Friday, July 31, 2015

House For Sale

A 2013 anti-corruption ad by Represent.Us.

Fourteen members of the House of Representatives sent a letter July 30 asking if SpaceX should “be decertified for military launch” after the failure of its June 28 Falcon 9 upper stage 2½ minutes after liftoff.

The letter also questions whether the Falcon 9 should require recertification if upgraded. SpaceX routinely integrates upgrades into the Falcon 9 and the Dragon cargo ship to improve performance for its customers.

The letter was sent to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force Secretary Deborah James. Twelve of the signatories are Republicans. Two are Democrats.

Eleven of the fourteen signatories received significant campaign contributions in 2014 from Boeing and/or Lockheed Martin, the partner companies of SpaceX rival United Launch Alliance.

The primary signatories were Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). A review of 2014 campaign contributions on showed that Coffman received $4,000 from Boeing and $13,500 from Lockheed Martin for a total of $17,500. Forbes received $7,000 from Boeing and $10,000 from Lockheed Martin, for a total of $17,000.

United Launch Alliance itself contributes relatively little in campaign donations, but employs some of the same lobbyists as its parent company. According to, ULA also uses Boeing's lobbying firm S-3 Group, sharing lobbyists Martin Delgado, Mike Ference, and John Scofield. ULA and LockMart use lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates, sharing lobbyists Douglas Gregory and Kevin Kelly.

In 2014, ULA spent about $1 million on lobbying, while parents Boeing spent $16.8 million and LockMart spent $14.6 million.

Contrast those numbers with SpaceX, which spent $1.5 million in 2014 on lobbying, according to

During 2014, Boeing made $2.2 million in donations to federal candidates, and Lockheed Martin $2.6 million. SpaceX contributed a total of $379,000 in campaign donations in 2014, with the highest amount $6,000 each to Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) and Adam Smith (D-WA). Of the fourteen who sent the July 30 letter, only Terri Sewell (D-AL) had received a SpaceX campaign contribution in 2014, $1,000.

Below is a table listing the 2014 campaign contributions received by each signatory from Boeing and/or Lockheed Martin. Candidates receive contributions from other sources, e.g. congressional campaign and other Political Action Committees (PACs) that launder contributions from corporations so they can be donated as “soft money” to a candidate. Ken Buck, for example, received $10,000 from Majority Cmte PAC, which received $10,000 from Rep. Mike Coffman, the primary signatory on the letter and recipient of $17,500 from Boeing/Lockmart.

Aderholt, Robert (R-AL) 10,000 10,000 20,000
Bishop, Rob (R-UT) 0 10,000 10,000
Brooks, Mo (R-AL) 10,000 11,000 21,000
Buck, Ken (R-CO) 0 0 0
Byrne, Bradley (R-AL) 9,000 0 9,000
Coffman, Mike (R-CO) 4,000 13,500 17,500
Cole, Tom (R-OK) 10,000 10,500 20,500
Forbes, Randy (R-VA) 7,000 10,000 17,000
Heck, Denny (D-WA) 10,000 0 10,000
Hice, Jody (R-GA) 0 0 0
Lamborn, Doug (R-CO) 7,000 10,000 17,000
Roby, Martha (R-AL) 9,000 10,000 19,000
Sewell, Terri (D-AL) 3,000 0 3,000
Tipton, Scott (R-CO) 0 0 0

Thursday, July 30, 2015

NTSB Releases Virgin Galactic Findings

November 3, 2014 ... NBC News interviews NTSB officials investigating the SpaceShipTwo crash. Video source: NBC News YouTube channel.

Nearly nine months after the loss of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo vehicle VSS Enterprise on October 31, the National Transportation Safety Board held a public hearing on July 28 to release its preliminary findings.

Click here for the report synopsis. The final report is in final revisions. The video of the hearing is available on the agency's web site until the end of October; I will try to obtain a video copy to post on YouTube as a permanent archive.

UPDATE August 30, 2015 — The NTSB finally sent me the video of the hearing. Click the above arrow to watch.

Despite public perceptions that Virgin Galactic was responsible for the flight tests, those were performed by the ship's designer, Scaled Composites, which employed the test pilots.

In January, Virgin Galactic announced it would assume control of the testing program from Scaled.

The investigation concluded that Scaled co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely released the ship's feather system.

Afterward, the aerodynamic and inertial loads imposed on the feather flap assembly were sufficient to overcome the feather actuators, which were not designed to hold the feather in the retracted position during the transonic region. As a result, the feather extended uncommanded, causing the catastrophic structural failure.

Although the NTSB concluded the probable cause was pilot error, much of the criticism was levelled at the Federal Aviation Administration and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (whose acronym is AST). Inspectors were not familiar with Scaled operations, and waivers were routinely issued without verifying that Scaled was in compliance. The NTSB recommended ten actions — eight for the Federal Aviation Administration, and two for Scaled Composites.

During the hearing, it was noted that one FAA evaluator had claimed that “political pressure” had been responsible for the waivers. Apparently the allegation was made by only one person, and no specifics were provided during the meeting. The implication was that the agency was under pressure to issue permits within the procedural deadline of 120 days.

The Office of Commercial Space Transporation is a popular target for budget cuts by Congress. A May 9, 2014 Space News article warned that the agency was going to be “overwhelmed by a rising tide of nongovernment launches and experimental space activities” thanks to Congress cutting President Obama's funding requests.

Reporter Dan Leone wrote:

Under the Commercial Space Launch Act, which was last amended in 2004, AST must review applications for an experimental permit, such as the one used by Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, to test fly Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, within 120 days of receiving them.

