Tag Archives: freedom

Wisconsin HS students win U.S. rocketry competition

A team of high school students from Wisconsin have won U.S. rocketry competition and will now represent this country in the international competition to be held at the Paris International Air Show in June..

The team’s victory follows months of preparation designing, building, and testing a rocket capable of meeting rigorous mission parameters set by the contest’s sponsors – the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry sponsors. This year’s rules celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by requiring each rocket to carry three eggs in a separate capsule to symbolize the three astronauts that made the journey to the Moon and back.

The Top 101 teams, hailing from 25 states from Hawaii to New York, competed for a total of $100,000 in prize money and scholarships at the national finals – an all-day event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. The $100,000 prize pool will be split among the Top 10 teams, with Madison West taking home the top prize of $20,000 as U.S. champions. In addition, the top twenty-five finishers receive an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch initiative to continue their exploration of rocketry with high-powered rockets and challenging mission parameters.

The growth of this competition is clearly tied directly to the boom in commercial rocketry going on worldwide.

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New LRO pictures showing Beresheet impact site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team yesterday released an image showing the impact site where the privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the surface of the Moon on April 11, 2019.

“The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact,” said NASA. “The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.”

The image released does not see the spacecraft but the surface evidence that an impact took place. Higher resolution images will be required to spot any surface wreckage.

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Fascist scientists propose excluding 85% of solar system from human use

The tyrannical Earth moves to oppress future spacefarers: Scientists have now proposed a new fascist plan designed to exclude any human development in 85% of the entire solar system.

Great swathes of the solar system should be preserved as official “space wilderness” to protect planets, moons and other heavenly bodies from rampant mining and other forms of industrial exploitation, scientists say.

The proposal calls for more than 85% of the solar system to be placed off-limits to human development, leaving little more than an eighth for space firms to mine for precious metals, minerals and other valuable materials.

While the limit would protect pristine worlds from the worst excesses of human activity, its primary goal is to ensure that humanity avoids a catastrophic future in which all of the resources within its reach are permanently used up. [emphasis mine]

These fascists really only want power. They really have no interest in preserving anything. If their proposal was ever made law it would put control over that 85% in the hands of bureaucrats on Earth, not the people who will be living and working in space and who would also know best how to handle the situation. Also, their justification for the proposal, to prevent humans from using up all the available resources, is beyond ludicrous. We haven’t yet come close to using up Earth’s resources, even though doomsayers have been predicting that to happen repeatedly for the past century.

This story more than anything provides a window into the future political conflicts that will occur once humans finally establish space colonies. Much as the American colonies had to revolt from Great Britain’s overbearing power, colonists in space will have to do the same to get away from the same overbearing power coming from Earth.

Posted on a ferry taking us from Dublin, Ireland, to Holyhead, Wales.

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Are Boeing and SpaceX having parachute issues with their manned capsules?

There appears to be a significant conflict between what NASA has been saying about the parachute development tests for both SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s Starliner capsule and what the companies have reported.

The head of NASA’s manned program, Bill Gerstenmaier, has said that both programs have had “anomalies” during their tests. Both companies have said otherwise, with both companies claiming that all their parachutes have been successful. The article looks into this, and what it finds tends to support the companies over Gerstenmaier. There have been issues, but not as terrible as implied by Gerstenmaier.

So what is going on? I suspect that Gerstenmaier is overstating these issues as part NASA’s game to slow-walk the private capsules in order to make SLS not look so bad. He would of course deny this, but that denial won’t change my suspicions, in the slightest. I’ve seen NASA’s bureaucracy play too many games in connection with getting these capsules approved for flight to be generous to Gertenmaier or NASA. I don’t trust them. I’ve seen them make dishonest accusations against SpaceX and Boeing too many times already.

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Off to Wales for two weeks

Today Diane and I are off for a two week vacation hiking and sightseeing in Wales, beginning with a day in Dublin and finishing with two days in London. During that time I will continue to post, but expect my posts to show up at very odd hours, as I settle into the British time zone, five hours ahead of New York.

