Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Another Blue Origin Update

In my inbox today:

We broke ground on our orbital vehicle manufacturing site in Florida.

The 750,000 square foot rocket factory is custom-built from the ground up to accommodate manufacturing, processing, integration and testing. Among other things, the facility hosts large scale friction stir welding and automated composite processing equipment. All of the vehicle will be manufactured in this facility except for the engines. Initial BE-4 engine production will occur at our Kent facility while we conduct a site selection process later this year for a larger engine production facility to accommodate higher production rates.

I’ve included some photos that will give you an idea of what the vehicle manufacturing facility will look like in December 2017 when it’s complete.

It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action--we’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again.

Gradatim Ferociter!

Jeff Bezos

Site preparation is underway in Florida

Bird’s-eye view of our new orbital vehicle manufacturing site

Here’s an artist’s rendition

Let the rockets roll
Note the vehicles poking out in the last picture- looks like 3 engines? If so more powerful than previously thought (rumours I'd seen suggested a single BE-4 in the first stage).

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The week in review 7 (fortnightly edition)

Been an eventful week here in the UK (to put it mildly!)

Furthermore as I messed up last week today am covering the big news of the past two weeks. Thankfully this week has been a bit quieter than the previous one.

Biggest news then this past fortnight were the successful launches by SpaceX and Blue Origin. I followed the first launch with some speculation on Falcon 9v2.

Also Virgin posted an update, and Stratolaunch released more info (still nothing on their rocket though),

Jeff Bezos was awarded a prize (which Elon Musk has also won, maybe they could have a duel with the swords presented to them!),

Thoughts on Aerospace planes,

NewSpace 2016 conference took place (have watched some of the coverage but been a bit preoccupied)

Finally in related news, Tesla Motors (Biggest shareholder Elon Musk) is attempting to take over Solar city (Biggest shareholder Elon Musk)

Monday, 20 June 2016

Another successful New Shepard flight

I didn't get a chance to watch the live stream as I was out all day (and when I got back was too tired to post, hence this weeks review is a bit late).  I did managed to see the shorten clip this morning, which includes the main highlights:

I really want to know when they plan to ramp up theri flight and production rates, and am looking forward to the first manned flights. Am going to watch the full webcast now:

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Random speculation: Falcon 9 v2

Following on from yesterdays landing failure, a few thoughts on how the data gathered from these flights could be put to use and what features the next version should have.

First of all, it should be designed for increased ruggedness and for reusability from the start (natch). This should mean an aim for aircraft like performance and an eventual aim of 'gas and go' operations. These vehicles should undergo an incremental test programme to determine reliability before putting on second stages and payloads. The staging and mass ratio between first and second should be optimised for reusability, if they find that the GTO missions put too much stress on the vehicles or don't have the margins for landing then keep flying them as expendables and only reuse for low orbit missions.

Second, I think should be a wider, shorter vehicle. Maybe around 6 metres wide first stage (compared to the current ones 3.8m) This is to increase stability on landing and to allow a larger fairing to be used. I would also attach the fairing directly to the first stage and put the second stage and payload (for unmanned launches) inside, a la Antares and Delta heavy. This way the fairing can be recovered with the first stage (I'm imaging it opening to deploy at separation a bit like the rocket in Thunderball). Another advantage is that larger, Raptor powered upper stages could be used on the heavy version. These could then lead to a reusable upper stage (one idea I have is a conical stage that incorporates a Dragon capsule for manned missions)

Finally, the 6m tanking can the used for the next generation raptor powered first stages, which could be built in various lengths and with different numbers of engines to replace F9 and heavy prior to MCT launchers coming online.

Of course, it is most likley the announcement in September will render these points all moot. Or I could have been prophetic....

Blue Origin launch delayed

Due to needed replacement O-rings. Full details here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A couple of interesting stories from Avweek

First on Quiet Supersonic tech, second on Mars ISRU.

Another update from Jeff Bezos

Just seen in my inbox this message:

We’re making multiple copies of the BE-4 to take us through our development campaign, along with a healthy amount of hardware spares to mitigate schedule and technical risks encountered along the way - - a “hardware rich” approach to development. To maintain a fast pace, we’ve elected over the past years to invest heavily in key machines, tooling and people for the production of BE-4 so we can control critical processes in-house.

Beginning to slot one of our nozzles

Completion of slotting of a main combustion chamber

Main propellant valve machining

Preparing inspected GOx dome casting for machining

We’ve also started testing the BE-4 preburner in our recently commissioned pressure-fed test cell. We’re developing the transient start sequence for the preburner, and we’re making good progress.

Hot firing a 14” diameter preburner

We’ll continue to keep you posted on our progress as this engine comes together.

Gradatim Ferociter!

Jeff Bezos

(c) Blue Origin

Virgin Galactic video update

Hopefully will be flying soon, but I growing more and more skeptical that they will ever recoup the investment made in SS2 and White Knite 2.

