Main Engine Cut Off

Main Engine Cut Off
A short, weekly podcast about spaceflight, exploration, policy, and strategy in the modern era and near future..
T+45: 2018 Air Force Launch Vehicle Contracts, and the Dim Future of Antares
Apr 20 • 36 min
As the award date approaches for the 2018 Air Force launch vehicle development contracts, we keep hearing from Congress about how they would like to see it go. And I discuss the future of Antares and the Next-Generation Launch Vehicle in light of the…
T+44: SpaceX and the Age of Reusability
Apr 1 • 32 min
SpaceX made history this week by launching SES-10 with a previously-flown first stage. I discuss implications of this achievement, the things we learned from Elon Musk in the post-flight press briefing, and the doubters, as always.
T+43: March Lightning Round
Mar 25 • 27 min
The last two weeks have been filled with a bunch of smaller stories—SpaceX’s GPS III bid win and upcoming SES-10 launch, ULA’s decision on Vulcan’s engines and Congress’ potential meddling, and the ISS beyond 2024.
T+42: Blue Origin Introduces New Glenn
Mar 9 • 28 min
This week, Blue Origin shed some more light on New Glenn—by way of an animation, launch agreements, and a talk by Jeff Bezos at Satellite 2017—and the first fully-assembled BE-4 shipped to their test site in Texas for a hot firing. I discuss the new…
T+41: EM-1 Follow-up, Dragon 2-Falcon Heavy to the Moon
Mar 2 • 40 min
This week is all about #hotdrama, with two surprise media briefings: one from NASA on a potential crewed EM-1, and one from SpaceX on a privately-crewed journey around the Moon—riding on a Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy—at the end of 2018. I discuss the…
T+40: The Potentially Infamous EM-1 Memo
Feb 18 • 26 min
Robert Lightfoot, the Acting NASA Administrator, sent a memo to the agency on the possibility of putting a crew on EM-1. I discuss the potential fallout from this idea and where the SLS/Orion program may be heading in the future.
T+39: Opportunities for Private Companies within Government Programs
Feb 9 • 18 min
This week, NASA officially announced that NanoRacks will be adding an airlock onto the International Space Station to add capabilities and capacity to their already-up-and-running business. That announcement, along with some early insight into NASA policy…
T+38: 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act Speculation
Feb 2 • 28 min
Marcia Smith of saw a draft of the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, and it contains some very interesting changes from the 2016 version that bounced around Congress last year. I discuss what some of these changes may mean in…
T+37: Government Subsidies, Private Capability, and the 2010 National Space Policy
Jan 27 • 20 min
Four members of the House of Representatives sent letters to DARPA and the Pentagon this week to file a complaint about a program in conflict with the 2010 National Space Policy. It’s a situation reminiscent of the debate over commercial use of retired…
T+36: Falcon 9 Flies with New Fueling Procedures, and the NASA-Boeing-Soyuz Saga
Jan 19 • 30 min
SpaceX is off to a strong start in 2017 with a very successful launch of Iridium-1 and a promising next few weeks. I also discuss the very interesting story developing between NASA, Boeing, and Russia regarding Soyuz flights to the ISS.
T+35: NASA Policy Grab Bag
Jan 12 • 21 min
While we don’t yet have hard details on which direction NASA programs are headed during the Trump administration, we have started to get some hints. The leadership of the Congressional subcommittees that NASA depends on will be largely unchanged, and…
T+34: SpaceX’s COPV Investigation and Return to Flight
Jan 5 • 22 min
SpaceX wrapped up their investigation into the Amos-6 explosion, and the news is mixed. I discuss their findings, their path back to flight, and some other 2016-2017 odds and ends.
T+33: SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Delay, Fueling Process Approved, and the Inmarsat-Falcon Heavy Situation
Dec 15, 2016 • 17 min
Inmarsat, under regulatory pressure to get flying, decided to take a mid-2017 launch slot on Ariane 5, moving away from Falcon Heavy. Everyone thinks it’s a big deal, but for the wrong reason. And SpaceX’s Commercial Crew flights have been delayed, but we…
T+32: Soyuz-U Failure and Satellite Servicing
Dec 8, 2016 • 23 min
A Progress launch failed on its way to the ISS, so I discuss how this may affect the politics of the ISS and NASA going forward. And then I get into some thoughts on satellite servicing in general, and specifically surrounding Restore-L and Orbital ATK’s…
T+31: ULA’s RocketBuilder
Dec 1, 2016 • 20 min
Tory Bruno took to the stage to announce RocketBuilder, their new way to market and sell Atlas V launch services. I discuss my initial thoughts about it and what the announcement means for ULA going forward in the commercial market.
T+30: SpaceX Nearing Falcon 9 Return-to-Flight
Nov 23, 2016 • 33 min
All signs point to SpaceX nearing a return-to-flight mission for Falcon 9. I discuss what to watch for in the months ahead, and read some email.
