Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
Media are reporting that Boeing suffered a setback recently when testing CST-100 Starliner’s emergency abort system at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here’s an account from The Washington Post:
The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said it has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)
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.) (more…)
ARCA Space Corporation has announced plans to flight test its Executor aerospike engine for its Haas 2CA single-stage-to-orbit small satellite launch vehicle at Spaceport America in New Mexico in August.
The Demonstrator 3 vehicle will conduct the first test of an aerospike engine in flight during a suborbital mission that will reach an altitude of up to 100 km, the company said in a press release.
Although orbital launch vehicles get all the glory (and infamy when they fail), 2016 was also a busy year for the far less glamorous suborbital launch sector. There were 19 suborbital launches at various sites around the world, and two more sounding rocket launches of note where the payload didn’t go above 100 km. (more…)
Engineers lose jobs at Wallops flight facility Delmarvanow.com
Scientists who use the Wallops Flight Facility to get data from spaceflights were alarmed to learn that up to 30 engineers designing rockets got pink slips this week, according to their report.
The defense contractor, Northrop Grumman, terminated its relationship with subcontractor Orbital Sciences Corp. on July 1. The two had shared a 10-year contract with NASA to launch sounding rockets at Wallops. The vessels record scientific measurements during a suborbital flight.