Orbital launches commercial space craft to ISS. Private space race officially on

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When the shuttle was canceled there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the SpaceX and Orbital solution has been cheaper and is looking solid.

Suck it haterz.

“At 10:58 EDT today, an Orbital Science Antares rocket took off successfully from NASA’s Wallops launch site in Virginia. Even as you read this, it’s flying a Cygnus into orbit in preparation for docking with the International Space Station in what is, so far, a seemingly flawless mission.

Orbital Sciences is part of the brand new space race between long-established names in space technology and younger, bolder new companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Orbital, along with SpaceX, was selected by NASA to develop and then use private rocket tech to deliver vital supplies to the ISS in the post-Space Shuttle era–a long lull before NASA’s own rocket systems are ready.”

(Via The Commercial Space Race Is On: Orbital Science Corp. Launches Rocket To Space Station | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.)

To be fair, in this race SpaceX is so far well ahead of Orbital. SpaceX will be launching later this month a mission that will develop a first stage that will attempt to do a test recovery and ‘landing’ over the ocean (a hover at least) to test the Grasshopper technology they’re developing.

Meanwhile, NASA own SLS program plods ahead. It’s cheaper than the space shuttle, but I still find it less interesting than the above:

“If we were to take SLS’s preliminary schedule of one cargo flight and one manned flight every other year, we get $1.2 billion for the cargo flight, and $2 billion for the manned one using Orion. A development cost of 12.6 billion dollars will have to be spread out over the total number of flights too, so if we use 30 flights like mister Strickland did we have to add $420 million to every flight. Over 30 flights, the average cost of SLS would be $2.02 billion per flight, though the number of cargo missions would probably end up dominating later on since most current Design Reference Missions would require more cargo then crewed flights. With a ratio of 2:1, we get a total of $1.89 billion per flight. If we take the costs of SLS only, not counting Orion, we get $1.6 billion per flight, which equals $18.000 per kilogram. “

(Via The Armchair Space Expert: Space Launch System: reviewing the cost.)

New Dragon 9 gets ready for launch [pic]

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A brooding picture of the all new Dragon 9.1, which is being shipped for a launch later this month.

The lower stage will attempt to control its descent and hover right before hitting the ocean. Something Musk says they have a ’10% chance’ of achieving this first time.

But it’s another step forward…

Newer SpaceX Grasshopper divert video has better angle, and more cows

This angle of the SpaceX Grasshopper test recently gives you a much better view of how cool the divert was in terms of guiding the rocket for a landing:

Plus: cows!

SpaceX Grasshopper’s Divert Maneuver

Another important step in fine control of a reusable returning rocket stage:

“SpaceX proved yesterday that their Grasshopper prototype Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle can do more than just go straight up and down. The goal of the test, said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Twitter was, ‘hard lateral deviation, stabilize & hover, rapid descent back to pad.’

On August 13th, the Grasshopper did just that, completing a divert test, flying to a 250-meter altitude with a 100-meter lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. SpaceX said the test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.”

(Via SpaceX Grasshopper Performs Divert Maneuver.)

Dragon Roadmap: From domestic crew independence to humans on Mars | NASASpaceFlight.com

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Something more cheerful and space-related than the grim past few days, a look at where Space X is along its path to human-certified launch:

“SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is continuing to make solid progress during the early years of its incremental roadmap, a path that has a firm focus on sending humans to Mars. With successful Commercial Cargo missions already under its belt, Dragon is already targeting the role of transporting NASA crews to the International Space Station (ISS).”

(Via Dragon Roadmap: From domestic crew independence to humans on Mars | NASASpaceFlight.com.)

SpaceX tests reusable first stage rocket

SpaceX has another iterative test of its reusable first stage:

What’s additionally intriguing is how golden age this is: a rocket landing on a tail of fire.

Commercial Crew Certification for private space access companies comes next year

2014 will be for certifying SpaceX, and Boeing for crewed flight, with actual crewed flight sometime after. Seeing as that NASA has Russian delivery set up through 2017, it looks like 2015-2016 will be the critical time for seeing whether either of those two companies can provide crewed service while they wean themselves (hopefully) over to the new crewed systems.

“Under NASA’s planned strategy, the next phase of certification (phase two) should start in 2014 and should include development, test, evaluation, and certification activities. It could also include, as options, a number of crewed missions to the ISS following certification.”

(Via McAlister Discusses Commercial Crew Certification | NASASpaceFlight.com.)

Paying Russia for astronaut launches just took money away from commercial crew plans, delaying missions

Here’s a Catch 22. In order to fund the commercial crew trips to the ISS using SpaceX or other contenders, NASA needs money. With budget cuts on the table, they had to take some of that money and send it to the Russians to keep the astronauts needed for ISS on track. Thus delaying the NASA ability to use commercial trips to 2017.

Frankly, I would have frozen the ISS visits until CCDEV is up and running, as that’s more critical long term, though I understand why this was done. You don’t really win here either way.

My hope is that SpaceX continues to innovate nonetheless.

“‘Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017. Even this delayed availability will be in question if Congress does not fully support the President’s fiscal year 2014 request for our Commercial Crew Program, forcing us once again to extend our contract with the Russians.”

(Via NASA’s Commercial Crew Catch 22 as another $424m heads to Russia | NASASpaceFlight.com.)

SpaceX Grasshopper takes another big hop on way to reusable rockets

SpaceX’s grasshopper does another test. Gets 820 feet up into the air and comes back down just fine. This is some amazing, they’re getting closer and closer to doing a first stage of a rocket that’s fully reusable.

Oh, and the private space race continues, Antares was just launched by Orbital Sciences here.

Striking photo: Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft in orbit and approaching the International Space Station:

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(Via SpaceX | SpaceX CRS-2 Mission to the ISS.)