Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Next SpaceX Launch Delayed

Florida Today reports that SpaceX has rescheduled its next Falcon 9 test launch from October 23 to early November "to give technicians, engineers and managers additional time to prepare for the launch."

Originally slated to fly in 2008, the demonstration flight is being carried out under a $1.6 billion NASA contract aimed at developing a commercial sector option for launching supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. The contract calls for three test flights and 12 missions to deliver cargo to the station.

The company is targeting mid-2011 for the first of the 12 operational missions to the station.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dishing It Out

So here's an open question for my readers.

The house we bought in north Merritt Island has two DirecTV satellite dishes. One is mounted on a pole in the side yard, the other is mounted on the roof.

We have no use for either, as we have cable. I want them gone, for no other reason than I'm worried about what will happen to them in a significant wind event. (Rumor has it they have hurricanes here in Florida ...)

I don't know what to do with them. Looking on eBay, it appears there's not much of an after-market for these dishes. I called DirecTV but they don't want them back.

Any suggestions?

I'd like to sell them to get a little cash, but if there's no real after-market for these then I'm happy to give them away to anyone competent at removing them.

Please feel free to post here or e-mail me at wordsmithfl@gmail.com with your thoughts, suggestions or inquiries. Thanks.

NSS Calls for Support of Senate's NASA Bill

I received an e-mail late last night from the National Space Society, urging its members to call their House representatives and request support for the Senate's version of the NASA FY 2011 funding bill.

NSS Action Alert:
NASA Authorization Act

NSS has emphatically requested that the House of Representatives adopt the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. See below for the NSS statement.

The vote on this issue is now imminent!

Please call your Congressman today and let them know how you stand on this issue and what you would like them to do.

Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative. Or, use the following link to find their numbers directly:


Remember that telephone calls are usually taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment. After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as:

"Please tell Representative (Name) that I support adopting the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and request that he/she do so as well."

Also state reasons for your support of the bill. You may email them a copy of the NSS Press Release. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boeing, Space Adventures Announce Commercial LEO Flights

A Boeing illustration of the CST-100.

Florida Today reports that Boeing and Space Adventures have announced "an agreement to market commercial rides to low Earth orbit aboard a Boeing capsule now in development."

If the initiative is successful, many customers flying on Boeing's seven-person Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft, or CST-100, would likely launch from Cape Canaveral.

The capsule is being designed to launch atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets and SpaceX's Falcon 9, which have pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Click here to read the Space Adventures press release.

UPDATE 2:15 PM PDTSpace.com on today's announcement:

Under the agreement, the Virginia-based Space Adventures will market passenger seats on commercial flights aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft, currently being designed to travel to the International Space Station as well as other future private space stations.

The capsule seats could go to space tourists, individual companies or other non-government groups, as well as U.S. federal agencies other than NASA.

SpaceFlightNow.com on the deal:

Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft is receiving $18 million under a Space Act Agreement with NASA, but that funding runs out later this year. The Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev, contract distributed funding to several companies in early 2010 to help advance commercial human spacecraft concepts and technologies ...

Boeing is relying on NASA money to continue work on the CST-100. The company will accomplish all of its milestones in the initial CCDev agreement by the end of this year ...

A gap in money would threaten Boeing's goal to have the CST-100 ready for test flights in 2014 and operational by 2015 ...

NASA funding is the crucial leg of Boeing's commercial space transportation concept, which is also designed to fly crews to private space stations for Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas.

UPDATE September 16, 2010 2:15 PM EDTSpace Politics reports on the criticism by some of partial government funding for the CST-100:

However, both [Boeing Vice-President John] Elbon and Space Adventures chairman Eric Anderson rejected the argument that, because Boeing's business plan required government funding, the program was thus somehow not commercial. "It becomes a very good deal for the US taxpayer" by having multiple customer bases that spread out the development and operational costs of such a system, Anderson said, later citing historical examples such as airmail supporting the early aviation industry. "I think the argument that if it's not purely funded and purely financed by private industry that there’s no market, I think that is, with all due respect, hogwash."

It should also be noted that another reason is that it's in the U.S. government's interest to jump-start commercial access to LEO. The Bush administration committed NASA to rely upon the Russian Soyuz for ISS access until a replacement vehicle is ready for Shuttle. Constellation's Ares I was supposed to be that vehicle, but the lack of a "sound business case" (to quote the government's audit agency) plus the lack of adequate funding from Congress doomed that project.

As we see with the current Congressional kerfuffle, legislators are more interested in directing pork to their home districts than accelerating development of a government vehicle. Partial funding of CST-100, the SpaceX Dragon and other options puts the United States back in space sooner than waiting for a Congressionally-designed vehicle.

Florida Today Endorses Senate Version of FY 2011 NASA Budget

Today's Florida Today includes an editorial that endorses the Senate's version of the FY 2011 NASA budget.

The bill would keep the president’s $19 billion funding request and focus on several areas, all of which would mean jobs at Cape Canaveral ... In stark contrast, the House bill rides the dead horse that’s Constellation. It would keep the huge program intact but doesn’t provide the money to get it done, allocating only half the annual funds the president’s blue ribbon commission on space said was necessary for completion ... The House bill also kills the commercial crew launch plan and the current program to use private rockets flown from Cape Canaveral to haul cargo to the International Space Station starting next year.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon, Part II

Jeff Foust of the excellent Space Politics blog posted today about an article in the September 12 Decatur Daily.

Titled "Decatur Loses Out in NASA Bill", the article grouses about the lack of pork coming to Decatur, Alabama in the FY 2011 NASA budget bill as drawn up by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space.

It also grouses about who did get the pork, and blames one of their two U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby.

As U.S. senators carved up the leftovers of NASA’s Constellation program for their states, most of the meat went to Utah and Huntsville.

United Launch Alliance, with its assembly plant in Decatur, got the bone.

The ranking Republican member of the committee that wrote the budget authorization that would effectively exclude ULA from participating in the development of a heavy-lift rocket was Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

The article reports that the bill's specifications for the heavy-lift rocket assure its solid rocket motors would be made in Utah, represented by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Each ingredient in this rocket recipe protects some contractor, most significantly Utah-based Alliant Techsystems Inc., known as ATK.

A press release issued by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, makes the political goal clear.

"Industry experts, whom Hatch has consulted with, say the payload requirements can only be realistically met by using solid-rocket motors, which are made in Utah," the release explained to Hatch’s constituents.

The article notes that Jeff Sessions (R-Mobile), Alabama's other senator, had no idea who ULA is. "ULA officials met with him in an effort to educate him about the company’s space capabilities," according to the article.

Shameful. And shameless.

This is why I think it's so important to grow commercial access to Low Earth Orbit.

Every pundit will offer you their theory for why Constellation fell behind schedule and ran over budget. But let's look at more authoritative and objective sources.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office in August 2009 issued a report titled, "Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case Is Established." The GAO cited funding shortfalls but also noted the lack of a sound business case.

Progress has been made; however, technical and design challenges are still significant and until they are resolved NASA will not be able to reliably estimate the time and money needed to execute the program. In addition, cost issues and a poorly phased funding plan continue to hamper the program.

The Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine Commission, issued a report in October 2009 that reached similar conclusions.

The current U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that are often admirable, but which do not match available resources ... Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations. Such is the case today. The human spaceflight program, in the opinion of this Committee, is at a tipping point where either additional funds must be provided or the exploration program first instituted by President Kennedy must be abandoned at least for the time being.

In my opinion, we need to get Congress out of the rocket-building process.

Does anyone believe that a couple of Senators from Utah and Alabama know more about how to build a heavy-lift rocket than aerospace engineers?

Whether it's ULA, SpaceX, or some other aerospace company, they know how to build rockets. So do NASA engineers, although many of them are actually contract workers employed by aerospace firms with government contracts.

So long as Congress views NASA as one big trough of slop, we will never have robust American access to space.

And for those who want to blame President Obama, let's point out that all three U.S. Senators named in this article are Republicans who have attacked Obama's proposal to commercialize LEO space access. It's not hard to see why. They want to be sure they control not just the slop, but the whole trough.

There are most certainly Democrats who also view NASA as personal pork. This isn't a partisan issue. The issue is how do we affordably ensure the United States has a domestic option for reaching LEO, no longer having to rely on other nations.

The GAO and the Augustine Commission implicitly pointed the finger at Congress. The only way that will change is to get Congress out of the loop. And the only way that can happen is to go the commercial route.

Under the Obama administration's plan, NASA would put out to bid a specific mission. The bid would include technical specifications the vendor must meet to win the bid, including a rating that their vehicles are safe for humans. The aerospace companies would have designed their own rockets, and would be regulated by NASA to assure they're safe.

But the vehicle designs would be beyond the snouts of Congress.

If Congress wins and dictates the design of the next-generation heavy-lift vehicle, it will meet the same demise as Constellation — which will ironically hasten the day that commercial will take over the bulk of launch capabilities. But a lot more tax dollars will be wasted until that day arrives.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon

The excellent Space Politics blog has a couple articles by publisher Jeff Foust on the latest maneuvering by the House and Senate to craft a final NASA funding bill for FY 2011. Click on the links for Jeff's September 9 and September 10 postings.

