space digest

April 13-19, 2015

31st Space Symposium, Vulcan - the new US rocket, CRS-6 mission launch, Planet Labs' investment round, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

SpaceX' ASDS platform after hard Falcon 9 first stage landing. Only 'Uctions' left from the "Just Read the Instructions' sign
Preview 55349e0d5370617fa9030000

Video of the Week

'SpaceX Launch You Up' (Uptown Funk Parody)

News from the 31st National Space Symposium

Thumb 5534a0555370617fa1040000
Artist concept of Vulcan liftoff

United Launch Alliance (ULA) unveiled its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado-Springs. According to company's CEO Tory Bruno, the new rocket, Vulcan, will transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible. Reusability solution SMART, ACES advanced upper stage, BE-4 main engines, and $100 million launch price all in the article on SpaceDigest!

Thumb 5534a5c05370617fa1100000
Rocket Lab's Rutherford rocket engine

Rocket Lab, launch services startup co-located in the US and New Zealand, unveiled 2-ton thrust Rutherford rocket engine (Aviation Week article), made primarily by 3D-printing. The engine, to be used on Electron SmallSat launcher, uses high-performance brushless DC electric motors to drive its liquid oxygen and kerosene turbomachinery, drawing power from lithium polymer batteries. The approach, according CEO Peter Beck, eliminates the complex valves and other plumbing required to use hot gas to turn turbomachinery, boosting efficiency from 50% for a typical gas generator cycle to 95%. Our insight to Rocket Lab achievements in the article 'Rocket Lab is on track to Major League'.

Thumb 5534ad435370617fa9190000
Stratolaunch's 'Birdzilla' under construction.

Stratolaunch Systems, the air-launch venture backed by billionaire Paul Allen, is considering using a giant aircraft, currently being under development, to launch several different types of launch vehicles, and as a result is pausing work on a crewed spacecraft. In a presentation at the 31st Space Symposium Chuck Beames, president of Seattle-based Vulcan Aerospace, the parent company of Stratolaunch Systems, said the company has decided to examine alternative vehicles that could be launched from its aircraft. Currently Orbital ATK is developing for Stratolaunch the rocket, which uses solid-fuel lower stages and an upper stage powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL-10 engines - SpaceNews article.

Some other news and events happened this week, including ones from the 31st Space Symposium, are below.


Thumb 5534b1e05370617fa91d0000
Liftoff of Falcon 9 with CRS-6 Dragon spaceship

  • On April 14, 2015, SpaceX successfully launched Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon cargo spaceship for the 6th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. In two and a half days Dragon arrived to the ISS, being captured by the robotic manipulator Canadarm2. SpaceX again attempted to softly land Falcon 9 first stage on the custom-built autonomous spaceport drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, however, this time the attempt was not successful again. According to Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, 'excess lateral velocity caused it [rocket] to tip over post landing' - article on SpaceDigest.
  • Following meeting with Vladimir Putin, Igor Komarov, chief of Russian Federal Space Agency, told media that Roscosmos continued work on a new super-heavy rocket. Moreover, it has already chosen its design and manufacturer. Some other news with regards to Angara, Proton-M, and Russian space industry - in SpaceDigest's insight.
  • Reaction Engines announced that analysis undertaken by the US' Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) had confirmed feasibility of Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine ('SABRE') to be used on Skylon space system. The analysis, undertaken as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement ('CRADA'), examined thermo-dynamic cycle of the SABRE concept and found no significant barrier to its theoretical viability provided the engine component and integration challenges are met.
  • SpaceX says it sent the US Air Force an updated letter of intent outlining a certification process for its Falcon Heavy rocket to launch national security satellites. The company hopes to have its Falcon Heavy rocket certified by 2017, Gwynne Shotwell, the company's president and COO, told SpaceNews. Gwynne Shotwell also told Defense News that SpaceX hopes its next attempted landing will take place on land, not at sea. However, no details of when or where that attempt would occur were provided.
  • NASA's Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket carrying the RockSat-X payload was successfully launched on April 18 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket carried experiments developed by undergraduate students from the Universities of Colorado, Northwest Nazarene (Puerto Rico), Nebraska and Virginia.
  • Orbital ATK and engine maker GenCorp offered competing explanations for what caused the October 28, 2014, explosion of Orbital's Antares rocket, bound for the ISS. Ronald Grabe, Orbital's executive, told that an investigation led by his company had concluded the explosion was caused by excessive wear in the bearings of the GenCorp engine. GenCorp said its own probe showed that the wear in the bearings was likely caused by debris in the engine - Reuters.

