NASA Selects Advanced Manufacturing Projects for SBIR Contracts

NASA has selected four advanced manufacturing projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program.

Ultratech Machinery, Made in Space, Supercool Metals and Intelligent Optical Systems were selected for two-year contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece. Each company received funding for its project under the first phase of the SBIR program.

Ultratech Machinery is being funded to develop a multi-material, ultrasonic additive manufacturing (3D printing) laboratory for use aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

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Made in Space Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Made in Space focused on producing advanced crystals and high-strength components for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Each two-year Phase II is worth up to $750,000.

The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) would produce “nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber,” according to the proposal.

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ULA Selects L3 Technologies for Vulcan Centaur Avionics

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

Centennial, Colo., Dec. 4, 2017 (ULA PR)– L3 Technologies announced today that it has entered into an agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to become the exclusive provider of avionics and related services for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket system, delivering an estimated $1 billion-plus in mission-critical systems and services, over a 10-year period.

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Bigelow, ULA Announce Plans for Lunar Depot

Bigelow B330 lunar depot with ULA ACES space tug. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

Las Vegas, NV and Centennial, Colo., Oct. 17, 2017 (ULA/Bigelow Aerospace PR) – Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are working together to launch a B330 expandable module on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle.  The launch would place a B330 outfitted module in Low Lunar Orbit by the end of 2022 to serve as a lunar depot.

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USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
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ULA, Dynetics Plan Investments in Decatur

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

ULA and Dynetics are planning investments in Decatur, Ala. to gear up for production of the new Vulcan launch vehicle.

ULA’s proposed project requires capital investment for new technology and infrastructure for the production of the new Vulcan thrust structure assembly, which is ULA’s next generation launch system. Beginning in August 2017, the project’s total capital investment is approximately $115.6 million. ULA’s project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2020 and will help secure the employment of approximately 620 existing employees with an estimated annual payroll of around $43 million before benefits.

Dynetics presented their plans to construct the second building of an aerospace structures complex adjacent to ULA, to support development and structural testing of launch vehicles and large aerospace structures. The capital investment for the project is estimated to be $7,4. Million and is expected to create 15 new jobs within one year with an estimated annual payroll of $1 million before benefits.

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Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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XCOR Lost ULA Engine Contract

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Despite laying off its 21 remaining employees, XCOR Aerospace isn’t dead yet. But, it’s not in real good shape, either.

It turns out that a major blow to the company was the loss of a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop an upper stage for the Vulcan booster.

The primary impetus for the layoffs, Acting CEO and XCOR Board member Michael Blum told me, is the loss of a contract for engine development that the company had with United Launch Alliance. “The proceeds should have been enough to fund the prototype of Lynx [the company’s planned spacecraft], but ULA decided they’re not going to continue funding the contract. So we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation where we need to raise money or find joint developments to continue.” ULA declined to comment.
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XCOR Lays off Remaining Employees

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Struggling XCOR Aerospace has laid off its remaining employees in Mojave, Calif. and Midland, Texas.

“Due to adverse financial conditions XCOR had to terminate all employees as of 30 June 2017,” the company said in a statement. “XCOR management will retain critical employees on a contract basis to maintain the company’s intellectual property and is actively seeking other options that would allow it to resume full employment and activity.”

The move follows the news last month that CEO Jay Gibson was leaving the company after President Donald Trump nominated him for a high-level position at the Department of Defense. Gibson left the company at the end of June.

XCOR hired Gibson in March 2015 to replace founder Jeff Greason. The objective was for Gibson to focus on the business side while Greason focused on completing construction on the two-seat Lynx suborbital space plane.

That arrangement did not work out. By November, Greason and two other founders, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson, had left the company to found Agile Aerospace.

Greason, DeLong, Jackson and Doug Jones founded the company in 1999 after being laid off from Rotary Rocket.

In May 2016, XCOR laid off about 25 employees — roughly half of its workforce — and suspended work on the Lynx. The company has since refocused its energies on its rocket engine work.

XCOR had been working on an upper stage for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

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Blue Origin to Manufacture BE-4 Engines in Huntsville

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes CDR on AR1 Engine

AR-1 engine (Credit: Aerojet Rockettdyne)

LOS ANGELES, May 08, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), successfully completed its Critical Design Review (CDR) for AR1, a 500,000 lbf thrust-class, liquid-fueled rocket engine.

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ULA Leaning Toward BE-4 Engine for Vulcan as Crucial Engine Tests Loom

BE-4 staged combustion testing (Credit: Blue Origin)

In what is likely a surprise to no one, United Launch Alliance’s CEO said this week the company is leaning toward selecting Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine in the first stage of its new Vulcan rocket — providing upcoming engine tests go well.

That would leave rival Aerojet Rocketdyne and its AR1 engine without a booster to fly on.

In an interview during the 33rd Space Symposium here, Tory Bruno said that tests of the BE-4 engine, scheduled to begin “very soon” at Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas, are the last major hurdle the engine must clear before ULA decides to use it on Vulcan.
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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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Trump, Musk, Bezos, Bruno & the Future of America’s Space Program

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

There’s been a lot of speculation since the election on  what president-elect Donald Trump will do with the nation’s civilian and military space programs.

Two Trump advisors laid out some goals before the election: more commercial partnerships, boosting defense spending, increasing hypersonics and slashing NASA Earth science. However, most details remain unclear.

A key question is whether Trump really cares about space all that much. That’s a little hard to discern given his comments during  the campaign.

When first questioned on the subject, he expressed a preference for fixing potholes in America’s crumbling streets over sending people to Mars. Trump has promised a large infrastructure repair program.

During a visit to Florida, he attacked the Obama Administration for allegedly wrecking NASA and the space program. During another appearance in the Sunshine State about a week later, Trump praised the space agency for how well it was performing.

So, NASA is either doing great, a disaster that needs to be made great again, or an obstacle to pothole repair. Assuming Trump actually cares, and he’s willing to spend some money on making NASA great again, what might he do? What major decisions does he face?
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