Main Engine Cut Off

Masten’s Green Bipropellant: MXP-351

As part of our partnership with NASA through the Lunar CATALYST (Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) program, we have been actively developing a proprietary new propellant – MXP-351. This propellant is intended to be flown on our XL-1 lunar lander which is capable of bringing up to 100 kg (221 lb) softly to the lunar surface. MXP-351 represents the next step in Masten’s internal propulsion development program in improving our capabilities closer towards spaceflight.

More importantly, it allows us to safely and thoroughly test out our propulsion systems here in Mojave with the same regularity as we fly our vehicles. In 2016, we successfully fired the first generation of our 225 lb XL-1 main engine, dubbed ‘Machete’. This simple ‘boilerplate’ engine validated our injector design, performance estimates, and applicability of MXP-351 in a rocket test environment. Future tests with MXP-351 will use additively-manufactured technology to test regeneratively-cooled thrust chambers, as well as scaling up the thrust capability up to 1,000 lb for a terrestrial testbed version dubbed (XL-1T) that is currently in manufacture.

Read the whole post over on Masten’s blog. Great to see progress on safer storable propellants and Masten’s lander. Here’s a video from a few months ago of MXP-351 performance testing.

Thornberry Walks Back Vulcan Intervention

Pat Host for Defense Daily:

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) will not intervene in United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) downselect of a first stage booster for its next-generation rocket, despite declaring in a recent letter that the company should provide…

Paywalled article, but the viewable introduction says it all.

SpaceX Signs Five-Year Lease at Port Canaveral

Dave Berman, for Florida Today:

The commercial space company has occupied the 53,360-square-foot former SpaceHab building on the north side of the port since August, under a month-to-month lease, and has been renovating the facility, located at 620 Magellan Road.

Now, with the signed lease agreement, “they can forge ahead” with their plans, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said.

The company also plans to build an adjacent 44,000-square-foot hangar on the 4-acre parcel.

Canaveral Port Authority commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on the lease, which will take effect April 1.

We first heard about SpaceX taking over the old SpaceHab buildings back in August, so I guess the building will suit their needs.

SpaceX will be building out quite a bit of real estate on the Cape, as documented in their recent LZ-1 expansion plans.

BE-4 Hydrostatic Bearings

Jeff Bezos’ most recent email update on Blue Origin was all about the BE-4 and its hydrostatic bearings:

Why do we go to all this trouble instead of just using traditional bearings? Engine life. We’re relentlessly focused on reusability, and properly designed hydrostatic bearings offer the potential for longer engine life without refurbishment. This is one of the many engineering decisions we’ve made that we hope will lead to reusability – not just in principle – but to practical, operational reusability. If “reusability” requires significant refurbishment, inspection, and re-validation between flights, then it simply won’t lead to the far lower launch costs we need to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space.

Read the full transcript over on r/BlueOrigin.

Interestingly, George Sowers, VP of Advanced Concepts & Technologies at ULA, commented on their use of hydrostatic bearings on Twitter:

Hydrostatic bearings were one of the innovations that led us to pick the engine. Thrilled to see them working

Every single statement by ULA is overwhelmingly positive about BE-4, and makes it sound like they’ve already downselected. We’re still waiting on the hot fire, but it’s just a matter of time now.

Optimus Prime

We started seeing some great photos of SpaceX’s new piece of infrastructure on the ASDS: Optimus Prime. Scott Murray also posted some over-exposed-but-lovely shots of Optimus Prime on the ASDS, complete with shots of its garage.

Here’s a great summary from u/old_sellsword on its operation:

You've posted the first clear picture of the highly anticipated, first stage securing robot called Optimus Prime. They made a garage on one end of the ASDS to house it. After stages land, it'll drive underneath the booster, raise those four hydraulic arms and clamp on to the octaweb like they used to do with manual jacks.


Due to a social movement, it was not possible to carry out today’s scheduled transfer of the launch vehicle from the Spaceport’s Final Assembly Building (BAF) to the launch zone.

As a result, Arianespace has decided to postpone the transfer by 24 hours, with operations resuming tomorrow, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, if the situation permits.

I love me a unique launch delay.

Former Director of Quality Control at Roscosmos Killed in Jail

Matthew Bodner for The Moscow Times:

Evdokimov was placed in a six-man pre-trial holding cell in Moscow in December. The cell was constantly monitored with CCTV cameras. According to Russian media reports, Evdokimov made no complaints about his accommodations. He remained in this cell until last month.

According to RBC, the he was moved to another detention area in February. No explanation was given for the move. The new cell was occupied by 11 other inmates, and had not yet been outfitted in CCTV systems to monitor the area. According to news outlet, most of the other inmates in the cell were accused of economic crimes.

At about 4:00 a.m. on March 18, Evdokimov’s body was discovered in the cell’s bathroom. Investigators identified three knife wounds — two to the heart and one to the neck. Investigators quickly moved from presumed suicide to contract killing.

An unexplained move to a CCTV-less cell: highly suspicious, or highly opportunistic.

Blue Origin Factory “Tour”

More a trespassing/sightseeing adventure than a tour, but interesting nonetheless.

Main Engine Cut Off officially denounces trespassing on a private construction site. But I also appreciate the visuals.

SpaceX Wins GPS III Launch, More Info on Phase 1A

Phillip Swarts for SpaceNews:

SpaceX won the contract for the first GPS 3 launch with a bid of $82.7 million. The winning bid for the second launch was $96.5 million. SpaceNews has contacted SpaceX for an explanation on the price increase.

Leon said she suspected that it was due to company “becoming more familiar with the requirements of the Air Force,” and likely adjusting their bid to better meet the service’s strict “mission success requirements.”

I’m not surprised to see rising prices—after all, you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the ones you’re running alongside.

The other launches planned for Phase 1A include communications satellites, the Air Force’s missile-warning SBIRS constellation, and launches for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The requirements for those launches will be different than GPS, Leon said, because “some missions are more stressing than others.”

The first two of Phase 1A’s fifteen launches went SpaceX’s way, but ULA has the home-field advantage when it comes to SBIRS and NRO satellites.

On the importance of Falcon Heavy’s upcoming demo mission:

SpaceX, however, will need to roll out its next rocket if it wants to win some of the launches.

“They will need the Falcon Heavy for some of those competitions,” Leon said. “They need to get a demo flight off at least to be competitive for some of those missions.”

NASA’s Cislunar Habitat Plans

Jeff Foust of SpaceNews, on NASA’s cislunar habitat plans:

Gerstenmaier, in an interview after his conference presentation, said putting a crew on EM-1 could open up new possibilities for EM-2 and later missions. “It makes EM-2 be more of an aggressive mission, and we can do more with the cargo that’s behind the Orion capsule on that flight,” he said.

Certainly sounds like NASA’s plans have changed since their EM-2 payload RFI went out back in October:

Current EM-2 mission concepts assumes that any co-manifested payloads would deploy from SLS and have no further interaction with the rocket or Orion spacecraft. NASA would provide the launch opportunity, and the payload provider would assume all payload costs.

As I had commented then, it always seemed like they were leaning towards launching a chunk of a habitat on EM-2.