Friday, July 23, 2010

Once Upon A Time in Heaven: Jim Webb on White Privilege

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) injects some much needed reality into the recent unpleasantness in his Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. After a full generation of such debate, WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers. The time has come to cease the false arguments and allow every American the benefit of a fair chance at the future.

NewSpace Conference

Go here for the latest. Obvious topic of discussion, House Science Committee's latest blow to commercial space. Which leads us naturally to...

Congress to America's future in space: Go fuck yourself

Here's some news to shove down the throat of the next idiot who suggests there's any difference between Democrats and Republicans where it concerns the sanctity of science.

The House Science and Technology Committee marked up its $19 billion Fiscal 2011 NASA authorization draft July 22, setting the stage for a House-Senate conference to reconcile differences in their two versions of the bill.

Building on work kicked off with the Senate Commerce Committee’s draft of a three-year NASA authorization bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted its $19 billion NASA spending measure for Fiscal 2011 on July 21 (Aerospace DAILY, July 22).

The long logjam over U.S. space policy is breaking up, as the impasse between the White House and Congress evolves into serious negotiations over details of a compromise approach that would accelerate a heavy-lift launch vehicle and preserve the Orion crew exploration vehicle. But it remains to be seen if all of the work can be done in time to avoid a continuing resolution when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.


Both authorization measures also pay for their changes from the original NASA budget request by backpedaling the administration’s centerpiece commercial human spaceflight plan.

Bottom line, Congress sets national science and engineering priorities by one metric only--jobs per district. FY2011 already showed the gap between the Augustine Commission's pie-in-the-sky dreams and the Administration's seriousness concerning space policy. Congress apparently couldn't suffer the idea of being outdone in rank foolishness. Here's to another decade of dicking around in LEO with nothing to show for it.

Here's a comparison of the House and Senate versions of FY2011, by the Space Foundation with respects to phantomdj at

Cost Plus

Over at Selenia Boondocks, contributor John Hare has a few choice things to say about government contracts:

If government contracting would quit worrying so much about how much profit a company makes, and start worrying about what is being delivered for the dollar, more companies would try for the contracts. A possible contract with 25-50% profit potential will attract more players. As more players enter a field, some will have better people or ideas which translates to lower costs, which becomes lower bids. When faced with real competition, Lockheed and Boeing can both find cost saving options when it is in their best interest to do so and they can make higher profit margins doing it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Obama space policy ripped by Air and Space blogger

Dr. Paul D. Spudis is a smart guy, pretty apolitical and keeps up a damn good blog for Air & Space Smithsonian on issues relating to space exploration and its future settlement. His latest uncharacteristically tears into "Flexible Path," or as I like to call it--"Vision for Space Exploration minus the Vision and the Space Exploration."

Here are the highlights:

The space community has fractured since the disastrous roll out of NASA’s “new direction.” Preceding the administration’s budget announcement, endless delays and rampant speculation about administrators, rockets, and program design and direction kept people guessing. The current trench warfare is not a pretty sight, but it is not unexpected given the lack of a clear direction. Word has it that more detail will come out early next week...

Word to the didn't.

...adding yet another layer to this growing space onion. The undirected, unfocused, unproductive spin cycle NASA (and the entire space community) has twirled around in for the last 18 months is instructive. It is real time, 20/20 insight on how the new direction will play out during the proposed five-year study hall being scheduled for NASA to find their “right stuff.”

The latest attempt to explain NASA’s new direction is an article published in by Clara Moskowitz. She tries to “correct” some alleged “misunderstandings” about the Obama administration’s new direction and budget for NASA. Her article quotes several space luminaries, who opine that the new path is simply “not understood” by a few petulant detractors who stubbornly refuse to accept Flexible Path as advertised. Responding to the criticism that the new path was conceived in secret by a small cabal without detailed thought, Moskowitz quotes my friend Jim Oberg as saying that the administration’s space proposal is “extremely similar” to a report issued by the International Astronautical Academy (IAA) and so (in effect) the new direction has been studied extensively by an “international astronautical group.”

Here're the money shots:

A glaring difference between the IAA report and the administration’s budget proposal is that the IAA report specifically recognizes the Moon’s surface as a valid objective (as does the VSE).


Civilizations thrive and advance when not in retreat. The administration’s chaotic proposal for NASA retreats from human space exploration. Many in the space community have serious doubts and concerns about this new direction. Labeling these doubts and concerns as “misconceptions” does not make the new direction valid nor change the reality that we are in danger of losing our capability as a space faring nation.

There's a not so marginal deal to be said in praise of Flexible Path. Killing Constellation--which would (by the grace of God) only produce an LEO vehicle in this decade--saves up to $7 billion a year going forward. There's supposedly a new look at EELV launchers for trans-lunar missions. And of course commercial space aid is going up north of a billion.

But that's literally it. FY2011 reveals at the Administration's aimlessness. ISS, cosmic navel gazing and climate change advocacy are the big winners, space technology gets as low as a third of the Constellation savings per year. Constellation may have been a huge, expensive mistake in execution, but the expenditure alone fit was the clearest articulation of the only mission worthy of NASA--the opening of space for American benefit. FY2011 reads like the budget for a university whose principle mission is to make Greens and internationals feel good about themselves.

