Saturday, August 30, 2014

SpaceX in Brief

Click the arrow to watch the video.

The SpaceX resident astronaut, Garrett Reisman, gave a teleconference presentation August 27 to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) group.

The telecon recording and Reisman's slideshow were archived online, so I've edited the two together to help you follow the presentation.

Retro Saturday: STS-3: One Step Closer

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

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 1982 28-minute documentary on the third Space Shuttle flight, titled STS-3: One Step Closer.

“STS” stands for Space Transportation System, the formal name for the Space Shuttle. STS-3 was the third flight of the orbiter Columbia, back in the early days when Shuttle was still considered to be experimental. It launched from Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A on March 22, 1982.

The launch was the first without the external tank being painted white. Using the natural foam color saved money and weight.

The landing on March 30, 1982 was the first and last at White Sands, New Mexico. At the time, Edwards AFB was the primary landing site but heavy rains had turned the dry lake bed into a lake. KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility existed, but due to the orbiter's experimental status the astronauts were not allowed to land just yet at KSC; the Edwards dry lake bed had much more room for error.

So that left White Sands, another dry lake bed in New Mexico.

When Columbia landed, plumes of gypsum from the lake bed penetrated the orbiter's heat shield tiles and cabin. Shuttle support teams never managed to clean it all out.

You'll also notice an unusual flare as Columbia lands. Commander Jack Lousma and Pilot Gordon Fullerton were testing the auto-landing program, then switching over to manual. The maneuver caused a flare that Lousma quickly corrected.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Wait 'Til Next Year

Click the arrow to listen to the August 27 teleconference.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, NASA executives announced August 27 that the Space Launch System is already delayed about a year.

Technically speaking, NASA now says that the program has a 70% confidence level that SLS will be “ready” by November 2018. “Ready” doesn't mean it will launch in that month; in fact, Bill Gerstenmaier and Robert Lightfoot went to great lengths to stress that the November 2018 estimate applies only to the rocket, not to the Orion crew vehicle or the European-built service module or the Kennedy Space Center ground systems upgrades.

Recent media reports suggest the service module is overweight and may not make its 2017 deadline.

In July 2014, the Government Accountability Office issued a report which warned that NASA “has not developed an executable business case based on matching the program’s cost and schedule resources with the requirement to develop the vehicle and conduct the first flight test in December 2017 at the required confidence level of 70 percent.”

The report also stated:

The SLS program has not yet defined specific mission requirements beyond the second flight test in 2021 or defined specific plans for achieving long-term goals, but the program has opportunities to promote affordability moving forward. NASA plans to incrementally develop more capable SLS launch vehicles to satisfy long-term goals, but future missions have not been determined, which will directly affect the program’s future development path and flight schedule.

This is no secret to anyone remotely paying attention to SLS.

Going all the way back to when Congress ordered NASA to build the SLS, warnings came from both within NASA and without that Congress was providing inadequate funding. An independent review by Booz Allen Hamilton in August 2011 warned that SLS cost estimates were “not suitable for long-term budget formulation or the development of Program baselines.”

Due to unjustified, sometimes substantial, assumed future cost savings; the ICA Team views each Program’s estimate as optimistic. Reserve levels were not based on a quantitative risk analysis and do not cover each Program’s Protect Scenario. Furthermore, each Protect Scenario excludes estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks, which history indicates are major sources of cost growth on programs. Due to procurement of items still in development and large cost risks in the out years, NASA cannot have full confidence in the estimates for long-term planning.

Congress didn't care.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who would go on to dub SLS the “Monster Rocket,” went into denial and issued a joint statement with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX):

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

Hutchison falsely claimed that the Booz Allen analysis concluded the SLS “can be initiated within our currently constrained fiscal limitations,” when of course it said no such thing.

An artist's concept of the Space Launch System. Image source: NASA.

To be fair, pretty much all space programs tend to run behind estimates. The Space Shuttle launched three years late. It took decades to build the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has claimed for years his commercial suborbital tourism business will fly any day now. SpaceX products go online years after promised, and try as they might the company has yet to regularly launch once a month as hoped.

But no one is saying that SLS has run into fundamental technical obstacles. Congress has been told time and again that the program would cost more than the legislative branch has authorized. Congress hasn't cared. And as the GAO pointed out, Congress still hasn't told NASA what the agency is supposed to do with the “Monster Rocket” other than protect legacy aerospace jobs.

Its purpose seems to be ... to exist.

That's why critics have dubbed the project the Senate Launch System.

The first Orion crew capsule is scheduled to launch in December atop a Boeing Delta IV from the Cape's Launch Pad 37. It will fly a two-orbit uncrewed demonstration mission before re-entering the atmosphere. That's it for SLS for four years — and one has to wonder what happens if Orion suffers a significant failure during the demo flight.

Already Republican members of Congress are blaming President Obama for the slip, even though Congress created SLS, not the Administration. Congress underfunded SLS, was told they underfunded SLS, ignored the warnings and now blames Obama for not insisting on more money than they were willing to provide.

Some days, I'm ashamed to be a taxpayer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Elon Taketh Away

Click the arrow to watch Elon Musk on CNN Money. You may be subjected to an ad first.

SpaceX was supposed to launch AsiaSat 6 last night, but founder Elon Musk called off the launch about ten hours before the scheduled launch time of 12:50 AM EDT.

Later in the day, SpaceX issued this release from Musk:

SpaceX has decided to postpone tomorrow's flight of AsiaSat 6. We are not aware of any issue with Falcon 9, nor the interfaces with the Spacecraft, but have decided to review all potential failure modes and contingencies again. We expect to complete this process in one to two weeks.

The natural question is whether this is related to the test vehicle malfunction at our development facility in Texas last week. After a thorough review, we are confident that there is no direct link. Had the same blocked sensor port problem occurred with an operational Falcon 9, it would have been outvoted by several other sensors. That voting system was not present on the test vehicle.

What we do want to triple-check is whether even highly improbable corner case scenarios have the optimal fault detection and recovery logic. This has already been reviewed by SpaceX and multiple outside agencies, so the most likely outcome is no change. If any changes are made, we will provide as much detail as is allowed under US law.

— Elon Musk

It seems an odd turn for the normally brash Musk, who in the past has pushed his employees into working 60-hour weeks with no days off to establish record launch pad turnarounds between flights.

