Tag Archives: rocket science

NASA Launches Sounding Rockets

From GeekDad:

ATREX Dress Rehearsal (Image: NASA)

In a stunning display this morning, NASA successfully launched all 5 of the rockets for the ATREX experiment. I provided some information about the ATREX mission last week.

ATREX stands for Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment and consisted of 5 sounding rockets all launched within 5 minutes from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast. The rockets released an environmentally safe chemical tracer into the far edge of the upper atmosphere, at the interface to space, to study a jet-stream that exists at those altitudes. The amazing part of this experiment was the visibility of the tracer clouds: I could see them, clearly, from my house between Washington, DC and Baltimore this morning, and they may have been visible as far west as West Virginia. It isn’t often I get to report firsthand on missions, and to see an atmospheric experiment of that magnitude was thrilling. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t looking at clouds in the normal cloud layer but at a man-made cloud 80 kilometers above the normal cloud layers — a visualization of the edge of space.

As I write this, the launches have just happened so pictures from the experiment and launches are not available yet and video has become available as I write and NASA is reporting some information via Facebook and Twitter as fast as they can and I am sure some more impressive photos and videos will be available soon.

From all of us at GeekDad, Congratulations to the ATREX team!

Has sharing this with your Geeklings made them a little more interested in rockets? Take the opportunity and build a rocket with them! A simple search on the Make: Projects site for “rocket” yields numerous types of rocket you can build. You can also purchase some great model rocket kits on Amazon! If you’re in the Washington, DC area you can bring your rocket to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on the first Sunday of the month. This monthly event is run by the local National Association or Rocketry group. Get out there and get launching!

Hmm..maybe future work for Virgin Galactic or XCOR?


NASAWatch: Should Congress Design the Next Big Booster?

From NASAWatch:

Frank Sietzen, Jr.: Consider how many space initiatives the United States didn’t pursue in the past half century. A fully reusable launch vehicle. A 20-person expendable space station. New heavy lift boosters. A permanent lunar colony. The Orbital Space Plane. NERVA and Prometheus. An outpost on Mars. In fact, there have been more false starts and failed approaches than those that worked. By setting budget limits, the hand of the Congress can be seen in all of these programs, but the “failure to launch” can be squarely placed on the Defense Department, the Air Force, and of course NASA.

Consider this history as the House and Senate move, albeit slowly, to finalize a NASA FY 2011 spending bill that could wind up as guidance in a Continuing Resolution to allow Uncle Sam to keep the doors open past October 1st. Thus far, common to both bills are a virtual rejection of the space plan submitted by President Barack Obama last February and a resurrection of key elements of the Constellation program, only without the name. Orion as a fully functional manned spacecraft is mandated. Commercial crew survives, but with little up-front funds in the House bill crafted by Rep. Bart Gordon’s science committee and approved by the chair of the space subcommittee, Gabrielle Giffords. These are Democrats that gutted Obamaspace, not Republicans. Such a fact is without precedent in the recent history of Congressional funding and approval for space projects (my upcoming book on this subject is nearly complete and will be published next year by Texas A&M University).

But something equally new has emerged from this round of budgeteering. Consider this language that was embedded in the committee report (not the actual legislation) that accompanied the Senate’s NASA bill passed by the full Senate before the recess:

“The Committee anticipates that in order to meet the specified vehicle capabilities and requirements, the most cost-effective and ‘evolvable’ design concept is likely to follow what is known as an ‘in-line’ vehicle design, with a large center tank structure with attached multiple liquid propulsion engines and, at a minimum, two solid rocket motors composed of at least four segments being attached to the tank structure to form the core, initial stage of the propulsion vehicle. The Committee will closely monitor NASA’s early planning and design efforts to ensure compliance with the intent of this section.”

Say what?

As near as I could find, this is the most specific instructions ever passed along to NASA as to the technical merits and specifics for a space vehicle configuration.

Let’s try and make sense of this. First, “specified vehicle capabilities and requirements”-for what mission exactly? Access to the ISS via Orion capsules? Missions to the Moon? Oh yeah, I forgot the Moon’s no longer in favor by this crowd. Launching heavy payloads to the ISS that replace Shuttle up and down mass? Carrying astronauts to asteroid encounters, Phobos landings, or Mars itself? It’s hard to know see, because both bills studiously avoid naming what the next U.S. space goal should be. Or a payload for that matter.

Then there’s “At a minimum two solid rocket motors with a minimum of four segments”. This would effectively imprison the first generation of heavy lift booster with 1970s technology. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view. Those man-rated solids have a long and largely successful flight history, thanks to the Space Shuttle program. But they ain’t cheap. At the same time, funding for advanced launch and propulsion technologies, like new hydrocarbon booster engines, has been wiped out. An in-line Shuttle-derived solution has also been eliminated. While all of this may make sense and be based on sound technical decisions, is this the place for rocket designing? I mean, isn’t that what NASA is for?

And while industry’s hand can be plainly seen as having shaped this choice, by doing it in secret there is no transparency, accountability, or competition. And while the Obama administration wanted heavy lift research, it wasn’t in a frenzy to get a new booster soon, which is what the Congress seems hell bent on doing.

My questions this week to NASAWATCH posters:

-Is this a good precedent for Congress to follow in specifying the technical details of a new launch system?

-If not, then how can Congress be persuaded to let the design work be done by NASA?

-Why the rush for a new heavy lift vehicle: What is it for-and do we really need one sooner rather than later? Can we make do on the shortterm with existing Atlas, Delta and falcon boosters?
Your thoughts and ideas, please.

Besides getting ‘inline’ and ‘sidemount’ confused toward the end, this was a pretty good rant..er..post from Frank.

And I can understand his frustration, Congress trying to be rocket designers/engineers is just asking for trouble and no good is going to come of it.

Modern mainstream rocket science can be traced back to Von Braun’s V2s from Peenemunde, which in turn, ironically enough, descended from American Robert Goddard’s research in the 1920s.

Which was in turn, rejected funding by the political powers that be in those days because; “Though Goddard brought his work in rocketry to the attention of the United States Army, he was rebuffed, since the Army largely failed to grasp the military application of large rockets.”

Full circle.


Danish Rockets: Or Those Incredible Young Men in Their Flaming Machines!

Move over Elon Musk and Burt Rutan. Here are a couple of adventurous Danish inventors who are willing to put their money, and their lives, where the rubber meets the road so to speak.

Or to put it more exactly; The Amazing Flying Danes:

It might not look much. In fact, it looks practically suicidal.

But two Danish inventors hope to launch the world’s first amateur-built rocket for human space travel.

The homemade rocket is the brainchild of Danish firm Copenhagen Suborbitals, headed by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen.

It is due to launch from a submarine in the Baltic Sea on August 30th and, if successful, they will repeat it with a human passenger on board as soon as possible.

Madsen hopes to be inside the single-passenger capsule named Tycho Brahe for a manned flight in the near future if all goes well next week.

The team has been building their rocket since about 2004 and have been doing so without any national funding.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is a non-profit organistaion, based entirely on sponsors, donations and volunteers.

Denmark would become only the fourth nation to send a human into space.

On their website, Madsen and von Bengtson say: ‘We are working fulltime to develop a series of suborbital space vehicles – designed to pave the way for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft.’

The rocket they use has been nicknamed HEAT, which stands for Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter. It as around 9 metres high and uses liquid oxygen as fuel.

The booster was successfully test-fired in February and May 2010.

The HEAT booster rocket will burn for about 60 seconds, providing 40k N of thrust. They have calculated that this will make it tolerable for humans to travel in an upright position in the module at the top of the rocket.

Madsen and von Bengtson said: ‘The mission has a 100% peaceful purpose and is not in any way involved in carrying explosive, nuclear, biological and chemical payloads.

‘We intend to share all our technical information as much as possible, within the laws of EU-export control.’

Before the spacecraft reaches zero gravity, the booster system will be jettisoned.

It will then be slowed using a drogue parachute followed by three main parachutes. Finally the spacecraft will touchdown in water.

You have got to me sh!ttin’ me!

This guy must have cojones made of stainless steel!

I admire someone who puts their money where their mouth is, but this guy is willing to put his hide on the line!

I sure hope he makes it!

If he does, the Danes will be the fourth people to put humans into space. Totally unexpected.

Danish inventors produce first amateur rocket designed to send humans into space (and one of them is going to test it out himself)


The Copernican Principle of Survival

This might be a tad late, but here’s the video of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launch last Saturday:

Falcon 1 – Flight 4 – September 28, 2008


You may notice the sound quality isn’t good. Even on the official SpaceX video the sound is sub par.

You may also notice the second stage Kestral engine nozzle glowing red hot. It’s supposed to. In fact, the announcer said it’s supposed to get white hot!

Video at SpaceX site


The Fermi Paradox once again rears its ugly head here in this lecture by Dr. J. Richard Gott, who claims via the Copernican Principle that mankind has very little time in which to expand into the Universe before the opportunity leaves us:

In 1993, he predicted that the space program would last between 10 months and 125 years – again this is with a 95 percent statistical confidence.