Along the way I should also post, as I usually do, some commentary and pictures about our trip and my impressions of this insistently different part of Great Britain. The description of the tour itself can be found here.

For me this trip will be a very different experience, in that in all my other travels I always made all the arrangements, in order to save money. This time we decided to splurge and let someone else do that work. Should be fun, and most interesting.

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Virgin Galactic to move flight operations to New Mexico

Capitalism in space: As promised more than a decade ago, Virgin Galactic yesterday announced that is finally going to move its SpaceShipTwo flight operations from Mohave to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico this summer.

This fulfills Virgin’s original agreement with New Mexico, where the company agreed to base its commercial operations there if the state spent money to build the spaceport. The move is beginning now, but will mostly occur in the summer. It suggests the company might finally be getting ready to at last begin commercial tourist flights, only a decade-plus later than originally promised.

As is usual, Richard Branson made this a big public relations event. And as is usual, numerous press outlets have swooned over it. I remain very skeptical.

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Will India’s private space industry take off?

Link here. The article describes the presentations given during an event in India that included both government and commercial representatives of its space industry.

It appears that one of the concerns of India’s private space sector is the recent creation of a new division in ISRO, the country’s space agency, focused on making ISRO’s technology available to the private sector, for a fee. From the second link:

Reports citing official documents suggest that in order to facilitate transfer of technology, NSIL [Newspace India Limited] will take license from ISRO before sub-licensing them to the commercial players. The technology transfer envisaged through the NSIL will include India’s small satellite program, the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) program and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). This would mean that services including launching of satellites can be undertaken by private entities once the license is procured by the NSIL.

Speaking to Times of India, Dr. Sivan, head of the ISRO, said that the NSIL will essentially become the connecting link for ISRO with commercial players to aid in technology transfer for a fee. As he put it: “We wanted a mechanism to transfer the technologies of our new projects like SSLV and even lithium-ion cells. With this company, ISRO will be able to smoothly transfer these technologies after charging fees. Once companies start mass production of small satellites and launchers, ISRO will be charging them for using its launch services.” In another interview, he had stated that he expected a demand for 2-3 SSLV rockets per month.

It appears the speakers at the conference had mixed opinions about NSIL. Some saw it as a direct competitor, holding significant advantages because already has guaranteed government funding. Others were more optimistic.

What strikes me is the decision by ISRO to have NSIL charge private companies for its technology. This is a very bad idea, for a number of reasons. First, it makes NSIL a power-broker over the private sector, able to pick its own favorites in that industry. Second, such schemes in government always lead to corruption and bribery. Third, the fees will act to squelch new companies unable to afford them.

The U.S. approach has always been that any technology developed by its government agencies is public knowledge, paid for by the taxpayer, and thus instantly available for use by any private operation at no charge. While this policy has its own pluses and minuses, in general it works far better at encouraging development and growth in the private sector, while limiting the power of government entities.

The structure of India’s new government entity, combined with the oppressive language proposed in 2017 for India’s space law, does not bode well for the growth of an independent and competitive commercial Indian aerospace industry. In fact, both suggest that India’s government-controlled space program is beginning to travel the typical road that all government programs all eventually travel: First they are innovative and successful. Then they grow in size and power. Finally they use that power to squelch any private competition to protect their turf.

It looks like ISRO is beginning to enter that third stage.

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Rocket Lab announces next launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced that it has scheduled the launch window in June for its next commercial launch.

The press release did not state exactly when in June. Either way, it is clear that the company is steadily ramping up its launch operations towards its goal of bi-monthly launches by the end of the year.

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Blue Origin unveils proposed lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Blue Origin, today unveiled his company’s proposed lunar lander, dubbed Blue Moon, that Bezos claims will land on the Moon by 2024.

It harnesses many of the same ‘propulsion, precision guidance, vertical landing and landing gear systems’ utilized by New Shepard, Blue Origin’s rocket meant to ferry humans to the moon. The craft is equipped with fuel cells to provide ‘kilowatts of power’ that are capable of lasting for long-distance missions. Once Blue Moon arrives at its destination, it uses machine learning algorithms to land with precision on the lunar surface.

