Heavy-Lift Suborbital

NASA personnel are discussing a concept called an External Payload Carrier (XPC) which is a pod that can be carried on an Atlas on any flight that has excess performance, to provide a capability of several thousand pounds of suborbital payload that can either be ejected or carried throughout the first-stage trajectory. This is the first conference where this concept has been discussed openly, with information provided to researchers. It mimics an Atlas SRB.

Blue Origin

Gary Lai is speaking for Blue Origin, describing the New Shepherd program. “Famous for being quiet.” Keeps their marketing and PR budget small. Also have a culture in the company to focus on results, rather than plans. When flight milestones are hit, they’ll discuss results in detail. This conference is the first in which any Blue employee has presented details to the public. Chose this conference because it is a market that (unlike tourism) must be built up. Also see opportunities for customers during flight test, when they won’t even have crew aboard. Company’s focus is on human spaceflight and launch. Everything they develop is planned to be fully reusable. Obsessive about human factors and safety systems, with emphasis on frequent launch operations.

Two locations: Kent, WA, and Culberson County, Texas (about two hours drive from El Paso). Only dedicated launch facility (no other users) in the US. On large rangeland, one of the least populated counties in the US. Been flying for about three years.

Vehicle designed for three or more astronauts to suborbital altitudes. Two separate vehicles — propulsion module and crew capsule, separate before entry. Both fully reusable and optimized for fast turnaround with small crew. Crew escape capability with abort propulsion system in crew module. Early prototype of propulsion module named Goddard, and final design may not look like that.

Showing chart of payload accommodation (comm, power, mass, windows, data interfaces, mechanical interfaces, microgee levels, etc.) Can offer both pressurized tended payloads, and mouts for external environment. They’ve selected three experiments to fly, and provided payload user guides to the experiment teams.

The Conference Begins

Alan Stern: Last summer they said we couldn’t get fifty people together for a meeting like this — it was for tourists, not teachers and researchers. But look around the room to see all of the latter. Thanking Lori Garver, George Nield of the FAA, conference organizers (USRA, Southwest Research Institute, Commercial Spaceflight Federation). Thanking corporate sponsors, and speakers and staff.

On the verge of a revolution in spaceflight. Will open up access and reduce cost; comparing it to PC revolution. Wants to have a marriage of research and education, and the suborbital industry. Welcome to 21st-Century spaceflight.

Mark Sirangelo coming up now.

Space industry one of the ultimate team-organizing activities. Industry going through amazing changes. Thanking the people at NASA HQ taking on major challenges of making needed change at NASA. Talking about CSF. Conclusion of remarks.

Lori up now.

Glad to be back in Colorado (she went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs). Privileged to talk about the very exciting time at NASA, one of the few agencies that got a budget increase in the request. Also very risky, and change is hard (not everyone at NASA as excited as people in this room). We’re the figure skaters — doing wonderful, beautiful things on very thin ice.

Six billion dollars will fund climate change, space research, and green aviation. Extending space station to 2020 (Obama spoke to astronauts on ISS yesterday). Said “We want to let you know that the amazing work is a testament to the extensive ingenuity, skill and courage and demonstrates why his commitment to NASA is unwavering. Need to think about new ways of the role of government and industry in opening up space. Want to allow more companies, markets, jobs to be developed, and NASA should be a big part of the future of opening up space. Quoting Bolden, who dreams of the day that any American can go into space and see the wonders that he did. The new NASA wants to make space something that Americans can do more than just marvel from afar. Thanking some of the folks in the room who tutored her back in the eighties (e.g., Gary Hudson) on these issues. Need resources and will that all of us can muster, and competition of the marketplace. This conference is about suborbital, Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR) gets several million dollars in 2010, with more in the future. Fifteen million dollars requested for 2011 (misspeaks and says billion instead of million, but corrects to laughter). Anticipates that over time, will allow many students and researchers to fly. Extension of parabolic aircraft program that has been very successful at Purdue. Reading emails from students. “Life changing experience, and easily most valuable course taken at\ Purdue.” “One of the highlights of my experience, even after work in industry.” Noting her own interest in commerical spaceflight, including her training for a ride on a Soyuz. Wanted to provide inspiration for her own kids. President challenged NASA to bring back inspiration, and encourage kids to enter STEM fields. Want to continue to keep America a beacon to the rest of the world. NASA will continue to do that, where a child overseas thinks that she wants to be a part of that. Think about emerging companies — opportunity to make that leap, not just for this generation but the next. Notes that many founders have already made their millions in the past, and now see space as the next big thing to do. Recognizes that this is risky, but NASA learns to manage risk. Anything in life, and particularly the great thing, involve risk. NASA is going to treat these spacecraft the same way they have high-speed research in the past, which is why they’re assigning oversight to Dryden. On the cusp of an exciting time. Going to open space to the American people. Risks are there, but they’re worth taking. Glad to be here, and sees it as the starting ground (though a lot of us have been in the basement for a long time). Can’t wait to take next steps together. Ad astra.

