China Making Aggressive Moves to Dominate Commercial Space Sector

China satellite launch

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine China’s growing commercial space industry. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China is using aggressive state-backed financing to capture increasing shares of the commercial launch and satellite markets, making it more difficult for American companies to compete and threatening to hollow out the U.S. industrial base.

China is also leverage “military-civil” fusion to create a burgeoning commercial space sector by providing substantial state support. Nearly 90 new space companies have been created since 2014, most of which enjoy the support of the Chinese military, defense industrial base, or state-owned research and development institutions.

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NASA Will Push Exploration Rocket Test Hardware Beyond Its Limits

Engineers are preparing to push a test article identical to the world’s largest rocket fuel tank beyond its design limits and find its breaking point during upcoming tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This will be the largest-ever controlled test-to-failure of a NASA rocket stage fuel tank. (Credits: NASA/MSFC)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Engineers are preparing to push a test article identical to the world’s largest rocket fuel tank beyond its design limits and find its breaking point during upcoming tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Starliner Launch Delayed Two Days to Dec. 19

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Dec. 3, 2019 (ULA PR) — The launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) Starliner spacecraft is now targeted for Dec. 19, 2019.

During pre-launch processing of the Atlas V, there was an issue with the rocket’s purge air supply duct. Additional time was needed for the ULA and Boeing teams to complete an analysis of the issue, replace the duct and complete processing ahead of launch.

We continue to work closely with Boeing to ensure that the Starliner flies as soon as the spacecraft and launch vehicle are ready. 

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Rolled Out, Mated with Booster

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. Starliner will be secured atop the rocket for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

By Linda Herridge
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will launch to the International Space Station on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has taken a significant step toward launch. Starliner rolled out of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, making the trek on a transport vehicle to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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Boeing Fires Back at Critical NASA IG Report on Starliner

A look at the Starliner that will soon fly the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test soon after the dome mate activities at the Boeing Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. (Credits: Boeing)

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 18, 2019 (Boeing PR) – In response to the Nov. 14 Office of the Inspector General report titled “NASA’s Management of Crew Transportation to the International Space Station,” Boeing today issued the following statement:

“We strongly disagree with the report’s conclusions about CST-100 Starliner pricing and readiness, and we owe it to the space community and the American public to share the facts the Inspector General [IG] missed,” said Jim Chilton, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Launch. “Each member of the Boeing team has a personal stake in the safety, quality and integrity of what we offer our customers, and since Day One, the Starliner team has approached this program with a commitment to design, develop and launch a vehicle that we and NASA can be proud of.”

Specifically, Boeing offers the following responses to the main assertions:

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Starliner Flight Test Mission Taking Shape at Space Launch Complex 41

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V first stage is lifted to the vertical position on Nov. 4, 2019, in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket set to launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on its maiden voyage to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready for the mating of Starliner to the top of the launch vehicle.

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Boeing Proposes ‘Fewest Steps to the Moon’ for NASA’s Human Lander

Following exploration of the lunar surface by astronauts, the crew lifts off from the moon inside the Ascent Element in this artist concept. The Descent Element remains on the moon having already performed its role of flying the crew from lunar orbit to the surface. (Credit: Boeing)

HOUSTON, Nov. 5, 2019  (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] today submitted a proposal to NASA for an integrated Human Lander System (HLS) designed to safely take astronauts to the surface of the moon and return them to lunar orbit as part of the Artemis space exploration program.

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Starliner Completes Crucial Pad Abort Test, One Parachute Fails

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed a critical safety milestone on Monday in an end-to-end test of its abort system. The Pad Abort Test took place at Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

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Boeing Starliner Spacecraft to Demonstrate Critical Launch Pad Abort Capability

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and its service module sit atop the test stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico ahead of the company’s Pad Abort Test. The test is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2019, and will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day. (Credit: Boeing)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — Boeing is preparing to put its CST-100 Starliner’s launch abort system to the test on Monday, Nov. 4, at Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. MST (9 a.m. EST) with a three-hour window, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day.

This will be Boeing’s first flight test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will help evaluate the performance of the abort system prior to missions to the International Space Station with a crew onboard.

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NASA TV to Air Boeing Starliner Pad Abort Test

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and its service module sit atop the test stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico ahead of the company’s Pad Abort Test. The test is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2019, and will demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to quickly escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency on launch day. (Credit: Boeing)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — NASA and Boeing will broadcast live coverage of the CST-100 Starliner Pad Abort Test on Monday, Nov. 4, from Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The test is scheduled for 9 a.m. EST (7 a.m. MST) with a three-hour test window. Live coverage is targeted to start at 8:50 a.m., on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Coverage will be adjusted as necessary within the window.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Goes Public With Extravagant Promises to Keep

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.

Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.

Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.

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ISS National Lab, Boeing Award $500,000 for Microgravity Research Through MassChallenge

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., October 25, 2019 (ISS National Laboratory PR) – The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory and Boeing [NYSE: BA] have partnered for the sixth consecutive year to provide up to $500,000 in grants to innovative startups through the MassChallenge (Boston) startup accelerator program. The two startup companies awarded a 2019 MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize, Encapsulate LLC and Axonis, Inc., will have the opportunity to leverage the microgravity environment onboard the ISS National Laboratory to enhance their products and business models on Earth.

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Elonopoly: Smoke Pot, Collect $5 Million

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s decision to smoke marijuana on the Joe Rogan podcast prompted a review of SpaceX’s workplace culture by NASA and raised questions about whether the entrepreneur would be able to keep his security clearance.

It also somehow resulted in NASA sending more money to Musk’s space company. Politico reports:

The space agency agreed to pay SpaceX $5 million in May to cover the cost of the review, which includes educating its employees and ensuring they are following strict guidelines for federal contractors barring illegal drug use.

The decision, which has not previously been reported, struck some space industry insiders as a highly unusual expenditure given that Musk, who holds a security clearance, prompted the concerns about whether SpaceX is following the rules.

While marijuana is legal in multiple states – including California, where Musk’s stunt took place – it remains illegal under federal law. And illegal drug use is also considered a violation of the terms of a government security clearance.

The NASA contract to SpaceX to pay for the workplace review — a modification to a previous contract to build a space capsule — also marks a new chapter in its ongoing tension with more established rivals like Boeing.

SpaceX is building the Crew Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Flights with astronauts are expected to begin in 2020.

Even though it was Musk who smoked pot, NASA Administrator ordered an similar review of Boeing’s effort to build a commercial crew spacecraft named Starliner.

However, Politico reports Boeing did not get funding to cover the cost of the review.

NASA Commits to Future Artemis Missions With More SLS Rocket Stages

NASA finished assembling the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure. Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank. (Credit: NASA/Steven Seipel)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has taken the next steps toward building Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stages to support as many as 10 Artemis missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

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