Commercialization: June 2017 Archives

MDA Sells Majority Stake in its Satellite Servicing Business and Gets its First Customer, SpaceQ

"MDA, which had announced in early May the creation of Space Infrastructure Services (SIS) to handle its nascent satellite servicing business, today announced that Finance Technology Leverage LLC would take a majority stake in SIS and that global satellite communications company SES would be its first customer."

"As part of today's announcement, SIS has awarded a contract to MDA's U.S. division, SSL, a contract valued at US$228 million (CA$305 million)."

SpaceX's final Falcon 9 design coming this year, two Falcon Heavy launches next year, SpaceNews

"We are flying Block 3s right now," Shotwell said. "Block 4s start flying shortly, and then Block 5 at the end of this year. We definitely have gotten better [at] more smooth introducing of change. You don't see the big impacts to production we've had before when we've changed vehicle designs." SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk had previously stated in an online question-and-answer session in October 2016 that Block 5 would be the final upgrade to the Falcon 9 design. The Falcon 9 Block 5 is expected to be far more reusable than the Block 3. Shotwell said a Block 5 booster could relaunch " a dozen or so times." The Block 3, by comparison, has an estimated life of two or three missions. Shotwell said the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 won't need refurbishing, but will mainly undergo inspections prior to launch, streamlining the process compared to the first reused boosters."

SpaceX will try for third Falcon 9 launch in less than two weeks, SpaceflightNow

"After back-to-back launches last weekend, SpaceX could launch its next Falcon 9 mission as soon as Sunday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with a high-power Intelsat communications satellite. Liftoff Sunday will hinge on the ability of SpaceX's launch team to prepare KSC's launch pad 39A for another flight after the successful June 23 blastoff of a Falcon 9 booster with the first Bulgarian-owned communications satellite."

SpaceX Launches Two Missions in Two Days (with videos), SpaceRef

"SpaceX has upped the ante when it comes to reusable launch systems. Within 49 hours the company launched and recovered two Falcon 9 first stages while putting it's customer's payloads safely into orbit."

Keith's note: Imagine if NASA adopted the same incremental product upgrading approach - one based on operational and customer experience/feedback - with forward and backward compatibility such as what SpaceX has adopted. Imagine also that this ability to improve a product is a feature inherent to the original product design and not an afterthought. Imagine all you want. NASA is incapable of doing this or even grasping how to do it - but there were faint glimmers of it during development of the Apollo/Saturn program. Cost and performance benefits aside, having a flexible space launch infrastructure like SpaceX has (I'm sure Blue Origin is no different) with inherent design resilience launched in a steady cadence is how space will be best utilized - not by using monster rockets that NASA cannot even afford to fly more than once every year or so.

Hubble Contact Lenses

"Go to your exam, try out Hubble contacts, and get your prescription."

Hubble Servicing Mission 1, NASA

"After Hubble's deployment in 1990, scientist realized that the telescope's primary mirror had a flaw called spherical aberration. The outer edge of the mirror was ground too flat by a depth of 2.2 microns (roughly equal to one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair). This aberration resulted in images that were fuzzy because some of the light from the objects being studied was being scattered. COSTAR (the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement) was developed as an effective means of countering the effects of the flawed shape of the mirror. COSTAR was a telephone booth-sized instrument which placed 5 pairs of corrective mirrors, some as small as a nickel coin, in front of the Faint Object Camera, the Faint Object Spectrograph and the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph."

Keith's note: On their visit a doctor page they refer to "Dr. Edwin". As in Edwin Hubble. Get it?

After nine launches in 2017, it's tough to be an honest critic of SpaceX, Ars Technica

"SpaceX garners a lot of acclaim for its achievements, and it has legions of admirers within the aerospace community and the public at large. But it also has critics, primarily competitors who look at SpaceX and see a company that gets a lot of hype but doesn't always deliver. What is perhaps most striking about this weekend's back-to-back launches is that the company's successes drove a stake into some of the most credible criticisms that have been levied against SpaceX in recent years."

