Monthly Archives: May 2014

While SpaceShipTwo continues to sit on the ground, European space tourism competitor Swiss Space Systems (S3) has initiated zero g flights for its customers.

The competition heats up: While SpaceShipTwo continues to sit on the ground, European space tourism competitor Swiss Space Systems (S3) is going to initiate zero g flights for its customers.

These are not suborbital flights, but they will provide customers with the experience of weightlessness in a flight similar to that provided by the vomit comet that Zero-G flies. Eventually this company plans its own suborbital spaceship, but this way they get their customers in the air as soon as next year, rather waiting for more than a decade for development to get completed.

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The European partnership building the new Ariane 6 rocket struggles to keep its costs down to compete with SpaceX.

The competition heats up: The European partnership building the new Ariane 6 rocket struggles to keep its costs down to compete with SpaceX.

Ariane 5 has been a huge triumph, orbiting half of the world’s communications satellites and claiming 60% of the 2012 world market for geostationary launches. But while the rocket is extremely precise and reliable it is also hugely expensive, with a single-payload flight costing €150-200 million. However, even at that price Ariane 5 launches are understood to be loss-making for ESA’s launch operator, Arianespace. Its high cost in in large part blamed on its industrial organisation; while private-sector SpaceX has tailored the Falcon programme for low cost production, the Ariane 5 project is organised in part to satisfy the demands of European multi-national politics.

Speaking exclusively to Flight Daily News, ESA’s Stefano Bianchi, who heads the Vega programme and now spends much of his time dedicated to Ariane 6 development, stresses that the programme is on course as set out by ESA’s member states, and any major change of configuration would require ministerial agreement.

But, he says, he and his colleagues are confident they can bring Ariane 6 to fruition at the target launch cost of €70 million – a level that would match or even undercut SpaceX. [emphasis mine]

This story is in connection with the conflict between France and Germany about how to build Ariane 6. I have specifically highlighted the cost figures to illustrate once again the reality that everyone in the industry knows (except for one commenter on my webpage), that the cost of a SpaceX launch runs in the neighborhood of $60 to $100 million, one third to half the cost of Arianespace and significantly less than the cost of practically every other launch company.

Any company that realistically wants to compete with SpaceX has to be totally honest about these facts. Their customers are honest about them, for certain.

Update: The CEO of ULA admits that the real cost of its military launches averages about $225 million per launch.

He claims they can get the cost down to $100 million per launch, but only if the military makes a bulk buy of 50 launches from them, but even that barely competes with SpaceX’s accepted launch fees ranging from $75 to $100 million, per launch. No need to buy 50 rockets from SpaceX to get these prices.

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NASA reveals that the second flight of SLS in 20210 might not be manned.

Pigs in space: NASA reveals that the second flight of SLS in 20210 might not be manned.

This project officially started in 2010, which means this second flight will come more than a decade later. They will have spent more than $20 billion by that time, not counting the money spent on Orion. They will have also spent billions developing one engine for the upper stage, only to shelve it to develop another which they will need to test. Hence, the possibility that the second flight will be unmanned. NASA has also admitted that the third flight of SLS won’t come until 2024 at the earliest.

What kind of crap is this? This isn’t a space program or a project to explore the solar system. It is pure pork, a boondoggle designed to spend as much taxpayer dollars as possible for as long as possible. It is time to shut it down.

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SpaceX discovered a lot of water inside their Dragon capsule after splashdown.

SpaceX discovered a lot of water inside their Dragon capsule after splashdown.

This has got to be fixed. Though it does not appear that any cargo inside was damaged, this is the second time this has happened. More important, it suggests that the capsule integrity cannot yet be trusted in the vacuum of space. If water can seep in, it is just as possible for atmosphere to leak out.

Keep this in mind when you read reports about SpaceX’s unveiling of their manned version of this capsule on May 29. As much as I am supportive of this company, the worst thing anyone can do is be blind to problems such as this.

