Officials Give Widely Varying Estimates on Cost of Space Force

Defense One reports that senior Pentagon officials remain widely apart on what the Space Force will cost to set up.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday told reporters at the Pentagon that it would cost “single digit, not a double-digit” billions of dollars. “It might be lower than $5” billion, he said.

About two hours later, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson defended her service’s far higher estimate. In September, she estimated that standing up a Space Force and a new combatant command for space warfare would cost about $13 billion over five years. (Shanahan did not specify the timeframe for his $5 billion estimate on Thursday.)

“Our cost estimate that we gave to a lot of people in the Pentagon in September was the cost of a fully-fledged, stand-alone department and also a unified combatant command,” she said at the Defense One Summit. “Whatever is put forward needs to implement the president’s proposal,” she said.

Building in Space: Government and Industry Meet to Discuss In-Space Assembly

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Orbiting 250 miles above Earth’s surface is a large example of in-space assembly: the International Space Station. Modules, trusses, solar arrays and instruments were flown to space and assembled by astronauts during spacewalks and using space-controlled robotics.

On Nov. 6, NASA, along with the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office — its principal partners in the Science & Technology Partnership Forum — hosted more than 50 industry members at NASA Headquarters in Washington for an open discussion on in-space assembly technology and projects. Representatives from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory involved in in-space assembly projects also attended.

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Richard Branson Pops into Mojave to Check on Progress of Spaceflight Quest

Mojave Air and Space Port on a rare cloudy day. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some day, Richard Branson might fly to space, gaze out the window, and see stars with his naked eyes, unencumbered by the Earth’s atmosphere or the optics of a telescope.

For the moment, he has to settle for his own fame and a star encased in concrete along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The British billionaire was in Los Angeles last month for the unveiling of his star on that famous boulevard. While he was in the neighborhood, he popped up to the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company are working to make his dream of spaceflight a reality.

Given his early October prediction that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity would fly to space in “weeks, not months,” one might have expected him to be here to view a spaceflight he has been promising for the past 14 years.

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Musk: Still Looking to Launch BFR to Mars in 2024

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.

Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —

Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….

Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?

We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something.
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Air Force Seeks Top Space Awareness Innovators with ‘VQ-Prize’ Competition

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Air Force and the Wright Brothers Institute are offering cash prizes for the creation of visualization tools, including Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality solutions, that will enhance DOD space operator understanding and awareness of satellites and other objects in Earth orbit in a competition that is set to run from October 29 through January 15, 2019.

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First Vulcan Launch Slips to 2021

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

SpaceNews reports the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan booster will slip from 2020 to spring 2021.

During a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Symposium here Oct. 24, John Elbon, chief operating officer of ULA, said the company was making “good progress” on the vehicle, an effort aided by winning one of three Launch Service Agreement (LSA) awards from the U.S. Air Force Oct. 10.

“We’re making good progress on the development” of Vulcan, he said. “Our first certification flight is targeted for April of ’21. We were really excited about the results of the Air Force’s LSA procurement. We’re off and marching.”

As recently as last month, though, ULA said the first Vulcan launch was scheduled for 2020, a date the company had bene holding for some time. In a Sept. 27 release about its selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan’s first stage, the company said the vehicle “is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020.”

Vector Signs Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with U.S. Air Force

TUCSON, Ariz. (Vector PR)  – Vector today announced it has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States Air Force Space Command and Missile Systems Center’s Space Superiority Directorate. In addition to its nearly three-year partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the CRADA with the Air Force highlights Vector’s continued efforts to develop critical technologies with the U.S Department of Defense.

Located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo Calif., the Space Missile Systems Center will engage in collaborative research and development activities relating to Vector’s launch services and the Air Force’s technology and mission needs. The CRADA is effective for one year and includes provisions for protecting information by both the Air Force and Vector.

Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), a subordinate unit of Air Force Space Command, is the center of technical excellence for developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining military space systems. SMC’s mission is to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities. The center is responsible for on-orbit check-out, testing, sustainment and maintenance of military satellite constellations and other Department of Defense space systems.

About Vector:

Created by the original founding team of SpaceX, Vector connects space startups and innovators with dedicated launch services and enabling platforms to access space more efficiently than ever before. Vector is proud to design, build and launch its vehicles and enabling platforms in the United States of America. For more information, please visit http://www.vector-launch.com

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches AEHF-4 Mission

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Oct. 17, 2018 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) mission for the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 17 at 12:15 a.m. EDT. The launch of AEHF-4 marks ULA’s 50th launch for the U.S. Air Force; ULA’s first Air Force mission was Space Test Program-1 (STP-1), launched March 8, 2007.

