Monday, April 30, 2012

SpaceX Test Fires Merlin Engines

Click the arrow to watch the NASA television feed of the SpaceX Falcon 9 static test fire.

After one abort due to an improper test parameter, SpaceX successfully test fired today the Merlin engines on its Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on May 7.

Florida Today has more on today's test.

SpaceX Swag!

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex gift shop has a few SpaceX items for sale, the first time I've seen them sell any SpaceX items.

Below are photos of the items for sale. They have a Dragon polo shirt, a SpaceX T-shirt, a Dragon cap and a COTS-2 patch.

To order, call the gift shop at (800) 621-9826 and select extension 1.

UPDATE May 2, 2012 — SpaceX merchandise is now for sale at KSCVC's Apollo Saturn V Center as well:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meanwhile, at Launch Complex 40 ...

After my photo trip earlier today at KSC, I drove down the Cape Road to Launch Complex 40 to see if the SpaceX Falcon 9 was out on the pad yet, with its static test fire scheduled for Monday.


But here are a few photos to show you the complex.

The LC-40 entrance sign on the Cape Road.

Enter the complex and the operations support building is on the right.

Look to your left, and there's the launch pad behind the parking lot. The white horizontal building at the lower left is their horizontal integration facility where the Falcon 9 is stored.

Cozy, isn't it?

A Saturday at KSC

It wasn't the best day for photography at Kennedy Space Center. The morning was overcast. The Sun played hide and seek with the clouds. Being a Saturday, KSC was largely lifeless.

But the absence of humanity also provided more freedom to shoot photos at places normally bustling with activity.

Below are photos I shot around the space center. I wanted to show you things you don't usually see, or different views of familiar faces.

The entrance to the Solid Rocket Booster Assembly and Reburbishment Facility on Schwartz Road just east of Kennedy Parkway.

The NASA Railroad Yard, looking north towards the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The three NASA locomotives. Looking south towards the railroad yard.

NASA locomotives 1 and 3.

A closer look at NASA locomotive 3.

The Processing Control Center with the Vehicle Assembly Building in the background.

Orbiter Processing Facility 2. The orbiter Endeavour is inside.

Orbiter Processing Facility 1. The orbiter Atlantis is inside.

OPF-1 looking towards the VAB.

OPF-3, the future home of the Boeing CST-100 crew capsule. Mobile Launch Platform 1 is in the background.

The west side of the VAB. High Bay 4 is on the left, High Bay 2 on the right.

An attempt at artistic expression. I think I failed.

The gate to High Bay 2. Note the crawlerway approaches HB-2 but not HB-4. Any future use of HB-4 will require an extension of the crawlerway.

The Utility Annex at the southwest corner of the VAB.

Another look at the Utility Annex. Watch your cigarette butts.

VAB on the left, Launch Control Center on the right. The LCC just got a new coat of paint.

A transporter crawler in the foreground, with OPF-3 behind it and the VAB in the distance.

Mobile Launch Platform 1 on the left, Space Launch System mobile launcher on the right.

The bottom of MLP-1. This platform launched Apollo 13, the last three Moon flights, and the first five Shuttle flights. Note the openings on the bottom for the Solid Rocket Booster exhaust.

MLP-1 to the north of the VAB.

A wormhole opens over the SLS mobile launcher tower. Actually, it's a high-speed image of the sun peeking through the clouds.

A more conventional view of the SLS mobile launcher tower.

The SLS mobile launcher platform. This platform was originally designed for the Ares I program.

The famous rocks that comprise the crawlerway surface. The rocks are harvested from the Alabama and Tennessee Rivers. The Launch Control Center is in the distance to the left, VAB High Bays 1 and 3 to the right.

Launcher Road at Ordnance Road. Not exactly Hollywood and Vine.

The south side of the VAB as seen from the KSC press site. That's the replica orbiter Explorer still waiting for Space Center Houston to send a barge to pick it up. They were due in February. What's the hangup, Houston?

The famous countdown clock.

The countdown clock from a less flattering angle.

The barge canal leading into the Turn Basin and the press site. This canal was the delivery route for the Saturn V stages and later the Space Shuttle's external tank.

The CBS News press facility at the press site. They're the only remaining TV network with a facility at this location.

This was one reason I was out shooting photos today. I wanted to find the location for this 1972 photo with Apollo 17 on the LC-39A pad. Image source:

This appears to be the location of the 1970s-era billboard listing Apollo launches.

The only remnant of the Apollo billboard.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

House Bill Could End Commercial Crew Participation

Florida Today reports that the House Appropriations Committee bill for NASA's Fiscal Year 2013 budget would order the agency to end its commercial crew competition.

Key House lawmakers say NASA should pick one company to fly astronauts to the International Space Station instead of prolonging a competition to provide the service, a proposal a local official said would be bad for the Space Coast.

The article quotes Space Florida president and CEO Frank DiBello as criticizing the proposed legislation:

“What I view as Congressional obstruction of free market principles almost always leads to higher costs to orbit, decreased launch rates and less research, innovation and job creation,” said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida. “It’s in NASA and the nation’s best interests to keep the competition going as long as they possibly can within budget realities.”

Jeff Foust of Space Politics comments:

The report is not the first time House appropriators have proposed strictly limiting competition in future phases of the commercial crew program. In a hearing in March, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, asked presidential science advisor John Holdren if it made sense to combine the existing commercial crew competitors into a single “star team”. Later last month Wolf also quizzed NASA administrator Charles Bolden on limiting the commercial crew program to no more than two companies.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a statement that diplomatically told the House committee to mind its own business:

We believe NASA has carefully designed a program that maintains competition, and preserves safety, through the development and certification process, and that uses the appropriate contracting mechanism at each stage. It is best to leave decisions on program management to the NASA human spaceflight professionals who have access to all the information and have worked closely with all the competing companies. If the language in the report were applied to the current round of competition, it would result in a significant delay in restoring U.S. human access to orbit.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Commercial Crew Will Pull the Plug

Click the arrow to watch the video.

NASA published this video today on YouTube. It's supposed to be an overview of the various commercial crew candidates' abort system plans, but it does have computer animation for Space Launch System.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Planetary Resources Announces Asteroid Mining Plans

Click the arrow to watch the Planetary Resources press conference on YouTube.

Planetary Resources held a press conference today in Seattle announcing its plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials.

Planetary Resources, Inc. announced today its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.

Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually. The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious metals found on asteroids and provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth.

A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Additionally, water-rich NEAs will serve as “stepping stones” for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical.

In the press conference, it was claimed that their first spacecraft "will launch within 24 months.

Monday, April 23, 2012

SpaceX Delays Dragon Launch

SpaceX spokesperson Kristin Brost Grantham sent out the below update this afternoon:

After reviewing our recent progress, it was clear that we needed more time to finish hardware-in-the-loop testing and properly review and follow up on all data. While it is still possible that we could launch on May 3rd, it would be wise to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected. As a result, our launch is likely to be pushed back by one week, pending coordination with NASA.

We will send out an announcement when a new target is set.

Over on Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sent out this message:

Am pushing launch back approx a week to do more testing on Dragon docking code. New date pending coordination with @NASA.

And so we can continue to wait for history to be made ...

UPDATE April 24, 2012 7:15 PM EDT — SpaceX sent out a press release this evening announcing that both NASA and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have agreed to set a new launch date/time of 9:38 AM EDT on Monday May 7.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Florida Today: SpaceX Grows Up

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video.

Page 1 of Sunday's Florida Today is a big splash about April 30's pending launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 with the Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station.

If successful, the test flight will give the United States the only automated cargo vehicle on Planet Earth capable of returning experiments and other payloads from space.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex web site is promoting the April 30 launch:

Guests are invited to witness the beginning of a new era with the first historic launch of a commercial spacecraft on Monday, April 30. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, will be the first commercial spacecraft to rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station.

The capsule will fly by the International Space Station within two miles, performing tests and ensuring that all sensors and flight systems are functioning properly. The capsule will then approach the International Space Station to be grabbed by the robotic arm controlled by the space station crew inside.

Completing the mission will be a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens at 9:00 a.m. Guests are encouraged to arrive early for the best viewing. Prime viewing from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, part of the KSC Tour, will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Additional viewing opportunities will be available at the Visitor Complex.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Articles of Interest

Various articles for a soon-to-be-stormy Space Coast weekend ...

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column declaring the retirement of the orbiter Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center was a "funeral march" and claimed that in 2010 "control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China."

As with many of these dishonest columns, it included no specific mention of the International Space Station, or the commercial cargo and crew programs.

The White House responded with a blog by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and presidential science advisor John Holdren.

