Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SpaceX "Rocket Man" Interview

LMU, the magazine of Loyola Marymount University, has published an interview with Tom Mueller, Vice-President of Propulsion and Development at SpaceX.

The article is in a question-and-answer format. I like the last Q&A:

What’s next in space travel?
Until now, the trajectory has been all wrong. We went to the moon in 1969. Then we got stuck in low-Earth orbit with the space shuttle. And now we don’t even have that any more. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a commercial revolution in terms of access to space. I think there are going to be a lot of startups. Hopefully, we’re going to bring spaceflight back so that it will be at the forefront of people’s attention. That’s what SpaceX is all about.

Bigelow Aerospace Opens Discussion Forum

Bigelow Aerospace has opened a discussion forum on their web site.

Click here to access the discussion forum.

You need to register in order to post.

The Atlantis Museum Begins

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today reports that work has begun on the new Atlantis museum at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The Visitor Complex hopes to receive Atlantis from NASA by this time next year, rolling it into a partially completed, $100 million exhibit building under a timeline accelerated several months from earlier plans.

“There’s quite a bit of work to do even after the orbiter is there, so fitting it in in that (late 2012) time frame really works out well for us,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the complex managed by Delaware North Cos. Parks and Resorts.

Moving up Atlantis’ delivery from early 2013 is one of several changes NASA and contractor teams are juggling as they prepare the shuttle fleet for museum display, including a first ferry flight less than five months from now.

The article notes that vacating OPF-2 will make available the hangar for a potential commercial crew occupant. OPF-3 is now occupied by Boeing for the CST-100, and OPF-1 is committed to an unnamed tenant.

According to the article, several parts will be removed from the orbiters before museum delivery, to be used in the Space Launch System.

After September’s announcement of plans to develop a giant new rocket for human exploration missions, NASA decided to save substantial sections of the orbiters’ propulsion system plumbing for the new program.

The relatively late request from the heavy-lift rocket program requires foot-wide propellant feed lines and lots of supporting components — a list filling six pages — to be disassembled and removed from Atlantis and Endeavour.

To make room for the museum, the KSCVC has removed the iconic external tank and solid rocket boosters that stood at the entrance. Florida Today has a time-lapse video of yesterday's removal:

Click the arrow to watch the video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

According to Bright House News 13, the tank and boosters will be stored at KSC's transfer and disposal yard until a new home is found.

Below are images from of construction work yesterday to remove the ET and SRBs:

UPDATE November 30, 2011 8:15 AM has more on the KSCVC renovations.

"The SRBs were put on display in Shuttle Plaza in 1994, and that was followed by the external tank in 1997," Visitor Complex spokesperson Andrea Farmer said in an interview with collectSPACE.

The boosters and tank, which are representative of the propulsion components that launched the space shuttle orbiters for the 30 years between 1981 and 2011, are a mixture of real and replica hardware.

"The external tank was a 'fit-check' tank, a full-size mockup, that came from the Stennis Space Center [in Mississippi]," Farmer said. "For the SRB's, the aft skirts and nose cones are fiberglass, and then for the four segments [in between], two are steel and two of them are filament."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Elon Musk Interview

Click the arrow to watch the interview. You may be subjected to an ad first.

A colleague shared with me the above link to an interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on the AOL blog Translogic. The interview was posted on October 24.

Space Coast Could Lose House Seat

Florida Today reports that a proposed redrawing of Florida's Congressional districts would leave the Space Coast with one representative instead of two.

Right now, District 15 includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and is represented by Bill Posey. District 24 includes Kennedy Space Center and is represented by Sandy Adams.

Under the redistricting, all of Brevard County would fall into Posey's District 15, leaving the Space Coast with one voice in the House instead of two.

UPDATE November 30, 2011Florida Today updates their report on the redistricting.

“On the congressional districts, I prefer to have more representation than less representation,” said Brevard County Commission Chairman Chuck Nelson, whose district borders both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. “I personally believe it's more beneficial to have more than one. It gives us additional resources at whatever the legislative level is. The more representation you have means the more interests you have and the more people who have concern with what's going on within your county.”

UPDATE December 4, 2011Florida Today columnist John Kelly comments on the redistricting proposal.

The county has benefitted from having two representatives and two senators with strong interest in the well-being of the space program and, particularly, the launch operations at KSC and the Cape. How much so is difficult to gauge and certainly the current two representatives are still new enough to Congress that their political influence in Washington is still developing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Look, Up in the Sky ...

Like all space geeks, I love launches.

But while everyone else watches the spacecraft soar into the heavens, I like to watch the reactions on the faces of those watching the spacecraft.

Young or old, they experience a moment of rapture. Nothing else on Earth seems to trigger this feeling of pure ecstasy.

Below are photos of the crowds at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday November 26 during the Mars Science Laboratory launch. The photos were taken in a parking lot next to the Shuttle Launch Experience. A big-screen was set up to watch the launch.

The Atlas V has launched on the big-screen, but it's not yet visible above the tree line to the left of their viewpoint.

The Atlas V emerges from behind the Shuttle Launch Experience.

The guests look skyward. The Atlas V can be seen on the big-screen in the background.

Everyone looks up. As a culture and as a species, we need to do this more often.

The moment of rapture captured for eternity.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Value of Excitement

The National Academies has published a 92-page report titled, Sharing the Adventure with the Public: The Value and Excitement of "Grand Questions" of Space Science and Exploration.

Click here to download the free report. Select "Download Free PDF." When prompted to log in, select "Continue as Guest."

The report is a summary of a three-day summit November 8-10, 2010 at the University of California Irvine of scientists and professional communicators. Its objective was to improve communication between the scientific community and those who report their findings, hoping that it would increase public support of those endeavours.

To quote the Workshop Overview:

The premise of the workshop was that NASA and its associated science and exploration communities have not been as effective as they could be in communicating with the public about what NASA does or how its activities contribute to resolving critical problems on Earth. Although not explicitly stated, an underlying assumption seemed to be that if the public had a better understanding, it would be more supportive of NASA, which in turn could generate more political support for the organization. In the case of global climate change, the broader issue is how to convince the public of the magnitude of the problem and the need for solutions. The role of new social media tools like Facebook and Twitter in interacting with the public was an integral part of the discussion.

The keynote speaker was Miles O'Brien, former CNN science correspondent who covered many historic Space Shuttle flights. The report states O'Brien "lost his job at CNN when CNN’s science unit no longer was able to attract sufficient financial sponsorship."

That's one reason given in the workshop report for why media coverage of scientific events is dwindling. Commercial television simply doesn't care unless it generates ratings and revenue.

Many panelists suggested scientists turn to the Internet, using streaming media and social media such as Facebook or Twitter to communicate directly with the public.

Some scientists at the event rebelled at the idea, finding social media to be a distraction, subjecting them to the anonymous abuse that comes with social media sites. Others simply consider the idea unprofessional, preferring the traditional peer review process.

Several speakers lauded NASA Public Affairs, citing their clever ways of exploiting Twitter. One example is the NASA Tweetup that provides followers "with the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at NASA facilities and events and speak with scientists, engineers, astronauts and managers." It also cited the ingenious use of Twitter accounts for probes and satellites, writing their posts in the first person, such as the Mars Curiosity rover. Posted at 10:02 AM EST today:

@MarsCuriosity I HAVE LIFTOFF!

Generally missing from the conversation was how to translate public support into political support, which in my opinion was the workshop's weakness.

Government-supported scientific research is subject to the whims of Congress. As we saw with the recent Fiscal Year 2012 budget process, Congress gleefully cut commercial crew spending by more than half, dooming NASA to two more years on Russian Soyuz vehicles for International Space Station access. Meanwhile, Congress appropriated more money for Space Launch System than NASA requested, fully funding a pork-barrel jobs program that has no mission or destination.

Advocacy groups exist, such as the National Space Society, National Space Club and The Planetary Society, but none to my knowledge have separate political action committees. A PAC could advocate legislation and support candidates, which might prod porking politicians to be more responsible with their behavior.

The only other option, in my opinion, is to wean space exploration off government funding. That means commercial space will have to fund itself, even if Congress defunds critical programs such as commercial crew development (CCDev). Several of the CCDev candidates are working with Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing private space station modules that may fly later in the decade once the CCDev vendors start flying.

The private sector will start marketing their products. Just as commercial airlines and tourist destinations advertise on television today, it's not hard to image by 2020 seeing ads for Boeing CST-100 flights to Bigelow, which will advertise its modules for tourist trips or scientific research.

At that point, Congress will become irrelevant. And everyone will know about it thanks to mainstream media coverage of this next chapter in human spaceflight.

SpaceX to Expand Florida Facilities

Space News reports that SpaceX will expand its operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, funded in part by Space Florida.

Falcon 9s fly from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40, which previously was used by the now-retired Titan rocket program. Currently, only one vehicle can be processed at a time at a hangar adjacent to the launch pad.

To accommodate an expected flight rate of 10 to 12 launches per year, SpaceX is building a 16,000-square-meter addition to Space Launch Complex 40 and taking over an old Delta 2 processing building called Hangar AO. Space Florida, a state-funded agency focused on expanding space-related business in Florida, is providing $7.3 million toward the upgrades.

"We’ll be able to integrate three rockets at a time instead of one," Scott Henderson, SpaceX’s director of mission assurance, said at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference in Cocoa Beach earlier this month.

The article also quotes Henderson as saying "technically it’s not a challenge" to launch the Falcon Heavy from LC-40. The question is "how you do that while not breaking up your revenue stream as you’re launching Falcon 9."

SpaceX has talked with NASA about launching the Falcon Heavy from the former Shuttle pads at LC-39.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Checkered Flag for Jim Rathmann

Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean in 1969 Corvettes provided by Jim Rathmann. Image source:

Florida Today reports that racing legend Jim Rathmann passed away Wednesday in Melbourne at age 83.

Rathmann is known to space historians as the man who put Mercury astronauts in Chevrolet Corvettes.

According to

After winning the 1960 Indianapolis 500 as a professional racer, Rathmann opened a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne Florida near the space center. Rathmann negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put astronauts into Corvettes.

Six of the Mercury astronauts would take up the special Corvette lease although John Glenn opted for a Chevy station wagon as he had a family to cart around.

Shepard and fellow Mercury astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom often dueled on the two-lane backtop roads that surrounded the space center. Grissom’s 1967 Corvette was specially geared and the battles between the two were also legendary.

The Corvette tradition continued at least through the Apollo era.

UPDATE November 25, 2011Florida Today has more on the passing of Jim Rathmann.

Mobile Launcher on a Roll

Click the arrow to watch the video.

NASA rolled out on November 16 the new mobile launcher that will be used for the Space Launch System.

NASA has released a time-lapse video of the rollout. Click the above image to watch.

Click here to see photos I shot that day of the rollout.

ESA Contacts Phobos-Grunt

An artist's concept of the Phobos-Grunt orbiter and lander system. Image source: Lavochkin Association via ESA.

Roscosmos lost contact with the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft two weeks ago, the latest in a series of setbacks for the Russian space agency.

The European Space Agency has announced that it briefly established communications contact with the spacecraft on November 22, and two-way contact on November 23.

"The first pass was successful in that the spacecraft's radio downlink was commanded to switch on and telemetry was received," said Wolfgang Hell, ESA's Service Manager for Phobos–Grunt.

Telemetry typically includes information on the status and health of a spacecraft's systems.

"The signals received from Phobos–Grunt were much stronger than those initially received on 22 November, in part due to having better knowledge of the spacecraft's orbital position."

The second pass was short, and so was used only to uplink commands – no receipt of signal was expected.

However, the following three passes in the early morning of 24 November proved to be more difficult: no signal was received from Phobos–Grunt.

According to the release, an early theory is that part of the spacecraft's communications system is not working. More contact opportunities will occur tonight and tomorrow as the craft passes over Perth, Australia.

UPDATE November 24, 2011 7:30 PM ESTThe Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reports:

Russian specialists have deciphered telemetry data received from a wayward Mars probe, but have yet to find out the cause of its erratic behavior, a space industry source said on Thursday.

“Some data” on the spacecraft’s condition were obtained, but it was not yet clear how “functional” it was, the source said ...

Experts say the Mars mission has failed because the last “window of opportunity” for sending the probe to Mars closed on Monday. However, telemetric data from the spacecraft could help identify the causes of the failure and make adjustments for future interplanetary missions.

UPDATE November 25, 2011The European Space Agency reports it was unable to re-establish contact last night with Phobos-Grunt.

Despite listening intently during four scheduled communication passes during the night of 24–25 November, ESA's 15 m-diameter dish antenna at Perth, Australia, did not receive any signals ...

One piece of positive news: observations from the ground indicate that the orbit of Phobos–Grunt has become more stable.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Rocket in Nelson's Pocket

An Associated Press video clip of Senator Bill Nelson demonstrating his "monster rocket." Click the arrow to watch (it may be preceded by an advertisement).

I got a rocket in my pocket and a roll in my walk
So, baby don't fuss me with that North Forty talk
There ain't nothing you can tell me I don't already know
I got a rocket in my pocket and I'm raring to go
A-Let's go some place so we can rock a bit
I got a rocket in my pocket and the fuse is lit

— "I Got a Rocket in my Pocket" by Jimmie Lloyd, 1958

When the Space Launch System design was announced September 14 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Florida's Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson whipped out a pen and proceeded to point with great pride at an illustration of the new heavy-lift vehicle.

Nelson dubbed it "the Monster Rocket," the phallic symbolism of his rhetoric apparently lost on him.

Critics dubbed the SLS the Senate Launch System, because it had no mission or destination. Its design was dictated by Congress, specifically members of the Senate space subcommittee, led by Nelson and Texas' Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Its primary purpose seemed to be perpetuating pork to their states.

In the weeks since his September 14 press conference, Nelson has repeatedly used the phrase "monster rocket," without explaining why we should be impressed by the size of the vehicle.

While Congress fixated on protecting their pork in the federal Fiscal Year 2012 budget appropriation process, NASA administration and supporters of commercial space tried desperately to warn Congress of the consequences should legislators fail to properly fund the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The Obama administration requested $850 million for FY12, to assure NASA could stop flying astronauts on Russian Soyuz capsules by 2015. The Republican majority on the House Appropriations Committee offered only $312 million, and the Democratic majority on the Senate side offered just $500 million. When the two bills went to reconciliation, they split the difference and budgeted $406 million.

After the October 26 House science committee hearing on commercial space, I sent letters through their web sites to Nelson, Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and Rep. Sandy Adams, my congresswoman whose district includes Kennedy Space Center. My letter urged them to do what they could to assure Congress fully funded commercial space. The text:

I urge that you support the $850 million requested by the Obama administration to fully fund commercial crew development (CCDev) in the FY12 budget.

As you are aware from the October 26 hearing, any delays only send more U.S. tax dollars to support the Russian space program. It is foolish to reduce the administration's CCDev request, as not only will we taxpayers be forced to continue paying for the Russian space taxi service but NASA will be forced to rely on the Russians' sole source monopoly for more years.

In my opinion, Congress should provide NASA with enough funding to assure that a minimum of two CCDev participants are ready to fly astronauts by 2015. NASA is scheduled to receive final bids in 2012 from the four remaining candidates. The next three years will be critical to assure we can be freed from the Russian monopoly by 2015.

I ask that you urge your fellow members to support 100% funding for FY12 as originally proposed by the administration.

That was nearly a month ago. I've received no response from Senator Rubio or Rep. Adams.

But I did receive this boilerplate reply from Senator Nelson's office on November 21:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about our country's human spaceflight program. I want to assure you that the retirement of the Space Shuttle is not the end of the U.S. space program, and we are going to continue to be world leaders in spaceflight. I have been working to provide NASA the direction and the funding they need to begin the next phase of space exploration. We will not take a back seat to Russia or any other nation in science and technology.

NASA just recently announced its plans to build a new monster rocket that will be the most powerful one ever created. It will carry our astronauts to deep space destinations in this decade and will one day take them to Mars. At the same time, NASA is helping four separate companies develop the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will taxi American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS was originally going to be cancelled in 2015, but thanks to legislation I led last year, it has been extended through 2020. That means we will continue to have a permanent presence of Americans in space through this decade.

I have been working with my colleagues to do everything we can to mitigate the impacts of the shuttle retirement to the Space Coast and the valuable workforce that made that program possible. NASA’s announcement of their plans for the new heavy-lift rocket will provide stability to the aerospace workforce and create jobs as the Kennedy Space Center is modernized. In addition, a nonprofit organization based on the Space Coast will be managing research projects planned for the ISS. Projects like this will bring money, jobs, and industry to diversify the economy of the Space Coast.

I will continue working with local leaders and community partners to bring in new opportunities by highlighting the concentrated, highly skilled workforce that the Space Coast has to offer. If there is anything additional I can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Bill Nelson

No, I didn't really expect a personal response, but it would have been nice to know that at least he had a boilerplate that specifically addressed commercial crew funding.

In any case, I was struck by his use yet again of the "monster rocket" rhetoric. "NASA just recently announced its plans to build a new monster rocket that will be the most powerful one ever created."

What is this obsession Nelson has with the size and power of the rocket?!

Does he think that bragging about building a "monster rocket" is going to get him votes?!

Every time Nelson utters the "monster rocket" phrase, I'm reminded of this lyric from Jimmie Lloyd's 1958 rockabilly ballad:

"I got a rocket in my pocket and I'm raring to go."

Click here for the complete lyrics.

Click here to listen to "I Got a Rocket in My Pocket."

Enterprise Boldly Goes

The orbiter Enterprise on display at the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C. Image source: National Air & Space Museum. reports that NASA has signed over the prototype orbiter Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Now the orbiter's rightful owner, Intrepid announced that a few months after touching down in New York, Enterprise will be loaded onto a barge and ferried around the city to the museum. There it will be hoisted onto the flight deck and displayed under a "protective covering" until the new exhibition hall is ready ...

The public will be able to view Enterprise on the Intrepid beginning in summer 2012.

According to the museum's web site, "It is expected that the space shuttle orbiter will be flown from Washington D.C. to JFK International Airport by ferry-flight aboard a 747 NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft in the spring of 2012."

The title transfer defeats the schemes of politicians in Ohio and Texas who tried to force NASA to take away Enterprise from New York and give it to museums in their states.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jeff Foust Reviews "Gabby"

Mark Kelly with Gabrielle Giffords at a ceremony where Kelly received the Legion of Merit award from Vice-President Joe Biden. Image source:

Jeff Foust, the host of the excellent Space Politics blog, has posted a review of the book Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly.

As you probably know, Rep. Giffords' husband was an astronaut and commander of STS-134.

Click here to read the review.

Jeff's reviews the book specifically from the perspective of Kelly's passages about NASA.

Kelly was not kind, at least when it comes to NASA bureaucracy.

Foust quotes this passage about NASA's reluctance to let Kelly fly after Giffords was wounded in an assassination attempt:

Here’s the thing about NASA. It is populated by a lot of very nerdy smart people. They are drawn to the science of space exploration. A lot of them don’t see inspiration in their job descriptions. Gabby’s story had captured the public interest, and as people debated whether I should return to the mission, they were paying more attention to the space shuttle program. That wasn’t a bad thing. The American people pay NASA’s bills. It was good to have them engaged in what we were doing. But some at NASA considered their interest to be a distraction.

Foust recounts this passage about what happened to Kelly after he returned from his mission:

After the mission, he writes he was asked, as part of his mission debriefing, to “say something negative” about his fellow crewmembers, something he declined to do. “[I]t’s like they want to make sure they have some negative evidence they can point to if they want to deny someone a flight assignment or a specific position or role,” he writes. When he complained about that and the perceived lack of support from the astronaut office at the debriefing, he recalled, one unnamed manager exploded, calling those complaints unwarranted in a time when the shuttle program was winding down and thousands were being laid off. Kelly said he was just trying to get across the point that “the culture within the astronaut office had become rather negative over the last several years.”

Based on Jeff's review, I bought Gabby last night. I'm sure it will be enlightening, although not necessarily a surprise for those who deal with NASA bureaucracy every day.

Florida Papers Rip Congress for Cutting CCDev

Two Florida papers criticized Congress on Sunday for cutting the Fiscal Year 2012 commercial crew budget by more than half.

The Orlando Sentinel commented:

Almost three weeks ago, at Kennedy Space Center, government and business leaders celebrated the prospect of a return to U.S. manned space flight within four years and more than 500 new jobs.

That was before Congress got hold of NASA's budget. Now it's the Russians who can celebrate.

Florida Today columnist John Kelly wrote:

It’s becoming clear that members of Congress are more committed to big public projects promising substantial clusters of jobs at big NASA centers than investing in private space entrepreneurs. As NASA leaders and some in Congress pointed out, that means another three, five or even more years of paying the Russians to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. And, it means no backup for the Russian space transportation system that recently failed once and forced a temporary reduction in the crew of the orbiting outpost. That’s a big risk for such a huge worldwide investment.

Last night I watched live on the NASA Channel the return of Expedition 29 crew members on the Soyuz TMA-02M vehicle. In the back of my mind, I thought about the consequence of a disastrous loss that might shut down Soyuz indefinitely. How would Congress react? Would they realize their mistake and immediately appropriate an increase for commercial crew development?

I suspect we would have heard more rhetoric about how Space Launch System is actually a "backup" for commercial crew, to justify more SLS funding and therefore pork to their districts.

The high-wire act performed during each Soyuz launch and landing only reminds us of how little Congress truly cares about human space flight.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Lighter Side of NASA

Click the arrow to watch. You may be subjected to an ad first.

The above video was posted some time ago on For those of you who haven't seen it, it's about the funniest NASA parody you'll ever see.

It's supposed to be NASA footage of the ISS urine recycler testing.

Watch the test numbers on the right.

WARNING: contains a lot of profanity.

Shooting Stars

The orbiter Endeavour in High-Bay 4 at the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo courtesy Carol Smith.

As I've written before, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offereing tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Once inside, guests view the orbiter Endeavour.

My wife Carol took the tour Sunday and shot photos of Endeavour. With a flash, she observed an amazing phenomenon.

Look at the above image. The flash reflects across the bottom of the orbiter like a field of stars!

Any ideas what might cause that?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mars Science Laboratory Delayed Until November 26

NASA's web site reports that the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory has been pushed back until Saturday November 26.

The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has been delayed one day to allow time for the team to remove and replace a flight termination system battery. The launch is rescheduled for Saturday, Nov. 26 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The one hour and 43 minute launch window opens at 10:02 a.m. EST.

The Monday, Nov. 21 schedule of prelaunch tours and briefings will remain the same. Rollout of the Atlas V to the launch pad moves to Friday, Nov. 25. The rest of the week's briefings and events are being reevaluated and a new prelaunch schedule will be issued on Monday.

UPDATE Novermber 20, 2011Florida Today has a major feature on the Mars Science Laboratory.

NASA Has New Tenant for OPF-1

Could this be the new tenant in OPF-1? An artist's concept of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser. Image source: Sierra Nevada Corporation.

It's not online (yet), but the print version of the November 19 Florida Today has a front-page article reporting an agreement for NASA to lease Orbiter Processing Facility 1 to an unnamed tenant.

NASA plans to move out of a second shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center by next summer so an undisclosed commercial user can move in.

The program readying retired shuttle orbiters for museum display has agreed to vacate Orbiter Processing Facility-1 by Aug. 1, about six months ahead of schedule, said Candrea Thomas, KSC spokeswoman.

The hangar is located across the street from one where The Boeing Co. recently announced it would locate manufacturing and assembly of a capsule for commercial astronauts flights, work that could create 550 jobs by 2015.

NASA entered into an agreement July 7 with Sierra Nevada "to offer technical capabilities from the center's uniquely skilled work force."

Florida Today notes that "Sierra Nevada has previously expressed interest in using a shuttle hangar to process its Dream Chaser vehicle, which resembles a miniature shuttle orbiter."

Was He Driving a Corvette?

Alan Shepard with a Chevrolet Corvette. Image source:

It's a legend of 1960s American spaceflight.

Six of the seven Mercury astronauts drove Chevrolet Corvettes around Cape Canaveral. The lone exception was John Glenn, who drove a station wagon.

It's a tradition that resonates through the years to today. The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club still meets, and Corvettes can be found in parking lots across Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The astronauts were infamous for racing up and down the Cape Road. It's a two-lane road that parallels the Atlantic Ocean coastline from Launch Complex 34 at the south end, north past 37, 40, and 41, past the Beach House and finally behind KSC pads 39A and 39B.

A November 18 post by columnist Eric Berger on the Houston Chronicle web site shows that tradition is alive and well.

Berger quotes a passage in the new book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by STS-134 commander Mark Kelly about his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Kelly wrote that, on the eve of his launch, he took Gabby for a drive around the Shuttle pads. Kelly's NASA manager was quite displeased and called to chastise him.

“You were speeding on your way to the pad, too,” she said. The speed limit on the beach road behind the launch pad is thirty-five.

“Well I always speed when I’m out there before a launch,” I said. “How fast was I going? A hundred?”

“You were clocked at seventy-five,” she said.

“Seventy-five?” I answered. “I was trying to go a hundred! I ran out of room.”

She didn’t like my attitude and I didn’t like her phone call. One hundred and thirty-three space shuttle crews before this one had sped all over Kennedy Space Center and now it was an issue? My manager was making a point. “I want to make sure I made the right decision in assigning you to this flight,” she said.

I understood she had a job to do. But to me, it was classic NASA Astronaut Office management bull—t: Try to track down people’s little misdemeanors and then rag on them over them.

No indication if he was driving a Corvette. But the need for speed on the Cape Road continues.

The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Image source:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rolling Out the Mobile Launcher

I wrote on November 16 about the historic rollout of the former Ares Mobile Launcher, now reassigned to the Space Launch System.

I shot photos of the rollout as I passed it twice during the day. The photos are below.

And this one had nothing to do with the mobile launcher, but it's a great photo of LC-39A at sunset, taken from the Cape Road:

Bolden: Funding Cut May Delay CCDev Flights to 2017

Bright House Networks' News 13 reports that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden estimates that the vote by Congress to severely cut commercial crew funding may delay the first flight to at least 2017.

Bolden's written statement to the Senate science and space subcommittee on November 17 estimated a delay until at least 2017 based on the $500 million figure that was proposed for FY12 by the Senate.

NASA has been told consistently by a broad range of potential providers that private sector partners expect to be able to achieve the capability to provide commercial spaceflight services to the ISS within 3-5 years from initial development start. NASA’s FY 2012 budget request of $850 million for CCP would provide that initial start in FY 2012 for the development of commercial crew transportation systems, which NASA believes would enable services to ISS to be possible in the 2016 timeframe. A reduction in funding from the President’s request could significantly impact the program’s schedule, risk posture, and acquisition strategy. NASA’s initial analysis shows that a FY 2012 funding level of $500 million (consistent with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act) implemented with the current contract-based NASA acquisition strategy would delay initial capability to ISS to 2017, assuming additional funding is available in the outyears. (Emphasis in the original.)

The enacted amount of $406 million would seem to push commercial crew flights even further into the future, raising the question of whether the entire endeavour will be worth the effort. Current agreements with International Space Station partners expire in 2020, although the ISS was designed to fly until 2028.

NASA, Russia May Delay SpaceX Flight

Aviation Week reports that NASA bureaucracy, and Russian acquiescence, may delay the next historic flight of the SpaceX Dragon.

The mission’s timing will depend on the outcome of NASA’s SpaceX flight software assessments to identify potential hazards posed by two Orbcomm data-relay satellites carried by the Falcon 9 as secondary payloads and possible impingements of Dragon thruster firings on the station’s outstretched solar panels, Lindenmoyer says.

In addition, NASA intends to brief its Russian partners on the SpaceX mission strategy before signing off on the flight, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

Plans for a January liftoff from Cape Canaveral AFS are subject to change depending on the software test results and outcome of discussions with Russia, Gerstenmaier said from Moscow, where he was following the Nov. 16 docking of the Soyuz TMA-22 crew with the space station.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Congress to NASA: Drop Dead

The October 30, 1975 edition of the New York Daily News. Image source: The New York Times.

It's one of the more infamous newspaper headlines in journalistic history.

On October 30, 1975, the New York Daily News published a story about President Gerald Ford's refusal to help New York City avoid bankruptcy.

Ford never said "Drop Dead" as claimed by the headline, but it reflected the city's sentiment that the President couldn't care less about the fate of the Big Apple.

Thirty-six years later, the "Drop Dead" dismissal could apply just as well to the imminent vote by Congress to butcher NASA's Fiscal Year 2012 budget for commercial crew development.

As I wrote on November 15, Congress has chosen to defund NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

NASA officials and the CCDev participants warned Congress that failure to fully fund the program — $850 million was requested by the Obama administration — would only prolong the monopoly Russia will have on launching astronauts to the International Space Station.

The House of Representatives voted to give CCDev only $312 million, nearly two-thirds less than requested. The Senate voted $500 million, about forty percent less than requested, and impounded about $100 million of that until the NASA administrator assures in writing that certain Space Launch System (SLS) milestones are achieved.

As reported by Space Politics on November 15, the two Houses compromised by splitting the difference. CCDev will receive only $406 million, and the SLS language will remain.

The compromise, which is part of a much larger bill including many other federal agencies, will now go to both houses for a final vote, and then to the White House for signature. The 2012 fiscal year began October 1, so the appropriation is already six weeks late. It's unlikely either house will reject it over the CCDev line item, nor would the President veto it over one program. These agencies would have uncertain funding for the future, and might even be forced to shut down.

The CCDev language is a clear win for entrenched interests trying to protect the status quo.

As I wrote on September 20, the SLS system was dictated in 2010 by Congress and designed by members of the Senate's space subcommittee to protect jobs in their districts. SLS, dubbed the "Senate Launch System" by critics, has no mission or destination. It exists to create or protect jobs in certain states.

CCDev does have a mission and destination.

Its destination — the International Space Station.

Its mission — produce one and perhaps more 21st Century crew vehicles to take up to seven astronauts per flight to and from the ISS.

After the Columbia accident, the Bush administration in January 2004 decided to fly astronauts on the Russian Soyuz vehicle because it was considered to be safer than the Space Shuttle. That administration signed several "space taxi" flight agreements with Russia, while planning to phase out Shuttle once the ISS was completed. The United States would continue to rely upon Soyuz until a replacement was ready, sometime around 2015.

President Obama took office in January 2009, and appointed an independent commission to evaluate the state of U.S. human space flight. That committee concluded that the Ares I, intended to provide U.S. space taxi services to the ISS, was years behind schedule and billions over budget. It would not fly until 2017 at the earliest, and would be financed by defunding the ISS in 2015. By the time it would be ready, the Ares I would have no place to go!

The Obama administration chose to scrap Ares. On August 2, 2008, Obama had pledged in Titusville to reduce the gap during which the U.S. would rely on Russia. His solution was to expand the commercial cargo program to develop a commercial crew program relying on American aerospace companies.

Entrenched special interests, and the politicians who represented them, fought bitterly. A political compromise emerged — Congress would fund CCDev in exchange for the SLS.

NASA estimated that the first CCDev flights would occur in 2015, but warned that funding delays would only extend the time the U.S. would have to rely on Russia.

But Congress told NASA:

"Drop dead."

Many politicians are to blame, of both partisan stripes.

As a resident of north Merritt Island, I can heap part of the blame on my representative, Sandy Adams. Her district includes Kennedy Space Center, and she sits on the House space subcommittee.

Adams apparently did nothing to stop the House from cutting the Obama administration's CCDev request by two-thirds. Only in recent days has she spoken out in favor of funding CCDev — long after the $312 million language left her committee.

Rep. Adams has spent much of her first term making absurd claims such as U.S. astronauts are being forced to fly on Chinese rockets, or that India has surpassed the U.S. in space technology.

Once the compromise language is enacted, ironically Adams will have helped usher in her dark vision of NASA's plight. She failed to fund it, so now the U.S. will have to rely on Russia much longer.

Florida Today reports that NASA will assess how long will be the delay, but initial estimates are that the U.S. will be on Soyuz until at least 2017.

Obama won't be able to close the gap, but that will be due to the failure of Adams and other politicians to properly fund CCDev.

UPDATE November 18, 2011Rep. Adams' web site shows she voted no yesterday against the final appropriations bill. No explanation why.

The bill passed both houses, and is enroute the White House for signature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Air & Space on SpaceX

Air & Space magazine, a publication of the Smithsonian, has a lengthy article on SpaceX.

After nearly a decade of struggling to reach this point, Musk isn’t about to reveal the finer details of how he and his privately held company have created the Falcon and Dragon. They don’t even file patents, Musk says, because “we try not to provide a recipe by which China can copy us and we find our inventions coming right back at us.” But he talks freely about SpaceX’s approach to rocket design, which stems from one core principle: Simplicity enables both reliability and low cost. Think of cars, Musk says. “Is a Ferrari more reliable than a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic?”

Elsewhere, Florida Today reports that SpaceX completed a milestone in development of the next Dragon capsule scheduled to launch in January.

At its Launch Complex 40 hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, crews mated a Dragon capsule to a "trunk" that holds solar arrays and thermal radiators and provides room for unpressurized cargo.

Solar arrays weren't flown on the Dragon's first trip to orbit last December, which lasted just a couple of laps around the planet before a successful re-entry.

The next flight, planned early next year, will be much longer and require more advanced flight systems, taking the unmanned Dragon close to the International Space Station and hopefully berthing at the outpost.

Mobile Launcher Rolls Out to LC-39B

Click on the arrow to watch video of today's historic rollout of the Space Launch System mobile launcher to LC-39B.

The mobile launcher designated for the Space Launch System rolled out to Launch Complex 39-B today.

Expect lots of photos all over the Internet. The Kennedy Space Center Media Gallery already has some:

The mobile launcher on the way to LC-39B. Image source: NASA.

I was out on the reservation twice today and shot some photos, which I'll post in the next day or two.

SLS Launch Tower Rolls Out Today

A transporter-crawler moves into position Tuesday to transport the mobile launch tower to LC-39B. Image source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that the former Ares mobile launch tower will roll out to Launch Complex 39-B today for testing.

A crawler-transporter carrying the 6.8-million pound mobile launcher is expected to start rolling to pad 39B by 8 a.m., leaving from the tower’s parking lot next to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The sight of the tower — which tops out roughly 400 feet from the ground — rolling to the pad will be one not seen since the mid-1970s when a Saturn rocket last rolled out for launch with an umbilical tower.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SLS Cost Forces New Engine Delay

Aviation Week reports that NASA will delay development of the recently tested J-2X engine to keep within the budget provided by Congress.

Struggling to stay within a flat budget for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), NASA plans to halt development of the J-2X rocket engine that will power its upper stage after the ongoing development-test series.

Once the pacing item for the defunct Ares I crew launch vehicle, the Saturn-heritage J-2X may not fly until well into the 2020s. With the SLS program office expecting an annual development budget of $1.2 billion, near-term engine-development money is deemed better spent on a throwaway version of the RS-25D space shuttle main engine (SSME) that will power the SLS main stage. That engine—designated RS-25E—will use advanced manufacturing and design changes to lower the cost of the reusable SSME.

SLS critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System because it seems intended to protect government pork in their districts rather than to develop a viable next-generation deep-space exploration vehicle.

Congress Reaches NASA Budget Deal

Florida Today reports that, "Lawmakers have tentatively approved $17.8 billion for NASA in fiscal 2012, including money for two key priorities — the James Webb Space Telescope and a program that will team NASA with private companies to develop a replacement rocket for the space shuttle."

The final figure is much closer to what the Senate pushed for. Negotiations aimed to reconcile a bill approved by the Senate that would have provided $17.9 billion for the space agency with a House bill that included $16.8 billion.

The Obama administration had requested $18.7 billion.

Space Politics has an analysis of the reported compromise.

No details are available on how much funding will be provided for the commercial crew program. The Obama administration requested $850 million. The House approved only $312 million while the Senate approved $500 million.

Several witnesses warned the House on October 26 that funding commercial crew at an amount less than what the Obama administration requested would only result in extending the time the United States relies on Russia for access to the International Space Station.

UPDATE November 15, 2011 1:45 PM EDTSpace Politics reports that the Congressional compromise gives commercial crew less than one-half of what the Obama administration asked.

Commercial crew, as previously noted here, gets $406 million in the bill, $100 million of which is set aside until certain acquisition milestones for the human exploration program are achieved. The report notes that NASA’s plans for the program have assumed much higher funding levels than what Congress is provided, and thus “NASA is directed to work expeditiously to alter its management and acquisition strategy for the program as necessary to make the best use of available resources”. This approach, the report adds, could include “an accelerated down-select process that would concentrate and maximize the impact of each appropriated dollar.”

Regarding the $100 million, that refers to language which forbids NASA from spending that money on commercial crew development until certain milestones are reached in Space Launch System development.

If passed by both houses of Congress, expect NASA to announce they won't be able to fund a domestic launch to the International Space Station until around 2017. Both NASA and the commercial launch companies recently warned Congress that cuts in commercial crew would only prolong American reliance on Russia. Seems that Congress would rather grow the Russian space industry than our own.

UPDATE November 16, 2011 6:15 AM ESTFlorida Today reports on the budget compromise:

Congress is set to approve $406 million for the program that will replace the space shuttle — less than half what NASA originally requested.

That could force the space agency to rely even longer on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Because the NASA budget will be lumped into a bill with many other federal agencies, President Obama would have no choice but to veto the entire bill to reject the cuts. Such a veto is extremely unlikely because of its impact on all the agencies, such as the Justice Department, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, etc. NASA is a very small part of this bill.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Does the Space Coast Care About Curiosity?

The front page article in today's Florida Today suggests Space Coast locals may not be aware of — or care about — the November 25 Mars Science Laboratory launch to Mars.

The cover of the white, paper menu sports a space shuttle launching from a coffee cup and words that invite customers to “Get your first lift” at Steve’s Diner in Titusville.

But it’s the staff that received the latest early morning jolt when told Brevard tourism officials are hoping the planned post-Thanksgiving Day launch of NASA’s most sophisticated Mars rover to date could draw 100,000 visitors to the Space Coast.

“What launch?” asked hostess Rikki King.

“There’s a launch?” echoed waitress Melinda Schaffer. “I was going shopping that day.”

Expedition 29 Launch Tonight to ISS

Expedition 29 is scheduled to launch tonight to the International Space Station. Launch time is 11:14 PM here in Florida. It will be 11:14 AM tomorrow in Baikonur.

Florida Today reminds us that this is the first Russian manned launch since a string of failures in recent months, including the current anomaly with the Fobos-Grunt probe.

U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank will launch with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplarov and Anatoli Ivanishin.

UPDATE November 14, 2011As reported by, the Expedition 29 crew members successfully launched this morning in a snowstorm at Baikonur.

Click the arrow to watch the Soyuz launch.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Even More on VAB Tours

I wrote on October 31 about new tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. The tour currently showcases the orbiter Endeavour inside High Bay 4.

CNN reported on the tours. Click the arrow above to watch. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Apollo Spirit Alive and Well with Commercial Space

Space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, who wrote A Man on the Moon about the Apollo program, has published a guest column on Space News suggesting that the spirit of Apollo is alive and well — with commercial space.

Four decades later the challenge is not just to follow Apollo’s trail into deep space, but to do it affordably and sustainably. That’s not going to happen if NASA continues to be run as a jobs program as much as a space program.

It's well worth your time to read Chaikin's column.

SpaceX Scouting for a Private Launch Site

Florida Today reports that SpaceX is scouting locations outside of the Space Coast as potential launch sites for future operations.

Anticipating a sharp increase in its launch rate in the coming years, SpaceX is hunting for a new launch pad and considering several sites outside the Space Coast.

CEO Elon Musk wants a pad exclusively to serve commercial customers, one that might be based in Texas, Virginia, Puerto Rico or as far away as Hawaii ...

With an all-commercial launch site, SpaceX is seeking more freedom to launch when and how it wants, with fewer of the restrictions on launch opportunities and access that apply on secure military facilities.

Some Brevard County leaders have argued that the Space Coast should have a monopoly controlling U.S. launches.

A March 11, 2010 Florida Today editorial demanded that President Obama mandate future commercial launches in the United States be legal only at Kennedy Space Center.

That was followed by Senator Bill Nelson stating on March 19, 2010 that he was writing legislation which would force commercial companies to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

These monopolistic proposals, of course, went nowhere.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mars On Deck

Click the arrow to watch an animation of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Video source: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It's T-minus-two weeks until the scheduled launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, so the media — at least those who cover the space exploration industry — are starting to shift their attention to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral.

