Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Prominent Space Personalities Back Obama NASA Proposal

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart is one of eight former NASA astronauts to sign a letter to Congress supporting President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal.

A common, yet false, claim by some opponents of President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is that "nobody supports it" and that "all the astronauts are against it."

A letter released by 56 prominent individuals in the space industry emphatically proves the contrary.

Click here to read the letter on the Orlando Sentinel web site.

Addressed to "Members of Congress," it begins:

We, the undersigned space leaders, are strong supporters of human spaceflight. We are writing to urge you to both (1) fully fund the commercial crew to Space Station program proposed in the President's FY2011 budget request for NASA, and (2) accelerate the pace and funding of NASA's human space exploration projects beyond Earth orbit.

These twin pillars of human spaceflight are each crucial to the long-term health of our Nation's space program. They are also interdependent.

Among the signatories are eight former NASA astronauts and a self-described "commercial astronaut," the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello, former KSC director Jim Kennedy, prominent space policy analyst John Logsdon (who was also a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board), former Space Shuttle Flight Director Dr. John Muratore, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, space journalist Miles O'Brien, and Space Frontier Foundation co-founders James Muncy, Rick Tumlinson, and Robert Werb.

In tangential news, the United Space Alliance announced it's joined the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an advocacy group that supports the Obama proposal.

It would seem that ULA's declaration would rob Obama opponents of a major potential ally.

UPDATE June 23, 2010 — A participant over at Space Politics pointed out that the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, self-described as "NASA's largest federal employee union," supported Obama's proposal last April.

The last two Presidents have promised Mars as a Human Exploration destination, yet we are as far away from that today as we were when President Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration. Why? Because near-term responsibilities and corporate interests have dominated decision making with critical long-term R&T postponed again and again. To those who argue passionately and cogently for a crewed mission to Mars, we say "show me the technology". For NASA to send humans to Mars (or an asteroid) and back, safely and cost-effectively, it first needs to make major breakthroughs in both spaceflight and human-support technologies. This will require long-lead research into in-space propulsion, power generation and storage, closed-loop life support, material science, space life science and human factors, automation, thermal protection, cryogenics, and other areas. One thing is sure; if we don't start, Mars will remain 20 years away forever.

Citizens Against Government Waste Target Alabama Senator Shelby for Pork

Alabama senator Richard Shelby has been named Porker of the Month by Citizens Against Government Waste.

Back on May 26, I reported that Citizens Against Government Waste issued a report endorsing President Obama's proposal to cancel Constellation.

Today the government watchdog targeted U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), naming him the Porker of the Month for June 2010.

Shelby earned this distinction "for blocking the Obama administration's attempts to eliminate funding for the Constellation program, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program which is chronically behind schedule and over budget."

Sen. Shelby co-sponsored an amendment that would shield the program from proposed budget cuts to the fiscal year 2010 emergency war supplemental. "Americans are being forced to tighten their belts and the economy is limping along, but that doesn’t deter the porkers in Congress, like Sen. Shelby, who are still spending and rewarding government contractors orbiting the program. Sen. Shelby’s actions just perpetuate the notion that politicians in Washington are living on a completely different planet," said CAGW President Tom Schatz. "This would be the time to move toward a more competitive model for space exploration. It is outrageous for Sen. Shelby to object to the private sector's work on space exploration and characterize it as 'corporate welfare,' when his own actions are nothing but pure pork-barrel spending to contractors from his state."

CAGW was founded in 1984 as an offshoot of a Reagan administration effort to reduce government waste. It's officially a private non-partisan group, but its founder J. Peter Grace was a conservative Democrat who supported Reagan's tax cuts and was appointed by Reagan to address waste and ineffiency in the federal government.

UPDATE June 23, 2010 — I checked today's Huntsville Times online to see if they reported Shelby's "award," since Huntsville is the main beneficiary of Shelby's largesse. No mention so far, although I did find that Shelby was also named Porker of the Month in October 2007.

The Times reported on October 19, 2007:

... [T]he organization notes that Shelby earmarked $11 million to build a health services building at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, his alma mater. It was the largest of 401 earmarks worth $191.2 million in the Health Resources and Services Administration section of the 2008 spending bill for labor, health and education programs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Articles of Interest

Launch vehicles in the history of India's space program.

Some recently published articles of interest ...

In a June 7 Florida Today article, columnist John Kelly writes that the government-run satellite program is years behind and billions of dollars over budget.

In at least a dozen outside reports issued during the last five years, including one just provided to Congress, experts say replacement satellites are not on track because of disagreement among federal agencies in charge, overly rosy assumptions about how fast the spacecraft could be designed and built, and skyrocketing costs forcing repeated changes in the satellites.

Sounds similar to the 2009 Augustine Panel's report about the Constellation program.

Space News reports that President Obama has submitted an amendment to his FY 2011 NASA budget proposal that would transfer $100 million of the $19 billion budget to programs "aimed at helping Florida and other states bracing for job losses associated with the end of the space shuttle program." The money would be transferred from funds "originally requested for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate."

Space News also reported that Lockheed says it can build an Orion capsule as an International Space Station escape system for $4.5 billion if NASA relaxes its oversight.

PEHub.com has an interview with SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who among other topics discusses why SpaceX can build rockets cheaper than the current space-industrial complex.

If you go to heart of it, SpaceX operates with really with a sort of Silicon Valley operating system and DNA as applied to problem of space transport. And in that sense, culturally, the way things operate are closer to an Intel or Google or Apple in the way that it functions.

We’re quite vertically integrated, which increases the number of problems you have to solve, but you also have fewer middlemen. I think the aerospace guys got into this craze of outsourcing everything, then even the suppliers would outsource, and eventually it got to where you had to go four companies down before you found someone cutting metal. And there’s an old maxim that if you want efficiency, you have to cut out the middleman, and so we’ve done that at SpaceX.

Also, to the degree that we inherited legacy components, we inherited the legacy cost structure, and that necessitated rebuilding almost the whole market in order to achieve significant breakthroughs. Because if you look at the cost of our market, if you break it down, it's the cost of the engines, the structures, the electronics, the launch operation, and the overhead of the business, and in order to make a significant breakthrough, you have to really see improvements across the board, systemwide.

Aviation Week reports on India's progress in joining the list of spacefaring nations.

The Space Review details a new hydrocarbon engine that's part of the Obama budget proposal that could become the main propulsion system for a heavy lift vehicle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SpaceX Signs Half-Billion Dollar Satellite Contract

Florida Today reports that SpaceX has signed a $492 million contract with Iridium Communications to launch Falcon 9 rockets from Vandenberg AFB in California.

"We are proud to be partnered with SpaceX, and want to congratulate Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team on its successful inaugural Falcon 9 launch," said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium.

"Hands down, SpaceX offered us the best value coupled with an unwavering commitment to flawless performance and reliability. SpaceX has combined the best of aerospace and commercial best practices to design reliable and cost-effective access to space, and Iridium will be the beneficiary of that effort," he said.

"SpaceX also offered dedicated Iridium NEXT launch slots within its manifest, which currently has 24 Falcon 9 flights scheduled ahead of us, including those for commercial and government customers, during the coming five years. Clearly, SpaceX has established itself as a significant player in the launch industry, and we have great confidence that SpaceX will build on its recent success and continue to cement an impressive track record of successful space flight in advance of our mission."

According to the Iridium web site, the company will "fully replace its current satellite constellation" starting in 2015 with a new 81-satellite system.

Monday, June 14, 2010

SpaceX Steps Up to the Plate

An artist's conception of the Dragon spacecraft with deployed solar panels.

The Brevard County Manatees hosted the 2010 Florida State League All-Star Game, and SpaceX was a major co-sponsor with MetroPCS.

I covered the All-Star weekend for my other web site, SpaceCoastBaseball.com. At the Friday night banquet, guests were handed gift bags that featured SpaceX and MetroPCS logos. The players' jerseys during the Saturday night game had SpaceX logos sewn on the left sleeve, and MetroPCS logos on the right.

Space Coast Stadium now has two SpaceX ad banners, each beneath the foul poles. The poles have banners honoring Columbia and Challenger, the two orbiters lost in the line of duty. The SpaceX ads are directly beneath those banners. The symbolism of their chosen location is not lost upon this writer. I'm told that SpaceX came aboard as a major Manatees sponsor in the last month, suggesting that SpaceX definitely wants to establish itself as a significant and permanent part of the Space Coast community.

The June 13 edition of Florida Today featured a lengthy article about SpaceX and founder Elon Musk. He told columnist John Kelly that his eye is on the ultimate prize, which is using the SpaceX Dragon 9 capsule to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station.

"Both Falcon 9 and Dragon have already been designed to meet NASA's published human rating standards for astronaut transport, allowing for a rapid transition to astronauts within three years of receiving a contract to do so," the company said in a statement last week. "The critical path item is development and testing of the launch escape system, which would be a significant improvement in safety over the Space Shuttle, which does not possess an escape system."

The article notes that "Orbital Sciences, United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others will all be competitors, likely partnered with one another or NASA's own government team."

Florida Today reported June 14 on its web site that SpaceX has signed a contract with Taiwan to launch an Earth observation satellite in 2013 from the company's Omelek Island launch site in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company now has more than 40 flights on its manifest and "is positioned to deliver launch services across the increasingly varied needs of our commercial and government customers."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Upgrading KSC

The $2 billion upgrade proposed for Kennedy Space Center would include modifying the Vehicle Assembly Building to process multiple vehicle designs.

Today's Florida Today has a lengthy article detailing improvements planned at Kennedy Space Center under President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

... The proposed expenditure of $1.9 billion to modernize KSC over the next five years could create up to 1,000 construction jobs, according to some in the industry, while transforming the center into a modern spaceport ready for either the next generation NASA rocket or commercial or private spacecraft.

Among the projects is a plan to update the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building so that it can process multiple vehicle designs. This would help accommodate commercial craft from ULA, SpaceX, Orbital, etc.

Pad 39B would be razed to allow commercial companies to use their own proprietary mobile launchers instead of one government design.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Limited Range

Florida Today has an article about the Eastern Range monitoring technology at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and President Obama's proposal to spend $2 billion to modernize it.

"I think there is no question that the Cape is as viable as any place in the world to compete for commercial launches," Space Florida President Frank DiBello said. "What we need to do is streamline operations and make this an efficient and inexpensive place to launch."

The first step toward doing that, according to the Obama plan — which is still under intense scrutiny by Congress — is upgrading the Eastern Range, which provides tracking and safety services for all launches from the Cape and KSC.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

SpaceX: The Morning After

Falcon 9 launches on June 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

A roundup of press coverage of yesterday's SpaceX launch ...

Florida Today lavished coverage upon SpaceX in today's print edition. Page 1 has a big photo of the launch and the headline, "Falcon 9 Rocket Nails Test". Reporter Todd Halvorson declared, "SpaceX scored a bulls-eye Friday on the first flight of its Falcon 9 rocket."

Columnist John Kelly's article, "Space X Did It: Here's Why Brevard County Should Be Smiling", opened:

America has a new rocket.

And, its home base is Cape Canaveral.

That’s a big deal for the future of the United States’ space program and for the future of Florida’s Space Coast.

Kelly notes, "SpaceX says it hopes to employ as many as 1,000 launch operations workers in Florida in the coming years, perhaps people who might have otherwise lost jobs at the end of NASA’s space shuttle program."

A third article by Dave Berman and Michelle Spitzer focused on public reaction to the launch.

Back in Houston, SciGuy blogger Eric Berger posted an article posing the question, "Falcon 9 Launch a Success: What Does It Mean?"

Although the Falcon 9 initially is designed to carry cargo to the station, perhaps as early as next year, SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk says the company could be ready to deliver humans to orbit within three years of receiving a NASA contract.

