Bachelor – s Degree in Spaceflight Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Bachelor of Science in
Spaceflight Operations

Imagine the challenges one could face every day if their career were dedicated to launching a brand-new facet of space exploration and travel. Amazingly, there is a degree to match your ambitions. Embry-Riddle offers the world’s first Spaceflight Operations degree program. Linking the commercial space industry and regulatory agencies with Embry-Riddle’s well-established aviation and aerospace connections, this program teaches students to solve challenges such as airspace traffic coordination, launch operations, and training and certification requirements.

Students can be part of the world’s first commercial space operations degree program. An innovator in aerospace and aviation education, Embry-Riddle is backed with expertise and committed to teaching an interdisciplinary curriculum that aligns with global space industry demands.

Embry-Riddle collaborates with the Space Generation Advisory Council to promote space activities and strengthen the space workforce through education and career development.

This non-engineering degree program has been structured with the help of the commercial space industry and affiliated space agencies, including NASA and the FAA-Commercial Transportation office (FAA-AST), to help match the strengths of the graduates with the industry’s needs.

Students in this innovative program can specialize in either Space Policy and Operations or Operations Science and Technology.


About Spaceflight Operations at the Daytona Beach, FL Campus

The Bachelor of Science in Spaceflight Operations program opens a doorway into one of the newest and most innovative non-engineering fields in the aerospace industry. This unique program focuses on policy, operations, safety, training, human factors, and planning elements of commercial and private space operations. The interdisciplinary nature of this program prepares students to integrate the many different factors involved in space operations while also allowing them to specialize in either Space Policy and Operations or Operations Science and Technology.

The Bachelor of Science in Spaceflight Operations degree is housed in the Department of Applied Aviation Sciences in the College of Aviation.

Embry-Riddle’s Spaceflight Operations program is designed to prepare students for work in the commercial spaceflight industry. Graduates will be skilled in areas of space policy, operations, regulation and certification, as well as spaceflight safety, space program training, management, and planning.

Embry-Riddle’s undergraduate Spaceflight Operations degree is an interdisciplinary program that encompasses the human factors of space flight and training; the safety, security, and risk assessment of space operations; and the simulation, training, and planning involved with the space flight projects, vehicles, and spaceports.

This new degree program introduces students to the exciting and expanding world of commercial and private space flight, private and cooperative space programs, and the growing area of commerce in space research.

The campus is adjacent to the Daytona Beach International Airport and the NextGen Test Bed, and is also close to NASA and Kennedy Space Center.

The Private Spaceflight Decade: How Commercial Space Truly Soared in the 2010s, Space

The Private Spaceflight Decade: How Commercial Space Truly Soared in the 2010s

A lot has happened in the past 10 years.

Historians may look back at the 2010s as the decade in which commercial spaceflight really started taking off.

Private companies are doing a lot more in the final frontier today than they were 10 years ago, including ferrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), landing and reflying rockets, and manufacturing products off Earth.

Since 2010, and especially since 2013 or 2014, “it has been an enormous change — a sea change, almost,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a nonprofit trade association. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Private cargo flights galore

Let’s start with those robotic ISS resupply missions, which NASA has funded through a series of commercial cargo deals. SpaceX has flown 19 contracted missions to date with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket, with the first coming in October 2012. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rocket made their first fully operational run in January 2014 and have racked up 11 more launches since then. (Both companies suffered one cargo-mission failure; an Antares exploded on the pad in October 2014, and a Falcon 9 broke apart in flight in June 2015.)

About half of those Dragon-Falcon 9 missions have featured landings of the rocket’s first stage, showcasing one of the important trends that SpaceX pioneered in the 2010s: the recovery and reuse of orbital hardware by a private company.

SpaceX first notched a booster touchdown during an orbital flight in December 2015. Since then, the company has pulled off nearly four dozen additional landings, many of them coming on specialized ships at sea. SpaceX routinely reflies these first stages, too, often multiple times.

And the Dragon capsule is reusable, and increasingly reused, as well. For example, the two most recent SpaceX resupply missions, which launched on July 25 and Dec. 6, respectively, featured Dragon spacecraft that had already made two trips to the orbiting lab.

Such activity is key to SpaceX’s long-term vision. The company aims to slash the cost of spaceflight enough to make bold exploration feats economically feasible. Indeed, Elon Musk has repeatedly stressed that he founded SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help achieve one particularly ambitious goal: to colonize Mars.

SpaceX has already lowered the cost of getting to space considerably. The company currently sells launches of the workhorse Falcon 9 for $62 million and the newer, more powerful Falcon Heavy for $90 million. Those rockets can loft 50,265 lbs. (22,800 kilograms) and 140,660 lbs. (63,800 kg), respectively, to low Earth orbit (LEO), according to SpaceX’s spec sheet.

That works out to about $2,720 per kg to LEO for the Falcon 9, and $1,410 per kg for the Falcon Heavy. For comparison, the cost to LEO for NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiters was about $54,500 per kg, according to a recent report by Harry Jones of NASA’s Ames Research Center. (SpaceX is also widely acknowledged to be considerably cheaper than its competitors in the commercial sector, but comparisons are tricky because those other companies generally don’t publish their launch prices.)

Another company, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, also began routinely landing and reflying rockets in the 2010s. Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle has performed 11 successful touchdowns to date, with the first coming in November 2015. The most recent iteration of the reusable New Shepard has flown six such missions. To date, these test flights have hauled experiments to suborbital space and back for 100 customers, Blue Origin representatives said.

Rocket Lab is yet another private launch provider that broke new ground in the past decade, pioneering dedicated missions for small satellites via its 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron rocket. The two-stage Electron first lifted off in May 2017 and now has 10 flights under its belt, the last nine of which have been completely successful.

During the most recent mission, which launched on Dec. 6, Rocket Lab guided the Electron’s first stage back down toward Earth in the proper orientation for recovery — a big step toward rocket reuse, which the company plans to start implementing as early as next year. But Electron rockets won’t land vertically like New Shepard and Falcon 9 first stages do; instead, Rocket Lab plans to pluck the falling boosters out of the sky with a helicopter.

Not all of the rocket action is being conducted by American companies, either. For example, Beijing-based OneSpace, which aims to give small payloads rides to suborbital space and to orbit, launched for the first time in 2018.

Lots going on

The variety and capabilities of the hardware carried by such rockets have surged over the past decade as well.

For example, the 2010s saw the dawn of the off-Earth-manufacturing era. That milestone occurred in September 2014, when a 3D printer built by California-based startup Made In Space rode to the ISS (aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule for good measure).

Since then, Made In Space has launched a handful of other machines to the orbiting lab, including equipment that manufactures the high-value optical fiber ZBLAN.

The company is also developing in-space assembly technology known as Archinaut, which Made In Space envisions will help repair, upgrade and refuel satellites in orbit and build entirely new structures as well. This past July, NASA awarded the company nearly $74 million to give Archinaut an orbital test, which could come as early as 2022.

Advances by the private space sector have also made it much easier to see what’s happening here on Earth. For instance, the San Francisco-based company Planet first launched its sharp-eyed Dove Earth-observation satellites to orbit in 2013, and several hundred have been lofted to date.

These tiny spacecraft, each of which is about the size of a loaf of bread, capture imagery for use by a wide variety of customers. Some of these photos have considerable national security utility; Doves have helped analysts keep tabs on the North Korean and Iranian rocket and missile programs, for instance.

Communications tech also leaped ahead in the 2010s, Stallmer said, citing the launch of more-capable broadband satellites. And much bigger things are to come in this respect. SpaceX launched its first 120 Starlink spacecraft in 2019 and eventually aims to loft up to 12,000 of these satellites (including another 60 before the year is out). Several other companies, such as OneWeb and Amazon, have similar goals. (These planned megaconstellations have come with some controversy, however. Astronomers have expressed concerns about how Starlink and its ilk will affect their observations, and other folks in the space community worry about the space-junk hazard such craft pose.)

The 2010s also saw the increased commercialization of the ISS. For example, Texas-based NanoRacks, which helps customers get their gear up and running on the station, got its first foothold on the orbiting lab in 2010.

NASA has been encouraging this trend, as well as increased private activity in deep space. In the past year or two, for example, the American space agency has started reserving space on commercial lunar landers.

The delivery of scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to the moon by these private robotic craft will help NASA put boots on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by the end of the 2020s, agency officials have said. Indeed, NASA even wants the private sector to help get those astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

This is just a sampling of the past decade’s advances, of course; there are far too many to detail in a single story.

