What The New Yorker Gets Wrong About the SpaceShipTwo Accident

SpaceShipTwo debris in storage. (Credit: NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Psychologists have identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are clearly on display in Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man, Nicholas Schmidle’s profile of Mark Stucky in The New Yorker. A substantial part of the story chronicles how the test pilot dealt with the death of his close friend, Mike Alsbury, in the breakup of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during the vehicle’s fourth powered flight four years ago.

It’s a touching portrait of Stucky’s grief for his fellow Scaled Composites pilot, with whom he had flown while testing the suborbital spacecraft being developed for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. (Stucky later moved over to Virgin, which took over the SpaceShipTwo program after the accident, to test the second SpaceShipTwo, Unity.)

However, Schmidle tells only half the story in his otherwise insightful profile. He places nearly all the blame on Alsbury, while ignoring the findings of a nine-month federal investigation that identified systemic flaws in the development program and the government’s oversight that contributed to the accident.

It’s similar to the flawed, self-serving narrative that Branson used in his latest autobiography, “Finding My Virginity,” complete with a not-entirely-fair jab at the press coverage of the crash. The billionaire uses pilot error to obscure a decade of fatal mistakes and miscalculations.
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NASA, UAE Space Agency Sign Historic Agreement for Cooperation in Human Spaceflight

BREMEN, Germany (NASA PR) — NASA and the UAE Space Agency (UAESA) signed an Implementing Arrangement (IA) Monday, Oct. 1, that outlines cooperation across a range of areas related to space exploration and human spaceflight. The document was signed by H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a ceremony at the 69th International Astronautical Congress, being held in Bremen, Germany Oct. 1-5.

The IA falls under the overarching Framework Agreement signed between the UAESA and NASA in June 2016, which established a framework for areas of cooperation in ground-based research; sub-orbital research; research and flight activities in low-Earth orbit (LEO); and human and robotic exploration in the vicinity of the moon, on the lunar surface, and beyond.

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China’s OneSpace Launches Suborbital Booster

OneSpace launched the OS-X1 suborbital rocket on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in another step toward orbital flights for the Chinese commercial launch company, according to media reports.

Gbtimes reports the solid-fuel Chongqing Liangjiang Star booster reached an altitude of about 35 kilometer during a 3m 20s flight. The first flight of the suborbital rocket was conducted in May.

The flight was captured from space by the Jilin-1, which was passing overhead at the time.

The suborbital flights are testing technology for the company’s larger OS-XM orbital booster. The company is planning a flight test of that rocket by the end of the year.

The flight came two days after Chinese rival iSpace launched its Hyperbola-1Z suborbital rocket from Jiuquan. iSpace also has plans for an orbital launch vehicle and a space plane.

A third commercial launch firm, Landspace,  plans to launch the orbital Zhuque-1 rocket next month.

Video: NASA Administrator Bridenstine Interviews Commercial Crew Astronauts

Video Caption: During a recent visit to Johnson Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sat down with astronauts Chris Ferguson and Sunita “Suni” Williams for an informal Q&A session about the Commercial Crew Program.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has worked with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems since 2010. Both Ferguson and Williams were selected to fly on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner for the Commercial Crew Program – marking the first time that American astronauts will launch to the International Space Station from American soil on American-made spacecraft since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011.

To watch specific portions of the Q&A about the future of human space exploration, use these timestamp:

2:30 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson talks about what he has been doing since it was announced that he is a member of the Commercial Crew Program
3:30 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson explains why his flight suit says Boeing and not NASA
4:27 – Astronaut Suni Williams talks about what a day in the life of an astronaut is like and what she has been up to since she was selected for the Commercial Crew program
6:30 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson talks about how the Starliner is different from the Space Shuttle
7:30 – Astronaut Suni Williams talks about how is the Starliner is similar to and different from the Soyuz
8:32 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson talks about how many people the Starliner will be able to carry to the International Space Station
9:20 – Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks about the future of space exploration for NASA
10:58 – Astronaut Suni Williams talks about her previous spaceflights and how her Commercial Crew flight will be different
12:20 – Astronaut Suni Williams talks about their experience landing in space vehicles
15:20 – Administrator Jim Bridenstine and astronaut Chris Ferguson discuss thermal protection to keep astronauts safe
17:30 – Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks about the components of the Space Launch System and how it compares to technology for avionics
18:55 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson discusses how flying tests in the U.S. Navy prepared them for their upcoming missions
20:28 – Astronaut Chris Ferguson discusses what it’s like to dock the Starliner
21:30 – Astronaut Suni Williams talks about training, automation and providing input to Boeing about the Starliner
22:30 – Astronauts Chris Ferguson and Suni Williams talk about the team of individuals who make human spaceflight possible
24:45 – Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks about the preparations that go into space exploration missions
25:46 – Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks about NASA’s launch capabilities
26:52 – Astronauts Chris Ferguson and Suni Williams provide guidance to Administrator Jim Bridenstine as he docks the Boeing Starliner simulator

ISS Crew Repairs Small Pressure Leak in Soyuz

Soyuz TM spacecraft in orbit

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The International Space Station’s cabin pressure is holding steady after the Expedition 56 crew conducted repair work on one of two Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the complex. The repair was made to address a leak that had caused a minor reduction of station pressure.

