Blazing Trails

 

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It’s lonely out in space… Credit: SpaceX

I’d like to think someone at SpaceX or NASA is reading my blog and took the last post to heart, though I could with equal validity claim to be a fire engine or the Easter Bunny.

SpaceX’s big announcement yesterday that they will be sending a Dragon capsule to Mars in (hopefully) two years clearly has been in the works for some time. They didn’t just cook that idea up last weekend over some takeout pizza and a twelve-pack of Red Bull (though from what they say about the work environment at Hawthorne, who knows?). From Aviation Week:

SpaceX and NASA wrapped up 16 months of behind-the-scenes negotiations Tuesday with an unfunded Space Act agreement to cooperate on sending an unmanned Dragon crew capsule to the surface of Mars as early as 2018.

Smart. 2018 is the next window of opportunity for a Hohmann transfer to Mars, and ought to be enough time to pull this off given SpaceX’s current state of development. They’re getting the propulsive-landing thing down pretty well and Mars access has been an intended use of Dragon 2 all along. If this works, the repercussions will be tremendous.

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Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX

Falcon Heavy is probably the long pole in the tent because Red Dragon isn’t going very far if they can’t put enough weight up there to get the job done (that is, a kick stage to put Dragon on a transfer orbit). If this year’s test is successful, there are a couple more Heavy launches on next year’s manifest that would go a long way towards building confidence in their capability.

Note that NASA isn’t throwing money at them (directly at least) so this is all on Elon’s dime. But the “in kind” support they’re providing is significant, as Aviation Week reports:

…“deep space communications and telemetry; deep space navigation and trajectory design; entry, descent and landing system analysis and engineering support; Mars entry aerodynamic/aerothermal database development; general interplanetary mission and hardware consultation and advice, and planetary protection consultation and advice.”

These are subjects in which NASA has lots of expertise that SpaceX likely doesn’t have (yet). Their focus has been on the foundational work: vehicle development and operating experience, whereas this is precisely what a government space organization should be doing: figuring out the really hard, expensive stuff in an R&D role and then letting private industry run with it. It’s worth remembering that most of the airfoil designs still in use today by Boeing and others were developed by NASA’s precursor (NACA) in the 40’s and 50’s.

And if this works, there’s still time to build a hab module for that 2021 window…

 

Halfway to Nowhere

 

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SLS: going somewhere, doing something. ‘Merica. Credit: NASA

The great Robert Heinlein famously postulated that Low Earth Orbit is “halfway to anywhere,” meaning that it takes almost as much energy to send a spacecraft to its final destination (say, Mars) as it did to put that spacecraft into Earth orbit in the first place. In some cases it actually requires less energy.

After years of development and who knows how many billions spent, NASA’s Congressionally-mandated Space Launch System is nowhere closer to having a clear mission than it is to actually launching. Literally, a “rocket to nowhere.”

So we have a massive booster launching a stupidly expensive spacecraft with no clear destination. There’s talk about a circumlunar flight, maybe a jaunt out to EML-2 or a near-Earth asteroid – they’ll figure that out later since the first manned flight won’t happen until at least 2020. NASA expects they can only afford to do that once a year. Maybe two. Again, later. Because reasons. Continue reading

Like a Virgin

“Lock S-foils in hype position!” Credit: Virgin Galactic

I’d started noodling on this a couple of months ago, then things happened fast: Blue Origin made a third suborbital flight of New Shepard and lifted the curtains at their Kent, WA headquarters, while SpaceX finally landed a Falcon first stage on a barge at sea and plans to seriously step up their ops tempo.

And Virgin Galactic continues to, well…I’m not sure what they’re doing. I used to be a lot more enthusiastic about their potential, but ten years’ worth of empty hype tends to take the shine off things. That, and the body count. Continue reading

Trump Card

trumpzilla_poster_2_0-r2e5a5579883d404a91d6f42032c4d3fa_wvc_8byvr_512So The Donald won New York’s Republican primary. In related news, I left something closely resembling Donald Trump in the toilet this morning.

My point? Both are equally undeserving of attention. But here we are.

There’s a story that Trump had been considering a Presidential run for some time and was finally convinced to throw his combover hat in the ring after a phone call from his good buddy Bill Clinton. For those of you who don’t recall the 90’s, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Bill Clinton is a reptilian pervert who doesn’t do anything for anyone unless it somehow redounds to his and/or Hillary’s benefit. And if he can stick it to the Republicans at the same time, it’s bonus points.

For any Republican, conservative or otherwise, that should’ve rung alarm bells at decibel levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. Could no one see the train wreck this guy was setting us up for from day one? Continue reading

Big News

I’m now publishing with Baen. They’ve picked up Perigee and Farside, which are being republished under their imprint this week. More news to follow as I work on future titles with them. You might have noticed the blog has been on life support the last few months, needless to say I’ve been rather distracted and it hasn’t all been publishing deals. If y’all keep coming back for updates on the new titles, I’ll promise to start putting up actual content again.

 

Stuck the Landing!

True to form, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin pulled off something spectacular yesterday in near-total secrecy:

That crashing sound you hear are the “OldSpace” business models collapsing from California to Florida.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Elon Musk didn’t take it all that gracefully. I’m actually a little disappointed in him as this shouldn’t take away from anything he’s done with SpaceX. Pro tip: don’t let it get under your skin. You’re building bigger rockets that are coming back from space even faster, so quit measuring dongs (then again, maybe all this really is a phallic hangup. I mean, just look at the thing).

A full-up test of their New Shepard suborbital passenger rocket is pretty impressive, given they’ve only flown it once before. Getting the passenger capsule into space and back is also cool. Two for two.

But flying the booster back from space and landing it? PRICELESS.

Book Reviews

It’s taking a while for Farside to get some traction, but all the reviews so far have been quite positive. I especially liked this one from John Walker at Fourmilab, also cross-posted at Ricochet:

This novel is not going to be nominated for any awards by the social justice warriors who have infiltrated the science fiction writer and fan communities: the author understands precisely who the enemies of civilisation and human destiny are, forthrightly embodies them in his villains, and explains why seemingly incompatible ideologies make common cause against the values which have built the modern world. The story is one of problem solving, adventure, survival, improvisation, and includes one of the most unusual episodes of space combat in all of science fiction. It would make a terrific movie.

Dang skippy! Just waiting for that call from Hollywood…