Lockheed Martin enters the competition to supply cargo for ISS

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin has joined Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK, Boeing, and SpaceX in bidding for NASA’s next contract to ferry cargo to ISS.

Lockheed’s proposal is different in that it proposes a two spacecraft operation. The cargo would be hauled up in a very simple storage bin, where a long-term orbital tug would grab it and take it to ISS. The idea is that they would only have to build and launch the complicated thrusters, robot arms, computers, and avionics of their cargo freighter once, thereby saving money.

Two companies will be chosen. Since the first competition back in the mid-2000s, when NASA picked SpaceX and Kistler for the first cargo round, the quality of the bids has improved remarkably. Back then, NASA had to choose from a bunch of new companies, none of which had ever done this before. The big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) then poo-pooed the competition, saying that it couldn’t be done as cheap as the new companies claimed. After Kistler went under and was replaced by Orbital, they and SpaceX proved the big companies were wrong.

Now the competition includes all the big players, except that those big players are no longer offering expensive systems but cut-rate efficient designs that are as cost effective as SpaceX and Orbital’s first designs.

Boeing to bid CST-100 for ISS cargo contract

The competition heats up: Boeing has submitted a bid for the next round of ISS cargo missions, proposing to use its CST-100 manned craft as an unmanned freighter.

The cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft will be based on the crewed version the company is developing for NASA, said John Mulholland, Boeing commercial crew program manager. Boeing will remove spacecraft components not needed for crew missions, like its launch abort system and environmental controls, to free up room in the spacecraft for cargo. The cargo version of CST-100 would, like the crewed version, launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The cargo version will also be able to return cargo to Earth, landing in the western U.S. like the crewed version.

This makes sense to me.

Ancient Greek ships shipped more than just wine

New data has shown that ancient Greek merchant ships transported a wide assortment of goods, not just wine.

What is interesting about this story is how it punctures a hole in an assumption too many archeologists have been making about the amphorae, the standard shipping container of the ancient Mediterranean:

Amphorae have been found in their thousands in wrecks all over the Mediterranean Sea. Some of them contain residues of food, such as olive pits and fish bones, but the vast majority of them are discovered empty and unmarked. Foley says historians tend to assume that these containers were used mainly to transport wine — in a survey of 27 peer-reviewed studies describing 5,860 amphorae, he found that 95% of the jars were described as having carried the beverage.

The new research found evidence for many things besides wine, illustrating again the dangers of assuming anything in science.

Orbital Science rocket engine sustains damage in test

One of the rocket engines for Orbital Science’s Taurus rocket, to be used to supply cargo to ISS, was badly damaged in a fuel fire June 9.

The results of the investigation and prognosis for the engine and the Taurus II should come together by the end of this week or early next week, Beneski says. Two other AJ26 engines have completed hot-fire acceptance testing without mishap, according to the Aerojet website. Beneski said the engine mishap potentially affects the testing planned to get the Taurus II ready for operational missions to resupply the ISS.

Orbital’s COTS capsule taking shape

The Cygnus capsule is taking shape. Orbital Sciences signed a COTS contract with NASA in 2008 (as did SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket) to provide cargo ferrying services to ISS, and they are making real progress toward their first demonstration flight in the spring of 2011. That they have subcontracted most of the work to foreign companies, however, limits how much their work can help the American aerospace industry.