Blue Moon can deliver several metric tons of payload to the moon, thanks to its top deck and lower bays, the latter of which will allow for ‘closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading,’ the firm said.

With this technology, Blue Origin hopes it will prepare us to be able to send humans back to the moon as soon as 2024.

The article also mentions a new rocket engine that Bezos said Blue Origin is developing, called the BE-7, specifically designed for these lunar landers.

Blue Origin is clearly lobbying to get the job of building the lunar landers NASA needs and has said it will buy from the private sector. And its New Shepard reusable suborbital craft, with a booster that has successfully landed vertically now eleven times, shows that it understands this technology.

Nonetheless, I must admit that Bezos is beginning to remind me of Richard Branson, big with promises but late on delivery. New Shepard was going to start flying humans in 2017, then 2018, now this year. New Glenn was supposed to fly by 2020. They have now delayed that until 2021. Development of the BE-4 engine that Blue Origin wants to use in New Glenn and also sell to ULA for its Vulcan rocket seems to have stalled. The last update on its status was more than a year ago, which was also about the time of the last mention of any engine tests. They could be keeping things quiet, but I wonder. At that time they appeared close to certifying the engine for flight. They have never announced that this has happened, though ULA subsequently did choose the engine for Vulcan.

In fact, in writing the last paragraph and reviewing my posts on Behind the Black, I realized that there has been little or no press for the past year on either New Glenn or BE-4. I wonder why. I can’t imagine any reason at all for not announcing the engine’s certification as operational, yet no such announcement has ever been made.

Anyway, if Blue Origin delivers on today’s hyped-up press announcement, it will be very exciting. He definitely is pushing the right buttons for getting the government work from NASA.

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North Korea does second missile test in a week

North Korea today did its second short-range missile test in the past week.

They launched two missiles, each traveling about 260 miles.

This is clearly a negotiating tactic on their part. This spat of launches now might also have been encouraged by their sponsor, China, which is also in negotiations with the Trump administration about trade. China gains negotiating leverage with Trump in that it can say: Give us what we want and we will pressure North Korea to cease missile tests.

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Russia to launch two more American astronauts on Soyuz

A news report from Russia today announced that NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos so that two more American astronauts will fly to ISS using a Soyuz rocket and capsule.

Russia and the United States have agreed on two additional places on board of Soyuz carrier rockets for journeys of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov told TASS. “The documents have been approved,” Krikalyov said adding that it the procedure to sign the papers took place before a recently reported incident with Crew Dragon spacecraft.

According to Krikalyov, there was no new draft of the document as it was “Simply an update to the previously signed contract, everything was in work order and there was no solemn ceremony to mark the signing of the documents.”

This agreement practically guarantees that there will be no Americans flying on American-built spacecraft in 2019. Rather than push SpaceX and Boeing to get their technical problems solved quickly so they can start flying, NASA can continue to slow-walk their development by going to the Russians. For NASA bureaucrats, using the Russians is to their advantage. Any failures can be blamed on the Russians, not NASA due diligence, which would be the case if an American privately-built capsule failed.

Moreover, slow-walking the American spacecraft helps NASA avoid further embarrassment with its own manned system, SLS/Orion, which is years behind schedule. By slowing the private capsules, the delays with SLS/Orion won’t seem so bad.

In other words, NASA’s approach here favors itself and the Russians over the interests of our country and American private companies. It is too bad no one in the Trump administration notices, or cares.

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April parachute test for manned Dragon had problems

In testimony yesterday before Congress NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, revealed that during a test of the parachute system SpaceX will use on its manned Dragon capsule there was a problem.

The test appears to have occurred last month at Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada, where SpaceX was conducting one of dozens of drop tests it intends to perform to demonstrate the safety of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. This was a “single-out” test in which one of Dragon’s four parachutes intentionally failed before the test. “The three remaining chutes did not operate properly,” Gerstenmaier said.

