Perspectives After the Fire: Long Road Ahead for SpaceX and NASA's Commercial Crew Program

Hazmat crews surround SpaceX Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, days after the company suffered a catastrophic explosion of their Falcon-9 booster and losing the customer's payload which was already atop the rocket for its flight to orbit. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo / AmericaSpace

Hazmat crews surround SpaceX Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, days after the company suffered a catastrophic explosion of their Falcon-9 booster and losing the customer’s payload which was already atop the rocket for its flight to orbit. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo / AmericaSpace

There is no way to dilute the events of Sept. 1, 2016, into something less than catastrophic, and not just for SpaceX but for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program itself. Because after Thursday, Sept. 1, NASA’s bet on Commercial Crew in general, and in SpaceX in particular, was challenged not just programmatically but technically. What remains to be seen is whether or not, and how fast, the Commercial Crew program (CPP) and SpaceX recover, something that will take not days or weeks, but months to determine.

Regardless of the explosion or its cause on 9/1 (which is not yet known as of this publishing 9/23), that day would still have been a tough news day for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and by extension SpaceX.

SpaceX Falcon-9 taking flight with Dragon to the ISS on CRS-6. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

SpaceX Falcon-9 taking flight with Dragon to the ISS on CRS-6. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

On 9/1, the NASA inspector general, Paul Martin, released a report on the current progress of NASA’s two Commercial Crew program contractors in launching crewed flights from American soil. The NASA IG’s report, NASA’S COMMERCIAL CREW PROGRAM: Update On Development And Certification Efforts makes clear that claims made in past presentations by NASA Commercial Crew Program office, in particular those by NASA Special Assistant for Program Analysis Phil McAlister to the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) on several occasions, that its CCP contractors, Boeing and SpaceX, will be launching crews anytime before late 2018 do not hold up under scrutiny.

“While past funding shortfalls have contributed to the delay, technical challenges with the contractors’ spacecraft designs are now driving the schedule slippages. The Commercial Crew Program continues to face multiple challenges that will likely delay the first routine flight carrying NASA astronauts to the ISS until late 2018—more than 3 years after NASA’s original 2015 goal.”[1]

Whether there were indeed funding shortfalls for NASA’s Commercial Space Program depends upon whether one takes the annual White House budget request or congressional authorization law, that is the enacted legislation that actually creates a program of record and determines authorized funding levels for that program, as a basis for program funding. Generally speaking, authorization law is the measure that is usually used in guiding such discussions.

By that measure NASA’s Commercial Crew efforts were underfunded only in 2011–2012 by a combined $98.6 million and not billions.

In any case, where do Boeing and SpaceX stand in completing the milestones of their individual CCtCap contracts according to the NASA Inspector General’s report?

Boeing began with 23 CCtCap milestones in 2014. In the two years since, the number of milestones has increased to 34 due to previous milestones being broken-up, risk reduction, and other efforts. The additional milestones raised Boeing’s total contract by $46M.

“As of June 2016, Boeing had completed 15 of 34 milestones (44%) necessary to achieve certification and was scheduled to receive up to $1.067B (25%) of the total contract value payment.”[2]

SpaceX began with 18 CCtCap milestone in 2014. In the two years since the number of milestones has increased to 21 due to previous milestones being broken-up, risk reduction, and other efforts. The additional milestones did not raise SpaceX’s total contract amount. “As of June 2016, SpaceX had completed 8 of 21 milestones (38%), five less than planned under the original schedule, and received $469M (18%) of the total contract value.”[3] Left unmentioned in the NASA Inspector General’s report is that SpaceX still has two uncompleted CCiCap milestones that were to have been completed by mid–2014.

In short, progress in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is being made, but more slowly than planned or hoped. And more slowly than needed to prevent NASA from having to buy more seats on Soyuz.

All of this stands in contrast to assurances made repeatedly by NASA Commercial Crew Program office that commercial crew would launch by 2017. But it does not come as a surprise. Those closely following commercial crews have heard for some time that claims of commercial crew launch dates in 2017 were optimistic at best. On separate occasions when AmericaSpace contacted NASA regarding rumblings heard of problems in the Commercial Crew Program that would delay any launches, NASA updated AmericaSpace as to the completed milestones of the commercial crew contracts and assured AmericaSpace that information implying launch delays was either inaccurate or ill-informed.

Commercial Crew astronauts Doug Hurley, center, and Sunita "Suni" Williams sit inside a Crew Dragon mockup during an evaluation visit for the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX's Hawthorne, California, headquarters. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Commercial Crew astronauts Doug Hurley, center, and Sunita “Suni” Williams sit inside a Crew Dragon mockup during an evaluation visit for the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters. Photo Credit: SpaceX

In May 2016 one NASA commercial crew contractor, Boeing, put some shade on the optimism of NASA’s commercial crew launch date pronouncements by revising its estimated launch date to sometime in early 2018. When contacted about this development, Boeing confirmed to AmericaSpace that it had faced technical difficulties regarding its CST–100 Starliner commercial spacecraft that forced the company to move its expected first launch of crew to 2018. By coming clean about delays in launching its CST–100 Starliner, Boeing not only substantiates the findings in the NASA Inspector General’s report but leaves the impression that its management is more fully aware of the CST–100’s performance.

As late as last May, when contacted by AmericaSpace.com regarding rumors of a slippage in its inaugural launch of a crew, SpaceX emphatically maintained that it would make a 2017 launch of crew well ahead of Boeing. The NASA Inspector General’s report makes clear that those claims of just a few months ago were not credible.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Pad Abort Test May 2015, Cape Canaveral AFS Launch Complex 40. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

SpaceX Crew Dragon Pad Abort Test May 2015, Cape Canaveral AFS Launch Complex 40. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Delays in SpaceX’s progress in its commercial crew efforts can in part be measured by continuing critical design review (CDR) changes, or deltas. One reason for those changes is that SpaceX has no employees who have designed or built a crewed spacecraft, save for a couple of former NASA personnel. Another contributing factor to SpaceX’s commercial crew launch date slippages is that it has only a few, perhaps little more than two or three dozen, SpaceX employees working full-time on commercial crew; most of the others are multi-tasked to Cargo Resupply, Red Dragon, and commercial satellite services.

Whatever delays that the NASA Inspector General found for SpaceX in meeting its commercial crew milestones only increased when at 8:07 a.m. Sept. 1, 2016, a Falcon 9 FT–026 exploded, destroying itself, its payload, and the LC–40 launch pad. Elon Musk, the Founder and CTO of SpaceX, released a statement shortly afterwards indicating that the explosion originated with the upper-stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

It bears reminding that a problem within the Falcon 9 upper-stage was determined as the source of the mishap that caused the loss of SpaceX’s CRS–7 mission. Regardless, SpaceX has had its second catastrophic event in little more than 14 months. That is unprecedented within the last 50 years of U.S. space activities. And not since 1959 has a rocket consumed itself on a U.S. launchpad during a pre-launch ground test.

The Falcon 9 explosion on 9/1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 (LC–40) essentially destroyed the launchpad. Densified liquid oxygen, which SpaceX terms “super-chilled,” was being loaded at the time of the explosion in preparation for a static fire test. After the explosion occurred, for reasons that are unclear, densified LOX, which is highly reactive and corrosive, flowed onto LC–40 for over 4.5 minutes. Sources have said that the densified LOX entered into underground tunnels and rooms and eventually led to explosive incidents in those locations. The fire that raged for over 4.5 minutes was so intense that sand around the pad nearest to the fire was turned into glass. By all accounts, LC–40 will have to be completely rebuilt, a task that will take at least several months. Who will pay for the rebuilding of LC–40 will be left up to SpaceX; SpaceFlorida, the entity that leased LC–40 to SpaceX; and NASA.

One operational characteristic of the Falcon 9 is that it has to be fueled with densified LOX, which was developed in the 1990s by engineers at Rockwell International[4], within 30 minutes of the booster firing its Merlin D engines. Otherwise, the temperature of the liquid oxygen rises to a point that the LOX becomes insufficiently dense to allow for the performance SpaceX desires. After the 9/1 explosion, this characteristic of the Falcon 9 will be getting more attention. Because 30 minutes is too little time to stabilize the fueled Falcon 9 and load the crew, SpaceX has proposed to NASA that the crew be loaded into the Dragon 2 before the launcher is fueled with liquid oxygen.

But as was been pointed-out by former NASA and Air Force personnel to NASA in 2015, loading the crew into the Dragon 2 spacecraft before loading fuel and oxidizer into the Falcon 9’s first and second stages is contrary to launcher safety standards that have been followed for more than 50 years in the United States and world-wide. Historically, and as was the case during the 9/1 SpaceX static fire test, neither the crew nor any other personnel are allowed in or near the launcher during fueling. Only after the launcher is fully fueled and deemed stabilized are a small number people, who are considered essential, allowed to get near the rocket. Astronauts are loaded last on a launcher to minimize risk of loss of life to the crew and those essential personnel needed to secure them. It is little wonder then that the issue of loading densified LOX after the crew has been a serious concern with former NASA and Air Force personnel. After the 9/1 accident, those concerns will only be heightened. Or, as one sources put it, “The SpaceX explosion on the pad was a ‘Hindenburg’ moment for its proposal to load the crew before fueling.”

Some might speculate that the Dragon 2’s pad abort capability would certainly have kept the crew safe. It should go without saying that crew safety systems are not meant to be a backup to system anomalies that can be otherwise mitigated or even removed through design revisions. And there are no certainties to the efficacy of crew safety systems in a given scenario if test data is not available. Which begs the question: Would Dragon 2’s crew safety systems, specifically its pad abort system, have detected the 9/1 incident sufficiently early to activate and then whisk the crew to safety? In short, nobody really knows but many have imagined they know. Given SpaceX’s proposed alternative plan for loading a crew before fueling the Falcon 9 booster, concerns are now arising that there be a pad abort test mimicking the type of incident that occurred on 9/1. Others now speculate that, regardless of whether SpaceX is allowed on crewed flights to fuel the Falcon 9 after a crew has been secured, SpaceX will need to look closely at some of its booster design choices that diverge from past practices and pose challenges to crew safety.

SpaceX is a young rocket company that has quickly grown from its founding in 2002 to launching the Falcon 9 in 2010 to servicing ISS in 2012. That is something of which SpaceX and NASA, the agency that has helped the company with billions in funding, can be justifiably proud. But, as mentioned in the opening of this article, it will take months to determine what caused the Falcon 9 carrying Amos–6 to explode on LC–40 as well as to rebuild the launchpad. That may seem like an eternity and the required patience to match it. In today’s world, that sort of patience is difficult. But in long-term efforts like space exploration, it is absolutely necessary. The conquest of space is neither easy nor fast. But as long as NASA and its commercial space contractors remain focused on again launching Americans from U.S. soil, success will follow.


  1. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts, page 3  ↩
  2. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts, page 9–10  ↩
  3. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts, page 13  ↩
  4. USTPO: Liquid Propellant Densification  ↩

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175 comments to Perspectives After the Fire: Long Road Ahead for SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

  • Joe

    Hi Jim,

    Excellent article as to both the status of the Commercial Crew Program and the September 1 incident.

    About to the Commercial Crew situation:

    Sounds like Boeing is being responsible and SpaceX is being SpaceX.

    The idea that at this point in the crew carrying Dragon’s development has only “little more than two or three dozen, SpaceX employees working full-time on commercial crew” is (well lets be polite and call it) interesting.

    About to the September 1 Blast:

    There is some new information since you published. SpaceX now says that the cause of the accident was “a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank” but that they “have exonerated any connection with last year’s … mishap” (even though both situations involved that same set of hardware).

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/spacex-blames-helium-system-breach-for-rocket-failure/

    Separate internet rumors (take them for what they are worth) claim “knowledgeable sources” are saying it is an harmonics problem, though how that would happen during fueling (as opposed to flight or even a static test fire is hard to figure).

    SpaceX has an interesting problem to solve and hopefully this time will not try to return to flight unless/until they actually solve it.

    • Chris

      “The idea that at this point in the crew carrying Dragon’s development has only “little more than two or three dozen, SpaceX employees working full-time on commercial crew” is (well lets be polite and call it) interesting.”

      That isn’t really what Jim said. He said “working full-time on commercial crew” (Not crew carrying Dragon). The Crew Dragon capsule itself is multi-function so therefore any of the bones of the capsule, parachutes, docking software and propulsion would be engineers wearing multiple hats by definition.

      “SpaceX has an interesting problem to solve and hopefully this time will not try to return to flight unless/until they actually solve it.”

      I’m confused, did the article state some evidence for the Amos-6 incident involving the same telemetry signature and failure mode as CRS-7? Both involved the second stage helium system but just because two people were robbed in the same town doesn’t mean the same criminal (Especially if the first guy is in jail).

      • Joe

        “That isn’t really what Jim said. He said “working full-time on commercial crew” (Not crew carrying Dragon). The Crew Dragon capsule itself is multi-function so therefore any of the bones of the capsule, parachutes, docking software and propulsion would be engineers wearing multiple hats by definition.”

        The full quote from the article reads:

        “Another contributing factor to SpaceX’s commercial crew launch date slippages is that it has only a few, perhaps little more than two or three dozen, SpaceX employees working full-time on commercial crew; most of the others are multi-tasked to Cargo Resupply, Red Dragon, and commercial satellite services.”

        That would mean those “few” are the only ones dedicated to the Crew carrying Dragon’s dedicated systems (life support, crew interfaces, occupant protection, etc.). Play whatever semantics games you choose, it will not make the facts go away.

        “I’m confused, did the article state some evidence for the Amos-6 incident involving the same telemetry signature and failure mode as CRS-7? Both involved the second stage helium system but just because two people were robbed in the same town doesn’t mean the same criminal (Especially if the first guy is in jail).”

        If you are confused, it is because you choose to be. SpaceX never completed the Fault analysis of the CRS-7 incident. They identified one possible cause, “fixed” it and moved on. Maybe that was the cause of the CRS-7 anomaly, maybe it wasn’t. They now have another situation on their hands involving the same systems.

        To use your analogy:

        (1) Someone is robbed in a local area.
        (2) The local authorities arrest, convict and jail a suspect.
        (3) Someone else is robbed in the same local area.

        Is it a new mugger or was the wrong individual jailed.

        In any case the original statement stands – “SpaceX has an interesting problem to solve and hopefully this time will not try to return to flight unless/until they actually solve it.”

        • Chris

          The IG report specifically calls out increase number of welds (due to design changes) and water seepage as primary risks. Neither sound to me like life support of seat problems…but lets agree do disagree on this. I looked and still can’t find a human spaceflight program that has ever been on schedule (including the one at Boeing). Also SpaceX underbid Boeing by a significant amount so wouldn’t be surprised at all if they have more people on it, neither should NASA.

          Based on what data are you making the assessment they cut the fault-tree short? The CRS-7 failure occurred during peak loading of the strut and primarily a LOX cloud during the breakup as the COPV hit the top of the LOX tank (Along with the telemetry showing the strut snapped). On Amos-6 no loading of the strut but chill/charge of the He system during LOX/He loading. Also not a pure LOX cloud as what ever came loose fragmented and penetrated the common bulkhead creating flash fire rather than just a cloud of LOX/GOX. These failure modes seem entirely different.

          NASA and AF agreed the strut was at fault for CRS-7 failure, the only point of contention was that they couldn’t say 100% it was the mfg of strut but could have been from installation. NASA mission assurance would not have flown Jasaon3 otherwise. If you have an L2 account you’d know they didn’t stop the fault tree early at all. Other things were looked at including COPVs given the ground issues earlier and also some other parts were changed out even though they were not considered part of the cause but “possible close call”.

          • Joe

            “Based on what data are you making the assessment they cut the fault-tree short?”

            NASA’S RESPONSE TO SPACEX’S JUNE 2015 LAUNCH FAILURE: IMPACTS ON COMMERCIAL RESUPPLY OF THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (Report No. IG-16-025)

            “While the Agency’s SPX-7 and Orb-3 investigations had elements of a traditional NASA Mishap Investigation, they were not as comprehensive as the process described in NASA policy. For example, the Orb-3 Independent Review Team made programmatic recommendations to the ISS Program, while the LSP SPX-7 Investigation did not. In addition, neither of the investigations was directed to determine all elements of a full “root cause” determination – defined by NASA as determination of the cause of the failure, including technical, organizational, and programmatic issues by reviewing the actions of the contractor and all related parties.55 Accordingly, the Orb-3 Independent Review Team used root cause analysis to develop a fault tree that included findings and recommendations related to programmatic and organizational issues, while the LSP SPX-7 investigation team stated they did not conduct root cause analysis but rather focused on the technical aspects of the failure. Had NASA undertaken an official Agency Mishap Investigation for the failures, Agency policy would have required a root cause analysis with comprehensive corrective actions directed at the contractor and the ISS Program to prevent the specific technical cause from reoccurring and to address any programmatic weaknesses that contributed to the failure.”

            The rest of your post is just playing with semantics to prolong an argument for the sake of confusing the issues.

            (1) According to the America Space article SpaceX is pursuing commercial crew with remarkably few personnel devoted full time to the project and that is contributing to SpaceX schedule slippages.

            (2) According to the NASA IG Office SpaceX did not do a comprehensive fault analysis.

            Those two facts are contributing causes to the situation in which SpaceX now finds itself.

            If you wish to continue trying to twist words around to “muddy the waters”, have fun. But you will have to do it by yourself.

            • Chris

              Yes they were not comprehensive w.r.t to management/oversight/program because they were not (are not) NASA or cost plus contractor on behalf of NASA. The technical aspects of the fault tree were exhausted, period. I’d rather see SpaceX fold than be absorbed into the standard model of LockMart and Boring.

              “Those two facts are contributing causes to the situation in which SpaceX now finds itself.”

              You cannot prove this as you have no idea what the root cause is and if it would have been applicable to any fault tree in 2015. This is simply a jump to conclusion on your part… you should buy the mat. Later

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRxqY4wuTHw

              • Joe

                “You cannot prove this as you have no idea what the root cause is and if it would have been applicable to any fault tree in 2015. This is simply a jump to conclusion on your part… you should buy the mat. Later”

                You have no idea what the root cause is either and neither does SpaceX, because (as the NASA IG Report clearly stated) “…LSP SPX-7 investigation team stated they did not conduct root cause analysis…”.

                It is not jumping to conclusions to report what has happened in the past and provide documentary evidence of same.

                Perhaps in the future you can provide links to videos of old Three Stooges shorts to make your alleged points. Makes as much sense as what you did here.

                Much later, it is to be sincerely hoped.

            • Jester Gambolt

              The OIG report says the -NASA- investigation team did not conduct a full root cause analysis. To be clear, your quote of the report is about the NASA team, not the SpaceX team. “LSP” means NASA’s Launch Services Program.

              The SpaceX team did do a full root cause analysis.

              • Joe

                “The SpaceX team did do a full root cause analysis.”

                If true, the reports on the results of that analysis should be available for review.

                Please provide links to them, so that they can be examined.

                Thanks.

                • Jester Gambolt

                  The investigation reports have not been released to the general public. They would contain a lot of proprietary and ITAR information, which would be difficult to scrub from such a report while still remaining intelligible.

                  As far as I’m aware, Orbital’s investigation into the Orb-3 anomaly has not been released, either.

                  • Joe

                    Yes, figured that would be the answer.

                    Question for you:

                    If NASA or Boeing, Lockheed, ULA etc. had a similar incident and just said “Trust us, we did a full root cause analysis” while providing no documentation, would that satisfy you?

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      I would rely on those who had seen the results of their investigation, such as NASA, the Air Force, etc.

                    • Joe

                      Questions:

                      (1) Is there anywhere NASA, the Air Force, etc. assert that they reviewed a SpaceX produced root cause analysis (or even that such an analysis exists)?

                      (2) What if 14 months later a failure (according to SpaceX) in the same suspect system caused another disaster? Would that give you the slightest pause?

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      (1) Yes. The SpaceX investigation report is mentioned in the NASA OIG report several times. Both the FAA and NASA reviewed it, and both had to approve SpaceX’s findings.

                      “In order for the Falcon 9 to return to flight, the FAA had to approve the SpaceX investigation team’s findings and any corrective action plans. As noted previously, the team submitted its final report to the FAA in November 2015 with the finding that a strut assembly failure in the rocket’s second stage was the most probable cause of the launch failure. Following its review of the report, the FAA issued SpaceX a new launch license 3 days before the December ORBCOMM launch.

                      Separate from the FAA requirements, the CRS-1 contract required SpaceX to submit an accident investigation plan to NASA. Pursuant to the plan, if a failure occurs during launch but before reaching the ISS, SpaceX is responsible for the investigation, although NASA has discretion to conduct its own, independent investigation as well. After the SPX-7 failure, NASA initiated an investigation through LSP’s contract authority rather than based on its CRS-1 contract authority as it had in the Orb-3 mishap. NASA was able to call on LSP because LSP had an existing contract with SpaceX to fly the Jason-3 payload on a Falcon 9. Before using a particular launch vehicle for a NASA mission, LSP certifies the vehicle for flight through insight and approval processes. The LSP investigation confirmed SpaceX’s implementation of corrective actions before approving the January 2016 Jason-3 launch.”

                      page 10 of the NASA OIG audit report.

                      (2) Simply because the same system is involved, doesn’t mean the cause of the failure is the same. It’s a system with many parts.

                      It’s as simple as that. You have to be very limited in your thinking to assume and assert, without any evidence whatsoever, that the causes of the two failures are the same.

                    • Joe

                      “The SpaceX investigation report is mentioned in the NASA OIG report several times. Both the FAA and NASA reviewed it, and both had to approve SpaceX’s findings.”

                      Funny no where in your quotes from the NASA IG report is there any mention of SpaceX doing a root cause analysis (much less a full one), only that the referenced entities accepted whatever SpaceX did and its conclusion that the suspect strut was “the most probable cause of the launch failure” (note not the root cause).

                      Yet this discussion started with you asserting – “The SpaceX team did do a full root cause analysis.” Am still trying to find your source for that assertion.

                      “You have to be very limited in your thinking to assume and assert, without any evidence whatsoever, that the causes of the two failures are the same”

                      I have made no such assertion, only noted SpaceX itself says the two failures (whatever their cause) originated in the same system. You would have to be pretty naïve in your thinking not to entertain the idea that whatever analysis SpaceX did may not have found the root cause of the problems with the suspect system.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Root cause analysis is the way engineering failure analysis is done, that it’s not mentioned expressly in the quote is unsurprising, it would be redundant.

                      What would be shocking, and what I am certain would be expressed with horror in this report and elsewhere, is if SpaceX did NOT do a full root cause analysis.

                    • Joe

                      You are a most trusting fellow Jester.

                      It is an admirable trait.

                      Hopefully there will be no such future incidents for anyone, but if they are I am sure you will show the same tolerant attitude towards all other companies that you do to SpaceX. 🙂

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Certainly. You don’t see me brandishing a torch and a pitchfork for Orbital to release their investigation report.

                    • Joe

                      And for ULA and even (gasp, choke, wheeze) NASA itself should that ever become necessary.

                      Like I said hope it never happens again to anybody, but if it does your current stated attitude would be a pleasant change from what has been the norm on the internet.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Sure. I don’t have a torch and pitchfork out for the ULA investigation report on the engine anomaly that occurred on the OA-6 Cygnus ISS resupply mission either.

      • Chris,

        According to sources, and reporting by others, SpaceX has literally just a couple of dozen employees working full-time on CCP. The rest are working on Red Dragon or commercial satellite have zero impact on SpaceX’s CCP work. Currently, the SpaceX CCP head count is about 20%-30% of Boeing’s. SpaceX employees working CCP have requested more warm bodies but those requests have been rejected by management.

        The lack of focus on the part of SpaceX in its CCP efforts is becoming a big deal but politics prevent it from coming to a head soon. Nobody wants to disturb the human spaceflight detente that currently exists in Congress.

        Nobody, literally not one single person I’ve talked to, was surprised by the NASA IG’s CCP report.

        • Joe

          “SpaceX employees working CCP have requested more warm bodies but those requests have been rejected by management.

          The lack of focus on the part of SpaceX in its CCP efforts is becoming a big deal but politics prevent it from coming to a head soon. Nobody wants to disturb the human spaceflight detente that currently exists in Congress.”

          More good information.

          Thanks Jim.

        • Chris

          Jim,

          Thanks for replying. My main point is there are likely resources working on Dragon that may not be part of CCP proper. For instance does this 20-30 percent number including someone from mfg engineering that may be tasked to work on the welding issues, for instance? What does full-time mean if someone was tasked for several month project to work on this? My only point is that Crew Dragon (structure) and CCP are not the same. As stated above I don’t think there is any suprise, given the nature of SpaceX history, scrappy startup mentality, and the size of the bid there are way less people on CCP. What is a scandal is that for 4-5 times as many people and larger bid Boeing doesn’t seem to be doing any better keeping on schedule. Another thought I had was that SpaceX is hiring, my guess finding qualified people with experience in human rated space systems is not terribly trivial. There are three separate capsule systems in development right now, not to mention Dream Chaser cargo work. I don’t think there is a time in US space history where there was that many concurrent human rated projects going on.

          • Joe

            For someone who accuses others of “jumping to conclusions” (when they note verifiable things that happened in the past) you do some actual (and pretty long) conclusion jumping:

            “My main point is there are likely resources working on Dragon that may not be part of CCP proper. For instance does this 20-30 percent number including someone from mfg engineering that may be tasked to work on the welding issues, for instance?”

            (1) “are likely resources working on”, “that may not be part”,”may be tasked”. Making those assumption all involve jumping to conclusions of the explicit variety.

            (2) You also make a very large implicit assumption, that Boeing (a much larger company with a larger talent pool to draw from) does not do the same kind of part time tasking you choose to assume SpaceX does; otherwise the fulltime employee count is still an accurate comparison even if your first set of assumptions were to be true.

            “Another thought I had was that SpaceX is hiring, my guess finding qualified people with experience in human rated space systems is not terribly trivial.”

            (3) You had a thought that SpaceX might be trying to hire more full time people for CCP, but may be having trouble finding them. That even though Jim Hillhouse’s post (to which you are supposedly responding) specifically states – “SpaceX employees working CCP have requested more warm bodies but those requests have been rejected by management.” Not that SpaceX has tried to hire more people and failed; but that “management” rejected the request for more personnel.

            • Chris

              Not jumping to conclusions asking questions, there were question marks. Boeing is a bad analog as CST-100 is only planned to be monetized for Commercial Crew while D2 platform is being monetized (planned) in at least three ways. Also possible others in Boeing are doing work on CST-100 but if so that would be even more staff working on the project and still behind schedule.

              I’ve been down this road before personally. Multiple business units/groups working on (monetizing) a common platform where the workload to develop is spread out. I’ve even seen cases where group A is doing work exclusively for the benefit of group B just because that is where the talent was and no one bothered to move them. There are often finance/accounting/budget reasons for the work to be pushed into multiple users of the platform. Just telling me what the head count is in CCP doesn’t really give a good picture of how much headcount is allocated to the entire platform. And throwing in red meat about full-time without qualifying what that means also doesn’t clarify the situation.

              I’m in tech and also been in the position of asking for more warm bodies, and not getting them plenty of times. Sometimes that was because req opened and closed without finding a qualified candidate sometimes budget/management reasons. In any case I would be shocked to find the current staffing level is due to entirely one reason. For the third, and final time, I have no doubt the target staffing levels would be well below Boeing and might be burning certain individuals up but I also don’t think a comprehensive understanding of the staffing can be understood given just this information.

              • Joe

                “I’m in tech…”

                Just a question, but are you in software development?

                If so that would explain a lot.

                You may be trying to apply software experience to a hardware program.

                It does not work (as Admiral Steidle found out the hard way).

                • Chris

                  Joe,

                  Software and Hardware. Spend a lot of time looking at how the software is programming the state of the hardware. I also deal with hardware issues (bugs in hardware, batch issues, single event upsets/parity issues)

                  • Chris

                    BTW i’ve seen hardware dev shared across group frequently. Power supplies, chassis and other mechanicals (Thermal/Cooling) as well as ASIC and other hardware components leveraged across organizations. Seems to be a cyclical fad on whether we break out these teams into internal vendors to other groups or bring them into each individual product group and duplicate effort but more tightly couple with product team. I’ve seen all variations depending on the mood/leadership.

                    • Joe

                      Chris,

                      This back and forth has gone on long past the point of being productive.

                      This started with the article’s noting the unusually small number of full time employees SpaceX has working on the commercial crew program.

                      You have done a lot of speculating about ways SpaceX might be working around that.

                      Even if all of your speculations were true the same techniques would be available to Boeing (because it is a larger company, probably more so).

                      Therefore the article’s comparisons are valid. You disagree, lets just let it go at that.

              • Chris,

                You raise several good points. Like you (I think that’s a safe assumption) I’ve been involved in software projects where the work of teams on other products can be applied to your own. So it would be reasonable to assume that this could be the case with SpaceX.

                From what I understand from sources, SpaceX’s own Red Dragon documentation, and reading the NASA IG’s report, that sort of bleed-over isn’t a major contributor to SpaceX’s CCP efforts. The problem is that the three primary activities–Red Dragon, commercial satellite services, and CCP–don’t have much overlap.

                As I understand the Space Act Agreement that SpaceX signed with NASA, NASA is responsible for the trajectory development, communications and tracking, and other higher-level work needed for the Red Dragon mission; SpaceX is responsible for building the more-or-less gutted Dragon (no chutes, no intact pressure vessel), launching it, and recovering a separate sample return vessel, if any. Certainly, the Red Dragon work will be helpful if and when SpaceX sends astronauts to Mars by exposing the company to the rigors of developing such missions. But that is a decade or two from now and of little applicability towards SpaceX meeting its currently defined CCtCap milestones.

                The commercial services work focuses on building and launching Falcon 9’s and their payloads to whittle-down the company’s (again) growing over-due missions. This is supporting an existing product and its customers so they don’t bail. Any bleed-over to CPP is incidental.

                Regarding SpaceX’s CCP work, there are well-defined CCtCap milestones laid-out that will take the company to the point of an inaugural launch of a crew to ISS. To CPP supporters and boosters within NASA and SpaceX allies in Congress, CCtCap is what matters. It is the single biggest contract SpaceX has to date won and one its supporters want, hope, and, really, need the company to get right. But the NASA IG’s conclusions make clear that SpaceX’s promises to launch in 2017 are without any basis in reality. And if SpaceX doesn’t beat Boeing to orbit…well as they said in my day where I grew up, the bloom will be off the rose.

                You’re right; adding warm bodies doesn’t always mean progress. But there is a point where too few warm bodies can inhibit progress. We will know by this time next year who is going to win the race to be the first company to launch astronauts to orbit.

                • Joe

                  Hi Jim,

                  If I might a question:

                  “As I understand the Space Act Agreement that SpaceX signed with NASA, NASA is responsible for the trajectory development, communications and tracking, and other higher-level work needed for the Red Dragon mission; SpaceX is responsible for building the more-or-less gutted Dragon (no chutes, no intact pressure vessel), launching it, and recovering a separate sample return vessel,if any.”

                  Since Chris seems to have approached this from a software perspective please forgive a question from a “simple minded” hardware engineer. Does that mean SpaceX has minimal software responsibility for Red Dragon? If so that would seem to mean no extra manpower would be available from that source to work software docking requirements for the Crew Dragon (the Cargo Dragon is berthed not docked and that is a very different activity). I am not being sarcastic this is a serious question as SpaceX needed considerable NASA support in correcting their berthing software (a much simpler task than docking) after their initial attempt at CDR for the Cargo Dragon.

                  “We will know by this time next year who is going to win the race to be the first company to launch astronauts to orbit.”

                  We should all hope so. Whether reliance on “Commercial Crew” was a wise decision or not, “the farm has been bet on it”.

                  If one or the other of the two contractors is not at least ready to soon attempt an ISS demonstration mission by this time next year the bloom may be off the rose for the entire Commercial Crew Program and that will now be a big set back for the entire program.

    • Joe,

      Thanks.

      The update concerning the 9/1 explosion released by SpaceX mentions that an anomaly in the Falcon 9 upper-stage caused the 9/1 explosion, but it is one not related to that which caused the CRS-7 loss. That’s good, I guess.

