SNC Leverages VORTEX Engine Technology for DARPA’s OpFires Program

VORTEX hot fire. (Credit: Combat Capabilities Development Command, Aviation and Missile Center)

SPARKS, Nev. (April 2, 2020) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program.

(more…)

Universities Space Research Association to Lead a DARPA Project on Quantum Computing

Columbia, MD and Washington DC, March 26, 2020 (USRA PR) — Universities Space Research Association (USRA) today announced that DARPA has awarded the organization and its partners Rigetti Computing and the NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) to work as a team to advance the state of art in quantum optimization. USRA, as the prime contractor of the award, will manage the collaboration.

The collaboration will focus on developing a superconducting quantum processor, hardware -aware software and custom algorithms that take direct advantage of the hardware advances to solve scheduling and asset allocation problems. In addition, the team will design methods for benchmarking the hardware against classical computers to determine quantum advantage.

(more…)

Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics Subsidiary Selected by DARPA for Robotic Servicing Mission

The Mission Robotic Vehicle, shown with DARPA’s RSGS Robotic Payload is pioneering robotic servicing of satellites. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

DULLES, Va., March 4, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – SpaceLogistics LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has been selected by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as its commercial partner for the agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

The groundbreaking mission will feature the first-ever commercial robotic servicing spacecraft and aims to expand the market for satellite servicing of both commercial and government client satellites with advanced robotics technology. The program objectives include enhanced capabilities such as in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites.

(more…)

Astra Space Scrub Launch of New Booster, Ends DARPA Launch Challenge

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space scrubbed the launch of its new booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC — Alaska) today, putting an end to its attempt to win $12 million in the DARPA Launch Challenge and the competition itself.

The countdown reached 53 seconds prior to a scheduled liftoff at 11:55 a.m. AKST (3:55 EST). The guidance, navigation and control officer called a hold on the launch for an undisclosed data problem.

Astra Space spent the next two hours trying to address the problem and launch the rocket with four satellites aboard. The company scrubbed the launch with about 30 minutes left in the three-hour launch window.

Astra Space, which is based in Alemeda, Calif., was attempting to win $2 million from DARPA for launching today. If it was successful, the company would have been given an opportunity to conduct a second launch from a different pad at PSC — Alaska within days to win an additional $10 million.

The competition challenged companies to conduct two launches on relatively short notice within a few weeks from different locations.

Astra Space was given two weeks to relocate its booster and equipment to Alaska and conduct a launch. Monday was the last day in the launch window for the first launch.

Astra Space was the last company standing in the DARPA competition. Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space pulled out of the competition to focus on the still-pending maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster. Vector Space filed for bankruptcy.

Watch Astra Space Launch Today Live From Alaska

The launch is scheduled for today, weather permitting. Tune in and see if it flies, dies or just sits there for another day.

UPDATE: Launch postponed until Sunday due to weather. Time TBA.

DARPA Launch Challenge Nears End with Modified Rules, One Competitor

The DARPA Launch Challenge is nearing its end with modified rules and only one of three finalists left standing to win $12 million in prize money.

Astra Space will attempt to conduct two launches within days of each other from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launches will take place from different pads at the spaceport and place satellites into different sun-synchronous trajectories.

(more…)

Astra Emerges From Stealth, Shooting for $1 Million Per Launch

Astra Introduction Video from Chris Kemp on Vimeo.

Ashlee Vance also has a story at Bloomberg:

https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-astra-rocket/

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Astra’s next launch is scheduled for Feb. 21 from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island;
  • previous two launches suffered in-flight failures;
  • payload will be up to 450 lb (204 kg) to low Earth orbit;
  • launch cost is $2.5 million, but Astra is working toward $1 million;
  • the company is using aluminum and simplified engines to keep costs down;
  • Astra has a staff of 150 people;
  • Former NASA Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Chris Kemp is CEO;
  • Astra’s CTO and co-founder is Adam London, who spent 12 years running Ventions;
  • The company has raised more than $100 million from investors;
  • Astra is the last of three companies standing in the DARPA Launch Challenge, under which it must launch twice from different locations in two weeks to win $12 million; and,
  • Other competitors included Vector Space, which has filed for bankruptcy, and Virgin Origin, which decided to pull out.

