The company said Wednesday it signed a contract with United Launch Alliance for two Atlas 5 launches, in 2020 and 2021, of Dream Chaser spacecraft flying cargo missions to the ISS.
The Dream Chaser will launch on an Atlas 5 552, a version of the most powerful Atlas 5 variant with a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.
The selection of the Atlas 5 was expected, as Sierra Nevada previously planned to launch a version of Dream Chaser developed for NASA’s commercial crew program on an Atlas 5 as well. [ULA]
SpaceX is dropping plans for powered landings of its Dragon spacecraft and revising its Mars mission architecture, Elon Musk said Wednesday. Musk, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, said safety certification issues, as well as a change in preferred landing approaches, led him to abandon plans to have the crewed version of Dragon land using rocket engines and landing legs. Musk said that he will likely provide details on a revised version of the Mars mission plan he unveiled at last year’s International Astronautical Congress at this year’s conference in Australia. That plan will involve somewhat smaller vehicles that offer a better business case. Musk also lowered expectations for the first Falcon Heavy launch, planned for late this year, saying there is a “lot of risk” associated with the long-delayed vehicle. [SpaceNews]
NASA is seeking information from industry on the design of a core element of its proposed Deep Space Gateway. A request for information released this week seeks technical and contractual details about the Power and Propulsion Element, which will produce electrical power for the gateway and carry both chemical thrusters and a solar electric propulsion system. NASA anticipates launching the module as a co-manifested payload on the first crewed SLS/Orion mission, likely in 2022. NASA is studying the gateway, operated in orbit around the moon, as a testbed for technologies needed for later human missions to Mars. [SpaceNews]
A major supplier of spacecraft batteries is riding out a decline in orders for geostationary orbit communications satellites. Saft, which has facilities in the U.S. and Europe, says it is still working through a backlog of satellites orders so it has not yet felt the effects of a downturn in satellite orders in the last couple of years. The company is looking at other markets for its batteries, from reusable launch vehicles to constellations of low Earth orbit satellites. [SpaceNews]
Flying nearly 30 small satellites last month earned India’s space agency about $7 million. In a response to a question from India’s parliament, the Indian Space Research Organisation said that the 29 foreign smallsats that flew as secondary payloads on a June PSLV launch generated 6.1 million euros ($7 million) in revenue. ISRO didn’t disclose how much money it made on a February launch that carried more than 100 satellites. [PTI]
A lack of spaceport infrastructure is delaying Russian lunar missions. Sergei Lemeshevsky, CEO of Lavochkin Research and Production Association, said a lunar orbiter mission scheduled for launch in 2020 has been delayed to 2021, pushing back a a lander mission from 2021 to 2022. Lemeshevsky said facilities at Baikonur can accommodate only one planetary mission at a time, with the ExoMars 2020 mission taking precedence over the moon missions. Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome also lacks facilities for supporting those missions, he said. [TASS]
Russia hopes to launch its first “super-heavy” rocket in 2028. RSC Energia CEO Vladimir Solntsev said the first launch of the proposed Energia-5 rocket is planned for 2028 from Vostochny. Two versions of the rocket will each be able to place about 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit or 20.5 tons into lunar orbit, supporting human lunar missions there. The Russian state space corporation Roscosmos estimates it will cost $25 billion to develop the rocket and its launch facilities. [TASS]
Robert Bigelow used cartoons to explain why it is important for the United States to return to the moon. Bigelow, speaking Wednesday at the ISS Research and Development Conference, said that if the U.S. does not act to return to the moon, China will do so, harnessing the moon’s natural resources such as helium-3 for potential future fusion reactors. “There’s no time to lose,” Bigelow warned in his speech. [Quartz]