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Air Force Awards GPS III Launch Services Contract to SpaceX

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Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif., April 27, 2016 (USAF PR) – The Air Force announced today the award of the first competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch services contract in more than a decade. Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) was awarded a contract for Global Positioning System (GPS) III Launch Services. This is a firm-fixed price, standalone contract with a total value of $82,700,000. SpaceX will provide the Government with a total launch solution for the GPS-III satellite, which includes launch vehicle production, mission integration, and launch operations and spaceflight certification. The launch will be the second GPS III launch and is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. in May 2018.

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SpaceX Working With NASA on Sending Dragon Spacecraft to Mars

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Red Dragon landing on Mars (Credit: SpaceX)

Red Dragon landing on Mars (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX announced today that it would be sending a modified robotic Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018. The company has been working with NASA on key elements of the mission under a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement signed in December 2014 as part of the space agency’s Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) program.

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Video: SpaceX’s Red Dragon Mission to Mars

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Abstract: One of Ames’ long standing science interests has been to robotically drill deeply into Mars’ subsurface environment (2 meters, or more) to investigate the habitability of that zone for past or extant life. Large, capable Mars landers would ease the problem of landing and operating deep robotic drills. In 2010, an Ames scientist realized that the crew-carrying version of the SpaceX Dragon capsule would possess all the subsystems necessary to perform a soft landing on Earth, and raised the question of whether it could also soft land on Mars. If it could, it might be a candidate platform for a Discovery or Mars Scout class deep drilling mission, for example.

After approximately 3 years studying the engineering problem we have concluded that a minimally modified Dragon capsule (which we call the “Red Dragon”) could successfully perform an all-propulsive Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL). We present and discuss the analysis that supports this conclusion. At the upper limits of its capability, a Red Dragon could land approximately 2 metric tons of useful payload, or approximately twice the mass that the MSL Skycrane demonstrated with a useful volume 3 or 4 times as great. This combination of features led us to speculate that it might be possible to land enough mass and volume with a Red Dragon to enable a Mars Sample Return mission in which Mars Orbit Rendezvous is avoided, and the return vehicle comes directly back to Earth. This potentially lowers the risk and cost of a sample return mission. We conclude that such an Earth-Direct sample return architecture is feasible if the Earth Return Vehicle is constructed as a small spacecraft. Larry Lemke will present and discuss the analysis that supports this conclusion.

Scientific Paper: RED DRAGON: LOW-COST ACCESS TO THE SURFACE OF MARS USING COMMERCIAL CAPABILITIES.

SpaceX Announces Plans to Send Dragon to Mars

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China Working on Reusable Launch Vehicles & Spacecraft

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shenzhou1

Shenzhou capsule

Spurred on by developments in the United States, China says it is working on reusable human spacecraft and launch vehicles.

China is studying how to retrieve and reuse manned spacecraft in its future missions, the chief engineer of the nation’s manned space program said on Sunday.

“It’s our next goal to reuse manned spacecraft. We want to make our space exploration cost-effective,” Zhou Jianping said, as China marks Space Day, newly designated by the government to commemorate China’s first satellite launch on April 24, 1970….

Chinese’s official Xinhau news agency also reported that engineers are working on reusable launch vehicles.

Chinese experts have already built a prototype model to test theories on the reusable rocket booster’s landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” supposedly attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

“The experiment has laid solid foundation for the realization of reusable rockets in the country,” the source said.

Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua Thursday in a separate interview that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of SpaceX.

“There is of course more than one way to do this … I believe we could see some serious results during the 13th Five-Year Plan period,” he said, referring to the five years between 2016 and 2020.

Welcome to Shelbyville: Ex-Im Bank Hobbled as Nomination Remains Bottled Up

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Sen. Richard Shelby

Sen. Richard Shelby

The Export Import Bank remains hobbled as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) refuses to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of J. Mark McWatters nomination to fill an open seat on the bank’s board.

Until the position is filled, the bank cannot provide financing for U.S. export deals worth more than $10 million. This has left Boeing, SpaceX, satellite manufacturers and other companies that have used the bank in the lurch.

The bank’s authorization lapsed last summer, causing it to temporarily shut down. Congress reauthorized it late last year, but McWatter’s nomination has remained in limbo since the president made it in January.

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Profile of NASA Launch Vehicle Deputy Manager Dayna Ise

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Dayna Ise (Credit: NASA)

Dayna Ise (Credit: NASA)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — American-built rockets will soon once again launch astronauts from American soil, and Dayna Ise, an engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is excited to be part of the program making this possible.

