Saturday, March 31, 2012

Boeing Details CST-100 Bid details Boeing's commercial crew bid with the CST-100 capsule.

"It's really in two phases," says John Mulholland, the capsule's programme manager, of the latest bid. "There's a 21-month base period where we'll accomplish our critical design review and a significant amount of risk reduction design testing, and we will culminate at the end of the option period with a two-crew flight test."

Particularly interesting is that Boeing is not totally committed to the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.

Despite Boeing's relation to the Atlas - ULA is a joint Lockheed/Boeing business venture -- Mulholland confirms that discussions have been held with SpaceX and ATK for possible launches when CCiCap transitions to a services contract in 2016. Both SpaceX and ATK have submitted bids for CCiCap and compete with ULA for launch business.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Orion Heads for the Space Coast

Space News reports that the components for Orion's first test flight are on the way to the Space Coast.

Components of the Orion crew capsule that will orbit the Earth in a 2014 test flight are to be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., for final assembly by the end of April, prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s top human spaceflight executive said.

Lockheed recently “completed a major weld of the cylindrical section of the [Orion] body where we’re welding the forward hatch sections and heat shield sections,” John Karas, Lockheed Martin Space Systems vice president and general manager of human spaceflight, said March 28. “By the end of next month, we’ll ship those to the Cape for final assembly of the entire first flight article Orion.”
Lockheed expects to complete the Orion capsule that will fly the 2014 test flight by October 2013, Karas added. 

"60 Minutes" to Look at Space Coast Job Losses

Two weeks after 60 Minutes profiled SpaceX and commercial space, the newsmagazine visits the Space Coast to look at the job losses after the end of the Space Shuttle program.

The final Space Shuttle mission last summer spelled the end of work for 7,000 people at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Fla. Scott Pelley talks to some of those people and also examines the ripple effect on the local economy caused by those lost incomes in a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, April 1 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

I hope Scott Pelley tells the full story — namely that the Space Shuttle program was cancelled by President Bush in January 2004 after the Columbia accident. It was announced that the Shuttle would fly only to finish the International Space Station, and then the Shuttle would be retired.

The people of Brevard County had seven years' notice that the end was coming, and many did little to prepare for the inevitable until the final flights.

In any case, NASA is not a guaranteed government-job-for-life employment agency. It provides a service and has always used contractors based on need. Pretty much all those who lost their jobs at the end of the Shuttle program were contractors. NASA civil servants were transferred to other jobs in the agency.

Basket Case

Click the arrow to watch the video of the final use of the Emergency Egress System. Video source: NASA.

If you were sitting in the Space Shuttle orbiter during launch countdown and a fire broke out on the pad, your only means of escape was the Emergency Egress System.

It was never used in an actual emergency, and in testing only one astronaut ever rode it — future NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

With the Shuttle program over, the egress baskets have been removed from Launch Complex 39-A and put in storage.

NASA's NASAKennedy YouTube channel has posted video of the final release of those baskets. Click the arrow above to watch.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Spacecraft Factory of the Future

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video.

Florida Today published an article today looking at all the 21st Century renovations inside Operations & Checkout at Kennedy Space Center.

A $55 million restoration transformed the O&C into a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for NASA Orion spacecraft.

In a first for KSC, the Apollo-style capsules that will take American astronauts to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other interplanetary destinations will be produced at the launch site.

“We actually moved the factory here,” said Jules Schneider, senior manager for Orion assembly, integration and production operations with spacecraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin. “This is where we’ll put Orion together, integrate it, test it, and make sure that we have a spacecraft that will do what it’s required to do.”

The article notes that Lockheed Martin was lured to Florida by a $35 million grant from Space Florida.

SpaceX Announces Commercial Crew Safety Panel

SpaceX issued this press release today:


Industry Leaders Lend Expertise As Company Prepares for Astronaut Flights

Hawthorne, CA – Today, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), one of the leading private companies working to restore America’s ability to carry astronauts to the Space Station, announced it has assembled a team of outside experts to help the company create the world’s safest human spaceflight system.

“When it comes to manned spaceflight, safety is our top priority,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer, Elon Musk. “These experts will provide us with important insights as we prepare to carry astronauts on the next generation of American spacecraft.”

The independent Safety Advisory Panel is composed of leading human spaceflight safety experts, including several former NASA astronauts and senior NASA officials. The panel will provide objective assessments of the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to help SpaceX maintain the highest level of safety.

Among the experts joining the SpaceX Safety Advisory Panel are:

  • Dr. Leroy Chiao, PhD, Former NASA astronaut, Former International Space Station commander, member of the Augustine Commission (Review of United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee).
  • Dr. G. Scott Hubbard, Former Director of NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
  • Dr. Richard T. Jennings, MD, MS, Former Chief of Medicine for NASA Johnson Space Center, University of Texas Medical Branch professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center.
  • Captain Mark Kelly, Former NASA astronaut, Former Space Shuttle commander, Retired Navy Captain.
  • Dr. Edward Lu, PhD, Former NASA astronaut.

