Tag Archives: commercial

First test flight of Dragon manned capsule delayed ten days

In order to avoid a conflict at ISS with the Dragon cargo freighter that just docked there, SpaceX has now delayed the unmanned test launch of its first Dragon manned capsule by ten days, to no earlier than January 17, 2019.

The article at the link is mostly focused on describing the experiments and cargo that the cargo freighter just brought to ISS, but it includes these scheduling details involving the unmanned test flight:

The cargo Dragon is the only vehicle currently capable of returning experiments from the International Space Station and is in relatively high demand. Thus, the worms will either return aboard this CRS-16 Dragon or wait until spring when the CRS-17 Dragon departs the orbital outpost. Regardless, once the newly delivered science experiments and cargo are removed from Dragon, the International Space Station crew will pack the craft full of return cargo before closing Dragon’s hatch and releasing it from the Station in mid-January 2019 for return to Earth.

Presently, CRS-16’s unberth and landing date is set for 13 January 2019, which at the time of the mission’s launch set up a potential overlap between CRS-16 and SpaceX’s Demonstration Mission -1 (DM-1) for the Commercial Crew Program.

At the time of CRS-16’s launch, the uncrewed DM-1 test flight had been targeting a No Earlier Than (NET) launch date of 7 January 2019 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, with a docking to the International Space Station to follow on 10 January. That NET 7 January launch date officially slipped on Friday to NET 17 January.

I once again want to emphasize that the only thing that I see that might delay this launch is NASA’s effort to slow it down.

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Delta Heavy launch aborts at T-7.5 seconds

A ULA Delta Heavy aborted its launch of a secret National Security Administration surveillance satellite last night at T-7.5 seconds.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the rocket’s three Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A main engines started their ignition sequences, but a statement later released by ULA said the computer-controlled countdown sequencer ordered an abort at T-minus 7.5 seconds.

In the statement, ULA said the abort was “due to an unexpected condition during terminal count at approximately 7.5 seconds before liftoff. “The team is currently reviewing all data and will determine the path forward. A new launch date will be provided when available,” ULA said.

Obviously, there is no word yet on a new launch date.

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Boeing cancels satellite deal involving hidden China funding

Boeing has canceled its sale of a communications satellite to a company that appears largely funded in secret by Chinese sources.

Boeing says it has canceled a controversial satellite order from a U.S.-based startup, which had received the bulk of its funding from a Chinese-government owned financial company. The deal, which critics warned could give China access to sensitive technology, comes amid a period of especially acrimonious relations between Washington and Beijing over a host of issues, including industrial espionage and intellectual property theft.

The Chicago-headquartered aerospace company announced its decision, which it said was only because of non-payment on the part of the customer, to nix the deal, worth more than $200 million, on Dec. 6, 2018. Two days earlier, the Wall Street Journal had published an expose detailing the links between the official buyer, Global IP, and a string of Chinese government operated entities and individuals with significant connections to China’s Communist Party and military establishment.

If carried out, the satellite sale would have provided the Chinese detailed information about the satellite’s technical design.

This story highlights the Chinese way of developing new technology: They generally steal it. Though their engineering upgrades are often brilliant, they have shown little innovation or originality in their work. Their entire manned program is an upgrade of the Russians Soviet-era space station program. Their decisions recently to build smallsat rockets as well as vertically landing reusable first stages only occurred after private commercial companies in the U.S. proved that both will work and can make money.

Boeing almost certainly backed out when it realized that the Chinese involvment was substantial, and exposed it to criminal penalties.

Hat tip Kirk Hilliard.

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SpaceX sees no schedule impact from first stage landing failure

Capitalism in space: SpaceX officials expect the first stage landing failure during yesterday’s launch to have little impact on the schedule of upcoming launches.

They also indicated that the cause of the landing failure had something to do with a malfunction in the stage’s grid fins. More important however was this tidbit about the second stage:

Koenigsmann also revealed at the briefing that the rocket’s upper stage, which successfully placed the Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit, used redesigned composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store helium to pressurize the stage’s propellant tanks. SpaceX redesigned those COPVs after a September 2016 pad explosion in order to meet NASA safety requirements for future commercial crew missions.

NASA requires SpaceX to perform at least seven launches with the redesigned COPVs before the agency will allow its astronauts to fly on the vehicle. Koenigsmann said he believed this was the second launch to use the redesigned COPVs, after the launch of the Es’hail-2 communications satellite Nov. 15.

