Tag Archives: capitalism

OneWeb announces new launch schedule, cancels Ariane 6 launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb, as it restructures itself after its purchase by a partnership of an Indian company and the UK government, has announced a new launch schedule for completing its satellite communications constellation by 2022, with the first launch in December.

The key change is that they have cancelled their deal to fly OneWeb satellites on the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. From the first link:

Arianespace will conduct 16 Soyuz launches for OneWeb, each carrying 34-36 satellites, to complete OneWeb’s internet megaconstellation by the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches, and removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, an Arianespace spokesperson told SpaceNews.

The Ariane 6 cancellation is bad news for Arianespace’s new rocket, which has had trouble garnering customers. I am sure OneWeb was offered a great price to launch some satellites on that inaugural flight, and still OneWeb backed out.

For Russia this announcement is good news, even if they have lost two Soyuz launches. It means the bulk of their Soyuz launches will go forward, pumping money into the Russia’s starving commercial launch industry. This launch contract is essentially the only Russian commercial contract, with SpaceX stealing all of Russia’s former customers, and the bankruptcy had threatened it.

Finally, this announcement shows that OneWeb’s new owners have recognized that they have to get their satellites launched as fast as possible if they are going to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

Members-only resort club teams up with Space Perspective for stratospheric balloon rides

Capitalism in space: Space Perspectives, which hopes to fly commercial tourist balloon flights to the stratosphere has teamed up with the members-only resort club Exclusive Resorts for future flights.

Space Perspective is partnering with the members-only vacation club Exclusive Resorts, which will become the first privately chartered travel group to fly aboard Spaceship Neptune, a pressurized capsule carried by a massive balloon, representatives of both outfits announced Wednesday (Sept. 16).

“The club has always sought ways to give members once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see and explore the world in transformational, meaningful ways,” Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson said in a statement. “Our partnership with Space Perspective will offer our members a unique view of our planet that only a few people have ever had the opportunity to experience.”

No ticket price has yet been announced. They hope to do the first commercial flights by 2024.

SpaceX raises Falcon Heavy launch price for U.S. military

Capitalism in space: It now appears that SpaceX has significantly raised the price it is charging the U.S. military for its Falcon Heavy rocket

In winning the military’s new long term launch contracts, awarded to both SpaceX and ULA through 2026, SpaceX apparently doubled the Falcon Heavy price.

In 2018 he said the rocket would cost no more than $150 million to loft heavy payloads into orbit. But the award SpaceX received for a single mission in the first year of Phase Two was $316 million. That’s quite an increase.

The article is clearly one of those industry hit pieces against SpaceX. At the same time, I completely accept what it has found to be true. SpaceX no longer needs to undercut ULA by gigantic amounts to gain military contracts. Moreover, since the military decided to restrict bidding for all launches for the next five years to just these two companies, SpaceX has no reason to offer the same low prices it has in the past. All it needs to do is undercut ULA’s high prices by a little, and get the deal.

In a sense, it isn’t SpaceX’s fault the military will now have to pay so much. Blame our vaunted military bureaucracy, which choose to limit the competition to just two companies for the next five years. They are getting what they wanted, even if it ends up screwing the taxpayer.

Reality show to fly contestant to ISS

Capitalism in space: A new reality show, dubbed Space Hero, will have audiences watch contestants compete to be a passenger on a private capsule, likely SpaceX’s Dragon, and fly to ISS for ten days.

The selected group of contestants will undergo extensive training and face challenges testing their physical, mental and emotional strength, qualities that are essential for an astronaut in space. I hear the idea is for the culmination of the competition to be in a an episode broadcast live around the world where viewers from different countries can vote for the contestant they want to see going to space. The show will then chronicle the winner’s takeoff; their stay at the ISS for 10 days alongside professional astronauts traveling at 17,000 mph, orbiting the Earth 16 times a day; and end with their return to Earth. The Space Hero company is currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership on STEM initiatives onboard the ISS.

The trip of the Space Hero winner is expected be on a SpaceX Dragon rocket though a launch provider is yet to be officially selected. Space Hero, billed as the first space media company, is working with Axiom Space, manufacturer of the world’s first privately funded commercial space station — a module for the ISS where the private astronauts can stay — and full-service human spaceflight mission provider.

