December 26, 2012

Earthrise Space Adds Rapid Machining as Sponsor (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Earthrise Space has gained Rapid Machining as a Suborbital Level sponsor. The Suborbital Level is the second-highest level that ESI has, making Rapid Machining a valuable member of the growing constellation of ESI sponsors. ESI depends upon sponsors like Rapid Machining to help support the company’s efforts in pursuit of the Google Lunar X PRIZE. ESI’s “Sagan” rover is being designed to fulfill the requirements of the competition, which includes landing a privately-funded rover on the lunar surface, having it traverse 500 meters and then transmit data and images back to Earth. (12/26)

Stratolaunch Moves Toward 2017 Test Launch From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
A billionaire-backed commercial space venture unveiled with fanfare a year ago has undergone a major change but continues to eye Kennedy Space Center as its eventual base of operations as it moves toward a 2017 test launch. Stratolaunch Systems, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is developing the world’s largest aircraft – boasting a wingspan longer than a football field – to carry rockets that would launch satellites from the sky, and possibly someday people.

CEO Gary Wentz said the company is targeting a 2017 test launch from KSC. “That is our current thinking, yes, that we intend to come there,” said Wentz, a University of Central Florida graduate who began his engineering career at KSC before moving to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, where Stratolaunch is headquartered. “They have an opportunity to change the paradigm for the launch industry,” said Frank DiBello, CEO of Space Florida.

“If they can put a significant lift capability in place at the price points they’re thinking about, they’ll have a significant mark on the marketplace,” said DiBello. Wentz has discussed Stratolaunch’s future plans and facility needs with DiBello and KSC officials, but any formal commitment is likely still a year or two away. Those operations would employ just 50 to 100 people, Wentz estimated, “to keep things as lean as we can and keep the cost down.” Click here. (12/26)

New Mexico Spaceport Story is One Familiar to Oklahomans (Source: The Oklahoman)
New Mexicans are learning an expensive lesson in “Music Man”-style business development, one that is sadly familiar to Oklahomans as well. British businessman Richard Branson urged New Mexico officials to spend more than $200 million to develop a futuristic spaceport, saying his Virgin Galactic company would then make the site a launching point for space tourism. New Mexico officials took the bait in 2005. Today, New Mexico's Spaceport America is nearly complete — and almost completely empty.

And Virgin Galactic is hinting it may go elsewhere if New Mexico lawmakers don't provide liability exemptions for the company's suppliers. Virgin Galactic is now considering a spaceport venture in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. If this story sounds familiar, there's a reason. Oklahoma entered the same game in 1999 with creation of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. The idea was to turn an abandoned air strip near Burns Flat, which at 2.5 miles was one of the longest on the continent, into a site for future space tourism.

Rocketplane Global was awarded $18 million in state tax incentives to become the spaceport's anchor tenant. By 2010, Rocketplane was bankrupt and the Burns Flat site remained mostly shuttered. It's worth recalling that officials with the Oklahoma authority were namedropping Virgin Galactic as a possible tenant in 2011, but worried New Mexico might lure the company there. Oklahomans can be thankful for that missed “opportunity.” It's also noteworthy that Virgin Galactic is demanding liability exemptions for suppliers, since that issue was cited by one opponent of the Oklahoma project. Click here. (12/26)

2012: The Year Space Exploration Made its Comeback (Source: Venture Beat)
In 2011, we mourned the end of the U.S. space shuttle program. But in 2012, NASA came back with a vengeance — and a spate of fascinating new programs. Between NASA’s extraordinary work this year and its deep embrace with Internet culture and social media, we Earthlings fell in love with space exploration all over again, and we all got to share an enthusiasm and wonder a previous generation experienced with the first moon landing. Here are our favorite moments from space for 2012. (12/26)

Russia Upgrading Booster Rocket for NASA Manned Missions (Source: Xinhua)
Russia was modernizing a booster which NASA would use for manned flights [on Atlas rockets], a Russian rocket engine manufacturer said Wednesday. "We are adjusting the RD-180 engine for manned missions," Executive Director of NPO Energomash company Vladimir Solntsev told reporters, adding the adaptation work started in early 2012.

The RD-180 engine, which was supplied to the United States in 1999, was an upgraded version of the RD-170 booster used in Ukrainian Zenit rockets and Russian "Energia" carrier rockets, he said. The upgraded RD-180 could put into orbit a workload of 400 tons, the company said. Solntsev also revealed his company had been designing even more powerful space boosters with a 500-ton capacity. (12/26)

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