First Engine Assembled for DARPA & Boeing Reusable Experimental Spaceplane

Aerojet Rocketdyne technicians complete final assembly on the first AR-22 rocket engine, shown at its facility located at Stennis Space Center. The engine was built for Boeing as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Experimental Spaceplane program. This new Boeing spaceplane, called Phantom Express, is intended to demonstrate a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space access. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss., June 4, 2018 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed assembly of its first AR-22 rocket engine built for Boeing (NYSE:BA) as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Experimental Spaceplane program. This new Boeing spaceplane, called Phantom Express, is intended to demonstrate a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space access.

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New DARPA Challenge Seeks Flexible and Responsive Launch Solutions

Credit: DARPA

More than $10 million in prize money for the first place team that successfully launches to low Earth orbit within days’ notice; completes a second launch from a different site days later

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (DARPA PR) — Today, DARPA announced the DARPA Launch Challenge, designed to promote rapid access to space within days, not years. Our nation’s space architecture is currently built around a limited number of exquisite systems with development times of up to 10 years. With the launch challenge, DARPA plans to accelerate capabilities and further incentivize industry to deliver launch solutions that are both flexible and responsive.

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Astra Space Set to Launch From Alaska

Astra Space is set for the first flight of its new small-satellite launcher on Thursday from Alaska.

The FAA has granted a launch license to the California company for a suborbital flight of Rocket 1 from Launch Pad 2 at the Pacific spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

A notice to airmen (NOTAM) about the launch has been posted for April 5 at 2000 UTC and ending on April 6 at 0200 UTC (12 to 6 p.m. AKDT /4 to 10 p.m. EDT).

Details are sparse about the company and booster. However, it is believed that the two-stage rocket will be capable of placing a payload weighing up to 100 kg into orbit.

The Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the Kodiak spaceport, has billed the flight as the first of what it hopes will be many commercial launches from the underused facility.

Formerly known as Ventions LLC, Astra Space is operating under a $2 million contract with NASA to develop and flight test a high performance electric pump-fed launch vehicle. The 18-month contract runs through mid-December.

Founded in 2004, the company has been awarded 29 contracts worth nearly $21 million over the past 11 years from NASA, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Army.

A Closer Look at Astra Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At some point in the next few weeks, the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska will host its first commercial rocket launch. Officials at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the spaceport, are hoping the suborbital test flight is the first of many commercial flights from the underused facility.

While officials have not identified the California company conducting the launch, a perusal of the corporation’s board minutes indicate it is almost certainly a small Bay Area startup named Astra Space.

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DARPA Requests Quarter Billion for Space Development Programs

Artist’s conception of Boeing’s Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1). (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

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A Closer Look at National Space Council User’s Advisory Group Nominees


So, I finally had a chance to go through folks that Vice President Mike Pence nominated to serve on the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.

Below is my attempt to break down the 29 nominees by category. It’s far from perfect because several of them could easily be listed under multiple categories. But, here’s my best shot at it.

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DARPA Selects Orbital ATK for Hypersonic Engine Research Project

DARPA’s new Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate at subsonic through hypersonic speeds and lay the framework for routine, reusable hypersonic flight. (Credit: DARPA)

DULLES, Virginia 23 January 2018 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, has entered into a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study potential integration of turbine and hypersonic engine technologies into a new aircraft propulsion system under DARPA’s Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program.

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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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DARPA Awards Aerojet Rocketdyne Contract to Develop Hypersonic Advanced Full Range Engine

DARPA’s new Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate at subsonic through hypersonic speeds and lay the framework for routine, reusable hypersonic flight. (Credit: DARPA)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 09, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc., a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), has entered into an agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and ground test an innovative propulsion system under the agency’s Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program.

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Space Florida Negotiating to Bring New Launcher to Cape Canaveral

Space Florida is negotiating with an unidentified company to bring a new launch vehicle to Cape Canaveral. Speculation focuses Boeing’s XS-1 Phantom Express partially-reusable booster, which is a project being funded by DARPA.

If it bases operations on the Space Coast, the company referred to by the code name Project First Down over four years would bring an estimated 254 jobs with an average salary of $80,000.

“It strategically positions Florida in a good program going forward, as a preparation for what we hope will become the kind of launch cadence that we’ve been predicting five to 10 years out,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello told his board of directors Monday. “This really sets the stage for our ability to demonstrate that Florida can respond to that kind of demand.”

