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A Tale of Two Prizes

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

Two major flight-related anniversaries are being celebrated this week. Today marks the 89th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Lucky Lindy took off from New York on this date and arrived in Paris some 33.5 hours later, claiming the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of X Prize (later Ansari X Prize). Inspired by the Orteig Prize, it offered $10 million for the first privately build vehicle to fly to suborbital space twice within two weeks. The Ansari X Prize was won in October 2004 by a team led by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen with SpaceShipOne.

After Lindbergh’s flight, a public that had previously shunned commercial aviation embraced it with a passion. Following the Ansari X Prize, Richard Branson vowed to begin flying tourists to space aboard a successor vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, within three years. Nearly a dozen years and four deaths later, Branson has yet to fulfill this promise.

The SpaceShipTwo program has now taken longer than it took for NASA to go from President John F. Kennedy proposal to land a man on the moon to the completion of the program with the splashdown of Apollo 17. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia exactly 20 years after the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.

So, why have things taken so long? And why did one prize succeed beyond the dreams of its sponsor, while the space prize it inspired has promised so few practical results? The answer is a complex one that I addressed back in March in a story titled, “Prizes, Technology and Safety.” I’ve republished the story below with links to other posts in a series about flight safety.

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NIAC Focus: Directed Energy for Interstellar Flight

Artist rendering of the Directed Energy Interstellar Study. (Credit: P. Lubin)

Artist rendering of the Directed Energy Interstellar Study. (Credit: P. Lubin)

Directed Energy Interstellar Study
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

Philip Lubin
University of California, Santa Barbara

We propose to expand our investigations started in our NIAC Phase I of using directed energy to allow the achievement of relativistic flight to pave the way to the first interstellar missions. All of the current conventional propulsion systems are incapable of reaching the high speeds necessary to enable interstellar flight. Directed energy offers a path forward that, while difficult, is feasible. It is not an easy path and it does have many milestones to cross in order to get to the point of achieving the speeds needed.

Along the roadmap we propose are important and useful “waypoints” that both allow testing and feed back to the larger design but are also useful for many applications. The consequences of this program are truly transformative not only for achieving relativistic flight for small probes but also for larger spacecraft at lower speeds suitable for rapid interplanetary travel.

The Phase II work will consist of refining our roadmap and building and testing a small phased array prototype to test many of the concepts developed in the Phase I. We will also further our work on the wafer scale spacecraft design including work on the critical integrated laser communications system. We will also explore and test the inverse mode of using the array for reception which is critical to receiving the laser communications from the spacecraft.

JAXA Outlines Plans for H3 Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of H3 rocket. (Credit: JAXA)

Artist’s conception of H3 rocket. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — The H3 Launch Vehicle is a liquid propellant launch vehicle currently under development. This is the first full-scale development of the 21st century. The aim of this development is to respond to launch demands from global customers. Based on our operation experience and the reliability of launch vehicles, we will further improve the payload launch capability and reduce the launch price to triumph among international competition in the commercial launch market. We are developing the H3 with the goal of a maiden launch in Japan Fiscal Year 2020 as a mainstay launch vehicle.
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Vector Space Systems Tests Second Stage Engine

Credit: Vector Space Systems

Credit: Vector Space Systems

TUCSON, Ariz., May 19, 2016 (Vector Space Systems PR) — Vector Space Systems, a Micro Satellite space platform enterprise comprised of new-space industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch, today announced the successful test of its second stage engine, a major milestone in advance of the company’s first sub-orbital test flight as Vector Space Systems this summer.

The test, which took place in Mojave, California on May 14, featured the company’s second stage high-performance engine for its launch vehicle. Employing 3D printed components, the engine produces 500 pounds of thrust with a high specific impulse for maximum fuel efficiency. This development test was one in a series of second-stage engine tests leading to flight qualification in 2017.

