Tag Archives: capitalism

Private Japanese company to test fly again by December

Capitalism in space: Interstellar Technologies, the private Japanese rocket company attempting to enter the launch market with a low cost suborbital rocket, will attempt a second test flight before the end of the year.

Their first test flight failed to reach space when they had a communications problem and had to terminate the mission early.


SpaceX’s flight suit for manned trips to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this week unveiled the flight suit that passengers will wear during their Dragon flights to and from ISS.

This is not strictly a spacesuit. It has limited capabilities, and can essentially only be used during the ferry flights. Nonetheless, I guarantee it as well as Boeing’s were developed for far less and much quicker than anything NASA could have come up with.


SpaceX launches commercial satellite, lands 1st stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched Taiwan’s first homemade commercial satellite.

They also landed the first stage successfully on their barge.d

After a short hike this morning Diane and I decided to relax the rest of the day. Time to catch up on other stuff.


ULA’s Atlas 5 successfully launches NASA communications satellite

Capitalism in space: ULA this morning successfully launched NASA TDRS-M communications satellite, following a several week delay caused by an accident during satellite preparation that forced the replacement of the satellite’s antenna.

This was ULA’s fifth launch for 2017, which is behind the once-a-month pace they have maintained for the previous five years.


Japan’s beginning shift to commercial space

Link here. The article provides a good sense of the state of Japan’s private space industry, which at this moment is generally restricted one company, Interstellar Technologies, and its as yet unsuccessful effort to launch a suborbital rocket. The following quote however helps explain why Japan has been unable to interest anyone in buying its H-2A rocket for commercial launches.

Launch costs associated with Japan’s main H-2A rocket are about ¥10 billion per launch (about $90 million), so miniature satellites often ride together with bigger satellites. A period of 50 days is required between launches, meaning the number of launches is low in Japan compared to countries including the United States, Europe, Russia, China and India. Large satellites are given priority in the launch schedule, so it is often difficult to choose a launch window for miniature satellites. [emphasis mine]

I think the $90 million price is a significant reduction from what JAXA used to charge. Fifty days to prep for launch however is ungodly slow.


Google Lunar X-Prize extends deadline

Capitalism in space: The Google Lunar X-Prize has announced that it has extended its contest deadline from the end of 2017 to the end of March 2018 for the finalists to complete their lunar rover mission and win the grand prize of $30 million.

They also announced several additional consolation prizes that all of the remaining five contestants can win should they achieve lunar orbit ($1.75 million) or successfully achieve a soft landing ($3 million), even if they are not the first to do it.

At least one team, Moon Express, will be helped enormously by the extra three months. This gives Rocket Lab just a little extra time to test its rocket before launching Moon Express’s rover to the Moon.


S7 announces plans to resume launches on Sea Launch

Capitalism in space: The Russian private airline company S7 announced today that it plans to resume launches of the Ukrainian Zenit rocket on its Sea Launch platform, and will continue those launches through 2023.

The article is somewhat lacking in details, since it does not say when they plan to start launches, or how many launch contracts they have obtained.


3D printing and how it will change what things look like

Link here. The article not only outlines some of the newer developments in 3D printing, it gives a nice look at how that technology is literally going to change what the things it builds look like.

Simple shapes are popular in human designs because they’re easy. Easy to design, especially with CAD, and easy to manufacture in a world where manufacturing means taking a big block or sheet of something, and machining a shape out of it, or pouring metals into a mold.

But manufacturing is starting to undergo a revolutionary change as 3D printing moves toward commercially competitive speeds and costs. And where traditional manufacturing incentivizes the simplest shapes, additive manufacturing is at its fastest and cheapest when you use the least possible material for the job. That’s a really difficult way for a human to design – but fairly easy, as it turns out, for a computer. And super easy for a giant network of computers.

The result: a stronger object, less weight, and less cost.


Rocket Lab looks to second test flight of Electron

Capitalism in space: Having completed its review of its first May test flight of its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab now looks to the second test flight.

The article gives a good overview of the results from the first test flight. It also has this tidbit:

The second of Rocket Lab’s three planned test flights is scheduled later this year. If that launch goes well, the company will likely delete the third demonstration mission, and the first commercial Electron flight could be ready for takeoff by the end of December, Beck said last week.

“We’ve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks’ time,” Beck said. “If it’s a really good clean flight, we’ll probably accelerate into commercial operations.”