Waiting for liftoff at the Spaceport, Santa Fe New Mexican

"The concept of space tourism was all the rage when Spaceport America was pitched to New Mexico taxpayers a decade ago as a gateway for rich adventurers willing to pay $250,000 for a ride to the heavens. But as the state has waited year after year for the first of what were supposed to be regular flights into space from the nearly $220 million facility, people behind the program are reimagining it more as a hub for the commercial spaceflight industry rather than space tourism. That change in approach could require pouring millions more in public money into a place that plenty of critics have called one of state government's biggest boondoggles. Dan Hicks, new executive director of the spaceport, says the spaceport must construct additional facilities and offer more services to draw more business."

Finance authority grants spaceport limited use of tax revenue for operations, Santa Fe New Mexican

"Spaceport America, the government-subsidized operation that promised new business for New Mexico by luring wealthy space travelers but in six years hasn't had any such flights, won a partial victory Thursday in its pitch to use more tax money to increase its operating budget. The New Mexico Finance Authority agreed to let the spaceport for one year use extra money from the taxes that shoppers pay in two Southern New Mexico counties. But the spaceport wanted the excess tax money in perpetuity, a proposal that the finance authority declined to grant as its chairman raised questions about the facility's financial strength."

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Commercial Space

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement." Note: Postponed until after the July 4 recess.

The Implications of the Growing Small Satellite Market for Launch and Key Applications (webcast)

"The Center for Strategic and International Studies will be hosting a two-session event to highlight and amplify awareness of the implications of emerging space technologies, particularly those provided by smaller space systems. These discussions will examine implications from the perspective of both changes in the way space missions are executed and in the way that transportation to space is provided."

Amendment may keep Iran-Russia sanctions bill from stopping ISS launches from Wallops, Daily Press

"An Iran-Russia sanctions bill threatened to torpedo Orbital ATK's commercial resupply missions for NASA from Virginia to the International Space Station until an amendment cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday to remove the bill's unintended consequences to civilian agencies. Senators voted overwhelmingly -- 94 to 6 -- to approve the amendment after several members, including Virginia's Mark Warner, described the "unintentional harm" the original bill could inflict on "crucial science, civil and commercial space missions" that support NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research."

Air Force budget reveals how much SpaceX undercuts launch prices, Ars Technica

"One person who has reviewed the Air Force budget and is sympathetic to the new space industry said the following: That is a tad more expensive than the amount ULA would ever tell taxpayers they are paying for one of its launches, and it illustrates the extent to which those taxpayers are forced to subsidize ULA in order to maintain the fiction that it is a competitive private sector company. Essentially, then, while ULA has talked publicly about lowering the costs of its boosters for the commercial sector and the federal government, the US Department of Defense is suggesting in its budget that ULA's costs are as high as they have ever been."

World View Announces First -Ever Multi-Day Stratollite Mission, World View

"In need of a spaceflight partner to literally launch KFC's new flagship spicy Zinger chicken sandwich to space in an entirely new and different way, KFC and creative agency Wieden+Kennedy approached World View about participating in a historic flight to the edge of space. Intrigued by the idea, World View saw this as a great opportunity to publicly demonstrate the Stratollite's capabilities to a mass public audience, while simultaneously financing a portion of the vehicle's development program. Thus, the World View and KFC partnership was born, aiming to usher in a new era of stratospheric discovery and chicken sandwich space exploration."

Keith's note: Really - the only partner they could find for this "historic flight" was KFC - and the only payload they could fly to almost-space is a chicken sandwich? I'm not so sure if the promise of commercial space is what everyone says it is going to be if this is what passes as ground breaking use of otherwise promising hardware. Remember that pizza that Pizza Hut delivered to ISS in 2001? Of course you don't. (Pizza Hut is owned by Yum! Brands Inc. the same people who own KFC, by the way). Then again, if KFC uses its its global marketing prowess then a lot of people may know that there is a chicken sandwich almost in outer space. Will that translate into ticket sales for World View?

Now ... if they had a competition wherein students from around the world created artwork or did something else that did not focus only on cold fast food on a balloon - something that was then flown with an education and outreach program weaved into the marketing - then maybe this could have been a memorable moment. No word yet as to whether the sandwich (530 calories, 1,330 mg of sodium, 26 g of fat) will even be edible when it returns from 4 days in almost-space.

Keith's note: A few moments ago NASA Wallops completed a webcast. The audio and video were not in synch, video was jittery, and they had bad microphone issues. One might get the impression that Wallops PAO has never done a webcast before. Someone needs to buy them more bandwidth or better hardware. They also need to practice doing these things and write down their audio/video settings. Their mics were constantly being mixed by someone - room echo came and went, there was a loud audio hum, and lots of line static. And the audio dropped completely when audience members asked questions or panelists answered them. It was like they were hitting random buttons on their mixing panel to see what sounded the best. I did live webcasts from Everest Base Camp 8 years ago at 17,600 feet using a satellite unit I carried on my back and had far fewer problems than this.

For this press event, unlike all other NASA centers, there was no dial-in for offsite media. You had to send your questions in by email or text. Why is it that Wallops can't do a simple conference call? Teenagers do it on their cellphones.

Here is the question I submitted: "Now that you've had a chance to do all of the accounting, can you tell me what the complete, final cost of repairing damage at NASA Wallops/M.A.R.S. from the Orbital ATK 2014 mishap was? How much did of this amount NASA contribute? How much did Orbital ATK contribute? How much did the State of Virginia and/or M.A.R.S. contribute?" Follow up: "Has NASA required Orbital ATK to increase contingency funds it sets aside and/or its level of insurance coverage in the case of future launch accidents?"

Answer from NASA NASA: "It was a little $15 million over 11 months. It was split three ways."
Orbital: "we have modified our insurance and contingency funds to be in compliance with regulations"

NASA does not even know how the cost of paying for the damage was divided up - unless they mean that NASA, Orbital ATK, and M.A.R.S. each paid exactly one-third i.e. $5 million. If that was the case then why couldn't NASA just say that - as I asked them to do?

Oh yes, in opening the media event, Center Director Bill Wrobel went through a long list of things that Wallops and Orbital ATK do - and did so glowingly: rockets, planes, balloons. One thing he did not mention: Wallops just dropped an expensive payload from one of its balloons the other day at high altitude without a parachute. They had webstreaming and social media issues last night too for one of their sounding rockets. Wallops just does not seem to be ready for prime time.

SST Committee Approves the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 simplifies and strengthens the outdated space-based remote sensing regulatory system. At the same time, this bill enhances U.S. compliance with international obligations, improves national security and removes regulatory barriers facing new and innovative space companies."

Support Grows for the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space,and Technology announced growing support for H.R. 2809, the "American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017." The legislation was favorably reported out of committee today by voice vote. Keep reading to see what they're saying."

Keith's note: This press release has quotes from 19 people representing New Space companies or organizations. Only 2 females are quoted. New Space is still a boy's club. Just sayin'.

Smith Introduces American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"Rep. Bridenstine: "Providing maximum certainty with minimal regulatory burden for the commercial space industry has been one of my top priorities in Congress. The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act moves us in the right direction. Years of uncertainty over which government agency has the responsibility to authorize and supervise commercial space activity has created a chilling effect in the industry, hindering capital formation and innovation. Chairman Smith, Chairman Babin, and I authored this bill to provide a clear, transparent process to meet Outer Space Treaty obligations while ensuring America is open for business in space."

Markup of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

Opening statements: Committee Chairman Smith, Subcommittee Chairman Babin, Rep. Bridenstine, Ranking Member Johnson

Could NASA and SpaceX cooperation turn into competition?