SpaceX appears very unconcerned about getting those remaining five flights, which illustrates their expectation that 2019 will have a substantial number of launches in the first half of the year, prior to the tentative June launch date for the first manned Dragon mission.

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Falcon 9 launches Dragon; 1st stage return fails

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today successfully launched a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Unfortunately, a problem with the first stage had it fail to land on its target landing pad, instead landing in the ocean. This failure is the first in quite some time for a SpaceX first stage. It was the first failure however of their Block 5 first stages, which might impact the manned Dragon launch schedule set for this coming year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This SpaceX launch was the 100th successful rocket launch for 2018, the first time the global rocket industry has reached the century figure since 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union. As SpaceX’s 20th launch this year it sets a new record for launches by a private company. In fact, this total exceeds the average number of launches for the entire U.S. from 2001 to 2016, and clearly demonstrates how SpaceX has not only become the world’s dominate launch company, its effort to foster competition into the launch industry has served to energize it, for everyone.

In the national rankings, China continues to lead the U.S. 33 to 32.

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Ariane 5 launches two satellites

Arianespace yesterday successfully placed a South Korean weather satellite and an Indian communications satellite into orbit using its Ariane 5 rocket.

The Indian satellite was initially supposed to launch in the spring, but ISRO pulled it back to India just after its arrival in French Guiana to do more checks on it because of the failure of another satellite using similar components.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
19 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

Arianespace had predicted it would do 14 launches this year. As this launch is described as its last 2018 launch, it appears they have fallen short of that prediction.

These standings will be updated later today, assuming SpaceX’s Dragon launch to ISS goes off as scheduled.

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SpaceX recovers fairings from ocean

Capitalism in space: In its launch on December 3, SpaceX was unable to catch either half of the Falcon 9’s fairings as they floated down by parachute. However, both halves were recovered, and the company plans to try to dry them out and reuse them.

The recovery ship, Mr. Steven, failed to catch either in its giant net. Since both fairings however landed gently in the ocean, and were quickly recovered, the article notes that SpaceX is now considering a change in its method of recover. The method of landing appears to have the fairing halves almost act like small boats, thus protecting the delicate equipment on their interiors. It appears they have increased their waterproofing, and may now only need to get them out of the water quickly to make then reusable.

Posted from the West Bank city of Modi’in Ilit.

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Falcon 9 first stage successfully flies for the third time

Capitalism in space: During a successful launch today of 64 smallsats, SpaceX successfully landed for the third time the rocket’s first stage.

This first stage flew twice before, in May and August. With this flight it is primed for a fourth flight, I will bet sometime in the next two months.

SpaceX was also going to try to recover half of the fairing, but as I write this there is no word yet on that effort. Also, the deployment of the 64 smallsats will start momentarily and take more than an hour. During the live stream, which you can watch as a replay at the link, it was very clear that one of SpaceX’s commercial goals with this launch was to promote the Falcon 9 as an affordable and viable vehicle for launching smallsats. SpaceX is anticipating the growth of that business, and wants to encourage smallsat manufacturers to buy their services. As I like to say, the competition is heating up.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
19 SpaceX
13 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 33 to 31.

Update: What I neglected to mention, partly because I was writing this post while traveling, is that with SpaceX launch the company set a new annual record for the most launches in a year, which is also the record for the most launches in a year by any private company, ever.

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Moon rocks sell at auction for $855K

At a Sotheby auction of space memorabilia yesterday three Moon rocks brought back by a Soviet-era robot ship sold for $855K.

This was the second time these rocks have sold at auction, with their sale price more than doubling with yesterday’s sale. Though their value has apparently gone up a lot, I think the seller here made a very wise decision. Right now, practically all the rocks are controlled by NASA and are not for sale, thus creating a shortage and forcing the value of the available rocks to rise. Their value will drop however once private companies start hauling them back to Earth.

A number of other interesting space items sold during auction, including several unused spacesuits and several paintings by Chesley Bonestell, Alan Bean, and Norman Rockwell.

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NASA commits $2.6 billion for commercial lunar exploration

NASA today announced that it has committed $2.6 billion over the next ten years to buy delivery services to the Moon for its unmanned scientific missions, provided from nine different private companies.

