The following is a discussion by a Mr. Gene Grush, retired mechanical engineer, on the data that has been used to predict climate change.
FlashGordon2014: It’s alive!!! 🙂
From the article: ” NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is awake and doing fine.The spacecraft bound for Pluto roused itself from its latest hibernation on Saturday at noon PST. One and a half hours later, it sent a radio signal to Earth to confirm it had successfully turned itself back on.
Credit: LA Times, Author: Deborah Netburn
From the article: For many decades, a fantasy among space enthusiasts has been to invent a device that produces a net thrust in one direction, without any need for reaction mass. Of course, a reactionless space drive of this type is impossible. Or is it?
Credit: BoingBoing.net website: Author:Charles Platt
FlashGordon–I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s quote:” We are made from star stuff.” I never realized that the theory of seeding earth from comets was old. From the article” That theory, panspermia, was first proposed by a Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, in the 5th century BCE”
Credit-21st Century Tech Web site, posted by
FlashGordon2014: They are going to kick our butts!!!
Credit : Adrian Wan email@example.com,South China Morning Post
AdminCadet: First, here is the story – taken from NBC New’s website. I recommend you glance at this first:
Now for the Opinion/Speculation on my part. First, let me say that I have no true idea why NASA chose Boeing and SpaceX over Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC) in the bid to design and deliver a US crew transport vehicle to take astronauts to/from Station. But I can cogitate on it based on my years in the aerospace business as much as anyone. Second, fortunately or unfortunately, there will probably be nothing that comes out of SCN’s challenge of the final NASA decision. I personally have never seen any company win such a challenge. But maybe this will be a first time. Who knows.
Let’s look at what we do know (you can do this research yourselves – it all comes from Internet searches with my personal comments interspersed throughout):
Boeing Space Operations – It’s design for crew transport to Station is a 5-man capable capsule (with a required launch-abort system) called the CST-100 to be launched on the Atlas V. Boeing-Space has many many years of crewed space vehicle experience. They (or their previous incarnation Rockwell) designed and assisted in flying the Space Shuttle for over three decades with all its successes and failures. They formed United Launch Alliance (ULA) with Lockheed Martin in 2006 as a 50-50 joint venture to provide launch services for the US government using the Atlas V, Delta II, and Delta IV launch vehicles. While these expendable vehicles are not yet “man-rated”, they or earlier versions of them have supported America’s launch needs for over half a century. And these launch systems have had excellent mission success. For example, The Delta II has flown 97 consecutive successful launches to date. The Atlas V has achieved 100 percent mission success since its debut in 2002 (49 flights) except for an upper stage anomaly due to a leaky valve in 2007 which resulted in leaving a payload in a lower than intended orbit (the customer still deemed the flight a success). These launch vehicles have also seen continual upgrades and enhancements since they were first launched. Boeing comes to the table with extensive experience with human space flight and is part of a company that provides very successful launch capability. Now the negatives – ULA’s large launch systems utilize the Russian built RD-180 engines and, as I’m sure you are aware, things have been “uncomfortable” between the United States and Russia in the recent year. So ULA has brought in the company Blue Origin to provide a possible replacement to the Russian engines: the BE-4 engine which uses a newer technology than the Russian engines (liquid natural gas as its fuel in combination with liquid oxygen). Having to verify and incorporate a new engine technology into its launch systems has its own “start up” risks. Also, Boeing is “old school” with all the expensive infrastructure, methodology practices, and hardware traceability that entails. Some would argue (definitely not me, who is also old school and proud of it) this makes Boeing less likely to attempt cutting edge methods to lower cost and achieve improved performance (I would counter this argument by saying this makes them less likely to take unnecessary or mis-informed risks with human lives and to be able to perform failure analysis and corrective action in a reliable and tried-and-true fashion). We who have worked side by side with Boeing for decades have been through many years of successes and crushing failures with them. We can tell you they are definitely a worthy company whose people and management all want to do the right thing.