Presumably this will also delay the next NASA commercial cargo launch. The Dragon CRS-4 flight to the International Space Station was tentatively scheduled for September 19.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The NewSpace Race

Click the arrow to watch Gabriel Rothblatt's statement on NewSpace. Video source: Gabriel Rothblatt YouTube channel.

Gabriel Rothblatt, the Democratic challenger to Space Coast representative Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) in this November's congressional race, posted today on YouTube the above video detailing his views and plan for supporting NewSpace in his district.

It's simply stunning to hear a political candidate of any partisan stripe articulate such a passionate and insightful endorsement of NewSpace — much less know what it is.

The demographics are against Rothblatt in November. Posey won re-election in the 8th District in November 2012 with 58.9% of the vote. The district includes Brevard County plus parts of Orange and Indian River counties. According to the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections, as of August 25 only 33% of the district is registered Democrat, while 42% is registered Republican.

According to BallotPedia, three different political analysis services rate Posey's district “solid” or “safe” for the incumbent.

After he took office in January 2009, Posey made nonsensical claims that China was going to colonize the Moon as a “military high ground.”

At a February 2010 space summit in Orlando, Posey falsely claimed that President Barack Obama “made a promise that he would close the gap between shuttle and Constellation” and “made the gap eternal” when in fact Obama said no such thing; he did promise to “speed the Shuttle's successor” but he never said that would be Constellation.

Posey has consistently voted for NASA spending bills that slashed commercial crew funding, extending NASA reliance on the Russian Soyuz for International Space Station access by at least two years. Obama didn't extend the gap. Posey did.

In September 2012, Posey co-sponsored legislation that would transfer management of NASA from the executive branch to Congress. That legislation, of course, went nowhere and some felt it was unconstitutional.

But to his credit, Posey's position on commercial space has evolved in the last year.

In September 2013, Posey confronted Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) when the latter, who chairs the House Space Subcommittee, tried to cut off Posey who was trying to object to political interference in the commercial use of Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A. Posey organized the entire Florida congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, into signing a letter opposing political interference in the Pad 39A bid.

Click the arrow to watch the February 10, 2014 House hearing on disposal of underutilized NASA facilities.

In February 2014, Posey was one of the House members who attended a joint committee hearing at the KSC Visitor Complex to urge transfer of unused KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force station assets to the private sector. In his remarks, Posey said:

There was a time when America virtually had a monopoly on commercial space. A hundred percent of the satellites fundamentally were launched from right here. Under the old business model with NASA and the Air Force, we basically choked the Golden Goose to death with red tape and over-regulation, launch fees and other disincentives. Many in the commercial space industry found it much more advantageous to operate in other countries, where in fact instead of overregulating and essentially taxing the commercial space industry, they subsidized it. Pretty soon, we became not very competitive and we went from a hundred percent of the world's commercial launch business to probably less than ten percent.

In July 2014, Posey sponsored with Democrat Derek Kilmer (D-WA) the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act to establish laws governing the exploration and harvesting of asteroids.

To my knowledge, Posey has canned the loopy China-turning-the-Moon-into-the-Death-Star rhetoric and seems to finally understand that the Space Coast must change its ways to compete in the NewSpace economy. But Rothblatt has issued a statement far more in favor of NewSpace than anything Posey has said to date. Many of the residents around Kennedy Space Center are still stuck in the past, so I doubt they'll support Rothblatt, but they weren't going to vote for him anyway due to partisan affiliation.

Rothblatt nonetheless deserves accolades for a positive and visionary statement supporting NewSpace, telling the locals what they need to hear — even if they don't want to hear it.

The Bloom is Off the Rose

Existing and proposed vertical launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

Florida Today posted an article August 23 about Space Florida's criticism of Kennedy Space Center's proposed master plan.

Unrealistic launch pad locations. Projects so vague no meaningful environmental review is possible. A business model that could discourage, rather than attract, new commercial launch activity at Kennedy Space Center.

Those are among significant concerns state officials identified with KSC's new 20-year master plan in a broad critique submitted as part of the plan's environmental review.

Space Florida said neither option being considered by NASA's environmental review — to adopt the master plan or not — represents "the best interests of either the nation or the State of Florida," and master plan revisions may be necessary.

Criticism of master plans is hardly new — pretty much every government master plan proposal is subject to second-guessing, parochialism and enlightened self-interest — but the Space Florida critique is more evidence of why SpaceX and other commercial enterprises may go elsewhere.

The letter also suggests that the bloom is off the rose in the budding courtship between Space Florida and NASA.

In early August, SpaceX announced its plan to build its own commercial spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. Contrary to rumors being circulated here in Brevard County, SpaceX is not leaving Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or Kennedy Space Center. Those will still be used for government launches. Boca Chica will be for launching commercial customers, such as the recent AsiaSat missions at the CCAFS Launch Complex 40.

An August 3 Florida Today article reported that AsiaSat executives — some of whom are from China — were restricted in their access to LC-40 because of their nationality. Boca Chica isn't a military base, so security restrictions won't be a concern.

This is the main reason why commercial enterprises such as SpaceX are looking elsewhere. They don't want to have the federal government as a landlord.

So Space Florida was created by the Florida Legislature in 2006 “to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading aerospace industry in this state.”

(1) There is established, formed, and created Space Florida, which is created as an independent special district, a body politic and corporate, and a subdivision of the state, to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading aerospace industry in this state. Space Florida shall promote aerospace business development by facilitating business financing, spaceport operations, research and development, workforce development, and innovative education programs. Space Florida has all the powers, rights, privileges, and authority as provided under the laws of this state.

(2) In carrying out its duties and responsibilities, Space Florida shall advise, coordinate, cooperate, and, when necessary, enter into memoranda of agreement with municipalities, counties, regional authorities, state agencies and organizations, appropriate federal agencies and organizations, and other interested persons and groups.

You might be asking, “Why would a commercial enterprise find a state landlord any more attractive than a federal landlord?“ And that's a valid question.

According to the letter, the agency “has facilitated State and private capital market financing of more than $500 million in infrastructure improvements at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the majority of which have supplemented federal program funding in order to support major U.S. Government space mission needs.”

In many cases, Space Florida leases the facility from the federal agency, then becomes itself a lessor to a commercial company. One example is the former Orbiter Processing Facility 3 next to KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) near the Vehicle Assembly Building. Image source: Space Florida.

Space Florida has renovated the hangar and turned it into the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), anticipating Boeing as a tenant with the CST-100 commercial crew vehicle. But Boeing has recently threatened to leave if it doesn't get an award in the next round, leaving Space Florida with no tenant.

In 2011, Space Florida and Bigelow Aerospace signed an agreement that could have led to the Bigelow expandable habitats and their customers launching from the Cape. But in February 2014 Bigelow representative Michael Gold said the company was looking at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, Virginia for launches.

Why not the Space Coast?

... Bigelow would like to use Virginia’s spaceport for future missions, Gold said, noting Wallops has advantages over other options available to private companies.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida has “so much activity that commercial activity will be bumped,” while developing a new launch facility takes years, he said.

“Wallops is just right; you’ve got everything you need in terms of legal and regulatory readiness, but it’s not so developed” that the company would encounter a lot of delays, Gold said.

In February 2014, a joint Congressional panel held a hearing at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to discuss utilization of KSC and CCAFS assets.

Click the arrow to watch the Congressional hearing.

A major theme of the hearing was that potential commercial tenants chafe when restrained by a government landlord. Space Florida has tried to solve that problem by proposing a commercial spaceport on NASA property at the north end of KSC near Shiloh, an abandoned farm town near the Volusia County border. To escape the NASA bureaucracy, the land would be transferred to Space Florida — but it would still be a government landlord. Just a different government.

Where private companies see a government landlord, they also see the potential for subsidies, such as tax breaks or other incentives. Bigelow courting MARS could be the aerospace company playing two government agencies against one another to see who offers the sweetest deal.

The federal government can't do that, but Space Florida can.

There's also a cultural perception at the Cape that, whether it's KSC or CCAFS, commercial companies face intransigence from federal government bureaucrats who don't really like NewSpace because they perceive it as a threat to their long-ruled fiefdoms.

Space Florida is well aware of that, and that cultural conflict might be seen in how the KSC Master Plan ignores the Shiloh proposal.

NASA proposes instead its own new commercial pads north of the existing pads. These new pads are calling 39C and 39D.

An artist's concept of the Shiloh commercial spaceport. Image source: Space Florida.

NASA offers no clue as to how these pads will be funded. Several members at the February congressional hearing acknowledged a general lack of interest within Congress to increase NASA funding, so these new pads as well as other facilities may be no more than wishful thinking. The NASA pads also create the perception in the private sector that the Space Coast bureaucracy can't get its act together, that NASA and Space Florida aren't on the same page. In fact, the letter complains that “Space Florida was not consulted or engaged as a planning partner” in preparing the environmental study.

A July 5 Florida Today article reported that NASA and Space Florida have been unable to reach a lease agreement for the former Shuttle runway, after a year of negotiations. Space Florida has a number of potential customers in line for the runway, but NASA still wants to protect “the future interests of the agency.”

The bottom line is that NASA just can't let go — and the letter makes that quite clear.

A [Center Master Plan] that remains NASA-centric and fails to recognize the needs of its Florida stakeholders puts KSC's host state at high risk of becoming irrelevant in the changing commercial space industry, which will not wait until 2018, let alone 2032, before determining where it can best meet its business model for operational autonomy and commercial mission schedule priority.

If you're a NewSpace company looking to locate at the Cape, where do you begin? Space Florida? NASA? The Air Force?

The old guard clings to the Space Launch System as its raison d'être. This December, NASA will finally launch an Orion crew capsule, but it won't have anyone on board and it won't launch on the SLS. It's simply a demonstration flight to let the capsule test its steering systems and heat shield. The capsule can't be used again. It may be another four years before the first SLS test, with a different capsule, and that will also be uncrewed.

By 2018, commercial crew vehicles will be delivering astronauts to the International Space Station on reusable vehicles, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching from Pad 39A, and the first Bigelow habitats will be on orbit.

An example of a Golden Spike lunar expedition using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy as the launch booster. Image source: The Golden Spike Company.

The Golden Spike Company, founded by former NASA executives, foresees using a combination of SpaceX or other NewSpace technologies to send public and private sector crew to the Moon by the end of the decade.

SLS, meanwhile, has no missions or destinations. It exists essentially to protect Shuttle-era jobs, which is why critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System.

The OldSpace folks need to face reality. Apollo isn't coming back. The days are long gone when you were showered with tens of billions of dollars to perpetuate a big bloated inefficient government bureaucracy. The government doesn't owe you a job, and you're standing in the way of real progress that will open space to the masses.

An August 13 article in the Houston Press highlighted the clash between the two cultures, OldSpace and New. The next generation is headed for the private sector, while NASA protects its own into retirement. Progress is a secondary priority.

There are many different ways to privatize KSC and CCAFS. Space Florida isn't necessarily the answer, but they do understand that a cultural shift is at hand. The old guard needs to let go. It's time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Retro Saturday: Steps to Saturn

Click the arrow to watch the documentary. Video source: wdtvlive YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 1966 NASA documentary titled Steps to Saturn.

The history of the Saturn V moon rocket is fairly well known, but its predecessors are not.

This document takes you back to the late 1950s, when Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team still worked for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Originally proposed as a more powerful successor to the Jupiter, the Saturn program came with von Braun to NASA in 1960.

The Saturn program preceded President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 speech proposing a manned lunar landing by the end of the 1960s. The Saturn program was selected as the launch vehicle.

The end of the film features the Cape's Launch Complex 34 and the first launch of a Saturn I on October 27, 1961.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Failure is an Option

Click the arrow to watch footage of the SpaceX F9R launch and failure. Video source: KWTX-TV Channel 10 in Waco, Texas.

KXXV-TV News Channel 25 - Central Texas News and Weather for Waco, Temple, Killeen |
KXXV Channel 25 in Waco, Texas news report on the SpaceX anomaly. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Late Friday August 22 reports began to show up on Twitter of a SpaceX rocket failure at their testing site in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX later issued this press release:

SpaceX founder Elon Musk sent this tweet:

I'll post any detailed news over the weekend once reliable reports are available.

But I also want to remind everyone that this is why NASA recruited SpaceX in 2006 to partner with the Commercial Crew/Cargo Program Office — to encourage innovation by subsidizing risk.

I'm sure the SpaceX boobirds will be out in force, but let's see them show us an OldSpace company working on a three-engine version of a rocket that can fly itself back to a landing pad so it can be used again.

