Blue Origin: Secrecy and Control Freakery


A couple of updates on the ever mysterious Blue Origin:

At Popular Mechanics, Dave Mosher looks at what is known and unknown about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ secretive suborbital and orbital projects. This is mostly a compilation of what’s already been reported by Clark Lindsey, myself and others. It quotes an anonymous aerospace executive as saying:

“I get why they’re so secretive. It’s a competitive business environment. But we’ll ultimately see them open up a little bit. They’re taking public money, so they’ll have to at some point.”

True enough. But, there might be more to it.

Google engineer Steve Yegge has posted a long entry on Google+ that discusses, among other things, his previous time working for Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Yegge says that Bezos is “super smart” but that his micro-management “makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

I’ve included a couple of excerpts below: (more…)

UP Aerospace Awarded NASA, DOD Contracts for Spaceport America Launches


UP AEROSPACE PR —
NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist Launch Opportunities Program has awarded UP Aerospace a contract to integrate technology payloads and launch them into space on up to 8 flights using the company’s SpaceLoft rocket. The launch contract is part of the 2 year IDIQ contract awarded to the firm on August 9, 2011. The contract reserves 2 SpaceLoft launches with options to purchase 6 additional flights in 2012 and 2013. The first flight for NASA is in the planning phase and is expected to be launched from Spaceport America in the 1st quarter of 2012. UP Aerospace has teamed with Schafer Corporation to provide NASA with comprehensive launch and payload integration services.

The US Department of Defense Operationally Responsive Space Office has awarded UP Aerospace a full manifested sub-orbital launch contract to be flown from Spaceport America in New Mexico. UP Aerospace will launch their sixth SpaceLoft for the DoD to an altitude of 115 km. This will be the forth mission flown by UP Aerospace for the DoD and the first fully dedicated launch for the defense agency. The official launch date for this mission is under negotiations with the DoD but is anticipated to be in the first quarter of 2012.

XCOR Signs Eight-Figure Deal With Space Expedition Curacao

XCOR PR — September 19, 2011, Mojave CA, USA and Curaçao:   Space Expedition Curaçao (SXC) and XCOR Aerospace, Inc. jointly announced today the completion of a multi-million dollar transaction that secures the wet lease of production Lynx tail number two for operation on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, pending export licensing action.

“Since we signed the initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October of 2010, XCOR and SXC have worked diligently towards completing the Definitive Agreement,” explained XCOR CEO Jeff Greason.   “Now that the ink is dry and the check has cleared we can proceed at full pace to begin operations in Curaçao in 2014.”

[Editor’s Note:  The press release’s headline say this is an “eight figure” deal, meaning at least $10 million. To put this in perspective, Greason recently said that XCOR had spent $27 million since it was founded 12 years ago this month. XCOR’s cost for producing the first Lynx prototype is a tiny fraction of the $400 million that Virgin Galactic is spending on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles. XCOR will begin Lynx test flights next fall.]

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Goddard to Host Commercial Suborbital Vehicle Workshop Next Wednesday

GREENBELT, Md. — The Innovative Partnership Program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is hosting a an Emerging Commercial Suborbital Capabilities Vehicles Workshop at Goddard on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The workshop will give an opportunity for commercial companies who provide sub-orbital services to brief Goddard Earth and space science researchers and scientists about the new vehicles being developed and their potential capabilities. The workshop will also allow both groups to discuss science topics that might be conducted from these platforms. These emerging capabilities are seen as complementary to existing NASA suborbital platforms and personnel from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will be participating to discuss current capabilities that exist within the agency.

This workshop will allow for an open discussion of issues such as platform capabilities and measurement needs. By talking now, any potential payload accommodation requests will be understood and more easily managed.

Suborbital reusable launch vehicles enable researchers to directly access regions of Earth’s atmosphere that are too high for balloons and too low for satellites to operate. There are numerous unresolved scientific issues related to that atmospheric region that science cannot currently address because of inadequate observational sampling.

XCOR Wins NASA Contract for Suborbital Flight Services


August 12, 2011, Mojave, CA (XCOR PR):
  NASA has selected XCOR Aerospace to provide suborbital flight and payload integration services for research and scientific missions in a program that will offer up to $10 million dollars in contracts to match payload customers with flight vehicle services. The awards were announced by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, a part of NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC that is managed at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

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SwRI Purchases Six XCOR Lynx Flights

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

XCOR/MOJAVE, Calif. — In a first for the reusable suborbital launch vehicle industry, XCOR Aerospace announced today that the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a commercial entity, has purchased six suborbital flights to carry SwRI experiments and payload specialists.  This is the first such contract SwRI has issued, and XCOR is proud to be chosen for this opportunity.

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EADS Astrium to Develop Suborbital Spaceplane With Singapore

EADS Astrium To Develop Spaceplane
Aviation Week

EADS Astrium has disclosed that Singapore will be a partner in its suborbital spaceplane program.

At the Global Space & Technology Convention in Singapore, EADS Astrium executives announced that Singapore will be building a small-scale demonstrator of the spaceplane and may be involved in developing parts for the commercial product. EADS Astrium is also hoping Singapore will ultimately have a fleet of its commercial spaceplanes stationed at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
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Suborbital Spotlight: XCOR’s Lynx Space Plane

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at XCOR’s Lynx vehicle.  The two-seat suborbital vehicle is being assembled in Mojave, Calif. for its first test flight next year, with commercial operations following as early as 2012.

Suborbital Spotlight: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Gear down on SpaceShipTwo. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.  The eight-seat suborbital vehicle built by Scaled Composites is currently being tested in Mojave, Calif.

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Scaled Composites Reports Excellent Progress on SpaceShipTwo Testing

SpaceShipTwo glides downward on its first test flight. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Aviation Week reports that SpaceShipTwo testing is going ahead smoothly, with Scaled Composites officials predicting an aggressive flight test schedule for 2011 and possible suborbital operations the following year:

“Testing has been going quite a bit better than we’d originally hoped, and we’ve been able to make glide flights ahead of what we’d anticipated in terms of flight-to-flight turn-around time,” says Pete Siebold, Scaled director of flight operations. The Virgin Galactic program therefore remains on target to becoming the world’s first commercial space line, with routine suborbital operations from Spaceport America, N.M., as early as 2012.

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Suborbital Spotlight: Masten’s Xaero and Xogdor Vehicles

The Xaero vehicle during assembly November 2010. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Masten Space Systems’ Xaero and Xogdor vehicles. The Mojave, Calif.-based company is expected to make its first Xaero test flight for NASA’s Commercial Reusable Commercial Research (CRuSR) program in January and to begin commercial operations sometime later in the year.

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NASA Seeks Proposals for Suborbital Flights

NASA ANNOUNCEMENT

NASA is seeking proposals from researchers interested in testing new technologies during suborbital flights. The agency also is requesting information from commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle providers and commercial payload integrators about carrying the technology payloads.

The selected payloads will fly on aircraft that provide parabolic flight trajectories and on suborbital reusable launch vehicles capable of flying to altitudes above 62 miles. The flights will expose the payloads to reduced gravity and near-zero gravity environments.

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Suborbital Spotlight: Blue Origin’s New Shepard Platform

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Blue Origin’s New Shepard system. The Washington State-based company is expected to begin commercial flight operations with cargo next year, with human flights following in 2012. The New Shepard vehicle will fly from Texas.

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