Tag Archives: competition

NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

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2019 was a boom year for the commercial space industry

Capitalism in space: According to a new industry report, 2019 was one of the strongest in years for the entire commercial space industry.

More than 183,000 workers were employed in the U.S. space workforce at the end of 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Core employment, those jobs most closely aligned with the space industry and not the larger aerospace industry, rose to 141,520 jobs in 2019. This represents a 4.1% increase from the 135,930 private sector workers in 2018 and marks the third year in a row of increasing employment in this workforce and the highest level since 2012.

Some sectors saw significant gains in employment over the last five years. Together, the workforce supporting manufacturing of space vehicles, space vehicle propulsion units, and other space vehicle parts grew by nearly 20% over the past five years, adding more than 14,000 new employees. Other sectors experienced decline. Broadcast and wireless communications equipment manufacturing employment decreased 9.8% over the past five years, shedding more than 5,000 workers.

The report also noted that the COVID-19 panic will likely cause a major negative impact to the industry in 2020, hurting the smaller companies the most.

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SpaceX prepares next Starship prototype; releases Starship user manual

From SpaceX's first user manual for Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has begun preparing its third Starship prototype for new testing, it has also released a first user manual for the rocket, outlining its proposed capabilities and potential uses by customers.

From the first link:

The next round of testing is anticipated to begin this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests will see the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Prior Starship test vehicles have had their campaigns cut short by failed cryogenic testing, including the last flight vehicle SpaceX rolled to the Boca Chica launch pad, Starship SN1.

If all goes right, they hope to begin short flight tests with this prototype, moving to longer and higher flights with the next.

The user manual [pdf] is mostly a short description of what they hope they will be able to accomplish with Starship. It notes that they will build both a cargo and manned variety, and that both will be available for point-to-point transportation on Earth. It also notes:

Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and
Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites. Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

I guarantee that much of what is written and drawn here, such as the illustration above, will change significantly as development proceeds.

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Stratolaunch now wants to build a reuseable hypersonic vehicle

Capitalsm in space: Stratolaunch announced today that they are now planning to build a reusable hypersonic test vehicle to launch from their giant Roc airplane.

That vehicle, powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine, will launch from the company’s aircraft and fly to speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7 before gliding back to a runway landing. It will also be able to take off on its own from a runway under rocket power.

“The Stratolaunch Talon-A is a flexible, high-speed testbed built for offensive hypersonics, hypersonic defense and hypersonic R&D,” the company said in a fact sheet about the program. That document emphasizes the vehicle’s ability to provide “here-to-fore unobtainable measurement access to the hypersonic flight environment on a recurring basis.”

Forgive me if I remain skeptical. From memory I think this is about the fifth different design or concept for launch from Roc, with the previous proposals differing from this hypersonic test vehicle in that they were all intended to go to orbit. All were the same however in that they were trying to find a design that could be launched from Roc and also make engineering and economic sense. So far none has done so.

This new proposal is clearly aimed at garnering government research dollars. It also probably wants those dollars to pay for Talon-A’s development. In a sane world, the military would tell Stratolaunch to build and prove Talon-A’s capabilities first, before signing on.

When it comes to government spending, however, we however are no longer in a sane world.

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OneWeb files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday made official the rumors from the past week by filing for bankruptcy in the United States.

It appears that those rumors were essentially true, that one of the company’s biggest investors, Softbank, was having financial trouble due to the stock market crash caused by the Wuhan flu panic, and was not able to continue its investment in OneWeb. The result was that OneWeb could not pay its creditors, the biggest of which was Arianespace, which was managing the launch of most of the company’s satellites, using Russian Soyuz rockets from either French Guiana or Kazakhstan.

With about 18% of its constellation already in orbit and the rest pretty much ready for launch this year, the company has valuable assets that in bankruptcy will have value. It will likely be sold and continue operations under new management.

In the meantime this filing will hurt the bottom line of Arianespace and Russia.

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NASA awards SpaceX deal to provide cargo to Gateway

Capitalism in space: Should NASA ever decide to build its proposed Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon (the odds of which have gone down recently), it announced today that it has signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgraded larger version of its Dragon capsule to ship cargo to that station.

The deal calls for at least two missions, and is SpaceX’s first deal in NASA’s Artemis program.

This deal is a major blow to SLS and Boeing, which up to now had a monopoly on all launches to supply and launch Gateway. In fact, Gateway was invented by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA (not Congress) in order to justify SLS’s existence. That NASA has now decided it is better off using the much cheaper and already operational Falcon Heavy for some Gateway missions suggests that SLS is increasingly vulnerable to cancellation. NASA is making it obvious that other commercial options exist. No need to wait years and spend billions for SLS, when they can go now, for much less.

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ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket successfully launches military satellite

Capitalism in space: United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket today successfully placed into orbit the first military satellite officially under the U.S. Space Force’s command.

The satellite is the fifth of a constellation designed to provide communications for all military operations.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 9 to 6 in the national rankings.

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SpaceX commercial launch for Argentina postponed because of COVID-19

Because of travel restrictions imposed by the worldwide panic over the COVID-19 virus, Argentina’s space agency has postponed the planned March 30, 2020 launch by SpaceX of an Earth observation radar satellite.

“This decision (to postpone the launch) has been made considering the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and that could affect the availability of own resources and foreign third-party resources, necessary not only for a safe insertion into orbit, but also for further operation of the satellite,” CONAE said in a statement.

CONAE said the decision to postpone the launch, which was made in consultation with SpaceX, is the “best decision in these moments of uncertainty … that the whole world suffers because of COVID-19.”

Argentina has halted all flights to and from the United States, impacting the ability of Argentine personnel needed to support the planned launch to travel to the Florida spaceport.

The more I research the Wuhan flu, the more I am convinced that the world’s governments have gone crazy. More on this later today.

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Dragon parachute test aborted

Because of the failure of the equipment unrelated to the parachutes, the helicopter pilot for a drop test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon parachutes on March 24, 2020 was forced to release the dummy capsule early, causing its loss.

“During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable,” SpaceX said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release,” the statement added. “As the helicopter was not yet at target conditions, the test article was not armed, and as such, the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence. While the test article was lost, this was not a failure of the parachute system, and most importantly, no one was injured. NASA and SpaceX are working together to determine the testing plan going forward in advance of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission.”

This issue, combined with the loss of a Falcon 9 first stage (on its fifth flight) during re-entry, because one engine failed to function properly, is making some news sources suggest that NASA will delay the planned May launch of Dragon’s first manned mission to ISS.

If NASA demands a delay of that May manned mission because of these two issues, it will demonstrate how truly insane our society has become. While the issue prevented the drop test, it involved the equipment that suspended the dummy capsule below the helicopter, not the parachute system. Furthermore, this test was one of the very last tests of the parachute system, following a test campaign during the past few months that has worked repeatedly on numerous tests.

As for the first stage loss, do I have to repeat again that it occurred on the stage’s fifth reuse, and after it had successfully launched its payload into orbit? SpaceX will be using a new first stage for the manned mission, and they have experienced no failures on a new first stage like this for literally years.

In a sane society, NASA would look at the overall context, and put aside these issues as irrelevant to their launch schedule. They, and SpaceX, will want to figure out what happened, but they should insist on proceeding on schedule for the May launch.

We are no longer sane however. I will not be surprised if they announce a further launch delay.

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NASA to use private enterprise for space communications

Capitalism in space: NASA is now in the process of shifting from building its own communications satellites to communicate with ISS as well as many other Earth-orbiting NASA satellites to buying those services from the private sector, much as the agency has done with is cargo and crew ferrying service to the station.

This involves ground stations as well as upgrading its fleet of geosynchronous NASA-built TDRS satellites.

In addition, NASA is seeking industry assistance in replacing the Space Network, which provides communications for more than 40 missions including the International Space Station through government-owned Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and associated ground stations. “While the TDRS System is a fine investment that the government has made, for the future we are looking at commercial alternatives,” said Ted Sobchak, NASA Space Network project manager.

