Sunday, 29 May 2016

The week in review 5

Busy week for me, the school term ended and with and my contract at the school I'd been at for the last 5 weeks. I did work as a different school for 3 days and was hoping to be booked until the school year ends but it was not to be.

Was a busy week in space too, with a number of events, including;

India's suborbital  RLV test,

Orbital ATK's plans,

an update from Blue Origin,

and more info on XS-1 (and additional details here)

An additional positive story was the Expansion of Bigelow' BEAM module at the ISS (on the second attempt),

I also found another new UK Small launcher, Horizon's Black Arrow 2 (Should really be using High Test Peroxide-HTP-  with that name!),

and an interesting article from Space New's magazine on Red Dragon.

Speaking of SpaceX, one he biggest stories this week was of course was latest launch, making a total of 3 barge landings in a row.

In sadder news it appears XCOR's Lynx space plane is dead (for now, but am not optimistic it will every fly at this date. XCOR has been going pretty much since I first started to follow RLV development so it a real shame.

Also this week Planetary Resources cancelled their Kickstarter funded space selfie telescope (which I had donated to. In more positive news they did raise money for a new Earth observation system.

And fnally, a cool poster showing every vehicle in the US military.

Friday, 27 May 2016

More F-22's to be built?

Starting to look possible.

More info on XS-1

Two stories this week, an earlier one from Space News and one I saw today from PopSci. Given DARPA's track record (RASCAL< FALCON, ALSSA), will be a nice change if this program ends in a flight.

Stealth motorbikes

Interesting story in Popular Mechanics.

Latest SpaceX launch

Webcast starts in about 10 mins, watch live here

Updated launch was scrubbed, new webcast just stated

Updated: Nailed it! 4 successful landings now :) Was a shame that the video cut out right at the key moment through.
(c) SpaceX (image from their twitter feed)

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Blue Origin update

Was just about to go to bed (have work tomorrow so not staying up for the launch) when received this email update:

Back in March, we shared with you our efforts on building two new test cells to further support risk reduction testing on the BE-4.  We began the construction of these additional facilities in October last year and we’ve just commissioned the first of these cells last week.  This test cell is pressure fed and supports the development of the preburner start and ignition sequence timing that will be used on the upcoming full scale powerpack test campaign.  As mentioned in a prior email, one of the many benefits of a privately funded engine development is that we can make and implement decisions quickly. We made the decision to build these two new test cells as a team in a 10 minute discussion.  Less than three weeks later we were pouring concrete and now we have an operating pressure fed test cell 7 months later. Private funding and rapid decision making are two of the reasons why the BE-4 is the fastest path to eliminate U.S. dependence on the Russian-made RD-180.

Commissioned Preburner Test Facility

This new pressure fed facility is capable of supporting full scale preburner risk reduction.  If you look closely, you’ll see we already have the 14 inch diameter test article integrated into the facility ready for initial testing.  More on that as we have it.
We’re also finishing our mission planning for another flight of New Shepard, which will be our fourth flight with this vehicle.  One of the fundamental tenets of Blue Origin is that the safest vehicle is one that is robust and well understood.  Each successive mission affords us the opportunity to learn and improve our vehicles and their modeling.  We have stepwise expanded our flight envelope on the booster and crew capsule on every mission. On our most recent flight, we performed maneuvers on the crew capsule to help characterize its aerodynamics and reduce our model uncertainties. On this next mission, we’ll execute additional maneuvers on both the crew capsule and the booster to increase our vehicle characterization and modeling accuracy.
On this upcoming mission we also plan to stress the crew capsule by landing with an intentionally failed parachute, demonstrating our ability to safely handle that failure scenario.  It promises to be an exciting demonstration.  We’ll be sharing more with you about the upcoming mission as we have it.
Gradatim Ferociter!
Jeff Bezos

(C) Blue Origin

Orbital ATK launch plans

A few days late in commenting on these, but Orbital ATK has had 2 stories this week, first on Antares returning to flight in July, second on a future LV based on the shuttle's SRB and Blue Origin upper stage.

Personally I'd have though a liquid upper stage for Antares would be a better bet, the core is comparable in size and thrust to a Atlas V but the overall payload is much lower due to solid upper stages. Of course this would probably be ineligible for USAF launches due to the Russian engines, but it could be cost effective for NASA and commercial launches (maybe could even put CST-100 or Dreamchaser in orbit?)

A couple of Mars movies coming this year

Just stumbled upon these two trailers this evening.

First up Approaching the unknown, about an astronaut (played by Mark Strong) on a one man, one way mars mission:
A mission like this seems unrealistic but could be a good psychological/character study. Hab design seems realistic, bit it looses a point for using stock footage of a Delta II as a launcher though.

Second is Second is The Space Between Us, a romantic drama about a teenage boy born on Mars visiting Earth and falling in love (blurgh)

Apart from the infeasibility of an astronauts pregnancy not being notice prior to launch  and that the boy seems normal sized despite growing up in reduced gravity, the space aspects look good, with SpaceX Dragons and Sierra Nevada's Dreamchaser visible in the trailer. Not sure will go see though (unless on a date...)

