Branson Sets up Straw Man as Attempt to Reach Space Looms

Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

In promoting an upcoming flight test of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo that is intended to reach space, Richard Branson has set up a straw man as a critic that he will gleefully knock down should the vehicle lands safely back on Runway 12-30 in Mojave later this month.

“I obviously would love to prove our critics wrong, and I’m reasonably confident that before Christmas, we will do so,” he told CNN’s Rachel Crane in a video interview.

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Spaceport America: The Gift that Keeps on Taking (and Taking)

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building. (Credit: Alex Heard)

Deborah Stevens, a public affairs specialist with the local office of the Bureau of Land Management, has written an op-ed for the Las Cruces Sun News titled, “Southern road to spaceport a gift to public in 2018,” in which she sing the praises of the newly paved 24-mile long southern road the shortens the drive from Las Cruces and Spaceport America.

For years before it was paved, the southern road was slow and hard on vehicles. It was generally passable by 4-wheel drive vehicles, but presented challenges to visitors in 2-wheel drive and low clearance vehicles, especially after rain storms. That is no longer true of the southern road, which starts from the Upham Exit 32 off Interstate 25 in Doña Ana County to the southeastern boundary of Sierra County.

For public land users, the southern road has now made it easier to access some of BLM’s outstanding public land resources, including the Point of Rocks and Yost Overlooks, the Jornado Del Muerto Trail, and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.

With the addition of some erosion control structures, like two concrete box culverts and rock gabions along the roadside, the public doesn’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud should arroyos flood in the area.

Over time, the southern road will be the gift that keeps on giving, as people make their way between Doña Ana and Sierra counties on a reliable and well-paved road.

The benefits are undoubtedly real. But, let’s not kid ourselves: the road is less a gift to the people of Dona Ana and Sierra counties than an investment in infrastructure paid for by their own tax dollars.

The main reason the road was paved was due to the existence of Spaceport America, a project that has cost the people of the state and those two counties about $225 million (and counting) without much of the return on investment promised by Richard Branson and anchor tenant Virgin Galactic.

Driving up to Truth or Consequences and then doubling back to reach the spaceport, was seen as too long of a trip. So a dirt road was paved at a cost of $14 million to make the trip easier.

One can only wonder at what other pressing projects have not been attended to while New Mexico bent over backwards for Branson’s perpetually delayed plans to send well-heeled billionaires and millionaires on suborbital joy rides.

Branson Ramps Up SpaceShipTwo Hype, Again; Test Flight Coming Soon

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12 after Unity’s first glide flight in December 2016. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson is ramping up the hype again for his human spaceflight program.

CNN is here at the Mojave Air and Space Port today, doing live reports from Virgin Galactic’s FAITH facility, where the company builds and preps SpaceShipTwo and its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, for flights.

And Branson is predicting SpaceShipTwo will fly to some definition of space by Christmas. That means they will drop the vehicle and light the engine for roughly 1 minute for the first time in an effort to reach at least 50 miles (80.46 km/264,000 ft) in altitude.

We’ve all heard this before, of course. Branson was publicizing the hell out of SpaceShipTwo back in fall 2014, predicting he would be in space  on the first commercial flight within months. Then they would start flying more than 700 people who signed up. (CNN says the number is now down to about 600.)

Then SpaceShipTwo Enterprise crashed during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury. It took Virgin Galactic about three years to get back to the same point in the flight test program with the second vehicle, Unity.

It was the second major setback for the program. In 2007 — the year Branson predicted commercial service would begin — three engineers were killed in a test stand explosion. Redesigning the nitrous oxide tank they were testing took years.

After more than a decade of delays and two fatal accidents, another space mogul might let the pilots fly the vehicle and hype the results afterward. But, that’s not the way Branson rolls. So, CNN is here today to preview the flight.

Branson is hyping an actual planned test this time. Barring any problems in the weeks ahead, we will see a flight before Dec. 21. At that point, everyone will take off for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and the spaceport will become virtually a ghost town.

Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot David Mackay and test pilot Mark Stucky have flown the previous powered flights. I’m guessing they’ll be in the cockpit again this time for the program’s most challenging and dangerous test to date.

