Space transport roundup – Oct.22.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

[ Update: Blue Origin and partners to build lunar transport system: Blue Origin Announces National Team for NASA’s Human Landing System Artemis – Blue Origin

Today, Blue Origin is proud to announce a national team to offer a Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program to return Americans to the lunar surface by 2024. 

Blue Origin has signed teaming agreements with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. These partners have decades of experience supporting NASA with human space flight systems, launch vehicles, orbital logistics, deep-space missions, interplanetary navigation and planetary landings.

Our combined experience is uniquely positioned to meet NASA’s needs for the Artemis program. Each partner will bring their industry leading solutions to the following roles:

    • Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering while providing the Descent Element that is based on the multi-year development of the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine.
    • Lockheed Martin develops the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training.
    • Northrop Grumman provides the Transfer Element vehicle that brings the landing system down towards the Moon.
    • Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.

See also Blue Origin announces a blue-chip team to return humans to the Moon | Ars Technica.


** Rocket Lab’s Photon expendable space tug can take payloads  beyond Earth orbit : Rocket Lab to deliver payloads to the Moon and beyond with Photon | Rocket Lab

The Photon is an advanced version of Rocket Lab’s Kick Stage, which can carry a payload to an orbit  beyond the maximum altitude achievable with the two-stage Electron rocket alone. These propulsion modules essentially serve as expendable space tugs that can transport a payload, within given mass and volume limits, to a particular orbit or trajectory.  From the announcement:

Less than two years after opening access to low Earth orbit (LEO) for small satellites with the Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab is now bringing medium, geostationary, and lunar orbits within reach for small satellites. Rocket Lab will combine its Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform, and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, says there is increasing international interest in lunar and beyond LEO exploration from government and private sectors.

“Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon – they play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions,” he says. “Just like LEO small spacecraft, many potential exploration instruments and full satellites are on shelves waiting for launch to deeper space. In the same way we opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.”

Kick Stage with Astro Digital CubeSat
After an Electron rocket reached LEO (the nozzle belongs to the 2nd stage) for the ‘As The Crow Flies’ mission on Oct.17,2019, it released the Kick Stage (disk shaped module) with an Astro Digital CubeSat (the rectangular box on the disk) at an altitude of about 500 km. The Kick Stage then fired its own propulsion system to deliver the satellite to an orbit of 1000 km. Credits: Rocket Lab

** Firefly working with Aerojet on propulsion systems for rockets and space tug:

The first flight of Firefly’s small-satellite rocket, Alpha, is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2020 from Vandenberg AFB. At a dedicated mission price of $15 million, Alpha is currently capable of delivering one metric ton to LEO and 630 kg to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Aerojet Rocketdyne is contributing to the first flight of Alpha by providing additive manufacturing expertise for key Reaver first stage engine components. They will have increased influence on Alpha block two upgrades, on both the first and second stage engines, which will work toward an increase Alpha SSO payload performance to greater than 800 kg. These contributions will include expanded implementation of additively manufactured elements to reduce cost and increase reliability, as well as technical input to increase engine performance.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s unique additive manufacturing, chemical and electric in-space propulsion technologies also have direct applicability to Firefly’s Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), which transfers small payloads between orbits. The OTV provides mission flexibility by deploying payloads into unique orbits and reaching altitudes and inclinations that are out of reach for many small launch vehicles.

Dr. Markusic added, “Firefly is committed to flying Beta, our medium class launch vehicle. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine, which incorporates the latest advances in propulsion technology, materials science and manufacturing techniques, is incredibly well suited to power Beta given its cost-effective, high performance capabilities. By cooperating on this development, we are accelerating our time to market and providing our customers with high confidence in Beta’s schedule, performance and reliability.”

The Space News article quotes Mark Watt of Firefly as saying that the Beta rocket will feature “a reusable first stage”.

** Boeing set for two key tests in preparation for crew transport to the ISS: Boeing’s Starliner set for two pivotal test flights before the year’s end –

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is preparing for two major flight tests before the end of the year, which will pave the way for the spacecraft’s first crewed flight in 2020. The capsule is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to provide transportation services to and from the International Space Station.

NASA provided an official update on Boeing’s flight test dates last Friday. Starliner’s pad abort test is currently scheduled for no earlier than November 2nd, with the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) occurring no earlier than December 17th.

The pad abort test will see a Starliner capsule perform the abort sequence that would be necessary if there were to be a problem with the launch vehicle on the pad.

