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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

POTUS in Space

Click the arrow to watch a NASA clip released today on the “New Space Economy.” Video source: Video YouTube channel.

President Barack Obama published a guest opinion column today on that reaffirms his vision for human spaceflight to Mars in the 2030s.

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.

Obama's column made no mention of the government's Space Launch System rocket or Orion capsule. SLS was imposed upon NASA by Congress in 2010 to protect government contractor jobs in the wake of the Space Shuttle's retirement and cancellation of the botched Constellation program. That's why critics call SLS the Senate Launch System.

The White House today posted an article by presidential science advisor John Holdren and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden announcing plans for public-private partnerships to further human expansion into the solar system.

In April 2010, the President challenged the country — and NASA — to send American astronauts on a Journey to Mars in the 2030s. By reaching out further into the solar system and expanding the frontiers of exploration, the President outlined a vision for pushing the bounds of human discovery, while also revitalizing the space industry and creating jobs here at home.

To achieve these mutually-reinforcing goals, the President instructed NASA to develop spacecraft and technologies geared toward sending astronauts to deep space, while at the same time partnering with American companies to build a strong space economy. Following the President’s vision, NASA has worked over the past 6 years to help catalyze a vibrant new sector of the economy by enabling the commercial transportation of cargo and soon crew from American soil to the International Space Station. And today, Americans are working at more than a thousand companies across virtually every state to support commercial space initiatives and with them, the growth of a new commercial market in Low Earth Orbit.

The first program announced was the selection of six companies to produce ground prototypes for deep space habitat modules. (The press release was issued August 9, so why this is an “announcement” is beyond me.) The six are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corp., and Nanoracks.

The second announcement was that NASA will proceed with “providing companies with a potential opportunity to add their own modules and other capabilities to the International Space Station.”

While NASA prepares for the transition from the Space Station to its successors, the agency is also working to support and grow the community of scientists and entrepreneurs conducting research and growing businesses in space. A vibrant user community will be key to ensuring the economic viability of future space stations.

Noticeable yet again by its absence is any mention of SLS or Orion. The essay does refer to the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will “send a robotic spacecraft to a nearby asteroid to test out important exploration technologies such as solar-electric propulsion, conduct scientific and planetary defense experiments, and then return a boulder from the asteroid to an orbit around the Moon for astronauts to study.” SLS and Orion will be used for this mission.

President Barack Obama's space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center, April 15, 2010.

President Obama's April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center called for human spaceflight to Mars in the 2030s, preceded by sending astronauts to an asteroid. His speech did not call for SLS, but for “investing in groundbreaking research and innovative companies that will have the potential to rapidly transform our capabilities.”

... [W]e will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” — a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it.

The President also called for increasing NASA's budget by $6 billion over the next five years.

Congress said no.

In 2010, both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats, but there was bipartisan consensus that existing government contractor jobs had to be protected by mandating that the next-generation heavy lift rocket be built with Space Shuttle technology that has its roots in the 1970s.

In September 2011, less than a year after Congress imposed SLS on NASA, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) held a joint media conference to unveil their design for what Nelson called “the monster rocket.” Administrator Bolden was permitted five minutes of comments, but otherwise was relegated to the shadows while politicians of both partisan stripes stepped forward to take credit for protecting government contractor jobs in their districts or states.

In the years since, Congress consistently cut the President's funding requests for the commercial crew program and new technologies, while increasing the White House requests for SLS funding.

With a little more than three months left until Obama leaves office, one might question why bother with this initiative.

The answer, I believe, lies in the federal budget cycle.

This 2016 Office of Management and Budget circular on Page 4 specifies the timeline for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which begins October 1, 2017.

Even though he leaves office on January 20, 2017, federal law still requires the executive branch to submit a budget proposal by February 6, 2017.

The upshot is that Obama's successor will inherit his budget priorities, like it or not, just as the Obama administration in 2009 had to defend President George W. Bush's Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal submitted in February 2009.

Last month, the executive branch agencies submitted their FY18 budget proposals to OMB. According to the OMB circular, “OMB staff analyzes agency budget proposals in light of Presidential priorities, program performance, and budget constraints. They raise issues and present options to the Director and other OMB policy officials for their decisions.”

My guess is that Obama hopes to lock into place for at least another year the progress his administration has made building the “robust space industry” proposed by Bush's commission on U.S. space policy in June 2004. What we know today as NewSpace began in earnest when NASA opened the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office in November 2005. But it was the Obama administration that made NewSpace a priority.

