I have been a bit scarce around Samizdata lately as I have been out in the Mojave desert working on the Lynx Spaceplane… the same one you get to ride if you win the Lynx for Men contest. You know, the “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” one? In any case, we are not alone at the Spaceport. There are engine firings, vertical takeoff test flights by Masten Aerospace and yesterday… a milestone by our next door neighbours, Scaled Composites. I have very little time to write just now, but I do want to share a few of the images with you.
I got in by 6am and one of our guys was monitoring the tower frequency so we knew when they were cleared for takeoff.
We spent the next hour or so hanging out in the viewing area about a mile from our hangar. Most of the time we could not even find the little tiny spec in the sky.
My camera refused to focus on the tiny white dot of fire in the big blue sky so although I saw the drop and ignition visually, I did not get a picture. Their burn lasted in the range of 15 seconds and Doug Jones (XCOR) said he heard a mild boom so they may well have gone supersonic as planned. In this photo WhiteKnightTwo is diving to close on SpaceShipTwo, now on its glide to landing phase.
We were not all that far from the touchdown point on Runway 030. For those with long memories, Sir Richard Branson’s rollout bash on December 7, 2009 happened at the jet blast deflector at the threshold of 030. You can find that photo essay in the archives here.
I managed a number of good shots on the approach and was particularly happy to catch the very instant the wheels bit into the runway. Later on, outside our hangar, I spotted a grinning Richard Branson animatedly talking to designer Burt Rutan as they walked under WhiteKnightTwo on the way over to SpaceShipTwo. Yes, I do have those photos but I was on field outside our hangar so those photos will have to wait for posterity.
When I saw this today:
After a decade in the making, cost over-runs to the tune of billions of euros, and delays of more than three years, the next generation of European military transport aircraft is finally poised for entry into service.
I was reminded of this from back in 2010:
New RAF transport plane is ‘Euro-wanking makework project’
“Ryanair has been forced to apologise to Italians after a crew member on a flight to the southern city of Bari reportedly described it as the “the city of the mafia and St Nicholas” in an on-board announcement.”
Via Tim Worstall.
I am off to San Francisco for a week’s business and some sightseeing next week. I am flying via Virgin, and the last time I did, the announcement about the destination was not quite so, er, interesting.
“I would like to die on Mars… Just not on impact.
– Elon Musk
“The next four days were a period torn out of the world’s usual context, like a breathing spell with a sweep of clean air piercing mankind’s lethargic suffocation. For thirty years or longer, the newspapers had featured nothing but disasters, catastrophes, betrayals, the shrinking stature of men, the sordid mess of a collapsing civilisation; their voice had become a long, sustained whine, the megaphone of failure, like the sound of an oriental bazaar where leprous beggars, of spirit or matter, compete for attention by displaying their sores. Now, for once, the newspapers were announcing a human achievement, were reporting on a human triumph, were reminding us that man still exists and functions as a man.”
– Ayn Rand, from her essay, “Apollo 11″, taken from The Voice of Reason, page 167.
Neil Armstrong, gone, but never to be forgotten.
Here is a nice documentary about Armstrong which nicely captured his love of flying and science.
A Slashdot post considers the value of an astronaut’s life:
…if you’re going to ‘give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you’re basically saying an astronaut’s life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars.’ He wrote about the same subject earlier this year for Reason magazine, saying, ‘Keeping astronauts safe merits significant expenditure. But how much? There is a potentially unlimited set of testing procedures, precursor missions, technological improvements, and other protective measures that could be implemented before allowing human beings to once again try flying to other worlds. Were we to adopt all of them, we would wind up with a human spaceflight program of infinite cost and zero accomplishment.
The very first comment:
Market economy to the rescue: As long as the kind of people you need keep queuing up to become astronauts, reduce costs. They are the ones whose asses are on the line, so if they’re OK with it, do it.
This makes sense to me. I wonder how the private space industry will handle this issue. Of course, there will be public relations and politics to consider.
Long time readers have no doubt wondered why I have become a scarce commodity on the pages of Samizdata; such readers also are aware of my long term connection with things spatial and free market.
For many years I have made some portion of my mostly meagre living in the Commercial Space arena. Staying in the game has been a costly proposition in terms of what I might have earned by simply forgetting the dream and just going for the gold. Those on the left seem to think that is what Libertarians do; but they are wrong. We are not about maximizing our wealth; we are about maximizing our liberty and doing what we want to do to the extent we can manage with our own resources. In my case, lacking much in the way of resource to begin with, that has meant surviving day to day on whatever short term contracts I could manage while I worked by myself or with others to gain a foothold in the then tiny NewSpace economy. I always thought it would be soon, really soon now… but this world for which I was born for took far longer than I had ever imagined to come to pass.
But it is finally happening and that is why there has been so little heard from me. I am now working under contract for XCOR, a number of whose members are long time Samzidata readers, out at the Mojave Spaceport in California. The future looks very bright for XCOR and many others in this industry. The big milestones are starting to get ticked off. SpaceX has had a stunning launch record and flew its Dragon to-be-manned reusable capsule in ProxOps [Proximity Operations] with the space station; Armadillo will probably bust the Von Karman line this year.
