Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is New Mexico Spaceport a "Bold Attempt"?

Sir Richard Branson with SpaceShipTwo. Photo source: Virgin Galactic.

A July 27 article by Bloomberg News suggests that New Mexico's Spaceport America may never realize its potential as originally promoted.

"You have to think in decades" to comprehend the benefits of spaceport development, said Derek Webber, a director of Spaceport Associates, a consulting firm. Webber, a former satellite and launch vehicle engineer for aerospace companies, is a self-described advocate of space tourism. While New Mexico’s project is "a bold first attempt," he said, any return on its investment may be several years away.

The article inaccurately claims, "The frontier of commercial spaceflight, which opened when NASA’s shuttle program ended this month, is taking shape in an unfinished assembly of metal, glass and concrete that resembles a rust-colored stingray burrowed halfway into New Mexico’s desert."

Spaceport America has nothing to do with NASA's commmercial cargo and crew programs. Those are designed specifically to grow a domestic commercial industry to deliver cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the spaceport's initial tenant, is intended for a suborbital tourist industry. Virgin craft will be incapable of reaching the ISS.

The article quotes Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides as claiming that 440 people have already signed up for flights at $200,000 per passenger. if true, that means $88 million in revenue should all those customers actually buy a ticket.

When it opens for business, the company will send as many as 500 people into suborbital space in the first year, Whitesides said. SpaceShipTwo would be taken 50,000 feet into the air by a carrier craft called WhiteKnightTwo.

At that height, the smaller ship would detach and use its own engines to climb to more than 62 miles above Earth’s surface — the common definition of when space begins, and still miles below orbital altitude. Passengers will have six minutes of weightlessness before the ship returns to Spaceport America, where it would glide to a landing on the 2-mile runway.

Cape Canaveral, Au Naturel

An American Bald Eagle nest along Kennedy Parkway south of the Vehicle Assembly. Photo source: NASA.

Florida Today published two articles today looking at the damage caused to the environment at Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island by decades of space launches.

"Shuttle, Rocket Liftoffs Leave Legacy of Costly Cleanups at KSC" is the main article:

Plumes of carcinogenic chemicals used in the launching of the space shuttles, Apollo moon shots and other rockets seeped deep into sandy soils beneath launch pads and other structures at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

They form viscous toxic goo that will take $1 billion in cleanup costs agencywide over many decades, and could bog down funding for next-generation spacecraft.

The article notes, "No one drinks water drawn at the space center, nor the air station, but federal law still mandates the cleanup, at taxpayer expense. Other potential harm to humans and wildlife is uncertain."

Click here for a map showing the locations of contamination at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the map.

The other article is "Turns Out, Kennedy Space Center Critters are Pretty Healthy" suggests that little harm has been inflicted overall to the wildlife despite the contamination and other consequences of launching rockets:

Short-term effects of launches are well studied and understood. Loitering rabbits, scrub jays and armadillos get instantly cremated. Liftoffs send hydrochloric acid into the nearby Indian River Lagoon, killing small fish.

KSC's sandy, alkaline soils are thought to neutralize most contaminants before they can magnify up the food chain.

The article quotes a fisheries ecologist as saying, "I've never seen such a healthy ecosystem."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Next ISS Crew Trains for Commercial Cargo Deliveries

ISS Expedition 29 crew members train in a mockup facility at Johnson Space Center. NASA astronaut Dan Burbank is center. Photo source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that crew members of Expedition 29 are training to work with the SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Cygnus once they arrive at the International Space Station in the upcoming months.

The first of NASA’s new commercial cargo ships is expected to make a trial run to the station in December. A successful docking of the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon capsule would clear the way for the company to begin working on its 12-flight, $1.6 billion station cargo resupply missions for NASA in 2012.

[Expedition 29 astronaut Dan] Burbank says the crew also received training to handle berthing with NASA’s second cargo resupplier, Orbital Sciences Corp., which expects to debut its Cygnus capsule with a docking at the space station in early 2012, possibly before Burbank and his crewmates return to Earth in mid-March. Orbital Sciences holds a second NASA cargo resupply contract worth $1.9 billion for eight Cygnus flights.

Friday, July 29, 2011

ISS Alive and Well

An Associated Press article published July 28 by Florida Today was interpreted by some as meaning that Russia intends to destroy the International Space Station in 2020.

Alan Boyle at MSNBC's Cosmic Log dug a little deeper, got the interview transcript, and found that Roscosmos deputy director Vitaly Davydov "was simply stating current policy when he told TV interviewers that the station would be in use until 2020 or so, and that it would have to be taken out of orbit when it's obsolete."

The interview from "Good Morning Russia" ("Utro Rossii") caused a stir when a Russian-language transcript turned up on the space agency's website, but don't panic: If anything, the International Space Station will be in operation well after 2020. Russia, NASA and the other partners in the 16-nation venture are looking into extending the station's lifetime to 2028 — that is, if they can verify that its components will still be in working order that far into the future.

By 2028, still more space stations will be in orbit — almost certainly including the space bases currently being planned for launch as early as 2015 by private companies such as Bigelow Aerospace.

Florida Forward on What's Next

Click on the arrow to watch the Florida Forward conference.

On June 17, the Orlando Sentinel and the University of Central Florida hosted a Florida Forward forum to discuss the future of U.S. human space flight as it affects the Space Coast.

The video of that conference is now on YouTube. Click the arrow on the above image to watch. It runs about 90 minutes.

Farewell to MILA

The Merritt Island Launch Annex. Photo source:

Florida Today reports that one of the oldest yet least known Space Coast landmarks is about to retire.

For 45 years, an unassuming tracking station tucked behind Kennedy Space Center provided critical data, telemetry and voice communication links to hundreds of launching rockets, circling satellites and landing shuttles.

But the station known as MILA — short for Merritt Island Launch Annex — supported its last mission this month with shuttle Atlantis' launch and safe return.

In a ceremony Thursday morning, NASA officially decommissioned the aging facility before some components are salvaged for other sites and the rest is demolished.

The article reports that MILA will be replaced by a new "state-of-the-art station" to support future NASA missions.

According to

The first active mission support was the reception of television via S-Band during the Apollo/Saturn-203 mission, launched July 5, 1966 to study the performance of the liquid hydrogen fuel in the S-IVB during the boost stage to verify on-orbit restart capability.

Shortly afterward the station was equipped with a complete set of remote-site flight controller consoles in order to train Johnson Space Center engineers during prelaunch testing of the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM). These consoles were used until the end of the Apollo Program in December, 1972.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Houston Has a Problem

Space Center Houston's losing proposal to house a Shuttle orbiter. Image source: Space Center Houston.

It's been more than three months since NASA announced the three museums that will receive retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

The losing applicants, Houston in particular, threatened various acts of retaliation in the days after the announcement. Most of those threats seem to have evaporated, but that hasn't stopped some people in Houston from continuing to peddle the canard that they didn't receive an orbiter because of political retaliation from the White House.

Above is the concept submitted by Space Center Houston, the non-profit that submitted the proposal. The three-sided building would be built next to the existing structure on the left.

No other illustration is available on their proposal's web site, which is called That's a rather curious name for the site, considering the Shuttle was never based in Houston.

Compare the above concept to those of the winners, courtesy of

The future Atlantis display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

The U.S.S. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

I haven't been able to locate an image of the California Science Center proposal; please let me know if you can find one.

In any case, in my subjective opinion, it's clear that Houston's proposal was lacking detail and creativity. The site offers no clue how they would fund this project other than this paragraph:

To lead the charge, Space Center Houston’s Board of Directors formed a space tourism subcommittee comprised of elite Houston-area business leaders. This distinguished group will handle relocation requirements, manage a capital campaign and oversee the project should the Center be a selected Shuttle site.

In the days after the announcement, various commentators opined on why Houston didn't receive an orbiter.

Wayne Hale was the Space Shuttle program manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Hale wrote on April 14:

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.

An April 15 guest editorial in the Houston Chronicle by "space employee" Michael Grabois commented:

I was as mad as the next guy until I heard multiple people at both parties discussing possible reasons why. The general consensus was that NASA didn’t screw over JSC and Houston, you have to blame Space Center Houston and the City of Houston itself instead ...

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?

Three months later, one would think that the whining would have died down, but not in Houston.

On July 13, Houston-area Rep. Pete Olson issued a press release announcing he had teamed with Ohio congressman Steve Austria to include language in the Fiscal Year 2012 federal budget that "directs NASA to keep Congress apprised of the status of plans to both transfer and display the four Space Shuttle orbiters (Atlantis, Enterprise, Discovery and Endeavour) as well as provide contingency plans if the host cities fail to meet specific criteria and agreed upon milestones."

(Austria's district includes the U.S. Air Force Museum, which also lost out.)

Olson quotes himself:

"Taxpayers have a right to know that the cities that are to receive orbiters will fully meet their financial obligations," Rep. Olson said. "If they don't meet those obligations, Congress will hold them accountable and consider alternate options. This is common sense at a time when the federal government is facing record debt. There are other qualified cities that would gladly absorb the cost of hosting an orbiter, so we are putting the recipients of the orbiters and NASA on notice, Congress is watching."

On July 19, a Houston Chronicle editorial falsely claimed, "For the first time in more than 50 years, the United States of America will not have the capability of launching American astronauts into space."

The editorial writer conveniently overlooked the 1970s. It was more than eight years between the final moon mission Apollo 17 (launched on December 7, 1972) and the first Space Shuttle test flight (April 12, 1981). The Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions were flown with leftover equipment from the Apollo era. Even if you count those missions, it was nearly six years from Apollo-Soyuz in July 1975 until STS-1 in April 1981.

The editorial also failed to mention why this gap exists — it was all decided in January 2004 by the administration of President George W. Bush, now a Houston-area resident. Bush's parents live in the Houston area.

The Bush administration planned to retire Shuttle in 2010 once International Space Station construction was completed. The United States would then fly on Russian Soyuz systems until at least 2014, when the Constellation program's Ares I was expected to be ready. An independent review in 2009 found that Ares I was running several years behind, which is one reason why it was cancelled and replaced by Commercial Crew Development.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in recent interviews that he anticipates issuing a formal CCDev request for bid in 2012, with manned flights by 2015 — at least two years before Ares I would have been ready.

None of that was mentioned by the Chronicle either.

Houston, you have a problem. The problem is you. Get over yourself. The American space flight program does not exist for your benefit. It's the other way around.

By the way ... Visit the Space Center Houston web site. Their big promotion is something called "Summer Sports Slam." What that has to do with space exploration is unexplained. But perhaps it does explain why their bid lost.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Prepare for Historic ISS Cargo Flights

An artist's concept of the Orbital Cygnus near the International Space Station. Image source: Orbital Sciences.

Expanding on various reports last week, Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX and Orbital are preparing for historic flights that will lead to ISS cargo deliveries in 2012.

NASA has "technically" agreed to combine SpaceX's next two demonstration flights of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, electing to send the next mission all the way to the space station, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of the agency's human space programs.

"We technically have agreed with SpaceX that we want to combine those flights, but we haven't given them formal approval yet," Gerstenmaier said last week. "We still want to go through some more analysis to go take and look and define exactly what criteria makes up that combined mission, what objectives are there, what the go/no go criteria is."

According to the article, if the SpaceX demo flight goes well, their "first operational resupply flight would launch in the first half of 2012."

As for Orbital, the article states that the first flight of the Cygnus capsule would be in February 2012 aboard a Taurus 2 rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. The Taurus will fly a test flight in December.

The December test launch was added with the help of NASA funding to reduce the risk in Orbital's rocket and spacecraft development programs. If the launch is successful, Orbital aims to bolt the first Cygnus craft to the second Taurus 2 rocket for liftoff in February.

Since Cygnus tends to be lost in the shadow of the SpaceX Dragon, you might be interested in the Cygnus Updates page on the Orbital web site.

UPDATE July 28, 2011Aviation Week chips in with this Reuters article about the November 30 SpaceX launch.

“We see both cargo and crew (flight) services as being the key to opening up not only NASA’s full use of the great International Space Station but also to open up other uses of low-Earth orbit, some we are talking about and some we have yet to even envision,” Dennis Stone, a program manager with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said at a commercial space conference July 28.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bolden in Orlando Sentinel

Nothing you haven't heard before, but Sunday's Orlando Sentinel featured a guest editorial by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

NASA is working hard on the crew capsule that will carry tomorrow's astronauts to places we have not been, such as an asteroid — a destination we have targeted for 2025. Mars is in our sights for the 2030s. We also are looking at options for the heavy-lift rocket that will be required to get us to these new destinations. It's a big, complicated project — the most important space-exploration decision we'll make for decades — so we want to get it right. We're working hard to finalize our plans, but we're not going to rush to judgment on something so important.

LC-39B Ready for Prime Time

Launch Complex 39-B as it appeared on June 9, 2011. Photo source: NASA.

Spaceflight Now reports that Launch Complex 39B will be the primary site for the Space Launch System (SLS).

LC-39A will be put "in a mothball state."

NASA officials envision pad 39B as the initial home for a heavy-lift rocket to haul humans and cargo into deep space on voyages to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations ...

Pad 39B's future concept will utilize a clean pad design with no permanent structures. The rocket's servicing tower will be bolted to the mobile launch platform and rolled to the pad for final preparations.

A 390-foot-tall mobile launcher designed for the canceled Ares 1 rocket sits outside the VAB. Although the tower doesn't have a mission now, it could be modified for commercial launchers or NASA's heavy-lift rocket program.

Officials currently foresee pad 39B being tailored for the Ares mobile launcher, whatever vehicle it ends up carrying.

LC-39A historically has been the preferred pad of choice, for both the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. LC-39A is about three-quarters of a mile closer to the Vehicle Assembly Building than LC-39B. The transporter-crawler has to make a couple turns along the crawlerway to reach LC-39B.

According to the article, no funding is in the NASA budget to demolish or renovate LC-39A, hence the "mothball" status. It's possible that a future program, perhaps, commercial, may wish to use parts of the existing structure, so for now it will sit idle.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Florida Today Opines on U.S. Space Future

Two articles in Florida Today the future of U.S. human space flight.

Columnist John Kelly addresses myths and facts that keep circulating.

A debate about the United States' future in space exploration, and our community's place in it, is important to have. The end of the shuttle program provides a fitting backdrop to that discussion. One program is ending, so naturally the question is what's next. However, like so much of the debate of these times, the air is filled with name-calling, partisan-fueled rhetoric and other misinformation that can only hinder a true examination of what needs to happen next.

Over on the editorial page, the featured column "Unity of Purpose" argues that people clinging to a Moon mission fantasy need to let go. "It’s time to leave that wishful thinking behind and move on."

There is, bluntly, neither the money nor political will to fund something like the Constellation moon program, which was canceled after a review put its ultimate price as high as $300 billion.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Space Coast Gears Up for What's Next

Florida Today reports that the end of the Space Shuttle program also marks the beginning of new opportunities for Brevard County.

Local business, tourism and political leaders sent a clear message to the world on Wednesday: the space shuttle program is ending, but the Space Coast isn't going away.

The officials took advantage of a national media audience in town for today's scheduled final landing of shuttle Atlantis to hold a briefing at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on the area's post-shuttle future.

While conceding that tough times are ahead, they said Brevard County will survive — and will thrive in the future.

The article notes, "Shuttle launch visitors account for just 5 percent of the local tourism market in an average year." It's expected that the tourism industry will survive through innovation and diversification.

Meanwhile, answers the "what's next" question for U.S. human spaceflight:

The end of the shuttle program will be an adjustment, officials said, but will ultimately enable NASA to direct its resources toward building a new spaceship and rocket to take people beyond low-Earth orbit to an asteroid and Mars . . .

"NASA I think has really laid the foundation for commercial spaceflight to take off," Atlantis' commander Chris Ferguson said during a press conference after landing. "I think we're going to have people perhaps spending long periods of time in orbit who have paid for a trip there."

The article notes that commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station are scheduled to begin in 2012, with crew flights in 2014 or 2015.

Remembering Gus Grissom

Gus Grissom with Liberty Bell 7

On May 5, ceremonies at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station remembered the 50th anniversary of the Freedom 7 flight that launched the first American into space, Alan Shepard.

Most people seem to remember Shepard and John Glenn, but far fewer seem to recall that Gus Grissom flew between them.

Fifty years ago today, Grissom launched from atop LC-5 in Liberty Bell 7. The spacecraft sank after landing in the Atlantic; the consensus today is that the hatch mechanism prematurely blew due to a mechanical malfunction.

Thanks to YouTube, we can relive Grissom's historic flight.

NBC News coverage, Part 1 of 6

The links to the rest of NBC News coverage:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

More about Grissom and his flight on

The Final Boom-Boom

The Shuttle orbiter makes twin booms as it passes through the Sound Barrier over the Space Coast. Illustration source: Florida Today.

Twin sonic booms were heard across the Space Coast this morning for the last time in Shuttle history.

I videotaped the sound as it passed over our north Merritt Island home just before dawn. Click here to listen. (Turn up your stereo speakers!)

Florida Today published an article July 20 explaining the phenomenon.

SpaceX Dragon to Dock with ISS in December

A NASA illustration of the SpaceX Dragon docked at the International Space Station. Image source: SpaceX.

Aviation Week reports that NASA has agreed to allow SpaceX to combine its second and third cargo demonstration flights so that the Dragon capsule can dock with the International Space Station in November.

With the STS-135 space shuttle supply mission to the International Space Station drawing to a close, agency officials are honing plans for a late November launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon on the first U.S. commercial cargo delivery mission to the orbiting science laboratory, NASA ISS program manager Mike Suffredini says.

Agency and company officials reached agreement on planning dates of Nov. 30 for the launch and Dec. 7 for the rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon cargo spacecraft with the station during a July 15 meeting ...

The strategy combines the second and third Dragon demonstration missions outlined in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program agreement. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk proposed as much following the company’s Dec. 8 initial demonstration flight.

CBS News reported July 20 on SpaceX. Click here to watch the video. It's fairly simplistic, typical of network news these days, sadly.

Discover Magazine has this article published online July 19 about "privately trained astronauts" flying for companies such as SpaceX. The article also references Astronauts4Hire, a company that looks for individuals willing to train as commercial astronauts. Its web site says the company "is incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the State of Florida with pending federal 501(c)(3)status," although on its Contact page the mailing address is in Phoenix, Arizona.

UPDATE July 21, 2011 5:30 AM EDTThe Torrance Daily Breeze published this Associated Press article July 20 on both SpaceX and Orbital. It states that for the December test flight, "The lower and upper stages of the rocket are at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The capsule is almost finished."

As for Orbital:

And maybe a month or two later, Orbital hopes to have its first test flight to the station. First, it has to finish building its launch site at Wallops Island, Va., which should be done in just a few weeks. Then later this year it will have a test launch of its new rocket, the Taurus II, and finally it will use that new rocket to launch its capsule, Cygnus, to the space station, said company spokesman Barron Beneski.

UPDATE July 22, 2011Space News reports that NASA and SpaceX "technically have agreed" to combine the final two demonstration flights.

“We technically have agreed with SpaceX that we want to combine those flights,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said at a July 21 media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We are doing all the planning to go ahead and have those missions combined, but we haven’t given them formal approval yet.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 "Private Space Race Heats Up" published today an article suggesting that "another cosmic competition is heating up."

Several firms are in the running to provide this taxi service beginning as early as 2015.

"In the fall of '15, we'll do a test flight with two Boeing test pilots. That one will go to [the space] station," said John Elbon, Boeing's program manager for commercial crew transportation. "And then we'll be ready at the end of '15 to do operational flights ..."

Boeing plans to hold a parachute drop test next spring and to start conducting uncrewed test flights in 2014 in the lead-up to manned missions with the CST-100 in 2015, according to Elbon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Florida Today: "Major Step Forward"

An editorial in Florida Today views recent announcements as a "major step forward" for growing a 21st Century operation at Kennedy Space Center.

A key element in the post-shuttle era involves moving Kennedy Space Center beyond its traditional role as a launch site.

That means using the spaceport as a hub to manufacture space hardware and for research and development for experiments aboard the International Space Station.

It’s a promising but difficult proposition because of the change in culture and bureaucracy required after a half century of solely preparing and flying rockets and manned spacecraft.

The editorial gives much of the credit (well-deserved, in my opinion) to Space Florida for acting as an intermediary in these agreements.

Monday, July 18, 2011

ULA Joins Commercial Space

An Atlas V with the NASA New Horizons probe to Pluto that launched on January 19, 2006.

NASA issued a press release today announcing another agreement with the private sector to help develop commercial space.

Through a new agreement, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will provide technical information to NASA about using the Atlas V rocket to launch astronauts into space. The announcement was made Monday at ULA headquarters in Centennial, Colo.

The Atlas V has been suggested as a launch vehicle for the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser. NASA announced an agreement on July 7 with Sierra Nevada "to make use of the deep resources existing at the Kennedy Space Center," although it was not specified what those resources might be.

Florida Today reported on July 15 that Boeing was negotiating to lease one of the orbiter hangars to build the CST-100 crew vehicle.

The ULA web site has the same press release, but it also has a link to generic video of ULA Atlas V launches.

Florida Today in reporting on today's agreement suggests, "The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket could become the next rocket to propel U.S. astronauts into space."

The Atlas V appears to be a vehicle of choice for companies developing commercial space taxis to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing is considering the Atlas V for its CST-100 capsule. Sierra Nevada is planning to launch its Dream Chaser space planes on Atlas V rockets.

UPDATE July 19, 2011Florida Today has more on the NASA-ULA deal.

Powerful Atlas V rockets could become the next U.S. launch vehicles to propel American astronauts into space as a result of an agreement announced Monday.

NASA and United Launch Alliance plan to analyze all Atlas V systems to see if they meet strict safety requirements for U.S. human spaceflight.

No money is changing hands, and the agreement is not expected to yield new jobs to replace those being lost with the retirement of the nation's shuttle fleet.

But the pact could be a springboard to a day when Atlas V rockets soar toward the International Space Station with commercial space taxis built by different companies.

Orlando Sentinel: "Sandy Adams' Space Problem"

On July 13 I wrote an article titled "Sandy Adams' Parallel Universe" about the lies and smears told by the Congressional representative of Kennedy Space Center and certain nearby towns.

It seems the Orlando Sentinel beat me by two days.

Opinion columnist Mile Lafferty wrote on July 11 about Adams reciting talking points in a Fox News interview rather than explaining what she'd do about lost KSC jobs.

Lafferty wrote:

She might be a fiscal conservative, but Adams was willing to spend untold amounts of money to keep the shuttle flying and government-supported workers on the payroll until a replacement launch vehicle was ready. It’s right here in her campaign web site ...

Criticizing Obama’s space policy also puts Adams in the uncomfortable position of criticizing the shift from a top-down program that’s run by government to one that encourages private entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow, who are innovating and developing their own launchers and spacecraft. In fact, NASA just signed a deal with Sierra Nevada, a company that’s building its own shuttle-like orbiter that could take astronauts to the space station.

In fact, space travel seems to be entering something of a golden age for the private sector, thanks in part to the administration’s policies. Seems like that’s the kind of shift a conservative like Adams might embrace a little more enthusiastically.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

MSNBC on Commercial Space

MSNBC Science Editor Alan Boyle has published a series of articles about commercial space.

"Boeing Runs Hard in New Space Race" on the Boeing CST-100.

"Company Chases NASA's Dream" on the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

"SpaceX Chief Sets His Sights on Mars" about using the SpaceX Dragon and Falcon Heavy to land a science delivery platform on Mars.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Aviation Week Answers "What's Next" Question

Frank Morring, Jr. of Aviation Week attempts to answer the "What's next" question for U.S. human space flight.

Once the smoke clears from the three-year debate over U.S. space policy ushered in by the return of a Democratic administration to the White House, NASA’s human-spaceflight activities will look a lot like those planned and started under the preceding Republican administration ...

Perhaps the biggest difference in the old approach and the new will be the time lost while the politicians and contractors sorted out the details. And only time will tell if the new approach is faster — and cheaper, as NASA’s leaders promise.

The article does contain one basic mistake. The author contends that the Obama administration "handed to the private sector the job of transporting cargo and crew to the ISS." The truth is that the Bush administration began commercial cargo in 2005. The Obama administration expanded the program to begin commercial crew development.

After a lengthy look at commercial cargo and crew, the article offers this insight into Space Launch System:

That design, selected by Bolden on June 14 and forwarded to the White House for final approval, calls for a heavy-lift rocket that uses liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen for main- and upper-stage propulsion. Early versions of the rocket would use three surplus space shuttle main engines (SSME) each to power the main stage and the J-2X upper-stage engine started under Constellation for the upper stage. For added thrust during liftoff and early ascent, the vehicle would use a variant of the solid-fuel booster rockets that performed the same task for the space shuttle.

Once the 15 SSMEs in NASA’s stockpile are expended, the plan calls for a shift to the reusable RS25E variant that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has proposed. To "evolve" toward the 130-metric-ton capability, and satisfy [Senator Richard] Shelby and the senators from California with some potential jobs for their constituents, the plan would hold a competition for kerosene-fueled strap-on boosters as more powerful replacements for the shuttle-derived solids.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A 21st Century Space Launch Complex

A comparison chart of various launch vehicles — past, present and future. Source: NASA.

A pair of presentations located on NASA web sites reveal the agency's plans to convert Kennedy Space Center into a "21st Century Space Launch Complex."

The links to these presentations were posted July 3 on the forum.

The links are (Abobe Acrobat Reader required):

21st Century Space Launch Complex: Architectures Overview dated March 21, 2011.

21st Century Ground Systems Program: Program Planning Status dated May 3, 2011.

There's some overlap between the two presentations, but also some similarities.

One similarity is the above chart.

Among the interesting vehicles illustrated in the presentation are the Falcon Heavy and a generic NASA heavy-lift vehicle that may be the Space Launch System.

The chart suggests that several vehicles may launch from their own pads, or from the current Shuttle pads at Launch Complex 39. LC-39B is currently being converted to the "clean pad" concept which would allow any launcher, government or commercial, to use the facility. LC-39A may share its fate.

The illustrations are discussed in a July 13 article about the conversion of the Orbital Processing Facilities to commercial use.

Author Chris Bergin writes:

Numerous presentations ... have been drawn up and modified — the latest of which was written in June — showing KSC as the home port for a new family of vehicles, ranging from Orion/MPCV, through to commercial vehicles, and the SLS.

While all the vehicles depicted may not wish to take up KSC as their new location, the Florida spaceport has made no secret about its desire to open up the use of its assets, such as the SLF, VAB, Pad 39B — which has almost completed its transition to a clean pad — and indeed the OPFs.

As noted earlier today, Boeing is negotiating to lease OPF-3 for the CST-100, and last week NASA and Sierra Nevada announced plans to use KSC facilities for the Dream Chaser space plane.

A Different Perspective

NASA has released video of the STS-135 Atlantis launch filmed from a camera mounted on the solid rocket boosters. Click the above image to watch.

Boeing Interested in Orbiter Hangar

An artist's concept of the Boeing CST-100 docking at a Bigelow inflatable space station.

Back on July 1 I mentioned a rumor I'd heard that a certain aerospace company was interested in leasing Orbiter Processing Facility 3 at Kennedy Space Center, which formerly housed the orbiter Discovery.

Florida Today broke the story today, revealing that it's Boeing.

(My source back on July 1 was a Boeing rep.)

Space beat reporter James Dean writes:

The Boeing Co. is in negotiations with NASA and Space Florida to build a commercial space taxi in a former shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center.

If it pans out, the deal would bring hundreds of jobs to KSC starting in the next 12 to 18 months, when the center's employment will be at its lowest level since the end of the Apollo program.

John Elbon, the manager overseeing development of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft, said Space Florida and KSC were still working out which facilities would be made available, including the hangar
that formerly housed the orbiter Discovery ...

Boeing wants to locate its manufacturing, engineering, integration and flight teams in the same place to increase cost-saving synergies, Elbon said, and is exploring options in multiple states.

The work would require a high bay facility for manufacturing, test facilities and office space, and Discovery's hangar and an adjacent shop have been discussed as a possible fit.

NASA announced on July 7 a deal with Sierra Nevada to lease unspecified facilities at KSC to support their commercial crew entry, the Dream Chaser.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Kind of World Do You Want?

The above video titled What Kind of World Do You Want? was released by NASA on July 8 to celebrate the last chapter in the Space Shuttle program and the beginning of International Space Station full-time research operations. Very inspiring, and a reminder that we're at the start of a new and promising age.

You can download it at

UPDATE July 16, 2011Click here for the NASA press release announcing the video.

KSC Non-Profit to Manage ISS National Laboratory

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter works with the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer in the ISS Destiny laboratory. Photo source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that the KSC-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) will manage the U.S. national laboratory aboard the International Space Station.

The decision is a significant victory in local efforts to diversify the area's space operations beyond launching rockets as the shuttle program nears its end.

The $15 million organization won't employ many people but establishes the Space Coast as a gateway for space-based research that could attract additional resources.

More on CASIS at the Space Florida web site.

And lots more on the U.S. National Laboratory.

UPDATE July 16, 2011Aviation Week has more on who are the entities that comprise CASIS:

Partners in the project, which initially will be worth up to $15 million a year, include Boeing, Bionetics and Dynamic Corp. Space Florida is a state-backed economic development board focused on building and diversifying Florida’s aerospace businesses. Casis will be based at the Space Life Sciences Laboratory, adjacent to Kennedy Space Center.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

SpaceX Breaks Ground on Falcon Heavy Test Site

A computer animation of a Falcon Heavy launch from Vandenberg AFB. Photo source:

The Los Angeles Times reports that SpaceX broke ground today on a test site at Vandenberg Air Force Base for its next generation rocket, the Falcon Heavy.

A sprawling hangar to house the assembly of the world's most powerful rocket and a launchpad capable of handling the earthshaking blast is being developed northwest of Santa Barbara at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Hawthorne-based rocket venture SpaceX said it was investing $30 million at the base's Space Launch Complex 4-East for its upcoming 22-story Falcon Heavy rocket.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., hopes to use the launchpad for the first time at the end of next year in a demonstration flight of the 27-engine rocket for the U.S. government. After that, the company hopes to use the facility to launch satellites for military and commercial customers.

A press release on the SpaceX web site claims, "This will be the world’s most powerful rocket, with more than twice the payload-to-orbit capacity of the space shuttle, but at only one third the cost of the Boeing/Lockheed Delta IV Heavy. The Falcon Heavy will be the first ever rocket to break the $1,000-per-pound-to-orbit barrier, less than a tenth as much as the Shuttle."

Sandy Adams' Parallel Universe

Rep. Sandy Adams voted in February to cut $600 million from the FY11 NASA budget.

Florida Today published on July 7 a guest column by Sandy Adams, a Florida Republican member of Congress whose district includes the Space Coast.

When Adams ran for Congress in 2010, Florida Today on October 15 endorsed her opponent, Suzanne Kosmas. They wrote:

Kosmas' opponent is four-term Republican state Rep. Sandy Adams of Orlando, whose lack of knowledge about NASA is appalling.

During an interview with FLORIDA TODAY’s editorial board the day the House voted on the bill that set NASA’s course for at least a generation, Adams hadn’t even read the measure and did not know any of its specifics.

She also had no idea of the key details in state legislation to spur space initiatives here, or of the many efforts underway to diversify the Brevard economy to create post-shuttle jobs.

After she was elected, Adams published on December 29 a guest column in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Adams wrote, "We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space."

Apparently she thought that U.S. astronauts were being "forced" to fly on Chinese rockets. No one has ever flown on a Chinese rocket other than Chinese. In fact, no Chinese have flown recently on a Chinese rocket either. The last manned Chinese launch was Shenzhou 7 on September 25, 2008. That was a three-day flight of three taikonauts.

As for the decision to rely on Russia, that decision was made by the Bush administration in January 2004. The Bush plan was to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010 once International Space Station construction ended, then rely on Russian Soyuz rockets for U.S. crew transportation until a domestic replacement was available. The Bush administration estimated the "gap" would be at least until 2014.

A month after taking office, Adams voted for H.R. 1, which cut NASA funding by $600 million for Fiscal Year 2011.

On March 17, Florida Today published a letter from Adams in which she claimed that "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." This despite the fact that China hasn't flown people in nearly three years, and India never has.

So it should come as no surprise that Adams' latest essay contains similar falsehoods.

Adams writes:

I share the anger of so many of you directed at this administration and NASA for failing to prepare our community for this painstaking transition ... If NASA and President Obama had planned for this transition instead of simply canceling the Constellation program without a viable alternative, perhaps the Space Coast would not be losing tens of thousands of jobs.

The truth is that in April 2010 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.

The proposal awaited $40 million in funding from Congress, but it never came. Florida Today on May 1 concluded that Congress failed to fund the program out of "neglect and fallout from political brinkmanship."

Adams is a member of that Congress that failed to act.

Florida Today wrote of her inactivity:

Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center and Titusville, never weighed in publicly on the $40 million, and her office did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Adams voted against the April 8 compromise, not because of NASA, but because Congress didn't cut deep enough, she said in a prepared statement.

In her July 7 column, Adams once again complained about American astronauts flying on Soyuz, but failed to mention it was the Bush administration's decision. She also failed to note the Obama administration's commercial cargo and crew programs. SpaceX is expected to begin cargo deliveries to the International Space Station in 2012, and Orbital not far behind. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Sunday on CNN that he expects NASA to issue a request for bids in 2012 to begin crew deliveries to the ISS in 2015, perhaps late 2014.

Adams also tried to frighten us once again with claims of a Chinese Red Menace:

... [T]wo state-run news sources in China revealed the first piece of their new space station will be launched by the end of September. China has made space a national priority, yet we ignore this reality at the peril of our national prestige in science and technology and to the detriment of our national security.

I would ask the president to consider what it would mean for our country if Chinese astronauts planted a flag on the moon, while our astronauts can’t even get off the ground in our own rockets.

Apparently Adams is unaware that the United States planted a flag on the Moon 42 years ago — the anniversary is July 20 — or that the U.S. launched its first space station Skylab in 1973, and has jointly operated the ISS since 1998, sending our first astronaut there in October 2000 — aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Florida Today had it right last October when they wrote that Adams' lack of knowledge about NASA is appalling. At times it seems she dwells in a parallel universe where China and India rule the heavens, reality be damned.

The alternative is that she is a lying demagogue.

The Last Launch

The below photos were shot at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the hours — some of them wee — before the STS-135 launch on Friday July 8. My intent was to record the launch from the public's perspective.

4:00 AM near where the line begins to board buses.

Try finding a path through this undergrowth.