The President's Fiscal Year 2016 budget requested a $1.5 million increase from its FY15 budget of $16.6 million, but the House of Representatives has voted to appropriate only a $250,000 increase from FY15.

Founded in 1982 by Burt Rutan, Scaled Composites was acquired in 2007 by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman. The corporation employed over 65,000 nationwide in 2014, and in its 2014 report stated an operating income of $3.2 billion on $24 billion in sales. $20 billion of that was in sales to the U.S. government.

Northrop Grumman is designated a “heavy hitter” by Its political action committee spent $2.3 million in campaign contributions in 2014.

Government agencies typically are regulated by two congressional committees. The authorization committee establishes policy and budget, but the appropriations committee releases the actual dollars to fund operations. The authorization committee, for example, could budget an agency for $100 in a fiscal year, but the appropriations committee could choose to provide only $50. Or it could choose to provide $150, more money than requested. reports which members of Congress received Northrop's largesse. Members of the FAA's authorization and appropriations subcommittees received campaign contributions from Northrop.

The FAA's House authorization committee is the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee. The House appropriations committee is the Commerce Subcommittee.

On the Aviation authorization subcommittee, chair Frank LoBiando (R-NJ) received $10,000 in 2014 as did ranking member Rick Larsen (D-WA). The full committee's chair, Bill Shuster (R-PA), received $10,000. On the Commerce appropriations subcommittee, chair John Culberson (R-TX) received $10,000, while ranking member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) received $7,500. The full committee's chair, Hal Rogers (R-KY), received $10,000.

The FAA's Senate authorization committee is the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee's Aviation Operations Subcommittee. The Senate appropriations committee is the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee.

On the Aviation Operations Subcommittee, chair Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) received $5,000. Full committee chair John Thune (R-SD) received $6,000. On the appropriations subcommittee, chair Susan Collins (R-ME) received $5,000 and ranking member Jack Reed (D-RI) received $10,000. Full committee chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) received $10,000.

In the 2014 election cycle, Northrop gave $2 million to House members — $1.1 million to Republicans and $0.9 million to Democrats. In the Senate, where only one-third of the members are up for election each cycle, Northrop gave only $298,000 — $210,000 to Republicans and $88,000 to Democrats.

You can draw your own conclusions why the FAA may have been under political pressure to approve Scaled's permits while the agency lacked resources to do a proper evaluation.

NewSpace Advocate Rep. Chaka Fattah Indicted for Racketeering

Rep. Chaka Fattah addresses the Alliance for Space Development press conference on February 25, 2015. Video source: National Space Society YouTube channel.

One of the few supportive voices in Congress for NewSpace faces criminal charges.

WPVI-TV Channel 6 in Philadelphia reports that Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) “was indicted Wednesday in a racketeering case stemming from the alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, charitable and campaign funds after his failed 2007 run for mayor.”

The 11th-term Democrat led a conspiracy that engaged in bribery, fraud, money laundering and other crimes, and netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars, federal investigators said.

Prosecutors said the charges covered several schemes, including the use of federal grants and charitable contributions to Fattah's educational foundation to pay back $600,000 of a $1 million loan from a wealthy campaign supporter and arranging a federal grant in lieu of a $130,000 payment to a political consultant.

Four others are also charged in this case.

Rep. Fattah posted this statement on his web site:

This has been an eight-year effort by some in the Department of Justice to link my public service career to some form of wrongdoing. With today’s charges, this misguided campaign has now moved from speculation to specific allegations.

As I have previously stated, I have never participated in any illegal activity or misappropriation of taxpayer dollars as an elected official. For the last 21 years, I have represented the people of Philadelphia in Congress with honor and dignity, helping millions of families through my efforts focused on education, employment, mortgage relief, and health care. I will proudly continue to serve my constituents and look forward to helping millions more.

Per House rules and precedent, I have stepped aside from my role as Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science.

This will not be a distraction from my service to the people that elected me, and I am confident that I will be cleared of these charges.

Fattah and fellow NewSpace advocate Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) co-hosted the February 25 media event in Washington, D.C. announcing the formation of the Alliance for Space Development. According to their web site, ASD “is dedicated to influencing space policy toward the goals of space development and settlement. The founding, executive organizations are the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation.”

Roll Call reports that Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) will replace Fattah as the Democrats' ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee. His district includes the NASA Ames Research Center. Rep. Honda faces his own ethics probe; emails “appeared to violate House rules regarding campaign activity by discussing contributors and fundraising efforts related to an official event.”

(Hat tip to Jeff Foust at Space News for the Roll Call reference.)

Rep. Fattah questions NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a March 4, 2015 hearing. Video source: Chaka Fattah YouTube channel.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Retro Saturday: Человек вышел в космос (Man Went Into Space)

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Dan Beaumont Space Museum YouTube channel.

It will be a 42-minute investment of your time, but this week's Retro Saturday film is a rare 1965 Russian documentary (with English narration) about the early days of the Soviet space program, primarily about Alexei Leonov perparing for the first human spacewalk on March 18, 1965.

The documentary's title is Человек вышел в космос, which roughly translates as “Man Went Into Space.”

It's worth watching just for the extremely rare footage. Like many space documentaries of the era — American and Soviet — this one borders on propaganda, but it's fascinating to watch how the Soviet space program trained its cosmonauts compared to all the NASA documentaries of the era.

Friday, July 24, 2015

For What It's Worth

January 25, 2012 ... Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich delivers a space policy speech in Cocoa. He didn't win.

