Category Archives: Space

Baumgartner’s Skydiving Record

has been broken already. It’s inevitable that people are going to want to do this from a hundred kilometers.

[Update a while later]

Here’s the press release:

Roswell, NM – Oct. 24, 2014 – Following the record-breaking 135,908-foot space dive accomplished by Google’s Alan Eustace and the Paragon StratEx team, World View Enterprises, the commercial balloon spaceflight company, has acquired the technology from this history-making project. The acquisition will advance the company’s mission to pioneer a new frontier at the edge of space for travel and research.

“We’d like to congratulate Paragon Space Development Corporation® and its StratEx team along with Alan Eustace and all involved on their exceptional work,” said Taber MacCallum, World View’s chief technology officer, and Paragon’s founding CEO and CTO. “Without the efforts of these companies and Alan’s dedication, the project would not have been possible. World View is proud to carry the StratEx technology into the future by leveraging the incredible experience gained into a new era of space flights.”

For StratEx, Eustace was lifted to his peak altitude of 135,908 feet via high-altitude balloon, the same ballooning system that World View will employ to launch sailing-like journeys to the edge of space. While World View’s voyagers will ascend within a luxuriously engineered pressurized capsule, Eustace was kept safe from the elements in a self-contained space suit system designed with the goal of allowing manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Paragon, which specializes in extreme environmental control systems, initiated the project with Eustace and worked with him to develop, build and manage the system used during the incredible space dive.

As former Paragon executives, World View founders Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter played integral roles in the success of StratEx. MacCallum served as CEO and CTO of Paragon and played a key role in the development of the StratEx program, then transitioned to the critical role of chief safety officer, working with the team to ensure Eustace’s wellbeing. MacCallum will leverage this experience from the successful StratEx dive in his role as the chief technology officer for World View. Jane Poynter, World View’s CEO, served as the president and chairwoman of Paragon throughout the development of the StratEx program.

The patent-pending technology developed for StratEx has been acquired by World View for future space travel and research flights, adding depth to World View’s systems for launch, recovery, communications, ballooning, tracking, mission control, avionics and aerodynamics, among others.

World View will have Voyagers floating peacefully to the edge of space for a one-to-two-hour space cruise within a luxury capsule complete with bar and lavatory, which is transported by a parafoil and high-altitude balloon. Guests will enjoy 360-degree vistas of the world’s most spectacular panorama, marveling at the beauty of the Earth below, watching the sun slowly rise above the curvature of our planet suspended in a vast, black and infinite universe. They can even share the experience in real-time with loved ones thanks to in-flight Internet access.

Individuals who wish to be a pioneer in this exciting new era of space exploration can reserve their World View flight with a $5,000 deposit; the remaining $70,000 is due six months prior to their flight. Visit us to reserve.

In addition to offering breathtaking experiences for Voyagers, the capabilities being developed by World View will offer unprecedented and affordable access to the near-space environment for educators, researchers, private companies and government agencies alike.

World View has a number of strategic partners in this endeavor. Paragon Space Development Corporation® has decades of experience developing life support and space-related technologies. Paragon is leading the design and development of the World View space capsule. United Parachute Technologies, Performance Designs and MMIST, all leaders in pioneering parachute technology, are providing expertise and support for the development of the flight system’s airborne guidance unit and innovative parafoil.

About World View

Offering a gentle, comfortable, and life-changing travel experience to the edge of space for private citizens; and affordable access to a range of near-space commercialization opportunities for researchers, private companies and government agencies, World View is pioneering a new era of discovery at the edge of space. Available today for unmanned commercial opportunities with an altitude threshold of 130,000 feet, and currently taking reservations for manned flights and private tours, World View is creating unprecedented access to the near-space environment. Watch the World View experience here. For more information, visit http://www.worldviewexperience.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates.

ABOUT PARAGON

Paragon Space Development Corporation® is a premier provider of environmental control components and systems for extreme and hazardous environments. As an industry leader in designing and manufacturing of thermal control and life support systems, Paragon provides solutions for its customer’s most challenging extreme environment protection needs in space, on Earth, in water and underground. Founded in 1993, Paragon is a small business headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. For more information on Paragon please click here.

Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention, but this is the first that I’d heard they were planning to do this. It had nowhere near the hype that Red Bull did with Baumgartner. Of course, the latter was about branding, so it makes sense that they’d give it a lot of publicity.

The Welfare State Of West California

Moving on in our examination of Tim Draper’s six Californias, from Nuevo Colorado (aka Central California), we come to the new state of West California. It’s ironic that it’s shown as green on the map, considering that it will be born into pension and welfare poverty.

