NASA private space cuts don’t leave a lot of room for error

Yikes:

“NASA’s big-ticket missions have been spared the Congressional ax. The Orion crew vehicle gets $1.2 billion, the Space Launch System (SLS) gets $1.9 billion. Together, these are supposed to get humans to Mars or an asteroid, or both.

But there’s some who are not quite so happy: the private space companies vying to get astronauts to orbit by 2017, including Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada. The White House request for $821 million to support the commercial crew program was trimmed to $696 million. “

(Via Is the Relationship Between NASA and Private Space About to Sour? – Popular Mechanics.)

Will the ISS really last beyond 2020?

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There was a lot more hinting about letting private companies run experiments to see if they could find out things in microgravity that would lead to more reasons to keep it up there, but that never quite materialized. I can see why the Russians want to do one of their own.

I’d be curious to see what could be done with Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX and NASA, which is why I’ll be paying close attention to what Bigelow’s module does once NASA mounts it on the ISS for a test.

“The debate over how long to pay for the International Space Station is something that has long loomed over the program, one expert said.

‘This is a little bit like smoker’s cough. It’s something that nobody wants to notice,’ said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

An expert in space policy and history, Logsdon said his bottom line is that ‘the odds, in my view, are heavily against the continuation of the station post 2020.’

Logsdon told SPACE.com that he did not think it likely that either Japan or Europe have any enthusiasm to pony up money for the ISS after 2020.

‘That presumes that there’s no major breakthrough,’ Logsdon said, referring to any potential discovery on the station that turns out to have either great scientific or economic value.

Looming in the background of the space station’s future beyond 2020 is talk by Russia of starting a second-generation space station on its own, Logsdon said.

‘And of course you have the Chinese station in the same time period,’ he added.”

(Via Can the International Space Station Really Last Beyond 2020? | Space.com.)

Asteroid lasso by Nasa in jeopardy

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“It is known, informally, as the asteroid-lasso plan: NASA wants to launch an unmanned spacecraft in 2018 that would capture a small asteroid — maybe 7 to 10 yards wide — haul it closer to Earth, then send astronauts up to examine it, in

But the space agency has encountered a stubborn technical problem: Congressional Republicans.”

(Via Plan to Capture an Asteroid Runs Into Politics – NYTimes.com.)

Sigh.

On the other hand, Obama switched the plan from Bush’s moon base, changing NASA direction. NASA has 3 years before they next administration will change their course again, too.

It’s fucking rudderless.

If I were them I’d just buy rides on SpaceX and Boeing and Dreamchaser, that way, whatever the fuck was going on politically they could fund an independent operator to develop a meaty capability for orbit and beyond and just plug and play.

Seriously.

As the Houston Chronicle points out, NASA’s been ordered to create a program it can’t afford to run anyway:

A couple of weeks ago a space enthusiast, John Strickland, analyzed the launch costs of NASA’s Space Launch System, which consists of a large rocket that could initially launch 70 tons into orbit and eventually 130 tons, and a space capsule, Orion.

For various, supportable reasons Strickland concludes that the SLS system would likely launch, on average, every four years, at a cost of more than $14 billion per launch. Here’s how the costs break down:

Invest that money in those other three companies and get way more than just one SLS launch every four years.

NASA gets flack for giving Orbital Sciences COTS money despite lack of demonstration flights

Imagine if COTS didn’t exist and NASA had picked just Orbital… thanks goodness there are 3 COTS (2.5 really) participants. Looks like they really could have not paid Orbital and had 3.5 private programs going…

“NASA’s Office of the Inspector General has criticised NASA’s management in a report noting that it has apparently given funding to one of the commercial cargo operators before it has flown the required number of cargo demonstration missions.  Specifically it records that Orbital Sciences Corp has recevied ‘up to 70 percent of the funds associated with six of its eight CRS missions prior to having flown a demonstration flight, ‘

The report also notes that a ‘full demonstration flight required under the COTS Program most recently scheduled for June 2013 has slipped to August or September 2013.”

(Via NASA under fire for advancing Orbital Sciences commercial cargo cash – Hyperbola.)

Neil Armstrong’s Ohio accent confuses historical quote

Well, there you go:

“The controversy surrounding why Neil Armstrong’s famous moon quote was misheard by millions of people worldwide may have been less to do with dodgy recording equipment and more to do with his unique Ohio accent.

When Armstrong walked on the moon the astronaut claimed to have said: ‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’, but most listeners claim they can’t hear the first ‘a’ and the statement has become best known without it.

