Recently in Commercialization Category

For the first time Chinese research to fly on NASA's space station, Houston Chronicle

"A Houston company has negotiated a historic agreement to fly a Chinese experiment on the International Space Station, a small but symbolic maneuver around a law that bans any scientific cooperation between NASA and the communist country. Over a conference table adorned with an American and a Chinese flag, Jeff Manber last week agreed to take a DNA experiment into space next year. Manber's Houston-based company, NanoRacks, helps scientists do research on board the station. Because of decades of suspicion about Chinese motives and the country's regime, Congress prohibits NASA from working with the country in any capacity. But the new deal, which is apparently legal, could begin to change that. "It's symbolic, and it's meaningful," Manber said Monday, after returning from Beijing. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."

Keith's note: According to a NanoRacks source, in crafting this agreement with Beijing Institute of Technology, NanoRacks worked to assure compliance with the 2011 spending bill Amendment offered by former Rep. Frank Wolf which places restrictions on formal NASA cooperation with China's space program. After consultation with NASA and the Obama Administration, NanoRacks approached Professor Feng of Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and invited him to continue his immune system research using NanoRacks' commercial hardware on the ISS.

NanoRacks notes that money flows from China to the U.S.; that no hardware or technology flows to China (just a return of data and experiment samples); that this experiment has intrinsic scientific value; and that the payload uses NanoRacks hardware and is a NanoRacks customer payload as part of their normal ISS payload allocation. This is NOT a NASA/Chinese research project. In addition, this project ("DNA Mismatching During PCR Reaction Exposed to Space Environment") reflies payload hardware that was flown on Shenzou 8. As such, the payload developer already has their own independent pathway to long-duration exposure in space. Lastly, The Beijing Institute of Technology Life Sciences Department publishes their scientific results in leading Western research publications thereby assuring a full dissemination of results in compliance with the spirit of ISS basic research.

NanoRacks was informed by the Obama Administration that it believes that this project is in compliance with the Wolf Amendment. Also, in accordance with ISS International Partners agreements, member nations of the ISS were informed of this project.

Congress calls SpaceX Falcon 9 launch certification into question, Denver Post

"The June 28 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has members of Congress asking NASA and the U.S. Air Force for assurance that SpaceX is qualified to carry military payloads to space. A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. representatives sent a letter saying they have "serious reservations" about SpaceX's internal investigation process and question whether the "engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps." "We are committed to our nation's leadership in space, but equally believe we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars when it comes to achieving our priorities and goals for spaceflight," reads the letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force secretary Deborah James. The panel asked Bolden and James to outline the oversight responsibilities of NASA and the Air Force, however, some questions raised in the letter have already been addressed in other arenas. On May 28, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to carry military payloads to space, offering competition to Centennial-based United Launch Alliance for the first time in more than a decade."

Keith's note: Clearly none of these politicians understand the process they are questioning. Why aren't they questioning Orbital ATK's internal review process? FAA already has oversight over both mishap investigations. So ... are they wanting to create new regulations - or are they just ignorant of what regulations are already in place? In addition, SpaceX does its review in a much more rigorous fashion than might otherwise be the case because it is certified by the USAF - as would ULA if/when it loses a rocket. Let's see if @ToryBruno calls B.S. on this - unless (of course) ULA is behind the letter, that is ...

The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog

"This photo shows pilot Pete Siebold as he parachutes safely down to earth, with his arm up in the air to show everybody that he is alive and well." Larger image

Lack of Consideration for Human Factors Led to Breakup of SpaceShipTwo

"The NTSB determined the cause of the Oct. 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo, was Scaled Composite's failure to consider and protect against human error and the co-pilot's premature unlocking of the spaceship's feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced."

- NTSB Concludes Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Accident Investigation, Virgin Galactic
- NTSB Executive Summary: In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS, NTSB
- Virgin Galactic Executive Summary: SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Rocket-Powered Flight Test Koehn Dry Lake, California, October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic
- The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog
- Investigator-in-Charge Presentation - Lorenda Ward, NTSB
- Human Factors and Organizational Issues , Human Performance Presentation - Dr. Katherine Wilson, NTSB
- Hazard Analysis and Waivers, System Safety Presentation - Mike Hauf, NTSB

AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference Panel: Cost and Affordability of Future Systems, with Michael D. Griffin, Frank Culbertson, Mike Hawes, Lee Monson, and Mark Sirangelo

Marc's note: SpaceX, the one company driving costs down now isn't on the panel. Maybe they we're too busy to attend. Also, Blue Origin,a future player, isn't on the panel either. Neither are some of the new unproven entrants like Rocket Labs. I would think a conversation such as this would include more players.

Moderator: Michael D. Griffin,Chairman and CEO, Schafer Corporation (Moderator)

- Frank Culbertson, President Space Systems Group, Orbital ATK
- Michael Hawes, Vice President and Orion Program Manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
- Lee Monson, Vice President Sales - Middle East and Americas, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (ret.)
- Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President Space Systems, Sierra Nevada Corporation

NASA-Funded Study Reduces Cost of Human Missions to Moon and Mars by Factor of Ten, National Space Society and Space Frontier Foundation [With video of news conference]

"Note from the authors: This study by NexGen Space LLC (NexGen) was partly funded by a grant from NASA's Emerging Space office in the Office of the Chief Technologist. The conclusions in this report are solely those of NexGen and the study team authors."

Executive Summary excerpt: "This study's primary purpose was to assess the feasibility of new approaches for achieving our national goals in space. NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an "Evolvable Lunar Architecture" (ELA) that leverages commercial capabilities and
services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term."

"We evaluated an ELA concept that was designed as an incremental, low-cost and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon in a manner that directly supports NASA's long-term plan to send humans to Mars. The ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars. The study assumed A) that the United States is willing to lead an international partnership of countries that leverages private industry capabilities, and B) public-private-partnership models proven in recent years by NASA and other government agencies."

SpaceX - CRS-7 Investigation Update

"From the first indication of an issue to loss of all telemetry was just 0.893 seconds. Over the last few weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours going through the painstaking process of matching up data across rocket systems down to the millisecond to understand that final 0.893 seconds prior to loss of telemetry.

At this time, the investigation remains ongoing, as SpaceX and the investigation team continue analyzing significant amounts of data and conducting additional testing that must be completed in order to fully validate these conclusions. However, given the currently available data, we believe we have identified a potential cause."

Marc's note: Today Elon Musk of SpaceX stressed that the substance of the media briefing was preliminary analysis and not a definitive result.

Having said the likely cause of the failed Falcon 9 launch was a failed strut that broke free in the second stage liquid oxygen tank that was holding down a helium tank.

At approximately 3.2 g, the strut holding down the tank snapped. There was no evidence of damage prior to launch from close-out photos. The struts are not made in-house. The supplier was not named. Musk said that they were able to replicate failure with 1000's of struts and they found a few that did not meet specifications.

MEDIA ADVISORY: SpaceX to Hold CRS-7 Update Telecon

"SpaceX is hosting a 30-minute telecon for members of the media at noon PDT/3pm EDT on Monday, July 20 to discuss preliminary results to our investigation into the CRS-7 mishap."

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

"I am pleased to announce that four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew carriers, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before. These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."

Keith's update: I just listened to Ken Savin, the Eli Lilly representative being interviewed at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). Lilly has 4 experiments that will fly on the ISS next year. I listened to this while I was out in the woods walking. These experiments are all very basic, clear-cut and rather elegant - so much so that I came up with a parallel classroom experiment for each instantly - and I am not especially talented in that regard. Savin said that he wished there was an organization to coordinate among companies to share data and information. Gee, I thought CASIS was supposed to do this. Savin was then asked if there was some sort of database where data and ISS research results were posted. He said "I am told there is one" and that someone just sent him a link to it. I am baffled as to why CASIS could not send him this stuff earlier in the process.

Savin said that his company does not plan to make drugs in space and that they are really doing these experiments to learn. That is a rather cool thing for a large multinational pharmaceutical company to say about using the ISS. It ought to be on a NASA bumper sticker. I did a quick Google search for "Eli Lilly CASIS" and only came up with a few article links - all of them inside the space community. A search for "Eli Lilly NASA" only found a few more links.

With all the moaning and groaning and self-loathing evidenced by NASA and others at the ISSRDC about not having told the public about what they are doing and why, that someone would have flagged this sort of activity and built a much larger education and public outreach effort for it. But no. NASA and CASIS would rather complain about not being able to do this than actually trying to do it.

NASA FISO Presentation: Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans, SpaceRef

"Now available is the July 1, 2015 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Mike Gold (Bigelow Aerospace) who discussed "Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans".

Shelton Versus McCain on Import of SpaceX Failure, SpacePolicyOnline

"Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Gen. William Shelton (Ret.) view the June 28 SpaceX launch failure very differently. In a McCain statement and a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Shelton, the two take opposite positions on what should be learned from the failure in terms of national security space launches and how long Russian RD-180 engines are needed by the U.S. military to have assured access to space. The congressional push to end reliance on RD-180s began while Shelton was still on active duty and Commander of Air Force Space Command and he and McCain differed on these issues all along. At the last congressional hearing on the topic during Shelton's tenure, in July 2014, they were fully were on display. Apparently nothing has changed."

Orbital May Benefit From SpaceX's Fiery Rocket Fail, Cowen Says, Bloomberg

"SpaceX's explosive mission failure may benefit Orbital ATK Inc. as the two compete for future contracts to supply the International Space Station, according to Cowen & Co."

Analyst: Rocket Failure Unlikely To Hurt SpaceX, Forbes

"The launch failure by itself is not much of an issue," Ostrove told me. "Most people in the industry understand that launching rockets into space is really difficult and occasional failures are just the price of conducting launches. Overall, SpaceX has a pretty strong record of success (about 95%) with the Falcon 9."

McCain: Pentagon shouldn't rely on Russian rocket engines despite SpaceX explosion, The Hill

"Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended SpaceX on Monday after its Falcon 9 rocket exploded two minutes after a launch over the weekend. "I am confident that the that this minor setback will in no way impede the future success of SpaceX and its ability to support U.S. national security space missions," he said in a statement, noting the company has previously launched seven successful trips."

Will SpaceX explosion impact Air Force launch competitions?, Defense Systems

"The explosion Sunday of a Space X Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff directly affected NASA and a resupply mission to the International Space Station, but its aftershocks could affect the military's plans for future launches of its spy satellites."

SpaceX Falcon 9 Mishap: More Details Emerge, SpaceRef

"According to SpaceX telemetry received from the Dragon spacecraft showed that it too was functioning after the mishap occurred and telemetry continued to be sent back from Dragon for a significant period of time. SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point."

Impact of CRS-7 Loss

Another major rocket failure for a space industry out to prove itself, Washington Post

"SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital ATK won contracts to carry cargo to the station. Then last year, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop capsules that can carry astronauts to the space station, with the first such mission scheduled for December 2017. Politics may confound that. Congress recently slashed more than $300 million from the administration's budget request for the commercial crew program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the cuts would delay the mission by two years. And that was before Sunday's SpaceX failure."


Keith's note: Dan Billow specifically asked for an answer from both SpaceX and NASA as to whether a destruct signal was sent to the Falcon 9. Gwen Shotwell answered. NASA did not.

Keith's update: When I asked NASA PAO "Did the Range Safety Officer send a signal to the Falcon 9 to self-destruct?" they replied "No, the range didn't have a chance."

SpaceX Falcon 9 Mishap: More Details Emerge, SpaceRef

"SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point."

SpaceX Launch Failure

Keith's note: The Falcon 9 Carrying CRS-7 either exploded or was destroyed shortly after launch a few minutes ago. SpaceX has assembled a team to look into this. NASA has referred to a launch vehicle "failure" and that the last data came down from the vehicle at T+ 2:19. No more news or NASA TV until contingency press conference no earlier than 12:00 pm 12:30 pm 12:50 pm 1:00 pm EDT.

- SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Fails on Launch, SpaceRef

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2015/explode.lrg.jpg

Keith's note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

Keith's note: This slow motion video from Astronomy Now shows that the Falcon 9 engines seem to be burning well after the explosion - and also that something shaped like a Dragon is seen exiting the cloud. Note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

Tory Bruno, ULA
Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin
Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne
Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK
Katrina McFarland, DoD
John Hyten, USAF Space Command
Jeffrey Thornburg, SpaceX
Samuel Greaves, USAF Space and Missiles Systems Center
Michael Griffin, himself

Hearing: Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American industry to end reliance on Russian rocket engines

Keith's note: The House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing Friday with quite a cast of characters - Tory Bruno, Rob Meyerson, Julie Van Kleeck, Frank Culbertson, Jeff Thornburg, Katrina McFarland, John Hyten, Samuel Greaves, and, to round out the fun, Mike Griffin. This hearing ought to be a classic example of the old Washington adage "where you stand depends on where you sit".

You can catch the live tweeting stream from this morning's hearing that was posted on Twitter by @NASAWatch by following tweets with the #RD180 hashtag

SpaceX Prepared Testimony by Jeffrey Thornburg

"Continued reliance by U.S. launch providers on risky foreign supply chains for major subsystemsincluding propulsionhas materially weakened the U.S. industrial base. Now, however, private industry is investing internal funds to restore America's leading edge in rocket technology. As a matter of industrial policy, it makes little sense to extend reliance on foreign sources of key subsystems when American technology can step in today."

United Launch Alliance Discusses Future Innovations While Maintaining Industry Leading Reliability and Capability

"To end use of the RD-180 engine and make commercial investments in a new engine and system that will meet our national launch requirements, ULA needs the ability to compete into the next decade," said Bruno. "The House has correctly addressed concern over the RD-180 engine by allowing ULA to use engines already on contract while prohibiting additional purchases, which reflects the original intent of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act."

NASA JSC Solicitation: Open Innovation Challenge

"NASA/JSC has a requirement for the use of an established external crowdsourcing support platform with a curated crowd in order to publically post one challenge (external to NASA) to enable interaction with an existing global solver network. Specifically, NASA requires the use of an established platform in order to run a single, short-duration challenge. NASA/JSC intends to purchase the items from InnoCentive, Inc. due to the substantial duplication of cost that is not expected to be recovered through competition. Unacceptable delays in fulfilling the agency's requirements would result given any other action due to current circumstances. ... Interested organizations may submit their capabilities and qualifications to perform the effort in writing to the identified point of contact not later than 4:30 p.m. local time on June 29, 2015. Such capabilities/qualifications will be evaluated solely for the purpose of determining whether or not to conduct this procurement on a competitive basis."

Keith's note: JSC issued this non-compete notice on 24 June and wants anyone who thinks that they can do the tasks to reply before COB on 29 June - that's 5 days, 2 of which are on a weekend. Curiously, the original response date listed on the solicitation was 6 July 2015. I guess someone someone is in a hurry.

JSC also issued this cluster of NASA Open Innovation Services contract awards all awarded 4 June but only announced on 23/24 June - each of which states "Contract Award Amount: 20000000" ($20,000,000) - and each of which says "Multiple Award Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) for NASA Open Innovation Services (NOIS) were awarded NTE $ 20M overall." to Tongual, Inc., Patexia, The Common Pool LLC, Ideo LP, Ninesigma, Inc., Luminary Labs, LLC, Kaggle Inc., HeroX PBC, Appirio Inc., - and Innocentive, Inc.

All of these awards were made in response to this 2014 Open Innovation Services solicitation NNJ15517388R. Although there seems to be a limit of $20,000,000 for JSC to play with, it would seem that all of the awards have a potential award of $20,000,000. So ... it would seem that JSC is not exactly sure who is going to be doing what - but that they will need 10 companies to do the innovation stuff and split the $20,000,000 in a TBD fashion. Competition seems to have been somewhat pointless given that so many awards were made. There is no press release from JSC on these awards - and only a contract specialist is listed, so ...

Senate Passes FY2016 Defense Authorization, But Blocked on Defense Appropriations, Space Policy Online

"The Air Force is trying to convince Congress to give it a few more years to make the transition, arguing that it needs more time to develop, test and certify a new launch system (of which an engine is part). It wants an extension to 2022. The House-passed FY2016 NDAA provides that flexibility, but the Senate bill insists on 2019. The RD-180 and launch competition issues have become entwined. ULA has been a monopoly provider of launch services to the Air Force and intelligence community since it was created in 2006, but now a competitor, SpaceX, has emerged. DOD, the Air Force and ULA assert that they embrace the drive for competition, but want to make certain SpaceX does not itself become a monopoly provider in the 2019-2022 time frame when Atlas V's no longer can be launched (because RD-180s are prohibited), but a ULA alternative is not ready. These issues not only split the House and Senate authorizing committees, but the Senate authorizing and appropriations committees. McCain's Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is the one holding DOD's feet to the fire on 2019, while the other three are siding with DOD."

Knights Templar Inspired Business Moves at ULA, earlier post

SpaceX Early-adopter SES Ready To Reuse Falcon 9 For the Right Price, SpaceNews

"Satellite fleet operator SES on June 17 said it wants to reuse the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the SES-9 satellite by September for a future, discounted SpaceX launch, and is awaiting the response of SpaceX. In a presentation to investors in London, SES Chief Technical Officer Martin Halliwell said he remains convinced that Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is on the verge of proving its reusability thesis, which is that recovering, refurbishing and reusing a Falcon 9 first stage will dramatically reduce launch costs."

Keith's note: Certified pre-owned rockets anyone?

UrtheCast Releases First Full-Color HD Videos from the International Space Station, SpaceRef Business

"Today UrtheCast released their first full-color HD video of Earth filmed in roughly 1 meter resolution of London, Boston and Barcelona."

Marc's note: It's quite something to watch cars drive around from LEO.

Lockheed says rocket launch venture hinges on U.S. law waiver

"Lockheed Martin Corp issued a warning on Sunday over the viability of its rocket launch joint venture with Boeing Co, saying the venture urgently needed the United States to waive a law banning the use of Russian engines to launch military and spy satellites. Rick Ambrose, who heads Lockheed's space business, told Reuters in an interview that concerns about the United Launch Alliance (ULA) venture's prospects had prompted the partners to approve funding for its new U.S.-powered Vulcan rocket only one quarter at time."

Mikulski Amendment Rejected - No Relief for NASA in Senate Appropriations Markup

"The amendment was defeated by a 14-16 party line vote. CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the amendment, but said that if a new budget deal is indeed negotiated, he will work with Mikulski on how to allocate any additional funding."

CSF Applauds Mikulski Amendment to Avoid Extending U.S. Reliance on the Russians

"Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill. The bill increases NASA's budget by $279 million above its FY 2015 budget, but underfunds NASA's Commercial Crew program by more than $300 million. Failing to fully fund the Commercial Crew program in FY 2016 would result in the United States human spaceflight gap being extended, again, and ensuring further payments to the Russians for launches of American astronauts to the ISS beyond 2017. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice-Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment that would have restored the $300 million to the Commercial Crew program, avoiding a further gap and reliance on the Russians. The Committee failed to adopt the amendment."

Coalition for Space Exploration Statement on CJS Appropriations Bill

"The Coalition for Space Exploration is grateful for the strong bipartisan leadership demonstrated by Chairman Shelby and Vice-Chairwoman Mikulski in support of our nation's space exploration program in the FY 2016 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill advanced by the committee today."

Get Putin Out of Our Rockets, Roll Call

"But ULA isn't happy with these restrictions and has been using its influence in Congress to push back. Indeed, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., whose district houses a major ULA factory has introduced a bill rolling back the limits on Russian engines. At the same time, ULA has decided to limit production of its American-made Delta IV launcher in an effort to strong arm the U.S. military into purchasing the RD-180 until at least 2020. This underhanded tactic might benefit ULA, but it'll endanger U.S. security while enriching Russia. ULA is able to execute such a ploy because of its long monopoly on rockets for national-security launches. America's interests would be far better served if we leveraged our existing, homegrown alternatives and encouraged U.S. technology and engineering companies to re-join the global space race."

Keith's note: Sen. John McCain raised the issue of continued purchase of Russian RD-180 engines on the Senate floor yesterday.

Transcript below (edited for typos)

Tech billionaires aim for cheaper spaceflight, Seattle Times

"Originally, SpaceX was to provide the booster rocket; Vulcan then switched to relying on rocket-maker Orbital ATK. As recently as last fall, Beames spoke about a plan to put a human-crewed spacecraft developed by Sierra Nevada on the tip of the Orbital booster rocket. But now that human spaceflight plan is shelved, along with Orbital's planned rocket. Beames said Orbital's rocket "was not hitting the economic sweet spot to generate revenue," so Vulcan has reopened the design plan and is "evaluating over 70 different launch vehicle variants."

SpaceX Video: Falling Back to Earth

"A GoPro inside a fairing from a recent Falcon 9 flight captured some spectacular views as it fell back to Earth. Footage is played in real time. Music: Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II"

Don't Back Down on Russian Sanctions, editorial, New York Times

"... But in recent years, Mr. Putin has become increasingly at odds with the United States. Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of the defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing also known as ULA, has become the Pentagon's primary rocket maker and gets its engines from NPO Energomash, a Russian company that reportedly has close ties to Mr. Putin. Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, says NPO Energomash could gain $300 million on engine sales that are to end under the law. The Pentagon, backed by ULA and American intelligence agencies, is pushing to change the law, arguing that additional Russian engines will be needed for at least a few more years."

- USAF Admits The Obvious on RD-180 Engines, earlier post
- Breaking The RD-180 Addiction, earlier post

Hosting of Humanoid Robots and Validation of Performance for The NASA Space Robotics Challenge Appendix

"In 2012, NASA began the design and development of a new bipedal humanoid robot, R5, through the DRC. NASA seeks to advance innovation in basic and applied research and technology development for humanoid robots, like R5, with a focus on the performance of tasks related to space exploration missions. NASA seeks to advance space technology by providing additional units of R5 to the robotics community for active research of high-level humanoid behaviors. These robots are intended to be the instruments for the SRC, which NASA will administer separately through the Centennial Challenges Program beginning in 2016."

Keith's note: The R5 robot aka "Valkyrie" was developed in semi-secret by NASA JSC. Several years ago it tied for dead last in the previous DARPA challenge and can't compete this week. But JPL's Robosimian did much better last time and is competing again this year. So ... why is NASA investing all this money in R5, a last place robot design? Why not go with Robosimian instead? Or ... is NASA hoping that external teams, freed (somewhat) from internal NASA issues, might be able to rescue Valkyrie from all of its problems? If so, then maybe that's not so bad of an idea. But why does NASA need to make the R5 copies for people to use? Why not just open source the design and post it online so that others can build (and improve upon) it? After all, taxpayers paid for it. That way you get more R5 units.

Why not post Robonaut's design online too? And Opportunity's? Wouldn't it be cool if the first robot that students build is one that is based upon the actual design of real robots that really work in space? As for the usual ITAR silliness NASA often cites when you ask them to release information like this - what's the big deal? R5 does not work very well (on a good day), placed last among its peers - 2 years ago, and is clearly nowhere as sophisticated as other robots. Maybe someone else can make it work better.

NASA needs to take a page from the Lego Mindstorms playbook - after the public started to tinker with their in-house designs.

- Does NASA Have a Robotics Strategy? Did It Ever Have One?, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Keith's note: Why were all of these NASA folks at the New York Stock Exchange today? This article appeared at NASA.gov today - but its just a a classic say-nothing, click bait puff piece using all the catch phrases like "Journey to Mars" at least once. These smiling NASA people are shown at the NYSE but no explanation is offered as to why they were there. Was there a meeting? Was some MOU signed? Or did NASA just spend a lot of money for these folks to travel to NYC to take a selfie and ring a bell at the NYSE to give the impression that things are happening on ISS?

