Category Archives: Technology and Society

SLS Engines

They still have no idea what they’re going to do after thye run out of SSMEs.

As I noted on Twitter:

[Afternoon update]

XCOR/ULA

An interesting milestone:

Mojave, CA, November 20, 2014 – XCOR Aerospace today announced it has completed the latest test series for the liquid hydrogen engine it is developing for United Launch Alliance (ULA). This is an important milestone in the long-running LH2 (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen) program. It is also a step toward running the engine in a fully closed cycle mode.

In its most recent milestone, XCOR successfully performed hot fire testing of the XR-5H25 engine’s regeneratively cooled thrust chamber,with both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants supplied inpump-fed mode, using XCOR’s proprietary piston pump technology.

“This test marks the first time liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen have been supplied to a rocket engine with a piston pump,” says XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “It is also the first time an American LH2 engine of this size has successfully fired liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen together in pump-fed mode. We are happy to be making solid progress on the engines. This will also bring us to a new phase in our plans for orbital flight.

“ULA has an ongoing effort to develop rocket engines for our next generation upper stage, and we are thrilled to see that progress continuing with XCOR,” added ULA Vice President George Sowers.

Upcoming test series will fully integrate the nozzle with the engine and piston pumps. Fully closed cycle testing will follow soon afterwards and will complete the sub-scale demonstration engine program.

The XR-5H25 engines are being developed under contract to ULA as potential successors to the Delta and Atlas series upper stage engines currently used. These engines will also help power orbital launches.

I suspect they’ll find it useful for their own launchers as well.

The Grubergate Insider Problem

A long but useful essay from Megan McArdle.

We have a similar issue in the space industry. I see all the hype about the upcoming Orion flight, and as an industry analyst (though not quite an insider) I know that it’s nonsense, but it’s hard to get people to realize that NASA officials are often forced to dish nonsense to placate rent-seeking congresspeople; as outsiders, they are still in awe of the government agency that put men on the moon four-and-a-half decades ago.

There is also this:

…when I see journalists saying that Gruber’s revelations don’t matter because he’s just kind of awkwardly saying something that everyone knew, I get a little jittery. I am not “everyone,” and neither are any of those journalists. We’re a tiny group of people with strange preoccupations who get paid to spend our time understanding and explaining this stuff. The fact that we may have mentioned it once to our readers, in the 18th paragraph, does not mean that readers read it and understood what it meant. (In fact, if you actually interact with your readers, you’ll be astonished at how little they remember of what you told them, especially if you didn’t go out of your way to headline it. Their minds are already crammed full of information that they need to, you know, live their lives. So they tend to take away a few big bullet points, not the piddling details.)

I see the same thing when I argue with people on Twitter, or in comments — we often go around in circles because they seem to have forgotten some previous point I’d already made, or read what they wanted to read instead of what I actually wrote. The dismaying thing is that these are often people who love space, but they end up being cheerleaders for things (like SLS/Orion) that are roadblocks rather than enablers.

Those Back-To-Back Commercial Space Disasters

Frank Morring says they were coincidence, and that failure is inevitable. I made the same point at PJMedia last week:

…it is important to understand that there was absolutely no relationship between OSC’s and VG’s accidents, other than they were both commercial activities. It was pure coincidence that they happened within a span of three days. But in both cases, response was rapid.

Nonetheless, a lot of ignorant people will try to use these events to shut down commercial spaceflight.

NASA’s Mission To Nowhere

Francis seems to suffer from a lack of imagination:

Space analysts said planning and executing a manned mission to Mars would take years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

French wants NASA to head in that direction, and he sees next month’s Orion launch as the inaugural milestone in a long journey.

Still, he’s circumspect.

“Unless we build the rockets and test the spacecraft needed to get into deep space, sending humans to Mars will remain a dream for centuries to come,” French said. “Whether Orion will be the vehicle, and whether it will survive the brutal budgetary cycles of Washington politics for the many years ahead that it will need to be funded, is impossible to say. It’s hard to imagine any other method succeeding.

Space historians often suffer from this malady.

Feminist Bullies

Mollie Hemingway says it’s time to fight back.

[Update a while later]

No space for sewing circles.

[Update late morning]

Thoughts from Ken White.

I think the shirt was a poor choice for the occasion, and that a lot of people overreacted to it, and then a lot of people overreacted to the overreaction. That’s what happens with Social Justice Warriors.

Siebold’s Testimony

Sounds like he didn’t have any new information for the NTSB, but I’d still like to hear his description of the engine burn and vibration environment. Note, it doesn’t say he doesn’t remember the feathers being unlocked, but that he was unaware of it (i.e., cognizant of his experience right up until breakup).

[Update a few minutes later]

Andy Pasztor has the problematic history of the program. I haven’t read it yet.

[Update a while later]

OK, the WSJ piece seems to line up pretty well with my own understanding of the history. I talked to Jon Ostrower last week to give him some background, and he seems to have incorporated some of what I told him, though he didn’t quote me. Which is fine.

Congratulations To ESA

My twitter feed’s been exploding with tweets about the comet landing. Unfortunately, the harpoons apparently didn’t automatically deploy, so they don’t yet have a sure grab to the surface, which could make sampling operations difficult. The surface seems to be softer than expected. But they’re still working the problem.

This is good news for asteroid miners, though.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, hearing that they managed to anchor with the ice screws, so maybe harpoons are redundant now.

The Asteroid Retrieval Mission

Lee Billings describes the ARM policy mess.

It’s a mission they came up with for an overpriced, non-existent and unnecessary rocket looking for a mission. And note this rationale:

She and other NASA officials note that the advanced propulsion required for ARM would be enabling technology for a broad range of future missions and that ARM would be a crucial test for many deep-space activities crucial for someday reaching Mars. And it would do all this while keeping astronauts sufficiently close to home so that if something goes wrong, they could attempt an emergency return to Earth.

Safety is the highest priority.