Is the Google Lunar X Prize Kaput?

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

It appears highly likely that the decade-old Google Lunar X Prize will end on March 31 without a winner following reports out of India that Team Indus has pulled out of the race. The Ken reports that

The launch contract that TeamIndus signed with Antrix Corporation—the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)—in December 2016, in pursuit of its $30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE goal, has been cancelled. Multiple sources within Isro confirmed the news….

Conservatively speaking, the price tag for the PSLV chartered launch alone is said to be upwards of $20 million; the cost of building and testing the moon rover is several million more. It’s learnt TeamIndus couldn’t pony up funds to pay Antrix beyond the initial signing amount. “Isro has cancelled the contract for a lack of compliances and payment issues,” says a person who is close to these developments. He says, “Rahul [Narayan, co-founder TeamIndus] has spoken to all on the floor recently and informed all of Isro’s decision of pulling out of the mission”. TeamIndus did not respond to questions sent by email. Without denying the news, a spokesperson for the company said, “As a company, we’d not comment on this”.

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NASA Unveils Logo for 60th Anniversary

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2018, NASA will mark the 60th anniversary of its establishment as a U.S. government agency. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed NASA’s founding legislation, the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, on July 29, 1958. NASA considers its birthday to be Oct. 1, the day the agency opened for business.

NASA has released an official logo for use in observing this milestone anniversary. Created by NASA graphic artist Matthew Skeins, the logo depicts how NASA is building on its historic past to soar toward a challenging and inspiring future.

“NASA” and “60” are stacked, bold and tall, atop the continental United States, the curvature of Earth, and the light of an approaching dawn. This placement captures the spirit of a metaphor about knowledge and discovery, often attributed to 17th century physicist Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Similarly, NASA was built from the legacy and expertise of giants in government-sponsored research and development, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the Naval Research Laboratory, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Branson’s Autobiography Part II: A Bad Day at Koehn Lake

SpaceShipTwo breaks up after the premature deployment of its feather system. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 2 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.

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SpaceX Says Falcon 9 Performed as Planned on Zuma Launch

Falcon 9 launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has issued a statement concerning the Falcon 9 launch of the classified Zuma payload, which reports say was lost:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.

Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.

Reports indicate that the satellite’s builder, Northrop Grumman, provided its own payload adapter. So, if the satellite failed to separate from the second stage as reports indicate, the problem lay with the adapter and not the Falcon 9.

The Joint Space Operations Center did enter an object from the launch into its master catalog. That would indicate the satellite did enter orbit; however, it might not still be in orbit.

Administration Resubmits Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The Trump Administration has resubmitted the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as administrator of NASA. The administration also submitted the name of Jeffrey DeWit to serve as the space agency’s chief financial officer.

Bridenstine had a contentious confirmation hearing last year before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which narrowly confirmed the nomination along party lines. The re-submission of his nomination was a routine matter because the full Senate failed to vote on the nomination before the year ended.

Democrats criticized Bridenstine over his positions on Earth science research, global warming and various social issues. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has expressed opposition to Bridenstine, saying they have concerns about placing a politician in charge of an agency that has enjoyed bi-partisan support.

Republicans enjoy a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence has the power to break 50-50 ties.

Report: Zuma Payload a Total Loss

Falcon 9 first stage comes in for a landing after launching the Zuma payload. (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE: Here’s an outtake from a story in the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials said. The secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn’t separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.

Once the engine powering the rocket’s expendable second stage stops firing, whatever it is carrying is supposed to separate and proceed on its own trajectory. If a satellite isn’t set free at the right time or is damaged upon release, it can be dragged back toward earth.

The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit.

ORIGINAL POST

Here’s a report from CNBC saying the secret U.S. government Zuma satellite launched on Sunday was a total loss:

Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload — code-named Zuma — citing industry and government officials.

The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the report said.

According to Dow Jones, the absence of official word on the incident means that there could have been another chain of events.

