Bobby Braun

He’s NASA’s chief technologist. Very excited about the topic of this conference, and NASA wants to be a part of it and facilitate its success. His job is to reinvigorate a technology program at the agency. He wants to enable our future in space, and believes that technological leadership is the “space race” of the 21st century. Wants to support disruptive technologies that industry can’t. One of the reasons to have a federal government is to take those kinds of risks, and keep the nation at the cutting edge.

Space Technology is a budget line in the budget request (both 2011 and 20112). Includes partnership programs, cross-cutting technologies and exploration technologies. 2012 request is about a billion dollars. Formed three divisions: early-stage innovation, game-changing technology and cross-cutting capability demos. Includes CRuSR program for suborbital. Program acts as a “funnel,” taking broad range of ideas from industry/academia/government, filtering them to see if they will work, then filtering further to see if they’re ready to fly as demos. SBIR/STTR, space technology grants, Centennial Challenges and NIAC in early-stage division. Game changers focus on dramatic new high-risk approaches that can improve performance, decrease cost or create whole new capabilities. Part of it is a home for smallsat technologies. Cross-cutting demos is a processing of maturing technologies to flight readiness (TRL 7) includes flight opportunities on FAST programs and CRuSR, which were merged for management reasons.

Have already made awards to Masten and Armadillo for “engineering payloads” to characterize the environment for operational payloads. Goal is to continue to competitively procure development suborbital flights, with focus on payloads that reduce risk for technology infusion in future missions. Will expand to other platforms and test environments in 2013. There is an open call for payload opportunities that was released in December, though there are no funds yet for 2011. A number of Space Act agreements have been signed.

Union Versus Business Contributions

It’s not quite the way Jon Chait imagines:

…the list reads:

Democratic/Union Goon proxy: $51 million

Death Star, Inc.: $46 million

Union Goons (public sector): $43 million

The Committee to Re-Inflate the Bubble by Electing Democrats: $38 million

The Bankers Who Elected Barack Obama: $33 million

Democratic trial lawyers: $33 million

Union Goons: $33 million

Union Goons (public sector): $32 million

Union Goons: $30 million

Union Goons: $30 million


Detecting Extra-Solar Planets With Suborbital Flight

Brad Cheetham of U of CO is giving a talk on seeing extra-solar planets using suborbital vehicles and star shades. Kepler and Hubble find planets by inference from star wobbles, but they’re proposing to actually shield the star with a shade to allow planets to be actually be seen. Showing a simulation of what earth would look like from deep space with the sun shielded. Allows planets to be viewed even if we’re not in their orbital plane. Also allow spectroscopy to detect habitability (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen in the atmosphere). Flagship mission would use a telescope with a star shade at ES-L2. Critical technologies — precise orbit/attitude control, precision edges/deployment, opaque membranes, etc. Need preliminary observations prior to selection of flagship mission targets. Need to work with them suborbitally over next three years, including some astronomy good enough to publish. Suborbital can prove out technology very cost effectively, allowing design iteration and refinement. Need a couple hundred million for the ultimate mission but this can provide an affordable way of technology advancement until funding is found. Have a proposal in using Masten Xaero with a starshade that flies over a ground-based telescope. Trajectory has to be accurate to ten centimeters. Can start as low as one kilometer and go higher as techniques improve. Ultimately hope to image an earth-sized planet in the habitable zone at Alpha Centauri (binary system) using suborbital. Holding alignment major technical challenge, using GBORN receiver (cigarette-sized, one or two watts) for augmented GPS solution using cell towers, etc. for high precision. Think it has potential to map Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti systems within three years, with ability to map more distant stars in next decade as technology goes into orbit.

Another Reason To Outlaw Public-Employee Unions

As if there weren’t enough:

If union protesters turn violent — as they increasingly have — can you trust pro-union police to intervene?

As he says, always bring a camera. Actually, you should follow many of the Marine rules for a gun fight at events like this when it comes to cameras:

1. Bring a camera. Preferably, bring at least two cameras. Bring all of your friends who have cameras.

2. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Memory is cheap. Your reputation is expensive.

3. If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

4. Move away from your subject. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)

5. If you can choose what to bring to a demonstration, bring a long lens and a friend with a long lens.

6. In ten years nobody will remember the details of megapixels, stance, or tactics. They will only remember whose picture was taken.

7. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading, and running.

8. Accuracy is relative: most demonstration shooting standards will be more dependent on “pucker factor” than the inherent accuracy of the camera.

9. Use a camera that works EVERY TIME.

10. Have a plan.

11. Have a back-up plan, because the first one won’t work.

12. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.

13. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.

14. Don’t drop your guard.

15. Watch their hands. Hands hit cameras. (In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them).

16. Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to take a picture of everyone you meet.

Be careful out there.

Suborbital Provider Session

Jeff Greason, XCOR Aerospace:

Lynx two seater, pilot plus one. 24-foot wingspan, 30-foot length. Capable of multiple missions. Learned a lot from EZ-Rocket and X-Racer, both technically and regulatorily. Uses non-toxic 3N22 thrusters. Getting ready to start fabrication of airframe. Mark I is prototype (60 km altitude), Mark II is production (100 km). Primary difference in thermal for entry.

George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic:

Richard Branson’s American space company. Two-stage to suborbit, uses a carrier aircraft which releases space vehicle at 50,000 feet, to baseline 110 kilometers, then deploys wings to allow passive entry. Based on winning X-Prize vehicle, gentle runway landing, is fully funded. 2100 cubic feet of usable space (medium-class bizjet), ability to mount instruments externally, twelve windows. Interior still under design. Showing short video of glide flight. Good vehicle characteristics. Shows rocket motor test and dedication of Spaceport America runway (named after Bill Richardson. For now).

