Friday, October 28, 2016

Bottle Rocket

Video of the September 1 anomaly with the audio synchronized. Original video: USLaunchReport YouTube channel. Synchronized video: Matthew Wright YouTube channel.

SpaceX issued a statement today with an update of its investigation into the September 1 incident that destroyed a Falcon 9 booster, its Israeli satellite payload, and part of Launch Complex 40.

The investigation team has made significant progress on the fault tree. Previously, we announced the investigation was focusing on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank. The root cause of the breach has not yet been confirmed, but attention has continued to narrow to one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank. Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a COPV failure entirely through helium loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

SpaceX’s efforts are now focused on two areas — finding the exact root cause, and developing improved helium loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9. With the advanced state of the investigation, we also plan to resume stage testing in Texas in the coming days, while continuing to focus on completion of the investigation. This is an important milestone on the path to returning to flight.

Pending the results of the investigation, we continue to work towards returning to flight before the end of the year. Our launch sites at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, remain on track to be operational in this timeframe.

After Thoughts

With about ten days to go in the 2016 presidential election, the candidates of both major parties suddenly have found the government space program to be a relevant topic.

Florida Today posted this evening a repeat of the October 25 Space News column by Clinton campaign surrogate Jim Kohlenberger. If you read the first one, you'll miss nothing new by skipping today's post.

Space News journalist Jeff Foust reported yesterday that Robert Walker, who co-wrote an October 19 Space News Trump campaign space policy column, told the reporter he'd only joined the campaign in the last two weeks.

Robert Walker, the former Republican congressman who noted he became Trump’s space policy advisor just in the last two weeks, said he was asked by the campaign to develop a space policy “that has real change.” He called the one that resulted “visionary, disruptive, coordinating and resilient.”

That policy framework has several key characteristics, including the restoration of the National Space Council, hypersonic technology development and use of small satellites. It would also have a “stretch goal,” he said, “ of human exploration of the entire solar system by the end of the century.”

Based on this statement, it seems that the column is a Robert Walker space policy, not a Donald Trump space policy.

Trump himself until now has said little about space. In November 2015, on the New Hampshire campaign trail, Trump told a ten-year old by that filling potholes is more important than NASA.

Earlier this week, Trump bailed on a tour of Kennedy Space Center for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, where he could draw a bigger crowd.

The reason why the campaigns might be paying attention to space may be due to the close margin in the Florida presidential race.

As of this writing, projects Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by 48.9% to 46.5%. Early voting began October 24 in Florida, so the time left to change minds is very limited.

Even so, it's unlikely that many voters consider space to be the primary deciding factor in choosing their candidate.

UPDATE October 28, 2016 6:15 PM EDTFlorida Today space journalist James Dean reports that Trump's running mate Mike Pence might visit Kennedy Space Center or Brevard County on Monday October 31.

After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump passed on the opportunity this week, running mate Mike Pence now is expected to visit the Space Coast and meet with aerospace industry representatives on Monday.

Plans remained fluid Friday afternoon, with the Indiana governor at one point kicking off his visit with a tour of Kennedy Space Center.

Even if that does not happen, Pence could participate in a roundtable discussion with local industry leaders organized by the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast and Space Florida, which have invited the presidential candidates to space policy briefings.

The roundtable could be followed by a rally at a location to be confirmed.

As of early Friday evening, the potential Brevard County stop was not listed on an official campaign schedule that included events through Sunday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Let's Talk Space

For whatever reason, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns finally are talking more about U.S. space policy.

Space News published on October 19 a guest column by two Trump campaign surrogates detailing what they say would be a Trump administration space policy. A second “peace through strength” Trump column appeared on October 24, written by the same authors.

Mr. Trump was supposed to have toured Kennedy Space Center yesterday, but bailed on that for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. Marcia Smith of reported on his space-related comments. Trump insulted NASA, stating, “I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity. Big deal.” Anyone paying attention knows that the human spaceflight part of the agency is focused on developing the technology and strategy to put a human on Mars by the end of the 2030s. NASA robotic craft are at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and last year flew past Pluto.

Trump claimed, “My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here.” That contradicts what he said to a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire last November, telling the lad that filling potholes is more important.

The Clinton campaign until now hasn't said much about space, but yesterday Clinton surrogate Jim Kohlenberger published on Space News what he claimed will be her space policy.

The column has little in the way of new initiatives, but Kohlenberger did write this interesting passage:

And, to solve problems more effectively and expeditiously, she will elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives and accelerate the development of advanced new technologies — multiplying what we can achieve in space and providing taxpayers even more bang for their buck.

I find the phrase “elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives” curious. It could just be a surrogate writing filler. Or it might signal an intent to create a Cabinet-level science technology agency. Some space advocates have dreamed that NASA become a Cabinet-level agency. That won't happen, but a Cabinet-level agency dedicated to science might be plausible, if it can get past Congress.

The balance of the article seems to support the Obama-era space policies, although no specific mention is made of Congress' favorite pork project, the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System, because Congress created SLS in 2010 to protect Shuttle-era jobs in the space-related states and districts of certain members of Congress.

President Obama will be in Orlando Friday for a Clinton campaign rally at the University of Central Florida. It's too much to hope that Obama might take one final lap at KSC, but let's see if he makes any space-related comments.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Empty Space

First Lady Hillary Clinton (left) with first female Space Shuttle commander Eileen Collins at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC on March 5, 1998.

The news broke earlier today that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign has cancelled plans announced earlier this week to tour Kennedy Space Center on October 24 or 25.

The invitation came from the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, whose web site describes the agency as “an innovative, countywide, not-for-profit partnership between the Brevard County Commission and the Space Coast business community. Business leaders, chambers of commerce, local and state government leaders, and community organizations contribute to the overall mission of the EDC.”

According to the October 18 Florida Today report, the EDC issued invitations to both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

If the Clinton campaign responded, we haven't heard about it.

From a calculated political perspective, there's little upside to Clinton spending campaign time in Brevard County.

As I wrote on October 18, the county is a safe Republican district. In the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate lost by anywhere from about 10% to 16%. For this election, about 42% of the county is registered Republican, while 32% are Democrat.

As of this writing, election forecast web site projects that Clinton will beat Trump in Florida by 49.2% to 45.5%. Both candidates will be trolling safe districts in the next two weeks trying to increase turnout. Few undecided voters remain, and early voting has already begun in the state. estimates that, as of this writing, Clinton has an 85.8% chance of winning the electoral college and therefore the Presidency. Her margin of victory in the college would be about 140 votes.

So let's go with the statistical data, and assume Clinton is elected President.

What might be her administration's space policy?

Hard to say.

Visit her campaign web site, and you won't find any position papers on space policy.

Space News posted on October 10 a side-by-side comparison of space policy responses from the two campaigns. Neither offered much in the way of specifics or new initiatives, although Clinton's responses were lengthier. Clinton seems inclined to continue the Obama administration's space policy, which largely reflects a compromise between the NewSpace policy of the current administration and the preference of Congress to protect OldSpace pork for their districts and states.

The Clinton campaign's response stated:

Mars is a consensus horizon goal, though to send humans safely, we still need to advance the technologies required to mitigate the effects of long-duration, deep-space flight.

The Trump campaign said nothing about Mars, instead proposing “a comprehensive review of our plans for space, and will work with Congress to set both priorities and mission.”

NASA is much more than a deep-space human exploration program. The Clinton campaign acknowledges that, discussing both civilian and military space activities, robotic exploration, investment in innovation, studying climate change, and public-private partnerships.

But no new initiatives are proposed. No grand vision is offered.

Hillary Clinton with President Bill Clinton in the Launch Control Center for the STS-95 Shuttle launch on October 29, 1998. The First Couple attended because former astronaut and senator John Glenn was on the flight.

One significant difference between the two candidates has been their perspectives on the female gender, and their differences extend to the space program as well.

Clinton often tells a story about how as a child she wrote NASA asking how she could become an astronaut. She claims to have received a reply from NASA telling her there would be no women astronauts. Subsequent research by the Washington Post verified such letters were sent by NASA during the period.

A President Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be more vocal in opening opportunities for females, not just in the government but in the nation as a whole.

We might even see the first female NASA Administrator.

President George W. Bush appointed the first female deputy administrator, Shana Dale, in 2005.

She was succeeded by Obama appointee Lori Garver, who originally had been the space policy advisor to Clinton's 2008 campaign. Once Clinton lost the nomination to Senator Barack Obama, Garver moved over to the Obama campaign to refine what up to then had been a largely absent, much less coherent, space policy.

Garver's four years were controversial, as she was a vocal proponent of NewSpace, a term generally describing a movement to open space to the private sector through incentives, partnerships and technology transfers.

Garver left in 2013, as Obama's second term began, and was replaced by Dava Newman, an aerospace biomedical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Newman might be a less controversial choice than Garver, whose NewSpace evangelism earned her enemies on Capitol Hill. Freed of political correctness, Garver has spoken her mind since leaving NASA, saying that the agency has a “socialist” approach to space exploration. Garver said in November 2015:

“NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing. Don’t try to compete with the private sector. Incentivize them by driving technologies that will be necessary for us as we explore further.”

It shouldn't be an automatic assumption that women in the space business will line up behind Clinton.

First Lady Hillary Clinton names Eileen Collins the first female Space Shuttle commander on March 5, 1998. Original video source: C-SPAN.

Former astronaut Eileen Collins addresses the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016.

Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle commander, spoke at the Republican National Convention on July 20. She did not specifically endorse Trump, but there were reports that she had deleted a line from the campaign-approved speech doing so. Her speech was riddled with falsehoods about the Obama administration's space policy, and chose to overlook the NewSpace movement.

Collins, ironically, was feted by First Lady Clinton on March 5, 1998 during a ceremony at the White House. The two later went to Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. Ms. Clinton was quoted as saying, “I hope there will be girls in the audience who look up at her and say, that's what I want to do.” Clinton that day repeated the story about her childhood letter to NASA.

During the 2008 general election campaign, President Obama made a campaign stop in Titusville to discuss space policy. During his administration, he twice visited Kennedy Space Center, once in 2010 to deliver a controversial space policy proposal, the second in 2011 to watch a Shuttle launch that was scrubbed. These visits found him little political support in Brevard County, offering more evidence that there's no upside to Clinton spending time here.

A President doesn't have to come to Kennedy Space Center to discuss space policy. John F. Kennedy delivered his famous space policy speech at Rice University in September 1962. George H.W. Bush proposed a Mars program on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. That went nowhere, as have most grandiose space proposals since the Apollo era.

Hillary Clinton's general neglect of any specific space policy is realpolitik. Coming here now, or any time in the next four years, won't affect her election or her political power within the Beltway. Space advocates, justifiably, want to hear more. I wish we would hear more.

But space is, and has been since the late 1960s, a low priority for the federal government. A half-century of wishing otherwise doesn't make it so.

In her inaugural address, Clinton could propose doubling NASA's budget, but it wouldn't matter, because Congress determines NASA's budget and would probably ignore her request. NASA's bureaucracy hasn't shown it can wisely spend money. Any spending increase, in my opinion, should go to NewSpace.

Our NewSpace economy is almost at the point where it's beyond the crawling stage and able to walk on its own. NewSpace companies are contracting with one another to offer services, in low Earth orbit and beyond.

If the new administration is to have any space policy, I'd suggest it would be to get out of the way and let the NewSpace economy lead.

Trump Dump

You can forget any plans for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to tour Kennedy Space Center next week.

Local officials announced on October 18 that Mr. Trump intended to land at the former Shuttle runway, tour facilities, participate in a roundtable discussion with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, and then hold a campaign rally.

Apparently Mr. Trump is more interested in how many people can turn out to cheer for him.

Florida Today space journalist James Dean reports:

Donald Trump's campaign has scrubbed plans for the Republican presidential nominee to tour Kennedy Space Center and talk about the space program in Brevard County this week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump will instead hold a rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, a day after stops in St. Augustine and Tampa.

The switch apparently was made because no indoor venue near KSC was approved for a rally that would draw thousands of supporters, and available outdoor venues presented security concerns.

The article speculates that the Trump campaign still has time to schedule a KSC event before Election Day on Tuesday November 8.

Here in Brevard County, early voting begins on Monday October 24 and runs through Saturday November 5.