Dear presidential candidate,

Congratulations on offering yourself as the next leader of the free world. (Except for you, Donald Trump. Go away.)

You will have many issues to debate on the campaign trail. The space program will be one of them, especially when you troll for votes near NASA space centers and the companies that have long enjoyed uncompetitive contracts from the government.

I'm not running, nor am I likely to do so any time soon, so I'm providing my free advice on space policy to any candidate who wants it.

To begin ...

You are probably a child of the Space Age. You grew up watching the Moon landing on television. You may have built spaceship models. Maybe you sat in a cardboard box in your backyard and pretended you were Neil Armstrong.

You will be tempted to cite John F. Kennedy as the model for how a government space program should be conducted. You may condemn your predecessors for not repeating that model.

That would be a big mistake.

The fact of the matter is that most of the American public couldn't care less about the government space program. Sure, they like to watch rockets launch, like fireworks on the Fourth of July. But for years polls have shown that a majority of Americans disagree when asked if more money should be spent on a government space program.

“Let's do Apollo again” plays to a few people in the Space Coast, Houston and Huntsville, but all those districts are safely Republican and don't represent a significant voting bloc. “Let's do Apollo again” is code for “Vote for me, and I'll create tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded space jobs for you” which any rational person knows won't happen.

You never hear a “Let's do Apollo again” speech in Iowa or New Hampshire. Only in towns that would benefit from space jobs. Which tells you it's just trolling for votes.

NASA was never intended to be Starfleet, much less workfare. It was created in October 1958 as a political response to the mistaken perception that American space technology was inferior to the Soviet Union. NASA was created by merging the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics with various civilian space research programs, most of which were in the Department of Defense.

One of those was Project Vanguard. Nominally a civilian program, the Naval Research Laboratory developed the booster rocket and satellite for this nation's contribution to the International Geophysical Year. Vanguard was transferred to NASA to complete its objectives, which were to study the geophysics of the Earth and atmospheric phenomena. That's why the first objective in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 is “The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”

So candidate Ted Cruz is wrong when he claims that NASA's core mission doesn't include earth sciences. documented in March 2015 that Cruz “made some misleading claims regarding the agency’s budgets and the science that it conducts.”

NASA was supposed to be an aerospace research and development agency, a space version of the NACA. NASA was to uplift American space technology so it could be passed to other agencies and the private sector. Nothing in the 1958 NASA charter requires the agency to fly people into space or to own its rockets.

President Kennedy perverted NASA into a propaganda organ.

Kennedy campaigned on a mistaken claim that a “missile gap” existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Once he assumed office in January 1961, it became his responsibility to close the non-existent “gap.”

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarian became the first human in space on April 12, 1961. The next week, the Bay of Pigs invasion failed miserably, so Kennedy had two public relations crises to address. The Kennedy and Khrushchev staffs were planning a summit in Vienna in June; Khrushchev during the Eisenhower administration had used another summit to gloat about supposed Soviet technological superiority.

A space policy task group chaired by Vice President Lyndon Johnson recommended a program to place an American on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Documents and recordings from the Kennedy administration prove that Kennedy's motivation was “prestige.” John Logsdon's John F. Kennedy and the Race to Moon amply documents that, despite the lyrical public prose, Kennedy made it clear to his executives that NASA's top priority was to prove to the rest of the world that American technology was superior to the USSR.

November 21, 1962 ... President Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb argue about the Moon program. Video source: JFK Library YouTube channel.

In current dollars, it's estimated that the Moon program cost the U.S. taxpayer about $150 billion. Yes, it was one of the most notable technological achievements in human history, but it was before its time. By the end of the 1960s, neither the electorate nor their elected had much of an appetite for spending billions on human spaceflight.

For forty-five years, Presidents and the Congress have tried to figure out what to do with the agency and infrastructure left by Apollo.

Today's congressional space authorization and appropriations committees are populated by members who represent districts and states hosting NASA space centers or their legacy aerospace contractors. The members are on those panels to assure that the pork continues — but not to resurrect Apollo, no matter what rhetoric they spew in public hearings.

NASA's history is littered with human spaceflight programs that fell years behind schedule while running billions of dollars over budget. The reasons are many and complex. The bottom line is that NASA is all but incapable of innovation in human spaceflight. Congress, in fact, passed a law in 2010 requiring NASA to build the Space Launch System using existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors and technology. NASA was discouraged from innovating.

Several presidents have delivered Kennedyesque space speeches. All of them amounted to naught.

Barack Obama gave a space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. He proposed increasing NASA's budget by $6 billion over five years, hoping to invest in new technologies that could send humans to Mars in the 2030s. Congress didn't care and wrote legislation that ordered the Space Launch System based on 1980s Space Shuttle technology.

During the 2012 Florida Republican primary, Newt Gingrich came to the Space Coast to deliver a space policy speech, then participated in a space policy roundtable. It got him mocked by fellow candidates, and by Saturday Night Live.

The “Newt Gingrich: Moon President” sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” February 4, 2012. Video source:

U.S. Census statistics show that more people alive now were born after Apollo (185 million) than before (123 million). For the majority of the population, the 1960s Space Age is a page in a history book, and has little personal emotional resonance.

So do yourself and the nation a favor. Don't invoke Kennedy.

As your campaign staff develops its space policy white paper, begin with a fundamental question — why should people be in space?

John Logsdon wrote in After Apollo: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program that the Nixon administration didn't want their President to go down in history as the one who ended American human spaceflight. People in space became the end goal. “Why” was never quite answered, other than the “prestige” argument.