Image: Boeing CST-100 Capsule
Now for the wunderkind company, SpaceX – the darling of the media and the company that has ignited the imagination of Americans and Washington politicians alike. SpaceX also is proposing a capsule (also with a required launch-abort system) for its crew transport vehicle – the Dragon 2 to be launched on SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rocket. Unless you’ve been living on the Moon, you should know that SpaceX is the brain child of Elon Musk, the South African-born Canadian American inventor and investor who holds bachelor degrees in both Physics and Economics. He co-started the web software company Zip2, then co-founded a company some may have heard of called PayPal, from which he reaped over 150 million dollars when the company was sold. After this, Musk went on to co-found and become CEO of Tesla Motors – a company dedicated to building efficient and high performing electric cars (I don’t mind telling you, I’d love to have one). He also co-founded SolarCity, a solar panel plant production company. If you looked up “entrepreneur” in the dictionary, I’d have no doubt you’d find Mr. Musk’s photograph next to the definition. Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in 2002. The company focus is on its launch vehicles the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, and its cargo spacecraft the Dragon capsule. In 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket launched and put a satellite into Earth’s orbit. In 2008, NASA awarded SpaceX funding to design and fly 12 flight of its Falcon 9 / Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle (retired in 2011). SpaceX has always advertised its intention to evolve to a crew transport space company, with highly set goals of reduction in cost and improvement in reliability. It designs, tests, and fabricates most of its hardware components in house, and NASA is not its only customer. In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon (cargo version) was berthed with the ISS for the first time, the first “commercial” company to launch and bring a vehicle to the ISS for berthing. [I put quotes here because, except for the type of contracts used, all NASA vehicles could be considered “commercially” built – after all, they’ve all been built by private-sector companies using NASA funding.] Since 2012, SpaceX has successfully traveled to and been berthed to the Station five times. It is scheduled for an early December return to station in 2014 and an early February return in 2015 with several more to follow through 2016. From this discussion you can see that SpaceX has accrued a lot of experience in launching and getting capsules to Station. This is definitely a huge positive in its favor. And its non-convential methods in design and cost savings also are an exciting aspect of this company. Now for the negatives: SpaceX has demonstrated quick turnaround from failures. While none of these failures have resulted in a loss of a cargo vehicle to Station, they have resulted in delays in launch and actual loss of secondary cargo. Failure may not have been an option during Apollo 13, but we in the aerospace business know unfortunately it happens and will happen. It’s how an organization responds to failure which demonstrates its true worth. To simply take a failed piece of hardware, fix it, and then re-fly, is not enough. That is called remedial action. Like fixing a flat tire on your car and driving away. Corrective action is when you understand in-depth what caused the failure in the first place and you either (1) change the design so the failure cannot re-occur, or (2) you mitigate recurrence as much as technology and budget allow with workarounds in place should the failure recur. In-depth safety analysis and acceptance is a big big play in both of these processes. A company like Boeing, which has “been around the space block” before, knows how to do this intimately. They’ve learned the hard way (as have we who worked with them) that this is how you protect your vehicles and save people’s lives. There are some who question if SpaceX has the experience, the documentation, the traceability, and the practical know-how to understand the difference between fixing a problem and performing true corrective action. But, since we do not have insight into the company’s policies, it is hard to argue for or against if this policy is being practiced. Unfortunately, we only can “wait and see”.
Image: SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule
So we come to our challenger Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) – Space Exploration Systems. SNC proposed a small winged “mini-shuttle” vehicle (with a required launch-abort system) called the Dream Chaser to be launched on ULA’s Atlas V rocket as its crew transport vehicle to the Station. SNC is an American privately held electronic systems provider and integrator. They specialize in micro satellites, energy, telemedicine, nanotechnology, and commercial orbital transportation services. They operate under CEO Fatih Ozmen and President Eren Ozmen. The company holds contracts with the US military and private spaceflight companies as well as NASA. SNC was founded in 1963 and was later acquired by the Ozmens in 1994. The company has just started providing aircraft to the US Air Force for reconnaissance and training to the Afghanistan military in 2014. It acquired SpaceDev in 2008 and started developing the orbital spacecraft called the Dream Chaser as a potential crew transport vehicle to the International Space Station under the Commercial Crew Program. [As an old Shuttle engineer, I really like SNC’s Dream Chaser winged vehicle. It looks like a min-Shuttle in many aspects. I’m putting my bias out for all the world to see. Love them capsules, but a winged vehicle is my first love.] The vehicle was designed to be a reusable composite spacecraft which could carry two to seven people and cargo to the ISS. It could fly autonomously if needed. It was planned to to be launched on a human-rated Atlas V, and would return from space by gliding and landing on any airport runway that handled commercial air traffic. Its thrusters burned ethanol based fuel which is non-toxic / non-volatile, so can be handled directly after landing (unlike the Shuttle). Its thermal protection system was an ablative tile that can be replaced in large sections instead of tile by tile. It’s on-orbit propulsion was handled by two rocket engines that utilized non-toxic and easily stored propellants. It’s rockets have seen hundreds of successful rocket firing tests to date, and the company still plans to develop these rocket engines for other customers besides NASA. In 2013, the Dream Chaser test article performed its first flight after being released from a “sky crane” helicopter. Just prior to landing the left main landing gear failed to deploy (possibly due to failure of the landing gear door to open) resulting in a crash landing. All systems were found still working and the crew compartment was intact. The failed landing gear design on the test vehicle was never meant to be used on the final vehicle design (though I’m uncertain if the door design would have been the same). And in September 2014, as the attached article above attests, SNC lost the Commercial Crew Contract to SpaceX and Boeing, a decision which SNC is now challenging. So let’s look at the positives of this company and its proposed design: First building a crew transport vehicle based on a mini-Shuttle design has many pluses. It can leverage upon three decades of flight and ground data – data such as aerodynamic, aerothermal, thermal protection concerns and repair, ground turnaround issues, etc. Also, this vehicle was planned to be launched at the top of the Atlas V, so the external tank foam concerns which caused the last Shuttle accident would not exist. Its use of non-toxic propellants would be an excellent assist in turnaround operations. The ability to land at any landing field was an obvious plus. This vehicle appeared to be more flexible in many ways than the Boeing and SpaceX capsules which require parachute assisted landings. All good things. Now the negatives. First, unlike Boeing, SNC does not have years and years of human space flight experience. And unlike SpaceX, it doesn’t have recent experience launching to and successfully berthing (or docking) with the Station. And finally, unlike both Boeing and SpaceX, it does not have its own launch system – it will utilizing ULA’s launch system separate from its own company adding an integration complexity that the other companies may not have. Finally, some concerns exist that the belly tile would be exposed to micro-meterorite orbital debris (MMOD) and possible damage as the vehicle stayed docked on the Station for its required six month stay (a requirement for all the commerical crew designs to provide an emergency return vehicle). The Shuttle tile had a known concern with MMOD. Also, the vehicle’s landing gear tires could potentially lose pressure during the six month period, also a risk that required monitoring during the Shuttle’s relatively 1-2 week stays at Station (as compared to 6 months for the CC vehicles). So on-orbit issues with this vehicle could have required re-address if this design had been chosen.
Image: SNC “Dream Chase” vehicle
In conclusion, why did NASA pick Boeing and SpaceX over SNC’s Dream Chaser? Of course, none of us on the outside really know. But I would suggest that NASA wanted a tried and true company like Boeing, in conjunction with a cutting edge, young, but “gaining experience” company like SpaceX. These two companies provide NASA with what we in the business call “unlike redundancy”. If one vehicle has a failure or is grounded due to a problem, the other is there to step up. Both also utilize different launch systems, so if there is an issue with one launch system, the other company will most likely not have a similar problem with its hardware. I would therefore suggest that SNC’s relative inexperience and reliance on a second party launch system may have hurt it in the long run.
Now let’s tag on some “out of this world” speculation [and let me stress this is definitely just speculation on my part]. The White House and NASA’s current Administration is looking beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) toward Mars as NASA’s next mission (though many of us would like to go to the Moon first of course). The NASA capsule, the Orion, also known as the MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle), is working diligently toward this endeavor. The Orion capsule is being built by Lockheed Martin for NASA and is a 2-6 crew capable vehicle that is planned to be launched on the large SLS (Space Launch Systems) rocket. The SLS is being designed and built by Boeing under the Marshall Space Flight Center’s direction. The Orion and SLS vehicles originally came from the Constellation Program, a program started under the Bush Administration which has since been cancelled by Mr. Obama, that was to take America back to the Moon. The Orion capsule is similar to the Boeing capsule and the SpaceX capsule, except potentially for its weight. For example SpaceX is advertising the Dragon 2 will weigh under 7 tons. The Orion design currently has it at almost 10 tons. (I have not found information yet on the proposed weight for the Boeing CST-100 capsule). The Orion is currently 2.5 times the volume of the original Apollo capsule. So let’s be honest, as much as we applaud the continued success of the Orion capsule and want it to succeed, Orion is heavy and big for a capsule. And lets be honest again, the SLS rocket is proving to be extremely expensive to design and build. This is one big rocket. Due to its size and cost, it will be difficult to launch even one of these rockets per year. Some nay-sayers speculate the SLS will not be able to launch more than once every two or three years. In parallel, there are fears that future NASA budgets may not be sufficient to support the SLS. Without the SLS, the Orion and its Service Module would have to depend on the Falcon “Heavy” (a larger version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9) to launch it into LEO and beyond. And due to its size and the other hardware needed, to get into deep space this would probably require multiple launches (as many as four launches to land on the Moon). A lighter crew vehicle for missions beyond LEO may be desired. This may be especially true for a mission to land on the Moon (versus a Mars mission) where mass is more important than crew volume due to the shorter duration trip. What if NASA and the White House is considering other vehicles that could be modified for these future goals besides Orion? Which of the Commercial Crew vehicles would have the edge on this? Much as I love the Dream Chaser, it is possible this winged vehicle would be difficult to modify for exploration beyond LEO if NASA wanted to extend the design. I’m not sure the belly tiles or wings could take the higher velocity entry aero heating associated with return from deep space exploration missions. The capsule designs perhaps would be more amenable to mods to allow this type of entry making them possible contenders for beyond LEO missions.
I titled this long writeup as “OPINION” and “SPECULATION”. I am not in the know here. But it sure is interesting to think about the political and economic environment we live in and discuss these excellent crew transport vehicle designs and cogitate on why NASA picked Boeing and SpaceX over SNC. The above writeup constitute my thoughts. We may not know the full story unless SNC’s legal challenge allows more facts to surface. Maybe you have some other thoughts on this too…
News Article credit: nbcnews.com – September 26, 2014.
AdminCadet: First let me say that I am not a “believer” that human produced CO2 is the prime cause behind the climate change that our Earth is apparently experiencing today. Recent analysis results produced by several of my colleagues, strongly suggest that any climate change that is occurring is most likely due to a natural cyclic phenomenon seen throughout the history of our planet and not human produced CO2. “The wonderful thing about science” Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say, “is that it doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. It is based on data.” Well someone needs to look closer at the data. But that is neither here nor there for this article.
The bottom line is that the White House is going to allow release of data collected by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission or SRTM which flew onboard the space shuttle Endeavor in the year 2000 to assist in this nation and the world’s “fight” against climate change. This is the same Administration who allowed the cancellation of the Shuttle Program with two-thirds of life still remaining on our vehicles, and left America without a US crew transport vehicle to our International Space Station. I find it grimly humorous that the Administration now has turned toward Shuttle produced data for assistance. I guess the Shuttle Program was actually good for something?
If this more accurate topography data is used, as claimed by many, to understand Earth’s topography more clearly and thus prepare for the negative impacts of global warming (such as rising sea levels and coastal erosion) then the sharing of this data is a good thing. If the data is also used to put more pressure on the US Congress to legislate CO2 producing industries out of existence, then, in my humble opinion, that is a very bad thing. I guess, if the second result were to occur, not only can our current Administration claim that they eliminated the Space Shuttle Program in their attempt to downsize NASA in favor of the private sector, they can also say they crippled America’s energy production industry in favor of a belief system based on emotional pseudo-science. But then, our Administration does not seem to embrace science-based facts except when doing so furthers its political goals.
Here is the story
Article credit: livescience.com / Megan Gannon, News Editor / September 26, 2014. Image credit: goldensoftware.com/Newsletter/Issue52s
Flashgordon2014: Interesting article on evolution of propulsion. Clearly, we are going to need nuclear propulsion for deep space travel–solar is not going to cut it. I like the quote from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky that stated in 1903 “the Earth is the cradle of mankind, but man cannot live in the cradle forever.”
Credit: Willis Shirk , Space Safety Magazine
Flashgordon2014: This is the first time I hear of this company. However, they are still in the raising capital phase. I wish them luck. A quote from their website: “Asteroid Initiatives will substantially lower the cost of asteroid prospecting by taking the nano and femtospacecraft revolution into deep space. Before you can do asteroid mining, you have to do asteroid prospecting; Asteroid Initiatives intends to determine the economic potential of Near-Earth Asteroids by being the first to go to mining candidates.”
Credit: http://www.1888pressrelease.com, September 10, 2014
Flashgordan2014: I am a bit disturb that one of the headings states “Defective Design” referring to the O-rings design. I don’t think it was ever meant to operate at those cold temperatures that January morning.
Credit: Spaceflight Safety Magazine.
Flashgordan2014: This is interesting news just out. I am wondering if the Russian sense that when the commercial companies come onboard to provide American astronaut launch services to the ISS, they will lose a big customer.
Credit : GPS World
Flashgordon2014: I personally feel this failure alerted the SpaceX team not to become complacent–past successes do not guarantee future ones. The space business is hard.
Credit: Bloomburg.com; Aug 25, 2014
AdminCadet: The following article by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concerning the upcoming flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is very good.
Also, here is a good 2013 “infographic” by space.com (designed by Karl Tate/ Jan. 16, 2013) which explains Orion:
Quote from the first article: “The upcoming flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be a mission of firsts. This new crew vehicle, making its debut on Exploration Flight Test-1, will become the first of its kind in four decades to venture beyond low-Earth orbit. The mission also marks the first time a spacecraft designed to carry humans will be lofted to orbit by a modern-day expendable launch vehicle. Orion, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, will fly aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, specializes in the management of missions flying on expendable rockets, single-use vehicles that aren’t reused. The program is providing its expertise in an advisory capacity for Orion’s first flight.”
Image one: Orion Spacecraft [Image Credit: Space.com’s info graphic “Orion Explained” by Karl Tate – Jan 16, 2013]:
Image two: Launch personnel in Hangar AE at KSC in a joint integrated simulation of Orion’s first test [Image Credit: NASA]:
Image three: Artist’s concept of the Orion Spacecraft including the service module [Image credit: NASA]:
AdminCadet: The following reflects some of my personal thoughts on the first test of the Orion spacecraft – (these are thoughts from an old “Shuttle-hugger” looking from the outside in, not someone who is deeply familiar with the day-to-day operation of the Orion program):
One day, if all testing is successful, and America and Congress allow it, Orion’s crew module will eventually house four astronauts for deep space missions lasting up to three weeks. It will be launched on the new Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket larger and more powerful than the Apollo Program’s Saturn V. It’s service module, built by the European Space Agency supposedly based on their current Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), will provide it with propulsion after it leaves the SLS. It will be America’s first manned spacecraft in 40 years to take humans beyond Low Earth Orbit. It could be a vehicle we use to go to the Moon or Mars. The initial unmanned tests (starting with the Exploration Flight Test-1 mentioned above) are scheduled to start in 2017. The first crewed flight, utilizing the SLS rocket, is currently scheduled for the early 2020’s possibly in association with the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM).
