November 2, 2014

Florida Looks to Space Tourism Despite Virgin Accident (Source: Florida Today)
Local officials have long seen Kennedy Space Center's former shuttle runway as an ideal place for space tourists to take off and land, possibly some day flying aboard Virgin Galactic. Space Florida president and CEO Frank DiBello is confident such flights are inevitable despite Virgin's test flight disaster Friday in Mojave, Calif., which killed one pilot and seriously injured another.

"I'm deeply saddened by today's tragedy," said DiBello, who chairs the Commercial Spaceflight Federation's board. "I continue to have confidence in the industry, and that they're going to be able to figure out the anomaly, correct it and get back on a path toward democratizing space and opening space up for the citizen astronaut." Virgin had no plans to fly in Florida unless demand warranted an expansion from its initial home base at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

But another company that plans to fly tourists, Mojave-based XCOR Aerospace, does intend to perform test flights from KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility, possibly by early 2016. Florida Senator Bill Nelson had this to say: "This has been a tragic week for our commercial space sector, but I'm confident that we will learn from the investigations of these two accidents and take steps to prevent them from happening again." (11/1)

Fine Unlikely for Boat that Delayed Antares Launch (Source: DelMarVa Now)
The boat that delayed by a day the launch of the ill-fated Antares rocket was in international waters, meaning the Coast Guard likely cannot impose a fine for the infraction. Thousands of space enthusiasts on the East Coast were disappointed when the launch was scrubbed minutes before launch time on Oct. 27 because a 26-foot sailboat had strayed into the danger zone.

"We can't really quantify it for you, but it's not cheap," Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said of the cost of the one-day delay. The sailboat was about 40 miles out to sea, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel said. It was in the first of two avoidance areas for the launch — the one set for the first rocket stage.

The area extends some 50 nautical miles out from shore in a wedge shape, some 37 nautical miles wide near the shore and 17 nautical miles wide at its outer limit. The vessel was well beyond the 12 nautical miles over which the United States exercises sovereignty. (11/2)

Shuttle Monument Dedicated During Titusville Ceremony (Source: Florida Today)
Facing a crowd next to an eight-ton stainless steel space shuttle emblem, astronaut Bob Crippen reminisced about his NASA spaceflight career that started in April 1981. "When I look back on the program, it was a great experience. Yes, we had two terrible tragedies. But every time it happened, the program picked itself up by its bootstraps and got the program back flying again — and flying safely," said Crippen, who orbited the earth aboard shuttle Columbia during STS-1.

Saturday morning, a jacket-wearing crowd attended the dedication ceremony of the 15-foot-tall shuttle monument at Space View Park. The audience was largely comprised of current and retired space workers, some dating to the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo days. (11/1)

Spaceport Pioneers Group Hosts Event Honoring Past, Future (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Missile, Space and Range Pioneers held a social and dinner in Cocoa Beach on Nov. 1. The event included industry veterans, insiders and up-and-comers who helped to underscore the rich history -- and potentially exciting future -- that the group hopes to preserve and inspire. (11/2)

Analysis: Will Space Accidents Deter Pioneer Tourists? (Source: CNN)
Aerospace insiders routinely compare the emerging commercial space industry to the genesis of the aviation industry -- high risk, high reward. [But] passengers want to know they are going to be safe. Friday's accident will surely instill fear in the more than 700 people who have signed up to make the journey. So what is the value of space tourism? And why risk human lives to make it a reality?

As George Whitesides told CNN earlier this year: "At heart, what inspires me the most is the idea that space changes you, that space has this profound impact on the people that can experience it." What Whitesides is referring to is the overview effect, a phenomenon that space travelers are said to experience when they see the curvature of the Earth -- changing the way people see the world, thereby influencing the way in which they live.

Both Whitesides and Branson have spoken openly about the fact that suborbital flights are not the ultimate end goal for Virgin Galactic. Point-to-point intercontinental travel would be the next application of this technology, meaning that one day passengers could travel around the world in about two hours. While such plans have been put on hold since the accident, Virgin Galactic is intent on taking off. The question is, will people still be willing to pay $250,000 to go to space? (11/1)

Branson: No One has Demanded a $250,000 Refund (Source: CS Monitor)
On Saturday, Richard Branson said none of the money provided for seat deposits has been spent and anyone who wanted a refund could get it, but no one has asked. Rather, he said, someone signed up on the day of the accident in a show of support. "They've been patient to date," he said of his customers. "I think most of them will be patient longer." (11/2)

Did the Crew Compartment Fail? (Source: Daily Beast)
I asked a former NASA astronaut, who cannot be quoted on the record, to look at photographs of the debris. The most-intact section of this image is the dark, bowl-shaped object. This looks similar to what is called a pressure bulkhead in airplanes that seals the part of the fuselage that is pressurized from the rest of the structure...

“The tank contains the oxidizer nitrous oxide and not fuel, which is a solid plastic in the motor, so I would have thought it would be very stable and not too heat sensitive. If it is the tank, then it looks reasonably intact, suggesting it did not fail. And the solid rocket propellant would not blow up in one explosion since it cannot do that without an oxidizer.  It could have had a burn-through like Challenger Shuttle, but I would have thought that would take longer.

"So keeping in mind the evidence is paltry at this time, I think it is possible that the crew module pressure vessel failed structurally resulting in a massive depressurization event followed by breakup. That would explain why we do not see any cabin, although it could be out there, and just not filmed. It would also explain the photograph that shows the engine still burning as the breaking up vehicle tumbles tail first.” (11/2)

DoD, Industry Huddle As Civil Firms Gain (Source: Defense News)
The big issues of the day facing the Pentagon and its defense industrial base go far deeper than developing the next generation fighter or aircraft carrier, top industry analysts warn. With commercial companies outpacing the defense industry’s ability to develop and field cyber, satellite and communications capabilities — and with those companies competing hard for the top engineering and software development talent — the Pentagon and its industry partners will need to chart a new path forward.

With the work that some of the leading tech companies like Google, Amazon, Palantir and ViaSat have done for the Pentagon, “are these companies going to become defense companies? No, why would they want to?” said W. Alexander Vacca, corporate director, business assessment at Northrop Grumman. “The profits are lower, the opportunities smaller, there’s too much red tape” for some of these firms to want to dive too deeply into federal government work. (11/1)

Texas Spaceport Business Park is Foundation for Aerospace (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
Spaceport Business Park is coming to Midland. While the announcement of the business park took a back seat to last week’s Orbital Outfitter groundbreaking, its impact could be the most significant step toward diversification we have seen in quite some time. Spaceport Business Park, located at Midland International Air and Space Port, will start as the home of XCOR Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters, but expectations are that the spaceport will be an inviting location for other members of the nation’s aerospace industry.

The governor’s office has so much confidence in what will take place that it is giving Midland Spaceport Corp. $2 million to develop the area. Part of that money will be applied to projects for XCOR, according to Robert Rendall, a Midland Development Corp. point man on projects such as XCOR and Orbital Outfitters. The rest of the money, Rendall said, will go toward the infrastructure the MDC and city will need for the business park. (11/1)

Fregat Design Ambiguity Steered Galileo Wrong (Source: GPS World)
The root cause of the anomaly that sent two Galileo satellites into the wrong orbit on August 22 was a shortcoming in the system thermal analysis performed during stage design, and not an operator error during stage assembly, according to findings by an independent inquiry board.

The independent inquiry board was created by Arianespace, in conjunction with the European Space Agency and the European Commission. Its conclusions draw on data supplied by Russian partners in the program, and are consistent with the final conclusions of the inquiry board appointed by the Russian space agency Roscosmos. (11/1)

State Sorting Out Potential Liability in Antares Launch Explosion (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Virginia is likely to share the liability of damage to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport from the fiery destruction of an unmanned supply rocket on the Eastern Shore, but the final cost to the state is far from clear, state officials said Friday. The spaceport at Wallops Island is run by a quasi-governmental authority that receives $16 million each year from the state’s transportation fund, and the $150 million launch pad was built with $100 million in state bond proceeds.

State officials say private insurance may cover at least some of the damage under a memorandum of understanding with the private company responsible for the aborted launch, but the spaceport itself is self-insured. “There’s no obligation for the state, but I don’t know where else they’d get the money from,” said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr., a member of the board of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority that oversees the spaceport.

State legislative leaders said they would wait for a clearer assessment of the damage and memorandum of understanding with Orbital Sciences Corp. before commenting on the state’s potential liability. Spaceport officials said Friday that they are conducting “an in-depth engineering assessment to determine a detailed cost estimate for facility repairs.” The spaceport said its second launch pad was not damaged by the explosion. (11/2)

Some Consequences for Virgin Galactic (Source: Daily Beast)
There are many consequences to this failure. Not the least is what it implies for the financing of the project. After years of delays the costs have gone beyond a billion dollars. More than a third of that money has come from Abar, an investment fund based in Abu Dhabi. (This was made available in return for an undertaking by Virgin to build a space tourism base in the Gulf.) By any measure, this accident will have set back the development program by years. Will backers want to pour ever more money into this black hole?

Then there is the case of Spaceport America in New Mexico, near the small city of Truth & Consequences. This cost local taxpayers $212 million to build in the hope that they would become the center of the new industry of space tourism.

It’s not exactly clear how many people have signed up to ride SpaceShip One – Galactic has claimed that as many as 800 people have paid deposits on the $250,000 fare but the numbers are squishy. For these people the disaster over the Mojave Desert is a sobering wake-up call. What to many must have seemed the prospect of a spectacular joy ride is now better appreciated as a thrill from the very edge of what is safely attainable. (11/1)

Flight Path to Disaster: A Clash of High Risk and Hyperbole (Source: Daily Beast)
All Virgin Galactic test flying was done under an FAA experimental permit. To reach the point where SpaceShip Two could carry passengers Virgin needed an operator’s license. That required a new 180-day review by the FAA to establish that all the systems were thoroughly tested and fail-safe. But this was uncharted territory for the FAA just as it was for Virgin. By submitting to the FAA review Virgin was being asked to set the standards for all who followed.