Krauthammer doesn’t even mention the International Space Station. The United States led the planning, design, and construction of this $53 billion marvel – an orbiting science and technology-development laboratory that has been continuously manned since 2000. Under the previous administration’s plan, it was underfunded after 2016, implying intent to abandon it long before its scientific and engineering potential had been realized. Under the new bipartisan space-exploration plans worked out between the Obama Administration and the Congress, we will continue to operate the Space Station until at least 2020 and perhaps beyond ...

Declining to remind readers that it was President Bush, not President Obama who ended the shuttle program (President Obama actually added 2 flights), Krauthammer carps about the Bush Administration’s successor to the Space Shuttle having been canceled in this Administration, but the Bush “Constellation” program as designed was behind schedule and over budget – “unexecutable” in the words of the independent blue-ribbon commission set up by the Obama Administration to review our options. In cancelling Constellation per se, we have kept the parts of it that made sense. A new heavy-lift rocket and multi-purpose crew vehicle  developed out of the Constellation program will be instrumental in carrying U.S. astronauts to an asteroid, to other deep-space destinations, and ultimately to Mars.

If all goes well, we're nine days away from the historic first flight of the SpaceX Dragon to berth with the International Space Station, giving the United States the only vehicle on planet Earth capable of returning cargo from space.  I wonder how Krauthammer and other fibbers will explain that.

Speaking of cargo, reminds us that this flight is also about downmass.

While Orbital’s Cygnus is aiming to join Dragon in resupplying the Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, only Dragon can provide some mitigation to the downmass requirement. Should Dragon’s mission prove to be a success, this downmass ability will be demonstrated on the C2+ mission ...

In total – again pending a fully successful mission – Dragon’s ISS demonstration flight is tasked with returning 660 kilograms of downmass, the most since the final shuttle mission with Atlantis during STS-135.

Once the Dragon is declared operational, the ISS can ramp up commercial research use, and that's the responsibility of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

Space News reports that CASIS is about to unveil a "virtual marketplace" for ISS users "to match would-be researchers with funding sources and business support."

CASIS intends to build an online community seeded by ongoing, closed-door meetings with selected companies and organizations not traditionally affiliated with aerospace but whose focuses dovetail with research already under way aboard the orbiting outpost, such as biotechnology.

Part of the new CASIS website, expected to launch in the next few weeks, will be what CASIS spokesman Bobby Block describes as a “Facebook with a searchable database.”

“You can almost look at it like a social networking aspect, where everybody is tied together, everybody is able to move information back and forth,” Jim Royston, CASIS interim executive director, told Space News. “What we want to make sure is that this is an integrated tool set that we’re developing that really allows all these pieces to connect together.

“We’re not making money on this. We’re there to make all these other people successful and get this emerging market up and running.”

The next step after commercial cargo is commercial crew, and Aviation Week reports that how crew members land will be part of NASA's selection process for a commercial crew vendor.

NASA managers looking for at least two commercial vehicles to take crews to the International Space Station have a choice of techniques for returning astronauts to Earth, from parachute landings on land to a gliding touchdown on a runway.

As they consider system-level proposals for the third phase of the Commercial Crew Program, known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), space agency evaluators are pondering the eventual use of propulsive vertical landing proposed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and perhaps the secretive Blue Origin LLC.

Also on the table are the Boeing and Sierra Nevada entries presented at the National Space Symposium here this week, and an as-yet-undisclosed entry by ATK/Astrium based on the proposed Liberty Rocket.

Boeing and Sierra Nevada both plan to use the Atlas V to launch their crew vehicles. The similarity stops there, and landing is a big difference. Boeing’s CST-100 capsule will ride parachutes to an airbag-cushioned land landing at one of three sites in the continental U.S., while the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser can return to a runway landing pretty much anywhere there’s 10,000 ft. of tarmac.

The article notes that Boeing has already selected White Sands and Edwards Air Force Base as two potential landing sites, with a third to be determined.

In closing ... I've started reading Fool Me Twice: The Assault on Science in America by Shawn Lawrence Otto. In his opening chapter, Otto writes that an overwhelming majority of the members of Congress are trained lawyers, but only about 2% have any professional background in science.

Otto also writes that, "There is a long-standing tradition in American newsrooms for editors and news directors to forbid political reporters from covering science and to rarely place science stories on publications' politics pages. Science has been relegated to its own specialized section." But in May 2008, "the Washington Post killed its famed science section." Other media also eliminated science coverage.

The Washington Post may have dropped its science section, but they still publish lies by people with no space background like Mr. Krauthammer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boeing: CST-100 Could Fly in Three Years

Click the arrow to watch the video.

