by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Report
November 17, 2017


Apollo 12 Astronaut Dies

Dick Gordon, who flew to the Moon on Apollo 12, has passed away. Gordon died Monday at the age of 88, and the cause of death was not released. Gordon, part of NASA’s third astronaut class, flew with Pete Conrad on Gemini 11 in 1966, performing two spacewalks. He was the command module pilot on Apollo 12, remaining in lunar orbit while Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the Moon. Gordon was in line to command Apollo 18 and walk on the Moon himself, but that mission was cancelled. After leaving NASA in the early 1970s, he held several executive positions in industry, ranging from energy and engineering companies to executive vice president of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida in 1993. — Collect Space

Dick Gordon is photographed during a debriefing in the quarantine van aboard the USS Hornet, following the end of the Apollo 12 mission on Nov. 26, 1969.


Commercial Spaceflight Is About to Get Real

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar mission, during which three Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the Moon and gave the U.S. a decisive lead in its space race against the Soviet Union. These days, with NASA’s milestones receding in the national memory, Russian spaceships are the ones ferrying American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). If all goes well, that will change in 2018. This moment is a big one for the handful of companies that have spent much more than a decade working toward commercial spaceflight. Boeing and SpaceX are preparing to bring NASA scientists to the ISS by this time next year, not long after five teams race unmanned landers to the Moon to win the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic LLC and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin LLC have suborbital flights scheduled. Rocket Lab USA Inc. and Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic’s satellite arm, expect to begin launching satellites. And SpaceX plans to use its own astronauts to reprise 1968’s history-making flight. — Bloomberg

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base.


SpaceX vs. Blue Origin: The Bickering Titans of New Space

In the past three years, SpaceX has made incredible progress in their program of reusability. In the practice’s first year, the young space company led by serial tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has performed three successful commercial reuses of Falcon 9 boosters in approximately eight months, and has at least two more reused flights scheduled before 2017 is out. Blue Origin is perhaps most famous for its supreme confidence, best illustrated by Bezos offhandedly welcoming SpaceX “to the club” after the company first recovered the booster stage of its Falcon 9 rocket in 2015.

Blue Origin began in the early 2000s as a pet project of Bezos, a long-time fan of spaceflight and proponent of developing economies in space. After more than a decade of persistent development and increasingly complex testbeds, Blue Origin began a multi-year program of test flights with its small New Shepard launch vehicle. Designed to eventually launch tourists to the veritable edge of Earth’s atmosphere in a capsule atop it, New Shepard began its test flights in 2015 and after one partial failure, has completed five successful flights in a row. — Teslarati


Rocket Industry Looks to Run More Like an Airline

After decades of building commercial airliners, Boeing is now developing something that looks like a plane and sometimes acts like a plane — but is not a plane. The company’s latest invention is instead a spaceplane. The Phantom Express, as it is known, would perform like one of the many jets in Boeing’s vast fleet, landing on a runway with a 737-like wingspan, able to take off quickly on demand — just fuel up and go.

Several firms are working on flying on a weekly, if not daily basis, making a once-rarefied event as routine as commercial air travel. Some are even allowing customers to order a launch online — just enter the number and mass of your satellites, and the orbital inclination, as if choosing toppings on a pizza delivery.

The market for these new launches is being driven by a revolution in satellite technology that is dramatically reducing their size. Just as computers have gone from massive mainframes to handheld devices, satellites have shrunk from the size of garbage trucks to that of shoe boxes. To meet the potential demand, there are more than 40 small launch vehicles in development around the world, said Phil Smith. “There is a rush to address this perceived demand, and only a handful will survive,” he said. — Washington Post

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket at the company’s launch site in New Zealand. (Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab)


How Elon Musk Plans on Reinventing the World (and Mars)

There are many remarkable aspects to SpaceX: for instance, the way it has challenged accepted rocket manufacture by making rockets for a fraction of the cost; the way it has become the first private entity—rather than a country—to successfully launch spacecraft into orbit and then return; the way it went from an idea in Musk’s head to a company that resupplies the International Space Station and that hopes to soon ferry astronauts back and forth. But the most remarkable fact about SpaceX is that—right from the start, before the first rocket had lifted an inch off the ground—it was explicitly intended as the means to another, far more grandiose and idealistic end: colonizing Mars. — GQ


SpaceX has launched 16 times this year, more than many space-going nations, and Musk has said SpaceX’s goal is to launch more and faster in the coming years.


The Entrepreneurial Space Age

Increased access to space has lowered the barriers to entry, ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurial space ventures. With companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin addressing the heavy lift segment of the launch market, companies like Vector Space Systems are addressing the burgeoning market for small satellites. Vector is now on track to begin commercial flights of their Vector-R vehicle next year and in this episode, we interview Jim Cantrell, the company’s CEO, and we ask him about his plans to provide affordable and reliable access to space through their family of small launch vehicles. — Space Angels



Commercial Cargo Program a Bargain for NASA

It has generally been assumed that NASA will save money by spurring the development of services by US companies to supply the International Space Station, but such conclusions have largely been based on estimates. Now, a rigorous new review authored by a NASA analyst, and published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, offers a clear answer to this question. According to the new research paper by Edgar Zapata, who works at Kennedy Space Center, the supply services offered by SpaceX and Orbital ATK have cost NASA two to three times less than if the space agency had continued to fly the space shuttle. For his analysis, Zapata attempted to make an “apples to apples” comparison between the commercial vehicles, through June 2017, and the space shuttle. Specifically, the analysis of development and operational expenses, as well as vehicle failures, found that SpaceX had cost NASA about $89,000 per kg of cargo delivered to the space station. By the same methodology, he found Orbital ATK had cost $135,000 per kg. Had the shuttle continued to fly, and deliver cargo via its Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, it would have cost $272,000 per kg. — Ars Technica

The first Cygnus commercial cargo spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. flew to the International Space Station in 2013


Trump Administration Wants to Put Americans Back on the Moon

The newly revived National Space Council calls for a return to the Moon and the development of a base there. “I definitely think this is much more of a political shift in terms of the priorities of this administration, and you can read into it what you will. I think one major reason for the shift is you have the executive director of the National Space Council, which is Scott Pace, and he’s made it very clear that he thinks NASA is a great tool for international cooperation. And right now in the international community, the Moon is hot — a lot of state agencies want to go there.” — Public Radio International


Bridenstine Confirms Support for SLS/Orion

NASA administrator nominee Jim Bridenstine expressed his support for SLS and Orion in responses to additional questions from senators. In written responses to questions for the record, Bridenstine called SLS and Orion the “backbone” for the agency’s deep space exploration plans. He also said the Deep Space Gateway, the cislunar outpost NASA is currently studying, could be useful, but added he would work with Congress to determine if it is the best path forward. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on advancing his nomination to the full Senate during a brief executive session this morning. — Space News


Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) at his Nov. 1 confirmation hearing to become NASA administration. In later written responses to questions from senators, he expressed his support for SLS and Orion as the “backbone” of NASA’s exploration program. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky



Space War: How the Air Force Plans to Defend the Final Frontier

The “left hook” of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when U.S. and allied ground forces attacked the western flank of the Iraqi military in Kuwait, revealed the true power of satellites in wartime. “Going through a desert, at night, without roads and maps—it was all enabled by GPS,” Raymond says. Fast-forward a quarter-century and tensions are again on the rise, from Syria to the Korean Peninsula. And today, the United States no longer enjoys the type of control it had over space in 1991.

A hypothetical attack on U.S. satellites has been a serious public concern since at least January 2007, when a Chinese missile shot a Chinese satellite out of the sky. Russia has been researching anti-satellite weapons since at least the 1980s. The past few decades have shown how space operations can revolutionize military operations on Earth. The next theater, however, might be space itself. — Popular Mechanics

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B unmanned spaceplane that orbits for hundreds of days at a time on classified missions. ‘It’s really used and designed for doing things in orbit and then being able to bring experiments back down to Earth,’ says Gen. Raymond.


Blue Origin’s KSC Rocket Factory Coming Together Ahead of December Opening

Blue Origin, the rocketry company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, appears to be putting the finishing touches on its massive factory at Kennedy Space Center. Crews recently installed bright “Blue Origin” logos on the sides of the white-and-blue building, which sits just west of the spaceport at Exploration Park. Two massive, yellow crane rails were also transported to the factory last week. The 750,000-square-foot facility will assemble 270- and 330-foot variants of the company’s reusable New Glenn rockets, which will launch from about 10 miles away at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 36. The factory will also function as launch control for Blue Origin’s missions due to the pad’s proximity and advances in automation. — Florida Today



Mars City Living: Designing for the Red Planet

How will people live on Mars? An MIT team developed a design concept addressing this question as part of Mars City Design 2017, an international competition focused on sustainable cities on Mars to be built in the next century. MIT’s winning urban design, titled Redwood Forest, creates domes or tree habitats that can each house up to 50 people. The domes provide open, public spaces containing plants and abundant water, which would be harvested from the northern plains of Mars. The tree habitats sit atop a network of underground tunnels, or roots, providing access to private spaces and easy, shirt-sleeve transportation to the other tree habitants in the community of 10,000. In addition to connectivity, the roots offer residents protection from cosmic radiation, micrometeorite impacts, and extreme thermal variations. — MIT Technology Review

An MIT team won first place for urban design with the Redwood Forest, a series of woodsy habitats enclosed in open, public domes that would reside on the Martian surface.
Image courtesy of Valentina Sumini.

“Every tree habitat in Redwood Forest will collect energy from the sun and use it to process and transport the water throughout the tree, and every tree is designed as a water-rich environment,” says winning team member Geroge Lordos MBA ’00.
Image courtesy of Valentina Sumini.


Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging the Blockchain for Space 4.0

ESA’s Strategy Department is investigating the role blockchain technologies could play in adapting the Agency for Space 4.0. Blockchain promises to become a new foundation for all forms of transactions. A blockchain is a digital database that disintermediates and records transactions between parties. To achieve this, it cryptographically secures its records and relies on a distributed network to replicate its data across many locations.

These features allow the block chain to operate as a self-sufficient network without a central authority or oversight. Blockchain transactions can take over services such as varied as payments, notary functions, supply chain management, identity and digital rights management.

Recently, ESA’s Corporate Development Office and the Chief Digital Officer have been investigating the applicability of Blockchain technologies to key challenges for ESA’s space activities and administrative areas. The project aimed at establishing what drives the value of Blockchain technology, how the technology itself works, what it can be used for, and how ESA might apply it. In doing so, a range of potential applications have been identified, from satellite communications to procurement. — ESA