November’s abort test will occur from a test stand at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

** Reaction Engines demonstrates fast inlet air cooling for SABRE engine: British hypersonic jet engine technology passes crucial heat test | Financial Times

The Oxfordshire-based company, which is developing a new class of hybrid engine known as Sabre combining traditional jet and rocket technologies, said it had proven the viability of its precooling system in conditions equivalent to a speed of Mach 5.

At this speed, the air entering a jet engine would hit 1,000 degrees centigrade, enough to severely damage components. Reaction’s precooler takes the air down to minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.

[ Update: The press release for this: Reaction Engines Test Programme Fully Validates Precooler At Hypersonic Heat Conditions – Reaction Engines

Reaction Engines has successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, marking a significant milestone in the development of its SABRE™ engine and paving the way for a revolution in hypersonic flight and space access.

The precooler heat exchanger is a vital component of Reaction Engines’ revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and is an enabling technology for other precooled propulsion systems and a range of commercial applications.

This ground-based test achieved the highest temperature objective of the Company’s HTX testing programme and took place at its specially constructed unique facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port, United States.

During the latest series of tests, Reaction Engines’ unique precooler successfully quenched airflow temperatures in excess of 1,000°C (~1,800°F) in less than 1/20th of a second. The tests demonstrated the precooler’s ability to successfully cool airflow at speeds significantly in excess of the operational limit of any jet-engine powered aircraft in history. Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and over 50% faster than the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft – the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft.

HTX airlow - Reaction Engines
The pre-cooler test setup. Credits: Reaction Engines


** i-Space of China debuts design of the Hyperbola-2 rocket with a reusable first stage:

In July 2019, i-Space launched the all-solid fuel motor four-stage Hyperbola-1 rocket and successfully placed two small satellites into orbit. It thus became the first private Chinese rocket startup company, not directly spun off from the military space program, to put a payload into orbit.

The Hyperbola-2 will be a much bigger rocket and use liquid fueled engines to power its two stages. It will put up to 1.9 tons into low earth orbit. The first stage will be flown back and reused. The goal is to start flights in 2021. Recovering the first stage will not happen on the initial flights.

i-Space Hyperbola-2 Rocket
i-Space Hyperbola-2 Rocket

** Exos Aerospace hover tests the SARGE rocket and is counting down to another launch at Spaceport America on Saturday, Oct. 26th.

Webcast for the launch:

** A great overview of aerospike engines from Time Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut:  Are Aerospike Engines Better Than Traditional Rocket Engines? – Everyday Astronaut

Today we’re going to look at the history of aerospike engines, go over how nozzles work including things like overexpansion, underexpansion and even expansion ratios, we’ll look at the pros and cons of the aerospike, the physical limitations and problems, then we’ll compare the aerospike to some other traditional rocket engines. But that’s not all, I obtained never seen before photos and videos of some aerospikes, we’ll get opinions from some people who have actually worked with aerospike engines, look at some promising prospects and compelling concepts and by the end of the video we’ll hopefully know whether or not the holy grail of rocket engines is just waiting to be utilized or if aerospikes just simply aren’t worth it.

** SpaceX

***  SpaceX Principal Mars Development Engineer Paul Wooster gave an update on the Starship and Super Heavy (BFR) at the Mars Society Convention 2019 over the weekend:

** A stormy Monday at Boca Chica Beach:

A storm and tornado impacted the Boca Chica region overnight but mostly avoided the SpaceX site, although it received a downpour. While power was knocked out due to a larger impact in South Padre Island, SpaceX, typically, had Tesla Power to allow the workers to get back to operations as planned in the morning.

Several views of the launch site and Hopper, filmed by Mary (@bocachicagal).

And watching the work on the Mk.1 Starship on Saturday:

Find the latest on Boca Chica activities  at SpaceX Starship : Texas Prototype(s) Thread 2 : Photos and Updates.

*** Launch hiatus to continue into November: SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch delayed until November as lull drags on – Teslarati

For unknown reasons, SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket launch has slipped from October to November, extending an already record-breaking lull in commercial US launch activity.

Depending on when SpaceX finally returns to flight, the company could have easily spent more than a quarter of 2019 between launches.