The panel will convene in the fall of 2012 and will continue its work well after SpaceX begins flying people to space.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hearing and Listening

Two NASA-related hearings are scheduled for Capitol Hill on Wednesday March 28.

At 9:30 AM EDT, the House Science Committee will hold a full hearing titled, Securing the Promise of the International Space Station: Challenges and Opportunities. The scheduled witnesses are:

  • Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Lieutenant General Thomas P. Stafford, USAF (Ret.), Chairman, International Space Station Advisory Committee

At 2:00 PM EDT, the Senate Appropriations science subcommittee will review NASA's proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is the sole witness. (Expect more accusations by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that Bolden is conspiring to destroy the Space Launch System.)

The House event will be webcast live at the above link. It's unclear if the Senate event will be webcast live by the committee, although it may be archived.

I'll post both events on my YouTube channel SpaceKSCBlog as soon as possible. I'm using YouTube to archive hearings and various historic space speeches so you can see these events in their entirety. For example, you can watch President George W. Bush's January 14, 2004 Vision for Space Exploration speech in which he announced the retirement of the Space Shuttle. You can also watch President Barack Obama's April 15, 2010 speech at NASA announcing the rapid expansion of the commercial crew program.

By far, the most popular video is the appearance by Neil deGrasse Tyson before the nearly empty Senate Science Committee on March 7, 2012. 50,000 views and climbing. Go figure.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Space Act Updates

NASA TV recently interviewed the partner managers for the seven companies currently operating under Space Act Agreements for the commercial crew program.


Blue Origin


Excalibur Almaz

Sierra Nevada

SpaceX (truncated)

United Launch Alliance

In the House

Click the arrow to watch the March 20 budget hearing for the FAA's Office of Space Transportation.

Click the arrow to watch the March 21 budget hearing for NASA.

The House of Representatives held two hearings in recent days about proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budgets for agencies that affect the Space Coast.

Tuesday's hearing for the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Space Transportation may be more obscure for space advocates, but is quite important. The FAA has the responsibility for licensing and regulating space launch and re-entry. NASA partners with commercial space to help nurture the industry, but the FAA will regulate commercial space just as it regulates commercial airlines.

Wednesday's NASA budget hearing was yet another grilling for NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. In my opinion, the majority of these representatives remain tone deaf when it comes to accelerating commercial space so we can stop paying Russia $63 million per astronaut for a space taxi service. They seem quite happy sending tax dollars and jobs to Russia.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Adams Requests Cut in Proposed Commercial Crew Budget

Space Coast congressional representative Sandy Adams sent a letter March 20 to the chair of the House Appropriations Committee requesting a 40% cut in the amount requested by the White House for NASA's Fiscal Year 2013 commercial crew budget.

The request includes $829.7 million for the Commercial Crew program. While this request is $329.7 million over the authorized levels for the program, the prioritization of human space flight within the budget is encouraging. I believe the Commercial Crew Program can continue on schedule under the agreed upon authorized level of $500 million and I support such an allocation of funds. This level of funding will enable NASA to continue encouraging the private development of safe and affordable space transportation systems to carry American astronauts on American rockets built by an American workforce to and from the International Space Station.

I wrote Ms. Adams a month ago asking her to fully support the Administration's request, so that the United States could cease relying upon Russia for flights to the ISS. Ms. Adams' office did not respond.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

XCOR's Little Engine That Could

A test firing of the 5K18 Lynx engine. Image source: XCOR.

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc reports on the revolutionary engine technology XCOR hopes will give it the competitive edge and suborbital and eventually orbital flight.

XCOR investor Lee Valentine gave a lecture on the XCOR 5K18 engine and its potential capabilities.

“XCOR has got an engine, the prototype for the Lynx engine, that has got more than 550 flight equivalents on it,” Valentine said. “We have not identified any wear mechanism, and the senior engineering team thinks that that engine is going to be good for many thousands of flights. Indeed, with all of the engines that XCOR has ever built, we have never worn one out or identified the wear mechanism.”

What that gives XCOR is the ability to fly the suborbital Lynx space plane with airline-type operations, Valentine added. In the same way that Southwest can fly the same 737 from one place to another with quick turnarounds, XCOR will be able to fly the Lynx into space, turn it around in 35 minutes, and fly it back.

With a single ground crew and pilot, Lynx will be able to fly four times per day. If you add a second pilot and another ground crew, eight flights are possible.

Valentine said that XCOR’s engines are more reusable than the space shuttle’s main engines, which had to be rebuilt after two flights, and propulsion systems developed by other companies.

The article also notes that United Launch Alliance is helping fund an orbital version of the engine that might one day replace the Centaur's propulsion system.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"60 Minutes" Features SpaceX

Click the arrow to watch the video.

