Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation

The race to decarbonize aviation got a boost this Earth Day with the announcement of a $20.5 million Series A round by Universal Hydrogen, a San Francisco-based startup aiming to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

“Hydrogen is the only viable path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement targets and help limit global warming,” said founder and CEO Paul Eremenko in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are going to build an end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation by 2025.”

The round was led by Playground Global, with an investor syndicate including Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation and Future Shape.

The company’s first product will be lightweight modular capsules to transport “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable power to aircraft equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. The capsules will ultimately be available in different sizes for aircraft ranging from VTOL air taxis to long-distance, single-aisle planes.

“We want them to be interchangeable within each class of aircraft, a bit like consumer batteries today,” says Eremenko.

To help kickstart the market for its capsules, Universal Hydrogen is developing one such plane itself, a modified 19-seat turboprop capable of regional flights of up to 700 miles. The effort is a collaboration with Plug Power, which will supply the hydrogen and fuel cells, and seed investor magniX, which develops motors for electric aircraft.

Eremenko hopes to have the plane flying paying passengers by 2025, and ultimately to produce kits for regional airlines to retrofit their own aircraft.

“We want to have a couple of years of service to de-risk hydrogen certification and passenger acceptance before Boeing and Airbus decide on the airplanes they are going to build in the early 2030s,” says Eremenko. “It’s imperative that at least one of them build a hydrogen airplane or aviation is not going to hit its climate goals.”

Universal Hydrogen is not alone in betting on hydrogen. ZeroAvia in the U.K. is developing its own regional fuel cell aircraft on an even more ambitious timeline, and Airbus in particular has been working on hydrogen aircraft concepts.

Eremenko hopes that producing a simple and safe hydrogen logistics network will soon attract new entrants.

“It’s like the Nespresso system. We have to make the first coffee maker or nobody cares about our capsule technology, but we don’t want to be in the coffee maker business. We want other people to build coffee with our capsules.”

Universal Hydrogen will use the Series A funds to grow its current 12-person team to around 40 and accelerate its technology development.

30kW sub-scale demonstration of Universal Hydrogen’s aviation powertrain, with Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell and a magniX motor.


#aviation, #flight, #hydrogen-fuel, #playground-global, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #universal-hydrogen


SpaceX flies 11th Starship prototype, but loses the spacecraft during the landing

SpaceX conducted yet another high-altitude test flight of its Starship prototype spacecraft on Tuesday, the fourth of these so far. Like all the flight testing and construction of Starship prototypes, this one took off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development facility – a location recently renamed ‘Starbase’ by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Unfortunately, things didn’t go great for SpaceX — the SN11 prototype was lost during its final descent. Reports from the scene suggest a large explosion that scattered debris around the landing site.

At this point in the program, SpaceX’s aim is to fly Starship to a high altitude (roughly 32,000 – 40,000 feet), execute a ‘belly flop’ maneuver and then bring it back to Earth with a controlled re-orientation to vertical, followed by a soft landing on its feet. Before today, SpaceX has made progress towards that goal, with the first two attempts exploding on a harder-than-landing impact, and the third landing vertically, before also exploding just under 10 minutes later after resting apparently secure before that.

SpaceX’s stated specific goals at this point are around testing is to gather data on the control flaps that Starship uses to control its orientation and prepare for that soft landing. SpaceX wants to study this with low altitude flights so that it has the data it needs to make it more likely to pull this off once it starts orbital flight testing later on.

Because of foggy conditions this AM in Texas at the launch site, SpaceX didn’t have great views of the flight test, and the company hasn’t yet revealed what went wrong during the mission, but will be investigating and sharing details later on. UPDATE: Musk now says there was an issue on the second engine used during the landing burn:

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted this shortly after the incident:

#flight, #launch, #prototype, #space, #spacex, #starship, #tc


NASA lays out plans for its first flights on Mars

Artist's conception of a four-bladed drone on the Martian surface.

Enlarge (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Tuesday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) hosted a press conference where it detailed the plans for the Ingenuity drone that hitched a ride to Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover. The scientists and engineers behind the drone announced that they’ve now picked a site for what is expected to be the first powered flight on another planet. With the site settled, they’re now targeting April 8 for the flight, which will be the first in a monthlong series of test flights to validate the technology.


Ingenuity, pictured above, looks familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the profusion of small consumer drones that have developed over the last decade or so. But, as Ingenuity’s chief engineer Bob Balaram put it, “It’s the first aircraft designed for powered flight on another planet,” and that makes for some substantial differences with Earth-bound drones. For starters, the hardware is much bigger than it might seem from the photos, as each of its two counter-rotating blades is 1.2 meters (four feet) long. Ingenuity also weighs in at 1.8 kilograms (four pounds) on Earth, although it’s less than half of that weight on the red planet.

Balaram also said that “In effect, this is an aircraft that also happens to be a spacecraft,” noting it had to survive the stresses of launch and landing, as well as the temperature extremes of its flight to Mars and time on the surface. That has necessitated a heating element in Ingenuity’s fuselage, which keeps things like the batteries and electronics operational overnight. Once released on the planet’s surface by Perseverance, Ingenuity will be responsible for providing its own power, which it obtains via a solar panel perched above the blades.

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#drone, #flight, #helicopter, #ingenuity, #jpl, #mars, #nasa, #perseverance, #science


UK tests ‘Space Tug’ capable of refiring its engine several times in orbit, and collecting space junk

UK SpaceTech startup Skyrora is currently the only private company capable of launching rockets from UK soil. On Christmas Eve at its testing facility in Fife, Scotland, the team performed a third-stage static fire engine test onboard a new vehicle that will ultimately carry satellites to their final destination. But what’s more interesting is that the vehicle can refire it’s engine several times in orbit and conduct multiple missions in a single trip. This makes it “Space Tug” able to perform a number of maneuvers in space including the extraction of space junk or maintenance if are satellites already in orbit.

Skyrora went rough one of the early Space Camp accelerator programme from Seraphim Capital.

The Space Tug is the first “mission ready” vehicle of its kind to be developed in the UK and once in orbit it can navigate to any location under its own power, with the ability to make multiple stops etc.

The Space Tug is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN engine and the first stage of is launch is fueled using an eco-friendly fuel (Ecosene) made in part from waste plastics

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO Skyrora commented: “We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had huge technical challenges to get it to this stage and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have. With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world… We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally friendly way, but then also to ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches.”

Sir Tim Peake, Astronaut, commented: “It’s fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a “launch state”. By driving forward and constantly investing into their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness. This vehicle will also be able to perform vital services such as satellite removal, refuelling and replacement and debris removal from orbit.”

#astronaut, #ceo, #europe, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #outer-space, #satellite, #scotland, #seraphim-capital, #skyrora, #space-debris, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #uk-space-agency, #united-kingdom


Astra targets December for next orbital launch attempt

Astra is set to launch it’s next orbital rocket, with a window that opens on December 7 and lasts for 12 days following until December 18, with an 11 AM to 2:30 PM PT block each day during which the launch could occur, depending on weather and conditions on the ground. This is the startup’s Rocket 3.2, a slightly revised and improved version of the Rocket 3.1 launch vehicle it flew in September.

Alameda-based Astra is a startup focused on building a small, relatively cheap-to-build launch vehicle that can carry small payloads to space at a rapid clip, with flexible launch location capabilities. It’s founded by former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, and backed by funding including Mac Benioff, Innovation Endeavors, Airbus Ventures, Canaan Partners and others, and it already has an active rocket assembly factory operating in the East Bay.

The company was originally founded with the goal of winning DARPA’s Launch Challenge, though the deadline for that has since passed. Astra still aims to essentially satisfying the functional requirements of that competition, by creating a launch vehicle that can be launched essentially on-demand when needed by clients looking for more responsive and mobile spaceflight capabilities, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

The goal of this next flight is similar to the goal of Rocket 3.1 in September: Essentially to study the startup’s rocket and boost its efficiencies while building its effectiveness. Actually reaching orbit isn’t a primary goal yet, but is a secondary, nice-to-have aim of this launch, which will take off from Kodiak in Alaska. The company already learned a ton from its first launch, including lessons that led to changes and improvements made to Rocket 3.2. It has always aimed for a three-flight initial orbital launch test series, and will also fly a Rocket 3.3 after this one incorporating additional lessons learned.

#aerospace, #airbus-ventures, #alaska, #astra, #canaan-partners, #chris-kemp, #east-bay, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #rocket, #science, #space, #tc


Slingshot Aerospace raises $8 million to help it expand to new verticals beyond aerospace and defense

Austin and El Segundo-based Slingshot Aerospace was born out of a realization that while there is a massive amount of information collected by observation technology aboard satellites, airplanes, drones and beyond, the analytics and turnaround of said info into something actionable often took a long time – sometimes crucial insights that would’ve been valuable in the moment for Air Force pilots, for instance, would be processed and returned long after they were actually in the air and on a mission. Slingshot was founded three years ago to help turn Earth and space-based observation data into something useful when it’s needed, and now the startup has raised an $8 million Series A to grow its team and expand its focus to new industries beyond the aerospace and defense customers it currently serves.

I spoke to Slingshot Aerospace co-founders David Godwin and Melanie Stricklan about their new funding, which brings the company’s total raised overall to $17.1 million. The startup is also already generating plenty of revenue, with early contracts from customers including NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and most recently, the U.S. Space Force for its forthcoming Slingshot Orbital Laboratory simulated training environment.

Godwin, Slingshot’s CEO, explained that initially, the startup has been focused primarily on aerospace and defense customers, which explains the all-star early customer list of companies and public agencies in that field. That has come in part from the experience of Stricklan, the company’s Chief Strategy Officer, and their third co-founder, Thomas Ashman, who both spent many years prior to founding the company in the Air Force.

“In the past, the past two tothree years, we haven’t really had a lack of aerospace and government business,” Godwin explained. “It’s definitely taken a lot of our attention. But over this past year, we’ve started exploring other verticals, what we want to do in those verticals, and identifying opportunities. And honestly, we’ve seen, we’ve seen a lot of opportunity there. One of the tricks is just picking which which direction we’re going to lean the hardest into and focus on – so we’re working on that plan right now.”

There should be no shortage of demand for what Slingshot is trying to accomplish. As mentioned above, the startup is unlocking actionable insight from data that until now, has been essentially unusable without time-consuming round-trips to data centers and plenty of off-site processing. Advancements in technology have meant that you could potentially do more with this data in a timely fashion, but systems haven’t necessarily caught up to the technical leading edge.

“I spent 21 years in the Air Force and I flew on a surveillance aircraft that had a synthetic aperture radar on it,” Stricklan explained. “What that meant is it could see through rain,  could see through clouds and it could see at night, unlike a lot of Earth observation optical data, and it could see very far and wide and so that data set was extremely rich, and it had so much potential at the same time. That aircraft that I flew on called, JSTARS, was a battle management platform. So it was also bringing in different feeds of information from different platforms, whether they be satellites, or intelligence feeds from the ground or other aircraft like AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System], etc. One thing that really was challenging was getting real time information down to the warfighter, or even making real-time decisions on board the aircraft from a battle management perspective.”

Essentially, Stricklan said that the only real-time insight they could gather during her time on JSTARS was moving target indicators, to show literally that there were targets in motion on the ground. Other, much more valuable information would be revealed by the analysis of the combined info, but that could take hours, days, weeks or even months to arrive. Slingshot leverages Godwin’s more than two decades of experience with data analytics to provide what he calls “the right data, at the right time, all in one place” in order to enable “faster, better informed decision-making.”

That’s obviously of value and interest to entities like the U.S. Space Force, which is trying to map out how to secure an entirely new warfighting domain, but it’s also valuable to private companies and commercial operators. One area of potentially significant growth for Slingshot is in on-orbit commercial satellite operations, where the increased pace of launch from private companies operating satellite constellations means situational awareness is more important than ever.

Slingshot Aerospace is growing the team, having already expanded to nearly 30 people, with plans to hire more engineers in particular as part of the use of these funds. The Series A was led by ATX Venture Partners, as well as Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Seed fund, Techstars, and Okapi Venture Capital. Angels including the co-founders of Apple-acquired Semetric also participated.

#aerospace, #air-force, #apple, #atx-venture-partners, #austin, #boeing, #ceo, #co-founder, #flight, #northrop-grumman, #okapi-venture-capital, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellations, #science-and-technology, #semetric, #slingshot, #slingshot-aerospace, #space, #startups, #steve-case, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #u-s-space-force


European launch provider Arianespace successfully launches a satellite rideshare demonstration mission

The small satellite launch industry is heating up, with a number of small launch providers currently vying to become the next with an active orbital launch vehicle. Existing large launch vehicle operator Arianespace is also joining the fray, however, and performed a first demonstration launch to show how its rideshare offering will work for small satellite companies. This also marks the first launch for Arianespace in over a year, after a number of launches planned for earlier in 2020 were scrubbed or delayed due to COVID-19 and the mitigating measures put in place in French Guiana where it has its launch facility.

Arianespace launched its Vega light payload rocket from the Guiana Space Center at 9:51 PM ET (6:51 PM PT) on Wednesday evening, carrying a total of 53 satellites on board to various target destinations in low Earth orbit. This was a proof-of-concept mission, funded in part by the European Space Agency and the European Commission, but it did carry actual satellites on behalf of commercial customers – including 26 for remote space-based sensing company Planet. IoT connectivity startup Swarm had 12 of its tiny satellites on board, and communications satellite startup Kepler sent up. its third-satellite. Two other startups, Satellogic, which does remote sensing, and GHGSat, which does methane emission tracking, also had satellites among the large shared payload.

This mission was intended to show that Arianespace’s Vega vehicle is able to serve the needs of small satellite rideshare customers. The rideshare model is a popular one for small satellite operators, since it helps spread the cost of a launch across multiple customers. Small satellites are extremely lightweight relative to the large, geosynchronous satellites that many of these launch vehicles were intended to carry on behalf of government and defense customers, so their operators typically don’t have the budget to support booking up a full-scale launch.

SpaceX introduced a self-booked rideshare model last year for small satellite companies, and Rocket Lab offers a service dedicated to the same market, with smaller launch vehicles that greatly reduce launch costs and that can carry small satellites more directly to their target destination. The market seems ready to support more launch providers, however, and for Arianespace, it’s a way to diversify their offering and bring in new revenue while serving this growing demand.

#aerospace, #arianespace, #european-commission, #european-space-agency, #flight, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #satellogic, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc, #vega


Rocket Lab returns to flight with a successful launch of a Capella Space satellite

Rocket Lab is back to active launch status after encountering an issue with its last mission that resulted in a loss of the payload. In just over a month, Rocket Lab was able to identify what went wrong with the Electron launch vehicle used on that mission and correct the issue. On Sunday, it successfully launched a Sequoia satellite on behalf of client Capella Space from its New Zealand launch facility.

The “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical” mission is Rocket Lab’s 14th Electron launch, and it lifted off from the company’s private pad at 11:05 PM EDT (8:05 PM PDT). The Sequoia satellite is the first in startup Capella Space’s constellation of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites to be available to general customers. When complete, the constellation will provide hourly high-quality imaging of Earth, using radar rather than optical sensors in order to provide accurate imaging regardless of cloud cover and available light.

This launch seems to have gone off exactly as planned, with the Electron successfully lifting off and delivering the Capella Space satellite to its target orbit. Capella had been intending to launch this spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket via a rideshare mission, but after delays to that flight, it changed tack and opted for a dedicated launch with Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab’s issue with its July 4 launch was a relatively minor one – an electrical system failure that caused the vehicle to simply shut down, as a safety measure. The team’s investigation revealed a component of the system that was not stress-tested as strenuously as it should’ve been, and Rocket Lab immediately instituted a fix for both future and existing in-stock Electron vehicles in order to get back to active flight in as little time as possible.

While Rocket Lab has also been working on a recovery system that will allow it to reuse the booster stage of its Electron for multiple missions, this launch didn’t involve any tests related to that system development. The company still hopes to test recovery of a booster sometime before the end of this year on an upcoming launch.

