Tag Archives: commercial

Europe has shut down the production line producing their ATV cargo craft for ISS.

Is this good or bad news? Europe has shut down the production line producing their ATV cargo craft for ISS.

Confronted by parts obsolescence and waning political support, the European Space Agency has shut down subsystem production lines for the Automated Transfer Vehicle as member states debate how they will contribute to future international space exploration efforts, according to top spaceflight officials.

ESA has launched three of the five ATVs it agreed to launch, with the remaining two scheduled in 2013 and 2014. What happens after that remains unclear. It seems from the article the European partners don’t seem interested in upgrading the ATV, and instead seem willing to let the as-yet untried U.S. commercial companies carry the load.

Commercial flights by U.S. spacecraft will make up the rest of the lost capacity with the end of the ATV program.

The pressure continues to build on a successful Falcon 9/Dragon flight on April 30.

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French engineers have designed a tiny ion motor that nano-satellites could use as a thruster to adjust their orbits.

Swiss engineers have designed a tiny ion motor that nano-satellites could use as a thruster to adjust their orbits.

The motor weighs only seven ounces, and could work on satellites as small as four inches cubed.

Up to now, it wasn’t possible to reduce the size of maneuverable satellites below a certain point because of the size of their large thruster engines. If it is now possible to provide nano satellites with thrusters, it will be possible to significantly reduce the cost, and more importantly, the payload weight, of satellites. And with a lower payload weight, it will be possible to create a market for smaller rockets, which are much easier to build and far cheaper.

This kind of news makes me more confident that the new commercial space industry truly has a future.

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Boeing vs Boeing.

Boeing vs Boeing.

The story describes how Boeing is considering upgrading the X-37B to become a manned ferry to ISS, thus putting it in direct competition with the company’s other manned capsule, the CST-100.

At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s Space 2011 conference in November, Boeing’s Arthur Grantz revealed that the company is studying a new derivative of the Boeing/USAF X-37B. The new X-37C would be 65-80% larger than the current B version. Launched by an Atlas V rocket, X-37C could carry pressurized or unpressurized cargo or 5-6 astronauts. Grantz is chief engineer in charge of X-37 at the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems Experimental Systems Group .

Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.

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Stupidity on display

In hearings Wednesday, several members of Congress suggested that NASA force the new competing commercial space companies to combine their efforts in order to save money.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a March 21 hearing on the agency’s 2013 budget the same question he asked of the White House’s chief science adviser last month: would NASA’s partnership with commercial companies to develop astronaut transports be cheaper if the companies competing for NASA funds combined their efforts into a single “all for one and one for all” project?

Similarly, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) made the same stupid argument in her continuing effort to keep the funding of the Space Launch System, the rocket-formerly-called-Constellation, as high as possible, at the cost of cutting everything else in NASA if necessary.

If you needed any evidence that members of Congress are ignorant idiots, you only need read the comments of these elected officials at these hearings to get your proof. Wolf or Hutchison as well as several others from both parties very clearly haven’t the slightest idea what these various space companies are building. Nor do they have the faintest notion of the difficulties entailed in building these manned space vessels.
» Read more

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Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

This bodes well: Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

One interesting tidbit from this article is the description of the company’s negotiations with NASA to attach a Bigelow module to ISS.

The company has been negotiating with NASA for about two years on the potential deal, and that Bigelow has completed various planning and development milestones for NASA. “We’ve been in a series of discussions with NASA over the past two years, with regard to the BEAM project,” Gold told Space News. “They were initiated as part of a proposal in 2010, and we’re hopeful an announcement will be made in the not-too-distant future.”

NASA gave no sign that a deal with Bigelow was imminent. “We do have a no-cost contract with Bigelow to cover early requirements development [for BEAM] but it is not for the flight article,” NASA spokesman Josh Buck said in a March 20 email. “The Agency has not made a decision to go to a flight system yet.” [emphasis mine]

Two years to discuss “planning and development,” and still no decision. My guess is that NASA management doesn’t want to buy a Bigelow module, as it would be relatively cheap and therefore wouldn’t spread much money to NASA centers. They just can’t say no for political reasons.

And if they do want to do it, the slow pace of their decision-making process demonstrates clearly why they shouldn’t be entrusted to build anything in the future.

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A private company has proposed salvaging a stranded communications satellite and use it to provide communications to Antarctica.

A private company has proposed a way to salvage a stranded communications satellite and use it to provide communications to Antarctica.

Now stranded in an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 51 deg., the spacecraft lacks enough fuel to reach its planned geostationary slot at 80 deg. E. Long. But there is enough fuel on board for it to function for as long as 10 years in a new orbit designed to keep it in sight of Antarctica for 14-16 hr./day, according to William Readdy, a co-founder of Polar Broadband Systems Ltd. Set up on the Isle of Man for the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” of salvaging the satellite, Polar Broadband has worked out a way to maneuver Express-AM4 into a 24-hr. elliptical orbit that will remain clear of the crowded geostationary belt for safety.

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Aviation Week looks at the launch challenges facing SpaceX over the next two years.