It was delayed 43 minutes on the East Coast by NCAA basketball, but once it aired the 60 Minutes segment on SpaceX was everything proponents of commercial space could have hoped for.

The entire transcript is also online. Click here to read.

NSS Issues Legislative Alert

With NASA's hearing before the House Appropriations Committee scheduled for Wednesday March 21, the National Space Society has issued a legislative alert asking you to call your member of Congress to request full funding for NASA in Fiscal Year 2013.

The National Space Society (NSS) calls on its membership to take action now.

The President’s proposed budget for NASA for Fiscal Year 2013 was released in early February. At the end of February, NSS led the space advocacy community to the halls of Congress in the annual grassroots visit known as the "Space Exploration Alliance’s Legislative Blitz", during which we met with 100 congressional offices to show strong constituent support for our nation’s civil space program. However, the NASA budget is not immune to the unprecedented budgetary pressures facing our nation. Now, more than ever before, it is absolutely critical that the voices of the entire space advocacy community be heard in this debate.

Each of us has an opportunity to directly participate, right now, without going to Washington. But we must act now.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations allows any and all Congresspersons to submit "programmatic" funding requests to fully fund, increase, or cut the level of funding for any discretionary federal program. For example, with regard to the NASA budget, Members can ask the Appropriations Committee to provide full funding for items such as the "space technology program" or "commercial crew", as only two examples.

The deadline for such requests to be turned in by Members of Congress is just a few days away: Tuesday, March 20th at 5 p.m. EDT. NSS urges you to contact your Member of Congress by the close of business on Monday, March 19th and ask for full support for the NASA budget:

1. Information as to the name and D.C. office phone number of your U.S. Representative can be found by going to the bottom of the Legislative Action page on the NSS website, at, and by entering your zip code.

2. Call your Representative’s D.C. office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.

3. Tell the person who answers the phone that you are a constituent, and ask to speak with the staff member who handles "NASA Appropriations".

4. When you speak with that staffer (or, if you can’t reach that staffer, leave a message):

a) say that you are a constituent;

b) that you would like your Representative to request that the House Appropriations Committee fully fund NASA; and if you have a specific program within NASA that you personally support (such as the "space technology program" or "commercial crew"), tell the staffer which program (see below for more information); and,

c) that you request your Representative to submit a Programmatic Funding Request to the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee on the Committee’s website (see below) in support.

d) In speaking with the staffer, feel free to use any or all of the following points that NSS as an organization supports:

i. The "Talking Points" from the just completed Legislative Blitz, which can be found on the NSS website, at

ii. The similar points raised last fall by the NSS in the "National Space Society’s Call to Action for American Leadership in Civil Space", which can also be found on our website, at

iii. Feel free to refer the staffer to the above links.

5. Also ask the staffer if your Representative will commit to supporting NASA and the specific program within the NASA budget that you personally support. Regardless of the response, be respectful and courteous throughout, and thank the staffer for listening and for his/her time.

6. After the call, send an e-mail to Rick Zucker, NSS Executive Vice President ( at, with your name, the name of your congressperson, the staffer’s name, what the staffer said, and any other comments you might have.

Useful information for you to have at the ready, to help the staffer (two examples given below):

1. The online form that they will need (a "Dear Colleague" request) for the 2013 Fiscal Year program request process is at
2. Examples of specific programs:

a. To support full funding for "Space Technology": The "request type" is "Program". The "Subcommittee/Agency/Account" is "Commerce Justice Science, NASA, Space Technology". The "Program Title" is "Space Technology". The "Description" is "R&D in new innovative space technologies to open the space frontier to human exploration, development & settlement". The "Funding" is "Support the President’s FY2013 budget request". (They will need to attach a signed letter from your Representative endorsing this and any other requests they are making.)

b. To support full funding for "Commercial Space": The "request type" is "Program". The "Subcommittee/Agency/Account" is "Commerce Justice Science, NASA, Exploration". The "Program Title" is "Commercial Spaceflight, Commercial Crew". The "Description" is "Develop new U.S. private sector ISS crew transport systems". The "Funding" is "Support the President’s FY2013 budget request". (They will need to attach a signed letter from the Representative endorsing this and any other requests they are making.)

This is an opportunity that does not come along very often. Please help support our nation’s civil space program.

Friday, March 16, 2012

KSC's Future

A new seven-story glass and concrete structure will be the future administrative headquarters for Kennedy Space Center. Image source: has posted two articles looking at the future of Kennedy Space Center.

The KSC industrial area will be converted into a new Central Campus. Its anchor will be a new structure that will replace the current administrative headquarters.

Located between the current HQ building and the Operations & Checkout (O&C) building on D Avenue, Central Campus Phase 1 will be a 200,000 square foot facility that consolidates shared services, data centers, and office space in the Industrial Area.

