Triumph & Tragedy: The Year in Commercial Space 2014 (Part I)

Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The year 2014 was one of steady progress and major setbacks in commercial space. Here is a rundown of some of the major developments and trends of the year. A later will look more closely at some of the companies in the industry.

A Crash in the Desert. The tragic loss of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and death of Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury on Oct. 31 sent shock waves through the space community. The ship was ripped apart over the Mojave Desert about 13 seconds into a powered flight test when its twin tail booms suddenly deployed. Pilot Pete Siebold was thrown free of the wreckage and landed under parachute, battered and bruised but alive.

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Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

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SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.

ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.

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ULA Changes Leadership at Top

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CENTENNIAL, Colo., Aug. 12, 2014 (ULA PR)
– United Launch Alliance (ULA) today named veteran aerospace industry executive Tory Bruno as its next president and chief executive officer, succeeding Michael Gass, who has served as president and CEO since ULA’s founding in 2006. Bruno’s appointment is effective immediately; he and Gass will work collaboratively to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued commitment to mission success.

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ULA Hits Back at SpaceX & Musk, Sees No Interruptions in Russian Engine Deliveries

Launch of Atlas V with NROL-33 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 22, 2014. (Credit: ULA)
Launch of Atlas V with NROL-33 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 22, 2014. (Credit: ULA)

ULA has begun to hit back SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk after weeks of criticism. The Washington Post reports:

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Michael Gass, the head of United Launch Alliance, met critics’ questions about its reliance on Russian-made engines head on, saying it would begin to develop its own engine in conjunction with several other firms. And he targeted Musk’s SpaceX, saying it was trying to “cut corners” and taking a “dangerous approach” to entering the national security launch business.

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