SpaceShipTwo Unity last flew four months ago. During its third powered flight on July 26, the vehicle reached 170,800 ft. (52 km/32.3 miles) and Mach 2.47 after firing its engine for 42 seconds.

Since the last flight test, engineers have been wrestling with several unidentified problems that were discovered on SpaceShipTwo.

First Starliner to Launch Crew Ready for Environmental Testing

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip. (Credit: Boeing)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (NASA PR) — The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft destined to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready to undergo a series of flight-like simulations similar to the actual environments the spacecraft will experience during different stages of flight.

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Musk’s Behavior Triggers NASA Safety Review of SpaceX & Boeing

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Washington Post reports NASA safety reviews of its two commercial crew providers was triggered by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s use of drugs and alcohol.

The review, to begin next year, would look at both Boeing and SpaceX, the companies under contract to fly NASA’s astronauts, and examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
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International Space Station Construction Began 20 Years Ago

Left: Launch of the Zarya Functional Cargo Block from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Right: Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Center on the STS-88 mission to deliver the Unity Node 1 module. (Credit: NASA, Roscosmos)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The largest and most complex international construction project in space began on the steppes of Kazakhstan 20 years ago today. Atop its Proton rocket, on Nov. 20, 1998, the Zarya Functional Cargo Block (FGB) thundered off its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome into cold wintry skies. Zarya was built by the Khrunichev in Moscow and served as a temporary control module for the nascent ISS.

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NASA’s Lunar Plans Panned by National Space Council’s Users Group

The Lunar Gateway formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

SpaceNews reports that NASA’s plan to put a lunar gateway in orbit around the moon and get astronauts down to the surface in 2028 took quite a pounding from some members of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group during the body’s first meeting last week.

“Personally, I think 2028 for humans on the moon, that’s 10 years from now. It just seems like it’s so far off,” said former astronaut Eileen Collins. “We can do it sooner.”
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Bill Nelson Concedes Senate Race to Rick Scott

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has conceded the Senate race to Republican rival Rick Scott after a recount. Scott, who is leaving his job as Florida governor, won by 10,033 votes out of more than 8.1 million cast.

Nelson, who has been a strong supporter of NASA, has held the Senate seat for 18 years. He previously served in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991.

During his time in the House, he flew into space as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986.

Scott has also been a strong supporter of the space program during his time as governor. Space Florida, which serves as the state’s space agency, has spent millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements and other incentives at Cape Canaveral to lure commercial companies to operate there.

Nelson was one of three prominent space advocates to lose re-election bids. Rep. John Culberson. Republican lost his bid to continue representing Texas’ 7th district. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) will also be departing after 30 years in the House.

Progress & Cygnus Supply Ships Arrive at Space Station

Cygnus berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA & Roscomos PRs) — Traveling about 252 miles over Algeria, the unpiloted Russian Progress MS-10 cargo ship docked on Sunday at 2:28 p.m. EST to the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

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National Space Council Gets Report on Human Spaceflight in Low-Earth Orbit

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA and the Departments of State and Commerce have submitted a report to the National Space Council outlining future opportunities and challenges for human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit (LEO), and its potential economic contributions to the broader field of exploration.

The National Space Council requested NASA lead an interagency effort to produce the report, entitled ‘A Strategy for Human Spaceflight in Low Earth Orbit and Economic Growth in Space,’ during its February meeting.

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Orion Recovery Team: Ready to ‘Rock and Roll’

At night, on Nov. 1, 2018, a test version of the Orion capsule is pulled into the well deck of the USS John P. Murtha during Underway Recovery Test-7 (URT) in the Pacific Ocean. URT-7 is one in a series of tests conducted by the Exploration Ground Systems Recovery Team to verify and validate procedures and hardware that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean following deep space exploration missions. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

By Amanda Griffin
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A NASA and Department of Defense team returned from a week of training at sea to improve joint landing and recovering operations planned for crew aboard the agency’s Orion spacecraft from future deep space exploration missions.

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Russia Working on Reusable Rocket to Compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX

Vladimir Koshlakov, head of the Keldysh Research Center, recently revealed details about a project by Energomash and S7 Space to develop a reusable launch vehicle, TASS reports.

