National Space Society Congratulates Blue Origin on First Return to Launch Site of New Shepard

On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully flew to the edge of space, reaching the Karman line (100 km/329,839 ft) before a picture-perfect landing in West Texas. During the flight, the vehicle reached Mach 3.72, nearly 4x the speed of sound. This marks the first time that a re-usable vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle has reached space and returned to its launch site.

“Although the New Shepard is a sub-orbital vehicle rather than an orbital rocket, this is a significant milestone for space tourism.” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “The successful landing clears the way for a program of sub-orbital research flights over the next year or so, expected to lead to sub-orbital tourist flights.” With this success, Blue Origin becomes the company to beat in sub-orbital tourism, with rival XCOR yet to make a first flight, and Virgin Galactic recovering from the loss of SpaceShipTwo. Powered by the 110,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, the New Shepard consists of a two parts – a re-usable booster that returns to the launch site and a cargo/passenger capsule that lands separately via parachute. A future crew of up to six would experience 3x the force of gravity on takeoff and 5x the force of gravity during part of the descent.

NSS believes that space tourism, including sub-orbital tourism, can be a driving force toward lowering launch costs and increasing access to space. “Blue Origin’s successful landing of the New Shepard booster after reaching the edge of space represents a major step toward a fully re-usable sub-orbital vehicle,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “We congratulate Jeff Bezos and the entire Blue Origin team for their hard work, dedication, and vaulting ambition.”

Blue Origin has a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop the BE-4, a new methane/liquid oxygen engine for the planned ULA Vulcan launch vehicle. On September 15, 2015 Bezos announced plans to spend over $200 million annually in Florida to build a Blue Origin “big rocket” to be launched from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to orbit using the BE-4 in the first stage and the BE-3 in the second stage.

“The recent passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act by the House paves the way for the future success of companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR in the sub-orbital space tourism business,” said Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee. “NSS has been working diligently to create a favorable regulatory environment for space tourism, and we are delighted to see Blue Origin advancing toward lower cost space launches.”

Blue Origin Makes Historic Rocket Landing

Van Horn, Texas – November 24, 2015 – Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

Bezos stated: “This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design. Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.”

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to suborbital altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space. The New Shepard space vehicle is a fully reusable and operated from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site. The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which astronauts would ride, and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. During ascent, astronauts would experience 3x the force of gravity as the spacecraft accelerates through the atmosphere.

Following powered flight, the crew capsule would separate from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about 5x the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.

Flight Details

  • Launched at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, November 23, 2015
  • Apogee of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) for the unmanned crew capsule
  • Mach 3.72
  • Re-ignition of rocket booster at 4,896 feet above ground level
  • Controlled vertical landing of the booster at 4.4 mph
  • Deployment of crew capsule drogue parachutes at 20,045 feet above ground level
  • Landing of the crew capsule under parachutes at 11:32 a.m. Central Time

A video is below (with a somewhat confusing inclusion of some animated segments):

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

SpaceX
Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. SpaceX anticipates using the launch pad for its Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: SpaceX

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Buzz Aldrin: SpaceX Failure Shows We Need More Commercial Space Travel—Not Less

Buzz AldrinBuzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon and member of the National Space Society Board of Governors, has a fine op-ed piece for Time magazine which we recommend:

http://time.com/3945033/buzz-aldrin-spacex-commercial-space-travel/

National Space Society Urges NASA and SpaceX to Continue Developing Innovative Rocket Reuse Technology

The loss of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission on June 28th demonstrates, in the view of the National Space Society (NSS), the wisdom of NASA’s policy of maintaining technologically different competitive CRS providers. This was the seventh of 12 contracted flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by SpaceX. All 18 previous flights of the Falcon 9 (including five v1.0 flights and thirteen v1.1 flights) have been successful in meeting their primary objectives. CRS-7 was to have launched a new docking ring to the ISS for future use by NASA Commercial Crew flights and would have made another first stage recovery attempt.

NSS would like to express continued support for SpaceX and NASA as they analyze and test to understand and recover from Sunday’s launch failure.  “Spacecraft engineering is a very challenging profession and failure is always one possible outcome but we learn, implement and move forward,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Operating Officer. “NASA and the US government should continue to support the ISS, including the commercial cargo and crew programs.”

Paul Werbos, member of the NSS Board of Directors, said, “In a free market world, the government is supposed to be taking on the burden of the most advanced, highest risk challenges, in an open competitive way. NASA has been doing this by supporting SpaceX via the Commercial Resupply Services program as SpaceX develops the technology to reuse launch vehicles.”

NSS fully supports Space X’s efforts to upgrade its Falcon 9 rocket, especially its efforts to make it reusable.   As SpaceX said recently, “A jumbo jet costs about the same as one of our Falcon 9 rockets, but airlines don’t junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York. Yet when it comes to space travel, rockets fly only once-even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost (www.spacex.com/news/2015/06/24/why-and-how-landing-rockets).” NSS believes reusable rockets, once perfected, will be inherently more reliable than expendable vehicles, as well as less costly.

NSS Executive Vice President Dale Skran said: “After a failure like this, voices will be heard calling into question NASA’s use of commercial launch service providers. We need to recall that in spite of the best efforts of NASA and the expenditure of many billions of dollars, NASA lost two space shuttles with their entire crews. Eventual success is built on lessons learned from failures. We are confident that SpaceX will learn from the loss and rapidly return to service.”

National Space Society Opposes Senate Gutting of Commercial Crew Program

The National Space Society (NSS) strongly opposes the Senate Appropriations Committee’s $344 million (27%) cut of the 2015 Commercial Crew budget requested by the Administration. The Senate cuts were $100 million more than those recently passed by the House.

NSS stands with NASA administrator Charles Bolden when he said “By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts into space – and to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.”  The two winners of the Commercial Crew competition, Boeing and SpaceX, have been making excellent progress, exemplified by the May 6th successful pad abort test of the SpaceX Dragon 2 crew escape system. Both are on track to fly astronauts in 2017 assuming funding is provided.

Until Commercial Crew vehicles are flying, the only way for anyone to get to the ISS is the Russian Soyuz. Unfortunately, the Russian space program has recently displayed a worrisome lack of reliability. On May 16th the failure of the third stage of the Russian Proton resulted in the loss of the MexSat-1 communications satellite. During April, a Russian Progress M-27M carrying cargo to the ISS went out of control and was lost with all its contents. More recently, the unexpected firing of the engine of a Soyuz spacecraft attached to the ISS shifted its orbital position. Congress, which has underfunded and thus delayed Commercial Crew consistently, will bear a significant share of the responsibility if the next Russian accident results in injuries to astronauts or the abandonment of the ISS.

Some have advocated reducing the Commercial Crew program to a single vehicle, reducing current costs and eliminating competition. NSS has long supported competition in the Commercial Crew program (see the 2014 NSS position paper on the NASA Commercial Crew Program). The failure of the Orbital ATK Antares cargo rocket during a launch attempt to the ISS last year demonstrated the value of redundant systems, underscoring the vital importance of having multiple Commercial Crew providers.

It is imperative that Congress provide full funding to Commercial Crew so that both Boeing and SpaceX reach operational status. The Commercial Crew program has been one of NASA’s biggest success stories, generating large amounts of real product innovation while reducing costs to the government. Any expansive future in space, such as that envisioned in the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement (www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap) requires lower cost specialized systems such as those being created by Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS).

“NSS urges the Senate to pass a clean amendment restoring full funding of $1.244 billion to Commercial Crew when this Bill comes to the Senate floor for final passage,” said NSS Executive VP Dale Skran. “We are extremely concerned with the increasing difficulties in the Russian space program and suggest NASA immediately develop a contingency plan for Russian withdrawal other than evacuating the ISS.”

NASA Administrator Statement on Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Vote on Commercial Crew Budget

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee vote Wednesday on NASA’s Fiscal Year 2016 commercial crew budget:

Charles F. Bolden
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations subcommittee does not fully support NASA’s plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia.

“Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our Commercial Crew Program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget.

“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.

“I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”

National Space Society Applauds Milestone on the Road to Space Settlement: First Precision Return of a Falcon 9 First Stage to an Ocean Platform

The recent launch of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 5 (CRS-5) on January 10th represents a major step towards space settlement, according to the National Space Society (NSS). The Dragon capsule berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:54 am EST Monday, January 12th. This is the seventh flight of the Dragon, and the fifth of 12 contracted flights to the ISS by SpaceX.

CRS-5 marked a major step forward for SpaceX’s efforts to develop reusable rocket technology. Such technology is called for in Milestone 2 of the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap, titled “Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit” based on, among other things, “re-usable vehicles.” For the first time ever, SpaceX attempted to land a returning first stage on an ocean-going platform. The stage impacted the platform “hard” according to Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO. The ocean platform measures 300-ft by 170-ft, and achieving this level of precision on first stage return represents a significant milestone toward a reusable launcher. CRS-5 also utilized for the first time hydraulic grid fins to control the descent. Musk stated that the “grid fins worked extremely well…but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.” The next Falcon 9 flight will increase the amount of hydraulic fluid by 50%, raising the chance of a successful landing that will lead to ultimate re-use of the first stage and a significant drop in the cost of flying to space.

NSS Senior Vice President Bruce Pittman said: “We congratulate SpaceX on this significant step toward a fully re-usable first stage, and look forward to even greater success as SpaceX continues to test its re-usable vehicle technology during 2015.”

The Dragon cargo includes the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) experiment in the unpressurized Trunk section of the Dragon. CATS, a laser based imaging system, will be connected to the Japanese section of the ISS, Kibo, and will be used to study atmospheric particulates. The ability of the Dragon (and the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus, once it returns to flight) to routinely take new experiments to the ISS, and for the Dragon to return experimental results, is critical to enabling the ISS to be used for scientific and commercial research. Over 1,662 kg (3,664 lb) of cargo is targeted for return to Earth via this Dragon capsule.

New scientific breakthroughs often result when science is done in unexplored extreme environments such as the microgravity found in space. Among the scientific experiments on CRS-5 are a study of cell regeneration in flatworms in microgravity and a study of fruit fly immune systems in space. Other CRS-5 payloads include a pair of Planet Labs commercial Earth imaging Flock -1d’ satellites that will replace some of the satellites lost when the Orbital Sciences Antares failed in October 2014.

NASA Commercial LEO Workshop

On December 10-11, 2014, NASA held a workshop on the commercialization of low Earth orbit.  The goal of the workshop was to start a dialog about creating a thriving commercial marketplace in LEO over the next decade, enabled by human spaceflight.  Historically, NASA has been both the primary supplier and consumer of human spaceflight capabilities and services in LEO.  However, NASA has begun to change this historical model by purchasing cargo transportation services commercially and is facilitating the development of commercial crew transportation and rescue capabilities.  By the end of 2017, NASA plans to purchase both crew and cargo delivery services to the ISS from commercial suppliers.  By the 2020’s, near the planned end of the life of the ISS, NASA’s intention is to transition LEO from being government-led to significantly more private sector involvement (both supply and demand side).  In this scenario, both research requirements and investigations are private sector need driven, and the supply-side transportation and microgravity capabilities are private sector provided.

To date, NASA has worked on establishing a private sector transportation capability for both cargo and crew.  Also, NASA, through CASIS and other efforts, has offered the ISS as venue for the private sector to explore the benefits of space-based research for terrestrial companies.  In the future, it will be critical for a commercial market for microgravity capabilities be developed by the private sector.  Creating this marketplace will require the efforts of both government and industry.  Through the information and ideas gathered and developed during this workshop, NASA intends to formulate a new strategy – including new initiatives and projects – designed to encourage the emergence of this commercial marketplace to the maximum extent possible.

Topics covered included enabling policy statements and incentives; enabling mission goals; promising commercial markets in LEO; commercial operation of ISS systems; promising microgravity R&D investment areas of high probable return to the nation; barriers to commercialization of LEO.

Some key questions that were discussed included:

  • What regulation changes and investment incentives would encourage commercial research and application activities in LEO?
  • What kind of intellectual property rights protections are required to engage private capital for research on ISS?
  • What are the most promising near-term market opportunities in LEO and how can they better be enabled using the ISS?  What are the most promising long-term applications of LEO that the ISS program can enable?
  • Is there a business case outside the government for multiple LEO platforms that are specialized for individual markets  (tourism, micro-gravity research/production, free-flying human tended Earth observing platform, etc.)?
  • What can the government do to encourage LEO supply providers to seek non-NASA customers for their services or capabilities?
  • Is there an overlap between LEO commercial platform capabilities and NASA’s exploration goals?

A summary of the workshop will be posted by NASA in January along with possible future activities.

Presentations:

NASA – Sam Scimemi, Director, International Space Station

FAA – Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

CASIS – Greg Johnson, Executive Director

Industry Perspectives:

Carlos Grodsinsky, ZIN Technologies

James Muncy, PoliSpace

National Space Society Encourages Virgin Galactic to Press On

The National Space Society (NSS) extends its support to Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites over the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo and offers its heartfelt sympathy to the families involved and to everyone who worked on that program.

“We are extremely honored that Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides served on the NSS team as our Executive Director and we all stand by him in this time of difficulty,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “We expect that the cause of the accident will be found and fixed so that the Virgin Galactic dream of ‘opening space to tens of thousands of people’ can become a reality.”

NSS encourages Virgin Galactic to continue moving forward. NSS has been a consistent supporter of private efforts to develop space commercially, including both orbital and sub-orbital tourism. Economic returns from spaceflight are necessary for humanity’s long-term future in space.

NSS notes that fatal accidents during both the testing of aircraft and their operation were relatively common during the early days of commercial aviation, and now it has happened in commercial space flight. America was always built on the courage of those who dared to explore new frontiers. From Lewis and Clark to the Apollo astronauts, great men and women have tested themselves against the frontiers of their age.

The frontier of space is far from tamed. The men and women of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are engaged in one of the great efforts of our time: opening space for all humanity. That is a noble pursuit and we are all thankful for their work and for their sacrifice.

NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos sums up: “This is a sad moment for the space tourism industry and the families of the pilots. The Scaled Composites pilots are true heroes who risked their lives to blaze a trail to a better future for everyone.”