Space-X and Blue Origin and Boeing! Oh My!

Space-X and Blue Origin and Boeing!

Oh my!

All these rocket and spacecraft companies have been in the news so much lately!  It’s difficult to understand what exactly is going on!  Who is developing what?  And why?  And when will they launch!  Who is winning this new and modern space race?  This article is my attempt to summarize and organize what I see going on in the space business right now.

Disclaimer: I may work for NASA but that does NOT make me an official spokesperson for the agency.  Everything I say here on my personal blog is either information that I found publicly on the Internet or it is my personal opinion.  There are NO government or space company secrets here!  It’s even possible that some of what I say here might actually be incorrect!  

Rockets

Let’s start with the rocket business!  There’s so much going on lately with rocket development that it’s a little hard to keep track!

Space Launch System

Space Launch System, or SLS, is the big rocket that NASA is funding to send astronauts and payloads to exploration missions beyond low earth orbit.  Deep space is the phrase that NASA likes to use.  This SLS rocket is likely to send humans to Mars someday!  I just hope NASA comes up with a better name than SLS by then!

This rocket is under very heavy construction right now by several different contractors and the first test flight is planned to be in 2019.  The rocket’s design is based on Space Shuttle technologies like Solid Rocket Motors and Space Shuttle Main Engines.  The Solid Rocket Motors will be reused, just like they were during the Shuttle program.

Two different versions of the SLS rocket are being designed.  One for launching crew and another version specifically for sending heavy payloads out into deep space.

Falcon 9

The Falcon 9 rocket is an operational rocket that was completely designed, and is currently being used, by Space-X.  Space-X is a company founded and run by billionaire, Elon Musk, and he is shaking up the rocket business with his unconventional ideas and methods.  He is charging customers way less than his competitors and seems to be stealing at least some business away from those other companies.

The Falcon 9 rocket design includes a first stage that can actively fly back to the launch site and land vertically under rocket power, just the same way it launched.  This reuse is designed to reduce total launch costs.  The Falcon 9 rocket has more than 30 flights under its belt, so it’s been making a big splash (that’s a bad rocket pun, by the way!) in the rocket business lately.

The Falcon 9 is currently carrying only cargo and satellites to space, but it is on track to soon be certified to carry humans.

Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy is a big rocket that Space-X is working on developing right now.  They are basically strapping three Falcon 9 rockets together and launching the entire stack.  It’s gonna be crazy.

The first test flight of a Falcon Heavy is scheduled for the summer of 2017, which is just around the corner.  Eventually, all three of the heavy’s first stage rockets are planned to fly home and each land vertically on dry ground for reuse.

The Falcon Heavy is planned to launch both crew and cargo into space for deep space exploration missions.

Delta IV

The Delta IV (4) is a heavy launcher workhorse for commercial and government customers.  This rocket comes in 5 different versions for customer flexibility and has been in operation since 2002.  Boeing makes most of the major components for this rocket, although they have combined forces with Lockheed Martin in the joint venture called United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Delta IV is a completely expendable launch vehicle as no components were designed for reuse.

This rocket is not planned to ever be certified to carry human crews.

Atlas V

The Atlas V (5) is a medium launcher workhorse for commercial and government customers.  The rocket has 2 different payload diameter (fairing) sizes to choose from and anywhere from zero to 5 solid fuel boosters can be attached for additional power.  Like the Delta IV, the Atlas V also came online and first launched in 2002.  Lockheed Martin designed and created this rocket, although they have combined forces with Boeing in the joint venture called United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Atlas V is a completely expendable launch vehicle as no components were designed for reuse.

The Atlas V is currently carrying only cargo and satellites to space, but it is on track to soon be certified to carry humans.

New Shepard

The New Shepard booster is a new rocket build by Blue Origin that is currently undergoing unmanned test flights.  It’s not a very big rocket as it is specifically designed to carry a few paying customers to the edge of space and back … a suborbital flight.

The New Shepard booster is designed to fly back to the launch pad and land vertically under rocket power and to be launched again, similar to Space-X’s Falcon 9.

Blue Origin is owned by Amazon.com founder and billionaire, Jeff Bezos.  In 2017, Blue Origin began construction of a rocket factory right outside the gates of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, becoming the first rocket company to build their rockets directly at the launch site.

Spacecraft

Now let’s talk about the spacecraft business!  This is also a very busy season right now and it’s easy to get lost in it all!

