Austin-based Firefly Space Systems apparently intends to follow the SpaceX path of evolving its expendable launcher into a reusable system. According to this promotional video, “In the future, additional cost savings will be gained as Firefly’s launchers have been designed with reusability in mind.”

[vimeo 99888247 w=700]

Written by Astro1 on July 7th, 2014 , Firefly Space Systems Tags:

Firefly small commercial launch vehicle

FireFly Space Systems, a startup space-launch company based in Austin, Texas, has officially announced its first product — a small-satellite launcher called FireFly Alpha, designed to place 400 kilograms (880 pounds) into Low Earth Orbit.

Firefly Space Systems, which also maintains a facility in Hawthorne, California, was founded by veterans of the emerging commercial space industry. CEO Thomas Markusic formerly served as vice-president of propulsion at Virgin Galactic, senior Systems engineer at Blue Origin, and principle propulsion engineer and test-site director at SpaceX.

Firefly Space Systems, which completed a seed-funding round in January, seeks to “lower the prohibitively high costs of small satellite launches to Low Earth and Sun Synchronous Orbits with the goal of revolutionizing broadband data delivery and earth observation missions.” Firefly will offer small-satellite customers dedicated launches for $8-9 million, according to Markusic.

Firefly Alpha will be a two-stage, single-core rocket. (The artist’s concept shown above is presumably a follow-on version, with two strap-on boosters). In time, Firefly Space Systems intends to evolve its launchers into reusable systems. (See Firefly Space Systems To Pursue Reusable Launcher.)

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Written by Astro1 on July 5th, 2014 , Firefly Space Systems Tags:

New “Admirals” to Play Key Role in Future Texas Space Program

(Austin, TX) Two citizen-astronaut candidates have been honored by the state of Texas. Edward Wright and Maureen Adams are among the latest Texans to be awarded commissions as Admirals in the Texas Navy by Governor Rick Perry.

Admirals Wright and Adams are two of the five astronaut candidates currently being trained by Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, to fly on the Lynx spacecraft. Citizens in Space has acquired a contract for 10 flights on the Lynx, currently under construction by XCOR Aerospace. Each flight will carry up to 10 experiments, with a citizen astronaut acting as experiment operator.

The Lynx is a reusable, suborbital spacecraft designed to fly four times a day. In 2012, Governor Perry announced that XCOR Aerospace would move its flight-test center to Midland, Texas. The move is expected to occur later this year. XCOR could conduct as many as 520 spaceflights each year from Midland, according to the city’s FAA launch-site license application.

The Texas Navy was reactivated as an honorary organization by the Governor of Texas in 1958. The flagship of the Texas Navy, the retired battleship USS Texas, does not sail but is on static display at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas.

Texas Navy Admirals are selected by the Governor’s office and commissioned “with the duty of assisting in the preservation of the history, boundaries, water resources, and defense of the state.”

“That is a duty we take seriously,” Admiral Wright said. “Water resources are of great concern to us in Texas, with a large part of the state locked in severe drought for the past few years. Some of the experiments we are planning are directly related to the water cycle. For example, researchers have discovered that precipitation is affected by microorganisms in the atmosphere. The Lynx may provide a useful way of sampling those organisms.”

Awarding honorary rank or titles to explorers is not a new idea, Admiral Adams said. “There is a historic tradition, dating back to the age of sea and air exploration. Columbus was honored with with title of ‘Admiral of the Ocean Sea.’ In the 20th Century, aviation pioneer Roscoe Turner was appointed as a lieutenant colonel by the Governor of Nevada, then elevated to colonel by the Governor of California. Britain awards knighthoods.”

Edward Wright is the founder of the United States Rocket Academy and program manager for Citizens in Space. He resides in Plano, Texas. Maureen Adams is a science teacher and school principal in Killeen, Texas.

Also among the Admirals commissioned by Governor Perry was Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace.


Written by Astro1 on April 30th, 2014 , Citizens in Space Tags:


Just ahead of the SpaceX 3 mission to the International Space Station, SpaceX conducted a test flight of the Falcon 9 Reusable first stage at its test facility in McGregor, Texas. On April 17, The Falcon 9R reached altitude of 250 meters, hovered, then landed.

Falcon 9R replaces the earlier Grasshopper test vehicle, which had only a single engine. SpaceX says the new vehicle is essentially a complete Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs, although some sources claim it has only three engines rather the full nine. During the first test, the legs were fixed, but they will be retracted during future tests. The rocket will move to New Mexico for higher-altitude flights at a more remote site.

