Saturday, December 31, 2011

KSCVC Posts VAB Tour Video

Click the arrow to watch the video.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has posted a video on YouTube promoting its Vehicle Assembly Building tours, featuring the orbiter Endeavour.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

China Still Not Going to the Moon

Space Coast congressional representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey have claimed that China has surpassed the United States in space capability and has "plans to colonize the Moon," according to Posey.

Back in the reality-based world, China has not launched taikonauts into space since September 2008. Their last human-related flight was Shenzhou 8 in late October, sending two test dummies to rendezvous with a space station prototype model. reported today that China has issued a white paper summarizing their space policy — updating similar reports issued in 2000 and 2006.

China issued a new "white paper" today describing the achievements of its space program over the past 5 years and outlining its plans for the next 5 years. China issued such white papers in 2000 and 2006, and the 2011 version offers little that is new.

According to the English-language version published on Xinhua's website, China has relatively modest plans for its space program, most of which were previously known. No ground-breaking plans were revealed.

Click here for the complete text of the white paper.

The section titled "Major Tasks for the Next Five Years" begins:

In the next five years, China will strengthen its basic capacities of the space industry, accelerate research on leading-edge technology, and continue to implement important space scientific and technological projects, including human spaceflight, lunar exploration, high-resolution Earth observation system, satellite navigation and positioning system, new-generation launch vehicles, and other priority projects in key fields. China will develop a comprehensive plan for construction of space infrastructure, promote its satellites and satellite applications industry, further conduct space science research, and push forward the comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development of China's space industry.

Section 3, "Human Spaceflight," states:

China will push forward human spaceflight projects and make new technological breakthroughs, creating a foundation for future human spaceflight.

It will launch the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spaceships and achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit Tiangong-1 vehicle.

China will launch space laboratories, manned spaceship and space freighters; make breakthroughs in and master space station key technologies, including astronauts' medium-term stay, regenerative life support and propellant refueling; conduct space applications to a certain extent and make technological preparations for the construction of space stations.

China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing.

China is expected sometime in 2012 to send three taikonauts to dock with a space station testbed module currently in orbit, but after that the Chinese may not launch another orbiting platform until the end of the decade.

Presidential Space Race

Florida Today has a lengthy article by reporter James Dean on the 2012 presidential race and whether it will significantly affect federal space policy.

After the space shuttle’s retirement this year, frustration over the decline in the nation’s human spaceflight capability might leave President Barack Obama open to attack in the 2012 campaign.

But experts say the Republicans vying to replace Obama are unlikely to seek big changes to NASA’s post-shuttle transition, which relies on Russia to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station until the commercial sector is ready to take over the job.

Obama’s signature space policy shift — privatizing astronaut flights to the space station — is a conservative one, and tight NASA budgets in the coming years will limit flexibility to change course.

Congress cut by more than half in November the commercial crew development funding requested by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2012. NASA estimates this delayed the first operational crew flights to 2017.

The Republican majority in Congress cut the $850 million request to $300 million. The Senate majority cut the request to $512 million. During reconciliation, the two houses split the difference and authorized $406 million.

The Bush administration cancelled the Space Shuttle in 2004 after the Columbia accident.

Bush proposed a replacement that came to be known as Constellation, but Constellation failed due to cost overruns and lack of funding. When Constellation was cancelled by the Obama administration and Congress, its first Ares I flight wasn't going to be ready until 2017 — and was going to be funded by ending U.S. involvement in the International Space Station in 2015, meaning Ares I had nowhere to go.

The current administration's space policy saved the ISS and intended to accelerate a new Low Earth Orbit vehicle for operation by 2015. The recent budget cut by Congress put the U.S. back to the same 2017 time frame — but we'll still have the ISS.

UPDATE December 29, 2011 6:45 AM EST — The print version of this article just arrived here at home. It has a sidebar article attempting to compare the space policies of the various presidential candidates. The sidebar states:

Republican contenders for president have not posted specific space policies on their websites, and campaigns did not respond to a FLORIDA TODAY request to outline their positions.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

Video of the Comet Lovejoy filmed by astronaut Dan Burbank aboard the International Space Station on December 21. Video source: NASA.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

— Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

When the Soyuz TMA-03M docked on December 23 at the International Space Station, its arrival put the punctuation mark to the end of an historic year in spaceflight.

"Historic" can mean good or bad depending on your perspective.

For many, 2011 means a year that the Space Shuttle came to an end, and thousands of workers lost their jobs — seven years after President George W. Bush announced in January 2004 that the Shuttle program would end once the International Space Station was completed.

