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Huntsville Space Professionals Town Hall Meeting Tomorrow (Sunday)

From HSP-

Huntsville Space Professionals and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center are proud to bring the Huntsville community the HSP Town Hall Meeting, Oct. 23, 2011, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Several private space companies, NASA and civic leaders will be there to showcase the promise and progress of commercial space development…The meeting is open to the public and free to attend, however, seating is limited and we need to know how many are coming…

Full story…

Here’s a bit more detail that HSP’s Andy Sutinen put on the group’s Facebook page-

Noted speakers at the event will be USSRC Director Dr. Barnhart, Mayor Tommy Battle, MSFC Director Robert Lightfoot, NASA HQ Dan Dumbacher, and Dynetics Vice President Steve Cook, representatives from Sierra Nevada-Dream Chaser, Zero, Bigelow Aerospace, Orbital, Space X, and Virgin Galactic. In addition, numerous local aerospace companies will also be in attendance. Please go the HSP site for more info.

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NYT Picked Up on the Fuel Depot Option

Those folks at the New York Times are on the ball. They just noticed that fuel depots are an option-

From NYT-

By considering a proposal to put filling stations in the sky, NASA is looking to accelerate plans to send astronauts to distant destinations.

The filling stations — NASA calls them propellant depots — would refuel a spacecraft in orbit before it headed out to the moon, an asteroid or eventually Mars. Currently, all of the fuel needed for a mission is carried up with the rocket, and the weight of the fuel limits the size of the spacecraft.

Next month, engineers will meet at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss how propellant depots could be used to reach farther into space and make possible more ambitious missions using the heavy-lift rocketthat NASA is planning to build. The discussions grow out of a six-month NASA study of propellant depots, completed in July.

However, the space agency has rejected the study’s most radical conclusion: that NASA could forgo the heavy-lift and use existing smaller rockets, combined with fuel depots, to reach its targets more quickly and less expensively. Those targets, for the next two decades at least, include a return to the moon or a visit to an asteroid. (A trip to Mars is unlikely until at least the 2030s.)…

Full story…

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NASA’s Detailed Study of SLS Alternatives from a Year Ago, Told Ya So

Sheesh.

Nasawatch is still running some news bits about that NASA Powerpoint it got from last July that discussed just about everything on SLS and alternatives, including international partners and fuel depots.

From Nasawatch-

…it is obvious that even a year ago pragmatic thought was given to how a variety of launchers could be used for human, cargo, and other launch purposes including ways that mission profiles (DRM 4) usually associated with a HLV could be accomplished in whole or in part by the use of expendable launch vehicles. A more detailed look at what was being reviewed last year can be found at “Human Exploration Framework Team Presentation Online“.

Full story and comments…

Duh. This was discussed last time people were fussing over SLS vs alternatives, about a year ago. I don’t recall seeing the previous year’s charts online, but NASA did do a good, pragmatic study, as reported here. The study took into account different mission scenarios, lift capacity to carry out those missions, and different combinations of rockets that could do it (existing or planned), plus the time required to build the different fleets of rockets and/or depots, complexity, and reliability. SLS would cost more, but turntimes between missions are less and it’s not so complex.

If you replace SLS with a fleet, you still have to build the fleet at the right time and get them all into space when you need them, without anything going wrong.

Maybe Congress just wanted an SLS because it’s tall and looks cool. Maybe they looked at all the numbers and decided to keep it simple. (And then there may be uses for it they don’t want to talk about.)

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Iron Man to Speak to House Technology Committee Next Week

Elon Musk from SpaceX is on the list to discuss Commerical Crew at a House Technology Committee next week.

From spacepolicyonline-
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today released the witness list for its hearing next week on commercial crew.

The October 26 hearing is entitled NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges and will begin at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. The witnesses are:

Panel One

Mr. John Elbon, Vice President and General Manger, Space Exploration Division, The Boeing Company
Mr. Steve Lindsey, Director, Space Exploration, Sierra Nevada Space Systems
Mr. Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, Space Exploration Technologies
Mr. Charles Precourt, Vice President and General Manager, ATK Space Launch Systems
Mr. George Sowers, Vice President, Business Development and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance

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SpaceX Completes Review of Launch Abort System

From Universetoday-

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is now one more step closer to sending astronauts to orbit. The commercial space firm announced today that it has completed a successful review of the company’s launch abort system (LAS). SpaceX’s LAS, dubbed “DragonRider” is designed differently than abort systems that have been used in the past.