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Orbital ATK Advocates Lunar Orbiting Base

Cislunar station (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Cislunar station (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Former NASA Astronaut Frank Culbertson Proposes Four-Person Crew-Tended Lunar-Orbit Habitat to Be in Place by 2020

Company’s Flight-Proven Cygnus Spacecraft Could be Used as a Building-Block Habitat Leading to Lunar Research and Mars Exploration

Dulles, Va., 18 March 2016 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today advocated for a manned lunar-orbit outpost as America’s next step in human space exploration.

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NASA’s Game Changing Entry, Descent and Landing


Video Caption: NASA EDGE gives an in depth look at the latest Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) technologies being developed at NASA. Chris Giersch is joined in studio by Steve Gaddis (Game Changing Development Program Manager) and Michelle Munk (EDL Principal Technologist) to discuss the game changing nature of EDL, while Blair and Franklin interview Mike Barnhardt (Systems Modeling), Mark Shoenenberger (MEDLI-2) and Joseph Del Corso (HIAD-2) in this first part of two episodes on EDL.

Space Coast EDC Looks to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Space


Brevard County, Fla., May 16, 2016 (Florida Space Coast EDC)
– The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast (EDC) has joined leading space industry associations such as the Space Foundation, Space Florida and the Satellite Industry Association in the drive to educate congressional leaders on the critical role of the U.S. space program. Long-term support of our space program benefits the nation’s economy, security, leadership and high-quality American jobs.

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NIAC Focus: Novel Atmospheric Satellite Concept

Schematic of prototype “twin” aircraft. (Credit: W. Engblom)

Schematic of prototype “twin” aircraft. (Credit: W. Engblom)

Flight Demonstration of Novel Atmospheric Satellite Concept
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

William Engblom
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The Dual-Aircraft Platform (DAP) is a novel concept for achieving a low-cost atmospheric satellite in the lower stratosphere which utilizes a combination of wind and solar energy capture. DAP consists of two glider-like unmanned aircraft connected via a thin, ultra-strong cable. Long duration flight simulations have shown the platform could literally sail without propulsion, using levels of wind shear persistently found near 60,000-ft, and substantially increase the energy available for useful payload operations.

The central objective of the proposed Phase II effort is to perform autonomous proof-of-concept flight demonstrations of the DAP concept using a small-scale prototype at low altitude. Related objectives are develop specific flight maneuvers and mechanisms required for station keeping, and validate the autonomous guidance and control software.

Flight demonstrations of the sailing mode of operation, as well as all other required maneuvers for stratospheric station keeping, will be conducted using the atmospheric onshore wind shear produced at low altitudes (< 500 feet) at Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility. Optimal dates/times for flight testing will be selected based on an historical weather assessment. Off-the shelf aircraft will be modified for DAP operation. The aircraft will be remotely controlled by KSC pilots during the first year, and will gradually shift towards complete autonomous flight control in the second year. Flight software will be developed and validated within the hardware-in-the-loop DAP flight simulator at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Atmospheric satellites represent a long-standing, grand challenge to the aeronautics community, and have enormous potential societal and economic impact. Such airborne platforms are expected to diversify and expand surveillance capabilities (e.g., NASA’s earth science missions) and communications bandwidth and availability (e.g., for underserved remote areas of the US, emergency communications), at a fraction of the cost of orbital satellite networks. Successful proof-of-concept DAP flight demonstrations are expected to lead to commercial investment to build a large scale prototype.

External Tank Arrives in Marina del Rey; Trip Through LA Set for Saturday

External Tank 94 (Credit: California Science Center)

External Tank 94 (Credit: California Science Center)

LOS ANGELES (California Science Center PR) — After an eventful 4,400 nautical mile journey, ET-94 has reached Marina del Rey! After leaving the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, it rode out a storm in the Cayman Islands, passed through the Panama Canal, and made its way up the Pacific Coast, where it played a part in rescuing a group of stranded fisherman after their boat sank.

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Falcon 9 Stage Suffered Maximum Damage During Re-entry


China to Debut New Spaceport & New Rocket Next Month

Long March 5 model

Long March 5 model

The inaugural flight of China’s new Long March 7 rocket next month will be the first launch from the nation’s newest spaceport.

