by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Report
August 11, 2017


Virgin Galactic Carries Out “Dry Run” for Powered Space Ship Two Flights at Mojave Spaceport

Virgin Galactic performed the latest glide flight of its second SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane Aug. 4, calling it a “dry run” for upcoming powered test flights. SpaceShipTwo, carried aloft by its WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, separated from the plane about an hour after its 11:58 a.m. Eastern takeoff from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The spaceplane landed back in Mojave ten minutes later. The glide flight was the sixth for this SpaceShipTwo vehicle, named VSS Unity, and the first in two months. — Space News 

Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, glides to a landing during an Aug. 4 test flight in the skies above Mojave, California. Credit: Virgin Galactic


How the SpaceX Reusable Falcon Heavy Rocket Will Work

The Falcon 9’s cycle—launch, then return of the first stage to terra firma or to a drone ship in the ocean—is becoming routine. Musk has already indicated he’s planning to return all three components of the Falcon Heavy’s first stage to Earth. The Falcon Heavy will use a common procedure for the three-part stage: The side boosters, clones of its center booster (essentially, each the first stage of a Falcon 9), burn out prior to the center and are jettisoned.

The likely plan is to land the two outer boosters on solid ground, as their shorter burn times mean they will not have traveled as far, while the center booster will use a drone-ship landing, which has the flexibility to be placed wherever in the ocean is convenient, based on the rocket’s trajectory. The more stages SpaceX can successfully recover, the cheaper launches will be for its customers. — Popular Mechanics


Supersonic X-Plane’s Unusual Inlet Performs Well in Wind Tunnel

A series of wind tunnel tests revealed the unusual engine inlet positioning for NASA’s supersonic X-plane meets the performance goals for the Lockheed Martin-designed aircraft, a NASA Glenn Research Center aeronautics engineer says. The quiet supersonic transport (QueSST) X-plane demonstrator will begin a series of flight tests in 2020 with an inlet placed atop the fuselage and behind the cockpit, a rare configuration for a supersonic aircraft not seen since early 1950s designs, such as the Douglas X-3 Stiletto and Convair F2Y Sea Dart.

The unusual engine placement is driven by the purpose of the QueSST demonstrator, explains Ray Castner, a NASA Glenn engineer, speaking at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 25 July. NASA is funding the flight demonstration to evaluate how boom-shaping techniques developed after decades of research affect how humans perceive the acoustic disruption caused by breaking the sound barrier. — Flight Global


First-Ever Laser Communications Terminal to be Tested on the Moon

ATLAS Space Operations Inc., a company specializing in cloud-based satellite management and control services, has announced that it will test the first-ever laser communications terminal on the lunar surface. The company has recently signed a contract with Astrobotic Technology Inc., which could see their system fly to the Moon in late 2019. — SpaceFlight Insider


Bob Richards on the Moon Express Plan to Commercialize the Moon

Moon Express has raised $45 million(US), built hardware, tested some of it, and gotten the FAA and other government agencies to approve of its first commercial mission to the moon, and in less than a year might have its first spacecraft on the moon. — Space Q


SpaceX Builds Final First-Generation Dragon Capsule, Plans Reuse Until Gen-2 Flies

The Dragon supply ship set for liftoff from Florida next month was the last of SpaceX’s first-generation cargo capsules off the production line, meaning future logistics deliveries to the International Space Station will fly on recycled spacecraft until a new Dragon variant is ready. SpaceX launched a reused Dragon cargo craft on its last commercial supply shipment to the space station in June, and officials said then that the next Dragon mission — now scheduled for launch next month — will use a newly-manufactured capsule.

SpaceX clarified Friday that the company expects the upcoming automated logistics mission will be the last to fly with a newly-manufactured “Dragon 1” spacecraft. SpaceX has a contract with NASA for 20 commercial resupply launches through 2019, followed by at least six more Dragon cargo missions through 2024 under a separate follow-on agreement. — SpaceFlight Now

File photo of a Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX


Asteroid Mining – Who Wants to be a Trillionaire?

