Major SpaceShipTwo Flight Test This Morning

Good morning, everyone.

Predawn here in Mojave, but there is much activity over at the spaceport. Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic preparing for a major flight test of SpaceShipTwo. My best guess is a powered flight test.

This would mark the first powered flight since early January and the first with the new nitrous oxide/nylon engine.

Look for updates throughout the morning @spacecom.

Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps

The author films as WhiteKnight taxis with SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004. (Credit: John Criswick)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Oct. 4, the world marked the anniversaries of two very different space milestones. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. And in 2004, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately-built vehicle to fly to space twice within two weeks.

While Sputnik quickly led to Sputnik 2 and 3, the Ansari X Prize has been followed by a decade of frustration. SpaceShipOne never flew again, nor has anyone replicated its accomplishments since. The dream of a vibrant new industry that would routinely fly thousands of tourists into space has remained just out of reach.

So, why did Sputnik quickly help spark a revolution that would transform life on Earth, while the Ansari X Prize led to 10 years of extravagant promises and desultory results? And what does this tell us about the role of prizes in moving technology forward?


Outernet Inc. Signs a Letter of Intent with MISHAAL Aerospace for Satellite Launches

MISHAAL_AerospaceMIAMI, Fla. (MISHAAL PR)  — MISHAAL Aerospace Corporation, the Miami-based launch vehicle provider for small satellites, is pleased to announce that Outernet Inc., a New York-based global broadcast data startup, signed a Letter of Intent for launch of their satellites once MISHAAL Aerospace’s  M-OV, Orbital Vehicle, is ready.

The Letter of Intent highlights Outernet’s satellites launch requirements and the minimum payload intended for launch. This letter of Intent also paves the way to enter into negotiations once the M-OV is ready for commercialization and launch.


Arianespace Signs Contract With ELV for 10 Vega Launchers

Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012)
Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012)

ROME (Arianespace PR) — Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, and Pierluigi Pirrelli, Chief Executive of ELV (European Launch Vehicle), signed a contract today, October 29, 2014, in Rome, confirming Arianespace’s order of ten Vega launch vehicles from the Italian manufacturer.

This contract follows the long-term procurement agreement concerning these ten launchers, signed in Rome on November 20, 2013 in a ceremony attended by French President François Hollande and Enrico Letta, Chairman of the Italian Council of Ministers.


NASA, Moon Express to Host Project Update at KSC

moon_is_me_logoNews media representatives are invited to a project update to discuss planned Moon Express vehicle testing set to begin in November at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The event will occur at 2 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 3.

Moon Express Inc., headquartered at the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field, California, will perform vehicle testing at the facility as part of NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown or CATALYST initiative. The purpose of the Lunar CATALYST is to encourage the development of U.S. private sector robotic lunar landers, and this initiative is being executed by means of no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreements with U.S. private sector partners.

During the event, members of the media also will have the opportunity to tour the Morpheus hangar and visit the autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technology, or ALHAT, hazard field. In addition, engineers and technicians with NASA’s Swamp Works laboratory will provide a robotics demonstration adjacent to the hazard field.

For more information about Lunar CATALYST, visit:

For more information about Moon Express, visit:

Lockheed Martin Opens Commercial Space Headquarters in Denver

Commercial Space Headquarters (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
Commercial Space Headquarters (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Denver, Colo., Oct. 29, 2014  (Lockheed Martin PR) – Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper today celebrated a growing aerospace presence in Colorado by cutting the ribbon for the company’s Commercial Space headquarters and announcing an economic incentive program designed to bring jobs to the state.

“The aerospace technology created in Colorado – from GPS to communications and scientific exploration – improves our lives every day, and the economic incentives announced today encourage job growth in this extremely high-tech, high-value sector,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. “It’s a winning proposal for the state because each job created benefits Colorado businesses and our economy.”

“Colorado has been a leader in space exploration and innovation since the founding of our industry, and it continues to be a place where space-based business thrives,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “By basing this important segment of our business in Colorado, alongside our world-class test and manufacturing facilities, we’ll be able to accelerate innovation and lower costs for commercial and government customers worldwide.”

“The consolidation into our new headquarters and the technical refresh of our workhorse A2100 satellite platform will position Lockheed Martin to be a leader in the global commercial space market for years to come,” said Mike Hamel, vice president and general manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin. “Multiple A2100-based programs, including GPS-III and GOES-R, are produced here in Denver today and this site will be the center of excellence for design and production of the most capable and affordable satellites in the industry.”


Orbital Sciences Does Launch Pad Assessment, Begins Accident Investigation

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.
The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

Orbital Sciences Antares Update – October 29

Early this morning, range officials performed an aerial survey of the launch facilities and surrounding areas at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility where yesterday’s failure of the Antares rocket occurred after it lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A.  Shortly after, a team of representatives from NASA, MARS and Orbital entered the launch site to perform a preliminary assessment of the launch complex and related facilities.  The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary.  However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.

