Wednesday, December 31, 2008

NASA Releases Report on Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Disclosure: Columbia Space Shuttle Commander Rick Husband and I were classmates at Texas Tech University in the U.S. Air Force ROTC program there. While Astronaut Willie McCool attend high school in Lubbock, Texas, I never met the man and only knew about his connection to Lubbock, Texas, in the weeks leading up to the January 16th lift-off of the Shuttle Columbia. The above photo is a AP picture.

On December 30, 2008, NASA releases its report on the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of February 1, 2003.

For those not keeping up to date with things, the Columbia was the oldest shuttle of the shuttle fleet and she was returning home that morning when the heat of re-entry further damaged the left wing that was hit by a large piece of foam on lift-off 16 days before. She broke up over the state of Texas. Many residents, including this blogger, heard that sonic boom that morning. The 400-page document gave a detailed account of how Columbia's seven crew members last few seconds were like before the total break up of the shuttle happened.

Columbia's crew was killed in seconds and had only a brief 40-second time window between the shuttle's lost of control and its de-pressurization and destruction. By that time, the crew was being flung about the cabin as the shuttle tumbled and broke apart. Bottom line: while crew members tried to work the problem, the accident was not “ultimately survivable.”

The NASA report made 30 recommendations and cited some lessons to take away from this accident. Mostly related to to the crew's spacesuits and seat restraints.

1. One of the most immediate safety changes made was in the current inertial wheel lock modifications on the crew seats. The mechanism locks an astronaut's seat restraint due to external forces much like the current seat belts on cars today during a sudden stop or impact. In this accident, those seat locks did not lock as designed, subjecting the astronauts strapped in place to extreme forces and trauma. Seat modifications will also be employed on the new Orion Capsule.

2. Launch and Landing Pressure Suits for Orion crews will also be designed to be sealed during re-entry. The current orange partial pressure suits seep pure oxygen into a shuttle cabin when the visors are sealed – which violate NASA's flammability rules. During the Columbia accident, one of the crew members was not fully strapped into place. Another did not have a helmet secured, while the six that did have their visors opened. Also, three of the crew members did not have their suit gloves locked in place.

3. NASA has also update pre-landing milestones to allow astronauts to focus on their own preparations in addition to getting the orbiter ready for re-entry.

4. NASA also has adjusted its training process for de-orbit. Before, there was more concern about getting the vehicle ready for landing than about the crew. Now its suppose to be 50/50.

Wayne Hale stated that “Spaceflight takes eternal vigilance. Our goal here is to do our best to prevent accidents in the future and that is not a subject that is ever going to be closed.” This report is expected to be NASA's last investigation into the Columbia disaster.

Ref> article by Tariq Malik “New Columbia Accident Report to Help Astronaut Safety.” December 30, 2008.

Monday, December 29, 2008

China's Small Satellites/Space Booster Program

Found this interesting article in the December 22/29, 2008 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology by Craig Covault (see reference at end of article). Photos released by Chinese Internet on December 11, 2007, shows two views of the semi-lifting body booster shaped rocket under the belly of a Chinese H-6 “Badger” bomber. From the photographs, the boosters appears to be reusable since it appears to have thermal protection tiles on its nose and wings.

From, their evaluation is that this is a test article for hypersonic research. Even if this rocket was launched from an improved H-6K Badger with D-30K turbofans which would carry the carrier aircraft up to a much higher altitude, the Shenlong would only be capable of short-duration LEO (Low Earth Orbit) over Chinese territory.
But getting back to the AW&ST article, the microsatellite production offers Beijing three major benefits. It provides support for national development, lucrative and geo-strategically relevant foreign sales. And also potential military space control.

The problems facing US space military planners are: What are microsatellite (and smallsat) capabilities does Chinese currently possess, and how might these capabilities develop in the future? These are some of the concerns voiced by Andrew S. Erickson, assistant professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI. Erickson is well versed in all things Chinese. He speaks Chinese and holds a Ph. D. In Chinese aerospace studies. The latest Chinese research into the micro and smallsat programs crosses several national technology efforts in that country's research and development. Bottom line is that China's surge into the micro, smallsat spacecraft is to gain a strategic advantage over the United States with increasingly capable, low-cost satellites that can be launched as easily with, as Erickson puts it “reconstitutable assets.” This is important in that the costly and cumbersome systems can be stuck on the launch pad because of heavy booster complexity.

This yeas(2008) is a good example year to point out the differences between the Chinese and the American Space programs. In 2008, China launched 10 ELVs(Expendable Launch Vehicle) missions, several with multiple lightsat payloads with dual-use military/civil objectives. The United States launched the same number of ELVs. After 40 years of effort, the Chinese are now even with the United States in space operations. As for the US ELV effort this year, several were delayed by heavy booster or spacecraft problems.

Erickson also said, “China today has only a fraction of the overall space capability of the U.S., and still has major gaps in coverage of every satellite application. But development by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) of a new generation of satellite buses indicates standardization, quality control and emerging mass production ability-part of a larger trend in China's dual-use military technological projects. By studying the capabilities of power and propulsion subsystems, and the satellites that use them.”

China is employing thousands of people to push the bounds of micro technology development through the assembly of dozen of new microsats and smallsats for launch by the end of the decade. Professor Erickson also told reported Craig Covault that he had found global aerospace contractor collaboration on many of the less military-oriented projects and the adoption of U.S. And European management reforms, even in the military programs. The ISO 9000 management initiatives in several of those smallsat production facilities. Now on the geopolitical side, China is using the effort to garner more partnerships among Asia-Pacific-region nations. And another motivation is foreign sales, in which Chinese satellites, components and launch and training services have performed relatively well.

At a April 2008 meeting in Beijing that was in part, sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies; smallsat initiatives were a key topic of that meeting. Sun Laiyan, the head of the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), stressed how they form the core of development for Earth and space science missions in his civilian agency, especially for new disaster-monitoring satellites. But it is also pointed out that Sun was also the vice minister of China's Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense. That agency plans military technology development.

For 2009, Chinese launch plans include the Hummingbird I and the 1A that will demonstrate close-proximity operations. The potentially historic Yinghuo 1 smallsat that is to be launched into Mars orbit via a Russian sample-return mission to the Martian moon Phobos. China is also scheduled to launch its HJ-C radar smallsat. This is a major military/civil smallsat project.

Now getting back to the Shenlong booster. It is to be launched from the carrier aircraft in much the same way as the U.S. Pegasus air-launched booster. The most notable difference is that the Shenlong is designed to be recoverable. And is believed to be designed for ASAT (Anti-Satellite) missions. It is expected that the Shenlong will become operational by 2010.

Of concern to U.S. Planners is that when China launched it's ASAT a few years ago now, it was based upon a microsatellite bus which could use infrared, radar, or pulsed radar guidance, or a combination of all three systems.


Ref. AW&ST article “Size Doesn't Matter China is developing bi military space capabilities using small satellite payloads” by Craig Covault. Pg 23-24.

Much more information, including what organizations are working on the Shenlong at

Thursday, December 25, 2008

United Planets Cruiser C-57D Found At Last!

A "lost" artifact from Hollywood's past for the past 38 years has finally resurfaced and it went straight to the aunction block.

On December 11, 2008, this iconic flaying saucer from the 1956 MGM classic film"Forbidden Planet" will be aunctioned off in Calabasas Hills and is expected to get anywhere from between $80,000 to $120,000 for its North Carolina owner who had the prop stored in his garage and didn't realize its true market value.

The flying saucer is 82 inches in diameter and constructed of wood, steel, and fiberglass. The central landing base extends from the bottom of the craft by internal movement mechanisms with electric motor drive, as does the ladder and two conveyor-loading ramps that serve as the stablizer legs. It was the chief prop used to create the movie 'Forbidden Planet." The saucer was the United Planets Cruiser C-57D. The movie starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, and Jack Kelly. The film made a major sci-fi impression on the mid-century pop culture and was a major inspiration for Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), and it was paid homage by filmmaker George Lucas, who borrowed a line of its dialogue for his "Star Wars" movie.

