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February 05, 2010

ISS' windows and Cupola

The BBC Spaceman discussed today the upcoming launch of Cupola, and neglected to mention that ISS already has a rather big window in the Destiny. Certainly, Cupola is a superior piece of hardware. For one thing, its main window is bigger at 80cm diameter than Destiny's 50cm. For another, Destiny's window sits flush, even somewhat recessed, against the outside mould of the station. Still, it's an evolutionary step.

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January 27, 2010

Soyuz-1 is dead, Long Live Soyuz-2.1V

Military-Industrical Courier reports:

Также завершены летные испытания ракеты-носителя «Рокот». В 2010 году комплекс будет принят в эксплуатацию. РН «Рокот» - это, можно сказать, переходное средство выведения легкого класса. «Рокот» будет использоваться до принятия в эксплуатацию перспективных носителей этого класса - РН «Союз-2.1В» и РН «Ангара-1.2».

Oh, brother. Russians and their nomenclature. At least real Soyuz-2.1 and Soyuz-2.1V are going to have more in common than Tu-22 and Tu-22M3 (e.g. Blok I and payload fairing are shared).

P.S. Just to pee into a westerner's soup, there exists Soyuz-2.1b (and it's a real booster that already made flights). Watch those encoding and case, folks.

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January 22, 2010

Rand Simberg on Launch Escape Systems

Rand's post on Launch Escape is a quality work, and he continues to improve it (fascinating).

One of the important points is the struggle about the absolutization of the human life, rooted in The Right Stuff, Galactic Single Combat General and the associated mythos[1]. Here's a choice comment by a reader "Godzilla":

AFAIK there was only one Soyuz lost to depressurization, but they considered it important enough to add the Sokol suits for every flight ever since at considerable cost. From what I understand the suits are also useless for anything but emergencies, and use considerable space. I see no problem in adding these and the escape tower if it makes people more confident in the system.

The story of the Soyuz 11 flight and the reaction to the tragedy is considerably involved. I think that the same classification of cosmonauts as national assets as in America, and the resulting loss of prestige when one was lost, played a role in overreacting to the fault. Still, who is to say that Sokol is useless? Reading memoirs -- such as that of Prof. B. E. Chertok -- leave no room to doubt that cosmonauts themselves were a) eager to fly when it is not safe, and b) are quite unhappy when they percieve sloppy work on safety. Turning it arounud, they did not want mathematical safety, they wanted everyone in the design office and factory doing their part. In other words, they were irrational just like the public.

BTW, no commenter asked why we put ejection seats in military airplanes, even though they are quite obviously reusable.

[1] In the years since I read The Right Stuff, I learned a few facts about Neil Armstrong in particular, that throw a heavy schadow on his negative portrayal in the book as a kind of "computer man", unable to improvise with the best of Edwards. The book is clearly biased and not reliable. Nonetheless, it serves to depict the cult of the astronaut.

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December 17, 2009

Google and Corn Ranch

I updated my map of Corn Ranch, the Jeff Bezos' personal spaceport from where his spaceships built by Blue Origin make their test flights. Google lags by years at that location, but I was able to piece together pretty good location points using random aerial photographs (including Salt Flat Mystery site) and Terraserver. The latter updates better than Google: its latest is currently from the 2008.

UPDATE: Found a map at Space.com. It shows everything except the newest auxilary pad "E".

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November 23, 2009


According to Spaceflight Now:

Intelsat 14 is fitted with an experimental communications package called IRIS, or Internet Router In Space, as part of a Department of Defense technology demonstration.

"We believe IRIS will extend broadband services on demand in the sky. The Cisco IRIS payload will merge communications received on various frequency bands and transmit them to multiple users," said Steve Boutelle, vice president of Cisco Global Government Solutions Group.

IRIS will test a space-based computer processor that would allow U.S. military and allied forces to communicate with each other using Internet protocol for voice, video and data relay. If the concept is successful, designers say the system would enhance performance and reduce signal degradation from atmospheric conditions.

Took them long enough. The question is, however, how quaint IRIS is going to look 10 years from now. Intelsat 14 is designed for 15 year lifespan.

BTW, I am pretty sure that amateur radio satellites had routers on them before.

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November 13, 2009

NASA and HLV alternatives

An article at Orlando Sentiel breaks the story about NASA studying alternatives to the original Ares V, made necessary by the disaster which is Ares I.

