NASA Space Act Agreements with Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Stratolaunch

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Stratolaunch Systems.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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World’s Largest Airplane to Launch Pegasus XL Boosters

Conceptual rendering of the Stratolaunch Aircraft and the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL air-launch vehicles (Credit: Vulcan Aerospace)
Conceptual rendering of the Stratolaunch Aircraft and the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL air-launch vehicles (Credit: Vulcan Aerospace)

DULLES, Va., 6 October, 2016 (Orbital ATK/Vulcan Aerospace PR) – Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, and Stratolaunch Systems today announced a multi-year production-based partnership that will offer significant cost advantages to air-launch customers. Stratolaunch Systems, in cooperation with Vulcan Aerospace, is responsible for realizing Paul G. Allen’s vision for space.

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Firefly Planned to Air Launch Small Satellite Booster

firefly_space_systems_logoAn alert reader who goes by the pseudonym “redyns” has pointed out something very interesting about Firefly Space Systems, the company that on Thursday is reported to have laid off its entire staff due to financial difficulties.

In April, Firefly and NASA modified a contract under the Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program from land launch to air launch, according to the USASpending.gov website. The company’s Firefly α small satellite booster was originally designed to launch vertically from the ground.

The website shows that Firefly was awarded a VCLS contract worth $4.4 million on Sept. 30, 2015. A second contract modification has been made to “deobligate” $2.5 million in funding from the contract. That modification was made on Sept. 27, two days before the layoffs.

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Beames Leaves Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

Chuck Beames is out as president of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace and executive director of Stratolaunch Systems.

Alan Boyle reports that Beames is being replaced by Jean Floyd, who is CEO of Stratolaunch Systems. Floyd will serve as interim executive director of Vulcan Aerospace. Beames has left the company.

“Now that we’re closer to realizing our vision for convenient and affordable access to low Earth orbit (LEO) and moving into a more operational phase of our program, we are making some changes to our leadership,” Allen wrote in an email to employees.

Floyd joined Stratolaunch in 2015 after spending 25 years at Orbital ATK, where he led “air-launched space vehicle development, launch operations, and spacecraft programs,:” Allen said in his email.

Interestingly, Allen called Orbital ATK “a valued partner of Vulcan Aerospace.” This could be a clue to a mystery that has engulfed Stratolaunch Systems over the past several years: what rocket will be air launched from the company’s massive carrier aircraft.

The company earlier had agreements with SpaceX and later Orbital Sciences Corporation before it merged with ATK. Both agreements were terminated. It’s possible there is a new agreement with Orbital ATK to produce a booster.

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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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Will Stratolaunch Have its Wings Clipped?

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

During the New Space Conference in July, I asked Vulcan Aerospace President Chuck Beames whether the company had made a fundamental mistake with Stratolaunch Systems. Shouldn’t it have figured out what sort of air-launch rocket it was going to use first before building the world’s largest aircraft to launch it from?

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Paul Allen’s Vision for What’s Next in Space

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

by Chuck Beames
President, Vulcan Aerospace

“What’s next?”

Paul Allen asks me this question frequently, pushing me – and the entire Vulcan Inc. team – to think creatively and push the boundaries of possibility. Not just to improve what exists, but to think about what should exist. Today, we’re announcing an innovative new approach to the commercial space industry—Vulcan Aerospace.

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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.

FORBES RANKNAMEAGE
2015 NET WORTH (BILLIONS)
SOURCE(S) OF WEALTH
SPACE INVESTMENT(S)
 15Jeff Bezos51 $34.8Amazon.comBlue Origin
16Mark Zuckerberg30
 $33.4FacebookGlobal satellite network
19Larry Page41$29.7 GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Resources, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
20Sergey Brin 41 $29.2GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
43Charles Ergen62$19.8DISH NetworkDISH Network
51Paul Allen62 $17.5 Microsoft, investmentsStratolaunch Systems, SETI, Mojave Aerospace Ventures (SpaceShipOne)
100Elon Musk43$12PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCitySpaceX
137Eric Schmidt59$9.1GoogleSpaceX, Google Lunar X Prize, Planetary Ventures, Skybox
330Richard Branson
64$4.8Virgin GroupVirgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, OneWeb
1006Kavitark Ram Shriram58$1.9Google, venture capitalPlanetary Resources
1105H. Ross Perot, Jr.56$1.8 Computer services, real estatePlanetary Resources
1324Charles Simonyi 67$1.4MicrosoftPlanetary Resources
1415Peter Sperling55$1.3University of PhoenixEcliptic 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.

