Monday, December 5, 2016

Standing Up for SpaceX

Driving by Pad 39A today, I noticed SpaceX had their transporter erector (also known as a strongback) vertical on the pad. I was a passenger, so I could only shoot photos through the car window.

Feel free to use these photos elsewhere, just credit Click on the image to view at a larger size.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Will Trump Moon NASA?

Donald Trump on election night. Image source: Associated Press via

It's been ten days since Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shocked the world, and this blogger, by winning the presidency.

Many pundits are performing their own electoral autopsies — a Los Angeles Times article suggests Hillary Clinton fundamentally misread voter anger in Rust Belt states — but this blog is about space advocacy, so let's talk space.

Insiders have suggested that the Trump team didn't really expect to win the election, so no transition teams were in place, but he won so now they're scrambling to appoint administrators who will implement Trump's vision for America.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, but media reports suggest he's been sacked and replaced with Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. Christie was recruiting lobbyists for government posts, which Trump had promised not to do. Trump has announced that lobbyists must terminate their registration, and promise not to lobby for five years after leaving the administration.

NASA has been notified it won't receive a transition team “at this time,” according to an internal NASA memo, so we shouldn't expect any consistent vision for space from the Trump administration for the foreseeable future.

Trump never really articulated a consistent vision, at least when it comes to space.

In November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire that he'd rather fill potholes than fund NASA. In August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA was “like a Third World nation,” oblivious to all NASA is doing in the solar system that no other nation on Earth can do.

Trump lacked a space policy until mid-October, when someone in the campaign realized that Florida was in play. Former congressman Bob Walker (R-PA) was retained to write a space policy that was published October 19 on the Space News web site. Trump's running mate Mike Pence appeared October 31 in Cocoa where he echoed talking points from Walker's article.

Walker today is part of Wexler | Walker, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C. Walker's biography on their web site states:

Wexler | Walker clients have direct access to Bob’s depth of experience. While he specializes in issues that stem from his chairmanship of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, his leadership and parliamentary expertise help guide all of the firm’s clients toward successful outcomes. Walker knows how the process works and can help develop strategies and policies that are especially tailored for success. Moreover, he then is willing to implement those strategies and policies by making the case on Capitol Hill and in the executive departments and agencies. A major space publication, Space News, attested to his effectiveness saying, “One of Washington’s most influential lobbyists” whose “stature and influence have only grown since leaving Congress.”

Along with former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich, Walker authored an opinion article published February 12, 2010 in the Washington Times. Titled “Obama's Brave Reboot for NASA,” it was one of the few columns supporting the President's plan to cancel the botched Constellation program, extend the International Space Station to 2020, and prime the pump on the commercial crew program.

Commercial crew had been around since NASA opened the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office (C3PO) in November 2005, but the George W. Bush administration never funded it. Commercial cargo was under way, with the first contracts issued to SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler in 2006, but it was not a priority as the agency focused on Constellation.

The Aldridge Commission holds a public hearing in New York on May 3, 2004. Image source: University of North Texas.

Walker served in 2004 on Bush's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, also known as the Aldridge Commission after its chairman, Pete Aldridge. The group was to recommend how to implement the President's Vision for Space Exploration. Included in the June 2004 report, A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover, was an entire chapter dedicated to advocating commercialization of access to space. The chapter, “Building a Robust Space Industry,” was the foundation for the creation of C3PO, the commercial cargo and crew programs, and the movement today known as NewSpace to open space to the private sector.

In their editorial, Walker and Gingrich criticize the NASA bureaucracy for resisting the advice of that commission and others:

NASA consistently ignored or rejected the advice provided to it by outside experts. The internal culture within the agency was actively hostile to commercial enterprise. A belief had grown from the days when the Apollo program landed humans on the moon that only NASA could do space well and therefore only NASA projects and programs were worthy. To his credit, former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin adopted a program to begin to access commercial companies for hauling cargo to the International Space Station. That program existed alongside the much larger effort to build a new generation of space vehicles designed to take us back to the moon. It has been under constant financial pressure because of the cost overruns in the moon mission, called Constellation.

That criticism is noteworthy in today's context, because others who appear to be involved in Trump's space transition team share similar thoughts.

Mark Albrecht, who was executive secretary to the National Space Council under President George H.W. Bush, is currently chairman of the board for U.S. Space. According to the company's web site:

U.S. Space is a U.S.-owned provider of dedicated, commercial space solutions to serve the nation’s interests. The company was formed in 2009 to address the nation’s need for dedicated, flexible satellite capacity that could be provided quickly and with private financing. The company provides best-of-breed hybrid development and operations solutions to meet diverse customer needs. The spirit of service, innovation and customer orientation drives all we do.

Several reports have suggested that Albrecht is on the short list to be named NASA Administrator. Of the various rumored candidates, he's the one with the most space-related management experience.

For years, Albrecht has articulated a specific vision for the American space program. We can visit some of his statements to deduce what his intentions might be for NASA.

In his 2011 book Falling Back to Earth, Albrecht wrote in the acknowledgements, “If nothing else, this book is a call for renewal and reinvigoration of American exceptionalism through our space exploration program.”

On page 23, Albrecht sums up his impression of the NASA bureaucracy at the time.

... NASA was a jumble of activities that was a constant and dynamic balance of interests promoted and pursued by an active and vocal academic community, regional requirements based on a widely distributed “center” structure closely tied to local congressional delegations, the needs and demands of a large and growing astronaut corps, and a contractor community eager to unilaterally defend and expand individual ongoing activities.

His comments in recent years haven't wavered from that view.

On pages 192-194, Albrecht offers his vision for NASA.

NASA must be entirely restructured. As part of this restructuring, NASA must first significantly limit and focus its mission. Far too many useful and interesting, but not core, civil space program missions have grown at NASA: earth science, education, information technology, even the historic aeronautics mission. These and other missions are better fits elsewhere in the federal enterprise. NASA must focus its resources exclusively on a core mission of exploration and non-Earth focused space science. (Emphasis in the original.)

Earth science seems the most likely part of NASA's portfolio to disappear under the Trump administration. Many Republicans in Congress deny climate change science, or at least that humans are responsible for it, and have aimed to cut NASA's earth sciences budget. Although Trump and Senator Ted Cruz clashed on the campaign trail, Cruz shares Albrecht's view that earth science is not a core NASA mission. That notion was debunked by, which properly noted that earth science was one of NASA's original directives when it was formed in 1958. Trump himself tweeted in November 2012, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Cruz currently chairs the Senate's space authorization committee, and probably will in the next session, so it seems likely that the U.S. may become “a rogue nation on climate change” as one observer recently commented.

February 26, 2015 ... Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) denies climate change by tossing a snowball on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Original video source: C-SPAN.

Albrecht calls for NASA to expand its commercial partnerships “with a greater reliance on overall enterprise program management, insight, and technical assistance, rather than oversight and control.”

