Commercial Space At Ames

Dan Rasky, head of commercial space portal at Ames, thinks that with the new administration and administrator, commercial space will get much more support within the agency.

Bolden goals:

Build on ISS investment
Accelerate development of next-generation launch systems
Enhance ability to study earth environment
Lead space sciency to new achievements
Continue cutting-edge tech development
Support innovation of entrepreneurs
Inspire the kids

Rasky got together with Bruce Pittman and Yvonne Cagle and others to form Ames space portal. Hosted a workshop in June 2005 (with endorsement of Mike Griffin, before he went over to the Dark Side). Been supporting conferences and workshops, working with many NewSpace companies. Worked with Steidle to start COTS program (along with Neil Woodward, Steve Isakowitz, Brant Sponberg, Ken Dividian). Eventually moved to JSC with Lindenmoyer and Dennis Stone, and it has been running very well for a NASA commercial-related program. Other new initiatives at other centers: Langley, JSC, etc. that will be revealed in near future.

Started working with SpaceX about three years ago, to provide support with thermal protection technologies (one of the areas not available commercially). Also working with life support. Particularly focused on Dragon, thinking that summer 2010 is a realistic first launch (about a year from now). Meets NASA crew-rated safety margins and failure tolerances. Noting that Elon has had to pull a lot of components in house because he couldn’t find suppliers that would meet schedule or cost. Using NASA-developed PICA for Dragon thermal protection. Only supplier is Fiber-Materials Incorporated, but couldn’t get price or schedule he wanted, so SpaceX is now building in house. SpaceX materials tested at Ames, and passed in December. Very fun to work in such an entrepreneurial environment. Describing a meeting where Elon asked his opinion, and he expressed one, and Elon said, “OK, that’s how we’ll do it.” Elon isn’t building rockets to maximize profits, he’s doing it because he wants to get into space, and that’s a game changer.

John Hogan talking about advanced life support systems. Earth only life support system that can sustain human life indefinitely. Goal is to take a small part of earth (and systems that earth does, can’t live on power bars forever) into space. Earth provides ecosystem services, things that life does to maintain life — air and water purification, radiation protection, waste and pest control, etc. Small spacesuit like a backpacking trip (can’t provide gravity, but all right for short duration). Trying to evolve lighter smaller more energy-efficient suits. ISS provides much more life-support capability than a suit, but requires resupply. Just starting to learn to recover water, moving from perspiration and hygiene water to urine recovery. Still scrubbing and ejecting CO2, but working on systems to transform back to oxygen. Going to moon will stress technology more due to higher resupply costs yet. Will be treating waste, completely recycling water and recovering oxygen from CO2. Mars will require long-term systems, and long-term effects of waste recycling. Holy Grail is completely closed system for sustainability, which may have applications back on earth.

Want to continue to work with commercial partners for this kind of research and tech development, via SBIRs and STTRs.

Yvonne Cagle up now (astronaut, though she hasn’t flown, and retired flight surgeon from the Air Force) to talk about suborbital science program. This is new for NASA. They’re going to purchase rides on commercial vehicles to to research. Presents the greatest opportunity for weightless research (short of expensive orbital) in history. New opportunity for four-minute durations, for training crews, testing, and advancing TRLs in ways never possible before.

Not just about milestone and tech development. Also about work force development. Good opportunity to allow us to maintain research and astronaut proficiency when Shuttle is retired. Also supports public education and outreach with opportunities for hands-on research, both remotely and human-in-the-loop. Want to see human operators on the payloads once safety performance is established (2012 on). Want to see students not just fly research but fly with the research.

Big difference between 23 seconds and four minutes? You can save a life. Can takes four minutes to resuscitate cardiac arrest using compression, but never had enough time to learn how to do it properly (for zero-gee medicine) in subsonic parabolas. Good environment to learn how to restrain patient and equipment in medical emergency, and four minutes a lot more time to practice and train than twenty-three seconds.

