The Midland Reporter-Telegram reports that Midland International Airport is making progress on the FAA spaceport licensing process, in preparation for XCOR Aerospace’s upcoming move to Texas.

According to the Reporter-Telegram, the Midland City Council has amended a contract with engineering consulting firm Parkhill, Smith, and Cooper to cover work on the launch-site license application including an environmental assessment, a baseline noise study, and a sonic-boom analysis.

The article states, “The contract was amended for costs of up to $628,502.”

$628,000 is not a huge sum of money in the context of establishing a new spaceport, but it’s not trivial, either. None of this money goes to build the spaceport, it’s merely paperwork – and that sum doesn’t even include the additional money the Federal government must spend to process and evaluate the paperwork

Launch-site licensing  for reusable vehicles is a relatively new area for the FAA, despite previous successful launch-site applications beginning with Mojave Air and Space Port. Midland is also breaking new ground by being the first to establish a spaceport at commercial airport with scheduled passenger airline service.

Licensing expenses of this magnitude are tolerable in the context of a major corporate R&D center, such as the one XCOR is planning for Midland. That may not always be true for future launch sites, however. If suborbital vehicles proliferate as rapidly as both industry and FAA are hoping, there may soon be dozens of launch sites, all over the country. Some may be bustling commercial spaceports, but others may be special-purpose sites that support a limited number of launches for a period of time.

It’s natural to assume that the cost of preparing a launch-site license application will go down over time as industry gains more experience in the process. There’s also the natural tendency of bureaucrats to add more and more requirements over time, however. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation under Dr. George Nield has had a good working relationship with industry. They understand the potential danger that runaway regulation could pose for the industry. There is no guarantee that will always be the case, however. Eternal vigilance, as they say…


Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2012 , Spaceports Tags:

If you ask astronauts and former astronauts for their opinions on the future of space exploration, you will get a wide variety of answers. Indeed, one can fairly say that for every astronaut, there is an equal and opposite astronaut.

NASA astronaut Sally Ride

The late Dr. Sally Ride was a true American space pioneer. Unlike some astronauts, who fade away after leaving the astronaut corps, she has continued to make valuable  contributions in areas ranging from space education to space policy. Her work on the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee showed keen insights. That’s not to say we always agreed with everything she said, however.

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Written by Astro1 on August 30th, 2012 , Education, Space Exploration (General)

Yesterday, we reported on Astrobotics and Carnegie Mellon University working to develop robots for proving lava caves on the Moon and Mars.

We look forward to the day when astronauts go cave exploring on other worlds. The European Space Agency already has a program that’s training astronauts in cave exploration in preparation for the isolation and close confines of the International Space Station. CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills) trains astronauts to work safely and effectively using crew procedures.

Six astronauts will spend a week learning cave safety and exploration procedures on the Italian island of Sardinia. Then, on September 7, they will venture underground for a six-day mission in a Sardinian cave. Just as on ISS, the astronauts will have a busy research schedule. In this case, looking for new life forms in the largely unexplored caves.

Written by Astro1 on August 29th, 2012 , Space Medicine and Safety

Atmospheric confetti, inchworm crawlers, blankets of ground-penetrating radar: those are some of the unique mission concepts enabled by printable spacecraft technology.

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Written by Astro1 on August 29th, 2012 , Innovation

unar cave (lavatube) opening or "skylight"

Astrobotic Technology, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University have received NASA funding to begin work on Spelunker, a prototype mission concept to explore a lunar cave.

Although the Moon has never had running water, which is responsible for most caves on Earth, it does have volcanic caves called lava tubes. In some locations, these tubes have partially collapsed to form openings called skylights. The Spelunker mission calls for landing on the rim of a skylight, followed by tethered descent of a power/communications hub and multiple robots. The robots would explore the interior of the cave using a combination of driving and hopping.

Right now, Spelunker is funded by a $498,411 Phase II grant from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts. Phase II studies will address the feasibility of skylight access, robot configurations for in-cave mobility and subsurface sensing, terrain modeling in darkness from a lightweight mobile platform, and autonomous exploration with hopping robots.