…The test sled, Gerstenmaier confirmed, was “damaged upon impact with the ground.”

The cause of the failure, which might have been parachute design or a failure in the test equipment (such as the release from the airplane) is still being investigated.

This news, combined with the failure during Dragon thruster tests, also in April, likely guarantees that SpaceX will not launch in 2019. If it were up to SpaceX, I think they could get these issues dealt with and fly, but their customer is NASA, and NASA is notoriously slow at investigating and fixing engineering test problems like these.

My next post above underlines this conclusion.

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Smallsat launch company breaks ground on satellite-flinging test facility

Capitalism in space: SpinLaunch, a new smallsat launch company that proposed to put its customer’s satellites into orbit by “flinging” them upward, has broken ground on a facility where it will test this radical launch technology.

The company broke ground yesterday (May 7) at Spaceport America in New Mexico, marking the start of construction on a $7 million flight-test facility.

And this will be no ordinary launch pad. SpinLaunch is developing a kinetic-energy-based system that will fling small spacecraft skyward without firing up a rocket engine (though traditional chemical propulsion does come into play later in the flight). If all goes according to plan, SpinLaunch will eventually be able to loft satellites cheaply and rapidly — up to five times per day, at about $250,000 a pop, company representatives have said.

They have already raised $40 million in investment capital, and hope to do their first commercial launch in 2022.

While this company is far behind the leaders in the smallsat launch race, it very much seems to represent the second wave of competition. The first wave is generally using tried and true concepts of rocketry, albeit applied with modern technology and some innovation to lower the costs. The second wave will involve companies trying to beat that first wave with new and radical ideas that will lower the costs even more. SpinLaunch appears to be in that group.

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House Democrats threaten to withhold salaries from Trump officials

The various House committees now run by the Democrats who have been demanding information and testimony from a host of Trump administration officials, some very inappropriate and even possibly illegal, are now threatening to withhold salaries from any Trump officials who defy their demands.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent letters Tuesday calling for eight current and former Trump administration officials to provide information for two of the panel’s investigations, cautioning that officials who block the interviews from taking place could see their salaries withheld.

“Please be advised that any official at the Department who ‘prohibits or prevents’ or ‘attempts or threatens to prohibit or prevent’ any officer or employee of the Federal Government from speaking with the Committee could have his or her salary withheld pursuant to section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act,” Cummings wrote in the letters.

Cummings is one of two House committees threatening this action.

I doubt they will be able to follow through with this threat, but I am very sure they mean it and will do it if they can. And this illustrates better than anything the difference between the weak-kneed Republicans in Washington and the Democrats. The Republicans are generally afraid of their own shadow, and are never really willing to use the law or the evidence aggressively to gain a political advantage. The Democrats meanwhile always mean business, and will do whatever they can to get what they want. This is why we are losing the country to these thugs.

And it is also why we have Trump today. Unlike those cowardly Republicans, Trump also means business, and is willing to fight. I might not always agree with him, but so far he has been very straight about what he wants to do, and he has done everything he can to aggressively achieve those goals.

I just wish we had a few more people on the right side of politics with the same courage.

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ArianeGroup begins production of first 14 Ariane 6 rockets

Capitalism in space? ArianeGroup has announced it has begun production of the first fourteen Ariane 6 rockets, set for launch beginning in 2020.

Following the initial institutional and commercial launch orders for Ariane 6 obtained by Arianespace since the autumn of 2017, and the resolution of the ESA Council on April 17, 2019, related to the rocket’s exploitation framework, ArianeGroup is starting to build the first series-production batch of 14 Ariane 6 launchers.

These 14 launchers, scheduled to fly between 2021 and 2023, will be built in ArianeGroup plants in France and Germany, as well as in those of its European industrial partners in the 13 countries taking part in the Ariane 6 program.

The April 17 resolution essentially committed the ESA (European Space Agency) to subsidize ArianeGroup should Ariane 6 fail to obtain sufficient launch contracts for the company to make a profit.

Right now, that subsidization seems almost certain, based on the prices ArianeGroup is charging for Ariane 6 and the resulting dearth of sales contracts.