I expect now that Blue Origin will beat them to carrying passengers, and will probably have lower operating costs making SS2 uneconomical to keep in service. Virgin's focus now seems to be on Launcher One and the small satellite market

Latest SpaceX webcast

Latest webcast just started, 10 mins to launch.

Update: successful launch, unsuccessful landing.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Todays space news

First story- Luxenbourg's investment in Planetary Resources,

Second; Blue Origin to fly Friday. What with SpaceX's next launch scheduled for Wednesday I look forward to the next round in the Bezos/Musk Twitter p*ssing context...

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Another bit of XS-1 speculation

Further to my previous thoughts on applications of DARPA's XS-1, I noticed Boeing's proposal:
(c) Boeing

looks ab bit like their proposals from the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) from around 2000:
(image from here)

This makes me wonder if once operational the design could be 'stacked' into a bimese vehicle to give a bigger payload? Alternatively an enlarged version (XS-2?) could be used as threbasis of a TSTO, with an uprated XS-1 as the upper stage. Other options for an upper stage could be derived from the X-37 or Dreamchaser designs. 

The week in review 6

After catching up from the previous week on Monday, has been a bit of a quiet week.

I posted a bit of speculation on future suborbital tourist vehicles, then a video Masten, practically the last firm standing that's not backed by a billionaire. I have a post I'm still drafting on this which hopefully will be done next week...

In other news, BAE systems showed yet again how they are unable to build anything on time, budget and that actually works with a type 45 destroyer breaking down in the gulf. This editorial has more details on the MOD's inability to old contractors to account and get value for money.

In addition more details are coming out on SpaceX's Mars plans:

By the next launch window, in 2020, Musk said the company would aim to fly at least two Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft, loaded with experiments. “By that time there will be quite a few organizations … that are interested in running experiments on Mars,” he said.
Then in 2022, Musk said he hoped to launch what the company now sometimes refers to as the Mars Colonial Transporter, designed to bring a colony to Mars.

Linking was this piece on the long term issues we need to resolve for colonisation to become a reality,

A good update on the small launcher scene and what this means for Orbital ATK,

A good summary of suborbital research's new renaissance,

Finally, making spacecraft out of asteroids? Paging Greg Bear....

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Video update from Masten Space

Just uploaded today, showing their new test vehicles Xodiac and XaeroB (how many more names beginning with X can they come up with?)

Random thoughts on Tourist suborbital RLV's

After the news last week that Xcor's Lynx is not quite dead, the only serious Space tourism projects left now are Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic's (and I have serious doubt about the latter ever flying passengers, but that's another story). Could anyone else get in the game if the market shows there is demand?

First idea I had was for a quick and simple SpaceX Falcon 9 derived vehicle. Once reusability of the first stage and Crew Dragon are proved, why not put a Dragon on a F9 first stage and use for a RTLS (return to launch site) flight? It could be made lighter and simpler by removing the heat shield, docking adaptor, trunk and interstage. It might even be worth removing some engines as the thrust required would be a lot lower (maybe reviving the Falcon 5 name?), and cutting the stage down. (though it may be easier to build from scratch if you'd do this).

Sadly this is unlikely to ever happen unless someone was to ask SpaceX to build it for them, given Musk's focus on Mars.

The other idea I had was after reading this piece of Northrop's XS-1 bid. Their team includes Virgin, who presumably are building the upper stage (based on Launcher 1?) If they get the contract, I'd guess that Virgin would order some for commercial use launching payloads bigger than L1 can do). If the system proves robust enough, and SS2's performance proves a disappointment, how about putting a crew compartment on the back to carry passengers on suborbital flights? They could even use the SS2 cabin and fuselage as the basis to reduce cost and development time (I'd expect it to remain attached to the XS-1 throughout the flight unless there was an emergency, for which I'd give it a LAS and parachutes). If the keep the whole fuselage design they could enlarge the cabin to give more seats. Overall this would have the advantage over SS2 of higher flight rates, quicker turnaround times, lower costs and more passengers being flown higher (longer time weightless/better views).

Even if this doesn't happen, I hope NG get XS-1, build something that actually flies and can be scaled up.

Catching up

A couple of interesting pieces from last week that I jut came across today (didn't have an work today so spent most of it browsing on line),

First off two MSM articles on current and future launch systems, the first on the BBC, and the second in the WaPo (this one has a few errors but nice graphics, they also have an additional accompanying piece)

Second, Lockheed Martin has flown a T-50A, its entry for the USAF's T-X programme. Personally I think it would be a big mistake to give them the contract based on their history with the F-35, also its getting close to the point where the rest of the industry will lack the capability to design and build advanced fighter aircraft if they don't win any contracts soon. On the other hand at least this one is an existing design (as opposed to Boeing and Northrop Grumman's designs) so it should be quicker and cheaper to build (but then again you have to add the L-M factor in....).

Big news last week was Beam being visited and Elon talking about manned Mars missions by 2024, further thoughts to follow...

Finally, not space related directly but a good article comparing Tesla and Tucker.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

No weekly review this week

Have been on holiday and not following the news. Normal service to resume tomorrow.