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This ain’t no stinkin’ drone… (wait for it) April 30, 2015

Posted by shubber in CRATS, Manned Space, space, space tourism.
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Just received this press release.


Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus!


Although they have been operating under a fairly good shroud of secrecy, the wrapper is starting to be removed, and, like Christmas, we are beginning to see the awesome present that was under the tree…

So congratulations to another disrupter of the staid launch industry, Blue Origin, for the first developmental test flight of the New Shepard!

Although they didn’t stick the landing, they are already hard at work on getting their VTVL RLV technology working.

Which begs the question – how long until Amazon Prime provides 2-day free shipping to ISS..?



It’s a MAE MAE MAE MAE MAE MAE World…. November 26, 2010

Posted by shubber in Manned Space, military, NASA, public service announcement, space, space tourism, Uncategorized.
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A recent article in TheStar.com discusses how space may be the first frontier for the next major conflict. By major conflict I assume one in which the US is engaged with another world power and not the sort of massively asymmetric warfare we are engaged in in the Iraq & Afghanistan.

Thinking through how a conflict might unfold – there are lots of scenarios that could potentially lead to the start of a shooting war between the major powers, such as China finally getting around to trying to “take back” Formosa (maybe they haven’t updated their maps to call it Taiwan..?) – the issue of how it starts is less relevant; what is more relevant is what might happen next.

China’s ASAT “test” (some prefer to call it demonstration) where they blew one of their own defunct weather satellites into smithereens was IMO the modern day equivalent of what the US and USSR did back in the 50s and  60s before the test ban treaty – a show of force that “we have nukes, too” just in case the other side had somehow forgotten about the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Critics immediately decried the test/demonstration as irresponsible due to the cloud of debris that it immediately generated. There are currently over 600,000 pieces of debris floating around the Earth according to ESA, the remnants of satellite launches, debris from collisions, the occasional intentional destruction a la the ASAT test/demonstration, etc.  Our friends at NASA are currently tracking many of these to help keep our satellites, rockets, ISS, and astronauts safer.

So now I propose that a new doctrine is in play – one that supercedes the MAD doctrine (because c’mon, no one REALLY expects us to go nuclear against each other in this day and age, so those weapons are effectively just expensive museum pieces).  I call this the doctrine of:

Mutually Assured Exclusion (MAE)

The problem is that, unlike MAD, this doctrine is not well known or possibly actually factored into policy thinking as it should be – the fact that we already have 600,000+ pieces of debris is clear evidence of our lack of foresight and planning when it comes to littering the space around our planet.  But it is something that we must discuss now, in the context not simply of reducing debris from launches and other non-conflict-related space activity, but rather in relation to what might happen in a real conflict involving members of the space faring club on opposing sides (i’m going to ignore for the moment the scenarios of the “rogue nation” launching a nuke into orbit in some Dr. Evil-like plot to destabilize the world).

If we were to get into a shooting war with another major power, the first thing that the “weaker” of the two would do is to level the playing field as much as possible – in this case, by taking out our space-based superiority.  After all, depriving the US of GPS and spaced based imagery capabilities would have a non-trivial impact on our ability to wage a war “over there”.  Think Kirk entering the Mutara Nebula.   (“We daren’t follow them into the nebula, Sir! …. Our weapons would be useless!”)  Granted, you may still have a general or admiral who will cry, “Full Power! Damn You!”, but I doubt it.


Whatever the results of the shooting war on the ground, one effect that I haven’t heard much talk, but should be of supreme concern especially to those in the alt.space community, is that of MAE – the debris field created through the targeted destruction of numerous satellites could dwarf what is out there right now and make access to space virtually impossible for a long time.  If you thought they had it tough in the Millenium Falcon going through the asteroid field, you have no idea….