If they follow this schedule, then the next flight will be in mid-October, and the Moon Express launch of its lunar rover will occur in mid-December, just in time to win the Google Lunar X-Prize.


SpaceX launch today

SpaceX is scheduled to resume launches at Kennedy, after a month of range upgrades by the Air Force. You can watch it live here, or here.

Launch is presently scheduled for 12:31 Eastern time to send a Dragon capsule to ISS. At the moment all looks good for an on-time launch.

The launch was a complete success, including a picture-perfect first stage landing at Kennedy.


New Japanese private joint venture to enter smallsat rocket industry

Capitalism in space: A Japanese private joint venture has formed with the intent to compete in the new smallsat rocket industry.

The new company is led by President Shinichiro Ota, a former industry ministry bureaucrat and once the head of the Japan Patent Office. NGSRDP will initially be based at Canon Electronics’ headquarters, studying technologies and costs with the hope of starting commercial operations as early as this year.

The joint venture has set a price point of 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) or less per launch — an amount seen as competitive against overseas rivals. At present, plans call for a rocket smaller than the Epsilon rocket currently under development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, but larger than JAXA’s SS-520 minirocket.

The four companies had been discussing formation of a small rocket company for about three years. President Ota has said that the “time is ripe” for the joint venture. IHI Aerospace has played a key role in the development of Epsilon, while Canon Electronics has been involved in the SS-520 project.

I would say that this is a clear sign that the competition in the smallsat rocket industry is definitely heating up.

Note that the name of this new joint venture, New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning (NGSRDP), is quite horrible. I hope they come up with something better soon for marketing purposes.


Virgin Orbit gets another launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket has gained another launch contract, this time from an Italian smallsat company.

Italian small satellite builder Sitael has signed Virgin Orbit to send a technology demonstration satellite into low-Earth orbit next year. Sitael’s µHETsat, a demonstrator for a new electric propulsion system built with the European and Italian space agencies, will fly on LauncherOne “mid-next year,” Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit Chief Executive, told SpaceNews Aug. 11.

Virgin Orbit is preparing to begin commercial services with LauncherOne, its air-launched small satellite orbital vehicle, in 2018. Other customers for the launch system, which can carry 500 kilograms to LEO, include NASA, OneWeb, and Sky and Space Global.

This story further strengthens my prediction that LauncherOne (in development for 5 years) will fly in space long before SpaceShipTwo (in development for 13 years).


Cell towers to the Moon!

Capitalism in space: A startup that intends to land two privately built rovers near the Apollo 17 landing site in 2018 also plans to use basic cell tower technology to relay what the rovers find back to Earth.

Part Time Scientists has a launch contract for late 2018 with Space X as a secondary payload on the Falcon 9 rocket. Becker said the company believes it will be the first private entity to reach the surface of the moon, suggesting that none of the Google Lunar X Prize participants are likely to meet the December 2017 deadline for the competition. (Part Time Scientists itself withdrew from the Google Lunar X Prize earlier this year due to the time constraints of the competition.)

The Falcon 9 will carry the team’s spacecraft, Alina, to the geostationary transfer orbit, a highly elliptical Earth orbit whose highest point is 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). From there, Alina will continue on its own to the moon. “We will soft-land on the moon and disembark our two rovers, the Audi Lunar Quatro rovers, with which we are going to drive up to Apollo 17,” Becker said. “The two rovers are essentially mobile phones that will communicate our video stream to Alina, which serves as an LTE base station, and Alina will communicate the data to us,” he said.

What is most significant about this is that even if no one wins the Google Lunar X-Prize this year, it appears that the contest succeeded nonetheless. At least two if not five different companies appear funded and about to launch private rovers to the Moon. Once they demonstrate this capability, they will certainly be positioned to make money offering it to nations and scientists worldwide. For example, NASA and China both want to place probes in remote places on the Moon, near the poles or on the Moon’s far side. If this mission by Part Time Scientists is a success, they will then be able to offer a cheap method for relaying communications from those locations.


Cubesat builder becomes cubesat operator as well

Capitalism in space: Cubesat builder Clyde Space has commissioned its first satellite communications ground station, with three more planned.

Essentially, the company appears to be moving to fill a need expressed by its satellite customers. After building their satellite for them, their customers still need someone to run it for them, and the satellite maker is ideally positioned to win that role.

