Tag Archives: competition

A review of the Trump administrations’s SLS/Orion reprogramming options

Link here. This is a nice summary of the technical and political options being considered for the first unmanned Orion test flight, presently scheduled for June 2020, including replacing SLS with commercial launch rockets.

The article also noted that NASA is also looking at simplifying that test flight, because both SLS and Orion are behind schedule and this would make using a commercial rocket easier.

The currently baselined EM-1 [the test] mission would launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a trans-lunar injection (TLI) trajectory; once released from the launch vehicle, it will fly solo for the first time. The Orion would then make two large engine burns to insert itself into a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) around the Moon. Depending on the time of year, Orion would stay in the DRO for a half or one and a half orbits before making two more large engine burns to return to Earth. Preliminary analysis indicates a June, 2020, launch of the full-up mission would fall into the “long-class” category, with Orion staying in a DRO with a twelve-day long period for one and a half laps and flying a five-week long flight.

Prior to Administrator Bridenstine’s announcement of the alternate launch study for EM-1, notes passed to [this website] indicated that NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier had sent out a memo in early March indicating that studies to look at ways to keep the EM-1 launch in 2020 could not compromise any of the mission objectives; besides that, everything else was on the table.

The highest priority objective of the EM-1 mission is a lunar-velocity reentry test of the redesigned Orion heatshield, along with a full end-to-end test of the re-entry sequence and an in-space demonstration of Orion systems, many of which are flying for the first time.

Although Bridenstine’s public comments stressed flying EM-1 as a lunar orbit mission, there has been speculation that launching Orion out to near lunar distance without attempting either a lunar orbit or a lunar flyby could meet the highest priority objectives. Dropping the lunar orbit requirement or lunar flyby options would also relax launch opportunity constraints created by flying to the Moon and could perhaps reduce launch vehicle performance requirements enough to drop the [Earth orbit rendezvous] proposal and [docking] development work. [emphasis mine]

To use commercial rockets and still go into lunar orbit would require at least two commercial launches to get the required material up to orbit. It would also require developing Orion’s docking software now, something NASA had not planned to do until prior to Orion’s third flight several years hence. Avoiding lunar orbit means they can use a single Falcon Heavy launch and avoid these issues.

The highlighted phrase above indicates the most important priority of the test flight. This does not require lunar orbit. In fact, the Apollo mission tested its heat shield without leaving Earth orbit, and Orion can do the same.

It is still bothersome to read how haphazard NASA’s SLS/Orion program remains. They aren’t doing enough testing, their future flights are always in flux for political, schedule, and budgetary reasons, and they always seem to be in too much of a hurry to fly humans on very unproven vehicles. If NASA’s corrupt safety panel applied the same standards to SLS/Orion as it does to SpaceX and Boeing, the whole program would be shut down. It does not, because safety isn’t really its purpose. That panel’s goal is to serve NASA’s bureaucracy, and to protect its biggest projects (SLS/Orion) from any competition.

As for replacing SLS for that first Orion test flight, we shall see. The political forces opposing such a move are vast, and wield a lot of power.

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DARPA’s satellite servicing mission adrift

Capitalism in space? DARPA’s program to test a satellite servicing mission appears in serious and complex trouble with the termination by Maxar (previously called SSL) of its contract to build the structure, or “bus”, of the robot.

What makes this more complicated is that the company building the actual servicing payload is continuing its work.

While Maxar will no longer be providing the satellite bus, work on the servicing payload continues. Among the companies involved in that effort is Praxis, a company handling planning for mission operations of the RSGS servicing system, such as how the system will safely grapple the target satellite. “For our day-to-day operations, that hasn’t really affected us. We’re pretty far along on the payload development,” said Tony Marzi, general manager of Praxis, during a presentation at the MIT New Space Age Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here March 15.

DARPA is thus calling for proposals to launch this payload.

The irony here is that this DARPA project was under criticism from the start, even to the point that a competing satellite servicing company, Orbital ATK, sued the agency. That company, now part of Northrop Grumman, was building its own privately funded servicing robot, and considered DARPA’s effort to be unfair in that it provided direct government subsidies to its competitors.

