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Rand Simberg, Friday, 11-14-14 November 15, 2014

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Rand Simberg, Friday, 11-14-14


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Guest:  Rand Simberg.  Topics:  Test flights, space tourism, policy, recent accidents,  rockets, rocket motors, heavy lift & more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See http://www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed Rand Simberg back to the show for a wide ranging discussion on top space news items, the SS2 accident update, space policy issues, and more.  During the first segment of this 96 minute program, Rand led off with the mentioning of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 12 launch.  Next up was a short discussion about Comet 67P and the Philae lander, then Rand mentioned his current article in PJ Media, http://pjmedia.com/blog/commercial-spaceflights-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-last-week-of-october.  Rand talked about what is currently known about the SS2 accident, the NTSB investigation, & that nothing has been ruled out as a cause or partial cause for the accident.  When asked if he thought the accident would cause the FAA to start regulating the industry, he did not think so but listen to his reply.  This topic also came up in the last segment of our show. Rand mentioned that XCOR was moving ahead & there technology is different from the one employed by Virgin.  He also made a point of explaining multiple times that a test flight was not a commercial flight.  Rand got some listener emails about investment in Virgin and if it was waning.  Helen emailed in asking about a possible lapse in the Virgin safety culture.  Carl emailed in about the impact of the SS2 accident on Spaceport America.  We switched gears and talked about Antares, the Orbital-ATK merger, & the use of Russian rocket motors.

In the second segment, Rand was asked about the possible impact on Virgin’s customer base.  Rand said that the bigger risk was the investment risk.  The RD180 came up again as did the Atlas 5, Delta 4, and the Falcon 9.  We talked about possible midterm election impact and here Rand thought there might be more impact on the DOD side than NASA.  We discussed projects that might be cancelled as a result of the election and the ARM topped the list.  he did talk SLS and thought that eventually it would be shut down, especially if SpaceX gets Falcon Heavy flying.  Rand also mentioned the NRC Pathways Human Spaceflight Study but was critical of it, especially the part that said there had been no and will be no launch vehicle advances for the past 30 years.  Dr. Lurio was our first caller & he wanted to discuss possible FAA regulations, his understanding of the test flight vs. commercial flight policy application & more.  They talked about hybrid rocket motor vibrations and the unknowns regarding the current test flight.  Toward the end of their discussion they joked about using SLS to launch many many cubesats.  Kirk emailed us with a question about methane engine.  Rand had much to say about methane rocket motors so don’t miss his reply.  Rand talked about hybrid rocket motors and some of their problems, specifically for SS2 and Dream Chaser.  I asked our guest about the upcoming Orion test flight and the heat shield comments offered earlier in the week by Bob Zimmerman.  I then asked if he thought there would be a surge in return to the Moon projects.  Michael Listner called in regarding the likelihood of safety regulations coming to pass as a result of the accident.  Rand and Michael had an active discussion about this possibility.  As the program was ending, Rand talked about his book, “Safe Is Not An Option” which is available online and in the ebook format.  Remember, if you buy it through the OGLF Amazon portal, Amazon makes a contribution to TSS.  Rand mentioned he might update the book once the NTSB report on the accident is finalized.  Read Rand’s blog, Transterrestrial Musings at  http://transterrestrial.com.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above. You can reach Rand through his blog or through me.



1. Michael J. Listner - November 15, 2014

I had the debate about the applicability of the FAA’s exception to the current moratorium on imposing regulations on the industry if a fatality occurred. Rand focused heavily the phrase “commercial flights” to support his contention that the exception to the moratorium does not apply to the current test phase. I disagreed with him on air and in further support of my position I posit the following:

It is non-sensical that the exception to regulation would only apply to an incident that occurred under a revenue-generating flight under a launch license. The current experimental license isn’t intended to last in perpetuity. It is a step towards a launch license and revenue-generating flights. Therefore, if a problem is identified that would be properly addressed by regulation, it makes sense that the FAA would create the rule during the period of the experimental license so that the fix is in place when revenue-generating flights begin. Furthermore, if an issue is identified, the FAA would want to ensure that it was identified prior to issuing the launch license instead of issuing the launch license and then creating the regulation.

Finally, the exception to the moratorium needs to be read in conjunction with the statute, specifically 51 U.S.C. 5093(c):

SAFETY.-In carrying out the responsibilities under subsection (b), the Secretary shall encourage, facilitate, and promote the continuous improvement of the safety of launch vehicles designed to carry humans, and the Secretary may, consistent with this chapter, promulgate regulations to carry out this subsection.

The statute makes no distinction between commercial flights and experimental flights. It specifically references the safety of launch vehicles. Therefore, the exception to the moratorium when compared to the language of statute suggests that the phrase “commercial flights” is inclusive of any flights of a commercial launch vehicle whether it be under an experimental license or a revenue-generating launch license.

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