NASA is preparing to launch its new Orion capsule on Thursday, December 4. It will be the first test launch of the spacecraft, which is being billed as kind of a big deal because it represents the agency's first major step toward regaining an inhouse manned spaceflight capability -- something it has not had since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
The cause of Tuesday's Antares 130 launch failure is not known. The builder and owner of the rocket, Orbital ATK, will lead an investigation of the accident, and it will be assisted by NASA and the FAA. All that is known for sure at this point was tweeted by Orbital ATK: "There has been a vehicle anomaly. The vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure." Uh, yeah. That much seems painfully self-evident.
If you want a good example of what's wrong with the US space program, take a good look at the Space Launch System rocket NASA is developing. In 2011, NASA estimated the cost of developing this human-rated, heavy-lift vehicle, along with the Orion crew capsule and launch facility upgrades, at $18 billion through 2017. The latest estimate by NASA pegs the development cost for SLS/Orion at between $19 billion and $22 billion through 2021. Almost everyone in the space industry understands that this is an extremely disingenuous low-ball estimate.
The two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX by NASA on September 16 should come as no big surprise to anyone familiar with both the agency's conservative culture and its relatively small annual budget of just under $18 billion. Boeing received $4.2 billion to continue with development of its human-rated system based on the Atlas V rocket and CST-100 capsule, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion to continue work on its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and Dragon V2 combo.
My job, my career, and indeed much of my non-family life revolve around inhabited aircraft. Not UAVs; other people cover that waterfront at Teal. And while I don't regard them as a threat to my beloved inhabited aircraft, I am kind of intrigued by UAVs. They represent a rare example of a technology that created its own market.
In the words of Geddy Lee (of the progressive rock band Rush, if you didn't listen to FM radio in the '70s and '80s), "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." This certainly applies to the Canadian government's latest move with its long-awaited and controversial fighter buy. The government's decision to kick the country's next fighter purchase down the road actually guarantees the outcome the Harper government wants.
Boeing recently decided to move the majority of its defense services and support work out of Seattle. The primary goal was to cut expenses; Seattle is a high-cost area, and the jobs will go to cheaper St. Louis and Oklahoma City. The move also reinforces Boeing's industrial footprint and political presence outside of Washington state. Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) CEO Chris Chadwick termed the moves "necessary if we are going to differentiate ourselves from competitors and stay ahead of a rapidly changing global defense environment."
The planned merger of the defense and space portions of ATK with Orbital Sciences will create a $4.5 billion company. Orbital and ATK's managements maintain that they are creating a much stronger company that will benefit from accelerated growth. In space, Orbital will bring its systems integration capabilities and ATK will provide its techologies. The result will be a much larger space company. Orbital's space work is about $1.5 billion annually, with ATK's space work totaling $1.2 billion.