Kistling a Different Tune: Commercial Space in an Alternate Key

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by e of pi, Jun 2, 2018.

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  1. Threadmarks: Post 1: Intro/Teaser

    e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    Hello, everyone! Welcome to yet-another @e of pi spaceflight thread. This one is going to be a bit of an experiment for me--a bit more personal, and focused on a much most recent point of departure. In fact, as everything in this timeline will be happening within the era of the "modern" internet, I'm actually experimenting a bit with format to capture the way spaceflight news is shared and discussed on the web, and the way that's evolved even in the last decade.

    I'm also experimenting a bit with my writing style and schedule. I don't have a huge buffer, instead I'm going to be trying to write as I go with shorter, more-frequent updates. I'm interested in comments on what people are curious to hear more or less about, and for comments on the scope, focus, and direction of the timeline. I'm writing this solo, but I do want to thank most of the usual suspects who've contributed to brainstorming, concept development, proofreading, and other assistance: @Workable Goblin, @Polish Eagle, @TimothyC, @Brainbin, @nixonshead. Without further ado, the first post and teaser, and I hope you enjoy!

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    August 18, 2006 was a Friday. It was also a Day 3, in the strange and unusual world of this high school’s calendar, and that meant there wasn't seventh period, and the last break looped right into an hour long period for eights. For a student with an eights break, that left little for him to do. He’d finished off the last of his math homework in Spanish, the last of the Spanish in Chem, and he’d just dropped the English paper outline into the homework accordion folder in his bag to be expanded when he got home. With over an hour left before he could head home, that meant nothing to stop him from going to the library and hanging out. None of his friends had the same break, so once the passing period ended, he left their typical lunch table for the day. Once eights started and the hallways cleared out, he shouldered his bag and headed to the library to browse.

    Before checking the science fiction racks, he scanned the periodicals. Brandon Routh stared out from a cover story about his role in Superman Returns, while Meryl Streep glared with grace from a cover about her role in The Devil Wears Prada. Walking past the tabloids, he pulled down the Economist, whose latest issue featured a cartoon of a sandy maze under the headline of “Lost in the Middle East”, to study for debate.

    However, on the far side were the real prizes: the latest editions of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. Flipping through the index revealed the promise of a couple articles on NASA, and he eagerly flipped in. He paused for a moment on a color diagram comparing the two selections NASA had announced for some sort of commercial cargo contest, looking at the two rockets. One looked like Apollo, a capsule on a tube, the other like a mutant: a coke can balanced on a thermos. He shrugged, and turned to the next page where the main article on the progress of the Constellation Program was promised to begin. He had it all planned out: he’d graduate from college just in time to go help NASA fly the landers and Shuttle-derived heavies in the slick graphics on the following pages to the moon and beyond. He walked over to an armchair and sat down, studying everything he could. The diagram and one-page article was left further behind with every turn of a page about Ares, Orion, and Altair.

    [​IMG]

    Ed. Note: The image is originally from Reuters, and I’m not sure it actually appeared in any PopSci articles around this time, though I have distinct memories of a similar article about Falcon 9 and Dragon which--much like this character--I completely skipped past.
     
  2. Chessie-Seabord The Golden Rocket is a rollin' my blues away!

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    For about 2 years, my friend and I checked every single space news site every day during lunch period for any updates about Falcon Heavy. We even planned out a party for when Falcon Heavy finally did launch. The party never ended up happening, but where we excited when it finally did launch. It was amazing.

    Nobody has done a super detailed modern spaceflight timeline, though people have tried. Myself included. I never ended up posting it on this forum. I wrote it as a part of a school project, so I was unable to do any in-depth research because I was on a time crunch. It was lacking its quality, to say the least. I might revisit it someday.

    Can't wait to see where this goes, and keep up the good work as always!
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2018
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  3. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    That's been very much my experience too, and that's sort of what I was hoping to capture with the feel of this timeline It is, as has been said about other things, stylistically designed to be that way. Hopefully, it'll work.

