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Layoffs Reported at SpaceX

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spacex_logo_smA reliable source reports SpaceX fired 200 to 300 people over the past week, reportedly for poor performance.

However, speculation focuses on the possibility that the company is experiencing a cash-flow crunch. The company has added thousands of employees in recent years despite a launch rate that is low compared with its main rival, United Launch Alliance.

I’ve asked SpaceX for a comment, but the company has not responded yet.

Virgin Galactic Gears Up for Resumption of Flight Tests

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WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

After a six-month gap in flights, it looks as if SpaceShipTwo will once again fly in the Mojave sky, possibly as early as Friday morning.

On Wednesday, SpaceShipTwo was outside on the tarmac underneath its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship for what Virgin Galactic described as a “dry run” for upcoming test flights. There is a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) indicating that the Mojave Air and Space Port’s tower will be open early on Friday morning. It’s possible this is being done to accommodate a SpaceShipTwo test flight, although sometimes the tower opens early for other reasons.

If there is a flight tomorrow, my best guess is it will involve a captive carry or un-powered drop test to evaluate modifications that have been made to SpaceShipTwo. But, perhaps they will surprise us with something more ambitious.

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ATV Ready for its Re-entry Close-up

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Artist’s view of ATV-5’s destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2014)

Artist’s view of ATV-5’s destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2014)

PARIS (ESA PR) — As ESA’s remaining supply ferry to the International Space Station burns up in the atmosphere, its final moments as its hull disintegrates will be recorded from the inside by a unique infrared camera.

An ESA-led team designed and developed the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Break-Up Camera in just nine months in order to make it on board in time.

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Commercial Spaceflight Federation Adds 3 Members

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csf_logo_newestWashington, D.C. (CSF PR) – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is pleased to announce the addition of three new organizations to its membership. BRPH, The Robert A. & Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, and Swiss Space Systems’ S3 USA Holdings have each joined as Associate Members.

“The addition of these three members is a testament to the diversity, continued growth and development of the commercial spaceflight sector,” stated CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria. “Each new member represents a unique area within our industry; I look forward to having their expertise as a part of our membership.”

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SpaceShipTwo Outside on Tarmac Again

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Editor’s Note: SpaceShipTwo hasn’t been seen outside for months now. Its last powered flight was on Jan. 10. A week later, it made a glide flight. That was the last time it was seen in the skies over Mojave.

Sources tell Parabolic Arc that the suborbital ship has been modified with wing tanks. One tank will hold methane that will be used along with nitrous oxide to burn the plastic fuel. The other tank will include helium used to smooth out the end of the motor’s burn.

Company officials have said they expect to conduct a series of powered flights over the summer leading up to the first commercial flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico at the end of the year. That flight will carry Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson and his children.

Masten Releases Artist’s Conception of XS-1 Vehicle

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XS-1 concept vehicle (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

XS-1 concept vehicle (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, CA, July 23, 2014 (Masten PR) — Masten Space Systems, Inc. (Masten) announced today that the company has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of Phase 1 of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to develop a reusable launch vehicle.

Over the last decade, Masten has built three highly operable, vertical takeoff/vertical landing, reusable rockets which are flown by small teams of five to seven people. Masten’s experience with vertical takeoff/vertical landing rockets has shown that the company’s flight vehicles can offer greater flexibility than reusable launch vehicles that require runways to land. Masten has logged well over 300 flights to date with its Xoie, Xombie and Xaero reusable rockets.

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White Knight Flies Off Into Retirement

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Video Caption: On Monday, July 21, Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection welcomed home a major piece of aviation history to Washington. Video shot by Jim Larsen.

Sierra Nevada Announces Agreement With JAXA on Dream Chaser

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Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

SPARKS, Nev., July 23, 2014 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced today the expansion of its Dream Chaser® Space System’s global partnership to include Asia and the Pacific Rim through a recently signed memorandum of cooperative understanding with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). SNC will work with JAXA on potential applications of Japanese technologies and the development of mission concepts for the Dream Chaser spacecraft.  Additionally, SNC and JAXA will explore the possibility of launching and landing the Dream Chaser spacecraft in Japan. This international collaboration will widen the breadth of the global capabilities offered by SNC’s Dream Chaser reusable, lifting-body spacecraft.

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UK Government Seeks Additional Advice on Spaceport Locations

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Credit: CAA

Credit: CAA

The UK Department of Transport has launched a consultation concerning the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) identification of eight potential locations for the nation’s first spaceport.

The CAA’s findings include key operational, safety, meteorological, environmental and economic criteria for selecting a suitable site for a spaceport. These include:

  • an existing civil or military aerodrome which has a runway which is, or is capable of being extended to, over 3000m in length;
  • could accommodate segregated areas of airspace to manage spaceflights safely; and,
  • is located away from densely populated areas in order to protect the uninvolved general public.

Based on its criteria, the CAA has identified eight existing coastal aerodromes which are potentially feasible locations for a UK spaceport.

This consultation seeks views on the criteria identified by the CAA as key and whether there are any other factors or criteria that should be considered in supporting a site for a spaceport in the UK.

We are also seeking views on the eight potentially feasible locations which the CAA has identified based on its criteria. In particular, whether any of these locations should be disregarded and why? And also, whether other locations should be considered further.

At this stage we are not consulting on local communities’ and stakeholders’ preferences regarding a potential spaceport in any of these locations; we will ensure that the views of local people are taken into account and seek their buy-in to any proposed location that may be identified before any decisions are taken to proceed with a UK spaceport.

We are not consulting on the highly technical aspects of the CAA’s report. Rather, we are seeking views on the strategic position to be adopted by government on the location of a spaceport.

The consultation period began on 15 July 2014 and will run until 6 October 2014.

For information on how to respond, download the consultation here.

OmniEarth Signs MOU With Spaceflight Inc. for Launch Services

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spaceflight_logoARLINGTON, Va., Jul 21, 2014 (OmniEarth PR) — OmniEarth LLC has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceflight Inc. for rideshare launch services related to its planned constellation of up to 18 satellites.

Under the agreement, Spaceflight Inc. will identify launch opportunities and provide associated pre-launch support to OmniEarth. Spaceflight has strong partnerships with prominent launch vehicle providers, such as SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Roscosmos, and Virgin Galactic, and is well-suited to facilitate launch accommodations for OmniEarth.

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