Scarcity has been a defining feature of human existence, driving economies by making goods in limited supply more expensive than those that are abundantly available. But scarcity has been built into our way of doing business because we view resources as entirely Earth-bound. That could soon change. Today, a group of entrepreneurs are beginning to think that asteroid mining could help eliminate the scarcity of some resources and make some people insanely wealthy at the same time. —

The view from the Rosetta Lander as it prepares to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (Image courtesy of NASA.)


SpaceX Alum Now Launching for One-Twentieth the Cost of SpaceX 

A company building tiny rockets is only a few launches away from cracking open a multi-billion dollar market. Vector Space Systems on Thursday flight tested its Vector-R launch vehicle from Spaceport Camden in Georgia. The FAA-approved launch reached its targeted height of 10,000 feet while carrying a commercial payload which included packages from NASA, Astro Digital and the Center for Applied Technology. The launch, partially funded by NASA, was a critical step in Vector’s plan to become the top transporter of micro-satellites. “The money in these vehicles is made in making a lot of them and flying a lot of them,” CEO Jim Cantrell told CNBC. Cantrell’s company is building the Vector-R rockets to meet demand from companies that can’t foot the bill to ride along with SpaceX or United Launch Alliance but still need to put satellites in orbit. — CNBC


Small Rockets, Big Dreams: The Race to Space Heats Up

When most people think of a rocket launch, they think big. The Space Shuttle, Falcon 9, and Atlas V all stand well over 50 meters tall, and any of those would tower above the Statue of Liberty. They were made to lift heavy things, weighing anywhere from 10 tons to considerably larger, into orbit around Earth. But in recent years there has been a lot of noise in the small rocket industry, promising cheap, expendable boosters capable of carrying a few hundred kilograms into space. As always in the aerospace industry, some of these efforts were overhyped or had wildly optimistic timelines. For example, the industry suffered a notable failure late last year when Firefly Space Systems declared bankruptcy. However, a number of other companies have made tangible progress this year, making it clear that this generation of small satellite launch vehicles is closing in on their first commercial flights. —Ars Technica


The second test flight of the Vector-R rocket on Thursday.


This Advanced Tech Could Power a Future Colony on Mars

When you think of Siemens, you might think of everything from generators to LED screens to one of the big-name sponsors behind PBS programming—but start thinking in terms of Martian habitats. Joining the race to Mars right behind Tesla and SpaceX mogul Elon Musk is the industrial manufacturing monolith, whose experience in generating energy could possibly power a human colony on a planet that would otherwise be perilous to our survival…Siemens’ future Martian technology was inspired by something much closer to Earth. When the people of the Aboriginal Wiyot reservation north of San Francisco recently experienced glitches in power due to interferences from the Pacific Gas & Electric power grid, Siemens joined forces with them to devise a method to fuel the reservation that would be both reliable and environmentally conscious. The microgrid that was the brainchild of this thinking runs on a 500-kilowatt array of REC Solar solar panels and a Tesla battery storage system, among other instruments. Maintenance is overseen through a computerized management system that determines where power resources are best used. — SyFy Wire


Exploring Space With “Astropreneurs” 

“Astropreneurs,” are the early-stage space entrepreneurs who hope to make it big by inventing faster, better, cheaper technologies for propulsion, surveillance, manufacturing and other activities in space. Many of these companies are benefiting from the introduction of the Cubesat design specification, an open standard built around 10x10x10-centimeter blocks that can be combined into satellites of arbitrary size. There’s a growing supply chain of Cubesat components, with some merchants even offering parts on Amazon. That means space startups can build satellites mostly using off-the-shelf technology, while focusing the real innovation and investment on the components that are core to their mission. In the case of Lunar Station, a startup featured in this week’s episode, that’s a high-definition digital video camera that will capture and retransmit live-stream video of the Moon. — Fair Observer


What is the Best Way to Mine the Moon?