OK, so its a PR stunt. I get it. But does CASIS make any mention of this NYSE event on their webpage or the article NASA posted? No. Does the ISS National Laboratory mention this on their webpage? No.

Also, its odd that John Yembrick from NASA PAO (who does not work on ISS commercial stuff) is on the podium yet no one from Nanoracks is present. Nanoracks is one of the real stars of ISS commerce these days.

GAO Progress Report on CASIS: Disappointing, earlier post

"CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving. In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed. Using the established metrics, NASA is required by the cooperative agreement to perform an annual program review of CASIS's performance."

Air Force Releases Rocket Propulsion System Prototypes RFP

"Today the Space and Missile Systems Center released a formal solicitation seeking proposals for shared public-private investments in rocket propulsion system prototypes. This solicitation is part of a comprehensive Air Force plan to transition off the Russian supplied RD-180 propulsion system used on the Atlas V rocket by investing in industry launch solutions with the ultimate goal to competitively procure launch services in a robust domestic launch market."

Breaking The RD-180 Addiction, earlier post

NASA SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 Appendix F1: NASA Flight Opportunities Now Open

"The purpose of this Appendix is to provide funding for the testing or demonstration of crosscutting space technologies in relevant environments through flights on reusable suborbital launch vehicles. These flight tests should fit into an overall technology maturation plan as a bridge between laboratory testing and demonstration in Earth orbit or beyond. The proposer's organization will purchase the proposed flight(s) on currently available U.S. commercial parabolic or suborbital reusable platforms of their choice."

Jim Rose

James Turner Rose

"James Turner Rose, 1935-2015, known throughout the space community to have been an early pioneer of space as a place for commercial pursuits, Jim Rose was among the first to develop a business proposition that involved capturing the advantages of microgravity. He created Electrophoresis Operations In Space (EOS), the first joint endeavor agreement between industry and NASA to bring space commercialization into reality."

Planet Labs Turned Its Interns into Company Leaders with This Program, Firstround.com

"Seeing the actual hardware there really excites people when they come around," [Chris] Boshuizen says. You know that you're working on game-changing solutions the trick now is to convince bright new talent that they can and will have a meaningful role in that work as well. You want to come armed with tons of examples and compelling stories about what past interns have had the chance to do and what they've been able to build. This is your best weapon for standing out. If you can bring some visuals of what work and life is like during the program showing off how hands-on interns get to be that's even better."

Keith's note: Guess where this company's senior management came from - and where they learned how (and how not) to do this? Does NASA apply their lessons learned? Of course not. NASA can't even be bothered to make note of their ongoing success in space.

International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory, GAO

"- CASIS, however, has not been able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement to interact with the ISS National Laboratory Advisory Committee, which NASA was statutorily required to establish under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, because NASA has yet to staff the committee as required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2008. As a result, CASIS is not able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement that requires it to coordinate with this committee and review any report or recommendations it originates.

- NASA and CASIS did not establish measurable targets for these performance metrics, and NASA's annual assessment of CASIS was not documented.

- CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving. In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed. Using the established metrics, NASA is required by the cooperative agreement to perform an annual program review of CASIS's performance."

USAF Space and Missiles System Center Certifies SpaceX for National Security Space Missions

"Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, has announced the certification of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Falcon 9 Launch System for national security space missions. SpaceX is now eligible for award of qualified national security space launch missions as one of two currently certified launch providers. The first upcoming opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services is projected to be in June when the Air Force releases a Request for Proposal (RFP) for GPS III launch services."

Lockheed-Boeing rocket venture needs commercial orders to survive, Reuters

"Bruno last week announced a 30-percent cut in management as part of the restructuring. On Thursday he said Boeing and Lockheed were still approving investment in the new Vulcan rocket only one quarter at a time given uncertainty about how Russian engines the company can use to compete for national security launches. He said the Air Force had a strong argument to request a Pentagon waiver if Congress continues to block use of Russian engines ordered but not paid for before the Crimea invasion. Barring a waiver or change in the current law, ULA would only be able to compete for five Air Force launches between 2019 and 2022, when the new rocket is expected to be certified. ULA says its other rocket, the Delta 4, costs too much to compete. "We must have access to the Atlas as a competitive platform until we have the replacement rocket engine. There really is no Plan B," he said."

America Plays Russian Rocket Roulette, Wall Street Journal

"But recent allegations that Mr. Putin's cronies gain big rewards from the RD-180s (by inflating delivered engine costs and taking other markups via various middlemen) are damaging to the pro-Russian-rocket side. After a November 2014 Reuters report on the purchases of rockets with RD-180 engines, Sen. John McCain said in a statement that he had long been concerned that U.S. taxpayers "are paying millions of dollars to companies that may have done no work but merely served as a 'pass-through' to enrich corrupt Russian businessmen connected with Vladimir Putin." Let's be clear: No one should play down the significance of the Air Force's concern about ensuring reliable access to space. And despite some bluster in Moscow about holding up shipments of RD-180 engines, no reports have surfaced of delivery delays. Moscow desperately needs the hard currency."

Putin-backed RD-180 Markup Scheme Unveiled, earlier post

McCarthy-Smith SPACE Act Passes with Broad Bipartisan Support, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today joined House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in praising passage of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 or SPACE Act. Almost 50 Democrats joined Republicans to pass the bill with broad bipartisan support, 284-133."

"House Passes Commercial Space Industry Wish List - Misses Opportunity to Pass Bill that Could Become Law, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"Today the House passed H.R. 2262, the SPACE Act of 2015. The bill takes a fundamentally unbalanced approach to the issues facing the commercial space launch industry. Moving far beyond addressing the legitimate needs of the industry, the bill is heavily skewed towards industry's desires. .. Congresswoman Edwards said, "Pursuing House passage of a bill that is going nowhere in the Senate seems to me to be the ultimate exercise in futility, and one that does a real disservice to the commercial space launch industry that we all are trying to help succeed. But we don't have to go down that path."

- Pro-Commercial Space Bills Approved in Committee, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Congress Can Help the Commercial Launch Industry This Week if We're All Willing to Work Together, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
- Hultgren: SPACE Act Facilitates Pro-Growth Environment for Commercial Space Sector (with video)
- The Facts Behind SPACE Act, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Chairman Smith Speaks in Support of SPACE Act (Remarks), House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Recent posts on Congress and NASA

First In Humans Clinical Trial Demonstrates Non-Invasive Expulsion of Kidney Stones, NSBRI

"The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) announced that Dr. Jonathan Harper will present the findings of an FDA-registered "first in humans" trial to non-surgically propel and expel kidney stones from the body, during today's plenary session at the 2015 American Urological Association (AUA) annual meeting in New Orleans. ... This clinical trial has been advanced with funding from NSBRI, as a project within the portfolio of the Institute's Smart Medical Systems and Technology (SMST) Team. The goal of the SMST Team is to develop intelligent, integrated medical systems to deliver quality health care during spaceflight and exploration. New technologies developed by this team also deliver immediate benefits for medical care on Earth."

Keith's note: NASA funding into space exploration has resulted in technology with clear potential to deliver health benefits to the population as whole back on Earth. This is the sort of "spinoff" NASA yearns to develop. But try and find mention of this news online at NASA at ISS National Lab, CASIS, NASA Spinoff page, NASA Technology, etc. You won't. Why?

Lockheed-Boeing venture lays off 12 executives in major reorganization, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Friday said it was cutting its executive ranks by 30 percent in December through what it called voluntary departures by 12 executives. Tory Bruno, chief executive of the venture, told Reuters in an emailed statement the layoffs were part of ULA's ongoing efforts to adapt to what he called "an increasingly competitive business environment" and redesign its leadership team. ULA, formed by the two largest U.S. weapons makers in 2006, has long been the sole company able to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites into orbit, but the Air Force expects to certify a new rival, privately-held Space Exploration Technologies, to compete for some of those launches next month."

A Bad Day for Russia

ISS Orbit Correction Failed, Sputnik News

"Engines of the Progress M-26M cargo spacecraft, which is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS), did not start on time, and a planned correction of the ISS orbit could not be carried out, a source in the Russian Federal Space Agency said Saturday."

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 18 May 2015

"A reboost of the International Space Station using the Russian Progress 58 cargo craft was completed successfully on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. CDT. A previous attempt on Friday evening was aborted one second into the burn automatically by the Progress vehicle. Russian flight controllers identified an issue with one of the eight thrusters on the spacecraft that was disabled for Sunday's backup attempt."

Russian Proton Rocket Experiences Anomaly Shortly After Launch [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"Almost exactly to the day a year after Russia lost a Proton-M rocket, yet another Proton-M has failed. In this latest setback to the Russian commercial space program, today's Proton-M rocket appeared to launch normally, but failed soon into the launch and did not deliver its payload, a Mexican satellite, to orbit."

Marc's note: The Russians must be besides themselves with all these anomalies ongoing. It begs the question, if the Progress and Protons are having issues, could the venerable Soyuz have issues going forward?

Sen. Cruz and Ranking Member Nelson Introduce U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

"Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) released the following statement regarding S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, that he filed with U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) that extends the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, extends the regulatory moratorium through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector, among other initiatives."

McCain rejects Pentagon push for more Russian rocket engines, Reuters

"U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Wednesday rejected a request by U.S. officials for changes in federal law to let the two largest U.S. arms makers use more Russian rocket engines to compete for military satellite launches against privately held SpaceX. McCain's comments reflect frustration among some lawmakers about the Pentagon's failure to halt purchases of the RD-180 Russian engines after Russia's annexation of Crimea. As SpaceX becomes a potential competitor to current monopoly launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, billions of dollars of orders are at stake and both sides are lobbying lawmakers hard."

Postponement of Flight Plans, Sarah Brightman

"Sarah Brightman announced today that she is postponing her plans to launch aboard the upcoming Soyuz TMA-18M spaceflight mission. Ms. Brightman said that for personal family reasons her intentions have had to change and she is postponing her cosmonaut training and flight plans at this time. She would like to express her extreme gratitude to Roscosmos, Energia, GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City, NASA and all the cosmonauts and astronauts, for their support during this exciting time in her life."

Humans to Mars Summit 2015 - Political Roundtable, Building Political Sustainability, SpaceRef Business

"While there were plenty of interesting sessions at the Humans to Mars Summit it was the political roundtable which brought home some of the key messages of the conference."

Dragon Abort Test Successful (Photos and Video)

5 Things to Know About SpaceX's Pad Abort Test

"This will be the first flight test of SpaceX's revolutionary new launch abort system, and the odds of encountering delays or issues are high. Fortunately the test doesn't need to be perfect to be valuable--our primary objective is to capture as much data as possible as the data captured here will be key in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017."

DHS and NASA Technology Helps Save Four in Nepal, DHS

"Four men trapped under as much as 10 feet of bricks, mud and other debris have been rescued in Nepal thanks to a new search-and-rescue technology developed in partnership by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The device called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) uses microwave-radar technology to detect heartbeats of victims trapped in wreckage. Following the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, two prototype FINDER devices were deployed to support search and rescue teams in the stricken areas."

"FINDER" Search and Rescue Technology Demo May 7 in Virginia

NASA Briefing: SpaceX Commercial Crew Pad Abort Test

"A May 1 news briefing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, previewed the pad abort test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for no earlier than Wednesday, May 6."

First Developmental Flight of New Shepard

"Today (29 April 2015) we flew the first developmental test flight of our New Shepard space vehicle. Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return."

There is a markup session tomorrow at 12:00 pm EDT with the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Markup. It certainly looks like Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is trying to slip in language that would allow more Russian-built RD-180 engines to be purchased using tax dollars at the same time when Rogers is (otherwise) actively promoting policies that would punish the exact same sector of Russia's economy for actions in Ukraine and Iran, treaty violations, and other bad behavior.