Continue reading

Bootstrapping A Solar-System Civilization

There was an interesting blog post at OSTP last week:

Have ideas for massless exploration and bootstrapping a Solar System civilization? Send your ideas for how the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community, and storytellers can further these goals at massless@ostp.gov.

Needless to say, I don’t expect this to go anywhere with the current Congressional committees.

China’s Big Gamble In Space

A brief history of their program, from Joan Johnson-Freese.

I’d note that as long as they follow the Soviets/Russians lead in tech, they won’t be doing anything big. Like the voyages of Zheng He, it seems to be more about prestige than expansion. If and when SpaceX starts to reuse their launchers, that will set the new bar for space activity.

A History Of SpaceX

There’s a good article over at Quartz about the company and Elon. It had a few errors, though.

And the response?

That’s exactly how it should work.

The Bioethics Of Mars Settlement

An interesting article over at Slate that raises similar concerns to mine:

If we send heterosexual astronauts, of different sexes and of reproductive age, on extended space missions, then the possibility of pregnancy looms. To ward that off, could it be ethical to demand sterilization for any potentially fertile astronauts in a mixed-sex crew? Radiation exposure may eventually take care of the issue by causing infertility, but some pregnancies could happen before infertility occurs. Is conception even possible in the zero-gravity of space, or in the low-gravity, high-radiation habitats on Mars? If so, would a fetus develop normally?

We don’t know, since it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with human subjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space. For some, it’s a crucial part of the business plan, as in the case of Mars One’s goal of moving toward a “permanent human settlement.”

As I noted:

What I would suggest to the Mars One people, though, is given that they’re planning to spend billions on this project, and the long-term goal is to have true human settlement of the planet, which necessarily involves offspring of the settlers, they devote a modest amount of their budget funding research that NASA has completely neglected for decades, but that others have privately proposed, to establish a variable-gravity laboratory in orbit where we can start to understand these issues. The fact that NASA (or Congress) have never given such research any priority whatsoever is eloquent testimony to how unimportant both consider the goal of spreading humanity into the solar system. But until we do, young people who want to go off to barren (at least initially) worlds will have to continue to face the prospect of remaining barren themselves.

Space really isn’t important, politically. Just “space” jobs.

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, Kate Greene says that economics would dictate that a Mars mission consist of all women.

Here’s my problem with that. While of course mass is an important consideration, it isn’t the only one. I would argue that any Mars mission would have to be based on an affordable mission concept, and that if it is, mass won’t matter that much, and if it isn’t, no one will go. Beyond that, I think there’s a flaw in the logic here, or at least insufficient information:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

We were only allowed to exit the habitat if we wore mock spacesuits. So many Martian hassles, so little glory.

The data certainly fit with my other observations. At mealtime, the women took smaller portions than the men, who often went back for seconds. One crew member complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite all the calories he was taking in.

She doesn’t say, but is it possible that maybe the men were doing more physical work? If so, it might be that if the women had to do all of the heavy lifting, their calorie consumption would increase too. In any event, if you just want to send people to Mars for the sake of sending people to Mars, a female crew would be fine, but if you want to settle the planet, there would be a problem…

[Tuesday-morning update]

There seems to be a lot of off-topic whining in comments about what will be “allowed.” I said nothing about government involvement. I simply expressed an opinion that, given current knowledge, it would be unethical to attempt to have children on Mars (or even in weightlessness). I stand by that opinion.

The Quality Of Metal 3-D-Printed Objects

Looks like it’s about to exceed any other fabrication technology:

“We can now control local material properties, which will change the future of how we engineer metallic components,” Dehoff said. “This new manufacturing method takes us from reactive design to proactive design. It will help us make parts that are stronger, lighter and function better for more energy-efficient transportation and energy production applications such as cars and wind turbines.”

The researchers demonstrated the method using an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM), in which successive layers of a metal powder are fused together by an electron beam into a three-dimensional product. By manipulating the process to precisely manage the solidification on a microscopic scale, the researchers demonstrated 3-dimensional control of the microstructure, or crystallographic texture, of a nickel-based part during formation.

Crystallographic texture plays an important role in determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties. Applications from microelectronics to high-temperature jet engine components rely on tailoring of crystallographic texture to achieve desired performance characteristics.

“We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location-specific crystal-structure orientations in a part.”

This will be key for human expansion into space.

ISPCS

The opening ceremony is a (brief, presumably) literal space opera about a mission to Mars.

