Lander Simulation Testing Helps Advance NASA Navigation Spinoff

Xodiac rocket tests technology to enable precision landing on the moon. (Credits: Lauren Hughes)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — A navigation doppler lidar (NDL) technology originally developed by NASA was demonstrated on a flight test on Sept. 10 with support from the Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

With roots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the technology was licensed in 2016 by Psionic for both terrestrial and space applications, and both the company and Langley continue to evolve and advance the innovation for upcoming lunar missions.

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Virgin Galactic to Conduct Suborbital Flight in Late October After Long Hiatus

SpaceShipTwo Unity’s second powered flight.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic plans to resume suborbital flight tests of SpaceShipTwo (SS2) VSS Unity in late October from Spaceport America in New Mexico after a 20-month long hiatus, according to a filing the company made with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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George Whitesides to Fly on Early Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Flight from Spaceport America

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r, back) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A provision in George Whitesides’ contract has Virgin Galactic’s chief space officer — and possibly his wife, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides — flying on one of SpaceShipTwo’s early suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

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NASA’s TALOS Thrusters Designed to Lower Cost of Landing on Moon

NASA is developing new deep-space rocket engines that will save time and money on future missions. These next-generation engines could be used on future Artemis lunar landers to enter lunar orbit and descend to the surface. The engines are being developed under a NASA project called Thruster for the Advancement of Low-Temperature Operation in Space (TALOS). (Credits: NASA)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA is developing next-generation small rocket engines to help reduce the cost of NASA and commercial spacecraft destined for the Moon, Mars, and beyond. 

NASA’s Thruster for the Advancement of Low-temperature Operation in Space (TALOS) project is developing small thrusters to reduce overall spacecraft mass and power, which will reduce mission costs. The thrusters can make alterations in a spacecraft’s flight path or altitude and can be used to enter orbit and descend to the surface of another world. They can also serve as main propulsion thrusters for landers.

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Two Historic Fighter Jets Being Auctioned Off in Mojave

Surplus F-100 Super Sabre up for auction.

How would you like to own a piece of aviation history?

There is an online auction of two F-100 Super Sabre jet fighters stored at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The Super Sabre was the first supersonic jet in the U.S. inventory. After they were retired from military service, these two jets were used as experimental aircraft.

The jets have been sitting out there for years now. The dry desert heat has probably preserved them well. One piece of advice to buyers: check for snakes. Snakes on the plane, in the plane, under the plane, anywhere near the plane. Just…be careful.

The auction also includes other surplus items from the Mojave spaceport and an electrical engineering school. Two Humvees used by the U.S. Forestry Service are among the items.

Act soon. The lots begin to close on Sunday, August 23, 2020 at 6 p.m. PDT.

Monday Musings: Brazil’s Choices, VG’s Finances & More

Launch trajectories from Alcantara (Credit: AEB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A few thoughts as we begin week 403 of the Covid-19 lock down….

Location. Location. Location.

The three most important words in real estate. And Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center has got it.

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Stargazer Flight Raises Questions

Stargazer aircraft carrying Pegasus XL rocket with CYGNSS satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Whenever I’m over at the Mojave Air and Space Port, I’ve always felt a little sad when I catch a glimpse of Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer aircraft.

The last Lockheed L-1011 Tristar still flying today, the modified passenger aircraft’s main task is to air launch satellites aboard the Pegasus XL rocket carried under its fuselage. Since the rocket isn’t much in demand, the gap between launches can last for years.

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ABL Space Systems Begins RS1 Stage Testing, Reaches $90 Million in Funding

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Aug. 3, 2020 (ABL Space Systems PR) — ABL Space Systems has begun stage testing of the RS1 small satellite launch vehicle, and has been awarded two US DoD contracts and secured a large round of funding with a combined value of over $90 million. ABL’s awards and funding are key to the rapid development of the RS1 launch vehicle and GS0 deployable launch system, with a demonstration launch slated for Q1 of 2021.

