Search Results for: Messier

Boeing abruptly exits DARPA’s experimental spaceplane project

Boeing today announced it is pulling out of DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program, cancelling development of its Phantom Express-1 hyposonic plane.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says Boeing is dropping out of its Experimental Spaceplane Program immediately, grounding the XS-1 Phantom Express, even though technical tests had shown the hypersonic space plane concept was feasible. “The detailed engineering activities conducted under the Experimental Spaceplane Program affirmed that no technical showstoppers stand in the way of achieving DARPA’s objectives, and that a system such as XSP would bolster national security,” DARPA said in a statement issued today.

Boeing has provided no clear explanation for this exit. I suspect it might have to do with their other problems related to the 737-Max airplane and the costs it is imposing on the company. Also, the program called for the first test flights in 2020, and it might also be that Boeing had doubts about meeting that goal.

Right now I wonder if Boeing will have to return any of the cash DARPA provided it for the work done so far, out of the total $146 million award. Moreover, at least two other companies had bid for this contract, Masten and Northrop Grumman. Will Boeing’s exit now allow them to pick up the pieces? Or has Boeing’s contract win and sudden exit mainly achieved the goal of stymieing their compeition?

Overall, this decision by Boeing is just another black mark on the company, just one of many that has occurred in the past few years.

UPDATE: It appears that Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc suspects the same Machiavellian maneuvers from Boeing as I.

A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.

The reasoning went like this: the winning bidder, Boeing, really wasn’t interested in the technology. The company was actually interested in government funding and keeping other companies from developing the system.

Messier isn’t sure either, noting that the pull out might also have occurred due to the arrival of Boeing’s new CEO, only a week earlier.

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Update on effort to save heat probe on InSight

Link here. The article, written in late August by one of the German scientists in charge of the heat probe on the Mars lander InSight, gives a detailed look at the effort to figure out what is blocking the Mole, the digging tool designed to pound the heat probe as much as 15 feet into the ground.

They had discovered previously is that the ground had collapsed around the drill shaft, creating a very wide hole. The Mole however needed the friction caused by the surrounding dirt to push downward, and thus didn’t have it.

They have since used InSight’s scoop at the end of the robot arm to push at the ground around the hole in an effort to fill the hole. As of mid-August this has managed to fill the hole about half way.

This report was written on August 27, just before contact with Mars was lost for two weeks because the Sun had moved between the Earth and Mars. Communications have now resumed, so I expect they will also resume their efforts to fill the hole enough that they might then try to resume the digging effort.

Hat tip to Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc, who by the way is right now running his annual fund-raising drive for the website. Please consider donating.

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The Whirlpool Galaxy across many wavelengths

The Whirlpool Galaxy
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The sequence of images above, reduced to post here, were taken in multiple wavelengths by the 2.1 meter Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and the Spitzer Space Telescope in orbit.

The Whirlpool galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195, is actually a pair of galaxies that are tugging and distorting each other through their mutual gravitational attraction. Located approximately 23 million light-years away, it resides in the constellation Canes Venatici.

The leftmost panel shows the Whirlpool in visible light, much as our eye might see it through a powerful telescope. In fact, this image comes from the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1-meter (6.8-foot) telescope. The spiraling arms are laced with dark threads of dust that radiate little visible light and obscure stars positioned within or behind them.

The second panel from the left includes two visible-light wavelengths (in blue and green) from Kitt Peak but adds Spitzer’s infrared data in red. This emphasizes how the dark dust veins that block our view in visible light begin to light up at these longer, infrared wavelengths.

Spitzer’s full infrared view can be seen in the right two panels, which cover slightly different ranges of infrared light.

The infrared views of the Whirlpool galaxy also show how dramatically different its two component parts are: The smaller companion galaxy at the top of the image has been stripped nearly clean of dust features that stand out so brilliantly in the lower spiral galaxy. The faint bluish haze seen around the upper galaxy is likely the blended light from stars thrown out of the galaxies as these two objects pull at each other during their close approach.

The Spitzer images above are likely among the last we shall see from that telescope, which has been in orbit since 2003 with a planned mission of only 2.5 years. As its cryogenic coolant became depleted in 2009, it has been functioning in a somewhat limited phase since. NASA will officially end the mission on January 30, 2020, more than thirteen years beyond that initial lifespan.

