News Article | September 5, 2016
You’re a billionaire space company owner, and you want to take the next big step and send a spacecraft to the moon. You’ve built the rocket and bought time on a launch pad and established your mission goals. What’s left before lift off? SpaceX, Blue Origin and, more recently, Moon Express have been garnering attention this year for endeavors to send spacecrafts into Earth’s orbit and the moon. But getting these missions off the ground takes more permits and licenses than most people realize. If you want to leave the atmosphere, you have to get the government’s blessing first. Back in 1967, in the space race heyday, the world’s major powers met and hammered out some essential rules. But it wasn’t just for the sake of adding red tape—They also wanted to avoid world destruction. It was a tricky time. The U.S. and USSR were embattled in the Cold War, and both sides (and most other world leaders) were worried someone would get the bright idea to put nuclear weapons in orbit. The Outer Space Treaty—full name: Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies—was established. It concluded that regulation and oversight would be in the hands of each individual country for their specific government’s missions and private launches, said Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, director of the International Institute of Space Law. “The Outer Space Treaty is the most important space treaty there is,” she told Motherboard in an email. “It functions like a Constitution for space and contains the fundamental principles—like prohibiting nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in space—by which nations have agreed to be governed.” Non-governmental agencies in the U.S. (a.k.a. anything that isn’t NASA) have to go through a rigorous licensing Federal Aviation Administration process. The FAA handles everything related to U.S. flight—from tiny bush planes to hot air balloons to the plane you flew on to get home for Christmas—and commercial space flight. It’s such a big deal that the FAA has a specific office dedicated to regulating commercial space flight. The agency checks out the company’s payload, its environmental impact, checks for national security and foreign policy concerns and makes sure the mission’s insurance is up to par, FAA spokesman Hank Price said. Silicon Valley-based company Moon Express was recently granted a “positive payload determination” by the FAA that essentially says the items they plan to send to the moon do not “jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States,” he said, adding that it isn’t a license to lift off just yet. The New Shepard booster in 2015. Image: Blue Origin Even that pre-license process took three months, and required an extensive review process with the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Defense and other agencies, he said. The company’s next step will be to apply for a launch license. In the meantime, they’ve established a launch agreement—think of it like a rocket rental contract—with Rocket Lab, a company that launches other companies' satellites into orbit. Moon Express is already stating that it will launch in 2017 (which they’ll have to do if they’re going to win Google’s Lunar XPRIZE for $20 million that will go to whichever company can land on the moon by the end of 2017). This may seem like a buzzkill compared to the way Moon Express explains it—“Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world,” they state on their website. But it is historic since this is the first payload approval made for a commercial mission set for the moon, and it’s the first time a company has signed a contract for a lunar mission. One small step for this launch, but one big leap for the future of business on the moon. Once a company has the FAA launch license, FAA’s approval of its payload, an agreement with a launch company and an agreement with a private launch site or a government launch site, it still needs the right insurance. Price said companies are required to get insurance that covers the cost of the rocket and any satellites or other items it’s carrying, but not the launchpad itself. The insurance comes in hand if the rocket blows up, as demonstrated by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 explosion that destroyed the rocket and a satellite last week that was intended to extend internet access into parts of Africa as part of Facebook’s Internet.org project. Policies for millions of dollars are issued by companies like XL Catlin and Marsh for the various stages of a mission, like launch, separation and in-orbit insurance. Moon Express and companies like it state that they want to lay the groundwork for moon colonization. And organizations like Mars One want to establish human colonies on the red planet. These efforts will require a lot of work in labs, but they’ll also require just as much work in boardrooms and courtrooms to figure out just how much red tape is necessary to keep those who want to go to the Great Beyond in check.
News Article | February 22, 2017
For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. These small satellites offer opportunities to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space in such a way that is cost-effective, timely and relatively easy to accomplish. The cube-shaped satellites measure about four inches on each side, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than three pounds per unit (U). CubeSats can also be combined and built to standard dimensions of 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, etc. for configurations about the size of a loaf of bread, large shoebox, microwave, and more. These small sats are used by scientists and researchers from all over the world as a way to take bold steps when it comes to space science and exploration. Their small size makes it possible to rapidly build and test, making CubeSats an ideal and affordable way to explore new technologies and ideas. CubeSat technology is used by many organizations outside of NASA to explore low-Earth orbit and the effects of microgravity. Together with NASA, companies like Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and NanoRacks give commercial companies the opportunity to fly their CubeSats as auxiliary payloads on cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station. In addition, Rocket Lab and Virgin Galactic will soon provide dedicated CubeSat launches from the new Venture Class Launch Services. CubeSats may be deployed directly from the rocket, from a spacecraft, or from the station itself depending on the mission. Planet Labs have developed a series of CubeSats to be launched across several expeditions, many of which have been deployed from the International Space Station via the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. These Earth-imaging satellites will provide imagery to a variety of users as they focus on highly populated and agricultural areas to study urbanization and deforestation. The images will be used to improve natural disaster relief and crop yields in developing nations. NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools and non-profit organizations to fly on upcoming launches. Through innovative technology partnerships, NASA provides these CubeSat developers a low-cost pathway to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space thus enabling students, teachers and faculty to obtain hands-on flight hardware development experience. Each proposed investigation must demonstrate a benefit to NASA by addressing aspects of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations relevant to NASA's strategic goals. This initiative provides NASA a mechanism for low-cost technology development and scientific research to help bridge strategic knowledge gaps and accelerate flight-qualified technology. Since its inception CSLI has selected 152 CubeSat missions from 68 universities and in 2015, NASA launched first CubeSat designed and built by elementary students. The recent eighth round of CubeSat selections will include 34 small satellites from 19 states and the District of Columbia to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard missions planned to launch in 2018, 2019 and 2020 CubeSat missions benefit Earth in varying ways. From Earth imaging satellites that help meteorologists to predict storm strengths and direction, to satellites that focus on technology demonstrations to help define what materials and processes yield the most useful resources and function best in a microgravity environment, the variety of science enabled by CubeSats results in diverse benefits and opportunities for discovery. "You never know what they're going to discover or find," said Susan Mayo, National Lab and Education Specialist for the International Space Station Program Science Office. "What better systems will emerge for Earth imaging? Are we going to develop a better system for doing something? You never know what long-term impact can come out of it. That's what this is all about - how is it going to benefit life on Earth in the end?" CubeSats are bringing dreams of spaceflight, discovery and science closer to home than ever. For more information about science and research aboard the station, visit ISS Research and Technology.
News Article | April 26, 2016
Why wait for the bus when you can hail a cab? That’s the idea behind a new commercial spaceflight startup founded by SpaceX founding team members Jim Cantrell and John Garvey. Vector Space Systems wants to shake up to the commercial space market by providing not tens, but hundreds of launches per year. “We’re going to bring real economics to the launch platform,” Cantrell told TechCrunch in an interview. “And we can do that because we bring supply. We’re talking about building hundreds of these things.” Vector isn’t looking to compete with SpaceX, or even smaller commercial launch platforms like Rocket Lab and Firefly. A launch with these companies might be booked years in advance, with dozens of sub-launches, deliveries, experiments, and what have you packed into a single rocket. It’s like a space bus. Vector wants to be the space taxi. “I had this experience pounded into my brain with LightSail,” said Cantrell, referring to the Planetary Society’s experimental solar propulsion craft. “We built that thing — I think we finished in 2011 — and it’s still waiting around for launch, because you need a particular orbit and so on. And really nobody has addressed this problem.” With small rockets carrying single 20-40 kg payloads launching weekly or even every few days, the company can be flexible with both prices and timetables. Such small satellites are a growing business: 175 were launched in 2015 alone, and there’s plenty of room to grow. It’ll still be expensive, of course, and you won’t be able to just buy a Thursday afternoon express ticket to low earth orbit — yet. Customers will, however, reap other benefits. There are less restrictions on space: no more having to package your satellite or craft into a launch container so it fits into a slot inside a crowded space bus. Less of a wait between build and launch means hardware can be finalized weeks, not years, in advance — and expensive satellites aren’t sitting in warehouses waiting for their turn to go live and get that sweet return on investment. The last few years have been spent on designing and testing the as-yet-unnamed launch vehicles Vector will be using. The first stage is designed to be reusable — nothing as fancy as SpaceX’s autonomous landings, but rather using a unique aerial recovery system Cantrell seemed excited (though guarded) about. Dozens of sub-orbital flights have been made, and orbital deployment is the next test. If all goes well, Vector hopes to be making its first real flights in 2017. To date, Vector has relied on its founders’ cash reserves and a lot of government money, but the company announced $1M in angel seed funding at Space 2.0 today. Contributors include Shaun Coleman and Matt Conover, co-founders of CloudVolumes, and Trident Space founder Nick Karangelan. “DOD and NASA paid for a lot of this development,” Cantrell said, “but this seed money really accelerates things. We’re also looking to close our A round in the next few months.” Investors are knocking down the front door looking to get in, he said, though he declined to name any. Perhaps they smell profitability: Vector’s business plan has it cash positive after just a few launches. Government money is also in the mix: Cantrell noted humbly that “We’ve been talking with people high up at the Pentagon who want this for obvious reasons.” A lot depends on successful demonstration of orbital deployment, which should be happening a little later this year. If things go as planned, it could work towards removing one of the most significant restraints currently holding back commercial spaceflight.
News Article | February 22, 2017
The cube-shaped satellites measure about four inches on each side, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than three pounds per unit (U). CubeSats can also be combined and built to standard dimensions of 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, etc. for configurations about the size of a loaf of bread, large shoebox, microwave, and more. These small sats are used by scientists and researchers from all over the world as a way to take bold steps when it comes to space science and exploration. Their small size makes it possible to rapidly build and test, making CubeSats an ideal and affordable way to explore new technologies and ideas. CubeSat technology is used by many organizations outside of NASA to explore low-Earth orbit and the effects of microgravity. Together with NASA, companies like Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and NanoRacks give commercial companies the opportunity to fly their CubeSats as auxiliary payloads on cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station. In addition, Rocket Lab and Virgin Galactic will soon provide dedicated CubeSat launches from the new Venture Class Launch Services. CubeSats may be deployed directly from the rocket, from a spacecraft, or from the station itself depending on the mission. Planet Labs have developed a series of CubeSats to be launched across several expeditions, many of which have been deployed from the International Space Station via the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. These Earth-imaging satellites will provide imagery to a variety of users as they focus on highly populated and agricultural areas to study urbanization and deforestation. The images will be used to improve natural disaster relief and crop yields in developing nations. NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools and non-profit organizations to fly on upcoming launches. Through innovative technology partnerships, NASA provides these CubeSat developers a low-cost pathway to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space thus enabling students, teachers and faculty to obtain hands-on flight hardware development experience. Each proposed investigation must demonstrate a benefit to NASA by addressing aspects of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations relevant to NASA's strategic goals. This initiative provides NASA a mechanism for low-cost technology development and scientific research to help bridge strategic knowledge gaps and accelerate flight-qualified technology. Since its inception CSLI has selected 152 CubeSat missions from 68 universities and in 2015, NASA launched first CubeSat designed and built by elementary students. The recent eighth round of CubeSat selections will include 34 small satellites from 19 states and the District of Columbia to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard missions planned to launch in 2018, 2019 and 2020 CubeSat missions benefit Earth in varying ways. From Earth imaging satellites that help meteorologists to predict storm strengths and direction, to satellites that focus on technology demonstrations to help define what materials and processes yield the most useful resources and function best in a microgravity environment, the variety of science enabled by CubeSats results in diverse benefits and opportunities for discovery. "You never know what they're going to discover or find," said Susan Mayo, National Lab and Education Specialist for the International Space Station Program Science Office. "What better systems will emerge for Earth imaging? Are we going to develop a better system for doing something? You never know what long-term impact can come out of it. That's what this is all about - how is it going to benefit life on Earth in the end?" CubeSats are bringing dreams of spaceflight, discovery and science closer to home than ever. For more information about science and research aboard the station, visit ISS Research and Technology.
