by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Report
October 27, 2017


Branson Reveals Virgin Galactic’s Latest Launch Plans

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, which includes spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, on Wednesday said that he expects the company to send its first astronauts into space “in about four months.” This comes after a more optimistic statement by Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight last week. He said that he hopes for Virgin Galactic “to be in space by the end of this year.” — NBC

Sir Richard Branson with VSS Enterprise


Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity)
Virgin Galactic


Fired Up for the Engine Wars

Last week, Blue Origin announced the successful first hotfire test of its BE-4 engine. It was a brief statement, but a significant one. On Thursday afternoon, Blue Origin tweeted out a six-second video with the caption, “First hotfire of our BE-4 engine is a success #GradatimFerociter.” At long last, the BE-4 engine that the company had been developing for several years had come to life. 

The BE-4 is designed to lift the huge New Glenn rocket Blue Origin wants to fly in 2020. It is also the leading contender to be the main in engine in a new rocket being built by ULA. — Space Review

Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine during its first hotfire test, which the company said October 19 was a success. (credit: Blue Origin)


First SLS Flight in Late 2019

The first flight of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is slated to put an unmanned Orion capsule into orbit around the Moon for Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), is now targeted for launch in late 2019, according to a Lockheed Martin program director. — Aviation Week

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration. Credit: NASA/MSFC

Bigelow and ULA Plan Lunar Orbit Habitat

Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance said Tuesday they have an agreement to jointly develop a habitat around the Moon, provided NASA is willing to help pay for it. The companies said their “lunar depot” would use a Bigelow B330 module launched on a ULA Vulcan rocket and placed into a low orbit around the Moon by an ACES upper stage as soon as 2022. Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow said the companies could develop it in partnership with NASA, with the agency providing $2.3 billion in addition to the “hundreds of millions” already being spent on the companies to develop their technologies. Bigelow said the companies had briefed several “key” government officials about the concept and have received a good reaction. — Space News

An illustration of the proposed lunar depot, using a Bigelow Aerospace B330 module and launched by United Launch Alliance using its Vulcan rocket and ACES upper stage. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace


Relativity Space Opens Up on 3-D Printed Rocket Plans

A secretive launch startup has offered a first look inside its factory where it plans to make rockets with 3-D printers. Relativity Space is developing large 3-D printers that it claims will be able to built entire launch vehicles at lower costs, and with far fewer moving parts, than existing rockets. The company is planning its first launch of a rocket capable of placing nearly a ton into orbit in 2021. The 14-person company has raised $10 million to date from several investors, including billionaire Mark Cuban. — Bloomberg


SpaceX Adds Mystery “Zuma” Mission, Iridium-4 Aims for Vandenberg Landing

In what has already been a busy year for SpaceX, the commercial launch provider is adding one more mission to its jammed-packed end-of-year schedule. A mysterious mission codenamed “Zuma” will launch No-Earlier-Than Nov. 10 from LC-39A. Meanwhile, CRS-13 is slipping at least one week, and the Iridium NEXT-4 mission from Vandenberg has received permission to debut RTLS landing of the Falcon 9 booster back at SLC-4W.

In an update to its original report, NASA confirmed that Northrup Grumman is the payload provider for Zuma. The mission is labeled as “government” and will be sent to low-Earth orbit. — NASA


City-Size Lunar Lava Tube Could House Future Astronaut Residents

A city-size lava tube has been discovered on the Moon, and researchers say it could serve as a shelter for lunar astronauts. This lava tube could protect lunar-living astronauts from hazardous conditions on the Moon’s surface, the researchers said. Such a tube could even harbor a lunar colony, they added. Spacesuits can’t substantially shield astronauts from these dangers over long periods of time, but a lava tube could potentially help protect any space travelers, the researchers said. Lava tubes are channels that form when a lava flow cools and develops a hard crust; this crust then thickens and makes a roof over a still-flowing lava stream, they explained. Once the lava stops flowing, the channel sometimes drains, leaving behind an empty tube. —


Click Image to Enlarge
A giant hole in the moon, which opens at the Marius Hills skylight (pictured here), was formed by an ancient lava tube.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University


China Expanding Rocket Fleet, Including Super Heavy Lift

Chinese engineers are developing a new series of Long March rockets, including one comparable to the Saturn 5. At a conference earlier this month, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology said it will soon formally begin development of the Long March 9, a rocket nearly 100 meters tall and 10 meters in diameter, with a payload capacity similar to the Saturn 5. China plans to use that rocket to support future human expeditions to the Moon and other exploration missions. In the near-term, China plans to develop the Long March 5B, a variant of the Long March 5 for missions to low Earth orbit; and the Long March 8, a new medium-class rocket. — GB Times


Why We Go to the Moon

First, we must consider the activities encompassed by a human return to the Moon, beginning with a transportation system that permits access to and from the Moon for people and cargo. Once on the Moon, we must protect ourselves from the hostile environment with such a degree of utility and comfort as to permit the performance of useful work. This protection includes life support, shielding from radiation, habitation, mobility, maintenance and continuous, daily operations. Finally, we must identify a series of activities that yield long-term societal value and contribute to the enhancement and furtherance of our spacefaring capabilities. I suggest that all of these activities are summarized in the following mission statement: We go to the Moon to learn how to live and work productively on another world. It is not enough to simply get there—once on the Moon, we must accomplish some significant goals. It is not enough to simply live on the Moon—we must learn the skills and acquire the technologies necessary to support human life indefinitely, making use of local resources to support this effort. — Air & Space 

The United States won’t be going to the Moon alone. This European Space Agency artist’s conception shows a future lunar outpost built using 3-D printing techniques. (ESA)


What NASA’s Simulated Missions Tell Us About the Need for Martian Law

Space law has always supported the position that objects and stations placed on celestial bodies are to remain under national ownership, jurisdiction and control. Private companies or other entrepreneurs cannot, therefore have legitimacy or mine these bodies for resources unless they exercise lawful control through a sovereign state. Current rules say the establishment of a space station and the area required for its operation should be notified to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. These would then be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state where the spacecraft is registered or the state bringing the component parts of the station. In many ways, this makes sense – it is difficult to see how a permanent station on Mars may be maintained without some form of tenure of the ground. The same goes for tenure over areas around the station sufficient for its maintenance (such as creating fuel from nearby resources). In fact, the closest practical analogies to a future Mars station in current jurisdictional terms would be the Antarctic stations maintained by Antarctic claimant states. — Space Daily

Image courtesy HI-SEAS/NASA


Starliner Spacesuit Tops PopSci’s “Most Incredible Aerospace Inventions” List

Boeing’s Starliner spacesuit topped the Popular Science list of the 10 “most incredible aerospace inventions” list for 2017. The Kratos UTAP-22 Mako, Aireon’s space-based ADS-B and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser also made the list. — Popular Science

Finally, a comfy space suit.


Delivery by Rocket Could Change the Game for UPS, FedEx

Airplanes and Panamax cargo ships redefined the parcel service in the 20th century, but those days may be fading quickly. Morgan Stanley believes the SpaceX plan for the Big Falcon Rocket as a reusable mode of Earth transportation could change the game for United Parcel Services and FedEx.

“The freight transportation business — especially parcel delivery — is on the cusp of transformation from multiple new transportation modalities,” a team of Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note Thursday. “Elon Musk recently announced a new option that could potentially have the biggest impact of all — rockets.”

The booster system BFR is a 42-engine rocket capable of holding around 100 people – and yes, the code name connotes more than just “Falcon” to those inside SpaceX. With a payload capacity of 150 tons, BFR would be nearly 10 times the capacity of the flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket and five times that of the soon-to-be-tested Falcon Heavy rocket. — CNBC

SAN BERNARDINO, OCTOBER 29: Shipping orders go by on a conveyor belt at Amazon’s San Bernardino Fulfillment Center October 29, 2013 in San Bernardino, California. Amazon’s 1 million square-foot facility in the hard hit San Bernardino County has created more than 800 jobs at the center. Fulfillment centers are where products sold by other vendors on store their inventory. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


Astronomers Have Captured Images of “the Greatest Fireworks Show in the Universe”

This is the story of a gold rush in the sky. Astronomers have now seen and heard a pair of dead stars collide, giving them the first glimpse of what they call a “cosmic forge,” where the world’s jewels were minted billions of years ago.

The collision rattled space-time and sent a wave of fireworks across the universe, setting off sensors in space and on Earth on Aug. 17 as well as producing a long loud chirp in antennas designed to study the Einsteinian ripples in the cosmic fabric known as gravitational waves. It set off a stampede around the world as astronomers scrambled to turn their telescopes in search of a mysterious and long-sought kind of explosion called a kilonova.

After two months of underground and social media rumblings, the first wave of news is being reported Monday about one of the least studied of cosmic phenomena: the merger of dense remnants known as neutron stars, the shrunken cores of stars that have collapsed and burst. — Washington Post