The contract revisions will save the military over $50 million.
Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.
This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.
China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
4 Europe (Arianespace)
China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.
These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight (Monday night).
SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.
Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.
SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather.
One of the topics Axiom is negotiating with NASA involves how much insight the space agency will have into the private astronaut mission. While the Axiom missions will be managed by commercial companies, the AX-1 flight will fly with a reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts on other missions. “There’s a certain amount of insight (NASA) would like on our flight, on a commercial flight,” [Axiom official] Suffredini said Friday. “So that is one aspect of that process. We’re using a vehicle that is going to be re-flown, and NASA will certify the re-flights because they want to do re-flights.”
Axiom and SpaceX will also have to confirm a schedule with NASA for the AX-1 mission to dock with the space station. The orbiting research complex has a busy schedule of arriving and departing crew and cargo vehicles, and managers also have slot in spacecraft dockings amid spacewalks, experiments, and other critical operations.
NASA also oversees safety of the space station with the program’s international partners.
The private companies however will in the end be responsible for the flight.
There have been rumors that the passengers on this flight will be Tom Cruise and his film director, though this is not confirmed. Also, these same arrangements will be used for the tentative 2023 private flight of the winner of a proposed reality television show dubbed Space Hero.
The selected group of contestants will undergo extensive training and face challenges testing their physical, mental and emotional strength, qualities that are essential for an astronaut in space. I hear the idea is for the culmination of the competition to be in a an episode broadcast live around the world where viewers from different countries can vote for the contestant they want to see going to space. The show will then chronicle the winner’s takeoff; their stay at the ISS for 10 days alongside professional astronauts traveling at 17,000 mph, orbiting the Earth 16 times a day; and end with their return to Earth. The Space Hero company is currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership on STEM initiatives onboard the ISS.
The trip of the Space Hero winner is expected be on a SpaceX Dragon rocket though a launch provider is yet to be officially selected. Space Hero, billed as the first space media company, is working with Axiom Space, manufacturer of the world’s first privately funded commercial space station — a module for the ISS where the private astronauts can stay — and full-service human spaceflight mission provider.
The project seems more viable and realistic than previous such attempts, aided by the fact that tickets can now be purchased on a private and operational manned capsule.
It also successfully landed its first stage, the second time this stage has done so.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
4 Europe (Arianespace)
The U.S now leads China in the national rankings 24 to 20.
The company also successfully landed the first stage at the Cape, completing that stage’s fourth flight. As I write this they still have two more smallsats to deploy, but it is very unlikely they will have an issue doing so.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
The U.S. now leads China 22 to 20 in the national rankings. With a scheduled launch by Rocket Lab from New Zealand later tonight, these numbers could change again before the day is out.
Assuming they get range permission, they will try again on September 1st at 9:29 am (Eastern).
Their second launch today remains on their schedule, with the weather presently giving them a 40% chance of launch.
Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now confirmed that it will attempt two Falcon 9 launches tomorrow at its launch facility at Cape Canaveral, the first to launch 60 Starlink satellites at 10:12 am (Eastern) and the second to launch an Argentinian radar satellite at 7:18 pm (Eastern).
In the first launch the first stage, used once before, will attempt to land on the drone ship in the Atlantic. On the second launch the first stage, used three times previously, will return to Cape Canaveral for its landing attempt.
The live stream for both will be available here.
SpaceX will also tomorrow attempt a 500 meter hop of its sixth Starship prototype. The live stream of that can be seen here.
That means on August 30, 2020 there could be three American launches as well as another test flight of a new reusable rocket.
Note: Astra has delayed the first orbital test flight of its rocket to no early than September 10th due to poor weather in Kodiak, Alaska.
Launch is tentatively scheduled for late ’22.
NASA will be an anchor customer for the mission but Masten intends to sign up others. “There is a tremendous amount of interest,” he said, including from both the public and private sector, although he didn’t mention any specific potential customers.
Mahoney said the level of customer interest soared after Masten won the CLPS award and had a firm schedule for the mission. “Once the CLPS award was made and we crossed from speculative to having a schedule, the tenor and tone of our conversations have changed dramatically.”
The limiting factor for the lander mission has not been the amount of mass available for payloads, he said, but instead positions on the lander that have views of the surface desired by payloads. “There’s a game of positioning among the various instruments so that they can get the view angles that they need and not interfere,” he said.