      The issue regarding the lack of CCP focus, and the requisite resources, by SpaceX is becoming a big deal. And yes, it will be interesting if it is an issue that is not resolved, to put it mildly.

      • Joe

        “The issue regarding the lack of CCP focus, and the requisite resources, by SpaceX is becoming a big deal. And yes, it will be interesting if it is an issue that is not resolved, to put it mildly.”

        Very mildly. For better or worse the “farm has been bet” on commercial crew and for one of the two contractors to be “dogging it” is not a good sign.

        Again, thank you for the honest reporting on the subject

  • James

    “It is little wonder then that the issue of loading densified LOX after the crew has been a serious concern with former NASA and Air Force personnel. After the 9/1 accident, those concerns will only be heightened. Or, as one sources put it, ‘The SpaceX explosion on the pad was a ‘Hindenburg’ moment for its proposal to load the crew before fueling.'”

    Thank you Jim Hillhouse for your informative update.

  • Tom's drinking game

    NASA is never going to put an astronaut on a falcon now. SpaceX is now a satellite launch company and how long it can last after NASA stops giving them tax dollars and free support is the question. Oh, it was a “Hindenburg moment” alright. Nobody has the guts to say it.

    • James

      Tom’s drinking game –

      “NASA is never going to put an astronaut on a falcon now.”

      Wrong conclusion.

      For NASA’s upper management, the President’s ‘political friendship’ with Mr. Musk has been and remains much more important than the Falcon 9’s, or Falcon Heavy’s, design safety and safety record for use as a NASA astronaut launch system.

      As Joe quotes Jim Hillhouse, “But as was been pointed-out by former NASA and Air Force personnel to NASA in 2015, loading the crew into the Dragon 2 spacecraft before loading fuel and oxidizer into the Falcon 9’s first and second stages is contrary to launcher safety standards that have been followed for more than 50 years in the United States and world-wide.”

      Clearly, “launcher safety standards” and the “‘Hindenburg’ moment” are irrelevant.

      And, as Jim Hillhouse noted on September 24, 2016: “The lack of focus on the part of SpaceX in its CCP efforts is becoming a big deal but politics prevent it from coming to a head soon. Nobody wants to disturb the human spaceflight detente that currently exists in Congress.”

      Why? Because SpaceX is taking NASA and Congress to Mars ‘on the cheap’ via the “least expensive pathway” and the diverse ongoing “enormous risks” to astronauts of those long Russian Roulette ‘cheap’ voyages in a radiation rich Deep Space environment is a very low political priority.

      Astronauts are ‘replaceable’, and placating the mob’s cry for ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ is one of the President’s ‘important political legacies’.

      Note:

      “To be explicit and to set the scale of the problem, the Technical Panel, aided by independent cost estimation contractors, and using an innovative process that respected the importance of development risks based on technical challenges, capability gaps, regulatory challenges, and programmatic factors, and the need to retain a reasonable operational tempo, concluded that the first crewed Mars landing might be possible 20-40 years from now, after a cumulative expenditure of on the order of half a trillion dollars (constant FY2013 dollars). The actual time frame and cost will depend greatly on the pathway chosen to achieve the goal, and candidly, the fastest and least expensive pathway that we examined comes with enormous risks to both the success of the missions and the lives of the astronauts conducting them.”

      From: Testimony of Dr. John C. Sommerer Chair, Technical Panel NRC Committee on Human Spaceflight February 3, 2016 Hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space
      At: https://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/HHRG-114-SY16-WState-JSommerer-20160202.pdf

      Which part of “the fastest and least expensive pathway that we examined comes with enormous risks to both the success of the missions and the lives of the astronauts conducting them” don’t you understand?

      • James,

        The 9/1 explosion really got the attention of those with Congress who are responsible for oversight and funding of NASA. The fall-out from the 9/1 explosion has not been yet felt. Without a doubt, SpaceX did itself and it’s congressional allies no favores on 9/1. And it’s eager-beaver rhetoric of resuming launches in November now sounds somewhat misplaced. It will fall to the new Congress and president to deal with all of this.

        As Dr. Hans Mark once said in a class lecture many moons ago, “Americans do not like it when you kill their astronauts.” I don’t think that has changed. Some, in other venues, have postulated that failure is an option, but do so from the comfort of their laptop and retirement. I certainly don’t thing anyone here is a part of that. Members of congress with NASA oversight certainly do not believe that failure on crewed missions is to be entertained.

        • Joe

          “Some, in other venues, have postulated that failure is an option…”

          That kind of Faux Bravado is generally reserved for “arm chair” warriors.

          Before my time but have been told by people who were there that when Alan Shepard (fighter pilot, test pilot, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, first American in space, commander of the Apollo 14 Lunar Mission) was head of the Astronaut Office he kept a sign on his desk that read – “Help Stamp Out Bravery.”

          It was intended to discourage exactly that kind of thinking.

          To the folks actually involved at that time, real bravery consisted of:

          (1) Defining the risks.
          (2) Doing everything possible to minimize/mitigate the risks.
          (3) Realizing the remaining dangers (and being appropriately nervous) doing it anyway.

          That is the way it should still be done.

        • john hare

          Jim,
          “Some, in other venues, have postulated that failure is an option, but do so from the comfort of their laptop and retirement. I certainly don’t thing anyone here is a part of that. Members of congress with NASA oversight certainly do not believe that failure on crewed missions is to be entertained.”

          I doubt that either of us have time to hash this out properly, but I am one of those people. A friend of mine wrote a book on the subject. It is also unfortunate that this discussion is embedded in a discussion about a vehicle loss from causes still unknown. Whatever the cause, SpaceX is responsible and should carry the full brunt of the cost financially, technically and politically.

          All that being said. Fear of the possibility of failure sometimes causes failure. Apollo 18 and 19 were failures as sure as if they had been lost in action. It may have been an acknowledgment of the inherent risk of the Saturn 5 architecture, or of the mission, but the marginal cost of flying would have been minimal compared to what had gone before. By the same token, X34 failed when the hardware was nearly ready to fly, reported by some because of fear of failure.

          I don’t say it well, and there are far too many avenues for miscommunication here, but at some point you have to either fish or cut bait. Far too many programs have opted to cut bait rather than fail in flight with the result that they failed in program. There is a huge grey area between the cowboy yeehaw lets go, and the paralysis of doing nothing.

          • I’ve been told by people who senior NASA leaders at the time that Apollo’s beyond 17 were cut for funding reasons–NASA was getting upwards of nearly 3% of the U.S. budget and that wasn’t going to last–not because of risk. We’d won the Moon race with the Soviets, which was the official purpose and goal of Apollo. It was time to focus America’s tax-dollars on other priorities, such as the War on Poverty…oh, and Vietnam.

            It’s just my opinion, but as a once-upon-a-time engineer, I believe if one starts-out with “failure as an option”, that’s what you’re more likely to end up with as the mindset has already decided there’s a point at which one stops asking, “What if?”, which limits reviews, and the ever present need to discover what unk-unk’s were missed. That sort of willful acceptance of risk, as some rationalize it, was the root cause of both Shuttle disasters. There’s a much deeper existential argument that could be had, but space and time do not allow for that here.

            I defy anyone to make the case to the American people, Congress, or NASA that their astronauts are disposable, that loosing them is an acceptable risk. Do it and the sucking sound one hears will be their funding and public support. I’ve gotten to know pretty well a few astronauts. And I prey no manager, engineer, or technician working their hardware or software thinks “failure is an option”.

            Grissom famously said that exploring space is worth the risk to life. Everyone knows accidents will happen costing the lives of astronauts as we push the boundaries of space. We shouldn’t stop after loosing a crew. But their deaths should cost all of us, not just those working the problem, in soul, in grief, and in time. And all of that emotion should then be focused on finding out where the screw-up occurred, fixing it, and looking the next astronauts and their family straight in the eye and saying with conviction that comes with past loss, “Failure is not an option.” as we send them on another mission to explore the unknown.

            Like I said earlier, just my opinion.

          • Joe

            “…there are far too many avenues for miscommunication here, but at some point you have to either fish or cut bait.”

            Truer words were never spoken, but I will play one round (please note I feel as clumsy about this as you say you do).

            I do not know who your friend is and have read no book on the subject, but if I am about to insult your friend; I will save time and just apologize in advance.

            I have read several internet articles on the subject and all deal with intentionally cutting corners on inspections and quality control/testing etc. in order to reduce cost (thus supposedly making any given project more likely to begin) knowing in advance that will cause deaths (that would otherwise not occur) to be inevitable. This is justified by appeals to our heritage in populating the North American Continent (siting the high death rates in the civil population moving west).

            While I have no reason to doubt the statistics, the analogy would be a Wagon Master who intentionally shorted the buying of provisions to reduce cost in order make it easier to get the Wagon Train going at all. He would do this knowing it would unnecessarily get some of the travelers in his charge killed.

            I likewise would not be surprised if this kind of thing happened, but I know of no case where anybody (from those hearty pioneer days) admitted to doing such a thing, much less openly bragging about wanting to do it in advance.

            It is also true that there “is a huge grey area between the cowboy yeehaw lets go, and the paralysis of doing nothing.”. That returns to the Alan Shepard – “Help Stamp Out Bravery.” – story above. I doubt anyone ever accused Shepard of being paralyzed with fear, but he did not adhere to a casual people as “cannon fodder” philosophy (as a small number of internet “experts” seem to do) either.

            • John hare

              Jim and Joe,
              One of the problems with my side of the discussion is that there are many people out there that are quite cavalier with the lives and finances of others. The acceptance of the possibility of failure is why there are spare tires, seat belts, parachutes and LAS systems. When the possibility of failure is denied, plans for what happens next are often short circuited. If the Shuttle had had a viable crew escape system, it is possible that one or both crews could have been saved. Also it would not have been forced to retire before alternatives were available.

              Wagon train analogy. What if the standards were so strict that three wagons went instead of fifty? First broken wheel or Indian attackmand they have to turn back. Appointment here gotta go

              • Joe

                This is quickly going to get out of the scope that can be handled in this comments section (shame there is not a conveniently located bar for all of us to gather).

                Still I will note that at least one early Shuttle Design I was able to review had an escape pod that could very possibly saved both Shuttle Crews or in fact made both accidents not happen in the first place.

                It had a smaller more compact orbiter mounted vertically on a large single first stage (which could have also served as the first stage of an HLV). But Air Force requirements demanded:

                (1) Greater cross range capability.
                (2) Greater payload mass.
                (3) Greater payload volume (longer payload bay).

                Those requirements (not denying the possibility of failure) did not allow for either the vertical mounting or the escape pod.

                I honestly do not understand your comments about the Wagon Train analogy. Three equivalently equipped wagons would obviously be cheaper than fifty such wagons. Yes they would be less safe for a myriad of reasons, but they would also be cheaper. That would seem to support the “safe is not an option” philosophy.

                • john hare

                  It does get out of the scope of comment debate, doesn’t it?

                  The book is “Safe Is Not An Option” by Rand Simberg. His Blog is transterrestrial musings.

                  The wagon train analogy breaks down pretty fast either way. Any enterprise with the casualty rate of western settlement or the earlier sea voyages would be shut down in short order. My analogy now that I’m back at my computer is that a safe train of 50 wagons might be stretched to 100 by cutting corners in your scenario, or reduced to 3-4 by placing unreasonable requirements on them in mine. The 100 under provisioned and poorly built wagons are a disaster in the making I agree. By the same token, 3 or 4 wagons that are individually so expensive that more cannot be added are also a disaster in the making, not to mention that they wouldn’t get the job done either.

                  The shorter version is that there is a sweet spot in most engineering trades. Excessive oversight and requirements for gold plated widgets can kill a project as easily as the corner cutting. The difference is that corner cutting is visible when it fails and gold plating often prevents the project from getting off the ground in the first place. The visible failures get the attention, which is why process oriented people try to avoid them at all cost, sometimes up to and including preventing progress.

                  To me, the hard boiled failure is not an option slogan is just that, a slogan. There is no perfect design, organization, or hardware. Accepting that there will be mistakes no matter how hard we try allows for serious contingency planning. With good contingency options, it is possible to overcome serious setbacks. Without them, it is making a bet, and then letting it ride until you lose. The seat belt has never helped me in several hundred thousand miles of driving, but I wear it every time.

                  It may amuse you that I am arguing the opposite side on another forum.

                  • Tom's drinking game

                    Simberg is the arch-troll of the NewSpace mob and has been sued for the stuff he says- successfully. He has posted pictures of dead mountain climbers to illustrate that “it’s OK for people to die.”

                    Just one more reason NewSpace is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

                  • Joe

                    “My analogy now that I’m back at my computer is that a safe train of 50 wagons might be stretched to 100 by cutting corners in your scenario, or reduced to 3-4 by placing unreasonable requirements on them in mine. The 100 under provisioned and poorly built wagons are a disaster in the making I agree. By the same token, 3 or 4 wagons that are individually so expensive that more cannot be added are also a disaster in the making, not to mention that they wouldn’t get the job done either.”

                    Pretty good description of the trade space, but the question is where to draw the line on cost/requirements vs. safety.

                    As discussed above the final Space Shuttle configuration was driven in part by (in hindsight questionable military) requirements. As a result the Shuttle had two disastrous mishaps out of 135 missions. That 98.5% reliability rating is pretty good as rockets go, but other designs could have mitigated those and possibly driven those reliability numbers even higher.

                    Not criticizing the decision, the decision makers entered exactly the trade space you allude to and everybody had reason to know the decisions involved some extra risk.

                    My problem with the whole Safe is not an Option out look is the same as Jim Hillhouse’s – ” I believe if one starts-out with “failure as an option”, that’s what you’re more likely to end up with as the mindset has already decided there’s a point at which one stops asking, “What if?”, which limits reviews, and the ever present need to discover what unk-unk’s were missed.”

                    As a closing, I will risk angering you by noting that if your friend Simberg really – “posted pictures of dead mountain climbers to illustrate that “it’s OK for people to die.””, he is not doing your cause any favors.

                    • john hare

                      No anger here, I consider it a fair statement of opinion based on available facts. More or different facts may change the attitude in either direction.

                      As you said a couple of days ago though, a comment section is not the place where we will settle where the line should be drawn, how it should be drawn, and who takes the responsibility for drawing it.

                      A couple of my thoughts in closing. 1. Perfection is an illusion of a limited mind, it means one thinks improvement is no longer possible. 2. What happens next when the perfect and unbreakable part breaks, do people die or push the red button?

                    • Joe

                      John,

                      “Perfection is an illusion of a limited mind, it means one thinks improvement is no longer possible.”

                      Agree entirely.

                      “What happens next when the perfect and unbreakable part breaks, do people die or push the red button?”

                      Sadly things sometimes go wrong (especially when doing things that are still relatively new) and that can result in fatalities.

                      Have mentioned this before, but one of my first jobs out of college was working EVA Hardware for the Space Shuttle Program.

                      On one occasion the late Dick Scobee (who had been a military pilot) had a long discussion with a several of us (then) young engineers about the possibility of an incident and hoped that would not cause the end of the program (nothing morbid, just telling us that things can happen).

                      My point is when things happen you mourn and press on, but it should still be considered a tragedy and never OK.

        • James

          Jim Hillhouse September 25, 2016 –

          “I defy anyone to make the case to the American people, Congress, or NASA that their astronauts are disposable, that loosing them is an acceptable risk. Do it and the sucking sound one hears will be their funding and public support. I’ve gotten to know pretty well a few astronauts. And I prey no manager, engineer, or techniceian working their hardware or software thinks ‘failure is an option’.”

          Be real Jim.

          Elon Musk has made the case that “astronauts are disposable” and made billions of dollars off repeating such nonscientific and immoral nonsense because not many folks have been willing to confront his and the President’s ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ high risk foolishness.

          The case that “astronauts are disposable” has been accepted by the President and NASA’s leadership, and many space cadets, when they jumped into bed, and willingly stayed in that strange, high risk ignoring, and nonscientific bed, with Elon Musk and his costly ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ illogical blanket.

          Why should anyone deny Elon Musk and the President’s cozy politically partisan motivated and obviously extremely ill-conceived ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ high risk to astronauts Space Policy?

          Is NASA going to simply continue to dump taxpayer money and valuable resources into SpaceX and Mr Musk’s pockets because he is a great ‘political friend’ of all the foolish ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ high risk ignoring Presidents?

          “But when asked if he wanted to be the first to go, Musk said that would be a bad idea.

          ‘I don’t think so. I’m not really sure. I’d have to have a really good succession plan because the likelihood of death is very high,’ Musk said.”

          And, “‘The first journey to Mars is going to be really very dangerous,’ Musk said. ‘The risk of fatality will be high. There’s just no way around it.'”

          From:
          ‘Elon Musk says he won’t be the first person on Mars because he doesn’t want to die’

          By Ali Sundermier and Dave Mosher September 29, 2016
          At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/elon-musk-says-wont-mars-125900012.html

    • James

      In case you and some other folks missed the announcement:

      “Human colonization of Mars won’t be a cake walk. Getting to the Red Planet will take at least eight months with unknown risks to the human body and psyche. Even if space explorers survived the 155 million-mile journey and subsequent first-ever manned landing, they would need to get to work immediately making the place habitable and producing the fuel needed to propel the rocket ship homeward.”

      And, “SpaceX plans to fly an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as early 2018. The flights would continue about every two years and, if all goes according to plan, would culminate with the first human mission to Mars in 2025, Musk told the Washington Post in June.”

      Isn’t that part about “if space explorers survived” ‘impressive’ and quite telling as to the new depths of risk taking NASA has sunk to?

    • Ben

      Funnily enough, this EXACT type of incident has happened before while NASA was man-rating a vehicle.

      On Jan 20, 1967, an S-IVB upper stage exploded on the pad while being fueled during a test firing. The cause of the explosion was a failure of the Helium pressurization system of the LOX tank. (The culprit was a rupture in one of the the Helium tanks, which is the leading suspect of the Amos-6 explosion.)

      On Oct 11, 1968, 3 men rode an S-IVB into orbit aboard Apollo 7.

      • Good point, Ben. It does bear pointing out that S-IVB-503 lost on 01/20/1967 in position at Test Stand Beta III at SACTO was undergoing acceptance testing as part of the development of the S-IVB for the Saturn-V.

        Nobody would begrudge SpaceX explosions and accidents during the course of testing test-flight articles. Although explosions during development testing are today rare, they can happen. What is bothersome about the 9/1 explosion is that the Falcon 9 has been finished with its development testing since 2010 or 2012 (it depends upon who one asks). At least that’s what SpaceX has told the press, NASA, and the USAF. In particular, I’d refer everyone to comments made last February by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell regarding stabilizing the current F9 rocket design and how such would allow the company to have 18, rather than the planned 14, launches in 2016. And this mishap came just barely over 14 months from the inflight loss of SpX-7, also due to a Falcon 9 upper-stage issue.

        After the S-IVB-503 incident, “…Douglas and NASA personnel agreed on revised welding specifications and quality control for the helium spheres. Replacement spheres were built in-house at Douglas from then on.” Like everyone, I firmly believe that SpaceX will find and fix the cause of this last accident. What is unknown at this time, despite the enthusiastic predictions by SpaceX of resuming launches in just two months, is the delays and cost of finding and fixing the cause(s) of the 9/1 conflagration.

        Jim

      • James

        Ben –

        “Funnily enough, this EXACT type of incident has happened before while NASA was man-rating a vehicle.”
        “On Oct 11, 1968, 3 men rode an S-IVB into orbit aboard Apollo 7.”

        And were those astronauts required to sit in the Apollo 7 capsule while propellant was speedily loaded into the Saturn IB launch vehicle within the half hour deadline for that loading task as is the accepted case for the for SpaceX’s Dragon Version 2 capsule astronauts sitting on a Falcon 9?

        To be in any way comparable with the Saturn launch vehicle, are you now implying or claiming none of the military’s development funded fast response Falcon Launchers has ever been “lost” during a flight mission?

        “No Saturn launch vehicle was ever lost during a flight mission. The phenomenal success of the Saturn program probably owed most to two basic philosophies: (I) the stringent reliability and quality assurance programs during manufacture, and (2) exhaustive ground testing. Emil Hellebrand, of MSFC’s Science and Engineering Laboratory, stressed the significance and economy of comprehensive testing at a meeting of the NASA Science and Technology Advisory Committee in Houston in June 1964. At that time, the Saturn I had completed six flights, including two launches with the S-IV second stage and its advanced liquid hydrogen engines. Aside from a minimum of problems, the 100-percent record of success vindicated the thoroughness of the drawn-out testing program, and Hellebrand advocated similar stringent programs for the succeeding generations of Saturn vehicles. “Money spent on well planned and [184] properly evaluated ground tests is very worthwhile and is only a tiny fraction of the money lost in flight failures,” he reminded his listeners.51″

        And, “With the S-IVB-503 in position at Test Stand Beta III at SACTO, the Saturn V’s third stage was scheduled for acceptance testing on 20 January 1967. The terminal countdown went perfectly, but about 150 seconds into the simulated mission, and prior to stage ignition, the stage countdown was aborted because of a faulty computer tape mechanism. The Douglas crew successfully corrected the computer difficulty, recycled the test, and began again. With the terminal countdown once more unwinding, all systems reported normal. Eleven seconds before the simulated liftoff occurred, however, the stage abruptly exploded in a fiery blast of smoke and debris. Most of the stage was blown completely out and away from the test stand, with only jagged shards of metal left hanging. Adjacent service structures lost roofs and windows, and the nearby Beta II stand was so severely damaged that it was shut down. Within three days of the incident, another special investigation team convened at SACTO to analyze the probable cause.

        The group finally traced the source of the explosion to one of the eight ambient-temperature helium storage spheres located on the thrust structure of the J-2 engine. The exploding sphere ruptured the propellant fill lines, allowing liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to mix and ignite, setting off an explosion that wrecked the stage.”

        From: SP-4206 ‘Stages to Saturn’ IV. Building the Saturn V
        At: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4206/ch6.htm

        As to your comment “this EXACT type of incident”.

        Are you or SpaceX now claiming the SpaceX Falcon launchpad explosion was caused by “this EXACT type of incident” as the S-IVB-503 January 20, 1967 failure at “Test Stand Beta III at SACTO” of an “ambient-temperature helium storage” sphere “located on the thrust structure” of the Falcon launcher?

        Was a valuable satellite destroyed during “this EXACT type of incident” at “Test Stand Beta III at SACTO” January 20, 1967?

        If a valuable satellite wasn’t destroyed on January 20, 1967 at “Test Stand Beta III at SACTO”, why not?

        Is the Sept. 1, 2016 SpaceX Launcher explosion at “Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 (LC–40)” that “essentially destroyed the launchpad” fundamentally quite different in its safety implications and realities from that failure of stage S-IVB-503 that was being tested on “Test Stand Beta III” on January 20, 1967?

  • Jeff Wright

    It was the upper stage, not the main Falcon first stage. They may just have to move the helium tank and make it a bit bigger.

    • Joe

      “It was the upper stage, not the main Falcon first stage.”

      The only reference in the article to the Falcon 9’s first stage is:

      “But as was been pointed-out by former NASA and Air Force personnel to NASA in 2015, loading the crew into the Dragon 2 spacecraft before loading fuel and oxidizer into the Falcon 9’s first and second stages is contrary to launcher safety standards that have been followed for more than 50 years in the United States and world-wide.”

      So perhaps you could clarify as to what you thought your point was.

      “They may just have to move the helium tank and make it a bit bigger.”

      Thanks for giving your design solution to a problem that even SpaceX admits has not yet been defined, but perhaps you could supply a little more detail:

      (1) Move the helium tank to where?
      (2) How much larger is “a bit bigger”?
      (3) How big an overall design change would these changes constitiute and how would they affect Falcon 9 performance?

      • john hare

        Afternoon Joe,

        I have been following some of the discussions on various blogs and other sources and have reached a firm technical conclusion.

        I don’t know what happened, and am going to be real careful about any one source claiming knowledge of the cause and solution. I am going to let the fans and detractors fight it out pending information that is factual and from reasonably reliable sources. Or if there are technical discussions on the limited subjects where I can make a useful contribution.

        I will bet on SpaceX return to flight within six months but against by November as some claim using the other pad. I won’t however try to make others believe that.

        • John,

          My sources are saying much the same. Some say 6, others 9, and none say flying by November.

          If SpaceX does abandon LC-40, which everyone says it will, I don’t envy Frank DeBello.

          Take care,

          Jim

        • Joe

          Hi John,

          If you check my posts I made no predictions as to what will happen in the future, only assertions as to what has happened in the past – backed up by documentation.

          Nobody (including SpaceX) knows the root cause of the new incident at this point and discovering it is more difficult because SpaceX did not do a comprehensive root cause analysis of the CRS-7 incident.

          Whether the attempted return to flight will be 6, 9 or 12 months, all I asserted was I hoped they do a complete investigation this time.

          • John hare

            Hi Joe,
            I didn’t think, this time around, that I was disagreeing with you. I didn’t mean to.

            • Joe

              No you were not.

              If my response sounded defensive, it was to reinforce the point to others and not aimed at you.

              I apologize for not making the point more clearly.

              Have a good weekend.

              • It was a former NASA astronaut who told me that his heart just sank as he watched the payload fairing, with Amos-6 inside, fall into the burning pad and explode–had that been a crewed vehicle….

                • Joe

                  Jim,

                  I have spent time working crew accommodation/occupant protection issues and watching the payload fall (seemingly intact) and then destruct was indeed a cringe inducing moment.

                  • Joe

                    Should have added, do not even want to imagine how much more affecting it must have been for anyone who has actually been part of a flight crew.

                    • Tracy the Troll

                      Wouldn’t the D2 escape system have been automatically enabled at the first sign of trouble before the secondary explosion occurred thus saving the astronauts?

                    • Joe

                      Tracy,

                      Trouble is they apparently did not have a “first sign of trouble” until it was all over.

                      That is why it is still to be determined what caused the incident.

                      An escape system cannot be better than the information it si provided.

                    • Tracy the Troll

                      Joe,
                      Wouldn’t onboard computer systems have detected the system anomalies prior to the explosion? Is that to say that a escape system requires astronaut activation?

                    • Joe

                      Tracy,

                      The “onboard” can only detect what it knows to look for. Since SpaceX does not yet know the cause of the failure, it would be very hard to have the automated system looking for it.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      According to the SpaceX update, “The timeline of the event is extremely short – from first signs of an anomaly to loss of data is about 93 milliseconds or less than 1/10th of a second.”

                      It does depend on what the “first signs of an anomaly” are, but these signs would rapidly get worse, until an abort level reading would trigger the abort system.

                      A sudden and massive fluctuation of pressure readings from the LOX and RP-1 tanks (i.e. the initial fireball) would undoubtedly trigger an abort, as would the complete loss of telemetry from the 2nd stage. Total loss of signals from the avionics are a pretty good sign that the rocket has gone to pieces.

                    • Joe

                      That means waiting until the Falcon 9 second stage blew up (or as Musk prefers to call it a really fast fire).

                      I know there are some videos circulating on the internet purporting to show that the Abort System could out run the blast, but that is hardly dispositive.

                      If you would bet on that, I have some great bottom land in Louisiana I will sell you at a real bargain.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      LOL.

                      Well, the videos are fairly conclusive. If you think they aren’t I guess you’re stuck with your own biased opinion.

                      I’d still sit in a Crew Dragon on top of a Falcon 9 rocket any day of the week.

                    • Joe

                      Yes I understand you are totally objective, therefore anyone who dares disagree with you is ipso facto “biased”.

                      That Louisiana land deal still stands, but please take it before you sit on top of a Falcon 9. 🙂

                      Good night Jester.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      The videos are fairly objective evidence. If you choose to disregard the evidence of your own eyes, the only way I can account for that is your bias.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      Videos can indeed be objective, if they are straightforwardly a single video of a single event (even then they can be misleading for a number of reasons).

                      But as you are well aware that is not what we are dealing with here. The videos in question overlay two different videos:

                      (1) A Dragon Abort Test.
                      (2) The recent Falcon 9 conflagration.

                      Assuming good intentions on the part of the of the video makers there are a number of very tricky implicit assumptions that have to be made including (just as one example)the exact time of the initiation of the abort sequence vs. the beginning of the blast (timed down to millisecond).

                      Without more information about exactly what happened that just cannot be done.

                      Therefore the videos however “objective” you may find them do not prove anything.

                      Like I said goodnight.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      The two best ones I’ve seen have placed the Pad-Abort Dragon in slightly different locations (one has the Dragon sitting right on top of the 2nd stage, the other has the top of the Dragon aligned with the top of the fairing, which is a bit higher than it would actually sit) and have them begin the abort process at slightly different times (one having it go up as soon as the initial flash happens, the other has it go up when the fireball reaches the top of the 2nd stage).

                      Both are well clear of the fireball and subsequent explosions.

                      Keep in mind that according to SpaceX, the time between first anomalous reading to loss of data (which would be certain to trigger an abort in any event) is less than 1/10th of a second.

                      I suggest you make your own video for comparison, see how well your assumptions do.

                    • Joe

                      “I suggest you make your own video for comparison, see how well your assumptions do.”

                      What I have already suggested is that assumptions of the type you suggest require facts to be useful and as of this moment there are not enough facts to make such useful assumptions.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      There are more than enough facts out there to make a reasonably accurate video. The margin of error is on the order of 1/10th of a second.

                    • Joe

                      If you say so Jester.

                      I bow to your “superior” knowledge. 🙂

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Huh?

                      The SpaceX update says from first anomalous reading to loss of data is less than 1/10th of a second.

                      That’s public information from SpaceX, nothing special that I say or that I know.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      (1) How much less than 1/10th of a second?
                      (2) What is the lag time from loss of signal to actual activation of the abort procedure?
                      (3) How fast does the blast wave propagate?
                      (4) Would the Dragon clear the blast wave without damage to the pusher abort system (which would appear to be directly above area of the blast)?

                      Overlaying videos does not answer any of those question and many others.

                      Now since being subtle does not work let me be more explicit.

                      You have already made your mind up as to what happened and decided there is no significant problem.

                      You have already made your mind up that anyone who disagrees with your conclusions is biased and their opinions are worthless.

                      That is fine with me as I do not consider this to be some kind of debate that will affect public policy/the course of the investigation.

                      Take a look at how long this has gone on and how repetitive it is.

                      Enough time and bandwidth as been wasted repeating the same points.

                      Continue if you like, but you will be doing so alone.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      (1) copy/pasted from above:

                      “According to the SpaceX update, “The timeline of the event is extremely short – from first signs of an anomaly to loss of data is about 93 milliseconds or less than 1/10th of a second.”

                      It does depend on what the “first signs of an anomaly” are, but these signs would rapidly get worse, until an abort level reading would trigger the abort system.

                      A sudden and massive fluctuation of pressure readings from the LOX and RP-1 tanks (i.e. the initial fireball) would undoubtedly trigger an abort, as would the complete loss of telemetry from the 2nd stage. Total loss of signals from the avionics are a pretty good sign that the rocket has gone to pieces.”

                      Ergo loss of signal is a pretty solid indicator that an abort should be initiated. If you want to assume that the abort wasn’t initiated until the last possible moment, that would be it.

                      (2) Lag time would be on the order of double-digit microseconds, however fast the computer can process a high-priority signal (that is, to abort) and send the abort commands.

                      (3) Elon Musk described the inital blast as a “fast fire,” or a deflagration rather than a detonation, which means the blast wave was sub-sonic, so less than 340 m/s at sea level. Not sure this matters for a video overlay.

                      (4) Seems likely to me, since I don’t think the blast would have even reached the level of the super-dracos before an abort would have been initiated.

                      (5) You forgot to ask how fast the SuperDracos can ignite after an abort signal is recieved. Multiple sources report from recieving command to full power is less than 100 miliseconds.

                      So from the initial anomalous reading, assuming abort is not initated until loss of signal, until the SuperDracos are at full power and already pulling the capsule away from the failing Amos-6 rocket would be less than 200 miliseconds, plus or minus a few tens of microseconds. Less than 1/5th of a second. For a 30 FPS video – like the Amos-6 video is – that’s 6 frames of video. It takes you more time to blink twice.

                      Now to address your tirade of accusations:

                      I have NOT made up my mind that there is no problem. I have NEVER said that nor will I say such a thing.

                      I have not said, nor will I ever say that your opinions are worthless. If I thought that I wouldn’t engage with you at all. I certainly wouldn’t be addressing your questions point by point, as I have done both now and in the past, if I thought there was no good back-and-forth exchange of information / ideas between us.

                      I don’t see how we’re being repetitive. I’m answering your questions as you ask them.

                    • Joe

                      I really should not do this but using your numbers (Hypothetically only – I am not in any way vouching for them):

                      (1) Blast Wave = 340 m/s.
                      (2) Time to Abort Initiation = 0.2 seconds.

                      I know of no way to know exactly the distance from the initiation point of the “conflagration” to the aft end of the Dragon Vehicle. but it cannot be more than 10 meters (and what the bleep this is all spit balling anyway and that is a good round number). At 340 m/s the wave would reach that position in less than 0.3 seconds.

                      Therefore the “Super Drago” engines would have approximately 0.1 second to have the Dragon be traveling at least as fast as the blast wave.

                      That translates into an acceleration of about 346 g. (that is 346 times the force of gravity).

                      Even if the Super Drago’s could do that it would turn the passengers into jelly.

                      I am not saying any of this is true, only showing the danger of “arm chair” engineering.

                      You really need to await the results of thorough investigation, assuming there is one this time.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      The abort system needs to get the capsule away from the debris of the exploding rocket – the fireball – and we can see it does this admirably. It doesn’t need to be IMMEDIATELY traveling faster than the (in this case, subsonic) blast wave to do so, you can see in the videos it accelerates away from the rocket it quickly outpaces the fireball.

                      Estimates of the g forces from the acceleration produced by the Dragon v2 pad abort test are available in several different places, you can search for them.

                      The results of the investigation have nothing to do with whether or not the abort system would have gotten the capsule away from the fireball, which it would have – as evidenced by the videos, which (as I have shown) at the worst case scenario is off by 6 frames of video.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      For the last time juxtaposing two different events onto the same video absent detailed evidence means nothing.

                      You can produce a video (with no testing for back up) showing the Dragon skateboarding down the PCH towards San Diego, that will not mean it can do it.

                      Continue reciting whatever bravo sierra you want.

                      I know it is the internet rule “he who posts last wins”, so you win – Nothing!

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Sure it does. It shows the launch abort system is capable of pulling the Dragon v2 capsule away from the Amos-6 failure.

                      Which is, if you recall, the original question asked by Tracy, and which you answered incorrectly.

                    • James

                      Joe –

                      “That translates into an acceleration of about 346 g. (that is 346 times the force of gravity).

                      Even if the Super Drago’s could do that it would turn the passengers into jelly.”

                      I’m not trying to support Jester Gambolt, nonetheless I survived one bad car accident due to my shoulder strap and lap belt and an appropriately designed breakable steering wheel, so I would like to note the aviation and automobile safety contributions of:

                      “Colonel John Paul Stapp, (July 11, 1910 – November 13, 1999) M.D., Ph.D., was an American career U.S. Air Force officer, flight surgeon, physician, biophysicist, and pioneer in studying the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces on humans.[1] He was a colleague and contemporary of Chuck Yeager, and became known as ‘the fastest man on earth’.[2]”

                      And, “By June 8, 1951, a total of 74 human runs had been made on the decelerator, 19 with the subjects in the backward position, and 55 in the forward position. Stapp, one of the most frequent volunteers on the runs, sustained a fracture of his right wrist during the runs on two separate occasions.”

                      And, “By riding the decelerator sled himself, in his 29th and last ride at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Stapp demonstrated that a human can withstand at least 46.2 g (in the forward position, with adequate harnessing). This is the highest known acceleration voluntarily encountered by a human, set on December 10, 1954.[6] Stapp reached a speed of 632 mph (1,017 km/h),[7] which broke the land speed record and made him the fastest man on earth. Stapp believed that the tolerance of humans to acceleration had not yet been reached in tests. He believed it is much greater than thought possible.”

                      And, “Stapp is credited with creating Stapp’s Law (or Stapp’s Ironic Paradox) during his work on the project. It states “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”[10]”

                      And, “In the years before his death, Stapp was president of the New Mexico Research Institute, headquartered in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as well as chairman of the annual Stapp Car Crash Conference. This event meets to study car crashes and determine ways to make cars safer.”

                      From: ‘John Stapp’ Wikipedia
                      At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stapp

                      “In order to improve aircraft ejection seats, Dr. (Col.) John Stapp risked his life to test the effect of acceleration on the human body. In test experiments using a rocket sled, Stapp served as his own guinea pig. He achieved over 600 miles an hour in about six seconds, and decelerated to zero in less than two seconds.

                      And, “Stapp not only set a ground speed record of 632 miles per hour, but withstood the windblast experienced by pilots bailing out at 1,000 miles per hour at 35,000 feet, and proved an ejection seat can be used at supersonic speeds. He was called ‘One of the bravest men in the world’ and honored by Air Force Chief of Staff Nathan Twining for his deeds. This was the last of Stapp’s 29 sled runs.”

                      From: ‘Stapp, John Paul’
                      At: http://www.nationalaviation.org/our-enshrinees/stapp-john-paul/

                      Perhaps Elon Musk needs to try repeatedly riding his Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon Version 2 capsule in order to demonstrate their inherent systemic safety.

                      After his “29th” Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon Version 2 capsule spaceflight he could start to talk about the President and his ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ high risk and super costly space program and he might even have some credibility.

                    • James

                      “982 m/s² > 100 g Brief human exposure survived in crash[11]”

                      From: ‘Orders of magnitude (acceleration)’ Wikipedia
                      At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_(acceleration)

                    • Joe

                      James,

                      “I’m not trying to support Jester Gambolt…”

                      Did not think you were and in any case the figures you quote do not support him.

                      “Stapp demonstrated that a human can withstand at least 46.2 g (in the forward position, with adequate harnessing).”

                      346 g is about 7.4 times 46.2 g.

                      “He achieved over 600 miles an hour in about six seconds, and decelerated to zero in less than two seconds.”

                      340 meters/second (Jester’s figure for the speed of the blast wave) is about 753 miles/hour and that delta v would have to be achieved in 0.1 second (under Jester’s assumptions). In the rocket sled test Stapp survived a delta v of 600 miles/hour in 2 seconds the time over which the deceleration had to be applied was 20 times longer.

                      From the table:

                      “982 m/s² > 100 g Brief human exposure survived in crash[11]”

                      As the note [11] makes clear those were impact loads resulting from race car crashes. Those kinds of instantaneous loads are in a class by themselves and can not be compared to the acceleration/deceleration loads we are discussing.

                      A relevant figure from the table is – “> 50 g Death or serious injury likely” (346 g is about 7 times figure.

                      The point is in order for an abort system to have a chance of working you need advance warning (in the range of at least several seconds) and to get that warning you need to know what you are looking for and as of now SpaceX doesn’t.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      To be clear: the statement by Elon Musk is that the initial incident was a “fast fire” by which it is meant the blast wave propagation was subsonic. 340 m/s is the speed of sound at sea level, so it was slower than that.

                      According to a couple of Elon Musk tweets (from 6 May 2015), during the pad-abort test the Dragon went from 0-100 mph in 1.2 seconds, its top speed was 345 mph, and the maximum acceleration was 6 g.

                      Launch abort systems only need to pull the capsule clear of an exploding rocket, which the overlay videos show it is able to do.

                      The results of the investigation have nothing to do with whether or not the abort system would have gotten the capsule away from the fireball, which it would have – as evidenced by the videos, which are (as I have shown above) off by 6 frames in the worst case scenario.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      To be clear:

                      (1) Your new set of assumptions (however much they may contradict your previous ones) do not change anything.

                      (2) 345 mph is about 154 m/s, less than half your original figure. Are you now saying the fireball was that much slower.

                      (3) The 345 mph at maximum 6 g was obtained (so you say in 1.2 s). In you original suppositions the time available (as per above) was 0.1 s that would require a constant (and instantaneously delivered)acceleration of 72 g. Remember the relevant figure from the table provided by James above – “> 50 g Death or serious injury likely”.

                      (4) Thank you for proving my point – ” in order for an abort system to have a chance of working you need advance warning (in the range of at least several seconds) and to get that warning you need to know what you are looking for and as of now SpaceX doesn’t.”

                      (5) Keep digging, maybe you will become the first one in history to dig your way out of a hole.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      (1) Not my assumptions. My comments and statements are all based on publicly and easily available information.

                      (2) I never estimated the speed of the fireball, I just gave an upper limit for it.

                      (3) So Elon Musk says. No instantaneous acceleration needed, all that is required of the LAS is to pull the capsule away from a failing rocket. The g force of the LAS firing is comfortably below 50 g.

                      (4) It doesn’t need several seconds of warning. The overlay videos show that the LAS is capable of pulling the capsule away even on very short notice.

                  • Tracy the Troll

                    Joe,
                    I mean to say just prior to the explosion Musk has said audio detected a “pop”. Wouldn’t a D2 computer use such an anomaly to prompt activation? Also with CRS-7 if that were a D2 wouldn’t such an event have triggered a booster jettison and a crew jettison simultaneously? or am I giving these systems more capability than possible?

                    • Joe

                      Tracy,

                      Last round on this for me.

                      The point I think you are missing is that a launch abort is a very dramatic/traumatic event in itself. You really do not want to initiate one unless absolutely necessary.

                      So Musk says “audio detected a “pop”.” Does he know what the “pop” was? Does he know if the “pop” was associated in any way with the conflagration?

                      Again, unless you know what you want it to look for it would be unwise to set off an automatic activation of a launch escape system because of something like an unidentified “pop”.

                      You are not going to get a real answer the question could the D2 escape system have handled this situation unless/until the specific cause of the incident is specifically identified.

                      It may be frustrating, but it’s true.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      The Crew Dragon’s abort computers would indeed be able to detect anomalous readings, and if they fell to levels indicating bad things were happening, the computer would initiate an abort.

                      Joe is assuming that the abort parameters in the capsule’s computers would not have detected any anomalous readings and therefore an abort would never have been initiated, but this is unlikely. In any case, loss of telemetry data would initiate an abort, as that is a good indication that the rocket has broken up or otherwise ceased to exist, and SpaceX has stated in updates that from the telemetry they have recovered, there was 93 miliseconds from the first anomalous reading to complete loss of data.

                    • Joe

                      “The Crew Dragon’s abort computers would indeed be able to detect anomalous readings, and if they fell to levels indicating bad things were happening, the computer would initiate an abort.”

                      Since as of now SpaceX does not know the cause of the blast (among other things they are looking for bullet fired by a ULA sniper 🙂 ), they cannot identify what “anomalous readings” to look for.

                      “In any case, loss of telemetry data would initiate an abort…”

                      By your own guesses elsewhere in this comments section initiating the abort at loss of telemetry would give the abort system about 0.1 s to out run the fireball and that would require excessively high accelerations.

                      Do not know how many times the same points have to be made over and over again (or maybe in your case it should be obvious).

                    • Jim Hillhouse

                      SpaceX has floated three conspiracies as to the cause for the Amos-6 failure:

                      Sniper
                      Mossad
                      Disgruntled SpaceX employee (using a new Samsung Galaxy S7 I assume).

                      Bottom line, SpaceX is out of its depth and there needs to be another party leading this investigation.

                    • Joe

                      Thanks Jim,

                      Had not heard about the other two. Just keeps getting stranger and stranger doesn’t it.

                      “Bottom line, SpaceX is out of its depth and there needs to be another party leading this investigation.”

                      Can only hope, however forlornly, that will happen.

                    • Tracy the Troll

                      Joe and Jim,
                      lets not forget the Russians…They have allegedly previously hacked Yahoo mail, 20 state voting records, DNC, HPS(Hillary’s Private Server), Is it possible that the Russians initiated the fail safe self destruct system? Clearly Lockheed or Boeing has the technical skill required to pull off such a sabotage. I mean SLS is still not off the ground and they are $B20+ into it. They would need about $1B, 1000 engineers and 4 years to attempt such a devious plan.

                    • Joe

                      Tracy,

                      On a more serious note, did SpaceX supply a potential motive as to why Mossad (the Israeli National Intelligence Service) would want to sabotage the Amos–6 (an Israeli built satellite)?

                      Seems a reasonable question.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Can we agree that a loss of telemetry would initiate an abort regardless of what caused it?

                      The pad-abort test and Amos-6 video overlays show the capsule would have easily been pulled away from the fireball.

                      Stop sticking your head in the sand, Joe.

                    • Tracy the Troll

                      Joe,
                      The Mossad would be involved if this were a possible insurance fraud. The Amos-6 builder was in financial hardship. Maybe they found a way to cash out.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      Everything to be said about your precious “video overlays” has already been said (multiple times).

                      I am not sticking my head in the sand (and I will refrain from characterizing where you are sticking yours).

                      Why don’t you and Tracy get together and have a nice long discussion about how the Mossad sabotaged an Israeli built satellite for the insurance money. It would be a much more productive use of your time, than trying to ignore the basic principles of Newtonian motion.

                    • Tracy the Troll

                      Joe
                      You do realize that…

                      A sale of the twin towers had occurred prior to 9/11 for $4B. And 9/11 was considered two separate insurance claims that paid $4B each. The new owner doubled their money…

                      Insurance fraud is everywhere

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Here’s a frame-by-frame depiction of the event.

                      imgur (dot) com/a/J1yxr

                      The video is 30fps, so each frame represents a time of 33.3 miliseconds.

                      If we assume there were no anomalous telemetry readings until the initial blast (the worst-case scenario), then based on SpaceX’s statement that there was 93 miliseconds from the initial anomalous reading until loss of telemetry data, loss of telemetry data occurs sometime very near the third frame of the fireball (image number 5 in the above depiction).

                      At the very least, we can safely assume that loss of telemetry data would initiate an abort, so in the worst-case scenario, an abort would be initiated at this time.

                      We know from prior reports that the time from when an abort command is given to the Super Dracos reaching full throttle is less than 100 miliseconds.

                      So the worst-case scenario is that the Dragon capsule would have initiated an abort and would be being pulled away from the fireball 3 frames later (image number 8 in the above depiction). In image number 8, the fireball is not even halfway up the fairing, which is about where the Crew Dragon would be.

                      https://s-media-cache-ak0 (dot) pinimg (dot) com/564x/ab/23/09/ab23090161929fa23dceb5c6fbc339d2.jpg

                      The below depiction is therefore inaccurate, as it places the Crew Dragon capsule immediately on top of the 2nd stage, however, even starting from this disadvantaged position we can see it pulls clear of the fireball.

                      https://youtu (dot) be/l9kovJ5SyjM

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      @ Jim Hillhouse, can you direct me to where SpaceX has been floating these conspiracy theories?

                    • Jester,

                      I make a promise to my sources that, absent misleading me, their information remains confidential. So regretfully, I am not at liberty to reveal those who informed me of the three conspiracy theories SpaceX has peddled as the source for the Amos-6 explosion.

                      That said, I cannot express how bad it looks in the business to try to blame external conspiratorial events on a failure of the SpaceX’s system, whether launcher or ground. It’s also a needless distraction from the very difficult job of finding the real cause and fixing it.

                      Jim

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      That is not a SpaceX source saying it is investigating conspiracy theories.

                      The author of the article tries to put a conspiracy spin on it, but the actual actions reported sound like a fairly benign interaction of a SpaceX investigator attempting to gain access to a ULA site where evidence may have ended up.

                      There is rampant speculation online, yes. I aksed for a source where SpaceX has been floating these conspiracy theories.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      Will say it again (for what seems like the 100th time):

                      Overlaying 2 videos of 2 different events

                      (1) Shot at different times.
                      (2) Shot at different locations.
                      (3) Shot with different cameras.
                      (4) Shot from different distances.
                      (5) Shot from different camera angles.
                      (6) Shot under different lighting conditions.
                      (7) “Synchronized” with no knowledge of when the event began.
                      (8) Etc.

                      means nothing.

                      By the way, went to each of your links and got nothing but “This Page cannot be Displayed” notices.

                    • Joe

                      Jester,

                      “That is not a SpaceX source saying it is investigating conspiracy theories.”

                      So SpaceX sends personnel to a ULA building (about a mile from the launch pad) wanting to examine the roof in conjunction with their “incident investigation” and according to you that is not SpaceX investigating conspiracy theories.