The companies selected — Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Orbit Beyond — cover a range of companies from the well established to new companies not yet proven. This announcement essentially permits them all to bid on providing NASA delivery services to the moon for small unmanned probes. The press release states that:

These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.

More information here. UPDATE: Doug Messier has published the press releases from most of the above companies, describing their individual projects, and I have added links to each.

The program appears modeled after NASA commercial cargo and crew programs, whereby the companies will own and control the orbiters, landers, and rovers they build, allowing them to market them to others for profit. It also appears designed to keep costs low, as did commercial cargo program. NASA is merely the customer.

This is good news. It suggests that the American space industry is continuing to transition away from big government programs, controlling everything, to a robust private industry that is in charge with the government merely one out of many customers.

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Blue Origin reveals more details about New Glenn

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin’s release of a payload user guide has provided space geeks a wealth of new information about the design of its New Glenn orbital rocket.

Numerous other items of interest are mentioned on the Guide, with launch vehicle specific elements such as a large common bulkhead being employed on the second stage and common tooling on the second stage and that is also aluminum orthogrid material in its construction. The rocket will use autogenous pressurization for both stages.

The large 7 meter fairing has the ability to launch very large payloads such as space telescopes, but also dual payloads – not unlike Ariane 5 regularly conducts.

The Guide refines some performance numbers, with 1060 kN (240,000 lb) total thrust cited for the second stage, which is slightly down from the 125,000 lb per BE-3U – the second stage engine-performance previously stated by Blue Origin’s online resources.

The article at the link also provides some updates on the status of the construction of the rocket’s launchpad, landing barge, and manufacturing facility.

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Successful launch tonight for India’s PSLV rocket

The new colonial movement: India’s PSLV rocket successfully placed 31 satellites into orbit, including an Indian Landsat-type satellite plus 30 commercial smallsats.

This ties India with Japan at six launches for the year. With one more launch scheduled for this year, they should end up ahead of Japan.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race remain unchanged.

33 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

At 95 total successful launches so far this year, 2018 now matches the total from 1993, the last time the global aerospace industry accomplished that many. That year, China and Japan had one launch each, Europe seven, with the rest by Russia and the U.S. Now the wealth is much more widely spread, and has a strong potential to grow significantly in the next few years.

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Weather delays SpaceX launch

Capitalism in space: Weather has delayed a SpaceX launch from Vandenberg.

This launch is significant because once launched the first stage will become the first to have flown three times. It also will be the first to have launched from all three of SpaceX’s operating launchpads and to have landed on both of the company’s drone ships. And it will have done all this in less than seven months.

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A cubesat communications satellite for the Moon

Capitalism in space: The smallsat company Surrey Satellite Technology is designing a cubesat communications satellite set for launch in 2021 designed to test technology for providing communications in lunar space.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has today announced that it is designing a low cost 35kg lunar communications satellite mission called DoT-4, targeted for a 2021 launch. DoT-4 will provide the communications relay back to Earth using the Goonhilly Deep Space Network, and will link up with a rover on the surface of the Moon. SSTL is currently in discussions with a number of parties for the lunar mission, and expects to disclose further information on mission partners and funding early in 2019.

Sarah Parker, Managing Director of SSTL, said “SSTL has led the way in pioneering the use of small satellites for over 30 years and we are now raising our sights to change the economics of space around the Moon, and beyond.”

DoT-4 will be the pre-cursor mission for a larger lunar communications satellite to follow in the 2023 timeframe which will carry a more robust payload and which will also have the potential for navigation services. SSTL’s ultimate aim is to launch a full constellation of lunar communications satellites offering full service capability to enable new and regular opportunities for science and exploration and economic development of the space environment beyond Earth’s orbit.

It appears that Surrey is trying to grab the market for providing communications services for both NASA’s Gateway project as well as the number of private small lunar rovers that are expected to launch in the coming years.

I should add that this project probably only exists because Surrey and its investors know that it will have affordable access to space, using the new smallsat rockets coming from Rocket Lab, Vector, and Virgin Orbital.

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The MarCo cubesat success

Mars as seen by MarCo-B

The two MarCO cubesats that successfully relayed data from InSight to Earth during its landing yesterday continue to function, with one even sending back images. The photo on the right, cropped and reduced slightly to post here, was taken by MarCo-B.