The saucer ended up being a MGM prop for many "The Twilight Zone" episodes including the famous "To Serve Man" episode. Then in 1970, it was sold off at a studio auction, but there was no record of who bought it.

From the LA Times December 8, 2008. Article by Geoff Boucher entitled: "The lost saucer of 'Forbidden Planet' reappears". Here is the weblink( ).

WhiteKnightTwo Has Maiden Flight This Month

Virgin Galactic's carrier aircraft known as WhiteKnightTwo (or as SpaceShipTwo Carrier) made a successful maiden test flight on December 21, 2008 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The aircraft designed by Scale Composites lifted off with its four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines at 8:17 am. The maiden test flight ended at the same runway at about 9:17am PST.

Virgin Galactic has on order five of the SpaceShipTwo rocket planes and two of the carriers (WhiteKnightTwo Carrier). Burt Rutan told "Overall, 99% on target and everybody is really happy. You get an airplane that's this weird and get it up and get it down.. and it's safe on deck."

Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic added, "White Knight Two is the world's largest all carbon composite aviation vehicle. And of course she really is also a first stage space launch system capable of carrying enormous weight to the edge of the atmosphere, training astronauts with her zero to six G flying capability and being a scientific payload at the same time."

In other Virgin Galactic news, on December 15, 2008, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) announced that Spaceport America has received its Record of Decision and license for verticle and horizontal launch operations from the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The Gerald Martin Construction Management of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will oversee the construction of Spaceport America. The NMSA is expected to have a signed lease agreement with Virgin Galactic by the end of the month. Terminal and hangar facility construction will began in 2009 and hopefully completed by late 2010.

Ref. Article on by Leonard David, "SpaceShipTwo Carrier Craft Makes Successful First Flight"Posted on December 21, 2008. photo taken by and posted to Bill Deaver (Mojave Desert News).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Skylon / Sabre is coming

This is something that I have been wanting to post about for a few weeks now since I first read about it in Aviation Week & Space Technology (December 8, 2008. pgs 56-58). Work has been progressing on a new hybrid rocket technology that if successful – can lead to a full-scale development of a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) reusable launch vehicle.

News from Reaction Engines, a company that was developed 19 years ago for the design and building of a reusable launch vehicle known as the “Skylon.” They got their feet wet while working on the aborted Hotol (Horizontal takeoff and landing) vehicle. A joint BAE Systems venture with Rolls-Royce SSTO spaceplane project that was canceled in 1988. The true promise of the HOTOL was in its RB545 air-breathing hybrid rocket engine. Alan Bond, who worked on that project and is now a managing director of Reaction Engines for their improved engine design known as SABRE (synergic air-breathing engine). “We learned an enormous amount from Hotol, and that has enabled us to look at a new vehicle of this complexity in its entirety. Hotol is therefore the foundation on which Reaction Engines is built.”

Quoting from the AW&ST article: “Skylon is designed to routinely and repeatedly carry large payloads to low-Earth orbit, with each vehicle capable of some 200-plus missions. Although designed to take 26,450 pounds (12 tons) to equatorial low Earth orbit (LEO), or up to 19,400 pounds to the International Space Station (ISS) from an equatorial launch site.” Reaction Engines believes that with aircraft-like turn around times between missions, it will reduce resupply costs to around 1/50th that of comparable conventional launch vehicles.

The Skylon is to be built out of composite structures and other innovative design features, including a fiber-reinforced ceramic aeroshell. But the real key to Skylon will be the Sabre engines. They will power the sleek spaceship from a standing start on the runway up to orbit. Before with the Hotol, they had some engine installation issues that in the end killed off Hotol. That was because the engines were mounted in the tail which made that vehicle impossible to control. The Skylon design solves this problem by moving the engines to mid-body, mounted on stub wings close to the payload and center of gravity of the spacecraft. The wingspan for the Skylon is 80 feet and from the illustration included with the article, one can see the Hotol roots for the design. Or to think of it in another way – the Skylon is something George Lucas's Star Wars team would have come up with for the planet Naboo.

The liquid hydrogen-fueled Sabre burns atmospheric oxygen from take-off (300 knots at least) through Mach 5 plus and up to an altitude of 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers). At this point in the flight profile, the air is too thin and thus the engines switch to on board oxygen supplies for the final acceleration to Mach 25 and on into orbit. Returning to Earth, the engines can be reactivated to assist with a power descent and landing. Landing speeds will be more manageable in the 130 knot range, even with a full payload Mr. Bond reports.

While there have been other air-breathing scramjets before, Sabre has a different oxygen extraction process. Sabre is more closely related to liquid-air-cycle (LACE) that use the cooling capacity of cryogenic liquid hydrogen fuel to liquefy the incoming air. LACE however requires high fuel flow rates because of the large quantity of coolant used in the condensation process. Plus there was the technical challenges of dealing with clogging in the condenser from frozen carbon dioxide, argon, and water vapor as the limiting factors to LACE technology.

Mr. Bond went one to talk about a related technology known as ACE (air collection engine) that is similary compromised. Sabre gets around the LACE/ACE problems by only cooling down the air to the vapor boundary (at around 80K) and avoiding liquefaction. This then allows the use of a relatively conventional high-pressure turbo compressor and avoids the requirement for an air-condenser as well as saving a large amount of cooling flow.

Now the Rolls Royce engine RB545 is also similar, but uses high-pressure hydrogen to cool the air directly. But it has a problem at high Mach numbers by making the metal in the pre-cooler brittle. To get around this snag, Reaction Engines interposes a helium loop between the incoming air and the hydrogen system. The helium system is used to drive the air compressor, and enables nore heat-resistant alloys to be used in the pre-cooler.

Air collection is done through a two stage conical shock inlet with “a translating center-body to maintain shock-on-lip conditions.” Reaction Engines told AW&ST “We sized the inlet for around Mach 5. We take-off with the max throat area and move the center body forward at Mach 1.5 to form an oblique shock wave. The center body also moves forward for reentry to close off the engine inlet. Excess air is spill out via bypass ducts where it is controlled by nozzle guide vanes and mixed with surplus hydrogen before being reheated in ramjet fashion to recover the momentum lost through the capture shock system at Mach 3 – 4. “The bypass system is used to match the variable captured air flow to the engine demand and “in air-breathing mode fuel consumption will be much better than in rocket mode.” Mr. Richard Varvill chief engineer/technical director for Reaction Engines. To go from Mach 5 onwards, Mr. Varvill added: “We start the liquid oxygen turbo pump and run the engine down to a lower thrust and dump air delivery overboard. A valve is switched to bleed air out, and we start to replace flow of air into the combustion chamber with liquid oxygen. The hydrogen flow continues (in a 6:1 rocket mode).”

Right now, Reaction Engines is waiting on funds to launch into full scale development. In the meantime, they are focusing on testing and verifying the key technologies at its laboratories at Culham Science Center. Along with the heat-exchanger technology, Reaction Engines also is working on the frost control technique developed and prefected in the company's cryogenic wind tunnel. Mr. Alan Bond stated that the Sabre is not possible without frost control. Now the frost control is used in the pre-cooler heat exchanger which reduces the temperature of air entering the engine from a peak of around 1,000 degrees C at Mach 5 to about -140C prior to compression. Although no appreciable moisture exists at the higher altitudes beyond 6.5 nautical miles, the system is needed at low altitudes where atmospheric moisture would otherwise instantly clog the heat-exchanger matrix with frost as it precipitates directly from vapor.
The helium loop exchanger (HX3) is made from silicon carbide(SiC) and delievers a constant inlet temperature to the air compressor's main turbine. SiC was chosen because of the oxygen-rich character of the exhaust from the pre-burner and the high temperatures in the heat exchanger.