T+29: Commercializing the NASA Exploration Roadmap
Nov 16, 2016 • 32 min
Following up on last show’s topic, there are signs that NASA may be moving away from Orion in the future. I discuss how I see NASA modernizing their exploration roadmap, politically, in the next administration.
T+28: The Future of NASA and the Moon
Nov 2, 2016 • 28 min
NASA released an RFI for small scientific payloads bound for the lunar surface, meant to “address strategic knowledge gaps” associated with human missions to the Moon. I talk about how this could indicate a shift of the SLS/Orion roadmap, and how NASA may…
T+27: Financial vs. Political Capital and Mission Sustainability
Oct 26, 2016 • 30 min
In light of the recent Schiaparelli lander failure, I discuss the differences between missions supported by financial and political capital, and how those differences will play out in the next era of space exploration.
T+26: OA-5, Antares, and Orbital ATK’s Road Ahead
Oct 19, 2016 • 37 min
I took a trip down to Wallops Island, Virginia this week for the launch of OA-5—the return to flight for Antares, sending Cygnus up to the ISS on a resupply mission. I recorded this episode on the long drive home afterwards, and talked about what Antares’…
T+25: Falcon 9 Updates and the 10% Discount
Oct 12, 2016 • 30 min
Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, spoke at two events and dropped some tidbits about the Falcon 9 investigation, future versions of the vehicle, and what kind of discount they would offer for “flight-proven” stages. I break down the new info, and…
T+24: ULA’s RapidLaunch and Commercial Market Competitiveness
Oct 5, 2016 • 22 min
After a few busy weeks of Blue Origin and SpaceX news, I spend some time talking about ULA’s RapidLaunch program and how they are working to get competitive within the commercial market.
T+23: SpaceX Mars Architecture Initial Reactions
Sep 28, 2016 • 57 min
Elon Musk took the stage at the IAC this week and unveiled SpaceX’s architecture for their planetary exploration and colonization plans. Jake from WeMartians and I discuss our initial reactions to and takeaways from the event.
T+22: SpaceX Mars Architecture Announcement Preamble
Sep 21, 2016 • 41 min
SpaceX is set to make an announcement next week at the IAC 2016 regarding their Mars colonization architecture. I talk about what we know, what I expect to see, and what I hope is included in their plans.
T+21: Blue Origin Previews New Glenn
Sep 14, 2016 • 32 min
Blue Origin surprised us all by previewing their massive next rocket, New Glenn. I discuss the few details we know, how New Glenn could fit into the market, what questions need to be answered, and many other things to consider in the wake of the…
T+20: Mike Johnson, Chief Designer at NanoRacks on NanoRacks’ History, NextSTEP, and Wet Workshops
Sep 7, 2016 • 51 min
Mike Johnson, Chief Designer at NanoRacks, joined me this week to talk about his incredibly interesting career in spaceflight, the past and future of NanoRacks, their NextSTEP proposal, and a handful of other topics.
T+19: SpaceX’s Manifest, Flight-Proven Hardware, Blue Origin Updates, and Antares’ Engines
Aug 31, 2016 • 30 min
SpaceX has a busy manifest as they close out 2016, including SES-10 which will fly with a “flight-proven” first stage. A few bits of info have come out regarding Blue Origin’s future plans—including flying diverse payloads on New Shepard, and construction…
T+18: Robert Zubrin on Mars Exploration and Colonization Internationally, within NASA, and at SpaceX
Aug 24, 2016 • 34 min
Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society, creator of Mars Direct, and author of The Case for Mars is on the show this week to discuss Mars exploration and colonization internationally, within NASA, and at SpaceX.
T+17: NextSTEP Habitat Prototypes, and the Zombie Centaur
Aug 17, 2016 • 29 min
NASA selected six companies, as part of the NextSTEP program, to develop ground prototypes of deep space habitats, and the Centaur could live on as a wet workshop. Orbital ATK pushed OA-5 to late September. SpaceX landed yet another stage on the ASDS, and…
T+16: Moon Express Licensing, and NASA’s Disdain for Artificial Gravity
Aug 10, 2016 • 27 min
Moon Express gained government approval for their upcoming mission to win the Google Lunar X Prize. And I go on a rant about artificial gravity and how NASA shrugs it off as unnecessary.
T+15: More SLS Roadmap Details, and Landed Falcon 9 Static Fires
Aug 3, 2016 • 17 min
The roadmap for SLS got a little murkier this week thanks to some additional details in the GAO report regarding its cost and schedule. SpaceX test fired a landed core three times in three days last week, paving the way for reuse of the CRS-8 core.
