Bumps in the Road

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Last week we saw two serious set-backs for the commercial space industry. The Antares failure underscores the need for modern, domestic liquid fueled rocket engines, while Virgin Galactic’s tragic loss of SpaceShip2 and its co-pilot reminds us of the inherent risks of rocket-powered flight.

The Antares failure appears to be related to the use of old Russian NK-33 engines modified to the AJ-26 configuration. This could put more pressure on Congress to fund development of domestic liquid fueled engines. But Orbital Sciences has just announced that they will discontinue use of these engines and advance their plans to use a different engine (rumored to be the newer Russian RD-193). They had previously announced plans for this upgrade, and the accident will speed up this process to the extent possible. Still, implementing this upgrade will take time, and apparently the new Antares version won’t fly until 2016. The next Antares flight was originally scheduled for April of 2015. Meanwhile, the November 5 press release notes that to maintain performance on the Commercial Resupply Services contract, Orbital will fly one or two Cygnus missions using a completely different booster. This is a clever approach. Instead of spending money on building another Antares, they will buy a different launch vehicle (my guess is a Delta II), thus minimizing the financial hit to the CRS program.

The accident could have been worse. Despite the spectacular explosion, initial reports suggest the Wallops launch pad sustained only minor damage. If there is any other positive to come from this failure, it is that it underscores the need for redundant access to orbit. Having both SpaceX and Orbital under contract for resupply services provides independent capabilities so that a problem in one system does not shut down the resupply program completely. This is why it will be wise to implement the Commercial Crew program with two contractors using completely different hardware designs (including boosters).

The Virgin Galactic accident is a somewhat different animal. You have a tragic loss of life, but the program was a non-governmental purely commercial tourist industry initiative. This set-back has no impact on the viability of any government space program other than to sour the overall mood for commercial efforts. I believe Richard Branson and Virgin will not give up because of this accident. On the other hand, it will add delay and concern to an effort that was already many years behind schedule. I think the biggest threat will be Branson’s ability to continue to get investors to support this program. This accident killed the co-pilot, lost an expensive flight vehicle, and will involve a lengthy investigation. This will all add another year or more until the time when the program can begin to generate revenue.

Space advocates need to remember that Virgin Galactic is a business. In spite of the rhetoric from Branson and the folks at Virgin Galactic about making space accessible to the masses, they still need to make money. At some point, their investors may realize that this endeavor is not going to be profitable for a long, long time. It will be interesting to see if funding becomes a problem for this program.

Meanwhile there is some good news on the space front, as there are some exciting days coming in the near term. The Rosetta comet mission plans to drop the Philae lander on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 12, and the first Orion capsule launch is set for December 4 on an Atlas vehicle. Let’s hope these ambitious efforts are successful and we can share some excitement about what is possible in the never-dull world of space exploration and development.

Catching Up

After a very long absence, Epic Future Space is back with updates about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Bigelow Aerospace, NASA, and Virgin Galactic. It’s been an amazing past couple of months in space.

For more Information about the stories I talked about click the following:
SpaceX CRS-1 Mission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX_C…
SpaceX CRS-2 Mission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX_C…
SpaceX’s Grasshopper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasshop…
Orbital Sciences Antares Flight: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antares_…
Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM Module: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigelow_…
Virgin Galactic first powered test flight: http://www.virgingalactic.com/news/it…

If you’d like to hear Orbital Transit: http://www.reverbnation.com/orbitaltr…
And check out Audio Martyr: http://www.reverbnation.com/audiomartyr

Another gem from Epic Future Space. Thanks Mikhail

The 2013 Space Access Conference

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Part One – The Conference

Space Access 2013I finally had the opportunity to attend the Space Access Conference, an event run by Henry Vanderbilt, a long-time space advocate from Phoenix. The conference’s focus is on “New Space” launch vehicle developers and the burgeoning suborbital market. I had been aware of this conference for some time, and despite that it is held in my home town, the conference content and my personal or business interests never overlapped sufficiently to motivate me to take time off work and attend. This year, things were quiet at work and I decided to see what it was all about.

The conference ran for three days (April 11-13) and I attended most of the first two. The nice thing about the program is that Henry limits it to a single thread so you don’t have to choose between parallel sessions. There was an interesting mix of speakers. Most were related to launch vehicles but there was also a good mix of astronomy (asteroids), history (DC-X), and far term concepts (space settlements).

The rocketry presentations were on varied levels. Some were from the more well-known companies like XCOR, while quite a few were folks doing this as a hobby or as students, some barely a step above high-powered hobbyist rocketry.

Continue reading

NSS Phoenix Goes to ISDC 2011

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The NSS Phoenix chapter blog is going to ISDC 2011 and we will post the latest news and events from Huntsville, Alabama, home to the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Werner von Braun space center.

There is a lot going on in the next five days.

Friday is the Governors’ Dinner where the Keynote Speaker will be Robert Bigelow, and the Von Braun Award will go to JAXA and the Hayabusa Team.

Veronica Will Speak at the Phoenix Astronomical Society

PAS AZ January 2011

Map

The Phoenix Astronomical Society will host its next meeting on Thursday 6 January at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in room G-147. The meeting room opens at 7 pm, and the meeting starts at 7:30, and goes to 9:15. Bring a snack to share. Bottled water will be provided by PAS.

The previous meeting on 2 December meeting featured Richard Greenberg from Tucson, who did a very interesting presentation on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

11 January is the Centennial School Star Party from 5:30 – 8pm.

13 January is the PAS Telescope Workshop & Star Party at PVCC from 7pm to 10pm by the Telescope Dome.

22 January is the PARTY OF THE YEAR! The PAS Social.

Consult the PAS Times for additional information.