He then cites the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a “virtual NASA center,” as a model “for all NASA activities in the future.” Although he doesn't use the specific term, Albrecht seems to be referring to JPL's unique role as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). Bob Walker's 2004 commission made a similar recommendation:

The Commission proposes a new model for the NASA Centers. We feel that NASA should transition its Centers through an open, competitive process, to become Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).

FFRDCs provide a tested, proven management structure in which many of the federal government’s most successful and innovative research, laboratory, technical support, and engineering institutions thrive. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is currently so configured, as are the Department of Energy’s flagship national laboratories. Typically, an FFRDC is managed under long-term federal contract by a university, a non-profit, or for-profit organization selected through open competition.

FFRDCs provide compensation and personnel benefits for their employees that are competitive with the private sector and have personnel flexibility similar to the private sector. They are entrepreneurial in their culture, yet they are prohibited from competing with the private sector to manage production programs. The value of FFRDCs is rooted in their technical competence, flexibility, independence, and objectivity in support of a given federal agency’s technical projects. FFRDCs can perform work for non-government organizations so long as this work does not detract from their independence, objectivity, or create a conflict of interest.

The notion of making NASA centers competitive has been a non-starter, both in the NASA bureaucracy and the members of Congress who represent districts or states with NASA centers. Competition means a risk of job losses if a center can't adapt. The idea resurfaced this year, when House space appropriations subcommittee chair Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) requested NASA consider converting Ames Research Center to a FFRDC. The request may have been a political dig, because the ranking Democratic member of that subcommittee happens to represent Ames. Culberson did not suggest converting Johnson Space Center, in his city of Houston, to an FFRDC.

If the Trump administration advances the FFRDC proposal again, expect a political firestorm on Capitol Hill.

Albrecht writes that “Congress must support changes at NASA.”

Congress must provide permissive statutory contexts for aggressive public-private initiatives in which the government's role in development is supportive, advisory, and front-end loaded, and in which industrial partners are accountable for delivery and performance, and incentivized by reward for performance based on private investments and returns.

But he offers no explanation for how to persuade members of Congress to overlook their own parochial interests, reversing a behavior that goes back to the founding of the republic.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) for years has protected pork for the legacy aerospace companies. He's a three-time winner of the Porker of the Month award by Citizens Against Government Waste. Shelby chairs the subcommittee that appropriates NASA spending, the Senate counterpart of Rep. Culberson, and continues to introduce legislation that cuts commercial space while increasing funding for Space Launch System.

Albrecht calls for “artificial barriers to entry for industrial development” to be reduced or eliminated. “The test for participation should be limited to an ability to finance a significant portion of development and operations cost and reasonable demonstration of capability and capacity.”

Albrecht's final point states, “Private industry should be incentivized to bring world class capabilities to exploration, including international partnerships based purely on financing and technical capability rather than on 'foreign policy' considerations.”

Mark Albrecht speaks October 3, 2016 at Baker Institute in Houston. His remarks begin at the five-minute mark.

Five years later, Albrecht's views haven't changed.

Albrecht appeared October 3 on a panel at the Baker Institute in Houston titled, “Lost in Space” about the state of NASA and future U.S. space policy. He claimed that NASA was taking on activities inappropriate for the agency, such as earth sciences and stem cell research. Each of these activities develops constituencies that, in his view, demand more of NASA's budget. Albrecht also said that large initiatives such as Constellation and now Space Launch System have schedules and cost estimates that are “optimistic.” He believes that these inappropriate programs erode the base for the large initiatives which, in combination with overly optimistic schedules and cost estimates, cause delays and cost overruns.

Another potential NASA administrator is Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), a former aviator in the U.S. Navy Reserve and former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.

Bridenstine is a climate change denier. In 2012 he said, “There is no credible scientific evidence that greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations, including carbon dioxide, affect global climate. I oppose regulating greenhouse gases. Doing so will significantly increase energy prices and keep more people in poverty.”

In April, Bridenstine introduced H.R. 4945, the American Space Rennaissance Act (ASRA). Although he stated at the time he didn't expect it to pass, he described it as “a repository for the best space reform ideas,” which means it gives us an insight into what a NASA Administrator Bridenstine might do.

According to the Act's web site:

The mission of H.R. 4945 the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) is to permanently secure the United States of America as the preeminent spacefaring nation. Accomplishing this objective will require transforming government processes and unleashing commercial innovation. While these shifts will not be void of challenges, the resulting technological advancements, increased efficiencies, and enhanced resiliencies will secure the United States as the global leader in space for generations to come.

Much of the bill is concerned with military issues, responding to nations and others who would threaten U.S. space assets.

The bill proposes that, starting in 2023, the Department of Defense (DOD) give a 25% credit to any rocket engine produced in the United States. That would imply a reference to the Russian RD-180 engine currently used on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V. ULA is already planning a new vehicle called Vulcan that would be operational in 2023, coincidentally.

NASA's founding charter, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, had a list of permissible activities by the agency. Bridenstine would strike three of them:

(4) The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.

(5) The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.

(9) The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.

Bridenstine would add these new paragraphs:

(1) The expansion of the human sphere of influence throughout the Solar System.

(2) To be among those who first arrive at a destination in space and to open it for subsequent use and development by others.

(3) To create and prepare infrastructure precursors in support of the future use and development of space by others.

The bill would also dilute the ability of the President to choose his own Administrator, turning over that decision to a NASA Leadership and Advising Commission dominated by members appointed by Congress. The Administrator would be limited to a five-year term. This is similar to other bills introduced in recent sessions that attempted to turn over control of NASA to Congress, but such bills inevitably have failed to go anywhere.

H.R. 4945 calls for a project exceeding its budget by 30% to be terminated, as well as an Administrator whose agency experiences consistent delays and cost overruns. If around during the Apollo program, James Webb would have been long gone by the mid-1960s.

April 16, 2010 ... Jim Bridenstine is interviewed on KOTV Channel 6 in Tulsa about President Obama's space policy speech. Original video source: KOTV.

President Barack Obama's space policy speech on April 15, 2010 set Mars as NASA's goal for human spaceflight, using an asteroid rendezvous mission as a stepping stone. Bridenstine appeared on Tulsa television the next day to endorse Obama's vision, but now that he's a member of Congress and a member of the opposition party he no longer supports the asteroid mission. H.R. 4945 calls for cancellation of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, “unless NASA can compellingly demonstrate the mission’s utility.”

Bridenstine earlier this month, in remarks at NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group meeting, stated his clear preference to reorient human spaceflight to the Moon. He said, “This is our Sputnik moment. America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation and the Moon is our path to being so.”

A significant difference between Albrecht and Bridenstine might be the Space Launch System. Albrecht has said little supportive of SLS; in his 2011 book, Albrecht wrote this about NASA's large-scale programs:

As best as I could determine, these major projects were limited in cost, size, and schedule only by the capacity of the largest launch vehicle: the behemoth Titan IV. If we had a heavier lifter, I am confident we would have had even more costly, bigger, and slower NASA projects.

That doesn't sound like someone who would embrace SLS.

Bridenstine's H.R. 4945 states that SLS and the Orion capsule “represent core elements of deep space exploration systems farthest along in development” and calls for those programs to be fully funded so as to keep on schedule.

Albrecht seems largely agnostic about the ISS, having expressed skepticism in the past about the value of its scientific research. In Falling Back to Earth, Albrecht describes NASA as “a completely discretionary activity and it is managed exactly as you would anticipate given that fact: namely, inefficiently, with lowest common denominator solutions that balance whole communities of stakeholders through compromise and program growth for the sole sake of consensus and some semblance of forward progress.” He cites as “the most egregious example” Space Station Freedom, the predecessor design for ISS. In the book, Albrecht views the transition from Freedom to ISS in the early 1990s as a means of employing the Russian aerospace industry after the fall of the Soviet Union. Beyond that he doesn't seem to see much value in the place.

Bridenstine's H.R. 4945 calls for continued ISS operation to the end of its natural life span, with a strategy to turn over low Earth orbit to the private sector — which is what the Obama administration is already doing.

The same 25% credit for U.S.-made engines starting in 2023 for DOD would also apply to NASA.

H.R. 4945 has no poison bill for climate change research, but it does have this provision:

An evaluation of how emerging capabilities in industry can provide new or alternative architectures for Federal Earth science missions that routinely collect data about atmospheric, oceanic, or terrestrial phenomena.

If Bridenstine were named NASA Administrator, it would be the first time a member of Congress has left the Hill to run the agency. Although he seems well-intentioned, my personal opinion is that putting a member of Congress in charge of NASA is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Other candidates have been rumored in the mix for Adminstrator.

Retired astronaut Eileen Collins addresses the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016.

Retired astronaut and Space Shuttle commander Eileen Collins addressed the Republican National Convention on July 20. Her brief remarks drew criticism from some who felt Collins should not be promoting a misognyist candidate. Collins reportedly deleted from her speech a specific endorsement of Donald Trump.

Since her retirement from NASA in 2006, Collins seems to have done little other than occasional public appearances and news commentary. Her résumé suggests she lacks the skill set to run a large government bureaucracy, much less work the halls of Congress.

Another rumored candidate is Michael Griffin, President George W. Bush's NASA Administrator from 2005 until Obama took over in January 2009. Griffin is blamed by some for the failure of the Constellation program. Space Frontier Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson wrote in 2010:

When he became administrator, Mr. Griffin had already decided how he was going to go to Mars and back to the Moon. He had published his plans long before in the Planetary Society magazine. In other words, since he knew what to do, no one else’s opinion was needed. With his supporters from Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Lockheed Martin behind him, he promptly killed off all outreach into other communities, and began to implement his new Das National Rocket approach — an ill-conceived throwback system dubbed “Constellation,” which promptly drove President Bush’s whole concept of permanence beyond the Earth off a cliff. Rather than an economically sustainable plan to explore and open space, Bush’s vision was warped into yet another cost-plus jobs program with the ostensible goal of building yet another government rocket — destinations and long-term plans be damned!

When Griffin unveiled his plans for Constellation, he called it “Apollo on Steroids.”

Others have argued that the Bush administration underfunded Constellation, leading to technical setbacks and missed deadlines, an argument that has some justification.

In the transition from Bush to Obama, there were reports that Griffin family and friends were campaigning to keep him in the job. Another report had Griffin's people refusing to cooperate with the transition team's evaluation of Constellation, an allegation confirmed by Obama transition team leader Lori Garver in April 2016. Garver went on to become Deputy Administrator under Charles Bolden.

To this day, Griffin remains a vocal critic of the Obama administration. In April 2016, Griffin testified before the House Science Committee that the Obama administration has “no dream, no vision, no plan, no budget, and no remorse.”

April 15, 2013 ... Scott Pace and Robert Walker discuss the future of U.S. space policy. Video source: Council of Foreign Relations YouTube channel.

Ars Technica space journalist Eric Berger reported today that Space Policy Institute Executive Director Scott Pace “may be atop the list of some key decision-makers.” Berger writes that Pace is more of a Beltway insider who is largely supportive of the SLS, although he seems more inclined to reorient human spaceflight towards the Moon instead of Mars.

If you want a true dark horse candidate, consider Newt Gingrich.

For all this faults, Gingrich is a true space advocate. He's a member of the National Space Society Board of Governors. During his 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Gingrich came to the Space Coast to deliver a space policy speech that detailed his vision for NASA. He then participated in a space policy roundtable at Brevard Community College.

January 25, 2012 ... Newt Gingrich delivers his space policy speech in Cocoa, Florida.

Gingrich proposed a Moon base by 2020, and a $10 billion prize for the first commercial enterprise that sent a human to Mars.

“I am sick of being told we have to be timid, and I am sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old,” Gingrich said.

For his efforts, Gingrich was mocked on Saturday Night Live. Mitt Romney said he would fire anyone who recommended a Moon base. Gingrich lost the Florida primary, and the nomination to Romney.

Gingrich told Fox News on November 14 that he wants to be “be the general planner” for the Trump administration, “looking out over the next eight years and trying to design how we fundamentally reshape the federal government.” Gingrich would prefer an advisory position to a Cabinet post, but I have to wonder if NASA Administrator might be a dream job for him that he couldn't turn down.

The Trump administration has implemented a rule forbidding lobbyists, but Gingrich has never registered as one. Gingrich nevertheless is considered one of the most influential people inside the Beltway for his access to the corridors of power.

What lies ahead for NASA in the next four years? I'm glad you asked.

As for NASA Administrator, the first qualification is that the candidate wants to be Administrator. The position is considered by many to be a no-win scenario. The agency is pulled in many directions by members of Congress who view NASA as a collection of pork projects for their districts and states. NASA's budget is discretionary, which means that in future years the odds of a significant budget increase are slight. The new Administrator will have to deal with an extra layer of bureaucracy, answering to a new National Space Council.

Because no transition team is in place, it's likely NASA will stay the course for the foreseeable future. Any radical proposals will have to make their way through Congress, where they'll be eviscerated by the members zealously protecting parochial interests. If the Trump administration is inclined to truncate Space Launch System, a lot of political capital will have to be spent to get past Senator Shelby and others with a vested interest in its existence.

With the exception of Shelby, most members of Congress now accept commercial space, at least reluctantly if not enthusiastically. Although Trump himself has said little about space, he often commented favorably about SpaceX and other NewSpace companies.

NASA's earth sciences division seems a likely candidate for the ax, although that won't happen until at least the Fiscal Year 2018 budget cycle which begins October 1, 2017. Given that Congress these days almost never adopts a budget on time, the demise of earth sciences won't happen until at least 2018, which will be a mid-term election year.