While Orbital ATK lost its suit, it now appears it has won the competition — assuming it eventually launches its own mission.

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OneWeb raises $1.25 billion

Capitalism in space: Following the launch of the first six satellites for its 650 satellite constellation to provide worldwide internet services, OneWeb today announced that it has successfully raised $1.25 billion in new investment capital.

…it has secured its largest fundraising round to date with the successful raise of $1.25 billion in new capital. This brings the total funds raised to $3.4 billion. This round was led by SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and the Government of Rwanda.

The new funds, following the successful first launch of OneWeb’s satellites, enable the company to accelerate the development of the first truly global communications network by 2021.

…OneWeb’s satellites, produced through its joint venture with Airbus doing business as “OneWeb Satellites”, will ramp-up production this spring at its new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Exploration Park, Florida. Following the company’s successful launch of satellites on February 27th, OneWeb will embark on the largest satellite launch campaign in history. Starting in Q4, OneWeb will begin monthly launches of more than 30 satellites at a time, creating an initial constellation of 650 satellites to enable full global coverage. After this first phase, OneWeb will add more satellites to its constellation to meet growing demands.

This puts OneWeb significantly ahead of everyone else, including SpaceX, in the race to launch the first space-based system for providing internet services. Their planned launch pace also illustrates why there is a flood of new smallsat rocket companies. They, and others, have a clear need for launch services, which presently cannot be provided by the existing launch companies.

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First SpaceX Starship Hopper tests this week?

Capitalism in space: According to this news story on Sunday, SpaceX could attempt its first Starship Hopper tests this week.

A sheriff hand-delivered road closure notices to residents on Friday, according to a local resident. The document warned locals that SpaceX will “conduct testing” as soon as Monday, March 18.

The article also cites a flurry of tweets about the hopper that Elon Musk made on Sunday. Unfortunately, Musk’s tweets do not say anything about tests this week.

Regardless, it appears that SpaceX might actually be close to beating the schedule it announced for these tests back in November, when Musk said they were aiming for tests in June. If so, this would be a remarkable achievement, one that is almost unheard of in the aerospace launch industry.

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ULA’s Delta 4 rocket launches Air Force communications satellite

Capitalsm in space: ULA yesterday used its Delta 4 rocket to successfully place in orbit an Air Force communications satellite.

This is one of the last launches of the the Delta 4 member in the Delta rocket family.

The mission marked the next-to-last flight of the Delta 4 rocket variant with a single first stage core — known as the Delta 4-Medium — as ULA begins retiring segments of its launcher family in preparation for the debut of the new Vulcan booster, which the company says will be less expensive than the existing Atlas and Delta fleet.

Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said the company’s decision in 2014 to retire the Delta 4-Medium was intended to reduce the company’s costs. “We started looking at the products that we were providing, and found that maintaining these two families of launch vehicles, both the Delta and the Atlas, through this period decreased our flight rate, and therefore increased our costs,” Wentz said. “That really drove it, based on the competitive industry we’re in, trying to maximize our competitiveness.”

The Delta 4-Medium family provides the same range of lift capability as the less expensive Atlas 5 rocket. The Delta 4-Heavy, which will remain operational through at least the early-to-mid-2020s, uses three Delta 4 first stage cores bolted together to haul heavier payloads to orbit than any of the Atlas 5 configurations.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia
2 ULA

In the national rankings, the U.S. has now widened its lead on China to 5 to 3.

Note that two different American companies are matching the launch numbers of three other whole countries. This I think illustrates well the power of freedom and competition. Rather than have a single nationalized rocket system (as was attempted in the 2000s when Boeing and Lockheed Martin created ULA, then the only American rocket company), the U.S. has transitioned back to its roots, allowing freedom to produce multiple companies competing for both private and government business. This has reduced costs, encouraged innovation, and ended up producing more jobs and wealth.