Florida Today posted the above video as part of its report on the Congressional appropriations committees planning to cut the President's proposed funding for commercial crew. The video is strictly about the Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle.

At the end of the video, a Boeing representative estimates it could be ready to fly in three years.

House, Senate Mark Up FY 2013 NASA Budget

Florida Today reports that both the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees that handle NASA's budget have released markups for Fiscal Year 2013 that are less than what was requested by the Obama administration.

Members of a House Appropriations subcommittee proposed spending $500 million in fiscal 2013 on the Commercial Crew program. That's about $325 million less than the Obama administration requested.

The proposal comes a day after a Senate Appropriations subcommittee voted to provide $525 million for the program.

The Commercial Crew program has been helping a handful of private companies develop the spacecraft and rockets that could carry crew to the space station. The program’s goal was to move forward with at least two systems that would be capable of transporting astronauts to the outpost by 2017.

Though less than the $829.7 million NASA had requested as part of its fiscal year 2013 budget, both the House and Senate levels are more than the $406 million Congress gave the program for the current fiscal year.

Under-funding by Congress for FY12 pushed back by one to two years NASA's target year for commercial crew reaching operational status, meaning NASA will continue to rely on Russia for human access to the ISS.

SpaceX and Boeing, two of the four commercial crew program participants, have said they could be operational by 2014-2015 if Congress provided adequate funding. The SpaceX Dragon capsule design scheduled to launch April 30 to the ISS was intended for an eventual upgrade to ferry humans, so three years of cargo flight experience should help SpaceX reduce development time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Charlie Bolden, Face to Face

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

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden appeared today on Face to Face, a CBS News midweek online spinoff from Face the Nation.

The video is above, or click here to read the transcript.

Bill Plante: Well you were talking about the future, and everybody I think wonders, when they think about NASA, if there's nothing to get us into space what is next?

Charles Bolden: Oh we're in space all the time. We've been onboard the international space station now for almost 12 years solid, without interruption, not a second has passed over the last almost 12 years that we've not had at least 1 American astronaut and at least 1 Russian cosmonaut working together on the international space station, usually with crew members from a couple of other nations. We've been in space, we use the Soyuz to get us there right now. But we've got a company called SpaceX that's going to launch probably the 30th of this month, on a cargo demonstration, and then [Orbital Sciences] will follow in the summer. And we have a competition underway right now so we can determine which commercial company or private company is going to carry our own astronauts so we can bring that responsibility back here to American soil.

Discovery's Final Flight

NASA video of Discovery's departure.

Florida Today video of the U-turn at Pineda Causeway.

One chapter ends as another begins.

As Florida Today reports, the orbiter Discovery departed Kennedy Space Center yesterday for delivery to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C.

The orbiter and its carrier arrived in the nation's capital about three hours later.

Discovery arrives in Washington, D.C.

In less than two weeks, the next generation of U.S. space flight begins, with the first launch of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

NanoRacks Goes Outside

A NanoRacks promotion video. Click the arrow to watch.

NanoRacks provides "plug and play" microgravity research facilities on the International Space Station.

The above video was posted today on YouTube. It's a glimpse into the future, and what will be possible in just a few years.

We're down to 13 days before the scheduled launch of the SpaceX Dragon to the ISS. If successful, NASA and the United States will have a capability no other nation on Earth has — an automated cargo ship that can deliver and return experiments to and from the microgravity of low Earth orbit.

Once that capability is demonstrated, then companies such as NanoRacks will step in and give birth to an entirely new industry that the United States will lead.

The space geek in me thinks, "This is seriously cool."

Below is a May 2011 NanoRacks promotional video.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Clock Has Started for SpaceX

Canadian Space Agency animation of the Canadarm2 grappling the SpaceX Dragon. Video source: NASA.

SpaceX passed its NASA Flight Readiness Review (FRR) today and is still on target for its historic April 30 launch to the International Space Station.

Some issues remain, mostly further software reviews.

According to Spaceflight Now:

The Flight Readiness Review concluded SpaceX's launch date target of April 30 is realistic, but more discussions are planned in the coming days before final launch preparations begin.

An internal SpaceX readiness review is on tap for April 22, followed by a meet-up between SpaceX and NASA officials April 23.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said more "in-the-loop" testing between hardware and software is scheduled over the next few days.

There are also several software validation steps remaining before flight, according to Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager. has more technical details.

NASA has posted its complete media coverage schedule for the mission. It shows the Dragon arriving May 4 at the ISS and departing May 21 for re-entry and splashdown.