Stratolaunch is 40 Percent Complete

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

The Seattle Seahawks may have lost the Super Bowl because of an idiotic call on the goal line in the waning seconds, but billionaire owner Paul Allen can take comfort in two things:

He still has billions of dollars. And Birdzilla.

Speaking of which, Stratolaunch System’s giant carrier aircraft is 40 percent complete:

Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey confirmed the progress in an email Tuesday from that company’s headquarters in Mojave, Calif., where the aircraft is being built….

The wings and fuselage of the 1.3 million-pound Stratolaunch will be new, and about 80 percent of the assemblies are complete, Mickey said….

Progress on the aircraft seems so far to be steady. The first flight is still scheduled for 2016, the same date the company earlier indicated.

If that remains the case, the aircraft is supposed to finish certification flights and launch its first space craft by 2018.

Read the full story.

More Details on Dream Chaser – Stratolaunch Launch Concept

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Mark Sirangelo Craig Gravelle joined Chuck Beames of Vulcan Aerospace this morning at the International Aeronautical Conference in Toronto to discuss a plan to launch s downsized Dream Chaser via Stratolaunch Systems. (Vulcan Aerospace is owned by Paul Allen, who is financing Stratolaunch).

Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust) and Stephen Clark (@StephenClark1) attended the talk. Here is a summary of their Tweets.

  • Dream Chaser variant is about the size of the Apollo spacecraft
  • Vehicle could carry 2-3 astronauts into LEO for visits to the International Space Station and other missions
  • Dream Chaser can be automated to carry cargo
  • No decision has been made to proceed with the plan, still weighing how to move forward
  • SNC not prepared to discuss propulsion systems for Dream Chaser
  • Considered using Stratolaunch to send Drream Chaser on suborbital flights, including point-to-point missions
  • Stratolaunch carrier aircraft now half built at Mojave Air and Spaceport
  • Targeting 2018 for first launch of basic Stratolaunch aircraft and launch vehicle.

Operation Thunderbolt: Aerojet Rockedyne to Supply Stratolaunch Upper Stage

stratolaunch_booster
SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 19, 2014 (Aerojet Rocketdyne) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (NYSE:GY) company, has received a contract from Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC) to provide six RL10C-1 production engines, with an option to provide an additional six RL10C-1 production engines at a later date, for the third stage of a revolutionary commercial air-launch system. The inaugural launch of Thunderbolt, the air-launch vehicle designed and developed for SSC, is scheduled for 2018.

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Officials Move Forward With Shuttle Landing Facility Conversion

The Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. (Credit: NASA)
The Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. (Credit: NASA)

Florida Today reports that officials are moving forward with the conversion of the Shuttle Landing Facility for commercial use:

NASA has applied for a federal permit to dredge and fill 40 acres of wetlands that link to the Indian River Lagoon to pave the way for commercial spacecraft that could launch and land where the space shuttle once touched down.

The application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is an early step toward readying the old shuttle strip for commercial launches, as NASA enters negotiations to have Space Florida take over the shuttle runway.

Space Florida — the agency responsible for promoting aerospace in the Sunshine State — wants to build new infrastructure at the former shuttle landing strip to support future commercial spaceflight endeavors such as XCOR Aerospace and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s planned Stratolaunch Systems. Those efforts deliver suborbital rockets by taking off and landing like planes, rather than via vertical launch pads.

“Space Florida can help finance the infrastructure to run power and utilities and stormwater a long distance out there to accommodate future growth,” said Dale Ketcham, director of strategic alliances for Space Florida.

Read the full story.

Executive Director Appointed for Stratolaunch

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

SEATTLE, Feb. 26, 2014 (Vulcan PR) — Vulcan Inc., the investment and project management company founded by Paul G. Allen, today announced that Charles Beames has joined Vulcan as the Executive Director, Stratolaunch.

Beames brings a unique combination of leadership and expertise in space and military systems, engineering, legislative affairs and business. Beames’ 30-year legacy in the Department of Defense includes the development and deployment of transformational airborne, ground- and space-based systems.

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