Picture taken from Orlando Sentiel; the rightmost rocket is resized to scale.

Much of the focus is on the new, exciting alternative: a fully liquid rocket with a kerolox 1st stage. It uses Atlas V CCB as strap-ons, in the same manner as Energiya used Zenit. The core is 3 stages, not 2, which should improve performance considerably. No more hassles with the solid propellant, significant reduction of operation costs. Russian engines though... Although RD-180 was supposed to be made in the U.S. and all arrangements were done (documentation translated, necessary alloys identified), the cost was prohibitive and it never happened. Even so it is cleary a winner for everyone except ATK, Doc Horovitz, and Orin Hatch.

I think it's still a mistake to do it though. Although the all-liquid rocket is cheaper to operate in the very long run, at the flight rate it goes, a HLV will never recoup development costs to get there. The idiocy of Ares I and the perfidy of people who pushed "Shuttle-Derived only not really" overshadowed the bigger problem: HLV is never affordable and not necessary. But oh well, if even Buzz wants it, we're married to the concept no matter what.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg comments too, points to blog post by Orlando Sentiel staff, with funny details such as "[all-liquid rocket] also opens up the VAB to other uses because you can have offices in the building again."

By the way, not a peep about RS-84 on the core, but 5x RD-180 instead.

UPDATE: Ed Kyle writes:

RS-84 doesn't, and never will, exist. RD-180 does. RS-84, a prospective reusable engine, was canceled five years ago. The heavy lifter contemplated here would not need a reusable engine.

Actually, RD-180 has a design lifetime that permits reuse, but anyway, sucks for RS-84.

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October 30, 2009

Ariane 5 flies again

Did anyone notice that Arianne 5 flew again yesterday (October 29) when it flew before only on October 1? This means that Arianespace can cast/case 2 solid rocket motors, stack the vehicle and recycle the pad in less than a month. Their previous record was 8 launches a year, IIRC.

Soyuz still has the record for achieved turnarounds (1 week), with Zenith having the best designed turnaround (that was never proven, again IIRC).

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October 22, 2009

Simberg on the Augustine report

Seen under the cut at Transterrestrial:

I have to say that I love this:

…the EELV approach would also represent a new way of doing business for NASA, which would have the benefit of potentially lowering development and operational costs. This would come at the expense of ending a substantial portion of the internal NASA capability to develop and operate launchers. It would also require that NASA and the Department of Defense jointly develop the new system.

The big unstated assumption here is that NASA actually possesses an internal capability to develop launchers. All of the available evidence for this since the Shuttle development is that it does not — there is nothing to retain. In fact, this was one of the key rationales put forth by Mike Griffin to let Marshall build a new rocket — because they hadn’t done it in decades, didn’t know how to do it, had demonstrated this with several failed attempts in the interim, and needed some on-the-job training.

LoooooooL. Too true.

That said, what's the alternative? If you take the launchers away from MSFC, what is there left for them to do? Let the half of them do Orion and fire the other half?

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September 15, 2009

Simberg on ULA's moon plans

Rand posted a polished piece on the topic of ULA papers at AIAA 2009 meeting. Check this out:

While Boeing and Lockheed Martin can smell the Ares blood in the water, they still both have lucrative contracts for the Constellation program (Orion for Lockheed Martin, and the Ares I upper stage for Boeing), and they can't afford to upset the apple cart unless they know that the program is definitely dead. Three years ago, Lockheed Martin got itself into hot water with the former administrator, Mike Griffin, at the AIAA meeting in San Jose, where they held a joint press conference with Bigelow Aerospace announcing a study to "human rate" the Atlas V to service Bigelow's planned facilities. Griffin reportedly called upper management there to complain about the potential threat these plans posed to maintaining political support for Ares.

Well, yeah... But I'm quite certain that when ULA was created, nobody foreseen the beneficial effects that would arise. Rand himself notes that the split+merge maneuver was a "shotgun wedding" forced by the military for their own benefit.

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September 14, 2009

Costs in space

Jeff Garzik commented on a previous post:

Perhaps I am naive, but I sincerely believe that technology is cheap enough to permit matching of the right business plan with investment funding, sufficient to get a commercial venture going to the moon or Mars.

