El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) says it is making good progress toward a late 2008 debut of the Falcon 9, a 54-meter tall rocket designed to loft more than
10,000 kilograms of payload into orbit.
President Elon Musk posted a lengthy Falcon 9 program update on the company’s
Web site Aug. 17 reporting that the rocket’s first stage and Merlin 1C main engines were undergoing testing at the company’s Texas development facility.
“If all goes reasonably well, we should do our first stage hold down firing, starting with one engine, within a few months and our first multi-engine firing in the December timeframe,” Musk wrote. “Since we’ll have up to nine engines firing at once on the big test stand, our Texas team has installed extensive propellant management and data collection systems, and built out the flame trenches and related ground systems in preparation.”
Musk also reported that his 350-person company is hiring at a steady clip and expects headcount to be between 500 and 600 people by the end of 2008. To accommodate a larger work force, and to provide more manufacturing space, SpaceX is in the process of
relocating its headquarters
to Hawthorne, Calif., where the company has leased a 49,500-square-meter
previously had been used to build fuselage sections for Boeing 747 jetliners.
“We are working hard at upgrading the facility with a cool, modern esthetic and Silicon Valley style amenities, such as free soda and snacks and a game room,” Musk wrote in the update. “Borrowing a page from Google, we will have a free cafeteria with food prepared by a first rate chef. Once settled, we plan on running comfortable SpaceX shuttle buses with built in WiFi on daily trips east, south and north to alleviate a commute that can be pretty awful for some people. The overarching goal is that people really look forward to coming to work in the morning and regret leaving the office.:)”
Air Force Says 1st AEHF Launch Could Be Delayed
The U.S. Air Force in all likelihood will delay the launch of the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite by “some number of months” because
integration and testing is taking longer than expected,
said Col. William Harding, program manager for the AEHF effort at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.
Lockheed Martin of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., are developing the AEHF spacecraft as “backwards compatible” successors to the Pentagon’s geosynchronous Milstar satellites, which are used by
battlefield commanders and for strategic communications.
The Air Force had planned to launch the first AEHF
April 30, 2008, about five years after the last Milstar satellite.
“We’ve been trying to hold the program’s feet to the fire to get it out on that launch date. Right now, we’re TBD [to-be-decided] on our launch date,” Harding said. “It’ll probably move some number of months here in the next month or so,” Harding said Aug.
20. “There’s no big reason for it. No single thing I can pin it on.
Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, has been asked to suggest a new launch date. “We’re letting the contractor come in and tell us what is a good date they can commit to,” Harding said. Lockheed Martin is building the satellites under a “cost-plus” contract. A delay would equate to an as-yet-quantified cost increase, Harding said.
Clementine, SMART-1 Shed Light on Moon’s History
Using imagery captured from NASA and European Space Agency () lunar probes, scientists have found new information about the tectonic and volcanic history of the Moon, the European Planetary Science Congress said in an Aug. 22 press release.
first lunar probe, Small Mission for Advanced Research and Technology-1 (SMART-1), and the Naval Research Laboratory’s
Clementine spacecraft provided the new information about two of the Moon’s basins, which at more than 300 kilometers in diameter are larger than craters.
The Humorum basin was formed by an impact event. Also, it displays plate tectonic activity similar to the San Andreas Fault, with a vertical fault rupture.
Unlike the Humorum basin, the Procellarum basin formed by volcanic activity, not by an impact event.
“Thanks to low-elevation solar illumination on these high resolution images, it is now possible to study fine, small scale geological features that went undetected earlier,” SMART-1 project scientist Bernard Foing said in a prepared statement.
Orbital Arranges New $100 Million Credit Facility
Orbital Sciences Corp. entered into an agreement with Citib
ank Aug. 17 for a new
five-year, $100 million revolving credit facility, the Dulles, Va.-based company announced Aug. 22.
The new credit facility
replaces the company’s previous $50 million agreement led by Bank of America, an arrangement that was scheduled to end in December 2009.
The interest rates on the new credit facility also are about 50 percent below the previous one.
