31 January 2007

Sundancer Orbital Trajectory Implications (Part Two)

Sundancer Orbital Trajectory Implications (Part One)

In the first post in this series, I hinted at the idea that there may be a serendipitous benefit to Bigelow's choice of orbital inclination for Sundancer. I had received a refined version of the groundtrack trace, and it was subtly different from the first one, so I was trying to figure out exactly why it was different--just to make sure that I wasn't getting old data or had made some mistakes. I've received enough clarification to post this next section, but I'll probably have to wait another few days to finish things up, so bear with me--hopefully it will be more than worth the wait.

So, going back to the first part of this series, the main reasons driving the selection of the 41 degree repeating ground track orbit were: launch abort safety, providing a good view, and providing daily launch opportunities from Cape Canaveral (as well as daily landing opportunities at places like Edwards or White Sands). However, when I was looking at the US groundtrack map included in the Lockheed document, I noticed that Cape Canaveral wasn't the only existing or proposed US launch site that happens to be right under the ground track.

I don't have a good trajectory analysis software tool on hand, so I pinged a couple of friends that do, and over the past two weeks one of them helped me do some analysis of various launch sites across the world. We took the publically available information (with refinements from the info posted on L2 of NASASpaceFlight.com), and tried to back out from that a global groundtrack trace. The new data I have covers the groundtrack over the US, so while we try and figure out how to update our STK simulation to reflect the new info, I can at least comment on other US launch sites that could launch to or receive landings from Sundancer.

But with those caveats and disclaimers in place, let me dive into what we found.

Sundancer US Groundtrack
So here's the most up-to-date map of the US with the groundtrack for Sundancer superimposed:

As you can see, in addition to Cape Canaveral, several US launch and landing sites get at least daily launch and/or landing opportunities. Now, I'm not sure how far away from the groundtrack you can be and still reach it during a launch (ie I'm not sure how much extra delta-V that costs, and where the penalty gets so big that it's no longer worth it), but there are at least a few of those sites that are directly underneath the groundtrack shown:
  • Wallops Island Launch Facility (located in Virginia) gets a launch opportunity every day on a descending track. Fortunately it looks like it is on an azimuth that Wallops can launch into. Wallops happens to have nearby communities and can only launch into a limited number of angles.
  • White Sands, NM and the planned New Mexico Spaceport both have an opportunity once per day on a descending node.
  • Nevada Test Site, NV also gets an opportunity once per day earlier on the same descending node. This was one of the proposed sites for Kistler's K-1 to launch out of. I'm not sure about the distances, but White Sands or New Mexico Spaceport might be far enough down range to allow the first stage to land there instead of committing a Return to Launch Site burn--this could increase payload substantially.
  • Blue Origin's site near Van Horn, TX is also fairly close to that same descending ground track.
  • The Chugwater, Wy facility that Frontier Astronautics is trying to get a launch site license for gets a daily launch and landing opportunity (at the peak of the orbital pass that gives Wallops its launch opportunity).
  • Mojave Spaceport and Edwards Airforce Base are close enough for landing with a low cross-range vehicle (only need about 75-150 miles of cross range depending on which groundtrack pass you land off of), but I'm not certain if the delta-V penalty for a dogleg maneuver would preclude launching from there on the ascending pass that goes a bit to the south. If so, it might at some future point allow for a three-orbit mission that does a first orbit rendezvous, spends one orbit transfering crew and cargo, and then returns to its launch site the same day it leaves.
There are probably a few sites that I left out, but I thought that this would be interesting.

Void Where Prohibited, Your Mileage WILL Vary
Now, whether a given launch site can be used for this mission is going to depend a lot on subtle details of the planned trajectory, vehicle characteristics, operating modes, etc. An RLV can overfly inhabited portions of the country on its way to orbit so long as the "E-sub-c" number (the statistically predicted number of "Expected Casualties) per launch is low enough. This ends up being a combination of how densely populated the area under your groundtrack is, how fast your Instantaneous Impact Point is travelling when it passes over, and the probability of failure at that given point.

Obviously tweaking your trajectory to either avoid major population centers, or at least to have your IIP cross over them very quickly is preferred. For a vehicle like Sea Launch, even though they're using the unfortunately rather unreliable Zenit vehicle, they were able to get a launch license very easily for the specific reason that there's almost nothing for them to hit out there in the middle of the Pacific (well, alas, I may have to rephrase that as "nobody else" for them to hit...) It also helps if you're not intentionally dropping hardware every flight.

IIP is a calculation of where your vehicle would crash if its engines shut off and it went ballistic from that exact point in time. The interesting thing is that your IIP ends up travelling a lot faster than your vehicle itself, and in fact makes a complete loop around the earth on the way to orbit. There are subtle tricks that you can (and probably will have to) do in order to make sure that your IIP doesn't spend too much time crossing over a given population center.

Lastly, the odds of failure depend on both the proven reliability of the vehicle, and the riskiness of any given operation. At first, for a vehicle with no track record, the assumption is (for Ec calculations) is that you will crash your vehicle every single flight. However you're more likely to crash during certain risky maneuvers (such as staging, major throttle-ups/downs, Max-Q, etc). So you end up doing something that involves taking the total launch IIP trace for your vehicle, dividing it up into units of equal time, calculating the odds of it failing during each time window, adding dispersions, and figuring out what's the worst that can happen if it fails at that point. Or something like that. I can't say I know personally, as I've never had to experience that particular form of masochism.

Bottom line, if you want to launch from anywhere, you're going to be spending a lot of time with the AST. Make friends with them. Learn your stuff. They'll be right sometimes when you're wrong, and they'll be wrong some time when you're right. Humility mixed with boldness in correct ratios is in order. My gut feeling is that each of these launch sites, with the right amount of hard trajectory shaping, can be made to work. I'm sure that any AST guy/gal reading this is probably getting an ulcer by now, but I'm pretty sure they'd agree that there's probably a way to do it. Just budget a lot of time, and hire an ex-Marine if you can...