However, he said the company isn’t considering major changes in the lander’s design to accommodate payloads. “The design principle is the ‘pickup truck’ that can haul a bunch of different things,” he said. “We’re trying to escape the completely unique, bespoke system that does one job and one mission really well.”
I guarantee that at least one university student-built payload will end up on the lander.
Capitalism in space: Though the first launches in the string of four American launches that was initially scheduled to begin two days ago and continue through the weekend was delayed because of weather and then technical issues, all these delays have done is pack those scheduled launches into a shorter time period, with the addition of a fifth launch!
If all goes as scheduled (hardly guaranteed), we will see five launches from three spaceports and four private companies in less than two days. The schedule, as of this moment:
August 29th at 2:04 am (Eastern): ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy to launch a military reconnaissance satellite from Cape Canaveral. The company’s webcast of the launch can be seen here.
August 29th at 11:05 pm (Eastern): Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will launch a commercial radar satellite from New Zealand. The launch can be watched at the company’s live stream channel.
August 30th at 10:08 am (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch more of its Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.
August 30th at 7:19 pm (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch an Argentinian Earth observation satellite from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.
August 30th at 10:00 pm (Eastern): Astra will attempt the first orbital test launch of its privately built rocket from Kodiak, Alaska. They will not be live streaming their launch, but will provide updates at their Twitter feed.
All times and dates list only the beginning of the launch windows, which means they might launch, but not exactly at the times listed.
Also, SpaceX is aiming to do its second Starship test hop this weekend, the first for its sixth prototype.
Tonight’s launch of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy was scrubbed due to a variety of technical problems. They have not set a new launch time, though they say they are aiming for the early morning hours of August 28.
This was to have been the first of four American launches in the next four days. The next, a Falcon 9 launch of an Argentinian radar Earth observation satellite, was scheduled for tomorrow, August 27th, at 7:19 pm (Eastern). No word on whether it is going forward as planned, though it might be since the ULA launch has shifted after it, to August 28th.
The third, by Rocket Lab, is presently scheduled also for August 28rd at 11:05 pm (Eastern), launching out of New Zealand.
The fourth, another SpaceX launch of more Starlink satellites, had been scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th. Once again, this schedule could change due to tonight’s ULA scrub.
Stay tuned. I suspect all three companies are going to aggressively work to get all four launches off as fast as possible, even if not exactly as presently scheduled.
UPDATE: Rocket Lab’s launch has been delayed to 11:05 pm (Eastern) August 28 due of weather.
Beginning tomorrow, the next four days will be very busy for the American space rocket industry, with three companies attempting to complete four different launches.
First comes Rocket Lab, which will attempt its first launch of its Electron rocket since its first operational launch failure on July 4. Launch is scheduled for 11:05 pm (Eastern) on August 26th.
Next ULA is scheduled to use its most powerful rocket, the Delta 4 Heavy, to put a National Reconnaissance Office surveillance satellite into orbit. Launch is set for 2:12 am (Eastern) on August 27th. This very expensive rocket (which costs three to four times that of a Falcon Heavy) has only four launches left before being permanently retired.
Then SpaceX will attempt two launches in quick succession. The first will launch at 7:19 pm (Eastern) on August 27th, putting up an Argentinian Earth observation radar satellite. On this launch the first stage is a new one, and will attempt the first landing at Cape Canaveral since March 2020.
SpaceX will then follow with its third Starlink launch this month and twelfth overall, scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th out of its facility at Cape Canaveral, assuming the other launches at Kennedy go as planned.
Moreover, the startup smallsat rocket company Astra is also aiming to attempt its first test launch before the end of August. The date is not yet set.
Busy times for sure, but note that this is only the beginning. I expect by the end of the 2020s the launch schedule will get increasingly packed. Soon having three three launches per week will seem routine.
Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk:, based on what SpaceX has learned so far in reusing the 1st stages of its Falcon 9 rocket, it is entirely possible that the present design could result a hundred or more reuses.
Now, with all that experience in hand and a Falcon 9 Block 5 booster already 60% of the way to the ten-flight reuse milestone, Musk says that “100+ flights are possible” and that “there isn’t an obvious limit.” While “some parts will need to be replaced or upgraded” to achieve dozens or hundreds of booster reuses, Musk says that SpaceX “almost never need[s] to replace a whole [Merlin 1D] engine.