The project seems more viable and realistic than previous such attempts, aided by the fact that tickets can now be purchased on a private and operational manned capsule.

Rocket Lab completes first full launch dress rehearsal at Wallops

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it had successfully completed its first full dress rehearsal of an Electron rocket launch from its new launchpad on Wallops Island, Virginia.

This clears the way for that first launch, though the actual launch date is not yet set.

Before a launch window can be set, NASA is conducting the final development and certification of its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software for the mission. This flight will be the first time an AFTS has been has flown from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and represents a valuable new capability for the spaceport.

The company has said it wishes to launch before the end of September, so expect an announcement momentarily. Once achieved Rocket Lab will have two launch sites, in New Zealand and the U.S., and will be able to double its launch rate.

Dynetics’ manned lunar lander requires multiple launches and in-space refueling

According to company officials, the manned lunar lander being developed by Dynetics — one of three under NASA contract — will require three quick ULA Vulcan launches and in-space refueling before it will be capable of landing humans on the Moon.

Dynetics’ proposed Human Landing System (HLS) depends upon fuel depots and multiple rocket launches to achieve NASA’s goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, officials said during a webinar earlier this week. “Our lander is unique in that we need lunar fueling to accomplish our mission. In the next couple years, we will take in-space cryogenic propellant refueling technologies from the lab to [technology readiness level] 10 and operational,” said Kathy Laurini, payloads and commercialization lead for Dynetics’ HLS program.

The lander would launch on one Vulcan rocket, with the next two launches bringing the additional fuel.

More details here.

While it is good that this design does not require the long delayed and likely not-ready SLS rocket, it appears to require in-space capabilities that will not be ready by 2024, the Trump administration’s target date for its manned lunar landing. Instead, this design seems more aimed at subsequent operations in later years.

Since Congress has not yet funded the 2024 mission, though both parties seem interested in later manned lunar operations, this design seems cleverly aimed at that reality, designed to encourage long term government funding.

Regardless, everything hangs on the November elections, and who ends up in charge, both in the White House and in Congress. We presently have really have no way of predicting what will happen, until we know those election results.

Robots playing soccer

An evening pause: This is a clip from a robot competition in 2019 of what are called “kidsized” robots. Short but entertaining, especially because it demonstrates the relative stupidity and slow incompetence of state-of-the-art robots. Future versions might someday get to the level of Terminator, but these robots show that we are fortunately nowhere that close today.

Hat tip Roland.

Next Starship test flight to go to 60,000 feet

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has decided, after two successful 500 foot hops using its fifth and sixth Starship prototypes, to forego further hops with those prototypes and instead test fly prototype number eight to a height of 60,000 feet, about 11 miles.

Starship SN5 and SN6 were set to become a tag-team, flying 150-meter hops to refine the launch and landing techniques that SpaceX has pioneered with its Falcon 9 rocket. However, with SN5’s hop proving to be a success, followed by a notable improvement with SN6’s leap to 150 meters a few weeks later, it’s likely SpaceX is now confident of advancing to the next milestone.

The company has applied for an FCC license to do the flight anytime from Oct ’20 to April ’21, with October 11th being the first available date.

In the meantime the company plans a pressure tank test to failure of prototype #7, probably later this week.

In other related news at the second link, Boeing and Firefly have also applied for FCC licenses, the former for a Starliner demo mission from November ’20 to May ’21, the latter for its first launch of its smallsat Alpha rocket, also from November ’20 to May ’21.

Astra’s first orbital launch test fails

Capitalism in space: The first orbital launch test of the smallsat rocket company Astra failed last night shortly have liftoff.

In a more detailed update published on Astra’s website several hours after the launch, officials wrote that the rocket’s guidance system “appears to have introduced some slight oscillation into the flight, causing the vehicle to drift from its planned trajectory leading to a commanded shutdown of the engines by the flight safety system.”

“We didn’t meet all of our objectives, but we did gain valuable experience, plus even more valuable flight data,” Astra said. “This launch sets us well on our way to reaching orbit within two additional flights, so we’re happy with the result.”

