September 27 News Items

Crew Safety Must Be Paramount Concern (Source: Washington Times)
The choices before the nation on the future of human space flight are extremely complex; the Augustine Commission hearings this month only reinforce this. Fundamental considerations about mission, vision, destination, system performance, cost and safety all seem to pull in different directions. History has taught us that the most important attribute to consider is crew or passenger safety. Only the safest system can reap long-term benefits. Ares I was designed from the start with crew safety and mission reliability as key requirements. Multiple studies show that goal was achieved, with Ares I consistently rated tops for safety against any other option by a significant degree. Increased crew safety and mission reliability have the added benefit of reducing overall life-cycle costs.

Expenses associated with a reliable human transport are less than for one that suffers intermittent catastrophic failures. That, in turn, facilitates commercialization of human low-Earth orbit transport. This is a rare win-win-win solution. Though commercial vehicles with a launch abort system may be safer than the shuttle, they still lag behind Ares I safety by a factor of 3 to 5 and do not meet the Columbia investigation's clear assertion that America should replace the shuttle with a vehicle that is "significantly safer." Asking start-up companies working to deliver cargo to the Space Station to take on the task of safely delivering crew to low-Earth orbit is fraught with multiple unknowns, risking significantly increased costs, both monetarily and in human life.

Editor's Note: Safety is a trump card played too often in the space industry. There is always a blurry line between 'safe enough' and 'as safe as possible'. Astronauts understand and accept the risks that come with spaceflight. They know that trade-offs are part of the bargain when affordability, performance and safety are factored into a rocket's design. The Shuttle is a far safer vehicle today than it was two decades ago. If commercial vehicles with launch abort systems are "safer than the Shuttle," as acknowledged in this editorial, that might be plenty safe enough, and there's no reason to believe their safety won't also improve with time. The safest rocket is one that never flies, followed closely by one that flies rarely because its safety requirements make it too expensive to develop, maintain and operate. (9/27)

Ares Concerns: If Scrapped, Hundreds of Top of Utah Jobs May Be Lost (Source: Ogden Standard-Examiner)
NASA's next moon rocket, the Ares-1, is scheduled to get its first launch pad test next month in Florida. But there are unanswered questions regarding any NASA program that includes the Utah-built Ares-1 rocket motor. The answers to those questions could mean the survivability of at least 700 Utah jobs for ATK Space Systems, a company with three Utah locations. The worst-case scenario for ATK, a potential loss of all the Ares jobs should the company lose federal support, is a picture being repeatedly painted by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Editor's Note: It seems ATK would have more business if NASA decided to accelerate a Shuttle-derived heavy-lift rocket, rather than rely on Ares-1 for the next 15+ years. The Ares-5, Ares-5 Lite, Side-Mount, and In-Line shuttle-derived heavy-lift vehicles would use two 4- or 5-segment SRBs for each mission, instead of one for each Ares-1 mission. (9/27)

Plans for Solar Power From Outer Space Move Forward (Source: Daily Finance)
A California technology startup is rapidly pushing forward with plans to build the first space-based solar power station to beam 200 megawatts of electricity back to Earth via microwaves to a receiving station near Fresno. The firm, Solaren Space, has been pushing for space-based power since 2001 and it secured a Power Producing Agreement with PG&E April 2009. PG&E (PCG) hasn't put any money into the project but its willingness to sign shows that Solaren must be doing something interesting. Solaren's Director of Energy Services Cal Boerman answers some questions about the project:

How many launches will be required: Four. How much will the project cost? A few billion dollars (private investment). Will it harm birds or knock down planes? Not at all...The energy levels we'll be working with are a lot less than you might feel if you were sitting out in the midday because the beam will be spread out over a very wide areas. Click here to read the entire article. (9/27)

“Planet Earth Team” Hits the Isle of Man (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Isle of Man has an interesting story about how one astronaut and two cosmonauts have laid down Cold Era rivalries to work for Excalibur Almaz – a commercial company that is using old Soviet hardware to launch space tourists into orbit. The space veterans include NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao, a veteran of three Shuttle missions and one Soyuz mission; Colonel Valery Tokarev, a Russian Air Force test pilot and cosmonaut; and Colonel Vladimir Titov, the first man to spend a full year in space. (9/27)

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