Tag Archives: competition

The hot fire test of the Antares first stage tonight was aborted at the last second.

The hot fire test of the Antares first stage tonight was aborted at the last second.

The planned first stage propulsion system “hot fire” test of Orbital’s new Antares medium-class rocket was halted in the final seconds of the countdown by the rocket’s flight computer, which detected an anomalous condition. The Antares team will evaluate the data from the test to determine the nature of the abort. A new date for the test has not been determined.

With any new rocket this kind of thing is to be expected. The concern here is the tight schedule that Orbital Sciences is under to get Antares and Cygnus operational. Long delays will not be good for them, considering the politics in Congress. Every delay will be used by certain politicians to get this program cut so the money can go to the very expensive Space Launch System that feeds the jobs in their districts.

Update: It appears the issue was that the computer detected a low pressure reading and aborted the burn. (A similar issue occurred on several of SpaceX’s early launches as was very quickly corrected.) A rescheduled hot burn is expected to take place next week.

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Some details have been released about that deal between Russia and Kazakhstan over the Baikonur spaceport.

Some details have been released about that deal between Russia and Kazakhstan over the Baikonur spaceport.

It seems the conflict does revolve around Russia’s new spaceport under construction in Vostochny, and how it might compete with Baikonur. Kazakhstan feels threatened, and is trying to forestall a loss in business.

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Russian investigators, having pinpointed the cause of a December 2012 launch failure, have cleared the Proton rocket to resume commercial launches in March.

Russian investigators, having pinpointed the cause of a December 2012 launch failure, have cleared the Proton rocket to resume commercial launches in March.

It is interesting that this failure of the Proton’s Briz-M upper stage was not related to two previous failures of that same upper stage. It is also interesting that the article does not describe what actions have been taken to correct the problem.

If I was a future Proton launch customer I would be very concerned. Three launch failures all related to the Briz-M upper stage, and all from different causes. This appears to suggest some fundamental problems with the stage itself, or with the company that manufactures it.

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Comparing the price of Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Comparing the price of the Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Today’s launch was conducted aboard the “plain Jane” version of the Atlas V, the 401, which has no strap on boosters, a single upper stage engine and a 4 meter fairing. It was originally awarded to Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services in 2007 for a $124 million fixed fee contract. By contrast the first NASA science launch awarded to the SpaceX Falcon 9, that of the Jason -3 satellite for 2014, was for $82 million. With current pricing for similarly equipped Atlas V 401 vehicles for NASA launches at roughly $150 million, based on awards from 2011, the difference is hardly trivial.

In other words, Falcon 9 is almost half the price. No wonder satellite companies are flocking to buy a launch on it.

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The Russian foreign minister today denied that there is any friction between Kazakhstan and Russia over the use of the Baikonur spaceport.

The Russian foreign minister today denied that there is any friction between Kazakhstan and Russia over the use of the Baikonur spaceport. More here.

Despite the denial, it appears that they are in some tough negotiations which to their chagrin got leaked to the press.

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NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

The check is in the mail: NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

And why should Europe have any expectation that NASA will follow through? Europe’s ExoMars project was screwed badly when NASA pulled out last year. Nor was that the first time the U.S. government reneged on a deal with Europe.

Considering the fragile nature of the U.S. federal budget, I wouldn’t depend on anything from NASA or any U.S. government agency for the foreseeable future. And this includes the various private space companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences that are using NASA subsidies to build their spaceships. Get those things built, and quickly! The government money could disappear very soon.

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An update on the Chinese manned program.

An update on the Chinese manned program.

The original script called for [the space station] Tiangong 1 to be followed by Tiangong 2, which would have been a module of the same basic design as Tiangong 1. Tiangong 2 was expected to have tested more advanced life-support systems than Tiangong 1, but there would be no major changes to the spacecraft. It was expected that two or three crews would be launched to this module.

Towards the end of the decade, China would then launch Tiangong 3, which was slated to be an entirely different class of spacecraft. It would be larger and more capable. Tiangong 3 was expected by some analysts to be a precursor to the types of modules to be used in China’s future space station, slated for launch around 2020.

According to Yang’s presentation, we can forget about Tiangong 2. Or at least, we can forget about Tiangong 2 as it was originally planned. China still plans to launch a mission with this name, but it would seem that the large laboratory module originally known as “Tiangong 3” has now been designated as the new Tiangong 2.

In other words, China is accelerating the admittedly slow pace of their manned program.

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Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

The competition heats up: Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

As I noted when this company first appeared, for the foreseeable future they are going to be a manufacturer of space telescopes, not an asteroid mining company. At the same time, they, like Deep Space Industries, are going to drive satellite development towards lower cost and smarter design, which in the long run will make asteroid mining practical and profitable.

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The Democratic Party leaders in New Mexico have announced that an agreement over spaceport liability has been reached with Virgin Galactic.