#aerospace, #capella-space, #electron, #flight, #imaging, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Rocket launch in November will test Purdue-developed drag sail that aims to reduce orbital debris

When space launch startup Firefly’s first planned orbital flight takes off in November, it’ll carry an experimental payload developed by engineers from Purdue University: A drag sail that’s designed to haul a rocket back to Earth once it’s fulfilled its mission and deployed its cargo. Safely deorbiting a spent launch vehicle would mean one less large piece of flotsam circling the globe in an increasingly high-traffic orbital area.

Most launch vehicles do safely de-orbit on their own – eventually. But that can take up to a hundred years for rocket stages. Increasingly, spacecraft like satellites are also building in propulsion systems to actively de-orbit at end-of-life, but any time you put an active propellant system on a craft designed to operate in space, that means you need to make space for both the propulsion system and propellant, both of which take up space which means added cost for launch, and less room on the satellite for instrumentation and other mission-critical payloads.

As Purdue points out, propellant-based active propulsion systems also require that a spacecraft is operational in order for them to work. A drag parachute, conversely, is effectively a passive measure that can be triggered via fail-safe to de-orbit even a disabled spacecraft.

A drag sail works by creating drag, reducing the orbital velocity of a launch vehicle or spacecraft much more quickly than would occur without any assistance. Objects orbiting Earth in space are only able to maintain those orbits because they’re moving at very high speeds, which in turn means they can counter the effect of Earth’s gravity, which is continually pulling them back down towards the surface, even beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

The experimental drag sail, called Spinnaker3, spans 194 square feet when unfurled, and is a prototype that is designed to eventually form the basis of a while line of drag sail products to be commercialized by Vestigo Airspace, a startup company founded by Purdue adjust associate professor David Spencer. Eventually, small sats and launch craft equipped with drag sails like these could help ensure that despite increased launch activity in Earth’s orbit, the existing traffic problem isn’t exacerbated anywhere near as much as it would otherwise.

#aerospace, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #outer-space, #purdue-university, #rocket, #science, #solar-sail, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc


Scotland spaceport gets full approval, will be able to host up to 12 launches per year

Scotland’s first proposed spaceport has been fully approved to proceed with construction and operation (via The Northern Times). The facility, which will be built in northern Sutherland on a peninsula that extends into the North Atlantic. This will be the future launch site for Orbex, a startup looking to develop the UK’s first re-usable orbital launch vehicle.

This approval follows submission of all the necessary documents, including a full environmental assessment, to local regulators and the Scottish government. Full approval means that construction can proceed, paving the way for launches to begin taking off from the site sometime over the course of the next few years.

Domestic launch capabilities in the UK would provide a significant opportunity for the area’s expansion of its bourgeoning private space industry. Aside from offering the UK government small satellite launch capabilities from local suppliers, including Orbex once its rockets become operational, earlier this year the UK and the US signed an agreement that permits US launch companies to fly missions from UK sites, meaning this Scottish site could potentially host international missions and secure more global business.

The Space Hub Sutherland facility, which will be paid for in part by funding from the UK Space Agency, will be a relatively small spaceport overall, playing host to a single launch pad and covering around 10 acres in total, including a control center and a stretch of road spanning around 1.5 miles. That should still provide plenty of space for the next generation of small orbital launch vehicles, which are designed specifically to fit the needs of small satellite operators and thus require much less infrastructure than launch facilities for existing private vehicles like SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

#aerospace, #electron, #falcon-9, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #orbex, #outer-space, #scotland, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #spacex, #tc, #transportation, #uk-government, #uk-space-agency, #united-kingdom, #united-states


Private space industrialization is here

The universal glee that surrounded the launch of the crewed Dragon spacecraft made it easy to overlook that the Falcon rocket’s red glare marked the advent of a new era — that of private space industrialization. For the first time in human history, we are not merely exploring a new landmass. We, as a biological species, are advancing to a new element — the cosmos.

The whole history of humanity is the story of our struggle with space and time. Mastering new horizons, moving ever farther; driven by the desire for a better life or for profit, out of fear or out of sheer curiosity, people found ever faster, easier, cheaper and safer ways to conquer the space between here and there. When, at the beginning of the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana from Napoleon, actually having doubled the territory of the United States at that time, he believed it would take thousands of years for settlers to populate these spaces in the center of the continent.

But after just a few decades, the discovery of gold in California mobilized huge masses of industrious people, created incentives for capital and demanded new technologies. As countless wagons of newcomers moved through the land, threads of railways were stretched coast to coast, cities and settlements arose, and what Jefferson envisioned more than 200 years ago was actualized — and in the span of just one human life.

Growing up in a small Mongolian village near where Genghis Khan began the 13th-century journey that resulted in the largest contiguous land empire in history, I acquired an early interest in the history of explorers. Spending many long Siberian winter twilights reading books about great geographical discoveries, I bemoaned fate for placing me in a dull era in which all new lands had been discovered and all frontiers had been mapped.

Little did I know that only a few decades later, I would be living through the most exciting time for human exploration the world had ever seen.

The next space race

In recent years, the entire space industry has been waiting and looking for what will serve as the gold rush of space. One could talk endlessly about the importance of space for humanity and how technologies developed by and for space activity help to solve problems on Earth: satellite imagery, weather, television, communications. But without a real “space fever” — without the short-term insanity that will pour enormous financial resources, entrepreneurial energy and engineering talent into the space industry, it will not be possible to spark a new “space race.”

Presently, the entire space economy — including rockets, communications, imagery, satellites and crewed flights — does not exceed $100 billion, which is less than 0.1% of the global economy. For comparison: during the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, the total capitalization of companies in this sector amounted to more than 5% of global GDP. The influence of the California Gold Rush in the 1850s was so significant that it changed the entire U.S. economy, essentially creating a new economic center on the West Coast.

The current size of the space economy is not enough to cause truly tectonic shifts in the global economy. What candidates do we have for this place in the 21st century? We are all witnesses to the deployment of space internet megaconstellations, such as Starlink from SpaceX, Kuiper from Amazon and a few other smaller players. But is this market enough to create a real gold rush? The size of the global telecommunications market is an impressive $1.5 trillion (or almost 1.5% of the global economy).

If a number of factors coincide — a sharp increase in the consumption of multimedia content by unmanned car passengers, rapid growth in the Internet of Things segment — satellite telecommunications services can grow in the medium term to 1 trillion or more. Then, there is reason to believe that this segment may be the driver of the growth when it comes to the space economy. This, of course, is not 5% (as was the case during the dot-com era), but it is already an impressive 1% of the world economy.

But despite all the importance of telecommunications, satellite imagery and navigation, these are the traditional space applications that have been used for many decades since the beginning of the space era. What they have in common is that these are high value-added applications, often with no substitutes on the ground. Earth surveillance and global communications are difficult to do from anywhere but space.

Therefore, the high cost of space assets, caused primarily by the high cost of launch and historically amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram, was the main obstacle to space applications of the past. For the true industrialization of space and for the emergence of new space services and products (many of which will replace ones that are currently produced on Earth), a revolution is needed in the cost of launching and transporting cargo in space.

Space transports

The mastering of new territories is impossible to imagine without transport. The invention and proliferation of new means of moving people and goods — such as railways, aviation, containers — has created the modern economy that we know. Space exploration is not an exception. But the physical nature of this territory creates enormous challenges. Here on Earth, we are at the bottom of a huge gravity well.

To deliver the cargo into orbit and defeat gravity, you need to accelerate things to the prodigious velocity of 8 km/s — 10-20 times faster than a bullet. Less than 5% of a rocket’s starting mass reaches orbit. The answer, then, lies in reusability and in mass production. The tyranny of rocket science’s Tsiolkovsky equation also contributes to the large rocket sizes that are necessary. It drives the strategies for companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are developing large, even gigantic, reusable rockets such as Starship or New Glenn. We’ll soon see that the cost of launching into space will be even less than a few hundred U.S. dollars per kg.

