by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Development Council
September 15, 2016

SpaceX’s Biggest Rival is Developing “Space Trucks” to Ferry Cargo in an Orbital Economy

The big kahuna of American rocket companies is the United Launch Alliance, which until this year held a monopoly on the lucrative business of launching rockets for the Air Force. But that monopoly is no more. The company faces a new era of competition. ULA, for its part, isn’t sitting still. “I came here to transform the company, position it in this new competitive marketplace with all these different players,” says CEO Tony Bruno. Key to all of this is making it cheaper to actually get to space. As of 2015, SpaceX was able to cut the retail cost of its rockets to less than $100 million—as low as $62 million for certain commercial launches—while the cheapest ULA rocket costs $164 million to fly. In his first full year in charge, ULA returned more than $400 million in operating profits to its two owners, but the company must prepare for when its final no-bid launch contract expires in 2019. One “game changer” that’s key to Bruno’s plan? Space trucks. Bruno has responded to the competitive challenge with better blocking and tackling—”we’ve taken about 36% percent of the costs out of our supply chain”—and building a whole new launch vehicle, the Vulcan, to compete. He also has a vision, rivaling Musk’s in its ambition, of a growing economy between the Earth and the moon. ULA is instead looking to the second stage of the rocket as a source of cost-savings and efficiency. Only ULA wouldn’t relaunch the used stage from Earth. — Quartz.com

 

Blue Origin and SpaceX Rockets Are Growing Larger Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
by Fred Becker

Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin has announced the New Glenn reusable orbital booster family. It will launch from Cape Canaveral by the end of the decade. Soon Elon Musk will announce his detailed architecture for getting humans to Mars. NSS leaders will be at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico in a few weeks to present papers and hear Musk’s announcement in person. Many other companies are working on new rockets too. Now would be a great time to get your friends onboard with NSS to see where the new space race will take us.

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New Capabilities, Entrepreneurs, Making Space Exciting Again

No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programs and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers. — Economist

 

NASA Funds Plan to Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats

NASA is very good about being on the cutting edge of space exploration, but it’s less good about making non-cutting edge space exploration efficient and cost effective. The agency is acutely aware of this, which is why it’s been trying to get commercial carriers to handle deliveries of (now) supplies and (soon) astronauts to the ISS. The next step is for private companies to take over space station construction for (soon) Earth orbit and (eventually) deep space. To that end, NASA has selected six partner companies to develop full-sized ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats, with the eventual goal of deploying habitats near the moon as a stepping stone to Mars. — IEEE Spectrum

 

NASA Spacecraft Juno Skims Jupiter’s Clouds in Record-Breaking Mission

A spacecraft has skimmed the clouds of Jupiter in a record-breaking close approach to the giant planet. Juno activated its whole suite of nine instruments as it soared 2,600 miles above Jupiter’s swirling cloudtops, travelling at 130,000mph, on Saturday. NASA tweeted that Juno had successfully completed its closest ever fly-by to the planet right on schedule. It is the first of 36 such passes that the craft is scheduled to make over the next 18 months. Mission controllers at the space agency expect to capture stunning images and a wealth of scientific data from the approach, but it will take some days for all the data collected to be downloaded to Earth. — Guardian

 

China Unveils Mars Probe, Rover for Ambitious 2020 Mission

China on Tuesday released images of a Mars probe and rover which the country plans to send to the Red Planet within five years. China plans to send a spacecraft to orbit Mars, make a landing, and deploy a rover in July or August 2020, said Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the Mars mission at a press conference in Beijing. “The challenges we face are unprecedented.” According to Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the program, the 2020 mission will be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch center in south China’s Hainan province. The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface. — Xinhua

 

Russia Gains Customers for Commercial Lunar Flyby

Russian officials claim they have eight customers for a commercial human lunar flyby mission, at $150 million each. Vladimir Solntsev, general director of RSC Energia, said his company had eight potential candidates for such a mission willing to pay that cost, including a Japanese family. Energia, working with American space tourism company Space Adventures, has long promoted a plan to send a modified Soyuz spacecraft around the moon with one cosmonaut and two tourists on board. — Sputnik

 

Roscosmos Plans to Create New Super-Heavy Rocket by 2023

The Roscosmos state corporation has started designing a new super-heavy-class rocket, the Izvestia daily reported. The paper said the rocket will be created in 5-7 years. “With Roscosmos rocket systems general designer Alexander Medvedev, we have been developing a super-heavy-class carrier with the use of the engine we have – RD-171; it underlies the concept of a super-heavy carrier,” Energia rocket and space corporation general director Vladimir Solntsev said. — Tass

 

We’ll Be Sending Tourists Into Orbit by 2021, Claims Boss of Manchester-Based Firm

A British space travel company will send a manned rocket into space within the next five years, according to its boss. Rocket man Steve Bennett, who set up and runs Manchester-based Starchaser Industries, said the company is ‘pretty close’ to putting tourists in space. ‘Space tourism is going to be the big business of the 21st century,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be the dotcom boom all over again.’ The flight will only take an hour and will see the rocket reach around 330,000ft – ten times the average cruising altitude for an airplane flight. — This Is Money

 

Why Private Companies are Racing to Build Small Rockets

There’s a new space race underway, but this competition isn’t quite on the scale of the one that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. This time, NASA isn’t even a key player. Instead, today’s space race is taking place among private companies vying to build tiny rockets. Why the rush to deliver a smaller rocket? Tim Fernholz, a reporter for the website Quartz, says the satellite technology that depends on rockets to reach low Earth orbit is getting smaller — and more popular — all the time. “What used to be a 500-pound or 1-ton satellite is now maybe 100 pounds,” Fernholz says. “As people are seeing what these small satellites can do, they’re getting ideas about what they can do in orbit.” — PRI

 

China Readies Next ‘Heavenly Palace’ for Mid-September Launch

China is readying its next piloted space mission, a multifaceted undertaking that will lay the foundation for the country to build a space station in Earth orbit in the 2020s. Both Tiangong-2 (whose name means “Heavenly Palace”) and the piloted Shenzhou-11 spacecraft are now undergoing checkout at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Tiangong-2, which is scheduled to launch in mid-September, is a true “space lab” that will verify key technologies for building China’s space station, according to its chief designer, Zhu Zongpeng. Tiangong-2 has more facilities to ensure a comfortable stay for astronauts, including equipment for sending emails and receiving television programs from Earth, Zhu said. — Space.com

 

India Tests Scramjet Engine

India’s space agency ISRO successfully tested a scramjet engine Sunday. A sounding rocket lifted off early Sunday and accelerated the experimental scramjet to supersonic speeds, allowing the engine to operate for five seconds on the brief suborbital flight. ISRO declared the test a key milestone in its long-term efforts to develop air-breathing propulsion systems for use on future reusable launch vehicles. — PTI

 

Roskosmos to Develop Space Tourism in 2 Years

The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, will send the first space tourist to the orbit “within next two years,” the agency’s head Igor Komarov said in an interview with TASS on Sept. 3. “I believe, within next two years [the first tourist will fly to the orbit],” he said. “The time to prepare a flight of the kind takes not a week or a month. It will take more than a year.” Russia will develop the project together with foreign counterparts, Komarov said. However, he refused to name them. “I think, we shall talk about it before the end of the year,” he said. “We have requests from very serious counterparts, the industrial counterparts, those, who work in the sphere of space and produce space equipment.” — RBTH

 

Entrepreneurs, Bureaucracies, and the Final Frontier

The overall picture of the government and private sector roles in space has been that government has pioneered the technology and the private sector has later exploited it commercially. The main breakthroughs in rocket science have come under a government pedigree than runs from NASA back through the space programs of the U.S. military services and to Wernher von Braun’s team in Germany, which invented the V-2. Most of the technological pioneering had to be government-run because, although national security or national prestige may have been at a stake, any profit opportunities were too far away to provide sufficient commercial incentive to do the pioneering. Although the current privately run activity involves some engineering refinements such as those involved in the recovery of boosters, this is not a matter of major technological breakthroughs. — National Interest

 

Venture Capitalists Fly Into Space Start-Ups

It’s not just ride-hailing apps and food-delivery start-ups anymore: Venture capitalists are now also exploring space for outsize returns. Since January, investors have committed more than $200 million across 20 space-related deals, according to CB Insights. This is in addition to the $2.3 billion that they invested in 2015. Steve Jurvetson, a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is an investor in space start-ups including private rocket builder SpaceX. He hopes his colleagues in Silicon Valley are motivated to invest in such start-ups because they are enthusiastic about exploring the frontiers of the unknown. But he acknowledges the more likely reason that they are committing capital to space: the prospect of attractive returns. — CNBC

 

From Mining to Space Travel, Lunar Exploration Companies Think Big

People have been talking about lunar mining or even colonization as real, if distant, possibilities, and Moon Express might be taking the first step. Jason Kendall, adjunct professor of astronomy at William Paterson University, explains. — WNYC

 

