Saturday, May 31, 2014

Retro Saturday: Space Shuttle Design

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is a 1975 industrial film by Rockwell International's Space Division about design and construction of the Space Shuttle.

Want to trace back the history of Rockwell? Check its Wikipedia page.

Willard Rockwell made his fortune by inventing a bearing system for truck axles in 1919. Decades later, its descendant Rockwell Standard acquired and merged with North American Aviation in 1967 to form North American Rockwell. A few years later in 1973, after acquiring and merging with various other companies, it became Rockwell International.

Willard Rockwell died in 1978. After the end of the Cold War, the company sold off various holdings and divisions. In late 1996, Boeing acquired the company's aerospace and defense businesses, including what had once been North American Aviation and Rocketdyne.

The Downey plant in late 2012 was demolished. The Aerospace Legacy Foundation preserves the history and legacy of the site.

An early orbiter mockup at the Rockwell Downey plant in the early 1970s. Image source: Aerospace Legacy Foundation.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dragon Legs It Out

Click the arrow to watch the unveil event.

Click the arrow to watch Dragon V2 flight animation. Both videos: SpaceX YouTube channel.

One month after Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin cracked a joke on Twitter about NASA using a trampoline to reach the International Space Station, SpaceX founder Elon Musk made good on his promise that day to reveal his crewed Dragon on May 29.

If SpaceX can deliver on the technology shown in last night's unveil event, very soon no one other than Russian cosmonauts will fly on the Soyuz.

The Russian capsule has evolved incrementally since its debut in 1967. It's reliable, and some might even say it's perfected, but it doesn't reflect modern technology.

The same could be said for the vehicles flown by United Launch Alliance for the U.S. government. As I wrote on May 22, ULA is paid handsomely to be reliable — not to innovate. Innovation creates the potential of risk due to unknowns.

NASA's Orion crew vehicle, built by Lockheed Martin, is billed as a next-generation spacecraft, but at best it's an evolution of Apollo-era technology. Orion has suffered from political fits and starts. Conceived ten years ago as the Crew Exploration Vehicle, it survived the botched Constellation program when members of Congress ordered the Space Launch System to protect aerospace contractor jobs. Today known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a simplified version is scheduled to launch in December 2014 atop a Delta IV, then a second Orion (yet to be built) most likely will launch on the Space Launch System in 2018 to fly past the Moon. After that? On paper, the first crewed flight is in 2021, but Congress has yet to commit to any missions or destinations.

The Dragon V2, if it performs as illustrated in the computer animation, will be reusable. It will have legs and SuperDraco thrusters to steer it back to a landing — Musk says it will land almost anywhere, with the precision of a helicopter. Dragon will have parachutes, but only as a backup. Its ablative heat shield evolved from NASA's Phenolic Impregnanted Carbon Ablator (PICA) technology. SpaceX evolved it into PICA-X, and Musk stated that V2 will have the third version of their shield.

All of this with the goal of flying a reusable spacecraft, one that Musk calls a 21st Century spaceship.

The other two competitors in NASA's commercial crew program are Boeing with the CST-100 capsule, and Sierra Nevada with the Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Although all three have the same objective, in my opinion Dragon can only compare with the CST-100 because both are capsules. A spaceplane offers unique features that differ from the capsule approach.

If NASA is forced to down-select late this summer as key members of Congress insist, it may come down to Dream Chaser and then Dragon versus CST-100.

Click the arrow to watch a computer animation of a CST-100 launch and landing. Video source: collectSPACE YouTube channel.

In the above 2011 computer animation, CST-100 is shown using parachutes and air bags to land in the American Southwest.

Boeing unveiled a mockup of the CST-100 on April 30 at a joint media event with Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas. The non-NASA version would carry nine passengers and fly to Bigelow expandable habitats.

But its landing system is 20th Century technology. Dragon V2, as Mr. Musk said, is the 21st Century.

Boeing will be at Kennedy Space Center June 9 to show their hangar renovations to the media. It's anticipated that the CST-100 design will be available for the media to examine.

If I were attending, I would ask Boeing about why they think their landing system is superior to the one proposed by SpaceX. That might make the difference.

Media articles:

Associated Press “Elon Musk Unveils Spacecraft to Ferry Astronauts”

Associated Press “5 Things to Know About SpaceX's Flight Plans”

CBS News “Elon Musk's Bid to Build NASA's New Space Taxi”

CNN “SpaceX Unveils New Spacecraft to Take Astronauts to Space Station, Back to Earth”

Forbes “SpaceX Unveils Its New Dragon Spacecraft7rdquo;

The Guardian “Elon Musk Unveils Dragon V2 Spacecraft for Seven Astronauts”

Los Angeles Times “Elon Musk Unveils New Astronaut-Ready Spaceship at SpaceX Headquarters” “SpaceX Lifts the Lid on the Dragon V2 Crew Spacecraft”

NBC News “Mars Ahead? SpaceX Unveils Dragon V2 Capsule for Astronaut Trips” “Glitz, Glam and SpaceX: Inside Elon Musk's Dragon V2 Spaceship”

Spaceflight Now “SpaceX Reveals New-Look Passenger Spacecraft”

USA Today “SpaceX Unveils Its New Manned Shuttle”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Vengeance Weapon

SpaceX has announced that it will unveil its crewed version of Dragon Thursday evening May 29 in Los Angeles at 7 PM Pacific Time (10:00 PM EDT).

