SpaceX Receives Approval for Dragon Facility at Cape Canaveral

Planned expansion of Landing Zone 1 (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has received approval for the addition of a Dragon processing and refurbishment facility and static fire test stand at Cape Canaveral adjacent to Landing Zone 1 where Falcon 1 stages return to Earth.

The approval came from the St. Johns River Water Management District, which reviewed the project’s plan for storm water infrastructure.

“The Processing Facility finished floor, the building apron, and the static fire test pad will be constructed of concrete while the surrounding aprons and associated pathways will be constructed of a crushed gravel mixture,” according to the application. “A storm water management system will be constructed to retain all water on-site for percolation.”

The static fire test stand will be used to test launch abort motors for the Dragon 2 crew vehicle that is set to make its maiden flight early next year. The project area covers 7.6 acres.

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Dona Ana County Residents Could End Up Paying for Spaceport Indefinitely

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

The tax that residents of Dona Ana County voted to impose upon themselves to help fund the development of Spaceport America has no expiration date, meaning it could continue indefinitely after bonds used to pay for the construction are paid off in 2028, according to a review by KRWG TV/Radio.

Critics of the spaceport have said the .25 cent increase in the gross receipts tax should end after the construction bonds are paid off. They have also objected to the use of taxes in excess of what is needed to pay off the bonds to plug holes in the spaceport’s budget. They want the money to be used to pay off the bonds early.

KRWG’s Fred Martino did something that apparently had not occurred to anyone: he dug up the 2007 ordinance that county commissioners approved for the tax. The document has no expiration date and no restrictions on using revenues for spaceport operations.

To change the situation, county commissioners would need to pass an ordinance ending the tax and restricting the use of surplus tax revenues for operations.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) CEO Dan Hicks said he needs the tax to continue so the authority will have funding to expand the spaceport and attract new tenants to it. Spaceport America is in stiff competition with other spaceports around the country, he said.

NMSA has struggled financially due to years of delays by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic in flying suborbital space tourist flights from the southern New Mexico facility.

Sierra County voters also approved a similar tax increase to help pay for the spaceport.

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Branson Envisions 20 SpaceShipTwos; Brian Cox’s Space Race Doc Prepares to Drop

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Sunday Times of London has an update on Virgin Galactic that seems to be based around an upcoming Brian Cox documentary on space tourism, which is set to air early next month in Britain.

Branson could be first in the mass tourism market despite a disastrous 2014 test flight in which a pilot died. Unity is to start rocket tests this autumn, and two more craft are under construction.

“We are hoping to be into space by the end of the year,” said Branson, who has spent £450m on the project. “The cost has been a lot more than we thought . . . but we can see the price falling and we could have 20 spaceships operating so that . . . enormous numbers of people could go into space.”

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Investigative Series on Spaceport America Ends With a Whimper

SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

The fifth and final installment of NMPolitics.net’s series on Spaceport America was published today: After years of delays, Virgin Galactic prepares for spaceflights from NM

The story mostly features interviews with Virgin Galactic officials outlining their plans to start commercial operations from New Mexico. There will be a series of additional flight tests in Mojave, Calif., and then SpaceShipTwo will move down to Spaceport America for some additional tests before the start of commercial flights. Richard Branson has been prediction ticket holders will start flying in 2018.

In other words, nothing we haven’t been hearing for years and years, albeit with a shiny new set of dates.

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How Much Secrecy Does Spaceport America Need?

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The fourth installment of NMPolitics.net’s five-part series on Spaceport America was published today. How much secrecy does Spaceport America need?

Picking up on a theme covered in the third installment, this story details the lengths to which Spaceport America officials have gone to keep secret details of deals they have concluded with tenants.

“If you were to ask them would they want their leases out in the public they would say no,” [New Mexico Spaceport Authority CEO Dan] Hicks said. “…We just don’t want to have additional burdens on them or scrutiny on them.”

That’s a controversial stance in a poor state that has invested more than $220 million in Spaceport America – a state whose law intends that the public be given access to “the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government,” which it calls “an essential function of a representative government.”

There’s a real tension created by the public/private partnership that is the spaceport. On one hand, greater secrecy may help attract companies that demand it, and with them may come good-paying jobs the state needs. On the other hand is the principle that opening the spaceport’s finances builds accountability and public trust that is key to winning the government funding on which the spaceport also depends.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, sponsored legislation on behalf of the spaceport earlier this year that would have let the agency keep rent payments, trade secrets and other information secret. One committee approved the bill, but then it died.

These days Papen says she supports withholding company trade secrets from the public. But she no longer backs secrecy for money coming into the spaceport from private companies.

The spaceport authority didn’t always keep agreement terms secret. For example, Virgin Galactic’s development and lease agreements were released years ago without anything being redacted.

The situation is different at the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is a public general aviation airport run by an elected board. Lease agreements are included in board packets that are available to the public.

The fifth and final installment looking at anchor tenant Virgin Galactic’s preparations for space tourism flights from Spaceport America will be published on Friday.