Running Out Of Rockets

Before decade is out all US military satellites may be grounded, The Hill

"Today, the launch infrastructure of the United States National Security Space (NSS) -- comprised of the Department of Defense (DoD), the Services and the Intelligence Community (IC) -- is teetering on the edge of a gap in capability which, in less than five years, could mean no capacity to launch the bulk of critical national security missions for as long as ten years. We are close to retiring our existing fleet of launch vehicles without new ones to assure our access to space."

Russia Threatens U.S. Space Program, CNN

"The short-term goal should be to transition to existing American-manufactured launch vehicles, as opposed to phasing out systems such as the Delta IV, which continue to provide critical capability. In the long term, next-generation development programs should not involve major Russian subsystems and components."

Orbital, GenCorp spar over cause of October rocket crash, Reuters

"Orbital ATK Inc and engine maker GenCorp Inc on Tuesday offered competing explanations for what caused the Oct. 28 explosion of Orbital's Antares rocket, bound for the International Space Station. Ronald Grabe, Orbital's executive vice president and president of its flight systems group, told the annual Space Symposium conference that an investigation led by his company had concluded the explosion was caused by excessive wear in the bearings of the GenCorp engine. GenCorp said its own probe showed that the wear in the bearings was likely caused by debris in the engine."

Report: Environmental impact of Wallops explosion, DelMarva Now

"Despite initial concerns, and ash that rained down in the area, a final report on the environmental impact of the explosion shows only two recommendations moving forward -- a groundwater study, and possible continued monitoring. The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority report also details the steps taken after the explosion to contain any adverse impacts. While Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford said he was concerned immediately following the explosion, he was impressed with the federal reaction."

Keith's note: YouTube has flagged this video on copyright grounds. The creators tell me that they are working the issue and that it should be working again now.

U.S. satellite launcher gets first request for Vulcan rocket - change the name, Reuters

"Hours after unveiling its next-generation "Vulcan" rocket, the company that launches most of America's satellites, United Launch Alliance, ran into its first problem - the rocket's name. "Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc. and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights," Chuck Beames, president of the Paul Allen-backed Vulcan Aerospace told Reuters. "Paul Allen and Vulcan were early leaders within space exploration with the launch of SpaceShipOne more than a decade ago. We are flattered by ULA's tribute to our legacy by naming their new rocket 'Vulcan,'" Beames added."

Falcon 9 Launches Supplies to the Space Station

"The mission is the company's sixth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract."

SpaceX Successfully Launches Cargo Resupply Mission to the ISS but Fails to Recover Falcon 1st Stage, SpaceRef

"SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station today to deliver over 1950kg of supplies. The attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage on the drone ship in the Atlantic failed as the rocket toppled over after landing according to CEO Elon Musk."

ULA Unveils Next Generation Launch System with a Little Showmanship [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"At a news conference at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno unveiled their Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) with a crowdsourced new name, Vulcan.

Showing some of the showmanship that Elon Musk of SpaceX has been known for, Bruno tried to follow in Musk's footsteps ratcheting up the marketing hype to a level not seen in recent years at a ULA event."

Marc's Note: Competition is good. It's good for both companies, it's good for America, it's good as it should eventually drive down costs. The question is, can ULA really compete? Can they adapt from their culture to a something like a SpaceX silicon valley culture? It should be fun to watch.

United Launch Alliance Unveils America's New Rocket - Vulcan: Innovative Next Generation Launch System will Provide Country's Most Reliable, Affordable and Accessible Launch Service

"United Launch Alliance (ULA) unveiled its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) today at the 31st Space Symposium. The new rocket, Vulcan, will transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible."

NASA SpaceX CRS-6 Pre-Launch News Briefings [Watch]

"Today, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on the 6th SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Yesterday, NASA held three news briefings to discuss the mission and research on the ISS."

Marc's note: At the briefing, SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann was asked what the probability of success for the Falcon 9 first stage landing on the drone ship. His response was 75% and then he said perhaps 80%. It seems SpaceX is quite a bit more confident on this third attempt.

Marc's update: The launch was scrubbed until Tuesday at 4:10 pm EDT due to weather. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 50-50.

Blue Origin Completes Acceptance Testing of BE-3 Engine for New Shephard Suborbital Flight

"Blue Origin recently completed acceptance testing of its BE-3 rocket engine, the first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the United States in more than a decade. "The BE-3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests," said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin founder. "We test, learn, refine and then test again to push our engines. The Blue Origin team did an outstanding job exploring the corners of what the BE-3 can do and soon we'll put it to the ultimate test of flight."

Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee--Open Meeting (agenda)

"The meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the National Transportation Safety Board Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW., Washington, DC 20594. This will be the 61st meeting of the COMSTAC."

Keith's note: The meeting is supposed to be webcast at http://faa.capitolconnection.org/ but it says that it will not start at 1 pm ET even though the meeting began at 8 am ET with a presentation by NASA Administrator Bolden. So ... half of the meeting is not being webcast. Odd.

Keith's update: FAA responded that the morning is just working group meetings so it won't be webcast. Yet Charlie Bolden just spoke. Is he in a working group? This is a bit of a bait and switch since the original agenda FAA sent us late last week (and had on their website) had NASA Administrator Bolden, FAA AA Nield, and Rep. Fattah as speakers. Again, are they working group members? Further, the FAA webpage says the webcast starts at 1:00 pm ET yet their agenda shows a start at 1:30 pm ET. Also - there is no indication that the afternoon is a full committee meeting. (Needlessly) Confusing.

U.S. to modify launch capability deal for Lockheed-Boeing Venture, Reuters

"The U.S. Air Force must modify its annual "launch capability" contract with United Launch Alliance, to level the playing field for new competitors of the joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, senior U.S. Air Force and Pentagon officials told lawmakers on Wednesday. ... [Air Force Space Command Commander General John Hyten] said the contract made it impossible to have a fair competition, backing an argument often made by privately held Space Exploration Technologies. The company, also called SpaceX, hopes to be certified by June to compete for some satellite launches now carried out solely by ULA."

- Fiscal Year 2016 National Security Space Hearing, House Armed Services Committee, 25 March 2015

- Prepared Testimony

NASA Proposed Rule: Federal Acquisition Regulation; List of Domestically Nonavailable Articles

"SUMMARY: DoD, GSA, and NASA are considering amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to update the list of domestically nonavailable articles under the Buy American Act. DoD, GSA, and NASA are seeking information that will assist in identifying domestic capabilities and for evaluating whether some articles on the list of domestically nonavailable articles are now mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available commercial quantities and of a satisfactory quality. ... The current domestically nonavailable listing at FAR 25.104 is as follow: ... Beef, corned, canned ... Cashew nuts ... Fair linen, altar ... Goat hair canvas ... Hemp yarn ... Rabbit fur felt ..."

Sierra Nevada Corporation and Houston Airport System Announce New Agreement

"Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC's Space Systems. "Through this agreement, we want to promote broad awareness of the importance of utilizing low-Earth orbit as a source of research, science and the expansion of space flight that are critical to Houston's ongoing position as a 'Space City.' Houston has earned its place at the forefront of space exploration with such institutes as NASA's Johnson Space Center, Rice Space University, the Texas Medical Center, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and many other organizations."

SpaceX mocks rival in tetchy congressional hearing

"The two made a number of pointed comments about each other before Ms Shotwell responded sarcastically when asked why SpaceX thought it could provide launches to the US government for an average $100m. SpaceX claims ULA's launches cost US taxpayers an average of $400m each. Ms Shotwell was asked why the company claimed to be able to offer its services for 25 per cent of the ULA price. "It's hard for me to say," Ms Shotwell replied. "I don't know how to build a $400m rocket. The more difficult question would be to say that I don't understand how ULA are as expensive as they are."

How SpaceX and Elon Musk could conquer the market for military satellite launches, Washington Post

"If [ULA] stops the Delta IV rocket launches," said Rogers, "is there anybody else that can compete with you for those missions?" Shotwell struggled to answer, referring vaguely to there being international launch providers. She then went back and conceded that the Pentagon probably wouldn't trust those international services with sensitive military payloads. That was precisely the point, said Rogers. "You would have a monopoly, is where I'm going on this," he said."

- Watch the hearing (archive)
- Witness statements: Tory Bruno, Gwynne Shotwell, John Hyten, William LaPlante, Katrina McFarland, and Mitch Mitchell

Keith's note: Lockheed Martin just started a big media rollout for their new cargo concept for NASA's CRS-2 contract. Included in the PR effort are some infographics. Everyone makes mistakes, but given the large amount of money they are pouring into all of this, you'd think that they'd use a spell checker.

Keith's update: Looks like they fixed the typos. Here are the original image files [1][2]

A new space race emerges as NASA prepares to award contract to ferry supplies to space station, Washington Post

"Lugging groceries and supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station may not be as cool as ferrying the astronauts themselves into orbit. But the NASA contract to fly cargo to the station in unmanned rocket ships has attracted bids from high-profile companies in what analysts say is another indication of commercial spaceflight's recent renaissance. It appears that at least five space firms have submitted proposals for the work, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which didn't bother to bid on the work the last time. In a new sort of space race, the contract has touched off an intense competition between stalwart defense contractors and new space start-ups that have, in just a few years, shown they can compete."

UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE BEFORE THE PATENT TRIAL AND APPEAL BOARD SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGIES CORP., Petitioner, v. BLUE ORIGIN LLC, Patent Owner. Case IPR2014-01376 Patent 8,678,321 B2. Paper 6

"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ("SpaceX") filed a Petition ("Pet.") for inter partes review of U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 B2 ("the '321 patent"). The Petition challenges the patentability of claims 14 and 15 of the '321 patent on the ground of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103.1 Blue Origin LLC, the owner of the '321 patent, did not file a Preliminary Response to the Petition."

"IV. CONCLUSION Because the challenged claims are not amenable to construction, we are unable to reach a determination on the reasonable likelihood of SpaceX prevailing on the prior art ground asserted in the Petition.

V. ORDER For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that the Petition is denied."

Keith's note: The title of this post is taken directly from words and statements used in the USPTO decision. Read the document. As best as I can figure this legal mumbo jumbo out, everyone involved is confused about what the patent claims and whether it can be challenged - and if so, how. Yet the SpaceX Internet fan boys are all over social media chastising non-believers and saying that this is a big win for SpaceX while others are saying that its a win for Blue Origin. Indeed, sources inside SpaceX now say that this decision is good for them.

If SpaceX thinks that this decision is good for them - and they want people to know that this is good for them - then they need to put out a statement that says so. Expecting the Internet to figure it out - clearly and accurately - and then tell the world - is not going to work.

Keith's update: But wait. There's more. There is another USPTO document (see excerpt below) that just fell out of cyberspace into my inbox wherein USPTO agrees with claims made by SpaceX. Taken together these two documents are not a formal decision for - or against - Blue Origin/SpaceX. The patent is still the patent and more lawyers will need to weigh in before anyone changes anything in that patent - if anything is ever changed. My point still stands with regard to letting Internet chatter suffice for statements by the actual parties to this dispute (SpaceX and Blue Origin) and I await their responses/non-responses.

Reader note: "FYI I tried to reach CASIS by phone. When you call their CASIS Corporate Headquarters listed here i.e. 321.253.5101 and hit 3 for "Contracts" you get a dead end. Your call is eventually disconnected.

ULA ready to compete against Elon Musk's space startup, CEO says, Washington Post

"Still, [ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno] also said that ULA is far more reliable in launching on schedule than SpaceX. When asked if he thought it was risky to rely on SpaceX he said, "I do." "We have a perfect mission success record and our schedule certainty is also substantial," he said. "Launching on time is huge." SpaceX took exception to Bruno's comments. "The Air Force and the taxpayers deserve more from ULA and its latest CEO, whose remarks are purposely misleading, but not unexpected," SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in a statement. "In anticipation of having to face real competition for the first time, ULA is distorting the facts in an effort to hide its own shortcomings. This is merely the latest example that ULA is realizing that its long-held monopoly is coming to an end."