You can watch live online at

Elon Musk announced the event April 29 on Twitter, in response to threats by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin that Russia might stop U.S. access to the International Space Station. Rogozin joked that the U.S. should use a trampoline.

I'm not sure I'd call the Dragon “V2” even as an interim name due to the fascist World War II connection, but one could also view it as his vengeance upon both Mr. Rogozin and United Launch Alliance.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Plot Thickens

Late the evening of May 22, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted a series of posts on Twitter accusing a former U.S. Air Force official of taking a job with the company that provides United Launch Alliance with RD-180 engines after awarding a 36-launch block buy to ULA.

The Associated Press reported on May 23 that SpaceX has amended its complaint filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to note Roger Correll's new employer.

Particularly curious is an article that surfaced May 24 in the Valley Morning Star. The paper operates out of Harlingen, Texas, a town with a population of 65,000 near where SpaceX has been buying property at Boca Chica for a commercial spaceport.

The lengthy article, titled “Aerospace Battle,” details a lawsuit between the U.S. Air Force, Boeing and ULA subsidiary United Launch Services.

The United States maintains that United Launch Services’ and The Boeing Company’s claim for roughly $400 million from the Air Force in deferred costs for launch services is barred by “illegality,” the Valley Morning Star has found.

The United States also states in public records that a government purchasing contracting officer had no authority to agree to reimburse deferred costs, and that the arrangement violates federal purchasing regulations.

Who was the contracting officer?

The article continues:

The United States does not name the government’s acquisitions contracting officer that it states did not have the authority to agree to reimbursements to Boeing. Court documents reflect, however, that at least four contracting officers signed off on agreements at various stages of the negotiations.

Reviewing Mr. Correll's USAF biography, he joined the Acquisition office in January 2008, and in May 2011 he became the Program Executive Officer for Space Launch acquisition. The article states that scrutiny of the reimbursements led to a halt in these payments sometime in 2008, after a Government Accountability Office audit and congressional inquiry, so this may have occurred prior to Mr. Correll's arrival in Washington, D.C.

The timing of the story seems a bit coincidental. A lengthy investigative article such as this would have taken some time to research and write. One wonders how the paper found out about the story — unless someone tipped them to it.

The article states:

As ULS’ and Boeing’s lawsuit plays out in the United States Court of Federal Claims, Space Exploration Technologies, SpaceX, also recently filed a lawsuit in the same court, challenging the Air Force’s continuing resistance to open the EELV system to competition.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. ULA has a manufacturing facility in Harlingen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Future of the U.S. Space Program

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: Brookings Institution.

On May 14, the Brookings Institution held a two-hour event titled, “The Future of the U.S. Space Program.”

The event had two panels.

The first hour's panel was titled, “The Impact of Private Investment into Space Exploration.” The panelists were representatives from SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Orbital Sciences.

The second hour's panel was titled, “The Scientific Community's Most Important New Discoveries.” The panelists were a lead scientist from NASA's Mars Exploration Program and a professor of Physics and Astronomy from Northern Arizona University.

Those of you interested in NewSpace should watch the first hour.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Retro Saturday: Skylab: Mission Made Possible

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.

With all the years of building and now operating the International Space Station, it's easy to forget that in 1973 NASA launched Skylab, the first U.S. space station.

This week's Retro Saturday film is Skylab: Mission Made Possible, a 1974 NASA film about salvaging Skylab after its insulation and a solar panel were lost during launch.

It should also be noted that the Russians were quite busy developing their own space station technology in the 1970s. This PBS web site has a brief discussion of Soviet space stations in the 1970s.

In 2012, posted this article about Salyut 1, the world's first space station. The Soviets had their own technical problems, including the loss of the Soyuz 11 crew during re-entry.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Air Forced

Late last night, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted this series of tweets on Twitter.

Musk cites an April 18 article by the National Legal and Policy Center alleging that former U.S. Air Force executive Roger Correll took a job with Aerojet Rocketdyne, the RD-180 engine supplier for United Launch Alliance, after he approved a block buy of ULA launches for the Air Force.

Mr. Correll's biography is still on the Air Force web site.

Roger S. Correll, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Program Executive Officer for Space Launch, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Washington, D.C. He is responsible for developing, testing, fielding, and production of space launch systems and conducting launch operations for national security satellite programs.

Mr. Correll, an Ohio native, entered government service with the Air Force in 1983 under the Pacer Intern Contracting Program at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., where he served as a contract negotiator and cost price analyst supporting weapons systems for the F-4, F-15 and C-141. Mr. Correll has served in several key field and senior staff positions supporting multi-billion dollar major weapon systems and national-level transportation readiness and supply chain management programs. His experience includes multiple service and unified combatant command assignments. Mr. Correll has served as Director of Contracting for the Ogden Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Washington, D.C. Prior to his current assignment, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

The biography lists several awards, such as Top Contract Price Cutter (twice) and most recently a two-time winner of a Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

Mr. Correll's LinkedIn page shows that he left the Air Force in January 2014, and began with Aerojet Rocketdyne in May 2014 as Vice President Government Acquisition and Policy.

Musk cites an April 25, 2014 letter by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) questioning testimony about ULA deal by the Secretary of the Air Force before the Senate Armed Services committee on April 10, 2014. Click here to watch the three-hour hearing.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In The Arena

SpaceX launches its cargo Dragon demonstration flight to the International Space Station on May 22, 2012. Video source: NASA.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

— Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena,” 1910

The SpaceX boobirds have been out in force in recent weeks, most recently due to a Falcon 9 helium leak that postponed a launch. It was the second consecutive Falcon 9 troubled by a helium leak.

