Main Engine Cut Off

Thoughts on Starliner

It’s been a hell of a last day or two for NASA and Boeing. A handful of thoughts I’ve had since launch:

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

This could have been a hell of a lot worse. As Marco Langbroek worked out, without any burn happening, Starliner would have ended up in the spacecraft cemetery. That would have meant no more flight test, and no more hardware to learn from and reuse later.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

SpaceX has made some bad errors in their past, but this is the second error Boeing has made in just a few weeks that even to non-technical, non-space types looks downright stupid. You didn’t attach the parachute? You didn’t set the clock correctly? Whether there’s more to it or not—and there certainly is—those narratives play horribly in the outside world.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

The fact that docking is not a mission requirement for Commercial Crew demo flights is outrageous.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

It looks like Roscosmos is going to sell NASA two more Soyuz seats, and they’re certainly going to need them. Also, NASA always lies about how it’s too late to buy Soyuz seats.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

The pressure is on for SpaceX and their upcoming flights—the in-flight abort on January 11, and DM-2 after that. More than just capturing the flag, SpaceX will capture a ton of political firepower if they can fly a mission or two before Starliner gets up to the ISS with people aboard.

No one is more excited for 2019 to be over than Boeing.

Yours Truly on the AGI YouTube Channel

All week, I’ve been appearing on the AGI YouTube channel alongside T.S. Kelso of CelesTrak.

On Monday, we talked about how T.S. started CelesTrak and what he thinks about some of the challenges and opportunities in the modern era of spaceflight.

On Tuesday, he demoed CelesTrak and showed off some of the really cool features within. I  love using it to visualize orbits, to get data to read off during MECO Headlines, and to generally explore Earth orbit.

On Wednesday, T.S. showed off the Starlink data he has in CelesTrak, talked about working with SpaceX to get data before launches, and then Josh showed how to pull up Starlink data in STK to determine viewing times from your location.

Finally, Thursday had the coolest video: a visualization of the 57,000 satellites that have applied for licenses to be launched over the next decade. It’s a mind-blowingly cool video, and even though every one of them might not come to fruition, it really makes you think.

As we head into the weekend and a long holiday, find some time to settle in and learn about CelesTrak.

Episode T+142: T.S. Kelso, CelesTrak and AGI

Last week, I took a ride out to the AGI offices and sat down with Josh Poley and T.S. Kelso. We shot a handful of videos for AGI’s YouTube channel, the longest of which was this interview right here.

I talked with T.S. Kelso about the history of CelesTrak.com and satellite tracking on the internet as a whole, as well as a few topics relevant to the modern day: satellite tracking and orbit reporting among operators, conjunction and collision monitoring, and space debris mitigation and management.

Be sure to follow along with AGI’s channel as the rest of the videos go live throughout the week!

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 314 other supporters.

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Episode T+141: Dylan Taylor, Voyager Space Holdings

Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, joins me to talk about the new company, how it fits into the industry, his vision for space, and their first acquisition (and past MECO guest!), Altius Space Machines.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 314 other supporters.

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Thanks to November Patrons

Very special thanks to the 350 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of November. 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 38 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, 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.

Episode T+140: Launch Protests and Lander Hopefuls

Blue Origin successfully protested the US Air Force’s RFP for the National Security Space Launch program, which will have big implications for the way the current round of contract awards plays out. NASA added five new providers to the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, and I’ve got some thoughts about the inclusion of those options in what is quickly becoming my favorite NASA program.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, Sam, and six anonymous—and 310 other supporters.

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ITU Updates Megaconstellations Milestones

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews, with some news from the International Telecommunication Union:

Regulators meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference this month said that for non-geosynchronous constellation operators to keep their full spectrum rights in the future, they will have to hit deployment milestones that start seven years after requesting the spectrum. 

After those seven years, NGSO constellation operators will need to launch 10% of their satellites in two years, 50% in five years and 100% in seven years. If constellation ventures fail to launch enough satellites by the milestones, or within the total 14 years allotted, their spectrum rights are limited proportionally to the number launched before time ran out.

This is definitely an improvement over the status quo, which is that you can launch a single satellite and that covers your spectrum rights for thousands more that you may never launch.

These milestones sound a touch more strict than what the FCC imposes on US constellations—which is 50% in six years and 100% in nine years from when the FCC approves the request. But since the timeline starts 7 years after requesting spectrum, it may be a little more relaxed in practice.

The biggest difference is that missing the FCC milestones limits the number of satellites that can be launched, and missing the new ITU milestones limits spectrum rights.

In general, constellations will need to target the most strict deployment milestone imposed upon them by however their own timelines lay out. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any convergence between the various timelines in the future.

Nanoracks to Fly Outpost Demo on Falcon 9

Recently, Nanoracks announced the Company’s first in-space Outpost demonstration mission in a letter from CEO Jeffrey Manber. Nanoracks, in collaboration with Maxar, will be building and operating a self-contained hosted payload platform that will demonstrate the robotic cutting of second stage representative tank material on-orbit. This test will be the first of its kind to demonstrate the future ability to convert spent upper stages in orbit into commercial habitats – a long-term goal of Nanoracks.

On this SpaceX Falcon 9 mission, the Nanoracks Outpost demonstration will be hosted on an ESPA ring and be operated after all other secondary payloads have been deployed. This Outpost demonstration is funded via Nanoracks’ NextSTEP-2 contract with NASA.

When I was at IAC, I heard that this would be flying on the back of Centaur. That made sense, as ULA was a partner in Nanoracks’ Outpost program.

But after this announcement, I went looking, and ULA hasn’t appeared in anything related to Outposts in months.

It looks like Outposts might be yet another exciting project with ULA sitting on the sidelines.

At this point, just about all of my hope for ULA to see an interesting future—CisLunar-1000 et al—is gone.

NASA Adds SpaceX and Blue Origin, Among Others, to CLPS

Last week, NASA announced the addition of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Tyvak, and Ceres Robotics to the list of Commercial Lunar Payload Services providers. That brings the total number of providers to 14.

It’s good to see continued support of Starship and Blue Moon from NASA, but don’t get too excited by these two merely being added to the CLPS list. After all, OrbitBeyond was on the list and won a task order, and we saw how that turned out.

The key task order for Starship and Blue Moon will be VIPER, the fairly-sizable rover NASA officially announced a month ago at IAC. None of the previous CLPS providers had a lander big enough, so I see this as a contest between Starship and Blue Moon.

I’d be shocked if Blue Moon didn’t get it, as they seem perfectly matched for each other.

That’s not a knock on Starship, but it’s going to take some time for most of the industry to get their head around any architectures involving multiple on-orbit refueling runs and 40-meter cranes.

Blue Moon has a much more straightforward development path from today to VIPER on the lunar surface.