18 January 2011

Chasing the Dream When Government Fails

Once the space-shuttle program ends this year, the only way to get people into orbit and to the International Space Station will be to buy seats on Russia's three-person Soyuz capsules. So NASA, through its Commercial Crew Development program, has given $50 million in grants to companies developing new spacecraft capable of carrying people and supplies into orbit and to the space station.

The recipient of the biggest chunk of this money was the Sierra Nevada Corporation, which received $20 million to develop the Dream Chaser. This spacecraft, the size of a business jet, will take cargo and up to eight people into low Earth orbit, where the space station is located, and then return and land on commercial airport runways. _TechnologyReview
SpaceDevAdvanced Dream Chaser

The NASA Space Shuttle program is reaching the end of its lifespan, and unless Americans want to keep hitching rides to orbit with the unpredictable Russians, an alternative path to space must be devised. NASA's pathetic $50 million Commercial Crew Development program is dwarfed by the agency's global warming budget -- and yet the pittance of an afterthought may prove helpful in seeding a private launch industry.

The "Dream Chaser" is a design that NASA reverse-engineered from the Soviet space program, while the Russians were busy reverse-engineering the NASA Space Shuttle.
In the 1970s, the Soviets tested a vehicle like it, known as the Bor-4. The crew of an Australian ship photographed it, and NASA used the image to reverse-engineer a similar craft. The resulting design, NASA's HL-20, underwent significant development and testing and was intended to be a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the space station. But the HL-20 program lapsed.

Six years ago, a small aerospace company that Sirangelo headed, called SpaceDev, licensed the design from NASA and began to modify it, for instance adding the hybrid motors. The motors burn an unusual fuel: a combination of recycled rubber and nitrous oxide. This has almost the same energy density as conventional fuel but can be burned in a more controlled way and thus might be safer, though only multiple flights can prove whether it is. Sirangelo compares the system to a burner on a gas stove that can be turned to a lower or higher flame. The same hybrid motor was used in SpaceShipOne, which won the X Prize in 2004, and will also be incorporated in Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, intended to fly tourists into suborbital space.

...Everything on the Dream Chaser except the initial launch booster and the fuel cartridges is designed to be reused. Still, turning a profit will require flying multiple Dream Chasers 50 to 100 times each, and Sirangelo admits that he doesn't know when that will occur. "We're entering an unknown world," he says. The company isn't disclosing exact figures, but Sierra Nevada, a profitable company founded in 1963, has invested tens of millions of dollars in the project—more than the company received from NASA this year. Sirangelo says Sierra Nevada plans to continue to invest own money in the project. "If we don't get to our milestones, we don't get paid," says Sirangelo. The company has applied for a second round of funding from NASA that will be given out later this year.

..."There is potential for the new vehicles to be safer than the space shuttle, but the only way you really know is by flying," says Pace. If the regulatory burden under which NASA labors were applied to commercial efforts to make crew vehicles, it would crush them—but what kind of compromise regulations will be written is still unclear. _TechnologyReview
Yes, it is most important to read all of the fine print. If the US government decides to crush private space enterprise, it can easily do so via "crushing" regulations, taxes, penalties, fines, licenses, and a multitude of other means that a legalistic bureaucracy tends to use to crowd out and destroy anyone outside the bureaucracy itself.

Smart people will devise workarounds, in order to get things done despite the blooming reign of idiocracy.

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Blogger Loren said...

No mention of SpaceX's billion dollar contract?

Tuesday, 18 January, 2011  
Blogger Hugo Escalante said...

Me pareció muy interesante su blog

Tuesday, 18 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Right, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences will be boosting cargo to the ISS. That comes under the category of quid pro quo contract.

But NASA needs a way to move people up and back. Poor planning on their part. Billions wasted on carbon hysteria while the main mission goes to rot.

Muchas gracias, Hugo.

Tuesday, 18 January, 2011  

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