Written by Astro1 on April 18th, 2014 , SpaceX Tags:

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:

NASA starship concept

The 2013 meeting of the 100 Year Starship Symposium, run by the DARPA-funded 100-Year Starship Initiative, is taking place on September 19-22 in Houston, TX. The call for papers has now passed, with abstracts due on May 31.

Meanwhile, Icarus Interstellar has announced its own Starship Congress, which is taking place at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on August 12-18. A call for papers is now open with abstracts due on July 15. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 30th, 2013 , Events Tags:

Raytheon will relocate its Space and Airborne Systems headquarters, one of the company’s four business units, from El Segundo, California to McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas.

The move is part of a continuing migration of aerospace companies (along with other industries) from California to Texas. In July 2012, XCOR Aerospace announced that it is moving its headquarters from Mojave, California to Midland, Texas — a move that is expected to occur later this year.

Raytheon already has 8,000 employees in North Texas. The move will add an additional 170 jobs.

Written by Astro1 on May 21st, 2013 , Commercial Space (General) Tags:

The Houston Airport System is officially moving ahead with plans to turn Ellington Airport, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, into an FAA-licensed commercial spaceport, according to statements by airport system director Mario Diaz as reported by the Houston Chronicle and ABC Channel 13.

Diaz made his remarks during a State of the Airports address before the Greater Houston Partnership.

“Space… just happens to be our next destination,” Diaz said. The Houston Airport System has completed a feasibility study that estimates it would cost $48-122 million to turn Ellington into a spaceport for suborbital spacecraft. An FAA license could be obtained in as little as 15-18 months, Diaz believes.

In the longer term, Diaz envisions spacecraft “skimming along the top of the world, connecting Houston with places as far and remote as Singapore in under three hours.”

The Ellington Spaceport would be “a cluster of aviation and aerospace companies can flourish and where Houston can again step forward to lead the nation in the transition from a federal to a commercial space program.” Diaz suggested that Ellington Spaceport might be a site for spacecraft manufacturing as well as operations.

Virgin Galactic was mentioned as a possible customer for the spaceport. XCOR Aerospace, which was not mentioned, plans to move its research-and-development headquarters and corporate to Midland, Texas later this year. Although XCOR plans to conduct R&D flights out of Midland, it does not have current plans for commercial service out of that facility. Basing on XCOR Lynx at Ellington field would provide scientists and citizen space explorers with good views of the Gulf of Mexico.

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Written by Astro1 on March 7th, 2013 , Spaceports Tags:

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

Several pieces of legislation affecting commercial spaceflight are on the docket of the Texas legislature this session.

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Written by Astro1 on March 6th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management Tags:
Michael Johnson (left), Edward Wright (right)

Michael Johnson (left), Edward Wright (right)

Two from Texas will fly as payload operators on XCOR Lynx spaceplane

(Space Center Houston) – Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, announced two astronaut candidates at the Space Exploration Educators Conference, which took place here today.

Citizen-astronaut candidate Maureen Adams, who has been in training for three years, announced the new additions.

“As a citizen of Texas, I take special pride in making this announcement,” Adams said. “Today we are expanding our astronaut corps to four, as Michael Johnson and Edward Wright, both from Texas, join our training program.”

Michael Johnson is a founding member and executive director of the North American Aerotech Academy, a non-profit organization that provides aviation-based STEM education to schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area including four-year aviation academies at Irving High School and DeSoto High School. Johnson is a single- and multi-engine commercial pilot, instrument ground instructor, and type-rated captain on the Cessna Citation jet aircraft.

Johnson also provides STEM-based afterschool programs and summer camps, most recently teaching the Hot Roc STEM camp at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas that included a on-site mission-control room and the construction and launch of over 300 rockets. He is currently pursuing an Executive MBA degree at the University of Texas at Dallas and serves in the Texas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol as a Aerospace Officer with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Edward Wright is the chairman of the United States Rocket Academy and project manager for Citizens in Space. He brings almost 30 years of experience in the computer, aviation, and space industries. In the past, he developed the first Space Enterprise Symposium and founded X-Rocket, LLC.