NASA has posted aerial views of the launch pad taken earlier today here.

Also today, Orbital made progress forming a permanent Accident Investigation Board (AIB) comprised of company officials, along with representatives from NASA and the NTSB, with the FAA providing overall oversight of the process.  Initially, Mr. Rich Straka, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group, served as the interim chairman to begin the investigation process immediately after the launch mishap.  Today, Orbital appointed Mr. Dave Steffy, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer of the company’s Advanced Programs Group, a highly experienced engineer well-versed in launch vehicle engineering and operations, to serve as the permanent chairman of the AIB.

No follow-on press conferences are planned at this time. Further updates on the situation and the progress of the ongoing investigation will be provided as they are available.

Assessment Team Completes Initial Evaluation of Antares Launch Complex Damage

An aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Oct. 29 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28. (Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach)
An aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Oct. 29 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket Oct. 28. (Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Virg. (NASA PR) — The Wallops Incident Response Team completed today an initial assessment of Wallops Island, Virginia, following the catastrophic failure of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff at 6:22 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Oct. 28, from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people,” said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”


Canadian Space Agency President Departs After 15 Months

CSA President Walter Natynczyk
CSA President Walter Natynczyk

Well, that was quick.

 Retired Gen. Walter Natynczyk will depart his post as president of the Canadian Space Agency next month after only 15 months on the job. He will replace Mary Chaput  as deputy minister of Veterans Affairs effective Nov. 3.
Natynczyk was appointed CSA president on Aug. 6, 2013. He had previously served as chief of defence staff, Canadian Forces, from 2008 to 2012.
“It has been an honor to serve as President of the Canadian Space Agency,” Natynczyk said in a statement on the CSA website. “The Agency has extraordinary potential and an exciting destiny. I believe in its employees. I believe in its mission. Space touches every Canadian, every day of their lives. No matter where I am, I will continue to support Canada’s space program.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave no reason for the change. Nor did he appoint a replacement for Natynczyk.
UPDATE: Luc Brule, vice-president of the Canadian Space Agency, will take over as president on an interim basis.

And Now for Some Good Space News…

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the eighth Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-8 satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 1:21 p.m. EDT today from Space Launch Complex-41. This is the 50th successful Atlas V mission and the fourth GPS mission for the U.S. Air Force this year.  (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the eighth Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-8 satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 1:21 p.m. EDT today from Space Launch Complex-41. This is the 50th successful Atlas V mission and the fourth GPS mission for the U.S. Air Force this year. (Credit: ULA)

While Orbital Sciences picked up the pieces from Wednesday’s failed Antares flight, there was some good launch news to report elsewhere.

At Baikonur, the Russians successfully launched a new Progress freighter to the International Space Station (ISS). The vehicle later successfully docked with ISS, bringing up fresh supplies and equipment to the six astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory.

And down at Cape Canaveral, ULA successfully launched an Atlas V with a military GPS satellite aboard. This was the 50th successful Atlas V mission to date.

Orbital Stock Takes a Serious Tumble as Company Seeks to Reassure Investors

Orbital Sciences stock took a major nose dive today following the failure of the company’s Antares launch vehicle last night. The stock is down more than 15 percent today.

Orbital officials held a conference call with investors and analysts earlier today. [Transcript] David  W.  Thompson,  CEO and chairman, and Garrett  E.  Pierce,  CFO and vice  chairman, spoke during the call. Below is a summary of the major points they made:

  • a lot of data on launch, don’t expect a problem in determining what went wrong
  • expects to zero in on the cause of the accident over the coming days
  • could take longer to determine the root cause
  • cautioned against drawing early conclusions, sometimes early guesses they are wrong
  • launch complex spared any major damage
  • Orbital carried insurance that will cover contract revenue on flight and repairs to launch complex
  • company has “ample and conservative” management reserves for the recovery period
  • next Antares/Cygnus launch was scheduled for early April
  • expects a delay of three months but hopefully not more than one year — too early to tell at this stage
  • company has amply supply of AJ-26 engines to cover remaining launches to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA
  • about two years away from flying Antares launch vehicle with a new first-stage engine
  • company could accelerate that change over if AJ-26 engine is identified as cause of the accident
  • will make a decision in November as to what to do about the engine change
  • hinted at possible other options other than accelerating the engine change but would not elaborate
  • still on track to submit a proposal for the CRS-2 contract in a few weeks
  • flights under CRS-1 extension agreement and CRS-2 proposal would be done with a new first-stage engine
  • do not expect the failure to affect planned merger with ATK
  • too early to tell whether early December vote on ATK merger will be delayed.

NASA Statement on Orbital Sciences Antares Failure

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.
The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Mishap

The following statement is from William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, regarding the mishap that occurred at Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the attempted launch of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft at 6:22 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28.

“While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences’ third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.

“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”

Updates will be posted as available on NASA’s Orbital page, at: