Oct 312014

This sure as hell didn’t take long:

Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For

A brave test pilot is dead and another one critically injured—in the service of a millionaire boondoggle thrill ride.

It goes on in that vein for a while: space tourism is bad because it’s not *directly* space exploration. And suborbital space tourism is even worse because it doesn’t put people into orbit, and the technology and techniques required to make reliable, low-cost and quickly turn-aroundable suborbital space vehicles is wholly unrelated to actual space tourism and thus of no value to real space exploration.

And Apollo was just a brilliant piece of propaganda that didn’t actually put a man on the moon but caused the USSR to spend itself into oblivion and we shouldn’t be teaching kids to keep their eyes on the stars when we need them to keep their eyes on the dirt.

 Posted by at 9:11 pm
Oct 312014

I’ve written a short and illustrated piece on how the Dyna Soar can illustrate the possible capabilities of the X-37B over at War Is Boring:

Wondering What the U.S. Air Force’s Secretive Spaceplane Can Do? History Offers Clues

I am contemplating expanding this considerably for a separate release. It’d be a little different from the usual sort of thing I do, since the X-37B is a real flying vehicle, not just an unbuilt project.

 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Oct 312014

This time in Oklahoma. But wait! There’s something a little different this time…

Stillwater man killed in near-beheading; murder charge filed

The killer, one Isaiah Marin, 21, hacked the victim, Jacob Crockett, 19, to death with a sword. Why? Because Crocketts practicing of “witchcraft” conflicted with Marin’s Christian beliefs. That whole “shall not suffer a witch to live” thing, I guess.

Nothing quite so spectacular as blending religious zealotry with drug use and batcrap insanity.

Some photos horked offa Facebook of both the victim and perp:

‘Religious zealot’ Christian student ‘decapitated 19-year-old friend because he thought he practiced witchcraft’

Yeah, yeah, yer not supposed to profile people based on their appearance… but neither one of these guys looked like winners in the game of life.
 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Oct 312014

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two exploded over the desert, killing one pilot injuring the other.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashes, at least one pilot killed

At this stage, it *seems* that there was an explosion right after the spaceplane ignited its hybrid rocket and that the vehicle tore apart, with one pilot coming down under a chute.

Coming so soon after OSC’s Antares blew itself to bits right off the pad, it’s expected that some eyebrows will be raised about whether something fishy might be going on. While that’s always possible, a simpler explanation is that both suffered from the deficiencies of their propulsion systems. NOTE: I have no special insight here, this is all speculation on my part.


The first stage of the Antares uses two Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines… which are refurbished Russian NK-33’s. More accurately: these are *Soviet* NK-33’s, built about 40 years ago, transferred to Aerojet, stripped and rebuilt. *Any* mechanism that old will need some careful looking-over. And while having them refurbished is good, they were refurbished by a different company that built them, with little to no tribal knowledge. All kinds of problems can be introduced here.


The SS2 uses a hybrid rocket motor that has been troublesome for *years.* Virgin Galactic has recently switched from the original nitrous oxide/rubber (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, commonly used as a binder in large rocket motors, and perhaps better known as tire rubber) propellant combo to one using “plastic” (polyamide, like nylon). This was due to the engine not providing the performance it was supposed to. Rumors I’ve heard held that the original engine fell *way* short, and shook really, really badly, to the point of worries about injuries or structural damage due to the harsh vibrations. This, sadly, is a not-uncommon problem with hybrids. And this new engine has not flown much (if at all) prior to this flight. It would not surprise me if there was a hard start (basically a small detonation on startup) and the plastic-based fuel cracked or shattered. This would eb all kinds of bad, especially if a chunk got caught in the motor throat. This would cause the chamber pressure to spike until it burst. Additionally, nitrous oxide is occasionally rather twitchy. While often considered fairly sedate by liquid oxidizer standards, there’s a problem: the triple point is just under 100 degrees F. This means a tank of compressed liquid N2O is happy forever with a pressure of 800 psi or so, but if the temperature rises to about 100 degrees, the liquid N2O will flash to gaseous N2O and the pressure will climb to 10,000 psi or so. This *probably* wasn’t what happened here, as the vehicle had been dragged to 50,000 feet or so by the White Knight carrier plane. But the air temp at 50,000 is really, *really* cold, so it may be that the plastic fuel was also very cold… and thus, perhaps, very brittle.

