Main Engine Cut Off

Thanks to June Patrons

Very special thanks to the 289 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of June. 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: 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!), Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Tommy, 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.

T+125: Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones returns to the show to update us on China’s various efforts. We talk Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2, the mysterious Long March 5 delay, and what the future of Chinese launch may look like.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 39 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, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Tommy, and six anonymous—and 244 other supporters.

Apollo, GAMBIT, and UPWARD

If you’re into quirky space history, Dwayne Day wrote an incredible article for The Space Review this week on a NASA/NRO collaboration that never saw the light of day, nor was known about until now:

Lunar Orbiter, which began in 1962, benefitted from access to classified spy satellite technology as a result of an agreement between NASA and the NRO. But in 2010 the government revealed that NASA and the NRO had a second agreement to cooperate on a backup plan to Lunar Orbiter to provide the data necessary for conducting lunar landings, and actually started construction of hardware. Unlike Lunar Orbiter, this hardware would be operated by Apollo astronauts in lunar orbit.

The backup project was known as the Lunar Mapping and Survey System, or LM&SS (often without the ampersand, and sometimes also known as the Apollo Mapping and Survey System). NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office signed an agreement on LMSS in April 1964, when Lunar Orbiter was still in its infancy. In May 1964 NASA transferred $800,000 to the Department of Defense to cover contractor studies regarding which existing NRO camera systems might be useful for Apollo. The people studying the problem quickly decided upon the GAMBIT-1 reconnaissance camera, which had first entered service in summer 1963 achieving high-resolution from low Earth orbit. GAMBIT-1 also had the designation KH-7. At the Moon, the camera could be used at 30 nautical miles (56 kilometers) altitude to provide high-resolution images of the ground, or from 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) altitude to provide broader area coverage. The new program was given the classified code name UPWARD, which never appeared in NASA documents.

T+124: Gateway Logistics Services, FY2020 NDAA, and Small GEO Satellites

NASA put out a draft RFP for Gateway Logistic Services, the House Armed Services’ Committee weighs in on the US Air Force launch contracting drama, and a new company building small geostationary satellites has emerged.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 40 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, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Heather, Tommy, and six anonymous—and 247 other supporters.

The Search for the Small GEO Sweet Spot

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews:

Executives who previously worked for fleet operator ABS of Bermuda have formed a new company focused on building small geostationary satellites.

Saturn Satellite Networks will build satellites ranging from 600 kilograms to 1,700 kilograms, and already has a customer order, Tom Choi, Saturn’s executive chairman, told SpaceNews.

They’re joining companies like Astranis in trying to find the sweet spot for the sizing of new small geostationary satellites. Astranis is working on satellites around 300 kilograms, so Saturn starts out a bit higher than that and ends at a much bigger size.

Of note to me is that Firefly’s Alpha with its new Orbital Transfer Vehicle can carry a single small-end Saturn bus or just about two Astranis satellites all the way to geostationary orbit on its own.

That could be a hell of a package offering.

T+123: The Noosphere of Influence

NASA made a series of announcements about their ISS commercialization effort and the first Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions, and Firefly unveiled their Orbital Transfer Vehicle. And there’s a really interesting connection between all three stories.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 40 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, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Heather, Tommy, and six anonymous—and 243 other supporters.

Thanks to May Patrons

Very special thanks to the 285 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of May. 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 40 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!), Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Heather, Tommy, 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.

T+122: National Security SpaceX Lawsuit

NSSL, LSA, OMG! Last week, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the US Air Force over the Launch Service Agreement development contracts. We’re mere months away from bids being due for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 launch contracts, so I figured now would be a good time to take a step back to explain what these programs are, why they matter, and why SpaceX is filing this lawsuit at this moment in time.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 40 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, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Heather, Tommy, and six anonymous—and 251 other supporters on Patreon.

Air Force Revising Promotion System, Opening Pathways for Space Officers

Sandra Erwin, for SpaceNews:

In her final two weeks in office, Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein are expected to roll out a plan to introduce a new promotion system that breaks up the pool of eligible officers into six “competitive categories” — air operations and special warfare; nuclear and missile operations; space operations; information warfare; combat support; and force modernization.

Having a competitive category for space would effectively create an Air Force space corps, and officers would only compete against space officers for promotions. In the current line of the Air Force system, pilots generally get higher ratings because promotion boards tend to reward officers who commanded units in the field and had multiple combat deployments.

This would be first major change to the Air Force’s personnel system since the service was created in 1947.

Gee, I wonder what it is that is making them get around to this in 2019, rather than decades ago.

T+121: Artemis, Blue Moon, Starship, and Politics

NASA and the White House released a summary of the FY2020 budget amendment this week, alongside the new name: Project Artemis. I talk through some political fallout, what the future may hold, and the chaos elements that are Blue Moon and Starship.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 40 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, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, Heather, Tommy, and six anonymous—and 249 other supporters on Patreon.