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NASA, Boeing & SpaceX Discuss Plan for Launching American Astronauts


HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA, Boeing and SpaceX will hold a news briefing on NASA Television at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at noon EST (11 a.m. CST) Monday, Jan. 26, to highlight key development activities, test plans and objectives for achieving certification of two American crew transportation systems.

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Seattle, Mojave Duel to be Silicon Valley of Space

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

With last week’s visit of Elon Musk and his announcement of a new facility to design and build a 4,000-satellite constellation, Seattle Weekly is reviving the region’s claim to be the “Silicon Valley of space.”

That might be a bit of a surprise to Silicon Valley, the home of some cool space start-ups and the source (via Google) of a lot of Musk’s satellite money.

The moniker is also probably surprising to some folks in Mojave, which also has staked its claim to that title from time to time. Valley Public Radio talks to Mojave Air and Space Port CEO/General Manager Stu Witt and Leonard David of Space.com about Mojave, commercial space and the loss of SpaceShipTwo.

Is Kern County The Next Frontier For Aerospace Innovation?

It’s a bit of a disappointing discussion. Both Leonard and Stu appear more afraid of the government coming in with regulations than they are of Scaled continuing to kill people on this program. Ten years, four deaths and one wrecked spaceship later, and this program hasn’t come anywhere near space.

That’s not exactly a shining example of NewSpace competency. And shouldn’t that raise some basic questions about Scaled, its design and safety protocols, and Virgin Galactic’s rush to move forward?

And, as the FAA’s George Nield has pointed out, these guys aren’t exactly the Wright brothers. They’re not inventing a new mode of transportation from whole cloth. People have been flying into space for more than 50 years. There’s a lot of good, proven safety practices out there. Without some mandatory regulations, Nield fears that some irresponsible operator will ruin it for everyone in the industry.

That’s the argument, anyway. Whether you agree with it or not, it would have been nice if it had come up in the discussion. I guarantee you it will be a point of contention at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference next month.

NanoRacks: The Fastest Space Manifester in the West


nano_racks_logoWebster, TX—January 13 2014 — NanoRacks successfully manifested payloads onto SpaceX-5 in record time: nine days. Historically, it takes months, years even, to successfully manifest a payload for delivery to the International Space Station. But that speed is too slow for the agile commercial space industry.

NanoRacks was able to manifest CubeSats under a nine day deadline, and MixStix experiments in under one-month. That’s how little time there was to manifest payloads onto SpaceX-5 after the loss of Orb-3, and the company, working side by side with NASA and our customers, made it happen.

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GAO Releases Document Explaining Rejection of Sierra Nevada Protest


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a redacted version of its decision rejecting Sierra Nevada’s protest of NASA’s award of commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX.

“In sum, our review of Sierra Nevada’s challenges and the underlying evaluation record in this case provides no basis on which our Office would sustain the protest,” the document concludes. “In our view, the SEB [source evaluation board] reports and SSD [source selection decision] demonstrate an evaluation of schedule and the agency’s 2017 goal consistent with the plain terms of the RFP [request for proposal].

“The agency’s evaluation of the realism of SpaceX’s low price, and its available financial resources, was similarly consistent with the terms of the RFP. Finally, our review of the record shows that the agency’s evaluation under the mission suitability and past performance evaluation factors was reasonable, and did not reflect unequal treatment of the proposals,” the document reads.

The decision also includes the following synopsis of the specific protests that were denied:

  1. Protest that the agency improperly elevated the importance of a solicitation goal to a de facto requirement is denied where the evaluation was consistent with the stated criteria.
  2. Protest challenging the agency’s determination that the awardee’s fixed price was realistic is denied where the agency reasonably considered various factors supporting the awardee’s low price.
  3. Protest of the agency’s technical evaluation is denied where the evaluation was reasonable, consistent with the stated criteria, and not unequal.
  4. Protest of the agency’s past performance evaluation is denied where the agency conducted a reasonable evaluation of the offeror’s past performance references, and gave effect to all elements of the evaluation set forth in the RFP.

You can read the full report here.

SpaceX Raises $1 Billion in Financing


spacex_logoAn update from SpaceX:

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has raised a billion dollars in a financing round with two new investors, Google and Fidelity. They join existing investors Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn. Google and Fidelity will collectively own just under 10% of the company.

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft. This funding will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.

This funding round values SpaceX at just under $10 billion. The announcement comes one week after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled plans for a constellation of 4,000 satellites that would provide communications worldwide.


