Thursday, May 13, 2010


Not convinced our space policy is in the shitter? The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee met yesterday to reveal its penultimate ignorance and lack of ambition in what had to have been two-thirds self-laudatory fluff followed by the most ignorant kabuki dance between Congresscritter and Executive branch flunky you could imagine.

What's really disturbing is that we're so damned caught up on the LEO component. In fact, the sharpest criticism I've heard from the Augustinophiles pertains to Ares I/Orion. Ares V and Moonshoot II simply drop off the radar--the principal objective of Constellation--doesn't even get on the radar in these overheated debates. For all the bitching about Ares I's costs, FY2011 doesn't do a damn thing new in terms of commercial private spaceflight. Falcon 9 was already on track in all phases of the COTS program; in fact, we've been playing games with the SpaceX's funding for a year now. FY2011 finally commits $369 million towards bringing COTS and CRS towards initial delivery, but don't be fooled--we would've gotten there whether or not the Administration decided to axe the only decent reason for us to be in space in the first place.

Augustinophiles over at NASA Watch are still pissed at Mike Griffin:

According eye witnesses, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan showed up a little early today before their hearing on Capitol Hill. They arrived at the special ante room (waiting room) mentioned by Sen. Rockefeller at one point in the hearings. According to these eye witnesses, Armstrong and Cernan were accompanied by Mike Griffin. This synchs with the widely-held suspicon that not only did Griffin help write Neil Armstrong's prepared comments, but also that Griffin has been spearheading much of the behind the scenes lobbying against the Obama Space policy on Capitol Hill. Gee, I hope he is registered ... Stay tuned.

Mike Griffin has more vision in his thumbnail than all of the guys at NASA Watch combined. As much as I wish we wouldn't spend $20 billion a year to look down on Earth on the specious theory that children are inspired by looking at hurricane tracks and images of oil spills, that's about all that's allowed by the imaginations of today's space "advocates."

Clark Lindsey dismisses astronaut testimony as a stunt:

Arguments from authority are among the weakest of all arguments. Being chosen as the first and last visitors to the Moon did not include authorization as life long final arbiters of space policy. As the Washington Post article points out, there are a number of astronauts who disagree with them. If, for example, Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride had been there instead, not only would they have argued from authority but from the knowledge gained by long involvement in the issues and the tough budget choices that must made.

Which is exactly why Ride and Aldrin were on the Augustine team. You'll find an astronaut to support any of the countless constituencies NASA has, even more so once you move past the Apollo generation. Unfortunately, it seems that the dream of actually conquering space was lost amongst our later generations of spacefarers--who seem to fall into Aldrin's camp of restricting space access to a select club of would be superstars. Ultimately, you'll end up with an astronaut of Charles Bolden's character--a man whose vision is limited to his own 9-5 ambitions.

I don't disagree with Lindsey on any particular point, or Rand Simberg for that matter. I also don't necessarily buy Captain Cernan's argument that Newspace will cost three times its advertising price or Charles Bolden's reported concerns that commercial space will face some cost exploding obstacles in the years to come. What I do object to is the notion that a ten-year expenditure estimated over a wide variation of $1 to $1 billion is a gospel solid constraint mandated by the dead hand of some vague budget reality, or that we need to give up the Moon--our only hope for settling space--in order to keep a lethargic satellite launch industry alive. I also don't buy the argument that commercial services to the Space Station will magically birth private manned spaceflight in the same environment. You don't have to be an astronaut, rocket scientist, engineer, or even an economist to know that there's nothing in LEO.

Anyways, Flex Path diary rant--check. Moving on.

ISS resupply for $200 million a month, anyone?:

The second of ESA's ATV automated cargo craft has been cleared for shipping to the launch site in Kourou. Its launch on an Ariane 5 to the International Space Station is scheduled for late this year.

ATV-2, named after German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, has undergone extensive system testing at EADS Astrium's site in Bremen, Germany, over the last few months and has now been given the go-ahead for shipping.

It will be dispatched to Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in several sections, accompanied by 59 containers with test equipment. In Kourou, it will be assembled and extensively tested before being loaded with cargo and fuelled. The launch is now planned for the end of 2010.

"After an internal review of ATV Johannes Kepler, we have given Astrium 'consent-to-ship', which is an important milestone," says Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director for Human Spaceflight.

"This demonstrates the ability of European industry under the lead of Astrium to provide the requested status of the vehicle on time and with the requested quality."

"When the US Space Shuttle retires, ATV will be the largest vehicle supplying the ISS. Considering its technological challenges, like automatic rendezvous & docking, ATV is the most sophisticated space vehicle ever built in Europe."

I'd love if Newspace beat out the Europeans in cost, but I'm not so sure they'll do it in time. SpaceX makes a lot of noise about delivery by 2012, but until I see the Falcon 9 with a Dragon payload launch and rendezvous with ISS, I'm not holding my breath.

Shyeah, right

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea claimed Wednesday that its scientists succeeded in creating a nuclear fusion reaction, but experts doubted the isolated communist country actually had made the breakthrough in the elusive clean-energy technology.

Nuclear fusion stories generally piss me off. They usually fall into two categories. Endless boring budgetary news about constructing the next biggest tokamak, or unvetted press releases from individuals, companies and societies of dubious authority.