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Astronomers take highest resolution radio image of black hole

shadow of black hole

Using a network of ground-based radio telescopes astronomers today released the highest resolution radio image of black hole ever produced.

Before giving more details, I must correct every other news report, as well as all of the press releases about this image. It is not “The first image of a black hole!” as these releases are claiming breathlessly. Radio telescope arrays have taken such images in the past, but their resolution was poor, so the result was not very imagelike. Instead, it showed contour lines in a coarse manner. Moreover, the coarseness of the resolution prevented them from seeing the black hole’s shadow itself.

This image now produced has the highest resolution ever for such a radio image, but believe me, it is still coarse. Nonetheless, it represents a giant technological leap forward. The effort required upgrades to many of these telescopes, along with significantly improved computer analysis. Now for some details:

Black holes are extraordinary cosmic objects with enormous masses but extremely compact sizes. The presence of these objects affects their environment in extreme ways, warping spacetime and super-heating any surrounding material. “If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” explained chair of the EHT Science Council Heino Falcke of Radboud University, the Netherlands. “This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.”

The image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun.

Multiple calibration and imaging methods have revealed a ring-like structure with a dark central region — the black hole’s shadow — that persisted over multiple independent EHT observations. “Once we were sure we had imaged the shadow, we could compare our observations to extensive computer models that include the physics of warped space, superheated matter and strong magnetic fields. Many of the features of the observed image match our theoretical understanding surprisingly well,” remarks Paul T.P. Ho, EHT Board member and Director of the East Asian Observatory. “This makes us confident about the interpretation of our observations, including our estimation of the black hole’s mass.” [emphasis mine]

Note the highlighted words. To create this image they needed to combine data from numerous radio telescopes. Such work requires extensive calibration. The resulting image is manufactured, though without doubt it is manufactured from real radio data accumulated by multiple telescopes. Because those telescopes are separated by distance, however, there will always be gaps between their images, and it is in the calibration and imaging methods that the gaps are extrapolated away.

I don’t wish to imply that this image is fake. It is not. That the features persisted over multiple observations confirms that they were actually seeing the black hole’s shadow. It also confirms that these new interferometry techniques work.

However, much of the press hyperbole today is an effort to justify the many millions in tax dollars spent on this effort. The effort was absolutely worthwhile scientifically, but government bureaucracies always feel a need to oversell their work. That is partly what is happening here.

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Parabolic Arc’s annual fund-raising campaign

Doug Messier’s space website, Parabolic Arc, is running its annual fund-raising campaign right now, and I would like to urge my readers to consider giving a donation.

Doug and I might disagree on some matters, but the work we both do at our websites complements each other quite nicely. In fact, the areas where we disagree actually enhances this fact, as you will get different perspectives of the same issues from us.

The bottom line is that anyone who checks out both Parabolic Arc and Behind the Black on a daily basis will pretty much find out everything that is happening in space, and get that news before anyone else. Your donations there will thus be greatly appreciated.

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NASA commits $2.6 billion for commercial lunar exploration

NASA today announced that it has committed $2.6 billion over the next ten years to buy delivery services to the Moon for its unmanned scientific missions, provided from nine different private companies.

The companies selected — Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Orbit Beyond — cover a range of companies from the well established to new companies not yet proven. This announcement essentially permits them all to bid on providing NASA delivery services to the moon for small unmanned probes. The press release states that:

These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.

More information here. UPDATE: Doug Messier has published the press releases from most of the above companies, describing their individual projects, and I have added links to each.

The program appears modeled after NASA commercial cargo and crew programs, whereby the companies will own and control the orbiters, landers, and rovers they build, allowing them to market them to others for profit. It also appears designed to keep costs low, as did commercial cargo program. NASA is merely the customer.

This is good news. It suggests that the American space industry is continuing to transition away from big government programs, controlling everything, to a robust private industry that is in charge with the government merely one out of many customers.

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New information on SpaceX’s rocket fairing recovery effort

Link here. In requesting permission to recover Dragon capsules in the Gulf of Mexico, SpaceX submitted a great deal of information to the FAA about its effort to recover and reuse the fairings of its Falcon 9 rocket. Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc has done a nice job of excerpting that information at the link.

For example, SpaceX is not only trying to recover the fairings, it is trying to recover the new fairing drogue chutes that it uses to slow the fairings down and then ejects before splashdown.