Following some shakedown tests to begin with the new year, Reaction Engines will be getting some of their funding from the British National Space Center and partly by the ESA (European Space Agency) over the next three years.

In conclusion, Mr. Alan Bond told the AW&ST reporter, “We've never seen it as a development that a single company would do. We'd like the industry to develop it and sell it around the world to the space launch market. This could happen under a public/private parnership with maybe a 30-year payback time. If someone gave us the money today it would be about 9.5 years to the start of production.”

Ref. AW&ST Dec. 8, 2008 article “Positive Reaction. Upcoming pre-cooler tests hold key for air-breathing hybrid rocket technology.” by Guy Norris/Abingdon, England. Pag 56-58.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blue Origin's New Shepard Rocketship

Billionaire Jeff Bezos of fame has been putting his money into a new project for several years now – Blue Origin is the name of this company and they are developing a reusable spaceship known as “New Shepard” that looks like a egg standing on four legs. It is in fact – a Dropship. Please go back to the September archive on this blog to look for a article about the 10th anniversary of the First Single-Stage-to-Orbit test vehicle – “DC-X What the Future SHOULD Have Been” (September 10, 2008).

The New Shepard is designed to fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space at very competitive prices. First tests of the vehicle have been staged at their private launch site in West Texas, not too far from El Paso, Texas. Blue Origins plan, aside from offering flights to tourists, would provide opportunities for scientists to fly their experiments into space and in a microgravity environment. And they have been getting some help from NASA's Alan Stern, the former chief of space science. First remotely controlled or unpiloted flights can begin as early as 2011 with the first manned launches to follow within a year of that target date.

The New Shepard vehicle consist of a pressurized Crew Capsule carrying the experiments and astronauts atop the Propulsion Module. Once in space, the Crew Capsule separates from the Propulsion Module and the two craft will reenter the atmosphere separately. The Crew Capsule will land softly under a parachute at the launch site. The Crew Capsule is reported to be able to carry three of more astronauts depending on the mission profile.

Ref. : ( ). Article by Leonard David posted December 8, 2008. “Secretive Space Vehicle Tested at Private Texas Site”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

67 Years Ago Today

It was sixty-seven years ago today that the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and brought the United States of America into World War Two.

I will always remember even though I was not alive when it happened. I was alive for the September 11, 2001 attacks, but that just gives off a whole different set of vibes when one thinks back on it - at least it does for me. How to explain it, I cannot at this time.

Thanksgiving UFO over Irving, Texas

One must always pay a visit to Ms. Linda Moulton Howe's website at least once a week. Due to some personal issues in my life, I have been a slacker to that rule. But now I am making up for it and with good reason. You must check this one out.

Ms. Howe received a email from someone calling themselves Ovi who took some amazing photographs of a zeppelin or cigar-shape UFO on November 27, 2008. Time of the sighting was about 8 pm. Its worth it go click on the link to read and view those photographs. Ovi estimated that it was almost 100 feet in length and was cruising at a slow rate of speed. Pay attention to photo number 9 that they cropped and enlarged. One end, the narrower end is discharging what looks like sparks. There is also something on top of the hull – and for a lack of a better word, I'll refer to it as a conning tower (like on a submarine).

Ref. ( ) Strange Aerial Object Over Irving, Texas by Linda Moulton Howe.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mistral Engines "Mogas" Wankel type engines

Mistral Engines is a new Swiss start-up company created in 2001 by a group of pilots and aircraft owners who were convinced that there is a market for a new generation of general aviation engines that offer greater reliability in a compact size. Also providing a greater power-to-weight ratio and the ability to operate with a wide range of fuels than current generation aircraft engines.

They developed a liquid-cooled, electronically controlled Mistral engine that can run on unleaded 95-octane automotive gasolines rather than diesel type of fuels. Based on the Wankel rotary-piston design, it gives the Mistrals a huge maintenance cost advantage over standard piston engines since it has 95% fewer moving parts. The targeted time between overhauls is 3,000 hours.

Mistral's first engine, the G-300, is a three-rotor, 300 hp that is currently undergoing FAA certification at this time with an expected approval to be granted by the middle of 2009. A twin-rotor, 200 hp engine, has already been fully developed. The first models to go out of the factory will be normally aspirated. Future models will have the option of being turbocharged. All engines will be identical except for the number of rotors. The Mistral engines have a company patented dual injection, dual-channel digital electronic control system module.

Headquarters for Mistral are in Geneva and at a wholly owned subsidiary in DeLand, Flordia. They are planning on producing 200-300 units a year. And when FAA certification arrives, then jump up to 2000 units a year. Mistral is operating in parallel to find both retrofit and new aircraft applications for their G-300. The engine can power both aircraft and helicopters.

At AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this past year, they grander high interest from attendees. Mistral Engines intends to take advantage of the boom going on in Russia and in Europe for small to medium-size business and general aviation aircraft. One of the first applications that they have contracted for is a four-seat trainer to be distributed by Russia's Aviama and a light helicopter being developed by Kazan (another Russian aircraft manufacturer).

Ref. Aviation Week & Space Technology, November 24, 2008 issue. “Swiss 'Mogas' Engine Readied for Market” by Michael A. Taverna, page 44.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

UFO vs Police Helicopter on May 2, 2008

Latest UFO story from United Kingdom is that a Birmingham, England, Police helicopter narrowly avoid a mid-air collision with a unidentified flying object back on May 2, 2008, around 10pm. The helicopter was engaging in routine surveillance work over the city when the two observers spotted the unknown lights and told the pilot about them. A report was filed with the Airprox Board, which records detail near misses and reports them to the military and the air traffic control units in the British nation.

The object came to within 100 meters of the helicopter. At first, the pilot thought that it might have been a radio control helicopter, but dismissed that idea quietly enough after they used their onboard thermal camera to try and spot any signs of people on the ground with such equipment. The British Model Flying Association (similar to the American Academy of Model Aeronautics) ruled that possibility out due to the high altitude that the helicopter was at to begin with.

Ref. : “UFO involved in a dramatic incident” Birmingham Mail, by Anuji Varma, November 21, 2008. ( )

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fomalhaut B Discovered

Fomalhaut is a star 27 light-years away from earth and is one of the brightest in the nighttime southern hemisphere sky in the constellation of Piscis Australis. And now scientists have photographic proof of extrasolar planets now that orbit that star.

Astronomers, using the corongraph on the Hubble Advanced Camera for Survey in 2004 created a false exclipse blocking the star itself – which basically allowed the astronomers to view the dust cloud circling that star. A second image was collected in 2006 which showed how far the planet had moved along in its orbit. That orbit is now determined to be about a 872-Earth-year orbit around Fomalhaut. That places this new extrasolar planet just within that star's comparable Kuiper Belt. Basically – its about the same distance from Fomalhaut as Neptune is from our own sun (10.7 billion miles from Fomalhaut is what the astronomers announched).

To date, more than 300 extrasolar planets have been detected, but only with indirect methods.

Ref. AW&ST Nov. 17, 2008. page 35. “Extrasolar Planets”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Star Trek Deflector Shields – A reality?

In a new article post on by Clara Moskowitz, she writes about a old/new idea that might actually be close to reality now with some recent tests done. In Star Trek, the starship is protected by its deflector shields. Radiation and small space debris are deflected from the ships path through outer space.

Now a new study by Ruth Bamford of the Science and Technology Facilities, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Great Britain; has found that it is possible to create a portable magnetic shield to protect astronauts on long-duration space missions. A future space ship could be fitted out with a tiny magnetosphere that would re-direct the harmful charged particles in the solar wind around the ship and thus, protecting the crew inside. Bamford and her colleagues tested their theories with miniature plasma fields in the laboratory that mimic the charged particles that the sun generates. The nuts and bolt engineering for the deflector still need to be work out, but the technique shows promise.

Ruth Bamford published her findings in the November 4th issue of the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. The protons coming off of the solar wind are the greatest concern for the long term health of the astronauts because the particles are large enough to break down their DNA. Bamford reported that if there was a Apollo mission between Apollo 16 and 17, that flight would have been a fatal one for the crew.

