Given the bad economic news, it's time for NASA and the Obama transition team to assume the worst, and consider the possible impact of the credit crisis on space station operations.<
The first warning signs have ready appeared. News has come from Russia that after a four month delay, RKK Energia has received a $100 million dollar loan for its production lines. The loan was delayed, according to Russian government officials, because of the liquidity crisis impacting banks worldwide.
The Russians, by the way, have long used government loans to pay for international commitments for the International Space Station. Back in the mid 1990’s, after much prodding, pushing and complaining, the Russian government finally provided the loans to allow Russian industry to build the core block for ISS, known as the Service Module.
This current loan, provided by the Russian bank Sberbank, will be used for building the next two year’s worth of Progress and Soyuz spacecraft. The terms of the loan are not known. For example, whether it is a two year loan, or a series of commitments. It is apparently part of a financial package worth more than $18 billion from the Kremlin that is scheduled to be used for critical state needs, including defense, aerospace and space companies.
That’s all good. But the difficulty of Energia in procuring its desperately needed loan should be a warning shot to NASA and all of us who have embraced the commercialisation of space operations. Consider NASA’s COTS program, which paves the way for private companies to handle ISS cargo operations. How doable are the financial projections of the three bidders? What happens if the liquidity crunch prevents them from carrying out their routine business?
There’s no reason to reconsider COTS. But incoming NASA officials need to anticipate a financial market that will not be receptive to extending credit as in the past, and what this means for ISS. This financial storm has already taken down some pretty major players in developed consumer markets. Now is the time for the governmental members of ISS to consider—and anticipate--the impact of the economic crisis on companies meeting their ISS obligations.
A strange series of stories have seeped out of the Russian press, suggesting that Russian space officials are seriously considering starting up the Buran space shuttle program, now that NASA’s space shuttle is being readied for retirement. The Buran was the Soviet response to the space shuttle, a magnificent flying machine that took off on the back of the Energyia booster rocket and landed like an airplane. It flew only once, on November 15th, 1988, and was then scuttled for lack of funds.
Given that this week was the 20th anniversary of the one and only flight, it explains the spate of stories. The Buran had two advantages over the NASA shuttle. The vehicle could be flown unmanned, and it had some thruster jets that would allow a second try if the first return failed for some reason. What is shared with the NASA vehicle was a lack of purpose. Why bother with a vehicle of this sort when the Russians had the perfectly dependable Soyuz and the Proton and the cargo Progress vehicles?
One answer was apparently provided by Magomet Talboev one of the pilots who test-flew the shuttle without going into orbit. Talboev was quoted as offering the following bizarre rationale for the program.
Well, taking seriously for the moment Talboev’s silly statement, we sure fooled the Russians by screwing up and allowing Skylab to crash back to the earth in 1979, rather than being boosted higher. This happened because the space shuttle fleet was years late, and we had abandoned all other means to boost our only space station. They sure must have been surprised when they launched their space station snatcher, only to find out there was nothing to snatch.
The reemergence of a Russian space effort that can pay its own way is a welcome development. I also understand the frustration felt by so many in the Russian space community towards the hard road of the past several decades. Let’s toast the Buran — but lets get on with serious discussions and not wistful nostalgia.
After some very long days (and nights) these past few weeks, the "bake-out" of all the circuit boards that will make up the flight model for KySat-1 has been completed. The bake-out procedure, which is high heat (70+ C) applied under extreme vacuum (less than one millionth of the atmosphere at sea level), removes impurities on the surfaces and interior of the boards in preparation for the conformal coating process. The conformal coating is a thin epoxy like layer on the surface of the boards that provides additional mechanical strength and environmental protection for the circuit boards and the components on them. Creation Technologies is graciously providing the coatings, infrastructure, and expertise required to handle the materials and is applying the coatings at their facility in Lexington.
The coating process is scheduled to take about two weeks, after which the assembly of the flight model of the KySat-1 picosatellite will begin. We expect the flight model to be assembled as early as January 2009 and ready to begin a series of qualification testing with a target delivery date to NASA in March 2009.
If all goes well, we hope to fly in June, 2009.
While there is still much work to do for the ongoing testing of the engineering model of KySat-1 (an identical copy of the flight model used for more rigorous qualification testing, and to which the conformal coating has already been applied) and the subsequent testing of the flight model, this is a big milestone for the program and a very exciting time for the consortium and those involved.
Kentucky Space consortium
One such page includes a clickable spacesuit, seen here, describing the technology protecting the astronaut in the vacuum of space.
Via the X-Prize Foundation's excellent blog, The Launch Pad, Odyssey Moon has released a new rendering of its moon lander. Odyssey Moon is a commercial venture dedicated to the commercial lunar enterprise.