Monday, October 31, 2011

More on VAB Tours

Click the arrow to watch a Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex promotional video.

Following up on an October 25 post about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offering tours starting November 1 of the Vehicle Assembly Building, more stories are starting to appear in the press about this historic opportunity.

Bright House News 13 "Kennedy Space Center's VAB Tours Start Tuesday"

Associated Press (via The Washington Post) "Kennedy Space Center in Fla. Opens Vehicle Assembly Building to Tours for 1st Time since ‘78"

Orlando Attractions Magazine "New Tour Offers the First Public Look Inside Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building"

UPDATE November 2, 2011 — Florida Today joins a VAB tour.

Hairdos blew, necks craned up as people gandered from the floor toward the upper reaches of the edifice, which is so big, weather systems — clouds and even rain — form within it.

Video cameras rolled. Still cameras flashed. People quite simply seemed amazed.

They all stood in a 700-foot-long corridor that separated towering High Bays 1 and 3 on the east side of the building, and High Bays 2 and 4 on the west side.

Here's a Florida Today video of the tour:

Click here to watch a WESH (Channel 2, Orlando) video of the tour.

It's Official: Boeing Will Move Into OPF-3

NASA Deputy Administrator addresses today's media event. Behind her are Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. Image source: NASA.

The worst kept secret in the Space Coast is finally a secret no more.

At a media event this morning, NASA and Space Florida announced that Boeing will occupy the Space Shuttle's former Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3) to build the commercial crew vehicle CST-100.

NASA signed a use agreement for OPF-3 with Space Florida, which will lease it to Boeing.

Among the many dignitaries to attend were:

  • NASA Deputy Adminsitrator Lori Garver
  • U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL)
  • Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
  • Governor Rick Scott
  • Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll

In NASA's web site announcement, President Barack Obama was quoted:

"The next era of space exploration won't wait, and so we can't wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs. That's why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery," President Barack Obama said.

Click the arrow to watch the video of today's media event at OPF-3. It runs one hour.

The ceremony garnered perhaps the most media attention of any Kennedy Space Center event since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. Here's a sample:

Florida Today "NASA, Boeing Sign Deal to Build New Spacecraft at KSC"

Florida Today (updated) Boeing Brings Space Jobs Back to Brevard"

Bright House News 13 "NASA, Boeing to Add 550 Jobs at KSC in New Spacecraft Deal"

Orlando Sentinel "Boeing to Build Space Capsules at KSC"

Associated Press "Boeing Leasing Shuttle Hangar to Build New Capsule"

Time "Why NASA's Going-Out-of-Business Sale Is Good News for Florida"

Aviation Week "NASA Off-Loading Shuttle Infrastructure" "Boeing Brings New Jobs to Florida's Space Coast" "Boeing to Build Private Space Taxis in Old NASA Shuttle Hangar" "Boeing to Use Shuttle Facility for Commercial Capsule" "NASA Signs Agreement with Space Florida to Reuse Kennedy Facilities For Boeing CST-100 Development" Boeing’s CST-100 Leases OPF-3 Following NASA Agreement with Space Florida

Click the arrow to watch Florida Today's report on the media event. It may be preceded by an advertisement.

Friday, October 28, 2011

SLS Design and Mission Updates

Two new articles on specifics of the Space Launch System design and possible missions:

Spaceflight Now "Super-Rocket to Use Mobile Launcher, Shuttle Crawlers"

NASA "SLS Flexibility: Exploration Roadmap Focus Taking Center Stage"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Blast from the Past

I came across this video posted on Universe Today in April 2010. It shows the launch pad of a Saturn V launch in extreme slow motion. Definitely worth your time to watch.

The video is part of a package available from Spacecraft Films.

The CCDev Hearing Post-Game Show

I doubt that anything changed after yesterday's commercial crew hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technlogy.

Click here to access the hearing webcast.

Committee chair Ralph Hall, a self-declared skeptic of commercial space, noted that many of his colleagues had chosen not to attend, but told the speakers that didn't mean they don't care.

Space Coast representative Sandy Adams showed up late, having attended another meeting. Her questions begin at about the two hour, seven minute mark in the webcast archive.

After the meeting, the committee issued an official press release quoting Hall:

Emphasizing the uncertainties of this new business model, Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), said “I think that NASA owes Congress and the laudable companies that are before us today a much more thorough assessment of the situation ahead. These companies have invested millions of dollars and Congress has committed millions more—it is time for NASA to deliver credible plans and analysis so that we can move forward with more confidence ..."

After expressing several concerns, Chairman Hall said, “For all my seeming skepticism, I am willing to be convinced that I’m wrong, and I hope I’m wrong. I want the private markets to relieve NASA of the cost and burden of building a new launch system for low Earth orbit. In a time of constrained budgets, we must first protect our presence in space and keep the faith with the American people and our foreign partners.”

Florida Today reports that NASA officials warned the committee that failure to properly fund commercial space would result in sending more money to Russia as the domestic launch schedule would slip.

“Providing inadequate funding ... presents an unacceptable risk to program execution and would force us to relook at our overall approach,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, told members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “We need the appropriate funding for this challenging program.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stuck to his commitment to fly crew on Dragon by 2014, given adequate funding. The other executives all agreed they could fly by 2015 if properly funded.

Popular Mechanics reports that SpaceX may go its own way if the government bureaucracy intrudes.

If NASA doesn’t change the terms in the draft version of its contract to build a spacecraft that can deliver astronauts to orbit, then Space Exploration Corp. (SpaceX) may simply bow out of building one for NASA. "We may not bid on it," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said. However he is increasingly optimistic that the agency will change some of the rules that dictate the design ...

Musk made his comments to PM outside the hearing room, but the backstory of his frustration is the first draft of a contract called the CCIDC (Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract), which NASA issued last month to guide the way that private companies build crew-carrying spacecraft. As Popular Mechanics reported last week, this early version of the contract allows NASA to exert more control over the hardware design than many in the industry are comfortable with. It installs NASA staff into the companies’ facilities and leaves open the question of how many changes the agency can force companies to make. concluded:

The projected costs and benefits of helping to develop commercial spaceships, part of NASA's plan to focus on exploration rather than transportation, drew skepticism today (Oct. 26) from members of a House panel.

While leaders of various commercial space companies spoke up for their industry's prospects in front of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, lawmakers questioned whether there will be enough of a market in space transportation and tourism to justify taxpayer investment in new, private vehicles. Such ships will need more customers besides NASA astronauts to be profitable, the lawmakers said.

"NASA seemingly takes the position of 'Build it and they will come,'" said committee chairman Ralph M. Hall (R-Texas). "From my perspective, the business case is not very compelling."

UPDATE October 27, 2011 12:30 PM EDTJeff Foust of comments on yesterday's hearing.