Driving factors

Several factors are driving such progress, Stallmer said. One of the biggest catalysts is the drop in the cost to access space.

“If people have to spend 50% less on launching a payload, it enables them to open a larger market on development of what they can do and build on the ground,” Stallmer told

And what they can build on the ground is increasingly efficient and capable, given the ever-increasing miniaturization of electronics that’s exemplified by Planet’s flock of Doves. It also helps that those two sides — launch and payload — have been acting in increasing synergy in recent years, Stallmer said, noting a better alignment of supply and demand in the space sector.

Space companies also found it increasingly easy to access private capital throughout the 2010s, Stallmer said. The numbers back this up: According to the venture capital company Space Angels, $24.6 billion has been invested in the commercial space sector since 2009 — and $5 billion of that has been pumped in just in the first three quarters of 2019.

Investors’ pockets have been opened, at least in part, by the successes notched throughout the decade by companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic (which flew landmark crewed test flights to suborbital space in December 2018 and February 2019). And these high-profile pioneers have pushed the industry forward in other ways as well, Stallmer said.

Such companies have inspired people to start their own space outfits and also seeded them with talent. For instance, up-and-coming launch provider Relativity Space, which recently announced that it had raised $140 million from investors in its latest funding round, was founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone — alums of Blue Origin and SpaceX, respectively.

Not so fast

But it hasn’t all been wine and roses for private spaceflight in the 2010s. Milestones have been much harder to come by in a particularly high-profile field: human spaceflight.

Consider Virgin Galactic, which aims to fly paying customers to and from suborbital space aboard its six-passenger spaceliner, SpaceShipTwo. The company is nearly ready to start doing so, but the timeline has shifted considerably to the right over the years. Back in 2004, after all, Richard Branson predicted that his newly founded company would begin commercial space-tourism operations by 2007.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard is designed to carry people as well, but it doesn’t yet have any crewed flights under its belt, though that seems likely to change soon. (It’s tough to say much about New Shepard timeline shifts, because Blue Origin has mostly avoided publicly announcing target dates throughout its 19-year history.)

Then there are the crew-carrying orbital vehicles. In 2010, NASA began encouraging the development of these spacecraft via the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, to fill the shoes of the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet. In September 2014, Boeing and SpaceX emerged as the big winners of this competition, each scoring multibillion-dollar contracts to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner are on target to start this taxi service soon, perhaps in 2020. But again, that’s later than the primary stakeholders had hoped. When NASA officials announced the SpaceX and Boeing deals in September 2014, for example, they said they hoped at least one of the two capsules would be up and running by 2017.

Part of the responsibility for these delays rests with the U.S. Congress, which did not fund the Commercial Crew Program adequately in its early years, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

But the wait also reinforces a simple and sobering reality about exploration: “Human spaceflight is hard,” Logsdon told

Numerous examples make this point. For example, Virgin Galactic’s progress has been slowed by two fatal accidents, one on the ground in 2007 at the facilities of design and manufacturing partner Scaled Composites and another in 2014, during a rocket-powered test flight of the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Enterprise. And the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that performed a historic uncrewed demonstration flight to the ISS in March no longer exists; it was destroyed a month later during a ground-test accident, setting SpaceX back some.

And just today (Dec. 20), Boeing’s Starliner experienced problems during its first orbital mission, an uncrewed test flight that was supposed to go to the ISS. An error with the capsule’s timing system prevented that rendezvous, and Starliner is now scheduled to come back down to Earth on Sunday morning (Dec. 22) without achieving a number of major test-flight goals.

But these companies are working through such issues, and exciting things may well be just over the horizon. Seeing Crew Dragon, Starliner, SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard come fully online will be thrilling enough. But shortly thereafter, a private spaceship could carry people to deep space for the first time. After all, SpaceX is working on a 100-passenger, Mars-colonizing craft called Starship, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked a flight around the moon with a target launch date of 2023.

“The 2010s were ‘getting ready,’ and we’re close to ready,” Logsdon said about private human spaceflight. “Hopefully, 2020 will see ‘getting started.'”

This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward – The Verge

This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward

Led by SpaceX, there’s been a paradigm shift in the business of space

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Two years into the decade, on May 25th, 2012, a small teardrop-shaped capsule arrived at the International Space Station, packed with cargo and supplies for the crew living on board. Its resupply mission at the ISS wasn’t remarkable, but the vehicle itself was unique: it was a Dragon cargo capsule, owned and operated by a private company called SpaceX.

Before 2012, only vehicles operated by governments had ever visited the ISS. The Dragon was the first commercial vehicle to dock with the station. The milestone was a crowning achievement for the commercial industry, which has permanently altered the spaceflight sector over the last 10 years.

This decade, the space industry has seen a shift in the way it does business, with newer players looking to capitalize on different markets and more ambitious projects. The result has been an explosion of growth within the commercial sector. It’s allowing for easier access to space than ever before, with both positive and negative results. Such growth is providing the commercial space industry with lots of momentum coming into the 2020s, but it’s unclear if this pace is something that can be kept up.

A new paradigm

Commercial companies have been involved in spaceflight since the dawn of space travel. Private companies built the Saturn V rocket for NASA, which took the first humans to the surface of the Moon. But for much of the 20th century, the companies that built those rockets and spacecraft weren’t purely focused on space travel. Instead, behemoth contractors specialized in space technologies, while also focusing on other areas of tech such as aviation and defense. They pursued purely government contracts — either from NASA or the Department of Defense — and most often the government told them exactly what to do.

“Under the old model, the government would hire a Lockheed or a Boeing or somebody to build one of these rockets,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, tells The Verge. “Almost all the money would come from the government, and the government would have almost complete control over what was built.” It’s the way the Space Shuttle was built; the way the International Space Station was built; the way the future James Webb Space Telescope is being built. All of these things are owned and operated by NASA, though they’ve all been built by contractors.

NASA’s Space Shuttle, built by contractors, flew its final flight in 2011 Image: NASA

For years, companies with the most spaceflight experience pursued these juicy government gigs, forsaking the private market. The US’s biggest launch provider since 2006, the United Launch Alliance, was mostly established to loft national security satellites for the DoD. “Because our companies became only interested in and focusing on the government customer, by 2010, at the beginning of the decade, we had no market share at all in the commercial space launch industry,” Greg Autry, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California specializing in new space, tells The Verge. “If a private company from Thailand wanted to launch a TV satellite or an Israeli company wanted to launch a communications satellite, an American launch vehicle was not even a consideration.”

But in the 2000s, a new player emerged in the commercial space arena. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., helmed by billionaire Elon Musk, took a different route than the contractors. The company was purely focused on space travel, with a very ambitious long-term goal: start a settlement on Mars someday. First, it had to build actual rockets, and the company had to be profitable doing so. Armed with private investment from Musk and early adopters, SpaceX started developing rockets on its own. And rather than focus entirely on government contracts, SpaceX pursued any customer it could, from NASA and the DoD, to commercial and international satellite operators. If you had something that needed to get to space, SpaceX wanted to fly it for you.

As SpaceX strived to make a name for itself, NASA started to experiment with a new way of doing business. Known as fixed-price contracting, the idea worked liked this: The space agency would put out a call for a service (for instance, a way to transport cargo to the ISS). Companies would then pitch their own ideas and vehicles to make that happen. If NASA liked the pitch, it would hand over a lump sum of money as investment, and the company would go into development. Once the vehicle was complete, NASA would pay for the use of it. It was meant to be a win-win. NASA would pay less money up front for a service, and private companies would own and operate their final creations.

This model was perfect for a company like SpaceX. It could use the investment from the government to supplement the development of its rockets, and then ultimately use the rockets to make money once development was complete. “That caused them to think creatively,” Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA under the Obama administration, tells The Verge. “There was a guaranteed market if you could get there.” That’s exactly what happened after SpaceX was tasked by NASA to start servicing the International Space Station. Once the company had developed its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX tried to put as many satellites on top of the vehicle as possible.

SpaceX’s Dragon, captured by the robotic arm on the International Space Station, in May 2012 Image: NASA

To capture more customers, SpaceX strove to bring down launch costs through new methods of manufacturing and a vertically integrated business. Famously, SpaceX relentlessly pursued making its rockets reusable, by landing them after each flight — a feat that’s meant to save the company on manufacturing costs. SpaceX has reaped the benefits of its affordable launches, too. Despite a few notable rocket failures, the company is still the most prolific launch provider in the US at the moment, and holds contracts with numerous customers from around the world. “They want to pursue private markets,” Jim Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a space policy consulting agency, tells The Verge. “And they want to stimulate private markets.”

