Category Archives: Space

Sneak Preview

Brian Berger has apparently gotten an early look at the Aldridge Commission report, now scheduled to be publicly released Wednesday.

It has some encouraging things, but there are also some areas of concern.

It says that NASA should rely on the private sector for transportation to LEO, which is good, but it also excludes human transportation from that, which is an implicit go-ahead for the Crew Exploration Vehicle on an expensive expendable. I find this program almost as economically senseless as the Orbital Space Plane was, if envisioned as a Shuttle replacement (a role that many are urging for it), but apparently there’s too much political pressure to build such a thing to kill it off completely.

I think that NASA is setting itself up for embarrassment a decade from now when their vaunted “Crew Exploration Vehicle” ends up costing hundreds of millions of dollars per flight while there are regular space tourism flights to orbit costing a couple of orders of magnitude less. By giving NASA permission to ignore the private sector for passenger services, the commission is simply putting off further the day that it will become a reality.

The other concern is this:

The commission also identified 17 enabling technologies needed to accomplish the exploration goals. These include an affordable heavy lift capability, advanced power and propulsion, automated spacecraft rendezvous and docking capability, high bandwidth communications, closed loop life supports systems, better spacesuits for astronauts and others.

“Affordable heavy lift capability” is not a technology, and its certainly not an enabling one. At best, to the degree that it’s a technology at all, it’s an enhancing one. “Enabling” implies that we can’t do without it. I absolutely reject the notion that it is essential, and if we believe that it is, it will simply hold us back in schedule while we wait for it to appear, and we will miss a lot of opportunities for innovation.

This heavy-lift fetish is going to be (or at least should be) one of the major space policy debate issues, because it is a hingepoint for the direction of our near-term future.

Miscategorization

The New York Times has an article on SpaceShipOne today. It’s a good piece, though it doesn’t talk much about the potential for the suborbital flight industry. My biggest issue with it is a subtle one–it appears in the Science section. There’s nothing in the article about science, but it just shows how inextricable the perceived relationship is between space and science in the public mind (including New York Times reporters). Now that we’re starting to get accurate stories about this, the next step is to get them where they belong–in the Business sections.

Major Shakeup?

Brian Berger has a preview of the Aldridge Commission report. This is the part that (obviously) piqued my interest:

Specifically, the commission will recommend that:

…NASA allow the private industry “to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit…”

I’ll be interested in seeing the elaboration on this topic. As usual, the devil will be in the details.

Why June 21st?

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this previously. I’ve been thinking it, but may have been too busy to post.

Here’s my theory on why they picked the solstice. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s the solstice. I think that it’s because thirty days later is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first moon landing. Burt (and perhaps Paul Allen) seem to be big on anniversaries.

[Update at 3:30 PM PDT]

Andrew Gray has an even better theory in comments:

Unless I’m miscounting, thirty days *less one*; isn’t Apollo 11 generally taken as being July 20th? (which is also the anniversary, I note, of the eventual recovery of Liberty Bell 7…)

But on that note, July 21, 1961 – Liberty Bell 7’s flight, being the second suborbital flight, might be considered not inappropriate as a date?

That aside, this does beg the question… what is in the two weeks after that, if he’s so keen on anniversaries? It’d be unusual to not have one for the second flight, if this is his plan as you suggest…

He’s right on the arithmetic–I forgot about the old “thirty days has September, April, June, and November.” And it would be an appropriate anniversary.

But as for the fourteen-day one, they would be foolish to wait fourteen days for the second attempt. They’ll do it as quickly as they can, so they have some margin in case they have weather or other problems. The first time you have the luxury of choosing an anniversary date, but the second one has to be driven solely by winning the prize.