                      Jester if this wasn’t so pathetic it would be entertaining.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      (1-6) Fair enough, I’m well aware it’s not 100% accurate. I still think the overlay videos are close enough for the purpose of determinging whether or not the Crew Dragon could have escaped the fireball.

                      (7) They’re off by no more than 6 frames. Even in the worst-case scenario the Capsule gets away from the fireball easily.

                      switch ” (dot) ” with a “.”

                      I assumed this website blocked links, but apparently not. Here:

                      Frame-by-frame of Amos-6
                      http://imgur.com/a/J1yxr

                      Crew Dragon on top of Falcon 9 next to Falcon 9 with faring.
                      https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/ab/23/09/ab23090161929fa23dceb5c6fbc339d2.jpg

                      Amos-6 and pad-abort overlay
                      https://youtu.be/l9kovJ5SyjM

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      “So SpaceX sends personnel to a ULA building (about a mile from the launch pad) wanting to examine the roof in conjunction with their “incident investigation” and according to you that is not SpaceX investigating conspiracy theories.”

                      If they weren’t investigating every possibility, you’d say they were being negligent by not investigating.

                      Make up your mind.

                    • Jester,

                      This is in my other response to you, but it directly addresses your point here, so I’m repeating myself.

                      That SpaceX started investigating the “sniper” theory early-on strikes everyone I’ve talked to as a real strike against the company and its management. To paraphrase one source who has decades spanning from Apollo on, you start with the system, not Mossad and doing otherwise makes SpaceX look like it has no business in the rocket business.

                      Jim

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      @ Jim Hillhouse

                      In particular, I’m interested in seeing where SpaceX says the Mossad did it. Why would Israeli intelligence sabotage a satellite from their own nation? Color me intrigued.

                    • Jester,

                      SpaceX has never “officially” said anything about a sniper, Mossad, or even a disgruntled employee as the cause of the Amos-6 explosion. In fact, when sources first mentioned that SpaceX was touting these conspiracy theories as the cause for the accident, I thought: a) my sources were being ridiculous or b) SpaceX was having a mental meltdown.

                      Given the extreme loyalty of SpaceX fans, if I’d published without enough detail, I, and by extension AmericaSpace, would have looked like we were either off our rocker or spreading malicious rumors about SpaceX. And then the Washington Post published the “sniper” story, which changed everything.

                      That SpaceX started investigating the “sniper” theory early-on strikes everyone I’ve talked to as a real strike against the company and its management. To paraphrase one source, start with the system, not Mossad and doing otherwise makes SpaceX look like it has no business in the rocket business.

                      Thanks for your comment.

                      Jim

                    • Joe

                      “If they weren’t investigating every possibility, you’d say they were being negligent by not investigating.”

                      Sure Jester, anything you say Jester (good choice of names by the way).

                      You (and SpaceX) could learn something worthwhile from Tracy the Troll.

                      Tracy vigorously believes in more conspiracy theories than any one I have ever encountered. While I usually disagree, Tracy has the integrity to own those beliefs and defend them; not spread them and then try to claim no responsibility.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Thanks, this name is a reference to a series of science-fiction books I enjoy, the Phule’s Company series by Robert Asprin. Highly reccomended, though they’re out-of-print I’ve seen them frequently in used book stores.

                      You must not interact with the conspiracy theory crowd much. I have, and she’s nothing in comparison with what I’ve seen.

                    • Joe

                      Jim,

                      “SpaceX has never “officially” said anything about a sniper, Mossad, or even a disgruntled employee as the cause of the Amos-6 explosion.”

                      Of course not. If they were to do that they could be subject to law suit(s).

                      The way you do it (if you are sleazy) is to pass the word around – that you have heard rumors that other people are speculating about the possibility of sabotage – as Musk has done on Twitter pointing to a conspiratorial article on some website. Of course he starts by saying it is “unlikely” but “interesting”. That way he (and SpaceX as a whole) maintain (what is known in sleaze circles as) plausible deniability.

  • Peter Clavin

    With the proposed Load and Go process using this densified propellant to be done by SpaceX at LC-39, one can’t help but watch the video explosions and think that that could be our Astronauts inside that capsule.

    One hopes that the accident investigation will not be rushed and one hopes that NASA won’t cave into politics and let SpaceX proceed with this Load and Go without a shadow of a doubt that it will be safe.

    • Jester Gambolt

      If it were a Crew Dragon on top of the rocket, the launch abort system would have engaged to blast them away from the failing rocket. There are a few videos with the launch abort video superimposed on the Amos-6 fireball, and the crew capsule would easily have made it away.

  • Scott FW

    Re: “On separate occasions when AmericaSpace contacted NASA regarding rumblings heard of problems in the Commercial Crew Program that would delay any launches, NASA updated AmericaSpace as to the completed milestones of the commercial crew contracts and assured AmericaSpace that information implying launch delays was either inaccurate or ill-informed.”
    Basically, “Only the liars say we are less than perfect”

    • Jim Hillhouse

      I cannot speak to what’s in the hearts of others. NASA was approached repeatedly with credible claims From sources that the CCP contractors were falling behind to a 2018 launch timeline, with SpaceX falling the farthest. Where Boeing fessed-up, SpaceX and NASA continued to push the party-line. The NASA IG’s report makes a very compelling, if not certain, case that the line from NASA CCP and SpaceX folks that crews will launch in 2017 is…well, to put it mildly, without any basis in reality.

      The picture will become clearer as 2017 progresses and come into crystal clear focus in 15 months.

  • Tracy the Troll

    Doesn’t the change in ownership of ISS change the risk requirements in supplying the station? As NASA proceeds with interplanetary exploration won’t that be done by new architecture that has not been disclosed yet?

    • Gray Roger

      That is assuming it is done at all. NASA only has SLS and Orion in funded programs. LEO and cis-Lunar orbital missions with no landings are NASA’s future.

    • Jim Hillhouse

      It depends upon the language agreed upon by Congress in allowing the transfer of title.

  • James

    “Just days after SpaceX founder Elon Musk delivered his sweeping vision of colonizing Mars, a Colorado congressman is calling on government agencies to take over an investigation of the aerospace company’s recent launchpad rocket explosion.”

    And, “‘These failures could have spelled disaster, even loss of life, had critical national security payloads or NASA crew been aboard those rockets,’ the letter states. ‘Both SpaceX failures occurred after the Air Force certified the Falcon 9 launch vehicle for U.S. national security launches, less than fifteen months ago.'”

    From: ‘House Republicans don’t want SpaceX handling its own ‘troubling’ rocket accident investigation’ By Dave Mosher and Rebecca Harrington
    At: http://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-accident-coffman-congressional-letter-2016-9?r=UK&IR=T

    • Joe

      So after two catastrophic incidents in fourteen months some in congress think it might be a bad idea to continue letting the “fox guard the henhouse”.

      Not surprising, but almost sure to be controversial to some posters around here.

      • James

        You mean the President’s hungry fox is guarding the super big hen house full of billions of hens? Wow! Who set up such a sweet deal for the hungry fox?

        Maybe that explains a lot of the crazy delusional talk about ignoring high risks by the folks at NASA HQ and how they are going to send astronauts to colonize Mars Soon and Cheaply too!

        “The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That’s just not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you’ve put in for having done it first.”

        And, “So if you’re going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, ‘Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars.’ They’ll ask, ‘How much will it cost?’ You say, ‘A lot.’ They’ll ask, ‘Is it dangerous?’ You’ll say, ‘Yes, people will probably die.’ They’ll ask, ‘What’s the return on investment?’ and you’ll say ‘Probably nothing, initially.’ It’s a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private.”

        From: “Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier'”
        By Sean O’Kane on November 24, 2015
        At: http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/24/9792854/neil-degrasse-tyson-interview-delusions-of-space-enthusiasts

        “Musk punted on the real problems, saying he just wants to build the railroad; someone else can figure out the rest. But these messy biology problems are the ones that matter for human transit and a permanent settlement. And they matter to his railroad, too: a train doesn’t work very well if its passengers arrive at their destination fatally sickened or dead.”

        And, “It’s also why a return to the Moon feels inevitable if we ever want to bring humans anywhere else in space. After all, we’ve only just figured out how to support a small group of people in the Antarctic — and that continent has both gravity and air. Building a Moon base would let us test life-support systems much closer to Earth, with the possibility of rescue in case of disaster. It would also allow for refueling on a place with far weaker gravity than Earth’s, which might make Mars flights easier as well.”

        From: ‘Elon Musk’s ideas aren’t enough to turn humanity into a multi-planet species
        More like a dream than a plan’
        by Elizabeth Lopatto Sep 28, 2016,
        At: http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/28/13086980/spacex-elon-musk-mars-plan-problems-breathing-radiation-death

      • James

        “But once the lecture was over and the electricity of the room died away, questions about his plan started to surface. Namely, very few details about human safety were laid out, and some of the engineering claims made by Musk seemed incredibly optimistic and even unattainable.”

        And, “The increased levels of radiation that people will experience on a trip to Mars is one of NASA’s biggest concerns. Deep space is filled with tiny energized particles — either from solar flares or deep-space cosmic rays — that have the potential to harm people during the voyage. Astronauts on the International Space Station are largely shielded from this radiation thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects most of the deep-space particles. But those on missions to Mars will not have the planet’s magnetic shielding, and it’s not known what effects that might have on the human body.”

        From: “The biggest lingering questions about SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans
        There’s still a lot left to figure out”
        By Loren Grush
        At: http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/28/13087110/spacex-elon-musk-mars-plan-habitat-radiation-funding-questions

        Yikes! Is this “very few details about human safety were laid out, and some of the engineering claims made by Musk seemed incredibly optimistic and even unattainable” speaker the same guy NASA blindly trusts to figure out what happened to the exploding Falcon 9 launch vehicles?

        Nah!

        Tell me it isn’t so!

        Where did those billions of hens go? Were they roasted to a crisp in the flames of the Falcon 9 launchers that burned up the President’s high risk and super costly Mars Soon and Cheaply Space Policy that he cooked up with the fox?

        No wonder some folks in Congress are getting curious and asking blunt questions.

    • Tracy the Troll

      James and Joe,
      In two months Trump will have won the election and Hillary the Presidency…Then the market consolidations and power grabs will begin in mass. Without anything being admitted to demand to go to Mars will build dramatically. Companies will emerge to create habitats, food production, waste disposal, power systems, transport vehicles, manufacturing, recycle systems, robotic construction systems all within 10 years and ready for the first ships to go to Mars. Everyone will realize that barren, dusty, lifeless Mars with temperatures that average -80F and little atmosphere and gravity which look much better than the coming Nuclear Winter on Earth that a Hillary Presidency brings as she will be the first government of one party rule in the United States…

    • Jim Hillhouse

      A lot of Friends of Elon warned him not to make some dreamy-eyed speech in Mexico but to promise to double-down on CCP. Elon, always the brightest one in the room, rejected that advice. His moves have opened the door wide for his congressional opponents, an opening for which they’ve waited patiently. And with the exit of the Obama Administration just a few months away, the praetorian guard of the White House that Elon could count upon are barely if even able to assist him as they have for the last 7 years.

      So this could get really interesting. For example, what if appropriators decide to put a rider in the next CR or the final
      Omnibus bill language forcing NASA to conduct its own investigation? Same with Air Force? And to halt any transfer of funds until those investigations are completed and forwarded to Congress. And Congress can always force the Air Force to recertify SpaceX.

      Another thing hanging out there is the conviction by many within NASA that SpaceX didn’t get to the core of the SpX-7 accident. The 9/1 explosion has only given more weight to that feeling. Two lost payloads in 14 months–unbelievable.

      • Joe

        “Another thing hanging out there is the conviction by many within NASA that SpaceX didn’t get to the core of the SpX-7 accident.”

        Jim,

        Thanks for that. I spent a lot of frustrating time here in the comments section trying to explain exactly that. Of course the “usual suspects” played all kinds of games to obscure/deny those obvious facts.

        If Congress could actually force a real/independent investigation that would be (to put it mildly) very useful.

      • James

        “You know it probably was the right thing to do to cancel it. But it didn’t mean we should not go to the Moon. …. It came down to us on the committee to not talk too much about the Moon, because there was no way this administration was going to go there, because it was W’s program. OK, that’s a pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon. I’m hopeful with this election cycle that maybe the Moon will be a possibility again.'”

        Comment about NASA’s human Lunar Constellation program from Leroy Chiao in Eric Berger’s 10/4/2016 story “Here’s why a Clinton administration might pivot NASA back to the Moon, Ars Technica” and noted by:
        ‘Lost in Space or Thrown Away? – Revisiting the 2009 Augustine Committee Report’
        By Paul Spudis October 7, 2016
        At: http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/lost-in-space-or-thrown-away-revisiting-the-2009-augustine-committee-report/

        If inane, stupid, and highly partisan Presidential politics heavily contaminated the Augustine committee’s scientific and engineering deliberations in favor of advancing the financial and highly risky Mars interests of the President’s ‘political friend’ Elon Musk by ‘justifying’ cancelling NASA’s major bipartisan supported national and international commitment to return humans to the Lunar surface, why should anyone in Congress, or elsewhere, expect intellectual integrity in the two Falcon 9 accident investigations or impartial and careful assessments of what actually happened?

        Long ago, I carefully documented the illegal and dangerous actions of an airline that had led to an airplane accident. Luckily no one had died, but nonetheless I wrote a letter to the FAA about what had contributed to the accident. The FAA never even bothered to talk to me or look at my documentation, the real causes of that aviation accident were ignored, and of course I immediately lost the only job I ever held in the aviation industry.

        When someone talks about the FAA being involved in an aviation or space related accident investigation I usually just grin and bite my tongue. Money and political power often talks far louder than anything the ‘independent’ FAA says or claims to be doing. Lately, I’ve also come to the same conclusion about deliberately inept and lame investigations by the ‘independent’ FBI.

        And in my overall career, I was at times paid to conduct many investigations of various sorts and I never backed away from doing as careful and as honest an investigation as I could. That allegiance to truth sometimes did get me into serious trouble, but I slept well and enjoyed the work I did.

        Let’s hope and expect Congress to do its job and demand strictly independent investigations of all space related accidents and to cancel the President and Elon Musk’s high risk ‘Lost in Space Mars Soon and Cheaply Too’ fiasco ASAP.

        • James,

          The Augustine Committee was political from day one. It wasn’t the members so much; many of them were trying to do a good job. But the staff on the Committee were for the most part doing the work of those who had it in for Constellation from the beginning. Someday, that story will make a good book.

          Even with the bias against Constellation, the Committee did not recommend canceling that program. At least, in my three readings of the final report, I have seen no mention by the Committee for such an action. To listen to Chiao now wax rhapsodic about still wanting to go to the Moon, all I can wonder is where was his voice in supporting this back in 2009, because it sure wasn’t in his comments at the time or since.

          Rather, I think what’s happened is that a strong dose of reality has been slowly, very slowly for some such as the former astronaut, setting-in that the commercial space renaissance that looked so close in 2004-2009 is vapor-ware. Oh, no doubt a real commercial space market will evolve someday, when markets for what space has to offer emerge. But those markets do not today exist and likely will not for decades. And trying to forcibly make commercial space viable through NASA funding, as we’ve done for 13 years, has been akin to pushing a string.

          • Joe

            Jim,

            There is an old joke something to the affect that in politics – which sadly is what this is – a gaffe is when you accidently tell the truth in public.

            Leroy Chiao committed a gaffe.

  • Joe

    “In two months Trump will have won the election and Hillary the Presidency…”

    Thanks for the Civics lesson.

    “Without anything being admitted to demand to go to Mars will build dramatically.”

    Why settle for Mars, hold out for Enceladus or Europa. Musk says his System can go there as well.

    Also the transports are to have restaurants and movie theaters as well as a 0-G sports arena, so you should enjoy the trip. Sort of like a Cruise on a Luxury Ocean Liner, except hopefully without the food poisoning. 🙂

    • James

      Joe –

      “Why settle for Mars, hold out for Enceladus or Europa. Musk says his System can go there as well.”

      Yep. Astronauts are obviously expendable, but Musk is far too valuable to go into Deep Space.