The speaker at this month’s meeting on 6 January, is Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto astronauts4hire from the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society. Her topic is “Astronauts for hire”. Astronauts for Hire is a non-profit corporation whose members are available for hire by researchers to conduct experiments, including parabolic trajectory microgravity research flights. Astronauts4Hire serves as the matchmaker among the suborbital research community, training providers, and spaceflight operators.

Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto has lived and traveled across the United States and Canada. She has had the opportunity to work on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission and was the Coordinator for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera located within the Science Operations Center at Arizona State University.

As Commander of the Family Living Analysis on Mars Expedition (F.L.A.M.E.) from 2005-present, Zabala-Aliberto has gained expertise in lunar and martian analogue studies, human factors adaption and education outreach. Mission highlights included that of commanding international crews to the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) which are noted to be the first lunar and martian studies to incorporate children under the age of eighteen in a series of analogue missions. During her field seasons at MDRS, she accumulated a total of 150 EVA hours with a total of combined lunar/Martian simulation time of 320 hours.

In addition to being an avid adventurer, aviation enthusiast and noted space activist, Zabala-Aliberto spends most of her time educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers and promotes robotic and human space exploration and settlement. She has been invited to give keynotes and lectures from various venues such at the NASA Summer Mars and Robotics Camp to various scientific and leisure conventions and conferences.

She currently serves as the Phoenix, Arizona Chapter President for the National Space Society (Chapter President 2000present, Board of Directors 2006-2008) and
just recently won an election to serve as an At-Large Director for the National Space Society (2010-2014). She has been a Mars Society Phoenix Chapter member (Chapter President from 2000-2006, Chapter member from 2000-present), Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador (2004-present), Planetary Society State Coordinator (2006-2009), Yuri’s Night Coordinator for Phoenix, Arizona (2008-present), and Geological Society of America member (2008-present).


NASA – Puffin – The Electric Powered Personal Aircraft

Puffin
Image Credit: NASA

This is what I want for my birthday.

NASA will unveil the Puffin at the meeting of the American Helicopter Society meeting in San Francisco, on 20 January 2010. Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center states that “if you’ve ever seen a puffin on the ground, it looks very awkward, with wings too small to fly, and that’s exactly what our vehicle looks like…”.

The craft has a carbon-fiber composite construction with a 4.1-meter-wingspan craft, and weighs in at 135 kilograms, not including 45 kilograms of rechargeable lithium phosphate batteries. The Puffin can lift a person with electric motors generating just 60 horsepower.

The Puffin can cruise at 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour, and has a top speed twice that. The limitation is a range of 80 kilometers (50 miles). As the article notes “many researchers are proposing a tripling of current battery energy densities in the next five to seven years, so we could see a range of 240 to 320 kilometers by 2017…”.

The Puffin stands on the ground on its tail, split into four legs that serve as landing gears. On take off, flaps on the wings tilt up to deflect the air from the rotors to keep the craft stable on the ground.

The 2.3-meter-wide propeller rotors lift the Puffin off the ground, and the craft tilts over to fly horizontally, with the pilot lying prone in the craft. The puffin in flight, using electric motors, is roughly 10 times quieter than current low-noise helicopters.

By March, the researchers plan on finishing a one third–size, hover-capable Puffin demonstrator, and in the three months following that they will begin investigating how well it transitions from cruise to hover flight.

Applications include personal travel and fast courier services.

Puffin
Image Credit: NASA

Watch the animation from NASA on YouTube.

Like I said, this is my next birthday present.

Special thanks to Marcel Williams at New Papyrus for bringing this to our attention.

See the original article in Scientific American.

Space Tourism – Taking Off?

Two magazines arrived in my mailbox last week. Both had “Space Tourism” as their cover story. one was Ad Astra (Summer 2009), the quarterly magazine of the National Space Society. The other was Aviation Week (September 7, 2009). On their cover, both magazines had photographs of Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two, built by Scaled Composites in Mojave, California.

While the Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composite venture (at $200,00 per flight) is the best known, there are a lot of other private spacecraft in development.

  • XCOR – Augustine Commission member, Jeff Greason is CEO of XCOR. Their Lynx vehicle will carry one pilot and one passenger to an altitude of 38 miles (61 km). Total flight time is around 30 mijnutes from takeoff to landing. Propulsion is a liquid oxygen / kerosene rocket engine (Lynx 5K18). The Lynx Mark 2 is designed for 68 miles (110 km). Cost is $95,000 per flight.
  • Rocketplane Global – Having spent in excess of $24 million on their XP suborbital space plane, the financial mess has made it difficult to raise capital. Chuck Lauer, CEO, said that more than $100 million of additional costs would be needed to get to first flight.
  • Blue Origin – Jeff Bezos’ company has been conducting test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle since 2006. “Flight opportunities in 2011 may be availablefor autonomous or remotely-controlled experiments on an un-crewed flight test”, according to the website.
  • Talis Enterprise – Testing of the BlackSky prototype is scheduled for 2010. Maximum altitude is 28 miles (46 km). A larger six passenger craft, Enterprise, is scheduled to begin flying passengers in 2013. Cost is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000 per flight.
  • EADS Astrium – The winged space plane for suborbital tourism has been put on hold, pending the current economic situation.
  • Space Adventures – Having announced plans in 2006 to build a suborbital vehicle, the company is focusing instead on trips to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz space craft.
  • Armadillo Aerospace – Having already won the Level 1 $350,000 prize in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, John Carmack (DOOM and Quake) and his company are in the lead to capture the Level 2 prize of $1,000,000. However, they have announced that a deal to build a suborbital tourism vehicle will not happen.
Covers

Image: Dave Fischer used by permission