Monday, January 04, 2010

Predictions for the coming year in space

This year is going to be a turning point in spaceflight.

The White House will soon decide the fate of the human exploration program. SpaceX will launch its first rocket from Cape Canaveral. The International Space Station's construction will be complete. The space shuttles will creep ever closer to retirement.

Looking ahead at 2010, a few quick predictions for the space community:


  • Charlie Bolden will be more visible as the head of NASA. Bolden's takeover of the space agency came at an odd time, when the agency lacked clear direction because of the presidential review of the entire space program. Once he gets marching orders from the White House, watch for the ex-astronaut and Marine Corps veteran to become a higher-profile leader.


  • The space shuttles will not finish flying their final missions in 2010. There's no reprieve coming from the White House. It's difficult to imagine NASA launching five space shuttle missions in 12 months given the typical technical glitches and weather delays. It's likely to linger into 2011.


  • SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is already late, but hardware is finally being delivered to the Cape Canaveral complex. There are still some safety reviews with the Air Force to finish and other technical hurdles, but SpaceX appears on track to finally christen its new launch facility at the Air Force station.


  • NASA and its partners will extend the life of the International Space Station partnership, finally fully built and staffed with a full complement of six residents, to 2020 after the White House commits to long-term funding of the project.


  • The government will decide that the retired space shuttle orbiters will go to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville and the Wright Patterson Air Force Base's National Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The mockup Enterprise, now on display at the Air & Space Museum, will go to Houston as a consolation prize.


  • The biggest changes to NASA's Project Constellation will be the destinations and the timeline, rather than the rockets and spaceships.

    After much political positioning, the president's advisers will decide the U.S. needs a government-operated space transportation system for its astronauts and will press ahead with development of the Orion crew exploration vehicle and some variant of the Ares rocket. A more flexible destination path will be picked, however, because landers and other gear for deeper-space missions will be delayed for decades.


  • SpaceShipTwo will fly, at least test flights, this year from Mojave, Calif. Tourist flights are unlikely before 2011 at the earliest. Piloted test flights will draw worldwide attention and, if successful, a rush of venture capital for others attempting to follow Virgin Galactic's lead.


  • Hotel occupancy rates will spike a bit in Cocoa Beach, Titusville and Cape Canaveral as the final space shuttle launches approach and people begin to realize it's their last chance to experience that breathtaking moment. Expect the VIP guest lists at the Kennedy Space Center on launch days to get glitzier too as the end nears.
  • 15 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Patrick P wrote: "Your ongoing talent for filing a column with the obvious is...obvious."

    Anonymous said...

    Cannot wrote ...

    NASA and its partners will extend the life of the International Space Station partnership, finally fully built and staffed with a full complement of six residents, to 2020 after the White House commits to long-term funding of the project."
    Who are the individuals in the White House that need to commit to long-term funding of the project? The taxpayers make the decision and the commitment to the long-germ funding of the project! The representatives will have to do the will of the people that pay their salaries to represent them.
    Space exploration is a needed project for the US and the world. The taxpayers will commit to the next level of space technology and supremacy of the Space projects in the US or another country will take the lead. Raindrops are not the only thing that may come from the sky.

    Anonymous said...

    Aflred-E-Newman wrote ...

    Replying to Cannot:

    "NASA and its partners will extend the life of the International Space Station partnership, finally fully built and staffed with a full complement of six residents, to 2020 after the White House commits to long-term funding of the project."
    Who are the individuals in the White House that need to commit to long-term funding of the project? The taxpayers make the decision and the commitment to the long-germ funding of the project! The representatives will have to do the will of the people that pay their salaries to represent them.
    Space exploration is a needed project for the US and the world. The taxpayers will commit to the next level of space technology and supremacy of the Space projects in the US or another country will take the lead. Raindrops are not the only thing that may come from the sky.

    .........BLAH....BLAH....BLAH!!

    John Kelly said...

