Report: Google Lunar XPrize Field Narrows

SpaceIL lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

It looks as if Team SpaceIL is out of the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

Quartz reports the Israeli team will not be able to launch its lander/rover to the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster until some time next year — too late to meet the end-of-2017 deadline required to win the prize.

(more…)

Astronauts Work with Crew Dragon Qualification Vehicle

Astronaut Bob Behnken emerges from the top hatch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in manufacturing at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California, as astronaut Eric Boe looks on. (Credit: SpaceX)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Bob Behnken and Eric Boe, two of NASA’s four veteran astronauts who supported SpaceX as it refines its crew transportation system designs, checked out the Crew Dragon being used for qualification testing. NASA astronauts routinely travel to industry facilities during spacecraft and mission development to train and offer insights to engineers.

As seen here, Behken is evaluating the Crew Dragon’s hatches. The top hatch, at the nose of the spacecraft, will be the connecting port at the International Space Station. The side hatch will be the entryway for crews getting into the spacecraft when on Earth.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft and related test vehicles are being manufactured at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California. The Crew Dragon is being built to routinely fly four astronauts to the International Space Station although it can carry up to seven people. Flight tests, first without a crew then with astronauts aboard, will take place before operational crew rotation missions.

NASA also partnered with Boeing to build and operate a separate, independent space system called the CST-100 Starliner to carry astronauts to the station. Both vehicles are being developed in close coordination with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

ULA Slashes Atlas V Price

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying EchoStar XIX satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:13 p.m. ET. (Credit: United Launch Alliance/Lockheed Martin)

ULA has cut the price of its least expensive launch vehicle, the Atlas V, by more than one third.

“We’re seeing that price is even more important than it had been in the past,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, or ULA, said during an interview at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

“We’re dropping the cost of Atlas almost every day. Atlas is now down more than a third in its cost,” Bruno said.

As of December 2016, a baseline Atlas 5 rocket launch was selling for about $109 million, though satellite operators can make up at least half that cost by getting more favorable insurance rates and other factors, including an on-time launch, ULA has said.

In contrast, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, lists the base price of a Falcon 9 rocket launch on its website at $62 million.

Read the full story.

U.S. Air Force Open to Launching on Used SpaceX Falcon 9

Reused Falcon 9 first stage after landing on drone ship. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The head of U.S. Air Force Space Command has said the service is open to flying on a Falcon 9 rocket with a used first stage.

The comments, made by Gen. Jay Raymond during Space Symposium, could reflect the service’s willingness to use cutting-edge technologies to drive down the cost of launch services — that is, once the technology has been proven.

“This is just beginning. They’ve only flown one,” he said. “I think the industry is going to go this way. I think the reduced cost of this is going to drive industry this way. I don’t think we can say we won’t follow suit. We will make sure we do it in a smart way, and as this materializes we will make sure that we have the processes in place to do it safely and securely.”

SpaceX broke new ground March 30 with the launch and recovery of a Falcon 9 built with a previously-used first stage, and this week’s space bonanza provided a venue for the the company to take a victory lap. During a Wednesday speech, Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer, called reusability a tremendous capability that ushers in a new era of space launch.

“I think the other launch providers, or most of the other launch providers — certainly the ones are flying now — think that it’s not worth it. That for their particular technology, it doesn’t work for them,” she said. “I think you’ll see that position changing, but it worked for us.”

Read the full story.

Global-IP Cayman Announces Launch Agreement with SpaceX

Falcon 9 on Launch Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (Global-IP Cayman) –Global-IP Cayman, the innovative satellite communications company with the mission to bring cost-effective Internet and related value-added services to Sub-Saharan Africa, announced today it has signed a launch services agreement with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (“SpaceX”) for its first communication satellite GiSAT-1. GiSAT-1 is a High-Throughput Satellite (“HTS”) with 150 Gbps of capacity, currently under construction by The Boeing Company.

(more…)

Shotwell: Need to Get Falcon 9 Reuse Down to 24 Hours

Gwynne Shotwell

Speaking earlier this week in Colorado Springs, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said the successful reuses of a Falcon 9 first stage last week is just the beginning.