The absence of SLS and Orion in today's releases signals that the President's faith in NewSpace hasn't wavered.

Space News posted yesterday an article listing responses to space policy questions from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You can read the responses for yourself; in my opinion, neither candidate goes into specifics about space policy plans, although the Clinton campaign's answers are more specific than from the Trump campaign.

Question #7 asked:

7. You have been an advocate for public-private partnerships. Could those be used to support space exploration? If so, how would those public-private partnerships work?

I think there would be ample opportunity for public-private partnerships in the space program, and it is already occurring to some degree with private flights of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Again, we would work with Congress to determine what structures would serve the interests of the country best.

The public sector’s role in civil space exploration is to drive technological and scientific advancements — focusing the public’s investment on the most challenging missions where there is no near-term commercial applicability. Without those public investments, our knowledge of space, space technologies and Earth observations would languish. NASA contracts with the private sector for nearly all of its missions, and can support a more competitive industry by buying commercial services and establishing new public-private partnership opportunities.

It is in NASA’s interest to work with the private-sector innovators who are opening up new opportunities. We can harness the private sector to give taxpayers the best return on investment, provide crew and cargo access to the International Space Station, and open up new commercial opportunities in communications, Earth observations, and suborbital human spaceflight.

Getting the public-private relationship right is essential to sustaining America’s leadership in space. I am encouraged by the success NASA has seen in accelerating innovation with its new approach to commercial space partnerships under the Obama administration. These public-private partnerships have brought an exciting entrepreneurial spirit to the space industry and should be continued.

Based on the responses from Ms. Clinton's campaign, it seems that her administration will largely maintain the course chartered by the Obama administration.

So today's media releases for me create the impression they're preparing to pass the baton in space from this administration to the next.

Matthew Blows, Part 6

Click the arrow to watch video of the October 8 aerial survey of KSC storm damage. Video source: NASAKennedy YouTube channel.

At a media event today, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said the spaceport suffered no significant damage from Hurricane Matthew.

According to a KSC blog article:

“I’m pleased to say that as of today, 100 percent of our civil service and contractors have reported in with no serious injuries or significant damage to personal property,” Cabana said. “Things can be fixed or replaced, but people are special and we have a very special family here.”

Several buildings lost part of their roofs, but critical facilities incurred no significant damage.

At nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Business Insider reports that the former Titan-era Solid Motor Assembly Building (SMAB) lost several panels, and published a photo from an anonymous source.

Damage at the Cape's SMAB as reported by Business Insider.

The building is now used by SpaceX to process payloads that launch from Pad 40 on Falcon 9 boosters. Pad 40 is recovering an explosion on the pad September 1 during a static test fire.

As for United Launch Alliance, Spaceflight Now published a report quoting a ULA representative as saying Matthew “caused minor to moderate damage to facilities with no damage to flight hardware.”

UPDATE October 11, 2016 7:00 PM EDTFlorida Today reports that Matthew caused “millions of dollars” of damage at KSC.

On Friday, sustained winds above 80 mph blew through pads and processing facilities critical to the nation's space launch capability. A 500-foot tower recorded a gust as high as 136 mph.

But the eye of the then-Category 3 hurricane held 20 to 25 miles off shore, sparing the center — and the rest of Brevard County — catastrophic damage.

UPDATE October 12, 2016 — NASA posted to YouTube a video of yesterday's KSC media briefing on damage from Hurricane Matthew.

Click the arrow to watch the October 11 media briefing. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Matthew Blows, Part 5

The Astronaut Beach House lost part of its roof. All images this page source NASA KSC Flickr page.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center blog posted this update yesterday evening:

After the initial inspection flight Saturday morning, it was determined that the center received some isolated roof damage, damaged support buildings, a few downed power lines, and limited water intrusion.

Since safety is our utmost concern, teams of inspectors are going from building-to-building assessing damage.

Due to the complexity of this effort, teams need time to thoroughly inspect all buildings and roads prior to opening the Kennedy Space Center for regular business operations.

Not until after a full inspection of the center will a list of damaged buildings and equipment be available. The next update will be available no earlier than Sunday afternoon.

Several photos were posted on KSC's Flickr page. A few photos show damage.

Here are some observations I made looking closely at the images.

The Mercury-Redstone replica at the Gate 3 entrance seems to be at an angle. This fell down during Hurricane Frances in 2004.

UPDATE October 10, 2016 — I inspected the Gate 3 Mercury-Redstone this morning. It's a bit battered, with some paint loss, but it's intact and stable, not leaning at an angle.