Ref. November 19, 2008 ( ). Article written by Clara Moskowitz. Entitled “Star Trek Deflector Shield Envisioned for Mars Mission.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Here is the NEW starship USS Enterprise

First image of the new starship USS Enterprise was released recently to Entertainment Weekly in November by J.J. Abrams. This new design is kinda ungainly looking.

It looks like a cross between the Enterprise from the first movie and a ship from Star Trek – The Next Generation. And for the life of me, those warp nacelles remind me of the headlight clusters from some 1950s Ford or Chevy automobile! And the engineering hull, while beefier than the original, it just doesn't quite look right. The shuttlecraft bay is still inbetween the two warp nacelle/pylons, but from the angle shown, the rear half of the ship appears to be cut “short” from the original TOS Enterprise. The deflector dish is too far forward, while the main hull pylon (between the saucer hull and the engineering hull) is thicker. Lots of improvements there that were taken from the first movie as well such as the proton torpedo launchers and the side airlocks.

Now all that might appear as criticisms. But to look at it from a modern day engineering angle – this does appear to be a better design than the original. The main problem was weight distribution in the original design. This one seems to have taken care of that by moving the saucer backwards a bit and moving the bulkiest part of the warp nacelles forward in order to have a better stabilized center of gravity.

Ref. ( ) and ( )

Armadillo Aerospace Wins Lunar Lander Challenge

Armadillo Aerospace has recently won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge (Level One) worth $350,000; with its vertical take-off/landing test vehicle. Armadillo Aerospace is planning on developing a suborbital space-tourism spacecraft that would operate out of the planned Spaceport America in Las Cruces, New Mexico along with Virgin Galactic and its SpaceShipTwo. Their prototype vehicle ascended to an altitude of 50 meters, then translation over to another landing pad 100 meters away and landed after a 90 second flight. This is to simulate a lander shuttling cargo across the lunar surface. The Armadillo Aerospace team then made a second flight to return to the original pad 2.5 hours later.

Still waiting to be handed out is the Level Two prize of 1.65 million which requires the hover time to be doubled and landing on a simulated lunar terrain that is filled with obstacles.
The company is proposing that their tickets to ride will cost $100,000 instead of the $200,000 planned by Virgin Galactic. The VT/VL(Vertical Take-off/Vertical Landing) spacecraft will have “fishbowl” cabins to provide the travelers with unobstructed views of the planet while experiencing micro-gravity.

Ref. Aviation Week & Space Technology, November 3, 2008. Page 20.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

US Navy intercepts another test missile

U.S. Navy officials say that two short-range ballistic missiles that were launched from Hawaii in a defense system test program in a story released November 2, 2008. One of the missiles was hit by a interceptor missile fired from the USS Paul Hamilton. Another interceptor missile from the USS Hopper, failed to hit its target. The SM-3 (Standard Missile-3) is what the interceptor missile is known as.

Vice Admiral Samuel J. Locklear said that Saturday's trail marked the first time that the Navy – rather than the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency – oversaw the firing of a SM-3 against a ballistic missile target. The target missiles were launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai island. The mission was controlled from the San Diego-based US Third Fleet facilities.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Lubbock's Halloween UFO for 2008

I was driving south on Frankford Ave and just after passing Erskine Ave, I noticed what I at first thought was a low flying aircraft slightly to the west of Frankford ave. In fact, it was moving so slowly I began to wonder if it was hovering above the Shadow Hills golf course. The closer I got, I still had not heard any aircraft like sounds above the sound of the wind racing pass by driver side window that was rolled down to enjoy the warm weather. Near the retirement home, I decided that I had to pull over to check this out.

I did.

Well, for a few minutes, I thought I was going to have my second daylight UFO sighting in my lifetime. By the time I pulled off onto a side street to get a better look, I had id'ed the flying object as a net full of balloons that had gotten loose from somebody. But it was just sitting in the sky at just the right angle with he sun to make figuring it out difficult until I could stop my pickup truck. Other balloons had gotten free of the net but were “flying” in formation with the main bunch.

Well, I post this just in case anybody else DID report a UFO over northwest Lubbock this afternoon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Airship Ventures' Zeppelin Coming to California

There was an article published on line by AP news (My Way News) about a company called Airship Ventures that will soon be offering sightseeing tours of California based out of the old U.S. Naval airfield Moffett Field. As a bit of trivia, Moffett Field has one of the 13 remaining airship hangers in the country.

The Zeppelin was invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany in the late 19th century. The massive airships were use in war and peace until the airship era came to an end in Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 1937, LZ-129 Hindenburg burst into flames and crashed just short of the docking mast, and it was viewed by thousands. Newsreel footage of its destruction has been played ever since. Out of the 97 people onboard, 35 died in the accident.

Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik began building a new generation of zeppelins in 2001. Their Zeppelin NT (as in New Technology) is 246 feet in length. Which makes it about 15 feet longer than a Boeing 747 airliner. The ship was built in Germany, but shipped by containership to Beaumont, Texas, before a cross country flight to California. While the Zeppelin might look like a blimp, its not. It has a rigid internal frame covered by a outer canvas hull. It can carry 12 passengers and two crew members. Now while the Hindenburg had flammable hydrogen as its lifting gas, the Zeppelin NT uses the nonflammable helium. Since the Zeppelin NT has been operational in Germany, 80,000 people have now flown on the airship.

Typically, it takes about 18 months from start to finish to build one of the Zeppelin NT s. There is one in Germany and another zeppelin in Japan. Zeppelin NT #4 is the airship that Airship Ventures now flies. It had its maiden flight in May of 2008. Airship Ventures has ordered two additional zeppelins that would operate on the east coast of the United States providing the same type of tours on that side of the country. Those flight operations are being planned to begin around 2010. New York and Florida the likely spots.

Airship Ventures president Brian Hall, who started this company with his wife Alexandra, took his first airship ride in Cologne, Germany in 2006. Brian Hall made his money being a software entrepreneur. To reporters, he said the following, “It's a way to see the world that you haven't experienced it before. In a zeppelin, you're flying low and slow. You're going at a leisurely pace. You're seeing things that you wouldn't see from the road.”

While worries of the current economy is not far from Mr. Hall's mind, he still expects to sell about 15,000 tickets a year in the Bay Area tours. Aiming to attract people who want something special for birthdays or anniversaries.

This week starts flight operations for Airship Ventures by offering rides to view Napa and the Sonoma wine country, Big Sur coastline, and other San Francisco view spots. Costs per person is $495 for the hour long flight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Interesting Two Week in Aerospace News
by shanksow

Mars Moon Phobos More of a Pile of Rubble-from article by Clara Moskowitz posted on October 16, 2008. (

The largest of Mars two moons might be more of a collection of rubble than a single body. Quoting Pascal Rosenblatt of the Royal Observatory of Belgium who is a member of the Mars Express Radio Science team. The mass and volume information allowed researchers to reckon Phobos' density, and the scientists found that the moon is not solid, but probably filled with giant caverns. Researchers call this kind of body, which is basically a clump of rocks held together by gravity, a rubble pile.

The density of Phobos is 1.85 grams per cubic centimeter (0.067 pounds per cubic inch) – is lower than the density of Martian surface rocks. Their density is anywhere between 2.7 to 3.3 grams per cubic centimeter (0.098 to 0.119 pounds per cubic inch). Its (Phobos) density is more like that of the asteroids and its sister moon Deimos. In other words, its doubtful that the two moons were formed out of Mars itself.

There will be a Russian mission launched in 2009 to check out Phobos specifically; its called Phobos-Grunt mission.

