Tag Archives: policy

Announcement: Capitalism in Space:
Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry

This post will remain at the top of the page for the next week. Scroll down for updates.

After much delay and discussion, my policy paper for the Center for a New American Security, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry, has finally been published.

You can download the pdf here or at the Center here. Please feel free to distribute this widely. If you visit other websites please pass it on to them. This should be read by as many people as possible, especially since the space policy of the Trump administration remains at present undecided. This policy paper will help them work out a wise policy, with the paper’s key data point contained in this table:

SLS vs Commercial space

I document my numbers very carefully. The result illustrates clearly how much a failure the government model has been and continues to be. We have spent a lot of money since the 1970s on NASA and space, and have generally gotten very little for that investment, as demonstrated by the comparison between the accomplishments of private and government space in the past two decades. Going forward it is going to be very difficult for SLS/Orion to compete with the heavy lift rockets coming from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

My concluding words:

A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation’s founding.

Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a “stand for freedom” in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed “Freedom” as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space.

Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely.

The United States’ history proves that freedom can work. It is time to prove it again, in space.

Anyway, read the whole paper. I make a number of recommendations that I hope both Congress and the Trump administration will consider seriously. If they do, the United States will lead the world in the exploration and colonization of the solar system, and we will do it quickly and for a reasonable amount of money.

More importantly, we will be doing it under the banner of freedom.

University removes weight scale from gym because TRIGGER

The coming dark age: Carleton University in Canada has decided to remove the weight scale in their gym because someone complained it “triggered” them.

Several students were completely onboard with the decision. Per the Charlatan, one student named Samar El-Faki said it was a good call that accommodated people with eating disorders. “Scales are very triggering,” she said. “I think people are being insensitive because they simply don’t understand. They think eating disorders are a choice when they are actually a serious illness.”

But she was in the minority, as many other students criticized the college for pandering to special snowflakes. “Next it will be the mirrors,” wrote another student on Facebook.

This is essentially the heckler’s veto. One person complains that they don’t like something, and the university bows to that one person’s wishes, banning something that everyone else uses and needs. More important, the whiner had a very easy solution that would not have required removal of the scale: Don’t step on the damned scale and it won’t bother you! That they didn’t take that route illustrates that power and intimidation was their real game.

I should add that even though the university is considering bringing the scale back because of the criticism it has faced for removing it, that its officials were willing to bow so easily to this heckler’s veto suggests this is not a good university to send your kids.

But, then, what university today is a good place? They all seem infested with these fascists who have the support and aid of the administrations in power.

New York dumps literacy tests for teachers

The coming dark age: In the name of political correctness and ethnic diversity, New York has decided to eliminate literacy tests for its teachers.

It seems that about one third fewer black and hispanic applicants passed the test.

“We want high standards, without a doubt. Not every given test is going to get us there,” Pace University professor Leslie Soodak told the AP. Soodak was a member of the task force that advocated abandoning literacy tests for teachers.

“Having a white workforce really doesn’t match our student body anymore,” Soodak added. [emphasis mine]

Having an uneducated workforce that can’t read, that’s okay however.

Decision on new Orbital ATK rocket expected in 2018

The competition heats up? Orbital ATK says it will decide whether it will introduce a new commercial rocket sometime in early 2018.

Orbital ATK has released few details about what is known only as its “Next-Generation Launcher.” The vehicle would use solid-fuel lower stages based on space shuttle solid rocket motor segments developed by the company, as well as solid strap-on boosters. A liquid-oxygen, liquid-hydrogen upper stage would use a version of Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine that company is currently flying on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The rocket’s design has at least superficial similarities to a vehicle concept called Liberty that ATK proposed prior to its merger with Orbital Sciences Corporation. Liberty, with a five-segment shuttle solid rocket booster first stage and a second stage derived from the Ariane 5 core stage provided by Astrium, was itself a commercial spinoff of the cancelled Ares 1 rocket from NASA’s Constellation program. ATK proposed Liberty for NASA’s commercial crew program but failed to win funding.

