Main Engine Cut Off

Study That Takes New Russian Launch Vehicles Seriously Says Air Force Should Support Three Domestic Launchers

Sandra Erwin, for SpaceNews:

The study, prepared by the RAND Corp., looked at the impact of U.S. Air Force space launch acquisition decisions on the heavy lift launch market. It does not recommend that the Air Force change its decision to award national security launch contracts to just two providers later this year. But it does argue that the Air Force should find a way to keep a third supplier in the national security market as a fallback.

RAND analysts predict the commercial addressable market share held by U.S. firms is expected to drop as Arianespace and Russia field new launch vehicles that are better suited to heavier launch. This is of concern to the U.S. Air Force because its Phase 2 strategy assumes launch providers will have a healthy commercial business.

On the list of threats to the commercial launch market, unless and until something drastic changes, new Russian launch vehicles should sit just above the heat death of the universe.

Thanks to December Patrons

Very special thanks to the 360 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of December. MECO is entirely listener- and reader-supported, and it’s your support keeps this blog and podcast going, growing, and improving, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 39 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Brandon, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous executive producers.

If you’re getting some value out of what I do here and want to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and join the crew of supporters and producers!

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Episode T+144: 2019 Impacts

A look back at 2019 through the lens of “Who actually did something that matters this year?”

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 325 other supporters.

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Mission Shakti, 9 Months Later

A total of 125 larger debris fragments have been catalogued as well-tracked. Over 70 percent of these larger tracked debris pieces from the test were still on-orbit 45 days after the test (the moment they all should have been gone according to the Indian DRDO!). 

Now, nine months after the test, 18 of these debris fragments, or 14 percent, are still on orbit.

All but four of the remaining pieces currently have apogee altitudes well above the orbital altitude of the ISS, in the altitude range of many operational satellites. Nine of them have apogee altitudes above 1000 km, one of them up to 1760 km. Their perigees are all below ~280 km.

I appreciate his updates on this, because as easy as it is for this sort of story to fall out of the news cycle, it’s important to keep an eye on it.

Microsat-R was intercepted at an altitude of ~300 kilometers, and there is still debris reaching 1,400 kilometers higher (and 8 other pieces 700 kilometers higher). Those pieces regularly pass through the orbital regimes of the ISS, low-orbiting weather satellites, nearly all satellites in sun-synchronous orbits, and a ton of LEO communications satellites.

Episode T+143: Starliner, 2020 US Space Budget

Starliner’s flight test did not go as planned, and the US 2020 budget was passed, which creates Space Force and has big implications for NASA’s work.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 317 other supporters.

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The Firefly Saga

Doug Messier has a hell of a read over on Parabolic Arc about the Firefly saga over the last three years.

We’ve heard bits and pieces of this before, but there’s a ton in here about investors, some Vulcan (Stratolaunch) involvement I had not heard previously, and a bunch of accusations in both directions:

Later that month, Vulcan ended its investment in Firefly and abandoned plans to launch Alpha boosters from Stratolaunch’s airplane, the source said. Chuck Beames, who had favored the rocket, left his position as Vulcan’s president as a result.

On Oct. 6, Stratolaunch announced an agreement to purchase three Pegasus XL rockets for use on its aircraft. Pegasus would be an interim step as the company developed other boosters to launch larger payloads.

By then, the damage to Firefly had already been done. The company furloughed all of its staff at the end of September as it continued to search for other investors.

If you’re at all interested in Firefly, this is seriously worth a read, and it even adds some insight into the Stratolaunch saga, as well.

As with any of these types of stories (company drama that gets told years after), you’re hearing from the disaffected and/or the victors.

You don’t know which info is from which side, so it’s hard to string together the real truth, but I always like hearing as much as possible for consideration.

Thoughts on Starliner

It’s been a hell of a last day or two for NASA and Boeing. A handful of thoughts I’ve had since launch:

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

This could have been a hell of a lot worse. As Marco Langbroek worked out, without any burn happening, Starliner would have ended up in the spacecraft cemetery. That would have meant no more flight test, and no more hardware to learn from and reuse later.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

SpaceX has made some bad errors in their past, but this is the second error Boeing has made in just a few weeks that even to non-technical, non-space types looks downright stupid. You didn’t attach the parachute? You didn’t set the clock correctly? Whether there’s more to it or not—and there certainly is—those narratives play horribly in the outside world.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

The fact that docking is not a mission requirement for Commercial Crew demo flights is outrageous.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

It looks like Roscosmos is going to sell NASA two more Soyuz seats, and they’re certainly going to need them. Also, NASA always lies about how it’s too late to buy Soyuz seats.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

The pressure is on for SpaceX and their upcoming flights—the in-flight abort on January 11, and DM-2 after that. More than just capturing the flag, SpaceX will capture a ton of political firepower if they can fly a mission or two before Starliner gets up to the ISS with people aboard.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

Yours Truly on the AGI YouTube Channel

All week, I’ve been appearing on the AGI YouTube channel alongside T.S. Kelso of CelesTrak.

On Monday, we talked about how T.S. started CelesTrak and what he thinks about some of the challenges and opportunities in the modern era of spaceflight.

On Tuesday, he demoed CelesTrak and showed off some of the really cool features within. I  love using it to visualize orbits, to get data to read off during MECO Headlines, and to generally explore Earth orbit.

On Wednesday, T.S. showed off the Starlink data he has in CelesTrak, talked about working with SpaceX to get data before launches, and then Josh showed how to pull up Starlink data in STK to determine viewing times from your location.

Finally, Thursday had the coolest video: a visualization of the 57,000 satellites that have applied for licenses to be launched over the next decade. It’s a mind-blowingly cool video, and even though every one of them might not come to fruition, it really makes you think.

As we head into the weekend and a long holiday, find some time to settle in and learn about CelesTrak.

Episode T+142: T.S. Kelso, CelesTrak and AGI

Last week, I took a ride out to the AGI offices and sat down with Josh Poley and T.S. Kelso. We shot a handful of videos for AGI’s YouTube channel, the longest of which was this interview right here.

I talked with T.S. Kelso about the history of CelesTrak.com and satellite tracking on the internet as a whole, as well as a few topics relevant to the modern day: satellite tracking and orbit reporting among operators, conjunction and collision monitoring, and space debris mitigation and management.

Be sure to follow along with AGI’s channel as the rest of the videos go live throughout the week!

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 314 other supporters.

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Episode T+141: Dylan Taylor, Voyager Space Holdings

Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, joins me to talk about the new company, how it fits into the industry, his vision for space, and their first acquisition (and past MECO guest!), Altius Space Machines.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 314 other supporters.

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