To me, however, one tidbit that stood out like a beacon and actually tells us more about SpaceX’s future anticipated launch rate was this quote:

From 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates the frequency of launches involving fairing recovery to increase. In 2018, SpaceX anticipates approximately two recovery attempts, and from 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates approximately three recovery attempts per month. Thus, for all seven years, SpaceX anticipates up to 480 drogue parachutes and 480 parafoils would land in the ocean.

This is further confirmation of SpaceX’s public prediction that it will soon be launching about 30 to 40 times per year. These numbers also equal the best yearly rates the entire United States launch industry ever achieved, and suggest that the entire launch industry in the next decade will be experiencing a significant boom, since aggressive competition usually causes an increase in business for all competitors.

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Failure history of the Russian launch industry

Doug Messier has compiled a detailed and what appears to be a complete list of all Russian/Soviet launch failures going back to 1988. As he says, “Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.”

What struck me most about his graph is the number of Soyuz rocket failures. For decades, various versions of this rocket have been used to bring astronauts up to either Mir or ISS, and because there have not been any launch failures during those manned launches, the impression given is that the Soyuz is one of the most reliable rockets in existence. Messier’s table proves that impression false, and also tells us that the Russians, and the United States, have been very lucky that no lives have been lost in the past three decades on any Soyuz launches.

The table also illustrates why commercial customers have been so quick to shift their business from the Russians to SpaceX. The Russians have not provided a very good or reliable product. Since 1988 there have only been two years, 2001 and 2003, in which the Russians had no failures. And the table indicates that their failure rate has increased in the past decade.

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Another smallsat rocket company enters the market

Capitalism in space: A new Australian smallsat rocket company, Gilmour Space Technologies, has successfully test fired a new hybrid rocket engine.

This orbital-class rocket engine, developed by Australia and Singapore-based Gilmour Space Technologies (www.gspacetech.com), has successfully achieved 70,000 newtons (70 kilonewtons or 15,700 pounds-force) of thrust in what could be the world’s largest successful test fire of a single-port hybrid rocket engine. “These results prove that we have the core technology needed to enable low-cost small satellite launches to space,” said its CEO & Founder, Adam Gilmour. The company’s mission: to carry payloads weighing up to 400 kg to low earth orbit (LEO) from 2020.

Unlike the vast majority of commercial rockets today, which use either solid- or liquid-fuelled engines, Gilmour Space is pioneering new hybrid-engine rockets that combine a liquid oxidiser with a proprietary multi-material 3D printed solid fuel. Indeed, the Queensland-based company first made headlines in 2016 when it successfully test launched a subscale rocket to an altitude of 5km using its 3D printed rocket fuel.

The static fire test, which can be seen in a video at the link, was very short, less than 10 seconds. Since one of the big problems of hybrid engines has been to get them to fire smoothly and precisely for long periods of time, I remain skeptical. They might have some good engineering here, but I don’t yet see the makings of a rocket.

Hat tip Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc.

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Is the Google Lunar X-Prize dead?

Doug Messier today has written a sad summary of the status of the Google Lunar X-Prize, and it does appear that no one is going to meet the March 31, 2018 deadline.

The news yesterday that Team Indus failed to raise the cash to pay for its rocket launch appears to have killed both it and the Japanese competitor. Lack of funds also appear to have stopped the Israeli team. Meanwhile, delays in getting the rockets operational for Moon Express and Synergy Moon leave both stranded on the ground.

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Watch a rocket tank being built, mostly by robots

Capitalism in space: The video below the fold shows the process by which Interorbital Systems built a rocket test tank for the Neptune smallsat rocket it is developing. It is definitely worth watching if you want to see the future of complex manufacturing. Robotic equipment does most of the work, in a precise manner that would be impossible for humans, which therefore allows for the construction of engineering designs that were previously impossible or too expensive. Now, such designs can be built relatively cheaply, and repetitively.

Hat tip Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc.

» Read more

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Annual fund-raiser at Parabolic Arc

Doug Messier, who runs the space-news website Parabolic Arc, has begun his annual fund-raising drive. While Doug and I disagree on a number of issues, our mutual passion for reporting on space unites us. I hope my readers will consider supporting Doug’s work as generously as you support my work here at Behind the Black.

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First Flight

The last part in Doug Messier’s series on the commercial aviation/space history, First Flight, is now available.

