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Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thoughtful Discussion on an Interesting Speech
Dennis Wingo has some thoughts on Dr. John Marburger's speech (Direct link to Adobe Acrobat file) at the Goddard Memorial Symposium. Basically, Dennis tries to marry the speech with the new competitive initiative announced at this year's state of the union address and the current in vogue complaining about loss of science missions but can't quite do it. He also has some suggestions on ways to go forward following the vision and letting other entities play.

I've heard some rumblings from my Martian friends that there may be a bit of grumbling over this comment from the speech:
Where does Mars fit into this picture? At the present time, much commentary to the contrary, we do not know how to send humans to Mars and return them safely within a reasonable cost envelope.
I guess the way I'd put it is:
"At the present time, there's no way to send humans to Mars and return them safely within a reasonable cost envelope while maintaining as much status quo as possible within NASA and its supporting industrial complex"
7:22 pm est

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Realizing what many Already knew
NASA got together with a bunch of industry and international partners this week to plan what people will do when they're on the moon. This article focused on one answer that they came up with, which was "making money." NASA reaching this conclusion is definitely newsworthy, in my mind.

Unfortunately, the article is short on details in exactly how someone on the moon would make money. The most viable business plan I've seen is mining helium-3, though the helium-3 doesn't really have anywhere to go unless we have some power-positive fusion reactors. Last I heard, they were pretty scarce (as in there are none of them).

Another option, which doesn't require fusion reactors, is delivering oxygen to low Earth orbit (LEO). This business will be quite slow until there are more users in LEO, and the up-front investment is high. I suppose that entrepreneurs would say all NASA needs to do is offer to purchase lunar oxygen delivered to LEO at a good price, and the rest would fall into place. This would lead to cheap access to the moon, and a huge cache of supplies in LEO, ready for use in trips beyond. They're probably correct, but that's not the way NASA's done business in the past. The conclusion to this meeting may signal a new approach, however.

To me, the most likely business plan to bring about quick returns is lunar tourism. Though lunar swingby trips are supposedly past the basic planning stage, pay-to-land-on-the-moon trips are where the real money are (and needs to be...the break-even point for such a ticket would be very high indeed). Here, the biggest thing to change would need to be the attitude of space agencies involved, saying that it's OK for paying customers to travel. We all know how fast that changed the last time someone tried it.
5:54 am est

Friday, April 28, 2006

Now this is Asteroid Hunting!
Through two links (Rand Simberg and Paul Dietz) I just found out about this allsky-survey telescope about to start testing in Hawaii. It's called Pan-Starrs, and it's expected list of accomplishments is impressive:
  • In its first month of observing, Pan STARRS will more than double the number of known asteroids. After several years, the number of discovered asteroids will reach about 10 million.
  • All NEOs down to a few hundred meters in diameter will be found. If any are possibly going to hit Earth soon, we'll know.
  • Roughly 20,000 Kuiper Belt Objects are expected to be found (vs. less than 1000 today).
  • PS can detect a body like Pluto out to 300 AU, Earth out to 600 AU, Neptune out to 1200 AU and Jupiter (or heavier) out to 2000 AU. PS will resolve the question of whether there is a planet X anywhere near the existing solar system (bodies like Sedna suggest there may be something heavy out there.)
  • PS should detect about 1 interstellar comet per year. These are comets that originated in some other solar system and were then ejected into interstellar space, a fate that befell about 90% of the comets in our early solar system as well.
  • Determine the position and distance of all stars within 100 parsecs of Earth visible from the site.
  • Find roughly 100 extrasolar planets by occultation.
  • Detect all Andromeda-size galaxies in the universe that are visible from Hawaii, all the way back to the start of galaxy formation more than 12 billion years ago.

The final configuration will consist of four 'scopes, and only one will come on line this year. I'm guessing the impressive results will come when all four are going, but the single will likely give us a good preview.
8:28 pm est

Amateurs Discuss Space Missions
While professionals discuss space logistics, or so I've been told. Forbes Magazine has a look at some of the challenges. The article is a little vague, lacking some specifics, but as a business magazine a primer is probably called for. I give them credit for discussing the timelines required for each type of mission (moon vs. Mars) though on the Mars track they seem to have lost their way a little bit in saying that supplies should be pre-positioned on Mars' moon Phobos for quicker call/response times than shipments from Earth. I guess that kind of works for a partially-developed Mars with multiple colonies that can't reach each other quickly, but by my estimation, if you're sending supplies to Phobos, the additional mass to get them to Mars' surface is negligible...especially since you envision delivering the supplies to the surface eventually anyway.