Neil Milburn, Armadillo Aerospace:

Showing Super-MOD vehicle, which flew for the LLC Challenge, but has an aeroshell. Project Morpheus for NASA was Super QUAD. Last six months spent on a tube vehicle (highest aspect ratio of any Armadillo behicle I’ve seen) — fully recoverable, lands with chutes. ~30 feet tall. Incorporates lessons learned over the past ten years. Can be clustered and staged (inspired by Lutz Kayser’s OTRAG work). Think can get to 500 km with cluster. Suborbital Space Transport (SOST) next project, ultimately man capable for two people with observation windows. Eight engines, designed to come down as one piece, but cabin is separable in emergency. Most hardware ready to go together, so expect fly early fall this year.

Dan Christiansen, Blue Origin:

New Shepherd is suborbital research vehicle. Vertically integrated company in Kent, WA and Culbertson County TX. On second increment of vehicle that originally flew in 2006 (he was missing from the noon press conference). Separable crew capsule which separates at apogee and lands separately under parachutes — propulsion lands under powered landing. Reaching out to research community to better understand their needs for requirements development and how to work together. Can support three or more researchers or equipment racks, which are flexible in configuration. Also standard interface for customer racks.

David Masten, Masten Space Systems:

Vertical takeoff, vertical landing. Southwest turn around in 20 minutes — they’re shooting for the same thing. Currently at 45 minutes. Not worrying about people yet — want to have thousands of safe landings first. Quick iterations for rapid development. Won Lunar Lander Challenge, have over seventy flights under their belt. Xombie has most flight time, Xoie won LLC. Xaero has a composite shell for aerodynamics, will go to thirty kilometers. Four flights planned for CRuSR, engine on, engine relight, hundred thousand feet. Xogdor is Xaero with bigger tanks, and will do a hundred kilometers, to buy down risk on future vehicles.

Alan Stern: Five different companies with different approaches, and total private investment on the order of a billion dollars. This is a serious industry.

Why “Progressives” Like Trains

Thoughts from George Will:

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Stupid proles.

By the way, just to preempt any further commentary along these lines, comparisons between my opposition to government-subsidized high-speed rail and my support for smarter government spending on space transportation are spurious and idiotic. Not that this will prevent them, of course.

Jeff Greason

US government space efforts in difficulty if not crisis. Could be talking about almost anything in space — reconnaissance satellites, human spaceflight BEO. Long-time problem, growing in severity, and it’s a crisis because legacy systems being called on to do things that they were never designed to do in terms of lifetime, but every time we try to replace, go over budget or get cancelled or reduced in scope, so that they never serve as replacement for what we used to have. When you find time and again that goals exceed resources, you can either downscope goals, get more resources, or change the game. Human spaceflight is not a luxury — need a frontier, need a place to maintain dynamism, and find elbow room. DoD is definitely not a luxury when it comes to recon, but all replacements are not working. Scaling back goals is not an option. Financial crisis is now upon us. Non-defense discretionary is going to stay flat at best and probably go down. If NASA is going to even maintain flat budgets it will have to show more for the money (need more Buck Rogers for the bucks in order to get the bucks). Technology isn’t “ten times better this or stronger that”). It’s just a fancy word for knowing how to do something. One of the root causes of our current problems was the submergence of the NACA, and then Apollo, when NASA started to focus on technologies for its own needs rather than those of industry. ITAR has been another problem crippling our industry, and one of the more pernicious effects has been to starve the industry of funding for its own research. This conference is a small part of the problem, but it will play a key role in solving it. Suborbital vehicles will add a lot of technologies. Learned from Augustine that the addition of just a few key technologies can enable NASA to do a lot more with a lot less. Many of those technologies can be demonstrated suborbitally. Won’t get all the way where you need to be for human exploration, but can provide a critical foundation, and the more we can have had experiments on suborbitally, the more that the expensive orbital tests will be successful. Examples: cryo quick-disconnects, propellant acquisition and gauging in weightlessness, crucial for orbital propellant storage and transfer. Real pieces of hardware are sitting in real labs sitting at as far a level of maturity as there can be sitting in a lab, gathering dust, waiting for flights to mature in the environment. Frightening overruns in military satellites arise from untried tech in the satellite, but no ongoing efforts to mature those technologies in non-critical systems, and many of them can be tested suborbitally. ISS also provides excellent testbed (as will Bigelow) for longer-duration technology tests.

Pure science also important, but in doing science, they also push technology. At low flight rates, expendable launch systems are most cost effective, but as rate goes up, we want reusability. Shuttle demonstrated that a vehicles that requires so much effort to turn around have no advantage over and expendable. Suborbital flight is the “school” where we will learn how to do orbital reusable right. Most of those lessons will drive the recovery of a reusable upper stage. We have to return to the kind of environment we had between the Wright brothers and WW II, but it’s hard because of the government domination over the past half century. Have to develop environment in which many approaches are tried at hight rates. Science missions are a significant market segment for suborbital, and government is most substantial funding sources for science, so government policy is important. CRuSR important, but execution has been slowed with management changes and direction changes, and lack of current budget doesn’t help. Don’t expect to see the government become the lion’s share of an market segment, but it’s needed as an initial anchor to help overcome “wait and see” attitude from other customers. Availability of of government funds critical to prime the pump through transitional period. That’s the great value of government funding. Initial payloads can fly at considerable risk, and there should be no additional hurdles for this, and modest investments needed to encourage this industry could be the most important money spends in this decades in terms of technology payoff that allows us to open up the solar system.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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