Reality Bites

This stuff is hard.

SpaceX finally launched a commercial payload on July 14 after a couple of months of delays for various reasons. They had originally planned for about a dozen launches in 2014 but as of mid-July they have only pulled off two.

We recently reached the ten year anniversary of the first private suborbital spaceflight with SpaceShip One. Folks are wondering what happened to that promise of passenger trips to 60 km within two years. Virgin Galactic has only had one test flight this year, and reports are that they may need to redesign their main propulsion system.

A report was issued by the National Research Council that downplayed the significance of 3D printing as used to support manned spaceflight. Sure, such a printer is headed to the space station and that’s a great step, but 3D printing is not anywhere close to the point of say, building a replacement circuit board with all the electronics on it. Maybe you can print a toothbrush, but this technology is not yet a game changer as some people would have you believe.

Images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenk as seen by the approaching Rosetta space probe show it to be dual-lobed, possibly a binary object with a respectable spin rate. This will make it a challenge to drop the Philae lander on it, and give pause to folks wishing to start mining asteroids.

A GAO report suggests NASA has not been provided sufficient budget to implement the Space Launch System program. That is not surprising, as Congress often imposes strict program requirements on agencies like NASA then fails to provide adequate funding. The agencies try to cut corners to meet the budget, which results in missing problems or just poorly managed programs. Then Congress asks why the program is in trouble.

All the news isn’t bad. SpaceX had another successful first stage landing test on their latest launch, and the Orbital Sciences Antares and Cygnus had a trouble-free ISS resupply mission. My point is to keep in mind that space flight isn’t simple, even after fifty years.

This stuff is hard.

Commentary by Michael Mackowski


One thought on “Reality Bites

  1. Economic sustainability will be the key to success for both the SLS and Commercial Crew launch companies. There are many out there that view the SLS as hurting Commercial Crew development. But actually, the SLS could be an essential key towards helping to enhance the economic viability of the Commercial Crew industry.

    During the early test phase of the SLS, the old Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) could be utilized for at least three or four heavy lift launches. One of those launches could be used to deploy Bigelow Aeropace’s largest inflatable space habitat concepts, the Olympus BA-2100, to LEO before the end of the decade. This could provide Commercial Crew companies with a private commercial destination for space tourist and for astronauts from other nations seeking some experience in Earth orbit.

    While the ISS would only require 2 to 4 crewed launches from the US side per year (not enough crewed flights to sustain more than one company) , an Olympus station could easily accommodate 12 to 36 crewed launches per year (enough flights to easily sustain three or more private launch companies).

    An Olympus space habitat would also have interior areas that are large enough to accommodate a hypergravity centrifuge that could be utilize to mitigate the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body.


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