Virgin Galactic Announces First Commercial Research Mission

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • “Unity 23” Test Flight Will Mark First Research Customer Mission
  • Partnership with Italian Air Force Marks First Mission of Its Kind led by European Country

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the manifest for the next rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from Spaceport America, which will be the first commercial, human-tended research mission for the Company.


DART Mission To Deflect Asteroid Moves Toward Early 2022 Launch

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s planetary defense mission to deflect a small asteroid continues to move toward a February 2022 launch date while holding to its $313.9 million budget, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will fly to the binary asteroid Didymos and impact the smaller of the two bodies to assess techniques for deflecting dangerous asteroids on collision courses with Earth.


NRC Report: Too Soon for 3-D Printing to Significantly Enhance Space Operations

Made in Space tests a 3D printer in microgravity. (Credit: Made in Space)
Made in Space tests a 3D printer in microgravity. (Credit: Made in Space)

WASHINGTON (NRC PR) – Additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, could contribute positively to space missions, for example by enabling in-orbit manufacture of replacement parts and reducing launch logistical requirements, but the specific benefits and potential scope of the technology’s use remain undetermined, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report illustrates the substantial gaps between the vision for additive manufacturing in space and the limitations of the technology, as well as outlines the progress that has to be made to develop it for such use.


NASA Statement on National Research Council Report on Human Spaceflight

NASA LOGOThe following is a statement from NASA regarding the National Research Council report, “Pathways to Exploration – Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration” —

“NASA welcomes the release of this report. After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have  been implementing ever since.

“There is a consensus that our horizon goal should be a human mission to Mars and the stepping stone and pathways thrust of the NRC report complements NASA’s ongoing approach.  The key elements of that approach include the facilitation of commercial access to low-Earth orbit to sustain fundamental human health research and technology demonstrations aboard the International Space Station (ISS); the development and evolution of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to enable human exploration missions in cis-lunar and deep space, including to an asteroid; and the development of game-changing technologies for tomorrow’s missions, all leading the way on a path to Mars.

“NASA has made significant progress on many key elements that will be needed to reach Mars, and we continue on this path in collaboration with industry and other nations.  We intend to thoroughly review the report and all of its recommendations.”

NRC Report: NASA Should Maintain Long-Term Focus on Mars

WASHINGTON (NRC PR) – Arguing for a continuation of the nation’s human space exploration program, a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council concludes that the expense of human spaceflight and the dangers to the astronauts involved can be justified only by the goal of putting humans on other worlds.  The report recommends that the nation pursue a disciplined “pathway” approach that encompasses executing a specific sequence of intermediate accomplishments and destinations leading to the “horizon goal” of putting humans on Mars.  The success of this approach would require a steadfast commitment to a consensus goal, international collaboration, and a budget that increases by more than the rate of inflation.


Think the NRC’s Human Spaceflight Committee is Lame? Suggest Some Changes

Altair on the moon

There’s a conspicuous absence of “NewSpace” representatives on the National Research Council’s new space committee, which has been charged by those geniuses in Congress* with examining how to develop a sustainable human spaceflight program in the decades ahead.

Fortunately, the membership list that was published the other day is provision. And the NRC will be taking comments from the public over the next 16 days before finalizing the committee’s roster.

That gives you (YES, YOU!) a chance to weigh in. Follow the instructions at the bottom of this page and click on the feedback button to make your voice heard.

* Technically speaking, Congress — which lacks the ability to formulate a coherent space vision on its own — gave $1 million for the review to NASA’s Office of Inspector General, which lacks the expertise for such a wide ranging study. The IG’s office then hired NRC, which has appointed a provisional membership that lacks a sufficient breadth of experience to conduct a proper review. And since neither NASA nor the President asked for the review, there’s little change they will take the resulting report seriously.

So, what was the point of all this, again? What exactly are they trying to accomplish here?

NRC: We’ve Got Options to Deal With Asteroid Threats, But Not Enough Money

Asteroid Ida
Asteroid Ida


A new report from the National Research Council lays out options NASA could follow to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard if they cross Earth’s orbit. The report says the $4 million the U.S. spends annually to search for NEOs is insufficient to meet a congressionally mandated requirement to detect NEOs that could threaten Earth.


NRC to NASA: Reestablish Advanced Concepts Institute


The National Research Council has issued a report that urges the space agency to reestablish the NASA Advanced Concepts Institute (NAIC), which the space agency shut down in 2007. The small office was focused on advanced concepts that could be used in future missions.


The committee recommends that NASA should reestablish a NIAC-like entity, referred to in this report as NIAC2, to seek out visionary, far-reaching, advanced concepts with the potential of significant benefit to accomplishing relevant to NASA’s charter and to begin the process of maturing these advanced concepts for infusion into NASA’s missions.


AIA CEO Praises NRC Space Report

Ares 1-X undergoing assembly
Ares 1-X undergoing assembly


AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey Statement

Aerospace Industries Association is encouraged by recommendations in the recent space policy report from the National Research Council calling for increased coordination and leadership of our nation’s space capabilities. “America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs,” adds another influential voice to the debate on renewing and maintaining U.S. leadership in space.

AIA made a similar recommendation, in a report released this January. “The Role of Space in Addressing America’s National Priorities,” calls for the nation’s space capabilities to be coordinated, at the highest level, as a singular enterprise.

Over the past 50 years, space systems and technologies have increasingly become a vital part of our nation’s economic, scientific and national security capabilities. Given our dependence on space assets and increasing international competition, the seamless integration of space activities into national policy is absolutely necessary.

NRC Report Recommends Strict Quarantine on Mars Samples


The National Research Council has released a report calling for the strictest of quarantine procedures relating to any soil and rock samples returned from Mars.

The Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions report recommends that “samples returned from Mars by spacecraft should be contained and treated as though potentially hazardous until proven otherwise.”