Main Engine Cut Off

Layoffs at SpaceX and Tethers

We’re without some important pieces of information about the SpaceX layoff—mainly which departments and projects were impacted the most—but I’m not sure there are many people out there surprised by the decision. Their focus is shifting away from Falcon 9 and Heavy development and production and into flight operations at the same time that Starlink and Starship work pick up, so that inherently means shifting of personnel.

The layoffs at Tethers Unlimited are a major, major bummer. They’ve always been an interesting company with interesting projects and their small team is losing great people. Alan Boyle has a good write up on what happened over there.

Rough end to last week for space.

WorldView-4 Fails

Maxar press release from earlier this week, on a gyro failure in WorldView-4:

Efforts are ongoing in conjunction with its suppliers in an attempt to restore satellite functionality, but thus far these efforts have been unsuccessful. At this time, Maxar believes that WorldView-4 will likely not be recoverable and will no longer produce usable imagery. Maxar operations has put the WorldView-4 satellite in a safe configuration and will continue to monitor the satellite's location and health. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin and the CMGs were provided by Honeywell.

The WorldView-4 satellite is insured for $183 million, and Maxar intends to seek full recovery for the loss of WorldView-4 under its insurance policies. The Company will provide further updates on this matter as new information becomes available.

Such a bummer to lose a satellite after just two years in space, especially one that generated $85 million in revenue last year.

Dr. Marco Langbroek has a good observation about the failure, too:

The Worldview-4 satellite has failed. This is an important commercial high resolution satellite, that also plays a role in US national security, as the US Gov buys image capacity on this sat to augment their three KH-11 electro-optical satellites.

That’s an important loss, as what we assume is a new KH-11 sits on the pad at Vandenberg without an official launch date.

Thanks to December Patrons

Very special thanks to the 245 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of December. MECO is entirely listener- and reader-supported, so your support keeps this blog and podcast going, growing, and improving, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 34 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, and six anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

We just hit the $1,000 a month goal to start streaming shows and special events live, so stay tuned for that!

If you want to get in on some of those perks, or if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

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.

Dream Chaser Launch Costs

Catching up on some reading, and there’s an interesting little tidbit on Dream Chaser’s launch costs in a SpaceNews article by Jeff Foust:

Competition in the launch market has helped drive down costs for SNC. “When those launch vehicle prices come down — which, by the way, is about 80 percent of our costs on every mission we fly — that opens up the commercial market,” he said. That includes other applications of Dream Chaser, such as a free-flying experiment platform.

The only fairings that can currently fit Dream Chaser (including its cargo module) are those of Atlas V and Ariane 5. Last we heard, Dream Chaser flights are currently slated for an Atlas V 552.

Based on the last numbers we have for an Atlas V 551 price (just above $150 million), we could assume the additional RL10 engine on a 552 pushes its price above $160 million. That figure puts the Dream Chaser portion of mission costs at around $40 million.

For now, Atlas V 552 is the cheapest launch vehicle that can carry Dream Chaser. We’ll see how prices for Vulcan, OmegA, and Ariane 6 shake out, but I think New Glenn is Sierra Nevada’s only near-term hope for dropping their price significantly. We still don’t have a price for New Glenn, but even if it’s $100 million, that would cut $60 million from Dream Chaser’s mission cost.

Pacific Spaceport Complex — Hawaii

Tom Callis, for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, has a report on Alaska Aerospace and their search for a new spaceport on the eastern side of Hawaii.

With this in mind, their rebranding of “Kodiak Launch Complex” to ”Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska” makes much more sense. They clearly would like to operate multiple Pacific Spaceport Complex locations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them explore other options in the Pacific, like Guam.

T+106: Q&A

This month I tackle questions on future space architectures, companies working in space right now, and finish with a 2018 Top 10 ranking.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, and six anonymous—and 208 other supporters on Patreon.

OneWeb Refutes Reuters’ Report

This statement is extremely oddly placed on OneWeb’s site, but here’s their statement:

Recently, certain press reports have emerged suggesting that OneWeb offered to sell a stake in the Company to the Russian Government. OneWeb has not offered to sell any stake in OneWeb to the Russian Government.

OneWeb is in the process of restructuring its existing commercial joint venture with its Russian partner, Gonets, to comply with certain regulatory requirements in Russia. The joint venture is solely for the commercialization of OneWeb’s satellite broadband services to customers in Russia. The joint venture will not have access to OneWeb's satellite technology or related know-how. The restructuring will result in Gonets owning a majority of the joint venture.

Props to Reuters for posting a full story with the update, rather than posting it as an update on the original story, or going full Bloomberg.

T+105: Jonathan McDowell

Jonathan McDowell joins me to talk about his recent paper proposing 80 kilometers, rather than 100, as a more appropriate boundary of the edge of space.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, and six anonymous—and 205 other supporters on Patreon.

OneWeb Offering Russia 12.5% Stake

As if there wasn’t enough mystery as to what’s up with OneWeb lately, Maria Kolomychenko has an exclusive over at Reuters:

OneWeb has offered the Russian government the option of buying a 12.5-percent stake in the company in exchange for approving its request for a frequency band in the country, said the three sources, including one in the Kremlin. The offer was made at a meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year, they added.

If Russia buys a minority stake in OneWeb, it would be represented on the company’s board of directors and have access to the project’s technical documentation, the sources said.

I can’t imagine there will be too many US customers happy with that scenario.