Tag Archives: NASA

NASA announces third Dragon flight crew

NASA today announced four-person Dragon flight crew for that spacecraft’s third flight in the spring, the second official operational flight.

NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough will join JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet on that flight, which will follow Crew-1 currently scheduled for sometime in late September after Demo-2 concludes. This is a regular mission, meaning the crew will be staffing the International Space Station for an extended period – six months for this stretch, sharing the orbital research platform with three astronauts who will be using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make the trip.

Pesquet will be the first European to fly on Dragon. McArthur however is more interesting, in that this will be her first spaceflight in more than a decade. She had previously flown only once before, in 2009 on the last Hubble repair mission. She is also the wife of Bob Behnken, who is on ISS right now having flown on the first Dragon manned mission now preparing for its return to Earth on August 2nd.

The long gap in flights was certainly due to the shuttle’s retirement. Why she didn’t fly on a Soyuz is a question some reporter should ask her at some point.

NASA’s safety panel expresses concerns about Starliner

My heart be still: During a teleconference yesterday, members of NASA’s safety panel expressed concerns about Boeing’s Starliner capsule while cautiously and very tentatively endorsing SpaceX’s intention to launch future manned missions with reused Falcon 9 first stages and reused Dragon capsules.

I consider this safety panel worse than useless. For example, based on this news report, they appear to have had little involvement in the NASA/Boeing investigation into the issues that caused the premature de-orbit of first unmanned orbital test flight of Starliner. Instead, it appears they have simply reviewed that investigation, and are now just kibbitzing from the sidelines.

Of course NASA should be concerned about the 80 issues it found, mostly involving software. No one needs this safety panel to tell the agency this.

Meanwhile, the panel’s tentative support for reusing Falcon 9 boosters and Dragon capsules is merely a rubberstamp of already decided NASA policy, and also illustrates the panel’s uselessness. This safety panel spent the last five years blasting everything SpaceX was doing (causing many delays), while literally missing the real elephant in the room, Boeing’s own quality control issues.

It appears to me that NASA is very gently and quietly making the safety panel irrelevant to its operations. Even better would be to disband it entirely. It serves no purpose other than to delay and block future exploration, sometimes foolishly.

Dragon update for the ongoing and next mission

Two stories today provide an update of the overall schedule and status of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, both now and into the future.

First, they are preparing for the return of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from ISS on August 2nd. Prior to return they will use the station’s robot arm to inspect the capsule’s heat shield to make sure it did not sustain any damage during its two months in space. Such inspections will be standard procedure on future flights, something NASA did not do on shuttle flights until after the Columbia failure.

It is unlikely there is any damage, but making this inspection is plain common sense. If the heat shield has been damaged, the astronauts can stay on board ISS until the next Dragon arrives, which can then bring them home.

Second, NASA and SpaceX have worked out a tentative schedule for that next Dragon manned launch, now set for sometime in late September. The agency wants a bit of time to review the full results of the first demo mission before flying a second.

Based on all that has happened so far, it now appears unlikely that the agency will find anything that prevents that late September flight.

Midnight repost: The absolute uncertainty of climate science

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Tonight’s repost adds more weight to yesterday’s about the uncertainty of any model predicting global warming. Rather than look at the giant gaps in our knowledge, this essay, posted on January 28, 2019, looked at the data tampering that government scientists are doing to their global temperature databases in order to make the past appear cooler and the present appear warmer.

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The absolute uncertainty of climate science

Even as the United States is being plunged right now into an epic cold spell (something that has been happening repeatedly for almost all the winters of the past decade), and politicians continue to rant about the coming doom due to global warming, none of the data allows anyone the right to make any claims about the future global climate, in any direction.

Why do I feel so certain I can make this claim of uncertainty? Because the data simply isn’t there. And where we do have it, it has been tampered with so badly it is no longer very trustworthy. This very well documented post by Tony Heller proves this reality, quite thoroughly.

First, until the late 20th century, we simply do not have good reliable climate data for the southern hemisphere. Any statement by anyone claiming to know with certainty what the global temperature was prior to 1978 (when the first Nimbus climate satellite was launched) should be treated with some skepticism. Take a look at all the graphs Heller posts, all from reputable science sources, all confirming my own essay on this subject from 2015. The only regions where temperatures were thoroughly measured prior to satellite data was in the United States, Europe, and Japan. There are scattered data points elsewhere, but not many, with none in the southern oceans. And while we do have a great deal of proxy data that provides some guidance as to the global temperature prior to the space age, strongly suggesting there was a global warm period around the year 1000 AD, and a global cold period around 1600 AD, this data also has a lot of uncertainty, so it is entirely reasonable to express some skepticism about it.

Second, the data in those well-covered regions have been tampered with extensively, and always in a manner that reinforces the theory of global warming. Actual temperature readings have been adjusted everywhere, always to cool the past and warm the present. As Heller notes,
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NASA: Dragon crew will return to Earth August 2nd

Capitalism in space: Assuming that the weather cooperates, NASA has now set August 2nd as the date the manned Dragon capsule will return to Earth with its two man crew.

Assuming good weather and a smooth final few weeks on the International Space Station, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to undock from the orbiting research outpost Aug. 1 and return to Earth the next day to wrap up a 64-day test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the target dates for the Crew Dragon’s undocking and splashdown in a tweet Friday. A few hours after departing the space station, the Crew Dragon will fire its Draco thrusters for a braking burn and re-enter the atmosphere, targeting a parachute-assisted splashdown at sea. “Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2,” he tweeted. “Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.”

Note that the recovery operations, as has been the case with everything else on this flight, will be run entirely by SpaceX and its employees. NASA’s only real role is that of a customer and observer, though obviously agency officials are taking a hands-on part in determining the landing date.

NASA confirms Webb launch delay to October 2021

NASA today confirmed that the launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope will be delayed again, from March 2021 to October 2021.

As schedule margins grew tighter last fall, the agency planned to assess the progress of the project in April. This assessment was postponed due to the pandemic and was completed this week. The factors contributing to the decision to move the launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, disruption to shift work, and other technical challenges. Webb will use existing program funding to stay within its $8.8 billion development cost cap. [emphasis mine]

Note the highlighted words. Vague, eh? They are trying to make it seem that this new delay is solely because of the Wuhan virus panic, but that’s simply not justifiable. Notice how SpaceX has kept on launching Falcon 9s as well as testing new Starship prototypes throughout the panic. Somehow that private company was able keep its schedule going.

The truth is that as early as January, long before COVID-19 was even a blip on the horizon, the GAO was warning everyone that it was unlikely NASA and Northrop Grumman could meet the March 2021 launch date.

Webb is now more than a decade behind schedule, and once launched will have cost 20 times what it was originally budgeted ($500 million vs $10 billion). Let us pray that it works once it gets to is proper orbit, a million miles from Earth, since it will then be too far away to fix.

IG report: NASA’s Orion is a program of lies

The Orion capsule

In a report [pdf] released today, NASA’s inspector general confirmed unequivocally what I have been saying for years, that the agency’s project to build the Orion capsule has been built on lies, from the beginning.

First of all, the report slams NASA for purposely excluding from its public budget almost 60% of the total cost for the entire Orion project.
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Midnight repost: The Lie that is Orion

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay, written in July 2016, might provide modern readers with some background and context into the uselessness of NASA’s over priced, over designed, and behind schedule Orion capsule. The only thing that has changed in the four years since is that NASA has stopped claiming Orion is an interplanetary spaceship. They now freely admit that to get to Mars they need to build and assemble much larger ships, of which Orion will only be a tiny part.

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The Lie that is Orion

Several weeks ago NASA put out one of its periodic press releases touting the wonders of the engineering the agency is doing to prepare for its future missions to Mars. In this case the press release described a new exercise device, dubbed ROCKY (for Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo), for use in the Orion capsule.

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.

As is their habit these days in their effort to drum up support for funding for SLS and Orion, the press release was filled with phrases and statements that implied or claimed that Orion was going to be the spacecraft that Americans will use to explore the solar system.

…engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together…

…Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion…

These are only two examples. I have clipped them because both were very carefully phrased to allow NASA deniablity should anyone question these claims. For example, in the first quote they qualify “deep space” as specifically the 2018 unmanned lunar test flight. And the second quote is qualified as referring to missions to lunar space. Nonetheless, the implied intent of this wording is to sell Orion as America’s interplanetary spaceship, destined to take us to the stars!

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at NASA’s own Orion webpages, starting with the very first words on their Orion Overivew page.
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NASA completes Starliner review, finds more issues

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday released the results of its investigation into the issues that prevented Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule from successfully completing its unmanned demo flight to ISS in December, finding an additional 20 issues over the 61 initially identified shortly after the mission.

In closing out the seven-month investigation, NASA officials said Tuesday they have now identified 80 corrective actions, mostly involving software and testing, that must be done before the Starliner capsule launches again. The previous count was 61.

NASA officials also admitted that they had been so focused on making sure SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was going to work that they became lax in reviewing Boeing’s work. Now they not only are going to focus more on Boeing, they actually want to use SpaceX’s approach to software development throughout NASA.

NASA is also borrowing SpaceX’s “robust” approach to software, which involves going back to the designers following testing for feedback, said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s new human spaceflight chief who until a month ago managed commercial crew. She wants to see more of that type of approach across other NASA programs.

Though it seems absurd and incredible that NASA has not been consulting with its designers after testing, it is also not surprising. When it comes to designing and building anything at NASA the management processes there have routinely done a bad job for many years.

As for Starliner, it is expected it will take a few more months to fix these issues, which means the next unmanned test flight is likely still set for sometime in the fall, with the manned mission to follow next spring.

Proposed House NASA budget flat, with some surprising support for Artemis

While the first House proposal for NASA’s 2021 budget has rejected the Trump administration’s request for a total $3 billion increase for the agency to fund Artemis so that it can complete a manned mission to the Moon by 2024, it also provided about 18% of the funds requested for building the manned lunar lander required for that mission.

Back in February, the White House asked for $3.37 billion in fiscal year 2021 to accelerate development of the lander.

Democrats in the House have been skeptical of the 2024 launch date—some see it as political due to the timing of the next presidential election—and so have been slow to fund the lander. In its budget, the House appropriates $1.56 billion for “Exploration Research and Development.” This includes funding for the lander, Lunar Gateway, and other activities related to the Moon’s surface, of which more than $600 million can be used for the lander.

The House also provided a boost of $343 million to SLS.

My guess is that the Democrats in the House are working to keep Artemis going because of the jobs it brings to their districts, but want to slow it down enough so that it cannot succeed while Trump is in office. Thus, the release of some funds for the lunar lander, but not enough to build it, now.

The House proposal also includes a loosening on Congress’s mandate that Europa Clipper must launch on SLS. NASA is now given the option to consider other alternatives if SLS is not avaiable, which means that NASA can now consider using the Falcon Heavy instead.

This proposal must still pass the Republican-controlled Senate, so expect more changes.

Midnight repost: NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Tonight’s midnight repost is actually two. First we have what might have been my most telling report for John Batchelor, aired in late July 2013. In that appearance I was quite blunt about my contempt for the politicians in Washington and the fake space program they had been foisting on the American public for decades. As I said,

What both those parties in Congress and in the administration are really doing is faking a goal for the purpose of justifying pork to their districts, because none of the proposals they’re making — both the asteroids or the moon — are going to happen.

Here is the audio of that appearance [mp3] for you all to download and enjoy. For reference, these are specific stories from then that I am discussing:

That rant makes for a perfect lead in to an essay I wrote in late 2011, outlining what I would do if I was in a position to reframe NASA’s budget. Everything I said then still applies. And that it does is a great tragedy, in that it means that nothing has changed, and our federal government continues to gather power while bankrupting the country.

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NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

Let’s be blunt: the federal government is broke. With deficits running in the billions per day, there simply is no spare cash for any program, no matter how important or necessary. Nothing is sacrosanct. Even a proposal to cure cancer should be carefully reviewed before it gets federal funding.

Everything has got to be on the table.
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Boeing’s Starliner aces parachute test

Capitalism in space: Boeing last week successfully completed a Starliner parachute test designed to simulate the return of a capsule after a launch abort.

This is good news for the capsule and Boeing, but I am a bit puzzled why this test, to be followed by a second similar test, was done. These parachutes were supposedly tested thoroughly already, proven, and ready for use for manned missions. Part of that proof was an earlier launch abort test as well as Boeing’s unmanned orbital demo flight that failed to dock with ISS. Both returned to Earth safely using these parachutes. I wonder if during those latter flights they found issues with the parachutes that needed smoothing out by even more tests.

Either way, this success improves the chances that Starliner will finally fly manned early next year, giving the U.S. two different operational manned capsules for getting humans into space.

NASA awards Northrop Grumman contract for more SLS solid rocket boosters

NASA today awarded Northrop Grumman a $49.5 million contract to begin work on twelve more SLS solid rocket boosters, enough for six more SLS flights.

Under this letter contract, with a potential value of $49.5 million, NASA will provide initial funding and authorization to Northrop Grumman to order long-lead items to support building the twin boosters for the next six SLS flights. Northrop Grumman will be able to make purchases as the details of the full contract are finalized within the next year. The full Boosters Production and Operations Contract is expected to support booster production and operations for SLS flights 4-9. The period of performance for the letter contract is 150 days; the definitized contract will extend through Dec. 31, 2030.

I especially like the headline Doug Messier used today in his post of NASA’s press release of this award at Parabolic Arc: “NASA Sinks More Money into SLS.” An apt description, since the odds of this program continuing to 2030 as described is quite low. The cost is too high, and other more capable and less expensive rockets will be available in the next few years, making SLS the equivalent of the buggy whip. Any money NASA spends on it now is essentially cash the agency is wasting.

NASA tests SLS backup tank to failure

In preparation for the only planned full scale static fire engine test of the core first stage of the SLS rocket, NASA engineers have successfully completed a tank test to failure on a back-up oxygen tank.

The tank was filled with water to simulate the oxygen, and cracked as expected at the predicted pressure and at the predicted weld. A short 11-second video of the moment of failure test is embedded below the fold.

This test illustrates the methods by which NASA works. Unlike SpaceX, which is doing similar tests at the very beginning of its Starship design stage to best improve their design, NASA does this testing at the very end of construction, to prove that what they have built will work. The former method in the long run is less risky and faster, as SpaceX quickly finds out what works and doesn’t and builds accordingly.

The latter method is more risky because it depends on complex computer models, which can always be wrong. It also is more expensive in that it requires NASA to build its rockets with large margins of error, just in case those models are wrong. Finally, it appears to take longer to build, because of those required large margins of error. Your rocket or spaceship needs almost to be “gold-plated” to make sure it will work, when completed, since you really can’t test it in the design phase and build it more efficiently based on those tests.
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Trump official skeptical of point-to-point suborbital transportation

During the FAA’s annual commercial space conference, the executive secretary for Trump’s National Space Council, Scott Pace, expressed strong skepticism about plans by some companies to develop point-to-point transportation using suborbital spacecraft.

“I still see that as somewhat speculative and somewhat over the horizon,” he said. “I see us working right now on trying to get the suborbital market up, running and sort of stabilized. I think people look forward to the possibility of point-to-point passenger and cargo travel, but right now just getting routine suborbital access to space and pushing hard on the unmanned hypersonic and military applications is where the action is.”

“Maybe it’s not too soon to think about,” he added, “but I still think that’s a bit farther out until I see how the initial market settles out.”

In this context Pace noted his primary focus was in helping Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin get their space tourism businesses off the ground. Virgin Galactic has been making noises that it wants to do point-to-point transportation as well. His skepticism of this is actually quite realistic, since Virgin Galactic has not even completed its first commercial tourism flight and its rocket and spacecraft are underpowered as well.

If Pace’s skepticism is however aimed at SpaceX’s Starship plans to do point-to-point transportation, he is exhibiting a typical Washington bureaucrat’s timidity about new technology.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has gotten a contract from NASA to train private astronauts. To my mind this is NASA’s attempt to keep this company above water, as it certainly isn’t the most qualified to do this kind of training. If I wanted training for going on a private space mission, SpaceX and Boeing would be better places to get that preparation.

