Chuck Beams Joins York Space Systems

DENVER, March 6, 2017 (York Space Systems PR) — York Space Systems, an aerospace company specializing in complete space segment customer solutions and the manufacture of standardized spacecraft platforms, today announced that Charles Beames has been elected to the York Space Systems Board of Directors as Executive Chairman and also joins the team as Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). A seasoned industry veteran, Beames joins the team from Vulcan Aerospace, where he led the development of its Stratolaunch satellite launch system and oversaw Vulcan’s space investment portfolio as President.

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Firefly Planned to Air Launch Small Satellite Booster

firefly_space_systems_logoAn alert reader who goes by the pseudonym “redyns” has pointed out something very interesting about Firefly Space Systems, the company that on Thursday is reported to have laid off its entire staff due to financial difficulties.

In April, Firefly and NASA modified a contract under the Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program from land launch to air launch, according to the USASpending.gov website. The company’s Firefly α small satellite booster was originally designed to launch vertically from the ground.

The website shows that Firefly was awarded a VCLS contract worth $4.4 million on Sept. 30, 2015. A second contract modification has been made to “deobligate” $2.5 million in funding from the contract. That modification was made on Sept. 27, two days before the layoffs.

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Beames Leaves Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

Chuck Beames is out as president of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace and executive director of Stratolaunch Systems.

Alan Boyle reports that Beames is being replaced by Jean Floyd, who is CEO of Stratolaunch Systems. Floyd will serve as interim executive director of Vulcan Aerospace. Beames has left the company.

“Now that we’re closer to realizing our vision for convenient and affordable access to low Earth orbit (LEO) and moving into a more operational phase of our program, we are making some changes to our leadership,” Allen wrote in an email to employees.

Floyd joined Stratolaunch in 2015 after spending 25 years at Orbital ATK, where he led “air-launched space vehicle development, launch operations, and spacecraft programs,:” Allen said in his email.

Interestingly, Allen called Orbital ATK “a valued partner of Vulcan Aerospace.” This could be a clue to a mystery that has engulfed Stratolaunch Systems over the past several years: what rocket will be air launched from the company’s massive carrier aircraft.

The company earlier had agreements with SpaceX and later Orbital Sciences Corporation before it merged with ATK. Both agreements were terminated. It’s possible there is a new agreement with Orbital ATK to produce a booster.

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Stratolaunch: How Very Soon is Now?

It’s been a while since we last checked in with Mojave’s largest — and most media shy — space project, Stratolaunch (whose carrier aircraft has been dubbed Carbon Goose, Composite Goose and — for no discernible reason — Birdzilla).

Some of you may recall there was a burst of publicity about the project back in June. A group of journalists were allowed into the project’s giant hangar to view the world’s largest airplane, then 76 percent complete. The circle of invitees appeared rather small, limited to those who had not (ahem) impertinently nicknamed the aircraft Birdzilla.

About a week later, Chuck Beames gave a talk about Stratolaunch at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace Conference in Seattle. Beames said all the right things — program on track, everything going well, can’t wait to fly, etc.

Unfortunately, his talk sounded a lot like the one he had given at the same conference the previous July in San Jose. In 2015, he said the company was due to announce what rocket(s) the aircraft would air launch in the fall. That time came and it went. In Seattle, he promised announcements “very soon.” In fact, he had hoped to announce them at the conference.

Three months later, construction on the mammoth carrier aircraft continues on Riccomini Street with no announcement of what rocket(s) the airplane will air launch. Clearly, the definition of “soon” is a rather elastic one in the space industry.

After going through SpaceX and Orbital ATK, the company talked to anyone and everyone with a rocket engine or an idea for one. They must have hit pay dirt with someone. Otherwise, the giant aircraft will likely share the fate of its nicknamesake, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, which flew once before becoming a museum piece.

XS-1 Moves Forward, Stratolaunch Booster Remains Mystery

Credit: DARPA
Credit: DARPA

A couple of program updates that I wrote for Space.com in recent weeks:

US Military’s Satellite-Launching XS-1 Space Plane Could Fly in 2019

DARPA has received authorization to spend $146 million on the next phases of the program, which is enough to select one of the three companies and move forward. It’s not enough to finish the program, so the selected company will need to come up with funds of its own. DARPA hopes to down select by the end of the year.

Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman are the leads for phase 1 of the program. However, phases 2 and 3 are open to all U.S. aerospace companies. DARPA had an industry day for the project on April 29.

What lies at the end of the rainbow. Stratolaunch Systems, that's what. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
What lies at the end of the rainbow? Stratolaunch Systems, that’s what. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Rocket for Giant Satellite-Launching Stratolaunch Airplane Remains a Mystery

Birdzilla remains more zilla than bird. The plane is still under construction, but the company has yet to announce what rocket(s) it will use.

The most recent update I’ve heard through the grapevine is that much of the aircraft is assembled. That’s a good sign, but it could also mean that much of the interior work — which can take a long time — remains to be done.

Last year, the company said it were considering more than 70 different booster configurations, which means they were talking to everyone and anyone with a rocket, an engine or plans for them.

In July, I asked Chuck Beames whether Burt Rutan & Scaled has once again put the flying machine ahead of the rocket, as they did with SpaceShipTwo. He said no, and assured me that they would make an announcement about the booster(s) in the fall.

That time came and went. Officials now say that they expect to make a series of announcements in the coming future.

Will Stratolaunch Have its Wings Clipped?

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

During the New Space Conference in July, I asked Vulcan Aerospace President Chuck Beames whether the company had made a fundamental mistake with Stratolaunch Systems. Shouldn’t it have figured out what sort of air-launch rocket it was going to use first before building the world’s largest aircraft to launch it from?

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Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

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ULA’s Vulcan: The Public Has Spoken & So Has Paul Allen

Artist's conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)
Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

Paul Allen is not amused that ULA has named its new launch vehicle Vulcan, but the company says its all cool.

“Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc. and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights,” Chuck Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace, a division of Paul Allen-backed Vulcan Inc., told Reuters. “Paul Allen and Vulcan were early leaders within space exploration with the launch of SpaceShipOne more than a decade ago.”

The name, which was determined by a public vote, was cleared by ULA’s legal department prior to being offered as a ballot choice.

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye is confident the company took all necessary steps to use the name.

“We have done our due diligence regarding the legal right to use the name Vulcan,” she said via e-mail. ” ULA is committed to taking every reasonable step to avoid any confusion with other entities using this name and we are confident we can do so.”

Read the full story.

Paul Allen’s Vision for What’s Next in Space

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

by Chuck Beames
President, Vulcan Aerospace

“What’s next?”

Paul Allen asks me this question frequently, pushing me – and the entire Vulcan Inc. team – to think creatively and push the boundaries of possibility. Not just to improve what exists, but to think about what should exist. Today, we’re announcing an innovative new approach to the commercial space industry—Vulcan Aerospace.

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Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Webcast

The Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary webcast from Saturday featuring Burt Rutan, Anousheh Ansari, Chuck Beames, Brian Binnie, Mike Melvill, Richard Branson and Peter Diamandis.