Messier brings his history of Virgin Galactic up to the present, and then compares their efforts to build a reusable suborbital spacecraft with that of Blue Origin and its New Shepard design. For Virgin Galactic, the comparison does not reflect well upon them. While fourteen years have passed since the company began its so far unsuccessful effort to reach suborbital space, Blue Origin has already done it multiple times, with a reusable ship. And it took Blue Origin about half the time to make that happen.

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One Chute

Part 4 of Doug Messier’s series on commercial space history, A Niche in Time, is now available. It is entitled “One Chute” and focuses on the long and sad history of Virgin Galactic.

One new detail that Messier notes struck me:

At the time of the accident, Virgin Galactic had about 700 customers signed up to fly on SpaceShipTwo. Officials now say the number is around 650. Assuming full ships with six passengers aboard, Virgin Galactic would need 109 flights just to fly out its current manifest. The figure doesn’t include flight tests and missions filled with microgravity experiments. That’s a lot of launches to make without expecting at least one catastrophic failure, possibly involving prominent wealthy passengers.

It increasingly appears that this will be a total loss for the investors who poured money into Virgin Galactic.

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Parts 2 and 3 of “A Niche in Time”

The second and third parts of Doug Messier’s series on the history of aviation and space are now available:

Part 2 describes how the Hindenberg crash ended the lighter-than-air airship industry, while Part 3 describes how the Columbia accident led to the end of the space shuttle. He then compares them both, noting their similarities.

Not surprising to me, the main common thread that sustained both of these failed concepts was the desire of a government to build and fly them, regardless of their cost and practicality. Messier’s comparison between airships and airplanes highlights this well. Airplanes were cost effective and could easily be made profitable. Airships were neither. They existed because Hitler wanted them.

The same can be said for the space shuttles, and for Constellation and SLS/Orion today.

Anyway, read both articles above. They are nicely written, very informative, and provide important lessons about history that we would be wise to educate ourselves about before we attempt to make our own history in the future.

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Behemoths of the Sky

Link here. This article by Doug Messier, about the German attempt to create an industry around rigid lighter-than-air airships, is the first of a five part history series that he will use to illustrate some fundamentals about new industries.

Despite the differences in time periods and technologies, there are some fundamental things that are required for all major advances in flight regardless of when they are made: imagination, daring, physical courage and financial backing. And luck. No small amount of luck.

Today, Parabolic Arc begins a five-part series looking at three different periods in powered human flight. We will compare and contrast them to see what essential lessons can be drawn from them. If the first two installments appear to have little to do with spaceflight, please be patient. All will be revealed.

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NASA may have decided to fly humans on first SLS test flight

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc has a story today suggesting that there are rumors at NASA that the agency has decided that it will put astronauts in Orion for SLS’s first test flight, now tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2019.

At he notes, this will only be the second time in history humans will have flown on a untested rocket, the first being the space shuttle, where they had no choice as the vehicle needed people to fly it.

NASA’s arguments in favor of this manned test flight will probably rest on noting how much of the rocket is based on previously flown equipment. For example, the upper stage for this flight will be a modified Delta upper stage, a well tested and frequently flown stage. The first stage will be made of side-mounted first stage solid rocket boosters that are essentially upgrades of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. And the first stage engines are actual shuttle engines salvaged from the shuttle’s themselves. In addition, NASA will note that Orion will have a launch abort system, though it appears that there will be no test of this system prior to the flight.

These arguments don’t carry much weight. The Delta upper stage will also be modified for this flight, and this will be that version’s first use. Similarly, the solid rocket boosters have been modified as well, and this will be their first flight. And as I noted, the Orion launch abort system will not have been tested in flight.

Finally, and most important, the goal of this test flight is to see if these different parts have been integrated together properly. As a unit, none of them has ever flown together. To put humans on such a flight is very foolish indeed.

Messier sums this up quite well:

The flight might come off just fine. But, I fear that NASA’s concern about keeping the program funded, and Donald Trump’s desire for some space spectacular to boost his re-election chances, could combine to produce something very unfortunate.

I pray that people in the Trump administration put a stop to this silliness, as soon as possible.

