Saturday, April 30, 2011

Air Force Optimistic About Commercial Space Future

An article in the Business section of the April 29 Florida Today quotes a Patrick Air Force Base officer as bullish on the future of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station thanks to the arrival of commercial space.

After the shuttle takes its final flight, the Space Coast will still hear the familiar rocket rumble — and reap some economic benefits — thanks to unmanned space launches.

That's the outlook from Col. James Ross, vice commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base ...

Ross said SpaceX and other commercial companies will play a bigger role in the post-shuttle economy.

"In addition to Space X, we have other commercial companies who are seeking us, interested in coming to the Cape," he said. "A couple are really close to coming to the Cape, and I can't really tell who they are, but I can honestly say, we're going to be busy, and we're going to be even busier (in the future)."

That last comment echoes what I've heard through other channels, that other commercial vendors are poised to join SpaceX, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin at CCAFS.

NASA Finds Its Voice

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden authored an editorial that appeared Friday in Florida Today.

An editorial in the April 29 Florida Today by NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden appears to be part of a new media offensive by the space agency.

Taking advantage of increased public attention due to the STS-134 mission and pending retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA held a media event on April 28 to promote Commercial Crew Development, which will produce the next generation vehicle to take U.S. astronauts into Low Earth Orbit.

The entire press conference is available on YouTube:

Bolden's editorial was published the next day.

The administrator wrote:

By facilitating the development of a commercial capacity for crew and cargo access to low-Earth orbit, we help create high-tech, high-paying jobs and contribute to a dynamic economy.

And while NASA’s needs are met, the potential is enormous for this sector to expand into other activities, with other customers, and become a job-creating engine for decades to come.

NASA has established the Commercial Crew Program Office at KSC to manage the commercial space activities that will be critical to the nation’s future spaceflight. This effort includes $4.25 billion over five years for the development of commercial crew systems, including $850 million in the president’s budget request for next year.

As the private sector ramps up its capabilities, NASA will do what it does best — focus on the next big goal.

We’ll invest in high-payoff, high-risk technology that industry cannot tackle today. As we mature technology for NASA’s future missions, we’ll provide capabilities and lower costs for other government and commercial space activities. As we progress, we’ll build toward an ever more challenging array of destinations.

Two days earlier, on April 27, the government's Voice of America web site published an article titled, "U.S. Space Program Goes Commercial." It leads with both STS-134 and the approaching anniversary on May 5 of Alan Shepard's historic Mercury program launch.

Fifty years after a Redstone rocket carried the first American astronaut, Alan Shephard, into space, NASA is getting out of the business of sending astronauts on missions using its own spacecraft. Instead, the U.S. space agency will rely on privately designed and owned rockets to ferry cargo and crew to the orbiting International Space Station.

The commercially built space vehicles are expected to be every bit as powerful and reliable as those operated by NASA, but they’ll cost American taxpayers far less. One company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, has signed a $1.6 billion deal with NASA for 12 unmanned delivery flights to the space station.

The offensive doesn't seem to have penetrated the mainstream media.

A search of several newspaper and media web sites failed to find an article about the press conference. I checked The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post but found no article.

The same goes for CNN and Fox News, although I did find this buried at the bottom of an MSNBC article:

After the shuttles retire, NASA will have to depend on Russian, European and Japanese transports to get supplies to the space station — at least until next year, when U.S. commercial cargo flights are due to begin. NASA hopes that commercial crew transports will become available starting in the middle of this decade.

Earlier this month, NASA said it would pay up to $269.3 million to four companies — Blue Origin, the Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX — to work on those future spaceships. Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada's executive vice president, said he saw the program as a "bridge" between the shuttle era and the next stage of human spaceflight.

"I don't see it as an end," he told reporters. "I see it as the beginning of the next step."

Tens of thousands of space enthusiasts have descended on the Space Coast for the STS-134 launch. My experience is only anecdotal, but I've found that most of them have never heard about Commercial Crew Development, about SpaceX and the other CCDev competitors, or that NASA will send astronauts to the International Space Station through at least 2020. All they know is that just two Shuttle flights are left, and after that they're unaware.

Once I inform them about all this — and, to be fair, the Space Launch System ordered by Congress — they're very enthusiastic, yet somewhat astonished.

One tourist today who was a self-described space enthusiast told me, "I didn't know about any of this."

This week's NASA media blitz is a welcome start, but it appears they still have a long way to go. It may take launching new rockets with capsules and people aboard to penetrate the mainstream media's apathy.

The Bully Pulpit

An odd editorial in Thursday's Florida Today demands that President Obama "use the bully pulpit of his office" to force Congress to increase NASA funding.

The leadership starts at the White House, where the president should use the bully pulpit of his office to raise the agency’s profile as a part of his correct agenda to invest in research, technology and education to advance the nation’s economy in the 21st century.


Just how he would do this is left unsaid in the editorial.

The "bully pulpit" is a myth. A cursory read of the U.S. Constitution shows that legislative power lies with Congress, not the President.

I expect better of the Florida Today editorial writers, whose job is to have a mastery of politics so they can intelligently comment on current events.

One could argue that Florida Today also has a "bully pulpit" in that their paper is distributed throughout Brevard County and read around the world thanks to the Internet. Yet despite the many articles the paper has published about the true history of how the Space Shuttle program was cancelled by President Bush in January 2004, they still publish letters to the editor from people claiming it was Obama.

The editorial correctly notes that commercial space will reduce the "gap" in which the United States will rely upon Russia to reach the International Space Station — another 2004 political decision still inaccurately blamed on Obama.

The other half of the equation involves Capitol Hill, where members are refighting last year’s battle that resulted in bipartisan passage of the NASA Authorization Act.

The legislation mandated a two-track approach to human spaceflight: Using private rockets as space taxis to ferry crews to the International Space Station, and developing a NASA-led heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft for deep-space missions.

To that end, the president’s fiscal year 2012 budget calls for spending $18.7 billion on NASA. That includes $850 million for commercial companies and $1.8 billion for heavy-lift, which has set off another round of warfare as members contest for job-creation dollars the projects would bring in their districts.

We believe it’s the right mix.

Commercial firms stand the best chance of closing the post-shuttle flight gap and could have manned spacecraft ready to fly from Cape Canaveral in 2015. Meanwhile, the heavy-lift program, facing concerns about delays and cost overruns, should be made to meet its scheduled 2016 completion date.

Congress should stop the bickering and get behind the plan it passed. With the last shuttle flight just two months away, time is wasting to the detriment of the cause.

As the editorial concludes, the author veers back into "bully pulpit" territory.

I wrote on Wednesday about Congress killing Obama's jobs program for the Space Coast. The editorial comments:

... The president promised the Space Coast $40 million in seed money for local economic development projects during his visit to KSC last year. But the money was killed during GOP-led budget cutting negotiations for fiscal year 2011 that nearly shut down the government.

The Commerce Department was ready to make the awards and Obama — along with Congress, especially members from Florida — owes it to the Space Coast to get the badly needed funds reinstated and passed.

