The end of the Space Shuttle era – 2.07

We are fast approaching the end of an era.  NASA’s space shuttle program will be retiring and in its place will be the Constellation program.  Or will it?



N. Korea’s “space” program

STS-119 date?

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  1. KaiYves on February 28, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Sorry about the lame joke. I have a lot of better ones.

    • cariann on March 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

      It’s not an issue… Silly!

  2. Robert Horning on March 1, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    BTW, in regards to why the OCO (Orbital Carbon Observer) nearly hit Antarctica, that was due to the fact it was supposed to be put into a polar orbit. This is a common trajectory for spacecraft like this designed for planetary observation, as each orbit the Earth rotates underneath it to look at a different part of the planet without having to spend fuel to move somewhere else. The OCO (still inside its faring) landed in the Southern Ocean just shy of the coast of Antarctica.

    • Benjamin Higginbotham on March 2, 2009 at 12:49 am

      Good to know. It just seemed odd to me as it didn’t make a whole lot of sense based on where other space junk has landed.

  3. Rick Boozer on March 2, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    No need to keep the shuttle going to the ISS in the future. SpaceX Dragon crew capacity is 7 people, the same as the shuttle!

    Despite claims to the contrary by NASA, safety had little to do with going with the solid fueled, shuttle-derived stick booster. Solid fueled rockets are actually less safe than liquid fueled rockets because after you start a solid booster, you can’t shut it off! Remember Challenger?

    I will be somewhat of an optimist and say that it is possible that one or two Ares Is may launched. But even if this happens, Ares I will perform so anemically compared to Falcon IX heavy-lift and cost so much more to operate that its cancellation at some point is inevitable.

    • KaiYves on March 2, 2009 at 8:11 pm

      I’m not putting down SpaceX in any way, and I’m probably just showing my colossal personal ignorance here, but isn’t three or four years a short amount of time to go from satellite capacity to carrying humans?

      • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 12:54 am

        If SpaceX was starting from ground zero right making Dragon into a human carrying vehicle, you would have a point. But Elon Musk designed the Dragon first as a manned vehicle long before NASA came up with COTS and only decided to make an unmanned version after NASA came up with COTS. The only part needed for a manned capsule that they have yet to develop is the emergency escape rocket.

      • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 1:07 am

        Oh one more thing.
        “. . . isn’t three or four years a short amount of time to go from satellite capacity to carrying humans?”

        The time difference between Sputnik I and the launch of Yuri Gagarin was 3 and one half years.

        • KaiYves on March 3, 2009 at 11:43 pm

          Okay, well, like I said, I’m very ignorant. Thank you for clearing that up. 🙂

    • Benjamin Higginbotham on March 4, 2009 at 1:01 am

      Ok, I’ll drink a bit of the Dragon Kool-Aid (although I think it may be a bit ambitious, but then again SpaceX is an ambitious company).

      I will have to disagree on using Challenger as an example. An O-Ring failed. This was not a case of ‘we can’t shut it down’ as the flight looked nominal up until that point. Had it been a different fuel who is to say that the same problem would not occur?

      You can’t shut the boosters off, but you CAN detach and remote detonate them. Now lets compare how many rockets simply blew up on the pad vs how many shuttles did that. The argument *could* be made that it was the fuel that blew them up (well, I mean, it is) but the real story there is that it was a design flaw that caused the problem. Liquid or solid fuel, space travel is dangerous today.

      So I’ll drink your Dragon Kool-Aid but I’m also going to drink a bit of NASA’s Kool-Aid in saying that maybe solid fuel is safer.

      • Rick Boozer on March 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm

        The O-ring leak went on almost from the time of launch until 73 seconds after lift-off when the solid booster broke up. Plenty of time to perform a shutdown of a liquid fueled rocket engine.

        “You can’t shut the boosters off, but you CAN detach and remote detonate them.” True of conventional Old-Space rockets. But we’re in the age of New-Space. Even Falcon I has the abitlity to shut down, both in flight and when the engine is firing and sitting on the pad before it is released! “The launch attempt on March 21, 2007 was aborted at 00:05 GMT at the last second before launch and after the engine had ignited. It was however decided that another launch should be made the same day. The rocket was launched successfully at 01:10 GMT on 21 March 2007 with a DemoSat payload for DARPA and NASA.” from this article:

        It’s true that if something goes wrong with Falcon in flight that they explode it (as in the above mentioned flight}, but that’s to keep a disaster from happening on the ground.”

