Brazil Pitches Alcantara Spaceport to Foreign Launch Providers

Cyclone_4 processing complex under construction at the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil. (Credit: Alcantara Cyclone Space)

The Brazilian government has been trying to entice foreign launch providers to use the equatorial Alcantara Launch Center. Reuters reports:

Brazil’s defense minister said on Thursday that Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and other U.S. aerospace companies have expressed interest in launching rockets from its Alcantara military base near the equator and visited the site in December.

“They were very impressed,” Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told reporters. “They showed interest, but I can’t say whether it will materialize.”

Besides SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the Alcantara visit included smaller aerospace U.S. companies Vector Space Systems, which launches small satellites, and Microcosm, which focuses on providing low-cost access to space, an organizer of the trip said.

Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the United States who organized the visit to the base, said the U.S. companies were eager to use the Alcantara site.

Reuters reports that SpaceX denied interest in launching from the facility, whose location at about 2 degrees from the equator makes it ideal for launching communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit.

Alcantara is used for sounding rocket launches; it has never hosted an orbital launch. Brazil’s effort to develop a domestic launcher has not been successful. In August 2003, the program suffered a major setback when the explosion of a VLS-1 booster killed 21 people at Alcantara.

A joint Brazilian-Ukrainian effort to launch Cylcone-4 boosters from Alcantara collapsed in 2015 after a dozen years of effort. The project left behind partially completed launch infrastructure.

Falcon Heavy: A Multi-User Spaceport Success Story

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on its demonstration flight is another sign that NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is continuing to grow as the nation’s premier, multi-user spaceport. The new vehicle lifted off from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy at 3:45 p.m. EST on Feb. 6.

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NanoRacks Adds Thales Alenia Space to ISS Airlock Module Team

Airlock (Credit: NanoRacks)

TURIN, Italy (NanoRacks PR) – NanoRacks announced today that Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has been chosen as the latest partner in its commercial airlock program.

Thales Alenia Space will produce and test the critical pressure shell for NanoRacks’ Airlock Module, which is targeting to be launched to the International Space Station late 2019, and will be used to deploy commercial and government payloads. Thales Alenia Space will also manufacture various secondary structures, including the Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) shields with Multi-Layer Isolation (MLI) panels, the power and video grapple fixture support structure and other structural components.

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NASA Explores Commercial Crew Contingencies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, continue to develop the systems that will return human spaceflight to the United States. Both commercial partners are undertaking considerable amounts of testing in 2018 to prove space system designs and the ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirement for regular crew flights to the International Space Station.

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NASA KSC Director Looks Ahead to 2018 Milestones

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees at the Florida spaceport about plans for the coming year. (Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently spoke to spaceport employees about plans for 2018. The coming year will be highlighted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners preparing to launch test flights for crewed missions to the International Space Station.

“This is going to be an awesome year for us,” Cabana said speaking to center employees on Jan. 11, in the Lunar Theater of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo Saturn V Center. “The number one priority this year is we’ve got to get commercial crew flying to the International Space Station.”

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Mixed Reality Technology Helps NASA Astronauts Prepare for Starliner Returns from the Space Station

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts, wearing spacesuits and augmented reality headsets, rehearse returning to Earth from the International Space Station during recent testing at Boeing’s Extended Reality Laboratory in Philadelphia. The astronauts are seated upside down so they can practice releasing their seat harness and moving to the side hatch of the Starliner without assistance. (Credit: Boeing)

PHILADELPHIA (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts training to fly test missions to and from the International Space Station are practicing returning to Earth from the microgravity laboratory.

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Significant Commercial Crew Challenges Ahead for Boeing, SpaceX & NASA


Key Excerpts from

NASA Commercial Crew Program:
Continued Delays Pose Risks for Uninterrupted Access to the International Space Station

Government Accountability Office
[Full Testimony]

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Space,
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology,
House of Representatives
Statement of Cristina T. Chaplain Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
January 17, 2018

Space X Risks

Dragon 2 wledment and heat shield. (Credit: SpaceX)

Similar to our findings in February 2017, our ongoing work indicates that the Commercial Crew Program’s top programmatic and safety risks for SpaceX, are in part, related to ongoing launch vehicle design and development efforts.

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First Commercial Flights to ISS Slide Toward 2020


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Early in the classic police comedy, The Naked Gun, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is at the hospital with partner Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) visiting the critically wounded Officer Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), who had been shot and left for dead by a group of heroin smuggling thugs.

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that,” Ed tells Frank.

A similar scene played out Wednesday morning during the House Space Subcommittee’s hearing on the progress of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Only it wasn’t nearly as funny.

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Commercial Crew Schedule Margins at Risk as Much Work Remains


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s uninterrupted access to the International Space Station (ISS) could be at risk due to continued schedule slips by commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX, the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said last week.

“Based on the quantity, significance, and associated uncertainty of work remaining for both commercial providers, the Panel believes there is a very real possibility of future schedule slips that could easily consume all remaining margin,” ASAP said in its annual report. [Full Report]

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House Space Subcommittee Hearing On Commercial Crew Status Scheduled


House Subcommittee on Space Hearing

An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Space (115th Congress)

Hearing Purpose

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the NASA’s two  commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station

Witnesses:

  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs, Boeing Space Exploration
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, chair, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

NASA Commercial Crew Flights Slip Slide Toward 2019

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe evaluate Crew Dragon controls. (Credit: NASA)

Crucial flight tests for NASA’s two commercial crew vehicles are slipping ever closer to 2019. The space agency released the following updated schedules for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicles today:

Targeted Test Flight Dates

Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Boeing’s schedule has not changed from the previous update. SpaceX’s demonstration flights have slipped from April and August to August and December, respectively. No reasons have been given for the slips.

A reliable source tells Parabolic Arc that SpaceX experienced a delay several months ago due to issues with Dragon 2’s environmental control and life support system (ECLSS). The problem was estimated to delay the first demonstration flight about six months. At about that same time, the schedule for that first uncrewed flight slipped from February to April.

A SpaceX spokeswoman would not comment for the record on this report.

A Preview of Commercial Crew Activities for 2018


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

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ULA Completes Design Certification Review for Atlas V Starliner Flights

This artist concept shows Boeing’s Starliner at Space Launch Complex 41 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V poised for a night launch to the International Space Station. (Credit: Boeing)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Jan. 4, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully completed an Atlas V Launch Segment Design Certification Review (DCR) recently in preparation for the launch of astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil in The Boeing Company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. ULA’s Atlas V DCR supported the Boeing International Space Station (ISS) DCR that was held with NASA at Kennedy Space Center in early December.

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Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic Eye Human Spaceflights in 2018

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.

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