Anomalies have plagued SpaceX missions, ranging from the failure of a Merlin engine during an October 2012 cargo flight to a Dragon thruster problem during the March 2013 delivery.

Slow-motion replay of the Merlin engine failure on October 8, 2012. Contrary to the title card, the engine did not explode as initial reports claimed. Video source:

The CRS-3 Dragon returned to Earth on May 18, but sea water seeped inside the capsule. No samples were damaged.

United Launch Alliance, meanwhile, launched today a satellite payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. In a press release, ULA touted its reliability.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 80 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system. Reliable launch, real-world benefits.

On April 25, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced his company would appeal a 36-launch block buy awarded by the Defense Department to ULA. Musk said he wants to compete for launches that SpaceX is capable of handling.

ULA responded with a press release which stated, “ULA is the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe. That is the case today, when the acquisition process started in 2012 and at the time of the contract award in December 2013.”

The recent five-year block buy contract was the result of a best practice acquisition process that enabled the government to negotiate a block of launches in advance that enabled significant operations efficiency and created the needed stability and predictability in the supplier and industrial base, while meeting national security space requirements.

This disciplined approach saved the government and taxpayers approximately $4 billion while keeping our nation’s assured access to deliver critical national security assets safely to space.

Space launch is one of the most risk-intolerant and technologically advanced components of our national security. That is why new entrants must meet rigorous certification criteria of vehicle design, reliability, process maturity and safety systems in order to compete, similar to the process that ULA’s Atlas and Delta products and processes have met.

The Lockheed Martin Atlas V launches the NROL-33 mission today for the National Reconnaissance Office. Video source: YouTube channel.

A couple days later, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin chipped in by joking that NASA should use a trampoline to reach the International Space Station. Two weeks later, Rogozin threatened to end RD-180 engine deliveries to Lockheed Martin; the engines are used on the Atlas V such as the one that today launched the NRO satellite.

Choosing to take the low road, ULA blamed SpaceX for Rogozin's threat:

ULA and our NPO Energomash supplier in Russia are not aware of any restrictions. However, if recent news reports are accurate, it affirms that SpaceX's irresponsible actions have created unnecessary distractions, threatened U.S. military satellite operations, and undermined our future relationship with the International Space Station.

The block buy issue will be settled by the judicial process, as it has been over the decades with many similar claims — many filed by ULA partners Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

I would like to raise a more fundamental question.

Is it fair to compare ULA reliability with SpaceX?

The two companies exist for very different reasons.

United Launch Alliance was formed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin in 2005 to provide the federal government with an assured launch capability. Both companies claimed there was insufficient demand for them to continue to compete. The federal government granted ULA a legal monopoly in October 2006 despite fears of higher prices and lower quality.

SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. He had vague notions about lowering space transportation costs towards the eventual goal of Mars colonization. Musk was approached in 2005 by then-NASA administrator Michael Griffin to participate in a program that came to be known as the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project.

As I wrote in March 2013, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program had its origins in the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration. Although VSE was best known for the ill-fated Constellation program, it also intended to grow a robust commercial space industry, which was given little notice at the time.

So while ULA was born to avoid risk, SpaceX entered the “NewSpace” program guaranteed that it could take risks with some government financial backing.

In an October 2006 speech, Griffin said:

My hope is that with the seed money we are putting into the COTS program, we can demonstrate the possibility of commercial cargo and crew transportation to the International Space Station, and that subsequently NASA will be able to meet its ISS logistics needs by purchasing these demonstrated services. If we can do this, we will be able to change the paradigm for transportation services to be more in line with the air mail service of the 1920s, meeting the logistics needs of the ISS, some 7,000 to 10,000 kilograms per year, after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010. In the process, we may be able to spur innovation for low-cost access to space. This is a carefully-considered investment with known risks that we can all see and appreciate, but with a potentially huge upside that makes it well worth the risks.

A failed SpaceX Falcon 1 launch attempt on March 24, 2006. Video source: TheSystemsAlliance YouTube channel.

SpaceX failed repeatedly, and sometimes failed spectacularly.

The first three test launches of its Falcon 1 rocket (one single Merlin engine) failed to achieve orbit. The final attempt in September 2008 succeeded.

The COTS milestone payment scheme only awarded success, not failure. That's why an early COTS participant, Rocketplane Kistler, was booted from the program after it was unable to achieve early milestones.

SpaceX was allowed to fail. Risk was assumed in the program.

Think of ULA and SpaceX as an adult and an infant. ULA was paid to run a marathon. SpaceX was being taught how to walk.

Anyone who's raised a child knows it will fall down, sometimes spectacularly.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, ATK and other “OldSpace” companies could have applied to participate in COTS. They did not. Their company cultures do not accept risk. They make a profit by not taking a risk, by providing an assured service.

A test flight of SpaceX reusable first stage booster technology. Video source: SpaceXChannel on YouTube.

That's why you don't see OldSpace companies attempting to develop reusable boosters, an idea that until recently was considered impossible. SpaceX has proven it's possible. Now they have to prove it's financially viable.

While ULA worries that Russia may stop shipments of RD-180 engines, SpaceX is developing the Raptor engine that uses liquid oxygen and methane.

Even though it might have leaked a little, the robotic Dragon is the only vehicle on Planet Earth capable of returning significant amounts of samples, experiments, and broken parts from space. Russia doesn't have one, and won't for the foreseeable future. Nor will anyone else.

