Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oshkosh B'Gosh

The earthquake in California was nothing compared to the shaking going on in Oshkosh this week. The premier event for amateur and professional aerospace enthusiasts alike hosted none other than the Emperor himself. And he once again demonstrated succinctly, directly, and transparently that he will prostitute himself without bounds to keep his job.

USA Today September 28, 2005

"It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," the Emperor said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can." Asked whether the shuttle had been a mistake, the Emperor told the daily: "My opinion is that it was. It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible." Asked whether the space station had been a mistake, he said: "Had the decision been mine, we would not have built the space station we're building in the orbit we're building it in."

AeroNews.Net July 31 2008

A common thread throughout the hour-plus discussion was the logic, or lack thereof, of discontinuing the Space Shuttle until a replacement vehicle was in operation. According to NASA's website, the current plan includes phasing out the Space Shuttle in 2010 and using Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to shuttle astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) until a US replacement is developed. "The US and its partners have invested $100 billion in the [ISS]," said the Emperor, "so it does seem short-sighted to not spend the $3 billion a year to maintain the Shuttle. " Directing his comments to the children in the audience, "Sometimes Washington does silly things."

Just how pathetic is that?

And just as we are about to yell, "liar, liar, pants on fire," the Emperor takes another swing at the bat. This time the cannon shot heads straight towards the heart of COTS. Stop and think for a minute. What would be the worst possible thing he could say to discourage forward thinking people contemplating investments in the COTS rocket developers? What words could he possibly articulate to cause them to walk away with their briefcases still full of funds secured behind padlocks?

Why not offer up the ARES rockets for commercial proposals?

Yep, he did.

You could see the steam rising in El Segundo and Virginia. And the lawyers for RpK just might dust off their case contending adverse competition caused their support to dry up. Put us on the jury. Having said that, though, what business fool would put his company at risk by putting NASA in the critical path to its success?

And while we are asking questions, we have just one more for you to think about. What taxpayer fool, Congressional fool, or Presidential Candidate fool would consider having this egomanical liar stay in his $168,000 a year job? You reporters and bloggers should be asking the same question over and over, for the Emperor has just made a fool of all of us if you don't.

Mr. T hopes the answer is "none of the above."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Show That Never Ends

If Leno and Letterman were rocket scientists instead of comedians, they would love this business. And if their opening monologues covered the Emperor's follies, the material would come to them so naturally that they have to comment, "no kidding, we're not making this up!"

You can already sense where these paragraphs are going to take you, don't you? Come inside the auditorium. Minions milling around until they find their seats. Lights come down. Then silence. Cue music. Enter Italian waiter, stage left...

"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside
There behind a glass stands a real rocket ship
Be careful as you pass, move along, move along"

The ARES-1 Upper Stage PDR is in full swing. And, oh what a show it is.

Unlike the Titanic rolling through the field of icebergs, this PDR is going to keep plowing. Despite lack of evidence of any application of real design experience (just ask about the LOX/H2 drains and the associated vent creating unanticipated side loads on the vehicle, already at the edge of controllability) or of any margin (just ask about the supersonic injection of hot gasses into the exhaust to get an extra second and a half of ISP out of the brand spanking new design, not resembling anything like its heritage namesake, J2X engine) or actually of any real critical review of the design at all (just ask...more coming in a sentence or two), this PDR is pushing down the channel.

In fact, as the theatrical version of this review progresses, one begins to wonder if the stage is not set somewhere in an auditorium in Tehran. Dissent is not anticipated or encouraged. For as the day progressed, and issues were waived away as "forward work" to be dealt with in the natural progression of the design, the sham was brought home ultimately by the lack of a line on a piece of paper. With the chief engineer making cajoling "recommendations" before taking a poll of his board, in effect, guiding the jury, it fell upon one lone dissenter to call BS on the process.

Indeed, the very piece of paper which required the signatures of board members to approve PDR revelations lacked any line for dissenting signatures at all! Our hero, standing easy against the backdrop of the intimidated board who could not find their voices, found himself without a place on the form to record his informed opinion.

