Busy Launch Week With Flights to ISS, Electron Test

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

We’ve got a busy launch week coming up with a new three-man crew headed for the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX launching a Dragon resupply mission to the station, and Rocket Lab attempting the second flight test of its Electron small-satellite launcher. Europe and China are also launching satellites this week.

December 10

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3B
Payload: Alcomsat 1 communications satellite (Algeria)
Launch Time: Approx. 1635 GMT (11:35 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

December 10/11

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 3 Planet and Spire CubeSats
Launch Window: 0130-0530 GMT on 11th (8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EST on 10/11th)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: http://www.rocketlabusa.com

December 12

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon (CRS 13 mission)
Launch Time: 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: http://www.spacex.com and http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payloads: Galileo 19-22 navigation satellites
Launch Time: 1836:07 GMT (1:36:07 p.m. EST)
Launch Site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana
Webcast: http://www.esa.int

December 17

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: Soyuz spacecraft with Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos), Scott Tingle (NASA) and Norishige Kanai (JAXA)
Launch Time: 0720 GMT (2:20 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Space Tourism is Going to Be Real Awesome Some Day…

Video Caption: Want to be an astronaut when you grow up? Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, is on hand to give you a crash course in space travel and explain how soon you can expect to be on Mars.

When Will Space Tourism Begin? Real Soon!

I’m like the guy in the office — head in hand, exasperated, looking at his watch, heard this 1,000 times — listening to someone tell me how space tourism is right around the corner. Thirteen years and we’re still at the dawn of it.

“Where are we going?”
“Planet 10.”
“When?”
“Real soon!”

NASA Sets Orion Abort Test for April…2019

Video Caption: In a test targeted for April 2019 known as Ascent Abort-2, NASA will verify the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system, a tower on top of the crew module, can steer the capsule and astronauts inside it to safety in the event of an issue with the Space Launch System rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during ascent for deep-space missions. The test is quick, fast and high, lasting less than three minutes with the test crew module reaching an average speed of Mach 1.5, roughly 1020 miles per hour, at approximately 32,000 feet in altitude.

Commercial Crew Providers Face Key Safety Reviews

Credit: NASA

It’s crunch time for commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX as the companies attempt to meet NASA’s safety requirement of one possible fatal accident in 270 flights.The space agency is planning a comprehensive safety review of the spacecraft next month.

But these commercial efforts face formidable obstacles in meeting safety requirements set by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, posing policy and public-relations dilemmas for the agency’s chiefs.

Experts say NASA likely will require inspections in space to reduce the threat of catastrophic accidents, a last-ditch safeguard that it had hoped to avoid when approving the plan three years ago. Still, it is unclear is whether such on-orbit checks by NASA would alleviate dangers from space debris and tiny meteor fragments, say experts inside and outside the agency….

The commercial designers are seeking to alleviate other risks. They are concerned that extra shielding to better safeguard equipment and crews from collisions with debris could make spacecraft too heavy. They also are examining risks associated with vibrations during launch, explosives that deploy parachutes, vulnerabilities of heat shields and other issues.

But their biggest safety challenge stems from the thousands of tiny meteors or space particles now prevalent in space that can damage or penetrate the space capsules. Traveling at approximately 17,000 miles an hour, even a paint chip can spark disaster. Boeing partly addressed this by changing its design to install Kevlar backing. SpaceX is relying on other features.

Support for Deep Space Gateway Grows in Japan

Boeing’s proposed Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

Although the U.S. Congress has not given approval for NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, support for the project appears to be building in Japan as a follow-on to the nation’s partnership in the  International Space Station.

Japan hopes to join the U.S. project to construct a spaceport in lunar orbit in the latter half of the 2020s, in an effort to realize a lunar surface exploration mission by a Japanese astronaut. The government plans to submit a draft report on the project to a meeting of a governmental panel of space policy experts.

By joining an international space probe, the nation is expected to obtain scientific results, and also boost its competitiveness in the space industry and assert Japan’s leadership in the field of space utilization, the sources said….

Tokyo has decided it is a realistic goal to send astronauts for the first time to the lunar surface for exploration activities, by joining the U.S. project and contributing its expertise in such areas as the docking of the space station and supply ship. Japan will draw on its experience of close cooperation with the United States regarding ISS operations.