Again ... It's left unsaid how Obama is supposed to make the Republican majority in the House of Representatives restore funding for the Space Coast jobs program. Brevard County, and the area around KSC in particular, heavily leans Republican. It's not uncommon to see "Impeach Obama" bumper stickers around here. Republicans Sandy Adams and Bill Posey, the two local representatives in the House, voted for budget bills this year that cut NASA funding, including this jobs program. If the Republicans have no interest in helping the jobless in Republican Brevard County, and under the Constitution the budget is controlled by Congress, just how is Obama supposed to make Congress do otherwise?

The Florida Today editorial writers are capable of better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Congress Kills Obama's Jobs Plan for Space Coast

Shortly after his visit to Kennedy Space Center in April 2010, President Obama directed the creation of a Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development. Its objective was to create "an interagency action plan to facilitate economic development strategies and plans along the Space Coast and to provide training and other opportunities for affected aerospace workers so they are equipped to contribute to new developments in America's space program and related industries."

The report was issued on August 15, 2010. The U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration (EDA) issued a request for applications from entities interested in funding to create jobs in the Space Coast.

Nothing has been heard since then. I asked around and was told the $40 million was held up by Congress as it dawdled halfway through the federal 2011 fiscal year, which had a budget but no funding. As you probably know, Congress issued a series of continuing resolutions that continued funding for existing programs.

Last week, I e-mailed a representative of the EDA to check the program's status. He replied:

The Space Coast RIC grant competition is on hold until an official determination has been made regarding funding by Congress, and the Atlanta Regional Office has been notified by Washington. At that point EDA will be contacting all of the applicants to provide an update.

Florida Today now reports that "Congress cut the agency's budget in mid-April for the rest of fiscal 2011."

Obama had proposed $35 million in Commerce Department grants to spur creation of high-paying jobs in fields such as aeronautics and medical research, to replace some of the thousands of lost shuttle jobs. Commerce officials had reviewed grant applications and were prepared to act on them months ago.

Obama also proposed giving the Federal Aviation Administration $5 million to develop regulations for commercial spaceflight at Kennedy Space Center, another source of regional jobs ...

The administration has taken several other steps to help shuttle contractors find new jobs. Brevard Workforce, a private employment agency, got $15 million in an emergency grant for this year and next year for training and job-finding assistance (the services are outlined at

"We could not have done this without the national emergency grant behind us.” said Lisa Rice, president of Brevard Workforce. She said 4,100 resumes were posted on a state job-hunting website.

Commercial Spaceflight Press Conference April 28 at Kennedy Space Center

The below press release was sent by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

As President Obama Marks Final Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, Nation Looks to Commercial Space for the Future

Press Conference with Winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program to Take Place at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on Thursday, April 28

Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Wednesday, April 27, 2011 – As President Obama and Americans nationwide honor the historic accomplishments of the retiring Space Shuttle, an exciting new era of commercial spaceflight is being readied. Tomorrow morning NASA will hold a press conference at Kennedy Space Center with commercial space pioneers.

“Once the Space Shuttle retires this year, the next vehicle to carry astronauts into space from Florida’s Space Coast will be a commercial spacecraft – and this marks a historic change, perhaps the biggest in NASA's fifty-year history,” said Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

America’s space program received a huge boost earlier this month when NASA awarded $269 million in competitive agreements to four pioneering commercial space companies who are developing the capability to take crews to low Earth orbit commercially: Blue Origin, The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX. The program will create thousands of jobs across the United States, including a significant number in Florida. Company executives and senior NASA officials will be participating in a press conference at Kennedy Space Center at 11 am EDT on Thursday, April 28.

What: Press conference with winners of NASA’s $269M Commercial Crew Development Program
Where: NASA Kennedy Space Center press auditorium, also carried live on NASA TV and online:
When: 11am Eastern Daylight Time, Thursday, April 28
- Rob Meyerson, President and Program Manager, Blue Origin
- John Elbon, VP and Program Manager Commercial Crew Transportation, the Boeing Company
- Mark Sirangelo, Chairman, Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems
- Garrett Reisman, Senior Engineer, SpaceX and former NASA Astronaut
- Phil McAlister, Acting Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development, NASA Headquarters
- Ed Mango, Program Manager of Commercial Crew Program, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Bretton Alexander continued, “These private companies are building and testing real spaceships that will inaugurate a whole new kind of space race.” Alexander added, “NASA's Commercial Crew Program is on par with the government Airmail Act that spurred the growth of early aviation and led to today’s passenger airline industry, which generates billions of dollars annually for the American economy.”

“Commercial spaceflight is about innovation, inspiration and jobs,” noted Eric Anderson, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “We’re at the forefront of major innovation, and the commercial spaceflight industry can serve as an example to the world of the power of American entrepreneurship.”

Anderson added, “We are really at the threshold of something truly transformative. We’ve seen numerous markets open ranging from NASA missions and space tourism, to scientific research.”

John Gedmark, Executive Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation stated, “Commercial spaceflight is a great deal for the American taxpayer. NASA will no longer have to send money to Russia to buy seats for our astronauts. We can spend that money to create jobs here at home instead.”

Gedmark concluded, “We’ll finally be able to realize the sci-fi future people have been dreaming about, one that inspired an entire generation of dreamers and innovators. People are again imagining a future like we saw in the landmark film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, where private spacecraft offered frequent flights into space. This is going to be one of the most exciting stories of the 21st century, and we are just at the beginning of that story.”

About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at or at 202.349.1121.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Commercial Crew's Final Four

The latest in a number of articles about the recent awards by NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program comes from Jeff Foust writing for The Space Review. Jeff also hosts the Space Politics blog.

Foust writes:

NASA, in its assessment of the proposals, showed a clear preference for complete transportation systems rather than proposed subsystems that "failed to show solid commitments from element providers." A number of proposals were eliminated based on that assessment, including Paragon Space Development Corporation, which won one of the five first-round CCDev awards last year to work on a life support system for crewed spacecraft.

Other companies were cut during the assessment for other reasons, from having major, glaring weaknesses to failing to follow the instructions in the announcement. Also getting cut at this stage was a proposal from USA, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that handles shuttle operations, to study commercial operations of part of the shuttle fleet beyond the scheduled retirement of the orbiters later this year. Without discussing the specifics of the proposal, the NASA source selection document states that it "did not fall within the scope or intent of the CCDev 2 effort," and as a result USA withdrew its proposal last month.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Space Launch System Design Comes Into Focus

A possible design for the Space Launch System. Illustration source: suggests that the Space Launch System may be evolving into a coherent design.

The Space Launch System was ordered by Congress after cancellation of Constellation in 2010. Some critics have dubbed it the "Senate Launch System" as its basic design was dictated by members of the U.S. Senate space subcommittee, implicitly to use contractors and employ voters in their states.

According to the article:

Uncertainty over the configuration of the Space Launch System (SLS) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) may soon come to a close – at least for the interim – with a plan solidifying for using a 70mt Shuttle Derived (SD) HLV to perform a handful of flights, while another “open competition” for the main “Phase 2″ HLV decides on the configuration of the launch vehicle for the Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) missions in the next decade.

Five Vehicles Vie to Replace Space Shuttle

Aviation Week has published on its web site a review of the candidates to replace the retiring Space Shuttle program.

U.S. spacecraft engineers with federal funding will pursue at least five different ways to replace the space shuttle in the next few years, from capsules that harken back to the 1960s to a spaceplane and a vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft that flies to orbit on a reusable booster.

Breakup of the year-long political logjam over funding for NASA this month cleared the way for the agency to announce the next phase of its Commercial Crew Development effort (CCDev-2) and gave Lockheed Martin a clear path to shift its old Orion crew exploration vehicle prime contract over to the new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle effort ordained in the three-year NASA authorization bill President Barack Obama signed last year.

The five vehicles reviewed in the article are:

  • An unnamed vehicle from Blue Origin
  • The Boeing CST-100 capsule
  • The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser
  • The SpaceX Dragon
  • The Lockheed Martin Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (formerly Orion)

The hope is that at least one of these vehicles will be authorized to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by mid-decade.

Phil McAlister, acting director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters and the selecting authority for CCDev-2, says the goal of the CCDev effort is to seed a commercial industry that can fly crews to the ISS by “approximately the mid part of this decade.” The second round is designed to mature designs that have a chance of growing into a full-scale system, which will be addressed in a third round of awards to be covered under an $850 million request for fiscal 2012.

For now, he says, the idea is to use the federal funds—plus the 10-20% the companies are required to post toward the development—to support “significant progress on maturing the design and development of elements of the system” or systems that ultimately will fly, with a conscious effort to back different approaches in a competitive approach.

“I would say at this stage of the game, competition is a very important part of our strategy,” says McAlister. “It incentivizes performance. It incentivizes cost effectiveness. We also believe that having skin in the game is also important.”

How Tycoons Will Fuel Spaceflight

An artist's concept of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser at a space station docking port. Image source: Sierra Nevada via science editor Alan Boyle wrote a lengthy article titled "How Tycoons Will Fuel Spaceflight" that's an excellent overview of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) candidates and how the program works.

It's true that all four companies have received money from the federal government previously, but none of those companies would characterize the payments as "handouts" or "subsidies."

They'd see them instead as payments for services rendered, goods delivered, or milestones achieved along the path that NASA wants them to take. And the $50 million that's been paid out so far under NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev, is dwarfed by the $9 billion paid to commercial providers such as Lockheed Martin for the development of NASA's now-canceled Ares 1 rocket and now-downsized Orion crew capsule.

Although the financial details are hard to come by, it's virtually certain that the four companies have already spent far more than they've received for their spaceship projects. It's also virtually certain that not all four projects will make it into orbit. Because NASA is spreading out its bets, failure is definitely an option.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Russia Says Nyet to SpaceX

According to the RIA Novosti web site, "Russia will not permit the first U.S. commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) unless its safety is fully tested, a high-ranking Russian space official said on Friday."

"We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety [of the spacecraft] is proven. So far we have no proof that those spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety," said Alexei Krasnov, who heads the manned spaceflight department of Russia's space agency Roscosmos.

He said that to authorize docking, the Russian space agency will need to study data about the demonstration flight due to take place later this year.

"We have received no requests from NASA on the issue," the space official said.

"This plan is realistic, and ultimately commercial spacecraft will be able to dock with the space station," he said. "But all in good time."

Just my speculation, but perhaps Roscosmos is as afraid of the commercial space competition posed by SpaceX as is China.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

CNN's Jack Cafferty on Government Space Spending

It's rare for the mainstream media to take note of the space industry's "insider" politics, so it's interesting that CNN commentator Jack Cafferty took the time to write an article about the NASA budget.

Lawmakers from states where NASA and the corporations typically awarded its contracts operate have long pushed for the continuation of space programs, even when they aren't exactly popular. These are states such as Alabama, Maryland, Texas and Utah.

Lawmakers from those states insist their support of projects like this one stems from the overall importance of the U.S. space program, and they say the value goes far beyond job creation in their own states.

But you've got to wonder how much value a trip to the moon can really provide when the growing debt problem is sinking this country to new lows.

The New Space Race

An artist's concept of the SpaceX Dragon crew vehicle in orbit. Image source:

As reported here on Monday, NASA awarded four companies contracts to proceed with the next phase of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

Boeing got the largest amount, $92.3 million, to continue work on the CST-100 crew vehicle.

SpaceX received $75 million to advance development of its launch abort system and crew vehicle.

CCDev hopes to accelerate development of a domestic vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. reliance on Russia's Soyuz craft (a decision made in January 2004 by the Bush administration).

Right now, it appears that SpaceX has a definite lead.

SpaceX made history last December 8 when it launched the Falcon 9 with the Dragon spacecraft. Dragon made two complete orbits before splashing down in the Pacific one mile from its intended target.

In an April 19 press release, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, "With NASA's support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014."

SpaceX plans its second Dragon flight in September. The test crew vehicle would approach the ISS.

Boeing's April 18 press release has this quote:

"We are combining lessons learned and best practices from commercial airplanes, satellites and launch systems with those from human spaceflight programs such as the space shuttle and the International Space Station to design, deliver and fly the CST-100 in 2015," said John Elbon, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Programs.

Bringing up the rear is Orion, the one-time cancelled Constellation crew vehicle kept alive by Congress. According to Aviation Week, "If all goes according to schedule, piloted operations of the Orion could begin as early as 2016, Lockheed Martin says."

The article reports:

Lockheed Martin has cut out an entire test article from the Orion crew exploration vehicle that it is recasting in a new role as deep-space Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), combining test objectives for the remaining articles in an effort to keep the vehicle within the tight schedule set by Congress.

It's not unusual for press releases to engage in a bit of promotional hype. But of the three, only SpaceX has flown its vehicle, and will again soon.

The Politics of Pork has this excellent article about space contractors making campaign contributions to members of Congress to assure they receive NASA contracts.

Boeing spent nearly $18 million on its own lobbying operation in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a government watchdog group. In addition, Boeing hired 19 outside lobbying firms and paid them an additional $3.5 million-plus. Among its outside lobbyists is former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Boeing’s PAC donated more than $2.2 million during the past cycle, including $7,500 to Shelby’s campaign committee, $13,000 to Mikulski’s reelection committee and leadership PAC, $1,000 to Aderholt and $3,500 to Wolf.

Lockheed Martin spent nearly $13 million on in-house lobbying and $3 million on outside lobbyists, including former Rep. Sonny Callahan (D-Ala.). And Bill Inglee, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, is a former vice president at Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin’s PAC shelled out nearly $3.5 million in 2009-10, according to records, with the lawmakers seeking the NASA funding receiving more than $69,000.

Alliant Techsystems, also known as ATK, spent $1.3 million on federal lobbying, according to disclosure reports. Its PAC gave out $28,500 to lawmakers involved in obtaining the new NASA funding, including $15,000 to Shelby, FEC records show.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which is working with ATK on part of the rocket system, is a division of United Technologies, and is itself a major lobbying force — spending $14.5 million in 2010 — with a PAC that dished out nearly $30,000 to members pushing for the NASA money.

Contrast these millions of dollars with the modest campaign contributions made by SpaceX.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

President Obama to Attend STS-134 Launch

Florida Today reports that President Obama will attend the STS-134 launch scheduled for April 29.

The visit will mark Obama's second trip to KSC in the past year. Obama visited KSC on April 15 last year to rollout his new plan for NASA and the U.S. space program.

The Obama administration directed NASA to invest in the development of commercial space taxis to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Space station operations are being extended to at least 2020, and NASA is setting its sights on developing a heavy-lift rocket and a crew exploration vehicle for missions beyond Earth orbit.

UPDATE April 21, 2011 7:30 AM EDTFlorida Today updates that the Obama family will attend the launch on April 29.

The article notes that the President is scheduled to deliver a graduation address that day in Miami at 5:00 PM. Launch time is scheduled for 3:47 PM.

Still no final decision on whether Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will attend. The wounded congresswoman is the wife of STS-134 commander Mark Kelly.

Governor Wants to Take Over Space Florida

An opinion article in Florida Today opposes Florida Governor Rick Scott's plan to take over Space Florida, the agency formed to attract business to the Space Coast.

The governor wants to consolidate the budgets of the state’s economic development and job- creation agencies that operate independently into one super agency, giving him control of as much as $427 million in combined funds to award as he pleases.

That’s too much power in Scott’s hands and raises the prospect of him making arbitrary decisions that hurt, not help, the state.

Monday, April 18, 2011

NASA Announces Winners of CCDev Competition

Blue Origin's Goddard demonstration vehicle in mid-flight above its West Texas launch pad during a test launch on Nov. 13, 2006. CREDIT: Blue Origin.

NASA announced today the winners of the latest round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) competition.

Click here for the NASA press release.

Click here for the report.

Click here for the Florida Today report.

To quote from the NASA press release:

Each company will receive between $22 million and $92.3 million to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft.

The selectees for CCDev2 awards are:
— Blue Origin, Kent, Wash., $22 million
— Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $80 million
— Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $75 million
— The Boeing Company, Houston, $92.3 million

To quote from the article:

The agency's investment in commercial crew development is an attempt to close the gap in human spaceflight following the retirement of the shuttles.

"We're committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "These agreements are significant milestones in NASA's plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration."

The program's second-round awards will be used to mature the companies' commercial crew space transportation system concepts, and further the design and development of the proposed spacecraft and launch vehicles.

Click here to visit NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo web site.

UPDATE April 19, 2011Click here for a more lengthy Florida Today report.

Reporter James Dean wrote:

NASA did not specify when it would open a competition to select the vehicles that will ultimately fly crews, saying plans could be released by late this summer.

Philip McAlister, acting director of the Commercial Spaceflight Development program at NASA headquarters, said the field of competitors also won't be limited to Monday's winners, which did not include any launch vehicle providers.

Among the four finalists that lost out Monday were ULA, which won $6.7 million in the program's first round to work on an emergency detection system, and ATK, which sought to repurpose a solid rocket booster developed under NASA's canceled Constellation program as the first stage of a crew launcher.

The other two were Orbital Sciences Corp., which has a contract to deliver cargo and had proposed a space plane to carry crews, and Excalibur Almaz, which is upgrading old Soviet-designed systems.

Also overlooked Monday was a proposal by lead shuttle contractor United Space Alliance to study the viability of flying the shuttle commercially. has this article which details each of the winning proposals.

A Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser atop an Atlas V. Photo source: has this excellent detailed article as well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SpaceX Confounds Chinese Competition

Aviation Week reports that China's space industry admits it can't compete with SpaceX when it comes to prices.

China’s space industry remains hopeful it can do business with the U.S., despite a renewed chill in relations. But executives at China Great Wall Industry Corp. are finding it hard to believe that California-based Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) is offering lower launch prices than they can ...

Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them.

So much for the allegations by certain politicians that commercial space "cedes our leadership" to China.

Adams and Posey Want to Dictate Where Retired Orbiters Go

Space Coast representatives Sandy Adams (pictured) and Bill Posey want to dictate which locations receive the retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

Space Coast representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey are co-sponsors of legislation that would dictate which locations receive the retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

The legislation would ignore existing law which gave the final decision to the NASA Administrator.

The text of the legislation is not online, but when available it will be here.

Adams and Posey are two of nine co-sponsors of H.R. 1536, titled the Space Shuttle Retirement Act. The bill was introduced by Republican Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz. As with most things Utah, Chaffetz's district is the home of ATK's Space Systems Group. ATK makes the Solid Rocket Boosters used on the Space Shuttle and would have made the first stage on the now-cancelled Ares I.

According to Chaffetz's press release:

NASA was created by Congress in 1958. This federal agency remains under the purview of Congress. Congress has an obligation to determine the retirement location of NASA shuttles, as these American icons are owned by taxpayers.

And yet he fails to acknowledge that Congress already gave that authority to the NASA Administrator.

Chaffetz's press release says the bill would dictate these locations for the orbiters:

* Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas: Shuttle Endeavor [misspelled in the original]

* The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia: Shuttle Discovery

* The California Science Center in Los Angeles, California: Shuttle Enterprise

* The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida: Shuttle Atlantis

H.R. 1536 would seize Endeavour from the California Science Center and give it to Houston. It would then take away Enterprise from the U.S.S. Intrepid museum in New York City and send it as a consolation prize to California.

UPDATE April 15, 2011 1:15 PM EDTFormer NASA flight director and Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale writes why Houston didn't get an orbiter:

Houston didn’t get an orbiter because Houston didn’t deserve it ...

Houston is blasé about the shuttles. Houston and Texas have come to regard NASA and JSC as entitlements. We deserve JSC and the shuttle just because of who we are ...

No disrespect to those who spearheaded the effort to bring the shuttle here, but the response was lackluster. The local politicians gave lip service, some weak letters to the NASA administrator and little else. We got a limp editorial or two in the local newspaper. The movers and shakers downtown barely lifted a finger. Its hard to tell if Austin and the Texas Legislature even knew what was happening. A rally at city hall was poorly attended, too little, too late, and totally ineffective.

You can tell that Texas regards involvement with NASA as an entitlement by the evidence: when was the last time a sitting governor came to JSC? I know the answer: Ann Richards in 1995. When was the last time the Houston mayor bothered to visit JSC? Anybody remember?

Other states have strong programs to bring space investments to their states; Texas has virtually nothing.

