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Space Roundup: Q4 2018

December 31, 2018

Year 2018 has shown gradual progress in the space industry marked by various accomplishments along the way.   Leading these is SpaceX who performed 21 launches in 2018, nine launches shy of a predicted 30, but a remarkable  stride from 18 launches in year 2017 and eight in year 2016.  It also successfully reused a rocket three times when the  Falcon 9 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 3rd to deploy 64 satellites for Spaceflight Industries, an American private aerospace company.  The previous launches of this same rocket booster  were on August 7th deploying the Merah Putih satellite for Indonesia, and May 11th to deploy the Bangabandhu-1 satellite for Bangladesh.  

It also successfully reused a rocket three times ..

Part of the reason for some missed launches in 2018 was that the Falcon Heavy, which made its inaugural flight on February 6th (sending Elon Musk's famous Tesla roadster into Space), mis-landed the center booster, plopping it into the Atlantic Ocean instead of resting onto the target drone ship.  That ended the remaining missions for the Falcon Heavy in 2018, delayed until 2019.  However, it resulted in the Air Force certifying the Falcon Heavy for military payloads and awarding its first major contract of $130 million for SpaceX to deliver an Air Force satellite into space somewhere by 2020.

By 2019, SpaceX may succeed at catching a fairing – a rocket's nose cone – with a large outstretched net outfitted to a recovery boat.  Fairings cost around $6 million and have always been considered a one-time use component in the past.


SpaceX's recovery boat, named "Mr Steven", acts as a giant catcher's mitt by using an outstretched
net to catch the nose cone of a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX's first crewed flights may occur in 2019.  Thus far, the Dragon capsule has only ferried supplies to and from  the International Space Station.  That could all change when NASA’s Commercial Crew program launches its first  astronauts to leave U.S. soil since 2011.  If things go as planned, a pair of astronauts will fly aboard a Crew Dragon  spaceship to the ISS for a two-week mission.  

That could all change when NASA’s Commercial Crew program launches its first astronauts to leave U.S. soil since 2011.  

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo achieved the boundary of space on December 13th which is the first time in history a crewed spaceship designed to carry private passengers has reached space.  SpaceShipTwo was released by it’s mother ship, White Knight Two, over the Mojave Desert, California reaching a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles at 11:00am EST.  The boundary at 50 miles is recognized by the U.S. Air Force as the altitude at which a pilot earns his astronaut wings.  Another boundary of space, an altitude of 62 miles, is called the “Karman Line” and is considered where the earth’s atmosphere definitely ends.

SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motors were fired for 60 seconds to reach a top speed of Mach 2.9, or 2,225 mph, before gliding back to Earth at 11:11am EST.  When the Virgin Space Ship is ready, it will carry passengers on brief trips to suborbital space for approximately $250,000 a ticket.  The trip is far enough from Earth to experience weightlessness and view the curvature of Earth against the blackness of Space.  The spaceliner also serves as a research vehicle, carrying experiments into space during its test flights.  The December 13th mission carried four NASA sponsored research payloads, including how liquids and gases interact in microgravity and how microgravity affects plant growth.  NASA believes inexpensive access to suborbital space greatly benefits technology research.

The privately funded manufacturer and spaceflight services, Blue Origin, is also developing technologies to enable  private human access to Space.  Its founder, Jeff Bezos, has given his company the motto Gradatim Ferociter, which  translates from latin to “step by step, ferociously.”  His earnings as CEO of the successful Amazon company have  allowed him to pursue his other interest as a Space entrepreneur, an interest he had from an early age.  Although  most of Blue Origin’s activity is deemed secretive, they indicated in mid-2018 that they could be selling commercial  tickets for their New Shepard spacecraft by year 2019.  Blue Origin has an operational launch facility in West Texas  and headquarters in Kent, Washington.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed its 50th launch for the U.S. Air Force this past October.  It was the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) mission on an Atlas V rocket, taking off from Cape Canaveral.   ULA provides services to the United States government and was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between  Lockheed Martin Space Systems & Boeing Defense, Space and Security.  ULA held a monopoly on military launches  for over a decade until the Air Force awarded a GPS satellite contract to SpaceX in 2016.  United Launch Alliance  intends to historically send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019 aboard its Atlas V Starliner.  The  first orbital flight is scheduled for March 2019 with a crew flight test to follow in August 2019.

Northrop Grumman was ranked 118th in the 2018 Fortune 500 list of America's largest corporations, and ranks in the top ten of military-friendly employers.  Northrop Grumman is headquartered in the state of Virginia and will  continue as an American global aerospace and defense technology company comprised of four business sectors:  Aerospace Systems, Mission Systems, Technology Services, and Innovation Systems.


.. intends to historically send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019 ..