Further Thoughts on the Ramifications
Anyhow, assuming that some or most of these sites are feasible, I can think of a couple of near and medium-term ramifications:
  • If SpaceX can get Falcon I flying reliably, and get Falcon IX built, they might be better off launching out of Wallops than Cape Canaveral. At Wallops they'd be one of the major players instead of being the poor stepchild. At Wallops they wouldn't be anywhere near as remote from civilization (and replacement parts or LOX shipments) as they are at Kwajelein. They could still launch into Sundancer's orbit, as well possibly as some polar orbits. This might eliminate entirely the need to launch from Vandenburg or Canaveral, and could end up saving them a lot of time, money, and hassle.
  • As mentioned previously, if Rocketplane/Kistler ever get something flying, they also might be able to service Bigelow's station. They only get one daily pass, so they'd have a full day to rendezvous, dock, transfer crew/passengers/cargo/propellants, and then prepare for reentry. And as mentioned earlier, they could probably bump up their orbital payload by 20-50% or more by using a downrange landing site for their first stage, like White Sands, New Mexico Spaceport, or possibly Bezo's site.
  • This trajectory while meeting near-term needs for Bigelow and Lockheed, also ends up being long-term beneficial to both them and new players. Bigelow wants cheaper launches. Lockheed and/or Boeing would love to operate orbital propellant depots and or tugs fueled by cheap alt.space RLVs. They aren't stupid. They're positioning themselves so that if a new low-cost provider comes into the field that they can find a way to profit from that too.
  • Once Sundancer and eventually Nautilus are in orbit, and once they're being regularly serviced by capsule/ELV systems like Dragon/Falcon IX or Atlas V, it will provide a proven market at a destination that is conveniently reachable by emerging space startups from launch sites that have lower overhead and less bureaucracy (like several of the new commercial spaceports that are being proposed). This can possibly help start to break out of the chicken-and-egg problem we've been in for so long.
Anyhow, I think this is very exciting, and bodes well for the future. There's still a lot of ifs involved, and this may end up going the same way as so much else in commercial space has over the past several years, but there's a lot of reasons for hope. Bigelow's now starting to establish a track record, has substantial money, and has picked a reasonable first commercial goal. Lockheed is a well-respected, well-financed, and talented (albeit kinda expensive) company, that helps bring additional credibility to the deal. There are still unknowns involved, but I think there's a good chance I'll be staying up late to watch Sundancer overflights sometime in the next few years.

[Note: In the next post, once I've got a global groundtrack figured out, I'll comment on foreign/non-CONUS launch/landing sites that can access Sundancer. It may be a while, but preliminary info shows that at least Woomera and Kwaj look like they might be close. And the old unrefined data also showed the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians potentially winning as well. What will STK hold in store? Stay tuned...]


29 January 2007

Checking Sources

There's going to be a bit of a delay before I post part two of my series about Bigelow's chosen trajectory. I got an email from one of my sources at LM with a higher resolution version of their ground track trace, but it appeared to be different from the one shown in the Lockheed paper on L2. They may have changed the trajectory slightly for one reason or another. I want to make sure I have the latest info before I post anything and embarass myself.

Also, if they did change it, I'll need to go back and reanalyze things a bit. The ground track he showed me makes things better for some areas, but worse for others...


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27 January 2007

Sundancer Orbital Trajectory Implications (Part One)

Back in September of last year, Bigelow announced an ambitious plan, that if successful may become one of the key events in the commercial development of space. On the heels of his Genesis I mission, that performed far better than expected for a first orbital mission, Bigelow announced that they were intending to accelerate their schedules. At the AIAA Space 2006 Symposium, he announced the goal of orbiting his first revenue generating manned space station module, Sundancer, by the end of the decade. This three-person, ~170 cubic meter module would be joined a few years later by his previously announced 6-person 330 cubic meter Nautilus module. Bigelow is taking a bit of a gamble on Sundancer, hoping that if he provides a low-cost, visitor-friendly destination for tourism and microgravity research, that he can spur on the development of lower cost orbital transportation, by creating a large demand for manned orbital flight. His goal of reaching up to 16 flights per year to the combined Sundancer/Nautilus station could have a major impact on this fledgling industry, and his efforts to create what some have called an "international astronaut corps" may also create substantial flight demand even at prices not too much lower than current Soyuz prices.

Many, myself included, have written about various aspects of Bigelow's plans and their potential impact on the commercial spaceflight market. There is a lot more that can be said on these topics I've already mentioned, and I'll probably go into it some more as time goes on. However, one of my goals with this blog has been to try and provide some original content and ideas, and to discuss the business implications of the physics and technology of spaceflight.

So I would like to start a brief series of posts about something interesting I've discovered about Bigelow's announced plans for Sundancer that I don't think has been discussed elsewhere.

The Mystery of 40 Degrees
My discovery centers around the orbital trajectory that Bigelow announced for his Sundancer module. Back in September when he announced his Sundancer plans, he mentioned that the module would be in a ~250 nautical mile orbit at a ~40 degree inclination. I didn't think much about it at the time, other than wondering why he picked those exact numbers. However, A few months later in a conversation about commercial orbital propellant depots, someone brought up the fact that most Russian launch vehicles would be unable to reach Sundancer in its proposed orbital inclinations (Russian vehicles are typically limited to orbits of 51.6 degree inclination or higher due to the latitude of their launch sites, and launch azimuth restrictions). This made me all the more curious, because Bigelow is doing a lot of his prototype launches on Russian vehicles, and I wouldn't think he would lightly pick an orbit that might shut out potential launch possibilities. So, I really started wondering, why he picked 40 degrees? If you aren't going to pick something high enough inclination for Russian vehicles to reach it, why not pick 28 degrees so you can get more performance from Cape Canaveral launches?

Just when I figured that I wasn't going to ever find an answer to why they picked the orbit they did, I stumbled across a post in the L2 section of NASASpaceflight.com about some of the work Lockheed has been doing with Bigelow. One of the things discussed in the post was the answer to my question about why Bigelow had selected a 41 degree orbit for Sundancer.

[Note: Before I go on, L2 does cost a little bit of money, but it is often well worth the price. Chris Bergin has a lot of solid contacts in both NASA and the commercial space launch industry, and often has stories there several days before the show up in public. I can't go into most of what was related in the document, due to restrictions related to stuff posted on L2, but I did get permission from Chris to discuss the part relating to why they picked the orbit in question.]

It turns out that there were three reasons why Bigelow selected 41 degrees as the inclination for the station: the view, launch safety, and the repeating groundtrack.

The View
One of the important factors identified for providing a good personal spaceflight experience is the view. While looking down at almost any part of the earth from orbit is probably going to be pretty cool, many people have expressed the desire to be able to see where they live from space. Most people who can afford orbital spaceflight come from countries in places like North America, Western Europe, Scandinavia, East Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. Most of those locations are far away from the equator. In order to see most of North America and Western Europe, you actually want to pick a moderately high inclination.

Also, if you can see a place from orbit, you can be tracked from that place on the surface. This allows Bigelow to rely mostly on facilities located in the US for tracking and monitoring.

Launch Safety
An important part of designing a launch vehicle for carrying people is designing for safe abort modes. One of the main factors in designing for safe aborts is making sure that the launch trajectory does not take the vehicle over terrain that would be unsafe to land in. It turns out that when launching out of Cape Canaveral into a 51.6 degree orbit, the launch vehicle passes right over the Alps as well as over portions of the North Atlantic that might be dangerous for an emergency landing. On the other hand, as you can see from this trace of the Instantaneous Impact Point for a launch into a 41 degree orbit (reprinted with permission from NASASpaceFlight.com), these potential landing and rescue hazards are avoided.

