Tag Archives: spaceflight

India’s geosynchronous rocket fails at launch

Bad news for India’s space program: It’s geosynchronous rocket, GSLV, failed today less than two minutes after launch. Key quote:

[The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)] has had a troubled past with GSLV, with only two of the seven launches so far claiming total success. Though ISRO claims that four launches had been successful, independent observers call at least two of them either failure or partial success. When it comes to launching its workhorse PSLV, ISRO has had 15 consecutive successes.

China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time

The new colonial movement: For the first time China has matched the U.S. in space launches. Note that though the above article implies it, the U.S. has quite often not been the yearly leader in launches, as Russia has often topped the list. Nonetheless, with China now becoming more competitive the future of space travel can only get bettter.

The Space Show

For those who would are curious to hear me talk about the past year and what’s to come as well as celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the Christmas Eve reading of Genesis by the astronauts of Apollo 8, I will be appearing on David Livingston’s long running radio show/podcast, The Space Show, today at 9:30 am Pacific time (12:30 pm Eastern time). The interview is scheduled to last 90 minutes, but David and I usually end up going far longer.

Dr. Livingston has produced more than 1000 shows, interviewing almost every single important figure in the aerospace industry. As he noted recently:

The Space Show/One Giant Leap Foundation is a non-profit 501C3 and your contributions are deductible from your U.S. tax liability. But more important, your help is needed in getting the space message out there to as many as possible, including the movers and shakers in society and the space industry. Not only do we provide a platform for many of you and your own material, we play an increasingly larger and more important role in getting space development to go viral. However, we can’t do it without your help so if you are able to make a contribution to The Space Show/OGLF this year, not only will it be appreciated, it will be most beneficial in helping to achieve Space Show goals and objectives.

To this I heartily say, amen! If you want to find out what’s going on in the aerospace community, The Space Show is undeniably one of the best places to go. The show deserves our support, and for that reason I want to give it a enthusiastic plug. You can make contributions by Pay Pal on The Space Show website here or on the One Giant Leap Foundation website. Checks made payable to One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc. can be mailed to P.O. 95, Tiburon, CA 94920.

A Martian eclipse

The hubbub about this week’s lunar solstice eclipse was, from my perspective, mostly manufactured press blather. For those who had never seen a lunar eclipse, it was a spectacular experience, but there really was nothing scientifically or technically unique about the fact that it happened to occur on the solstice.

However, below is an eclipse that is definitely unique both technically and scientifically. Scientists using the Mars rover Opportunity have filmed an eclipse on Mars, showing the Martian moon Phobos crossing in front of the Sun. Consider the engineering accomplishment: not only did they need to be able to calculate exactly when this would happen at a very particular spot on the Martian surface, they had to have a camera there able to take the movie. And they had to operate it from Earth!

Continuing resolution in the Senate freezes NASA at 2010 numbers

The space war over NASA continues: The continuing resolution being offered by the Senate would freeze NASA’s budget at 2010 numbers through March. Also,

NASA would be prohibited from initiating new programs, and could be required to continue spending about $200 million per month on the Moon-bound Constellation program.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the whole thing is a mess.

More evidence that the rim of Shackleton crater is valuable real estate

The image below was produced by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter by assembling data from numerous images over six months. The levels of brightness and darkness indicate the percentage of time in which an area is sunlight. The red dot just below the rim of Shackleton shows the approximate location of the south pole.

As you can see, the rim of Shackleton Crater nearest the south pole is illuminated by the sun most of the time, while the nearby crater floor never gets sunlight. This data confirms what Japanese scientists found using their lunar probe, Kaguya. The south pole has the ideal combination of locations with nearly continuous bright sunlight (to provide power) and nearly continuous darkness (where explorers will likely find significant amounts of frozen water), making this is an excellent location to build that first lunar base. And from the image you can see that the Shackleton Crater rim is not the only spot near the south pole with these conditions.

Also, if you look at the close-up image of Shackleton’s rim that I posted here, you will see that there is plenty of room to land and set up residence.

illumination map of lunar south pole

The flight of Falcon 9/Dragon: Doing it right

For those that want to relive the experience of success, SpaceX has posted a short highlight video of last week’s successful test flight of Falcon 9/Dragon capsule.

It is difficult to overstate the importance or magnifience of this achievement, accomplished not by a government but by a private company. As SpaceX rightly brags on its website:

This marks the first time a commercial company has successfully recovered a spacecraft reentering from Earth orbit. It is a feat previously performed by only six nations or government agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

What I find even more telling is how quickly SpaceX got this done. The first launch attempt of their first rocket, Falcon 1, took place in March of 2006. About that same time they began work on Falcon 9, and were able to successfully fly its first mission only four years later. Contrast that with NASA. President Bush proposed building a replacement for the shuttle in 2004, and six years later all NASA could do was fly a mockup of Ares I/Orion, not the actual article. And that leaves out NASA’S numerous previous attempts to build a shuttle replacement that spent billions, and never did more than produce pretty powerpoint presentations.

SpaceX’s speed of operation (a sure sign of efficiency) is reminiscent of the early days of the space age. Then, NASA might have laid out the overall plan, but everything was built by private companies, all used to fighting for profits and market share. None could afford a leisurely pace, nor could they afford to do things badly. If they did either, their business would suffer. As a result, the United States was able to go from having no ability to put anything in orbit to putting its first man in space in less than three years, and was able to follow that up with the first manned lunar mission only seven years later.

The greed for power, or why it is always better to do without government help

In an article today on spaceref.com “NASA: It’s Our Space Station – Not Yours,” Keith Cowing has some harsh words for NASA and its management of the research on ISS. Based on what he witnessed at a NASA meeting, it appears that NASA wants to retain control over all research on the space station, while denying access to outside other researchers. Key quote:

In addition to prohibiting the ISS National Laboratory contractor from getting its hands on human-based research, Mark Uhran also stated that any proposal that proposed to do anything with spacecraft systems or engineering would be similarly deemed non-responsive. In other words two of the most interesting things you can do on the ISS – the sorts of thing you’d want a larger research base to focus on (assuming you are really interested in outside participation) are off limits due to executive fiat.

Where is NASA’s justification for limiting the ability of the private and educational sectors from making full utilization of the amazing capabilities that are offered by the ISS? Answer: NASA made it up. Truth be known, NASA was dragged kicking and screaming into supporting this National Laboratory concept. Congress had to enact a law to make them do it.

None of this surprises me. NASA is a government agency, and as a government agency it is going to protect its turf, come hell or high water. It is for this reason I think it a bad idea for the new space rocket companies to take any NASA money, up front. If they do, NASA will immediately use those funds as a club to force these new companies to do things as NASA wishes, rather than being free to compete and innovate on their own. In other words, NASA will use the funds to maintain control of all space exploration.

Better the new companies build their rockets and spaceships on their own, and then sell these new inventions to NASA or whoever else wants to use them. Let the profits pay for the work, not the needs and regulations of a government agency.

Not only will this free competiton produce a lot more creativity and innovation, it will almost certainly help to reduce the cost of space travel, as these companies fight to gain market share. And most importantly, it will frame the future exploration of space in the context of freedom rather that a state-run endeavor.

And isn’t freedom the principle that the United States of America stands for?

Ikaros still operating

The Japanese Venus probe Akatsuka might have failed, but its partner, the solar sail Ikaros, continues to function, and remains in contact with its ground controlers, even at a distance of 45 million miles. (The google translation of the daily blog is sometimes spotty (” I will go home 入Rita bath. It will fit your feet smell.”) but still worth reading,)

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