After a morning of investigations, the crew reported that the leak was isolated to a hole about two millimeters in diameter in the orbital compartment, or upper section, of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft attached to the Rassvet module of the Russian segment of the station.

Flight controllers at their respective Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow worked together with the crew to effect a repair option in which Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos used epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug the hole identified as the leak source. As the teams were discussing options, flight controllers in Moscow performed a partial increase of the station’s atmosphere using the ISS Progress 70 cargo ship’s oxygen supply. Flight controllers in Houston are continuing to monitor station’s cabin pressure in the wake of the repair.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos has convened a commission to conduct further analysis of the possible cause of the leak.

Throughout the day, the crew was never in any danger, and was told no further action was contemplated for the remainder of the day. Flight controllers will monitor the pressure trends overnight.

All station systems are stable and the crew is planning to return to its regular schedule of work on Friday.

Review: Rocket Billionaires Elon Musk & Jeff Bezos Battle for Control of Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race
by Tim Fernholz
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
304 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-328-66223-1
US$28

In 2004, a small vehicle named SpaceShipOne built by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites and funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen flew three suborbital flights, becoming the first privately-built crewed craft to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. For their efforts, Rutan and Allen won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Rutan quickly teamed with another billionaire, Richard Branson, to build a successor vehicle named SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic that would carry two pilots and six passengers on commercial suborbital flights as early as 2007. It didn’t quite work out as planned; 14 years later, SpaceShipTwo hasn’t flown anyone to space.

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NASA, SpaceX Agree on Fueling Plans for Crew Dragon Launches

NASA astronaut Suni Williams in a Crew Dragon simulator.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX are finalizing plans for launch day operations as they prepare for the company’s first flight test with astronauts on board. The teams are working toward a crew test flight to the International Space Station, known as Demo-2, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in April 2019.

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Walkway Installed on Pad 39A for Crew Dragon Flights

Current Crew Dragon Flight Test Schedule
(to International Space Station)

Uncrewed Flight Test: November 2018
Crewed Flight Test: April 2019

NASA Announces Astronaut Assignments for First Four Commercial Crew Flights

From: Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley (Credit; NASA)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Test

Targeted to launch in April 2019 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The crew:

Bob Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He has a doctorate in engineering, is a flight test engineer, and Colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000, and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice – for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks, for a total of more than 37 hours.

Doug Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He was a test pilot in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He achieved the rank of Colonel in the Marine Corps and piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127, and Atlantis for STS-135 – the final space shuttle mission.

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Boeing Expects Automated Starliner Flight Test in 5 or 6 Months

Editor’s Note: Apparently Boeing had a teleconference with a select group of media today to announce the delay.

Boeing Suffers Setback During CST-100 Starliner Abort Test

CST-100 Starliner with Atlas V booster. (Credit: Boeing)

Media are reporting that Boeing suffered a setback recently when testing CST-100 Starliner’s emergency abort system at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here’s an account from The Washington Post:

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said it has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”

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Kathy Lueders Talks Commercial Crew, Tech Transfer on Steroids

Kathryn Lueders

Commercial Crew Manager Kathy Lueders recently appeared on “Houston We Have a Podcast”, which is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. The program was published on the space agency’s on June 15.

You can listen to the full podcast and read a transcript of the interview here. Below are key excepts from the conversation.

Progress on Commercial Crew

Kathy Lueders: They have their — spacecraft is really, really cool right now. I can’t tell you– go out to SpaceX, you see spacecraft in the building, one– our DM1 vehicle’s getting ready to roll out to go to Plum Brook in a week and a half. [Editor’s note: DM-1 is now undergoing tests at Plum Brook.]

You go over into the C3PF down in Florida and the Boeing spacecraft, you get C3 spacecraft, the Spacecraft 1’s getting ready to get shipped out to go support pad abort test. Spacecraft 2’s getting ready to get shipped to California to go through environmental testing and that will eventually come back and become our first crewed flight test vehicle. And Spacecraft 3 is getting assembled and will be getting ready to fly later this year.

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