News Article | January 14, 2017
Florida-based company Moon Express, which hopes to mine the moon someday, has received the full funding it needs to make its first lunar trip. Moon Express is one of the teams that is vying for the $30 million race to the moon, the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP). The X Prize offers $20 million to the first privately funded team that would land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, move the vehicle at least 1,640 feet on the moon and send high-resolution images back to Earth. The second team that manages to do this gets $5 million. Moon Express is one of the frontrunners of the GLXP as it has already managed to secure permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to land on the surface of the moon becoming the first private company in the world to get permission to travel beyond our planet's orbit after months of negotiations with government officials. "Up until now all commercial companies have been limited to operations in Earth's orbit, and only governments have sent missions to other worlds," the company said in a statement. "Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world as a pioneer of commercial space missions beyond Earth orbit." Moon Express has also struck a deal with rocket manufacturer Rocket Lab to launch its vehicle into orbit. Recent developments give high hopes that the company would be one of the first of the XPrize competitors to get to the lunar surface as it now has all the resources needed to send a lander to the moon. Team members have revealed that Moon Express has secured $20 million in "Series B" funding, which now brings the amount of funds raised from private investors to more than $45 million. The additional funding came from multiple venture capital funds, the software company Autodesk and other private resources. X Prize requires that 90 percent of the competitors' funding be from private sources. The funding does not guarantee a successful flight to the moon though. Rocket Lab's Electron rocket has not flown yet and while the aeronautics startup said that it will start conducting flight tests earlier this year, no official launch date has yet been set. It is neither clear if Electron will be ready to bring Moon Express' MX-1E lander to space before the deadline set by the X Prize which will be on Dec. 31 this year. Moon Express is not just setting its eyes on the X Prize. It also plans to send more missions to the moon, which will include one that will collect lunar samples that will be brought back to Earth. The team plans to gather Helium-3 from the moon, which can be used in future nuclear fusion reactors. "Our goal is to expand Earth's social and economic sphere to the moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low-cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests," said Moon Express CEO Bob Richards. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 16, 2017
After three years of developing a brand-new rocket, aerospace startup Rocket Lab has finally transported a finished vehicle to the New Zealand launchpad where it will take its first flight. The rocket, called the Electron, has been tested on the ground over the last year but has never been flown to space before. Over the next couple of months, Rocket Lab will conduct a series of test launches of the vehicle to verify that it’s ready to carry payloads into orbit for commercial customers. Compared to other major commercial rockets like the Falcon 9 or the Atlas V, the Electron is pretty small — only 55 feet tall and and around 4 feet in diameter. That’s because the vehicle is specifically designed to launch small satellites. The vehicle can carry payloads ranging from 330 to 500 pounds into an orbit more than 300 miles up. That’s a relatively light lift contrasted with the Falcon 9, which can carry more than 50,000 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The Electron is specifically designed to launch small satellites But Rocket Lab isn’t interested in competing with major players like SpaceX or the United Launch Alliance. The company wants to capitalize solely on what is being hailed as the small satellite revolution — a trend of making space probes as tiny as possible. Typically, aerospace manufacturers will spend years and millions of dollars developing a satellite that’s roughly the size of a bus. And then an entire rocket is needed just to get one thousand-pound satellite into space. But technology has advanced in recent years, and companies have come up with ways to miniaturize their satellites, making these space probes as small as a shoebox. Small satellites usually take less time and money to make, and since they’re so compact, multiple probes can be launched to space on a single rocket. Various aerospace companies have started focusing on making and operating small satellites, and because of the enthusiasm surrounding these tiny spacecraft, Rocket Lab has received a huge influx of launch requests. “The customer uptake for the product has just been phenomenal,” Peter Beck, the founder of Rocket Lab, tells The Verge. “I think it’s a testament to the industry that 2017 for us is totally fully booked and has been for a year or more. And 2018, there’s only a few spots left. We haven’t even flown the vehicle yet on one test flight, and the manifest is overflowing.” Perhaps one of the things that makes Rocket Lab’s Electron so attractive to customers is the estimated price tag. The company claims it will only charge around $4.9 million for each launch. That’s a cheap option compared to one flight of the Falcon 9, for instance, which starts at $62 million. The Electron also sports some unique design features. The vehicle’s nine main engines, known as Rutherford engines, are manufactured mostly through 3D printing; they’re also partially electric. Batteries are used to power the turbopumps — key hardware that funnels the vehicle’s propellant into the engines. Typically, turbopumps are powered by a gas generator, where you essentially have another engine that spins the pumps’ turbine blades, but Beck says the batteries reduce the complexity of the engine’s machinery. “The reason why we arrived at the electric turbopump is we sat down and analyzed where the cost and complexity is in the engine, and it’s always in the turbine machinery,” says Beck. “The electric turbopump