Today’s Tidbits: August 6, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: August 6, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for August 6, 2019:  Rocket Lab goes reusable; Chris Scolese sworn in as NRO Director; Jack Kerrebrock passes away.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Rocket Lab Goes Reusable

Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck speaking at the Small Satellite Conference, Logan, Utah, August 6, 2019. Screengrab.

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck announced today that the company will begin recovering and reusing the first stage of the Electron rocket. In a press conference at the Small Satellite Conference taking place in Logan, Utah, he emphasized that the fundamental driver for pursuing reusability is launch frequency, which will “change the industry” and “change the world.”  He also hopes it will lower prices, but that is not his motivation.

Beck acknowledged that he has to eat his hat because in the past he insisted reusability was not in the company’s plans.

“Reusing the stage of a small launch vehicle is a complex challenge, as there’s little mass margin to dedicate to recovery systems. For a long time we said we wouldn’t pursue reusability for this very reason, but we’ve been able to develop the technology that could make recovery feasible for Electron. We’re excited to put that technology into practice with a stage recovery attempt in the coming year.”

Resuability will be implemented in two phases.  Initially the first stage will be recovered from the ocean.  Later, it will be captured by helicopter before it splashes down.  He plans to begin recovery efforts “in the coming year.”

Rocket Lab currently launches from Launch Complex-1 in New Zealand.  It is building  a second launch complex in the United States at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, VA.

Rocket Lab Launch Complex-1, Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab.

Electron is a small rocket (150 kilograms to Sun Synchronous Orbit) that launches cubesats and other small satellites.  It has succesfuly launched seven times so far, placing 35 satellites into orbit for U.S. government and private sector customers.  Its most recent launch was on June 29, 2019.

Chris Scolese Sworn in as NRO Director

Chris Scolese, former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was officially sworn into office as the new Director of the National Reconnaissance Office on August 5.

NRO is of the 17 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).  It designs, builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites.  Other IC members include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and National Security Agency (NSA).  The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) oversees the entire IC.

Scolese has spent most of his career at NASA, focusing first on earth observations satellites and later moving into high level management positions.  He was Acting Administrator of NASA between the tenures of Mike Griffin and Charlie Bolden in 2009.  He was Associate Administrator, the highest ranking civil servant, before and after that and became Goddard Director in 2012. Before joining NASA, he was a Navy officer working for the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover in the Nuclear Navy.

He succeeds Betty Sapp, who was NRO Director from 2012 until she retired earlier this year.  Scolese is the first NRO Director to go through the Senate confirmation process.  Earlier Directors were appointed by the President.

Jack Kerrebrock Passes Away

Jack Kerrebrock. Photo posted on

MIT Professor Emeritus Jack Kerrebrock passed away on July 19 at the age of 91.  He was internationally renowned as an expert in aircraft and spacecraft propulsion systems.  He spent most of his career at MIT, but was NASA’s Associate Administrator of Aeronautics and Space Technology from 1981-1983.

Kerrebrock joined MIT in 1960 after working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, NASA’s predecessor), Caltech, and Oak Ridge National Lab.  At MIT he founded and directed the Space Propulsion Laboratory in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 1978 he became head of that department.  A decade later he was faculty lead for the Daedalus Project, a human-powered aircraft that flew 115.11 kilometers (72.4 miles) from Crete to Santorini.  That remains the world record for human-powered flight.

Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1978, Kerrebrock also was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as the Explorers Club and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For more about him see MIT’s press release.  []

Editor’s Note:  Jack was a member of the 1985-1986 National Commission on Space, of which I was privileged to be Executive Director.  He was a delight to work with and contributed tremendously to the Commission’s deliberations, especially on the topic of single-stage-to-orbit vehicles, a hot topic at the time.  Ad Astra, Jack!  

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