Watch This Space

I’m way behind in posting any commentary here even though there have been a number of interesting developments in the space industry. So here we go again.

Lockheed Martin announced a fascinating space vehicle design called Jupiter (after the first intercontinental railroad engine) as their entry in the CRS-2 (commercial resupply service) program. It is a partially re-usable space tug with an integral robotic arm that is used to swap out payload modules. It uses a fair amount of existing designs, much like Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, but adds a long-lived segment that transfers fresh cargo modules. This is very reminiscent of 1970s vintage space cargo tugs. LockMart postulates that this design could be used not just for ISS resupply but also in support of cis-lunar and even interplanetary activities.

I like the idea and think it is rather clever, but I wonder about the economics. Usually complex designs (robotic arm, replaceable modules, refueling, etc.) are costly to develop and tend to have features that don’t work as designed or as well as expected. This results in stretched out development schedules, increased costs, and diminished capabilities. Still, it is a fresh take on the pre-shuttle space tug concept and it will be interesting to see how it fares.

Another development was a set of conferences and workshops that resulted in some interesting announcements. One was from the Pioneering Space National Summit, an invitation-only gathering of over 100 people from government, industry, and advocacy groups. It’s notable that I have yet to find a list of who actually participated in this summit and who signed the consensus statement. They came out with a rather bland vision statement that essentially said space exploration is a good thing and that it should eventually lead to space settlements. Apparently the fact that they got so many people from many disparate organizations to agree on the wording was considered a huge accomplishment. I can see their point, but if it took a herculean effort to wordsmith a vanilla pudding statement like that, it is going to be really difficult to make the really hard decisions.

Another invitation-only workshop was co-sponsored by the Planetary Society and considered human missions to Mars. The idea was that recent studies predict sending people to Mars (and bringing them back) will be unaffordably expensive. This workshop re-examined that and determined that the current NASA budget trend would still allow development of human missions to Mars within twenty years. One of their key findings was to include sending people on Mars orbital missions first. It would take both government and private sector involvement but could be done without a need to double or triple NASA’s budget. That is encouraging news, but it still requires a long-term national commitment that I’m not sure can be established in today’s short attention span political and social climate.

Yuri’s Night is Almost Here!

April 12 is the anniversary of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. The world celebrates with a global space party! Once again, the students of SEDS at ASU are leading the way with the local Phoenix event. It will (probably) be at ISTB4 on Sunday evening, April 12, although the location may change to another building. There will be food, fun, and a movie.  Plan to be there, as everyone is welcome!

Watch these sites for updates:

YN PHX:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/180802768755683/

SEDS ASU:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/163755590302678/

The First SpaceUp Phoenix was a Success

Our March event was SpaceUp Phoenix. This was an un-conference held on Saturday, March 7, 2015 as part of the Arizona Science and Technology Festival. The event ran from 9 am until 4 pm on the campus of Mesa Community College (MCC) and was sponsored by the by the Phoenix chapters of the National Space Society, the Moon Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The Arizona State University (ASU) branch of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) were very helpful in promoting the event to their members. Mike Mackowski served as the event chair. Speakers included Planetary Society president Jim Bell, Space Access Society president Henry Vanderbilt, former NSS president Charlie Walker, former deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center Rich Christiansen, and Pete Swan, president of the International Space Elevator Consortium.

MCC provided several rooms for the event in building PS15 at no cost to the sponsoring groups. Preregistration, including Google Documents sign-up form, survey form, and Paypal registration payments, were provided by the AIAA section. Members of AIAA and SEDS and other volunteers did most of the on-site registration and hospitality staffing. MCC staff purchased refreshments in advance, arranged a coffee service from the campus food service, and picked up pizzas for lunch.

Total attendance, including speakers, was around 65 people, with 42 registered in advance. As people came and went during the day, the average attendance at any one time was about forty. Remarks from visitors and guest speakers suggested that attendees enjoyed the conference and were happy with the content and quality of the presentations. Comments from attendees during the event were very positive. Folks seemed to be having a good time, and I observed a lot of side conversations and interaction among the invited speakers and other attendees.

I thought this event went really well and was a lot of fun. For photos and other information, please see the SpaceUp Phoenix website:

http://SpaceUpPhx.org

Opening up our Solar System with Space Mineral Resources 

Our April 18 meeting will feature Dr. Peter Swan, who was one of our SpaceUp participants. At our next meeting, he will talk about the International Academy of Astronautics recent three year study that has taken on the challenge of understanding the opportunities and concerns of mining the solar system.  The report will show the following conclusions:
•The exploitation of space mineral resources is becoming a commercial space endeavor for the benefit of humanity and profit
•The question on the table is not “how” to leverage space minerals resources; but, ”how best” to leverage them
•Preliminary economic conclusions include (1) architectures based upon returning precious metals to terrestrial markets alone appears to be a non-starter, (2) the existence of in-space customers for propellants, consumables, structural materials, and shielding could make asteroid mining economically feasible, and (3) longer-term hybrid architectures with both terrestrial and in-space customers could become feasible as costs drop and market size increases.
Dr. Swan will explain the approach to the study and layout out a potential future for space exploration that will include mining the resources available above low Earth orbit.

February 21 Monthly Meeting

The February meeting of the Phoenix Chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society will be at our usual date and location Saturday (Feb. 21, 2015, 11 am) at the Humanist Center in Mesa. Our program will be a viewing of the documentary film “Lunarcy!” This film features Moon Society former president, Peter Kokh, former NSS regional director, Chris Carson, and Apollo astronaut and artist, Alan Bean, among others.

