Category Archives: USA

Space, Spring, Snow, Schmoozing, and finally, Snoozing

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Setting up New Shepard for launch…Symposium launch, that is.

Wow, what a week!

And yes, the picture above shows Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital space launch vehicle being set up.  It’s the same one that launched and then safely landed, five times, near Van Horn, Texas. Really–the real one. The last New Shepard test launch was the most spectacular and you can watch that here, should you wish to. The launch happened around the 51-minute mark in the video below. Blue Origin is entitled to some chest-thumping, I think.

Blue Origin was cool enough to put the vehicle on display in front of the Broadmoor Hotel for nearly a week during Space Symposium this year. A mock-up capsule sat next to it. I’m pretty sure it’s on its way to Seattle to be put on display in a museum there–but that’s just a guess. Wherever it goes, I’m glad I got to see it up close this last week. Here’s my night shot of the rocket. And, yes, the scorch marks are real.

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This is a pretty sweet moment for someone who comes from space operations. And this is just the beginning–a beginning that’s been put on hold for decades.

For those of you who don’t know, I work for the Space Foundation, and we just finished hosting the 33rd Annual Space Symposium here in Colorado Springs. It’s a big event for us, and we try to get nearly everyone who has their finger in the space industry pie involved. There aren’t much more than 50 employees in the Space Foundation, so the event is an “all-hands-on-deck” exercise. Education, philanthropic, government, marketing, customer service, museum and research departments all work together towards one goal. Heck, most of the last month was me getting my hands around our Technical Track program.

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The Blue Origin capsule. Oddly, there was always a line for this display ;-).

And the Symposium’s success certainly would not be possible if we didn’t have over 300 of the most awesome volunteers in the world helping us. You can meet some of them at our museum, the Discovery Center, here in Colorado Springs.

The Symposium is a big networking event for the global space industry. And people pay a lot of money to network and show off their businesses, which is a little weird to me still. But every person I talked with there seems to like it, so there you go. It’s also pretty neat that so many people from other countries were there: China, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and more. So many countries involved in the industry of space, and it’s growing. We can see it growing just because we’re running out of space for the company and agency exhibitors at the Symposium.

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Snow and rockets in Spring, in Colorado Springs. Typical for us. Maybe it’s this way in Baikonur, too?

Even some Australians were there, obviously a little jealous of New Zealand’s score of hosting Rocket Lab’s launch pad. Some of them confided in me that New Zealand’s space involvement is probably the best thing to have happened to Australia. I guess the spaceport got someone’s attention, although Australia has had plenty of opportunity to get involved in space for some time.

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This is what it looks like behind the stage when a speaker gets a little too verbose…the red light means the speaker has gone over time–in this case one minute and forty-one seconds. It eventually was over 9 minutes…

I tried hard, as the Foundation’s analyst, to talk with anyone I could. It’s what I like doing, especially to help with analysis of the industry. But, and this is not a complaint and just the reality, Symposium duties remain above all during this time. I’ll have to chat with those folks at other events.

So, we had Space Symposium. So what? What’s next? A lot of it depends on the very people who attended the event. Do they intend to follow through on their plans for space? Is everyone’s plan even feasible? If it’s a healthy, open space market, then the answer to that will be “No.” It’s sure going to be interesting, though.

The end of Symposium is always a mixture of sadness and relief for me. I really do love helping with the event–it’s akin to running a mission or a test (but without the heavy consequences if something goes wrong). And I’ve always come alive for those, as I do for Symposium. But at the same time, and I know most of the folks I work with feel the same way, it’s nice to be able to put feet up on the sofa at home, and veg out on Netflix once the event is over. It just takes a lot of energy, at least for me, to not just conduct the event, but talk with people.

One more thing. I discovered it’s pretty great to work with my wife. She was sort of shanghaied to help us at the last minute. But she seemed to like it, and instead of missing her while working 12-18 hour days, I could actually admire the work she was doing. She may have been surprised at all the work we do during this event, but she seemed fine working with us.

I hope I’ll be able to write a bit more now that Symposium is over. Please stay tuned…

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Friday–the day after Symposium. Blue Origin’s New Shepard is ready to ship out. And so are we.

Blue Origin’s In-flight Escape Test

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No, it’s not the New Shepard, but a Little Joe. Picture courtesy of NASA.

It’s not every day that you see a rocket come apart in mid-air, fire coming from each part, and then have both parts come back to Earth, safely. But that’s just what Blue Origin did today during their in-flight escape test of the New Shepard rocket and capsule. When the smoke and dust cleared, the New Shepard booster was standing on the pad again, just as it had done four times before.

And of course the capsule parachuted safely nearby. While Blue Origin hasn’t really released any new information, the video narrator might have mentioned the booster had gone past 248,000 feet (75.5 km or nearly 47 miles) to apogee, before coming back. Honestly, that may be all you wish to know, and you can go see this morning’s test right here: https://www.blueorigin.com/#youtubebqUIX3Z4r3k.

Don’t let the 1 hour and 1 minute video deter you. There was a combined hold/count reset of about 30 minutes. But if you want to go straight to the action go to the 50 minute mark and enjoy the show.

However, for you space-history buffs, Blue Origin mentions the Little Joe II rocket test NASA conducted in January 1966. You can see a short bit of the test’s footage at the 3:18 mark in the video. It’s relevant to Blue Origin in that the test was also an in-flight rocket test crucial for making sure the Apollo escape system worked. I actually wrote about the Little Joe II test back in January this year for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch,” linking the test to other rocket escape systems, including Russian ones. You can read about the history here: Testing the Lifeboat.

One other bit of trivia about Little Joe. Unless you’re a craps fan, you may not know the name is related to a specific thrown dice configuration in the game of craps. Specifically, each dice must show a two. If you put both of those two dice together, then that’s what the bottom of the Little Joe rocket looked like with nozzles in place in the original drawings for it. You can read a bit about it at the Boeing history site (it was originally build by North American Aviation): http://www.boeing.com/history/products/little-joe-launch-vehicle.page. Another story about why it was called Little Joe is on a NASA site, here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_littlejoe.html. Something to do with the success of rolling a “Little Joe” being related the way the rocket was built.

 

Another “Space Watch” article…

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“Ride ’em cowboy”–a bit of encouragement Pete Conrad gives to Richard Gordon while straddling the spacecraft. Image from NASA.

While I’ve been lying low content-wise on the site here, I’ve been staying pretty busy at work. One of the many fun things I get to do is to look up historic events leading up to the Apollo moon missions, and then write a little bit about the event for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch” monthly newsletter.

In this particular “Space Watch” article, titled Gordon’s Orbital Garbage Disposal and Rocket Herding Service,” I try to describe the activities of two brave astronauts during a Gemini mission fifty years ago. What they did gives the category of “space operations” an entirely different meaning, and shows just what kind of interesting and courageous explorers they were.

While many NASA fans seem to attribute the administration’s achievements to the idea of NASA itself, I’ve always felt it was the people within, such as Gordon and Conrad in this story, who really moved the agency forward toward the lunar missions and subsequent successes. This is not to downplay the mission controllers, engineers, and others who all played their part. Indeed, it’s the team, the people, who figure out how to overcome challenges, and then move ahead. But the astronauts in particular put their lives on the line during space missions. Whether it’s NASA, or in the future, one particular company or other that starts regular manned flights to space, the professionals called astronauts will still be the ones trading the ability to “fly” in space with the possibility of real, deathly, consequences.

With these thoughts in mind, I hope you enjoy Gordon’s Orbital Garbage Disposal and Rocket Herding Service.”

SmallSat 2016

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SDL sure knows how to treat their guests. They hosted a social “Luau” dinner on the first night there. I made sure I ran every night, to work off the extra calories…

This last week my company sent me to do some hob-nobbing and research work at Space Dynamics Laboratory’s Small Satellite (SmallSat) conference for 2016. It’s an annual event the company hosts, going on thirty years now.

For those who don’t know what a small satellite is, there are a few different definitions, but let’s just say the satellite probably should be 500 kg (1100 lbs) or less. Some might even say 100 kg (220 lbs) or less. And because we work in a field of engineers and scientists, there are sub-categories of small satellites, such as nano, mini, micro–you get the idea. If you can’t measure it and categorize it, you can’t obsess about it, right? You’ve probably seen a small satellite and not known it if you’ve been following Planet’s or Terra Bella’s activities. Cubesats fall under the smallsat definition.

So small satellites are the focus of SmallSat. Entrepreneurs, government organizations, universities, and various companies from varying backgrounds get together to show what they can do, have done, and will do with the small satellite platforms. Technical sessions are running pretty much from 0800 to 1800, with people presenting, ideally, in 15 minute presentations. So people like me, research analysts, show up, hoovering up whatever data and information we can find about this industry. Blogs and space-centric news organizations show up for their stories. And there’s a lot for everyone to talk about. I won’t get into specifics, as that is what my ‘real-life’ job is for. If you want to find out that information, you’ll have to go to the Space Foundation’s Space Report Online.

I’ve been to this event twice before, both of those times as an employee of SDL. The difference between those times and the conference this year is striking, particularly the level of energy and activities going on in the small satellite community. Both were very high this year. The support industries for small satellites seemed quite excited about field products for small satellites, and seem to think there’s going to be a lot of growth in this field. The small satellite builders, both new and old, seem to be receiving lots of orders and interest for their products. Operations services indicated growth in telemetry and data requirements. The activities, services, and experiments conducted by, and proposed for, small satellites, seems to be limited only by the imagination (and limited launch opportunities–hopefully that’s fixed soon).

To my eyes, there appears to be a lot of opportunity here. There are those that moan we’ve seen this before, and that we’re in a bubble. But the circumstances propelling the interest and growth in small satellites are different–very different. And if it’s a bubble, is that really a bad thing? Even with the collapse of the internet bubble, I think things are better today overall than they were at the height of that bubble. And we’re not in a bubble yet. But it will happen eventually, as “irrational exuberance” takes hold in this industry too.

If I were in my twenties today, and interested in space, I’d be working hard on concepts to get my own start-up going, or working in a start-up to get the needed experience, and eventually move on. None of this going to NASA or the USAF for space operations nonsense. Those organizations have very focused missions, but as I’ve noted before, small satellites seem to bring out the imagination and healthy risk-taking of motivated individuals.

But as it is, I’m having tremendous fun learning from the very energized small satellite sector, chewing on the information, and writing about it. I’m thankful SmallSat exists to bring not just national, but international focus and energy together, to learn more, and for conference participants to strut their stuff. If you’re motivated enough, try to get a paper or two in.

 

Your Comrade Through Space History

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Take a walk through history. Image from Roscosmos.

A friend of mine passed along this link today: http://inspacewetrust.org/en/. Before you click on it, you should have some time on your hands. This is an animated walk through history, thanks to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. It’s a very dynamic and cool way to present some of the more important historic bits in space history.

Initially, there’s a Russian space history focus. But as the little space traveller goes along, more international missions get discovered. Really, that site is all this short blurb of a post is about, but maybe it will help make the mid-week bearable for some of you.

If you are Russian, learning Russian, or have Russian friends, you can go directly to: http://inspacewetrust.org/. Either site is pretty nifty, maybe proving that it doesn’t matter the language–space is just fun.

P.S.: Don’t forget to move the mouse around on the initial load screen. The spacewalking cosmonaut is more than a pretty picture.