NASA asks private companies to share how they might supply the Lunar Gateway

NASA’s stated goal of sending the first woman ever, and the first man since the Apollo program, to the Moon involves setting up a new space station that will orbit the Moon, which is supposed to begin being built by the end of 2022, per current timelines. Today, the U.S. space agency issued an open call for industry feedback and insight on how American companies might help supply said station.

Like the ISS, the forthcoming “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway” (aka the LOP-G, but much more commonly simply referred to as “The Gateway”) will need regular resupply runs and delivery of cargo — both for the many stages of its build, which are projected to span at least six years to get to its target state of completion. NASA is also considering the possibility that private companies could provide transportation for parts of its lunar landing and, eventually, exploration and base building on the Moon.

NASA’s move today is to release a draft request for proposals, which means that at this stage, it’s not actually looking for providers to submit formal bids — this is the step before that happens, when it’s more informally looking for guidance from industry on what kinds of cargo delivery methods they might even be able to provide ahead of looking to lock in any official contract winners for ongoing business.

To dive deeper into what it’s after and field questions from industry, NASA is hosting a Q&A on June 26, and comments are due on July 10. The more formal actual RFP will happen later this summer, the agency expects, and ultimately, the contract award for this admittedly big job could be as high as $7 billion.

NASA previously awarded private official “Commercial Resupply Services” for the ISS, which is a similar type of business but … Read the rest

Price tag to return to the Moon could be $30 billion

NASA’s ambitious plan to return to the moon may cost as much as $30 billion over the next five years, the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, indicated in an interview this week. This is only a ballpark figure, but it’s the first all-inclusive one we’ve seen and, despite being a large amount of money, is lower than some might have guessed.

Bridenstine floated the figure in an interview with CNN, suggesting that the agency would need somewhere between $20 billion and $30 billion for the purpose of returning to the surface of the Moon. Anything beyond that, such as fleshing out the Lunar Gateway or establishing a persistent presence, would incur additional costs.

To put this figure in perspective, NASA’s annual budget is about $20 billion, very little compared to many other agencies and budget items in the federal government. The speculated additional costs would average $4-6 billion per year, though spending may not be so consistent. NASA only asked for an additional $1.6 billion for the upcoming year, for instance.

The idea that this return to the Moon could cost the same in 2019 dollars as Apollo cost in 1960s dollars (about $30 billion) may be surprising to some. But of course we are not inventing crewed interplanetary travel from scratch this time around. Billions have already been invested in the technologies and infrastructure underpinning the Artemis mission, both flight-proven and recently developed.

In addition to that, Bridenstine is likely counting on the cost savings NASA will see by partnering with commercial aerospace concerns far more extensively than in previous missions of this scale. Cost-sharing, co-development and use of commercial services rather than internal ones will likely save billions.

A secondary goal, Bridenstine told CNN, was “to make sure that … Read the rest

Pioneering private space explorer Anousheh Ansari welcomes ISS commercialization

Xprize CEO and Prodea founder Anousheh Ansari dreamed of being an astronaut as a child growing up in Iran, but, understandably, most people around her were skeptical about her ambitions. Yet in 2006, she made that dream come true when she became the first woman to visit the International Space Station as a privately funded citizen (as well as the first Iranian citizen and the first Muslim woman), traveling aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket as a trained and paying guest of the Russian Space Agency.

At the time, NASA wasn’t thrilled about the idea and definitely did not want Ansari to pay a visit. Thirteen years later, the U.S. space agency announced earlier this week that the ISS is officially “open for business,” and revealed that pricing for a night’s stay will be around $35,000 per person (that’s just lodging — you still have to figure out your own transportation). At a Creative Destruction Lab event in Toronto this week, I spoke to Ansari about what this milestone announcement means for commercial space interests, and her perspective on the field and opportunity for space-focused startups in general.

“Actually, I wish I had my laptop to I could show a slide from probably six, seven years ago, maybe even longer, which I used that said ‘ISS for rent. It’s coming true! I’m telling you, I can predict the future,” Ansari joked. “But I think it makes so much sense.”

There are a number of reasons the situation has changed regarding how NASA views commercial and private interest in visiting and using the space station. Not least of which is that the station has now aged beyond its original mission parameters, and is definitely nearing its true functional end of life.

“The space station is […] already on extended life right … Read the rest

Creative Destruction Lab’s second Super Session is an intense two-day startup testbed

Canadian startup program Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) escapes succinct description in some ways — it’s an accelerator, to be sure, and an incubator. Startups show up and present to a combined audience of investors, mentors, industry players (some of whom, like former astronaut Chris Hadfield, verge on celebrity status) — but it’s not a demo day, per se, and presentations happen in focused rooms with key, vertically aligned audience members who can provide much more than just funding to the startups that participate.

North founder Stephen Lake onstage at CDL’s Super Session 2019

Seven years into its existence, CDL really puts on a show for its cornerstone annual event (itself only two years old), and clearly shows the extent to which the program has scaled. From an inaugural cohort of just 25 startups with a focus on science, CDL has grown to the point where it’s graduating 150 startups spanning cohorts across six cities associated with multiple academic institutions. It has consistently added new areas of focus, including a space track this year, for which Hadfield is a key mentor, as is Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space tourist to pay her own way to the International Space Station and the co-founder and CEO of Prodea Systems.

The ‘Super’ in Super Session

This is the second so-called “Super Session” after the event’s debut in 2017. It includes roughly 850 attendees, made up of investors, mentors, industry sponsors and the graduating startups themselves. As CDL Fellow Chen Fong put it in his welcoming remarks, CDL’s Super Session is an opportune moment for networking, mentorship and demonstration of the companies the program has helped foster and grow.

A keynote track included talks by Ansari and Hadfield, as well as from Celmatix CEO and founder Piraye Beim, and a fireside chat with … Read the rest

SpaceX successfully re-launches and recovers Falcon 9 flown in March

SpaceX’s launch today from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base went off without a hitch, carrying three satellites that make up the RADARSAT constellation to be used for observation by the Canadian government.

The launch today included use of a Falcon 9 first stage that flew a mission only a few months ago, when it carried SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to orbit during an uncrewed demonstration mission in March. The first stage was refurbished and reflown, bringing SpaceX yet another step closer to its goal of narrowing the window between flights for its reusable rocketry further still.

SpaceX also recovered the first stage with a controlled landing back at the company’s LZ-4 landing pad at Vandenberg. SpaceX has now demonstrated its ability to land up to three boosters at once when launching its larger Falcon Heavy orbital rocket.

The SpaceX rocket also successfully deployed all three of its cargo of RADARSAT observation satellites into their respective target orbits, completing the mission for its customer MDA.

The next launch on the schedule for SpaceX is another Falcon Heavy launch set for June 24, which will be its third flight and its first for the US Air Force. On board, it’ll have the USAF’s Space Test Program Flight 2, which includes experimental small sat payloads and a number of research projects from NASA.

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