Tag Archives: competition

The Pentagon has decided to buy its launch services from more than just Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The competition heats up: The Pentagon has decided to buy its launch services from more than just Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Under the new plan, the Air Force can buy as many as 14 launches over the next five years from possible bidders such as Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences Corp . The service may also buy as many as 36 launches from United Launch Alliance, the Lockheed-Boeing venture, with an option to purchase the other 14 launches if the competitors haven’t been certified to launch military and spy satellites that can cost up to $1 billion each.

Originally the military planned to purchase all of its launches from Boeing and Lockheed. Political pressure from SpaceX has now forced them to widen the competition, or at least, make noises that they are doing so. If you read the above paragraph closely the plan still favors the original two companies and is strongly stacked to hand all the launches over to them anyway.

Update: My pessimism above was premature. SpaceX has been awarded a contract for two launches under this new policy.

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Space tourism — in a balloon.

Space tourism — in a balloon.

A newly successful test of a balloon could allow paying human customers to enjoy stunning Earth views and the weightless astronaut experience by 2014. The test balloon carried a humanoid robot up to an altitude of almost 20 miles (32 kilometers) on Nov. 12 — just a few miles shy of where skydiver Felix Baumgartner leaped from during his “space dive” in October. Startup Zero 2 Infinity wants to eventually offer hours of flight time for space tourists to do whatever they want in a near-space environment.

Ticket prices are $143K. And they have a list of customers who have already plunked down deposits.

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SpaceX and Stratolaunch have parted ways.

SpaceX and Stratolaunch have parted ways.

In the original plan, Stratolaunch would build the first stage, the biggest airplane every built, which would lift the second stage, SpaceX’s Falcon 9, into the air. It appears, however, that the modifications required to make the Falcon 9 work in this configuration were not in SpaceX’s interest, so the company backed out and Stratolaunch has instead made a deal with Orbital Sciences to provide the second stage rocket.

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A Russian Proton rocket, scheduled for launch in late December, is being replaced because of damage sustained during transport from its factory.

A Russian Proton rocket, scheduled for launch in late December, is being replaced because of damage sustained during transport from its factory.

This is not the first time this has happened. In 2010 a Soyuz capsule had to be replaced for the same reason. Modern television journalism (if one can call it that) would immediately ask “Is this a trend?” I instead wonder what the details are in both cases, which unfortunately are not available.

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Boeing indicated today that it is considering increasing its investment in its CST-100 manned capsule in order to accelerate its development.

Good news: Boeing indicated today that it is considering increasing its investment in its CST-100 manned capsule in order to accelerate its development.

I suspect that, after Boeing in September let leak the idea that they might shelve CST-100 if the space agency didn’t give them more money, NASA management instead told them in no uncertain terms that if they didn’t show a more serious commitment to building CST-100, they might lose the contract altogether.

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Sources in Russia indicated that the contract for Sarah Brightman’s space tourist flight has not yet been signed.

Sources in Russia indicated today that the contract for Sarah Brightman’s space tourist flight has not yet been signed.

Brightman will have turned 55 by that time, which means she will become one of the 20 oldest cosmonauts of the world, among which there is now only one woman (Barbara Morgan, which made a shuttle flight in 2007). “It is not known how the next three years, which the singer will spend in permanent travel around the world, will affect her health,” the source said. It is most likely that only Russian cosmonauts will take part in the 2015 ISS mission, who will take all three spaces in the Soyuz, he said.

The story focuses on the publicity gained for Brightman by making her announcement, but the actual scoop, assuming the source is correct, is that she doesn’t have a contract.

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In meetings today the European Space Agency has decided to upgrade Ariane 5 rather than immediately build a new Ariane 6 rocket.

In meetings today the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to upgrade Ariane 5 rather than immediately build a new Ariane 6 rocket.

Normally I would label this story as an example of “the competition heating up.” In this case, however, I don’t see how an upgrade of Ariane 5 can possibly be competitive. The rocket has been so expensive to operate that — even though it has dominated the launch market for years and is very reliable — ESA has had to subsidize its cost. It has never made a profit. I don’t see how they can reconfigure it enough to bring its cost down to compete with Falcon 9. In other words, they are trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Nor is this surprising. Arianespace is a government-run business, operated like a committee with the member nations of ESA all having a say. Under this arrangement, it is difficult if not impossible to get a quick and efficient decision. Moreover, political concerns will often outweigh issues of efficiency and profits.

In the open competitive market of privately-run companies that the launch market is becoming, I am very skeptical this kind of business can survive.

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SpaceX’s launch manifest for 2013 included three commercial launches in addition to its cargo flights to ISS.

SpaceX’s launch manifest for 2013 includes three commercial launches in addition to its cargo flights to ISS.

All told, it appears that 2013 will a crucial year for SpaceX. They first need to solve the question of that engine failure from their October Falcon 9 launch. Then they need to begin putting into orbit the long list of private satellites that they have contracts for but have held off launching pending the success of the NASA deal. Once they do that, set to begin next year, they will have proven – beyond a shadow of a doubt — that they are for real.

And on that subject, Elon Musk had some thoughts yesterday about his European competitors: “Europe’s rocket has no chance.”

SpaceX’s Falcon is a new entrant to the launcher market. It has so far made only four flights, but it has a backlog already of more than 40 contracted launches. Its quoted price under $60m per flight is proving highly attractive to satellite operators who have to pay substantially more to get on an Ariane. “Not only can we sustain the prices, but the next version of Falcon 9 is actually able to go to a lower price,” warned Mr Musk. “So if Ariane can’t compete with the current Falcon 9, it sure as hell can’t compete with the next one.”

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Hostess Brands — already in bankruptcy — has decided to shut down because one of its unions refused to end a strike.

Be careful what you wish for: Hostess Brands — already in bankruptcy — has decided to shut down because one of its unions refused to end a strike.

The closing will result in Hostess’ nearly 18,500 workers losing their jobs as the company shuts 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers nationwide, as well as 570 outlet stores. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union represents around 5,000 Hostess employees. “We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said CEO Gregory Rayburn in a statement.

So, because 5,000 union workers wanted more from a company that had nothing more to give, 18,500 lose their jobs, including those same union workers.

Sounds sensible, and right in line with most leftwing math.

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

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

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

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Boeing to cut 30 percent of its management ranks.

Boeing to cut 30 percent of its management ranks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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