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Wayne Hale Writes About Standards

Last Friday, Wayne Hale’s blog was about standards, or lack of them. It’s worth reading.

He starts out discussing some shuttle tanks that were tested at White Sands, then testing moved to KSC, and things were not the same. Standards problem-

For space flight hardware, the Shuttle program specified the standards used in the design, development, testing, and production. But for ground test equipment, the space center where the equipment was used was responsible for the standards. You might think that NASA would have a set of standards for things like welding a pressurized metal tank used in ground checkout of space flight hardware. But if you thought that you would be wrong. Much of the time NASA appears to be a loose confederation of 10 quasi independent fiefdoms, each pretty much in charge of their own business. People often ask me what would I do if I were king of NASA for a day. They expect me to say something like: build this rocket, launch that satellite. Rather I think how I would standardize the procurement processes, or the human resources procedures, or the engineering standards used across the agency. But then I always was a dreamer, tilting at impossible windmills. Launching rockets is easy; getting engineers to agree on standards is hard…

Full story…

Hale is quite right. I spent most of my engineering years working commercial airplanes (engines actually) and when I migrated to NASA I noticed this too. I probably mentioned this so much at work that people got tired of hearing it. It’s good to see someone like Hale agreeing!

NASA does have a mess on it’s hands with regard to standards. The reasons for it are many, and it’s too much to get into in a short web update. I think the main reason is that each Program comes up with it’s own, and there is no need to fit the previous standards, or standards that another center is using. What you end up with is a confused mess of agency standards and many center standards that don’t agree. Plus when meeting this cloud of requirements gets too confusing, people get waivers-which makes standards a waste of time anyway.

Each time I ran across this, I would think of what would happen if a major airline allowed each major hub in it’s system to come up with it’s own standards. Maintaining planes would be way too complicated. Every airline knows this. They write a single requirements document for the whole company, applicable worldwide. If you need to write up an item and document how it was cleared, the same forms and same procedures apply, regardless if work is done in Orlando, Paris, or Tokyo.

On the other hand, you may just ask “so what?” It’s not like the Shuttle needed to land at 100 different airports. Most NASA vehicles take just one trip anyway.

The problem Hale is writing about in this case could be worked another way. When a large air carrier wants to put an engine or airplane in a third-party shop, they maintain different quality manuals. Before work starts, an audit is done to verify line-by-line that what the repair shop will do meets the requirements of the carrier. The rest is insight and oversight, something NASA needs to get good at for SLS and commercial crew. This is just as important as standardizing standards.

There have been some initiatives to address the problem Hale wrote about, but they were not high priority. When a new Program comes along, people forget about these things and focus on doing that one program, with it’s custom standards and everything else (SEMPs).


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…


Cool Video-Amateur Rocket Reaches a Claimed 121,000 Feet

From Universetoday-

An amateur rocket may have won the Carmack Challenge (put out by Armadillo Aerospace Founder John Carmack) for the first vehicle to reach 100K feet. There is a 16 minute video that is really cool.

Full story and video…

More images and detail on the project website…


Take a Leak for Space Travel

MSNBC is having too much fun with this story…starting with the title-

“Can urine whiz rockets to Mars?”

The idea of using urine to whiz rockets to the moon and beyond is once again leaking into the realm of possibility.
That’s because scientists have begun to crack the code of how bacteria that live without the aid of oxygen convert ammonium — a key chemical in urine — into hydrazine, which is a type of rocket fuel…

Read the full tinkle…


SLS trades lean towards opening with four RS-25s on the core stage

From Nasaspaceflight.com-

The Space Launch System (SLS) is undergoing final refinements – known as trades – on a preferred baseline for the opening flights, with documentation showing a preference to debut the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) with four RS-25s on the core stage, instead of three. Should this become an approved configuration, it would allow for full utilization of the propellent that can be contained inside the stretched core.

SLS Configurations:

The ongoing trades taking place at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) are a notable change from the Constellation Program (CxP) issue of making major configuration decisions years down the line, which – in the case of Ares – was well-known as one of the contributing factors to causing impacts to the entire vehicle.

Technically, SLS could launch with three, four or five RS-25s from the outset. However, with three engines on the core, and the automatic need for the core to be “stretched” – based on the five segment boosters on the configuration – using four engines will allow the vehicle to fly fully fueled in all configurations saving the extra calculations/testing for an under-filled three engine core.

As such, it appears managers have already decided that using four engines on the first stage would be best prescribed for the SLS from the start…

Full story…


Amazon Chief’s Spaceship Misfires

Oops. Bring on the “I told you so’s.” One of the test vehicles for commercial crew that gets NASA out of the crew-lifting business is toast.

From the Wall Street Journal-

An unmanned spaceship funded by Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos veered out of control and had to be destroyed during a recent test flight, highlighting the dramatic risks of private space ventures.

