Branson Suspends Negotiations Over $1 Billion Space Investment From Saudi Arabia

Richard Branson at the Future Investment Forum in Saudi Arabia in October 2017. (Credit: CIC)

Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said he is suspending discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which last year signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Branson announced the decision amidst growing international concern over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey. There are unconfimed reports that Saudi security officials murdered the dissident writer.

Branson also suspended his directorships in two Saudi tourism projects to be built around the Red Sea.

Branson’s full statement is below.

I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea. I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands.

What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government. We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.

While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi’s presence is not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects. Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Failures Continue to Haunt the Russian Space Program

A Proton takes a nose dive at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The Soviet & Russian space programs have traditionally had a high launch rate, which also resulted in a fair number of partial and complete failures. For the past 30 years, the program has experienced 61 incidents or an average of about two per year. The current string of annual failures stretches back to 2004.

The chart below chronicles the partial and complete failures experienced over the last three decades. (Note: Some of the incidents involve Zenit boosters produced by former Soviet factories in Ukraine. These rockets usually fly with Russian-produced upper stages. Dnepr was also a joint program with Ukraine.)

SOVIET-RUSSIAN LAUNCH FAILURES, 1988 – 2018
NO.DATE LAUNCH VEHICLE
PAYLOAD(S)
RESULTCAUSE
1January 18, 1988Proton-K Blok-DM-2Gorizont 25LFailureThird stage failure due to disintegration of propellant feed line
2February 17, 1988Proton-K Blok-DM-2Uragan #23, Uragan #24, Uragan #25Partial FailureBlok D failure caused by ingestion of debris
3July 09, 1988Soyuz-UYantar-4KS1 #10Failure
4July 27, 1988Soyuz-UResurs-F1FailureFirst stage engine failure.
5November 11, 1988Soyuz-UYantar-4KS1 #11Failure
6June 9, 1989Tsiklon-3Okean-O1 #4Failure
7April 3, 1990Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #51Failure
8June 21, 1990Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)Kosmos 2084Partial FailurePlaced in an incorrect orbit. Satellite did not communicate with ground
9July 3, 1990Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #53Failure
10.August 9, 1990Proton-K Blok-DM-2Ekran-M 14LFailureThird stage lost thrust due to a cleaning rag inside propellant feed system
11October 4, 1990Zenit-2Tselina-2 #8FailureFirst stage engine failure five seconds after launch.
12June 25, 1991Kosmos-3MTaifun-2 #26FailureSecond stage malfunction
13August 30, 1991Zenit-2Tselina-2 #9FailureSecond stage explosion
14February 5, 1992Zenit-2Tselina-2 #10FailureSecond stage failure
15May 27, 1993Proton-K Blok-DM-2Gorizont 39LFailureThird stage failure
16May 25, 1994Tsiklon-3Tselina-D #69FailureSoftware error prevented third stage separation
17March 28, 1995StartGurwin 1, EKV, OSCAR 29FailureFailed to orbit, crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk
18October 6, 1995Kosmos-3MKosmos 2321 (Parus #84)Partial FailureSecond stage malfunction, placed in useless orbit
19February 19, 1996Proton-K Blok-DM-2Raduga 33Partial FailureBlok-DM-2 upper stage failed to restart to circularize orbit
20May 14, 1996Soyuz-UYantar-1KFT #18FailurePayload fairing disintegrated in flight
21June 20, 1996Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #76FailurePayload fairing disintegrated in flight
22November 16, 1996Proton-K Blok-D-2Mars ’96Partial FailureProbe re-entered atmosphere after fourth stage failure
23May 20, 1997Zenit-2Tselina-2 #19FailureFirst stage failure
24December 24, 1997Proton-K Blok-DM3AsiaSat 3Partial FailureFourth stage malfunction prevented satellite from reaching geosynchronous orbit; salvaged with lunar flyby
25June 15, 1998Tsiklon-3Strela-3 #119, Strela-3 #120, Strela-3 #121, Strela-3 #122, Strela-3 #123, Strela-3 #124Partial FailureThird stage malfunction left satellites in unintended elliptical orbit