NASA plans a multistep campaign to encourage development of commercial space-based relay networks before the current TDRS spacecraft reach the end of their lives. “Based on past spacecraft performance, the newest generation of TDRS will remain operational well into the 2030s,” Younes said.

The original TDRS constellation of satellites, launched from 1983 to 1995, were actually built for a reasonable cost. At the time NASA did not try to put every bell and whistle on them, but focused instead on their basic mission and getting it launched for a reasonable cost. The management at NASA today almost certainly could not do this. Getting new satellites from competitive private companies will therefore save NASA money, and get the job done faster.

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Long March 5B launch still set for mid-April, despite Wuhan virus

The new colonial movement: China is moving forward with its plans to complete the first launch of its big Long March 5B rocket in mid-April, despite the lockdowns because of COVID-19.

The Long March 5B is a variant of the Long March 5, which after two launch failures finally completed its first successful launch in December. The 5B is also the rocket they intend to use for all their manned missions, as well as launching the components of their manned space station.

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Astra Space suffers failure during launch dress rehearsal

Capitalsm in space: Astra Space, attempting again to complete its first orbital launch, suffered what they call “an anomaly” during a launch dress rehearsal countdown yesterday.

The “anomaly,” of which we presently have no description other than it has cancelled their launch attempt later this week and that no one was hurt, apparently was serious enough that they noted that the launch site is “still hazardous and should be avoided.”

The company has said that it expected it would take three launches before they succeeded in getting into orbit, so this failure probably does not worry them overally. At the same time, I suspect that expectation was for actual launches, not explosions during the countdown.

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Bigelow lays off everyone

Bigelow Aerospace, builder of commercial space stations, has laid off its entire workforce, stating this was due to the lockdown by Nevada’s state government due to the Wuhan flu.

According to sources familiar with the company’s activities, Bigelow Aerospace’s 68 employees were informed that they were being laid off, effective immediately. An additional 20 employees were laid off the previous week.

Those sources said that the company, based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was halting operations because of what one person described as a “perfect storm of problems” that included the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive ordering all “nonessential” businesses to close.

A company spokesperson confirmed March 23 that the company laid off all its employees because of the governor’s order, and that it faced “fines, penalties and threats of having our business license revoked” if it remained open. The spokesperson added that the company planned to hire workers back once the emergency directive was lifted, although other sources interpreted the layoffs as a permanent measure.

Considering how Bigelow has allowed other commercial space station companies, such as Axiom, to move ahead of it, this decision is not surprising. The panic over COVID-19 only pushed it along.

Whether Bigelow as a company returns once the coronavirus panic subsides however remains an open question.

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Another Chinese state-sponsored company about to launch orbitally

Galactic Enterprise, another Chinese state-sponsored “private” company, says it will attempt its first orbital launch this coming June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit. [emphasis mine]

Want to know why I do not consider this a real private company? From the article:

[Galactic Energy CEO and founder Liu Baiqi] earned a PhD from the prestigious Beihang University in Beijing before moving to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major subsidiary of the country’s main space contractor. He says everyone on the core team at his company has 10 to 20 years of background in research and development, as well as experience in spaceflight.

The Chinese national strategy of military-civil fusion is a crucial ingredient in China’s nascent commercial launch sector. It facilitates the transfer of restricted military technologies for civilian use, and vice versa. Liu notes that the strategy strengthens China’s commercial aerospace companies by establishing supply chains, providing access to test and launch sites, and securing orders from the government. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text in both quotes above explains all. First, solid rocket technology is almost always reserved for missiles, as it can be stored easily for long periods, yet be ready to launch quickly. No private company, even in the U.S., can use it without heavy government involvement.

Second, Liu admits that his entire team comes from China’s long established space industry, which has always been dominated and controlled by that country’s government and military. I guarantee that everyone in his company has security clearances, and has worked on the past for China’s missile programs

Third, Liu’s own words confirm my conclusion. He calls it a “military-civil fusion,” but that’s just government weasel-words, another way of saying the government is running the show, entirely. It might be allowing him to form his own operation, using investment capital from Chinese investors, but everything he does is approved and supervised by the Chinese military and government.

