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SpaceX Wins Round 1 of Patent Fight With Blue Origin

Blue Origin Sea Landing 2

Blue Origin booster recovery system. (Credit: Blue Origin)

SpaceX has won the first round of its fight to invalidate Blue Origin’s patent for recovering reusable launch vehicles on an ocean-going platform.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board approved SpaceX’s request for an inter partes review of 13 of 15 claims the company made about Blue Origin’s Patent No. U.S. Patent 8,678,321, which is titled, “Sea landing of space launch vehicles and associated systems and methods”. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the patent in 2014.

Continue reading ‘SpaceX Wins Round 1 of Patent Fight With Blue Origin’

ULA Plans to Phase Out Delta IV

Delta IV Heavy lifts off with Orion capsule. (Credit: Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance)

Delta IV Heavy lifts off with Orion capsule. (Credit: Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance)

Space News reports on ULA’s future plans for its launch vehicles:

United Launch Alliance intends to phase out all but the heavy-lift version of its Delta 4 rocket as early as 2018 as it seeks to sharpen its competitiveness in the face of a challenge by SpaceX.

Denver-based ULA will continue building the Delta 4 Heavy as long as its Air Force customer desires, said Tory Bruno, the company’s president chief executive. The vehicle, whose first stage consists of three Delta 4 cores in a side-by-side configuration, is used to launch classified national security payloads but flies infrequently — roughly once every few years….

In a March 2 interview, Bruno, said both rockets ultimately will be replaced by a new launch vehicle currently known as the Next Generation Launch System, or NGLS. The NGLS will be powered by a new main engine now under development.

Bruno has said the BE-4 could debut on the NGLS by 2019 but that the vehicle would not be certified to carry national security payloads until 2022 or 2023.

In the interview, Bruno said he hoped Congress would change the language to allow continued use of the RD-180 until a replacement is ready.

Congress recently passed legislation calling for ULA to end the use of Russian-provided RD-180 engines in the Atlas by 2019.

NASA Releases Redacted Commercial Crew Contracts


WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA released redacted versions of the contracts the agency signed with Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to begin the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability phase of final development and certification work. The contracts outline goals and obligations that both NASA and the providers agreed to, however, the focus of the agency’s involvement is not just in milestones but in the day-to-day work the NASA team is performing. The agency’s efforts revolve around understanding the providers’ designs and ensuring progress is being made toward meeting safety and performance requirements before crew flight tests and missions to the International Space Station.

- Boeing-CCtCap-Contract here.

- SpaceX-CCtCap-Contract here.

SpaceX CCtCap & CCiCap Milestones

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CCiCAP Milestone Status
Milestones: 20
Milestones Completed: 18
Milestones Remaining: 2
Total Possible Award: $460 Million
Total Award to Date: $400 Million
Total Award Remaining: $60 Million

11 Pad Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct a pad abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The scenario where an abort is initiated while the CTS is still on the pad is a design driver for the launch abort system as it dictates the total impulse and also requires parachute deployment in close proximity to the ground. December 2013 Pending $30 Million
14 In-Flight Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The in-flight abort test will supplement the pad abort test and complete the corners-of-the-box stress cases. The in-flight abort scenario represents a Dragon abort while under propulsive flight of the launch vehicle during the worst-case dynamic loads on the CTS. April 2014 Pending $30 Million

SpaceX CCtCap Milestone Status
Milestones: 18
Milestones Completed: 1
Milestones Remaining: 17

1 Certification Baseline Review (CBR) December 2014 Complete
2 Initial Propulsion Module Testing Complete April 2015
3 Avionics Test Bed Activation May 2015 Pending
4 Delta Critical Design Review (dCDR) June 2015 Pending
5 Docking System Qualification Testing Complete August 2015 Pending
6 Propulsive Land Landing Test Complete September 2015 Pending
7 Launch Site Operational Readiness Review November 2015 Pending
8 Flight Test without Crew Certification Review (FTCR)
December 2015 Pending
9 ECLSS Integrated Test Complete February 2016 Pending
10 Flight to ISS Without Crew March 2016 Pending
11 Parachute Qualification Complete April 2016 Pending
12 Space Suit Qualification Testing Complete May 2016 Pending
13 Launch Site Operational Readiness Review for Crew
June 2016 Pending
14 Design Certification Review (DCR) July 2016 Pending
15 Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR)
September 2016 Pending
16 Flight to ISS with Crew
October 2016 Pending
17 Operations Readiness Review (ORR) January 2017 Pending
18 Certification Review (CR) April 2017 Pending

Texas County Forms Spaceport Development Authority


McLennan_County_flagMcLennan County in Texas — which already boasts SpaceX engine test facility in McGregor — has formed a spaceport development corporation whose goal is to bring more space companies to the county.

