Southwest Research Institute scientists Dan Durda spoke about suborbital spaceflight at the TEDxBoulder conference.
Space is not just the final frontier. It’s the citizen-science frontier. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, it’s now possible for citizen scientists to build high-quality space-science hardware with off-the-shelf components.
Interest in citizen science and participatory exploration has exploded in recent years. New technologies are making it easier for private citizens to become involved in the scientific process. More and more, the professional scientific community is recognizing the importance of contributions made by dedicated amateurs. Citizen scientists are discovering exoplanets and dinosaurs, monitoring climate and endangered species, and helping to map the human genome.
The development of low-cost reusable suborbital spacecraft will be the next great enabler, allowing citizens to participate in space exploration and space science.
Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, is riding this new wave of citizen science citizen space exploration.
For the first phase of our project, we have acquired an initial contract for 10 suborbital spaceflights with one of the new space transportation companies — XCOR Aerospace. This represents, to the best of our knowledge, the largest single bulk purchase of suborbital flights to date. We will be making payload space on these flights available to citizen scientists and to professional researchers who play by our open-source rules. We expect to fly up to 100 small experiments in our initial flight campaign. For information on submitting payloads, see our Call for Experiments.
Citizens in Space will also select and train 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators. We have three astronaut candidates already in training. We’ll be recruiting seven more over the next 12 to 24 months.
For more information on our program, click here.
Southwest Research Institute scientists Dan Durda spoke about suborbital spaceflight at the TEDxBoulder conference.
The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier will be on display this Friday (6 Feb 2015) during Innovation Day at Space Center Houston.
The Lynx Cub Carrier is a platform designed to carry multiple small experiments aboard the XCOR Lynx suborbital spacecraft. The Lynx Cub Carrier fits in a space behind the pilot’s seat (“Payload A” in the illustration above). It can accommodate up to 15 four-inch cubes or a combination of larger experiments up to 12 inches in length.
The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier was developed by the United States Rocket Academy with support from the State of Texas Aerospace Technology Research and Operations (ASTRO) Center (formerly the Space Engineering Research Center), the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University, and XCOR Aerospace. The first flight article, which will appear at Space Center Houston, was finished in 2014. It was previously displayed at events such as the National Space Symposium, International Space Development Conference, and the National Science Teachers Association conference.
The Lynx Cub Carrier will be on display in the Space Center Houston lobby from opening until 2:45 PM. Along with the Lynx Cub Payload Carrier, the display will feature related experiment hardware, a model of the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, and citizen astronaut candidates to answer questions. At 2:45 PM, the Lynx Cub Carrier will move to Johnson Space Center’s Gilruth Conference Center for “Texas: the Space State,” a presentation by Citizens in Space at the Space Exploration Educators Conference. Other parts of the display will remain available in the lobby until 4:00 PM.
Other exhibitors at Innovation Day will include the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Texas Space Grant Consortium, Microsoft, Nanoracks, and the NASA Commercial Crew Program.
Why are commercial space companies flocking to Texas? Representatives of Citizens in Space will speak on Texas, the Space State at the Space Exploration Educators Conference, which takes place this week at Space Center Houston. The talk, which is open to conference attendees, begins at 2:35 this Friday (6 February 2015).
Anousheh Ansari, one of the first citizen astronauts to visit the International Space Station, will speak in Houston this Friday (6 February 2015).
Her lecture, Dare to Dream: Travels of a Private Space Explorer, is part of the Houston Spaceport Frontier Lecture series
The talk will be held at Rice University in the McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall at 4:00 PM. Admission is free. Event parking is $1 in the Greenbriar Lot.
SpaceX has released a new animation of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is targeted for first flight later this year. Falcon Heavy will place payloads of up to 117,000 pounds into Low Earth Orbit, more than any American rocket since the Saturn V. More significantly, it will incorporate reusable boosters to reduce launch costs.