The good news is even with this budget, in five to seven years some President will have the tools to proceed with a Vision for Space Exploration that's roughly back on track. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this President is all that interested in picking up the torch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Once Upon A Time In Heaven: Commercial Space Takes Off

Commercial space takes off

First off, a much belated congratulations to Elon Musk and the folks at SpaceX for last month's successful test launch of the Falcon 9 vehicle. The video is as spectacular as the story of a company, that for pennies on the dollar, hbas shown a path to reducing launch costs by a whole order of magnitude. A month on, and SpaceX's work is already paying off:
Space Exploration Technologies has signed a $492 million deal to carry Iridium Communications' mobile telecommunications satellites into space starting in 2015.
Space Exploration, better known as SpaceX, said Wednesday that the deal represents "the largest single commercial launch deal ever signed." Iridium provides mobile voice and data services around the globe.

This comes right on the heels of SpaceX scoring a major contract with Taiwan's civilian space agency.

Not quite sure what to make of Boeing's CST-100, a capsule without a launcher (for the time being) developed with assistance from the same commercial space development program as Falcon 9 and Dragon. More digging to come.

NASA mission adrift?

Canceling Constellation was a good thing, but not at the cost for the Vision to Explore Space. The new Administration "strategy," if you could call it that, accomplishes some good in expanding spending for aeronautics and support for commercial space, but to what end? The recent brouhaha over Administrator Bolden's Al-Jazeera interview hardly inspires confidence.

Rand Simberg takes Bolden to task at Pajamas Media, while Paul Mirengoff over at Powerline has this to say:
n the video below, Charles Bolden, head of NASA, tells Al Jazeera that the "foremost" task President Obama has given him is "to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering." Thus, NASA's primary mission is no longer to enhance American science and engineering or to explore space, but to boost the self-esteem of "predominantly Muslim nations."

Exploring space didn't even make the top three things Obama wants Bolden to accomplish. The other two are "re-inspire children to want to get into science and math" and "expand our international relationships,"

This is more evidence, if any were needed, of Obama's lack of interest in American achievement or, indeed, American greatness. He seems to believe we've achieved enough (or perhaps too much) and that the trick now is to make nations that have achieved little for centuries feel like we couldn't have done it without them (in the video, Bolden goes on to talk about how much NASA owes the Russians and the Japanese).

I draw no general conclusion about Obama's views on America's role in the world, but I agree with sentiment that internationalism is infecting American space policy to its detriment. If you absolutely have to play psychotherapist for a third of the world's population, use the State Department. Unfortunately, I fear that the Administration's disinterest in space--despite the $6 billion in increased funding over the next five years--has left NASA on autopilot, and that we're on the road to an even more embarrassing clash with reality than Constellation ended up as.

End over end in space

In 2003, the Decadal Planning Team laid down some major ground work for the long vision of VSE--exploration (and the kernel of settlement) beyond low earth orbit. One of the architectures they considered for a Mars mission was AG-NEP (Powerpoint slides), a vehicle that would tumble end over end to produce artificial gravity as its engines would constantly thrust it towards its destination. One of the problems, though, was keeping the engines aligned on course. Well, Kirk Sorenson over at SeleniaBoondocks details a solution drawing an interesting innovation from his work on tethers--the Canfield joint:
He called it a “Trio-Tristar Carpal Wrist Joint.” I thought that sounded like a real mouthful so I just called it “Canfield’s joint” and eventually everyone (except Canfield) began to call it a Canfield joint. It was kind of a crazy looking thing that you couldn’t figure out what to do with it unless you held it in your hands and started playing with it. Unfortunately, in a blog post I can’t reach out of your screen and hand you your own Canfield joint to play with, because if I could you’d figure out in a few seconds what I’m talking about, but the real magic of the Canfield joint is that you can point the joint anywhere in a hemisphere without winding up anything.

The joint has several parts. There’s the “base plate” which stays attached to whatever the joint is mounted to, like your spacecraft, and then there’s the “distal plate”, which points to whatever it is that you want to point at. There are six legs on the joint, in three units. The joint is called a “parallel structure” because there’s more than one load path for the loads to follow, and this is what gives it its potential strength. Where the legs mount to the plates is a simple revolute joint. I didn’t know what that meant so I asked Canfield and he said that it just meant that it was a simple, one-degree-of-freedom (one way to move) joint or hinge. Where the two legs come together you could have a spheric joint (a ball and socket with two degrees-of-freedom) or you could have three revolute joints in series. That’s what we usually do.

This is from the second of a series of three blog posts (1, 2, 3), which you should really read in order to fully appreciate an example of the ingenuity engineers bring to tackling problems. Bottom line, the Canfield joint solves the problem of how to keep engines properly aligned on a tumbling spaceship, and Sorenson has finally produced animations (1, 2, 3, and the grand finale) to visualize how cleverly the solution works.