June 4, 2017

Cygnus Unberthed, Begins Weeklong Free Flight (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The S.S. John Glenn Cygnus spacecraft was released from the International Space Station on June 4 after some 44 days berthed to the outpost’s Unity module. Cygnus carried to the ISS nearly 7,700 pounds of experiments, food and crew supplies for the Expedition 51 and 52 crews. Now, with the craft loaded with unneeded equipment and trash, the spacecraft will begin the final leg of its journey: a weeklong free flight to conduct a remote fire experiment called SAFFIRE III. (6/4)

Jeff Bezos Will Leave Richard Branson Behind in the Dust (Source: Daily Beast)
Let’s face it: by any rational measure so-called space tourism is a preposterously frivolous idea. Nonetheless, hundreds of thrill-seekers were willing to pay around $2,300 a minute for the ride as soon as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture was launched in 2005. The first passenger-carrying flight was supposed to happen 10 years ago, in 2007. It slipped to 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013…now…maybe… next year.

But if once it seemed like an idea whose time would never come (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether it ever should) Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team—not Branson—now seems more than ever likely to be the first to deliver. The two projects could not be more different. One, Galactic, is a hybrid of rocket and flying machine, the other, Bezos’s New Shepard, is purely ballistic, a rocket ride followed by descent in a six-passenger capsule under three parachutes.

Bezos has been testing his system in the remote tundra of west Texas, with five virtually flawless flights between November 2015 and October 2016.. Moreover, he has so much confidence in his approach that after several years of under-the-radar development he has become uncharacteristically boosterish. Whereas Branson over the years staged numerous junkets for the media in which success was claimed to be imminent, but warning that, “It’s a mistake to race to a deadline when you’re talking about a flying vehicle, especially one that you’re going to put people on.” (6/4)

Entrepreneurs Don’t Need International Treaty Changes To Start Spacesteading (Source: Federalist)
Bob Zimmerman recently proposed that the president and Congress establish a Spacestead Act, modeled on the Homestead Act of 1862, that would grant property on extraterrestrial bodies such as the Moon to people who settle there. To enable this “spacesteading,” Zimmerman urges President Trump to withdraw from the current Outer Space Treaty, adopted in 1967, and attempt to negotiate a new one.

But the incentives for most countries to agree to a new treaty rewarding permanent title to those few countries and companies currently able to get to the Moon on their own appear to be thin. Zimmerman is responding to a perceived weakness of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty—that it prohibits private individuals and organizations from owning property in space, and thereby prevents those who wish to mine or establish bases on an extraterrestrial body from having confidence they will be able to retain rights to and eventually sell the resources or products created by their efforts in space. But does it?

Laura Montgomery says it has been generally acknowledged for 45 years that the U.S. owns the rocks it brought back from the Moon. Based on that, the treaty should not undermine the case that private enterprise is also entitled to ownership of materials it removes from the Moon or elsewhere. Ultimately, what Zimmerman wants to address is not the ownership of objects or extracted resources, but the title to real estate or territory. Why must a government claim territory before a private enterprise uses it and stakes a claim? For the purpose of establishing a private claim, what function does a government provide outside being the depository of a claim certificate? None. (6/3)

ULA Layoffs Raise Questions on Harlingen TX Operations (Source: Brownsville Herald)
United Launch Alliance has issued layoff notices to dozens of workers at its local facility, raising questions about how long the rocket-engine production site will operate in Harlingen. Officials with United Auto Workers Local 2346 confirmed 26 union workers at the facility at Valley International Airport will be laid off today. They also said 17 non-bargaining unit employees in management would be let go as well, leaving about 75 workers at the facility. (5/31)

ULA Lays Off Potentially Dozens of Workers at Decatur AL, but Company and Union Can’t Say How Many (Source: WHNT)
The same week United Launch Alliance had a big to-do about a new partnership, an employee of ULA contacted WHNT News 19 to say dozens of workers had been laid off in Decatur. He says he believes it was 68 people. He was one of them. So we asked the company how many people they'd fired this week. They won't say. A spokesperson tells us that's "to protect competitively sensitive information." So we reached out to the union that represents workers at ULA. They say, at this writing, they don't know how many people have been laid off. (6/3)

China Prepares for First Scientific Project Aboard International Space Station (Source: Xinhua)
When the Dragon capsule docks with the International Space Station (ISS) on June 6, devices from China for the country's first scientific research project will go aboard the ISS. The project between the Beijing Institute of Technology and NanoRacks, a U.S. firm, aims to investigate how the space environment affects DNA, said Deng Yulin, a life science professor with the institute who leads the research project, on Sunday.

The research will study gene mutation, one of the biggest risks to astronauts working on space missions, as they are exposed to ten times the radiation levels in space than on earth, he said. Previously, equipment for space experiments was sent via China's 2011 launch of the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, its 2016 lift by a Long March-7 rocket and via China's cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 in 2017. (6/4)

With Ariane 5 Launch of ViaSat-2 and Eutelsat-172b, Arianespace All Caught Up on Protest-Delayed Missions (Source: Space News)
Arianespace’s successful launch of ViaSat and Eutelsat telecommunications satellites June 1 on an Ariane 5 rocket marked the completion of all missions offset by protests in French Guiana during March and April. Arianespace launched both satellites from Kourou, French Guiana. Territory-wide protests in French Guiana highlighting societal concerns including safety, healthcare and standards of living, used a blockade of the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s spaceport, as a both a bartering chip and a means to gain France’s attention. (6/2)

Coming Soon: New York to San Francisco in 2 Hours 20 Minutes (Source: Newsweek)
Fourteen years after the Concorde was grounded, private companies are on the verge of bringing supersonic air travel back. And this time it will be built on sound economic principles. To circumvent the overland travel ban, Boom Technology's aircraft will mainly fly over water. The company has also devised a new form factor for the plane: a three engine jet that can carry up to 55 passengers and fly more than twice the speed of sound.

Scholl's company isn't alone in its quest to speed up air travel. It has several private competitors, and NASA is working with Lockheed Martin, an aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company, to come up with its own version of a supersonic plane. The difference? Boom's demonstrator jet will cost roughly $30 million compared to NASA's plane, which is expected to cost at least $300 million when completed.

Current regulations will prevent companies like Boom from offering supersonic flights between California and New York. Before they can enter that market, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would need to overturn its ban on overland travel. "Reverse that and now New York to San Francisco could be 2 hours and 20 minutes," says Scholl. (6/3)

Mojave Journal: Good Rockets are Hard to Find (Source: Parabolic Arc)
 At 238 feet long, 50 feet high and spanning 385 feet from wing tip to wing tip, the Stratolaunch carrier plane is an absolute monster that makes everything around it — people, vehicles, ground equipment — look tiny by comparison. It’s going to be spectacular — and undoubtedly nerve wracking — sight when that beast roars down Runway 30 powered by six Boeing 747 engines and lifts off into the Mojave sky for the first time.

But, amid all the oohs and ahhs, it’s hard to ignore some of the dark clouds that have gathered over the program in the 5.5 years since Allen and Burt Rutan unveiled Stratolaunch to the world back in December 2011. As the plane grew inside its hangar from CAD drawings and artist’s conceptions to the humongous vehicle that was rolled out on Wednesday, its reason to exist appears to have shrunk from “yeah OK, I can kind of see that” to “wait…what?”

More specifically, its niche in an increasingly crowded launch marketplace is unclear. The original plan was for the giant aircraft to launch a medium-lift booster. Booster development contracts were given to three companies in succession. None produced the medium-lift booster Stratolaunch wanted. A study also examined the feasibility of launching a scaled-down version of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. When Stratolaunch announced in October they would launch Orbital ATK's Pegasus XL, it was a real head scratcher for multiple reasons. Click here. (6/2)

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