Commercialization: November 2014 Archives

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"


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