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On the road

On Thursday and Friday I will likely not be able to do much posting, as I am heading up to Kitt Peak to watch an amateur astronomer do overnight observations using the 2.1 meter telescope on the mountain. I will also be taking a tour of the numerous facilities on the mountain top. All of this is in connection with an article I am writing for Sky & Telescope.

I am unsure if I will have internet service there. If I do, I will continue to post. Otherwise I will return Friday afternoon and pick up from there.

Update, Friday mid-day: I am back. Though I had access to the internet, I was too busy with other business to post. A lot of news stories since yesterday, so there will be a lot of posts in the next few hours.

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A citizen’s group is offering a one million dollar bounty to “anyone who can provide ‘smoking gun’ evidence” that implicates either the IRS leadership or members of the Obama administration as ordering the harassment of conservatives.

Pushback: A citizen’s group is offering a one million dollar bounty to anyone who can provide ‘smoking gun’ evidence’ that implicates either the IRS leadership or members of the Obama administration as ordering the harassment of conservatives.

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The Sun settling down?

Two weeks ago NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in April. I have been remiss about doing my monthly post about this, so here it is now, posted below with annotations.

April Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

The Sun continued the drop in sunspots seen the previous month, though the total number remains above the 2009 prediction for this moment in the solar cycle. As already noted, that the second peak of this double peaked solar maximum has been much stronger than the first remains unprecedented.

Overall, the maximum continues to be the weakest seen in a hundred years. Whether this is an indicator of future events or an anomaly can only be discovered after the Sun completes this solar solar cycle and begins the ramp up to its next solar maximum, at least five years away.

The next update is only a few weeks away. Stay tuned.

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The consequences if Russia carries out its threat to shut down the U.S. science GPS stations in Russia will be relatively minimal according to scientists.

The consequences if Russia carries out its threat to shut down the U.S. science GPS stations in Russia will be relatively minimal according to scientists.

Only if the stations, which are essentially nothing more that GPS geological data-loggers, are removed permanently or shut down for a long period will the consequences to geological research become more damaging. The article also points out the stupidity of the American government in this dispute. Its refusal to allow similar Russian GPS geological research data-loggers in the states makes no sense.

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In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

And why do they want to lower costs? It ain’t for the normal free market reasons you’d expect. Instead, the Frankenstein project that is SLS/Orion has the U.S. building the capsule while Europe builds the service module. However, Europe doesn’t want to spend the money to build two service modules. Instead,

for financial reasons, ESA prime contractor Airbus Defense and Space may provide only “one and a half” service modules, Larry Price, Lockheed’s Orion deputy program manager, said in an interview here.

“They may not complete both of them, depending on funding,” Price said. But “we think we can drive Europe’s cost down so they can deliver two complete service modules” by steering the European company toward American suppliers already working on the Orion crew module. “If we use common parts, they can be lower price,” Price said. He added that ESA is set to deliver a full service module for the 2017 flight.

Read the article. It better than anything I can say will make it clear how much of a dead end project SLS/Orion really is. The rocket costs more than $14 billion per launch, has no clear mission, and the contractor (Europe) for the capsule’s service module only intends to build one and a half. What will NASA do after that? No one has any idea, nor does anyone at NASA have any plans to figure this out.

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Designed and funded on the premise that it would fly past a Kuiper belt asteroid after it flew past Pluto, the New Horizons team has so far failed to find such an asteroid and is running out of time.

Designed and funded on the premise that it would fly past a Kuiper belt object (KBO) after it flew past Pluto, the New Horizons team has so far failed to find such an asteroid and is running out of time.

In theory, project scientists should have identified a suitable KBO long ago. But they postponed their main search until 2011, waiting for all the possible KBO targets to begin converging on a narrow cone of space that New Horizons should be able to reach after its Pluto encounter. Starting to look for them before 2011 would have been impossible, says Grundy, because they would have been spread over too much of the sky.

Now that the hunt for KBOs is on, the New Horizons researchers have mainly been using the 8.2-metre Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the 6.5-metre Magellan Telescopes in Chile. They have found about 50 new KBOs; none is close enough for New Horizons to reach.