ABL’s DoD contracts, awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX, with participation from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, total $44.5 million over three years. Additionally, ABL has secured $49 million of financing led by Ethan Batraski at Venrock with participation from New Science Ventures, Lynett Capital, and Lockheed Martin Ventures. The recent round closed on March 31st, and fully funds ABL through a three launch demonstration campaign in 2021.

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Boom Supersonic Forms Strategic Partnership with Flight Research, Inc., Bringing XB-1 Flight Tests to Mojave Supersonic Corridor

XB-1 technology demonstrator (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

DENVER (Boom Supersonic PR) — Boom Supersonic, the Colorado company building history’s fastest supersonic airliner, has announced the formation of a strategic partnership with Flight Research, Inc. (FRI) aimed at bringing test flights for XB-1, Boom’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft, to the supersonic corridor stretching across the Mojave Desert.

As part of the partnership, FRI will provide Flight Test Support to Boom with a T-38 Talon, a two-seat, twin-jet supersonic trainer, for pilot proficiency training as well as a chase aircraft during XB-1’s flight test program.

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Coming Soon(ish) to a Spaceport Near Me: Boom!

XB-1 technology demonstrator (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

Boom Supersonic to Roll Out Historic XB-1 Demonstrator Oct. 7

Virtual Global Event Will Mark Key Milestone en Route to Company’s 2021 First Flight [at the Mojave Air and Space Port]

DENVER, July 8, 2020 (Boom Supersonic PR) – Boom Supersonic, the aerospace company building the world’s fastest airliner today announced that its supersonic demonstrator, XB-1, will roll out on October 7, 2020. In keeping with CDC-recommended social distancing measures, the entire event will be available online and allow attendees an opportunity to submit questions to company leadership.

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The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be: The Triumph and Failure of the Ansari X Prize

WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. The authori is at right holding up the video camera. (Credit: John Criswick)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sixteen years ago today, I awoke very early and joined about 25,000 people at a newly-designated spaceport in the Mojave Desert to watch history in the making.

On that bright sunny June 21, Mike Melvill became the first person to fly to space on a privately-built vehicle by piloting SpaceShipOne to just above the Karman line at 100 km.

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: A Progress Report

The Expedition 63 crew welcomes Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA / Bill Stafford)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With nearly half the year over, I thought it would be a good time to review the companies’ progress toward those milestones.

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Video of Virgin Orbit LauncherOne’s Abbreviated Flight

Nine seconds.

That’s how long the flight of LauncherOne lasted from being dropped from the Boeing 747 to its engine crapping out.

Virgin Orbit explained on its website:

For about 9 seconds after drop, the flight went perfectly. Through some of the most challenging portions of our flight — release, the controlled drop, the rocket’s ignition sequence, and the initial portion of guided, powered flight — every part of our system did exactly as we designed it to do. We have solid data from hundreds of channels and sensors — and in looking at those, we see performance that is well-matched to our predictions and to the extensive data we have from our models and ground tests. This means that we have proved out via flight the foundational principles of our air-launch operations, which is the key thing that separates us from our peers in the industry.

About 9 seconds after drop, something malfunctioned, causing the booster stage engine to extinguish, which in turn ended the mission. We cannot yet say conclusively what the malfunction was or what caused it, but we feel confident we have sufficient data to determine that as we continue through the rigorous investigation we’ve already begun. With the engine extinguished, the vehicle was no longer able to maintain controlled flight — but the rocket did not explode. It stayed within the predicted downrange corridors of our projections and our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license as the vehicle fell to the ocean, posing no risk to public safety, no danger our aircrew or aircraft, and no significant environmental impact.

There’s more on the website about what the company achieved despite the failure on Monday. There’s lots of data to go over before the next launch attempt.

Virgin Orbit Press Release on LauncherOne Failure

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Mojave, Calif., May 25, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, conducted a launch demonstration of its innovative air-launched rocket today in the skies over the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast. The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.

“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today.  Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.

Video of Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 Takeoff & Landing

Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port on May 25 with a fully fueled LauncherOne booster under its left wing. The launch over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands failed. The aircraft and crew returned safely to Mojave.

Videographer: Kenneth Brown