    Thanks! I'm looking forward to it too, and I hope everyone enjoys where this goes. On that note...
     
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  4. Threadmarks: ARN Forums I: Kistler and Orbital Break Up

    e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    [1] Taken from https://www.space.com/2936-orbital-pull-rocketplane-kistlers-cots-team.html
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2018
  5. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Of course, by that point, Kistler is kind of past it's sell by date. Hasn't some of their hardware been sitting around for a decade or two by this point?
    Not to mention the 70s era Soviet rocket engines. Which Orbital iOTL found to be iffy.
     
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  6. Windows95 Well-Known Member

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    Cool timeline you've got there, even if I am not a space person. I see that you're trying to get the earliest time for reusable rockets, I think.
     
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  7. Chessie-Seabord The Golden Rocket is a rollin' my blues away!

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    Cough Cough, Cygness CRS ORB-3, Cough Cough.

     
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  8. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    I believe that is known as "narrative drama". :) That said, while Kistler's hardware has been siting around for a while, it's not quite "a decade or two"--much of their hardware was assembled in 1998-1999, so only about 7 years of storage. However, the age of the hardware and the changes in their contracting structures will be a key challenge Rocketplane Kistler have to overcome on the way to flight, and their engines are a weakness they don't even realize they have. I have plans for some of both, depending on the level of detail people are interested in about hardware development and preparations.

    Are people interested in jumping more towards actual flights and the implications, or the details of the challenges along the way?
    It's not necessarily the earliest (that would be some of my other past collaborations) but the idea is what a slightly earlier reusable push, with a bit less not-invented-here, might do for some key moments in spaceflight in the last decade or two. Plus, Kistler's just kind of interestingly strange (and you can't forget about the plane, either).
     
  9. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Hunh. I'd thought Kistler started a lot earlier than it did. But, ja, the company wasn't even founded until '93. I could have sworn I was following them before I got married!
     
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  10. Windows95 Well-Known Member

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    Nope, I mean instead of the 2010's, it will be in the 2000's when reusable rockets will happen.
     
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  11. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    I, for one, think the challenges make the successes all that much sweeter :)
     
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  12. Rock3tman_ Turbo Encabulation Specialist

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    Hey, I know this guy! Nice to see a new timeline, looking forwards to it.
     
  13. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    Thanks! On that note...
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Getting _A_ Band Back Together

    e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    [1] Historical press release quoted from one of the actual best space news sites in the world, NASASpaceFlight: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=5231.msg83213#msg83213
     
  15. Threadmarks: Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

    e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    I'd hoped for a bit more discussion on that, but I'll admit that we haven't hit the PoD yet. On that note, this time: the Point of Departure!


    [1] This is the point of departure. ATK basically decides to take a risk they didn’t IOTL and put up initial stakes. This is combined with their historical funding raised at the time--$100 million from MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates, and $200 million from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. With ATK committed for half of the remaining $200 million, they’re able to leverage momentum to raise the last $100m, and meet the revised/consolidated Milestone 4.
     
  16. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Oh. Cool. That's what the PoD was. Here I wondered if it was the Ontario pension fund funding. But, of course, that's such a weird source that it probably had to be OTL....
     
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  17. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    I know, right? Canada? Teachers? Pensions? Invested in space? What!? More than just the investors, I was a little surprised, in digging into the fundraising, to find how close Kistler actually came. They'd raised about 60% of the money they needed, but the got burned by general market conditions and a lack of trust after the previous bankruptcy (and some ill-timed NASA announcements about contracts for Russian services which RPK alleged threw doubt into how serious NASA was about COTS).
     
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  18. Brainbin Kingpin of the Cultural Cartel

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    As I informed @e of pi during development, and to his own amazement, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan once owned the Toronto Maple Leafs. For those of you who don't know, they're the most valuable team in the NHL, and one of the most valuable in North American pro sports. And the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan owned them outright.
     