Pete Worden up now.

Good opportunity to get into trouble with your boss speaking just ahead of you. Talking about NASA Ames (his center) the second original NACA facility. Talking about the history. Thinks that NASA is, and should be, returning to its NACA roots. Showing slides of the airships developed at Ames in the early twentieth century. Airships were a new exciting wave of transportation in the twenties and thirties. Macon was based there (airborne aircraft carrier). Brief history of aviation from first flight to first transcontinental flight (1911), first airliner. Talking about how it was driven by entrepreneurs, but government played a key role with airmail subsidy, which led to a robust airline industry in the 1930s. Led to a rise of people taking risks with their wealth. Another key element was the barnstormers, in which people took risks. Talking about safety while showing a picture of a wing walker. First rule of wing walking: never let go of what you have your hand on until you have the other hand on something else. From twenties to forties, NACA assisted industry by doing basic research and providing facilities, and developing new technologies that enabled industry be more profitable and grow. In the fifties it led to early space capabilities, which led to NASA. Sees current NASA as reliving those golden days to support a new entrepreneurial industry, this time in space transportation. Showing a chart, from airmail, to COTS, to CRuSR. Talking about near space (too high for aircraft, too low for satellites, previously known as “ignorosphere”). Upper-atmospheric research, four minutes of microgravity (compared to half a minute in aircraft). Key elements in place: science, players in the private sector, will lead to robust orbital capabilities. Showing the companies involved in the industry, and members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Issues: safety, funding, users, legal and bureaucratic. Will have to go through congress, and we need to describe to them the benefits of the new approach.

George Nield up now.

Talking about last week’s FAA commercial space transportation conference. Recent events: Masten’s win of the LLC, rollout of SpaceShipTwo, Congressional renewal of indemnification. Very exciting times for commercial human spaceflight. However, a little troubled by another brand of reaction that is less enthusiastic and very intense. Has been seeing too much disappointment, disdain, and even ridicule of commercial space transportation. Critics small in number, but vehement. Treating commercial launch like a kid who just got his license, and proposes to drive grandparents across the country. Pointing out that commercial flight has a couple decades of success. Not a rookie in the business. Commercial Space Launch Act approved in 1984, and amendments approved in 2004. Yes, crew is relatively new, but much of it will be based on success of cargo experience. Change makes people uneasy, and it’s legitimate to raise question, but not to raise fears of an industry that has served America well, and will continue to do so in the future. Safety is biggest question, of course. Much as he wishes it were, safety is not an absolute. Safety is a mindset, a professional tension where everyone involved is always on alert and determined to get it right. Even then, it cannot ever immunize anyone against harm. Rockets are dangerous, the FAA knows it, industry knows it, and the people involved are doing everything possible to make spaceflight as safe as it can be. Giving history of X-planes between 1946 and 1965. A couple thousand flights, twenty-seven accidents, and four fatalities. Century series (F-101, F-102, F104, F-105, etc.) flown extensively. F-100 had a hundred, F-104 had several hundred. German Luftwaffe killed over a hundred pilots in Starfighters. These suborbital vehicles will not be pushing the envelope like those aircraft did, but they’ll be more like them than commercial transports. Space Launch Amendments act anticipated this, with the goal of continual improvement. Pointing out the statistics for one year (thousands of auto accidents, hundreds of general aviation). No form of transportation is perfectly safe. Not trying to fend off criticism by pointing out in advance that there will be bad days, but rather that they are doing everything they can to minimize them. Space transportation has been risky, and will continue to be. Congress knew that, and directed FAA to develop regs for commercial human spaceflight, and they’ve done so. Risk is with us, and means to overcome it will continue. Questions should be asked, and issues, raised, but should be done constructively, with best tools we have. Believes that American’s space program is recreating its past greatness, and wants to get on with it.

Next speaker Alan Stern (prime instigator of this conference).

The fifteen million that Lori talked about is only a proposal. We will have to be the foot soldiers to get Congress to pass it. Risk is not new to scientists and educators (bottom of oceans, tops of mountains). Talking about educators and scientists killed in space. People in this room familiar with risk (notes Dan Durda flew F-18s for research purposes). We accept risks knowing that they’re real, but small, for great gain, and the risk is worth the reward. Talking about Research and Education missions (REM). Hopes that people here will be even more turned on at the end of the meeting than at the beginning. Five different companies building suborbital vehicles, a unique time in history. Tourist prices $200,000, but that’s inexpensive for government and industry research programs. 190 nations on earth — virtually all can afford space research/education at these prices. Research programs buy dozens to hundreds of flight, and come back for more. Estimated REM market over five years is thousands of seats. This is big market for now, and will help drive prices down to expand tourist market. Lori’s seventy-five million over five years will buy a lot of tickets. Possibilities of new vehicles “blows his mind” as a researcher. Ten times the zero-gee time of aircraft, and a hundred times cleaner. Direct access to the “ignorosphere” every day, watching seasons and weather change. Repeat flights on one-day turnarounds, unlike a grad student who will spend entire career on one experiment, if lucky. Worldwide launch basing, ability to launch at specific times, rapid access to samples, test subjects, etc. No longer just a few astronauts, but hundreds or thousands of researchers and tourists, provide much larger data base for space adaptation. Experiments will have fast turnaround, with less paperwork and cheaper payloads, and allow people to fly with their experiments (making it more like other types of science). Robots don’t do this kind of space science best. No other field is automating their labs — NASA has done it only of necessity. Listing sciences: atmospheric, life, earth, oceanography, space physics, astronomy and solar physics, instrument test and demo, microgee, public outreach. After WW II, we captured a lot of V2s that were launched out of New Mexico, and few initially knew what to do with them. Whole fields were born from that experience. People in this room are early adopters, like Van Allen was in the fifties. We are at the very dawn of an opportunity to fly things on a routine low-cost basis. Ask yourself what next-generation suborbital can do for you. Go out and evangelize with your research community.

[Update a while later]

I think that the conference is being streamed here.

Cookie Chemistry

I have to say that I was a little surprised to read that she didn’t consider baking soda first, because that’s what seemed obvious to me reading of her travails. But I assumed until reading the comments that it was so obvious that she hadn’t bothered to mention that attempt at a fix.

On a personal note, this past Christmas might have been the first season that I didn’t make Christmasholiday butter cookies using my mother’s half-century-old cookie gun, due to the continuing discombobulation of the move from Florida, and our trip to Colorado for house renovation.


Congresswoman Giffords doesn’t want to put all her launch eggs in a “single” basket:

The chair of that committee’s space subcommittee, meanwhile, makes it clear she does not approve of elements of that new plan, particularly its scrapping of Constellation in favor or developing commercial systems to reach low Earth orbit. “I don’t like putting all our pace eggs into a commercial basket,” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) told the Sierra Vista Herald. She said it’s “not a good idea” to rely on the private sector, telling the newspaper that she’s worried “the country’s national security could be harmed if private companies are given the opportunity to send missions into space”, without elaborating.

So, putting our launch eggs into a “commercial” basket, that has multiple launch providers — bad. Putting them into a NASA basket with a single monstrously expensive rocket that is years from development — good. Gotcha.

And NASA rockets — good for “national security.” Commercial rockets — bad for “national security.”

I can see why she didn’t attempt to elaborate.

These are the morons in charge of our space policy.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!