Northrop Grumman’s Second Mission Extension Vehicle and Galaxy 30 Satellite Begin Launch Preparations in French Guiana

The second Mission Extension Vehicle and the company-built Galaxy 30 spacecraft have been delivered to the launch site and are scheduled for liftoff in late July. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The spacecraft will launch together on an Arianespace 5 rocket; MEV-2 set to dock with Intelsat satellite in early 2021

DULLES, Va., June 30, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced today the arrival of the company-built Galaxy 30 (G-30) spacecraft for Intelsat and the Mission Extension Vehicle 2 (MEV-2) at the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. The vehicles are scheduled to launch late July 2020, in a stacked configuration onboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

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NASA to Pay to Fly Employees on New Shepard, SpaceShipTwo

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — For the first time in the agency’s history, NASA has initiated a new effort to enable NASA personnel to fly on future commercial suborbital spaceflights.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has successfully worked with emerging commercial suborbital transportation systems to fly research payloads to space for short periods of microgravity time. In addition, the Flight Opportunities program recently released a call that allows those non-NASA researchers to propose accompanying their payloads in suborbital space.

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NASA, Lockheed Martin Face Budget, Schedule Challenges with Low-Boom Supersonic Demonstrator

Illustration of the completed X-59 QueSST landing on a runway. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s X-59 Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) Project is progressing well toward its first flight test at the end of 2021 or early 2022 even though its cost has increased and schedule has slipped, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG). (Full Report)

The ambitious project will test designs and techniques for reducing the sonic booms caused supersonic aircraft. If successful, the research would allow a new generation of supersonic transports to fly over land rather than being confined to over-ocean travel as the now-retired Concorde airplane was it carried passengers from 1976 to 2003.

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Nine New Members Join FAA’s COMSTAC

WASHINGTON – (FAA PR) — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is pleased to announce nine new members  for the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). Secretary Elaine L. Chao approved the nominations along with the re-appointment of 13 members.

Since its inception in 1984, COMSTAC has provided information, advice, and recommendations to the DOT through the FAA about technology, business, and policy issues relevant to overseeing the U.S. commercial space transportation sector.

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New Spinoff Publication Shares How NASA Innovations Benefit Life on Earth

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As NASA pushes the frontiers of science and human exploration, the agency also advances technology to modernize life on Earth, including drones, self-driving cars and other innovations.

NASA’s diverse missions spur the creation and improvement of thousands of new products that make life better for people around the world. Dozens of the latest examples are featured in the newest edition of NASA’s Spinoff publication, including several examples illustrating how NASA is working to shape the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles on the roads and in the air. 

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NASA to Fund Researchers to Fly on Suborbital Vehicles, Maybe Astronauts

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After spending a few years in hibernation, the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) is being held in Colorado this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’ve been following all the action on Twitter.

In a keynote address on Monday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine floated the idea of letting the space agency’s astronauts fly aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicles. He also discussed certifying the systems to comply with a subset of NASA’s human ratings requirements.

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SpaceX Could Launch 70 Times From Florida in 2023

Mobile service tower surrounding Falcon Heavy booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX would be launching up to 70 times annually from Florida by 2023, including polar orbit launches that are not currently conducted from the Sunshine State.

Elon Musk’s rocket company is also planning to construct a mobile service tower (MST) to support commercial and national security launches from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

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Virgin Galactic: High Losses, Minimal Revenues & A lot of “Registrations of Interest”

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s now publicly traded Virgin Galactic space tourism company had its first quarterly and full year earnings call on Tuesday. You can read the press release here. Below are the key takeaways.

Burning cash: Net losses were nearly $72.8 million for the fourth quarter and $210.9 million for 2019. Net losses for 2018 and 2019 totaled $349.1 million. Total expenditures since 2004 have exceeded $1 billion.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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FAA Commercial Space Office Would Get Boost Under Proposed Budget

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) would receive a 6 percent boost under the Trump Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget.

However, the FAA’s overall spending on space would drop by 13.85 percent from $51.54 million to $44.4 million.

FAA AST’s budget would be boosted by from $26.04 million to $27.60, an increase of $1.56 million. The office licenses launches, reentries and spaceports.

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GAO: Accelerating Commercial Crew Schedule Poses Risks

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to move up the start of operational crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by Boeing and SpaceX could pose serious safety risks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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FAA Concerned Georgia Spaceport Could Kill Residents, Burn Down Islands

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Camden County is facing a series of significant challenges in winning FAA approval to build a spaceport for vertical launches in the coastal Georgia county. At the root of the county’s problems: the launch site isn’t actually on the coastline.

“Camden County’s application includes populated areas within an overflight exclusion zone. Camden County has not demonstrated that it can control and manage the population in the vicinity of the proposed launch site, particularly on Little Cumberland Island,” according to a letter the FAA sent to county officials on Oct. 17.

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FAA: Serious Concerns About Spaceport Camden Safety, Lack of Information

A review of emails indicates the FAA has serious safety concerns about the proposed Spaceport Camden in Georgia that have been worsened difficulties getting information from Camden County. WABE reports:

In multiple emails obtained through open records requests by the Southern Environmental Law Center, FAA staff expressed concern about how Camden’s originally proposed launches could be safe enough for the population beneath its proposed rocket trajectories, which would cross over two barrier islands. And up until at least October, the county had not alleviated those concerns….

Eighty-three families own land and private homes on Little Cumberland, roughly 5 miles east of the proposed launch pad, and many have consistently voiced concerns about how a spaceport launch could safely happen over the island. Cumberland Island next door also has private residences and is largely controlled by the National Park Service as a protected National Seashore.

FAA staff also pointed out the plan to launch so close to overflight populations was unprecedented for the country’s vertical launch spaceports.

In an internal summary of the Camden project from 2017, FAA aerospace engineer Katie Branham wrote that “individual risk and overflight of Little Cumberland Island has been a problem from the very beginning.”

A group of island homeowners have strongly opposed the spaceport on safety reasons.

In a press release, Camden County officials claimed WABE’s report was erroneous.

Camden County is concerned with reports characterizing the FAA as struggling to get safety information from Camden County.  This is not the case.  First, Camden County sent its full flight safety analysis to the FAA in April 2017 and took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing an ITAR compliant version of its Flight Safety Analysis in 2019. Second, the actual emails released from the FAA in response to FOIA show that the FAA repeatedly calculated that Camden County could meet the regulatory thresholds with hundreds of people on Little Cumberland Island. Further, these emails demonstrate that the FAA explored opportunities with Camden County to ensure compliance with the FAA’s requirements.

FAA had planned to release a final environmental impact statement on the application earlier this week. However, last week Camden County amended its application, requiring the FAA to continue the review process.

The original application requested permission to launch up to 12 medium or large rockets per year with a dozen first stage landings. The modification requested approval for small launch vehicles with no landings.