    Patrick,

    Perhaps for someone like you, obvious. Not all of our readers are as knowledgeable as you are about the ins and outs of space policy. You'd be surprised how many folks, even those who work out there, still hold on to the belief that the space shuttle program will soon be extended for another 5 or 10 years. You would be surprised how many believe that the president will refuse to kill Ares I "in this economy." You would be surprised by a lot of the questions we get. So, it's important to clarify for folks what's coming. I could have gone out on a limb and added some additional predictions, if you like. Try these on:
    - The first beyond LEO destination for the Orion crew exploration vehicle will be a close encounter with an asteroid.
    - The realignment of NASA priorities and new budget released in February will provide the space agency's leadership and its contractors with the opportunity (or some might say political "cover") to set a more realistic budget and timetable for Orion and whatever version of the Ares rocket survives the White House review. The bigger question is will they take it or continue a four-decade habit of underestimating costs and development time.
    - The progress of SpaceX so far is promising, for a company that is still a start-up in many regards. While I'm sure they will give their all and that the Air Force review of their new rocket will be thorough and diligent, don't be surprised if the first Falcon 9 rocket fails. It's a never before flown launcher and those are always riskier. The Delta IV and Atlas V faced higher failure risks for their inaugural missions too, but those were based on vehicles with far more heritage.
    - President Obama will shift a surprising sum of money from manned spaceflight back into science, most notably Earth science

    Anonymous said...

    Time for Obama to do his job and give NASA some direction.

    WordsmithFL said...

    Hi John --

    Always enjoy your columns.

    As for where the orbiters go, I just can't wrap myself around the justification of sending one to the Air Force Museum. This wasn't a military aircraft, although early in its like the Shuttle was used for a few military missions.

    Having recently moved here from SoCal, I'd like to see one go to Edwards AFB. There's a small museum there, and I doubt they could raise the $$$ to buy one, but certainly Edwards deserves one much more than Dayton.

    I look forward to the Obama Administration's decision. It's been a long time since a president put political capital behind a direction for America's space program. No doubt some recommendations will be controversial; Charlie Bolden reportedly has been telling people internally to expect some radical changes. At the same time, though, I'm confident that the Administration will do everything it can to preserve the institutional knowledge and skills here in Brevard.

    As always, though, it's up to Congress, but that's the genius of what JFK and LBJ set up in the 1960s with the space center system nationwide. Everyone has a piece of the pie, and therefore an interest of preserving jobs. It may not be the most efficient or cost-effective approach, but it assures that all of America has a stake in the future of our space program.

    PatrickP said...

    John,

    I believe there a VERY FEW at KSC who expect the Shuttles to continue beyond the current manifest. Many are my neighbors and are scared to death.

    Going to an asteroid may be "cool" but then again maybe "they"
    are not telling us we're going to be hit by one in the 20 years
    hence the possible direction.

    Given the "obstacle" Congress just placed ahead of the Administrations forthcoming direction of NASA and its funding uses it will be interesting to see how this plays out politically.

    I expect the Administration to GUT manned space flight and redirect ALOT of its funding to education as was the Presidents initial position...and in stark contrast to his local campaign promises.

    I really hope I am wrong.

    I expect him to want to bring in other countries space programs into the mix which is not all that bad an idea...skin in the game and all that. Including the Communist Chinese, IMO would be a VERY BIG mistake on our part.

    And if you think the Russians are not going to jack UP the cost of a Soyuz seat you're dreaming....especially since they know we have contractual obligations to our ISS partners to deliver THEIR personnel on our dime.

    The NASA budget, as you are very aware, is < 1% of the US Budget yet they have been continuously underfunded and overtasked...a perfect Republican formula for failure. As a result, our Space Program is not in a position to transition smoothly to a new vehicle as it should be.

    Having a "Presidential Vision" is useless unless its backed up with the funding required to make that vision a reality.

    And that fact is a complete and utter disgrace.

    NASA' Budget, IMO, should not be increased by $3 Billion per year to bring Constellation up to speed as recommended by the St Augustine Commitee Report.

    It should be increased by $10 Billion.

    Then we could parallel track development of Ares 1 & V along with a Lunar Vehicle, Shuttle could be extended 2-5 years assuming we have or can get the components required and ISS extended to 2020.

