SpaceX Ruled Roost in 2017, Boosting U.S. to No. 1 in Global Launches

Falcon 9 carries the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.

The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.

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Defense Measure Calls for Arlington Memorial to Apollo 1 Crew

Astronauts, from the left, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 34 during training for Apollo 1 in January 1967. (Credits: NASA)

The National Defense Authorization Act passed by both houses of Congress calls for the construction of a memorial marker to the crew of Apollo 1 at Arlington National Cemetery. The measure awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

The United States Army will lead the effort to create the memorial in consultation with NASA, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery.

Astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed when a flash fire swept through their Apollo 1 command module during a practice countdown on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts had been scheduled to fly the first manned test of the spacecraft in Earth orbit the following month.

Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts who became the second American in space aboard Liberty Bell 7 and commanded Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that two-person spacecraft. White became the first American to walk in space during the Gemini 4 mission. Chaffee was scheduled to make his first spaceflight aboard Apollo 1.

The fire resulted in major overhaul of the troubled Apollo command module. The first manned flight of the Apollo program did not occur until October 1968, more than 20 months after the fire.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Helping to Keep Alaska Aerospace in Business

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Army soldiers of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted a successful missile defense test on July 30 using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. (Credit: MDA)

The nuclear missile threat posed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has proven to be a lifeline to the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and its little used Kodiak launch facilities.

Twice during the past month, the U.S. Army launched Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptors from the The Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak. The tests were done under an $80.4 million contract with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

The contract helped revive the struggling agency, which suffered serious damage to its launch facilities in 2014 after a U.S. Army rocket exploded shortly after takeoff. The state-run corporation is eyeing the booming small-satellite market.

One commercial contract that is signed and scheduled for December is with a new space company that cannot now be identified, Campbell said.

Vector Space Systems, an Arizona-based company formerly known as Garvey Spacecraft, has also signed with Alaska Aerospace for test flights of its new Nanosat Launch Vehicle, the Vector-R, in 2018.

A contract that still in negotiation for launches planned in 2018 and 2019, is with Rocket Lab USA, a California-based company that has been in the space business for several years.

Rocket Lab now wants to use Kodiak for launches of its new “Electron” rocket, Campbell said.

Another company in discussions for launches in 2019 is Zero Point Frontiers, based in Alabama, for its 55-foot Xbow Launch Vehicle that will launch small satellites to orbit.

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TUI Lands $1.25M in Army & NASA Funding to Develop Smallsat Communications System

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoBothell,Wa. (TUI PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has secured three new contracts with a total value of over $1.25M to develop a robust suite of radio and antenna solutions to enable enable small, affordable satellites to provide high-bandwidth data services.

The US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) has awarded TUI a contract to develop SWIFT® transceivers operating at K and Ka-Band frequencies. SMDC has also selected TUI for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to integrate its SWIFT radios with a gimbaled antenna to provide a full steered, multi-frequency, high-bandwidth communications solution for satellites.

Additionally, NASA’s SBIR Program has selected TUI to develop software interfaces for its SWIFT radios to facilitate integration of the radio with electrically-steered arrays (ESAs) and other high-performance antenna solutions.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne to Develop Environmentally Friendly Propellants

aerojet_rocketdyne
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 24, 2015 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, was awarded a contract to research and develop environmentally sustainable monopropellants and gas generators for rocket and missile propulsion and Divert Attitude Control Systems. The company is working with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center; the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base; and the U.S. Army Medical Command to develop a new family of high-performing liquid propellants. The effort is funded through the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, an office of the Department of Defense.

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Investigators Find Cause of Rocket Failure at Kodiak

alaska_aerospace_corpArmy investigators have found the cause of a rocket failure last August that destroyed an experimental hypersonic test vehicle and caused significant damage to Alaska’s Kodiak Launch Complex.

“A review of prior launches has found this to be a one-of-a-kind incident that was unexpected,” spokesman John Cummings wrote in response to questions about what went wrong. He said “details of the investigation and findings are not releasable to the public,” though he declined to say why the report is being withheld and whether anyone was found to be at fault for the failure of the protective cover.

“The launch vehicle flight was terminated near the launch pad shortly after liftoff. The correct flight safety protocol and procedures were followed by all mission personnel. Before this launch configuration was used again, corrective action would have to be identified and implemented,” he said.

“The thermal protective cover is designed to regulate motor temperature prior to launch and remains in place until liftoff. Details of the failure review board findings are not releasable to the public,” he said.

The state estimated damages to the complex at $26 million to $29 million. State officials said they expect most of the cost to be covered by insurance.

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Tethers Unlimited Awarded U.S. Army SBIR Phase II CubeSat Contract

Tethers Unlimited’s SWIFT TacSATCOM radio system enables tiny CubeSats to communicate directly with standard handheld UHF radios used by soldiers in the field (Credit: TUI)
Tethers Unlimited’s SWIFT TacSATCOM radio system enables tiny CubeSats to communicate directly with standard handheld UHF radios used by soldiers in the field (Credit: TUI)

BOTHELL, WA, 7 November 2013 (TUI PR) – The Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) has awarded Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to complete development of a communications system that will enable CubeSats to communicate directly with handheld radios used by Army troops.

TUI’s  “SWIFT TacSATCOM” system combines a frequency agile software defined radio with novel deployable antennas to enable these tiny, low power, low cost spacecraft to support soldiers in the field by providing real time access to mission critical data and communications.

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Andrews Space Snags Contract for U.S. Army Imaging Nanosat

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Seattle, WA, 31 January 2013 (Andrews Space PR) —
Andrews Space (Andrews) announced today that they have been funded by the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command to design and deliver a Kestrel Eye Block 2 Earth imaging spacecraft as part of the Army’s Kestrel Eye program.

Under the current effort, known as Kestrel Eye Block 2, Andrews will develop, build and deliver an Earth imaging nanosatellite.  The spacecraft embodies a paradigm shift to lower-cost, higher persistence overhead reconnaissance capabilities. While not meant to replace traditional imaging assets, Kestrel Eye Block 2 seeks to augment the current approach to remote sensing by demonstrating the application of low-cost, commercial technologies to enable a new tier of reconnaissance capability.

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America’s Rocket Renaissance

rutan_talkBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

During recent public talks, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan has bemoaned the lack of recent rocket development in the United States. After the initial burst of creativity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, decades went by with very few new rockets being developed. He has also pointed to Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo, SpaceX’s Dragon and Stratolaunch Systems air-launch project (which he worked on for 20 years) as the only serious developments in the field at present.

My first thought was: Burt’s wrong. There’s a lot more going on than just that. Including developments just down the flight line in Mojave that he somehow fails to mention. And my second thought was: well, just how wrong is Burt, exactly?

A lot, it turns out.

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U.S. Army, NASA Working on Low-Cost Nanosat Launcher

The U.S. Army’s SWORDS rocket. (Credit: U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army is leading an effort to develop a dedicated launcher that would be capable of launching nano-satellites into precise orbits from almost any location at an ultra-low cost.

The program is called SWORDS, which stands for Soldier-Warfighter Operationally Responsive Deployer for Space. And NASA is a partner in the program, which expects to see an orbital test flight take place in the summer of 2013.

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