This story also illustrates the continuing simplification of the technology of the satellite industry. Ground stations used to be big complicated facilities, requiring big dishes and lots of land. Now they can simply install an antenna on the roof of a building.


Development of argon plasma rocket engine continues

Capitalism in space: The argon-fueled plasma rocket engine being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket Company has advanced its test engine firings from 30 seconds long to five minutes long.

Their $9 million contract with NASA calls for a 100-hour-long engine firing by 2018. At the moment the company says they are on schedule to meet that goal.


SpaceX completes static fire for next launch, advances its Falcon Heavy prep

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its routine dress rehearsal static fire in preparation for a Monday launch of a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Two items of note regarding this launch. First, it will be the last cargo capsule launched by SpaceX that has not been used before. From now on they plan on recycling all cargo ships, and have actually shut down the production line building new cargo capsules. Instead, they want to focus on building new upgraded manned Dragon capsules.

Second, even as this launch goes forward, with the first stage expected to land at Kennedy on their landing pad there, they are building the second landing pad at this same site to accommodate the planned November first launch of Falcon Heavy. For that launch, the two side mounted first stages will return to Kennedy, while the core stage will land on a barge in the ocean.


The fifteen most popular search engines

Link here. Considering the increasingly fascist attitude of Google towards its employees and its users, I thought it worthwhile to provide this list of alternatives. I use Startpage, which isn’t listed because it is actually a slightly different version of Ixquick.

There is no reason to blindly and mindlessly depend on Google. There are many choices out there. Use your freedom and choose. It is our own personal responsibility to do so.


Webb telescope launch might be delayed again

Because of a scheduling conflict with a European mission to Mercury Arianespace might delay its launch of the American James Webb Space Telescope to 2019.

A time-sensitive mission to explore the planet Mercury, already delayed several times, may force the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace to push back the launch of NASA’s multi-billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) into early 2019. The mission, named BepiColombo, is currently scheduled to launch on the same rocket, the Ariane 5, from the same spaceport in French Guiana, during the same timeframe that the JWST is scheduled to launch (October 2018).

A launch delay to BepiColumbo won’t impact the science of the ESA/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission, but it would translate to a longer journey to Mercury. The last launch delay, which pushed it from April 2018 to October 2018, also translated to a year longer voyage to reach Mercury, now expected to arrive in 2025 instead of 2024.

This is a perfect illustration of the difference between governments and private enterprise. Government-owned Arianespace has been flying its Ariane 5 rockets now for almost two decades, but they have not yet learned how to launch two rockets in one month, and don’t appear interested in trying. Meanwhile, private companies like SpaceX and ULA are both working to achieve a normal twice-a-month launch rate, with SpaceX likely to beat that in the next few years.


Ground equipment caused premature end to first Rocket Lab launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s first test flight of its Electron rocket in May was terminated early because of a loss of communications due to an “misconfiguration” of ground telemetry equipment.

The company said the fix for the issue was “simple” and that “corrective procedures” were put into place to prevent it from happening in the future. Rocket Lab said it did not make any major changes to the Electron hardware.

No word on when their second test launch will take place. For their Moon Express customer, the clock is ticking, as that company is a Google Lunar X-prize contestant that needs to launch its lunar rover before the end of this year to have a chance at winning the prize.


SES agrees to a second Falcon 9 launch with used first stage

Capitalism in space: SES has agreed to launch a second commercial satellite using a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage.

The launch of the SES 11 spacecraft, also named EchoStar 105, will be the third time SpaceX has sent a customer’s satellite into orbit with the help of a reused rocket stage. Industry officials said SES, EchoStar and SpaceX agreed in recent weeks to shift the satellite from an all-new rocket to one with a previously-flown first stage. The SES 11/EchoStar 105 satellite will likely ride a Falcon 9 first stage that first flew Feb. 19 with a Dragon supply ship heading for the International Space Station, one source said, but a firm assignment has not been confirmed. That vehicle returned to a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff from a Florida launch pad is scheduled no sooner than around Sept. 27, a couple of days after a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is set to haul a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

The most wonderful aspect of this is how routine it is steadily becoming.


Some Amazon Echo speakers can be hacked to spy on you

Some of Amazon’s Echo speakers, designed to listen and record conversations if so commanded, can be hacked to record everything and transmit those recordings remotely.

First of all, you have to have actual access to the device to mess with its hardware. Then, you have to make sure it’s either a 2015 or 2016 model, as brand new Echo versions can’t be hacked similarly.

