RiskIt: NASA’s High Risk Commercial Cargo Strategy

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Commercial Cargo’s Lower Costs Brought Higher Risks

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In October 2014, NASA engineers were deeply worried about Orbital Sciences Corporation’s upcoming Orb-3 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

An Antares booster was set to send a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with 2,215 kg (4,883 lb) of supplies to astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. It would be the third of eight Cygnus flights to the station under a Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract worth $1.9 billion.

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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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USAF Awards Hosted Payload Contracts to 14 Companies

USAF_Space_Missile_Systems_CenterThe U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth a maximum of $494.9 million each to 14 companies under its Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) program.

‘The purpose of the multiple awarded HoPS IDIQ [indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity] contract is to provide a rapid and flexible means for the government to acquire commercial hosting capabilities for government payloads,” according to the contract announcement. “The contract is designed to create a pool of qualified vendors to meet the government’s needs for various hosted payload missions.”

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Orbital, LockMart and General Dynamics Profits Up; Boeing Numbers Fall

Orbital Sciences reports 2Q profit up 87 percent
Associated Press

“Orbital Sciences Corp. posted solid earnings growth for the second quarter Thursday, driven by strong sales in its advanced space programs and launch vehicle operations. The Dulles, Va., company reported earnings jumped 87 percent to $25.8 million, or 43 cents per share, for the second quarter, from $13.8 million, or 23 cents per share, in the second quarter of last year.”

Lockheed 2Q profit up 13 percent
Associated Press

“Lockheed Martin Corp. posted a 13 percent increase in second-quarter earnings Tuesday, beating Wall Street expectations and prompting the company to raise its yearly outlook as it made up a drop in fighter jet sales with strength in its other business units.”

Armored vehicles lift General Dynamics 2Q profit
Associated Press

“Feeding the Pentagon’s demand for armored vehicles helped drive up General Dynamics Corp.’s second quarter profit by 25 percent, lifting shares of the defense contractor, which also raised its outlook for the year on Wednesday. General Dynamics’ stock jumped nearly 7 percent, closing up $5.82 at $89.27 per share.”

Delays hurt Boeing’s 2Q profit, which falls 19 pct
Associated Press

“Delays hurt Boeing Co.’s second-quarter profit, which fell 19 percent because of late delivery of military aircraft and rising costs from the postponed introduction of its 787 jetliner. But the Chicago-based company, the world’s second-largest commercial airplane maker after Europe’s Airbus, reaffirmed its forecasts for 2008 and 2009, saying productivity gains would overcome the quarter’s setbacks.”

Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Spaceport Gets Boost from Orbital COTS Decision

Spaceport plan ‘once in a lifetime’ for county
Carol Vaughn
The Daily Times

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for the county,” said Accomack Economic Development Director Larry Forbes of the Orbital project, adding that county officials will do everything they can to maximize the economic opportunity it brings.

“Who knows where all this is going to go?” Forbes said, citing a June 6 report in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report that suggests NASA may be considering accelerating the crew transport portion of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

Sunny Florida or Old Virginny? Orbital Decision Expected Soon

The Spaceports blog reports that Orbital Sciences Corporation is expected to make a decision this week on whether to fly its COTS rocket out of Virginia or Florida.

Both states have been heavily lobbying the Reston, Virginia-based company, which is developing commercial transportation to the International Space Station under the NASA program. The company will choose between the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island or Cape Canaveral in Florida.

NASA Explores Speeding Up COTS Crew Vehicle Development

NASA is close to completing a study on how to speed up development of an orbital crew vehicle under its COTS program, according to testimony on Capitol Hill this week.

Richard Gilbrech, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, told Congressmen on Thursday that the agency is in the “final stages” of the study, Aviation Week reports. Under the COTS program, NASA is providing funding to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to developed cargo vehicles capable of supplying the International Space Station. SpaceX has committed to building both robotic and crewed versions of its Dragon spacecraft; Orbital Sciences is only focused on a cargo vehicle.