Referenced among the posted comments are links to two opinion articles worth a read.

"NASA's Constellation Hallucination and the Congressional Money Drug" was written by Rick Tumlinson and posted Friday on The Huffington Post. Tumlinson is co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation which, according to its web site, "was created in 1988 by a group of space community leaders who were dedicated to opening the space frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible. These individuals had worked for years—some professionally and some as volunteers—in space research, policy and public outreach."

Tumlinson's article begins:

In the coming weeks some in Congress will try to kill America's future in space as they desperately work to prop up the tax sucking, pork eating dreamslaying monster known as the Constellation rocket program. Right now a bought and paid for cabal of hypocritical puppets in the House and Senate are trying to prop up this corpse of a dead end plan to go to the Moon and Mars that not only failed to deliver on President Bush's promise of a permanent U.S. presence in space, but continues to eat the budgets of the very exploration it was meant to support.

Aerospace engineer Rand Simberg of the Transterrestrial Musings blog published an article on National Review Online titled "Space Pork and Astronaut Nepotism".

While some congressmen were bemoaning the supposed “end of U.S. human spaceflight,” an authorization bill was proposed in the House that would essentially force NASA to resurrect the Ares program (though still without enough funding to successfully execute it). The House bill also slashes the requested budget for paying commercial companies to deliver astronaut crews into orbit. If passed, this bill would effectively extend for years our dependency on the Russians to keep the space station running, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars not available to our own space industry. (It would also force the U.S. government to continue to waive Russia’s responsibilities under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, or INKSNA.)

UPDATE 10:45 AM EDTAviation Week reports that "U.S. human spaceflight could take off in any direction as lawmakers buckle down to a high-pressure pre-election session before fleeing Capitol Hill for the mid-term elections, including deciding whether to begin work on a shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher next year under a new NASA concept."

Having conceded that its original space-policy message was dead on arrival in Congress, the Obama administration is looking for a compromise that tilts toward the Senate authorization language in areas beyond commercial space as well. All four NASA bills in Congress — the two appropriations measures as well as the authorization bills — would fund the agency at $19 billion in Fiscal 2011, so the question becomes how much of its original plan the White House can hope to buy with those funds.

I'll just observe that no Presidential budget proposal flies through Congress intact. As we've seen with the NASA sausage-making, members of Congress freely ignore the President's budget proposal and do what they want, which is often to redirect taxpayer dollars to their home districts.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Free Entry to KSCVC This Weekend for Space Coast Residents

As posted on Florida Today:

Kennedy Space Center's free weekend for Brevard County residents, which doubles as a crucial food drive, launches today.
Through Sunday, a resident with an ID or utility bill can enter the Visitor Complex with up to five guests for free. Visitors are asked to bring at least one nonperishable food item, such as canned goods, per guest.

"Looking at the past couple of years, the economy has been really tough in Brevard County," says spokeswoman Andrea Farmer. "So now, more than ever, is the time as a community that we can help support the Brevard Sharing Centers in this outreach, to make sure that everyone has enough food to eat."

Donations benefit Central Brevard Sharing Center, North Brevard Charities and South Brevard Sharing Center.

More info at the link.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where the Future Began

The Mercury 8 capsule being processed at Hangar S in September 1962. Below is a photo of Hangar S today.

Once upon a time, the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex offered two tours. One was the Red Tour, which took visitors to see the space center itself where Shuttle operations are conducted. The other was the Blue Tour, which was of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Both tours are still available today, but at a cost. It's $41 for admission that includes a shorter version of the Red Tour, but if you want to go see CCAFS you need to pay an additional $21 for what's called Cape Canaveral: Then and Now.

In this economy, and especially for those of us who are unemployed, $62 per person is a steep price to step back into the primordial days of the American human spaceflight program.

The U.S. Air Force Space & Missile Foundation offers a free monthly tour of CCAFS that expands on the old Blue Tour. It's on the second Wednesday of every month, departing from their new Space & Missile History Center just outside the south gate on Highway 401, AKA Samuel C. Phillips Parkway. The tour is arranged by the 45th Space Wing; to make reservations, call (321) 494-5945.

My wife Carol and I took the tour on September 8. We had a couple hiccups — the reservation list wasn't passed along to the tour guides, and the bus didn't show up at 8:45 AM as scheduled — but that allowed plenty of time for the twenty tourists to see the new History Center.