Monday, 23 May 2016

India launches RLV test- link roundup

Initial story here, more details here. A counter view here.

Another small satellite air launch system

This ones Scottish though. Two thoughts;

1) the market is getting a b it crowded now, not sure if there will be demand for all these small LV's,

2) Why a DC-10? Is an old design that has been out of production for nearly 30 years. Might prove problematic keeping it airworthy long term.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Thoughts on Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Bought this last weekend and finished it Friday evening. In one word: disappointing.

(Warning spoilers past this point!)

In more words, this tells the tale of generation ship on an interstellar colonisation mission. The book has a lot to live up to compared to his previous Mars trilogy and 2312. It's quite clear that this is not sent in the same universe as either (for one thing no longevity treatment), despite some common elements like the moving city on Mercury. The first third or so of the book detailing life on the (unnamed) ship is fascinating and reminiscent of the 'travelogue' scenes in the Mars trilogy. The world building is very detailed and helps you visualise the setting. Once the ship arrives at its destination (Tau ceti) things fall apart but in story and with the narrative. The titular planet Aurora tours out to harbour primitive life that proves deadly to the settlers, and this causes a brief civil war among the colonists as to what to do next.

This was this point at which I guessed what would happen next, and where the detailed ship description (with its two rings of 12 biospheres) went against the novel. As soon as it was declared a (roughly) 50:50 split between staying in the Tau ceti system and going back to Earth, I knew they would end up splitting the ship in half and giving each group and ring.

This was also the point at which missed opportunities start to appear, with the 'stayers' dropping out of the story- I'd have liked to know what happened to them. The 'returner's struggle against failing systems, ecospheres and cop failures for the next twenty years or so (none of which appear until they are under way again, conveniently for the plot). Another convenience is the sudden arrival of news of hibernation experiments, which despite the trials only lasting 5 years enable the surviving crew to hibernate the next 150 years until they get back to the solar system.

While the descriptions of the return journey (narrated by the ship's AI) and deceleration were beautifully told and thrilling, it was the final section dealing with the returnee's on Earth that proved the biggest disappointment. The message was firmly against the concept of interstellar colonisation, with one character outright declaring that future starship plans 'need to be stopped', and the tone one suggests we should focus instead on looking after this planet rather than finding new ones. Again there were more missed opportunities as the book simply ends with a trip to the beach, when some of the ideas (the returners struggles to adjust to Earth, arguments about future missions, what is going on with the other colony missions mentioned, etc) mentioned briefly not being followed up.

Overall while the book had some good parts I found the overall message a let down and the execution flawed. Not up to the standard of the authors previous work.

The week in review 4

This weeks round up of interesting links in the aerospace world;

More info on DARPA's XS-1 program,

Vector Space making progress,

Buzz dis's SLS,

Orbital ATK show off plans for a lunar orbital station, while LM are working on a Mars orbital mission- lots of info in this video:

Old jets being used for training modern pilots,

A close look at recovered SpaceX booster in the Observer, and also from the UK news on domestic spaceports.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The week in review 3

Biggest story this week was the delays in Boeing's CST-100.

Only other links of interest this week was this piece on the V-280 Valour, which I hadn't heard of before.

Very short list this week, so to finish this cool pic of SpaceX's used rocket hanger:

(c) SpaceX

Quick thoughts:1), there going to need a bigger hanger soon, 2) maybe they should paint black in future to hide the scorch marks, 3) enough now for a Falcon heavy! 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

End of the Sea Harrier

India has decommissioned its Sea Harrier FRS 51's. End of an era. Random though from this article- it also mentions that IMS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes) will be decommissioned this year. Would be nice to bring her home and preserve her as a museum, esp since it seems unlikely Illustrious will be saved from scrap. After HMS Plymouth went there are no Falklands veterans left, so having Hermes back would also rectify that situation.

CST-100 not flying until 2018 now

So Boeing, with nearly double the budget of SpaceX to produce a less capable design, is now running late too? (shocked face)
Just shows the difference in attitude- Boeing are just in it for the money while SpaceX are thinking bigger with Dragon, which may end up having a long life as an in-space transport, escape craft and landing craft for moons, asteroids and planets. I’ll be surprised if CST-100 ever flies a mission outside beyond the CCtCap program. I'll also bet that if there is a follow on like with CSR2 they don't get a contract (by that point I expect Blue Origin and maybe others to fly). If Boeing and the other

On the plus side at least Lockheed-Martin didn't get the contract....

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Video of the day 1

Not one...

...but two videos of rocket vertical landings. 

It won't be much longer (hopefully) before these cease to be newsworthy

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Altered Carbon TV series!

Have been re-reading Altered Carbon the past few days, and thought earlier to look and see if there were plans for any more Kovacs novels in the works. Instead I find that a netflix original series is in the works! Squee!

From the archives 1: Nautilus and other Private spacecraft

One of the main reasons I took down my old blog was that I as I began by teaching career I  was uncomfortable with some of my old writings being not found by students/colleges/whoever and causing issues. However there were quite a few good, non controversial things that I was sad to see removed from the web. With that in mind this is the first in a series of filler posts look backs on my prior writing. This was originally published 03/04/2011. Since then I think a Biglow/SpaceX manned interplanetary mission is even more likely

Had been meaning to post this vid for a while, which I came across the other week on Hobbyspace. I have been pondering the possibility of craft like this, and the possibility of them being privately funded ever since reading this blog post at Samizdata.

Another kernel of inspiration came from a newsletter I picked up at the BIS the other week, one of which had a summary of this study done by Lockheed-Martin on using Orion capsules to visit a NEO (Near Earth Object). As Orion has been cancelled now this study joins the pile of could have beens proposed over the last 40+ years. It did remind me of a chapter in Bob Zubrin's book Entering space on asteroids missions. It struck me that something similar to this could be put together over the next few years very cheaply.

Using a Bigelow BA330 for the main habitat, Dragon for crew launch and return, F9 upper stages (modified for refueling in orbit and long term propellant storage) and F9/F9 heavy to launch it all an asteroid or Mars orbit mission (to Phobos and Deimos) could be put together for less than $2 billion.

Even cheaper and closer at hand could be a lunar landing, using 2 Falcon heavies to launch fuel pods, a Dragon and a lunar lander developed by Armadillo/Masten. At a guess this could cost less than half a billion all in all.

It would be really cool if this could be done to mark the Apollo 11 50th anniversary landing in 2019!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The week in review 2

This week turned out to be busier than expected for me, with a bank holiday, 2 job interviews and a seminar on property investing leaving me little free time. Thankfully there were only 2 major news items this week, which I have already mentioned; SpaceX's third successful first stage landing (more commentary here regarding their ability to takes risks), and an update on Textron's Scorpion jet. (more here on whether it will actually get any sales)

Other interesting articles/pieces I came across this week:

A series on Avweek on the next 100 years of aerospace, featuring opinions from Burt Rutan and Norm Augustine,

More news from Textron, this time a UAV,

A cool concert from ESA for a personnel VTOL transport,

An update on Virgin Galactic,

And finally, I came across this cool old promo video for the X-20 Dyna-soar programme from the 60's. (which I came across on this page), Enjoy!

Friday, 6 May 2016

Scorpion Jet update

I only recently discovered Textron Airland's Scorpion Jet program, and think it is a fascinating attempt to show what can be done on a small budget with off the shelf parts.

                                               (image (c) Textron Airland, from

Here is the latest on its attempt to land sales. Hopefully someone will sign on the dotted line soon...

Spacex land a Falcon 9 first stage on droneship a second time

Falcon 8 first stage on Droneship Of Course I Still Love you this morning:
                                                    (image (c) SpaceX)

Luckily for me the launch was just before the time I usually get up so was able to watch it all live on youtube. Very cool

Photo gallery of the launch can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Questions to which the answer is 'yes'

Will SpaceX get people to Mars before NASA?

I'd also like to see them land a manned Dragon on the moon on July 20th, 2019.

Also on the subject SpaceX, an interesting (and long) series of articles on Elon Musk, Tesla, Mars Colonisation, Solar City,  Hyperloop and finally on the difference between men like Musk and the the rest of us mere mortals. I especially like the analogy in the last part between 'cooks' and 'chefs'; could easily describe myself as a 'Self-hating cook' at the moment....

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The week in review 1

Due to various circumstances, I now have a lot more free time and have decided to start a new blog. This is the third time (I think) I have tried this out in the last 15 years, and my main aim with this one is to focus on my interests in space, aviation, military and other advanced technology. It is the 21st century after all, and I'd like this site to be a log of new developments with a bit of commentary and speculation of what may come.

And to so to start what I plan to be a weekly feature, a round-up of the biggest developments of the past week that have caught my eye. In future I'm also planning on linking back to my own posts, but today will just be external links.

Space flight

The biggest news this week has to be SpaceX's announcement that they plan to land a Dragon capsule on Mars in 2018. I have been dwelling on this a lot and have some thoughts I'd like to share soon on a near tern manned mission using this technology.

Additionally we saw a new very small launch vehicle unveiled by Vector Space. I'm not sure how much demand there will be for launchers in this payload range but will be the more competition the better. It will also be interesting to see how far this design can be scaled up. More info here.

Blue Origin posted (by email) some information on the development of their BE-4 engine. Here's a summary.

Finally, a good piece on Buzzfeed on the SLS and its lack of uses, and an Economist article on Billionaire philanthropists that mentions Elon Musk and Jeff Bezo's space projects. 


Saw this week about the Cobalt Valkyrie on Popsci. Is a very pretty plane and will be following its future development with interest.

Also this week Japan's' X-2 5th generation fighter prototype made its first flight, and while slightly older news I saw this article on Lockheed-Martins' return to the civil aviation market with the LM-100.


Australia orders 12 subs from France. Compared to the problems with the Royal Navy's Astute program seems a good deal.

That's it for this week! Check back for more news and commentary.