April 1, 2017

A Tour of Vector Space Systems (Source: Behind the Black)
Vector is presently in the testing phase leading up to their first orbital launches, which they hope to start in 2018. Right now they are building a series of full scale versions of their Vector-R rocket with a dummy second stage. The idea is to do a string of suborbital test flights, the first of which will fly in about a week from Mohave in California, with the second flying from the Georgia spaceport in Camden County. Click here. (3/31)

The X-37B: America's Amazing Space Plane (That Russia and China Fear) (Source: National Interest)
A mysterious space plane has spent more than 670 days above Earth, hurtling along an orbital path that includes some of the world’s most volatile hotspots. Known the X-37B, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned mini-shuttle whizzes along an average of two hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. Exactly what it’s doing up there is bit of a mystery.

The space plane that would eventually become the X-37B was originally conceived of by NASA in 1999. The Space Shuttle program had failed to bring down the per-pound cost of ferrying a payload to orbit, but a smaller, unmanned aircraft using newer technologies might prove more economical. Boeing’s Phantom Works division was given a four-year contract to develop the X-37 in conjunction with NASA, followed up in 2002 with a new agreement to develop an Approach and Landing Test Vehicle to test horizontal landing concepts.

In 2004 NASA transferred the X-37 program to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA. The ALTV vehicle successfully tested out atmospheric flight concepts, but NASA’s OTV space plane was never built. Instead, the U.S. Air Force built its own OTV space plane along the same lines. In fact, it built at least two. (4/1)

SpaceX Has Job openings for 473 People — Here's Who it's Hiring (Source: Business Insider)
When tech mogul Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, the rocket company "basically consisted of carpet and a mariachi band," Musk said in 2016. "That was it." Today, SpaceX employs hundreds of people all over the US and has expanded its size, scope, and prowess with increasing revenues from government and private contracts.

SpaceX's careers page offers a bewildering variety of jobs across 41 departments. Of the 473 positions, 313, or about two-thirds, are based at SpaceX's global headquarters in Hawthorne, California, which is southwest of Los Angeles. The rest of the jobs are sprinkled across Brownsville and McGregor in Texas; Cape Canaveral, Florida; Irvine and Vandenberg in California; Redmond, Washington; and Washington, DC.

About half of the positions call for engineers, 33% for technicians, 5% for machinists, 5% for specialists, 5% for managers, and 1% for directors. These gigs — nearly all of them full-time — don't all require multiple degrees or up-close experience working with rocket engines, robots, software, explosive fuels, or other high-tech systems required to colonize Mars. Click here. (3/31) http://www.businessinsider.com/open-positions-spacex-2017-3

North Carolina 'Made a Hard Run' for Blue Origin's Spaceship Manufacturing (Source: Triangle Business Journal)
Public records show "Project Eagle," aka: Blue Origin, considered – and rejected – North Carolina for a massive manufacturing operation in 2016. The company eventually opted for a site in Florida at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, with a generous collection of state and local incentives. Editor's Note: The size of the rockets Blue Origin plans to manufacture probably made any site far from the launch site impractical. (3/31)

Increasing the visibility of the Commercial Space Transportation Office (Source: The Hill)
Originally located in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, AST was transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in November of 1995 as part of the Clinton administration’s government-wide reorganization effort.

In the intervening decades, commercial space activity has greatly expanded, placing an ever-increasing burden on AST. Since Fiscal Year 2006, launch and reentry operations have increased by over 200 percent and the number of authorizations issued by AST have increased nearly 500 percent, while staffing levels have not even grown 50 percent. Currently, the office is engaged in 74 total active projects, up from 38 in 2015.

Clearly the demands on this office are increasing and, as many commercial space companies will tell you, they are struggling to keep up. We are also concerned with the status of the regulations governing this industry and overseen by FAA/AST. Much of the rulemaking does not keep pace with technological innovation nor the demand for commercial launch. Operating based on outdated regulations is a time-consuming burden for both this office and industry. Click here. (3/29)

China's Secret Plan to Crush SpaceX and the US Space Program (Source: CNBC)
China's breakneck economic expansion may be flagging, but the country's ambitions in space show no signs of slowing down. Alongside ongoing efforts to rival NASA by placing robotic landers, and eventually astronauts, on the moon and Mars, China's government is increasingly looking to its burgeoning space sector to rival U.S. companies like Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, which is targeting March 30 for the latest launch of its Falcon 9 rocket.

Though Chinese space authorities have publicly announced the country's ambitions to forge itself into a major space power by the early 2030s, President Xi Jinping's government is also considering ways to direct spending that will push Chinese tech companies toward breakthroughs in downstream technologies like robotics, aerospace, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and other 21st-century technologies. Click here. (3/29)

Trump’s Air Force Pick Says Increasing Space-Threat Awareness a Priority (Source: Space News)
Heather Wilson, President Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Air Force secretary, said expanding awareness of space as a warfighting domain would be one of her priorities if she’s confirmed.

“There are a variety of things I think we need to do,” Wilson said. “But rethinking the way in which we think about space as a contested domain has to be part of it. It’s the development of strategies, techniques, and capabilities to be able to fight through, to be resilient, to be as crafty and successful in space as we are in air. That’s a very big change for the country to be starting to think that way. I think there’s some elements of the Air Force that already are starting to develop those thoughts.”

During her March 30 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Wilson noted that she was serving on the House Intelligence Committee in 2007 when China put spacefaring nations on edge by demonstrating an anti-satellite weapon by deliberately destroying one of its aging Fengyun weather satellites. (3/31)

SpaceX to Launch Falcon Heavy with Two “Flight-Proven” Boosters This Year (Source: Space News)
SpaceX plans to conduct the debut launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket this summer using two boosters that have already flown on other missions, Elon Musk said March 30. Speaking after the company’s success in launching its first pre-flown first stage with the SES-10 satellite aboard, Musk said SpaceX has worked out most of the challenges associated with getting three Falcon 9 cores to fly together — a task that has proven much more complex than it originally appeared.

“Falcon Heavy is one of those things that at first it sounded easy,” Musk said. “We’ll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters. And like, actually no, this is crazy hard, and required a redesign of the center core, and a ton of additional hardware. It was actually shockingly difficult to go from a single core to a triple-core vehicle.”

Falcon Heavy is designed to lift more than 54 metric tons to low Earth orbit, 22 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or 13.6 metric tons to Mars. When SpaceX first revealed the Falcon Heavy in 2011, the company anticipated a first mission in 2013, but complexities in getting the vehicle to work, combined with delays from two Falcon 9 failures, dragged out that timeline. (3/31)

Vulcan Aerospace is Now Stratolaunch, With a Redesigned Website (Source: GeekWire)
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s space venture is rebranding itself and updating its website as it prepares to begin flight tests of the world’s biggest airplane. The venture was launched in 2011 as Stratolaunch Systems, but over time it morphed into Vulcan Aerospace, with Stratolaunch Systems as a subsidiary. Now it’s officially known as Stratolaunch, period.

The venture’s website has been changed to reflect the new branding. The site will be undergoing further updates in the months ahead, but more importantly, Allen hopes to finish construction of the giant Stratolaunch airplane in a California hangar and see it take to the air by the end of the year. Eventually, the plane will serve as a platform for sending air-launched payloads into orbit – as explained on the website. (3/31)

How SpaceX's Historic Rocket Re-Flight Boosts Elon Musk's Mars Plan (Source: Space.com)
Elon Musk's Mars-colonization vision just got a step closer to reality. The used rocket mission demonstrated the type of technology that could help make Mars settlement economically feasible, Musk said. "There needs to be at least a 100-fold, if not perhaps a 1,000-fold, reduction in the cost per ton to Mars — actually, maybe 10,000-fold," he said.

"And reusability is absolutely fundamental to that goal," Musk added. "So this, I think, is a very helpful proof point that it's possible, and I hope people start to think of it as a real goal to which we should aspire — to establish a civilization on Mars."

SpaceX aims to establish a million-person city on Mars using a rocket-spaceship combo called the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which is in the early development stage. Both the ITS rocket and the spaceship will be reusable. Indeed, the booster will be designed to launch at least 1,000 times, Musk said Thursday. (3/31)

Rockets Need Insurance, Too. But Way More Than the Feds Think (Source: WIRED)
Launching rockets is a risky business. So, in addition to those precious payloads, every mission carries an insurance policy juuust in case something goes awry. Private insurers handle most of it, but the federal government offers a backstop for those truly unusual catastrophes—think rocket nosediving into an elementary school—that would max out the private coverage.

And it turns out a Cape Canaveral cataclysm—or, if you prefer, a Wallops Island walloping, or a Vandenberg devastation—could cost that program far more than it expects. A report from the Government Accountability Office says the federal program undervalues its launch insurance and ought to update its estimates. Given that the entire space launch insurance industry bases its rates on those same estimates, any update could make even commercial updates more expensive. Click here. (3/31)

Watchmaker Crowdfunds Timepieces Made From Flown Soyuz Rocket Metal (Source: CollectSpace)
As it turns out, there is more than one way to reuse a rocket. Less than 24 hours after SpaceX achieved the first re-flight of a flown rocket first stage, a crowdfunding campaign has launched to land rocket parts on space enthusiasts' wrists.

The Earth Collection, a selection of limited edition watches made in part of metal recovered from a Russian rocket that launched a crew to the International Space Station, is now being offered through Kickstarter by Werenbach, a Zurich-based watch brand. Each timepiece has a dial cut directly from the outer shell of the Soyuz MS-02 rocket. (3/31)

Russia Plans at Least 30 Space Launches in 2017 (Source: Sputnik)
Russia is planning to carry out at least 30 space launches in 2017, head of Roscosmos State Space Corporation, Igor Komarov, said Friday. Komarov added that Russia currently maintains an almost 24-percent share on the global market of space launches. (3/31)

Kremlin Believes Russia Can Compete With Private Firms Like SpaceX in Space (Source: Sputnik)
Russia believes it can compete in space with private companies including SpaceX, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday commenting on the firm's achievements. Peskov told reporters the Kremlin and government scientific bodies "closely monitor" SpaceX's progress, including the successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket's refurbished first stage Thursday.

Earlier SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon 9 carrier rocket with the SES-10 satellite. The launch was the first attempt by SpaceX at sending the well-known Falcon 9 rocket back to space — and since, it's already been there back in April 2016, when it delivered necessary supplies to the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), it's been labeled as "recycled."

SpaceX started experimenting with drone ship landings in 2015. After the successful drone ship landing in April 2016, Musk said that the Flacon 9 booster could be used for 10-20 more flights and with the help of some modifications, it could fly up to 100 times. (3/31)

Roscosmos Does Not See Reusable Rocket Stage as Priority (Source: Interfax)
A reusable launch vehicle first stage is not a priority of Russia's rocket and space industry, Roscosmos spokesman Igor Burenkov said.

"Reusability is a chiefly economic matter, so we should make a profound feasibility study. Actually, we have neither forgotten nor neglected this area, and Khrunichev Center continues its research. However, this is not today's priority," Burenkov told the Echo of Moscow radio in an interview, speaking of the reused stage of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Roscosmos is focused "on preserving and enlarging the Russian satellite cluster, creating new launch vehicles, and developing new engines," he said. At the same time, Burenkov acknowledged that the SpaceX achievement is "keynote and very serious... They have successfully accomplished their tasks," the Roscosmos spokesman said. (3/31)

Roscosmos Developing Retrievable Rocket Components (Source: Interfax)
Roscosmos is working to develop retrievable parts of carrier rockets, Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov said. "We are running pilot projects in the sphere of retrievable components. Speaking of components, we have engines which can work a multiple number of times, for example Engine 191 and the engine for Angara [rocket]. We will also be using the potential of retrievable rocket components," he told journalists on Friday.

Komarov welcomed the successful launch of SpaceX's reusable rocket Falcon. "This is a very important step, we sincerely congratulate our colleague on this achievement. The innovations SpaceX is making are forcing us to work on lowering the cost price and raising the product quality. The main thing is to ensure a competitive product," he said. (3/31)

Russian Space Contractor Delivers RD-181 Rocket Engines to US (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Energomash rocket engine manufacturer has delivered a batch of three RD-181 engines to US Orbital ATK, the Energomash press office reported on Friday. "On March 29, the engines were delivered by air to the United States where the sides signed acceptance/delivery certificates," the press office said.

The US aerospace firm Orbital ATK intends to mount the Russian engines on the first stages of Antares carrier rockets for cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. The RD-181 is a one-chamber liquid-propellant rocket engine with a vertically-installed turbo-pump unit. Energomash signed a contract with Orbital ATK in December 2014 for the delivery of rocket engines. (3/31)

Russia’s Proton-M Rocket First Launch Scheduled for May (Source: Tass)
The first launch of Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket this year is scheduled for the end of May, Chief Designer for Launch Vehicles and Ground Infrastructure Alexander Medvedev said on Friday. "The first launch is planned for the end of May," the chief designer said.

The launch of an EchoStar 21 spacecraft was planned back last year but was delayed over problems found in the engines of a Proton-M carrier rocket. A total of seven Proton carrier rocket launches are planned until the end of this year under the federal space program and in the interests of commercial customers. (3/31)

Russian Expert Says Musk Uses Booster Relaunch as Show-Off for Investors (Source: Tass)
The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, in which Elon Musk’s SpaceX used a re-fly booster to deliver payload into outer space is nothing more than a show-off for investors and spectators, Corresponding Member of Russia’s Tsiolkovsky Cosmonautics Academy Andrei Ionin said.

SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket with a SES-10 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday. The rocket’s first stage subsequently safely landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Before that, the booster went into outer space in April last year when it orbited a Dragon spacecraft with supplies for the crew of the International Space Station. Therefore, SpaceX has been the first in the world to use a re-fly rocket for payload delivery into outer space. (3/31)

Russia Intends to Increase Revenues from ISS Using Commerce and Tourism (Source: Tass)
Russian plans to increase incomes from the operation of the International Space Stations (ISS) as much as possible, General Designer of manned space systems Yevgeny Mikrin said. In his words, ways of boosting incomes are "offering services of transportation to the ISS for astronauts from partner countries, selling seats and cargo kilograms aboard spacecraft, organizing commercial experiments, and space tourism services." According to Mikrin, operating costs will be reduced by means of the ISS automation in order to boost its cost-effectiveness. (3/31)

International Collaborations in Space Always Reflect Politics on Earth (Source: Slate)
Five hundred forty-nine people from about 40 countries have orbited the Earth. (It is impossible to give a precise number, because both dual citizenship and the breakup of the USSR make such accounting choices subjective and political.) Almost two-thirds of them are American. China was the third country to send its own citizens to space. People from Vietnam and Mongolia got to space before France or Germany. Saudi Arabia got there before Japan.

These aren’t just cocktail-party factoids (though if you’re in the mood for a good one, get this—Volkov’s son Sergei took off in a Soyuz of his own in 2008, the first person to follow his dad into space). Understanding the history of when and how the first representatives of each of these countries got to space helps untangle the widely misremembered ways in which commerce, national interest, science, and adventure have been mixed together in space.

Advocates for human spaceflight often make the claim that space travel fundamentally reshapes terrestrial politics. Seeing Earth from above results in a realization of the artificial nature of political boundaries and the fragility of human existence, and cooperation in space, as with the International Space Station, a joint American, Russian, European, Japanese, and Canadian endeavor, leads to harmonious international relations on Earth. But human travel in space has been a consequence of politics and commerce on Earth, not the other way around. (3/31)

Kremlin Certain Roscosmos Can Compete with Elon Musk’s Technologies (Source: Tass)
The Kremlin keeps a close watch on research being conducted by companies belonging to multi-billionaire Elon Musk and is certain that Roscosmos will be able to offer a decent competition. One of Musk’s companies, SpaceX, is conducting research into breakthrough space technologies.

"The Kremlin and the agencies concerned keep a close watch on technological breakthroughs. Our space industry specialists will keep the development of such technologies in mind," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. At the same time he recalled that Russia’s corporation Roscosmos was currently in the process of transformation. Its chief Igor Komarov has repeatedly briefed the president on cutting edge products Russian specialists were working on.

"This is a rather tough competition. We have every reason to believe that we will be able to participate in it and show good performance," Peskov said. (3/31)

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