The spacecraft, developed by closely held Blue Origin LLC, was on a suborbital flight from the company’s West Texas spaceport last week when it started to go off course and ground personnel lost normal contact with the vehicle. Investigators are looking at remnants of the craft recovered on the ground to determine the cause.

After The Wall Street Journal reported on the failure, Blue Origin Friday posted a brief note on its website stating the spacecraft, while going faster than the speed of sound, suffered a “flight instability” at an altitude of 45,000 feet and the company’s automated “range safety system” shut off all thrust and led to its destruction. The problem appeared to stem from thrusters that didn’t respond properly to the initial commands, according to one industry official.
The note, signed by Mr. Bezos, said it was “not the outcome any of us wanted,” but “we’re signed up for this to be hard.”

Full story…

Nasawatch entry and comments…


Doh! Revised Cost for JWST Causes a Stir

From Aviationweek-

Managers at NASA replanning the James Webb Space Telescope program after an independent cost analysis found it over budget and behind schedule have concluded it will cost about $8.7 billion to finish the telescope in time for a launch in 2018 and operate it at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point for five years.

An agency spokesman said Monday the revised figure — an increase of $3.6 billion over NASA’s most recent life-cycle-cost estimate for the big infrared space observatory — includes all development, launch operations and science costs.

Details of how the agency will pay the cost will be covered in the fiscal 2013 NASA budget request now in preparation, the spokesman says…

Full story…

See also…


Is NASA Trying To Slow-Roll SLS?

Americaspace.org asks “Is NASA trying to slow-roll [the] SLS?” Well, maybe. The argument is that the “dual-phase” approach for SLS is a plan to slow it down so it will be cut before it’s done.

From Americaspace.org-

…While the White House agreed to the overall compromise that was the 2010 NASA Act, some within the Administration and political appointees within NASA never stopped the “good fight”, as they see it, to kill any semblance of Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. The thinking goes that, while funds may have been appropriated for both the SLS and MPCV programs, that doesn’t mean neither can be slowed. And if they are slowed, their costs rise, giving ammunition to those like Mr. Matthews who claim such programs are a waste.

One way to kill a new program such as the Space Launch System is by division. In this case, build two launchers, naturally the first to “…test [NASA's] nascent crew capsule — and keep shuttle workers and the aerospace industry busy — while the agency figures out what it really wants in a next-generation ‘heavy-lift’ rocket that could go to the moon or beyond.” This is called the “dual phase approach“…

Full story…

It may in fact turn out this way, but the logic behind it is weak. There is another explanation for the “dual-phase” approach that makes engineering and budget sense, based on current realities.

The first phase gets an SLS flying that uses shuttle SRBs, and defers propulsion costs until later. Since SLS will get a finite amount of money per year, it’s logical to do it this way. It certainly does open the door for an admin to go after the project in the future, but that doesn’t really mean that this is the plan right now.


Behind the Scenes at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40

From Universe Today-

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) took members of the media on a tour of Launch Complex 40, where the NewSpace firm has successfully launched two of its Falcon 9 rockets and one of its Dragon spacecraft (the first entity other than nations or government bodies to do so). For the media, this tour was an eye-opening experience.
SpaceX had obviously worked long and hard to allow the world to get a grasp what it is that they are doing – while at the same time avoiding International Travel in Arms Regulations (ITAR) related issues. In a well-choreographed affair the tour was split into two separate groups, one checked out the Falcon 9 hangar, while the other group inspected the launch pad that sent last December’s Falcon 9 flight on its date with history.

Full Story…


What’s Going on with the SLS?

Most of the news about the SLS has been about the budget and political fuss around the rocket that replaces the shuttle. Since late last year, MSFC has been busy doing what it can, considering the political roadblocks-which are significant.

The best update is at Nasaspaceflight.com, where there is a good article and a discussion thread about the dual-phase approach that is well underway.

The “Phase 1″ vehicle is no surprise actually. Phase 1 is about a “Block-0″ HLV which uses up shuttle SSMEs, a shuttle ET tank, two improved 4-segment SRBs, and no Upper Stage. This configuration was discussed on this site late last year, so it’s not really new. Note the comment here from Sep 3 of last year.

This gets an SLS flying (4 flights), spends a minimum on propulsion since it can use existing engines, and defers the costs of an Upper Stage. It makes sense from NASA’s view because budgets are fixed, and if you try and develop everything at once, you have to pay for everything at once too.

You may be asking, “What will they do with it?” According to NSF-

The four flights of the Phase I SLS would be classed as test flights, with missions yet to be determined, although Orion – or the MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – as NASA managers now insist on calling it) – will be flown, allowing for missions of crew and/or cargo to the ISS…

The decisions on Phase 2 come later.

Again, according to NSF-

The configuration of the Phase II SLS would placed on backburner until the 2013-2016 timeframe, when an “open competition” would be held between several configurations, such as a 130mt SD HLV from RAC-1, the RP-1 vehicle which has been leading the RAC-2 studies, or even a super-heavy EELV or SpaceX Super Heavy…