Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Space Station Blues

This is what you do when you've been told you're not coming home from the ISS for a couple months ...

Cygnus is Go for Launch

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

Florida Today reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued Orbital Sciences a license to fly the Cygnus cargo module to the International Space Station in 2012.

The first launch of Orbital's Cygnus cargo module atop a Taurus II rocket is tentatively planned in late February from Wallops Island, Va.

A first test flight of the Taurus II is planned late this year, and Orbital said an expanded FAA license covering that launch was expected soon.

Pick a Lane

Aviation Week reports that the International Space Exploration Coordination Group is currently meeting in Kyoto, Japan to help steer global strategy towards the next deep-space destination — a return trip to the Moon, or a visit to an asteroid.

Meeting Aug. 30 in Kyoto, Japan, the ISECG identified two “potential pathways” for human exploration into the Solar System — the “Moon next” approach started under the Constellation program and an “Asteroid next” plan that will follow President Barack Obama’s goal of exploring an asteroid or other near-Earth object as a stepping-stone to Mars.

The resulting “road map” will guide the way as NASA and its international partners in space exploration plan their individual programs, develop technology for exploration and use the International Space Station to prepare for human voyages beyond low Earth orbit. Agency representatives agreed to finish and release publicly a first draft of the map “during the next few weeks.”

According to MSNBC space analyst Alan Boyle:

One suggested path would send a deep-space habitat to an Earth-moon gravitational balance point known as L-1, then go to the moon as a tune-up for a Mars trip. Another scenario calls for reaching the lunar surface first, then going to an asteroid, then heading for Mars. A variant would focus on testing the deep-space habitat, then taking trips to the moon, to an asteroid, and finally to Mars. It's not yet clear how all these possibilities are wrapped up into the ISECG's "Asteroid Next" and "Moon Next" scenarios.

Boyle notes that "Gearing up for missions to Mars would likely require a significant boost in space spending," which places the decision in the hands of Congress, and we all know how that plays out these days.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pigs at the Trough

The war of words continues between U.S. senators regardless of partisan stripe, as they fight over whose states get the pork from the Space Launch System.

Florida Today reports that senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have sent a letter to the White House countering claims by five Republican senators from other states, trying to steer SLS funding to their states.

In a letter to the White House dated Friday, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio suggest an apparent "misunderstanding" about the need to fund not only the design and construction of a rocket, but facilities from which to process and launch it ...

Earlier this month, a group of five Republican senators from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi accused the Obama Administration of funding KSC upgrades "only tangentially related" to the rocket known as the Space Launch System ...

Such work would be performed at NASA facilities represented by the letter signers: Richard Shelby, Jeff Sessions, Thad Cochran, Roger Wicker and David Vitter.

In my opinion, the strongest argument in favor of commercial space is that it would take space access out of the hands of Congress.

Progress 44 Failure Found

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reports:

The Progress M-12M transport ship accident on August 24 was caused by a malfunction in the gas generator in the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine, Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov told Itar-Tass on Monday, August 29.

“Members of the emergency commission have determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine. It is a malfunction in the engine’s gas generator,” he said.

The question now is how this will affect future deliveries of cargo or crew to the International Space Station.

NASA held a press conference yesterday discussing contingencies, which led various media outlets to publish articles with apocalyptic headlines suggesting the ISS might have to be abandoned:

Florida Today "Evacuation Strategy Puts Space Station at Risk" "Astronauts May Evacuate Space Station in November, NASA Says" "NASA Assessing Procedures to Leave Space Station Vacant"

If you watch the first ten minutes of the above video, you'll find that it's too soon to conclude the demise of the ISS is imminent, or even that it will have to abandoned.

The more likely scenario for now is a delayed departure by the astronauts and cosmonauts who were scheduled to leave September 8.

Two driving factors may force reducing ISS crew. One is the shelf life of the two Soyuz vehicles currently docked at the ISS. The other is the available daylight and winter weather at the Kazakhstan landing site.

For all the recent political claims here that the United States has supposedly lost its space leadership, some voices in Russia now claim the same about their program.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis, says that after the collapse of the Soviet Union "the space industry largely remained in the Soviet Union in the minds of the people ...

"You can throw as much money at the problem as you want, but there are no specialists, no administrative discipline and work ethic. Instead, what we see is pride of epic proportions in Russia as a leading space power, Russia taking Americans for space rides and Russia owning the ISS...," says Ruslan Pukhov. The time has come to face facts.

And another perspective:

Igor Lisov, editor of the industry magazine Cosmonautics News, believes that the root of the crisis in the industry is inability to create new things ...

"It might sound obvious, but each accident has a cause of its own," says Igor Lisov. "However, when a standard piece of equipment, which had worked fine seven hundred times, suddenly fails, you should start looking for technical breaches and negligence." Standard equipment can be manufactured successfully provided the proper controls are in place. "However, so far we have failed to achieve even the most basic things, such as making sure that the salary of a space engineer is higher than the salary of a cell phone salesperson," laments the expert. "If we don't achieve that, any attempts to ensure a good work ethic are doomed."

UPDATE August 31, 2011ESA News offers a different perspective on the Progress 44 incident, including this illustration depicting when and where the loss occurred:

Russian planners would like to see two successful unmanned launches of the Soyuz-U rocket before the next manned spacecraft, so the dates of the future missions — including the flight of ESA astronaut AndrĂ© Kuipers — are being assessed.

It has been decided to postpone the landing of Expedition 26 on Soyuz TMA-21 from 8 September to 16 September. The launch of the next Soyuz flight, Soyuz TMA-22, carrying Expedition 29, will be delayed to the end of October or the beginning of November, depending on the results of the commission.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stand and Deliver

The Falcon 9 launches with Dragon on December 8, 2010. Photo source:

James Dean of Florida Today writes:

This week's failure of a Russian resupply mission bound for the International Space Station has increased the spotlight on the next U.S. vehicle scheduled to visit the outpost: SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

"It certainly puts some increased pressure on SpaceX," company founder and CEO Elon Musk said. "It just means we've got to make sure we deliver."

The company's December mission combines what were to have been two test flights. One was to maneuver within the vicinity of the ISS, the second was to actually dock. Now those two demonstrations will be performed on the same flight.

According to Dean:

Any spacecraft approaching the outpost orbiting 240 miles above Earth must have systems designed to continue functioning even after two failures, a process Musk identified one of the biggest challenges readying for the flight.

"Getting all of that redundancy right with quite a bit of complexity is pretty tricky," he said.

The article notes, "If it is not successful, NASA says the company has committed to a third demonstration."

Elsewhere ...

New Scientist magazine technology correspondent Paul Marks writes that "the raft of commercial space firms now vying to put their stamp on the final frontier could have a big say in how long the station is kept in orbit."

"It is likely that ISS will be extended beyond the current time frame and such extension may involve some public-private partnership," says George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO and a former NASA chief of staff. "ISS is both an exciting destination in itself and a base for future deep-space operations. Virgin Galactic would certainly be interested in participating in ISS in the future should national agencies be open to the conversation," he says.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver inspects a Bigelow habitat mockup. Photo source:

Marks writes that Bigelow Aerospace is working on two ISS deals — one with NASA, one with JAXA — to install inflatable Bigelow modules at the space station.

Bigelow director Mike Gold, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, says the firm is in "advanced discussions" with the commercial Japanese Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS) — which operates the Kibo module on the ISS for the Japanese Space Agency JAXA — to provide it with an orbiting habitat.

The module could be rented out as an ISS storage unit, making the station less dependent on frequent resupply flights, says Hiroshi Kikuchi of JAMSS. To show that the modules are capable of safe, crewed operation, Bigelow is also negotiating with NASA to attach one to a US-owned ISS module.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Florida Today Reflects on NASA

Two opinion columns in today's edition of Florida Today that reflect the dysfunctionality at the heart of NASA politics.

John Kelly "Same NASA, Same Issues"

NASA's three most important future space exploration projects — the ones critical to the future of KSC — already are repeating the exact same three mistakes that have been made on every over-budget, behind-schedule boondoggle project in the space agency's history ...

Auditor, after auditor, after auditor, after auditor has found the same three problems at the root of every NASA project that's blown its budget by billions of dollars and its schedule by years. The space agency and its big contractors issue lowball cost estimates that assume superhuman ability to leap technological hurdles, no unexpected surprises and cost-savings not backed up by historical performance.

Matt Reed "After Russian Crash, Turn to the F-150 of American Rockets"

Supposedly, this week's crash of a Russian supply rocket exposed the urgent need for a proposed NASA mega-spaceship to haul boxes to the International Space Station ...

That's like trying to build a nitro-burning monster truck from scratch in your garage just to make a few trips to Publix.

Someone please introduce Congress to the Atlas V rocket, the Ford F-150 of space travel ...

Three private companies, Boeing, Blue Origins and Sierra Nevada Corp., have already chosen the Atlas as the rocket to carry astronauts to the station in a capsules and a mini-shuttle they are building. Their test flights begin in three years.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Ill Wind Blows

The Vehicle Assembly Building after Hurricane Frances. Image source:

Hurricane Irene teased and taunted the Space Coast as it passed by enroute to fatter targets north on the Atlantic seaboard.

It brought to mind the 2004 hurricane season, when four hurricanes hit Kennedy Space Center over six weeks.

Below are photos from of damage to the Vehicle Assembly Building after Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne.

A view out the south side of the Vehicle Assembly Building through where panels are missing. The image was taken after Hurricane Frances.

Cleanup crews gather the remains of the lost VAB panels after Frances.

Workers on scaffolds try to repair the holes in the VAB walls after Frances so work can resume inside.

The Vehicle Assembly Building after Hurricane Jeanne.

SLS Tank Design Advances

An artist's concept of the Shuttle-derived Heavy Lift Vehicle. Image source: reports that Boeing has completed work on the "pathfinder" design for a conceptual model of the Space Launch System's liquid oxygen tank.

Managers have already presented their teams with kickoff charts, showing what is now the well-known Shuttle Derived (SD) HLV, along with pointers towards a forward plan to develop the Upper Stage design simultaneously with the core stage ...

Boeing – who officially class themselves as “pursuing work on NASA’s Space Launch System to provide heavy lift capability for exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit” – have already completed testing their manufacturing processes via a sub-scale tank, known as the “Pathfinder”.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The ISS Bug Hunt

Click the above arrow to watch a 6½ minute Astrogenetix video about biomedical research on the International Space Station.

I'm often asked by Space Coast visitors why we conduct research on the International Space Station. Wouldn't it be cheaper to do the research on Earth?

I explain that the ISS is unique because it exists in microgravity. Any time an experiment is performed, we add, alter or delete one basic element of the test subject to see what happens. On the ISS, gravity is removed.

Astrogenetix is one of the companies performing biomedical research on the ISS. They've already used the space station to develop a possible vaccine to prevent salmonella, and now the ISS is being used to find a way to prevent MRSA, one of the more virulent forms of staph infections.

The above 6½ minute Astrogenetix video is an excellent explanation of why we use the ISS for biomedical research — and why it's worth preserving the ISS as a research platform for future generations.

Orion Test at LC-46 in 2014

A Peacekeeper missile being tested at Vandenberg AFB in 2002. Source: Wikipedia.

Florida Today reports that NASA has chosen to move an Orion MPCV test flight from New Mexico to Cape Canaveral.

NASA intends to move a flight test of the abort system for the Orion crew exploration vehicle to Cape Canaveral from a missile range in New Mexico, and the agency is targeting March 2014 for the launch.

The test flight is to be staged at Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to an agency white paper obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.

The test originally was scheduled to take place at White Sands Missile Range because the Orion spacecraft initially was designed to return to Earth and parachute down to land. But NASA since has changed that plan, and now, the spacecraft will splash down in water.

The article states that a Peacekeeper missile will be used to launch Orion along with a Launch Abort System.

According to Wikipedia, the Peacekeeper missiles were to be decommissioned under the START II treaty. The treaty was never verified, but they were deactivated anyway. Some of the missiles were converted by Orbital Sciences for use as satellite launchers.

Launch Complex 46. Photo source: Space Florida.

LC-46 is leased to Space Florida. Originally built for land-based testing of Trident submarine missiles, it has been renovated for use by government and commercial launchers. To quote from the Space Florida web site:

Among Space Florida’s notable launches at LC-46 is NASA’s Lunar Prospector successfully launched in January 1998 and in January 1999, the Republic of China successfully launched ROCSAT-1. Both missions used Lockheed-Martin Athena rockets.

Apparently the ROCSAT-1 launch on January 27, 1999 was the last launch from LC-46.

UPDATE August 27, 2011Florida Today updates the original article with a lengthier version that appeared in today's print edition.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Audit Vindicates Orbiter Display Selection Process

An artist's concept of the orbiter Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Image source: KSCVC.

An audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General has concluded, "We found no evidence that the Team’s recommendation or the Administrator’s decision were tainted by political influence or any other improper consideration."

While the Administrator was subject to a great deal of pressure from members of Congress and other interested parties, we found no evidence that this pressure had any influence on the Administrator’s ultimate decision on where to place the Orbiters. Moreover, we found no attempt by White House officials to direct or influence Bolden’s decision making. We also found that NASA’s process was consistent with applicable Federal law.

After the orbiter display winners were announced on April 12, politicians representing the loser sites responded with threats, smears and demands for investigations. Space Coast represntatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey co-sponsored legislation that would let Congress dictate where the orbiters would go.

The investigation has concluded their charges were baseless.

The audit did find a mathematical error that would have tied the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex:

... We found that the Team made several errors during its evaluation process, including one that would have resulted in a numerical “tie” among the Intrepid, the Kennedy Visitor Complex, and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (Air Force Museum) in Dayton, Ohio. Bolden told the OIG that had he been aware of this tie, he would have made the same decision regarding Orbiter placement because he believes the chosen locations will best serve NASA’s goal to spur interest in science, technology, and space exploration.

The report states that Bolden said he would have chosen KSCVC any way because the USAF museum could not commit to their proposed funding.

According to the report, NASA's priorities were:

(1) place the Orbiters where they would be preserved for history and seen by the greatest number of visitors and

(2) save taxpayer dollars by awarding the Orbiters to institutions that were willing to reimburse the Agency for the multi-million dollar cost of preparing them for display and transporting them to their new homes.

As for the widely spread conspiracy theory of a White House plot to deny Houston an orbiter, the report states:

In addition to deflecting pressure from politicians, Bolden told us he also put aside his personal preferences in order to make the best selections for NASA and the Nation. Bolden said that if it had been strictly a personal decision, his preference would have been to place an Orbiter in Houston. He noted that “[a]s a resident of Texas and a person who . . . spent the middle of my Marine Corps career in Houston, I would have loved to have placed an Orbiter in Houston.” However, he said he could not ignore that Space Center Houston had relatively low attendance rates and provided significantly lower international access than the locations selected.

I wrote on July 27 that Houston had submitted its report late, and online samples of its proposal appear vastly inferior to those of other applicants.

The report notes that KSCVC is required to provide $20.5 million in funding for Atlantis by February 2012. The orbiter will be delivered in February 2013 — which of course means little since it's already at KSC. Here's the audit's summary of that project's current status:

NASA selected the Kennedy Visitor Complex for placement of Atlantis. After Atlantis returned from its final mission on July 21, 2011, NASA began the after-mission processing and “safing” preparation activities and plans to complete all processing activities required for display by September 2012. Atlantis will then be stored in Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building until February 2013, with tour-group viewing opportunities during that period. The Visitor Complex is currently negotiating with Kennedy Space Center officials for an additional storage period at a suitable Center facility until the permanent display facility is ready. As currently planned, Atlantis will be moved to its permanent facility in February 2013 and will be ready for permanent display in July 2013. The Visitor Complex plans to display Atlantis in a raised, tilted, horizontal position in its permanent facility. The Visitor Complex submitted its logistics plan on August 5, 2011. The exhibit and finance plans are due by the end of August 2011, and initial funding is due in February 2012.

UPDATE 8:00 PM EDTThe Houston Chronicle reacts to the investigation findings:

Although the report concluded NASA's decision was not politically motivated, some Houstonians remain angry the home of Mission Control was not chosen as a final resting place for one of the four Orbiters. Local officials and congressmen insist NASA and President Barack Obama's administration excluded the Texas city because of the state's Republican leanings.

They pointed to an initial finding in 2009 that determined Houston should get a shuttle. They accused NASA administrator Charles Bolden of deliberately changing the criteria to focus on areas that would attract international tourists rather than those with ties to the program so that he could exclude Houston. They disagree with Bolden's conclusion that Houston and its space center do not get enough international traffic to justify putting a lucrative shuttle in its museum ...

Bolden, who still owns a home in Houston, told NASA investigators that personally he "would have loved to have placed an Orbiter in Houston," but the Space Center Houston had lower attendance and fewer international visitors than the winners.

In Dayton, meanwhile, the Dayton Daily News reacts to the news that the U.S. Air Force Museum tied with KSCVC in the scoring for an orbiter.

Officials in Dayton and Houston, communities that didn’t get shuttles, called for the investigation alleging political influences played a role in site selections. The report found there were no outside influences, including none from the White House. The decision was based on attendance, funding, population and the facility.

“NASA may have followed the law when awarding the shuttles, but it is still guilty of incredibly bad judgment,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said.

Brown threatened last April to have Bolden personally investigated because the NASA administrator did not award an orbiter to Brown's state.

UPDATE 8:45 PM EDTThe Washington Post reports on the audit findings.

Space Center Houston, next door to Johnson Space Center, ranked near the bottom of the list. It scored low for attendance, international visitors, museum accreditation and difficulty transporting a shuttle there. Museums in Chicago, Seattle, Riverside, Calif., San Diego and McMinnville, Ore., all scored higher than Houston . . .

After the report was released, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, criticized the selection process.

“It’s clear to me this was rigged from the beginning and it was pretty clear Houston would not receive the orbiter,” he said.

The phrase "sore loser" comes to mind.

UPDATE August 26, 2011Florida Today reports:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's decision about which cities would get a retired space shuttle was based on a flawed assessment of applications but wasn't tainted by politics, according to a report released Thursday.

Bolden announced where four retired shuttles would go based largely on where they would be viewed by the most people, according to the 27-page report from NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.

But civil servants who reviewed the 29 applications for an orbiter made several mistakes, including one that wasn't caught until after Bolden's announcement, the report said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Progress 44 May Be Lost

A Progress spacecraft approaches the Space Station prior to docking. Image source:

Florida Today reports that Russia's Progress 44 cargo vehicle may have been lost enroute to the International Space Station.

Russian mission controllers just informed members of the station's six-person Expedition 28 crew that the Progress 44 ship may not have separated from the upper stage of a Soyuz rocket nearly six minutes into flight.

Russia's Mission Control Center in Korolev has attempted to regain contact with the spacecraft, "unfortunately in vain," the head of the MCC said, according to a translator on NASA TV.

UPDATE 2:30 PM reports Progress 44 crashed to Earth after an "engine anomaly."

"Unfortunately, about 325 seconds into flight, shortly after the third stage was ignited, the vehicle commanded an engine shutdown due to an engine anomaly," NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini told reporters today. "The vehicle impacted in the Altai region of the Russian Federation."

This map shows the location of the Altai Republic. Image source: offers this overview of the Progress spacecraft:

Progress spacecraft are automated, unpiloted and single-use vehicles that have delivered fuel and supplies to the International Space Station three to four times each year since 2001. The Progress design was modeled after Russia's Soyuz space capsule, which carries crewmembers to the ISS, but it is specially modified to carry cargo instead of people. Like the Soyuz, Progress vehicles are built to fly themselves but can also be remote-controlled by cosmonauts on the Space Station if required.

This is the second launch anomaly suffered by Russia in the last seven days.

Space News reported yesterday that Russian "ground teams have been unable to communicate with a large, European-built, Russian-owned telecommunications satellite launched into a bad orbit Aug. 18."

The statement from Roscosmos suggests that in addition to a bad launch provided by the Proton-Breeze M rocket, which released the Express-AM4 satellite far from its intended drop-off point, the satellite itself has a defective communications system that is unable to send or receive signals.

Roscosmos said flights of the Proton-Breeze M rocket have been suspended until a state-appointed board of inquiry determines the cause of what appears to be a problem in the Breeze M upper stage’s flight control system.

UPDATE 2:45 PM EDTAviation Week reports:

The fate of the capsule, which Russian authorities attempted to contact independently of the third stage, was unclear, said Nicole Cloutier-LeMasters, a NASA spokeswoman at the agency’s Johnson Space Center ...

In addition to carrying supply cargo, Progress 44 was to act as a propulsion source for orbital adjustments as well as debris avoidance maneuvers.

UPDATE 8:30 PM EDTAn Associated Press report on reports that pieces of the craft fell in the Choisky region of Russia's Altai province 900 miles northeast of the launch site. A regional official was quoted as saying, "The explosion was so strong that for 100 kilometers (60 miles) glass almost flew out of the windows."

The area is remote and night has fallen, so no information is available yet on damage or casualties.

The article quotes James Oberg, a widely recognized expert on the Russian space program, as saying a Russian source told him that when the incident occurred at 325 seconds into the flight the cargo vehicle had not yet separated from the Soyuz rocket.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher during a May 2010 hearing on the future of U.S. human space flight. Image source: U.S. House of Representatives.

UPDATE 8:45 PM EDT — California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher has issued a press release in which he calls on the United States "to dramatically accelerate the commercial crew systems already under development" in the wake of the Progress 44 loss.

We need to get on with the task of building affordable launch systems to meet our nation’s needs for access to low Earth orbit, instead of promoting grandiose concepts which keep us vulnerable in the short and medium terms. The most responsible course of action for the United States is to dramatically accelerate the commercial crew systems already under development.

I am calling on General Bolden, the NASA Administrator, to propose an emergency transfer of funding from unobligated balances in other programs, including the Space Launch System, to NASA’s commercial crew initiative. Funding should be used to speed up the efforts of the four current industry partners to develop their systems and potentially expand the recent awards to include the best applicants for launch vehicle development.

NASA could potentially transfer several hundred million dollars from this long term development concept, since the SLS project has not even started, to the more urgently needed systems that can launch astronauts to ISS, reliably and affordably. This transfer will boost the development of American controlled technology and greatly reduce our dependence on the Russians.

Most of Rohrabacher's colleagues on the House space committee view SLS as pork for their districts and generally have been hostile to more funding for commercial space.

UPDATE 9:00 PM EDT — The above video is NASA's daily ISS update. It includes video of the Progress 44 launch but not the vehicle loss.

The above video is of the NASA press conference held this afternoon at Johnson Space Center, discussing the ramifications to the U.S. program of the Progress 44 loss.

UPDATE 9:15 PM EDTDoug Messier of the Parabolic Arc blog writes that critics of Russia's space program should remember that they bailed out the United States after the Columbia accident in 2003.

As a good partner, the United States must:
  • Support its Russian partner in any way it can in recovering from this accident.
  • Get its commercial cargo delivery capability up and running as soon and as safely as possible to relieve some of the pressure on the Russians in that area.
  • Stop screwing around with its next-generation human spaceflight program. Congress needs to fund commercial crew to the level requested by the Obama Administration. Legislators must let go of their dangerous delusion that that throwing billions of dollars at heavy-lift and the Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle while starving commercial crew is a sound idea. It will not shorten the human spaceflight gap. All it will do is put greater pressure on the Russians and leave station crews with no redundant access to orbit. And that’s not good for anyone.
We owe this to our brave astronauts and cosmonauts who risk their lives pushing back the boundaries of space. We owe this to our Russian partners who helped to save the space station from cancellation in the 1990s and who kept it operating after the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

UPDATE August 25, 2011 6:15 AM EDTFlorida Today updates its initial report on the Progress 44 loss.

A Russian rocket failure Wednesday likely will delay the first post-shuttle era launch of astronauts to the International Space Station and also could force a temporary reduction in the number of people living aboard the outpost.

American astronaut Ron Garan and two Russian cosmonauts likely will extend six-month tours of duty at the space station rather than return to Earth as planned on Sept. 8. The planned Sept. 21 launch from Kazakhstan of a new station crew that includes U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank faces an indefinite delay while a Russian commission investigates the Soyuz rocket failure and the loss of an unmanned Progress supply ship.

Station staffing would be cut from six to three if Russia cannot return Soyuz rockets to flight by late October.

UPDATE August 26, 2011Florida Today reports on members of Congress demanding NASA accelerate SLS development even though it has nothing to do with the ISS:

As Russia launched an investigation Thursday into this week's explosive Soyuz rocket crash that destroyed supplies bound for the International Space Station, U.S. legislators urged NASA to speed development of new American spacecraft to replace retired shuttles.

Two U.S. senators and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives said the Soyuz failure underscores the need to fund development of new U.S. spacecraft. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., seized an opportunity to push NASA to develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Space Launch System Independent Review Online has posted the executive summary of the Space Launch System independent cost analysis performed by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Click here to read the report.

The report concludes:

The cost estimates prepared by the [Space Launch System (SLS), Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and 21st Century Ground System (21CGS)] Programs are consistent with pre-concept, AoA-phase estimates and thus are not suitable for long-term budget formulation or the development of Program baselines. NASA should treat the estimates as serviceable point estimates for budget planning in the near-term 3-5 year budget horizon as they represent the basis upon which future estimates can be constructed. Due to unjustified, sometimes substantial, assumed future cost savings; the ICA Team views each Program’s estimate as optimistic. Reserve levels were not based on a quantitative risk analysis and do not cover each Program’s Protect Scenario. Furthermore, each Protect Scenario excludes estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks, which history indicates are major sources of cost growth on programs. Due to procurement of items still in development and large cost risks in the out years, NASA cannot have full confidence in the estimates for long-term planning.

On August 19, Republican Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison issued a press release demanding that NASA immediately announce the Space Launch System design. Hutchison claimed:

I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months — that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately.

Read the report. It says no such thing.

Think she'll issue a retraction and apology? No, I don't think so either.

UPDATE August 24, and Florida Today report on the analysis.

UPDATE August 24, 2011 2:45 PM EDT — Reflecting further on this analysis ... Aviation Week reported last January 19 that based on initial SLS cost estimates:

Engineers and managers at NASA are sure to change their new reference vehicle designs for the government’s next heavy-lift and human-spaceflight vehicles, because they’re already saying they don’t have enough money to carry them out. But key senators are insisting that they do.

Congress and President Barack Obama authorized $6.9 billion over the next three years to develop a new heavy-lift space launch system (SLS), and another $3.92 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle (MPCV). They also set a Dec. 31, 2016, deadline for “operational capability.” NASA says the funding won’t cover it.

Members of the Senate space subcommittee reacted angrily to the preliminary report.

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5, "According to preliminary NASA estimates, it would cost between $17 billion and $22 billion to ready the new rocket and Orion capsule for a test flight in December 2017 that would put an unmanned capsule into a lunar orbit."

Based on the above, this would seem to suggest that Booz Allen believes NASA's estimates for the next three to five years are accurate, but beyond that are optimistic. If so, then it seems that Booz Allen is supporting NASA's January contention that Congressional funding for SLS is way too low, and that the Senate space subcommittee must come to grips with reality.

UPDATE August 25, 2011 — In the wake of the Progress 44 loss, Senator Hutchison has issued a press release demanding SLS construction begin — even though SLS has nothing to do with the International Space Station.

She also falsely claimed that the Booz Allen analysis concluded the SLS "can be initiated within our currently constrained fiscal limitations," when the report appears to state the opposite.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Orbiter Museum Funding Threatened

An artist's concept of the orbiter Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Image source: KSCVC.

Florida Today reports that the July vote by the Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee to cut 10% from the Fiscal Year 2012 NASA budget would remove funding for processing Shuttle orbiters for museum delivery.

Funding for the program is almost nonexistent in a budget approved by U.S. House appropriators that would cut NASA spending by $1.6 billion, to $16.8 billion.

The $548 million recommended for space shuttle operations would primarily fund contributions to USA employee pensions. Little would likely be left for ongoing operations. That proposal may not survive, but Congress is not expected to pass a 2012 budget before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The resulting uncertainty could impact jobs.

This could delay the opening of the Atlantis museum at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the summer of 2013, along with the delivery of the other orbiters to museums.

The committee bill increased spending on the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle while reducing spending on all other programs. It would cancel the James Webb Space Telescope.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spaceport America Closer to Opening Day

An artist's concept of Spaceport America. Image source:

The El Paso Times reports that New Mexico's Spaceport America is closer to completion.

The first phase of construction of Spaceport America, New Mexico's $209 million commercial spaceflight launch complex, is 90 percent complete.

Virgin Galactic, the spaceport's anchor tenant, plans to dedicate the terminal-hangar sometime in October ...

Various space aviation experts have suggested that Virgin Galactic may launch its first space tourist flights sometime in 2013. The company, developing what is being called the world's first passenger-carrying space vehicle fleet, has sold almost 500 tickets at $200,000 each for inaugural flights - that's a total of $100 million.

Up Aerospace, a Colorado company, and Lockheed Martin, an advanced technology company, also plan to launch suborbital flights from New Mexico's Spaceport America.

Space Coast Promotes High-Tech Manufacturing Jobs

Florida Today reports that "the time may be right" to push for developing high-tech manufacturing jobs in Brevard County.

One of the top goals of the [Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast] and Space Florida, the state agency charged with strengthening the space industry in the Sunshine State, is to boost aerospace and aviation employment in Brevard, including in the manufacturing sector.

Officials from both agencies attend trade shows, meet with lawmakers on incentive packages and generally put out the word to companies that even though the space shuttle program has ended, Brevard remains a viable player in this arena.

Commercial space companies are in the crosshairs.

A loftier effort will be to lure commercial space related companies to Brevard and convince them that building rockets near the launch pads makes good economic sense. Higher operating costs and more stringent business regulations in other states with space-related manufacturing — California, for example — could make Florida all the more appealing, said Space Florida President Frank DiBello.

While getting a company to move a large manufacturing operation from one state to another can become a political issue as much as anything, DiBello is making the case that any new space-related production lines — including small satellite manufacturing — could be cheaper in Florida, near the point of launch.

Commercial Space Caught in NASA Red Tape

Florida Today reports that commercial space is running into a NASA bureaucratic road block.

Contracts governed by the voluminous Federal Acquisition Regulations ... will divert limited resources from work on spacecraft by requiring the companies to hire armies of lawyers and accountants to track compliance with complex regulations.

And unlike a more streamlined alternative, NASA would call the shots on critical design decisions, potentially limiting the innovation needed to reduce costs and attract customers beyond NASA.

The basic problem is a legal interpretation of law that may require commercial space companies to comply with NASA bureaucratic practices if they wish to obtain contracts ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

NASA recently solicited feedback from the commercial space participants, which may affect future awards funding.

Goodnight, Irene

The projected path for Hurricane Irene as of August 21 5 PM EDT. Image source: reports that Tropical Storm Irene "could reach the southeastern United States by Thursday."

The storm track shows it heading for Florida by the end of the week, but as we saw with Tropical Storm Emily three weeks ago it's too early to know for sure if it will affect the Space Coast.

Commercial Operators Move In

Space News reports, "Privately owned U.S. space companies are preparing to move into high-value launch support facilities in Florida, partially filling a vacuum left by the end of the space shuttle program and the retiring of the Delta 2 expendable rocket."

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) already has confirmed that it will use money from the state of Florida to expand its presence at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Meanwhile, an announcement is expected in the coming weeks from NASA regarding bids from industry to take over shuttle facilities at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Spacex has taken over the old Hangar AO at CCAFS, dubbing it "Hangar X."

The article reports:

SpaceX also is getting state money to tune up a payload processing and integration facility at the Cape’s Space Launch Complex 40, the long-serving Titan 3 and Titan 4 launch pad SpaceX last used in December to launch its first demonstration mission of cargo-carrying Dragon capsule.

Over at KSC, NASA has received "several dozen viable responses" to its offer to lease launch support infrastructure at the space center to commercial interests.

“There are a wide variety of cats and dogs in that list” of interested parties, Dale Ketcham, director of the Spaceport Research & Technology Institute at KSC said. His characterization of the disparate uses to which responders intend to put KSC infrastructure was informed by conversations with NASA, he said.

Some of the entities that want to move into Kennedy “are involved in traditional human spaceflight or launch operations [which is] more traditional KSC work,” Ketcham said. “But a fair number of those credible respondents were new types of work for KSC, more in the technology development and less in the pure launch operations.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Three Hour Tour

On September 9, 2010, I wrote a blog about the free monthly tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station offered by Patrick Air Force Base.

For months, the Air Force has planned more frequent tours. Florida Today reports that those tours are now available.

In an effort to connect with the many space fans who live in and visit Brevard County, Patrick Air Force Base's 45th Space Wing is now offering free tours of the Air Force station twice a week ...

The three-hour tours, which for several years had been run once a month, are now being conducted on Wednesdays and Thursdays. A third day could be added if the demand increases.

The tours are free.

For reservations, call (321) 494-5945 or e-mail

Friday, August 19, 2011

SLS Design May Be Closer to Release

The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5 that NASA would await an independent cost assessment by Booz Allen Hamilton before releasing their proposed design of the Space Launch System.

Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison issued a press release today in which she claimed that NASA was to receive the Booz Allen report today, and that it would support her position from many months ago:

Today NASA is scheduled to formally receive the independent cost assessment for the Space Launch System (SLS) that was requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months - that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately ...

Commerce Committee staff have been briefed by Booz Allen Hamilton on their study approach and NASA has provided the baseline schedule and budget assumptions on which the Booz Allen Hamilton assessment is based, and has committed to deliver the report to the Congress later today. I expect the assessment will confirm what Congress and the NASA technical experts have known for nine months, that the Administration could have approved the vehicle design concept months ago, prevented the loss of thousands of jobs, and ensured U.S. leadership in space and science. While I have concerns that the funding levels and schedule contained in the assessment do not achieve the timeline for a return to U.S. manned spaceflight as required in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, the Administration should immediately announce a formal decision approving the vehicle design concept and prevent the loss of even more jobs and the further deterioration of our human space flight capabilities. We can then work together, and on a bipartisan basis, to identify and seek to provide the resources that can bring these vehicles to reality.

Hutchison, one of the original architects of the Space Launch System, confirms yet again its purpose is to perpetuate jobs in her state. Nowhere in her press release does she state what mission she intends for SLS or any destination.

Space News reports that a NASA spokesman has confirmed receipt of the report but will not discuss its contents.

NASA spokesman Mike Braukus said Aug. 19 the agency received the cost assessment but had not decided whether to release it. “The type of information contained in the Independent Cost Assessment is acquisition sensitive and generally not releasable to the public,” he said. “If it is determined to be releasable, the assessment will be posted to NASA’s Space Launch Systems Web site.”

If and when the analysis becomes available online, I'll post a link.

UPDATE August 21, 2011Aviation Week reports that Senators are trying to pressure NASA into selecting a Space Launch System design that will favor contractors in their states.

Senators who agree that NASA is taking too long to develop a design and procurement strategy for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress ordered last year cannot agree among themselves on exactly what that design should be.

At issue is what kind of power will be used in the strap-on boosters needed to get the SLS off the pad, pitting powerful senators from both sides of the aisle against members of their own political parties in a letter-writing campaign to the executive branch aimed at generating jobs for their constituents.

This is why some critics have dubbed SLS the Senate Launch System.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Rocky Road

A 1963 schematic of the Crawlerway. Image source:

In reading yesterday through the October 2009 Ares I-x Press Kit, I found this passage:

The maximum crawlerway loading reported to date from any Apollo or space shuttle configuration is 18.6 million pounds. The Ares V loads are projected to be up to 35 percent larger.

That left me wondering how NASA planned to roll out Ares V to LC-39 when the day came — if ever, since the 2009 Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee report found that Ares V would not be available "until the late 2020s, and there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and lunar surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever."

Constellation, as we know, is officially cancelled. But the proposed Space Launch System will face the same problem. So was the Crawlerway's weight capacity ever addressed?

According to an August 2010 article, a new six-track "Super Crawler" was planned to transport Ares V to the launch pad.

The article reported that tests were conducted that year on a section of the Crawlerway near LC-39B. According to the article, the maximum weight ever carried during Apollo and Shuttle was about 18 million pounds. The Ares V with the new Super Crawler would have weighed about 25 million pounds.

According to

The findings of the testing, which was conducted by NASA, the United Space Alliance (USA), Architect and Engineering firm Jones Edmunds and Associates (JEA) and a couple of additional contractors, are expected sometime in September.

Searching the Internet, I found minutes of a July 2010 meeting which seem to indicate that the Crawlerway could handle the heavier load.

The minutes quote the Jones Edmunds study as concluding, "30 million pounds will be the maximum recommended loading. Jones Edmunds will discuss the potential for greater than 30M lbs with incremental conditioning and additional investigation." Individual segments showed some weakening (not surprising after 45 years of use), and further analysis was recommended.

The Vehicle Assembly Building and Crawlerway under construction in May 1964. Photo source:

A June 5, 2011 article reported:

Initial testing was completed last year on one area of crawlerway just outside of Pad 39B, via a strange looking contraption which aimed to test the impact of over 25 million pounds on the rock surface of the track.

The findings of the testing, which was conducted by NASA, the United Space Alliance (USA), Architect and Engineering firm Jones Edmunds and Associates (JEA) and a couple of additional contractors, was classed as positive.

The article also noted, "No references have been made into the use of the Ares I Mobile Launcher (ML), which remains sat next to the VAB, with a launch mount which is highly specific to the Ares I vehicle."

The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5 that NASA is awaiting an independent cost analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton before releasing the design of the Space Launch System. It will be interesting to see whether the proposal includes money for upgrading the Crawlerway, and the transporting system that has served NASA for nearly a half-century.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Prepare for ISS Dockings

Italy's Thales Alenia Space developed the pressurized cargo module for the Orbital Cygnus.

Two online articles detail pending flights by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to the International Space Station.

Aviation Week "COTS Vehicle" Could Reach ISS This Year" "ISS Managers Evaluating SpaceX Via Safety Reviews Ahead of Debut Arrival"

The main points ...

The two companies are working through the NASA bureaucracy to have their flights certified safe for docking.

One issue with December's SpaceX Dragon flight is a commitment to deploy two OrbComm satellites using Falcon 9's second stage once Dragon separates.

To quote from the article:

It is currently understood that two ORBCOMM satellites will ride uphill with Falcon 9 during the C2/C3 flight, which caused ISS managers some interest from the standpoint of a potential collision risk with the ISS. As such, NASA are using their experienced Monte Carlo analysis methods to clear this concern.

The article also cites a recent presentation projecting SpaceX production timelines:

"Significant additional tooling and automation will be added to the factory, as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. Depending on demand, Dragon production is planned for a rate of one every six to eight weeks."

As for the Orbital Cygnus, Aviation Week reports the demo launch could be delayed due to concerns with the aging Soviet-era engines.

Orbital Sciences suffered a pair of setbacks over the summer as they pushed to mount their first suborbital Taurus II test flight in mid-September. Work on the greenfield launch pad for the new Ukrainian-built rocket at Wallops Island, Va., lagged, and the testing fire at Stennis Space Center, Miss., raised questions about the surplus Soviet-era kerosene-fueled NK-33 engines that will power it.

Initially thought to have been triggered by a fuel leak in the test stand, the fire damaged the engine beyond repair. And subsequent analysis revealed that the leak came from a Russian-built fuel manifold on the outside of the 40-year-old engine, which has been modified by Aerojet and redesignated the AJ-26.

Aerojet has about three dozen AJ-26s in its inventory, according to an Orbital spokesman. All will be evaluated to ensure they are free of corrosion or some other flaw that might have caused the manifold leak on the damaged engine.

The projected timelines have Dragon's demo docking in December, with deliveries beginning in February. Cygnus is also projected to fly its demo flight in February.

UPDATE August 17, 2011 — You have to be a subscriber to read it, but The Wall Street Journal has an article on the pending SpaceX launch.

Private spacecraft will begin docking with the International Space Station before the end of the year, months sooner than planned, after NASA gave the green light for the first cargo delivery by such a capsule.

Space Exploration Technology Corp. said the U.S. space agency has given tentative approval for it to conduct the late November flight. The launch will accelerate the shift to private ventures for future manned missions.

The flight will feature the initial effort to dock the company's Dragon capsule — the pioneer commercial spacecraft — with the space station, orbiting more than 200 miles above the earth.

Despite the subscribers-only status on, you can read the entire article on the Morningstar web site. In that article is this passage:

Seeking to cut costs and revitalize NASA for deep-space exploration, President Barack Obama wants to use private space taxis to support the space station. NASA has provided seed money to SpaceX and a number of other companies to work on projects capable of transporting astronauts to and from the station by the second half of this decade.

But simultaneously, SpaceX and other commercial-space groups also are vying to provide larger rockets and more-capable capsules, required for longer-term manned exploration initiatives to venture deeper into the solar system.

Meanwhile, Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX held a countdown rehearsal on August 15, and await the delivery of Dragon from California.

SpaceX says engineers have upgraded the seaside launch pad since the Falcon 9's previous launch in December 2010, including adding new liquid oxygen pumps to reduce the fueling time from 90 minutes to less than 30 minutes. The improvement will streamline the Falcon 9 countdown for the next launch.

The mission's payload, the first full-up Dragon spacecraft, will be shipped to Cape Canaveral in early September, according to Kirstin Grantham, a company spokesperson.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

House Budget Threatens KSC Modernization

The Florida SpaceRePort reports that the House version of the proposed Fiscal Year 2012 federal budget would once again defeat efforts by the Obama administration to modernize Kennedy Space Center.

President Obama last year proposed that $429 million would come to NASA Kennedy Space Center in FY-2011 (and $1.9 billion over five years) to modernize NASA infrastructure at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport under the 21st Century Launch Complex (21-CLC) program. The Congressional budget stalemate for FY-2011 resulted in a 21-CLC appropriation of only $128 million and effectively prevented any significant spending during the fiscal year.

Current KSC plans for infrastructure upgrades still hover at around $410 million, but much of this money would come from the Congressionally mandated heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) program, to meet the specific launch site needs of this vehicle. The 21-CLC funds had been intended for broader investments to make the spaceport more competitive for a variety of government and commercial launch programs.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives has put forth an FY-2012 budget for NASA that now includes only $60 million for 21-CLC. Meanwhile, advocates for Marshall Space Flight Center are said to be maneuvering to minimize KSC infrastructure spending from the SLS account, to allow more to be used for the vehicle's design and development in Huntsville. Florida advocates for KSC say these and other threatened cuts to KSC programs add insult to injury while the Space Coast suffers an economic crisis caused by the Space Shuttle's retirement.

Space Coast representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey are fond of claiming Obama is responsible for jobs lost at KSC, yet they are part of the Republican majority in the House responsible for the KSC budget cutbacks.

Chinese to Launch Space Station Test Lab

USA Today reports that China plans to soon launch a test module that will be used to practice the skills for one day constructing a space station.

Smaller than NASA's 85-ton Skylab, launched in 1973, Tiangong I will be unmanned when it launches. The lab will mostly serve as a test-bed for as many as two manned docking missions in its two-year lifetime, says space analyst Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. "It is a logical move in developing manned space capabilities."

The article reports that this module and two more will be used to develop the skills to build a space station around 2020.

China's move into the space lab business doesn't follow the pattern set by the U.S. and Russian space programs. "China is not in a space race," [space analyst Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation] says. "Its program is pragmatic and proceeds very carefully." Developing the capability to send people into space, and perhaps someday land them on the moon, drives the program, which makes no distinction between civilian and military space activities.

Space Coast congressional representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey have often claimed that the Obama administration has ceded global space leadership to China. The absurdity of this claim is exposed by the report that this test bed will be smaller than the first U.S. space station that flew nearly forty years ago.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Space Shuttle Sling Shot

The orbiter Enterprise is lowered to the Dulles airport tarmac on November 17, 1985. Photo source: National Air and Space Museum. reports that NASA personnel recently practiced a long-lost art — how to remove an orbiter from atop a 747 where no mate-demate device is available.

The practice was held at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility.

Apparently the last time the system was used was in 1985, when the prototype orbiter Enterprise was delivered to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The same technique will be used in 2012 when the orbiters are delivered to museums.

Atlantis will remain at KSC and be displayed at the Visitor Complex. Discovery will go to the National Air and Space Museum. Enterprise will leave NASM and go to the U.S.S. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Discovery is the first scheduled for delivery, in spring 2012.

UPDATE August 11, 2011 7:15 AM offers this timeline of orbiter processing for museum deliveries, along with excellent history of prior incidents when two orbiters were viewed side-by-side.

SpaceX Plans to be Top World Rocket Maker

Aviation Week reports that "SpaceX is ramping up plans to become the world’s largest producer of rocket engines in less than five years, manufacturing more units per year than any other single country."

“We have built about 60 engines so far this year, and will build another 40 by year-end,” says [SpaceX CEO Gwynne] Shotwell. Speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Joint Propulsion Conference here, Shotwell explains that the eventual “plan is to build up to 400 engines per year, that’s our target.” The expansion is built on booked revenues of $3 billion through 2017, part of which was earned by orders for 14 new Falcon 9 launches placed “within the last year,” she says. SpaceX is also “negotiating three more right now,” she adds. The launch manifest lists 40 sold flights, including 33 Falcon 9s, plus five options.

As I reported yesterday, NASA plans for SpaceX to make its first cargo delivery to the International Space Station in February 2012. The article quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk as saying their next goal is to win away military missions from United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX’s focus will shift to convincing the U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office that the Falcon 9 can provide a competitive alternative to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles. “That’s our next big priority after ISS,” says Musk, who notes that the company recently began construction of its Falcon Heavy launch site at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The first Falcon Heavy flight is targeted for 2013.

The article concludes by noting that SpaceX intends to announce development of a “super-efficient, staged-combustion engine” sometime in the next year or two.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bolden: SpaceX to ISS in February 2012

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the NASA Future Forum. Photo source: NASA.

During an address this morning at the NASA Future Forum, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that the first SpaceX cargo delivery to the International Space Station will be in February 2012.

I'll provide a link if/when a video archive is posted online.

UPDATE August 12, 2011Click here for a transcript of Bolden's prepared remarks. These remarks don't include the reference to the February 2012 SpaceX flight; that was apparently extemporaneous.

UPDATE August 16, 2011YouTube has a video of the entire Future Forum. Administrator Bolden's presentation begins at about 9 1/2 minutes into the video.

Florida Invests in SpaceX

Florida Today reports that the State of Florida will invest $7 million "to help SpaceX increase its local launch rate and potentially attract hundreds of jobs to the Space Coast."

A SpaceX representative identified the state agency as Space Florida, although the agency didn't confirm their involvement to Florida Today.

"Having extra processing facilities for launch vehicles and payloads enables us to increase our launch rate," said SpaceX spokesman Bobby Block. "The greater the launch rate, the more activity you have out at the Cape."

The Falcon 9 made its first two launches last year, including a demonstration mission under a NASA program preparing for deliveries of cargo to the International Space Station. Another demonstration for NASA is planned late this year.

The company currently has 20 launches from the Cape under contract, including 13 for NASA, and hopes to launch from there
monthly starting in 2015.

Commercial Company Close to Leasing Shuttle Hangar

Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana. Photo source: Florida Today.

Florida Today reports KSC Director Bob Cabana says he's close to a deal with an unnamed commercial company to lease OPF-3, the former home of the Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis.

Cabana declined to name the company, but Florida Today reported on July 15 that it's Boeing, confirming a rumor I'd heard two weeks before.

Today's article reports the company "hopes to employ 500 to 600 people."

Cabana said that due to increased commercial space activity on the Space Coast, "he expects the combined work force to reach 10,000 in about three years."

"I want to guarantee you that Kennedy Space Center is not shutting," Cabana said, a comment that generated applause. "I promise you we are going to get through this."

Reflecting on the end of the shuttle program, Cabana said, "We have to accept it. It's time to move on now. What was, was. We can't do anything about it. We have to evolve."

Orion Could Launch from LC-37 in 2013

An artist's concept of the MPCV atop a Delta IV-H Upper Stage. Image source: reports that NASA is planning an unmanned test flight of the Orion crew capsule atop a Delta IV rocket from Launch Complex 37 in 2013.

Known as OFT-1 (Orion, or Orbital – given the name change to MPCV – Flight Test), the jointly operated mission between NASA’s Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) and Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin will charge the spacecraft with making several orbits of the planet, prior to a splashdown in the Pacific ...

“This will be a multi-hour orbit test of the Orion Spacecraft. From avionics to heat shield and parachute performance, this flight test will validate many high risk systems for the Orion spacecraft. MOD is heavily involved in this flight test.”

The article notes that "the launch will not take place at KSC — given it’s riding on a Delta IV-H — meaning it will be transported from KSC’s Operations and Checkout Building to Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) for mating with the EELV."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Posey Says NASA Funding Tied to Exploration Destination

Rep. Bill Posey's district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station but not Kennedy Space Center.

Space Coast congressional Rep. Bill Posey was the featured speaker yesterday at the monthly meeting of the National Space Club. Posey's district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, was also announced as a guest speaker but did not show.

According to the Florida Today report of the luncheon, Adams did not attend "because of a family matter."

The newspaper report quotes Posey as insulting NASA management, calling them "arrogant, petulant and defiant."

There are only a few dozen House members committed to the cause of human spaceflight, by Posey's reckoning, with "a whole lot more that we need to transform or convert."

That task was made harder, he argued, by NASA's refusal to release plans for building a heavy-lift exploration rocket that Congress requested by 2016, or to set specific destinations and timelines for those missions.

That "exploration rocket," the Space Launch System, was dictated and designed by the Senate's space subcommittee in 2010 as a means of preserving space jobs in their districts. It was approved by Congress as part of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently told Congress that he would release the design after completion of an independent cost assessment by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

According to an August 5 Orlando Sentinel report, internally NASA has estimated the cost of SLS at $38 billion through the end of the decade. The independent review is "expected in mid-August, and even agency insiders expect Booz Allen Hamilton to come back with a higher price tag given NASA's history of lowballing initial cost estimates."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Posey's Republican colleague in the House, was quoted in the Sentinel article as criticizing SLS.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a frequent NASA critic, said the money would be better spent by investing in commercial rocket companies or converting existing military rockets — rather than recycling equipment from NASA's scrap yard.

"This is an absolute waste of borrowed money," said Rohrabacher in a statement, who added that "for much, much less than $38 billion" NASA could invest in new technologies — such as orbiting fuel depots — that would help NASA use military or commercial rockets and "explore the solar system with our existing American launch vehicle fleet."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

NASA Selects Seven Companies for Commercial Suborbital Flights

NASA issued a press release today announcing seven companies had been selected "to integrate and fly technology payloads on commercial suborbital reusable platforms that carry payloads near the boundary of space."