This failure was not unexpected. The company has made it clear that it was the first of a three flight program aimed at reaching orbit with the third launch.

Astra scrubs launch attempt

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Astra yesterday scrubbed another attempt to achieve its first orbital launch.

They were forced to stand down at T-25 minutes because of a sensor issue. No further details were released, nor have they as yet announced a new launch date.

This launch will be the third for Astra, following two flights from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in July and November 2018, respectively. These flights were originally believed to be failures. However, Astra stated that the first (designated Rocket 1.0) was successful and that the second (Rocket 2.0) was “shorter than planned.” Neither rocket was designed to reach orbit, as they did not have functioning upper stages.

This scrubbed flight has been dubbed Rocket 3.0, and was part of what the company calls a three launch program aimed at reaching orbit by the third launch. All three launches are orbital, but the company has made it clear that it would not be surprised if the first or even the second failed.

NASA to buy lunar mined material from private companies

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced that, rather than develop its own lunar sample missions, it wants to buy such lunar mined material obtained from private companies.

NASA on Thursday launched an effort to pay companies to mine resources on the moon, announcing it would buy from them rocks, dirt and other lunar materials as the U.S. space agency seeks to spur private extraction of coveted off-world resources for its use.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a blog post accompanying the announcement that the plans would not violate a 1967 treaty that holds that celestial bodies and space are exempt from national claims of ownership.

The initiative, targeting companies that plan to send robots to mine lunar resources, is part of NASA’s goal of setting what Bridenstine called “norms of behavior” in space and allowing private mining on the moon in ways that could help sustain future astronaut missions. NASA said it views the mined resources as the property of the company, and the materials would become “the sole property of NASA” after purchase.

This announcement continues NASA’s transition under the Trump administration from trying to run everything to simply being a customer buying what it needs and wants from the private sector. The idea is smart, as it will guarantee that these samples will be obtained in the cheapest and fastest way possible, while simultaneously sparking the development of a competitive and thriving private industry capable of flying all kinds of planetary missions. The lower costs of these private planetary probes will in turn will spark the creation of a new private sector of customers buying those probes for their own profit-centered needs.

Boeing strikes deal to avoid harsher ethics probe in NASA’s lunar lander scandal

Boeing has struck a deal with both NASA and the Air Force in order to avoid a harsher and more extensive ethics probe into its part in the NASA lunar lander contract bidding scandal.

The agreement, signed in August, comes as federal prosecutors continue a criminal investigation into whether NASA’s former human exploration chief, Doug Loverro, improperly guided Boeing space executive Jim Chilton during the contract bidding process.

By agreeing to the “Compliance Program Enhancements”, the aerospace heavyweight staves off harsher consequences from NASA and the Air Force – its space division’s top customers – such as being suspended or debarred from bidding on future space contracts. The agreement calls for Boeing to pay a “third party expert” to assess its ethics and compliance programs and review training procedures for executives who liaise with government officials, citing “concerns related to procurement integrity” during NASA’s Human Landing System competition.

Since Loverro resigned in May, Boeing has fired one company attorney and a group of mid-level employees, three people familiar with the actions told Reuters.

The deal seems like a bureaucratic whitewash, designed to take the heat off the company. And since Boeing as a company has many problems, I remain skeptical that any of this will make a difference in getting things fixed.

ULA pinpoints cause of Delta launch abort, reschedules launch

ULA has identified the cause of the launch abort of its Delta 4 Heavy rocket on August 29th, and has now aiming for a launch no earlier than September 18th.

A torn diaphragm in one of three pressure regulators at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 37 caused the computer-controlled scrub just three seconds before liftoff on Aug. 29, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said via Twitter on Wednesday. The engines briefly lit on fire, but the rocket remained firmly on the pad.

“Torn diaphragm (in the regulator), which can occur over time,” Bruno said. “Verifying the condition of the other two regulators. We will replace or rebuild as needed, re-test, and then resume towards launch.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words illustrate the less than stellar old space rocket design that the Delta 4 Heavy represents, and that ULA is perpetuating as long as it uses this rocket. Rather than redesign so that these torn diaphragms will no longer be a problem, it appears they will simply make sure this design is tested and works, for this launch. Thus, this issue has the possibility of reappearing in a future launch.