It was a very tall order. Branson wanted a vehicle that could carry six passengers, two pilots and reach a speed of 2,500mph and a height of around 65 miles, ten times the height at which an airliner cruises. When the FAA certifies a new airliner it is normal for the airplane builder, like Boeing, to put as many a six airplanes into the test program, all flying at the same time, to test every aspect of the design and its safety. Even then it can take several years to receive certification.

But here Virgin was fielding only one vehicle that embodied a whole set of completely untried systems. Everything was being staked on the two test pilots being able to anticipate potential failures and the ground engineers likewise poring over the test results to detect weak points before they had catastrophic results. Despite this, Virgin asked the FAA to begin their review for the operator’s license in August 2013, and that was when the 180-day clock started ticking. Click here. (11/1)

Change Likely to Limits on FAA Spaceflight Regulation (Source: SPACErePORT)
At the urging of launch industry advocates in 2004, Congress moved to limit the ability of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to promulgate new safety regulations for the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry. A eight-year "moratorium" on new regulations (called a "learning period") was put in place to prevent the infant industry from being smothered by government oversight.

In 2012, given the industry's continued lack of flight experience, Congress extended the moratorium until October 1, 2015. So, in essence, Congress has limited the FAA's ability to develop new regulations that might have made Virgin Galactic's operations more safe. In lieu of taking regulatory action, FAA-AST took steps to work with spaceflight carriers so they could gain insight into safety issues and draft regulations that could be promulgated after the moratorium expired.

Unfortunately, given the Republican leadership's disdain for government regulation, Congress also has severely underfunded FAA-AST, affording the shortstaffed office a limited capability to perform the kinds of oversight and coordination required to adequately plan for the industry's safe operations. Perhaps one positive development from the Virgin Galactic disaster will be a better funded and more capable FAA-AST. (11/2)

Virgin Repeatedly Warned by Experts About Safety Issues (Source: Daily Mail)
Space flight experts have accused Virgin Galactic of ignoring warnings over its safety procedures in the wake of a fatal explosion aboard one of its spacecraft. Senior engineers and propulsion scientists say they spent years telling Richard Branson's private space line its procedures are 'outdated', needlessly secretive, and could lead to people getting killed. Michael Alsbury, 39, died at the controls of Virgin's experimental SpaceShipTwo vessel on Friday after the sub-orbital plane exploded at 45,000ft shortly after engaging its engines. His co-pilot, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured.

And, in a further sign of upheaval at Virgin Galactic, it was revealed that top engineers in charge of safety, aerodynamics and the propulsion system have all recently quit the company. Many of the warnings stem from a 2007 engine test disaster in the Mojave Desert that killed three employees of Virgin Galactic's partner company, Scaled Composites. Some have accused Branson's project of ignoring industry standards and refusing to share its procedures in its eagerness to perfect commercial space flight, which it has regularly estimated is just months from completion.

One expert called the design and testing process a 'Russian roulette' which was bound to kill someone. Geoff Daly also revealed that he wrote to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board urging them to do something about his safety concerns over SpaceShipTwo. Writing in July 2013, he said even the company's own engineers privately doubted that their venture was safe. Click here. (11/1)

Branson Spaceship Explosion: The 'Missed' Warnings (Source: The Telegaph)
Virgin Galactic, in an attempt at damage limitation, initially dismissed the explosion as an “anomaly”. However, aerospace experts insisted that it had been a disaster waiting to happen. Tom Bower, an investigative journalist and Sir Richard’s biographer, described the crash as “predictable and inevitable”. He said: “It’s a very crude rocket.”

Carolynne Campbell, the lead expert on rocket propulsion at the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS), said: “This explosion is not a surprise. None whatsoever, I am sorry to say. It is exactly what I was expecting. It was Russian roulette which test flight blew up.” In emails sent by Geoff Daly, a US-based British rocket scientist, to officials at the FAA last year, he warned of another disaster if test flights were given the go-ahead.

Tomasso Sgobba, executive director of IAASS and the former head of safety at the European Space Agency, said that Virgin Galactic had refused to share information with industry experts outside the company and declined to have its rocket design peer-reviewed. Representatives of Virgin Galactic had refused to come to IAASS meetings, he said. (11/1)

Deceased Virgin Galactic Pilot Identified (Source: Daily Mail)
The pilot who died in a tragic accident aboard Virgin's SpaceShipTwo has been identified. Michael Alsbury, a father of two and pilot with Scaled Composites, was killed on Friday when SpaceShipTwo exploded just minutes after it detached from its mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo. Michelle Saling, Alsbury's widow, told MailOnline, 'I have lost the love of my life. I am living in hell right now.'

Alsbury had flown numerous missions on SpaceShipTwo for years, including the all important first successful rocket-powered run in April 2013. He was also the pilot in the first glide flight back in 2010, and flew as recently as August 28 of this year. In video from the 2013 mission, it is clear what a humble man Alsbury was, and just how dedicated he was to his job. (11/1)

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