In 2015, robots are the explorers.

Earlier, this month, NASA's New Horizons probe flew past Pluto. Almost ten years passed from launch to flyby. According to the 2006 New Horizons launch press kit, the probe cost about $700 million. Imagine the cost to keep humans alive all that time — not to mention the cost of returning them. The United States is the only nation to explore all planets in the solar system with robotic probes.

NASA's Curiosity rover landed almost three years ago on Mars. It's proven that water was once abundant on the planet, and continues to seek evidence of the chemical building blocks for life.

Humans evolved on Earth, not in a vacuum with solar radiation and lots of cosmic debris whizzing about the solar system at umpteen thousand miles per hour.

So is there a place for humans in space?


Robots perform tasks too complicated or dangerous for humans. They prepare the way for humanity.

But we shouldn't send people into space as an end. Human spaceflight is a means to an end.

Humans have always explored to find resources, not just for the thrill of it. Food, water, land, gold, oil — those are reasons why humanity explores.

Your space policy team must define a 21st Century space program that wisely evolves technology to serve humanity as it expands naturally into low Earth orbit and then the solar system.

Do you espouse American exceptionalism?

If so, then you probably champion the merits of American capitalism. (It's okay, Bernie Sanders, you can read this next part too.)

In June 2004, a commission appointed by President George W. Bush issued a report with a section titled, “Building a Robust Space Industry.” The report stated:

The Commission finds that sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation. This space industry will become a national treasure.

NASA opened its Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office in November 2005. In the nearly ten years since, the agency has struggled to liberate human spaceflight from the government — an inherently contradictory task, since the primary goal of most government agencies is self-preservation.

April 21, 2005 ... NASA Administrator Michael Griffin meets with SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Image source: Wikimedia.

The Obama administration made “NewSpace” a priority, funding the commercial crew program which had gone unfunded under the prior administration. Two companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, offer robotic ships that deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Unlike the Space Shuttle, NASA no longer risks lives to deliver cargo. The cost of a SpaceX delivery is about $130 million. The cost of a typical Shuttle flight was about $1 billion. The cost of a SpaceX commercial crew flight will be about $450 million.

For the first time in our history, private entrepreneurs are encouraged to invest in their own space programs. The NewSpace economy is the hot new investment opportunity.

Click to watch the ISS R&D panel titled, “New Space: Funding New Ideas and Businesses in the Emerging Commercial Space Sector.” Video source: ISSCASIS YouTube channel.

Click to watch the NewSpace panel titled, “Incentivizing A Local Space Industry.” Video source: Space Conferences YouTube channel.

Earlier this month, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space hosted in Boston its annual ISS R&D Conference. The next week, the Space Frontier Foundation hosted its annual NewSpace conference in San Jose. Both events enjoyed record attendance, in particular from entrepreneurs and companies seeking to learn more about the emerging economy beyond the atmosphere.

This is your 21st Century U.S. space program.

It should be measured not just by the size of NASA's budget, but also by all the money being invested by the private sector in NewSpace.

Commercial products are on the market or in clinical trials that were developed in microgravity.

Some research suggests that cancer tumors are less aggressive in microgravity.

Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc., a Boca Raton biotechnology company, already has an agricultural product on the market based on its microgravity research. If you're campaigning in Florida, you could stop by to plant your NewSpace roots, so to speak.

Click the arrow to watch a CASIS video about Merck research in microgravity. Video source: ISSCASIS YouTube channel.

While campaigning in New Jersey (your home field, Chris Christie!), visit Merck Laboratories to learn how the company is using microgravity to reveal the structure of antibodies that could lead to treatments for a number of human diseases.

Beyond low Earth orbit, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are planning to harvest and mine asteroids for commercial profit. On July 16, Planetary Resources deployed its Arkyd spacecraft to test asteroid prospecting technology.

Bigelow Aerospace will deploy to the ISS on the next SpaceX cargo flight demonstration technology for its new expandable habitats that will be the 21st Century equivalent of the forts scattered across the Old West wilderness. Many U.S. cities and towns grew up around forts. The Bigelow habitats can be deployed in lunar orbit, on the lunar surface, at Lagrangian points and attached to crew modules for deep space human exploration.

Bigelow habitats are much stronger than the aluminum and steel used to build the ISS. Objects that would penetrate the ISS will bounce off the Bigelow habitats. It's also believed that the habitats will keep out more solar radiation, making them safer for humans on deep space missions.

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

All this American entrepreneurial spirit seems exceptional to me.

Your space policy team should write a policy paper that defines a specific path into the solar system that follows these steps:

  1. Utilize the ISS as a demonstration platform for technologies to push humans and robotics into the solar system for commercial enterprises.
  2. As recommended by the 2004 Bush-appointed commission, expand on NASA's Centennial Challenge program to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in NewSpace.
  3. Using the competition model, offer milestone payments and awards to companies that use microgravity to pursue treatments for debilitating diseases.
  4. Define a path for entrepreneurs to invest in lunar commerce. A NASA funded study issued July 20 suggests that public-private partnerships could create a viable human lunar program at one-tenth the cost of a purely government program.
  5. Create a competition for commercial companies to position the 21st Century “forts” at logical sites in cislunar space, lunar orbit and on the surface. The government could be the anchor tenant, but the “forts” would be privately owned and operated.
  6. Aid the private sector in identifying asteroid mining candidates and the means for diverting the rocks to a harvesting location in cislunar space. A commercial habitat would be a logical parking spot.
  7. Direct NASA centers to privatize their facilities, using Kennedy Space Center's 21st Century Launch Complex as a model.
  8. Echoing its NACA roots, NASA should focus on developing 21st Century propulsion systems and robotic technologies that can be licensed to the private sector.