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Launch industry trends, based on recent history

The worldwide competition to launch the most rockets each year, first noted by Doug Messier about the 2016 race that was won by a squeak by the U.S., and then augmented by my own post about the various predictions by different nations and companies about what they hope to achieve in 2017, got me to thinking. How do these numbers compare with the past? What are the launch trends? Who has been moving up and who has been moving down? And most important, what would a close look at the trends for the past two decades tell us about the future?

In order to answer these questions, I decided to compile a table of all worldwide launches since 1998.

Worldwide Launches since 1998

This table reveals some very interesting trends and facts that I had not recognized previously.
» Read more

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U.S. wins launch scorecard for 2016

Doug Messier today has compiled a list showing the launch totals worldwide for 2016, showing that though the U.S. and China tied for first with the most launches, 22, the U.S. won the race with fewer launch failures. Russia fell to third, almost entirely because its Proton rocket has been grounded since June.

What I find interesting is that, very slowly, the competing American companies are beginning to compile launch numbers that match those of whole nations. ULA completed 12 launches, which beat everyone but the U.S., China, and Russia. SpaceX, despite no launches after its September 1 launchpad explosion, still beat India and Japan, long considered established space powers, and finished only one launch total behind Europe.

Eventually, I believe SpaceX is going to get its technical problems ironed out. When that happens, the competition between them and ULA could have both companies producing numbers that beat out the national programs of Russia and China. In fact, I expect this to happen within three years, but more likely sooner.

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TMT legal case in Hawaii gets messier

The permit process in Hawaii for the Thirty Meter Telescope has gotten far messier, with the telescope’s opponents appealing to the state’s Supreme Court, complaining about witness procedures and the lawyers who are working for the state, while the land board running the procedures has asked the court to dismiss this appeal.

Essentially, the opponents are using every trick in the book to delay the permit process, and it appears that the law in Hawaii, including one just passed in August, is designed to aid them in this tactic.

TMT will not be built in Hawaii.The consortium that is building it needs a decision by early next year at the latest. They ain’t gonna get it. The luddites going to win, and Hawaii will be far poorer because of it.

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What is happening with Stratolaunch?

Doug Messier at his website Parabolic Arc today asks some pertinent questions about Stratolaunch and their seeming inability to settle on the rocket that will be launched from the giant plane they are building.

After going through SpaceX and Orbital ATK, the company talked to anyone and everyone with a rocket engine or an idea for one. They must have hit pay dirt with someone. [emphasis in original]

As Messier notes, both SpaceX and Orbital ATK have, in that order, made and then broke their partnership with Stratolaunch. Both companies were supposed to build that rocket, but for unknown reasons decided soon after that they couldn’t do this job. Stratolaunch has since been looking for a third company to build that rocket, but apparently has not found it. This information strongly suggests that the rocket companies found some fundamental engineering or management problems at Stratolaunch that scared them off. These same issues are also making it difficult for Stratolaunch to find a third rocket company.

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Some uncomfortable but valid thoughts about SpaceX

In the heat of competition: Doug Messier has written an excellent essay today raising some serious questions about SpaceX and its methods of operation.

The issues he raises go the heart of the company’s future. Moreover, he notes the unusual nature of the September 1 launchpad explosion that, unless explained, threatens the company business model.

The rarity of a satellite launch vehicle exploding during fueling had people racking their brains and scouring the Internet to find out the last time something like this happened. At least in the United States, that turned out to be more than 50 years ago when rocketry was in its infancy and accidents were much more frequent.

The lack of any modern precedents and the speed of the accident — Musk tweeted that engineers were reviewing around 3,000 channels of telemetry and video data that cover only 35-55 milliseconds — are making the investigation challenging. Musk has said it is the most difficult of the six failure investigations the company has conducted since it was founded in 2002.

Messier also takes a close look at SpaceX’s overall approach to innovation and development, and notes its unusual and somewhat risky nature.

Read it all. It provides valuable information for anyone who wants to understand honestly the state of the American launch industry.

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A report from Smallsat 2016

The competition heats up: Doug Messier has posted a nice summary of the most important presentations so far at Smallsat 2016 in Utah.

These are the rockets designed to launch cubesats or smaller. It appears that at least two companies, Firefly and Vector Space Systems, are getting close to their first flights. Both already have customers. The progress of a third company, Virgin Galactic, sounds as good, but they have talked big too many times in the past to trust them at this point. In fact, regardless of what any of these companies say, it will be actual flights that puts them on the map.

