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Space is REALLY Hard July 26, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.
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As some of you are by now no doubt aware, tragedy struck today at the Scaled Composites facility in Mojave, California.  The latest news I have been able to find is that there have been a number of fatalities and casualties.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the employees and families of Scaled at this terrible time.

NewSpace 2007 July 25, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.
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Just returned from the NewSpace 2007 conference in Washington, DC – still quite jetlagged, but it was definitely worth it!

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First off, it was GREAT to see so many familiar faces at the event – congrats to all of you for sticking with the dream and working on ways to open the high frontier.  Second, here’s a big “it was a pleasure to meet you” to all of the new faces (at least to me), especially our friends from the NSSO who are working on various aspects of space.  Third, congrats to the new board of directors and of course to the newly minted Advocates.  It’s too late – you’re one of us now and if you thought being mercilessly hounded by telemarketers was bad….

For those who may think i have lost my cynicism, despair not.  Perhaps i did have a small sip of the kool-aid while I was there (the hospitality suite was mighty fine :-)  this Cynic will not change his tune when it comes to things that I am known for.

Finally, congrats to the conference organising committee, the volunteers, and of course Will, for making it all happen.  Can’t wait for next year’s event!

Another step towards CRATS July 13, 2007

Posted by shubber in CRATS.
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Courtesy of the Australian Science Establishment and with a little help from DARPA:

SCRAMJET REACHES MACH 10

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I remember seeing a presentation by the lead professor who was working on this project back in 2004 in Adelaide. They had VERY LITTLE funding, scrambled to find surplus parts and a few sponsors, and yet managed to get some great initial readings which led to further experimental testing and now this.

Kudos to all involved.

And also to Matt Metcalf at Sufficiently Advanced, for being another sane voice in the wilderness in recognising that it is this sort of development, which will then be deployed first in the military environment, that will eventually come down to the civilian/private sector and be yet another piece in the eventual creation of cheap reliable reusable access to space.

Eventual.

It’s your life… July 11, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.
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A recent discussion in the comments section led to this entry in the Space Cynics blog. Specifically, a guest appeared to take pity on me for my lack of, um, vision, I guess, because I don’t subscribe to the kool-aid vision of STS, ISS, VSE, you name it as just being around the corner and the best use of anyone’s (read: my) time.Well, let’s see if I can clarify this:bozo.png

The development of manned space is stuck in 1st gear, engaging in endless do-overs of the same essential function it’s been doing since the days of Gagarin – sending very small payloads for limited periods into low Earth orbit, on relatively pointless missions for huge expenditures of capital.

I am not referring to the commercial sector and their comsats and imaging sats – those are businesses, and they are in it to make money (and have generally been doing quite well at that for some time).

My unwillingness to drink the kool-aid is forged from years of watching one slick presentation after another try to pitch the public on the next great thing: either from the alt.space community or from NASA and their partners – and then have it quietly tossed into the bin while another idea is pushed into the limelight. ISS and the Shuttle are but two examples of overpriced white elephants which have no real value to either the private sector or to the taxpayers, certainly not worth the price of admission.  The private sector is similarly littered with countless projects that were dubious to begin with…

The reason I began this blog is, in part, to help save other people from getting sucked into the latest huckster proposition without at least using their critical faculties to peer behind the smoke and mirrors and see what is really viable. Years ago, after giving a talk at a conference in Melbourne Australia on the space industry value chain and the reason why launchports and launch vehicles were a bad place to be focusing one’s time (regulatory and market issues being the primary), one of the engineering students approached me and said “I just want to go home and cry.”

My response: “I’ve done my job.”

He is now a very happy engineer, still in aerospace, but working on a real project at a real company and has a career ahead of him.

One of the most valuable things you have in your life – that is irreplaceable – is time. Money can be lost and earned again. But your life you never get back. So as a Cynic I’m here to call BS on Kool-aid fantasies wherever I see them, because there just aren’t enough of us out there to fight the siren songs being sung from every corner of the alt.space.tragic world.

They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers.

But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

-Carl Sagan (R.I.P.)

Space Cynic Becomes Drill Sergeant July 3, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.
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Thanks to Alan Boyle for putting up this good article:

Boot Camp For Rocketeers

For a business plan competition to be held at the upcoming Space Frontier Foundation conference in Washington DC.

I have had the privelege of being invited to teach a session on writing business plans to prospective competitors, and a $2000 cash prize will be awarded at the conference.

Worthy Cause, Unworthy Claim July 1, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.
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From today’s Space Daily:

Cornell And NAIC Search For Funding To Keep Arecibo Radar Alive

Last November, the Senior Review, an advisory committee to the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences, recommended that Arecibo’s total funding from that division be scaled back by 25 percent over the next three years. These cuts only allow operation of the planetary radar to continue into 2008; if the NAIC cannot find outside partners to cover half of the observatory’s total operating costs by 2011, the telescope risks being shut down entirely.

Personally, this Cynic thinks that Arecibo is both an extremely valuable tool for astronomical research and a really cool backdrop for a James Bond flick (and yes, Jodie Foster certainly looked good there, too…). Frankly, $1m is not a lot of money in the vast budgets of NASA and the NSF – and Arecibo should certainly be permitted to get corporate sponsors (imagine the logos you could get on THAT dish) if such $ were available.

What did bother me in the article, though, were these two disingenuous comments:

But since the Arecibo radar system may lose all its funding from NSF as soon as next year, Cornell astronomer Joseph Burns quips, “Let’s hope that we find all the dangerous asteroids in the next few months.”

“Asteroid impacts are the only known natural disaster that can cause ecological disaster and mass extinction. They can be prevented, though, and it is simply irresponsible to neglect a unique warning and mitigation device like the Arecibo radar,” said Jean-Luc Margot, Cornell assistant professor of astronomy.

Now, as I said, I think Arecibo should get its full funding, without question. But linking the defunding of the radio telescope to the Armageddon scenario is just bogus. There is no way we could conceivably mitigate an asteroid on approach at this point, and I’m not sure exactly what a radio telescope will do to mitigate such an approach…. beam radio waves at it? (and yes, I’m aware that the scope is a receiver – I was being sarcastic).

If only they could have found a way to link Arecibo to the Global War on Terror (TM) – THEN they’d have the funding no questions asked. I mean, if you’re going to play the fear card, at least go with one that has funding attached to it. Duh.

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