Why We Won’t (fill in the blank): April 14, 2009

Posted by shubber in bailout, distracting PR, economy, finance, hot air, investment, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, sbsp, smack talk, solar power, space, Space Solar Power, Wasting Money.
  1. Go back to the Moon
  2. Build a Lunar Settlement (see #1)
  3. Send humans to Mars
  4. Build a Space Based Solar Power Satellite (other than a demo, if that)
  5. Build a real replacement for the Shuttle (i.e. something reusable)
  6. Build a Space Elevator
  7. Fulfill any other wild fantasy of the Space Tragic community


Giving kudos where they are due, I was alerted to this chart by a blog posting at Rand Simberg’s site, Transterrestrial Musings.  The reason I decided to show this here is not to engage in a “who can spend more like a drunken sailor on shore leave” debate between the righties and the lefties – since both parties have long since given up any semblance of fiscal conservatism, proving once again that the old saying:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (generous gifts) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy….”

While we aren’t quite at collapse stage yet, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any major investments in space-related projects when you are fighting against much better organized and heeled opponents wanting those funny money dollars for their clean coal facilities, bank bailouts, auto bailouts, national health care systems, expanded international adventures with our military, farm subsidies, rail subsidies, etc.

For those of you who are in your 20s – i feel for you.  This is the first recession you’ve experienced, and it’s got to be discouraging (to say the least).  Take heart in the sage words of Chance Gardner, who said:

In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

What should discourage you even more, and those of you who are even younger that read this blog (all 3 of you), is this: you (and perhaps your children) are going to be stuck working crap jobs and paying high taxes to work off the ridiculous level of debt this country has saddled itself with over the past 30 years, and from the looks of the chart above, will continue to do.

So Much For Space Tourism… March 5, 2009

Posted by shubber in finance, gauntlet being dropped, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, space tourism, suborbital tourism.
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When Dennis Tito flew to ISS, there was an outpouring of cheering from the alt.space community because the era of space tourism was finally here.  Claims were put forth about how the $10m price tag was only the start, to be followed by a decreasing price that would make space accessible to more and more of the masses over time.

Fast forward a few years, and with the flight of Anousheh, even more of an outpouring of cheering and “this changes things” was heard from the maddening alt.space masses.  This Cynic was blasted by not a few for daring to question what her flight did for the greater “space tourism” movement.  But the thickness of their heads is matched by that of my skin, so no harm done.

While it might be a good time to point out that the Cynics were right, and that the price of trips to ISS would (contrary to the economically challenged arguments of the alt.spacers) continue to rise, as evidenced by the most recent $10m hike in price to Mr. Simoniy, there is a more interesting note that has just come out of Russia.

It appears that the Russian Space Agency has decided it wants no more tourists going to ISS after 2009.  Bummer.

Then again, this could be that much-needed boost to Mr. Bigelow’s efforts to build a space hotel, now that ISS will no longer be a govt subsidized alternative.

</crickets chirping>

What’s next? A note from his Mom? January 1, 2009

Posted by shubber in Congress, CRATS, distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, Wasting Money.
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So in honor of our 300th post, i was planning to do a detailed examination of where we’ve been in the past couple years since the Space Cynics blog was started, how the industry has/hasn’t matured, predictions we (and others) have made that have/haven’t come true, etc.

And then I read this little gem.

Seems that Mike Griffin has been fighting pretty hard to keep his job when the new Administration takes over – and now he’s recruited his wife into the mix.  The headline:

Don’t Fire My Husband, NASA Chief’s Wife Begs Obama

Really? Have you no shame, Mike? It’s not like you’ve presided over any great legacy at NASA in your relatively short tenure under President Bush. You are beholden to your special interests in the military industrial complex, and only grudgingly have allowed any form of innovation or private sector involvement to participate in our development of space when forced, kicking and screaming, to adopt Zero G flights over the Vomit Comet or fund COTS – and even then you can’t do it right.

But to send out (via priority mail) copies of your speeches, as if anyone would want to suffer through them a SECOND time, was priceless.  Granted, it’s not like the total cost of mailing was even a rounding error in NASA’s budget – it’s about leadership.  The CEO of an organization, which is what you are for all intents and purposes, sets the tone for the people who choose to work for him.  When you engage in such behavior, it reinforces the wrong sort of message to the rank and file employees – no different than when the President chooses to get a hummer in the Oval Office from an intern and then lie about it on national television.

It’s about Leadership.

You missed great opportunities to engage in development of true CRATS, real hypersonics research, support initial studies into SBSP (yes, even though I am very cynical about it, that IS part of NASA’s job IMHO), and to put nails in the coffins of both VSE and the ISS, freeing up billions of dollars to fund the hardest part of the equation – getting out of the gravity well.

So, perhaps I can weave in a bit of “The 300” after all.   End your tenure with dignity, not sniveling before the next President begging for your job.  Or, even sadder, having your wife beg for you. DO your job, now, and then go out with pride.  If that’s still possible.

And there goes the Moon, or “Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!” December 11, 2008

Posted by shubber in bailout, Congress, economy, finance, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, smack talk, thanksgiving, Uncategorized, Wasting Money.
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So, if the alt.space gossip lines are right, there’s trouble a-brewing in the halls of NASA these days, with the Administrator (Mr. Griffin) apparently not terribly interested in working with the Obama transition point person (Lori Garver).

Kudos to Al Fansome for pointing this out (initially on the SpacePolitics.com website, from which this was shamelessly pilfered).

Tensions were on public display last week at the NASA library, as overheard by guests at a book party.

According to people who were present, Logsdon, a space historian, told a group of about 50 people he had just learned that President John F. Kennedy’s transition team had completely ignored NASA.

Griffin responded, in a loud voice, “I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me.”

Alan Ladwig, transition team member who was at the party with Garver, shouted out: “Well, we’re here now, Mike.”

Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.

“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.

Just remember, folks – you heard it here first, though: the Moon program is a bunch of hot air and will be cancelled with the many budget realities that are now facing the incoming administration, including the never-ending bailouts.

Hey, maybe Big Aerospace should ask for a $100 billion bailout (make up a reason) and use that to launch someone to the Moon?

Well, it sorta got mentioned… September 27, 2008

Posted by shubber in Manned Space, NASA, smack talk, space, Wasting Money.

For those who suffered through the 1st Presidential stump speech fest (“debate” is too strong a word for what I witnessed), you may have noticed that the issue of Space didn’t get any coverage, other than a passing reference to China sending some astronauts up and how we should focus more on math and science here at home…

Some of you might say, “well, this was a debate on foreign policy so Space wouldn’t be a topic”.  I would submit that you would be wrong for two reasons:

  1. The debate covered a broad range of topics, first and foremost our economy and the HUGE bailout that both parties seem hell bent on giving to the banks for their ridiculous past behavior.  As you may remember from my previous posts, my position is that the US economy will not be in any shape to sustain a manned lunar program in the next decade, and this latest spend of over $1 TRILLION – yes, folks, that’s right, with a “T” – just hammered in that nail in the coffin.
  2. Things like reliance on Russia for access to ISS (foreign policy, because McCain is a Georgian and Russia is selling stuff to Iran) are real issues and yet they didn’t get mentioned.  Maybe they’ll just figure out a way to fly the shuttle for another 10 years, because that’s a safe and cost effective way to get to orbit.

I know space tragics like to believe that others care as much about (or even 10% as much about) space as the alt.space community does, but stop kidding yourselves. With all of the reprogramming of money and belt tightening coming up in the next decade, we’ll be lucky if we don’t find the Tranquility Base memorabilia on eBay courtesy of the Chinese.

Blog, interrupted July 27, 2008

Posted by shubber in Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk.

Apologies for the radio silence over the past few weeks – real life stepped up and threw in a couple of major time consumers (big project for work, moving from DC to St Louis, packing/unpacking, speaking at a couple of conferences, etc).