Amazon describes this feature thus: “With wry humor and affection, Simon Ennis’ Lunarcy! follows a disparate group of dreamers and schemers who share one thing in common; they’ve all devoted their lives to the Moon.” I finally had a chance to view it myself at the regional NSS conference in St. Louis (with Carson and Kokh in the audience) and found it to be a fascinating film.

SpaceUp_1c_PHX

Additionally, I would like to remind you of the upcoming SpaceUp Phoenix, which will be Sat. March 7 and take the place of our normal March meeting. Advance registration is encouraged for planning purposes, and admission is only $5. Please see the website for details:

http://SpaceUpPhx.org

Hope to see many of you Saturday!

Mike M.

Space Hype

It’s been a while since I posted a commentary, so here we go.

I love space exploration. I follow the topic by reading books and news articles, I build space models as a hobby, I love to talk about it to groups, and I have been fortunate enough to have a job in the space industry. Sometimes I read articles that take things a bit too far. Lately there has been a lot of “hype” floating around social media sites and news articles. I see many examples of space developments being over-sold and over-promised. As I have been following this topic for over five decades, I have seen bad things happen when space programs are hyped excessively. Here are some examples of the current problem.

Space Tourism

It’s ten years after SpaceShipOne flew and won the prize for a reusable space vehicle. But it’s still going to be many years until we will have real commercial suborbital tourist space flights. Despite the marketing material I see from Virgin Galactic, this program is not going to put hundreds of people into space. It’s joy rides to “space” altitude but a long, long way from lowering the cost to orbit.

Dusting off Old Russian Equipment

The Excalibur Almaz venture is back in the news with another shady offer to send tourists around the Moon. I saw a news item about Art Dula being involved in a lawsuit related to this program. Ever since I heard of him back in the 1980s I was always suspicious of whatever he was trying to pull off. Nothing solid ever came from a commercial program using old Soviet hardware but the idea just won’t go away.

Mars and a Comet

Wow! A comet was going to fly really close to Mars and our robots are going to have an awesome view. Well the photos came in and some show this tiny little fuzzy thing. It was hardly spectacular. Folks need to remember comets way out at Mars aren’t generally very active.

We landed on a Comet!

The first announcements of the Philae landing saw a lot of over reaction, largely because ESA didn’t have or wasn’t releasing all the data that was coming in. The fact that they announced “landing” when the initial contact was made, but in reality it had bounced and landed again TWO HOURS LATER was not announced or maybe just not understood. Everybody was congratulating themselves before all the facts were in, probably while the lander was still bouncing around. Real life science isn’t like the movies. The mission so far has been a great success, despite the bouncy landing into a dark corner of the comet. My point is that there was an excess of excitement about a mission before all the facts were known.

SpaceX

Not so long ago, folks were predicting the first launch of a Falcon Heavy late in 2013 or maybe early 2014, based on statements from SpaceX. Now, reports are that the first such launch won’t occur until late in 2015 at the earliest. This is why studying history is important. People should not buy into launch predictions for ANYONE’s first launch, be it private (Falcon Heavy) or government (SLS). It never happens on time when the prediction is more than six months out. Additionally, SpaceX recently (late December 2014) removed some of the date info from their published launch manifest. The hype was that they predicted over a dozen launches in each of 2014 and 2015. That is very unlikely to happen.

Google Lunar X-Prize

I love the idea of prizes to spur space development, which is a great way to get small companies involved. But I heard way too much hype about how all these little start-ups are going to do things NASA can’t or won’t. I wish they would all be successful, but this X-prize effort has been delayed over and over again. Landing on the Moon isn’t easy and people need to remember that. From a news report:

Meanwhile, “in an expected announcement,” officials with the competition announced that the deadline to win the grand prize has been pushed back one year to Dec. 31, 2016. XPRIZE Vice Chairman and President Robert K. Weiss said that the deadline was pushed back for a third time because the group recognizes that the task is “extremely difficult and unprecedented, not only from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of financial considerations.”

Cost Predictions

A news item reported that Elon Musk of SpaceX claims their reusable rockets will reduce launch costs “to a hundredth of what they are now.” Wow. A factor of one hundred implies you re-use the same booster at least 100 times. This also ignores the costs to refurbish the rocket, or to run the tests to verify nothing broke. That is a lot of re-use for a rocket booster seeing the extreme dynamic loads of launch and landing. Even Space Shuttle orbiters never got to 100 flights. So “100X” is just hype.

Climate Research Links from October Meeting

At our October meeting, our speaker was LuAnn Dahlman from NOAA who spoke on climate change research. Later she sent some links to some of the info she presented, and I am finally getting around to posting those links. I apologize for the delay.

Learn more about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports at www.ipcc.ch

The US Global Change Research Program has released NCA3 – the Third National Climate Assessment. This program is a joint effort by thirteen federal agencies. For more information on the report go to
www.nca2014.globalchange.gov

Another NOAA website offers “science and information for a climate-smart nation”.
www.climate.gov

Risky Business is a climate risk assessment from an economic perspective championed by business magnate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former US Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and Tim Steyer. hedge fund manager and environmentalist.
www.riskybusiness.org/report/overview/executive-summary

The University of Cambridge, England, Institute for Sustainability Leadership addresses the implications of climate change from a variety of aspects. Learn more at
www.cisl.cam.ac.uk/Resources/Climate-and-Energy/Understanding-the-UN-Climate-Science-Reports.aspx