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The state of space in Huntsville

Hundreds of layoffs are old news? Not until the last RIF is back on the job and the emergency rooms are no longer packed with laid off folks with all kinds of stress injuries and depression, and the locals have more to talk about than who is about to lose their house. When those things are resolved, layoffs will be old news. Huntsville Space Professionals are still doing what they can in the process.

In the meantime though,
Times are changing.
NASA's Commercial Crew Planning Status forum met to do just that, discuss the direction the nation would go with future space exploration. NASA is not getting out of the picture, but commercial space is going to play a whole lot bigger role. In the scheme of things, it may not be that big a difference in who is doing the work, because even though NASA oversees a lot of what goes on, a whole lot of the roll up your sleeves and get things done work is already done by contractors.

Now though, in addition to doing the work, which they have been doing all along, they are going to have a bigger say in the work that they do and they are going to be calling a whole lot more of the shots as to what is being built. That may or may not be a bad thing. At the end of the day it will all be governed by who pays the bills, whether government, private citizens, or private industry, and that could be on a national and an international basis.

So, NASA's Commercial Crew Planning Status forum met August 19 to discuss the future of this nation's commercial space exploration program: how it would be handled, and who would do what. The panel included: Dr. Laurie Leshin, Deputy Associate Administrator, ESMD; Phil McAlister, Commercial Crew Planning Lead, ESMD; and the panelists included Ed Mango, Program Planning Manager, Kennedy Space Center (KSC); Brent Jett, Deputy Program Planning Manager, Johnson Space Center (JSC); Maria Collura, Deputy Space Transportation Office, KSC; Scott Thurston, Program Planning Insight Manager, KSC; and Alan Lindenmoyer, COTS/CCDev Program Manager, JSC.

For more details on the forum go to:

The very next day, Friday, August 20, Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, came to Huntsville to discuss Marshall Space Flight Center's roll in the new heavy lift launch vehicle that NASA would be making. That is, instead of the Ares rockets, they were designing, until the stalemate, which occurred when politicians, citizens, and random other people, including the oldest yellow dog Democrats on the planet, did not agree with the new administration's decision to cancel Constellation and the beloved Ares fleet of rockets.

She did, however, explain it was all a misunderstanding and this compromise; a heavy lift rocket (which is awfully similar to the Ares V concept) will be designed instead of the Ares I, which would have been an inline human rated vehicle. (To put that in every day terms, that is like: well, we needed a car, for human transportation, and we still probably do, but we could really use a semi, so we are going to go for the semi instead, budgets, you can't have everything and all that.)

They don't have the plans yet, or know exactly what they want this new heavy lifter to do, but it's going to be big.

A rocket is after all a rocket and the good news is that the bulk of that work will be done in Huntsville. And when you consider all those RIFS, and all those unemployed rocket scientists who are on the road looking for work in parts unknown: that is not necessarily a bad thing, for Huntsville that is.

Robert Lightfoot, director at Marshall Space Flight Center says he is ready, and the MSFC workforce is ready. As soon as somebody decides exactly what they want this new rocket to do, specs and all, minor details, the rocket scientists of this town and contractors all across this country will make it happen.

There's more though, names change, programs come and go; but research and development will continue to take us into the frontiers of space.

A new Facebook page launched, Lunar Quest. There is a new NASA page, too. More is coming on that for sure. But, for now, that is all the news on that one.

Monday morning, our Mayor, Tommy Battle, pulled out the proverbial shovel and broke ground for the new Redstone Office Center. That's on the Army side and it's going to be good, a $1 billion dollar development just off Interstate 565 near Redstone Arsenal Gate 9 on Rideout Road. Just down the road from the new Bridge Street Town Centre, that area is booming and it is not done yet.

The best news is last though. Despite drastically reduced workforces, there are two sides to every coin. The Ares folks who were left, i.e., not cut in the layoffs, at least the ones from the Ares First Stage group, have their sleeves rolled up and are ahead of schedule on the second Developmental Motor (DM-2) test, which was originally scheduled for September. Wonder if Mr. P (Mr. Propulsion himself, Alex Priskos) had anything to do with that or maybe Fred Brasfield? They're the team leads, kind of like the coaches on any other team, you got to have it all and it all has to be good. Fred's out at ATK (they had layoffs, too) and Mr. P is the Ares First Stage lead at MSFC.

Anyway, despite politics, major cuts in the team and the budget, they are ahead of schedule and now on the docket for August 31. The local team is packing up and heading out to ATK in Promontary, Utah next week and they are going to test that motor.

A solid rocket motor test is second only to Alabama, or maybe Auburn, football, kind of like, if you are anywhere close and you can make it, you want to be there. There are traffic jams in the desert on test day.

For all kinds of practical reasons, rocket motor tests are conducted in the middle of the desert. This will be a full-scale test of a five-segment, first-stage solid rocket motor. It will be at 10:27 am (Central Time) Tuesday, August 31. This will be the most heavily instrumented solid rocket motor in NASA history. There will be 53 test objectives and they will be measured using 760 some odd instruments and sensors. This is the most powerful rocket motor ever designed for flight. It was originally going to be used to loft the Ares I, which was cancelled along with the Constellation program, which is all in the process of being reconfigured. It's still a very big deal though and whatever they decide to do about the rocket, the work on a motor to get it up there continues.

So, the DM-2 test fire will be Tuesday, August 31, 10:27 am, out at ATK in Promontory. The Ares First Stage Team, by whatever name it is now, will be out in the desert testing that motor.


The DM-2 test fire will be shown live on NASA TV.

Just to tweak your interest, scroll down for a video revisit of last year's DM-1 test. That was a 22 million horsepower baby. This is a real live rocket motor. They had to strap it down to prevent liftoff, so they could actually do the test, see how it looked, how everything worked, and if everything worked, all because it sure is better to find out during a test, than up in the air with people looking down from Lower Earth Orbit, minor details -- in the life of rocket science.

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