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SpaceX bid on launch of NASA cubesat mission

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WASHINGTON — A NASA competition to launch a cluster of cubesats attracted a bid from SpaceX, who appeared to offer a vehicle other than its current Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.

NASA released March 11 the source selection statement from the competition to launch the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission, a group of six cubesats to be launched into three orbital planes in 2022 to study tropical weather systems. NASA awarded a contract for the launch to Astra Feb. 26, valued at $7.95 million.

The agency said in the statement that it received five proposals last August for the mission. Besides Astra, two other small launch vehicle companies, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, submitted bids. A fourth came from Momentus, which offers in-space transportation services for satellites launched on rideshare missions.

The fifth bid came from SpaceX, which has a smallsat rideshare program, bundling groups of cubesats and other small satellites on Falcon 9 launches. However, the company did not appear to offer launch services from that program for the TROPICS competition.

In its assessment of the bidders, NASA noted a weakness in SpaceX’s proposal because the company “did not clearly demonstrate progress toward the resolution of the environmental assessment which results in risk associated with obtaining an FAA launch license, increasing the likelihood of delays that would affect contract performance.”

The source selection statement also identified a significant weakness regarding the “risk to launch approach” for the mission, noting the company had not updated an integrated master schedule in its initial proposal. “As a result, there is significant risk in the proposed launch approach based on the required launch date and the current status of the proposed launch vehicle that increases the likelihood of unsuccessful contract performance.”

Neither criticism would appear to apply to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles currently in service. Both vehicles have launch licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, which updated an environmental assessment for launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in July 2020. SpaceX has won a series of contracts for launches of larger NASA missions using those vehicles.

An intriguing possibility is that SpaceX instead offered its Starship vehicle under development. That vehicle has an FAA launch license today only for its current series of suborbital test flights. The FAA is also performing an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, site for orbital launches of that vehicle. The agency recently published a “scoping summary report” outlining public comments it received in the scoping process of the assessment, but did not issue a schedule for the release of a draft version of the environmental assessment.

Starship would appear to be massively oversized for TROPICS. When launched with a booster called Super Heavy, Starship will be able to place more than 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit. SpaceX has previously suggested, though, that the Starship upper stage alone may be able to reach orbit, but without a significant payload. That could be sufficient for TROPICS, whose combined mass is about 56 kilograms.

SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment on its proposal for TROPICS.

In the source selection statement, NASA compared SpaceX’s proposal with that from Astra, whose Rocket 3 small launch vehicle has yet to reach orbit but which the company has declared orbit-capable after two test launches. Astra was cited for a weakness in its proposed launch site, citing development and range conflict issues. The statement did not disclose the launch site, but in the announcement of the contract last month, NASA said the launches would take place from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

While SpaceX also had a launch site risk “with obtaining an FAA launch license in time to support orbital test flights,” NASA concluded that the “risk in its launch approach based on the required launch date and current status of the proposed launch vehicle” was a bigger concern. That resulted in Astra being rated slightly higher than SpaceX regarding technical and management capability. SpaceX’s proposed price was also “somewhat higher” than Astra’s bid.

NASA also eliminated Virgin Orbit because its original bid did not fall in the “competitive range” the agency established, and it was the only bidder not asked to provide an updated proposal, due Feb. 5. Momentus was eliminated from consideration because its proposal did not demonstrate it could meet all the requirements of the launch services interface requirements document, which “places the government at extreme risk of unsuccessful contract performance.”

The competition came down to Astra and Rocket Lab, whose proposal had several strengths, but also a “significantly higher” price than Astra. NASA concluded that “after reviewing the benefits associated with Rocket Lab’s proposal and Astra’s assessed risk in combination with their significantly lower price, the technical benefits do not offset the significant difference in price” and selected Astra for launching the TROPICS mission.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/spacex-bid-on-launch-of-nasa-cubesat-mission/

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Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship for its growing fleet

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled the company’s first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine.

The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

VSS Imagine is unveiled ahead of VSS Unity’s next test flight, which is planned for May 2021.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, commented: “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, added: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

www.virgingalactic.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/virgin-galactic-unveils-new-spaceship-for-its-growing-fleet/

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

Hexcel has announced its role within the recently launched UK-based project called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) that will focus on developing high-rate manufacturing and processing technologies that will accelerate the development of new, lightweight advanced composite materials.