Wednesday’s hearing by the House Space, Science, and Technology Committee on NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program didn’t yield any major breakthroughs or other significant news. Industry members in the hearing’s first panel expressed their confidence to develop systems to transport NASA astronauts and serve other markets in the next several years, provided adequate funding. NASA’s associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier also backed the program, while NASA inspector general Paul Martin covered some of the challenges the program faces.

Foust writes that "two themes" emerged from the hearing:

1. Congressional skepticism is about markets, not capabilities.

2. CCDev’s FY12 budget is looking increasingly likely to be no more than $500 million.

As NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver warned last week, Gerstenmaier said that funding CCDev at $500 million (the current Senate mark) rather than the administration’s request of $850 million would result in a one-year delay in vehicles entering service, to 2017, with the result that NASA would have to pay $480 million to Russia for an additional year of flight services.

Elsewhere, Popular Mechanics has a second article on yesterday's hearing.

Although industry leaders point to space tourism, orbital science operations, satellite tending, and the ferrying of other nations’ astronauts as potential markets beyond NASA, members of Congress on hand today had their doubts. Hall said one of his top concerns about the NASA–industry relationship was that he wanted to avoid making space companies "too important to fail" to the point that they would need to be bailed out if they fell into financial trouble lest America risk the loss of its ability to launch people into space. "I have yet to be convinced that there is a sufficient commercial market that will sustain multiple private, for-profit commercial-crew companies through the duration of America’s commitment to the International Space Station," he said.

Elon Musk, the founder and owner of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) offered the most pointed defense. Although his company could not have come so far so fast without NASA help, he said "more than 50 percent of revenue" is coming from non-government launches. "With respect to the launch vehicle, we have 35 [unmanned satellite] launches under contract, so I believe the costs associated with the rocket part will be well taken care of," Musk said.

UPDATE October 27, 2011 7:30 PM has posted a letter from Space Adventures chairman Eric Anderson to Rep. Ralph Hall about the claims during yesterday's hearing that no market exists for commercial space:

First and foremost, it is not fair to say that because "only" eight seats have been sold there is no significant market for orbital human spaceflight. The primary limiting factor in the sales of orbital space missions has been the relative lack of supply. For the last few years, especially, Russia has provided 100% of its available seats to the NASA and the other international partners.

Second, while no one knows exactly how large the market is, I can assure you that Space Adventures is in contact with many, many prospective customers who are interested in flying, able to purchase a spaceflight, and ready to sign up... if only there were seats available. Furthermore, even as Russian costs and seat prices increased substantially over the past decade, we saw no significant reduction in interest on the part of customers.

Third, every customer who has flown to space from Russia has had to spend six months away from their regular lives undergoing tests, extensive training and language instruction in Russia. For many, this cost is actually greater than the price of a ticket. One of the first questions every prospective customer asks in some form is: "when can I fly from the U.S.?"

That question is a good one for your hearing. Why shouldn't America, as we seek to lead the world in exploring beyond Earth orbit, also lead in the commercial application of human spaceflight? Shouldn't space tourism create new jobs here, rather than in Russia?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

House Committee Hearing Today on Commercial Space

A reminder that today is the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on commercial space.

It will be webcast live 10 AM - 12 PM EDT.

Click here to access the webcast page.

Click here to access the hearing charter.

The event has two panels:

First Panel

  • Mr. John Elbon, Vice President and General Manager for Space Exploration, The Boeing Company, Houston, TX
  • Mr. Steve Lindsey, Director of Space Exploration, Sierra Nevada Space Systems, Louisville, CO
  • Mr. Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Technology Officer, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, CA
  • Mr. Charlie Precourt, Vice President, ATK Launch Systems Group, Brigham City, UT
  • Dr. George Sowers, Vice President, United Launch Alliance, Englewood, CO

Second Panel

  • The Hon. Paul Martin, Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Although this might be fun for we policy wonks to watch, keep in mind this is pretty much a show. It's unlikely to persuade those on the committee to change their minds. Most have shown a predilection for a government space monopoly to assure that pork continues to flow to their districts.

Committee chair Ralph Hall was quoted by Aviation Week last March as saying about the current year's fiscal priorities:

“Commercial crew was not ignored, but to be perfectly clear, it was not — and is not — Congress’s first priority,” says Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the committee chairman. “Our first priority is to continue with the development of the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.”

In December 2010, Hall told the Dallas Morning News he distrusted commercial space launchers:

Hall remains protective of the International Space Station, which is controlled from Houston, and skeptical of the private companies that will ferry astronauts and cargo there in future years.

"I do have [concerns] because it's so important and it's so dangerous and it's so subject to failure," Hall said. "I want to be assured that they're not going to run out of money."

Space Coast representative Sandy Adams is also on the committee.

Boeing to Announce OPF-3 Lease

Orbiters Endeavour and Discovery parked outside OPF-3 on August 11, 2011. Image source: NASA.

Last July I wrote about reports that Boeing intended to lease Orbiter Processing Facility 3 at Kennedy Space Center to build its commercial crew vehicle, the CST-100.

Florida Today reports the format announcement is imminent.

The Boeing Co. next week will confirm plans to assemble a commercial space capsule in one of the former shuttle hangars at Kennedy Space Center, work that could create more than 500 jobs.

The company on Tuesday emailed invitations to VIP guests for a 10 a.m. Monday event at a hangar that formerly housed the orbiter Discovery.

According to the article, NASA will transfer OPF-3 to Space Florida, which will then lease the facility to Boeing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SpaceX Unveils Next Dragon Spacecraft

WESH TV in Orlando has a video of the SpaceX Dragon capsule scheduled to fly to the International Space Station this winter.

Click on the above link to watch; WESH disabled the embedding feature.

KSC Announces VAB Tours

Tours will begin November 1 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. Guests will see the orbiter Endeavour in High Bay 4. Image source: NASA.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex web site announces that tours inside the Vehicle Assembly Building will begin November 1.

For the first time since 1978, guests visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex who purchase the Kennedy Space Center Up-Close tour will have the rare opportunity to disembark their tour buses and tour inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Guests will see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch; as well as where the future is unfolding for our continued missions into space.

When inside the VAB, guests will be able to walk along the edge of the Transfer Aisle, used to move elements of rockets among the building’s four High Bays. Tour communicators and colorful signage will depict work that has gone on behind the 456-foot-tall high bay doors, such as work of the VAB’s two 325-ton bridge cranes used to lift the shuttle orbiters and mate them to their external tank and solid rocket boosters with pinpoint accuracy. Signage also shows prospective operations that will take place within the VAB for NASA’s newest space exploration program, Space Launch System, or SLS.

Making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even more special, for a very limited time, guests on the KSC Up-Close tour may see a space shuttle orbiter inside the VAB as they are being prepared for display in their homes in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC and Florida. Other sites on the KSC Up-Close tour include the NASA Causeway, A/B Camera Stop and the Apollo Saturn V Center.

Please note: This tour will be offered daily beginning November 1 for a limited time to a limited number of Visitor Complex guests. The tour is $25 for adults and $19 for chldren ages 3-11, in addition to admission. has more on the tour.

The Orlando Sentinel also reports on the tour.

Commercial Space Must Be a "Priority"

Shortly after NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver warned that commercial crew funding delays only result in jobs going to Russia, Aviation Week reports the same warning has come from members of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

The panel notes CCDev is transitioning away from the initial Space Act Agreements that brought emerging providers, along with traditional aerospace participants, to the program and toward more traditional development contracts. Those agreements, while giving NASA greater insight into the development, will in turn transition into service agreements intended to initiate launches of astronauts to the International Space Station by late 2016.

But the goals of establishing reliable transportation with adequately managed risk at a competitive price depend on multiple service providers. Without sufficient funding, NASA will be forced to delay its development objectives or refocus the funding it has on a single provider, undermining reliability and cost effectiveness, ASAP member John Marshall says.

UPDATE October 26, 2011Florida Today reports on the potential funding shortfall.

The post-shuttle “gap” in astronaut launches from Florida could extend to 2017 if Congress doesn’t boost funding for commercial space taxis, NASA warns.

The U.S. will depend on Russia for access to the International Space Station until one or more commercial vehicles are ready.

But lawmakers so far have offered hundreds of millions less than NASA requested for the commercial effort in 2012, with six times as much going to a deep space exploration system that won’t fly a crew for a decade.

If development of commercial spacecraft is slowed, reliance on the Russians — at a cost of roughly $60 million per seat — would be prolonged.

Senators Question ULA Monopoly

In the wake of a government audit that concluded the Defense Department has given a de facto monopoly to United Launch Alliance, Aviation Week reports that, "The top two senators from the Senate Armed Services Committee are calling for the U.S. Air Force to halt talks worth up to $15 billion with its top rocket provider owing to insufficient pricing data and management insight for the service to make 'informed decisions' for crafting a new buy strategy for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV)."

“Given the current climate of fiscal austerity, these developments are profoundly troubling,” says Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in an Oct. 21 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The pair call for the Air Force to pause negotiations with United Launch Alliance (ULA), which manages sales for the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles, until more detailed pricing data is available.

Click here to read the Government Accountability Office report. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

SLS Funding Already in Question

Space Shuttle Main Engines, designed to be reusable, will meet their demise at the bottom of the ocean after Space Launch System test flights. Image source: NASA.

Six weeks after announcement of the Space Launch System that has no mission or destination, Aviation Week reports that NASA is already stuggling to find ways to administer the program within its $3 billion per year budget.

NASA will store some rocket engines, slow work on others and study still more as it struggles to squeeze the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) Congress has ordered into a flat, $3 billion annual budget for development ...

The trick, for NASA and its existing and potential rocket contractors, will be to manage the development within the $3 billion in annual funding the agency hopes to get. NASA managers drummed that point home to contractors during an SLS industry day at Marshall Space Flight Center, but it offers scant solace to companies that have been struggling to keep their teams together while NASA determines its next moves.

According to a NASA document, the surviving Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) will be used to power the SLS first stage. "Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) in stock will provide the core propulsion," according to the document. The engines, designed for reuse by the Shuttle, apparently will meet their demise by falling into the ocean or burning up upon re-entry.

According to the Aviation Week article, Pratt & Whitney has begun internal design work on "a throw-away -25E variant for the SLS" but early flights will use the existing SSMEs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NASA Releases Latest CCDev Report

Astronaut Lee Archambault, who commanded the STS-119 mission, has been assigned as a NASA liaison to Sierra Nevada. Image source: NASA.

NASA releases reports every 60 days on the progress of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The latest report begins:

Over the last two months, NASA’s industry partners demonstrated substantial progress toward achieving crewed spaceflight in the middle of the decade by completing six more Space Act Agreement milestones. In just six short months since the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners were selected, they have completed 21 of the 57 planned milestones.

The report also lists astronauts assigned to CCDev participants "to work closely with our partners to help them develop and demonstrate crewed spacecraft systems. NASA's crew members evaluate the partners’ designs, and provide them feedback and recommendations based on lessons learned from their real experiences living and working in space."

The astronauts and their assignments are:

  • Blue Origin — Tim Kopra, Colonel USAF (ret), Mission Specialist on ISS Expedition 20
  • Boeing — Mike Foreman, Captain, USN, Mission Specialist on STS-123 and 129
  • SpaceX — Tony Antonelli, Commander, USN, Pilot on STS-119 and STS-132
  • Sierra Nevada — Lee Archambault, Colonel, USAF, Pilot on STS-117, Commander on STS-119
  • United Launch Alliance — Stan Love, Ph.D., Mission Specialist on STS-122
  • ATK — Scott Tingle, Commander, USN, selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009, graduate of Astronaut Candidate Training

In chronological order, here are the links to the three reports issued to date:

Issue 1 (June 2011)

Issue 2 (August 2011)

Issue 3 (October 2011)

NASA Considers In-Orbit Fuel Depots

An artist's concept of an in-orbit fuel depot. Image source: NASA.

I wrote on October 19 about reports that NASA may have buried a favorable fuel depot study because of political pressure to build the Space Launch System.

But The New York Times reported on October 22 that NASA hasn't given up on fuel depots after all, as part of a broader strategy that includes the SLS.

Next month, engineers will meet at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss how propellant depots could be used to reach farther into space and make possible more ambitious missions using the heavy-lift rocket that NASA is planning to build. The discussions grow out of a six-month NASA study of propellant depots, completed in July.

However, the space agency has rejected the study’s most radical conclusion: that NASA could forgo the heavy-lift and use existing smaller rockets, combined with fuel depots, to reach its targets more quickly and less expensively. Those targets, for the next two decades at least, include a return to the moon or a visit to an asteroid. (A trip to Mars is unlikely until at least the 2030s.)

“This study highlights some interesting benefits of depots, but it is too singularly focused,” William H. Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate, said in a statement. “NASA is actively studying depots and how they can be used with other proposed elements to provide the lowest cost, sustainable exploration plan.”

Under the plan outlined in the document, the propellant depot would be launched first, and then other rockets would carry fuel to the depot before a spacecraft arrived to fill up. That would increase the complexity for an asteroid mission — 11 to 17 launchings instead of four — but could get NASA astronauts to an asteroid by 2024, the study said. The total budget needed for the project from 2012 through 2030 would be $60 billion to $86 billion, the study said.

By contrast, a study last year that designed an asteroid mission around a heavy-lift rocket estimated that it would cost $143 billion and that the trip could not happen until 2029. The earlier study briefly considered propellant depots but quickly dismissed them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Medical Crisis One of Many ISS Risks

Florida Today space correspondent Todd Halvorson has written an excellent article reviewing the various risks associated with daily life on the International Space Station.

A debilitating stroke. Dangerous heart arrthymia. Painful kidney stones or dental abscesses. An infection that threatens the life of an astronaut or cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station.

New NASA analyses show the chance of a medical evacuation now ranks with the top risk for abandoning ship: a hull-penetrating micrometeorite or debris strike. And as NASA learns more about the physiological effects of lengthy stays in space on astronauts, the space agency has more health concerns to worry about. For the first time ever, a new medical condition that affects eyesight made the list of top risks.

Kelly: Taxpayers on the Hook for ULA

Florida Today on October 18 reported about a Government Accountability Office audit that faulted how the Defense Department has given a de facto monopoly to United Launch Alliance, shutting out other launch candidates such as SpaceX that might do the job more cheaply.

Click here to read the GAO report. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

Florida Today space columnist John Kelly has written a commentary titled, "Rocket Deal Puts Taxpayers on the Hook."

The list of things that the Defense Department doesn’t know about its upcoming multibillion-dollar purchase of rockets should astound taxpayers.

The military, which helped bankroll development of Atlas V and Delta IV rockets for two of the United States’ biggest companies and propped up the two launch vehicles with billions of dollars in subsidies over the last decade, wants to buy another 40 of the rockets through 2018. The price: $15 billion over about five years or nearly the cost of what NASA was spending over a similar time period operating its space shuttle fleet.

The military is not considering alternatives, including competitors who could help drive down per-launch cost to taxpayers, based on reasons that can’t be backed up by the reliable data. In short, the military is spending $15 billion without knowing enough about what it’s doing.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Here Be a Dragon

Florida Today reports that the SpaceX Dragon cargo carrier is scheduled to arrive today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft left its Hawthorne, Calif., production facility Wednesday, setting off on a cross-country journey on a wide-load truck bound for Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It will be prepared for a possible January launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket. A second demonstration mission for NASA, the flight aims to prove the vehicles’ readiness to deliver cargo to the station under a $1.6 billion contract.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nationalized Space

Ralph J. Cordiner on the cover of the January 12, 1959 Time magazine.

In his January 17, 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

That same year, General Electric Chairman and CEO Ralph J. Cordiner published an essay that to commercial space advocates could be considered as foreboding as Ike's warning.

Titled "Competitive Private Enterprise in Space," the essay appeared in a book titled Peacetime Uses of Outer Space, edited by Simon Ramo.

As we've been reminded many times fifty years later, the year 1961 was one of the most notable in the history of human space flight. The first human, Russian Yuri Gagarin, flew an orbit on April 12. The first American, Alan Shepard, flew a 15-minute suborbital flight on May 5. Twenty days later, President John F. Kennedy proposed the United Space land a man on the Moon before that decade was out, and return him safely to the Earth.

Congress approved Kennedy's proposal, which eventually became the Apollo program that placed astronauts on the Moon in 1969. But it came at a great cost. At its peak in 1965-1966, the NASA budget was over 4% of the federal budget. (Today it's less than 0.5%.) In current dollars, Apollo would have cost $150 billion.

Apollo also transformed NASA from a research and development agency as prescribed by law into a national jobs program justified by launching humans into space. To this day, nothing in the National Aeronautics and Space Act requires NASA to fly humans in space, to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets.

In those heady days where NASA was a front line in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, few would dare to question the consequences of Kennedy's proposal.

But Cordiner did.

Cordiner was a prominent and influential Republican who would be asked by Barry Goldwater to head the Republican Finance Committee during the 1964 presidential election.

Cordiner's General Electric stood to make a lot of money off Apollo. In fact, GE led one of the earliest Apollo design studies that was submitted ten days before Kennedy's speech.

But that didn't stop Cordiner from foreseeing — and warning about — the consequences of Apollo.

In his essay, Cordiner wrote:

Since the space effort will, for a long time, be primarily a research and development effort, this tendency could lead to an unexpected, and perhaps undesirable, build-up of government-controlled facilities. Looking to the future, when the space frontier has been explored and is ready for economic development, we might well find the area pre-empted by the government, which would then have most of the personnel and facilities available. This would leave the nation almost no choice except to settle for nationalized industry in space ...

As we step up our activities on the space frontier, many companies, universities, and individual citizens will become increasingly dependent on the political whims and necessities of the Federal government. And if that drift continues without check, the United States may find itself becoming the very kind of society that it is struggling against — a regimented society whose people and institutions are dominated by a central government.

Cordiner wrote in an era where the United States viewed itself as competing for the hearts and minds of the Third World by demonstrating its economic system was superior to the Soviet Union. Kennedy, in fact, used the prestige argument as a primary justification for the Moon program.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

Fifty years later, the Cold War is over. The United States and Russia are partners in space, jointly operating the International Space Station. American astronauts fly to the ISS on Russian Soyuz capsules, a decision made in 2004 by the Bush administration after the Columbia disaster.

But while Russia plans a new Vostochny Cosmodrome and leads the world in commercial launches, elements in the United States Congress and the space-industrial complex fight to keep NASA mired in a 1960s model that assures the government controls U.S. access to space — and doles out jobs to the districts of Congressional representatives on the space subcommittees.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver cited Cordiner in a speech she delivered October 20 at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. Image source: NASA via

According to MSNBC space correspondent Alan Boyle:

Garver referred specifically to this passage: "A certain percentage — perhaps as much as 5 percent — of the technical work of the space program is best done in government laboratories."

Garver bluntly told her audience that if Congress refuses to invest in commercial space today, it will only be more money going to Russia in the years ahead.

Boyle wrote:

Now NASA is getting ready for the next phase of the commercial crew vehicle development effort, and asking for $850 million to fund it. Congress is setting aside significantly less: $312 million in the House version, $500 million in the Senate version. During today's talk, Garver used an insurance salesman's strategy to argue for a higher figure.

If the full $850 million is provided, Garver said, "by 2016, certainly we will be able to end outsourcing of this capability from the Russians. If we don’t get full funding in 2012, this is at risk."

Each year of delay means that NASA will have to pay another $450 million to the Russians, she said. The implication was that paying U.S. companies an extra $350 million now (over the Senate's allotment) would be better than paying the Russians an extra $450 million in 2016. NASA would probably still be spending that $450 million per year in 2016 and beyond, but it would be going to U.S. companies rather than the Russian space effort.

Even if NASA gets the $850 million in 2012, that wouldn't be the end of the story. NASA projects that the cost of crew vehicle development will go up, going forward. "We have an analysis that says we believe we would require $6 billion over five years," Garver said. In the past, members of Congress have been resistant to approving that much money for commercial spaceship-builders.

One wonders what Cordiner would think of today's Republicans in Congress who refuse to properly fund commercial space while mandating the government's Space Launch System that has neither a mission or a destination. The Republicans are certainly not alone in their porkery — Florida Democrat Bill Nelson is one of the senators who dictated the SLS design to NASA. But for a party that claims to support small government and oppose "socialist" programs, I suspect that if he were alive today Cordiner would align himself philosophically with the Obama administration's space policy rather than with the behavior of many within his own party.

UPDATE October 25, 2011 — NASA has posted Lori Garver's prepared remarks at the Symposium.

Commercial Space Will Finally Testify

After several hearings with witnesses stacked in favor of protecting the status quo, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will finally invite representatives of commercial space to present their side of the story.

The committee on September 22 invited former astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, and former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, to bash the Obama administration's space policy.

Armstrong and Cernan, along with former astronaut James Lovell, published an editorial last May attacking Obama.

And in May 2010, Armstrong and Cernan testified before the Senate Commerce Committee. Armstrong claimed that the administration's space policy "presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere." He claimed the policy "was likely contrived by a very small group in secret." reports that commercial space will finally have an opportunity to respond on October 26.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today released the witness list for its hearing next week on commercial crew.

The October 26 hearing is entitled NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges and will begin at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. The witnesses are:

Panel One

Mr. John Elbon, Vice President and General Manger, Space Exploration Division, The Boeing Company
Mr. Steve Lindsey, Director, Space Exploration, Sierra Nevada Space Systems
Mr. Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, Space Exploration Technologies
Mr. Charles Precourt, Vice President and General Manager, ATK Space Launch Systems
Mr. George Sowers, Vice President, Business Development and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance

Panel Two

Mr. Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA

In a December 2010 Dallas Morning News article, committee chair Ralph Hall (R-TX) claimed that commercial companies were "so dangerous" and "so subject to failure," and said "I want to be assured that they're not going to run out of money."

The article quoted Hall as saying that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk "would be asked to testify before his committee," but Hall failed to keep that promise until now.

Space Coast Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, is a member of the committee.

Orbital's Taurus II Delayed Until Spring

An artist's concept of Cygnus atop a Taurus II. Image source: Orbital Sciences.

Florida Today reports that a test flight of the Orbital Sciences Taurus II rocket with a mockup Cygnus commercial cargo carrier has been delayed until spring.

All the hardware for the test is in place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, but work on launch pad 0A continues.

“It’s a construction project, and it’s a complex one,” said Barron Beneski, a spokesman for Dulles, Va.-based Orbital. “It’s going to get done with persistent effort.”

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority is responsible for the project, which includes the concrete pad stand, flame trench, propellant tanks, lightning protection and other systems.

Beneski said issues had arisen with a system that holds the Taurus II to the pad and with tanks that weren’t maintained properly and needed additional cleaning.

Florida Today reported on October 4 that SpaceX, the other commercial cargo company, may delay their first International Space Station berthing flight until January due to schedule conflict caused by the Russian Progress accident and further testing.

KSC Visitor Complex Free This Week for Brevard County Residents

Florida Today reports that the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be free for Brevard County residents October 21-23.

A free weekend and food drive, residents and up to five guests will receive complimentary admission to the Visitor Complex and the Astronaut Hall of Fame with proof of residency.

Guests can bring canned goods and nonperishable items to benefit the Central Brevard Sharing Center, North Brevard Charities and South Brevard Sharing Center. While not mandatory for free admission, the suggested donation is at least one food item or canned good per guest.

Among the attractions is the Star Trek exhibit which runs through October 31.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NASA's Rules for Commercial Space

Popular Mechanics has posted a major article on NASA's rules for commercial space.

This month, NASA released the first draft of the document that describes how it plans to ensure the privately built spacecraft they will use will be safe. The document will define America’s future in space, because it sets the rules private companies will have to follow, though few seem to have read it. But we read through the dense language of the contract, called the Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract (CCIDC), and found that it sets terms that keep NASA very much in control of the design and timeline of the next astronaut-carrying spacecraft and launch vehicles.

The magazine also has an interview with Philip McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development.

Atlas at CCAFS

Jason Rhian at AmericaSpace has written an article about the history of the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. It's one of the iconic structures on the horizon as one drives on NASA Causeway between Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Boeing Conducts CST-100 Abort Tests

Aviation Week reports that Boeing is conducting abort tests of its CST-100 crew capsule.

The article details several design features of the CST-100.

The seven-person capsule carries four Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Bantam abort engines in the pusher configuration, instead of an escape tower that must be jettisoned if it is not used. That allows the abort fuel to be used for maneuvering if it isn’t needed to push the capsule off a failing launch vehicle, but it also raises future design issues for the Boeing team. While the 54,000-lb.-thrust nitrogen tetroxide/monomethyl hydrazine Bantam is built to burn for 10 min., an abort would require it to fire for only 3 sec.

The CST-100 is one of four NASA commercial crew vehicle candidates. It would launch atop the Atlas V, which currently flies from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Rumor has it that Boeing will lease Orbiter Processing Hangar #3 at Kennedy Space Center. KSC Director Bob Cabana has told the media in several recent comments that a hangar lease agreement may be announced soon but hasn't given specifics.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

State Official: Take Away KSC From NASA

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam suggests that Kennedy Space Center be "run by an authority separate from NASA that could make decisions locally, including development of some land now reserved as a wildlife refuge," according to the October 18 Orlando Sentinel.

"I think it's our responsibility as the cabinet to help develop a vision," Putnam said. "It's worth exploring options for the governance structure of this site so that we can be nimble and agile and close deals."

Putnam argued that under NASA and Congress, KSC's funding and future role are jeopardized by politics, particularly with other states wanting their own space ports. Private firms are building spaceports in Texas and New Mexico, while NASA is considering funding construction of one at Wallops Island, Va. Meanwhile, the retirement of the space shuttle leaves NASA – and KSC – without a government-owned rocket to launch.

Putnam, a Republican, represented Florida's 12th Congressional District from 2001 through 2011.

The Orlando Sentinel article also quotes Republican Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll as stating that most of Florida's congressional representatives have little interest in supporting space exploration.

She told the cabinet that NASA's commitment to KSC appears strong — the agency plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize the facility, if Congress appropriates the money — but that only "one or two" members of the state's congressional delegation have shown strong fight for the Florida space center. She said she and the space industry need to do a better job convincing other members.

"For the greater number of our members of Congress, I don't believe they get it," Carroll said.

Nineteen of Florida's twenty-five representatives in the House of Representatives are Republicans.

Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio are Florida's two Senators. Nelson was a major advocate of the Space Launch System.

Dream Chaser "Lands" at KSC

A Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser flight simulator "lands" at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. Image source: Sierra Nevada Corp. via

MSNBC space correspondent Alan Boyle writes about his recent experience "flying" the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

During a recent visit to Sierra Nevada Space System's headquarters near Denver, I saw a few former NASA employees bustling through the halls, including five-time space shuttle fliers Steve Lindsey and Jim Voss (who are now executives at the company).

Another one of the ex-NASA types at Sierra Nevada is the company's simulation manager, Stokes McMillan, who used to work on NASA's X-38 program at Johnson Space Center. "After that program was canceled, I always have looked for something like that — and here it is," McMillan told me.

McMillan's pride and joy is Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cockpit simulator, a gizmo modeled after NASA's space shuttle simulator. It may not rock and roll like the space agency's motion-base machine, but it has big projection screens, computerized control dials and a joystick-based flight system that give you the feeling that you're actually flying. Even I was able to land the darn thing on a virtual Kennedy Space Center airstrip, with lots of coaching from McMillan.

Boyle quotes Sierra Nevada Space Systems chair Mark Sirangelo as claiming that Dream Chaser could be used not only for International Space Station crew rotations, but other missions.

One of the reasons NASA got into this program to begin with was to enable commercial space, not just to provide a point-to-point solution for the space station. A lifting-body design like ours has the ability to do servicing, much as the shuttle serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. Our vehicle can stay in low-Earth orbit for many months unmanned if it needs to. We can provide transportation to other destinations in a manner that’s very consistent with what non-professional astronauts might need.

Did Congressional SLS Mandate Bury NASA Fuel-Depot Study?

Representative Dana Rohrabacher. Image source: U.S. House of Representatives.

Space News reported on September 13 that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to "deliver the space agency’s assessment of a space exploration architecture that uses in-space propellant depots and a fleet of commercially built rockets as an alternative to a single government-owned heavy-lift vehicle."

In July, Bolden testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, answering questions from lawmakers about NASA’s delay in producing a reference design for the Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket for deep-space missions that Congress has ordered NASA to build.

In a Sept. 6 letter, Rohrabacher pointedly reminds Bolden that he testified during the July hearing “that the studies have been done, and the fuel depot solution proved to be more expensive" ...

“We need to know that NASA completed a fair and balanced analysis to justify a down-select to a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, which is a commitment of tens-of-billions of taxpayer dollars,” Rohrabacher wrote in the letter.

Now an October 12 article suggests Rohrabacher had reason to be suspicious.

... [D]espite what NASA may or may not have been telling Rep. Rohrabacher about its internal evaluations regarding the merits of alternate architectures that did not use the SLS (and those that incorporated fuel depots), the agency had actually been rather busy studying those very topics.

And guess what: the conclusions that NASA arrived at during these studies are in direct contrast to what the agency had been telling Congress, the media, and anyone else who would listen.

This presentation "Propellant Depot Requirements Study - Status Report - HAT Technical Interchange Meeting - July 21, 2011" is a distilled version of a study buried deep inside of NASA. The study compared and contrasted an SLS/SEP architecture with one based on propellant depots for human lunar and asteroid missions. Not only was the fuel depot mission architecture shown to be less expensive, fitting within expected budgets, it also gets humans beyond low Earth orbit a decade before the SLS architecture could.

Moreover, supposed constraints on the availability of commercial launch alternatives often mentioned by SLS proponents, was debunked. In addition, clear integration and performance advantages to the use of commercial launchers Vs SLS was repeatedly touted as being desirable: "breaking costs into smaller, less-monolithic amounts allows great flexibility in meeting smaller and changing budget profiles."

Click here to download the report. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the report.

Satellite Spotlight contributing editor Doug Mohney comments:

By using existing hardware and a propellant depot, the first asteroid mission can be flown in 2024 at a cost of $64 billion – and remember, that's before buying in bulk or lower pricing due to competition and lower launch rates. Using a big rocket – a.k.a. the Space Launch System – costs $143 billion with the first mission in 2029; more than double the cost and 5 years later.

The advantages for using existing commercial launchers are numerous, according to the presentation. “Tens of billions of dollars” of cost savings and lower “up-front” costs, accrue. Missions happen by 2024 using “conservative budgets” with launches happening every few months like clockwork, rather than a single large rocket launch every 12 to 18 months. More launches provide an experienced and “focused” workforce to improve safety, as well as providing experience to lower cost and provide higher launch reliability.

Since multiple launches are used, multiple competitors can compete for delivering propellant to orbit and open the door for international partners to contribute. And as a nice benefit, it creates a stimulus for the U.S. commercial launch industry, because more flights open up for existing rockets.

Edward Ellegood of the Florida SpaceReport observes:

Seems like NASA's hands were tied on this. President Obama had wanted to delay a heavy-lift rocket decision until 2016, in favor of other space priorities. But powerful members of the Senate (and some in the House) pushed hard for the SLS, and NASA was blamed repeatedly (and threatened harshly) for putting up roadblocks to SLS. Release of the fuel depot study would surely have been viewed as another roadblock by the Senate.

Houston Receives Historic LC-39B Parts

LC-39B's Orbiter Access Arm is delivered to Johnson Space Center. Image source:

The web site reports that the Orbiter Access Arm and "white room" from Launch Complex 39-B have been delivered to NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The 65-foot (20-meter) long orbiter access arm and its integrated "white room," an environmentally-controlled chamber, arrived from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida by truck. Detached from Launch Pad 39B in June 2009, the arm was previously installed 147 feet (45 meters) above the pad's surface to span the gap between the fixed service structure, or tower, and the shuttles' crew hatch.

The arm and its white room was just one of two major components from Pad 39B that were removed intact and set aside prior to a demolition team removing the pad's historic service structures to prepare the facility to launch future rockets. That deconstruction work was completed last month when NASA certified the pad as "clean."

The artifacts eventually will be given to the Space Center Houston, a separate non-profit operation.

State Entourage Visits KSC

Florida Today reports a state entourage led by Governor Rick Scott toured space facilities yesterday and offered rhetorical, if not guaranteed financial, support.

They generally applauded the work done by Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, to promote an emerging market for commercial space activity and to help companies navigate partnerships with NASA and the Air Force.

But they said the state could help even more by providing steady funding over time, making the Cape more business-friendly and helping to fight for the state’s interests in Washington.

“Whatever you do, it helps if it’s predictable and consistent,” said Ken Bowersox, a SpaceX executive and former astronaut.

He noted that the state Department of Transportation this year committed $15 million for infrastructure upgrades at spaceports but included no money for such projects in a five-year work plan unveiled to county officials last week.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Military Should Consider Other Launch Vendors

In a victory for SpaceX and perhaps for the taxpayers, the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended the Defense Department (DOD) consider other vendors than just the current United Launch Alliance (ULA) monopoly.

Click here to access the report. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

The report's summary states:

DOD analysis on the health of the U.S. launch industrial base is minimal, and officials continue to rely on contractor data and analyses in lieu of conducting independent analyses. Additionally, some subcontractor data needed to negotiate fair and reasonable prices are lacking, according to Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) reports, and some data requirements were waived in 2007 in exchange for lower prices. Mission assurance comprises numerous activities to ensure launch success, but DOD has little insight into the sufficiency or excess of these activities.

James Dean of Florida Today wrote:

SpaceX has publicly objected to the large-scale, long-term purchase. Company officials allege the bulk buy would effectively shut SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicle out of that market for a decade, limiting competition and wasting taxpayers’ money.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Orion Test Flights at KSC in 2013

An artist's concept of the Orion MPCV on a Mars mission. Image source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that tests of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle could begin at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2013.

The space agency soon will decide which to launch first: an atmospheric re-entry test or a low-altitude emergency escape mission.

Regardless of the order, both unmanned flight tests will be launched from the Space Coast to certify the Apollo-style capsule for human expeditions beyond Earth orbit.

The first test is targeted for launch in late 2013 or early 2014. The second would follow in 2015 or 2016.

NASA spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier was briefed this week on the two options. The atmospheric re-entry test might be flown first because the Orion capsule for that mission then could be re-used for the low-altitude abort test.

“Within the next two months, I expect him to make a choice,” said NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.

Aviation Week reported on September 28 that Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin had proposed a manned flight for the capsule around the Moon in 2016.

Florida Cuts KSC, CCAFS Infrastructure Funding

Florida Today reports, "An anticipated $15 million in annual state funding to upgrade Brevard County’s space launch facilities — and create aerospace jobs — may fall victim to the budget ax."

The Florida Department of Transportation’s draft work program for 2013-17 omitted this space-infrastructure funding. Potential projects include revamping launch complexes 40 and 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for commercial uses ...

In July, the [Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization] requested funding for a list of projects including work on the Air Force launch pads, NASA Orbiter Processing Facility upgrades, commercial heavy-lift launch complex work, and hangar improvements at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NASA Administrator Visits KSC

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden addresses the media beneath the former Ares Mobile Launcher. CNN's space correspondent John Zarella is to Bolden's left.

Florida Today reports that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told local leaders and Kennedy Space Center employees that he is "committed to keeping KSC and the entire Space Coast the leader in the world in terms of exploration, particularly human spaceflight, and that’s what we’re going to do. All the journeys start right here."

The article's online headline is, "NASA, KSC Chiefs Promise Bright Future for Space Coast." The print version's headline is, "'All the Journeys Start Right Here.'"

Bolden was joined by KSC Director Robert Cabana.

After a morning breakfast with community leaders, Bolden and Cabana toured the former Ares Mobile Launcher, which will be converted for use with the Space Launch System.

In the afternoon, they spoke to an "all-hands" meeting of KSC employees.

“I don’t know of a time that the Kennedy Space Center has seen such dynamic change since the end of the Apollo program,” Cabana told community leaders.

The new path envisions KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a bustling hub for launches of both NASA’s exploration missions and commercial missions flying people and satellites.

For the first time, KSC is the lead center for management of a major human spaceflight program.

The Commercial Crew Program is charged with helping private companies design and build systems to fly astronauts, and certifying their safety.

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today report on Administrator Bolden's visit. You may see an advertisement first.

UPDATE 9:00 PM EDT — NASA has posted to YouTube two more video highlights from yesterday's Bolden-Cabana KSC tour. They're below.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Partners Discuss ISS Future

An artist's concept of an orbiter docked at the completed International Space Station. Image source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that the directors of the International Space Station agencies met at the recent International Astronautical Congress to discuss the facility's future.

One of the more interesting ideas was disconnecting an ISS module for deployment elsewhere in the solar system.

“Could we take a module, pull it off the station instead of deorbiting it into the ocean?” asks William Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for human exploration and operations. “Could we take some module that has some value to us in exploration architecture and move it to [Lagrangian point] L1 or move it to a lunar orbit and actually use it in another location?" ...

Ultimately, station elements could be disconnected, reconfigured and moved to the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points, where they would circulate in relatively stable orbits without falling into the Moon’s gravity well. From there, it would be easier to get moving on to an asteroid or lunar orbit and eventually Mars.

The “exploration platform” could be used as a way station for human asteroid exploration, as a base for a reusable lunar lander that could return to the Moon’s surface after refueling, and ultimately as the starting point for Mars exploration

Gerstenmaier said the ISS partners are discussing how to proceed once funding ends in 2020. The partners are studing the feasibility of extending the facility through 2028, assuming funding continues. Aviation Week reported on October 5 that Russia may continue to operate their modules past 2020 if other partners drop out.

During last week's meeting, the partners also discussed the possibility of the European Space Agency ending cargo flights in 2015 and shifting focus to a service module for the Space Launch System.

"If we can prove that we don’t need an ATV beyond 2015, then potentially that frees up some of those common systems ops costs to be used for something else that we, NASA, want, and this could be something along those lines,” Gerstenmaier says. “So we’re looking at how we can leverage off our barter agreements on ISS, generically, to help advance exploration" ...

Officials of Thales Alenia Space, which builds the ATV structure in Turin, Italy, say ESA has told the company no more of the unpiloted cargo carriers will be needed after 2015 and has set them to work looking for ways to supply a service module for the MPCV Lockheed Martin started building under the old Constellation program.

This would seem to imply that cargo delivery reliance would shift to the commercial cargo companies SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, and the Russian Progress vehicles.

Architects, Engineers Plan for a New KSC

Launch Complex 39-A in May 2010. Architects are studying if it could handle the projected weight of a Space Launch System vehicle. Image source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that "many government and contractor teams [are] engrossed in projects to re-imagine, then re-engineer and ultimately re-build an array of historic space-launch facilities."

Recent decisions to go ahead with a Saturn-caliber super rocket and to redevelop — and modernize — most of KSC are good signs. A steady stream of commercial space companies poking around KSC and Cape facilities looking for bases of operation also shows promise.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

No Russian Replacement for Soyuz Rocket

The Rus-M family of rockets. Image source:

Space Coast congressional representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey are fond of claiming that President Obama has ceded U.S. space leadership to Russia.

More evidence is in that they're wrong.

Spaceflight Now reports that Russia will abandon efforts to upgrade its Soyuz rocket.

Russia is halting development of a next-generation rocket to launch humans into space, the head of Roscosmos told Russian lawmakers in a speech Friday.

The Rus-M rocket, a liquid-fueled rocket designed to launch from Russian territory, was supposed to begin flying as soon as 2015, according to earlier statements by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.

"We have come to the conclusion that we do not need a new rocket, we can continue using those we already have," said Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia's space agency, according to the Novosti news agency.

Last April, retired cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya said the Russian space program has "nothing new to be proud of in the last 20 years" and lamented that "Russia has done virtually nothing to design a replacement to the 43-year old Soyuz spacecraft."

And in recent months, Russia has suffered a series of space setbacks, culminating with the loss of a Progress cargo vehicle August 24 and the Soyuz TMA-21 crew ship re-entering the atmosphere September 15 after losing communications.

While Russia fails to upgrade its technology, the United States is developing 21st Century commercial transportation spacecraft and begun design of a heavy-lift vehicle intended to send humans on deep space explorations.

So much for ceding leadership.

I have to wonder how Adams and Posey think it will help attract international customers to fly on U.S. spacecraft by telling the world that Russia, China and India have superior technlogy.