The deal however has done wonders for Virgin Galactic’s stock, causing it to rise almost 16% yesterday following the announcement of this contract. Great timing for Richard Branson, who by coincidence just happens to be trying to sell some of his stock at this moment.

The coming final flight of the shuttle’s solid rocket booster segments

Link here. As NASA begins the assembly process for its first long-delayed SLS launch sometime in the next year. the article at the link outlines in detail the space shuttle history of the many reused segments used to build the rocket’s two solid rocket boosters.

All together, the Artemis I solid rocket booster segments previously helped launch 40 space shuttle missions dating back 30 years.

The oldest cylinder, which will fly as part of the booster mounted on the right side of the SLS core stage, first lifted off on the STS-31 mission with the Hubble Space Telescope on April 24, 1990. It was then used for six more shuttle flights, including Endeavour’s debut on STS-49 in 1992 and STS-95 in 1998, which lifted off with Mercury astronaut and senator John Glenn as part of its crew.

Other notable missions that are part of the Artemis 1 boosters’ legacy include: STS-71, which marked the first shuttle docking with the Russian space station Mir in 1995; STS-93, which deployed the Chandra X-ray Observatory and marked the first spaceflight commanded by a woman, Eileen Collins, in 1999; STS-114, the return to flight after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2005; and STS-133, the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery in 2011.

The hardware also includes new components, including the two forward domes, two cylinders and four stiffeners.

This first SLS launch however will be the last time these segments will fly. Unlike the shuttle, NASA is making no effort to recover and reuse these boosters.

The shuttle effort to reuse these booster segments was never really very cost effective, so not reusing them on SLS might actually save money. Those savings however are chicken feed when compared to SLS’s overall cost. The problem really is with SLS’s fundamental design: cumbersome, slow, expensive, and difficult to use.

Head of NASA’s commercial program picked as chief of manned space

NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine yesterday announced that he has chosen Kathy Lueders to be the new head of the agency’s human exploration program.

In her most recent positions at NASA Lueders has been in charge first of the ISS commercial cargo program, followed by the ISS commercial crew program. She now heads the entire manned program, including Artemis.

This appointment appears to be great news for the emerging new commercial space sector (led by SpaceX), as Lueders’ close contact with them for the past half decade or so means she has seen up front the advantages of both competition and private enterprise. I suspect she will not look kindly at the endless delays at SLS and Orion, even if she has to play the political game of publicly appearing to support those projects. Like her predecessor Doug Loverro, she will be open to awarding contracts to whoever can get the job done best, rather than favoring the traditional big space contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, as Loverro’s predecessor Bill Gerstenmaier had often done.

NASA’s shift from being the builder of space systems to the buyer of space systems is going to accelerate.

NASA IG: Bolden misused NASA resources after leaving agency

According to a new NASA inspector general report released today [pdf], former NASA administrator Charles Bolden improperly used the services of his NASA executive assistant for two years after his resignation, and that misuse included aiding him in building his private consulting firm.

The [inspector general] concluded that the EA [Executive Assistant] inappropriately provided significant administrative assistance to Bolden to include managing his personal and business appointments, making travel arrangements, and coordinating special requests for almost 2 years, from his departure in January 2017 through December 2018. We further found that the EA’s assistance helped facilitate the growth of Bolden’s private consulting business and, as a result, Bolden was able to hire the EA as an employee upon her retirement from NASA in early 2019.

The report is remarkable kind to Bolden, making many attempts to excuse this essentially illegal abuse of government resources for private gain. But then, he is a Democrat who worked for the Democratic Obama administration, and if there is anything we have learned in the past decade, it is that there is an unwritten law in DC that states that no Democrat shall ever be punished for any crimes.

In Bolden’s defense, the report states the following,

Bolden took full responsibility for his actions, offered to provide reimbursement for the services he had received, and recommended that in the future specific guidance be provided to departing senior executives as to what type of administrative support they could expect to receive, if any.

I really wonder if anyone can really assign a number to this work. Moreover, there is no evidence in the report that Bolden has actually reimbursed the agency. Based on past such incidents, I am very doubtful such reimbursement will ever happen. The tactic each time has been to make a loud announcement of contrition, but then when things quiet down to conveniently forget about it.

NASA aiming for late July/early August Dragon crew return

According to statements made by NASA officials today, the agency is now targeting a late July to early August return date for the first manned Dragon.

Bob Behnken, one of the two Dragon astronauts, will likely do two spacewalks while on ISS to replace batteries on the stations main truss. In addition, they will do a number of tests of Dragon to check out its in-space long term operation.

Mission controllers planned to place the Dragon capsule into a hibernation mode, then wake up the ship’s systems to verify the spacecraft can perform its role as a quick-response lifeboat to scurry astronauts back to Earth in the event of an emergency. Mission managers are also checking data to monitor the status of the solar arrays.

It appears however that the biggest factor for determining the launch date will be weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. If they are good in late July mission managers might decide to return the astronauts earlier to take advantage of those conditions.

The next Dragon manned flight, carrying four astronauts, is planned in late August, thus giving NASA time to do a full assessment of this first demo flight before its launch.

NASA endorsement allows SpaceX to shift focus to Starship

Capitalism in space: Three different news stories today about SpaceX point out strongly the direction in which the company is heading, both in its design focus and in where it will be doing it.

First, SpaceX has informed the Port of Los Angeles that it is now definitely abandoning all plans to establish a Starship manufacturing facility there.

The company made this announcement on March 27th, which means it is not directly related to the tiff that Musk had with Alameda County officials about keeping his Tesla factory open during the California Wuhan panic lock down, which occurred in early May. Nonetheless, this decision, combined with Musk’s May 9th statement that he was going to move Tesla from California, suggests strongly that he and SpaceX is losing patience with California politics, and is likely to increasingly minimize the presence of Musk’s companies there.

This also means that the company will be expanding its Starship operations in both Texas and Florida.

In a second related story, it appears that — with the success of the first manned Dragon mission — Musk now wants SpaceX to shift its development focus entirely to Starship. Prior to that successful Dragon launch, NASA had made it clear that it did not want the company distracted by Starship, and instead stay focused on fixing any issue that might delay Dragon. As NASA is SpaceX’s biggest customer, the company was obliged to comply.

With the Dragon success however SpaceX has completed the job, so Musk now feels free to shift the company’s development teams over to Starship. And NASA is even helping him do this (today’s third SpaceX story) by agreeing at last to permit the company to use reused Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules for future manned missions.

In a wholly unexpected turn of events, a modification to SpaceX’s ~$3.1 billion NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contract was spotted on June 3rd. Without leaving much room for interpretation, the contract tweak states that SpaceX is now “[allowed to reuse] the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Crew Dragon spacecraft beginning with” its second operational astronaut launch, known as Post Certification Mission-2 (PCM-2) or Crew-2.

NASA in the past was very slow to accept the use of reused capsules and rockets. It now appears they have abandoned this reluctance entirely, so much so that we could even see American astronauts flying into space on a reused rocket and in a reused capsule before the end of the year.

I want to pause to let this fact sink in. SpaceX has turned what what was considered only a few years ago as an absurd, dangerous, and wholly insane idea into the only and right way to do things.

This big endorsement of reusability by NASA also means that the agency is now willing to let SpaceX make its shift to Starship, since refurbishing rockets and capsules does not take the manpower as building new equipment.

Expect the action in Boca Chica to ramp up quite spectacularly this summer.

Dragon docks with ISS; astronauts reveal its name is Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule successfully docked today with ISS.

A few hours after launch the two American astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, also revealed that they had named the capsule “Endeavour.”

I know this is really old news from late last night and early this morning, but I was out on a cave trip (taking a work break to have some fun underground for the first time in three months). I post it for completion. I also know that the live stream of these events was active here all day for my readers to follow things, as they happened.

Prepare for even more increasing space excitement in the coming years. The Trump administration increasingly is shifting NASA’s gears to have private companies build its spaceships and rockets and science instruments. The more they do this, the less expensive and the more capabilities we shall have as a nation. This success will be a challenge for other nations to match, which in turn will raise the stakes and increase the competition, the excitement, and the action in space.

Yes, the 20s I hope are going to roar, at least in space.

SpaceX’s first manned SUCCESSFUL Dragon launch

UPDATE: I am off on a caving trip on Sunday, May 31st, so I will not be doing any updates to this post. The live feeds however will still be here and, though they are presently showing a replay of the launch today, should be covering Dragon’s rendezvous and docking with ISS on Sunday..

UPDATE: Dragon is in orbit. SpaceX has successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place to Americans into space, the first American launch from American soil in an American spacecraft on an American rocket in nine years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

9 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 12 to 9 in the national rankings.

UPDATE: I have added NASA’s media live feed to the one provided on SpaceX’s website. There will be some hype on SpaceX’s feed, but the media feed had no commentary. Pick which you prefer.

UPDATE: NASA and SpaceX have decided to attempt a launch today. The weather remains at 50-50 for launch.

Capitalism in space: Below are the live streams of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch, presently scheduled for launch at 3:22 pm (Eastern) tomorrow, May 30, 2020.

First, the feed from SpaceX’s website:

Second, the media feed from NASA, with no narration:

The live coverage will begin at 11 am (Eastern), and because this presentation is a partnership of NASA and SpaceX, will be filled with a lot of hype that one normally does not see during a SpaceX live feed, though I will note that during the live feed of the May 27th scrubbed launch, the NASA hype was kept relatively tame, compared to previous events. It seemed they accepted some guidance from SpaceX on how to do this in a way that seemed less fake or propagandistic.

This time I am embedding the media feed, which might have even less hype.

This post is also set to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or after the launch is scrubbed, whichever happens. At the moment the weather says there is a 50-50 chance of launching, so we might end up having a scrub again, like on May 27th. In fact, NASA and SpaceX have already said in the evening of May 29th that they will reassess the weather in the AM on May 30th and decide whether to continue with the countdown or scrub. If so, this link and live feed will remain for the Sunday, May 31st, launch attempt.

As I did during the first launch attempt on May 27th, I will also periodically post below the fold images captured from the live feed, with some commentary. Comments from readers are of course welcome, as always.

NOTE: You will need to refresh the post periodically to see new images and commentary.

For other news updates, scroll down.
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SpaceX and NASA will reassess weather for launch in morning

Because of the 50-50 weather conditions for launching the first manned Dragon mission to ISS tomorrow at 3:22 pm (Eastern), managers at both SpaceX and NASA have decided to maintain the schedule but reassess whether they will proceed come morning.

Thus, it is possible they might scrub the launch attempt very early in the countdown, and instead focus on the Sunday, May 31st launch opportunity. We shall have to wait.

In the meantime the embed of the live stream will appear here at Behind the Black at around midnight (Eastern). If the launch proceeds, the feed begins officially at 11:00 am (Eastern) tomorrow.

Weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch is presently poor

The weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch presently gives only a 40% chance of launch.

Forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron have issued a slightly more pessimistic outlook for the next two Crew Dragon launch opportunities Saturday and Sunday.

There’s now a 60 percent probability of weather conditions at the launch site violating one of the criteria for liftoff for launch opportunities at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) Saturday and at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Sunday, according to the weather team.

The worst part is that the weather doesn’t look good for either day.

SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch scrubbed due to weather

UPDATE: They were forced to scrub at T-16:54 because of weather. They will try again in three days on May 30th, at 3:22 pm (Eastern). I will post the live stream here on Behind the Black late Friday night.

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I have embedded below SpaceX’s live stream of the first manned Dragon mission, set to launch at 4:33 pm (Eastern). The stream begins at about 12:15 pm (Eastern). Feel free to watch as the day unfolds. Sadly, it is being managed by NASA, not SpaceX, and thus is filled with a lot of the agency’s fake hype.

I have also set it to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or if it is scrubbed.

On a side note, NASA is now aiming for an August 30 launch of SpaceX’s next manned Dragon mission, the first official operational flight.

Below the fold I am also posting images captured, with some commentary.


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Weather improves for tomorrow’s manned Dragon launch

Capitalism in space: The weather outlook has brightened tomorrow, increasing the chances that the SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule will launch as scheduled.

