Tag Archives: engineering

Airbus gets ESA as customer for its ISS commercial platform

Capitalism in space: Airbus has signed up the European Space Agency (ESA) to use its as-yet unlaunched ISS Bartolomeo module as an experimental platform.

The Bartolomeo platform – named after Christopher Columbus’ younger brother – is currently in the final stage of launch preparation at Airbus in Bremen and is scheduled for launch to the ISS in March 2020. Bartolomeo is developed on a commercial basis by Airbus using its own investment funds and will be operated in cooperation with ESA.

The platform can accommodate up to 12 different experiment modules, supplying them with power and providing data transmission to Earth. Bartolomeo is suitable for many different experiments. Due to the unique position of the platform with a direct view of Earth from 400 kilometres, Earth observation including trace gas measurements or CO2 monitoring of the atmosphere are possible, with data useful for climate protection or for use by private data service providers.

This is the European effort to duplicate the slow commercialization of ISS that is also taking place in the U.S., with more and more of the payloads and operating platforms on the station being developed, owned, and operated not by NASA but by private companies.

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NASA picks science payloads for 1st two unmanned private lunar landers

Capitalism in space: NASA has chosen the science instruments that will be put on the 1st two unmanned privately built lunar landers aimed at arriving on the Moon in 2021.

Two experiments will be flown on both landers. The Astrobotic lander gets an additional nine instruments, while Intuitive Machines gets three.

The most interesting tidbit from the press release is that NASA hopes to make “about two deliveries of scientific and research payloads to the Moon per year starting in 2021.” Seems overly optimistic to me, though in the long run the approach makes sense for NASA. These landers are relatively small and cheap, so the cost to fly a lot of them is not exorbitant. Under this arrangement, if one fails you simply figure out why and quickly fly another.

For this new American industry the approach also works. The companies will own the designs, so soon they will be able to market this technology to other customers, at what is historically record low prices for such a mission. The result is likely going to be the arrival of a swarm of new customers.

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SpaceX wins first new launch contract in 2020

Capitalism in space:The Egyptian communcications satellite company Nilsat this week announced that it has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its next satellite.

This was SpaceX’s first contract award in 2020.

The article goes into great detail about SpaceX’s present launch manifest, which according to the company has contracts for future launches equaling $12 billion.

Based on public info, SpaceX has roughly 55 customer launches on its manifest. The company also intends to launch as many as 24 dedicated Starlink missions this year and will need at least another 40-50 on top of that to complete the first phase of the broadband internet satellite constellation (~4400 spacecraft). Meanwhile, SpaceX has won at least nine separate launch contracts – two Falcon Heavy missions and seven Falcon 9s – in the last 18 months, but has launched 22 customer payloads in the same period.

In fewer words, SpaceX is effectively launching its existing commercial missions much faster than it’s receiving new contracts. In 2019, for example, the company launched only 11 commercial missions – 13 total including two internal 60-satellite Starlink launches. SpaceX launched 21 times in 2018, a record the company initially hoped to equal or even beat last year, but – for the first time ever – the launch company was consistently ready before its customers were.

It appears SpaceX intends to pick up any slack in launch contracts with Starlink satellite launches, which once in orbit are another major income source for the company.

Overall, it seems to me that SpaceX is quite awash with capital, which reinforces their decision to not take government money to develop Starship. Using their own capital they are free to build as they see fit, with no one from the government who knows less than they do looking over their shoulder and kibitzing.

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Launch abort data suggests Dragon performed “flawlessly”

A preliminary review of the data gathered during SpaceX’s launch abort test on January 19, 2020 suggests the system performed “flawlessly”.

The Crew Dragon began its launch escape maneuver at 10:31:25 a.m. EST (1531:25 GMT) — initiated by a low setting of an on-board acceleration trigger — when the Falcon 9 was traveling at a velocity around 1,200 mph (536 meters per second), according to SpaceX.

Eight SuperDraco thrusters immediately pressurized and ignited as the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage engines were commanded to shut down as part of the abort sequence. The escape engines on the Crew Dragon produced nearly 130,000 pounds of thrust at full power. The SuperDracos performed flawlessly, SpaceX said, accelerating the capsule away from the top of the Falcon 9 at a peak acceleration of 3.3Gs. The SuperDracos accelerated the spacecraft from about 1,200 mph up to more than 1,500 mph (about 675 meters per second) in approximately seven seconds, according to SpaceX.

At this point it appears the only reason the first manned launch might be delayed a bit is if NASA decides to turn it into a long duration mission, requiring new training for the crew.

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Martian pimples

Pimples on Mars!
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is one of those terrain sample images the science team of the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) takes periodically when they have a gap in their observation schedule with no specific requests for images of the terrain below. Still, they need to use the camera regularly to keep its temperature maintained, so they then take a somewhat random picture over that terrain, based partly on information from lower resolution images but without a strong sense of what they will find.

In this case, they found what I dub pimples, raised mounds with small holes at their peaks. The image, taken on November 30, 2019, is located is in the northern lowlands, at a latitude (45 degrees) where subsurface ice is possible. Thus, we could be looking at water ice volcanoes.

Very few high resolution images have been taken of this area, with no others close by. Thus, the overall context of these mounds is hard to gauge. They could be widespread, or very localized.

The unknowns here and general lack of research suggests this location and these mounds are ripe research for some postdoc student interested in planetary geology.

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Russia again delays launch of Nauka module for ISS

Russia yesterday announced that it will once again delay the launch of its Nauka module for ISS due to “additional adjustments that should be carried out due to the use of original propellant tanks.”

The TASS article did not explain what those adjustments will be, though it did outline some of the sad history of Nauka, which Russia had begun construction in 1995, a quarter of a century ago.

Earlier, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozi said the research module’s original propellant tanks, manufactured about 18 years ago, could be replaced with those from the Fregat booster. However, later it was decided to send the module to the ISS with its original tanks.

The construction of the Nauka module began in 1995. Russia initially planned to launch the Nauka lab to the ISS as a back-up of the Zarya compartment (the station’s first module that continues its flight as part of the orbital outpost) but the launch was numerously delayed. In 2013, the Nauka module was sent to the Khrunichev Space Center after metal chips were found in its fuel system.

Right now they are saying it will probably launch early in 2021, not late in 2020 as previously announced.

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OSIRIS-REx completes close fly-over of Bennu touchdown site

OSIRIS-REx has successfully completed the first of a series of increasingly closer fly-overs of its primary sample grab sites on the asteroid Bennu.

The spacecraft got as close as about 2,000 feet in order to take more high resolution images of the Nightingale landing site where they hope in August to do a touch-and-go sample grab.

A similar flyover of the backup sample collection site, Osprey, is scheduled for Feb. 11. Even lower flybys will be performed later this spring – Mar. 3 for Nightingale and May 26 for Osprey – as part of the mission’s Reconnaissance C phase activities. The spacecraft will perform these two flyovers at an altitude of 820 feet (250 m), which will be the closest it has ever flown over asteroid Bennu’s surface.

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Fire during Firefly rocket engine test forces evacuations

A fire during an engine test of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket yesterday has forced local officials to evacuate nearby residents for a short time.

Earlier Wednesday, Firefly Aerospace tweeted an image of a first stage for the company’s Alpha rocket on a vertical test stand at the Briggs facility. In the tweet, Firefly wrote that teams were loading liquid oxygen into a test version of the company’s Alpha booster in preparation for the first hotfire qualification test of the rocket’s first stage.

Firefly later deleted the tweet after local authorities responded to reports of an “explosion” at the test facility in Central Texas, and ordered the closure of roads in the area and the evacuation of nearby residents.

Officials later clarified that no explosion occurred. Tom Markusic, Firefly’s CEO, told KXAN — the NBC television affiliate in Austin — that a fuel leak resulted in a small fire on the test stand. [emphasis mine]

This is not good for the company’s planned launch schedule, which presently calls for the first operational flight in 2020.

At the same time, the company announced the signing of a contract today with a company that will act as a coordinator scheduling multiple smallsat customers on the rocket.

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Boeing abruptly exits DARPA’s experimental spaceplane project

Boeing today announced it is pulling out of DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program, cancelling development of its Phantom Express-1 hyposonic plane.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says Boeing is dropping out of its Experimental Spaceplane Program immediately, grounding the XS-1 Phantom Express, even though technical tests had shown the hypersonic space plane concept was feasible. “The detailed engineering activities conducted under the Experimental Spaceplane Program affirmed that no technical showstoppers stand in the way of achieving DARPA’s objectives, and that a system such as XSP would bolster national security,” DARPA said in a statement issued today.

Boeing has provided no clear explanation for this exit. I suspect it might have to do with their other problems related to the 737-Max airplane and the costs it is imposing on the company. Also, the program called for the first test flights in 2020, and it might also be that Boeing had doubts about meeting that goal.

Right now I wonder if Boeing will have to return any of the cash DARPA provided it for the work done so far, out of the total $146 million award. Moreover, at least two other companies had bid for this contract, Masten and Northrop Grumman. Will Boeing’s exit now allow them to pick up the pieces? Or has Boeing’s contract win and sudden exit mainly achieved the goal of stymieing their compeition?

Overall, this decision by Boeing is just another black mark on the company, just one of many that has occurred in the past few years.

UPDATE: It appears that Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc suspects the same Machiavellian maneuvers from Boeing as I.

A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.

The reasoning went like this: the winning bidder, Boeing, really wasn’t interested in the technology. The company was actually interested in government funding and keeping other companies from developing the system.

Messier isn’t sure either, noting that the pull out might also have occurred due to the arrival of Boeing’s new CEO, only a week earlier.

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Japan to establish its own military space unit

Working in conjunction with the new U.S. Space Force, Japan now plans to establish its own defense-oriented space unit.

The space unit will be added to an existing air base at Fuchu in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where about 20 people will be staffed ahead of a full launch in 2022. The role of the space unit is to conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field, rather than being on the ground.

Abe’s Cabinet in December approved 50.6 billion yen (U.S. $459.2 million) budget in space-related projects, pending parliamentary approval. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words indicate the unit’s purpose, to provide support from space for the operations of Japan’s allies. This makes sense, as Japan itself has no real army.

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Trunk from Dragon recovered intact

Capitalism in space: In recovering various pieces, including the capsule, dropped in the Atlantic during its January 19 launch abort test, SpaceX (and Elon Musk) were surprised to retrieve the capsule’s trunk section, normally attached below the capsule, largely intact and undamaged.

The recovery does not mean SpaceX will recapture and reuse this component in the future, since on an orbital flight the trunk would go into orbit. What it does suggest strongly is that SpaceX’s engineering is remarkably robust. To quote the old Timex commercial, “Takes a licking, keeps on ticking!” Kudos to them.

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Animal life thriving in Fukushima radioactive zone

The uncertainty of science: Despite fears that the radioactivity released from the Fukushima nuclear accident would make life difficult if not impossible within the 80-mile radius exclusion zone surrounding the reactor, animals are thriving there, in large unexpected numbers.

Now, nearly a decade after the nuclear accident, the wildlife populations appear to be thriving. Animals are most abundant in areas still devoid of humans, with more than 20 species captured in the UGA’s camera study.

Particular species that often find themselves in conflict with humans, especially Fukushima’s wild boar, were most often photographed in human-evacuated areas. Without the threat of humankind, wildlife is flourishing. In the years since the nuclear accident, Japan’s wild boar seems to have taken over abandoned farmland — even moving into abandoned homes. The government hired boar hunters to cull the population prior to re-opening parts of the original exclusion zone in 2017.

