Category Archives: Space

Back To Space

Virgin Galactic just completed the first flight of SpaceShipTwo to space, if one considers the boundary to be 80 kilometers (it reportedly got to 82). At the Galloway Symposium last week, Jonathan McDowell made a good case that this, not the traditional Karman line of 100 km, is the right altitude. If one accepts that, it is the first flight of humans to space from American soil since the Shuttle retired over seven years ago. Here’s hoping that Blue Origin does the same thing next year (except they’re designed to get to 100 km).

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Emilee Speck’s story.

[Update a while later]

Link to the McDowell paper should be working now, sorry.

[Update a while later]

Tim Fernholz has a story up now.

[Update a few minutes later]

And here’s a story from CNN‘s Jackie Wattles.

Vacation

We decided to drive up to Santa Ynez for a weekend holiday wine tour. We left last night in hopes of getting up here in time for the Delta IV launch out of Vandenberg, but it was scrubbed for a technical issue. The good news is that it’s rescheduled for an earlier launch tonight (1006), and we’ll still be up here. The weather is clear, and it should be good viewing of a night launch if it goes. It’s the first time in many months that we’ve traveled just for pleasure, with no business. Back to the grind on Monday.

[Update after the launch scrub]

Well, that was disappointing. We had a great spot on Ocean Avenue to view, a clear sky, and it aborted seven seconds before liftoff. No word on cause yet.

Still Off The Air

I flew up to DC on Tuesday after checking out the house in Florida, and was at the Galloway Symposium all day yesterday, with two back-to-back receptions afterward, and didn’t get back to my room until midnight. It was a very useful day, but it was marred by texts from my realtor that someone had attempted to break into the patio door and damage it, and she has open houses scheduled this weekend. So this morning first thing I had to find a handyman to go check out the situation.

Today is getting caught up in emails this morning, then a meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where I’ll have meetings with some officials from the Dept of Commerce, then a late-afternoon flight back to California. So no blogging today (either).

Europa

Elections have consequences; Eric Berger looks into what Culberson’s loss means for the mission. This is politically huge:

During their November briefings with Culberson, the Europa scientists were careful to say they still planned to launch the Clipper on the SLS rocket, but that has not stopped them from looking at alternatives. Until recently, there hadn’t been any good ones. However, as Goldstein said during the briefing, “We’ve had a major development, and it’s really relieving for the team.”

The development had come about as the Europa planners had worked with NASA’s Launch Services Program and SpaceX. All of the rockets available for launch today, including SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, require multiple gravity assists to reach Jupiter, because they just could not provide Clipper the change in velocity needed to go directly to Jupiter.

Until the breakthrough, all of these rockets, including the Delta IV Heavy, needed about 7.5 years to reach Jupiter, and they also had to go into the inner Solar System to obtain a gravity assist from Venus as they ramped up energy for the outbound trip. In fact, this tortuous trajectory necessitated gravity slingshots around Earth, Venus, Earth, and finally Earth again before moving toward the outer Solar System. The mandatory Venus flyby troubled planners, because passing so close to the Sun would raise all manner of thermal challenges and require significant changes to protect Clipper from high temperatures.

The breakthrough referenced by Goldstein involved the addition of a Star 48 “kick stage” to the Falcon Heavy rocket, which would provide an extra boost of energy after the rocket’s upper stage had fired. With this solid rocket motor kick stage, Goldstein said Clipper would need just a single Earth gravity assist and would not have to go into the inner Solar System for a Venus flyby.

“Nobody is saying we’re not going on the SLS,” Goldstein said. “But if by chance we don’t, we don’t have the challenge of the inner Solar System. This was a major development. This was a big deal for us.”

Gee, I’m old enough to remember when I was cricized for saying that FH could do the job. And you know what? Star 48s have been around a long time. The only “major development” here is the ability to talk about a non-SLS Europa mission in polite company.

[Update a few minutes later]

I would note, though the article doesn’t, that while Enceladus is a tougher mission from a velocity standpoint, it’s a lot easier from a radiation standpoint.