by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Report
July 28, 2017


A New Generation of Giant Rockets is About to Blast Off

It’s been 44 years since the mighty Saturn V last thundered skyward from a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The towering rocket, generating enough power to lift 269,000 pounds into orbit, had been the workhorse of the Apollo moon missions. Later this year, SpaceX plans to launch its most powerful rocket yet from the same pad. The long-awaited Falcon Heavy is key to the company’s plans to ramp up its defense business, send tourists around the moon and launch its first uncrewed mission to Mars.

But unlike the Saturn V, the Falcon Heavy will have plenty of competition. Years in the works and the product of hundreds of millions of dollars of investments, a new generation of huge rockets will soon take to the skies. Their manufacturers range from space start-ups to aerospace giants to the space agencies of the United States, Russia and China. — LA Times


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The Race For A Space Base

It sounds like the plot to a Marvel superhero film. Five tech billionaires — three Americans, one Brit and a Russian — vying to be the first true galactic entrepreneur. Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies are going head to head in a resurgence of the Space Race. — Billionaire

The science-fiction prophecies of commercialised space travel took a further 30 years to come into fruition when US businessman Dennis Tito became the world’s first space vacationist in 2001.


Bezos: Reusable Rockets Will Let a Trillion People Colonize the Solar System

Bezos recently floated his concept of Blue Moon, which could see Blue Origin operate a cargo service to take to the Moon supplies to robotically construct a permanent human settlement. The service would use his reusable rockets, of course, and has been pitched to NASA. For Bezos, colonizing space is a more a simple necessity for continued life on Earth. The compound effect of the incremental increase in energy requirements will mean us having to cover every inch of Earth in solar cells, he said, while the solar system offers virtually unlimited energy resources. — Tech Radar


Bezos Highlights Rocket Factory in His First Instagram Post

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos posted his first video on Instagram today, but it wasn’t about the proceeds from Prime Day: Rather, it was about the Blue Origin rocket factory that’s taking shape in Florida. In his caption, Bezos said construction was “coming along nicely.” The factory is due for completion by early next year, and should be turning out hardware for orbital-class New Glenn rockets soon afterward.

Bezos set up his Blue Origin venture in 2000 to follow through on his childhood dream of spaceflight. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., but it has a suborbital rocket test facility in Texas and is planning a rocket engine factory in Alabama as well as the Florida factory and orbital launch site. — Geek Wire



What is Virgin Galactic and How Much Will it Cost to Travel to Space?

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline company – but when will its first spaceflight be and how much will it cost to travel to space? Virgin Galactic passengers will depart from Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. It was opened in New Mexico in 2011. WhiteKnightTwo, a jet-powered cargo aircraft, will climb to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing SpaceShipTwo, a spacecraft that will bring passengers on the final part of the journey.

SpaceShipTwo will travel at approximately three and a half times the speed of sound, propelling the vehicle and passengers to space. The whole experience is expected to last two hours. The spacecraft is expected to carry six passengers and two pilots. Once SpaceShip Two has reentered the earth’s atmosphere, the vehicle’s wings will be returned to their normal configuration, and the spaceship will glide back to the original runway.

A seat on a Virgin Galactic flight will cost you $250,000, which has to be paid up-front as a deposit. More than 700 people have signed up so far, including celebrities Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and Paris Hilton, reports say. — The Telegraph


SpaceX Targets 24-Hour First Stage Rocket Re-Use by 2018, Other Re-Use

SpaceX hopes to achieve its 24-hour turnaround window for used Falcon 9 rockets sometime next year, he said, and there is already “a technical path in place to achieving that.” Some of its reuse efforts aren’t immediately bearing fruit in terms of lowering costs, however – Musk revealed that refurbishing the Dragon capsule it flew for a second time during the most recent ISS resupply mission cost “almost as much – maybe more” than building a new one from scratch.

That should improve over time, however, as SpaceX gets better at refurbishing the cargo craft. Next time around, it should be able to shave a few percentage points off the cost of refurbishment, he said. Meanwhile, Musk said that SpaceX is getting closer to being able to recover the fairing, a nosecone that sits atop the rocket to protect the payload during launch. The company managed to land one of those earlier this year, and Musk said that they’re now “quite close” to being able to land it and recover the component as well. The fairing, including all of its integrated systems, is a $5 or $6 million piece of equipment, he noted. — Tech Crunch


SpaceX Skipping Red Dragon for “Vastly Bigger Ships” on Mars, Musk Confirms

Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that SpaceX chose to cut development of propulsive landing for Dragon 2, and thus Red Dragon, in order to jump directly into propulsively landing “a vastly bigger ship” on Mars. Again, this matches closely with a handful of rumors that have been fermenting in SpaceX forums. Musk’s comment on Twitter now officially confirms that Red Dragon is no more.

SpaceX had previously delayed Red Dragon to 2020, which happens to be the same year a tentative schedule from the Guadalajara presentation pegged SpaceX’s first attempt at testing the Big Falcon Spaceship in orbit. With approximately 30 months between now and 2020, there is almost no chance SpaceX could mature Raptor and develop an entirely new, massive launch vehicle and spacecraft in time for the 2020 testing, but it is not impossible. — Teslarati

SpaceX planned to use propulsive landing systems for its Red Dragon Mars missions. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said July 19 that the company is no longer pursuing that landing approach. Credit: SpaceX


Musk: We Need Moon Base to Get People ‘Fired Up’ About Space Travel

Elon Musk has said humans need to build a base on the moon to get the public “fired up” again about space exploration. Humans first landed there 48 years ago today [20 July], but nobody has stepped foot on the moon since the final mission of the Apollo program in 1972. Speaking at a conference in Washington about the International Space Station, the SpaceX founder complained that the public did not seem to grasp “how cool the ISS is”.

Public interest and fascination with space travel exploded during the Apollo missions. The funding the US ploughed into the space race led to huge advances in the development of new technologies and inspired many people to pursue engineering and science careers. Elon Musk told the conference there were more technological advances and business opportunities to be grasped with greater space travel.

Editor’s Note: Imagine if the resources and innovations of billionaires like Musk, Bezos, Bigelow, Jain, and other space resource mining and energy companies were aligned with NASA plans, ESA’s ‘Moon Village’ concept, China’s ambitions, and Russia’s interests. Seems like a lot of leverage and momentum could be created for humankind’s next big step beyond Low Earth Orbit. — Sky News

The billionaire says a moon base would reignite the public’s fascination with space (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)


Lockheed’s Prototype Habitat Plans for NASA’s Lunar Orbiting Deep Space Gateway (Source: AmericaSpace)
Last summer, NASA selected six companies to develop prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats for future crews flying missions on Orion. Lockheed Martin was one of them, and this week the company released some details on plans for their full-scale prototype, which they hope to complete over the next 18 months.

Lockheed is developing the prototype under a Phase II contract with NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, as part of the space agency’s plans to build a crew tended spaceport in lunar orbit within the first few SLS / Orion missions known as the “Deep Space Gateway”. — America Space


Moon Express Plans Lunar Outpost by 2020

After several years of secrecy, a company called Moon Express revealed the scope of its ambitions on Wednesday. And they are considerable. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successfully larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Moon Express says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. “We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well,” said Bob Richards, one of the company’s founders, in an interview with Ars. — Ars Technica


4 Private Spaceflight Companies You Need to Know About

Almost any space nerd will tell you that the future of the space industry hinges upon private spaceflight. Of course, almost anyone with an interest in tech and space knows about Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, two heavy-hitters in the commercial spaceflight industry.

But what about the other, less known, less accomplished, yet still important companies out there hoping to leave their marks on spaceflight? Here are a few of the space companies you should be keeping a close eye on in the future. — Mashable

The Electron rocket. Source: ROCKET LAB / MIRIAM KRAMER


NASA is Working Out How to Create Rocket Fuel on Mars

Sending humans to Mars involves deep space missions that could last months, but shipping material there is costly; the price of transporting 1kg on Earth increases by a factor of 100 on a Martian mission. If the ultimate goal is to establish a long-term base on Mars, we’ll need make use of materials found on humanity’s greatest ever voyage.

NASA has a target to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. Since 2012, the space agency has dedicated a branch of its research to what it calls In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), with researchers working to find the best ways to produce one of the most crucial resources for space travel – rocket fuel. — WIRED


The United States and Australia Quietly Test Hypersonic Missiles

Hypersonic aircraft and missiles, which could fly as fast as a mile a second while maneuvering high enough to be safe from many existing air defenses, have the potential to transform warfare. So it’s no surprise that the United States continues to pushing ahead with research and development of these exotic flight vehicles, both gathering information on future weapon designs and conducting actual flight tests in cooperation with Australia.

As of July 12, 2017, the U.S. military and its Australian partners had concluded a round of experiments as part of the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFIRE) program, including an unspecified number of actual test launches. Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne specifically congratulated the team. — The Drive


Smallsat Launch Outpacing Market Forecasts

This past Friday, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome with 72 small satellites aboard. With these latest satellites successfully delivered to orbit, the space industry is on the cusp of exceeding even the most optimistic expectations for this year’s nano- and microsatellite launch numbers.

However, continued growth within the miniature satellite market is contingent on a few crucial factors. To date commercial companies hoping to launch smallsats to orbit have relied upon a “secondary payload” launch format, meaning their core products are “hitching a ride,” in a sense, to space. While secondary payload deliveries have proven effective—indeed, the majority of today’s smallsats have been deployed in orbit in this manner—a number of dedicated smallsat launch services are on the horizon. While the commercial space industry waits to see which small launch vehicle will be first to market, smallsat operators will continue to turn to alternative launch options in order to deploy their technologies in orbit.

The pace of nano- and microsatellite launch this year is incredibly promising. A market forecast prepared by SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) projected that 182 nano- and microsatellites would launch in 2017. This conservative estimate was, perhaps, a reflection of a disappointing 2016—a year which saw multiple launch delays and cancellations, and created a huge backlog of satellites looking to get to orbit. After Friday’s successful Soyuz launch, SEI’s projection has been eclipsed: Thus far this year, 254 satellites have been deployed in orbit. Even the most optimistic estimates put 2017’s total smallsat numbers at 255 launches by year’s end, a number which now seems entirely within reach. — Space Angels


Japan’s Space Camera Drone on the ISS is a Floating Ball of Cuteness

Japan’s space agency has for the first time released photos and videos taken on the International Space Station by its resident robot drone, which can be remote-controlled from Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says footage taken by the Internal Ball Camera (or Int-Ball) can be checked in real time by flight controllers and researchers on the ground and then fed back to the onboard crew. — The Verge

The Int-Ball Photo: JAXA/NASA


Russia Will Launch Another Tourist to the Space Station in 2019

An Asian space tourist will fly to the International Space Station in 2019, a Russian executive said Tuesday. Vladimir Solntsev, director general of RSC Energia, said the unidentified person is planning to fly to the station, with additional tourists to follow. Seats on Soyuz spacecraft will be freed up when NASA begins using commercial crew vehicles to transport its astronauts to and from the station. Solntsev said Energia has a “preliminary contract” for a commercial circumlunar Soyuz flight, but that it required a “suitable investor” to fund upgrades to the Soyuz for such a mission. — Sputnik


Five Ways ISS National Lab Enables Commercial Research

A growing number of commercial partners use the International Space Station National Lab. With that growth, we will see more discoveries in fundamental and applied research that could improve life on the ground. Since 2011, when NASA engaged the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the ISS National Lab, CASIS has partnered with academic researchers, other government organizations, startups and major commercial companies to take advantage of the unique microgravity lab. Today, more than 50 percent of the CASIS flight manifest represents commercial research. — Parabolic Arc


Parkinson’s Protein Blasting Off to Space Station

Michael J. Fox Foundation has partnered with CASIS to send key Parkinson’s protein LRRK2 to the International Space Station for growth under microgravity conditions. Microgravity in space may allow bigger, more regular LRRK2 protein crystals to grow, which helps solve the protein’s structure. That information could help scientists design optimized therapies against LRRK2, a key target in the pursuit of a Parkinson’s cure.

LRRK2 protein will be sent to the International Space Station as part of the SpaceX CRS-12 cargo resupply mission scheduled for no earlier than August 10, 2017. As manager of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, CASIS coordinates transfer of scientific materials to and from the ISS and work done in the laboratory. MJFF initiated this project and has supported work to ready the protein for growth in space. — Michael J. Fox Foundation


The Case for Sending US Companies Back to [Earth’s] Moon, Explained in Cartoons

Robert Bigelow wants to be the first commercial landlord in space. Bigelow said his company’s first two fully-fledged space habitats would be ready for launch by the end of 2020. He told a NASA conference audience all they need is a customer (hint, hint). The habitats could be used to augment or replace the space station in low earth orbit, but Bigelow’s hope is that NASA will send them to the moon.

“There’s no time to lose,” Bigelow said. Why? Because China aims to go to the moon, and Bigelow frets that it will get there first and thus be able to impose its own rules in what is still a legal (as well as literal) grey area. It’s not the first time Bigelow has made this argument, but this is the first time he has used cartoons to drive it home. — Quartz

Let me make this real simple. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Robert Bigelow, the Los Angeles real estate baron who wants to be the first commercial landlord in space, has pitched his space venture using cartoons.