McLennan County commissioners voted to approve the incorporation of an entity — along with its bylaws and board of directors — that officials say will be the third of its kind in the state.

County Judge Scott Felton said grant funding is available from the state to assist in the creation and development of a spaceport, which is an area to be used for spaceflight activities, including research, development, testing and more…

The board will review business proposals before applying for state funds held in a Spaceport Trust Fund, which is earmarked for infrastructure and other items needed to pursue spaceflight activities.

Collins said the corporation will help bring aerospace companies to the area by gaining state funding for business creation, growth or expansion.

Midland and Cameron counties so far are the only municipalities to have spaceport development corporations, Collins said.

Read the full story.

Bigelow Ready to Ship BEAM to Cape for Launch

The BEAM module docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

The BEAM module docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace have scheduled a media availability next Thursday to mark the completion of all major milestones on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).

Reporters will have the opportunity to see and photograph the BEAM before it’s shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch to the International Space Station later this year. Robert Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, and William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, will conduct a joint question and answer session with media.

The demonstration of expandable space habitat technology supports NASA’s long-term exploration goals on its journey to Mars, for which the agency will need to develop a deep space habitat for human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The BEAM is scheduled to launch in the second half of this year aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station and be installed on the aft port of the station’s Tranquility node.

For more information about Bigelow Aerospace, visit:


For more information about the BEAM, visit:


Number of Billionaires Investing in Space Projects Grows


Forbes has published its annual list of the planet’s billionaires. A small but growing number of them are either directly supporting major space projects or doing so through the companies that they run.

 15 Jeff Bezos 51  $34.8 Amazon.com Blue Origin
16 Mark Zuckerberg 30
 $33.4 Facebook Global satellite network
19 Larry Page 41 $29.7  Google SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
20 Sergey Brin  41  $29.2 Google SpaceX, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
43 Charles Ergen 62 $19.8 DISH Network DISH Network
51 Paul Allen 62  $17.5  Microsoft, investments Stratolaunch Systems, SETI, Mojave Aerospace Ventures (SpaceShipOne)
100 Elon Musk 43 $12 PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCity SpaceX
137 Eric Schmidt 59 $9.1 Google SpaceX, Google Lunar X Prize, Planetary Ventures, Skybox
330 Richard Branson
64 $4.8 Virgin Group Virgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, OneWeb
1006 Kavitark Ram Shriram 58 $1.9 Google, venture capital Planetary Resources
1105 H. Ross Perot, Jr. 56 $1.8  Computer services, real estate Planetary Resources
1324 Charles Simonyi  67 $1.4 Microsoft Planetary Resources
1415 Peter Sperling 55 $1.3 University of Phoenix Ecliptic Enterprises

I’ve added Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to the list this year. His company is reportedly working on a global broadband network that would involve satellites, although details of the plan have not been made public.

I’ve left off Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberte, who came in at number 1006 with a net worth of $1.9 billion. Although he once took a trip to the International Space Station, he is not known to be funding any major space projects at the moment.

Update: I’ve added Charles Ergen and Peter Sperling to the list. Big shout out to Rex Ridenoure over at Ecliptic Enterprises.

Boeing Receives Signals From First All-Electric Satellites

Eutelsat 115 West B satellite (Credit: Eutelsat)

Eutelsat 115 West B satellite (Credit: Eutelsat)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Mar. 2, 2015 (Boeing PR) – Two Boeing [NYSE: BA] 702SP (small platform) satellites, the first all-electric propulsion satellites to launch, have sent initial signals from space, marking the first step toward ABS, based in Bermuda, and Eutelsat, based in Paris, being able to provide enhanced communication services to their customers. What’s more, the satellites were launched as a conjoined stack on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, demonstrating a patented Boeing technology that promises to noticeably reduce launch costs.

Continue reading ‘Boeing Receives Signals From First All-Electric Satellites’

SpaceX Launches Two Electric Satellites

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX successfully launched two all-electric communications satellites on Sunday night, marking the first time the company’s Falcon 9 rocket has launched a pair of primary payloads.

The Falcon 9 lifted off on time at 10:50 p.m. EST, lofting the ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B satellites into orbit. The Boeing spacecraft feature lightweight, all-electric xenon-ion propulsion, a first for satellites.

Due to fuel limitations, the rocket’s first stage did not have legs to allow it to land on an off-shore barge.

This was the third Falcon 9 launch of 2015 in what promises to be a busy year for SpaceX.

Video New Report on Spaceport America


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