[Update]

“Searching for nothing but action verbs” on Mars. OK.

[Update after the 20-minute opera]

Pat Hynes paying tribute to the late Bill Gaubatz, who helped her get this conference started ten years ago, who died in July.

Off To Las Cruces

I’m heading to the airport to go to ISPCS. I’ll check in later.

[Later]

OK, made it here, went to reception, much food and drink was consumed and many old acquaintances refreshed. Lots of compliments on the book, but this is the choir. Off to bed, and conference tweeting/blogging on the morrow.

Safe Is Not An Option: A Review

Finally, someone at NASA is willing to take the book seriously enough to critically review it. Obviously, I will respond at some point (TL;DR version, he cherry picks and ignores much of what I have to say, but that’s to be expected, given his NASA-centric viewpoint), but it’s a bad week between taxes and ISPCS. Anyway, despite my disagreement with the review itself, I’m sincerely grateful to Mr. Fodrocci for finally acknowledging the book’s existence, rather than (as much of the industry, including IAASS, has) pretending it doesn’t exist and hoping it will just go away.

Sierra Nevada’s Bid

Why NASA rejected it:

Although the document praises Sierra’s “strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished,” it cautions that the company’s Dream Chaser had “the longest schedule for completing certification.” The letter also states that “it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other ‘Offerors’.”

Discussing costs, Gerstenmaier says that “although SNC’s price is lower than Boeing’s price, its technical and management approaches and its past performance are not as high and I see considerably more schedule risk with its proposal. Both SNC and SpaceX had high past performance, and very good technical and management approaches, but SNC’s price is significantly higher than SpaceX’s price.”

Touching on why Boeing received a $4.2 billion contract, versus $2.6 billion for SpaceX, he adds “I consider Boeing’s superior proposal, with regard to both its technical and management approach and its past performance, to be worth the additional price in comparison to the SNC proposal.”

Given how subjective such evaluation processes are, it’s not an implausible story.

The Chairman Of The House Science Committee

is a moron:

“If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?” Smith asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an Oct. 7 letter co-signed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee.

So as a bonus, the chairman of the space subcommittee is an idiot, too.

The country’s in the very best of hands.

About That Mars One MIT Study

Some thoughts from Stewart Money, with which I agree:

While presented as a legitimate concern, $4.5 billion is after all a large sum of money, and a very tall hurdle to overcome, it still leads to an interesting counterpoint which the authors of the NASA funded study do not address. NASA is well on the way to spending $16 billion to get the Orion capsule alone through one crewed flight, a number which excludes the development costs of the Space Launch System as well as its ground infrastructure. The agency cannot even begin to put a price tag on gong to Mars. It would be interesting to see the same team run the numbers on that.

There is no doubt that Mars One is [a] risky concept, and if it is to ever gain real traction, it will have to endure a lot more scrutiny than presented in the MIT study. It should probably begin with a clear statement that Mars One is meant as an evolving concept, in which the final product may differ considerable [sic] from what has initially been put forward on a time frame which like all space projects, is subject to change. At the same time, its many critics might want to at least consider how much of the risk to any future Mars mission, whether one way of with a return ticket, could be reduced through advancing the Technological Readiness Level (TRL) of some of the core technologies the MIT team identifies.

Finally, they might want to ask why the U.S. is committed to a very different, but perhaps even more financially implausible plan.

Yes.

[Update a few minutes later]

By the way, Bas Lansdorp has responded in comments over at Marcia Smith’s place.

Von Braun And Elon Musk

Is Elon Wernher’s heir?

Regardless of what NASA envisioned for COTS—indeed, regardless of what it had ever envisioned or accomplished under any program—the sum total of Congressional interest in NASA was always just ensuring a maximum of federal money goes into their district or state (and thereby, into their own campaign funds). So to their ears, COTS was simply another revenue stream that could go to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or other established players under a slightly different operating scheme.

But a program that meant barely anything to Congress was taken up with enthusiasm by NASA as a way to modestly reduce the costs of one aspect of its program, and then “hijacked” by Elon Musk to radically and fundamentally alter the economics and pace of spaceflight. Every synergy he could find between NASA’s modest objectives and his own radical ones was exploited, driving the evolution of SpaceX technology and the rapid buildup of its infrastructure. No one saw him coming.

SpaceX’s conspicuous achievements only fed energy back into the system, driving NASA to become more ambitious, and the Congressional advocates of COTS to push forward with the commercial crew program. Only now were establishment forces in Congress beginning to raise eyebrows at SpaceX, but still did not yet see it as a threat. After all, transporting cargo was one thing, but surely crew flight was still over their weight class. This program, they assured themselves, would be a gimme for Boeing and/or Lockheed, and SpaceX would perhaps rise to a junior partner role in the system.

That confidence, however, quickly bled away as SpaceX continued to march forward with ever more drastic advances, offering prices far below a merely competitive advantage, and steadily developed hardware not even on the drawing board among the big prime contractors. Before these politicians knew it, and with the large-scale financial and technical assistance of NASA, a company they had barely heard of a few years ago was beginning to threaten the viability of long-established, multi-billion-dollar corporations with rock-solid Congressional relationships.

In a panic, the more powerful among them have repeatedly tried to scale back funding for commercial programs that would feed SpaceX, and sought to convince government agencies to throw roadblocks in its way in seeking additional contracts. But SpaceX’s popularity and political weight have grown even more quickly than its technical capabilities, and appears to be within a few years (at most) of transitioning from being an upstart to becoming simply the Program of Record.

Just as von Braun had originally hijacked a cruel, cynical weapon to pursue a dream of wonder and peace; as Korolev redirected the same dumb, unimaginative weapons program for his own people into achievements that will live in memory long after the name of the Soviet Union is long forgotten; and just as von Braun awakened a timid and pragmatic power to shoot for the Moon “because it is hard”; so it seems that soon — knock on wood — Elon Musk may have grown an afterthought commercial cargo-delivery program, one that sought merely to deliver junk to a space station at a slightly lower cost than before, into a revolution with no end, opening up the cosmos to humankind.

A very interesting, and I think insightful historical and political analysis.

Virgin Galactic’s Budget Problems

You know, if they’d get a working engine and actually start flying, I don’t think they’d need as big a promotional budget.

[Update a couple minutes later]

WhiteKnightTwo just took off with SpaceShipTwo, presumably for a glide test. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust has a story on plans for powered flight test.

[Update a while later]

Meanwhile, just down the flight line, here’s what it looks like to build a Lynx.

Orbits And Suborbits

I’ve updated yesterday’s piece at Ricochet to clarify, for those in comments. I’ve probably discussed this here before, but…

Per discussion in comments, there seems to be some confusion about the difference between high-altitude flight, suborbital flight, and orbital flight. As John Walker points out, orbital flight requires a minimum speed to sustain the orbit, but while that is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition. In fact, a flight can be suborbital with the same speed (energy) as an orbital flight. The best, or at least, most rigorous way to define a “suborbit” is an orbit that intersects the atmosphere and/or surface of the planet. So if you launched straight up at orbital velocity, it would still be a suborbit, because it would (after an hour or two, I haven’t done the math) fall back to the ground. So John’s numbers in terms of comparative energy are roughly correct for the particular vehicles being discussed here (XCOR Lynx and VG SpaceShipTwo), they can’t be generalized for any suborbital vehicle (e.g., a sounding rocket isn’t orbital, but it goes much higher than those passenger vehicles, often hundreds of kilometers in altitude).

The speed necessary to achieve orbit is partly a function of the mass of the body being orbited, but it is also a function of its diameter, and whether or not it has an atmosphere. If the earth were a point mass, an object tossed out at an altitude equivalent to the earth radius (that is ground level) would have very little velocity, but it would have a lot of potential energy. It would fall, gain speed, whip around the center and come back up to the person who had tossed it. That is, it would orbit. So even for the relatively low-energy suborbital vehicles discussed in this post, the reason that they’re not orbital is simply that the planet gets in the way.

One other interesting point is that, under the definition above, subsonic “parabolic” aircraft flights in the atmosphere, to offer half a minute or so of weightlessness (offered by the Zero G company), are suborbital flights, in terms of their trajectory. I put “parabolic” in quotes because in actuality, if properly flown, they are really elliptical sections, as all orbits and suborbits are. The parabola is just a close approximation if you assume a flat earth, which is a valid assumption for the short distances involved. Galileo did his original artillery tables based on flat earth, which is why beginning physics students model cannonball problems as parabolas, but modern long-range artillery has to account for the earth curvature, and it does calculate as elliptical trajectories.

Finally, one more extension. Ignoring the atmosphere, every artillery shell fired, every ball thrown or hit, every long jumper, every person who simply hops up into the air, is in a suborbit. The primary distinction for the vehicles discussed is that they are in a suborbit that reaches a specific altitude (at least a hundred kilometers to officially be in “space”), and leaves the atmosphere.

Clear as mud?