MAIN ARTICLE: NASA tests new COTS engine.
Find out what's new at the Stennis Space Center and NASA's push for commercial space options.
Poll Results: Yesterday's poll, "What area of Commercial Space Development should America promote first?" had a weaker then normal turnout but still had some interesting results. Scroll down to see what happened.
Star Trek: In the News. "Beam me up Geneva." GENEVA?
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Yesterday's Comments: "oh, ho...sounds like you're conducting a push-poll, then!" - Zeke L
Today's Poll: Should America fund a COTS-D program to close the gap.
NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center was chosen to do the propulsion tests for the new Taurus II engines.
"Taurus II is a two-stage launch vehicle designed to provide responsive, low-cost, and reliable access to space for medium-class payloads weighing up to 5750 kg. Currently under development to demonstrate commercial re-supply of the International Space Station under a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, the Taurus II launch system utilizes identical management approaches, engineering standards, production and test processes common to Orbital’s family of highly successful small-class Pegasus®, Taurus®, and Minotaur launch vehicles. These proven launch technologies, along with hardware from one of the world’s leading launch vehicle integrators, combine to provide cost-effective access to a variety of orbits for civil, commercial and military Delta II-class payloads."
Stennis was in the news last month when NASA's Public Affairs Office released:
"As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, NASA recently selected its top 50 "spinoff" technologies developed as a result of the space program.
A pair of technologies developed at the John C. Stennis Space Center made the list, including one described as an "all-star" development.
Spinoff: 50 Years of NASA-derived Technologies (1958-2008) celebrates the impact the national space program has had on everyday life. It cites technologies developed for space exploration that also have been used to spur the economy and improve lives. These include technologies related to artificial limbs, anti-icing systems on airplanes, heart pumps, firefighter gear, enriched baby food, computer software, food safety, automobile performance, water purification and even safe land mine removal.
The revolutionizing technologies cited in the publication include the development of a one-of-a-kind arbitrary shape deformation software capability that enhances how designers are able to study and design fluid flow components. Before development of the ASD software, designers sometimes would spend days, weeks and even months creating workable flow models. With the new software, designers are able to create models much more quickly and efficiently."
NASA announced, in January of 2006, a new program. "Commercial Orbital Transportation Services", or COTS, is a 500 million dollar gamble NASA is taking to start commercialized cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS).
"In September 2006, Rocketplane Kistler began to miss financial milestones associated with the COTS agreement, and requested and received from NASA a 30-day extension on the milestone for completing its $40 million initial financing round. In February 2007 RpK renegotiated its COTS agreement, agreeing to raise the $500 million of required private financing before the end of May.
By August 2007, RpK had failed to obtain that financing, forcing them to cut their workforce.
On September 7, 2007, NASA notified Rocketplane Kistler that the COTS agreement would be terminated in 30 days due to continued inability to meet its financial milestones. NASA announced in October 2007 that it had terminated funding for the project." Kistler (wiki)
Unlike most NASA programs this one called for the winning companies to put up their own financing as well. NASA wanted the winning companies to have some "skin in the game" believing it would lead to better results.
After Kistler failed, NASA did a "do over" and companies competed for the the second slot in the program again. Orbital Sciences was the winner with their entry of the Taurus II. Stennis seemed excited for the opportunity to carry out the tests:
" "We have been tasked to design and modify one of our most versatile test facilities and have it checked out and ready for testing in 11 months," said Robert Bruce, Stennis' AJ26 test project manager. "While this is an aggressive schedule, we are confident in our ability to support Orbital's development effort. We are excited to be selected by Orbital and are now fully integrated into their launch vehicle development team."
Stennis engineers will have less than one year both to design and make modifications to the E-1 Test Stand to accommodate testing of the engine. The engine uses RP-1 hydrocarbon fuel, basically refined rocket-grade kerosene, as rocket propellant. This type of rocket fuel has not been used at Stennis to test a rocket engine this powerful since the late 1960s.
"When Stennis Space Center develops this capability, it will make Stennis' test expertise available to a whole new line of rocket engine developers in both the commercial and government space launch arena," Bruce said. "We are renewing a capability that the center had when it first opened, giving Stennis the ability to test hydrocarbon fuel for the first time at the E-1 Test Stand. This fuel was used in the 1960s, when Stennis conducted tests for the Saturn V rocket. We have only tested with RP-1 in two much smaller tests since that time." " - Space Ref
In 2004 President Bush announced a new mandate for NASA. In a speech he announced a new "Vision for Space Exploration" or VSE. This plan called for the completion of the International Space Station. Retire the Space Shuttle by the end of 2010 and build a replacement system. The new system, Constellation, would not be completed until 2014 and since then has been pushed back to 2015.
This leaves a five year "gap" where America will be unable to launch American Astronauts into space or to the newly completed 100 billion dollar space station.
The COTS program was for cargo only but there was a companion program that has not been funded yet.
Capability D, the manned option for COTS, drew contrasting viewpoints from the two COTS winners as reported by Jeff Foust of Space Review last November:
Progress and contrast on the commercial space frontier
"Robert Richards, vice president of Orbital Sciences Corporation and manager of their Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program with NASA, said it was premature to think about so-called "Capability D", for human spaceflight (see "The COTS conundrum", The Space Review, July 28, 2008). "I don’t think it would even be prudent for NASA to fund a Capability D without seeing tangible process on the cargo side," he said. Orbital, for the time being, is focused on its cargo spacecraft, Cygnus, and its new Taurus 2 launcher. "The path that we’re on, as a company, is probably the most prudent for NASA, which is to really put resources into making sure this cargo system is operating reliably and repeatably, and then move on to Capability D."
That drew a sharp response from Diane Murphy, vice president of SpaceX, the other company with a funded COTS agreement with NASA. "We think it’s very important to go through with that now," she said. The sooner that the Capability D option in SpaceX’s COTS agreement is exercised, she noted, the sooner the company can start work on long-lead items like the escape tower, a system that will take 18–24 months to complete. Moreover, she noted, the nature of the agreement reduced NASA’s risk. "You don’t get paid until you perform... There’s no downside here. So I don’t understand why anybody would really object to getting going with this because you have to prove you can do it before the government pays." "
The Senate (S.3270) did express some interest in speeding up the COTS-D option:
"Authorizes additional appropriations to accelerate the initial operational capability of a U.S.-owned human spacecraft capability.
(Sec. 4) Affirms congressional support for the broad goals of U.S. space exploration policy, utilization of lunar exploration, activity related to Mars exploration, and international participation and cooperation (as well as commercial involvement in exploration).
(Sec. 5) Revises requirements for a compliance report on replacement of the Space Shuttle Orbiter. Limits authority of the NASA Administrator to retire the Space Shuttle and requires a report on recertification of continued flightworthiness through FY2015.
Expresses the sense of Congress concerning contributions of the commercial space sector. Requires, with respect to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project: (1) an assessment of the effects of increased funding under this Act upon development of project capabilities; and (2) a competition for completion of the COTS crewed vehicle demonstration project by the end of FY2011, or as soon thereafter as is practicable."
There was another group actively pushing for COTS claiming they found a way to fund it when Presidential Candidates had called for an additional 2 billion in funding for NASA:
Space Frontier Foundation Finds Funding Source for COTS-D
"Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka said "It's time that our national leaders give American entrepreneurs a shot at closing this gap. Let's take the two billion dollars in the candidates' plans and fund up to five winners of COTS-D."
The NASA Authorization Act of 2008, recently signed into law by the President, directs NASA to "issue a notice of intent [by mid-April 2009] ... to enter into a funded, competitively awarded Space Act Agreement with two or more commercial entities' for transporting humans to the ISS"-the "Capability D" of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program (or COTS-D for short). But that directive is not yet funded.
Szoka continued, "Let's have an American competition in space - to create good jobs, fuel innovation, and close the gap more quickly. With private funds matching government's investment, we can dramatically leverage the $2 billion to produce breakthroughs in a new American industry - commercial orbital human spaceflight." "
AMERICA AND THE GAP:
Should the Nation strive to develop a commercial space option for both American Astronauts and private citizens to take a trip into space?
Currently Russia has a global monopoly on orbital space tourism. With the recent flare up of trouble between Georgia and Russia, it brought home how dependant America will be on our Russian partners to keep selling American Astronauts tickets to space. Many in Congress have expressed their concerns about this current situation.
You can take it to the bank that once the Space Shuttle is retired and Russia, with the only human launch system, will jack the prices through the roof.
Today's poll is about funding an American Commercial solution to the problem of the gap.
It was a weaker turnout then is normally seen in the polls run here but DKOS members did express a strong "No Opinion" (58%) for various options for kick starting American Space Development. Of those expressing a no opinion (36%) did favor increased spending in some way for manned space flight with (22%) in favor of cutting funds for manned space flight. "In Space Transportation & Fuel Stations" pulled a very weak third place capturing (13%) of the vote.
STAR TREK: In the News.
"Star-Trek-style human teleportation may still be years away, but scientists in Geneva have made a key breakthrough in the field of quantum teleportation.
Researchers at Geneva University have developed a "quantum memory", capturing a single particle of light (a photon) in a crystal and then reproducing and retransmitting it."
"That 2005 paper about the economics of space was right on point. That space access to LEO remains the primary barrier to commercial development of space. That international politics has been the main factor limiting development of LEO access. Developing systems which are reusable and reduce fuel/weight ratio will reduce overall costs." - NellaSelim
For those that missed it, here is that link again:
LAUNCH VEHICLES: AN ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE (PDF 43 pages)
Do you feel America should help develop a private enterprise approach to solve the problem of the gap in human space flight and give it a kickstart?