Northrop Grumman Experimental Spaceplane concept

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.

Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2014 , Military Space, Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

The wait is almost over for XCOR and Midland, Texas. This week, renovation work officially began on the building which will become the new XCOR headquarters at Midland International Airport. The work opens the way for the beginning of commercial human spaceflight in Texas.

Work on the XCOR headquarters building began with a ceremonial wall-breaking on Friday. The building is expected to be ready for initial occupancy by April, although some renovation work will continue until next summer.

Midland International Airport expects to receive a spaceport license from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation by September 15. Recently, it appeared that the license might be in jeopardy due to environmental concerns surrounding the lesser prairie chicken, which was recently added to the Threatened Species list. Those concerns have been resolved by an agreement between Midland Airport and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which will monitor the local prairie-chicken population during the first few flights of the Lynx spacecraft.

XCOR hopes to begin test flights of the Lynx spacecraft this winter. If everything remains on schedule, Lynx Mark I flight tests will likely begin at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, then finish up in Texas.

The renovation work officially began with a wall-breaking ceremony on Friday. A number of XCOR and Midland officials participated in the ceremony, including Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace; Midland Mayor Jerry Morales; Robert Rendall, chairman of the Midland Development Corporation; Pam Welch, executive director of the Midland Development Corporation; and John Love III, chairman of the Midland Spaceport Development Board. Also present was Chuck Sturgeon of the N.C. Sturgeon construction firm, which is performing the renovation work.

The renovated building will provide enough hangar space to house a wide-bodied jetliner, which will someday serve as the first stage for XCOR’s three-stage orbital launch system, the Lynx Mark V. The need for a large hangar to house the Lynx Mark V was one factor which motivated XCOR’s decision to move to Midland.

Future Lynx spacecraft will be developed in Texas, but XCOR plans to build an assembly facility for production vehicles in Florida. XCOR wants to separate production work from research and development for efficiency reasons.

Once XCOR completes its move to Texas, Midland will be the site for future Lynx test flights. According to this week’s press release, XCOR also plans to conduct commercial Lynx flights from Midland (a fact not previously revealed). XCOR plans to conduct commercial flights from other locations as well, including Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Mojave Air and Space Port in California. XCOR also markets Lynx vehicles to commercial customers on a wet-lease basis.

Written by Astro1 on August 16th, 2014 , XCOR Aerospace

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the firm plans to build “the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions” in South Texas.

The launch site, which could be operational as soon as 2015, will eventually support up to two Falcon 9 Heavy and 10 Falcon 9 launches per year.

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that the state will offer $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund as well as $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to bring the launch facility to Cameron County.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades,” Governor Perry said. “It is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight. In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez called the announcement “A historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas… the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”

Written by Astro1 on August 4th, 2014 , SpaceX

Earth's atmosphere as seen from space

The High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge will be featured at the 2014 meeting of the 100 Year Starship Symposium, which takes place in Houston on 18-21 September 2014.

“Searching for Extraterrestrial Life at the Edge of Space” is one of two featured papers that will be presented during the Life Sciences in Space Exploration Track chaired by NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle. The paper will be presented by Edward Wright, founder of the United States Rocket Academy and project manager for Citizens in Space.

The High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge seeks to develop a reliable means of collecting microorganisms from the extreme upper atmosphere (altitudes of 100,000 feet and above). Such organisms have been collected by high-altitude balloons, but balloons lack the reliability and controllability of reusable suborbital spacecraft now under development.

The other featured paper will be “When Biology Meets Exobiology,” by David Almandsmith and Dr. Carmen Nevarez of Khotso Consulting.

Symposium registration is now open.

Written by Astro1 on August 2nd, 2014 , Astrobiology, Citizens in Space

James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge 3D documentary opens in theaters on Friday, 8 August.

The documentary tells the story of Cameron’s voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth.

One little-known fact about Cameron’s Deep Challenge project is that two filmmakers died in a helicopter accident during the production — another indicator of the hazards of working at sea. This is comparable to the three astronauts who died during the Apollo program.

Rumor says that James Cameron is one of two citizen explorers who have agreed to pay Space Adventures $150 million apiece for a circumlunar flight on a Russian Soyuz, becoming the first humans to visit the Moon since Apollo 17.

Space Adventures lunar expedition vehicle fires engines on its way to the Moon

Written by Astro1 on August 2nd, 2014 , Citizen Exploration, Oceanography

The US Air Force Operationally Responsive Space Office plans to demonstrate a low-cost smallsat capable of providing space-situational-awareness coverage for Geosynchronous Earth Orbit.

The Lincoln Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology will design and build the SensorSat satellite, which is expected to launch in 2017. SensorSat will be placed into a low Earth orbit from which it will continuously scan the GEO belt.

SensorSat will help reduce risks for cutting-edge technologies expected to make their way into the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) follow-on satellites, which will start development in 2016.

Written by Astro1 on August 1st, 2014 , Military Space

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser composite structure

The first structural component of Sierra Nevada’s lifting-body spaceplane, Dream Chaser, was revealed to the press today.

At a joint press conference, Sierra Nevada and Lockheed Martin unveiled the first component of Dream Chaser’s composite airframe. Unlike the previous flight-test article, which Sierra Nevada built for atmospheric approach and landing tests, this airframe will actually go into space. The first orbital test flight is currently scheduled for November 2016 on top of an Atlas V rocket.

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Written by Astro1 on August 1st, 2014 , Sierra Nevada