GAO: FAA Evaluation of Commercial Launch Insurance Requirements Fell Short

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to fully reevaluate insurance requirements for commercial space launches as required by law, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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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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Blue Origin New Shepard Flies Commercial Payloads

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wa. (Blue Origin PR) — On Dec. 12, 2017, New Shepard flew again for the seventh time. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the flight featured our next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0. While our primary objective was to progress testing this new system for human spaceflight, we also achieved an exciting milestone with suborbital research in space by sending 12 commercial, research and education payloads under full FAA license for the first time.

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Future Looks (Mostly) Bright for Space Industry in DC


The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through today. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
  • Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are updates based upon their tweets on what is happening in Washington, DC, from talks by officials from the FAA, NASA, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
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GAO Finds Potential Benefits, Drawbacks in Moving FAA Space Office

Federal Aviation Administration: Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Potentially Moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation

GAO-18-96
October 2017

Why GAO Did This Study

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which regulates and promotes the U.S. commercial space launch industry, was established in 1984 within the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and transferred to FAA in 1995. In 2015, GAO reported that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation faced challenges associated with the growth of the commercial space launch industry such as licensing more launches. To help meet these and other challenges such as updating regulations, some industry stakeholders and others suggested that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation should be moved back to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.

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World View Flies First Stratollite Balloon from Spaceport Tucson

World View launches its first Stratollite balloon from Spaceport Tucson. (Credit: World View)

TUCSON, Ariz. (World View PR) — World View is thrilled to announce the successful execution of its first ever Stratollite launch from Spaceport Tucson. This milestone launch signals the operational opening of the global hub for commerce and science in the stratosphere – Spaceport Tucson.

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A Niche in Time: One Chute

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight on March 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.

“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.

“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”

The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.

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Bridenstine’s ASRA Bill Proposed Radical Changes in NASA’s Goals, Structure

NASA LOGORepublished from April 25, 2016

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.

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Plans for Dream Chaser Landings in Huntsville Move Forward

Conceptualized image of SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft landing on the runway at Houston’s Ellington Field. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., August 23, 2017  (SNC PR) – Huntsville/Madison County is another step closer to landing a space vehicle at the Huntsville International Airport. The Airport has signed a contract to apply for licensing through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser® spacecraft on one of its commercial runways. This Phase II contract follows a Phase I contract completed in 2015 that examined the compatibility of SNC’s Dream Chaser with the existing runway and taxiway environments at the Airport.

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Space Florida Transforms SLC-46 for New Launch Capabilities

Athena-2 rocket at SLC-46. (Credit: NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACEPORT (August 17, 2017) – On August 25, Orbital ATK is scheduled to launch its Minotaur 4 rocket from Space Florida’s Space Launch Complex (SLC) 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The launch of the ORS 5 mission for the US Air Force (USAF), will be the first launch from the pad since 1999, as well as the first since Space Florida renovated the complex.

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Op-Ed in The Hill: NASA is Playing Favorites With SpaceX

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Well, this is interesting.

There’s an opinion piece in The Hill concerning the CRS-7 accident:

Time for NASA to stop playing favorites with Elon Musk’s SpaceX

The op-ed deals with the handling of the investigation in the June 2015 loss of a Dragon spacecraft by NASA and SpaceX. It supports a provision in the Senate appropriations bill that requires the FAA to produce a public summary.

After promising to produce a public summary last year, NASA reversed itself last month. The agency said it was not required to produce one and said the responsibility lies with the FAA.  So, Senators are telling the FAA to produce one.

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Rocket Lab: Failed Electron Flight Caused by Data Dropout

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

LOS ANGELES (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab has completed an internal review of data from its May 25 test flight of its Electron rocket. The review found the launch had to be terminated due to an independent contractor’s ground equipment issue, rather than an issue with the rocket. Rocket Lab’s investigation board has identified the root causes and corrective actions.

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Senate Appropriations Measure Requires FAA Report on SpaceX CRS-7 Failure

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

A Senate Appropriations bill would require the FAA to produce a report on the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that destroyed a Dragon resupply ship and $118 million worth of space station cargo in June 2015.

“The report must consolidate all relevant investigations by, or at the request of, the Federal Government that were conducted, including those completed by NASA as part of the FAA report, and must also include a summary suitable for public disclosure,” according to a committee report that accompanies the spending bill.

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FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Budget Boosted in Senate Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee has ignored a request by the Trump Administration to cut the budget of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST), instead providing it with a significant boost.

The funding measure would raise the office’s budget from $19.826 million to $21.587 million for fiscal year 2018. House appropriators have approved an identical increase.

The Trump Administration had proposed cutting FAA AST’s budget to $17.905 million.

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House Appropriators Recommend Budget Boost for FAA AST

Ignoring the Trump Administration, House appropriators have recommended a budget boost for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST).

A House bill would provide FAA AST with $21.587 million for FY 2018. The funding would represent an increase of just under $1.8 million over the $19.8 million the office received for the current fiscal year.

The Trump Administration had proposed cutting the FAA AST budget down to $17.9 million, just $100,000 above the FY 2016 funding level.

FAA AST officials have said they need more money for staff to handle an increase in the number of applications for experimental permits and launch licenses. Inspections also have increased as a result of more commercial space activity.