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Rogozin: Russia and U.S. to use both countrys’ manned capsules to ISS

According to statements made today by Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin, Russia and the United States now plan to send their astronauts to ISS using both the Russian and American capsules.

“We agreed with the NASA leadership to preserve our agreements and principles of cooperation. Astronauts will fly on board Soyuz, and we will use US spacecraft,” he said, adding that US spacecraft will need to get certification first.

According to the Roscosmos head, this will create an alternative in manned space missions to the International Space Station.

This suggests that once the U.S. commercial capsules are operational the two countries will return to the situation that existed when the shuttle was flying, with Americans sometimes flying on Russian spacecraft and Russians sometimes flying on American spacecraft. Under that set-up however, there was no direct payment by the U.S. for its seats on those Russian spacecraft, since it was a straight embargo deal.

Will this be the case now? We shall see. NASA for the past two decades has increasingly worked to keep the Russian space effort operating, sometimes even to the detriment of American efforts.

If Russia no longer gets money from the U.S. for its space flights it simply might not be able to afford to fly. We really won’t need them, but for a number of reasons we might decide to pay them to keep them in the game, both from a foreign policy perspective as well as some underhanded motives that are divorced from considerations of the national interest.

Unfortunately, separating these two issues has become increasingly difficult, especially because of the spreading corruption that is taking over the Washington establishment. This establishment more and more cares little for this country. Instead, it puts its own interests and power first, often in direct violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles that founded the United States. Under these conditions that establishment might decide it is better to help the Russians, even if it hurts America and its citizens.

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Russia successfully launches manned Soyuz to ISS

Update: The Soyuz rocket has successfully placed the manned Soyuz capsule into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 4 to 3 in the national rankings.

Initial post: The Russians are right now counting down to a 3:14 pm (eastern) manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

A live video stream of the launch is available at the link from both NASA and the Russians. I have embedded the Russian stream below the fold. It has little narration, and so avoids the annoying propaganda stuff that the NASA feed is littered with.

This manned launch is a bit more interesting in that it is attempting to put in space the three astronauts who were on the aborted October launch. This is also only the second manned Soyuz launch since that abort, so there remains a bit of nervousness about it.
» Read more

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World View crashes?

Capitalism in space: The hi-tech high-altitude balloon company World View has failed to meet its commitments in its local development deal and has changed leadership.

Pima County’s supervisors approved a ballsy deal with World View amid fanfare, criticism and a ginned-up lawsuit the county won. The county would build World View a headquarters and a launch pad for the balloons. The company would pay rent on the facilities and repay the county for its end, plus a guarantee of escalating its local workforce to 100 by the end of 2018, 200 by 2022 and 400 by 2032.

Three years on, there’s been a catastrophic explosion and a leadership change as World View’s promise of “Jobs!” Jobs! Jobs!” has turned into “eh … jobs …” The company has a staff of 87. That’s 13 fewer than what was promised in the contract. Because World View refused to make public its internal growth projections, the county approved the deal after its own study predicted the company would hire pushing 400 workers by now.

The company had started out casting itself as a tourist operation, offering people multi-hour high-altitude flights for far less than the suborbital rocket companies. In 2017 the company quietly shifted its marketing, touting its balloon technology instead as a way to do high altitude research and reconnaissance. Soon thereafter they had an explosion during a test flight.

Since then they have apparently done little. With the recent corporate restructuring I wonder at the company’s future.

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NASA considering replacing SLS with commercial rockets for first Orion test mission

Capitalism in space: Faced with endless delays that will likely prevent the first scheduled launch of SLS in June 2020, NASA is now considering using commercially purchased rockets to send the Orion capsule and European service module on that same mission.

NASA now believes the Space Launch System will not be ready for the EM-1 test flight by June 2020, the program’s most recent target launch date. Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said Wednesday the space agency is weighing alternatives to keep the Orion spacecraft on track for a lunar mission in 2020 to test the capsule’s European-built power and propulsion module, and assess the performance of the crew capsule’s heat shield during blistering re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere from the moon.