      • Rick Boozer on March 5, 2009 at 5:31 pm

        BTW. I meant to have as my first sentence that liquid fueled rockets don’t have O-rings, and so the Challenger scenario could not happen with it!

        • Rick Boozer on March 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm

          Also didn’t notice:
          “the flight looked nominal up until that point”
          Only superficially, but there were people who noticed an anomaly right away and prayed it wasn’t serious because they knew there was nothing that could be done about it. So you didn’t have any mention of a problem until the actual disaster.

  4. Robert Horning on March 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    While I would be one of those who would prefer that the Constellation program would go away, and I do think a case could be made to simply kill the program entirely, I think unfortunately the bureaucratic inertia is there to see at least the Ares I to completion. I have more doubts about the Ares V/VI (or whatever configuration they’ll put that “heavy launcher” vehicle) although I think that will get to the full prototype stage and may actually get a couple of flights in before the program is killed.

    Much of this has to do with what leadership Barak Obama is going to be providing to NASA and what kinds of key decisions will be made for the future of the program. The DIRECT supporters are hoping their concept will be better received by the Obama administration, and certainly the Obama transition team was treated as a major annoyance by the current NASA staff. A telling sign of how important Obama considers spaceflight in terms of his administration’s policies can be linked to who is the current NASA administrator: Obama has yet to appoint somebody to the position. Indeed, speculation for who that might be is even up in the air and no leading candidate has come forward.

    For myself, I think Obama doesn’t really have his own agenda for what he would like NASA to do, and he hasn’t really given any of the issues related to spaceflight any sort of major consideration, except for a few moments when he went through the Florida space coast during the election campaign. Note that Obama’s first reaction was to gut NASA as a frivolous waste of government money, where he had to backpedal real quick when shown how critical the space coast votes would be to carry Florida in the election. This isn’t setting policy, but reacting to pragmatic considerations…. and I think NASA will simply carry on with bureaucratic inertia for the next year or so on the course set by President Bush and Mike Griffin.

    Neither Eisenhower nor JFK were major spaceflight fans until well into their presidential administrations, and it could be argued that both of them merely reacted to external events for setting the goals that they made. A Chinese flag planted next to the American flag at Tranquility Base might be the motivation to restart NASA, and there already is an Indian flag on the Moon even now (although not put there by an astronaut).

    My point in bringing up Obama is that we simply don’t know what he’ll do in terms of space policy. Campaign platforms aren’t always what goes into real policy when actual governance has to occur. He could push to kill Constellation, either in favor of DIRECT or even simply kill it outright in favor of the COTS program. He could even scrap government space programs altogether. We simply don’t know, other than the Ares I spacecraft certainly is past the point of being a mere paper study.

    • Rick Boozer on March 2, 2009 at 8:30 pm

      Essentially I agree with you on everything, Robert. As I said, I’m even willing to concede the possibility that Ares I will actually fly a few times due to the very bureaucratic inertia that you spoke of. But I’m not sure even that is a done deal. However, should that happen, Falcon IX heavy-lift will have almost an extra 5000 kg of payload capacity to LEO over Ares I! Don’t you think there are going to be some people asking questions when Falcon IX starts sending Dragon to the station, especially if COTS-D is implemented? No matter what, Ares I will be cancelled ahead of its scheduled lifetime. As you point out, the long term prospects for Ares V are even worse.

      • Robert Horning on March 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm

        I think that when the day arrives for a Falcon 9 to launch a Dragon capsule and have it dock with the ISS, that the following week or month will be nearly legendary in the halls of Congress for people going before sub-committees and trying to explain why a private company like SpaceX could pull off for a fraction of the cost and time what it took to get NASA to launch the Ares I.

        I am looking forward to that day! Heck, I hope that Ben and Cariann carry C-Span that day live and allow us to comment on what is said.

        What NASA needs to document in regards to the Ares I is that it somehow performs a function that can’t be done with any other vehicle. For example, the U.S. Air Force can justify having C-130 vehicles because they can perform missions and do things that a 747 won’t do. I really don’t see what the Ares I can do that neither the Delta IV nor the Falcon 9 aren’t just as capable of doing.