"Soon the Gypsy Queen in a glaze of Vaseline
Will perform on guillotine, what a scene, what a scene
Next upon the stand will you please extend a hand
To the Emperor's Ragtime Band..."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Divining the Future

The Emperor's pony-tailed study leader and his sidekick, the goateed master of power point, promised that ESAS was the most economical architecture that Americans could devise because it was just re-using existing shuttle hardware in exciting new ways. Unfortunately, as one other commentator has succinctly pointed out, the napkin engineered architecture has evolved away from its predecessor and could be considered, simply, "shuttle flavored."

Yet there is still one element that has retained more of its shuttle heritage than not, and therefore is most unlike what is to follow. ARES-1X. These differences accentuate the fact that ARES-1X is a contrived vehicle performing a contrived test. For all of you latecomers, here is what the "Buzz" is all about.

Claims of testing ARES-1 first stage flight dynamics, controllability, first and second stage separation, and first stage recovery should be viewed with twisted eyebrows and contorted expressions. Constructed with an "over-the-hill" (i.e., past its freshness date) four segment booster (SRB), the vehicle also carries a dummy fifth segment, an inert upper stage and an Orion boilerplate Crew Module topped by a Launch Abort System simulator. Much of the booster hardware was originally designed for lifting one side of a shuttle external tank, attached, and therefore stiffened, in two locations along its side.

Now, as any first semester theoretical and applied mechanics student can tell you, the free-body diagrams are a little different for ARES-1X and its future siblings. Without the stiffening effect of the ET, the SRB is free to twist and bend like a piece of spaghetti being pushed from below. So the Rubes (as in Goldbergs) at MSFC designed a Roll Control System for the top of the SRB to keep it flying straight as it goes uphill.

Unfortunately, the same folks who think a flight dynamics test of a four segment SRB with a different propellant, old-style grain design, and inert (that is to say, non-sloshing and stiff) upper pieces is a good idea also thought they could grab a bunch of used equipment (Atlas avionics software, Peacekeeper hardware, etc.), chewing gum, and duct tape (perhaps FEMA is helping the minions) and use it to demonstrate how something "like" ARES-1X might get off the ground after "the gap" has widened to its furthest extent.

And, like all of the shortcuts the Emperor's minions have taken to date, this approach, too, is soon to come back and bite them. The list of critical components going into ARES-1X that are either beyond shelf life or being put to work in an environment for which they were not intended is astounding. And the risks that are being accepted, because of schedule and budget pressures, are equally marvelous.

-Flight Termination System. Not qualified for ARES-1X environment.

-SRB fasteners. Negative margins of safety, not qualified for ARES-1X thrust oscillation environment.

-Pyro valves. Beyond shelf life, not qualified for ARES-1X environments.

-Aft Redundant Rate Gyro Unit. Not qualified for ARES-1X environments.

-Vehicle structure risks. First bending mode may be lower than desired, forcing control algorithm changes and additional testing.

-Modeling of joints not test verified for loads and dynamic analysis. Critical mode shapes and frequency for control may be incorrect.

In an effort to make Smoke and Fire and deceive the Congress and American Taxpayers into believing that progress is being made, the early ARES-1X test was conceived. But the deception is rickety. So, while ARES-1X may "look like a stick" it will not "walk like a stick." In fact, with each new review, it begins to look more like a divining rod that will shake itself directly towards the water.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tuning Up

Just prior to the evening's opening selection, the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra musicians always come on stage and tune their instruments. At first the ensuing cacophony sounds like confusion, as far from music as you can get. The tympani pounds asynchronously as the drummer finds his notes. The pinging of violin strings can be heard as the tuning pegs are alternately tightened and loosened. Harsh notes emerge from horns. A xylophone tinkles, searching for melody. The whole process can be very unpleasant to the ear.

And then the conductor appears on stage. And, as if by magic, what was previously perceived as noise finds the meter and becomes music.

