The Early Bird…

…gets the E-book. Official release day is June 1st, but FRONTIER is available now on Kindle if you can’t wait. So hit that button!

The Need For Speed

Latest iteration of the Aerion AS2 (I think. There’ve been a lot).

This is disappointing:

Aerion Corp. today ceased operations, citing a lack of available financing for its plans to bring a family of supersonic aircraft to market. In a statement, the company said it had built an $11.2 billion backlog for the first of that family, the Mach 1.2 AS2 business jet, but “in the current financial environment, it has proven hugely challenging to close on the scheduled and necessary large new capital requirements to finalize the transition of the AS2 into production. Given these conditions, the Aerion Corporation is now taking the appropriate steps in consideration of this ongoing financial environment.”

-AIN Online

Possibly related: last fall, Boeing suspended its NeXT “future innovations” unit. While not directly tied to Aerion, it’s indicative of Boeing’s cash crunch and the need to refocus on its core competencies (that is, building airplanes that don’t crash). Between the 737MAX and COVID, they’re not in a position to throw billions at projects that might never make it to the runway.

I really hoped they could be successful, but it’s also been in development for close to twenty years so it was hard to get too excited.

Making airplanes go faster presents all kinds of technical challenges as you approach Mach 1, and it’s not as simple as adding more wing sweep or bigger engines. One design choice affects other choices downstream, and sometimes those trades can’t be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. A lot of tradeoffs that are useful for military jets don’t translate well to civil transports and the FAA’s Part 25 certification standards. Adding speed adds complications like wave drag, and the optimum ways to solve it sacrifices performance at lower speeds, which is crucial to controllability in takeoff and landing (and a big focus of those Pt. 25 standards I was talking about). Example: a clipped delta wing is great for high-speed cruise but terrible for takeoff, approach and landing. Maybe you can mitigate this with more power from the engines, but now you’ve created a noise issue that cannot be ignored if you ever want to get the thing certified to fly anywhere civilized.

This really made me wonder about Aerion’s plans for a Mach 4 jet. While that puts it just shy of hypersonic (and the related heating / materials problems), that’s still pretty freaking ambitious when they hadn’t even cut metal on the “slow” Mach 1.2 version.

Finally, before anyone is willing to spend serious money on overcoming the technical challenges, there’s this hurdle: convincing Congress and the FAA to rescind the prohibition on supersonic flight over land. Without that, the business case may never close. It’s a huge chicken-and-egg problem when you consider the newest business jets regularly tickle M.90. Once you’re already at 90% of the speed of sound, adding another 20 or 30% might be too expensive to be worth the trouble. But man would that thing look cool on the ramp.

Having said all that, this is a setback I hate to see. Hopefully Boom doesn’t suffer the same fate.

T-Minus Ten Days

FRONTIER in the wild, at Secrets Beach Resort in Cancun. Wish I could say I took this, but it was one of my “advance readers.”

Writing a new book is always exciting but I especially enjoyed this one. Its an action-adventure / technothriller that builds on characters introduced in PERIGEE and FARSIDE. FRONTIER combines themes of exploration, military sci-fi, and Earthbound intrigue to project present-day geopolitical conflicts into near-future space. The ending surprised me as I was writing it and things didn’t turn out *at all* like I’d planned. It’s a good thing when the writer surprises himself.

Get ahead of the crowd and preorder on Amazon! Preorders are a tremendous help with initial rankings on release day, which increases reader visibility, which increases sales, which secures my ability to keep writing. Bottom line, I sincerely appreciate it and will continue doing my best to provide more great beach reads.

Coming Soon

The blog may have been dormant for a while, but rest assured I haven’t been. I have two titles coming out this summer, and a short story appearing in an anthology with such greats as David Weber and Larry Correia.

First up is Frontier, out June 1st (available for pre-order now, so hit that button!):

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THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THE STRONG OF HEART

Marshall Hunter only wanted to fly: the faster, the higher, the better. But the Space Force has other plans that will take its newest officer beyond anything he imagined.

Assigned to the cislunar cruiser U.S.S. Borman as a search-and-rescue officer, Ensign Hunter is resigned to a life of rescuing wayward spacefarers and derelict satellites. The novelty of Earth orbit soon wears off after a series of arduous spacewalks, confirming his suspicion that the new space economy has attracted too many people with more money than sense.

His fortunes appear to change when a billionaire couple goes missing on their way to survey a near-Earth asteroid. Out of contact and on a course that will eventually send them crashing into Mars, the nuclear-powered Borman is dispatched on an audacious, high-speed interplanetary run to find the couple’s wayward spacecraft and bring them home. As they approach the asteroid, the Borman itself becomes hopelessly disabled, its only chance of rescue coming from a surprising source.

