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.

SpaceX successfully launches commercial communications satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched Telstar 19v, a commercial communications satellite.

This was the second Block 5 rocket to fly successfully.

Correction: Previously I had said that these two flights served to satisfy NASA’s demands for seven successful Block 5 launches before they would certify it for commercial crew. It turns out that neither accomplishes this, because the tanks within are not the finalized versions. Thank you readers!

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

20 China
13 SpaceX
8 Russia
4 Japan

In the national standings China is now only one launch ahead of the U.S., 20-19.

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  • David Eastman

    I was under the impression that since SpaceX isn’t flying these boosters with the final COPV intended for the manned launches, that the 7 launch certification counter wasn’t running?

  • David Eastman: My impression was that the last two launches did have the final COPV. Others however more knowledgeable than I can speak up and correct me if I am wrong.

  • David Eastman

    No, it’s been confirmed several times that the final COPV has not yet flown. They’re targeting the first Dragon2 demo flight for the debut of the final COPV.

  • David Eastman

    Here is one link, I originally thought that article was wrong when it was published, but as I said, it’s been repeated several other places and has official confirmation.

  • Michael

    Regarding the final COPV version first use on the DM-1 flight I have the same understanding. To date the flights of the Block 5 are providing useful baseline information regarding vehicle performance but are not being counted towards manned flights. Sort of a disappointment but things happen in their own good time.

    General question, does anyone know if last night’s landing burn was one engine or three engines?

  • David (and Michael): Thank you. I have posted a correction.

  • DougSpace

    13 + 5 = 18. So, is the 19th US launch Orbital ATK’s?

  • Steve Holmberg

    Pardon my ignorance, but what is the ULA? Thanks!

  • Steve Holmberg: ULA stands for United Launch Alliance. It is a joint launch partnership formed by Boeing (Delta family of rockets) and Lockheed Martin (Atlas 5) back in the early 2000s as part of an agreement with the Air Force to provide it launch services.

    Initially that deal gave ULA a monopoly on all military launches. It also gave ULA a sweet $1 billion subsidy per year for ten years, irrelevant to whether they launched anything or not. When SpaceX sued to force the Air Force to open up bidding to all comers, ULA was forced to compete in the open market. Since then, under the leadership of its new CEO Tory Bruno, it has cut costs, reworked its management, and accelerated its launch services. It is also working to develop a new rocket, Vulcan, to better compete with SpaceX.

    Whether ULA can succeeds remains an open question. But then, that is always the case with freedom and competition.

  • wayne

    “United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. ULA was formed in December 2006.”
    –their corporate family-tree goes way back (in parts) to Rocketdyne (1958) and North American Aviation (1928).

  • wodun

    It is interesting that the Block V was supposed to be the final iteration and an end of constant changes that some people in the space media were so concerned with but here we are with more iterations.

  • Kirk

    Ars Technica has some great photos of this launch, particularly a series capturing the flame-illuminated shock collar as the Falcon 9 went transonic. Check out photos 12 – 18 in the gallery.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “[The deal] gave ULA a monopoly on all military launches. It also gave ULA a sweet $1 billion subsidy per year for ten years, irrelevant to whether they launched anything or not.

    The United Launch Alliance “subsidy” is a second contract performance and is not really a subsidy. Because the Air Force could not guarantee a minimum number of annual launches, especially for the more expensive Delta rocket, the second part of the contract provided for certain fixed costs, such as maintaining launch pads that would not be used that year, and this makes it look like a subsidy, because they got paid even if they launched no payloads.

    This left the price tag of each rocket as the variable costs. For the Air Force, the cost of each rocket launch was some increment above the fixed cost. Since the incremental cost was lower than the total cost of a launch — the fixed cost being covered already — it looked like a subsidy even when they launched rockets. It looked like a subsidy, because when Arianespace, Orbital ATK, or SpaceX price a launch, they include all their fixed costs, so they tend to consider the second part of the ULA contract as a subsidy.

    By the way, Arianespace gets real subsidies, because each year they lose money on their launches, so the European government gifts them money to make up for those losses. That is the definition of subsidy.

  • Edward: In the case of ULA’s plush deal with the Air Force, we will have to agree to disagree. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, as far as I am concerned, it is a duck.

    You list all the reasons why the ULA payments look like subsidies. By a strict use of the word’s definition maybe not. By reality, definitely so. It was a subsidy.

  • Edward

    OK, we can agree to disagree.

    I will admit that it was a sweet deal, but it was also a necessary deal, because a year with too few launches could kill the company. Before the formation of ULA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin were large enough to take a hit one year so long as there were enough launches overall to keep their rockets worth building and launching (note the extinction of the Titan family of rockets). For ULA, there were not enough other sources of revenue to keep them solvent, so the sweet deal was created.

    Of course, the other launch companies can have similar problems, but (except for Arianespace) national security did not hang on the solvency of those companies. No sweet deals (or subsidies) for them.

    I tend to consider the creation of ULA as a step in the recovery from the disastrous 1980s decision to rely upon the Space Shuttle for all U.S. launches. U.S. launch companies suffered greatly and foreign launchers benefited greatly, especially Arianespace, China, and Russia.

  • Edward: See my May 19, 2005 UPI column on the ULA merger: A Shrinking, Timid Industry

    If anything, this merger demonstrated the dry rot that controlled these bankrupt companies. The commercial satellite business was shrinking because they had made no effort to lower launch costs. Their merger, combined with their sweet deal with the Air Force, allowed them to further pump up costs.

    And even as they were doing this, SpaceX was being founded. It would do what they never had the courage to do, and thus we might finally have a robust commercial launch industry.

  • Edward

    We are now getting away from the topic of subsidies and into things that we agree upon.

    Part of the problem with pumped-up costs was the reliance on Russian rocket engines for Atlas V. The Russians started charging more and more for their engines, just as they charged more and more for their Soyuz services to take U.S. astronauts to the ISS. Sole source suppliers, such as Russia and ULA, can be a problem.

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