Category Archives: Space

Why I’m Not In A Union

Geeeeez.

Go check out the idiot union rep at NASA Watch. The moron can’t even spell his name right. Maybe she’ll threaten to sue me for unfair labor practices, too, for calling her a moron and an idiot. Sorry, dear, but truth is an absolute defense against libel.

(Sorry, no permalink–maybe Keith will move this to Spaceref so future viewers of this post can find it).

And hat tip to Mike Puckett in the comments section of this post.

[Update at 9 PM PST]

I should add that I found this particular part the most moronic (and sadly, typical of leftist thinking):

You have either missed the point of the Bulletin, or you are trying to stifle Freedom of Speech.

Once again, we’re not allowed to critique dumb commentary without being accused of “stifling Freedom of Speech.” As though by the mere act of criticism, the perpetrators of free speech have been hustled off to the gulag, to speak no more.

Here’s a quarter, Virginia. Go call someone who gives a damn.

[Update on Saturday morning]

Clark Lindsey has some further thoughts (scroll down, though the beginning part about potential Centennial prizes is worth a read, too):

It also brings up the serious topic of the brother-in-law effect commonly cited by space startup companies. A potential investor initially shows great enthusiasm and seems ready to write a check but a few days later backs off after talking to a brother-in-law or other contact who works at NASA. The NASA person typically knows little about the project but bashes it anyway and influences the investor against it.

I’ve heard that the military has rules forbidding employees from expressing any such personal judgments about commercial products of possible military use because of potential conflicts of interest. Similar rules should be placed into the next NASA budget authorization.

Why I’m Not In A Union

Geeeeez.

Go check out the idiot union rep at NASA Watch. The moron can’t even spell his name right. Maybe she’ll threaten to sue me for unfair labor practices, too, for calling her a moron and an idiot. Sorry, dear, but truth is an absolute defense against libel.

(Sorry, no permalink–maybe Keith will move this to Spaceref so future viewers of this post can find it).

And hat tip to Mike Puckett in the comments section of this post.

[Update at 9 PM PST]

I should add that I found this particular part the most moronic (and sadly, typical of leftist thinking):

You have either missed the point of the Bulletin, or you are trying to stifle Freedom of Speech.

Once again, we’re not allowed to critique dumb commentary without being accused of “stifling Freedom of Speech.” As though by the mere act of criticism, the perpetrators of free speech have been hustled off to the gulag, to speak no more.

Here’s a quarter, Virginia. Go call someone who gives a damn.

[Update on Saturday morning]

Clark Lindsey has some further thoughts (scroll down, though the beginning part about potential Centennial prizes is worth a read, too):

It also brings up the serious topic of the brother-in-law effect commonly cited by space startup companies. A potential investor initially shows great enthusiasm and seems ready to write a check but a few days later backs off after talking to a brother-in-law or other contact who works at NASA. The NASA person typically knows little about the project but bashes it anyway and influences the investor against it.

I’ve heard that the military has rules forbidding employees from expressing any such personal judgments about commercial products of possible military use because of potential conflicts of interest. Similar rules should be placed into the next NASA budget authorization.

OK, I’ve Reconsidered

OK, I’ve gone back and taken a look at Jeffrey Bell’s Space Daily piece again.

In addition to the comments that Dwayne Day made on the previous post, he’s wrong about architectures. I was a little confused on my first read, and I thought I agreed with the following:

People who say that a manned moon mission could be assembled in LEO out of small pieces launched on existing boosters like the new EELVs are dead wrong. This option was never seriously considered by either the Red Team or the Blue Team back during the Moon Race. It vastly magnifies the chances of failure.

Both Delta 4H and Atlas 5H can lift about 20 tons to LEO, so many launches would be needed for each moon flight. The need to design the moonship in many small pieces increases its total weight. Rumor suggests that the actual number coming out of current studies of this option are in the range of 6 to 9 launches (120-180 tonnes). If any one of these launches were to fail, the whole mission plan would be disrupted.

Also, there is no way we could produce the number of Delta 4H or Atlas 5H boosters it would take to support a serious moon program on top of all other launch requirements. Since each Heavy EELV uses three core stages in parallel, 18 to 27 stages would be dumped into the Atlantic for one Moon landing.