SpaceX has said the Falcon 9 booster functioned nominally. Satellite builder Northrop Grumman has declined to comment on the classified spacecraft, which may have been worth billions of dollars. The identity of the government agency that ordered the satellite is unknown.

SpaceX said the Zuma launch was delayed from December due to a problem with the payload shroud. During the launch webcast on Sunday, the company said the payload shroud had separated as planned.

Read the full story.

SpaceX Launches Zuma But Satellite Fate Unknown; Falcon Heavy Rolled Out for Static Fire

Falcon 9 first stage launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a secret U.S. military satellite code named Zuma into space on Sunday evening. The company successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral.

However, exactly what happened to the mysterious satellite remains a mystery nearly 24 hours after the launch. SpaceX says an analysis of data indicate the Falcon 9’s second stage performed nominally.

However, there are unconfirmed rumors that the satellite was lost. Rumors include the spacecraft being dead on orbit after separation from Falcon 9’s second stage, or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere still attached to the stage.

Northrop Grumman, which built the spacecraft, is not commenting on the flight. The identity of the government agency the spacecraft was built for is not known. So, nobody from the government has confirmed whether the launch succeeded or not.

Meanwhile, SpaceX rolled out the first Falcon Heavy booster to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The company plans to conduct a brief static test of the rocket’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time. The rocket is set to make its maiden flight later this month from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

France & Germany Pursue Reusable Rocket Technology

In addition to the Prometheus reusable rocket engine program, European officials are pursuing a program named Callisto that aims to developing a reusable booster. SpaceNews reports:

The French and German space agencies (CNES and DLR, respectively) have for the past two years collaborated on a scaled-down rocket that would allow Europe to practice different aspects of recovery and reuse. Callisto’s first flight is planned for 2020.

Callisto officials said the goal of the program is not to create a new vehicle in 2020 — the Ariane 6 is scheduled to debut that same year — but to establish a base of knowledge for future launch vehicles that could, maybe, be reusable.

“Prometheus and Callisto are two key elements of our future launcher preparatory roadmap,” Jean-Marc Astorg, head of CNES’s Launch Vehicles Directorate, told SpaceNews. “Prometheus is a new engine to equip Ariane 6 evolutions or brand-new launchers, and Callisto is developed to learn about reusability in Europe, which we have not done before. We are lacking an experience by operation of recovering a vehicle and reflying it. This is exactly what we would like to do with Callisto.”

Around 1 to 2 percent of Ariane 6’s 3.6-billion-euro ($4.3 billion) development budget is spent on Callisto, Astorg said, describing it as a “modest approach.” Callisto is still in a preliminary design phase, he said, with a full decision on the realization of the demonstrator anticipated this June.

Read the full story.

Generation Orbit & NASA Complete GO1-ITA Captive Carry Flight Test Program

C-20a with the GO1-ITA mounted beneath it. (Credit: Generation Orbit)

ATLANTA, January 8, 2018 (GO PR) – Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) has completed the GO1 Inert Test Article captive carry flight test program. Under a public-private partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, GO developed the GO1-ITA, a mass properties and outer mold line simulator for the GO1 hypersonic flight testbed and earned NASA airworthiness approval for flight on NASA’s C-20a.
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This Week on The Space Show


This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, Jan.8 , 2018: 2-3:30 PM PST (4-5:30 PM CST, 5-6:30 PM EST): We welcome back BARRY LEVIN to continue our ongoing discussion about 4th industrial mfg processes, AI, robotics, job displacement, etc.

2. Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018: 7-8:30 PM PST, 10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST: We welcome back BB ZIMMERMAN for his 2018 launch analysis & more. See his Batchelor segment at https://audioboom.com/posts/6578834-second-annual-worldwide-rocket-launch-report-2017-bob-zimmerman-behindtheblack-com.

3. Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018: Hotel Mars. See Upcoming Show Menu and the website newsletter for details. Hotel Mars is pre-recorded by John Batchelor. It is archived on The Space Show site after John posts it on his website.