I always thought it unlikely that they would be able to, on the fly, find a suitable candidate that New Horizons could reach in the very empty vastness beyond Pluto. In fact, it seemed absurd and to me seemed instead a transparent public relations ploy to get the funding for the fly-by mission to Pluto. Sadly, my cynical perspective here appears to be turning out to be true.

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The battle between France and Germany on how to replace the Ariane 5 rocket continues.

The battle between France and Germany on how to replace the Ariane 5 rocket continues.

To save money and lower cost, France wants to build a rocket that mostly uses solid rocket motors. Germany however has a problem with this.

German government officials have said they will have difficulty supporting the current Ariane 6 design, which features four identical solid-fueled stages — two as strap-on boosters, and two as the vehicle’s first and second stages — topped by the cryogenic upper stage powered by the same restartable Vinci engine that is the main element of the proposed Ariane 5 upgrade. Germany, through its space agency, the German Aerospace Center, DLR, has said it would prefer a liquid-fueled first stage for Ariane 6 as such a stage could be built in Germany and thus assure a large German industrial role in the program. Without such a role, DLR has said, German support for Ariane 6 might not be forthcoming.

The story above says that France is willing to negotiate with Germany over this, but if they do, they guarantee that Ariane 6 will be a costly rocket to build, making it very unattractive to satellite customers.

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Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to a industry analysis.

Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The company presently refurbishes the Russian engines used by Antares, and is building a host of other engines for other rockets.

In related news, ULA has begun considering shifting some of its military launches from the Atlas 5 to the Delta family of rockets. The company has also released previously undisclosed pricing information for its bulk buy military launches.

Michael Gass, chief executive of Denver-based ULA, said the company’s average per-launch price to the U.S. government is $225 million, a figure that includes the block buy contract as well as pre-existing launch backlog. That figure represents the combined value of the contracts divided by the number of missions.

That $225 million figure, though far less than previously believed, is a little more than twice what SpaceX says it would charge for a comparable launch.

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The University of South Carolina is closing its Women & Gender Studies department and replacing it with a program to teach the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

Pigs fly! The University of South Carolina is closing its Women & Gender Studies department and replacing it with a program to teach the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

It appears university administrators have decided that they don’t have the option to ignore a state law that requires them to teach these fundamental American documents, as they tried to do earlier What is especially interesting is their decision on what to shutter to pay for the new courses. I suspect they had enough of porno on campus.

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A GAO report says that NASA has been hiding the true and very expensive cost of the SLS/Orion projects by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.

It is nothing but pork: A GAO report says that NASA has been hiding the true and very expensive cost of the SLS/Orion projects by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.

NASA so far has put only two SLS missions on the manifest: a late-2017 test launch of an unmanned Orion into lunar space followed by a repeat of the mission in 2021 with crew onboard. NASA officials told GAO auditors it expects to have spent at least $22 billion on SLS and Orion through 2021, an estimate that does not include the cost of building the SLS launcher for the second mission. … Moreover, NASA provided no cost estimate for the more powerful SLS rocket NASA would need to mount a crewed Mars expedition the Obama administration envisions happening in the 2030s. According to NASA’s early plans, such a mission would entail multiple SLS-Orion launches.

The cost estimates NASA has offered so far “provide no information about the longer-term, life cycle costs of developing, manufacturing, and operating the launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems” the agency has identified as crucial to the eventual Mars mission, the GAO wrote in its report.

In other words, they are going to spend $22 billion to launch the thing once. Meanwhile, NASA’s commercial manned space effort is producing three different spacecraft for about $3 billion total. If anyone in Congress had any brains, picking between these two programs would be easy, a no-brainer. Sadly, they have no brains, and really aren’t making their budgetary decisions with the needs of the nation in mind.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne has signed a contract to provide rocket engine’s for the upper stage of Stratolaunch’s air-launched rocket.