No doubt you will be asked, “How much will all this cost?”

The answer is not much. Most of it will be paid for by the entrepreneur, not the taxpayer, because the entrepreneur will own it.

We've done this before. In the 1920s, the Post Office issued contracts to entrepreneurs willing to invest in airplanes to deliver the mail. Later in the decade, the airlines received incentives to fly people. The routes, the airfields, the safety rules we enjoy today all trace back to the commercial contracts awarded by the Harding and Hoover administrations.

Your space policy team should read Airlines & Air Mail: The Post Office and the Birth of the Commercial Aviation Industry by F. Robert van der Linden. You will find the template for how to encourage a 21st Century NewSpace economy.

But what to do with our OldSpace economy, you might ask?

To be politically realistic, there isn't much you can do. Congress will continue to guard its pork. In 2010, the Obama administration proposed cancelling the failing Constellation program. Congressional members of both parties howled — “oinked” is probably more accurate — but in the end they agreed to kill Constellation. Congress unfortunately replaced it with the Space Launch System, another pork program that's already two years behind schedule.

You have no choice but to view the $3 billion spent per year on SLS as protection money. The racketeers on the space subcommittees will threaten to kill any NewSpace programs if you go after their pork. For years, Congress has cut the funding for the commercial crew program, extending U.S. reliance on Russia at least two years. For Fiscal Year 2016, the House has already voted to cut commercial crew 20%. The Senate as a body has yet to vote, but its Appropriations Committee has voted to cut commercial crew by 30%. These cuts would continue NASA reliance on Russia for ISS access at least two more years, to 2019.

Porkery has been a congressional institution since its founding, so don't look at me for an answer. You're the presidential candidate.

A GAO audit released earlier this month estimated that the first SLS flight will cost the taxpayer about $10 billion. For that uncrewed flight and the first crewed flight in the early 2020s, the cost will be about $23 billion.

Your space policy team might want to appeal to taxpayers by arguing there's a far cheaper way to put people into space, which means more people into space. Porkers answer only to their constituencies, so nationwide polls will be meaningless, but at least you can stake out a principled position as a space fiscal conservative while also appealing to visionaries who want more people in space.

The beauty of NewSpace is that it offers a parochial appeal to almost any taxpayer. Not many places have a NASA space center. But everyone can identify with finding a cure for cancer, a vaccine for MRSA, or a treatment for osteoporosis. For the younger generations, robotics offer a technology they can easily understand and embrace.

September 12, 1962 ... President Kennedy's “Moon” speech at Rice University. Video source: Video YouTube channel.

If you must embrace your inner Kennedy, do it with a speech that challenges the nation to a 21st Century Space Race which creates an entirely new economy opening space to the masses. Unlike 1961, when Kennedy thought we were behind, this time we're already in the lead.

Direct your space policy team to contact NewSpace organizations such as the Space Frontier Foundation for the names and addresses of NewSpace companies. As you campaign across the country, arrange to visit these companies. Make friends and influence people. Encourage them to pressure their elected members of Congress to support NewSpace.

As I wrote, most of the public couldn't care less about space. NewSpace won't get you elected. But if you want to fix all that ills the American space program, hopefully this free advice points you in the right direction.

After all, Kennedy said it wouldn't be easy. It will be hard.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Struts and Frets

Click here to watch the SpaceX CRS-7 launch and loss. Video source: NASAKennedy YouTube channel.

“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

— “Macbeth”
Written by William Shakespeare

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the media event. Audio source:

SpaceX founder Elon Musk held a teleconference today to announce the preliminary findings of the company's investigation into the June 28 loss of the Dragon CRS-7 cargo delivery to the International Space Station.

According to an accompanying SpaceX press release:

Preliminary analysis suggests the overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank was initiated by a flawed piece of support hardware (a “strut”) inside the second stage. Several hundred struts fly on every Falcon 9 vehicle, with a cumulative flight history of several thousand. The strut that we believe failed was designed and material certified to handle 10,000 lbs of force, but failed at 2,000 lbs, a five-fold difference. Detailed close-out photos of stage construction show no visible flaws or damage of any kind.

In the case of the CRS-7 mission, it appears that one of these supporting pieces inside the second stage failed approximately 138 seconds into flight. The pressurization system itself was performing nominally, but with the failure of this strut, the helium system integrity was breached. This caused a high pressure event inside the second stage within less than one second and the stage was no longer able to maintain its structural integrity.

Despite the fact that these struts have been used on all previous Falcon 9 flights and are certified to withstand well beyond the expected loads during flight, SpaceX will no longer use these particular struts for flight applications. In addition, SpaceX will implement additional hardware quality audits throughout the vehicle to further ensure all parts received perform as expected per their certification documentation.

Musk said he thought the next Falcon 9 launch wouldn't be until at least September, and could not predict which customer it might be. A F9 was scheduled to launch this month from Vandenberg AFB in California Jason 3 ocean topography satellite for NOAA and other agencies. The next Cape Canaveral launches were to be commercial satellites for SES of Luxembourg and New Jersey-based Orbcomm.

The next Dragon cargo delivery, CRS-8, had been scheduled to launch in September. Among the payloads is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a technology demonstrator for the larger expandable habitats now being built at the Bigelow Aerospace factory in North Las Vegas.

A 2014 Bigelow Aerospace promotional film. Video source: Bigelow Aerospace YouTube channel.

