Category Archives: Space

The Wright Anniversary

It’s been 111 years. On the centennial, eleven years ago, I wrote three pieces. One at Fox News, one at TechCentralStation (which later became TCSDaily), and one at National Review on line. Unfortunately, the latter seems to have suffered from link rot. I’m trying to find out if it still exists on their server.

[Evening update]

National Review has resurrected my other piece.

Jerry Pournelle

He apparently suffered a minor stroke. From his son, Alex:

Jerry had a small stroke. He is recovering well at a local hospital. Prognosis is good, though they’re running more tests and he’s expected to stay at least another day or two.

“He felt well enough to call Mom [Mrs. Pournelle] from the hospital.

“Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. More updates when we have them.

I saw him a few weeks ago, and he seemed to be doing as well as a man his age who has recovered from a brain tumor could be expected to. Best wishes for a rapid recovery.

Friday’s Barge Landing

Here‘s the SpaceX press release. Note that no government agency is funding them to do this. It’s actual internal R&D, a rarity in this industry, at least up until now. Also, if NASA was doing this, they’d spend billions up front on analysis. In contrast, SpaceX is flying, and failing, and improving, and flying again, and failing and improving. They may not land on Friday, but they’ll be a lot closer to being able to do it.

[Update a while later]

Why the CRS-5 mission could change everything.

Our Dependence On Russian Engines

continues:

“Certainly the NDAA places future restrictions on the use of the Russian engines for national security space applications. Our application is in civil space. There’s a long history of U.S.-Russian cooperation in civil space, dating back to Apollo-Soyuz in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. Since our immediate objective is in civil space supporting the International Space Station, it’s got a slightly different twist or perspective than supporting national security space. NASA already relies on cooperation with its Russian partner in other ways to execute the ISS program [including] crew transport. Certainly it would not make sense to restrict the use of engines manufactured in Russia on a program that’s already inherently dependent on cooperation between the United States and Russia.”

In other words, civil space isn’t important. We cooperated with the Soviets during the Cold War, but we were never dependent on them. I assume this means more INKSNA waivers.

NASA’s Drift

A $350M monument to it.

I talked to Farenthold about this a few months ago, but I actually see SLS/Orion as a bigger and more dangerous waste of funds, because unlike a test stand that will almost certainly never be used, they have the vague appearance of utility to those who don’t understand the program, and will be harder to kill.

Orion

I’m not as excited about this flight as NASA and its booster want me to be, certainly not enough to get up at 4 AM. It just passed apogee, and things seem to be going well.

Meanwhile, PBS (with Miles O’Brien, of course) is the only major network to look at the serious programmatic problems. Lori doesn’t hold back.

[Update a while later, as the post-flight presser is about to start]

The Empire strikes back, briefly, but it won’t last:

The Orion launch has been be a triumph of engineering, hiccups and delays aside. But the Empire may not love the sequel. SpaceX is planning a historic launch of its own next year – the rocket is called the Falcon Heavy. Yes, Musk named his rocket after the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars, and he promises it will take twice as much payload into space as the one Nasa launched on Friday, and at one-third the cost. So far his claims about SpaceX have come true, and soon he’ll be fighting, with the lobbyists and the politicians who play favorites, for satellite contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Combine that kind of force with Elon Musk’s capsule full of actual people returning to space – under a Nasa contract to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station – and you have a private startup that can beat Nasa or any other government agency back to the moon, if it so chooses.

And so far, it does seem to so choose, though Elon will try to skip the moon and go straight to Mars, unless someone pays him for a lunar mission.

[Update a few minutes later]

No Sarah Zhang, Orion is not the answer to our space stagnation, it’s a continuation of it.

[Saturday-morning update]

Lori on MSNBC.

Orion’s Mission

Paul Spudis deflates a lot of the hype about this week’s flight. The notion that this is a significant part of a Mars architecture is, and always has been, ludicrous.

[Update a while later]

Sorry, I’ve solved the problem of the missing link.

[Update a few minutes later]

More from Joel Achenbach:

You don’t need an advanced degree from MIT to grasp that this is a very stately, deliberate program, one free of the sin of haste and the vice of urgency.

Has there ever been a piece of human space hardware developed so slowly?

Or so expensively?

Serious question: Is it not a fact that Orion is the costliest capsule in human history?

Yes, it has lots of bells and whistles that the Apollo capsules lacked. This one has XM/Sirius radio built in, butt-warmers in the seats, four-way adjustable mirrors and Big-Gulp-sized cup-holders. It’s got a guest room, a fully stocked bar, a laundry room and 24-hour concierge service. It’s a really nice spaceship!

…Orion could, in theory, be used for such a mission, but it’s a single piece of what would be a complex array of technologies and hardware. Yes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but only if you keep walking, and are seriously committed to the journey — no pretending or arm-waving allowed.

(I drive to the store and buy an onion. I drive home and cut it up and put it in a big pot on the stove and then go watch television. Someone asks me, “What are you doing?” and I answer, “I’m making gumbo.” And the someone says, “What about the garlic, the peppers, the celery, the fresh okra, the andouille sausage, the grilled chicken, the fish, the shrimp, those special blended peppers you always use, and the roux, not to mention the fresh French bread on the side?” I answer, “I can’t afford that right now.”)

Heh.

Orion

Eric Berger has the latest installment of his series on NASA’s drift (which is likely to become a book, I think):

NASA’s rank-and-file believe America wants a space program pushing outward, and upward.

“We don’t think of our jobs here as white-collar welfare,” Kramer said. “We have a real passion for what we do.”

Of course you don’t. You have to motivate yourself to go to work. But that doesn’t make it untrue.

I weep to think what that billion dollars per year could be doing if applied to something useful.

[Update a while later]

I should note that I have worked on many projects that I considered a pointless waste of money, because it was my job assignment. While I’m probably more cynical than most, I did eventually tire of helping Congress waste the taxpayers’ money, which is why I quit the mainstream industry two decades ago.

Interstellar

Just got back from a week in Missouri visiting family, and still haven’t seen the movie. But I see that (miracle of miracles) it’s still playing in IMAX at one theater in LA, just a few minutes away, so going to finally check it out at a matinee today.

[Monday update]

A lot to comment on, but many reviewers have already digested it pretty thoroughly. One comment I haven’t seen is the problem of the psychodynamics of such a long mission with several men and one woman (a problem shared by the original Planet of the Apes movie, though she died en route).

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.