But if these conditions are met, then a hacker can quickly take the Echo’s base apart and load on it custom firmware that will instruct it to record everything spoken around it. That data can then be sent out to a remote server. That’s what Barnes did in his security tests. Hacking a home speaker may be the best way to spy on certain targets, even if this implies infiltrating their homes to actually mess with the hardware.

This is why I want nothing to do with smart machines. The dumber the machine, the better. I see no reason for my speakers, my washing machine, my car, or my stove, to be connected the internet. All such capability provides is a way to cause problems.


India to almost double launch rate with new rocket assembly building

Capitalism in space: India’s space agency ISRO is building a second rocket assembly facility at its Sriharikota spaceport so that it can prepare two rockets for launch simultaneously.

“We have not reached the limit of two launchpads. With the new assembly facility, we will be able to assemble more vehicles. Once we are able to assemble more rockets but not able to launch them even by reducing launch timings, then we will start work on the third launchpad. But for that, we first need (government’s) approval. So, we are gradually working to eliminate all bottlenecks to increase the frequency of launches.” With the new facility, Isro can achieve launch 12 rockets in a year from the seven at present.

The Times of India also recognizes the value of this upgrade. To quote the article, “With the increased frequency of foreign satellite launches, ISRO can rake in big moolah.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Vector live streaming test launch

Capialism in space: If you want to watch today’s test launch by Vector, the company is live streaming the event.

As I post, the rocket is vertical in a small clearing surrounded by woods, with a small group of workers at its base.

Update: One minute to launch.

Update: Launch at 9:25 am. The rocket cleared the tower perfectly. We will have to wait for updates from the company to see how things went beyond that.


Lockheed Martin begins construction of new satellite factory

Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin has begun construction of a $350 million satellite factory in Colorado, with expected completion in 2020.

At the moment, Lockheed does not have a competitive rocket. Moreover, its only big space project is Orion, which might never fly more than twice, if that. Thus, this shift to satellites makes some sense, as it will be difficult now for the company to gain market share in the launch and manned spacecraft markets. It is too far behind. However, there is a new industry developing in smallsats, and Lockheed is well positioned to get in at the start.

Update: I do this all the time, but I made a mistake here and assigned the Delta family of rockets to Lockheed Martin. For some reason I make this mistake often, switching Atlas 5 and Delta and Lockheed Martin and Boeing. I apologize for the error.


An explorer’s club for Mars missions

An international group based in New Zealand has put together a new organization, dubbed the Martian Trust, modeled after National Geographic as a way to privately fund space missions.

The Martian Trust is similar to the early National Geographic Society, a non-profit which funded exploration of the world’s furthest reaches through everyday members, magazine subscribers, and wealthy philanthropists. The intent is to tap into the global space-lovers, who will help fund projects in exchange for martian stories, products and experiences produced.

They are using crowd-funding to obtain funds. Trustees will be picked either by a vote from those who contributed small amounts, or because they themselves contributed more than $5 million.


Virgin Orbit’s launch jumbo jet arrives at company’s base in California

Capitalism in space: The modified jumbo jet that Virgin Orbit is going to use as the first stage of its LauncherOne rocket, being designed to put smallsats into orbit, arrived yesterday in Long Beach to put it close to the company’s base of operations.

While some of this story is the typical hype we all should expect — and question — from a company run by Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit looks more like the real thing. Last year it was separated from Virgin Galactic, the company that has been promising and failing to fly tourists on suborbital flights now for more than a decade. I suspect this happened because the LauncherOne group did not want to be saddled any longer with the failures of the SpaceShipTwo group.

I have been predicting that LauncherOne will reach space before SpaceShipTwo, and this story only adds weight to that prediction. They have real satellite contracts, and expect their first launch to occur in 2018. While that schedule might not hold, I suspect it will not be far wrong.


Russ Roberts – It’s a Wonderful Loaf

An evening pause:

We know there’s order built into the fabric of the world
Of nature. Flocks of geese! Schools of fish! And every boy and girl
Delights in how the stars shine down in all their constellations
And the planets stay on track and keep the most sublime relations

With each other. Order’s everywhere. Yet we humans too create it
It emerges. No one intends it. No one has to orchestrate it.
It’s the product of our actions but no single mind’s designed it
There’s magic without wizards if you just know how to find it

I suspect that readers of Behind the Black will know the answer to this mystery.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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