Tag Archives: commercial

First Man: Trivializing the lunar landing

First Man movie flightsuits, without American flag

This past weekend movie-goers finally got to see the world premiere of First Man, a movie based on the biography with the same title telling the life story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of another world.

Prior to the movie’s release there was some controversy when Ryan Gosling, the actor playing Armstrong, said that they had left out the scene on the Moon when the astronauts planted the American Flag because their goal was to highlight Armstrong’s personal story as well as the global nature of the achievement.

Star Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, defended director Damien Chazelle’s decision to omit the star-spangled moment when asked about it in Venice. “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it, ” Gosling said per the Telegraph. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

The Canadian actor added that based on his own interviews with Armstrong’s family and friends, he doesn’t believe the pioneering astronaut considered himself an American hero. “I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero,” Gosling said. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.” [emphasis mine]

Many on the right including myself, strongly criticized this statement. The movies director, Damien Chazelle, immediately responded, saying he was not trying to devalue the importance of the American achievement but to focus instead on telling Neil Armstrong’s personal story. “My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon — particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”

I decided I had been unfair to criticize the film without seeing it, and decided I would make a rare trip to a movie theater as soon as it was released to see it and then review it.
» Read more

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Moon Express and Canada cement business relationship

Capitalism in space: Moon Express today signed deals with seven Canadian companies, further cementing an agreement with that country’s space agency to work together to provide Canada with a lunar mission capability.

The news comes just two weeks after Moon Express had signed an MOU with the Canadian Space Agency whereby “the CSA and Moon Express will explore the possibilities of using Moon Express lunar orbiter and lander systems for potential CSA payloads and will promote possibilities for collaboration between Moon Express and the Canadian space industry and academia.”

Moon Express was co-founded by Canadian Bob Richards who has strong ties to Canada’s space sector having started his career in Canada. Richards moved to the U.S. to pursue his dream of building a company that would be an enabler for a sustained economy based on lunar resources.

Moon Express has been working for some time on developing relationships and laying the necessary groundwork, to expand into Canada. More agreements could come as result of today’s Industry Day.

The company has not said when the first mission will fly, though there are hints they are aiming for late 2019 or early 2020.

These deals however point to the future of planetary exploration. Rather than create a big lumbering space program, Canada is hiring a private company to build its lunar probe so that it gets it quickly and for little cost. I expect other nations will soon follow.

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Rocket Lab chooses Wallops as first U.S. launch site

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has picked the spaceport at Wallops in Virginia as its first U.S. launch site.

The company is planning its first launch of Electron from U.S. soil and its Wallops facility for Quarter 3 of 2019, less than a year from today’s announcement. “We needed to get pad and support up quickly, and Wallops met the bill completely for what we needed to achieve in this time,” said Mr. Beck to NASASpaceflight.

Overall, the Wallops launch pad, known as Launch Complex 2 (LC-2), will be Rocket Lab’s second dedicated launch complex, will be capable of supporting monthly orbital launches, and is designed to serve U.S. government and commercial missions. The site will bring Rocket Lab’s global launch availability across two launch complexes to more than 130 missions per year.

It really does appear that once they successfully complete their next two launches in November and December, the company will be aiming to meet a launch cadence of at least one orbital launch per week.

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Atlas 5 launches Air Force military satellite

ULA successfully launched an Air Force military satellite early today using its Atlas 5 rocket.

You can watch the launch at the link.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
8 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings 28 to 26. Note that Russia has now been tied by ULA in the number of successful launches this year, and has a chance of topping Russia before by year’s end, a possibility that would have been impossible only a few years ago. The Russian launch count has crashed in the past four years. Nor is Russia alone in this. ULA’s numbers have also slumped slightly. Prior to last year, ULA routinely had had a dozen launch per year. It only had 8 launches last year, and it does not look like it will a dozen again in 2018.

This slump is not because of an overall slump in launches. It is because SpaceX has grabbed the commercial market with its less expensive rockets.

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Gerry & Pacemakers – Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying

An evening pause: I haven’t posted this band since 2011. Time to do it again. The sound is the from the studio recording, sync’d to this stage performance. I’d rather have seen the live version, but I suspect the sound quality was so poor this is a better choice.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

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Another Zimmerman op-ed: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole

The Federalist yesterday published an op-ed by myself, focused entirely on the disaster that is big government space, both here and in Russia: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole. Key section, beginning with my description of SLS:

That’s approximately $40 billion over 20 years to launch a single manned mission, in an Apollo-style capsule on a Saturn-type rocket, reusing (supposedly to save money) already built shuttle engines and upgraded shuttle solid rocket boosters. I repeat: It will take NASA more than 20 years and $40 billion to fly one manned mission on SLS. And that’s not including the almost $18 billion NASA will spend to build the Orion capsule that will fly on that mission. Does no one in Congress and in the Trump administration see anything wrong here?

The story gets worse. In September, NASA released what it has dubbed its “National Space Exploration Campaign Report,” a 21-page document outlining the agency’s plans for deep space exploration through 2030, using SLS and Orion as well as a new NASA boondoggle to be built in lunar orbit, dubbed the Gateway. To label this road map a joke would be an insult to comedians everywhere. It lays out deadlines and budgets that are so vague and ambiguous that the project could take a half century, cost a trillion, and still have never launched.
Lawmakers Need to Wise Up to This Black Hole

The worse part of this sad story is that it appears Congress and the Trump administration are buying into it, pushed partly by heavy lobbying by the big space companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman — that hope to get the contracts to build it. It must be understood, however, that the companies advocating Gateway and all future big space projects using SLS and Orion don’t really care if anything ever actually gets built. Like SLS and Orion, what they really want is endless appropriations and cost-plus contracts that will funnel money to them endlessly, even as the launch dates of their projects recede forever into the future.

Nor are Congress and the bureaucracies in NASA and the executive branch interested in accomplishing anything. All Congress wants is to be able to claim they brought jobs to their districts and states, even if those jobs never accomplish anything at all and waste the taxpayers’ money. The bureaucrats merely want to perpetuate their jobs, building empires in fancy Washington offices while attending lots of conferences on the taxpayers’s dime.

None of them care about the national interest. Their goal is to line their pockets, regardless of the harm it does the United States. This must change. If Trump truly wants to empty the swamp, he has to stop funding such boondoggles. This does not mean that Americans should cede the future exploration of space to China and others, but we can clearly do this in a better and smarter way.

Read it all.

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Paul Allen dead at 65

Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and the man behind Stratolaunch passed away today at the age of 65.

Allen ranked among the world’s wealthiest individuals. As of Monday afternoon, he ranked 44th on Forbes’ 2018 list of billionaires with an estimated net worth of more than $20 billion.

Through Vulcan, Allen’s network of philanthropic efforts and organizations, the Microsoft co-founder supported research in artificial intelligence and new frontier technologies. The group also invested in Seattle’s cultural institutions and the revitalization of parts of the city.

What this will mean for Stratolaunch of course cannot be predicted. Its design — using a giant airplane to air-launch payloads into orbit — is somewhat radical, a fact that generally requires the will and power of a single individual to force it to fruition. Allen’s absence here could make the completion of their effort much more difficult.

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Branson suspends negotiations with Saudi Arabia

Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson today announced that he is suspending negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s investment funds because of their involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson said in a statement.

It was expected that Saudi Arabia was going to invest about a billion dollars in Branson’s space companies, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Branson has also suspended his directorship in two Saudi tourism projects.

I must wonder if what really has happened is that the Saudi’s were becoming reluctant to commit funds to Branson because of the lack of success at Virgin Galactic, and Branson is therefore providing himself cover for the failure of the negotiations by claiming it was he that pulled out, for different reasons.

At the same time, what happened to Khashoggi might justify Branson’s actions.

He had an appointment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect some documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee — a certificate showing that he was divorced from his first wife. He entered the consulate on Oct. 2 at 1:14 p.m., asking his fiancee to wait outside for him. She did. Until 2 a.m. He never emerged.

A number of news outlets, citing Turkish sources, are reporting that Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of a Saudi newspaper, regime critic and Washington Post contributor, was murdered. The New York Times quoted sources who said that 15 Saudi agents from the security services, including one autopsy expert, entered Turkey that same day on two chartered flights. They departed that evening. The Saudis claim that Khashoggi left the consulate an hour after he arrived and have no idea what became of him. The Turks would like to send a forensic team inside, but the Saudis have refused.

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Stratolaunch completes taxi test at 80 mph

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch this week completed a series of taxi tests with its giant airplane Roc, reaching speeds as much as 80 mph.

This is a little less than half the speed required for take-off. It also appears that they are proceeding very cautiously with these taxi tests, increasing the speed with each new test by small amounts, about 20 to 40 mph.

The big moment will of course be when this giant plane actually takes off. It appears that might happen within a month or so.

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Rocket Lab officially opens new rocket facility

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today unveiled a new rocket production facility designed to mass produce its rockets.

The new 7,500 sq/m (80,700 sq/ft) rocket development and production facility in Auckland, is designed for rapid mass production of the Electron rocket. Adding to Rocket Lab’s existing production facility and headquarters in Huntington Beach, California, the new facility brings Rocket Lab’s manufacturing footprint to more than 4.5 acres and enables the company to build an Electron rocket every week.

The new facility was officially opened on 12 October 2018 NZDT, by Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck and special guest William Shatner, best known for his role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series and films.

It suddenly occurred to me that the construction of this facility might explain the long delay in Rocket Lab’s next launch. I suspect they wanted to incorporate any corrections or redesign to the malfunctioning motor controller that was identified just prior to a planned launch in June.

This also suggests that once they complete their next two launches, now scheduled for November and December, they will hit the ground running and will be aiming for frequent launches, maybe as many as once per week.