Elon Musk dreams of colonizing Mars, while OldSpace companies react only in response to government requests for bids.

As Michael Griffin said in October 2006, NewSpace has “a potentially huge upside that makes it well worth the risks.”

Is SpaceX ready to run the marathon?

History and the launch market will answer that question. But I won't criticize SpaceX for stumbling. They've learned how to walk. Let's see if they can run.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One More For The Road

SpaceX is about to begin major renovations to Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A, so the Shuttle-era Mobile Launch Platform 2 had to go.

Crawler-Transporter 1 picked it up today from the pad and took it down the road. Below are photos.

This could be the last time the public sees a Shuttle-era MLP being moved by a crawler.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Gemini White Room

Click the arrow to watch a film clip of the Gemini 11 launch. Video source: okrajoe YouTube channel.

The Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has in its Rocket Garden the clean room from the Gemini-Titan program.

Known informally as the White Room (for the color inside, not outside), it was where the astronauts entered the Gemini spacecraft atop the Titan II booster.

The White Room was restored and moved to the Museum grounds in September 2003. Eleven years later, it slowly succumbs to the elements, absent funding to maintain it.

But you can still walk around the structure and crawl inside to take photos, which are below.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Sun Sets on Delta

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video credit:

United Launch Alliance launched a Boeing Delta IV on May 16 with a global positioning satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

GPS Block IIF replaces an earlier group of satellites launched in the 1990s.

Above is video of the launch I filmed from about three miles west of Launch Complex 37.

The launch was at 8:03 PM EDT, just before sunset, so the vapor trail was lit in colors of pink, yellow and orange.

The vapor trail left after the launch. Photos credit:

Note the shadows cast by the vapor trail.

Click the arrow to watch the ULA launch video footage. Video source: YouTube channel.

Retro Saturday: Langley's 50th Year 1917-1967

Click the arrow to watch the video. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 14-minute NASA Aeronautics and Space Report on the 50th anniversary of the Langley Research Center. The film was released in 1967; Langley began in 1917.

One of NASA's oldest centers, it was inherited when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was merged into the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration in October 1958. In 1934, Langley opened the world's largest wind tunnel at the time.

The film is introduced by Paul Garber, who was curator of the National Air and Space Museum. The museum shown in the film is not the current one on the National Mall, which opened in 1976.

There's also an interview with aviation pioneer General Jimmy Doolittle.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Signs of the Times

The Exploration Park entrance on Space Commerce Road. All images credit:

For some time, Space Florida has been seeking tenants for its Exploration Park project on Space Commerce Road.

Exploration Park broke ground in June 2010, and site work began in March 2011 on basic utilities, but almost four years after the groundbreaking no buildings have been construction.

But two new signs went up this week on Space Commerce Road that might be a hint of progress.

The Phase One layout. Click the image to see at a larger size.

Is this a list of signed tenants? Click the image to see at a larger size.

The Exploration Park site plan. Note Phase Two on the west side of Space Commerce Road. Image source: Space Florida.

Long Division

Firing Room 4 during Launch Control Center tours prior to renovation. All images credit:

As reported last month, Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center is being remodelled for future use by multiple commercial customers.

I passed though the LCC earlier this week and shot these photos of the renovation work.

An artist's concept of the new floor layout.

The drywall goes up for the four suites.

The Full Nelson

Click the arrow to watch the video.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor yesterday to discuss the state of U.S. - Russian space relations.

(The Senate floor was empty, as usual. The speech was for C-SPAN viewers.)

Nelson's 17-minute remarks included a history of the two nations' relations in space, leading up to today.

Of particular importannce, Nelson said that the station's command codes run through Johnson Space Center, so Russia cannot dock or leave unless NASA allows it.

Regarding recent threats to deny access to RD-180 engines, Nelson noted (as I did on May 13) that Russia's engine industry relies heavily on those sales, and would lose jobs if Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin follows through on his threat.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, three Republican members of the House Science Committee sent a letter today to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, raising several questions about the status of Russian space relations.

Click here to read the letter.

Four major questions were raised:

  1. The status of negotiations to extend the International Space Station beyond 2020.
  2. A list of “all critical components” provided by Russia necessary to extend the ISS beyond 2020.
  3. The impacts upon the ISS partnership should Russia withdraw after 2020.
  4. The impacts upon NASA if Russia ends shipments of RD-180 and NK-33 engines.

The RD-180 engines are used on the ULA Atlas V, while the NK-33 engines are used by Orbital Sciences on the Antares that launches the Cygnus cargo module to the ISS.

The letter also asserts that the law requires NASA to use the Space Launch System and Orion capsule as a “backup” for ISS access, although no one I know thinks SLS is capable of that. Inadequate funding from Congress means the first crewed flight of SLS to anywhere won't happen until the early 2020s.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ULA Goes the Low Road

In response to today's statements by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin, United Launch Alliance blamed SpaceX.

ULA and our NPO Energomash supplier in Russia are not aware of any restrictions. However, if recent news reports are accurate, it affirms that SpaceX's irresponsible actions have created unnecessary distractions, threatened U.S. military satellite operations, and undermined our future relationship with the International Space Station. defines the Yiddish word chutzpah as “unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall.”

I'd use a stronger word, but I run a family blog.

Russian Roulette

Russian defense and space minister Dmitry Rogozin claims Russia will leave the International Space Station partnership in 2020. Image source: Wikipedia.

An article posted on Russia Today quotes Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying his nation is prepared to take a number of actions against American space interests.

