A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.
A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.
Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.
DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).
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!
Space Florida is negotiating with an unidentified company to bring a new launch vehicle to Cape Canaveral. Speculation focuses Boeing’s XS-1 Phantom Express partially-reusable booster, which is a project being funded by DARPA.
If it bases operations on the Space Coast, the company referred to by the code name Project First Down over four years would bring an estimated 254 jobs with an average salary of $80,000.
“It strategically positions Florida in a good program going forward, as a preparation for what we hope will become the kind of launch cadence that we’ve been predicting five to 10 years out,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello told his board of directors Monday. “This really sets the stage for our ability to demonstrate that Florida can respond to that kind of demand.”
The company is a “credit-worthy, going concern with industry experience” and is evaluating multiple states with active spaceports, said Howard Haug, Space Florida’s executive vice president, treasurer and chief investment officer.
The company will commit to the Cape, Haug said, if Space Florida partners in an approximately $30 million investment that includes a deal to finance $13 million in long-lead equipment.
Video Caption: This week we bring on guest Dave Masten to get an update of the happenings at Masten Space Systems. In addition to an update on the XS-1 project, we also talk about how Dave and crew is using additive manufacturing (3D printing) to create entire rocket engines. Interview starts at 16:59
LOS ANGELES, May 24, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), was selected to provide the main propulsion for the Boeing and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reusable Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). Aerojet Rocketdyne is a member of the Boeing team that recently announced an agreement to collaborate with DARPA to design, build and test a technology demonstrator for the agency’s XS-1 program.
Video Caption: DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit. Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the Nation today is critically dependent.
In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, initially without an upper stage. If successful, the program could help enable a commercial service in the future that could operate with recurring costs of as little as $5 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage, assuming a recurring flight rate of at least ten flights per year—a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the U.S. military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Note that goal is for actual cost, not commercial price, which would be determined in part by market forces.)
WASHINGTON, DC (DARPA PR) — DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space.
The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) – On September 30, 2016, Masten Space Systems successfully concluded the 13-month design, build, and test period for the first development unit of the Broadsword 25 rocket engine, funded as a technology demonstration under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. This first phase of the engine development effort included commissioning Masten’s largest mobile engine test stand and firing of the company’s highest-thrust rocket engine to date.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
TUCSON, Ariz., Sept. 8, 2016 (Vector Space PR) — Vector Space Systems, a micro satellite space launch company comprised of new-space industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch, today announced that NASA has selected its Phase II proposal under the 2015 SBIR/STTR program to continue development of an advanced prototype of the upper stage for the Vector-R launch vehicle.
The contract, proposed through Vector’s acquired Garvey Spacecraft Corporation subsidiary, complements an earlier SBIR award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that addresses the use of the Vector-R first stage as a second stage for the XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane. In conjunction with the awarded contracts, totaling approximately $2.5M, Vector is investing in related infrastructure and range site preparations to enable high performance flight testing by the fourth quarter of 2017.
First in an irregular series on entrepreneurial buzz words
Come on let’s pivot again, Like we did last quarter! Yeaaah, let’s pivot again, Like we did last year!
Do you remember when, ROI was really hummin’, Yeaaaah, let’s pivot again, Pivotin’ time is here!
Heeee, and round and round til IPO we go! Oh, baby, make those investors love us so!
Let’s pivot again, Like we did last quarter! Yeaaah, let’s pivot again, Like we did last year!
There comes a time in the existence of many startups when there an urgent need to change direction. You set up the company to pursue a goal, but for one reason or several — a lack of a market, shortage of investment, regulatory hurdles, a flawed concept — you have to direct all that talent, technology and enthusiasm toward a new objective that will keep the company in operation.
DARPA released a solicitation for bids for its XS-1 Phase II/III program on Monday. The private-public partnership includes $140 million in DARPA funding for the reusable booster. According to the solicitation:
“The overall objective of the XS 1 Phase II/III program is to design, build, and flight test a reusable booster system prototype to support an upper stage capable of inserting a minimum of 3,000 pounds to orbit, with a design goal of less than $5M cost per launch for an operational system. The program will demonstrate on-demand and routine flight operations by flying the booster ten times in ten days and launch a demonstration payload greater than 900 pounds to orbit.
“This program solicitation solicits proposals that either, 1) propose a system at a preliminary design review level of rigor tailored for a demonstration rather than an acquisition program, or 2) propose a preliminary design derived from vehicle hardware the proposer has developed and tested. Phase II includes the final design, fabrication, integration, assembly, and ground test of the XS-1 reusable booster system prototype. Phase III is the flight test campaign.”
The solicitation is open to all U.S. companies. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Masten Space Systems received contracts under Phase I.
DARPA has received authorization to spend $146 million on the next phases of the program, which is enough to select one of the three companies and move forward. It’s not enough to finish the program, so the selected company will need to come up with funds of its own. DARPA hopes to down select by the end of the year.
Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman are the leads for phase 1 of the program. However, phases 2 and 3 are open to all U.S. aerospace companies. DARPA had an industry day for the project on April 29.
Birdzilla remains more zilla than bird. The plane is still under construction, but the company has yet to announce what rocket(s) it will use.
The most recent update I’ve heard through the grapevine is that much of the aircraft is assembled. That’s a good sign, but it could also mean that much of the interior work — which can take a long time — remains to be done.
Last year, the company said it were considering more than 70 different booster configurations, which means they were talking to everyone and anyone with a rocket, an engine or plans for them.
In July, I asked Chuck Beames whether Burt Rutan & Scaled has once again put the flying machine ahead of the rocket, as they did with SpaceShipTwo. He said no, and assured me that they would make an announcement about the booster(s) in the fall.
That time came and went. Officials now say that they expect to make a series of announcements in the coming future.