I actually do agree with much of this–I don’t think that it’s sensible to use EELVs for the new space initiative. Of course, I don’t think that it’s sensible to use expendables in general. My biggest disappointment in the new space policy is that it seems to have thrown in the towel on the possibility of getting low-cost launch.

If we were to launch the pieces on a reliable, low-cost launcher (a highly reusable space transport), then the concerns about a missed launch would be vastly mitigated, the pieces themselves would be much cheaper, and there would be spares in the event of a launch failure. Unfortunately, this is an option that no one seems to be considering now, because NASA screwed the pooch so badly on X-33 that the agency (totally irrationally) really seems to believe that it’s not possible to build reusables, or lower launch costs significantly. And for the paltry goals that the agency has (even in the wake of the new space initiative), it’s probably not.

It will only happen when the nation (not NASA) decides that we have to have routine affordable access to space, and puts in place policies to achieve that goal (which involve much more activity than NASA’s space exploration goals). But once the goal is achieved, the trade space will become radically transformed, and articles like Jeffrey Bell’s will be irrelevant.

OK, I’ve Reconsidered

OK, I’ve gone back and taken a look at Jeffrey Bell’s Space Daily piece again.

In addition to the comments that Dwayne Day made on the previous post, he’s wrong about architectures. I was a little confused on my first read, and I thought I agreed with the following:

People who say that a manned moon mission could be assembled in LEO out of small pieces launched on existing boosters like the new EELVs are dead wrong. This option was never seriously considered by either the Red Team or the Blue Team back during the Moon Race. It vastly magnifies the chances of failure.

Both Delta 4H and Atlas 5H can lift about 20 tons to LEO, so many launches would be needed for each moon flight. The need to design the moonship in many small pieces increases its total weight. Rumor suggests that the actual number coming out of current studies of this option are in the range of 6 to 9 launches (120-180 tonnes). If any one of these launches were to fail, the whole mission plan would be disrupted.

Also, there is no way we could produce the number of Delta 4H or Atlas 5H boosters it would take to support a serious moon program on top of all other launch requirements. Since each Heavy EELV uses three core stages in parallel, 18 to 27 stages would be dumped into the Atlantic for one Moon landing.

I actually do agree with much of this–I don’t think that it’s sensible to use EELVs for the new space initiative. Of course, I don’t think that it’s sensible to use expendables in general. My biggest disappointment in the new space policy is that it seems to have thrown in the towel on the possibility of getting low-cost launch.

If we were to launch the pieces on a reliable, low-cost launcher (a highly reusable space transport), then the concerns about a missed launch would be vastly mitigated, the pieces themselves would be much cheaper, and there would be spares in the event of a launch failure. Unfortunately, this is an option that no one seems to be considering now, because NASA screwed the pooch so badly on X-33 that the agency (totally irrationally) really seems to believe that it’s not possible to build reusables, or lower launch costs significantly. And for the paltry goals that the agency has (even in the wake of the new space initiative), it’s probably not.

It will only happen when the nation (not NASA) decides that we have to have routine affordable access to space, and puts in place policies to achieve that goal (which involve much more activity than NASA’s space exploration goals). But once the goal is achieved, the trade space will become radically transformed, and articles like Jeffrey Bell’s will be irrelevant.

OK, I’ve Reconsidered

OK, I’ve gone back and taken a look at Jeffrey Bell’s Space Daily piece again.

In addition to the comments that Dwayne Day made on the previous post, he’s wrong about architectures. I was a little confused on my first read, and I thought I agreed with the following:

People who say that a manned moon mission could be assembled in LEO out of small pieces launched on existing boosters like the new EELVs are dead wrong. This option was never seriously considered by either the Red Team or the Blue Team back during the Moon Race. It vastly magnifies the chances of failure.

Both Delta 4H and Atlas 5H can lift about 20 tons to LEO, so many launches would be needed for each moon flight. The need to design the moonship in many small pieces increases its total weight. Rumor suggests that the actual number coming out of current studies of this option are in the range of 6 to 9 launches (120-180 tonnes). If any one of these launches were to fail, the whole mission plan would be disrupted.

Also, there is no way we could produce the number of Delta 4H or Atlas 5H boosters it would take to support a serious moon program on top of all other launch requirements. Since each Heavy EELV uses three core stages in parallel, 18 to 27 stages would be dumped into the Atlantic for one Moon landing.