It is for this reason I will not list these Chinese “companies” separately in my launch race updates, like I do with U.S. companies. They are not really private, or separate. They are all divisions of China’s military-communist government, and thus should be lumped together.

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Astra to try its first orbital launch again this week

Capitalsm in space: After aborting its first orbital launch attempt at T-53 seconds, Astra has announced that it will to try its first orbital launch again this week.

They have not revealed the payload. They also admit that they will not be surprised if they fail to reach orbit, as they already assume it will take about three launches to iron out their rocket and systems.

Regardless, if they succeed, they will become the second company, after Rocket Lab, to successfully enter the smallsat market.

No word on whether they will live-stream the launch.

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OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

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More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

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SpaceX recovers both fairing halves from Starlink launch

Capitalism in space: The two reused fairing halves that SpaceX used in yesterday’s Falcon 9 Starlink launch were both successfully recovered.

Starlink V1 L5 is now the second time ever that SpaceX – or anyone, for that matter – has successfully reused an orbital-class launch vehicle payload fairing, while the mission also marked the first time that SpaceX managed to recover a reused Falcon fairing. The burn from booster issues certainly isn’t fully salved, as twin fairing catchers Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief both missed their fairing catch attempts, but both twice-flown fairing halves were still successfully scooped out of the Atlantic Ocean before they were torn apart.

The first reused fairing however was not recovered, making this recovery the first of used fairings. The company now has the ability to study them in order to better design future reusable fairings.

The article provides a lot of information about the difficulties of catching the fairings before they hit the water. It also notes that the reused fairings have all been fished out of the ocean, suggesting that in the end catching them in the ship’s nets will be unnecessary.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden passes at 88

Their numbers slowly shrink: Al Worden, who orbited the Moon as commander of the Apollo 15 command module, has passed away at the age of 88.

For three days in 1971, Worden circled the moon as Dave Scott and Jim Irwin worked on the lunar surface — including driving a rover for the first time. Being a command module pilot has been called the loneliest job in humanity. In the spacecraft alone, not able to talk to anyone when the capsule was on the back side of the moon. But Worden told NPR in a 2016 interview, “I was pretty comfortable with being by myself.”

After Scott and Irwin returned from the lunar surface and the crew was on its way back home, Worden conducted a spacewalk, the first ever in deep-space. He ventured outside the capsule to retrieve film from the scientific cameras.

The link is to an NPR obituary, so of course it makes a big deal about the effort by the astronauts to make some extra money by selling postage stamp covers that they bought with them post-flight.

Worden remembers it this way, “Jim and I were told that this was something that happened on every flight. No big deal. Well, it turned out to be a huge deal.” Even though previous crews had profited off lunar souvenirs, it became a public relations nightmare for NASA. The three astronauts never flew again. Worden said he regretted what happened: “I think the flight speaks for itself. I think the science that we did on the flight speaks for itself.”

I always thought it was quite offensive that the American government, the press, NASA, and the public took offense then about this. These guys were not paid that much, slightly above an ordinary middle class salary, for doing something totally unique and incredibly dangerous. If they had a chance to make some extra cash on the side, all power to them.

This was just after the 1960s, however, and private enterprise and commercial profit was steadily going out of fashion. We as a culture had bought into the Soviet model of top-down government programs that were centrally controlled. For any of the individuals involved to make some independent cash for themselves was considered crass and corrupt.

Regardless, God speed, Al Worden.

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SpaceX launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites into orbit, using a reused first stage for the fifth time, the first time they have done this. They also for the first time reused the fairing, for the second time. All told, the cost for this launch was reduced by approximately 70% by these reuses.

However, during launch one 1st stage Merlin engine shut down prematurely, the first time since 2012. You can see the consequence of this during the re-entry burn. After the burn, the rocket seems far more unstable then normal. Soon after the video cut out, and they must have missed the drone ship upon landing, making it a failure. They intend to do a full investigation before their next launch.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The U.S. now leads China 8 to 5 in the national rankings.