It also seems likely that the Asteroid Retrieval Mission will be cancelled, as will the short-term goal of Mars. The consensus seems to be to focus on the Moon, which is not as far off from the Obama administration as some believe. The European Space Agency wants to create a “lunar village.” NASA supports the idea, but doesn't want to take the lead, having gone to the Moon in the 1960s. NASA has urged ESA to use American commercial NewSpace companies to provide off-the-shelf technologies to bring down the cost. That's largely what many of these candidates espouse, except they seem more inclined to have NASA take the lead. Mars will remain the long-term goal, but the Journey to Mars marketing campaign will end.

If Newt Gingrich wields as much influence within the Trump administration as he hopes, we might see much more emphasis on bold ideas that demonstrate American exceptionalism through NewSpace ventures. Gingrich most likely won't be Administrator, but he might work well with an Albrecht or Bridenstine, people who are willing to attempt restructuring NASA while outsourcing core tasks to the private sector. NASA's operational allies may think twice about continued cooperation if they're treated no longer as partners but subjugates of a new American space imperialism.

In the grand scheme, I don't think much will change. SLS will continue. Commercial space will continue. ISS will continue. Congress will resist any restructuring efforts that threaten parochial interests. The new administration may attempt to convert centers to FFRDCs, but that will go nowhere.

Our eyes will be lowered, from the Mars horizon back to the less challenging and more immediate destination of the Moon. NASA propaganda will pivot yet again, and we'll see all new computer animations of lunar bases that won't happen any more than those we've seen of Mars in the last eight years.

And while the vested interests compete for their part of the NASA pork, the NewSpace community will keep pushing forward, with the hope that one day these private companies liberate space from Congress.

One other person who might influence NASA's direction is Trump's newly appointed chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. A conservative firebrand who proudly links himself to the paranoid fringe of the extreme right, in earlier days Bannon in the 1990s ran Biosephere 2 in Arizona. During his tenure, there were allegations of scientific compromises, sexual and verbal harassment. Maybe he'll think that qualifies him to participate in the determination of NASA policy. We'll see.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Dollars and Pence

Click the arrow to watch the Mike Pence rally in Cocoa, Florida. Video source: Live Satellite News YouTube channel.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence spoke today in Cocoa, Florida, about a week after his running mate Donald Trump bailed on a tour of Kennedy Space Center so he could go to a larger rally in Sanford, Florida.

Pence didn't visit KSC either, but he did speak at the Space Coast Convention Center, the site where four years ago Newt Gingrich delivered a space policy speech during the 2012 Florida Republican presidential primary. That speech got Gingrich ridiculed on Saturday Night Live.

After twenty minutes of the usual red-meat rhetoric typical of a Trump-slate stump speech, Pence finally spoke about what he claimed would be Mr. Trump's space policy. He said they would bring “a new vision” to the government space program, but then said they would expand public-private partnerships, which is exactly what the Obama administration is doing. He also said NASA should focus on deep space exploration, which of course is what it does every day with its robotic craft. Pence said NASA needs to lead; NASA's Space Launch System and Orion capsule are the only vehicle on Planet Earth being built now to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit, and the agency is the managing partner for the International Space Station.

Pence said their administration would “make the investments” to implement their policy, but didn't explain how they would pay for it.

No mention was made of the ISS, of NASA's role as its managing partner, of still using ISS as a testbed for the private sector, or if their administration intends to extend the ISS beyond the current 2024 agreements to its projected life span of 2028. His comment about reorienting NASA to deep space exploration implies they might not. This has echoes of how the George W. Bush administration attempted to truncate the ISS in 2015 to pay for Constellation, a program to put people on the Moon sometime in the 2020s. Constellation ran years behind schedule and went billions of dollars over budget. The Obama administration proposed in 2010 that Constellation be cancelled to extend the ISS to 2020, supported by commercial cargo and crew missions. Congress in the end finally agreed, but only after creating the Space Launch System to protect Shuttle and Constellation contractor jobs.

Pence said he was proud Trump intends to re-establish the National Space Council, an archaic relic of the 1960s that was jettisoned by President Nixon in 1973. Pence bragged that he himself would head it, but the Council in the past served no useful purpose. It was an advisory body, typically ignored by the President. George H.W. Bush briefly revived it in 1989, but after Vice President Dan Quayle tried to use the position to run NASA himself the Council was once again abolished by Congress in 1993.

About four minutes of the speech was about space.

The Trump campaign policy is one written two weeks ago by former Republican congressman Robert Walker. Walker told Space News that he was hired by the Trump campaign in mid-October to develop a space policy. It roughly coincided with the Trump campaign's sudden interest in the Space Coast.

Prior to that, Mr. Trump said little about space. In November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire that he'd rather fill potholes than fund NASA. In August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA was “like a Third World nation,” oblivious to all NASA is doing in the solar system that no other nation on Earth can do.

But with Florida's 29 electoral votes in play, the Trump campaign in October has suddenly found space religion.

As of this writing, forecasting site calculates that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a 48.1% to 47.5% lead in Florida over Trump.

Both candidates are focusing on regions in Florida where they need to increase voter turnout. Brevard County is largely Republican, so the Trump campaign focuses on the Space Coast while the Clinton campaign goes elsewhere. Florida Today reported this afternoon that Clinton will be in Sanford tomorrow for a rally, the same town where Trump went on October 25 after bailing on KSC.

The election has one week to go. There's no indication that Clinton will visit the Space Coast. We'll see if the voting tally proves that Mike Pence's visit made any difference.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Blue's Origin, Part 4

An image released in June 2016 of the Blue Origin site cleared for construction. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: Blue Origin.

The last time I posted photos of the Blue Origin construction site was August 8. Nearly three months later, the first building is under construction.

Using the above image as a reference, you're driving from right to left, or roughly from northwest to southeast along Space Commerce Road.

The site is accessed by four entrances, labelled with big signs "A" through "D" with the "B" sign lying on the ground. The "B" sign is by a sweeping drive that might be the future main entrance.

One building is already under construction. Your guess is as good as mine as to its purpose.

You're welcome to use these images elsewhere, just credit They were taken with a cameraphone, so the resolution isn't all that great. Click an image to view at a larger size.

The “A” entrance.

The “B” entrance. The sign is lying on the ground off-frame to the left.

The “C” entrance.

The “D” entrance.

This power plant is across the street from the rest of the complex. It was constructed first.

The power plant is next to the Kennedy Space Center recycling facility on Ransom Road. The gate was moved back to accommodate Blue Origin operations.

Earlier articles:

June 7, 2016 “Blue's Origin, Part 1”

July 3, 2016 “Blue's Origin, Part 2”

August 8, 2016 “Blue's Origin, Part 3”

Friday, October 28, 2016

Matthew Blows, Part Seven

Click an image to see it at a larger size. All images credit

Three weeks after Hurricane Matthew struck Cape Canaveral a glancing blow, I drove around the Air Force Station today looking for damage.

I didn't photograph any active sites, especially those with military programs, because the Air Force frowns on such things.

The Greenhouse is a diner and pool hall at the Naval Ordnance Test Unit near Port Canaveral. Many CCAFS employees come here for lunch. The Greenhouse lost its awnings, but otherwise emerged unscathed.

