Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bigelow Expands Our Horizons

BEAM team members from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace pose in ISS Mission Control. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace via Twitter.

On the second try, Bigelow Aerospace and NASA successfully expanded and pressurized a new prototype habitat module.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was attached April 16 to the International Space Station. Expansion had to wait until crew time was available in late May.

The process began on May 26, but was suspended after expansion failed despite increased pressurization.

BEAM had been compacted about seven months longer than intended, so team members theorized that allowing the fabric to “relax” might do the trick. The bladders between the fabric layers were depressurized. Because BEAM is in the vacuum of space, it retained its shape.

Proceeding slowly on May 28, astronaut Jeff Williams added a second or two of pressure when directed by ISS Mission Control. As BEAM continued to expand, longer and frequent bursts of air were permitted.

According to a NASA press release:

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

During the next week, leak checks will be performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.

Bigelow Aerospace tweeted an update today:

Click the arrow to watch a time-lapse video of the BEAM expansion. Video source: NASA Johnson YouTube channel.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Look Out Below

Click the arrow to watch the Falcon 9 landing. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

SpaceX launched a telecommunications satellite yesterday for its customer Thaicom, but once again Elon Musk managed to break the Internet with video footage of the Falcon 9 landing.

The camera was mounted looking down the fuselage as the F9 re-entered the atmosphere. The camera angle is evocative of this iconic scene from Doctor Strangelove.

This was the third landing of a first stage booster on the barge Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship, Of Course I Still Love You. In December 2015, SpaceX landed a Falcon 9 on the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bigelow Under Pressure

Click the arrow to listen to the May 27, 2016 teleconference with NASA and Bigelow Aerospace representatives.

Perhaps we had inflated expectations, hoping that the Bigelow BEAM would expand nominally as demonstrated in artists' concepts.

Pressurization halted yesterday after the prototype habitat stopped expanding. NASA and Bigelow managers chose to pause to examine data returned from the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module berthed at the International Space Station's Node 3.

During the night, the fabrics relaxed enough that BEAM continued to slowly expand on its own.

Today's teleconference participants said BEAM has been depressurized for now, reducing the air in the bladders between the layers of fabric. Because it's in a vacuum, BEAM is retaining its shape even though the bladders are nearly empty.

BEAM was delivered to NASA in March 2015. Slated for launch on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 mission in September 2015, the launch was delayed seven months due to the loss of the SpaceX-7 mission in June 2015. The next flight had to wait until SpaceX solved the cause of the accident.

No one anticipated BEAM remaining tightly packaged for over a year.

But because this is a test, in a sense that's good because it allows NASA and Bigelow to test the prototype for behavior under such conditions.

Telecon participants stated that “friction force between the fabrics” is considered the likely cause for the habitat's failure to properly expand, but they remain fully confident that expansion will be achieved.

Another reason to proceed slowly is that Bigelow is collecting data on how the pressurization places stress loads on Node 3 and the station.

During an April 11, 2016 media event, Robert Bigelow and United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno discussed their intent to pursue a deal to attach the larger next-generation Bigelow B-330 to ISS in the 2020s for commercial use. Studying how BEAM impacts the station structure collects data for that future enterprise.

NASA media representative Dan Huot said at the end of the telecon that tomorrow's attempt will be telecast live on NASA TV, but the time is to be determined.

If this attempt fails, further efforts will be delayed for about a week as ISS crew members have other activities scheduled, some of which involve the Canadarm. BEAM's expansion could cause vibrations that affect the arm's performance.

NASA animation of BEAM berth and expansion. Video source: NASA Johnson YouTube channel.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mapping the Cape, Part 2

This 1958 image shows Highway A1A rerouted from the Cape to Highway 520 in Cocoa Beach. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.

When the military took over Cape Canaveral in the early 1950s, Florida's Highway A1A ran right through the heart of what would become the epicenter for the missile race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Highway A1A used to run up the coastline to Daytona Beach. The old Highway A1A through the Cape today is known as General Samuel C. Phillips Parkway. The road continues north between the Atlantic Ocean and the active launch pads for United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. The old A1A continues north through Kennedy Space Center, known to many as “the Cape Road,” and into Canaveral National Seashore.

By 1958, Highway A1A had been redesignated to State Route 520 between Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island. At the western end, it connected to State Route 3, known today as Courtenay Parkway. Courtenay was a small town near what today is just south of the south gate of Kennedy Space Center. Before the arrival of KSC, parts of SR-3 were actually Tropical Trail, a two-lane north-south artery that parallels the Indian River.

If you drove north on SR-3, you'd pass through Courtenay and then through Orsino, another small town that would disappear once NASA bought up 144,000 acres on north Merritt Island to build Kennedy Space Center.

I've long been interested in locating any images of the towns and roads that existed when the government bought up KSC, so I visited the North Brevard Historical Society & Museum in Titusville.

Most of their collection reflects the lifestyles of those who lived in the region going back to the 1890s. A few artifacts are on file, which helped piece together the cartographical jigsaw puzzle.

A 1926 map of Brevard County produced by the Associated Map Co. of Miami. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.

The legend for the 1926 map. Click the image to view at a larger size.

In the museum's collection is a 1926 map of Brevard County by the Associated Map Co. of Miami, Florida. The map shows the major routes and small towns that dotted Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island at the time.

(Merritt Island is labelled as “Merritt's Island,” and Courtenay is spelled “Courteney.”)

In a December 2014 article, I wrote about how two dirt roads ran east from Highway A1A to the Cape Canaveral coastline. Look for the CANAVERAL town marker. The road paralleling the coastline was the Pier Road, so called because the paved road ended at the Canaveral Pier. The other road is Lighthouse Road; the map shows it ends just south of the LIGHT HOUSE. The road from the pier to the lighthouse was unpaved.

Lighthouse Road in 1928. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation.

The road was still unpaved in 1950, when the first rockets were being launched from the tip of Cape just beyond the lighthouse. Those converted V-2 missiles were stored at Patrick Air Force Base to the south, then towed up Lighthouse Road to Pad 3 for launch.

Lighthouse Road in 1950, looking south from the lighthouse. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.

This 1950 image taken from the lighthouse shows the road was still unpaved as of that date.

Highway A1A merged with Lighthouse Road near what then was known as DeSoto Beach. That's roughly north of today's Launch Complex 37, used by United Launch Alliance for the Delta IV booster. Early 1950s maps of the station show patrol roads at the north and south borders. North Patrol Road still exists today, running east-west between Launch Pads 34 and 37.

A Google Maps image of North Patrol Road. Click the image to view at a larger size.

A 1956 image of the former Highway A1A looking south from the station's north gate at North Patrol Road. Image source: Florida Memory.

The arrival of so many rocket and missile programs in the 1950s began to erase decades of Cape history. Small towns such as DeSoto Beach were purchased by the government and bulldozed.

Lighthouse Road was partially closed circa 1956 for the Thor pads at Launch Complex 17. The remnants of Lighthouse Road are still visibile in this 1958 image; the old dirt road was still visible running through the complex to intersect with the Pier Road.

A 1958 image of the Thor launch pads constructed on the old Lighthouse Road. The Pier Road is in the foreground. Image source: Florida Memory.

Further north on the old Highway A1A was Titusville Beach. That's roughly where Kennedy Space Center's launch pads 39A and 39B are located.

Much of that area was reworked in the early 1960s. NASA contractors dredged old swamp land and parts of the Banana Creek, using sediment and rocks and sand to fill the landscape.

A 1966 documentary called “The Big Challenge” about the construction of Kennedy Space Center, originally produced by NASA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Big Challenge is a 1966 film documenting the construction of KSC, including its launch pads. It shows the dredging and filling to construct the pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the major causeways.

An undated image of Titusville Beach before the arrival of Kennedy Space Center. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.

Hanging on the museum's wall is this undated image of Titusville Beach. The caption at the bottom reads:

Houses along Titusville Beach prior to NASA acquiring the land in the 1960s. Playalinda Beach is in the far distance. The cleared area to the left of State Road A1A was the site of Sunrise Beach, the only subdivision ever constructed in the beach area.

I have to wonder if that lone condo on the shoreline across from the “cleared area” might be the famous Astronaut Beach House. According to a 2005 NASA article, the condo was built as a model for the Neptune Beach subdivision. The location in the image is about the right place. The black-and-white colors appear similar.

An undated image of the Astronaut Beach House as it appeared when purchased in the early 1960s by NASA. Image source: NASA.

After the old Highway A1A was rerouted off-base, travelers headed north on State Route 3 to reach Daytona Beach. But as NASA began buying up north Merritt Island in the early 1960s, Highway A1A once again was designated elsewhere.

The town of Orsino existed roughly where NASA Parkway and Kennedy Parkway intersect today. State Route 405 across the Indian River did not exist until 1965.

As seen in the 1926 map, travellers reaching Orsino from the south turned right on what was known as Orsino Road, then could turn left to proceed north. If they continued east, the road ended at the Banana River.

The convenience store and gas station at what is now the intersection of NASA and Kennedy Parkways. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.

The above image is of a convenience store located roughly where today's NASA and Kennedy Parkways intersect. According to an undated Florida Today article by columnist Milt Salamon in the Museum's file, it was a combination “post office-store-gas station.”

The Orsino Baptist Church was located just south of the convenience store and a half-mile west of State Route 3. According to the Orsino Baptist Church web site, the original building was moved in its entirely about four miles south.

Orsino Baptist Church as it appears today. Image source: Orsino Baptist Church.

The church web site states:

The church was located in the community of Orsino approximately one-half mile west of S.R. #3 on what is now called the NASA Parkway. NASA took over the property where the church was located.

In 1963, the church was required to move from the small community of Orsino, named after the homesteader, Orsino Smith. The Chamber of Commerce was disbanded and the officers of the Chamber of Commerce voted to donate the money left in the treasury ($255.91) to the building fund for Orsino Baptist Church. The pastor at that time was Reverend J.L. Gaines. In July of 1963, the original building was moved to the current location at 4505 N. Courtenay Parkway in Merritt Island.

According to the Milt Salamon column, NASA paid to move the church building.

Where does Highway A1A run today?

According to Google Maps, it continues west on State Route 528, which loses the A1A designation at the Indian River west of Merritt Island. The A1A designation resumes in Volusia County at the north end of Canaveral National Seashore and the Mosquito Lagoon, south of New Smyrna Beach on a local road known as Atlantic Avenue.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bigelow on Display

A display of the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM and B-330 habitats is now at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It's on the third floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, behind the orbiter.

Note that the crew vehicle docked at the B-330 is a SpaceX crew Dragon.

These are images I shot of the display. The images may be used elsewhere with credit to Click on the image to view at a larger size.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mars Barred

The May 16, 2016 edition of “This Modern World” by Tom Tomorrow. Click to view at full size. Image source: Daily Kos.

The 55th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's human lunar spaceflight proposal is in five days.

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy delivered a speech to Congress titled, “On Urgent National Needs.” The speech was 43 days after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth, 38 days after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and 20 days after American astronaut Alan Shepard's 15-minute suborbital flight from Cape Canaveral.

I wrote in 2011 on the 50th anniversary of the speech about its context. The best resource is John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by Dr. John M. Logsdon.

Despite the modern mythology, Kennedy's speech that day was not about proposing a “space race” with the Russians. It was a 45-minute recitation of programs he proposed to demonstrate U.S. resolve after the events of the prior six weeks. The Moon proposal was near the end of the speech, possibly so that it might be forgotten if poorly received.

Dr. Logsdon amply documented that Kennedy was not a space visionary. He was a Cold Warrior looking to re-establish American “prestige,” a word that appears throughout Kennedy administration documents.

But the mythology persists to this day, and continues to haunt the U.S. government space program.

NASA works now to complete assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope, the eventual successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

James Webb was appointed NASA Administrator by Kennedy, serving from February 1961 through October 1968. Webb was a lifelong Democrat, a business executive who moved in and out of government depending on which party held power in the White House. He had no science background. He was a bureaucrat skilled in the ways of Washington. Unlike many, he was willing to take a job that in February 1961 seemed to have little importance.

I can't fathom why what will be the world's most capable space telescope has been named after a bureaucrat.

