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Chinese Move Forward With Space Station Plans

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China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

Chinese officials say they are looking to complete a permanent, multi-module space station in Earth orbit in about eight years, according to media reports.

The plan calls for the launch of the Tiangong-2 space lab around 2016. The three-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and Tianzhou-1 automated cargo freighter will dock with the space station.

Around 2018, China plans to launch the core module for a larger space station that will be completed around 2022, officials said.

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Orion Flight Takes Step Further With Delta IV Integration

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A United Launch Alliance technician monitors progress as core booster elements of a Delta IV Heavy rocket are being integrated in preparation for Exploration Flight Test-1. (Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

A United Launch Alliance technician monitors progress as core booster elements of a Delta IV Heavy rocket are being integrated in preparation for Exploration Flight Test-1. (Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Engineers took another step forward in preparations for the first test flight of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft, in December. The three primary core elements of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket recently were integrated, forming the first stage of the launch vehicle that will send Orion far from Earth to allow NASA to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance in space.

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China Completes New Spaceport

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china_flagChinese officials have announced the completion of the nation’s fourth launch center, one that has a distinct advantage over the other three: rockets stages will fall over the ocean rather than on land.

Located in the southern island province of Hainan, the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center has the advantage of being at a latitude of 19 degrees north of the equator, which is lower than China’s other launch centers in Sichuan and Shanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The location is better for launching communications satellites, which are sent to positions over the equator.

Wenchang will also be ideal for launching the heavy-lift Long March 5, which is now under development. Stages for the larger rocket can be transported to the launch site by water. Rockets must travel by rail to the three inland launch facilities.

Virgin Galactic Turns 10

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Virgin Galactic Announced
Virgin Galactic Press Release
Sept. 27, 2004

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan made their announcement to the world’s media that Virgin Galactic was now in a position to commence a programme of work that would result in the world’s first affordable space tourist flights in 2 to 3 years time.

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Proton Returns to Flight as Khrunichev Looks to Compete With SpaceX

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Holy shi'ski! The rocket...it go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)

A Proton rocket launches its payloads into Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

After being grounded for four months, Russia’s accident prone Proton booster will be back in action Sunday morning with officials once again praying it launches a payload into space rather than back to Earth.

Meanwhile, Russian officials are moving ahead with an expensive plan to overhaul Proton’s builder, Khrunichev, to allow it to compete with American start-up SpaceX on price and to produce a new family of Angara boosters.

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NASA Launches 3D Printing in Space Challenge

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Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder look to optimize the first 3D printer for space (Credit: NASA/Emmett Given)

Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder look to optimize the first 3D printer for space (Credit: NASA/Emmett Given)

NASA Press Release

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machinery. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and make almost anything, and the applications to space exploration will help our astronauts to be less reliant on materials from Earth as they explore farther out into the solar system.

NASA in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, has issued a series of “Future Engineers” 3D Space Challenges for students focused on solving real-world space exploration problems. Students will become the creators and innovators of tomorrow by using 3D modeling software to submit their designs and have the opportunity for their design to be printed on the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The winning student will watch from NASA’s Payload Operations Center with the mission control team as the item is printed in space.

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Firefly Space Systems Awarded $1.2 Million Economic Development Grant

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firefly_space_systems_logoCEDAR PARK, TX, September 25, 2014 (Firefly PR) – Firefly Space Systems announced today that it will receive up to $1,225,000 in incentives and employment grants from The City of Cedar Park Economic Development Corporation following the rocket company’s recent relocation from Hawthorne, California to its new home in Cedar Park, Texas. Firefly’s expansion plans include building its team in Central Texas to 200 employees with an annual payroll of approximately $12 million by 2019.

The company also plans to invest approximately $7.5 million in property, plant and equipment over the duration of the 10-year agreement with Cedar Park. Current negotiations for an undisclosed 20,000-square-foot office location for Firefly are also nearing finalization.

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Sierra Nevada Protests Commercial Crew Awards

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Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Sierra Nevada has formally protested NASA’s decision to award commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX:

Details of the objection lodged with the Government Accountability Office will be released shortly, Krystal Scordo, a Sierra Nevada spokeswoman, said today by e-mail. The GAO has 100 days to make a decision in the case.

The move erects at least a temporary roadblock for Boeing and SpaceX, which were picked by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA’s funding for so-called space taxi flights marks the first time the U.S. has turned to commercial ventures for sending humans into orbit.

Read the full story.

UPDATE: Here’s the Sierra Nevada press release:

Sierra Nevada Corporation Challenges Award of NASA’s
Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract

SPARKS, Nev. (Sept. 26, 2014) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced today that it has filed a legal challenge to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program.  The CCtCap program will restore U.S. transportation capability to the International Space Station.

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Parabolic Flights Dropped From Ansari X Prize Anniversary Trip

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Swimsuit 2014: Zero Gravity Kate Upton Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. (Credit: James Macari)

Swimsuit 2014: Zero Gravity
Kate Upton
Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. (Credit: James Macari)

The X Prize Foundation has suddenly dropped parabolic microgravity flights aboard Zero-G Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE aircraft from the itinerary of its $40,000 per person Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary trip.

Instead of floating around in zero g next Friday, participants will be sitting around listening to presentations from the “top Google Lunar X Prize teams.”

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NASA Issues RFP for ISS Cargo Deliveries

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Cygnus and ISS robotic arm (Credit: NASA)

Cygnus and ISS robotic arm (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — On the heels of awarding groundbreaking contracts to U.S. commercial space companies to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA has released a request for proposals (RFP) for the next round of contracts for private-sector companies to deliver experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

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