Paint loss is common among the buildings, facilities and signs at CCAFS. Many look as if they were sandblasted.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum for years has been moving its artifacts from its rocket garden indoors at Hangar C for restoration. The few artifacts that remain suffered varying degrees of damage, including paint loss.

The Hound Dog was a air-to-ground guided missile. This artifact appears to have its back broken.

The Firebee II target drone was knocked off its pedestal and shed several pieces.

The Little John surface-to-surface artillery rocket fell off its launcher and is now in two parts.

The Big Shot Shroud satellite casing was blown across the field against a chain link fence.

The Gemini-Titan White Room seems none the worse for wear, other than a couple upper-level doors appear blown inward.

Like many traffic signs at the Cape, this one is at an angle. Some are lying on the ground or missing.

This utility building at Launch Complex 17 lost its door.

Launch Complex 18 was the site of the Vanguard program in the late 1950s. The blockhouse has been abandoned for decades, so there isn't much left to damage, but I did notice the air conditioning unit was blown off and is lying to the left in the image.

Like many poles around the Cape, this one is leaning too, with its lines on the ground. This one is on IRBM Road near Launch Complex 18.

Historic Hangar C was the first hangar built at the Cape. It was used for rockets launching off the first pads on the tip of the Cape in the early 1950s. Some minor damage can be seen to the right of the “C” on the front, but I didn't see any other damage.

Across from Hangar C is Launch Complex 21/22, used for launching cruise missiles from inside a building. This sandbag revetment served as an interim launch control in the late 1950s. The panels were abandoned in place. They were rotting anyway, but now the doors are hanging open.

This blockhouse, built for the Snark program, is across from Pads 1-2 on the tip of the Cape. The wooden staircase has collapsed, and some paneling has fallen from the observation tower.

Hangar O, the second hangar built at the Cape, is around the corner from Hangar C. It suffered minor cosmetic damage near the roof.

This entrance sign at Launch Complex 14 was sandblasted by the 100+ mile per hour winds, but the rest of the historic blockhouse seems all right except for some paint loss.

Bottle Rocket

Video of the September 1 anomaly with the audio synchronized. Original video: USLaunchReport YouTube channel. Synchronized video: Matthew Wright YouTube channel.

SpaceX issued a statement today with an update of its investigation into the September 1 incident that destroyed a Falcon 9 booster, its Israeli satellite payload, and part of Launch Complex 40.

The investigation team has made significant progress on the fault tree. Previously, we announced the investigation was focusing on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank. The root cause of the breach has not yet been confirmed, but attention has continued to narrow to one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank. Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a COPV failure entirely through helium loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

SpaceX’s efforts are now focused on two areas — finding the exact root cause, and developing improved helium loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9. With the advanced state of the investigation, we also plan to resume stage testing in Texas in the coming days, while continuing to focus on completion of the investigation. This is an important milestone on the path to returning to flight.

Pending the results of the investigation, we continue to work towards returning to flight before the end of the year. Our launch sites at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, remain on track to be operational in this timeframe.

After Thoughts

With about ten days to go in the 2016 presidential election, the candidates of both major parties suddenly have found the government space program to be a relevant topic.

Florida Today posted this evening a repeat of the October 25 Space News column by Clinton campaign surrogate Jim Kohlenberger. If you read the first one, you'll miss nothing new by skipping today's post.

Space News journalist Jeff Foust reported yesterday that Robert Walker, who co-wrote an October 19 Space News Trump campaign space policy column, told the reporter he'd only joined the campaign in the last two weeks.

Robert Walker, the former Republican congressman who noted he became Trump’s space policy advisor just in the last two weeks, said he was asked by the campaign to develop a space policy “that has real change.” He called the one that resulted “visionary, disruptive, coordinating and resilient.”

That policy framework has several key characteristics, including the restoration of the National Space Council, hypersonic technology development and use of small satellites. It would also have a “stretch goal,” he said, “ of human exploration of the entire solar system by the end of the century.”

Based on this statement, it seems that the column is a Robert Walker space policy, not a Donald Trump space policy.

Trump himself until now has said little about space. In November 2015, on the New Hampshire campaign trail, Trump told a ten-year old by that filling potholes is more important than NASA.

Earlier this week, Trump bailed on a tour of Kennedy Space Center for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, where he could draw a bigger crowd.

The reason why the campaigns might be paying attention to space may be due to the close margin in the Florida presidential race.

As of this writing, projects Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by 48.9% to 46.5%. Early voting began October 24 in Florida, so the time left to change minds is very limited.

Even so, it's unlikely that many voters consider space to be the primary deciding factor in choosing their candidate.

UPDATE October 28, 2016 6:15 PM EDTFlorida Today space journalist James Dean reports that Trump's running mate Mike Pence might visit Kennedy Space Center or Brevard County on Monday October 31.

After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump passed on the opportunity this week, running mate Mike Pence now is expected to visit the Space Coast and meet with aerospace industry representatives on Monday.

Plans remained fluid Friday afternoon, with the Indiana governor at one point kicking off his visit with a tour of Kennedy Space Center.

Even if that does not happen, Pence could participate in a roundtable discussion with local industry leaders organized by the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast and Space Florida, which have invited the presidential candidates to space policy briefings.

The roundtable could be followed by a rally at a location to be confirmed.

As of early Friday evening, the potential Brevard County stop was not listed on an official campaign schedule that included events through Sunday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Let's Talk Space

For whatever reason, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns finally are talking more about U.S. space policy.

Space News published on October 19 a guest column by two Trump campaign surrogates detailing what they say would be a Trump administration space policy. A second “peace through strength” Trump column appeared on October 24, written by the same authors.

Mr. Trump was supposed to have toured Kennedy Space Center yesterday, but bailed on that for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. Marcia Smith of reported on his space-related comments. Trump insulted NASA, stating, “I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity. Big deal.” Anyone paying attention knows that the human spaceflight part of the agency is focused on developing the technology and strategy to put a human on Mars by the end of the 2030s. NASA robotic craft are at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and last year flew past Pluto.

Trump claimed, “My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here.” That contradicts what he said to a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire last November, telling the lad that filling potholes is more important.

The Clinton campaign until now hasn't said much about space, but yesterday Clinton surrogate Jim Kohlenberger published on Space News what he claimed will be her space policy.

The column has little in the way of new initiatives, but Kohlenberger did write this interesting passage:

And, to solve problems more effectively and expeditiously, she will elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives and accelerate the development of advanced new technologies — multiplying what we can achieve in space and providing taxpayers even more bang for their buck.

I find the phrase “elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives” curious. It could just be a surrogate writing filler. Or it might signal an intent to create a Cabinet-level science technology agency. Some space advocates have dreamed that NASA become a Cabinet-level agency. That won't happen, but a Cabinet-level agency dedicated to science might be plausible, if it can get past Congress.