Central Campus Phase 2 is a 150,000 square foot facility that will be integrated to the east side of Phase 1 and provides additional office space. When Phase 2 begins, the current HQ Building will be demolished.

UPDATE March 17, 2012Here's a NASA press release with more information on the new headquarters building and a second image.

A second article looks at the evolving design for the Space Launch System.

In its inaugural, Block 1 configuration, the SLS rocket will be capable of lofting 70 metric tons of payload off the surface of Earth.

As stated in the SLSP Launch Vehicle Specification document, “The Block 1 SLS configuration (~70 metric ton) is comprised of a 27.6-foot nominal outer wall diameter (cryogenic pressure vessels excluding thermal protection system foam and flanges) core stage, with propulsion provided by two five-segment PBAN solid rocket boosters and four RS-25D liquid hydrogen (LH2)/liquid oxygen (LO2) core stage engines.”

While the RS-25D engines are holdovers from the Space Shuttle Program, as are the SRB casings themselves, the 5-segment SRB is a direct heritage component of the now-defunct Constellation Program and the impressive work accomplished by ATK in developing and testing the new hardware elements required for the massive 5-segment solids.

"60 Minutes" to Feature SpaceX

A preview clip of the "60 Minutes" SpaceX segment.

The CBS News program 60 Minutes is scheduled to telecast a segment Sunday March 18 on SpaceX and founder Elon Musk.

He's already the first private citizen to launch a spaceship into orbit and bring it back to Earth, so it's no surprise Elon Musk believes he will be the first entrepreneur to put a man into space, too. But as he vies with other, larger private sector companies to do so, he tells Scott Pelley the criticism of the commercialization of space travel from the very astronauts who inspired his quest is difficult to take. In an extensive interview, Musk talks to Pelley and allows cameras into his SpaceX factory for a 60 Minutes story to be broadcast Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

With the Space Shuttle program now retired, NASA does not have a vehicle to put Americans into space. The Obama administration has decided to farm out the next manned spacecraft to the private sector. Musk, the Internet billionaire who co-founded PayPal, has invested $100 million into his company, known as SpaceX, to compete for the contract. "I think we are at the dawn of a new era," he tells Pelley, about the government handoff of the manned orbital space program to the private sector. Does he believe his rocket will be the next American craft to put an astronaut into space? "I believe that is the most likely outcome," says Musk.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Inappropriate Remarks

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA.

The venal behavior by certain members of Congress at the March 7 hearings with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden may be repeated next week when Bolden appears before the House Appropriations Committee on March 21.

Bolden will appear before the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Its chair is Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

Wolf is responsible for the law that prohibits Bolden or any NASA official from having contact with the Chinese space agency. He has repeatedly called Bolden on the carpet for any incidental contacts with China, such as his March 5 letter asking for a "detailed report on the nature of the discussions" among International Space Station agency administrators in Quebec who informally discussed inviting China to join the ISS. News reports clearly stated that Bolden told the group NASA was prohibited from contact with China, but that wasn't enough for Wolf.

Wolf is so obsessed with China that in 1995 he claimed Chinese hospitals were selling human fetuses as health food and demanded the Clinton administration investigate.

This appalling congressional behavior, sadly, is nothing new.

I'm currently reading Lunar Impact: The NASA History of Project Ranger by R. Cargill Hall. Ranger sent the earliest probes to the Moon to take photos of the surface.

On page 113, the author recounts a 1960 incident with Rep. Albert Thomas (D-TX) who represented Houston. At the time, Thomas was chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversaw NASA funding. Hall writes:

In 1960, while scrutinizing the proposal for Project Ranger, Congressman Albert Thomas of Houston, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Independent Offices, interrupted the testimony of NASA Associate Administrator Richard Horner to inquire just how far away the moon was from the earth. Horner replied that it was a quarter-million miles distant. Nodding and holding up background data furnished by NASA, Thomas read: "Your justifications continue: 'as our nearest major body in the solar system, basically unchanged for billions of years, the Moon offers unique potentialities for better understanding of historical and contemporary phenomena of the solar system ...' We know all about that," Thomas snapped. "If it has not been changed for billions of years, why not leave it alone?"

Thomas got space religion in 1961 when NASA awarded the Manned Spacecraft Center to Houston. Thomas helped that deal by arranging for Rice University to donate the land for the center, which in 1973 was renamed the Johnson Space Center. With pork now flowing to his district, Thomas embraced the space program.

Sounds like not much has changed in fifty years.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Boeing Completes CST-100 Preliminary Design Review

An artist's concept of the CST-100 approaching the International Space Station. Image source: Boeing.

Boeing issued a press release today announcing the company has completed its preliminary design review of the CST-100, its commercial crew vehicle.

“The progress made by the Commercial Crew team has been outstanding. It is clear that this team has the discipline and the right design, test and safety approaches and processes to ensure a safe, reliable and affordable transportation system by the middle of the decade,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Programs ...

The CST-100 is a reusable capsule-shaped spacecraft based on proven materials and subsystem technologies that can transport up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo. Boeing has designed the spacecraft to be compatible with a variety of expendable rockets. The company has selected the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle for initial CST-100 test flights in 2015.

SpaceX Hopes to Launch Dragon on April 30

Florida Today reports that a SpaceX executive said today the company hopes to launch its Dragon spacecraft April 30 to the International Space Station.

SpaceX hopes to be ready to launch a Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral on April 30, putting the unmanned spacecraft on course to reach the International Space Station on May 3.

Company President Gwynne Shotwell discussed the plans at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington, D.C., according to Twitter messages from attendees.

NASA says no official target date will be set until a flight readiness review now planned April 12.

Commercial Crew Crossroads

Last week's congressional hearings showed that elected representatives in the House and Senate remain skeptical, if not openly hostile, towards the commercial crew program. They remain oblivious to the reality that the United States continues to pay Russia $450 million a year for space taxi service to the International Space Station; some muse that the U.S. is better off sending taxpayer money to Russia than investing in American private industry.

According to

"I had to turn off the hearings," said Phil McAlister, head of NASA's commercial spaceflight effort. "If I heard another senator say, 'commercial crew sucks' ... I had to turn it off because it was just too much. That's because of this change we're trying to implement, which a lot of people are not comfortable with."

In my opinion, congressional cynicism stems largely from their self-interest. Many of these elected officials view NASA as their personal pork program, funding jobs in their districts and states. Commercial cargo and crew transfers those tax dollars to companies largely unrepresented on the House and Senate space subcommittees.

But those committees only establish policy. The real money lies with the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that determine money allocated to space.

Only one aerospace company straddles both worlds, and that's Boeing. According to, Boeing spent $16 million in 2011 on lobbying, and employs 93 lobbyists.

Contrast that with SpaceX. In 2011, SpaceX donors contributed about $86,000 to various campaign funds. In 2010, the SpaceX PAC spent only $80,000 and for 2012 so far has raised about the same amount.

As the members of Congress this spring debate NASA's Fiscal Year 2013 budget, the salvation of commercial crew may lie in data submitted by the participants in their March 23 Commercial Crew Integrated Capability proposal. reports:

Commercial partners have until March 23 to respond to a NASA call for proposals in the next round of the commercial crew competition. The agency will award agreements to multiple companies by August worth up to $500 million each, expecting providers to finalize their rocket and spacecraft designs by mid-2014.

"It's the first time we've asked industry to sign up to a full-up end-to-end cost and schedule," McAlister said. "We want to know what it's going to take to get to the end game, and how fast do you think you can get it?"

Jeff Foust comments on The Space Review:

The request for proposals for this latest round of the commercial crew program will also address an issue raised in the hearings: just how much these systems will cost to develop. John Roth of Sierra Nevada said that the current RFP requires companies to indicate how much they expect from NASA to develop their systems, and how much the expect to invest themselves, information not previously requested. “This will be the first time, on March 23rd, when the proposals go in, that NASA has full visibility for all contractors on how much money we need from NASA and how much our company’s going to put in,” he said.

Hard dollar numbers combined with a successful ISS demonstration flight this spring by SpaceX will undermine those in Congress who doubt commercial crew — but it still won't direct pork to their districts, and the campaign contributions that go with it.

It's up to those of us who support commercial crew to write our members of Congress and demand they fully fund this program. I do so regularly, although I rarely receive a response.

Last month, I e-mailed letters to Florida senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and my local representative Sandy Adams. None of them responded. Hopefully you have better luck with yours.

Monday, March 12, 2012

China Lacks Moon Capability

Despite much rhetoric claiming that China will soon sent taikonauts to the Moon, Aviation Week reports that China doesn't even have an engine close to capable of launching a vehicle on a lunar mission.

With no engine producing more thrust than the 120-metric-ton (260,000-lb.) YF-100, China is still far behind other countries in space propulsion, AAPT engineers Li Ping, Li Bin and Zou Yu told the Asian Joint Conference on Propulsion and Power here on March 2-3. “The thrust requirement of future Chinese heavy or super-heavy launch vehicles is on the order of 4,000-7,000 kn [900,000-1,570,000 lb., about 400-700 tons]” per engine, the officials write in the paper, part of which was also published last year, attracting little attention.

Such an engine would represent a technical and economic challenge ... CALT has said that a Moon rocket would need 3,000 tons (6.6 million lb.) of thrust at liftoff.

SpaceX Negotiating for LC-39A

Spaceflight Now reports what many of we locals have known for quite some time — SpaceX is negotiating to lease historic Launch Complex 39A from NASA.

SpaceX and NASA are in advanced discussions for the private space firm to use Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A, one of the spaceport's Apollo and space shuttle launch sites, as the Florida base for its Falcon Heavy rocket, officials said.

NASA and SpaceX are studying how to assemble and launch Falcon Heavy rockets from pad 39A, including adding a facility to horizontally integrate the launcher's core stage, two strap-on boosters and upper stage, according to William Hill, assistant deputy associate administrator for NASA's exploration systems division ...

SpaceX plans to piece the rocket together on its side, then roll it to the launch pad and lift it vertical before liftoff. Fully fueled and assembled for launch, the Falcon Heavy will weigh 3.1 million pounds and stand 227 feet tall, according to SpaceX.

The article quotes a NASA representative as stating that SpaceX's lease would be "non-exclusive."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

PORT Docks

April 8, 2009 ... NASA tests its Post-landing Orion Recovery Test (PORT) article at the Trident Basin in Port Canaveral.

Despite the inclement weather, I went to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex this morning. Walking through the Rocket Garden, I saw a new addition — an Orion test article.

I found a staff member and was told that this was used in April 2009 for the Post-landing Orion Recovery Test (PORT), first at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in West Bethesda, Maryland, and then in the Trident Basin at Port Canaveral.

The test article today is covered with signatures, some within the last couple months, so it's probably not just folks who worked on the program. Not exactly Smithsonian preservation standards.

Below are images I took this morning of the display in the Rocket Garden. I've no idea if this is temporary, or a permanent display.

UPDATE March 12, 2012 4:45 PM EDTRobert Pearlman of says that the above module is a test article for Orion Pad Abort 1, not the PORT vehicle:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rhetoric and Reality

Click the arrow to watch the video of Dr. Tyson's testimony March 7, 2012 before the Senate Science Committee.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is not only a prominent American astrophysicist but also perhaps the most visible and eloquent advocate for space exploration.

For those of us who grew up on Carl Sagan and his PBS series Cosmos, Dr. Tyson evokes memories of how Sagan engaged the American public thirty years ago with his articulate and passionate description of how the universe works.

1980: Carl Sagan describes artificial and natural selection. He concludes, "Evolution is a fact, not a theory."

Sagan enraged the creationist community when he said in Cosmos, "Evolution is a fact, not a theory. It really happened."

Tyson took on creationists in his own style with a November 2005 column titled, "The Perimeter of Ignorance" that appeared in Natural History magazine. Mocking creationist theory of intelligent design, Tyson pointed out the deficiencies in the human body and called it "stupid design":

Stupid design could fuel a movement unto itself. It may not be nature's default, but it's ubiquitous. Yet people seem to enjoy thinking that our bodies, our minds, and even our universe represent pinnacles of form and reason. Maybe it's a good antidepressant to think so. But it's not science—not now, not in the past, not ever.

Sagan was a political activist. He was arrested for an act of non-violent civil disobedience at a Nevada nuclear test site. He openly opposed President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars" by its critics. He helped found The Planetary Society and was its first president.

Tyson is a former president of the Society's Board of Directors, and remains on the board. The Society is politically active within the laws for a non-profit; it may not endorse candidates or take a specific position on legislation. Its web site has a Legislative Action Center where members can contact elected officials to make their opinions known.

Tyson seems to lack Sagan's political activism. He speaks to and about politicians, he speculates about why Congress is so dysfunctional, but beyond that he doesn't seem to be politically active.

Tyson was invited to address the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on March 7. The committee has 25 members. Of those, only three were present when he spoke — Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John Boozman (R-AR).

Tyson proposed doubling the NASA budget, which right now is about $18 billion per fiscal year. I would say his proposal fell on deaf ears, but there were almost no ears present for those words to fall upon.

I recorded Tyson's appearance and posted it on YouTube, where in three days it already has 12,000 views. Tyson is an Internet darling, so his words are widely heard, if not revered.

But do they translate into political action?

Has Tyson ever called on his followers to contact their congressional representatives? Has he urged them to call Congress to support or oppose specific legislation? Has he organized any campaigns that mobilize his faithful to lobby for doubling NASA's budget?

I've seen some comments by Tyson which suggest he is somewhat uninformed about the politics of the government space program. In a January 2011 interview, for example, Tyson wrongly stated that Barack Obama ended the Space Shuttle program. The fact is that George W. Bush cancelled the Space Shuttle in January 2004, effective the end of International Space Station construction circa 2010. Congress agreed, so NASA spent the next six years ending Shuttle support contracts. The Shuttle program was ended after the Columbia accident in January 2003. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board conluded that the Shuttle was "a complex and risky system," which was why it was being phased out. Tyson doesn't seem to understand all this.

Dr. Tyson is a visionary, and an extremely gifted and popular speaker. But he doesn't seem to understand how to translate those skills into the political action necessary to enact his vision.

Carl Sagan knew how.

I wish Carl was still with us to show the way.

And I don't think he would have put up with addressing a nearly empty senate hearing chamber.