Bigelow's expandable habitat technology is cited by many as a critical component for government and commercial space operations in upcoming decades. The habitats may be the eventual replacement for the ISS, as well as colony structures on the Moon and perhaps the habitat module for a multi-year human space flight to Mars.

The ISS has suffered the loss of three cargo deliveries in less than a year — an Orbital ATK Cygnus last October, a Roscosmos Progress last April, and the SpaceX CRS-7 flight last month. Another Progress delivery on July 5 helped with station supplies, but the Dragon is key as the only vehicle capable of returning significant amounts of payload to Earth, including experiments and samples.

The investigation also redirected SpaceX resources working on operational status for the next-generation Falcon Heavy rocket to launch at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A. Musk now believes the earliest a test vehicle could launch is Spring 2016.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Retro Saturday: The Spruce Goose

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Aero-News Network YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is a nine-minute 2009 documentary by Aero News Network about the design and history of the Spruce Goose.

(A couple brief commercials are embedded in the video.)

Howard Hughes hated the nickname “Spruce Goose.” Its formal name was the Hercules H-4.

Although Hughes invested a great deal of his own money to make the plane seaworthy, he was harassed in 1947 by Senator Ralph Brewster (R-ME), who accused Hughes of taking government money but failing to deliver the plane. Hughes accused Brewster of having a financial interest in Pan American World Airways, an airline company that sought a merger with Hughes' Trans World Airlines. Although the government no longer had a need for the plane, Hughes flew it once later that year in Long Beach Harbor to prove the plane worked.

The Spruce Goose is currently on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

KSC Christens Pad 39C

A promotional video for Pad 39C. Video source: NASAKennedy YouTube channel.

Once upon a time, Kennedy Space Center was going to have three launch pads.

The pad known to history as 39A was originally going to be 39C. According to Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations:

At the time of the original siting of launch complex 39, the three projected launch pads were designated in accordance with standard Missile Test Center practice from north to south as pads A, B, and C. In January 1963, to bring the identification system in line with construction and operational use schedules, the pad designations were reversed, the southernmost becoming pad A.

A 1960s illustration of proposed Kennedy Space Center launch pads. Image source:

The below 1960s image shows the warning lamps for the three pads. The sign was aligned with the lamps north to south, which would have been the original configuration. This sign still exists today, across the street from the Launch Control Center, although the lamp for 39C was long ago removed.

A 1960s era image of the warning lamps for the three KSC pads. Image source: NASA.

Pad 39A today is leased to SpaceX for the new Falcon Heavy rocket. Pad 39B is being upgraded for NASA's Space Launch System, although theoretically it can be a multiuser facility should any commercial customers show interest.

NASA today christened an official Pad 39C. It's really a subset of 39B, an area of land cleared to erect a concrete stand that can be used for Small Class Launch Vehicles.

According to KSC's Partnerships web site:

Launch Complex 39C will serve as a multi-purpose site allowing companies to test vehicles and capabilities in the smaller class of rockets, making it more affordable for smaller companies to break into the commercial spaceflight market.

An artist's concept of the new launch stand at Pad 39C. Image source: NASA.

A layout of Pad 39C facilities. Image source: NASA.

The above illustration shows a layout of 39C facilities. It supports liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4) as the oxidizer and fuel, respectively.

According to the KSC Partnerships Small Class Launch Vehicles web site, the propellant system “is also adaptable to other propellants (i.e. LH2, Kerosene).” RP-1 kerosene has been the fuel of choice for many decades. Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is used today on the ULA Delta IV, and was used by the Saturn V and Space Shuttle, but is expensive to use.

A prime candidate for 39C might be Blue Origin. Florida Today reported April 9 that state agency Space Florida is courting Blue Origin for Pad 36 at the Cape. Pad 36 is leased by Space Florida from the U.S. Air Force. The state agency has been seeking potential tenants. Blue Origin is being courted by several states; it's possible that KSC might offer the company another option in cooperation or competition with Space Florida.

The state for years has sought to build its own launch facility at the proposed Shiloh site near the Volusia County border at the north end of KSC. The proposal ran into fervent opposition from environmentalists, and would require NASA to relinquish about 150 acres of land, which it has shown no inclination to do. Blue Origin was once considered a potential Shiloh tenant.

Blue Origin is working on the BE-4 engine for United Launch Alliance. The BE-4 would use LOX as an odidizer and liquified natural gas — a commercially available form of methane — as the fuel.

Video of the Blue Origin New Shepard test flight on April 15, 2015 at the company's west Texas launch site. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vertical takeoff, vertical landing system might also be a candidate for 39C. Its BE-3 engine uses LOX and LH2.

The SpaceX next-generation Raptor engine will also use methane.

Masten Space Systems is researching various reusable launch vehicles and landers that might also take advantage of the facility.

According to Florida Today, “NASA said up to a dozen companies have expressed interest in the facility, but there are no confirmed customers yet.”

Pad 39C obviously won't make use of the center's iconic transporter-crawler system. KSC issued a request for proposals June 15 for any commercial companies that might want to use High Bay 2 of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The bay does open to the gravel-topped crawlerway, but it's unlikely that any commercial company would want to use the half-century old transporting system due to the inefficiency and costs of vertical transportation over such a long distance.

Transportation of these small class vehicles is likely to be by truck, similar to the early days at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

A 1960 NASA documentary on the first Mercury-Redstone uncrewed test flight. Video source: Tomorrow Always Comes YouTube channel.