Let’s forget that throw-away line about going into space just “because it is hard.”
Kennedy himself did not believe that. He had other reasons (political reasons) for wanting to do Project Apollo.
Many things are hard. Building a life-size replica of the Eiffel Tower out of spaghetti would be hard, but you won’t find millions of people who want to do that. There are millions of people who want to go into space, however. Why?
There is no single answer to that question. There are as many reasons for going into space as there are people who want to go. We don’t need politicians to tell us why we want to go into space, any more than we need politicians to tell us why we want to go to Disneyland, Las Vegas, or Yellowstone National Park.
This NASA film from 1962 shows an early version of the Apollo lunar mission concept. Some interesting minor differences from the final design include the mechanical arms used to reorient the lunar module and the ladder astronauts would use to climb down to the lunar surface.
One notable difference: the Apollo command module was intended to touchdown on land rather than at sea. Shock absorbers would have added considerable weight, however. The final design of the capsule could not safely touchdown on land; the impact would have severely injured the crew members. Broken backs were a likely outcome. As a result, one of the launch constraints on Apollo missions was wind direction. The wind had to be in a direction that would carry the command module out to sea, rather than back toward land, in the event of a launch abort.
Public television station KQED in San Francisco produced this documentary on the emerging commercial space industry.
According to The Waco Tribune, SpaceX will be adding 300 new jobs due to a $46-million expansion at its McGregor, Texas test facility.
That’s in addition to 500 jobs at the SpaceX launch site near Brownsville, Texas — a total of 800 new jobs.
To put that into perspective, NASA’s Johnson Space Center employs about 3,000 civil servants and 10,000 contractors. (Or perhaps 12,000 contractors– the Houston Chronicle and various NASA websites give conflicting figures.) But that number is down from 17,500 workers in 2007 and will remain relatively flat, based on projected NASA budgets. The SpaceX workforce, on the other hand, has the potential to grow rapidly as the company expands into commercial markets.
Astrophobia is the fear of outer space. It can take many forms, from a fear of the stars to a fear of space travel.
One example of the later is actress Jessica Chastain, who starred in the movie Interstellar. When Hollywood Reporter asked Interstellar cast members if they would personally like to go into space, Chastain was the only one who said no — quite emphatically.
Yet, NASA chose Chastain to narrate this new advertisement for its Orion program.
Based on official plans, Orion will carry only four astronauts into space, once every two years — the lowest flight rate since Project Mercury. It would appear that NASA, like Chastain, has a fear of flying in space [very often].
Airbus Defense and Space (the aerospace conglomerate formerly known as Astrium) is considering incorporating partial reusability into future Ariane rockets.
The move is believed to be a reaction to competition from SpaceX.
Airbus would not recover the entire first stage, like SpaceX, but only the lower portion with engines, pumps, and electronics. Tanks would still be expended. Airbus says the recovered portion represents 80% of the cost of the stage. Building new tanks for each mission will limit the flight rate, however.
This artist’s conception shows the Moon as it might appear from the cockpit of the XCOR Lynx spacecraft.
This is a sight that can only be seen from space: The Moon against a black sky, with the Earth in daylight. Fewer than .00001% of the world’s population have had the opportunity to see this sight. That number will increase dramatically in the next few years, when suborbital spaceflight becomes commercially available.
At first glance, the Moon appears oddly dark. We usually think of the Moon as being quite bright, almost a pure white. That’s because we’re used to viewing it at night when our eyes are dark adapted. In reality, the surface of the Moon is fairly dark, as shown by observations and photos taken by the Apollo astronauts and the samples they brought back. Seen from space, with the sunlit Earth as a reference, the Moon shows its true color.
For a more complete explanation of the Moon’s appearance from space, read this article.
NASA said “no” to Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser lifting body, but Sierra Nevada Corporation is not giving up the fight to build a vehicle that can carry American astronauts into orbit and return to land on an airport runway.
Sierra Nevada has announced a new partnership with Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, which is currently developing the world’s largest aircraft to serve as the first stage for orbital launch systems. As part of this joint venture, Sierra Nevada is designing a scaled-down (75%) version of Dream Chaser that can carry three people and be launched from the Stratolaunch aircraft. The vehicle will also be capably of flying unscrewed space missions (similar to the US Air Force’s X-37 spaceplane), as well as “light cargo transportation or suborbital point-to-point transportation.”
One possible customer for suborbital point-to-point transportation might be the US military. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the United States Marine Corps studied a concept called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN), which would use suborbital vehicles for rapid delivery of special forces to hot spots around the world. In 2002, a USMC “universal need statement” said, in part, “The Marine Corps needs a capability to transport small mission-tailored units through space from any point on the globe to a contingency at any other point on the globe within minutes…. The War on Terrorism highlights the need for flexible, rapid response options to contingencies around the world at their earliest stages.
Sierra Nevada is also continuing to market the full-size Dream Chaser. At the 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto on 30 September, the company announced the Dream Chaser Global Project, offering international customers a turn-key spaceflight capability including vehicle, astronaut training, and mission support.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program rejected Dream Chaser in favor of two capsules, Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon V2, in a decision announced on 16 September.
Boeing won out over Sierra Nevada even though its bid was $900 million higher and proposal-scoring rules weighted cost as the primary criterion: equal to the other two criteria (mission suitability and past performance) combined.
Some observers have suggested that NASA may have made the decision based on “cost realism,” effectively rewarding Boeing for submitting the highest-cost proposal. Rumors say that Boeing, unlike SpaceX and Sierra Nevada, has invested very little of its own money in previous phases of the Commercial Crew program, relying almost entirely on NASA funding. Boeing has also made less progress to date, producing mostly paper, while SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have been building actual hardware.
Sierra Nevada has filed a formal protest, which will be evaluated by the Government Accounting Office. As a result, NASA Commercial Crew contracts are on hold until the GAO completes its investigation, which may not occur until January. Sierra Nevada is not betting the farm on a positive outcome of that protest, however.
Sierra Nevada’s loss does not really come as a surprise, however. NASA telegraphed its view of Dream Chaser in the last phase of Commercial Crew contract awards, in August 2012, when Sierra Nevada was reduced to half funding. Arguably, the decision was made two years ago and NASA was simply going through the motions this time around.
The “capsule mentality” has dominated NASA’s thinking since the days of Project Mercury. NASA’s Commercial Crew program has rejected space planes not once, but twice. Orbital Sciences Corporation proposed a similar vehicle, Prometheus, which didn’t survive the cut in 2012 even though it was based on work OSC previously did for NASA under the Orbital Space Plane program. (NASA ultimately rejected the wing design for Orbital Space Plane in favor of an Apollo-like capsule, which later became the Crew Exploration Vehicle, now known as Orion.)
The European Space Agency is preparing for the first suborbital test flight of its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) reentry demonstrator, which may pave the way for future development of a European orbital spaceplane. Ironically, the test comes at a time when NASA has once again turned its back on spaceplane technology in favor of sixties-style space capsules.
IXV is a lifting-body vehicle, about five meters (15 feet) long and weighing almost two tons, which will test technologies for autonomous controlled reentry. IXV is scheduled for launch on a Vega rocket from the European spaceport in French Guiana in mid-November.
IXV will explore the coupling of inertial measurement units with GPS data and the combination of flaps and thrusters for control in hypersonic flight. It will also test the performance of thermal-protection materials and designs, including thermal expansion, seals, and gaps.
ESA hopes that data gathered by IXV will provide a better understanding of aerothermodynamic reentry phenomena governed by complex real-gas laws that are difficult to predict, reducing design margins required in future vehicles.
During the test flight, IXV will reach a maximum altitude of 450 kilometers (280 miles). On reentry, it will reach a speed of 7.5 km/s (over 16,000 mph) at 120 km (75 mi). At the completion of the mission, the vehicle will descend by parachute and be recovered in the Pacific Ocean after traveling more than halfway around the world.
The next step after IXV could be the Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe (PRIDE) mission. PRIDE would perform a complete end-to-end orbital mission and return to land on a runway.
ESA sees numerous applications for autonomous atmospheric reentry vehicles, including servicing orbital facilities such as the International Space Station, refueling and disposal of unmanned satellites, microgravity experimentation, high-altitude atmospheric research and Earth observation, and sample return from Mars or the asteroids.
ESA is also collaborating with Sierra Nevada to develop hardware and mission concepts for the Dream Chaser orbital spaceplane.
Sierra Nevada is marketing Dream Chaser as a space utility vehicle that could serve as a platform for technology demonstrations, construction and repair missions, and crewed or un-crewed scientific missions.
ESA is currently working with Sierra Nevada to identify applications of European hardware, software, and know-how, as well as studying a possible industrial consortium to use Dream Chaser for European missions. Following this evaluation and planning phase, which will continue throughout 2014, ESA and Sierra Nevada hope to sign a long-term agreement leading to flight operations.
XCOR Aerospace is reporting progress on its path toward commercial space flight. Some of that progress is shown in new photos, which XCOR has publicly released for the first time.
XCOR recently completed integration of the Lynx spacecraft fuselage and cockpit, as shown above. XCOR is currently in the process of bonding the fuselage, cockpit, and wing strakes together. The company is also integrating subassemblies, such as the landing gear, and engine components (shown below).
At the same time, XCOR continues to test the Lynx propulsion system, using a non-flight fuselage for cold flow and hot firing.
“Teams are working in parallel to finish Lynx,” XCOR President Andrew Nelson said. “We are hiring shop staff and engineers to prepare for the final stretch leading up to test flights. I’m proud of what the team has accomplished this year. The excitement in the hangar is palpable.”
“The team at XCOR has been working a long time to reach this goal,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “We always knew there would be a day when we could see a spacecraft forming in our hangar. Today is that day.”
Space Adventures will launch its first circumlunar mission in 2018, according to the Russian news service Interfax. Political factors could disrupt the trip, however.
The mission would use a modified Soyuz capsule, which would rendezvous and dock with a Russian upper stage. The upper stage would then be used to propel the Soyuz onto a circumlunar trajectory, in a manner similar to what was once planned for Lunar Gemini flights.
Before heading to the Moon, the Soyuz crew (Russian cosmonaut pilot and two Space Adventures customers) would spend about 10 days at the International Space Station. This would allow the crew to adapt to the weightless environment, so any problems with space sickness would be past before the circumlunar leg begins.
Space Adventures has been marketing the lunar flight for several years now. Filling the first seat was apparently no problem, but selling the second seat caused some delay. In June 2014, Space Adventures announced that it had sold the second seat and the project was ready to begin. (Seats reportedly sell for $150 million.)
Reaction from Russia has been mixed, however. The Russian space company Energia expressed some enthusiasm for the project. A few weeks later, the Russian Space Agency (RSA or Roscosmos) repudiated the plan.
It’s possible that Space Adventures and Energia could carry out the mission without participation from the Russian Space Agency, but the Russian government has recently been asserting increased control over the Russian space industry. The government currently owns 38% of Energia stock but is seeking majority control. In August, Energia president Vitaly Lopota was suspended from his post. Lapota has been under criminal investigation for abuse of office, a charge that is widely seen as politically motivated.
The Russian government has announced ambitious space plans which include lunar missions, but Russia has the habit of announcing grandiose plans which are never funded. Even if lunar missions do occur, it remains to be seen if Russia has any interest in cooperating with US commercial space companies.
The F-22 Raptor, the air-dominance fighter that has been in development since 1981, just flew its first combat mission.
There are reports that it may fly a second combat mission.
Sadly, that is not a joke. The F-22 procurement process has produced something truly remarkable — the first fighter that’s too expensive to risk in combat. Unfortunately, it will not be the last.
The F-35 Lightning II, which was touted as a low-cost alternative to the F-22, has grown into the most expensive procurement program in history. Designed to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F/A-18 Hornet, the A-6 Intruder, and the A/V-8 Harrier (among others), the sophisticated F-35 is plagued with technical problems and has been called “the worst fighter in history.”
It’s a cliche to say that the military procurement system is suffering from hardening of the arteries. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to any way back. The natural evolution of bureaucratic systems is toward more overhead and less flexibility.
This entrenched bureaucracy will be a challenge for DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane program (XS-1). DARPA is the advanced-research arm of the Defense Department. Its goal is to transfer the technology to customers in the military or private sector. If DARPA transfers the spaceplane technology directly to the Air Force, the final result will almost certainly go the way of the F-22 and F-35. If the Experimental Spaceplane technology is to live up to cost-saving promise, DARPA will need a good commercialization plan.
All indications are that DARPA knows this. The DARPA project managers running XS-1 are among the best in the Federal government. If anyone can solve the problem, they can. Due to its unique mission, DARPA is not subject to many of the rules that constrain other parts of DoD. That is not to say that DARPA has a completely free hand, however. It still operates within the framework of DoD and the Federal government. It may be that this is a problem no one can solve.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Officer of Commercial Space Transportation has granted final approval for Midland International Airport’s launch-site license.
Midland International Airport is the first airport with commercial service to be licensed as a spaceport. From this point on, it will be known as Midland International Air & Space Port.
The license approval clears the way for XCOR Aerospace to begin its move to Midland from its current location in Mojave, California. Midland International Airport has already begun renovating a hangar facility for XCOR Aerospace, which will be ready for initial occupancy by April 2015.
Midland Development Corporation chairman Robert Rendall said, “We see the private space sector becoming a vital part of our future economy. The spaceport is co-located with our commercial airport which will allow Midland to attract additional aerospace companies to the community.”
Director of airports Marv Esterly said, “The proximity of the airport to the spaceport allows us to take advantage of existing infrastructure, lowers cost to operators, and offers us a competitive advantage over operations at remote locations.” The spaceport business model is to start small and expand as needed while leveraging existing facilities to keep costs low. Over the next few years, Midland will work to adapt the current spaceport concept to accommodate other types of launch vehicles and the needs of aerospace companies as they arise.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin have announced an agreement to jointly develop the BE-4, a new American rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180 currently used on ULA’s Atlas rocket.
The agreement calls for a four-year development process with full-scale testing in 2016 and first flight in 2019. The BE-4 will be available for use by both companies on their next-generation launch systems.
After months of public speculation, NASA has finally revealed its selected ISS crew contractors.
Not surprisingly, the big winner in the competition is Boeing. The aerospace giant will receive a contract worth up to $4.2 billion. The total value includes vehicle development, certification, and operational flights to the International Space Station.
SpaceX will receive up to $2.6 billion to meet the same goals. It may seem strange that SpaceX is receiving less money for the same amount of work, but the contract payments are based on each company’s own bid.
NASA hopes that both companies will be able to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017. Meeting that date will depend on adequate funding from Congress, however. In the past, Congress has urged NASA to downselect to a single contractor, and there may be additional pressure on NASA in future budgets.
Before operational flights begin, each company will conduct at least one demonstration flight to ISS with a NASA astronaut onboard. The contracts are said to include six operational flights to the International Space Station (presumably split evenly between the two companies). The actual number of flights flown (and the actual value of the contracts) will depend on the needs of ISS, however.
The apparent loser in the competition is Sierra Nevada, which will receive no funding to continue development of its Dream Chaser lifting body. That development is unsurprising. Sierra Nevada was reduced to half funding in the previous round of CCDev contracts, signaling NASA’s direction.