Given that a Falcon 9 booster’s nine M1D engines are likely the most difficult part of each rocket to quickly and safely reuse, it’s extremely easy to believe that individual boosters can launch dozens – if not hundreds – of times with just a small amount of regular maintenance and repairs. In that sense, SpaceX has effectively achieved Musk’s long-lived dream of building a rocket that is (more or less, at least) approaching the reusability of aircraft.
The next step in this effort will be to shorten the turnaround times. At the moment the best time between any booster’s reflight has been just under two months. SpaceX has said they want to be able to refly boosters in just days.
They have now put 653 Starlink satellites into orbit.
The first stage, which was flying a record sixth time, successfully landed on its platform in the Atlantic. They also caught one of the fairing halves, and are retrieving the second half out of the ocean. Both fairings were also reused.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
The U.S. now leads China 21 to 19 in the national rankings.
The mission will carry Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, all of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi for a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory following launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
They had previously said they were aiming for a late September launch, but this extra delay allows them to better coordinate with other traffic to and from ISS, while also giving them an extra month to review the data from the first manned flight, just completed.
Capitalism in space: Endeavour, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule that was the first to fly two astronauts to ISS, has now arrived at the company’s facility at Cape Canaveral, where it will be inspected, refurbished, and prepped for its next manned flight in the the spring of 2021.
SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral will remove the exterior panels from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and begin inspections to assess how the spacecraft weathered its 64-day space mission, according to Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management. “We want to make sure that we kind of dig deep and understand everything that’s gone on with this vehicle, make sure we’re really ready to go, and then do some of the aspects of the refurbishment,” Reed said. “There are some things that we will replace, some things that are standardly replaced, some things that we want to upgrade based on lessons learned, or that were already planned in work.”
SpaceX will still need to build a new trunk for each Crew Dragon mission. The trunk is an unpressurized module mounted to the rear of the Crew Dragon capsule, providing electrical power with solar arrays, and radiators to maintain steady temperatures inside the spaceship.
I guarantee the company will use what it learns in this inspection to improve later Dragon manned capsules. Right now they plan on from 5 to 10 flights per capsule. Since their contract right now only calls for six flights, that likely means the company only needs to build at most three to cover this NASA contract. However, NASA is certain to extend that contract, since six flights will only cover about two to three years, and ISS will be manned longer than that. Moreover, SpaceX has at least two tourist flights booked, so that calls for additional capsules as well.
Either way, we must shift our thinking. These might only be Dragon capsules, but they each get a name because each will fly more than once. It is thus appropriate to use that name instead of just calling them Dragon.
The Air Force today announced that it decided, after more than a year of discussions and negotiations, to limit bidding on all launch contracts for the next five years to only SpaceX and ULA, thus restricting competitive bidding on those contracts.
The awards represent the second phase of the military’s National Security Space Launch program, which is organized by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, California. Four companies — Elon Musk’s SpaceX, ULA, Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — bid for the contracts, with the military set to spend about $1 billion per year on launches.
The NSSL awards represent nearly three dozen launches, scheduled between 2022 and 2026. ULA won 60% of the launches, and SpaceX won the remaining 40%.
The award blocks Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin from bidding on these contracts. Expect a lawsuit from these two companies demanding that they have the right to bid, just as SpaceX did several years ago when the Air Force tried to maintain ULA’s monopoly on bidding.
On a very common sense level, this approach by the Air Force (its space operations soon to be taken over by the Space Force) makes little sense. Why restrict bidding? Both Blue Origin or Northrop Grumman expect to have their new rockets operating commercially in the next two years. They should have the right to bid on military launches. The competition will strengthen the launch market, reduce the costs to the military, and give it more redundancy and flexibility.
Based on my research, the only real reason I have ever been able to find for the Air Force’s desire to do this is their inability to deal with their paperwork should more than two bids be received.
Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully put two commercial satellites for another customer plus another 57 of its own Starlink satellites into orbit, using a Falcon 9 rocket that was reusing a first stage flying for the fifth time.
This brings the total number of Starlink satellites now in orbit to 595. They also successfully landed the first stage, making it now available for a sixth flight.
The U.S. has retaken the lead from China in the national rankings, 20 to 19.
It appears that the contract was for one launch from each company, each putting up two satellites. Previously SES’s satellites were generally too large for either the Atlas 5 or the Falcon 9 to launch two at one time. This suggests that the satellite company is slimming down the design of its satellites.
NASA today announced four-person Dragon flight crew for that spacecraft’s third flight in the spring, the second official operational flight.
NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough will join JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet on that flight, which will follow Crew-1 currently scheduled for sometime in late September after Demo-2 concludes. This is a regular mission, meaning the crew will be staffing the International Space Station for an extended period – six months for this stretch, sharing the orbital research platform with three astronauts who will be using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make the trip.
Pesquet will be the first European to fly on Dragon. McArthur however is more interesting, in that this will be her first spaceflight in more than a decade. She had previously flown only once before, in 2009 on the last Hubble repair mission. She is also the wife of Bob Behnken, who is on ISS right now having flown on the first Dragon manned mission now preparing for its return to Earth on August 2nd.
The long gap in flights was certainly due to the shuttle’s retirement. Why she didn’t fly on a Soyuz is a question some reporter should ask her at some point.
Space Exploration Technologies, Elon Musk’s reusable rocket venture, is in talks to raise $1 billion in series N funding at a valuation of $44 billion, according to documents reviewed by CNBC. SpaceX plans to use the funding to make its Starlink satellite broadband service operational, and to conduct suborbital and orbital test flights of its Starship and SuperHeavy booster launch vehicle.
Up to now SpaceX has raised just under $2 billion in private capital, which they had said was devoted solely to developing Starship. The company had also said that it was developing Starlink with in-house funds. It appears that — having gotten almost 400 satellites in orbit (with many more coming) — they are now willing to seek outside help to make the Starlink system operational, because this situation allows SpaceX to negotiate the best deal with any investor.
It must also be emphasized that SpaceX is developing Starship/Super Heavy entirely from private funds, not government subsidies. This lack of government funds also means a lack of government oversight, which gives SpaceX complete freedom during development. Government oversight would only slow things down and likely prevent the company from innovating.
Instead, it is free to build the first completely reuseable rocket that also happens to be as powerful as a Saturn 5. And it will do it for less total than NASA has and will spend each year on SLS, for more than twenty years.
The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Today’s repost comes from October 20, 2011, following Elon Musk’s National Press Club speech where he announced he was going to vertically land the Falcon 9 first stages so they could be reused. In comparing the new commercial competitive space industry with NASA’s government-run space program, I tried to outline the fundamental reason the former was always going to do better than the latter.
Elon Musk and the forgotten word
When Elon Musk gave his speech at the National Press Club on September 29, he was asked one question to which he really did not know the answer. He faked it, but his response illustrated how completely forgotten is one fundamental fact about American society — even though this fact is the very reason the United States became the world’s most wealthy and powerful nation less than two centuries after its founding.
To explain this fundamental fact I think I need to take a step back and talk about the ongoing war taking place right now over how the United States should get its astronauts into space. On one side we have NASA and Congress, who want NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket to carry its Orion capsule beyond Earth orbit. On the other side we have a host of independent new space companies, all vying for the chance to launch humans and cargo into space for fun and profit.
Which is right? What system should the United State choose?
» Read more
Previously they have mostly plucked the fairings from the sea, though they have caught a few in the netting of the ships. To catch both simplifies the preparation for the next flight enormously, as they never touched the water.
Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a South Korean military satellite, with its Falcon 9 rocket using the same first stage that launched two American astronauts to ISS less than two months ago.
This was the company’s fastest turnaround yet of a used first stage, 51 days, which also beats the fastest turnaround ever by the shuttle program, 54 days. And as you can see by the screen capture image to the right, they successfully landed it so that it can be used for a third time.
Watching the camera on that first stage after separation (on SpaceX’s live stream) to landing was most fascinating. After separation its tail end points down to the west and its launch site in Florida. As it curves upward and then down towards its landing in the Atlantic, its small thrusters and grid fins very slowly and gracefully swing that tail to instead point east and down to the drone ship. I had not noticed previously the gentleness of that re-positioning. The daylight clear weather today, plus excellent camera access, made it very obvious.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
The U.S. now leads China in the national rankings, 18 to 16.
Assuming good weather and a smooth final few weeks on the International Space Station, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to undock from the orbiting research outpost Aug. 1 and return to Earth the next day to wrap up a 64-day test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the target dates for the Crew Dragon’s undocking and splashdown in a tweet Friday. A few hours after departing the space station, the Crew Dragon will fire its Draco thrusters for a braking burn and re-enter the atmosphere, targeting a parachute-assisted splashdown at sea. “Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2,” he tweeted. “Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.”
Note that the recovery operations, as has been the case with everything else on this flight, will be run entirely by SpaceX and its employees. NASA’s only real role is that of a customer and observer, though obviously agency officials are taking a hands-on part in determining the landing date.