Aviation Week looks at the launch challenges facing SpaceX over the next two years.

Though it is very clear SpaceX has a tough schedule of launches coming up, with much of the future of American aerospace riding on their success, this article is strangely hostile to the company. There is no doubt the company has fallen behind schedule, but the list of customers who have been willing to commit to the company is quite impressive, especially considering that SpaceX literally didn’t exist six years ago.

I’ll make several predictions:

  • SpaceX will experience further launch delays.
  • SpaceX will even have one launch failure in the next two years.
  • SpaceX will nonetheless succeed, because its successes will far exceed the failures, and they are clearly offering a better product for less money.
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Playing hardball

The director of Russia’s manned program told the press today that the Russians do not have that a signed contract with NASA to fly astronauts to ISS after 2015, despite NASA’s announcement that such an agreement exists.

If true, NASA’s management has committed a very serious error which will cost the U.S. a great deal of money in the coming years, especially if there are significant delays in getting the new commercial companies online to provide the U.S. an American capability for ferrying humans to orbit.
» Read more

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ATK prepares for another test firing of its five-segment solid rocket motor.

ATK prepares for another test firing of its five-segment solid rocket motor.

The qualification campaign, led by rocket-builder ATK, will prove the solid-fueled motor is ready to help propel the Space Launch System from Earth on two test flights in 2017 and 2021.

Though obviously funded out of the Space Launch System program (SLS), there is no guarantee at this moment that ATK’s solid rocket will be used in these test flights. NASA has said that they are considering all options for picking the launch rocket.

In a sense, we are now seeing a side benefit produced by relying on independent and competing private companies to get into space. It has placed pressure on NASA and the companies building SLS to perform. Unlike in the past, when failure to produce a new rocket or spaceship meant that NASA would simply propose a new concept and start again, now failure will mean that someone else might get the work. The result: SLS might actually get built, for less money and faster.

Though I don’t see how NASA can possibly cut the costs down to compete with these private companies, their effort might succeed enough for Congress to keep the money spigots open until the rocket gets built.

Even as I say this I remain skeptical. Considering the federal budget situation, the politics of the upcoming election, and the strong possibility that private companies will successfully provide that launch capability at a tenth the cost, I expect that sometime in the next two or three years Congress will finally balk at SLS’s cost, and eliminate it.

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According to Orbital Sciences’ CEO, problems in launchpad construction have been the primary reason the first launch of Antares rocket/Cygnus capsule has been delayed.

Fingers crossed: According to Orbital Sciences’ CEO, problems in launchpad construction have been the primary reason the first launch of Antares rocket/Cygnus capsule has been delayed.

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The fundamental design flaw of all of Tesla Motors’ electric cars.

The fundamental design flaw of all of Tesla Motors’ electric cars.

A Tesla Roadster that is simply parked without being plugged in will eventually become a “brick”. The parasitic load from the car’s always-on subsystems continually drains the battery and if the battery’s charge is ever totally depleted, it is essentially destroyed. Complete discharge can happen even when the car is plugged in if it isn’t receiving sufficient current to charge, which can be caused by something as simple as using an extension cord. After battery death, the car is completely inoperable. At least in the case of the Tesla Roadster, it’s not even possible to enable tow mode, meaning the wheels will not turn and the vehicle cannot be pushed nor transported to a repair facility by traditional means.

This problem could destroy the company, which, believe it or not, might actually have a negative effect on the American space program! Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule is also the CEO of Tesla. If Tesla goes down, one wonders if that could have an impact on SpaceX’s effort to get Americans into space.

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Orbital Sciences has delayed until late June the first test launch of its Antares rocket, which in turn will delay until late August the first flight of its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS.

Orbital Sciences has delayed until late June the first test launch of its Antares rocket, which in turn will delay until late August the first flight of its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS.

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Detroit: the triumph of progressive public policy.

Detroit: the triumph of progressive public policy.

Imagine a city where all the major economic planks of the statist or “progressive” platform have been enacted:

  • A “living wage” ordinance, far above the federal minimum wage, for all public employees and private contractors.
  • A school system that spends significantly more per pupil than the national average.
  • A powerful school employee union that militantly defends the exceptional pay, benefits and job security it has won for its members.
  • Other government employee unions that do the same for their members.
  • A tax system that aggressively redistributes income from businesses and the wealthy to the poor and to government bureaucracies.

Would this be a shining city on a hill, exciting the admiration of all? We don’t have to guess, because there is such a city right here in our state: Detroit.

Read the above article and then compare it to this essay: A thought experiment: Imagining the Republican majority in the House in complete control of Washington.

The contrasts are most illuminating.

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For its second attempt to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, NASA has finally decided to dump Orbital Sciences’ Taurus XL rocket, the same rocket that failed on two previous launch attempts.

For its second attempt to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, NASA has finally decided to dump Orbital Sciences’ Taurus XL rocket, the same rocket that failed on two previous launch attempts.

The decision to change launch rockets will delay launch by at least a year. Still, this is better than losing a third research satellite.

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