With the Borman suddenly out of commission and far beyond reach, cislunar space begins falling into chaos as critical satellites fail and valuable lunar mineral shipments begin disappearing in transit. Nothing is as it seems, and the crew suspects none of it is by coincidence.

Facing an impossible choice between salvation and sacrifice, Marshall Hunter will have to find a way to save both his crewmates and their civilian charges.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Next is BattleSpace, a novella I’d wanted to write for a long time that explores the background of Vladimir Vaschenko, the Soviet cosmonaut at the center of the mystery behind last year’s Frozen Orbit. This one is a straight-up Cold War technothriller that just happens to be set in space. As seems to be everything I do, but anyway…

This one is taking longer than I thought, as I’d hoped to have it out in concert with the audiobook release of Frozen Orbit last month. Which, yeah, that’s a thing. The new cover looks pretty cool to my eyes:

Frozen Orbit

So, back to BattleSpace. It’s a tightly-paced story, about 100 pages, which is not nearly enough for my publisher to do a print run. This one will be independently published by moi and available anywhere fine e-books are sold later this summer.

It’s going to be a busy summer, so stay tuned!

FROZEN ORBIT Review Thread

Today was a good day. Saw Frozen Orbit in a bookstore for the first time, which floored me. Even though I knew it was there, the feeling of finally seeing it for sale out there in the big old world next to my favorites like James S. A. Corey and Larry Correia is, well…wow. I should be able to find words but I Just. Can’t. Even.

Hot on the heels of that experience, it garnered this mention from Booklist:

The story moves quickly with elements of both a spy thriller and a space race, and never seems to drag, though years pass during the telling of it. Readers are given glimpses of Russia’s Cold War space secrets as astronaut Jack Templeton pores through a long-dead cosmonaut’s journal on the lengthy space flight to the lonely Kuiper belt. A mystery about a crew driven to mutiny at the very edge of nothingness needs to be solved, and questions about humanity’s very existence are asked. Frozen Orbit could make for an impressive movie, one that would stand with greats such as Contact or Interstellar.

I’ll take that all day long, especially the movie part.

UPDATE: From Amazing Stories:

If you’re looking for a hard-core space-hardware saga in the vein of Clarke, Baxter, Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky), or the recent Last Astronaut (David Wellington), you’ve come to the right place…There’s enough character drama to pull the story along (with a married couple and two single astronauts aboard) but the real story here is on the science side…The author covers a lot of ground in this space procedural, and you’ll see a reexamination of the themes in Clarke’s 2001 a Space Odyssey here, but with technology and concepts informed by the five decades that separate the two works.

I’ll update and bump this post as new reviews arrive. In the meantime, you can help a brother out–if you liked it, please consider leaving a review or at least rating it on the Amazon page. That helps make it more visible, which is yuuge.

P.S. There are now signed copies of Frozen Orbit at Barnes & Noble in Hendersonville and Brentwood, TN. Act fast!

What Were You Thinking?

Tomorrow is the big day, which I’ve been waiting for since this time last year when Baen accepted Frozen Orbit for publication. And let me tell you, the intervening twelve months have been a rollercoaster: Graduated our youngest from high school, quit my job of 20+ years (a good run by any standard these days, much less in aviation), and moved to Tennessee. So other than that, not much…

No doubt you’re asking, “what were you thinking?” There’s much to say about that which I’ll get to in another post, but with my first “real” novel out tomorrow I’d rather talk about what was in my head while writing it.

See the source image

If you’ve read any of my work, it’s obvious that I’m not your traditional science fiction writer–if there is such a thing. I’m not into space aliens, don’t believe in UFO’s, and am not that drawn to space opera except for the original Star Wars (including Rogue One and The Mandalorian. Wow). And Trek, of course.

Having said that, I’ve never been much into the books from either series. My tastes in reading have always run more towards near-future fiction: what could we be doing, if not right now, at least in my lifetime if somebody really wanted to? Since we live in the age of SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are doing exactly that, I fully expect my brand of stories over time to become less science fiction and more technothriller. I was a huge fan of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton and that’s kind of how my style evolved.

Plus, it’s the twenty-first century and I want my flying car.

I knew from the outset that Frozen Orbit would be different from my other two novels. The basic idea was this: Until a few years ago, we had never laid eyes on Pluto. What if our first look revealed something nobody expected–something decidedly not natural? Not being into space aliens, this presented a story challenge until the idea that the Russians got there first eventually hit me. Still, even that wasn’t going to be enough: What was the compelling idea that would pull it all together?