If Virgin Galactic pulls through this, they will have to do some serious redesign. Hundreds of rich folk have given them large sums of money for seats; I can see a whole lot of legal hijinks as various celebs or their legal counsels try to back out or start making demands. It seems to me that VG would be well advised to simply bail on the hybrid rocket. The system has been troublesome for a decade… and its not the first time it has killed people.

VG might do well to consider changing to a liquid bipropellant rocket system. Ironically, perhaps their best choice for such a system would be to contract for such a system from XCOR Aerospace. XCORs engines appear to be the most reliable around… perhaps not the most bleeding edge in terms of weight and performance, but if you don’t need the absolute maximum in performance (and a suborbital vehicle is far more tolerant of performance shortfalls than an orbital vehicle… how many passengers would even notice if the craft only attained 98% of predicted apogee?) and you *do* need the absolute maximum in terms of not-blowing-up, then XCOR seems the way to go.

The irony, of course, is that XCOR was just about the only competition VG had in the suborbital tourism market in the form of their Lynx rocketplane, which is under construction now.


Today is a bad day, have no doubt. A pilot was lost (and another seriously injured). A vehicle was lost. A whole program might well be lost. And perhaps worst of all, long term, is that something horrible has been gained: an excuse by regulators and bureaucrats to add yet more layers of laws on top of this, perhaps heading towards simply banning civilian manned rocket flight in the US. And with the wonders of ITAR regulations, it may well be that American rocket companies, banned from flying in the US, will be banned from transferring launches outside the US. And thus space tourism will belong to other nations, less risk averse.

An aside: I’ve got CNN running right now. Like a silly, naive person, I was hoping that they might have some useful information. But… no. Just the usual blather you get from talking heads who have to fill air time but who have minimal data to impart. Sadly – and inevitably –  they’re subtly smack-talking private industry, questioning whether there was insufficient regulation and government oversight

 Posted by at 1:25 pm
Oct 312014

All I have on this: a 1970 design by the German aircraft firm HFB (Hamburger Flugzeugbau) for a “flying panzer.” Clearly it’s an armored car with jet propulsion and vertical lift capability; I would assume that this is only capable of extremely limited flight for such things as hopping rivers, trenches, minefields, battlefield debris and other such tasks. Basically, the vehicular equivalent of the Bell “flying belts” or “jetpacks” which were popularized in the 1960;s, but which were too cumbersome, expensive and far too short-duration to be of any real practical value.

Still: “Flying Panzer.”

1970 HFB flying panzer

The vehicle is depicted in the foreground hopping over anti-tank obstacles and in the background crossing a river. Note that it appears to have a rudimentary skirt system; if those wheels could be drawn up above the skirt, this would make it capable of operating as a hovercraft. This would allow it to “fly” over the surface of a river much more economically than on pure jet lift. I have no idea if this was a serious design effort or just artistic doodling.

 Posted by at 3:45 am
Oct 302014

A clip has been released that provides some insight into the world of “Interstellar.” It turns out that the minor character who said in early trailers that the world doesn’t need more engineers isn’t just a deluded idiot… he’s a part of (or product of) an Orwellian Big Brother government that is re-writing the history books in order to make the next generation more accepting of lowered horizons.

[youtube U7X1ntOgL70]

I’m thinking Nolan might’ve read “Fallen Angels.”

Note that “more depressing” doesn’t necessarily equate to “less good.” I suspect that, like “Dark Knight Rises” and “The Incredibles,” “Interstellar” might end up being something of a stealthy anti “leftist-war-on-reality” flick.

 Posted by at 7:35 pm
Oct 302014

Photos of the Athena missile (which is apparently at least partly replica) on display in Green River, Utah. The little remembered Green River Launch Complex was used for test launches, shooting missiles like the Athena and Pershing into White Sands, New Mexico. In the case of the Athena, many of the launches tested subscale advanced re-entry vehicles (nuclear warhead re-entry vehicles, specifically). I’ve posted the full set of 12 full-rez photos for all patrons at the APR Patreon.

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 Posted by at 1:07 am