UPDATE March 11, 2012 5:30 PM EDTDr. Tyson sent out a Twitter message which states, "'Case for Space' cover-story in @ForeignAffairs mag. that led to Senate's invitation for me to testify." He provides a link to a March/April 2012 Foreign Affairs article titled, "The Case for Space: Why We Should Keep Reaching for the Stars."

This article has some factual historical inaccuracies, both with the Kennedy era and the last ten years post-Columbia. Rather than regurgitate what I've written before, I'll point you here and here.

Tyson also writes, "China’s latest space proclamations could conceivably produce another “Sputnik moment” for the United States, spurring the country into action after a relatively fallow period in its space efforts." My personal opinion is that this is unlikely.

Let's say China lands taikonauts on the Moon in 2019 (which is unlikely). It will have been fifty years since we did it. That's a "Sputnik moment"?!

I wrote on January 26, 2011:

I understand what the President means by his "Sputnik moment" phrase, but I cringe because to me it means, "A moment where everyone panics, overreacts, succumbs to hysteria and totally misses the point ...

For the more sober, Sputnik suggested the Russians could strike the U.S. with an ICBM. The absence of an American satellite implied it could not retaliate. That was totally false, but the Eisenhower administration was reluctant to expose military secrets to respond to what they viewed as an overreaction.

If anything, the administration missed the propaganda value behind Sputnik until it was too late, until after the Soviets launched Sputnik II with a dog aboard.

I admire Dr. Tyson's eloquence and his passion for space. But this further reinforces my impression that he doesn't understand the political dynamics behind NASA's budget process, nor does he know how to marshal widespread political support for his proposal to double NASA's budget.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Atlantis enters OPF-1 this morning, perhaps for the final time.

Discovery in High Bay 4 this afternoon awaiting delivery to Washington, D.C. Both images copyright © 2012

The orbiters Atlantis and Discovery switched storage facilities this morning, part of the process that will eventually deliver them to museums.

Florida Today reports:

Discovery backed out of a KSC processing hangar for the last time and moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building, its last stop before a planned April 17 ferry flight to the Smithsonian Institution.

Atlantis left the assembly building's High Bay 4 and took over the vacant spot in Orbiter Processing Facility-1.

The moves began around 8:45 a.m. and finished within two hours.

According to the National Air & Space Museum web site, "a festival of activities" is planned for Discovery's arrival.

The festival will begin when the orbiter arrives in the D.C. area on April 17 and will feature four days of space-related activities, performances, appearances by space pioneers, films, and displays at the shuttle's new home, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Activities at the Center will kick off on April 19 when Discovery will be officially transferred by NASA into the Smithsonian's collection in an outdoor ceremony open to the public.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Song and Dance

Click the arrow to watch the Senate committee hearing.

Click the arrow to watch the House committee hearing.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden appeared before two congressional hearings March 7. At both events, he was grilled about funding for the Space Launch System and commercial crew development.

Watching these events only reinforced my impression that these elected officials couldn't care less about what's best for the future of American human spaceflight. They just want to assure that pork continues to flow to their districts.

Several remain apathetic to the reality that NASA will continue to pay Russia $450 million a year until commercial crew companies are ready to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. Some even suggest it's preferable to continue paying Russia than invest in American industry.

Most of them see the issue as a funding battle between commercial crew and Space Launch System, even though one has nothing to do with the other. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who all but called Bolden a liar in the morning hearing, has claimed that the SLS Orion capsule is a "backup" for ISS crew transportations, but NASA executive Bill Gerstenmaier said last month that Orion has no ISS docking capability. Commercial crew has a destination, while Congress has given SLS no mission or destination.

It should also be noted that the morning Senate committee hearing was attended in full by only two senators, Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Rubio (R-FL) made brief remarks but did not attend the entire event. The committee has 25 members.

I'll leave it to you to watch the videos and decide for yourself. Below are links to various articles about the hearings. "NASA Boss Bolden Goes Head to Head with Lawmakers over FY13 Budget" "NASA Chief Defends Space Budget Needs to Congress" "Congress Still Concerned about SLS Versus Commercial Crew"

Space News "Bolden Locks Horns with Hutchison Over Commercial Crew, Orion Funding"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

CASIS Intrigue

September 9, 2011 — NASA awards CASIS an agreement to manage the U.S. national laboratory on the International Space Station. Left to right: Waleed Abdalati, NASA chief scientist; Mark Uhran, NASA assistant associate administrator for the International Space Station; and Jeanne Becker, CASIS executive director. Image source: NASA. has published the resignation letter submitted February 29 by Jeanne Becker, the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. CASIS is contracted by NASA to manage the U.S. national laboratory on the International Space Station.