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Written by Astro1 on August 28th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation

Time flies like a rocket. It’s been a little over a year since the last flight of a Blue Origin test vehicle.

On 6 May 2011, Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepard Propulsion Module 2 (PM2) on a short test hop.

On 24 August 2011, Blue Origin flew the PM2 to Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet. Unfortunately, the vehicle lost stability and exceeded its planned angle-of-attack, causing the range-safety system to terminate thrust. The PM2 crashed in the desert.

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Written by Astro1 on August 27th, 2012 , Blue Origin

US Army Kestrel Eye tactical reconnaissance satellite for warfighters

The development of small, low-cost off-the-shelf satellite technology is enabling new capabilities for military as well as civilian users. The US Army is taking advantage of this technological revolution by developing three new satellites to provide tactical imaging for the warfighter.

Kestrel Eye

The Technology Center at the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command is developing Kestrel Eye, an imaging reconnaissance nanosatellite that can be tasked by warfighters on the ground. Kestrel Eye will produce images with a resolution of 1.5 meters (5 feet), which can be downlinked directly to soldiers in the field.

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Written by Astro1 on August 26th, 2012 , Innovation, Military Space, Nanosatellites

Author Neal Stephenson, a founder of the dystopian school of science fiction known as cyberpunk, has had a change of heart.

Stephenson now worries that the gloomy outlook he inspired may discourage students from studying science and engineering. During a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stephenson said he is “trying to make a literary course correction” toward more optimistic fiction.

We remember the time when science fiction was the literature of optimism, and we’ve been unhappy with the turn it’s taken in recent decades. So, we welcome this news.

Stephenson is a friend of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. He helped Bezos found his rocket company Blue Origin, which must count as atonement (at least in part) for his literary sins. Perhaps his experiences at Blue Origin helped bring about his more optimistic change of heart. Perhaps Stephenson will talk to Bezos about being more open about the progress he’s making at Blue Origin. Working in complete secrecy might make it easier for Blue Origin to achieve some of its business goals, but a little more openness about their goals and accomplishments would help to inspire the next generation.

Written by Astro1 on August 26th, 2012 , Blue Origin, Education

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the Moon, has passed way.

It’s sad to think that his most notable accomplishment turned out to be a dead end. Armstrong, who was 82, landed on the Moon during the first half of his life. Armstrong was just 38 when he walked on the Moon, and just 42 when the Moon landings ended. For almost half his life, he would never again see a human walk on the Moon.

Let’s hope that the next time humans visit the Moon, it will be done in a sustainable, affordable manner. Please note that won’t be done by government.

Prior to Apollo, Armstrong piloted the X-15 and was one of seven astronauts chosen to fly the US Air Force X-20 DynaSoar. If Apollo had been canceled while DynaSoar and the X-15 were sustained, perhaps we would have humans on the Moon today. Or perhaps not – sustainable economic development is still the key.

Apollo astronaut on the Moon with Lunar Module and flag

Written by Astro1 on August 25th, 2012 , Space History

Weather has delayed the launch of two Radiation Belt Storm Probes on an Atlas rocket, which was scheduled for today. This is the second time the launch has been delayed.

Launch crews are concerned about lightning and flight through cumulus clouds due to storm conditions south and east of Cape Canaveral. With Tropical Storm Isaac coming in, another launch attempt is not expected before August 30.

Weather has also forced the postponement of a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding-rocket launch, carrying four student experiments, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Again, this was the second time the launch was delayed. The first launch attempt, on Thursday, was delayed due to unauthorized boats in the launch area.

Weather delays are common, even in aviation, but current launch systems are much more susceptible to weather than modern aircraft are. The result is poor dispatch reliability. That’s not a major problem for the current launches – neither the Radiation Belt Storm Probes nor the student experiments are time-critical – but it can play havoc on missions that have limited launch windows, such as planetary missions.

Dispatch reliability will also be important for operational military missions, such as DARPA’s Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements, and for future commercial missions. This may be an important operational advantage for ALASA, StratoLaunchLauncher OneGO Launcher, and other airborne launch systems which have carrier aircraft that can fly around weather systems.