The decision itself will be based on whether the Air Force remains interested. At the present time the Air Force is investing about half the capital required to develop the rocket. If the Air Force backs out, Orbital ATK will decide against the rocket. If the Air Force support remains firm, they will go ahead with development. Essentially, this story is Orbital ATK lobbying to keep the Air Force support going.

Sessions asks all remaining attorneys appointed by Obama to resign

Better late than never: Attorney General Jeff Sessions today asked the attorneys appointed by Obama that remain in the Justice Department to resign.

The article says that this is standard operating procedure, but that is not entirely true. Until Clinton was president most Justice Department attorneys were long term prosecutors who remained in office from administration to administration. They were not partisan appointees. Clinton changed that when he fired them all. I do not know if Bush followed through and did the same thing, but I tend to doubt it. Obama however would have certainly fired any Bush appointees when he took office.

What makes this significant is that it appears to be the first time that a Republican president since Clinton is fighting back and cleaning house of Democratic appointees.

Congress micromanages rocket development at ULA

Corrupt Congress: Even though ULA favors Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its Vulcan rocket, various elected officials in Alabama are pushing the company to use Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine instead.

At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama [Republican] and Mac Thornberry of Texas [Republican], decided to push a little harder. On February 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine.

“The United States Government (USG) must have a hands-on, decision-making role… in any decision made by United Launch Alliance to down-select engines on its proposed Vulcan space launch system, especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power,” the letter states. “If ULA plans on requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from the USG for development of its launch vehicle and associated infrastructure, then it is not only appropriate but required that the USG have a significant role in the decision-making concerning the vehicle.” The letter then goes on to say the Air Force should not give any additional funding to ULA, other than for current launch vehicles, until the company provides “full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making” in its choice of contractors for the engines on Vulcan.

The article also mentions porkmaster Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), who also favors Aerojet Rocketdyne because they say they will build it in Alabama. Note also that these elected officials are not only trying to pick the winner in the private competition between these two rocket engines, they also want to force ULA to keep using the Delta rocket, even though it is very expensive and not competitive with the newer rockets being developed by other companies. And their only reason for doing so is because they provide jobs for their districts.

This one story illustrates perfectly the corruption that permeates both parties in Congress. While it is more likely that Democrats will play this pork game, there are plenty of corrupt Republicans who play it as well. These petty dictators all think they have the right to interfere in the private efforts of Americans, whether it involves building a new rocket or buying health insurance. And all we get from this is a poorer nation and a bankrupt federal government.

Rand Paul introduces his Obamacare replacement

Competing crap: Senator Rand Paul, who opposes the Obamacare replacement introduced by the Republican leadership, introduced his own bill today to replace Obamacare.

I’ve looked at the summary [pdf] of his bill, and it contains most of the same problems contained in the Republican leadership’s proposal. Neither repeals Obamacare really, since both keep the ability of everyone to wait until they are sick before they buy health insurance, thereby guaranteeing that every health insurance company will go bankrupt.

We need Congress to repeal Obamacare, clean and simple. The tinkering by Congress in this business has only caused problems. The more tinkering they do, the more problems they will cause. They need to get out, now.

Local Vermont voters dump mayor who pushed accepting refugees

What a surprise! A town mayor in Vermont who had advocated accepting a hundred unvetted Middle East refugees has lost his re-election bid.

It appears this guy, who had been mayor for about a decade and had twice defeated his opponent in earlier elections, had pushed his plan without consulting anyone else in the government. In this election he got trounced.

A Ted Cruz telecon

Last night I did a long radio appearance with Robert Pratt in Texas. While I was on the air with him he received a notice from Senator Ted Cruz’s office, announcing a press telecon today on the just-passed NASA authorization bill. Pratt asked me if I would be willing to attend that telecon as his press correspondence. I agreed.

