Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Russia ships three more engines to U.S. for ULA’s rockets

Russia announced yesterday that it has delivered three more RD-180 engines to ULA for use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

The article notes that this contract, as well as the contract with Northrop Grumman to make RD-181 engines for the Antares rocket, both end in December 2019. While ULA has said it plans to replace the Russia engine with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine (still under development), it is not clear what Northrop Grumman will do.

In both cases, Russia has delivered enough engines to cover launches for the next few years. This will give Blue Origin time to complete development of the BE-4. As for Antares, the lack of its Russian engine, combined with its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA, could spell the end of that rocket once Northrop Grumman has used up its engine stockpile.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • Wodun

    “its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA”

    I dont think it was ever intended too. Sure, they wouldn’t turn someone away but that project was to compete for a specific NASA contract. I think you would find sourcing of new engines to coincide with their confidence in getting contract renewals from NASA.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I didn’t realize NGIS’s engine contract for Antares ran out this year. If NGIS is sitting on an inventory of a couple dozen or so RD-191’s that could get them through 2024-25 when the next CRS contract is due to be let – assuming ISS isn’t in the process of being decommissioned by then. If ISS is still a thing until 2030, the Firefly Beta, which is to have roughly Antares-level performance, be reusable and built around AJR’s AR-1 engine, could pose serious competition. But if NGIS can’t get more engines for Antares, it may well have sold Cygnus to Firefly in the meantime and exited both the launch and ISS resupply businesses.

    The only alternative would seem to be also going with AJR’s AR-1. But doing a straight-up substitution would make Antares a two AR-1 rocket vs. the single-AR-1 Beta so costs will be higher even in the absence of any other complication – such as the very real possibility AJR will be owned by Noosphere Ventures a year or two down the road just as Firefly is owned by NV now.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *