A Banner Week for Commercial Spaceflight


While SpaceX stole the headlines with their Dragon spacecraft making the first private cargo run to the International Space Station, they weren’t the only commercial space company to make great strides for the future. “This has been an incredible couple of weeks for the companies in the commercial spaceflight industry,” said former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is now president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “Our members are working toward a common goal of opening spaceflight up to the public and expanding NASA’s reach, which will create high-tech jobs in the U.S. while building innovative technology that will improve life on Earth. The SpaceX achieved a historic first, and in just the ten days while they were in orbit, many other companies hit milestones or announced new initiatives.”

For example, on May 29 the Sierra Nevada Corporation completed a milestone for its Dream Chaser program with a captive carry flight test, marking the successful beginning of a flight test program that will continue this summer.

“The successful Captive Carry flight test of the Dream Chaser full scale flight vehicle marks the beginning of SNC’s flight test program; a program that culminates in crewed missions to the International Space Station for NASA,” said former astronaut Steve Lindsey. Lindsey joined SNC in 2011 to run Dream Chaser’s flight operations, and his resume includes service as an Air Force test pilot, a five time Space Shuttle Commander and Pilot, and Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office.

Captive carry testing provided SNC with an early opportunity to evaluate and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations in preparation for approach and landing tests scheduled for later this year. See a video of the test below:

XCOR Aerospace announced on May 24th that their liquid oxygen piston pump is now ready for reusable spaceflight. XCOR engineers have successfully and repeatedly pumped liquid oxygen at flow rates required to supply the Lynx suborbital vehicle’s main engines, completing a key technical milestone. XCOR is now ready for main propulsion integration into the Lynx flight weight fuselage.

Excalibur Almaz announced on May 27th that it plans to launch spacecraft to space stations they will place in orbit around the moon. Using proven Russian legacy hardware, Excalibur Almaz plans to create a transport system between Earth, low-Earth orbit, and the Moon. EA is now seeking partners, investors, and customers for this next generation space transportation system.

SpaceShipTwo durings its test flight on May 4, 2011. Credit: Clay Observator

Virgin Galactic announced on May 30th that its suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, along with its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, have been granted an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration. This launch permit will allow the vehicle’s manufacturer, Scaled Composites, to continue forward with the flight test program towards rocket-powered test.

Moon Express announced on May 30th that it has acquired Next Giant Leap, LLC in the first team acquisition event of the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE. The NGL acquisition by Moon Express will leverage and carry forward the substantial work done by NGL and its corporate partners.

Blue Origin announced on May 31st the successful completion of a System Requirements Review of its orbital Space Vehicle on May 15-16 which will help Blue Origin finalize its vehicle design. The review assessed the Space Vehicle’s ability to meet safety and mission requirements, and evaluated the technical readiness of the design, the concept of operations, the feasibility of project development plans, and planned verification activities. The review also included results from recently completed wind tunnel tests of the biconic shape, validating the vehicle’s aerodynamic design, stability and cross-range.

26 Replies to “A Banner Week for Commercial Spaceflight”

  1. They always choose such nerdy names for their vehicles, like “puff the magic dragon”.

    What about very cool names like. ‘THOR”, or “VULCAN” or “Dark star” or Fire-dragon or Cool-running, or “Ivan the terrible”…. “Genghis Khan”.

    1. ‘Thor’ was taken. It was a 60’s intermediate range ballistic missile, turned satellite launcher. Today’s Delta rockets are descended from that.

      I believe ‘Vulcan’ (perhaps the French spelling) is a European rocket engine.

      As for the rest…what you call cool, most others will call scary or threatening. Remember, you want people to buy rides and services on these systems, not run screaming down the hall…!

    2. Dark Star is the RQ-3 UAV. How is “Fire Dragon” all that different from SpaceX’s Dragon?The other three names you suggest, well, I for one am glad you don’t have naming rights. 🙂

  2. ok come on y’all, is anyone actually a fan of dream chaser out there?

    1. I like it:). It’s a neat idea, and I’ll be very happy if they can manage to build, test, qualify, and launch Dream Chasers at a reasonable price.

    2. Garumph. “It has its uses.”

      Supposedly it can take wounded and sick in comfort on a bed.

      But I would think the current seats are better in most cases because the position support your blood transport. And an emergency bed could be a feature of more crafts, if necessary. Dragon seems large enough, for example.

    3. It looks like a sexy thing, far better than the Dragon.
      But the name is not sexy. I would change this to make it a more cool sounding project. Marketing is very important here if you want to succeed.

  3. All this week proved is there is desperate need for a regulator like the FAA (with much strict regulation) to make sure that these companies and enterprises are not doing anything excessively dangerous or foolhardy. It will only take one significant catastrophe or failure to change the heady euphoria of the fanboys and the general public. IMO, this week at the end of May 2012 will be shown as a watershed moment, where the ugly side of commercialism emerges. We will probably see them openly exploit the resources of the moon and then the solar system for their own benefit.
    The UN also needs to draw more stringent laws of the behaviours of countries and corporations and make sure the benefits also are used to everyone on Earth rather than individuals or stockholders. That is what I think. (American fanatical fanboys be damned!)

    1. Interesting, I think that there is little love for the self serving corporate entity (as it exists today) by a intelligent populace across the world. There is no dispute that this (power base) does not and has not served the ecology of our planet very well. It is however hard to deny that the living standards for most people across the globe have improved because of the technology such corporations employ. There is every reason to expect that humanities move to explore and exploit our solar system, while making a small percentage of individuals extremely rich and powerful has to rely on the consuming power of a much poorer population to maintain a (monetary system of power).

      In that sense its somewhat of a contradiction to implicate the ‘corporation’ as an outright evil. If you reduce the equation to a % of wealth = access to space, then its logical to expect today’s world monetary power brokers to fund this technological leap.

      What is needed is a new corporate charter that everybody can equitably agree on. There are many benefits to the technological expansion into space for resources. One example might be; a cheap and steady supply of plutonium to foster a hydrogen economy on earth. If someone gets filthy rich from eliminating the use of fossil fuels on earth is that really so bad?

      Regulation by governmental committees, most likely funded by corporations, does not sound like a solution. What is needed is a new charter for corporations that exclude profit as the sole reason for a companies existence. The corporation has to be a benefactor to humanity and ecology as its basic tenant for existing. I (perhaps naively) think we are getting there, the corporate superstars are people too, and people on the whole are altruistic.

      Interestingly, a resource rich company operating from space will likely collapse the monetary system currently in play on earth. A shift in the balance of power may be the best thing to happen to earth. Or not.

      1. I think that there is little love for the self serving corporate entity (as it exists today) by a intelligent populace across the world.

        Without any data to support this, you make yourself a speaker for a whole group.

        As for your model of society, Rosling’s data says you are wrong. From his TED speechs it is evident that free markets, which will inevitably make long tails on wealth distributions, have pushed most people out of poverty and will continue to do so. Hence there is no contradiction in having a few extremely rich while enlarging the consuming power of the population, it is instead a beneficial correlation.*

        * Now you can study when if you put in places mechanisms that remove the extreme rich tail, nothing bad happens. It may even be further beneficial.

        But there seem to be little study on this. No wonder, it is the other tail that people in general wants to see gone.

      2. @ Torbjörn

        Your response is adversarial, I’m don’t wish to be defined as a spokesperson for any group. I cant see how my wording achieves this, but your “label” of my post certainly does. Did you actually read my ‘entire post’ ?

        Nobody can deny the environmental damage that corporations represent in their pursuit of wealth. Can you? Its fair to expect some level of resentment by ‘ordinary’ people who suffer disenfranchisement within this system. Certainly (in my opinion) unless these corporations supplement their resource use from near space then our free market economy will lead to a environmental collapse at present levels of consumption.

        How does the short term increase in living standards at the expense of our biome serve humanity at large? Or the Corporation if society collapses?