Earth’s nearest neighbor has a lot of valuable resources, including platinum group metals, an isotope called helium 3 that could be used to fuel future fusion power plants, and water that could sustain lunar colonists and be refined into rocket fuel. The Moon also has oxides of more typical engineering metals such as iron, aluminum, titanium, and silicon. What then, is the best approach to encourage a lunar mining industry?…Starting with the second Bush administration and continuing under President Obama, NASA encouraged the development of commercial spacecraft to take astronauts and cargo to and from space. Lunar mining should be developed in the same manner. — Space News

An artist’s depiction of a lunar base, sometimes called a moon village. A moon village would provide a great initial market for lunar miners. Credit: Wikicommons


NASA Contracts with BWXT Nuclear Energy to Advance Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Technology

As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those concepts.

Part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project could indeed significantly change space travel, largely due to its ability to accelerate a large amount of propellant out of the back of a rocket at very high speeds, resulting in a highly efficient, high-thrust engine. In comparison, a nuclear thermal rocket has double the propulsion efficiency of the Space Shuttle main engine, one of the hardest-working standard chemical engines of the past 40 years. That capability makes nuclear thermal propulsion ideal for delivering large, automated payloads to distant worlds. — NASA


Could Breakthrough Starshot be Humanity’s First Interstellar Mission?

With engineers looking for ever smaller classifications to describe spacecraft by (“cube”, “small”, and “nano” being just some of the names that have been used to help classify these satellites), the company has dubbed Sprites as “the next step” in terms of spacecraft miniaturization. Built at Cornell University and incorporated into the Max Valier and Venta satellites (built by the Bremen-based OHB System AG), the Sprite is Manchester’s pride and joy.

These Sprites remain affixed to the satellites and could, one day, be used to explore further than mankind has been able to explore so far. By all accounts, these Sprites are performing as advertised, communicating back to stations located in California and New York. While having satellites piggyback their way to orbit is nothing new, this flight is meant to validate the spacecraft communications systems.

These systems would (most likely) be first used in three-dimensional antennas in deep space to monitor space weather that could threaten Earthly power-grids and orbiting spacecraft. So how would these Sprites enable interstellar space exploration? — SpaceFlight Insider


Deep Space Habitat Prototype Planned at KSC

NASA has given Lockheed Martin the go-ahead to build a full-scale prototype of the deep space habitat it proposed for the NextSTEP program. That means in around 18 months’ time, it might start testing new space travel technologies for the agency. No, not in orbit, but right inside a facility at Kennedy Space Center. To meet the agency’s affordability goals, the aerospace corporation won’t be building the habitat from scratch — instead, it will refurbish an old container space shuttles used to transfer cargo to the ISS. Plus, it will rely on a mixture of virtual and augmented reality to design the prototype. — Engadget


Inner Strength for Outer Space

The glamorous parts of spaceflight — ascending skyward on a pillar of fire, floating gracefully against a backdrop of stars — are in some ways the easiest on the astronauts’ minds and bodies, as long as nothing goes wrong. As NASA eyes the long-term future of human space exploration and missions to Mars, medical and psychological challenges are among those that loom largest. — NBC

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren captured a lightning strike from space so bright that it lights up the space station’s solar panels. – Kjell Lindgren / NASA


NASA’s Planetary Defense System Will Be Put to the Test in October

An asteroid is set to speed by Earth this fall, which is exactly what NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is equipped to handle. The flyby isn’t putting anyone in danger. Rather, it’s an opportunity to test the agency’s planetary defense systems in the event of an actual asteroid threat.

Asteroid 2012 TC4’s brief swing by Earth on October 12 isn’t expected to get anywhere closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) to Earth’s surface. The space rock is considered small by asteroid standards, at about 30 to 100 feet in size. But while scientists know 2012 TC4 won’t impact Earth, they don’t know much else about the asteroid’s trajectory.  — CNN

Asteroid 2012 TC4 will fly past Earth on October 12.