Other news stories:

Associated Press "Private company's 1st space station visit on track"

Florida Today "Historic SpaceX launch on track for April 30"

Forbes "SpaceX Dragon Is Cleared For Departure To The International Space Station" "1st Private Mission to Space Station Set to Launch April 30"

Space News "" "SpaceX Demo Flight to ISS Still on for April 30 But Expectations Need to be Dampened"

UPDATE April 18, 2012 — The YouTube channel ReelNASA has uploaded the video of Monday's SpaceX Flight Readiness Review press conference. Click the arrow below to watch.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What's Next

Click the arrow to watch the video.

Brevard Community College held a forum last night titled, "What's Next?  A Turning Point in the United States Space Program."  The panelists were:
  • Frank Di Bello, President, Space Florida
  • Janet Petro, Deputy Director, NASA KSC
  • Mike Leinbach, Director of Human Spaceflight, United Launch Alliance
  • John Kelly, Florida Today, moderator
It's well worth the 83 minutes to watch, because it provides a lot of detail about all that's happening at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

After watching the event, I'm more optimistic than ever about KSC's future.

UPDATE April 14, 2012 7:15 PM EDTSpace columnist John Kelly of Florida Today writes about Friday night's forum.

We learned that the one thing space industry leaders believe what we, as taxpayers, can do to help the situation is to contact our representatives in Congress to tell them how strongly we feel about the importance of a stable, long-term space policy that results in the United States rebuilding its now lost ability to launch humans in space.

Friday, April 13, 2012

We Are The World

Click the arrow to watch the video.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks at the 22:10 mark.

On April 12, 2011, the United Nations declared that date to be the International Day of Human Space Flight.  April 12 is the anniversary of the first human's flight into space, Russian Yuri Gagarin in 1961.  It's also the anniversary of the first U.S. Space Shuttle flight in 1981.

On April 12, 2012, the United Nations held its second International Day of Human Space Flight.  Leaders from the American and Russian programs appeared, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who was the keynote speaker.

The above video is of the entire event.  Bolden begins speaking at about 22 minutes 10 seconds into the video.

CASIS, NanoRacks Close Deal for ISS Research

Click the arrow to watch a CASIS video on NanoRacks use of the ISS.

Fifty-one years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, and thirty-one years after the first Space Shuttle launch, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) issued a press release announcing an agreement with NanoRacks to "reserve space on the first commercial platform available for researchers outside the ISS in the extreme environments of space."

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization managing the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, today announced a deal with NanoRacks, LLC, to reserve space on the first commercial platform available for researchers outside the ISS in the extreme environments of space. In June, CASIS will issue a formal solicitation to the research community and private enterprise for their proposals to use this one-of-a-kind platform for anything from earth observation to materials, and biological sciences.

The deal, worth $1.5 million, enables NanoRacks, the provider of sophisticated shoe-box sized space research hardware, to begin construction on the external platform and be ready for flight as early 2013 – almost a year ahead of the original schedule. NanoRacks already operates unique platforms inside the U.S. National Lab with more than 60 payloads under contract. NASA recently gave NanoRacks permission to expand its operations to the Japanese Kibo module’s exposed facility.

By enabling NanoRacks to extend their plug and play “NanoLabs” outside the Station, CASIS is helping to bring a whole new generation of researchers to the ISS. The deal also fulfills part of the CASIS mission to enhance the capabilities of the ISS National Lab. By calling for the first of two research proposals in June via, CASIS will have projects ready to fly with the platform, maximizing use of America’s premier space research facility in a timely manner.

How much does it cost?

According to the NanoRacks web site:

Our business model is like that of a no-frills airline. We have two basic U.S. prices, one for educational clients and one for commercial. We charge by the 1U–a 4 inch by 4 inch by 4 inch educational payload (1U) can be as low as $25,000. A 2U is twice that. A 2U by 1U is three times that. Commercial payloads start at $50,000 per 1U. We charge more for non-US payloads–we can discuss this with you if that is your situation.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It Loses Something in the Translation

The Russian Federal Space Agency, commonly known as Roscosmos, has posted remarks by Prime Minister (and soon to be President again) Vladimir Putin as he addressed today a meeting on the development of Russia's space centers.

The posted remarks are in Russian, so I used Google Translate to translate into English.  It's not exact, but it'll do.

Regarding the ruble amounts, one ruble is worth about three cents, so when Putin says their space budget is 150 billion rubles, that works out to about $4.5 billion.  NASA's current fiscal year budget is about $17.7 billion.

Putin talks about modernization of the Plesetsk launch site.  The Obama administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget includes $500 million to continue upgrading Kennedy Space Center as part of the 21st Century Launch Complex program.

I found it interesting that Putin took the time to address this meeting, which is a demonstration of how much value he sees in their program.  As much as President Obama supports NASA, our space program could only benefit from his taking a more visible and aggressive leadership role.

Below are the remarks as translated by Google.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting on the development of Russian space centers for the implementation of long-term programs in the field of space activities

Introductory remarks:

     Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!

    Before we move on to the agenda of our meeting today, I want to congratulate you all on the holiday - Cosmonautics Day, all those who worked in the space industry and continues to work in it, who did the most difficult, but always the most difficult - the first steps. I want to congratulate our space industry veterans and wish them all the best. Thank you for being here today with us.

Last year, we commonly observed a remarkable date in the history of our country, and in fact all over the world, all mankind, - the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight. In honor of this event, the Russian government has set up 10 awards Gagarin, and today on our first meeting is attended by the winners. I have more time to congratulate.

Dear colleagues, let me now say a few words on the essence of today's meeting. I propose to focus on the problems of ground infrastructure, to discuss plans for the modernization of the Plesetsk launch site, the task of building a new Russian cosmodrome East, as well as work with colleagues to develop Kazakhstan's Baikonur legendary. I note that in 2012 the implementation of space programs from the federal budget allocated about 150 billion rubles, including the development of space launch - more than 40.5 billion rubles. Moreover, plant and equipment is supposed to send it to the cosmodrome East - about 30 billion rubles. Last year we launched a full-scale construction of this facility. Will create not only the starting complexes, but also all the latest social and engineering infrastructure. In fact, it is necessary to build, you need to build a brand new, comfortable, modern city. Of course, we will not repeat what happened in the past, when people have to say directly saved in general. We have this glorious tradition, unfortunately, even today very often repeated, but in this case, we must act very differently: it is necessary to solve the problems of people, create decent living conditions. Of course, this is the direction to be the main, overriding priority in the construction of a new Russian cosmodrome.

In total, so for reference, I can say that the planned construction of the spaceport at East 42 houses built and 30 objects of socio-cultural and social infrastructure.

And of course, the creation of the Eastern spaceport will serve as a stimulus for development of the entire Far East region, will help to fully exploit the industrial potential of the Far East and Eastern Siberia, to attract highly qualified personnel in these regions.

Prior to 2015 from the East to be held the first launch to 2018 will be completed the second stage of the cosmodrome, the launch of manned spacecraft to be held in 2018. And I ask all concerned departments, all involved in the work of the Ministry to ensure strict adherence to these deadlines and schedules. Our goal is to Russia was a national space center, meeting the highest international standards and requirements. It is from this spaceport will be the majority of launches of space vehicles in the interests of different sectors of the economy and in international cooperation.

At the same time emphasize that only the presence of several Russian spaceports guarantee the full independence in space activities, will effectively use all the space technology, so we will continue to focus on modernizing existing Plesetsk space center, and - together, as I said, with our Kazakh friends and colleagues - Baikonur. Already in 2013 at Plesetsk to be created all conditions for the flight tests of rockets "Angara" light and heavy classes. And of course, together with our friends will continue, as I said, work at Baikonur.

I note in this connection that Baikonur is one of the employees: the number of annual launches, this launch site ranks first among all the spaceports around the world. In total, more than the entire 50-year history, was launched from Baikonur over 1.5 thousand spacecraft. In recent years the site of Baikonur, including widely used for the implementation of commercial space projects. Incidentally, the first commercial launch was carried out in 1995.

I think that we need to develop this area, and more - to work with the European Space Agency, with the countries that implement their own space programs. Now the world has been operating for more than 20 launch sites, the construction of new launching pads for rocket launch in China, Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, is actively developing Guiana Space Center, so that the demand for space services is very high, and I'm sure (in fact, among those present Specialists in this one no doubt) that the demand for space-based services will only grow. In this regard, I think that we need to develop a national strategy for space launch for the long term. The task - to provide a high return public investments, effectively co-ordinate work on the construction and modernization of space launch with other federal programs, with our plans for the development of the regions of the Russian Federation (in relation to East, the Far East and to the development of the Amur region).

The meeting was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Federal Space Agency V.A.Popovkin, representatives of ministries and departments of the Russian Federation, heads of enterprises of space industry.

