XCOR’s ‘Trunnel’ is Built Ford Tough + Stratolaunch Boss Flies to ULA

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XCOR's "Trunnel" is a Ford F-250 pickup with its cab removed and a streamlined back end, allowing it to carry the model at speeds of up to 160 km/h on the Mojave Air and Space Port's runways. Credit: XCOR

It’s a Truck! It’s a Wind Tunnel! It’s Both!

Entrepreneurial companies often rely on ingenuity to make progress with limited resources. That’s the case with XCOR Aerospace, which needed a way to do wind tunnel tests of a scale model of its Lynx suborbital spaceplane. Enter the “Trunnel”: a Ford F-250 pickup with its cab removed and a streamlined back end, allowing it to carry the model at speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h) on the Mojave Air and Space Port’s runways. The company is testing the Trunnel now to make sure the air flow is correct before mounting the model on top for tests. [XCOR Aerospace]


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United Launch Alliance announced a revamped executive team Tuesday. The 11-person team includes both existing ULA executives, some in new positions, as well as some new hires. Among the new members of the executive team is Gary Wentz, the former head of Stratolaunch, who is now leads ULA’s human launch services. The new executive team is part of a corporate restructuring that included the early retirement of a dozen veteran managers earlier this year. [Denver Business Journal]

Orbital ATK reported increased revenue and income in its fiscal third quarter. The company reported a net income of $80 million on revenue of $1.135 billion for the three months ended Oct. 4, slight increases over the same quarter a year ago, before Orbital Sciences and ATK merged. Orbital officials said they are planning to carry out four cargo flights to the ISS over the next year, two launched on Atlas vehicles and two on Orbital’s own Antares, and expects to hear the outcome of NASA’s new commercial cargo competition as soon as next week. [Orbital ATK]

SpaceX is playing down its plans for satellite constellation as it focuses on launch. Company president Gwynne Shotwell said at a conference Tuesday that plans for a 4,000-satellite constellation to provide broadband Internet services were still “very speculative” with little work going into the concept at the moment. Shotwell said SpaceX is working to return the Falcon 9 to flight, with a launch of 11 Orbcomm satellites on an upgraded version of the rocket scheduled for early December. [SpaceNews]


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The House passed a bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank. The House voted 313–118 in favor of a bill that reauthorizes the bank through fiscal year 2019. The bank’s authorization lapsed at the beginning of July, preventing it from doing any new deals. Ex-Im has been a key tool in recent years to finance commercial satellite and launch deals, and companies have said without the bank they have lost business. The bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain, but reauthorization could be included in the final version of a highway bill. [SpaceNews]

Two NASA astronauts will perform a spacewalk outside the International Space Station today. Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren are scheduled to start a 6.5-hour spacewalk shortly after 8 a.m. Eastern time. The two will perform maintenance on the station’s exterior, including installing power cables and lubricating part of the station’s robotic arm. The spacewalk will be the first for both Kelly and Lindgren. [CBS]

NASA’s Astrophysics Division is considering competing future missions with a billion-dollar price tag. Division director Paul Hertz said at a recent meeting that he supports a concept for “Probe-class” missions that would cost $1 billion each and be selected in competitions, analogous to the New Frontiers class of missions in the agency’s Planetary Science Division. NASA will likely seek support from the astronomical community for the concept, asking them to prioritize such missions in their next decadal survey, due out in 2020. [SpaceNews]

A long-delayed Russian space policy should be completed in the near future. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the policy, covering Russian space activities from 2016 through 2025, will be done soon, possibly in November. The policy was scheduled to be ready last year, but postponed because of leadership changes in the Russian space program and financial problems caused by the decline of the ruble. A draft earlier this year showed a 10 percent cut in planned spending, but it’s not certain what funding the final policy will propose. [Moscow Times]

Several companies are interested in taking over operations of a fleet of military communications satellites. At least four companies identified interest in a request for information issued by the Air Force last month regarding outsourcing operations of the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) program. Those companies include Intelsat General, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, Northrop Grumman and SGT. The Air Force could commercialize WGS operations as soon as next year. [SpaceNews]

Another Google Lunar X Prize team is hitching a ride to the moon on an Astrobotic Technology lander. Team AngelicvM of Chile said Tuesday that its Uni rover will fly to the moon on a lander Astrobotic is developing. It will join Astrobotic’s own rover as well as two from Team Hakuto, a Japanese team in the competition. Astrobotic is planning to launch its lander in late 2017, near the competition’s deadline. [SpaceNews]

A very different lunar rover met an unfortunate end in Alabama. A prototype lunar rover developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the mid-1960s was sold to a junkyard in Alabama for scrap last year and has since been destroyed. It was unclear how the rover, of a different design from the ones flown on the later Apollo missions, ended up in private hands: one attorney quoted in a NASA Office of Inspector General report said that “early Apollo prototypes were rarely tagged and often went missing.” [Motherboard]