The above video shows how the Mercury-Redstone was transported by flatbed truck to the Cape's Pad 5. In the center of the concrete pad was a ring stand. A crane was used to lift the rocket from the flatbed into a vertical position, then placed on the ring stand.

The Mercury-Redstone at a height of 83 feet and thrust of 78,000 pounds today would be considered a small class launch vehicle, so it would be quite happy at Pad 39C.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Your Tax Porkers at Work

A newly released Space Launch System schematic. Image source: NASA.

A new audit released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that NASA's Space Launch System cost estimates lack “credibility” and estimates that SLS will cost the taxpayers $23 billion “to demonstrate initial capabilities.”

The cost and schedule estimates for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Launch System (SLS) program substantially complied with five of six relevant best practices, but could not be deemed fully reliable because they only partially met the sixth best practice — credibility.

One reason is that NASA has “no plans to update the original estimates created in 2013.” The introduction states, “SLS cost estimates only cover one SLS flight in 2018 whereas best practices call for estimating costs through the expected life of the program.”

The GAO's $23 billion cost estimate covers two flights “to demonstrate initial capabilities.” The report states, “This dollar estimate includes the first planned SLS flight in 2018, the ground systems for that effort, and the first two Orion flights currently planned for fiscal years 2018 and 2021 or 2022.” In other words, this refers to the Exploration Mission 1 and 2 flights, known as EM-1 and EM-2. The report notes, “NASA did not include the prior funds spent to develop these capabilities because they were developed under previous programs.” That means the cost estimate does not include money spent on Orion during Constellation, or money spent on ground system components such as the mobile launcher originally developed for the Ares I.

I wrote on March 5 that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testified to the House appropriations subcommittee on space that although NASA maintains a 70% confidence interval that SLS will be ready by November 2018, that referred only to the rocket itself — not the Orion crew capsule. Bolden stated only that Orion would be ready “sometime after 2018” and that, since the purpose of the SLS is to launch the Orion, it's not going anywhere until Orion is ready to fly.

The GAO notes that Congress has tried throwing more money at SLS. “... [T]he Congress has appropriated additional funding for SLS in each of the past 3 fiscal years above the level requested by the program. The cumulative additional funding totals about $610 million more than requested for SLS for fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015.”

NASA warned in January 2011 that SLS would cost far more than what Congress authorized to achieve the first operation flight, mandated by Congress to be no later than December 31, 2016.

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the two who created the “Senate Launch System” to protect jobs in their states, responded to the report with a joint statement:

“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.”

I wrote in August 2011 that an independent review by Booz Allen Hamilton also concluded that SLS program cost estimates were “optimistic” and warned, “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.”

Senator Hutchison responded to the report by falsely claiming:

I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months — that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately.

Nelson and other members of Congress ignored reality when they held a media event in September 2011 to show off their SLS design. Nelson called it “the monster rocket.” Administrator Bolden was present, and allowed to make a few remarks, then receded into the shadows so the politicians could gloat about how many NASA contractor jobs they'd protected.

Here we are, almost four years later, and SLS is at least two years behind schedule while wasting tens of billions of dollars.

To give you a rough comparison, the SpaceX contract for delivering cargo to the International Space Station is for twelve flights totalling $1.6 billion in payments. Orbital ATK's commercial cargo contract is $1.9 billion for eight deliveries. For commercial crew, Boeing will be paid $4.2 billion if it makes six flights, while SpaceX will receive $2.6 billion.

NASA, meanwhile, has no choice but to continue playing along with the SLS congressional boondoggle.

A NASA blog article today was titled, “Just What Is An SLS, Anyway?” It's an open invitation to provide your own sarcastic retort.

An artist's concept of Space Launch System rolling out to the launch pad. Image source: NASA.

UPDATE July 17, 2015Florida Today reports on the audit.

NASA has committed to having the rocket ready for a 2018 launch at a cost of $9.7 billion, an estimate offered with 70 percent confidence of success.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Horizons Post-Game Show

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

Proudly taking dorkery to infinity and beyond, the NASA New Horizons team this afternoon held their first post-Pluto rendezvous media event to release selected images of the debatingly dwarf planet and its moon Charon.

According to a NASA press release:

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today ...

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

The next scheduled media event is Friday July 17 at 1 PM EDT at the NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

An image near Pluto's equator shows mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet. Image source: NASA.

The ULA Streak is Intact

Click the arrow to watch the rocket's rollout and launch. Video source: UnitedLaunchAlliance YouTube channel.

The SpaceX string of successful launches ended on June 28, but the United Launch Alliance Atlas V string remains perfect after its 55th launch from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

According to Spaceflight Now, it was also the 22nd consecutive Atlas V to launch on its first attempt.

The payload was a Boeing Global Positioning System IIF (2F) satellite, the tenth in twelve scheduled for deployment. GPS satellites are used by the government and civilian companies; if you've used GPS on your smartphone or in your car, it was probably using the government system.

The next ULA launch is scheduled for July 22 at the Cape's Pad 37. The Delta IV will launch a geostationary communications spacecraft for the military.

SpaceX, meanwhile, has yet to announce any official conclusion about the cause of their Falcon 9 loss.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pluto on the Horizon

Click the arrow to watch the July 13, 2015 media briefing. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Three thousand, four hundred sixty-three days after it launched from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, NASA's New Horizons probe will fly past Pluto today.

The close encounter is scheduled for 7:49:57 AM EDT, but it will take most of the day for the first high-resolution images to arrive at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, home of the program's mission control.

New Horizons' current position in the solar system. Image source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Official web sites:

NASA New Horizons web page.

Johns Hopkins web page.