SpaceX is bending metal on the Falcon Heavy which will launch next year and will have the biggest lift capacity in the world. Of all the launchers that ever existed, only the Saturn V moon rocket was bigger. I suspect SpaceX will surpass even that before this decade is out. Bigelow has launch contracts in place and customers for his inflatable habitats that should be up around the mid-decade and will have a significant fraction of the capabilities and volume of the government owned space station. By the end of the decade or earlier in the next he will almost certainly have surpassed them.
By the end of this year or early next year the XCOR Lynx suborbital space plane will see air under its wings. As to when it will see vacuum under its tail, I could not tell you even if I knew for sure. It will happen when it happens and it will not be all that far in the future.
At first blush, Mojave is a speck in a vast desert, an old Western town that grew up into something not far removed from what you saw in old 1950’s SciFi movies. It is so much so I would not be at all surprised to find that the folks from 2 hours drive West in Hollywood did some of those movies here. At night when I drop into the local gas station, there is usually a Sheriff and several troopers hanging out talking with the woman who runs the store: just like it was in those old films.
No gunfighters, but it looks the part.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
The current day town has three main industries. Wind farms and the railyards. If you are a train buff you would love the view from my motel as mile long freights go by just about every hour of the day.
→ Continue reading: On the scarcity of one Dale Amon and rumours regarding his whereabouts
By all that I know so far, berthing should occur within the next couple hours; keep an eye out here if you want to see live coverage.
I am getting ready for the morning sessions; we should have this on the screens here this morning, just before General Bolden does the opening session of our ISDC.
Dragon has been flying near the space station and has performed all tasks perfectly so far. One of the astronauts on ISS took this video of the SpaceX Dragon flying a couple kilometres away.
The berthing is due tomorrow. Apparently there are sensitivities about using the word’s docking versus berthing to the ISS docking collar. Berthing means they use the robot arm to pull it in the last few feet; docking is intended to mean the approaching craft flies into contact itself.
SpaceX will try again for the one second launch window this monring at 03:44 am EDT; coverage will start at 03:00 am. The link is not yet up, I will add it here when I see it.
The link is here and will go live in about 1.5 hours from now.
Broadcast is live both at SpaceX and at NASA’s web site.
Falcon 9 launch flawless, Dragon capsule is in orbit, solar arrays deployed. Dragon is on its way to ISS! It is a new ballgame in space.
I am sitting in a motel room near the Mojave Spaceport where I am working at present and will be watching the SpaceX launch HERE and probably *not* trying to type what you can already see there. If you have questions about what is going on, fire off a comment and I will try to explain as best I can. Keep in mind though that I will have a cut off different than most of you since I am in Pacific Daylight Time, -3 hours from EDT and -8 from BDT.
For those who have not been following it, this is the first commercial cargo test flight to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule will deliver food, water, clothing and other miscellaneous not-critical supplies; it will return to Earth carrying a lot of special purpose gear from experiments that have been completed.
The flight is a combination of two test flights which were originally planned to be separate. COTS 2 is the demonstration that the Dragon can do all of the sorts of maneuvering required for space station ‘Prox Ops'; the COTS 3 portion is an actual docking and deliver of cargo to the station and back to Earth.
This is a very big deal to those of us in the commercial space world. NASA is an initial customer but not the only one. SpaceX has signed a contract with Bigelow Aerospace to handle resupply for the Bigelow space stations that will be going up starting in the middle of this decade.
01:17 PDT: Video feed is live
01:44 PDT: This is going to be a tough one. The launch window is seconds wide… any hold and they will have to wait until Tuesday to try again.
01:56 PDT: Oh, well. Not tonight. Vehicle had a terminal abort. SpaceX has very conservative limits and go criteria. If this wasn’t a one window per day due to the tight parameters for an ISS rendezvous, they will not be able to recycle and try again as they have in the past. It will be a Tuesday window. I will be in DC for the runup to the ISDC by then.
02:00 PDT: They had a chamber pressure high on one of the engines. Well, they have several days to work it out. For now they are safing the vehicle.
NASA has given SpaceX a go ahead for their trip to the ISS to test the Dragon spaceship in its cargo mode.
What differentiates Dragon from other Commercial Cargo contract holders is that this is only one small step towards a much bigger goal for SpaceX. Dragon has heat shield capacity for a free return into the Earth’s atmosphere from deep space; it carries solar panels so that as far as energy supplies are required it has unlimited endurance; it is roomy enough for 7 people to be in couches for liftoff with two technicians *standing* inside the capsule. Not only that, it is reusable and Elon is working out the details for the booster and second stages to be re-usable as well, with a long term goal of briinging the systems price down to $.5M per person for a trip to Mars.
Elon is not the only big news coming up this year. Within the next 12 months we can expect up to 4 private vehicles to fly suborbital test flights.
This is going to be a very big year for NewSpace.