For better or for worse

Capitalism finally infiltrated spaceflight in the 2010s, and that meant competition was in full swing. Other launch providers looked at ways to also bring down costs over the last decade, with some pursuing reusability as well. New players are coming onto the scene: Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, and more. As launch costs have come down, space has become more accessible than ever.

Over the last decade, Moore’s law has also finally taken hold of spaceflight, with satellites and vehicles being built smaller. These cereal box-sized satellites are easier and cheaper to make than their bus-sized predecessors, and they’re much cheaper to launch, requiring less overall room on a rocket. As a result, companies focused solely on building small satellites have seen enormous success. Research organizations and universities looking to put something into orbit have an easier time of making that happen. This trend, combined with more launch vehicles, has resulted in an explosion of new vehicles and satellite constellations from commercial companies.

With all this progress does come unintended consequences. The rise of SpaceX has also seen the rise of the SpaceX fans. Unlike other CEOs, Musk’s fans revere him as an almost godlike figure, a savior for humanity who will lead us to a utopia on Mars. Criticizing him and SpaceX for any reason comes with major risk, as you will likely be perceived as tearing down progress. That’s unfortunate, because healthy skepticism is warranted these days, as SpaceX’s claims and ambitions have grown loftier than ever. The latest claim is that the company will be landing a giant new vehicle on the Moon by 2022 — but that vehicle hasn’t yet been built, and it certainly hasn’t flown. “Every pronouncement that they make, no matter how wacky it is, is reported without critique, largely,” Linda Billings, a current consultant to NASA’s astrobiology and planetary defense programs, tells The Verge.

Some of the more formidable projects these companies want to undertake could also be detrimental down the road. Notably, SpaceX, OneWeb, and other companies have all been eyeing a new spaceflight market: filling low Earth orbit with tens of thousands of satellites, in order to beam internet coverage to the surface below. In an effort to bolster the progress of the commercial space industry, the government has taken a light touch approach to regulating these more entrepreneurial companies. The Federal Communications Commission, which provides licenses for launches, has been very lax in its approvals, giving SpaceX and OneWeb the go-ahead for their massive satellite initiatives. Now, there’s not much stopping them from increasing the amount of satellites in orbit by several orders of magnitude.

SpaceX’s first batch of Starlink satellites, just before being deployed Image: SpaceX

It’s unclear what that will do to the space around Earth. Already, there’s concern that so many satellites will transform the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to make detailed observations of the Universe when so many vehicles are whizzing overhead. But even more concerning is how all these satellites will add to an already congested region of space. Injecting thousands of satellites into orbit over the next few years may drastically increase the chances of things colliding. The end result could be that low Earth orbit becomes too crowded, and essentially unusable.

While this decade saw ambitions grow along with enormous progress within the commercial space sector, many things that had been promised didn’t pan out. Most notably, human spaceflight on commercial vehicles has yet to fully mature. Space tourism ventures Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic argued that customers could be flying this decade. That dream will have to wait until the 2020s. “Branson was saying we were going to start flying tourists in 2008,” says Billings. “And where are we now?” Meanwhile, SpaceX and Boeing have been developing new vehicles to carry humans to the International Space Station, under the new contracting model that NASA used to resupply the ISS. While the process may be less expensive than other contracting methods, the development has still been fraught with delays and setbacks — whether that be from stringent oversight, low budgets, or just plain engineering problems. The first crews were supposed to fly in 2017. Now they will likely fly for the first time in 2020. Creating new passenger spacecraft that keep people alive and safe still takes a lot of time, no matter what contracting method you use.

What’s next?

As the 2020s get underway, the commercial space industry will have a lot to prove, especially since many have their sights set much higher than low Earth orbit. Numerous private companies are aiming to send robotic landers to the Moon in the next few years, while SpaceX, Blue Origin, and more all vow to send people to the Moon someday. It’s unclear how long it will take them to get there, if they can make it at all. The first private company, an Israeli nonprofit, attempted to land on the Moon this year and didn’t stick the landing.

Ultimately, it’s uncertain if there is a solid market for more ambitious forms of space travel. Even the satellite market has softened in recent years, which may explain why SpaceX has tried to turn itself into a consumer-facing business through its satellite constellation. It needs money to stay afloat. The scary thought is: what if there’s not much more money to squeeze out of space? Experts have long been forecasting days where private space stations will dominate low Earth orbit, frequented by tourists on vacation or their honeymoons. Eventually, private companies hope to scour the Moon’s surface for water ice, which they could turn into drinking water or rocket fuel for lunar bases. It all sounds like a great future. “Commercializing the lunar stuff, honestly, is not going to happen as fast, because there isn’t a market for it anytime soon,” says Garver. “But anyone could have told you there was a market for launch outside of NASA.”

The next decade will show us if the commercial spaceflight industry can match the progress it’s seen these last 10 years. Maybe these companies will finally take us beyond Earth orbit, with people along for the ride. Or it may reveal that the market for space is staying close to home for the foreseeable future.

Space Adventures proposes an orbital cruise on the SpaceX Dragon, TheHill

Space Adventures proposes an orbital cruise on the SpaceX Dragon

Recently, Space Adventures announced that it will offer an orbital cruise on board the SpaceX Dragon, the same craft that will shortly take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Up to four adventurous and well-heeled people will be rocketed into space in an orbit that will be farther away from Earth than any human has flown since the Apollo 17 mission, two to three times higher than the ISS.

Space Adventures expects the flight to take place somewhere between late 2021 and mid-2022. After a few weeks of astronaut training in the United States, the four passengers will take off for a five-day flight of a lifetime.

The deal represents the culmination of an often-overlooked part of the decision taken during the George W. Bush administration to commercialize spaceflight between Earth and low Earth orbit. The first part was obviously to replace the expensive space shuttle with cheaper, commercial alternatives to move people and things to and from low Earth orbit.

But the other part of President Bush’s vision was to create a commercial transportation sector. Companies like SpaceX would use their spacecraft developed under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) and Commercial Crew programs to create new businesses in space. The joint venture between SpaceX and Space Adventures is the first major attempt to fulfill that vision.

The world has been waiting for the space tourism industry to take off for over 15 years, ever since SpaceShipOne won the Ansari XPrize in October 2004. The suborbital jaunts that would be offered by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have always been a little while in the future.

But Space Adventures has a track record of providing private rides to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz. SpaceX has developed a record of accomplishing what it has set out to do, from a reusable first stage for the Falcon 9 to the Falcon Heavy. One should not bet against this joint venture coming to fruition. The only question is, do four people who can afford the flight and are brave enough to take the opportunity exist?

The other question arises, why should people be interested in rich people taking orbital jaunts around the world? Even with commercial spaceflight, middle-class people will not be able to take off work, pack the kids, and take a cruise in space like they are able to do in the Caribbean, at least not for a while.

The answer is that virtually every new product or service starts out being expensive. The wealthy, who certain politicians like to demonize to gin up votes, serve a useful purpose in trying out new things like space tourism. Eventually, the price will come down so that people of more modest means will be able to enjoy views of the Earth from space and experience the recreational opportunities of being in microgravity.

SpaceX is developing a huge spacecraft that its CEO Elon Musk Elon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley: Biden overtakes Sanders in Facebook ad spending for first time | New HHS rules would give patients access to health data | Twitter flags edited Biden video retweeted by Trump SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants the Space Force to become Star Fleet Elon Musk: Panic over the coronavirus is ‘dumb’ MORE has dubbed the Starship. The Starship will be able to take 100 metric tons of payload, with refueling, to the moon and Mars. The rocket ship is the basis of Musk’s dream of settling Mars. NASA has some interest in using the Starship to deliver cargo to the moon.

The Starship could be used as a space cruise ship, taking 100 people on orbital voyages for far less money than the first four people will pay for their trip on the Dragon. The rocket ship will have plenty of room and will have recreation facilities.

Companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space are developing private space stations, with NASA’s encouragement, to keep low Earth orbit research and development going after the ISS ends its operational life. Visitors to these commercial space stations will likely be researchers conducting experiments and developing technology. However, one can imagine people paying to stay on a private, orbiting resort for fun as well as for knowledge and profit.

The time is approaching, sooner than most people think, when space will not be a wilderness that only a handful of explorers venture into. Instead, it will be part of our world, where people regularly travel to and from as easily as we travel across the oceans to other continents. Space tourism will be a large part of making that future happen.

Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

Commercial Spaceflight – Commercial Crew Program

Category: Commercial Spaceflight

NASA Update on Orbital Flight Test Independent Review Team

The joint NASA and Boeing Independent Review Team formed following the anomalies during the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program has completed its initial investigation. The team was tasked with reviewing three primary anomalies experienced during the mission: two software coding errors and unanticipated loss of space-to-ground communication capability. During the investigation, the team identified several technical and organizational issues related to Boeing’s work. Separate from the independent team, NASA reviewed its role in the flight test and identified several areas where the agency can improve its level of participation and involvement into company’s processes.

While the review team, NASA and Boeing have made significant progress during the last month, more work will be required to inform the agency’s decision of whether Boeing will need to perform another uncrewed test flight of the Starliner system. NASA will determine if a repeat of the flight will be needed after Boeing has presented its detailed resolution and rework plan and NASA has independently assessed the thoroughness of that plan.

NASA also will perform an evaluation of the workplace culture of Boeing ahead of crewed test flights through an Organizational Safety Assessment (OSA). The goal of the OSA is to provide a comprehensive safety assessment through individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross-section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at various sites.

Further, NASA will designate the anomalies experienced during the mission as a high visibility close call. As there were no injuries during the flight, this close call designation is where the potential for a significant mishap could have occurred and should be investigated to understand the risk exposure and the root cause(s) that placed equipment or individuals at risk. Since 2004, the year NASA updated this procedural requirement, NASA has designated about 24 high visibility close calls. For example, in July 2013, astronaut Luca Parmitano discovered a leak in his spacesuit that could have resulted in asphyxiation; as a result, that incident also was given the same designation.

Description of the three primary anomalies:

  • Mission Elapsed Timer (MET): Following spacecraft separation with the Atlas V launch vehicle, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is programmed to execute a few maneuvers tied to the mission timer. Because of an error in the coding, the Starliner synced its clock with the rocket before the terminal count had begun, which is when the rocket sets the correct time for a designated T-0. This led to the spacecraft thinking it was at a different point in the mission following separation, and it did not conduct the correct maneuvers.
  • Service Module Disposal Burn: Following the MET anomaly, Boeing and NASA reviewed other phases of flight where software coding could impact mission success. This review resulted in the team discovering and correcting a software issue during Starliner’s crew and service module separation sequence. The correction ensured a successful separation and disposal of the service module.
  • Space-to-Ground Communication (S/G): An Intermittent S/G forward link issue impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control Starliner during the mission and could impede reliable voice communication with crew during a flight with astronauts.

What the Review Team Found and Recommends

The review team’s analysis identified 61 corrective and preventative actions to address the two software anomalies; those actions are organized into four categories to help manage and execute the scope of the work. Below are the four categories and examples of the resulting actions that Boeing has already begun working on:

  1. Perform code modifications: Boeing will review and correct the coding for the mission elapsed timer and service module disposal burn.
  2. Improve focused systems engineering: Boeing will strengthen its review process including better peer and control board reviews, and improve its software process training.
  3. Improve software testing: Boeing will increase the fidelity in the testing of its software during all phases of flight. This includes improved end-to-end testing with the simulations, or emulators, similar enough to the actual flight system to adequately uncover issues.
  4. Ensure product integrity: Boeing will check its software coding as hardware design changes are implemented into its system design.

Boeing already has accepted the full action list as defined by the review team and is in the process of refining its implementation schedule and incorporating this work into its plans with multiple actions already underway. As work continues, NASA and Boeing have asked the joint review team to track their progress and execution of each action.

The review team also is continuing its investigation of the intermittent space-to-ground forward link issue that impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control the spacecraft. The team has identified the technical root cause as radiofrequency interference with the communications system. While the team has recommended specific hardware improvements already in work by the company, the full assessment and resulting recommendations will continue through March.

In addition to the technical issues described above, the review team identified organizational issues that contributed to the anomalies. In response, Boeing plans to institutionalize improvements in its engineering board authority, operational testing practices for both hardware and software, and the standardization problem review and approval processes.

NASA’s Internal Review and Forward Work

Concurrent with the independent review team, NASA performed an in-depth assessment of its role and identified multiple actions the agency will take to complement the actions planned by the Boeing Starliner team.

NASA has developed a comprehensive plan to ensure the agency has full coverage of critical Boeing software improvements. This plan also includes reassessing all hazard report verifications of software controls, re-opening hazard reports as necessary, reviewing software verification plans, and reviewing the adequacy of the test environments and audits of scripts used in testing. NASA also will co-locate personnel with the Boeing software team, increase support to the Boeing Software Change Control Board and the problem resolution process. NASA also plans to perform additional flight software audits.

In addition, NASA will improve its software independent verification and validation performance and overall NASA insight into this area. NASA also plans to address areas where additional NASA “safety nets” may be beneficial for all providers.

NASA also will take several actions to improve the overall system integration of Starliner, including revisiting all hazard causes related to system interfaces to ensure hazards are fully defined, well-controlled, and properly verified; and reviewing existing Interface Control Documents to ensure NASA understands where the definitive data sources are for subsystem interfaces.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Arrives for Demo-2 Mission

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for its first crew launch from American soil has arrived at the launch site. NASA and SpaceX are preparing for the company’s first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from historic Launch Complex 39A from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft now will undergo final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Watch a video of the SpaceX Crew Dragon for Demo-2 as it underwent electromagnetic interference testing in the EMI chamber at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne prior to its arrival at the launch site in Florida.

NASA Shares Initial Findings from Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Investigation

Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight:

  1. An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
  2. A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
  3. An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.

The joint investigation team convened in early January and has now identified the direct causes and preliminary corrective actions for the first two anomalies. The intermittent communications issues still are under investigation. NASA reviewed these results on Friday, Jan. 31 along with multiple suggested corrective actions recommended by the team. While NASA was satisfied that the team had properly identified the technical root cause of the two anomalies, they requested the team to perform a more in-depth analysis as to why the anomalies occurred, including an analysis of whether the issues were indicative of weak internal software processes or failure in applying those processes. The team is in the process of performing this additional analysis, as well as continuing the investigation of the intermittent communications issues. NASA briefed the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on the status of the investigation this week.

Regarding the first two anomalies, the team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards. Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases. Breakdowns in the design and code phase inserted the original defects. Additionally, breakdowns in the test and verification phase failed to identify the defects preflight despite their detectability. While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth.

There was no simple cause of the two software defects making it into flight. Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects. Due to these breakdowns found in design, code and test of the software, they will require systemic corrective actions. The team has already identified a robust set of 11 top-priority corrective actions. More will be identified after the team completes its additional work.

The joint team made excellent progress for this stage of the investigation. However, it’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system. We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened so that we can fully explain the root causes and better assess future work that will be needed. Most critically, we want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights. Separate from the anomaly investigation, NASA also is still reviewing the data collected during the flight test to help determine that future plan. NASA expects a decision on this review to be complete in the next several weeks.

NASA and Boeing are committed to openly sharing the information related to the mission with the public. Thus, NASA will be holding a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7.

In addition to these reviews, NASA is planning to perform an Organizational Safety Assessment of Boeing’s work related to the Commercial Crew Program. The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites. The review would be added to the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA previously completed a more limited review of the company. The goal of the Organizational Safety Assessment will be to examine the workplace culture with the commercial crew provider ahead of a mission with astronauts.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

SpaceX In-Flight Abort: Launch Date Update

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 8 a.m. EST Sunday, Jan. 19, for launch of the company’s In-Flight Abort Test from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely escape the Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a failure during launch. The abort test has a six-hour launch window.

Teams are standing down from today’s launch attempt due to poor splashdown and recovery weather.

For tomorrow’s launch attempt, meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60% chance of favorable weather toward the opening of the window with a 40% chance toward the end of the window. The primary concerns for launch day being the thick cloud layer and flight through precipitation rule during the launch window.

The test launch will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Here’s the upcoming mission coverage:

Sunday, Jan. 19

  • 7:40 a.m. – NASA TV test coverage begins for the 8 a.m. liftoff
  • 9:30 a.m. – Post-test news conference at Kennedy, with the following representatives:
    • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
    • SpaceX representative
    • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
    • Victor Glover, astronaut, NASA Commercial Crew Program
    • Mike Hopkins, astronaut, NASA Commercial Crew Program

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Early Weather Reports Positive for SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test

With the launch of SpaceX’s in-flight abort demonstration three days away, early weather reports are promising. According to Mike McAleenan, a launch weather officer with the U.S. Air Force 45 th Space Wing, there is a 90 percent chance of favorable weather at liftoff. The primary concern is flight through precipitation, as some shallow coastal rain showers are predicted.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for the In-Flight Abort Test from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The four-hour test window starts at 8 a.m. EST. The test will demonstrate the escape capabilities of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch.

In-flight abort is the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. For this test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 minute, 30 seconds into flight to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency.

Live coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website Friday, Jan. 17, with a pretest briefing. Watch live coverage at

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Back Home in Florida After Inaugural Flight

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, undergoing inspection after its first flight as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, known as the Orbital Flight Test.

Starliner launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

Successful Static Tests Set Stage for Key In-Flight Abort Demonstration

NASA and SpaceX are preparing to launch the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test, known as in-flight abort, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The uncrewed flight test is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, at the start of a four-hour test window, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

SpaceX performed a full-duration static test Saturday, Jan. 11, of the Falcon 9 and completed a static fire of the Crew Dragon on Nov. 13, setting the stage for the critical flight test.

Prior to launch, SpaceX and NASA teams will practice launch day end-to-end operations with NASA astronauts, including final spacecraft inspections and side hatch closeout. Additionally, SpaceX and NASA flight controllers along with support teams will be staged as they will for future Crew Dragon missions, helping the integrated launch team gain additional experience beyond existing simulations and training events.

After liftoff, Falcon 9’s ascent will follow a trajectory that will mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station matching the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent.

Click here for the full story.

NASA Update on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The team will review the primary anomalies experienced during the Dec. 2019 flight test, any potential contributing factors and provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment.

In parallel, NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review. NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing. Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.

The uncrewed flight test was proposed by Boeing as a way to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements for certification and as a way to validate that the system can protect astronauts in space before flying crew. The uncrewed mission, including docking to the space station, became a part of the company’s contract with NASA. Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration. Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts onboard.

Starliner currently is being transported from the landing location near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida. Since landing, teams have safed the spacecraft for transport, downloaded data from the spacecraft’s onboard systems for analysis and completed initial inspections of the interior and exterior of Starliner. A more detailed analysis will be conducted after the spacecraft arrives at its processing facility.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval. The new date allows additional time for spacecraft processing.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

Watch NASA TV Live

Commercial Crew Basics

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has worked with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems since 2010. The goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to transport crew to the International Space Station from the United States. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.

The WIRED Guide to Commercial Human Space Flight, WIRED

The WIRED Guide to Commercial Human Space Flight

On the morning of December 13, 2018, the Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo wheeled down a stark runway in Mojave, California, ready to take off. Whining like a regular passenger jet, the twin-hulled catamaran of an airplane passed by owner Richard Branson, who stood clapping in an aviator jacket on the pavement. But WhiteKnightTwo wasn’t just any plane: Hooked between the two hulls was a space plane called SpaceShipTwo, set to be the first private craft to regularly carry tourists away from this planet.

WhiteKnightTwo rumbled along and lifted off, getting ready to climb to an altitude of 50,000 feet. From that height, the jet would release SpaceShipTwo; its two pilots would fire the engines and boost the craft into space.

“3 … 2 … 1 …” came the words over the radio.

SpaceShipTwo dropped like a sleek stone, free.

“Fire, fire,” said a controller.

On command, flame shot from the craft’s engines. A contrail smoked over the folds of the mountains as the spaceship flew up and up and up. Soon, both contrail and fire stopped: SpaceShipTwo was simply floating. The arc of Earth curved across its window, up against the blackness of the rest of the universe. A hanging dashboard ornament, shaped like a snowflake, wheeled in the microgravity of the cabin.

“Welcome to space,” said base. And with that, Virgin Galactic had flown its first astronauts, who were not the government-sponsored heroes of old but private citizens working for a private company.

For most of the history of spaceflight, humans have left such exploits to governments. From the midcentury Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days to the 30-year-long shuttle program, NASA has dominated the United States’ spacefaring pursuits. But today, companies run by powerful billionaires—who made their big bucks in other industries and are now using them to fulfill starry-eyed dreams—are taking the torch, or at least part of its fire.

Projection range of potential revenue from space tourism in 2022.

Virgin Galactic, for its part, styles itself as a tourism outfit, and space-hopefuls of this sort often speak of the philosophical uplift—the perspective shift that happens when humans view Earth as an actual planet in for-real space. Other companies want to help set up permanent residence on the moon and/or Mars, and they sometimes speak of destiny and salvation. There’s much gesturing toward the strength of the human spirit and the irrepressible exploratory nature of our species.

But let us not forget, of course, that there’s the money to be theoretically made; and the federal government isn’t itself actually flying astronauts anymore. After the closure of the space shuttle program in 2011, the US no longer had the ability to send humans to space and has since relied on Russia. But that’s about to change: Today, two private companies—Boeing and SpaceX—have contracts to fly humans to the International Space Station.

But even before NASA’s programs for sending people to space started to dwindle, business magnates recognized what they could do if they had their own private rockets. They could ferry supplies to the Space Station for the budget-conscious government. They could launch satellites. They could take tourists on suborbital jaunts. They could foster industrial infrastructure in deep space. They could settle the moon and Mars. Humans could become the spacetime-defying species they were always meant to be, and travel often—or even live long-term—away from Earth. It’s exciting: After all, science fiction—that great predictor and creator of the future—has told us for decades that space is the next (the final) frontier, and we should (will, can) not just go but also live there.

Global launch industry revenue in 2017

The private space companies are taking small steps toward that long-term, large-scale presence in space, and 2019 holds more promise than most years. But the deadlines keep slipping: Like cold fusion, private human space travel is perpetually just around the corner. Perhaps part of the lag is because private human space travel—and especially extended private human space travel—is a nearly untested business model, and most of these companies make much of their money on enterprises that have little to do with humans: Often, the operations that generate revenue in the here and now involve schlepping satellites and supplies close by, not sending humans far off. But because the most promising plans are backed by billionaires with big agendas—and are, in some sense, aimed at other rich people—science fiction could nevertheless become space fact.

Today, the capitalists of the space-jet set call their industry New Space, although in earlier days forward-thinkers spoke about “” You could say it all started in 1982, when a company called Space Services launched the first privately funded rocket: a modified Minuteman missile, which it christened Conestoga I (after the wagon, get it?). The flight was just a demonstration, deploying a dummy payload of 40 pounds of water. But two years later, the US passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, clearing the pad for more private activity.

Human passengers climbed aboard in 2001, when a financier named Dennis Tito bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket and took a $20 million, nearly eight-day vacation to the Space Station. Space Adventures, which arranged this pricey flight, would go on to send six more astro-dilettantes to orbit through the Russian Space Agency.

That same year, some guy named Elon Musk, about to be rich from selling PayPal, announced a plan called Mars Oasis. With his many monies, he wanted to amp up public support for human settlement on the Red Planet, so that public pressure would impel Congress to mandate a mission to Mars. Through an organization he founded called the Life to Mars Foundation, Musk proposed the following privately funded opening shot: a $20 million Mars lander, carrying a greenhouse that could fill itself with martian soil, to be launched maybe in 2005.

Potential value of NASA’s contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to take astronauts to and from the Space Station.

This, let us note, never happened—in part because the cost of launching such a future-garden was so high. A US rocket would have cost him $65 million (around $92 million in 2018 dollars), a reconstituted Russian ICBM around $10 million. A year later, Musk set out to lower the rocket barrier. Switching from “foundation” to “corporation,” he started SpaceX, a rocket company with the explicit end-goal of Mars habitation.

In the early aughts, Musk wasn’t the only one who wanted to send people to space. Pilot (and then astronaut) Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne, which resembled a bullet that grew frog legs, to space in 2004. After that test flight and two subsequent trips, SpaceShipOne won a $10 million X-Prize. These flights brought together two New Space dreams: a privately developed craft and private astronaut pilots. After the victory, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites developed the high-flying technology into SpaceShipTwo. Unveiled by Virgin in 2009, this passenger vessel was intented to send tourists to space … for the cost of an average house. (After all, why have a home forever when you can go to space for five minutes??)

Value of NASA’s first contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now part of Northrop Grumman) to deliver supplies to the ISS, from 2009 to 2016

Virgin Galactic has always kept its focus close to home and on short but frequent flights that stay suborbital. Musk, though, has stuck to his original martian mission. After launching its first rocket to orbit in 2008, SpaceX won a NASA contract to bus supplies to and from the Space Station, and it’s still shuttling cargo there for the agency. But the startup really got its legs in 2012 and 2013, when it launched a squatty rocket called the Grasshopper. Though it didn’t hop high into the air, it landed back on the launch pad, from where it could go up again (like, say, a grasshopper). This recyclability paved the way for today’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets, which have gone up and down and helped transform the ethos of rocket science from one of dispensability to one of recyclability.