No major technical issues of any significance were under discussion Monday, but the weather could be a factor. Forecasters initially predicted a 60% chance of a weather-related launch rule violation, but Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron, said conditions appeared to be improving somewhat. “If I was to issue the forecast today, right now we would probably be down to 40% chance of violation,” he said. “We have a bit more rain to go here and maybe another round of afternoon thunderstorms tomorrow, but … it looks like much less (cloud) coverage. So we have some hope for launch day.”

But McAleenan’s forecast does not include downrange conditions in the Atlantic Ocean along the Crew Dragon’s trajectory where Hurley and Behnken could be forced to ditch in the unlikely event of a catastrophic booster failure during the climb to space.

SpaceX managers will assess a complicated mix of weather models, high-altitude balloon data and actual wind, rain and wave data from multiple buoys along the ground track to determine whether conditions, on average, are acceptable for launch.

The launch is set for 4:33 pm. I will embed SpaceX’s live stream here on Behind the Black tomorrow earlier in the day, when things begin..

SpaceX successfully completes static fire dress rehearsal of manned Dragon Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard static fire dress rehearsal prior to launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that will place the first manned Dragon capsule, carrying two astronauts, into space on May 27th.

Today NASA also gave its final okay for the launch. It is now set to happen.

NASA names WFIRST after its first head of astronomy, Nancy Roman

NASA today announced that it has renamed the proposed Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope in honor of the agency’s first head of astronomy.

Considered the “mother” of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which launched 30 years ago, Roman tirelessly advocated for new tools that would allow scientists to study the broader universe from space. She left behind a tremendous legacy in the scientific community when she died in 2018.

…When she arrived at NASA, astronomers could obtain data from balloons, sounding rockets and airplanes, but they could not measure all the wavelengths of light. Earth’s atmosphere blocks out much of the radiation that comes from the distant universe. What’s more, only a telescope in space has the luxury of perpetual nighttime and doesn’t have to shut down during the day. Roman knew that to see the universe through more powerful, unblinking eyes, NASA would have to send telescopes to space.

Through Roman’s leadership, NASA launched four Orbiting Astronomical Observatories between 1966 and 1972. While only two of the four were successful, they demonstrated the value of space-based astrophysics and represented the precursors to Hubble. She also championed the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which was built in the 1970s as a joint project between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the United Kingdom, as well as the Cosmic Background Explorer, which measured the leftover radiation from the big bang and led to two of its leading scientists receiving the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Above all, Roman is credited with making the Hubble Space Telescope a reality. In the mid-1960s, she set up a committee of astronomers and engineers to envision a telescope that could accomplish important scientific goals. She convinced NASA and Congress that it was a priority to launch the most powerful space telescope the world had ever seen.

This is a nice and very fitting gesture to honor one of the many unsung heroes who were important in the history of space astronomy. I just hope that Roman’s telescope doesn’t end up like James Webb’s, so over budget and behind schedule that it destroys all other NASA space telescope projects. Sadly, its track record so far suggests this is what will happen, which is why the Trump administration has been trying to get it canceled.

NASA head of manned space abruptly resigns

Turf war? Doug Loverro, the head of NASA’s manned spaceflight program who was brought in seven months ago to replace the fired William Gerstenmaier, has abruptly resigned.

Loverro, who previously worked at the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and launches military satellites, said he was leaving the agency “with a very, very heavy heart” after making some “mistake” during his tenure, according to a letter to the workforce obtained by POLITICO.

“Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks,” Loverro wrote. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences. ”

“My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we accomplished together,” he continued.

Reached by phone, Loverro declined to offer specifics about his “mistake,” but said his departure is not due to a disagreement with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine or any safety concerns about next week’s launch.

You can read Loverro’s resignation letter here.

This is very strange. Loverro was clearly ruffling feathers in the big space contractor world with his increasing effort to reduce NASA’s reliance on its SLS rocket for its deep space manned program. I can’t help but wonder, in this brutal Washington culture we live in today that is willing to frame people for sometimes the most petty reasons, if some blackmail was involved here.

I doubt his resignation will change much. NASA will continue to reduce its reliance on SLS, simply because the rocket is a very expensive, over-priced, behind-schedule lemon that will never get us anywhere.

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