Cargo Dragon

The Cargo Dragon capsule is an operational spacecraft that was completely designed, and is currently being used, by Space-X.  It is being used to ferry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).   The Cargo Dragon is currently launched into space on top of the Space-X Falcon 9 rocket, but could also be launched on top of the future Falcon Heavy rocket.   It is not certified to carry humans into space.

The Cargo Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft lunched to orbit and successfully recovered, which happened in 2010.  It was also the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous and attach to the space station, which occurred in 2012.  After ferrying cargo to the space station, it is then loaded with return cargo and then it splashes down in the ocean under parachute control.  It is designed to be reusable, although the first reused capsule has not been flown yet.

During its first 5 years of ISS operations, the Cargo Dragon has successfully flown to the space station 10 times, with lots more flights on the schedule.

Orion

The Orion capsule is also called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MCPV.  NASA loves their acronyms!  Orion is a NASA funded space capsule designed to take 4 astronauts out of low earth orbit into deep space missions.  Possibly to the moon.  Possibly even to Mars someday.  The Orion capsule is being developed by Lockheed Martin for NASA.

It is eventually planned to be launched on top of the NASA SLS rocket.  Although the first test flight for Orion was on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket back in 2014.  The second unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2019 and the first manned flight is scheduled for 2021.

After reentry, the Orion capsule is designed to splash down in the ocean under parachute control.  It is designed to be reusable.

Crew Dragon

The Crew Dragon capsule, otherwise known as the Dragon 2 or Dragon V2 is designed and built by Space-X and is planned to take 7 astronauts to the space station and return them home safely.

The Crew Dragon capsule is planned to launch on top of either the Falcon 9 or the Falcon Heavy rockets.  Upon returning to earth, the Crew Dragon capsule is expected to land vertically on dry ground under rocket power.  It is designed to be reusable.  This will be the first time that this type of capsule soft landing system has been attempted but it is expected to reduce turnaround time.

It is scheduled to make an unmanned test flight in 2017 and its first manned flight is scheduled for 2018.

Starliner

The Starliner, or CST-100, capsule is being designed and built by Boeing for the purposes of launching 7 astronauts to the space station and back.  The Starliner competes directly with Space-X’s Crew Dragon and both were partially funded by NASA in order to give the U.S. multiple options for ferrying crews to the space station.

The Starliner is supposedly capable of being launched on many different launch vehicles.  The primary launch vehicle is the Atlas V, but it is apparently capable of also being launched on the Delta IV and the Falcon 9.  I’ll believe that when I see it, though.

The Starliner capsule is designed to return to earth under parachute control but will also have an airbag system that deploys to cushion the landing and allow it to land on dry ground rather than in the ocean which will shorten turnaround time.  It is designed to be reusable.  The first unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2018 and the first manned flight is also scheduled for that same year.

New Shepard Capsule

The New Shepard Crew Capsule is being designed and built by Blue Origin for the purpose of space tourism.  It will be capable of carrying 6 tourists to the edge of space and back.  The capsule will launch on top of the New Shepard booster in a 10 minute long suborbital or ballistic flight pattern.  It is designed to be reusable.

Blue Origin claims that there is no ground control and that all control is automated and onboard.  The capsule returns to earth under parachute control and lands on dry ground near the launch site.

Test flights with test passengers are planned for 2018 and commercial flights with paying passengers are supposed to start up that same year.

Dream Chaser

The Dream Chaser is a reusable spaceplane that is being designed and built by Sierra Nevada Corporation for the purpose of ferrying cargo to the space station and then landing on a conventional runway like a commercial airliner.  A future version might be capable of carrying 7 crew members to the space station and back.

The Dream Chaser is designed to launch vertically on top of an Atlas V or Falcon Heavy rocket.  It is designed to be reusable.

I can’t seem to find any references online that say when the Dream Chaser is planned to start test flights or operational flights.

Super Summary Tables!

Okay.  As much as I tried to summarize and simplify things, that was still quite a bit of information to digest.  So here are a couple of short summary tables that I threw together that should help put everything into perspective at a glance:

That’s it!

Okay, that should do it.  You are now armed with enough information to talk to your friends and family intelligently about what is going on in the space business right now!  Congrats!  Now go forth and distribute this new-found knowledge in any way that you find useful!

But remember that things change pretty quickly these days, so check back later for updates!  And if you see anything wrong in my article, please let me know!  I welcome all corrections and comments!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

Disclaimer: I may work for NASA but that does NOT make me an official spokesperson for the agency.  Everything I say here on my personal blog is either information that I found publicly on the Internet or it is my personal opinion.  There are NO government or space company secrets here!  It’s even possible that some of what I say here might actually be incorrect!  

Normalizing Google Analytics Data

Google Analytics is really awesome!  It tracks all the visitors to my website and gives me nice reports about the audience, the pages they are viewing, and the means they used to get to my site.  It’s completely invaluable for website owners and administrators!

BUT … the pageview data is not normalized.  Google lets me choose the date range and then it shows me all pageviews for that entire date range.  Even for pages and blog posts that didn’t exist during part of the date range.  This un-normalized pageview data is totally unfair to the newer content!  It’s not fair to compare 1,000 pageviews for a page that’s been around for 5 years to 1,000 pageviews for a second page that’s only been around for 5 months!  But this is how Google Analytics displays the data.

While looking at the all-time top content on my personal leucht.com website recently, these were the all-time top pages or posts:

But when I took into account the birth date of each page, I got different results.  These are actually my most popular pages.  Not the list above.

I’m not surprised by the VOB blog post being in the number one spot.  I get a lot of feedback and people thanking me for posting that one.  But I’m really stoked about the Batmobile Pinewood Derby post being my 2nd most popular post!  That one was not on the radar in the initial Google Analytics report!

So please, Google … please figure out a way to decide when each page got created (by looking at the first hit, maybe?) and then show me the pageviews per day over the life of each page.  That way, I can see the all-time velocity or all-time popularity of each and every page on my site as a fair comparison regardless of the age of the content.

Thanks for listening,

Kurt

How to make your own car-top kayak rack

I designed and built what I think turned out to be a pretty decent car-top carrier rack for my kayaks.  Here is a photo of the final product mounted on the roof of my PT Cruiser.

I built the rack out of PVC pipe bought from my local home improvement store.  I designed the rack so that it can be attached to the roof of my car using standard ratcheting straps that loop around the car roof with the doors open.  The ratchets are inside the cab of the car.

Before I built this rack, my best solution for hauling my kayak to the river was just to strap the kayak itself to the roof of my car.

One problem with that scenario was that I could only haul a single kayak that way.  Another problem was that the ratcheting straps outside the cab would vibrate and buzz loudly when I was driving down the road at highway speeds.  But the rack I designed and built solved both of these problems.

Below is a photo of the rack after I glued all the PVC pieces together.  I designed the left side of the rack with a single upright that sits up into the seat hole in the first kayak which will hold it at the angle I want.  Then the other two kayaks lean up against the first one.  The right side of the rack has 2 uprights to cradle the bottom side of the third kayak.

I used T’s rather than 90’s for the 4 corners so that I could feed the ratcheting straps through the pipe and keep the straps out of the winds, thus keeping them from vibrating and buzzing.

I’m not going to give specific parts lists and specific measurements because this rack needs to be custom sized for your kayaks and also custom sized for your car.  But cutting these PVC pipes and gluing them together is very very easy.  So this is a project that just about anyone should be able to take on.

The below photo shows how 3 kayaks fit perfectly into this rack.

But I actually own 4 kayaks, and occasionally I will want to haul all 4 of them to the river.  It turns out that my SUV has a roof wide enough to hold all 4 kayaks, so I designed my kayak rack to be expandable from 3 kayaks to 4 kayaks.  So now I can use the rack on my car or on my SUV.

You can see in the below photo that the rack is now wider.  The PVC pipes on the left are all 2 inch pipes and the PVC pipes on the right are all 1 and 1/2 inch pipes.  The 1.5 inch pipes fit nicely inside the 2 inch pipes with not very much wiggle room, so that worked out nicely for this application.

If I was making a single size rack that didn’t expand, I would probably just use the 1 and 1/2 inch PVC pipe for the entire rack.  It feels to me like it is strong enough to do the job of holding up these 10 foot kayaks, but also flexible enough to bend a bit around the contour of the car’s roof.  In my case, the 2 inch PVC pipe I used for most of the rack doesn’t give very much and it ended up denting part of the roof of my car a bit when I torqued the rack down using the ratcheting straps.

Here is a photo of the rack holding 4 kayaks.

The detail photo below shows you the single upright on the rack that fits up into the seat hole of the first kayak and basically holds the first kayak upright at a slight tilt from vertical which is good for leaning the other kayaks up against the first kayak.

The photo below details the other side of the rack where the two uprights are there supporting the bottom of the third kayak.  This photo also shows my solution for holding the kayaks down.  I used black rubber bungee cords.

The photo below details the attachment points of the bungee cords.  I bought a bungee cord that was the right length to go all the way around each kayak.  And I drilled holes into my PVC pipes to attach the bungee cords.  These bungee cords hold the kayaks down tight to the rack and they also keep the kayaks from moving very much left and right.  And also, thankfully, these bungee cords don’t vibrate and buzz at highway speeds.

IMPORTANT:  This photo shows the PVC sitting down directly onto my roof.  Do not do this!  The PVC is plastic, but it’s a very hard plastic and it WILL damage your paint job!  Make sure you put something soft or rubbery between the PVC and your vehicle!  My suggestion is to buy 2 inch wide self-stick Velcro in bulk rolls and apply the soft side to the bottom surface of your PVC rack!

This photo shows you the inside of one of the PVC pipes.  You can see the ratcheting strap and also the bungee cord attachments.

And here is the final rack.  I tested it at highway speeds and it worked quite well.

Another photo of the final rack.

And one last photo of the final rack.

Thanks for your interest!  Please leave questions or comments below!  Or use the “Email Us” link at the bottom of the website!

Kurt

NASA Tethered Satellite: Broken Tether Analysis

Here are a couple photos of me from 1996 wearing a NASA “bunny suit” while working the failure analysis of the broken tether on the Tethered Satellite System re-flight (TSS-1R) that had recently returned from orbit on Space Shuttle mission STS-75.  I was taking magnified photographs with a fancy high-tech digital SLR camera through an old-school benchtop microscope.

These photos were taken in the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building hi-bay which is a clean-room environment up on the work platforms, because the workers are adjacent to flight hardware.  The blue bunny suits look kind of funny, but they help keep the flight hardware pristine and help keep our hair and our skin flakes from falling onto the flight hardware.

The Tethered Satellite System was a pretty interesting experiment.  The theory was that we could extend a long electrical wire while orbiting the earth and that long wire would cut through the earth’s magnetic field lines and generate electricity.  The tether on this experiment was nearly 13 miles long!  Wow!

This tether experiment first flew in 1992 on Space Shuttle mission STS-46, but had trouble deploying.  It deployed less than a thousand feet out from the orbiter before it jammed.  But it got a second chance and flew again in 1996.  The deployment during the re-flight mission went well and was nearly complete … about 95 percent complete … when the tether broke and the experiment was over.

The broken tether was reeled back in and was brought back to earth for analysis.  The task was to find out if the tether was mechanically broken, like from too much tension, or maybe from a micro-meteor impact.  Or whether the tether was broken due to an electrical arcing event, such as an over-current.

The final analysis showed that it was an electrical overload.  But the reason for the excess current was pretty interesting and took some detective work.  Around the outside of conductor was a clear Teflon insulation layer which is basically a plastic.  It’s similar to the white plastic insulation layer around the center wire in a coax cable.

It was determined that this plastic Teflon layer was “breached” and electrical arcing occured between the tether’s conductor and the gantry system that was deploying the tether.

One possible cause of the break in the insulation was “foreign object debris”, which is NASA-speak for something that does not belong there.  We take great efforts to keep flight hardware pristine and clean.  But if a loose wire or something stiff or sharp got into the cogs of the deployment mechanism and punctured the insulation, that could have caused the electrical short.

Another possible cause was a simple manufacturing defect and subsequent quality control miss.  Investigators showed that trapped air in the Nomex core could have leaked out through tiny pinholes in the plastic Teflon insulator and caused an electrical plasma arc due to the high voltages involved.  The experiment was generating about 3,500 volts and about half an amp of current when the failure occurred.

Even though the tether broke and the experiment could not be completed, it was a partial success and lots of data was collected during the deployment before the failure.  So it wasn’t a total loss.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Apple IIe: Introduction to AppleSoft Basic

This simple introduction to AppleSoft Basic is demonstrated on my working Apple IIe from 1983. It’s meant for beginners, so it doesn’t dive deeply into any one topic.

This 30 minute video lightly covers the following topics:

  • numeric and string variables
  • moving around the text screen
  • common error codes
  • procedural programming in RAM
  • editing and debugging
  • low resolution graphics
  • high resolution graphics
  • beeps and audio

If you want to try AppleSort Basic for yourself on a Windows PC, the best Apple IIe emulator I’ve found is called AppleWin and it is located here:
https://github.com/AppleWin/AppleWin
Scroll down to the bottom of the GitHub page to click on the release link to download the zip file. Admin rights are not necessary. Just unzip the file and run the executable. Then click the Disk 1 button and choose the default (master) file. Then click the Apple button to boot up!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt







Thanks for visiting,
Kurt & Sam Leucht
Titusville, FL
http://www.leucht.com/
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