From Virgin Records to the airline Virgin Atlantic to the cell provider Virgin Mobile, Richard Branson has made money around the block.

The beknighted Virgin Galactic plane carries a space plane that can ferry up to six passengers and two pilots just over the border of space, so they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and an incredible view. Richard Branson hopes to go up himself toward the middle of this year, with tourists soon to follow.

Musk’s goal, since the failure of Mars Oasis, has always been to cut launch costs. Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rockets cost $50–60 million—still a lot, but less than the $100 million-plus of some of its competitors. Getting to space, the thinking goes, should not be the biggest barrier a would-be space-farer faces. If SpaceX can accomplish that, the company can—someday, theoretically—send to Mars the many shipments of supplies and humans that are necessary to fulfill Musk’s “MAKE LIFE MULTIPLANETARY” tagline.

But the road to multiplanetarity hasn’t always been smooth for SpaceX. Its reusable rockets have crashed into the ocean, tipped over in the sea, crashed into barges, tipped over on ships, tumbled through the air, spun out, exploded midflight, and exploded on the launch pad.

The course of true New Space, though, never did run smooth, and SpaceX is far from the only company that has experienced crashes. Virgin Galactic, for instance, faced tragedy in 2014 when pilot Pete Siebold and copilot Michael Alsbury were in SpaceShipTwo underneath the WhiteKnight jet.

Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame and fortune, is still very much married to space pursuits.

Blue Origin’s reusable rocket will take crews and payloads on 11-minute suborbital flights, landing as softly as the feather painted on its body. The goal is to send the first crew up this year.

Blue Origin says it wants this heavy-lift, recyclable rocket to “build a road to space.” This launcher will likely debut in 2021.

The flight of SpaceShipTwo did not go as planned. SpaceShipTwo has a “feathering mechanism” that, when unlocked and enabled, slows the ship so that it can land safely. But Alsbury unlocked it early, and it dragged the craft while its rockets were still firing. The aerodynamic forces ripped SpaceShipTwo apart, killing Alsbury. Siebold parachuted, alive, to the ground. A few customers canceled. Most still wanted to go to space, even though the industry has higher-risk and lower-regulation than lower-altitude commercial flights.

Meanwhile, another major corporation—Blue Origin—was quietly crafting its human-mission plans. This celestial venture, funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, started in 2000—before Musk started SpaceX—but stayed pretty stealthy for years. Then, in an April 2015 test launch, the would-be-reusable New Shepard rocket lifted off. It successfully deployed a capsule but failed to land. That November, though, a New Shepard did what it was supposed to: touched back down, beating SpaceX to that launch-and-land goal.

Blue Origin, like Virgin Galactic, wants to use its little rocket to send up suborbital space tourists. And it wants, with bigger dick–lookalike rockets, to help facilitate a permanent moon colony. Bezos has suggested heavy industry should happen off this planet, in places that kind of suck already but have minable resources. The first lunar touchdown, he says, could be in 2023, facilitating an Earth that’s zoned mostly residential and light-industrial.

SpaceX, too, has big 2023 plans. The company announced last September that in 2023 it will send Japanese magnate Yusaka Maezawa and a passel of artist companions on a trip around the moon. NASA has also contracted with the company, and with Boeing, to shuttle astronauts to and from the ISS as part of the commercial crew program, which begins human testing later this year.

Still, for all the hype around these wider-vision companies, Virgin Galactic remains the only private enterprise that has actually sent a private someone to space on a private vehicle.

The way these companies see the future, they (humbly, of course) will be the ones to normalize space travel—whether that travel takes you just over the Karman line or to another celestial body. Space planes will ferry passengers and experiments to suborbital spots, touching back down in less time than it takes to watch The Right Stuff. Rockets will launch and land and launch again, sending up satellites and ferrying physical and biological cargo to an industrial base on the moon or the martian home base, where settlers will ensure the species persists even if there’s an apocalypse (nuclear, climatic) on terra firma. Homo sapiens will have manifested its destiny, shown itself to be the brave pioneer it always knew it was. And the idea that we don’t have to be stuck in one cosmic spot forever is exciting!

But all of these enterprises are businesses, not philanthropic vision boards. Is making life casually spacefaring and seriously interplanetary actually a plausible financial prospect? And—more important—is it actually a desirable one?

Let’s start with low-key suborbital space tourism, of the type Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin would like to offer. Some economists see this as fairly feasible: If we know one thing about the world, it’s that some subset of the population will always have too much money and will get to spend it on cool things unattainable for the plebs. If such flights become routine, though, their price could go down, and space tourism could follow the trajectory of the commercial aviation industry, which used to be for the wealthy and is now home to Spirit Airlines. Some also speculate that longer, orbital flights—and sleepovers in cushy six-star space hotels (the extra star is for the space part)—could follow.

After there’s a market for space hotels, more infrastructure could follow. And if you’re going to build something for space, it might be easier and cheaper to build it in space, with materials from space, rather than spending billions to launch all the materials you need. Maybe moon miners and manufacturers could establish a proto-colony, which could lead to some people living there permanently.

Or not. Who knows? I can’t see the future, and neither can you, and neither can these billionaires.

But with long journeys or permanent residence come problems more complicated than whether money is makeable or whether it’s possible to build a cute town square out of moon dust. The most complicated part of human space exploration will always be the human.

We weak creatures evolved in the environment of this planet. Mutations and adaptations cropped up to make us uniquely suited to living here—and so uniquely not suited to living in space, or in Valles Marineris. It’s too cold or too hot; there’s no air to breathe; you can’t eat potatoes grown in your own shit for the rest of your unnatural life. Your personal microbes may influence everything from digestion to immunity to mood, in ways scientists don’t yet understand, and although they also don’t understand how space affects that microbiome, it probably won’t be the same if you live on an extraterrestrial crater as it would be in your apartment.

Plus, in lower gravity, your muscles go slack. The fluids inside you pool strangely. Drugs don’t always works as expected. The shape of your brain changes. Your mind goes foggy. The backs of your eyeballs flatten. And then there’s the radiation, which can deteriorate tissue, cause cardiovascular disease, mess with your nervous system, give you cancer, or just induce straight-up radiation sickness till you die. If your body holds up, you still might lose it on your fellow crew members, get homesick (planetsick), and you will certainly be bored out of your skull on the journey and during the tedium and toil to follow.

Maybe there’s a technological future in which we can mitigate all of those effects. After all, many things that were once unimaginable—from vaccines to quantum mechanics—are now fairly well understood. But the billionaires don’t, for the most part, work on the people problems: When they speak of space cities, they leave out the details—and their money goes toward the physics, not the biology.

They also don’t talk so much about the cost or the ways to offset it. But Blue Origin and SpaceX both hope to collaborate with NASA (i.e. use federal money) for their far-off-Earth ventures, making this particular kind of private spaceflight more of a public-private partnership. They’ve both already gotten many millions in contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense for nearer-term projects, like launching national-security satellites and developing more infrastructure to do so more often. Virgin, meanwhile, has a division called Virgin Orbit that will send up small satellites, and SpaceX aims to create its own giant smallsat constellation to provide global internet coverage. And at least for the foreseeable future, it’s likely their income will continue to flow more from satellites than from off-world infrastructure. In that sense, even though they’re New Space, they’re just conventional government contractors.

Elon Musk made his first fortune on PayPal.

SpaceX will also be ferrying astronauts and accessories to the International Space Station for NASA, and after its journey, the Falcon will land itself, while the Dragon capsule will splash down. Bonus: The company boasts that passengers can set the internal temperature anywhere from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Its first crewed test could occur in mid-2019.

Formerly called BFR (Big Falcon Rocket or Big Fucking Rocket, depending on what kind of person you are talking to), this SpaceX craft and its human capsule are supposed to take 100 people and 150 tons of cargo to the Red Planet. Musk unveiled a smaller, suborbital prototype in January, and its shiny silver sides and vintage sci-fi shape look like if a ‘50s diner dreamed it became a rocket. Its first test should take place sometime this year.

So, if the money is steadier nearby, why look farther off than Earth orbit? Why not stick to the lucrative business of sending up satellites or enabling communications? Yes, yes, the human spirit. OK, sure, survivability. Both noble, energizing goals. But the backers may also be interested in creating international-waters-type space states, full of the people who could afford the trip (or perhaps indentured workers who will labor in exchange for the ticket). Maybe the celestial population will coalesce into a utopian society, free of the messes we’ve made of this planet. Humans could start from scratch somewhere else, scribble something new and better on extraterrestrial tabula rasa soil. Or maybe, as it does on Earth, history would repeat itself, and human baggage will be the heaviest cargo on the colonial ships. After all, wherever you go, there you are.

