Masten Wins $3 Million Contract for DARPA XS-1 Reusable Vehicle

Artist's conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)
Artist’s conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)

Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif. has won a $3 million contract for work on DARPA’s XS-1 program, according to an award announcement at

The objective of the XS-1 program “is to demonstrate a reusable first stage launch vehicle capable of carrying and deploying an upper stage that inserts 3,000 to 5,000 lb. payloads into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), designed for less than $5M per launch for an operational system.”

The system has to be able to perform with aircraft-like operations. And demonstrate the ability to fly 10 times in 10 days. It needs to reach Mach 10 at least once. And provide the basis for next-generation launch services and “global reach hypersonic and space access aircraft.”

The Masten award is the first of several contract that DARPA is expected to sign for the program.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Opposes Putting Commercial Space Vehicles on USML

csf_logo_newestWASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation submitted the following comments to the State Department regarding the interim Category XV rule of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

June 27, 2014

Via E-Mail (

Directorate of Defense Trade Controls
Office of Defense Trade Controls Policy
U.S. Department of State
PM/DDTC, SA-1, 12th Floor
Washington, DC 20522-0112

ATTN: Regulatory Change, USML Category XV
RIN: 1400–AD33

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is an industry association comprised of leading businesses and organizations working to make commercial spaceflight a reality. Our mission is to promote the development of commercial spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The CSF commends the Administration for its efforts on export control reform, especially in relation to Category XV, which will reinforce the competiveness of the U.S. satellite industry in the global market. The modernization of Category XV will help bolster the growth of the domestic commercial space sector while enhancing national security by allowing the government to focus its scarce resources on sensitive military technologies.

While we applaud the progress that has been made, there is still more work to be done. As commercial space companies continue to test and develop their vehicles, it is vital to have an export control regime that will not illegitimately inhibit the potential of this growing industry. Steps should be taken to further investigate how to modernize the USML to appropriately move these vehicles to the Commerce Control List (CCL). Again, the CSF commends the State Department on its export control reform efforts to date as well as its outreach to industry, and we hope to continue to work together to determine the appropriate controls for commercial spacecraft.

Although the State Department did not request comment on this matter in its May 13, 2014 rule, the CSF will submit further detailed comments to the State Department along with our submission to the Department of Commerce in response to their request for comments on the continued application of USML controls to commercial space launch vehicles and human spaceflight.


Michael Lopez-Alegria

WhiteKnightTwo in the Air Over Mojave Today

WhiteKnightTwo outside the FAITH hangar in Mojave for tests on its new brakes. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
WhiteKnightTwo outside the FAITH hangar in Mojave for tests on its new brakes. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
WhiteKnightTwo took off today on its first flight since Jan. 17. It took off solo without SpaceShipTwo. As of five minutes ago, it was flying over the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Virgin Galactic Tweeted that Federal Aviation Administration inspectors have signed off on the mother ship’s annual inspection. This is the aircraft’s 150th flight.

Virgin Galactic officials said they planned to fly WhiteKnightTwo again sometime in June. They met that deadline with about 11 hours to spare. Tests of SpaceShipTwo are scheduled to start up again later this summer. Parabolic Arc’s sources indicate the SpaceShipTwo tests could occur in August.

Engineers found cracks along WhiteKnightTwo’s wing spar after taking possession of the aircraft from builder Scaled Composites, sources say. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides disputed that claim, characterizing them as “adhesive imperfections.” Engineers also have been working on WhiteKnightTwo’s brakes, which have experienced problems over the years.

SpaceShipTwo has undergone modifications over the last five months, including the installation of tanks in the wings, sources report. One tank will hold methane, which will be used when the nitrous oxide-nylon engine is fired to ensure a proper burn. The other tank will hold helium, which will be injected at the end of the burn to ensure a smoother shutdown, sources say.

NASA Declares First LDSD Test Success

Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A high-altitude balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the Hawaiian island facility. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.


Mars One Solicits Payloads for 2018 Lander

Mars One 2018 lander (Credit: Mars One)
Mars One 2018 lander (Credit: Mars One)

AMERSFOORT, The Netherlands, June 30, 2014 (Mars One PR) – Mars One is extending a formal invitation to universities, research bodies, and companies to contribute to the payload of the 2018 unmanned Mars Lander. The best ideas will be chosen by a panel of experts. This mission will act as a staging point for the first-ever human mission to the red planet in 2025.

Mars One is soliciting proposals for four demonstration payloads that will demonstrate technologies for the human mission in 2025, proposals for one payload that will be elected in a world wide university competition, and proposals for two payloads that are for sale to the highest bidder. These last two payloads can be used for scientific experiments, marketing activities or anything inbetween.


This Week on The Space Show

This week on The Space Show with David Livingston:

1. Monday, June 30, 2014: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): DR. DOUG PLATA returns with more on his Lunar Cots & cislunar work, including ISDC presentations and upcoming AIAA Space 2014 presentations.

2. SPECIAL TIME: Tuesday, July 1, 2014:, 2-3 PM PDT (5-6 PM EDT, 4-5 PM CDT): We welcome back MIKE GOLD, the Chair of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (“COMSTAC”) . Mr. Gold is also the Bigelow Aerospace’s director of D.C. Operations and Business Growth. Mr. Gold’s focus for this program is COMSTAC.

3. Friday, July 4, 2014, 9:30 -11 AM PDT (12;30-2 PM EDT; 11:30-1 PM CDT): No show today due to the start of the July 4th holiday weekend. .

4. Sunday, July 6, 2014, 12-1:30 PM PDT (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT). No show today due to the July 4th holiday weekend.

SpaceX-3 Experiments Returned to Earth for Analysis

The Biotube-MICRo experiment is prepared for launch inside Kennedy's Space Station Processing Facility. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
The Biotube-MICRo experiment is prepared for launch inside Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

By Anna Heiney
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A trio of science payloads have completed their missions on the International Space Station and returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they’ll be turned over to the scientists who designed them.

The BRIC-18, Biotube-MICRo and APEX-02-2 investigations were created to answer a variety of biological questions critical to future long duration spaceflight, from the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to several mysterious aspects of plant growth.


A Look at Remaining Milestones for NASA’s Commercial Crew Partners

As NASA prepares to award the next round of commercial crew contracts in August, its three partners are in a different place in terms of completing their milestones and developing their vehicles to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

The space agency has provided SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation with seven additional months — from August 2014 to March 2015 — to complete their original milestones under the current CCiCAP funding round. Meanwhile, Boeing is set to complete all of 20 of its milestones — worth a total of $480 million — by August, when NASA will likely eliminate at least one competitor.

However, merely counting milestones completed doesn’t provide a clear sense of each company’s progress. SpaceX appears to be the closest to an orbital test flight of its Dragon V2 spacecraft, even though its test schedule has slipped by nearly a year. Boeing is on schedule, but its hardware hasn’t advanced as far as SpaceX’s systems. And Sierra Nevada has fallen nearly two years behind its original schedule in conducting glide flights of its Dream Chaser shuttle.


XCOR Acquires Space Expedition Corporation

XCOR_SXC_logoMOJAVE, CA, June 30, 2014 (XCOR PR) — XCOR Aerospace announced today that it has closed the acquisition of all operational subsidiaries of Space Expedition Corporation, the previously independent Dutch company also known as SXC. SXC served as XCOR’s general sales agent for XCOR® Lynx® flight sales and as their lead wet lease customer. The new sales entity, XCOR Space Expeditions, will continue to focus on sales, commercial partnerships and participant (customer) training on a global level, and will serve as an open sales channel available for all future XCOR Lynx wet lease clients.