cycle allows us to take that really complicated thermodynamic problem and just turn it into software.” Getting the rocket and its engines ready for spaceflight has certainly taken time, but Rocket Lab has also had another daunting task to accomplish before the Electron can fly: creating an entirely new launchpad in New Zealand. It’s the country’s first launch site and the first private orbital launch range ever. And making the site functional has required more than just building the pad. Rocket Lab had to build tracking stations on remote islands in the Pacific, to trace the rocket’s path when it launches. The site also had to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to launch rockets. “It’s really been a massive infrastructure build, as well as a launch vehicle build.” “It’s really been a massive infrastructure build, as well as a launch vehicle build,” says Beck. “We joke around here that we wish that we just had to build a rocket like everyone else, because that would be easy. We had to build all the infrastructure that, normally, you would just turn up to a launch range and use.” All launches out of the US take place at launch ranges run by government organizations. With the New Zealand pad, Rocket Lab will be in control of the launch site, the tracking facilities, and the launch vehicle. The goal is to use all of these tools to launch one rocket per week, creating frequent access to space for the company’s customers. But first, Rocket Lab has to pull off its test flights of the Electron. The company plans to perform three test launches, the first of which is supposed to happen within the next few months. The inaugural rocket has been dubbed “It’s a Test,” and will carry scientific instruments in lieu of a payload to collect data about the flight. “We’re a very test heavy company; we do a lot of diligence in that area,” says Beck. If the three flights are successful, then Rocket Lab will get to work launching for its customers If those three flights are successful, then Rocket Lab will get to work fulfilling its contractual obligations to its customers. Those include small satellite operators Planet and Spire, as well as NASA. The space agency awarded Rocket Lab a $6.95 million contract in 2015 to launch a small NASA payload into lower Earth orbit. Additionally, Rocket Lab is slated to launch a small lunar lander for Moon Express, an aerospace company with long-term ambitions of mining the Moon someday. Moon Express is a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize competition — an international contest to send the first private spacecraft to the Moon’s surface — and in order to win, participants must launch their landers before December 31st, 2017. So the success of Rocket Lab’s test flights is good news for Moon Express’ chances of winning the Google Lunar X Prize. "We are excited to see the Electron rocket arrive at the Mahia launch complex for its first test flight,” Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, tells The Verge. “The maiden launch of the Electron will be an exciting moment for Rocket Lab and the entire commercial space industry."
News Article | April 5, 2016
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Orbital ATK is pressing U.S. lawmakers to end a 20-year ban on using decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for launching commercial satellites and the effort has raised concern among companies that have invested millions of dollars in potential rival rockets. Orbital Vice President Barron Beneski said in an interview on Friday that the company was pushing Washington to get the ban lifted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that sets defense policy for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1. The missiles were idled by nuclear disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia in the 1990s. Virgin Galactic and other space startups said in interviews last week they worry that lifting the ban would give Orbital an unfair competitive advantage if it was allowed to use surplus government rocket motors in its commercial launch vehicles. The issue could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in potential rocket launch orders in coming years. Orbital’s initiative dovetails with an Air Force plan to cut the amount of money it spends on missile storage and support services to $6.5 million in fiscal year 2017 from $17 million this year. The Air Force had no immediate comment on the budget cut proposal and its intentions for the stockpiled missiles. U.S. policy allows the missile rocket motors to be used to launch military payloads, a service that Orbital has already been providing under contract with the Air Force. But the decommissioned missiles cannot currently be used as launch vehicles to fly commercial satellites. Orbital said it wants the missiles to build a Minotaur 4 launch vehicle capable of lifting about four times the weight of small rockets like LauncherOne, which is being developed by Richard Branson’s California-based Virgin Galactic. "It’s not a matter of us taking business away from them. It’s a matter of us filling a void in the Minotaur 4 market and competing it internationally,” Orbital's vice president of business development Mark Pieczynski said. Beneski said the company would welcome continued Department of Defense review “to make sure we’re not buying assets and then cannibalizing the commercial market.” They said Orbital was not looking for an exclusive deal, and would pay a "fair market rate" for the retired missiles. Virgin Galactic Vice President Richard DalBello said on Friday that his company did not expect a large commercial market in the class of the Minotaur. “What they will be doing is selling rides to smaller commercial payloads, and aggregating them, so they will be directly competing with us,” he said. Virgin is among a handful of startups that include Texas-based Firefly Space Systems and Rocket Lab of Los Angeles and New Zealand, which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing rockets (lower case) to carry small satellites into orbit. “It’s a dangerous precedent when the government tries to inject itself in the commercial marketplace. It can be disruptive, and not for the right reasons,” Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a Washington DC-based trade organization, said in an interview on Thursday.