*** SpaceX drastically lowered big sat launch costs and now doing same for smallsat launch: How SpaceX Just Turbocharged The Space Race (Again) – Charles Beames/Forbes

With regular departure dates and minimal rebooking fees, the competition for launch service is now reaching a fever pitch in the smallsat market. At $1 million per launch [of a CubeSat on a rideshare flight], SpaceX is today offering an 80% cost reduction in dollars per kilo compared to its nearest competitor. And it’s not an offer to ride on some notional future rocket, but instead on a rocket with plenty of flight heritage and at much lower insurance rates.

As ever, real competition like this rewards innovation and ultimately delivers better value to its customers, satellite and space data companies and their investors. Companies will soon be able to deliver space data at dramatically lower prices than today, ensuring even greater penetration of the space sector to add further value and efficiencies to the global economy.

Make no mistake, SpaceX returning to address the old Falcon 1 market is no accident. When Musk designed and launched his first Falcon on the way to Mars, he likely didn’t anticipate this growth—but he certainly sees it now. In response to this and other competitors, Rocket Lab has recently announced its pursuit of a reusable Electron rocket and we should expect the nearly 100 other new space launch companies to reimagine or retool their businesses to adjust to this new reality.

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The Space Show this week – Oct.21.2019

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, Oct. 21, 2019; 7 PM PDT (9 pm CDT; 10 PM EDT): We welcome Dr. Jose V. Lopez to discuss his paper regarding Planetary Protection in which he suggests we should be spreading Earthly molecules throughout the solar system and Mars. His paper has been uploaded to the blog page for this program and we have discussed it on several earlier Space Show programs.

2. Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): We welcome back both Linda Plush and Dr. John Jurist for fresh work and views regarding human factors for long duration human spaceflight.

3. Wednesday, Oct. 23 2019; Pre-recorded Hotel Mars Program with John Batchelor. See Upcoming Show on The Space Show website for details.

4. Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019: 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): We welcome space architect Suzana Bianco. Note that Ms. Bianco was a presenter at the SSI Space Settlement Conference in Seattle during early Sept. 2019. [See the  video of her panel.]

5. Friday, Oct. 25, 2019; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am -1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT):. We welcome Don Pickering, CEO of Olis Robotics to discuss advances with AI and robotics for space and more.

6. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): We welcome you to OPEN LINES. Call us and talk about the issues that you want to talk about. All callers welcome, so are all space, STEM, STEAM, economic, and science topics.

Some recent shows:

** Sun, 10/20/2019Dr. Gerald Jackson discussed antimatter based propulsion systems.

** Fri, 10/18/2019Jose Ocasio-Christian talked about “the Caelus Foundation, their Chinese space program workshops, policy and more”.

* Thu, 10/17/2019Dr. Eligar Sadeh and Layla Martin discussed “the launch of the Astropolitics Institute, What it is and why now?”

** Wed, 10/16/2019 – Hotel Mars with John Batchelor, Dr. David Livingston Dr. Karen Meech talked about “the two interstellar comets we have discovered, Comet Borisov and Comet Oumuamua”.

** The Space Show – Tue, 10/15/2019 –  Dr. Alan Hale discussed “multiple astronomy, telescope and exoplanet subjects. Also Hale-Bopp and other comets. Alan’s new Ice and Stone 2020 educational outreach project.”

** The Space Show – Mon, 10/14/2019Robert Zimmerman of “covered multiple topics in this one segment 123 minute program featuring listener phone calls and email questions”.

See also:
* The Space Show Archives
* The Space Show Newsletter
* The Space Show Shop

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
The Space Show – David Livingston

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Space policy roundup – Oct.21.2019

A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):


** The Space Show – Thu, 10/17/2019Dr. Eligar Sadeh and Layla Martin discussed “the launch of the Astropolitics Institute, What it is and why now?”

** The Space Show – Fri, 10/18/2019Jose Ocasio-Christian talked about “the Caelus Foundation, their Chinese space program workshops, policy and more”.

** Weekly Space Hangout: October 2, 2019 – Geoff Notkin, President of the National Space Society

Emmy Award-winning television host and producer Geoff Notkin starred in three seasons of the cult television adventure series Meteorite Men for Science Channel and two seasons of the educational series STEM Journals for Cox Media. He has also appeared in shows for Discovery, NASA EDGE, TLC, PBS, A&E, National Geographic Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, and the BBC. He is a science writer, meteorite specialist, photographer, world traveler, and CEO of Aerolite Meteorites Inc, a leader in meteorite research and recovery.