October 28th Antares rocket failure.
Preview 5534bb3c5370617fa91f0000


  • Airbus Defence and Space said it stands ready to build large telecommunications satellites in India as part of a reinforced presence there being encouraged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi visited last week Airbus' production facility in Toulouse and the Toulouse Space Center, which is the largest installation of CNES. After the visit, Airbus said the company was confident that “links with Indian industry in this space sector will grow in the coming years through the cooperation on design and manufacturing of larger telecommunications satellites in India," - SpaceNews.
  • SES Government Solutions announced that it had been awarded a 5-year contract by University of Colorado to host a NASA funded payload aboard SES-14. The primary purpose of Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission is to revolutionize the understanding of space environment by filling the critical gap in knowledge of Sun-Earth connections. The hosted payload will transmit data of the Sun's impact on the Earth's thermosphere and ionosphere from GEO-orbit.
  • Terminal Velocity Aerospace was selected by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program for demonstration of a small payload return capsule and associated technologies via a high-altitude drop test. This activity is directly aligned with TVA's efforts to develop a small reentry device, RED-4U, capable of returning the payload mass and volume equivalent of four or more CubeSats. Later TVA was awarded a Small Business Innovative Research contract from NASA entitled "Low-Cost Small Reentry Devices to Enhance Space Commerce and ISS Utilization". Through this award, TVA will complete the hardware validation and testing required for orbital reentry missions.
  • COM DEV International announced that it has signed a contract to provide payload equipment for a commercial satellite that will offer a range of communications services to a portion of the Asian market. COM DEV will supply switches, multiplexers and other passive microwave equipment valued in excess of $5 million - Newswire.
  • Thales Alenia Space announced successful completion of Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for Koreasat-7 and Koreasat-5A satellites. Both satellites will be operated by KTSAT, a subsidiary of KT Corporation, to provide internet access, multimedia, broadcasting and fixed communications services across South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Japan, Indochina and the Middle East.
  • Lockheed Martin Space Systems could eventually replace satellite propellant tanks now built by longtime partner Orbital ATK with 3-D-printed tanks Lockheed would build in-house, a Lockheed executive said - SpaceNews.

Sciaky's 3D-printing machine, which spins hemispherical halves of tanks from spools of titanium wire. Credit: Sciacky
Preview 5534c43c5370617fa9220000


  • Planet Labs announced closing of Series C financing at $118 million with International Finance Corporation (IFC), a division of the World Bank Group, being the lead investor in the 2nd closing. This, according to press-release, gives company the capital to scale satellite constellation, support business development, and to develop data products.
  • Kymeta Corporation, a Seattle-based satellite technologies developer, announced that its board of directors has appointed Dr. Nathan Kundtz as CEO and Marc Stolzman as chief financial officer (CFO). Kundtz previously held the position of president and CTO at Kymeta. Stolzman previously held the position of CFO at Zulily - Business Wire.
  • Members of an industry group that advises the US government on commercial space matters are in broad agreement that export restrictions on commercial human spacecraft should be eased, but sharply disagreed at a recent meeting on how to seek those changes - an insight by SpaceNews.
  • As the flow of private investment into NewSpace companies grows, some investors say they are willing to accept long waits for a return on their investment in companies that have the potential to change entire industries - another insight by SpaceNews.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) announced signing of a new Dream Chaser® program cooperation during at the 31st Space Symposium hosted in Colorado Springs. The cooperation builds upon the successful one-year Dream Chaser technical agreement signed in 2013. The new agreement, which extends through 2017, will continue the valuable developmental work on identifying new and advanced technologies in order to further advance the crewed and uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft as a flexible LEO space transportation system.

