Dream Chaser now another ISS supply option

The Russian Progress has always been a prime ISS cargo option. Europe for a time provided the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) which flew 5 cargo missions to the ISS, the last being in July 2014.  Japan also has the H-II Transfer Vehicle, but this flies at the most maybe once per year.

Much more recent, and more frequent, are SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Science’s Cygnus cargo vehicles, which takes the load off the Progress.

Sierra Nevada, which once was a consideration for manned transport to the ISS with their Dream Chaser, now has a NASA contract for a cargo version of their Dream Chaser. The first two flights will be lofted by ULA in 2020 and 2021.

While Boeing and SpaceX won the nods from NASA for manned transport, Sierra Nevada continued on their own with Dream Chaser. Naturally, Sierra Nevada must now concentrate on the Dream Chaser Cargo System, I, for one,  am hoping the manned Dream Chaser stays alive and becomes a reality at some point in the future.

Face it… Dream Chaser is a beautiful craft, and the concept of gliding in for a landing at an airport near home is an improvement over a splashdown far out in the ocean or thumping down in some remote grassland.

Current state of rocket landings

As of this time, Blue Origin has nailed 5 successful landings in a row. The last landing was actually unexpected as the launch was to test (successfully) the launch escape system. The push back was expected to damage the launcher and make it unable to land. In a big plus for Blue Origin, not only did the escape system perform well, the booster was able to make a successful landing as well. Blue Origin may start launching tourists for suborbital flights this year. At least, that’s the plan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just nailed a landing in Florida after a successful launch of a Dragon cargo vessel to ISS. This was the third success of bringing Falcon 9 first stage back to LZ1. There have also been 5 successful barge landings (4 in the Atlantic, 1 in the Pacific). So what is SpaceX’s record at this juncture? They have 8 successful landings in 18 tests. Consider that on the first 5 tests, all at sea, there was no barge involved. These were strictly systems tests and all the stages were intentionally lost at sea. Now we are talking 8 of 13. There have been 4 successes in a row, 7 successes in the last 8 attempts, 8 successes in the last 11 attempts. Overall, considering the complexity of the systems involved, not a bad record at all!

SpaceX is currently constructing a second landing pad in Florida, LZ2, and LZ3 is in the works. This will come into play when the Falcon 9 Heavy comes on line later this year. Three cores coming down at once! It is anticipated that two will return to LZ1 and LZ2, and the third to a barge in the Atlantic. If SpaceX can pull this one off, it will be a sight to see. A Falcon 9 Heavy launch and three core landings in a single act!

Between Blue Origin and SpaceX, 2017 could be quite a year.

Blue Origin does it yet again. One booster, three launches, three landings.

On April 2, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster for the third successful West Texas landing after a suborbital flight. Previous landings of the same booster previous took place on January 22 and November 23, 2015.

The crew capsule successfully landed by parachute shorty after the booster landed.

SpaceX, which has been successful only once (so far), but it has to be noted that the Falcon 9 is larger and, being orbital, has a greater velocity to contend with. SpaceX hopes to be able to recover and reuse a booster sometime in 2016.

Whether it is Blue Origin or SpaceX, recovering a booster is no simple matter. It is, after all, rocket science!

One NASA year – Not your Father’s year!

Scott Kelly just returned to Earth after his highly touted “year in space”. By NASA standards, a “year” is apparently only 340 days, a little less than 94% of a “standard” year.

I am wondering if the the NASA devaluation is restricted to time, or does it apply to distance as well. If so, does that mean a mission to Mars wouldn’t ACTUALLY reach Mars, but would turn around a couple million miles short?

If Kelly had been up for 364 days, or even 360, I’d give NASA the extra couple days and call it a year, but when you come up 6+% short, I’m not so forgiving. NASA is just patting itself on the back for its BIG ACHIEVEMENT, the “big achievement” that Russia (and predecessor USSR) had already done four times.  Valari Polyakov bested the “NASA year” by 97 days (437 total) and that was 22 years ago.

Blue Origin does it again

Kudos go out to Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin team. Yesterday their New Shepard booster made a successful landing, the second in two months. This was the SAME booster that flew last November 24, and carried the SAME capsule.

True, the booster isn’t as big as Falcon. It doesn’t need to be as it has a different purpose. Falcon is designed for orbital cargo launches, while New Shepard is designed for manned suborbital launches. It doesn’t go as high as Falcon, but it doesn’t need to do that either, for the same reasons.

What IS important is proof of concept. A booster CAN be landed, now proven 3 times, once by SpaceX and twice by Blue Origin. A booster CAN be reused as proven by Blue Origin. Blue Origin also demonstrated the re-usability of a crew capsule. The amount of refurbishment required by New Shepard and the capsule was minimal, also demonstrating the cost savings by reusing hardware.

To argue that one company is better than the other because they were first or are bigger with greater challenges is a meaningless and petty waste of time.

SpaceX and Blue Origin are BOTH great companies with great vision. They have DIFFERENT missions, but share the same objective of re-usability. They are both innovators, and as innovators we can expect to see both triumph and failure from each.  Yesterday Blue Origin experienced triumph.

Oh, Soooo close!

SpaceX Narrowly Misses Barge Landing at Sea

This is heartbreaking to watch. There came SO close! The landing was nailed, despite 15 to 20 foot seas. The engines shut down, the booster was upright… then a landing leg collapsed.

Considering the early stage of the development of booster flybacks, the 1 for 4 record (0 for 3 at sea) is actually quite impressive. All of the attempts have been dead on target, an amazing feat in itself. Blue Origin is 1 for 1 with a much smaller booster returning from a less challenging flight, but still an impressive accomplishment.

Each failure is a learning experience. I doubt, despite the naysayers, that it will not be long before both SpaceX and Blue Origin will be leaders in making space more affordable.

Falcon 9 landing

Congratulations to SpaceX for the absolutely amazing landing of a Falcon 9 first stage a mere six miles away from its launch point. The pinpoint landing came after the successful launch of nine Orbcomm satellites. The booster had to make a U-turn 50+ miles and a decent distance northeast of the Cape to return to a targeted spot six miles from the launch pad. They had to keep from centrifuging the remaining fuel, regain stability, and drop from hypersonic through supersonic to subsonic speeds and then a complete stop, upright, dead center on the target.

Blue Origin accomplished a landing of a much smaller suborbital booster just this last November, an accomplishment not to be scorned. But their success was on a entirely different, and smaller, scale. Up and down was an achievement to be proud of. But the mechanics involved in the SpaceX endeavor are, shall we say a bit more complex?

I’ve heard comments that this is the way rockets are SUPPOSED to land, evidenced by the sci-fi movies of the 50’s. We have finally arrived, I’ve heard. But hold on a minutes! If I remember those movies, the INSIDE of those rockets provided very spacious, apartment-sized quarters for the crews., complete with artificial gravity. Technology still has a way to go to match that.

Elon Musk and SpaceX are probably the group that is going to make the 50’s movies true!

Orion

The following is excerpted from a NASA publication, “The Vision for Space Exploration”, dated February 2004:

“The Space Shuttle will be critical to completing assembly of the Space Station. With Space Station assembly complete at the end of this decade, NASA will retire the Space Shuttle and put crew and cargo on different launches, a safer approach to crew transport.

NASA will initiate Project Constellation to develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle for future crew transport. This vehicle will be developed in stages, with the first automated test flight in 2008, more advanced test flights soon thereafter, and a fully operational capability no later than 2014. The design of the Crew Exploration Vehicle will be driven by the needs of the future human exploration missions described in this document. The Crew Exploration Vehicle might also supplement international partner crew transport systems to the Space Station.”

Leap forward over ten years to 4 December 2014. The Constellation project is history. The Ares I, which had already seen its first test launch, has been scrapped. Now it is the as yet to fly (maybe 2017) Space Launch System and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (aka, Orion, a spin off of the original Orion). The FIRST flight of Orion, originally slated for today, hopefully will take place tomorrow. The NEXT test flight will happen in 2018. The first MANNED flight is planned for 2021, another 6 to 7 years off! That is plenty of time for the date to slip even further.

Does seventeen years of development seem realistic? It was recently announced that the heat shield will be redesigned. The current one, consisting of 330,000 individually filled honeycomb cells that takes six months to fabricate is being judged as “not practical”. What genius finally figured that one out? Orion is already obsolete. The as yet to be built service module is to be built in Europe using much of the design from the soon to be defunct Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

Any resemblance of the 2014 NASA to the NASA that landed men on the moon is purely coincidental. NASA needs to turn it’s “Air” responsibilities over to the FAA and its “Space” responsibilities to the likes of SpaceX and close shop. It has become nothing more than a political football and money pit.

NASA. We can’t build it quick, but we can do it expensively! (Provided we don’t get close, trash can it, and start all over.)