The selected companies are:
-- Armadillo Aerospace, Heath, Texas
-- Near Space Corp., Tillamook, Ore.
-- Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.
-- Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colo.
-- Virgin Galactic, Mojave, Calif.
-- Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, Camarillo, Calif.
-- XCOR, Mojave, Calif.

As part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, each successful vendor will receive an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. These two-year contracts, worth a combined total of $10 million, will allow NASA to draw from a pool of commercial space companies to deliver payload integration and flight services. The flights will carry a variety of payloads to help meet the agency's research and technology needs.

UPDATE August 11, 2011Aviation Week reports that some of these commercial orbital flights may be crewed.

Two of the companies selected — Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, both of Mojave, Calif. — are developing piloted spaceplanes designed to carry humans to suborbital space for research and tourism. Two more — Armadillo Aerospace of Heath, Texas, and Up Aerospace Inc., of Highlands Ranch, Colo. — have parachute-recoverable sounding-rocket technology for suborbital experiments. Armadillo also is developing a reusable vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle for research payloads, as is Mojave-based Masten Space Systems, another contract winner.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Japan Envisions Crewed Flights

The HTV KOUNOTORI 2 cargo module leaves the International Space Station in March. Photo source: JAXA.

Aviation Week reports that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has plans for a cargo module to the International Space Station that could evolve into a crew delivery vehicle by the middle of the 2020s.

First, deliver things to the International Space Station. Second, deliver things and bring things back. Finally, send people up and bring them back. That, in a nutshell, is the sequence that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) wants to follow as it takes the first step, launching the HTV Kounotori cargo craft, and sets out its plans for the next two.

With an eye on flying a manned space mission in 2025, JAXA engineers are working on a capsule as big as SpaceX’s Dragon in their nascent program for an Earth-return cargo spacecraft. After a series of launches to the International Space Station (ISS) late this decade, the proposed HRV (HTV return vehicle) cargo capsule could be fitted with equipment to carry people, or JAXA could use it as a technology demonstrator for a specially designed spacecraft for human transportation.

The article notes that "Development is not yet funded," and the manned flights have not been approved by the Japan’s Space Activities Committee.

Boeing Wants You! reports that Boeing is looking to hire two "space test pilots" for their CST-100 commercial spacecraft that will launch atop an Atlas V around 2015.

The first piloted launch of an Atlas 5 rocket and CST-100 spacecraft is slated for late 2015, Boeing officials said in an Aug. 4 announcement.

Two Boeing space test pilots will fly the mission, which will blast off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, though the company is still searching for those crewmembers, as well as other astronaut candidates.

According to the article, three test flights are planned in 2015. "Those flights would include an unmanned launch test of the Atlas 5 rocket and capsule in early 2015, an in-flight launch abort system test in the middle of that year, then the actual crewed test flight at the end of 2015 carrying two pilots into space."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pork is in the Eye of the Beholder

Florida Today published on August 5 a guest column by Lynda Weatherman, president & CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, regarding the recent action by the House Appropriations Committee to slash NASA's Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

Weatherman claims the committee "has singled out Florida and seeks to cut or redirect funds originally allocated to Kennedy Space Center."

With almost sniper-like stealth, congressional members on the committee are proposing to slash or reallocate funds intended for development of KSC’s 21st-century launch complex, heavy-lift ground operations and space shuttle refurbishment. These projects represent the most immediate source of jobs at KSC.

Weatherman writes, "Our congressional delegation needs to be screaming at the top of its lungs to defend their region that’s already economically overwhelmed."

But as I wrote on July 12, neither Kennedy Space Center representative Sandy Adams nor Cape Canaveral representative Bill Posey have done much to support the Obama administration's plan to convert the facilities into a 21st century spaceport capable of attracting and supporting both government and commercial launches from around the world.

Anticipating criticism that her interest is solely in diverting tax dollars to her region, Weatherman writes:

These actions aren’t about pork, they’re about killing infrastructure investment intended to make KSC more competitive in commercial and government markets for launch, processing and manufacturing.

If this sabotage is effective, not only will the Space Coast be crippled in efforts to rebuild our Space sector, but the billions invested by Americans over decades in its premier launch complex will be wasted, all while other competing facilities are built and modernized with our tax dollars.

Weatherman's column was followed today by a Florida Today editorial titled "Fight for NASA."

Deep cuts under way in Congress for deficit and debt reduction will likely get worse, which could gut money for private launch companies and other NASA programs and further set back America’s ability to recover from the shuttle program’s end ...

The reductions in question and others that may arise cannot be allowed to happen with so much at stake for America’s global leadership in space exploration and our community’s role in it.

Although I'm sympathetic to her position, Ms. Weatherman's arguments do sound like she's trying to defend her slice of government pork. That's all right, because it's her job to do so, however in an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits and Tea Partiers holding hostage the economy to reduce government spending it's going to become increasingly difficult to argue in support of local programs solely out of parochial interests.

NASA's budget is about 0.4% of the federal budget, only about $18 billion in FY11. Outside of the few districts hosting NASA space centers and contractors, few members of Congress care about the future of U.S. space flight, with or without human passengers.

It will no longer suffice to argue NASA in its present form must survive only to protect government jobs. Politicians for many years have claimed that NASA jobs are somehow unique and vital to national security and global leadership. But let's face reality. They're not. And it's certainly not important where those jobs are located, unless a compelling argument can be made to prove otherwise.

The only way to save NASA's budget is to drop the "save jobs" rhetoric and find a more compelling argument that demonstrates how the human space flight program is of common benefit to all American taxpayers.

My personal belief is that the International Space Station and commercial space are the answer.

The ISS is a multinational platform for unprecedented biology, medicine, physics and astronomy research. Fifteen nations have agreed to jointly operate the ISS through at least 2020, probably through 2028. It's hard to imagine one primary member such as the United States would simply drop out, disgracing itself before the global community.

(But after this week's Congressional behavior during the manufactured debt ceiling crisis, perhaps we are capable of such disgrace.)

It can also serve as a test bed for simulating the conditions that would be experienced by astronauts on a long-duration flight to an asteroid or Mars. Programs are under way to study 21st Century spacefaring technologies such as robotic refueling craft and orbital fuel depots.

Some of the accomplishments and potential of the ISS can be reviewed in a February 2011 report to the United Nations.

The ISS is the kind of program that should be promoted as the pride of the world's premiere spacefaring nation. But it doesn't generate exciting video clips like a rocket launch, so it's ignored by the mainstream media. And now that construction is complete, the ISS no longer requires the thousands of taxpayer-funded government jobs necessary to fly the Shuttle to build it.

The space station does need cargo supply flights and crew rotations. Those missions require launches that will once again generate the aforementioned exciting video clips, so when the day comes that commercial cargo and crew fly to the ISS, I expect the media will start to pay attention again.

But many members of Congress see commercial flight as a prime candidate for cuts, arguing that the government shouldn't subsidize the private sector. (They conveniently ignore all those subsidies and tax breaks for the oil industry, agriculture, etc.)

Ms. Weatherman needs to drop the rhetoric alleging some sinister conspiracy within the halls of Congress to punish the Space Coast for some unmentioned motivation. She does need to argue the importance of ISS and commercial space to growing the U.S. economy. Acting like the Space Coast is somehow privileged is going to turn off members of Congress who have no interests beyond their own districts. Demonstrate how these programs will benefit their districts, not ours, and perhaps they'll listen.