Wouldn’t it be better to upgrade and eliminate such a problem, for good, once it is identified? That appears to be SpaceX’s strategy, and the consequence is that their rockets and spacecraft get increasingly more reliable with time.

Anyway, if ULA’s schedule holds, it means there will be two launches at Cape Canaveral in less than 24 hours, as SpaceX is aiming for another Starlink launch the day earlier.

Northrop Grumman shuts down Omega rocket program

Having lost any chance of getting launch contracts or development money from the military for the next five-plus years, Northrop Grumman has chosen to shut down its Omega rocket program.

“We have chosen not to continue development of the OmegA launch system at this time,” Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Jennifer Bowman said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to play a key role in National Security Space Launch missions and leveraging our OmegA investments in other activities across our business.”

Bowman said the company will not be protesting the U.S. Space Force’s decision to select United Launch Alliance and SpaceX for the NSSL contracts.

This was a typical big space Washington project, aimed solely at getting government contracts, as well as government cash to develop it. The company had no interest in trying to develop it with its own R&D funds in order to garner market share in the general launch market, or even to make it cheaper and more useful to the military than SpaceX’s rocket.

In this sense this is no great loss. What we need is real competition, aimed at coming up with better ideas that will lower cost and increase capabilities. What Northrop Grumman was offering was none of those things. It was fake competition, and of no real value.

NASA solicits lunar landers to bid on bringing science instruments to Moon

UPDATE: It appears I misunderstood the nature of this NASA solicitation in my initial post. I have rewritten it to correct it. Hat tip reader Rex Ridenoure.

Capitalism in space: NASA has issued a request from the private companies building unmanned lunar landers to bid on carrying a variety of science instruments to the Moon by ’23.

Initially NASA had indicated it was farming out the design and construction of the lunar landers to private companies, but would have the science instruments designed and built in-house. Since ’19 however NASA has had private companies designing and building these fourteen small science payloads, and is now in the process of determining which private landers will bring them to the Moon.

Though this approach is not very different than past NASA arrangements, what is different is NASA’s public approach. Instead of touting NASA’s part in this work, the agency is touting the work of the private companies.

Russia wins spacesuit contract for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission

The new colonial movement: The Russian Zvezda design center in Roscosmos has won the spacesuit contract to build the spacesuits and capsule seats for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission, targeted for a ’22 launch.

It is not surprising that the Russians won this contract. India does not have a lot of time to get the mission off the ground, and needs help. The Russian spacesuits are practical and proven, and are far superior to anything available from NASA. The only other option available at this moment would be the flight suits SpaceX designed for its Dragon missions and flown once. I suspect the Indians want something that has been used and tested more.

Moreover, their astronauts are being trained by the Russians. Better and simpler to have them use the suits the Russians use.

Update on Starship development

Capitalism in space: Link here. The update outlines the status of Starship prototypes #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 as well as the first Super Heavy prototype, all of which are being prepped for future tests.

It is expected that #7 will be tested next, a tank pressure test intended to be tested to failure sometime in the next few weeks. The goal here is to obtain the engineering limits of the alloy being used in this particular prototype so that engineers will know how to use it in future builds.

Rocket Lab reveals it also launched its own satellite on August 30th

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today revealed that along with placing a customer’s commercial radar satellite into orbit on August 30th, it also launched the prototype of its own satellite during the Electron rocket launch.

The company calls its satellites Photons, but rather than number them it will give each their own name. This particular satellite has been dubbed “First Light.”

The satellite is primarily a technology demonstrator, a way to test Photon’s systems in orbit and show customers what the spacecraft is capable of. First Light will stay up for the next five or six years, if all goes according to plan, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said during a teleconference with reporters today (Sept. 3).

Photon should be attractive to a variety of customers, allowing them to focus on their sensors and other instruments without having to worry about building and operating an entire spacecraft, Rocket Lab representatives have said.

The goal is to offer this smallsat as a platform to those who wish to launch an instrument into space but don’t want to spend the money building the satellite itself. The company also intends to use a Photon satellite for a science mission to Venus in 2023.