      See: ‘Elon Musk says he won’t be the first person on Mars because he doesn’t want to die’

      By Ali Sundermier and Dave Mosher September 29, 2016
      At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/elon-musk-says-wont-mars-125900012.html

      • Joe

        James,

        I hope you realize I was being a little bit sarcastic.

        I expected the Musk Mars plan to be farfetched, but not to the extent it was.

        • James

          Yep, and I was being quite sarcastic and explicit concerning “Astronauts are obviously expendable”. Nonetheless, that is the cold hard logical analysis that is implicit in the President and Mr Musk’s jointly led ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ Space Program.

          Unfortunately, few new space cadets have a realistic understanding of the diverse high risks and enormous costs involved with sustainable space exploration and colonization.

          Along comes the President and Mr Musk spouting farfetched and nonscientific ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply’ nonsense and lots of space cadets and folks in Congress jump on the bandwagon.

          Sustainable large scale colonization of Mars, Ceres, and other useful spheres in space and the building of extremely large rotating space stations in Cislunar Space most likely require the development and use of the Moon’s many resources.

          Why?

          Pollution politics most likely isn’t going to allow lots of countries and companies to routinely alter or damage the environment, and in particular the upper layers of the atmosphere, by launching massive amounts of supplies and propellant into LEO.

          “According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), aviation accounts for 12 percent of CO2 emissions from transport sources. In 2015, flights produced 781 million tonnes of CO2, ATAG says.

          “The most straight-forward way to reduce emissions from aviation is to fly less, so it is encouraging that 60 percent of Britons are prepared to do just that,” David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK, said in a news release accompanying the report, which was released this morning.”

          ‘Would you fly less to tackle climate change? 2 in 3 Brits would’
          By Anmar Frangoul September 26, 2016
          At: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/26/would-you-fly-less-to-tackle-climate-change-2-in-3-brits-would.html

          Note also:

          “Warren Platts says:
          September 4, 2016 at 11:14 am

          In contrast to SpaceX’s attempt to reach up from Earth with greenhouse-gas emitting rockets, the ULA is seriously proposing to reach down from the Moon with lunar propellants. I was at the 7th joint meeting of The Space Resources Roundtable (SRR) and the Planetary & Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium (PTMSS) was held on June 7-9, 2016 at the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, CO. There George Sowers made a concrete bid for lunar propellant: although they are not necessarily interested in the mining business themselves, they would be willing to take delivery of lunar-produced propellant at the Moon’s surface for ~$500K/mT (but it’s gotta be mass ratio 5).”

          From: Responses section of ‘Not Vaunted, Not Clever and Not Working – The State of America’s Space Program’ By Paul Spudis September 4, 2016
          At: http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/not-vaunted-not-clever-and-not-working-the-state-of-americas-space-program/

        • James

          If we wish to be sophisticated purchasers of spaceflights, perhaps we need to be far more educated in the unlikely but nonetheless real possibility of a crash landing and exactly which spacecraft maximize survivability in such a situation.

          “Human Tolerance and Crash Survivability Dennis F. Shanahan, M.D., M.P.H. Injury Analysis, LLC 2839 Via Conquistador Carlsbad, CA 92009-3020 USA ABSTRACT Aircraft and motor vehicle crashes will continue to occur in spite of all human efforts to prevent them. However, serious injury and death are not inevitable consequences of these crashes. It has been estimated that approximately 85 percent of all aircraft crashes are potentially survivable without serious injury for the occupants of these aircraft. Nevertheless, many deaths and serious injuries occur in crashes that are classified as \223survivable\224. This is because the protective systems within the aircraft such as seats, restraint systems, and cabin strength were inadequate to protect the occupants in a crash that would have otherwise been non-injurious. In order to maximize survivability in a crash, one must have an understanding of the tolerance of humans to abrupt acceleration and then design an aircraft that is capable of maintaining its cabin/cockpit integrity up to the limits of human tolerance. This should be combined with judicious use of energy absorbing technologies that reduce accelerations experienced by the occupants and by restraint systems that provide appropriate support and prevent injurious contacts. This paper discusses basic principles of human tolerance to abrupt acceleration as well as basic concepts of crashworthiness design. Although these concepts are discussed in the context of helicopter crashes, the same principles apply to other vehicles.”

          From: http://www.ebook-xp.com/574b4931e1/EN+HFM+113+06.html

          If I were responsible for designing a commercial or other human rated spacecraft, an extremely high priority would be designing in crashworthiness that is capable of “maintaining its cabin/cockpit integrity up to the limits of human tolerance” with “use of energy absorbing technologies that reduce accelerations experienced by the occupants and by restraint systems that provide appropriate support and prevent injurious contacts”.

          What if all the parachutes fail?

          “Komarov then activated the manually deployed reserve chute, but it became tangled with the drogue chute, which did not release as intended. As a result, the Soyuz reentry module fell to Earth in Orenburg Oblast almost entirely unimpeded, at about 40 m/s (140 km/h; 89 mph).”

          And, “Komarov is commemorated in two memorials left on the Lunar surface: one left at Tranquility Base by Apollo 11,[13] and the Fallen Astronaut plaque left by Apollo 15.”
          From: ‘Soyuz 1’ at Wikipedia

          “The Genesis mission returned a sample of solar wind that was so delicate that it would have been damaged by a parachute landing, so a mid-air retrieval using helicopters flown by Hollywood stunt pilots contracted by NASA was planned. Its parachutes failed to deploy, leading to a disastrous high speed impact with the desert floor which shattered the delicate wafers holding the solar wind samples.”
          From: ‘Mid-air retrieval’ at: Wikipedia

          Is terminal spacecraft capsule air velocity, of around “40 m/s (140 km/h; 89 mph” survivable in an ‘all the parachutes fail crash landing situation’ with appropriate spacecraft capsule designs?

          Are appropriate survivability enhancing airbags provided as basic spacecraft capsule requirements?

          Which of the new spacecraft capsules have maximized their passengers and crew survivability in crash landing situations with all the parachutes in a failed mode?

          How do the new spacecraft and their designed in survivability factors compare to Soyuz, Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo spacecraft?

          Who has doing the crash survivability ratings of the various spacecraft?

          Note:

          “Crashworthiness was greatly improved in the 1970s with the fielding of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and the Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters. Primary crash injuries were reduced, but secondary injuries within the cockpit continued to occur. This led to the consideration of additional protective devices such as airbags. Airbags were considered a viable solution to reducing the incidents of head strikes in the cockpit, and were incorporated in Army helicopters.”

          From ‘Crashworthiness’ Wikipedia At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crashworthiness

          • James

            Correction: add “been”.

            “Who has been doing the crash survivability ratings of the various spacecraft?”

  • James

    “The long-running feud between Elon Musk’s space company and its fierce competitor United Launch Alliance took a bizarre twist this month when a SpaceX employee visited its facilities at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and asked for access to the roof of one of ULA’s buildings.”

    ‘Implication of sabotage adds intrigue to SpaceX investigation’
    By Christian Davenport September 30, 2016
    At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/0a1aafc3-fd93-3efb-b16a-a297baa314a7/ss_implication-of-sabotage-adds.html

    • James

      “The recent case of the failing aerospace manufacturer SpaceX trying to hang on to billions in government contracts is embarrassing and will cost taxpayers billions in waste, substandard service and damage if it continues.”

      From: ‘SpaceX Attempt to Shift Blame for Exploding Rockets is a Joke’ By Steve Sherman
      Oct 15, 2016
      At: http://townhall.com/columnists/stevesherman/2016/10/15/spacex-attempt-to-shift-blame-for-exploding-rockets-is-a-joke-n2232698

      ‘Is the Mars Soon and Cheaply Too’ comic book authored by the Pseudo Martian not being bought by some folks?

      Yikes! Just hold the defensive political line that ‘All is well in Our Lost in Space Comic Book Policy Land’ until after the election. Yep, we just gotta hold on to and hold high the Pseudo Martian until the political flood is over. Yep, we can do it! Try hard!

  • Tracy the Troll

    Does anyone know who is the final say on when SpaceX returns to flight? SpaceX, Nasa, Air Force, Congress, The President?

    • Jester Gambolt

      Ultimately, the FAA. They are the agency who issues licenses for commercial space launches.

      In the previous launch failure, the FAA had to review the findings of the SpaceX investigation and approve the corrections it implemented to fix the problems found, before it would issue them a launch license. NASA and the Air Force will do the same thing before they fly payloads with SpaceX again.

    • James

      Some interesting perspectives:

      “At stake is roughly $70 billion worth of Pentagon satellite launch contracts through 2030, plus what some members of Congress argue is the safety of future astronauts.”

      ‘SpaceX and its biggest competitors are waging a space battle on Capitol Hill’
      By Dave Mosher and Rebecca Harrington
      At: http://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-ula-competition-space-war-politics-2016-10?r=UK&IR=T

      • James

        Actually, much more money is at stake than simply “$70 billion worth of Pentagon satellite launch contracts through 2030”.

        Note:

        “George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, thinks it’s possible to double the number of permit-holding private launches every year for the rest of the decade. That exponential increase would lead to 1,280 liftoffs in 2019 — an average of 3 1/2 per day.”

        “‘Would that be possible?’ Nield asked the audience during a presentation here Wednesday (Feb. 29) at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. ‘If you recognize that every day in the United States there are more than 30,000 flights by commercial airliners, then maybe three or four rocket launches per day doesn’t sound too unreasonable.'”

        From: ‘Lofty Goal for Private Spaceflight: 1,000 Launches a Year by 2019’ By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer March 1, 2012
        At: http://www.space.com/14748-private-space-launches-goal-2019.html

        Having the FAA trying to help grow a high risk and nationally important private launcher industry while also trying to ensure its safety has various built-in inherent conflict of interest issues that cannot be hand waved away.

        In any case, there is a lot of money at stake for American commercial launches:

        “The FAA’s 2015 Commercial Space Transportation Forecast for Non-Geosynchronous Orbits (NGSO), which projects commercial launch demand for satellites to NGSO, such as low Earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), elliptical (ELI) orbits, and external (EXT) trajectories beyond orbits around the Earth.”

        “The annual average of NGSO commercial launches is expected to grow from an annual average of seven launches a year over the last ten years to about 11.9 launches annually. From 2015 – 2024, 986 payloads are projected to launch commercially, driving only 131 launches with multi-manifesting, reflecting an industry planning to launch more micro- and small-class payloads in clusters, instead of increasing the demand for individual launches. Figure 3 shows the projected NGSO launches for the next 10 years. The launches in the next 10 years are predominantly commercial launches to the ISS, which require medium-to-heavy vehicles. Ninety-one percent of all commercial NGSO launches during the forecast period will launch on medium-to-heavy vehicles. The relatively higher number of small launches is due to Skybox Imaging’s plans to use Minotaur C to deploy its constellation and the first test flights of four newly developed commercial small launch vehicles in 2015 – 2017, to be introduced for commercial launch services in the following years. From 2015 – 2018 the report forecasts a number of small commercial satellites to be launched as Iridium, ORBCOMM, Planet Labs, and Skybox all deploy their constellations. The number of these small multi-manifested satellites drops off towards the end of the forecast, but the number of launches remains relatively steady as NASA begins its commercial crew program.”

        From: ‘Federal Aviation Administration 2015 Commercial Space Transportation Forecasts’
        At: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/media/Commercial_Space_Transportation_Forecasts_2015.pdf

    • James

      Tracy the Troll –

      “Does anyone know who is the final say on when SpaceX returns to flight? SpaceX, Nasa, Air Force, Congress, The President?”

      If “The President” controls “Nasa”, the FAA, and the “Air Force”, one may wonder how he is responding to the Falcon 9 return to flight status soon desire of his political friend Elon Musk.

      Folks in Congress are starting to ask questions about safety.

      Getting the Falcon 9 flying prior to the inauguration of a new President might be considered a crucial task.

      While Elon Musk waits for an answer to the Falcon 9’s safety problem, folks across the world are looking at the ongoing development of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 6, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, ULA’s Vulcan, America’s SLS, and the low cost launchers built in India and Russia.

      The political, competitive, and technical pressure to quickly find the cause of failure for the Falcon 9’s September 1, 2016 explosion is probably very high.

      Note:

      “ISRO would also look at whether it could overcome limitations in the performance of GSLV Mark 2 and 3 and if it could build some features in this regard, he said.”

      From: ‘ISRO chief: Want to raise satellite launches to 12-18 a year’ June 22, 2016
      At: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/science/isro-chief-want-to-raise-satellite-launches-to-1218-a-year/article8760365.ece

      See also: ‘Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III’ at: Wikipedia

    • James

      Tracy the Troll –

      Politics is critically important. International and national politics got us to the Moon.

      And politics will be a big factor in our going back to the Moon to tap its resources.

      SpaceX’s current position of prominence is in part due to the President’s cancellation of the Constellation program and in particular, the Ares I launcher which was potentially a serious competitor for the Falcon 9 and even the Falcon 9 Heavy.

      “On Monday night, during an event at Rice University in Houston titled Lost in Space, a physicist named Neal Lane offered comments in favor of a return to the Moon. ‘Today there’s a lot of international interest in having a presence on the Moon,’ Lane said. ‘I think we don’t want to look down from lunar orbit and watch China and India and Europe and other parts of the world starting to establish missions there, even if they’re small ones, while we’re going around and around.'”

      And, “Perhaps more importantly, Lane views lunar exploration as a powerful tool of international diplomacy. He noted that NASA’s current partners, including Europe, Japan, Canada, and Russia, have all expressed their interest in returning to the Moon. Such a plan might also open the door to cooperation with China and India.”

      And, “Moreover, Chiao suggested the decision to remove the Moon as a possible destination was driven by politics, rather than what might be best for the US space enterprise. ‘Frankly, it came down to us on the committee to not talk too much about the Moon, because there was no way this administration was going to go there, because it was W’s program,’ he said. ‘Ok, that’s a pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon. I’m hopeful with this election cycle that maybe the moon will be a possibility again.'”

      From: ‘Here’s why a Clinton administration might pivot NASA back to the Moon
      During comments in Houston, Neal Lane says the Moon is a good testbed.’
      By Eric Berger 10/4/2016
      At: http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/10/heres-why-the-clinton-administration-might-pivot-nasa-back-to-the-moon/

      Yep, I agree with Leroy Chiao’s above comment, “Ok, that’s a pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon. I’m hopeful with this election cycle that maybe the moon will be a possibility again.”

      America can continue with our current lost in space policy based on highly partisan political stupidity, or we can wisely lead the world in going to the Moon to tap its resources.

      • Tracy the Troll

        James,
        I agree, it goes without saying that we are going back to the moon and soon (3years) in numbers that at the moment seem crazy. Without question going to the moon expands the Market Place significantly which will create lots of jobs and open up new markets as well allowing former enemies to become partners in new unforeseen opportunities. This is what capitalism does! I certainly hope for a Trump Presidency because a Business Experienced President is what the country and the world needs by building and creating things in a free and fair market place NOT by consolidating markets and protecting cash flows.

        • James

          Tracy the Troll –

          Yep, “we are going back to the moon” and “Without question going to the moon expands the Market Place significantly which will create lots of jobs and open up new markets as well allowing former enemies to become partners in new unforeseen opportunities”.

          Whoever wins the Presidency, humans are headed back to the nearby, affordable, and resource rich Moon.

          And:

          “One of the toughest parts of investigating an accident is that everyone wants to know the answer, the cause, right away. Folks, it simply does not happen quickly. Accidents involving complex high energy systems are tough to figure out. Even little incidents can be hard: as we used to say in the shuttle program: ‘The first story is always wrong’.”

          From: ‘Accident Investigations’ By Wayne Hale October 1, 2016
          At: https://waynehale.wordpress.com/

          Note: Eric Berger’s 10/4/2016 story is getting some NASA Watch attention:

          “Here’s why a Clinton administration might pivot NASA back to the Moon, Ars Technica”

          From: ‘That Time Obama Killed A Return To The Moon’ By Keith Cowing on October 4, 2016
          At: http://nasawatch.com/archives/2016/10/that-time-obama.html#comments

  • Tracy the Troll

    Can anyone corroborate that SpaceX will fly again this year? See Shotwells’ comments below…

    Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said Sunday that the company now intends to repair the hurricane damage at the payload processing facility.