Becker cites "the risks to CASIS' nonprofit status of engaging in business operations with ProOrbis." ProOrbis is a management consulting firm retained by both NASA and Space Florida. Becker cites a potential conflict of interest with ProOrbis:

To be clear, ProOrbis, a paid grant writer for Space Florida, not only wrote the bylaws and selection protocol for establishing the CASIS permanent board of directors (thereby directing assembly of the highest governing body for CASIS), ProOrbis also wrote themselves into the proposal as the prime source for CASIS organizational oversight and integration; this was recognized by Space Florida as an issue that the CASIS management team would have to deal with, should the proposal be selected.

Becker cites three villains in this melodrama:

As a result of undue and onerous political pressures exerted over the almost six months of existence of CASIS, business operations have been difficult in standing up this brand new organization. Unrealistic expectations have been levied collectively by Congressional staffers, by NASA (Mr. Uhran) and by ProOrbis. These pressures have placed unnecessary stress and hardship on CASIS, not only organizationally but also on management, forcing a defensive posture with constant focus on mitigation strategies to fend off political threats of the elimination of CASIS.

"Mr. Uhran" is Mark Uhran, the NASA assistant associate administrator for the International Space Station.

The use of the phrase "Congressional staffers" is particularly interesting, because we're left wondering just whose staffers are the ones accused of meddling.

UPDATE March 4, 2012 7:45 PM ESTProOrbis responds to Ms. Becker's resignation, as posted on

Issues of conflict of interest for all the principal parties were satisfactorily addressed in the Cooperative Agreement and provisions were put in place to mitigate any potential conflicts. Dr. Becker's concerns about a non-profit organization working with a private company were addressed by legal counsel, which determined that they would not in any way prevent CASIS from engaging ProOrbis or executing the proposal.

UPDATE March 6, 2012 7:45 PM reports that CASIS has named former SpaceX executive Bobby Block as CASIS communications director:

Today, Robert "Bobby" Block was named director of communications for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) - the non-profit entity selected in 2011 by NASA to maximize utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory.

In this position, Block will be responsible for promoting the CASIS and ISS National Laboratory brands internationally through targeted communications, marketing and public relations campaigns. He will also lead an aggressive effort to build lasting partnerships with industry and stakeholder media.

Prior to joining CASIS, Block served as the vice president of corporate communications for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a commercial spaceflight company based in Hawthorne, CA. While at SpaceX, Block was credited by space industry media with making the company more "press friendly" and transparent. Prior to SpaceX, Block held senior-level news reporting positions at nationally-recognized organizations like Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the Orlando Sentinel. He is an author and award-winning journalist with more than three decades of experience in media and public relations.

"Bobby brings high-level media and public relations expertise to our growing organization," said CASIS Interim Executive Director Jim Royston. "In the coming months, as he leads our branding and promotional efforts, I am confident we will significantly raise the profile of CASIS and the ISS National Lab in the international marketplace."

"We Should All Cheer SpaceX"

In today's opinion column, Florida Today space columnist John Kelly wrote that everyone who supports space exploration should be supporting SpaceX.

SpaceX took another step this week toward flying the first-ever private spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The countdown rehearsal at the company’s launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was a big deal. It didn’t get a ton of news media attention. There was some buzz in the aerospace industry about it.

Every step toward the flights of the half-dozen or so new space transportation systems under development by private companies and NASA is a big deal. These are turning points in human space exploration.

Am I rooting for SpaceX to succeed in launching its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station? You bet and, honestly, the rest of the space industry ought to be, too. Yes, the companies that are working to develop these new systems in some ways ought to be competitive. That will drive innovation and the kinds of time and cost savings that will advance space travel.

But they also ought to be rooting for one another. Because the U.S. space program needs high-profile, visible success stories to point to, as it struggles to continue to get the White House and Congress to fund and commit to space exploration in the short and long terms.

Friday, March 2, 2012

SpaceX Completes "Wet" Dress Rehearsal

Click the arrow to watch a Florida Today video of the media visiting LC-40 after the Falcon 9 "wet" dress rehearsal. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today reports on yesterday's "wet" dress rehearsal for the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to the International Space Station.

("Wet" means they fueled the rocket.)

“The test went well,” SpaceX said in a statement. “Over the coming days, we will continue to review the data as we prepare for our upcoming mission.”

The practice countdown was recycled at least once at T minus 10 minutes, according to Twitter updates provided by Kennedy Space Center. The company hasn’t yet commented on the rehearsal’s results.

SpaceX invited NASA-credentialed media to visit the pad after the test. If you watch the above Florida Today video, you'll see few media attended. It appears to be mostly photographers. No wonder much of the public thinks the space program has ended ...

Below are images I shot yesterday during the test from Titan Road just north of the Solid Motor Assembly Building.

Other reports: "SpaceX Conducts Successful Wet Dress Rehearsal of Falcon 9 Rocket" "SpaceX Team Conduct Successful Falcon 9 WDR Ahead of Dragon’s ISS Debut" "Falcon 9 Rocket Fueling Test Completed at Cape Canaveral"