Some nay-sayers talk a lot about the limitations of this version of the Orion spacecraft that will be used in this first test. They point out the lack of life support hardware and displays and controls (and the thermal control systems that go with this hardware) since it will be unmanned, they point out it may have less redundancy and less margins of safety in some areas than a manned craft should have, that this will be Lockheed’s first vehicle designed for a human crew and the risks this inexperience brings, that it will not launch during its first test on the vehicle it is ultimately designed to launch on, that the time between the test and the actual first manned flight is unbelievably long. Finally, in an over-reaching argument, they point out that the Orion capsule design was originally built for the large SLS rocket under the now cancelled Constellation Program – it has weight limitations that could make it difficult to adapt for lunar missions utilizing other less powerful launch vehicles…
Even if you are in agreement with the criticisms above, try this on for size: It is a very difficult time in the United States for the NASA agency to be building a new spacecraft. This country apparently has lost much interest in human space flight (as indicated by the cancellation of both the Constellation Program and the Space Shuttle Program, and the continued under-funding of the Commercial Crew Program) and seems to be losing interest in unmanned science missions also. Our country is worrying more about its social issues than its space program and technical excellence. With this in mind, the fact we are even building and testing an Orion capsule is a miracle. Any triumphs made by the Orion team are worthy of sincere congratulations! And, no matter what any of the critics say, this upcoming test of Orion will be a momentous milestone that is very important not only for the new vehicle, but for our NASA space agency as a whole. First, concerning the vehicle itself, this test will exercise the vehicle in the harsh environments of lift-off, spaceflight, and splash down as an integrated spacecraft for the first time (including its thermal protection system, avionics and associated cooling systems, structures, re-entry parachutes, software, operational concepts, so much more…). It will test the US-built capsule and the ESA-built service module as an integrated spacecraft in space for the first time. The NASA agency will also experience many “firsts” with this test: As the KSC article above points out, it’s been a long time since the human space exploration portion of the NASA agency has ventured beyond Low Earth Orbiter (LEO – the orbit Station resides in, and the orbit the Space Shuttle launched into) with a vehicle that will eventually become man-rated. We’ve also never launched a spacecraft developed to transport humans with today’s Delta rocket before. And this test will utilize KSC’s launch support facilities and JSC’s mission control, adding greatly to KSC ground operational expertise with the new vehicle which will be vital in this and future missions, and giving JSC personnel needed “flight control” experience in handling a spacecraft outside of LEO.
It’s easy for nay sayers to knock a new space program. As an old Shuttle engineer, I fall into that nasty trap all the time if I don’t catch myself. But, just the pure grit and grizzle of getting a program started and having it continue in today’s toxic environment, the act of melding NASA and Lockheed engineers together in a common goal, the determination to do the nuts-and-bolts requirements and design work, pushing thru the inter-center politics associated with 10 NASA centers scrambling for limited budget, getting the hardware through all stages of design under ever changing budget and political constraints and “the flavor of the term” policies imposed by Washington, being wire-brushed by the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM) critics and yet still keeping the eye on the ball, getting the first vehicle built and into test at KSC, working out the multitude of technical and integration issues as each arise, and eventually (hopefully) seeing the Orion spacecraft go into space for the first time, are a series of monumental victories that should NOT be discounted by anyone who has worked in the public or private sector on any large project.
They say space flight is hard. The stresses this country puts on its space agency make it infinitely more harder. Anyone who can win through this quagmire deserves high praise indeed.
Best of luck Orion on your preparations for your first test. Best of luck to JSC, KSC, and to Lockheed. We of NASA-current and NASA-past all want you to succeed!
First Article Credit: NASA-KSC by Anna Heiney – August 19, 2014; Second “article”/First Image Credit: Space.com by Karl Tate – Jan 16, 2013. Second Image Credit: NASA/August 2014. Third Image Credit: NASA/Date Unknown.
SaintsCadet: Morpheus is NASA’s little known but highly successful test program of a prototype lunar lander that could one day successfully land men, women, and cargo on the Moon.
Morpheus was born from a vision of NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Director of Engineering back in the late 2009 – a project called “Project M”. “Project M“ was an ambitious attempt to send a “Robonaut” to the moon in 3 years – a robotic version of one of NASA’s astronauts built at Johnson Space Center (JSC). 2009 was just after the cancellation of the Constellation Program, the US’s attempt to go back to the Moon to stay, and its cancellation was a real hit to our NASA workforce both from a morale and technological-advancement point of view. Our far-thinking Director of Engineering felt that NASA needed something to reinvigorate the working troops and to continue pushing the technology and working skills along for an eventual return to the Moon. So he came up with “Project M”. To accomplish Project M required design, test and manufacture of a reliable lunar lander. So from that directive came NASA-JSC’s prototype lander program. NASA’s “Lunar X Prize” contest provided a catalyst for us to kickstart our lander effort by partnering with Armadillo Aerospace, one of the “Lunar X” contestants, to build parts of the lander. We worked about 9 months on “Project M” and the prototype lander. Unfortunately, ultimately the internal NASA politics, in-fighting between the centers, and the lack of interest from Washington of the objectives of “Project M”, wasn’t conducive for “Project M” to continue. Ultimately the project died and morphed into a lunar lander only project called “Project Morpheus” (yes, we tried to still stick with a name that started with M).