Buzz Aldrin walked on a different stage a few days ago. Though not as trained, not as in tune, and not as experienced, the instruments he now stands in front of are finding their voices. He has heard the noise before and recognized its potential. He also carried his baton with him, struck the podium twice, and brought focus to the emerging tones. Perhaps now, the confused clamor will produce the requiem we are all hoping to hear.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Would Bob Evans Float?

It's summer time in DC. That awful time when the air stagnates and the heat index climbs. The perfect time for kids to do dive bombs in their backyard pools.

And speaking of bombs, did you notice that the Emperor hasn't been saying much (or anything for that matter) about the report leaked last week on the status of the Constellation Program? Maybe you also noticed that Viceroy Gilbrech is a fast learner and is also keeping to himself these days?

In fact, in keeping with the plan to keep his nose clean while letting the minions fend for themselves, and just before he throws them all in the deep end of the pool to save his own skin before the election, the Emperor pushed his favorite cabana boy, Doug Cooke, through the gates of the pool house to defend the dismal state of reported affairs.

"What you're seeing is sausage-making," he said. "I'm really satisfied with the work that's getting done."

We will only make one observation for Doug at this point. That's not sausage you're looking at, and it's not a Snickers bar you see in the pool either.

Lights! Camera! Danger!

Jimmy Neutron has been busy helping the MSFC boys (and girls) genius design rockets. Or so it would appear from the looks of two decisions that have been made affecting ARES 1.

First, it appears that none of the ARES 1 crowd would be welcome at a Jimmy Buffet concert, as they are going to leave the fins at home. Rather than provide a passive system for maintaining stability during the early stages of ascent, they have opted to leave fins off the vehicle and use the SRB's active gimbal system, which is on the edge of having enough control authority to actually work as it is. They think this solution will keep life cycle costs down, as they won't be breaking fins off, or anything they attach to, when the booster his the water for recovery.

Of course, that decision costs 1100 lbs in extra propellant to keep the ship going straight up. Why so? Well, anytime that gimbal is off-center, thrust is not being generated in the straight up direction, and losses must be accounted for.

And, yes, that 1100 lbs is more than fins would weigh. Thanks for asking.

But that 1100 lbs also detracts from the rocket's overall ability to place the desired payload, ORION, into orbit itself. So enter the next decision in this Rube Goldberg line of reasoning. The second stage is a liquid propellant based system. Right after staging, and before the second stage motor is lit, the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen must be forced to the bottom of their respective tanks so that pick-ups can direct the liquids into their turbopumps.

So to get the liquids to the bottom of their tanks, small rockets, called ullage motors, are fired to settle the propellants. Normally these little motors are carried along for the ride after they do their job. But in this case, their extra weight, on top of the 1100 lbs for the finless wonder, also detracts from getting ORION to its intended destination.

You can almost hear our future Italian waiter yell, "I can fix that!" "Jettison the ullage motors!"

So instead of having a passive quick release on the fins as they hit the water, extra propellant is added for the steering motor on the first stage, and a jettison system is added for the second stage propellant settling system. Don't forget redundancy on that! Ooops, that's more weight. Risk accepted. Move on.

But we're not done. As reported here on RandS several weeks ago, three means of damping vibrations in the bladder basher were being considered. Now the program is finally ready to make a recommendation, and its the system we graphically depicted here back then. Small thrusters will be fired to and fro to counteract the oscillations in the SRB pipe organ.

We're not sure, but we think we saw Jimmy working on an Entropy Pump design last week as well. Heaven knows that's one device the minions perfected many years ago.

Feeling Roy's Pain

Just when you think the Emperor is changing his stripes, and looks like he really is moving out to support ISS into its adult years, news comes out to refresh our optimistic memories and reassure ourselves that old tigers still like to kill. As the minions auger in on ORION/ARES, many thought the LEO market would finally be relieved from government competition for proving crew and cargo resupply services through 2015-2016, perhaps longer if Viceroy Hanley and Broomhilda continue their pitiful two-step.

And so, with a story too good to be true, a few companies forgot the history of the last 20 years of COTS in space (a. the government always competes, and b. oh yeah, there is no real market anyway). And they compounded the amnesia's affects by proposing investments to grab the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Well, to be accurate, not all of them did. Do you really think J.R. (no, not that one) would bet his company on the Emperor's offers coming to fruition? Heck no, the Taurus II business case closes on DoD payloads alone. If CRS happens, its just gravy.

Nonetheless, as proposals come into the bunker at JSC, the ISS program office did a loop-de-lu, much like the tiger that grabbed Roy's neck, and started the bleeding all over again. With only a week's review of the proposals, Viceroy Gerst determined that he didn't like any of them (and very disappointed that one he expected never came in the door) and decided to take actions into his own hands. Time to start cutting deals with the Japanese for HTVs, the only vehicle capable of carrying large-sized spares to the space station to keep it afloat after the Space Shuttle retires.

Goodbye, CRS. Been nice knowin' ya.

But is that the real story here? Of course, nothing can go forward without the Emperor's blessing, least you end up in Siberia like Viceroy Hale. For the Theater on E Street is the place to go for deception and sleight of hand. So what is really going on?

Read the Emperor's speeches before he assumed the throne and some just after, before he had his mind improved by several of his stakeholders. Do you really believe him when he tells the Europeans, contrary to his professed previous feelings, that he has had a change in heart and sees no end date in sight for the lifetime of ISS?

Let's follow the hand motions in slow motion as the cards are dealt. Lookie there, he proclaims COTS the answer, but provides only $170M for it initially. A system of carriers is what is really needed to move cargo, and later crew, up and down. So turn over the next card, and we see that proposals for new rockets (don't we have a couple that could do the job already?) are selected over carrier proposals. And don't the first bunch of new rockets tend to go astray? Elon already knows something about that.

Starting to look like the Emperor doesn't really want a viable answer doesn't it? But now watch closely as the last cards hit the table. HTV is running late and has numerous problems. CRS proposals get back-handed by putting out orders for HTVs.

And two years after the space shuttle retires, and perhaps before the first HTV ever makes it off the launch pad, a large ORU fails on ISS and the crew abandons ship. Taco Bell floats a giant bulls-eye in the south Pacific and we all get free burritos.

Just as Roy thought the tiger was his friend, the animal turned on him at the last minute. The Emperor has been eyeing his prey for a very long time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stiffing Orion

This weekend's macabre revelation that the minions have been preparing for Weekend at Bernie's III sound like a reasonable thing to do on the surface. Crash test dummies and computer models do not provide the fidelity required to assess the potentially damaging impacts to the human body which may result from a hard landing with the clown toe and on water.

But before we put this "socially awkward topic" behind us, we should stop and consider why we are designing a capsule that will put crew into such a risky position in the first place. The bigger the capsule, the bigger the parachutes. But bigger chutes fail more often. So we have to protect for the loss of at least one chute. Can't solve the problem with big shock absorbers either....have to carry Broomhilda's powder room, so the minions shrank the safety factors to carry the Charmin.

So, while we quietly go, "ewwwww" when we read about the test pilots after their time, we really should be asking: why we are building a vehicle this risky to fly in the first place?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Science Class

The one Congressman who did NOT skip science class as a kid, and actually understands F=ma, Houston Rep. John Culberson, has seen the big picture and he doesn't like it. As someone who has the intelligence to evaluate the Emperor's follies, Culberson told an online town hall meeting that NASA had "failed us miserably" and "wastes a vast amount of money." Now he is weighing legislation to overhaul the structure of the space agency.

Of course, his competition in the upcoming race immediately began kissing up to the minions. So did his neighbor, Nick Lampson. Culberson deserves support for calling it as he sees it and having the courage to take the hit, and look for a better solution, so that all may prosper down the road.

We haven't seen what he's suggesting for an answer yet...but at least the door is opening on the conversation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Coming Axe

The wheels are now in motion for a flush of greater impact than that of the recently repaired toilet on ISS. The back story is coming together. The timing is almost at hand. The minute hand on the clock is approaching midnight.

For, you see, The Emperor is getting ready to make his last bid at saving his neck while throwing the rest of the minions, who have done his bidding without resistance, under the bus.