Privatization of the Moon is Coming

Almost 90 years ago aviator Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic is his plane the Spirit of St Louis alone and changed history. Something like that just happened—without the fanfare. In late July the plane called Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Abu Dhabi to complete its around the world trip after 16 months and 17 different legs of the journey. Here’s the significance. At no stage did the plane burn fuel. 17,000 solar cells on the wings—which are as large as a Boeing 747—powered four electric motors, according to the Los Angeles Times. Lithium batteries let the plane fly at night. Now, admittedly it’s early days yet for solar flight. The plane can only hold two people at a time. But consider the implications as this technology develops. The first is the considerable environmental damage of air travel can come down. The second is the possibility of slashing fuel costs across the industry. The gains could be enormous. You’ve heard about electric cars… but planes may be even more significant in time. How can you not be positive about the future after such a feat? Look at how air travel developed from the Wright Brother wobbling their way into the sky then into humans traveling into space well within a hundred years. — Progress

 

Opportunities and Challenges in Commercializing Space Privately

The dawn of the space age was, in many ways, a direct response to heightened competitive political and military rhetoric from major global superpowers in the latter part of the previous century. The pressure to conquer space stemmed from the threat of progress by foreign nations, and, consequently, an ideology. But when government involvement in space increased in such countries as the United States in the 1980s, so too did the unexpected accidents and disasters. The need for diversification as a means to mitigate technology-related risk ultimately served as an important catalyst to slowly open up the world of space to private enterprise. As an example, the Challenger accident in 1986 forced the Department of Defense to look for alternatives to the Space Shuttle. It was deemed too risky to have just one launch vehicle for missions. Relatively young companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are ushering in the next era of space exploration as part of a new free market. Their progress to date has generated a significant amount of enthusiasm among the masses for a fresh set of safe and sustainable methods of transportation to the cosmos. And wherever there’s enthusiasm, there’s also interest from sources of private investment capital. As reported by CB Insights, VCs are paying more attention to technology startups that are accelerating the commercialization of space. — Tech Crunch

 

The Best Reason to Go to Mars

There are no shortage of reasons why humans should travel to Mars. Eric Hedman describes how the effort needed for such an expedition could catalyze technological development and education, helping improve conditions for people around the world. — Space Review

 

How We Settle Mars is More Important Than When

Much of the discussion about human missions to Mars has focused on the technical challenges of such missions. Joelle Renstrom argues that the various ethical considerations of such missions should not be ignored. — Space Review

 

China Planning $1.5 Billion Theme Park That Will Take Visitors to Space

A top Chinese investor is keen to get the jump on Virgin Galactic and launch trips to the edge of space using weather balloons from China. KuangChi Science has announced that it plans to invest 10 million yuan ($1.5m) into developing a futuristic theme park in Hangzhou province called “Future Valley”, that comes with a series of rides aiming to let people experience what it would feel like to be an astronaut in space. The most exciting experience planned is what the company calls a “deep space tour”, whereby a weather balloon carries a capsule up to 21km above the ground at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere to simulate real space flight, which the firm says will fulfil mankind’s dream of going into space. KuangChi Science has already designed what the space capsule will look like, stating that it will adopt a similar airtight cabin design as featured in the Shenzhou 5 rocket that carried the first Chinese astronauts into space in October 2003. — International Business Times

 

Japanese Team Unveils Moon Rover Design

Japanese space race team Hakuto unveiled its lunar rover design on Monday for next year’s Google-sponsored Lunar X PRIZE competition. At 58 centimeters long and 36 centimeters high, the prototype weighs only 4 kilograms. The weight is kept down by using the latest carbon fiber material typically used for aircraft. Each wheel is equipped with motors, allowing for smooth maneuverability on the moon’s surface. Google launched its Lunar X Prize competition in 2007 to encourage space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the moon. The competition, which will be held next year, involves landing a privately-funded rover on the moon, which should then travel 500 meters, and transmit back high definition video and images. The first team to successfully complete the mission will scoop the $20 million US prize. — CBC

 

UCF Researcher: Yes, We Can Build Industry in Space—And We Should Start Now

A former NASA scientist says we have everything we need to mine and manufacture in the stars. In a lengthy proposal released last week, former NASA researcher and current University of Central Florida professor Dr. Phil Metzger argues that the development of a mining and manufacturing supply chain in space is both plausible and beneficial. Metzger, whose work at NASA included developing Lunar and Martian architecture, writes that offworld manufacturing would benefit the economy, the environment, and science. “The main challenge for this concept,” he writes, “is neither technology nor cost but simply convincing people it is realistic.” Metzger describes a three-stage path to what he calls a Self-sufficient Replicating Space Industry, or SRSI, in which largely robotic mining operations would extract resources that would be transformed into useful goods in offworld robotic manufacturing facilities. The Moon and nearby asteroids contain hydrogen, carbon, silicon, metals, and other materials necessary for industry. — Fortune