SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.

That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.

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Blue Origin Continues Qualification Testing of BE-4 Engine

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

Space News has an update on Blue Origin’s development of its BE-4 engine.

The chief executive of Blue Origin says he expects the company’s BE-4 engine to complete qualification testing by the end of the year as the company ramps up work on its New Glenn orbital rocket.

In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Bob Smith said testing of the BE-4 engine, which uses methane and liquid oxygen propellants, was going well as the company stepped through a methodical process of increased durations and thrust levels.

“We continue to progress along the lines of changing the power levels and going from various throttle settings,” he said. That includes, he said, a test the company announced in March when the engine fired for 114 seconds at 65 percent of rated power. That duration is about half a typical mission duty cycle for the engine.

“We continue to roll through our test program and hope to qualify that engine by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re walking our way through that just to make sure we understand and characterize the engine fully.”

mu Space Confirms Satellite Mission Aboard New Glenn

Credit: mu Space

WASHINGTON, DC (mu Space PR) – mu Space Corp today confirmed at the Satellite 2018 that they will launch a geostationary satellite aboard Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital rocket. The launch window starts in late 2020.

Commenting on the announcement, mu Space CEO James Yenbamroong says, “mu Space is opening a new era for satellite communications and space technology for Thailand and the Asia-Pacific region.”

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Updates From Blue Origin, Space Angels, Exos Aerospace & More

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets.  The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.

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Update on Blue Origin New Shepard Flight

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through Wednesday. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News

Below is an update on Blue Origin’s New Shepard program based on their tweets.

Jeff Ashby
Chief of Mission Assurance
Blue Origin

  • Flawless New Shepard flight test last week
  • First commercial flight under a launch license issued by FAA — allows Blue Origin to collect revenues (unlike previous experimental permit)
  • New vehicle incorporates lessons learned from earlier flight test program that finished in October 2016
  • Roughly one year away from New Shepard human flight tests, 18-24 months from flights with human-tended payloads
  • Waiting until the commercial service version of the system is flying to sell tickets for New Shepard flights
  • Capsule has full environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) and triple redundancy as well as pusher escape system
  • New Shepard flights will have about three minutes of microgravity
  • 5 G’s peak experienced during reentry
  • Proprietary landing system provides a soft landing for capsule and its occupants and experiments
  • One day of training required that will include mission simulation and emergency egress instruction
  • Centrifuge training at NASTAR will not required for New Shepard flights
  • Flight will be conducted early in morning due to calmer winds at that time
  • Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Al Worden have expressed interest in flying
  • System designed to be rapidly reusable
  • Takes about two weeks to turn around New Shepard for relaunch
  • Goal is to reduce turnaround to one week with 20 operational personnel
  • Blue Origin landed a booster from space first (before SpaceX)
  • Watching a rocket land is even cooler than watching them launch
  • Shift from “used” rockets to “flight proven” has been a good thing
  • New Glenn orbital rocket will have 7-meter payload to accommodate larger payloads

A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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Blue Origin Signs Geosat Launch for New Glenn

BANGKOK (mu Space PR) — mu Space Corp today announced at the 68th Annual International Astronautical Congress that they have entered into an agreement with Blue Origin to partner on a future launch of a geostationary satellite aboard their New Glenn orbital rocket. The launch is set to happen early in the next decade.

Commenting on the new partnership, mu Space CEO James Yenbamroong says, “We’ve decided to go with Blue Origin because we’re impressed with the company’s vision and engineering approach.”

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Blue Origin to Manufacture BE-4 Engines in Huntsville

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

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Bezos vs. Branson: Who is Winning the Race to Space?

SpaceShipTwo dumps water. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Clive Irving, senior consulting editor at Condé Nast Traveler, believes that Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have zoomed ahead of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic.

In his story, “Jeff Bezos Will Leave Richard Branson Behind in the Dust,” he writes

Let’s face it: by any rational measure so-called space tourism is a preposterously frivolous idea. Nonetheless, hundreds of thrill-seekers were willing to pay around $2,300 a minute for the ride as soon as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture was launched in 2005. The first passenger-carrying flight was supposed to happen 10 years ago, in 2007. It slipped to 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013…now…maybe… next year.

But if once it seemed like an idea whose time would never come (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether it ever should) Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team—not Branson—now seems more than ever likely to be the first to deliver….

Whereas Branson over the years staged numerous junkets for the media in which success was claimed to be imminent, this April Bezos staged his first preview of the ride on Blue Shepard at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs with the warning that, “It’s a mistake to race to a deadline when you’re talking about a flying vehicle, especially one that you’re going to put people on.”

[….]

In less than a year of testing, Bezos has been able to do something that Branson has failed to do in more than a decade: demonstrate proof of concept….

Technically, New Shepard is the precursor of the much more ambitious New Glenn, Blue Origin’s multi-stage rocket program that will launch astronauts and satellites into orbit. (The Virgin Galactic design is an evolutionary dead end – it cannot be scaled up for orbital flight.) As he did with Amazon, Bezos has always had a very clear-eyed idea of what it would cost to get into the business, of the technical challenges, and of the time needed to master them.

It’s a good story that’s worth a read. I did notice one factual error: the tail stall and inverted spin that SpaceShipTwo experienced during a flight test occurred in 2011, not 2013.

Bezos Funding Blue Origin by Selling $1 Billion in Amazon Stock Annually

New Shepard crew capsule (Credit: Blue Origin)

This week, Jeff Bezos revealed how he is funding Blue Origins, when human flights on New Shepard will begin, and the approximate cost of developing the New Glenn launch vehicle.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said on Wednesday he is selling about $1 billion worth of the internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.

Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers in 2017, but that probably will not happen until next year, Bezos told reporters at the annual U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs….

Blue Origin is developing a second launch system to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule.

Development costs for that system, known as New Glenn, will be about $2.5 billion.

Read the full story.

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Jeff Bezos Muses About Those Underappreciated Engine Components – Bearings

Finding its bearing: Orbit plot with starting shaft location (red dot) marking each revolution as shaft spirals to its center during propellant fluid film pressurization. (Credit: Blue Origin)

By Jeff Bezos

Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings.
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Bezos Provides More Details on New Glenn

Jeff Bezos unveiled a video simulation of a New Glenn launch (above) at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, DC, this morning. He revealed that Eutelsat is the first customer to sign up for a launch.

The booster is designed to lift 45 tons to low Earth orbit and 13 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The first stage is also designed to be launched 100 times. It will have six landing legs.

I had hoped he would reveal something of his lunar delivery service plan that is circulating among policy makers in Washington, But, Bezos said not a word about it.