Branson to the Future

LONDON, April 1, 2016 — Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is used to carrying passengers through the air and across the British countryside, but it will soon transport them through an entirely new dimension — time.

“I’m delighted to announce the launch of Virgin Timelines,” Branson announced at a packed press conference in London. “Soon, we will all be able to go back, forward and sideways in time. Just think of the possibilities.”


ULA Continues to Assess Atlas V Launch Anomaly

A United Launch Alliance  Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., March 31, 2016 (ULA PR) — ULA successfully launched and deployed the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to its desired orbit on Tuesday, March 22. During the launch, the system experienced a premature first stage shutdown. The first stage cut-off occurred approximately 6 seconds early; however the Centaur automatically compensated by burning longer. The robustness of the system achieved mission success, delivering Cygnus to a precise orbit as planned.

The ULA engineering team is continuing to review the data and has developed initial fault trees with our industry partners. The team has been successful in isolating the anomaly to the first stage fuel system and its associated components.

Per standard processes when a flight anomaly such as this has been identified, ULA and our partners have formed a robust review team with full collaboration with major customers. The review will thoroughly assess all flight and operational data to determine root cause and identify appropriate corrective actions prior to future flights.

FAA Backs Ban on U.S. Satellite Launches on Indian Rockets

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

Space News reports on disagreements within the U.S. government about whether to allow American companies to launch satellites aboard Indian rockets.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) endorsed an advisory committee’s recommendation that commercial U.S. satellites continue to be barred from using the PSLV.


Russia Launches Progress Freighter to ISS

Progress MS-02 launch (Credit: Roscosmos)
Progress MS-02 launch (Credit: Roscosmos)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, March 31, 2016 (Roscosmos PR) — On March 31, 2016 at 19:24 MSK carrier rocket Soyuz-2.1a to transport cargo vehicle (THC) Progress MS-02 was successfully launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.


Space Station Live: BEAMing up to ISS

Video Caption: NASA Commentator Gary Jordan talks with Rajib Dasgupta, the International Space Station project manager for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, which will launch to the station on a Dragon cargo ship next month.

Provided by Bigelow Aerospace, BEAM will be berthed to the aft docking port of the station’s Tranquility module for a two-year demonstration of the commercial expandable technology.

The station crew members will perform maintenance inside the BEAM on a quarterly basis: inspecting for leaks, taking air and surface samples for later analysis, and changing out batteries in instruments measuring temperature and radiation levels and impact data.

NASA Spacecraft to Test ‘Green’ Propellant Passes Major Pre-flight Milestone

A Ball Aerospace engineer adjusts the thermal insulation on NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft bus following integration of the propulsion system. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)
A Ball Aerospace engineer adjusts the thermal insulation on NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft bus following integration of the propulsion system. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Like all rocket engines, the small thrusters that a spacecraft or satellite fires to maintain or change positions need fuel. Currently, many use hydrazine — a toxic and corrosive fuel that requires special handling and equipment.


Russia Says Buyer Found for Sea Launch

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

It looks as if Russia has found someone to take Sea Launch off its hands.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has found a buyer for a troubled commercial space project known as Sea Launch, the agency’s director Igor Komarov was cited by the TASS news agency as saying on Wednesday.

“I cannot tell you who the investor is, or the value of the contract, due to certain obligations. I hope that we will have something to say about it by the end of April,” Komarov said. He did, however, say that investors from the U.S., Australia, China and Europe have expressed interest in the project.

The troubled company, which uses a floating platform to launch communications satellite aboard Zenit boosters from the equator, has been on the market for several years. It is majority owned by RSC Energia.

Sea Launch’s last launch was in May 2014. The company has been troubled by launch failures and an inability to secure a significant percentage of the global launch market.

UrtheCast Reports Financial Results

urthecast-logoVANCOUVER, B.C., March 30, 2016 (UrtheCast PR) — UrtheCast Corp. (TSX:UR) (“UrtheCast” or the “Company”) today announces financial results for the three and twelve months ending December 31, 2015. The Company reported revenues of $13.4 million and $41.1 million for the three and twelve month periods ending December 31, 2015, respectively, compared to $11.9 million of revenues for both periods in 2014. The Company’s non-IFRS adjusted EBITDA, excluding share-based payments, was a loss of $7.7 million in the fourth quarter (compared to a profit of $7.4 million in 2014 due to the recognition of $8 million in insurance payments) and a loss of $12.9 million for the year (compared to a loss of $2.4 million for 2014). At December 31, 2015, the Company had total cash balances of $47.5 million and working capital of $44.2 million.


Planetary Resources Receives Patent for Asteroid Prospecting & Mining

Spacecraft examine asteroid. (Credit: Planetary Resources)
Spacecraft examine asteroid. (Credit: Planetary Resources)

U.S. Patent No. 9,266,627
February 23, 2016
[Full Patent]

Method, apparatus, and system for asteroid prospecting and mining


A method of prospecting asteroids for mining includes (a) launching at least one spacecraft, the spacecraft including a space telescope; (b) examining a plurality of asteroids using the space telescope to gather scientific data on the asteroids for characterization and cataloging; and (c) selecting one or more asteroids to mine from the plurality of asteroids examined by the space telescope and contained within the catalog. A system for prospecting asteroids for mining is also described.

Inventors: Anderson; Eric (Arlington, VA), Diamandis; Peter H. (Santa Monica, CA), Lewicki; Chris (Bellevue, WA), Voorhees; Chris (Bellevue, WA)

Applicant: Planetary Resources Development Corporation, Bellevue, WA

SpaceWorks Releases 2016 Nano/Microsatellite Market Assessment

spaceworks_logoATLANTA, March 29, 2016 (SEI PR) – SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) announced today the annual update to its nanosatellite and microsatellite market assessment. The assessment details the latest observations and trends of the nano/microsatellite market.

Projections indicate more than 400 nano/microsatellites will need launches annually in the year 2022 and beyond. The study summary is available in presentation form as a free download on the website,


XCOR Announces New Board Members and Advisors

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason
Jeff Greason

MIDLAND, Texas, March 30, 2016 (XCOR PR) – The board of directors at XCOR Aerospace is seeing new additions, and with immediate effect the board welcomes 3 new members: Charles Thomas (Tom) Burbage, Michael Gass and Arthur Bozlee.

Former board members Jeff Greason, Stephen Flemming and Michiel Mol gave up their board seats to allow for these new members. Michiel Mol, XCOR’s biggest shareholder, will remain actively involved in the company’s daily operations.

All new members have prominent previous experience in the air and space industry.


DARPA SBIR Awards for XS-1 & Rocket Technologies

XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)
XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)

I was conducting some research into Defense Department Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to see what space and rocket projects it has been funding.  I found a group of SBIR Phase I contracts awarded by DARPA in 2015, most of them related to the XS-1 launcher program. I don’t think I’ve written about them previously.


Starliner Crew Access Arm Undergoes Evacuation Water Test

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Engineers and technicians gathered at dusk recently at a construction site near Kennedy Space Center in Florida to test systems that will support Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The Crew Access Arm and White Room saw some of the most dynamic testing thus far, when hundreds of gallons of water were sprayed along the arm and beneath it for an evaluation of its water deluge system. The system is a key safety feature for future launches on the Starliner, one of two commercial spacecraft in development to carry astronauts to the station.


NASA IG: SLS-Orion Software Significantly Over Budget, Behind Schedule

SLS Bloc k I launch vehicle (Credits: NASA/MSFC)
SLS Block I launch vehicle (Credits: NASA/MSFC)

An audit by NASA’s Inspector General has found that the software for the space agency’s efforts to develop software for the Space Launch System and Orion programs to be significantly over budget and behind schedule.

“Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017,” the audit says.  “In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures.”


NASA Awards Second-Round Prizes in Cube Quest Challenge

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded $30,000 each to the five top-scoring teams that competed in the latest segment of the agency’s small satellite Cube Quest competition. Cube Quest is a $5 million challenge that requires teams to design, build and deliver flight-qualified CubeSats capable of advanced operations near and beyond the moon. It is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which engages the public to compete to solve challenges that will benefit the agency and the nation.