“Some of those options would include launching the Orion crew capsule and the European service module on a commercial rocket,” Bridenstine said in a hearing with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Bridenstine said it is important for NASA to stick to its commitment to launch EM-1 by June 2020, and his announcement Wednesday marked the first time a NASA leader has publicly discussed launching the Orion spacecraft’s first lunar mission on a commercial rocket, and not the more expensive government-run Space Launch System. “Certainly, there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities to put the Orion crew capsule and the European service module in orbit around the moon by June of 2020, which was our originally-stated objective, and I’ve tasked the agency to look into how we might accomplish that objective,” Bridenstine said.

Because Orion and its service module are so heavy they cannot be launched by a single Falcon Heavy rocket. However, that rocket could easily put everything in orbit in two launches, where the two parts could dock together.

There is still a problem with this plan, according to Bridenstine:

“I want to be clear. We do not have, right now, an ability to dock the Orion crew capsule with anything in orbit. So between now and June of 2020, we would have to make that a reality.”

I find this fact incredible. NASA built Orion without the capability to maneuver and dock with other spacecraft? If this is true, it shows once again the outright incompetence of anything our federal government does, including NASA.

Regardless, Bridenstine’s announcement is very good news. If Orion is launched on that 2020 first test mission using commercial rockets, it will demonstrate clearly the uselessness of the expensive and very delayed SLS. It will also make it politically easier to consider shutting it down, before it eats up more funds.

More important, this statement by Bridenstine indicates that there are many people in the Trump administration that have come to this same conclusion. This statement also means that they are beginning to make the political moves necessary to make the cancellation of SLS possible.

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Trump’s budget will not “destroy” or “gut” science

Our terrible press does it again. Yesterday the Trump administration released its proposed 2020 federal budget [pdf], and as usual the pro-government propagandists in the media got to work to lobby against it.

This proposed budget will do none of these things.

These articles all fail to apply even the slightest and tiniest bit of context to their analysis. The budget numbers proposed by the Trump administration might reduce the budgets of some science agencies from what they had gotten the year before, but overall the proposed budgets remain gigantic, far more than received by these same agencies only a few years before.

You don’t believe me? Let me open your eyes.
» Read more

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SpaceX about to install engines on Starship hopper

Capitalism in space: Late last week SpaceX officials revealed that they are about to install the first two Raptor engines on their Starship hopper prototype being assembled at the Texas spaceport.

According to an official SpaceX statement, once Raptor is installed on Starhopper, the integrated vehicle will perform a combination of ground systems testing, propellant loading, static fire tests, and low-altitude hover demonstrations to prove out the brand new vehicle, engine, and facilities. Prior to the final months of 2018, the build site, launch pad, and prototype Starship now preparing for imminent hop tests were little more than empty dirt lots on the southern tip of the Texas coast.

…“SpaceX will conduct checkouts of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test in the days ahead,” he said. “Although the prototype is designed to perform sub-orbital flights, or hops, powered by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be tethered during initial testing and hops will not be visible from offsite. SpaceX will establish a safety zone perimeter in coordination with local enforcement and signage will be in place to alert the community prior to the testing.” – James Gleeson, March 8th, SpaceX

It is not clear when these first hopper tests will occur, but based on the pace that SpaceX is setting, it should not be too far into the future. Before that however they will likely need to first do some static fire tests, on the ground.

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Dragon successfully splashes down in Atlantic

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule has successfully returned to Earth, splashing down in the Atlantic this morning.

There is a short video at the link showing the splashdown.

As far as I can tell, this test mission went 100% right. They now have the capsule they will use for the launch abort flight, which they hope to do by June, if not sooner. Assuming that goes well, they will be ready to do the manned flight by July, as planned.

The only thing I can see preventing this would be elements in NASA’s bureaucracy, Congress, and the federal government that are hostile to SpaceX and the concept of independent free Americans doing great things. These elements prefer giving power and control to their big bloated government, even if it can’t accomplish anything and that failure gives aide and comfort to hostile foreign powers.