Repeating Ground Track Orbits
The last reason is the most interesting one to me. It turns out that the orbit selected (a 489km high, 41 degree orbit according to the paper) is what I've heard called a "resonant orbit" or a "repeating ground track orbit". What this means is that the station would pass directly over the exact same point on the surface of the earth once every set amount of time--in this case once every 24 hours. According to the paper, this allows daily launch opportunities from Canaveral, as well as also allowing daily landing opportunities at several US landing sites.

In addition to passing over a given point on the ground at the exact same local time each day (ignoring Daylight Savings Time), there are some other interesting properties of repeating ground track orbits like this. For instance, if I'm understanding this right, if you look at the "ascending" portion of the ground track (ie the portion where the track is going from 41 degrees South heading northeast to 41 degrees North on any given orbital pass), it passes over a given latitude at the exact same local time as well. In other words, if it passes over Cape Canaveral heading northeast at 7am, then on the next pass, when it passes over the part of Mexico that is at the same latitude as Cape Canaveral, it will also be 7am. The same applies for descending portions of the path. An interesting corollary is that as the groundtrack passes over the equator on an ascending path, the local time will be exactly 12 hours different from the local time at the equator when the path is descending. Ie if Sundancer crosses the equator going north at 6am local time, it will always cross it going south at 6pm local time.

[Update 2/2/07: It turns out that according to Henry Spencer this isn't actually the case. Apparently the orbit is still precessing in such a way that the local time at a given launch site will change by about 25 min per day. Not a showstopper by any stretch, but not 100% convenient either. But those are the cards nature has dealt us.]

Another interesting thing is that there are several locations on the globe where the ground track crosses the same point on the earth on both one ascending and one descending pass. As you get closer to the equator, the time difference between the two daily cross-overs will get closer to 12 hours. But as you get closer to 41 degrees, those cross-overs will happen closer and closer together (with the highest crossover points happening on two consecutive orbits--ie only about ~96 minutes apart).

So, the main reasons Bigelow and Lockheed are pursuing a 41 degree orbit for Sundancer are:
  • Providing a good view for customers, and tracking from US mainland sites
  • Avoiding unsafe abort locations during launches to it from Cape Canaveral
  • Allowing for daily launch opportunities from Cape Canaveral, and multiple daily landing opportunities at US sites, even with low-cross range capsules
However, it turns out that there are far more interesting, and potentially important implications of this orbit...that I'll cover in Part 2 of this series.


23 January 2007

Excellent news for an excellent program

by guest blogger Ken

Eagle-eyed Keith Cowing over at NASAWatch has spotted a European press release for sponsorship of an ESA student at the NASA Academy.

This is great news for the excellent NASA Academy program. With so many programs at risk right now, this is one of those great programs that tends to irk people because it does so well, and, at least when I was there, the Academy was funded by Director's Discretionary Funds (DDF), meaning that it had to fight for its very existence every year. Good old budgetary and program politicking.

Here's the backstory:

Way back in the 1990s, Dr. Gerald Soffen, of Mars Viking renown, was impressed with the structure being used by the International Space University of collecting a pool of bright, motivated youngsters together each summer and letting them cut their teeth on supervised space projects while getting lectured by the top names in the space field. Dr. Soffen got together with the Goddard Space Flight Center Director, Al Diaz, and they carved out a portion of the DDF to run this program.

The Research Assistants (RAs) usually dorm at a fraternity/sorority house at the University of Maryland and commute to GSFC. Each day includes lecture sessions on a variety of space related topics, and the RAs have to spend time in the labs working on projects. There are periodic field trips, in our case to Orbital, NASA HQ, NASM, white-water rafting & spelunking (team building exercises), Langley, Wallops, Kennedy, Johnson. and others.

We got lectures on topics from quantum mechanics to Lunar geology. The RAs were exposed to a great deal of how the NASA system is put together. Poster sessions were required, and they had to dress nice when they went to go see O'Keefe testifying in front of Congress or visit the 9th Floor at HQ. A Team Project was also required, and I think they did some kind of Mars thing since they didn't want to do the African Dust project. (I was thoroughly bored with Mars at that point, as the ISU project had also been some kind of Mars thing. I wanted to learn more about the Moon, but was frustrated at every turn. It was thus, in that dark hour of seemingly endless, unfathomable Martian horror back in 2002, that the initial concept of the Lunar Library was born).

The RAs also had to make formal presentations of the projects they had worked on during the 10-week session. It was pretty rigourous, and even I, as Program Support, had to work on a project, in my case analyzing over 10 years of DDF projects for the Technology Transfer Office to analyze how the two could work together to see that this wild new tech was getting out into the commercial markets. I still boggle at some of the concepts, and have difficulty with the whole adiabatic demagnetization refrigeration concept. And quantum mechanics, and birefringence. I was just a punk banker kid fresh out of ISU's Master of Space Studies program, and my obnoxious bio with my international man of mystery photo is still up over at the GSFC Academy website.

I'm especially happy to hear this news, as one of the things I helped to accomplish while working at the Academy was to arrange a meeting with an ultra-nice young lady at the French Embassy who was working with CNES to arrange some kind of student exchange. We had a very productive first meeting (communication had started before I got there) that the permanent staff kept working after I was gone, and I was able to charm the young lady into letting us eat lunch in the embassy cafeteria after the meeting. The next year there was a young researcher from SupAero in Toulouse at the Academy, and it looks like the exchange has really blossomed. Dave Rosage has been doing a great job with it, and the ranks of alumni continue to grow, with a fresh crop of future alumni starting after the ISDC. Sorry, the application deadline for US students just passed on the 16th, but there's always the 2008 Academy, hopefully with even more Center choices (something else that Dave is working on).

22 January 2007

ISDC 2007 Call for Papers and Call to Youth

by guest blogger Ken.

With great fanfare I'm proud to announce the ISDC 2007 Call for Papers for the May conference. While Jon works on his thesis, I'm going to try to distract him with thoughts of perhaps submitting a presentation on cislunar infrastructure architectures for the 'Moon & Cislunar Space Development' track at the conference...

There's also an important note for us youngsters after the CfP. Most put the youngsters at <35,>35, but <43, and we need leaders from this number to bridge from where we are now to where we will be 10-20 years from now. But enough pontificating, here's the CfP:

Call for Papers

National Space Society Issues Call for Papers for 2007 International Space Development Conference in Dallas, TX:

"From Old Frontiers to New"

Texas has stood at many frontiers in history, and is proud to be in the forefront of our efforts in the space frontier. Many agendas are being pursued in this newest frontier, and efforts are accelerating to establish a presence there. Our knowledge of both the risks and benefits of living in the Solar system are increasing at a dizzying pace. New launch systems are springing up all around. The competition for space skills and technology is increasing, providing new opportunities at every turn.

Fifty years after the dawn of the Space Age we are at an exciting crossroads to the new frontier. We have seen well funded, government-sponsored scientific forays and safaris for a few people of means into the frontier, but only now does the prospect of sub-orbital access for the masses soon, and orbital spaceflight on the horizon make dreams of wagon trains to the ISS, inflatable hotels and bases on the Moon and Mars move from the realms of science fiction to real possibilities. This newest frontier will be a place to live, a place to work, and a place to stay. You can help lay the foundation for this new reality.

The National Space Society is seeking papers and speakers to discuss the latest issues in space technology, science, policy, commerce, medicine, exploration, settlement and more at the National Space Society's 26th International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Dallas, Texas over the Memorial Day weekend, May 24-28, 2007.

This year's conference theme, "From Old Frontiers to New" concentrates on the settlement and development of this new frontier.

Individuals wishing to speak must submit an abstract of 300 and 500 words by Friday, March 16th, 2007. For more details about submission guidelines, interested individuals are encouraged to review the Speaker’s Information online at http://isdc.xisp.net/~kmiller/isdc_archive/ or email their questions and comments to ISDC2007Papers@nss.org . Written manuscripts are not required, but submission of the proposed Power Point presentation are encouraged to allow compatibility checking with the Audio/Video equipment to be used at the Conference.

In the spirit of the near frontier, the International Space Development Conference will feature three primary tracks running the length of the conference:

Frontier Transport: to, through, and from space

Explores the principles and practice of transport in the new frontier. From suborbital to interstellar, this track is about the means of traveling to and from the many destinations in space.

Moon & Cislunar Space Development

(Presented in association with the Moon Society)

Explores the varied destinations between here and the Moon, the many things to be done, and the infrastructure we'll need to become a space-faring, and not just space-visiting civilization.

The Martian Frontier

(Presented in association with the Mars Society)

Explores the ways and means of going to Mars, and what is needed to stay there.

Additionally, the conference will feature a number of one- and two-day tracks on a variety of important topics, including:

-The Solar System Frontier & Beyond

-ISS Science

-Space Medicine

-Space Law

-Space Business

-Space Humanities

-Educator Tracks

The full track layout with proposed topics can be found under the Programming section under Conference Information tab at http://isdc.nss.org/2007/. These proposed topics should be used as guidelines for paper topics, but alternative topics are also welcome.

Abstracts for papers should be submitted on the Abstract/Papers database at


More information about the conference, including registration and hotel information, is available on the conference web site at http://isdc.nss.org/2007/.


About NSS

The National Space Society (NSS) is an independent, international, educational, grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded in 1974 by Wernher von Braun, NSS is widely acknowledged as the preeminent citizen's voice on space. The National Space Society's vision is people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth. NSS members promote change in social, technical, economic, and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space.

Okay, and now the Call for Tomorrow's Leaders:

I was hoping to have a larger space settlement symposium on Sunday afternoon, about three hours to tie together the threads of the disparate tracks into a coherent vision, though it looks like that might be falling through. One of the concerns raised is that there really aren't a lot of big names in the Space Settlement field. This means opportunity, people. There is a niche that is unexploited.

I've already squatted in the Lunar economic development camp, but one point that I made regarding the Symposium was that there had better be women on the panels, because you know, if the girls aren't on board with the whole settlement thing then it's not really going to get very far now is it?

I'm pretty sure that I can talk the powers that be regarding this conference into giving us some space to talk about OUR (Gens X & Y, the Boomer children) vision for what's going to happen during our lifetimes, in space, for Earth's benefit.

I can be reached via the ISDC homepage (unless they're monkeying around with the code again), so if you think you can put something together, talk to me about it. SEDS is going to be helping out at the conference, but there are woefully too few chapters. I know y'all're out there...

21 January 2007

Jonny Bloggin' : Blocks Edition

Jonny loves cars, trucks, and trains...

Jonny also loves his blocks...

Jonny loves cars and trains with his blocks...

And, just in case you might have thought that there was any hope for this boy...

What does James think of all this?

Light Blogging and Childhood Memories

Things have been rather hectic as of late, so I haven't had much chance to blog lately. Part of that was due to my monitor dying (possibly hastened along its way by Jonny), part of it the fact that I'm getting back into spending most of my "free" time on my thesis. And partially because we've been rather busy at work with engine testing and such.

Don't expect anything deep, profound, or original out of me for a while yet, but in the meantime, here's a piece from my sister Julia: Quick, the bicycle pump! I should note that I was only 8 at the time...

16 January 2007

More MSS Bloggy Goodness

Dave has another brief update on what we did today, along with some more video:

This was basically a preparatory run for our throttle response test. While we've done hundreds of firings now with the engine in the trailer, this test was our fifth on the vehicle. We wanted to run a few runs to try and get the throttle map better tuned for the vehicle itself before doing the formal test, and we also wanted to make sure nothing bad happened integrating the engine with the vehicle. As you can see, things went really well.

We will need to tweak the throttle map a bit, particularly since we need to up the tank pressure back up (as Dave mentions in his notes), so we'll probably do a few more like this, but we're almost there. Once that's done, we're going to be taking the engine apart for a thorough inspection, and then reassembling it with the final flight wiring, and everything. We've still got a ways to go, but as Dave points out, this vehicle really looks like it wants to be unleashed.

On another fun note, we were all really impressed with how well the wood jet deflector stood up to the abuse. The top layer for the deflector was the same layer that was on there for the three firings last week. All in all, the $16 worth of 2x4's and the $3-4 worth of screws and nails lasted for a cumulative time duration of over a minute. Which is really not too shabby for how inexpensive it is. We're probably going to prefab several that we can just pull one off, and drop a new one in once it's been burned up. We were kind of worried originally that we were going to have to go in for something fancy like graphite or a water cooling system. The fact that this simple wood construction is working so well was a pleasant surprise.

Playin in the Dirt

Who says little boys are the only ones allowed to play around in the dirt?

Seriously though, we actually had a valid scientific reason for doing a test without the jet deflector in place. Honest.

We uhh...needed to know if a jet deflector was really necessary for testing, and if it was actually doing any good. And after the first test when we only bored a little hole in the ground, we figured that of course it was the prudent and scientifically sound thing to do to try it again for longer and see how deep the hole would go...

Apparently about 18" deep in about 10 seconds of total firing:

Come on. Be honest. If you had a supersonic post hole digger, you'd do the same thing.

Have I ever mentioned that I love my job?

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New Addition to the Blogroll

Just added Matthew Bowes' new blog Space Liberates Us! to the blog roll. It looks promising. Of course I'm biased because he commented positively on my MSS Update blogpost. :-)


15 January 2007

So That's What They've Been Up To

I know most of you read Hobbyspace, so you've already seen this, but I thought this picture was just dang cool:
One of the fun things about being a rocket geek in Mojave, is the number of other companies also doing cool things out here. For instance the site just to our west is run by InterOrbital, and just to our east is AirLaunch's big 24klbf test stand. XCOR is to our southeast a bit further (about 1/3 of a mile), and Scaled's test stand is past them another third of a mile or so. One day back in November or December we got to see rocket engine firings from two other companies in addition to ours all within about an hour of each other. Lots of fun.

I would've said something earlier, but I wouldn't want to steal XCOR's thunder. And XCOR has the added PR challenge of having to get approval from both ATK and NASA before saying anything public about their progress. Anyhow, we wish them the best of luck on this project.


Pioneering a Dangerous and Beautiful Frontier

by guest blogger Ken

I'm sure there are still a few folks waiting for the next installment in the Why Mars? series, with the next chapter to be entitled "So Many Reasons the Moon". The delay is a result of the ISDC preparations kicking into high gear with the turn of the year. Our efforts are redoubled in rallying support of and participation in the conference, and with e-mails flying around, and meetings, and telecons, and road trips and so on I'm finding not a lot of time to sit down and do the topic of Lunar development the justice it deserves. So you're just going to have to be patient.

So what is happening with the conference? The formal invites went out from HQ, and the replies are starting to roll back in. Neil Armstrong sent a very nice decline, which I expected (and everyone kept telling me, but I forced the issue and insisted on an invite). My only disappointment is that Mr. Armstrong is exactly the kind of 'quiet hero' that represents the best of the American spirit that we need to see much more of right now. (Not celebrity nonsense)

We've got a bunch of tentative and maybe yeses. I've been working over Paul Spudis with the blarney, so we should have him for the 'Moon & Cislunar Space Development' track. A couple of authors are on board (including Dr. Spudis and his wife Anne who wrote the fantastic 'Moonwake'), so I'm pushing for a public area where authors can sign their books as a means of attracting more of the general public.

Because that's the audience I'm interested in. I don't want to have the same old space conference with the same old faces, but a place where people who have an interest can come to learn more about how important space is and why they should be supporting space efforts.

The structure is of course continually in flux, but generally we have three main tracks that will run from Fri to Sun:

-Frontier Transport - to space, through space, from space;
-Moon & Cislunar Space Development;
-The Martian Frontier.

These will be accompanied by an array of single and two-day tracks in smaller rooms. NASA JSC is lining up an ISS Science track on Friday for us, as an example. We will also have afternoon symposiums on a number of themes, such as Space Venture Finance, and Space Settlement. The more professionally oriented content is geared towards Thu and Fri, with general public oriented stuff on Fri, Sat & Sun. Depending on timing issues with the guests, I hope to have the Gala dinner Sun night at the Frontiers of Flight museum as the capstone of the conference after a big successful Space Settlement Symposium that afternoon. A boy can hope...

We've also got some awards to hand out, of course, and this year is the Von Braun Award. Some committee above my pay grade is taking care of that one. I'm also trying to contend for one of the, I think they're pewter, Moon globes that they carefully parcel out each year to especially worthy recipients (again, above my pay grade). They're well-rendered with recognizable features, and what Lunar Library would be complete without one on display on the shelf?

The Aerospace Technology Working Group (ATWG) will be holding a pre-ISDC conference earlier in the week, with their conclusions feeding into our conference. Their theme: "Earth Orbit Support for Earth & Outgoing Exploration".

Oh, our theme? "From Old Frontiers to New". We're trying to capture the spirit that transformed the worthless barren scrub of Texas into a place of prosperity that leads in fields like technology and rocket stuff. One of the taglines we've been using in our flyers is 'Wanted: Pioneers for New Frontiers' using Phil Smith's Space Cowboy image that Sam Dinkin at Space-Shot.com has been nice enough to let us use. I haven't figured out a good use for the Lunar Boot Hill image. I've got the original in the Lunar Library, but Sam owns all of the digital and image use rights. It's a pretty cool picture, with the iconography on the tombstones cutting a swath across human cultures.

It's amazing the people that are getting in touch with us, and I don't just mean the Space Solar Power Institute out of Georgia Tech. Director Alan Chan asked us about screening his film 'Postcards from the Future' during the conference. Having seen the DVD I can only say yes, yes, a thousand times yes I want to screen this movie. It's good, and gets right to the core of why we are going into space. I've already got a review together for Out of the Cradle entitled 'Postcards from a Dangerous and Beautiful Tomorrow' (and from which the title for this post is derived), and I'm just waiting to get Alan's okay on the text, because I don't want to give away too much. (got it, ended up taking a bit out, but the review is up)

But to give you an idea of the complicated nature of the behind the scenes conference planning efforts, let's look at screening a movie. It was 'filmed' in effectively 'digital IMAX' (4K is the term used, since lawyers love it when you misuse a trademark like IMAX), so of course an e-mail has to be sent to the local Cinemark guys, since they operate the only 3-D IMAX projector in the metroplex. However, IMAX films don't do so well commercially despite a steady supply of school kids and families (and generally sea movies do better than space movies), so it's unlikely Cinemark has upgraded equipment at the theatre (I haven't heard back yet, so honestly don't know). Other options? Frontiers of Flight has a small theatre which could work, but high-def it is not. Getting ultra-high-tech video equipment at the conference is not an inexpensive undertaking, and the ridiculously low registration prices don't give us a whole lot of wiggle room. Maybe I should look up Mark Cuban...

And there are always frustrations and disappointments. Saturday I was supposed to try to hook up with the Dallas Personal Robotics Group about 'affiliating' with the conference, but it loooks like the winter storm made them cancel (as NSS-NT's meeting was cancelled on Sunday). Affiliation basically means that the organization publicizes the event to its members and encourages them to register and attend. We (NSS) put the affiliate logo up on the website and mention them in the program book. Affiliate members get to register at NSS rates, and volunteers who work four hours get the rest of the day for free, or 16 hours for the whole conference free. Volunteers do have to register ahead of time, though, and will get rebates based on actual hours worked. (I'm a banker, remember. That's why I wear the black hat and my co-chair Carol Johnson gets to wear the white hat) We're already getting members of affiliate organizations who are going ahead and joining NSS to work directly on the project.

One of my personal projects for the volunteers is to get sufficient funding for them to each get a polo shirt. For ease of conference management I want to use a simple color scheme easily recognizable to attendees. I want the security guys in red logo polo shirts, the administrative staff in blue polos, and the executive decision makers whose word is final in gold polos. I'll of course be in the big black cowboy hat (even though you're really not supposed to be wearing them indoors). Since I'm a belt & braces (the button-on kind of suspenders) kinda banker I also get to worry about things like making sure that all of the volunteer corps gets fire drill training, knows where all of the emergency exits and fire extinguishers are, etc. I've actually got a floorplan of the hotel where I've mapped out exit routes.

Business development is tops on my agenda at the moment, which led to the meeting with the North Texas Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization. (NTXRCIC), which is the local contact for the state's Emerging Technology Fund (ETF). In a nutshell, Texans don't trust their representatives down in Austin. They only get to formally meet every other year, and we try not to give them too much money to play with in their sandbox. They did manage to put together about $200Mn for the ETF as a means of attracting companies and researchers to Texas from higher tech industries. Texas is a great place to do business, but some folks need a bit more persuading than others, I guess. My main goal is to get a lot of space hardware to show off. So NTXRCIC is going to send info about the conference to their in-state network.

And then one gets out-of-the-blue e-mails, like one tonight letting NSS chapter leaders know about the publicity tour for 'Astronaut Farmer', which is coming to Dallas in early February. Luckily I'm too ugly to be on TV or in pictures, so I'll probably pawn that one off on someone else, as I'd really like to be down at the 13th annual Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston getting Moon rock certified. (Something we hope to do for educators at our conference in May), maybe meeting with some Society of Women Engineers ladies while I'm down there. (I so need to send them an e-mail...)

I almost wish there wasn't so much going on in space right now. How am I supposed to encapsulate the entirety of it in a long weekend conference that the interested public can attend?

This is going to be a long five months (no wait, four and half...)

13 January 2007


A couple of weeks back, Doug Stanley (the guy who headed up the ESAS team) was a guest at the NASASpaceFlight.com forums, hosting a Q&A thread about the propellant studies they had been doing for the LSAM. This was right after Ross Tierney came out with his DIRECT concept, and Ross asked Doug if he could look over his proposal over the holidays. Dr Stanley was welcomed back today to host a Q&A thread about what he found (here's the link).

While there's a lot of discussion, here's the key takeaways:
  • Ross's numbers for the RS-68 Regen upgrade were apparently incorrect. The expected Isp is only in the 418-420s range, not the 435s he was claiming. I had run some numbers about the improvement from ablative to regen, and hadn't been able to come up with the full gain that Ross was claiming, but figured I didn't have all the data.

  • With the correct engine performance numbers, payload to orbit drops far enough that DIRECT wouldn't be capable of lofting the current ESAS-derived lunar stack in two launches without some significant changes. The payload is still pretty good, but not quite enough for NASA's prefered method.

  • Changes to upgrade DIRECT sufficiently to allow for a 2-launch architecture are actually possible, but would cost more than Ross had budgetted, and would take longer to develop, as the vehicle ends up being a lot less directly Shuttle Derived than the original DIRECT architecture.

  • While Dr Stanley admitted that DIRECT would likely have lower life cycle costs than the combined Ares I/Ares V, the benefits were overstated. The real savings is closer to about $5B, not $17B.
There's more info there on the thread, and I'd strongly suggest reading the whole thing. The idea isn't entirely without merit, but many of the key supposed benefits were overstated. Dr Stanley still agrees that a 2-launch architecture has a lot to recommend it, and actually prefers it in many ways to the 1.5 launch architecture NASA selected. In fact, he said that if at some point in the future they could decommission Ares I and go with a 2-launch Ares V based architecture (Ares V after all is going to be "man rated"), it would still end up saving quite a bit in operations costs. Launching more of one booster, and not supporting two entirely different manufacturing and launch operations standing armies is obviously an improvement.

Of course, if they had cryogenic propellant transfer, they could do a single Ares V (or DIRECT) launch with the full lunar stack, and then transfer propellants and crew on-orbit. Whether they went with Ares V or DIRECT, that could allow for a substantial increase in the number of lunar missions per year. Something like that might actually be able to salvage something from this mess, but only after unnecessarily wasting a several billion dollars and several years. Of course at that point, why not just launch the whole stack dry on a Delta-IVH or one of the heavier Atlas Vs and do the same? But I digress.

Anyhow, just thought I ought to draw some attention to this. I was initially a fan of DIRECT due to the hope that by freeing up some of the development money for NASA-specific launch vehicles, they might actually have money around to sponsor higher-risk, but higher-reward projects like propellant transfer demos, etc. However, it appears as though DIRECT is in the same boat as Ares I and Ares V--Even if it could be made to succeed technically, it wouldn't be worth the money.

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11 January 2007

Interesting Comments on Go As You Pay

I found a link to Mike Griffin's comments at the recent Space Transportation Association Breakfast. Overall the whole thing is well worth the read. Mike makes a lot of good points, but I think also made a few strawmen. I did find one paragraph that was particularly interesting (emphasis mine):
With "go-as-you-pay" in mind, we must be mindful that "time is money", especially during the development phase of our programs. While we sometimes have legitimate reasons to push the state of the art in certain technology areas for a mission, we need to be disciplined in doing so, and to encourage the use of off-the-shelf and commercial hardware in those areas where we don't need to push the state-of-the-art. When a delay is incurred as a result of trying to incorporate an immature technology, the whole program and the standing army supporting it are (sic) must wait, and costs will escalate. We need to rein in the number of technical miracles we think are necessary for a given program, and exercise schedule discipline in order to control costs.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?


STICKing With Their Core Incompetencies

So, it looks like I may have been wrong about something. I figured that with the budget shortfall that NASA is likely to be facing, that NASA would slow down work on the CEV and CLV. You know, following their "pay as you go" philosophy. However, according to Griffin, NASA's main procurement priority in 2007 is the Ares I, and that:
"I will do everything I can to keep Orion and Ares I on schedule," he [Griffin] says. "That will be right behind keeping shuttle and station on track, and then after that we'll fill up the bucket with our other priorities."

Griffin's plan is that:
We will find what we believe are the lowest priority half-billion dollars in content, and we'll extract it, across the agency.

Now, I don't think NASA is dumb enough yet to trim out COTS, but I think that this more or less means that we won't be seeing anything new from Centennial Challenges for a while. But it will be interesting to see who gets the knife so the Shaft can fill a "badly needed gap" in US space launch capabilities.

Good to see that NASA is sticking so well to its core incompetencies.


10 January 2007

Space Show Followup

Larry H Miller once told my class that "Entrepreneurs talk for a living"...If the transcript is anything to go by, there may be hope for me yet. :-)

[Update: Here's the link for any of you who didn't get to listen in last night.]

I wasn't expecting to get a half hour extension, but that was a lot of fun. Very, very draining though. Many thanks to David and The Space Show staff!

In spite of the extra time, there were a lot of topics that we weren't able to go into, an unfortunately, some that I was supposed to go into I didn't get a chance to really get into details. This was my first time on a national talk radio show, and it went by like a blur!

Tiff suggested that I ought to make a list of all the topics that I brought up that deserve further blogging. That way I can do them more justice here in print, and possibly clarify some of the more contentious points that were made. Without clarification, I'm sure some of what I said made me look like one of those "koolaid drinkin" alt.space fanboy sorts.

Anyhow, I'll just make a short list, and hopefully I can get around to some of these in the next little bit:
  • Orbital propellant depot feasibility w/ and w/o SpaceX success

  • Orbital propellant depot considerations in general

  • Why I think there really might be price elasticity for some space markets

  • How to handle maintenance and repair of translunar and lunar lander RLVs

  • Feasibility of suborbital bulk microgravity materials processing

  • Oberstar and his impact on suborbital tourism, and what we can do

  • Latests updates on the Lunar Much Sooner architecture

  • My translunar tourism market idea

  • Solid non-fanboy reasons why I think that the next boots on the moon will be paying customers from a private space transportation company, and not NASA or the "Evil Chinese Communists"

Ok, I'm utterly exhausted. I was up until 1am last night making notes for the show, and was out working at the test site for a good chunk of the day. I'm beat.


Space Show Notes

Here are a few links that might be useful for people listening in on my radio interview on The Space Show:

Masten Space Systems
MSS January 2007 Update -- Just published a few minutes ago.

ESAS Issues
ESAS Issues Part One
Dry Launch vs ESAS Loss of Mission Numbers

Crew Size: The More the Merrier?
Pay As You Go
The Spirit of La Mancha

Lunar Much Sooner
Lunar Much Sooner (and Better)
2-Man EELV Based Lunar Mission Numbers
Lunar Surface Rendezvous and Light Scout Missions

Technologies Needed for Spacefaring
Technologies Necessary for a Spacefaring Society

I could go on, but I need to go get on the phone in four minutes. If you have any questions, call in!


09 January 2007

Reprint: On Castles and Foundations

[Note: Digging around on archive.org for my old Prometheus Downport Project stuff, I found this oldie but goodie that I felt was worth reprinting. My views on a couple of the topics have changed a bit over the past 15% of my life since I wrote this, but I figured it was worth putting up. This was one of the original intro pieces to the Prometheus Downport Project]
If you have built castles in the air,
your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.
--Henry David Thoreau
Many of us have dreamed of living and working in space. Our youth was filled with movies about spaceships and aliens, big orbiting space stations and space pirates, warp drive and laser beams. Whether you were born in the heady era of 2001: Space Odyssey, the time of Star Trek, or Star Wars, it was similar. As we grew older, we eventually grew a little wiser, and figured out that it is unlikely that antigravity or warp drive will ever move out of the realm of science fiction. But, for the most part, we still hold on to some of our old dreams. While it may seem fantastic to us now, there is nothing physically impossible about large orbiting space stations, thriving bases on moons and planets (and between them), trips to the gas giants, and many other things we saw as children.

I like the quote above, as it gives me hope. While many of these things may be castles in the air, Thoreau is quite right. Our work does not need to be lost. I'm sure many of us have become rather disillusioned about the possibility of ever going to space. It only took about a year or two from my visit to Cape Canaveral and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum when I was 15 for the wonder to start wearing off and the reality to start setting in. The technology to do many of the things we saw in 2001: Space Odyssey is not really that far beyond the technologies that put us on the moon over 30 years ago. In spite of being given almost half a trillion dollars (in 2003 equivalents) over the years since Apollo, NASA has delivered very little that helps to promote the development of space. NASA's budgets are limited, and aren't going to go up anytime soon. It seems to many as though we are doomed to spend the rest of our lives watching government employees fly around in circles, but it doesn't need to be so.

The critical part of the quote, though, is the last line. Far too many space enthusiasts, myself included, have forgotten this important lesson. Some abandon hope and move on to greener pastures. Others live in fantasy worlds where Klingons really do exist and warp drive will be invented any day now. Most space enthusiasts, while being a lot more realistic than that, still suffer from focusing way too much on the castles in the air, and far too little on how to get from here to there. If I had every paper study on space stations, lunar colonies, mars expeditions, and reusable launch vehicles, it would probably weigh more than the Saturn V that sent the original Apollo missions heavenward on their journey to the Moon. As John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace recently quipped, "We need a lot more building, and a lot less studying." What we need, is to start building foundations up to reach our castle in the air. This involves taking off our rose-colored glasses, and taking a stark look at the real state of space development, which admittedly is not very pretty. But there is hope if we act wisely.

First off, we need to realize that NASA isn't going to get us into space. I repeat, NASA will not get us into space. There are thousands of excellent engineers working there, but NASA has lost the vision, the drive, and the leadership it needs to really do anything significant. $15B per year is a lot of money, even if it is only 1% of the total government spending. With good drive, management, and incentives, NASA could accomplish a lot with this. They have accomplished some pretty impressive things over the years with their unmanned space probes and landers, but in most of their other endeavors, they have done rather poorly. They are currently tied down by the need to complete the International Space Station, which should keep them preoccupied well into the next decade. Between that, trying to fund the Orbital Space Plane, and trying to keep the Shuttle Program running, they really do not have the resources or energy to pursue anything outside of Low Earth Orbit before the the mid-2020's, if that soon. They will send probes to various places, and will do some good aeronautics research between now and then, but the soonest that they could realistically place a man on the moon again (barring the cancellation of ISS, STS, and OSP, or a massive funding increase), is around 2025. The fact is, if we want to go, we can't wait for them. They're too preoccupied and too bureaucratic to do much anymore.

Second, and slightly counterintuitive considering my first point, we have to stop thinking of NASA as an enemy. NASA isn't going to get us into space, but it won't keep us from space either. I know far too many space activists, including myself in the past, who like to rant and rave about how "NASA is preventing us from going into space." I've come to realize over the past few years that this isn't really the case. NASA isn't out to get us. They're not focused enough to do that. I prefer the analogy used at the most recent Space Access Society by Henry Vanderbuilt. He compared NASA to an old aging dinosaur and the new entrepreneurial space companies to small mammals. He said, "In the land of the dinosaurs, mammals occasionally get stepped on. Not that the dinosaur intends to, or even notices (other than the gooey mess between its toes)." It just happens. As a coworker of mine once said, "Never attribute malice when ignorance or stupidity will explain it." NASA will occasionally try to do things that commercial companies are doing (and step on them a bit in the process), but it is more likely out of curiosity, nerd envy, and the desire to try things out that others are doing that look cool, than out of a cold-hearted effort to wipe out any competition. So, while we should try and watch where their feet are going, and try to scurry out of the way, we shouldn't waste time on trying to kill NASA off, as it just isn't likely to happen anytime soon. More importantly, killing NASA off in itself will not get us into space.