The danger is that we might quite the space program before successfully propagating humanity off-planet. To make the point, he quotes many early predictions of human spaceflight that haven’t come true. Right now the Chinese, with a little additional effort, could break the distance record (from Earth) for manned flights by making a bigger orbit of the moon than the Apollo program craft.

The point is that we’re farther away from going off-planet than we were in 1969, nearly forty years ago, with far more primitive technology. At risk: our survival.

Contrary to most science fiction, we’re likely to be one of the bigger and more successful civilizations in the universe. But if we are not alone, he says that other intelligent species may still be on their home planets or have become extinct through a random event, because they quit the effort to colonize space.

Pretty scary and he does have a point, today’s American youth could give a good goddamn about the space program and instead advocate robot probes and exploration by virtual reality. ( Think an interplanetary version of Google Earth, Second Life and World of Warcraft combined ).

Come to think of it, it could be a possible explanation of the Fermi Paradox!

J. Richard Gott – Space Colonization Imperative


To illustrate the above point, please read this tale by Greg Egan, written in 1997.

In it, a post-human civilization that hasn’t left the Earth discovers that it has to, in order to survive.

An excellent read.

Greg Egan’s site


Whither rocket science…?

Rocket technology has changed little since Nazi Germany perfected it in the 1940s. Somehow though, it remains the propulsion method of choice for the ‘mainstream’ space program. Witness Project Constellation, America’s return to the Moon effort. It reuses many of Project Apollo’s tech, only with a small amount of refinement:

Clark Hawk, director of the Propulsion Research Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAHuntsville) has seen most of the advances that have taken place in rocket propulsion. He has spent 50 years conducting research in the field.

“Chemical propulsion will be with us for the foreseeable future as the means to escape the Earth’s gravity,” said Dr. Hawk, who worked with the Air Force Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards Air Force base, before joining UAHuntsville nearly 20 years ago.

“Large forces are required for periods of several minutes to accomplish this and chemical systems do this well and relatively cheaply,” he said.

Forgive me if I’m not impressed. (Read more here…)

Private industry is going to play a larger role in space travel from now on. This is a good thing in my view since if it’s going to be a true capitalistic competition, it can’t help but improve rocket and other space tech because companies will always seek an edge against their compeditors. Tourism is going to play a significant role here:

“In the twenty-first century, space tourism could represent the most significant development experienced by the tourism industry,” says Prof. Fred DeMicco, ARAMARK Chair in UD’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program.

“With the Earth under attack from a myriad of environmental impacts, including climate change concerns and pollution, outer space is the next viable frontier to explore and make longtime plans for,” he notes. “While there are global policies to be determined relating to private ventures in space, the technology to make space travel safer and cheaper is moving forward.”

I know I probably won’t be able to afford to go along for a ride, but who knows?

Maybe one of my children or grandchildren will get rich or land a lucrative government job and foot the bill for their honorable ancestor! (Read more here…)

SpaceX, a company owned by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk is set to launch its’ Falcon One reusable rocket commercially, despite the set-backs it has had. But Musk is confident that the technology is sound and that money is to be had, especially where government contracts are concerned:

SpaceX will demonstrate its ability to perform responsive mission integration for three separate candidate ORS payloads. The actual flight payload will be determined by the ORS Office at or before the SpaceX Flight Readiness Review for the Falcon 1 Flight 003 (F1-003) vehicle, which typically occurs two weeks before launch.

“In purchasing this flight, the Department of Defense’s ORS Office has given SpaceX a tremendous endorsement,” said Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. “We look forward to demonstrating our ability to be a key ORS enabler with rapid and responsive call-up, integration and launch.”

Musk is also planning on snapping up the manned crew transportation market when the shuttle is retired in 2010. But like the Falcon One, his Falcon Nine rocket is having problems with the design. Since Musk plans on getting in on the ground floor of doing ultra-cheap launches into low earth orbit, I think his company will iron out bugs faster than a government bureaucracy would. (Read more here…)

The U.S. government has stolen enough of the American taxpayer’s money for the past fifty plus years to properly fund the mainstream space program to where we should be well beyond chemical rocket tech and scrounging to find fuel for outer solar system explorations. Of course, we all know where the money went to (Groom Lake anyone?).

So if anything is going to get done, it’ll be by Musk and his ilk.

Until they’re bought by the same folks that bring us the National Security State anyways!