Written by Astro1 on August 25th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General) Tags:

Tumbleweed rovers are inflatable balls with mechanical control structures. Rolling across the Martian surface like a mechanical tumbleweed, such a rover could move faster and cover more ground than a wheeled rover like the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, at much lower cost. NASA and a number of universities have built and tested prototypes. NASA has tested prototypes in the Mojave Desert and the frozen waste of Antarctica.

A tumbleweed rover would use the Martian wind for locomotion and shifting balance for control. According to previous work at JPL, tumbleweed rovers could achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour in typical afternoon winds, compared to a top speed of 0.1 miles per hour for Curiosity. A tumbleweed rover 6 meters in diameter could climb over one-meter rocks and travel up 20-degree slopes in moderate winds and 45-degree slopes in strong winds. A 6-meter diameter rover would have a mass of 44 pounds and a 44-pound science payload. (The Curiosity rover weighs over 1,980 pounds.) Additionally, the rover’s inflatable ball can function as both parachute and airbag for the landing, saving on overall system weight.

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Written by Astro1 on August 25th, 2012 , Innovation, Planetary science

A basic principle of economics says that if you reward a behavior, you will get more of it.

Unfortunately, government programs frequently have perverse incentives, which reward behaviors and outcomes which no one desires. Education is an example. If a private school does a poor job of educating its students, parents will remove their children and the school suffers financially, but if a public school performs poorly, it is likely to receive a budget increase in order to “fix the problem.”

In government space programs, managers who overrun their budgets can expect to receive additional funding. Managers who come in under budget may be targeted for future cuts. Their success proves they “don’t need” as much money. The system rewards managerial failure and punishes success.

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Written by Astro1 on August 25th, 2012 , Space Policy and Management

With the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as a backdrop, XCOR Aerospace has announced its intentions to establish an operational base for the Lynx spacecraft in Florida. As market demand dictates, XCOR may also establish a manufacturing and assembly center for the Lynx Mark II.

XCOR Lynx suborbital reusable rocket spacecraft over Florida

XCOR plans to fly the Lynx suborbital spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, the Cecil Field Spaceport, or other Florida location within the next two years. If the market for Lynx spacecraft grows as XCOR expects, the company will also begin assembly and factory test of Lynx production models, designed Lynx Mark II, on the Florida Space Coast, starting with Tail Number 3. Lynx production and operations could create more than 150 jobs by late 2018.

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Written by Astro1 on August 23rd, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

Dr. Vlada Stamenkovic, a post-doctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, plans to use the Arkyd-100 space telescopes, being developed by Planetary Resources, to help find planets orbiting other stars.

The search for exoplanets is one of the most exciting fields of research for astronomy and astrobiology. We’re constantly amazed that NASA isn’t doing more in this area.

Written by Astro1 on August 23rd, 2012 , Innovation, Planetary Resources

Burt Rutan has posted the slides from a presentation on Commercial Space Future Opportunities.

The presentation provides some interesting insights on Rutan’s personal vision for where SpaceShip Two is going. (This personal vision does not necessarily reflect the official policies of Virgin Galactic or even Scaled Composites, from which Rutan is now retired.)

For suborbital spaceflight, Rutan envisions “multi-spaceport operations with 40 spaceships” and competing spacelines flying over 100,000 people during the first 12 years of commercial operations. Although it is not explicitly stated, we’re guessing this means competing spacelines flying spaceships developed by Scaled Composites and does not consider competing designs. (Scaled has stated, in the past, that Virgin Galactic is the launch customer for SpaceShip Two but there would be other customers in the future.)

Rutan notes that ticket prices for suborbital flights are about 1% of those for orbital flights. He expects that prices for both will come down significantly as volume increases but the ratio between the two prices will remain about the same.

Written by Astro1 on August 22nd, 2012 , Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic

The following video was produced by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It shows the capabilities DARPA hopes to achieve through its Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program.