Any serious movement toward the Deep Space Gateway in the United States will probably have to wait until after the Senate approves an administrator to lead NASA. The Trump’s Administration’s choice, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, had a contentious confirmation hearing earlier this month before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The fate of Bridenstine’s nomination is uncertain in the full Senate with many Democrats and at least one Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), opposing his confirmation. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 advantage in the upper chamber.

Any funding proposal for the Deep Space Gateway would be included in the fiscal year 2019 budget, which the administration would likely release in February.

Defense Measure Calls for Arlington Memorial to Apollo 1 Crew

Astronauts, from the left, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 34 during training for Apollo 1 in January 1967. (Credits: NASA)

The National Defense Authorization Act passed by both houses of Congress calls for the construction of a memorial marker to the crew of Apollo 1 at Arlington National Cemetery. The measure awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

The United States Army will lead the effort to create the memorial in consultation with NASA, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery.

Astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed when a flash fire swept through their Apollo 1 command module during a practice countdown on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts had been scheduled to fly the first manned test of the spacecraft in Earth orbit the following month.

Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts who became the second American in space aboard Liberty Bell 7 and commanded Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that two-person spacecraft. White became the first American to walk in space during the Gemini 4 mission. Chaffee was scheduled to make his first spaceflight aboard Apollo 1.

The fire resulted in major overhaul of the troubled Apollo command module. The first manned flight of the Apollo program did not occur until October 1968, more than 20 months after the fire.

NASA’s Top Management Challenges: Deep Space Exploration

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges with its deep space exploration effort. The space agency is dealing with slipping schedules, constrained budgets, and thin funding reserves as it seeks to complete development of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems. NASA also has only high-level plans for other systems that will be required to send astronauts on useful deep-space missions.

Key excerpts from the report follow.

(more…)

XCOR Owes $27.5 Million to Creditors, Orbital Outfitters Out of Business

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

The numbers are in on XCOR Aerospace’s bankruptcy, and as one would expect, they’re not real pretty.

The company has $1.1 million in assets and $1,424.66 in cash, according to documents filed with the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California. XCOR owes $27.46 million to creditors, with $23.6 million in unsecured debts and $3.86 million in liabilities secured by assets.

(more…)

Spaceport America Seeks More Tax Dollars

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

With Virgin Galactic’s ‘big move” of its SpaceShipTwo to New Mexico expected to occur sometime in 2018, Spaceport America officials say they need taxpayers to ante up more money.

Dan Hicks, Spaceport America CEO, told attendees at the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce 2017 Space Update Luncheon on Thursday that more spaceports are poised to enter the commercial space industry, with 10 other licensed spaceports operating and an additional nine applications pending with the Federal Aviation Administration. And, with Virgin Galactic set to begin manned flights as soon as next year, more funding is needed to accommodate the increased traffic expected to follow, he said.

Hicks said he will seek an additional $600,000 from the Legislature to increase staff levels and continue with infrastructure improvements. At a cost of nearly $220 million, the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America opened in 2011. At the time, officials envisioned a new commercial space economy that would transform southern New Mexico. That economy has yet to come to fruition, but officials are hopeful.

The funding is necessary to stay on par with other spaceports around the country, Hicks said. With 16 people currently on the Spaceport America staff, Hicks hopes to increase that number to 26 “very quickly” to accommodate Virgin Galactic’s planned move to New Mexico….

New Mexico’s Spaceport America has a $6.1 million operating budget with a current state appropriation of $375,000 with $600,000 in local gross receipts taxes generated solely from Doña Ana and Sierra counties. Customer revenue generates $2.1 million.

Clock is Ticking on NASA Human Deep Space Program

Lamar Smith

It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.

George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.

In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.

More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Promises New Mexico that 2018 will be the Year

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Vice President Richard DalBello was in Sante Fe, NM on Wednesday with an optimistic message about the company’s plans to fly tourists to space from the state-owned Spaceport America.

“We think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting period,” he told a legislative committee in Santa Fe. “We know you’ve waited a long time and we are coming.”

(more…)

NASA Completes Review of First SLS, Orion Deep Space Exploration Mission

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is providing an update on the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft after completing a comprehensive review of the launch schedule.

This uncrewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for the agency’s human deep space exploration goals. EM-1 lays the foundation for the first crewed flight of SLS and Orion, as well as a regular cadence of missions thereafter near the Moon and beyond.
(more…)

NASA’s EM-1 Mission Could Slip 4-6 Months From December 2019 Date


By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan for the maiden flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) faces a potential delay of up to six months, the space agency announced today.

“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a press release. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”

(more…)