What is interesting is the number of these companies. There are a lot of them, which suggests strongly that some are going to succeed.

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Space reporter banned from space news website

Petty fascism: Doug Messier, who runs the excellent space news website Parabolic Arc, which I link to periodically, has been banned from posting comments on another generally excellent space news website, NASASpaceflight.com

To quote his website:

I just got banned from the NasaSpaceflight forums with this little message from little Andy.

“Sorry parabolicarc, you are banned from using this forum! Please use your own site to post what your “sources” are telling you. Too many people are sick of you using this site to spread rumors. Andy.

This ban is not set to expire.”

Doug is also the reporter with whom I and many other commenters at Behind the Black had a long, passioned but intelligent debate about global warming. As much as I might disagree with him on that subject, I find it baffling that any space website would ban him from commenting, especially since his reporting on space has been impeccably accurate and hard-hitting.

In a sense, this ban is just another example of how too many Americans can no longer deal with debate and opposing points of view. Very sad. Doug of course is always welcome to comment here, even when he strongly disagrees with what I’ve written.

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Congressman proposes major changes to regulation of commercial space

Doug Messier has posted a detailed analysis of Congressman Jim Bridenstine’s (R-Oklahoma) proposed American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) that is definitely worth reading.

Most of the changes appear aimed at organizing the regulation process of commercial space more completely under FAA control, rather than the hodge-podge of agencies that presently have responsibility. The bill also encourages NOAA and NASA to increase their use of commercial data for weather and Earth remote sensing.

At first glance, the bill looks good, but it also is not likely to be passed as written. Moreover, not surprisingly it calls for a hefty increase in funding for the FAA agencies being given more responsibilities, but I wonder if Congress will comparably reduce the funding of those agencies it takes responsibility from. My instinct tells me no, which means of course that the government and bureaucracy grows again.

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Musk vs Bezos vs Branson

The competition heats up: Two stories today highlight the entertaining and totally beneficial space race that now exists between private American space companies, instigated by SpaceX’s successful vertical landing of its Falcon 9 first stage.

The first is a Popular Mechanics post showing two graphics comparing the flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with Falcon 9’s first stage.

As they correctly note,

Both companies did a big thing and deserve accolades for it. The race is on to bring on true reusability, which has the potential to drive down the cost of space launches if done correctly. But Jeff Bezos is working with a rocket barely the size of the engine of the Falcon 9 first stage. For suborbital flight, Bezos did a big thing. For orbital flight, SpaceX did an even bigger thing. In suborbital flight, Bezos may have beat SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket to a full suborbital flight and return, but he isn’t ready to fly with the Falcon yet.

Blue Origin is posed to become SpaceX’s biggest competitor, but they clearly are behind in the race and will need to do a lot to catch up.

The second article is an excellent essay by Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc noting that at this stage the race isn’t really between Musk and Bezos but between Bezos and Richard Branson.

Messier notes that Bezos’ New Shepard rocket is built to sell tickets to tourists on suborbital flights. He is not competing with SpaceX’s orbital business but with Richard Branson’s space tourism business at Virgin Galactic. And more significantly, it appears that despite a ten year head start, Richard Branson appears to be losing that race, and badly.

Not only that, but while SpaceShipTwo is essentially a deadend, capable only of suborbital tourism, Bezos’s New Shepard was designed to be upgraded to an orbital ship and rocket. Once they chaulk up some suborbital ticket sales and some actual flights, something they seem posed to do in the next two years, they will likely then begin moving into the orbital field. They will then leave Virgin Galactic far behind.

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A list of all smallsat launch rockets

Doug Messier has compiled a very interesting table showing all the known smallsat launch vehicles presently under construction or in operation.

Most of the operational rockets, such as Orbital ATK’s Minotaur, have turned out to be too expensive for their small payloads, and have not been very profitable. The new generation of rockets, however, have the chance of success, as they are all working to reduce the cost significantly. Keep your eye especially on Rocket Labs (which just signed a contract with Moon Express), Swiss Space Systems, Firefly Space Systems, and (dare I say it?) Virgin Galactic.

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SpaceShipTwo debris from crash almost hit two truck drivers

Immediately after SpaceShipTwo crashed Doug Messier happened to come upon the cockpit crash site where he interviewed two drivers who had just passed each other when the debris hit the road behind them.

The odds of such a thing happening are gigantic, but obviously not zero.

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