UPDATE August 23, 2014 — Media reports on the incident:

CBS News “SpaceX Rocket Explodes During Test Flight in Texas”

CNN “Experimental SpaceX Rocket Self-Detonates over Texas”

Florida Today “SpaceX Rocket Explodes in Texas”

KWTX Channel 10 Waco, Texas “Rocket Explodes at SpaceX”

KXXV Channel 25 Waco, Texas “Rocket Explodes during SpaceX Testing” “Eventful Friday for SpaceX amid Static Fire and Test Failure”

NBC News “SpaceX Rocket Detonates After 'Anomaly' During Test Flight in Texas” “SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes in Test Flight”

Washington Post “SpaceX Rocket Blows Up over Texas”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Next Industrial Revolution

Click the arrow to watch the event. Video source: AIAA YouTube channel.

Earlier this month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) held its annual space forum in San Diego, California.

Among the events was an August 6 panel titled, “Emerging Space: The Next Industrial Revolution.” On the panel were:

  • Robert Pittman, Chief System Engineer, NASA Space Portal (Moderator)
  • Robert P. Hoyt, CEO & Chief Scientist, Tethers Unlimited Inc.
  • Michael Chen, Michael Chen, CSO and co-founder, Made in Space, Inc.
  • Col Gregory Johnson, USAF (Ret.), President and Executive Director, CASIS
  • Daniel Faber, Chief Executive Officer, Deep Space Industries
  • Jeffrey Manber, Managing Director, NanoRacks

The panel is an excellent discussion of the emerging commercial space industry, and how the International Space Station is the anchor for the NewSpace economy. It's a lot to slog through at 2½ hours, but well worth your time.

For those who claim the U.S. space program is inferior to other nations ... Show me how any of these countries are even remotely close to creating an entirely new economy based on opening space to the private sector. The panelists are among the visionaries who understand how NewSpace is the future of the American economy and the world in the 21st Century.

Monday, August 18, 2014

To Your Health

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

Is human spaceflight a waste of money?

Here's another example that the answer is no.

NASA has posted an article about the results of immune system research aboard the International Space Station.

Data generated early in NASA’s Integrated Immune study indicated that the distribution of immune cells in the blood of crew members aboard the space station is relatively unchanged during flight. However, they also revealed that some cell function is significantly lower than normal, or depressed, and some cell activity is heightened. In a sense, the immune systems of crew members are confused.

When cell activity is depressed, the immune system is not generating appropriate responses to threats. This may also lead to the asymptomatic viral shedding observed in some crew members, which means latent, or dormant, viruses in the body reawaken, but without symptoms of illness. When activity heightens, the immune system reacts excessively, resulting in things like increased allergy symptoms and persistent rashes, which have been reported by some crew members.

Why does this matter?

For long-duration spaceflight such as a three-year round trip to Mars, it means another problem to be resolved before we send humans. Looked at another way, it's another argument in favor of sending robotic craft instead of people.

For pharmaceutical companies, a microgravity platform such as the ISS can save years of clinical trials. I wrote in July 2013 about five medical discoveries made in microgravity either on the market or in clinical trials. Amgen took advantage of microgravity to accelerate the testing of Prolia on mice. Since bone loss happens much more quickly in microgravity, it can be demonstrated more quickly if the product works (or doesn't).

The potential for research and eventually production of products in microgravity is why you see so many companies lining up to use the ISS and future platforms, such as the Bigelow Aerospace expandable habitats and an autonomous version of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

The Envelope, Please

Pick one (or two) — the commercial crew finalists. Image source: NASA.

Rumors are rife on the Internet that NASA will soon announce the finalists for its commercial crew program.

That would jibe with comments made by NASA administrator Charlie Bolden and other NASA executives over the last year that the final-round participants would be announced in the late summer of 2014.

A November 2013 Office of the Inspector General Report highlighted how the program has been delayed thanks to Congress repeatedly cutting the Obama administration's funding requests for commercial crew. Demonstration flights could have begun this year, and “NASA planned to enter into individual FAR-based contracts for each crewed mission with the hope of beginning flights to the ISS in 2016.”

But Congress keeps cutting the budget. To quote from the report:

The Program received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received. As a result, NASA has delayed the first crewed mission to the ISS from FY 2015 to at least FY 2017.

In space subcommittee hearings, several members object to the competition, instead telling NASA executives to essentially “pick one and move on.” Bolden has patiently explained to these members that eliminating competition also eliminates affordability and innovation, but for the most part he's been ignored.

NASA would probably like to keep all three going, but it's unlikely they'll have the funding, so observers expect NASA to down-select to one or two.

Those jaundiced by decades of OldSpace lobbying and Congressional porking think Boeing is the likely winner. Boeing is labelled a “heavy hitter” by, having spent $15.2 million on lobbying in 2013. Compare that to the $1.1 million spent in 2013 by SpaceX and the $600,000 spent in 2013 by Sierra Nevada Corporation, the other two candidates.

But the commercial program so far hasn't shown much evidence that porkery has interfered with the selection process in previous rounds. In 2012, ATK failed to win despite the $1.3 million it spent on lobbying in 2011 and the $1.5 million in 2012. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop falsely claimed the Obama administration was in cahoots with SpaceX, ignoring the awards to Boeing and Sierra Nevada, both long-established aerospace companies.

My hope is that the winners are determined by the original intent of the commercial space program when created by the Bush administration in 2005.

In my March 2013 article “The Origins of Commercial Space” I wrote about how a commission appointed by President George W. Bush called for “the breaking down of barriers to commercial and entrepreneurial activities in space, as well as a cultural shift towards encouraging and incentivizing more private sector business in space. Such a change in both perspective and posture is essential if we are to develop a broad-based, societal change in space business.” The commission noted that “It is the stated policy of the act creating and enabling NASA that it encourage and nurture private sector space.”

So while NASA wasted billions of dollars on the doomed Constellation government-launch program, it also opened in November 2005 the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office “to spur private industry to provide cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit and the international space station in support of the Vision for Space Exploration.”

C3PO began with the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, initially recruiting SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler. After the latter failed to achieve a milestone, it was dropped for Orbital Sciences. Both the SpaceX Dragon and the Orbital Cygnus now robotically deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin at the 2008 NASA Lunar Lander Challenge Recognition Ceremony. Image source: X Prize Foundation.

During an October 2006 address to the X Prize Lunar Lander Summit, NASA Administrator Michael 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.

