USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
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A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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Blue Origin Signs Geosat Launch for New Glenn

BANGKOK (mu Space PR) — mu Space Corp today announced at the 68th Annual International Astronautical Congress that they have entered into an agreement with Blue Origin to partner on a future launch of a geostationary satellite aboard their New Glenn orbital rocket. The launch is set to happen early in the next decade.

Commenting on the new partnership, mu Space CEO James Yenbamroong says, “We’ve decided to go with Blue Origin because we’re impressed with the company’s vision and engineering approach.”

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House Space Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Private Lunar Exploration

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

House Subcommittee on Space Hearing
Private Sector Lunar Exploration

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – 10:00am
2318 Rayburn House Office Building)

Hearing Purpose

NASA is supporting private sector exploration of the Moon through various programs. The private sector is also investing their own funding in the hopes of serving a future market for transportation, cargo delivery, and surface operations (including in situ resource utilization). Moon Express plans to launch a mission to the Moon later this year or early next year. Astrobotic recently announced a mission in 2019. Blue Origin disclosed its “Blue Moon” concept last spring. The United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have also indicated plans to operate in cislunar space in the near-future. The Hearing will review these efforts, and NASA’s role, in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that they present.

Witnesses:

  • Mr. Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems, NASA
  • Mr. Bob Richards, founder and CEO, Moon Express, Inc.
  • Mr. John Thornton, chief executive officer, Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
  • Mr. Bretton Alexander, director of business development and strategy, Blue Origin
  • Dr. George Sowers, professor, space resources, Colorado School of Mines

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NASA Space Act Agreements with Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Stratolaunch

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Stratolaunch Systems.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)

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Branson Envisions 20 SpaceShipTwos; Brian Cox’s Space Race Doc Prepares to Drop

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Sunday Times of London has an update on Virgin Galactic that seems to be based around an upcoming Brian Cox documentary on space tourism, which is set to air early next month in Britain.

Branson could be first in the mass tourism market despite a disastrous 2014 test flight in which a pilot died. Unity is to start rocket tests this autumn, and two more craft are under construction.

“We are hoping to be into space by the end of the year,” said Branson, who has spent £450m on the project. “The cost has been a lot more than we thought . . . but we can see the price falling and we could have 20 spaceships operating so that . . . enormous numbers of people could go into space.”

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Start-up Space Blasts Off

Bryce Space and Technology has produced a new report, Start-up Space: Update on Investment in Commercial Space Ventures.

Below is the executive summary. You can also download the full report.

Executive Summary

The Start-Up Space series examines space investment in the 21st century and analyzes investment trends, focusing on investors in new companies that have acquired private financing. Space is continuing to attract increased attention in Silicon Valley and in investment communities world-wide. Space ventures now appeal to investors because new, lower-cost systems are envisioned to follow the path terrestrial tech has profitably traveled: dropping system costs and massively increasing user bases for new products, especially new data products. Large valuations and exits are demonstrating the potential for high returns.
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Will the National Space Council Make a Difference at NASA?

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)

Warren Ferster Consulting asks whether the newly revived National Space Council will make much of a difference at NASA, whose human deep space programs are dependent upon the Congressionally supported Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

Some have suggested that, with a space council chaired by Vice President Mike Pence cracking the whip, the full potential of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can be brought to bear in support of the nation’s space goals. The implication is this hasn’t happened to date, which is puzzling since leveraging commercial capabilities to support the International Space Station was the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s space policy.

Obama was challenged in that effort not by the lack of a National Space Council, but by Capitol Hill, where key lawmakers viewed his outsourcing initiative as a threat to the pet program that they mandated, the decidedly uncommercial Space Launch System.

The super-heavy-lift SLS is exhibit A of the argument that getting the Executive Branch speaking with one voice on space policy, while sensible, won’t matter a great deal if Congress has a different agenda.

To recap, Obama’s human spaceflight policy was to outsource ISS crew and cargo transportation and invest in technologies with the potential to change the economics of deep space exploration. To make budgetary room, Obama canceled Constellation, a collection of hardware development programs begun under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The article notes that Bush got bipartisan approval from Congress for the Constellation program without a National Space Council. The program included Orion and two space shuttle-derived Ares boosters for human orbital and deep-space missions.

Obama subsequently canceled the Constellation program, only to have Congress revive the program as SLS and Orion. Only the smaller Ares orbital booster was canceled.

XCOR Lost ULA Engine Contract

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Despite laying off its 21 remaining employees, XCOR Aerospace isn’t dead yet. But, it’s not in real good shape, either.

It turns out that a major blow to the company was the loss of a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop an upper stage for the Vulcan booster.

The primary impetus for the layoffs, Acting CEO and XCOR Board member Michael Blum told me, is the loss of a contract for engine development that the company had with United Launch Alliance. “The proceeds should have been enough to fund the prototype of Lynx [the company’s planned spacecraft], but ULA decided they’re not going to continue funding the contract. So we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation where we need to raise money or find joint developments to continue.” ULA declined to comment.
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Blue Origin to Manufacture BE-4 Engines in Huntsville

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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Questions Raised Over Brian Cox Documentary on Virgin Galactic & Commercial Space

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By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, Professor Brian Cox traveled here to Mojave with his friends Richard and Sam Branson to watch the third glide flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity.

Bowled over by what he saw even before the suborbital tourism vehicle glided overhead, Cox gave what amounted to a rousing endorsement of Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo to a gathering of company employees.

“People ask me a lot because I’m a space geek and I’m obviously an evangelist for space, ‘Would you fly to space?” Cox said with Richard Branson seated beside him. “And I’ve always said, ‘Well yes and no, because in some sense it’s a dangerous thing to do.’ However, the moment I walked in this hangar and saw that aircraft, I thought, I want to get on that aircraft. So the answer is now is 100 percent yes.”

What was not widely known at the time was that Cox was filming a BBC-commissioned documentary about commercial space. And the company the corporation commissioned to co-produce it, Sundog Pictures, is owned and run by none other than Cox’s good friend, Sam Branson.

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DiBello: Florida Faces Possible Shortage of Aerospace Talent

Space Florida President Frank DiBello
Space Florida President Frank DiBello

Florida’s success in drawing companies such as Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and OneWeb to the Space Coast could create a shortage of aerospace talent in the future, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said on Tuesday.

“I would even go so far as to say that this is the area I am most worried about for our aerospace future,” DiBello told several hundred guests at a National Space Club Florida Committee meeting in Cape Canaveral….

The Space Coast, anchored by the civil and military and space programs at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has long been a hub for skilled aerospace workers.

And new companies had a ready supply to draw from after the retirement of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011 resulted in roughly 8,000 layoffs of contractors.

But looking ahead, DiBello said Florida does not produce enough aerospace-related degrees and lags a dozen states in attracting federal funding for space-related research, metrics that need to improve.

A source on the Space Coast recently told Parabolic Arc that NASA’s exploration ground system program, which is developing supporting infrastructure for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, has been impacted by workers taking positions with Blue Origin, which is building a rocket production facility nearby and modifying a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
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