August 28, 2014

[Suborbital Tourism] Spaceports Will Likely Fail (Source: Financial Times)
It gives me no pleasure to reach the pessimistic, little-Earther conclusion that the rush to get high-net-worth individuals on a wondrous stunt ride into suborbital space is probably doomed. Just look at manned space travel’s record. There are different counting methods, but the consensus is that some 3 percent of 540 astronauts have died flying. Other disasters, notably Apollo 13, were only narrowly avoided.

Include unreported Soviet crashes, ground accidents such as the one that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts, plus suborbital mishaps that are not counted as space accidents, and the proportion of astronauts killed in training or on missions touches 5 percent. These deaths occurred under state auspices. But early evidence of private space enterprise being safer is not forthcoming. Rockets and pioneering space flight are just exceptionally hazardous – probably too much so to be consumerised.

 Government astronauts come from a military culture; death is risked for your country.  Are people joining the likes of Sir Richard and Mr. Musk really going to be prepared to risk dying for them? Furthermore, are private spaceship pilots’ families and lawyers – and those of dead paying passengers – going for patriotic reasons to hold back from suing the butt off corporations? It is hard to imagine. As for the passengers, who will probably have to travel into space uninsured, will significant numbers of them, enough to fill several flights a day, turn out to be the right stuff? I doubt it. (8/27)

XCOR Aerospace's Private Lynx Space Plane to Get New Texas Home (Source:
A private space plane born in California is about to get new Texas digs. XCOR Aerospace — the builder of the Lynx space plane — is renovating the main hangar for the spaceship designed to bring paying tourists into suborbital space. Lynx could launch on its first test flights later this year.

The hangar renovations kicked off during an Aug. 15 ceremony in Midland, Texas — the heart of XCOR's development and manufacturing operations — at the Midland International Airport. In the long term, XCOR will transform the airport to a spaceport, according to company representatives.

After completion, the updated hangar will house the spacecraft, the corporate headquarters of XCOR and facilities for research and development. Construction is being performed by N.C. Sturgeon and is expected to finish by 2015. Costs and renovation details were not disclosed in a news release. (8/28)

Costa Rican Wins NASA Award at KSC (Source: Costa Rican Times)
NASA awarded the Costa Rican engineer, Sandra A. Cauffman, a Medal for Extraordinary Leadership. This distinction is given for specific achievements or for substantial improvements made in operations, efficiency, service, financial savings or technological and scientific advances which contribute towards NASA’s motto: “For the Benefit of All”.

The prize went to the woman who is an alumnus of both the Escuela República in Paraguay (Hatillo) and the Liceo Luis Dobles Segreda (San José) for her work as assistant director for a mission involving 400 scientists who, in a few days, will be launching a probe the size of a school bus to monitor the atmosphere around Mars. (8/28)

Steerage To The Stars: The Cheapsat Revolution (Source: Information Week)
As secondary payloads lower effective launch costs, the "cheapsat" revolution will rapidly expand, diversify, and differentiate the commercial, military, and scientific exploitation of space. The spacecraft -- variously called cheapsats, small satellites, smallsats, microsatellites, or nanosats -- are dedicated, single-user, and limited-use satellites that fit under some threshold. Click here. (8/28)

Investigators Still Looking into July 2 Suborbital Launch Failure at Wallops (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Investigators are still looking into why a sounding rocket launched July 2 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility crashed 19 seconds into its flight. "We cannot comment on the investigation's findings until it is completed," a Wallops spokesman said. The failure has not affected the remaining nine sounding rocket missions scheduled in 2014. The latest launch from Wallops was a Terrier-Lynx suborbital rocket successfully launched for a Department of Defense mission Aug. 23.

The Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that is the subject of the investigation was launched July 2 at 4:36 a.m. but crashed into the oceanic hazard zone 19 seconds later. "Range controllers detected a flight anomaly with the second stage Improved Malemute motor," NASA said in a release. The rocket flew to an altitude of 27,000 feet and crashed about one nautical mile downrange. (8/27)

No US Commitment To Replace Russian RD-180 Rocket Engine, Yet (Source: Breaking Defense)
When the Air Force issued an RFI about an engine to replace the RD-180 it began to look as if they were serious about committing to build the first new rocket engine in decades. But we also received two new RD-180 engines from Russia the same day as the RFI went out, ULA announced. That bolstered those who argue that Russia needs the revenue so much and is so committed to space cooperation that our sanctions against Russia to punish them for Ukraine will not stop the flow of the cheap, highly reliable engines.

