House Space Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Private Lunar Exploration

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

House Subcommittee on Space Hearing
Private Sector Lunar Exploration

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – 10:00am
2318 Rayburn House Office Building)

Hearing Purpose

NASA is supporting private sector exploration of the Moon through various programs. The private sector is also investing their own funding in the hopes of serving a future market for transportation, cargo delivery, and surface operations (including in situ resource utilization). Moon Express plans to launch a mission to the Moon later this year or early next year. Astrobotic recently announced a mission in 2019. Blue Origin disclosed its “Blue Moon” concept last spring. The United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have also indicated plans to operate in cislunar space in the near-future. The Hearing will review these efforts, and NASA’s role, in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that they present.

Witnesses:

  • Mr. Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems, NASA
  • Mr. Bob Richards, founder and CEO, Moon Express, Inc.
  • Mr. John Thornton, chief executive officer, Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
  • Mr. Bretton Alexander, director of business development and strategy, Blue Origin
  • Dr. George Sowers, professor, space resources, Colorado School of Mines

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NASA’s Space Act Agreements with SpaceX, Boeing, ULA & Sierra Nevada


NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with SpaceX, Boeing, United Launch Alliance and Sierra Nevada Corporation. The four companies have been involved with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Services programs.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)
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ULA Atlas V Orbits TDRS-M Satellite

ULA Atlas V lifts off with TDRS-M satellite. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Aug. 18, 2017 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the NASA’s Tracking Data and Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Aug. 18 at 8:29 a.m. EDT. The TDRS-M is the third and final mission in the series of these third generation space communication satellites to orbit, as part of the follow-on fleet being developed to replenish NASA’s space Network.

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NASA TV to Air Launch of ULA Atlas V

Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M is the latest spacecraft destined for the agency’s constellation of communications satellites that allows nearly continuous contact with orbiting spacecraft ranging from the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope to the array of scientific observatories. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA is targeting 8:03 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 18, for the launch of its next Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) mission atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch, and related activities that begin Thursday, Aug. 17, will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. (more…)

Animation of Astrobotic’s Planned Lunar Flight

Video Caption: Astrobotic and United Launch Alliance (ULA) proudly announce today that Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will be onboard a ULA launch vehicle in 2019, during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

ULA, Dynetics Plan Investments in Decatur

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

ULA and Dynetics are planning investments in Decatur, Ala. to gear up for production of the new Vulcan launch vehicle.

ULA’s proposed project requires capital investment for new technology and infrastructure for the production of the new Vulcan thrust structure assembly, which is ULA’s next generation launch system. Beginning in August 2017, the project’s total capital investment is approximately $115.6 million. ULA’s project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2020 and will help secure the employment of approximately 620 existing employees with an estimated annual payroll of around $43 million before benefits.

Dynetics presented their plans to construct the second building of an aerospace structures complex adjacent to ULA, to support development and structural testing of launch vehicles and large aerospace structures. The capital investment for the project is estimated to be $7,4. Million and is expected to create 15 new jobs within one year with an estimated annual payroll of $1 million before benefits.

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Astrobotic, ULA Plan 2019 Moon Landing


Pittsburgh (Astobotic PR) — Astrobotic and United Launch Alliance (ULA) proudly announce today that Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will be onboard a ULA launch vehicle in 2019, during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

“Astrobotic is thrilled to select a ULA launch vehicle as the means to get Peregrine to the Moon,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. “By launching with ULA, Astrobotic can rest assured our payload customers will ride on a proven launch vehicle with a solid track record of success. Together, our two organizations will honor the past and trail blaze the lunar future.”

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Gibson: Cancellation of ULA Contract Led to Recent XCOR Layoffs

John (Jay) Gibson

Former XCOR CEO Jay Gibson told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that the cancellation of an engine contract by United Launch Alliance led the struggling Mojave-based company to lay off its remaining employees last month.

“We were a subcontractor, and in the days of continuing resolutions we felt like we had a commitment from our prime” for funding that he said would last a year or more. “With less than 30 days notice, we were told that funding was terminated.”
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Sierra Nevada Selects ULA to Launch First 2 Dream Chasers

Dream Chaser cargo ship docking with International Space Station. (Credit: SNC)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., July 19, 2017 (SNC PR)) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) commercially developed Atlas V rocket to launch the first two missions of its Dream Chaser cargo system in support of NASA’s Cargo Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract.
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Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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XCOR Lost ULA Engine Contract

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Despite laying off its 21 remaining employees, XCOR Aerospace isn’t dead yet. But, it’s not in real good shape, either.

It turns out that a major blow to the company was the loss of a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop an upper stage for the Vulcan booster.

The primary impetus for the layoffs, Acting CEO and XCOR Board member Michael Blum told me, is the loss of a contract for engine development that the company had with United Launch Alliance. “The proceeds should have been enough to fund the prototype of Lynx [the company’s planned spacecraft], but ULA decided they’re not going to continue funding the contract. So we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation where we need to raise money or find joint developments to continue.” ULA declined to comment.
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SpaceX on a Rapid Launch Cadence for 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX’s successful launch of the Intelsat 35e communications satellite on Wednesday was the company’s third launch in 12 days and its 10th successful launch of 2017, the most the company has ever launched during any calendar year.

Just past the mid-point of the year, SpaceX has launched more times than any other company or nation in 2017. The company’s flights account for just under short of one-quarter of the 44 launch attempts this year.

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XCOR Lays off Remaining Employees

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Struggling XCOR Aerospace has laid off its remaining employees in Mojave, Calif. and Midland, Texas.

“Due to adverse financial conditions XCOR had to terminate all employees as of 30 June 2017,” the company said in a statement. “XCOR management will retain critical employees on a contract basis to maintain the company’s intellectual property and is actively seeking other options that would allow it to resume full employment and activity.”

The move follows the news last month that CEO Jay Gibson was leaving the company after President Donald Trump nominated him for a high-level position at the Department of Defense. Gibson left the company at the end of June.

XCOR hired Gibson in March 2015 to replace founder Jeff Greason. The objective was for Gibson to focus on the business side while Greason focused on completing construction on the two-seat Lynx suborbital space plane.

That arrangement did not work out. By November, Greason and two other founders, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson, had left the company to found Agile Aerospace.

Greason, DeLong, Jackson and Doug Jones founded the company in 1999 after being laid off from Rotary Rocket.

In May 2016, XCOR laid off about 25 employees — roughly half of its workforce — and suspended work on the Lynx. The company has since refocused its energies on its rocket engine work.

XCOR had been working on an upper stage for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

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ULA’s USAF Launch Contract Worth $191 Million

An 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)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — The Air Force announced today the award of the third competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch service after more than a decade of sole-sourced contracts. United Launch Alliance was awarded a contract for Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) Launch Service. This is a firm-fixed price, standalone contract with a value of $191,141,581.

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ULA Wins USAF Launch Contract

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying EchoStar XIX satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:13 p.m. ET. (Credit: United Launch Alliance/Lockheed Martin)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (ULA PR) – The United States Air Force announced today that United Launch Alliance (ULA) was awarded a contract to launch the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission. This contract resulted from a competitive award under the Air Force’s Phase 1A procurement strategy.

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