Space business and exploration
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Space business and exploration
Space industry news and overview of the race to privatization of space access. for the sake of space exploration
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Jeff Bezos unveils towering New Glenn reusable rocket

Jeff Bezos unveils towering New Glenn reusable rocket | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
The Blue Origin rocket family got a bit larger today as Jeff Bezos unveiled the company's New Glenn heavy booster. Named after Colonel John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in 1962, the New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing, heavy-lift version of the New Shepard rocket and will carry both astronauts and orbital payloads.

According to Bezos, the New Glenn will be a man-rated booster, which means that it can not only carry satellite payloads, but has a vibration and acceleration envelope within human tolerances. The rocket will have a diameter of 23 ft (7 m) and will be powered by seven of Blue Origin's BE-4 engines burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen to generate 3.85 million pounds thrust.

The New Glenn will come in two variants. The first is a two-stage rocket standing 270-ft (82 m) tall and will have a second stage using a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine. The second will add a third stage powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for sending payloads beyond low-Earth orbit. It will be 313-ft (95 m) tall – making it only 50 ft (15 m) shorter than the mighty Apollo Saturn V rocket

Bezos says that the first flight of the New Glenn won't be until the end of decade when it will lift off from Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Escape test

Today's announcement follows on last week's news that Blue Origin will carry out another test of its capsule escape system during a New Shepard flight.

Instead of a tower that's jettisoned during flight, the New Shepard system uses an solid-fuel escape motor built into the crew capsule. This not only saves costs, but allows the system to be used at any point in flight. This has already been tested in a launch pad escape test, but Blue Origin now wants to put it to work during an actual flight.


According to Bezos, about 45 seconds after liftoff when the New Shepard reaches an altitude of about 16,000 ft (4,900 m), the escape system on the unmanned capsule will be activated. The test will take place while the rocket is at the point of maximum dynamic pressure – when it is under the greatest stress as it enters transonic velocity.

Emergency systems will cut the capsule loose from the booster and ignite the escape rocket motor, which will use vector thrust to steer the capsule clear. Once stabilized by the reaction control system, the parachutes will deploy.

Meanwhile, the 70,000 lb of thrust from the rocket motor will very likely destroy the booster, which has already made four successful flights. If it does survive, Bezos says that it will be retired. Otherwise, its impact on the desert floor will be "impressive."

The test flight is scheduled for the first part of October and will be webcast live.

The animation below shows the New Shepard escape test
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Airbus Safran Launchers s'offre Arianespace pour 150 millions environ

Airbus Safran Launchers s'offre Arianespace pour 150 millions environ | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it

Pour 150 millions d'euros environ, Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) rachète près de 35% du capital d'Arianespace détenus jusqu'ici par le CNES. Et dire que les industriels voulaient s'offrir le leader mondial des lancements de satellites pour zéro euro... Pour une fois l'État, par l'entremise du CNES, a tenu bon face à l'appétit des industriels. Le maître d'œuvre des  lanceurs Ariane 5 et du futur Ariane 6, qui était déjà le premier actionnaire d'Arianespace (39% environ), va détenir 74% de son capital. L'opération sera effective au 31 décembre 2016, a précisé ASL dans un communiqué publié ce mercredi.

Arianespace reste une entreprise à part entière

En tant que filiale d'ASL, Arianespace restera une entreprise à part entière, avec son siège social à Evry, un établissement situé en Guyane et des bureaux à Washington, Tokyo et Singapour. C'était d'ailleurs l'une des conditions sine qua non du feu vert politique du Premier ministre Manuel Valls, qui a été maire d'Evry.

Le CNES, qui devient censeur statutaire au même titre que l'Agence spatiale européenne (ESA), perd ses administrateurs au conseil. Le 9 décembre prochain, une assemblée générale des actionnaires Arianespace prendra acte de la démission des trois administrateurs du CNES qui seront remplacés par trois administrateurs désignés par ASL, a expliqué Arianespace dans un communiqué distinct.

Une très belle opération industrielle pour ASL

Au final, ASL fait une très belle opération industrielle en mettant la main sur le leader mondial des services de lancement de satellites. "Arianespace poursuivra sa mission d'autonomie d'accès à l'espace au profit de l'ESA et des institutions européennes", a expliqué le PDG d'Arianespace, Stéphane Israël, cité dans le communiqué. La société de services de lancement "continuera naturellement à travailler avec l'ensemble des constructeurs de satellites", a-t-il précisé.Ce qui était une des exigences de la commission européenne, Arianespace devant travailler en toute équité avec les autres constructeurs de satellites concurrents d'Airbus Space Systems.

"Cette évolution de l'actionnariat permet de conserver tous les facteurs clés de succès d'Arianespace, qui lui ont permis de devenir leader mondial des services de lancement, en particulier sa liberté d'action et sa réactivité lui permettant de s'adapter aux évolutions d'un marché de plus en plus concurrentiel", a estimé le PDG d'ASL Alain Charmeau.

"En renforçant les liens entre l'industrie et le marché, la montée d'Airbus Safran Launchers au capital d'Arianespace va permettre une exploitation toujours plus agile d'Ariane", a assuré Stéphane Israël. Arianespace opère trois lanceurs depuis le Centre spatial guyanais (CSG) : Ariane 5, Soyuz, dans le cadre d'un partenariat avec l'agence spatiale russe Roscosmos, et Vega, dont l'autorité de conception et le maître d'œuvre industriel est le motoriste italien Avio, au travers de sa filiale italienne ELV, détenue également à 30% par l'Agence Spatiale Italienne ASI.

La nouvelle gouvernance des lanceurs

"Alors que les États membres de l'Agence spatiale européenne viennent de confirmer définitivement le développement d'Ariane 6, cette évolution de l'actionnariat d'Arianespace finalise la mise en place d'une nouvelle gouvernance des lanceurs en Europe", a rappelé le PDG d'ASL. Cette opération s'inscrit dans la stratégie des États Membres de l'ESA pour la mise en place de cette nouvelle gouvernance. Une stratégie définie lors de la conférence ministérielle de l'ESA fin 2014. Cette opération s'inscrit également dans le respect du rôle des autres actionnaires d'Arianespace, et bénéficiera également aux lanceurs Vega et Soyuz, assure Alain Charmeau.

Dans un communiqué distinct, le président du CNES, Jean-Yves Le Gall, a confirmé que cette "opération de vente des parts du CNES dans le capital d'Arianespace est une étape supplémentaire dans la restructuration du secteur européen des lanceurs". Selon Jean-Yves Le Gall, cette restructuration comprend trois volets : le développement d'Ariane 6 et de Vega-C, afin de diviser par deux le coût au kilo des lancements par rapport à Ariane 5, le soutien à l'exploitation d'Ariane 5 en attendant l'arrivée d'Ariane 6, et la simplification de l'organisation du secteur européen des lanceurs autour de trois acteurs clés, l'ESA, le CNES et Airbus Safran Launchers.

"L'ensemble devrait permettre à l'Europe de conserver sa place de numéro 1 mondial des services de lancement, conquise de haute lutte au cours des 35 dernières années", a-t-il assuré

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Babin backs Pence-led National Space Council - SpaceNews.com

Babin backs Pence-led National Space Council - SpaceNews.com | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
The chairman of the House space subcommittee said Nov. 15 that he believes Vice President-elect Mike Pence would do a good job running a reconstituted National Space Council, a key element of the Trump campaign’s proposed space policy.

In a video address given at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, or Spacecom, here, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) also endorsed other elements of the Trump space policy, including a greater focus on human spaceflight versus Earth science research.

Babin, whose Houston-area district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said he met Pence during a campaign stop Oct. 31 in Cocoa, Florida. “I was very impressed with him, and I’m very pleased that he’s going to chair a newly-resurrected National Space Council,” he said of Pence. “This should give space the attention and focus that has been missing for far too many years.”

One element of the space policy outlined by the Trump campaign in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election was to recreate the National Space Council, which last operated during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. That council has been formally chaired by the vice president in the past.

Pence, in that Oct. 31 speech, outlined the elements of the campaign’s space policy, including restoring the National Space Council as well as a greater focus on human space exploration and increased use of public-private partnerships. “Our space program needs new leadership, and a new vision,” he said, adding he would work with people in Congress like Babin to implement those plans.

Pence, who spent 12 years in the House before being elected governor of Indiana in 2012, was not active on space issues during his time in Congress. From 2005 to 2007 he was chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members that offered proposals for reducing federal spending. Those proposals included, at the time Pence led the committee, cutting funding for human missions to the moon and Mars under President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration.

Babin, in his address at Spacecom, said he did not expect the next administration to provide major increases in funding to NASA. “As much as I would be thrilled to see NASA’s budget doubled, we have to be realistic, and ensure that the tax dollars we currently receive are focused on the right missions,” he said.

Babin said those “right missions” include work to achieve a long-term goal of human missions to Mars, “with a focus on the moon or cislunar [space] as an important step in that direction.” He also supported more partnerships with the private sector along those lines.

The Trump policy also calls for an emphasis on human space exploration at NASA in favor of research on climate change, a position aligned with Babin’s views. “The agency has gotten a bit distracted over the years with significant funding being siphoned off to support climate change research efforts,” he argued, noting that other agencies could handle that work instead. “NASA is the only federal agency that does human spaceflight, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure that they have the resources to succeed.”
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Quand les Russes mettent en péril le contrat OneWeb d’Arianespace

Quand les Russes mettent en péril le contrat OneWeb d’Arianespace | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
L'agence spatiale russe Roscosmos menace de cesser de livrer ses fusées Soyouz à Arianespace. De quoi mettre en danger le projet de constellation de satellites... - L'Usine de l'Aéro
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Record égalé pour Ariane 5 avec 74 lancements consécutifs réussis

Record égalé pour Ariane 5 avec 74 lancements consécutifs réussis | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it

Record égalé pour Ariane 5 ! Si la 280ème mission d'Arianespace a été reportée d'une journée, elle a fini par remplir tous ses objectifs. En mettant en orbite deux satellites, Ariane 5 égale le record de lancements consécutifs d’Ariane 4, avec 74 décollages d’affilée sans accroc. L’exploit a eu lieu le 5 octobre depuis la station de lancement de Kourou, en Guyane française.

Avec 74 vols d‘affilée réussis en 14 ans, #Ariane5 égale le record d’#Ariane4 établi entre 1995 et son dernier vol en 2003 ????

— CNES (@CNES) 5 octobre 2016

Des satellites australien et indien

Pour sa cinquième mission de l’année (la huitième pour Arianespace), Ariane 5 a lancé Sky Muster 2, un satellite australien qui permettra l’extension de l’internet haut-débit en Australie. Grâce à lui, l’ensemble de l’Australie sera couverte, y compris les îles Norfolk, Christmas, Macquarie et Cocos. Il complétera les fonctions du satellite Sky Muster 1, lui-même mis en orbite par Arianespace en septembre 2015. Le second satellite déployé par cette mission sera le GSAT-18.

