Richard Branson and Friends Reach the Edge of Space, and Lived to Tell About it!

Early this morning, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic achieved a major milestone in the development of commercial space travel. Along with a team of specialists, Branson traveled to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity and made it safely back to Earth. In so doing, Branson and his company have also fired the latest salvo in the ongoing race between the titans of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace).

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Wally Funk From the Mercury 13 Will be Joining Jeff Bezos on his Flight to the Edge of Space

This month, two billionaires will be flying to space aboard their very own commercial launch vehicles. The first to go will be Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who will be a passenger aboard the inaugural crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Mark Bezos, Jeff’s brother, will be accompanying him on this flight, as will the person who won the auction that wrapped up on June 12th (they bid $28 million for the seat).

On July 1st, Blue Origin announced that the fourth passenger on this historic flight would be Wally Funk, a pioneer in aerospace who trained to become an astronaut back in the 1960s. As part of the “Mercury 13” Woman in Space Program, Funk was one of several qualified test pilots and graduated at the top of her class. And now, sixty years later, she is once again a pioneer since she is the oldest person that has ever flown to space.

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Jeff Bezos Will be Flying to Space Aboard New Shepard Next Month

In recent years, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has watched his commercial space company, Blue Origin, lose ground to the competition. While SpaceX has progressed by leaps and bounds towards realizing regular launches to the Moon and Mars (with the fully-reusable Starship), Blue Origin has been stuck in development hell with its launch vehicles. For this reason, Bezos announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of Amazon to focus on his fledgling space company.

So far, this decision has borne fruit, with the successful suborbital flight test of the New Shepard rocket that took place this past April. Stepping things up a notch, Bezos recently announced that when the first crewed flight of the New Shepard happens later this summer, he will be among the passengers. Scheduled to take place on July 20th, this mission will see Bezos and his younger brother Mark become the first billionaire space tycoon to launch to space.

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RocketLab Recovers a First-Stage Booster for the First Time: “Return to Sender”

In recent years, one of the most impressive developments for space exploration has been the rise of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace). Beyond fulfilling contracts with space agencies like NASA to provide commercial and crewed launch services, private aerospace companies are also fostering innovation that is helping to reduce the cost of sending payloads to space.

Take RocketLab, the US/NZ-based small satellite launch company that has broken new ground with its Electron rocket. In a further bid to reduce the costs of individual launches, RocketLab announced last year that it would begin recovering and reusing the spent boosters of its rockets. Recently, the company took a big step by successfully retrieving the first stage of an Electron after it delivered a payload to orbit.

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Astronauts Come Back to Earth on August 2nd, Completing the Full Crew Dragon Test

On May 30th, SpaceX and NASA made history when a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS). With this one flight, NASA and SpaceX demonstrated that the US once again has domestic launch capability, something they have not enjoyed since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

In one week, Sunday, August 2nd, Robert and Douglas will be returning to Earth using the same Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) that took them to the ISS. This is the most crucial part of Demo-2 flight, where the spacecraft is tasked with bringing the astronauts home, safe and sound. As you can imagine, there are a lot of people who are understandably nervous, not the least of which is SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

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Rocket Lab was Able to Catch Falling Inert Rocket Stage With a Helicopter, Continuing Their Path to Reusability

In the summer of 2017, the company Rocket Lab officially tossed its hat into the commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) ring with the first test flights of their two-stage Electron Rocket. Dedicated to providing cost-effective launch services for the small satellite market, the company began conducting commercial launches from their complexes in New Zealand and California using the lightweight Electron.

Looking to cut the costs associated with individual launches further, Rocket Lab has decided to pursue reusability as well. In early March, before the isolation orders were issued, the company achieved a major milestone when it conducted a successful mid-air recovery of the test stage of an Electron Rocket – which involved a helicopter catching the test stage after its parachute deployed.

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Musk Shares the Latest Progress on the Starship Prototypes

SpaceX is getting closer to its making its next big leap with the Starship super-heavy launch system. With hover tests now complete, the public is eagerly awaiting the completion of the full-scale prototypes and for orbital testing to begin. Never one to disappoint, Elon Musk has been posting regular updates on Twitter showcasing the latest progress of the Starship Mk.1 and Mk.2.

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Blue Origin has Shown off a New Video of its New Glenn Rocket Design

Blue Origin, the private aerospace company founded by multi-billionaire (and founder of Amazon) Jeff Bezos, is looking to make its presence felt in the rapidly expanding NewSpace industry. To this end, Blue Origin has spent years developing a fleet of reusable rockets that they hope will someday rival those of their greatest competitor, SpaceX.

So far, these efforts have led to the New Shepard rocket, which can send payloads (and soon, space tourists) to suborbital altitudes. In the coming years, Blue Origin hopes to go farther with their New Glenn rocket, a reusable launch vehicle capable of reaching Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The company recently released a new video of the New Glenn, which showcased the designs latest features and specifications.

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SpaceX Sets Oct. 11 Sunset Blastoff of SES-11 North American UHD TV Sat on Used Falcon 9 Rocket: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A as flock of birds flies by at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, is poised for sunset liftoff on 11 Oct 2017 on world’s third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. As seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is all set for a sunset blastoff Wednesday, Oct. 11 of the commercial SES-11/EchoStar 105 Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV satellite serving North America on a ‘used’ Falcon 9 booster from the Florida Space Coast – that is also targeted to re-land a second time on an sea going platform off shore in the Atlantic.

Spectators should enjoy a spectacular view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 dinnertime launch with a forecast of extremely favorable weather conditions. This comes on the heels of multiple deluges of torrential rain that twice scrubbed last week’s launch of a United Launch Alliance V carrying a USAF spy satellite.

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission will launch on a ‘flight-proven’ booster and is slated for a dinnertime liftoff on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the SES-11.

All systems are GO at L Minus 1 Day!

“#EchoStar105 is targeted for launch Oct. 11 from launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida-launch window 6:53-8:53 PM EDT,” EchoStar tweeted today.

“Getting Echostar-105/#SES11 ready for launch!” SES tweeted further.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

If all goes well this will be the second launch for SpaceX this week following Monday’s Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca carrying 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites to orbit – and a record setting 15th of 2017!

EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.

The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 39A today, erected to vertical launch position and is now poised for liftoff Wednesday.

It will launch the two and a half ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 to geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover this recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster again by soft landing on a droneship platform prepositioned hundreds of miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.

Spectacular weather is expected Wednesday for space enthusiasts gathering in local regional hotels after traveling here from across the globe.

Playalinda Beach is among the best places to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 6:53 pm EDT or 10:53 pm UTC liftoff time.

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

The two hour long launch window closes at 8:53 p.m. EDT.

The weather outlook is currently exceptional along the Florida Space Coast with a 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Oct. 11 are only for Cumulus Clouds.

The odds remain high at 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Oct. 12.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The 45th Space Wing forecast is also favorable for the landing recovery area through Thursday “when a low pressure system may move into the area, increasing winds and seas. This low will migrate west and possibly impact Florida by the weekend.”

After the 156 foot tall first stage booster complets its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers seek to guide it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

World’s first reflown rocket booster – the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage – sails back into Port Canaveral, FL just before sunrise atop OCISLY droneship on which it landed 9 minutes after March 30, 2017 liftoff from KSC with SES-10 telecomsat – as seen entering channels mouth trailing a flock of birds from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 11 launch and is prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The EchoStar 105/SES-11 spacecraft was built by Airbus and shipped from the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France to Cape Canaveral, FL for flight processing.

The satellite is scheduled to be deployed approximately 36 minutes after liftoff.

Up close view of payload fairing encapsulating SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat atop ‘flight-proven’ SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is slated for is 6:53 p.m. ET, Oct. 11, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“SES-11 is a high-powered communications satellite designed to especially accelerate the development of the US video neighbourhood, and the delivery of HD and UHD channels. Optimised for digital television delivery, SES-11 joins SES-1 and SES-3 at the centre of its robust North American orbital arc, which reaches more than 100 million TV homes. Together with SES-1 and SES-3, SES-11 will be utilised for the expansion of the North America Ultra HD platform,” according to SES.

“SES-11 offers comprehensive coverage over North America, including Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, and will also empower businesses and governments to capture new opportunities and expand their reach across the region.”

The path to launch was cleared following last weeks successful static fire test of the first stage engines Falcon 9.

During the Oct. 2 static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages were fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown was carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad – minus the expensive payload.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of recycled Falcon 9 at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as a gator gazes from Playalinda waterways, FL. Liftoff is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Following the hot fire test, the rocket was rolled back to the processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

The 5,200 kg (11,500 pounds) satellite encapsulated inside the payload fairing was then integrated with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Mating of SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

This is only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched from Pad 39A.

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

This Falcon 9 booster previously flew on SpaceX’s 10th resupply mission to the International Space Station (CRS-10) in February of this year and made a ground landing at the Cape at LZ-1.

Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

The last SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from KSC took place on Sept. 7 carrying the USAF X-37B military space plane to orbit just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off on classified OTV-5 mission at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Mission patch for the SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite launch by SpaceX. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-10 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad ahead of liftoff on 30 Mar 2017 on world’s first reflight of an orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Moonbase by 2022 For $10 Billion, Says NASA

Returning to the Moon has been the fevered dream of many scientists and astronauts. Ever since the Apollo Program culminated with the first astronauts setting foot on the Moon on July 20th, 1969, we have been looking for ways to go back to the Moon… and to stay there. In that time, multiple proposals have been drafted and considered. But in every case, these plans failed, despite the brave words and bold pledges made.

However, in a workshop that took place in August of 2014, representatives from NASA met with Harvard geneticist George Church, Peter Diamandis from the X Prize Foundation and other parties invested in space exploration to discuss low-cost options for returning to the Moon. The papers, which were recently made available in a special issue of New Space, describe how a settlement could be built on the Moon by 2022, and for the comparatively low cost of $10 billion.

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