items installed have upcoming FAA mandates such as ADS-B.”

Companies interested in supporting the project should contact the U.S. Forest Service no later than Sept. 18.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Building a better solar array for deep space missions

NASA's space technology program is seeking proposals to develop solar array systems for space power in high radiation and low solar energy environments.

In the near future, NASA will need solar cells and arrays for multiple applications in robotic and human space exploration missions. Because these systems were traditionally developed for operation near Earth, there is a need to develop new solar array concepts as NASA considers missions that require exposure to more intense radiation environments and travel ever farther from the sun.

NASA hopes to solicit proposals for the development of promising technologies to increase solar cells that will work under low intensity, low temperature and high radiation environments.

Proposals will be accepted from U.S. organizations, including NASA centers and other government agencies, federally funded research and development centers, educational institutions, industry and nonprofit organizations.

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's (STMD) Game Changing Development (GCD) program expects to make as many as four awards, valued to $400,000 each for the 9-month base requirement; up to two awards for Option I, which is valued at $1.25 million and one award for Option II, with a value of $2 million.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., manages the GCD program for STMD.

Emirates confirms billions in government subsidy

The United Arab Emirates spent a staggering $7.8 billion to build an 11-story air terminal at Dubai International Airport for the sole benefit of its airline, Emirates, according to documents the airline filed with the U.S. government that confirmed one of the most excessive and unapologetic violations of Open Skies policy to date.

In papers recently submitted to the Obama administration, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates acknowledged dozens of instances where they received subsidies from the treasuries of the UAE and Qatar, as well as actions they took to shield their finances from scrutiny. The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, which represents the U.S. carriers and several airline employee unions, highlighted the subsidies and their harm to American workers in a major legal filing this week with the U.S. government.

Some of the subsidies acknowledged by the Gulf carriers include:
  • Qatar Airways confirmed it received free land worth $452 million from the government of Qatar. Its submission to the U.S. government clearly states that "the State provided Qatar Airways with parcels of land to ensure that the carrier had enough real estate for office and residential space," and "in 2013, appropriated the land for the public interest at its then market value."
  • Emirates confirmed that it allowed its parent company, the Investment Corporation of Dubai to assume its fuel hedging contracts, explaining that it "had the option to pursue a different approach," one that made it unnecessary to report its hedging losses. The result is that Emirates shifted costs off its books and artificially increased its profits - all without the typical risk a commercial enterprise would encounter in the marketplace.
  • Etihad admitted that it sold its frequent flyer program to itself in 2013 in order to show a profit. According to its own 2014 financials recently uncovered in Hong Kong, Etihad sold its own cargo company to itself the following year to similarly show a profit - actions that a typical commercial enterprise would be unable to take.
"These endless cash infusions from foreign government treasuries have allowed the Gulf carriers to expand far beyond what market forces could ever support, fundamentally distorting the marketplace and harming U.S. carriers and American jobs," said Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies. "It's urgent that the Obama administration take swift action and request consultations to end these trade violations before the Gulf carriers damage the U.S. aviation industry the same way they have devastated Europe's."

One of the most striking admissions comes from Emirates, which told U.S. regulators that the government directly subsidizes the cost of the airport terminals that it builds for Emirates' exclusive use. The government spent $7.8 billion to construct the Emirates terminal at the Dubai International Airport, which is the first facility of its kind: 11 floors designed for the largest fleet of A380s, with fine dining, a full service spa and other amenities all intended to give Emirates a competitive advantage over the U.S. and other international carriers in attracting passengers connecting around the world.

In its legal filing, the Partnership noted that unlike the subsidized expansion of the Emirates terminal, U.S. airports are required to be "self-financing," using revenue generated from landing fees, passenger fees, facilities rentals and other charges to fund the respective airport's operating and capital costs. Furthermore, the filing notes that Emirates' "success would suffer if they were required to cover the costs through charges and fees, which would be prohibitive."

