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You Have Done Well, Grasshopper

On August 13th, the Falcon 9 test rig (code name Grasshopper) completed a divert test, flying to a 250m altitude with a 100m lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. The test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.

Grasshopper is taller than a ten story building, which makes the control problem particularly challenging. Diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.


About That Washington Examiner Hit-Piece on SpaceX…

Rand Simberg thoroughly dismantles it: An Examiner Hit Piece on SpaceX

No quotes, because his response is wedded to excerpts from the original and is best read in full (i.e.: Read the Whole Thing™).

As I mentioned on Twitter (and then didn’t have time to follow up on myself), I heard some scuttlebutt about this at CPAC Colorado last week (along with the James O’Keefe voter registration expose and the Obama campaign’s questionable credit card donations). The implication was that Musk is getting new attention from watchdog and media organizations on the right because of his green energy businesses and his donations to and occasional chumminess with Barack Obama.

Which in itself is a reasonable thing – given the strange frequency of late for green energy businesses owned by Obama friends and fundraisers to get subsidies, lax oversight, stimulus funds, etc. (and to then go bankrupt, stiffing the taxpayers), a watchdog group would be remiss if it didn’t look into a campaign donor who might potentially fit that same pattern. As for the center-right media, there is obvious story potential in digging up and exposing “the next Solyndra” if they can find one, and when you see advertising like this (seen at the Home Depot near my house) it’s natural to wonder whether Musk’s Solar City might or might not be it:

Broken Solar Panels Fallacy

In each case, these things are as they should be: the news media and watchdog organizations, however partisan their interests might be, can serve a useful role in keeping public figures, civic organizations, lobbyists, and the like (a little more) honest via transparency. I say “can”, because of course it doesn’t always work that way – obviously media and watchdogs alike will have less incentive to investigate people and organizations with whom they share a common political persuasion or worldview (which is why the overwhelming left bias seen in both institutions is unhealthy), and when they are so determined to find some dirt on their political enemies that they resort to incompetent hack pieces like this one by Richard Pollock in the Examiner, their efforts at transparency are easily dismissed as partisan BS without substance.

SpaceX Dragon Docks to ISS

Cool. Let’s hope this is just the first of many – SpaceX’s Dragon craft makes historic hookup with space station:

Once the fix was made, Dragon returned to the 30-meter checkpoint and moved in for the final approach. When the craft reached a distance of 10 meters (33 feet), NASA astronaut Don Pettit used the station’s 17-meter-long (60-foot-long) robotic arm to grab hold of the Dragon’s grapple attachment at 9:56 a.m. ET.

“It looks like we’ve got us a Dragon by the tail,” Pettit told NASA’s Mission Control.

This certainly doesn’t seem to be the NASA Greg Klerkx wrote about a few years back. Let’s hope they can keep the commercial competition going long enough that we have multiple players in the market.

Big Week-ish for Commercial Space

Okay, so it’ll be a bit over a week by the time it’s done, but:

  • Planetary Resources is announced, with a four-stage approach to prospecting and mining near-Earth asteroids:
    1. Leo, a small space telescope placed in (appropriately enough) low Earth orbit.
    2. Interceptor spacecraft (Leo telescopes with additional propulsion and science equipment) to scout for near-Earth asteroids
    3. Rendezvous Prospector spacecraft to approach and gather data on specific asteroids
    4. Asteroid mining (umm…yeah, this is where it gets a little Underpants-Gnome-ish)
  • The Blue Origin capsule shape is revealed:

Instead of using a more traditional symmetrical capsule design, the Blue Origin Space Vehicle uses a biconic shape with one side of the capsule flattened and a split flap (most likely two) that can be used for directional control. The flap can be seen in the multicolored image above from the computational fluid design program used to develop the spacecraft. Similar designs have been developed in the past, most notably McDonnell-Douglas’ legendary Advanced Maneuvering Reentry Vehicle (AMaRV) developed in the 1970s. This vehicle also used split flaps for directional control, though it was designed to deliver weapons launched from a Minuteman missile.

  • SpaceX is currently planning to launch its first flight (Dragon 2/3) to the ISS on May 7, but will have a test firing of the launch vehicle on Monday, April 30.

SpaceX Gets Approval for ISS Flight

Good news – NASA clears SpaceX for trial run to space station:

To encourage commercial cargo runs, NASA has hired SpaceX and a second company, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to fly cargo to the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 countries, which orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

A successful test flight by SpaceX — as well as a similar run by Orbital scheduled for next year — would begin restoring U.S. access to the station, which is expected to remain operational until at least 2020.

As others have pointed out, space policy is the one area where the Obama administration seems to be getting things more or less right – and that’s all the more amazing for it involving commercial endeavors. (It’s early, of course – if and when these commercial startups hit their stride, that will be when the federal government starts taxing and regulating them out of business like every other successful industry.)

Collision Avoidance

Glenn Reynolds posts a bit about 2005 YU55, a 1300ft asteroid scheduled to pass within the orbital radius of the Moon this coming November. Observes Reynolds in response to a reader comment about “doing something”:

Yes, “Spacewatch” is about noticing this kind of thing. Doing something about it is someone else’s problem, alas. Maybe once the Falcon Heavy is flying . . .

Hmm… Falcon Heavy…with a LEO payload of 120,000lbs, and a core diameter of 3.66m and a fairing diameter of 5.2m.

I can think of a potentially useful payload in the 60,000lb range with a diameter of a mere 2.1m…

Falcon Heavy Announced

It’s pretty amazing what you can do (and how rapidly you can do it) when you’re not bogged down by ever-shifting customer desirements, stifling “best practices”, departmental fiefdoms, and rocket scientist Senators:

New Life for X-34?

Wired seems to think so: Grounded NASA Space Plane Poised for Comeback?

There were probably more reasons for the cancellation than were publicly admitted to than just the engine difficulties. But if that’s all there was, it’s interesting to note (as others have) that SpaceX’s original Merlin-1 engine is in the same thrust class as Fastrac. And Merlin-1 has actually flown.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Obama administration’s space policy tends to the commercial. Or that Obama and Musk seem to be pals.

I actually don’t expect X-34 to fly (if they haven’t been stored properly for the past ten years, the refurbishment costs will probably be uneconomical). But I sure would like to be pleasantly surprised.

Interesting Connection

Hmm…Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon and commenter on SpaceX launches) is a board member of Progress Now Action, one of the billionaire-funded political action groups at the core of the “Colorado Model” for “progressive” takeovers of red states:

2012 Prometheus Award Finalist

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A young girl sets out to prove herself by resolving a long-forgotten mystery. But when she gets close to the truth, what she thought was a harmless adventure becomes a threat to the future of the independent commercial settlements on Mars.

April 2014
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