I thought i’d share a little bit of info to further my point made months ago about externalities impacting the space program – specifically, how manned space (NASA, that is) is going to be shut down in the next decade due to budget constraints as we juggle many other issues on the national agenda simultaneously, regardless of who gets elected.  Let’s see, as major constraints we have:

  • Multiple wars (and the resulting need to re-arm, refurbish, restock, etc (so buying stock in MICs may not be a bad idea…)
  • Huge social entitlement programs becoming more problematic as baby boomers retire
  • Increasing cost of fuel – in the big city you may not notice this as much, but many small, poor towns in rural America are seriously hurting as a result of a 150% increase in the price of gas over the past 18 months.  Drilling or no drilling, this is a problem TODAY.
  • Increase in food costs – especially as a result of a retarded effort to turn our food into gas for our cars.  Those who saw my presentation at the SBSP conference in Breckenridge last year might remember the charts i displayed on the caloric inputs required for the production of a calorie of food – so I ask you: does it make sense to poor energy into making corn only (at a 4.7:1 ratio) to turn around and make ethanol out of that corn to, um, burn?   Meat, corn-derived products, basically a large percentage of the food we eat is experiencing price inflation – which again hits Joe Sixpack right where it hurts: the wallet.
  • Bailout #1 – you’d have to have been in a coma or on a seriously disconnected vacation island somewhere for the past 12 months not to have seen the crack fest known as the housing bubble finally start to come to it’s long overdue end.  What is criminal is that those of us who did not partake in this little exercise in self delusion are getting stuck with the check, now that President Bush has gone back on his veto promise and plans to authorize the pandering legislation that the Democratically-controlled house and senate has passed.  In other words, those of you too stupid to figure out that you can’t afford that million dollar house on $43,000 a year, or those of you who don’t understand that the “A” in ARM stands for “adjustable” – and that you’d better be able to make the payment when it resets have no business buying the house in the first place, much less taking out a loan (because here’s a clue for you: it AINT YOUR MONEY TILL YOU SELL THE HOUSE DOOFUS).
  • Bailout #2 – of course you couldn’t have excess greed on the part of the consumer without corresponding excess greed on the part of the banks who lent the money.  So of course we the taxpayers are getting hosed again, in the form of a massive bailout of the banking system.  “Too big to fail”, my ass.  I say let them fail – then the shareholders of those worthless banks can hopefully take a lesson and not do it again the next time they’re presented with something too good to be true.  Socializing risk while privatizing profit – which is exactly what we’re doing with this bailout of “fannie” and “freddie” (such friendly sounding names for such a fucked up way of doing business).

So it is within this context of macroeconomic forces that I look at our space program and make the bold assertion that, post Shuttle the US Government (i.e. NASA) will be out of the manned space program for at least 5-10 years.  They may have aspirations, and plans, for a future VSE, but there’s going to be NO money for it.  Last year’s reporting on the housing foreclosure market showed this graphic for the State of California:

That’s not too bad, right?

For those of you who think the markets have priced all of this in, or that we’re touching bottom and now is a good time to buy, there’s an old saying about trying to catch a falling knife…  and now for the update on that graphic:

Thanks to rjmason for providing these great graphics.

A Gathering of Cynics June 2, 2008

Posted by shubber in Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, space tourism.

At this weekend’s ISDC in Washington DC, we had a rare alignment of travel schedules, not unlike the grand alignment of the outer gas giants (spare us the obvious jokes, folks!).  Taking advantage of this opportunity, the three of us (David, Tom, and myself) and our honorary cynic, Reda (known to many as the first ticket holder for Rocketplane..) sat around the mike and recorded a Cynic’s take on what we saw and heard at the event.  We even talked a bit about the ISDC panel I was part of that discussed the business case for Space Solar Power (hint: it doesn’t).  The gloves are off on this one, folks.

The Space Show will air the broadcast on Sunday, June 8, and have it available as a podcast to download.