Capitalism in space: If tomorrow’s launch of a South Korean military satellite by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket succeeds, it will set a new all-time record for the fastest turnaround of a used rocket, 44 days.
The previous record was 54 days, set by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1984. The article notes however the spectacular differences:
By far the most impressive aspect of Falcon 9’s imminent record is the comparison between the resources behind Space Shuttle Atlantis’ 54-day turnaround and Falcon 9 booster B1058’s ~44-day turnaround. Around the time NASA and Atlantis set the Shuttle’s longstanding record, some 5000-10000 full-time employees were tasked with refurbishing Space Shuttles and the facilities (and launch pads) that supported them. Based on retrospective analyses done after the STS program’s end in 2011, the average Space Shuttle launch (accounting for the vast infrastructure behind the scenes) ultimately wound up costing more than $1.5 billion per launch – more than the Saturn V rocket the Shuttle theoretically replaced.
According to a uniquely detailed May 2020 AviationWeek interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 booster turnaround may cost as little as $1 million apiece and can be managed from start to finish by several dozen employees at most. In other words, even though SpaceX boosters are suborbital and stressed quite a bit less than orbital Space Shuttles, Falcon 9 reuse is approximately a thousandfold more efficient that Space Shuttle reuse. [emphasis in original]
I should add that SpaceX also has three more launches on tap for the rest of July. If all lift off, the company will have launched four rockets in only three weeks, which in itself will be a record. No private rocket company has ever launched so frequently and so routinely. And only Russia during its Soviet Union heydays has come close to launching with this frequency.
Capitalism in space: During the processing to bring a used Falcon 9 first stage back to its hanger after its June 30th launch, one of the landing legs unexpectedly fell back to the ground during retraction.
I have embedded the video of the incident, cued to the event, below the fold. No one was hurt, and it appeared that nothing was damaged. It appears it happened because a cable holding the leg vertical snapped just before the leg got latched in place on the side of the rocket.
» Read more
This article by Eric Berger at Ars Technica outlining the status of SpaceX’s fleet of reusable first stages contained this incredible fact:
On May 11, 2018, the company launched the first of its new “Block 5” version of its Falcon 9 rocket. This new version of the first stage incorporated all of the company’s previous performance upgrades to the Falcon 9 rocket while also maximizing its reuse. It worked—SpaceX has now flown two different Falcon 9 cores five times, and it may fly a first stage for the sixth time later this summer.
The success of the Block 5 rocket means that SpaceX has had to devote less time and resources to building Falcon 9 first stages. Since May 2018, it has launched 31 times on a Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket—while using just 10 cores. Put another way, reuse has saved SpaceX the cost of 189 Merlin rocket engines, dozens of fuel tanks, and many complex avionics systems. [emphasis mine]
That is a lot of cost savings, which the company is not only using to cut its prices but also to reduce the cost of its Starlink launches. It appears SpaceX wants those launches, as much as possible, to use reused boosters in order to lower the overall cost of getting that internet constellation into orbit. This in turn will make it possible for them to charge less for the service, once they begin offering it.
It also successfully landed the first stage, which was on its first flight. This was also the 88th flight of the Falcon 9 since its inception in 2010, which now makes it the rocket with the most launches of any U.S. operational rocket, bypassing ULA’s Atlas 5, and doing it in about half the time.
The leaders in the 2020 launch race:
The U.S. now leads China 16 to 13 in the national rankings.
This sets the stage for the first reuse of a fairing for the third time. The article at the link notes this important detail about these used fairings, both of which were not caught prior to landing in the ocean:
Preventing a vast majority of seawater exposure, a catch with [the ships] Ms. Tree or Ms. Chief may always be preferable for fairing reuse but the fact remains that all three successful reuses up to this point have been achieved with fairing halves that landed in the ocean. That success means that SpaceX has found a way to fully prevent or mitigate any potential corrosion that might result from seawater immersion. Given that that problem must have been a showstopper for the ~2.5 years SpaceX was able to recover – but not reuse – intact fairings, it’s safe to say that the company’s engineers have more or less solved the problem of corrosion. [emphasis mine]
In a sense we should not be surprised that the fairings were not seriously damaged by their short exposure to salt water. As designed, the shape of the fairings is essentially that of a boat hull. By landing them controlled by parachute, SpaceX guarantees that the sensitive electronics and equipment inside the fairings remains dry and untouched by salt water.