Showing posts from 2011

A Little Ray Of Sunshine

Well it seems someone managed to sneak into the commercial crew office at NASA and smack them with a clue stick. Today they announced that there will be a third round of Space Act Agreements to maximize the $406M awarded for the program in FY2012.

That's the way NASA sees it anyway. What this actually means is that the partners which are selected - and we're told they desire to select more than one - will be free to pursue their own goals without the burdensome oversight of the growing commercial crew office. It means that companies like SpaceX can design their Dragon capsule to service both NASA's needs and the needs of other companies like the recently announced Statolaunch without asking Mother May I?

I can't wait to see the milestones.

The Case Against SpaceX

As an advocate of commercial spaceflight I can understand why many find it difficult to write objectively about SpaceX - which is arguably the poster child of this nascent industry. As a result, the majority of negative commentary about our darling comes from a horrible "journalist" like Andy Pasztor at The Wall Street Journal or a traditional aerospace mouth-piece like Loren Thompson at Forbes. An occasional coherent comment on a blog or space forum may be accepted by the space community as containing a nugget of truth, but these are easily filed in the don't-think-too-hard-about basket and forgotten. I've taken to thinking about the criticism I have heard, and after some long and rather arduous discussion with these critics I've processed it through what I hope are reasonable and constructive filtering. Here's the finished package.

The Circuitous Route To Reuse

Since SpaceX first announced the Falcon 9 they have claimed it is designed to be reusable, but the…

Why Commercial Crew Is Doomed

NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, or "CCDev", has been a resounding success - and that's why they're not doing it anymore.

Inspired by the earlier Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or "COTS", and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus to the tune of $50M, CCDev came out swinging in 2010 with five US companies producing impressive results on what was essentially bonus pay to NASA. As such, it was no surprise when a further $270M was provided for the second round, or "CCDev2". This round is now coming to a close, with continuing achievement from US companies with minimal oversight from NASA. Also, a number of "unfunded" CCDev agreements have been made which receive only use of NASA facilities and expertise - they too have been successful.

With all this success, it might seem strange that NASA is dropping the CCDev program - but they are. They intend to move on to a "pro…

This Is Why Space Settlement Is Important

It's the end of civilization.. or so some would have us believe. If they don't get their wish, they intend to take it.. by force. Humanity going into space isn't about leaving them behind, but wouldn't it be nice?

With my most humble apologies to Jeff Greason.
As a follow up I posted this over at kuro5hin.

Cancelled Crew Transportation Systems


EML1 Buildup

Today's space launch market is used to place satellites - commercial, scientific and military - into orbit, with the majority going to the geostationary orbit. In all such cases, the launch vehicle does not perform the final maneuver to circularize the orbit. The satellite is dropped off and circularizes its own orbit using on-board propellant. This is a significant delta-v change of about 1.6 km/s, and the remaining fuel is used to maintain the orbit, usually for 25 years or more.

Launch to Geostationary Transfer Orbit, circularize using on-board propellant. This is the standard model for how satellites are deployed into space. It is a mature process which has served us well for decades. However, when planning an exploration architecture, it has always been treated as irrelevant.

Here is a list of some current (and one near future) launch vehicles, their listed throw mass to GTO and the calculated mass that can be placed into the first Earth-Moon Lagrange point using a 312 …

Dreaming About NASA Mismanagement

There's so many things packed up in this clip. For a start, the House isn't trying to cut the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) because "we don't have the money" or to save money or for any budgetary reason what-so-ever. The House is trying to cut JWST because the Government Accountability Office reported that NASA, and the contractor, have been mismanaging this program. They reported this three different times and required reports on what NASA was going to do about it - NASA didn't provide those reports. The House even said that the reason they were looking to cut JWST was to send a message that ignoring oversight will not be tolerated.

Does that mean the JWST isn't important? No.. no-one is saying that. Everyone agrees that JWST is important and that it will give results of significant scientific discoveries should it ever be completed and launched.. but when will that be? Within a two week period - after the House suggested cutting the budget - …

We've Already Got Propellant Depots

The solution to so many space logistics problems is: use a bigger rocket. Propellant depots allow you to add another solution: use more rockets.

