Good morning. If you love talking space from dawn to dusk, there’s no better place to be than Dubai at the moment. It’s “space week” at the world expo, and next Monday, the emirate will play host to the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC).
While Payload sadly won’t be attending IAC, we imagine that many of you might be. Drop us a note and let us know if you’re going. We’re ready for the FOMO.
In today’s newsletter:
On the move
About that Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test…
ICYMI: China conducted a successful test of a hypersonic glide vehicle over the summer, according to an in-depth report published by the Financial Times.
The FT’s story draws on interviews with five unnamed officials. The purported launch and covert demonstration of the vehicle, which glides around space, caught US intelligence agencies off guard.
- The nuclear-capable spacecraft travels through low-Earth orbit before reentering the atmosphere and descending on its target.
- The vehicle travels at Mach 5, ie five times the speed of sound.
China’s response: The country’s foreign ministry denied the report, saying it carried out a business-as-usual test in July. “This was not a missile, this was a spacecraft,” an official told the press.
More details: The test is thought to have happened around August, with a Long March-2C serving as the missile’s taxi to space. Adding to the confusion: China announced the 77th launch of Long March-2C rocket in late July, then the 79th a month later, leaving a gap for #78. The gap is filled with question marks.
While the missile missed its bullseye by two dozen miles or so, that doesn’t give much peace of mind to planners in the Pentagon. The US and Russia, for their part, have also tested hypersonic glide vehicles. A handful of other countries have their own homegrown programs. But news of the Chinese vehicle’s trip through LEO suggests that it may be the most advanced.
Hypersonic glide vehicles in any arsenal could tilt the balance in global security. Glide vehicles are maneuverable. They fly in erratic patterns, making them difficult to track with early warning systems and far more difficult to intercept. Ballistic missiles, by comparison, can fly faster, but they do so more predictably (and parabolically).
The long view: Space has been militarized since countries/blocs were able to lift humans and equipment off Earth. But more in-space possibilities and capabilities exist today, which could change the calculus of deterrence.
NASA in the Next Fiscal Year
The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday released its fiscal year 2022 appropriations bill. We’ll Ctrl+f to the part you’re here for: The bill would provide ~$24.8 billion to NASA, almost exactly what the agency asked for in its 924-page FY22 budget request (yes, we counted).
Allocating nearly $25 billion to NASA would be a 6+% bump over FY21, which was a 3% boost over FY20. Attribute rising costs to human spaceflight, or deep space exploration, or inflation, or whatever you want…NASA anticipated needing a big leap in funding, and its wishes may come true.
Well…not every wish. NASA probably would like to move on from the decision to solely award the first Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX. The US government, however, has said ‘not so fast.’ The appropriations bill would provide NASA with $100 million more than it requested for HLS next year.
But…there’s a caveat. Citing the need for more redundancy and competition, the Senate has directed NASA to support two separate moon lander programs. If you know how to make a human-rated lunar lander for $100M…many governments and many more companies would like a word.
- In fairness, the Senate concedes that it does expect larger NASA budget requests in subsequent years, due to the overhead associated with multibillion-dollar moon-landing missions.
- The Senate also took a potshot at NASA, noting that its “rhetoric of blaming Congress and this Committee for the lack of resources needed to support two HLS teams rings hollow.”
Looking forward…Despite their best efforts, NASA and SpaceX haven’t been able to extricate themselves from the HLS saga. Still, Starship is the favorite to be first vehicle that returns American astronauts to the moon.
Firefly Aerospace provides cost-effective, convenient access to space for both full-vehicle and ride-share missions. Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle is capable of delivering 1,000 kg to LEO and 630 kg to 500 km SSO. Email [email protected] to discuss your mission!
In Other News
- ARK Invest has upped its position in Velo3D, which SPAC’d in September. The additive manufacturing company sells 3D printers to SpaceX, Boom Supersonic, Honeywell, and other aerospace players.
- Leaf Space is installing five new ground stations in Australia, Canada, Iceland, and Bulgaria.
- Inspiration4 pilot Sian Proctor tells space.com that “painting in space isn’t very different from painting on Earth.”
- SpaceX pushed back a Starlink launch initially scheduled for last Sunday.
- NASA and Boeing will provide a Starliner update today at 2:30 PM EST.
- Discovery will bring a new series—Space Titans: Musk, Bezos, Branson—to its discovery+ streaming service on Nov. 4.
On the Move
Normally, this section will run every Tuesday. But we swapped out ‘on the move’ with ‘the week ahead’ last Tuesday (due to the short week). We have half a month’s worth of updates to provide here. Bear with us, because today’s section is jam-packed!
On Oct. 2,NASA reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada from Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission.
On Oct. 4,ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet became commander of the ISS, taking over from JAXA astronaut and Crew-2 companion Akihiko Hoshide. Pesquet is the fourth European—and first French—ISS commander. He’ll stay in the position until November, when he returns to Earth.
On Oct. 8,Lockheed space lead Rick Ambrose said he would retire at the beginning of March. He’s led the division for eight years.
On Oct. 11, the UAE appointed Salem Butti Salem Al Qubaisi as director-general of the emirates’ space agency. Al Qubaisi succeeds Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, the agency’s founding director-general.
Other industry moves:
- Robert Geckle Jr. was promoted from COO to chief executive of Airbus U.S. Space & Defense.
- Edward Mango, former NASA Commercial Crew program manager, joined Aphelion Aerospace as an advisor.
- Heidi Grant, director of the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), will join Boeing Nov. 8 as VP of business development.
- Andy Read joined ICEYE to lead global government solutions.
The View from Space
NASA recently released this picture of a nearby supernova remnant, shot by the Hubble Space Telescope. Pretty magical, no?