Tag Archives: competition

A Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched four commercial broadband satellites today for French Guiana.

The competition heats up: A Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched four commercial broadband satellites today for French Guiana.

The constellation’s orbit is designed to provide high-bandwidth Internet links to land masses located between 45 degrees north and 45 degrees south of the equator, which means mainly the developing world.

An interesting historical note of this story is that

O3b and SES officials have said that the company has regulatory rights to sufficient spectrum to put as many as 120 satellites in the same unusual orbit. O3b is making use of radio spectrum originally won, following a long battle, by a U.S. company called Teledesic, which had envisioned more than 800 satellites to provide broadband links worldwide. Teledesic ceased operations before launching its satellites.

Teledesic was a $9 billion satellite constellation proposed by Bill Gates back in 1998. They only launched one satellite, Teledesic 1, which was a failure. That this project has essentially come back to life fifteen years later is most intriguing.

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The Chinese astronauts have undocked from the Tiengong-1 space station and will return to Earth tomorrow.

The Chinese astronauts have undocked from the Tiengong-1 space station and will return to Earth tomorrow.

Following a separation from the Tiangong-1 at 7:05 a.m. Beijing Time, the manned Shenzhou-10 moved back to a point from where the spacecraft changed its orbit and flew around the target module. Under the command of ground-based professionals, Shenzhou-10 adjusted its flight gesture at a point behind Tiangong-1, and approached and rendezvoused with the target module.

The fly-around and rendezvous was apparently controlled by ground controllers, not the astronauts on board.

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Orbital Sciences, in its scramble to obtain engines for its Antares rocket, has sued the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for blocking their purchase of the Russian-made RD-180 engine.

Orbital Sciences, in its scramble to obtain engines for its Antares rocket, has sued the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for blocking their purchase of the Russian-made RD-180 engine.

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Two Russian astronauts completed a six-hour-plus spacewalk today, preparing the station for Russia’s science module.

Two Russian astronauts completed a six-hour-plus spacewalk today, preparing the station for Russia’s science module.

This science module is many years late, delayed due to Russia’s financial problems after the fall of the Soviet Union. That the Russians are finally about to launch it is another indication, like their recent Proton rocket launch successes, that there space program might be experiencing a resurgence.

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Orbital Sciences is scrambling to find a reliable long term first stage engine for its Antares rocket.

Orbital Sciences is scrambling to find a reliable long term first stage engine for its Antares rocket.

The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet’s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s, beyond those set aside for NASA’s CRS-1. Aerojet Rocketdyne is Orbital’s primary subcontractor and overhauls the old NK-33 engines into a configuration for Antares, dubbed AJ-26. Orbital officials say its only current alternative is the RD-180 engine made in Russia by NPO Energomash. But the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which operates the U.S. Air Force’s Atlas V and Delta IV fleets, holds exclusive rights in the U.S. to buy the RD-180.

Over the last four years, Orbital has inquired about purchasing the RD-180 from ULA, RD Amross and Energomash. “We could never get to first base on that,” says Michael Hamel, the company’s senior vice president of corporate strategy and development. Requests for support from the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress were also met with silence, company officials say.

What I find disturbing about this story is the complete lack of effort by Orbital, Aerojet, or ULA to build their own engines. Even if new NK-33 engines are made by Aerojet, they will be manufactured in Russia, as are ULA’s engines. Why can’t they do what SpaceX has done and make their own engines?

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Europe admits that its planned accelerated upgrades to Ariane 5 are intended to counteract the competition from both Russia’s Proton and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

The competition heats up: At a briefing at the Paris Air Show this week Arianespace admitted that its planned accelerated upgrades to Ariane 5 are intended to counteract the competition from both Russia’s Proton and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

I love competition. It energizes everything.

Update: This long article specifically discusses how Arianespace is scrambling to meet the competition. Key quote:
» Read more

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If you are hoping to buy stock in Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, Musk now says you will have to wait until they have begun regular missions to Mars.

If you are hoping to buy stock in Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, Musk now says you will have to wait until they have begun regular missions to Mars.

This is a change from earlier comments by Musk, which to me suggests that the company’s recent successes and sales has made it profitable enough that he’d rather maintain control than get cash from an IPO. By keeping the company private, Musk can avoid being beholden to stockholders. He can do what he wants.

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Virgin Galactic has sold its 600 ticket to fly on SpaceShipTwo.

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic has sold its 600th ticket to fly on SpaceShipTwo.

At $200K per ticket, that’s $120 million in sales, which I suspect will easily produce a tidy profit for the company. It will also allow them to begin lowering the price, once they have become operational.

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The delays in SpaceX’s commercial launch schedule appear caused by a series of problems testing the first stage’s upgraded engines.

The delays in SpaceX’s commercial launch schedule appear caused by a series of problems testing the first stage’s upgraded engines.

The article also provides this updated scheduling information:

A successful test will be key for several of SpaceX’s future ambitions, not least their upcoming increase in launch frequency, with the next Falcon 9 – the debut of the v1.1 – set to loft Canada’s space weather satellite, CASSIOPE, out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. This mission has officially slipped to August, with the likelihood it will be re-targeted to September. Focus will then switch to Cape Canaveral, with two satellite missions, the first carrying SES-8, to be followed by the Thaicom 6 launch.

I had suspected the delays were related to the upgrades to Falcon 9. This article confirms this.