The Democratic Party leaders in New Mexico have announced that an agreement over spaceport liability has been reached with Virgin Galactic.

This might be good, but with no details released and all the statements coming from politicians of only one party it is reasonable to wonder how serious it is and whether this announcement is merely a bargaining ploy.

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The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

They aim to do their work using cubesats, which will keep everything cheap and simple, with the first launches by 2015, and the first sample return missions by 2016. Their new manufacturing technology appears to be a variation of 3D printing, though the descriptions so far released remain vague on details.

We should have even more information later today, after their press conference, aired live on youtube here at 1 pm (eastern).

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Orbital Sciences has published an updated schedule for its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule.

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has published an updated schedule for its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule.

Key dates:
February: Hotfire test of the Antares first stage.
March: First test flight of Antares.
May/June: First test flight of Cygnus, on Antares, docking with ISS.
Third quarter 2013: First operational flight of Cygnus to ISS.

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Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

The competition heats up: Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

As I mentioned earlier today, it is important to maintain a skeptical attitude to each of these new commercial space companies, even as we cheer them on enthusiastically. For example, I am very curious how this company has come through with a “breakthrough process for manufacturing in space.” What could this be, and why has no one thought of it before?

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Not all is golden in commercial space: The failure of the Oklahoma spaceport deal.

Not all is golden in commercial space: The failure of the Oklahoma spaceport deal.

It is important that we restrain our enthusiasm for private space and always look with skepticism at any new proposed private effort. It appears that this was something that Oklahoma officials failed to do when they first established their spaceport for Rocketplane, a company now bankrupt.

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Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

This is apparently going to be another test of a smaller prototype, similar to Bigelow’s Genesis I and Genesis II modules already in orbit, but this time docked to a manned station.

What is interesting however about this article above is that reveals the names of the seven countries that have signed an agreement with Bigelow for future use of the company’s orbiting stations:

In another interesting development, Bigelow has named the seven sovereign customers who’ve expressed interest in leasing space aboard a future Bigelow commercial space station. Bigelow has preliminary agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, according to Reuters. According to another report by Leonard David, Bigelow expects to have two BA 330 modules ready for construction of Space Station Alpha by late 2016. The Bigelow 330 is a much larger module, weighing 43,000 pounds with a diameter of 22 feet and length of 31 feet.

Bigelow Aerospace previously announced that it plans to charge sovereign customers $23 million for a 30-day stay aboard a Bigelow space station. That price includes space transportation, astronaut training, and consumables.

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A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

Messier not only provides a detailed analysis of the negotiations on-going between Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America over liability issues, he also provides context, much of which is not encouraging. For example,

SpaceShipTwo is set to begin its first powered test flights later this year using a “starter motor” that will be smaller than the full-scale hybrid engine that will be used for flights into space. The motor will allow pilots to test the space plane in the transonic flight region, which would be a major step forward.

Whether the full-scale RocketMotorTwo engine, powered by nitrous oxide and rubber, will be ready to fly this year is an interesting question. There have been stories for years – persistent, consistent and never really denied – that the motor just doesn’t work very well. Hybrid motors can function effectively for smaller vehicles, such as the smaller SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew in 2004, but are difficult to scale up. SpaceShipTwo is three times larger than its predecessor.

Meanwhile, there are the liability questions which might force Virgin Galactic, and all other private space companies, to flee New Mexico. The analysis suggests that the taxpayers of New Mexico might have paid for a very expensive spaceport that might never pay for itself.

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The demo mission of robotic refueling of satellites on ISS goes forward this month.

Robot refueling of satellites: The demo mission on ISS goes forward this month.

As much as I celebrate this work, conceived and designed by engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center (the same people who ran the missions that maintained the Hubble Space Telescope), I worry that nothing will come of it. The demo mission itself is designed to duplicate exactly the refueling of several climate satellites already in orbit whose lifespans are ending merely because they are running out of fuel. If the ISS demo succeeds, the next natural step would be to plan an actual robotic mission to refuel these satellites.

The worrisome part is that NASA rarely follows through on this kind of research. For example, the agency did tests of an ion engine back in the early 1970s, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s before they finally flew a mission using that technology. Worse, the federal budget situation probably means there is no money to fly such a mission.

Hopefully, some private company will take a look at this engineering, which is all in the public domain, and decide to use it for their own purposes.

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An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.

The competition heats up: An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.

Back when the shuttle program was still alive and NASA astronauts could have applied political pressure to keep it running, some said they should, if only to save their jobs. They did not, and instead toed the party line and supported the shuttle’s retirement even though no replacement was even close to being operational.

How’s that working out for you, guys, eh?

The truth is that there is no justification any longer for the astronaut corp at NASA. They have no vehicle, and any future space vehicle is going to be built and operated by others who will chose their own pilots.

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