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Biden to nominate former Sen. Bill Nelson as NASA administrator

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STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Sen. Bill Nelson speaks during a Senate hearing in 2012. Credit: NASA/Paul Alers

Former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a longtime space advocate whose district included the Kennedy Space Center and who flew aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1986 as a congressional observer, is President Biden’s choice to serve as NASA’s next administrator, the White House announced Friday.

If confirmed, he will succeed Jim Bridenstine, who served under the Trump administration and won wide-spread praise for his tireless efforts to promote the agency’s Artemis moon program, aiming to return astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade, and commercial initiatives intended to encourage private sector space development.

Nelson would appear to enjoy bipartisan support.

“There has been no greater champion, not just for Florida’s space industry, but for the space program as a whole than Bill,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said in a statement. “His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis program, and the necessity of winning the 21st century space race.”

Bridenstine also offered strong support, even though Nelson initially opposed the Oklahoma Republican’s nomination.

“Bill Nelson is an excellent pick for NASA administrator,” Bridenstine said. “He has the political clout to work with President Biden’s Office of Management and Budget, National Security Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy and bipartisan Members of the House and Senate.

“He has the diplomatic skills to lead an international coalition sustainably to the Moon and on to Mars. Bill Nelson will have the influence to deliver strong budgets for NASA and, when necessary, he will be able to enlist the help of his friend, President Joe Biden. The Senate should confirm Bill Nelson without delay.”

Nelson, 78, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991, mounted an unsuccessful run for governor of Florida and then won three terms in the Senate, from 2000 to 2018.

He chaired the Space Subcommittee in the House of Representatives and served as chairman of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee, playing major roles in multiple pieces of space legislation.

Especially notable to space enthusiasts, on Jan. 12, 1986, Nelson blasted off aboard the shuttle Columbia, becoming the second sitting member of Congress to fly in space after Sen. Jake Garn, a Utah Republican.

The pilot of that mission was Charlie Bolden, who would go on to serve as NASA administrator, with Nelson’s strong support, under the Obama administration.

While Nelson trained at the Johnson Space Center for his shuttle flight, he was added to the crew as a “payload specialist,” a non-professional added to a shuttle crew to operate a specific experiment or to carry out some other role.

In this case, Nelson, like Garn before him, was considered a “congressional observer” thanks to his role on committees that controlled NASA’s funding. But he also aided in several medical experiments to learn more about the effects of weightlessness.

Columbia landed in California on Jan. 18, 1986, just 10 days before the Challenger took off on its final mission. He later wrote a book about his spaceflight experience titled “Mission: An American Congressman’s Voyage to Space.”

In 2010, Nelson opposed President Obama’s decision to cancel the Bush administration’s post-shuttle Constellation moon program and development of heavy lift Ares rockets in favor of a more nebulous asteroid retrieval mission and eventual flights to orbit Mars in the mid 2030s.

The Obama administration did not initially approve development of a new rocket, but Nelson and former Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson joined forces to spearhead a successful effort to win White House approval.

“Most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint,” the White House said in a statement announcing Nelson’s nomination, “including passing the landmark NASA bill of 2010 along with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. That law set NASA on its present dual course of both government and commercial missions.”

The heavy-lift rocket Nelson championed evolved into the Space Launch System booster being built today to carry astronauts back to the moon in the Artemis program. Critics dubbed the rocket the “Senate Launch System” because of its political roots.

Nelson’s support of the new rocket prompted concern in some quarters that he favored government development at the expense of commercial initiatives.

But the agency encouraged development of private sector rockets and spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station and awarded contracts worth billions to SpaceX and Boeing to develop and launch capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the lab complex.

Tension between advocates of commercial space enterprise and those supporting more government oversight and control continues with critics of the more traditional Artemis program arguing the private sector could do the job just as safely for less money.

But SLS supporters argue the huge rocket, the most powerful ever built, can launch Orion deep space crew capsules and heavy lunar modules and components in fewer launches using shuttle-heritage propulsion systems with proven reliability.

Now billions over budget and years behind schedule, the SLS rocket is scheduled for its maiden launch on an unpiloted test flight around the moon late this year or early next.

NASA plans to launch a four-member crew in an Orion capsule atop the second SLS rocket in 2023 before an eventual landing near the moon’s south pole with the next man and first woman to walk on the surface.

As for the price tag, NASA’s inspector general reported last March that total SLS program costs were expected to climb above $18 billion by the time the Artemis 1 rocket finally takes off. Individual, post-development rockets are expected to run between $1 billion and $2 billion each depending on how one does the accounting.

Whether those costs might eventually erode Nelson’s support for the huge rocket is not yet known.

In any case, the first stage of the SLS rocket scheduled to fly late this year was successfully test fired Thursday. If no major problems develop, NASA should be ready to launch the SLS on its maiden flight before the end of the year, followed by a piloted test flight in 2023.

While the rocket’s first two flights seem assured, Congress has not yet provided the full funding needed for a new moon lander and the Trump administration’s 2024 target date for the first astronaut landing is no longer feasible.

The Biden administration has expressed support for the Artemis program in general terms, but it’s not yet known what sort of schedule, or how much funding, the administration will support.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/03/19/biden-to-nominate-former-sen-bill-nelson-a-shuttle-veteran-as-nasa-administrator/

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Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship for its growing fleet

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled the company’s first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine.

The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

VSS Imagine is unveiled ahead of VSS Unity’s next test flight, which is planned for May 2021.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, commented: “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, added: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

www.virgingalactic.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/virgin-galactic-unveils-new-spaceship-for-its-growing-fleet/

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

Hexcel has announced its role within the recently launched UK-based project called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) that will focus on developing high-rate manufacturing and processing technologies that will accelerate the development of new, lightweight advanced composite materials.

The composites company will join lead partner GKN Aerospace and 13 other project stakeholders in a collaboration across the UK supply chain to develop the technologies and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight, more fuel-efficient structures for sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive industries.

Hexcel will contribute to the ASCEND project framework, developing a new HexPly fast cure prepreg system that will significantly reduce component processing times compared to existing aerospace prepregs.

In addition to its new fast curing prepreg technology, Hexcel’s range of Liquid Composite Moulding (LCM) products will be incorporated into the ASCEND project work packages. The project will use both HiTape advanced unidirectional dry carbon reinforcements and HiMax multiaxial non-crimp fabrics reinforcements.

The ASCEND project will allow Hexcel to collaborate with Tier 1 companies, engineers, tooling specialists, and production equipment OEMs to deliver both prepreg and liquid composite moulding solutions that meet both the performance targets and satisfy the processing requirements for high-rate automated manufacture.

The technical integration enabled by the ASCEND project partnerships will ensure a complete understanding of customer performance and processing needs, coupled with the opportunity to industrialize new technologies utilizing the extensive capabilities of GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

Paul Mackenzie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Hexcel, said “We are  proud to be part of the ASCEND program, and we look forward to working with other leading companies as we develop processes and materials that help to make the next generation of sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive vehicles possible. This project offers the perfect platform for Hexcel to collaborate and further develop our HexPly, HiMax, and HiTape technologies.”

The ASCEND partners working alongside Hexcel include Assyst Bulmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, DES Composites, FAR-UK, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, The National Composites Centre, Solvay Composite Technologies, Rafinex, and Sigmatex (UK).

Together, the group looks forward to delivering the material and automation innovations that will power more sustainable mobility solutions of the future.

www.hexcel.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/hexcel-joins-ascend-project/

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes extends landing gear kits contract with Magellan

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes division has extended its component supply contract with Canada-based supplier Magellan Aerospace.

Under this long-term contract, Magellan will continue to supply landing gear kits and structural components for Boeing platforms such as the 737, 767, and 777.

The contract extension also shows that Magellan meets Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ cost, quality and performance requirements.

Magellan business development, marketing and contract vice-president Haydn Martin said: “Securing this major business extension for key Boeing platforms is foundational for our New York and Kitchener facilities as the aerospace industry works to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

“The confidence that Boeing has placed in Magellan is significant and demonstrates our ability to offer our customers comprehensive and reliable solutions.”

For Boeing, the company is using a vertical integration strategy that leverages global resources in Ontario, New York City, and India.

It has also made significant investments across all its facilities regarding manufacturing technology and the workforce to enhance its competitiveness worldwide.

Magellan will deliver these kits and hardware from its facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and New York City, New York. The company will also produce an extra supply of kits to reduce production risk.

Deliveries will be made directly to Boeing’s assembly facilities in Renton and Everett, Washington, US.

Last month, Magellan signed a five-year renewal agreement with Avio Aero to supply magnesium and aluminium castings.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/boeing-commercial-aircraft-magellan/

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ZeroAvia raises new funding for hydrogen-electric engine development

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Zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia has raised $24.3m in new funding to support the development of a 2MW hydrogen-electric engine.

Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, an existing investor, led the latest funding round and was joined by new investor British Airways.

Other investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and SYSTEMIQ, also joined the financing.

The financing takes the company’s total private investment to more than $53m while the total funding raised is close to $74m since its formation.

ZeroAvia’s funding comes a few months after the UK Government, through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), and Innovate UK, announced a $16.3m (£12.3m) grant to deliver a 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft in the market by 2023.

The new funding will accelerate the hydrogen-electric powertrain development for a ten to 20-seater regional aircraft.

ZeroAvia aims to commercialise the engine as early as 2024. The company aims to enter the more than 50-seater commercial aircraft segment by 2026.

The funding will also de-risk the company ambition to power a 100-seat single-aisle aircraft by 2030.

ZeroAvia CEO and founder Val Miftakhov said: “This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale.

“With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/zeroavia-electric-raising-funds/

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