“This is an important step in the development of our program,” said Lt. Col. Steve Heck (USAF-ret.), training director for Citizens in Space and another citizen-astronaut candidate. “Citizens in Space has purchased 10 flights on the XCOR Lynx spaceplane, which is expected to enter operational service in 2014. We will be flying over 100 citizen-science experiments and training 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators.

“The individuals named today provide the right mix of skills to help us develop our training program, which will ensure that our current and future astronauts are able to fly safely and perform effectively as payload operators.

As a veteran military aviator and future astronaut, I am well aware of the risks involved in this sort of undertaking and the tragedies that can occur when things go wrong. The United States Rocket Academy is dedicated to providing the highest standard of training to minimize those risks.”

“Spaceflight is an inherently risky activity,” Wright said. “Safety is an ethical matter. I have seen too many friends die in aircraft accidents. I did not feel that I could ask people to participate in this program and accept the risks unless I was willing to do so myself.”

“Citizen astronauts will fly as payload operators, not just space tourists,” Johnson said. “This means that a higher standard of training is necessary.”

Adams, Heck, Johnson, and Wright are pathfinders for a larger training program. The “first four” will participate in training activities at several locations this summer. Training will expand next year as Citizens in Space seeks to fill out all ten astronaut slots.

Written by Astro1 on February 8th, 2013 , Citizens in Space Tags:

Texas Governor Rick Perry devoted almost a full minute to commercial spaceflight during his State of the State Address.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and XCOR Aerospace are helping to make Texas the Space State.


Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Blue Origin, Commercial Space (General), SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace Tags:

SpaceX’s reusable first-stage test vehicle (Grasshopper) completed a 29-second, 12-story test hop on December 17, 2012 at the company’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.


Grasshopper rose 131 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad using closed-loop thrust-vector and throttle control. The test marks a significant increase over previous hops which took place earlier this fall. Grasshopper flew to 6 feet in September and 17.7 feet in November.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

Written by Astro1 on December 26th, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

SpaceX performed another brief flight test of its reusable first-stage demonstrator, dubbed Grasshopper. According to SpaceX, the flight was the first test using closed-loop thrust vectoring and throttle control. The flight was scheduled for October 29, according to the FAA license, but there has been no confirmation of the date.

SpaceX provided a video, which Clark Lindsey of NewSpace Watch has reposted on YouTube.


It’s strange that this video was released but is not yet available on SpaceX’s own YouTube channel or on the SpaceX website. It’s hard to predict where and when SpaceX videos will appear. Some SpaceX fans got upset recently when Ariel Waldman criticized the SpaceX website, but truthfully, their public communications does seem to be a bit hit and miss. SpaceX fans should realize that it’s okay to like someone and still offer, or accept, constructive criticism. There’s a difference between being a fan and being a fanboy.

Written by Astro1 on November 4th, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

There’s no question that California is the leader in the Maker movement, but there are signs that Texas is moving to catch up.

The membership-based TechShop opened its first Texas location this month, in the Austin-Rock Rock area. The new TechShop is located conveniently next door to a Lowe’s superstore and even shares a common door, making it super-easy for makers to go for building suppliers. No additional Texas TechShop locations have been announced, but multiple sources tell us a Houston TechShop may be in the works.

TechShop Austin-Rock Rock location

Houston hackerspace TX/RX Labs is moving into a new home. An open house scheduled for last week was canceled because the plumbing wasn’t quite ready.

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Written by Astro1 on October 29th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General) Tags:

Blue Origin successfully tested its launch escape system on October 19. Blue Origin founder (and CEO) Jeff Bezos posted a terse message on the Blue Origin website today: “The Blue Origin team worked hard and smart to pull off this first test of our suborbital Crew Capsule escape system. Please enjoy the photos and video. Gradatim Ferociter!”


The crew capsule was lofted to 2,307 feet by an Aerojet solid-rocket motor, then returned to Earth under three parachutes and touched down 1,630 feet from the launch pad. Blue Origin plans to use parachutes for routine landings as well as pad escape. The New Shepherd suborbital vehicle is divided into a crew capsule and a propulsion module, separated by an interstage section. The propulsion module will return to the launch pad for powered landing, but the crew capsule will separate and return to Earth by parachute.

“The use of a pusher configuration marks a significant departure from the traditional towed-tractor escape tower concepts of Mercury and Apollo,” said Blue Origin president and program manager Rob Meyerson. “Providing crew escape without the need to jettison the unused escape system gets us closer to our goal of safe and affordable human spaceflight.” Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Boeing, and Sierra Nevada planning to use pusher escape systems for their orbital crew capsules and spaceplane. Only NASA’s Orion capsule is sticking with the tried-and-true but inefficient tractor system.

