Space transport roundup – Oct.8.2019

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

** Boeing buys into Virgin Galactic: Boeing To Invest In Human Spaceflight Pioneer Virgin Galactic

Boeing will invest $20 million in Virgin Galactic, a vertically integrated human spaceflight company. The companies will work together to broaden commercial space access and transform global travel technologies.

“Boeing’s strategic investment facilitates our effort to drive the commercialization of space and broaden consumer access to safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible new forms of transportation,” said Brian Schettler, senior managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures. “Our work with Virgin Galactic and others will help unlock the future of space travel and high-speed mobility.”

To date, Virgin Galactic has invested more than $1 billion of capital to build reusable, human spaceflight systems designed to enable significantly more people to experience and utilize space. In July, the company announced its intent to become a publicly-listed entity via a business combination with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. The Boeing investment will be in return for new shares in Virgin Galactic and is therefore contingent on the closing of that transaction, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, and any such investment will be in the post-business combination company.

“VSS Unity Rockets to Space on Historic First Spaceflight.” Credits Virgin Galactic

** Italian Air Force buys a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flight for microgravity research: Virgin Galactic and Italian Air Force Announce World First Government Contract for Human Tended Research Flight

Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract with the Italian Air Force for a research flight on the company’s SpaceShipTwo system during which Italian researchers will actively conduct experiments while they are in space.

The contract marks the first time a government department has funded a human-tended research flight on a commercial space vehicle. The mission, set to take place as early as 2020, will fly three Italian payload specialists and a rack of research payloads. The Italian Air Force payload specialists and Virgin Galactic’s payload team are working with the Italian National Research Centre (CNR) on the design of the experimental payloads.

Human-tended research onboard SpaceShipTwo allows a dynamic approach to space-based science with researchers able to engage actively with their experiments, responding to developments in real time, optimizing the effectiveness of the research. Experimentation with humans-in-the-loop may also improve reliability by removing the unneeded complexity of building automation in. Virgin Galactic will be able to provide these benefits to the research community at levels of repeatability, affordability and quality of microgravity which have been historically unavailable in human spaceflight.

** Virgin Galactic ticket prices will rise above $250k and Blue Origin’s will start at a few hundred thousand until flight rates rise significantly:  Blue Origin’s CEO says first space trips on New Shepard will cost ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ – GeekWire

This week, the Australian Financial Review quoted Virgin Galactic’s commercial director, Stephen Attenborough, as saying that customer flights would begin in 2020, and that the price tag would rise once the company starts flying the more than 600 people currently on its reservation list.

Attenborough said he hoped the price would eventually come down, as the frequency of flights goes from once or twice a month to a few times a week.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith wouldn’t give the exact ticket price but just gave a range:

“Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space.

** China maintains a high mission rate with the launch of a Long March 4C with a remote sensing satellite:

**Rocket Lab prepares for ninth Electron rocket launch. The two week launch window opens on October 15th.

The payload customer is Astro Digital:

The mission is named ‘As The Crow Flies’ in a nod to Astro Digital’s Corvus Platform, which provides flexible and cost-effective solutions across a wide range of applications and mission profiles on bus variants ranging from 6U and 16U CubeSats to ESPA Class. Corvus is also a widely-distributed genus of birds which includes crows.

** Relativity Space raises big money for building small rockets with big 3D printers:

Relativity Space, the company building the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services for satellites, today announced that it has closed a $140 million Series C funding round led by Bond and Tribe Capital.

 With this $140 million funding round, Relativity is fully funded to become the first company in the world to launch an entirely 3D printed rocket to orbit and enter commercial service in early 2021. The Series C round includes participation by new investors Lee Fixel, Michael Ovitz, Spencer Rascoff, Republic Labs, and Jared Leto, with participation from current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, and Mark Cuban.

 “Relativity was founded with the long term vision of 3D printing the first rocket made on Mars and expanding the possibilities for human experience in our lifetime. With the close of our Series C funding, we are now one step closer to that vision by being fully funded to launch Terran 1 to orbit as the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket,” said Tim Ellis, Cofounder and CEO of Relativity Space. “Bond and Tribe are unrivaled partners in leading this funding round, and we are excited to build this important future together with our entire team.”

** LAUNCHER is progressing on 3D printing of their engine designs:

** Ursa Major designs and builds advanced rocket engines for small rockets. Here is a brief update and a clip of a recent test:


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Look at us now! Hadley Block 1 completed a baseline qualification campaign, meeting all life and functional objectives. We set performance requirements for items such as temperatures, pressures, run time, and starts and met all of these desired goals. Congrats to the team! ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ 📷: @barefootkait⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ #hadley #ripley #ursamajortech #rocketengine #rocketscience #additivemanufacturing #startup #aerospace #engineering #engines #3Dprinting #3dprint #exploreouterspace #coloradolife #aerospaceindustry #themoreyouknow #qualification #block1qualification #enginequalification #nextsteps #congrats #success #meetinggoals #okrs #winning #objectives

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** Firefly test fires four Reaver engines altogether in the configuration used on the Alpha rocket  first stage:

** Space Access: Transport and Logistics panel discussion at the recent Space Studies Institute conference in Seattle.

  • Henry Vanderbilt starts with a beginner’s guide to the Rocket Equation (00:17:56)
  • John Schilling of Aerospace Corporation
    • Near-Term Partially Reusable Launch Vehicles (00:38:20)
    • A Possible Cislunar Transportation Architecture Compatible with Near-Term NASA Requirements (00:54:00)
  • Dallas Bienhoff of Cislunar Development Corp – Evolving Reusable Cislunar Transportation Architecture (01:17:50)
  • Audience Q&A ( 01:35:50).