“Basically all of the fees are markedly lower and we’ve doubled the credit facility,” Jeff Windland, Orbital’s vice president and assistant treasurer, said in an Aug. 23 phone interview,
ing that the new arrangement
solid reputation, since it was completed
in a “turbulent credit market.”
NASA Breaks Ground on Test Stand for Ares 1, 5
Officials from NASA and the state of Mississippi held a ground breaking ceremony
Aug. 23 for a new rocket engine test stand at the space agency’s Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The A-3 test stand will be built to perform tests for the J-2X engine, which will power the upper stages of the new Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets.
“The first stand was erected at Stennis to test the Saturn 5 rocket of the Apollo program,” NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said in a prepared statement. “Testing of the space shuttle engines began here in the mid-1970s. And today, we’re breaking ground for a new test stand, for the new spacecraft of a new era of exploration.”
Haley Barbour (R), Rep. Gene Taylor (D), and Sens. Thad Cochran (R) and Trent Lott (R) attended the ceremony.
Cotton To Replace Kealey as CEO
Mary Cotton will succeed John Kealey as the chief executive officer of iDirect Inc. Sept. 19, Vision Technology Systems (VT Systems) of Alexandria, Va.,
which owns iDirect, announced
Cotton currently is a senior vice president at SAP, a business application software company. Herndon, Va.-based iDirect designs and markets satellite-based broadband solutions for business, government and educational customers.
has not yet found a new position, VT Systems spokesman Marin Ried said in an Aug. 24 phone interview. The decision for Kealey to leave was “mutual,” Ried said.
Univ. of Colo. To Build Weather Satellite Sensors
NASA has awarded a $92 million non-competitive contract to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to design and develop instruments
for the U.S. weather spacecraft known as GOES-R (Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites), an Aug. 23 NASA press release said.
The instruments, the Extreme Ultra Violet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors, are intended to be used for
predicting solar anomalies that can hamper communications and navigation.
While NASA finances the acquisition of instruments for GOES-R, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will operate, manage and fund the GOES-R spacecraft. The initial launch
of a GOES-R satellites is
slated for December 2014.
Surrey Gets $2 Million Contract from Miss. State
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., of Guildford, U.K., has been awarded a contract for roughly $2 million from Mississippi State University (MSU) for the study phase of a possible lunar orbiter and to train
MSU and NASA staff for small satellite missions, Surrey announced Aug. 13 at the Small Satellite Conference sponsored by Utah State University
and the Washington-based American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The Surrey staff will spend nine months simultaneously developing a mission design and training 15 MSU faculty members and seven or eight engineers and project managers from NASA’s Stennis Space Center, said Charles Hill, MSU’s principle investigator for the project. The work is scheduled to culminate
with a preliminary design review.
f the design is successful and the lunar orbiter is funded and built, it could be a valuable navigation and communication relay as NASA prepares for missions headed back to the Moon, Hill said.
About $1.5 million of the contract is for the mission design and $500,000 is for the training. Surrey was chosen, Hill said, because they have proven themselves to be a better small satellite developer than most American companies. Surrey has launched 27 small satellite missions over the last 25 years, according to the Surrey press release.
DSSP Unveils Restartable Solid Rocket Propellant
Digital Solid State Propulsion (DSSP)
of Reno, Nev.
, has developed what it says is the first solid-rocket propellant capable of being ignited and extinguished multiple times. The propellant was unveiled
Aug. 13 at the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.
The company has received funding from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Missile Defense Agency totaling nearly $1.2 million, according to DSSP president Wayne Sawka.
The propellant is controlled by electrical power input and has no moving parts. It is also insensitive to flames and does not produce toxic combustion gases, Sawka said. A possible application is providing thrust for small satellites, as this material generates higher thrust for the same electrical voltage applied than propulsion systems currently used on small satellites, Sawka said.
Boeing Conducts In-Orbit Experiment with Cubesat
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, of St. Louis, has successfully completed the first phase of research and experimentation of the CubeSatTestBed 1 (CSTB1) mission, Boeing announced in an Aug. 16 press release.
The picosatellite, weighing less than a kilogram, was one of 14 satellites launched from BaikonurCosmosdrome in Kazakhstan on April 17 aboard an ISC Kosmotras Dnepr.
According to Boeing, CSTB1 completed all of its mission objectives, in which Boeing evaluated a variety of technologies, design elements and attitude determination and control approaches for future small satellites. With the spacecraft still fully functional, Boeing now plans to move
into an optional test phase where additional experiments will be done, including taking more photographs using the satellite’s ultra-low power imager and evaluating non-traditional attitude control algorithms.
In its three-and-a-half month mission, CSTB1 collected more than 500,000 sensor data points and completed more than 1,650 orbits. According to Boeing, future design work will be focused on enabling
higher computational capacity and bandwidth for
supporting a wide range of specialized missions.
5 Rocket Launches Spaceway 3, BSat-3a Satellites
An Ariane 5 rocket successfully placed two telecommunications satellites,
BSat-3a, into geostationary transfer orbit Aug. 14, Evry, France-based said in an Aug. 14 press release. The satellites were launched from Kourou, French Guiana.
The Spaceway 3 satellite, owned by Germantown, Md.-based Hughes Network Systems,
is designed to provide Ka-band broadband communications services
throughout North America, an Aug. 15 Boeing press release said. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., built the satellite based on its 702 platform. It is slated to begin commercial operations in early 2008 at 95 degrees
The BSat-3a, designed and built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., for Broadcasting Satellite Systems Corp. of Tokyo, will
serve Japan from the 110 degrees east longitude orbital slot
, an Aug. 14 Lockheed Martin press release said.
Designed to operate for 13 years, BSat-3a will transmit in Ku-band and C-band frequencies to provide services including direct-to-home television, broadband and fixed satellite services. The satellite also has UHF, L-band and S-band frequencies for mobile services, Lockheed Martin said.
BSat-3a and Spaceway 3 are the ninth and 10th commercial geostationary Earth orbiting communications satellites launched this year; they are also the fourth and fifth launched this year that use Integral Systems
Inc.’s EPOCH command and control software.
Both satellites so far are confirmed to be functional, according to their respective manufacturers.
STSS Passes Two Key Milestones for 2008 Launch
The Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellite
successfully has completed two key milestones – the final ground segment acceptance test and the final operational readiness review, satellite manufacturer Northrop Grumman
said in an Aug. 13 press release.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., built the STSS satellite to demonstrate the ability to track missiles as they coast through space – after their motors have burned out.
The two ground tests were performed at the Missile Defense Space Experimentation Center at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The ground acceptance test assessed the
telemetry, data processing and tracking systems of the STSS satellite’s ground system.
The operational readiness demonstration tested the ground system’s ability to detect, track and register a simulated missile launch.
Funded by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the STSS demonstration satellites are slated to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in spring 2008.
EMS To Design Dual-Mode Phone ‘sNew
EMS Technologies’ Satcom
Ottawa, Canada, signed
a $26 million contract to design the next dual-mode mobile phone for Inmarsat Global Ltd.
of London, EMS announced Aug. 22..
The phone will use
both terrestrial-based GSM and GMR-2+ satellite connections and have GPS functionality. The phone’s antenna
will detect cellular coverage and switch to the global satellite network when there is none.
The phones will be available by the end of 2008, Inmarsat spokesman John Warehand said in a telephone interview Aug. 22.
While EMS is designing the new phones, they will be manufactured elsewhere. The companies declined to disclose the names of the manufacturer or the cellular service provider or providers.
The satellite communications will be handled by two Inmarsat-4 satellites which provide coverage of 85 percent of the globe, excluding the polar regions.
A third and final Inmarsat-4 satellite will be launched by an
Proton rocket in March or April of 2008, enabling full global coverage.
Okla. Firm To Build Orion Vibration Test Facilities
Constructors LCC won
a $51.4 million construction contract to
get the Space Power Facility at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station ready to support vibration and acoustic testing of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, NASA announced in an Aug. 20
Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility, located about an hour west of Cleveland-based Glenn Research Center, houses the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber, measuring 30 meters in diameter by nearly 37 meters high.