The launch rate announced above illustrates the rocket’s lack of interest. Fourteen launches in three years? SpaceX has been launching that many times in half a year. Granted, Ariane 6 is designed to launch two satellites to Falcon 9’s one, but even so this launch rate is low. And I expect in reality it will be lower than this. I expect them to fail to get launch customers, and will find they have a white elephant on their hands.

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Relativity gets third launch contract

Capitalism in space: The new startup rocket company Relativity announced yesterday the signing of its third launch contract with Spaceflight, a company that until now has mostly specialized in arranging secondary payloads on big rockets for smallsat companies.

The launch services agreement between the two companies includes an order for one launch of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket in the third quarter of 2021, with an option for an unspecified number of additional launches. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Relativity has publicized a list price of $10 million for the rocket.

Spaceflight will use those launches for dedicated rideshare missions, aggregating a set of small satellites to fly on the rocket.

The previous two contracts were with the long-established satellite communications company Telesat and a newer satellite company from Thailand called mu Space.

Relativity’s ability to get three launch contracts for a rocket that has not yet flown, no less tested, is somewhat puzzling. There are other companies, Rocket Lab, Vector, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit, that are either operational or have already tested prototype rockets or engines.

I suspect all the contracts have easy escape clauses, and are conditional depending on the company’s successful test program. I also suspect that the deals gave significant price breaks to all three companies for their willingness to sign under these circumstances.

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Rocket Lab completes second commercial launch in 2019

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has successfully placed three Air Force technology satellites in orbit.

This is their second commercial launch in 2019, and fifth successful launch overall. They have said that they plan a total of 16 launches this year. With eight months left in the year and 14 launches to go, they will have to up their pace to more than once per month pretty soon. As this is their announced intention, their launch rate should accelerate before the year is out.

One more interesting detail: With this launch they have now put 28 small satellites in space, on five launches. At this pace they are beginning to match, in a different way, the capabilities of larger rockets that can launch that many smallsats on a single rocket. Rocket Lab might be more expensive per satellite, but provides each launched satellite a more customized service, including more flexibility in orbital choice and a far more reliable schedule.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

However, the U.S. has now widened its lead over China to 10 to 6.

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Japanese private company launches rocket on suborbital test

Capitalism in space: The Japanese private company Interstellar Technologies yesterday successfully completed a suborbital test flight of its MOMO rocket.

This success is significant in that Interstellar has tried twice previously to complete a suborbital flight, and failed both times. The first attempt was on July 30, 2017 and the second on June 30, 2018. Furthermore, they had said that the gap between the second and third attempts would be shorter, which it was.

So far, MOMO is designed solely as a suborbital rocket. I would not be surprised if they begin to scale up development to an orbital version once they begin money-making operations with the suborbital version, but this has not been announced by the company.

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New Falcon 9 successfully launches used Dragon cargo ship

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully launched a used Dragon cargo ship to ISS using a new Falcon 9 rocket.

They also successfully landed the first stage, the 39th time they have done so. Dragon will arrive at ISS in two days.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. has extended its lead over China 9-6 in the national rankings.

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New Shepard test flight successful

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin is planning to do another New Shepard test flight within the next hour.

You can watch it here.

The flight was successful. It was the fifth flight of this spacecraft and booster. They reached 346,000 feet elevation, about 65 miles.

During the telecast the announcer said that Blue Origin hopes to initiate passenger flights before the end of this year.

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ISS power repaired, SpaceX launch early tomorrow

Using the station’s robot arm astronauts on ISS have replaced a failed electrical component, restoring the station to full power and allowing a Dragon cargo launch to go forward early tomorrow morning.

The failure had reduced the station’s power by 25%. It also shut down some redundancy in the system that ran the robot arm that will grab and berth Dragon. NASA did not want to do that berthing without that redundancy, which they once again have.

The SpaceX launch is set for 3:11 am (eastern) tonight, or just past midnight on the west coast.