All the other significant telescopes have been named after astronomers or physicists. Edwin Hubble. Lyman Spitzer. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Why James Webb?

Neil Degrasse Tyson calls it Apollo Necrophilia — an unnatural reverence for historically significant but technically moribund exploration.

Apollo Necrophilia is alive and well in today's movement to place a human on Mars as quickly as possible.

No one really seems to have a good answer for why. Politicians tell us it will “inspire children,” although they seem more inspired by protecting obsolete aerospace jobs in their districts and states.

Click the arrow to play “Soul of the Explorer” on Vimeo. Video source: Space City Films.

The 2015 film short Soul of the Explorer by Houston's Space City Films is an example of this justification. The turgid narrative never really answers the “why” question, although we're pretty sure the script writer worked overtime delving into the thesaurus.

My personal opinion is that children will be far more inspired by direct, hands-on learning of the skills to participate in the nascent NewSpace economy opening space to the masses.

On May 16, the International Space Station deployed STMSat-1, a small satellite built by St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia.

Educational institutions — universities, high schools and now a grade school — send experiments and deploy smallsats thanks to the Center for Advancement of Science in Space and Nanoracks.

This week's Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C. was a three-day gathering of Mars exploration supporters. Their 2015 publication The Humans to Mars Report never bothers to answer the “why” question.

The cynic in me notes that the summit was primarily sponsored by the OldSpace aerospace companies that would be the likely suspects to receive guaranteed-profit contracts for a government human Martian spaceflight program. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK are the no-bid contractors currently working on Space Launch System. SLS was dubbed Senate Launch System by its critics in 2011 because Congress imposed the program's design and contractors on NASA, requiring the use of Shuttle-era contractors and technologies.

The usual suspects were also on the witness panel for the May 18 House Space Subcommittee panel, “Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats.”

Click the arrow to watch the May 18, 2016 hearing. Original video source: House Committee on Science, Space &Technology.

Representatives from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK were on the panel, along with NASA's Director of Advanced Exploration Systems for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Some of the panelists used the occasion to present their companies' proposed designs for a habitat module.

Conspicuous by its absence was Bigelow Aerospace, the one company that actually has a habitat prototype. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module was delivered by SpaceX on April 10, and attached to the International Space Station on April 16. NASA will cover the habitat's expansion live on May 26 starting at 5:30 AM EDT.

Unlike the OldSpace companies, Bigelow is privately funded. The OldSpace companies won't proceed with building a habitat unless the project is funded by taxpayers.

Also on the panel was Andy Weir, author of the novel The Martian that was released as a movie in 2015. Weir is a software engineer, not an aerospace expert, but received much of the attention from committee members who wanted to be seen with a celebrity.

To his credit, Weir brought a dose of sobriety to the hearing, reminding them of many lethal dangers facing humans going to Mars. Weir repeatedly emphasized the need for the committee to support commercial space exploitation, citing how the government invested in commercial aviation in the 1920s and 1930s.

This committee had a collective freak out six years ago when in February 2010 it held a hearing to review the Obama administration's commercial crew proposal. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the Democrats' ranking member on the subcommittee, had this to say in that 2010 meltdown:

Just in terms of risk, the commercial sector is never going to absorb the kind of risk that it really takes to get these vehicles off the ground. And at the end of the day, the taxpayer will always have to absorb that risk. And if that's true, then why not really take it on by continuing to have NASA fully engaged in human spaceflight because, when it's all said and done, it's going to be on us anyway.

History proved her to be totally wrong.

Robert Bigelow, who developed BEAM with 100% private investment and 100% absorption of the risk, was not on this week's panel to remind her of that.

In my opinion, the politicians can't let go of the Apollo paradigm. They grew up with the mythology. They believed the rhetoric about inspiration, ignoring the many polls over the years showing a majority of Americans do not support massive government spending on an Apollo-style program. Even in the 1960s, a majority of Americans opposed the Apollo cost, except for one poll in July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed.

I think that humans will go to Mars ... when it's meant to be.

History teaches us that human exploration usually has one of two motivations — commercial or military.