I actually do agree with much of this–I don’t think that it’s sensible to use EELVs for the new space initiative. Of course, I don’t think that it’s sensible to use expendables in general. My biggest disappointment in the new space policy is that it seems to have thrown in the towel on the possibility of getting low-cost launch.

If we were to launch the pieces on a reliable, low-cost launcher (a highly reusable space transport), then the concerns about a missed launch would be vastly mitigated, the pieces themselves would be much cheaper, and there would be spares in the event of a launch failure. Unfortunately, this is an option that no one seems to be considering now, because NASA screwed the pooch so badly on X-33 that the agency (totally irrationally) really seems to believe that it’s not possible to build reusables, or lower launch costs significantly. And for the paltry goals that the agency has (even in the wake of the new space initiative), it’s probably not.

It will only happen when the nation (not NASA) decides that we have to have routine affordable access to space, and puts in place policies to achieve that goal (which involve much more activity than NASA’s space exploration goals). But once the goal is achieved, the trade space will become radically transformed, and articles like Jeffrey Bell’s will be irrelevant.

A Close Shave

A thirty-meter-diameter asteroid is going to pass within twenty-five thousand miles of the planet this afternoon (America time).

That is very close–about a fifth of the distance to the moon and well inside its orbit. A few thousand miles lower, and it could take out a geostationary satellite. If it were to hit land, it might leave a scar something like this.

And of course, like all bad things that happen, it will be Bush’s fault.

I took the picture Tuesday on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to LA, over Winslow, Arizona. The crater is almost a mile in diameter and about a two and a half miles in circumference. When it hit, back during the Pleistocene, it probably wiped out all life for many miles around. You can read more about it here.

Just another reminder that we have to start paying attention to these things.

[Update at 1:20 PM PST]

Clayton Cramer has more details.

Mystifying

At first glance, this didn’t seem like a very auspicious beginning for government-sponsored prizes in the modern era.

A $1 million race across a southern California desert by driverless robots ended Saturday after all 15 entries either broke down or withdrew, a race official said.

Two of the entries covered about seven miles (11 kilometers) of the roughly 150-mile (240-kilometer) course in the Mojave Desert while eight failed to make it to the one-mile (1500 meter) mark. Others crashed seconds after starting.

Color me confused. No, flabbergasted.

Were there some rules of which I’m not aware of in this contest? Like you couldn’t run the course, or some facsimile of it, ahead of time? You weren’t allowed to test your vehicle under actual course conditions?

I should start by saying that I’m not sure what the purpose of making it a real-time race was, unless they thought that this would generate more public excitement, or perhaps make it more challenging by having to deal with competitors as well as the course itself. If the goal is to get from Barstow to Vegas in a certain amount of time, then that’s the goal–why have everyone do it at the same time?

Why not do it like the X-Prize people, at least to start? Set a date that you’re going to make the attempt, have the judges show up to watch, and do the attempt. No need to have everyone go at once. Use graduated prizes–a million for the first, half a million for the second, a quarter million each for the next four. Once you’ve got some vehicles that can demonstrate their ability to do it, then you put them on the same course and actually have them race each other in real time.

But what amazes me is that, given that it was a real-time race (you had to beat not just the clock, but other competitors), wouldn’t you want to test and see if you could do it at all first, let alone in the allotted time period?

I mean, if I had a Formula I car, I don’t think I’d enter it in a race with other Formula I cars, or even with the pace car or a bicycle, until I’d at least seen if it could make it around the track once or twice. In fact, you know, I think that I’d drive the course the requisite number of times to win, and even see if I could at least approach some course records before I actually put it in competition.

Yet somehow, not a single one of these team’s vehicles were capable of making it five percent of the distance without some kind of breakdown. What’s up with that? Could it really be just an unfortunate set of circumstances, lousy luck all around?

Does anyone have an explanation?

Boost Phase Intercept Talk

There was a talk at the University of Maryland today by Daniel Kleppner, one of the co-chairs of the American Physical Society’s Boost Phase Missile Defence Study Group. The report is summarized here, and the whole thing is available here.

Anyway, the talk was very well presented, and it’s clear that if you accept the initial assumptions the conclusions follow logically. It’s the input assumptions that are somewhat problematic. I’ve seen people complain that the choice of initial assumptions is due to liberal bias, but Kleppner defended them quite well on the basis of the National Intelligence Estimate and the systems actually under consideration. Some of the parameters considered, such as the burn time, were skewed in favor of the defender, and they considered zero decision time cases, which also favor the defender. The minimum kill vehicle mass considered (90 lbs, including sensors, thrusters and fuel) seemed to me a little large, but I don’t have a basis to dispute it. This is a critically important parameter, since it scales all the other masses in the system.