This is one of the last tests to be conducted under Blue Origin’s Space Act Agreement with NASA. Blue Origin did not apply for continued funding under the final phase of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. Blue Origin will pursue continued development with its own funding from here on.

“The progress Blue Origin has made on its suborbital and orbital capabilities really is encouraging for the overall future of human spaceflight,” said NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Ed Mango. “It was awesome to see a spacecraft NASA played a role in developing take flight.”

Also see Design Changes for New Shepard.

Blue Origin Escape Test Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 22nd, 2012 , Blue Origin Tags:

The Grasshopper test vehicle made its first brief test hop today at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas.


The suborbital Grasshopper is intended to prove techniques that could lead to a recoverable first stage for the Falcon launch vehicle, as shown in the following animation.


Written by Astro1 on September 22nd, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

Astronauts have lived and trained in Texas for 50 years, but no astronaut has ever flown into space from Texas. That will change in the next few years when XCOR Aerospace begins flights from a new spaceport in Midland, Texas.

Maureen Adams, a teacher and principal at West Ward Elementary School in Killeen, hopes to be among the first Lone Star astronauts.

Citizen Astronaut candidate Maureen Adams

Adams is an astronaut candidate who is part of Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy which has purchased 10 flights on the Lynx suborbital spacecraft (currently being developed in Mojave, California by XCOR Aerospace). Citizens in Space has already chosen its first four astronaut candidates, three of whom are from Texas: Maureen Adams and two others to be named later this year.

“It’s too soon to say where the flights will launch from,” Adams said. “It could be Mojave, Midland, Florida, or even Curacao. I’m hoping for Texas.”

XCOR expects Lynx test flights to begin early next year and continue for about a year before commercial operations begin. Citizens in Space will fly soon after that. “We’re expecting that our first flights will be in early 2014,” Adams.

Adams has already proven she has the right stuff in a training program that includes high-g and zero-g aircraft flights, unpowered landings, and flight simulators. She was chosen as a citizen astronaut candidate in July 2009. At that time, the program was known as Teachers in Space. In 2011, Teachers in Space became Citizens in Space.

“We’ve broadened our focus to be more inclusive,” Adams said. “Our program will include informal educators, university students, and hobbyists, as well as teachers.

“We also have a new emphasis on citizen science. One of the complaints about Teachers in Space was that people didn’t know what the teachers would be doing during their flights.

“This isn’t just a joyride. Each of our flights will carry 10 to 12 citizen-science experiments. We’ll be operating experiments, working with researchers, and gathering new knowledge in areas of space science that have not been full explored.”

Adams emphasized the difference between citizen science and textbook experiments commonly performed in school classrooms. “These will be true experiments, not mere demonstrations of known principles. Citizen science is asking questions where the answers are not known.”

One of the experiments Adams may operate is a High Altitude Astrobiology investigation designed to capture microorganisms living at the edge of space. “Biologists have discovered there are living organisms at altitudes up to 100,000 feet or more, but we don’t have a good way to collect those organisms at present. Developing such a system is important for global epidemiology, bioprospecting, and other disciplines. That’s the sort of cutting-edge research we’ll be involved in.”

Other experiments may involve fluid physics, materials science, remote sensing, and astronomy.

“Students need to see teachers doing real scientific research,” Adams said, “And teachers need experience with real research so they can accurately teach the process to students.”

Written by Astro1 on September 12th, 2012 , Citizens in Space Tags:

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reports that Midland International Airport is making progress on the FAA spaceport licensing process, in preparation for XCOR Aerospace’s upcoming move to Texas.

According to the Reporter-Telegram, the Midland City Council has amended a contract with engineering consulting firm Parkhill, Smith, and Cooper to cover work on the launch-site license application including an environmental assessment, a baseline noise study, and a sonic-boom analysis.

The article states, “The contract was amended for costs of up to $628,502.”

$628,000 is not a huge sum of money in the context of establishing a new spaceport, but it’s not trivial, either. None of this money goes to build the spaceport, it’s merely paperwork – and that sum doesn’t even include the additional money the Federal government must spend to process and evaluate the paperwork

Launch-site licensing  for reusable vehicles is a relatively new area for the FAA, despite previous successful launch-site applications beginning with Mojave Air and Space Port. Midland is also breaking new ground by being the first to establish a spaceport at commercial airport with scheduled passenger airline service.