This phenomenon has happened before. Life inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine became an accidental wildlife preserve after humans left following the nuclear disaster there in April 1986. [emphasis mine]

This story, and that of Chernobyl, does not prove that radioactivity is harmless. Not at all. What it shows is that we know diddly-squat about its effects on life. For example, one study has shown changes in the weight and size of one species of monkey at Fukushima has shrunk, but have flourished nonetheless.

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Undulations on Mars

Undulations in Dokka Crater
Click for full image.

Time for a cool image that makes no sense. The photo on the right, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on November 15, 2019 of the floor of a crater, dubbed Dokka Crater, located in the high latitudes of the Martian northern lowlands. Uncaptioned but labeled “Undulations on Dokka Crater Ice Dome,” it shows a region of weird complex wave features, reminiscent of another weird Martian geological feature called brain terrain.

The problem is that brain terrain is generally found in the mid-latitudes, not the high latitudes. Both this feature and brain terrain however appear to associated with ice. In this case, these undulations are occurring on the ice dome that apparently sits inside Dokka crater, which is also likely to be related to the islands of ice found in many high latitude craters on Mars in the southern hemisphere..

In the case of the southern hemisphere ice-filled craters, scientists have found evidence suggesting that global wind patterns might affect their shape and placement within the craters. One wonders if this same factor is a part cause for these undulations in this northern hemisphere crater.

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Boeing looking to borrow up to $10 billion because of 737-Max problems

Boeing apparently is in discussions with several banks in an effort to secure a $10 billion loan to help it deal with the costs related to the suspension of production of the 737-Max airplane after two fatal crashes.

Boeing is in talks with banks to secure a loan of $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the company faces rising costs stemming from two fatal crashes of its 737 Max planes. The company has secured at least $6 billion from banks so far, the people said, and is talking to other lenders for more contributions. The total amount could rise if there is additional demand from banks, one person familiar with the matter said.

Liquidity isn’t an immediate concern, analysts have said, but the new debt shows Boeing is shoring up its finances amid the cash-sapping fallout of the two crashes — one in Indonesia in October 2018 and another in Ethiopia in March last year — that killed all 346 people aboard the two flights.

The amount Boeing is seeking to borrow is more than what some analysts were expecting. For example, Jefferies earlier this month forecast Boeing would issue $5 billion in debt this quarter.

I must emphasize that this story relies on anonymous sources, and is reported by CNBC, a division of NBC, one of today’s least reliable news sources.

More trustworthy information should become available on January 29, when Boeing makes its next earnings report.

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Prototypes of China’s core space station module and new manned spacecraft arrive at launch site

The new colonial movement: Prototypes of China’s core space station module and its new upgraded manned capsule have been delivered to the Long March 5B launch site.

The space station module will be used to test the installation and launch procedures for launching the actual module on the Long March 5B rocket. The manned capsule will be sent into orbit unmanned this spring on the Long March 5B to test both the rocket and the capsule, prior to human operations. This detail from the short article however is worth noting:

The new-generation manned spacecraft is 8.8 meters long and has a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes. It will be used for transporting crew to the space station and to conduct China’s future manned lunar missions.

Apparently in upgrading its Shenzhou manned spacecraft China has made it 0.3 meters longer and about four tons heavier. In fact, this manned ferry for getting to and from its space station is as heavy as a standard module used on both Mir and ISS. I could be wrong, but if this is the case they will require the Long March 5 or 5B for every manned flight. Since this rocket is large and expensive, it will be difficult to use it for maintaining a frequent launch pace, thus limiting the number of manned missions.

As I said, I could be wrong. Up until now I had assumed that a variant of the Long March 5 would be used to launch the station modules, and the smaller Long March 2F rocket used to ferry astronauts to it (as was done on all previous Chinese manned missions). This could still be the case.

If not, however, China’s space engineers have either put a limit on what they can achieve by overbuilding that manned capsule, or their government has made a major commitment to put a lot of tonnage into orbit. If the latter China’s space program is going to be quite competitive indeed.

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Six Martian summers at a polar impact crater

Crater on Martian north polar ice cap
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) last week released a very neat short movie compiled from images taken of an impact crater located on top of the northern polar ice cap of Mars. As noted by planetary scientist Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona in the image caption,

Shown here is an impact crater on the north polar ice cap, which contains an icy deposit on the crater floor. These inter-crater ice deposits shrink and expand or change shape or surface texture from year to year,

The image on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is the most recent of these six images. The crater, which is about 200 feet in diameter, is the black speck in the center. The white streaks to the south of the crater, similar on all six photos, indicate that the prevailing winds come from the pole.

The animation zooms in on the crater so that you can see the details on its crater floor. And though the animation is fun, below the fold is a collage of all six photos, which I think makes it easier to see how the inter-crater ice deposits changed from summer to summer.
» Read more

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The long term ramifications of SpaceX’s crew Dragon on the future of the human race

Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed
Crew Dragon soon after its parachutes had deployed
during the launch abort test.

The successful unmanned launch abort test by SpaceX of its crew Dragon capsule today means that the first manned flight of American astronauts on an American rocket in an American spacecraft from American soil in almost a decade will happen in the very near future. According to Elon Musk during the press conference following the test, that manned mission should occur sometime in the second quarter of 2020.

The ramifications of this manned mission however far exceed its success in returning Americans to space on our own spacecraft. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine touched upon this larger context with his own remarks during the press conference:

We are doing this differently. NASA is going to be customer, one of many customers. I want SpaceX to have lots of customers.

Bridenstine is underlining the real significance of the entire commercial program at NASA. Unlike every previous manned space project at the space agency, NASA is not doing the building. Instead, as Bridenstine notes (and I recommended in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space), it is merely a customer, buying a product built entirely by a private company. And while NASA is involving itself very closely with that construction, it is doing so only as a customer, making sure it is satisfied with the product before putting its own astronauts on it.

NASA also does not own this product. As Bridenstine also notes (and I also recommended in Capitalism in Space), SpaceX owns the product, and once operational will be free to sell seats on crew Dragon to private citizens or other nations.

This different approach also means that NASA is not dependent on one product. From the beginning its commercial crew program has insisted on having at least two companies building capsules — Dragon by SpaceX and Starliner by Boeing — so that if there is a launch failure with one, the second will provide the agency with redundancy.

Bridenstine was very clear about these points. He wants multiple manned spacecraft built by competing American capsules, both to provide the government with redundancy but also to drive innovation and lower costs.

SpaceX of course is the quintessential example of how to lower costs.
» Read more

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Crew Dragon unmanned launch abort a success

Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully completed an unmanned launch abort test of its crew Dragon spacecraft.

Everything took place exactly as planned. The image to the right is a screen capture shortly after the main chutes had become fully deployed. The recovery of the capsule is still ongoing, and will take a bit more than an hour. A press conference has been scheduled at 11:30 eastern, viewable on NASA-TV.

Based on what was seen, it appears that SpaceX is ready to put astronauts on this capsule. It is time to do so.

I have embedded a replay of the entire test, below the fold.
» Read more

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NASA: first manned Dragon flight could occur in March 2020

A NASA official today finally admitted that, assuming the launch abort test tomorrow goes well, that first manned Dragon flight to ISS could occur as early as March 2020.

Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s commercial crew program, told reporters Friday that the Crew Dragon capsule slated to carry Hurley and Behnken into orbit on the so-called “Demo-2” mission could be ready for for flight within a couple of months. “The vehicle will be all ready at the end of February,” Lueders said. “We’re kind of shooting for early March, right now, from a planning perspective. That would be the earliest.”