Student Experiments Get Reflight on Dragon After Antares Failure

Students from Bert Edwards Science & Technology School in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada and principal Paul Hembling with their investigation. (Credit: Credit:  Bert Edwards Science & Technology School)

Students from Bert Edwards Science & Technology School in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada and principal Paul Hembling with their investigation. (Credit: Credit:
Bert Edwards Science & Technology School)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Scientific research sometimes resembles a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, success and failure. Students sending investigations on Mission 6 to the International Space Station learned this firsthand.

After a rigorous selection process and months of preparation, 42 students were set for the exciting experience of watching the October launch of their research in person from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. That excitement faded when Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket, which was set to deliver the cargo, suffered an anomaly during ascent. All supplies and research aboard, including the student investigations, were lost.

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Report: Google Close to Investing in Musk’s Global Internet Company


Google_logo_newJessica E. Lessin over at The Information reports the following:

Google is close to investing in rocket maker SpaceX, according to several people familiar with the talks, creating a formidable alliance in Silicon Valley’s accelerating Internet space race.

The purpose of a deal, which is still in the works, is to support the development of SpaceX satellites that could beam low-cost Internet around the globe to billions who don’t have it.

The price and terms Google and SpaceX are discussing couldn’t be learned although one person familiar with them said Google has agreed to value SpaceX north of $10 billion and that the size of the total round, which includes other investors, is very large.

The story is behind a paywall here.

Video: Elon Musk Unveils SpaceX Seattle Operations


Video Caption:
SpaceX announced that they are opening an office in the Seattle area to design and manufacture satellites for the long term vision of traveling to Mars. Elon Musk visited Seattle Center and gave a short presentation plus Q&A at the party. This is the full version that has been edited to remove pauses between questions.

Editor’s Note:
My summary of the talk follows.

  • focus on creating global communications system
  • cut costs of satellites as well as rockets to revolutionize space
  • satellites can you used for Earth science and space science
  • goal: create a global communications system
  • long-term goal: rebuilding the Internet in space
  • about 4,000 satellites – technical discussion today was 4,025
  • does not see bandwidth as being a major issue
  • has done filings with ITU for bandwidth allocation
  • would need agreements with individual countries to have ground receivers
  • develop satellites the same way automobiles are mass produced part
  • build a large constellation, if one satellite goes out, take it out of constellation and de-orbit it
  • “In the past, I’ve been a little optimistic on schedule. I’m trying to re-calibrate.”
  • get version 1 active with global coverage in about five years
  • successive versions every two or three years beyond that
  • will take 12 to 15 years to get system to its full capabilities
  • major upgrades in system every five years or so
  • quite sophisticated satellites – smaller satellites (few hundred kilogram range) with big satellite capabilities
  • ultimately over time will cost $10 to $15 billion to create
  • user terminals would cost $100 to $300 apiece
  • majority of long-distance Internet traffic go through satellites
  • 10 percent of global consumer and business traffic
  • majority of users will still be via fiber
  • speed of light in vacuum is 40 to 50 percent faster than in fiber
  • current path is convoluted, goes through 200 routers
  • satellites reduce that to two to four hops
  • order of magnitude fewer repeaters and routers
  • would serve both advanced nations and poor ones
  • “It’s a really difficult technical problem to solve.”
  • wants to make sure we don’t create SkyNet
  • when first started at SpaceX, it was jokingly called SkyNet
  • Seattle office will start out relatively small, plan to add right expertise at right time
  • system will probably involve half software and half hardware – eventually software could dominate
  • plan is to use this to help fund a city on Mars
  • SpaceX won’t go public for quite some time – when they are doing regular flights to Mars
  • long-term goal of settling Mars doesn’t mesh well with short-term focus of shareholders and money managers
  • offers stock options and restricted stock – do liquidity events every six months, do stock buy backs
  • will present transportation architecture for going to Mars toward the end of the year

NASA Releases Commercial Crew Source Selection Statement


NASA has released the selection statement explaining its decision to award Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts to Boeing and SpaceX.

The 29-page document, dated Sept. 15, 2014, details how NASA ranked proposals by Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation. It was signed by William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.

Release of the statement was delayed by Sierra Nevada’s protest of the awards. The Government Accountability Office rejected the protest earlier this month.

You can download the statement here.

Amazing Video of Falcon 9 Stage Crashing onto Barge