Keith's note: Then there's this gem: "Bruno said that since ULA's inception, the company "has cut the price of launch in half, and I'm going to cut it in half again." While he declined to provide specific numbers, he vowed to "be competitive with SpaceX's prices."

Hmmm ... with reusable stages SpaceX may do this too - making their cost even harder to beat. At some point Bruno will not be able to turn a profit if he's focused only on cutting prices to chase SpaceX down this path.

Marc's note: Looking at the commercial launch market the last four years, ULA has had 2 launches, both last year for WorldView 3 and NASA's EFT-1. SpaceX on the other hand has had 11 launches and this is before the coming increase in cadence. (All data from the FAA)

SpaceX Launches Dual Payload to GTO [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"A SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the ABS 3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B satellites towards a supersynchronous transfer orbit. The launch took place on time when the launch window opened at 10:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 1, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida."

Marc's note: With this launch SpaceX has completed three launches so far this year. They completed six last year. By mid-year they should have equalled last years total and probably surpassed it based on the current schedule. Their launch cadence is clearly picking up as you would expect with a rocket and company that is maturing.

Russia Will Spin-Off ISS Parts for New Space Station, Discovery News

"The Russian space agency Roscosmos says it will support U.S. plans to keep the International Space Station (ISS) operating through 2024, but then wants to split off three still-to-be launched modules to form a new, independent orbital outpost. The announcement this week by a senior planning board reverses previous statements by Russian officials that Russia would end involvement in the 15-nation program in 2020 when current agreements expire. Despite occasional rhetoric, the Russian-U.S. space marriage has been largely left out of growing economic and political tensions stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last year."

Keith's note: This is not a bad thing. And I am not talking about no longer having to deal with Russia since we'll certainly find a way to find ourselves in a political spat with someone else on Earth after they leave the ISS. Rather, it shows how assets in space can be repurposed, refurbished -- re-imagined. Instead of throwing things away in orbit (Skylab, Salyuts, Mir) we can now build upon these assets and move them around like Lego bricks to form new things as we need them - and then do this again and again. When the government is done with their hardware, it can be used by someone else - just like old military bases can become movie studios and shopping malls. The more orbital capacity that is available, the more customers it can collectively and individually serve. The more valuable these on-orbit assets become for government and non-government uses, the more everyone will want to safeguard that growing capacity (and isolate it from terrestrial squabbles) as has been the case with ISS recently.

New Alliance To Promote Space Development and Settlement Policies, Space News

"Perhaps the most ambitious part of the ASD agenda is a proposed "Cheap Access to Space Act" that would offer $3.5 billion in government prizes for the development of reusable launch vehicles. Those prizes include, in a draft version of the bill provided by ASD, $1 billion to the first fully reusable vehicle that can place at least one metric ton into orbit and fly again a week later."

Keith's note: Yet another space group comprised of the usual suspects. Yet another request by a space group for the government to give them billions in handouts. Sigh. This is getting old. These groups keep proposing the same old same old - under new names each time.

Steve Jurczyk Named Head of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Steve Jurczyk as the agency's Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, effective Monday, March 2. The directorate is responsible for innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use on future NASA missions. Jurczyk has served as Center Director at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, since April of 2014."

Congressional Hearings this Week to Focus on Commercial Space, SpaceRef

"There will be two important congressional hearings this week on Commercial Space.

First up on Tuesday, February 24th is the U.S. Human Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Next up on Friday, February 27th is the House Subcommittee on Space Hearing; The Commercial Crew Program: Challenges and Opportunities chaired by Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The hearing will take place at 2318 Rayburn House Office Building at 9:00 a.m. EST."

Poll: Space Travel in the 21st Century: American Public Sees Benefits But Balks at Cost, Monmouth University

"This week marks the 53rd anniversary of John Glenn's first manned orbital space flight. The Monmouth University Poll finds that most Americans feel the nation's 1960s space program gave us long-lasting benefits and many say increased spending on the space program today would be a good investment. However, less than half the public supports spending billions of dollars specifically to send astronauts back to the moon or to other planets - a program that is currently in the works at NASA. Interestingly, this reluctance is similar to the public mood in the 1960s. A majority of Americans do support private space exploration, though. ... The future of space travel may now lie in private ventures, which most Americans do support."

Keith's note: Interesting how this poll of actual regular American citizens shows them to be far less bubbly in their support of NASA's human space flight programs than what the space advocacy crowd would have you think. I am not certain how well the overt "settlement" aspect of Rick Tumlinson's recent closed space summit is going to resonate with popular sentiments when even the precursor missions are not supported by a majority of those polled. However, the commercial space aspect of this poll is interesting as are the societal benefits. Yet no one from Blue Origin, SpaceX, or Virgin Galactic - or the non-space public seems to have had any role in this closed door meeting. Or did they? I guess we'll never know since nothing about this event's participants is being released.

The study also notes "Just over 4-in-10 (42%) Americans are in favor of the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids, while half (50%) oppose such an expenditure. There are no partisan differences in this opinion, although men (50%) are more supportive than women (36%) of funding this new program." I wonder what the demographics were for Tumlinson's space summit. If this conclave of the usual suspects followed old habits then the participants would have been overwhelmingly male and middle aged (and older).

If people get together with the aim of developing a broad-based policy (on any topic) for the entire country then they should, at a minimum, seek to pay some attention to the demographics of the group of people whom they purport to represent as well as what these people have to say on the topic. Moreover these would-be policy developers should seek to develop a policy that serves the real world interests of the population as a whole - not a policy that only serves the people who happen to be in the room arguing arcane philosophical and self-serving points.

If space advocates have all of the impact that they claim to have had over the past several decades then they need to share the blame for the dysfunctional way that this nation's space policy (such that there is one) has been formulated and implemented. If the space advocates shun responsibility for this train weck then they are admitting that they actually have little or no impact after all. Either way, given how screwed up America's space policy is, one would have to come to the conclusion that space advocates are part of the problem - not the solution.

Orbital explosion probe said to find debris in engine: sources, Reuters

"Last October's explosion of Orbital ATK Inc's Antares rocket may have been triggered when debris inadvertently left in a fuel tank traveled into the booster's main engine, two people familiar with investigations into the accident told Reuters. The sources said the preliminary findings suggest that a simple assembly mistake by Orbital ATK could have caused the explosion, which destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station."

Moon Express Continues Lander Flight Tests Under NASA Lunar CATALYST Program, MoonEx

"Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) has announced that it will continue flight tests at Kennedy Space Center using the newest version of its lunar lander test vehicle later this month. The "MTV-1A" vehicle is an advanced version of the MTV-1X lander test vehicle that successfully completed a series of initial flights in December, earning the company a $1M award from the Google Lunar XPRIZE."

Spaceport awaiting federal funding to make repairs

"The delay is tied to carrying out the omnibus federal spending bill's $20 million appropriation for NASA to ensure that the money goes to repair of the spaceport, which operates at the national space agency's Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. "NASA is fully aware of the intent of the $20 million they didn't expect to get, but they got," said Kevin Hall, spokesman for Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., who worked with Sen. Timothy M. Kaine, D-Va.; Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; and members of both states' congressional delegations to secure the funding. Hall said his office is investigating the reason for the delay but is "trying to help the state navigate this process."

At Wallops, a growing financial impact that resonates

"Government and business leaders in the region are looking for more growth in the future after a string of successes the past two years at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and despite one major setback the explosion shortly after liftoff in October of a rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station on Orbital Sciences Corporation's third commercial cargo mission under a NASA contract."

HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 719

"Encouraging the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to conduct an environmental impact study related to landing commercial booster rockets and spacecraft at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility."

HJ 719 NASA's Wallops Flight Facility; NASA to conduct an environmental impact study

Registration still open for the 18th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, set to take place this week (Feb. 4-5) at the National Housing Center in Washington, D.C. The conference will address the latest in U.S. commercial launch activities, human spaceflight, crew, and spaceports and includes the opportunity to meet and network with key federal officials from DOT, NASA, and DOD, industry leaders, space entrepreneurs, international space partners, legislators, astronauts, educators, and space enthusiasts. This is the premier event for information about the FAA's role and the future direction of commercial space transportation. Onsite registration and webcast options also available. More information at: http://www.faacst2015.com

Twitter hashtag: #FAACST2015

The FAA: regulating business on the moon, Reuters

"The United States government has taken a new, though preliminary, step to encourage commercial development of the moon. According to documents obtained by Reuters, U.S. companies can stake claims to lunar territory through an existing licensing process for space launches. The Federal Aviation Administration, in a previously undisclosed late-December letter to Bigelow Aerospace, said the agency intends to "leverage the FAA's existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis."

Nissan and NASA partner to jointly Develop and Deploy Autonomous Drive Vehicles by End of Year, (revised with text of NASA Space Act Agreement) Nissan

"Nissan Motor Co., through its North American-based organization, and NASA today announced the formation of a five-year research and development partnership to advance autonomous vehicle systems and prepare for commercial application of the technology."

NASA's Stealth Autonomous Vehicle Partnership, earlier post

Safety panel accuses NASA of a 'lack of transparency' in critical space program, Washington Post

"NASA's independent safety panel accused the agency of a "lack of transparency" about its program to hire commercial space companies to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, saying the opacity could create increased safety risks. In its annual report to Congress, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said the lack of communication about critical safety measures "has been a concern for a number of years." And it made it impossible for the panel "to offer any informed opinion regarding the adequacy of the certification process or the sufficiency of safety" in what is known as the "commercial crew" program. The "failure to engage in open and transparent communication is reminiscent of the problems" surrounding the causes of the fatal Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, according to the report released Wednesday."

ASAP 2014 Annual Report

New Falcon Heavy Animation

SpaceX Releases New Animation of Falcon Heavy and Booster Recovery, SpaceRef Business

"SpaceX has released a new animation depicting the launch of a Falcon Heavy from famed Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) with the controlled recovery of both boosters and the first stage."

Marc's note: From animation to reality in a few years? Yeah, we like that. Why can't other companies do this?

NASA News Conference: Update on the Commercial Crew Program, SpaceRef Business

"NASA, Boeing and SpaceX will held a news briefing on NASA Television at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Jan. 26, to highlight key development activities, test plans and objectives for achieving certification of two American crew transportation systems."

Marc's note: Missed the news conference? Watch it from the link above.

Google Lunar XPrize Makes $5.25 Million in Awards, Google Lunar XPrize

"The deadline for the Google Lunar XPRIZE was officially extended until December 31, 2016. As part of this revised timeline, at least one team must provide documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015 for all teams to move forward in the competition."

Join us for an exclusive live chat with Google Lunar XPrize teams!, CNet

"These five Milestone teams, with representatives from all over the world, will be gathered in San Francisco on Monday, January 26, for a glitzy awards ceremony."

Keith's note: 5 teams were competing for these milestone prizes. The same 5 teams won these milestone prizes. Has there ever actually been any real competition?

United States and SpaceX Agree to Settlement, SpaceX

"The Air Force and SpaceX have reached agreement on a path forward for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches. Under the agreement, the Air Force will work collaboratively with SpaceX to complete the certification process in an efficient and expedient manner."

Elon Musk: Guest-Starring on The Simpsons Was 'Kind of Trippy', BloombergBusinessWeek

MoonEx To Us SLC-36

Cape Canaveral SLC-36 Is Central to Moon Express' Commercial Efforts to Reach the Moon

"Moon Express and Space Florida have signed an agreement that will lead to Moon Express spacecraft development and flight test operations at SLC-36 starting early this year. The agreement allows Moon Express and the state of Florida to make investments into the refurbishment of SLC-36, leading to a revitalized range and the immediate creation of 25-50 new jobs and potentially hundreds of direct and indirect new jobs over the next 5 years."

