Category Archives: Space

The Risk Of Spaceflight

A few months ago I did a phone interview with Sarah Scoles. She finally wrote the piece based in part on it, over at The Atlantic. (Note, Apollo 1 astros died of asphyxiation, not from the fire itself, Columbia happened 17 years after Challenger, not 36, and it was the co-pilot who died on the VG test flight. I’ll blame her editor, since she clearly gets the last two right later in the piece. I assume they’ll fix it at least on line.)

Space Regulation

Glenn Reynolds has put together a short video.

A couple points: The FAA has only been regulating space since the mid-90s; prior to that it was done by a separate office that reported directly to the Secretary of Transportation. I recommended in my book that the office be taken out of the FAA and restored to its original place in DoT. Others (including NASA administrator nominee Jim Bridenstine, who told me in February that he read the book) have recommended this as well, as has the commercial industry, but they’re (unsurprisingly) getting pushback from the FAA. Over a year ago, I had an op-ed in The New Atlantis in which I said that the FAA should keep its head on the clouds, and hands off space.

If Elon really does build BFR, and wants to use it for point to point, it’s going to raise some very interesting regulatory issues. Under the current law, because it’s suborbital, it will be regulated by the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, not the aviation portion of the FAA. There will be no certification of the vehicles; they will operate under a standard launch license, and the spaceflight participants (aka “passengers”) will fly in an informed-consent regime, without the same expections of safety they’d have with an airliner. We’ll see how long some in Congress will find that acceptable.

The National Space Council

They had their first “meeting” today (scare quotes because it was basically a scripted dog and pony show). Bob Zimmerman has some thoughts. Mine: The tension between the old cost-plus dinosaurs and commercial space within the administration was on full display, but everyone recognizes that we’ve shifted back to the moon. “Civil” space remains focused on pork, “commercial” space is focused appropriately on cost reduction. Nothing new on the milspace side to anyone who’s been following it, but I’m sure it was news to several of the council members.

[Update a while later]

Here’s Pence’s statement, but it’s behind a paywall at the WSJ.

[Late-afternoon update]

Here’s Ken Chang’s report. Check out the kicker.

[Update Friday morning]

Eric Berger: The history of presidential pland to “go back to the moon.” Yes, you should be skeptical. SpaceX or Blue Origin will beat NASA back to the moon. And that’s not a bad thing.


Dick Eagleson writes that it’s about to eat its young.

Elon’s Mars Plans

He’s going to announce changes from last year’s plans tonight at 21:30 PDT (tomorrow afternoon in Adelaide). It will be streamed.

[Update early afternoon]

The liberating effects of retiring from NASA: Former astronaut Terry Virts is criticizing Deep Space Gateway and SLS/Orion. Combined with Elon’s pending announcement, Marshall (and Shelby) can’t be happy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Chris Bergin:

[Update mid-afternoon]

Bob Zimmerman has some thoughts on Lockheed Martin’s DSG and Mars plans:

All these public relations announcements suggest to me that the Trump administration is getting close to unveiling its own future space policy, and they all suggest that this policy will be to build a space station around the Moon. My guess is that Lockheed Martin and SpaceX are vying for a piece of that pie in their announcements today.

Let me also note that Lockheed Martin’s concept above illustrates nicely what a lie Orion is and has always been. They have been touting it for years as the vehicle that will get Americans to Mars, but now admit that it can only really be a small part of a much larger interplanetary ship, and will be there mostly to be the descent capsule when astronauts want to come home. They also admit in the video at the first link that their proposal for getting to Mars is only a concept. To build it would require many billions of dollars. I wonder will it as much as Orion and SLS ($43 billion plus) and take as long (18 years plus) to build? If so, it is a bad purchase. We can do this faster, and for less.

But there are insufficient opportunities for graft in that.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Lockmart reveals its refuelable reusable lander. Looks like initial plan is to fuel in orbit, though, not on the surface. And of course:

While it is unclear whether NASA’s Deep Space Gateway mission will include landing on the moon, Lockheed Martin said its lander would also be capable of a lunar mission if required.

It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax.

[Update a few minutes later]

Watch the Lockmart presentation live, when it starts in a few minutes.

[Friday-morning update]

OK, so I guess the big news is that he thinks he can pay for it with point-to-point rocket trips. Briefly (for now), I’m skeptical.

[Update a while later]

Here‘s Eric Berger’s take on it. Yes, he’s recognizing that the near-term government market is more likely to be the moon than Mars.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Jeff Foust’s report from Adelaide.

[Update a while later]

Clark Lindsey has videos.

[Update mid morning]

Ken Chang and Adam Baidawi say that the financials are “murky.” Well, yeah. As is the regulatory situation.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Loren Grush’s take.

[Update a while later]

Scott Manley analyzes it.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Bob Zimmerman, in response to Chris Gebhart’s write up, says that BFR is an affordable version of SLS. Except that it doesn’t satisfy the primary requirement of SLS, which is to keep Huntsville and the Cape rolling in taxpayer dough.

[Monday-morning update]

The non-technical hurdles for Elon’s plans.