Another successful Starship prototype hop

Starship prototype #6 in flight

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed a 150-meter high hop of its sixth Starship prototype, the second such hop but the first for this prototype. They have now flown two different prototypes, plus Starhopper, all successfully. No flight failures, so far.

Next they will be doing a pressure tank test, to failure, of the seventh prototype. That prototype is using what they think will be a better steel alloy, and they want to find out its limits. I have also heard that they will either fly this prototype again or fly the fifth again, sometime in the next two weeks.

I have embedded a few more images below the fold.
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FAA issues Wallops Island launch license to Rocket Lab

Capitalism in space: The FAA has now issued a five year launch license to the smallsat rocket company Rocket Lab, allowing them to launch their Electron rocket from the company’s launch site on Wallops Island, Virginia.

The Launch Operator License allows for multiple launches of the Electron launch vehicle from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, eliminating the need to obtain individual, launch-specific licenses for every mission and helping to streamline the path to orbit and enable responsive space access from U.S. soil.

The company hopes to do its first launch from the U.S. before the year is out. It will then have two spaceports, allowing it to double its launch rate.

SpaceX attempting another Starship hop today

Capitalism in space: Engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas are today preparing the sixth Starship prototype for its first 150 meter hop, the second hop of a Starship prototype overall.

The launch window is anytime between 8 am and 8 pm (Central). I have embedded the livesteam below the fold if you wish to watch. Based on previous attempts, they will try for a morning launch before noon, and if there are issues they will recycle and try again in the afternoon.
» Read more

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully launches 60 Starlink satellites

Falcon 9 1st stage after landing

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.

It also successfully landed its first stage, the second time this stage has done so.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
15 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S now leads China in the national rankings 24 to 20.

Arianespace’s Vega rocket successfully launches 53 satellites

Capitalism in space: Arianespace’s Vega rocket tonight finally resumed commercial operations more than a year after a July 2019 launch failure, successfully placing 53 small commercial satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S.’s lead over China in the national rankings remains at 23 to 20.

Rocket Lab successfully launches a commercial radar satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab tonight successfully resumed launches after its launch failure last month by placing a a commercial radar satellite into orbit.

This was Rocket Lab’s third successful launch in 2020, so they don’t make the leader board. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 20 in the national rankings.

SpaceX successfully launches Argentina satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched an Argentinian radar satellite into polar orbit, the first such launch from Cape Canaveral since the 1960s.

The company also successfully landed the first stage at the Cape, completing that stage’s fourth flight. As I write this they still have two more smallsats to deploy, but it is very unlikely they will have an issue doing so.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 22 to 20 in the national rankings. With a scheduled launch by Rocket Lab from New Zealand later tonight, these numbers could change again before the day is out.

SpaceX scrubs Starship prototype hop

Capitalism in space: Though it appeared twice today that SpaceX engineers were on the verge of executing their second Starship prototype hop, the first for prototype #6, in both cases they stood down.

It appears according to road closures in Boca Chica they will try again tomorrow. The live stream is available here. The closures go from 8 am to 8 pm (Central), within which the hop could occur at almost any time, but likely not before 9 am.

SpaceX scrubs first launch today due to weather

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has scrubbed its first planned launch for today, putting 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, due to poor weather.

Assuming they get range permission, they will try again on September 1st at 9:29 am (Eastern).

Their second launch today remains on their schedule, with the weather presently giving them a 40% chance of launch.

Confirmed: SpaceX plans two launches for tomorrow

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now confirmed that it will attempt two Falcon 9 launches tomorrow at its launch facility at Cape Canaveral, the first to launch 60 Starlink satellites at 10:12 am (Eastern) and the second to launch an Argentinian radar satellite at 7:18 pm (Eastern).

In the first launch the first stage, used once before, will attempt to land on the drone ship in the Atlantic. On the second launch the first stage, used three times previously, will return to Cape Canaveral for its landing attempt.

The live stream for both will be available here.

SpaceX will also tomorrow attempt a 500 meter hop of its sixth Starship prototype. The live stream of that can be seen here.

