Spaceport America Seeks More Tax Dollars

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

With Virgin Galactic’s ‘big move” of its SpaceShipTwo to New Mexico expected to occur sometime in 2018, Spaceport America officials say they need taxpayers to ante up more money.

Dan Hicks, Spaceport America CEO, told attendees at the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce 2017 Space Update Luncheon on Thursday that more spaceports are poised to enter the commercial space industry, with 10 other licensed spaceports operating and an additional nine applications pending with the Federal Aviation Administration. And, with Virgin Galactic set to begin manned flights as soon as next year, more funding is needed to accommodate the increased traffic expected to follow, he said.

Hicks said he will seek an additional $600,000 from the Legislature to increase staff levels and continue with infrastructure improvements. At a cost of nearly $220 million, the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America opened in 2011. At the time, officials envisioned a new commercial space economy that would transform southern New Mexico. That economy has yet to come to fruition, but officials are hopeful.

The funding is necessary to stay on par with other spaceports around the country, Hicks said. With 16 people currently on the Spaceport America staff, Hicks hopes to increase that number to 26 “very quickly” to accommodate Virgin Galactic’s planned move to New Mexico….

New Mexico’s Spaceport America has a $6.1 million operating budget with a current state appropriation of $375,000 with $600,000 in local gross receipts taxes generated solely from Doña Ana and Sierra counties. Customer revenue generates $2.1 million.

Clock is Ticking on NASA Human Deep Space Program

Lamar Smith

It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.

George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.

In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.

More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.

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Virgin Galactic Promises New Mexico that 2018 will be the Year

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Vice President Richard DalBello was in Sante Fe, NM on Wednesday with an optimistic message about the company’s plans to fly tourists to space from the state-owned Spaceport America.

“We think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting period,” he told a legislative committee in Santa Fe. “We know you’ve waited a long time and we are coming.”

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NASA Completes Review of First SLS, Orion Deep Space Exploration Mission

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is providing an update on the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft after completing a comprehensive review of the launch schedule.

This uncrewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for the agency’s human deep space exploration goals. EM-1 lays the foundation for the first crewed flight of SLS and Orion, as well as a regular cadence of missions thereafter near the Moon and beyond.
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NASA’s EM-1 Mission Could Slip 4-6 Months From December 2019 Date


By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan for the maiden flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) faces a potential delay of up to six months, the space agency announced today.

“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a press release. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”

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We’re Losing Our Apollo Astronauts

Astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon with Charles “Pete” Conrad before their Gemini 10 mission. (Credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon, who died on Monday at the age of 88, was the third Apollo-era astronaut to pass away this year and the second who was involved in a lunar mission.

Gordon was command module pilot for Apollo 12, which saw Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walk on the moon in November 1969. Gordon stayed in orbit aboard aboard the command service module Yankee Clipper while his colleagues explored the lunar surface. It was the second and final spaceflight for Gordon, who flew aboard Gemini 10 with Conrad three years earlier.

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Apollo 12 Astronaut Dick Gordon Passes Away at 88

Astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon in his Apollo spacesuit. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — Former NASA astronaut Richard Gordon, command module pilot on Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission, passed away on Nov. 6, 2017.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement on Gordon’s passing: “NASA and the nation have lost one of our early space pioneers. We send our condolences to the family and loved ones of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, a hero from NASA’s third class of astronauts.”
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GAO Report Questions NASA Management of SLS & Orion

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

NASA management of the Space Launch System, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs could lead the agency to repeat one of the mistakes that led to the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, according to a new report from the  Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The approach has dual-hatted positions, with individuals in two programmatic engineering and safety roles also performing oversight of those areas,” the report stated. “These dual roles subject the technical authorities to cost and schedule pressures that potentially impair their independence.

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Virgin Deal With Saudi Arabia Includes Possible Space Entertainment Center

Richard Branson stands before an artist’s conception of a space entertainment complex that could be built in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. (Credit: ExpovistaTV Screenshot)

RIYADH, October 27, 2017 (CIC PR) – Sir Richard Branson has said that he would not only invest in Saudi Arabia but also partner with the Kingdom on his ambitious space projects, including a space-centric entertainment center that may be built in the capital city of Riyadh.

“It’s an exciting time to invest in Saudi Arabia,” the Virgin Group founder told the closing session of the October 24-26 Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh, hosted by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s main sovereign wealth fund.

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Video: Richard Branson Presents Space Plans in Saudi Arabia

Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.

Branson’s Saudi Deals Include Mega City, Spaceflights from Riyadi

Credit: CIC Saudi Arabia

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Saudi Arabia’s non-binding agreement to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s three space companies is part of a broader set of ventures that includes Branson’s Virgin Group investing in a new mega city on the Red Sea and suborbital space tourism flights from the Saudi capital.

“Branson has become the first international investor to commit to involvement in the Red Sea Project and nearby Al Ola/Madain Saleh, another prime site for the development of tourism, both domestic and international,” the Saudi government proudly announced on Oct. 1, more than three weeks before the space deal was unveiled.

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Atlas V for First Starliner Flight Coming Together in Alabama

The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: ULA)

DECATUR, Ala. (NASA PR) — The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama.

The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing and United Launch Alliance have begun conducting integrated reviews of components, software and systems along with decades of Atlas data to ensure integrated vehicle test simulations are similar to real-life conditions during missions. Starliners for the uncrewed and crew test flights, including for the pad abort test, are in various stages of production and testing.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, as they each develop unique systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the space station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing’s Starliner will liftoff on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Astronaut Paul Weitz Passes Away at 85

In this June 1973 photograph, Skylab 2 pilot Paul J. Weitz operates the control and display console of the Apollo Telescope Mount solar observatory. (Credit: NASA)

Skylab and space shuttle astronaut Paul J. Weitz has passed away from cancer. He was 85.

Weitz, who served in the United States Navy and retired as a captain in 1976, was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. His NASA career lasted 28 years and included two space flights.

Weitz was part of the first Skylab crew along with commander Pete Conrad and science-pilot Joe Kerwin in 1973. The crew saved the station, which suffered damage after a solar wing deployed during launch. The wing was ripped away along with a heat shield; the other solar wing was pinned to the station by debris.

The crew deployed a solar shade to bring down temperatures inside the laboratory and freed the remaining solar wing during a space walk. Weitz and his crew mates splashed down on June 22, 1973 after a record 28 days in space.

Weitz commanded STS-6, the first flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, which launched on April 4, 1983, and landed on April 9. The mission’s primary payload was the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, a new NASA satellite that would revolutionize low-Earth orbit communications forever.

Mr. Weitz also served as Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. He retired from NASA in 1994.

Elon Unbound: Musk’s Giant Leap to Mars

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Since Elon Musk unveiled his Big [Expletive] Rocket (BFR) in Adelaide last month, there has been a lot of analysis of the engineering aspects. Musk’s Ask Me Anything session on Reddit was an engineer’s dream, with the billionaire providing detailed answers about the Raptor engines, thrust to weight ratios and a host of other technical issues.

Amid all the technical talk, there has been little attention paid to what a giant leap this venture is for Musk, SpaceX and possibly the entire human race. Not only will BFR be larger and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, the audacious things Musk wants to do with it – ranging from point to point transportation on Earth to satellite delivery to sending colonists to the moon and Mars – are on a scale never before attempted. They are certainly beyond anything contemplated by the world’s space agencies.

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