Third, we need to avoid focusing on big "UberProjects". The day will come when massive O'Neill L5 colonies, kilometer wide Space Solar Power farms, and Mars Missions will be within the realm of economic reality, but trying to go straight to them from where we are now would be like trying to force-feed a T-Bone Steak to a 1 year old. In the Philippines they always liked to say "gatas bago sa karne", which means "milk before meat." We need to look at where we are (and where things will be in a year or two) and find small, incremental steps that we can take now.

Which leads me to my last point. Fourth, we need to actually be doing things. Not just doing more studies, having more daydreams, or making more layouts for "future mars bases", we need to actually start taking steps and "bending metal." This can be done on many different levels, but the key is to identify current markets that can be attacked for reasonably low amounts of capital. These can be directly aerospace-related markets, or could even be completely unrelated commercial markets, it all depends on your resources and capabilities. Some people may actually have the resources and capabilities to build a small capsule that could be launched on current expendable launch vehicles, others may need to start much smaller, maybe just building rocket engines and model rockets. Or maybe building consumer goods that use aerospace technologies. There are many groups out there taking this approach who are starting to really accomplish things. My hat is off to the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Interorbital Systems, TransOrbital, SpaceDev, and other groups who are moving things along. We don't need to lobby congress for money. We don't need to convince NASA or Boeing that our idea is the way to go. We just need to find steps that are realistic for us to take, and little by little move forward with them until someday we have built a foundation that reaches all the way to our castles in the air.

~Jonathan Goff
30 May 2003

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Space Show Appearance: Request for Questions

Hey guys, as I prepare my notes for tomorrow's space show appearance, do any of you have an specific questions about topics I've discussed over the past several months that you'd like me to answer? I'm trying to make sure I have notes covering stuff that's relevant to the people that'll be listening.


08 January 2007

Space Show Appearance

So, as most of you probably know, I'm going to be the guest on this Wednesday's Space Show. I've been ridiculously busy as of late, but I'm going to try and get a summary with some links to relevant previous posts, as well as a new blog post on a translunar venture I've been mulling over for a while. Basic topics I'll be covering are:
  1. My "Lunar Much Sooner" alternative lunar architecture.

  2. Lunar Markets and the process of moving ventures from subeconomic to economic.

  3. An intro to my latest translunar market idea

  4. Maybe a little MSS update

  5. Some other random thoughts about orbital propellant depots

Anyhow, I hope I get some time tomorrow to flesh out my notes so I don't sound like a stuttering idiot in front of everyone. :-)


New Year's Resolutions

Well, it's a couple of days past that magical time of the year when people start making goals for themselves for the next year. Things have been so hectic the last few days that I'm a little bit behind in my timing, but I wanted to mention a few of my relevant goals in the hopes that some reader might just prod me into accomplishing them.

Educational: Finish that darned thesis!
I'm actually making some headway on this again. I finally found two papers that describe the coupling between a vibrating tube and a fluid...now if I can only figure out what the heck they're doing (terms like "streamfunction-vorticity formulation of the Navier-Stokes equations" make me shudder), I might just finish this thing. Or if I can't figure them out soon, I have a backup topic that my thesis advisor has said he'd support me on--he even sent me the paperwork for filing a new prospectus. I figure I'll pursue both options over the next two weeks, then make a final decision.

Spirituality: Finish the Old and New Testament
I started reading the Old Testament last year as a goal, and managed to keep reading almost every day throughout the year. Alas, some of the days I must have only read one chapter, because I just got into Isaiah. But I slogged all the way through Psalms this time without giving up the will to read/live, so I think I'm in the clear. I won't even comment on Songs of Solomon. Oy vey. I've never finished the Old Testament though, and I've always wanted to do so.

Personal Fulfilment: Get at least one journal article or book accepted for publication.
This may take the form of a "blog book" as some commenters have suggested, or a journal article writeup of my oh-so-ugly thesis topic. Either way, it's about time I actually get some publications under my belt. I sure flap my gums enough and slay my fair share of electrons!

Family: On nights that I get home before his bed time, I'm going to read to Jonny for at least 10 minutes.
I figure that one of the single best things my mom ever did for me was teaching me how to read at a very young age. Once you can read, the world is open at your fingertips more or less.

I also have a fitness goal, but that's personal.

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03 January 2007


(via rocketforge.org) All I can say is wow. That's a big peroxide powered VTVL vehicle, and definitely a beautiful flight. Hopefully we'll be joining them and Armadillo in the not to distant future.

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02 January 2007

Fun With Numbers

I get off on these tangents sometimes...

Things started innocently enough. I was just thinking about the potential for using a 2-stage Zenit Sea Launch vehicle for sending propellants or people into LEO (more on that in a later post). Then I notice...hey wait a second...Zenit uses the RD-171 engine. Isn't that the 2-axis gimballed version of the engine from which the Atlas V's RD-180 was derived? Wasn't the plan for Atlas V Evolution Phase II supposed to be going to a bigger first stage with two RD-180s? So, I pull up some numbers I had found for the propellant and dry masses would be for the Atlas V Phase II core stage, and compared them. Drats! Too little propellants. More than the current Atlas V core by about 15%, but less than the Atlas V Phase II core by a substantial margin.

Then I scratch my head...this thing has something like 1.6Mlbf liftoff thrust, but that small of a first stage? How big is the second stage on this bad boy?

Oh. 200klb...That's kinda big, isn't it.

Hey...I wonder...

What would happen if you tricked this bad boy out with a LOX/LH2 WBC stage? The 3.5x sized WBC with 4-6 RL10s is a bit lighter than the fully loaded Zenit-2 Stage 2. So I run the numbers...

58,000lbs to a 51.6 degree, 200km circular orbit. Hot dang, that's better than the Shaft. Heck that's more than Delta-IVH! You know, with Boeing and Lockheed getting all buddy-buddy with the ULA, maybe they should get together...

Not that there's a chance in heck that this would happen. Buying a good rocket stage from someone else instead of blowing billions on a mediocre one made here in the USA would be unpatriotic. Heck, it'd even be capitalist! We can't have that, can we?

Just sayin...

I get off on these tangents don't ya know.

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