  19. TimothyC Well-Known Member

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    It really is frustrating how close Kistler came to flying, and yet still fall short. One element of the K-1 vehicle that I've found surprises most people is the unpressurized dow-nmass capability that nothing else post-shuttle even remotely has.
     
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  20. Threadmarks: COTS at Two: February 2008

    e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    Commercial Orbital Transport at Two: NASA Eyes Schedule as Competitors Bend Metal

    --by Arnold Holmes (American Rocket News, February 2008)​


    Two years ago, NASA announced that it would accept proposals from commercial companies to provide the transportation of cargo to the international space station to augment the upmass capabilities of the existing supply fleet, including the venerable Space Shuttle, the European ATV, the Japanese HTV, and the Russian Progress. Two American companies were selected to develop their proposed vehicles under the contract in August of 2006: Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California for their Falcon 9/Dragon system and Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for their Kistler K-1 system. In the year and a half since, both competitors have passed important milestones along their path to space, but both have also encountered their share of challenges which have some at NASA concerned and the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO) eyeing the schedule for the commercial partnerships.

    Both competitors have made good progress on program management milestones, with both RpK and SpaceX completing important preliminary design reviews and raising the matching funds required by the COTS program Space Act Agreements.

    SpaceX and C3PO certified the completion of the Preliminary Design Review for their Demonstration Mission 1 (SPX-1) one year ago in February 2007, with the SPX-1 System Critical Design Review occurring late last year in August 2007. Demonstration Missions 2 and 3 are also proceeding along program reviews, with Demonstration Mission 2 completing Preliminary Design Review just over a month ago and Demonstration 3 completing System Requirements Review last October.

    Rocketplane Kistler and C3PO have completed the K-1’s System Requirements Review last February and its Pressurized and Unpressurized Cargo Module (PCM/UCM) Critical Design Reviews in October of last year. Its most recent reviews have paved the way for its path to station with its ISS Test Readiness Review two months ago in December 2007. Test firings of engines for its Launch Assist Platform and Orbital Vehicle were anticipated to begin at Aerojet this month, but have been delayed until later in the spring.

    Both companies have completed funding rounds, with SpaceX completing Financing Round 1 and beginning Financing Round 2 fund raising. Kistler has already completed Financing Round 2, in part thanks to assistance from their system development partner Alliant Techsystems (ATK) of Salt Lake City, Utah.

    When it comes to hardware, though both teams have made significant strides, both are still trailing where they and C3PO had originally planned to be, raising concerns about the ability of the programs to meet the required performance. SpaceX’s Merlin 1 rocket engine had already made its flight debut aboard their Falcon 1 launcher before they won their COTS contract and completed a full first-stage burn aboard that rocket’s second flight from Kwajalein atoll last spring. However, neither of those two flights have succeeded in reaching orbit. Falcon 1’s maiden flight failed roughly 30 seconds into the launch due to corrosion on a nut in the engine’s fuel lines which caused the vehicle to oscillate rapidly after launch, then pitch over and impact the reefs off the island. One year later, Falcon 1 returned to the pad, lifting off March 21, 2007. While the first stage completed its entire burn successfully and the second stage engine ignited, a pitch induced in the first stage exceeded limits, and led the interstage to physically contact the delicate niobium nozzle of the Kestrel upper stage engine. A roll control oscillation manifested as the vehicle flew on through second stage flight, eventually resulting in a loss of the mission at T+7:30 according to the company’s founder, Elon Musk. According to his statements, the roll would normally have been damped by the stage’s Thrust Vector Control system, but the system was overcompensating due to the damage caused by the impact. A third flight is anticipated later this year, which SpaceX hopes will resolve the issues and give the company their first successful orbital mission.