Have had two workshops to figure out what you can do with four minutes. Puts up chart of twenty or so previous research areas that can be significantly improved by longer duration. Within two minutes you can actually see things that you don’t see in half a minute (e.g., observing how lunar dust moves through bronchial tubes). Showing chart of flight profile — “hybrid of sounding rocket and parabolic aircraft.” Dirty on both ends, but very good microgravity for at least two minutes. If organized, could refly the same day. Want to explore the “Ignorasphere” where air is too thin to fly but too thick to orbit. Shuttle passes through, but disturbs too much. These vehicles will be able to do sampling and monitoring not previously possible, and also pick up information on entry transition zones that Shuttle crew is too busy to study. Looking for five to ten times more experience in microgravity than we’ve had to date. Scientific community very excited about it. Suborbital transports combine best of both worlds between parabolic aircraft and sounding rockets. Much cheaper than latter, can fly with experiments, rapid turnaround, relatively low entry and exit gees. Has developed equation:

C3 – Commercial, Cost, Customizable
Times Delta Volume (lot more

U3 — User, Unprecedented, Uninterrupted

FO (U3FO) — Frequency, Opportunistic

Equals WE (Workforce development, Education)

C3 * Delta V * UFO = WE

Sees huge opportunities for technology development, career development, and public engagement.

The Binary Viewpoint

Charles Krauthammer is generally a pretty smart guy, particularly on politics, but when it comes to space policy, he (like many) check their brains at the door and rely on emotion:

America’s manned space program is in shambles. Fourteen months from today, for the first time since 1962, the U.S. will be incapable not just of sending a man to the moon but of sending anyone into Earth orbit. We’ll be totally grounded. We’ll have to beg a ride from the Russians or perhaps even the Chinese.

So what, you say? Don’t we have problems here on Earth? Oh please. Poverty and disease and social ills will always be with us. If we’d waited for them to be rectified before venturing out, we’d still be living in caves.

Yes, we have a financial crisis. No one’s asking for a crash Manhattan Project. All we need is sufficient funding from the hundreds of billions being showered from Washington — “stimulus” monies that, unlike Eisenhower’s interstate highway system or Kennedy’s Apollo program, will leave behind not a trace on our country or our consciousness — to build Constellation and get us back to Earth orbit and the moon a half-century after the original landing.

Note the implicit unstated assumption (which occurs often in space policy discussion): there is nothing wrong with NASA that a sufficient and steady budget won’t cure, and that if only we would give it to them, and leave them alone, they’d be leading us into the solar system. That anyone who thinks Constellation in its currrent form an unwise expenditure is opposed not for sound technical or economic reasons, but because we oppose expanding humanity into space. That Constellation, if not perfect, is more than good enough, and we must redo Apollo and go on from there.

Despite the fact that he’s a former clinical psychiatrist, the possibility that it is a dysfunctional sclerotic bureaucracy, and that giving it the money that it requests to do what it wants to do might not only be a waste, but actually set us back in the goal that he seems so earnestly to aver, never occurs to him. That there might be better ways to achieve his goal is seemingly beyond his ken.

At The Conference

I’ve got connectivity now (the wireless here isn’t public, so I had to finagle an account at Ames). Jim Muncy led off the morning session. Clark Lindsey has a report. The morning session focuses on what’s happening at NASA Ames, which is hosting the conference. I should point out that it’s kind of amazing that a NASA Center is hosting a Space Frontier Foundation conference, but it any center would do it, it would be this one. As Muncy said this morning, he doesn’t expect an invitation from Marshall any time soon.

Another Minor Ares Issue

The Air Force thinks that it is guaranteed to kill crew in an early abort.

One of the criteria for “human rating” (I sure wish that we could purge the language of that phrase) is that the vehicle have zero-zero (from zero altitude, zero velocity all the way to orbit) abort capability. The lack of this is why the Shuttle was never human rated, because it cannot abort for the first two minutes, until after the SRBs have burned out and separated. You might think that someone would have thought about this long-known fact and said “hmmmmmmm…” when one of the things was chosen as a first stage for a vehicle that was supposed to be human rated. You might think that, if NASA and particularly Marshall weren’t involved, in which case, it wouldn’t surprise you at all that no one did, or if they did, they weren’t listened to.

I’m sure that the usual defenders will have their usual defense: “Every rocket has development issues — stop picking on poor Ares.” Well, this is a simple issue to fix, fortunately. All they have to do is replace the propellant in the first stage with something non-explosive.


I had an uneventful flight to SFO this morning, and drove over to Half Moon Bay to see the Pacific before heading to my motel in Mountain View for the conference, which starts tonight. The room was supposed to have Internet, but it’s only available in the lobby. I’m unhappy, but I’ll probably be spending most of the next three days over at the conference, so I’ll just deal, I guess.


