Virgin Galactic Extends Space Ambitions into Orbit

Orbital Sciences Corporation's blended lifting body vehicle. (Credit: OSC)


Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, LLC (VG), the world’s first commercial spaceline, today announced that it will be supporting Sierra Nevada Space Systems’ (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (OSC) work on commercial space vehicles.

For the first time it will give not only professional scientists and other crew astronauts but also fare-paying passengers the chance to experience safe orbital space flight at lower costs.


Orbital Sciences Corp. Proposes “Blended Lifting Body” for NASA Commercial Crew

Orbital Sciences Corporation's blended lifting body vehicle. (Credit: OSC)


Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) today announced that it has submitted a proposal to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to the Commercial Crew Development-2 contract solicitation. The company also provided several top-level details of its proposal for providing safe and affordable transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and for commercial activities in Earth orbit. Orbital’s concept includes the following details:

  • A “blended lifting body” vehicle that will launch atop an expendable launch vehicle and return to Earth with a conventional runway landing. This design derives from studies performed by Orbital for NASA under the Orbital Space Plane program between 2000 and 2003.
  • The vehicle would seat four astronauts, providing a cost-effective solution for NASA’s astronaut transportation needs, as well as enabling future commercial applications.
  • The proposal baselines using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but is flexible enough to accommodate other launch vehicle options.


Space Official Moves From White House to Orbital Sciences


Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) announced today that former White House Space Policy Director Peter J. Marquez has joined the company as Vice President of Strategy and Planning. In his new role, Mr. Marquez will be responsible for helping to develop the company’s strategic approach to opportunities in civil and military space programs that can be addressed with Orbital’s reliable and affordable small- and medium-class space systems. He will report to Senior Vice President Michael Hamel, Lt. Gen., U. S. Air Force (retired), who heads the company’s corporate strategy and development activities.


Two Entrpreneurial Space Companies Interested in X-34 Hypersonic Vehicles

Absent their vertical tails, the two X-34 aircraft were convoyed from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base via Rosamond Boulevard morning, and then overnight on Highway 58 to the Mojave Air and Spaceport. (Credit: NASA Dryden/Tony Landis)

Wired has more about the X-34s from Dave Huntsman, an engineer with NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, who spearheaded the effort to pull the hypersonic vehicles out of storage:

“The real idea didn’t come from me, or my Dryden buddies, or from Orbital Sciences who built them [the X-34s],” Huntsman wrote. “It came during a week in October 2009, simultaneously, at a workshop in Dayton, Ohio (where the Air Force Research Lab is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), from two different entrepreneurial space companies.”


X-34 Vehicles Might Be Made Available to Private Space Firms

Absent their vertical tails, the two X-34 aircraft were convoyed from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base via Rosamond Boulevard Tuesday morning, and then overnight on Highway 58 to the Mojave Air and Spaceport Wednesday. (Credit: NASA Dryden/Tony Landis)

Wired looked a bit more into the X-34 story:

A Wednesday call to Orbital Sciences, the original manufacturers of the X-34, resulted in a brief conversation with a bemused company official. Barry Berneski, Orbital’s communications director, said he had read the X-34 news, but had heard nothing on the subject from inside the firm. “They might be just trying get it out of Edwards’ valuable real estate,” Berneski said of the 59-foot-long space planes, only one of which ever flew — and just once — before the program was canceled on cost grounds in 2001…

The idea to ship the X-34s to Mojave and inspect them originated with a Dryden-based NASA engineer, Brown said. “When he found out this thing still  existed … he decided people should take a look to see if it could be refurbished and made flightworthy.” That’s when the contractors came to retrieve the two neglected spacecraft, pictured above en route to the Mojave.

But that doesn’t mean NASA has formal plans to operate the X-34s under its own auspices, now or ever, Brown stressed. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry. “There are a number of firms interested in these things, developing communications and other technologies,” Brown said. “It would be helpful if they had a vehicle.”

Read the full story.

Country Report: Prospects for Ukraine’s Space Effort Looking Up

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II vehicle is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, newly independent Ukraine was left with some significant space assets from which to build  a national program. Ukrainian companies build the Zenit, Cyclone and Dnepr launch vehicles that are used for satellite delivery. The nation also recently shipped the first stage for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Taurus II rocket.  Ukrainian companies contribute to the construction of Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles, which ferry crews and supplies to the International Space Station. Ukraine also has the capability of building satellites and defense systems and has ground receiving stations.

The National Space Agency of Ukraine under Dr. Yuriy Alekseyev oversees the country’s space efforts.  Although overshadowed by its larger Russian counterpart, Roscosmos,  the NSAU is building on its Soviet-era foundation in an effort to become a force in international space.  The agency has continued to move forward despite funding difficulties, a global recession, and the bankruptcy of the Sea Launch consortium that uses the Zenit rocket. The nation, whose commercial space industry totaled $254 million in 2009, remains heavily dependent upon the Russian market although it is making major efforts at increasing its international cooperation and standing.


NASA Pulls X-34 Hypersonic Test Vehicles Out of Storage

Absent their vertical tails, the two X-34 aircraft were convoyed from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base via Rosamond Boulevard Tuesday morning, and then overnight on Highway 58 to the Mojave Air and Spaceport Wednesday. (Credit: NASA Dryden/Tony Landis)


The two X-34 hypersonic research aircraft developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. to serve as flight demonstrators for a NASA rocket engine technology development program in the mid-1990s were transported overland via truck from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base to the Mojave Air and Spaceport Nov. 16-17. The two technology demonstrators will be stored temporarily at a hangar operated by the National Test Pilot School while undergoing inspections by Orbital Sciences personnel to determine if they are viable for flight.


Ukraine Ships First Stage of OSC’s Taurus II to Virginia

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II vehicle is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

Ukraine has shipped the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II rocket to the United States. has reported.”The assembly of the basic part of the first stage of the booster was completed at the Makarov Yuzhny Machine Building Plant in October. The cargo left the port of Oktiabrsk in Mykolaiv region for the Wallops Flight Facility,” the Yuzhnoye State Design Office said in a statement.


Orbital Dedicates Taurus Mission Ops Center as Bolden Fights for More COTS Funding


Orbital Sciences Corporation announced that it held a formal dedication ceremony earlier today to mark the completion of a new facility that will serve as the Mission Operations Center (MOC) for the company’s cargo logistics missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA that begin in 2011. The ribbon-cutting event was attended by NASA’s Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and several other senior representatives of the space agency.


OSC: Cygnus Will Fly to ISS in 2012 if Congress Supports Additional Funds

Spaceflight Now reports that the schedule has slipped for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s test flights of the Taurus II rocket and the Cygnus freighter designed to resupply the International Space Station. The current schedule is:

  • Taurus II without Cygnus — July to September 2011
  • Taurus II with Cygnus — Two or three months later
  • Taurus II with Cygnus to ISS: Early 2012

OSC had been originally aiming to launch the first Taurus II in March 2011. However, that schedule had slipped several months already.


Aerojet Tests AJ26 Engine for OSC’s Taurus II Rocket

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


Aerojet, a GenCorp company, announced that its AJ26 engine was hot-fire tested today at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. In support of the Taurus® II launch vehicle program, Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital), Aerojet and NASA conducted this first of three hot-fire engine tests to be performed throughout the next several weeks.


California Space Center Advances, Secures SpaceX and OSC as Tenants


Two aerospace companies have reserved space at the Mission Support Center of the California Space Center (CSC). The CSC will be built on a 71-acre site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. The companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences — have requested a total of more than 25,000 square feet for offices and a command and control center. The first phase of the Mission Support Center will include about 100,000 square feet of Class-A office space a mile from the front gate of VAFB on Highway 1.


Colorado Governor Congratulates Lockheed Martin, ULA on NASA Launch Agreement

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.


Gov. Bill Ritter today congratulated two Colorado aerospace companies for winning NASA contracts. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver and United Launch Alliance of Littleton were two of four companies awarded contracts by NASA to be used for various NASA satellite launch projects.

“Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance are two great companies at the forefront of one of Colorado’s largest and most innovative economic sectors,” Gov. Ritter said. “The fact that two out of the four contracts awarded were to Colorado companies, highlights the strength of the aerospace industry here in Colorado. This will add jobs to an industry that is already strong in this state and position the aerospace industry to continue to be a huge part of Colorado’s future.”

The contract has the ability to service 70 launch missions for NASA with a combined value of up to $15 billion for the four companies receiving awards. The other two companies awarded contracts were Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, VA., and Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, CA.

Orbital Sciences Pushes Cost Advantages of Taurus II, Wallops Location

Orbital Pushes ‘Cheap’ Taurus Rocket
DoD Buzz

Currently, most DoD launches are handled by the EELV program, not known for its low costs or lack of cost growth over the last five years. EELV launches cost around $250 million a pop. Orbital’s Pieczynski estimates his company can provide Taurus 2 launches for “quite a bit south of $100 million a launch.” He would not get more specific. There are around three DoD launches for payloads of 10,000 pounds to 12,000 pounds each year, Pieczynski said.