SPECIAL TIME 4. Friday, Jan. 12, 2018; Program start time is 12 PM PST, 3PM EST. We welcome back Davide Sivolella from Spain to discuss his new follow up book “The Space Shuttle Program: Technologies and Accomplishments.”

5. Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018: 12-1:30 PM PST; 2-4:30 PM EST; 2-3:30 PM CST. We welcome back CHRIS CARBERRY of Explore Mars, Inc. .

Richard Branson’s Latest Memoir Gets Lost in Space

SpaceShipTwo Enterprise after being released for its final flight on Oct. 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mogul’s Account of Virgin Galactic Most Revealing for What It Doesn’t Say

Part 1 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

One day in mid-2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Alex Tai wandered into a hangar at Mojave Airport and discovered SpaceShipOne, a  suborbital rocket plane that Scaled Composites’ Founder Burt Rutan was secretly building to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.

The chance discovery would eventually solve separate problems the famed aircraft designer and Tai’s boss, Richard Branson, were trying to solve. Rutan’s spaceship was being funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who wanted to win the prize but had no plans to finance a commercial follow-on spacecraft.

Four years earlier, Branson had registered a new company named Virgin Galactic Airways and set off in search of someone to build a vehicle capable of carrying passengers into space. Those efforts had come to naught until Tai made his discovery at the dusty airport in California’s High Desert.

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AFRL’s Advanced Multi-junction Solar Cells Deliver High Efficiency, Reduced Costs

Inverted Metamorphic Multi-Junction Solar Cells are a more efficient and lighter weight alternative to the state-of-practice multi-junction space solar cells. (Credit: SolAero Technologies)

By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
Air Force Research Laboratory

Experts at the Air Force Research Laboratory continue to expand the scope of their technological expertise, rising above the Earth’s surface to meet the power needs of next generation military spacecraft.

A collaborative effort between the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing and Space Vehicles Directorates, the Space Industrial Base Working Group and SolAero Technologies has resulted in state-of-the art, multi-junction solar cells destined to reduce costs and increase power efficiency for military space applications.

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Planetary Resources Guy Says: Space Resources Will Save Us All

Video Caption: You care about the future of our planet. You traded in your gas-guzzling SUV for a Prius and your Keurig for a Coffee Maker — and if enough of us do that, we’ll save the Earth, right? Well, we are dangerously close to collapsing our own ecosystem and we are running out of time.

In this persuasive talk, James Orsulak argues that the only way to really make a difference is to look up. James Orsulak serves as the Director of Business Development at Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company that has embarked on the world’s first commercial deep space exploration. The company focuses on technologies such as rocket propellant, water for life support functions, and construction materials sourced from asteroids.

Previously, James spent a decade developing industrial-scale fueling stations on Earth. He is an avid gardener who lives in Denver with his amazing wife, 2-year-old twins and a rambunctious Goldendoodle named Waffles. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Editor’s Note: Found out about this video from a Tweet by Peter Diamandis, who founded Planetary Resources. He praised the talk by one of his employees.

But, the whole thing is confusing. Peter’s been running around promoting his book Abundance, which posits that things are getting better all the time and that the exponential technologies that lie at the heart of the Singularity University he co-founded are making life better for all. His whole position is one of techno-optimism bordering on techno-euphoria.

Yet, this talk posits that Earth and humanity itself is doomed without asteroid mining. What if it doesn’t turn out to be the panacea that they claim it to be? What if it’s not profitable enough to ensure the investment required? Are we all still doomed?

 

Video: NASA Remembers Moonwalker, Shuttle Commander John Young

Video Caption: Astronaut John Young, who walked on the Moon during Apollo 16 and commanded the first space shuttle mission, has passed away at the age of 87.

He is the only person to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs and was the first to fly into space six times — or seven times, when counting his liftoff from the Moon during Apollo 16.