What a Ride to Space Costs These Days

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Just in time for your late summer beach reading needs, the Government Accountability Office has released a new report, “Surplus Missile Motors: Sale Price Drives Potential Effects on DOD and Commercial Launch Providers.”

The report looks at the costs associated with using surplus rocket motors in Orbital ATK’s Minotaur launchers, which cannot be used for commercial missions.

Yes, it’s about as exciting as it sounds.

Anyway, the report does contain a couple of interesting tables showing what a ride into space costs these days.

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California Considers Tax on Launches Within the State

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the WorldView-4 spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

California’s Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comment on a proposed new tax that would fall upon ULA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies launching spacecraft from within the state.

The levy would apply to companies “that generates more than 50 percent of its gross receipts from the provision of space transportation activity for compensation in a taxable year,” the proposal states. Space is defined as 62 statute miles (100 km) or more above Earth.
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New Stratolaunch Photos Show World’s Largest Aircraft

Carrier aircraft cabin and wing (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch has revamped its website with some new photos of its gigantic carrier aircraft under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Carrier aircraft cabin (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The twin fuselage airplane will be the largest aircraft in the world, with a 385-foot wing span. Powered by six Boeing 747 engines, the aircraft will have a payload of more than 500,000 lbs. (226,796 kg) and an operational range of approximately 2,000 nautical miles (3,715 km).

Aircraft undercarriage (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The Stratolaunch aircraft is designed to air launch launch vehicles. The company has an agreement with Orbital ATK to use its Pegasus small-satellite booster.

Carrier aircraft with Pegasus boosters (Credit: Stratolaunch)

In March, billionaire backer Paul Allen has said he hopes the carrier aircraft will make its first flight test by the end of the year.

Carrier aircraft tail (Credit: Stratolaunch)

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Smallsat 2016: NASA Program & Mission Updates

Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)
Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials have been providing updates this week on agency programs and missions during the 2016 Small Satellite Conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it. I have pulled together summaries of their presentations drawn from Twitter.  Information has come from the following Tweeters:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl
  • Augie Allen ‏@AugieAllen
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!
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NASA’s CYGNSS Mission Passes Major Milestone

Thermal vacuum (shown) and other environmental tests of the CYGNSS microsatellites wrapped last month at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The final series of tests will soon commence on all eight observatories, stacked in the final launch configuration. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute)
Thermal vacuum (shown) and other environmental tests of the CYGNSS microsatellites wrapped last month at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The final series of tests will soon commence on all eight observatories, stacked in the final launch configuration. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute)

SAN ANTONIO (SwRI PR) — NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission took another major step last month as the eight CYGNSS microsatellites successfully completed functional and environmental testing of their systems and software. The mission is on track for launch in late 2016.

CYGNSS will probe the inner core of hurricanes in greater detail to better understand their rapid intensification.

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Orbital ATK’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Facing Increased Competition

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.

Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?

Those are all great questions. And now the answers.

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Launch Provider Panel at Space Tech Expo

Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012)
Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012)

At the Space Tech Expo last week in Long Beach, Calif., representatives from Arianespace, Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) discussed the fierce competition in the industry and their plans for the future.

PANELISTS

Carissa Christensen
Managing Partner
The Tauri Group
(Moderator)

Gwynne Shotwell
President & Chief Operating Officer
SpaceX

Daniel J Collins
Chief Operating Officer
United Launch Alliance

Clay Mowry
President
Arianespace

Frank Culbertson
Executive Vice President
Orbital Sciences Corporation

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NASA Awards Launch for Orbital’s Pegasus Rocket

Pegasus_L1011
Dulles, VA, 1 April 2014 (Orbital PR) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded the company a contract to launch the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) multi-satellite mission aboard a Pegasus XL rocket carried aloft by Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. The CYGNSS mission is scheduled to launch in October 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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A Closer Look at Orbital Sciences’ Stable of Launch Vehicles

Antares_first_launch
Continuing our look at U.S. launch vehicles, we turn our spotlight onto Orbital Sciences Corporation.  Although the Virginia company is traditionally a supplier of small launch vehicles, it recently made the leap to medium-lift rockets.

Orbital currently operates four launch vehicles:

  • Pegasus, an air-launched solid-fuel vehicle for small satellites;
  • Taurus, a land-based variant of the Pegasus booster with a decommissioned Peacekeeper ballistic missile used as the first stage;
  • Minotaur, a family of small solid-fuel launchers that uses a mixture of decommissioned Peacekeeper and Minuteman II ballistic missile stages and Pegasus and Taurus technology; and,
  • Antares, a new medium-class, liquid-fuel booster developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that will launch Cygnus freighters to the International Space Station.

The company also is developing a new air-launched rocket nicknamed Pegasus II for Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems company. This new medium launch vehicle is set to make its debut flight in 2016.

Let’s now take a closer look at Orbital’s programs. The launch history tables below are adapted from Wikipedia.

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SpaceX Out, Orbital In on Stratolaunch Project


Flight Global 
reports that SpaceX has dropped out of Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch program with Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia, which files the air-launched Pegasus booster, taking over on the booster segment.

“Stratolaunch and SpaceX have amicably agreed to end our contractual relationship because the current launch vehicle design has departed significantly from the Falcon derivative vehicle envisioned by SpaceX and does not fit well with their long-term strategic business model,” says Gary Wentz, Stratolaunch CEO, in a 27 November email.

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Mojave: Come See What All the Excitement is About

To boldly go…. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Mojave Air & Space Port has been getting a bit of press lately.

If you want to see what all the excitement is about, drop by this Saturday for the spaceport’s monthly open house.

Plane Crazy Saturday
“October Skies” in Mojave!
OCTOBER 20, 2012
10 A.M. – 2 P.M.

This Plane Crazy Saturday event features:

  • Displays by XCOR Aerospace, Masten Space Systems & Firestar Technologies
  • Tours of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s L-1011 “Stargazer”
  • Special Presentation in EKAD Board Room by ‘STARGAZER PILOT’ Bill Weaver at 11 a.m.

Weaver has flight-tested all models of the Mach-2 F-104 Starfighter and the entire family of Mach 3+ Blackbirds-the A-12, YF-12 and SR-71. During one harrowing flight, his SR-71 broke apart at 78,800-feet when the aircraft was doing Mach 3.18. Come hear how he survived.

Weaver will also talk about his flights on Orbital Sciences Corporation’s L-1011, which has been modified to carry the Pegasus satellite-launch vehicle.

The California Pilots Association is having its annual meeting in Mojave this week. So, there will be a lot of planes to see.

And the Mojave Makers will be having an open house at their Maker Space.

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Orbital to Launch NASA Satellites

ORBITAL SCIENCES PRESS RELEASE

Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced it has received two separate orders from NASA to launch scientific satellites on its industry-leading small rockets, Pegasus® XL and Taurus® XL. These contracts bring the total Pegasus and Taurus orders to 55 vehicles since the first Pegasus was purchased in 1988. Taken together, the two rockets have launched or will boost a total of 35 NASA scientific and technology demonstration spacecraft on 30 missions since 1990.

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Japan Looks to Develop Pegasus-Style Midair Launcher System

What future for midair rocket launches?
Daily Yomiuri

The government has embarked on the development of midair rocket-launching technology, a new method of firing off rockets, in the hope the technique can be put into practical use. In a midair rocket launch, a small rocket takes a satellite into orbit after being launched from a plane over open seas. Such midair rocket launches have been used for commercial purposes by the United States for about 20 years.

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