A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.
“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.
Video Caption: Blue Origin founder and CEO Jeff Bezos talks about the inspiration of NASA’s Apollo missions and how humanity has a choice of capping population and energy usage or “moving out into space.”
SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.
In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.
Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.
OTTAWA, Canada, January 31, 2019 (Telesat PR) – Telesat and Blue Origin have signed a multi-launch agreement that paves the way for the powerful New Glenn rocket to play a key role in Telesat’s deployment of its global LEO satellite constellation that will deliver fiber-like broadband services anywhere on Earth. Telesat’s LEO program will gain significant cost savings and other advantages by launching with Blue Origin’s heavy-lift New Glenn.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala., January 25, 2019 (Blue Origin PR) — Today we broke ground on the construction of a world-class rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, extending the city’s rich legacy in liquid rocket engines.
Here are excerpts from today’s groundbreaking ceremony given by Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith:
It’s a great day here in Rocket City. Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.
NMPolitics.net is reporting that there were about 40 layoffs from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company earlier this month as they prepare to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman confirmed the layoffs in a statement via email.
Recently we separated a small number of our team in order to position our organization for the drive to commercial operations following our successful recent spaceflight, and make room for new skill sets that we need to bring in over the course of this year. In total we separated around 40 people, less than 5% of our total workforce across Virgin Galactic and TSC. We are offering support to those impacted and sincerely thank them for their contributions, and wish them well for the future.
The news comes on the heels of a decision by SpaceX to lay off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 employees. Stratolaunch, which like Virgin Galactic is based in Mojave, announced last week that it was laying off about 50 employees as it down scaled plans for boosters to air launch from its massive aircraft.
Video Caption: Debuting from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2021, New Glenn will serve commercial, civil and national security customers from around the world. Featuring a 7 meter fairing with more than 2X the available volume of any rocket flying today and twin BE-3U engines powering the most capable upper stage in the market, New Glenn can launch the full range of satellite payloads. Seven reusable BE-4 engines generating 3.85 million pounds of thrust power the first stage designed to launch 25 times and land safely down range on a moving ship. New Glenn is beginning to take shape at our state-of-the-art rocket factory. Visit us at www.blueorigin.com to learn more.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-10) is currently targeting liftoff tomorrow at 8:30 am CST / 14:30 UTC. This will be the 10th New Shepard mission and is dedicated to bringing nine NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads into space through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. (more…)