We saw more on this tour than we'd ever seen on the Blue Tour.

The only stop missing on the tour was the historic Mission Control Center used during the Mercury flights. The building was demolished in May 2010 after years of deterioration. The MCC was a stop on the old Blue Tour. Visitors were taken inside the building and allowed to see Mercury Control as it appeared in the early 1960s. Mercury Control was saved and moved over to the KSCVC where it's now on display.

The Mercury Mission Control Center in October 1962. It was recently demolished as the building was declared unsafe.

MCC's demise is history nudging you to take this tour sooner than later. Many of the historic facilities are deteriorating. Why? Because there's no money. CCAFS is a working military base. Money is scarce in the federal budget for historical preservation, which is why the Foundation exists.

In addition to the History Center, the Foundation also operates a Space & Missile Museum on base at Launch Complex 26. This was the launch site for the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958.

LC-26 is the first stop on the tour, where a docent walks you through the facility. It also has a modest gift shop, as does the History Center outside the CCAFS gate near where you boarded the bus.

We were also allowed to go inside the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, which was a first for us. The old Blue Tour only drove past it.

Below are photos shot by Carol on the tour. They tell the story better than just words.

The launch control center inside the Complex 26 blockhouse. The console at the right has the toggle used to "light the candle" on Explorer 1.

A docent discusses the working of a V-2 engine. (Hint — the engine is upside-down.) Originally designed for the Nazi military machine, many V-2s were brought to the United States after the war and some were launched from Cape Canaveral.

A mockup of Alan Shepard's Redstone rocket on the site of its launch from Complex 5-6. Note the rails which were used to roll back the gantry from the rocket.

A titanium memorial to the Mercury 7 astronauts outside Complex 14, where John Glenn's Atlas rocket launched him into orbit. Note the seal near the base; a time capsule was placed with Mercury memorabilia that's not to be opened until 2464.

The launch platform is all that remains of Complex 34, where the three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a fire on January 27, 1967. The tour bus drove past the platform, a privilege not available on the old Blue Tour.

The tour stops at the historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

A look down the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse.

Hangar S as it appears today. In the early 1960s, it was used to process Mercury spacecraft. Today it's used for Shuttle cargo processing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Articles of Interest

NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver suggested last Tuesday that there's much agreement between Congress and the Obama administration on certain NASA budget issues.

I've been rather scarce on this blog in recent weeks.

Not because I have nothing to say. Of course I do. But if you read earlier posts, you know my opinions, and they haven't changed.

I've tried to minimize time at the keyboard because I've had a bad case of tendonitis in my right elbow. Any impact at all, even from typing, only made it worse.

My chiropractor, who has a background in sports medicine, tried various solutions including mild electric stimulation. (I kept thinking of the scene in the classic Frankenstein movie where the monster is shocked into life ...)

He also suggested I try a cold pack. I bought the CVS Pharmacy frozen peas cold pack and it helped a lot. It's not literally peas, just globs of gel shaped like peas. I wrapped it onto the elbow and the irritation subsided.

What didn't work was a Comfort Gel Pack. It wasn't the manufacturer's fault. I found it in our freezer, left behind by a relative who'd stayed with us temporarily and had a bad back. It was much larger, so I thought, "Let's give this a try!"

Bad idea.

I didn't put any insulation between the gel pack and my skin, so it gave me frostbite!

Although I bragged to my chiropractor that I must be the only person in Florida with frostbite in August, he said it's a common mistake he sees in his patients all the time. The Peas never caused the problem. Only the Gel Pack. Go figure.

I'm at the point where I can type again, so let's catch up on what's new in the news affecting the space business in the Space Coast.

Jeff Foust's excellent Space Politics blog reports the Obama administration and Congress may be about to reach a settlement on the FY 2011 NASA budget. Jeff cites a speech given August 31 by NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver to the AIAA Space 2010 conference in Anaheim.

Click here to read Garver's prepared remarks.

Through the proposed budget, the President is encouraging us to really think hard about where we want to be in a generation, which is the basic foundation of our budget request, not just the next five years. To move beyond our vehicle-driven approach to think in broader terms about the capabilities we need in order to do a wide range of things and serve a wider range of people — from other government users of space to our international partners, industry, academia and the private citizen.

Let me be clear — we drive capabilities by doing missions … and a lot remains the same about what we want to accomplish in space. The means are the discussion now, not whether or not we should be exploring, but rather a focus on expanding our capabilities. It wasn’t that long ago that we were debating whether we would have human space flight at all. Now we are discussing how we are going to do human space flight, but whether or not we will do human space flight at all is no longer a question.

