Saturday, August 29, 2015

Retro Saturday: One Fantastic Ride

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is a fifteen-minute 1991 NASA documentary by the space propulsion technology division of the Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) titled, One Fantastic Ride.

The film is an overview of various propulsion systems foreseen in the upcoming decades, although much of it is happy-clappy wishful thinking. At this time, the International Space Station was still Space Station Freedom. The documentary assures us that Lewis will develop very economical and affordable thrusters to keep Freedom in orbit. We're also told that uncrewed Shuttle-like cargo ships will service Freedom.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blue Man Group

Former NASA astronauts talk about suborbital flight on the Blue Origin New Shepard. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Florida Today reports that Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos will be in Cape Canaveral September 15 for a “significant announcement regarding the commercial launch industry.”

This is believed to be confirmation of the August 20 Florida Today report that state agency Space Florida had received authorization from its Board of Directors to close a deal with Blue Origin for lease of Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The deal reportedly would finally provide a tenant for Exploration Park. Space Florida held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site on June 25, 2010. Land was cleared, roads were paved and utilities buried. Since then, the site has been dormant. The property is on Kennedy Space Center land, publicly accessible from Space Commerce Road.

Read my May 15, 2014 blog article on Exploration Park with photos.

The Exploration Park groundbreaking on June 25, 2010. Video source: Space Florida Media Channel.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Retro Saturday: Racing for the Moon

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Dan Beaumont Space Museum YouTube channel.

CBS News had Walter Cronkite.

NBC News had Roy Neal and Jay Barbree.

ABC News had Jules Bergman.

This week's Retro Saturday is a 1988 ABC News documentary, Racing for the Moon: America's Glory Days in Space. It's a compilation of network film and video coverage of historic space events up through the end of the Apollo program. The one-hour documentary begins on October 4, 1982, with ABC News coverage of the 25th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch.

It's filled with fascinating historical nuggets, all the way back to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson commenting on Sputnik and President Dwight D. Eisenhower's nationwide address in response to the Soviet launch.

It's interesting that ABC News implied with its title that “America's Glory Days” were in the 1960s. At the time this aired, the Space Shuttle program was grounded due to the STS-51L Challenger accident on January 28, 1986. The next flight would not be until September 1988. I wonder if the title was meant to imply that NASA's best days were behind it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tick Tock

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Click the arrow to watch the WKMG-TV Channel 6 Orlando coverage of the SLS mobile launcher media event.

Kennedy Space Center held a media event August 19 to promote the latest step in its remodelling of the former Ares Mobile Launcher into a platform for the Space Launch System.

The first SLS launch is designated Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1. Currently scheduled for late 2018, EM-1 will be an uncrewed test flight to demonstrate not only the rocket but also send the Orion crew capsule on a three-week mission in an orbit beyond the Moon. To fly that orbit, Orion will use a service module built by the European Space Agency.

SLS won't go anywhere without the Orion. Orion won't go anywhere without the ESA service module.

When Congress imposed the SLS on NASA in the agency's 2010 authorization act, it mandated the first test flight had to be by the end of 2016. Both NASA and an independent audit warned that deadline was not feasible, but Congress ignored them.

A year ago, on August 27, NASA announced that SLS had slipped another year to November 2018. Technically speaking, the agency has “a 70% confidence level” that the booster will be ready by that date.

The print edition of the August 20, 2015 Florida Today reported that the SLS mobile launcher is scheduled to roll into the Vehicle Assembly Building for testing in January 2017.

Reporter James Dean concluded, “The agency has not committed to when Orion, which has major systems provided by the European Space Agency, should be ready to fly.”

On March 5, I wrote that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testified in a Congressional hearing that Orion would slip to “sometime after 2018.”

The second flight for us will come in sometime after 2018, to be precise. And the reason that I say “sometime after 2018” is we will tell this Congress much more precisely sometime this summer when we finish with the next milestone on Orion itself ...

SLS, ground systems are ready now for a, we have a launch readiness date of late 2018, so that's in place. We don't have a launch readiness date yet for Orion.

A NASA inspector general audit released later that month also suggested that Orion would not meet the November 2018 deadline.

So here we are on August 21, 2015, and we've yet to hear a word about Orion's schedule.

An August 12 NASA press release stated that the agency had begun its Critical Design Review (CDR) of Orion. The CDR “is targeted for completion in late October.”

So instead of summer as Administrator Bolden had suggested, now we may have to wait until the fall for the inevitable announcement of yet another delay.

No rush.

As for the ESA service module, Spaceflight Now reported August 3 that a NASA executive stated, “The European service module will probably be the pacing item to get through launch.”

An August 18 blog article by The Planetary Society quoted the same executive:

At KSC, Orion faces 18 months of integration and testing before it is ready to fly. Hill said the November 2018 SLS launch deadline is still feasible, but he hopes to get the ESA portion of the work finished sooner rather than later. “We’re working with them and trying to pull the schedule to the left,” he said.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Blue Panther

The first Blue Origin New Shepard test flight on April 29, 2015. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Florida Today reports that the Board of Directors for state agency Space Florida has given its approval to complete negotiations with “Project Panther,” which the newspaper believes to be Blue Origin.

Page 51 of the Board's meeting package has the reference to the request for Board approval:

As the board may recall from our last meeting, Project Panther is competitively evaluating locations throughout the country and has expressed interest in securing long-term land and facility use agreements at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport Complex for a number of properties. In conjunction with the project effort, the customer has expanded efforts to include a manufacturing facility. Space Florida is currently in the process of negotiating a Manufacturing and Launch Site Project Term Sheet, related leases and the respective securing of funding associated with the project. The funding source documents include not only traditional lending for facilities and equipment, but funding from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the North Brevard Economic Development Zone (NBEDZ). The current plan is for this project to be funded using Space Florida’s conduit debt structure. At this time, Space Florida is requesting board approval for management to complete negotiations and enter a Term Sheet that is intended to serve as the basis for the transaction structure for the project which will be memorialized in mutually binding transaction documents to be entered by the parties. In conjunction with entering the term sheet, Space Florida is requesting board approval to complete negotiations and enter long-term lease agreements with Panther for real and tangible personal property to be located at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport Complex, and to enter funding agreements with FDOT, NBEDZ and to secure funding by pledging the leases in a conduit debt structure.

According to Florida Today reporter James Dean, the deal envisions Blue Origin flying orbital missions from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. LC-36 is best known for Atlas-Centaur launches from 1962 through 2005. The service towers were demolished in 2007. Space Florida leased LC-36 in 2008, and since then has sought an anchor tenant. According to the Space Florida web site, the facility has 136 acres, supporting “small and medium lift of up to 1.5 million pounds thrust to launch payloads into low-Earth orbit and beyond.”

ULA CEO Tory Bruno (left) and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announce a partnership in September 2014. Image source: Space News.

In 2013, Blue Origin submitted a bid for Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A, but SpaceX won the lease. Blue Origin filed an appeal and lost; the appeal was backed by United Launch Alliance, a SpaceX rival. ULA and Blue Origin announced a partnership in September 2014 to build a replacement engine for ULA's Atlas V rocket.