I have to be careful not to give away too much here, but it’s a topic I wanted to explore. Namely, where did we come from? How did we get here? Were we created, or did we just evolve out of some grand cosmic accident? Or was it a little of both: That is, did our creator put the evolutionary process in place with humanity as the end goal?

This leads to the question of what else might be out there. It’s a big universe, after all. If life could develop here, why not somewhere else? If it has, then why haven’t we detected it yet (i.e. Fermi’s Paradox)?

Well, who says it has to be intelligent life (ignoring the obvious joke that we still haven’t proven intelligent life even exists on Earth yet)? Remember back in the 90’s when NASA thought they’d found fossilized microbes on Mars? I vividly recall some talking heads on CNN gleefully speculating that Christians were going to have a difficult time with that.

Ignoring their obliviousness of the other major religions, I thought, why should we have a hard time with that? How was this any different from discovering a new species in the Arctic Ocean or the Atacama desert?

I fully expect us to eventually find life elsewhere right here in our Solar System. There are likely candidates orbiting Jupiter and Saturn right now: Europa, Enceladus, and even Titan. I see them no differently than I do the under-explored regions of Earth, and finding life would certainly not pose a threat to the notion of Humanity as God’s chosen creation.

Intelligent life in another solar system would, however. If you hold the view that humans were uniquely formed as and God’s favored creation (above the angels of Heaven, in fact), then yeah, that’s a problem. I can easily see how that would lead a lot of people, myself included, into a crisis of faith.

There are a lot of good arguments for why we haven’t detected intelligent life yet (either through radio signals, drive signatures, alien megastructures, etc). One is that all of these presuppose other intelligent species would be much more advanced than we are. Even a hundred years’ worth of technological advancement would look like magic to us. A thousand years? We’d think they were miracle workers. We might not even be able to recognize the signs of a civilization that advanced.

Then there’s this: If it’s taken fourteen billion years for us to get to where we are, why exactly would we think other species somehow jumped ahead of us? What if we haven’t detected intelligent life yet because we’re all at about the same stage and the distances between us are so great that there just hasn’t been enough time yet?

Here’s another idea: there are other, very advanced civilizations, and they’re not particularly nice. Maybe we live in a dangerous neighborhood and just haven’t learned to keep our electronic mouths shut like everybody else.

It always struck me as hopelessly optimistic to assume any advanced civilization would naturally be peaceful because otherwise, they’d have surely destroyed themselves by now. This never made sense to me. What if there’s a whole race of predatory aliens out there, and we’re blasting EM radiation all over the place just waiting for the peaceful Vulcan space hippies to show up and throw out their Live Long and Prosper gang sign? What if instead, we just attracted marauding Klingons? If that’s the case then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow may be a good day to die.

That appeals to me from a storytelling point of view, but I don’t find it especially likely either. I’m more intrigued by the one question I’ve not heard asked enough: what if we’ve never found intelligent life because we’re the first?

Mind. Blown.

Scary, but also reassuring from a theological point of view. If you believe we’ve been commanded to go forth and multiply, well…that should affect how you view our role on this planet and our responsibilities to each other and the majestic Creation that has been provided for us to explore. God gave us big brains, opposable thumbs, and a boundless universe to use them in.

What if, when God told us to “go forth and multiply,” he really meant it? What if one of His purposes for us was to spread life through the universe? How might He do that?

Buy the book and find out tomorrow.

Countdown to Launch

Three days to go!

Frozen Orbit is about NASA’s first expedition to the outer planets, prompted by the discovery of a top-secret Russian spacecraft, Arkangel, abandoned at Pluto around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you’re wondering how in the world they could have pulled that off given the state of technology, well…who else but the Soviets would’ve been ballsy enough to build an Orion-style nuclear pulse drive?

USAF Orion Spacecraft Concept (Credit: NASA)

If you haven’t heard of Orion (and it’s most definitely not the current NASA project–it’s actually a travesty that they’re using the name for what is a decidedly less ambitious program), the concept is simple:

  1. Build a spacecraft with a really big plate and shock absorbers.
  2. Detonate a nuclear bomb behind said plate.
  3. Keep detonating nuclear bombs until the spacecraft has reached a measurable fraction of light speed. And make sure you’re pointed in a safe direction.

The Air Force studied this back in the 1960’s, as did the British Interplanetary Society in the 70’s. Neither group was able to convince their governments to fund them, despite its potential to open up the solar system to us (and possibly even interstellar travel within a human lifetime). Frozen Orbit postulates that the Russians were enamored enough with the concept (and didn’t care about the cost in either rubles or environmental damage) to actually go through with it. Why no one ever heard of it, and more importantly why they never came back, is the crux of the story.

