November 3, 2014

Did Early Feather Unlock Expose SS2 to Too Much Aerodynamic Pressure? (Source: SPACErePORT)
If the feather mechanism was unlocked before -- rather than after -- the vehicle's high-g turn toward space, the aerodynamic pressure of the upward turn could have forced the tail/wings toward the feathered position. This could have torn off the wing sections and flipped the spacecraft tail first, as seen in this photo (the bright spot shows the engine burning at the front of the vehicle's flight path, rather than behind, with the wings broken off on either side).

This video shows a 'normal' flight test in September 2013. Notice the feather unlocking occurs at 0:38, roughly 17 seconds after the engine is fired and during the vehicle's upward ascent. In last week's failed flight, the unlocking occurred at nine seconds. The video shows the unlocked feathers are moved to their upward position at 1:20, at apogee, roughly one minute after the engine is fired.

Last week's breakup occurred at about 12 seconds after engine ignition. At this point on the September video, at 0:34, the vehicle was beginning its upward turn, with the g-forces clearly being felt by the pilot, considering the strain in his voice. The time of failure seems to have been near the period of maximum aerodynamic pressure during the flight. (11/3)

NTSB Making Progress on SS2 Investigation, Premature Feathering Blamed for Breakup (Source: SPACErePORT)
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) seems to be making fast progress with its investigation of the Virgin Galactic accident, thanks in-part to an abundance of data from multiple onboard and external videocameras, telemetry and eyewitness accounts for the test flight. Most of the key parts of the vehicle have been found, including the engine and fuel and oxydizer tanks, all of which were intact with no signs of burn-through. This shifts the focus away from an engine failure.

Instead, they found that the spacecraft's feathering mechanism was unlocked by the co-pilot nine seconds after the engine's ignition. The unlocking normally must be followed by the movement of a lever to initiate the feathering. This is designed to ease the vehicle's descent after reaching apogee, so the unlocking might normally occur later in the flight at a higher altitude (and thinner atmosphere). But the feathering system engaged two seconds after the unlocking, after which the telemetry stream was lost as the vehicle broke up. The NTSB hasn't determined whether the breakup was accompanied by other mechanical failures.

So, some serious questions remain and the investigation will likely continue for months. Why did the feathering occur early? Was it unlocked prematurely (co-pilot error)? Concerns about an engine failure are fading, but excessive shaking/vibration was an issue in previous engine tests with a different fuel mix. Could this have contributed to the feathering mechanical failure and breakup? (11/3)

Virgin Boss Hits Out After Safety Warning Claim (Source: Phys.Org)
Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson hit out against "hurtful" critics and "self-proclaimed experts" on Monday after a rocket scientist said that the company had ignored safety warnings ahead of the deadly crash of one of its spacecraft. Branson said the evidence showed there had been "no explosion" behind the SpaceShipTwo accident in the United States last Friday.

He vowed to push on with the project, while investigators pored over the wreckage in the Mojave Desert in California for clues. "I've never seen such irresponsible innuendo and damaging innuendo," the British business tycoon told Sky News television, referring to critical press reports in Britain. "The fuel tanks and the engine were intact, showing there was no explosion, despite a lot of self-proclaimed experts saying that was the cause," he said. (11/3)

Virgin Boss Says Galactic Plan Will ‘Move Forwards’ (Source: Aviation Week)
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson says that barring the discovery of insurmountable hurdles resulting from the Oct 31. crash of the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) prototype spaceplane, the company will continue with its long running plans to become the world’s first spaceline. When the accident occurred Scaled Composites was in the final phases of testing SS2 before handing the vehicle over to Virgin Galactic for the run up to the start of operational flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico in 2015. (11/1)

Branson, Allen, Musk, Bezos: Tech Execs in the Space Race (Source:
The concept of space travel has proved an irresistible allure for many entrepreneurs who’ve made it in the tech world, and they have been spurred on by NASA’s increasing reliance on private companies to conduct space missions. The industry has been rocked by SpaceShipTwo’s crash coming just days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station. But the race for commercial space travel continues. Here’s a look at the major tech titans leading the way. (11/3)

Virgin Galactic: Safety Lapse Claims 'Categorically Untrue' (Source: Mashable)
In the days following the fatal crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket, some voices have emerged questioning its attention to safety, a claim the company refuted in a statement released on Sunday. "At Virgin Galactic, we are dedicated to opening the space frontier, while keeping safety as our 'North Star,'" reads the statement emailed to Mashable and appearing on the company's website. "This has guided every decision we have made over the past decade, and any suggestion to the contrary is categorically untrue." (11/2)

Pilot Error May Have Contributed to Crash (Source: LA Times)
Two levers were supposed to be pulled when the spacecraft reached Mach 1.4, allowing an action called "feathering" -- which lifts the tail to slow descent and create drag.  Instead, a video in the cockpit and other data showed that one of the levers was unlocked early at Mach 1.0, NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart told reporters. About two seconds later, the tail moved into the extended position, even though a second "feather" handle was not moved, Hart said. "Pilot error is a possibility," Hart said. "We're a long way from finding cause." (11/2)

Branson’s Space Tourism Shows What Today’s Obscene Inequality Looks Like (Source: Guardian)
Sub-orbital tourism holds a special place in the unlovely pantheon of “experience” consumption. The waste of fossil-fuel energy could only be considered by someone who either didn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change or didn’t care. The need to see Earth from a distance with your own eyes, whatever the cost, hints at an interior life as arid as the surface of the moon.

Why do you need to witness your planet as a dot – for perspective? Why can’t you quarry these insights from your own imagination? They would be seriously better off, all 700 of these mega-rich masses (and just incidentally, I have never been more disappointed in Angelina Jolie).

If Branson’s project tells us very little about the human condition except for its frivolity and emptiness, this consumer switch – from stuff to experiences – has more general implications. Neoclassical economics and, lately, politics have us all characterized as consumers. We realize our identities with the stuff we buy, having arrived at an advantageous price through the rigorous pursuit of our own consumer interests. (11/3)

Virgin Galactic Spaceship Insured for $40-50M Through AIG (Source: Reuters)
The Virgin Galactic spaceship which crashed on Friday was insured against losses totalling around $40-50 million, and the lead underwriter was AIG, two insurance sources said on Monday. AIG declined to comment. (11/3)

Why Satellite Communication Matters in India (Source: Business World)
Accounting for approximately 17 percent of the global population, and with a growing middle class and a large part of the population still living in rural and remote areas, India presents large market opportunities for satellite communication services. ISRO could not keep pace with the rapidly growing demand for satellite capacity and India's market landscape changed significantly with release of a new satcom policy in 2000, which allowed a "controlled" entry of foreign satellite operators.

Based on the finding in our report India Satcom market 2014, the demand for regular satellite capacity in India has been growing at over 6 per cent between 2008 and 2013 and now reached 214 transponder equivalents (36MHz units, a standard industry measurement for satellite capacity demand). Main growth drivers have been the strong demand for distribution of channels to cable TV in C-band as well as DTH pay-TV broadcasting and enterprise VSAT networks in Ku-band. (11/3)

At the Dawn of Space Commercialization (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
It’s still dawn in the commercial space industry, but the private sector is rapidly taking control of government missions as new, innovative companies blaze fresh paths to the stars. “The rules of the game are changing,” said George Nield, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation. “Twenty years ago there was little indication of commercial space at all. But today we can see a whole range of commercial space activities emerging.” Click here. (11/3)

Orlando Lunar XPRIZE Competitor Adds Australian Sponsor (Source: ESF)
Earthrise Space Foundation (ESF) has added Australian software company Altium as a gold level sponsor. Through a generous licensing agreement, estimated at $50,000, the foundation will now have access to the Altium Designer software package, providing a cutting edge electronics development tool for ESF students. Altium specializes in PC-based electronics design software for engineers and is a global leader in Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design software. Altium Designer is an electronic design automation software package.

ESF is committed to the research and development of spacecraft and spacecraft systems in Central Florida and is the host of Team Omega Envoy, a group competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. (10/14)

Virgin Galactic's Whitesides Reacts to Safety Claims (Source: AFP)
Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides also questioned the safety claims, telling the Financial Times that differences of opinion were common in the world of space flight development. "In the space community, you will be able to find people who have favorite technologies of different types. One group will say their type of technology is better than another," the paper quoted him as saying. "We pay a lot of attention to the several hundred engineers that we have on staff, and other expert consultants we've talked with about our technologies." (11/2)

Virgin Galactic Crash Major Setback for Spaceport America (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Before last week's crash, Virgin Galactic already had delayed launch of commercial operations in New Mexico during the last few years pending the successful completion of testing and development of the rocket, known as SpaceShipTwo, at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Now, with that rocket destroyed and construction of a second ship underway but far from finished, it’s unclear how long it may take Virgin to move from research and development in California to commercial operations in New Mexico.

A statement from the New Mexico Spaceport Authority late Friday afternoon expressed the state’s condolences. “We just feel so bad for the pilots and their families,” Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson told the Journal. “It’s been a really bad day.” Anderson said it’s too early to speculate on the accident’s impact on Virgin operations at the Spaceport, but she said the commercial space industry will move forward.

During hearings at the state Legislative Finance Committee this week, Spaceport executives said they would face a $1.5 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2015 if Virgin didn’t begin commercial launches by next July. That’s because the Spaceport needs to earn launch fees from Virgin and revenue from the tourists to meet its operating expenses. Given Friday’s catastrophe, it may be well into 2016 or beyond before Virgin could consider commercial launches in New Mexico. (11/2)

Thoughts on the SS2 Crash (Source: Dennis Wingo)
Burt Rutan with the original Spaceship 1 brought in the hybrid engine design SPECIFICALLY because it was sold to him as being the safest type of engine. A hybrid engine with a solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer has the ability to be shut down like a fully liquid engine, without some of the problems that come from a fully liquid or solid design.

That was the theory. The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing (at our current level of technical maturity) as a perfectly safe rocket engine. ALL rocket engines are an exercise in design compromises between cost, operability, and complexity as integrated into the larger system. Click here. (11/2)

No comments: