Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser test article

[Updated] Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser test article suffered a mishap on Saturday. Following a successful flight, the left main landing-gear (derived from the Northrop F-5E Tiger II jet fighter) failed to deploy. As a result, the vehicle reportedly flipped on landing. [Update: Sierra Nevada says the vehicle did not flip, but skidded alpng the runway.] Accounts of the landing vary: some are rather dramatic, but Alan Boyle of NBC News quotes a Sierra Nevada engineer saying the pilot would have walked away, if the test article had been manned. The test article is “fully intact,” According to Sierra Nevada Space Systems chairman Mark Sirangelo.

“The pressure vessel was completely pristine, the computers are still working, there was no damage to the crew cabin or flight systems,” Sirangelo told Space News. “I went inside it myself and it was perfectly fine. There was some damage from skidding…. It’s not going to affect our schedule in the long term [but] It might affect whether we do another free flight test this year or next year. We’re still assessing that.”

According to a Sierra Nevada press release, the unmanned vehicle was released from its carrier aircraft, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, at approximately 11:10 AM PST, as planned. Following release, the automated flight-control system steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. The vehicle followed the planned flight trajectory, flared, and touched down on on the centerline of Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L less than a minute later.

Previous statements show the drop was planned to take place at an altitude 12,000 feet, followed by a 30-40 second glide at an angle of 23 degrees.


It should be noted that landing-gear failures are not uncommon in flight test. One of the reasons for test flights is to uncover such anomalies.

Fighter pilots have a saying: “A MiG on your six is better than no MiG at all.” From that perspective, we view the Dream Chaser’s landing-gear mishap as a positive sign. It means that people are flying and testing things.

That is not to say we shouldn’t take steps to reduce the frequency of landing-gear mishaps.

The Dream Chaser is not the first rocket vehicle to suffer a landing-gear failure. The Delta Clipper Experimental, SpaceShip One, and the Armadillo Aerospace Pixel/Texel lunar-landing demonstrator had landing-gear failures as well.

At this point, we get to say, “I told you so.” Several years ago, we suggested that NASA fund a series of modest prizes for the development of robust, light-weight landing-gear concepts for spacecraft applications.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize fund was bare, however, due to Congressional inaction, and the usual suspects were less than helpful. They told us that prizes were politically incorrect, a distraction from Commercial Crew and Cargo, which was deemed more important. In addition, we were told that politicians could not predict who was going to win a prize. As a result, they don’t know who to approach for campaign donations. (They considered this a bug. We view it as a feature.)

Now, one of the Commercisl Crew and Cargo vehicles has suffered a landing-gear failure. Sierra Nevada has not yet determined if the test article will be repaired. The orbital version of Dream Chaser is already under construction, and it is possible that the flight test provided sufficient data for Sierra Nevada to proceed to the next step of the program. In the worst case, however, there could be a domino effect that would affect the entire program. In that case, the result could be the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for US taxpayers, Sierra Nevada stockholders, or both.

By funding prizes for the development of critical systems, NASA would be following in the tradition of its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), which did basic aeronautical and systems research applicable to commercial and military aviation in the 30’s and 40’s. It would also be fulfilling the mandate of its charter, which requires the agency to “seek and promote, to the fullest extent possible, the commercial use of outer space.”

After Saturday, the failure of NASA and Congress to fund technology prizes for systems such as landing gear seems penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Sierra Nevada

USAF F-22 Raptor

“Unmanned space” guys take note: Unmanned air vehicles are now being escorted by manned fighters.

The Aviationist reports:

Earlier this year… an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran…. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis… or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

This is significant to space because UAVs are often cited as proof that human flight crews are becoming obsolete. The military, however, is now realizing that UAVs cannot do every job.

The fact is, many jobs can be more easily accomplished by humans and machines, working together, than by machines alone. This is true in space as well as aviation.

As an interesting side note, the US military once considered having manned spacecraft fly escort for high-value satellites (anti-ASAT missions) during times of crisis.

The DARPA Space Cruiser (also called the High-Performance Spaceplane) was a 1980’s concept for a one-man spacecraft that could be launched by the Space Shuttle or an expendable rocket. Using its own propulsion system or a Centaur upper stage, the Space Cruiser could accomplish a variety of missions in cis-lunar space. Proposed missions included satellite inspection and repair, reconnaissance, space control, and the aforementioned anti-antisatellite missions.

DARPA Space Cruiser

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Military Space, Space Exploration (General), Space History Tags:

SpaceX will begin testing a methane-fueled rocket engine next year, according to Space News.

The Raptor is “is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars,” according to SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin. “The Raptor engine currently in development is the first in what we expect to be a family of engines.”

Methane engines are considered a key technology for Mars exploration and settlement because methane can be produced from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. NASA has done work on small methane engines, for that reason. NASA paid XCOR Aerospace and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) $3 million to develop a 7,500-pound-thrust LOX/methane engine, which could be used in alternative service module for NASA’s Orion capsule. Work on the engine was completed in 2007. (NASA has no plans to use the engine at this time, however.)

XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 rocket engine

The Raptor engine is expected to be much larger than the XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 engine. According to Space News, the Raptor will produce 660,000 pounds of thrust in vacuum (about 30% larger than the Space Shuttle Main Engine).

Raptor testing will be performed at NASA Stennis Space Center in Louisiana, rather than SpaceX’s usual rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX must negotiate a reimbursable Space Act Agreement to rent facilities first, however.

Written by Astro1 on October 26th, 2013 , SpaceX

Swiss Space Systems high-speed intercontinental transport spaceplane

Swiss Space Systems (S3) has announced the establishment of a US subsidiary, S3 USA. The news follows last week’s announcement of a partnership between S3 and Spaceport Colorado, located at Front Range Airport just south of Denver.

S3, which is developing the SOAR spaceplane, currently has 50 employees in Switzerland. The suborbital SOAR spaceplane would be launched from the top of an Airbus A300 airliner at an altitude of 33,000 feet, reaching an apogee of 50 miles. The payload could be a pressurized module for microgravity experiments or an upper stage capable of placing a 550-pound satellite into orbit. A later version of the SOAR spaceplane could carry passengers on long-distance suborbital point-to-point flights.

The air-launch approach is similar to concepts proposed by Len Cormier and the US Air Force in the past.

Spaceport Colorado is a concept that’s been in development since August 2011. Front Range Airport is located just 40 minutes from downtown Denver and 18 minutes from Denver International Airport, currently the 11th busiest airport in the world. According to spaceport officials, “Colorado companies already conduct business with Europe in the morning, Asia in the evening and South America in the same business day. Future suborbital trips will reduce flight times to these destinations to a few hours.”

Front Range Airport started work on the FAA spaceport licensing application process in early 2012. The State of Colorado has supported the venture by passing a limited-liability spaceflight act, which received unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on April 19, 2012.

Spaceport Colorado montage

Written by Astro1 on October 17th, 2013 , Spaceports, Swiss Space Systems

SpaceX Falcon 9 descent

SpaceX released this image which shows the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket descending toward the ocean. According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the stage was intact just before touchdown but did not survive contact with the ocean. SpaceX plans to continue development of its recovery system, which will eventually return to the launch site for landing.

A statement on the SpaceX website says:

Though not a primary mission objective, SpaceX was also able to initiate two engine relights on the first stage. For the first restart burn, we lit three engines to do a supersonic retro propulsion, which we believe may be the first attempt by any rocket stage. The first restart burn was completed well and enabled the stage to survive reentering the atmosphere in a controlled fashion.

Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2013 , SpaceX

Millennium Space Systems has completed a successful high-altitude balloon test of its new microsatellite bus, developed under the company’s DARPA SeeMe contract.

SeeMe, or Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements, is DARPA program intended to provide near-realtime tactical intelligence to the warfighter in the field, using a constellation of small satellites in orbit. Two dozen satellites would deliver one-meter-resolution images to handheld terminals in the field. The satellites would be launched from an aircraft usingma system developed under a parallel program called Airborne Launch Assist Space Access. DARPA hopes to test the first SeeMe constellation in Earth orbit by 2015. The SeeMe program has been targeted for cancellation by the US Senate, however.


The 1.5-hour flight to nearly 30 kilometers altitude over California’s Mojave Desert exercised key satellite subsystems and operational capabilities. The SeeMe prototype carried a telescope and new technology digital camera developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which successfully captured images of the Earth during the mission, simulating the intended orbital capability. Engineers commanded the payload and received the resulting images from a mobile ground terminal, emulating the SeeMe “point and shoot” military theater operations concept.

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Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2013 , Military Space

SpaceX released this video of the Next Generation Falcon 9 demonstration flight.


Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , SpaceX

Russian New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft mockup

Russia is in race with NASA’s Orion project to go back to the future.

The S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia has released photographs that show a mockup of its “New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft,” intended to replace the nearly 50-year-old Soyuz capsule with — wait for it — another capsule!

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Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)


SpaceX’s reusable first-stage teatbed, Grasshopper, reached a record 744 meters (2,441 feet) during a test flight at McGregor, TX on October 7. The latest flight of the Grasshopper will be the last flight, according to The Waco Tribune.

The Tribune quotes a Facebook post by SpaceX: “Next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.”

Written by Astro1 on October 13th, 2013 , SpaceX


The US Army is working to develop a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) that uses liquid body armor that hardens into a bulletproof solid within milliseconds. The suit would provide a soldier with heat, air conditioning, oxygen, would stasis, night vision, enhanced strength, computers, and communications.

The US Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM) believes it can have a first-generation prototype within a year and a more advanced version by 2016.

At the same time, spacesuits are still based on technology which has hardly changed since the 1960’s. Why isn’t NASA working on TALOS-like suits for space? NASA occasionally funds research on advanced spacesuit concepts, but there is no drive for rapid development because, unlike the military, NASA does not have an urgent need. So, research proceeds slowly for a time, until the the grant runs out or the budget gets cut to fund higher priorities tied to near-term missions.

Work on advanced spacesuits might proceed more rapidly under an organization such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The military has little need for spacesuits, however, because of the decades-old unwritten policy that prohibits the military from conducting manned space programs. As a result, spacesuits do not fall within DARPA’s range of interests. And so it goes.


Written by Astro1 on October 10th, 2013 , Innovation

cowboy, horse, and spaceship
The Federal government shutdown could delay the issuing of spaceport license for Midland International Airport, according to this west Texas news report.

The spaceport license was originally expected by the end of this year, but now is not expected until February 2014. The license “remains at the environmental assessment stage” at the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

It’s also reported that Midland Development Corporation has purchased 374 acres of land for $4 million in connection with the spaceport project, which is intended to bring XCOR Aerospace to Midland sometime next year. The exact timing of the move remains up in the air, however. A contractor is currently being selected to renovate hangar and office space for the company, which recently hired five employees in Midland as part of its transition from California to Texas.

XCOR plans to display its full-scale Lynx mockup at the Commemorative Air Force Airsho 2013 in Midland on October 12-13.

Written by Astro1 on October 10th, 2013 , Spaceports, XCOR Aerospace

Matrix Games has just released Command: Modern Naval Air Operations, developed by Warfare Sims. Although billed as a naval and air warfare simulation, Command also includes a space satellite component.

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Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2013 , Military Space

Space Tango, a Kentucky-based business accelerator, is accepting proposals for its startup funding and support program.

In its initial round, Space Tango will accept up to six companies, which do not need to be based in Kentucky at the present time. Each selected company will receive up to $20,000 in funding. Selected companies will also participate in a 12-week onsite program that will provide access to services, advisors, and networks to help start and grow an entrepreneurial space business.

Space Tango is seeking companies with business ideas that involve small satellites and space platforms, the International Space Station, biotechnology, exomedicine, novel materials, energy, education, game design and development, and areas not yet contemplated.

Interested companies can contact Kris Kimel or Rick Johnson at Space Tango.

Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General)

NASA astronaut Frank Borman

USA Today has published a misleading article on what it takes to become an astronaut.

USA Today equates becoming an astronaut with applying to NASA. For anyone planning an astronaut career today, that advice is woefully outdated, like suggesting that anyone who wants to go to America needs to sign up with Columbus. The great majority of astronauts in the next decade will not work for NASA.

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Written by Astro1 on October 7th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

The Arduino development team has announced two new boards, which may be of interest to Lynx Cub payload developers.

Intel Galileo Arduino board

The Intel Galileo is the first Arduino board to use an Intel processor. Galileo is based on a 400-MHz Intel Quark SoC X1000 Application Processor, a 32-bit Pentium-class system on a chip with 16 KByte L1 cache and 512 KBytes of embedded SRAM.

The board runs Linux and features a full-sized mini-PCI Express slot, 100Mb Ethernet port, Micro-SD slot, RS-232 serial port, USB Host port, USB Client port, and 8MByte NOR flash memory. It is pin-compatible with Arduino shields designed for the Uno R3 and operating at either 3.3 or 5V.

The Galileo board is 4.2 inches long by 2.8 inches wide, so it will not quite fit into a 1U Cub payload. It will, however, fit nicely into a 2U Cub payload.

Intel plans to donate 50,000 Galileo boards to 1,000 universities over the next 18 months. The board will be available November 29, 2013.

Arduino TRE board

The Arduino TRE uses the 1-GHz Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 processor from Texas Instruments, which provides up to 100 times the performance of an Arduino Uno or Leonardo.

The Arduino TRE, which was developed in cooperation with the BeagleBoard Foundation, is actually two Arduinos in one: a Sitara-based Linux Arduino and a full AVR-based Arduino which enables the Arduino TRE to use existing Arduino shields. On the Linux side, the TRE can run high-performance desktop applications, processing-intensive algorithms, and high-speed communications. It appears that the TRE will be produced by CircuitCo in Richardson, Texas, which also produces the BeageleBoard and BeagleBone.

The board has an XBee radio socket as well GPIO headers for the ARM processor and Arduino form-factor headers for the AVR processor. Ports include USB (2), micro-USB, Ethernet, HDMI, and Audio In/Out. The board also has XBee radio, GPIO, and Arduino form-factor headers.

The Arduino TRE will be available in spring of 2014.

Pricing for the Arduino TRE and Galileo boards has not been announced.

Written by Astro1 on October 4th, 2013 , Electronics

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two first powered flight test

NBC has announced an exclusive deal with Virgin Galactic and Mark Burnett’s One Three Media to create an unscripted reality series, Space Race.

Space Race is a competition-based series where everyday people compete for a trip into space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two. Space Race will be filmed at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

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Written by Astro1 on October 3rd, 2013 , Virgin Galactic

Soyuz capsule landing

Soyuz TMA-08M suffered a failure during its descent over Kazakhstan on September 11. The capsule’s altitude sensors, which determine timing for retrorocket firing, failed. Fortunately, the rescue crew was able to radio audio cues to the flight crew.

NASA has downplayed the problem, saying “the crew was in no danger.”

“What I can tell you is that the crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz,” Navias said. “They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard.”

Because the astronauts were unable to follow their altitude from readings in the cockpit, recovery crews on the ground kept them updated with information being relayed to them from Russian Mission Control.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias told,
“The crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz. They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard…. the Soyuz performed as it was expected to.”

This is not the first time NASA has downplayed problems with the Soyuz capsule and launcher. NASA seems willing to trust the Russian Space Agency despite multiple problems, while insisting on super-strict Human Rating Standards for US companies such as Boeing and SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on October 1st, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety