Main Engine Cut Off

New Shepard Mission 9

Couple of takeaways:

  1. That sucker went really high. Just a little shy of 120 kilometers.
  2. This test—assuming all reviews are good—proved out New Shepard’s full-envelope-and-then-some escape ability. Very impressive.
  3. The booster landing is so slow and controlled, yet they don’t really seem to aim for the center point, which I find a bit odd.
  4. The capsule touched down really close to the pad. I wonder if that was deliberate, and if so, whether the capsule maneuvers a little on its way back down. Once the chutes are open, I’m not sure how much maneuvering capability there is, if any at all, but this touchdown didn’t seem like a mistake.

The FCC Might Let 5G (Use Some C-Band)

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews:

The unanimous vote by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and the agency’s three commissioners lays the groundwork for the transition of some, or possibly all of the 500 megahertz of spectrum commonly known as C-band.

Exactly how much spectrum will be determined through the processes outlined in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which detailed a four-step plan to make C-band accessible for 5G communications.

Intelsat and SES, the world’s two largest geostationary satellite operators, along with chip-maker Intel and, as of today Eutelsat, back a plan to free up 100 MHz of C-band as long as new users cover the cost of migrating customers and lost opportunities.

New Glenn Dual Manifesting

Caleb Henry for SpaceNews:

New Glenn’s first launch is slated for late 2020, and is designed from the start to feature a reusable first stage. McFarland said most customers prefer a dedicated launch, rather than sharing a rocket with a co-passenger, but Blue Origin is preparing to have dual launch as an option for those seeking to split the price of a mission with another satellite operator.

With a direct to geosynchronous-orbit capability of 13 metric tons and a 7-meter payload fairing, McFarland said the dual launch ability will still be “a fairly significant achievement.” Blue Origin’s New Glenn mass and volume parameters are larger than that of Arianespace’s Ariane 5, International Launch Services’ Proton and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 — the main vehicles used for commercial satellite launch today.

Apparently, McFarland misspoke here. Thirteen metric tons is still the geosynchronous transfer orbit payload capacity.

Blue Origin’s McFarland said Blue Origin won’t let schedule disruptions with one payload impact the co-passenger in dual-launch missions, even if it means splitting the missions in two.

“We are not going to [let this] hold back or delay a launch,” he said. “We are going for a cadence of up to eight times per year where we will launch. If we don’t have a second, we still go as a single. So that’s the plan, [with] the same price point for the launch service for the customer.”

Blue seems to be trying really hard to limit the downsides of dual manifesting, and a single price for a ride to orbit no matter how you fly or when is a huge departure from the norm. It really only makes sense two ways: the entry price for a ride on New Glenn is shockingly low, or Blue will have no shortage of their own payloads to fly. Or both.

It’s always important to remember who is behind Blue Origin when you think about pricing. My gut says the prices for both New Shepard and New Glenn launches are going to be downright shocking when they’re finally made public. Operating with little-to-no margin and eating those costs to gain market share is the Bezos way.

But, Blue Origin’s vision is much more than launching satellites to transfer orbits, and New Glenn has always seemed sized for their own goals than their customers.

Cygnus Successfully Tests Station Reboost

Stephen Clark for Spaceflight Now:

The Cygnus spacecraft’s BT-4 main engine, supplied by IHI Aerospace of Japan, fired for 50 seconds Tuesday. The engine produces around 100 pounds of thrust, and the maneuver raised the orbit of the roughly 450-ton space station by 295 feet (90 meters).

Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems’ advanced programs division, said the maneuver went according to plan Tuesday.

“It’s been a good day,” DeMauro said in an interview with Spaceflight Now after the reboost test. “Today, all told, seemed to go very well. NASA was happy with the maneuver, and we certainly were (pleased) with the performance of the spacecraft.

Commercial Crew Contingency Plan Drama Seems Overblown

Eric Berger for Ars Technica:

This report was conducted to warn Congress that NASA has no contingency plan for how to keep its astronauts on board the International Space Station after November 2019, when the last Russian Soyuz seat NASA has procured is scheduled to fly home.

“While NASA is working on potential solutions, there is no contingency plan in place to address this potential gap,” the report states. “Without a viable contingency plan, NASA puts at risk achievement of the US goal and objective for the ISS.”

With this report in hand, Congress will probably press NASA to finalize and release such a plan. Previously, NASA has indicated it may turn the first Boeing crewed flight, which would precede the “certification milestone,” into an operational flight and extend its mission to the station. It may also seek to delay the return of that final Soyuz mission from November 2019 for two months into January 2020. Depending on the extent of schedule delays, however, neither of those measures may prove adequate.

Quite frankly, this whole contingency plan thing seems really overblown.

Russia is going to keep their ISS crew count at 2 for the foreseeable future—and maybe for the rest of the ISS lifetime—because Nauka is probably never going to be launched. The entire Russian space industry is crumbling, from engine sales to launches, so they’d be thrilled to continue selling us the unused Soyuz seat for the next few years for $80+ million (instead of a fraction of that for a tourist).

And as far as that whole, “But the lead time is too big!” thing: the UAE started a human spaceflight program at the beginning of this year, still hasn’t selected an astronaut, and they already have a Soyuz flight booked for next April.

AR-22 Fires 10 Times in 240 Hours

Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully fired its AR-22 booster rocket engine an unprecedented 10 times in 240 hours at NASA Stennis Space Center, demonstrating the feasibility of rapidly recycling the engine to enable a reusable launch vehicle capable of high-tempo, aircraft-like flight operations.

The liquid-oxygen and hydrogen-fueled AR-22 engine, capable of generating more than 375,000 pounds of thrust, fired at full throttle during the tests, each lasting at least 100 seconds in duration. After each firing, Aerojet Rocketdyne technicians carried out pre-planned inspections and data reviews in preparation for the next test.

One hundred seconds is a curious firing duration, as there is no way that the flight profile of Phantom Express would lead to a 100-second first stage burn.

Either way, the total firing duration was about two Shuttle flights to orbit, so total duration isn’t the surprising thing here—it’s the fact that they could turn the engine around quick enough to pull this off.

We’ll see where this goes from here, but I don’t have high hopes.