Today's launch is the first step toward proving that he's not just blowing smoke. In fact, it's a shot in the arm for all commercial providers who believe they can build rockets and space capsules to carry humans into space.

The Huntsville Times simply reprinted an Associated Press story on the launch.

Inside the Beltway, the Washington Post called Falcon 9 "the first of a new generation of private rockets that could one day make space travel commonplace." The article concludes:

While NASA rockets have long been built by private industry under NASA control, the SpaceX Falcon 9 is more fully private and considerably less expensive. Although SpaceX is the leader now in commercial space efforts with NASA, larger companies — including Boeing and Lockheed Martin — are expected to join in the future.

Back in Southern California, where SpaceX is based in Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times declared, "SpaceX Shows It Has the Right Stuff".

A massive rocket developed by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur blasted off from a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday, boosting prospects for privately funded vehicles to one day take astronauts and cargo into space.

The launch marked a major milestone in efforts to shift spacecraft development — which has long been dominated by governments and large, entrenched aerospace firms — to privately funded start-ups that so far have been funding their ventures mostly on their own dime.

Friday, June 4, 2010

SpaceX: The Future Begins

Falcon 9 on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket made history today as it successfully lunched its dummy payload into orbit.

Click here to read the Florida Today report.

I wasn't able to film it as we were taking a visitor around Kennedy Space Center. We were at the Saturn V museum when the countdown resumed at 2:30 PM EDT. An announcement was made in the museum about the launch, so many of the patrons went out back to the VIP bleachers to watch history being made.

In this morning's edition, Florida Today published an interview with Space X founder/CEO Elon Musk:

The objective is to rocket into orbit. But Musk said a successful flight of the first stage would be "a good day." Successful stage separation and second-stage operation would make it a "great day."

"I think 100 percent success would be reaching orbit," Musk said.

So by that definition, it was certainly a 100 percent success.

Politicians trying to defend the Constellation space-industrial complex have been less than congratulatory.

(Links thanks to Space Politics.)

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison issued a press release in which she said:

This first successful test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs ... This test does not change the fact that commercial space programs are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously cancelled as the President proposes.

Hutchison fails to mention that Constellation wasn't going to be ready until the end of this decade and to this date has only one test launch (Ares 1-X) to demonstrate its technology.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby told Politico.com:

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, whose state of Alabama is also a NASA stronghold, further decried the launch as a display merely replicating what "NASA accomplished in 1964."

"Belated progress for one so-called commercial provider must not be confused with progress for our nation's human space flight program," Shelby said. "As a nation, we cannot place our future space flight on one fledgling company's definition of success."

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, posted this statement on her web site:

The successful test launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is a significant step in the development of the commercial space industry. There is no doubt that commercial spaceflight will play an important role in the future of our efforts in space, and I believe private companies can bring new job opportunities for the Space Coast's highly-skilled workforce. But we must both support the emerging commercial space industry and ensure a robust, NASA-led human spaceflight program in order to maintain our international leadership in space and keep our economy strong. I will continue fighting at every opportunity to minimize the human spaceflight gap, protect jobs, and ensure a bright future for the Space Coast.

SpaceX still has a long way to go. But successfully launching its payload into orbit on the first try certainly destroys the credibility of those who claimed Falcon 9 is a "toy," that Musk is a "hobbyist," that the rocket would blow up on the pad. The only hot air today came from those proven wrong.

UPDATE 8:30 PM EDTAviation Week reports that "The only obvious blemish on the mission was an apparent parachute failure on the rocket’s recoverable first stage, which caused it to slam into the Atlantic and break apart, according to reports from Nasawatch.com."

Click here to watch launch video on CNN.com along with an article reporting on the launch.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Test Launch Today

As of 9:30 AM EDT, Falcon 9 is still go for launch, although the weather forecast degrades in the early afternoon. The launch window is 11 AM to 3 PM EDT.

SpaceX will provide a live webcast of the launch starting at 10:40 AM EDT. Click here for the webcast page.