Meanwhile Rocket Lab has shifted its launch this weekend in New Zealand from tonight to tomorrow night at 11:05 pm (Eastern). The live stream will be aired here.

That means on August 30, 2020 there could be three American launches as well as another test flight of a new reusable rocket.

Note: Astra has delayed the first orbital test flight of its rocket to no early than September 10th due to poor weather in Kodiak, Alaska.

ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy: Launch abort at T-3 seconds tonight

Delta 4 Heavy immediately after engine shutdown

UPDATE: It appears ULA will need at least a week to analyze the situation before attempting another launch. It also appears that SpaceX is going forward with its two launches on August 30.

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Tonight’s attempt by ULA to launch a National Reconnaissance Satellite on its Delta 4 Heavy rocket was aborted at T-3 seconds when the rocket’s main engines did an automatic abort. The image to the right shows the rocket immediately after the engines shut down, the smoke clearing and the rocket still sitting on the launch pad.

They are presently unfueling the rocket and will not launch tonight. They have not set a new launch date, and there is also no word on whether this launch delay will force delays in the two SpaceX launches set for August 30th. My guess is that the issue tonight will take time to assess, so they will give up their place in line and let SpaceX proceed as planned.

In watching ULA’s broadcast tonight, as well as reviewing the issues that prevented launch two days ago, I was struck by several things. First, ULA’s promo films to tout the wonders of the Delta family of rockets actually made them seem incredibly clunky and complex. There seemed to be too many pieces and complex operations to get the rocket ready for launch, which makes sense as Delta rockets are very costly and not competitive with today’s market. This is the exact reason ULA is in the process of retiring the entire Delta family. They will complete the already purchased and scheduled launches, but in the future will use their new Vulcan rocket for similar future bids.

Second, the number of minor and major technical issues during both countdowns reinforced my impressions above. This is a very complex rocket to launch, and that complexity apparently leads to many issues that make launch difficult.

For the scrub on August 26 they first had two blown fuses in a launchpad heater that had to be replaced, then a pneumatics system issue that was apparently not solved during the countdown. When they scrubbed, however, they said they did it because of “several problems,” not just this one.

On tonight’s launch they first had an issue with a fuel valve, then several fuel sensor alarms gave them problems, requiring them to disable them to proceed, then the temperatures in the payload electronics posed an issue that after some analysis was considered acceptable. These issues caused the launch to be delayed by about an hour and a half.

Finally, the rocket’s main engines shut down at the rescheduled lift-off time.

It might not be fair, but in comparing this ULA launch effort with the numerous countdowns by SpaceX the differences were stark. SpaceX has had comparable few issues during recent launches, with only one launch recently scrubbed due to a technical issue in July. Moreover, the company’s launch team has several times had similar launch aborts at T-0, and still were able to recycle everything and proceed to launch immediately.

All these impressions once again suggest that ULA is making the right decision to retire Delta. That it is going to take them several more years however to launch several more government surveillance satellites raises questions about the decisions of our government to pay for such a unwieldy and expensive rocket. There now are better and cheaper options available.

SpaceX wins launch contract for unmanned lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Masten Space Systems has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its unmanned lunar lander, being built to carry nine NASA science payloads to the south pole of the Moon.

Launch is tentatively scheduled for late ’22.

NASA will be an anchor customer for the mission but Masten intends to sign up others. “There is a tremendous amount of interest,” he said, including from both the public and private sector, although he didn’t mention any specific potential customers.

Mahoney said the level of customer interest soared after Masten won the CLPS award and had a firm schedule for the mission. “Once the CLPS award was made and we crossed from speculative to having a schedule, the tenor and tone of our conversations have changed dramatically.”

The limiting factor for the lander mission has not been the amount of mass available for payloads, he said, but instead positions on the lander that have views of the surface desired by payloads. “There’s a game of positioning among the various instruments so that they can get the view angles that they need and not interfere,” he said.

However, he said the company isn’t considering major changes in the lander’s design to accommodate payloads. “The design principle is the ‘pickup truck’ that can haul a bunch of different things,” he said. “We’re trying to escape the completely unique, bespoke system that does one job and one mission really well.”

I guarantee that at least one university student-built payload will end up on the lander.

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