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Taurus II Engine Tests Coming Along Nicely


Aerojet's AJ26 engine successfully tested for Taurus II space launch vehicle. (PRNewsFoto/Aerojet)


You see a lot of smiles around the E-1 Test Stand at John C. Stennis Space Center these days. Engineers involved in testing Aerojet’s AJ26 rocket engine for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II space launch vehicle have good reason to smile.

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SpaceX Plans At Least 32 Launches Through 2015


Dragon floats down under three parachutes after its maiden flight to space. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has a busy schedule ahead for its Falcon 1e and Falcon 9 rockets, with at least 32 launches scheduled through 2015. The highlights:

  • At least 23 Falcon 9 launches
  • 14 Falcon 9/Dragon COTS flights for NASA (including 2 demo missions)
  • At least 8 Falcon 9 satellite launches
  • Multiple Falcon 9 launches for Iridium (2015-17)
  • 1 Bigelow space station module launch (2014)
  • Inaugural Falcon9/DragonLab mission (2012)
  • First Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg (2012)
  • Debut of the uprated Falcon 1e rocket (2011)
  • Approximately 9 Falcon 1e launches
  • Approximately 6 Falcon 1e flights for ORBCOMM (2011-14).

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SpaceX, Orbital Sciences See Increase in NASA COTS Funding


NASA Has Boosted COTS Funding by Additional $40 Million Since October
Space News

NASA has boosted its investment in two logistics services being developed for the international space station by $40 million so far this year, and plans to double that payout by the end of March despite the fact that Congress has yet to appropriate the necessary funds for the effort, according to an agency official.

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Bolden Mourns End of Shuttle Program, Looks Forward to Commercial Future


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke at the AIAA New Horizons Forum in Orlando on Wednesday. His talk focused largely on the successes of the space shuttle program that is set to end later this year. He also  touch upon three topics that will impact NASA’s future: commercial crew and cargo delivery to the International Space Station, the development of a heavy-lift vehicle, and the additional of an extra space shuttle flight.

I’ve excerpted four relevant passages from the speech. The full address follows after the excerpt.

As we move toward a true commercial capability for reaching low Earth orbit, it seems people are yearning even more for routine access to space – one of the unfilled promises of the original space transportation system. With greater commercial access to LEO, we’re going to open up an entirely new segment of the economy and with this will come new high tech jobs. I hope we can all agree – as a nation, we’re ready for that. We know we can do it; in part because of all that we have learned from shuttle, and the fact that we have flown more than 130 missions to space – more than any other NASA human spaceflight program.

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Bolden: Third Shuttle Flight Would Be Safe


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

After months of relative silence, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden re-emerged this week to talk about the space agency’s future. Speaking at an AIAA conference in Orlando, Bolden discussed the upcoming space shuttle schedule and his aim to ensure that NASA’s is undertaking realistic missions in a sustainable way.

Florida Today reports that an additional shuttle mission to supplement the final two ones of the books is on the agenda, despite uncertainty in the space agency’s funding levels caused by Congress’ failure to approve the FY2011 budget:

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden today reiterated a commitment to fly a third shuttle mission this year and said the agency has determined the mission would be safe.

The 2010 NASA Authorization Act requests the flight pending an assessment of its safety, which Bolden said is not yet final. Since no rescue shuttle would be available, the mission dubbed STS-135 would rely in Soyuz spacecraft to gradually return crew members from the International Space Station.

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First Cygnus Flight to ISS Set for December


Artist's conception of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus freighter approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: OSC)

Launch Date Set For First Orbital COTS Demo
Aviation Week

NASA has set Dec. 14 as the target launch date for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) cargo demonstration mission. Meanwhile, the company says it continues to make progress with NASA toward attaining safety clearance for the mission, in which its Cygnus spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

The flight is scheduled to include delivery of a token cargo load using Orbital’s first Cygnus visiting vehicle, a service module combined with a pressurized cargo module (PCM). It is expected to be preceded by a Taurus II “risk-reduction” mission, which is still awaiting funding approval from Congress…

[Orbital Vice President Carl] Walz says the procedure will entail flying up to match the station’s orbit before using GPS satellites to “align the system and fly automatically up the R-bar,” a standard approach method based on using the radius vector to the Earth’s center. “Once we’re within 10 meters, we will go to ‘free drift’ mode and allow the ISS crew to grapple us,” he adds.

Read the full story.

Another Successful Test Fire for Taurus II’s AJ26 Engine



NASA conducted a test fire Friday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus II space launch vehicle. The test at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supports NASA’s Commercial Transportation Services partnerships to enable commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station.

Orbital’s Taurus II uses a pair AJ26 rocket engines built by Aerojet to provide first stage propulsion. Friday’s test on the Stennis’ E-1 test stand involved a team of Orbital, Aerojet, and Stennis engineers, with Stennis employees serving as test conductors.

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Rocketplane: A Space Tourism Post Mortem


The late Rocketplane which was to have flown from Oklahoma.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an account of George French’s odyssey from billboard king to bankrupt NewSpace entrepreneur. His Rocketplane Global and Rocketplane Kistler ventures were once in prime positions to capture large shares of both the suborbital space tourism market and commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station. And yet both efforts collapsed amid funding woes, multiple bankruptcy filings, and a flood of lawsuits from unpaid employees and vendors.

For NewSpace advocates, this is a sad story. But, it’s really not unusual. A vast majority of start ups fail, for a whole host of reasons ranging from mismanagement to simply bad timing. Rocketplane is certainly not the first — nor will it be the last — NewSpace company to fail.

Congressional Praise for SpaceX’s Successful Dragon Flight


Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL

The leading congressional authority on the U.S. space program said Wednesday that America is on track to remain a global leader in space, science and technology, after a privately owned rocket carrying a capsule powered off a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and into outer space before returning safely to Earth.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made his comments today following the successful launch into low-earth orbit and return to Earth of the 157-foot tall Falcon 9 rocket and the Apollo-like unmanned Dragon capsule built by Space X. With the splash down of its capsule in the Pacific, Space X became the first private company to successfully recover a spacecraft sent into outer space.

“We’ve arrived at the dawn of new era of U.S. space exploration that should ensure America remains a leader in space exploration,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was a crew member aboard a 1986 space shuttle mission, and now heads a Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA.

In September, Congress approved a Nelson-engineered NASA budget blueprint that would help boost the commercial rocket industry – such as the development of the Falcon 9 – and have NASA become the chief player for building a new deep-space rocket and carry out missions to Mars.

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Musk Looks to Send Dragon to ISS Next Year; Florida Officials Optimistic of Job Growth


Falcon 9's second stage fires away. (Credit: SpaceX)

A couple of updates in the wake of SpaceX’s Dragon flight:

Company President Elon Musk is looking to fly the Dragon freighter directly to the International Space Station on the next test flight. The current schedule has Dragon rendezvousing with the orbital facility on its second flight, with a docking and cargo delivery occurring on the third mission.The two flights would be combined into one under SpaceX’s plan. Spaceflight Now reports:

I’m optimistic that the next flight will be to the space station,” Musk said, adding there are several things engineers must add to the Dragon to make that possible.

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