For years NASA has been reluctant to allow SpaceX to fly at the pace it wishes. Instead, NASA has consistently called for delays and further testing, almost ad infinitum. This admission by Lueders is the first by anyone at NASA that this launch can occur quickly, should tomorrow’s test flight succeed.

There are of course other considerations, such as scheduling the mission at ISS. Regardless, if tomorrow’s flight is a success there will be no justification for any long delays before the manned mission. It will be time to light that candle!

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Tadpole on Mars

Tadpole on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 7, 2019, and shows a crater on the northern fringe of Arabia Terra, one of the largest transitional regions between the Martian northern lowlands and the southern highlands. It shows a crater with an inlet canyon that makes the entire crater resemble a wiggling tadpole.

This is certainly not first tadpole-resembling crater found on Mars. See for example this press release from February 2018, showing a tadpole crater with the tail being an outlet channel. In today’s image however the channel feeds the crater.

In fact, take a look at the full image. This crater apparently occurred right at the edge of a large mesa cliff, with this impact cutting into the cliff near its bottom. The canyon might have actually existed before the impact, with the crater merely obliterating the canyon’s outlet.

If you look along that escarpment to the east you can see similar southwest-to-northeast flows. One is a canyon flowing downhill through the escarpment, probably resembling what the first canyon might have once looked like before the impact. To the east of this is another tadpole crater. This second tadpole impact however took place on top of the mesa, so the channel flows out from the crater and then down off the mesa, the reverse of the tadpole crater above.

These flow features are consistent with the nature of this transitional zone, a region with many features suggesting it was once the shoreline of an intermittent ocean. That ocean, if it had existed, is long gone, though scattered across the Martian surface are geological ghost features like these that speak of its past existence.

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Wolf puppies play fetch with humans

An experiment raising wolf puppies in close contact with humans has surprisingly found that some of those puppies learn how to play fetch with humans, even strangers.

Playing fetch with your dog isn’t as simple as it seems. Your pooch must be perceptive enough to realize you want the ball back—and social enough to want to play with you in the first place. It’s such an advanced skill, in fact, that many scientists think it could have arisen only over thousands of years of domestication.

But a new study reveals that some gray wolves—the ancestors of dogs—can also play fetch. The work supports the idea that the roots of many of the traits and behaviors we see in domesticated animals, from cats to chickens, may be present in their wild relatives.

…As the pups grew, the scientists noticed that some would retrieve a tennis ball thrown across the room. Intrigued, they tested all the wolves for the ability. When the pups were 8 weeks old, Hansen Wheat brought each one into a large, barren room with someone the animals had never met before. Then she left, and after a few minutes, the stranger threw a tennis ball.

Most of the wolves ignored the ball. But two pups—Lemmy and Elvis—returned the ball twice, the team reports today in iScience. One pup named Sting returned it all three times it was thrown, as seen in the video above. (All the wolves were named after musicians.)

What this study has discovered is likely the very process that produced the first dogs, from wolves. Early humans culled out of the wolf pack the puppies that responded to human behavior, and interbred those puppies to produce a new species that was closely linked to its human masters. And apparently this process can be quicker than some scientists previously believed.

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SpaceX is shifting all Starship design work to Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: In a change in plans, SpaceX is no longer having two competitng Starship design teams working in both Florida and Boca Chica, and is now in the process of moving all hardware to Boca Chica.

Though the article is mostly about SpaceX’s fleet of ships, it notes this change in Starship development plans.

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Arianespace and China complete launches

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket today successfully placed two communications satellites into orbit, one for the commercial company Eutelsat and the second for India.

This was Arianespace’s first launch in 2020.

UPDATE: China’s smallsat solid rocket, Kuaizhou 1A, operated by a Chinese company dubbed GalaxySpace, also launched a commercial communications satellite today.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
1 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)

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A detailed look at Boeing’s recent aircraft problems

Link here. The article is entirely focused at reviewing only Boeing’s recent aircraft projects (Boeing 787, Boeing 747-8, Boeing KC-46A, Boeing 777X and Boeing 737 MAX), all of which appear to have had a lot of development issues.

