Commercial

(Grave)digging for dollars

Wayne Hale dropped a memorial piece this week. As he sees it, Americans sin by playing imported video games and doing finance. We’re pissing on the graves of dead astronauts with our dull everydayness. Fortunately, we can atone for our shortsightedness simply by tossing billions more at an agency that has spent $1 trillion and killed three crews in the pursuit of…well, six people in lower Earth orbit and a handful of day trips to the moon.

Tow-to-launch status?

Mike Kelly submitted two patents in 1997 and 2000 detailing a tow to launch architecture. Dryden teamed up with KST in the late 1990s for Eclipse, which demonstrated the concept’s fundamental soundness for existing lifting bodies in the subsonic regime. KST (or a descendent team after it went belly up) pursued the X-Prize, lost, and apparently reconstituted under new management. Not sure what happened to Mike Kelly, or who owns the patents.

In any case, is there any particular reason why tow-to-launch hasn’t been explored more vigorously? Not sure what the cost of the Eclipse test was, but the follow on contract went for $1.2 million at the time. Isn’t this the sort of potentially low-cost, high trial rate approach to a problem that produces breakthroughs?

Astrobotic, SpaceX go lunar

The press release:

Astrobotic Technology Inc. today announced it has signed a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic’s robotic payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9.   The expedition will search for water and deliver payloads, with the robot narrating its adventure while sending 3D video.  The mission could launch as soon as December 2013.

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon.   Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing.  The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars.  The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights.  The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

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 NasaSpaceFlight.com

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.

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 wise…it 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 Space.com 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.