But rockets are effective only for launching huge masses into low-Earth orbits. If you need to distribute cargo into different orbits or deliver it to the very top of the gravity well — high orbits, such as GEO, HEO, Lagrange points or moon orbit — you need to add even more delta velocity. It is another 3-6 km/sec or more. If you use conventional rockets for this, the proportion of the mass removed is reduced from 5% to less than 1%. In many cases, if the delivered mass is much less than the capabilities of huge low-cost rockets, you need to use much more expensive (per kg of transported cargo) small and medium launchers.

This requires multimodal transportation, with huge cheap rockets delivering cargo to low-Earth orbits and then last-mile space tugs distributing cargo between target orbits, to higher orbits, to the moon and to other planets in our solar system. This is why Momentus, the company I founded in 2017 developing space tugs for “hub-and-spoke” multimodal transportation to space, is flying its first commercial mission in December 2020 on a Falcon 9 ride-share flight.

Initially, space tugs can use propellant delivered from Earth. But an increase in the scale of transportation in space, as well as demand to move cargo far from low-Earth orbit, creates the need to use a propellant that we can get not from the Earth’s surface but from the moon, from Mars or from asteroids — including near-Earth ones. Fortunately, we have a gift given to us by the solar system’s process of evolution — water. Among probable rocket fuel candidates, water is the most widely spread in the solar system.

Water has been found on the moon; in craters in the vicinity of the poles, there are huge reserves of ice. On Mars, under the ground, there is a huge ocean of frozen water. We have a vast asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. At the dawn of the formation of the solar system, the gravitational might of Jupiter prevented one planet from forming, scattering fragments in the form of billions of asteroids, most of which contain water. The same gravity power of Jupiter periodically “throws out” asteroids into the inner part of the solar system, forming a group of near-Earth asteroids. Tens of thousands of near-Earth asteroids are known, of which almost a thousand are more than 1 km in diameter.

From the point of view of celestial mechanics, it is much easier to deliver water from asteroids or from the moon than from Earth. Since Earth has a powerful gravitational field, the payload-to-initial-mass ratio delivered to the very top of the gravitational well (geostationary orbit, Lagrange points or the lunar orbit) is less than 1%; whereas from the surface of the moon you can deliver 70% of the original mass, and from an asteroid 99%.

This is one of the reasons why at Momentus we’re using water as a propellant for our space tugs. We developed a novel plasma microwave propulsion system that can use solar power as an energy source and water as a propellant (simply as a reaction mass) to propel our vehicle in space. The choice of water also makes our space vehicles extremely cost-effective and simple.

The proliferation of large, reusable, low-cost rockets and in-space last-mile delivery opens up opportunities that were not possible within the old transportation price range. We assume that the price to deliver cargo to almost any point in cislunar space, from low-Earth orbit to low-lunar orbit will be well below $1,000/kg within 5-10 years. What is most exciting is that it opens up an opportunity to introduce an entirely new class of space applications, beyond traditional communication, observation and navigation; applications that will start the true industrialization of space and catalyze the process of Earth industry migration into space.

Now, let’s become space futurists, and try to predict future candidates for a space gold rush in the next 5-10 years. What will be the next frontier’s applications, enabled by low-cost space transportation? There are several candidates for trillion-dollar businesses in space.

Energy generation

Energy generation is the first and largest candidate for the gold rush, as the energy share of the global economy is about 8.2%. Power generation in space has several fantastic advantages. First, it is a continuity of power generation. In space, our sun is a large thermonuclear reactor that runs 24/7. There’s no need to store electricity at night and in bad weather. As a result, the same surface collects 10 times more energy per 24 hours than on Earth.

This is not intuitively obvious, but the absence of twilights or nighttime, and the lack of clouds, atmosphere or accumulating dust create unique conditions for the production of electricity. Due to microgravity, space power plants with much lighter structures can eventually be much less costly than terrestrial plants. The energy can be beamed to the ground via microwaves or lasers. There are, however, at least two major challenges to building space power stations that still need to be resolved. The first is the cost of launching into space, and then the cost of transportation within space.

The combination of huge rockets and reusable space tugs will reduce the cost of transporting goods from Earth to optimal orbits up to several hundred dollars per kilogram, which will make the share of transportation less than one cent per kilowatt-hour. The second problem is the amount of propellant you’ll need to stabilize vast panels that will be pushed away by solar radiation pressure. For every 1 gigawatt of power generation capacity, you’ll need 500-1,000 tons of propellant per year. So to have the same generation capacity as the U.S. (1,200 GW), you’ll need up to 1 million tons of propellant per year (eight launches of Falcon 9 per hour or one launch of Starship per hour).

Power generation will be the largest consumer of the propellant in cislunar space, but the delivery of propellant from Earth will be too economically inefficient. The answer lies on the moon, where 40 permanently darkened craters near the north pole contain an estimated 600 million metric tonnes of ice. That alone will be enough for many hundreds of years of space power operations.

Data processing

Centers for data computation and processing are one of the largest and fastest-growing consumers of energy on Earth. Efficiency improvements implemented over the last decade have only increased the demand for large cloud-based server farms. The United States’ data centers alone consume about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Aside from the power required to operate the systems that process and store data, there is an enormous cost in energy and environmental impact to cool those systems, which translates directly to dollars spent both by governments and private industry.

Regardless of how efficiently they are operated, the expansion of data centers alongside demands for increased power consumption is not sustainable, economically or environmentally. Instead of beaming energy to the ground via microwaves or lasers, energy can be used for data processing in space. It is much easier to stream terabytes and petabytes from space than gigawatts. Power-hungry applications like AI can be easily moved to space because most of them are tolerant of latency.

Space mining

Eventually, asteroids and the moon will be the main mining provinces for humanity as a space species. Rare and precious metals, construction materials, and even regolith will be used in the building of the new space economy, space industrialization and space habitats. But the first resource that will be mined from the moon or asteroids will be water — it will be the “oil” of the future space economy.

In addition to the fact that water can be found on asteroids and other celestial bodies, it is quite easy to extract. You simply need heat to melt ice or extract water from hydrates. Water can be easily stored without cryogenic systems (like liquid oxygen or hydrogen), and it doesn’t need high-pressure tanks (like noble gases — propellant for ion engines).

At the same time, water is a unique propellant for different propulsion technologies. It can be used as water in electrothermal rocket engines (like Momentus’ microwave electrothermal engines) or can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen for chemical rocket engines.


The disruption of in-space transportation costs can make space a new industrial belt for humanity. Microgravity can support creating new materials for terrestrial applications like optical fiber, without the tiny flaws that inevitably emerge during production in a strong gravity field. These flaws increase signal loss and cause large attenuation of the transmitted light. Also, microgravity can be used in the future space economy to build megastructures for power generation, space hotels for tourists and eventually human habitats. In space, you can easily have a vacuum that would be impossible to achieve on Earth. This vacuum will be extremely valuable for the production of ultrapure materials like crystals, wafers and entirely new materials. The reign of in-space manufacturing will have begun when the main source of raw materials is not Earth, but asteroids or the moon, and the main consumers are in-space industry.

The future market opportunities enabled by the disruption in space transportation are enormous. Even without space tourism, space habitats will be almost a two trillion dollar market in 10-15 years. Undoubtedly, it will lead to a space gold rush that will drive human civilization’s development for generations to come.

The final frontier

I studied in high school during the last years of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was collapsing, we had no sanitation in the house, and quite often we had no electricity. During those dark evenings, I studied physics and mathematics books by the light of a kerosene lamp. We had a good community library, and I could order books and magazines from larger libraries in the big cities, like Novosibirsk or Moscow. It was my window into the world. It was awesome.

I was reading about the flights of the Voyager spacecraft, and about the exploration of the solar system, and I was thinking about my future. That was the time when I realized that I both love and excel in science and math, and I decided then to become a space engineer. In an interview with a local newspaper back in 1993, I told the reporter, “I want to study advanced propulsion technologies. I dream about the future, where I can be part of space exploration and may even fly to Mars … .”

And now that future is coming.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #column, #data-processing, #electricity, #elon-musk, #energy, #falcon, #flight, #international-space-station, #lasers, #microwave, #momentus, #opinion, #outer-space, #satellite, #satellite-imagery, #science, #space, #space-exploration, #spacecraft, #spacex, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications


Rocket launch startup Astra readies for orbital test flight as early as Sunday

Rocket launch startup Astra is readying for its first orbital flight test, set to take place either this weekend or next week, weather permitting. The company will launch its ‘Rocket 3.1’ from Kodiak, Alaska – and while these are technically classified as orbital test flights, the company was quick to caution journalists on a press call on Thursday that it doesn’t necessarily believe each the three initial launches it has planned will make it all the way to orbit proper.

“We don’t intend to get a hole-in-one here,” said Kemp. “It’s a par three course. We intend to really accomplish enough to ensure that we’re able to get to [orbital] flight after three flights, and for us, that means a nominal first stage burn, and getting that upper stage to separate successfully. After that, pretty much everything that we learn is additional upside, and will be just delighted if that upper stage lights and we’ll be delighted if the upper stage teaches us something so that so that our next flight can even be more successful.”

Astra’s approach to building and launching rockets differs somewhat from its competitors. The startup only incorporated three years ago, and it’s building its rockets in Alameda, California – not far from Oakland. The Rocket 3.1 is a roughly 40-foot launch vehicle that carries a small payload, roughly equivalent to one of the small sats that make up the large constellations currently being launched for operation in low Earth orbit by a number of companies (for reference, SpaceX launches 60 of these on each of its Starlink missions).

When I spoke to Kemp ahead of their original attempt to win a DARPA launch challenge (since ended with the prize unclaimed), he stressed that they’re looking to build in volume at low cost, with the expectation of a higher tolerable margin for failure than other new space launch companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

“Rather than trying to spend many years doing it first time, we’re iterating towards orbit,” Kemp said during Thursday’s conference about their debut attempt next week.

This is a do-over after the original planned attempt which suffered an anomaly that led in a total loss of the vehicle. That was a ‘Rocket 3.0’ model, and the company has upgraded the design and worked out a number of issues, including the one that led to that failure, with the ensuing time. The gap between now and that attempt at the end of March includes delays resulting from COVID-19, though Astra was eventually declared one of very few companies still allowed to maintain a staffed office since it’s considered important to national security.

These three initial test flights won’t carry any payload, in part because Astra fully expects to lose at least the first vehicle. But Astra’s model actually allows for some operational failures in exchange for economics that allow much less expensive individual launch costs than are currently possible with either SpaceX or Rocket Lab’s rideshare missions as options for small satellite operators.

The first Astra test launch is currently targeting sometime between a window that spans August 2 to August 7, between the hours of 7 PM and 9 PM PDT (6 and 8 PM local time in Kodiak) . So far, weather isn’t looking great for Sunda, but the company notes the weather shifts quickly and plans to keep a close watch and adapt accordingly.

#aerospace, #alaska, #astra, #california, #flight, #kodiak, #oakland, #rocket-lab, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Dawn Aerospace unveils the Mk II Aurora suborbital space plane, capable of multiple same-day flights

Just like we enjoy a range of different possible modes of transportation on Earth, the potential of the space economy allows for many different types of of vehicles and launch systems. Dawn Aerospace took the wrapper off one today, a suborbital spaceplane called the Dawn Mk-II Aurora that’s smaller than a compact car and that will be capable of making multiple return trips to suborbital space per day.

The Mk-II is, as its name suggests, a second iteration of the concept created by Dawn. The Mk-I was actually built and flew in May 2018, demonstrating its ability to fire up its rockets during flight after taking off horizontally from a traditionally airstrip. One of the Mk-II’s key capabilities is its ability to take-off and land at conventional runways, obviating the need for specialized and expensive vertical launch compounds.

Dawn Aerospace was founded in Delft, in the Netherlands, with ties to the Technical University of Delft, and also operates out of New Zealand, which has a growing reputation in the New Space industry stemming from being the home of Rocket Lab, one of the most successful new companies operating commercial launch services. The company’s entire mission is built around sustainable space-based economy, and it also has a thriving business in CubeSat propulsion, building systems that use food-grade propellants for safe fuels that don’t carry as much of an environmental cost.

Image Credits: Dawn Aerospace

The Mk-II Aurora approaches the goal of sustainable commercial spaceflight in a different way, promising flights to 60 miles and above for payloads of 3U, which is small but perfectly suitable for a range of scientific experiments. It’ll be able to fly and return for multiple trips per day, at a cost of roughly $50,000 per flight, with realtime downlink communications capabilities.

Dawn has plans for a Mk-III iteration of its space plane that will be 60 feet long and be able to carry payloads weighing between 110 and 220 lbs all the way to orbit. Combined with its ability to do multiple daily flights and take off and land from conventional runways anywhere in the world, that would be a game-changer for the small satellite launch industry.

#aerospace, #aurora, #cubesat, #dawn, #flight, #launch-services, #netherlands, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #science, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceplane, #tc


Spaceflight Inc. debuts new orbital transfer vehicle for satellite rideshare rocket launches

Seattle-based space ride share service provider Spaceflight Inc. revealed its next-generation orbital transfer vehicle today, the Sherpa-FX. The new spacecraft acts as a deployment spacecraft for combined payloads on rideshare rocket launches – essentially providing last-mile transportation from the point at which the launch vehicle deploys the combined payload, to the actual desired target deployment orbit of each satellite sharing the ride to space.

The Sherpa-FX will fly its debut mission on an upcoming SpaceX rideshare mission, currently set to take off as early as December 2020. The inaugural flight of the Spaceflight orbital transfer vehicle will carry 16 small spacecraft from a number of different companies and organizations, including one for NASA and one for the University of South Florida’s Institute of Applied Engineering.

This is the first spacecraft that has resulted from Spaceflights’ Sherpa-NG program, which is dedicated to developing and deploying next-generation technology for payload deployment and management from the point of primary payload deployment from a contracted launch vehicle from providers like SpaceX . This is a key step in ensuring that rideshare models work for payload operators, since while combining payloads on a single rocket is great for defraying the cost of launch, it’s far from ideal for actually ensuring your spacecraft ends up in the orbit where it’ll actually be operating.

Companies like Rocket Lab, which employs a dedicated rideshare model for its main business, have their own orbital transfer vehicles, as do operators who deploy larger payloads for single customers. Spaceflight’s entire business is predicated on supplying the technology and services necessary to take companies like SpaceX, as well as Rocket Lab, and offer even more flexibility and optimization in terms of supporting a larger number of deployments from a single launch.

Spaceflight, Inc. was acquired earlier this year by Japanese industrial giant Mistui & Co, but continues to operate independently out of its U.S. HQ with the same operational goal in mind.

#aerospace, #flight, #last-mile-transportation, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #science, #seattle, #sherpa, #south-florida, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spaceflight-industries, #spacex, #tc, #united-states


NY-based autonomous reusable rocket startup lands Air Force contract

New York-based startup iRocket has landed a contract award from the U.S. Air Force to develop and build its fully autonomous small payload rockets, which the company says will be able to launch and propulsively land both its first and second stages, with the potential of launching small payloads on demand in as little as 24 hours.

iRocket is one of a few different companies looking to provide quick turnaround, rapid-response launch capabilities to serve a growing need among defense customers, particularly in the U.S., for those services. U.S. defense agencies are seeking this specifically to help them send up small satellites in greater numbers, with greater frequency, in order to help provide redundancy and address specific needs as they arise.

The iRocket Shockwave launch vehicles are intended to carry a payload with maximum size of around 1,500 kg (around 3,300 lbs) and are best to take off from sites inlacing Spaceport Oklahoma and potentially Launch Complex 48 at Kennedyy Space Cetner in Cape Canaveral. Flexibility in terms of launch sites, including inland in the continental U.S., is another way they can support for flexibility and responsive operations for the Department of Defense and others.

iRocket plans to fly its first launch in just under three years’ time, with a plan to begin offering on-orbit satellite servicing as one of its products by 2025. It has a long way to go before that, but there’s definitely plenty of institutional interest in this from deep-pocketed government and defense customers.

#aerospace, #department-of-defense, #flight, #new-york, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #united-states


Rocket Lab launch fails during rocket’s second stage burn, causing a loss of vehicle and payloads

Rocket Lab’s ‘Pic or it didn’t happen’ launch on Saturday ended in failure, with a total loss of the Electron launch vehicle and all seven payloads on board. The launch vehicle experienced a failure during the second stage burn post-launch, after a lift-off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The mission appeared to be progressing as intended, but the launch vehicle appeared to experience unexpected stress during the ‘Max Q’ phase of launch, or the period during which the Electron rocket experiences the most significant atmospheric pressure prior to entering space.

Launch video cut off around six minutes after liftoff during the live stream, and rocket was subsequently shown to be falling from its current altitude before the web stream was cut short. Rocket Lab then revealed via Twitter that the Electron vehicle was lost during the second stage burn, and committed to sharing more information when it becomes available.

This is an unexpected development for Rocket Lab, which has flown 11 uneventful consecutive Electron missions since the beginning of its program.

Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck posted an apology to Twitter, noting that all satellites were lost, and that he’s “incredibly sorry” to all customer who suffered loss of payload today. That includes Canon, which was flying a new Earth imaging satellite with demonstration imaging tech on board, as well as Planet, which had five satellites for its newest and most advanced Earth imaging constellation on the vehicle.

We’ll update with more info about the cause and next steps from Rocket Lab when available.

#aerospace, #ceo, #electron, #flight, #imaging, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #rocket, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #tc


Virgin Galactic to buy seats on rockets and train private astronauts for Space Station trips

Space tourism company Virgin Galactic has just revealed a novel extension of their business mode, through a new agreement signed with NASA enabled by the Space Act Agreement. The arrangement will see Virgin Galactic purchase seats on spacecraft bound for the orbiting International Space Station, as well as provide training and supplies and resources for those individuals. Virgin Galactic is in the process of developing its own, sub-orbital space tourism program using its own spacecraft that will launch from a carrier airplane, but this deal would involve use of other spacecraft that have the capacity to reach orbit and the ISS – which Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo can’t do.

The most likely candidate for where Virgin will be procuring those seats right now is SpaceX, although Virgin’s press release announcing the news does not mention the Elon Musk-led company. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which is currently docked at the ISS after its first ever successful astronaut-carrying launch last month, is likely to become the first human-rated private spacecraft certified by NASA upon its return to Earth, likely happening sometime around August. Crew Dragon can hold as many as seven people per launch, and NASA is only ever going to use a maximum of four seats, the agency has said, with hopes that private individuals, including researchers and tourists, will buy up remaining tickets to help offset the costs of launch.

Virgin Galactic will essentially be operating a launch services business for private astronauts, similar to the one set up by Space Adventures, which has an agreement in place with SpaceX, and which previously brokered trips to the ISS for private astronauts including Anousheh Ansari aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Again, SpaceX hasn’t been mentioned here specifically, and Virgin Galactic will likely also be seeking access to Boeing’s Starliner crew spacecraft once it’s operational and certified to transport human to the ISS, too. It is interesting to note that SpaceX’s arrangement with Space Adventures thus far focuses only on orbital fly-and-return missions for Crew Dragon, and not on any flights that would involve actually docking at the ISS.

Also worth noting is that Virgin Galactic will be procuring and training private astronauts including individual citizens, as well as government-sponsored scientific research missions. So publicly-funded scientists that aren’t specifically NASA astronauts will likely also go through Virgin. The private spaceflight company says it will use its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico for “some elements of the training program.”

Virgin Galactic’s move from being a private spaceflight launch provider, to a services and procurement company working between NASA and private spaceflight launch companies, is definitely a large and significant shift in its business. It should definitely decrease the company’s time to revenue as it continues to develop and test its own human launch capabilities, a process which obviously carries a lot more overhead than working with existing, already certified launch providers as an intermediary provider.

#aerospace, #anousheh-ansari, #boeing, #commercial-spaceflight, #flight, #international-space-station, #new-mexico, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #russia, #science, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spacex, #tc, #virgin-galactic


Startup Space Perspective plans space tourist ‘cruises’ using stratospheric balloons, with test flight set for 2021

There’s a new company that wants to get into the commercial space tourism business – with a unique spin that involves non-traditional launch vehicles. Space Perspective, a new startup founded by Jane Poynter and Taber McCallum, intends to fly a pressurized capsule to the upper edge of Earth’s atmosphere using a high-altitude balloon, which can hold up to high passengers for a six-hour trip at an anticipated price of around $125,000 per person.

The, according to the company, is to use its so-called ‘Spaceship Neptune’ capsules to host both tourists and research payloads, with a cruising height of around 100,000 feet. It’s actually technically not space, but the company promises fantastic views that will include sights like the actual curvature of the Earth. The six-hour trip will include a two-hour ascent, a two-hour flight at the top of the atmosphere, and a two-hour descent back to Earth, according to Space Perspective. The company intends to launch its balloons and capsule from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and when it returns to Earth, it’ll splash down in the Atlantic Ocean where a ship will retrieve the passengers, and the capsule. The FAA will regulate all of Space Perspective’s human flights, and it’s working with the U.S. regulatory agency in advance of its planned crewed missions, which are likely still a few years away at least.

If any of this sounds familiar, it might be because Space Perspective’s founders created a company with some very similar goals earlier in their careers: Poynter and McCallum previously co-founded World View, a stratospheric balloon company whose primary mission is to fly payloads including communications and Earth observation hardware, but which also had as one of its stated goals a mission to fly people using balloon-lofted capsules.

World View still operates, though Poynter was replaced as its CEO by Ryan Hartman in February of last year. World View’s primary HQ is in Arizona, and it operates a manufacturing and launch facility there from which it regularly flies its balloons as it continues to develop and deploy its technology.

Space Perspective is a completely separate company, a company respresntaive tells me. The company plans to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as mentioned,d and will also launch in future from Floriday’s Cecil Spaceport, and private launch sites in Alaska, Hawaii, and internationally, the company says.

Image Credits: Space Perspective

The startup plans to begin test launching its Neptune capsule as early as next year, though without any people on board, Instead, it’ll carry experimental payloads, which is again a secondary goal of the technology that Space Perspective intends to put in market.

This is an interesting entrance in the ‘not-quite-space’ tourism industry, with some differentiators that could make it a compelling alternative to offerings from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, though not on par with what SpaceX intends to do with its private Crew Dragon commercial flights. Poynter and McCallum appear to have started this as a separate venture from World View in order to allow that company to focus on its more practical industry and commercial payload missions, allowing Space Perspective to better express their specific goal of human high-altitude transportation.

#aerospace, #alaska, #arizona, #balloon, #ceo, #flight, #florida, #hawaii, #manufacturing, #science, #space, #tc, #world-view, #world-view-enterprises


Rocket startup Skyrora achieves a successful sub-orbital launch from Scottish island

This past weekend was a busy one for rocket launches, including for new launch companies hoping to join the ranks of SpaceX and Rocket Lab as private, operational space launch providers. Edinburgh-based Skyrora achieved a significant milestone for its program, successfully launching its Skylark Nano rocket from an island off the coast of Scotland on Saturday.

Skyrora has been developing its launch system with a goal of devouring affordable transportation for small payloads. The company has flown its Skylark Nano twice previously, including a first launch back in 2018, but this is the first time it has taken off from Shetland, a Scottish site that is among three proposed commercial spaceports to be located in Scotland.

Skylark Nano is a development spacecraft that Skyrora created while it work son its Skylark-L and Skyrora XL orbital commercial launch vehicles. Nano doesn’t reach space – it flies to a height of around 6KM (roughly 20,000 feet) but it does help the company demonstrate its propulsion technologies, and also gather crucial information that helps it in developing its Skylark L suborbital commercial launch craft, as well as Skyrora XL, which will aim to serve customers with orbital payload needs.

Skylark L is currently in development, and Skyrora recently achieved a successful full static test fire of that rocket. The goal is to begin launching commercially from a UK-based spaceport as early as 2022.

Skyrora’s approach is also unique because it employs both additive manufacturing (3D printing) in construction of its vehicles, and uses a kerosene fuel developed from discarded plastic waste that the company claims produces fewer emissions than traditional rocket fuel.