Cette commande a été ordonnée par l’agence spatiale indienne (Isro) pour développer les services de télécommunications dans le pays en rejoignant une flotte de 14 engins. C’est la 20e fois que l’Isro fait appel à Arianespace. Les engins australien et indien porteront à 543 le nombre de satellites mis en orbite par l’entreprise française. La mission devrait durer 32 minutes.

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Moon Express gains regulatory approval for Moon shot

Moon Express gains regulatory approval for Moon shot | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved Moon Express’ MX-1E spacecraft for a commercial landing on the Moon – the first time any private company has gained regulatory approval to send payloads beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The MX-1E spacecraft is a lander capable of making a transfer from the Earth to the Moon, make a soft landing on the lunar surface and perform post-landing “hops” in order to relocate itself. On Aug. 3, Moon Express announced this mission approval, which came out of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for [the] private sector commercial mission beyond the Earth’s orbit,” said co-founder and CEO Bob Richards. “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”


Moon Express Lander Testing. Image credit: Moon Express
The company plans to launch to the Moon as early as late 2017 as part of the 2007 Google Lunar XPRIZE – which offers a $30 million for the first team to land on the Moon, travel 1,640 feet (500 meters) across the surface and transmit back high definition video and images.

Other teams have until the end of 2016 to announce a verified launch contract to remain in the competition and complete their mission by the end of 2017.

In October 2015, Moon Express announced a contract with Rocket Lab to launch three of their spacecraft to land on the Moon. Two are expected to occur in late 2017 and will utilize the yet-to-fly Electron rocket to send the MX-1E to LEO. Once in orbit, the spacecraft’s onboard propulsion will do the rest to travel to and land on the Moon.

The FAA approval, which came in the form of a July 20, 2016, fact sheet, deemed the launch of the payload would not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States.

The fact sheet claims that as long as the information provided to the FAA does not change and the regulatory agency does not become aware of any issue the review did not consider that could affect the determination, then this review is final.

This approval is required by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basis of international space law. In particular, Article VI of the treaty requires activities of non-governmental entities, such as private companies, in space, on the Moon and other celestial bodies, gain authorization and supervision by the appropriate country.

However, the FAA approval only applies to the late 2017 flight and does not apply to future missions by Moon Express or similar missions from other companies. Future requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

This MX-1E is a smaller version of the company’s MX-1, optimized for the Electron rocket. According to a 2015 Space News report, the company had originally planned to build a larger lander based on a common spacecraft bus developed for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. They later developed a revised, smaller design before ultimately shrinking the design even further in order to fly atop the Electron.

If successful, Moon Express is already planning for increased interest in lunar missions. The company website states the recent discovery of water on the Moon is an “economic game changer” for the future of space exploration.

After the MX-1E missions, the company will begin to scale up the hardware. Already, Moon Express has entered into an agreement with the 45th Space Wing to utilize Space Launch Complexes 17 and 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The site will be used in the development and flight test operations for the company’s lunar landers.

Ultimately, the company hopes to help lower the cost of space exploration to enable the use the Moon’s natural resources for even further exploration.

“The sky is not the limit for Moon Express – it is the launchpad. This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity. Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children,” said co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain. “In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and Moon rocks back to Earth.”
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World’s first private orbital launch complex completed in New Zealand

World’s first private orbital launch complex completed in New Zealand | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it

Rocket Lab, a U.S. company with a New Zealand subsidiary aiming to provide commercial rocket launch services, announced on Sept. 26 the completion of the world’s first private space launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The facility, named Launch Complex 1, will serve as the primary site for launches of the company’s Electron rocket.

“Completing Launch Complex 1 is a significant milestone in the build-up to our first Electron test flight,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “Launch Complex 1 presents a considerable opportunity to change how we access space.”

image: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/video-our-mission-495x655.jpg

An artist’s rendering of the Electron rocket. Image Credit: Rocket Lab

The location of the site enables the company to offer customers a variety of orbital inclinations – from 39 degrees through Sun-synchronous. Additionally, the low volume of marine and air traffic in the area allow for the complex to perform space launches very frequently.

The site received a 30-year license to launch rockets every 72 hours – the highest frequency of space launches in history. In order to get the most out of this opportunity, the company is hoping to launch a maximum of 120 times a year.

“These are big goals and I am very excited for Mahia and New Zealand to be launching more rockets into space than any other country in the world,” Beck said.

The newly completed complex includes a vehicle processing hangar, where Electron rockets will be prepared prior to flight, as well as a 45-metric-ton launch platform and tower. The platform will be used to erect the rocket from a horizontal to a vertical position and will provide fuel and launch services. The site also features storage tanks for liquid oxygen and kerosene.

Construction of the complex started in December 2015 and included upgrading the local infrastructure. By June 2016, most of the work was completed, and in August 2016, the launch platform was installed, marking the final major step toward the site’s opening.

The opening ceremony of the new complex that took place on Monday was attended by about 200 people, including New Zealand’s Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Rocket Lab staff, members of the newly formed New Zealand Space Agency, and locals.

“It helps put New Zealand more on the map,” Joyce said. “We are famous for our food, tourism, and movies, but this helps tell the story of New Zealand’s high-tech companies and it’s an important part of our future.”

With a mass of about 10.5 metric tons, the two-stage Electron rocket is 52 feet (16 meters) tall and 3.94 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter. It is capable of launching up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 310 miles (500 kilometers). Each of the launchers two stages uses one of Rocket Lab’s electrically pump-fed Rutherford engines.

The company is currently working on the qualification of Electron’s first stage. The second stage and the 3-D printed Rutherford engine have already passed the qualification.

The Electron rocket will be employed for launching CubeSat nanosatellites into space. Rocket Lab revealed that these tiny spacecraft will be used to provide optimized crop monitoring, improved weather reporting, the Internet from space, natural disaster prediction, up-to-date maritime data and search and rescue services.

The company aims to offer the most affordable small satellite launch services starting at $4.9 million. The list of future customers includes NASA, Planet, Spire, and Moon Express.

The first test launch of Electron is currently planned to take place before the end of the year. Sometime next year, the rocket will loft Moon Express’s lunar lander MX-1 toward the Moon. That flight is currently targeted for late 2017.

Successful launches from Launch Complex 1 will make New Zealand the 11th country to put a satellite into orbit.

“It’s going to be a big moment and a proud moment for me,” Beck noted.


Read more at http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/worlds-first-private-orbital-launch-complex-completed-in-new-zealand/#Mph7IHmqyVpjasjf.99
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After SpaceX-Amos 6 Loss, Arianespace Sees Demand Surge

After SpaceX-Amos 6 Loss, Arianespace Sees Demand Surge | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
[Via Satellite 09-14-2016] Following the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with Spacecom’s Amos 6 satellite, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel said satellite operators have reached out to the company to inquire about launch services. However, the European launch services provider has only one launch slot for a large satellite available between now and the end of 2018. Speaking Sept. 12 at a press conference, Israel said the Arianespace manifest is the fullest it’s ever been, and the company is trying to create room for more launches to accommodate near-term demand.

“We are almost full up to 2018 with one opportunity for a big satellite in 2018,” he said, adding that Arianespace is endeavoring to offer additional launch slots “with Soyuz as a backup for small satellites, and by introducing one more Ariane next year and the year after.”

At present, Arianespace has 56 missions in its backlog spread across Vega, Soyuz and its flagship Ariane 5 rocket. Israel said 22 future missions are with Ariane 5, 24 with Soyuz, and 10 are with Vega. The addition of OneWeb’s bulk purchase of 21 Soyuz missions last year accounts for the majority of that rocket’s use. Other launch vehicle missions are more diversified between customers in telecom, navigation, remote sensing, and science.

This year the company added eight more missions to its manifest — two for Vega and six for Ariane 5. Including the recently announced GSAT 11 multi-spot beam satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), scheduled to launch in 2017, other Ariane 5 additions consist of Comsat NG 1 and 2 for the French procurement agency DGA, ViaSat 2 on behalf of ViaSat and two undisclosed customers. The Vega missions are for the Capacité de Renseignement d’origine Electromagnétique Spatiale (CERES) DGA-CNES satellite and the Atmospheric Dynamics Mission (ADM-Aeolus) for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Israel said while Arianespace has limited room for new missions, it is not entirely out of options, and would be willing to work with satellite operators seeking new contracts. Whether or not operators could switch launch providers, as some have apparently queried about, is subject to whether or not they have the contractual flexibility to do such a swap, he said. Given the small size of the launch market, vehicle failures can easily compound delays for satellite operators. In light of this, Israel encouraged discussion between launch providers on the topic of shifting customers from one vehicle to another.

“I think it is good that different competitors speak to each other for the benefit of the customer,” he said. “We know that in our business we all can have some difficulties. And it could be the case of Arianespace, we will see, I hope not, but we all can have some difficulties.”

Arianespace has completed six missions this year — four with Ariane 5 and two with Soyuz — and is pursuing 11 in total. This number is down from an initially planned 12 due to a lost launch opportunity caused by a satellite-shipping problem. Were it not for the shipping incident, the launch provider would be on pace to match last year’s 12-mission cadence, which set a company record. The remaining 2016 missions consist of two Vega and three Ariane 5 missions.

Last year Arianespace shifted EchoStar’s Jupiter 2 mission to United Launch Alliance (ULA) to accommodate EchoStar’s desire to launch this year. Israel mentioned this flexibility as proof of Arianespace’s willingness to put its money where its mouth is.

“If a different launch service provider wants to work with us on creative solutions, our door is open,” he said.

One customer, ViaSat, did switch its ViaSat 2 High Throughput Satellite (HTS) from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to an Ariane 5, as SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services-7 (CRS-7) mission failure pushed back the rocket’s debut. Israel also criticized SpaceX’s method of continually augmenting its launch vehicle, saying launch providers need to find a balance between improvement and cautiousness.

“I would be cautious when it comes to changing each rocket launch after launch. This is not what we have done with Ariane 5 … the more we can have a launch looking like the previous I think the better it is for our customers,” he said.

Israel said Arianespace has made limited improvements to the Ariane 5 chiefly by “exploiting the launch and better understanding the margins” of the vehicle rather than making significant changes to the vehicle. Rather than “over-innovating” and have an “unstable system,” Israel said Arianespace sought to stabilize the Ariane 5 as a lesson learned from the rocket’s one failure in 2002. He said Arianespace took two years and three months before returning to flight in 2005 with the Ariane 5 ECA version.

Israel pointed to the Ariane 6 with Vega C as evidence of the company’s pursuit of innovation. This summer the company held its first workshops for future customers of the Ariane 6 and Vega C launchers, and plans to begin selling launches for both by the end of the year. Vega C is expected to debut in mid-2019, followed by the Ariane 6 in 2020. Israel said Arianespace intends to have an overlap period of three years before phasing out today’s launch family
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Firefly Space Systems burns out?