Time to Play the Game

Spaceflight Now reports that Boeing believes "the commercial crew taxi may not be ready for orbital flights until 2016, assuming the company receives the anticipated funding from NASA in an award due by August."

According to John Mulholland, vice president and general manager of Boeing commercial programs, the schedule for CST-100 orbital flight tests and the craft's entry into service will depend on how much money Boeing receives in the CCiCap award and the subsequent certification phase ...

"With appropriate funding, we still can support a 2015 entry into service. I would say, and I can't be real specific on it, to hold the 2015 date, we would need, it appears, slightly more than the $300 million to $500 million in the base period," Mulholland said.

Commercial crew advocates have pressed Congress in recent weeks to approve the $830 million requested by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2013.  The 2010 NASA Authorization Act authorizes only $500 million for commercial crew in FY 2013, as it did for FY 2012.  The Obama administration asked for $850 million for FY 2012, only to have Congress cut it to just $406 million, even less than what was authorized in 2010.

After last year's cuts, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden warned Congress that this cut would result in delaying commercial crew's operational status two years until 2017, meaning another two years NASA would pay Russia to fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz vehicles.  NASA currently pays $450 million a year to Russia for Soyuz crew flights.

With the House Appropriations Committee about to begin its markup of FY 2013 appropriations, Mr. Mulholland's comments are timely, and perhaps not coincidental.

Boeing was the top aerospace lobbyist in 2011, according to  Boeing spent $15.9 million on lobbying, with Lockheed Martin #2 at $15.2 million.

Upstart SpaceX is down the list at #6, having spent only $860,000.

Put another way ... Boeing has a much louder and more influential voice in Washington than does SpaceX.

Having watched the recent House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, perhaps Boeing has realized it's time to throw its corporate weight around.  Members of both committees remain highly skeptical of commercial crew, preferring to pay Russia rather than invest in the U.S. space industry.  Some, such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), falsely claim that the Space Launch System is a "backup" for International Space Station access should commercial crew fail, hoping to justify more pork flowing to their states and districts.

Boeing spent 18 times more money on lobbying than rival SpaceX in D.C. last year, so if anyone can get through to Congress on this issue, it's Boeing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SpaceX Plays Poker

On April 9 published a story about SpaceX applying for a Federal Aviation Administration license to operate a commercial spaceport near Brownsville in Cameron County, Texas.

Since then, observers have speculated on space advocacy sites about SpaceX's motives, and if launches from Brownsville are even practical given orbital mechanics and international overflight restrictions.

James Dean of Florida Today published a story this morning about the Space Coast's reaction to this proposal.

Space Florida, which has invested over $7 million to help expand SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral launch complex, is investigating options on the Cape and elsewhere in Florida.

Frank DiBello, president of the state aerospace economic development agency, called SpaceX’s pursuit of a commercial launch site “prudent business,” and said the Texas study doesn’t mean that site has beaten out others.

“If they were to proceed there versus some other alternatives, they have to pretty much build that from scratch, and that’s a big expenditure when we know there are alternatives,” he said. “We’re continuing the dialogue with the company on launch site possibilities. I do not see this as a rejection of any other site that they may be looking at.”

My personal opinion ... SpaceX has shown a preference for controlling its own destiny. This may be a way of sending a message to Space Coast government officials that SpaceX has another option if the company can't get a deal to their liking.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reflections on Deflections

A side flame deflector stored in the Launch Complex 39B parking lot. Image source:

I was driving Sunday past Launch Complex 39B when I noticed two side flame deflectors parked in the lot. I don't know if they're from 39A or 39B.

Looking for more information on the flame deflectors, I found on the Internet a January 2011 document by United Space Alliance looking at damage to the LC-39A flame trench during the STS-124 launch on May 31, 2008.

Click the arrow to watch the STS-124 launch.

As detailed in the report, "over 3,500 of the 22,000 interlocking refractory bricks that line the east wall of the SRB Flame Trench were liberated from Pad 39A."

"Liberated" is a polite way of saying they got blown out the Solid Rocket Booster flame trench about 1,800 feet at a velocity of 680 miles per hour.

One shudders contemplating what might have happened if those bricks had been blown upwards into a booster or the external tank.

The report notes that the "flame trench refractory brick system was designed for the Saturn Apollo program, which had a liquid fuel propulsion system, and was grandfathered into use in the Shuttle program, which has a solid fuel propulsion system." Apparently no one did a "detailed definition of the loads and environments" of the trench comparing the Space Shuttle to the Saturn V.