26September 09, 1998Zenit-2Globalstar 5, Globalstar 7, Globalstar 9, Globalstar 10, Globalstar 11, Globalstar 12, Globalstar 13, Globalstar 16, Globalstar 17, Globalstar 18, Globalstar 20, Globalstar 21FailureSecond stage shut down after guidance system failed
27July 05, 1999Proton-K Briz-MRaduga (34) (Gran 45L)FailureSecond stage failure
28October 27, 1999Proton-K Blok-DM-2MEkspress-A 1FailureSecond stage failure
29December 24, 1999Rokot-KRVSN 40FailureStage-separation fired before launch
30November 20, 2000Kosmos-3MQuickBird 1 (QB 1)FailureSecond stage failed to ignite
31December 27, 2000Tsiklon-3Gonets 7, Gonets 8, Gonets 9, Strela-3 #125, Strela-3 #126, Strela-3 #127FailureThird stage failure
32October 15, 2002Soyuz-UFoton-M 1FailureFirst stage exploded seconds after launch
33November 25, 2002Proton-K Blok-DM3Astra 1KFailureBlok-DM3 left satellite in unusable orbit; spacecraft de-orbited 15 days after launch
34Dec. 24, 2004Tsiklon-3Sich 1M, Micron 1Partial FailureBooster failed to circularize orbit
35June 21, 2005Molniya-M Blok-MLMolniya-3KFailureThird stage failure
36June 21, 2005Volna-OCosmos 1FailureCosmos Studios/The Planetary Society solar sail satellite failed to separate from booster third stage
37August 10, 2005Rokot Briz-KMCryosatFailureSecond stage failure; crashed in Arctic Ocean north of Greenland
38February 28, 2006Proton-M Briz-MArabsat 4A (Badr 1)FailureFailed to reach usable orbit; de-orbited 24 days after launch
39July 26, 2006DneprBelKa 1, Baumanets 1, Unisat 4, PicPot, CP 1, CP 2, HAUSAT 1, ICECube 1, ICECube 2, ION, KUTESat-Pathfinder, Mea Huaka’i, MEROPE, Ncube 1, Rincon 1, SACRED SEEDS, AeroCube 1FailureEngine failure
40Sept. 5, 2007Proton-M/Briz-MJCSat 11FailureSecond stage failure; booster and payload crashed in Kazakhstan
41March 14, 2008Proton-M/Briz-MAMC 14Partial FailureBriz-M upper stage shut down 2 minutes early. Owner SES Americom declared satellite a complete loss. AMC 14 sold to US Department of Defense which manuevered into geosynchronous orbit using on-board thrusters.
42May 21, 2009Soyuz-2.1a/ FregatMeridian 2FailureSecond stage shut down early, Fregat upper stage ran out of fuel trying to compensate. Satellite left in useless orbit, declared a loss by Russian military.
43Dec. 5, 2010Proton-M/ Blok-DM-3Uragan-M #739, Uragan-M #740, Uragan-M #741FailureRocket failed to reach orbital velocity after upper stage overfilled with propellant.
44Feb. 1, 2011Rokot/Briz-KMGeo-IK-2 No. 11FailureUpper stage malfunction.
45Aug. 17, 2011Proton-M/ Briz-MEkspress AM4
FailureBriz-M upper stage suffered failure of attitude control.
46Aug. 24, 2011Soyuz-UProgress M-12FailureThird stage failure due to turbo-pump duct blockage.
47Nov. 8, 2011Zenit-2SB/ FregatPhobos-Grunt
Yinghuo-1
FailureZenit placed Phobos-Grunt in proper orbit. Spacecraft stranded in Earth orbit after Fregat failed to fire.
48Dec. 23, 2011Soyuz-2.1b/ FregatMeridian 5FailureThird stage failure.
49Aug. 6, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MTelkom-3, Ekspress MD2FailureBriz-M upper stage failed 7 seconds into its third burn.
50Dec. 8, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MYamal-402Partial FailureBriz-M upper stage shut down 4 minutes earlier than planned on fourth burn. Spacecraft reached intended orbit under own power.
51Jan. 15, 2013Rokot/Briz-KMKosmos 2482, Kosmos 2483, Kosmos 2484Partial FailureUpper stage failed near time of spacecraft separation; one satellite destroyed.
52Feb. 1, 2013Zenit-3SL (Sea Launch)
Intelsat 27FailureFirst stage failure.
53July 2, 2013Proton-M/DM-03Uragan-M #748, Uragan-M #749,
Uragan-M #750
FailureFirst stage failure.
54May 15, 2014Proton-M/Briz-MEkspress AM4RFailureProton third stage vernier engine failure due to turbo-pump leak.
55Aug. 14, 2014Soyuz-STB/ FregatGalileo FOC-1, Galileo FOC-2Partial FailureSatellites placed in wrong orbits due to freezing of hydrazine in Fregat upper stage. Satellites made operational as part of Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation.
56April 28, 2015Soyuz-2.1aProgress 59PFailureThird stage failure left Progress in uncontrollable tumble.
57May 16, 2015Proton/Briz-MMexSat-1FailureThird stage failure anomaly.
58December 5, 2015Soyuz-2.1v/ VolgaKanopus ST
KYuA 1
Partial FailurePrimary payload Kanopus ST remained attached to upper stage, later burned up in atmosphere. Secondary payload KYuA 1 deployed successfully.
59December 1, 2016Soyuz UProgress MS-04FailureThird stage failure. Progress supply ship burned up in atmosphere.
60November 28, 2017Soyuz 2-1bMeteor-M 2-1, 18 CubeSatsFailureFregat upper stage failure.
61October 11, 2018Soyuz FGSoyuz MS-10FailureLaunch anomaly resulted in emergency landing for two-member crew