It should be noted that this article is only on the English-language version of Russia Today, not the Russian version. Russia Today is widely viewed as a propaganda organ of the Russian government, so the absence of this story on the Russian language site could suggest it's only intended for U.S. audiences, not for domestic consumption.

The article quotes Rogozin as saying Russia will terminate U.S. global positioning satellite (GPS) stations in Russia if his nation is not granted similar access in the United States. The Russian GLONASS is an alternative to the U.S. GPS system, and one May 2013 review suggests it might even be superior.

But the GLONASS constellation is launched by Russian rockets, and has been delayed by the failure of Russian Proton launches. After the last failure in July 2013, Rogozin blamed his predecessors and in October sacked Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin.

According to Space Safety Magazine:

What is certain though, is that the loss of the three GLONASS-M satellites will affect the entire navigational constellation in the near future. Just before the failed launch, GLONASS-M satellite #728 failed prematurely, with 2.5 years of its operational life still remaining. Russia promptly re-established the global coverage by putting one of the four orbiting reserve satellites into service. However, according to ITAR-TASS, these reserve spacecraft have all expired their life cycles, having been in service for more than 60 months.

The fact that Rogozin chose the English-language version of Russia Today to send this message reminds me of the old days during the Soviet era when the government used English language broadcasts to signal messages for the U.S. they didn't want their own people to hear. Today's Internet-connected world is different, of course, but I'm struck by the similarity.

My guess is that Rogozin is signalling that granting Russian access to GPS stations in the U.S. might help defuse current tensions — or it could just be a crude power play.

I also have to wonder if the GLONASS negotiations are being held up by the U.S. due to President Obama's March 20, 2014 executive order restricting deals with Russian officials who personally control or profit from Russian business dealings.

Rogozin also said that he would restrict United Launch Alliance Atlas V use of Russian RD-180 engines produced by NPO Energomash. “Without guarantees that our engines are used for non-military spacecraft launches only, we won’t be able to supply them to the US,” Rogozin said according to the quote.

NPO Energomash is a liquid-fueled rocket engine manufacturer that goes back to the late 1940s. The RD-180 is manufactured for the Atlas V through a partnership between NPO Energomash and Pratt & Whitney called RD AMROSS.

Because the engines are manufactured in Russia, most jobs associated with the RD-180 would seem to be lost in Russia, not in the U.S. — which may explain why there's no version of the story on the Russian-language version of Russia Today.

Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee approved legislation to provide seed money for developing a domestic replacement for the RD-180. The final version of H.R. 4435 contains $197 million for “RD-180 replacement” (see page 289 in the document, page 291 in the PDF) but lacks earlier specific language which stated that the Defense Department “should develop a next-generation liquid rocket engine that is made in the United States, meets the requirements of the national security space community, is developed by not later than 2019, is developed using full and open competition, and is available for purchase by all space launch providers of the United States.”

Click the arrow to watch the March 5, 2014 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on national security space launch programs.

During a March 5, 2014 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, United Launch Alliance CEO Michael Gass stated that ULA has a two-year supply of RD-180s, with more on order.

Even though specific language no longer exists in the legislation, and it's yet to be passed by the full House much less the Senate, it's clear that the U.S. intends to find a domestic alternative to the RD-180. So this appears to me like Rogozin writing off a dying market, as the RD-180 is not used by Russia or by any other nation.

Rogozin also announced that Roscosmos would not extend its International Space Station partnership, which ends in 2020.

This message was posted by Rogozin on Twitter:

“@fka_roscosmos doesn't plan to continue cooperation with the US on the ISS after 2020”

Rogozin then suggested that he would explore a space alliance with China:

“On May 19th on the eve of Russia-China Summit we'll discuss prospective projects of our bilateral cooperation in space with our partners in Beijing @fka_roscosmos”

I was rather amused by this, as in their long histories Russia and China rarely have enjoyed a friendly relationship.

In a 2006 presentation to the Conflict Studies Research Centre at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, Dr. Vladimir Paramonov and Dr. Aleksei Strokov wrote, “The history of relations between Russia and China, especially from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century, is a story of cyclical swings between periods of antagonism and periods of rapprochement.”

Present-day relations between the two countries are difficult. The increasing pace of cooperation in the political and military technology areas is not matched by mutually advantageous economic arrangements, so that what looks like a period of rapprochement could easily come to a sudden halt for a number of reasons, as has happened several times in the past.

In March 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during a document-signing ceremony in Moscow. Image source: Radio Free Europe.

In August 2013, Radio Free Europe reported that Russia and China “are enjoying a distinct warming in relations.”

They share a border running 4,300 kilometers, but have long been divided by mistrust.

However, if the past several months are any indication, China and Russia are enjoying a distinct warming in relations. A historic oil deal in June and a major joint military exercise in July are the clearest signs of a deepening partnership. Analysts say suspicions are likely to linger, along with outright competition in Central Asia. But economic and geopolitical considerations -- including the urge to counterbalance the United States — are bringing the countries increasingly in line.

And I think that's what's going on with Rogozin's plan to end its ISS participation.

As I wrote in September 2012, Roscomos is well aware of its technological inferiority compared to the U.S. space program. That program includes not just NASA, but also the NewSpace industry — commercialization of access to low Earth orbit.

After returning from his six-month tour of duty on the ISS, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka lamented the state of Roscosmos' technology compared to NASA robotics and the newly arrived SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.

Later that month, now-departed Roscomos General Director Vladimir Popovkin stated publicly in September 2012 that NewSpace could put Roscosmos out of business:

[Roscosmos General Director Vladimir] Popovkin validated Padalka's assessment of the lack of technological progress by warning that Western advances into privatized space launch services would soon drive Russia out of the last corner of the international space industry where it had any standing. "We will become uncompetitive in the next three or four years if we don’t take urgent measures."

Recent events in Las Vegas only underscore the inferior position of the Russian space industry.

Earlier this month, Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace held a joint media event to display their NewSpace wares — a CST-100 commercial crew capsule that by the end of the decade will deliver customers to Bigelow expandable habitats in low Earth orbit.

Click the arrow to watch the KLAS-TV Channel 8 Las Vegas report on the Boeing-Bigelow event.

In an April 15 Senate Space Subcommittee hearing, Jeffrey Manber of Nanoracks said the White House announcement in January extending the ISS to 2024 (pending Congressional approval) effectively countered Chinese efforts to find microgravity research business for their modest space station planned for the end of the decade.

Just as NanoRacks has customers that are commercial organizations as well as space agencies, it also has space agencies that are competitors. One prime example is the Chinese Space Agency, which is today marketing its space station services to the international community, including my customers. One international client was just about ready to ‘jump ship’ to work with China on a multi-year program. What stopped this client was the U.S. commitment to operate the ISS until at least 2024.

But the Chinese space station program is already today a formidable competitor for NanoRacks, and we are committed to assuring prices low-enough, and services good enough, to thwart their efforts, not because they are Chinese but because that is the nature of commercial competition.

Faced with a lack of resources and technology to maintain their own end of the ISS, Russia appears to pinning its hopes on joining the Chinese space station — which I think is very unlikely.

I can't imagine the Chinese trusting a belligerent partner that showed it couldn't be trusted in its last international partnership.

Even so, once the Bigelow habitats are operational, the United States will have a more affordable option for microgravity research, with Vectran habitats that are believed to be far more resistant to radiation than the aluminum and steel of 20th Century designs.

NASA is the ISS managing partner. It controls the power, the communications and the electronics. All Russia controls — for now — is crewed transportation.

The U.S. commercial crew vehicles should be operational in three years, assuming Congress doesn't cut the funding again. Elon Musk of SpaceX recently said he hopes to have his first crewed flight from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in two years. Boeing and Sierra Nevada are right behind him. SpaceX and Boeing have formal partnerships with Bigelow, and Sierra Nevada is rumored to be interested as well.

Russian cargo ships periodically boost the ISS' altitude, but other vehicles can do it too. The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler raised the ISS 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) in 2011. The station's gyroscopes can also be used for minor adjustments, as well as thrusters on the Russian segment.

Informal comments by NASA officials have suggested that the agency might seek to privatize the ISS in the mid-2020s as its emphasis moves to the Space Launch System and human deep space exploration, although NASA could lease Bigelow habitats to perform the low Earth orbit research currently done on the ISS.

Despite Mr. Rogozin's statements, the bottom line is that Russia's space program is in such sad shape that any threats are largely meaningless. The United States is fully capable of walking away from its partnership with Russia, especially once the commercial crew vehicles are operational.

I doubt Russia would abrogate the current transportation agreement, because at $72 million a seat it brings in badly needed revenue for Roscosmos. Russia would lose not only the U.S., but the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada too.

No one would fly with Russia any more. They would be a space pariah.

And if China wants to do business with Russia ... Good luck with that.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Retro Saturday: The Soviet Space Program

Click the arrow to watch the film on YouTube. Video source: Best Videos Ever YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday video is a 1981 documentary titled, The Soviet Space Program. It was prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency to show President Ronald Reagan.

According to a 2011 NBC News report, this and other CIA films were released in late 2011 as historical artifacts. It was the CIA's idea to brief Reagan with these films, and only seven were made.

Friday, May 9, 2014

SpaceX Steps Back

As reported this afternoon by Florida Today and other media outlets, SpaceX has postponed its launch of the Orbcomm OG2 mission until at least late May.

Orbcomm issued this statement on their web site:

Today’s attempt to perform the static firing test was stopped while the rocket was being fueled. Both the OG2 satellites and the rocket are in safe condition and will be rotated horizontal and rolled back into the integration facility. This will prevent us from launching this weekend. We will keep you posted on when the next launch attempt will take place but it’s likely to be later this month.

SpaceX had hoped to launch OG-2 just 22 days after the launch of the commercial cargo CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station. It would have been the shortest turnaround of their Pad 40 in the company's brief history at the Cape.

With a Boeing Delta IV launch scheduled for May 15 and a Lockheed Martin Atlas V launch scheduled for May 22, SpaceX now has to wait. But as with all launches, something could go wrong with these too and SpaceX might get the next turn at bat.

Earlier in the week on May 8, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims lifted its injunction prohibiting new acquisitions of RD-180 engines from NPO Energomash.

Although the injunction was viewed by some as a victory for SpaceX, the company's lawsuit was to appeal the 36-launch block buy placed by the Defense Department with United Launch Alliance. The injunction simply enforced a White House executive order that for now does not appear applicable, since Administration representatives from the State and Treasury Departments filed documents with the court stating they had no evidence that Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin personally controls or profits from NPO Energomash.

The SpaceX lawsuit continues to proceed.

The Next Space Race

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

Bloomberg TV on May 27 aired a half-hour documentary titled, The Next Space Race. It focused on the three commercial crew finalists — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX.

The full-length version is above and available here. You can also find bits and pieces here.