    “Hopefully we’ll recover from this and be back flying a couple times this year,” she said in a story posted on Space News’ website.”

    http://spaceflightnow.com/2016/10/11/spacex-still-expects-to-resume-launches-by-the-end-of-the-year/

    • Joe

      I can not, but speaking of Gwynne Shotwell she has also announced that the cost savings for reusing a Falcon 9 first stage is down from 30% to 10%.

      http://spacenews.com/spacexs-shotwell-on-falcon-9-inquiry-discounts-for-reused-rockets-and-silicon-valleys-test-and-fail-ethos/

      “We are not decreasing the price by 30 percent right now for recovered and reused vehicles. We’re offering about a 10 percent price reduction……..it’s about 10 percent right now.”

      A little more analysis and maybe the customer will pay a premium for the “honor” of getting to fly on a reused first stage.

      • Tracy the Troll

        Joe,
        I had not heard that. But I am not surprised as SpaceX has not actually launched a reuse booster. I am not sure how many takers there will be for a 10% discount. Considering they have had 2 failures in 14 months, I would be interested to know if their insuring ability is still present or has the premiums just “sky rocketed”? Also have they lost any contracted launches?

        • Joe

          “I would be interested to know if their insuring ability is still present or has the premiums just “sky rocketed”? Also have they lost any contracted launches?”

          Those are very good questions.

          Keep in mind that SpaceX acknowledges that to attempt booster reuse involves a payload penalty of 30% (some actual supposed numbers for launch to GTO makes it more like 33%). While it can be argued that this does not matter if your payload is small enough it does limit the number of customers that could take advantage of the discount in the first place. If those customers are going to have to pay more in extra insurance than the 10% discount they would already be experiencing the “honor” I was talking about above.

          • Tracy the Troll

            Joe,
            Just curious…Do all rockets that launch from US soil have some type of remote self destruct ability if they were to go off course and head into populated areas? Even manned rockets?

            • Joe

              Tracy,

              Would not even try to speak for “all rockets”, but all of the launch vehicles with which I am familiar (that launch from Canaveral) have such systems and they are supervised by the Range Safety Office.

              One of many things to be curious about if SpaceX opens its proposed Brownsville, Texas launch facility is; would the vehicles launched from there have such systems and who would supervise them?

              • Tracy the Troll

                Joe
                Isn’t the Range Safety Office run by the Air Force? So if that is the case I would think that that even for that Brownsville site the Air Force would have oversite on launch.

              • Joe

                Tracy,

                “Isn’t the Range Safety Office run by the Air Force?”

                Yes, Canaveral is a government facility (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station).

                “So if that is the case I would think that that even for that Brownsville site the Air Force would have oversite on launch.”

                As far as I know, the Brownsville facility (if it ever comes to exist) would be a private (that is – SpaceX) facility; so who knows.

                • Tracy the Troll

                  Joe,
                  Isn’t Air Force oversite required for ALL Public or Private sub/orbital capable launches to insure that someone does not start WWW3 ?

  • Tracy the Troll

    Joe,
    I noticed in Musks big reveal of his Mars ship that he said that they had perfected two of the major components, the raptor methane engine and the LOX tanks built by carbon fiber. This got me thinking that this is missing component to the X-33 Venture Star…SSTO can now be done..Maybe Lockheed Martin will pull it out of the garage? What say you?

    • Joe

      Tracy,

      The Venture Star was a Lockheed proposal and Lockheed is a part of ULA and currently involved with work on ULA’s Vulcan Rocket in addition to the SLS. I do not know of any interest in reviving the Venture Star at this time.

      As to Musk’s Mars performance, I am going to do the board moderators a favor and not comment on what I (and virtually everyone else I know that has ever been in the business) think of it. The resulting firestorm it would be likely to set off with Musk’s online acolytes would be a waste of time and effort.

      If you really want to have an eventual breakthrough in Space Fairing capability, I sincerely suggest you take an interest in the development of Lunar ISRU using more conventional propulsion techniques and incorporating other breakthroughs in engineering (3D Printing as one example). May not seem as “glamorous”, but you are far more likely to get what you (and I) desire that way.

      • Tracy the Troll

        Joe,
        The Vulcan is a non starter for me as they are still throwing the booster core away and polluting then ocean, seems so inefficient. The 3D printing and Lunar ISRU work is great. I just think the Venture Star concept is know ready for the market place and I think technologically possible as well.

        • James

          Tracy the Troll –

          The Vulcan could have a full first stage reuse option whenever ULA wants to do it.

          If Blue Origin’s New Glenn launcher’s first stage can employ one or more of its seven reusable BE-4 rocket engines for landing itself back on Earth, there probably isn’t anything that would prohibit using the Vulcan’s same type of BE-4 rocket engines on its first stage from also landing itself back on Earth.

          Let’s wait and see how the ULA’s Vulcan develops over time.

      • James

        Joe –

        Yep! – “If you really want to have an eventual breakthrough in Space Fairing capability, I sincerely suggest you take an interest in the development of Lunar ISRU using more conventional propulsion techniques and incorporating other breakthroughs in engineering (3D Printing as one example). May not seem as ‘glamorous’, but you are far more likely to get what you (and I) desire that way.”

        I’m glad at least one nation is willing to lead the world to tap the Moon’s polar resources, however it seems to be an astonishingly clear failure of our President’s odd space policy that such leadership is not being provided by America.

        “America’s traditional space partners would much rather go back to the Moon instead of Mars in the near term. The moon is closer, both in time and distance. When President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation space exploration program that would have landed people on the moon by the end of the current decade, he pulled the rug out from under a number of countries that had been eager to become partners in such an effort.”

        From: ‘What if China steals America’s space leadership by going to the moon instead of Mars?
        The world community could join the Chinese, leaving the United States Earthbound’
        By Mark Whittington 28 June 2016
        At: http://us.blastingnews.com/opinion/2016/06/what-if-china-steals-america-s-space-leadership-by-going-to-the-moon-instead-of-mars-00989685.html

        “Under the new plans, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP) will now be expanded to include missions to both of the Moons poles.

        And, “‘The exploration of lunar poles is a significant innovation in human history, which has drawn great attention from around the world. It will also lay a solid foundation for deeper and more accurate Moon probes in the future,’ Tian Yulong, chief engineer at the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), told CCTV.”

        And, “Phillip Clark, a long-standing analyst of China’s space programme, believes that China’s approach to putting astronauts on the Moon will be a part of a long-term vision.

        ‘We have seen that the Chinese plan ahead so I am sure that any piloted lunar programme would be a long-term one, with the idea of a establishing a lunar base,’ Mr Clark says.”

        From: ‘China aims for pole position in lunar exploration’ By Andrew Jones 2016/10/14
        At: http://gbtimes.com/china/china-aims-pole-position-lunar-exploration

        Oh well, Joe, I didn’t say really anything about “Musk’s Mars performance”, did I?

        And I do expect to eventually see SpaceX’s Falcon 9 being used to directly or indirectly support American and international Lunar ISRU efforts.

        • Joe

          Jamles,

          “And I do expect to eventually see SpaceX’s Falcon 9 being used to directly or indirectly support American and international Lunar ISRU efforts.”

          (1) The performance characteristics currently claimed by SpaceX for the expendable version of Falcon 9 fit very well with being a launcher for robotic precursor missions for a lunar ISRU program, but a number of other launchers fulfill those capabilities as well. Time will tell if SpaceX can actually deliver on those characteristics and how competitive they would be with other providers.

          (2) Additionally, the Commercial Crew capabilities could support delivery of crew to LEO for transfer to a Cis-Lunar Space transportation system, but that holds true for Boeing as well (and Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin for that matter). We will have to wait to determine if such a Lunar ISRU program (hopefully) develops and how well SpaceX can compete with those other potential service provides for those contracts also.

          • James

            Joe –

            “Time will tell if SpaceX can actually deliver on those characteristics and how competitive they would be with other providers.”

            At some point, maybe after the Air Force loses a nice and expensive satellite, or maybe two expensive satellites, due to the unneeded complication of 9 Merlin rocket engines on the Falcon 9’s first stage, or due to the total of 27 Merlin rocket engines of the three first sages of the Falcon Heavy, Congress will wise up that Elon Musk’s ‘first stage reusable’ Falcon family of partially military funded and developed fast response launchers needs to be simplified and revamped to have fewer engines and lower risk and to get rid of that risky 30 minute quick loading of cold RP-1 and super cold densified lox while the crew is sitting in the Dragon capsule on top of the Falcon 9 fast response launch vehicle.

            Three Aerojet Rocketdyne AR1 rocket engines on a Falcon 9 could help to simplify the Falcon 9’s first stage. If they want to keep the reuse option for the Falcon 9’s first stage, just add one Merlin to the three AR1s.

            “All-American design and production
            Advanced oxygen-rich staged combustion kerosene technology
            500,000 lbf thrust (sea level)
            Propellants: Liquid-oxygen (Lox)/Kerosene (RP-1)
            Configured to accommodate multiple applications
            Fast-paced and affordable development
            Advanced low-cost manufacturing techniques”

            From: ‘AR1 Booster Engine’
            At: http://www.rocket.com/ar1-booster-engine

            I’m really hoping that the Falcon 9’s first stage gets simplified before astronauts start trying to regularly ride the Falcon 9 to LEO.

            Of course there may turn out to be lots of low cost international competition for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy for doing satellite launches, crew launches, and Lunar ISRU missions.

            “The Soyuz-5 would use the same diameter for all sections of the rocket, 3.6 m (12 ft), use just liquid methane and liquid oxygen, have a single engine with a single nozzle per stage, and automate most tasks.[10] But it could use the basic Soyuz pads and installations after some modifications. Liquid methane is cheap, Russia has ample reserves and it has a huge installed base. It also has some important thermal and polymerizing properties that paves the way for reusable rockets. The rocket was expected to use the KBKhA RD-0164 engine in the core stages, and a methane version of the also KBKhA’s RD-0124 in the upper stage.[10]”

            And, “The Soyuz-5 is designed to be a scalable family. As such it has three proposed versions:

            Soyuz-5.1: This would be the basic version designed to replace the Soyuz-2.1a/b rockets. It uses a first and a second stage. It is expected to have a payload to a 200 km (110 nmi) circular LEO orbit of 9 t (8.9 long tons; 9.9 short tons).[1][3]
            Soyuz-5.2: It is designed as a crew carrier vehicle and uses a central core and two equal cores on the side as boosters. It does not have an air lighted seconds stage which eliminates air start risk. It is expected to have a payload to LEO of 16 t (16 long tons; 18 short tons).[1][3]
            Soyuz-5.3: Heaviest version. A Soyuz-5.2 with the Soyuz-5.1 upper stage, it has the maximum capability.[11] It is expected to have a payload to LEO of 25 t (25 long tons; 28 short tons).[1][3]"

            From: ‘Soyuz-5 (rocket)’ Wikipedia At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz-5_(rocket)

            Yep, “Time will tell” if, or when, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will become reliable Lunar ISRU mission launchers.

          • James

            Joe –

            Assuming a currently planned Merlin powered, or a possible future AR-1 powered, Falcon Heavy is operated without a second stage and in the same mode as noted in the above Wikipedia quote,

            “Soyuz-5.2: It is designed as a crew carrier vehicle and uses a central core and two equal cores on the side as boosters. It does not have an air lighted seconds stage which eliminates air start risk. It is expected to have a payload to LEO of 16 t (16 long tons; 18 short tons)”,

            it could be expected, given the Falcon Heavy’s much greater liftoff mass without a second stage as compared to Soyuz-5.2, that the Falcon Heavy without a second stage would thus have a larger payload to LEO capability than that of the Soyuz-5.2 and so the Falcon Heavy’s middle core could act as a useful payload lifter to LEO and might also be able to return from orbit and thus the Falcon Heavy system without an upper stage could be considered a useful payload launching fully reusable pseudo SSTO.

            The Soyuz-5.2 may also turn out to be a low cost and fully reusable pseudo SSTO launcher of satellites and small Lunar resupply missions.

            And if we recovered and reused the SLS’s SRBS, and deorbited the core of the SLS, and landed it and reused it, then the SLS could be considered a potential crew capsule launching fully reusable pseudo SSTO.

            Of course, the various costs, risks, technical issues, and benefits of such potential reusable pseudo SSTOs are not yet fully understood.

    • Jester Gambolt

      The X-33 had a myriad of design problems, most of them dealt with weight. The tanks, engines, TPS, and fuel / oxidizer feed plumbing were all overweight. It was actually in the middle of a top-to-bottom redesign when it was cancelled.

      NASASpaceFlight has a good article on the cancellation of the X-33 program, I’d suggest reading that.

      That said, the SSTO concept is entirely technologically possible at this time, indeed, it has been possible since the 1960s, and the Skylon space-plane is working on doing that right now. It’s just very inefficient, a lot of the payload mass is reduced by bringing the entire rocket into orbit, which is why TSTO (two (or three) stage to orbit) rockets are the way everyone is doing spaceflight these days.

      • James

        Since boosters aren’t usually considered a full stage, the idea of a pseudo SSTO reusable launch vehicle that uses nice and big reusable boosters might be doable and useful.

        There are lots of potential candidates for boosters for such a pseudo SSTO, but to keep it simple, how about making some boosters out of the New Glenn’s reusable first stage.

        Or how about reusable versions of the Dark Knight boosters:

        “ATK proposed an advanced SRB nicknamed “Dark Knight”. This booster would switch from a steel case to one made of lighter composite material, use a more energetic propellant, and reduce the number of segments from five to four.[44] It would deliver over 20,000 kN (4,500,000 lbf) maximum thrust and weigh 790,000 kg (1,750,000 lb) at ignition. According to ATK, the advanced booster would be 40% less expensive than the Shuttle-derived five-segment SRB.”

        From: ‘Space Launch System’ Wikipedia
        At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Launch_System#Advanced_boosters

        Maybe the folks at SpaceX could eventually come up with some reliable, large, reusable, and commercially available boosters.

        In any case, if you put some really nice and big reusable boosters on a super evolved Antares X, or Vulcan X, first stage, you might just have a useful and reusable pseudo SSTO.

        Of course, putting two or even four, potentially reusable Dark Knights on a reusable evolved first stage of the New Glenn launcher might also get you a useful pseudo SSTO.

        Time will tell.

      • Tracy the Troll

        Jester,
        Wasn’t the X-33 redesign the result of the failure of carbon fiber LOX tanks after the switch to Aluminum? Certainly they would not have developed hardware if the feasibility of the weight ratios were not achieved would they or was the whole program just a CON considering everything we have heard about the Clintons in recent months?

  • James

    “The question is whether the strut was really the origin of the June 2015 failure. The struts were of below-specified quality, but it was not demonstrated that this was the root cause of the failure.”

    And, “It remains possible that a helium bottle burst in June 2015 and that, in parallel, the struts supporting it were of poor quality.”

    And, “The shrapnel is traveling at supersonic speed. At 5500psi, you have about a third of what’s in a cannon to launch a projectile. Think of car tires exploding, but at much higher pressure.”

    From: ‘SpaceX’s Musk says sabotage unlikely cause of Sept. 1 explosion, but still a worry’
    By Peter B. de Selding October 17, 2016
    At: http://spacenews.com/spacexs-musk-says-sabotage-unlikely-cause-of-sept-1-explosion-but-still-a-worry/

    Interesting article.

    • Joe

      Hi James,

      Ordinarily would not be commenting on a post this long in the works, but this does bring up an interesting point.

      “The shrapnel is traveling at supersonic speed. At 5500psi, you have about a third of what’s in a cannon to launch a projectile. Think of car tires exploding, but at much higher pressure.”

      Our “resident expert” on escape systems/conflagrations(Jester Gambolt) opined that the escape system would only have to escape the supposedly subsonic (according to Jester) fireball for the September 1 incident:

      Jester Gambolt September 27, 2016 at 7:22 pm – “The abort system needs to get the capsule away from the debris of the exploding rocket – the fireball… It doesn’t need to be IMMEDIATELY traveling faster than the (in this case, subsonic) blast wave to do so…”

      The purpose pointing this out is not to “yank Jester’s chain), but to point to the dangers of amateur internet analysis.

  • […] outlined in a previous story on AmericaSpace, after Sept. 1, NASA’s bet on their Commercial Crew Program in general, and in […]