“Recently, we had a conference on present-day problems of rocket engine-building. [S7 Space head Sergei] Sopov delivered a speech. He said: we need engines that can be switched on about 100 times,” Koshlakov said, adding that the question of how many launches will be optimal remains open.

According to the official, the rocket’s “cooldown” period should not exceed 48 hours.

“In other words, a rocket blasts off, then returns and is ready for the next launch with the same engine within 48 hours,” he said. “Here are the requirements set by the market.”

S7 Space, which purchases the assets of bankrupt Sea Launch, is developing a reusable rocket based on the design of the Soyuz-5 booster that NPO Energia is developing to launch the Russia’s new crewed Federatsiya spacecraft.

Russia to Deliver Magnetic 3-D Bioprinter to Space Station

Russia plans to deliver a magnetic 3-D bioprinter capable of growing living tissues and eventually organs.to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, TASS reports.

The Organ-Avt bioprinter, built by 3D Bioprinting Solutions, is a copy of one that was lost in the abort of the Soyuz MS-10 mission on Oct. 11. Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague parachuted to safety after a malfunction of their Soyuz-FG booster.

The bioprinter, which also can be used to used to study the effects on living organisms during long-duration spaceflights. will be carried to ISS aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft. The spacecraft is set to lift off from the Baiknour Cosmodrome on Dec. 3 with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, American astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard.

“Mutually Respectful Cooperation” Needed for Human Moon Missions, Rogozin Says

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Roscomos State Space Corporation Director General Dmitry Rogozin said an international effort based on parity and “mutually respectful cooperation is needed to send humans back to the moon, TASS reports.

If the United States is unable to work on that basis, Russia will cooperate with other international partners, he added.

Rogozin added that Russia should be able to develop a system for human lunar flights by 2024.

“Today the Russian Federation has the sole space transport system so far. We have carrier rockets and manned spacecraft. Ballistics specialists of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation have made calculations of our possibilities. In about 6-7 years, we will be able, using already the Angara-A5 rocket, in case that it blasts off from the Vostochny spaceport beginning from 2023-2024, we will be able, even using the current manned spacecraft, to ensure the permanently operating transport system capable of reaching the Moon and working in the lunar orbit,” the Roscosmos chief said.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky says that human missions to Mars should be undertaken as an international effort as well, TASS reports.

“Mars should become a global task. We should strive for it. The youth will join the effort, investments will come and, most importantly, the flight can be implemented, in principle. Another thing is that other technologies should be developed to make the flight quicker and safer and all of them will recoup investments in the Martian project because they will be in demand on Earth,” said Ryazansky, who called the moon an “intermediate step” toward the Red Planet.

Russia to Leapfrog Elon Musk’s “Old Tech” with Nuclear Engines, Expert Says

Artist conception of Russian nulcear engine. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia plans to leapfrog Elon Musk’s “old tech” by developing nuclear-powered engines that will make human missions to Mars faster and safer for crews, the head of a research center told Russian media.

“Elon Musk is using the existing tech, developed a long time ago,” said Vladimir Koshlakov, head of the Keldysh Research Center. “He is a businessman; he took a solution that was already there, and applied it successfully. Notably, he is also doing his work with help from the government.”

Keldysh is working on a nuclear engines that will make human exploration of the Red Planet feasible within the near future, he added. The engines will allow cosmonauts to make the voyage in seven months.

“A person should not spend more than a year or two in space. Nuclear-powered spacecraft will allow a relatively fast journey, and, most importantly, a return flight. This technology has special significance for interplanetary flights and research of far planets,” Koshlakov said.

The Keldysh center has successfully conducted the first ground test of the nuclear engine’s cooling system, he added.

Sources:

‘Unlike us, Elon Musk is using old tech’: Russia shows off reusable NUKE ENGINE for Mars mission
https://www.rt.com/news/443889-mars-nuclear-reusable-russian-rocket/amp/

Senior designer outlines future of Russia’s space industry
http://tass.com/science/1030739

Roscosmos shows image of future nuclear-powered spacecraft
http://tass.com/science/1030596