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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 http://spacewhatnow.com/SWN

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Friday, May 26, 2006

8 Criteria to Judge Investing in a Space Company
The Space Cynic has a blog entry about things you need to keep in mind before you invest in a new space startup. I like the list, and can think of many people who've given talks at conferences who've violated at least one.
2:06 pm est

Space Nazis?
Jeff Bell has another opinion piece out. He takes a gaffe made by Peter Diamandis and builds upon it to put forth the notion that rabid space fans believe any means are viable and reasonable to bring about their vision of a utopian space future. This piece brought me up a bit short, because I've heard echoes of some of his thoughts in discussions I've had with the more fanatical members of the space club. While none of them speak in the language he uses in the article, some of their passion could be manipulated by the right person to achieve some ugly results, with or without their involvement.

I hadn't thought of some of the historical things he brings up in this particular light. In this piece, he discusses Werner von Braun, not as a brilliant visionary seeing the future, but as someone who understood that other nations would see through his arguments for the V2 (Bell's contention, which makes sense, is that ballistic missiles weren't practical until the advent of small nuclear weapons) and stayed with Nazi Germany. While it fits the facts that Mr. Bell brings up, I've not heard this version before.
1:51 pm est

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fly, GOES N!
Anyone who works in the aerospace industry has to tread a fine line when the comment on it. I generally downplay my job in this blog, though to avoid charges of hiding information, my bio carries a fairly detailed story of my professional life. Today, however, is a time to talk about it.

I work on a satellite system called GOES which takes images like this. Today, the latest satellite in the series, GOES N, took to the skies to start what should be a long career monitoring the weather over the United States. I've worked on this program for close to 7 years, and it's a relief to see it fly, even though the start of the mission means that now my work is really cut out for me.

Spaceflightnow has the story and the pictures

As of right now, the spacecraft is still attached to the second stage as it drifts out to apogee. In about an hour, the second stage will burn again and then cut the satellite loose. Then, assuming all goes well, it'll be time to get to business.
8:40 pm est

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Not Sure it's Worth Changing Nationalities
Japan is offering free rides on their H-2A rocket for secondary payloads. Unfortunately, you have to be a Japanese citizen or interest to participate in the program. This has potential to generate some interest, since the highest (usually by far) cost of building a small satellite is the launch cost, but if something similar happened in the US, some people might get upset.
5:29 am est

Friday, May 19, 2006

Interesting Press Release Title
Here's a press release that I'd describe as "casting a wide net." The title is "NASA Wants Your Innovative Ideas."
1:27 pm est

NASA Getting Serious About Planetary Defense?
Well, it's a step in the right direction. There's acall for papers on the street for actions. There will be an eventual conference.
1:20 pm est

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mixed Feelings
I've been checking The Space Channel occasionally, seeing if any audition videos for Space Champions have been posted. Today, I got some news:
  • The good: My videos have been accepted and posted
  • The bad: As of today, my videos are alone.
So, either my video is the best they got, or the only one they got.
7:44 pm est

Top 10 Disasters
The Livescience crew has compiled a list of the top 10 threats to the United States. Asteroid impacts play a part in a few of them. I like the number 1 entry "destruction of the Earth"
3:57 am est

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Relyin' on a Helpin' arm
More details are coming out about NASA's selection of winners in the space station cargo/crew delivery effort. The picture in the article led me to SpaceHab's site, where they have a movie showing their craft in operation. They share an approach with SpaceX in that they move to close proximity with the space station and then the station's arm grabs them and docks them to the necessary hatch. That's all fine and good in a "don't-you-dare-bump-into-our-one-of-a-kind-asset" kind of mindset, but assuming others take the same approach, they're all reliant on the arm working. No arm, no dock. My thoughts are that there's a backup plan where the craft actually dock with the station on their own, but no one will talk about that much until it's necessary.
7:49 pm est

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Just a Little Reminder
Every now and then, we're reminded what a small part the space industry is of the US economy. Here's an article describing the video gaming industry as having an $18B annual impact on the US economy. That's more than the NASA budget each year.
4:03 am est

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Dave Brody: Shuttle Should Resign
In researching another story, I came across this (not a permalink, but his last post was at the end of March, so you should have plenty of time. The Bad Astronomer spotted this post, too.)in the LiveScience blogs. In it, author Dave Brody says the shuttle should repair Hubble then retire on a high note. He cites 5 myths about the shuttle/station, summarized here:
  • Flying the shuttle benefits science
  • Building the space station keeps Russian nuclear scientists from making trouble
  • Hubble can be repaired with robots
  • Station benefits science (I really like his analogy of PhDs riding bicycles then peeing in cups)
  • Shuttle is essential to finishing station (here, he stretches a bit, in my opinion)


Read the whole thing. The comments to the Bad Astronomer post have some good info, too.
7:42 pm est

Monday, May 8, 2006

Methane not dead...
...at least not for sometime in the future. A new contract has been let for "risk reduction" in building future methane engines. I like the disclaimers at the end of the article.

For the record, I'd much rather have methane engines sooner rather than later, but understand that the budget is pushing them into the "later" category. I think some creative thinking might accelerate the process, though, and this contract is not what I'd consider to be creative thinking.
7:07 pm est

Now Here's a Show with some Potential
Channel Canada in cooperation with The Discovery Channel just started filiming a multi-media Mars experience for release in 2007. At least three parts are mentioned in the press release including a 3-hour miniseries called "Race to Mars" about the mission which has a 1-hour documentary about the crew after their mission. There's also a 6-part documentary about how a Mars mission would actually take place, and an immersive software package dealing with Mars as well. Looks like it could be impressive. My first thought is that the miniseries needs to be more than 3 hours to do a Mars mission justice.
7:00 pm est

Sunday, May 7, 2006

New Title for Asteroid Threat: "Katrina from Space"
Looks like the NEO threat organization has coined a new term for asteroid threats, including comparisons for government inaction then (Katrina) and potentially in the future (after an asteroid strike). The article is here.

This sort of thing is probably a good idea, as long as its not overplayed.
7:19 pm est

Upcoming X-Prize to Mars?
According to Sam Dinkin, Peter Diamandis hinted strongly at a major upcoming announcement. In fact, with the amount of information he gave out, I'd call this the announcement. Calling it the "Mars Citizenship Program," He's looking for different tiers of investors to put together a multi-billion dollar portfolio that will expand over 10 years to provide enough money to send people to Mars. Whoa.
7:04 pm est

Friday, May 5, 2006

Burt Rutan Makin' more Friends at NASA
Burt Rutan gave a speech at ISDC, and there's a news report here. In it, he calls NASA's efforts to return to the moon "archeology" and expresses his own desire to go to the moon in his lifetime. It's a long road from where we are now to Burt Rutan standing on the moon, though I won't go on record saying it's impossible.

I agree with most of what Burt Rutan is saying, and I absolutely hope that his efforts revolutionize space travel as we know it. I'm not sure if he understands the venom that his speeches inspire in some NASA employees. I met one of them at a conference last year, and this person was most displeased with Burt Rutan and his "cavalier" attitude. In all fairness, this NASA employee struck me as a rather pompus know-it-all, talking much longer than the time alloted for their presentation and monopolizing major speakers' time after their talks.

I believe that this person's NASA mentality comes from the agency's (and most other government/scientific agency's) way of doing business. Considering NASA's budget to be relatively fixed (yes, there have been increases recently), in order to "win" funding for your project, you must convince your higher-ups that it's better than other researchers' projects. The definition of "better" is hard to nail down, although it usually has to deal with how applicable the research is to future projects and in the political sphere, how well you get along with your higher-ups.

So now, you've got Burt Rutan, who built a suborbital space program for the amount of money you're requesting for a follow-up study to some obscure new technology that may or may not fly. I could see how this could inspire some jealousy. Of course, jealousy is famous for focusing emotion on the wrong target, and few people professionally raised within a bureaucracy like NASA would be able to see the fundamental reasons for why things cost so much. In case you need a refresher, they cost so much not because they're hard (being hard does make things more expensive, but it does not have to make things unreasonably expensive), but because the space/military infrastructure is built to turn small projects into big ones.

So what's the big deal if Burt Rutan upsets a few NASA bureacrats? Not much, as long as he can continue to function as an autonomous agency. Sounds simple, but, as he mentions in the article, he's concerned about FAA certification of his new generations of spacecraft. FAA is undergoing a major change to adapt to this new personal spaceflight paradigm. In most government agencies, change like that means new people. Where would FAA hire people with space experience...NASA? Would a current NASA worker, upset due to the loss of their program due to (as they see it) channeling $500M into the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) effort, jump from NASA to FAA with an alterior motive? Surely not.

Good luck, Burt.

I need to take a moment to point out that I can't think of one civil servant that would consider such an action. However, it would only take one.
9:24 am est

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Not sure I buy it
Interesting piece in Space.com today, referring to the need to beef up solar predictions and warning with the upcoming personal spaceflight revolution. Essentially, the article says that the new system will allow operators to provide a more informed consent for their customers. The usual proviso is attached of "more data is needed." Examples are given of airline pilots, who over their careers receive a much larger dose of radiation than the average person because of their time spent high in the atmosphere.

I think this is something to not take lightly, but it's definitely not something to slow up progress. First, suborbital flights are going to last on the order of minutes, not the hours of high altitudes that people spend on a jet aircraft (I know, the jet doesn't go as high, but when you're talking about exposure times tens of times longer, and remember that flights over the poles take a higher dosage) so radiation exposure for passengers in their 5 minute jaunt above the atmosphere is a point of curiousity and not much else.

Orbital flights are obviously more serious, but radition is pretty low on the concern levels. There's a large database of people who spent on the order of a week in orbit, and those who've spent much more have not taken many countermeasures against radition.

When people start traveling to the moon, outside the protective space of our magnetic field, radiation will be more of a concern, but by that point there should be some sort of "panic room" for the entire crew, not just the paying customers.
8:15 pm est

A Perfect Setup
This article (for the meek at work, here's a more work-friendly edition...I find The Onion's ads get a bit racy for mixed company) had a pretty large group of us laughing around the office today. My favorite exchange about it was with someone who hadn't read it yet:
Me: Have you heard NASA is sending $700M into space?
Unsuspecting Coworker: In what form?
Me: 50s and 100s.
(Ususpecting coworker laughs heartily)
They don't take it easy on the emerging private space industry, either:
Some in the private sector are attempting their own currency-expelling spaceflights, including Virgin CEO Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic plans to eject £2 million from the still-theoretical SpaceShipThree orbital aircraft.
I guess one of the biggest problems is that, for a large segment of the population, NASA may as well be launching money into space.
7:51 pm est

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Progressing in Rank
It's odd to see people who were the first people you met in the Air Force be selected as candidates for squadron command. Air Force Space Command just listed their selectees in the Vigilant Eagle board process, which is a step in the process for squadron command selection, and I want to take a moment to congratulate the following Air Force officers, who I worked with over my active duty years (and some reserve) who are now elligible to lead:
Lt Col(S) Ed ACKERMAN
Lt Col Mark ALLEN
Lt Col(S) Keith BALTS
Lt Col Kent DALTON
Lt Col(S) Tyler EVANS
Lt Col(S) Pat MCCUTCHON
Lt Col(S) Jen MOORE
Lt Col(S) Kevin O'ROURKE
Lt Col Al REBHOLZ
Lt Col(S) Steve STAATS
Lt Col Rory WELCH
Lt Col Jeff WOHLFORD
Anyone who falls under the command of these folks should shoot me an email. I have some pretty good dirt on many of them from their, I'll say "less nuanced" early days in uniform. I don't often get nostalgic about the Air Force, but when I see friends moving up in the world, I'm curious where I'd be if I were still there.
5:17 pm est


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