Now, for some reason, many people who are advocates of propellant depots object to just using existing space storable propellants because that would mean you'd need to launch more mass than if you used cryogenic propellants. Well, so what? More launches - that's a good thing!

We don't need technology development to make propellant depots work. They already work.. we already have one in orbit!

Suppose you want to send 100 tons to Mars transfer orbit. You need either 236 tons of storable propellant or 144 tons of cryogenic propellant (and that's being overly generous to cryogenics). Instead of 5 Falcon Heavy launches you now only need 3. So what? How much is that worth?

So, ya know, NASA has selected companies to study storing cryogenic propellants in space.. and that's great. Technology development, in general, is fantasti…

All we need is a really long tether!

I've written previously about non-rotating artificial gravity in Earth orbit. After recently watching this stinker I broke out the code I use to figure out gravity gradient effects. Surprisingly, this seems pretty good:

AltitudeMassGravityLEO Station300 km273 tons0.999 gGEO Station35786 km30 tons0.38 g

Of course, this is a much longer tether than in the film.. but hey, Danny Baldwin is in it - he doesn't make good movies. Anyway, the high station could be an ISS-style module with airlock and docking ports for satellite servicing vehicles. The low station would be a true permanently inhabited facility where people can live for years at a time without fear of bone mass deterioration or the other negative effects of zero gravity. To maximize space we may be tempted to use inflatable Bigelow modules, but we have to consider how they will behave in full gravity.

The only sticking point left is radiation. On the LEO station crews have much less exposure to cosmic radiation than…

Annoying Anonymous Comments

Lately I've attracted a number of annoying comments. As such anonymous comments are henceforth unwelcome. I apologize to everyone who commented anonymously previously without being annoying but Blogger provides me with no other means of sending the jerks packing.

NASA Is Going To Explore Deep Space

Did you hear? The MPCV is crossing the country. You can go take your children to see the *cough* future of human spaceflight. Thanks to Rand Simberg for all the help with this video.

Fooling Yourself

I was asked to comment on this article. I think Greg’s replies have done a better job than I ever could have in proving the futility of such comments.

According to him, the world consists of the established and successful NASA and the young and inexperienced "New Space Boys" and no-one else. Inexplicably the Boeing corporation exists in both camps.

The "whisper campaign" against Constellation, which no sensible person would deny existed, is absurdly attributed to "New Space Boys" in an effort to rewrite history – it was clearly NASA civil servants, contractors and other malcontents under the DIRECT banner who led that effort, advocating a Shuttle-derived launch vehicle over Griffin's Ares launch family.

If the civil war inside NASA is to be divided into two camps at all, those are the battle lines which have been firmly established. But like all bipolar characterizations, this is also too simplistic.

The enormity of Greg's worldview is just scapeg…

Rebirth Of The Spaceship

Over the last year the space advocate community has splintered into two major groups in answering the question "where should we go next?" Moon First or Mars First. This division was present in the Review of Human Spaceflight (aka Augustine) committee's final report in late 2009, with the surprising conclusion that there isn't the funds for either, suggesting a number of intermediate destinations first - including asteroids. However, as few people consider asteroids to be truly interesting destinations for the human utilization of space (except me!), the debate rages on.

Many Moon First advocates are "Mars Next" advocates while most Mars First advocates are "Moon Again?" detractors. The former claim that Mars exploration will benefit from lunar exploration, particularly in experience and risk reduction, and perhaps the procurement of propellant. The latter claim that lunar exploration is just a distraction and want to avoid the risk of being …

You've gotta love him

For anyone who wonders why I still love Bob Zubrin, watch this video:

It's the passion.

For anyone who needs a horrific demonstration of closed world thinking, combined with a little intellectual elitism, read on.

Please Stop Lying To Children

Here in Australia we have a shameless tradition of claiming celebrities who are not quite Australian. The best example of this is probably Mel Gibson - back when anyone wanted to claim him - who wasn't actually born in Australia, he just lived here for a portion of his childhood. It is generally agreed that anyone who was born in New Zealand can never be considered an Australian (just kidding kiwis, we love you) but if they're famous they're automatically Australian. The common joke is that any celebrity who so much as flies over Australia will be offered citizenship.