Under the contract,
the Oklahoma City-based construction firm is expected to design and build a
mechanical vibration facility, a reverberant acoustic test facility and a high-speed data acquisition system inside one of the Space Power Facility’s two servicing wings.
The new test facilities will help NASA determine Orion’s ability to withstand the mechanical strain of launch, orbit and re-entry.
Robert Moorehead, director of the Spaceflight Systems Directorate at NASA Glenn,
said in an Aug. 22 phone interview that
the Space Power Facility was chosen to carry out Orion’s environmental
because no other current building is capable of meeting the testing specifications.
is slated to complete the project
within 18 months
and then will provide
technical support for an additional six months
Zero-G Offering Flights Hosted by Buzz Aldrin
Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero-G), which sells commercial microgravity experiences and services aboard a specially equipped aircraft,
is offering customers a flight with retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the company said in an Aug. 22 press release.
The so-called “Platinum Experience” flight is slated for Nov. 3 from Las Vegas. Other flights have not yet been scheduled.
The flight will cost $8,900, more than the standard $3,500 cost.
, an astronaut on Apollo 11 and a member of the first crew to
walk on the Moon, will take part in pre-flight coaching sessions with up to 16 passengers and also accompany them on
the flight itself.
2 Set for December Launch from Baikonur
launch of Canada’s
Radarsat-2 imaging satellite has been rescheduled
for December 2007, aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) said in an Aug. 10 press release. The satellite now has completed integration and testing.
MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, developed the satellite as a follow-up to Canada’s Earth observation satellite Radarsat-1 in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency.
MDA originally signed a contract in 2000 to launch Radarsat 2 in 2003 aboard a Boeing 2 launch vehicle. MDA subsequently encountered multiple component delays that in turn delayed the launch. The 2,200-kilogram Radarsat-2 was rescheduled for launch in 2005, then rescheduled again for a mid-2006 launch aboard a Delta 2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
But in January 2006, MDA confirmed that it was switching to a December 2006, launch aboard a Russian Soyuz due to concerns that a Delta 2 might give Radarsat 2 a rougher ride to orbit than originally thought.
Expert Warns Against Overconfidence in GMD
The Pentagon needs to avoid overconfidence in the ability of
national missile defense interceptors deployed in Alaska and California to protect against an ICBM launched by
a retired senior military official warned.
While the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) may be capable of knocking down a single
ICBM, a North Korean attack likely would involve multiple missiles with varying ranges,
according to Edward Anderson, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served as deputy commander of U.S. Space Command and deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command before retiring from the service in 2004. Anderson also served as head of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala.
In order to improve the odds of a successful nuclear ICBM strike, North Korea
launch a series of short- or medium-range rockets in an attempt to
destroy ground-based sensors that
provide tracking data to the GMD system, Anderson said during an Aug. 15 panel discussion
at the Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, which was sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, the Army Space and Missile Defense Association
and the Air Defense Artillery Association.
While the United States has the individual systems and technology to defend against short-range missile threats, it does not have an architecture for doing so, Anderson said.
North Korea has yet to successfully demonstrate a missile capable of reaching the United States. And Anderson did not specify how the Stalinist state might attempt to include its proven shorter-range missiles into any attack against U.S. territory or assets.
However, industry sources have said an attack against the United States by a hypothetical adversary could involve both ICBMs
as well as cruise or short-range missiles launched from ships operating near the U.S. mainland.
The House Appropriations Committee criticized
the pace of
the Pentagon’s effort to address the threat of shorter-range
ballistic and cruise missiles in the
report accompanying its version of the 2008 defense appropriations bill
, which passed the House on Aug. 5. The committee called on the secretary of defense to report back with a plan for developing and deploying such defenses
to designate a lead military organization for the work.
Bigelow’s Next Launch To Be Habitable Module
With two inflatable modules already in orbit and launch costs on the rise, Bigelow Aerospace (BA) announced Aug. 13
that it is done launching subscale demonstrators and now intends to step up its timetable for deploying Sundancer, the company’s proposed habitable spacecraft.