Soyuz Launch Failure Leaves ISS Program in a Lurch, Spotlights Commercial Crew Delays

Astronaut Nick Hague (left) and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was bound to happen eventually.

At some point, the serious quality control issues that have caused an embarrassing series of Russian launch failures in recent years were bound to impact the nation’s effort to keep the International Space Station supplied with a steady stream of Russian and international crews.

And it was likely, but not inevitable, that any failure would shine a harsh spotlight on NASA’s lagging effort to replace the space shuttle, which was retired more than seven years ago. Underfunded by an indifferent Congress and plagued by years of technical problems and schedule delays, the agency’s Commercial Crew Program is still many months away from fielding a spacecraft capable of carrying a crew to the station.

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Video of Soyuz Launch and Abort

The anomaly begins at about 2 minutes 42 seconds into the video. You can see the crew being bounced around. The separation of the four booster rockets from the first stage appears to be abnormal.

Below is a comparison of normal booster separation and what happened earlier today.

Crew Safe and in Good Condition After Launch Abort

NASA astronaut Nick Hague (Credit: Roscosmos)

@AstroHague NASA Astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are seen in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. They are in good condition following their safe landing on Earth after a Soyuz booster failure after launch earlier. Latest updates: nasa.gov/live

Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin

NASA Statement on Soyuz MS-10 Launch Failure


Astronaut Nick Hague (left) and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has shared the following statement on Twitter @JimBridenstine.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Full statement below:

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 4:40 a.m. EDT Thursday, October 11 (2:40 p.m. in Baikonur) carrying American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft.

Search and rescue teams were deployed to the landing site. Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition. They will be transported to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia outside of Moscow.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.