Although the program is a fairly comprehensive overview of the commercial crew program, it did miss one essential component — the Bigelow Aerospace expandable habitats.

The program's narrator asks representatives for each of the three companies where is their market if they don't get the NASA commercial crew contract. If any of them mentioned Bigelow, it wasn't included in the final cut.

Boeing and Bigelow held a joint media event April 30 in Las Vegas to discuss their partnership and display their vehicles. Boeing revealed the CST-100 interior that could carry up to seven passengers.

SpaceX and Bigelow announced an agreement in May 2012 to market their services in Asia.

Sierra Nevada has yet to publicly announce any relationship with Bigelow.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rocket Science Airlines

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: pointmanzero YouTube channel.

Want to buy a plane ticket the way the government buys payload launches?

Try Rocket Science Airlines.

This parody is credited to Organizing for Humanity.

Note the Carl Sagan quote on the wall.

Monday, May 5, 2014

For The Block

A Lockheed Martin Atlas V launches on April 10, 2014 with a National Reconnaissance Office payload. The Atlas V uses RD-180 engines made in Russia. Image source: United Launch Alliance.

During the salvos traded last week between the American and Russian space programs, on April 30 members of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces introduced legislation to provide federal funding for a domestic replacement for the Russian RD-180 engines used on Lockheed Martin Atlas V rockets.

As reported by Spaceflight Now, the amendment to H.R. 4435, the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill, “calls for the U.S. military to spend up to $220 million next year to kick off full-scale development of the engine, which could be ready for flights no later than 2019.”

The bill states the Defense Department “should develop a next-generation liquid rocket engine that is made in the United States, meets the requirements of the national security space community, is developed by not later than 2019, is developed using full and open competition, and is available for purchase by all space launch providers of the United States.”

Click here to download the amendment. The language is found in Section 1604.

But what so far hasn't been reported to my knowledge is the language in Section 1602, which appears to interfere with the lawsuit filed by SpaceX against the launch block buy awarded by the Defense Department to United Launch Alliance.

The section states, “It is the sense of Congress that ... the Air Force should continue the current block buy contract for such program ...”

“Should” isn't the same as “shall.” In the legal world, “shall” is a requirement but “should” is an encouragement, although a court could interpret “should” as “shall.”

Section 1602 also states that “the Air Force should continue to provide opportunities for competition to certified launch providers.”

In any case, why the subcommittee felt it necessary to express an opinion about the current block buy in dispute seems to be a mystery, but looking at its membership is a clue.

If you watch the video of the April 30 hearing, it lasts only 15 minutes. There is almost no discussion or debate about the amendment's provisions. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) questions why no explanation is provided for the various provisions, and is ignored.

If you look at the subcommittee's majority membership, one of the members is Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), infamous for protecting the interests of United Launch Alliance on Capitol Hill. Brooks' 5th District includes Huntsville and Decatur. Huntsville is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and Decatur has ULA's manufacturing, assembly and integration operations.

During his two terms in office, according to Brooks has received $23,250 from Lockheed Martin and $19,750 from Boeing, the two ULA partners.

Subcommittee chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) represents Alabama's 3rd District, which doesn't include Huntsville but it's fairly close by.

Over the last two election cycles, Rogers received $31,000 from Lockheed Martin and $22,750 from Boeing, according to

An April 30 press release from Rep. Brooks' office states, “I’m pleased to have worked with the committee to authorize this program at $220 million and include language that requires the DOD to coordinate with NASA to develop the rocket engine within the next five years.” No mention of the block buy provision.

Rep. Rogers' web site has no statement about the bill.

I'm tempted to question why the taxpayer should fund a replacement for the RD-180, but the inclusion of language calling for “full and open competition” implies something akin to NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs. The engine would be “available for purchase by all space launch providers of the United States.”

SpaceX is developing its Merlin and Raptor engines today without any taxpayer funding, but SpaceX did benefit in its formulative years from milestone payments once the company successfully proved its technology to NASA. Falcon 9 rockets with Merlin engines received NASA payments during development, but Raptor is completely funded by private capital.

Blue Origin has received NASA awards for developing its technologies, including its BE-3 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engine.

If these and other companies can fairly and equally compete for the engine contract, then I'm all for it.

The goal of having a replacement by 2019 seems a bit perplexing, given that ULA has stated it has a two-year supply of RD-180s. The 2019 date could reflect the subcommittee's reasoning that 2019 is when the ULA block buy might end, but ULA will run out of RD-180 engines long before then.

One also has to question how the replacement will be openly available to any domestic launcher, if it's privately owned. Will Congress require the manufacturer to limit its profit? Or will the government own the engine?

The amendment is by no means final. Even if it passes the House, it must reconcile with the Senate appropriations bill and it's entirely possible the conference committee may drop the language.

In the meantime, hopefully someone in the media will ask who introduced the language injecting Congress into the lawsuit and why.

UPDATE May 6, 2014 8:15 AM EDTMarcia Smith of reports that the chair of the House Armed Services Committee has posted his markup to H.R. 4435.

Click here to read the chairman's markup.

The markup strikes Section 1602 as written by the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, and replaces it with language that directs the Secretary of the Air Force to report to Congress on changes to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

So the intrusive block buy language is gone for now, but when the full committee meets tomorrow there could be another attempt to amend the bill with that language.

Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-CA) represents the 25th district in California, which includes high desert areas such as Lancaster and Palmdale.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Droid You're Looking For

Click the arrow to watch. Video source: NASA YouTube Channel.

Today is Star Wars Day.