We shall see if those elements move to block this mission in the coming months.

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Air Force awards ULA and SpaceX three launch contracts each

Capitalism in space: The Air Force this week released more details about the new launch contracts for both ULA and SpaceX worth just under three quarters of a billion dollars.

The contracts announced in February by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center were split between ULA and SpaceX, rivals in the U.S. launch industry. ULA won deals for up to three launches worth $441.76 million, and the Air Force awarded SpaceX contracts worth $297 million, also for three missions.

I had reported this back in February when it was first announced, but it was not then revealed that one of the SpaceX launches would be with the Falcon Heavy, the second such Air Force launch planned. That the Air Force awarded this contract prior to its first launch, now scheduled for no earlier than June 2019, is somewhat surprising. I would have expected them to wait to first see if that launch, only the second Falcon Heavy launch, was successful.

The article also notes a minor change by the Air Force in its launch program.

The Air Force has also given a new name to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, a multibillion initiative begun in the 1990s to fund and oversee the development and operations of the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets now owned by ULA.

The Space and Missile Systems Center announced March 1 that the EELV program’s new name is the National Security Space Launch program, in response to language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

They really needed to eliminate “Expendable” from the name, since the first stage of SpaceX’s rockets are not expendable, and it is expected that future rockets will be reusable as well. Moreover, EELV was created in the 1990s to create a launch monopoly for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which then merged to create ULA. That monopoly no longer exists, and the military is now aiming to widen the competition, opening it up to more companies.

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Next Rocket Lab launch delayed because of late delivery of payload

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s next Electron launch, initial scheduled for late February, has been rescheduled for late march because its DARPA payload arrived late.

Rocket Lab confirmed the new schedule March 6. “Following a delay to payload arrival, the R3D2 spacecraft is now at LC-1 and integration is underway,” the company tweeted. In a later statement, the company said the launch would take place between March 16 and 30 (U.S. time), with four-hour windows each day from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

Being a very new rocket, with only three launches under its belt. it is important to learn that the delay was caused by the payload, not the rocket.

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Increased isopropyl alcohol detected at ISS following Dragon docking

The Russian press today announced that there was a significant increase in the amount of isopropyl alcohol detected in the atmosphere of ISS following docking and opening of the hatch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

While obviously this needs to be investigated, there are several details the Russian press leaves out. First, what normally happens when a manned capsule or new module arrives and the hatch opens? I suspect we always see a jump in readings for a wide range of atmospheric components. Second, what harm does this increase in ispropyl alcohol have to the station, its experiments, or its occupants? I suspect none, though obviously if it could be avoided that would be better.

Once again, we need to be aware that the Russians motives here might not be entirely pure. They have political and economic reasons to work against a success by SpaceX, and articles such as this reflect that. Issues like this of course need to be checked out and fixed if possible or necessary, but the goal of this article might not be that at all.

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Firefly inks big launch contract

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Firefly has signed a launch contact with an Italian satellite company to launch 15 of its satellites.

Firefly Aerospace Inc. has agreed to provide an Italian company 15 rides to space over a five-year period, the Cedar Park startup announced March 4. The agreement enables D-Orbit SpA to purchase room on future flights of Firefly’s Alpha rocket. The deal allows the Italian satellite company to “purchase, market and resell launch vehicle capacity, and to provide logistics support and integration activities at its operational premises in Italy,” according to the announcement.

I am certain that D-Orbit has options to back out and sign with other rocket companies should Firefly fall behind in its development of Alpha, which they say will have its first launch before the end of this year. Nonetheless, this contract bodes well for the company, as it indicates that others have faith in them.

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Dragon successfully docks with ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, designed to carry humans to space, has successfully docked for the first time at ISS.

The flight really has only one major task left, which it to return safely to Earth, which presently is scheduled for 8:45 am (eastern) on March 7. I expect that to go smoothly as well.

NASA and SpaceX will of course need to review all the test data from this unmanned test flight before okaying a manned flight. SpaceX also needs to first do a launch abort test, using this capsule. However, I do not expect either to result in any issues that should prevent a manned launch in July, as SpaceX presently plans.