Another idea they discuss is how much time the barcode-based inventory system takes on the ISS, and how it's impractical for other missions. I like their idea of radio-frequency identified packages, which would allow an explorer to scan a pile of stuff to know if what they needed was inside.

It is interesting to see something like this discussed in a mainstream business paper, though.

Via Mark Whittington.
5:51 pm est

Thursday, April 27, 2006

High Frontier Issue out
The latest issue of High Frontier is available for download from Air Force Space Command. The topic is space command and control (2MB file, Acrobat Reader required). You'll see a familiar name around page 50. The article is titled "Space Situation Awareness: Before you Control, you must Understand"
3:56 am est

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NASA's Desert Research Station?
Spacedaily has an article about some NASA research getting started outside Hanksville, UT. Anyone familiar with The Mars Society will recognize the site as the location of that organization's Mars Desert Research Station. Bill Clancey, a NASA employee leading the mission, is also a Mars Society member. If he becomes aware of the error, he'll correct it.
8:17 pm est

Master of Business and Media
The more I hear/read about Sir Richard Branson, the more I'm impressed with his and his company's media savvy. Here's an article about the latest activities in the development of SpaceShip2. What is it? The assignment of a pilot crew, their "form check" of the pilot station, and their consideration as to what should go into their pilot corps.
8:08 pm est

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Young Mars...Green Mars?
Here's a story about the mineral history of Mars and how it relates to water epochs. The data comes from Mars Express, and appears to paint a pretty complete picture. Looks like time for potential widespread life on Mars ended a while ago.
6:47 am est

The Space Place
I was searching through a local radio station's website today, and came across The Space Place, a quick summary of space missions underway is the topic this time. It looks like the site is updated weekly, but doesn't give the author's name, just an email. Cool!
6:44 am est

Thursday, April 20, 2006

This Could be Interesting is reporting that China will attend an Exploration Strategy Workshop in DC.

I really like the concept of international cooperation in space, but I'm much more guarded about it since we had our experience with the International Space Station. International partners are great, but they cannot be part of the critical path for a mission. Delays in Russia's building of critical components of the station delayed its deployment by years. At the same time, having Soyuz craft available have kept the station occupied in these post-Columbia years.

The problem is, I have difficulty coming up with ways for an international partner to contribute to an effort without being on a critical path. Maybe the partners could build an advanced rover, with the understanding that the US would build basic rovers which would carry out the necessary missions. The new rovers (either for Mars or the Moon) would allow much greater range or other capabilities. On my favorite topic, supply depots, anyone could contribute to the orbital stores, and rightfully claim an important part of the mission. Yet placing a supply depot in an orbit that everyone can reach (like the ISS's orbit) would make it more difficult for craft launched from lower latitudes to reach the depot. It may also impact departure times and departure energy, but I need to look into that. A serious trade study would be necessary to figure out where the break even point would be. Hmmm... maybe I have something to think about on the train ride to work tomorrow...
8:24 pm est

No Good Ways to go, but Some are Less bad
The death of Scott Crossfield was confirmed today when The Civil Air Patrol found the wreckage of his plane and his body inside. While I'm sure there were times when he expected to change to this flight plan while pressing a new design's envelope just a little further instead of going down in bad weather, I can't imagine a more fitting ending for 84 well-lived years than to be at the controls of an aircraft.

Blue skies, Scott. Thank you.

(For the rest of us, this is preparation for a wave of pioneers who are getting up in years. How long do you think we'll still have someone alive who walked on the moon?)
5:46 pm est

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Good Book
This post is only lightly related to space until the end. I just finished the book State of Fear by Michael Chrichton. I enjoyed this book immensely. The story deals with the triangle of media, politicians, and interest groups that work together, at times with good intentions, taking action without the benefit of unbiased facts to base their actions on. The topic he chose as the driving issue, global warming (now being renamed "abrupt climate change" since, according to interest groups, the changing environment doesn't mean that things will always warm up. This change was necessary because every time there's a cold snap people say "where's the global warming?") If I could do comments on this blog, I'm sure that they would light up due to my dismissive tone on global warming(especially if the reviews section on Amazon for the book are any indication. For the record, I believe that the Earth's climate is changing, but that the data is contradictory enough on the type of change and what impact we have on it that any action we take would be a panic response), but to me, the specific issue isn't the important part, the important part is the "State of Fear" that's been instilled in society today.

My favorite part of the book is the author notes at the end. Here, Michael Chrichton makes such controversial statements as:
  1. Scientists shouldn't know the source of their funding, nor the hoped-for result.
  2. We cannot hope to control a complex system like the environment through litigation
  3. No climate model should be used as a basis for activity change until it has successfully predicted the climate for 20 years
  4. (paraphrased)The environmental movement needs to change radically, including more scientist in the field and fewer lawyers
How does this relate to space? Well, assuming that someday space becomes something more than the marginal industry it is, the space interest groups of today have the potential to morph into something more powerful, and therefore something with the capability of creating a large amount of change for good or for ill.
Action based on good information has a high percentage chance of invoking positive change. Action based on no information has a 50/50 shot. Action based on bad information has a low percentage chance of invoking positive change.
9:24 am est

Jumping the gun?
Clark Lindsey has a link to a couple of surveys. One deals with orbital space tourism while the other has questions about orbital fuel depots (of course, I prefer to call them supply depots, since it's relatively easy to produce water if you already have hydrogen and oxygen in orbit). The depot survey deals a lot with which nations will use it, what kind of business a depot will do with different delivery costs, and things along those lines. My first thought is that this is a case of a marketing person whose cut their teeth in other industries trying to apply typical business approaches to propellant depots, when there's no where near a typical business mechanism in place yet in orbit. I guess typical business has to start someplace, but this just seems to be an odd way to do it.
7:09 am est

Monday, April 17, 2006

I spent about an hour last night speaking with Charles Pooley. He believes that space access requires some sort of PC-type revolution and there are no efforts underway right now that will create that revolution other than his. He uses the term microlaunchers to describe his efforts. His arguments ring true with me, because he wants to see flights to orbit become common, though I have to admit I imagined larger payloads than he has in mind. He has a website giving an overview of his plan, though most of the technical content is under the AS-05 link.

The crux of the plan is a 1 pound payload launching beyond LEO. He describes LEO as the boundary of the solar system, and says that LEO doesn't have that much utility left, and will get crowded (and much more regulated) soon. Based on miniaturization of electronics today, he believes that a useful payload can be built into that mass, and lots of craft can be sent out to Near Earth Objects (NEOs) for initial survey flybys. Missions to the moon are also possible, though on a small scale never before discussed (at least to my knowledge). His ideas of "data parties" where people get together to receive downlink data from a craft on the moon or up to 1 astronomical unit away sound like something which is feasible, as long as the low-cost launcher comes into existence.

Charles argues that other small payload efforts suffer from a critical flaw - they rely on someone else for a ride into space. He compares that to founding an airline with no aircraft.

Is he just another slidemaker? Apparently not. Charles has moved to Mojave, CA and is gathering financing to go back to building hardware. He has a description and pictures of his earlier rocket builds and tests on his web page. He seems to have a good supply of off-the-shelf hardware for most of his structure, appears to have thought out many of the technical challenges, and has a step-by-step approach to build experience and confidence in the system. His early efforts fall into the category small rocketry, which allows him to avoid launch range concerns, and though I'm not an expert, he appears to have ahold of the other regulatory challenges ahead.

I enjoyed the discussion, and will keep my eyes out for other ways that microlaunchers can be used. Now, if I could just stop dreaming about what a 1-lb spacecraft would look like.

I know, I have a problem, but I don't think I'm alone.
4:54 pm est

Friday, April 14, 2006

Not Quite Boilerplate Withdrawal
Turns out that the base article of an earlier post (and a sarcastic addition) has been withdrawn. There's some interesting text accompanying the explanation
We also understand that the data was altered to support the position of the person who provided the information that was used in the article - thus, through due diligence, we have no other option but to withdraw the article and surrounding information.
Great, so now we may have disgruntled NASA types leaking data that they've altered. So much for an intellectual debate. I'm beginning to think that such things are rare.
5:29 pm est

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Crisis in ESAS
According to, recent changes made to the Explorations Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) (mainly in the form of propellants used by the CEV and the lunar surface vehicle) has made the vehicles too heavy to fly on the boosters planned. The presentation can be found here. The trades discussed in the presentation include putting more insulation on the boosters and lunar landers, and changing the rendezvous point to L2 (the gravity balance point on the far side of the moon). There's also a discussion of changing to a crew of two, bare-bones lander that gave rise to the satirical piece below.
2:39 pm est

Feeling a Little Sarcastic
Recent events, and the way some of them get reported, have brought the satire out in me.

Northrop Grumman Makes Unsolicited Bid for LSAM

In a surprise move, Northrop Grumman offered to build the Lunar Surface Access Module or LSAM on Monday.

"Upon hearing about the 'Wal-Mart' LSAM described in the Ames Research Center Study, we realized that we had a two-crewmember, hypergolic vehicle with no airlock in our inventory," said Bus E. Body, newly-named Senior Vice President of Lunar Systems. At a hastily-called press conference, no computer-generated graphics were available, though there were plenty of archival footage shots. "If need be, we could be flying in a couple weeks with already-built hardware."