Firefly Space Systems burns out? | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Firefly Space Systems, a NewSpace launch service provider that was founded in 2014 by Tom Markusic P.J. King and Michael Blum, has been developing the Firefly Alpha rocket which uses an aerospike engine cluster to deliver 400 kg payloads to LEO. They have been under legal pressure from Virgin Galactic regarding allegedly stolen intellectual property for aerospike engine designs.

The legal battle took a turn in Virgin Galactic’s favor earlier this month when the arbitrator in the case (case no. 01-12-0002-2467) made a terminating sanctions ruling determining that Markusic did take Virgin Galactic trade secrets, destroyed evidence, impeded the arbitration process, and transferred Virgin Galactic confidential information to Firefly computers. This ruling makes any further legal action by Virgin Galactic much simpler as they no longer have to prove Markusic took their confidential information.

Things appeared to be going well at Firefly before this ruling, with a high volume of new hiring going on, a $5.5 million Venture class launch services contract with NASA, test firings of their engine, and a successful raise of $19 million in funding. Things may have changed with a statement posted to Twitter today on their @Firefly_Space account stating they have “experienced a setback on funding”.  

The listed contact for additional information was from Sanitas International, a company specializing in PR for government contractors under scrutiny and potentially at risk of fines or criminal penalty. Anonymous sources at Firefly have told Spaceflight Insider that the company is out of money.

Forming an aerospace company is no easy feat, with many facing similar issues. XCOR, and its Lynx spaceplane, has seen many of its core members depart, its spacecraft shuttered, and reports appearing in Popular Mechanics and Parabolic Arc have stated that much of its staff has been laid off. Other companies that formed under the NewSpace banner are finding that financial support is difficult to come by.
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La NASA a découvert des geysers de vapeur d'eau sur Europe, un satellite de Jupiter - L'Usine de l'Aéro

La NASA a découvert des geysers de vapeur d'eau sur Europe, un satellite de Jupiter - L'Usine de l'Aéro | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
La fin du suspense. La NASA a annoncé lundi avoir découvert de possibles traces de vapeur d’eau sur la surface gelée d’Europe, l’une des lunes de Jupiter. Plus exactement, le télescope spatial Hubble a détecté à trois reprises en 2014 ce qui s’apparente à des geysers atteignant 200 kilomètres de hauteur autour du pôle sud d’Europe.

#ICYMI: Possible water plumes spotted by @NASA_Hubble erupting on Jupiter's moon Europa: https://t.co/ZgHaQpUCLb pic.twitter.com/hgs50tFdGp

— NASA (@NASA) 27 septembre 2016
"L’océan d’Europe est considéré comme l’un des endroits les plus prometteurs dans le système solaire pouvant abriter la vie" a expliqué Geoff Yoder, directeur par intérim de la NASA.

Or,  "si ces geysers existent, cela nous donne potentiellement un accès plus facile à l'océan souterrain (...) sans avoir besoin de forer à travers des kilomètres de glace", a détaillé William Sparks, de l'Institut des sciences du télescope spatial de Greenbelt.  Ainsi, cette découverte pourrait aider à savoir s’il existe de la vie dans l’océan qui se cache sous la surface glacée de ce satellite de la plus grande planète du système solaire.

Les scientifiques pourraient utiliser la vision infrarouge du télescope James Webb, qui doit être lancé en 2018, pour confirmer cette activité sur Europe. Si celle-ci est confirmée ce serait le deuxième objet connu du système solaire ayant de l’eau. En 2005 la NASA avait observé des jets de vapeurs et de poussière sur Enceladus, un satellite de Saturne.

Les travaux de scientifiques seront publiés dans la revue Astrophysical Journal.
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Japan gets first int'l customer for advanced Earth observation satellite - The Mainichi

Japan gets first int'l customer for advanced Earth observation satellite - The Mainichi | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Japan's first ever export of an Earth observation satellite will likely go to Vietnam, after the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) largely agreed to purchase the craft, the Mainichi Shimbun learned Sept. 17.

The satellite is a high-performance, compact, radar-based model developed by NEC Corp. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. The Japanese government is hoping the sale, if finalized, will give a boost to Japanese corporations' entry into the expanding global satellite market.

The Advanced Satellite with New System Architecture for Observation-2 (ASNARO-2), including its ground equipment, is expected to come with a price tag in the tens of billions of yen. It has one of the world's highest resolutions as a radar satellite, and is a compact 550 kilograms.

NEC and Mitsubishi Electric will produce the first satellite for testing with the financial assistance of the Japanese government, and plan to launch the satellite in 2017. Unlike optical satellites equipped with cameras, the ASNARO-2 is capable of surface observations even at night and in cloudy weather, making it an ideal tool in times of disaster -- when obtaining data on damage and the condition of crops becomes vital -- for which the Vietnamese government plans to use the system. The second satellite to be built around 2018 will be delivered to Vietnam using the Japanese government's Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget.

Vietnam had been looking to obtain a radar satellite because of the prevalence of cloudy weather in the country, which limits the usefulness of optical satellites. Japanese public and private sectors, meanwhile, had been making a concerted effort to sell their technology to Vietnam.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the world's satellite market jumped 2.3-fold between 2005 and 2015 to some U.S. $203 billion, or around 20.8 trillion yen. However, sales of space-related equipment within Japan have failed to expand at the same rate, with market size lingering at around 350 billion yen in 2014.

The downsizing of observation satellites has led to reduced launch costs, making the satellite market a fastest growing area, particularly in up-and-coming economies. The Japanese government plans to support corporations that develop small and low-cost satellites, because of their great international competitiveness, and to promote exports.

Because the Japanese public and private sectors both rely heavily on foreign satellites for satellite imagery data, domestic production of satellites is also beneficial from a national security standpoint.
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Falcon 9 rocket explosion traced to upper stage helium system – Spaceflight Now

Falcon 9 rocket explosion traced to upper stage helium system – Spaceflight Now | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
The investigation into a dramatic Falcon 9 rocket explosion earlier this month at Cape Canaveral has determined a “large breach” in the launcher’s upper stage helium pressurization system led to the destruction of the booster and its $200 million satellite payload, SpaceX said Friday.

Officials said returning to flight “safely and reliably” with the Falcon 9 rocket, a critical vehicle for NASA’s commercial crew and cargo program for the International Space Station, is SpaceX’s top priority.

The inquiry, led by SpaceX with assistance from government and industry experts, is still looking into the cause of the breach, which may be only a symptom and not the root of the Sept. 1 mishap. The spectacular explosion occurred as the 23-story rocket was being fueled for a preflight engine firing at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad.

In an update posted to SpaceX’s website Friday, the company said only 93 milliseconds passed from the first signs of an anomaly to the loss of data. The Accident Investigation Team, composed of representatives from SpaceX, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and industry experts, is analyzing approximately 3,000 channels of engineering data, along with video, audio and imagery, the company said.

Most of the debris scattered by the explosion has been recovered, photographed, labeled, catalogued and moved to a hangar for inspection, SpaceX said.

“At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place,” SpaceX said. “All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated.”

The rocket’s payload — the Amos 6 communications satellite owned by Israel’s Spacecom Ltd. — was mounted on top of the Falcon 9 for mock countdown. Amos 6 was due to launch two days after the accident.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank contains several composite helium vessels, each pressurized to about 5,500 pounds per square inch in flight. The helium is routed through the second stage’s Merlin engine, where the helium warms up and is injected into the rocket’s propellant tanks to pressurize the stage as the launcher burns fuel, keeping the tanks structurally sound.

While cryogenic helium was aboard the Falcon 9 at the time of the explosion, the mishap occurred around eight minutes before the rocket’s main engines were scheduled to ignite for the on-the-pad “static fire” test Sept. 1.

At that point in the countdown, the propellant tanks are normally not pressurized for launch.

The explosion on the launch pad is the second time SpaceX has lost a Falcon 9 rocket.

In June 2015, a Falcon 9 booster disintegrated about two minutes after liftoff with a Dragon supply ship heading to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s probe of that failure concluded it was probably caused by a weakened strut holding one of the helium tanks inside the second stage’s liquid oxygen tank. The bracket fractured under the high acceleration of launch and one of the helium tanks broke free immersed inside the upper stage’s reservoir of super-cold liquid oxygen, the company said last year.

The tank over-pressurized and ruptured as the helium spilled from its composite container, according to SpaceX, which said it would no longer use the same type of strut — provided by an external suppler — in future launches.

Despite the close proximity of the failure modes in both accidents, SpaceX said investigators “have exonerated any connection with last year’s CRS-7 mishap,” referring to the name of the failed flight in June 2015.

The company’s statement Friday offered no details on how engineers concluded the accidents shared no linkage.


Diagram of the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage. Credit: SpaceX
Meanwhile, ground crews at Cape Canaveral are examining the damage at Complex 40, SpaceX’s primary launch pad. The company said “substantial areas of the pad systems were affected” by the explosion, but several key pieces of ground equipment escaped major damage.

“The Falcon Support Building adjacent to the pad was unaffected, and per standard procedure was unoccupied at the time of the anomaly,” SpaceX said. “The new liquid oxygen farm – e.g. the tanks and plumbing that hold our super-chilled liquid oxygen – was unaffected and remains in good working order.”

Holding tanks and pumps for the launch pad’s RP-1 kerosene fueling system were “largely unaffected” and the pad’s control systems are in relatively good condition, SpaceX said.

Contrary to initial reports, the company confirmed no debris left the immediate area of Complex 40 during the explosion.

Construction at nearby launch pad 39A, a former space shuttle launch complex at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center a few miles north of Complex 40, is on track to have the facility ready to support Falcon 9 flights in November. SpaceX leases pad 39A from NASA.

SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility, a renovated Titan rocket assembly building, is also fully operational. It is located a few miles to the south of Complex 40.

Officials said SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California, continues producing Merlin engines, Falcon rocket tanks and other systems in a “methodical manner” as the components are cleared by the investigation.

