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Commercialized Spaceflight In The 21st Century

Back in April of 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama came to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to announce a bold new direction for America’s space program – the commercialization of low Earth orbit. Under this program NASA would no-longer own the spacecraft it flies to Earth orbit. Instead it would buy rides on vehicles owned, developed, and operated, by several competing corporations. 

The crap hit the fan almost as soon as the words left his mouth. Everyone from congressmen to Apollo astronauts began bemoaning what they believed to be the “gutting” of NASA.  They claimed that industry was not ready for such an endeavor and that the project was doomed to failure. But, here we are just three years later, and already we have not one but two brand new and fully operational commercial space systems - the SpaceX Falcon-9/Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares/Cygnus. What’s more there are no fewer than six manned spacecraft under development – everything from sub-orbital hoppers to inflatable space stations*. Within the next three years NASA will have something that its never had before - an entire fleet of manned spacecraft!  Far from being gutted NASA has been enhanced.  

This is capitalism in action – the economic bedrock upon which the United States was built. It drives everything in this country and the space program is no exception. Who do you think has been building all the rockets and spacecraft anyway? NASA has no manufacturing facilities – it designs the spacecraft and then contracts the job out to industry. Privatization simply works but don’t take my word for it - history can speak for itself. 

Arguably, the U.S. space program began in 1958 with the launch of the first US satellite Explorer-1. From the beginning NASA wanted its satellites to be useful so it began developing a series of “proof of concept” missions. They launched the world’s first weather satellite, the first communications satellite, the first geostationary satellite, the first land satellite, and more. Over and over again NASA was showing the world what could be done with orbiting spacecraft and it did not go unnoticed. 

Almost immediately private companies saw the potential satellites had to offer and began moving ahead with plans to build their own. At first these were launched using NASA’s rockets but with the advent of the Space Shuttle, in the early 1980s, all of NASA’s rockets were scrapped. The Shuttle would now carry the nation’s payloads into space. Following the Challenger disaster, in the mid-1980s, this decision was reversed and it was decided that a mixed fleet of boosters would best guarantee the nation’s access to space. So Lockheed Martin (manufacturer of the Atlas) and Boeing (manufacturer of the Delta) were told to dust off their assembly lines and begin producing rockets again – only this time the boosters and the launch facilities would be totally owned and operated by the companies themselves. The satellite launch market had been privatized. 

Far from destroying NASA’s unmanned space program, which was now totally dependent on these commercial rockets, the move actually enhanced it. 

When Explorer-1 was launched it cost the US tax payer about $1,000,000.00 per pound ** to get it into space. Today, thanks to commercial launch services, this number has dropped to around $7,000.00 per pound. This remarkable drop in cost not only benefited NASA, but it allowed for the creation of entire new industries including satellite television, GPS, the global internet, and more. We’re not talking spin-offs here; these are entire industries that are completely dependent on space travel for their existence. Thanks to these new industries we now live in a world with instant communication anywhere on Earth and a giant global knowledge bank that anybody can access from their phone – private spacecraft had changed the world. 

As demand for launch services to support these new industries skyrocketed, more and more companies began tossing their hats into the ring. Orbital Sciences Corporation developed Antares, Taurus, Minatare, and Pegasus. Lockheed Martin created Athena and the Atlas V family of rockets. Boeing developed the Delta IV family and continues to market its venerable Delta 2, SpaceX developed the Falcon family of rockets and so on. 

If NASA needs a rocket to launch an un-manned spacecraft it simply shops the market for the one best suited to its needs. It then buys it directly from the manufacturer who oversees all aspects of the launch. NASA takes control only after the spacecraft has been inserted into orbit. When the boosters are not being used to launch government payloads they are used to launch private payloads which creates two space programs – a government one and a private one. Today, this private market is a $189.5 billion dollar per year global industry that grew 7% in 2012 outstripping global economic growth which was 2.3% and U.S. economic growth which was 2.2 %. *** 

The number one argument I have heard against spaceflight is that it is academic – there are no “practical” benefits. Well nobody is going to argue that satellites, which NASA showed us how to build and launch and private industry now handles on its own, are not essential to the economy. In fact they are so important that the US military has declared satellites to be U.S. sovereign territory and has made it clear that they are willing to fight to protect them. This is because satellites have become integrated into the national economy. They generate income, create jobs, help keep us safe, and have improved the lives of us all. 