        The Ares V at least is a heavy launch vehicle that can send up equipment that isn’t capable of being sent on the smaller rockets like a Falcon 9, and I can certainly show spaceflight missions that a full successor to the Space Shuttle would do that can’t be done with currently planned spacecraft. Ares I/V is not a successor to the Shuttle and NASA officials know that to be the case… unfortunately.

        The Orion capsule is capable of doing more things than the Dragon, because it is larger and carries much more life support equipment. It is designed to be a lunar transit vehicle, unlike the Dragon which is just an Earth to LEO vehicle. This makes comparisons difficult, but at the same time it could be said that NASA is gilding the lily with all that extra equipment intended for lunar missions when many of the early missions are just to the ISS.

        • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 1:03 am

          What’s going to stop Falcon 9 heavy from carrying the Orion capsule? Some interfacing and coupling work is all that is needed. Considering how much less costly the Falcon is than Ares I, the adaptation costs should be worth it.

        • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 1:16 am

          One more thing. When I said, “No need to keep the shuttle going to the ISS in the future. SpaceX Dragon crew capacity is 7 people, the same as the shuttle!” What I meant to say was, “No need to keep the shuttle going to the ISS in the future for crew delivery. SpaceX Dragon crew capacity is 7 people, the same as the shuttle!” I am fully cognizant of the extra cargo delivery capabilities of the Shuttle. But you can effectively duplicate both capabilities of the shuttle by using one launch for crew and the other for any new station module or other equipment you might want to add to ISS.

          • Robert Horning on March 3, 2009 at 2:29 pm

            The Space Shuttle really is a different kind of a vehicle, and it can’t be duplicated by simply doing two different launches.

            I’ll admit that 90% of how NASA has used the Shuttle could have been done with the two launch system of a passenger + cargo launch. The problem in that situation was that NASA put all of their eggs in one basket and depended on the Shuttle to take care of 100% of all of their manned spaceflight needs. Using the Air Force analogy, it would be like using the C-130 for not just cargo missions, but also bombing and air intercept missions too. It boggles the mind that NASA designed such a vehicle to be such a Swiss Army knife to be something for everybody yet didn’t really deliver anything for anybody.

            One huge capability that is being lost with the retirement of the Shuttle program is the ability to take large pieces of cargo from orbit and be able to return them safely back to the Earth. In theory, the ISS could be dis-assembled and brought back in pieces to the Earth… or a module brought back to the Earth and refurbished only to be sent back up. NASA has used this capability a few times, but IMHO not nearly enough.

            For example, I never understood why the Galileo spacecraft wasn’t fully deployed and tested in space by the astronauts before it left the Shuttle Atlantis (on STS-34). What I’m trying to point out is that NASA had the capability of actually using astronauts to be satellite technicians and blew the opportunity to show what manned spaceflight capabilities could do. There was a problem with the Galileo probe that perhaps could have been fixed by the astronauts while it was in LEO, but even the thought that this could have been done was never tried or even considered during the planning phases.

            I hope that eventually some of the capabilities of the Shuttle do come back, and that the Shuttle program wasn’t completely in vain. I can see a conversation in 30 years where people are bemoaning the loss of having a Shuttle and some future President asking for the Shuttle to be rebuilt. I certainly see a role in a Shuttle 2.0 vehicle that could be beneficial to the American space effort, but it needs to be something much more focused in terms of what it should be designed to be. Perhaps something like the Buran that is completely automated? I don’t think that policy/engineering question has been fully explored in terms of what a genuine replacement for the Shuttle would involved. Ares/Orion is not a replacement of the Shuttle.

          • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 3:45 pm

            Robert, I will have to agree with you on the returnability issue. I myself would have preferred a shuttle replacement to what NASA is giving us. There’s no doubt, capsules are a step backward from spaceplanes. But my point is, until such time as a true replacement for the shuttle is produced, separate launches of crew and major equipment are the best we can do.

          • Rick Boozer on March 3, 2009 at 5:17 pm

            A little more clarification to the last point. It’s going to be a tough enough struggle for now, just to get the powers-that-be to switch from custom made launch sources to cheaper true commercial launch sources. Let’s get the monetary savings from that switch first before we take on the even more difficult task of persuading people that we need a true replacement for the shuttle. You win a war one battle at a time.