The telecon has just ended. Cruz’s statements about that NASA authorization were very uncommitted and vague, though he clearly wants to encourage private space. He also was careful not to say bad things about SLS/Orion, since it sends a lot of money to Texas.

I asked him about the lack of any mention of Earth science research in the authorization bill. He noted that during the Obama administration NASA’S climate research had become politicized, and it is his hope that this will now end, that NASA will continue to do this research but that “it will no longer be used for political purposes.” Like his comments about SLS/Orion, this was a careful answer that avoided setting off a firestorm of controversy.

Cruz did say two things of note however during the press teleconference.

  • Cruz and family is having dinner with Trump tonight
  • Cruz has reservations about the Republican proposal on Obamacare

It appears that Cruz is putting aside the ugly events of the campaign in order to try to exert influence on Trump now. It also appears that he intends to discuss the bad Obamacare replacement bill with Trump, pushing for changes to it.

Anti-Trump protesters who threatened violence during inauguration get off scott free

The three protesters who were filmed planning violence during the Trump inauguration by undercover agents of Project Veritas have all pleaded guilty and gotten off with no jail time.

An anti-Trump protester pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy for his role in plotting to shut down an inaugural ball by setting off stink bombs and sprinklers. Scott Ryan Charney, 34, was sentenced to community service after agreeing to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit assault after he was caught on videotape discussing the scheme by Project Veritas.

Charney was the third of three members of the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition charged with conspiracy after being captured on hidden-camera video at the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. Paul “Luke” Kuhn and Colin B. Dunn were sentenced Thursday to community service but no jail time after entering guilty pleas in D.C. Superior Court on unlawful conspiracy to commit an offense.

This is par for the course. Leftwing and Democratic protesters can do whatever they want, including planning and even committing life-threatening violence, and receive no punishment. Rightwing and Republican protesters can sneeze in the wrong direction and end up spending years and their life savings trying to avoid heavy prison sentences or the destruction of their lives.

A Kuwaiti space agency?

The competition heats up: At least one scientist in Kuwait, after attending a conference where the UAE’s space effort was highlighted, thinks her country should form its own space agency also.

Establishing a space agency/program is not a fantasy, it is the way of the future, which will bring numerous economic and scientific benefits, Assistant Professor at the Physics Department of Kuwait University (KU) Dr. Hala Al-Jassar said during an interview with Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

While attending the recently held Abu Dhabi Space Congress, Dr. Al-Jassar said that she was amazed and intrigued by one of the participants’ contributions to the event. The participant laid out that the ingredients of a successful space program, which must include strong leadership, a sizable budget, available talents, and thorough training programs, said the academic.

“We have the budget, the talents, the expertize, and outstanding graduates from the best universities,” said Dr. Al-Jassar who pointed out that the lack of clear leadership was one of the main challenges for the establishment of a space agency.

Isn’t competition wonderful? One Arab country in the Middle East puts together a space program, and now others wish to follow. It is almost like night follows day. It has to happen.

House approves NASA authorization

The NASA authorization act that the Senate passed on February 21 was approved by the House today.

As I discussed in reviewing the act on February 21, the bill’s overall focus is to shift NASA from running “a space program” to facilitating the success of competing private enterprise. It also eliminates all of NASA’s climate budget so that the money can be spent instead on space exploration.

Trump is expected to sign it. Then will come the hard work, actually writing the budget for NASA.

Republican leadership endorses Obamacare

Yesterday the Republican leadership in Congress unveiled their proposed replacement for Obamacare.

This is not a repeal. It proudly keeps many of the Obamacare provisions that have made health insurance unprofitable, which is why Obamacare and the entire health insurance industry is going bankrupt. First, the Republican proposal keeps the Obamacare requirement that forces insurance companies to accept applicants with pre-existing conditions at no extra charge. Insurance cannot work under this condition. Second, the plan forces insurance companies to cover the children of customers until they are 26.