Poor recording equipment was previously blamed for the mishearing, yet linguistic experts now claim a unique feature of Armstrong’s Ohio accent could be to blame. “

(Via Neil Armstrong’s accent – rather than dodgy recording equipment – may be to blame for millions of people mishearing the astronaut’s famous moon quote | Mail Online.)

NASA mulling over supporting Bigelow Aerospace modules on moon and orbit

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Nasa might join private companies in supporting various Bigelow modules in orbit and on the moon. The Bigelow modules attached to various rockets for getting on with long range exploration actually intrigue me as well:

“A study by Bigelow Aerospace, commissioned by NASA, shows ‘a lot of excitement and interest from various companies’ for moonbases and other space projects. The projects range from pharmaceutical research aboard Earth-orbiting habitats, to missions to the moon’s surface, he said on Thursday, citing a draft of the report due to be released in a few weeks. Bigelow Aerospace surveyed about 20 companies as well as foreign space agencies and research organizations for the NASA study. NASA expects to release the first part of Bigelow’s study within a few weeks. The second section is expected to be finished this fall.”

(Via NASA could join private customers for a permanant inflatable moonbase in the 2020s and become a tenant of a Bigelow spacestation after the International Space Station.)

Paying Russia for astronaut launches just took money away from commercial crew plans, delaying missions

Here’s a Catch 22. In order to fund the commercial crew trips to the ISS using SpaceX or other contenders, NASA needs money. With budget cuts on the table, they had to take some of that money and send it to the Russians to keep the astronauts needed for ISS on track. Thus delaying the NASA ability to use commercial trips to 2017.

Frankly, I would have frozen the ISS visits until CCDEV is up and running, as that’s more critical long term, though I understand why this was done. You don’t really win here either way.

My hope is that SpaceX continues to innovate nonetheless.

“‘Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017. Even this delayed availability will be in question if Congress does not fully support the President’s fiscal year 2014 request for our Commercial Crew Program, forcing us once again to extend our contract with the Russians.”

(Via NASA’s Commercial Crew Catch 22 as another $424m heads to Russia | NASASpaceFlight.com.)

More about NASA’s asteroid mission

Some more about NASA’s planned asteroid mission:

“The third part of the mission is the estimated 20 day crewed flight to explore and sample the captured asteroid, utilizing the SLS and Orion – with the centerpiece of the mission being the EVAs to document and take samples of the asteroid.”

(Via Gerstenmaier expands on recently announced asteroid mission | NASASpaceFlight.com.)

Stripping down and rebuilding the F-1 rocket at NASA

Ars Technica has an amazing, in depth article about NASA’s taking apart an F-1 rocket (used on the Apollo) to figure out exactly how it was built, and to possibly reuse it for the future rocket system NASA is building for asteroid and Mars missions in the future:

“The engineers removed the soot and re-scanned, but even this seemingly trivial accumulation yielded valuable data—sooting is a problem with kerosene-powered engines, so understanding how it builds up inside the engine could reduce its occurrence.

‘Because they didn’t have the analytical tools we have today for minimizing weight, everything was very robust,’ noted Betts, when I asked what they found as they tore down the engine. ‘That’s apparent in really every aspect of the engine. The welds—’

‘Oh, the welds!’ interrupted Case. ‘The welds on this engine are just a work of art, and everything on here was welded.’ The admiration in his voice was obvious. ‘Today, we look at ways of reducing that, but that was something I picked up on from this engine: just how many welds there were, and how great they looked.’”

(Via How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 “moon rocket” engine back to life | Ars Technica.)

Bigelow and NASA may be up to more than just an extra module on the ISS

Bigelow and NASA have agreed to attach a Bigelow station to the ISS. Now there are hints that NASA and Bigelow may be up to a lot more than just that:

“On Thursday, Las Vegas City Life columnist George Knapp wrote that Bigelow and NASA have reached an ‘adventurous deal’ that ‘reads like a Kubrick screenplay or an Arthur C. Clarke story,’ he claimed. The two have agreed to study ‘a series of strategic goals and timetables’ for future space exploration, up to and including bases on the Moon, led by private enterprise. ‘Bigelow’s company would become a clearinghouse of sorts,’ Knapp wrote. ‘Its first assignment: to identify which other companies would be most valuable for NASA’s long-range goals.’”

(Via What’s Robert Bigelow up to now with NASA? « NewSpace Journal.)