[Note: This post is on top all day for the anniversary. Keep scrolling for new posts]

came from outer space:

The aliens did not come across vast expanses of space to eat us. Or take our resources. Or another reasons. Frankly, they’d rather be on their way; they have places to go, things to do. Their spaceship broke down, and it needs repairing. For some reason they have to assume human form to fix it, though, and this means duplicating the bodies of ordinary Arizona townsfolk. As the hero asks them: Why? You built the thing, surely you can fix it without turning into us.

“Yes,” says the creature in an echoey monotone, “but this would require a budget that allows for several creatures, which we do not have. Also, grad students in film school decades from now would not be able to cite the movie as an example of subconscious dread of Communist infiltration.”

And forty years ago, while It didn’t come from outer space, we went to outer space. Apollo XI lifted off on July 16th, 1969, to deliver Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the moon. And went live about an hour ago, where you can follow the mission in real time, from now until they return next week. The Saturn is sitting on the pad, and they’re launching in less than half an hour.

[Update a little later]

Alan Boyle has a lot more Apollo-related links, and a story about the restoration of the original video of the landing.

I’ll be keeping this post at the top all day.

[Late morning update]

An alternate history, from Henry Spencer: Welcome to Lunarville.

[Update in the afternoon]

There’s some stupid discussion over at James Nicoll’s place:

Let’s be magnanimous, and as a thought experiment keep NASA’s budget at its peak as a share of the American economy for the next forty-three years.

Do we get five thousand people on the moon? *really*? Those are some interesting economies of scale. Remember, NASA’s budget would only be six times bigger than its current.

A straight linear extrapolation gives ca. eighty-four American associated space deaths.

It’s entirely idiotic to do a “straight linear extrapolation.”

Could NASA have had that many on the moon by now with a steady budget? Who knows? But I know I could have. In fact, it would easily be an order of magnitude more. But task one would have been a serious effort to reduce launch costs.

[Update about 2 PM EDT]

More thoughts from Derb:

As I’ve made plain in several columns, I am a space buff from far back, and I find the exploration of space, including the manned exploration, thrilling beyond measure. That’s my taste in vicarious thrills. Other people have different tastes therein: They are thrilled by sporting achievements, or medical advances, or cultural accomplishments. If the federal government is going to pay for my thrills, why shouldn’t it pay for everyone else’s? If putting men on the moon is a proper national goal requiring billions of federal dollars, why isn’t winning the soccer World Cup, or curing the common cold, or resolving the Riemann Hypothesis?

As a minimal-government conservative, I’d prefer the federal authorities do none of those things. I’d prefer they stick to their proper duties: defending our coasts and borders, maintaining a stable currency, organizing national disaster relief, etc. Leave manned space travel to the entrepreneurs.

That’s pretty much my attitude as well, but I don’t think that we’re going to shut down NASA, so I will continue to work hard to get it to spend the money less crazily.

[Update at 3 PM]

Andrew Chaikin:

Who would have predicted that in 2009 we would have to go back 40 years to find the most futuristic thing humans have ever done? Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan has said that it is as if John Kennedy reached into the 21st century, grabbed a decade of time, and spliced it neatly into the 1960s and 70s. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting to see us get back to where we were in 1972.

Now, in the midst of the real 21st century, none of us can say when humans will go back to the moon – or what language they will speak when they get there. If Chinese taikonauts become the next lunar explorers, will we be spurred to action, or shrug it off? Or will we have somehow risen above our differences and found a way to go back to the moon together?

Call me naïve, call me just another aging Baby Boomer who can’t let go of the past. But I firmly believe that Apollo was just the first chapter in a story of exploration that has no end, and will continue as long as humans are alive. And I still want to believe that when humans do return to the moon to follow in the Apollo astronauts’ lunar footsteps, it will have more of an impact than many people now realize.

It will, but only if we abandon the failed Apollo model. If it was a first chapter, the rest of the book is going to have to look very different for it to lead to exploration without end. It did indeed happen too soon, so it cost too much, and it established a terrible precedent for human space exploration that we have not recovered from to this day, as demonstrated by the current Constellation disaster. This will be the theme of my piece at The New Atlantis (which I hope will be on line in time for the anniversary on Monday, but I can’t promise it, particularly since I’ll probably be doing final editing at the conference this weekend).

The Latest Lurio Report

Charles Lurio has a new report out (subscribers only). His thoughts on SpaceX’ success this week:

Of course, the present milestone doesn’t mean that all possible problems and failures are past them. Forthcoming in a few months is their first attempted launch of the massive Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, then next year, of the Falcon 1e with upgraded payload capabilities. And the company must consistently deliver success at their promised lower costs than other comparable systems.

