National Space Society Cheers On SpaceX’s Return to Flight and Successful First Stage Return to Launch Site

With a successful launch on December 21 at 8:29 PM EST, 2015 SpaceX achieved several dramatic milestones while returning to flight following the loss of a Falcon 9 last June. Eleven ORBCOMM OG2 satellites were delivered to orbit to complete ORBCOM’s global data network. A new version of the Falcon 9 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The updated Falcon, which is internally referred to as “Falcon 9 V1.1 Full Thrust” features super-cooled liquid oxygen propellant, an additional 1.2 meters of height, and the use of full-thrust Merlin engines. These changes have been made to enhance the ability of the Falcon 9 first stage to return to its launch site following the launch of a geosynchronous satellite. Finally, and most importantly, for the first time ever the complete first stage of an orbital rocket was successfully flown back to the launch site and landed intact.

“This is a game-changing event,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “Never before has the entire first stage of an orbital rocket been returned to its launch site for potential re-use. SpaceX has challenges ahead to demonstrate that re-used first stages can significantly lower launch costs, but this could be the beginning of the true age of practical space commerce. NSS thanks the Air Force, Sierra Nevada, ORBCOMM, and the FAA for their essential support of this outstanding SpaceX mission. It was a true team effort.”

Falcon return
Falcon 9 first stage after landing. Credit: SpaceX

Recently Blue Origin flew a sub-orbital booster to the Karman line (the edge of space) and returned the rocket to its launch site for potential re-use. SpaceX has bettered this valuable achievement by returning a first stage from much higher altitudes and faster speeds. “Competition is the key to rapid progress in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “NSS has strongly supported competition in both the NASA Commercial Re-supply Services program and the Commercial Crew program. Today’s success is a direct result of the competitive, commercial nature of these efforts.”

“NSS congratulates SpaceX on this incredible achievement,” said Mark Hopkins, NSS Executive Committee Chairman. “It took enormous courage and confidence to continue forward with rapid technical innovation following a loss of mission incident. The effect of this event, both long and short term, promises to be world-altering. We can now see the NSS vision for our future in space (nss.org/settlement/roadmap) coming ever closer to becoming reality.”

Made In Space Teams with Enterprise In Space to 3D Print First Space-Bound Airframe

Enterprise In Space (EIS), an international project of the non-profit National Space Society, is excited to announce a partnership with Made In Space, Inc. to extensively use 3D printed components in a spacecraft to be launched into Earth orbit. This educational spacecraft will be the first real spacecraft bearing the “Enterprise” name. Once in orbit, the NSS Enterprise will not only be the first 3D printed airframe in space, but it will also carry more than 100 passive and active student experiments into space and back to Earth.

After selecting the design concept for the spacecraft through the Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest, EIS is now preparing to bring the winning design, created by video game artist Stanley Von Medvey, to reality. Made In Space and the EIS engineering team, along with the EIS aerospace partners SpaceWorks Enterprise Inc., Deep Space Industries, Terminal Velocity Aerospace and The Global Aerospace Corporation will work toward constructing the eight-foot-long, 1,000-pound satellite. Made In Space co-founder and chief engineer Michael Snyder has also joined the EIS Board of Advisors, where he will lend his expertise to the engineering of the NSS Enterprise and overseeing the educational Enterprise Center for Excellence on Aerospace Additive Manufacturing based on the project.

Made In Space
Alice Hoffman, Mike Snyder and Lynne Zielinski with EIS 3D Printed Model

Once complete, the NSS Enterprise will be the first 3D printed airframe bound for space, where it will likely achieve other firsts. The spacecraft will house space-focused projects from students at all educational levels hailing from all over the world. NSS Enterprise will communicate with the students about the status of their experiments using natural language via ‘Ali,’ a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform designed by Value Spring Technology, Inc. “Ali will be the voice and mind of the NSS Enterprise, communicating with her virtual crew just as the computer aboard the Star Trek ships did, in natural language, through the student teams’ own internet terminals,” said EIS Program Manager Alice Hoffman. “Through the EIS project, we hope to demonstrate that Ali can become a personal tutor and mentor to every student, allowing them to see the vision of a brighter future and providing them with the education to fully participate,” she said.

The Enterprise In Space vehicle itself is an incredible technical challenge that will push the barriers of additive manufacturing and spacecraft design. The fully integrated vehicle will be unique and truly groundbreaking for the type of mission that is being undertaken. “Made In Space is excited to be a part of this great effort to engage with students from across the world through real experiments that will be flown in space on the NSS Enterprise spacecraft,” said Made In Space Co-Founder and Chief Engineer Michael Snyder.

“The EIS team is thrilled to be partnering with Made In Space,” said Shawn Case, Enterprise In Space founder and chairman of the Board of Advisors. “It’s a great fit, as we all work together to support and foster education. We share the same goal of enabling humanity’s future in space. As Carl Sagan once said, ‘Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works,'” he said.

While EIS has secured $27.5 million in “in-kind” donations for the project, the organization will rely partially on public donations for the construction and launch of the orbiter. In addition to supporting student education, individuals who contribute will become virtual crew members by having their names sent into space and returned to Earth for display at a major museum. Larger donations from corporations, individuals, and foundations will be rewarded with branding rights for the spacecraft and the tutoring AI that will also be the voice and mind of the NSS Enterprise.

The next phase of the design process is for the engineering development and specifications to be made from Von Medvey’s design. Then construction on the vehicle can officially begin. EIS will also host international challenges to begin selecting K-12 and university experiments to be installed aboard the spacecraft. People may follow the progress of this historic EIS project – from winning entry, through engineering design, to construction and flight – at www.enterpriseinspace.org.

National Space Society 35th annual International Space Development Conference ISDC2016

The Puerto Rico National Space Society Chapter (NSS-PR) invites you to the National Space Society 35th annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC): “Space Beyond Borders” to be held at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino from Wednesday, May 18th to Sunday, May 22nd, 2016.

ISDC 2016: “Space Beyond Borders” presents current space programs, cutting-edge aerospace technology and innovative projects and features astronauts and other space pioneers. It brings together aerospace industry leaders, engineers, startups, space exploration pioneers, academic thought leaders, and space supporters young and old – all united by a common goal to explore and develop space for the benefit of humankind. ISDC will host tracks on different topics pertaining to Planetary Defense, Energy, Space Access, Space Resources, Deep Space Exploration, Commercial Space, Space Settlement besides others. Special speakers include Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Director at Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa, and serial astropreneur Rick Tumlinson among many others.

You will have the opportunity to tour the world’s largest radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory and embark in the exploration of the Camuy Caves carved out by the third largest underground river in the world.

ISDC 2016 will host receptions every day. On Friday, May 20 join Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons Mission to Pluto at the Governor’s Dinner and on Saturday, May 21 join Dr. Ling Ming, Vice President of the China Academy of Space Technology at the Gala Dinner.

We invite you to visit our website for more information and registration: isdc2016.nss.org

National Space Society Congratulates Orbital ATK and ULA on Cygnus Launch to ISS Using Atlas V

On December 6, 2015, at 4:44 pm EST, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launched an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract. This is the fourth operational flight of the Cygnus to the ISS, and the first using an Atlas booster. This is also the first flight of the enhanced Cygnus freighter, now featuring a greater payload capacity, new solar arrays, and new fuel tanks. This Cygnus capsule has been named the SS Deke Slayton II after Mercury 7 astronaut Deke Slayton,the first Chief of NASA’s astronaut office, who flew on Apollo-Soyuz.

Cygnus2“NSS applauds ULA and Orbital’s success in launching the Cygnus freighter on a different booster than originally targeted to maintain service to the ISS,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “This has never been done before, and represents a significant step toward reliable support of the ISS.” Cygnus is planned to berth with the ISS in three days carrying 7,000 lbs of equipment and supplies. The enhanced Cygnus can carry up to 2,630 lbs more than the older version. Experiments being carried to the ISS on Cygnus include the Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE), the Space Automatic Bioproduct Lab (SABL), and BASS-M (Burning and Suppression of Solids-Milliken). In addition to delivering the Cygnus to the ISS, 18 small satellites, including 12 Planet Labs Flock-2e Earth observation satellites, will be deployed on this mission.

“Orbital ATK and ULA have done a great job working together to allow the enhanced Cygnus to be launched on the Atlas V booster. This flexibility is vital to reliable operations in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer. “We wish Orbital ATK the best as they move forward toward a return-to-flight using an upgraded Antares rocket next year.”

Space: The Invisible Frontier

Commentary by Dale Skran
NSS Board of Directors

Over the last few years amazing progress has been made in space technology, but with a curious silence in the mainstream press. On November 23rd, Blue Origin flew their reusable New Shepard vehicle to the Karman line (100km), the official definition of the “edge of space” and back to the launch site for a soft landing on four legs. Previously, the DCX and SpaceX Grasshopper had flown vertically to various altitudes far lower than the Karman line, and landed for reuse. The venerable yet reusable X-15 rocket plane, launched by a B-52, crossed the Karman line on a couple of occasions, but did not land vertically. Viewed from this perspective, Blue Origin’s feat does not seem that remarkable.

And in some sense, like all engineering milestones, it is not that remarkable. It is one link in a long chain of tests. It needs to be followed by close investigation of wear and tear, multiple re-flights, and finally certification for use by sub-orbital tourists. This process will take several years. In parallel, Blue Origin is developing a much larger rocket, for which the New Shepard will be the 2nd stage. A methane/lox engine called the BE-4 is being constructed by Blue Origin both for usage in the first stage of their own “Big Rocket” and the United Launch Alliance Vulcan. The completion of this engine will take more years, and the testing of a reusable first stage based on the BE-4 still more years.

So what is different about Blue Origin’s achievement this time? First, although Blue has received a small amount of NASA funding as part of the COTS program, the great bulk of money was provided by Jeff Bezos himself. There is certainly no NASA line item, that, if cut, would cause Blue Origin to change direction or cancel New Shepard. Second, unlike NASA, Blue plans to start selling research slots on New Shepard right away – probably as early as next year. These commercial research flights will allow for extensive testing and certification of the BE-3 (the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine used in New Shepard) and the technology surrounding reusability. Finally, when space tourists start flying on New Shepard, and it increasingly seems like this could happen as soon as 2017, it will be a world-changing event. No humans flew on the DCX or grasshopper. Only government test pilots could fly the X-15. Regular tourist flights, even flights with 4 or 5 minutes of zero gravity, will introduce a new generation to space, and whet appetites for future orbital flights. Perhaps more significantly, the BE-3 will become the first truly re-usable (as opposed to refurbishable, as were the Shuttle engines) liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, no small feat in itself.

Hence, although only a link in chain, the November 23rd landing of the New Shepard booster after reaching the Karman line must be viewed as historic event. I could not help but notice that the Wall Street Journal, which normally covers business news very well, did not devote any space in the first section to the safe return of New Shepard. I thought there might be a front-page story in the “Business & Tech” section, but instead there was a small pointer in upper left hand corner to the story, which appeared on the “back front page” of the business section. Now this is not the worst possible coverage, but it seems quite disappointing for such an important event.

My local paper, the Asbury Park Press, simply had no coverage whatsoever. The APP has given up on covering national news, and instead relies on an insert from USA Today for this purpose, which also had no coverage whatsoever. Readers of the Wall Street Journal are a distinct minority on the national level. This admittedly narrow example suggests that one reason Americans think that space program has been “canceled” is that reporters and editors have decided that nothing happening in space is of great interest unless someone dies. At the rate space coverage is declining, by the time Elon Musk retires on Mars, it won’t be covered at all, since, after all, who really cares where some rich guy is going to live then he retires!