Tag Archives: commercial

The leading team in the Google Lunar X-Price contest last week successfully tested by remote control the astronomical telescope they intend to include with their lunar lander.

The leading team in the Google Lunar X-Price contest last week successfully tested by remote control the astronomical telescope they intend to include with their lunar lander.

[The Google Lunar X Prize] requires the participants to successfully land a lunar rover on the surface, drive it a minimum of 500 meters (about a third of a mile), and send back high definition video and imagery. Moon Express intends to land this first lunar lander near the Moon’s equator.

Moon Express is planning to send its first robotic lander to the Moon in late 2014. It will be launched atop either SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket or another commercial launch vehicle. It intends to fly ILOA’s shoebox-sized test telescope, called ILO-X, as part of its [X prize] entry. There are additional prizes available which might be won by an educational lunar telescope, such US$1 million prize for the entry which adds the most to diversity within space studies.

A failed fuel line in the upper stage has been pinpointed as the probably cause of the Russian Proton rocket failure on Tuesday.

A failed fuel line in the upper stage has been pinpointed as the probably cause of the Russian Proton rocket failure on Tuesday.

In related news, the Russian prime minister said today that he intends to name and shame the officials responsible for the rocket failure.

“I would like to hold a meeting on this next week. It will be prepared by the appropriate deputy prime minister and structures. They are tasked with reporting who should be punished and what to do next,” Medvedev told a government meeting in Moscow. He also said Russia’s space failures “could not be tolerated anymore.”

Do tell. With SpaceX’s cheaper prices looming over them, Russia’s government-owned commercial rocket business can’t afford rocket failures as well. If they don’t fix this soon, their business will evaporate, and Medvedev knows it.

The scramble in Congress to head the House committee on Space, Science, and Technology after November’s election has begun.

The scramble in Congress to head the House committee on space after November’s election has begun.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) have begun to quietly campaign to replace Rep. Ralph Hall as chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology next year, according to Stu Witt, General Manager and CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port.

If Rohrabacher gets the chairmanship it will be very be good news for commercial space, and bad news for the NASA-built and very expensive Space Launch System (SLS). He has been a strong supporter of private space, and will likely want to funnel money to it from SLS.

I’m not sure giving private space more cash is necessarily a good thing, as that will encourage these new companies to be less efficient, more expensive, and more dependent on the government. However, getting SLS shut down will certainly help the federal budget deficit.

A Russian Proton rocket has failed to put two satellites into their proper orbit.

A Russian Proton rocket has failed to put two satellites into their proper orbit.

This failure of one of Russia’s more reliable rockets comes at a very bad time, as the competition with SpaceX and other competitors for commercial launches is right now heating up. As the article notes,

Moscow, which carries out 40 percent of global space launches, is struggling to restore confidence in its industry after a string of mishaps last year, including the failure of a mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos and the loss of a $265-million communications satellite. …

“The last failures to a certain extent undermine Russia’s position as a country that provides space launch services,” said industry expert Yuri Karash, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics.

Such mistakes strengthen Russia’s competitors, such as Europe’s Arian rockets, Karash said, describing Russia’s space industry, struggling to recover after a generation of brain drain and crimped budgets, as “not in the best condition by a long shot.”

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

It’s official: Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

Boeing will receive $460 million, SpaceX $440 million, and Sierra Nevada $212.5. All are planning to launch by 2015.

Alan Boyle at NBC tonight reports that Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada are the winning companies in the competition to provide human ferrying services to ISS.

Alan Boyle at NBC tonight reports that Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada are the winning companies in the competition to provide human ferrying services to ISS, to be announced officially by NASA tomorrow.

The report does not provide dollar numbers. This Wall Street Journal story says that Boeing and SpaceX will be the prime contractors, which suggests that Sierra Nevada will be getting a smaller award.

A new report predicts that the demand for suborbital spaceflight, both manned and unmanned, will rise by one third in the next ten years.

A new report predicts that the demand for suborbital spaceflight, both manned and unmanned, will likely rise by one third in the next ten years.

You can download the report here [pdf].

The report admits there are many unknowns, and that this prediction could be way off, in either direction.

An Obamacare tax on medical devices has caused one company to cancel plans to build five new factories.

Repeal it! An Obamacare tax on medical devices has caused one company to cancel plans to build five new factories.

Nor is this the only such medical device company to pull back due to the tax. Read the whole article.

Some spectacular images of galaxies from the new Discovery Channel Telescope.

Some spectacular images of galaxies from the new Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT).

