Main Engine Cut Off

Masten Making Progress on Broadsword, New Lander

On September 30, 2016, Masten Space Systems successfully concluded the 13-month design, build, and test period for the first development unit of the Broadsword 25 rocket engine, funded as a technology demonstration under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. This first phase of the engine development effort included commissioning Masten’s largest mobile engine test stand and firing of the company’s highest-thrust rocket engine to date.

The goal of this initial hot-fire test campaign comprised ignition and startup sequence development. The effort concluded with demonstrating six successful engine starts. Masten has subsequently begun the design and build of a second development unit, incorporating lessons learned during manufacturing and testing, and plans to proceed with main-stage hot-fire testing in the next phase.

Masten aims to continue Broadsword development over the course of 2017 and 2018 in collaboration with NASA under the Tipping Point program, and anticipates moving into flight qualification after the conclusion of that effort.

In the lander department, they recently lost Xaero-B during a flight, but have something in the works at Marshall Space Flight Center—interesting choice of location—which sounds quite intriguing:

We have what will be our largest lander design to date currently under construction at MSFC. We are encouraged about what we are doing next.

BulgariaSat-1 to Fly on Reused Falcon 9 Core

Stephen Clark, for Spaceflight Now:

A U.S.-built, Bulgarian-owned broadcast satellite will launch in mid-June from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a previously-used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that first flew in January, the spacecraft’s owner said Friday.

Thanks to the great scoop by Stephen, we now know what the Iridium-1 first stage has been up to after its recovery.

After SES-10, there was a chorus of doubters saying, “Yeah, but it took a year to refurbish!” This flight should put that to bed, but then again, they’ll probably say, “Yeah, but 6 months is nowhere close to 24 hours!”

Every recovery teaches SpaceX something new about their vehicles, and those lessons are rolled into the production of new vehicles. The time between flights is going to continue to drop with every stage that comes back intact.

Falcon 9 Second Stage Long Coast Demo

Chris Bergin, NASASpaceFlight.com:

For this mission, the Second Stage was sent on a multi-hour coast, tracked by assets in the UK, Africa and along other points on its trajectory, providing data on the health of the stage back to controllers.

While the exact duration of the extended coast has not been revealed, it is known the Merlin 1D Vac did successfully reignite at the conclusion of the demo.

This is encouraging to hear. Long coast periods are key to some more complex flight profiles—specifically direct injection into geostationary orbit—and SpaceX has yet to show that ability. It’s one area that ULA still owns with Centaur and the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage.

There has been speculation that the Falcon Heavy demo mission could feature a direct-to-GEO demo, as well, but that doesn’t really square with the infamous upper stage reusability tweet from Musk a few weeks ago.

NewSpace Development Office

Interesting read from recent podcast guest Eric Berger of Ars Technica on the Air Force’s interest in low cost, high launch rate reusable launch vehicles:

The study recommends the Air Force create a new organization, the “NewSpace Development Office,” to develop innovative acquisition strategies. The overall aim would be to move away from the existing model of launches, which are rare and expensive, to a model where they are common and inexpensive. In developing these strategies, the government must also be able to accept risk.

“This organization requires a ‘Fail-Fast, Fail-Forward’ culture as opposed to the traditional operationally focused risk-averse culture where ‘failure is not an option,’” the report states. “Silicon Valley and NewSpace have proven the powerful advantages of faster innovation cultures that expect and encourage incremental tactical failures as a key part of their strategy for developing new systems and technologies.”

It’ll be very interesting to see if something like this does come about, but the suggested name is awful. They need to go with something with a long life span, like the Spaceflight Development Office.

The NewSpace Development Office name would grow old quickly, just as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program’s name did. There’s a reusable rocket flying under the EELV banner as we speak.

T+46: Eric Berger

Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor at Ars Technica, joins me to talk SLS/Orion, New Space vs. Old Space, space policy in the Trump administration, and why the fight might not be settled until 2020.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 10 executive producers—Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Laszlo, and four anonymous—and 46 other supporters on Patreon.

Luxembourg and the Outer Space Treaty

Debra Werner wrote a great piece for SpaceNews last week on Luxembourg’s continuing interest in space resources:

Luxembourg also attracts less suspicion than a superpower would if it called for revision of the Outer Space Treaty. With its 1,000-person military force, it is “unlikely that Luxembourg is going to be regarded as a threat to anybody,” Worden, a member of the SpaceResources.lu advisory board, said during the April 12 panel discussion.

This is a really intriguing and important point. Having a country like Luxembourg—without the type of tangled international affairs the US, Russia, and China have—pushing forward on this issue is really promising.

You would have a hard time painting Luxembourg, a country with an area less than 1,000 square miles, as expansionist in any regard. And I don’t think they’d be looking to put any of their 1,000 military members on a base somewhere out beyond Earth. And they don’t have any nuclear weapons.

As their high per capita GDP proves, all they care about is economic return.

COTS Weather Formally Authorized

I meant to link to this last week, but better late than never. Interesting article by Jeff Foust of SpaceNews:

Among the bill’s provisions is language formally authorizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to purchase weather data from commercial satellite systems. The bill authorizes NOAA to spend $6 million a year in fiscal years 2017 through 2020 for a pilot program of data purchases to evaluate the effectiveness of commercial data to support weather forecasting.

NOAA has already started such a pilot program using $3 million appropriated to the agency in fiscal year 2016. In September 2016, NOAA awarded contracts to GeoOptics and Spire, with a combined value of a little more than $1 million, for GPS radio occultation data.

It’s a small start, sure, but a really good sign for the “COTS Everything” mindset that I would like to see prevail in the coming years.