Aviation Week "Mars Science Lab Ready For On-Time Launch"

MSNBC "Curiosity Rover is 'a Mars Scientist's Dream Machine'" "NASA's Biggest Mars Rover Yet to Launch This Month"

You'll want to bookmark the Mars Science Laboratory web site and also download the launch press kit.

With the approaching failure of the Russian Fobos-Grunt probe to escape low Earth orbit, it will be an opportunity for NASA to step forward and prove its so-called "leadership" that certain politicians keep insisting the current administration has lost.

To The Moon

An artist's concept of a Bigelow inflatable lunar base. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace.

Aviation Week reports that the Moon "remains a focus for internationally sponsored missions and commercial entrepreneurs drawn to a deeper understanding of the celestial neighborhood as well as the prospect of profits from resources mined from the lunar surface."

In spite of President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the previous administration’s lunar-oriented Constellation program, NASA is an organizational force behind the recent Global Exploration Roadmap. The roadmap represents an evolving 25-year strategy to reach Mars with either an asteroid or the Moon serving as a steppingstone. A dozen space agencies participated in the blueprint unveiled in September under the banner of the International Space Exploration Group.

NASA’s latest planning in support of the roadmap includes a lunar encampment suitable for small crews rotating through for stays of 7-28 days. The NASA-led, 15-nation International Space Station framework serves as a model for governance. In a key departure from Constellation, the global blueprint would assign “critical path” hardware—surface rovers for instance—to international participants, according to John Connolly, the destination lead for NASA’s Human Architecture Team.

Click here to access the Global Exploration Roadmap on the NASA web site.

Click here to access the related Lunar Exploration Roadmap on NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group web site.

I'm glad that they're looking at a permanent lunar colony with rotating teams. The International Space Station can serve as a test bed for simulating such a facility. Although there are those who want NASA's next adventure to be a trip to an asteroid or Mars, my opinion is that the next logical step is a lunar colony — an international space station on the Moon.

Robert Bigelow proposed in April 2010 a lunar base built with his inflatable modules.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mars Probe is Latest Russian Glitch

Aviation Week reports that yet another Russian launch has failed — for now.

A propulsion system glitch plaguing an ambitious Russian Mars sample-return mission has left the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft circling in low Earth orbit.

Launched Nov. 9 atop a Russian Zenit-2SB from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Phobos-Grunt was successfully delivered to a parking orbit from which its onboard engines were expected to raise it to a hyperbolic escape orbit.

Following separation from the rocket, initial communications with the spacecraft indicated Phobos-Grunt was operating normally.

During orbital entry, however, “an emergency situation occurred” while the spacecraft moved out of radio contact with ground controllers, according to a statement posted on the Roscosmos web site.

Since that time, Roscosmos engineers have been working against the clock to reenable the main engines.

“Adjusted analysis of the orbital parameters and energy supply on board showed that these commands must be issued within two weeks,” the statement says.

Pegasus Departs KSC

Click the arrow to watch video of the Pegasus departure. Video source: Florida Today.

Florida Today reports that the NASA barge Pegasus has departed the Kennedy Space Center Turn Basin for Mississippi, and may never return.

The Pegasus, towed by a crew of three seamen and one technician aboard the Freedom Star solid booster recovery ship, is bound for Bay St. Louis, Miss., where it will remain in storage until a new use for it is determined, NASA said in a press release.

The 266-foot-long, 50-foot-wide Pegasus barge is expected to complete the It's 900-mile journey Nov. 16.

The Pegasus sailed 41 times and delivered 31 space shuttle external tanks between 1999 and 2011. This time it is carrying ground support equipment that was used to install space shuttle main engines in orbiters.

The engines will be used — and discarded — on early flights of the Space Launch System.

Faith of the Heart

Click the arrow to watch "Faith of the Heart."

Star Trek: Enterprise, the fifth Star Trek series, featured a breathtaking title sequence with a theme song called Where My Heart Will Take Me written by Diane Warren and performed by Russell Watson. Originally titled Faith of the Heart, it was recorded in 1998 by Rod Stewart, then reworked in 2001 for use as the theme song for Enterprise.

I always found this song to be very inspirational, as was the visual montage, and wanted to do something that was a little more NASA-specific.

The result is the video above. Enjoy.

If you want to watch the original version on Enterprise, please click the arrow below.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NASA Proposes 2014 Orion Test Flight

Click the arrow to watch an animation of the proposed test flight. Video source: NASA.

NASA announced on November 8 that it hopes to fly an unmanned test flight of the Orion crew capsule in 2014.

This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, SLS, and 21st Century Ground Systems programs.

Although the press release doesn't name a launch vehicle, Florida Today speculates it will be a "United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that would fly from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station."

The test will cost $370 million, according to Florida Today.

UPDATE November 11, 2011Spaceflight Now suggests that this announcement is "clearing the way for final contract negotiations for launch on a Delta 4-Heavy rocket."

The United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy is the largest U.S. rocket currently in existence, and it's needed to boost the Orion spaceship into an oval-shaped orbit stretching nearly 5,000 miles above Earth.

From there, the Orion will dive back into Earth's atmosphere at more than 20,000 mph, giving engineers key data on how the spacecraft responds to a re-entry at speeds nearly replicating what the capsule will see when returning from deep space missions to asteroids and other destinations.

NASA Offers Voluntary Buyouts to KSC Employees

Despite public perception to the contrary, the layoffs of Shuttle employees in recent months have been of Kennedy Space Center contractors, not NASA personnel.

Most KSC employees have always been contractors, which gave NASA the flexibility to add or release staff based on need.

Florida Today reports that NASA is offering a voluntary buyout to certain employees at KSC to further reduce staff.

Roughly 150 Kennedy Space Center employees are eligible for voluntary buyouts NASA is offering to trim its civil service work force.

The reductions, if fulfilled, would be the first notable drop in the center’s government ranks since the shuttle program’s end this summer, which saw thousands of contractors let go, though agency officials say the two issues aren’t directly related.

“We’re just trying to maintain the level of work force necessary to perform long-range work,” said Grey Hautaluoma, a spokesman at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to the article, "KSC had 2,178 civil servants as of Oct. 1, a number that has held steady for years."

The center’s contractor workforce, on the other hand, dropped precipitously with the shuttle program’s end, from 13,000 in early 2009 to a current total of about 6,700.

KSC Director Bob Cabana expects the combined contractor and civil servant work force to climb back to 10,000 in the coming years as work on new commercial space taxis and exploration vehicles ramps up.

Doing basic math ... That means about 8,900 are employed now at KSC, a number that will increase to over 12,000 "in the coming years" as commercial space kicks in.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Adams Urges Commercial Space Spending

(As originally reported on Space Politics ...)

Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, has spent much of her first term in office reciting talking points about U.S. astronauts supposedly being forced to fly on Chinese rockets and blaming President Obama for space policy decisions made in 2004 by the Bush administration.

In the last week, however, Adams has surprised some observers by taking a more progressive stance in favor of commercial space.

Adams spoke at Monday's event announcing Boeing's lease of the former Shuttle orbiter hangar OPF-3. In her prepared remarks, Adams said:

But as we close one chapter of our nation’s history, we open the door to another. The Commercial Crew Development program is the best near term hope we have for getting American astronauts, on American rockets, built by an American Aerospace workforce to the international space station ...

As America takes steps towards the next chapter of space exploration, it is imperative that Congress remains vigilant in its support of the efforts of the Commercial Crew and COTS program. It is imperative that Congress ensure that they have the tools they need to be ready to carry crew to station as soon as is practically possible without sacrificing safety.

As in past remarks, she claimed a threat from China and India, but with far more benign rhetoric:

Countries like China and India realize the importance of having access to space, and working towards a robust and highly skilled space industry. As they continue to chart their own course, America must continue to chart ours, so that we maintain our leadership in space.

On Friday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Adams "wrote this week to congressional appropriators asking that they fund a NASA program that long has been a top priority for President Barack Obama and his administration."

In a two-page note, Adams highlighted NASA’s effort to use commercial rocket companies to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, calling this approach “a vital piece of the future of human space flight.”

Congressional appropriators are in the midst of debate about funding levels for both NASA and this program, which aims to have human flights to the station by mid-decade.

Obama has proposed $850 million annually for the commercial crew effort but Congress has balked at that amount — suggesting funding at either $500 million or around $300 million.

In her letter, Adams strongly backs the $500 million amount.

The Orlando Sentinel posted a copy of her letter. Click here to read the letter.

In the letter, Adams endorsed three key Senate proposals:

  • $500 million for commercial crew development in Fiscal Year 2012. (The House of Representatives has proposed $312 million.)
  • $103 million "to ensure close out and transition of the Shuttle program."
  • $168 million for the 21st Century Space Launch Complex, an Obama administration plan to upgrade KSC for the next generation of spacecraft.

Adams couldn't resist a dig at the President, claiming in her letter that he "has finally allowed the architecture of the SLS rocket to be released and for work to begin," without providing any evidence to support the allegation.

But her actions in the last week are a major change from her past behavior, and a step in the right direction.

I sent the below letter by e-mail to Adams on October 27. I haven't received a response, but I'm pleased that she's headed in the direction I urged.

Rep. Adams, I urge that you support the $850 million requested by the Obama administration to fully fund commercial crew development (CCDev) in the FY12 budget.

As you are aware from the October 26 hearing, any delays only send more U.S. tax dollars to support the Russian space program. It is foolish to reduce the administration's CCDev request, as not only will we taxpayers be forced to continue paying for the Russian space taxi service but NASA will be forced to rely on the Russians' sole source monopoly for more years.

In my opinion, Congress should provide NASA with enough funding to assure that a minimum of two CCDev participants are ready to fly astronauts by 2015. NASA is scheduled to receive final bids in 2012 from the four remaining candidates. The next three years will be critical to assure we can be freed from the Russian monopoly by 2015.

Several of your colleagues at yesterday's hearing questioned the companies' projections for a future private sector market. In my opinion, that's irrelevant. I do think it will happen, but our immediate concern is selecting and flying at least two CCDev candidates. The rest can take care of itself.

I ask that you urge your fellow committee members to support 100% funding for FY12 as originally proposed by the administration.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reinventing KSC -- At A Cost

Three articles in Florida Today reflect the changes planned for Kennedy Space Center — but only if Congress provides the funding.

"Efforts Evolving to Reshape the Cape" is about "the center’s new way of doing business and the Space Coast’s hopes for a thriving space industry."

"KSC is being compelled to reinvent itself," said Joyce Riquelme, manager of the center’s planning and development office. "Unlike the Apollo transition, this time we have a vision and a plan."

The plan to reshape the Cape as a hub for commercial space activity was the subject of a panel discussion Thursday at the SunComm 2011 conference, hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association at the Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hilton.

Government and industry officials promised greater diversity in local space operations and missions in the coming years, but no guarantees that the more than 8,000 contractor jobs lost with the 30-year shuttle program would easily be replaced.

The article outlines development plans by Boeing, SpaceX, ATK and Masten.

"Some Experts Question D.C.'s Space Commitment" documents how both the Senate and House have cut President Obama's proposed Fiscal Year 2012 NASA budget.

President Barack Obama proposed funding NASA at $18.7 billion in his fiscal 2012 budget. That’s about $280 million, or 1.5 percent, more than the agency got in fiscal 2011.

On Tuesday, the Democrat-controlled Senate approved $17.9 billion for the space agency. A bill in the Republican-run House would provide $16.8 billion.

The chambers will have to negotiate a compromise that’s sure to give NASA less than the $18.4 billion it got in fiscal 2011.

On the editorial page, aeronautics professor Wes Harris of MIT writes that "retirement of the space shuttle marked the end of an era, but it didn’t end American leadership in space."

To the contrary — just as Apollo led to the shuttle and then the space station, there is always another chapter waiting in space. Whether it will be America that writes it, only time will tell. But there are reasons to be concerned.

Harris notes that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has voted to cancel the Webb Space Telescope, and there are pressures to cancel weather satellites needed by 2016.

NASA Still Studying Fuel Depots in Space

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

Aviation Week reports that "NASA is striving to advance orbiting fuel depot technology through a project called Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer (CPST), which hopes to launch an 1,800-kg (4,000-lb.) demonstration mission in 2016."

CPST spacecraft will take about 260 kg of liquid hydrogen to orbit and evaluate techniques for keeping it cold, moving it around in microgravity and measuring its condition. Analytics Mechanics Associates Inc., Ball Aerospace, Boeing and Lockheed Martin all are working on concepts for the mission under study contracts worth $2.4 million in total.

NASA's fuel depot research is caught in the political gamesmanship between those in Congress who support the Space Launch System and those who believe a fuel depot approach would be cheaper.

The latter point to a July 2011 NASA report which "concluded it would take at least 36 Delta IV Heavy flights to deliver fuel to a space-based depot in a scenario that envisioned four lunar missions beginning in 2024," according to Aviation Week. "The study also estimated the same scenario would take at least 24 launches of the Falcon 9 Heavy proposed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and said both would cost 'billions' less than later missions mounted on the SLS."

The Aviation Week article concludes:

But concerns about fuel boil-off in orbit remain. A paper presented by Patrick R. Chai and Alan W. Wilhite of the Georgia Institute of Technology at this year’s International Astronautical Congress estimates that depot tanks would lose about $12 million worth of propellant a month in low Earth orbit if protected only with passive insulation. But the state of the art in cryocoolers that would be needed to prevent boil-off falls short by “an order of magnitude” and would require “significant research” to meet likely requirements.