Contrary to popular belief, current reconnaissance satellites do not play a large role in tactical engagements on the military battlefield. The KH-series reconnaissance satellites were developed during the Cold War for monitoring the Soviet buildup  and verifying compliance with arms-control treaties. Although the Cold War is long over, they are still optimized for that purpose. The immense cost of a KH satellite (comparable to the cost of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, according to former Senator Kit Bond) means the United States can only afford to have one or two in orbit at any time. The limitations of orbital mechanics mean that they are out of position for most targets at any given time. This is not a problem for long-term studies of stationary or slow-moving mobile targets, but it is completely inadequate for monitoring fast-moving fluid situations on the battlefield. The sort of real-time satellite reconnaissance seen in movies and TV shows is pure fiction.

DARPA’s SeeMe program seeks to turn that fiction into reality. Achieving such capabilities will require responsive, low-cost launch systems such as the air-launch system depicted in this video.

There’s a great deal of commonality between the launch requirements for responsive military space systems like SeeMe and the requirements of commercial space and citizen science.  Much more so than there is with the International Space Station, whose required flight rate is quite limited by comparison.

Written by Astro1 on August 22nd, 2012 , Innovation, Military Space

A Mars sample-return mission has long been the holy grail of NASA’s unmanned science program. Given the publicity surrounding the successful landing of the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, it isn’t surprising that calls are once again emerging for such a mission, whose cost is estimated at $5 to $10 billion – two to four times the cost of Curiosity.

There is little chane of such a megamission being approved in the current economic environment. That may be just as well. From a space policy viewpoint, the proposed sample-return mission offers a poor return on investment.

The proposed mission would return about one pound of Martian surface material to Earth – a meager bonanza considering the cost.

For that same $5-10 billion, we could send a human expedition to Mars. To get the cost down to that level, it would have to be a one-way mission.  Burt Rutan and others have advocated such missions in the past. NASA does not discuss such unconventional concepts publicly, but sources close to the astronaut office tell us there is a great deal of private interest.

The tradeoff, in this case, seems to clearly favor the human expedition. Instead of ounces of Martian rocks  in Earthbound laboratories, geologists would have the opportunity to study tons of Martian rocks in situ, while simultaneously establishing a new colony for humanity on another world. All it requires is courage and vision. There’s scant sign of such qualities among the invertebrate political classes of Washington DC, but the real America outside the Beltway hasn’t lost the pioneer spirit. Elon Musk may attempt such a mission sooner than anyone expects. The question is whether NASA can realign itself to assume a supporting role or  lapse into irrelevance.

Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management, Space Settlement

We’re not talking about the migration of humans from Earth into space, although we are optimistic that will begin in earnest in the next few years.

We’re talking about the migration of commercial space companies from one part of the United States to another.

In July, XCOR Aerospace announced the relocation of its main research and development operation to Midland, Texas. Next week, XCOR is expected to make another announcement. Although the official statement won’t come until August 23, word is already out on the street that  XCOR will announce the development of an engine and vehicle production facility in Florida.

XCOR will retain some operations at Mojave Air and Space Port, in the high desert of California where the company was born. It will probably continue to base a Lynx suborbital spaceship there for the foreseeable future, to provide a launch site for West Coast missions. The company’s main focus, however, is clearly shifting to other states.

Some observers may question the sudden expansion of XCOR into not one, but two new states. The move makes sense, however. Locating R&D and production facilities in two separate states will minimize the possibility of R&D activities randomizing the assembly line.

It’s also worth noting that Masten Space Systems has a signed contract with Space Florida to begin flying its VTVL rocketship at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At the moment, the agreement calls for nothing more than demonstration flights, but that could change in the future. Space Florida officials expect XCOR to create 152 new jobs in Florida. They are no doubt keeping a close eye on Masten. If they see similar potential for growth, it’s reasonable to expect that they will make a push for that company as well.

Meanwhile, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is looking to expand operations in Texas, both at its McGregor testing facility near Waco and a proposed new launch site in South Texas.

All of these moves have one common denominator: they are away from California. While other states are dangling incentives in front of emerging space companies, California has elected to incentivize trial lawyers instead. States such as Texas have passed bills to protect commercial spaceflight operators from potentially crippling lawsuits, but a bill introduced in the California legislature was watered down to the point of meaninglessness. It appears that California has decided to export aerospace jobs.

Written by Astro1 on August 16th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems, Spaceports, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace

Researchers at Purdue University have discovered a possible method of predicting solar flares more than a day before they occur.