Speeding up COTS could help NASA fill a projected five-year gap between the end of space shuttle flights in 2010 and the first flight of its successor, Orion. Another option would be to increase funding for Orion and its Ares booster.

During the hearing, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher asked whether NASA was pursuing the one thing that could make all these issues moot: anti-gravity technology. The answer was “no.” The maverick California Republican has a history of intriguing statements: last year, he publicly questioned whether past temperature spikes had been caused by dinosaur flatulence.

Will Florida Lure Orbital’s COTS Program Away from Virginia?

One interesting bit of news that came out of the Space Access ’08 conference in Phoenix involved efforts by Florida to lure Orbital Sciences’ COTS program away from Virginia.

NASA recently awarded the Dulles, Virginia-based company with a $170 million contract to develop commercial transport to the International Space Station under its COTS initiative. Orbital Sciences will operate out of Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Jim Muncy of PoliSpace told conference attendees that Florida is trying to convince Orbital to move the program south, according to an account of his talk on Rand Simberg’s Transterrestrial Musings blog.

“You should see the list of things that Orbital wants from Florida to get them to move there from Wallops,” Muncy is quoted as saying. Simberg’s post provides no elaboration.

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ULA Suffers Setback in COTS Program

The Decatur Daily has a story about how United Launch Alliance suffered a setback for its Atlas V vehicle, which was not chosen for the COTS program.

Earlier this week, NASA officials awarded a $170 million contract to Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop a new launch system capable of delivering cargo to the International Space Station. The space agency had earlier awarded a similar contract to California-based SpaceX for a similar project involving both cargo and crew vehicles.

The Atlas V vehicle is being considered as the prime rocket for Bigelow Aerospace’s planned Sundancer space station. The companies are reportedly in negotiations for up to 50 Atlas V cargo and crew launches.

Orbital Sciences Shares Rise After NASA Deal

Orbital Sciences Corporation shares rose in the wake of NASA’s decision to award the Dulles, Virginia-based company a $170 million contract under its COTS program.

One analyst has predicted the contract could boost company income by 25 percent, potentially boosting earnings per share by about $6.

The COTS program is designed to encourage the development of commercial cargo and crew delivery vehicles for the International Space Station. Orbital plans to develop its Taurus II rocket, which would be launched from Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital Sciences joins SpaceX of El Segundo, California in the COTS competition.

Wallops Island, Virginia May Plan Major Role in Orbital Sciences Program

NASA’s decision to award $170 million in COTS funding to Orbital Sciences Corporation could prove to be a big boost to Virginia’s efforts to establish a commercial spaceport on Wallops Island.

The Dulles, Virginia-based company is leaning toward working with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the state’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to demonstrate its new Taurus II rocket by 2010. If the program is successful, it could make Virginia’s Eastern Shore a major commercial space center.

“This is a real opportunity to see that happen. It’s significant,” said Billie Reed, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority.

The Virginian-Pilot has more on the Virginia angle. Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reports that although Orbital Sciences is leaning toward launching out of its home state, it has not closed the door on flights from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. KSC officials recently announced they were open to allowing private companies to build launch sites at the facility.

Canadian Spaceport Plans Continue Despite Loss in COTS Competition

Despite coming out on the losing end of NASA’s COTS competition, PlanetSpace is going ahead with plans to create a commercial spaceport on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.

The Chicago-based company has a two-pronged strategy: launching cargo and crews to the International Space Station from Florida and sending tourists on suborbital and point-to-point flights from Canada using its Silver Dart vehicle.

On Tuesday, the company learned that it lost out on a $171 million in NASA COTS funding to Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation. The COTS program is designed to encourage commercial development of crew and cargo vehicles for ISS.

“We will continue with the Silver Dart for point-to-point travel and space tourism,” PlanetSpace chairman Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria said.

For more details, see the stories here and here.