“We will work to resume our manifest as quickly as responsible once the cause of the anomaly has been identified by the Accident Investigation Team,” SpaceX said. “Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

SpaceX has not announced what payload will fly on the next Falcon 9 launch, or whether the mission will blast off from pad 39A in Florida or a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
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ILS unveils two Proton variants sized for smaller satellites - SpaceNews.com

ILS unveils two Proton variants sized for smaller satellites - SpaceNews.com | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
International Launch Services on Sept. 13 announced two new variants of its Proton rocket that will be sized to launch smaller geostationary satellites.
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[Prix du projet industriel] Patrick Bonguet, Airbus Safran Launchers : Il construit Ariane 6 - Spatial

[Prix du projet industriel] Patrick Bonguet, Airbus Safran Launchers : Il construit Ariane 6 - Spatial | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Durant ses vacances, accompagné de sa femme et de ses enfants, Patrick Bonguet adore parcourir les sites archéologiques du bassin méditerranéen à la recherche de vieilles pierres. « Il faut une grande force d’imagination pour réaliser la beauté des anciennes cités », s’amuse-t-il. Dans son métier, le directeur du programme d’Ariane 6, 56 ans, est tourné vers l’avenir. Ce qui le motive, c’est le changement, la quête de l’amélioration, les nouveaux défis. Pas étonnant que l’industrie spatiale européenne soit venue le rechercher en 2014, lui qui avait cédé aux sirènes du secteur de l’énergie et du groupe Alstom pour rebâtir sa stratégie industrielle. « Le 24?décembre 2014 en fin d’après-midi, j’ai reçu un appel du président d’Airbus Safran Launchers [ASL, ndlr], Alain Charmeau, pour prendre la direction du programme Ariane 6 avec l’objectif de changer le modèle industriel des lanceurs », explique-t-il. Le 9?novembre dernier, après avoir validé les choix techniques, l’agence spatiale européenne a octroyé une enveloppe de 2,4?milliards d’euros pour la poursuite du programme.

L’homme des missions impossibles

Le défi était – et reste – immense : diviser par deux les coûts de fabrication d’Ariane tout en garantissant son incroyable fiabilité ! Mais ce centralien qui a acquis ses connaissances dans le domaine aérospatial à l’université de Stanford, aux États-Unis, est l’homme des missions impossibles. Fin des années 1990, comme directeur des opérations de la société russo-européenne Starsem, il a établi une relation de confiance avec les industriels russes qui aboutira à l’arrivée de la mythique fusée Soyouz sur le pas de tir de Kourou en Guyane. « Personne ne croyait à cette aventure un peu improbable de Français qui travaillent avec les Russes à lancer des satellites américains », en rit-il aujourd’hui. Au début des années 2000, la mission était encore plus délicate. Après des échecs à répétition d’Ariane 5 dont deux explosions, alors directeur des programmes d’Arianespace, il a contribué à remettre d’équerre les process industriels et a conduit le plan de retour en vol.Aujourd’hui, il focalise toute son énergie sur Ariane 6. « L’an prochain, nous connaîtrons le pic d’activité du programme. Au total, 4 000 ingénieurs environ seront mobilisés », explique ­Patrick Bonguet depuis son bureau aux Mureaux (Les ­Yvelines), où les équipes des principaux industriels travaillent ensemble sur un plateau partagé. Pour rendre Ariane 6 plus compétitive, rien n’a été négligé. Dans le domaine de la conception, il a optimisé l’architecture des boosters pour bénéficier d’une meilleure poussée et a augmenté le volume sous coiffe disponible pour les satellites. Il a surtout revu l’organisation industrielle. « La création d’ASL a permis de déployer une approche optimisée de bout en bout et une mise en flux de la production, des matières premières jusqu’au lancement. L’un des objectifs est de standardiser la conception et de maximiser l’usage des grands moyens industriels pour les faire tourner 24?heures sur 24, 5 jours sur 7 », explique Patrick Bonguet. Ce qui passe par une spécialisation des sites.

Surtout, Patrick Bonguet veut considérer ses fournisseurs comme de véritables partenaires. « Je ne leur demande pas de réduire leurs marges, mais ce qu’ils peuvent faire pour un prix donné. Nous affinons ensemble les spécifications techniques, la conception des produits et la manière de travailler. Cette organisation demande aussi d’avoir une visibilité sur les coûts réels de chacun. Cela impose comme prérequis d’établir une grande confiance mutuelle ». Jusqu’ici la recette s’avère gagnante. À quelques pas de son bureau, les engins de chantiers s’activent sur un terrain vague : la future usine d’assemblage de la fusée européenne est en construction. Jour J - 1 500?: le compte à rebours a commencé.
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We build Ariane6 : S01E01

Europe's future launcher? Here's Guillaume, in charge of Ariane 6's enhancement plan, to tell you about it!
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Airbus Safran Launchers et l'ESA confirment leur engagement pour développer Ariane 6 - L'Usine de l'Aéro

Airbus Safran Launchers et l'ESA confirment leur engagement pour développer Ariane 6 - L'Usine de l'Aéro | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Safran Launchers, coentreprise à parité entre Airbus et Safran, a annoncé mercredi avoir signé avec l'Agence spatiale... - L'Usine de l'Aéro
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Tests réussis pour la fusée New Shepard de Blue Origin

Tests réussis pour la fusée New Shepard de Blue Origin | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it

Tests réussis pour la fusée New Shepard de Blue Origin. La capsule d'équipage a atterrit avec douceur après l'enclenchement de la procédure d'urgence et le lanceur New Shepard est aussi venu se poser sur Terre sans incident malgré les risques d'explosion.
Double test réussi pour Blue Origin qui avance à grands pas vers le tourisme spatial. © Blue Origin - D.R
SUR LE MÊME SUJET
Blue Origin fait décoller sa New Shepard pour la quatrième fois (et la récupère)
L’agence spatiale indienne ISRO, nouveau concurrent de SpaceX et Blue Origin dans la fusée réutilisable ?
Pourquoi l’exploit d'Elon Musk avec SpaceX dépasse celui de Jeff Bezos avec Blue Origin

Un nouveau succès pour la fusée New Shepard. Le test de Blue Origin sur l’éjection d’urgence de sa capsule abritant l'équipage en partance pour l'Espace est concluant. La société de Jeff Bezos vérifiait la viabilité de sa capsule d’équipage lors de son éjection d’urgence en cas d’incendie du moteur sur le lanceur.

That is one hell of a booster. #InFlightEscape #GradatimFerociter https://t.co/7ZRRe2HnMO

45 secondes après le décollage de la fusée, à environ 4 893 mètres du sol, la procédure d'urgence a été enclenchée. La capsule a envoyé une poussée de 35 tonnes de gaz brûlant sur le lanceur et s’est désolidarisée de ce dernier. Elle est montée jusqu'à 7 092 mètres avant d'entamer sa descente et d'atterir en douceur sur le sol.

L'envoi de touristes en orbite basse prévu pour 2018

Les probabilités pour que le lanceur New Shepard explose au moment du décrochage de la capsule étaient élevées. Même Blue Origine avait parier sur la perte de son lanceur. Mais, la fusée a continué sa montée jusqu’à 93 713 mètres de hauteur avant de regagner le sol. C’est le cinquième atterrissage réussi d’un lanceur New Shepard, et probablement le plus spectaculaire en raison de l'éjection d'urgence de la capsule d'équipage.



Blue Origine fait un pas de plus vers la commercialisation de voyages dans l’Espace. La société de Jeff Bezos concurrence directement SpaceX sur le secteur des fusées réutilisables. Blue Origin souhaite envoyer des touristes ou des satellites en orbite basse. Les tests avec des pilotes d’essai sont prévus pour 2017 et le développement du tourisme spatial pour 2018.

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United Nations to fly first space mission on Dream Chaser - SpaceNews.com

United Nations to fly first space mission on Dream Chaser - SpaceNews.com | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
The United Nations plans to purchase a dedicated mission on a Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft in 2021 to give developing nations an opportunity to fly experiments in space.

At a press conference during the International Astronautical Congress here Sept. 27, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) said the agreement to fly the dedicated Dream Chaser mission is part of a broader effort by the office to increase access to space to emerging nations.

“Our project is the first-ever United Nations space mission,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA. “The mission has one very important goal: to allow United Nations member states to conduct research that cannot be done on Earth.”

The mission, she said, will be open to all nations, but with a particular emphasis on those nations that don’t have the capabilities to fly their own experiments in space. UNOOSA will soon start the process of soliciting payload proposals, with a goal of selecting payloads by early 2018 so that the winning countries have time to build them for a 2021 launch.

Neither SNC nor UNOOSA disclosed the cost of the mission. Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems division, said that the mission will be financed by several ways, with the countries selected to fly experiments paying at least some of the cost of the flight.

“We believe this is an opportunity for companies and organizations to potentially be sponsors of this effort,” he said at the press conference. “We also believe that some of the existing space nations and companies will want to be part of this and provide either in-kind services or support to the program.”

SNC is developing Dream Chaser as a cargo spacecraft to service the International Space Station under a NASA contract, with the vehicle ready to begin those missions by the end of the decade. However, this mission is currently planned as a two-week free-flyer mission in low Earth orbit, with no plans to travel to the ISS.

“In order to provide as much opportunity to the global space community, it will be a free flyer,” Sirangelo said. “It’s not necessary for us to go to the ISS.” He added Dream Chaser is able to fly in orbit for extended periods of time, should the UN desire a longer mission.

The Dream Chaser mission, while billed as the UN’s first space mission, fits into a broader effort by UNOOSA called the Human Space Technology Initiative that started in 2010. “The main goal is to provide access to our member states to microgravity experiments,” said Di Pippo. “We wanted to offer, mainly to developing countries, the possibility to access space in microgravity conditions.”

Besides the Dream Chaser mission, the initiative includes two other major projects. The KiboCUBE program, in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, gives developing nations the opportunity to launch cubesats from the ISS. In August, UNOOSA selected a cubesat proposed by the University of Nairobi in Kenya as the first KiboCUBE satellite, and opened a second call for missions Sept. 27.

A third element of the initiative is cooperation with China’s space program. A memorandum of understanding signed in March is the first step in a process that could lead to UN access to China’s space station when it is completed in the early 2020s, Di Pippo said
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Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place

Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
High-frequency, low-cost launches is the goal of Rocket Lab, a small aerospace company that suddenly gained attention after announcing the details of its Rutherford engine, named for the New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford, at this year’s Space Symposium. SpaceFlight Insider had the opportunity to speak with Peter Beck, the company’s CEO and founder, about Electron launches and about the company itself.


The Electron rocket program began in 2013, and has produced a design dedicated for bringing small satellites to low-Earth orbit (LEO) as inexpensively as possible – about $4.9 million per mission, a fraction of the current average launch price. Each Electron is made using carbon composite instead of metal due to its strength and low mass, which gives the rocket, according to the website, “a dry mass equal to less than a Mini Cooper.”

It’s a two-stage rocket, with the first stage powered by nine of Rocket Lab’s Rutherford engines and the second by the Rutherford Vacuum Engine, which has a different nozzle shape that is “tailored to suit the vacuum conditions outside Earth’s atmosphere,” according to the website. The entire rocket is 20 meters high and one meter in diameter.


The Rutherford engine. Image Credit: Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab developed the Rutherford engine specifically for the Electron launch vehicle, and it is capable of 4,600 pounds-force of thrust with a specific impulse of 327 seconds. It’s fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1, which is essentially very refined kerosene, and all of its major components are made using additive manufacturing – that is, 3-D printing – “including the regeneratively cooled thrust chamber, injector, pumps, and main propellant valves,” according to Rocket Lab. The whole engine can be built in just three days. Additionally, the carbon composite tanks were specially designed in order to be compatible with the liquid oxygen.