Solar Flare

The prediction method works by measuring differences in gamma-radiation levels from the decay of radioactive materials. Scientists have long believed the rate of decay to be constant, but that view has been challenged by recent findings. A new hypothesis holds that radioactive decay rates are influenced by solar activity, possibly due to variations in solar neutrinos. The solar influence varies with seasonal changes in the Earth’s distance from the sun and is also affected by solar flares.

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Written by Astro1 on August 15th, 2012 , Innovation, Space Medicine and Safety

Dennis Wingo has posted an excellent article on nuclear power systems for lunar development.

One problem he fails to address is political opposition to launching nuclear materials into space. Public protests and legal challenges have been a headache for NASA programs like Cassini in the past. They could be a showstopper for commercial ventures in the future. The radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs, used by Cassini carry a small amount of nuclear fuel compared to the reactors which would be required to power a lunar base. So, it should be expected that environmentalist opposition to launching nuclear reactors would be even stronger.

Yet, that political problem could also represent an opportunity for lunar development.

Nuclear Thermal Rocket -- NASA concept

Nuclear power will be important for lunar bases, which need to operate throughout the two-week lunar night when solar power is not available, but it’s even more important for deep-space missions to the outer solar system. Human missions to Mars are feasible with chemical rockets, but just barely. If humans are to venture beyond Mars, nuclear rockets will be essential.

Launching the large reactors for nuclear thermal rockets (like the NASA concept shown here) will always be a political problem, as long as the reactors contain nuclear fuel. An obvious solution is to launch the reactors without reactor fuel onboard. The engines could then be fueled on orbit with nuclear material from extraterrestrial sources.

The logical source for that nuclear material is the Moon. The presence of uranium on the Moon was detected by the Japanese Kaguya space probe in 2009. Based on our discussions with engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, mining uranium on the Moon is an interesting possibility.

If uranium mining on the Moon turns out to be feasible, it could be very important to lunar development. More important, perhaps, than platinum-group metals, which have received far more attention. Platinum-group metals are generally discussed in the context of terrestrial applications, such as fuel cells for electric cars. Although promising, the use of lunar materials for terrestrial applications faces serious challenges and competition from terrestrial sources and substitute materials. Mining uranium for use in space (or on the lunar surface) does not face the same stiff competition, especially if political factors make it impossible to launch nuclear materials from the surface of the Earth.

A more speculative use for lunar uranium might be fueling large nuclear reactors in Earth orbit that beam power back to Earth by microwave or laser beam. Orbiting power plants, while perhaps not cost-competitive with ground-based power, might become necessary if environmental opposition continues to block construction of new nuclear plants on Earth while global-warming concerns limit the use of fossil fuels.

More data on lunar uranium deposits is certainly warranted and should be a priority for future reconnaissance missions.

Water ice will likely be the first mineral to be economically extracted from the Moon (if current estimates of its availability are verified by future missions), but uranium might turn out to be more important in the long term. At some point, lunar ice deposits will start to diminish, and with a growing lunar population, it will no longer make economic sense to export water – a development anticipated by Robert Heinlein in his classic novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – but uranium deposits might last a lot longer. The Moon could serve as the nuclear fuel depot that provides the key to the solar system.

Written by Astro1 on August 15th, 2012 , Innovation, Space Exploration (General)

If anyone is curious about XCOR Aerospace’s new home in Texas and looking for an excuse to visit Midland, there’s one coming up this fall.

October 13-14 is the annual CAF Airsho. (No, we did not misspell it.)

Midland is home base for the Commemorative Air Force and the CAF Airpower Museum, which maintains the largest World War II military collection in private hands today. The annual CAF Airsho is considered to be the best World War II warbird show in the country. This video from a couple years ago shows some of the highlights from the show.

In case anyone is wondering, we’ve been informed that XCOR Aerospace will not participate in this year’s show. They were invited but they’re too busy building the Lynx.

Written by Astro1 on August 13th, 2012 , Spaceports Tags:

The Houston Chronicle reports that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) are working on a new budget bill that would give greater stability to the NASA budget. Their bill would create a 10-year appointed term for the NASA Administrator and a multiyear budget cycle for NASA.