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Covington lawyers file defamation lawsuit against NBC/MSNBC

Push back: The lawyers for Kentucky teenager Nick Sandman have filed their third defamation lawsuit, this time against NBC/MSNBC for $275 million.

The previous suits were against the Washington Post for $250 million and CNN for $275 million. All three outlets have had a a truly dismal and partisan track record in the past two decades, which only grew more unreliable with the election of Donald Trump. They repeatedly get their facts wrong, and then refuse to correct the record when it is shown how wrong they were. As a prime example, all three bought into the Russian collusion hoax, spending two years selling the blatantly absurd idea that Donald Trump was a Russian agent who colluded with them to steal the 2016 election.

Trump however is a politician, and an adult. No one is surprised or horrified by that kind of dirty politics. Nick Sandman however was an innocent sixteen-year-old minor, attacked viciously for merely being white, pro-life, and for wearing a MAGA hat. With the evidence available that clearly shows how these leftist news outlets slandered him, all three outlets are very vulnerable to a big loss when this case gets before a Kentucky jury. In fact, I think his lawyers would be fools to settle.

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SpaceX successfully tests core stage for June Falcon Heavy launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully completed a static fire test of the core stage that it will use in its next Falcon Heavy commercial launch, now set for June.

This launch will be for the Air Force, and will place 23 satellites into a variety of different orbits. It will also help the Air Force certify the Falcon Heavy for future military launches.

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Firefly completes full duration test of second stage engine

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace has successfully completed a full duration static test fire of the second stage engine of its Alpha rocket.

During the test, all of the second stage’s flight avionics, structures, and propulsion systems were subjected to a sustained firing consistent with a normal flight mission. According to Firefly, preliminary analysis of data from the test show that all of the rocket’s systems performed nominally, and a post-test inspection revealed no observable degradation of the stage systems.

Firefly is attempting to complete development of its Alpha rocket, which has a capacity of up to 1 ton to low-Earth orbit, for a launch by the end of this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company could reach another milestone as early as August, when Firefly anticipates performing the first long-duration test of the Alpha rocket’s first stage.

If the company succeeds in completing an orbital launch by the end of 2019, they will have leaped from the back of the pack to become one of the leaders in the smallsat rocket industry, in an incredibly short time. The company was thought dead in 2016 after a lawsuit appeared to bankrupt it. Since then it obtained significant new capital and has risen from the ashes, at a speed that appears astonishing.

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Settlement reached in lawsuit about private lunar mission

A lawsuit filed in 2017 by a man who had paid Space Adventures a $7 million deposit for a ticket to fly on a Soyuz rocket around the Moon has now been settled

McPike, an Austrian businessman and adventurer who lives in the Bahamas, filed the original suit in May 2017, seeking the return of a $7 million deposit he paid to Space Adventures for a $150 million seat on a Soyuz mission that would go around the moon, and additional damages. The defendants in the suit included Space Adventures; Tom Shelley, the company’s president; and Eric Anderson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

According to McPike’s suit, he contacted Space Adventures in July 2012 about the possibility of flying on a mission around the moon that the company had been promoting for several years. In March 2013, he signed an agreement committing to participate in such a mission, and paid an initial deposit of $7 million towards the $150 million total price with the expectation that the mission would take place within six years.

McPike was scheduled to make a second deposit of $8 million one year after contract signing, but he postponed that because of concerns he had regarding the limited progress on developing the mission, including lack of information from the Russian companies and agencies that would carry out it. Space Adventures terminated the agreement in March 2015 after McPike failed to make that payment and retained his $7 million deposit.

According to his suit, McPike later contacted the Russian space agency Roscosmos directly, and was informed that, contrary to the contract he signed, there was no formal relationship between the agency and Space Adventures for a circumlunar mission, that that the proposed mission was only in the “preliminary planning phase” along with several other future projects.

The details of the settlement were not released.

The article also provides near the end a nice summary of all recent private attempts to fly humans around the Moon, including SpaceX’s now ongoing plan to fly a Japanese businessman in 2023 using its Starship upper stage.