        What “new” model of society did I suggest here? I’m not advocating communism, merely suggesting that a revision of the broad Corporate Charter that is (inclusive of humanity at large) would be beneficial.

        A corporate charter that includes free market economy is entirely acceptable to me. (for what its worth). Indeed, I agree broadly with your posts here. The irony!

    2. This world has already had catastrophies in space. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents
      The world has moved and continued with its programs and has even expanded. IMO setbacks should be expected and just make the programs stronger As far as further regulation… don’t need that. The private interests ofcommercial ventures and the exploitation of the moon is the only way we are going to get there, by providing incentives for private development. Have a look at NASA. It is floundering with restrictkions and shortness of funding . Only totalitarian states like Rusia and China can redirect funds for the people to their space program and get away with it. The US doesn’t have nor should they have that right.The “over-commercialization” of space can always be resticted down the road.

    3. This seems to be a fractal fail comment, likely because it seems ideologically motivated.

      – The links from the article shows that FAA have stepped up. The SS1 was launched without the FAA oversight now demanded and carried out for all eventual risks of SS2.

      – The exploitation of solar system resources is perhaps a long shot but would complement exploration and support eventual colonization. Hence it would be beneficial for society at large and space especially.

      Some special UN regulation for space isn’t mandated. Such regulation can be beneficial (say, easing the problems of nationalism going into space) and it can be harmful (say, blocking beneficial exploitation).

      – What is “the ugly side of commercialism”?

      According to Hans Rosling’s immersive data supplied by nations all over the world what correlates with healthy societies and wellbeing individuals is free markets, democracy and social medicine. This is how the overpopulation, famine, diseases, poverty et cetera of the world has come under control respectively decreased markedly in later decades.

      The bad sides of commercialism would be putting risks on the society and unfair competition. I’m not a great study of history, but it seems to me the societies that most trashed wellbeing of population and their nature respectively monopolized markets have been closed dictatorships (including “communist” nations).

      I don’t think commerce can be nearly as ugly as these other social players. Commercialism isn’t the problem of US, it is the absence of pervasive social medicine that makes it a dysfunctional society in many cases.

      1. “This seems to be a fractal fail comment, likely because it seems ideologically motivated.” What kind ideology might that be?

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  4. Another BIG commercial space story within the last week is SpaceX signing up Intelsat, operator of the world largest fleet of commercial satellites, as the first customer for the Falcon Heavy.

    The Falcon Heavy, which can lift twice as much as Boeing’s Delta Heavy IV, is also aimed at getting business from the DoD.

    Also , the recent move to shift NOAA from Commerce Dept. to NASA control to consolidate launch costs may see NASA awarding further business to commercial space.

    Please excuse the pun, but the future for commercial space is looking up.

  5. I love the dream chaser concept but do not believe that they are anywhere close to having flyable hardware. Dragging a plywood mockup around by heliocopter is just a PR stunt to keep the Gov. funding coming in. This whole concept had extensive NASA R&D back in the 60’s and needs no more validation. Dream Chaser is destined to be a just that, a dream. Now based on the success of the X-38B, the X-38C is something that could be easily and quickly developed by our military and operational within a few years (2015). It’s not a dream but is sweet reality. Come on USAF, step it up.

    1. If you Google “Dream Chaser” and look for images, you’ll find plenty of pictures of the composite body of the first actual spacecraft. Also, it won’t be ‘plywood mockups’ that will be undergoing drop tests later this year.

      Do some research.

  6. Doesn’t the shape of the Dream Chaser, like the shuttle, remind of the front end of an old C47? Not exactly a sleek looking beast, but as long as it works, who cares? Putt-putt-putt…

  7. Now that is an interesting docking style/configuration with ISS.. and can be used to dock with any other variation on the theme? I like! Hey! Lets hook up my MHD drive and reactor then hit it and get it good!

  8. Am I the only one who looked at that first picture of Dream Chaser and thought it was an inflatable mock-up? Yes?

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