Later in the speech, Garver said NASA is going through "philosophical changes" and then commented:

There will always be a government role to buy down risk, push the
technology envelope and open new markets, but then get out of the way.

The government should always be at the leading edge of what’s next, but it’s going to be up to established and emerging companies to carry the ball forward.

Apparently there were questions afterward or off-the-cuff comments, cited in Foust's article. He quoted Garver as saying that all four NASA-related funding bills drifting around Congress agree to increase the agency's funding as requested by the Obama administration. They've also agreed to extend the International Space Station beyond its 2015 demise planned under the Constellation program, and they will increase funding for earth sciences.

But the Obama administration won't budge on its critical issues. "We clearly still have priorities like fully funding the commercial crew element of the budget, like fully funding our technology portion of the budget," Garver said. Those elements are essential to a sustainable, affordable program.

The administration also remains opposed to Congress dictating the technology of the next heavy-lift vehicle, as reported by Space Politics on August 15. As reported by Foust:

"We don’t feel that the best way to make those technical decisions is at the level of political leadership" but instead where the technical expertise resides at NASA and in industry. Political leadership, she said, can instead drive the “figures of merit” for such a system, such as affordability.

Five-time Shuttle astronaut Dr. Jeff Hoffman is one of seven former astronauts to sign a letter supporting the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Space Politics also reported on a letter signed by thirty people, including fourteen Nobel laureates and seven former astronauts, that asks Congress to restore funding for key elements of the FY2011 NASA budget proposal. The letter was sent to the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee.

To quote from the front page:

... Human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit can only be truly sustainable and affordable if commercial spaceflight to low Earth orbit and innovative research and development efforts are pursued as well.

Space News reports that SpaceX is modifying its flight software in anticipation of its second Falcon 9 launch, which will be from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The article quotes a SpaceX spokeswoman as saying the company has asked to reserve the launch range for October 23 — which, I will note, is my birthday. Thanks for the present, Elon. I promise not to blow out the candle.

An August 16 article on The Space Review suggests that the SpaceX Merlin engine may be "the workhorse of future spaceflight." Author Stewart Money wrote:

In selecting one basic engine to be used throughout its family of launch vehicles (with the exception of the Falcon 1 second stage Kestrel engine), SpaceX engineers contained both design and production costs as opposed to alternative approaches. An equally important aspect of the single-engine strategy for SpaceX, however, is that it allows for a rapid buildup in experience base, as ten engines are utilized in each Falcon 9 flight. Assuming that both its current manifest holds, and recovery and reuse are still a number of years in the future, SpaceX is going to fly in excess of 200 Merlin engines in the next five years alone. If recovery and reuse efforts are ultimately successful, SpaceX will have afforded itself the nearly unique opportunity to examine and refine engines post-flight with an eye towards future improvements. Quite simply, the Merlin engine is on track to become one of the most frequently flown and well-understood engines of the space age.

The Space Review reported August 23 on the Defense Department's annual report on Chinese military power. According to author Dwayne Day, these reports have typically included a section on the Chinese space program but have been inconsistent from year to year. One matter, however, is quite clear:

Both the 2009 and 2010 versions mention that China’s human space program has the goal of developing a permanently-manned space station by 2020 (and no mention about China landing a man on the Moon in the next decade, an occasionally-repeated claim made by some media sites and bloggers, for which there is no evidence).

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin (second from left) at the future site of their Far East launch center.

Russia, meanwhile, is moving ahead with plans to build a new space center in their Far East. Their current launch facility at the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome is in the republic of Kazakhstan, which declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians want a new and modern facility on their own soil. (Imagine if Kennedy Space Center had been built in Panama back when the U.S. still owned the canal ...) The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin:

"The creation of a new space center … is one of modern Russia’s biggest and most ambitious projects," Putin went on. "It will give us the opportunity not only to confirm Russia’s leading technological status … but will give hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young specialists the chance to prove their talents."

The Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget would spend $2 billion over the next five years to modernize KSC and CCAFS.

Aviation Week reports that "U.S. Air Force space launch activity is in the midst of an unprecedented ramp-up" as five new systems are scheduled for introduction during the next 12 to 18 months. The article cites launches planned from Vandenberg AFB in California, Kodiak Island in Alaska and Wallops Island, Virginia. No mention of CCAFS.

In closing ... SpaceFlightNow.com reports that it remains unclear whether an extra Shuttle launch can be planned for 2011. If Congress doesn't pass the FY 2011 NASA budget by the end of 2010, the program may run out of money.

And now it's time to go put frozen peas on my elbow.