The balance of the article seems to support the Obama-era space policies, although no specific mention is made of Congress' favorite pork project, the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System, because Congress created SLS in 2010 to protect Shuttle-era jobs in the space-related states and districts of certain members of Congress.

President Obama will be in Orlando Friday for a Clinton campaign rally at the University of Central Florida. It's too much to hope that Obama might take one final lap at KSC, but let's see if he makes any space-related comments.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Empty Space

First Lady Hillary Clinton (left) with first female Space Shuttle commander Eileen Collins at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC on March 5, 1998.

The news broke earlier today that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign has cancelled plans announced earlier this week to tour Kennedy Space Center on October 24 or 25.

The invitation came from the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, whose web site describes the agency as “an innovative, countywide, not-for-profit partnership between the Brevard County Commission and the Space Coast business community. Business leaders, chambers of commerce, local and state government leaders, and community organizations contribute to the overall mission of the EDC.”

According to the October 18 Florida Today report, the EDC issued invitations to both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

If the Clinton campaign responded, we haven't heard about it.

From a calculated political perspective, there's little upside to Clinton spending campaign time in Brevard County.

As I wrote on October 18, the county is a safe Republican district. In the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate lost by anywhere from about 10% to 16%. For this election, about 42% of the county is registered Republican, while 32% are Democrat.

As of this writing, election forecast web site projects that Clinton will beat Trump in Florida by 49.2% to 45.5%. Both candidates will be trolling safe districts in the next two weeks trying to increase turnout. Few undecided voters remain, and early voting has already begun in the state. estimates that, as of this writing, Clinton has an 85.8% chance of winning the electoral college and therefore the Presidency. Her margin of victory in the college would be about 140 votes.

So let's go with the statistical data, and assume Clinton is elected President.

What might be her administration's space policy?

Hard to say.

Visit her campaign web site, and you won't find any position papers on space policy.

Space News posted on October 10 a side-by-side comparison of space policy responses from the two campaigns. Neither offered much in the way of specifics or new initiatives, although Clinton's responses were lengthier. Clinton seems inclined to continue the Obama administration's space policy, which largely reflects a compromise between the NewSpace policy of the current administration and the preference of Congress to protect OldSpace pork for their districts and states.

The Clinton campaign's response stated:

Mars is a consensus horizon goal, though to send humans safely, we still need to advance the technologies required to mitigate the effects of long-duration, deep-space flight.

The Trump campaign said nothing about Mars, instead proposing “a comprehensive review of our plans for space, and will work with Congress to set both priorities and mission.”

NASA is much more than a deep-space human exploration program. The Clinton campaign acknowledges that, discussing both civilian and military space activities, robotic exploration, investment in innovation, studying climate change, and public-private partnerships.

But no new initiatives are proposed. No grand vision is offered.

Hillary Clinton with President Bill Clinton in the Launch Control Center for the STS-95 Shuttle launch on October 29, 1998. The First Couple attended because former astronaut and senator John Glenn was on the flight.

One significant difference between the two candidates has been their perspectives on the female gender, and their differences extend to the space program as well.

Clinton often tells a story about how as a child she wrote NASA asking how she could become an astronaut. She claims to have received a reply from NASA telling her there would be no women astronauts. Subsequent research by the Washington Post verified such letters were sent by NASA during the period.

A President Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be more vocal in opening opportunities for females, not just in the government but in the nation as a whole.

We might even see the first female NASA Administrator.

President George W. Bush appointed the first female deputy administrator, Shana Dale, in 2005.

She was succeeded by Obama appointee Lori Garver, who originally had been the space policy advisor to Clinton's 2008 campaign. Once Clinton lost the nomination to Senator Barack Obama, Garver moved over to the Obama campaign to refine what up to then had been a largely absent, much less coherent, space policy.

Garver's four years were controversial, as she was a vocal proponent of NewSpace, a term generally describing a movement to open space to the private sector through incentives, partnerships and technology transfers.

Garver left in 2013, as Obama's second term began, and was replaced by Dava Newman, an aerospace biomedical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Newman might be a less controversial choice than Garver, whose NewSpace evangelism earned her enemies on Capitol Hill. Freed of political correctness, Garver has spoken her mind since leaving NASA, saying that the agency has a “socialist” approach to space exploration. Garver said in November 2015:

“NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing. Don’t try to compete with the private sector. Incentivize them by driving technologies that will be necessary for us as we explore further.”

It shouldn't be an automatic assumption that women in the space business will line up behind Clinton.

First Lady Hillary Clinton names Eileen Collins the first female Space Shuttle commander on March 5, 1998. Original video source: C-SPAN.

Former astronaut Eileen Collins addresses the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016.

Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle commander, spoke at the Republican National Convention on July 20. She did not specifically endorse Trump, but there were reports that she had deleted a line from the campaign-approved speech doing so. Her speech was riddled with falsehoods about the Obama administration's space policy, and chose to overlook the NewSpace movement.

Collins, ironically, was feted by First Lady Clinton on March 5, 1998 during a ceremony at the White House. The two later went to Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. Ms. Clinton was quoted as saying, “I hope there will be girls in the audience who look up at her and say, that's what I want to do.” Clinton that day repeated the story about her childhood letter to NASA.

During the 2008 general election campaign, President Obama made a campaign stop in Titusville to discuss space policy. During his administration, he twice visited Kennedy Space Center, once in 2010 to deliver a controversial space policy proposal, the second in 2011 to watch a Shuttle launch that was scrubbed. These visits found him little political support in Brevard County, offering more evidence that there's no upside to Clinton spending time here.

A President doesn't have to come to Kennedy Space Center to discuss space policy. John F. Kennedy delivered his famous space policy speech at Rice University in September 1962. George H.W. Bush proposed a Mars program on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. That went nowhere, as have most grandiose space proposals since the Apollo era.

Hillary Clinton's general neglect of any specific space policy is realpolitik. Coming here now, or any time in the next four years, won't affect her election or her political power within the Beltway. Space advocates, justifiably, want to hear more. I wish we would hear more.

But space is, and has been since the late 1960s, a low priority for the federal government. A half-century of wishing otherwise doesn't make it so.

In her inaugural address, Clinton could propose doubling NASA's budget, but it wouldn't matter, because Congress determines NASA's budget and would probably ignore her request. NASA's bureaucracy hasn't shown it can wisely spend money. Any spending increase, in my opinion, should go to NewSpace.

Our NewSpace economy is almost at the point where it's beyond the crawling stage and able to walk on its own. NewSpace companies are contracting with one another to offer services, in low Earth orbit and beyond.

If the new administration is to have any space policy, I'd suggest it would be to get out of the way and let the NewSpace economy lead.

Trump Dump

You can forget any plans for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to tour Kennedy Space Center next week.

Local officials announced on October 18 that Mr. Trump intended to land at the former Shuttle runway, tour facilities, participate in a roundtable discussion with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, and then hold a campaign rally.

Apparently Mr. Trump is more interested in how many people can turn out to cheer for him.