Neither of the MarCO CubeSats carry science instruments, but that didn’t stop the team from testing whether future CubeSats could perform useful science at Mars. As MarCO-A flew by, it conducted some impromptu radio science, transmitting signals through the edge of Mars’ atmosphere. Interference from the Martian atmosphere changes the signal when received on Earth, allowing scientists to determine how much atmosphere is present and, to some degree, what it’s made of.

“CubeSats have incredible potential to carry cameras and science instruments out to deep space,” said John Baker, JPL’s program manager for small spacecraft. “They’ll never replace the more capable spacecraft NASA is best known for developing. But they’re low-cost ride-alongs that can allow us to explore in new ways.”

As a bonus, some consumer-grade cameras aboard MarCO provided “drive-by” images as the CubeSats sailed past Mars. MarCO-B was programmed to turn so that it could image the planet in a sequence of shots as it approached Mars (before launch, MarCO-A’s cameras were found to be either non-functioning or too blurry to use).

This engineering test proves that we don’t need to build billion dollar spacecraft every time we wish to send an unmanned scouting ship to another world. Cubesats will soon do the job quite well, and for a tenth the cost.

And there will be a lot of money to be made. Governments and private entities of all types will be eager to buy the services of the garage-built planetary cubesats that private companies are going to soon be building, in large numbers.

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Moon rocks for sale!

Several rocks brought back from the Moon by a Soviet unmanned spacecraft will be auctioned off on November 29, and you can buy them legally!

The lunar samples were originally presented by the Soviet government to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, the widow of Sergei Korolev, the “Chief Designer” of the Russian space program. Under Korolev’s direction, the Soviet Union successfully put the world’s first satellite into Earth orbit and launched the first human into space. His unexpected death in 1966 came before he could see the outcome of the space race to the moon.

Four years after Korolev died, the Soviets launched Luna 16, the first of three robotic lunar sample return missions. Touching down after the U.S. Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 astronauts had come and gone from the moon, Luna 16 deployed an extendable arm to drill and extract a core sample 14 inches (35 centimeters) deep. The 3.5 ounces (101 grams) of soil and rocks that it collected were then deposited into a capsule for their return to Earth.

The display gifted to Koroleva contains three grains of the Luna 16 material, weighing about 0.0007 ounces (0.2 grams). The central fragment is basalt, typical of the moon’s mare (or “seas”) terrain while the adjoining two larger fragments are regolith with glass coatings caused by an micrometeoroid impact, according to Sotheby’s.

…In 1993, the lunar samples were estimated to sell for $30,000 to $50,000 before commanding eight times the higher valuation. The display, which has been held in the same private American collection for the past quarter century, is now expected to sell for $700,000 to $1 million.

I will not be surprised if this item sells for considerably more than $1 million.

Hat tip Wayne DeVette.

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Local opposition might delay UK spaceport

The United Kingdom’s first spaceport, proposed for the northern tip of Scotland, faces strong opposition from the local community as well as within the organization that owns the land.

The land is controlled by the Melness Crofting Estate (MCE), a company that represents about 56 local crofters. Three of its seven directors have resigned over how the plans have been handled.

George Wyper, one of those who stepped down, claimed that much of the community had been kept in the dark. In a ballot, 27 crofters voted to press ahead with talks to lease land to the spaceport while 18 voted against. Ten failed to vote and one ballot was rejected. Mr Wyper believes that important details were not shared. ‘Some people did not know what they were voting for,’ he said. ‘It’s getting quite vicious here — with Facebook and things. It’s causing a split in the community.’

He told the Highland Press & Journal: ‘There is quite a split in the community and a lot of bad feeling about this. It could go to the Scottish Land Court, which could take years to resolve.’

While in many ways some aspects of the opposition here reminds me of the opposition in Hawaii to the Thirty Meter Telescope, the difference is that that here it a large percentage of the landowners protesting. They have real standing, and thus are in a much stronger position to shut the spaceport down.

From what I can gather, the source of the problem here falls to the UK government, which apparently has done a very bad job in negotiating this deal.

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Google wants to monitor our movements, moods, and children

Another reason to dump Google: Google has been issued patents outlining its plans to establish monitors throughout each customer’s home, monitoring movements, moods, activities, and even their children, with the ability to even control behavior.