Several articles today outline the stupidity of this new plan:

From the first article above:

The first thing to understand about the GOP healthcare bill is that it is not merely Obamacare-lite or a bad “replacement” bill. It doesn’t repeal the core of Obamacare in the first place. In fact, the few parts that it repeals or tweaks within a few years will actually intensify the death spiral of Obamacare when mixed with the core regulatory structure, exacerbated by the subsidies that they do keep. And this time, the GOP will own it politically. All of it.

As I say, this is downright stupid. By trying to “fix” this horrible law, all the Republican leadership accomplishes is to poison themselves with it, something Republicans have so far been able to avoid.

The Republicans shouldn’t be passing a different version of Obamacare, they should be trying to repeal it entirely. If the Democrats continue to obstruct, they will then have to face the voters in 2018 in an election that does not favor them to begin with.

Russia puts four engineers on trial for Proton launch failure

Russia has begun the criminal trial of four engineers for their part in the launch failure of a Proton rocket six years ago, in December 2010.

According to the office of Russia’s federal Prosecutor General, employees at RKK Energia used a wrong formula during the fueling of the company’s Block DM-03 upper stage, which received 1,582 kilograms of extra liquid oxygen above the maximum allowable limit. The prosecutors allege that the department head at RKK Energia Stanislav Balakin, the unit head Aleksandr Martynov and his deputy Sergei Lomtev, while being responsible for the development of operational documentation for Block DM-03, failed to ensure that their subordinate engineer Yuri Bolshigin had completed the on-time adjustment of the computation formula controlling the operation of the fueling system.

This is not the right way to encourage good work in Russian aerospace factories. Sure, these guys screwed up, but you don’t put them on trial, you fire them and hire better people. Making them scapegoats in this way is only going to scare away the best people, who won’t want to join a high-risk industry where, if they make a mistake, they might find themselves in prison.

Japan passes its own commercial space law

The competition heats up: Just as the U.S., Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and others have recently passed laws of clarify and encourage the private commercial development of space, Japan now done so as well, enacting its own commercial space law.

Now that Japan has adopted its Space Activities Act, start-ups are not left wondering what agency they should contact but can go in advance to discuss their plans with officials at a specially designated counter in the Cabinet Office. The new Japanese law also provides government support in the provision of financial guarantees required by commercial space launch operators, such as by arranging third-party liability insurance coverage. The required coverage is calculated on the basis of the maximum probable loss estimated in line with the rocket type and the payload content; in the case of damages in excess of this coverage, the law provides that the government is to pay for the residual damages up to a certain limit. This is similar to arrangements that have been adopted in the United States and France, although the French government sets no limit on payments.

In addition, Japan’s Space Activities Act provides that the launch operator bears liability for accident damages even if they are due to problems in the payload. This channeling of liability would seem to be disadvantageous to launch operators, but it can be expected to enhance the competitive position of the Japanese companies providing this service, because it reassures customers around the world who are seeking to have their satellites put into orbit. France is the only other country that has adopted a similar provision.

The article is worth reading in that it provides a good overview of the history of space law since the 1960s, as well as the political background that helps explain why Japan has lagged behind in the commercialization of its space industry.

TSA to make pat-downs more “intimate”

Does this make you feel safer? TSA has decided to make the pat-downs they give to travelers more thorough and invasive.

Bloomberg reported that airport employees have already been notified at some locations that they need to employ a “more rigorous” and “thorough” screening. The screenings will reportedly include “more intimate contact” than before. The new measure also applies to airline pilots and flight attendants. [emphasis mine]

In other words, they are ordering their thugs at the airports to commit sexual assault each time they do a pat-down. Not only is this unconstitutional, it is downright criminal. Be prepared to hear about a a sex scandal when TSA employees abuse this power.