Long March 7 will carry a prototype re-entry capsule for China’s next-generation human spacecraft when it lifts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on June 26.

Located on Hainan Island, Wenchang is China’s first orbital launch site located on the coastline. The Jiuquan, Taiyuan and Xichang launch facilities are all situated inland.

Wenchang will be the primary launch site for Long March 7 and Long March 5 rockets. Wenchang is located 19 degrees above the equator, which will make it easier for China to launch satellites into equatorial orbit.

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NSBRI to Fund Testing of Radiation Protectants


nsbri_smalllogoHOUSTON, May 17, 2016 (NASA PR) — Two small companies developing products to protect humans from the damaging effects of radiation exposure have been selected to receive grants from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI).

Entrinsic Health Solutions, Inc. (EHS), located in Norwood, MA, is an innovative health sciences company dedicated to the development and commercialization of amino acid based medical foods to address critical digestive health, nutrition and hydration related health issues. The Company is involved in several on-going clinical trials designed to test the efficacy of their proprietary Amino Acid Coupled Transport (A₂CT) Technology for oncology and digestive health applications.

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Roller Coaster Ride on a Comet: The Saga of ESA’s Philae


Video Caption: Philae’s landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (#CometLanding) on 12 November 2014 was a historic moment – the first time in the history of space exploration that a spacecraft landed on a comet. Millions of people across the world followed the Rosetta mission via the Internet.

The DLR Video ‘Pieces of the Puzzle – Philae on Comet 67P’ provides an insight into the ‘roller coaster ride’ on the day of the #CometLanding: “We had to make decisions, develop concepts, alter schedules, sleep briefly and return – and then do the whole thing again and again. There was not a moment to breathe.”

In the video, Koen Geurts, Philae’s Technical Manager, looks at the days immediately after the landing and the following seven months of waiting for a renewed sign of life from Philae. The ‘crazy year’ was to continue, as on 14 June 2015, the comet lander once again reported back. However, the connections thus far have been irregular and unstable. And so, all those involved in the Rosetta mission must examine the pieces of the puzzle together to decipher what is happening 266 million kilometres from Earth.


NIAC Focus: Plasmonic Force Propulsion

Schematic of proposed plasmonic force propulsion concept. (Credit: J. Rovey)

Schematic of proposed plasmonic force propulsion concept. (Credit: J. Rovey)

Experimental Demonstration and System Analysis for Plasmonic Force Propulsion
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

Joshua Rovey
University of Missouri

One of NASA’s strategic goals is expanding scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe. NASA envisions a broad class of scientific missions where extremely fine pointing and positioning of spacecraft is required, such as a single Earth observing spacecraft, deployable x-ray telescopes, exoplanet observatories, and constellations of spacecraft for Earth and deep space observations.

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House Appropriations Committee Increases NASA’s Budget


NASA LOGOThe House Appropriations Committee has released a spending bill that would give NASA a budget of $19.5 billion for fiscal year 2017, which is $500 million above President Barack Obama’s request. The measure boosts spending for exploration and science programs. Details from the measure are below:

Exploration: $4.183 billion

  • Orion: $1.35 billion
  • Space Launch System: $2 billion
  • Exploration Upper Stage: $250 million of SLS funding
  • Exploration Ground Systems: $429 million
  • Exploration R&D: $404 million

Science: $5.597 billion

  • James Webb Space Telescope: $8 billion cost cap
  • Jupiter Europa orbiter and lander: $260 million
  • Use of the Space Launch System as the launch vehicle or vehicles for the Jupiter Europa mission plan
  • launch of the Jupiter Eruopa orbiter launch no later than 2022 and a lander launch no later than 2024.

Space Operations: $4.89 billion
Space Technology:
$739.2 million
$712 million
Education: $115 million
Safety, Security & Mission Services: $2.835 billion
Construction & Environmental Compliance and Restoration: $398 million
Office of Inspector General: $38.1 million