Florida Today space journalist James Dean reports:

Donald Trump's campaign has scrubbed plans for the Republican presidential nominee to tour Kennedy Space Center and talk about the space program in Brevard County this week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump will instead hold a rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, a day after stops in St. Augustine and Tampa.

The switch apparently was made because no indoor venue near KSC was approved for a rally that would draw thousands of supporters, and available outdoor venues presented security concerns.

The article speculates that the Trump campaign still has time to schedule a KSC event before Election Day on Tuesday November 8.

Here in Brevard County, early voting begins on Monday October 24 and runs through Saturday November 5.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Foul Weather

Donald Trump campaigns August 3 in Daytona Beach. Image source: Orlando Sentinel.

Space News published today a space policy guest column by two senior policy advisors to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Nowhere in the article does it state that Mr. Trump himself participated in the writing of the column, or the policies proposed in it. The co-authors simply claim they know what a Trump administration would do.

Robert Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, once chaired the House Science Committee while Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Gingrich reportedly was on the short list of individuals considered to be Trump's vice-presidential running mate. Both are long-time supporters of space exploration, in particular advocating for a larger role by the private sector.

In January 2012, Republican presidential candidate Gingrich delivered a space policy speech in Cocoa, Florida. His proposals got him mocked by rival Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who went on to win the Florida Republican presidential primary and nomination. Saturday Night Live satirized Gingrich's moon base proposal with a skit titled, “Newt Gingrich: Moon President.”

Walker and Gingrich, ironically, endorsed in February 2010 President Barack Obama's space policy program. In a Washington Times guest column, “Obama's Brave Reboot for NASA,” the two took a lonely stance defending the administration's plans to open space to the private sector.

Despite the shrieks you might have heard from a few special interests, the Obama administration’s budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves strong approval from Republicans. The 2011 spending plan for the space agency does what is obvious to anyone who cares about man’s future in space and what presidential commissions have been recommending for nearly a decade.

Peter Navarro, co-author of today's Space News column with Walker, is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of California Irvine. I haven't found anything to suggest Dr. Navarro has any kind of knowledge or experience about the government space program or the emerging NewSpace industry.

The policies and proposals in today's column are not that far off from the Obama administration, which has prioritized NewSpace as a means for lowering the cost and improving the technology to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Unlike Mr. Trump, President Obama put his name on the column that reflects his current space policy. “America Will Take the Giant Leap to Mars“ was posted on on October 11. The President wrote:

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth's orbit. I'm excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we'll need for the long journey to Mars.

Nowhere in Mr. Obama's column does he mention the Space Launch System and its Orion capsule. Congress imposed that program upon NASA in 2010, to protect Space Shuttle and Constellation government contractor jobs in the districts and states of certain members of Congressional space committees. Called the Senate Launch System by its critics, the design was unveiled in September 2011, not by NASA but by members of the House and Senate who imposed SLS upon NASA. They bragged about the jobs they'd saved. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) called it “the Monster Rocket.”

September 14, 2011 ... Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), among other members of Congress, unveil the design for Space Launch System.

Walker and Navarro didn't mention SLS either, but they did write:

Creating the technologies necessary to meet these goals would push us into the forefront of technological development and benefit our economy for decades to come. However, NASA cannot be expected to do this kind of 21st century Apollo-like mission if it is forced to accept outdated operational structures, contracting procedures, and bureaucracies created in the last century.

Space Launch System, wink wink, nudge nudge.

The co-authors claim that “space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government,” without offering any proof to substantiate that. They wrote, “A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president.”

The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests. Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared.

Apparently the co-authors chose to ignore that the United States government has been doing that since NASA began in 1958.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 is NASA's charter. It spells out the agency's charges and permissible activities. Section 102(c) is the key; it lists what NASA is supposed to do. “The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives.” Note that the agency is required only to “contribute materially,” not lead, and for only “one or more” of the listed objectives.

Objective (6) states:

The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defenses of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency.

Objective (8) states:

The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment.

For many years, NASA used boosters developed originally as military weapons to send its payloads into space. Thor, Titan, Redstone, and Atlas were all originally military weapons that NASA purchased or accepted from the military for its programs.

In recent years, commercial launch company United Launch Alliance has used its Delta IV and Atlas V boosters to launch both NASA and military payloads from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Upstart SpaceX recently won its first U.S. Air Force contract, and hopes to one day launch military reconnaissance payloads on its new Falcon Heavy booster. SpaceX is a prime example of the success of NASA's commercial crew and cargo programs, which began in November 2005 under President George W. Bush. By acting as an anchor tenant, NASA helped SpaceX to attract investors to build commercial launch systems. SpaceX spent 100% of the money used to develop the Falcon 9 and the next-generation Falcon Heavy. SpaceX now provides a far cheaper, yet still unproven, option for launching government payloads into space.

The problem with the national space policy council idea is that it's been tried in the past, and never worked.

The 1958 act created a National Aeronautics and Space Council which answered to the President, but its purpose was strictly advisory. President Dwight Eisenhower only agreed to its creation in 1958 after negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, but in 1960 recommended it be abolished.

April 25, 1961 ... President John F. Kennedy signs a bill amending NASA's charter to designate the Vice-President as the space council chair.

In the spring of 1961, President John F. Kennedy charged Vice-President Lyndon Johnson with chairing the council for one specific task — to recommend a response to the Soviet orbiting of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. After that, Johnson had no influence on U.S. space policy until he succeeded the slain President on November 22, 1963.

President Nixon, when he took office in January 1969, appointed his Vice-President Spiro Agnew to a similar advisory role. Their charge was to recommend what to do with NASA once humans walked on the Moon. The advisory report offered a grandiose vision for the future, which was largely ignored, although its recommendation of a Space Transportation System led to the Space Shuttle program.

The Council was abolished in 1973, and briefly revived under George H.W. Bush from 1989 until 1993, then discarded. Vice-President Dan Quayle, chair of the Council, tried to usurp control of NASA from Administrator Richard Truly.

Since then, no President has brought back the Council, although 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at one time did propose its revival. After he became President in January 2009, Obama appointed a Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee to recommend a space policy direction for his administration, but after that space policy remained with NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Nearly sixty years of NASA history have shown that the idea of an advisory space council is a bad one. It will have no authority at best, and at worst will try to interfere with the daily operations of agencies far more knowledgeable about what they do. Neither will an advisory council be able to override Congress, which in the end determines space policy and appropriates the funding for it.

The article also falsely states another reason for NASA's existence, a common falsehood circulated these days by Republican politicians. The co-authors wrote:

NASA was formed in the crucible of Sputnik and took this nation to the moon and stars. Today, it has been largely reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring.

Another Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, falsely claimed that NASA isn't supposed to be involved in earth sciences or studying climate change.

But the first objective stated in NASA's 1958 charter is:

The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.