UPDATE April 17, 2011A guest commentary on the Houston Chronicle web site by a 20-year Shuttle employee in Houston offers his own observations on why Houston lost:

... {B]ecause there are only a limited number of these pieces, there has to be a way to be "fair" in awarding them, so it's up to the museums to submit the best bid. If a museum wants something, it puts in a bid in accordance with the published rules. If Houston did not get an orbiter, it's because the Space Center Houston bid was not considered good enough. That includes two important factors: facilities and tourism. With limited number of other space artifacts to be distributed (engines, simulators, mockups, etc.), according to the rules made available at the time, the museum had to bid on those too. If Houston did not get a simulator, it's because either the Space Center Houston bid was sub-par or they didn't bid on the item at all. See a pattern developing here? Maybe someone assumed that Houston would automatically get something because it's right next to JSC. But Space Center Houston is a separate entity that does not automatically get JSC's hand-me-downs. How bad could their bid have been that they didn't get anything except a pair of seats?

... [L]ook at what how Space Center Houston displays its already-existing space flight hardware. The last major artifact to be put (back) on display was the restored Saturn V, which used to sit outside in the elements until a restoration was performed. While the conservators did an outstanding job on the restoration, someone did a lousy job on the building that houses it. It's little more than a corrugated tin shack (see photos taken during the construction). If a new, better, more permanent building was to be constructed after the restoration, well, it's been years already. Outside of the rocket itself, the only other things in the building are a wall panel for each of the Apollo missions containing a crew photo, a patch, and a description of the mission.

UPDATE Aparil 17, 2011 — You might want to look at this overview on of the various proposals. You can judge for yourself which were the most dramatic presentations of an orbiter. Houston's proposal looks like they were just going to park an orbiter on the floor. The same with the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton. Neither appears particularly inspired.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Space Race?

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space.

Bloviating politicians recently have claimed that the United States is losing its leadership in space to Russia, China and India.

China has flown only three crewed spaceflights, and never with more than two people. Their last mission, Shenzhou 7, was in September 2008 and lasted only three days. India has never flown humans and won't any time soon.

That leaves only Russia, and it was surprising to learn this week that a Russian space hero thinks her nation is losing its leadership.

Here's the English translation of an interview given on April 11 by Svetlana Savitskaya, a Soviet-era cosmonaut who became the first woman to walk in space.

To quote from the article:

... She can't see any promising projects or big reserves in Russia's space program. The worst thing this astonishingly dedicated woman is upset about is absense of a specific target put for the Russian space industry at present.

Sound familiar?

And here's her comment on the International Space Station:

We've been leaders in space from the first day. And we have been first many times. Later, when the Americans landed on the Moon, they've became leaders no less than ourselves. Today the International Space Station runs mostly on our units and systems, which presence we owe to the work done in Soviet time. The Americans couldn't make a station of their own: in 1992 they were going to launch the Freedom station, spent several billion dollars to assure on the ground that their life support system works, but something went wrong with it. And just then, we collapsed and presented them everything on the dish, asking for no payback. That included our research on long duration flight in zero-G. They are now stopping flying the Shuttle. If we like so, we can now tell we are the only leaders again, because only Russian ships can deliver crews to the ISS.

She suggests a Mars mission is possible by 2025, "working in cooperation with the Americans and the Europeans. But such tasks and targets are missing in our official Space Program."

In a Monday press conference, Savitskaya said the Russian space program has "nothing new to be proud of in the last 20 years" and lamented that "Russia has done virtually nothing to design a replacement to the 43-year old Soyuz spacecraft."

So when Space Coast representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey try to frighten you with the spectre of a new Red Menace, remember the sobering words of Svetlana Savitskaya.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Major Changes Planned for KSCVC

KSCVC before construction of the Shuttle Launch Experience.

Florida Today reports that the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will undergo major renovations along with its receipt of the orbiter Atlantis.

Read the article for details.

UPDATE April 14, 2011 6:15 AM EDTFlorida Today reports the projected impact of an Atlantis exhibit on the local economy:

Initial estimates by the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast put the economic impact at $12 million a year if the Atlantis exhibit boosts visitor complex attendance by 150,000 a year, and $14 million annually if attendance there increases by 250,000 a year. Those figures include both spending by visitors and the impact of the 46 permanent jobs the attraction will create.

Officials with the company that runs the Visitor Complex estimate an attendance boost of about 225,000 — or 15 percent.

The visitor complex received a 12 percent attendance increase after the Shuttle Launch Experience simulator opened in 2007.

An artist's concept of the Atlantis exhibit. Image source: Florida Today.

UPDATE April 18, 2011Florida Today interviews KSC Visitor Complex CEO Bill Moore about plans to renovate for Atlantis.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shuttle Winners Announced; Losers Threaten Investigations

Democratic U.S. Senator from Ohio Sherrod Brown says he'll have
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden investigated for not giving his state an orbiter.

Atlantis to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. Endeavour to the California Science Center in Exposition Park in downtown Los Angeles. Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

CNN has an overview, along with many other web sites.

Florida Today reports the losers are already threatening political retaliation against NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.

Lawmakers from states that weren’t named on Tuesday to receive a retired space shuttle threatened investigations and said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden didn’t follow the law ...

Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas noted — as she has many times recently in pushing for her state to get a shuttle — that federal law says locations with a historic relationship to the space program should get first dibs on a retired shuttle.

"I just fail to believe that the law was followed," Hutchison said. "I'm very disappointed."

Tuesday’s announcement also came as a major let-down to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio ...

Brown said he’ll ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate what he called the lack of geographic diversity in the winning cities, all located near a coast.

Houston Chronicle reporter Eric Berger claims partisan politics were to blame.

... I'm not sure any campaign could have saved Houston. The politics of this decision were pretty clear. President Obama appoints the NASA administrator, and Texas is a decidedly Republican state.

"It is sad and unfortunate that politics played such an obvious role in the placement of theses retiring Orbiters," said Texas Congressman John Culberson. "The thought of an Orbiter not coming home to rest at Space Center Houston is truly tragic. It is analogous to Detroit without a Model-T, or Florence without a da Vinci."

The problem with this theory is that Florida, which received Atlantis, has an overwhelmingly Republican state legislature, and one of its two U.S. Senators is also a Republican.

UPDATE 8:15 PM reports that "Five members of the Ohio congressional delegation are calling for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of how the locations — three on the east coast, one on the west coast, none in the center of the country — were chosen."

In a letter to the head of GAO, Brown and four Ohio Representatives — Marcy Kaptur, Michael Turner, Steve Austria, and Steve LaTourette — asked for a "review of the policies and practices" of NASA and the Smithsonian Institution's "disposition of the shuttle program related property." The letter cites language in the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts stipulating how the process was to be carried out.

Kaptur is a Democrat. Turner, Austria and LaTourette are Republicans.

Pork is a bipartisan pastime.

Similar political intimidation was attempted in June 2010 when certain members of Congress accused Bolden of illegally terminating Constellation and demanded he be investigated by the GAO. The report issued a month later concluded the charges were baseless.