There is also a reason that the engine’s plumbing looks significantly less complex than usual. In rocket engines, turbopumps are used to push fuel and oxidizer into the combustion chamber, and are typically driven by gas turbines. Instead, the Rutherford’s turbopump uses brushless DC motors and high performance lithium polymer batteries, making the whole design much simpler thermodynamically and possible to modify with software changes as necessary.

Unlike most rocket developers, everything from the rocket body to the engine to the guidance systems are designed in-house.

“We have some machining contractors outside, a component manufacturer, but all the design and most of the manufacturing is done in-house,” said Beck. “It’s really critical to be able to design a launch vehicle in the time frame that we’re designing it, and it’s a fully integrated concept. So, raw material comes in and a rocket comes out. We even operate our own launch range, so we even are able to do that part of it as well. It’s really instrumental in having full control over that whole cycle, to be able to achieve what we want to achieve.”


The Electron rocket. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab
Beck created the company in 2007 after discovering that simply working in the aerospace industry would not actually fulfill his childhood dream. Up to that point, he had made all his career choices in exactly one way.

“It’s always been about the rocket for me,” he said.

He took a tool and die-making apprenticeship at Fisher and Paykel to gain “the hand skills in precision engineering to be able to build rockets and rocket engines”, and had unusual freedom there to try his own rocket projects. He then worked at a government research laboratory which provided experience in advanced materials and structures.

“I’d always dreamed as a child working for one of the very big aerospace primes, and it was a time in my career where I went to America for about a month,” Beck said. “My wife had some work over there, so I went over there and spent a bit of time with these aerospace primes, talking to folks at NASA and all over the industry, and it became pretty obvious that I would be a tiny, tiny gear in a giant machine, and although even if I really excelled in one of those big corporations, they’re still not going to do what I want to do, which is what I’m doing now. So it was kind of a depressing time.

“I remember the flight home, the 12-hour flight back from L.A. to New Zealand, and I remember on that flight thinking, ‘Well, here’s my childhood dreams, they’re smashed! This isn’t the way it is at all.’ So, really it was on the way home that I decided that I’d start Rocket Lab, and I drew the logo, and thought of a name, and incorporated when I landed and about six months later I quit my job at a government research lab and started the company.”

Within just a couple of years, in November 2009, Rocket Lab became the first private company to reach space in the southern hemisphere when their Ātea-1 suborbital sounding rocket launched successfully from their own facility. And before starting Electron, the company “developed advanced systems for various customers,” Beck said, including DARPA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin.

“But we do none of that now; we’re really focused on this Electron launch vehicle,” he said.


A test fire of the Rutherford engine. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab
The company intends to remain focused on making space accessible. So rather than aiming for a family of vehicles, crewed missions or lunar landings, Rocket Lab is sticking to the small satellite market.

“Customers have told us they need 100 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. If the customers in a year’s time tell us they need 120 kilograms then we’ll go there. But right now, the key element that’s always been missing in spaceflight is frequency,” Beck said, “and with frequency comes cost reduction.”

Reducing cost and increasing frequency to space was the goal of the company from the start.

“There’s been technologies that come along that make that a lot more manageable,” he said, including additive manufacturing and decreasing payload mass. “But satellites have been shrinking for a long time. For me it was kind of obvious, the trend has been that way for a long time, but there’s always an element of being at the right place at the right time, for sure.”

Rocket Lab, like Beck himself, did originate in New Zealand. Only after the Electron program began did it become a U.S. company with a New Zealand subsidiary.

“We had secured significant Silicon Valley capital, and it doesn’t make sense to build value like that in a New Zealand company,” Beck explained. “And the launch vehicle is a U.S. launch vehicle, so there’s a lot of legal reasons why we need to be a U.S. company as well.”

There is still a major reason to keep a piece of Rocket Lab in New Zealand.

“We operate a private launch range down here,” he said. “If we go out to a U.S. federal range, we just can’t achieve the flight frequency or the cost that we need. That’s the only reason we’re based down here in New Zealand … There’s just no shipping, there’s no air traffic, there’s nothing, except a great big piece of blue Pacific Ocean.”

Most of the Electron launches will be from the company’s under-construction private spaceport in New Zealand. However, Beck understands that some U.S. companies will only want to launch from the United States, for one reason or another. Thus the company is also evaluating domestic options, including Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, as reported by Florida Today.

The first Electron rocket is supposed to launch this year, and though Beck didn’t have a specific date on hand, he gave “mid-December” as the current target.

“It would be nice if we were just building a rocket. If we were just building a rocket, life would be far easier. But, we’re not,” Beck said.

Besides the rocket, they have to complete the launch range, the tracking infrastructure with sites across the globe, and the FAA licensing process, among other things.


The carbon composite Electron rocket. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab
“We’re working as hard as we can to get to the launch at the end of the year, but there is just an enormous amount of work to do. Some days I just wish we just had to build a rocket and that was it.”

The company has already secured commitments for at least the first 30 launches of the yet-untested rocket. When asked how they can be sure the rocket actually works, Beck cited the more than 300 test fires of the Rutherford engine that have been done, “a tremendous amount of ground testing, a tremendous amount of certification and acceptance testing”, as well as the company’s history.

“Rocket Lab has a long history of flying vehicles, not orbital but suborbital experience. We have over 87 rocket launches under our belt. So, there’s a lot of heritage from those that moved over into the system,” Beck said. He then added, “With a launch vehicle, you can test all you want on the ground, but ultimately it comes down to the first flight.”

Beck concluded with, “It’s a hefty goal and really, it’s not about moving on to bigger and better things. It’s about reducing the cost and increasing that launch frequency and just continuing to do those two things to enable critical mass of space infrastructure. If we can achieve that, then everybody’s world is going to be quite different.”
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Gogo: North American market will be awash in Ku-band in 2020 - SpaceNews.com

Gogo: North American market will be awash in Ku-band in 2020 - SpaceNews.com | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
In-flight connectivity provider Gogo Inc. on Sept. 29 presented a relentlessly optimistic view of its future, saying per-aircraft revenue will double within five years and competitors’ catch-up attempts — including Viasat’s monster Ka-band satellites and Inmarsat’s air-to-ground service in Europe — are minor drive-by attractions.

Satellite capacity bottlenecks in crowded airspace over big airports? Not an issue, Gogo said. By 2020 there will be an excess of Ku-band capacity over North America to serve 2,800 commercial aircraft in the air at a given time, each with 100 passengers on line.

Ka-band’s potential advantage in available bandwidth compared to Gogo’s Ku-band network? Gogo said the backup capacity available in Ku-band will be a multiple of what’s available in Ka-band, offering a resiliency that airlines will demand, and that Ka-band cannot offer.

Gogo thinks satellite, not ATG, is Europe’s future

As for London-based Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service of Ka-band satellites, buttressed by Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network providing air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity in Europe’s crowded airspace, Gogo Chief Executive Michael Small dismissed it as a threat.

“We see rapid adoption of satellite going on in Europe,” he said during Gogo’s annual investor day. “The opportunity for ATG is less.”

Chicago-based Gogo is spending $50 million to upgrade its own ATG network in North America, using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to keep up with the company’s 2Ku satellite-based connectivity service, which promises more than 100 megabits per second to each aircraft.

Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat is building two Ka-band satellites, each designed to provide 1 Terabit per second of throughput, for the American and European markets.

Gogo has said 100 Mbps per aircraft is sufficient, and that investing in much more capacity will result in diminishing returns.

Speaking privately because it expects to be active in the in-flight-connectivity market, one satellite fleet operator agreed, saying on-board caching and other technologies to be introduced will guarantee passengers a terrestrial-connectivity-comparable service, with margin, at 100 Mbps per aircraft.

HTS satellites to push 2Ku to 100+ Mbps per aircraft

Gogo’s 2Ku service offers about 50 Mbps currently using wide-beam satellites. An upgraded modem, using the same space infrastructure, is expected to increase that speed to 70 Mbps next year.

After that, the introduction of high-throughput Ku-band satellites, notably by fleet operators Intelsat and SES, should increase throughput to 100 Mbps or more by late 2017.

Gogo did not address how sensitive this schedule was to launch delays, notably the grounding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle following a Sept. 1 explosion while preparing a ground test-firing.

Gogo Chief Technology Officer Anand Chari said Gogo’s satellite capacity estimates do not include possible future use of constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit. He said 2Ku would require modifications to work with these systems but that, in general, “2Ku will work with LEOs.”

Gogo has booked contracts to install 2Ku on some 1,300 commercial aircraft. It announced its latest order, for at least 124 long-haul aircraft for Air France/KLM, on Sept. 29. The first installations are expected to occur by late 2017.

Small said the cost of satellite bandwidth continues to drop, allowing Gogo to have delivered 57 percent more bits to its customers in the past year than the previous year, with a revenue increase of just 23 percent suggesting the added value given to passengers and airlines.

He said Gogo’s costs have dropped by two-thirds in the same period, in part because the company is paying less per quantum of satellite capacity.

Per-aircraft revenue to double to $300,000 by 2021

But while there is not a one-to-one correlation between bandwidth delivery and revenue, Gogo nonetheless expects revenue to grow with each new 2Ku-equipped aircraft in service.

Chief Financial Officer Norm Smagley said the the company expected average annual revenue per aircraft, now around $140,000, to double by 2021 as 2Ku is deployed widely both in North America and around the world.

In Gogo’s view, ultimately every commercial airline passenger will be connected during flight, in one way or another, compared to an average 6 percent of passengers today using Gogo’s service in North America.

The $300,000 in revenue per aircraft per year is mainly for passenger connectivity, Smagley said. Connected-aircraft applications such as engine and avionics monitoring would come later and would be an additional revenue source that ultimately may be even larger, he said.

Small said that the industry, which now counts perhaps a half-dozen players, ultimately will consolidate into a few survivors as the large-fleet airlines are placed under contract.

Gogo, he said, is counting on organic growth only and has no need to make acquisitions.
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Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents

Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Privately owned rocket companies, many of which have announced their presence, promoted their products and criticized their competitors since the September 1st, 2016 SpaceX accident when a Falcon-9 rocket catastrophically blew up on the launch pad, provide compelling anecdotal evidence that the space industry is about to enter an intensively competitive phase.

And now, a large intellectual property focused firm has issued a report showing rocket companies perform at least one other business function common to other highly competitive and highly disruptive industries.

They collect patents to guard their intellectual property (IP) from competition and protect their bottom line from patent trolls.

Jersey Island based CPA Global has issued a thirty-six page "Technology Intelligence Report on Commercial Manned Spaceflight" focused around "an in-depth patent analysis on manned spaceflight innovation."

As outlined in the August 25th, 2016 CPA Global press release, "It is rocket science: how manned spaceflight is the new frontier of innovation," nations with active manned space programs, such as the United States, China and Russia, "represent three-fifths of all patent protection with a worldwide total of more than 4,300 patented space innovations filed since 1960."