Two years later at the 2008 event, Griffin said:

Those of us in the government side of the space business must recognize a fundamental truth. If our experiment in expanding human presence beyond Earth is to be sustainable in the long run, it must ultimately yield profitable results, or there must be profit to be made by supplying the needs of those who explore to fulfill other objectives. Think about the California gold rush, and Levi Strauss.

Space exploration today is primarily a government activity, but that will not always be so. In fact, we should work to see that it is not. We should reach out to those individuals and companies who share our interest in space exploration and are willing to take risks to spur its development.

If this final round is to honor the original intent of those who founded the commercial space program in 2005, then in my opinion the winners should be those who assume the greatest financial risk to develop the most innovative and revolutionary designs.

On its web site, Boeing touts the CST-100 as “Safe, Affordable, Soon.” Not much said about revolutionary innovations; according to a Boeing marketing sheet the CST-100 was developed “using systems and processes proven across Boeing on human transportation vehicles ranging from commercial airplanes to military aircraft and the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station.”

Animation of a SpaceX Dragon V2 flight and landing. Video source: SpaceX.

Contrast that with the SpaceX Dragon V2. It will have SuperDraco thrusters that will steer the vehicle to a soft landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Landing legs will extend through a reusable PICA-X heat shield to land on a pad. It's not proven — yet — but it is revolutionary and innovative. It's what the McDonnell Douglas DC-X Delta Clipper hoped to achieve in the 1990s, but failed.

SpaceX has also assumed the greatest financial risk. The Falcon 9 was developed solely with private money, as will be the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX is leasing Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A and spending its own money to renovate that facility for commercial crew and Falcon Heavy launches. Boeing and Sierra Nevada would launch atop the Lockheed Martin Atlas V, already operated by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA has held a legal government launch monopoly since 2006.

The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser is descended from the NASA HL-20 and earlier lifting-body concepts, but it would be the first to go beyond drop tests. Dream Chaser also has potential customers with the European and Japanese space agencies, expanding their market beyond NASA.

Boeing representatives have said that if they do not win the final award, they will re-evaluate CST-100's business case and have threatened to eliminate jobs at Kennedy Space Center — a typical OldSpace tactic. Sierra Nevada has diversified their portfolio with the potential ESA and JAXA deals. SpaceX has said they will continue without funding, but perhaps not as quickly.

Boeing and SpaceX have deals to fly customers to the Bigelow Aerospace expandable habitats scheduled for launch in 2017. If I were Bob Bigelow, I'd be looking at Boeing's threats and wondering if they're a reliable partner. A Boeing withdrawal turns over the Bigelow market to SpaceX, and possibly Sierra Nevada.

The winners will be chosen on many criteria. I hope NASA looks at which companies are the most innovative and tries to honor the program's original intent, which was to liberate space access from the cronyism of Congress and legacy aerospace companies. A return to the old ways pretty much dooms affordable and innovate private access to orbital space for the rest of this decade; handing Boeing a monopoly is simply an extension of the status quo. If Boeing gets one award, there needs to be a NewSpace competitor to keep the OldSpace giant honest.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Retro Saturday: V-2 Assembling and Launching

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: The Digital Implosion YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 1947 War Department documentary titled, V-2 Assembling and Testing.

The V-2's ancestry descends directly into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

At the end of World War II, Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists surrendered to the U.S. Army. They showed the Army where to find hidden parts of the V-2 “Vengeance” rocket, known formally as the A-4.

Von Braun and his team were sent with the V-2 parts to the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico to continue their research, and teach Americans what they knew about liquid-fueled rocketry.

Once the V-2 tests began to outgrow the limits of White Sands, the Defense Department chose to reopen the former Banana River Naval Air Station bombing range on Cape Canaveral. It was originally named the Joint Long Range Proving Ground. The first four pads, just concrete slabs, were built on the tip of the Cape so the rockets could launch out over the ocean.

The first launch was Bumper 8, a modified V-2 with a WAC Corporal upper stage, from Pad 3 on July 24, 1950.

Von Braun and his team began development of a next-generation vehicle called Redstone, after their new home at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The earliest Redstone launch attempts were from Pad 4 in late 1953.

Although its German origins are acknowledged at the beginning of the documentary, neither von Braun nor his team appear in the film. Most likely, it was because this was a time when the Germans were still viewed with suspicion by their American counterparts and they did not want to acknowledge to the public that former Nazis were integral to the nation's nascent rocket program.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Space with a Purpose

Journalist Susan Du of the Houston Press has published a lengthy article titled, “Space Flight: Increasingly, Gifted Individuals are Opting for the Private Sector Over NASA.”.

Although lengthy, it's well worth your time to read. This is the best article I've read detailing the differences in culture between OldSpace and NewSpace.

The article begins with the tale of an engineering intern named Amy Hoffman weighing offers between NASA and SpaceX:

Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse.

As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. No one sat around talking to friends in the morning, “another level from what you see at NASA,” she said. “They're very purpose-driven. It looked like every project was getting the attention it deserved.”

Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take. She thought back to the attrition she saw firsthand at Johnson Space Center and how understaffed divisions struggled to maintain operations.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bigelow Aerospace Update

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

Bigelow Aerospace released on July 29 a 6½ minute promotional video on its upcoming BEAM module scheduled to launch next year, and the BA-330 habitats planned to launch in 2017.

From the video, it's clear that Bigelow is targeting nations as customers, not private individuals.

The video begins with the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, scheduled for deployment at the International Space Station on the SpaceX CRS-8 mission in late 2015.

After that is footage of a BA-330 protoype being tested in a large pool at Bigelow's North Las Vegas facility.

Retro Saturday: Project Atlas Progress Report

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

This week's Retro Saturday is a 12-minute film from the U.S. Air Force “in contract with Convair, a division of General Dynamics Corporation” titled Project Atlas Progress Report for the first quarter of 1955.

Atlas was the first U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile. Its history can be traced to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the Air Force commissioned the RAND Corporation to research the feasibility of a long-range missile capable of delivering an atomic warhead.

In May 1954, the Air Force gave Atlas its highest priority. The first successful Atlas launch was on December 17, 1957, from Launch Complex 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That was just eleven days after the Vanguard TV-3 failure at Launch Complex 18 created the belief that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union, which had successfully launched its first two Sputnik missions in October and November 1957.

