September 28, 2016

SpaceX Unveils the Interplanetary Transport System (Source: The Verge)
Private spaceflight company SpaceX has released a video that details its long-awaited "Interplanetary Transport System." The video was published less than an hour before CEO Elon Musk was scheduled to detail the system at the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The video appears to show SpaceX's new rocket — the BFR, or "Big Fucking Rocket" — as well as the company's interplanetary spaceship — the BFS, or "Big Fucking Spaceship." The rocket and spaceship combination will apparently be much bigger than SpaceX's Falcon 9. Elon Musk tweeted that, together on the launchpad, they will reach 122 meters tall — almost twice as tall as the 70-meter Falcon 9.

The BFR has 28,730,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff. Musk has said that the Raptor engine — SpaceX's next generation rocket engine — has about 500,000 pounds of thrust, which means the BFR would use somewhere in the neighborhood of 50–60 Raptor engines in its first stage. (For reference, the Falcon 9 generates 1.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and uses nine "Merlin" engines.) Click here. (9/27)

Boeing Eyes Moon-Orbiting Space Station as Waypoint to Mars (Source:
The aerospace company Boeing has a grand plan to build a crewed space station in orbit around the moon, a sort of lunar proving ground for the technologies and procedures needed to send astronauts even farther out, to Mars.

"If we're thinking about going that far away to Mars, we need to take a kind of interim step," said John Elbon, Boeing's vice president and general manager for space exploration, in a closed-door presentation for journalists at a major industry conference earlier this month. "And to take the capabilities that we're developing on station, take them to the next level and test them a little farther away. And that's the idea of going to cislunar space."

Boeing's plan involves assembling the station between 2021 and 2025 by using payload space available on five launches of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. The five components of the station include two habitat modules, an airlock, a logistics module, and a power bus and augmentation module. (9/27)

ULA Kicks Off Additive Manufacturing Challenge (Source: ULA)
ULA kicked off the 3-2-1 Liftoff! ULA Rocket Hardware Challenge today via GrabCAD Community Challenges, inviting participants to design a launch support attachment bracket for ULA’s current Atlas V rocket. The design will subsequently be evaluated for application on ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket. GrabCAD, a division of Stratasys, is a digital manufacturing hub helping designers and engineers build great products faster. (9/26)

Bezos Shows Off 'New Glenn' Rocket Design (Source: Inverse)
If “number of Twitter followers” is our only metric, SpaceX founder Elon Musk is about 39 times more popular than Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos, however, is doing his best to change that: On Monday, the same day that Musk bragged about his and SpaceX’s interplanetary rocket’s test-fire, Bezos shared images of his and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket acing wind tunnel tests.

Both Bezos and Musk hope to get humans into space, but have different goals and strategies. SpaceX was founded with the grand idea of getting people to Mars. Blue Origin takes a more methodical approach and is more secretive about its long-term goals, and is seen as trailing in technological progress. SpaceX’s latest setback shifted the balance. Bezos, no doubt detecting an opportunity, has since been stepping up his PR game, touting the strength and beauty of his New Glenn rocket.

On Monday morning, Bezos tweeted: “Exciting results from 3 weeks of wind tunnel testing of #NewGlenn at transonic & supersonic speeds. Validated our CFD.” (CFD stands for computational fluid dynamics, which means that the wind tunnel tests confirmed Blue Origin’s predictions about its new rocket’s aerodynamics.) The accompanying image predictably showed the New Glenn in a wind tunnel, and the next image showed the New Glenn descent configuration in the same tunnel. (9/26)

Crashing Space Station Shows Why China Must Start to Collaborate in Orbit (Source: The Conversation)
China launched the second vehicle in its “Tiangong” (meaning “Heavenly palace”) programme to construct a space station in early September. Despite the success of the launch, the announcement was overshadowed by the acknowledgement that the prototype module Tiangong-1 – which was always due to be replaced – is out of control and will, almost certainly, crash back down to Earth in late 2017.

One issue highlighted by Tiangong-1 is the Chinese Space program, which operates almost completely independently of other space agencies. While it is often good to have competition – because that is what drives innovation and achievement – there are areas where international cooperation is important.

Although international cooperation may not have prevented the problems with Tiangong 1, better appreciation of technical developments, including communications, made by all users of the space environment, can only help to raise the level of technical advance by all. Big collaborations are likely to lead to fewer problems, and when there is a problem, collaborative expertise can help solve it more easily. (9/26)

Got a Few Million to Spare? Here are the Companies Vying to Send Tourists to Space (Source: CBC)
Travel to the final frontier is becoming increasingly accessible as the race to send tourists to space heats up. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is expected to give more details tomorrow on his company's plans for colonizing Mars. The billionaire has said he hopes to send humans to the Red Planet as soon as 2025.

But those itching to get off Earth sooner have some other options. Several companies offer experiences such as visits to the International Space Station (ISS) or trips 100 kilometres above the Earth — for a hefty price. Click here. (9/27)

Dream of Going to Mars is SpaceX’s Biggest Strength, and its Biggest Distraction (Source: Quartz)
SpaceX is a company built to go to Mars, but are those ambitions getting in the way of its ability to achieve them? In a few days, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will unveil his plans to explore Mars at a global space conference in Mexico. The event has been widely anticipated by fans of the billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX. But an enormous fire that consumed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a pre-flight test on Sep. 1 has dampened the positive mood.

Now, critics are asking if SpaceX is taking on too much, too fast. The company has become known for injecting a Silicon Valley-style willingness to break conventions and learn from failure into the staid aerospace industry. SpaceX’s culture is the secret sauce that led it to become the first private company to design and fly its own orbital rocket, in the process disrupting the space launch business with the cheapest flights around.

But the brash company has attracted its share of detractors. Musk had not been shy in observing the bloated budgets and lack of innovation at his corporate rivals. When his company has hit stumbling blocks—like the recent fire or the explosion of a mission to re-supply the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015—they have not been shy about questioning whether SpaceX is reliable enough to be trusted when hundreds of millions of dollars hang in the balance. (9/27)

Foreign Crafts Dominate Even as ISRO Satellite Launches Set Record (Source: The Quint)
The Indian space program launched 10 satellites in 2016, three times more than the preceding year and the most ever, according to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) data. No more than 38 percent of the satellites launched over the last 10 years have been Indian.

Over 10 years, ISRO has had 34 launches, successfully sending up 121 satellites, 75 of them foreign: 18 (24 percent) were from USA, 11 (15 percent) Canadian, 8 (11 percent) each from Singapore and Germany, and 6 (8 percent) from the UK. However, in terms of weight, the Indian satellites that ISRO has launched were 10 times heavier, by kilograms, than foreign satellites carried aloft by PSLV and other launch vehicles over the last decade.

Although foreign satellites (one US, one Canadian, and three Algerian) outnumbered domestic launches on Monday, according to the ISRO list of foreign satellites launched, Indian spacecraft occupied most of the 1,750-kg capacity of the PSLV, which completed its 36th successive, successful launch. (9/27)

Russian Aviation Company to Acquire Sea Launch (Source: Space News)
A Russian aviation company plans to acquire the assets of Sea Launch from RSC Energia with the hopes of resuming launches in about two years. S7 Group, Russia’s largest private aviation holding company and owner of S7 Airlines, signed an agreement to acquire all the main assets of Sea Launch, including its two vessels.

Vladislav Filev, chief executive of S7 Group, said the value of the deal was about $150 million. He added the agreement was subject to approvals in several countries, including the United States and Russia. The companies expect the effort to obtain those approvals to take six months. In the case of the United States, that process includes export control agreements with the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and an approval the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. (9/27)

Musk: Falcon Fix Comes First (Source: Space News)
Despite the long-term Mars plans, Musk said his top near-term priority is to complete the investigation into the Falcon 9 accident nearly a month ago. Musk said the company has ruled out all the likely causes of the Sept. 1 pad explosion, calling the investigation "vexing and difficult." He said getting to the root of the problem is the "absolute top priority" for the company, with the Mars work ranking much lower for the time being. (9/27)

Blue Origin Plans Another New Shepard Test Flight (Source: GeekWire)
Blue Origin plans to perform its next New Shepard suborbital test flight next week. Company president Rob Meyerson said at the IAC Tuesday that the flight, which will test the capsule's abort system, will take place some time next week at the company's West Texas site. Meyerson said that simulations of the test indicate that the vehicle's propulsion module will likely be destroyed in the flight, but even if it survives it will be retired after this flight. (9/27)

Senate Fails on CR, Moves Govt. Closer to Shutdown (Source: The Hill)
The Senate's failure to advance a continuing resolution (CR) brings the federal government closer to a potential shutdown at the end of the week. The CR, which would fund the government at fiscal year 2016 levels from Oct. 1 through early December, failed to win the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate Tuesday. Democrats object to the lack of funding in the CR for cleaning up the water supply in Flint, Michigan. Congress must pass a CR by Friday night to avoid a shutdown. (9/27)

ULA Moves Toward Vulcan Certification for Military Missions (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force and United Launch Alliance signed an agreement to study the certification of the Vulcan rocket for military launches. The cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, will guide the process for certifying ULA's Vulcan for military missions. The Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center said it expects to sign similar CRADAs soon with SpaceX for certifying its Falcon Heavy, and with Orbital ATK for its proposed Next Generation Launcher. (9/27)

NASA Gets New Science Chief (Source: NASA)
NASA has named Thomas Zurbuchen as its new associate administrator for science. Zurbuchen is currently a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan and has worked on several NASA space science missions. He also chaired a National Academies study on the scientific use of cubesats, which was completed earlier this year. Geoff Yoder, who had been serving as the acting associate administrator for science since the retirement of John Grunsfeld earlier this year, plans to retire in December. (9/27)

India Plans GSLV Upgrade (Source: The Hindu)
India is looking to upgrade the performance of its GSLV rocket in the coming years. Officials with the Indian space agency ISRO said they're developing a new engine, using kerosene and liquid oxygen, for its GSLV Mark 3 rocket that would increase its payload capacity for geostationary missions from 4,000 to 6,000 kilograms. The use of clusters of strap-on boosters could further increase its capacity to 15,000 kilograms. The new engine could be ready for flight by the end of 2018. The improved performance would allow ISRO to launch its largest communications satellites on the GSLV, rather than purchase launches from Arianespace. (9/27)

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