Cuts to NOAA, EPA, and the environmental bureaucracy

Two articles today outline some of the proposed cuts the Trump administration is considering for the EPA and NOAA and their generally bloated and politicized administrative bureaucracies.

The first article focuses on the proposed cuts to the EPA, which would reduce the overall budget to that agency by about 25%.

The Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million, according to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. EPA’s $50 million external grant program for environmental scientists at universities would disappear altogether. Such erasures represent just part of a larger plan to shrink EPA’s budget by 25% to $6.1 billion, and cut its workforce by 20% to 12,400 employees, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October.

The second article focuses on proposed cuts aimed at NOAA and within the Commerce Department, with cuts in specific departments ranging from 5% to 26%, with an overall cut to NOAA of 17%.
» Read more

Blue Origin proposes unmanned lunar mission

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has proposed building for NASA an unmanned lunar mission to visit Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole by 2020.

The Post says the company’s seven-page proposal, dated Jan. 4, has been circulating among NASA’s leadership and President Donald Trump’s transition team. It’s only one of several proposals aimed at turning the focus of exploration beyond Earth orbit to the moon and its environs during Trump’s term.

As described by the Post, the proposal seeks NASA’s support for sending a “Blue Moon” lander to Shackleton Crater near the moon’s south pole. The lander would be designed to carry up to 10,000 pounds of payload. It could be launched by Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is currently under development, or by other vehicles including NASA’s Space Launch System or United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5. [emphasis mine]

The important take-away from this story is not the proposal to go to the Moon, but the proposal, as highlighted, that other rockets could do it instead of SLS. Though the proposal includes SLS as a possible launch vehicle, NASA’s giant rocket simply won’t be ready by 2020. That New Glenn might be illustrates again how much better private space does things, as this rocket is only now beginning development. If it is ready by 2020, which is what Blue Origin has been promising, it will have taken the company only about four years to build it, one fourth the time it is taking NASA to build SLS.

China launches smallsat on new rocket

The competition heats up: China yesterday launched a small experimental satellite on new rocket, Kaituozhe-2 (KT-2).

The Xinhua news agency is identifying the new launch vehicle simply as ‘KT-2’. Other sources identify the new launcher as the Kaituo-2. Previously rumors expected that the new launch vehicle was the Kaituozhe-2A. The Kaituozhe-2/Kaituo-2 launch vehicle is a three-stage solid propellant launch vehicle developed by the “CASIC Forth Bureau”. The new launcher is capable of orbiting a 350 kg cargo to LEO or a 250 kg cargo to a 700 km high SSO.

KT-2 has similar capabilities to the Kuaizhou-1A launch vehicle, that was used for the first time on January 9, 2017. The KZ-1A is capable of orbiting a 300 kg satellite to LEO or a 200 kg payload to a 700km SSO. The other Chinese solid fuel launcher, the Long March 11 (Chang Zheng-11) rocket, is capable of orbiting a 750 kg to LEO or 350kg to a 700 km SSO.

With this fleet of small rockets, Chinese is now well positioned to grab market share in the emerging smallsat launch market. Their biggest problem remains the legal restrictions that prevent any American space technology from launching on Chinese rockets.

China completes construction of space station core module

The competition heats up: China has completed the construction of the core module of its full size space station, now set to launch in 2018.

Tianhe-1, the first of three 20-tonne space station modules, was completed by the end of 2016 and has entered a testing phase, according to Bao Weimin of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Tianhe-1 will launch from Wenchang on a new Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket sometime in 2018, which was developed specifically to allow China to put large space station modules into low Earth orbit.

The image of the module at the link is remarkable in its resemblance to the core module of Russia’s Mir station, launched in 1986.

The tampering of climate data at NOAA and NASA

data tampering at NASA

Last week there was the another Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. One presentation there by several important climate skeptics outlined in detail the data tampering that has been going on at an increasingly outrageous manner at both NOAA and NASA in recent years. The slides presented by Tony Heller (available here [pdf]), many of which I have highlighted previously here at Behind the Black, are especially educational and damning.