It's Early Days in 2015 But SpaceX is Starting at Light Speed with a Satellite Constellation and Possible Google Investment [Updated], SpaceRef Business

Marc's note: Updating my story from yesterday, SpaceX this evening issued the following statement.

"Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has raised a billion dollars in a financing round with two new investors, Google and Fidelity. They join existing investors Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn. Google and Fidelity will collectively own just under 10% of the company.

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world's most advanced rockets and spacecraft. This funding will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing."

With this new investment, SpaceX is now valued at over $10 billion. A nice way to start the year even if their Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship suffered some damage from that spectacular crash landing earlier this month by the Falcon 9 first stage recovery attempt.

NASA Releases Commercial Crew Source Selection Statement, SpaceRef

"[HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier]: On August 6, 2014, the Source Evaluation Board (SEB) appointed to evaluate proposals for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap) under Request for Proposals (RFP) NNK14467515R presented the results of its evaluation to me and other senior officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). I held a follow-up meeting on August 19th to ask additional questions of the SEB and receive input from my advisors. My decision on selection of the successful Offeror is set forth in this Source Selection Statement."

GAO Bid Protest Decision: Sierra Nevada Corporation

"Sierra Nevada alleges that NASA's evaluation of proposals departed from the RFP's stated criteria, and was unequal and unreasonable. We deny the protest."

Used NASA Gold For Sale

Gold Plates, GSA Auction

One lot consisting six 24KT gold plates weighing 6,015.5 grams. These plates were reportedly flown in space for 69 months. Please click on attachment for purity information rounded to the nearest 1/10th determined by x-ray fluorescence.

Long Duration Exposure Facility

"LDEF's 69 months in space provided scientific data on the long-term effects of space exposure on materials, components and systems that has benefited NASA spacecraft designers to this day."

Keith's note: Hmmm ... These plates were reportedly flown in space for 69 months. Sounds like LDEF to me. But "reportedly flown"? Is GSA uncertain whether these things have been flown in space? Can't they just ask NASA?

Images Show Falcon 9 First Stage Crash-Landing on Ship, Space News

"Musk's series of images also prompted a response from United Launch Alliance president and chief executive Tory Bruno. He noted his company has a number of employees who worked on the DC-X, a 1990s-era project to demonstrate vertical takeoff and landing technology for future reusable launch vehicles. "Let me know if we can help," Bruno wrote."

The Delta Clipper Experimental: Flight Testing Archive, NASA

"July 31, 1996 [DC-XA] Landing strut 2 failed to extend; vehicle tipped over and LOX tank exploded; vehicle destroyed."

Elon Musk Releases Pictures of Falcon 9 "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly", SpaceRef Business

"Elon Musk has released several images through Twitter of what he charaterizes as the "rapid unscheduled disassembly" of the Falcon 9 first stage as it approaches the SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. The pictures are spectacular."

International Space Station Reality Series In Works From Znak&Jones, Deadline

"Znak&Jones, the recently launched production company of veteran reality producers Natalka Znak and Simon Jones, has partnered with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space the organization selected by NASA to oversee research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory with the goal of enhancing the health and well-being of people and the planet to develop programs centered around the ISS."

Keith's 13 Jan note: Of course, CASIS makes no mention of this on their website. Really - why bother? Its only a huge facility we all paid $60-100 billion to build. I wonder if the "reality" aspect of this show will portray the dysfunctional relationship that CASIS, NASA HQ, JSC, and other parts of the agency endure as they stumble to use this amazing on-orbit facility. As best as I can determine, no one at NASA knows anything about this.

Keith's 14 Jan update: According to Patrick O'Neill, in a response to NASAWatch: "Thanks for the note. At this juncture, while it is accurate to say that CASIS is exploring the possibility of developing content promoting the research opportunities that exist on the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, no deal is in place with a network or cable outlet. Talks are still in the preliminary stages. Should a partnership to showcase the ISS become solidified, CASIS will provide the public with as much detail as possible regarding any content generating project."

Summary: Znak&Jones say that they have partnered with CASIS. CASIS says they have no partnership. And no one at NASA knows anything about the Znak&Jones/CASIS thing.

Here is a link to the late Late show episode last night with Seth Green hyping his CASIS patch. Alas, CASIS doesn't seem to want (or know how) to promote the link on its website. Slide to 16:27 and wait for 500 commercials to air. Larger view.

CASIS is nowhere close to meeting the fundraising goals it is supposed to have met by now. Instead of focusing all of its efforts on ISS research (Nanoracks is the one good thing that has emerged) CASIS stumbles around with golf company endorsements and PR stunts that, however well-intentioned, never seem to go quite right.

And the added value of CASIS is ... ?

U.S. court denies motion to dismiss SpaceX lawsuit, Reuters

"The U.S. federal claims court on Tuesday denied a motion by United Launch Alliance, a venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by privately held SpaceX against the U.S. Air Force and the Lockheed-Boeing joint venture. Judge Susan Braden said she was denied the motion because the case was still ongoing, and none of the actions taken by Congress or the Air Force in recent weeks invalidated the SpaceX lawsuit, which challenges the Air Force's decision to award 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance."

Update: SpaceX, U.S. Air Force To Enter Mediation over ULA Block Buy, SpaceNews

SpaceX Launches Dragon to the ISS - 1st Stage Does Not Land Successfully, SpaceRef

"Today's launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the International Space Station (ISS) on its fifth commercial resupply (CRS-5) was successful. The Dragon spacecraft is safely in orbit heading towards a Monday rendezvous with the ISS. The SpaceX attempt of landing the first stage on the drone ship was not successful."

Images of damage to the SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. Click for larger images.

SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

More on the next page.

Nissan and NASA partner to jointly Develop and Deploy Autonomous Drive Vehicles by End of Year, Nissan

"Nissan Motor Co., through its North American-based organization, and NASA today announced the formation of a five-year research and development partnership to advance autonomous vehicle systems and prepare for commercial application of the technology. Researchers from Nissan's U.S. Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will focus on autonomous drive systems, human-machine interface solutions, network-enabled applications, and software analysis and verification, all involving sophisticated hardware and software used in road and space applications."

Keith's 8 Jan 8:00 pm ET note: This is rather cool news. Too bad NASA Ames PAO has not posted or released anything about it because who cares, right?

Nissan, la Leaf sulla scia dei rover marziani: partnership con la Nasa, Quattroruote

Keith's 9 Jan 8:48 am ET update: Stories are online in Italy about this. Nothing online at NASA.

Also - it is rather strange that ARC has no link on their event page for the NASA Cube Quest Challenge Summit held at ARC this week. Again, who cares, right?

Keith's 9 Jan 2:40 pm ET update: NASA Ames PAO finally posted a short thing on their website - a day after Nissan sent materials out to media outlets. But has ARC PAO sent this out to news media who might want to cover this story? Did they have this material ready the day the event happened? Of course not.

Whitesides Says Virgin Galactic is Undeterred at the AIAA SciTech Conference (With video of the speech), SpaceRef Business

"Whitesides told the audience that while the October accident that destroyed SpaceShipTwo and took the life of co-pilot Michael Alsbury was the "the toughest thing we could undergo, nine weeks later, we are turning the corner and looking toward the future - our team and investors remain committed to the goal of opening space for all."

Inside KSC for 9 January 2015 and KSC Spaceport Magazine Released, SpaceRef

"NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has released its latest Inside KSC video feature. This weeks video takes a look at some of KSC's upcoming missions including the Cargo Resupply mission by SpaceX, the SMAP and DSCOVR launches and the MMS mission."

UPDATED: SpaceX Set to Launch NASA CRS-5 Resupply Mission to the ISS, SpaceRef Business

"Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services Flight (CRS-5) will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. It will also carry CATS, a laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere."

Keith's note This morning's launch attempt was aborted shortly before launch. Since this was an instantaneous window opportunity there won't be another attempt today. The next attempt will be no earlier than Friday at 5:09 am ET. SpaceX was quietly working an actuator issue last night. No word as to whether is is related to this morning's launch abort although we're heard reports of an "actuator drift" issue in the Falcon's Thrust Vector Control (steering) system during today's countdown attempt.

How Deep Can A Space Patent Dispute Go?, Medium

"Blue Origin, LLC ("Blue") filed U.S. Patent Application No. 12/815,306, entitled "Sea Landing of Space Launch Vehicles and Associated Systems and Methods" with a priority date of June 15, 2009 which ultimately issued as U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 in March of 2014. More popularly known as the Sea Landing Patent, this patent currently covers the broad process of a vertical takeoff rocket taking off on land and vertically landing on a sea-based floating structure. SpaceX has been incrementally and painfully working toward actually pulling this off for several years now and are just now about to attempt the task. To date, no one has attempted, much less accomplished, this feat. If/when SpaceX is successful, the barriers to a mainstream space economy will have demonstrably lowered and yours truly will be one big robotic rocket-powered step closer to lawyering in space."

Before explosion, NASA knew aging Soviet engines posed risks, LA Times

"Years before an unmanned rocket erupted in a fireball in October, NASA officials knew the metal in its 50-year-old Soviet-made engines could crack, causing fuel to leak and ignite, government documents show. As early as 2008, a NASA committee warned about the "substantial" risk of using the decades-old engines, and a fire during a 2011 engine test in Mississippi heightened the agency's concern. The engines had a "fundamental flaw in the materials," said a top manager for NASA's contracted rocket builder, Orbital Sciences, in a 2013 interview with an agency historian. The Soviet engines were built in the 1960s and 1970s in a failed attempt to take cosmonauts to the moon."

Statement on Sierra Nevada Bid Protest Decision, GAO

"On January 5, 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, challenging the award of contracts to The Boeing Co., Space Exploration, of Houston, Texas, and to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap)."

Keith's note NASA PAO has released this statement: "The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation's protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO's decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision."

This Week in Space - January 5-11, 2015, SpaceRef Business

"Here are some of the highlights for the coming week. As always, you can add an event to our events calendar by using this form. You can also take advantage of low advertising pricing, starting at $75/mth, to further promote your event or product on the SpaceRef network of websites."

Video: SpaceX in 2014

2014 - SpaceX Year in Review [Watch]

"Relive SpaceX's 2014 highlights: launching rockets, landing stages, and unveiling our next generation crewed spacecraft."

Marc's Note: What are your thoughts in looking back at the year that was for SpaceX in 2014? Good year? Bad year? What you expected? Still the driver in the launch market? And how will 2015 shape up?

Virgin Galactic at ISPCS

Looking Back at Virgin Galactic at ISPCS 2014, SpaceRef Business

"Two weeks before the tragedy that saw Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crash on a test flight, the company was out in full force at the annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS)."

Bigelow in 2015

2015 Could be a Milestone Year for Bigelow Aerospace [Video], SpaceRef Business

"Taking another step forward, Bigelow Aerospace will see its Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) launched and attached to the International Space Station in July of 2015."

NASA Commercial LEO Workshop (with presentations)

"On December 10-11, 2014, NASA held a workshop on the commercialization of low Earth orbit. The goal of the workshop was to start a dialog about creating a thriving commercial marketplace in LEO over the next decade, enabled by human spaceflight."

Another Stealth NASA ISS Event, Earlier post

"This NASA-sponsored ISS research event will not be webcast or recorded. No media advisory was sent out in advance. The event starts tomorrow. I find it especially odd that NASA has gone out of its way to not make this event more visible - and accessible - via simple webcasting (the event is being held directly across the street from NASA HQ) such that the potentially vast audience of possible users, media, decision makers, and students can better understand ISS potential capabilities."

NASA Selects Commercial Space Partners for Collaborative Partnerships, NASA

"NASA announced Tuesday the selection of four U.S. companies to collaborate with NASA through unfunded partnerships to develop new space capabilities available to the government and other customers. The partnerships build on the success of NASA's commercial spaceflight initiatives to leverage NASA experience and expertise into new capabilities."


- ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.

- Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.

- Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.

- United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.

