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Orbital Becomes Second Private Firm To Send Cargo Craft To ISS 69

An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3,000 pounds of equipment, fresh fruit, and Christmas presents from the families of all six ISS spacemen today. 'From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts,' said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company."
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Orbital Becomes Second Private Firm To Send Cargo Craft To ISS

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  • I think Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are at present the only real contenders for private commercial launch. Jeff Bezos' Blue Cactus or whatever is really just a "vanity project" for the bizillionaire.

    • Re:A field of Two (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @07:39PM (#45934587) Homepage Journal

      EADS-Astrium/AirBus (they are going through a reorganization at the moment) is arguably a major contender for private commercial spaceflight launch as well. RKK Energia (the company who makes the Soyuz rockets) is also a private company who is competitive with the launch costs of both SpaceX and Orbital. You can debate if they really are a private companies or not (they do have shareholders and private investors... but also governments as investors as well).

      Richard Branson has said he has his sights upon orbital spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, and there is also Stratolaunch, but those are the only other companies I can see being real competition. I had high hopes for ARCA [arcaspace.com], the Romanian space group that is doing some interesting things, but their projects seem to take even longer to happen than I thought. I'm sort of pleasantly surprised they are still doing stuff. Another group to watch is Copenhagen Suborbitals [copenhagen...bitals.com], who is building flying hardware (they have sent aloft more than a couple missions) and have technology that could at least theoretically make the trip into orbit over time.

      • Most people don't realize that getting to orbit takes almost an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE more energy than getting to space (suborbitally). Given that Branson has taken 10 years to get (almost) to commercial suborbital flight, I wouldn't hold my breath for Virgin Galactic anytime soon. I suspect that running commercial suborbital operations will be more complex and difficult than he suspects, but I'm still glad he's doing it.
        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Branson is more focused on creating a new space-related business than on creative new engineering to service existing business. I'm not sure whether such a market exists in the first place, but he's more about exploring new markets than new planets. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't think VGal will ever be about putting payloads in orbit.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          You had better tell that to Richard Branson that his dream is not going to be realized. For myself, I put Branson behind Jeff Bezos in terms of who is going to make the vehicles capable of going to orbit first, and I have my doubts about either one. Yes, I realize that orbital velocities are much less than suborbital hops, but I am not talking about suborbital spacecraft in this case.

          I will also tip my hat to Virgin Galactic so far as trying to get airline-like operations out of sub-orbital spacecraft. If

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by beltsbear ( 2489652 )

            Once you get something to 60,000 ft you can design the nozzle to be 20% more efficient for that altitude and higher vs one that was efficient at lower altitudes. This gives you a pretty big advantage other then the height and that rocket can take you all the way to space. Now you are only throwing out one stage and have a rocket that can carry a higher mass vs it's size to orbit.

            • by kyrsjo ( 2420192 )


              Also, by launching from an arial platform, you won't have to boost so much "down" to fight gravity drag, but can bost more "sideways" which is more efficient. If you could boost only tangentially to the earth, you'll avoid having to carry fuel for 1g of acceleration upwards.

              Also, the air resistance is probably a bit lower at altitude as well.

      • EADS/Arianespace is in a spot of trouble as their launch cost is much higher than that of SpaceX. The Ariane 6 is designed to close the gap a bit, but Arianespace has always struggled to be profitable even though they're bankrolled by ESA. Basically they're used to the old world where cost was no object and will have to adapt to the way SpaceX et al do things.

    • Other space entrepreneurs are coming out of the woodwork here [cnn.com]
      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        Mars-One does not and never will build a launch vehicle capable of going into orbit. They may be entrepreneurs in space, but that is not what the GP was talking about. If you were suggesting Boeing or Lockheed-Martin was capable of competing.... that at least would be talking about companies who build rockets.

        • If you were suggesting Boeing or Lockheed-Martin was capable of competing.... that at least would be talking about companies who build rockets.