For many others, 2011 will be remembered as the year that commercial cargo and crew programs inched closer to a new chapter in human spaceflight — saving the ISS from a projected shutdown in 2015, and unleashing new technologies that promise to bring down the cost of access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

These two groups found themselves in conflict with each other, due to scarce federal funding. Members of Congress were largely apathetic to human spaceflight unless the money would be spent in their districts. Most of the representatives on the space subcommittees fought to delay commercial space, claiming that these "NewSpace" industries were untested and unreliable, while ignoring the deaths caused by the government space program and the monopolistic costs charged by Russia to fly U.S. astronauts to the ISS.

Another schism persisted. Some of those who dreamed of another Apollo program to the Moon dismissed any potential value from the ISS, believing that exploration can only be defined by flights outside LEO. Never mind the rapidly accumulating evidence from the first six-month ISS tours of duty showing all sorts of health problems caused by long-duration spaceflight.

At least there appeared to be some consensus amongst all these warring factions that a lot of cool photos, video and data were returned by robotic probes and ISS astronomical observation.

Video of the Aurora Australis filmed aboard the International Space Station on September 17, 2011. Video source: NASA.

NASA's Kepler mission discovered the first "Goldilocks Zone" planet, the first possibly habitable planet discovered outside our solar system.

The DAWN mission arrived at the asteroid Vesta, sending back unprecedented low-altitude images of one of the largest asteroids in the solar system.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Opportunity rover continued to add to the accumulating evidence that water once flowed on the Martian surface. On November 26, the Mars Science Laboratory launched for Mars. Scheduled to arrive in August 2012, it will look for evidence that the substances necessary for life once existed in Gale Crater, just south of the Mars equator.

And perhaps most awesome of all, the two Voyager probes launched in the 1970s are poised to exit our solar system, about to enter interstellar space.

Some falsely claim that the current administration has brought space exploration to an end.

I say, we're only getting started.

After months of delays, some caused by Russian flight failures and others to satisfy NASA bureaucracy, SpaceX will launch its Dragon capsule on February 7, atop a Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 40. Their goal is to demonstrate they can deliver cargo to the ISS. If all goes well, SpaceX will begin a contract for twelve cargo deliveries — and start to reduce a backlog of NASA experiments.

A video animation summarizing the SpaceX commercial cargo and crew programs. Video source: SpaceX.

Right behind SpaceX is Orbital Sciences, which hopes to send its cargo module Cygnus to the ISS in the spring.

Much rides on these cargo vehicles, and it's not just the payload.

During an October 26 hearing, most members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology dismissed warnings by their invited guests that further delays in commercial funding would only benefit Russia — which lost five unmanned probes and satellites to launch failures in 2011. This losing streak raised legitimate concerns in the United States about the technical reliability of our Russian partners, but some members on the House committee actually suggested the U.S. would be better off continuing to fly our astronauts on Soyuz rockets rather than risk flying on American vehicles built under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

Their real motivation, in my opinion, is to protect the pork coming to their district for the space-industrial complex — an alliance between NASA space centers, their major contractors, and the unions that work there. NewSpace threatens this order which funnels billions of government dollars each year into a few places across the nation — never mind audits and studies showing the inefficient and hidebound nature of this system.

Successful flights by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences in 2012 will make it harder for these politicans to argue that upstart aerospace companies can't be trusted. (Not that this particular Congress shows any inclination that they care what voters think.) Failures will set back the cause of commercial flight, and in particular commercial human spaceflight, perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Critics have falsely claimed that the current administration cut the NASA budget. The truth is that the White House has attempted to raise the NASA budget every year, only to have Congress cut it.

The CCDev budget for the current fiscal year was $500 million. The White House asked for $850 million to accelerate crew vehicle development so NASA would have a domestic alternative to Soyuz by 2015. But the House approved only $300 million and the Senate $512 million. The two houses split the difference and settled on $406 million. NASA believes this funding cut will delay operational status until 2017, keeping astronauts on Soyuz two more years.

But if SpaceX and Orbital Sciences succeed, it will help those few arguing for more funding.

I'm also a strong believer in microgravity research, which will be the real financial driver for LEO.

Microgravity research has already led to a potential salmonella vaccine, and the same company which led that research is now working on a vaccine for MRSA, the worst form of staph infections that kills thousands every year.

An Astrogenetix video on salmonella and MRSA research aboard the International Space Station. Video source: Astrogenetix.

The ISS also serves as an excellent testbed for the consequences of long-duration human spaceflight. Early research shows astronauts serving six-month tours of duty may suffer eye damage, severe bone loss and heart atrophy. It's six to nine months one-way to Mars, so before we seriously contemplate such a trip we have much more to learn.

Commercial human spaceflight will not only make it cheaper and easier for researchers to access the ISS, but later in the decade they may have the Bigelow Aerospace space station as a private alternative.

We've come a long way in 2011. We stand at the beginning of a new adventure in human spaceflight. Too many entrepreneurs with a lifelong track record of success are now involved in NewSpace to dismiss it as a fad bankrolled by rich kooks. And another company, Stratolaunch Systems, entered the field earlier this month with yet another innovative design proposal.

All this is possible because the Obama administration was willing to challenge the sclerotic bureaucracy of the space-industrial complex and open the door to private innovation.

So I prefer to see this as the best of times. A season of Light. And the spring of Hope.

Everything is before us.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another Failure for Russia reports that earlier today "An unmanned Soyuz-2 rocket launched the Meridian military communications satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Russian northern region. But the rocket failed to reach orbit, making it the fifth failed space mission for Russia in 2011."

"This area of the space industry is in sort of a crisis," Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovin told reporters in a televised press conference today. "We can say even now that the problem lies in the engine." But more analysis is needed to be certain exactly what went wrong, he added.

The incident occured on the same day that Soyuz TMA-03M delivered three crew members to the International Space Station.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NASA Will Solicit CCDev Proposals in February

Although one NASA official said on December 15 that the recent budget cut by Congress would delay the operational status of commercial crew flights until 2017, one report suggests NASA is still on track to narrow the field of finalists.

Space News reports that NASA will solicit final proposals from the CCDev participants on February. A formal Request for Proposal had been scheduled for December 19, but was delayed after NASA decided to abandon its former strategy due to the budget cut.

According to Space News:

NASA will solicit proposals in February for the third phase of a program aimed at developing commercially operated astronaut transportation systems, an agency official said Dec. 20.

NASA wants to pick at least two winners by August, Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said during a conference call.

Mango described the next phase of NASA’s commercial crew program as a “pretty big jump” from the previous two rounds, which focused on developing only individual components of crew transportation systems.

“Obviously, this next phase has to be a lot bigger than element designs,” Mango said on the Dec. 20 call.

In the third phase of the program, NASA hopes to get at least two competing crew transportation systems ready to enter production.

The article notes that "the vast majority" of CCDev funding in the current fiscal year will go to the current phase, not to the new phase beginning in February.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Expedition 30 Crew Ready for December 21 Launch

Click the arrow to watch the video.

U.S. astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and ESA astronaut André Kuipers are scheduled to launch at 8:17 AM EST from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The above video is today's press conference at Baikonur.

KSCVC at Sunset

I was at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Monday at sunset. At this time of year, the angle of the sun makes for some spectacular photos.

The sun sets behind the Rocket Garden.

Birds roost on guy-wires stabilizing a Titan II.

The entrance marquee wishes Happy Holidays in the languages of all fifteen International Space Station participants. This one is in Russian.

The Astronaut Memorial at sunset. The names of the seven Challenger and Columbia astronauts are displayed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

KSCVC External Tank, Boosters Going to Los Angeles

KSCVC's external tank and solid rocket boosters sitting in a storage yard on December 3.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the external tank and solid rocket boosters once on display at the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be sent to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.

According to the article, "The museum intends to have Endeavour displayed vertically — as if ready for launch — when it is positioned in its permanent home in a new museum wing."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

GAO: Thumbs Up for NASA CCDev

NASA uses "good acquisition practices" in its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, but is hindered by uncertain Congressional funding, a Government Accountability Office audit has concluded.

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

According to the report:

NASA’s current funding level is almost 50 percent less than the funding level it anticipated when developing its acquisition approach. As a result, NASA’s ability to execute its approach as currently planned is unlikely. For example, if NASA cannot maintain more than one contractor for its next phase of commercial crew development, its prospects for competition for subsequent phases are weakened. Although private investment is anticipated, without government investment the market alone may not continue to grow and provide more than one contractor that would be able to compete for subsequent phases. As a result, NASA could become dependent on one contractor for providing crew transportation services to the space station, which increases the risk that the government will pay more than anticipated as few or no competitors will exist to help control market prices.

GAO: NASA Properly Managing ISS

The Government Accountability Office issued an audit report today approving of NASA's management of International Space Station resources.

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

The report concludes:

Extending the operational life of the ISS to 2020 will allow NASA and the United States to capitalize on the nearly two decades and billions of dollars invested in its construction and operation. During the time required to finish ISS construction, however, many changes occurred in the assumptions and conditions underlying NASA’s initial ISS supportability strategy—the planned operational life of the ISS has extended, the space shuttle program has ended, and [Orbital Replacement Units] on the ISS are lasting longer than originally expected. In response to the changing conditions, NASA has appropriately evolved its strategy for supporting the ISS through 2020. Assessing ISS extended life necessarily requires the use of sophisticated analytical techniques and judgments. To that end, the agency has adopted reasonable approaches and methodologies for estimating the spares needed for continued operation and ensuring that the ISS structure and hardware are safe for operation through 2020 and potentially beyond.

NASA: Commercial Crew Delayed Until 2017

In response to November's cut of commercial crew funding by Congress, NASA officials said today that they do not expect the first operational crew flights to be until at least 2017.

NASA has also dropped plans to issue a formal Request for Proposal from the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) candidates which would have solicited the designs that would have led to selecting one of more vehicles for construction.

The agency instead will continue to rely on Space Act Agreements (SAAs) for the next phase of crew vehicle development.

"Space Acts don't allow us to be involved as much technically with the teams," said NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier. "We can't actually approve their designs, we can't say we're needing a service or getting a service, but we can essentially enable the contractors to make significant progress towards moving forward."

The Obama administration asked for $850 million in the Fiscal Year 2012 federal budget to accelerate CCDev so at least one vehicle would be operational by the time the current contract with Russia for International Space Station crew rotations expires in the spring of 2016. Congress chose to appropriate only $406 million, despite warnings from NASA and the CCDev competitors that slashing the budget would only extend U.S. reliance on Russia.

Gerstenmaier said that had NASA issued the RFP on December 19 as planned, the awards would have been announced in the "June, July, August timeframe" of 2012.

Now he expects to issue the Space Act awards in roughly the same timeframe.

But the cut in funding will delay "potential service capability" into 2017.

"We think we've moved probably into 2017," Gerstenmaier said. "That came about as we got some insight into what our budget is in Fiscal Year '12."

Click here for the official NASA press release.

Articles on today's press conference:

Florida Today "NASA Switches Gears on Commercial Crew Agreements"

Space News "Citing Budget Uncertainty, NASA Switches Commercial Crew Procurement Approach" "NASA Shifts Back to Space Act Agreements for Commercial Crew Program"

NASA Releases CCDev Report #4

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

The main article is about the progress made by Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). Regarding CCDev, the report states:

NASA’s industry partners continue to demonstrate design and development progress for their commercial crew transportation systems. During the past two months, five more SAA milestones and one formal interim step for a future milestone were accomplished on the road to eventual commercial space transportation services. In total over the past eight months, NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners have completed 26 of the 62 planned milestones.

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

Issue 1 (June 2011)

Issue 2 (August 2011)

Issue 3 (October 2011)

Issue 4 (December 2011)

These Are The Voyages has posted photos of the orbiter Enterprise when it was used at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1985 to test Space Launch Complex 6.

Click here to see all the photos. also has an article on display plans for Enterprise at the Intrepid museum in New York City.

And if you want to pay for it, has downloadable NASA videos of Enterprise from throughout its history.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stratolaunch: A New Player in Commercial Spaceflight

Click the arrow to watch the video. The video shows Stratolaunch taking off and landing at the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility.

Stratolaunch Systems will announce today a new generation of commercial spaceflight capability that could launch and land at Kennedy Space Center.

Here is the entire press release:

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced today that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to develop the next generation of space travel. Allen and Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond earth’s atmosphere, are developing a revolutionary approach to space transportation: an air-launch system to provide orbital access to space with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility.

The space flight revolution Allen and Rutan pioneered in 2004 with SpaceShipOne now enters a new era. Only months after the last shuttle flight closed an important chapter in spaceflight, Allen is stepping in with an ambitious effort to continue America’s drive for space.

“I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne – to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system,” Allen said. “We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry. Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionize space travel.”

Allen’s new company, Stratolaunch Systems, will build a mobile launch system with three primary components:

  • A carrier aircraft, developed by Scaled Composites, the aircraft manufacturer and assembler founded by Rutan. It will be the largest aircraft ever flown.
  • A multi-stage booster, manufactured by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies.
  • A state-of-the-art mating and integration system allowing the carrier aircraft to safely carry a booster weighing up to 490,000 pounds. It will be built by Dynetics, a leader in the field of aerospace engineering.

Stratolaunch Systems will bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years. The air-launch-to-orbit system will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems. Stratolaunch’s quick turnaround between launches will enable new orbital missions as well as break the logjam of missions queued up for launch facilities and a chance at space. Rutan, who has joined Stratolaunch Systems as a board member, said he was thrilled to be back working with Allen. “Paul and I pioneered private space travel with SpaceShipOne, which led to Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital SpaceShipTwo Program. Now, we will have the opportunity to extend that capability to orbit and beyond. Paul has proven himself a visionary with the will, commitment and courage to continue pushing the boundaries of space technology. We are well aware of the challenges ahead, but we have put together an incredible research team that will draw inspiration from Paul’s vision.”

To lead the Stratolaunch Systems team, Allen picked a veteran NASA official with years of experience in engineering, management and human spaceflight. Stratolaunch Systems CEO and President Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA, said the system’s design will revolutionize space travel.

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, also a Stratolaunch board member, joined Allen and Rutan at a press conference in Seattle to announce the project. “We believe this technology has the potential to someday make spaceflight routine by removing many of the constraints associated with ground launched rockets,” Griffin said. “Our system will also provide the flexibility to launch from a large variety of locations.”

The Stratolaunch system will eventually have the capability of launching people into low earth orbit. But the company is taking a building block approach in development of the launch aircraft and booster, with initial efforts focused on unmanned payloads. Human flights will follow, after safety, reliability and operability are demonstrated.

The carrier aircraft will operate from a large airport/spaceport, such as Kennedy Space Center, and will be able to fly up to 1,300 nautical miles to the payload’s launch point.

A New York Times illustration comparing the Stratolaunch mobile launch system to other behemoth vehicles.

It will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds and a wingspan of more than 380 feet. For takeoff and landing, it will require a runway 12,000 feet long. Systems onboard the launch aircraft will conduct the countdown and firing of the booster and will monitor the health of the orbital payload.

The plane will be built in a Stratolaunch hangar which will soon be under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port. It will be near where Scaled Composites built SpaceShipOne which won Allen and Scaled Composites the $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004 after three successful sub-orbital flights. Scaled Composites is a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.

“Scaled is all about achieving milestones and pursuing breakthroughs, and this project offers both – building the largest airplane in the world, and achieving the manufacturing breakthroughs that will enable Scaled to accomplish it. We are thrilled to be a part of this development program,” said Scaled Composites President Doug Shane. “We anticipate significant hiring of engineering, manufacturing, and support staff in the near and medium term.”

The multi-stage booster will be manufactured by California-based Space Exploration Technologies, one of the world’s pre-eminent space transportation companies. “Paul Allen and Burt Rutan helped generate enormous interest in space with White Knight and SpaceShipOne,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “There was no way we weren’t going to be involved in their next great endeavor. We are very excited.”

Dynetics will provide the mating and integration system and the systems engineering, integration, test and operations support for the entire air-launch system. The mating and integration system will be manufactured in Huntsville, Alabama in Dynetics’ new 226,500 square foot prototyping facility. Dynetics has been a leader in aerospace engineering since 1974. “We are excited to play such a major role on this system. This is an ambitious project unlike any that has been undertaken and I am confident the Stratolaunch team has the experience and capabilities to accomplish the mission,” said Dynetics Executive Vice President and Stratolaunch Board Member David King.

Stratolaunch Systems’ corporate headquarters is located in Huntsville, Alabama. Today’s announcement was the first public word that Allen and Rutan were back in the space business. But space has long been on Allen’s mind. In the close of his memoir, Idea Man, published earlier this year, he hinted at his plans, writing that he was “considering a new initiative with that magical contraption I never wearied of sketching as a boy: the rocket ship.”

UPDATE December 13 6:30 PM EST — I'll post links to news stories as I find them.

Aviation Week "Stratolaunch Aims to Break Affordability Barrier"

Bakersfield Californian "Largest Aircraft Ever Built to be Built in Mojave"

Business Week "Paul Allen Aims for Orbit With Private Spaceflight Venture"

Florida Today "KSC Prospects Soar with Mogul-Powered Idea"

Huntsville Times "Stratolaunch, the New Paul Allen Space Company, Will Aim for 2016 Rocket Launch"

Los Angeles Times "Paul Allen to Build Behemoth Plane for Space Launches"

The New York Times "Tycoon’s Next Big Bet for Space: A Countdown Six Miles Up in the Air"

NewSpace Journal "Stratolaunch: a Contrarian View"

Seattle Times "Paul Allen Unveils Ambitious Space-Travel Venture"

Space News "Microsoft Co-founder Teams with Burt Rutan, SpaceX on Air-launched Rocket" "Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Unveils Giant Plane for Private Space Launches" "Private Spaceflight Gets New Contender with Stratolaunch"

An image of the Spruce Goose during its 1947 flight. An early ancestor?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boeing Signs Chris Ferguson

Florida Today reports that Boeing has hired retired STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson.

The Boeing Co. today announced it has hired retired Navy captain and former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of the last shuttle mission in July, to help design the company's commercial crew capsule.

A veteran pilot and commander of three shuttle missions, "Fergie" retired from NASA last Friday and will join Boeing this Friday.

His new title: director of Commercial Crew Interface in the company's Space Exploration division.

The State of NASA

Click the arrow to watch the video.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver was the keynote speaker at the 2011 NASA Future Forum in Seattle, Washington. Garver spoke on December 9.

The above presentation by Ms. Garver is a good overview of the current state of the U.S. space program. Well worth the watch.

And as Lori says, in response to those who claim U.S. spaceflight has ended, it's only "the end of the beginning."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

SpaceX Hires Lobbyists

Perhaps feeling outflanked by United Launch Alliance competitors, SpaceX has hired lobbying firm Patton Boggs to represent its interests.

According to the Legal Times blog:

Former U.S. senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) are part of a team of Patton Boggs lobbyists advocating for a commercial space transportation company, according to paperwork filed with Congress on Thursday.

The former senators and three of their Patton colleagues represent Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX. They are lobbying for the company on "issues related to commercial space transportation," according to the paperwork. With the retirement this year of NASA's space shuttle fleet, the reusable aircraft manufacturer is preparing to take control of the delivery of cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

The article states that "SpaceX spent $500,000 on its federal lobbying efforts during the first three quarters of this year. The company lobbied Congress and federal agencies on aerospace, budget and appropriations matters."

(Originally reported by the December 9 Florida SpaceREPORT.)

The Final Frontier for Enterprise

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Image source: NASA.

NASA has officially transferred the title for Enterprise to the Intrepid museum in New York City.

NASA transferred title and ownership of space shuttle Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum during a ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 11, at the museum in New York City. The transfer is the first step toward Intrepid receiving Enterprise in the spring of 2012.

"NASA is proud to transfer the title of space shuttle Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum," said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden. "The U.S.S. Intrepid had a rich history with NASA's mission, and Enterprise – the pathfinder for the Space Shuttle Program – belongs in this historic setting. Enterprise, along with the rest of our shuttle fleet, is a national treasure and it will help inspire the next generation of explorers as we begin our next chapter of space exploration."

Houston-area politicians have schemed to seize Enterprise from New York and have it transferred to their city. Now that Intrepid has the pink slip, it would appear those politicians have failed.

UPDATE 8:30 PM has a video report on the title transfer.

#1 on the Runway

The replica orbiter Explorer, a longtime landmark at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, is due to move out this morning for Space Center Houston.

The construction site is the eventual location for a new museum that will house the orbiter Atlantis.

Below are photos taken yesterday of the construction site.

UPDATE December 11, 2011Florida Today reports on the move this morning of Explorer, and posted this video: also has photos of the move. also has photos.

Congress Losing Patience with NASA Cost Overruns

Florida Today columnist John Kelly writes that Congress is losing patience with NASA's Webb telescope cost overruns, and "that could be a major threat to space exploration."

The most important takeaway for all of this is that more members of Congress are expressing frustration. Threats are rising. As credibility drops, so might the willingness to continue to fund projects like this, and space exploration could be threatened because the people controlling the money lose faith in the ability of the agency to meet basic budgets and schedules — or for that matter, to even come close.

That could be a major threat to space exploration, and after decades of audits, investigations and other reviews have highlighted this epidemic problem and pointed to solutions, the leadership of the agency needs to begin taking note for the sake of the future of space exploration. Right now, it sounds like they’re still in denial.

Kelly didn't mention Constellation, but it was cancelled because of similar audits.

The last straw was an August 2009 audit which concluded that Constellation "lacked a sound business case." The Ares I rocket intended to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station wouldn't make its first flight until at least 2017 — and would have been financed by defunding the ISS in 2015, meaning it had nowhere to go.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Another Date for SpaceX

Click the arrow to watch the video.

According to the latest This Week at NASA, the new launch date for the SpaceX Dragon is February 7, 2012.

But there's no guarantee it will be allowed to berth with the International Space Station.

According to the video:

Pending completion of its final safety reviews, testing and verification, SpaceX might also send Dragon to rendezvous with the International Space Station. comments:

The significance of the announcement coming from Mr Gerstenmaier should not be under-estimated, given his close relationship with the ISS’ other major partner, the Russians. Officials at RSC Energia and Roscosmos have been exhibiting a large degree of caution – as should be expected – over the arrival of a brand new vehicle at the orbital outpost.

So we're still not sure that Dragon will be allowed anywhere near the ISS.

The announcement was made today in Seattle by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

Click here to read more in the Seattle Times.

According to the article:

SpaceX's Dragon capsule will fly within two miles of the space station, for a checkout of all its systems. Then it will close in, with station astronauts grabbing the capsule with a robotic arm. The Dragon ultimately will be released for a splashdown in the Pacific. None of the other cargo carriers come back intact; they burn up on re-entry.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver today at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. Image source: NASA.

UPDATE December 9, 2011 9:45 PM EDTThe official NASA press release hints at more delays before they'll allow Dragon to fly to the ISS.

"SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory."

Gerstenmaier said, "There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success."

UPDATE December 10, 2011 7:45 AM ESTFlorida Today reports on the SpaceX launch date:

After blasting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket, preliminary flight plans call for the Dragon to reach the station within three or four days, NASA said.

The capsule would perform a series of systems tests before approaching and first flying close by the station.

If given the green light, the Dragon would close in for capture by a robotic arm operated by station crew members Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, who are scheduled to launch to the station Dec. 21 on a Russian spacecraft.

They would pull the Dragon in for a roughly two-week stay.

Aviation Week reports:

Announcement of the launch date signifies resolution of an earlier stumbling block to the attempt. SpaceX had wanted to launch two Orbcomm low-Earth-orbit data-relay satellites as secondary payloads on the Falcon 9, raising concerns the secondaries might hit the station on a later orbit and damage it. The company cut back to one secondary payload, and agreed to deploy it below the station’s orbit.

Space Week at KSCVC

Florida Today reports that this is the ninth annual Space Week at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The field trip is a full-day adventure aimed at revving up the kids’ interest in space exploration, and encouraging them to study science, math, engineering and technology.

“What we’re trying to do is get the next generation of kids excited about what we’re doing … so they can be our replacements,” said Adrian Laffitte, director of Florida Government Relations with Lockheed Martin and a veteran Atlas rocket launch director.

According to the article's sidebar, "Eighty-five percent of Brevard County kids entering sixth grade have not visited Kennedy Space Center."

That's just sad.

It might help explain all the wild rumors running around Brevard County, e.g. KSC is being turned into a solar farm, a federal prison, sold to China, ad nauseam.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ULA CEO Wants to Speed Up CCDev Process

Florida Today reports that United Launch Alliance CEO Michael Gass wants to accelerate NASA's selection of a Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) finalist.

A speedy decision would provide certainty as the space agency deals with budget pressures roiling Washington, Michael Gass, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, told an audience at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

ULA is a partner of three of the four companies competing for the commercial crew contract. That means ULA can't favor one partner over another as NASA mulls a final decision, and doesn't have a motive to invest in any one entry, Gass said.

“Why would you continue to invest when one of three of your investments could only be the potential winner?” Gass told reporters and NASA officials. “So making a decision earlier is really helpful.”

The Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, and the Blue Origin crew vehicle would launch atop the ULA's Atlas V. The SpaceX Dragon would launch atop their Falcon 9 rocket.

Congress recently slashed CCDev funding for Fiscal Year 2012, reducing it from the administration's requested $850 million to only $406 million. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden estimates the cut may extend reliance upon Russia to 2017 for access to the International Space Station.

The Congressional budget reconciliation committee report suggested that NASA simply end the competition and pick one candidate now to reduce the gap.

Boning Up in Space

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in May 2009. Image source: NASA.

Some space advocates think human spaceflight means exploration, and exploration only. It's not hard to find on space-related web sites comments posted by those who demean the International Space Station. They believe that the government space program's sole purpose should be going to the Moon. Others view the Moon as trivial; they want to go to Mars NOW!

These folks conveniently overlook one basic fact — the human body was not designed for long-duration spaceflight.

A week-long round-trip to the Moon? No big deal.

But as the weeks and months add up, bad things start to happen to the human body.

Astronauts and cosmonauts serve a six-month tour of duty on the ISS. Studies are starting to emerge which show that long-duration flight could badly debilitate star voyagers, suggesting they might not be physically capable of walking on Mars, much less surviving the voyage.

A report issued in September by the National Academies found that long-duration space flight may be causing headaches and blurry vision among some astronauts. According to the Orlando Sentinel:

The affliction, known as papilledema, is a swelling of the optic disk and can cause blurred vision, blind spots or — in severe cases — loss of vision. It was found in nearly half — seven of 15 — astronauts examined in one study by NASA.

This included "some lingering substantial effects on vision," and astronauts were "not always able to re-qualify for subsequent flights," according to the 102-page report, which provided no additional details.

An October NASA report raised concerns about the atrophy of the human heart:

Atrophy (decrease in size) of the heart muscle appears to develop during space flight and its ground-based analogues (bedrest) which could lead to impaired functioning of the heart and fainting upon return to gravity on the Earth, the Moon, or Mars. It also may be related to heart rhythm abnormalities that have been recorded in crewmembers on prior missions.

And now evidence is beginning to emerge of a disturbing rate of bone loss while in microgravity.