    Work is also proceeding at SpaceX on the preparations for the larger Falcon 9 which will lift their Dragon capsule to station. The large “tripod” test stand at their test site in MacGregor, Texas, has already seen the first multiple engine test, with two Merlin engines being fired together as preparation for the nine clustered Merlins which will carry the Falcon 9--a cluster which Musk has stressed will give the rocket so-called “engine out” capability, the ability to lose an engine in-flight and continue to complete its mission to orbit. Mr. Musk has described this as a capability lost since the last Apollo launch in 1976, however, a similar engine-out ability has been demonstrated aboard the Space Shuttle in Challenger’s STS-51-F mission, which lost its center engine at T+3:31 into the mission but was able to continue on to a successful mission (though a lower-than-planned orbit) thanks to quick work by flight controllers in Houston, particularly Booster Systems Engineer Jenny M. Howard [1].

    Though SpaceX is making progress towards flight, their own experience with aborted launches and failed missions, as well as the complexity of the Falcon 9 vehicle and Dragon capsule, have put them behind their planned schedule. Though it was hoped that they would have their maiden demonstration of cargo delivery to ISS by September of next year, this schedule appears likely to slip based on public information and information made available on AmericanRocketNews’s Stage 2.

    Rocketplane Kistler and their integration partner ATK have had less practical hardware to show for their efforts. The last ten months since ATK replaced Orbital in RpK’s technical partnerships have been largely focused on completing critical NASA-funded project review milestones, but another complicating factor has been getting a supply chain arranged for the production of the Kistler K-1 vehicle fleet of three Launch Assist Platforms (LAPs) and two Orbital Vehicles (OVs). Though Kistler has long noted that they had assembled 75% of their leading vehicle’s hardware by weight as early as 1998, the last near-decade has seen many changes in the firm’s situation, and left ATK in their role as integration lead to rearrange contracts with suppliers for critical tankage and other system hardware.

    For some systems like flight avionics and interstages, no hardware had yet been assembled at all, and thus ATK has had to work with RpK to finish their design and arrange subcontractors to deliver these systems for the entire K-1 fleet. The result has been that in the last year, the first K-1 has progressed only slightly towards flight, with some of the tanks stored at the Michoud Assembly Facility being opened up and re-inspected as part of recontracting and the beginnings of preparations for integration tooling and test equipment. Kistler and ATK have recently announced they now have all major integration tooling and 80% of the hardware for the initial vehicle in hand, and anticipate the beginning of vehicle integration no later than the end of the summer. However, this likely puts them almost six months behind schedule, currently tracking a first risk-reduction launch NET July 2009, with some at C3PO expressing concerns that this could slip further as the testing of the AJ-26 engines (re-inspected NK-33 and NK-43 engines from the Soviet N-1 moon rocket) and other systems has yet to begin.

    The most visible progress for RpK came last fall, when they laid some of the first foundations for their new launch and recovery facility in Woomera, Australia in the heat of a southern hemisphere summer. Woomera is no stranger to the roar of rockets, having hosted testing of the Blue Streak and Europa rockets, as well as the only all-British satellite launch with the launch of the X-3 Prospero satellite from the site on 28 October 1971. Australian officials at the event were pleased to welcome the return of orbital launch to Woomera, and the beginning of real construction on the site since ground was officially broken by Kistler in July of 1998, almost a decade ago. Woomera is the first of two planned launch sites for the company, as RpK has continued discussions about locating a second launch site in the continental United States, either at the originally planned site in Nevada or at an alternate site like the Oklahoma Air & Space Port, an unused pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, or a newly developed pad at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. While both of the latter would reduce the significant regulatory challenges Kistler and Rocketplane Kistler have encountered in attempting to fly reusable rockets over inhabited portions of the United States, RpK notes that they would limit available inclinations from the sites, requiring all polar launches to continue to be made from Woomera, and hopes that after significant flight history is accumulated at Woomera they may be able to gain FAA approval for a broader range of launch sites than has traditionally been possible for orbital rockets in the United States.

    While both the SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler teams have made significant progress towards flight, they are both running behind their anticipated schedules. While NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office believes that they remain on track to conduct cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, they will not do so until some time after the originally planned dates. Both teams have significant challenges yet to face and NASA continues to carefully monitor their progress at COTS advances to flight in the coming years.


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    [1] Elon Musk quoted from this article: https://web.archive.org/web/20080806055906/https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5482
     
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