- ATK and NASA Announce Commercial Space Capabilities Partnership

X Marks the Spot: Falcon 9 Attempts Ocean Platform Landing

"During our next flight, SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging."

NASA, SpaceX Delay Launch of Fifth SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station

"NASA and SpaceX announced today the launch of SpaceX's fifth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station now will occur no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 6. The new launch date will provide SpaceX engineers time to investigate further issues that arose from a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 16 and will avoid beta angle constraints for berthing the Dragon cargo ship to the station that exist through the end of the year."

Marc's Update: SpaceX Completes Static Fire Test Ahead of ISS CRS-5 Launch

"On Friday SpaceX completed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket in advance of the CRS-5 mission for NASA. The test was conducted at SpaceX's Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and ran for the full planned duration."

RD-180 Bad; RD-181 Good

Antares Upgrade Will Use RD-181s In Direct Buy From Energomash, Aviation Week

"Congressional concern about Russian aggression in the Crimean peninsula led to a ban in the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on using RD-180s purchased after Russia occupied the Ukrainian territory on Feb. 1. Grabe said that legislation will not affect the deal to buy RD-181s from Energomash. "We've coordinated with all relevant congressional committee staffs to keep them informed of our decision," Grabe said."

Astrobotic Wins Google Lunar X Prize Milestones and Competition Deadline Extended to End of 2016, SpaceRef Business

"Today the Google Lunar X Prize announced that the deadline for the competition deadline had been extended again, this time to the end of 2016. Also announced today were two milestone prizes being won by Astrobotic."

Virgin Galactic Appoints Richard DalBello as Vice President of Business Development and Government Affairs

"In this role, Richard will be responsible for managing business development focusing on LauncherOne, the company's dedicated orbital launch vehicle for small satellites. Richard will be also responsible for managing the company's interactions with the US government."

SpaceX Spreads Out

SpaceX expansion could add 300 jobs locally, Waco Tribune

"In a report prepared by the city of Waco's economic development staff, SpaceX is proposing to invest $46.3 million in the site during the next five years. That will consist of about $32.4 million in real property improvements and $13.9 million in personal property improvements. SpaceX will add 300 new jobs by Dec. 31, 2018, with employees receiving benefits and an average hourly wage of $28.85, or about $60,000 a year. To receive incentive money, the company must fill 240 positions with people living in McLennan County, and 120 must reside in Waco."

Spaceport launches online shop to help pay bills, KRQE

"The launch of commercial flights to space from Spaceport America was supposed to help the economy here take off. However, after years and years of delays, the Spaceport is trying other things to make money, like starting a new online store."

New Mexico lawmakers concerned about Spaceport America's future, Mashable

"New Mexico, which has invested $218.5 million into the future of space tourism, is concerned about the viability of Spaceport America. Lawmakers grilled New Mexico Spaceport Authority executive director Christine Anderson [in November] about how it plans to deliver on the promise of the Spaceport, especially now since commercial flights by Virgin Galactic are postponed indefinitely following a deadly crash last month that killed one pilot."

Spaceport officials working to come up with revenue, KRQE

"Paul Gessing, president of the conservative research group the Rio Grande Foundation, has been highly-critical of the nearly quarter billion dollar Spaceport. He told News 13 that no one knows when space tourism will become viable, but that he thinks the Spaceport likely won't be viable for a while. "It was like building an airport before the Wright brothers had their first flight," Gessing said. "I don't think there's any way to make the Spaceport successful unless we see regular, frequent space trips."

More below

Low Earth Orbit Commercialization Workshop

"The goal of this workshop is to start a dialog about creating a thriving commercial marketplace in LEO over the next decade, enabled by human spaceflight. Historically, NASA has been both the primary supplier and consumer of human spaceflight capabilities and services in LEO. However, NASA has begun to change this historical model by purchasing cargo transportation services commercially and is facilitating the development of commercial crew transportation and rescue capabilities."

Workshop agenda (PDF)

Keith's note: This NASA-sponsored ISS research event will not be webcast or recorded. No media advisory was sent out in advance. The event starts tomorrow. I find it especially odd that NASA has gone out of its way to not make this event more visible - and accessible - via simple webcasting (the event is being held directly across the street from NASA HQ) such that the potentially vast audience of possible users, media, decision makers, and students can better understand ISS potential capabilities.

Then again, NASA's ISS National Laboratory Office and CASIS are still unable and/or unwilling to make the NASA-funded Spaceline Current Awareness List, a weekly digest of real research being done on ISS available online (latest edition) SpaceRef has the only known online archive - back to the 1990s - one that is updated weekly.

There is no mention of this event on the events page on the CASIS website - or anywhere else on their site. Nor is there any mention on the NASA International Space Station National Laboratory webpage. This borders on inept disregard with regard to NASA's responsibility to make the widest possible dissemination of ISS and its research capabilities.

This becomes truly bizzarre when you consider that the non-public invitation sent to a select few to attend says "NASA intends to formulate a new strategy - including new initiatives and projects - designed to encourage the emergence of this commercial marketplace to the maximum extent possible." NASA's tactic: go out of their way to tell no one about the events associated with this "new strategy". Baffling.

Orbital Announces Additional Details Concerning CRS Program and Antares Launcher Go-Forward Plans

"Orbital has contracted with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas V launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the fourth quarter of 2015, with an option for a second Atlas V launch in 2016 if needed. The Atlas rocket's greater lift capacity will allow Cygnus to carry nearly 35% more cargo to the ISS than previously planned for CRS missions in 2015."

ACME Advanced Materials, Inc Announces First Commercial Production of 4" SiC Wafers in Microgravity

"ACME Advanced Materials, Inc. today announced the successful commercialization of its process to produce large quantities of low loss, electrically defect free (EDF) Silicon Carbide (SiC) wafers in a microgravity environment."

Made in space, Albuquerque Journal

"We take crappy wafers, the lowest grade we can buy, and use a microgravity environment to turn them into what the industry would call prime 'A'-grade wafers," said ACME President and CEO Rich Glover. "We call them 'S'-grade, or 'space-grade' wafers. They're better wafers than you can get on the market today, and at a better price." Since last spring, the company has been sending batches of low-grade wafers for conversion to high-grade on contract flights in Texas, although details of the suborbital launches remain confidential. "We signed a three-year agreement with a flight partner," Glover said. "We've flown monthly since April."

Keith's note: This company (without a website - at least one that I can find) declines to say how they obtain microgravity conditions by "flying monthly". It is either parabolic flight, suborbital rockets, or orbital spaceflight. Or have they discovered a new way to "fly" and get "microgravity"? I asked. They won't say. Its is certainly their IP and its up to them whether they want to share it. But they have suddenly tweeted a lot about why they are not talking.

More tweets below.

ATK and Orbital Receive U.S. DOJ Clearance for Proposed Merger

"Alliant Techsystems Inc. ("ATK") (NYSE: ATK) and Orbital Sciences Corporation ("Orbital") (NYSE: ORB) announced that the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") has unconditionally cleared the proposed merger of ATK's Aerospace and Defense Groups with Orbital. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") informed ATK and Orbital today, December 4, 2014, that the FTC and DOJ terminated the Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period effective December 4, 2014. As previously announced, ATK and Orbital have entered into a transaction agreement, whereby ATK's Aerospace and Defense Groups will merge with Orbital immediately following the spin-off of ATK's Sporting Group business to ATK stockholders as a newly formed company called Vista Outdoor Inc."

Space Technology Unlocks Ancient Rituals through Innovation, Space Foundation

"Technology originally used in space can now help you meditate with ease. TIMEZ5 Global Inc. is the newest partner in the Space Foundation Space Certification program. After five years of intensive research and development, TIMEZ5 labs made startling discoveries in the connection between rituals, spirituality and physiology. They unlocked physiological practices that improve the physical and spiritual wellbeing through meditation. Through the development of ergonomics, biomechanics and physiology, coupled with space technology, the company's flagship product was born. The world's first physiological prayer mat uses sophisticated space and layering technology. All it takes is the counter-force of your body and it activates. The magic happens in the middle layers where it responds to body weight, posture and position. It keeps the user stable through its micro grip, and clean with its antimicrobial surface."

Keith's note: People have been praying to God for millennia without a space-certified prayer rug. How much did Space Foundation charge to "certify" this rug? I'll bet the cost for certification was the equivalent of a college education for someone.

NASA Request for Information: Commercial Microgravity Flight Services

"This notice issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC), Edwards, CA is a Request for Information (RFI) for Microgravity Flight Services or MFS. The intent of this notice is to obtain information on commercial capabilities to provide brief periods of near zero, partial gravity, and hyper-gravity conditions, collectively referred to here as microgravity, and associated capabilities for payload integration, safety, and airworthiness for various Government research, technology development, and training missions."

ESA Ministerial Conference to Focus on Ariane 6, ISS, Exploration and the Evolution of ESA , SpaceRef Business

"The next ESA Ministerial Conference will take place this Tuesday in Luxembourg. At the top of the agenda is Europe's future access to space with a modular Ariane 6 intended to be meet the changing demands of the satellite industry as well as being more price competitive."

In murky Pentagon deal with Russia, big profit for a tiny Florida firm, reuters

"For months, a powerful U.S. senator has been pushing for details of a murky deal under which a Russian manufacturer supplies the rocket engines used to launch America's spy satellites into space. At issue: how much the U.S. Air Force pays for the engines, how much the Russians receive, and whether members of the elite in President Vladimir Putin's Russia are secretly profiting by inflating the price. Now, documents uncovered by Reuters provide some answers. A tiny Florida-based company, acting as a middleman in the deal, is marking up the price by millions of dollars per engine. That five-person company, RD Amross, is a joint venture of Russian engine maker NPO Energomash and a U.S. partner, aerospace giant United Technologies. According to internal company documents that lay out the contract, Amross stands to collect $93 million in cost mark-ups under its current multi-year deal to supply the RD-180 rocket engine."

Keith's note: NASA has posted Notice of Centennial Challenges Cube Quest Challenge in today's Federal Register. $5,000,000 to send a cubesat to the Moon. Very cool. The notice says "To register for or get additional information regarding the Cube Quest Challenge, please visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cubequestchallenge" If you visit that link you will get an error notice from NASA.gov.

I told NASA that the link was broken. Their response was "The link will not be live until the December 1 announcement.  CCP had planned to rollout the Challenge earlier this month, but HQ recommended to delay for two weeks.  The link will work once the site becomes active."

I replied "You really should tell people that in the notice that the link is not going to be active.  Now everyone will click on it and then lose interest after seeing that it is broken day after day. I am baffled as to why you put the notice out in the first place knowingly  including a link that does not work - without any notice to the public that the link is intentionally inactive until a future date.  Indeed the notice also says "The Cube Quest (CQ) Challenge is scheduled and teams that wish to  compete may now register."  However the next sentence contradicts this statement by saying "Challenge registration opens December 2, 2014".  So which is it: "now register" or "opens December 2, 2014"?  What is especially baffling is why such a confusing and deliberately inaccurate Federal Register notice is posted when it concerns a rather substantial  $5,000,000 NASA Challenge. One would think that a little strategic and editorial thought would be given to such a significant announcement."

Keith's update: I got this update from NASA MSFC. Odd that they think that the Federal Register has a "limited audience" given that it serves a vital role for a multi-trillion dollar government for a nation of over 300 million people. "In developing such a large Challenge, we wanted to be sure to promote it using the best audience available. HQ decided that the Challenge would get more attention during the events leading up to the Orion Launch. The Federal Register has a limited audience, whereas millions will be watching the first Orion launch. This is the largest NASA Prize Purse and first competition in space. CCP seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources of citizen inventors, private businesses, and academia. NASA HQ wanted to promote this opportunity to the largest audience possible, not just to those within the aerospace industry."

Oh yes - the link works now (http://www.nasa.gov/cubequestchallenge/) They also issued a press release late today - several weeks earlier than (I guess) they had planned to do so. Since no one reads the Federal Register, right?