V-22 Osprey Doing Well is Iraq Operations-from news (

After twenty plus years of development, the V-22 Osprey is operational and the Marines that are flying the machine call it a “Bat out of Hell.” It doesn't carry the same firepower as the old CH-46 Sea-Knight helicopters, but that is offset by the Osprey's higher speed. The one major complaint appears to be that there is no firepower fixed up forward, the aircraft carries a machine gun that is fired from out of the rear of the tilt-rotor.

Other critics of the V-22 cite the soaring costs of the aircraft - $100 million per unit when you factor in the research and development costs. The Osprey has been flying in Iraq since September 2007. With the Osprey, new tactics have been developed to maximize the positives of the machine. Come in high to avoid ground fire, the drop into the landing zone. The Ospreys currently operate out of Asad air base.

If the tilt-rotor is hit in one of its engines, the other can still power the other rotor for auto-rotation to land safely if needed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Star Trek Movie Buzz

This week, Paramount Pictures released some production stills from the new J.J. Abrams production of "Star Trek." Set for release in 2009.

MTV, as one of several website, received from Paramount Pictures, some new production stills from the new J.J. Abrams' “Star Trek” movie to be released in 2009. In an article published by Rick Marshall and Shawn Adler. MTV was given permission to show the new bridge design of the starship Enterprise. Before getting to that, I like to add the following. Can anyone say “Battlestar Galactica”?

Now, Do not get me wrong on this – I like the new “Battlestar Galactica.” And it look like that J.J. Abrams is doing the same thing to Star Trek as what had happened to BG. A totally new look and revision to the franchise. Co-producer Damon Lindelof (known for “Lost”) added some additional information in the interview.

The Bridge:
In the photograph on the MTV site, it shows actor Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk sitting in the Captain's chair. Hes all in black which Mr. Lindelof tells MTV is a important story hook in the movie. Behind him we see the new Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban) deep in thought. Now he is wearing the classic blue shirt/black pants combo which is the Starfleet uniform. Zachary Quinto as Spock. Kirk and Sulu are both ragged since “they” have just come out of a fight before this scene.

As for the bridge itself; its very bright looking – think Apple Store. Quoting from the article: Abrams was insistent that every piece of equipment on the bridge serve a legitimate purpose – that they all have “functionality.” According to Lindelof, the maps we see in the background near the top of the communications desk were based on the generally accepted layout of the Star Trek Universe. Lindelof also confirmed that the film would be two hours long running time.Now other pictures that were released show the film's bad guy as a Romulan with facial tattoos.

The movie will open with another starship U.S.S. Kelvin (NCC-0514 ) getting hammered by the bad guys. The Kelvin looks alot like the old destroyer class that was included in the original Starfleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph (the leatest version of which you can get for yourself here ( It jsut has the warp nacelle on top of the saucer section instead of below it. Then again, from the above picture, there just might be a second nacelle below the hull as well ( the upper/lower twin engine designs that crop up from time to time in (Star) Treknology circles.

(Ref. and )

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Satellite Discovers Ancient Peru Pyramid

There was a recent article by Rossella Lorenzi posted on, about satellites discovering some new, buried pyramids in Peru. (ref., “Ancient Peru Pyramid spotted by satellite” by Rossella Lorenzi. Posted on Oct 5, 2008).

Italian researchers of Italy's National Research Council (CNR) Nicola Masini and Rosa Lasaponara discovered the new sites by analyzing infrared and multispectral images from the Quickbird satellite which imaged the Cahuachi desert of Peru. They were looking at an area along the Nazca river. Now covered with plants and grass, the test area was about a mile away from a current archaeological site which contains the remains of what is believed to be the world's biggest mud city. Lorenzi's subtitle headline for this article was “ Infrared and multispectral images reveal 9,000-square-mile structure.”

Archaeologists already knew about some 40 mounds in the Cahuachi desert that they think cover more buildings. Masini told Discovery News the following: “We know that many buildings are still buried under Cahuachi's sands, but until now, it was almost impossible to exactly located them and detect their shape from an aerial view. The biggest problem was the very low contrast between adobe, which is sun-dried earth, and the background subsoil.”

Cahuachi is where the Nazca civilization flourished in Peru from the first century B.C., and the fifth century A.D. The Nazca civilization faded into oblivion and replaced by the Inca Empire which dominated the Andes of South America. Best known for the famous carvings of animals and birds that are best viewed from the air. The Nazca people built Cahuachi as a ceremonial center. The pyramids, temples, and plazas were molded from the desert itself. From these centers, Nazca priests conducted human sacrifices. The human subjects for these sacrifices being drawn in from the surrounding regions. What lead to the declined of the Nazca civilization where two natural disasters of a great flood and a earth quake. This is what lead scholars to believe lead to the abandonment of this site by its inhabitants. But before leaving, all the buildings where sealed up and buried under the desert sands.

Archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici, who has spent many years excavating the Cahuachi desert stated in the conference paper, “Up to the now, we have completely unearthed and restored a huge asymmetrical pyramid, known as the Grand Pyramid. A terraced temple and a smaller pyramid are in an advanced state of excavation.” The newly discovered pyramid that features a 300 by 328 foot base that consists of at least “four degrading terraces which suggest a truncated pyramid similar to the Grand Pyramid.” This pyramid was sculpted straight from the desert landscape with large adobe walls.

Another archaeologist Andrea Drusini from Padova University spoke with Discovery News about the Grand Pyramid. “This is an interesting finding. As with the Grand Pyramid, it is likely that also this pyramid contains the remains of human sacrifices.” In previous excavations at Cahuachi, Drusini found some 20 severed “offering heads” at various locations inside the Grand Pyramid. Each skull have circular holes cut into the forehead and were perfectly prepared from an anatomical point of view Drusini said.

Nicola Masini stated to Discovery News, “This innovative technology opens up new perspectives for the detection of buried adobe monuments in Cahuachi and elsewhere. Once we have more information about the size and shape of the structures, we might turn to virtual archaeology to bring the pyramid and its nearby structures back to life.”

If the reader is a avid viewer of the History, Discovery, National Geographic channels, etc. like I am; there are programs using CGI to bring these past civilizations back to life. I'll be looking forward to seeing these programs appear on the History Channel in a few years. I would also love to be able to actually travel to Peru to visit this site in person and to see the famous lines in the desert.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Senator Barack Obama's Space Policy

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has provided his most detail position yet on Space Policy. He wrote to the Democratic leadership stating that “America needs to renew its commitment to NASA and to provide sustained, stable direction with an honest budget and sufficient resources for success across all of its critical missions: human spaceflight, science, and aeronautics research.”

It was also reported that he supports the extension of the authority to buy seats on future Soyuz spaceflights for the U.S., Canadian, European, and Japanese astronauts after it suppose to end in 2011. Obama also supports funding more shuttle missions to the International Space Station and close the gap in time between the end of shuttle and first flight of the Ares/Orion system.

(Ref Sept 29, 2008 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Washington Outlook by John M. Doyle. )
Note: It has been reported on other news sites that Presidential candidate John McCain also has voiced his ojbections to the Manned Space Flight gap that will follow the retirement of the shuttle.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A New Means of Getting to Space

Last month, I pointed out a article about the anniversary of the DC-X(Single-Stage-To-Orbit, Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing) demonstrator technology. After reading about it in, I was looking around on that website and there was a link to a new book entitled: Floating To Space. The Airship To Orbit Program by John M. Powell. Looking at their website and the photographs there, I decided to order the book and read it.

I was impressed. The book includes a DVD and I watched that first. It was film clips of their test flights and airship to orbit proposal. All of this comes from a company called JP AEROSPACE. And going by the time line in the appendix, this began all the way back in December of 1993 with suspended rocket test launch series (as in firing a rocket suspended from a line connected to a launch balloon).

Now the concept of using balloons to get to outer space has been around for a long time and Mr. Powell cites a 1913 book by B. Krasnogorskii called “On the Waves of the Ether.” There are other examples in science fiction of floating cities such as the Cloud City in the Original Star Trek TV series (Stratos) and in the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back” the cloud city of Bespin.