          I don't know how you people are so accurately able to read the minds of people like me, but I wish you'd quit because now everyone already knows the punchline to my jokes.

    • Not really. Orbital is using old rocket motors from the Soviet moon rocket that was cancelled after Apollo 11. There is a limited supply of stockpiled and usable units. The last time it was in the news, Orbital still hadn't come up with a long-term source with which to meet the next NASA contract. SpaceX builds its own rocket engines. The Atlas V is the sole export customer for currently-produced Russian kerosene-fueled engines, and the Delta IV uses presumably expensive LH2 engines. This is all for the
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Only a few days later than UPS for Xmas presents ;-)

    • That's cause they shopped online. They NEVER deliver by the Christmas deadline when you shop online.

      • That's cause they ASSUMED that Amazon Prime would get there as normal when any sane person would know better. If they really HAD to have it they could have upgraded to 1 Day Delivery and a warning should have been on the website after Friday. Blame this on Bezos and his website, not UPS.
  • It's been well past time for private enterprise to successfully handle low-earth-orbit delivery, there's nothing in those orbits that's difficult or experimental enough to require nation-state backing in order to fund achieving it. Same should hold true for medium-earth-orbit.

    It makes a lot more sense for public projects to handle launches out past geosynchronous orbit, where the technology isn't nearly as reliable and there's less opportunity for profit. Private companies are less likely to develop fo
    • Comsats to GEO is huge business. I'd have thought that most of the people building, operating and launching stuff into GEO are private. Just recently, SpaceX flawlessly sent two comsats into a geostationary transfer orbit (Orbcomm, Thaisat).

      Incidentally, many of the vehicles doing comsat launches are very reliable and are doing double-duty as government launchers. It doesn't necessarily mean that foreign satellite operators are getting subsidised.

    • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:43PM (#45935791)

      Had the shuttle been capable of taking us to the Moon or to at least Lunar orbit

      The problem with the shuttle wasn't that it didn't go beyond LEO. It was a space shuttle, that's what they're for, surface to orbit. For longer trips you take the main ship.

      The problem was that is was intended to be a low-cost all-purpose reusable truck that would free up funding for other projects. (For example, that "main ship" I mentioned.) But in reality it became the entirety of HSF, consuming vast amounts of funding. Too much to allow its own replacement to be developed, too much to allow iterative development of Shuttle MkII MkIII MkIV... Too much to commercialise. Too much to allow HSF to advance.

      By now pushing LEO-work into the commercial sphere, there's a chance to finally turn to other things... ...Except SLS has been carefully designed to make exactly the same mistakes as the shuttle. The shuttle, okay, they were trying something new, they didn't know better. This time it's wilful and vindictive.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is the second time they've done it, so the they became the second private firm last year.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      This is the first operational cargo flight for them, isn't it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Megane ( 129182 )
        The other flight was officially a demo flight but brought up actual cargo, just as SpaceX's demo flight did. Needs more adjectives like "second private firm to send cargo to ISS under contract" or something like that. I still think their previous flight was more important.
  • theres been a recent boom in privatized space launches and exploration, and while im sure its a good thing for the economy I have my reservations. the START database is an excellent example:
    https://standards.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]
    nasa publishes interesting scientific standards publically which helps further the study of space travel. It also provides a source of independent verification for different components and systems. Privatized space exploration is routinely under intense pressure to redact or restrict acce
    • Im willing to bet most of the standards data Orbital and SpaceX rely upon and likely refuse to disclose are in fact based upon the START repository.

      I don't know about Orbital, but SpaceX routinely credits NASA research for the core of its work. The first Merlin engines, the material for the heat-shield for Dragon. They hired a lot of NASA and Primary-contractor guys, so brought across a lot of ideas. And a lot of their cost-saving manufacturing techniques were originally developed by NASA or through their research contracts. I'm also willing to bet the "pusher" launch-abort system was developed by researchers at, say, JPL, because Boeing & Bigelow

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.