Fixing Wallops (Update)

State assessing damage, considering future of commercial spaceport, WDBJ7

"Virginia's Secretary of Transportation says it could take a year and up to $20 million to repair the commercial spaceport on Virginia's Eastern Shore, after a mishap damaged the launchpad last month. Aubrey Layne says he expects the flights to resume, but with additional protections for Virginia taxpayers. "We do need to have our launch partner and the federal government take responsibility with us in this particular incident," Layne told WDBJ7."

McAuliffe wants risks shared for future rocket launches at Wallops Island, Times Dispatch

"We're not going to have a repeat of this in the future," said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr., who is a board member of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which owns the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island. Layne confirmed Tuesday that the McAuliffe administration may seek to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding and launch services agreement with Orbital that the state revised substantially in 2012 under the administration of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell."

ATK and Orbital Continue to Support Plans for Merger

"Following this announcement on October 28, 2014, a failure occurred during Orbital's Antares launch.  Since the incident, the companies have conducted a thorough review and analysis of the launch failure and Orbital's proposed recovery plan and long-term competitive position.  Following this review, ATK's board of directors continues to support the strategic merits of the transaction and recommends that ATK stockholders vote to approve the issuance of shares to Orbital stockholders. Orbital's board of directors also continues to recommend that Orbital stockholders vote to approve the proposed transaction."

NTSB Investigative Update on Crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

"The National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigative update today into the crash of SpaceShip Two on Oct. 31, 2014, in Mojave, Calif.

- The on-scene portion of the investigation into the crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, a test flight conducted by Scaled Composites, has concluded and all NTSB investigators have returned to Washington, DC.

- The SpaceShipTwo wreckage has been recovered and is being stored in a secure location for follow-on examination.

- The NTSB operations and human performance investigators interviewed the surviving pilot on Friday. According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the copilot. His description of the vehicle motion was consistent with other data sources in the investigation. He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically."

Past Transit Tragedies Point to a Way Forward for Virgin Galactic, Smithsonian

"Private spaceflight hit a large bump in the road to orbit last week, with Orbital Sciences' rocket explosion followed days later by Virgin Galactic's fatal spaceplane crash. But if early aviation and aerospace efforts can teach us anything, it's that the key to surviving such tragedies is transparency and learning from any mistakes. And in a counterintuitive twist, the disasters may even increase public support for spaceflight and space tourism."

Keith's note: Video of Challenger's and Columbia's loss is seared in our collective consciousness - both accidents caused prolonged self-examination and questioning as to whether it was all worth doing. Even commercial advertisements comparing consumer items to the shuttle were pulled. Yet NASA returned to flight - twice. When the shuttle fleet was retired there was exceptional interest and heated debate and overt food fights about who got the remaining shuttles - because of what they represented in people's minds. Indeed huge portions of the population demanded that NASA keep them flying. Remember the flyovers and parades? Major cities stopped everything - just to watch. Yet these very same shuttles that flew over America to such acclaim are identical to the two shuttle vehicles we all saw torn apart with their crews on board. A symbol of tragedy - twice - is now a symbol of American pride.

Orbital to Consolidate Cygnus Launch Manifest and Outsource at Least One Launch, SpaceRef Business

"Moving quickly to inform its International Space Station (ISS) resupply contract partner NASA, Orbital Sciences Corporation today announced that not only would it complete its resupply contract by the end of 2016, it would consolidate its launch manifest and do it with four launches instead of five."

Orbital Announces Go-Forward Plan for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services Program and the Company's Antares Launch Vehicle

"Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world's leading space technology companies, today announced comprehensive plans to fulfill its contract commitments under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program as well as to accelerate an upgrade of the Antares medium-class launcher's main propulsion system. Under the new approach and in line with Orbital's existing CRS contract, all remaining cargo will be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of 2016. There will be no cost increase to NASA and only minor adjustments will be needed to the cargo manifest in the near term."

Mike Alsbury Memorial Fund

"This fundraiser is being managed by Mike's friends and co-workers at Scaled Composites. This is the official site to help Mike's family with future expenses and all donations will go to Mike's wife, Michelle. Michael (Mike) Alsbury, Test Pilot and Project Engineer for Scaled Composites, passed away on October 31, 2014 due to an anomaly during flight test. Mike was a husband, a father of two small children (ages 10 and 7), amazing friend and co-worker. Mike had worked with Scaled for over 15 years.  This is a tragic loss that will leave a void in Mike's family, the Scaled family, and the surrounding community for years to come.  We would like to do anything we can to support Michelle and his two children."

SpaceShipTwo Update

NTSB Accident Investigation of SpaceShipTwo Could Take a Year to Complete Analysis, SpaceRef

"In their last press briefing from Mojave, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released no new clues to the cause of the breakup of SpaceShipTwo. The NTSB did provide new timeline details and an update of what they've been doing. Further press briefings will take place from Washington as needed."

Statement From Virgin Galactic On Latest NTSB Findings - Nov 4th 2014

"While this has been a tragic setback, we are moving forward and will do so deliberately and with determination.  We are continuing to build the second SpaceShipTwo (serial number two), which is currently about 65% complete and we will continue to advance our mission over the coming weeks and months.  With the guidance of the NTSB and the assurance of a safe path forward, we intend to move ahead with our testing program and have not lost sight of our mission to make space accessible for all."

NTSB Video: Fourth Briefing on Crash of SpaceShipTwo

Reporter: Virgin Galactic was too eager (Video) CNN

"Former Washington Post reporter Joel Glenn Brenner says Virgin Galactic's technology did not match their enthusiasm."

"And I will tell you this as well, that this engine that exploded today, even if they had had a successful flight, and even if they had not stolen my friend's life, OK... So, I am here to say that they took this pilot's life, and this engine still would not have gotten customers to space."

Virgin Galactic Spacecraft Crashes, Transcript, CBB

Keith's note: This is tantamount to accusing Virgin Galactic of some very serious crimes. Its quite clear from this interview on the day of the accident that Joel Glenn Brenner really hates Virgin Galactic. But the Washington Post thinks its just fine that she "report" on this accident after revealing her overt bias to millions. At a minimum, shouldn't the Washington Post put links and references up to her other comments? Shouldn't Brenner explain them to the Post's readers? Just wondering. What was just as bizarre was how CNN anchors Brooke Baldwin and Richard Quest allowed her to rant about herself - and her unsubstantiated accusations.

Data should be plentiful in explosion of SpaceShipTwo, By Drew Harwell and Joel Glenn Brenner, Washington Post

NTSB Releases New Clues in SpaceShipTwo Accident Investigation (with video), SpaceRef

"Acting Chairman Christopher Hart's of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released new clues at the third media briefing Sunday evening.
1) The vehicle had a nominal release followed by a nominal Ignition.
2) Approximately 9 seconds after ignition, the "feather" parameters changed from lock to unlock.
According to Hart the "normal procedures are to command the feathers to unlock after Mach 1.4 so aerodynamic forces do not extend feathers prematurely."

SpaceShipTwo Update

Virgin Galactic Media Update 2 November 2014 4:30 pm PT

"Now is not the time for speculation. Now is the time to focus on all those affected by this tragic accident and to work with the experts at the NTSB, to get to the bottom of what happened on that tragic day, and to learn from it so that we can move forward safely with this important mission."

Wallops Sailboat Update

Fine unlikely for boat that delayed Antares launch, Delmarvanow.com

"The sailboat was about 40 miles out to sea, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel said. It was in the first of two avoidance areas for the launch -- the one set for the first rocket stage. The area extends some 50 nautical miles out from shore in a wedge shape, some 37 nautical miles wide near the shore and 17 nautical miles wide at its outer limit. The vessel was well beyond the 12 nautical miles over which the United States exercises sovereignty."

- Wallops Launch Delayed By A Boat, earlier post

The Crew of SpaceShipTwo

Statement from Scaled Composites on SpaceShipTwo Crew

"The Scaled Composites family lost a respected and devoted colleague yesterday, Michael Alsbury, who was the co-pilot for the test flight of SpaceShipTwo. Peter Siebold, the Director of Flight Operations at Scaled Composites, was piloting SpaceShipTwo. He is alert and talking with his family and doctors. We remain focused on supporting the families of the two pilots and all of our employees, as well as the agencies investigating the accident. We ask at this time that everyone please respect the privacy of the families."

SpaceShipTwo Reactions

Comments from Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic

"This is a very tough time for all of us at Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Scaled Composites, and our thoughts remain with the families of the brave Scaled pilots, and all those affected by this tragedy. We are determined to find out what went wrong and are working with the authorities to get that information. It is too early for me to add any details of the investigation at this stage."

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo and Pilot Lost During Test Flight

"On it's fourth powered test flight Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo was lost. The flight had a pilot and co-pilot. One did not survive, while the other was seriously injured. The drama unfolded in real time through social media."

On SpaceShipTwo and why space matters, Michael Belfiore

"... I say that money and time and effort and even lives spent reaching beyond the boundaries of Earth lift us all, even those of us who may never fly. ... To the pilot who gave his life and to the one who was injured yesterday, I say, "Thank you." Thank you for helping us all to look up. Thank you for doing what most of us lack the courage and the skill and the talent to do. And to their families, I also say, "Thank you." Thank you for sharing your loved ones with a dream that's much bigger than an individual or a family. Thank you for allowing them to risk all to make the world a better place."

- SNC Statement in Response to Inquiries Regarding Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Incident
- Space Frontier Foundation Mourns This Week's Events Involving SpaceShipTwo and Orb-3
- Media Update from Virgin Galactic - Oct. 31, 2014 6:15PM PST
- Statement from New Mexico Spaceport Authority on the SpaceShipTwo Mishap
- Statement from NASA Administrator on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Mishap
- FAA Statement on SpaceShipTwo Incident
- Smith, Palazzo Statement on SpaceShipTwo Anomaly

MSNBC on SpaceShipTwo

Fatal crash deals blow to Virgin Galactic, MSNBC

"Chris Hayes reports on a fatal crash during the test flight for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, a commercial space ship designed to give passengers the sensation of weightlessness for $250,000 per flight. Guest: Keith Cowing, editor, NASAWatch.com"

Orbital's Statement Regarding Orb-3 Launch Mishap (UPDATE)

"Telemetry data has been released to Orbital and our engineers presented a very quick look assessment to the Accident Investigation Board at the end of the day. It appears the Antares vehicle had a nominal pre-launch and launch sequence with no issues noted. All systems appeared to be performing nominally until approximately T+15 seconds at which point the failure occurred. Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground impacting near, but not on, the launch pad. Prior to impacting the ground, the rocket's Flight Termination System was engaged by the designated official in the Wallops Range Control Center."

40-Year-Old Russian Engine at Heart of Rocket Investigation

"The thing to keep in mind in all this is that we don't know what caused the mishap," Cowing cautions. "We all saw the explosion at the bottom of the rocket, but that doesn't mean anything. These investigations take time, and sometimes we don't even end up with all the answers."

Did Soviet-era engines doom Antares?, Mad Science Innovation

"Not that older equipment is necessarily flawed. NASA Watch publisher Keith Cowing, with whom I also spoke on the phone today, says: I don't necessarily have a problem with old stuff, if you maintain it. If it used to work, it still can work. There are DC-3s in Antarctica that have been rebuilt three times that fly people to the South Pole. It's the issue of, does the machinery do a task that you need it to do? Do you understand it well enough that you can maintain it in operating condition, and does it make sense financially?"

NASA, Orbital Sciences Begin Antares Loss Investigation, Aviation Week

"Although investigators are keeping their options open, a prime suspect is expected to be a potential failure mechanism involving the AJ-26, a liquid oxygen/kerosene-powered engine originally developed for the Russian space program as the NK-33. An AJ-26 slated to power an Antares on a mission to the ISS in 2015 experienced a failure during a hot-fire test at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on May 22."


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