The name Atlas survives to this day, given to the Lockheed Martin Atlas V that launches from Pad 41 at CCAFS.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Inspiration Fallacy

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

Florida Today reports that U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) thinks this December's uncrewed test flight of the Orion capsule will inspire the nation to once again embrace an Apollo-style space program.

Rubio believes that flight will help spur excitement about the space program, which could in turn generate support for increasing NASA's $17.6 billion budget.

“When people see that capsule exit the Earth's atmosphere and reenter once again, they'll remember what we used to do in the 70s and 60s during the Apollo program, and they'll be motivated to tackle that again in a new frontier, a new challenge for our country, and that is placing boots on the ground in Mars,” he said.

Several independent groups recently, including the NASA Advisory Council and the National Research Council, have concluded that NASA's goal of a mission to orbit Mars by the 2030s is not feasible as currently funded.

Rubio agreed that was a concern, but said the agency's budget reflected a disconnect with the public about what the space program is doing, exacerbated in recent years by the shuttle's retirement and lack of a clear goal for a while.

“I think the way address it is by getting people excited and engaged and committed to a space program that's vibrant,” he said.

Paying homage to President Kennedy's leadership and the Apollo era, the Florida Republican said it was essential for the U.S. to lead the world in space exploration.

And so we have yet another politician who reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of why Apollo happened and its public support.

Mr. Rubio thinks Orion will help the public “remember” Apollo and be magically inspired to support a huge NASA budget again.

But the current average population in the United States is 37 years old. They weren't alive during Apollo.

Using 2013 population estimates from, only 40.4% of the population was alive at the time Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July 1969. I doubt they've forgotten.

About 23.2% of the population is under 18 years old. That's the age group big bloated government space programs are supposed to “inspire.” Just how doing Apollo again will inspire this demographic is never explained. Nor are we told what it will inspire them to do.

As reporter James Dean noted, several recent studies have estimated a government Mars human spaceflight program could take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Just how an empty Orion capsule designed to make work for displaced Shuttle employees doing two orbits before it splashes down into the Pacific Ocean is going to inspire taxpayers to spend hundreds of billions on Mars escapes me.

It's also a myth that the vast majority of Americans in the 1960s supported the Apollo program.

A 2003 analysis by space historian Roger Launius showed the opposite:

... [M]any people believe that Project Apollo was popular, probably because it garnered significant media attention, but the polls do not support a contention that Americans embraced the lunar landing mission. Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. And consistently throughout the decade 45–60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space, indicative of a lack of commitment to the spaceflight agenda.

These data do not support a contention that most people approved of Apollo and thought it important to explore space. The decision to proceed with Apollo was not made because it was enormously popular with the public, despite general acquiescence, but for hard-edged political reasons. Most of these were related to the cold war crises of the early 1960s, in which spaceflight served as a surrogate for face-to-face military confrontation.

A 1993 analysis by Sylvia Kraemer, Director of the NASA Special Studies Division, concluded:

... [T]here is more to learn from opinion polls than that a good proportion of adult Americans support the space program. We can learn that social and economic security are not competing goals with space, but interdependent goals. If we want to increase public support for space, we must increase the number of Americans who have the economic freedom to take an interest in something besides getting by, day after day. We can also learn that the majority of those who support the space program can distinguish between the bread and circuses of space travel. They're content to experience extraordinary adventures in the movie theatres; for their tax dollars they want real return in expanded scientific knowledge and understanding. Finally, we can learn that we need to increase that return, not just for scientific careers, but for the ordinary people who pay our bills and for their children, our children. Ultimately the space program is for them, as all investments in the future must be.

There's little “real return” in an Apollo redux or a Mars stunt.

But there is real return in the microgravity research aboard the International Space Station, which is the primary focus of the Obama administration. I wrote a July 2013 blog article listing five microgravity research discoveries currently on the market or in clinical trials.

For politicians such as Mr. Rubio, their primary interest in a government space program is to create and protect jobs in their districts and states. In the above Florida Today clip, Rubio talks about jobs. That's fine, but it's a shame his concerns are more parochial and less visionary.

If he wants to inspire the next generation, explain to them how NewSpace is creating an entirely new economy here in the U.S. based on opening low Earth orbit to the masses. That will create a lot more jobs than fantasizing about an Apollo rerun. And provide far more tangible benefits for the public.

FOX 35 News Orlando
Click the arrow to watch the Fox 35 Orlando report.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Elon Has Left the Building

April 15, 2010 ... President Obama tours the SpaceX operation at LC-40 with Elon Musk. Image source: Wikipedia.

On March 11, 2010, three months before the first SpaceX Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida Today published an editorial which demanded President Barack Obama mandate that commercial companies could only launch from the Space Coast and nowhere else.

As noted, the commercial push could pay dividends down the line. But it's a blank slate, with companies claiming they can fly astronauts by 2014-16 and critics saying it will take a decade.

Obama should salvage some of Constellation and develop a heavy-lift rocket program that could eventually carry astronauts to Mars and immediately start a test program at KSC that could save 1,500 to 2,000 jobs. At the same time, funds also could be spent on the commercial sector in a dual-track push.

The plans call for spending $2 billion there the next several years to turn it into a 21st-century spaceport, but to what end? There's no guarantee commercial companies would fly from KSC and, with Constellation dead, the historic launch pads could become a ghost town.

The president should make KSC the commercial hub and mandate it in his policy.

The article claimed that ending Constellation “could drive Brevard County's 12.7 percent unemployment rate to 17 percent or higher.”

They were completely wrong.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Brevard County unemployment rate topped out at 11.8% in January 2010 and a year later began to decline from 11.3% in January 2011.

Kennedy Space Center is hardly a “ghost town.” Eight thousand people are employed at KSC. Pad 39A is being remodelled by SpaceX for its Falcon Heavy; that renovation is being paid for by SpaceX with no taxpayer dollars.

Congress agreed with the Obama administration and cancelled Constellation. The program was years behind schedule and billions over budget. The GAO issued an audit in August 2009 which concluded that Constellation lacked “a sound business case” and listed its technical problems. The independent Augustine Commission later that year found that the Constellation Ares I was scheduled to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station no earlier than 2017, but would be funded by closing the ISS in 2015. Ares I would have nowhere to go, so why build it?

Congress replaced Constellation with another porkfest at Pad 39B called the Space Launch System, declaring it would save jobs but never bothered to say what missions it would fly.

The editorial's most egregious demand was that the President essentially grant a legal launch monopoly to Brevard County, ignoring not only the basics of capitalism but also the basics of orbital mechanics.