News Article | November 30, 2016
On an October afternoon in 1899, the influential American rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard, then 17, was pruning his family's cherry tree and dreaming of spaceflight. "[A]s I looked towards the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars," Goddard later recalled. "I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended for existence at last seemed very purposive." That same spirit remains alive and well in today's young space enthusiasts, judging by the efforts of high school students based out of North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum ID, who are building their own CubeSat spaceship. CubeSats, box-shaped satellites weighing only a few pounds each, offer a relatively inexpensive way to get hardware into orbit, and have become a popular platform for students, hobbyists, and other groups that have been traditionally priced out of spaceflight. The Idaho team's mission, called Project DaVinci, is spearheaded by 18-year-old entrepreneur Erik Finman, who had made TIME's list of influential teens by age of 15. The CubeSat is on track to house a variety of features, from an internet-accessible camera to an orbital time capsule loaded with crowd-sourced movies, games, images, and other media that Project DaVinci's supporters want to see in space (BBC's Planet Earth is a popular choice, according to this recent Reddit thread about the mission). "We wanted to do things that really gave the average person access to space," Finman told me over the phone. "We thought: 'Oh, a time capsule is a really good idea.'" The team described the concept as an homage to Carl Sagan's Golden Record plates, identical phonographs packed with sounds and images of Earth, which are currently breaching interstellar space onboard the two Voyager probes launched in 1977. Project DaVinci will have a much shorter shelf life, operating for about two years before deorbiting and burning up in the atmosphere, but the team plans to ceremonially open the capsule remotely on Earth before the satellite retires. With the help of NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) initiative—a program to "attract and retain" STEM-focused students—Finman and his team landed a comfy spot on a commercial Rocket Lab vehicle scheduled for liftoff from New Zealand in June 2017. In the meantime, the group has set up a Kickstarter campaign to encourage wider public involvement in the CubeSat's development. The team also plans to include a "virtual cockpit" that will allow users to access a simulation of the onboard camera view through VR headsets, enabling them to point the viewfinder in different directions or check in on the satellite's trajectory around Earth. "Our goal is to give a sense of interaction and feeling that [people] are in space that has only been felt with astronauts before," Finman said. "It's the coolest thing. It's a really nice camera. It's like seeing through a bay view window of Earth." READ MORE: Watch Students Race Awesome DIY Rovers in This Annual NASA Event Though Project DaVinci is not the first CubeSat mission built by high school students, its focus on new technologies and public engagement has caught the attention of several big names in the spaceflight industry. For instance, the group has earned the mentorship of the prolific aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, who designed SpaceShipOne and happens to be Finman's neighbor in the outskirts of Coeur d'Alene ID. Meanwhile, Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize Foundation and Singularity University, has called them "the next generation dreamers and doers." "We were inspired by a new book How to Make a Spaceship by Julian Guthrie," Finman said. "Burt and Peter are at the heart of that story, and Burt is now our hands-on mentor. So one generation of aerospace heroes is inspiring the next, and our goal is to pass that forward to the next generation." Even Taylor Swift caught wind of the project, and requested that her music be included in the time capsule and her name etched on the side (an orbital riff on "Blank Space," it would seem). "That was a cool email to get," Finman told me. Up until this point, the adventure of spaceflight has been almost entirely limited to agencies with the budget and resources necessary to blast giant objects out of Earth's massive gravity well. But new technologies like CubeSats, coupled with the diverse and collaborative landscape of modern rocketry, is finally within the reach of 21st century Goddards, including the Project DaVinci team. As Goddard himself put it when he was a student: "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow." Young space dreamers today share that boundless optimism about the future of space exploration. "I think there's so many ways forward in space that are just so exciting," Finman said. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
Agency: Department of Defense | Branch: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency | Program: SBIR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 99.96K | Year: 2015
Rocket Lab USA, Inc. proposes to develop and demonstrate how the use of the Electron launch vehicle either as an upper stage in support of the XS-1 program or dedicated small launch vehicle could employ the use of Automated Flight Termination (AFTS) technologies to reduce the cost of access to space without adversely impacting public safety. Providing the launch opportunity to obtain flight telemetry from Rocket Lab's initial test flight will enable the development of a ruggedized AFTS for future DARPA, NASA and commercial launch campaigns.