But wait, what does floating cities have to do with airships going up to space? Simple it seems. A cloud city will serve as the second stage of a three stage system using airship technology. The first stage is a large “V” shape airship known as “Stage One Airship” which would be about 800 feet long and 150 feet tall. This makes it larger than the U.S. Navy's Macon or the German Graf Zeppelin. And with modern materials, the lifting capacity is much better than in the 1920s and 1930s. This stage has the biggest challenge. It must be able to climb up to 140,000 feet altitude to dock with the second stage.

The Second Stage of this proposal is known as the Dark Sky Station. Its a space station that floats at that altitude. Aside from docking there, it is also a research facility, shipping port, and ship yard. And that gives us the final, Third Stage of this concept – The Orbital Airship that can only exists at 140,000 feet plus altitude. And this thing is BIG. Another “V” shape craft that is 6,000 feet long!

I'll let the reader get a hold of their own copy of the book to learn little details about how a airship will be able to go supersonic, the larger Orbital Airship and the Deep Sky Station will be built while floating in the sky. How the vehicles will actually survive reentry, etc. Also, John M. Powell describes how they will go about funding this project. Now that chapter is worth getting the book anyway.

I recommend this book just for the fact it shows someone thinking outside of the conventional box.

As an aside. Seeing the cover of the book made me think about the huge UFO that was spotted over Phoenix, Arizona, back in the 1990s. After reading the book, the huge “V” shape UFO that was reported with the Phoenix Lights flew at a much lower altitude than what the Third Stage Airship could handle. Read the book to find out why the 6,000 foot long airship that JP Aerospace is working on could not be what was witness in the Phoenix Lights.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fourth Time The Charm for SpaceX

Fourth Time The Charm for SpaceX!

Elon Musk's Falcon 1 rocket with the Merlin engine finally succeeded in getting to orbit. September 28, 2008, is a important day in space history because a private venture company has gone where only government agencies have gone before. A live webcast of the launch was available for internet surfers could view.

The Falcon 1 is a two-stage rocket. First stage uses the Merlin 1c engine and the second stage uses the Kestral engine. SpaceX plans on a heavier, two stage model known as the Falcon 9 that can loft heavier playloads including the planned Dragon capsule. First flight of Falcon 9 is expected in 2009.

Politics and Current Space News

(Picture of Chinese spacesuit from China National Space Administration).

U.S. Senate Approves NASA Legislation:
(based on an article by Brian Berger posted on on September 28, 2008)

As reported by Brian Berger in his Sept. 28, 2008 article for, the U.S. Senate approved a NASA authorization bill on September 25 that gives Congress permission to spend up to $20.2 billion on the space agency in fiscal year 2009 and included in that bill is new conditions on the planned retirement of the space shuttle. If it becomes law, then NASA would be directed to take NO steps prior to April 30, 2009 that would PRECLUDE to option of flying the space shuttle past the 2010 retirement date. The authorization also has $1 billion to accelerate the development of the Orion CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) along with its launch vehicle – the Ares 1 rocket. There is also $100 million set aside for the development and demonstration of a commercial crew vehicle. The later is welcome news to this blogger.

Both presidential candidates (Barack Obama and John McCain) have paid lip service to the fact that NASA needs to keep its options open as far as when the shuttle actually retires. Mr. Berger points out in his article that this is about $2.6 billion more than what the White House requested – and also that it provides no actual money.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had already order a assessment on putting off the shuttle retirement and will make that report available to Congress. Unless order to do so by Congress, he will not release that information out to the general public. Which is wrong, this information does need to be out in the light of public scrutiny.

The language in the bill also sets things up for the next administration that enters office that NASA will be on track for a return to the Moon in 2020 using the Orion/Ares series of rockets.

China takes its next Bold Step in Space Flight-
(based on an article by Clara Moskowitz posted on Sept. 26 2008)

The Chinese were expected to make their own first walk in outer space on September 27, 2008 with 42-year old Taikonaut (astronaut) Zhai Zhigang. His fellow crew mates Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng will remain in the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. He will be testing China new spacesuit design called “Feitian” which when translated means “fly the sky”. Liu Boming will stay in the orbital module wearing a Russian-built Orlan spacesuit. This will be China's first EVA (extravehicular activity).

The Shenzhou 7 reentry module is expected to land somewhere in Inner Mongolia on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Japan Gets on the Space Elevator Band Wagon

In another article that I found on the TimesOnLine from England, Japan is pouring lots of money into the research program for a elevator to space ( Please check it out.

First envisioned by famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in his 1979 work The Fountains of Paradise, the idea of a cable 22,000 miles high along which platforms can cheaply transport people and supplies up out of the gravity well of planet earth and on out to the rest of the solar system. One end of the cable is anchored on the earth, the other end is anchored on a asteroid. Carbon Nanotube Fibre is the leading candidate for fulfilling the role of bringing the space elevator to reality from the pages of science fiction.

Chavez's Venezuela To Buy Chinese K-8 Trainers

Dictator Hugo Chavez is on a tour of China recently where it was announced that Venezuela will purchase 24 of the Chinese K-8 trainers for the Venezuelan Air Force. The new trainers could start to appear in Venezuelan skies in the next year. The Chinese will also help build a new shipyard to build new oil tankers for trading Chavez's oil with the Chinese. Current exports as of April 2008 was in the 250,000 barrels per day and by next year, that figure should be closer to 500,000 barrels per day in 2010. In addition to that, three oil refineries, to be located in the Orinoco region which is in the eastern part of that South American country.

Chavez calls China a "Strategic Ally." Especially since the PRC will contribute 4 billion dollars of a 6 billion bilateral investment fund. Chavez's Venezuela provides the remaining balance to that fund.

Russia sent some Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela as well as some naval ships including the big missile cruiser Peter the Great, to begin "training runs" in the Caribbean. This is to counter the "threats" that the USA has been making by "supporting" Georgia. Also tensions have risen over the US being able to get countries like Poland to go along with the missile defense shield prgram. The Tu-160 kinda looks like the American B-1B bomber. The Times On Line from the UK had a good article by Tony Halpin ( that gives more detail on the ships involved. Peter the Great carries 20 nuclear tipped cruise missiles and hundreds of surface to air missiles for defense. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin has courted Venezuela and Cuba as tensions developed between Russia and the USA.

Russia gets to use the useful puppet Chavez and let the puppet make more anti-American noise than ever before. This also lets ole Hugo's ego get bigger and bigger. Does it take a rocket scientist to determine what is going to be facing the United States of America in the next decade as long as ole Hugo remains in power?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fifth Dwarf Planet Named & Cuba Gets a Space Center

International Astronomical Union (IAU) News published via AP and by was that the International Astronomical Union in Paris has named the fifth Dwarf Planet in our solar system. Once known as 2003 EL61, it is now named after the Hawaiian goddess Haumea, it joins former planet Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and Makemake as the newly classified category of dwarf planets. The elongated egg shaped world was first discovered back in 2005. It is thought that Haumea is composed almost entirely of rock with a pure ice crust. It has 32 percent of the mass, but is the same diameter of Pluto . The dwarf planet has a rotation of four hours which experts think help to create its odd football shape. Haumea, also has two small moons orbiting it, named Hi'iaka and Namaka. According to Hawaiian mythos, the two children (Hi'iaka and Namaka) were born to the goddess Haumea.

In other space news, Russia will help Cuba build it's own space center. This is seen as a counter to the perceived encroachment of the United States and the western allies of NATO, into the Ukraine and Georgia region of the former Soviet Union.

(News Articles from and AP (Sept 19, 2008).)
(Edited on 09/23/2008)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RAF Radar Chief Reports Seeing UFO Fleet in 1971

I have noticed of late that I have not had very many UFO type stories published to my blog and with this story, I intend to correct that problem. Read it via the link provided by Coast to Coast AM website. Original article comes from the Monday, Sept 15, 2008 edition of the British newspaper, The Sun. It was written by Virgina Wheeler.