There’s an hour of your life you’ll never get back…. But hey, if we can make Reda a Cynic, there’s hope for you, too.

Bad Analogies are NOT an Option, Mr. Kranz May 14, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, space, Uncategorized, Wasting Money.

A post over at the Space Politics website discusses the recent testimony of Mr. Gene “Failure is Not an Option” Kranz, the longtime NASA Flight Director, at the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee on the planned reauthorization of NASA and the Vision for Space Exploration.

Now I must admit that I have always had an admiration for Mr. Kranz, based initially on the fine portrayal of him by Ed Harris in Apollo 13 (one of the greatest films ever made, IMHO), but further enhanced when I read historical accounts of his role at NASA through the decades.

As such, it pains me to hear him make the kind of simplistic, and erroneous, arguments that are regularly heard in the alt.space sector – in this case the mixing of examples by applying a poor or irrelevant analogy to try to make a point. Granted, this actually works in many cases because the listener is too ill-informed to recognize the weakness of the analogies (e.g., the “we can’t abandon our space effort because we’ll be like the Chinese emperor burning the fleet in the 1400s” argument is a classic example of stupidity at it’s finest).

Apparently in his passion for space, Mr. Kranz said the following:

“This is the best game plan that I have seen since the days of President Kennedy,” Kranz said of ESAS, comparing it to the DC-3 and the B-52. “The system that Griffin’s team is putting into place will be delivering for America 50 years later… so the message I would give to you and to the US Congress is to stay the course, stay on track.”

Small nitpicks here, sir – the DC-3 and the B-52 are reusable. They have inherent advantages based on thousand of flight cycles (and the ability to therefore do things like maintenance, tear-downs, inspections, improvements, modifications, etc). These are things that ELVs don’t (or can’t) have. Also, they had MANY copies built – allowing for economies of scale. NASA has always been limited by that simple problem – it could never procure enough copies of anything to reach scale. Unlike, say, DoD, which can procure 1000+ JSFs in a $200 Billion program. Whereas NASA can get 1.4 space stations for that price…

If you were really to pursue the line of reasoning that our space strategy should model the B-52 and/or DC-3, you would be arguing for NASA to shut down manned space, invest all $ into R&D for new propulsion systems (with reusability, reliability, high flight-rate between servicing, and maintenance being the primary concerns), new airframes/spaceframes, and the other kinds of things NASA/NACA engaged in back in the early years (pre-Apollo). Once we develop the “DC-3 of Space” then going to the Moon and Mars (and virtually anywhere in the Solar System) becomes a LOT easier. Frankly, $7b/year would be a HUGE (and valuable) investment in this sort of R&D… The Gap is the PERFECT opportunity to do this without the danger of the political suicide normally associated with the concept of Shutting Down Manned Space(tm).

Speaking of China, Mr. Kranz made another comment (at least in his written testimony):

China is importing “ITAR-free” satellites and other space technologies from a European company, thereby evading U.S. export controls that are intended to safeguard our national security. China is also developing its Long March 5 rocket that will be capable not only of delivering people to the moon, but also landing nuclear payloads anywhere in the United States.
It is time for our country and our nation’s leaders to tune in to these facts and back off of their naïve views of “space on the cheap” – other countries are making the necessary resource investments; and it’s time to do the same before the option to respond is no longer an option.

There are two issues i have with this “boo! be afraid!” statement – first, our development of a way back to the Moon and on to Mars will not prevent China from having their Long March 5, and we already have plenty of nuclear capability that can turn China into a large piece of porcelain should that come to pass. Second, they aren’t “evading” our ITAR restrictions – they are simply ignoring them. Ask Boeing about how much of a pain that was in the 90s when Airbus was selling jets to China to take advantage of our own export controls. The reality is that as long as other countries maintain a technical industrial base (such as in Europe, India, Russia, and Israel), that technical know-how will be available to virtually anyone who is willing to pay for it. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t change that.