But there’s even more. According to The Atlantic:

A second patent proposes a smart-home system that would help run the household, using sensors and cameras to restrict kids’ behavior. Parents could program a device to note if it overhears ‘foul language’ from children, scan internet usage for mature or objectionable content, or use ‘occupancy sensors’ to determine if certain areas of the house are accessed while they’re gone— for example, the liquor cabinet. The system could be set to ‘change a smart lighting system color to red and flash the lights’ as a warning to children or even power off lights and devices if they’re grounded.

The language of these patents makes it clear that Google is acutely aware of the powers of inference it has already, even without cameras, by augmenting speakers to recognize the noises you make as you move around the house. The auditory inferences are startling: Google’s smart-home system can infer ‘if a household member is working’ from ‘an audio signature of keyboard clicking, a desk chair moving, and/or papers shuffling.’ Google can make inferences on your mood based on whether it hears raised voices or crying, on when you’re in the kitchen based on the sound of the fridge door opening, on your dental hygiene based on ‘the sounds and/or images of teeth brushing.’

The key aspect of this is that, at least right now, Google cannot force its way into your home unless you agree to let it. That any free American is not sickened by this invasion of privacy and is even considering allowing it into their home illustrates how different a country we are from only a half century ago. In my youth, for any company to publicly consider these actions would have guaranteed its bankruptcy, within weeks. No one would want anything to do with it.

No longer. Too many Americans are now sheep, wedded to their technology to a point of foolishness.

Update: I realized it will help to add that I have managed to eliminate almost all use of Google in my computer work now for more than a decade. For browser searches I use either Startpage or DuckDuckGo. For awhile I was using gmail as a backup email source, in case my main isp went down, but I dumped it about four years ago. With both Google and gmail I then wiped my history so as to reduce the odds of Google retaining it (something I can’t guarantee as Google has already been caught retaining data it does not own).

The only areas I am still using any Google resources is with youtube and Google Maps, and with both I am constantly looking for alternatives. We should all be doing the same. If anything the competition will force Google to reconsider some of its more odious policies.

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ESA plans Vega rocket upgrades

In order to grab more market share, the European Space Agency today outlined a wide range of upgrades and options it is creating for its Vega rocket.

The article describes versions aimed at the smallsat market, the geosynchronous satellite market, and a recoverable mini-shuttle similar to the X-37B, dubbed Space Rider. All these options are expected to come on line by 2021.

Isn’t competition wonderful? Threatened by loss of market share by SpaceX, Europe has been forced to up its game, something it had been loath to do for decades.

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Groundwork and licensing begins for first test flights of SpaceX’s Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has apparently begun the licensing process with the FAA for its planned hopper tests for its Super Heavy and Starship heavy lift reusable rockets, it is also accelerating work for those flights at its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.

The applications apparently describe a two-stage testing program divided into low then high altitude flights, “running approximately three times per week.” Meanwhile, at Boca Chica SpaceX has begin building a giant tent as well as other work.

While I doubt they will be able to begin test flights in 2019 as they have announced, it is clear those test flights will happen in the near future.

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Date set for first unmanned launch of manned Dragon

Capitalism in space: NASA announced today that SpaceX has set January 7, 2019 as the launch date for its first unmanned test flight of its manned Dragon capsule.

SpaceX is targeting Jan. 7 for launch of its first Crew Dragon commercial ferry ship on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station, NASA announced Wednesday, a major milestone in the agency’s drive to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew ships for carrying astronauts to orbit.

If the shakedown flight goes smoothly — and if a NASA safety probe unveiled Tuesday doesn’t turn up any show stoppers — SpaceX could be ready to launch the first piloted Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket in the June timeframe, carrying veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station. [emphasis mine]

As I said during a taping today for my appearance on WCCO radio tomorrow at 11:10 am (Central), the only thing standing in the way of SpaceX getting its manned capsule off the ground is NASA. June is a long time from now, and the agency, egged on by corrupt politicians, could easily find ways to delay that first manned launch in that time. Nor would I put it past the corrupt Washington in-crowd, led by Senator Richard Shelby (R- Alabama), having no interest in the national interest, to do what they can to sabotage that flight. What they care about is diverting tax dollars to either their own pockets or to the pockets of their allies (which also helps bring them pay-offs campaign contributions as well).

Still, it is encouraging that SpaceX is pushing forward, and that there appear to be strong elements in NASA supporting them. Keep your fingers crossed.

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