F-22 Raptor during aerial refueling

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.

Northrop Grumman Experimental Spaceplane concept

Written by Astro1 on September 23rd, 2014 , Military Space

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

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.

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2014 , Spaceports, XCOR Aerospace

BE-4

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.

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Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2014 , Blue Origin

US Air Force Academy FalconSAT-7 space telescope CubeSat tested aboard microgravity aircraft "G Force One"

The market for microgravity aircraft flights appears to be in flux, with one company grounded, at least temporarily, while another prepares to enter the field.

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Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2014 , Space Adventures, Swiss Space Systems

Launch America

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.

Written by Astro1 on September 16th, 2014 , Boeing, SpaceX

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.

Written by Astro1 on September 16th, 2014 , Citizen Exploration, Space Medicine and Safety
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