No revised launch date was given for Sundancer. But Bigelow Aerospace said this past spring that the inflatable habitat would be launched into orbit in 2010
. Since then, Bigelow Aerospace has successfully launched and deployed Genesis 2, a 4.4-meter-long inflatable prototype module carrying personal items from paying customers and a so-called Biobox with scorpions, ants
and cockroaches inside. Genesis 2 joined Genesis 1, a similar module that
was launched in July 2006 and remains in operation. Both prototype modules were launched on Russian Dnepr rockets.
The company’s founder, Las Vegas hotelier Robert Bigelow, said in a written statement that the rising cost of Russian launches and the success of Genesis 1 and 2 prompted him to rethink his strategy and forge ahead with
on an accelerated schedule.
Previously Bigelow Aerospace planned to launch a larger unmanned module dubbed Galaxy in 2008. In his statement, however, Bigelow said the Russian price hikes combined with the sagging value of the U.S. dollar meant that launching the module would cost two to three times as much as launching the Genesis prototypes.
“This dramatic rise in launch costs has forced us to rethink our strategy with Galaxy,” Bigelow said
. “Due to the fact that a high percentage of the systems Galaxy was meant to test can be effectively validated on a terrestrial basis, the technical value of launching the spacecraft – particularly after the successful launch of both Genesis 1
– is somewhat marginal. Therefore, we have decided to expedite our schedule yet again, and are now planning to move ahead directly with Bigelow Aerospace’s first human habitable spacecraft, the Sundancer.”
Bigelow said the Galaxy still would
be built but that all testing would take place on the ground. By forgoing the expense of putting the prototype in orbit, he said, Bigelow Aerospace can “move more expeditiously to our next step by focusing exclusively on the challenging and exciting task presented by the Sundancer program.
“With this decision made, the future of entrepreneurial, private sector-driven space habitats and complexes could be arriving much earlier than any of us had previously anticipated,” Bigelow wrote. “While recognizing the inherent difficulty, all of us at BA are eager to begin work on an actual human spaceflight program, which is the reason that I and others began this effort in the first place.”
Bigelow said in April that he has invested some $90 million to date in his venture. The inflatable technology used in Bigelow’s modules is based on designs developed by NASA.
Inc. To Provide Emergency Satcom Gear
of Duluth, Ga., won
a $16.7 million contract to provide a mobile satellite communications system that the U.S. Army National Guard will use to respond to disasters, according to an Aug. 7 company
The contract was awarded by the
Army’s Communications-Electronics Command
with Applied Global Technologies
of Rockledge, Fla., DataPath will deliver 32 complete communications suites that will include satellite communications terminals, voice-over-IP telephones, video teleconferencing systems and interoperable handheld radios. The communications system will be transported to disaster areas by military C-130 aircraft for rapid deployment.
Other versions of the satellite communications terminals are being used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S., British Firms Sign Plasma Technology Deal
Houston-based Ad Astra Rocket Co. and British venture space company Excalibur Exploration Ltd. signed an
agreement for the commercial use of a high-powered plasma rocket.
he Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (Va
concept has been championed by former NASA astronaut
Franklin Chang Diaz, who is also Ad Astra’s chairman and chief executive.
provides for an Excalibur-funded six-month study to support the development of a conceptual asteroid mission using the Va
high specific impulse plasma rocket, currently under development by Ad Astra for
The deal grants Excalibur
the right of first refusal to acquire V
engines for space resource recovery missions.
Ad Astra Rocket Co.
was founded in 2005 to commercialize the Va
engine, a promising propulsion technology
initially studied by NASA.
XCOR Makes 500 Fastest Growing Private Firms List
XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies.
XCOR, which is designing a suborbital space plane for the U.S. Air Force and is building and testing a methane rocket engine for NASA, ranked No. 446 overall on the magazine’s list with a 646 percent increase in revenue from 2003 through 2006.
“We competed for contracts that help us develop and improve various types of technology we need to achieve our main objective. That goal is to build rocket powered vehicles that can carry people and payloads into space. That’s where the real money is,” XCOR President Jeff Greason said in an Aug. 23 company press release.