Continue reading Boost Phase Intercept Talk

The Fall Of NASA?

Jeff Foust has a review of Greg Klerkx’ new book, Lost In Space (the title of this post is a subtitle of the book). I read it right after it came out a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to review it myself, but Jeff has mostly done it for me. He’s right in that there are some errors in the book that detract somewhat from its credibility. Here was a list that I made as I went through it.

He says that “…at their most basic, tethers are analogous to the wire that runs from a wall socket to a lamp.”

Errr, no. At their most basic, space tethers are a line that connects one object to another in orbit. He’s talking about a special category of space tethers–electrodynamic tethers, and an uninformed reader might believe that these are the only kinds of tethers that exist, and that their only use is for converting orbital energy to electrical energy and vice versa, when in fact that’s only one application.

He repeats the myth that “Even the paper plans for building the Saturns were gathered up and destroyed.” Not true. Well, perhaps it may be literally true–the plans exist on microfiche, but the implication is that they are beyond our reach. What really no longer exists is the tooling (at least not all of it), which was expensive to preserve and warehouse for a program that was considered part of the past. Should we choose, we could resurrect the Saturn program. It wouldn’t be wise, four decades on, but we have the plans, and there was no conspiracy to burn the bridge over the Rubicon to Shuttle, once across.

He says that “…two congressmen have flown, with little rationale other than their political status…” on the Shuttle. It’s wrong no matter how you define “congressman.” Two Senators (Garn and Glenn) have flown, and one congressman (now senator)–Bill Nelson. This is a particular perplexing error, because it should have been caught by an editor–later in the book, in discussing Senator Glenn’s flight, he writes, “To [Alan] Ladwig, this was Garn and Nelson all over again.”

In describing the Kistler K-1 vehicle (a project that recently got a new lease on life with a couple hundred million NASA contract to purchase flight data), he writes that it “would be a lot cheaper to use than the shuttle…because it will not be piloted and therefore will not have need of the extensive ‘human rating’ requirements that NASA employs for the shuttle.”

Here, he’s bought into (or at least is implictly endorsing) two myths of spacecraft design.

The first is that pilots add cost to vehicles (including space vehicles). There’s actually no evidence for this, at least in any vehicle other than space vehicles. There’s actually good reason to believe that piloted vehicles, properly designed, could be cheaper than unpiloted ones–a proposition that the X-Prize and commercial suborbital developers will test in the coming months and years.

The second is that the shuttle is human rated. In fact, it is not, and never has been, by the standards that NASA has established as human rated. For instance, it doesn’t have “zero-zero” abort capability (that is, the ability to abort from the pad all the way to orbit, the zeros corresponding to the velocity and altitude of the starting condition). I’ve discussed both of these aspects extensively in the past.

He states that Columbia wasn’t able to reach the ISS orbit. In fact, it was–but its payload would have been much less than that of the other orbiters, so it was designated mostly for non-ISS missions. It was in fact scheduled to go to the ISS had it not been destroyed a year ago.

On page 224, he expresses concern about sending nuclear waste into space that indicates a lack of understanding of the issues–he’s a little too prone to buy the scare mongering of some people about this. I do think that it might be financially feasible, and safe, to store nuclear waste in space, but this won’t happen until we develop much more reliable vehicles than are available at present. I discussed this a couple years ago in an early Fox News column.

Greg also has a higher opinion of Bob Park’s opinions than I do.

Overall, I agree with Jeff’s assessment of the book. It’s an interesting read, and will provide a lot of background in terms of NASA versus the private sector, but as Jeff says, it’s a little schizophrenic, in that he can’t quite decide whether the agency is an evil monolith, or a bunch of warring fiefdoms. Ultimately, while descriptive, it’s not very prescriptive, or well organized. It’s more a compendium of interesting stories than a coherent narrative, and it seems to peter out at the end, with no clear conclusion.

The world still awaits the book that lays out clearly the problems with our space policy, and viable recommendations to address them. This isn’t that book. Perhaps mine, if I ever get around to finishing it, will be.