Boeing’s Phantom Express Vanishes into Thin Air

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program seeks to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would break the cycle of escalating launch costs and make possible a host of critical national security options. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, DARPA has awarded Phases 2 and 3 of the program to The Boeing Company. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.

(more…)

Original Firefly Shareholders Sue Firefly’s Markusic, Polyakov Alleging Fraud

Tom Markusic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.

Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

(more…)

Derek Tournear Named Director of DOD’s Space Development Agency

Derek Tournear

WASHINGTON (DoD PR) — The Department of Defense (DoD) today announced the selection of Dr. Derek Tournear as the first permanent director of the Space Development Agency. 

Established in March, the Space Development Agency is responsible for unifying and integrating the Department’s space development efforts, monitoring the Department’s threat-driven future space architecture, and accelerating fielding of new military space capabilities necessary to ensure U.S. technological and military advantages in space. To achieve this mission, SDA is defining the National Defense Space Architecture—an integrated, coherent architecture capable of addressing the eight critical, yet unmet, priorities of the DoD Space Vision.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Drops Out of DARPA Launch Challenge

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Citing more pressing launch commitments, Virgin Orbit has pulled out of the DARPA Launch Challenge. This withdrawal appears to leave the multi-million dollar rapid launch competition with precisely one unidentified competitor.

“We appreciate the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s leadership in constructing the Launch Challenge and we remain very supportive of the underlying goals of the competition,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement posted on Linkedin. “However, after comparing DARPA’s requested timeline with our commitments to our commercial and government customers, we have elected to withdraw from the competition.

(more…)

Saturn Satellite Networks to Acquire NovaWurks

Space News reports that Saturn Satellite Networks has reached a deal to acquire NovaWurks, a California company that builds modular satellites.

Saturn and Novawurks did not disclose the terms of the transaction. Tom Choi, Saturn co-founder and executive chairman, told SpaceNews by email that the deal is “well into seven figures in U.S. dollars.”

Saturn, a firm founded by former executives of fleet operator ABS of Bermuda to build Nationsat, a digital platform for small geostationary satellites, signed a definitive agreement to acquire NovaWurks, a company that has conducted demonstrations of its Hyper Integrated Satlets (HISats) including a 2018 spaceflight demonstration for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Saturn plans to acquire NovaWurks over three years for cash and stocks. Once the deal is completed, NovaWurks will become a wholly owned Saturn subsidiary and its shareholders will become minority shareholders of Saturn.

Through the acquisition, Saturn seeks to accelerate its Nationsat program.

BAE Systems Wins DARPA Contract to Develop Machine Learning Capabilities for Space Situational Awareness

ARLINGTON, Va. (BAE Systems PR) — BAE Systems has been awarded a Phase 2 contract to develop machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The goal of DARPA’s Hallmark Tools, Capabilities, and Evaluation Methodology (Hallmark-TCEM) program is to not only develop and evaluate tools and capabilities that increase an operator’s understanding of space events, but also enhance the ability to select effective courses of action for any given situation.

(more…)

Mike Griffin Alienating Friends & Enemies Alike, Firing Scientists at New Pentagon Job

Mike Griffin

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has had a tumultuous time since taking over as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in February.

In his role as the Defense Department’s chief technology officer, Griffin has been criticized for his efforts to overhaul the Pentagon’s costly and time-consuming development and procurement of new systems through the newly established Space Development Agency (SDA).

Key personnel have departed as critics have attacked Griffin for what they view as his erratic management and decision making. In addition to SDA, he is in charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

(more…)