Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spacecraft landing at proposed Houston Spaceport a

Sierra Nevada Corporation is investigating the possibility of using the proposed Houston Spaceport (at Ellington Airport, just north of Johnson Space Center) as a landing site for its Dream Chaser lifting-body spacecraft.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on April 10th, 2014 , Sierra Nevada, Spaceports

XCOR Aerospace Lynx Mark I cockpit and other components

XCOR Aerospace has received the Lynx Mark I cockpit from AdamWorks, Inc of Centennial, Colorado.

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason said, “The successful pressure testing of the Lynx cockpit and its delivery is a major milestone for us. This will enable us to accelerate toward integration, ground testing, and first flight over the rest of this year.”

XCOR selected AdamWorks to build the carbon-fiber cockpit in August 2012. AdamWorks also built the main components of of the internal pressure vessel for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s DreamChaser flight-test article, as well as numerous other aerospace projects.

Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2014 , XCOR Aerospace

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRCx45riU8g&w=700]

Before he was recruited by XCOR Aerospace, Brian Binnie gave Forbes magazine adventure columnist Jim Clash this interview about winning the Ansari X-Prize.

Written by Astro1 on April 4th, 2014 , Scaled Composites, XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace senior test pilot Brian Binnie

XCOR Aerospace has hired celebrated aviator and commercial astronaut Commander Brian Binnie (USN-ret.) as senior test pilot. In that position, Binnie will work closely with XCOR Chief Test Pilot and former NASA Space Shuttle commander Col. Rick Seefoss (USAF-ret.)

“Brian and I have been friends and colleagues for many years and I have always wanted to work together in a flying environment,” Searfoss said. “Combining our backgrounds as government and commercial astronauts and our broad experience across a number of rocket powered craft, I feel this builds on XCOR’s strong culture that emphasizes safety and professionalism.”

XCOR Founder and CEO Jeff Greason said, “Brian, [XCOR Aerospace chief engineer] Dan DeLong and I worked together at Rotary Rocket. Brian was a consummate professional and leader there, and we’ve stayed in close contact over the years, so I know he will make a great contribution to our efforts at XCOR and getting the Lynx flying soon.”

“I’m very pleased to be part of the XCOR Team and look forward to working with friends and colleagues on many of the exciting development efforts at XCOR including the family of Lynx vehicles,” Binnie said. “I look forward to seeing the Lynx flying soon and making a contribution to the program.”

Brian Binnie is a decorated aviator who piloted SpaceShip One on the Ansari X-Prize award winning flight, which broke the winged aircraft altitude record previously held by the X-15. Binnie also flew the Roton Rocket Atmospheric Test Vehicle, a unique prototype of a single stage to orbit system from Rotary Rocket. Binnie has over 5300 hours of flight time in 85 different aircraft types and 29 years experience as a test pilot. As a naval aviator, he flew the A-7 Corsair II, the A-6 Intruder, the F/A-18 Hornet and the AV-8B Harrier. Binnie is a 1988 Graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School. He received his Bachelors in Aerospace Engineering and Masters in Thermodynamics from Brown University and a second Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Princeton University.

Written by Astro1 on April 3rd, 2014 , XCOR Aerospace

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMwzdYN2v2U&w=700]

Rumors have been floating around for the past few weeks about a possible Google plan to launch a very large satellite constellation (1600 satellites) to provide global Internet connectivity. Now it looks like Facebook has similar plans.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 30th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General)

Twenty-five years ago today, the first commercially licensed rocket was launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 30th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General), Space History

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlR4FErqRf8&w=700]

SpaceX recently test-fired the first stage of Falcon 9R rocket, in preparation for its upcoming first test flight. SpaceX says reusability is “the key to making human life multi-planetary.” The reusable Falcon 9R first stage is their first step toward that goal.

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2014 , SpaceX

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o55exEG2z2o&w=700]

Boeing recently demonstrated a pilot-in-the-loop simulation of its new CST-100 space capsule.

Captain Chris Ferguson (USN-ret.), who commanded the last-ever Space Shuttle flight,flew the simulation, which included on-orbit attitude and translation maneuvers, docking and backing away from a virtual International Space Station, and a manual re-entry to Earth. Ferguson is now director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s CST-100 program.

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2014 , Boeing

Skybox Imaging produced this behind-the-scenes video of their first satellite launch.

[vimeo 90332322 w=700]

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2014 , Skybox Imaging

Radar-tracking  antenna at Cape Canaveral

A fire at a radar tracking station has delayed launches from the Eastern Test Range at Cape Canveral until mid-April, at the earliest, Space Florida reports.

This incident underscores a point which the late space visionary G. Harry Stine hammered home more than 20 years ago: a successful commercial launch vehicle must not be dependent on conventional range systems. Government ranges and launch sites are too fragile and too expensive for frequent, cheap access to space.