Ise, deputy manager of the Launch Vehicle Office in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said working at the dawn of a new generation of human spaceflight brings intensity in a number of areas.

“Of all the projects I have been part of with NASA in my 15 years, this is easily the work I am most proud of,” said Ise, who started her career working on space shuttle main engines. “I joined the team early on, almost five years ago, and it’s been fun to see it grow. It’s exciting to be part of program that will launch astronauts to the space station from American soil and allow NASA more resources for exploration deeper into our solar system.”

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Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 First Stage On Way Back to Pad

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Video Caption: Visiting KSC and the first stage from CRS-8 was on the road back to Pad 39 for a test fire, the are planning to reuse it if it looks good.

Profile of NASA Launch Vehicle Chief Engineer Dan Dorney

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Dan Dorney (Credit: NASA)

Dan Dorney (Credit: NASA)

By Bill Hubscher,
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA’s Dan Dorney has never been afraid to think big.

As a 7-year-old boy growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1969, Dorney watched the Apollo 11 moon landing from his living room and decided he needed to build his own rocket. He sent a letter to NASA asking how to do that. Much to his parents’ surprise, he got a response – NASA sent him plans to build a simple model rocket. Which he immediately rejected.

“I wanted the real wiring schematics and engine plans,” Dorney says. “I wanted to build my own life-size rocket to go to the moon. I was ready to be an aerospace engineer.”

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Giant Pile of Dirt Marks SpaceX’s Texas Launch Site

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Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor's Office)

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Steve Clark of The Brownsville Herald reports that SpaceX’s biggest challenge at its future launch site in Texas is stabilizing the soil.

The purpose is to raise and stabilize the area before actual construction of the launch pad and associated buildings begins. The technical term is “soil surcharging.”

When the final load is delivered, 310,000 cubic yards of soil will have been brought in, enough to cover a football field 13 stories high, according to the Hawthorne, California-based aerospace company.

Launch pads require very stable soil, since rockets are very heavy and hangar foundations must not crack. Surcharging is a much more cost-effective solution than, say, driving steel beams or pouring 200-foot concrete pillars, though it does take longer.

Once the mountain of dirt is in place it will be graded, then allowed to settle for a period time. After that, it’s expected actual construction of the launch pad will move quickly, according to the company. Until then, a steady parade of dump trucks rumbles to and from the site as the artificial plateau grows taller.

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk had hoped to launch the first Falcon 9 from the site near the Mexican border in 2016. That date has now slipped to 2018.

SpaceX Threatens Roscosmos, Russian Dominance in Launch Market

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

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

The Moscow Times looks at how SpaceX and changes in U.S. policy are threatening Roscosmos and Russia’s 40 percent share of the global launch market.

SpaceX hopes to begin reusing its rockets 10 to 20 times, and Musk has on various occasions claimed that reusability can reduce costs for launching things into space by a factor of 100.
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Commercial Crew Moves Forward Toward Flight Tests

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

Five years in, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is at the doorstep of launch for a new generation of spacecraft and launch vehicles that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, enhance microgravity research and open the windows to the dawn of a new era in human space transportation.

Returning the capability to launch astronauts from American soil brings tremendous satisfaction for the team working toward it.

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Even Deeper Staff Cuts Ahead for ULA

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ULA_logoUnited Launch Alliance (ULA) will cut up to 875 jobs through 2017 in order to compete with SpaceX.

CEO Tory Bruno on Wednesday said Centennial-based ULA plans to reduce its workforce by another 400 to 500 people next year.

“We have this year’s 375,” Bruno said. “There will be another one at the end of next year that’s a bit larger but along the same order of magnitude. And then we’re done.”

The reductions in 2017 will be spread across all five of ULA’s sites, he said. Those are in Colorado, California, Texas, Alabama and Washington, D.C.

ULA currently employs 3,400 people, with about 1,500 in Colorado.

 

Research Arrives at ISS Aboard Dragon

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casis_new_logoKENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL., April 11, 2016 (CASIS PR) – Payloads onboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning. Many of the investigations transported by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule are payloads sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is tasked with managing and promoting research onboard the ISS National Lab, and all manifested payloads must contain the potential for Earth benefits.

Below provides a summary of the major ISS National Laboratory-sponsored payloads delivered, which represent a variety of scientific disciplines:

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Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 First Stage Landing on Drone Ship

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