It's not official. It's a joke popularized by Star Wars fans, as in “May the 4th Be With You.”

Being an old school Star Wars fan, I always considered May 25th to be “Star Wars Day.”

The first film, now dubbed “Episode IV: A New Hope,” premiered on May 25, 1977. It became George Lucas' good-luck charm to premiere his Star Wars or Indiana Jones films on or around May 25.

Anyway, NASA chose to get into the act this year, as you can see above.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Meanwhile, in Vostochny ...

“What?! Elon Musk has invented a launch system that doesn't require a trampoline?!”

Image courtesy of Click here to see their photos of Russian deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogozin as he toured the new Vostochny Cosmodrome under construction in far east Russia.

Retro Saturday: Man and Space

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

This week's Retro Saturday film is Man and Space, a 1963 U.S. Air Force documentary about the fine art of bioastronautics.

Can humans survive flight beyond the atmosphere? Will their brains swell up? Can they swallow? Will their hearts beat?

Today we know the answers are yes, and wonder why anyone would think to the contrary, but fifty-five years ago Project Mercury began to answer those questions.

Bioastronautics is the discipline that answers those questions, and it continues today at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

It began at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, at the Bioastronautics Operational Support Unit (BOSU). You'll see BOSU operations near the end of the film.

The Cape's BOSU building was demolished in April 2013.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trial Balloon

UPDATE May 2, 2014KLAS TV Channel 8 in Las Vegas has posted this video of the media event.

8 News NOW

Boeing notional imagery of a CST-100 commercial crew vehicle arriving at a Bigelow expandable habitat. Video source: theworacle YouTube channel.

Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace hosted a joint media event yesterday in North Las Vegas, promoting future flights of the CST-100 crew vehicle to the Bigelow expandable habitats.

Several articles are online about the event, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal which has photos inside a BA-330 mockup.

Boeing industrial designer Rick Fraker inside the BA-330 mockup. Image source: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Network World article takes us inside the CST-100 crew compartment.

The interior of the Boeing CST-100. Image source: Network World.

That article notes, “The CTS-100 should be able to launch on a variety of different rockets, including Atlas, Delta and Space X Falcon.”

Given this week's events, the ability to launch CST-100 on other boosters could come in very handy.

CST-100 and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser plan to launch atop Lockheed Martin Atlas V boosters. The Atlas V uses Russian RD-180 engines, and as reported earlier today a federal judge has issued an injunction prohibiting the purchase of more RD-180s while the White House executive order restricting business with certain Russian officials remains in effect.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are partners in United Launch Alliance, which since 2006 has enjoyed a legal launch monopoly for Defense Department payloads.

If Atlas V can't fly due to the unavailability of RD-180 engines, or is shelved pending new engines, then Boeing and Sierra Nevada will have to look elsewhere for boosters. Boeing has no plans to crew-rate Delta IV, although it's theoretically possible.

That would leave the SpaceX Falcon 9, or perhaps some future launch vehicle derived out of this week's Orbital Sciences / ATK merger.

In recent months, there have been rumors that Bigelow has a deal to launch its habitats on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, although nothing has been announced or acknowledged as official.

We may be witnessing the death throes of United Launch Alliance. Boeing certainly intends to fly to the Bigelow habitats regardless of the International Space Station commercial crew competition, so if the RD-180 injunction holds then we may see Boeing seek a relationship with SpaceX for a launch vehicle. SpaceX and Bigelow have their own marketing relationship for commercial crew vehicles, so it may make sense for Boeing and Sierra Nevada to give up on the Atlas V and fly with SpaceX.

What an interesting week this is.

Nothing But Nyet

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits United Launch Alliance from buying NPO Energomash RD-180 engines from Russia.

The ruling cites President Obama's March 20, 2014 executive order Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine.

The preliminary injunction concludes:

After considering the April 28, 2014 Complaint, Executive Order No. 13,661, together with subsequent Executive Branch restrictions, and conducting a hearing on this date, in the court’s judgment, the public interest and national defense and security concerns that underlie Executive Order 13,661 warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction in this case that prohibits:

The United States Air Force and United Launch Services, LLC (“ULS”), a majority owned subsidiary of United Launch Alliance, LLC (“ULA”),2 and affiliates thereof, including general partners, directors, officers, employees, agents, representatives, predecessors, assigns, joint ventures, subsidiaries, and divisions, from making any purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash or any entity, whether governmental, corporate or individual, that is subject to the control of Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, unless and until the court receives the opinion of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the United States Department of Commerce and United States Department of State, that any such purchases or payments will not directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661.

The scope of this preliminary injunction does not extend to any purchase orders that have been placed or moneys paid to NPO Energomash prior to the date of this Order.

The ruling cited Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, one of the individuals sanctioned by Obama's executive order, as the reason for the finding. NPO Energomash is owned by the Russian government, and Russia's space industry is under his purview.

United Launch Alliance uses RD-180 engines on its Atlas V launch vehicles. During a March 5 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, ULA CEO Michael Gass stated the company has a two-year supply of RD-180 engines with more on order.

Rogozin got into a war of words April 29 when he said on Twitter that the United States could use a trampoline to deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded by announcing he would reveal the company's crewed version of Dragon on May 29, “no trampoline needed.”

Media reports:

NBC News “SpaceX Wins Court Injunction to Block Russian Rocket Engine Purchases”

Washington Post “Elon Musk’s SpaceX Granted Injunction in Rocket Launch Suit Against Lockheed-Boeing”