The number of private sector companies working to develop commercial exploration of space is amazing, as is the progress they are making. A few fun articles:
- Blue Origin’s capsule escape test went well; check out the video
- Orbital ATK successfully launched a Cygnus capsule on their Antares booster.
- Lots of companies are working in the small sat market, with lots of competition in all sectors of the open space frontier
10/5 – Popular Mechanics – Blue Origin’s Rocket Test Just Went Better Than Anyone Thought Possible – Blue Origin just successfully completed the crew capsule escape test. The capsule’s emergency rockets fired 70,000 pounds of thrust off angle to the flight of the booster to separate the capsule from the booster.
Speculation on Twitter yesterday is the off angle push would topple the booster and require its destruction.
Instead, the booster survived the capsule’s escape, continued climbing to over 200,000 feet, fell back to earth, and successfully recovered two miles from the launch site.
Check out the video. Jump to the 1:07:00 mark for the launch and escape. Watch another five minutes for the astounding recovery.
Amongst the other fabulous details, keep in mind the camera is tracking the booster at 200,000 feet, down through 100,000 feet, all the way to the ground. Amazing.
10/17 – Space.com – Orbital ATK’s Antares Rocket Returns to Flight with Gorgeous Night Cargo Launch – Two years ago Orbital ATK had a catastrophic failure upon launch. On the 17th they had a very successful launch of their Antares rocket lifting their uncrewed, pressurized Cygnus capsule into low earth orbit on its way to a resupply of the ISS. The Cygnus is carrying 5,100 pounds of cargo.
After all the supplies are used up and experiments run, about 5,100 pounds of “disposal cargo” (which everyone else knows as garbage) will be loaded and sent back to earth to intentionally burn up in reentry.
Article has a super cool infographic showing the components of the launch vehicle and capsule. There is a drawn comparison of Orbital ATK’s Antares & Cygnus next to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 & Dragon next to the Space Shuttle.
To show the wonderfully good news of private space exploration, the article says Orbital ATK has a contract in the amount of $1.9 billion for 10 resupply missions caring about 66,000 pounds of cargo.
Of course the accountant in me immediately calculates that’s $190M per resupply mission at an overall cost of approximately $28,800 for each pound of experiments and supplies.
10/18 – Behind the Black – Vector Space Systems signs $60 million contract – The new company, Vector, focuses on micro satellites. They have a contract with York Space Systems for 6 launches with options for 14 more. York focuses on small and medium satellites.
Another two players I didn’t know about, but then I don’t get out much.
Check out this comment for an explanation why I am so optimist about the future:
It seems that there are now a lot of competing space races going on in the private aerospace industry. SpaceX and Boeing are racing to launch astronauts to ISS. SpaceX and Blue Origin are racing to reuse rockets. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are racing to launch the first suborbital tourists. A handful of private companies are racing to win the Google Lunar X-Prize. Arianespace, ULA, and Russia are racing with SpaceX for big payload launch contracts.
Look at the competition, which is fabulous:
- SpaceX & Boeing – Lift to ISS – add in Orbital ATK
- SpaceX & Blue Origin – reuse rockets
- Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic – suborbital tourism
- Arianespace & ULA & Russia & SpaceX – big payload
In addition there are several players aiming for the small, cube-sat market.
Fantastic! Every one of them will perform far better because they remember every day that someone might edge them out.