On Monday, the Partnership supplied the U.S. government with never-before-seen financial statements from Etihad Airways. The Partnership also provided the government with new data showing that the Gulf carriers are not creating new demand when they enter U.S. markets, and instead are causing significant harm to the U.S. aviation industry.

Fruit in space

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren corrals the supply of fresh fruit that arrived Tuesday aboard the Kounotori 5 H-II Transfer Vehicle. Visiting cargo ships often carry a small cache of fresh food for crew members aboard the International Space Station.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Video: NASA simulates a severe but survivable plane accident

A single engine Cessna 172 plane was dropped to the ground from 100 feet on Wednesday at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., in an effort to help search and rescuers save more lives.

NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Office, based at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., simulated a severe but survivable plane accident to test five emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) on board. Researchers are working to improve ELT systems.

This was the last of three crash tests of three different Cessna 172 aircraft. Each of the three tests simulated different, but common, crash conditions.

The aircraft dropped on Wednesday is a Cessna 172M (tail number N9804V) manufactured in 1974.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

MIT scientist Peter Belobaba joins OneJet

OneJet, the new air transportation network that provides increased access to nonstop travel in small and medium size markets, welcomed Peter Belobaba to its senior advisory team on Tuesday. Recognized as one of the foremost global experts in the field of airline revenue management and optimization, Belobaba is principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute Of Technology's (MIT) International Center for Air Transportation and director of the University's Global Airline Program. Belobaba will advise on matters of network composition and management, serving in this capacity alongside MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and fellow MIT Global Airline Research Engineer William Swelbar. He will also support OneJet's Director of Engineering, Barry Smith, former chief scientist of Sabre, the world's largest airline technology company.

"OneJet is engaging the tremendous challenges, and therein opportunities, created by the unprecedented structural changes currently taking place within the U.S. air transportation system,” said Swelbar. “Peter's appointment not only reflects the scale of the opportunity at hand but also a razor focus to engage our industry's very best in order to maximize the reach and effectiveness of the OneJet network in improving service options within the lower volume air markets which collectively constitute roughly half of our nation's air transportation traffic."

"The OneJet program represents the opportunity to combine mass scale distribution and on demand based optimization science to create highly efficient, scalable networks which can sustainably provide easily accessible and relatively low cost nonstop travel solutions for businesses and consumers,” Belobaba said.

Recently, OneJet announced a multi-phase expansion schedule, following the successful piloting of the program between April and July of this year. The company will add up to twelve destination and/or focus cities through 2016 in parallel with a structured fleet expansion. Tuesday's announcement follows last week's appointment of former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray Lahood, to the OneJet team. Both gentlemen complement an existing base of transportation leadership, including former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, Virgin America founding CEO and former Delta President, Fred Reid, and former Kayak Chairman, Terry Jones.

OneJet flights operate from main commercial terminals and airports in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Memphis, and Nashville, providing weekday service on Hawker 400 light jet aircraft.

United Launch Alliance and Air Force improve launch processing

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U.S. Air Force have demonstrated a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement through implementation of Off-site Vertical Integration (OVI) of several structural elements for the Atlas V launch vehicle. OVI significantly reduces the number of lifting operations performed at the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Cape Canaveral, taking them off the critical path and allowing for reduced time between launches. Relocating these operations to the Delta Operations Center (DOC), an indoor facility, also mitigates risk of weather-related processing delays.

"We are very pleased to have successfully completed the first Off-site Vertical Integration for the upcoming Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) launch," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. "The associated one-week reduction in the launch-to-launch processing spans enables us to better meet the launch needs of our customers."

For a 500-series Atlas V rocket like the one launching the MUOS-4 mission, the OVI process accomplishes the integration of six structural elements along with the Centaur upper stage inside a test cell in the DOC, rather than conducting major portions of these complex hardware lifting and mating tasks outside at the VIF. In the last six years, there were 25 days of weather delays to launch vehicle stacking operations at the VIF.

