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 ... 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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Stephen!

    Your birthday is 10/23 too? Kewl!

    I'm currently planning to be in town for the Discovery launch on 11/1, on my way to the Keys. Hope we can cross paths while I'm there.