For years, some of the people and politicians in Brevard County have believed that the Space Coast is entitled by divine right to guaranteed government aerospace jobs for life. In the spring of 2010, local politicians were falling over each other in whipping up hysteria to score political points. At a March 9, 2010 space policy forum hosted by Florida Today, Rep. Dave Weldon (who left Congress in January 2009, succeeded by Rep. Bill Posey) falsely accused Obama of “killing the manned spaceflight program.”

Lobbyists were sent from Brevard County and other states with Constellation-related operations hoping to save the program. They claimed their message was to “fund human space exploration,” but failed to say why or how it would benefit the American taxpayer. The main interest seemed to be to protect local jobs — needed or not.

Local unions held rallies demanding that Constellation jobs be saved. “Those members interested in saving their jobs” were asked to attend to “gain congressional support for the continuation of human space flight at Kennedy Space Center.”

February 18, 2010 ... Governor Charlie Crist addresses the Space Industry Summit. Image source: Central Florida Partnership.

In Orlando, meanwhile, a more bipartisan group gathered February 18, 2010 at a Space Industry Summit to warn that Florida had better change its ways or lose the coming commercial space race.

A statewide space symposium convened by Gov. Charlie Crist in Orlando on Thursday heard repeatedly from industry executives, academics and experts that Florida had to adapt to a new U.S. national space policy that favored commercial rocket companies or give up its ambitions to be a world-class launch center.

“This [administration's shift towards commercial space] should not come as surprise to anybody,” former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Bob Walker told 200 participants. “For a decade there have been presidential commissions that have said that the way this country had to move was to commercial space . . . The question is are you going to embrace where the world is headed?”

Patti Grace Smith, a former Federal Aviation Administration official under President George W. Bush, was even more harsh, saying that Florida had to walk away from John F. Kennedy's legacy and “step out from behind its past . . . if Florida is to remain a major space player.”

But some at the event told lies to protect the status quo. Rep. Posey falsely claimed:

“Most people in this room remember when the president was campaigning here he made a promise that he would close the gap between shuttle and Constellation,” U.S. Rep Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, told NASA's deputy associate administrator Charles Scales. “Well, it appears he hasn't closed the gap. He's made it eternal.”

Candidate Barack Obama never promised to continue Constellation. Speaking at a Titusville rally on August 2, 2008, he said he would speed “the development of the Shuttle's successor.” He didn't say what that successor would be.

That successor was the commercial crew program, created under President Bush in 2005 but unfunded at that point. Obama's proposal would have had commercial crew vehicles flying astronauts to the ISS by 2014.

Posey, ironically, was one of the House space subcommittee members who voted to cut commercial crew's funding by 62% between Fiscal Years 2011-2013 — extending NASA's reliance on the Russian Soyuz by at least two years. Obama tried to close the gap. Posey widened it.

While SpaceX fought entrenched bureaucracies at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, the company began buying up land near Boca Chica State Park in Cameron County, Texas, near Brownsville and the Mexican border. SpaceX founder Elon Musk decided to go his own way, planning to open the world's first privately owned commercial spaceport.

Space Florida, a state aerospace economic development agency, responded with a proposal to build a commercial spaceport at Shiloh, an abandoned farming community within KSC borders north of the Volusia County line. Environmental groups objected, and while Space Florida awaited an environmental impact statement SpaceX continued to buy up land in Boca Chica.

On August 4, SpaceX officially announced that Boca Chica would be the site for its commercial spaceport.

According to a press release from Texas Governor Rick Perry's office:

The State of Texas and SpaceX first discussed this potential project in the spring of 2011 during a TexasOne mission to California. The governor has since met with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and provided letters in support of SpaceX's efforts to get FAA clearance for the site. Governor's Office staff has worked closely with local officials in South Texas throughout the process, and also testified before the FAA in support of bringing the project to Texas.

Perry offered $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund and “$13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. The fund is used to support the development of infrastructure necessary for establishing a spaceport.”

Space Florida couldn't compete.

Commercial companies leasing pads from KSC or CCAFS have the government as a landlord, meaning they have to deal with government bureaucracies where sometimes the rules are made up by people who are more interested in protecting their own little fiefdoms than doing what is best for the nation's economy.

SpaceX has brought the commercial satellite launch business back to the Space Coast. It was driven away by the legal monopoly granted United Launch Alliance by the federal government in 2006. That drove up launch costs, so commercial satellite companies went overseas.

Before SpaceX, the last CCAFS commercial satellite launch was in 2009. The SpaceX business model, which observers guess charges one-third the price of a ULA launch, has brought the commercial satellites back to CCAFS. Four commercial satellites have launched from Pad 40 since December, including yesterday's AsiaSat 8.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 on the pad with AsiaSat 8. Image source: SpaceX.

But AsiaSat employees had difficulty accessing their satellite before the mission.

According to a Florida Today report:

William Wade, AsiaSat president and CEO, is excited for the upcoming launches, but confirmed the company's experience here has not been as easy as at other launch sites.

Access to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for roughly 60 employees, shareholders and customers now in town — most not U.S. citizens and many who are Chinese nationals — has been difficult.

“That is proving to be somewhat cumbersome,” Wade said. “We have to go through all the security clearances, which is expected, but we are finding as a foreign company that it is a bit more difficult conducting our launches there.”

The company found the process easier when it last flew from the Cape in 2003, on an Atlas IIIB rocket.

Here, Wade said, the company also worries more about the potential for launch delays because of federal government missions that may be given higher priority, which adds uncertainty to its financial forecasting and marketing of satellite services.

“The government launches, those are a little bit unpredictable,” Wade said. “You don't really know whether you're going to get bumped, whether issues might come up that could create a situation where they take precedence. So that has proven to be a little bit more worrisome, whereas in some of our previous experiences elsewhere, we haven't seen that to be as big a factor.”

A desire for more control over range operations and customer access are among the key reasons why SpaceX wants to develop a private launch complex for commercial missions, separate from its two East Coast pads on federally controlled property at the Cape and Kennedy Space Center.

Space Florida can't tell the federal government what to do. Shiloh isn't viable unless NASA is willing to cede control of the land to the State of Florida. KSC's recently released master plan for the next twenty years shows no hint of doing so — but it does suggest a new NASA-controlled Pad 39C north of its two siblings.