"... So, it came as a surprise to NASA when SpaceX founder Elon Musk held a conference call in February announcing plans to use a powerful rocket that hasn't yet flown to sling private tourists around the moon next year--an ambitious timeline, according to Mary Lynne Dittmar who represents some of SpaceX's competitors through the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. "If you're putting all the schedule pressure on, you are essentially -- you're automatically assuming more risk. You're automatically creating an environment where you are operating at higher risk because you have to meet the deadline," Dittmar explained. Dittmar said she is concerned about the 2018 deadline for SpaceX."

Keith's note: Meanwhile Mary Lynne Dittmar's favorite rocket - the one she's paid to promote (SLS) is years behind schedule, over budget, and fraught with ongoing software and manufacturing errors. SpaceX launches (and lands) rockets on a regular basis. Falcon Heavy is composed three of these rockets strapped together and will launch soon. SLS will not launch until 2020 (maybe) and then not again for 2-4 years. Infrequent launches are one easy way to generate a lot of programmatic risk. So ... who has more in-house, currently functional operational experience under their belt, Mary Lynne? Certainly not the SLS folks.




SpaceX Wins Launch of U.S. Air Force X-37B Space Plane, Reuters

"Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp will fly its first mission for the U.S. Air Force in August when it launches the military's X-37B miniature spaceplane, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Tuesday. Four previous X-37B missions were launched by United LaunchAlliance Atlas 5 rockets. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co . "SpaceX will be sending the next Air Force payload up into space in August," Wilson said during webcast testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. She later specified that the payload would be one of the Air Force's two X-37Bspaceplanes."

NanoRacks Prepares Activation of Historic Chinese Research, 25+ Experiments Onboard International Space Station, Nanoracks

"After Saturday's launch to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX's Dragon was successfully berthed and installed, bringing over 25 of NanoRacks' customer payloads to the ISS, including the first-ever Chinese experiment to be brought aboard Station. The launch of the Chinese experiment from the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), led by Professor Deng Yulin, has been in work for over two years now. Following complete U.S. government compliance, this fully commercial, educational Chinese experiment will study the effects of the space radiation environment on DNA and the changes in mutation rate. The experiment will run on Station for about 30 days and then return back to Earth aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The BIT NanoLab will remain confined to the NanoRacks platform on Station, and can in no way interface with the International Space Station or NASA's IT infrastructure and systems. There is no transfer of technology between NASA and China."

Keith's note: There is always a clever technical solution to overcome cumbersome political policies. People just have to want to find the solutions. Every time you do something like this, the original problem becomes less of a hindrance and is eventually replaced by new, usually unexpected, opportunities. Congratulations to everyone who made this happen. If we can calmly and professionally share a space station with the country who tried to steal our election then we can certainly share it with the country that makes our iPhones.

SpaceX Dragon Headed to The International Space Station

"Major experiments that will look into the human body and out into the galaxy are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following its 5:07 p.m. EDT launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket."

Keith's note: NASA KSC PAO just held a post-launch media briefing - one of many events they mentioned in a media advisory. But they did not bother to tell offsite media that there was a secret dial-in option - only a few of their media pals knew about it. Yet the media advisory gives detailed information about every other way to cover/follow the launch. All other NASA centers take the time to tell news media about dial-in opportunities in advance - but not KSC. This happened with a SpaceX CRS launch in 2016 too. NASA KSC PAO's excuse then was it was not part of their media template. They still do not seem to care about telling the media about these things.

I wanted to ask SpaceX and NASA what the cost of flying a refurbished Dragon is and if they do (or do not) pass on these savings to NASA and if there are any additional NASA requirements for certifying a previously-flown spacecraft to the ISS. Everyone is hyping how cool it is that a refurbished Dragon is being flown. OK, it is cool - but what does that actually mean? Is it actually cheaper to re-fly these Dragons or do the costs of NASA-mandated re-certification limit the actual cost savings?


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