I was lucky to be part of Project Morpheus at it’s on-set under Project M. The goal was to test key technologies needed for both a robotic or human lander and to demonstrate these technologies worked on Earth. Later I left the program, but continued to monitor it from the side with great interest, as did all of JSC, KSC, and NASA. One of the key things about Project Morpheus was that the hardware was designed, built, and tested by NASA engineers and technicians – allowing them to gain considerable design experience and confidence that they may not have the opportunity to gain otherwise.
Of all the vehicles that NASA has built, the lander is unique in that you can build a close representative of the actual vehicle and test it almost fully on Earth. Earth’s gravity is different from the Moon’s, and of course there is the Earth’s atmosphere to contend with. But you can fly a lunar vehicle and send it through a near actual trajectory on Earth. This was later successfully demonstrated multiple times by NASA at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida with the Morpheus lander prototype.
Morpheus ultimately made thirteen successful “lunar” flights and one night flight at KSC. It’s prime objectives was to develop 3D autonomous navigation landing technology and key new liquid oxygen/methane propulsion technology. The propulsion technology was higher performing than Apollo’s lunar technology. The concept is key if we ever want to go to Mars. And the tests at KSC successfully demonstrated the viability of this technology.
Yes there were bumps along the way. Morpheus’ maiden free flight at KSC spectacularly crashed within seconds of ignition. That unfortunately can happen in prototype testing. The important thing is to learn from these failures not give up. And our JSC Director of Engineering, the Morpheus Project Manger, and the NASA Administrator didn’t let this destroy or cancel the project. The Morpheus team pushed through to build a new and better lander based on the failure’s “lessons learned”.
NASA faces a critical decision. The initial test goals of Morpheus are now complete. Does NASA stand down the team or continue? I strongly vote for continuance. But the rumors are that the project will no longer be funded, even though the vehicle has proven to be wonderfully successful. NASA has only scratched the surface of the technologies and skills needed to build future space vehicles. All the newly learned skills of the engineers could slowly be lost or set aside if the team stands down and goes its separate ways.
There are still technologies to be developed for a lunar lander mission – including use of new composites, thermal protection, updated avionics, radiation protection, etc. Surviving the harsh environment of the Moon is not easy. The list is long. And all of these technologies can be developed in a fully working model of an actual lander tested on Earth like Morpheus.
It has been over 40 years since Apollo. It takes huge effort to re-constitute both the skills and technology for going to other places in our solar system. Space X has been building a launch company for over 10 years and only recently seen the fruits of their labor. NASA needs to support projects that help build our young engineer’s design skills and keeps them interested in staying with the agency. I see Morpheus as a strong tool for these endeavors.
And maybe… just maybe… even Project M or something as ambitious could see the light of day. Imagine having a fly-off between Space X, a Boeing/Lockheed led team, and an internal NASA team working with the small passionate space companies that have come on the scene to put a robot on the moon. Space X’s Falcon heavy launch vehicle probably has enough performance to send all three to the moon in a single flight.
Attached to this article is a wonderful video of Morpheus’ thirteenth successful free flight test at Kennedy Space Center. The Morpheus team makes it look easy, but getting there was anything but. I hope this video inspires you as much as it does us. Other videos, including the night flight, are available on the Morpheus web site at morpheuslander.jsc.nasa.gov and YouTube.
Video Credit: nasa.gov – Morpheus Lander Team – YouTube – 2014
This may begin to show what SpaceX is really made of. What can they do with a bit of a setback that is also public. Will they have to delay their next Falcon 9 launch? We do know their flight termination system works at their test site. It was a test and that’s what tests are for. Hopefully, not a bad omen for them with pending the Commercial Crew contract selection.
Credit Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now, August 22, 2014