One additional detail: At the beginning of their live stream, they touted Starship/Super Heavy, and put out a call for engineers to apply to work for SpaceX.

The launch is embedded below the fold.
» Read more

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Sea Launch arrives in Russia

The floating launch platform, built privately by an international partnership in the late 1990s and now owned by a Russian airline company, has arrived in Russia after a one month sea voyage from California.

Though supposedly owned now by S7, Sea Launch is really controlled by the Russian government and Roscosmos. They hope to use it as launch platform for their new Soyuz-5 rocket, intended as a family of rockets that would replace their venerable the Soyuz rocket originally developed in the 1960s.

Having a floating launch platform will also give Russia the ability for the first time to place satellites in low inclination orbits. The high latitudes of most of Russia means that any launches from any of their spaceports, including the one in Kazakhstan, will have a high inclination as well.

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Russia successfully launches GPS-type Glonass satellite

Russia on March 16 successfully launched a GPS-type Glonass satellite, using a Soyuz-2 rocket launched from a launchpad at they Plesetsk spaceport that had not been used in seventeen years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
4 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The national ranking remains unchanged, with the U.S. leading China 7 to 5.

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Launch failure for China’s new Long March 7A rocket

The first launch attempt of China’s newly upgraded Long March 7 rocket, dubbed the 7A, ended in failure today.

As is usual for China, very little concrete information was released, about the payload or the failure.

State news agency confirmed failure (in Chinese) just under two hours after launch, with no cause nor nature of the failure stated.

The Long March 7A is an effort by China to replace the use of rockets that use dangerous propellants and are launched in the interior of the country, sometimes dumping their first stages in habitable regions.

The Long March 7A is a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. A 2017 mission to test the Tianzhou refueling spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab was its most recent activity. The launcher uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant and could replace older models using toxic propellants.

It is also intended to launch from their new coastal spaceport in Wenchang. It did this today, though unsuccessfully.

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Falcon 9 aborts automatically at T minus 0

A SpaceX launch attempt today to put sixty more Starlink satellites into orbit aborted at T minus Zero when the rocket’s computer software shut things down just after the engines began firing.

I have embedded the video below the fold. According to the broadcast, they had “a condition regarding engine power,” suggesting that one or more of the Merlin engines did not power up as expected and the computers reacted to shut the launch down because of this.

Not surprisingly, they have not yet announced a new launch date.
» Read more

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China on track for Mars launch in July?

Two stories today, one from Nature and the second from space.com, pushed the idea that China’s Mars orbiter/lander/rover mission is still on schedule to meet the July launch window.

A close read of both stories however revealed very little information to support that idea.

The Nature article provided some details about how the project is working around travel restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 virus epidemic. For example, it told a story about how employees drove six scientific instruments by car to the assembly point rather than fly or take a train, thereby avoiding crowds.

What struck me however was that this supposedly occurred “several days ago,” and involved six science payloads that had not yet been installed on the spacecraft. To be installing such instrumentation at this date, only four months from launch, does not inspire confidence. It leaves them almost no time for thermal and vibration testing of the spacecraft.

The article also provided little information about the status of the entire project.

The space.com article was similar. Lots of information about how China’s space program is dealing with the epidemic, but little concrete information about the mission itself, noting “the lack of official comment on the mission.” Even more puzzling was the statement in this article that the rover “underwent its space environment testing in late January.”

I wonder how that is possible if those six instruments above had not yet been installed. Maybe the instruments were for the lander or orbiter, but if so that means the entire package is not yet assembled and has not been thoroughly tested as a unit. Very worrisome.

Posting today has been light because I was up most of the night dealing with a family health issue, meaning that I ended up sleeping for several hours during the day. All is well, nothing serious (it is NOT coronavirus), but it has left my brain and schedule very confused. Will likely take a good night’s sleep to get back to normal.

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First launch of ULA’s Vulcan on schedule for 2021

Capitalism in space: According to ULA’s CEO, Tory Bruno, the company is on track to transition as planned from its Atlas 5 and Delta rockets to its new Vulcan rocket.

