November 1, 2014

Chinese Moon Orbiter Returns From First Flight Unharmed (Source: Japan Times)
China on Saturday successfully recovered an experimental spacecraft that flew around the moon and back in a test run for the country’s first unmanned return trip to the lunar surface. The eight-day trip marked the first time in almost four decades that a spacecraft has returned to Earth after traveling around the moon. China plans to send a spacecraft to the moon in 2017 and have it return to Earth after collecting soil samples.

If successful, that mission would make China only the third country after the United States and Russia to meet such a challenge. The latest mission was aimed at obtaining experimental data and testing technologies for re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere involving guidance, navigation and control, heat shield designs, and trajectory fine-tuning for the future moon lander, christened Chang’e 5. (11/1)

Branson Disappointed at 'Irresponsible' Media Speculation (Source: SPACErePORT)
Richard Branson flew to Mojave to join the Virgin Galactic team in response to the SpaceShipTwo accident. He said the company will rely on the NTSB to provide an analysis of the flight failure, and he is disappointed in irresponsible media reports that he believes are jumping to conclusions about what might have happened, prior to the completion of a formal NTSB investigation. (11/1)

Branson: Company Will Learn from Crash (Source: NBC)
Branson told reporters that the Virgin Galactic program would "not push on blindly." "We owe it to our test pilots to figure out what went wrong. If we can overcome it, we’ll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," the British businessman added. Branson conceded that the program "fell short," but pointed out that the early days of aviation were risky before they became safe. (11/1)

Fandango to Send 'Interstellar' Ticket Buyer on XCOR Lynx Flight (Source: LA Times)
Studios are always looking for new ways to get people to cinemas, but this promotion is in another solar system. As part of a campaign that takes film marketing to an astronomical level, people who buy tickets on Fandango for director Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" will be entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to the edge of space. The proposed flight comes courtesy of XCOR Aerospace, a Mojave, Calif.-based company that makes commercial spacecraft. (10/31)

Prestwick in Running to Become UK's First Hub for Space Tourists (Source: The Herald)
Prestwick Airport is unlikely to attract new airlines or passenger services in its current state but could be revitalised if a bid to become the UK's first spaceport succeeds, a new report suggests. The "strategic vision document" is based on a secret taxpayer-funded report by senior finance executive Romain Py, who was hired to assess the viability of the publicly-owned transport hub after the Scottish Government took over the ailing airport. (11/1)

SES Lowers FY Guidance on Flat Q3 Revenues (Source: TelecomPaper)
Satellite operator SES said revenues for its third quarter were flat at EUR 467.7 million compared to the year before. For the full year, SES has adjusted its guidance for revenue growth at 4 percent, and for EBITDA, at constant currency, to lift 5 percent. The company had previously expected revenue and EBITDA growth of 6-7 percent but lowered its expecations on the back of weaker results in North America, the launch delay for the Astra 2G, amongst other constraints. (10/31)

ULA Hints at New Rocket Line at Decatur, Possible Engine Plant in Alabama (Source: Huntsville Times)
A new partnership between United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, could mean production of a new rocket at ULA's massive plant in Decatur and a new rocket engine somewhere in North Alabama, ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said this week.

Bruno said the Decatur plant that employs about 1,000 people now will continue to be ULA's "primary assembly and integration site" for rockets including its Atlas and Delta lines. "Decatur is just a great place," Bruno said. "For Atlas, for Delta, which will go on for years, and for whatever (the) product line looks like in the future, I anticipate it being here." (10/31)

Virgin Crash Sets Back Space Tourism by Years (Source: Space Daily)
"You are not going to see any commercial space tourism flight next year or probably several years after that," said Marco Caceres, a senior space analyst and director of space studies for the Teal Group, a Washington-based defense and aerospace consultancy. "This certainly delays any Virgin Galactic commercial flight for at least two years or more."

He described Virgin as the leader "by far" of the nascent commercial space tourism industry. Virgin Galactic had already lined up 650 customers for its first flights on the craft, including a slew of celebrities. "This will inject a note of sobriety into the enthusiasm of those who would like the spaceflight experience," John Logsdon said.

"There was a whole juggernaut of ground training and private spaceports that were being set up to support an emerging space tourism industry, with a collective burst of maybe unrealistic expectations. This will certainly throw cold water on that." The crash could also torpedo a reality television program being planned by US broadcaster NBC, dubbed "Space Race." Editor's Note: Not to mention some of the other promotional tie-ins with Virgin Galactic, like Range Rover, Grey Goose Vodka, etc. (10/31)

Battle Looming over Russian Engine Ban in U.S. Defense Bill (Source: Space News)
A provision in the pending defense authorization bill that ultimately would ban the use of Russian-built engines in launching U.S. national security satellites is expected to be the subject of debate in the coming weeks that could divide members of the House, sources said. The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 specifically bars the Pentagon from signing new contracts or renewing existing contracts with launch companies that rely on Russian suppliers.

The language, inserted into the bill by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), appears to target government launch services provider United Launch Alliance, whose Atlas 5 rocket features a Russian-built main engine dubbed RD-180. The Defense Department’s reliance on the Atlas 5 has come under fire in recent months amid the rapid deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations. (10/31)

Antares Failure Raises Questions About Vehicle’s Future (Source: Space News)
The explosion of an Antares rocket seconds after liftoff Oct. 28, destroying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft, will likely have a modest near-term effect on NASA and ISS operations, but a far greater one on the future of the Antares itself. The AJ-26 engines used in the Antares first stage were under scrutiny prior to the launch failure. Although the engines had performed well in the previous four launches, an AJ-26 failed during a test at Stennis Space Center in May. Another AJ-26 failed there in June 2011.

On Oct. 29, Orbital executives suggested that the failure may accelerate plans they previously announced to replace the AJ-26. Orbital had planned to use the AJ-26 for the remainder of its CRS missions to the ISS, then likely switch to a new engine. The company currently has no Antares missions on its manifest beyond its remaining CRS flights.

David Thompson said it likely would be “days, not weeks” for Orbital to narrow down the potential causes of the Oct. 28 failure. He expected the next Antares launch, previously scheduled for April 2015, would likely be delayed at least three months. “It certainly could be considerably longer than that, depending on what we find in the review,” he cautioned. “I hope it would be not more than a year.” (10/31)

Commercial Vehicle Promises More Frequent Return of ISS Experiments (Source: Space News)
A Houston startup established by a former NASA official is developing a small vehicle to return experiments from the ISS that could be ready for flight by late 2016. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced Oct. 16 an agreement with Intuitive Machines LLC to support the company’s development of its Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV).

“What if we could return samples from the ISS on a nearly daily basis?” While the TRV the company is developing will not achieve that frequency of operations, it is designed to allow samples to be returned to Earth without waiting for a Dragon or Soyuz spacecraft. The vehicle, which Altemus described as about the size of a bag of golf clubs, would fly to the ISS inside a Cygnus or Dragon cargo spacecraft. The ISS crew would bring the TRV into the station and load it with samples for return to Earth. (10.31)

Sierra Nevada Uninvolved in Failed Virgin Flight (Source: Space News)
Sierra Nevada Corp., which developed the original rubbed-based hybrid motor for SpaceShipTwo, confirmed its motor was not used on this flight. “SNC had no involvement in the build or qualification testing of the motor used in this flight, nor in the integration of this motor to [SpaceShipTwo],” it stated. “We were not aware of the test today, nor present on site or remotely monitoring the testing in Mojave, California.” (10/31)

Accident Investigation Planned for FAA-Permitted Experimental Flight (Source: Space News)
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Oct. 31 that it was assembling a “go-team” to travel to Mojave to investigate the SpaceShipTwo accident. The crash site has been secured and the NTSB was expected to be on the scene early in the morning of Nov. 1. The FAA, in a separate statement, said it was also investigating the accident. The flight would have been performed under an experimental permit that Scaled Composites holds from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. (10/31)

Did SpaceShipTwo Explode or Break Up? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Images of the SpaceShipTwo flight don't seem to show a fiery explosion. Rather, the vehicle appears to have broken apart, which could indicate a cause not associated with the hybrid rocket motor that has been the subject of much speculation. It is possible the vehicle suffered an aerodynamic breakup caused by a malfunction of some other kind. Click here. (10/31)

Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For (Source: WIRED)
A brave test pilot is dead and another one critically injured—in the service of a millionaire boondoggle thrill ride. To be clear: I like spaceships. A lot. I went to the first landing of the space shuttle post-Challenger disaster. I went to the Mojave for the first test flight of SpaceShipOne, nominally to cover it but really just to gaze in wonder. I root for SpaceX, and felt real disappointment at Orbital Sciences’ Antares disaster this week.

But in the wake of this tragedy out at Mojave—not even the first time a SpaceShipTwo test has killed someone—we’re going to hear a lot about exploration, about pioneers and frontiers. People are going to talk about Giant Leaps for Mankind and Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before. And we should call bullshit on that.

SpaceShipTwo—at least, the version that has the Virgin Galactic livery painted on its tail—is not a Federation starship. It’s not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. This would be true even if Virgin Galactic did more than barely brush up against the bottom of space. Virgin Galactic is building the world’s most expensive roller coaster. People get rich; they spend money. Sometimes it’s vulgar, but it’s the system we all seem to accept. When it costs the lives of the workers building that system, we should stop accepting it. (10/31)

National Space Society Encourages Virgin Galactic To Press On (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society (NSS) extends its support to Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites over the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo and offers its heartfelt sympathy to the families involved and to everyone who worked on that program.

"We are extremely honored that Virgin Galactic President George Whitesides served on the NSS team as our Executive Director and we all stand by him in this time of difficulty," said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. "We expect that the cause of the accident will be found and fixed so that the Virgin Galactic dream of 'opening space to tens of thousands of people' can become a reality." (10/31)

Virgin's Achille's Heel (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceShipTwo has a significantly different design from its predecessor. It took much longer to design and build these vehicles than anyone envisioned. But, there was a deeper, more fundamental problem that Rutan wasn’t even aware of, one that has bedeviled the program to this day. Rutan steered away from liquid engines; he viewed them as being overly complicated with too many failure modes. He preferred a hybrid motor that used nitrous oxide to burn a large chunk of rubber fuel.

SpaceShipOne was the first time a hybrid engine had been used in human spaceflight. After the Ansari X Prize, some people tried to convince Rutan to replace the hybrid with a reusable liquid engine. He rejected the advice, believing the hybrid engine was simple, safe, and easily scaled up for the much larger SpaceShipTwo. He was wrong on both counts. In July 2007, Scaled engineers were conducting a cold flow of nitrous oxide that did not involve igniting any fuel. The nitrous tank burst, destroying the test stand and killing three engineers.

The failure of the hybrid to scale led to another problem. SpaceShipTwo had already been designed and built. The dimensions of the ship, the size of the passenger and crew cabin, the center of gravity…all those were already set. So, engineers now had to fit an engine within those parameters that could still get the vehicle into space. They got the process backward, resulting in years of delays and causing numerous headaches. Click here. (10/31)

Regulators Put Global Flight Tracking on WRC-15 Agenda (Source: Space News)
International regulators adopted a resolution designed to accelerate the introduction of satellite technology for commercial aircraft tracking, a subject that, while ostensibly noncontroversial, was aggressively contested by two satellite fleet operators. Some 170 governments agreed to order global regulators next year to address the issue “as a matter of urgency.”

But behind the public display of consensus generated in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, mobile satellite fleet operators Inmarsat of London and Iridium of McLean, Virginia, waged a behind-the-scenes battle for delegate support that backers of both said went to the limit of the normal rules of engagement.

Inmarsat already offers global flight tracking, on a voluntary basis, among airlines that elect to equip their fleets with Inmarsat hardware. Iridium and its Aireon affiliate, which is planning a global commercial flight tracking service with its second-generation constellation starting in 2017, each viewed the other’s maneuvers at the ITU conference as a threat to its business. (10/31)

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