Frank DiBello, Space Florida's CEO, told July's National Space Club Florida Chapter meeting that he was “mad as hell” he couldn't offer SpaceX a competitive offer. And a July 12 Florida Today article suggested Florida congressional leaders are leaning on federal bureaucrats to change their ways before more commercial opportunities flee elsewhere.

The location (in red) of the proposed SpaceX commercial spaceport at Boca Chica. Image source: Parabolic Arc.

This morning's Florida Today reports that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has “downplayed” the Boca Chica news.

Nelson said SpaceX's Texas site has some limitations.

For example, he said, it is suitable only for missions to equatorial orbits that must “thread the needle” between the Florida Keys and north coast of Cuba.

“How many launches will be financially viable for them to do that from there?” he said. “I think that's a story still to be told.”

Of the four commercial satellite missions SpaceX has launched from the Cape since December, three fit such a flight profile, including the AsiaSat communications satellite launched early Tuesday.

But missions angling to the northeast would start from Florida to avoid flying over populated areas.

Nelson said Brownsville, where the Federal Aviation Administration would license missions, also lacks a range to oversee flight safety.

“So something's got to be developed down there,” he said. “I'm sure they have their plans, but that is a story yet to be told as well.”

He noted that SpaceX would continue to launch government missions — potentially including astronauts — from the Space Coast, plus some commercial missions.

My SpaceX sources say their business model is for CCAFS LC-40 to be used for Defense Department payloads, KSC LC-39A for NASA payloads (including ISS crew rotations), with commercial launches going to Boca Chica.

That's a rule of thumb, and as Senator Nelson notes there may be safety limitations, although so far the FAA has not issued any regulations prohibiting SpaceX from launching over Florida or Cuba.

Polar orbits, popular for military reconnaissance satellites, would continue to launch from the SpaceX pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.

As for flights to the northeast, those could also launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, Virginia. MARS already launches Antares rockets for Orbital Sciences.

SpaceX will continue to have a presence on the Space Coast, but local leaders and government bureaucrats once again are driving away the commercial launch business. They love to blame Barack Obama, but the fact is the blame lies only with themselves.

President George W. Bush announced on January 14, 2004 that the Space Shuttle program would end once ISS construction was complete. That set the clock in motion for another downturn as after Apollo in the early 1970s.

No one did anything about the potential job loss until it was too late, and when it was too late they reacted by shooting themselves in the foot — demanding a launch monopoly and that obsolete jobs be protected, never mind the cost to the taxpayer.

Brevard County was warned many times. They didn't listen.

So Elon has left the building.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

For the Record Books

Click the arrow to watch the Falcon 9 AsiaSat 8 launch. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

SpaceX has made history many times since its first Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 4, 2010, but today's early morning launch from Pad 40 shattered several records to go along with a good night's sleep for Space Coast residents.

The 4:00 AM launch came 21 days 16 hours and 45 minutes (according to a SpaceX source) after their last launch on July 14 of the Orbcomm OG2 mission.

Using various lists online of launches at CCAFS pads in the 21st Century, I used a Microsoft Excel workbook to calculate the importance of today's launch.

The just-under-22-days turnaround is a modern-era (2000 - present) record for shortest turnaround of a CCAFS pad to launch again. The previous record holder? SpaceX, earlier this year — 34 days between SES-8 on December 3, 2013 and Thaicom 6 on January 6, 2014.

The other pads researched were Launch Complex 37 with the Boeing Delta IV, Launch Complex 41 with the Lockheed Martin Atlas V, and Launch Complex 17 with the Boeing Delta II. LC-17 went inactive in 2012; it had two pads, so each pad was counted as a separate facility.

The modern-era minimum turnarounds per pad:

  • Pad 17A — 53 days
  • Pad 17B — 41 days
  • Pad 37 — 72 days
  • Pad 40 — 22 days
  • Pad 41 — 42 days

It should be noted that SpaceX has a different business model from Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which operate Pads 37 and 41 in a partnership called United Launch Alliance. ULA was granted a legal monopoly by the federal government in 2005 in the hope that, by eliminating competition and paying the alliance for block-buy launches, the government would have launch vehicles available on demand. That drove the commercial satellite launch business overseas; the Falcon 9 SES-8 launch in December 2013 was the first commerical satellite launch at CCAFS since 2009.

So while ULA pads sit idle awaiting the next government order, SpaceX must deliver for a variety of government and commercial customers by keeping the launch line rolling.

SpaceX will try to break its new record later this month, when it's scheduled to launch AsiaSat 6 the night of August 25.

Another record fell with this morning's launch. The Cape pulled off three launches in eight days — the Delta IV on July 28, the Atlas V on August 2, and the Falcon 9 this morning. That's three launches in eight days. In the modern era, the prior record for three launches was 26 days in late 2004 - early 2005.

UPDATE August 5, 2014 7:00 PM EDT — Today's successful launch also assures it will have been at least sixteen years since the last time a rocket was destroyed on launch from CCAFS. The last was a Titan IV A20 launched from LC-41 on August 12, 1998.

Click the arrow to watch the Titan IV launch and explosion. Video source: Hamilton's Military Channel YouTube channel.

UPDATE August 6, 2014 — I found a shorter period for three launches than the just-broken 26 days, 20 days between September 27 - October 17, 2007. The launches were at Pad 17B on September 27, Pad 41 on October 11, and Pad 17A on October 17.

In doing the other calculations, I'd ignored the few Titan IV launches off Pad 40 in the early 2000s. They did not affect any of the above mentioned records.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Retro Saturday: The White Sands Test Facility

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

This week's Retro Saturday selection is a 1994 NASA documentary titled, The White Sands Test Facility. Most of the film is about how the White Sands Test Facility supported the Space Shuttle program in the early 1990s.

No mention is made of its long history as the Army's White Sands Missile Range.

That history is documented on the web site of the White Sands Missile Range Museum.

Known in the late 1940s as the White Sands Proving Ground, it was here that Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of German scienstists resumed their V-2 rocket development under the watchful eye of the U.S. Army.

Wernher von Braun at White Sands in an undated photo.

The Army's Bumper program comprised a V-2 booster with an Army WAC (Without Attitude Control) Corporal missile as its payload. The first six were launched from White Sands; Bumper 5 reached an altitude of 244 miles, the first U.S. rocket to reach space. The last two Bumpers were launched from Pad 3 at Joint Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral in July 1950. That site today is part of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.