Licensing expenses of this magnitude are tolerable in the context of a major corporate R&D center, such as the one XCOR is planning for Midland. That may not always be true for future launch sites, however. If suborbital vehicles proliferate as rapidly as both industry and FAA are hoping, there may soon be dozens of launch sites, all over the country. Some may be bustling commercial spaceports, but others may be special-purpose sites that support a limited number of launches for a period of time.

It’s natural to assume that the cost of preparing a launch-site license application will go down over time as industry gains more experience in the process. There’s also the natural tendency of bureaucrats to add more and more requirements over time, however. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation under Dr. George Nield has had a good working relationship with industry. They understand the potential danger that runaway regulation could pose for the industry. There is no guarantee that will always be the case, however. Eternal vigilance, as they say…


Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2012 , Spaceports Tags:

If anyone is curious about XCOR Aerospace’s new home in Texas and looking for an excuse to visit Midland, there’s one coming up this fall.

October 13-14 is the annual CAF Airsho. (No, we did not misspell it.)

Midland is home base for the Commemorative Air Force and the CAF Airpower Museum, which maintains the largest World War II military collection in private hands today. The annual CAF Airsho is considered to be the best World War II warbird show in the country. This video from a couple years ago shows some of the highlights from the show.


In case anyone is wondering, we’ve been informed that XCOR Aerospace will not participate in this year’s show. They were invited but they’re too busy building the Lynx.

Written by Astro1 on August 13th, 2012 , Spaceports Tags:

(Dallas) The United States Rocket Academy welcomed this week’s announcement that XCOR Aerospace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas.

“Texas is on the verge of becoming the Space State,” said United States Rocket Academy chairman Edward Wright. “XCOR will be the fourth company testing fully reusable suborbital rocketships in Texas.”

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Written by Astro1 on July 13th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

XCOR Aeropspace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center Headquarters in Midland, Texas within the next 18 months. Midland Development Corporation is offering $10 million in financial incentives to assist with the move, which was announced today in Midland.

Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared at the press conference. Perry said, “This is a great day for Midland and a huge step forward for the State of Texas. Visionary companies, like XCOR, continue to choose Texas because they know that innovation is fueled by freedom. Whether on the cutting edge of biotech, communications, commerce or privatized efforts to serve the needs of the next generation of space explorers, you can find Texas at the forefront of the movement.”

XCOR will establish a new R&D center, including office space and a test facility, in a newly renovated 60,000-square-foot hangar at Midland International Airport. Renovation will begin in early 2013 and be completed by late autumn.

XCOR chief operating officer Andrew Nelson said, “We are pleased to be establishing our R&D Center in Midland, Texas, where the weather, surrounding landscape, the airport, and the local and state government environment are ideally situated for the future growth and the ultimate realization of a fully reusable orbital system. With future suborbital operational sites on the East and West Coasts of the United States and around the world, plus a manufacturing and test facility geographically separate from our R&D facility, Midland will truly be at the heart of XCOR’s innovation engine.”

The City of Midland is applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for a Commercial Space Launch Site designation, an estimated 12 to 18 months process. Upon completion of the licensing process and the hangar renovation, the XCOR presence will ramp up.

Written by Astro1 on July 9th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

We were sworn to secrecy until the official press conference, but a local Texas reporter leaked the story this morning, so it’s now public.

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

XCOR Aerospace is coming to Midland, Texas.

The CBS 7  news story is here.

For any Yankees who don’t know, Midland Texas is home to the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum and the CAF’s annual Airsho (yes, that’s spelling correctly), which may have an interesting new act in the near future.


Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

Texas may soon have more spaceports than any other state.

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Written by Astro1 on June 14th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace, Spaceports, SpaceX Tags:

Space Exploration Technologies wants to build a new spaceport in Cameron County, Texas.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has just filed a notice of intent to begin preparation of an environmental impact statement and hold public hearings on the project. The NOI can be found here.

SpaceX proposes to “launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles from a private site located in Cameron County, Texas.”  If the project is approved, SpaceX will build a vertical launch area and a control center area to support up to 12 commercial launches per year. Up to two launches each year would be Falcon Heavy. The remainder would be Falcon 9 and “a variety of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles.”

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Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2012 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags: