SpaceX-3 ISS Cargo: Update on weather for Friday/Saturday launch windows

April 17 2014 04:20:38 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

Here is the latest update at NASA's Commercial Resupply Launch page: 

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NASA CCP: Sierra Nevada poster

April 17 2014 04:16:15 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

Today, NASA's Commercial Crew Program blog highlights the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser entry: Sierra Nevada Corporation:

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George Whitesides SS2 update + Update on space vehicle permit/license legislation

April 17 2014 02:26:44 AM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic, and his wife Loretta were on the latest Planetary Radio Live program to talk primarily about the Yuri's Night event.

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NASA CCP: Boeing poster

April 16 2014 04:58:40 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

Yesterday, NASA's Commercial Crew Program blog highlighted Blue Origin's (unfunded) participation in CCP (see post here).

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Pad 39A helps SpaceX with USAF payloads for Falcon Heavy

April 16 2014 04:50:26 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

Some additional info on the SpaceX lease of Pad 39A and the switch of the first Falcon Heavy launch from Vandenberg to KSC :

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SpaceX-3 ISS Cargo: Saturday backup launch + Orb-2 launch options

April 16 2014 04:27:13 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

The NASA announcement shown below says that Saturday is the backup date if the Falcon 9 cannot lift off on Friday.

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COE-CST: Spaceport Body of Knowledge library goes live on web + Emerging Space Industry Leaders workshop in May

April 16 2014 03:38:45 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

Here are a couple of announcements from the FAA's Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation:

Spaceport Body of Knowledge Library Goes Live on the Web

As part of the FAA COE CST Task 220 with New Mexico State University (NMSU), a collection of spaceport-related documents, aka the "Body of Knowledge for Commercial Spaceport Operations" has gone live on the web at the following URL:

The Framework for Spaceport Operations is an evolving collection of documents and information that represents available documentation of industry best practices. The collection was created and made accessible by a multi-agency, multi-partner research team led by NMSU and funded by the FAA Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.

Please visit the NMSU Body of Knowledge collection on the web. To learn more about the FAA COE CST please visit


Registration for ESIL-06 is Now Open

The latest in a series of workshops for Emerging Space Industry Leaders (ESIL) focusing on different issues and sectors of the emerging commercial space industry, ESIL-06, will engage its participants by focusing on the commercial remote sensing sector of commercial space.

Here are the details:

WHAT: 2-day workshop including industry panels and working sessions.
WHO: Students and Young Professionals interested in commercial space.
WHERE: Stanford University, Stanford, CA
WHEN: All day Thursday and Friday, May 29-30, 2014
WHY: To Network (meet other emerging leaders from across the space industry), Learn (gain insight into the context of commercial space, strategy formulation, and Game Theory) and Have an Impact (utilize lessons and perspectives gained to contribute to the space industry)

Apply to attend, check out the schedule, and get more details on the web at

"Space at Stanford" event on April 23rd

April 16 2014 02:53:18 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

The Stanford Student Space Initiative is hosting the Space at Stanford on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 from 4:30 PM to 8:00 PM (PDT):

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SpaceX-3 ISS Cargo: Bad valve led to Monday scrub + Liftoff weather forecast

April 16 2014 02:44:41 PM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

SpaceX issued the following message this morning about the upcoming launch and about the cause of the scrub on Monday:

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Reusable Falcon vs the Skylon + Government excuses for inaction on RLVs

April 16 2014 07:14:15 AM | by Clark Lindsey, Managing Editor

This article is interesting for a couple of reasons:Two Companies Take Radically Different Approaches to Launcher Reusability -

* Firstly, it points out the drastically different approaches that SpaceX and Reaction Engines are taking to reusable space transports:

  • SpaceX is developing a two-stage, vertical launch, vertical landing RLV from an expendable rocket (designed with reusability conversion in mind) in an incremental manner that is funded with money made from launches in expendable mode.
  • Reaction Engines has designed a single-stage, winged, horizontal takeoff and landing vehicle powered by a radical new rocket engine that uses cooled, compressed oxygen while in the atmosphere and liquid oxygen, as with a standard rocket engine, outside of the atmosphere.

    Development will require something on the order of $15 Bln and there will be no intermediate operational orbital vehicles. It's pretty much all or nothing.

I've thought the best hope for Reaction Engines is that SpaceX succeeds with the reusable Falcons. Europe is bound to respond to that sort industrial challenge and they will find the technological elegance of the SSTO Skylon very appealing. 

* The second interesting aspect of the article is how the two government managers find reasons to downplay the advantages of reusability. 

Dumbacher is currently helping to manage development of the SLS/Orion launch system, which is costing tens of billions of dollars. SLS will be lucky to fly once a year since there is no money to develop missions for it. So each SLS launch will cost at least two to three billion dollars. Yet Dumbacher thinks a reusable SSTO Venturestar (which the suborbital X-33 was to be the forerunner), would have failed because of too few payloads for it ("[...] likely would not have survived the changed expectations in the commercial launch market in any event"). 

He also doesn't see that the commercial launch market might be different if there had appeared a launcher 10 to 100 times cheaper than what was available at the time. (Never mind that low cost launch would have allowed for many more NASA and DoD payloads as well.)

The comments by Dumbacher and Bonnal on hardware reusability illustrate the complexity and performance maximizing that NASA and ESA designs inevitably gravitate towards. This leads to fragile systems that cannot be turned around and reflown quickly. As Elon Musk emphasizes, to achieve low costs, a RLV must be both fully and rapidly reusable. That's more likely to happen with systems that sacrifice some performance but are as simple, robust and reliable as possible.

Complexity is also an issue with the Skylon. While development might go in a straightforward manner, it's more likely that unexpected problems will arise and, with a giant multinational collaboration involved, that can easily lead to huge overruns and delays.

SpaceX's incremental, parallel development/operations approach is far more tolerant of problems and setbacks. With the first stage return tests on Falcon 9 launches and with the Grasshopper tests in Texas and New Mexico, SpaceX can attack and solve problems without breaking the bank. They can also focus on hardening systems under real-world conditions to build up to a tolerance for a high number of flights.

The attitudes of managers like Dumbacher and Bonnal now dominate mainstream aerospace, especially the big government space programs. It could easily be several decades before the latter would develop RLVs. NewSpace approaches, which include the suborbital reusable vehicle routes taken by companies like XCOR and Blue Origin, offer the only real hope for near term low cost affordable access to space.

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