Alan Turner, age 64 and who was a Wing Commander in the British Royal Air Force reported to The Sun that “he was stunned when 35 super-fast vessels appeared on their radar screens.”
Wing Commander Alan Turner who has been a chief radar operator for 29 years, stated that the craft were equally spaced and shot from an altitude of 3,000 feet to 60,000 feet at a rate of speed of 300 mph. Operators at Heathrow also spotted the UFO fleet east of the Salisbury Plain. This incident took place back in 1971 at RAF Sopley base in Dorset. Alan Turner drew a map of the key sites that spotted the UFOs (and readers and click on the link to see the original article plus the map and photographs).

The Ministry of Defense visited those radar sites and instructed the staff to never speak about that night again. Turner who is now retired from the RAF in 1995 told Ms. Wheeler “UFOs are a fact-I tracked them on military radar units.”

“What I saw defied all logic and was quite frankly, extraordinary. It wasn't just me. More than 30 pairs of eyes of RAF staff and radar operators at Heathrow Airport witnessed the same thing."

“It's arrogant to believe that we're the only ones in this universe.”

Wing Commander Turner added that the only aircraft back then that would have that rate of climb were the supersonic Lightnings, but that they wouldn't have been able to hold such a perfect formation. They also make a lot of noise.”

Ms. Wheeler contacted Philip Mantle of UFO Data magazine who told her (about Wing Commander Alan Turner's story), said: “His testimony is remarkable.”

(Ref. Coast to Coast Am News with a link to The Sun, Monday, Sept 15, 2008 (

My Other Blog

Just a quick update, more for myself than anything else. I have created a new blog to deal with my hobbies such as model airplanes and collecting G.I. Joe action figures (the 1/6th scale versions that is). This is the link ( ). It has already been added to my blogs of interest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today

Seven years ago today the United States of America was attacked by 19 terrorists who supported their extreme reglious views of bringing down not only the western world, but of establishing a distored view of the 10th century of Muslim domanice for the entire planet.

I think back to what I was doing that day. I ad just got up and was going throught he usual morning routine of shaving, etc. The tv was on in the bedroom and I lisiten to the Today show go on about how a airliner had hit the World Trade Center tower. I came back into the bedroom in time to witness the second jet hit the other tower.

What this country went though for the next week was amazing. For me, not seeing ANY contrails in the sky at all was unnerving. Now and then, I would see a military jet or a Aero-Care medical helicopter flying. But no civilian or general aviation aircraft in the air at all really distrubed me to no end. Now, my radio control model airplane club would still go out to the flying site and we would fly our models, but; it wasn't the same. I was born into a century where manned flight was taken for normal. All of a sudden, the only things flying was birds and models.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DC-X What the Future SHOULD Have Been

Recently, I was checking out and found a article by Leonard David entitled, “DC-X Honored for Its Contributions, Potential.” Dated September 1, 2008. I want to quote the opening of that article here. “Creating routine, aircraft-like, low-cost access to space is not only technologically challenging, it will require enormous tenacity to overcome the inevitable bureaucratic, political and funding hiccups. These are just a few of the lessons learned by veterans of the Delta Clipper-Experimental (DC-X) rocket ship program.” The program ran from 1991 to 1997. A unlikely (in today's climate) of government, industry, and that special group of humans called entrepreneurs. The DC-X was a technology demonstrator designed to test out concepts for a single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft that took off and landed vertically. A vehicle that had potential in both civilian and military space travel.

I personally was in my 30s, taking a airframe and power-plant mechanic course to get my license in 1990-1991. And back then, I had a subscription to Aviation Week & Space Technology which I have maintained more or less since I was in college. There were a few years where I had to do without that subscription. But getting back to the DC-X story – I just ate it up whenever something new came out about that vehicle. My personal view on the subject matter as to why DC-X failed and Lockheed/Martin's Venture Star won the Clinton's administration's decision was due to politics and campaign funding. And we all know what happened to Venture Star now don't we....

But, getting back to Leonard David's article that is paraphrased below:

Before Boeing bought out McDonnell Douglas, they were in partnership with what was known as the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. The DC-X first flew on August 18, 1993 two years after receiving the funding go-ahead. Tests were conducted at White Sands Missile Range. The DC-X flew 8 times between August 1993 and July 1995. Then there was an advanced DC-X that flew four times in 1996 until on its last flight, the vehicle tipped over and was destroyed. The accident was due to human error dealing with one of the craft's four landing legs.

Mr. Leonard David covered their 15th anniversary reunion held on August 17-19, 2008 that was hosted by the New Mexico Museum of Space History that was the start for fund raising in order to develop a permanent DC-X/XA exhibit at that museum. David interviewed Bill Gaubatz, the former director for the Delta Clipper programs at McDonnell Douglas. He (Gaubatz) stated: “The DC-X and XA showed that a small dedicated government and industry team with focused objectives could make significant advances with the boundaries of a limited schedule and budget.” Gaubatz also added that the total amount of money spent of the DC-X/XA program was less than $100 million, including range and lab costs. We were in effect, a little entrepreneurial team working within a big company, that was working for a this-can-be-done philosophy and a vision to drive launch costs below $100.00 a pound.

Additionally, Mr. Gaubatz said, “I'm convinced that if the DC-X program hadn't been terminated, we would have been in regular trips to orbit now. We may or may not have been a single-stage-to-orbit, but we would have been totally reusable, safe, rapid-turnaround transportation system. Cheap, unsafe access is not the way to go.”

The DC-X promised aircraft like access to space operations. Rapid prototyping as shown by the DC-X program would have goaded other “older” space companies to get involved in their own development of less-expensive space vehicles.

The first civilian director of the SDI was Ambassador Henry Cooper who helped provided the funding needed to get the program started back in 1990. Mr. Cooper said “That he thought the step-by-step DC-X rocket program would pay for itself during its development by launching suborbital targets for missile defense interceptors. (Note: President Bill Clinton's administration cut funding in 1993 in order “to take the stars out of star wars.” That decision that resulted in the cancellation of the DC-X program and turned off all innovative technological progress within the Strategic Defense Initiative). Ambassador Cooper added, “The regrettable part is that we knew how to do this job 15 years ago. It can be done better today. The technology has moved on in spite of the government not investing in it in some cases... or not investing as much as in it.” Bill Gaubatz provided some additional thoughts, “That DC-X termination brought about two great losses, dispersal of the team that worked on it and the loss of time.”

Jess Sponable, U.S. Air Force (retired) was the USAF program manager for the SSTO (Single-Stage-To-Orbit) technology program. He stated that the DC-X focus was demonstrating a reusable rocket that operates with aircraft-like operability. “We learned a lot about what to do... but we learned a lot about what not to do.” Sponable offered up the concept of the transportable elements of the DC-X, including the trailer-filled flight operations control center. “There's no reason we can't take a similar approach in the future for how we do launch systems.” This underscored that the cost per flight was generally in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. “We were the last program to actually combine and accomplish faster, cheaper, and better... all at the same time. The seeds have been planted. The future is coming and it won't be stopped by bureaucratic setbacks. Low cost space access is coming and it will happen.” Jess Sponable told Mr. David.

Several attendees pointed to Scaled Composites and its work on the White Knight Two – the flying launch pad to support, in part, suborbital, passenger-carrying space liner operations, as well as efforts now under way at XCOR Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, and Masten Space Systems among others.

Rick Bachtel, general manager of operations for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Huntsville, Ala. Said, “What I see in the future is not government funding as much as it is going to be commercial.” Bachtel told reporter Mr. David, that his company has spun off a smaller group called Power Innovations to harness inventive and entrepreneurial ideas. The approach is to tap the firm's 3,000 to 4,000 engineers and bring ideas into the smaller group to spin off innovative technologies.