    It may even allow us to close "The Gap" a few years.

    But THAT would make sense wouldn't it?

    John Kelly said...

    Wordsmith,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    As for Wright-Pat, I had the same reaction. That is an outstanding museum for military (and non-military) aircraft and I think that's why they get consideration. That said, it does seem an odd fit given the limited number of vehicles available and the places that would seem to have a claim on them. Here's one reason why I think they'll win out: it's going to be expensive to provide the kind of facility, care and feeding and other support necessary not just to secure one of these spacecraft, but also to prove you can take care of it over a long period of time. Who has that kind of money in the short-term and long-term. That museum has a long track record of taking care of just this kind of "exhibition." The shuttle orbiters can't go to any fly-by-night outfit. It has to go somewhere with Smithsonian-caliber capabilities for taking care of spacecraft. The number of places that are going to 1) fit those requirements and 2) have the money is limited. And that's where my list came from.

    Anonymous said...

    Its Time republican rich people give back their outrageous Tax rebates, Bush gave them. They should pay the rate that was set under Runnie Reagan. No free ride for the republican financial disasters of Bush repubs. Crashing and trashing America, our Banks, our free enterprize Wall street stock brokers. Only Democrats can restore America and save our space coast.

    Anonymous said...

    John -

    An excellent summary of the situation. Agree chances are poor for shuttle. Without it Station will be crippled. Shuttle does not belong in any museum.

    Only bright spot is SpaceX. Because of commonality between Falcon 1 and 9, I think they have eliminated most bugs and their engineering and management are the best in the business. I think the first flight of the F9 will be succesful.

    Anonymous said...

    I always laugh at these unemployed illiterates who bash Republican tax policy. A policy that gives you (and yes the wealthy too, you class envy clown) more of your own money back. Go back in your trailer and keep the noise down grandpa.

    stevepem said...

    There are three orbiters, and by coincidence exactly three locations already established as the prime visitor centers for human spaceflight: NASM, KSC, and JSC. That’s where they should go. Enterprise is the only question mark, the appropriate location is Dryden however that is a less than ideal geographic location for public viewing. I say give Enterprise to Wright-Patterson as consolation. And since Enterprise is associated with Edwards Air Force Base, it would fit in nicely with the X planes they have at Wright Patterson.

    Nelson Bridwell said...

    John:

    Excellent educated guesses. I think that many of us would agree with you (although sometimes reality turns out to be slightly less educated!)

    And I agree with your comments about SpaceX. Sort term, they probably expect to experience at least a few technical setbacks. Long term, everyone would agree that they should have a promising and exciting future. Whether or not they manage to wrestle away NASA's crew to LEO missions, they already have a lock on COTS, a foot in the door at the ground floor for non-NASA crew launch, and are cost competitive for the lagging commercial satellite launch.

    I am entirely in favor of Ares I+V, but I also look forward to a bright future for competitive firms like SpaceX.

    stevepem said...

    NASA is in a good position on Constellation because the White House can't cancel Constellation without congressional approval, as required by the House/Senate combined appropriations bill that Todd Halvorson reported on in early December. This places the burden of proof on the White House. If WH tries to rely on the Augustine Committee findings, that won't help because the report is filled with a lot of guesses, opinion and futuristic speculation. One of the few concrete findings in the report was "The Committee found no compelling evidence that the current design will not be acceptable for its wide variety of tasks." So unless WH can convince congress that Constellation should be scrapped, it will survive.

    NASA is also in a good position on ISS, because WH won't have the nerve to stop funding a recently completed international partnership project.

    Anonymous said...

    SpaceX has had two major failures but their engineering and technical management are second to none and there is a high degree of commonality between F1 and F9, so most of the bugs have been worked out. I expect the F9 launch to succeed both technically and commercially.

    The challenge regarding Constellation is that it has no obvious strategic objective commensurate with its cost. Why are we canceling Shuttle when it is working well and can support ISS much more effectively than Constellation?

    Conversely, what practical strategic objective will Constellation achieve commensurate with its $100-150B cost?