UPDATE 8:30 PM EDTThe Cleveland Plain Dealer adds this arrogant quote from Senator Brown:

"NASA ignored the intent of Congress and the interests of taxpayers," Brown said in a press statement. "NASA was directed to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations. Unfortunately, it looks like regional diversity amounts to which coast you are on, or which exit you use on I-95. Even more insulting to taxpayers is that having paid to build the shuttles, they will now be charged to see them at some sites."

UPDATE April 13, 2011 5:15 AM EDTAdd Republican congressman Michael McCaul from Texas to the list of losers demanding an investigation. To quote from his own press release:

"It is truly shameful that the Obama administration has snubbed a city that has supported the Space Shuttle Program like no other. Houston is home to a generation of astronauts, scientists and engineers at the Johnson Space Center who have guided every shuttle mission and who have personally grieved the loss of friends and family who gave their lives in the name of space exploration. On this historic day their unmatched contributions are ignored in favor of two states, New York and California, whose investment in America's space program pales in comparison."

Congressman McCaul is requesting a hearing before the Science, Space and Technology Committee to investigate the administration's decision-making process.

Apaprently McCaul knows little about the history of "America's space program." The Shuttle was designed and built in Southern California, and during its early years landed most of the time at Edwards Air Force Base. Before that, North American Aviation in Downey built the Apollo command and service module and the second stage of the Saturn V rocket. Claiming that California has little "investment in America's space program" undermines his heated rhetoric.

The Space Politics web site has more.

UPDATE April 13, 2011 6:30 AM EDTAdd Oklahoma's Republican U.S. Senator James Inhofe to the chorus of boos. From his press release:

"The vastly imaginative minds that sent our nation into space failed to think outside the box with today’s decision that appears grounded in politics," said Inhofe. "I am extremely proud of the team at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum who put together a great plan. The costs associated with the shuttle would have been steep, but ever since I was mayor, we have declared Tulsa the aviation capital, and this would have certainly enhanced that. Tulsa’s plan would have made the shuttle orbiter the centerpiece of an ambitious education effort for the entire central region of the United States. Today’s announcement is indeed disappointing."

Show of hands ... All of you who, when you think of the Space Shuttle, the first place that comes to mind is Tulsa.

UPDATE April 15, 2011CNN reports the Texas House delegation in Congress is "prepared to use their power in Congress, 'including legislation to prevent funding of the transfer, to stop this wasteful decision.'"

Of course, if they had such "power," perhaps they wouldn't have lost.

Let's do some basic math ... Number of representatives by state:

California: 53
New York: 29
Florida: 25
Texas: 32

So that's 107 delegates from winning states, 32 delegates from Texas, and only 17 of the 32 signed the threatening letter.

Don't expect this latest threat to go very far.

Sources: KSCVC to Get Atlantis

The crew of STS-132 pose with Atlantis after landing at Kennedy Space Center on May 26, 2010.

Florida Today cites "several sources" confirming that the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex will receive the orbiter Atlantis.

NASA chief Charles Bolden is expected to announce today that space shuttle Atlantis will be put on permanent display on the Space Coast after its retirement.

Several NASA sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Monday that Atlantis is headed to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Bolden's announcement is scheduled for 1 p.m. in front of the hangar, known as Orbiter Processing Facility-1, where Atlantis is being prepared for the fleet's final flight, targeted for June 28.

UPDATE 8:00 AM EDTFlorida Today has this slightly updated article online.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whither Human Spaceflight

The Space Review has this excellent essay by Jeff Foust about the future of human spaceflight.

Jeff writes about "fundamental forces driving human spaceflight policy" to alter the model of competition begun a half-century ago by the so-called Space Race with the Soviet Union.

One of those forces is the simple fact that the Cold War is over. That competition between the United States and the Soviet Union kickstarted human spaceflight, as both countries poured massive resources into their respective programs in a quest to rack up a series of firsts and demonstrate their overall technological superiority. The momentum built up in the early years of the Space Age carried over into the following decades, shaping decisions like the development of the space shuttle and space station, and even, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War’s end, bringing Russia into the project so that its engineers could work on peaceful space projects rather than missiles for Third World nations.

However, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the momentum that propelled human spaceflight efforts has been spent. The International Space Station is now effectively complete, and the shuttle is now nearing its retirement. Cooperation with — even reliance on, in terms of human access to the station — Russia is now the order of the day. Efforts over the last several years to build up China as a new competitor with the United States in human spaceflight have failed to gain traction, perhaps because the Chinese government does not appear to be particularly interested in racing the United States to the Moon or elsewhere. While China does have plans for space stations and perhaps, much farther in the future, human missions to the Moon, their program has been proceeding at almost a glacial pace: the last crewed Chinese spaceflight, Shenzhou 7, was two and a half years ago.

Jeff concludes:

Debates over the future of human spaceflight, particularly NASA’s role in it, will continue for years to come. While the overall outcome of those debates remains to be seen, one thing is certain: the next 50 years of human spaceflight will, by necessity, be very different from the first 50.

Extending the ISS

A top view of the International Space Station. (Or bottom view, depending on your perspective.)

Florida Today reports the federal Government Accountability Office has concluded that NASA is properly managing the ISS so that its use can be extended to at least 2020.

Their findings:

Finding 1

• NASA is using analytical techniques, physical tests, and inspections to assess primary structures and functional systems, to the extent possible, and determine sparing needed to support safe functioning and full scientific utilization of the ISS through 2020. NASA is confident that it can execute necessary functioning and utilization; however, the supporting assessments for primary structures and functional systems are ongoing and
all results are not yet available.

Finding 2

• NASA’s assessment of the essential spares necessary to assure continued operations through 2020 appears to be supported by sufficient, accurate, and relevant underlying data. We found, however, that estimates of essential spares are sensitive to NASA’s assumptions about ORU reliability.

Click here to read the entire report. Adobe Acrobat Reader required.

In ISS-related news, Aviation Week reports that the ISS may be used to simulate a long-duration mission to Mars.

Front-line International Space Station (ISS) managers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) are inserting a week-long partial simulation of a deep-space exploration mission into regular station planning for next summer, using the orbiting laboratory as an analog for a long-distance spaceship.

Under a program called ISS as a Testbed for Analog Research (Istar), the exploration, space station and mission operations organizations at JSC are using some in-house programs to see how well the station will work as a stand-in for a long-duration vehicle en route to Mars or an asteroid.

Exploration planners have submitted a list of five early experiments, in preparation for more extensive simulations later on that might even include a sealed-off module where a subset of a six-member station crew might be isolated for more realistic tests. But to start, the planners believe they can allocate about 35 hr. in a normal week of station operations for analog work, with the rest of the time going to routine maintenance and other activities that might interfere.

According to Pete Hasbrook, an ISS increment manager at JSC, planners are already working the requirements for a simulated communications delay that would begin to reveal how a distant exploration crew would communicate with Earth. Details are just emerging, but it would probably involve a 10-min. lag.

