Tag Archives: commercial

SpaceOps is looking for funding to build its private spacecraft modeled after the American Gemini capsule.

Got money to invest? SpaceOps is looking for funds to build its private spacecraft modeled after the American Gemini capsule.

The idea is a good one, as the Gemini capsule was quite capable. Getting almost $100 million from crowd-sourcing however is going to be very tough.

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Boeing to cut 30 percent of its management ranks.

Boeing to cut 30 percent of its management ranks.

This could be good news for the company. If they do this right, they will reduce their costs without hurting their ability to produce. That they made this announcement today, the day after the election, and that the cuts mostly involve their defense work also suggests it is linked to sequestration, despite the company’s denial.

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Sierra Nevada is moving its mini-shuttle, Dream Chaser, into its own facility.

Sierra Nevada is moving its mini-shuttle, Dream Chaser, into its own facility.

This article isn’t really as positive as I’d like. For one, they haven’t even signed the lease for the building. Instead, it appears that the company is using this announcement, and the subsequent media coverage, to pressure the local city council to provide them subsidies. For another, the article mentions that drop tests of Dream Chaser will occur next spring, a significant delay from previous announcements. Both points make things appear far more tenuous than they should be.

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The B612 foundation has signed its first contract for building Sentinel, its private infrared space telescope designed to find asteroids that might impact the Earth.

The B612 foundation has signed its first contract for building Sentinel, its private infrared space telescope designed to find asteroids that might impact the Earth.

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One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

“We see our part in Dii as done,” says spokesman Torsten Wolf of Siemens, one of 13 founding partners of the consortium, which is also based in Munich. Siemens also said that it will pull out of the solar-energy business altogether. Its decision was made in response to falling government subsidies for solar energy and a collapse in the price of solar equipment. But to DESERTEC’S critics, Siemens’ exit also adds to doubts about the plan, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. “DESERTEC is an ambitious attempt to do every­thing at once,” says Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Zurich, Switzerland. “I think it’s something that will be achieved organically, bit by bit, which will probably be cheaper, easier and achieve the same results.” [emphasis mine]

The cited reasons suggest some fundamental problems with this particular project. That Siemens is abandoning the solar energy entirely, citing the lose of government subsidies as one reason, also suggests there is something fundamental wrong with the industry itself.

Then again, it could be just like the new commercial space industry. Some companies are willing to take the risks to make the money even without subsidies, while others are not.

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For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

This was the fourth Progress launched this year, the second to follow an abbreviated four-orbit rendezvous with the space station. Russian flight controllers normally implement two-day rendezvous profiles, but they are perfecting procedures for single-day flights for possible use with manned Soyuz missions to shorten the time crews are forced to spend in the cramped ferry craft.

The Russians have used the leisurely two-day rendezvous path now for almost a half century. So, why are they suddenly trying to shorten the travel time to ISS to six hours? Though there are many good engineering reasons, I also suspect it is because they are now feeling the pressure of competition. The shorter travel time probably lowers their costs at mission control. It also makes using the Soyuz for manned flights more appealing. Dragon for example is presently using the two-day rendezvous path. And Dragon will soon become a direct competitor to Soyuz, when it begins flying humans in the next three to five years.

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A Russian ship carrying 700 tons of gold is missing off Russia’s eastern coast.

A Russian ship carrying 700 tons of gold is missing off Russia’s eastern coast.

The dry-cargo freighter Amurskaya, operated by a company based in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, went missing in the Okhotsk sea on Sunday. It had a nine-member crew on board, local prosecutors who are checking the case said in a statement.

The ore came from Polymetal’s Avlayakan mine and was supposed to be delivered to its Hakanja processing plant, the company said in an emailed comment. It declined to give further details. At current gold prices , the 700 tonnes of gold ore may cost around $230,000, analyst Sergey Donskoy at Societe Generale said. Each tonne of ore out of the Avlayakan mine contains about 6 grammes of gold.

If this was a movie, the ship is right now hidden in an underground lair somewhere, being offloaded as engineers work to disguise it.

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It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

The supply cache delivered to the station in early to mid-2011 by the now-retired space shuttle placed the six-person orbiting science lab on a firm footing well into 2013, according to Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. “The launch date itself, in January, is not really critical to the program from a supply standpoint,” Suffredini told an Oct. 26 news briefing. “So we have some flexibility.”

In the short run a delay here would not be critical. A long delay, which is unlikely, would however not be good for operations on the station, and illustrates why it is very important to get the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo capsule up an running as soon as possible.

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On Wednesday Richard Branson told an audience of students in Poland that the first paid tourist flight of SpaceShipTwo is at least 12 to 18 months away.

On Wednesday Richard Branson told an audience of students in Poland that the first paid tourist flight of SpaceShipTwo is at least 12 to 18 months away.

That seems about right. This gives them about a year of powered flight tests, all manned but with no paying customers, in order to make sure the system is save for customers.

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Virgin Galactic has begun the installation of SpaceShipTwo’s engine in preparation for its first powered test flights.

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic has begun the installation of SpaceShipTwo’s engine in preparation for its first powered test flights.

The article also provides some details about the status of XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft.

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Orbital Sciences has delayed the first demo launch of its Cygnus cargo capsule until March 2013 at the earliest.

Orbital Sciences has delayed the first demo launch of its Cygnus cargo capsule until March 2013 at the earliest.

The schedule for Antares itself has not been delayed. Launchpad tests are still scheduled to begin next week, with the first engine test set for early November, and the first launch of Antares set for December.

They don’t explain the reason for the Cygnus delay. I suspect they simply decided to be realistic. It was always unlikely that the first Cygnus launch would follow only a month after the first Antares launch, especially if there are any kinks in that launch.

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Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

“I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,” [ESA Director General Jean-Jacques] Dordain said at the Berlin air show last month, a reference to new launch vehicle developments in India, China and the U.S., where Space Exploration Technologies’ low-cost Falcon 9 is challenging the global launcher market.

While space cadets might argue about launch prices till the cows come home, the actual competitors in the industry know better: SpaceX’s low prices are real and are forcing everyone to find ways to lower costs or lose business.

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Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

The competition heats up: Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

This quote, from this Space News article, also implies that there is increasing competitive pressure in the launch industry, which I attribute to the success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9:

Perhaps the most striking element of the launch is that Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat agreed to proceed with it so soon after the August failure of the Proton Breeze-M upper stage. It has been common practice following previous Proton failures that a Russian government mission would be the customer on the return to flight. In this case, Intelsat and its insurance underwriters were sufficiently persuaded that Reston, Va.-based ILS and Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow had come to grips with the issue to agree to be the customer for the first flight after the failure.

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Telescopes of the future

Two stories were published on Thursday about two very different future space telescopes. Both are worthwhile, but the differences between them illustrate how the industry of space astronomy — like manned space — is evolving from Big Science and government to small, efficient, and privately built.

First there is this story describing how the nonprofit B612 Foundation’s project to launch an infrared telescope by 2017 had passed its first technical review.
» Read more

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The Orbcomm communications satellite put in a wrong orbit in the Falcon 9 launch has fallen to Earth.

The Orbcomm communications satellite that was put in the wrong orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket Sunday has fallen to Earth.

According to the company insurance will cover most of the loss. They also said that “had Orbcomm been the primary payload on this mission, as planned for the upcoming launches, we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit.” This appears to be a strong endorsement of the Falcon 9 rocket from the company, which has a contract with SpaceX to launch 17 more satellites on two Falcon 9 launches, scheduled for 2013 and 2014.

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