Key findings of the report include the following:
Manned spaceflight patent activity is much larger and diverse than one would anticipate. While it’s difficult to calculate, we estimate that there are over 17,000 manned spaceflight inventions that have been patented since the early 1960s.
Patent flings are trending sharply upwards, particularly since China’s entry into the crewed space race. China’s frst astronaut, Yang Liwei, flew aboard the Shenzhou 5 space craft on October 15, 2003, making China the third country in the world with a manned spaceflight program.
The fling trend is also due to increasing patent activity by private launch providers in the United States – where a clear transition from the public to private sector is currently underway. 
The US, China and Russia, each with active manned spaceflight programs, represent three-fifths of all patent flings. Other countries, including Japan, represent only 5% of the patent activity that’s occurred in the last 5 years.


Direct competitors in a cut-throat marketplace. United Launch Alliance (ULA) president and CEO Tory Bruno, Blue Origin founder and owner Jeff Bezos and Arianespace chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël operate rocket companies which have responded to the September 1st, 2016 SpaceX explosion at Cape Canaveral in different, but decidedly opportunistic ways. As outlined in  the September 14th, 2014 Space News article, "ULA says it could accommodate additional Atlas 5 launch next year," ULA has offered increased capacity, and the roll-out of its RapidLaunch program, which would allow satellite providers to schedule a launch as a primary payload aboard an ULA Atlas 5 rocket in as little as three months from purchase. Blue Origin, as outlined in the September 17th, Headline and Global News post, "Plans for a Powerful Orbital-Class Launcher Revealed," has released plans for a powerful new class of  launcher to compete with both ULA and SpaceX offerings. Ariannespace seemed the most philosophical, at least that's the impression left after reading the September 14th, 2016 Via Satellite post, "After SpaceX-Amos 6 Loss, Arianespace Sees Demand Surge." Perhaps that stoicism grew from reading the September 16th, 2016 Space News post, "Mowry leaving Arianespace for Blue Origin," which reported on Clay Mowry, the longtime president of Arianespace’s US subsidiary, who left to join Blue Origin.  Photo's c/o Zimbio, River Janga & Arianespace.

Top patent holders listed in the report included NASA (mostly because of its long history, since "securing patent protection is not a core strategy of the agency"), the Boeing Company, Russian based RSC Energia (which together vie for the largest amount of recent patent applications) and the European based Airbus Group.

The report also listed Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Microsoft, Thales Group, a variety of Japanese businesses (who have mostly "existed the industry"), the French aerospace engine manufacturer Safran SA, US defence contractor Harris Corporation and Blue Origin (a private spaceflight company founded by Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos) as holders of substantial amounts of rocket and space focused patents.

The SpaceX “no-IP” strategy, which makes the company unique among the firms referenced in the report, also came in for comment. It said, "so far, SpaceX has successfully navigated the IP minefeld, but considering the volume of information included in this study, it is likely that this test will not be the last."

For more on the US patent law system and the SpaceX approach, its worth checking out the January 6th, 2016 post, "Is the US Patent System Broken?"


The increasing amount of private patents issues as compared to government patents. As outlined in the report, "the shift to private sector manned spaceflight has seen a reversal of technical focus. Industry (once) supported government programs by supplying parts and components (guidance, electronics, life support etc.), but commerce is now fully engaged in the development of “core” space technologies such as propulsion and spacecraft design.." Graph c/o CPA Global.

Canada was cited for Canadian Space Agency (CSA) patents related to its Mobile Services System (MSS), which is used on the International Space Station (ISS).

It's also worth noting that, as outlined in the March 1st, 2015 post, "The REAL Reason our Next Space Agency Head is a Marketing Maven and IP Commercializer," CSA president Sylvain Laporte was once the commissioner of patents and registrar of trademarks in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).

However, no Canadian companies were cited in the report and Canada was not considered to be one of the important IP generators.

Looks like the great white north is going to sit this one out.
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Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers

Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
In a blaze of publicity, both Blue Origin and SpaceX have announced programs to build large rockets capable of competing with the NASA Space Launch System (SLS).


The hot fire test of a small-sat launcher engine in the Nevada desert in August 2014. The engine was a component of the Spaceborne Payloads Assist Rocket Kauai (SPARK) which was, as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Via Satellite post, "Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes Final Hot-Fire Test for LEONIDAS SmallSat Launcher Engine," undergoing testing at that time. Photo c/o Via Satellite.

What's less well known is that 35+ smaller launchers are currently under development from a multitude of start-ups, legacy space companies and national space agencies. These new launchers, utilizing a variety of cutting edge and/or proven technologies, are targeting the small-sat market, a segment considered at present, to be under served by the existing providers.

Most will end up failing, but some won't. Contenders include:
The Aerojet Rocketdyne Spaceborne Payloads Assist Rocket Kauai (SPARK) - Also known as the Super Strypi (because it derived from the design of the 1960's Strypi sounding rockets), this US based three stage expendable solid rocket launch system was developed by the University of Hawaii, Sandia National Laboratories and Aerojet Rocketdyne to place miniaturized satellites into low Earth and sun-synchronous orbits as part of the Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System (LEONIDAS). As outlined in the November 3rd, 2015 NASA SpaceFlight.com post, "Super Strypi conducts inaugural launch – Fails during first stage," the initial test flight suffered a failure around a minute into its launch and was lost. No further flights have so far bean scheduled. 
The ARCA Space Corporation Haas 2C Rocket - This US based company (with Romanian origins) makes hover-boards (the ArcaBoard, which makes you, "Feel Like a Superhero!" and the ArcaMini, "inspired by planetary exploration rovers!"), but also advertises the manned, single-stage, liquid fueled suborbital Haas 2B rocket and the two stage. liquid fueled Haas 2C launcher, which is supposedly capable of launching 400kg into low Earth orbit. Doesn't seem to pass the sniff test until you realize that the company has  a pedigree which includes drones, stratospheric rocket launches, large scale stratospheric balloons, two governmental contracts with the Romanian government and one contract with the European Space Agency (ESA). As outlined in the September 2nd, 2015 Via Satellite post, "Spaceport America Gains New Customer ARCA Space Corporation," the firm recently relocated to Space Port America in New Mexico. 



Argentina's Tronador II Rocket - The latest in a series of Argentinian rockets is a 2 1/2 stage Argentinean small, liquid fueled satellite launcher capable of launching a payload of 200 kg into low earth orbit. According to the Tronador II listing on Gunthers Space Page, the maiden orbital launch is planned for 2019 from the Base Naval Puerto Belgrano.
The Bagaveev Corporation's so far unnamed microsat launcher - According to Crunchbase, the Bagaveev Corporation "is a startup backed by Adam Draper's Boost accelerator and advised by Tim Draper (from DFJ Venture)" which is "designing, building and testing 3D printed aerospike rocket engines that will power both lower and upper stages of a 3-ton, 35 foot rocket, designed to deliver 10-12 kg nanosatellites to low Earth and Sun-synchronous orbit." Two rounds of seed funding (one "undisclosed" and one for $120K USD) plus one round of debt financing (for $535K USD) in 2014-15 won't provide enough money to build the rocket, although it will go a long way towards identifying those half dozen "non-trivial" engineering problems likely to bedevil new rocket builders. As outlined in the January 16th, 2016 Business Insider post, "SpaceX success launches space startups to new heights," Bagaveev expects to raise a further $16Mln USD ($21Mln CDN) before launching its first rocket.
The Celestia Aerospace Sagittarius Airborne Launch System - An air launch to orbit approach. As outlined in the July 24th, 2015 Orbiter.ch Space News post, "Celestia Aerospace, ready to design, build and launch nano-satellites from Spain," this Spanish based start-up intends to use "demilitarized" Mig-29UB fighters to launch small rockets (dubbed "Space Arrows") capable of propelling nano-satellites into 400 and 600 km orbits. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2014 Technology for Life website post, "Celestia Aerospace will launch nanosatellites into space from a MiG-29 aircraft," the original plan was to begin launches in "early 2016." 



The Copenhagen Suborbitals Spica Rocket - The company is a non-profit, open project,  amateur based space endeavor, funded entirely by private sponsors and donors attempting to build suborbital space vehicles on a micro size budget, using lightly regulated technology in their projects. The Spica rocket, with its 100 kN liquid bi-propellant engine running on liquid oxygen and ethanol, is a logical follow-on to the earlier, unsuccessful Nexø I rocket and the upcoming Nexø II.
The CubeCab Cab-3A Launcher - Another air launch to orbit approach. As outlined in the August 30th, 2016 3D Print.com post, "CubeCab Plans to Put Lots of CubeSats into Orbit with a Small 3D Printed Rocket and a Retired Fighter Jet," the company is exploring a partnership with Starfighters Aerospace in Florida to re-purpose the "world’s only flight-ready fleet of F-104 jets," for use as a 60,000 foot, Mach 2.2 movable platform to launch micro-sats into orbit with its so far not publicly demonstrated, 3D printed Cab-3A launcher.  According to CubeCab, their idea could cut the cost of launching a load of CubeSats to about $250,000, significantly cheaper than other methods of deployment and allow for launch on demand.



The Firefly Space Systems Alpha Rocket - A two stage, liquid fueled rocket intended to launch 400 kg to low Earth orbit orbit with a large, capable team, a $5.5Mln USD ($7.2Mln CDN) NASA venture class launch services (VCLS) contract and a just completed $19Mln USD ($25Mln CDN) funding round. However, while the company is perceived to have a high likelihood of actually achieving commercial launches upon the successful conclusion of testing, the program is currently "under legal pressure from Virgin Galactic regarding allegedly stolen intellectual property," over the aero-spike engine Firefly has said it intends to use in the Alpha rocket. As outlined in the September 30th, 2016 Spaceflight Insider post, "Firefly Space Systems Burns Out," Virgin recently won a court case against Firefly, which puts Firefly's project plan and funding in jeopardy. As outlined in the September 18th, 2016 post, "Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents," a lot of rocket companies, not just Firefly and Virgin, are currently taking steps to protect their intellectual property.
The Generation Orbit GO Launcher2 - Another air launch to orbit approach, this time utilizing modified commercial jets as launch platforms for micro-sat launchers. The company first gained public attention in 2013 when it won $100,000 USD ($131,000 CDN) for its proposal in the 2013 Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) NewSpace Business Plan Competition (BPC). As outlined in the September 30th, 2013 NASA press release, "NASA Awards First CubeSat-Class Launch Services Contract," Generation Orbit has also received $2.1Mln USD ($2.76Mln CDN) as part of the NASA Enabling eXploration and Technology (NEXT) program. Under NEXT, Generation Orbit will launch a group of three 3U CubeSat payloads to a 425 km orbit, beginning sometime in 2016.
The Interorbital Systems Neptune Series of Launch Vehicles - A strange "beast" of a company with no visible funding, but substantial marketing and numerous online announcements proclaiming its extensive capabilities and ongoing participation (but not always a successful conclusion) in a variety of public competitions. The proposed Nepture series of rockets is designed around liquid and solid fueled, common propulsion modular systems for manned, unmanned, orbital and suborbital uses, which seems to cover most every possible use and seems perhaps, overly ambitious for such a small firm. As outlined in the September 28th, 2016 Space News post, "Launch contract deadline looms for lunar lander teams," Interorbital Systems is currently engaged in building a launch vehicle for the Google Lunar X Prize. The company also competed unsuccessfully for the Ansari X Prize and America's Space Prize.



The Lin Industrial Taymyr Microsat Launch Vehicle - Not all start-ups are based in Western countries. As outlined in the September 16th, 2014 SK Skolkovo post, "Lin Industrial: A slingshot into space," the Skolkovo (near Moscow), the Russia based Lin Industrial corporation Aldan rocket (since renamed the Taymyr micro-sat launch vehicle),  is expected to shuttle 10 - 180 kg micro-satellites to low-earth orbit "for a fraction of the current costs," but needed to raise " 500 million rubles" or around $10.5Mln CDN in order to move forward. Over the next two years, the company must have been at least partially successful since, as outlined in the June 17th, 2016 Lin press release, "Flights of the supersonic rocket started," flight testing and development is taking place. 
The MISHAAL Aerospace M-OV Orbital Vehicle - While its listed as a player in the March 9th, 2016 Business Wire press release, "Commercial Sub-orbital and LEO Spaceflight Services Market Assessment - Fast-Growing Small-Satellite Industry Demanding Dedicated Segment of Launch Services - Research and Markets," there is no recent, independent public confirmation that MISHAAL Aerospace continues to develop its M-OV orbital vehicle. Calls into the office will not connect and the last indication of activity on the website is the October 24th, 2014 press release, "Outernet Inc. Signs a Letter of Intent with MISHAAL Aerospace for Launch of their Satellites."
The Currently Undefined Open Space Orbital Plan - Another, mostly unknown company with a website and a listing in the March 9th, 2016 Business Wire press release, "Commercial Sub-orbital and LEO Spaceflight Services Market Assessment - Fast-Growing Small-Satellite Industry Demanding Dedicated Segment of Launch Services - Research and Markets," but currently without a lot of traction in the real world. This time its a Canadian company, so its been profiled in the August 4th, 2014 post, "New East Coast Rocket Start-up Announces Kickstarter Campaign," and its follow-up after the Kickstarter campaign failed, the September 7th, 2014 post "Open Space Orbital Post Mortem: Lessons Learned & Moving Forward."



The Orbital ATK Stargazer Aircraft and Pegasus Rocket - This air launch to orbit approach is operational, having launched satellites into orbit 42 times (with 37 successes) between 1994 and 2015, according to the April 19th, 2015 SpaceFlight Now post, "New Orbital ATK paint job for Pegasus carrier jet." It's also expensive, and most of the other companies listed here are focused on lower cost alternatives. A recent proposal to upgrade the Stargazer aircraft (a modified Lockheed L-1011 TriStar aircraft originally built for Air Canada in 1974) under the NASA Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program, was not funded, but the program has not officially been shelved.
The PLD Space European Smallsat Launcher Program (ARION2) - A "a microlauncher designed to offer flights to low-Earth orbit (LEO) for micro-satellites and cube-sats, to cater to the current lack of launch opportunities for small payloads," according to the European Commission ARION2 | European small sat launcher webpage. PLD Aerospace has been developing a family of launchers (including the ARION1 and ARION2) since 2013, using a series of privately funded offering eventually expected to total approximately €25Mln Euros ($37Mln CDN). The ARION2 is advertised on the PLD website as being an "ITAR FREE" three stage, liquid fueled and reusable rocket capable of launching 150 kg into low Earth orbit and 5 kg to the Moon.



The Secretive Relativity Space Program - You certainly can't tell from the website. But as outlined in the July 18th, 2016 GeekWire post, "Blue Origin and SpaceX vets raise cash for Relativity Space, a stealthy startup aiming to build rockets ‘with zero human labor,’" the company has already raised $10Mln USD ($13Mln CDN) to fund its secret plans. According to the article, "the venture’s president and CEO is Tim Ellis, a former engineer at Blue Origin, the company that Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos founded in Kent, Wash. Based on Facebook postings, Ellis was involved in the initial development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine, which is slated to be used on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket as well as Blue Origin’s yet-to-be-built orbital launch vehicle."
US small-sat launch providers are especially concerned over potential new competition from abroad, at least as outlined in the July 20th, 2016 Aviation Week and Space Technology post, "Dearth Of Dedicated Smallsat Launchers Challenges Fledgling Industry."

And they have good reason to feel this way. The sixteen organizations listed above are less than half of the companies uncovered after a cursory search.

For the list of sixteen "other" organizations currently developing small-sat launchers, tune in next week.
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Fast, le plus grand radiotélescope du monde est entré en service - Spatial

Fast, le plus grand radiotélescope du monde est entré en service - Spatial | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Détecter les extraterrestres, c'est l'ambition du plus grand radiotélescope du monde inauguré dimanche en Chine. Le radiotélescope Fast doit... - Spatial
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Rocket Crafters notes safety of hybrid rockets after SpaceX disaster

Rocket Crafters notes safety of hybrid rockets after SpaceX disaster | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
SpaceFlight Insider spoke with former NASA astronaut and current Rocket Crafters CEO and Chairman Sid Gutierrez about the potential of hybrid rockets in the wake of the Sept. 1, 2016, explosion that consumed a SpaceX Falcon 9, its Amos-6 satellite, and damaged the launch site at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40.

According to Gutierrez, the propellants used couldn’t be safer. Nitrous oxide (N2O – more commonly known as laughing gas) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – the same material that Lego bricks are made from. He noted that ABS is transportable on commercial aircraft, a far cry from cryogenic fuels.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is fueled by a mixture of RP-1 (highly refined rocket-grade kerosene) and liquid oxygen. The volatile nature of this mixture was made apparent with this month’s accident at SLC-40.

Gutierrez rode fire to orbit twice: first as the pilot of STS-40 on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1991 and then as the commander of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-59 in 1994.

The veteran astronaut noted that safety is one of the foremost rationales behind his company’s use of hybrid rocket engines.

“I wish I could have flown on a hybrid [fueled rocket] instead,” Gutierrez said. “I think that’s the reason that Virgin Galactic selected a hybrid rocket motor for their spaceship.”

For simplicity, Gutierrez broke the main types of rocket motors into three groups – liquid, solid, and hybrid. With liquid-fueled engines, two liquid propellants are combined under high pressure. The fuel and oxidizer within solid-fueled motors are mixed and combined well before the actual launch date. As noted, Rocket Crafters’ Intrepid rocket uses ABS and nitrous oxide.

“Nitrous oxide is much safer and easier to work with than liquid oxygen, and it is much more forgiving in terms of, you know, the temperatures you keep it at and how it operates,” Gutierrez told SpaceFlight Insider.

Gutierrez went on to note that since the fuel was in a solid form whereas the oxidizer is in a liquid form, this makes it more difficult for the two to mix and, therefore, means that an accident is less likely.

“You can, literally, pour the nitrous oxide down the center of the fuel grain and, unless you ignite it, unless you have some source of heat? Nothing will happen,” Gutierrez told SpaceFlight Insider. “The nitrous oxide would pool out the other side and you’d be left with, essentially, a wet Lego brick sitting there.”

According to Gutierrez, in the interest of having their launch vehicle operate as precisely as possible and being able to maintain a high degree of control, the Titusville, Florida-based company uses helium as its header gas on their nitrous oxide system as it is a self-pressurizing gas. Using helium should ensure that the pressure from this system is constant.


Hybrid Rocket Engine illustration. Image Credit: Rocket Crafters, Inc.
Some 30 tests of this design have already been completed (these were carried out in Utah). Since moving to Florida, Rocket Crafters has partnered with the Florida Institute of Technology on the construction of a test stand. This stand will be used to test the 400 lbf (1,880 N) version of the engine that Rocket Crafters is currently working on. If everything goes according to how the company plans, these tests should begin within the next few weeks. There are plans underway to develop a 5,000 lbf (22.2 kN) capable engine.

Although Rocket Crafters has plans to build larger motors, the company has its eyes fixed on the burgeoning CubeSat market. With the first launches of Intrepid currently scheduled to begin in the 2018–2019 time frame.

While there are a number of launch sites at Cape Canaveral that are available, the possibility remains that recently dubbed Launch Complex 39C (a portion of Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39B) might be used to launch Intrepid from.

“We are considering 39C, we walked around there at the pad and noted that there’s this giant hydrogen tank. So, we think that there’s too much around there,” Gutierrez said. “Launches from that site would be driven by the activity of other launch vehicles – and we’re looking at other launch sites due to that.”

Intrepid is roughly on the same scale of Firefly Alpha or Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. Rocket Crafter’s business model has them eventually launching at the rate of about once per week.

“These smallsat operators want to launch on their schedule on the orbits that they want to go to,” Gutierrez told SpaceFlight Insider. “They want to be able to accomplish this at a reasonable price – and you can’t do that with a large launch vehicle like a Falcon 9.”

Rocket Crafters is looking at placing roughly 550 lbs (250 kg) to a 466 mile (750 km) orbit. While this is a far cry from the Falcon 9’s listed capabilities of some 50,265 lbs (22,800 kg) to low-Earth orbit, Rocket Crafters has stated that it is looking into bigger rockets and scaling their technology up
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Space race redux: Despite SpaceX setback, a wave of Southern California rocket-makers capitalize on new economy

Space race redux: Despite SpaceX setback, a wave of Southern California rocket-makers capitalize on new economy | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
When SpaceX’s pioneering Falcon 9 rocket exploded into a roiling fireball and billowing black smoke at Cape Canaveral earlier this month, the gut-wrenching failure was broadcast across the world as it happened.

It was only the Hawthorne-based company’s second disaster in about 30 flights — a respectable record for rocket makers. But the loss stunned those watching the 15-story spacecraft break apart like Legos and melt into the launch pad, badly damaging the complex SpaceX leases from the U.S. Air Force.

“The SpaceX failure is darn near a national tragedy,” said Vector Space Systems CEO Jim Cantrell, a founding member of SpaceX who now heads up the microsatellite space launch company in Huntington Beach.

“Statistically, unmanned launch vehicles average about 95 percent reliability. Every 23rd launch, you’re going to have a failure. But when you have stuff fail like this, it’s a big deal.”

Like Apollo 1 nearly 50 years ago, the Falcon 9 erupted during a test launch. While the Apollo 1 disaster killed three pilots on board, SpaceX’s rocket carried only equipment — hundreds of millions of dollars worth of satellites destined to expand internet access to remote regions worldwide. The company is still trying to figure out exactly what went wrong as the craft was gassing up with liquid oxygen and kerosene, but hopes to resume its backed-up commercial launch schedule as early as November. It has about 70 missions worth more than $10 billion waiting for launch.