And we can now tell you how it will go down.

Sometime in the not too distant future, many of the technical issues surfacing from the liberal use of steroids in the Constellation architecture will start to become unavoidable and clearly unsolvable. Viceroy Hanley's not too swift comments from last week are already echoing around E Street as a distant cry in the night for change. So, just before the election, we will see an overhaul of the program management from top to bottom, with a declaration from the Emperor that the team had done a great job, but was fatigued and needed relief. The new team will, of course, "fix" all of the misfortunes.

The man who avoids Men's Wearhouse will then point out how "unreasonable" it would be to throw the new team out, just as it is getting traction, when the next administration comes in. He will plead his case that new leadership will only result in a further lengthening of "the gap." He will hope this case, and continued safe stewardship of the space shuttle, will be enough to keep him off the unemployment line with the others he just sent packing.

That case might just float for a bit with the Democrats, because they will be overwhelmed with filling other job slots before they get to worrying the Emperor's domain. But if the Republicans grab the keys, we can only hope the following words ring true for the man who has so thoroughly bankrupted our spacefaring future...

"Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

There Goes The Little Man

Alan Jackson told the story in one of his songs. Big bad business exerting market pressures and closing down the little man's store. This time its not Wal Mart coming to town, but the effect is the same.

The ORION contractor is overrunning. The minions are out of money. Where can 20-30% more funds be dredged up to cover this miscarriage? You guessed it...the little man.

The minions have let the contractor off the hook for meeting its small business obligations this year. The same obligations that were bid as part of the winning proposal, ostensibly offering a better package than the opposing team, are now null and void. As a result, some of those little companies will start disappearing, lacking jobs and income.

And so, the Emperor is in the process of creating yet another gap, and we may practice our karaoke now...

"...Now the court square's just a set of streets
That the people go round but they seldom think
Bout the little man that built this town
Before the big money shut em down
And killed the little man
Oh the little man"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Covering Tracks

Remember the case of the disappearing DVD? Back in April last year, several video recordings of a controversial meeting, in which the Emperor allegedly spoke in support of the agency's embattled inspector general, were destroyed. Amazingly, these videos met the recycle bin just as Congress sought evidence of wrong doing in the matter.

Apparently, that cover-up mindset is embedded within the minions as well. Just as soon as the protest periods passed for many of the most recent incumbent bashing procurements, all of the offending source selection data was tossed into the burn bag, least the truth ever see the light of day. All but one copy that is. It will be conveniently misplaced, least the feds coming looking for it someday down the road.

Why the rush? Perhaps the minions are afraid, like the case of the shredded DVDs, that the reality of their less than transparent processes is that perhaps source board decisions were perhaps overturned on whim by the Emperor. Far be it for that kind of information to perhaps ever find the light of day.

(In) Hell Boy

Look up "shooting self in (insert body part here)" and you'll find this not so photogenic picture of this country's "can't do" space guy. Directly contradicting his boss, Viceroy Hanley told the National Space Club in Cocoa Beach this week that increased appropriations would not significantly narrow the gap between the end of the shuttle program in 2010 and the first crewed Constellation flight in 2014 (or 2015 or 2016, whenever). Yet the Emperor has repeatedly claimed that an additional $2B could deliver astronauts to the ISS just three years after shuttle retirement.

"This is a big thing," said Hanley. "There's only a limit to which I can accelerate things once I've slowed them down."

Kind of looks like he just sat on an ARES-1 model, doesn't it?

This wrong stuff stands in stark contrast to two most powerful women in the Senate, Mikulski and Hutchinson, putting their reputations on the line for him and his fellow minions. After all of their efforts, Hanley thanks them by saying he doesn't need the money and it won't help anyway.

Hanley's job should be to take what he might receive (who refuses $2B?) and make it work like the Senators told their colleagues it would. If he can't get ORION/ARES-1 in the air earlier with another $2B, just what can he do?

Who wants in on the dead pool?

Come On Up For The Rising...

The Theater on E Street is beginning to publicize the Emperor's latest upcoming farce. Shown here is the mock movie poster your tax dollars created to further inflate the already bloated egos of those involved in the latest sleight of hand display. Up there in the credits are the pretender's appellations...all but one that is. Could it be that the missing non de plume is already on the way to a new job at Olive Garden?

And so the very old four segment shuttle SRB, with the 20+ year old propellant grain design that launched STS-1, with the inert fake fifth segment, and the inert fake upper stage, and the fake ORION capsule on top, and with none of the anti-bladder bashing hardware that the real vehicle will eventually need to fly Broom Hilda's galley will skeedaddle off the pad with the cameras rolling. ARES-1X will be demonstrating that, indeed, there is continuity between the launch control trailer (not even the LCC is used here) and the igniter circuits on the launch pad. And that, in a nut shell, is what this whole test is about.

Smoke and fire. Momentum. Pulling the wool over the eyes of our Congressfolk who skipped the science classes and are relying on the inmates to testify that they are making progress. That is what this test is about.

In the meantime, the IG is worried about how a rocket test stand (as if there is more than one available to do the desired tests) was selected for use at Stennis without going through all the proper paperwork.

Back on E Street, after the entrance applause dies down, you can hear the Emperor up on his stage, "Nothing up my sleeve..."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Broom and Board

Broom Hilda's at it again.

After overseeing the ORION capsule being fitted with its clown toe, she recently flew her broom down to the south right coast to cast her evil spells on the poor minions trying to get the gear loaded up for STS-126's flight to ISS in November.

Putting a ghastly chill into all nearby, she declared that the components gathered into kits and destined for experiment racks did not meeting her standards. Drawing all of the air out of the room, as only she can do, another round of bewitching expenditures had to be expended to arrange things "just so."

Contrary to all that is known to be good by the experienced people who have been doing the job for years, kits had to be repackaged and the drawings and supporting documentation revised. Of course, all of this took place at the very last minute.

In the end, the hag was finally sent back to her cave with her witchly panties again unwadded. Where next will she cast her hideous gaze?

Space First, NASA Second

About a month ago, Newt Gingrich addressed the Space Foundation outlining some radical thinking on how best to get ROI on our investment of $17B each year. Calling NASA a "Ground-based, Ground-centered Payroll Program" disguised as a space program, Ginrich walked through what will be our collective failure to keep up with the Russians and Chinese in the coming years. And he also suggested some interesting ways to avoid that fate.

Many of those thoughts were reprised on the back page of Av Week last week. His key point: we have allowed the Emperor and his bureaucratic minions to perpetuate an "insane model" that is so risk adverse, it avoids achievement. If we had used the $157.5B that has been spent on circling the planet over the past 10 years with the same vigor and determination we expressed during the Apollo Program, we would be on Mars right now.

And yet, we see the Emperor sticking to his half-baked ideas, unable and/or unwilling to call on the best and brightest to offer a solution to close the gap and inspire the next generation. Newt may not have it all worked out, but he offers some food for thought. Check out his recent speech at the link below. You may find yourself thinking on some new paths after that.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Marginal Paranoia

Paranoia is a symptom in which an individual feels as if the world is "out to get" him or her. The latest publicized failure of Elon Musk's new Merlin 1C engine has him standing down launch of the third Falcon 1 it will attempt to take to space. A weld defect in the engine nozzle got through SpaceX's "rigorous inspection process."

"By our calculations and by our tests that should be safe for flight," Musk said. "However, in the interest of paranoia we are going to change the nozzle."

Instead of more self-referential flim-flam, you'd think the interest would be a.) why was there not sufficient margin in the weld to begin with, b.) how did this defect make it through the inspection process, and c.) what else made it through the white gloves and is still lurking about, waiting to turn this third launch into yet another excuse-fest?

You'd think the Emperor and Chief Engineer of the Universe would have whispered into our aloof friend's ear over and over: "Margins, Margins, Margins."

Or maybe that was all part of the plan to begin with. No wonder OMB, savvy members of Congress, minions, and the E Street Band laugh at the thought of COTS-inspired vehicles filling the gap the Emperor has created.