Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Transcript: Blog of space panel's Huntsville meeting

Editor's Note: What follows is an archive of our live blog from today's meeting of the Human Space Flight Plans Committee in Cocoa Beach, chaired by Norm Augustine (pictured at left). The posts are time-stamped and appear in reverse order, with the last items first.

Todd Halvorson: Norm Augustine is wrapping up today's hearing so that the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee can catch a plane and fly to the Space Coast. The panel will hold a public hearing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) at the Cocoa Beach Hilton. Join us for live coverage in The Flame Trench.

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine panel is entertaining comments from the public, and Dennis Wingo is saying that he stood before another Augustine panel back in 1990 -- a little more than 20 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing -- wondering when the U.S. would return to the moon. And here he is again asking the same question 19 years later.

Todd Halvorson: Former Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, who is the head of one of the Augustine panel's subcommittees, is briefing the group on international cooperation and interagency activities. The subcommittee has been looking into whether international cooperation should be expanded, and if so, which countries should be involved with U.S. human spaceflight programs.

James Dean: Dates are falling into place for shuttle Discovery's upcoming mission, targeted for launch to the International Space Station in the last week of August. The mission's payload, primarily a giant container of supplies, is set to roll out to Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A at 8 p.m. Thursday, and be installed in the pad's change-out room Friday. NASA plans to roll Discovery to the pad Aug. 3. The STS-128 mission crew is expected to arrive at KSC on Aug. 5 for three days of pre-launch training.

Todd Halvorson: NASA officials say the Ares 1 and Ares V rockets provide the best way forward for the agency's human spaceflight program. "The Ares I and V development is the fastest and most prudent path to closing the human spaceflight gap while enabling exploration of the moon and beyond," Ares program manager Steve Cook told the Augustine panel. NASA now is briefing the committee on plans to explore Mars.

James Dean: NASA managers today reported no concerns from preliminary views of shuttle Endeavour's heat shields during morning inspections. Analysis continues, and final clearance for landing may not come until Thursday afternoon. The weather outlook for a 10:48 a.m. EDT Friday landing at Kennedy Space Center was described as "promising."

Todd Halvorson: NASA is internally working toward a Ares I-X launch date of Oct. 17, according to NASA deputy mission manager Stephan Davis. Now Steve Creech is briefing the panel on the development of the Ares V rocket, a huge Saturn 5-class moon rocket that will stand nearly 360 feet tall.

Todd Halvorson: NASA's Stephan Davis is briefing the Augustine panel on the $360 million Ares I-X flight test the agency aims to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 31. More than 750 sensors will be flown on the rocket during the test, which will inform designers on control-ability, stage separation and the recovery of the first stage. among other things.

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine panel is reconvening at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where senior agency manager John Hutt is briefing the committee on technical challenges in the development of the Ares I rocket. The challenges include thrust oscillation, a phenomenon in which the rocket creates significant launch vibrations. NASA is considering putting springs between the rocket's stages to dampen the vibrations.

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine panel is taking a lunch break until 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine panel is sharing the thoughts of House and Senate legislators from the Alabama delegation.

Todd Halvorson: Mike Kynard, manager of the Ares I upper stage engine element at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., now is briefing the Augustine panel on progress being made with the development of the engine that will power the Ares I second stage.

Todd Halvorson: Danny Davis is briefing the Augustine panel on the development of the second stage of the Ares I rocket, which will be powered by a J2X engine that is based on one used for the second stage of the Saturn V. The development of the J2X is considered a major schedule driver for the Ares I rocket.

Todd Halvorson: The Ares I rocket is a factor of two safer than other launch vehicle options and, in some cases, a factor of three safer, Joseph Fragola of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center says. Alex Priskos, manager of the Ares I first stage project, now is addressing the panel. The first stage will be a five-segment solid rocket booster. A first five-segment booster test firing is scheduled for Aug. 25.

John Kelly: We're interested in your feedback on this mode of live updates. Email me:

Todd Halvorson: Joseph Fragola of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is briefing the Augustine panel on Ares I and crew survivability. The rocket is said to be an order of magnitude safer than NASA's space shuttle. The reason: The Ares I will provide astronauts with a launch abort capability -- essentially a viable crew escape system.

Todd Halvorson: Members of the presidential panel appear to be reticent to make large changes in the architecture NASA is developing: Ares I and Ares V rockets along with the Orion spacecraft. "Bottom line: If you change, you should change to something overwhelmingly better," said Bo Bejmuk, head of the Access To Low Earth Orbit subcommittee. Ed Crawley agreed, saying any major change must be "indisputably right." Crawley is the Ford Professor of Engineering At MIT. Steve Cook now is briefing the panel on the progress being made in the development of the Ares I and V rockets.

John Kelly: Documents related to the scenarios being discussed today are to be posted later at if past practice continues.

John Kelly: Remember, you can watch the Augustine proceedings broadcast live here. Click here to launch the player.

Twitter spaceteam: Landing of the space shuttle Endeavour is set for Friday morning. Live coverage here or sign up for text alerts at

Todd Halvorson: A presidential panel's preliminary findings show the Ares I and Ares V architecture is technically doable. "Your budget problems are bigger than your technical problems," said Bo Bejmuk. Much-talked-about problems with Ares I, such as thrust oscillation and liftoff drift, are typical of the challenges that crop up in a development program. "Those are all solvable," Bejmuk said.

Todd Halvorson: The Aerospace Corp. also determined that "there might not be a commercial solution to the problem" of getting people to the International Space Station. Flying astronauts on commercial launch systems without government oversight would be a dramatic change that needs to be studied, Gary Pullium told the Augustine panel. Pullium is the vice president of civil and commercial operations for The Aerospace Corp.

Todd Halvorson: NASA cannot do a lunar return program based upon the current budget constraints upon the agency, The Aerospace Corp. determined in its assessment of NASA future human spaceflight programs. The Fiscal Year 2010 budget requires a "relook" at the lunar return program as a result.

Todd Halvorson: The Aerospace Corp. representative, Gary Pullium, now says the technical risk and budget constraints will lead to up to a two-year delay in initial operations capability -- now slated for March 2015.

Todd Halvorson: The Aerospace Corp. also performed an independent assessment of Project Constellation, NASA's program aimed at developing Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft for missions to the moon. Gary Pullium, vice president of civil and commercial operations for the group, said NASA has not been funded properly and that first flights of new vehicles face a 1.5-year delay as a result.

James Dean: On the International Space Station, the Expedition 20 crew has opened hatches to access an unmanned Russian resupply ship that docked today at 7:12 a.m. EDT. Station commander Gennady Padalka took manual control of the Progress 34 spacecraft and guided it to a smooth connection after problems with the automated system. The Progress holds 2.5 tons of food, water, oxygen, propellant, maintenance hardware, spare parts and experiment equipment for the station's six full-time residents.

Todd Halvorson: Gary Pullium, vice president of civil and commercial operations for The Aerospace Corp., is telling the Augustine panel about the methodology that was incorporated to examine launch vehicle options for NASA's future human spaceflight programs.

Todd Halvorson: The Access To LEO subcommittee is examining different options for launch systems to carry out NASA's future human spaceflight program, Bo Bejmuk, just told the Augustine committee. The subcommittee has enlisted The Aerospace Corp. to provide an independent evaluation of launch systems. The group will make its recommendation at a public meeting in Washington, D.C., in August.

Space shuttle Endeavour's crew has finished today's heat shield inspection two hours ahead of schedule. The crew will soon begin stowing the 50-foot boom extension used to survey the orbiter's wing leading edges and nose cap. Analysts on the ground will review the inspection images and determine Endeavour's fitness for a Friday landing no later than Thursday afternoon. Coming up, there's a Mission Status Briefing planned at 12:30 p.m. EDT from Johnson Space Center in Houston. Around 3 p.m., Endeavour's jets will fire for the third of four planned burns to separate it from the International Space Station.

Todd Halvorson: Next up at the hearing will be the panel's Acess To Leo Earth Orbit subcommittee. Bohdan "Bo" Bejmuk, former manager of Boeing Space Shuttle and Sea Launch Programs, will moderate.

Todd Halvorson: NASA should continue to operate the International Space Station beyond 2015 and the agency also should "get out of low Earth orbit" -- and NASA needs a heavy-lift launch capability to do that. That's what Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is recommending to the Augustine panel. NASA also must be provided with the proper resources to carry out whatever mission is assigned to the agency, he said.

Todd Halvorson: Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, just told the Augustine panel that the agency's human space flight program is at a crossroads. "This is not a time to be passive about our future," he said. His biggest concern: the work force. "The people who work here at Marshall and at Johnson and at KSC are a national asset. Period."

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine hearing in Huntsville, Alabama, is beginning and first up on the agenda is Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. He is expected to talk about the center's capabilities, particularly as they relate to NASA's future human spaceflight program.

John Kelly: There's quite a crowd on hand as Norm Augustine delivers his opening explanation in Huntsville this morning.

John Kelly: As the Augustine panel's meeting prepares to start, and you're waiting, check out this morning's newspaper story from Todd Halvorson about the eventful session the panel held yesterday in Houston. Story: Shuttle extension on table.

John Kelly: You can also follow live coverage of the inspection of the space shuttle Endeavour's heat-shielding here in The Flame Trench. Scroll down for detailed posts. You can also watch NASA TV coverage of the inspection by clicking here.

John Kelly: Welcome to this morning's live coverage of the presidential commission on human space flight plans, which begins around 9 a.m. Eastern time. We'll post news here as it warrants, but you can watch the proceedings live here in the Flame Trench. Click here to launch the player.

1 comment:

Stew said...

With the current state of our fiscal system, that project should be rather put to a halt. The future of aircraft hardware appears to be bright anyway since the technology will be intact but there are more issues that should be prioritized by the government first.