418th FLTS Completes 10-year Support of NASA Orion Parachute Tests

An Orion test capsule with its three main parachutes touches down in the Arizona desert Sept. 12. (Credit: NASA)

By Kenji Thuloweit,
412th Test Wing Public Affairs

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — For a decade the 418th Flight Test Squadron has supported NASA by supplying C-17 Globemaster IIIs and personnel to assist with the testing and qualifying of the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system. That support ended Sept. 12 with the success of the final parachute system test over the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

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Study: Europa Could Be a Very Tricky Place to Land

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

CARDIFF, UK (Cardiff University PR) — A location often earmarked as a potential habitat for extra-terrestrial life could prove to be a tricky place for spacecraft to land, new research has revealed.

A team led by scientists from Cardiff University has predicted that fields of sharp ice growing to almost 15 metres [49 feet] tall could be scattered across the equatorial regions of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

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Northrop Grumman Awarded $792 Million Launch Services Agreement by U.S. Air Force

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

OmegA rocket on schedule to provide first launch in 2021

DULLES, Va. – Oct 10, 2018 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) received a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) worth approximately $792 million of government investment from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to continue development of its OmegATM rocket for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The agreement runs through 2024 and includes certification flights of OmegA’s intermediate variant in 2021 and its heavy variant in 2024.

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U.S. Air Force Awards Launcher Development Contracts to ULA, Blue Origin & Northrop Grumman

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

NASA OIG Forecasts Further Delays, Large Cost Overruns for SLS

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

A new audit by the NASA Inspector General criticizes Boeing for its management of the stages of the Space Launch System (SLS) while forecasting further delays and large cost overruns for the beleaguered program that is designed to send astronauts to deep space.

“As of August 2018, NASA has spent $11.9 billion on the SLS, but will require significant additional funding to complete the first Core Stage—more than 3 years later than initially planned and at double the anticipated cost,” the audit concluded.

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Boeing Invests in Accion Systems

CHICAGO, Oct. 10, 2018 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] today announced its investment in Accion Systems Inc., a Boston, Mass.,-based startup pioneering scalable electric propulsion technology to transform satellite capabilities in and beyond Earth’s orbit.

Accion’s new Tiled Ionic Liquid Electrospray (TILE) in-space propulsion system aims to increase the lifespan and maneuverability of satellites and other vehicles in space. Leveraging a non-toxic, ionic liquid propellant and postage stamp-size thrusters, the TILE system is smaller, lighter and more cost-effective than traditional ion engines.

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Draper Laboratory Unveils Team for NASA’s Next Moonshot

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Draper, a company with a heritage in space exploration dating to the Apollo moon landings, announced today its team for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. Under the proposal, the team will support NASA in the delivery of small rovers and instruments to meet lunar science and exploration needs, advance development of lunar landers for human missions and conduct more research on the moon’s surface ahead of a human return.

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NASA Seeks Partnerships with U.S. Companies to Advance Exploration Space Tech

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA partnerships are crucial for expanding capabilities and opportunities in space. The agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is seeking new partnerships with U.S. companies through an Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO) solicitation.

­

STMD has five strategic thrust areas, representing the capabilities needed for robotic and human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

  1. Go – Enable safe and efficient transportation into and through space
  2. Land – Increase access to planetary surfaces
  3. Live – Enable humans to live and explore in space and on planetary surfaces
  4. Explore – Expand capabilities through robotic exploration and discovery
  5. Prosper – Accelerate the industrialization of space

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Top 10 iTech Finalists Announced, Will Present to NASA Chief Technologists


WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Innovators don’t always have space on their mind, but NASA iTech can help. The competition challenges entrepreneurs to consider how their biomedical, software and other technology ideas could be adapted and used for future space exploration missions.

NASA has selected 10 competition finalists to present their ideas at the iTech forum in Hartford, Connecticut, on Oct. 25-26, 2018. Chief technologists from various NASA centers, other federal agencies and industry will listen to presentations and meet with participants. NASA judges will ultimately determine three winners of the 2018 NASA iTech Cycle III competition.

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