The way she sees it, rocket reusability doesn’t really count unless the rocket can be reused “almost as rapidly as you turn around an aircraft.”

“Our challenge right now is to refly a rocket within 24 hours,” she said here today at the 33rd Space Symposium. “That’s when we’ll really feel like we got the reusability just right.”

Shotwell didn’t specify the exact cost of the refurbishment but said it was “substantially less than half” of the original manufacturing cost.

“We did way more on this one than we’re doing on future ones, of course,” Shotwell said.

Shotwell said at least one piece of the fairing was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean after last week’s launch, although she didn’t say whether it was slated for reuse. “It looked pretty good,” she said, “and you’ll see more fairing recoveries as we go this year.”

Read the full story.

Russia Responds to Musk & His Reusable Boosters

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The age of reusable liquid boosters arrived with the launch last week of a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage, which landed on a barge ship after its fuel was exhausted. In Russia, the long anticipated milestone resulted in a flood of statements — official and otherwise — about what the long-term leader in space boosters is doing in response.

(more…)

Russia Plans to Boost Launch Rate, Revenues from Space Station

Igor Komarov (Credit: Russia Forum)

Speaking a day after SpaceX successfully re-flew a previously used Falcon 9 first stage, Russian space officials sought to reassure the public about the nation’s lagging launch rate and outlined plans to increase revenues from  the International Space Station (ISS).

On Friday, Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Russia was aiming for more than two dozen launches this year.

“We will conduct at least 30 launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny and Kourou space centers this year,” Komarov said at a meeting of the Expert Council of Russia’s Military-Industrial Committee.

With one quarter of the year completed, Russia has conducted two launches.

(more…)

CSF Congratulates SpaceX on Historic Flight

WASHINGTON, DC (CSF PR) — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) congratulates SpaceX on today’s successful launch of the SES-10 communication satellite on a flight-proven Falcon 9. This mission was the world’s first reflight of an orbital class rocket, and it represents another momentous milestone for commercial space exploration and utilization.

This Falcon 9’s first stage previously launched a successful cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA last April, and now, less than a year later, has launched a high-value commercial communications satellite to geostationary orbit for leading global satellite fleet operator SES.

The United States commercial space industry leads the world in innovation, and, increasingly, market share of space services and products. CSF members have invested significant private capital to develop innovative, rapidly reusable technologies that are heralding a new era of lower cost launch and increased access to space.

Falcon 9 Launch Succeeds, Reused First Stage Lands on Ship

Reused Falcon 9 first stage after landing on drone ship. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX successfully launched the SES10 communications satellite on Thursday evening, with its reused first stage performing as expected and landing on an off-shore drone ship.

In a brief statement during the live webcast, SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk called the flight a historic day for the company and the space industry. It had taken 15 years to get to this moment, he said.

In a video prior to launch, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company spent about four months refurbishing and testing the first stage booster after it landed on the drone ship after launching a Dragon resupply vehicle to the International Space Station last April. That flight marked the first time a first stage had landed on the drone ship.

Shotwell said the company’s eventual goal is to land the first stage, refuel the booster, and then launch it again the same day. She did not give a time table for when such a flight would be possible.

Musk has said that such a rapid turnaround is crucial to making first-stage reuse truly economical and significantly bringing down the cost of launches.

SpaceX does not recover the second stage of the Falcon 9 booster. So any same-day re-flight would include the installation of a new second stage as well as the payload.

There were reports that SpaceX would attempt to recover the payload shroud used for Thursday’s launch for later reuse. There is no word yet on whether that effort was successful.

Falcon 9 Launch Set for This Evening

The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supported SpaceX’s successful launch of the EchoStar XXIII spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center March 16 at 2 a.m. EDT. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX is set to launch its Falcon 9 booster with the SES-10 communications satellite tonight at 6:27 pm EDT (3:27 pm PDT, 10:27pm UTC). It will be the first attempt to launch a used first stage booster.  SpaceX will stream the launch at www.spacex.com.

A New Market Emerges

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA recently marked a decade since it began a new era in commercial spaceflight development for low-Earth orbit transportation. The space agency inked agreements in 2006 to develop rockets and spacecraft capable of carrying cargo such as experiments and supplies to and from the International Space Station.

(more…)