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FCC approves SpaceX’s Starlink constellation

Capitalism in space: The FCC has approved SpaceX’s revised plan for its Starlink satellite constellation designed to provide global internet access.

SpaceX already had authorization for 4,425 Starlink satellites that would use Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to beam internet data, but last November, the company asked the FCC to sign off on a plan that would put more than a third of the satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits.

Eventually, SpaceX plans to add another wave of more than 7,500 satellites in even lower orbits to enhance the constellation’s coverage.

They hope to begin launching their first set of satellites by May, and begin commercial operations as early as 2021.

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Starliner does first splashdown recovery tests

Capitalism in space: Though Boeing intends to bring its manned Starliner capsule down on land, it has begun water recovery tests of the capsule, working in conjunction with Air Force recovery teams, to prepare for the possibility that it might sometimes have to splashdown in the ocean.

While the article reviews the tests, it also contains this interesting piece of information:

While today’s test was the first in-water practice run for Starliner at sea rescue, it represents a much larger DoD commitment to space crew rescue operations – universal procedures that would be followed for Starliner, Dragon, and Orion.

During ascent for Starliner, Dragon, and Orion, the 304th Rescue Squadron will have two teams stationed along the east coast of the United States, one at Patrick Air Force Base (just South of the Cape) and the other in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Patrick team, Rescue 1, will be responsible for on-pad aborts that place a capsule in the water or for aborts in the first couple minutes of flight that place the capsule within a 200 nautical mile zone from the Cape.

After that distance is exceeded, the Charleston crew (Rescue 2) would be responsible for rescue of a launch-aborting crew vehicle anywhere else across the Atlantic.

The third team, stationed in Hawai’i, (also part of Rescue 2) would be responsible for any after-launch immediate landing need or off-nominal Station return contingency that places a Starliner or Dragon in the Pacific.

It appears that the responsibility for water recovery of American manned spacecraft has been taken over by the Air Force. Up until now SpaceX has performed its own water recovery for its unmanned cargo Dragon capsules.

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Relativity gets a second launch contract

Capitalism in space: The startup rocket company Relativity today announced the signing of a second launch contract for its as-yet untested Terran 1 rocket.

Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations, today announced a partnership with mu Space, the innovative Thai satellite and space technology company, to launch a satellite to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket, the world’s first and only 3D printed rocket.

The first contract was with the well-established satellite company Telesat. The rocket, Terran 1, is scheduled for its first orbital test flight at the end of 2020.

So, where does Relativity stand among the leaders in the new smallsat commercial rocket industry? Let’s do a quick review.

Rocket Lab is of course far in the lead. It has launched four times, and its Electron rocket is now operational.

Second in this race is probably Virgin Orbit. The company has won several launch contracts, and says it will begin launch tests momentarily of its LauncherOne air-launched rocket.

Next comes Vector Launch, though some might argue it is ahead of Virgin Orbit. This company has obtained a large amount of investment capital, has completed two test suborbital launches, has a number of launch contracts, and hopes to do its first orbital launch later this year.

After these three companies there is a pack of rocket companies, all with investment capital, tentative launch contracts, and rockets that are only in the development stages. These include Exos Aerospace, Relativity, and Firefly, with Exos probably in the lead as it has already test flown its reusable SARGE suborbital rocket.

This list does not include the pseudo-private Chinese rocket companies, OneSpace, ISpace, LinkSpace, Landspace, and ExSpace, all of whom are independently developing smallsat rockets using Chinese investment capital but working under the supervision of the Chinese government. Several of these companies have attempted orbital launches. As yet none have succeeded.

Nor have I included India, which has announced it is going to build its own smallsat rocket to supplement its larger PSLV rocket in order to maintain its market share in this new smallsat industry. I also have left out a number of European companies, all of whom are far behind but nonetheless exist and are beginning development.

Other then the already-operating Rocket Lab, all of these companies are predicting their first rocket launches within the next three years. Some will succeed. Some will not. Nonetheless, the launch pace as we move into the 2020s is likely to get quite interesting.

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