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Blue Origin delays New Shepard and New Glenn

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced yesterday that they are delaying the first manned test flights of their suborbital New Shepard spacecraft until next year.

The announcement also outlined their planned test launch schedule for their orbital New Glenn rocket, now set to launch for the first time in 2021, delayed from 2020 as previously announced.

I find it interesting that the same day the Air Force announces that it is giving this company a half billion dollars for development of this rocket, the company reveals that it is delaying the launch for one year. To my mind, the extra money should have helped them keep their schedule, instead of causing a delay.

What instead happens in Washington, however, is that the subsidized companies now stretch out their program in order to get more government money, focused more on that cash then on building anything. Witness for example Boeing and SLS.

What makes this strange is that Blue Origin already has plenty of capital, to the tune of about a billion per year, from Jeff Bezos. His investment should really be plenty for this company to do what it needs to do.

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Israeli private Moon mission delayed by SpaceX

Because of a launch delay announced by SpaceX, the launch of a private Israeli Moon lander has been delayed from December until early 2019.

SpaceIL said Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm, whose rockets are set to carry the unmanned probe into space, had informed it of “a delay of a number of weeks to the beginning of 2019.”

SpaceIL stressed that the delay was SpaceX’s decision, noting in a statement that tests on their craft, shaped like a pod and weighing some 585 kilograms (1,300 pounds), were proceeding successfully.

As a secondary payload, the SpaceIL mission is at the mercy of SpaceX’s primary mission. It is unclear why SpaceX delayed the launch.

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Why Modern Music Is Awful

An evening pause: I find it interesting that almost all of the pop stars mentioned in this video have never been posted here as an evening pause. I want and like variety, and the main take-away from this video is the increasing sameness of modern music. Blah.

In sense, this video is an instruction manual for everyone who wants to send me a suggestion for an evening pause. It tells you the kind of music I will likely not be interested in, should you suggest it to me. To put it simply, if it sounds like everything else produced today, then it won’t get cast in the audition.

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Air Force awards contracts to ULA, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin

The competition heats up: The Air Force today announced contract awards to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin to help further the development of their new rockets.

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Launch Service Agreements will facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two National Security Space launch service providers for future procurements, planned for no earlier than fiscal year 2020.

The press release makes no mention of the amount of money being granted to these companies. Personally, I’d rather the government gave nothing until it actually bought real launch services from these companies, but it can only help the Air Force to have four different launch companies (when you include SpaceX) to draw upon. And the competition will force all four to reduce their costs and be creative.

Update: One of my readers in the comments below provided this link outlining the money granted for each contract, with ULA getting just under $1 billion, Northrop Grumman getting just under $800 million, and Blue Origin getting $500 million. This is not chicken-feed, and is in essence a subsidy for all three companies. The large amounts will act to discourage cost-savings, and in my opinion is a mistake. Whenever government bodies provide these kinds of subsidies prior to the deliver of services, the cost for the services inevitably is higher.

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Update on SpaceX’s effort to recover/reuse its rocket fairings

Link here. Key paragraph:

SpaceX recently began seriously attempting to recover Falcon 9 payload fairings, albeit almost exclusively during West Coast launches in order to let Mr. Steven attempt to catch the parasailing halves in the Pacific Ocean. Thus far, SpaceX engineers and technicians have not yet solved the challenging problems, although fairing halves have reportedly landed as few as 50 meters from Mr. Steven’s grasp and at least five have been recovered intact after landing gently on the ocean surface. On the East Coast, Falcon fairings are not nearly as lucky, typically alternating between smashing directly into the ocean and landing gently upon it, depending SpaceX’s need for experimental recovery data.

The article outlines some of the technical issues they have been facing, as well as how pieces of some fairings have been recovered many hundreds of miles away by fishermen.

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SpaceX successfully launches Argentinian radar satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched an Argentinian radar satellite, while also achieving the first on-land first stage recovery at Vandenberg.

The first stage was a Block 5 that was used and landed on a barge in July, meaning they turned it around in about two months, the fastest turn-around on the West Coast. With this successful landing on land at Vandenberg, they will able to speed up that turn-around time considerably in the future.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

26 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
7 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 26 to 25, over the United States.

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Commercial crew test flights delayed again

NASA today released an updated schedule for the Dragon and Starliner test flights, indicating the first Dragon flight has been pushed to January 2019.

  • SpaceX Demo-1 uncrewed flight test: January 2019 (delayed from November 2018)
  • Boeing uncrewed Orbital Flight Test: March 2019 (delayed from late 2018/early 2019)
  • SpaceX Demo-2 crewed flight test: June 2019 (delayed from April 2019)
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2019 (nominally still in mid-2019 as earlier stated)

It appears from the article that SpaceX was prepared to fly its first flight in December, meaning only a one month delay, but scheduling conflicts at ISS forced them to push it to January.

With the Boeing flights, the scheduling has less to do with delays and more do to do with setting more precise launch dates.

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