The same thing now needs to happen with the manned spaceflight program. 

Up to this point the manned space program has been based on exploration. Dr Werner von Braun came up with this concept believing that spaceflight should be for the benefit of all mankind. It’s a very noble concept but Thomas Edison didn’t develop the light bulb because it was noble. He did it because he thought it would make him rich. There has to be a reason to invest all this money or the money stops. Exploration that isn’t followed by exploitation is purely academic and in the long run will prove to be unsustainable. 

Commercialization provides us with a justification for the manned space program – expand the human presence out into the solar system. NASA does the exploration and then industry follows with the exploitation. In this way manned spaceflight becomes integrated with the national economy and produces tangible benefits. If the un-manned program has taught us anything it’s that commercialization will lower the cost, increase the efficiency, and lead to the creation of new and hear-to unimagined industries. The exploration opens up the frontier for exploitation and exploitation provides justification for the exploration. It’s symbiotic, its natural, and it is simply how it works. 

NASA was founded on the promise that it would open up a new frontier. Well it has. Low Earth orbit has been explored. We already know how to live and work there. Now we need to own it, to integrate it with our lives and make it a part of who we are. NASA can then use its resources to expand the frontier outward first to the Moon and then into the Solar System finally lifting the human species out of its cradle to establish a permanent and sustainable human presence in space. 


  • * The Manned version of the SpaceX Dragon, Boeings manned CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, XCOR’s suborbital Lynx, Vergin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShip-2, and Biggelow’s inflatable space station. NASA is also developing Orion so if you count the government ship the real number is 7


  • ** The most conservative and reliable estimate I could find for the cost of the Explorer 1 mission  $30,000,000.00 in 1950 dollars.  Explorer weighed only 30 pounds.



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ESA Defends Ariane 6 Design

PARIS - Despite requests to take a "strategic pause" to re-evaluate its design, ESA officials are moving ahead with the design of its Ariane 6 booster which is intended to cement Europe's lead in the launch services market.

The controversy centers around the boosters solid propellant first stage. Many, including Europe’s Air & Space Academy, believe that mounting a cryogenic upper stage atop two solid rocket boosters is not a sound design and are urging ESA to take time to develop a "more powerful liquid fueled alternative". But ESA Launch Vehicle Director Antonio Fabrizi disagrees stating that the design "received the specific endorsement of ESA’s governments last November and cannot simply be set aside."

 Ariane 6 shown with 2 and 4 solid rocket boosters Photo Credit: CNES

The current plan calls for freezing the design in July of this year and then beginning construction in late 2014. First flight will be in 2021 although several issues still need to be hammered out. These include the size of the payload fairing and the number of solid boosters that will be used (2 or 4). There is also the tedious process of deciding which nations get to build what components - the entire project is worth 4 billion euros so there will be a lot of fighting about who gets to build the big parts. In the mean time ESA is moving ahead with a 2 billion Euro upgrade to its existing Ariane V booster. This upgrade, intended to be complete by 2017 and known as the Ariane V ME, will increase the boosters lift by providing it with a reignitable upper stage upper stage. 

In defense of the solid booster configuration, Arianespace officials are quick to point out that there has never been a problem with the Atiane V Solid Rocket Boosters and that they are considered to be one of the most reliable components of the Ariane V stack. Also synergies between ESA's solid fuel Vega booster and the new Ariane 6 would benefit both projects. 

Currently, Arianespace considers itself to be hamstrung by the need to provide two satellites every two or three months for the Ariane V and yet remain within the vehicles performance range. Currently, customers have to wait until a compatible partner can be found for the launch.  The new Ariane 6 system will launch a single satellite at a time allowing for more flexibility and less wait time for the customers. Ariane 6 will be able to orbit payloads weighing as much as 6.5 tones making it competitive with most of the worlds planed commercial launch systems. 

Although Arianespace is currently the worlds leading launch services provider it realizes that the market is changing dramatically. SpaceX's  Falcon launch vehicle, along with China's Long March series of rockets, India's GSLV and PSLV boosters, Japan's H-2, and Ukraine's Zenit are all set to enter the commercial launch services market within the next few years. Combined with the company's traditional competitors, the American Atlas V and Delta IV, Russia's Proton, and Japan's H-2 , these factors threaten the company's leadership position in the market. As a result the company has decided to construct a new booster custom designed to fit the future market. The Ariane 6 has been under development since 2009. 