Pre-order at Amazon!

Next Giant Leap

Can’t believe I forgot to link this, so I’m blaming the Christmas rush. Baen asked me to write a short background story on Frozen Orbit in advance of its release next week. From the opening:

Vladimir Vaschenko’s first indication that his landing attempt might not have planned for every variable was when the ground beneath him exploded.

If you want to find out what happens next, go to http://www.baen.com or just hit this link right here.

If It’s Boeing, It Ain’t Going

It pains me to say that. I spent a lot of time in their performance engineering school in Seattle, and after every course I came home feeling like a rocket scientist.

CST-100 Starliner passing by Charleston on its way to (the wrong) orbit.

After today I wonder if their rocket scientists feel like rocket scientists:

For most space launches, a rocket will take its payload all the way to Earth orbit — but that wasn’t the case for this mission. The Atlas V deployed the Starliner into a suborbital path around Earth, a trajectory that would not keep the capsule lapping around Earth indefinitely. Unless it ignited its own engines boosting itself into an actual orbit, the Starliner would eventually fall back into the ocean. This plan was a conscious decision made by the Starliner team. The idea was to drop the capsule off closer to Earth — a safety measure added just in case there ever was an emergency on future flights with passengers on board. That would make it easier for the crew to abort the launch and come home more easily and more comfortably.
Of course, getting Starliner to orbit meant the capsule absolutely had to ignite its own engines in order to climb higher into space. Initially, NASA and Boeing said the ignition had been delayed, and for a while it was uncertain if it occurred at all. Now, it seems that some kind of ignition did occur, but whatever happened did not put the Starliner on the path it was supposed to reach.

Well then.

I don’t pretend to have a clue what happened. Hopefully it’s easily understood and a quick fix–but in space program terms, “quick” is relative. At this rate, who knows when we’ll see a crewed Starliner flight?

Between this and the MCAS debacle, one rightly wonders what the actual &#$%@! is going on at the world’s leading aerospace manufacturer. It’s fair to wonder if this points to bigger problems, the rumblings of which I began to hear about 10-15 years ago after the McDonnell/Douglas merger. The engineers I got to know in Seattle were almost to a man concerned with the new management culture being imposed on them. They were afraid Boeing was becoming less of an engineering concern and more of a “business.”

That might have sounded like frightened old-timers protecting their rice bowls, but it looks like they knew what they were talking about. The bean counters took over, much to Boeing’s detriment. Moving the headquarters out of Seattle to Chicago certainly didn’t help. The 787 was a slow-motion fiasco, with supply chain and certification problems that delayed its entry to service by years, but at least the thing’s flying and hasn’t killed anybody yet. If only we could say the same thing for the 737 Max.

Safety and quality are always a balancing act: if you park all of your airplanes, you’ll never have an accident. You’ll also be out of business. You can likewise implement quality systems which are so onerous that nothing gets done. The opposite is to ignore safety and quality in the chase for dollars, and it can be surprisingly easy to rationalize cutting corners for the sake of “accomplishing the mission.”

By striving to improve their bottom line through questionable business decisions, this company has created some very expensive problems for itself. I just hope they’re not fatal, as I don’t want to see Airbus become a de facto monopoly. Despite their current issues, I think Boeing has always built a better product and I want to see that continue into the future.

It takes decades to build your reputation and seconds to squander it.

 

 

 

 

Steely-Eyed Missile Men

Just a quick hit, then back to work…I’m finishing a short story for Baen’s website in advance of Frozen Orbit’s release, the deadline for which coincides with an audit trip I have to take right after Thanksgiving. So yeah, lots going on at Chiles Manor South…

Aerotech Arreaux, the first large-ish rocket I built after getting back into the hobby 15 years ago.

My high-power fleet and mission control.

The Arreaux on an Estes F-15 motor, after the engine nozzle clogged and blew out the forward end. Black-powder motors are susceptible to this problem as they don’t easily scale up in size.

Public Missiles Mini Black Brant X, on an H182 redline motor.

Estes Mega Der Red Max on an Aerotech G64 White Lightning motor. Composite propellant works a lot better in these sizes than black powder.

Last weekend I went to my first high-power rocket launch since moving to Tennessee and had a blast with the Music City Missile Club (pun intended). It was a bit chilly with clear blue skies, not like the teeth-rattling cold and gray overcast that too often defined our launch days with Tripoli Mid-Ohio.

Out of four attempts, I had two successful flights and two which were less-than-successful but no less spectacular (i.e. they blew up).

Rocket science ain’t supposed to be easy.