Category Archives: Space

My Initial Project Status

For those not backers, but interested in what’s happening, I did a project update this morning:

I’m starting to spool up on the project (I expect to actually be funded this week — there’s a two-week delay after the close). Leonard David has a report today that the “Affordable Mars Strategy” report has been published and is available for free download [note: I haven’t actually been able to find the download — all I could find at Leonard’s link was Scott Hubbard’s op-ed — but I think I have the report]. I’ve also been in communication with the authors (specifically, John Baker and Nathan Strange at JPL), and received a lot of material from them last week (some of which may be redundant with the report). I’m planning a trip to Denver next week to (among other things) talk to folks at ULA about integrated vehicle fluids and propellant depots.

The JPL work will provide a foundation for my own analysis, and I’ll probably be discussing it with them. While I think they have a good solution for what they perceive to be their problem, I have fundamentally different top-level requirements.

I would characterize their approach as “Apollo to Mars”: A destination, a date, civil-servant boots on the ground, with a giant government-owned-and-operated rocket, except (unlike Apollo) it is budget constrained. I don’t think that will be any more economically and politically sustainable than Apollo was. I also think, bluntly, as a taxpayer and space enthusiast, that it would not be worth the money.

My approach is to get NASA completely out of the earth-to-orbit business, and to take the savings to develop the technology needed to build a scalable in-space reusable, resilient, affordable transportation architecture, that will enable not simply NASA, but anyone else who wants to, to go to the Red Planet.

And not just to Mars.

SpaceX Failure Effects

They have a long list of customers left in the lurch.

[Update a few minutes later]

Another story, from Eric Berger, with political implications.

[Afternoon update]

New details emerge:

The Falcon 9 was at an altitude of approximately 45 km and traveling in excess of 5,000 km per hour when a problem developed in the second stage. SpaceRef can confirm from sources within SpaceX that the Falcon 9 first stage performed nominally i.e. as expected. Indeed, if you watch launch video, you can see that first stage continues to function steady and stable even while the front end of the rocket was destroying itself. That in and of itself is impressive.

According to SpaceX sources telemetry received from the Dragon spacecraft showed that it too was functioning normally after the mishap occurred and this telemetry continued to be sent back from Dragon for a significant period of time.

Despite an earlier statement from NASA to the contrary, SpaceX sources now confirm that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point.

That’s probably what confused Senator Nelson, when he said this morning that the Air Force had destroyed the vehicle.

The Falcon Failure

I overslept. Just got up and saw my Twitter feed.

My immediate thought: This makes is a lot harder to sell my thesis that we need to start flying crew ASAP. I haven’t changed my mind, but I’ve never claimed that it would be safe to do so, just that it was important to do so. My second thought: Would the launch abort system have worked for this event? I really am surprised at this.

[Update a few minutes later]

Unfortunately, it happened before stage separation, so they didn’t get to even attempt a landing.

[Update a couple minutes later]

[Update a few minutes later]

Second question (per Henry Vanderbilt’s comment): Could capsule have separated absent an LAS? Was the Dragon destroyed by range safety itself?

[Update a while later]

Some video, sent by my book editor.

[Evening update]

Thoughts and history from Stephen Smith:

Humanity reached the Moon in 1969, yet failures and fatalities still happen. They always will.

Today I met a 12-year old from a Colorado middle school who had an experiment aboard SpaceX CRS-7. I told her I was sorry she lost her experiment, but she was undeterred. Grinning from ear to ear, she said, “We’ll build another one and do it again!”

As he notes, so will SpaceX.

[Update a few minutes later]

A good balanced take from the WaPo.

Andy Weir On Elon Musk

Ashlee Vance had a conversation with him:

I love that NASA is working on new technologies and new stuff, but it just seems way more expensive than alternatives. You’re talking about spending $20 billion on a booster to put 150,000kg in orbit. Meanwhile, SpaceX intends to put 53,000kg into space for $100 million per booster. You could buy three of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rockets for $300 million, then spend $1 billion to assemble whatever heavy thing you wanted to put in space, and keep the other $8 billion. It just seems like this huge discrepancy in expenses. Governments don’t always do the economically viable thing, right? There’s a lot of politics involved.

You don’t say.

Congressional Logic

SLS behind schedule? Increase the budget. Commercial Crew behind schedule? Cut the budget.

And of course, Commercial Crew is not in fact behind schedule. If NASA is hedging its bets by buying Soyuz into 2018, that’s because, for good reason, it has no confidence that it will get the needed funding. So Congressional actions become self fulfilling.