But what happened this week is a blow to a pernicious and refractory mythology, one that has permeated world perceptions since the hurried but astounding accomplishments of the early ‘space age.’ Consciously or not, among the public (and an embarrassing fraction of the engineering community), so-called “rocket science” was cut off from the possibility of gradually becoming more practical and lower cost, the normal path with so many other technologies. Movement to such practicality was instead often seen to require near-miraculous ‘super-science.” That was always just a negative form of “magical” thinking rather than being based on reality.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in the forecourt of Westminster Abbey in London. There, atop a pillar, stands a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon. SpaceX has just contributed a wound to the dragon of a mythology that has kept _all_ humanity from the limitless promise of space. The outcome of the struggle is not certain, but as it has before, the New Space community will continue this battle as long as it can.

There’s a lot more, for subscribers, including a great report on things starting to stir across the pond, particularly in the UK. I highly recommend subscribing. He needs contributors to keep doing this, and there’s no one covering this field better.

Obama As Health-Care Salesman

He sux.

Who knew we were electing a national mother-in-law? And get a chance to endure increased taxes for the privilege. Obama’s supposed to be rallying support from voters, not castigating them. Outside the S& M parlor, most people do not enjoy paying to be disciplined.

What’s amusing is that his acolytes (including some in this very blog’s comments) are just as bad, because they use the same dumb arguments.

No surprise. The only thing he’s ever really been able to sell is himself. He may be the most spectacular example of the Peter Principle in world history.

[Update a few minutes later]

Uh oh:

When we first saw the paragraph Tuesday, just after the 1,018-page document was released, we thought we surely must be misreading it. So we sought help from the House Ways and Means Committee.

It turns out we were right: The provision would indeed outlaw individual private coverage. Under the Orwellian header of “Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage,” the “Limitation On New Enrollment” section of the bill clearly states:

“Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day” of the year the legislation becomes law.

So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won’t be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers…

…It took just 16 pages of reading to find this naked attempt by the political powers to increase their reach. It’s scary to think how many more breaches of liberty we’ll come across in the final 1,002.

You can see why these fascists object to the notion of reading bills.

[Update late morning]

The civil war among the Democrats:

Blue Dogs had aired their complaints last week in a letter to Pelosi that caused her to delay the rollout of the bill until Tuesday. But when the bill was introduced, they felt Pelosi and the committee chairmen who wrote the legislation hadn’t taken their concerns into account.

That led to a tense session between Pelosi and Blue Dogs at the group’s regular Tuesday meeting hours after the rollout.

“The meeting did not go well. She just kept saying it was a good bill,” said one Blue Dog.

“There is a growing perception among many of us that our leadership meets with us but doesn’t listen to us,” said another Blue Dog.

What do you expect? She’s a moron. And I hope that she’ll continue to lead them…to a massive defeat next year.

[Noon update]

A modest proposal:

I propose that the government impose a single-payer system on the legal profession. Instead of charging private fees, all attorneys would have to send their bills to LegalCare, a new agency in the federal government. Because the government can bargain collectively, they can impose rational fees for legal services instead of the exorbitant billing fees attorneys now charge. Three hundred dollars an hour? Thing of the past. Everyone knows that the government can control costs through price-setting; now we can see this process applied to the legal system, where the government has a large interest in seeing cost savings.

How will we pay for LegalCare? I take a page from the House surtax method here, which will disproportionately hit doctors in a wide variety of disciplines. In this case, I propose a 5.4% surtax on lawyers, judges, lobbyists, and political officeholders at the state and federal level. They’re the ones who have enriched themselves through this inequity in the legal system. After all, why should we all have to pay for the single-payer legal system when we can penalize lawyers instead?

I think we need a big-bang solution that can integrate a solution to the health-care and legal-care crises.

[Update after 3 PM]

The public-option scam:

Some statements are inherently unbelievable. Such as: “I am an official of the government of Nigeria, and I would like to deposit $60 million in your bank account.” Or: “I’m Barry Bonds, and I thought it was flaxseed oil.” And this new one: “I’m Barack Obama, and I favor more competition in health insurance.”

They must think we’re stupid. And unfortunately, judging by the election results last fall, it might not be a bad bet.

[Update a few minutes later]

A shocking development — honesty from someone in Washington, from the CBO, of all places.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!