** October 17, 2019 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black


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Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – Oct.20.2019

A sampling of recent articles, press releases, etc. related to student and amateur CubeSat / SmallSat projects and programs (find previous smallsat roundups here):

** University students are key to operating the LightSail-2 in orbit: “I Talk to It Every Day”: Students are Vital Members of LightSail 2 Team | The Planetary Society. The article profiles several of the students who help operate the Planetary Society’s LightSail-2 solar sail. The LightSail-2 CubeSat was launched last June inside the Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft, a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. It was then ejected from Prox-1 a week later. The sail was unfurled on July 23, 2019.

Students like [Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physics undergrad Michael] Fernandez have benefited from the proliferation of CubeSats—small, standardized, low-cost satellites that often hitch rides to space with larger payloads. CubeSats have the same basic needs as any other space mission—things like communications, power, and attitude control—which makes them an ideal way for students to get real-world space mission experience.

“The LightSail 2 mission has done more than just demonstrate a new technology—it has provided valuable training opportunities,” said Planetary Society Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Vaughn. “We’re excited that our spacecraft is helping to prepare a new generation of scientists and engineers for future missions.”

“The student members of the LightSail 2 flight team play a critical role in mission operations,” said David Spencer, LightSail 2 project manager. “They do a lot of the heavy lifting of day-to-day operations, and perform key analyses that we rely upon to understand the mission performance.”

LightSail-2 Deployment
Deployment of the LightSail-2 32-square-meter sail. Credits: Planetary Society

** Students in CubeSat program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to assist the USAF in monitoring orbital objects:  Cal Poly is the first university to assist the Air Force in monitoring objects orbiting earth – Mustang News

Cal Poly students will now be helping the United States Strategic Command track more than 23,000 small objects orbiting Earth in the first university partnership of its kind.

“This first-of-its-kind partnership will allow current and future Cal Poly students to gain hands-on experience working with our four CubeSats currently in orbit and how they affect, and are affected by, other satellites in orbit,” President Jeffrey Armstrong said in the news release.

Cal Poly has a long history of working with Vandenberg Air Force Base. In the late 1990s, emeritus aerospace engineering professor Jordi Puig-Suari teamed with Stanford professor Bob Twiggs to develop the CubeSat standard — a small satellite that could ride aboard government and commercial space launches, according to the news release.

In the past two decades, hundreds of CubeSats have been launched. The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory is currently preparing its 12th CubeSat to launch in the next few months, Bellardo said.

** Lebanese CubeSat program to involve university teams: Lebanon Aims to Launch Nano-satellite Into Space by 2022 | Al Bawaba

“The EU is helping us with training and capacity building, by sending experts to train our local teams. There are 12 Lebanese universities participating; all have faculties of engineering or science. We have 42 of their brightest students taking part in eight teams, each led by their professor,” Abdallah said.

He said it was still early days and the teams were still developing their skills, but added that as a result of the initiative, the EU had renewed the TAF program for Lebanon and sent experts to train the local teams.

“The latest team to arrive was from the U.S. – two senior trainers, retired members of the Air Force labs and NASA, who delivered 12 days of training, eight hours a day, on how to manage a space program,” Abdallah said. “We haven’t been sitting around idle; we have already implemented a ground station in Mansourieh that can communicate with any nanosatellites in orbit,” he added. Expert training teams are also expected from Turkey, Spain and Italy.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-293 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • 2019 AMSAT Symposium Underway! Livestream Available
  • AMSAT Board of Directors Announces 2019 Officers
  • AMSAT-UK Colloquium Videos Available
  • Cubesat Simulators Launched
  • Changes to AMSAT-NA TLE Distribution
  • Upcoming ARISS Contact Schedule
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Satellite Shorts From All Over

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

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Videos: “Space to Ground” ISS report – Oct.19.2019

This week’s episode of NASA’s Space to Ground weekly reports on activities related to the International Space Station:

** First All-Woman Spacewalk

On Oct 18, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch performed the first all-woman spacewalk. Koch & Meir replaced a faulty battery charge/discharge unit that failed to activate after a previous spacewalk. This was the fourth spacewalk for Christina Koch and the first for Jessica Meir.

** Scientific Investigations Set for Space on Northrop Grumman CRS-12: Radiation Protection, Rover Control, and More Headed to Space Station | NASA

A Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft scheduled to liftoff in early November will carry supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station. The investigations making the trip range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing materials for 3D printing.

Everyone can participate in space