NASA however might think differently. There have been strong factions within its management and bureaucracy that are hostile to this effort, and have been working to stall or stop it.

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EXOS successfully flies its reusable suborbital rocket, SARGE

Capitalsm in space: EXOS yesterday successfully completed its first full test flight, with commercial payloads, of its reusable suborbital rocket, SARGE.

The link has video of the launch and rocket plus payload recovery.

As I noted earlier this week, this company is positioning itself well to join the smallsat boom. It has developed a reusable rocket that it intends to use both as a testbed for development of an orbital reusable version, while simultaneously earning income to pay for that development.

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Dragon successfully launched on its first unmanned test flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched its manned Dragon capsule on its first unmanned test flight to ISS.

They also successfully landed the first stage. I have embedded below the fold the video of the launch. Dragon will dock with ISS in about a day.

The leaders in the 2019:

3 SpaceX
2 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 4 to 2 in national rankings.
» Read more

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Pegasus problems continue

Capitalism in space: The much-delayed launch of a NASA science satellite by Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket continues to slip, with the unstated technical issues that caused several earlier launch dates to be cancelled lingering.

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission was scheduled to launch in late 2017 on a Pegasus XL rocket based out of Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. That launch was delayed to June 2018 because of an issue with the rocket’s separation system, then delayed again when engineers detected “off-nominal” data from the rocket during a ferry flight from California ahead of the June launch attempt.

That problem was linked to a faulty sensor that was replaced, with the launch eventually rescheduled for Nov. 7, this time flying out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However, after the rocket’s L-1011 aircraft took off for the Nov. 7 launch attempt, engineers again detected off-nominal data from the rocket and scrubbed the launch.

Neither NASA nor Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which builds the Pegasus, have provided additional details about the problem, but at a December meeting of an advisory committee, Nicky Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, said engineers were examining the control system of the rocket’s fins.

Fox, speaking at a Feb. 25 meeting of a National Academies committee here, said the launch was now scheduled for no earlier than the second quarter. “Northrop Grumman is still working extremely hard to analyze what is causing these anomalies during the ferry flight,” she said. “They’re working extremely hard to try and get ICON up as soon as possible.”

The article notes that Pegasus has only had three launches in the past decade. It was originally designed to provide a low cost option for smaller satellites, but over the decades did not fulfill that goal. It is now much more expensive than the many smallsat rockets coming on line. With these unexplained issues preventing this launch as well, its future appears dim at best

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Canada commits to NASA’s Lunar Gateway boondoggle

Canada’s leftwing government has agreed to be NASA’s first official international partner in the agency’s Lunar Gateway project, designed to go nowhere and cost billions.

Canada has become the first nation to formally commit to NASA’s lunar Gateway project with a financial contribution to cover a 24-year period and the development of a new generation robotic Canadarm.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Wednesday that Canada would be partnering with NASA and spending 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs. The announcement included funding of 150 million Canadian dollars over five years for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway, Trudeau announced.

I wonder if this Canadian program will survive a new rightwing administration. Such boondoggles often don’t, or get reshaped into something completely different.

Of course, this question assumes a truly rightwing government might someday retake power in Canada.

We are now entering a new cold war. This time the battle lines are not between the capitalist west and a communist Soviet bloc, but between the socialist big governments across the globe and the capitalist free citizenry struggling to survive independently under the thumb of those increasingly oppressive governments.

We can see this clearly in space. While big government space agencies in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Canada are teaming up to get coerced government funding for Gateway (even as they work to simultaneously squelch any competing space exploration visions), private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the new smallsat companies strive to launch their own private endeavors, using profits and any available investment capital they can convince others to freely provide them.

The big government space programs will spend a lot of money taken involuntarily, wield power to maintain their dominance, and likely accomplish relatively little for all that power and money. The small private efforts, if allowed to do what they want to do, will spend comparatively little capital (voluntarily committed to them), work very efficiently, and likely get a lot more done. The key is whether the former will allow the latter the freedom to operate.

