ULA tapped to launch Astrobotic’s lunar lander to the Moon in 2021 – gpgmail


The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been chosen to launch the lunar lander of one of the companies chosen by NASA for its commercial lunar payload program. ULA will deliver Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the Moon in 2021, the companies announced today.

Peregrine will fly aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, taking off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral, and this will act as one of two required certification flights that ULA must do in order to qualify for USAF missions with the Vulcan Centaur.

Vulcan is ULA’s next-generation heavy lift launch vehicle, which is currently in development. The launch vehicle will inherit some technology from the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but the booster will be powered by Blue Origin BE-4 engines, and it’ll be able to carry larger payloads than either Atlas V or Delta IV Heavy.

Astrobotic has been chosen by NASA as one of its commercial payload providers for its ambitious program to return to the Moon and eventually establish a colony. The company has already signed up 16 customers for delivery on its first Moon mission, it said in a press release, which it will log onto the Peregrine, which can support up to 90kg (nearly 200 lbs) for its first mission.

NASA recently opened up a call for more companies to join Astrobotic and the eight other providers it chose last November for its lunar commercial payload program. These will all need launch providers, which represents more potential business for ULA, SpaceX and others looking to develop and launch vehicles capable of getting payloads to the Moon.


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Northrop Grumman to build its OmegA rocket at NASA’s VAB as first commercial tenant – gpgmail


NASA is celebrating alongside Northrop Grumman at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the latter becomes the first commercial partner to make use of the Vehicle Assembly Building on-site at the base. The VAB, as its more commonly known, is a cavernous building that’s used to build and test rockets ahead of rolling them out to nearby launch pads, which was originally constructed by NASA to support the Apollo program.

Northrop Grumman will be using the VAB to build and prep its OmegA launch vehicle, a new rocket the company is building to transport intermediate and heavy payloads to orbit. It’s a fully expendable rocket, which Northrop is positioning as a lower-risk alternative to reusable models flown by competitors (cough SpaceX cough) and it’s also build as an ‘affordable’ option for those seeking launch services. OmegA is designed to help Northrop Grumman compete for future national security launch contracts, as well as support commercial customer missions.

NASA will also continue to use the VAB for the assembly of its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be supporting missions in the Artemis program and transporting the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew craft to space, and eventually to the Moon.

Kennedy also already plays host to rocket assembly and launch facilities for both SpaceX and Blue Origin, making it a hot spot for public-private space business activity.


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SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman bid for US national security launch contract – gpgmail


The U.S. Air Force is looking to lock in its launch providers for national security satellite missions to take place between 2022 and 2026, and the bids for this so-called “Phase 2” procurement contract are now in. The field of competitors looking to become one of the two companies chosen is a who’s who of U.S. commercial launch providers at the moment, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman.

Both Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are new entrants in this particular launch contracting area, while SpaceX and ULA are existing providers that handle U.S. national security missions. SpaceX additionally has a bit of a head start, since its Falcon rockets are the only proven, certified launch vehicles included in the bids submitted, while ULA has offered up its new Vulcan Centaur, which is tailor-made for the job but not yet certified and flight-proven; the others are still seeking certification.

“SpaceX means to serve as the Air Force’s long-term provider for space launch, offering existing, certified and proven launch systems capable of carrying out the full spectrum of national security space launch missions and requirements,” said SpaceX COO and president Gwynne Shotwell in an emailed statement, regarding this new bid.

SpaceX clearly sees its Falcon launch system as a key competitive advantage, as it’s flying currently for USAF and national security missions — the company says that this represents the lowest risk for the government overall in terms of providers for this mission, and with known costs, as well.

The Air Force will make its final selection about the two winning providers in 2020.


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NASA taps SpaceX, Blue Origin and 11 more companies for Moon and Mars space tech – gpgmail


NASA has selected 13 companies to partner with on 19 new specific technology projects it’s undertaking to help reach the Moon and Mars. These include SpaceX, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin, among others, with projects ranging from improving spacecraft operation in high temperatures to landing rockets vertically on the Moon.

Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin will work with NASA on developing a navigation system for “safe and precise landing at a range of locations on the Moon” in one undertaking, and also on readying a fuel cell-based power system for its Blue Moon lander, revealed earlier this year. The final design spec will provide a power source that can last through the lunar night, or up to two weeks without sunlight in some locations. It’ll also be working on further developing engine nozzles for rockets with liquid propellant that would be well-suited for lunar lander vehicles.

SpaceX will be working on technology that will help move rocket propellant around safely from vehicle to vehicle in orbit, a necessary step to building out its Starship reusable rocket and spacecraft system. The Elon Musk-led private space company will also be working with Kennedy Space Center on refining its vertical landing capabilities to adapt it to work with large rockets on the Moon, where lunar regolith (aka Moon dust) and the low-gravity, zero atmosphere environment can complicate the effects of controlled descents.

Lockheed Martin will be working on using solid-state processing to create metal powder-based materials that can help spacecraft deal better with operating in high-temperature environments, and on autonomous methods for growing and harvesting plants in space, which could be crucial in the case of future long-term colonization efforts.

Other projects will tap Advanced Space, Vulcan Wireless, Aerogel Technologies, Spirit AeroSystem, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Anasphere, Bally Ribbon Mills, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Colorado Power Electronics and Maxar; you can read about each in detail here.

NASA’s goals with these private partnerships are to both develop at speed, and decrease the cost of efforts to operate crewed space exploration, as part of its Artemis program and beyond.


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Is space truly within reach for startups and VC? – TechCrunch


Elon Musk’s SpaceX managed to pull off something very few people thought it could — by disrupting one of the most fixed markets in the world with some of the most entrenched and protected players ever to benefit from government contract arrangements: rocket launches. The success of SpaceX, and promising progress from other new launch providers, including Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, have encouraged interest in space-based innovation among entrepreneurs and investors alike. But is this a true boom, or just a blip?

There’s an argument for both at once, with one type of space startup rapidly descending to Earth in terms of commercialization timelines and potential upside, and the other remaining a difficult bet to make unless you’re comfortable with long timelines before any liquidity event and a lot of upfront investment.

Cheaper, faster, lighter, better

Image via Getty Images / Andrey Suslov

There’s no question that one broad category of technology at least is a lot more addressable by early-stage companies (and by extension, traditional VC investment). The word “satellite” once described almost exclusively gigantic, extremely expensive hunks of sophisticated hardware, wherein each component would eat up the monthly burn rate of your average early-stage consumer tech venture.



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