The acquisition signals XCOR’s commitment to being “the most active space flight company in the world” through a marked increase in integrated sales activities and multiple wet lease operations. As the most active spaceflight company in the world, XCOR is poised to become the company which delivers the most value for the price. With its high frequency of flights, XCOR will learn the most the quickest in the emerging commercial spaceflight industry and more customers will benefit from Lynx’s incredible in-the-cockpit experience.


Five Things We’ll Learn from Orion’s First Flight Test

This computer-generated art depicts Orion's heat shield protecting the crew module as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. (Credit: NASA)
This computer-generated art depicts Orion’s heat shield protecting the crew module as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — All the superlatives associated with Orion’s first mission this year – farthest a spacecraft for humans has gone in 40 years, largest heat shield, safest vehicle ever built – can be dazzling, no doubt. But the reason engineers are chomping at the bit for Orion’s first mission is the promise of crucial flight test data that can be applied to the design for future missions.  Orion only has two flight test opportunities before astronauts climb aboard for the first crewed mission in 2021 – so gleaning the maximum information possible from Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 in December (and later, Exploration Mission-1 in 2017) is of the highest priority. Here are the top five things the engineers will be paying attention to:

ISS Serves as Technology Testbed

New experiment using the soccer-ball-sized, free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, already on the station, is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member in the ISS. (Credit: NASA)
New experiment using the soccer-ball-sized, free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, already on the station, is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member in the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The International Space Station is critically important to NASA’s future exploration missions. The orbiting outpost provides a platform to test technologies in a long-duration weightless environment; conditions which are impractical to replicate on Earth.  NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is utilizing the space station as a test bed for multiple game-changing technology demonstrations.

“The International Space Station is our national laboratory for foundational space technology development,” said Dr. Michael Gazarik, Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The new technologies we fly and test on the station will help create the new capabilities needed for our Asteroid Initiative and our Evolvable Mars Campaign. The International Space Station is an innovation incubator for the advanced space technology that will get us to Mars, and beyond.”


Watch NASA Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Test Live

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

NASA has set a drop time of 5:05 p.m. EDT/2:05 p.m. PDT (21:05 GMT).

Update: The parachute failed to fully deploy after it was released. The vehicle has landed in the ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. Recovery efforts are underway.

The graphic below shows the stages of the test, which apparently went as planned except that the chute failed to full deploy.

Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Test (Credit: NASA)
Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Test (Credit: NASA)



Orion Parachute Test Successful

A test version of NASA’s Orion spacecraft descends under its three main parachutes above the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Arizona in the agency’s most difficult test of the parachutes system’s performance. (Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak)

YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. (NASA PR) — NASA completed the most complex and flight-like test of the parachute system for the agency’s Orion spacecraft on Wednesday.

A test version of Orion touched down safely in the Arizona desert after being pulled out of a C-17 aircraft, 35,000 feet above the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground. It was the first time some parachutes in the system had been tested at such a high altitude. Engineers also put additional stresses on the parachutes by allowing the test version of Orion to free fall for 10 seconds, which increased the vehicle’s speed and aerodynamic pressure.


Video of Masten’s Xombie Flying at Mojave

Video Caption: Astrobotic Technology’s newly developed autonomous landing system was put to the test recently when it controlled Masten Space Systems’ XA-0.1B Xombie suborbital technology demonstration rocket during a flight test at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Astrobotic’s system designed to avoid terrain hazards while safely landing a spacecraft at a specific location on a asteroid, moon or planet.

The June 20 test funded by the Flight Opportunities Program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate saw the vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing Xombie ascend to about 853 feet in 25 seconds. Using cameras and an inertial measurement unit for navigation, the Astrobotic Autolanding System guided the vehicle to a precise landing.

Video: Space Station Astronauts Show Off Soccer Skills During World Cup

Video Caption: The International Space Station crew shows off their own World Cup moves in an “Out Of This World Cup” match. Zero-gravity offers a unique environment to explore new ways to enjoy and celebrate the world’s most popular sport. International Space Station Expedition 40 crew members Steve Swanson, Reid Wiseman, and Alexander Gerst highlight international cooperation while traveling high and fast above the Earth.