Sadly, the track records of powerful government throughout the history of the world leaves me very pessimistic about this coming cold war. Those governments will quite likely use its growing unchecked power to squelch any competition, especially competition that makes them look foolish.

We have already seen this happen somewhat at NASA with its commercial crew program. Unless the public starts voting for politicians that favor them over the government — something that public simply hasn’t done for more than a century — I can only see this government dominance grow and worsen.

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Arianespace successfully launches first set of six OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, Arianespace today successfully launched the first set of six OneWeb communications satellites.

This is the first of 21 Soyuz launches to put the entire OneWeb constellation into orbit. OneWeb also has launch contracts with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.

The 2019 launch standings:

2 SpaceX
2 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Russia

It could be argued that this Soyuz launch should be placed under Russia. I place it under Europe because they are the one’s who signed the contract.

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 3-2 in the national rankings.

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Europe to build reusable first stage

Capitalism in space: Even as Europe works to develop Ariane 6, their non-reusable next generation rocket, Ariane Group and the French are now considering replacing it with a different rocket with a reusable first stage.

Late last week, the European rocket maker Ariane Group and the French space agency CNES announced the creation of an “acceleration platform” to speed development of future launch vehicles. The initiative, called ArianeWorks, would be a place where “teams work together in a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally.”

“In this era of NewSpace and in the context of fierce competition, ArianeWorks will accelerate innovation at grassroots level, in favor of mid-tier firms and start-ups, with commitment to reducing costs a major priority,” a news release sent to Ars states.

As part of the announcement, the organizations released a promotional video for the group’s first step—a so-called Themis demonstrator. The goal of this project is to build a multiple-engine first-stage rocket that launches vertically and lands near the launch site. The rocket will be powered by Europe’s Prometheus engine, a reusable liquid oxygen and methane engine that may cost as little as $1 million to build.

Essentially they are copying SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, except for the fuel. And they admit it. Moreover, this action tells us that the problems Ariane 6 has had getting European contracts has become serious enough that they have finally recognized that it simply cannot compete with the new wave of reusable rockets expected in the next decade. Building a new rocket that does not have a reusable capability is not viable in the coming market.

They should have recognized this four years ago, but better late then never.

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Beresheet’s second engine burn stopped by computer reset

It appears that the second engine burn to raise the orbit of Israel’s privately built lunar lander, Beresheet, did not happen as planned because of an unexpected computer reboot.

In a statement Tuesday morning, SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) engineers said they were investigating the malfunction, but said that other than a known problem with the navigation system’s star tracker, the Beresheet’s systems were all functioning properly.

The maneuver was scheduled to take place Monday night, as the spacecraft passed near the Earth in an area where the Ramat Gan-based SpaceIL ground crew would not be in direct communication with the craft.

During the pre-maneuver phase, the spacecraft computer reset unexpectedly, and the maneuver was automatically cancelled.

The question that immediately comes to mind: Did they purchase a space-hardened computer? Cosmic rays can wreck havoc on computer memory, causing just this type of unexpected reset, so computers in space need to be much better shielded than on Earth.

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SpaceX first stage for launch abort returns to port

Capitalism in space: The first stage that SpaceX used (for the third time) last week to put three payloads into orbit, including Israel’s privately built lunar lander Beresheet, has returned to port and begun its preparation for its fourth launch, the launch abort test required before the company can fly humans on its Dragon manned capsule.

Musk tweeted that the launch escape test could occur in April. Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability, said Friday that teams are looking at whether the in-flight abort could be moved forward from June.

SpaceX plans to reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft slated to fly to the space station this weekend for the in-flight abort. Assuming a March 2 launch, the capsule is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8, where teams will retrieve the spacecraft and bring it back to Cape Canaveral for the abort test.

The timing of the in-flight abort test “depends on when Crew Dragon comes back,” Musk tweeted. “That’s scheduled for launch next Saturday, but (there’s a) lot of new hardware, so time error bars are big.”

