Tag Archives: commercial

More details on Ares/Ariane hybrid rocket

More details on Liberty, the Ares/Ariane hybrid rocket proposed by ATK and Alliant to provide crew/cargo capabilities to ISS. Key quote:

[Liberty] would be able to lift 44,500 lb. of payload to the International Space Station, enough for any of the commercial crew capsules under development as potential space shuttle replacements.

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Companies team up on new rocket

The competition to build rockets continues to heat up: A U.S. and European partnership is proposing its own new cargo rocket for NASA, using the Ares I first stage and the Ariane 5 second stage. Key quote:

Dubbed Liberty, the launcher looks similar to the Ares I rocket that was being developed for NASA’s Project Constellation, which was cancelled by the Obama Administration. For its first stage it employs the same advanced, five-segment version of the shuttle’s solid rocket booster. But in a move that significantly lowers development costs, the second stage of the rocket is based on the flight-proven core stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket.

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Falcon 9 signed to launch Google Lunar X prize competitor

One of the competitor’s for the Google Lunar X prize has signed a contract with SpaceX to use the Falcon 9 to get its spacecraft to the Moon. Key quote:

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon. Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing. The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights. The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

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Contractor proposes taking over two shuttles and flying them for NASA through 2017

The contractor who manages the shutte program for NASA, United Space Alliance (USA), has proposed taking over two shuttles and flying them privately for NASA through 2017. Key quote:

USA’s current estimated price tag of $1.5 billion per year would represent a substantial drop from previous funding levels, which have seen shuttle program costs rise as high as $4 billion per year. United Space Alliance says its plan would take advantage of shuttle infrastructure and a workforce already in place. Some shuttle production lines would have to be restarted — for example, the operation that builds the shuttle’s external fuel tanks. But USA says the first commercial shuttle flights could take place in 2013. That would beat the 2016 deadline specified in last year’s legislation, as well as the development schedule laid out by SpaceX and USA’s other commercial competitors.

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The difficulties of doing business in the socialist state of Berkeley

The difficulties of doing business in the socialist state of Berkeley. Key quote:

When a planner working in design review looked at Dalrymple’s plans, she told her she didn’t think a black and white awning would fit in with the neighborhood, said Dalrymple. The planner didn’t give her any specific recommendations for a different color, but just nixed her idea. . . . “Rules aren’t written down anywhere,” said [Dan Marks, director of the Planning and Development Department]. “But the planner has worked in the neighborhood a long time and she knows what the neighborhood likes.” [emphasis mine]

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The state of Virgin Galactic

The state of Virgin Galactic. Key quote:

One of the great things about Galactic is that it’s still built on a non-government market — that is to say, the individual spacefarer market, the space tourist market, call it what you will. As you know, we’re now over 400 people [who have paid deposits for a spaceflight], and over $55 million dollars in deposits. None of that is based on a government program. I think that’s really encouraging. It’s a sign that there are markets outside the government, and that you can build a human spaceflight business around those markets.

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Bad news for NASA, good news for private space

Earlier this week NASA submitted a report to Congress reviewing the design and construction status of the heavy-lift rocket and manned capsule that Congress has required them to build and launch by 2016. NASA’s conclusion: the space agency doesn’t think it can do the job in the schedule or budget that Congress has provided.

NASA does not believe this goal is achievable based on a combination of the current funding profile estimate, traditional approaches to acquisitions and currently considered vehicle architectures. . . . We will not commit to a date that has a low probability of being achieved.

NASA’s conclusions here are not surprising. The agency had been having trouble building Constellation on the much bigger budget and longer schedule given to them by past Congresses. For them to build the-program-formerly-called-Constellation for less money and in less time is probably impossible.

Nonetheless, this was the response of the Senate Commerce committee:

The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It’s the law.

This is why I have been saying that the money for this program is nothing more than pork. Congress knows that nothing can be built on this budget, but wants the money spent nonetheless, to keep people employed in their districts.

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, Space Adventures yesterday announced a new deal with Russia, whereby the Russians have agreed to build and launch one extra Soyuz capsule per year, beginning in 2013, to fly 3 tourists to ISS. In addition, there is this report today about how SpaceX is successfully meeting all its milestones in building its cargo ferry for ISS. An earlier report last week also noted how Orbital Sciences is also moving forward with its cargo ferry, with a planned first test launch by the end of 2011.

All in all, this news is not good news for NASA. The space agency’s manned spaceflight program appears to have two futures, neither of which will involve it continuing to build rockets or fly humans into space. In one option, the new Congress, when it finally sits down to write a budget, will decide that pork and happy constituents are more important than a balanced budget, and will appropriate the money for the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. NASA will struggle hard to build it, but will not succeed. Thus, no government-built manned space program.

In the second option, Congress will agree with me and decide that it just doesn’t have money for pork, especially considering the terrible state of the federal budget. Moreover, seeing the success of the private efforts of SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and Space Adventures, Congress will wonder why it needs to pour more billions into a vain effort by NASA to build something it can’t, when there are other private companies that can do it, and do it for less. In this circumstance, it will be very easy for them to cut the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. Once again, no NASA manned program.

Neither scenario is actually a bad thing. What we are actually seeing play out here is the free competition of different companies attempting to provide a service to a customer, and the customer eventually picking the best company from which to buy the product. NASA, as a government agency, simply can’t compete, and unless Congress decides to provide them welfare, will lose this competition hands down.

The U.S. will still have the capability of getting into space, but for far less money. And having multiple private companies competing to provide this service will also encourage innovation, something the rocket industry has sorely needed these past five decades.

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A new deal to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules

A new deal has been announced to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules. According the arrangement between Space Adventures and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) and Rocket Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia), three seats will be made available on Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013.

These seats will be made available through the increase of Soyuz production, from four to five spacecraft per year. Each flight will be short duration, approximately 10 days, and will contribute to the increase of launch capacity to the ISS.

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A private science mission to an asteroid?

A proposal to revive a project to send a private science probe to an asteroid.

The original project, NEAP, was proposed back in 1997 by the late Jim Bensen of SpaceDev (now Sierra Nevada). Benson wanted to not only do research, but he planned to claim the asteroid as his property upon landing. Though his proposal never flew, it was clearly a forerunner to today’s resurgence of the private space industry, and in many ways kickstarted that resurgence.

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