Maybe we’d be better off as a species if we stayed home and looked our problems straight in the eye. That’s the conclusion science fiction author Gary Westfahl comes to in an essay called “The Case Against Space.” Westfahl doesn’t think innovation happens when you switch up your surroundings and run from your difficulties, but rather when you stick around and deal with the situation you created.

No billionaire here. Just the military-industrial complex joining forces with itself. Within the past 15 years, this rocket has had a 100 percent success rate.

The Atlas V rocket made by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will join with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule to send astronauts and science experiments to the ISS. The Starliner can fly 10 times, as long as it gets a six-month refractory period—for refurbishing and tests—between each trip. Its first crewed test could occur in mid-2019.

Besides, most Americans don’t think big-shot human space travel is a national must-do at all, at least not with their money. According to a 2018 Pew poll, more than 60 percent of people say NASA’s top priorities should be to monitor the climate and watch for Earth-smashing asteroids. Just 18 and 13 percent think the same of a human trip to Mars or the moon, respectively. The People, in other words, are more interested in caring for this planet, and preserving the life on it, than they are in making some other world livable.

But maybe that doesn’t matter: History is full of billionaires who do what they want, and it’s full of societal twists and turns dictated by their direction. Besides, if even a fraction of a percent of the US population signed on to a long-term space mission, their spaceship would still carry the biggest extraterrestrial settlement ever to travel the solar system. And even if it wasn’t an oasis, or a utopia, it would still be a giant leap.

It’s Time to Rethink Who’s Best Suited for Space Travel
The definition of the “right stuff” has changed since the military test-pilot astronauts of old became the first US astronauts. Maybe it should expand to include people with disabilities.

Meet the Astronauts Who Will Fly the First Private “Space Taxis”
Soon, NASA will be sending up its first cohort of commercial astronauts. Here’s who they are.

The Race to Get Suborital Tourists to Space Is Heating Up
There’s a new space race, and this time you’re not paying for it with your tax dollars but with your discretionary income.

The Japanese Space Bots That Could Build “Moon Valley”
If humans do develop a long-term presence in space, they’ll definitely need to help of a few good robots.

Jeff Bezos Wants Us All to Leave Earth—for Good
A billionaire’s got to dream, right? Here’s what Bezos and his money see in space’s future.

Last updated January 30, 2019

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Commercial spaceflight

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NASA selects Axiom Space to build commercial space station segment

NASA selects Axiom Space to build commercial space station segment

NASA has announced that they have selected Axiom Space, an American company headquartered in Houston, Texas, to design, build and launch three large pressurized modules and a large Earth observation window to the International Space Station (ISS).

This partnership between NASA and Axiom is issued under Appendix I of NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships 2 (NextSTEP-2) public-private partnership program which the agency hopes will help stimulate commercial development of deep space exploration capabilities.

Appendix I of NextSTEP-2 was originally issued on June 7th 2019 and called for private companies to bid to develop habitable commercial modules, to be built and launched to the International Space Station, and then attached to the forward end of the station as part of NASA’s long term plan to open up the ISS to large amounts of commercial opportunities.

Axiom plans to launch three large modules and an Earth observation window (much like the Cupola currently on the ISS) to the Station to form the “Axiom Segment”, with the first module launching in the second half of 2024.

According to a press release from Axiom, the three modules that make up the Axiom Segment will be divided into a node module, a crew habitat and a research and manufacturing module, plus the large window.

No details on the order of launch have been outlined yet, although it can be assumed the node module will launch first.

Rendering of what the “Axiom Segment” might look like – Via Axiom Space

Although Axiom is a relatively young company, having been formed only four years ago in 2016, there is no lack of experience within the company’s ranks.

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Axiom’s Co-founder and CEO is Michael Suffredini, who formerly worked at the Johnson Space Centre (JSC) as the program manager for the International Space Station project.

The Axiom team also includes Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who flew on the space shuttle three times and commanded the 14th Expedition to the ISS, as well as former shuttle commanders Brent Jett and Charles Bolden, the latter of whom served as NASA’s 12th administrator from 2009 to 2017.

Axiom is also working alongside several companies with extensive experience with the ISS program, this includes Boeing, who has made several of the modules that make up the US Segment, including Node 1 and the US Laboratory Module. Axiom is also working alongside Thales Alenia Space, Maxar Technologies and Intuitive Machines to get this project off the ground.

Not many details of the partnership, including a specific timeline or costs involved, have been released to the public yet.

In a press release from NASA regarding the partnership with Axiom, it is stated that “NASA and Axiom will next begin negotiations on the terms and price of a fixed-price contract with a five-year base performance period and a two-year option” which indicates that these details have not been completely ironed out yet and these details should come to light as NASA and Axiom move forward with this partnership.

Axiom Space Render of the ISS with their modules, from distance.

Not many details of the modules that will make up the Axiom Segment, besides what they are named have been made known to the public yet aswell. Over the years Axiom has released renderings of what the Axiom segment could look like, although next to zero details on anything regarding the specifics on the module’s size, habitable space, if it will have its own propulsion system, how it will be powered or what launch vehicle it will use to be launched toward the station have been made known to the public.

Again, like with before, these details will most likely come to light as NASA and Axiom move forward with the upcoming plans.

One thing that is known for sure is that the segment will be attached to the forward docking port of the Space Station’s Node 2 module, as outlined by Appendix I of NextSTEP-2. Node 2, also known as Harmony, was delivered in October 2007 onboard space shuttle Discovery as part STS-120, since then it has become one of the most important parts of the US Segment of the Space Station.

Space Shuttle Atlantis docked to the forward docking port on Node 2, where the Axiom module is planned to be located. – Via NASA

Some minor relocation of the equipment attached to Node 2 will be needed before the first Axiom module can take its place on Node 2’s forward port. The module is currently attached to the forward docking port of NASA’s Destiny Laboratory module, where it will stay for the foreseeable future. The module itself has four permanent pieces of hardware attached to it and one open docking port.

Attached to the Node’s port side is the main pressurized section of the Japanese Experiment Module, also known as Kibo. To the starboard side is the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory module. On the module’s zenith (Space-facing) docking port is Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 (PMA 3), a docking port intended to be used by NASA’s contracted Commercial Crew Vehicles when they come online sometime this year.

There are no permanent modules attached to Node 2’s nadir (Earth-facing) docking port, although it is commonly used for uncrewed resupply vehicles like JAXA’s HTV, SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon or Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus.

The only piece of hardware that needs to be moved is PMA-2, which currently occupies Node 2’s forward docking port, and will need to be moved to make way for the first part of the Axiom segment. It is currently unclear whether PMA-2 will be moved onto the Axiom segment or moved to another part of the ISS entirely.

The first Axiom module would also be the first large pressurized rigid module on the station’s US Segment to not be delivered by the space shuttle.

The last large rigid module to be delivered to the US Segment was The Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which was delivered in February 2011 onboard Shuttle Discovery on STS-133. Since the shuttle has now been retired, the modules that make up the Axiom segment will most likely be launched on conventional rockets, and make their way to the station and then dock either under their own power or via a “space tug”, much like how the Russian’s have delivered module’s to the ISS or their previous station “Mir” in the past.

This is quite different from how the rest of the US Segment was assembled, with module’s launching in the shuttle payload bay, then being carefully taken out of the payload bay and being moved into place by the shuttle’s robotic arm or the space station’s robotic arm.

Although no large additions have yet been made to the US Segment without the use of the shuttle, it isn’t an unheard-of concept. In 2010 NASA was considering launching a 4th Node module to the ISS sometime around 2013/14. Node 4 never ended up being launched but several concepts on how to get the thing to the station without a shuttle were drawn up.

Diagram showing how Node 4 may have been launched to the ISS.

Node 4 would have been launched on either an Atlas V or Delta IV rocket along with an expendable “space tug” which would carry the propulsion and other various systems that would be necessary to get the module to the ISS, once the module was docked to the station the tug would be detected and left to burn up due to atmospheric friction.

If the Axiom modules have no built-in propulsion systems it can be expected a very similar method of delivery will be used by Axiom, although nothing is confirmed yet.

The Axiom segment will also allow Axiom to go ahead with plans to train and fly paying customers to the ISS. In a newsletter released in November, last year Axiom confirmed that they had signed a deal worth $55 million with a space tourist hopeful in January 2019 and were still working with more candidates for orbital missions. Axiom plans to fly paying customers to the ISS two to three times a year.

