Tag Archives: spaceflight

SpaceX to offer NASA its own plans for a heavy-lift rocket

SpaceX is putting together its own plans to provide NASA a heavy-lift rocket. Key quote:

Fast-track development, multi-use and low cost are key, says [SpaceX owner Elon] Musk. “The development timeframe is on the order of five years and would come to fruition before Obama’s likely second term ends. It has got to fit within a NASA budget that fits in 2008 levels, and it’s got to have operational costs when functioning that is as close to zero as you can make it. That latter point demands that whatever components are in use for super-heavy lift must be in use for launching other satellites for say, geostationary commercial and government customers. If not, then the likelihood of success in my opinion is zero.”

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X-37B has returned successful to earth

After more than seven months in orbit, the unmanned X-37B space plan has successfully returned to Earth. Key quote:

“Boeing and the Air Force are building another X-37B vehicle scheduled for launch in the spring of 2011.”

Update: Since several different reports are listing slightly different totals for the number of days in orbit, I’ve edited my note above to be less precise. I could add up the days myself, but that involves more math than I prefer to do!

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NASA engineers struggle to analyze cause of cracks in tank

NASA engineers continue to struggle to analyze the cause of the cracks in Discovery’s external tank. Key quote:

Forty-three tanks have been constructed with the lighter alloy, requiring just more than 4,600 stringers. So far, 31 cracks have been found, including those on Discovery.

“All of those have been known assembly issues,” Shannon said of the previous cracks, which were traced to misalignments of the stringers as they were fastened to the tank or to mishandling in which the fragile stringers struck or were struck by other hardware. Discovery’s cracks were the first found and repaired at the launch pad using techniques previously employed only at the production plant.

The ongoing detective work is immune to schedule and budget pressure, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

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The unimaginative Union of Concerned Scientists does it again

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the reusable X-37B — in orbit at the moment and expected to return to Earth in the near future — has no compelling use.

“It’s hard to think of what could make that mission compelling,” [UCS scientist Laura] Grego told SPACE.com. “It doesn’t protect you from antiaircraft fire, and the element of surprise doesn’t really work in your favor if you’re launching on Atlas V [rocket].”

In reading this article, it is fascinating how completely unimaginative the scientists from the Union of Concerned Scientists seem. Nor do I find this surprising. For the last few decades this organization has opposed almost every new aerospace engineering project that might actually have made possible the human exploration of space. It’s as if these scientists feared new ideas and grand achievement. Sadly, the UCS had great influence with policy makers in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and thus helped limit the American government’s space program capabilities during that time period.

Fortunately, the UCS’s influence has waned in recent years. Though the American government space program might be dying, it is because of budget limits and a lack of leadership by the Obama administration, not the unimaginative thinking of the UCS. Furthermore, their lack of imagination — which once seemed so culturally dominant — seems to no longer influence the rest of society. The happy result is the creative innovation coming from many new private aerospace companies.

The UCS meanwhile reminds me of an old curmudgeon, who won’t keep quiet but everyone still ignores.

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Deficit commission rewrites its recommendation, but keeps it

Jeff Foust has noticed that the Obama’s deficit commission has rewritten its recommendation that the NASA subsidies to commercial space be cut. The rewrite doesn’t really change the recommendation. Instead, it merely corrects the language to more accurately describe the subsidy program.

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Why NASA recently pulled the X-34 out of storage

Why NASA recently pulled the X-34 out of storage. Key quote:

The idea to ship the X-34s to Mojave and inspect them originated with a Dryden-based NASA engineer, Brown said. “When he found out this thing still existed … he decided people should take a look to see if it could be refurbished and made flightworthy.” That’s when the contractors came to retrieve the two neglected spacecraft, pictured above en route to the Mojave.

But that doesn’t mean NASA has formal plans to operate the X-34s under its own auspices, now or ever, Brown stressed. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry. “There are a number of firms interested in these things, developing communications and other technologies,” Brown said. “It would be helpful if they had a vehicle.”

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Lockheed plans test flight of Orion capsule

The space war continues. Lockheed is now planning a test flight of Orion capsule in 2013. The flight would occur, not on an Ares rocket, but on a Delta IV Heavy. More here.

Specifics of the proposed test flight haven’t been reported before. But those plans may run into flak as Republican lawmakers take control of House committees and subcommittees that oversee NASA, according to industry officials, including competitors, critical of Lockheed Martin’s efforts.

At least some of the incoming Republican panel chairmen and other senior GOP lawmakers, these officials said, may view the proposed test flight as circumventing congressional language to quickly develop a new heavy-lift NASA rocket able to transport astronauts past low-earth orbit. Congress has adopted language strongly favoring space-shuttle derived rockets for this purpose, rather than a version of the Delta IV. The Delta IV is operated by a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co.

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Discovery’s launch delayed until December 17 at the earliest

Discovery’s launch delayed until December 17 at the earliest. Key quote:

Shannon said that one of the concerns was that another major crack might liberate a piece of insulating foam large enough to damage Discovery, as happened during the January 2003 liftoff of Columbia. A suitcase-sized chunk of foam punched a hole in Columbia’s wing, dooming the ship and her crew of seven astronauts when they reentered the atmosphere.

Shannon said that teams were also examining the possibility that the tanks have been flying with undetected cracks for years.

Cracks became more common after the 1998 debut of “super-lightweight” tanks built with a more brittle aluminum-lithium alloy. Since then, 29 cracks in stringers making up the ribbed “intertank” section that separates liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks have been found and repaired in 18 tanks, including Discovery’s and a tank scheduled for use by the shuttle Atlantis next summer.

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ISS next expedition main, backup crews to begin exam

This week the Russians will give “final exams” to the main and backup crews for the next expedition to ISS.

Though NASA constantly rates its astronauts, it does not give them “exams.” This whole procedure (as well as how this Russian article is written) gives a nice flavor of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Russia.

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