When asked how many people on staff at Northrop Grumman had useful experience with the vehicle, Mr. Body jumped into a description of the wonderful "Experience Maker" program at the company, where retired workers are called back to help with a project. He had no exact numbers, but said that a lot of the younger employees had seen Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon, and Magnificent Desolation.

When asked about upgrades to the spacecraft for modern flight, he said that Windows 2000 would be installed as the operating system. An assistant promptly tapped him on the shoulder and whispered something into his ear. He then clarified his statement, saying that the computer system was still under study.

Scientists Decry Further Cuts in Space Science

In a three-way press conference held jointly at JPL, Ames Research Center, and Goddard Space Flight Center, scientists who ran the three losing bids for the additional payload space on board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's (LRO) complained about the cuts in science funding that led to their missions not flying.

"My team worked for months to put a proposal together, and we were only two years from launch, when the funding was suddenly taken away," said Ack E. Demic, principal investigator for one of the missions. "And we wanted to take advantage of NASA's new press policy to let people know that we're unhappy about it."

"This is just like those peole on the Dawn mission. They were ready to fly and 'pffft', the money is gone. Just another demonstration of shortsightedness," said another investigator.

After opening the forum up to questions, the investigators ran out of answers when reporters pointed out that Dawn had been reinstated. "Well, good for them. My mission isn't flying!" came the retort. The press conference was called to a hasty end when someone from the winning LCROSS team needed to use Ames Research Center's conference room.
1:16 pm est

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Mike Talking Depots Again
Mike Griffin has been fighting a lot of bad press brought out by scientists upset that their programs are being "gutted" to fuel the Vision for Space Exploration. At the NSS Conference, he pointed out that you can send a pretty big probe to Jupiter with the planned Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle. Cool argument, but if the scientists have any sense of history, they may be dismayed to find out how many Saturn V's were used to launch exploration missions during and after the Apollo Era (0).

He took a moment and talked about depots, though:
As example, Griffin said that fuel on orbit—valued at $10,000 per pound with current launch technology—could be offered via a commercially operated fuel depot in low Earth orbit. That facility could service a multi-billion dollar market, “one that would grow as long as we fly,” he said.
Some of his numbers look familiar to me.
8:32 pm est

On Friday, New Horizons raced past the orbit of Mars, 78 days after launch. That is a record time to the Red Planet's orbit (the planet wasn't anywhere nearby), and one that's likely to stand for a while. It's unlikely that we'd send a craft to Mars that quickly using the propulsion that we have today because of the amount of propellant (or aerobraking) required on arrival.
7:51 pm est

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Insight into Vehicle Loss
Elon Musk has been speaking on the loss of Falcon 1 at the NSS Conference. Looks like it was a processing error. He also gives some commentary that he's in this "for the long haul."
6:01 pm est

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

April 12th they're gonna party like its 1961 (and 1981)
It's spring, when a space enthusiast's mind turns to Yuri's Night. 61 Parties have registered so far. Not sure if I'm going to make it to my local one, however.
7:05 pm est

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Inked Agreement
Zero-G and NASA have finalized plans for the former's use of the shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center. The NASA press release isn't in their archives yet,(Update, 5 Apr: the release is now there, the "archives" link will take you to it) but has a summary. It's an "Astronote" so you'll have to page down to it.

Bottom line: 280 flights a year and up to 7 flights per week. That allows for some "surge" operations, and it's much higher than their current flight rate. I'm hoping they take some of my suggestions (or, heaven forbid, came up with them on their own before I wrote about them. My thoughts were that, if they had a plane sitting on the runway on weekends at KSC and flew several flights a day, they could get their cost much lower than current prices (click on "book a seat").
8:06 pm est

Monday, April 3, 2006

More Astrophotography
Sunday was a beautiful day here, so I got the telescope out again to try some solar photos. Turns out setting things up in the sun is a bit more difficult, due to bright lights impacting my ability to focus the image through my LCD screen on the camera. Things probably looked a little strange as I broke out a blanket and made like an old-time photographer, but again, I'm pretty happy with the results. Afterward, I went to the Space Environment Center website and found the sunspots that I got a picture of. They're numbered 0865 and 0866.

Update on 4 Apr: Images moved to The Gallery (page down)
3:09 pm est

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Lunar Viewing in Maryland
I broke out the 'ole scope last night to take a look at the moon's dance with the Pleiades. Since I live "north of DC" I was hoping to catch Maia's close brush with the moon, but it wasn't to be. Clouds prevented any long-term viewing or setups, and there's that whole inability I have to capture stars in my camera, but I got some pretty good shots, in my opinion. As with my others, I'm happy given the time and monetary investment.

Update on 4 Apr: Images moved to The Gallery (page down)
5:59 am est

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