Like so much of aerospace’s history, the Apollo space program and SpaceX share a home in the Southern California region. Apollo crafts were designed and manufactured at the NASA Industrial Plant in Downey, which has since been developed into a shopping center, hospital, park and the Columbia Memorial Space Center.

But SpaceX is fast expanding at its 1 Rocket Road headquarters next door to the Hawthorne Municipal Airport. Its home was vacated by legacy aerospace giant Northrop Corp. after Cold War defense spending dried up in the 1990s, leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region.

Many of those high-paying aerospace manufacturing jobs are now returning with a second technology-driven wave of the space race that is building a commercial economy above the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The (SpaceX headquarters) building was constructed in 1966 to build 747 fuselages and had a great skeleton that we could renovate into a facility to build rockets,” said SpaceX spokesman Dex Torricke-Barton. “The aerospace legacy of the area was also valuable since it gave us easy access to a nearby community of aerospace companies and suppliers.”

SpaceX and a handful of other new-generation private spacecraft startups — including space tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic in Long Beach — are reviving a stalled aerospace industry and developing an economy aimed at making space travel as ubiquitous as airplane flight. Behind them, a fast-growing sector of suppliers and smaller rocket companies are quickly filling out the new economy.

Southern California jobs for workers making guided missiles, spacecraft and parts have increased 64 percent since 2004, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“We don’t have the outright number of jobs we used to have, but we’re well-positioned to build an industry,” said Mike Quindazzi, co-chair of LAEDC’s Southern California Aerospace Council. “We have suppliers, people doing machine and engineering work, artificial intelligence, building autonomous systems, robotics parts, new drone solutions. We can build off the platforms already here.”

The highly innovative new industrial sector incorporates emerging technologies and operates alongside — and increasingly hand in hand with — corporate aerospace giants and NASA. It is bringing the science fiction imagining of the past to life in new ways, said David Barnhart, USC research professor and entrepreneur who helped found Millennium Space Systems in El Segundo, among other ventures.

“I think we are currently in an awakening of what I consider the second space ecosystem,” Barnhart said. “Technology itself is actually creating fact from fiction.

“Contemporary science-fiction authors are now thinking about the real future. And there’s actually technology being worked on that is going to solve some of these problems. We’re going to potentially see tractor beams (energy fields that can power objects like spaceships) as well as spacesuits that are form fitting but can still protect you wherever you go. These are things they’re working on today at small companies.”

COMMERCIALIZING SPACE

SpaceX, the first private space company to deliver cargo to NASA’s International Space Station, thrived by building relationships with both government and commercial clients.

It earns much of its revenue delivering satellites for telecommunications companies, navigation services and weather-monitoring agencies, as well as government and corporate clients.

The Boeing Co., which has more than 15,000 employees in California, operates satellites that power 4 billion GPS-enabled devices worldwide and has the majority of GPS satellites now in space. It’s also building rockets, and trying to keep up with SpaceX’s goal of sending manned missions to space by 2018.

Virgin Galactic, which opened Long Beach manufacturing and design offices last year, also hopes to capitalize on the booming small-satellite business while selling tickets for brief tourist trips to outer space. The company tests and launches its rockets from a fixed-wing plane in the Mojave Desert.

It hopes to soon break open the space tourism market with its SpaceShip Two, taking six passengers at a time for 1.5-hour trips to space. Some 700 tickets already have been presold.

“You’ll pass the speed of sound about 10 seconds after ignition” and max out at about 2,500 mph, said William Pomerantz, vice president of Virgin Galactic’s special projects. “You will hear a loud engine. You will feel rumbling. You will be pushed back in your seat in a safe way, but in a way you can tell you’re accelerating very quickly.

“Mainly, you’ll have a chance to press your nose against the window and look out to the black skies of space and out onto our home planet from above. You’re going to see the kind of view only 555 people have ever seen before.”

Meanwhile, nearly 200 small satellites were launched last year, fueling the most lucrative year ever for venture capital investment in space.

“Space is our new economic frontier,” said Cantrell, whose Vector Space Systems plans to soon be able launch 100 nanosatellites a year on its small rockets. “People are so desperate to get to space that literally hundreds of satellites are just waiting to launch. If you go buy a rocket now, you have to schedule deliveries four years in advance. It’s like saying: ‘I’ve got a plumber coming in 2020.’ ”

COMMERCIAL SPACE BOOM

Commercial spacecraft now account for one-third of sales in the aerospace industry.

“A really telling sign is that in 2012 there were no American commercial space satellite launches from anywhere in the world. Every commercial satellite was on a European, Russian, Chinese or other launch satellite,” said Greg Autry, a USC business professor who extensively researches the industry. “But, last year, SpaceX had half of the global market.”

Others leading the way in space are:

• Washington-based Blue Origin, which launched a rocket to space and returned it safely to Earth last year. The company announced last week, that it is developing heavy-lift rockets called New Glenn that will rival SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

• Rocket Lab in Westchester, which advertises nanosatellite launches for $4.9 million a pop.

• Interorbital Systems, which is sending small satellites to low-Earth orbit for $8,000 from the Mojave Air & Space Port.

• Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has Los Angeles regional operations in Vernon and makes rockets and missile propulsion systems at its Sacramento headquarters.

• AeroVironment, which is based in Monrovia and is building unmanned aircraft vehicles that link manned submarines with undersea drones, among other next-generation vehicles.

• Silicon Valley’s Made In Space, which recently delivered the first 3-D printer to the International Space Station. The milestone highlights a growing field of in-space manufacturing businesses.

• Vulcan Aerospace, which is backing new startups and developing the Stratolaunch air-launch project that will deliver payloads to space from the Mojave Air & Space Port.

The burgeoning class of small aerospace parts and rocket makers is a thriving field that’s creating new business offshoots as it works to integrate into the existing market. Business development companies like Starburst Accelerator, which opened an El Segundo office last year, specifically connect aerospace startups with established operations.

“When you meet Stanford and MIT graduates, they want to be a startup CEO. They like the idea of being self-employed,” said Van Espahbodi, a co-founder of Starburst Accelerator. “We’re a small global business that helps startups tap into the right buyers.”

Espahbodi and others are bridging the gap between the old vendor-contract sales model and the new innovative economy.

RETURN OF AEROSPACE

It remains to be seen whether the emerging spaceflight industry will breathe enough life into areas decimated by the loss of lucrative government-funded aerospace contracts to revitalize run-down areas.

Cold War defense spending cuts hit Los Angeles County hard in the early 1990s, as hundreds of thousands of jobs were cut, retailers shuttered businesses and apartments sprung up in place of single-family homes.

In 1987, 500,000 workers were employed in Los Angeles County’s aerospace industry; by the early 1990s, that number was cut in half.

In an 18-month period beginning Jan. 1, 1991, aerospace companies shed about 24,000 jobs in Torrance, Long Beach, Carson, Westchester, El Segundo, Hawthorne and other South Bay communities. The layoffs were quickly followed by shuttered storefronts from Westchester to Long Beach as declining incomes were reflected in the local retail market.

Smaller parts supply companies in Gardena, Inglewood, Carson, Torrance and El Segundo were also decimated, as demand dried up for aerospace parts.

But today, despite the two devastating explosions suffered by SpaceX, optimism abounds in the emerging commercial space industry.

“Every time you see a failure, there are going to be naysayers saying we need to return to the past and should just keep doing the same thing over and over again,” Autry said. “ I don’t think that’s a long-term viable solution given the reality of the budget constraints. And it doesn’t get us anywhere if we intend to be a nation of explorers.

“If you never try anything new, you’re less likely to ever fail. The commercial customers will make the decision economically based on launch records. Right now, the SpaceX launch manifest is packed.”

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SpaceX Seeks to Return Falcon 9 to Service in November

SpaceX Seeks to Return Falcon 9 to Service in November | Space business and exploration | Scoop.it
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. on Tuesday said it aims to resume Falcon 9 launches as early as November from an alternate pad, after a rocket explosion during ground tests two weeks ago caused what the Air Force calls moderate damage to its launch site.

Senior Air Force and NASA officials, who addressed the issue while attending a space conference here, didn’t elaborate on the specific damage to the pad and declined to predict when flights might start up again, emphasizing that SpaceX, as billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company is known, is heading up the investigation. Some industry officials have said the halt in Falcon 9 missions could stretch into early next year.

Hours earlier, however, at a satellite-industry conference in Paris, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, indicated the company was aiming to resume Falcon 9 flights in “the November time frame.”

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But given the significant repairs required to launch complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station—along with the government signoffs that will be needed—the company has decided it will shift to a nearby NASA pad for its next East Coast launch.

Before the accident, which destroyed the booster and a commercial satellite that was on board, SpaceX already was in the process of modifying pad 39A at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kennedy Space Center to serve as a second Florida launch location. The work remains on track to be completed sometime in November, according to company and NASA officials.

SpaceX also is finishing up work to prepare a launchpad at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, which it also plans to use for Falcon 9 operations. Ms. Shotwell didn’t indicate whether the next launch would be from Florida or California.

But in a brief interview on the sidelines of the conference, NASA chief Charles Bolden said the Florida pad seemed most likely. He said Mr. Musk has indicated “the next launch vehicle will be shipped to” the Florida pad. “They were planning to do this anyway,” he said, because SpaceX needs both pads functioning in the future “to be able to maintain the [launch] rate that they planned in their business model.”

Since SpaceX uses the Falcon 9 to send cargo to the international space station, the final decision about the location of the next launch may depend, in part, on SpaceX balancing the agency’s need for supplies in orbit with concerns of various commercial customers jittery about getting their satellites launched.

The cause of the rocket explosion hasn’t been determined, though Mr. Musk in a Twitter post described the SpaceX-led probe as the “most difficult and complex failure” in the company’s 14-year history. Investigators are still trying to dissect whether the root cause of the accident was a problem with part of the rocket, the ground-based fueling system or a combination of factors.

During a media roundtable at the Long Beach conference,  Winston Beauchamp, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space, said “the damage looks like it’s moderate” and “definitely repairable.” But he added: “I don’t have a time estimate yet” on how long that effort will take.

In addition to setting back SpaceX’s hopes of stepping up its launch tempo to work through its growing backlog of delayed launches, the accident also has disrupted plans that targeted the initial flight of the company’s heavy-lift booster, called the Falcon Heavy, by the end of the year. Now, that demonstration flight, a long-awaited milestone that is already years late, has slipped to the first quarter of 2017, according to one person familiar with the details.

Lars Hoffman, SpaceX’s senior director of government sales, told the Long Beach conference that “it’s too early to tell” what longer-term impact the accident may have on the Falcon Heavy’s flight schedule. “We are continuing preparations” for introducing the beefed-up booster, including ramping up production and making other moves across the company, he said. And fallout from the accident “hasn’t slowed anything at this point,” Mr. Hoffman said.
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