Author: Doug Messier

Experts: Reusable Launch Vehicles Will Make Space Solar Power Affordable

PowerSat's plans for beaming energy from space

PowerSat’s plans for beaming energy from space.

About 20 years ago, NASA conducted a study of space solar power. A friend of mine who was involved said they determined that about six miracles were necessary to make it feasible, the most important being affordable transportation to orbit.

Looks like that miracle is coming closer. Reusable launch vehicles now being developed — along with other advancements over the past two decades — could finally make beaming power down from orbiting satellites economically feasible.

Aviation Week has a lengthy report on a recent space solar panel conference held in Kobe, Japan, where they discussed the prospects for this clean form of power:

“We need a reusable launch system,” says Susumu Sasaki of Tokyo City University, a professor emeritus at JAXA who has studied the relationship between launch costs and the cost of power delivered from space.

Using a 2003 JAXA reference model with a 1-gigawatt station weighing 10,000 tons, Sasaki says power would cost a prohibitive $1.12/kwh at a launch cost to low Earth orbit (LEO) of $10,000 per kilogram. That is in the ballpark of what space launch costs today. Cut that to $1,000 a kilogram—in the ballpark for a reusable launch vehicle (RLV)—and electricity from space drops to 18 cents/kwh.

The SpaceX RLV work, which includes prototype landing legs on the current Falcon 9 taking cargo to the International Space Station (see photo on page 25) and using the rocket’s engines to control the first stage’s return to a splashdown in the Atlantic, is but one development in the fast-changing worldwide spaceflight endeavor that holds promise for space solar power.

Sasaki also cites the need for an orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) to move SPS hardware from LEO to the geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) where space power systems would operate, a development that meshes nicely with NASA’s efforts to develop a high-power solar electric propulsion system for deep-space exploration (AW&ST March 31, p. 26).

Read the full story here.

Wired Magazine also has a story about the original effort by NASA to develop space solar power.

Commercial Crew Program Status Report

CCiCap milestone completion status: Boeing: 17 of 20; SpaceX: 13 of 17; Sierra Nevada: 8 of 13.

CCiCap milestone completion status: Boeing: 17 of 20; SpaceX: 13 of 17; Sierra Nevada: 8 of 13.

Commercial Crew Return on Investment Report
April 2014

Milestones achieved by the Commercial Crew Program’s (CCP’s) partners continue to push commercial spacecraft and transportation systems from design to reality.Over the past two months, industry partners continued to demonstrate progress by successfully completing the following Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) milestones and preparing for significant milestones in the coming months:

Continue reading ‘Commercial Crew Program Status Report’

Phil McAlister Q&A on Commercial Space Capabilities Collaborations

Phil McAlister

Phil McAlister

NASA Commercial Crew Return
on Investment Report

On March 31, NASA announced that it was moving forward with the “Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities” efforts. The purpose of the no-exchange-of-funds agreements is to advance entrepreneurial efforts by facilitating access to NASA’s vast spaceflight resources including technical expertise, assessments, lessons learned, technologies, and data. The goal is to advance private sector development of integrated space capabilities so that the emerging products and services are commercially available to government and non-government customers within approximately the next five years. We sat down with NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development Director Phil McAlister for a Q&A session about this new activity.

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CASIS, Boeing Support MassChallenge Startup Accelerator


casis_new_logoKENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL., April 23, 2014 (CASIS PR) – The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and The Boeing Company (Boeing) today announced a collaboration that will provide support to entrepreneurial researchers through the MassChallenge Startup Accelerator.

CASIS is the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and promoting research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory. Boeing is the International Space Station sustaining engineering contractor responsible for the successful integration of vehicle and payload hardware and software for the orbiting laboratory.

Continue reading ‘CASIS, Boeing Support MassChallenge Startup Accelerator’

Shelton Calls for Innovation, Cost Savings Amid Tight Budgets

Gen. William Shelton

Gen. William Shelton

by John Parker
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., April 21, 2014 — Innovation and cost-saving ideas will help ensure the Air Force keeps its warfighting readiness despite significant, ongoing budget cuts, the commander of Air Force Space Command recently told a Tinker audience.

General William L. Shelton spoke April 15 in Bldg. 4029 to about 90 members of the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Installation Group.

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Orbital Narrows Choices for Antares Engine Provider

Antares lifts off from Wallops Island. (Credit: NASA)

Antares lifts off from Wallops Island. (Credit: NASA)

Space News has an update on Orbital Sciences’ search for a new engine for its Antares launch vehicle:

The company also said it is evaluating three bids — two Russian, one U.S. — to produce main-stage engines for Orbital’s Antares rocket. The engines being offered include the Russian-built, U.S.-modified engine currently used for Antares.