Something like the Australian celebrity phenomena happens when people start talking about NASA spinoffs, here's how it works: a speaker creates the implication that civil servant NASA scientists developed some new technology which was subsequently "spun off" to form a commercial product. The most common example of this is Velcro, but there are plenty of others. Whenever you dig into these c…

The Role Of The Goverment

Recently I've been pondering the purpose of government spending on human spaceflight. My own politics typically preempt me from such thoughts as I honestly do believe that taxes should not be collected to fund non-essential services. However, I pride myself on being able to set aside my own ideology and think like others, in the hope of learning more about their motivations and possibly even understanding their actions.

With that disclaimer out of the way, what is the legitimate role of government in human spaceflight?

In general, the government should not compete with private industry. For example, if there is domestic production of cars, it is wrong for the government to set up their own car shops. Whatever goal the government is trying to achieve by doing such can almost certainly be better served through regulation or incentives. It's wrong because of the effect it would have on the industry. With the power of the treasury behind it, the government can sell cheaper o…

Page 113

I'm currently reading "Choice Not Fate" by James A. Vedda, Ph.D. It's a dry volume of 201 pages that rambles from historic interpretation to beltway praise for inane space policy and regularly promises the reader discussion on side points in later chapters that never come. On page 113 the author finally gets around to saying what I believe the entire book is actually about.

In the future, NASA must be prepared to make judgments that will be interpreted as endorsements of particular companies or technical paths serving space markets, such as who receives government assistance and who doesn't. This places NASA in the position of making industrial policy decisions on who gets to develop space infrastructure and resources.

Jesus, really? Up until this point I took the author's constant negative references to partisanship as a distaste to politics and assumed he had no particular leaning, way to yank the veil back dude. Now I have to consider whether not I sho…

They All Laughed At Christopher Columbus

"I didn't expect to be ridiculed,
for trying our best to change the world."
- Gary Hudson

My review of this book has been picked up by
Moonandback, you can read it over there.

We Need Technology Development

It seems pretty obvious that we don't currently have the technology to become a spacefaring civilization. Certainly there is stuff in space we could be doing using existing technology, and with great expense, but to really begin the human utilization and colonization of space we need a large variety of technological innovations.

Jon Goff gave a great list of short term technologies that need to be developed before we can really consider society to be spacefaring.

This should be the start of the story.

Charlie Bolden, Worst NASA Administrator Ever?

Gah! He's telling you the answer and you still can't answer the question.

How COTS-D Was Killed

Lest we forget, under Mike Griffin NASA awarded to SpaceX an option in their Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract to develop a crew transport capability. The Space Act Agreement looked like this:

MilestonePaymentProject Management Plan Review and
Crew Demo 1 System Requirements Review$27,420,000Financing D1$10,000,000Crew Demo 1 System Preliminary Design Review$22,420,000Crew Demo 2 System Requirements Review$25,420,000Crew Demo 1 Critical Design Review$20,420,000Crew Demo 2 System Preliminary Design Review$20,420,000Crew Demo 1 Demonstration Readiness Review$20,420,000Crew Demo 3 System Requirements Review$25,420,000Financing 2D$10,000,000Crew Demo 2 Critical Design Review$18,420,000Crew Demo 3 System Preliminary Design Review$20,420,000Crew Demo 1 Mission$15,420,000Crew Demo 2 Demonstration Readiness Review$18,420,000Crew Demo 3 Critical Design Review$18,420,000Crew Demo 2 Mission$8,420,000Crew Demo 3 Demonstration Readiness Review$18,420,000Crew Demo 3 Mission$8,420,…

New Space Music Video

An idea that has been bouncing around in my head for a few years..

Great to finally get it out.

Making Fusion Rockets Relevant

If you read the literature on fusion rockets you probably have a pretty firm idea in mind of what they're good for and when they'll be relevant - in "the future". No good fusion rocket paper is complete without a superconducting magnet here, and a magnetic nozzle there - in fact, these widgets are a primary ingredient of any fusion propulsion design and the more infeasible or untested they are, the better. This seems obvious: fusion rockets are the future because we don't have fusion yet.. right? Actually, no.

Producing nuclear fusion isn't all that hard. Amateurs regularly cobble together desktop fusion devices like the Farnsworth Fusor and other contraptions. The significant hard problem of fusion is getting more energy out of the device than you put into it. The current government backed effort to achieve this is the ITER project who are building a tokamak style device, but many other schemes are also being tried, with significantly less funding.