In the long run, however, Sierra Nevada might turn out to be the winner. Sierra Nevada has been much more aggressive than Boeing or SpaceX in lining up customers outside of NASA. It has signed memoranda with the European Space Agency, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Japanese space agency (JAXA) which could lead to joint development and operations. By contrast, SpaceX reportedly turned down an offer from Dennis Tito to supply a capsule for the Inspiration Mars mission, for fear of alienating NASA, forcing Tito to turn to NASA’s Orion instead. Sierra Nevada is now free to pursue foreign and commercial customers with fear of contract reprisals.
NASA has invited the losing company to continue participating in the Commercial Crew program, without funding, and share its data with NASA. Whether Sierra Nevada takes NASA up on this offer or not remains to be seen. In any case, Sierra Nevada will not be obliged to comply with all of NASA’s certification rules, processes, and procedures, however. SpaceX project manager Garrett Reisman has spoken of “one thousand separate requirements” which NASA has imposed on contractors. Without this red tape, Sierra Nevada will be free to move more quickly, assuming it can find funding. In the end, it may be that Sierra Nevada wins for losing.
The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has released version 1.0 of its Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety.
The recommendations cover the safety of flight crew and spaceflight participants and include the design, manufacturing, and operations of suborbital and orbital launch and reentry vehicles. The recommendations assume that any orbital vehicle will stay in orbit for a maximum of 2 weeks and return to Earth in under 24 hours if necessary. Orbital rendezvous and docking, flights longer than 2 weeks, EVA, and flights beyond Earth orbit may be addressed in future versions.
To develop the recommendations FAA-AST reviewed existing standards, including those of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety. The FAA was guided primarily by NASA requirements for the Commercial Crew Program.
The goal is to ensure that occupant safety is considered throughout the lifecycle of a spaceflight system and that occupants are not exposed to avoidable risks. The document does not aim to establish a single level of risk for commercial human spaceflight. The FAA believes that such a standard might inadvertently limit innovation. Given the variety of commercial spaceflight activities that are likely to take place in the future, with differing destinations, purposes, and architectures, the FAA believes that differing levels of risk acceptance may be appropriate.
The document establishes level of care for occupants, for flight crew performing safety-critical operations, and for emergency situations.
The document does not include any medical criteria that would limit who should fly in space as a spaceflight participant. Medical consultation is recommended to inform spaceflight participants of risks and ensure they will not be a danger to other occupants, but FAA believes spaceflight participants should be free to make their own decisions about individual risk.
The current document focuses on avoiding injuries or fatalities, rather than long-term health effects. For that reason, exposure to ionizing-radiation is not included.
The complete recommendations can be downloaded here.
Northrop Grumman has revealed its conceptual design for DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1), which is being developed in partnership with Virgin Galactic.
Northrop Grumman also revealed that Scaled Composites (a Northrop Grumman subsidiary) will play a key role in the 13-month, $3.9 million phase-one effort.
Scaled Composites of Mojave will lead spaceplane fabrication and assembly, while Virgin Galactic heads the transition to commercial spaceplane operations. (One of DARPA’s goals is to transfer spaceplane technology to a military or commercial operator).
The reusable spaceplane is intended to achieve aircraft-like operations, providing a breakthrough in launch costs. With an expendable upper stage, it will place up to 3,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, enabling new generations of innovative, lower-cost payloads.
A key program goal is to fly ten times in ten days, with minimal infrastructure and ground crew. DARPA believes that reusable aircraft-like operations could reduce military and commercial launch costs by a factor of ten.
Northrop Grumman says the design will be built around operability and affordability. Aircraft-like features include clean-pad launch using a transporter/erector/launcher, minimal infrastructure and ground crew; highly autonomous flight operations; and horizontal landing and recovery on standard runways.