Just five Delta IV Heavy launches remain on the manifest, all NRO launches procured under the block buy Phase 1 methodology. Bruno expects the final Delta launch to occur in 2023 or 2024.

The workhorse of the ULA fleet, Atlas V, is expected to retire on a similar timeframe. Bruno says the launcher could be “done as early as 2022, or as late as 2024.” Atlas V will have to continue operations until its replacement, Vulcan, can be human-rated to launch the Boeing Starliner spacecraft.

…The first flight of Vulcan Centaur is on track for early 2021, with the first flight vehicle under construction, and more vehicles in flow, in ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. Vulcan’s debut launch will carry the Astrobotic Peregrine lander to the moon for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. A second launch is currently planned for later that year, which will satisfy the Air Force certification requirement for Vulcan to launch military missions.

Bruno’s report is also good news for Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, since both will use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine in their first stage. If ULA is on schedule, than Blue Origin also likely to be on schedule, meaning that come 2021 or so the U.S. will have at least three companies (including SpaceX) capable of putting large payloads into orbit. Moreover, Northrop Grumman is developing its OmegA rocket, which will compete for the same business.

The article also talks about the military’s launch procurement program, which supposedly will pick two of these launch companies to provide all military launches through the 2020s. That program however is certain to fail, as it will blacklist all other viable companies from bidding on military launches. I expect those companies will successfully sue and force the Space Force to accept bids from more than two companies.

And that is as it should be. Why the military wishes to limit bidding makes no sense, and is probably illegal anyway. As long as a company has a qualified rocket, its bids should be welcome.

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Manned Dragon mission targeted for May

Capitalism in space: According to one SpaceX official, they are now aiming for a May target date for their first manned Dragon mission to ISS, even as they will maintain a launch pace of one to two launches per month.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell [said] that she expects at least one to two launches per month in the near future, whether they be for customers or for SpaceX’s own internet-satellite constellation, Starlink. “And we are looking at a May timeframe to launch crew for the first time,” Shotwell continued. That launch, called Demo-2, will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

At that pace SpaceX will complete between 12 to 24 launches for the year. They had predicted they would complete 21, so this is in line with that prediction.

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Big budget cut for India’s manned space program

India’s manned space program has received a 70% cut in funding in that country’s most recent budget, according to one news story from India.

From the first link:

The human spaceflight program of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), called Gaganyaan, received only about 30% of the funds sought by the according to the Times of India. ISRO said it will find a way around the low budget, but details were not provided in the news report.

The plan has been to launch a unmanned mission late this year or early next year, with the 5-to-7-day manned mission to occur one year later.

Based on the article from India, it appears to me that these cuts are part of the negotiation process for determining ISRO’s budget, and are not yet firm. It also appears that the government is experiencing sticker shock. It wants a manned mission, but when it was told what it would cost it balked.

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to fly the manned mission by 2022 with these cuts. The Modi government will either have to decide to spend the money, or significantly delay its human spaceflight effort.

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Russia delays first 2020 Proton launch due to “component mismatch”

Russian officials yesterday announced that they are delaying the first Proton launch in 2020 from March to May in order to replace components that during tests were found to be “mismatched.”

According to [Khrunichev Space Center Director General Alexei] Varochko, quality control tests revealed mismatch of one of the components’ parameters. “In order to ensure proper serviceability and guarantee the implementation of the Khrunichev Center’s liabilities, it was decided to replace the components set, including in the Proton-M carrier rocket, which is kept at the Baikonur space center, to put Express satellites into orbit,” he said.

Nor are they having issues only with their Proton rocket. Two days ago they announced a one month delay of a Soyuz rocket, set for launch for Arianespace, because of “an off-nominal malfunction … on a circuit board” in the Freget-M upper stage. Rather than replace the component, they have decided to replace the entire stage

Proton is built by the Khrunichev facility. Freget-M is built by the Lavochkin facility. For both to have issues like this suggests once again that Russia’s aerospace industry continues to have serious quality control problems in its manufacturing processes. The one bright spot is that they are at least finding out about the problems prior to launch.

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