The worst of the lot was the KC-46A, with many of the problems shared by our incompetent federal government. Initially proposed in 2001 (that is not a typo), the contract award did not occur until 2010, with delivery of the first 18 planes set for August 2017. The GAO predicted this delivery would be late, and the GAO was right.

Worse, Boeing has had cost overruns on the tanker totaling $3.4 billion above the initial fixed cost development contract of $4.9 billion (that is also not a typo).

The article also cites far too many examples of where Boeing requested waivers in order to meet schedule, even though the waiver allowed serious safety issues to linger, a behavior that reminded me strongly of NASA’s management during the shuttle program, resulting in the loss of two shuttles because the agency preferred to push its schedule rather than deal with serious engineering problems.

When you add the delays, cost overruns, and sometimes absurd mistakes that have occurred during Boeing’s development of SLS, this article is far more disturbing. It gets worse when you consider the issues that have delayed the launch of Starliner, some of which (the parachutes) should not have been an issue considering Boeing’s half century of experience.

All told, these problems portray a company that is akin to our federal government, badly managed and ripe for disaster. While the U.S. aerospace industry would take a deep hit if Boeing went under, that hit however would likely be temporary, especially considering the problems Boeing is having.

Freedom must allow bad businesses to fail so that fresh faces not bogged down by old problems can come to the fore and replace them. If Boeing collapsed I suspect a host of new companies would quickly appear, all likely more capable of producing what the nation’s aerospace industry needs. Because right now, Boeing is certainly not doing the job.

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Watching SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch abort

The launch abort test flight of SpaceX’s crew Dragon capsule remains on schedule for launch at 8 am (eastern) on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

NASA has announced that it will provide live coverage. I would assume SpaceX will as well, but there is no indication of that at the NASA announcement or at SpaceX’s website.

I will admit that though I very much would like to watch this live, it will go off at 6 am in Tucson, a bit early for this night owl writer.

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Boeing releases video of Starliner’s first orbital demo flight

Capitalism in space: Boeing has released a video showing what it was like to be on its Starliner capsule during its first orbital demo flight on December 20, 2019.

Flying alongside the uncrewed Starliner’s only official passenger — a spacesuit-clad, instrumented dummy (or anthropometric test device) named “Rosie” (after the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter), Snoopy, in plush doll form, served as the vehicle’s “zero-g indicator.” The video shows the doll floating weightless at the end of its “leash” after the Starliner entered Earth orbit.

The video is embedded below the fold. It is relatively boring, which actually is a good thing. The interior of the capsule does not seem much disturbed during each phase of the flight, from launch, separation from launch vehicle, and touchdown.
» Read more

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Spitzer SpaceTelescope shutdown in a week

After sixteen years in orbit, NASA will shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope on January 22, 2020,

The telescope is still functional in a somewhat limited manner but NASA wishes to save the annual budget of $14 million to operate it. Moreover, it will become redundant and significantly superseded once the infrared James Webb Space Telescope launches and becomes operational next year.

NASA had hoped a private organization would take over Spitzer’s operation, but apparently got no takers.

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SpaceIL gets $1 million grant for building Beresheet-2

The Israeli non-profit that built Beresheet-1 has received a $1 million grant in order to pursue building Beresheet-2.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation has provided a one million dollar grant to SpaceIL to support the “Beresheet 2” spacecraft program and advance the goal of landing an unmanned Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. “Beresheet 1”, launched on February 22, 2019, made Israel the 7th country in the world to reach the Moon’s orbit. The new Blavatnik grant will enable SpaceIL to recruit a new CEO to drive plans for “Beresheet 2” forward.

It remains unknown whether Beresheet-2 will ever get built. The money is insufficient to build a new lunar lander. Moreover, several of SpaceIL engineers have left the company and formed their own private space business, partnering with Firefly Aerospace to build their own lunar lander.

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