Tag Archives: SpaceX

SpaceX raises Falcon Heavy launch price for U.S. military

Capitalism in space: It now appears that SpaceX has significantly raised the price it is charging the U.S. military for its Falcon Heavy rocket

In winning the military’s new long term launch contracts, awarded to both SpaceX and ULA through 2026, SpaceX apparently doubled the Falcon Heavy price.

In 2018 he said the rocket would cost no more than $150 million to loft heavy payloads into orbit. But the award SpaceX received for a single mission in the first year of Phase Two was $316 million. That’s quite an increase.

The article is clearly one of those industry hit pieces against SpaceX. At the same time, I completely accept what it has found to be true. SpaceX no longer needs to undercut ULA by gigantic amounts to gain military contracts. Moreover, since the military decided to restrict bidding for all launches for the next five years to just these two companies, SpaceX has no reason to offer the same low prices it has in the past. All it needs to do is undercut ULA’s high prices by a little, and get the deal.

In a sense, it isn’t SpaceX’s fault the military will now have to pay so much. Blame our vaunted military bureaucracy, which choose to limit the competition to just two companies for the next five years. They are getting what they wanted, even if it ends up screwing the taxpayer.

Reality show to fly contestant to ISS

Capitalism in space: A new reality show, dubbed Space Hero, will have audiences watch contestants compete to be a passenger on a private capsule, likely SpaceX’s Dragon, and fly to ISS for ten days.

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.

The frozen and changing mid-latitudes of Mars

Glacial erosion on Mars
Click for full image.

Using “frozen” and “changing” to describe any single location might seem contradictory, but when it comes to the mid-latitudes of Mars, high resolution images keep telling us that both often apply, at the same time and at the same place.

The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, is a typical example. Taken on May 8, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it shows what the scientists label as “mesas and ridges.” Drainage is to the south, and it sure looks like some sort of glacial flow is working its way downward within the canyons between those mesas.

Overall the terrain has the appearance of a frozen ice sheet, or at least terrain that has a shallow ice table close to the surface. It also looks like chaos terrain in its infancy, the erosion process not yet cutting down enough to make the mesas stand out fully.

The location of these mesas and ridges is shown in the context map below, which also shows that this location is at the same latitude as SpaceX’s Starship prime Martian landing site, and only about 400 to 500 miles to the east.
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Next Starship test flight to go to 60,000 feet

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has decided, after two successful 500 foot hops using its fifth and sixth Starship prototypes, to forego further hops with those prototypes and instead test fly prototype number eight to a height of 60,000 feet, about 11 miles.

Starship SN5 and SN6 were set to become a tag-team, flying 150-meter hops to refine the launch and landing techniques that SpaceX has pioneered with its Falcon 9 rocket. However, with SN5’s hop proving to be a success, followed by a notable improvement with SN6’s leap to 150 meters a few weeks later, it’s likely SpaceX is now confident of advancing to the next milestone.

The company has applied for an FCC license to do the flight anytime from Oct ’20 to April ’21, with October 11th being the first available date.

In the meantime the company plans a pressure tank test to failure of prototype #7, probably later this week.

In other related news at the second link, Boeing and Firefly have also applied for FCC licenses, the former for a Starliner demo mission from November ’20 to May ’21, the latter for its first launch of its smallsat Alpha rocket, also from November ’20 to May ’21.

Update on Starship development

Capitalism in space: Link here. The update outlines the status of Starship prototypes #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 as well as the first Super Heavy prototype, all of which are being prepped for future tests.

It is expected that #7 will be tested next, a tank pressure test intended to be tested to failure sometime in the next few weeks. The goal here is to obtain the engineering limits of the alloy being used in this particular prototype so that engineers will know how to use it in future builds.

The icy Erebus Mountains near where Starship will land on Mars

Overview of all SpaceX images in Arcadia Planitia

Glacial filled crater in Erebus Montes
Click for full image.

It has been several months since I posted any new photos of the region on Mars which SpaceX considers its prime candidate landing site for its Starship spacecraft/rocket, now under development. The map to the right shows the location of all the images that SpaceX has obtained from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of this landing region, located in the northern lowland plains at the border between Arcadia and Amazonis and to the east of the Erebus Mountains. (See my post on November 13, 2019 for an analysis of the reasoning for SpaceX to choose this region, along with links to each of the numbered images.)

Time to take another look, this time at the very center of the southern cluster of the Erebus mountains. The crater to the right, its location indicated by the tiny red rectangle on the map above, was taken by MRO on May 6, 2020, and shows the typical glacial features scientists find in mid-latitude Martian craters. The floor appears filled with glacial material, with the repeated cyclical flows repeatedly coming down off the north-facing interior rim. That rim would generally be colder and get less sunlight, so snowfall is more likely to pile up there and then flow downward like a glacier, only to sublimate away once it moves out of shadow.

What makes these mountains enticing, only about 400 miles from the Starship landing zone, is not simply what is inside this crater, but what surrounds it. Below is the wider view provided by MRO’s context camera.
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Another successful Starship prototype hop

Starship prototype #6 in flight

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed a 150-meter high hop of its sixth Starship prototype, the second such hop but the first for this prototype. They have now flown two different prototypes, plus Starhopper, all successfully. No flight failures, so far.

Next they will be doing a pressure tank test, to failure, of the seventh prototype. That prototype is using what they think will be a better steel alloy, and they want to find out its limits. I have also heard that they will either fly this prototype again or fly the fifth again, sometime in the next two weeks.

I have embedded a few more images below the fold.
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SpaceX attempting another Starship hop today

Capitalism in space: Engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas are today preparing the sixth Starship prototype for its first 150 meter hop, the second hop of a Starship prototype overall.

The launch window is anytime between 8 am and 8 pm (Central). I have embedded the livesteam below the fold if you wish to watch. Based on previous attempts, they will try for a morning launch before noon, and if there are issues they will recycle and try again in the afternoon.
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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully launches 60 Starlink satellites

Falcon 9 1st stage after landing

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.

It also successfully landed its first stage, the second time this stage has done so.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
15 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S now leads China in the national rankings 24 to 20.

Musk gives update on Starship/Super Heavy

Capitalism in space: During a phone conversation at a conference earlier this week, SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave an update on the development of Starship/Super Heavy, intended to be the first completely reusable rocket.

He did not reveal much that isn’t already known but his broad overview is helpful for understand what is happening at the company’s development facility in Boca Chica, Texas. One detail of note:

Asked on Monday when SpaceX might perform the first orbital Starship launch and re-entry, Musk replied: “Probably next year.”

“I hope we do a lot of flights,” Musk continued. “The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory. Nobody has ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket. So just having that at all is pretty significant.”

Musk also said that they plan to do a lot of orbital flights before upgrading the ship for humans. I think his experience with Dragon has influenced him on this score.

SpaceX successfully launches Argentina satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched an Argentinian radar satellite into polar orbit, the first such launch from Cape Canaveral since the 1960s.

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:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

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.

SpaceX scrubs Starship prototype hop

Capitalism in space: Though it appeared twice today that SpaceX engineers were on the verge of executing their second Starship prototype hop, the first for prototype #6, in both cases they stood down.

It appears according to road closures in Boca Chica they will try again tomorrow. The live stream is available here. The closures go from 8 am to 8 pm (Central), within which the hop could occur at almost any time, but likely not before 9 am.

Confirmed: SpaceX plans two launches for tomorrow

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.

Meanwhile Rocket Lab has shifted its launch this weekend in New Zealand from tonight to tomorrow night at 11:05 pm (Eastern). The live stream will be aired 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.

SpaceX wins launch contract for unmanned lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Masten Space Systems has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its unmanned lunar lander, being built to carry nine NASA science payloads to the south pole of the Moon.

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.

Five American launches in two days!

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.

Delta 4 Heavy launch scrubbed

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.

Sixth Starship prototype completes static fire engine test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s sixth Starship prototype yesterday successfully completed its first static fire engine test.

Below is a six-second video of that test. Assuming this test went well, it appears they are aiming to do a 150 meter hop this coming weekend (around August 29-30), adding even more excitement to this week’s busy rocket schedule.

Four American launches in the four days

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.

Musk: 100+ reuses of Falcon 9 1st stages possible

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.

SpaceX launches three commercial plus more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched three commercial Earth reconnaissance satellites plus another 58 Starlink satellites.

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:

19 China
13 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 21 to 19 in the national rankings.

Another Starship/construction update at Boca Chica

Link here.

The successfully flown fifth Starship prototype has been moved back to its assembly area while the sixth is now on the launchpad being prepped for its own hop. At the same time, the buildings that will be used for all future ship assembly are going up, as well as construction of the launchpad for Super Heavy, the first stage of this giant reusable rocket.

It appears that SpaceX is going to be alternating hops between prototypes 5 and 6, while it preps prototypes 8 and 9. The use of two alternating prototypes not only speeds testing of the vehicle itself, it also speeds testing of the procedures the company will need for transporting these vehicles about, from the assembly building to the launchpad and then from the landing site back to the assembly building.

Except another hop in mere weeks of Starship prototype #6. As for Super Heavy, the article notes this:

What can be confidently assumed is SpaceX is preparing the facility groundwork for the first assembly and testing of Super Heavy by 2021.

Test programs and new vehicles will always stretch schedules. However, there remains the distinct possibility SpaceX could launch their first Super Heavy rocket before the Space Launch System (SLS – the orange one) is due to conduct her maiden launch at the end of next year. [emphasis mine]

Even if Super Heavy does not fly before SLS, I am very confident in predicting that the SpaceX rocket will fly many more times than SLS, and do it not as an expendable rocket but reused each time.

SpaceX ups fund-raising effort from one to two billion

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has apparently raised $2 billion during an on-going investment capital round, double what the company had initially expected.

This means that SpaceX has now raised $4 billion in private investment in the last year, the bulk of which the company says it is devoting to Starship. However, they have also said that for this most recent round some of the monies will go to making their Starlink satellite internet constellation operational. With 595 satellites already in orbit, and good testing ongoing, it appears a lot of investors want to get in on the game.