** Human Spaceflight  panel at the 2019 National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting. Panelists included former NASA astronaut Robert Crippen, former NASA Administrator and astronaut Charles Bolden, former NASA astronauts Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford (USAF, Ret.) , SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann,  and Boeing (and former NASA) astronaut Chris Ferguson.


** Latest on space elevators: October 2019 Edition of the ISEC Newsletter

The tether will likely be constructed of either carbon nanotubes (CNT) or sheets of single-crystal graphene (SCG). Production of these materials has advanced in recent years, with both CNTs and SCGs reaching lengths of 50 cm in the laboratory. The specific strength (tensile strength divided by density) of either material is already sufficient for space elevator needs. Concepts are now being developed for mass production of both of these materials. The mass of the tether will vary depending on its taper (cross sectional area as a function of length), the tether material and construction. Current estimates are around 1000 MT for the tether and 400 MT for the Apex Anchor.

** SpaceX

*** Dedicated SpaceX Starship web page includes lots of interesting info and cool imagery.

“The Starship payload fairing is 9 m in diameter and ~19 m high, resulting in the largest usable payload volume of any current or in development launcher. This payload volume can be configured for both crew and cargo.”

*** Construction underway of Starship launch/landing facilities at Kennedy Space Center:


The construction of the new Starship launch and landing facility at Pad 39A is in full swing as heavy equipment lays the foundations at the iconic Kennedy Space Center pad complex. Built alongside the 39A ramp, a new launch mount will be installed for what will be the maiden launch of SpaceX’s Starship Mk2 prototype rocket. The facility also includes a landing pad that will be eventually used for returning vehicles.

*** Hardware detail work makes Starship & Super Heavy seem real rather than just research projects:

For the first several years of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster recovery operations, SpaceX built grid fins – used for maneuvering the rockets at high speeds – out of aluminum. With Falcon 9 Block 5, aluminum grid fins were phased out entirely in favor of larger titanium fins, necessitated by exceptionally high-speed reentries that nearly melted through the aluminum fins on several occasions. Now, SpaceX wants to move from titanium to steel fins for its next-generation Starship launch vehicle.

Super Heavy grid fins are shown in this model of the space transport system shown on the SpaceX Starship site.

Noted multiple times over the years (and in recent days) by both SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk, an extremely robust and reliable method of orbital refueling is essential to the success of Starship’s current designed – perhaps more so than any other single aspect of the next-generation launch vehicle. Although Starship-Super Heavy will likely offer respectable performance in single-launch mode, the implicit need to recover and reuse both booster and spacecraft takes a big chunk out of the rocket’s potential capabilities.

*** Time Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, talked with Elon Musk after his Starship presentation in Boca Chica Beach on Sept. 28th:

*** Some other items about the presentation:

*** Latest drone view of Cocoa Beach Starship facility:

*** Crew Dragon news:

Despite all of the technical work ahead, Musk said he expected both the rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first crewed mission to arrive in Florida at the company’s launch facilities within about 10 weeks. Within that time frame, he said testing on hardware should also be completed.

If this is the case, the ball would move to NASA’s court to review all of the company’s paperwork and procedures and sign off on a crewed mission. One source said it was possible this could be done in time to support a flight early in the spring of 2020—but no one is offering launch guarantees at this point.

A decision to extend the duration of the Crew Dragon test flight with Behnken and Hurley, designated Demo-2, is one of several options under consideration to ensure the space station remains staffed with U.S. astronauts after NASA’s agreement to procure seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft expires next year.

In an interview with CNN last week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency is also looking at purchasing more Soyuz seats from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The final round-trip Soyuz seat procured by NASA will launch in March 2020 on the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft, a mission also designated Soyuz 62S in the space station’s sequence of visiting vehicles. The crew member flying in that seat has not been announced, but a U.S. astronaut and a Japanese astronaut have been training to potentially fly on a Soyuz mission in early 2020.

As part of continued preparations ahead of SpaceX’s Demonstration-2 mission (DM-2) that will debut Crew Dragon’s ability to support astronaut flight, SpaceX and NASA have successfully tested crew emergency egress (escape) systems at SpaceX’s primary crew launch facilities located at Launch Complex 39-A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The successful verification tests have proven that SpaceX is ready to support crewed launches and preserve human life with effective escape methods, including a zipline mounted basket system that will whisk astronauts away from Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 in the event of a launch pad anomaly.

*** Intuitive Machines to launch  Nova-C lunar lander on Falcon 9:

Houston-based Intuitive Machines selected SpaceX to launch its lunar lander, Nova-C, to the Moon in 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket.

“Intuitive Machines is thrilled to sign with SpaceX to take Nova-C on its first mission to the moon,” said Intuitive Machines President and CEO, Steve Altemus. “SpaceX’s ability to make low-cost quality lunar transport is paramount to completing NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract and Intuitive Machines becoming the first commercial company to land on the Moon.”

Powered by the liquid methane main engine, Nova-C can deliver at least 220 pounds of space technology and instrumentation cargo to anywhere on the lunar surface. On its maiden mission in 2021, Nova-C will carry 5 NASA CLPS payloads to the lunar surface and transmit scientific data back to Earth during 13.5 days of activity on the moon. Intuitive Machines is in the process of adding additional payloads from other customers to the 2021 mission to fill out the available cargo manifest. Credits: Intuitive Machines


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