Program Updates from ISPCS

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.

What follows are summaries that include:

  • suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
  • commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
  • commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).

The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (‏@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer ‏(@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson ‏(@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (‏@DrSampson) for the coverage.

Suborbital Programs

Mike Moses
President, Virgin Galactic

  • completed 96 percent of test objections in SpaceShipTwo captive carry flight
  • 1 to 2 months away from SpaceShipTwo glide flight in Mojave
  • 10 glide flights worth of data to collect — could do it in fewer flights or more
  • glide tests will be done with wide range of weight and center-of-gravity conditions
  • glide flight will simulate landing if there is a SpaceShipTwo launch abort
  • Powered flights will begin with short burns and then move up to full duration
  • Hybrid rocket is ready but still undergoing qualification tests
  • Most flight tests will take place in Mojave
  • Final phase of flight test program might be moved to Spaceport America in New Mexico
  • Virgin Galactic up to more than 700 employees
  • Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company wants to be a sustainable research and development company beyond space tourism

Rob Meyerson
President, Blue Origin

  • On schedule to begin New Shepard test flights with occupants at the end of 2017
  • New Shepard missions with paying customers scheduled to begin in 2018
  • Plan to fly New Shepard systems hundreds of times to gain experience in launches and landings
  • Engineers were confident of New Shepard capsule’s performance prior to recent in-flight abort test, but were pretty certain the booster would not survive (it did)
  • “Really great progress on BE-4 engine development
  • First full BE-4 engine test scheduled for early 2017
  • BE-4 engine will be used in ULA’s Vulcan and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicles
  • New Glenn launch vehicle will use seven BE-4 engines on the first stage
  • New Glenn will be the smallest launch vehicle Blue Origin will build
  • No significant damage at Cape Canaveral from Hurricane Matthew
  • Company went from 400 to 800 employees during the past year
  • Continuing to hire employees at a fast pace

Commercial Cargo

Benji Reed
SpaceX

  • 11 Dragon cargo missions remain out of 20 under the first
    Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract with NASA
  • Will fly a used Dragon cargo capsule on the SPX-11 mission
  • Biggest challenge with reusing Dragon capsules is water intrusion
  • Reuse of Dragon capsules will allow SpaceX to shut down assembly line for Dragon 1 vehicles
  • The company could then focus on the advanced Dragon 2 spacecraft
  • Dragon 2 spacecraft will use for CRS-2 mission and use propulsion to touch down on land
  • Dragons have delivered 15,800 kg of cargo to the International Space Station and 12,100 kg of cargo
  • Pad 39A  “looking good” after Hurricane Matthew

Mark Sirangelo
Sierra Nevada Corporation

  • Dream Chaser to begin second phase of glide flight tests later this year
  • Dream Chaser cargo version can carry up to 5,500 kg into low Earth orbit
  • Dream Chaser can conduct satellite servicing mission, include the Hubble Space Telescope

Commercial Crew

Philip McAlister
Director, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development

  • Believes NASA has become a much better partner for industry through commercial crew and cargo
  • Impressed with how ULA is transforming itself and investing in new technologies
  • It takes time for organizations to change and adopt new business practices
  • Not sure what the next big public-private partnership will be after commercial crew

John Mulholland
Vice President and Program Manager for Commercial Programs

  • have dealt with many technical challenges in the development of CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle
  • 1st operational flight now scheduled for December 2018
  • minimal damage from Hurricane Matthew to OPF-3 facility where CST-100 work is done

Michael Holguin
Program Manager, United Launch Alliance

  • Reusable ACES upper stage is key to developing in-space transportation super highway
  • Considering engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin and XCOR for ACES upper stage
  • ULA and SpaceX are not mortal enemies; working toward the same goals
  • ULA has learned from its mistakes and learned to listen to what launch vehicles are saying in order to pull off 111 successful flights in a row.

  • Saturn13

    I see why ULA has a back up engine. BE-4 looks like the Raptor. What makes them better is the higher chamber pressure and more compact. But only one other engine in Russia has been built and it failed. The old combustion instability. It is thought with more computing power it can be made to work. AR-1 may come out the winner.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    “BE-4 looks like the Raptor.”

    Big difference between these engines. Raptor is full flow staged combustion, BE-4 is oxygen rich staged combustion. BE-4 will have much lower Isp (almost the same as the RD-180) and lower chamber pressure. About the only thing they have in common is the propellant combo, which is not even the same BE-4 uses LNG while Raptor uses pure methane

    “AR-1 may come out the winner.”

    Highly unlikely, BO has more funding to throw at the problem than AJR can ever dream of. BO is also significantly further along into development than AJR, considering BO is about to test fire a test engine and AJR is still in component testing. BO. BO also NEEDS the BE-4 for their future rockets so they have an even bigger incentive to get this engine working than AJR.

    Finally AJR has no customer for their engine, ULA is being forced by Congress to keep the engine around (remind anyone of a previous time Congress dictated a rockets engine selection, RD-180 cough cough)

  • Eric Rusler

    Gloyer-Taylor Labratories has designed software that accurately models combustion and can evaluate designs. This speeds development by running the configurations and optimizing them before building an engine.