Tag Archives: competition

The Russian foreign minister today denied that there is any friction between Kazakhstan and Russia over the use of the Baikonur spaceport.

The Russian foreign minister today denied that there is any friction between Kazakhstan and Russia over the use of the Baikonur spaceport. More here.

Despite the denial, it appears that they are in some tough negotiations which to their chagrin got leaked to the press.

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NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

The check is in the mail: NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

And why should Europe have any expectation that NASA will follow through? Europe’s ExoMars project was screwed badly when NASA pulled out last year. Nor was that the first time the U.S. government reneged on a deal with Europe.

Considering the fragile nature of the U.S. federal budget, I wouldn’t depend on anything from NASA or any U.S. government agency for the foreseeable future. And this includes the various private space companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences that are using NASA subsidies to build their spaceships. Get those things built, and quickly! The government money could disappear very soon.

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An update on the Chinese manned program.

An update on the Chinese manned program.

The original script called for [the space station] Tiangong 1 to be followed by Tiangong 2, which would have been a module of the same basic design as Tiangong 1. Tiangong 2 was expected to have tested more advanced life-support systems than Tiangong 1, but there would be no major changes to the spacecraft. It was expected that two or three crews would be launched to this module.

Towards the end of the decade, China would then launch Tiangong 3, which was slated to be an entirely different class of spacecraft. It would be larger and more capable. Tiangong 3 was expected by some analysts to be a precursor to the types of modules to be used in China’s future space station, slated for launch around 2020.

According to Yang’s presentation, we can forget about Tiangong 2. Or at least, we can forget about Tiangong 2 as it was originally planned. China still plans to launch a mission with this name, but it would seem that the large laboratory module originally known as “Tiangong 3” has now been designated as the new Tiangong 2.

In other words, China is accelerating the admittedly slow pace of their manned program.

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Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

The competition heats up: Planetary Resources has released a video showing off the prototype of their Arkyd-100 space telescope.

As I noted when this company first appeared, for the foreseeable future they are going to be a manufacturer of space telescopes, not an asteroid mining company. At the same time, they, like Deep Space Industries, are going to drive satellite development towards lower cost and smarter design, which in the long run will make asteroid mining practical and profitable.

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The Democratic Party leaders in New Mexico have announced that an agreement over spaceport liability has been reached with Virgin Galactic.

The Democratic Party leaders in New Mexico have announced that an agreement over spaceport liability has been reached with Virgin Galactic.

This might be good, but with no details released and all the statements coming from politicians of only one party it is reasonable to wonder how serious it is and whether this announcement is merely a bargaining ploy.

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The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

They aim to do their work using cubesats, which will keep everything cheap and simple, with the first launches by 2015, and the first sample return missions by 2016. Their new manufacturing technology appears to be a variation of 3D printing, though the descriptions so far released remain vague on details.

We should have even more information later today, after their press conference, aired live on youtube here at 1 pm (eastern).

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Orbital Sciences has published an updated schedule for its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule.

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has published an updated schedule for its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule.

Key dates:
February: Hotfire test of the Antares first stage.
March: First test flight of Antares.
May/June: First test flight of Cygnus, on Antares, docking with ISS.
Third quarter 2013: First operational flight of Cygnus to ISS.

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Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

The competition heats up: Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

As I mentioned earlier today, it is important to maintain a skeptical attitude to each of these new commercial space companies, even as we cheer them on enthusiastically. For example, I am very curious how this company has come through with a “breakthrough process for manufacturing in space.” What could this be, and why has no one thought of it before?

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Not all is golden in commercial space: The failure of the Oklahoma spaceport deal.

Not all is golden in commercial space: The failure of the Oklahoma spaceport deal.

It is important that we restrain our enthusiasm for private space and always look with skepticism at any new proposed private effort. It appears that this was something that Oklahoma officials failed to do when they first established their spaceport for Rocketplane, a company now bankrupt.

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Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

This is apparently going to be another test of a smaller prototype, similar to Bigelow’s Genesis I and Genesis II modules already in orbit, but this time docked to a manned station.

What is interesting however about this article above is that reveals the names of the seven countries that have signed an agreement with Bigelow for future use of the company’s orbiting stations:

In another interesting development, Bigelow has named the seven sovereign customers who’ve expressed interest in leasing space aboard a future Bigelow commercial space station. Bigelow has preliminary agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, according to Reuters. According to another report by Leonard David, Bigelow expects to have two BA 330 modules ready for construction of Space Station Alpha by late 2016. The Bigelow 330 is a much larger module, weighing 43,000 pounds with a diameter of 22 feet and length of 31 feet.

Bigelow Aerospace previously announced that it plans to charge sovereign customers $23 million for a 30-day stay aboard a Bigelow space station. That price includes space transportation, astronaut training, and consumables.

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A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

Messier not only provides a detailed analysis of the negotiations on-going between Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America over liability issues, he also provides context, much of which is not encouraging. For example,

SpaceShipTwo is set to begin its first powered test flights later this year using a “starter motor” that will be smaller than the full-scale hybrid engine that will be used for flights into space. The motor will allow pilots to test the space plane in the transonic flight region, which would be a major step forward.