That point was duly noted by engineers who built the Delta Clipper Experimental (better known as DC-X) in the 1990’s. Delta Clipper proponents envisioned an operational system that would support thousands of launches per year, not the paltry dozen or so provided by expendable rockets. Achieving that goal would require drastic reductions in the size of the “standing army,” to achieve the desired economies, and ground facilities that operated more like commercial airports than guided-missile ranges.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 27th, 2014 , Spaceports

XCOR Lynx spacecraft ground operations

The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation is requesting public comments on a draft environmental assessment for the Midland International Air and Space Port, the planned future home of XCOR Aerospace.

To operate a commercial spaceport, the City of Midland must obtain a launch-site operator license from the FAA. The environmental assessment is a license requirement.

The proposed launch-site license would allow the City of Midland to modify the existing airport boundary, install above-ground propellant storage tanks, and construct a concrete pad for engine testing.

According to the proposal, XCOR Lynx launch operations would begin in 2014 and continue through 2018. The frequency of launch operations would be one launch per week initially, increasing to two launches per day, five days a week. Fifty-two annual launch operations are proposed in 2014, increasing to 520 in 2018.

The draft environmental assessment analyzes possible effects on air quality, land use, plants, fish and wildlife; floodplains; hazardous materials, pollution prevention, solid waste; historical, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources; natural resources and energy supply; noise; socioeconomic impacts, environmental justice, and children’s environmental health and safety risks; water quality; and wetlands.

A copy of the draft environmental assessment is available on the FAA Web site.

The FAA will hold a public meeting to discuss the draft assessment on 8 April 2014 from 5:30 to 8:30 PM at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. The meeting will take place in the Foyer Room at the Center for Energy and Economic Diversification. The public may also submit written comments by 21 April, 2014.

Written by Astro1 on March 24th, 2014 , Spaceports, XCOR Aerospace

Back to the Moon is a new planetarium show about the Google Lunar X-Prize. The show has been booked into more than 150 planetariums worldwide. A complete list of venues can be found here.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/pOLRWMOf4jQ&w=700]

Written by Astro1 on March 17th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General), Education, Museums

[vimeo 88602839 w=700]

Planet Labs has announced confirmed launches for more than 100 nanosatellites over the next 12 months. These launches follow the launch of 28 satellites, called Flock 1, in January.

The new flock, the largest satellite constellation in history, will launch on US and Russian rockets, according to a Planet Labs press release.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 17th, 2014 , Planet Labs

Swiss Space Systems has announced plans to offer microgravity aircraft flights in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Japan, Ecuador, North Africa, and the Middle East, beginning in 2015.

Flights will make use of a modified Airbus aircraft. Customers will experience 15 parabolas, each providing between 20 and 25 seconds of weightlessness, during a 90-minute flight. Prices start at 2000 Euros (currently about $2800), with higher-price packages that include extras like a custom Breitling wristwatch.

The announced 2015 flight dates for North America are: Sept. 5-6 (Canada), Sept. 12-13 (Canada), Sept. 19-20, 2015 (Colorado), Sept. 26-27 (California), Oct. 3-4 (California), Oct. 10-26 (Florida), and Nov. 7-29 (Puerto Rico). Dates for other locations are available on the S3 ZeroG website.

Florida flights will operate from the former Space Shuttle runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Swiss Space Systems has formed a new US subsidiary, S3 USA Operations (Florida) Inc. The company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Space Florida and leased offices at Space Florida’s Space Life Sciences Laboratory. S3 will also evaluate the Shuttle Landing Facility as a possible site for satellite launches beginning in 2018, using the proposed SOAR spaceplane.

Robert Feierbach, head of S3 USA, said, “S3 [will] offer research institutes and universities, partners or clients the possibility to conduct extremely precise and demanding missions in various microgravity environments. We will also let the public live this one-of-a-kind experience through our online ticketing system for our flight campaigns around the world.”

In the near term, S3 will compete directly with Zero G Corporation, which currently offers microgravity aircraft flights from Kennedy Space Center, Houston, Las Vegas, and other locations in the US. Zero G Corporation has a published fare of $4950 plus tax, although research flights are higher. Zero G corporation uses a Boeing 727 aircraft.

Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2014 , Swiss Space Systems

Asteroid Gaspra

NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter contest series will offer $35,000 in awards to citizen scientists who develop improved algorithms that can be used to identify asteroids.

This six-month contest series will conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. The first contest in the series will kick off on March 17. Prior to the kickoff, competitors can create an account on the contest series website and learn more about the rules and different phases of the contest series by going to this website.

Managed by the NASA Tournament Lab, the contest series runs through August. It is the first contest series contributing to the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 10th, 2014 , Astronomy, Planetary Resources

Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in 1997

Virgin Galactic has purchased 11 hangars at the former Roosevelt Roads naval station in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, according to Caribbean Business.

The Caribbean Business article is short on details. Caribbean Business quotes anonymous sources and states that Virgin Galactic has not provided any details. The article states that Virgin Galactic “plans to develop a launch pad for commercial spacecraft and satellites in Ceiba,” which is almost certainly wrong since there is no evidence that Virgin is developing a vertical ground-launch system.

[Update 1 (March 9): A report by the press agency EFE quotes Alberto Baco Bagu, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Economic Development and Trade, saying that no deal has been reached with Virgin Galactic.]

[Update 2 (March 10): Virgin Galactic says there is “no truth” to reports that it has purchased or leased land/hangars in Puerto Rico.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 9th, 2014 , Spaceports, Virgin Galactic

"Red Dragon" Mars Sample-Return Mission Architecture

NASA could launch a Mars sample-return mission in 2022 without breaking the bank, according to an internal study conducted at NASA Ames Research Center. The mission would use a slightly modified version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, called Red Dragon.

Red Dragon could land two tons (twice the weight of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity) on the Martian surface. The payload would include a new Mars Ascent Vehicle, Earth Return Vehicle, and equipment to drill two meters into the Martian surface.

The NASA Ames study team presented a paper at the IEEE Aerospace Conference, which took place this week in Montana. Leonard David has details on Space.com.

Written by Astro1 on March 8th, 2014 , Planetary science, SpaceX

A new promotional video for Spaceport Sweden, a proposed suborbital launch site 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fES_mAbdzro&w=700]

Written by Astro1 on February 14th, 2014 , Spaceports

Skybox Imaging has released the world’s first high-resolution, high-definition videos of Earth taken by a commercial remote sensing satellite. Taken by SkySat-1, the first a planned constellation of 24 satellites, the video clips (have not yet been calibrated or tuned) show high-resolution views of Tokyo, Bangkok, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Aleppo, Syria.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCrB1t8MncY&w=700]

SkySat-1 can capture video clips up to 90 seconds long at 30 frames per second. The resolution is high enough to view objects like shipping containers that affect the global economy. (In these clips, you can make out automobiles moving along the highways.)

SkySat-1 is capable of sub-meter native color and near-infrared imagery. Other unique capabilities based on Skybox’s proprietary technologies will be announced in the near future. But the most revolutionary aspect is the cost, according to Skybox CEO Tom Ingersoll.

“SkySat-1 was built and launched for more than an order of magnitude less cost than traditional sub-meter imaging satellites,” Ingersoll said. “This extremely high performance satellite is made possible by proprietary technologies developed by Skybox, including the integrated satellite and imaging systems designs, which enable Skybox to launch a constellation of satellites that can provide imagery timeliness, quality and dependability that was never before possible.”

Skybox foresees numerous business applications for satellite imagery dynamic satellite video, including supply-chain and industrial-plant monitoring, maritime awareness, and environmental/humanitarian relief.

Skybox has raised $91 million from venture-capital firms Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners. It is preparing to launch SkySat-2 in early 2014.

Written by Astro1 on December 27th, 2013 , Nanosatellites, Skybox Imaging

NASA’s Morpheus B lunar lander, derived from the Armadillo Aerospace Pixel/Texel lander, completed its first free flight at Kennedy Space Center, Florida today.

[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlbTx4fo5Tw&w=700]

Written by Astro1 on December 10th, 2013 , Armadillo Aerospace

Maybe it was related to the first succcessful free flight of NASA’s Morpheus lander or the launch of China’s Chang’e 3 lunar probe. For whatever reason, there seems to be a pre-Christmas rush on planetary press conferences and announcements. In the last six days, three separate projects have revealed details of their plans for robotic missions to the Moon and Mars.

Moon Express

Last Thursday, Moon Express unveiled its MX-1 lunar-lander design in front of 10,000 people at the closing session of Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander

Moon Express, which is competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, said the lander will use hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellents. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used, by itself, as a monopropellent. Moon Express noted that hydrogen peroxide can be manufactured from water that is available on the Moon, which it believes “would be a game changer in the economics of lunar resources and solar system exploration.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 10th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation, Lunar Science, Robotics

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A SpaceX launch site near Brownsville in South Texas is looking more likely, according to news reports.

Spaceflight Now quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk saying, “I think Texas is looking increasingly likely,” although the final go-ahead is still dependent on environmental and regulatory approval.

According to Spaceflight Now, SpaceX believes it has enough business to justify four launch pads: two in Florida, and one each in Texas and California.

The Texas launch site would be dedicated to commercial launches, while NASA missions would continue to be launched out of Florida. SpaceX currently uses pad at Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and is also bidding on Pad 39A, the former Apollo/Shuttle launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

California is the site for polar launches (including military missions) from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

SpaceX has nearly 50 missions scheduled over the five-year lease period it is seeking at Pad 39A. SpaceX believes this is sufficient to justify developing and maintaining four launch pads. This demand is based on both the Falcon 9 and proposed Falcon Heavy.

An interesting question is now the reusable Falcon 9R, now in development, would affect these pad requirements. The answer to that question is unknown to us and, we suspect, probably unknown to SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on November 16th, 2013 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags:

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUtwO156POAv4Hnso14OwyMA&w=700]

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

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