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Boeing Completes New Spacecraft, Rocket Milestones

WASHINGTON - The Boeing Company of Houston, a NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partner, recently performed wind tunnel testing of its CST-100 spacecraft and integrated launch vehicle, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The testing is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

Boeing and ULA also worked together to test a newly developed component of the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage. Boeing now has completed two of eight performance milestones under CCiCap and is on track to have completed all 19 of its milestones around mid-2014.

Shown is the integrated model at NASA's Ames Research Center. The model is a 7 percent model of the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft, launch vehicle adaptor and launch vehicle. Image credit: Boeing

"The Centaur has a long and storied past of launching the agency's most successful spacecraft to other worlds," said Ed Mango, NASA's CCP manager at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "Because it has never been used for human spaceflight before, these tests are critical to ensuring a smooth and safe performance for the crew members who will be riding atop the human-rated Atlas V."

The wind tunnel testing, which began in March and wrapped up in May at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., were the first interface tests of Boeing's spacecraft, launch vehicle adaptor and launch vehicle. A scale model of the integrated spacecraft and rocket was placed in Ames' 11-foot diameter transonic wind tunnel. The data gathered provides Boeing with critical information it needs to ensure its system is safe for launching crews to low-Earth orbit.

The Centaur liquid oxygen-feed duct line was tested in March in Murrieta, Calif., to characterize how liquid oxygen moves from the stage's oxygen tank to its two engines where the propellant will be mixed with liquid hydrogen to create thrust. The Centaur, which takes over after the Atlas V first stage runs low on propellants, will push the spacecraft to its intended orbit. The Centaur has an extensive and successful history of delivering spacecraft to their destinations, including carrying NASA's Curiosity science rover to Mars.

"The CST-100 and Atlas V, connected with the launch vehicle adaptor, performed exactly as expected and confirmed our expectations of how they will perform together in flight," said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manager for Commercial Programs.

Boeing is one of three U.S. companies NASA is working with during CCiCap to set the stage for a crewed orbital demonstration mission around the middle of the decade. Future development and certification initiatives eventually will lead to the availability of human spaceflight services for NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States.

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SNC Dream Chaser Testing Begins at NASA's Dryden, Langley

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Space Systems Dream Chaser flight vehicle arrived at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., Wednesday to begin tests of its flight and runway landing systems.

The tests are part of pre-negotiated, paid-for-performance milestones with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which is facilitating U.S.-led companies' development of spacecraft and rockets that can launch from American soil. The overall goal of CCP is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective U.S. human access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.

Dream Chaser Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Tests at Dryden will include tow, captive-carry and free-flight tests of the Dream Chaser. A truck will tow the craft down a runway to validate performance of the nose strut, brakes and tires. The captive-carry flights will further examine the loads it will encounter during flight as it is carried by an Erickson Skycrane helicopter. The free flight later this year will test Dream Chaser's aerodynamics through landing.

Meanwhile, on the east coast, several NASA astronauts will be at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., this week to fly simulations of a Dream Chaser approach and landing to help evaluate the spacecraft's subsonic handling. The test will measure how well the spacecraft would handle in a number of different atmospheric conditions and assess its guidance and navigation performance.

"Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington. "NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they're actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery."

The Dream Chaser Space System is based on Langley's Horizontal Lander HL-20 lifting body design concept. The design builds on years of analysis and wind tunnel testing by Langley engineers during the 1980s and 1990s. Langley and SNC joined forces six years ago to update the HL-20 design in the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. In those years SNC has worked to refine the spacecraft design. SNC will continue to test models in Langley wind tunnels. Langley researchers also helped develop a cockpit simulator at SNC's facility in Louisville, Colo., and the flight simulations being assessed at the center.

NASA is partnered with SNC, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and The Boeing Company to meet CCP milestones for integrated crew transportation systems under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. Advances made by these companies under their funded Space Act Agreements ultimately are intended to lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial companies.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration in the solar system.