The first review of the system’s design and its subsequent approval by NASA represents a step toward the realization of the space agency’s current objective of having commercial companies provide access to the International Space Station (ISS) while it focuses on sending astronauts beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO) for the first time in four decades…

Full story…

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Von Braun symposium to attract aerospace leaders, NASA administrators

From The Huntsville Times-

Aerospace industry leaders, NASA administrators and ordinary space buffs descend on the University of Alabama in Huntsville next week for the fourth Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium.
“Launching the Future in Space Exploration” is the title of the symposium that runs Monday through Wednesday. Major panels and speeches will be in the Chan Auditorium of the UAH Business Administration Building.
After an opening reception Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m. in the University Center, the symposium gets under way in earnest Oct. 25 at 8:30 with remarks by Frank Slazer, Aerospace Industries Association president, and Marshall Space Flight Center Director Robert Lightfoot. Those remarks will be in the Chan Auditorium.
NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese will report on news from NASA headquarters in Washington at the opening session.
A 10 a.m. panel moderated by Dan Dumbacher, NASA assistant associate administrator for human exploration capabilities, will examine the space agency’s new exploration road map including the Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle…

Full story…

I hope things work out. The name of the event is “Launching the Future in Space Exploration,” but I think the reality is “Trying to hang on and plan what we can before things get cancelled again…”

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Nasa Flip-Flops on SLS vs Fuel Depots? Well, Maybe

Nasawatch has a headline that says “NASA Studies Show Cheaper Alternatives to SLS.” Well, yes, and no. Click on the article and it takes you to Spaceref where we learn that this comes from a press release by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher! Yeah great source. Like we should really care what a politician says.

The Nasa source is supposedly a real fuel depot study, linked here, dated last July 21. This looks like an updated version of some of the same study charts that showed SLS to be the best choice over a year ago. You can actually do things cheaper with fuel depots, but the flip side is you actually have to develop and own some fuel depots, and you still have the logistics and manufacturing turntimes to build more vehicles if you have no SLS. Click the link and read to the end where it talks about the necessary conditions to use depots. (and don’t pay attention to politicians!)

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Dream Chaser May Fly, Someday

A Dream Chaser may fly, someday. Blogs and news sites have some interesting details on when the vehicle may have a test flight.

From dvice.cm-

NASA has been flirting with a number of private firms in the hunt for a company that could offer the U.S. an option in getting its astronauts back into space by the end of 2016. It looks like one such company will be ready for a test flight by as early as next summer.

Pictured above is the Dream Chaser, a seven-seater space plane that’s one of the crew vehicle hopefuls in the running to be the next space shuttle. NASA initially invested $80 million in the craft, and just tossed another $25.6 million at it, lining it up for a test flight next year…

Full story…

Oh, so next summer, someone is going to put a vehicle on a rocket and launch it like the picture shows?

Well, no. Next summer the Dream Chaser gets a drop test. Woohoo.

From Universetoday-

It looks as though the efforts to get commercial space taxis off the ground – is succeeding. Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) “Dream Chaser” space plane is slated to conduct its first test flight as early as next summer. SNC is one of four companies that have had proposals selected by NASA under the Commercial Crew Development Program – 02 (CCDev2).

The test flight, what is known as a high-altitude free-flight test or “drop-test” will see Dream Chaser lifted high into the air, where the craft will then be released from its carrier aircraft and attempt an unmanned landing. During the course of this flight test program SNC will test out the space plane’s autoland and other capabilities…

Full story…

So, by next summer, we will know for sure if gravity still works, and if you somehow had a vehicle in space and a crew needs to go home, they could drop back down somehow.

I liked this headline on Aviationweek, “NASA-Backed Space Taxi To Fly Test Mid-2013.” This story slipped the schedule by one year already.

Maybe NASA or Sierra Nevada just need to hire this guy-

Link…

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450 People In Line for a Space Ride and No Travel Date

From Spacenews-

Venture capitalist Alan Walton, one of the first to sign up for a ride to the edge of space on a Virgin Galactic ship, has given up on his dream. After waiting for seven years, the 75-year-old asked for a $200,000 ticket refund, the Associated Press reported.

“This was a decision I wish I didn’t have to make,” he said. But “it was time.”

The promise of space tourism generated excitement in 2004 after the experimental SpaceShipOne completed the first manned, private spaceflight. Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson predicted a maiden passenger flight would take off in 2007…

Full story…

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Wayne Hale on the Lack of Backup to Soyuz ISS Rescue

From Wayne Hale’s blog-

On April 29, 2002, the newly confirmed NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe planted a time bomb in the International Space Station program. Coming to NASA from the US Office of Management and Budget, where he was Deputy Director, Mr. O’Keefe had a reputation as a bean counter and penny pincher. Mr. O’Keefe publicly joked that he was not smart enough to be NASA Administrator. But he knew the ISS program needed political capital in the US political arena. Providing a big, flashy cut in the ISS program would cement O’Keefe’s position as NASA Administrator and aid in the annual budget fights in the US Congress. One part of the ISS program caught his attention: the plan to develop a US “lifeboat” for the ISS. Since the Russian Soyuz could fulfill that job – and the Russians were providing that service as part of their initial contribution to the international partnership – the Crew Rescue Vehicle (CRV or X-38) became an easy cut. So on April 29, the total dependence on the Soyuz for the life of the ISS program was established by NASA fiat, with virtually no consultation with the other ISS partners…

…We could have really used that CRV. It might even have become the basis of a mini-shuttle crew transport vehicle. But no; it was eliminated for the most transient and banal of reasons. The old adage against being “penny wise and pound foolish” has struck the human space effort once again.

Or more to the point; every good space designer knows that a system with a critical single point failure is not a good system. Reliability is key, but even then, having redundancy is the standard practice for a truly resilient system.

Full story…

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