To the right is just one of Heller’s slides, the one that I find the most damning of all. It shows how the surface data issued by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), the two green lines, does not match the satellite data at all. While the satellite data shows no warming this entire century, the GISS data shows steady rising in the surface data. Other slides by Heller show that this rise comes solely from data adjustments and the extrapolation of imagined temperature data in places where no data exists, neither of which has been explained in any manner by the scientists at GISS.

What is most damning however is the change Heller documents between GISS’s November 2016 and December 2016 data sets. For reasons that are simply unjustified by any scientific measure, GISS somehow found it necessary to adjust its entire data set upward in one month about 0.03 of a degree. The only reason I can find for such a change in such a short period of time is a desire by the scientists at GISS to create the illusion that the climate is warming, and warming fast. They don’t have any real data to show this, so they make it up.

Make sure you look at all of Heller’s slides [pdf]. It is also definitely worthwhile to spend the time to watch the entire CPAC presentation, available at the first link above.

NASA buys Soyuz seats from Boeing

NASA has purchased two additional seats from Boeing on a Russian Soyuz capsule and rocket to get astronauts to ISS beyond 2019.

The reason Boeing was able to sell Russian Soyuz seats is because they have obtained them from the Russians in a deal to settle Boeing’s $320 million lawsuit over ending the Russian/Boeing Sea Launch partnership.

Heading Home

Today we completed our last caving trip in Belize. I and many of the expedition’s participants head home tomorrow.

Because our cave trips take so much time, I have not had time to post anything these last few days. I will try to post tomorrow during my return home, but expect full posting to resume on Thursday.

Also, though I will comment then in greater length about SpaceX’s announcement on Monday that they plan on sending two tourists around the Moon by 2018, I want to note here that this announcement is clearly Elon Musk’s response to the effort by NASA to delay the launch of commercial crew because of so-called safety issues so that SLS/Orion might fly first. Musk is telling the world that NASA’s safety concerns are crap (to which I generally agree) and he intends to prove this with his own lunar manned mission.

India’s government a barrier to private space

Even as India and its space agency show themselves to increasingly be a major player in the worldwide aerospace market, it appears that India’s governmental policy on private satellite communications is acting as a barrier that blocks the growth of a commercial space industry.

India’s current satcom policy, first rolled out in 1997 and then updated in 2000, is clearly outdated. A senior ISRO official who attended the ORF event (but declined to be identified) pointed out that all the existing satcom policy says is Indian satellite companies will be given preference over foreign multinational companies. “How does this preference play out? If the department of space is worried about national security concerns, they should lay down clear guidelines for security compliance by foreign satellites. The existing policy doesn’t talk about this, which inevitably leaves it to ISRO, DoS and Antrix’s discretion,” the official told The Wire.

And this discretion has held up multiple applications for satellite manufacturing and foreign direct investment over the last decade. Hughes’ Krishna is particularly frustrated over this. “If a company submits an application for satellite broadband services in India, irrespective of where the satellites will be made, it needs a specific timeline on when it will hear back from ISRO or the DoS. Will it be two years, three years or five years? It is difficult to line up future investments if speedy clearance is not given,” Krishna said.

Essentially, India’s Department of Space (DoS) and its space agency ISRO control all licensing, and have been using that power to delay or deny the issuing of any private satellite licenses, since such efforts are in competition with these government agencies.

The situation here is very similar to what existed in the U.S. with NASA for most of the last half of the 20th century. The agency did not want private launch companies competing with its own manned programs, and diligently worked to block their efforts. If you wanted to be part of manned space, you did what NASA told you to do and you built what they told you to build. It wasn’t until the rise of the commercial space programs to launch cargo to ISS that NASA’s grip on manned space was finally broken.

