NASA Spacecraft Fly in Record-setting Formation

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GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Summertime airshows are fun to watch, especially when aircraft fly in tight formation. The sight of airplanes soaring overhead practically wingtip to wingtip is thrilling to behold.

Four of NASA’s spacecraft recently performed an equally thrilling maneuver: In Oct. 2015, the satellites of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission gathered into a tetrahedral formation with each spacecraft at the tip of a four-sided pyramid only six miles across. Moving together as one, they raced around Earth at 15,000 mph.

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Are SpaceX’s 60 to 80 Work Weeks Really Such a Good Idea?

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Elon Musk has been credited with bringing Silicon Valleyesque practices to the rocket industry: the 60 to 80 hour weeks, frequent hardware as software upgrades, multi-tasking, free coffee, vested stock options, gala holiday parties each more extravagant than the last, and the other things.

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SpaceX Fires Up Raptor Engine

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Just in time for Musk’s speech on Tuesday, an update on the Raptor engine for the transporter formerly known as Mars Colonial.

Registration is Open for Spaceport America Drone Summit

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Sunset at the "Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space" terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

Spaceport America, NM (Spaceport America PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico in the USA has partnered with the New Mexico Filmmakers Give Back, the International Cinematographers Guild and the AMA – Academy of Model Aeronautics to bring together drone enthusiasts from across the USA and beyond to share in three action-packed days of racing, workshops, R/C fixed wing airplane demos and an aerial cinematography contest inside the futuristic horizontal launch campus.

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House Passes McCarthy Spaceport Measure

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Rep. Kevin McCarthy

As we face the end of another fiscal year with Congress not even close to passing a national budget, there is one tiny ray of hope coming out of Washington.

A bill introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) concerning the nation’s spaceports passed unanimously, 425-0. The measure would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct studies to determine whether constructing or altering structures at or near spaceports will interfere with “launch and reentry vehicles arriving or departing from a commercial launch site or reentry site.”

The measure is good news for the Mojave Air and Space Port, which has been concerned about the encroachment of structures on the airport.

McCarthy’s bill now goes to the Senate. Whether the measure will be passed during this current session is unclear. Congress is about to go on break so members campaign for re-election based on what a great job they’re doing in Washington.

After the election is over, Congress will reconvene to try to compete a year’s worth of legislative work in the time they have left before Christmas. If the Senate doesn’t approve McCarthy’s bill then, he will have to reintroduce it in the new Congress that convenes in January.

Sea Launch Could Be Coming Back

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Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

It looks as if the moribound Sea Launch company could have a new lease on life.

Majority owner Energia has scheduled a press conference with the S7 Group on Tuesday during the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. The invitation promises a major announcement about the future of the long troubled venture.

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My Appearance on John Batchelor’s Hotel Mars Segment

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The John Batchelor Show

The John Batchelor Show

Earlier this week, I taped an appearance on The John Batchelor Show’s Hotel Mars segment. John, David Livingston and I discussed the recent SpaceX accident, the status of Stratolaunch, and Virgin Galactic’s recent captive carry flight. The segment is now online:

http://www.thespaceshow.com/show/21-sep-2016/broadcast-2779-hotel-mars

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Roundup of SpaceX Accident and Commercial Crew News

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Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

SpaceX Falcon 9 Failures

SpaceX suffered two failures of its Falcon 9 booster within 14 months. Both failures apparently occurred in the second stage of the rocket.

SpaceX has had problems with helium since at least 2014 when two flights were scrubbed due to leaks. In the 2015 accident, a helium bottle broke free inside the liquid oxygen tank leading to over pressurization. SpaceX has preliminarily identified a large breach in the second stage cryogenic helium system as the cause of the failure earlier this month.

Below are some key stories about the accidents and the investigations into them.

SpaceXplosion Update: Preliminary Review Suggests “Large Breach in Cryogenic Helium System” — Sept. 23, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/23/spacexplosion-update-preliminary-review-suggests-large-breach-cryogenic-helium-system/

SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus — Sept. 12, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

A Video Analysis of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly — Sept. 19, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/video-spacex-falcon-9-explosion/

Falcon 9 Pad Failure Throws SpaceX Schedule into Doubt — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/falcon-9-pad-failure-throws-spacex-schedule-doubt/

NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident — Sept 16, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/16/nasa-hasnt-released-report-spacexs-accident/

NASA Investigation into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Explosion Questions Single Strut Theory — June 28, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/06/28/nasa-investigation-spacexs-falcon-explosion-questions-single-strut-theory/

Musk: Failed Strut Suspected in Falcon 9 Failure — July 20, 2015
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2015/07/20/musk-failed-strut-suspected-falcon-9-failure/

SpaceX Postpones AsiaSat6 Launch — Aug. 26, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/08/26/spacex-postpones-asiasat6-launch/

SpaceX Scrubs Falcon 9 Launch — April 14, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/04/14/spacex-scrubs-falcon-9-launch/

Commercial Crew Updates

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

On the same day as the Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded on the launch pad, the NASA Inspector General released a report that concluded that neither SpaceX nor Boeing were likely to fly crews to the International Space Station on a commercial basis until the end of 2018.

It’s unclear whether the Falcon 9 failure will further delay SpaceX’s Crew Dragon program. One issue is that SpaceX wants to use super cold densified fuels in the rocket that must be loaded close to the launch time to keep them from warming. That would require putting the crews on board before fuel loading, something that has never been done before.

NASA was not that comfortable with densified fuels or loading the crew first before the failure earlier this month. It remains to be seen whether the space agency will ever allow it now.

Below are three stories looking at SpaceX’s commercial crew challenges.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Challenges: Welds, Cracks & Water Seepage — Sept. 4, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/04/spacex-crew-dragon-challenges-welds-cracks-water-seepage/

SpaceX Commercial Crew Milestone Status — Sept. 3, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/03/spacex-commercial-crew-milestone-status/

NASA OIG Report: Further Delays in Commercial Crew, More Payments to Russians — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/nasa-oig-report-delays-commercial-crews-payments-russians/

SpaceXplosion Update: Preliminary Review Suggests “Large Breach in Cryogenic Helium System”

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 Loss Update
September 23, 1:00pm EDT

Three weeks ago, SpaceX experienced an anomaly at our Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This resulted in the loss of one of our Falcon 9 rockets and its payload.

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Beames Leaves Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace

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The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

Chuck Beames is out as president of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace and executive director of Stratolaunch Systems.

Alan Boyle reports that Beames is being replaced by Jean Floyd, who is CEO of Stratolaunch Systems. Floyd will serve as interim executive director of Vulcan Aerospace. Beames has left the company.

“Now that we’re closer to realizing our vision for convenient and affordable access to low Earth orbit (LEO) and moving into a more operational phase of our program, we are making some changes to our leadership,” Allen wrote in an email to employees.

Floyd joined Stratolaunch in 2015 after spending 25 years at Orbital ATK, where he led “air-launched space vehicle development, launch operations, and spacecraft programs,:” Allen said in his email.

Interestingly, Allen called Orbital ATK “a valued partner of Vulcan Aerospace.” This could be a clue to a mystery that has engulfed Stratolaunch Systems over the past several years: what rocket will be air launched from the company’s massive carrier aircraft.

The company earlier had agreements with SpaceX and later Orbital Sciences Corporation before it merged with ATK. Both agreements were terminated. It’s possible there is a new agreement with Orbital ATK to produce a booster.

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ULA Sought to Delay USAF Satellite Bids After SpaceX Launch Pad Accident

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ULA_logoULA sought to have the U.S. Air Force delay bids on an upcoming GPS III satellite launch by 60 days in the wake of SpaceX’s loss of a Falcon 9 and its payload earlier this month, The Washington Post reports.

Tory Bruno, ULA’s chief executive, urged the Air Force to postpone the deadline for bids, saying it should take time to explore the impact of SpaceX’s rocket failure while also taking into account both companies’ experience and past performance.

The Pentagon should have particular reservations, Bruno wrote, given that two of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets have blown up, which he said “serve as a reminder of the complexity and hazards intrinsic to space launch services.”

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Senate Commerce Committee Approves NASA Transition Act

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Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

WASHINGTON (Senate Commerce Committee PR) – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today approved five bills, including the NASA Transition Authorization Act which advances deep space exploration, the journey to Mars and the International Space Station for fiscal year 2017.

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), committee chairman, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), committee ranking member, offered the following statements on the NASA Transition Authorization Act approval:

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House Science Committee Advances Astronaut Health Bill

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Lamar Smith

Lamar Smith

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology approved three bills today: the To Research, Evaluate, Assess, and Treat Astronauts Act (H.R.6076); the Cybersecurity Responsibility and Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 6066); and the ADVISE Now Act (H.R. 5829). All three bills were favorably reported out of committee by voice vote.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “Committee approval of these three bills will advance America’s future security through increased space activity, hardened information infrastructure, and an expanding food supply.”

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Is the U.S. Losing the Space Race to China?

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Capitol Building
House Space Subcommittee Hearing

Are We Losing the Space Race to China?

Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building Subcommittees:

Witnesses

Hon. Dennis C. Shea
Chairman, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

Mr. Mark Stokes
Executive Director, Project 2049 Institute

Mr. Dean Cheng
Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation

Dr. James Lewis
Senior Vice President and Director, Strategic Technologies Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies

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Spaceport America Names New CEO

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Daniel Hicks

Daniel Hicks

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, September 22, 2016 (Spaceport America PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico in the USA, today announced that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors has selected Daniel Hicks as the new Chief Executive Officer.

The announcement follows a search by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board’s Search Committee to identify a new CEO, following the retirement of Christine Anderson, who previously held the position since 2011.

The final step took place today when the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Daniel Hicks as Spaceport America’s Chief Executive Officer.

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