One of the innovations required to enable OVI was the development of a transporter to safely move the five-story stack of rocket hardware approximately six miles from the DOC to the VIF. The transporter includes a tank pressure control system for the Centaur upper stage.

"The Off-site Vertical Integration process, including ground support equipment designs and operational procedures, were developed in collaboration with our Air Force customer to support launch manifest needs and enable continuous improvement to these critical launch operations," said Sponnick.

ULA's next satellite launch is the MUOS-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, scheduled to launch Aug. 31 aboard an Atlas V from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic offer two new routes across the pond

Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways will offer customers two new routes across the pond with the introduction of Delta's nonstop service from Salt Lake City to London Heathrow and New York-JFK to Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in May 2016.

Starting May 1, 2016, Salt Lake City will be Delta's eighth U.S. destination from Heathrow and the only nonstop service between London and the Mountain West. As the largest airline operating in Salt Lake City, Delta offers connections to more than 50 destinations throughout the Western U.S. and into Canada.

Daily nonstop service between New York-JFK and Edinburgh will begin on May 26, 2016, offering customers in the U.K. up to 60 convenient onward connections from JFK. Delta's new service from Scotland's capital city joins Virgin Atlantic's three times weekly summer seasonal service from Glasgow to Orlando.

Launched on January 1, 2014, the Delta and Virgin Atlantic partnership creates an expanded trans-Atlantic route network, enhancing competition between the UK and North America. The joint venture offers customers connecting in the United States seamless access to more than 200 destinations across almost 600 routes.

NASA: Cracks found in SOFIA aircraft engines

NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in California has a requirement for repair of two Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 engines which have been removed from the aircraft and preserved with Mobil AVREX M-Turbo gas turbine lubricant. 

Located at AFRC, the engines (serial number P662676 and P662412) were removed from NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft (tail number N747NA) in August 2014. The engines currently have turbine exhaust case cracks.
SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes.

SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters (100 inches).

Monday, August 24, 2015

PlanetiQ opens science and engineering facility in Boulder

PlanetiQ announced Monday the opening of its new science and engineering facility in Boulder, Colo. The facility includes a laboratory clean room where PlanetiQ will complete the development and manufacture of its first 12 Pyxis-RO flight instruments for the world's first commercial satellite constellation exclusively focused on weather, climate and space weather.

The facility is collocated with Blue Canyon Technologies, which is already working collaboratively with PlanetiQ to develop the initial set of 12 microsatellites scheduled for launch in late 2016 and 2017. Development and testing of the first two Pyxis-RO sensors has been underway since last spring.

The satellite-based Pyxis-RO will track Global Positioning System (GPS) signals traveling through Earth's atmosphere and convert them into dense, precise measurements of global temperature, pressure and water vapor using a technique called radio occultation (RO). The high sensitivity of Pyxis-RO allows it to routinely probe deep into the planetary boundary layer. In addition, Pyxis-RO is able to track signals from all four major satellite navigation systems--GPS, Galileo, Beidou and Glonass.

Among the satellite data sources currently ingested into computer weather models, RO has shown the most cost-effective, highest impact per observation on forecast accuracy. But only a sparse amount of radio occultation data exists today. With 12 satellites on orbit by the end of 2017 (expanding to 18 satellites by 2020.), PlanetiQ will provide more than 10 times the amount of data available from existing RO sensors, enabling dramatic improvements in weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather prediction.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Meeting: Future Army acquisition of small unmanned aircraft

The U.S. Army's Joint Program Management Review for the Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Office is hosting a meeting this month to review activities going forward for the Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) program.

“The government representatives will provide presentations covering the Frequency Reallocation/Spectrum Realignment strategy, the SUAS Acquisition Strategy, and the contracting strategy,” Army officials said in a Special Notice document released Saturday.

The meeting will take place Aug. 31 at the Double Tree Downtown in San Antonio, Texas.