Funded privately by the Discovery channel, the DCT has a primary mirror 4.3 meters wide, or about 170 inches, almost as large as the Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain. This is a world class telescope which will do real research, and it was built the old-fashioned way, with private money donated to a private observatory in exchange for publicity and good will.

“He stands there at the front of the mob, in his shirt sleeves, swinging that government hammer, exhorting the crowd to use its votes and take what it wants.”

“He stands there at the front of the mob, in his shirt sleeves, swinging that government hammer, exhorting the crowd to use its votes and take what it wants.”

The cost of launch

Two news items from NASA today:

What I find most interesting about these stories is the fees charged by the two companies. SpaceX will be paid $82 million for its one launch, while ULA will be paid $412 million for its three launches, or about $137 million per launch.
» Read more

ESA is revamping how it builds rockets in order to compete with SpaceX.

The competition heats up: ESA is revamping how it builds rockets in order to compete with SpaceX.

ESA officials have been spooked by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., which has demonstrated its technical prowess with the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vehicle to the international space station. SpaceX officials say one of the keys to its success is that Falcon 9 is built in one factory owned by SpaceX.

Read the whole thing. The way ESA builds the Ariane rocket requires too many participants (what we in the U.S. call pork), raising its cost. ESA is now abandoning that approach to cut costs and thus compete with SpaceX.

The Virginia spaceport at Wallops Island is on schedule to hand control of its launchpad sometime this month so that Orbital Sciences can begin ground tests of its Antares rocket.

The Virginia spaceport at Wallops Island is on schedule later this month to hand control of its launchpad over to Orbital Sciences so it can begin ground tests of its Antares rocket.

The irony of this press release story is that Orbital has actually been running things, as it took over prepping the launchpad last year when the spaceport was unable to handle it.

From Virgin Galactic come two announcements today

The competition heats up: From Virgin Galactic come two announcements today:

The second is really the big news, especially as it appears they already have some customers.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic’s proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of air launch, Virgin Galactic’s customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions. Branson and other senior executives announced that work has already begun on the vehicle.

ATK’s push to build its Liberty launch system.

The competition heats up: ATK’s push to build its Liberty launch system.

Liberty was one of the suitors [for NASA’s commercial crew] funding, before losing out to the four aforementioned options during the selection process. However, ATK decided to press on with the development of the system under an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA), with a clear intent of convincing NASA they deserve to be awarded funding for the path towards crewed launches.

Indeed, ATK have stated that they will continue with the development of Liberty regardless of NASA funding, as much as Agency support would provide an accelerated schedule towards bringing the vehicle into operation by 2015. [emphasis mine]

If you read the article, you will see that there are many reasons why I would rather NASA did not pick ATK. The system depends too much on the shuttle’s legacy at the Kennedy Space Center (the VAB, crawler, etc), which means it will probably require a large labor force to launch and thus be expensive. However, if ATK can make Liberty profitable without NASA, I am all for them.

The United States of winners

“The United States of winners.”

We didn’t fight hard for our freedom on that summer day in 1776 so we could go ahead and be mediocre. We wanted it so badly because we had lofty goals to be a nation of winners, people who excelled at everything we tried. We wanted to become powerful and prosperous so that we wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else, ever again. And we knew that being prosperous would make us generous. We wanted to win at that, too.

And from there, we went on to win at all kinds of stuff, and we did it without apologizing. Charles Lindbergh didn’t land in Paris and apologize for getting there first. We didn’t have a space race with the Soviet Union to see who could get there last. Bruce Jenner doesn’t have an Olympic gold medal (and two inexplicable earrings) because he’s a loser.

Our desire to win has made us who we are.

And it is for this reason that, right now, the United States is about to develop multiple private companies capable of putting humans into space, while every other country in the world that has tried it can barely manage to come up with one option.

Since 2006 carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. has plunged, almost reaching 1991 levels.

Since 2006 carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have plunged, almost reaching 1991 levels.

The key driver for the “shockingly good news” that CO2 emissions will probably fall this year to a two-decade low … is “the shale gas revolution, and the low-priced gas that it has made a reality, especially in the last 12 months. As of April, gas tied coal at 32% of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal’s 100 year reign on top of electricity markets (see related CD post on this energy milestone). Let’s remember the speed and extent of gas’s rise and coal’s drop: coal had 52% of the market in 2000 and 48% in 2008.”

It is important to note that it is innovation, technology, and capitalism that is making this happen. Without a free market the shale gas revolution would not have occurred.

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