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ESA Astronauts Train with Chinese for Future Space Missions

ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer jumping from a Chinese Shenzou capsule during sea survival training, on 19 August 2017. ESA astronauts. (Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017)

YANTAI, China (ESA PR) — ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts earlier this month for nine days of sea survival training off China’s coastal city of Yantai. The ultimate goal is for ESA to establish a long term cooperation with China and ESA astronauts to fly on China’s space station.

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Series on Spaceport America Looks on the Bright Side

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

NMPolitics.net began a five-part series on Spaceport America today. Is Spaceport America taking flight? is the first installment.

The piece is fairly optimistic on the financial front, perhaps too much so. It examines positive financial impact on the local economy to date and projects forward to when Virgin Galactic begins flying commercially from the facility, possibly next year.
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Go Inside ISS With Google Street View

Video Caption: The International Space Station is a marvel of modern science and engineering. Astronauts have occupied the pressurized modules for over 16 years, and now you can explore their work and living spaces in Google Street View. From the research, to the “orbital outhouse” to the inspirational views back down to Earth from the cupola, take a look at the images here: google.com/streetview

NASA Protects Its Astronauts From Space Weather

NASA’s Human Research Program aims to mitigate the harmful effects of the space radiation environment on astronaut health outside of the relative protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere. (Credits: NASA / SOHO)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — It’s not a bird or a plane but it might be a solar storm. We like to think of astronauts as our superheroes, but the reality is astronauts are not built like Superman who gains strength from the sun. In fact, much of the energy radiating from the sun is harmful to us mere mortals.

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Space Rodents Help NASA Plan for Deep Space Missions

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson collects images of the back of the eye during a routine check into astronaut eyesight. Crew members’ bodies change in a variety of ways during space flight, and some experience impaired vision. (Credits: NASA)
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s future deep space exploration – including to Mars – is an unprecedented venture in spaceflight, requiring us to tackle challenges we’ve never faced before. For instance, we know the human body changes significantly while in space, and we’ll need to find ways to address those effects. NASA is conducting research to learn more about the long-term impact of extended human spaceflight. One experiment that just launched, Rodent Research-9, is contributing to this goal by sending rodents to the International Space Station, to study how a lack of gravity in space affects blood vessels, eyes and joints.

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And the New NASA Administrator is Probably….Wait for it….

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

This guy.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

That’s what a couple of websites (here and here) are reporting this evening, with the caveat that — this being “Trump world” — anything could happen between now and the formal announcement planned for September or perhaps earlier.

Surprised?

You shouldn’t be.

During his three terms Congress, Bridenstine has made himself an expert in space policy, with a particular focus on promoting commercial space. He’s also been campaigning for the job since Trump was elected (and probably before). Bridenstine will also be in need of a new job soon. He promised voters he would serve a maximum of six years in the House, which means he won’t be standing for re-election next November.

The Trump Administration has also settled on a deputy administrator. That guy’s name is…

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RSC Energia Begins Work on New Soyuz-5 Booster

MOSCOW (RSC Energia PR) — Work is performed in compliance with the Order of the Government of the Russian Federation where RSC Energia is identified as the prime contractor of space rocket complex (SRC).

The following enterprises of State Corporation ROSCOSMOS: RSC Progress, FSUE TsENKI, etc. are the work co-executors.

Flight tests of new Russian launch vehicle (LV) Soyuz-5 are planned to be conducted for 2022 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

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ESA Sends Astronauts to China for Spaceflight Training

Samantha Cristoforetti is a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut of Italian nationality. Between November 2014 and June 2015 she spent 199 days on board the International Space Station as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 42 and 43. During ASI’s Futura Mission, Samantha conducted experiments in the Station’s laboratories. Samantha is a Captain in the Italian Air Force.

Matthias Maurer is ESA’s newest recruit for the Agency’s astronaut corps. From Germany, Matthias was among the 10 finalists in the 2009 selection and is now undergoing basic training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

Video: Elon Musk Describes Vision for a Human Civilization


Video Caption:
Elon Musk has never been one to keep his long-term plans to himself. Beyond the development of reusable rockets, electric cars, and revolutionizing solar power, he has also been quite vocal about establishing a colony on Mars within his lifetime. The goal here is nothing less than ensuring the survival of the human race by creating a “backup location”, and calls for some serious planning and architecture.

These and other aspects of Musk’s proposed mission to Mars were outlined in an essay titled “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species“, which was published in the June 2017 issue of the journal New Space. The paper is a summary of the presentation he made at the 67th Annual Meeting of the International Astronautical Congress, which took place from September 26th–30th, 2016, in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The paper was produced by Scott Hubbard, a consulting professor at Stanford University and the Editor-in-Chief of NewSpace, and includes all the material and slides from Musk’s original presentation. Contained within are Musk’s thoughts on how the colonization of Mars could be accomplished in this century and what issues would need to be addressed.