Space Colonization As The Savior Of Progress

The idea of Progress, as defined by J. B. Bury, proclaims that "civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction". Ever since the 1960s the belief in Progress has been waning and some would say that it has been completely lost to the current generation. Going beyond Bury's definition, Taylor E. Dark III provides three mutually reinforcing and interlocking premises:

1. NO LIMITS. There are no fundamental limits – nor should there be – on the collective human capacity to grow, no matter how growth is defined (which may be in terms of knowledge, wealth, power, population, or morality). Progress is endless (or at least indefinite for all practical purposes).

2. ALL GOOD THINGS GO TOGETHER. Advancements in science and technology, and the resulting mastery over nature, expand our knowledge, wealth, and power, and, in so doing, bring improvements in the moral, political, and spiritual character of the human race. The elements of progress are linked …

The Easy Way To The Moon

I recently described how to fly to the Moon solo using SpaceX hardware. Someone asked me why I worked out an Apollo 8 style flight and didn't just do a simple free return trajectory.. after all, it's a lot easier - and that's actually the reason - it's too dog gone easy. In order to make this interesting I decided to try to think of the easiest way to do a free return trajectory. Preferably, we'd like to use an unmodified spacecraft and launch vehicle and not have to develop any other hardware.

For a start, let's forget this whole idea of an Earth Departure Stage - we'll just throw the Dragon spacecraft to lunar orbit. This sure is simple, but it only gives us 2585 kg to work with. This prompts the question, exactly what is the mass of an unladen Dragon.. yeah, yeah, I know - African or European?

Looking at the Falcon 9 Users Guide we find that it can throw 9358 kg to 51.6ยบ with an altitude of 400 km. SpaceX will happily tell you that the Dragon can …

Two Game Changing Technologies

The Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit (yes, that's Richard Garriott) and Mini-Magnetosphere Radiation Shielding are two technologies which, if successful, will change the way you think about space exploration and eventually even colonization. They address the two fundamental stumbling blocks of long term missions in space: the negative health affects of zero-g and radiation exposure.

Zero-G Skinsuits exert a force on the wearer's body which duplicates the loading on the skeleton that gravity usually provides. The expectation is that Skinsuits will reduce or eliminate the deleterious bone loss that astronauts currently experience in zero-g. So far, the prototypes have only been tested on parabolic flights, although they are similar to the Russian penguin suits which were used by cosmonauts on MIR (unfortunately with little to no reported results - as is typical of Russian space medicine).

Should Skinsuits turn out to be effective at eliminating bone loss, and possibly…

UFO Evidence (or the lack thereof)

"I was on the beach, at the water's edge and looked to the west to see a beautiful, bright moon. Except it wasn't the moon! It was a bright light moving slowly east, towards me and surrounded by a swirling mist. The mist rotated clockwise around the bright, white light and followed it perfectly."

Harry saw something strange in the sky, so he grabbed his video camera and put it up on youtube. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and plenty of other people do the same. You could say it's a defining feature of the society we now live in. Most of us walk around with a camera in our pocket. Many of us whip out our camera phones to take a picture of anything interesting, funny, or even just to later post on Facebook to show that we're out having a fun time.

As it turns out, this particular UFO was quickly identified as the second stage of the first Falcon 9 flight, spinning uncontrolled despite valiant efforts by the thrusters to correct the spin. It…

How The Politicians Think

If you have one of these, turn it off now

It's almost funny whenever a member of Congress opens their mouth and says something about NASA. Thankfully I don't pull my hair out or I'd be bald by now, it's just that funny. Here's a quick list of things I have to remember to make sense of US space policy.

"Heavy Lift" means super heavy lift. Whenever a politician says "heavy lift", or just about anyone talking about space policy, they mean a vehicle that can lift more than 50 tons to LEO. Actually, they almost always mean a Saturn class vehicle.. and in many cases they actually just mean the Saturn V. When someone who actually works in the space industry says "heavy lift" they mean heavy lift - a vehicle that can lift more than 20 tons to LEO but less than 50 tons. And they almost always are talking about actual vehicles that you can place an order for right now.

The workforce is precious, and capable and vital, except for when they're a…