T+14: The Post-EM-1 Roadmap for SLS, and Potential Uses for SpaceX’s BFR
Jul 27, 2016 • 26 min
Before Mars and exploration-centric talk, I talk about Orbital ATK’s agreement for exclusive use of LMP-103S. Then I take a hard look at the post-EM-1 roadmap for SLS, and theorize some potential uses for SpaceX’s giant Mars-bound rocket—lovingly referred…
T+13: SpaceX’s CRS-9 Success, Senate Hearing Recap, and US-Russian Plans for the Moon
Jul 20, 2016 • 25 min
SpaceX had a great night launching the CRS-9 mission, and it’s all good signs for their future. The Senate hearing, as I predicted, was focused on maintaining the status quo. US and Russian engineers and scientists have some ideas on the future of…
T+12: The Competition of Reusability Between Falcon 9, Vulcan, and Ariane 6
Jul 13, 2016 • 23 min
Ted Cruz called a hearing on NASA’s space exploration policy in the next president’s administration. The president of France’s CNES discussed some policy statements, and I went on a rant about his thoughts on Ariane 6 and its competition.
T+11: SpaceX’s LZ-1 Expansion, Dream Chaser’s UN Ambitions, China and ESA’s Growing Relationship
Jul 6, 2016 • 25 min
SpaceX printed a public notice in Florida Today on July 3rd outlining plans for LZ-1 expansion. Sierra Nevada Corporation and the United Nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding future use of Dream Chaser by UN member countries. China…
T+10: Logan Kamperschroer on the Current State and Near Future of Storable Propellants
Jun 29, 2016 • 27 min
This week I talked to Logan Kamperschroer, a Graduate Research Assistant at the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University. Logan’s research focuses on hypergolic rocket fuels—specifically the push to move away from the toxic storable…
T+9: ExoMars 2016 and 2020, Chinese Partnerships and Policy
Jun 22, 2016 • 17 min
The ExoMars 2020 rover received a funding boost and a reassessed schedule, the 2016 orbiter/lander set its sights on Mars, NASA and ESA coordinated a practice communication session, and China opens up to the international space community.
T+8: Masten’s Xodiac and XaeroB, Blue Origin’s Next Flight of New Shepard
Jun 15, 2016 • 13 min
Masten Space Systems released a video of test flights of their two latest vehicles. Blue Origin was awarded a NASA Flight Opportunities contract, is planning the 4th flight of New Shepard, and began clearing land for their factory just outside Kennedy…
T+7: Bezos and Musk at Code Conference, and a Hard Look at Vulcan’s Economics
Jun 8, 2016 • 25 min
Some interesting tidbits emerged from interviews with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk at Code Conference. And a hard look at the economics of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.
T+6: Orbital ATK’s Next-Gen Vehicle, Falcon 9 Proving Its Reusability, and ULA’s Tough Future
Jun 1, 2016 • 15 min
Orbital ATK shared some more details about their next-generation launch vehicle, SpaceX is working out their certification process for reflown stages, and how these events affect the industry and other competitors in the near future.
T+5: Space Stations Around the Moon and Mars, ExoMars 2016, and China’s Momentum in Space
May 25, 2016 • 16 min
Orbital ATK and Lockheed Martin unveiled proposals for space stations around the Moon by 2020, and Mars by 2028. ExoMars 2016 completed a functionality analysis test ahead of its October arrival at Mars. China revealed plans for its third space station,…
T+4: Boeing’s CST-100, SpaceX’s Dragon 2, and a Scorched Falcon 9
May 18, 2016 • 13 min
Boeing announced a 6 month delay in the schedule for their CST-100 crew vehicle. SpaceX’s Dragon 2 is in the lead to be the first Commercial Crew vehicle to fly. The most recently-returned Falcon 9 took a ton of damage on its way back to the drone ship…
T+3: Falcon 9 GTO Mission Drone Ship Landing, Orbital ATK’s Current and Future Launch Vehicles
May 11, 2016 • 11 min
SpaceX landed another Falcon 9 first stage on their drone ship—this time on a GTO launch, which is a major milestone on their way to full reusability and Falcon Heavy flights. Orbital ATK’s Antares launch vehicle is set for an early July return to flight,…
T+2: SpaceX’s Red Dragon, Falcon Performance, and the Political Fallout of OA-6
May 4, 2016 • 14 min
SpaceX officially announced their first Red Dragon mission to Mars, which will pave the way for future missions. They also posted new performance metrics for Falcon 9 and Heavy, which position the launch vehicles very differently in the market. And a…
T+1: The Near Future of NASA’s Orion and SLS Programs
Apr 27, 2016 • 11 min
An analysis of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, Orion and the Space Launch System. How we got here, where we’re going, and how things could shake out with an eventful November in US politics coming up.
T-0: The Near Future of US-Based Competitors
Apr 20, 2016 • 18 min
An analysis of the intricate dance between United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, and Blue Origin as we enter the next era of spaceflight.