You might also enjoy this February 2011 presentation by ISS program scientist Julie Robinson to the Outreach Seminar on the ISS at the United Nations in February 2011. It includes several significant discoveries already made thanks due to ISS research, so when someone falsely claims the ISS hasn't accomplished anything, you can use this report as refutation.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

KSCVC Considered a Favorite for Orbiter

An artist's concept of an orbiter on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex.

Two articles on the Florida Today web site suggest the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex will receive one of the soon-to-be retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

Local business leaders were told by a senior NASA official that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will bring "good news for Florida."

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Chief Operating Officer Bill Moore said: "It's almost inconceivable" that NASA would not select KSC as a site for a retired shuttle. But he added that he has no inside knowledge of Bolden's decision.

Moore said Bolden is basing its decision on three main criteria: the location should have a significant relationship to the shuttle program, have a strong educational component and promise a significant number of visitors.

Robert Pearlman, the publisher of, thinks KSCVC will receive Endeavour.

Pearlman, who is based in Houston, said it is presumed that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington will get fleet leader Discovery.

Pearlman sees the KSC Visitor Complex as the "clear favorite" for one of the shuttles, with four other sites as leading contenders for the other. Those include: the Air Force museum near Dayton; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City; Johnson Space Center in Houston; and The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Bolden is scheduled to be at KSC on April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch, to announce the fate of the retired orbiters.

Enterprise, the prototype orbiter, may also go elsewhere. The National Air and Space Museum currently has Enterprise but is expected to send it elsewhere should they receive Discovery.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Controversial Study Creates Commercial Firestorm

As reported by Space News, a study by the Aerospace Corp. concluded NASA "could pay up to $20 billion over 15 years to foster private development and operation of a single, viable commercial crew transportation system."

According to the federally funded research group’s findings, presented Feb. 28 to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Associate Administrator Christopher Scolese, the agency’s out-of-pocket cost to ferry astronauts between Earth and the international space station aboard privately developed space taxis could exceed $100 million per seat — significantly more than the agency currently pays to fly astronauts to the orbiting outpost aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a response to the study, citing several alleged flaws in the methodology. Click here to download an Adobe Acrobat Reader version of the report.

The Space News article cited an undated Aerospace Corp. memo which said that "the analysis was merely intended to develop a modeling tool that could be applied to a variety of data."

"The results shown to NASA and Congress recently were not intended to represent any specific real world scenario," the company said in a memo obtained by Space News. "We modeled a scenario utilizing data from as long as 10 months ago in order to demonstrate the tool’s viability, not the viability of any specific commercial crew transportation system."

Despite the dubious reliability of the study, expect the advocates for perpetuating a government monopoly on space access to use this report to validate their agenda.

SpaceX Announces Falcon 9 Heavy Plans

An artist's conception of the Falcon 9 Heavy. Photo source: SpaceX.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk held a press conference yesterday in Washington, D.C. to announce the Falcon 9 Heavy, the self-proclaimed "world's most powerful rocket."

Click here to watch the press conference on the SpaceX web site.

Click here to read the Florida Today article on the press conference.

"Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions," Musk said.

According to Florida Today space reporter Todd Halvorson:

A NASA Inspector General Report published in February estimated Falcon 9 launch costs this decade would average $141 million per flight.

But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is staking his reputation on a Falcon Heavy average cost of $100 million per launch, and Falcon 9 launches for $50 million.

"You are hearing it from me directly — this is being recorded — that we will stick to those prices and not go above them except for, you know, inflation and stuff like that," Musk said.

The initial test flight will be at Vendenberg Air Force Base in California. "Then launch operations would shift to Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the company's Falcon 9 already blasts off. The first flight there will be in 2013 or 2014," according to Halvorson.

The initial plan is to build a second hangar at Launch Complex 40 — one erected 90 degrees from the existing Falcon 9 hangar, so both rockets could roll out to the pad there.

Another possibility: Using one of NASA's two shuttle pads at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39. The company is talking to NASA about that option.

One has to wonder who their customer would be, if Congress orders NASA to use the Space Launch System, which was designed by the U.S. Senate during Fiscal Year 2011 deliberations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Something Big" is Here

For a few days now, the SpaceX web site has featured a banner proclaiming:


Click on the banner and you get this YouTube video:

Today is the "big" day, and Spaceflight Now says it's an announcement about the Falcon 9 Heavy rocket.

Named the Falcon Heavy and advertised at $95 million per mission, the liquid-fueled rocket would become the most powerful launcher in the U.S. fleet, eclipsing the peak performance of the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 boosters ...

The Falcon Heavy will be able to lift more than 70,000 pounds to low Earth orbit and 43,000 pounds to geostationary transfer orbit, a destination for international communications satellites.

The 180-foot-tall booster would consist of three first stages derived from SpaceX's medium-lift Falcon 9 rocket bolted together to form a triple-body launch vehicle.

The Falcon Heavy would produce more than 3.3 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, according to a SpaceX information sheet. Launches would occur from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Where at CCAFS would it launch?

SpaceX currently launches the Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 40. If LC-40 can't handle the Heavy version ... well, just up the road is LC-39, where the Shuttles launched.

Would the Falcon 9 Heavy be assembled in the historic Vehicle Assembly Building and rolled to LC-39 on a crawler?

Perhaps we'll find out at today's press conference.

UPDATE April 5, 2011 6:30 PM EDT — As expected, SpaceX announced its plans for the Falcon 9 Heavy. According to Florida Today space reporter Todd Halvorson:

Musk said he expects to launch 10 Falcon 9 flights and 10 Falcon Heavy flights per year — the majority would fly from a converted pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40 or one of NASA's twin shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center ...

A demonstration flight is planned at Vandenberg Air Force Base in early 2013. The first Falcon Heavy rocket will be delivered to the central California launch site by November or December 2012, he said.

Launch operations then will shift to Cape Canaveral because most customers require launches into equatorial orbits, he said.

Florida Today has a brief clip from today's press conference.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Scoring "The Right Stuff"

The Right Stuff is arguably the best film ever made about the early years of the American human space flight program. It's the common frame of reference when lecturing about the subject at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum.

Although a flop at the box office (probably due to its 193-minute running time), it's considered an iconic American film that was widely praised in film reviews. The Right Stuff was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four.

One of those four was for Best Score. Bill Conti's composition was its own character; one can't listen to the music without envisioning human space flight.

The soundtrack, unfortunately, was largely unavailable for many years. A CD version was released in 1990 but only had five tracks; the rest of the disc was Conti music from the TV mini-series North and South. My recollection is that Conti had a dispute with the studio over rights, specifically that some of his music was replaced by other works, such as Holst's The Planets.

Lo and behold, it seems that Varese Sarabende released a 3,000-copy limited edition in 2009 that finally lets us revel in the full soundtrack. It scarcity has driven up its price to ... well, if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

For those of you who want this expanded soundtrack without sacrificing your lifetime savings, I have the solution. has the 2009 soundtrack for $1.68.

No, that's not a typo.