      • Benjamin Higginbotham on March 4, 2009 at 1:07 am

        Most people don’t even know we’re shutting down the shuttle let alone care about payload. In the end it is about politics and voters. In a perfect world things like this would matter, but then again in a perfect world once we made it to the moon the first time we would have kept exploring rather than pull back.

        I think both the Ares I and Ares V will not only fly but will both carry humans back to the ISS (well I believe Orion sits atop Ares I and caargo for Ares V, but you get what I mean). I am actually hopeful that it brings humans back to the moon. If they don’t I would love to see a viable plan for getting back there from someone, *anyone* and plans to go on to Mars.

        Politics or not, the goals NASA have set are actually good ones. I’m not sure I like how we’re getting from point A to point B, but at least we’re working on moving away from LEO. That’s more than I can say for Virgin, XCOR, SpaceX and others at this time.

        • Rick Boozer on March 4, 2009 at 5:12 pm

          As I mentioned to Robert, what’s to stop Orion from launching on Falcon 9 heavy? Elon recently said in an interview, “We’d like to help NASA get to the moon.”

        • Robert Horning on March 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm

          Elon Musk’s original involvement in spaceflight came from a project he wanted to build that put a greenhouse filled with various plants and some simple life of various types onto the surface of Mars. In trying to find somebody to put it there, he couldn’t even find a company willing to even consider the project, regardless of the cost. It was at that point when Elon started SpaceX…. and still has a long-term goal of having a SpaceX employee land on Mars for commercial exploitation of that planet.

          Robert Bigelow has been spending quite a bit of time on the development of lunar habitats, and has at least done a paper study on how to convert a BA-330 into a viable lunar shelter for some of the early long-term research bases on the Moon’s surface. This study included a survey of available commercial rocketry equipment and thrusters necessary to get the module to Moon and how to get it safely to the Moon’s surface. Considering that Robert Bigelow has real hardware in orbit, I would say that his equipment and shelter designs may even be ahead of NASA in terms of a shelter that could survive a lunar night. If you have the money right now, I’m certain that Bigelow Aerospace would build a lunar habitat for you tomorrow and give high confidence that it would work too.

          Of the companies you have mentioned here, only Virgin is nearly exclusive in its overall goal of commercial exploitation of sub-orbital spcecraft. Even that isn’t completely true, and certainly Burt Rutan has been considering other sorts of vehicles and spacecraft designs, including stuff that was shown on the CBS television show “60 Minutes”, where the entire hour episode covered Scaled Composites, Spaceship One, and future projects. Admittedly going beyond LEO was for the distant future, but it was discussed.

          I don’t know what Blue Origin is doing or what its long-term plans might be, as they have been incredibly secretive with only a very few pictures having been released for public consumption. Even so, the “Rocket Ranch” that Jeff Bezos has purchased in Texas is large enough to do just about anything he wants…. including a direct competitor to the Delta IV and Falcon 9 spacecraft. Almost anything coming out of that company wouldn’t be a surprise to me, and they certainly have been working on real vehicles.

          From a pure energy standpoint, travel to Phobos is actually easier to do than even going to the Moon. Assuming that alternative propulsion systems get more attention such as ion propulsion or the VASMIR engine (both with incredibly high ISP but unfortunately low thrust), I don’t really see point to point travel being the incredibly difficult challenge as compared to merely getting to low-earth orbit in the first place.

          There is no reason to believe that NASA will get any appropriations money for doing anything beyond low-earth orbit. There certainly are politicans who think travel back to the Moon, much less Mars, is a completely frivolous waste of tax money. Paper studies are fine, but the only real hardware NASA has been working on is just the Orion capsule. Until metal is being bent, I won’t believe anything else is being worked on. It is much easier from a political standpoint to follow after Walter Mondale and William Proxmire than Lyndon Johnson.

          On the other hand, I firmly believe that once relatively large numbers of private individuals routinely get to low-earth orbit, it would take oppressive and obviously heavy handed government/military action to keep people from trying to push the limits and going elsewhere in the Solar System.

          I have predicted and firmly stand by that prediction that CNN will cover the first landings of NASA astronauts on Mars…. by its own reporters who beat NASA to Mars on private spacecraft.

          “Low earth orbit is half-way to the rest of the Solar System” — Robert A. Heinlein

    • Sally Parente on July 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm


      Are you still in the Space Coast?

  5. Shuttle launch march 11 on March 12, 2009 at 3:12 am

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! really nice post.

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