India now faces the same problem. ISRO has done an excellent job, as NASA did in its early years, in getting India’s space industry started. It now needs to back off, stop running things and simply be a customer of these competing private companies, letting freedom do the job instead of government dictate. The question now is whether the Indian government will allow this to happen. There are many vested interests there that will resist.

NASA signs technology development contracts with eight companies

The competition heats up: NASA today announced the award of contracts to eight small companies to develop new technologies for the advancement of smallsat launch capabilities.

The contracts cover a wide range of launch concepts, from testing new imaging technology for spotting asteroids to new rocket engine development to new rocket designs. The key component however of all these contracts is this:

These fixed-priced contracts include milestone payments tied to technical progress and require a minimum 25 percent industry contribution, though all awards are contingent on the availability of appropriated funding. The contracts are worth a combined total of approximately $17 million, and each have an approximate two-year performance period culminating in a small spacecraft orbital demonstration mission or the maturation of small launch vehicle technologies.

In other words, the companies have to provide some of the funding, since the technology being developed will benefit them. They also will only be paid once they meet certain milestones, and any cost overages will be their responsibility. The result? The U.S. has the chance of giving birth to eight new space companies, all with cutting edge technology that can compete in the new launch market. And the country gets this for a measly $17 million.

Aerojet Rocketdyne sets record testing new rocket engine

The competition heats up: In recent static fire tests of its new AR-1 rocket engine Aerojet Rocketdyne set a record for the highest chamber pressure for any American engine using oxygen and kerosene.

They hope to convince ULA to use this engine in its Atlas 5 rocket to replace the Russian engine they presently use. At the moment, though ULA has made no commitment, it appears however that the company is favoring Blue Origin’s engine instead. That Congress favors Aerojet Rocketdyne is their one ace in the hole, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Sea Launch deal finalized?

The competition heats up? Two articles today in the Russia press suggest that either their settlement deal with Boeing over bankrupt Sea Launch is either on the verge of signing or the Russians are trying to pressure Boeing to an agreement by use of the press.

The first article says that a final agreement is about to be signed, but provides no date or indication from Boeing that they have agreed to terms. The second announces that the private Russian company that is acquiring Sea Launch from the Russian government to compete in the commercial launch market has been given a launch license by the Russian government, and will launch its first rocket from Baikonur later this year, using the Ukrainian Zenit-M rocket that was designed to fly from the Sea Launch floating platform. .This launch is intended as a test flight prior to restarting launches from the Sea Launch platform itself.

The complexity of this Sea Launch situation boggles my mind. Russia has sold Sea Launch to a private Russian airline company, S7, which will use a Ukrainian rocket to launch satellites from the Sea Launch platform. Before that can happen however Russia has to settle its dispute with Boeing, which won a $300+ million settlement in court over the breakup of their Sea Launch partnership. That settlement reportedly includes free passenger seats on Soyuz flights to ISS, which Boeing is reportedly offering to sell to NASA, which might need them. Meanwhile, Russia does not seem to have a problem with a Russian company using a Ukrainian rocket, even though Russia itself has completely banned the use of Ukrainian equipment on any of its own space rockets or capsules.

The business of commercial space sometimes amazes me.

Posted in the airport terminal in Belize City. We are waiting for everyone to arrive to take a van together to our resort, Maya Mountain Lodge.

Last Soyuz-U launches Progress to ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS using its last Soyuz-U rocket.

The Soyuz-U has been launched hundreds of times since the 1970s, but has been replaced by Russia because it uses equipment made in Ukraine. The newer versions of the Soyuz rockets are completely home-built, but also have been plagued by quality control problems and corruption within Russia.

Posted in the air of the Gulf of Mexico in route to Belize.

Polar bear populations continue to grow and thrive

The uncertainty of science: Despite numerous doomsday predictions by global warming advocates, new data of polar bear populations in the Canadian Arctic show them to be both growing and healthy in 2016, with the trend lines all rising in the past decade.

The numbers show almost no regions in decline.

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