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ESA’s Vega Launcher Scores New Success With Proba-V

FRENCH GUIANA - The second flight of ESA’s newest launch vehicle has been completed from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Two Earth observation satellites, ESA’s Proba-V and Vietnam’s VNREDSat‑1A, were released into different orbits, demonstrating the rocket’s versatility. Estonia’s first satellite, the ESTCube‑1 technology demonstrator, was also released into orbit.

Vega lifted off at 02:06 GMT on 7 May (23:06 local time 6 May; 04:06 CEST 7 May) on a complex mission requiring five upper-stage boosts and lasting about twice as long as its first launch, in February 2012.

The three solid-propellant stages performed flawlessly and, after two burns of the liquid-propellant upper stage, Proba‑V was released into a circular orbit at an altitude of 820 km, over the western coast of Australia, some 55 minutes into flight.

Vega's Rainy Launch Photo Credit: Arianespace

The satellite is now being controlled by ESA’s centre in Redu, Belgium, where it is undergoing a health check and testing before the operational phase starts to monitor the vegetation coverage on Planet Earth.

After releasing Proba-V, the upper stage performed a third burn and the top half of the egg-shaped Vega Secondary Payload Adapter was ejected. After a fourth burn to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 704 km, VNREDSat-1A was released 1 hour 57 minutes into flight. ESTCube‑1 was ejected from its dispenser three minutes later.

A fifth and last burn will now place the spent upper stage on a trajectory that ensures a safe reentry that complies with new debris mitigation regulations.

“It is another great day for ESA, for its Member States and for Europe. Thanks to decisions taken by Member States, ESA and European industry are demonstrating once again their capabilities of innovation. Among the Member States, special mention goes to Italy which has led the Vega Programme, Belgium which has led the Proba projects at ESA, and France which has led the development and maintenance of the European spaceport here in Kourou. We are also proud to have made possible the launch of the first satellite from Estonia. ,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

The flight was conducted under the Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment programme (VERTA) that aims at demonstrating the versatility of the launch system. It also marked the start of the transition from ESA to Arianespace as launch operator. Arianespace provided flight analysis, preparation and operations, and the marketing that secured VNREDSat‑1A as Vega’s first commercial payload.

This second mission demonstrated Vega’s capability to launch multiple satellite stacks with the new VESPA multiple launch adapter, as well as its overall flexibility.

It also introduced new flight software developed by contractor ELV and a new tracking station in the northwest of French Guiana that ensures telemetry links during some phases of the flight when they could be affected by the plume from the solid propellants.

“Vega has confirmed that it is ready to deliver a high-quality service for small payloads to low Earth orbit,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers. “Europe now has the capability to serve both the government and commercial market in this growing market segment.

“Since the qualification flight one year ago, the marketplace has warmly embraced the arrival of Vega, and today we launched the first commercial satellite.”

The Proba‑V primary payload is a 138,2 kg satellite built by Qinetiq Space Belgium.

“With the launch of this third Proba satellite, ESA’s small satellite series has come of age,” notes Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management.

“This flight affirms ESA’s capacity to provide concepts and flexible mission designs that address specific needs in a short time. Proba‑V will be an operational satellite as soon as it is commissioned, supplying data to an eagerly waiting community.

“In addition, it continues the tradition of being a technology demonstrator for innovative technology that will benefit the wider European space community for years to come.”

Proba‑V is based on the platform flown on two previous ESA missions and carries the Vegetation imager to map global vegetation cover every two days, as a follow-on to the first generation of Vegetation imagers on France’s Spot-4 and -5 satellites.

Proba-V is flying in the same orbit as Spot-5 in order to take over from the ageing satellite on its retirement next year. Vegetation is a high-technology optical imager designed to provide 350 m-resolution imagery in four visible and infrared bands with an impressive 2250 km swath width that will allow daily coverage of all areas within 35–75ºN and 35–56ºS. These data will be processed and provided to a wide community of international users, including the European Commission.

In addition to this primary payload, Proba also hosts a series of technology payloads such as  a receiver to detect aircraft in flight around the globe,  a communications amplifier based on the latest gallium nitride technology, a novel pair of radiation monitors and a photonics experiment testing fibre optics for space.

More information on Proba can be found at:

VNREDSat-1A (Vietnam Natural Resources, Environment, Disaster Satellite) is a 115,3 kg commercial remote sensing satellite built by Astrium for Vietnam’s Academy of Sciences and Technologies. Its launch was contracted through Arianespace in January.

ESTCube-1 is Estonia’s first satellite. This 1.3 kg CubeSat was designed and built by students from the University of Tartu with a contribution from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. It will deploy a 10 m-long tether to demonstrate electrostatic manoeuvring through the plasma flow, which could lead to electrostatic solar sails for propellantless interplanetary travel.

About Vega

As technology advances allow satellites to shrink, demand is increasing for smaller satellites, in particular for scientific and Earth observation missions. As an affordable response to European institutional needs and to maintain its competitiveness in the world’s launch services market, Europe has developed the Vega launch system.

Vega is able to inject payloads of up to 1.5 tonne into low polar orbits at altitudes of 300–1500 km. With a length of 30 m and a diameter of 3 m, it has three solid-propellant stages (P80, Zefiro-23 and Zefiro-9) and a liquid-propellant stage (AVUM: Attitude and Vernier Upper Module). Unlike most small launchers, it is able to place multiple payloads in orbit.

The VERTA programme covers a batch of five missions to demonstrate the flexibility of the system, promoting the smooth introduction of the vehicle for commercial exploitation.

Seven ESA Member States (Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden) are contributing to the Vega programme. The industrial prime contractor is ELV SpA, 70% of which is owned by Avio SpA and 30% by Italy’s ASI space agency.

The flight manifest for Vega is currently: Kazakhstan’s DZZ-HR high-resolution remote sensing satellite (2014), the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle reentry demonstrator (2014), the LISA Pathfinder mission to demonstrate the technologies for the future Laser Interferometer Space Antenna gravity-wave detection mission (2015), and the Aeolus satellite to map Earth’s wind profiles (2015).

More information on Vega at:

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe's gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 18 are Member States of the EU.

ESA has Cooperation Agreements with eight other Member States of the EU and is discussing an Agreement with the one remaining (Bulgaria). Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

ESA is also working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

Learn more at

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MOJAVE, Calif. – Today, Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2). The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites (Scaled) and Virgin Galactic, officially marks Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Spaceship 2 takes to the sky!

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

The test began at 7.02am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port mated to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft. Piloting SS2 were Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, co-pilot, who are test pilots for Scaled, which built SS2 for Virgin Galactic. At the WK2 controls were Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, assisted by Clint Nichols and Brian Maisler, co-pilot and flight test engineer, respectively, for Scaled.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SS2 was released from WK2. After cross-checking data and verifying stable control, the pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, as planned. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

“We partnered with Virgin Galactic several years ago with the aspiration to transform and commercialize access to space for the broader public,” said His Excellency Khadem Al Qubaisi, Chairman of aabar Investments PJS. “Today’s test is another key milestone in realizing that aspiration. Our partnership goes from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of aabar’s desire to participate in the development of world class technologies that are commercially viable and strategically important, both for the company, its shareholders, and for Abu Dhabi.”

The entire rocket-powered flight test lasted just over 10 minutes, culminating in a smooth landing for SS2 in Mojave at approximately 8am local time.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

In the coming months, the Virgin Galactic and Scaled test team will expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

“I’d like to congratulate the entire team,” said President of Scaled Kevin Mickey. “This milestone has been a long time coming and it’s only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of Virgin Galactic that we have been able to witness this important milestone. We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.

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WALLOPS ISLAND -  Lookout SpaceX you have some competition! Orbital sciences corporation has successfully launched its new Antares booster rocket clearing the way for an orbital test flight of its Cygnus ISS resupply system. This will make the company only the second commercial provider to conduct an ISS resupply mission. SpaceX was the first and has so far flown 2 successful missions to ISS.

Unlike most American space launches, which launch out of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Antares was launched out of the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. Wallops is America's oldest launch facility but up until today had only launched sounding rockets. When the 130 foot tall booster thundered out of Launch Complex 0A, spewing 750,000 pounds of fire in the process, it became by far the largest rocket to ever launch from that facility.

  The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sunday, April 21, 2013.
Launch of Antares 1 Photo Credit: NASA

"Today's successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA's plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Congratulations to Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them for the picture-perfect launch of the Antares rocket.