Guests nap while they wait for the buses to move out.

Chaos in the gift shop. And it's 4:30 AM.

It's more peaceful in Space Shuttle Plaza, rarely seen by the public at night.

5 AM. Guests start to board the buses to go to the Causeway viewing site.

Meanwhile, north of the Rocket Garden, guests still nap or stake out a place to watch the launch. Still six hours to go.

Historic rockets are silent sentinels.

Daybreak at the Astronaut Memorial. Five hours to go.

The sun has risen, and so have the guests.

Temporary aluminum bleachers were erected for the launch, but many brought their own folding chairs.

At the main entrance. The marquee says it all. Note the Orion mockup behind the NASA logo.

Temporal officers from the 27th Century have time-travelled to 2011 to witness the final Shuttle launch. Actually, they're part of the Star Trek show and exhibits. They were out and about to add ambiance.

STS-135 just launched. Look at the video screen to the right. But it hasn't yet cleared the tree to the left.

Father spots STS-135 and points it out for his daughter.


Guests squeal with delight. Notice the TV reporter to the right describing the crowd reaction.


These two kissed just after liftoff.

The last Shuttle launch banner.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bolden: SLS Flight by 2017

Charlie Bolden testifies today before the House Space Committee.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee today that he hopes the first uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System will be in 2017.

Although NASA must still finalize an integrated test flight plan based on the President's Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, NASA is currently targeting the first uncrewed SLS development flight for late 2017, to support a crewed mission by the early 2020s, and a visit to an asteroid in 2025.

Bolden projected this timeframe in his opening remarks, which were prefaced by accusations from Republican chair Ralph Hall.

To watch the video, click here to go to the committee hearing web page and click on the image beneath Webcast on the right. If you wish to skip the introductory insults by the committee chair, Bolden's remarks start a little after 16 minutes into the recording.

UPDATE July 14, 2011Aviation Week has more on Bolden's timeline:

“Even before we have a capability of putting humans on it, we are hopeful that in the 2017 time frame we would like to use that to boost an early version of the MPCV into space and get it to speeds faster than it would be going when it came back from the International Space Station, for example,” Bolden said. “Whether it goes around the Moon and comes back, I need it to accelerate to a velocity that is equivalent to what it would be [traveling] when it comes back from the Moon, from an asteroid or from Mars, and be able to survive re-entry.”

Florida Today: Reject NASA Cuts

An editorial in today's Florida Today urges House members to reject last week's vote by a House Appropriations subcommittee to cut the FY12 NASA budget by nine percent.

Members of a House subcommittee that oversees NASA funding went on a tear last week, doing what’s popular on Capitol Hill:

Attacking President Obama and his post-shuttle space policy, which calls for NASA to use private rockets and a NASA heavy-lift rocket to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and, later, deep space.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., led the charge and was aided by Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., saying the president is failing to chart a bold, new course.

But rather than come to NASA’s aid, what did they do?

The committee voted to cut its budget to $16.8 billion, a 9 percent reduction that would badly hurt efforts to get private rockets flying around 2015 from Cape Canaveral, a program that holds the most promise to return Americans into orbit on U.S. launchers soon.

The editorial called on "the Space Coast’s two House members — U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams and Bill Posey — to do everything possible to make sure the money is reinstated."

Good luck with that.

One of their first acts upon taking office this year was to vote in favor of H.R. 1, which cut the FY11 NASA budget by $600 million.

NASA plans on using commercial cargo and crew programs as transportation to and from the International Space Station, with cargo deliveries starting in 2012. But the subcommittee proposal would severely cut that program:

Current congressional plans call for spending $500 million next year on commercial rocket development, with the White House wanting to spend $850 million. But Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said more than $250 million would be cut under the subcommittee’s plan.

Neither Adams' nor Posey's congressional web sites comment on the proposed budget cut, although Posey issued a press release last Friday falsely claiming that Obama had "broken his August 2008 promise to Space Coast residents that he would close the space gap and keep America first in space."

The 2009 Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee report, commonly known as the Augustine Committee, found that Constellation's Ares I would not be ready to fly to the ISS until at least 2017, and it would be funded by ending U.S. ISS spending in 2015. Why build a rocket with nowhere to go?

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Sunday on CNN that NASA will issue bid proposals in 2012 for commercial crew flights to start in 2014 or 2015.

If and when this happens, it will be proven that Obama kept his promise and Posey lied.

Lied while he should have been trying to save funding for the program that will narrow the gap created in January 2004 by the Bush administation after deciding to cancel the Space Shuttle once ISS construction was completed.

Here's hoping Posey and Adams end partisan smears and start fighting to accelerate the progress of commercial programs that will resume human space flights from the Space Coast. But I'm not counting on them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Dragon Has Landed

An unprecedented public exhibition of the SpaceX Dragon capsule just concluded at the Air Force Space & Missile History Center. The spacecraft was located in a picnic area between the History Center and the SpaceX Launch Control Center.

Below are photographs I shot of the Dragon. Click on the signs to see the image at full-size and read the sign.

Click on the above to see a larger version.

Click on the above to see a larger version.

Click on the above to see a larger version.