NASA's roots trace back to the International Geophysical Year, a globally coordinated program by the nations of the Earth to study the planet's meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and atmospheric interaction with space. The United States and Soviet Union, as part of the IGY, would launch the world's first satellites to study those phenomena. In the United States, that program was called Vanguard.

In the Soviet Union, it was Sputnik (Russian for “satellite”).

Public and political hysteria in the United States after the first two Sputniks launched in fall 1957 led to the creation of NASA. Vanguard was transferred to the new civilian agency.

April 1, 1960 ... The first weather satellite image from space, transmitted by TIROS I.

In 1960, NASA began the first weather satellite program, called TIROS (for Television Infrared Observation Satellite). TIROS created the world's first meteorological satellite information system. TIROS provided the first accurate weather forecasts based on data gathered from space, with continuous coverage beginning in 1962.

Collection of data by TIROS and other meteorological observation satellites provided the hard evidence to document climate change, which is why I suspect Republicans are so intent on shutting down NASA's earth science programs.

The article concludes:

Space is the frontier on which American aspiration can become humankind’s inspiration. It is our freedom and our courage that allows us to do great things. Space represents a challenge of infinite proportions. There is no environment more hostile. There are no distances to travel that are greater. And yet Americans seem to know intuitively that the destiny of a free people lies in the stars. Donald Trump fully agrees.

But in November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy he'd rather spend money on fixing potholes than on NASA.

And in August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA is a space program “like a Third World nation,” which is laughable considering all that NASA is doing now. He also suggested that the purpose of the space program is to perpetuate government jobs, commenting, “Look what's happened to your employment.”

What does Donald Trump truly believe about NASA and American space activities?

He's scheduled to visit Kennedy Space Center on Monday October 24, which probably explains the timing of this column written by two surrogates. We await to see if what he says on Monday jibes with this column, his August statement, his November statement, or whatever other random thought comes out of his mouth.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Orbital Back in Orbit

Click the arrow to watch the launch of Orbital OA-5 to the ISS. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Almost two years after its first version of Antares exploded on launch, Orbital ATK returned to flight at the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport with the launch last night of the company's Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station.

The Orbital OA-5 mission was the first launch of the remodeled Antares booster. The original Antares used refurbished Soviet-era engines. The new version uses Russian RD-181 engines, a variant of the RD-180 used by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V.

After the October 28, 2014 accident, Orbital contracted with ULA to launch the Cygnus atop the Atlas V on two missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, so as to honor their delivery contract with NASA.

Click the arrow to watch the OA-5 post-launch media briefing. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Donald Trump to Visit KSC

Florida Today journalist James Dean reports that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will visit Kennedy Space Center on Monday, October 24.

The schedule, whose details are still being worked out, anticipates Trump flying into KSC's former space shuttle runway, touring the spaceport and talking with industry representatives in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast and Space Florida, the EDC confirmed.

“Since 2008, the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast has led the way to educate presidential candidates regarding the need to support critical aerospace programs to keep the United States competitive and viable,” said Lynda Weatherman, the organization's president and CEO. “We are pleased Mr. Trump has accepted our invitation to participate in this industry roundtable and are hopeful the Clinton campaign will follow suit.”

After touring KSC, Trump may hold a public rally at another location, but that was not confirmed as of Monday afternoon. Campaigning is not allowed on federal property.

Trump has said little until now about NASA and the U.S. space program, and what he has said has not shown much interest or support.

In November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy he'd rather spend money on fixing potholes than on NASA.

In August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA is a space program “like a Third World nation,” which is laughable considering all that NASA is doing now. He also suggested that the purpose of the space program is to perpetuate government jobs, commenting, “Look what's happened to your employment.”

On October 10, Space News published an article with space policy statements from both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The responses from the Clinton campaign were longer and more detailed than those from the Trump campaign.

It should be noted that these responses are typically written by a staffer. I've written them myself when I worked on campaigns. Maybe the candidate sees it. Maybe not. I find particuarly telling the responses to the final question, “Any other comments you would like to make?”

The Clinton campaign response is two paragraphs. The Trump campaign response is simply, “No.”

In my opinion, visits by politicians to Kennedy Space Center trolling for votes accomplishes little.

Outside of a few neighboring towns that heavily lean Republican, few people care enough about the government space program to let that sway their vote one way or the other.

Over the last three presidential elections, Brevard County has reliably voted for the Republican presidential candidate:

  • 2004 Bush vs. Kerry 57.6%-41.5%
  • 2008 McCain vs. Obama 54.5%-44.1%
  • 2012 Romney vs. Obama 55.6%-42.9%

Senator Barack Obama visited Titusville in August 2008, where he made various policy comments and proposals, but there's little evidence to suggest it made any difference. President Obama delivered a space policy speech at KSC on April 15, 2010, and came to watch the STS-134 launch on April 29, 2011, but 2012 election results show those visits meant little one way or the other.

Republican candidate (and space enthusiast) Newt Gingrich delivered a space policy speech in January 2012 during the Florida presidential primary, but lost anyway to Mitt Romney, who mocked Gingrich's proposals and said he would fire anyone who proposed a Moon base. Gingrich lost to Romney in the Florida primary by a margin of nearly fifteen points.

According to the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections, as of this writing the county has 409,074 registered voters. Of those, 172,326 (42.1%) are Republican, and 130,498 (31.9%) are Democrat, with the rest third-party or non-partisan. (I'm registered non-partisan.)

In the March 15, 2016 Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump took 46.3% of the vote in a field of thirteen candidates on the ballot. Florida senator Marco Rubio finished second at 24.8%.

So why is Trump coming here?

As of this writing, The forecasting site projects Hillary Clinton will win the State of Florida 49.5% - 44.9% for Trump. He needs to increase reliable Republican voter turnout in the state if he has any hope of catching Clinton.

Someone somewhere in the Trump campaign must think that running around Kennedy Space Center trashing President Obama will help his campaign.

I can't see how that will make any difference, because people who believe that nonsense were already intending to vote for him.

The Economic Development Commission stated that they have also invited Ms. Clinton. There's no indication she will accept. Right now, she has no reason to do so. Touring KSC wouldn't make a difference. It didn't for Barack Obama. forecasts, as of this writing, that Clinton has an 88.1% chance of winning the electoral college and therefore the Presidency. They show her leading the irrelevant popular vote by 49.8% to 42.7%. She needs to focus on “purple” states that would swing Democratic, and to help her party win the Senate.

Florida is one of those states, but more Democratic votes won't be easy to find in Brevard County. So she goes elsewhere.

The Miami Herald reports that Clinton is gaining on Trump in Florida, and in particular with independent votes.

President Obama will appear on Clinton's behalf Thursday in Miami Gardens, the day after the third presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. Miami generally is considered a Democratic stronghold in the state.

Both sides are trying to increase turnout from their base. Which is why Trump comes to Brevard County, while Clinton surrogates go to Miami.

Just don't think Mr. Trump is coming here because of a newly found passion for space exploration. Or that it will matter for the future of the U.S. government space program.