Todd Halvorson of Florida Today has an excellent article on SpaceX and Falcon 9.

The article concludes:

The company aims to significantly lower the high cost of space launch. It advertises Falcon 9 flights for $40 million to $48 million -- a significant cost savings over comparable rockets that cost $130 million to $150 million to fly.

Significantly lowering launch costs would significantly increase the number of exploration missions, and the number of people, flying into space.

"We really want to open up space to humanity and make it accessible to a huge number of people. That's our long-term goal -- sort of democratizing space," [SpaceX founder Elon] Musk said.

"Commercial space is the only way to go," Musk said. "If we go with super-expensive government developments, in the absence of a massive increase in the government budget, we will never do anything interesting in space."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What if Falcon 9 Fails?

What will you say if SpaceX’s test rocket fails?

That's the question posed by S. Alan Stern in a June 1 essay posted on The Space Review.

And indeed, the odds of Falcon 9’s first test flight failing, or at least not being 100%, successful, are high. After all, with rare exception, almost all of the more than 20 US orbital launch vehicles developed to date have failed, or otherwise fell short of complete success, in their early flights.

Fortunately, American rocket scientists, aerospace workers, and government officials are not quitters. We didn’t quit when Vanguard 1, with America’s first satellite aboard, exploded on its launch pad in 1957. We didn’t quit when early Atlas after early Atlas failed in qualification flights for the 1960s Mercury program. We didn’t quit in the 1970s when Space Shuttle main engine tests regularly ended in fires and explosions, and we didn’t quit in the 1980s when Challenger exploded with a crew of seven aboard early in the program’s history. We also didn’t quit when commercial space launch firms like Boeing and Sea Launch suffered failures in the 1990s and 2000s. To the contrary, in each case we Americans persisted, we redoubled our efforts, we picked ourselves up off the ground, and we resolved to keep at it until we succeeded, in front of the entire world.

Japanese Delegates Support Obama's Space Plan

Florida Today reports that members of a visiting Japanese delegation generally support President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal.

Project Constellation offered no chance for global partners to participate, said Hiroshi Kawato, a manager with the systems engineering and launch services department Mitsubishi Heavy Industries LTD.

But Obama's push to develop commercial space taxi services for astronauts could open up business for companies like Mitsubishi, which manufactures the Japanese H-IIA and H-IIB rockets.

"We are very eager to step forward and step up to launching humans," Kawato said.

ESA: China Welcome to Join ISS

Space News reports that European Space Agency director general Jacques Dordain favors China joining the International Space Station partnership.

"I am really willing to support the extension of the partnership of the ISS to China and South Korea. Obviously, this should be a decision by all partners, not the decision by one partner," [Dordain] said.

Some opponents of President Obama's cancellation of Constellation have falsely claimed that China is going to the Moon. The truth is they only have a study. China's emphasis is on launching their own space station in the early 2020s, although the United States has aggressively courted China to join the ISS partnership.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Go for Launch

Florida Today reports that SpaceX has been certified by the USAF to launch its Falcon 9 on Friday. The launch window is 11 AM - 3 PM EDT.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Daily Kos: Majority Want Less Government Spending on Space

Consistent with many other polls in recent years, a Daily Kos poll published May 31 shows that 47% of respondents think too much money is spent on the U.S. space program.

In response to the question, "Regarding the US Space Program, do you feel we spend too much, not enough, or the right amount", the answers were:

Too Much: 47%
Right: 28%
Not Sure: 13%
Not Enough: 12%

Click on the link above for a detailed breakdown of the responses.

Labor Announcement Wednesday at KSC

Florida Today reports that Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will make a "major announcement" regarding the Shuttle workforce tomorrow at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The event is not believed to be related to the task force President Obama announced during his April 15 speech at Kennedy Space Center.

Obama announced a $40-million initiative led by the White House, NASA and other agencies to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation. He asked for a report by Aug. 15.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas and local dignitaries are expected to attend the 9 a.m. press event.