Mark Sirangelo of SNC (left) and Jan Woerner of DLR (right) during signing ceremony. Credit: DLR
Preview 5534cae25370617fa1130000


  • Russia to allocate 2 trillion rubles ($39.5 billion) for 2016-2025 Federal Space Program, press service of Russia's space agency (Roscosmos) said. In autumn 2014 a source in space industry told TASS that Roscosmos requested 2.1 trillion rubles from the federal budget and another 250 billion rubles was expected to be spent from the industry. In March 2015 the Chairman of Roscosmos Scientific and Technical council Yuri Koptev said the Federal Space Program would be cut by 10% due to the economic crisis.
  • NASA has selected 149 research and technology proposals from American small businesses and research institutions that will enable NASA's future missions into the solar system and beyond. The selected aerospace technology and innovation projects have a total value of approximately $118.1 million.
  • Russia launched two satellites last year, and one “a few weeks ago", that are viewed as suspicious and potentially threatening, senior US Air Force officer said. These launches, coupled with China's launch in July of what US military officials said was an anti-satellite missile, are hard indicators that the threat to US satellites is only increasing.
  • The US Air Force plans to award multiple contracts worth up to $6 million this year for companies to demonstrate their ability to build next batch of GPS-III positioning, navigation and timing satellites. Anticipated value of the contracts is a small fraction of $100 to $200 million figure the service touted for the effort a year ago - SpaceNews.
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden faced strong criticism of his proposed 2016 budget during a pair of congressional hearings in Washington, including questions about the future of the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) program. At a hearing of the House Science space subcommittee Bolden was forced to defend decisions in the agency's budget request to increase funding for commercial crew, Earth science and space technology, while decreasing funding for the Space Launch System and Orion programs compared to 2015 - insight by SpaceNews.
  • Brazilian government, which is determined to do in space what it did in civil aviation - move from a buyer of technology to a producer of commercial high-technology products - is multiplying bilateral agreements around the world with one major exception: the US. In interview during LAAD exhibition, some officials said the government here remains in full anti-ITAR mode, doing whatever it takes not to use technology to which the US government might one day deny access - SpaceNews.

New Tech & Tests

  • Carnegie Mellon University students developed a sensor package to analyze large pits in the surface of the Moon or Mars. The package was launched recently on Masten Space Systems' XA-0.1B Xombie suborbital technology demonstration rocket during a NASA-sponsored launch and landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
  • The gigantic welding tool that will piece together stages of NASA's Space Launch System has been taken apart and will be put back together around August to correct a misalignment that made it impossible to use the machine, a NASA official said.
  • The successful March 11 test of a solid rocket motor for NASA's Space Launch System lasted only two minutes, but its success was the culmination of months of intense investigation to solve a puzzling problem. Finding unexpected and unwelcome air bubbles in the solid rocket propellant and between the propellant and insulation kicked off a months-long journey for the booster team, NASA describes (illustration below).

Space Exploration

  • Russia plans to build an orbital station by 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised Q&A session last week, thus more embarrassing industry of what actually Russia plans to do with the ISS and after its lifetime.
  • India's 2nd lunar exploration mission Chandrayaan-2 targeted to be launched by 2017-2018, informed Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar.
  • Boeing plans to announce this summer the crew that will be on a test flight of the company's CST-100 crew vehicle in 2017, as well as reveal the pressure suits the crew will wear, SpaceNews reports. Meanwhile, NASA released an article on how they supported tests of CST-100 capsule model in a wind tunnel and dropping it in water. Such efforts to ensure astronaut safety are shown in a short video of a wind tunnel test:


  • The name of Kodiak Launch Complex no longer exists. Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC), a premier aerospace company that owns and operates the non-Federal facility, announces that it is renaming it into “Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska” (PSCA) to reflect the growing capability of AAC to meet customers' requirements and its broader aerospace commitment to the Pacific region - Parabolic Arc.
  • NASA is exercising second option to extend period of performance of a contract with Jacobs Technology Inc. to provide test evaluation and support services at the agency's White Sands Test Facility. The Test Evaluation and Support Team (TEST) contract includes a three-year base period with a potential maximum value of $300 million, and two one-year options, each with a potential maximum value of $100 million.
  • Orbtial ATK's L-1011 Stargazer aircraft-carrier is undergoing a new look to support upcoming Pegasus rocket launches in 2016 and 2017:

L-1011 'Stargazer' airplane. Credit: Orbital ATK
Preview 5534e2285370617fa9300000
Next digest April 20-26, 2015 Previous digest April 6-12, 2015