OneWeb Breaks Ground on Satellite Factory at Kennedy

One Web Satellites Ground Breaking ceremony at Exploration Park. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The portfolio of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will soon include large-scale satellite manufacturing following Thursday’s groundbreaking for a 150,000-square foot spacecraft factory in the center’s Exploration Park.

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MoonWatcher Launches Kickstarter Campaign

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (MoonWatcher PR) — Imagine seeing the Moon as only astronauts have seen it before. Now with MoonWatcher, the FIRST private satellite mounted with a state of the art camera, you will have this amazing opportunity.

Spectacular images of the Moon will stream LIVE to the Internet with accompanying information and featuring the latest lunar news. To accelerate the path to orbit, today MoonWatcher announced a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign to raise $150K. MoonWatcher will be putting these Kickstarter pledges towards their first satellite, which will be carried by Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2018.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Movement on Firefly-Virgin Galactic Legal Dispute?

This is an interesting Tweet from Firefly Space Systems’ co-founder Michael A. Blum on Wednesday to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides with a cc: to Whitesides’ boss, Richard Branson. Claude appears to be Claude M. Stern, one of Virgin Galactic’s lawyers.

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Virgin Galactic Sues Firefly, Officers for Alleged Misappropriation of Trade Secrets

firefly_space_systems_logoEarlier this month, Virgin Galactic filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Firefly Systems and two of its officers, Michael Blum and P.J. King, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition.

The lawsuit is related to arbitration between Virgin Galactic and the company’s former vice president of propulsion, Thomas Markusic. Virgin alleges Markusic took trade secrets and confidential information with him when he left his position at the end of 2013 to co-found Firefly with Blum and King.

The lawsuit alleges that Firefly, Blum and King benefited from knowledge that Markusic took with him from Virgin Galactic. Markusic and the defendants have denied the claims.

Firefly laid off all of its employees at the end of September, saying the company had run out of money after an investor pulled out.

Firefly was developing a small satellite launcher, Firefly Alpha, that would have competed for business with the LauncherOne booster that Virgin Galactic is developing.

A Closer Look at LauncherOne

launcherone_sample_missions
Virgin Galactic’s service guide for LauncherOne has some interesting details about the air-launch service. The service’s main base will be Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The 747 Cosmic Girl aircraft will fly over the Pacific Ocean and launch satellites into sun-synchronous orbits.

Other operating locations include the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia. The aircraft also can fly from additional locations at customer request.

launcherone_payload_dynamic

LauncherOne’s payload capabilities include:

  • Up to 300 kg / 661 lbm to 500 km/270 nmi SSO
  • Up to 500 kg / 1100 lbm to 200 km/108 nmi circular 28.5 degree inclination Low Earth Orbit

launcherone_graphics

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The booster’s launch altitudes and inclinations include:

  • Up to 1000 km and greater depending upon payload and inclination
  • Mojave Air and Space Port: 60 to 102 degrees inclination
  • Shuttle Landing Facility: 28.5 to 55 degrees inclination
  • NASA Wallops Flight Facility: 37 to 60 degrees inclination

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Virgin Galactic Promotes Mike Moses to President

Michael Moses
Michael Moses

LAS CRUCES, NM, October 13, 2016 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the promotion of Michael P. Moses to President. Moses, who joined Virgin Galactic in 2011 as Vice President of Operations, will now oversee Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight program, reporting directly to Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides.

Mike joined Virgin Galactic after a decorated career at NASA, where he served as a flight controller, Flight Director, and ultimately as the Space Shuttle Launch Integration Manager. In that role, he led all space shuttle operations from landing through launch for the final dozen flights of NASA’s space shuttle program. For his services, Mike was twice recognized with the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, one of the space agency’s most prestigious medals. Mike has also received both the Distinguished Science Alumni and the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer awards from Purdue University, among many other commendations.

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Firefly Planned to Air Launch Small Satellite Booster

firefly_space_systems_logoAn alert reader who goes by the pseudonym “redyns” has pointed out something very interesting about Firefly Space Systems, the company that on Thursday is reported to have laid off its entire staff due to financial difficulties.

In April, Firefly and NASA modified a contract under the Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program from land launch to air launch, according to the USASpending.gov website. The company’s Firefly α small satellite booster was originally designed to launch vertically from the ground.

The website shows that Firefly was awarded a VCLS contract worth $4.4 million on Sept. 30, 2015. A second contract modification has been made to “deobligate” $2.5 million in funding from the contract. That modification was made on Sept. 27, two days before the layoffs.

