Monthly Archives: April 2016

Stage Two Engine Test

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Right stage, wrong year. That is a Saturn V second stage in the hoist, but the picture was taken in 1967. Image is from NASA.

I wrote this “Apollo 50th Anniversary Moment” prior to the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium this year. While a lot of important things happened in April 1966 for the Apollo program, I thought the Saturn V second stage engine test was worth focusing on–especially since it helped with some wordplay. I think. And it’s kind of fun to link what was going on then through history to what’s been going on now.

Here’s the article: Stagecraft Through the Years.

By the way, NASA doesn’t call it the Mississippi Test Facility anymore. It’s now the John C. Stennis Space Center–a bit more unwieldy to pronounce, but right in line with NASA’s penchant for pulling complexity out of the simplest things. You can read about the center by clicking on this link.

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The Temporary “Space Operators”

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Japan’s part in space talked about during their session. Picture from me–TMSB.

It’s been a little over a day since the organization I work in, the Space Foundation, hosted the 32nd Space Symposium at our beautiful Broadmoor resort here in Colorado Springs. Thousands of people from around the world came to meet us and others to talk about all sorts of space topics during the last week. Of course we’ve been getting ready for the event for much longer than that.

While I work alongside awesome teammates and volunteers, I also talked with very cool and interesting visitors I never thought I’d be able to chat with in my life: a Congressional aide or two, a Czech sounding instrument engineer, a German optics payload specialist, a Puerto Rican launch company startup–just for starters. And me being me, the mind keeps gathering information in the background and processing it–while talking, while walking, while driving, and–and this is certainly problematic–while sleeping. So the thoughts I’m about to elaborate on are my own–not the Space Foundation’s–and I don’t want anyone to think anything I put here represents what the Space Foundation is promoting, because it doesn’t.

The upshot is there’s so much going on in space, it’s mind-boggling. As a research analyst in the space industry, I try my hardest to keep the pulse of the world in space activities. First of all, it’s my job. But second, I love doing it. I look up information for companies, organizations, startups and more who are doing something with space be it products, services, data, infrastructure, employment. It’s always changing, and I’m always surprised by what I find.

Do my activities mean I know everything about what’s going on? Absolutely not. And that point certainly hit home this last week as I talked with Symposium participants about what they did, what their plans were, and their thoughts about what they saw as a future in space. There was even a former Army colonel, a colleague of mine, working for a company now, who has big space dreams which I won’t elaborate on because those dreams are for him to unfold and hopefully succeed with. And I wish him well. Smart or energetic personalities continue to push their vision of their part in the space industry, which is why I am laxly putting them all under the “space operations” title. if only during last week.

As a former space operator in the USAF, I know there are differences between what I did, and what the people I met at Symposium are doing. Some are also space operators in “real life,” since space agencies, space services providers, and the military were also there. But we all have done or are doing our part to make the world a better place, using space as the tool to do so. For this one week, we were all “space operators” before heading back to become that optical specialist, sounding engineer, launch vehicle startup, or research analyst. Each one in a role in resolving problems that will allow them or their company to become successful, usually by introducing something ultimately useful in making space cheaper, more affordable, more relevant than ever.

So now we all go back to those roles. For me, this happens a little later, as there are only slightly less than fifty of us in the Space Foundation, and while it’s been fun, we really need a break. But, based on my conversations, this whole next year of space activities is going to be fun to watch, giving us quite a bit to talk about during Symposium next year. The markets space is involved in have expanded, but it would be foolish to think those are the only markets for space. As in our day-to-day activities, there will be new markets and new opportunities. It would be more interesting if we could see more Chinese and Russian presence, but as in “What about Bob?” it’s baby-steps–especially in space. Each step another “small step” for mankind.

Landing the Business of Launch

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The history-making Falcon 9 Upgrade ready to launch at Space Launch Complex 40. Image from SpaceX.

SpaceX was very confident that today’s successful landing would happen. Instead of hedging the outcome as they had in previous launches, statements from people within the company before the launch today indicated that today was the day. And today was their day.

I’m assuming you’ve seen the footage of the Falcon 9’s first stage landing on a barge, and–and this is the most important part–staying upright and intact. If not, you should really watch the video, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEr9cPpuAx8. To see the rocket land, on a barge, is pretty nifty.

But after today, what will happen? Does the launch industry change? Does it get cheaper? Well, not right away. Some of it depends on whether SpaceX can just get down to the business of launching. According to SpaceFlightNow.com’s launch manifest, SpaceX has at least 11 other launches to clear this year. That’s quite a few, but perhaps not impossible to accomplish. But the company has barely launched slightly over half that number so far in the past few years. There’s also the possible launch of their Falcon Heavy, promised for many years but yet to make it past artist conceptions into reality.

SpaceX also must prove the Falcon 9’s first stage is reusable. Landing it on a barge is awesome, but how quickly can they turn it around and use it again? Blue Origin, another rocket manufacturer and potential launch provider, is kind of setting the standard with their New Shepard suborbital rocket. The company launched the same rocket and engine three times, supposedly with minimal inspections of the whole thing in-between. The average turn-around for their rocket seems to be about a month and a half. In fact, Blue Origin’s third launch of New Shepard occurred just last weekend, on April 2. Of course, they have a pretty cool video to watch as well: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/news/pushing-the-envelope.

Can SpaceX match or exceed Blue Origin’s turnaround time? How often will a reusable stage be reusable? Whatever the answer, there are quite a few companies ready to buy a berth on a reusable rocket. There’re a lot of plans and pressure for launch services. More importantly, there are markets hungry for the services and products coming from space. The price of a space launch needs to come down. SpaceX is one of the cheaper launch providers, and if it, or Blue Origin, or someone else, succeeds in incorporating a reusable space launch vehicle in their business, prices will, after a while, start falling.

But, while SpaceX deservedly got their time in the limelight today, tomorrow they need to do one thing: launch!

And then launch some more…