Leonard David goes on with his article by speaking with NASA administrator Mike Griffin, the former deputy for the SDI organization and a leader in the DC-X program. Taking the title from a popular book and HBO series about a group of soldiers, Mike Griffin referred to those who worked on the DC-X as a “Band of Brothers.” It is people that make the hard work of aerospace engineering indistinguishable from magic.” Griffin told attendees to this event. “Today a small private team can accomplish suborbital human spaceflight, a feat that once took the resources of a government to achieve. I'm personally convinced that manned orbital flight is within reach just barely of private enterprise today.” He went on referring that the United States has not followed up the DC-X with the kinds of technology that could revolutionize space transportation. “We need better propulsion, better materials, we need more investment into the technology of operations, which is at least half the cost. We need to create new paradigms in thinking of how we operate, just the way DC-X did. That doesn't come for free. And right now, policy makers don't seem to be willing to allocate that kind of money.”

Former SDI and shuttle astronaut Gary Payton, now deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs compared DC-X to what is now know as Operationally Responsive Space. Payton was also NASA's deputy associate administrator for space transportation technology where he initiated, planned and lead the Reusable Launch Vehicle technology demonstration program which included the DC-XA flight test project. “The military needs short noticed, quick response, easy changes to the launch vehicle's ascent guidance in order to reconstitute lost space assets – sounds like it fits some of the things we were doing in DC-X.” Parts of the DC-X program are finding their way into the Operationally Responsive Space.

Well, that's Mr. David's article pretty much. Too much information to actually try to summarize although I probably could have if I really tried. I pretty much quoted the entire article because I really believed in the whole concept behind DC-X. In fact, when speaking with friends, I would refer to this vehicle as the “First Dropship.” For those of you who have ever played the game Battletech, you will know what that means. Those of you who have not – Battletech is a game set in the 31st century and the Inner Sphere is always at war with one another. Jumpships travel between start systems. They carry Dropships. A Dropship is a huge vessel capable of transporting several military vehicles known as BattleMechs, giant, robot like in appearance; they each have as much or more firepower than a 20th century tank platoon.

But, getting back to the DC-X. The U.S. Government is now stuck with Orion. They got their blinders on and cannot think of something else to do. Not that Congress would provide the funding anyway. It is going to take some future Virign Galactic/Scale Composites or some other company partnership to get Boeing off it's rear end and create the DC-X2 – the second generation.

Finally, I don't know if anybody else thought of this but, the DC-X could form the core element for a future Mars Lander. Maybe I can live long enough to witness the DC-X Phoenix class dropships traveling to Mars. I hope that it could be true.

(Ref. September 1, 2008 “DC-X Honored for Its Contributions, Potential.” by Leonard David, Special Correspondent for Dateline was Alamogordo, NM.).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Project Orion – KISS It!

There are a lot of things that I find vis-vie the Orion/Ares I program (officially known as the “Constellation Program”), that I don't care for very much. Namely, about shutting down the space shuttle program and wait until Orion is declared operational. The next item is going back to the Apollo Program and slap a new coat of paint on the hull and inflate the size of the capsule a bit and call it the future. KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid! What has happened to that concept and why is it not in our space program anymore?

What brings on this latest rant is a letter to the editor by one Greg DeSantis of Florida who's letter to Aviation Week & Space Technology September 1, 2008 issue was published therein (page 8 under 'Correspondence'). He was responding to an article in AW&ST (Aug 18, 2008, p.42 “The Fix Is In”). That article dealt with the oscillation problem they are finding out about with the Ares I booster. You see, something similar happened with the Gemini/Titan booster system. The vibration in the first 30 seconds of flight was so severe that the astronauts could not view the instrument panel.

Mr. DeSantis wrote: “The solution didn't take months of meetings and vu-graphs, and it didn't require adding 6,500 lbs of extra weight to the Titan. NASA simply sent astronaut Ed White to Ames to find a solution. We bolted a Gemini seat into the five-degree-of-freedom centrifuge, programmed the analog computers to simulate the vibration, and set about designing a damper to attach to the seat. The whole task from Ed's arrival to finished design took less than three weeks. White flew our design on Gemini 4.”

After reading DeSantis letter, I thought about how ironic it would be if some engineer with some brass ones just went down to the local auto parts place and picked up some shock absorbers and fitted it the test article in a chamber somewhere and NASA recreated this vibration exercise in the centrifuge. Oh wait... everything is done digitally in computers now. No one has the brains to think up something like this! Maybe if they go on line to get the specs for auto shock absorbers and program them into the Orion capsule attached to the seats and then run the launch program to see the effects then. It would still require a boldness that NASA no longer has.

I want to quote the remaining paragraph of Mr. DeSantis letter to AW&ST. “We did have a number of advantages though: No contractors or 'bean counters' were involved; we used 20-in. Slide rules and K&E drafting equipment; a Mark's Handbook; the best machine shop and machinists in the government; and a couple of young engineers who believed that working for NASA was the best job in the world. Look to the simplest solution.”

Amen brother.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Moon Landing Hoax Claims Tackled by TV series Mythbusters!

I am 48 years old as I write this article. I was nine years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The moon landings came to an end with Apollo 17 – when I was in the 6th grade. And as a young boy, I felt betrayed by my country when the news came out that there would be no more moon landings. Skylab came and went – the Russians were back to racking up long endurance space records with their space station program. Then came the long stand down from Apollo program to the Space Shuttle program which re-launched American's Manned Space Program.

Then came the two space shuttle disasters. The last one – the Columbia's commander, Rick D. Husband, was a former Texas Tech University Air Force ROTC classmate of mine. My one and only claim to infamy I can make.

The turn of the century takes place and it seems to me that more and more people are claiming that the United States of America never did land on the moon. That it was filmed on a sound stage (ala “Capricorn One” – the movie), or that it was filmed out in the desert near what is now known as Area 51! Or that... well, insert possible claim here to try and explain how it could be done without actually traveling to the moon.

I don't know how else to explain it, but that I was born before the age of Watergate, etc. The baby boomer generation of which I was born at the tail end thereof, and Generation X which came after, have been 'programmed' from the mass media to disbelieve EVERYTHING that the US government does or says.

Being a avid listener to Coast to Coast Am radio with George Noory, every now and then he would invite Dr. Phil Plait who goes by the name of “The Bad Astronomer.” His website, Bad Astronomy, would every now and then take on the folks who claim that the moon landings were hoaxes. Well one day, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage who both worked as special effects people for the movies and now are hosts to the Discovery Channel's popular TV series “MythBusters,” decided that now was the time to try and take on that project – to dispel the dispellers. I don't have access to cable or satellite TV anymore and thus unable to view the program when it aired. I only heard about it on Coast to Coast AM when Noory was interviewing Dr. Plait. But on posted there dated August 26, 2008 that went into some detail. The program itself aired on August 27, 2008 on the Discovery Channel.

They went about determining which myths that needed and could be tested here on earth. Hyneman and Savage settled on three major subject areas that the hoaxers claim support their argument. One – How light reflects off the lunar surface. Two – How the astronauts appeared to move in the low gravity of the moon. Finally, how items behaved in an vacuum.
The part of the article that I liked the most was about the American Flag and how it was “able” to wave in the airless vacuum. First off, I actually remember the TV coverage of the moon flights and the experts who came on for every mission. For Apollo 11, I remember one man who explained how there was a tiny cross wire that stuck into the top of the mast that allowed the flag to be stretched out to full as if it was flying in a full breeze back on earth. MythBusters went to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. And at Marshall, they were able to obtained copies of the original plans for making the lunar flag and how to assemble it.

I had fun looking at the offical government website with the Apollo 11 images and chose one of the few images that show Neil Armstrong in it to go along with this article. It shows him working near the Lunar Module's desent stage and the American Flag out on the surface of the moon. Remember, almost all of the other Apollo 11 pictures that were shown to the public were the ones that Armstrong took of his companion Buzz Aldrin.

Other Reference websites:
( )All photographs on this website are courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, specifically the NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center.
Photograph AS11-40-5886 (Neil Armstrong works at the LM )