Three more engines are due to arrive this fall, and I’m betting they arrive. Just to make sure the Air Force or OSD hadn’t snuck something past us, I checked to see if any policy decisions had been made or memos approved to allow spending for a new engine. According to a USAF spokesman: “No, there has not been a policy decision made to buy a new engine;” and “No, the decision for a new budget line has not been made.”

The answer about the budget line is intriguing. It certainly seems to indicate that a new budget line is being discussed. As any acquisition aficionado knows, creation of a budget line is tantamount to authorizing a new program. (8/28)

U.S., China are Testing Hypersonic Weapons (Source: National Defense)
The Pentagon's cancellation of a hypersonic weapons test due to a glitch doesn't derail the U.S. push to develop such a weapon, say analysts. That push is gathering momentum after China's second successful test of a ultra-high-speed missile. "China and the United States are seeking to develop the same range of hypersonic weapons, both boost-glide or hypersonic glide vehicles, and future air-breathing hypersonic vehicles, such as scram jets," said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. (8/27)

Composite Rocket-Fuel Tank Passes Test, Offers Cost and Weight Savings (Source: Birmingham Business Journal)
For the first time, a rocket-fuel tank made of composite materials has sustained the temperature and pressure needed to contain liquid hydrogen. The NASA-Boeing project is seen as a breakthrough that will reduce tank weight 30% and cut production costs 25%. Applications are also seen for other industries. (8/27)

Masten Space Systems Aims High on XS-1 Military Space Plane Project (Source:
When Dave Masten, founder of California-based aerospace startup company Masten Space Systems, read the requirements for the U.S. military's Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1), there was one requirement he knew his company could definitely meet: flying 10 times in 10 days.

The company has released an artist's conception of its XS-1 entry. The artwork shows a VTVL system taking off vertically from a launchpad with wings and a tail fin, which are elements that are not standard on any of the company's previous vehicles. "It's an artist's representation, and so the purpose of Phase 1 is to come to a design, and we're going through a lot of different design ideas as part of that phase," Mahoney explained. "What it will do is meet the requirements that DARPA set out. Click here. (8/27)

Pan-Arab Space Agency: Pipe Dream or Real Possibility? (Source: Via Satellite)
The Middle East, especially the Arabian Gulf, is fast becoming a heavyweight in the international space industry. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and, more recently, Qatar are developing their respective space and satellite-related initiatives at various speeds and to different degrees of investment.

In 1976, the twenty-one member states of the Arab League established Arabsat, the Saudi-based satellite communications operator at a time when the communications industry in MENA was government owned and dominated. The liberalization of the MENA telecommunications industry in the 1990s gave the MENA satellite industry room and air to grow.

Consequently, it is especially buoyant now and shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. Satellites whose footprints cover the MENA region and then some are congested with all manner of TV channels not to mention the other communications functionalities provided by such satellites (i.e., Internet and telephony). (8/26)

What Lit Up the Universe? (Source: UCL)
New research from UCL shows we will soon uncover the origin of the ultraviolet light that bathes the cosmos, helping scientists understand how galaxies were built. The study shows how forthcoming astronomical surveys will reveal what lit up the cosmos.

“Which produces more light? A country’s biggest cities or its many tiny towns?” asked Dr Pontzen, lead author of the study. “Cities are brighter, but towns are far more numerous. Understanding the balance would tell you something about the organisation of the country. We’re posing a similar question about the universe: does ultraviolet light come from numerous but faint galaxies, or from a smaller number of quasars?” (8/27)

Political Clout Pays Off Big for Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Source: Free Beacon)
Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test rocket exploded over southern Texas last weekend, state lawmakers announced millions in subsidies to get the company to continue launching rockets in the Lone Star State. SpaceX will receive more than $15 million in public financing to build a launch pad in Cameron County, near the Mexican border.

The subsidies came after SpaceX’s founder, billionaire tech mogul and pop technologist Elon Musk, made campaign contributions to key state lawmakers and hired lobbyists with ties to Austin. SpaceX is one of a number of innovative and disruptive startups that, though lauded by some free marketeers for making government-run markets more competitive, are finding themselves drawn to political advocacy, whether out of shrewdness or necessity. Click here. (8/27)

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