The company is a “credit-worthy, going concern with industry experience” and is evaluating multiple states with active spaceports, said Howard Haug, Space Florida’s executive vice president, treasurer and chief investment officer.

The company will commit to the Cape, Haug said, if Space Florida partners in an approximately $30 million investment that includes a deal to finance $13 million in long-lead equipment.

Read the full story.

Reaction Engines Receives DARPA Contract for Precooler Tests

CASTLE ROCK, Colo., September 25, 2017 (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Reaction Engines, today announced that it has received a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct high-temperature airflow testing in the United States of a Reaction Engines precooler test article called HTX.

The precooler heat exchanger is a key component of the company’s revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and has the potential to enable other precooled propulsion systems. The primary HTX test objective is to validate precooler performance under the high-temperature airflow conditions expected during high-speed flights up to Mach 5.

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Orbital ATK Receives $21 Million Hypersonic Propulsion Contract from DARPA

DARPA’s new Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate at subsonic through hypersonic speeds and lay the framework for routine, reusable hypersonic flight. (Credit: DARPA)

DARPA has awarded a contract worth $21.4 million to Orbital ATK for a research project under the Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) program. The defense agency is allocating $1 million in R&D funds for the program in fiscal year 2017, which ends on Sept. 30.

“AFRE seeks to develop and demonstrate a new aircraft propulsion system that could operate over the full range of speeds required from low-speed takeoff through hypersonic flight,” DARPA said in a press release announcing the program.

Hypersonic speeds are defined as Mach 5 (approximately 3,300 miles per hour/5,300 kilometers per hour) and above.

“Instead of designing an entirely new kind of engine, we’re envisioning an inventive hybrid system that would combine and improve upon the best of off-the-shelf turbine and ramjet/scramjet technologies,” said Christopher Clay, DARPA program manager. “This won’t be the first time that ambitious engineers will attempt to combine turbine and ramjet technologies. But with recent advances in manufacturing methods, modeling, and other disciplines, we believe this potentially groundbreaking achievement may finally be within reach.”

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SpaceWorks Awarded 2 DARPA SBIR Phase 2 Awards

ATLANTA, August 4, 2017  (SpaceWorks Enterprises PR) — SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) announces the recent award of a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) to advance the design of a sustainable and evolvable platform to provide persistent payload hosting capabilities in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

The GEO platform would be a single spacecraft assembled from multiple smallsat-scale spacecraft modules conforming to the DARPA Payload Orbital Delivery (POD) form factor. The platform would be capable of providing electrical power, data processing, and high-bandwidth communications to hosted customer payloads. Support for both commercial and government customers is envisioned in order to maximize the utility of the platform and create an economically viable system.

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Rocket Crafters Gets DARPA Research Contract for Large-Scale Hybrid Engine

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (Rocket Crafters PR) — Rocket Crafters, Inc. (RCI) announced today it has been awarded a $542,600 research contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Under the terms of the agreement, RCI is tasked to build and test a large-scale hybrid rocket engine using RCI’s patented Direct-Digital Advanced Rocket Technology (D-DART™). During the eight-month period of performance, RCI aims to design, build, and test a 5,000 lbf peak thrust, throttle-capable hybrid rocket engine based on the company’s potentially industry-disruptive rocket engine technology.

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Court Throws Out Orbital ATK Lawsuit Over DARPA Satellite Servicing Contract

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

Well, some bad news and maybe some good news for Orbital ATK in its battle against a DARPA-backed satellite servicing venture.

U.S. District Court dismissed Orbital ATK’s lawsuit against a U.S. government effort to develop an in-orbit robotic servicing vehicle with contractor Space Systems/Loral (SSL), saying the court has no standing to challenge an agency program.

In its July 12 decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia suggested that Orbital’s basic argument — that U.S. policy encourages government agencies to turn to the private sector for technology rather than develop competing technology — had merit.

The problem for Orbital, the court concluded, is that it sought to cancel an entire U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program and not a specific element of it….

DARPA awarded an RSGS contract to SSL in February 2017 after a competitive bidding process in which Orbital did not participate as a bidder, but rather as a kind of informal protester asking DARPA to change the program. DARPA considers that Orbital’s response was in fact a non-compliant bid.

Orbital ATK’s argument is that the DARPA/SSL project competes against a satellite servicing program the company has been developing with its own money. Thus, it runs counter to U.S. policy to promote commercial space development and competition.