Officials do not expect the Falcon 9 booster to survive the abort test, likely ending its lifetime at four launches, and three intact landings. “High probability of this particular rocket getting destroyed by Dragon supersonic abort test,” Musk tweeted. [emphasis mine]

Unless something significant goes wrong during next week’s unmanned Dragon test flight, the only thing that I see preventing a June or earlier launch abort test would be the paperwork NASA demands SpaceX fill out in order for the agency to rubberstamp the flight.

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Beresheet successfully completes first in-space engine burn

Capitalism in space: The privately-funded Israeli Beresheet lunar lander has successfully completed its first orbital maneuver.

The 30-second engine burn raised its orbit’s low point by 600 kilometers. They will next do a series of similar maneuvers to steadily raise the orbit’s high point until it carries the spacecraft into the Moon’s sphere of gravitational influence. The actually landing is presently scheduled for April 11.

SpaceIL was set up as a non-profit, with this its only planned mission. However, the subcontractors who built Beresheet’s lander and batteries are now looking into commercializing their capabilities.

Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the lander, has shown an interest in commercializing the platform. In January it announced a partnership with German company OHB to make it available for potential future missions by the European Space Agency or other national space agencies.

Around the time the Falcon 9 carrying Beresheet lifted off, Japanese company ispace also announced milestones in the development of its lunar lander systems. The company announced an agreement with Japanese firm NGK Spark Plug to test its solid-state battery technology on its Hakuto-R lunar lander mission, scheduled for 2021.

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Exos to test the reusability of their suborbital rocket

Capitalism in space: The smallsate rocket company Exos Aerospace has announced that they have scheduled its first fully reusable test flight of its SARGE suborbital rocket for March 2nd.

Exos completed the Pathfinder Launch on August 25, 2018 from Spaceport America. It was the first step in validating the SARGE SRLV that was flown and recovered for reuse. Exos gathered critical flight data that enabled advancing the design and setting them up for continued reuse of their SARGE vehicle.

,,,The “Mission 1” test flight of the SARGE reusable system will carry the commercial payloads flown under the programs listed below. A successful launch will further solidify the company’s plan to use this technology as the design basis of their Jaguar orbital launch vehicle with reusable first stage capable of carrying 100kg to Low Earth Orbit (200-400km).

The link provides the list of payloads. For their orbital rocket their plan seems straightforward and brilliant. Build a simple suborbital rocket that lands by parachute gently enough so that it can be reused. While using that commercially also use it as the testbed for building an orbital rocket whose first stage would also land by parachute.

This approach puts them in direct competition with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic for the suborbital business, and likely at a much cheaper price than either. And if the plan works to orbit, it also positions them to be a strong competitor in the smallsat orbital rocket business, being the first with a reusable vertically launched rocket.

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Firefly to build and launch from Florida

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Firefly Aerospace announced yesterday that it will build its rocket manufacturing facility at Cape Canaveral, as well as launch from there.

Texas-based launch startup Firefly Aerospace finally revealed its plan to build a manufacturing facility near Kennedy Space Center and outfit the Air Force’s Space Launch Complex 20 in Cape Canaveral for its two core launch vehicles — one of the first manufacturing facilities of its kind in the Sunshine State.

Firefly was shrouded under the codename “Maricopa” for months as Space Florida, the state’s space development agency, trickled out details of a deal that includes an 18-acre chunk of Exploration Park and 28 acres at LC20. The value of the deal is $52 million, and Firefly vows to put 200 of its 300 employees in the Cape.

Firefly’s first rocket, Alpha, will cost $15 million per launch, which means it will either launch a larger bunch of smallsats or they will be serving the larger smallsats in this new industry.

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Israeli lunar lander deploys legs

Capitalism in space: The Israeli lunar lander Beresheet, now beginning its circuitous journey to the Moon, has established communications with the Earth while deploying its landing legs.

There does appear to be an issue with the spacecraft’s star trackers, but it is not clear how critical this is.

Beresheet, by the way, means “In the beginning” in Hebrew.

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