Axiom has also confirmed that they plan to separate the Axiom segment from the ISS once it nears the end of its life. They have stated that they plan to launch a “Large Power Platform” to the Axiom segment before this happens, then separate the segment from the station to act as its own individual station called “Axiom Station”.

Rendering showing how Axiom’s “Axiom station” may look. – via Axiom Space

The Power Platform will make up for all of the capabilities the ISS provides that will be lost when the Axiom segment becomes Axiom station, like power generation, cooling systems, etc.

Once Axiom station begins operation Axiom Space will continue missions contracted for paying customers at the same rate of two to three times a year.

Welcome to Virginia Space

Commercial space flight

Welcome to Virginia Space and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS)

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA), also known as ‘Virginia Space,’ is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) and the MARS UMS Airfield.

Virginia Space aims to provide and is proud to offer full-service launch and drone testing facilities for commercial, government, scientific and academic users.

The mission of Virginia Space is to serve as a driver for Virginia’s New Economy by providing safe, reliable, and responsive space Access at competitive prices, and secure facilities for testing of unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space.

International Space Station Resupply Mission Launches from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Spacecraft named in honor of first African American astronaut

RICHMOND—The 13th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station successfully launched on Saturday, February 15 at 3:21 p.m. from Wallops Island. The mission will deliver 8,009 pounds of cargo to the space station.

The “NG-13” mission is a partnership of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. The spacecraft launched from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A.

Northrop Grumman named the NG-13 spacecraft after former astronaut Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. He became the first African American astronaut in 1967, when the Air Force selected him as a member of the third group of astronauts for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Major Lawrence served in the United States Air Force as an officer and pilot, accumulating more than 2,500 flight hours, including 2,000 in jets. He spent much of his career training other pilots in cutting-edge flight maneuvers and techniques. His Air Force honors included the Commendation Medal and the Outstanding Unit Citation.

“Today’s launch is delivering equipment to the International Space Station, where astronauts are advancing scientific understanding,” said Governor Northam. “This important mission honors the legacy of Major Robert Lawrence, who dedicated his career to advancing science through flight.”

NASA and its partners have successfully supported humans continuously living in space since the Expedition 1 crew arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2, 2000. The unique microgravity laboratory has hosted 239 people from 19 countries, more than 2,600 experiments from 3,900 researchers in more than 107 countries, and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station also is facilitating the growth of a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit for research, technology development, and crew and cargo transportation

“The world-class infrastructure and technology on Wallops Island is expanding opportunities for science, research, national security, and ISS cargo resupply missions,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Collaboration among the Commonwealth, Virginia Space, and NASA Wallops will continue to grow the potential of this strategic national asset and gateway to space.”

The Commonwealth built MARS Pad-0A to accommodate the Antares 230+ rocket configuration and Cygnus spacecraft. Modifications in 2019 made it possible to accommodate the loading of time-sensitive experiments into the Cygnus spacecraft up to 24 hours before liftoff, shortening the previous four-day pre-loading requirement. This is the second official mission to use this loading capability, which has made the MARS facility eligible for missions that include life science investigations in the payload.

This will be the second mission under Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA, for which the company will fly a minimum of six missions to the ISS through 2024.

The Antares rocket will boost an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft carrying more than 8,000 pounds of payload to the ISS that includes scientific investigations, supplies, and vehicle hardware for the orbital laboratory and its crew.

The scientific investigations launching on Cygnus are part of commercial and academic payloads across a variety of disciplines, including:

  • Mobile SpaceLab, a tissue and cell culturing facility for sophisticated microgravity biology experiments.
  • Mochii, a miniature scanning electron microscope for analysis of small and microscopic particles in space. This onsite imaging and measurement of particles could be a game-changer for microgravity research in Low Earth Orbit.
  • OsteoOmics, an experiment to investigate astronaut bone loss due to a lack of gravity while they are in orbit. The study of signaling pathways as well as gene and protein expression could also have implications for patients on Earth.
  • Phage Evolution, an investigation that aims to improve understanding of the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on bacteriophages (viruses that specifically invade and destroy bacteria without harming human cells) and hosts. This could result in significant developments for phage technology, which would ultimately help protect the health of astronauts on future missions. Targeted phage therapy to eliminate harmful bacteria without causing large-scale damage to a human’s microbiome is currently being utilized on Earth as an alternative to antibiotics in an age of increasing antibiotic resistance.
  • Saffire-IV, a fire suppression investigation that will aid understanding of how fires spread in space and will support the development of flame-resistant materials and fire prevention measures. The experiment uses the Cygnus resupply vehicle after it leaves the space station, thereby eliminating exposure of humans or spacecraft to fire danger.

The Cygnus spacecraft will spend about three months attached to the space station. It will then depart the station, the Saffire-IV experiment will be activated, and the spacecraft will deorbit.

“Virginia Space continues to provide reliable ground support systems and personnel through maintenance and operation of MARS Pad-0A, the homeport of the Antares rocket,” said Dale Nash, Executive Director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. “The strong and strategic public-public-private partnership of Virginia Space, NASA Goddard’s Wallops Flight Facility, and Northrop Grumman is a unique collaboration that contributes to ongoing mission success.”

SpaceX s inflight abort test paves way to commercial human spaceflight, TheHill

SpaceX’s inflight abort test paves way to commercial human spaceflight

It is not every day that a successful test of a rocket involves destroying the launch vehicle in midflight. SpaceX managed the feat during the inflight abort test it conducted Sunday morning. The test was an important milestone in the development of commercial human spaceflight.

The commercial spaceflight company launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a crewed Dragon on top. About 90 seconds into the flight, the Falcon 9’s engines switched off. Detecting that an anomaly had taken place, the Crewed Dragon fired its Draco rocket engines, separating it from the Falcon 9. As the Falcon 9 broke apart in midflight, the crewed Dragon soared away in safety. The spacecraft eventually splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean using parachutes. NASA and SpaceX will spend the next several months examining data garnered by the flight.

While the possibility of an inflight abort is an extreme event, it is not a theoretical one. In October 2018, a crewed Soyuz launch suffered an unplanned inflight abort. After the booster failed, the Soyuz capsule broke away and eventually landed near the launch site with its crewmembers, Russian cosmonaut Alexsey Ovchinin and American astronaut Nick Hague, shaken but alive and well.

The inflight abort test is the last major event scheduled to occur before the crewed demonstration flight, when astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken will take a crewed Dragon to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX and NASA estimate that the flight will take place sometime in the second quarter of 2020. When it does happen, the mission will usher in a new era of commercial human spaceflight.

Thus far, human beings have been launched into space by government space agencies in the U.S., Russia and China. Henceforth, private launch companies will take human beings into low Earth orbit, with NASA as one of hopefully many customers. The long-range goal is to create a low Earth orbit economy in which both NASA and private astronauts travel to and from space, doing useful and, it is expected, profitable things on the high frontier.

Initially, private space travelers are likely to be the sorts of space tourists who used to fly to the ISS on board the Soyuz. Both the SpaceX Dragon and the Boeing Starliner will have extra seats for the well-heeled and adventurous who want to pay a lot of money for the adventure of a lifetime.

But the low Earth orbit market has to be bigger than just a few rich people paying for space flights. The next step must to be the development of private space stations, such as envisioned by Bigelow and Axiom. These commercial space facilities could start manufacturing products using the unique properties of space, micro gravity and hard vacuum, to produce goods and services that would be next to impossible to create on Earth.

Orbiting space manufacturing facilities could also be used to build satellites that would be impossible to launch from Earth on a rocket. These include communications satellites with huge arrays that must be 3D printed and then assembled by robots. A company called Made in Space has already conducted promising experiments on the International Space Station for such a process.

Other experiments point the way to using stem cells to create transplantable human organs in space. It may be easier to build hearts, kidneys and other organs in microgravity. Orbiting organ farms, considered the stuff of science fiction, may become a reality. The University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine has just started experiments along those lines.

Of course, the key to making these and other space-manufactured products economically viable is driving down the cost of space travel. Governments can do many, wondrous things, from going to the moon to building the ISS. They rarely do anything cheaply.

A commercial space launch industry, with companies such as SpaceX and Boeing competing against one another, has every potential to lower the cost of space travel. The less expensive space travel is, the more products and services made in space become economically viable.

With the exception of communications satellites, GPS and a few other applications, space has been pursued for science, military advantage and political soft power. The SpaceX inflight abort test is a milestone on the road to adding large-scale commercial activity to that list.

Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.