Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

First US Rocket Lab launch delayed until ’21

Because of issues in Rocket Lab’s flight termination system (used to destroy the rocket should it go out of control during launch), the company has announced that its first U.S. launch will be delayed until 2021.

One reason for the delay, Rocket Lab said, was that it was waiting on NASA to certify the autonomous flight termination system (AFTS) that will be used on the rocket to provide range safety. NASA controls the launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility, where LC-2 is located. “There’s a very long certification process that, quite frankly, we probably underestimated how long it would take,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in an interview in August.

That certification process is ongoing. In a Nov. 10 talk at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable webinar, David Pierce, director of NASA Wallops, mentioned preparations for Rocket Lab’s first launch as part of an overview of the facility’s activities. “We’re really proud of our work with Rocket Lab,” he said. “We’re working really hard to support Rocket Lab with a launch in ’21.”

Asked later about the certification of the AFTS, Pierce said that engineers had kept on schedule with the development of the system into the summer despite the pandemic. “When they sent the unit out for review of the software, we found some errors,” he said. That review involved teams at NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility, the Federal Aviation Administration, Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

While I have no evidence of this, I cannot help being suspicious of these various government agencies. For years numerous people in the government put fake roadblocks up to slow or stop SpaceX’s first manned launch, merely because it threatened their turfs. This autonomous termination system will make the ground crews at Vandenberg and at Cape Canaveral irrelevant, and I would not be surprised if some of these issues were drummed up to delay or block this system because of that.

I know I am being cynical, but based on history it is not unreasonable to be so.


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One comment

  • MDN

    Yes it is reasonable to be skeptical for the reasons you state.

    That said, since they report having found actual software errors (note the s, implying more than one), this seems like a justified action. We aren’t China, and rightly take range safety for our rocket industry seriously.

    I know this is frustrating, but flight control systems must be unfailingly robust and built to operate reliably even in the event of hardware failures and unexpected fault conditions. This makes them among the hardest to design and even harder to validate. And, is one domain where the NASA collective likely still provides some really credible value, especially for smaller companies like Rocket Labs.

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