Whether the full-scale RocketMotorTwo engine, powered by nitrous oxide and rubber, will be ready to fly this year is an interesting question. There have been stories for years – persistent, consistent and never really denied – that the motor just doesn’t work very well. Hybrid motors can function effectively for smaller vehicles, such as the smaller SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew in 2004, but are difficult to scale up. SpaceShipTwo is three times larger than its predecessor.

Meanwhile, there are the liability questions which might force Virgin Galactic, and all other private space companies, to flee New Mexico. The analysis suggests that the taxpayers of New Mexico might have paid for a very expensive spaceport that might never pay for itself.

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The demo mission of robotic refueling of satellites on ISS goes forward this month.

Robot refueling of satellites: The demo mission on ISS goes forward this month.

As much as I celebrate this work, conceived and designed by engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center (the same people who ran the missions that maintained the Hubble Space Telescope), I worry that nothing will come of it. The demo mission itself is designed to duplicate exactly the refueling of several climate satellites already in orbit whose lifespans are ending merely because they are running out of fuel. If the ISS demo succeeds, the next natural step would be to plan an actual robotic mission to refuel these satellites.

The worrisome part is that NASA rarely follows through on this kind of research. For example, the agency did tests of an ion engine back in the early 1970s, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s before they finally flew a mission using that technology. Worse, the federal budget situation probably means there is no money to fly such a mission.

Hopefully, some private company will take a look at this engineering, which is all in the public domain, and decide to use it for their own purposes.

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An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.

The competition heats up: An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.

Back when the shuttle program was still alive and NASA astronauts could have applied political pressure to keep it running, some said they should, if only to save their jobs. They did not, and instead toed the party line and supported the shuttle’s retirement even though no replacement was even close to being operational.

How’s that working out for you, guys, eh?

The truth is that there is no justification any longer for the astronaut corp at NASA. They have no vehicle, and any future space vehicle is going to be built and operated by others who will chose their own pilots.

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A close and realistic look at SpaceX’s schedule for 2013.

A close and realistic look at SpaceX’s schedule for 2013.

Not surprisingly, it is expected that the company will fail to achieve all these scheduled launches and milestones. It is also likely that the company will achieve most, given its very successful track record so far.

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Orbital Sciences will do a hot fire launchpad test of its Antares rocket in January, followed by a test launch to orbit in February, and a first flight of the Cygnus capsule in April.

Schedule update: Orbital Sciences will do a hot fire launchpad test of its Antares rocket in January, followed by a test launch to orbit in February, and a first flight of the Cygnus capsule in April.

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It appears that SpaceX and Orbcomm have finalized their launch agreement.

The competition heats up: It appears that SpaceX and Orbcomm have finalized their launch agreement.

On December 21, 2012, ORBCOMM Inc. (Nasdaq: ORBC) and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) entered into a Launch Services Agreement pursuant to which SpaceX will provide launch services for the carriage into low-Earth-orbit of up to 18 ORBCOMM second-generation commercial communications satellites currently being constructed by Sierra Nevada Corporation.

The agreement schedules the launches for sometime between the second quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014, subject to normal scheduling changes.

This is a strong endorsement by Orbcomm of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, despite the engine problem which prevented an Orbcomm prototype satellite from reaching its correct orbit on the last Falcon 9 launch. Also, note that Sierra Nevada is building the satellites, thereby giving that company a firm foundations while it also builds its Dream Chaser manned spacecraft.

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Russia has announced a commitment to spend $70 billion over the next seven years on their aerospace industry.

Russia has announced a commitment to spend $70 billion over the next seven years on their aerospace industry.

Russia will spend 2.1 trillion rubles (about $70 billion) under a state program for the development of the national space industry in 2013-2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday. “The total volume of funding is quite significant: 2.1 trillion rubles, including extrabudgetary sources,” he said. The program is designed to ensure the country retains its position as a leading global space power, while also supporting its defense capability, and boosting economic and social development, Medvedev said.

Though this commitment of significant funds will certainly help revitalize their aerospace industry, I wonder whether it will instead encourage that industry to be less efficient. If done right government subsidies can jumpstart an industry, as seen with NASA’s new commercial space program. If done wrong, however, subsidies can result in an expensive operation that can’t make a profit, as in the case of ESA, Arianespace, and its Ariane 5 rocket.

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The investigation into the failure of the Proton rocket’s Briz-M upper stage on December 8 has pinpointed the failure to a turbopump.

The investigation into the failure of the Proton rocket’s Briz-M upper stage on December 8 has pinpointed the failure to a turbopump.

While it is a good thing that they have found the cause of the failure, this is not the same component that failed previously. Moreover, after the previous failure the Russians had said they would dismantle and inspect all Briz-M stages under production. It is obvious that they did not find this turbopump problem then.

All told, these issues do not recommend the Briz-M upper stage or the Proton rocket that depends on it. What else might be wrong with this upper stage that they might be missing? Until they can reassure potential customers that this question has been answered, the Russians are going to have a serious problem competing in the increasingly competitive launch market.

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A zoning board and the LAPD have shut down a thirty-year-old successful burger stand, apparently because they think it attracts crime.

We’re here to help you: A zoning board and the LAPD have shut down a thirty-year-old successful burger stand, apparently because they think it attracts crime.

Watch the video at the link. The result of this brain-dead action will be an abandoned building in an abandoned neighborhood. Good going, California!

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