The north trench was designed for Saturn's liquid fuel, but during Shuttle it was used for SRB exhaust. "With the solid fuel propulsion system the overall environment is worse," the report concluded.

  • Materials are heated, then cooled with the sound suppression water
  • The solid propellant residue (aluminum oxide) is abrasive
  • Another of its byproducts (hydrogen chloride) subjects the materials in the launch environment to a hydrochloric acid bath
  • The released water acts like a blanket to trap the acoustic energy of the SRB ignition below it, thus subjecting the materials and equipment below it to a more intense acoustic environment

The "Lessons Learned" at the end of the report sound suspiciously like warnings issued after the Challenger and Columbia accidents:

  • The fact that a legacy system has never failed catastrophically does not guarantee that it will not fail in the future
  • Detailed loads and environments need to be defined for design of new launch vehicle [Ground Support Equipment] and facilities
  • More comprehensive inspection methods should have been used in order to detect material erosion when it was first becoming noticeable in the flame trench

A July 2008 image of repairs to the LC-39A flame trench after it was damaged by the STS-124 launch. Image source: NASA.

Once the flame trench was repaired, to my knowledge no further incidents of damage occurred. But these conclusions suggest that, five years after Columbia, NASA was still assuming that just because something hasn't failed in the past means it won't fail in the future.

UPDATE April 9, 2012 — It tuns out that the booster flame trench did fail again, with STS-125 on May 11, 2009. According to Florida Today, "Monday's launch of shuttle Atlantis blew a 25-square-foot section of material off a flame trench deflector at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A ... The damage was located on the north side of the solid rocket booster flame deflector, near an area that was repaired after the launch of Discovery's STS-120 mission on Oct. 23, 2007." reported on July 14, 2008 that some of the bricks dislodged on STS-124 did travel vertically, creating the risk of damaging the Shuttle during launch.

As observed on an infrared video of the launch – which pointed to several items of debris rising above the pad and appearing to follow Discovery – the radar also noted debris tracks which appeared to be travelling in a vertical path.

‘Indications of discrete, near vertical, debris tracks can be seen in one pass of the vertical radar. These cannot be rendered at heights lower than the 295′ level of the FSS due to sector blanking for that sensor.

‘This signature is consistent with infrared camera indications of particles reaching high apparent altitudes around the pad near lift-off' ...

Managers have previously noted that it would be impossible for the bricks from the flame trench to threaten the vehicle – which is based on analysis of the bricks finding a path upwards through the MLP. This is indeed impossible.

While analysis of the infrared footage is inconclusive, and requires further evaluation, engineers concur with management and conclude the debris has to be throat plugs and water baggie debris – at least for the events observed next to the SRB exhaust.

BCC to Answer "What's Next" Question

Florida Today space columnist John Kelly reports that Brevard Community College will host a critical roundtable this Friday discussing what's next for Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Frank DiBello, the president of Space Florida, is lobbying to keep the state — notably, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral — at the center of whatever the country is doing in space launch and exploration. He’s not only interacting with government leaders in Washington and Tallahassee, on your behalf, but he’s also helping broker deals with the growing number of private companies trying to break into the space launch business, convincing them that the available facilities and expertise make this the place to be.

Janet Petro, NASA’s deputy director at KSC, oversees the work of the 9,000 or so government and contractor workers still working on projects at the space center. She and her colleagues are in the midst of a lot more work than you might imagine, including the high-stakes effort to transition human flights to low-Earth orbit from a NASA responsibility to one handled by private companies ...

Mike Leinbach, the veteran head of the shuttle launch team at KSC, is now leading the human spaceflight efforts of rocket company United Launch Alliance. He’s working on everything from the design of ground facilities to the processes and procedures needed to make the company’s Atlas V rocket the next American rocket to carry people to space.

Click here for the BCC schedule and directions to the event.  It's on April 13 at 7 PM EDT on the Cocoa campus in the Planetarium.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Coming Attractions

The marquee inside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is running a five-panel announcement of the upcoming SpaceX launch on April 30.

Here are each of the images:

SpaceX Dragon to Space Station.

The next SpaceX Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be to the International Space Station.

Launch now targeted for Monday, April 30th, at 12:22 p.m. EDT.

The test flight for the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter will link up with the International Space Station, allowing the company to combine the two previously planned flyby and capture missions into one.

"The primary driver for the schedule continues to be the need to conduct extensive software testing. This is a challenging mission and we intend to take every necessary precaution in order to improve the likelihood of success."