That supposition is being tested now. There's some success, such as the investment of $280 into Virgin Galactic, and something that's less than success, such as the Excalibur Almaz program. But "cheap enough" is not cheap, and the required investment is nowhere near that of Internet companies. Elon Musk mentions in every interview how the key difference in space business how it's very capital intensive. Just to see the scale, here are a few numbers:

  • Mr. Musk spent $100 million to get Falcon 1 developed up to the flight 1 (after that sacks of government money started falling from the sky on Falcon 9 and the accounting became convoluted).
  • He also said that the development of the escape system for otherwise ready capsule will cost $200 million.
  • Mr. Bigelow offered $760 million to anyone who would develop him a capsule, there were no takers.
  • Orbital announced this week that they'll man-rate Taurus II and make a crew module for Cygnus for $2 to $3 billion.

Mind, these are not traditonal, expensive space contractors (with the possible exception of Orbital, who found a niche of a cheap government contractor). All of the above is firmly in the "NewsSpace" area.

Of course we have things going on like the Microlauncher contest (the $8K launcher), or Garvey Space etc. But these things are nowhere, nowhere near dealing with manned launches. Realistically, anything going into orbit requires hundreds millions before it can make a business case. It's still pretty cheap, on the scale of 5% of what NASA burns on similar tasks, which is an amazing progress. Yet, it's not where two guys in garage can have a go at it.

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September 12, 2009

ULA papers for AIAA 2009

As quoted by Chris Bergin:

[Proposed Heavy Lift] launch vehicles require extensive development with costs ranging into the tens of billions of dollars and with first flight likely most of a decade away. In the end they will mimic the Saturn V programmatically: a single-purpose lifter with a single user who must bear all costs. This programmatic structure has not been shown to be effective in the long term. It is characterized by low demonstrated reliability, ballooning costs and a glacial pace of improvements.

The use of smaller, commercial launchers coupled with orbital depots eliminates the need for a large launch vehicle. Much is made of the need for more launches – this is perceived as a detriment. However since 75 percent of all the mass lifted to low earth orbit is merely propellant with no intrinsic value it represents the optimal cargo for low-cost, strictly commercial launch operations.

These commercial launch vehicles, lifting a simple payload to a repeatable location, can be operated on regular, predictable schedules. Relieved of the burden of hauling propellants, the mass of the Altair and Orion vehicles for a lunar mission is very small and can also be easily carried on existing launch vehicles. This strategy leads to high infrastructure utilization, economic production rates, high demonstrated reliability and the lowest possible costs.

This architecture encourages the exploration of the moon to be conducted not in single, disconnected missions, but in a continuous process which builds orbital and surface resources year by year. The architecture and vehicles themselves are directly applicable to Near Earth Object and Mars exploration and the establishment of a functioning depot at earth-moon L2 provides a gateway for future high-mass spacecraft venturing to the rest of the solar system.

That's right. Enough with trying to repeat Apollo. It's time to create a useful in-space infrastructure.

BTW, these innovative proposals are a result of formation of ULA, which is a pleasant surprise for me. I was concerned about the perceived monopoly when the launcher business was split out from Boeing and LockMart. But now it's clear that neither of the parent companies would ever dare to present anything like ULA does, because they suck on the big Ares/Orion tit, and dependant on it.

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September 08, 2009

AshleyZ on Rob Peckham

In a comment on article at Space Transport News:

It's strange that they're getting these new contracts after Rob Peckham (their VP of business development) left. Maybe Gwynne and Elon worked a couple of contracts, noticed that Rob hadn't landed any, and wondered what value he was adding.


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September 03, 2009

ORBCOMM selects SpaceX for next launch

According to Reuters, the previously empty Falcon 1(e) manifest is going to fill up. There's no update on SpaceX website yet.

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NASA today

Great comment at a post at NASAwatch (via):

A lot of folks here are wondering, rightly so, why it should take NASA 10+ years (counting from ESAS in 2005) to build a launcher and a capsule when we built different launchers and managed three different spacecraft in less time on the 1960s.

Current management would lead you to believe that this is purely a money issue.

As someone who worked on Ares and Orion for the last 3 years, I can assure you that this is NOT the primary problem.

The reason is multifaceted but the short answer is that NASA does not know what the heck it is doing. Its simply as plain as that. The managers in charge (Hanley, etc) have never managed any project at all in the past, much less one as complicated as the Cx program.