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Former NASA Astronaut & Armstrong Research Pilot Rick Searfoss Passes Away

Rick Searfoss

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Former NASA research pilot and astronaut Richard “Rick” Searfoss died Sept. 29 at his home in Bear Valley Springs, California. He was 62.

Searfoss, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, served as a research pilot in the flight crew branch at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in California from July 2001 to February 2003, having brought with him over 5,000 hours of military flying and 939 hours in space.

He flew on three space flights, onboard space shuttles Columbia and Atlantis, logging 39 days in space. Searfoss was the pilot for his first two space missions, STS-58 and STS-76, landing both times at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Once at Dryden, medical staff was standing by for the astronauts as well as personnel who supported the NASA convoy team in preparing the shuttle for its return ferry flight to Florida.

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Blue Origin Awarded $500 Million Air Force Contract

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin is honored to enter into a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) partnership with the Air Force to leverage our commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space (NSS) missions. New Glenn is a single-configuration, operationally reusable launch vehicle powered by seven BE-4 liquefied natural gas rocket engines and offers significant performance margin for all NSS missions.

The LSA partnership enables rapid buildout of NSS-unique New Glenn infrastructure such as vertical payload integration capability and a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base as well as completion of NSS certification activities.

Blue Origin is proud to serve the NSS community and is committed to providing safe, reliable access to space for the nation.

For more information on this announcement, check out the Air Force’s press releaseBlue’s tweet and Jeff’s tweet.

Gradatim Ferociter!

418th FLTS Completes 10-year Support of NASA Orion Parachute Tests

An Orion test capsule with its three main parachutes touches down in the Arizona desert Sept. 12. (Credit: NASA)

By Kenji Thuloweit,
412th Test Wing Public Affairs

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — For a decade the 418th Flight Test Squadron has supported NASA by supplying C-17 Globemaster IIIs and personnel to assist with the testing and qualifying of the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system. That support ended Sept. 12 with the success of the final parachute system test over the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

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Northrop Grumman Awarded $792 Million Launch Services Agreement by U.S. Air Force

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

OmegA rocket on schedule to provide first launch in 2021

DULLES, Va. – Oct 10, 2018 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) received a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) worth approximately $792 million of government investment from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to continue development of its OmegATM rocket for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The agreement runs through 2024 and includes certification flights of OmegA’s intermediate variant in 2021 and its heavy variant in 2024.

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U.S. Air Force Awards Launcher Development Contracts to ULA, Blue Origin & Northrop Grumman

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

Wilson, Griffin at Odds Over How to Create Military Space Development Agency

Mike Griffin

Space News reports that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and former NASA administrator Mike Griffin, who serves as undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, are at odds over how to create a new space development agency designed to transform how the military creates advanced space technologies.

In her memo, Wilson suggests the Space Development Agency should be organized under the existing Space Rapid Capabilities Office and that it should be geographically and organizationally connected to U.S. Space Command. She recommends using “existing structures designed and chartered to acquire capabilities rapidly, rather than establishing new structures.”

Griffin is proposing a new D.C.-based agency with a staff of 112 government personnel that would report to him initially, but eventually would shift to the control of a new assistant secretary of defense for space, an office that would first have to be approved by Congress.

In Wilson’s plan, the Space Development Agency and other acquisition organizations would transition to the new Department of the Space Force. She pointedly pushes back on the idea of having an assistant secretary of defense for space or a Space Development Agency that reports to that office. She argues that such a setup would create additional bureaucracy that would be removed from the operators who use and maintain the equipment.

The space development agency is part of an effort by the Trump Administration to establish an independent space force within the Department of Defense.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Wilson Could Be Fired

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson

Foreign Policy reports that U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson might be on the way out because President Donald Trump is angry over slow progress on setting up an independent space force.

Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico, recently angered Trump as well as Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Defense Secretary James Mattis’s second in command, with what is seen as a campaign to undermine the Space Force effort, the sources said.

The news comes just weeks after an explosive new book by journalist Bob Woodward alleged that members of Trump’s Cabinet, including Mattis himself, are quietly trying to undercut or slow roll the president’s orders. An anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times last month described similar resistance within the administration.

In the current case, the administration believes Wilson also “is trying to undermine this part of the president’s agenda from within,” said one source with knowledge of the internal debate.

“Some senior officials know how to disagree with [the president] without being disagreeable to him. Heather Wilson hasn’t managed to do that. Her opposition to the Space Force has grated on him and I think he permanently sees her as troublesome and ineffective now,” an administration official told FP.