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Virgin Galactic Announces Sky and Space Global as Newest LauncherOne Customer

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

PARIS, September 12, 2016 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Commercial spaceline Virgin Galactic announced today that global communications company Sky and Space Global (ASX:SAS) has signed a binding launch services agreement to purchase four dedicated missions on the LauncherOne system. Speaking at the World Satellite Business Week event in Paris, officials from the two companies revealed that these flights will enable the deployment of Sky and Space Global’s initial constellation. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

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Smallsat 2016: NASA Program & Mission Updates

Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)
Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials have been providing updates this week on agency programs and missions during the 2016 Small Satellite Conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it. I have pulled together summaries of their presentations drawn from Twitter.  Information has come from the following Tweeters:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl
  • Augie Allen ‏@AugieAllen
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!
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Smallsat 2016: Updates on Launch Vehicle Development

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)
CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference got underway today in Logan, Utah. Although I was not able to make it, I’ve been able to follow the conference via Twitter. A number of small satellite launch companies provided updates on launch vehicles they are developing. There is information below on Firefly Space Systems, Nammo, Rocket Crafters, Rocket Lab, Super Strypi, Vector Space Systems and Virgin Galactic.

Information came from the following Tweeters who are attending the conference:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • C. G. Niederstrasser ‏@RocketScient1st
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave.

Enjoy!
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Entrepreneurial Lingo Lesson: The Pivot

twist_chubby1_disrupt copy
First in an irregular series on entrepreneurial buzz words

Come on let’s pivot again,
Like we did last quarter!
Yeaaah, let’s pivot again,
Like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
ROI was really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s pivot again,
Pivotin’ time is here!

Heeee, and round and round til IPO we go!
Oh, baby, make those investors love us so!

Let’s pivot again,
Like we did last quarter!
Yeaaah, let’s pivot again,
Like we did last year!

There comes a time in the existence of many startups when there an urgent need to change direction. You set up the company to pursue a goal, but for one reason or several — a lack of a market, shortage of investment, regulatory hurdles, a flawed concept — you have to direct all that talent, technology and enthusiasm toward a new objective that will keep the company in operation.

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Virgin Galactic Taps Tim Buzza to Lead LauncherOne Program

George Whitesides
George Whitesides

With Virgin Galactic President Steve Isakowitz heading out the door for the Aerospace Corporation, CEO George Whitesides has made an interim appointment in the meantime.

“I have asked Tim Buzza, the program director of LauncherOne, to step up and lead our LauncherOne enterprise as we search for Steve’s successor. Tim joined Virgin Galactic in 2014, and has led the overall program management of LauncherOne since early 2015. Prior to joining Galactic, Tim served as the Vice President of Launch and Test at SpaceX, in addition to prior leadership roles at Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. Tim will be supported by our Senior Vice President of Business Development and Advanced Concepts, Barry Matsumori, who was previously SpaceX’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development, as well as key roles at Qualcomm, Space Systems Loral and General Dynamics.”

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Smallsat Roundup: Japanese Launcher, Australia Nanosats & Virgin Funding

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Japanese Startup: Nikkei Asian Review has an interview with Takahiro Inagawa, CEO of Interstellar Technologies, about his company’s plans to develop a cheap booster for launching small satellites. “Our focus is not to develop high-end rockets but something simple and affordable, just like the Super Cub (Honda Motor’s popular small motorbike),” Inagawa said. The company plans its first sounding rocket launch this summer. http://asia.nikkei.com/Tech-Science/Tech/Hokkaido-startup-aims-high-in-small-satellite-launches

Orders for Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne: Business Insider Australia reports that Australian startup Sky and Space Global plans launch part of its constellation of voice and data network nanosats aboard Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne. “It is expected to not only deliver substantial cost savings, due to LauncherOne’s ability to carry multiple nano-satellites simultaneously, but will enable us to bolster our bandwidth capacity as we launch further nano-satellites into orbit,” said company founder Meir Moalem. http://www.businessinsider.com.au/australias-sky-and-space-is-using-virgin-galactic-to-launch-nanosatellites-2016-6

UPDATE: The agreement is only a letter of intent, which falls short of firm orders for launches.

Virgin Galactic Fundraising: Sky News says that Richard Branson is raising up to $300 million for “existing shareholders” for Virgin Galactic.  “The latest injection of capital is aimed at accelerating the development of Galactic’s commercial satellite venture and expanding production capacity at the company’s headquarters,” Sky News reports. Virgin Galactic declined to comment. http://news.sky.com/story/1716551/branson-injects-cash-into-galactic-space-race

Orbital ATK’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Facing Increased Competition

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.

Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?

Those are all great questions. And now the answers.

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