They made absolutely terrible decisions early on in sizing the capsule, not using existing EELVs, sticking with the "corndog" rocket, etc. But most importantly they never had the balls to change course when it became apparent that the architecture would not work as advertised. This was right after ESAS in 2005 concluded and they discovered they could not air-start an SSME so the upper stage engine had to change.

This caused a ripple effect that caused the SRB to be lengthened, the SRB nozzle to be extended, the rocket to grow taller, which caused more uncertainty in the flight characteristics (think wet noodle), and of course then thrust oscillation came to prime time last year which has turned Ares into a Rube Goldberg machine in trying to mitigate it (Lets put giant SPRINGS between the stages - great idea geniuses lets add weight to an overweight rocket!).

Let me tell you how NASA works. Engineers in the hallways lament that they can't believe we are designing a rocket and spacecraft this way....with very little redundancy in critical systems, no weight margin, severely restricted capabilities from what we initially wanted out of the system. And then these same engineers enter the meeting room and none will jump on the table and beat their fists and tell others what they *really* think. All of the design reviews come off swimmingly because everyone is drinking the kool-aid. You end up with a "forward work" chart a mile long but everyone smiles and exits stage left.

In a nutshell you have tremendous group-think within NASA. Why do they behave this way? I will give you a hint....its because they don't want to rock the boat and they all want to collect their paycheck with a minimum of fuss and they all want to be promoted on schedule - many, many people think that "everything will just work itself out".

So the answer to the initial question is that in the 1960s the people designing the hardware had real world experience building missles and they were not afraid to speak up and be heard - and they had leaders who were experts in their field - who knew what they were doing.

Today, none of the Cx leaders have any such experience. All of that experience died years ago when those people retired.

So there you go folks. Bush made a speech in 2004, ESAS was in 2005, and here we are years later with a rocket that should have been reworked long ago due to insufficient performance. Instead of doing this, NASA shrunk Orion and made it less capable. Now, Ares is on the chopping block and they say it will take longer to rework Orion....well no kidding this is true because of the asinine way in which they designed the systems.

Want a simple abort system as in the Apollo days? Nah...lets put active control in it with a computer and make it as complicated as possible.

Insufficient upmass issues? No problem lets just gut Orion and take out the redundant systems and rewrite the NASA Human Rating Plan (look it up - this is true!)

Oscillating issues with your rocket? Lets just put springs on it to "ride it out" and lets tell the crew they probably will not be able to read their displays near SRB burnout.

What a Joke.

I can tell you that within NASA a lot of people think that while SpaceX is "cool" they feel that "they don't know what they don't know" yet. While that may be true, it is absolutely embarassing that they could develop a rocket large enough to launch a capsule in a fraction of the time and cost as NASA. As long as spacex doesn't kill its first few hundred passengers, they and other up and coming companies will be the future of human spaceflight.

NASA has lost its way.

- Corndog Rocket

Emphasis mine.

Notice that Corndog emphasizes technical issues with Ares, and no wonder, he's an engineer. But his is not the only perspective, and it's rather obvious. For one thing, it has to be noted that Mike Griffin was an expert in the field. He knew what he was doing. And he was doing everything to create a massive jobs program that would be difficult to cancel. This is what ruined the program. As Rand Simberg once said, that Ares turned out such a turkey technically is only the icing on the cake. The program would still be disastrously wasteful even if the rocket it produced was a marvel of the world.

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August 25, 2009

Naro-1 fails to orbit

According to Interfax, the flight of Naro-1 (of type KSLV-1) was not successful. The Russian first stage worked as intended, but there was a problem after the stage separation. Rumors circulated that one half of the fairing became stuck (and presumably tumbled the stage out of control), but this is not confirmed.

Youtube: k0JtHMGac2U (Russian commentary with Korean accent is amusing).

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August 23, 2009

Ares managers say...

Check out the headline at Spaceflight Now: "Ares managers say October test flight should go on". Of course they do. Also, LOL.

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August 19, 2009

Model of Rus-M at MAKS

A model of Rus-M was unveiled yesterday (via Salo at NK forums):

The explanation placard says the second stage fuel is hydrogen and the first stage is naphtyl. This means yet another derivative of RD-180 on the face of it.

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