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #aerospace, #edinburgh, #flight, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #rocket-launch, #scotland, #skyrora, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #spacex, #tc


Astroscale expands into geostationary satellite life extension with new acquisition

Orbital spacecraft sustainability startup Astroscale has acquired the IP, most assets and staff of a an Isreali company called Effective Space Solutions in order to broaden its service offering to include servicing geostationary (GEO) satellites, as well as low Earth orbit (LEO) debris removal. Astroscale, founded in Japan in 2013 with a mission of addressing the growing problem of orbital debris and sustainable space operations, is also setting up an office in Israel as part of this deal.

Already, Astroscale has offices in the U.K., the U.S. and Singapore, and this new arrangement will make it even more of a global company. The operation in Israel will focus on the GEO satellite life extension aspect of the business, which is what ESS was working on previously. Satellite life extension is actually something that a number of companies are looking to develop and bring to market, including orbital ‘gas station’ company Orbit Fab, as well as larger legacy industry companies like Maxar.

Extending the life of GEO satellites with on-orbit servicing is potentially a very lucrative industry, since it would mean that companies can get a lot more usable life, and revenue, out of their considerable investments in building the expensive, large and pricey to launch spacecraft to begin with.

GEO satellites provide crucial communications and navigation infrastructure, including via GPS, as well as satellite internet networks and long-distance Earth imaging and observation capabilities. On-orbit satellite servicing could mean that these investments, which can range into the billions, can operate long beyond their intended lifespan, and could even eventually be updated with new hardware, sensors or other capabilities as more modern equipment than they launched with becomes available.

Launch costs are often the most expensive part of deploying any orbital spacecraft, so the potential of repurposing existing on orbit assets through life extension efforts could change the fundamental economics of doing business in space.

Astroscale will be taking on and continuing to develop ESS’ Space Drone program, which is not yet at the point where it’s actually launching orbital space servicing missions, but the work of the Isreali company will definitely give Astrocale a leg-up in terms of building out its own orbital servicing ambitions.

#aerospace, #astroscale, #flight, #gas-station, #gps, #imaging, #israel, #japan, #ma, #orbit, #outer-space, #satellite, #singapore, #space, #space-debris, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states


SpaceX’s astronaut launch marks the dawn of the commercial human spaceflight industry

SpaceX on Saturday launched two NASA astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the accomplishment is a tremendous one for both the company and the U.S. space agency. At a fundamental level, it means that the U.S. will have continued access to the International Space Station, without having to rely on continuing to buy tickets aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to do so. But it also means the beginning of a new era for the commercial space industry – one in which private companies and individual buying tickets for passenger trips to space is a consistent and active reality.

With this mission, SpaceX will complete the final step required by NASA to human-rate its Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which means that it can begin operationally transporting people from Earth essentially as soon as this mission concludes (Crew Dragon still has to rendezvous with the space station tomorrow, and make its way back to Earth with astronauts on board in a few weeks). Already, SpaceX has signed an agreement with Space Adventures, a private space tourism booking company that has previously worked with Roscosmos on sending private astronauts to orbit.

SpaceX wants to start sending up paying tourists on orbital flights (without any ISS stops) starting as early as next year aboard Crew Dragon. The capsule actually supports up to seven passengers per flight, though only four seats will ever be used for official NASA crew delivery missions for the space station. SpaceX hasn’t released pricing on private trips aboard the aircraft, but you can bet they’ll be expensive since a Falcon 9 launch (without a human rated capsule) costs around $60 million, and so even dividing that by seven works out to a high price of entry.

So this isn’t the beginning of the era of accessible private spaceflight, but SpaceX is the first private company to actually put people into space, despite a lot of talk and preparatory work by competitors like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. And just like in the private launch business, crossing the gulf between having a private company that talks about doing something, and a company that actually does it, will absolutely transform the space industry all over again.

Here’s how.


SpaceX is gearing up to launch tourists as early as next year, as mentioned, and while those tourists will have to be deep-pocketed, as eight everything that SpaceX does, the goal is to continue to find ways to make more aspects of the launch system reusable and reduce costs of launch in order to bring prices down.

Even without driving down costs, SpaceX will have a market, however niche, and one that hasn’t yet really had any inventory to satisfy demand. Space Adventures has flown a few individuals by buying tickets on Soyuz launches, but that hasn’t really been a consistent or sustainable source of commercial human spaceflight, and SpaceX’s system will likely have active support and participation from NASA.

That’s an entirely new revenue stream for SpaceX to add to its commercial cargo launches, along with its eventual launch of commercial internet service via Starlink. It’s hard to say yet what kind of impact that will actually have on their bottom line, but it could be big enough to have an impact – especially if they can figure out creative ways to defray costs over successive years, since each cut will likely considerably expand their small addressable audience.

SpaceX’s impact on the launch business was to effectively create a market for small satellites and more affordable orbital payloads that simply didn’t make any economic sense with larger existing launch craft, most of which were bankrolled almost entirely by and for defence and NASA use. Similarly, it’s hard to predict what the space tourism market will look like in five years, now that a company is actually offering it and flying a human-rated private spacecraft that can make it happen.


Private spacefarers won’t all be tourists – in fact, it could make a lot more financial sense for the majority of passengers to and from orbit to be private scientists and researchers. Basically, imagine a NASA astronaut, but working for a private company rather than a publicly-funded agency.

Astronauts are essentially multidisciplinary scientists, and the bulk of their job is conducing experiments on the ISS. NASA is very eager to expand commercial use of the ISS, and also to eventually replace the aging space station with a private one of which they’re just one of multiple customers. Already, the ISS hosts commercial experiments and cargo, but if companies and institutions can now also send their own researchers as well, that may change considerably how much interest their is in doing work on orbit, especially in areas like biotech where the advantages of low gravity can produce results not possible on Earth.

Cost is a gain a significant limiting factor here, since the price per seat will be – no pun intended – astronomical. But for big pharma and other large companies who already spend a considerable amount on R&D it might actually be within reach. Especially in industries like additive manufacturing, where orbit is an area of immense interest, private space-based labs with actual rotating staff might not be that farfetched an idea.

Marketing & Entertainment

Commercial human spaceflight might actually be a great opportunity to make actual commercials – brands trying to outdo each other by shooting the first promo in space definitely seems like a likely outcome for a Superbowl spot. It’s probably not anyone’s priority just now, given the ongoing global pandemic, but companies have already discussed the potential of marketing partnerships as a key driver of real revenue, including lunar lander startup ispace, which has signed a number of brand partners to fund the build and flight of its hardware.

Single person rides to orbit are definitely within budget for the most extreme marketing efforts out there, and especially early on, there should be plenty of return on that investment just because of how audacious and unique the move is. The novelty will likely wear off, but access to space will remain rarified enough for the forseeable future that it could still be part of more than a few marketing campaigns.

As for entertainment, we’ve already seen the first evidence of interest there – Tom Cruise is working on a project to be filmed at least in part in space, apparently on board the International Space Station. SpaceX is said to be involved in those talks, and it would make a lot of sense for the company to consider a Crew Dragon flight with film crew and actors on board for both shooting, and for transportation to ‘on location’ shoots on the ISS.

Cruise probably isn’t the only one to consider the impact of a space-based motion picture project, and you can bet at least one reality show producer somewhere is already pitching ‘The Bachelor’ in space. Again, it’s not going to be within budget for every new sci-fi project that spins up, but it’s within blockbuster budget range, and that’s another market that grew by 100% just by virtue of the fact that it didn’t exist as a possibility before today.

Novel industry

It’s hard to fully appreciate what kind of impact this will have, because SpaceX has literally taken something that previously wasn’t possible, and made it available – at costs that, while high, aren’t so high as to be absurd. As with every other such expansion, it will likely create new and innovative opportunities that haven’t even been conceived, especially once the economics and availability of flights, etc. are clarified. GPS, another great space-based innovation, formed the bedrock of an industry that changed just about every aspect of human life – private commercial spaceflight could do the same.