In a conference call with investors, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said his company has a sufficient supply of the current Russian-built engines for three more years of Antares operations. Orbital has three Antares first-stage structures, built by a Ukrainian manufacturer, at an Orbital facility, with two more to be shipped soon.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital has been hunting for an alternative engine supplier in part because the current Russian manufacturer, NK Engines,would need to restart long-ceased production activities to maintain a supply for Antares beyond the next few years. The engines are imported to the United States by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif., refurbished and sold to Orbital as the AJ26.

Thompson said it would take another two or three months to decide on a winning bidder, but that both the alternatives to the current supplier “may be preferable to continuing with our current engines.”

Once the decision is made, he said, Orbital will conclude a block purchase of engines to cover Antares launches between 2017 and 2020. Thompson said he has made clear to all three bidders that they will have to absorb any nonrecurring engineering costs associated with filling the order and then recover those costs over time through engine orders.

Read the full story.

Space Conferences, Engine Claims and Silly Putty

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over the years, I’ve heard many speakers at various space conferences and events say all sorts of things that I felt…oh, comment on dit?…stretched the truth like Silly Putty. Yes, that’s a polite way to put it.

After a while, I’ve become quite numb to it all — the hype, promises, publicity stunts, optimistic schedules that get blown away like fallen leaves on a windy Mojave day. By this point, most of it just passes over me without meriting so much as a mention.

But, sometimes I hear something that stretches the rhetorical Silly Putty beyond the breaking point. I had just such an experience three weeks ago at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif.

Continue reading ‘Space Conferences, Engine Claims and Silly Putty’

Russia Briefs: Vostochny, Angara, Super-Heavy & Asteroid Defense

Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Some brief items on the Russian space program:

Vostochny Construction Accelerated: Work on Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport will now be done on a 24-hour basis with the addition of more workers. “The number of workers will be increased manifold at the spaceport regardless natural and weather conditions,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. The goal is to conduct the first rocket launch from Vostochny in 2015 and the first human mission in 2018. (ITAR-TASS:

Angara Launch Scheduled: After 19 years in development, the first launch of Russia’s new Angara 1.2 rocket will take place between June 25 and 30 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  Angara is a family of modular launch vehicles designed to lift light to heavy payloads and to replace the Proton, Zenit, Rockot and Dnepr boosters. (ITAR-TASS:

Russia Nears Decision on Super-Heavy Booster. Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko says the agency is nearing a decision on a design for a new super-heavy launch vehicle. The initial version of the launch vehicle would launch 80 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO) with future variants lofting 160 tons or more to LEO. (ITAR-TASS:

Rogozin Wants Asteroid Defense. During a visit to Chelyabinsk, Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin called for Russia’s best minds to develop anti-asteroid technologies to protect Earth. “This is a dangerous phenomenon. Those who think that we know everything about the far reaches of deep space and that no catastrophe will happen are seriously wrong,” Rogozin said. In February 2013, a meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, causing extensive damage and injuries. (ITAR-TASS:

Commercial Crew’s Kathy Lueders in Her Own Words


Video Caption: NASA has selected Kathy Lueders as program manager for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Lueders, who has served as acting program manager since October 2013, will help keep the nation’s space program on course to launch astronauts from American soil by 2017 aboard spacecraft built by American companies.

Virgin Galactic to Conduct Google Hangout from Mojave on Friday

A majority of Virgin Galactic's future Astronauts gather with Sir Richard Branson (center) for a group photo at Virgin Galactic FAITH hangar in Mojave, CA September 25, 2013. AT side is the WhiteKnight2 mated with SpaceShip2. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

A majority of Virgin Galactic’s future Astronauts gather with Sir Richard Branson (center) for a group photo at Virgin Galactic FAITH hangar in Mojave, CA September 25, 2013. AT side is the WhiteKnight2 mated with SpaceShip2. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Google Science Fair
Galactic Hangout Virtual Field Trip
Friday, April 25, 10 AM PT/1 PM ET/1800 GMT

Join a “Galactic Hangout” with four members of the Virgin Galactic team: “What’s it like to work in a spaceship factory?”

What would it be like to work in the world’s first commercial spaceship factory? What kinds of jobs do people actually do there? What are their backgrounds, and how do they get hired?

You’ll see that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work in commercial space – although rocket scientists are always welcome!

We will be joined by space design guru Adam Wells, spaceship builder Joe Brennan, astronaut relations supremo Lauren De Niro Pipher – oh, and rocket scientist, Marissa Good! They’ll all be live from Virgin Galactic’s factory in Mojave, California. You’ll find out what it takes to build the Earth’s first spaceline –  scheduled to begin taking people up to space by the end of this year.

Sign up to attend, post your questions using the Q&A app, then come hear your questions answered live!

This session will be produced in collaboration with Google Connected Classrooms. If you’re an educator with a High School classroom who wants to actually join the Hangout, sign up on the Connected Classrooms form at