This plan has been endorsed by Johnson Space Center director Michael Coats, who complains about NASA programs that have been canceled by budget shifts in the last seven years. Coats “notes that if they were able to plan out four or five years ‘it would be amazing what we could do with our team.’”

The Congressmen are addressing an old complaint from some pundits in the space-policy community. According to these commentators, NASA’s success is impeded by the electoral cycle, which brings changes to the makeup of Congress every two years and a new President every four to eight years. Each time, there are major changes or minor tweaks to space policy, which make it impossible for NASA to effectively pursue long-term projects.

This bill is troubling for two reasons. First, because it attempts to insulate NASA from political control and the electoral process. Making unelected government bureaucrats less accountable to the American people is never a good thing. Wolf and Culberson justify their action by pointing out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation enjoys similar protections. The problem with that analogy is that it’s not analogous. NASA is not a law-enforcement agency. It does not conduct legal investigations that may affect politicians and political interests, so the justification for long-term political autonomy does not apply.

Second, the bill fixes the wrong problem. What NASA needs is shorter planning cycles, not longer.

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Written by Astro1 on August 12th, 2012 , Innovation, Space Policy and Management

The Morpheus lunar lander suffered a mechanical failure and crashed during its first untethered test flight, which took place at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday. The crash occurred almost immediately after rocket engine ignition.

Morpheus had previously completed numerous tethered flight tests at Johnson Space Center in Texas. It was recently moved to Florida for untethered flight testing. Morpheus was built for NASA by Armadillo Aerospace and derived from the Quad rocket which Armadillo successfully flew in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Morpheus was modified and tweaked by NASA after it took delivery from Armadillo.

It’s inevitable that someone will contrast this failure to the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, which occurred the same week. We hope people don’t take the wrong lesson from that coincidence. The MSL landing was successful, but it came at orders of magnitude higher cost. NASA could afford to build and crash hundreds of Morpheus landers for the cost of Curiosity.

There are surely lessons to be learned here, as there are after any mishap, but we hope that NASA does not once again learn the false lesson that low-cost projects are too risky to undertake.

One of the contributing factors, we suspect, is the lack of management and political support for the program. Morpheus was originally Project M, a low-cost X-project intended to place a walking robonaut on the Moon in less than 1000 days. The official commitment to that goal was never forthcoming, however, and Project M morphed into a relatively unfocused lunar-lander technology-test program called Morpheus. Rather than developing a lander that was good enough, the new goal was simply to experiment, so tweaking became the order of the day. This is very similar to what happened when NASA took over the DC-X project, with similar results.

We also wonder if NASA’s decision to take the program in-house, rather than keeping the Armadillo team involved with flight testing, may have been a mistake. We understand NASA’s motivation and desire to train its own team in lander operations, but having the experienced Armadillo crew would probably have allowed things to go more smoothly.

These are problems which can be easily fixed, if NASA has the will to do so. The cost of a replacement lander would be about the same as Curiosity‘s coffee budget. It isn’t obviously that NASA has the will to fix the problems, however. Developing a functional lunar lander is a low priority for NASA right now, and it would be all too easy for the agency to slip back into CYA mode (cover your anatomy) and simply cancel the program.

Written by Astro1 on August 11th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace

The National Geographic Channel did a nice program on the building of Spaceport America.

This episode of Megastructures does a good job of conveying the scale of the undertaking. It’s also interesting to see the little town of Hatch, NM. Central Market in Texas is currently holding its annual two-week Hatch Chili Festival. If not for Central Market, most people would never have heard of Hatch.

If successful, Spaceport America will provide new opportunities for many locals. At the same time, however, we must compare the $200+ million being spent on Spaceport America with the $40 million in incentives which Midland, TX is offering to XCOR Aerospace. New Mexico is staking a lot more money. Will Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America be five times as successful as XCOR?

This demonstrates, of course, the cost advantage of an existing airport like Midland International or Mojave over a greenfield site like Spaceport New Mexico. At some point, space commerce may outgrow such mixed-use facilities and New Mexico’s investment will start to look prescient. At the moment, however, no one can predict how soon that day will come.

Written by Astro1 on August 11th, 2012 , Spaceports