New DARPA Challenge Seeks Flexible and Responsive Launch Solutions

Credit: DARPA

More than $10 million in prize money for the first place team that successfully launches to low Earth orbit within days’ notice; completes a second launch from a different site days later

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (DARPA PR) — Today, DARPA announced the DARPA Launch Challenge, designed to promote rapid access to space within days, not years. Our nation’s space architecture is currently built around a limited number of exquisite systems with development times of up to 10 years. With the launch challenge, DARPA plans to accelerate capabilities and further incentivize industry to deliver launch solutions that are both flexible and responsive.

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Rocket Lab & York Space Systems Team to Develop Rapid Response Launch Capability

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. and AUKLAND, NZ, April 18, 2018 (NanoRacks/York Space Systems PR) — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab and spacecraft platform developer York Space Systems have entered into an MOU to develop a universal Interface Control Document (ICD) and supporting Concepts of Operations (CONOPS) that will streamline the manifesting process for small satellite launch customers.

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First Quarter Commercial Space Investment Reached Nearly $1 Billion

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX received $500 million of the nearly $1 billion in investment raised by commercial space companies during the first quarter of 2018, according to the Space Investment Quarterly report from Space Angels.

“SpaceX shows no signs of slowing down—after the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy, the company secured $500 million from Fidelity Investments to drive development of their satellite communications network, Starlink,” the report added.

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EXOS Aerospace Plans Launch From Spaceport America for May

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM and CADDO Mills, Texas (EXOS Aerospace/NMSA PR) — Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles based in Caddo Mills, Texas, announce significant progress towards launch of their newest vehicle SARGE. The date and time target was selected in honor of Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr’s Suborbital Mercury Redstone 3 launch on May 5, 1961 @ 09:34AM.

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Vector Names New VP of Manufacturing

Vector rocket (Credit: Vector)

TUCSON, Ariz., April 12, 2018 (Vector PR) — Vector, a microsatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, today announced plans to reshape the aerospace industry by incorporating best practices from the automotive industry to mass manufacture its Vector-R and Vector-H launch vehicles.

Spearheading the revolutionary endeavor will be Brian Barron, Vector’s new vice president of manufacturing. Barron brings to Vector more than two decades of global automobile manufacturing experience, most recently at BMW Manufacturing and Lucid Motors, an automotive electric vehicle startup.

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A Closer Look at Astra Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At some point in the next few weeks, the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska will host its first commercial rocket launch. Officials at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the spaceport, are hoping the suborbital test flight is the first of many commercial flights from the underused facility.

While officials have not identified the California company conducting the launch, a perusal of the corporation’s board minutes indicate it is almost certainly a small Bay Area startup named Astra Space.

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Russian Launch Failures Aren’t a Bug, They’re a Feature

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Edior

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of Russia’s annual launch failures. For reasons I can’t quite recall, the table I’ve used only went back to 2009.

Recently, I saw a graphic on a Russian website about launch failures, and I realized I hadn’t gone back far enough. So, I dug into the records of the last 30 years from 1988 through 2017, which covers Russia and the last four years of the Soviet Union.

And holy crap! There were a helluva lot of them. Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.

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Vector Selected for NASA SBIR Award

NASA has selected Vector Launch company for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to demonstrate a micropump-based stage pressurization system. The two-year contract is worth up to $750,000.

“Electrically-driven micropumps drive a small portion of each propellant over a novel 3D-printed heat exchanger at the engine to pressurize the tanks. Excess flow can be diverted to the engine as needed,” the company said in its proposal.

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Vector to Conduct Dedicated Launch of Alba Orbital PocketQube Satellites on First Orbital Attempt

TUCSON, Ariz., March 8, 2018 (Vector PR) — Vector, a nanosatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, today announced it will conduct a dedicated launch of two PocketQube satellites using an Alba Orbital deployer (AlbaPOD) on the Vector-R launch vehicle later this year from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) in Kodiak.

Alba Orbital, a manufacturer of PocketQube satellites, will launch the Unicorn-2a satellite platform and a satellite developed by Delft University of Technology, Delfi-PQ1. The launch itself marks a historic moment for both Vector and Alba Orbital as its first orbital launch attempt and the world’s first PocketQube dedicated launch.

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DARPA Requests Quarter Billion for Space Development Programs

Artist’s conception of Boeing’s Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1). (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

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Camden County Signs MOU with ABL Space Systems

WOODBINE, GEORGIA, (Camden County PR) – Steve Howard, Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden Project lead announced today that ABL Space Systems has signed a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with Camden County officials to explore future launch operations at Spaceport Camden. The MOU outlines how ABL Space Systems will work with Spaceport Camden to test, manufacture, assemble, and launch orbital vehicles in Camden County. The MOU is a precursor to a larger definitive agreement to be negotiated and signed no later than July 31, 2019.

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Take a Look at this Smallsat Booster in Alameda

The rocket in the picture is being developed by Astra Space, Inc., which was formerly known as Ventions, before the company reincorporated under its present name in September 2016, according to documents on file with the City of Alameda.

Astra Space moved into Building 397 in the Alameda Point Enterprise Zone under a license from the city on Nov. 22, 2016. In January 2017, the City Council approved a two-year lease with three one-year renewal options on Jan. 3, 2017. The base rent began at $12,134.50 per month.

“Astra Space designs, tests, manufactures, and operates next-generation launch services that will enable a new generation of global communications, earth observation, precision weather monitoring, navigation, and surveillance capabilities,” according to a synopsis prepared for the council.

The company started with about 25 employees in the building with plans to grow to as many as 100 employees within five years, according to city documents.

The booster burns kerosene and liquid oxygen, the records state.

PLD Space Receives ESA Contract for ARION 2 Launcher Study

ARION 2 booster (Credit: PLD Space)

ELCHE, Spain (PLD Space PR) — The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded the project “Study on Launch Service Making Use of a Microlauncher” to the Spanish company PLD Space.

The microlauncher study, a part of the ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Programme, will refine the definition of the European small satellite launcher project proposed by PLD Space, named ARION 2.

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UK Space Launch Program Receives £50 Million Boost in Government’s Industrial Strategy

LONDON (UKSA PR) — A £50 million [$66.7 million] programme to enable new satellite launch services and low gravity spaceflights from UK spaceports will boost the economy and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Business Secretary Greg Clark announced the plans today (Monday 27 November) as he launched the Government’s ambitious Industrial Strategy. This sets out a long-term vision for how Britain can build on its economic strengths, address its productivity performance, embrace technological change and support businesses and workers.

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UK Space Agency Launch Tour ’17

SWINDON, England (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency is touring the country with industry workshops and public open evenings on LaunchUK – the campaign to enable small satellite rocket launches and sub-orbital flights from UK spaceports.

The Government wants to make the UK a world-leading destination for companies offering launch services. New legislation to regulate launch is currently before Parliament and in early 2018 the UK Space Agency will announce the outcome of its call for grant proposals to achieve low cost access to space. In total 26 proposals were submitted to the call, and the UK Space Agency is currently considering grant applications to support the first launches from UK soil.

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