This is a bus tour stop on the south side of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The security fence is down in places. Particularly noteworthy is that the old Orbiter Access Arm from Pad 39A is lying on its side.

Speaking of access arms, this is the KSC Visitor Complex Rocket Garden. The Apollo-era access arm is missing, along with a training simulator of an Apollo capsule. Assuming they weren't removed beforehand, I think I can see a bit of the orange access arm to the upper right of the image, below the Saturn IB.

UPDATE October 9, 2016 9:15 AM EDT — The Apollo access arm had been moved into storage just before the storm. It's fine.

Elsewhere in the Rocket Garden, the Thor-Delta is missing its upper stage and payload. Look at the front row of rockets, the second from the right. It has a "19" at the top. Now it's just a Thor. Some of the security fencing around the Heroes and Legends construction site appears to be missing.

KSCVC reopens today. I'll try to do a closer inspection from the ground.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Matthew Blows, Part 4

The Navaho cruise missile outside Cape Canaveral's Gate 1 was destroyed by the hurricane. Image source: Bright House News 13.

Hurricane Matthew drifted east, after days of drifting west, and seems to have largely spared the Space Coast from devastation.

The eye passed just east of the tip of Cape Canaveral, meaning most of the energy in the powerful northeast quadrant was out to sea.

But the damage assessment has only begun.

Florida Today reports that, “A 500-foot tower near KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building recorded a gust up to 132 MPH. Speeds averaged between 58 and 81 MPH, NASA said.”

During the 2004 Hurricane Frances, the highest sustained wind was 68 MPH, with a gust of 94 MPH near the Mosquito Lagoon at the north end of KSC property.

NASA will conduct a “formal assessment” tomorrow morning to determine the extent of damage to its facilities. The article reported that the KSC Visitor Complex hopes to open on Sunday.

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the U.S. Air Force hasn't announced any damage either, other than indicating they will wait for winds to calm down before assessment teams take to the field. Bright House News 13 posted the above image of the destroyed Navaho cruise missile that once graced the entrance to CCAFS. It was believed to be the only remaining Navaho cruise missile in existence.

We drove home to Merritt Island this afternoon from Orlando. Most of the damage was as we approached Highway U.S. 1, the Indian River, and points east. I saw many trees and signs down, but no building collapses or anything that would be considered catastrophic.

In our neighborhood, lots of tree debris and down fences. Some trees fell over on homes. I didn't see any home that lost a roof. The tract is about fifteen years old, so many property owners had replaced their roofs in the last year or two.

We have leaves, branches, and acorns in our driveway and yard, but that's about it. We didn't even lose power, although official reports stated that half of Brevard County at one point was without power.

The worst case scenario failed to play itself out. We'll await official reports of damage, but for now it looks like KSC and CCAFS survive to launch another day.

Matthew Blows, Part 3

I woke up at 6 AM EDT to find Matthew has drifted east of its projected path. As of 6:45 AM, Bright House News 13 is reporting 100+ MPH gusts from a tower at Cape Canaveral.

The above image is a 6:15 AM EDT screen capture from It shows the eye east of Cape Canaveral as a Category 3 hurricane.

This image is courtesy of NOAA.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Matthew Blows, Part 2

The Vehicle Assembly Building in September 2004 after Hurricane Frances. Image source: Kennedy Space Center photo archives.

Twenty-four hours from now, the American space program will be very different.

Two hurricanes struck Kennedy Space Center in 2004, Frances and then Jeanne. My September 2004 blog article looked at the damage caused by those two hurricanes.

Frances was a Category 4, but dropped to Category 2 just before landfall. The strongest gust was 94 miles per hour, but the sustained winds were 68 MPH.

As of this writing, the hourly wind projections for KSC according to The Weather Channel have 100+ MPH sustained winds from 2 AM to 8 AM EDT, up to 110 MPH. After that, winds of 75+ MPH (hurricane velocity) continue into mid-afternoon.

In 2004, KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building lost about 800 panels. The Space Shuttle program was inactive at the time due to the Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, so the orbiters had been safed in their hangars and little was happening inside the VAB. The building's original roof was fairly tattered, so a new roof was installed.

Twelve years later, with sustained winds more than 30 MPH stronger, I suspect the VAB will be stripped down to its skeleton. The original pylons go down 160 feet into the bedrock. The steel structure will survive, but the VAB will be down to its birthday suit.

Aluminum panels are replaceable.

Most work in the VAB and surrounding facilities now is to upgrade High Bay 3 for the Space Launch System. Mobile platforms are being installed to work with the new tower parked outside.

The first uncrewed SLS launch on paper is scheduled for November 2018. Most external observers think it's more like 2019, but the hurricane will give NASA plenty of reason to slip the launch date.

If the mobile launch platform survives intact, there isn't much at Pad 39B that could be damaged by high velocity winds. Both KSC pads are inland from the shoreline, I'd guess about a half-mile. The pads themselves are elevated more than 40 feet, so storm surge would only affect any subterranean infrastructure. After Hurricane Sandy, NASA built up sand berms along the shoreline, so I'm not worried about Pad 39B.

With SpaceX at Pad 39A, though, that's a different matter.

As most of you know, SpaceX had a kaboom at Pad 40 on September 1. Little damage occurred beyond the pad itself, but SpaceX was planning to move its commercial launch manifest over to 39A until 40 could be repaired.

The new horizontal integration hangar at the base of the 39A ramp is an immediate concern. Like the VAB, it could be stripped. Three landed Falcon 9 boosters are stored inside.

Much of the old Space Shuttle launch tower remains. SpaceX had planned to remove the Rotating Service Structure this year, but that didn't happen. Although SpaceX doesn't need it, the RSS could launch pieces like ninja stars at over 100 MPH into the neighboring infrastructure.

Over at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Pad 40's integration hangar is elevated. The United Launch Alliance vertical towers at Pads 37 and 40 are more friendly targets for high winds.

Many historic sites will probably disappear into the past in the next 24 hours. I doubt that much of the Cape's 1950s-era Industrial Area will survive. The 1890s-vintage lighthouse will have its ultimate test, as will neighboring Hangar C, where Dr Wernher von Braun had his office for the first launches off the tip of the Cape in the early 1950s.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the main destination for global tourists, opened in August 1967. The earliest buildings would seem vulnerable. Space Shuttle Atlantis, built in 2012-2013, theoretically has a roof capable of withstanding 300 MPH winds. I'm not optimistic about the fate of the Rocket Garden. A new attraction, Heroes and Legends, is scheduled to open in November. It includes the former U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame that moved from across the Indian River.

What happens to the Space Coast in the next day will be a turning point in U.S. spaceflight. We'll have a better idea of how much remains once the clouds clear.

As I conclude, The Weather Channel is reporting that Matthew may reach Category 5. Yikes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Matthew Blows

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex shutters its gift shop for the pending storm. Image credit:

My wife and I are bunkered in a downtown Orlando hotel room, about fifty miles west of Kennedy Space Center, awaiting the worst of Hurricane Matthew.

Our home is about seven miles south of KSC, in a tract built around the year 2000. The homes are concrete block, built to hurricane code. We replaced our roof last year to comply with the updated code.

Matthew is projected to make landfall Friday somewhere on the east coast of central Florida. Most models have its intensity at Category 4, which means winds of 130-156 miles per hour. The consensus of those models has the eye making landfall somewhere around Cape Canaveral.

The most powerful part of a hurricane is its northeast quadrant. Matthew has shown a tendency to drift west of the model consensus. If it drifts much further, that would put the northeast quadrant over the Space Coast.

KSC closed this morning to prepare for Matthew's arrival, so I swung through the Visitor Complex to observe preparations. The gift shop was receiving its shutters, while the Orbit Cafe already had its metal cocoon.

With the space center closed, it wasn't possible to run bus tours, so all the buses were huddled together in the rear parking lot to protect them from the winds.

I spent the first 52 years of my life in Southern California, born with the innate power to survive a major earthquake. I always worried about the 8.3 temblor that would drop in unannounced to collapse my home, and the equity with it.

When I moved to Florida in 2009, I figured that if the eastern version of The Big One were to strike, at least I'd have plenty of advance notice so I could bug out.

So here I am in a modest Orlando hotel blogging for your amusement.

During the next few days, I'll post periodic updates on my experiences. We're expected to receive squalls here too, but the wind forecasts are about 20-30 MPH less than the Space Coast. But if Matthew continues to drift left like a drunk driver crossing a center divider, I may have more entertainment for you than planned.

If you're not local to this area, our local cable provider Bright House Networks is streaming its 24-hour News 13 channel live online without requiring a subscription. Click here to watch.

If you're on Facebook, I strongly recommend Mike's Weather Page for insight beyond The Weather Channel. Its affiliated web site is and on Twitter it's at @tropicalupdate.

Check back here for periodic updates. Unless I don't have power. Then you'll have to find another snarky blogger hiding in a Florida cave to keep you posted.