NASA to Begin Competition for SLS Boosters

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System. Image source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that, "NASA plans to open a competition in December for multiple, 30-month contracts to study strap-on booster upgrades for the planned heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), including an upgrade for the five-segment, solid-fuel strap-ons baselined as the initial boosters for the big new rocket."

One challenge for NASA engineers will be to design an interface that can link different booster types to the SLS core stage, according to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations. The SLS will be the vehicle NASA uses to send humans beyond low Earth orbit.

“Our vision is we’ll have an interface that’s generic, and we’ll be able to carry potentially different boosters and change them out as needed,” Gerstenmaier told a session of the International Astronautical Congress [in Cape Town, South Africa] Thursday. “So we could go compete in the future, maybe downsize if something’s easier for a mission that requires less thrust. We have some variability there, so if we do our job right, we’ll have the ability to change the boosters that sit on the side. That’s our ultimate goal. We’re not going to pick one.”

The article quotes Gerstenmaier as saying only the first two SLS flights will use a five-segment solid rocket booster design.

“It turns out that to get to the 130 metric tons, we’re going to have to redesign the five-segment booster as well,” Gerstenmaier says. “We have to go to potentially a composite case, away from our steel case to save some weight, and we might need to make a propellant change to use the more energetic propellant that sits in the solid rocket motor. So even if we go continuous solids, we’re going to have to make a pretty significant change to the solid-rocket booster segment.”

The solid rocket motors for the early flights would be built by Utah's ATK. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in August demanding that the SLS use only solids (implicitly built in Utah) claiming the SLS design legislation written by the Senate space subcommittee in 2010 required solids. He also claimed that "expert advice" concluded "the only way to realistically meet these requirements" was to use solids. The letter was co-signed by four other Senators.

So it remains to be seen how much freedom NASA will have from Congress to select a vendor other than ATK.

Friday, October 7, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Closer to ISS Docking

Animation of a proposed Cygnus cargo delivery to the International Space Station. Video source: Orbital Sciences. reports that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences may dock at the International Space Station six or seven times in 2012.

A final decision to combine the second and third of three planned Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights (C2 and C3) for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule still hasn’t been made, although a major hurdle – namely approval from the Russians – now appears to have been removed.

While initial concerns were raised with the “performance data” supplied to them from the COTS 1 flight - as much as it appears the issue was with the amount of information they gained, as opposed to any problems with the data – sources have pointed to the Roscosmos and RSC Energia “stakeholders” signing their approval for the arrival of the SpaceX vehicle at the orbital outpost “in recent days”.

The article reports that the Orbital Cygnus module is scheduled to dock at the ISS for a demo mission on February 12, but may slip due to delays caused by the recent Russian Progress cargo module loss. Their first cargo delivery, titled "Orbital 1," is due to dock June 1 for a 30-day stay.

While all these missions remain preliminary, this would be the first tangible signs of the commercial fleet beginning to make up for some of the lost capability since the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

Animation of a proposed Dragon cargo delivery to the International Space Station. Video source: SpaceX.

UPDATE October 8, 2011Space News takes a somewhat bleaker view of the commercial cargo scheduling:

Critical test launches of rockets and capsules NASA is counting on to deliver supplies to the international space station in the coming years are falling further behind schedule for both technical and logistical reasons.

Launches of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus 2 and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rockets, which until recently were scheduled for this year, are now expected to push into January and February, respectively, according to an internal NASA manifest. A second Taurus 2 flight, this one carrying Orbital’s Cygnus cargo module for the first time, is still officially scheduled for February, but the NASA manifest indicates a May launch date.

Public-Private Initiatives Push Space Industry Forward

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that "Representatives from NASA and Space Florida met with's North East Regional Board of Advisors at the Daytona Beach Area Chamber of Commerce offices to raise awareness of the public-private initiatives that are pushing the space industry forward, in spite of a shutdown of the space shuttle program and cutbacks in federal funding for NASA."

Mike Vinje, partnership development manager for both Kennedy Space Center and NASA, said the space center is working with private companies and individuals who want to launch rockets or space vehicles from Cape Canaveral or do research on space exploration or technologies.

Space is a $250 billion business, and private entities have a right to a piece of that pie, Vinje said, especially when the federal government can't devote many resources to development.

"One of the very few ways NASA can maintain capability is to let commercial come in and fill the gap and let them carry the ball and keep the industry going," he said.

SpaceX Hires Shuttle Engineers

Aviation Week reports that SpaceX and other commercial companies have "hired experienced shuttle engineers away from NASA to help with the new vehicles being developed under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) seed-money effort."

Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) and other companies developing commercial crew transportation for the International Space Station (ISS) are applying the hard-won lessons of the space shuttle era as they develop their new vehicles, according to John Shannon, NASA’s last shuttle program manager ...

"I’m very saddened, but I feel very comfortable," Shannon told the 62nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC). "I’ve lost three of my most senior shuttle people that were in the program, that I would trust doing anything, to commercial companies."

Shannon said that SpaceX has "a very hungry attitude in that they want to have problems that they can go correct and make the system more robust."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CCAFS Toxic Cleanup Continues

The U.S. Air Force web site reported October 5 on continuing efforts at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to clean up toxic hazards left by decades of contamination.

Since the ERP was instituted here in 1984, the base ERP has identified 127 contaminated sites covering almost 2,400 acres and committed $175 million to investigating and cleaning them up, according to Regina Butler, the 45th SW restoration project manager.

Using a range of treatment techniques, 74 percent have reached site completion status and been returned for mission use without restrictions, with another 24 percent cleared for safe industrial use with some limited use controls, according to the Cape Canaveral AFS environmental management team. Final remedies have been initiated at two of the three remaining sites, and ERP personnel are working with the deactivation team at the final site, an active launch complex, to align cleanup efforts with mission needs for the launch pad's final launch. All sites are on track to have a remedy in place by 2012 according to Cape Canaveral AFS environmental reports.

NASA Administrator to Visit KSC

The Ares Mobile Launcher nears completion in January 2010. Image source: NASA.

NASA today issued this press release:


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will be
available to media during a visit to the agency's Kennedy Space
Center, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. EDT.

Media are invited to film Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director
Robert Cabana as they tour the new mobile launcher and talk about the
Space Launch System, the rocket that will take astronauts farther
into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home,
and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space
exploration efforts ...

NASA announced plans for the development of the SLS in September. It
will carry NASA's Orion spacecraft, cargo, equipment and science
experiments to space — providing a safe, affordable and sustainable
means of reaching the moon, asteroids and other destinations in the
solar system.

The Ares I Mobile Launcher was intended to launch the Constellation vehicle that would ferry crews to and from the International Space Station.

Constellation was cancelled by the White House and Congress in early 2011 because the program was billions over budget and years behind schedule. The Ares I would not be operational until at least 2017, and would be funded by ending U.S. participation in the ISS in 2015, leaving Ares I no place to go.