Christopher Columbus set out not to discover North America, but to find a shorter trade route to the East Indies. In a sense, it was the first “commercial crew” mission, because the ships were merchant vessels. Columbus was given ten percent of the revenues from new lands he claimed for Spain, and a percentage of the profits from any commercial ventures in those lands.

But that wasn't the Apollo model.

Apollo was to prove to the world that American technology was superior to the Soviet Union. It would be 100% financed by U.S. taxpayers. The goal was to place a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Kennedy never said anything about a permanant human lunar base, or commercial exploitation of the Moon. It was all about prestige.

The unintended consequence was that NASA built an infrastructure colossus intended to achieve that goal. It wasn't efficient. It wasn't competitive. But it did employ a lot of people.

Apollo created an unholy alliance of NASA bureaucrats and labor unions, legacy aerospace company lobbyists, and congressional members eager for re-election.

For a half-century, the space-industrial complex has been the major impediment to human expansion beyond the Earth. It assured that access to space was rare, expensive and controlled by the government.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed a NASA leadership who ordered the agency's bureaucracy to get out of the way and work with the private sector. Even as his administration comes to a close, pockets of resistance remain, especially those tied to the Space Launch System.

NASA assures us that the SLS will launch its Orion capsule on an uncrewed test flight around the Moon by the end of 2018, two years behind the Congressionally mandated first test flight by December 31, 2016.

SpaceX, meanwhile, announced on April 27 its plan to land a crew Dragon capsule on Mars by the end of 2018. The mission, called Red Dragon, would be uncrewed but it would demonstrate that the NewSpace company has the ability to land humans and other payloads on Mars.

Just add a habitat.

A conceptual model of a SpaceX Dragon docked at a Bigelow B-330. Image now on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

That habitat very well might be a Bigelow habitat, as demonstrated in this conceptual model now on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Red Dragon is 100% privately funded. The Falcon Heavy launch vehicle is based on the Falcon 9, which was 100% private investment. The crew Dragon was part of NASA's commercial crew program that went unfunded until the Obama administration did so in Fiscal Year 2011. Some NASA money is in Dragon, but much of the cost and risk is absorbed by SpaceX. The cost of the Red Dragon mission is 100% SpaceX. NASA will provide technical advice and access to its deep space communications network, in exchange for the data collected by Red Dragon on its mission.

Why does SpaceX want to go to Mars?

SpaceX founder Elon Musk says it's to protect humanity from an extinction event.

I suppose that's as good a reason as any, but it's his money.

If SpaceX succeeds, perhaps Apollo Necrophila will be dead and buried, once and for all. Then we can be serious about humans to Mars.

Monday, May 16, 2016

First Grade

Click the arrow to watch NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulate St. Thomas More Cathedral School students. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Six months after their satellite launched in an Orbital ATK Cygnus, and on the same day that the International Space Station completed its 100,000th orbit, NASA deployed a communications satellite built by St. Thomas More Cathedral School students in Arlington, VA.

According to a NASA press release:

STMSat-1 was launched to the ISS on Dec. 6, 2015 aboard an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo resupply spacecraft as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) IX mission. Along with CubeSats from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Michigan, STMSat-1 was deployed from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) system on May 16. The NRCSDs are commanded one by one, allowing the dispenser doors to open and the large internal spring to be released, deploying the CubeSats into an orbital altitude similar to that of the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth. After 30 minutes in orbit, the internal timers on the CubeSats allowed their onboard computers to boot up and begin transmitting. The CubeSat teams utilize their ground stations to listen for their beacons to determine the small satellites’ functionality and operational status. Once operational they begin their missions.

STM is believed to be the first grade school on Earth to send a functional satellite into space.

Visit the STMSat-1 web site for more information on the program, including how your grade school can download images from the satellite.

STM students watch today's events. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Goes Up ...

Three camera angles of the Falcon 9 landing May 6, 2016 on the company's drone ship. Video source: SpaceX.

I went to Port Canaveral today to shoot images of the landed Falcon 9 now in port after delivery atop the barge autonomous spaceport drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

Click the images to view at a larger size. An image may be used elsewhere if credit is given to

The first images were taken from the parking lot of Milliken's Reef restaurant.

The next images were taken from Exploration Tower at the 7th floor level.