Video: NASA Conducts Stability Test Firing of J-2X Engine

NASA conducted a key stability test firing of the J-2X rocket engine Dec. 1, marking another step forward in development of the upper-stage engine that will carry humans farther into space than ever before.

The Dec. 1 test firing focused on characterizing the new engine’s combustion stability, a critical area of development. During the test firing, a controlled explosion was initiated inside the engine’s combustion chamber to introduce an energetic pulse of vibrations not expected during nominal operations. Data from this and future combustion stability tests will help engineers understand more about the engine’s performance and robustness during engine operation.

The J-2X engine was test fired on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, in south Mississippi. The engine is being developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It will provide upper-stage power for NASA’s new Space Launch System. The SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft, its crew, cargo, equipment and science experiments to space — providing a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching the moon, asteroids and other destinations in the solar system.

Senate Threatens Subpeonas Against NASA Over HLV Documents

Subpoena Threatened Over Heavy-Lift Rocket
Aviation Week

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, 4th, plans to subpoena documents related to NASA’s plans for a heavy-lift space launch system (SLS) and other activities if the agency does not produce them by the close of business on June 27.


SAS Unimpressed by SLS “Competition”

Space Access Update #124  6/20/11
Copyright 2011 by Space Access Society

We don’t (currently) expect further legislative action on NASA Exploration budget and policy before sometime in July.  As the political season slows to its usual hot-weather saunter, it’s a good time to take a look at where things stand on some of the issues we care about this year.  Briefly, things are… interesting.  Neither as bad as they could be, nor in some cases as good as they may superficially appear.  Much is in flux, little definitively settled yet.

SLS “Competition”: We’re Not Impressed

Lawmakers cutting public deals are generally about as subtle and delicate as a brontosaur courtship.  The recent grafting of “competition” onto the ongoing NASA Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lifter boondoggle was no exception.


Shelby Supports SLS Competition While Contractors Worry in California

Sen. Richard Shelby

In an effort to improve the prospects of contractors in his own state, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby is urging that NASA undertake competitive bidding for parts of the Space Launch System, specifically solid-rocket boosters produced in Utah. In a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the Republican senator wrote:

I am concerned, therefore, that NASA is considering a Space Launch System architecture that relies on a booster system for the Space Shuttle. I am particularly concerned that this plan might be implemented without a meaningful competitive process. Designing a Space Launch System for heavy lift that relies on existing Shuttle boosters ties NASA, once again, to the high fixed costs associated with segmented solids. Moreover, I have seen no evidence that foregoing competition for the booster system will speed development of the SLS or, conversely, that introducing competition will slow the program down.


TPIS on Bidding SLS: We Like It!

TPIS PR — Cape Canaveral, FL — TEA Party in Space (TPIS), a non-partisan organization, today publicly praised a letter sent by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about competing NASA’s procurement of the Space Launch System (SLS). TPIS values non-partisan cooperation among all political leaders who seek a successful space program based on fiscal responsibility, limited government, and the competitive free market. TPIS is happy to join with these two Senators who wisely recognize that NASA must compete its contracts to be fair to the tax payers in this time of budgetary crisis.


Space Review: Smaller Cheaper Whatever?

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

This week in The Space Review….

Human spaceflight for less: the case for smaller launch vehicles, revisited
As NASA, Congress, and industry debate what the new Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket should be, some argue that such a rocket isn’t necessary at all. Grant Bonin makes the case for exploration architectures that use larger numbers of smaller, less expensive rockets.

New strategies for exploration and settlement
For many space advocates, space settlement has long been the ultimate goal of spaceflight, but one that has seen little progress in the last few decades. Jeff Foust reports on two recent speeches that offer similar, if slightly differing, takes on new approaches that could make settlement a reality.

Bring home the sample
A Mars sample return mission remains a high priority for scientists, but one that is technically and financially difficult to carry out. Lou Friedman discusses the importance of sample return and the role that international cooperation can play to further it.

NASA’s new robot challenge
Draft rules for a new NASA prize competition involving sample return technology were quietly released last month. Ben Brockert reviews the rules and discusses some potential issues with the planned competition.

The last shuttle crew
Next month the final shuttle mission will lift off with a four-person crew. Anthony Young reflects on this final crew and the future of human spaceflight.

NASA to Reach Decision on Space Launch System Soon

Chris Bergin of reports that a decision on NASA’s Space Launch System is “just weeks away.” (Isn’t the suspense killing you? It’s like a World Cup final penalty kick shootout. For geeks.)

At the risk of spoiling the fun, it appears that NASA will be selecting an IL SD HLV 70MT –> 130MT, which is to say something a lot like this:


Aerojet, Teledyne Team Up to Pursue NASA HLV Contracts

AEROJET/TELEDYNE PR — THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. and Sacramento, Calif., June 2, 2011 — Teledyne Technologies Incorporated announced today that its subsidiary, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc. (TBE), in Huntsville, Ala., has signed a letter of agreement to form a strategic alliance with Aerojet – General Corporation, a GenCorp company, to manufacture and assemble liquid rocket engines.

The agreement states that Teledyne Brown and Aerojet will cooperatively develop, manufacture and market liquid propellant rocket engines for customers such as NASA and other aerospace companies.


Senators Urge Competitive Bidding on NASA Heavy Lift Vehicle

In a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have urged that the space agency open up the heavy-lift Space Launch System to competitive bidding instead of continuing with existing contracts.

In this time of constrained budgets, it would be inexcusable to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars into a non-competitive sole-source contract for the new Space Launch System. By allowing a competitive process, NASA could realize hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings, and billions in savings over the life of the program. Furthermore, a competitive process will build capacity and enhance the critical skills and capabilities at a wide range of aerospace technology companies.

Boeing Opens Florida Office for NASA Next-Gen Launcher

BOEING PR — TITUSVILLE, Fla., June 1, 2011 — Boeing has established an Exploration Launch Systems Engineering and Integration office in Titusville to support the operational readiness of NASA’s next launch system, currently under study.

“This new Boeing office near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center expands our capability to execute our current Upper Stage Production and Instrument Unit Avionics contracts, as well as continue our support of NASA as it lays the groundwork for development of heavy-lift launch vehicle concepts,” said Jim Chilton, Exploration Launch Systems vice president for Boeing. “We plan to ensure critical skills and capabilities are retained to provide a smooth workforce transition from the Space Shuttle program that builds on accomplishments and investments made to date.”


Senate to NASA: Stop Stalling on HLV Program

The following letter was sent to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Dear Administrator Bolden:

It has now been more than seven months since the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (“the 2010 Act” – P.L.111-267) was signed into law, and more than a month since the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-10) removed any remaining statutory obstacles to its full implementation. To this point, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has not made sufficient progress in carrying out the changes Congress required in the 2010 Act. Furthermore, NASA has not adequately complied with a number of reporting requirements designed to keep Congress apprised of NASA’s progress in implementing the Act.


NASA’s Latest HLV Worry: Bid Protests

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

NASA — already grappling with what it views as an impossible task given to it by Congress — is facing one more worry in its effort to build a heavy-lift vehicle: bid protests. Space News reports:

If NASA chooses to leverage this hardware under existing contracts for the heavy-lift rocket, as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, it could face a challenge from companies that are not currently in the mix. Propulsion provider Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., for example, has made clear its desire for a competition to build elements of the Space Launch System.


NASA’s Ugly HLV Plan

It looks like Congress’s insistence that NASA start building a heavy-lift vehicle now is leading the agency toward a very expensive dead-end project that will cost $11 billion but do little to advance that august body’s supposed goal of sending humans out beyond Earth orbit. Chris Bergin over at has a detailed explanation here; Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society has provided this more succinct summary:

Early word is, it’s an UGLY plan (a good match for the mandate):  Have the existing contractors build a hasty 70-ton payload Shuttle-Derived launcher using a pair of old-style 4-segment solids and three surplus Space Shuttle Main Engines, then fly this four times starting in 2016 (using up the existing SSMEs.)  Then, after spending $11.5 billion (ignoring the near-certain overruns) for just four flights, shut this project down and start all over, with a “competition” between several different 130-ton capacity heavy lifter concepts.

Dumber than dirt? Absolutely. But, it’s perhaps the only way that NASA can try to meet the Congressional mandate to build a HLV it doesn’t immediately need using space shuttle technology it is trying to abandon by an unrealistic deadline. And because it doesn’t produce a 130-ton vehicle by the end of 2016 as Congress mandates, the plan doesn’t even really do that.

Vanderbilt has sent out an action alert urging people to call their Congressmen urging them to oppose the Space Launch System program as currently configured and allow NASA to hold an open competition to solicit proposals for a new HLV. It is reproduced in full after the break.


Henry Vanderbilt on NASA Budget: Meh!

The latest update from Henry Vanderbilt, who thinks that Congress is plowing billions into a rocket that will never fly….

Space Access Update #123  4/14/11
Copyright 2011 by Space Access Society

NASA Exploration Funding: A Setback 

When NASA questions come up in the US Congress, there is an unfortunate tendency for the majority to defer to a handful of their colleagues who sit on the various NASA oversight committees.  Unfortunate, because recently that handful seems to be abusing the majority’s trust to advance its own short-term regional advantage.  They’ve been trampling the national interest in a viable affordable NASA space exploration program and in overall national technological competitiveness.  They’re trading both of these for never-fly home-town jobs programs.

Six Months Late, Congress Finalizes NASA Budget for FY 2011

Budget Item
FY 11
FY 11
FY 11
Exploration$3.808 billion$3.868 billion$4.263 billion
Heavy-lift Vehicle*$1.8 billion$1.631 billion
Multipurpose Crew Vehicle**$1.2 billion$1.12 billion
CCDEV***$312 million$312 million$500 million
Space Operations$5.5 billion$5.5 billion$4.888 billion
Science$4.9 billion$5 billion$5 billion
Cross-Agency Support$3.11 billion$3.11 billion$3.11 billion
Education$145.8 million$145.8 million$145.8 million
Aeronautics and Space Technology$535 million$930 million$1.152 billion
Construction and Environmental Compliance$394.3 million$394$397
TOTAL$18.485 billion$19 billion$19 billion
*  The President’s budget requested $559 million for heavy-lift and propulsion research. That line item was zeroed out by Congress and the funds put toward building the HLV immediately.
**  The Obama Administration canceled Multipurpose Crew Vehicle but later reinstated it in the budget as an ISS crew rescue vehicle.
*** CCDEV funding is not specified in the measure passed this week by Congress, which likely means it has not changed. Sen. Bill Nelson’s office has said that the funding level is at $312 million this year.