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China’s manned Shenzhou-10 capsule successfully completed an automated docking with its Tiengong-1 space station today.

China’s manned Shenzhou-10 capsule successfully completed an automated docking with its Tiengong-1 space station today.

They will spend 12 days on board the station, during which they will do, among other things, one manual docking test.

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The red tape of the space bureaucracy

“An article in the Economist today has some chilling conclusions about the difficulties faced by the new commercial space companies.

Although the cost of developing new space vehicles, products and services is high, just as much of a burden can be imposed by such intangible expenses as regulatory compliance, legal fees and insurance premiums.

The article points out the heavy cost to these new space companies caused by insurance requirements and government regulation, including the ITAR regulations that restrict technology transfers to foreign countries. However, this paragraph stood out to me as most significant:

Then there is the question of vehicle certification. The first private astronauts and space tourists may soon take to the skies in new launch vehicles, and the FAA has initially agreed to license commercial spacecraft without certifying, as it does for aircraft, that the vehicles are safe to carry humans. The idea is that specific safety criteria will become apparent only once the rockets are flying and (though it is rarely admitted) an accident eventually happens. This learning period will keep costs down for makers of the new spacecraft, even if significant compliance expenses are likely when it is over. The exemption was meant to have expired last year and was extended to the end of 2015. Commercial space companies are understandably keen for it to be extended again. “In the dawn of aviation, planes had 20 to 30 years before significant legislation applied,” says George Whitesides, the boss of Virgin Galactic.

Back in 2004 I noted in a UPI column the problems caused by these regulations, even as they were being written. (I had also done something at the time that few reporters ever do: I actually read the law that Congress was passing.) Then I said,
» Read more

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Richard Branson has revealed that Justin Bieber has signed on to fly on SpaceShipTwo.

Richard Branson has revealed that Justin Bieber has signed on to fly on SpaceShipTwo.

The competition is now really heating up. Bieber probably doesn’t want to be left behind, considering the publicity Sarah Brightman has been getting for her planned space flight to ISS.

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Stratolaunch officially announced today that Orbital Sciences will build the system’s second stage rocket.

The competition heats up: Stratolaunch officially announced today that Orbital Sciences will build the system’s second stage rocket.

The rocket that Orbital will build for Stratolaunch will launch from the air, the first stage being a giant airplane which will carry that rocket aloft, much like Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and Orbital’s Pegasus rocket. Clark Lindsey at the same website also notes that the efforts of SpaceX (and to my mind Stratolaunch) to make the first stage reusable will likely revolutionize the rocket industry.

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Russia’s Proton rocket successfully launched a commercial satellite today.

The competition heats up: Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched another commercial communications satellite.

The troublesome Briz-M upper stage still has to get the satellite to its proper orbit, so stay tuned. Nonetheless, this launch, only a few weeks after their last commercial Proton launch, suggests they were serious about launching nine more commercial launches this year.

Meanwhile, we wait for SpaceX’s first commercial launch by the Falcon 9 rocket. Their launch manifest still claims there will be three such launches before the next Falcon 9/Dragon mission to ISS later this year, but two of those launches were supposed to have occurred already. The non-occurrence of the March MDA/Cassiope launch out of Vandenberg is especially puzzling, as there are few scheduling conflicts at that rarely used spaceport.

The Falcon 9 delays at this point are beginning to be worrisome, and suggest the skepticism of some about SpaceX’s ability to compete might have merit. SpaceX has got to launch a commercial satellite soon in order to quell those doubts.

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The Tortoise and the Hare

The tortoise and the hare.

Smith looks at the published construction and flight timelines for the government’s Space Launch System and the private company Golden Spike, and finds something I’ve been noting for several years, there is a new space race going on. And I think private space will win it.

Another perspective — the one I have — is that this creates a new Space Race.

In the starting gate at High Bay 3 is the SLS, a program larded by Congressional pork, dubbed the Senate Launch System by its critics. Many observers believe that it will one day fall to innate political and bureaucratic flaws, as did Constellation before it.

In the other starting gate at High Bay 1 is Golden Spike — all talk so far, but the pieces seem to be falling into place to make the company a viable lunar option. Add to the mix the May 23 teleconference discussing the NASA agreement that allows Bigelow Aerospace to ally NewSpace companies into a possible commercial cislunar program. The report hasn’t been released yet, but it’s logical to assume that Golden Spike is one of those companies.

As with all space programs — government or commercial, crewed or unmanned — these timelines should be viewed with the greatest of skepticism.

But we’re starting to see all the pieces fall into place for the great Space Race of the 21st Century. To the victor goes access to the Final Frontier.

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Planetary Resources today announced a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for its space telescope Arkyd.

Planetary Resources today announced a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for its space telescope Arkyd.

Forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic about this. Supposedly Planetary Resources had big money backing from a lot of wealthy people, including some Silicon Valley Google billionaires. Why then do they need this campaign? It makes me suspect that the company is an emperor with no clothes.

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Japan has decided to develop its first new rocket in two decades and use the private-sector to reduce costs.

The competition heats up: Japan has decided to develop its first new rocket in two decades and use the private-sector to reduce costs.

The article is very vague about how Japan will shift design and construction to the private sector. They need to do this, however, if they want to compete, as their space agency has been very inefficient at accomplishing anything cheaply or quickly.

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