#additive-manufacturing, #aerospace, #astronaut, #blue-origin, #driver, #falcon, #falcon-9, #flight, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #internet-service, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #tom-cruise, #united-states, #virgin-galactic


Max Q: Huge week ahead for SpaceX and Virgin Orbit

This week could be the biggest week to date for private spaceflight, with landmark launch attempts coming from both Virgin Orbit and SpaceX .

Virgin Orbit is looking to join the elite club of private launch companies that have actually made it to space, with a full flight test of its combined Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne system. Meanwhile, SpaceX is looking to launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft with people on board – achieving a number of milestones, including returning U.S. crew launch capabilities, and human-rating its Falcon 9 rocket.

Here’s what Virgin Orbit hopes their first flight will do

Virgin Orbit 87Virgin Orbit was supposed to launch its first full demonstration flight on Sunday, but a sensor bug that showed up during pre-launch checkouts means that it’s now pushing things back to at least Monday to check that out.

Extra precaution is hardly surprising since this milestone mission could help the company become an operational satellite launch provider – one of only a small handful of private companies that can make that claim.

SpaceX cleared to proceed for historic crew flight Wednesday

SpaceX passed its first crucial flight readiness review (FRR) on Friday for its first ever crewed astronaut launch, setting it up for a full rehearsal of the mission on Saturday leading up to the actual launch Now it’s set for another FRR with partner NASA on Monday, and then the launch should take place on Wednesday – weather and checkouts permitting. This will definitely be one to watch.

MHI retires a space workhorse


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries flew its last mission with its H-II series rocket, and the space transfer vehicle it carries to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The company is readying a successor to this highly successful and consistent rocket, the H3, which is set to make its launch debut sometime in 2022 if all goes to plan.

NASA human spaceflight chief abruptly resigns

While SpaceX is aiming to make history with NASA and two of its astronauts, the person in charge of the agency’s human spaceflight endeavors made a surprising and abrupt exit from the agency last week. Doug Loverro resigned from his position, reportedly over some kind of inappropriate activity he engaged in with a prospective agency business partner ahead of the contract awards for NASA’s commercial human lander program.

Xilinx debuts a new chip made for machine learning in space

Xilinx specializes in building processors that are designed to withstand the rigors of use in space, which include heavy radiation exposure, extreme temperatures and plenty more. The company just debuted a new FPGA for space-based applications that is the first 20nm-based processor for space, and the first with dedicated machine-learning capabilities built in for edge computing that truly redefines the term.

NASA’s ‘Artemis Accords’ look to redefine international space cooperation

Space has enjoyed a period of being relatively uncontested when it comes to international squabbles – mostly because it’s hard and expensive to reach, and the benefits of doing so weren’t exactly clear 30 to 40 years ago when most of those rules were set up. NASA’s new rules include a lot of the old ones, but also set up some modernizations that are sure to begin a lot of debate and discussion in the space policy community.

ULA launches first U.S. Space Force spaceplane mission

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In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline March 30, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, FLa. (Courtesy photo)

The United Launch Alliance launched the X-37B last week on behalf of the U.S. Space Force – marking the first time the mysterious experimental unscrewed space plane has launched for that newly-formed agency. The X-37B has flown plenty before, of course – but previously it was doing so under the authority of the U.S. Air Force, since the Space Force hadn’t been formed yet.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #computing, #doug-loverro, #falcon, #falcon-9, #flight, #florida, #fpga, #international-space-station, #machine-learning, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #radiation, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceplane, #spacex, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #united-states, #xilinx


The future of flight can be energy-efficient

We are at the dawn of a new era in transportation.

At the turn of the 20th century, cars began to replace horses. Now, a century later, we would like to see mobility move to the sky. Kitty Hawk has built several prototype vehicles that are electrically powered, take off and land vertically and fly in between like a fixed-wing plane. Collectively, these are called eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft.

eVTOLs — such as the ones built by Project Heaviside — show great potential for everyday transportation. With that as an eventual use case, a common question that comes up is: can eVTOL vehicles be green? Specifically, can eVTOL vehicles be more energy-efficient than cars?

Under the EPA’s standard freeway driving test, a 2020 Nissan Leaf Plus uses about 275 Watt-hours per mile when it averages 50 miles per hour. It can comfortably seat four, but its average occupancy is somewhere around 1.6. Thus, the Leaf’s energy consumption is about 171Wh per passenger mile across all trips.

Our current Heaviside prototype uses about 120Wh per passenger mile, and does so at twice the speed of the Leaf: 100 miles per hour (of course, we can fly much faster, if we choose). We can save another 15% of energy because while roads are not straight, flight paths usually are. All together, Heaviside requires 61% as much energy to go a mile.

Why is Heaviside this efficient — doesn’t it take more energy to go faster? Yes, and it makes the high efficiency we’ve achieved even more dramatic. The answer is that Heaviside can take advantage of slim and low-drag aerodynamic forms that are just not practical on cars.

The difference in drag between a clean, aerodynamic shape like the wing section below, and a bluff body like the cylinder, is vast. So vast in fact that the two shapes drawn will have about the same amount of drag.

                                              The cylinder can be hard to see, it’s over here  ↑ 

What is probably less obvious is that clean shapes like wings must make lift when they are put at an angle to the wind. This is not just observation, but can be mathematically proven.

Car manufacturers put tremendous effort into designing shapes that minimize drag, but will not make lift or side force in wind, which would result in poor and squirrelly handling — remember the last time you drove over a bridge in high winds, or in the opposite direction of a large truck on a narrow country road.

When a car drives by, it takes quite a bit of air along with it.

Image Credits: Kitty Hawk

Project Heaviside, in contrast, leaves a small disturbance in the air it passes through.

So, Heaviside is quite energy-efficient. But what if people choose to travel farther when this option exists? What I find personally surprising about the ranges we have been able to achieve is that Heaviside is a vehicle that, because of the extremely low power consumption, is more efficient than a car traveling for an equal amount of time.

This leaves out the most important element of eVTOL aircraft, which is that they are fully electric, and the cars we would like to see them replace are nearly all gas and diesel-powered. While it may be a hard sell to convince the average consumer to switch to an electric car simply because of emissions, it is likely to be much easier to convince them to use a device that gives them time back.

To put this another way, if your commute is the U.S. average of 16 miles, and if you commuted in a Heaviside-type vehicle, three standard rooftop solar panels would power your commute both ways.

While we have a significant road ahead of us in developing and fielding our aircraft commercially, and we cannot be sure the final products will be as efficient as our prototypes, we are still very excited to demonstrate that efficiency and personal flight need not be at odds.

#aerospace, #column, #electric-car, #environmental-protection-agency, #evtol, #flight, #force, #kitty-hawk, #nissan-leaf, #startups, #transportation, #vtol


Virgin Orbit sets first orbital launch for May 24

Virgin Orbit has been preparing for this moment for years, but it’s now officially ready to launch its small satellite delivery vehicle to orbit for the first time. This key demonstration mission, taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, will replicate the actual operational launch experience that Virgin Orbit hopes to provide its customers going forward.

The company is targeting Sunday May 24 at 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) for this historic launch, with a four-hour window on the day during which the actual take-off could occur. The mission will include flying its modified Boeing 747 carrier craft with its LauncherOne to that vehicles launch altitude, where it’ll detach from the 747 and use its own rocket engines to make the rest of the trip to space. There’s a backup opportunity on Monday, should weather interfere.

Virgin Orbit’s approach differs from traditional vertical rocket launches, and use of the carrier aircraft means it can take off from traditional runways. The LauncherOne rocket is a two-stage expendable launch vehicle that can carry around 660 lbs or 1,100 lbs to orbit, depending on the orbit required. That puts it at more payload capacity than Rocket Lab’s Electron, but less than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The concept behind Virgin Orbit’s approach is designed to reduce costs to make small satellite launches more affordable. Estimates put launch costs at around $12 million per flight, which is a considerable savings vs. traditional launch costs and even the price of SpaceX missions.

Virgin Orbit has been performing a number of tests and flights to ready for this final full demonstration mission, including a captive carry test last month. If all goes well with this demo mission, the company could begin launching for commercial clients as early as July.

#aerospace, #boeing, #flight, #forward, #launcherone, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #virgin-galactic, #virgin-orbit