NASA targets October 23rd for next manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: NASA and SpaceX yesterday announced that they have now set October 23rd as the earliest launch date for next manned Dragon flight.

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.

SpaceX begins first tests of Starship’s thermal tiles

Link here. They have already flown some tiles on both a Dragon cargo flight as well as Starhopper’s one flight. They are now accelerating the work by testing the installation of a lot of hexagon-shapped tiles directly onto the steel hull of the Starship prototypes. From the article:

Behind the scenes, SpaceX is assuredly performing extensive laboratory-style tests with tiles and an agreement signed with NASA Ames Research Center confirmed that the company is using the facility’s arcjet to physically simulate the conditions of orbital-velocity reentry. Tests on the scale of a full Starship, however, are an entirely different story.

The first signs of large-scale heat shield installation testing appeared on July 9th when local resident and photographer Andrew Goetsch (Nomadd) captured photos of a test coupon covering half of an entire steel Starship ring. In April 2020, CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that the current design involved affixed heat shield tiles directly to Starship’s steel hull with steel studs. It’s unclear how exactly the company is installing steel studs directly onto the ~4mm (0.15 in) thick skins of a pressure vessel or if an off -the-shelf solution was available but Nomadd’s July 9th photos explicitly show the process required to refine the settings on the mystery stud installer.

The article has some good pictures. Expect to see a lot of these tiles on the surface of future prototypes.

Endeavour at Cape, being prepped for next flight

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.

SpaceX prepares sixth Starship prototype for hop

Capitalism in space: Having moved its fifth Starship prototype back to its facility at Boca Chica for repairs to its legs following its first light, SpaceX is simultaneously preparing its sixth Starship prototype for its own hops.

They plan more short hops to smooth out the launch process, aiming for the ability to do several per day, followed later by a much higher altitude hop. Expect the next hop within about two weeks.

SpaceX to build resort near Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is seeking to hire a manager to lead the design and construction of a resort near Boca Chica for future spaceport customers.

The job posting seeks a manger to “oversee the development of SpaceX’s first resort from inception to completion,” with the ultimate aim of turning Boca Chica into a “21st century Spaceport.” That would include overseeing the entire design and construction process, as well as getting all necessary work permits and regulatory approvals, and completing the ultimate build of the facility.

Makes perfect financial sense, assuming Starship does eventually fly. Customers will need and expect a nice place to stay before and after their flights, and SpaceX has the land and is best positioned for providing it. And even if Starship doesn’t fly, during the rocket’s development there is money to be made providing tourists the best viewpoint for watching test flights, while also creating a source of profit independent of actual flight.

Air Force terminates development contracts to ULA, Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman

In awarding ULA and SpaceX exclusive launch rights for all launches through 2026, the Air Force also decided to end prematurely the development contracts to ULA, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman aimed at helping these companies develop new rockets.

An issue at hand is the termination of the Launch Service Agreement contracts that the Air Force awarded in October 2018 to Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, as well as to ULA. The purpose of the agreements was to help Phase 2 competitors pay for launch vehicle development and infrastructure. Blue Origin received $500 million; Northrop Grumman $792 million and ULA $967 million. The funds were to be spread out through 2024, and the Air Force from the beginning said the LSAs would be terminated with those companies that did not win a Phase 2 procurement contract.

Despite political pressure to not end the LSAs, the agreements will be terminated, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper said Aug. 7 during a video conference with reporters. “We will work with those two companies to determine the right point to tie off their work under the LSA agreements,” Roper said. The intent of the LSAs “was to create a more competitive environment leading into Phase 2,” he said. “The point is not to carry them indefinitely.”

LSA funds supported the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and Northrop Grumman’s OmegA launch vehicle. ULA will continue to receive funds for its Vulcan Centaur vehicle.

Almost immediately after the award of these contracts was announced in 2018, ULA and Blue Origin announced one year delays in the development of Vulcan and New Glenn. Apparently, meeting the additional requirements of military’s bureaucracy in exchange for getting the cash slowed development.

Now they won’t be getting a large part of that cash, making the decision to take it a deal with the devil. The delay in development has definitely hurt both companies in their competition with SpaceX. First, it likely has raised the cost and complexity of their new rockets, making it harder to compete in price. Second, the delay has given SpaceX more time to grab more customers while improving its own rockets.

SpaceX initially protested not getting a share of this development money, but has subsequently chosen to no longer pursue such government money for Starship because it doesn’t want itself hampered by obtuse government officials and their mindless requirements.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman’s Omega rocket is almost certainly dead. That company took the old big space company approach, structuring development around government cash. Without it there is no R&D money at Northrop Grumman to continue work. Furthermore, Omega was designed to serve only once customer, the military. Without any launch contracts there are no customers for Omega, especially because it likely has too high a launch price.

Air Force limits future launch bidding to SpaceX and ULA

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.

SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites

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.

19 China
12 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. has retaken the lead from China in the national rankings, 20 to 19.

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