According to Dr. Toshio Matsumoto of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

... [I]n the microgravity environment of space, bone metabolism becomes unbalanced and bone mass is reduced very rapidly. When we measured the bone density of astronauts who stayed in space for a long period, the results showed that femur density was reduced on average by 1.0% to 1.5% a month. This is a drastic reduction - this level of loss normally takes more than a year in a patient with osteoporosis. At the same time, when bone mass is reduced, calcium dissolved from bones into urine can cause urinary lithiasis, or kidney stones. Astronauts on the space station exercise for two hours a day, but to provoke bone formation, strong instantaneous impact is needed. Thus, even a wide range of exercises in zero gravity cannot prevent the rapid loss of bone mass.

JAXA is studying whether oral administration of bisphosphonates, a drug used on Earth to combat osteoporosis, may help in space.

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and other astronauts have participated in bisphosphonate experiments while aboard the ISS. Wakata flew aboard the ISS from March through July 2009. The results of his experiment are being analyzed by Dr. Matsumoto. Other astronauts may participate in the experiment. Wakata is scheduled to return to the ISS in late 2013, and will become the first Japanese commander of the space station.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously said, "There are things we do not know we don't know." That sentiment applies to long-duration spaceflight.

Before we commit to a permanent lunar colony, to a round-trip flight to an asteroid, or an expedition to Mars, we still have much to learn about the long-term effect of microgravity on the human body.

And that's one reason why the ISS is so critical to the future of humanity.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NASA, Russia to Further Delay SpaceX reports that the NASA and Roscosmos bureaucracies continue to delay the historic flight of the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s Dragon demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is understood to be moving into the February/March timeframe, while approval for the combination of the C2/C3 (D2/D3) missions – which would result in Dragon arriving at the orbital outpost – is still pending official approval from NASA and the ISS partners.

A final decision to combine the second and third of three planned Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights (C2 and C3 – otherwise known as D2 and D3) for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule still hasn’t been made, as much as it’s been due for several weeks.

An actual official decision – and announcement – on combining the two flights, resulting a mission which will see the first commercial spacecraft to arrive at the Space Station, will be made by Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier.

Regarding Russia, the article states, "... sources note the Russians still have misgivings about Dragon arriving at the ISS, claiming Roscosmos spoke with Mr. Gersteinmaier recently, requesting Dragon mirrors the same approach points as the European ATV and Japanese HTV carried out in their first flights to ISS."

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Can Get There From Here

I shot the above image this afternoon at sunset. The Moon was over the entrance to the bus tours at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Whenever I see the Moon over north Merritt Island, I think, "We got there from here."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Shuttle Stacked

The iconic KSCVC external tank and solid rocket boosters are now in storage.

On November 30 I wrote about the removal of the iconic external tank and solid rocket boosters from the front of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. They've been moved to make room for the new Atlantis museum.

The tank and boosters are being stored in a transfer yard on Space Commerce Road until KSCVC can find a recipient. I drove past this afternoon and shot the above photo of the items in the transfer yard.

The Space Shuttle program's two payload canisters were stored in the same location. According to a post on, at least one has been dismantled for scrap but that's unconfirmed. reported on November 29 that the Shuttle stack had been offered to Space Center Houston, but they were "unable to take the boosters and tank." The Houston attraction will receive the orbiter mockup Explorer that was on display at KSCVC next to the tank and boosters.

Friday, December 2, 2011

ISS Research Overview

Click on the arrow to watch the video.

Astronaut Ron Garan, recently returned from the International Space Station, posted a tweet on his Twitter account recommending a video he made "explaining how ISS science experiments can help improve life on Earth."

NASA's primary mission for human spaceflight for the rest of this decade will be the ISS. For a public that equates NASA with launches, it's hard to get across the idea that a full-time microgravity research laboratory is now our primary mission. There's no visceral thrill like with a rocket launch, but the benefits may far outweigh any other discoveries made in the first fifty years of human spaceflight.

Videos like this can help the public understand what an incredible resource humanity now has orbiting the Earth.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Musk: It's Down to Boeing and SpaceX

Space News reports that the recent vote by Congress to cut commercial crew funding by more than half may force NASA to choose a winner sooner than anticipated.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk thinks that works in his favor.

“I always expected that for the next phase, NASA would down-select from four (companies) to two and that the two would probably be Boeing and SpaceX. Given the lower funding for commercial crew, I’m not sure if NASA still intends to down-select to two or not. If they down-select to one, I think we’ve got a better than even chance of beating Boeing because of the maturity of our spacecraft,” SpaceX chief executive and chief technical officer Elon Musk said in an interview with Space News.

“We will have flown to the space station probably twice by the time the commercial crew decision is awarded, and the design of our spacecraft is very similar between cargo and crew, so I think from a risk standpoint, SpaceX is the lowest risk and will be the most proven path to success for commercial crew,” Musk said.

As for the next test flight of Dragon, Musk said SpaceX is "ready to go in December" but NASA may delay them until February due to other missions.