The composites company will join lead partner GKN Aerospace and 13 other project stakeholders in a collaboration across the UK supply chain to develop the technologies and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight, more fuel-efficient structures for sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive industries.

Hexcel will contribute to the ASCEND project framework, developing a new HexPly fast cure prepreg system that will significantly reduce component processing times compared to existing aerospace prepregs.

In addition to its new fast curing prepreg technology, Hexcel’s range of Liquid Composite Moulding (LCM) products will be incorporated into the ASCEND project work packages. The project will use both HiTape advanced unidirectional dry carbon reinforcements and HiMax multiaxial non-crimp fabrics reinforcements.

The ASCEND project will allow Hexcel to collaborate with Tier 1 companies, engineers, tooling specialists, and production equipment OEMs to deliver both prepreg and liquid composite moulding solutions that meet both the performance targets and satisfy the processing requirements for high-rate automated manufacture.

The technical integration enabled by the ASCEND project partnerships will ensure a complete understanding of customer performance and processing needs, coupled with the opportunity to industrialize new technologies utilizing the extensive capabilities of GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

Paul Mackenzie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Hexcel, said “We are  proud to be part of the ASCEND program, and we look forward to working with other leading companies as we develop processes and materials that help to make the next generation of sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive vehicles possible. This project offers the perfect platform for Hexcel to collaborate and further develop our HexPly, HiMax, and HiTape technologies.”

The ASCEND partners working alongside Hexcel include Assyst Bulmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, DES Composites, FAR-UK, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, The National Composites Centre, Solvay Composite Technologies, Rafinex, and Sigmatex (UK).

Together, the group looks forward to delivering the material and automation innovations that will power more sustainable mobility solutions of the future.

www.hexcel.com

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes extends landing gear kits contract with Magellan

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes division has extended its component supply contract with Canada-based supplier Magellan Aerospace.

Under this long-term contract, Magellan will continue to supply landing gear kits and structural components for Boeing platforms such as the 737, 767, and 777.

The contract extension also shows that Magellan meets Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ cost, quality and performance requirements.

Magellan business development, marketing and contract vice-president Haydn Martin said: “Securing this major business extension for key Boeing platforms is foundational for our New York and Kitchener facilities as the aerospace industry works to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

“The confidence that Boeing has placed in Magellan is significant and demonstrates our ability to offer our customers comprehensive and reliable solutions.”

For Boeing, the company is using a vertical integration strategy that leverages global resources in Ontario, New York City, and India.

It has also made significant investments across all its facilities regarding manufacturing technology and the workforce to enhance its competitiveness worldwide.

Magellan will deliver these kits and hardware from its facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and New York City, New York. The company will also produce an extra supply of kits to reduce production risk.

Deliveries will be made directly to Boeing’s assembly facilities in Renton and Everett, Washington, US.

Last month, Magellan signed a five-year renewal agreement with Avio Aero to supply magnesium and aluminium castings.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/boeing-commercial-aircraft-magellan/

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ZeroAvia raises new funding for hydrogen-electric engine development

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Zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia has raised $24.3m in new funding to support the development of a 2MW hydrogen-electric engine.

Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, an existing investor, led the latest funding round and was joined by new investor British Airways.

Other investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and SYSTEMIQ, also joined the financing.

The financing takes the company’s total private investment to more than $53m while the total funding raised is close to $74m since its formation.

ZeroAvia’s funding comes a few months after the UK Government, through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), and Innovate UK, announced a $16.3m (£12.3m) grant to deliver a 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft in the market by 2023.

The new funding will accelerate the hydrogen-electric powertrain development for a ten to 20-seater regional aircraft.

ZeroAvia aims to commercialise the engine as early as 2024. The company aims to enter the more than 50-seater commercial aircraft segment by 2026.

The funding will also de-risk the company ambition to power a 100-seat single-aisle aircraft by 2030.

ZeroAvia CEO and founder Val Miftakhov said: “This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale.

“With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/zeroavia-electric-raising-funds/

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