The competition heats up: Aerojet Rocketdyne has signed a contract to provide rocket engine’s for the upper stage of Stratolaunch’s air-launched rocket.

This company press release is packed full of new information about Stratolaunch’s rocket. For one, the entire package has been named the Eagles Launch System, with the air-launched upper stage called Thunderbolt. For another, they have a scheduled launch date set for 2018.

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Russia signs a preliminary space exploration agreement with China.

The competition heats up: Russia signs a preliminary space exploration agreement with China.

Meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang, in Beijing on Monday, [Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri] Rogozin announced on Twitter that he had signed “a protocol on establishing a control group for the implementation of eight strategic projects.” In a later Facebook post, he said “cooperation in space and in the market for space navigation” were among the projects.

Rogozin and Wang agreed to hold a meeting between the heads of their respective agencies “in the near future,” so that Beijing and Moscow could sow the seeds of a potential space partnership.

Federal Space Agency chief Oleg Ostapanko wants to allow “Chinese colleagues participate in some of the most interesting projects that can replace the ISS,” Rogozin said, adding that they would also discuss “projects such as cooperation in the field of rocket engine development,” and cooperation in the growing market of space applications services — which primarily applies to the development of the Chinese Beidou satellite navigation system and Russia’s Glonass navigation system, both rivals to the U.S.’ GPS.

The article does not give much information about this agreement, but does spend a lot of time discounting it, saying that it really is only a bluff to keep the U.S. from imposing more sanctions against Russia’s profitable commercial space efforts.

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The private effort to reactivate ISEE-3, a 1970s NASA spacecraft in orbit around the sun, has successfully detected the spacecraft.

The private effort to reactivate ISEE-3, a 1970s NASA spacecraft in orbit around the sun, has successfully detected the spacecraft.

Unfortunately the signal is a little weaker than we expected, and it’s also odd that it fades out toward the end of this capture (it returns and fades in subsequent ones too). Again, this is all very preliminary data done tonight on a rush basis. Much more detail to follow.

They don’t have a lot of time to detect, re-establish contact, and get the spacecraft into the necessary orbit for research. Orbital mechanics give them only through July to do this before it will be too late.

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The next Falcon 9 commercial launch, scrubbed from early May, has now been rescheduled to June 11.

The next Falcon 9 commercial launch, scrubbed from early May, has now been rescheduled to June 11.

This new date is a significant slip in the schedule, as they originally announced only a two week delay, and this adds on another two weeks. The original announced reason for the scrub was umbilical connection issues, but a commenter here at Behind The Black says it might have been something more serious, “a helium pressurization bottle burst in the stage.”

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Sierra Nevada has successfully completed wind tunnel tests a several scale models of their winged spacecraft Dream Chaser.

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has successfully completed wind tunnel tests a several scale models of their winged spacecraft Dream Chaser.

It appears from these tests that the spacecraft’s design works better than expected during ascent and re-entry.

The article also gives a quick overview of the status of all three commercial companies, and from this it really looks to me as if Boeing is the least aggressive in pursuing its construction effort. This is merely an impression, and not to be taken too seriously, but it really does look like Boeing is playing the public relations game, doing as little work as possible while trying to garner the most publicity while waiting for the award of the contract.

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Two VA patients committed suicide after their treatments were delayed against the wishes of their psychiatrist.

Finding out what’s in it: Two VA patients committed suicide after their treatments were delayed against the wishes of their psychiatrist.

Dr. Margaret Moxness, who says she was employed at the Huntington VA Medical Center in Charleston, W.Va., from 2008 to 2010, told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that she was told to delay treatment even after she told supervisors they needed immediate care. She said at least two patients committed suicide while waiting for treatment between appointments.

Though the story is specifically about the widening scandal involving the Veterans Administration, it also tells us exactly what to expect from Obamacare in the coming years: bureaucracy, bad patient care, long wait times, and corruption by management. This is what one should expect from any monopolistic government-run program that doesn’t have to deal with competition on the open market.

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