April 22, 2013

Bigelow's Agreement With NASA Could Have Interesting Repurcussions (Source: SpaceKSC)
At first blush, it would seem the strategy is for Bigelow to organize interested NewSpace companies and other entities into an alliance that might be the next step in NASA's commercial space transportation program. Just as NASA has grown a commercial cargo program and will soon fly astronauts on commercial crew, in the next decade we might see astronauts on commercial crew vehicles going to the Moon, staying in lunar colonies built out of Bigelow habitats, or perhaps space stations at Lagrangian points.

One can imagine the political fireworks when the Congressional space subcommittees find out about this commercial effort to essentially undercut their favorite pork program, the Space Launch System. If successful, the NewSpace project could put NASA out of the spacecraft building business. There would still be NASA astronauts, but they would fly on commercial vehicles just as NASA employees fly on commercial airlines. The budget review process on Capitol Hill in the next few months will be very entertaining. (4/22)

Falcon Production and Texas Launch Site Updates (Source: NewSpace Watch)
Garrett Reisman, former NASA astronaut turned Program Manager at SpaceX, talked about Falcon-9 1.1, which (in his own words) is in fact more like a Falcon-9 2.0, with its 30% longer tanks, 50% higher thrust, 3-string avionics compared to single-string in the Falcon-9 1.0 and different engine arrangement (eight in a circle rather than the square configuration of Falcon 1.0). To top that, the Falcon production line has been completely redone to scale-up from 4 rockets a year to 20. I assume  the 20 number refers to 20 F9 cores. Each Falcon Heavy uses 3 cores.

Meanwhile, the environmental impact study draft for the proposed SpaceX spaceport near Brownsville describes the launch activity there as follows: "Proposed operations would consist of up to 12 launches per year with a maximum of two Falcon Heavy launches, through the year 2022... Within the 12 launches per year, SpaceX may elect to have permitted launches of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles from this proposed site. A reusable suborbital launch vehicle could consist of a Falcon-9 Stage 1 tank. All launch trajectories would be to the east over the Gulf of Mexico."

This describes the Grasshopper, or, more accurately, the subsequent upgraded versions of the reusable F9 first stage. Seems like within the above description, there is nothing to keep the "reusable suborbital launch vehicle" from releasing an upper stage and returning suborbitally to the pad while the other stuff goes to orbit. Meanwhile, here's a video of the latest Grasshopper test, this one up to 250 meters. (4/22)

Space Florida to Update Cape Canaveral Spaceport Master Plan (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida plans a public workshop to request comment on its 2013 Cape Canaveral Spaceport Master Plan. The plan, compiled every two to three years, provides information to guide Space Florida in its efforts to modernize and expand infrastructure at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. BRPH is leading the development of the Spaceport Master Plan for Space Florida. The workshop will take place on Friday, April 26 at the Cape Canaveral Port Authority Chambers and will inform attendees on the current draft of the Spaceport Master Plan and seek comments from attendees.

A number of Space Florida’s proposed projects in the 2010 Spaceport Master Plan were proposed by the Space Florida Board of Directors for funding from the state, the Florida Department of Transportation and other financing sources. A total of $32M in infrastructure funding has been allocated in 2012 and 2013. Projects include the transformation of the Orbiter Processing Facility 3 into the Commercial Crew & Cargo Processing Facility, improvements to Launch Complexes 40 and 46, and a Payload Encapsulation and Integration Facility. (4/22)

Pentagon Wants to Shift $7.5B for War Costs (Source: Defense News)
Shortfalls in wartime funding are prompting the Pentagon to seek congressional approval to shift $7.5 billion in funds, a move that comes as the department is also figuring out ways to cut $41 billion from this year's budget as a result of sequestration. The reprogramming request would move money to the Defense Department's operation and maintenance accounts, although it would still face a shortfall there. (4/21)

One Good Reason Why Space Travel Will Happen In Your Lifetime (Source: Gadling)
The idea of space travel for all of us has been the stuff of dreams for centuries. Long before we had electricity or telephones, we looked to the stars, hoping to travel there some day. Science fiction writers fueled the fire and instilled in many of us a solid belief that some day we would travel beyond our earthly bounds. In the last half-century we have walked on the moon, built a permanent orbiting space station, shuttled space workers back and forth from Earth and more.

Now, the ground floor opportunities for a space travel industry are being built, the foundation is being laid and ideas are being hatched to make a profit out of it. Bechtel is an engineering, project management and construction company respected around the world. Founded in 1898, Bechtel has worked on over 22,000 projects in 140 countries on all seven continents of the planet. They provide infrastructure, power generation, communications and more with a work force of 53,000 people. In a "there's no place left to go" sort of way, Bectel looks to the sky. (4/22)

Russia Readies Space Freighter Launch (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Soyuz-U rocket carrying a Progress M-19M cargo spacecraft was brought to the launch site of the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on Monday and installed on the launch pad, Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said. The launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket and Progress M-19M space freighter is scheduled for 2:12 p.m. Moscow time (10:12 a.m. GMT) on Wednesday. (4/22)

Orbital in Orbit (Source: The Economist)
SpaceX made history by carrying out the first privately run space mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It was a vindication for NASA's decision to outsource its ISS missions to the private sector. Still, purists could argue that something was missing: a proper market has competition, but SpaceX was the only firm capable of flying such a mission.

That may be about to change. On April 21st, at NASA's Wallops flight centre in Virginia, another rocket built by another firm—Virginia-based Orbital Sciences—lifted off from the pad, after several delays. A launch attempt on April 17th was scrubbed after a data cable came loose. Another try on April 20th had to be abandoned because of high winds. This time, though, nothing went wrong. A few minutes after the launch, the Antares rocket was safely in orbit, prompting cheers and sighs of relief on the ground.

Admittedly, the flight was only an initial test. The Antares will go nowhere near the ISS itself. Nor is it carrying one of Orbital's Cygnus space capsules, which, if all goes according to plan, will one day perform the actual docking with the ISS. But it is an important step: if everything continues to go well, then a Cygnus test flight will take place later this summer, and Orbital's first ISS resupply mission could happen before 2014. (4/22)

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