Orbital plans to launch its Cygnus demonstration flight this summer. Much like the SpaceX Dragon, Antares will Cygnus into a low Earth orbit. From there it will spend about two days chasing down the International Space Station. Upon arrival Cygnus will be captured by the station's robot arm and birthed to the station. The crew will then unload about 800 pounds of cargo and fill the spacecraft with trash and unneeded equipment. At the end of the mission the spacecraft will be un-berthed using the station's robot arm and then released into space. Here is where things differ between Cygnus and Dragon. Where as Dragon would return to Earth, Cygnus will dive into the Earths atmosphere and destroy itself. The differences between the two systems will give NASA increased flexibility in how it decides to conduct a particular re-supply mission.

In addition to its main payload, the Cygnus Simulator, Antares carried three additional payloads - Alexander, Graham, and Bell. These are three student built microsats that use cell phones as computers. If you go the the web site: you can listen in to the satellites as they orbit the Earth. RG


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Boeing Completes Preliminary Design Review for Connection Between CST-100 Spacecraft and Rocket

HOUSTON, April 5, 2013 – The structure that will join the Boeing [NYSE: BA] Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft to an Atlas V rocket has successfully completed a preliminary design review, another step toward the return of humans to space on a U.S. vehicle.

This is the third milestone under the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA that Boeing achieved on schedule.

Artists rendering of an Atlas V on the launch pad with a Boeing CST-100 on top. Photo Credit: ULA

The structure, known as the Launch Vehicle Adapter, is being designed by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which also makes the Atlas V. Completion of this milestone means detailed engineering of the adapter can begin as progress toward the first two CST-100 test flights, as early as 2016, continues. 

“This review was an outstanding integrated effort by the Boeing, ULA and NASA teams,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing Commercial Crew Programs. “It sets the baseline for us to proceed to wind tunnel testing and the launch segment review in June.”

Boeing completed two additional CCiCap milestones earlier this year: the Engineering Release 2.0 software release, which lays the groundwork for spacecraft control and communications, and the Landing & Recovery Ground Systems and Ground Communications design review, which establishes a plan for the equipment and infrastructure needed for ground communications and landing and recovery operations.

Boeing's Commercial Crew Program includes the design, manufacture, test and evaluation, and demonstration of an integrated Commercial Crew Transportation System – comprised of the CST-100 spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations – for NASA's Commercial Crew Development program. The Boeing system will provide crewed flights to the International Space Station and also support the Bigelow Aerospace orbital space complex. The program is based on Boeing's experience and innovation evolved from more than 50 years of human spaceflight and nearly 100 years of commercial aviation.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world's largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world's largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $33 billion business with 59,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

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XCOR Aerospace Announces Significant Propulsion Milestone on Lynx Suborbital Vehicle

March 26, 2013, Mojave, California - XCOR Aerospace today announced a first in aviation and space history, the firing of a full piston pump-powered rocket engine. This breakthrough is the foundation for fully reusable spacecraft that can fly multiple times per day, every day. It is a game changing technology that has the power to fundamentally alter the way we as a society view, visit, and utilize the abundant resources around our planet and in our solar system.

The XCOR® Lynx® rocket propulsion system is tested under full piston pump power. Photo Credit: XCOR

The initial portion of XCOR's pump test program culminated in a 67-second engine run with the propulsion system mated to the flight weight Lynx fuselage.  After the installation of the flight sized liquid oxygen tank, the next test sequence will extend the engine run duration to the full powered flight duration of the Lynx Mark I suborbital vehicle.

“Through use of our proprietary rocket propellant piston pumps we deliver both kerosene and liquid oxygen to our rocket engines and eliminate the need for heavy, high-pressure fuel and oxidizer tanks.  It also enables our propulsion system to fly multiple times per day and last for tens of thousands of flights,” said XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “This is one more step toward a significant reduction in per-flight cost and turnaround time, while increasing overall flight safety.”

Boeing provided additional funding to complete the XCOR test sequence and advance low-cost rocket propulsion technology. The demonstrated results of the full pump fed engine firing for extended periods helps to ensure the technology migrates into broader global applications.

“Unlike the expensive and finicky turbopumps on today’s rocket propulsion systems, XCOR’s piston pumps are designed to be as powerful in their thrust class as turbines, but as easy to manufacture, maintain and operate as an automotive engine,” said XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson. “This is the culmination of a 12 year program to develop this unique technology. The kerosene piston pump has been successfully flight-proven during our 40-flight test program on the X-Racer aircraft. We’ll be entering another flight test program soon with Lynx and these pumps and engines will power XCOR and the industry to the next level.”

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About XCOR Aerospace: XCOR Aerospace is on the verge of becoming the most active spaceflight company in the world based on our safer, reliable and reusable rocket-powered vehicles, propulsion systems, advanced non-flammable composites and rocket piston pumps. XCOR is building Lynx, a piloted, two-seat, fully reusable liquid rocket-powered vehicle that takes-off and lands horizontally. The Lynx-family of vehicles serves three primary missions depending on their specific type including: research & scientific missions, private spaceflight, and micro satellite launch (only on the Lynx Mark III). Lynx production models (designated Lynx Mark II) are designed to be robust, multi-mission (research / scientific or private spaceflight) commercial vehicles capable of flying to 100+ km in altitude up to four times per day. Lynx vehicles are available to customers in the free world on a wet lease basis. XCOR also works with aerospace prime contractors and government customers on major propulsion systems development. XCOR Aerospace is based in Mojave, California and is creating a new Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas. (

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ATK Tests Motor For Antares Second Stage

ARLINGTON, Va., March 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- ATK (NYSE: ATK) successfully tested its newly developed CASTOR® 30XL upper stage solid rocket motor today at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in Tennessee.

ATK successfully ground tested its new CASTOR 30XL upper stage solid rocket motor March 27, 2013, at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in Tennessee. This motor will be used for NASA commercial and government launch vehicles. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

The test was the final qualification for the ATK commercial motor, which was jointly developed by ATK and Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) in just 20 months from concept to completion. The CASTOR 30XL is designed to ignite at altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet. In order to accurately test the motor performance, the static fire was conducted at AEDC using a vacuum chamber specially designed to simulate upper atmospheric conditions. Initial data indicate the motor performed as designed, and ATK will now analyze the results against its performance models.

"I am very pleased with our successful CASTOR 30XL test," said Scott Lehr, ATK vice president and general manager of Defense and Commercial Systems. "In less than two years, the ATK/Orbital team designed and built the motor that was fired today. We look forward to seeing this stage become part of the Antares launch vehicle, supporting ISS cargo resupply missions for NASA."

The motor is intended for use by Orbital as an enhanced second stage of the Antares™ launch vehicle. Antares is slated to perform commercial cargo re-supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA, to be demonstrated under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program for later delivery missions to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services contract.

The CASTOR 30XL solid rocket motor is 92 inches in diameter, 236 inches in length and weighs approximately 58,000 lbs. The nozzle is eight feet long with a submerged design with a high-performance expansion ratio (56:1) and a dual density exit cone well-suited for high altitude operation. The CASTOR 30XL is a high-performing upper stage motor in ATK's commercial product line of solid rocket motors. The company's flight-proven rocket motors are utilized for military and commercial customer missions.

A basic version of the CASTOR 30 motor was tested at AEDC in December 2009 and will fly the initial Antares missions. The CASTOR 30XL is an upgraded version that will fly later operational missions requiring greater payload capacity.

The CASTOR 30XL motor was tested at AEDC due to their unique capability of being able to simulate second stage flight conditions. The Air Force base has 27 test units with capabilities that are unique in the United States and 14 that are unique world-wide.

A key partner supporting ATK through development and production of the CASTOR 30XL motor is Moog Inc. in East Aurora, N.Y., which produced the Thrust Vector Control (VTC) System.  This system was developed by the C30 program to have common hardware for future use on other ATK motors.

ATK is an aerospace, defense, and commercial products company with operations in 21 states, Puerto Rico, and internationally. News and information can be found on the Internet at

Certain information discussed in this press release constitutes forward-looking statements as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Although ATK believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, it can give no assurance that its expectations will be achieved. Forward-looking information is subject to certain risks, trends and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected. Among those factors are: changes in governmental spending, budgetary policies and product sourcing strategies; the company's competitive environment; the terms and timing of awards and contracts; and economic conditions. ATK undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements. For further information on factors that could impact ATK, and statements contained herein, please refer to ATK's most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and any subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and current reports on Form 8-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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