A portrait from the final approach. Pluto and Charon display striking color and brightness contrast in this composite image from July 11, showing high-resolution black-and-white LORRI images colorized with Ralph data collected from the last rotation of Pluto. Color data being returned by the spacecraft now will update these images, bringing color contrast into sharper focus. Image source: NASA.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Retro Saturday: World's Fair Report

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

This week's Retro Saturday is a 13½-minute promotional film by the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 Corporation about its upcoming event.

World's Fair Report is narrated by Lowell Thomas, who at the time of filming would have been 71 years old. The fictional character Jackson Bentley in Lawerence of Arabia is based on Thomas, who travelled the world filing stories about interesting people and subjects. Thomas narrated Movietone newsreels and reported for CBS and NBC.

The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair was plagued by controversy and teetered on bankruptcy. Thomas states in the documentary that total attendance was projected to be 70-80 million, but the fair ended with 51 million attendees.

Despite the financial woes, much of the architecture has become iconic. Some of it remains, such as the Unisphere. The observation towers, where the climactic scene for Men in Black was filmed, still stand but are abandoned.

The World's Fair Unisphere was it appeared in 2010. Image source: Wikipedia.

The observation towers in 2013. Image source:

Walt Disney relocated many of his exhibits to Disneyland in Anaheim, such as It's a Small World and the Carousel of Progress. Both attractions are in the opening scene of this year's Tomorrowland movie which occurs at the 1964 fair.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

9th Rock From The Sun

Click the arrow to watch the briefing. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

More than nine years after it launched from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto is just five days away from its closest approach to that world.

When New Horizons launched, Pluto was still called a planet, but in August 2006 Pluto was demoted to a “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union. The problem was the existence of worlds similar or larger in size than Pluto which had not been categorized in the past as a planet. According to the 2006 IAU resolution:

A planet is a celestial body that

  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and
  3. has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that

  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape,
  3. has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and
  4. is not a satellite.

I suspect that the data returned from next week will reignite that debate.

For more information on the Pluto flyby, visit the official Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory web site for the mission.

Watch the New Horizons launch on January 19, 2006. Video source: NASA New Horizons YouTube channel.

The First Four

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

NASA issued a press release today announcing the first four astronauts assigned to the commercial crew program.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each require at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut on board to verify the fully-integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all systems perform as expected, and land safely.

To meet this requirement, the companies also must provide the necessary training for the crew to operate their respective vehicles. NASA is extensively involved with the companies and reviews their training plans.

The four astronauts are Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams.

Hurley was one of the four astronauts on the final Space Shuttle flight, STS-135 Atlantis in July 2011.

Williams was in Boston today for the International Space Station Research and Development Conference. She delivered the astronaut keynote address with astronaut Karen Nyberg.

In a blog article posted today, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden reminded his readers that Congress has delayed this moment by repeatedly cutting NASA's commercial crew budget.

For as long as I’ve been Administrator, President Obama has made it very clear that returning the launches of American astronauts to American soil is a top priority — and he has persistently supported this initiative in his budget requests to Congress. Had we received everything he asked for, we’d be preparing to send these astronauts to space on commercial carriers as soon as this year. As it stands, we’re currently working toward launching in 2017, and today’s announcement allows our astronauts to begin training for these flights starting now ...

Our plans to return launches to American soil also make fiscal sense. It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut. What’s more, each mission will carry four crewmembers instead of three, along with 100 kg of materials to support the important science and research we conduct on the ISS.

“B-Roll” interviews with the commercial crew astronauts. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Retro Saturday: A New Look at the Old Moon

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

Want to prove the Moon landings weren't fake?

Then watch this 1979 documentary.

A New Look at the Old Moon was produced by NASA for the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

The film somewhat disingenuously suggests that the Apollo program was all about geological research, when in reality it was about prestige, to prove that U.S. technology was superior to the Soviet Union.

Mild propaganda aside, the film reminds us that, once the astronauts landed, they left behind automated science stations that for years transmitted data.

Apollo 11 left behind a lunar laser ranging retroreflector array. According to this 2004 NASA article:

University of Maryland physics professor Carroll Alley was the project's principal investigator during the Apollo years, and he follows its progress today. “Using these mirrors,” explains Alley, “we can 'ping' the moon with laser pulses and measure the Earth-moon distance very precisely. This is a wonderful way to learn about the moon's orbit and to test theories of gravity.”

Here's how it works: A laser pulse shoots out of a telescope on Earth, crosses the Earth-moon divide, and hits the array. Because the mirrors are “corner-cube reflectors,” they send the pulse straight back where it came from. "It's like hitting a ball into the corner of a squash court," explains Alley. Back on Earth, telescopes intercept the returning pulse — “usually just a single photon,” he marvels.

The Apollo 11 lunar laser ranging retroreflector array. Image source: NASA.

To this day, the University of Texas McDonald Observatory operates the McDonald Laser Ranging Station near Ft. Davis, Texas to “ping” the Moon.

Ask the next conspiracy nut you encounter how it is we shine a laser beam off the Moon if someone didn't place a mirror there to reflect the beam.

The Apollo 11 reflector was the basis for a scene in the third-season episode of The Big Bang Theory titled “The Lunar Excitation.”

Click the arrow to watch the scene from “The Big Bang Theory.” Video source: Dshuann YouTube channel.

Other data were transmitted back from the Apollo missions as part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) program. Five ALSEP stations were left on the Moon. The stations were shut down in 1977.

Click here for the Lunar and Planetary Institute archive of ALSEP experiment results.