News Article | August 4, 2016
It looks like going to the moon will no longer be a privilege reserved for the government, as Moon Express has become the first private company in the world to receive permission to travel beyond Earth's orbit — a development that came after months of negotiations with government officials. Now, Moon Express, having formally received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will launch launch its MX-1 lunar lander beyond Earth's orbit and to the moon in 2017. "Moon Express received the green light for pursuing its 2017 lunar mission following in-depth consultations with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies," the company said [pdf] on its website Wednesday. Moon Express was was born out of the Google Lunar XPrize, an international contest with $30 million up for grabs for a private company that can soft-land on the moon and travel across its surface. One would assume that earning the right to go to the moon would have involved a long, regimented process. However, as past examples have shown, making history often requires using unconventional methods, and this instance was no different. To start, Moon Express didn't begin by asking for approval, it began by purchasing a launch to the moon with Rocket Lab in October 2015. At that time, it didn't have permission from the government to go to the moon or the ability to retain ownership of any lunar resources they obtained if it could get there. However, its situation changed somewhat in the following month, November 2015, when the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was passed, allowing private companies to have full ownership of resources they extract in space. The bill made it legal for Moon Express to mine the moon and keep what it extracted, but it still didn't have permission to travel to the moon in the first place. From a regulatory standpoint, things were all set, but things were still murky from a security standpoint. Why? Because national assets like reconnaissance satellites that monitor specific areas of the Earth are located over 20,000 miles away in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). At the time, that was the farthest private companies could place anything past Earth, and going beyond that point would give a company full view of some of the most important space-based security satellites. As a result, it's in the government's best interest to know exactly what a company intends to do on a mission past GEO. Of course, since this would be the first time a private company would fly past Earth's orbit, there was no set procedure in place in granting a company the right to do so. As such, representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the State Department and the NSA, came together and determined that the FAA, which is already responsible for granting launch licenses to rocket companies, would be the best point of contact. Heeding their advice, Moon Express did just that and submitted an application for a 2017 commercial lunar mission to the FAA on April 8, 2016, which has now been approved. "The FAA has determined that the launch of the payload does not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States," the FAA said in a statement Wednesday. "As long as none of the information provided to the FAA changes in a material manner and the FAA does not become aware of any issues the review did not consider that could affect the determination, the FAA considers this determination final." Indeed, this will mark the first time that a private company has conducted a lunar mission. If successful, it will become the fourth entity overall to soft-land on the moon. The first three to hold this distinction were all global superpowers: the U.S., the former USSR and China. However, what this doesn't mean is that other private companies will automatically be granted access to the moon. Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express, was quick to note that this permission was a onetime deal for the company. All future requests for lunar travel will be addressed on a case-by-case basis until laws governing this activity can be passed. At the very least, however, all companies that might seek approval in the future will know which entity to contact for permission and what steps need to be taken while doing so. "This simply shows that every company can achieve their moon-shot," said Jain. Whereas other companies still need to submit their plans to the FAA before getting their hopes off the ground, Moon Express is free to move forward. For starters, Moon Express hopes to win further XPrize awards by moving across the surface. Rather than simply roving, it will re-fire its rockets on the MX-1 lander and "hop" to different locations. In the future, the company expects to boost revenue by harvesting resources on the moon, like water and Helium-3, creating a fuel depot on the surface and ultimately performing round-trip missions to ferry payloads back to the Earth. By the end of the year, Moon Express plans to double its employee base to over 50 people. Moon Express will conduct its mission in the latter half of 2017 on a rocket provided by Rocket Lab. Jain stated the mission will be profitable due to private payloads and sponsorships. NASA is expected to participate as well by providing a paid scientific payload, though Moon Express' business plan is not dependent on it. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.