Smallsat company buys its own Falcon 9 rocket to launch 20 satelites

The competition heats up: Spaceflight Industries has purchased a single dedicated Falcon 9 rocket launch to launch 20 small satellites sometime in 2017.

Buying a dedicated launch, rather that seeking excess capacity on other launches, provides Spaceflight with more than just additional payload capacity. Secondary or “rideshare” payloads are subject to the schedule of the primary capability, and can be bumped off the launch if the mass of the primary payload grows. With a dedicated mission, Spaceflight is in greater control. “It helps us establish a regular cadence of launches,” Blake said. “We can book all kinds of rideshare passengers onto something that is going to be there at a certain time to a certain orbit.”

This purchase also indicates the growing strength of the smallsat industry. These companies are beginning to gain the investment capital to buy their own launches rather than fly as secondary payloads.

Development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine moves forward

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has completed more than 100 development tests of its new BE-4 rocket engine, being developed for ULA.

Much of this announcement sounds like public relations blather. However, it contained this nugget of information that is crucial to understanding why this engine is likely to get built quickly:

The BE-4 engine is also the leading candidate to be used in the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan vehicle. Speaking to reporters after the Sept. 15 Florida event, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said that while he was aware of competing engines for the Vulcan, like the AR-1 under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, he was focused on completing the BE-4. “We’re going to build the best 21st century engine that we can for ULA,” he said. “Ultimately they will make the decision about what they want to do.”

Bezos also noted that, unlike the AR-1 or other concepts, Blue Origin was not seeking funding from the U.S. Air Force to help pay for development of the BE-4. “The most unique feature of the BE-4 engine is that it’s fully funded,” he said. “It’s not something you see in rocket engine programs very often.” [emphasis mine]

Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the government to pay for its new AR-1 engine. To get that done, they need to lobby Congress for funds that are simply unreliable in these days of budget-cutting. Moreover, it means that Aerojet Rocketdyne is not fully committed to the engine: if the funds don’t arrive they won’t build it.

Blue Origin is going forward, fully committed, and will likely deliver, if only because they can’t get their investment back until they do.

Creeping towards commercial and private weather satellites

Link here. The editorial at Space News outlines the effort in Congress to force NOAA to buy weather data supplied by private commercial satellite companies rather than build its own satellites. It also outlines what might be the major reason private companies have never been able to make a profit in the field:

The agency [NOAA] is obliged as a member the World Meteorological Organization [WMO] to share weather data openly and freely with other nations. If that obligation applies to commercially procured data, as NOAA insists, it could dramatically shrink the addressable global market for commercial weather data — to the point that it could shatter business models. – See more at:

In other words, private companies can’t sell their data because of the U.S.’s membership in the WMO, which requires that data to be made available for free. To make the commercialization of weather work, the U.S. is going to have to pull out of WMO, something I think will be difficult to sell to Congress.

Virgin Galactic tests new rocket engine

The competition heats up? Virgin Galactic has released video of a test burn of a new engine designed to work with its LauncherOne rocket.

I put a question mark above because I have become very skeptical of any press announcements out of Virgin Galactic. They might have made progress on this new engine, and it also appears that they are doing engine work first for developing LauncherOne, a wise plan. However, their track record with SpaceShipTwo makes me doubtful about their ability to follow through. They need to produce to make me a believer once again.

Back from the Grand Canyon

Diane and Gang on the Tonto Plateau

Diane and I just got home and are in the process of catching up. Posting shall resume this weekend, maybe tonight! Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised that even with my absence, my thoughtful readers (even ones I sometimes disagree with) have been keeping things lively here with some intelligent debate. Kudos to you all!

And as always, the Canyon was what it always is, magnificent and awe-inspiring. The picture on the right shows us hiking on the Tonto Plateau, about 4000 feet down from the rim but above the Colorado River 1000 feet below. If you look real close you can see the tiny figures of Diane and others on the trail.

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