You sign up for the service by providing an e-mail address. You then download the score as MP3 files to your computer. If your PC is capable, you can burn a CD with the score, and you can blare it to your heart's content.

Which I'm doing right now.

NASA Must Cover $548 Million USA Pension Fund Shortfall

Space News reports that "The single biggest check NASA expects to write next year will go to United Space Alliance (USA) to cover a half-billion-dollar shortfall in the space shuttle contractor’s pension fund."

It is not NASA’s fault USA’s pension fund — held in stocks, bonds and other assets company officials said are worth between $600 million and $700 million — has just a little over half of the money it needs to guarantee retirement pay promised to 11,000 past and current employees.

But the U.S. space agency is legally obligated to make up the shortfall, which totaled more than $500 million as of January, because USA operates the shuttle fleet under a cost-reimbursable contract that entitles the company to charge the government for personnel costs, including pay and benefits.

The Obama administration's plan to use commercial crew and cargo services would presumably free NASA of any such future obligations, as the space agency would simply purchase flights to the International Space Station from a private vendor.

Home on the Range

Florida Today reports on the Eastern Range that tracks launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Unlike other operations, the Eastern Range will remain intact after the shuttle program ends. Computer Services Raytheon, a partnership between Computer Sciences Corp. and Raytheon Technical Services Co. with 500 Brevard employees, manages the range with about a $100 million budget, and its contract runs until 2017.

"The flyout of the shuttle program won't have a big impact on most of the work we do because it's the same whether it's a Delta 4, an Atlas 5, a Falcon 9 or a space shuttle," said Michael Maier, CSR vice president and general manager. "We've got some new radars coming on line. We have new communications systems, new weather systems. It's a steady workload going on there."

Date Nears for Orbiter Awards

An artist's conception of an orbiter on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Florida Today reports on the competition to display the retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will announce the decision April 12. Under federal law, it is his decision to make, despite attempts by various members of Congress to influence (i.e. intimidate) him.

The article notes that Bolden will be at KSC that day, the 30th anniversary of the first Shuttle flight. An announcement went out to KSC workers that a barbecue will be held for them that afternoon, attended by KSC Director Bob Cabana. It would seem logical that Bolden would attend that barbecue, but if KSC doesn't receive one of the orbiters he may not have a friendly reception.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Fear Mongering from Space Coast Representatives

Rep. Bill Posey appeared before the House Budget Committee on March 30 to falsely claim that Russia and China have announced plans to colonize the Moon — and "they are not going there to collect and study rocks like we did."

On March 24, Florida Today published an editorial that lambasted Republicans who claim "the Obama administration is ceding U.S. human spaceflight to Russia."

That’s far from the truth.

President Bush made the call to fly U.S. astronauts aboard Russian rockets as part of his decision in 2004 to end the shuttle program in 2010 without having a new American rocket ready to replace the orbiters.

The move was supported by Republicans who then controlled Congress and Democrats backed it, too, when they took over in 2006. When President Obama entered the White House in 2009, the shuttle’s shutdown was well under way and the Russian policy long set.

The rhetoric accomplishes nothing, further poisoning the atmosphere when level-headed bipartisan leadership is necessary to steer NASA through the post-shuttle transition.

The editorial was an implicit rebuke of Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center. Adams on March 17 sent a letter to House Budget Committee chair Rep. Paul Ryan in which she wrote:

Throughout history, scientific exploration has been a hallmark of the great nations — the ones that led. But once again, the Obama Administration's budget willingly ceded that leadership to China, Russia and India — countries that understand the importance of human space exploration. We cannot continue to accept this administration's assault on American exceptionalism and world leadership.

I addressed Ms. Adams' falsehoods in this March 24 blog. I also posted a March 22 e-mail I sent to Ms. Adams via her web site, and received an automated reply which promised a prompt response. So far, no response has been received.

Adams' Space Coast Republican congressional colleague, Rep. Bill Posey whose district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, appeared on March 30 before the same House Budget Committee and managed to top Adams' nonsensical rhetoric.

You can read the transcript here, including his plagiarism of Adams' "U.S. will be ceding its leadership in space to China and Russia" line.

Posey went further than even Adams had dared.

Human space flight is a matter of national security. Space is the world's military high ground, our Golan Heights if you will.

By ceding our leadership to other nations such as China, Russia, and India we would be literally giving them the ultimate military high ground.

China and Russia have announced plans to colonize the Moon — they are not going there to collect and study rocks like we did.

Let's start with the basics.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act specifically states that all military uses of space are the purview of the Defense Department, not NASA.

... activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense ...

Posey appears to have fabricated his claim that "China and Russia have announced plans to colonize the Moon." When? Where? How? Unless he saw a press conference the rest of us missed, Posey simply made it up.

Then he claimed, "They are not going there to collect and study rocks like we did."

Well, they're not going there, at least with people.

But China did announce on March 2 that they intend to send a robotic probe to the Moon in 2017 to collect a rock sample and return it to Earth.

So he lied about that too.

Republican or Democrat, in my opinion the Space Coast deserves better representation in Congress than those who fabricate wild claims to advance a partisan agenda.

UPDATE April 3, 2011 9:00 AM EDTFlorida Today columnist John Kelly adds his insight into Rep. Posey's remarks.

The agency remains partly paralyzed by a lack of action by Congress, as much as anything else. Posey was trying to raise that concern with the members of the committee — and the concerns are on the mark. NASA needs direction and a budget. Other members of Congress joined in the expression of outrage, pointing fingers at NASA leadership and the White House for not implementing the new space policy.

Why isn't NASA hurrying up to build the super-sized rocket that Congress wants developed? Why isn't NASA moving ahead with important decisions about how to achieve the goals it's been assigned? The chief reason is that Congress hasn't done its job and passed a federal budget to fund the policy put in place.

I have to disagree with Mr. Kelly's assertion that Posey was merely speaking out against inaction by Congress. The rhetoric in his statement placed sole blame on the Obama administration and fabricated tales to support his position.

"Something Big is Coming"

Go to the SpaceX web site and you're greeted by a banner proclaiming:


Click on the banner and you get this YouTube video:

An eagled-eyed observer noted that the SpaceX launch manifest page lists a "Falcon Heavy Demo Flight" for Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2012. The video briefly shows at the end a "heavy" silhouette with an "FH" abbreviation.

The Falcon Heavy is designed to compete with the Atlas V and Delta IV heavy-lift vehicles. According to their web sites, the mass each can lift to Low Earth Orbit are:

Atlas V Heavy 64,920 lb/29,400 kg
Delta IV Heavy 49,740 lb/22,560 kg
Falcon 9 Heavy 70,548 lb/32,000 kg

Of course, the Atlas and Delta models have flown, while the Falcon has not.

UPDATE April 2, 2011 7:00 AM PDT — As noted by Ferris Valyn, the Atlas V Heavy configuration has yet to fly. Atlas V has, of course, flown in other configurations. More on Atlas V at this Wikipedia page.