NASA

NY Times on the ISS

Over the last couple of weeks there have been plenty of newspaper editorials about the space shuttle, ISS, and space policy in general. In some respects watching these editorials has been entertaining, as they shift from congratulating the shuttle one day to criticizing it the next when news of the foam shedding came to light. It’s worth a broader examination, but not here and not today.

What is worth discussing today is an editorial in the Sunday New York Times titled “Is the Space Station Necessary?” It’s worthwhile in part because it appears in the Sunday Times, one of the most widely-read newspapers in the US. Second, the Times doesn’t skimp on the discussion: the editorial is double the size of the typical one found in the pages of the newspaper, and goes into some detail about the rationale for continuing the ISS program.

The editorial concludes that the two primary reasons for continuing the station—commitments to international partners and scientific research—are highly suspect. On the former, the Times editors believe that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the international partners might be looking for a way out of the program: “There are credible reports that even space authorities in some partner countries are appalled that the high cost of operating the station will eat up their own budgets, constraining other space ventures.” On the latter, the Times believes that while good science can be done on the ISS, the “real problem is that the value of the work is not commensurate with the cost of the station-shuttle complex.”

Do these arguments hold water? Regarding the science, it’s a judgment call: what value do you place on ISS research? On the international partners issue, the Times may be overreaching by lumping them all together: does Russia, for example, feel the same as Europe, Canada, or Japan? The Times also seems ignorant of the effects of the Iran Nonproliferation Act when it writes: “If the shuttle fleet remains grounded for a long time, the station will have to stay as is and rely on smaller Russian spacecraft to carry up crew members and cargo. That seems like a sensible approach over all.” Of course, NASA will be denied access to those Russian spacecraft starting next year unless INA is amended. One good piece of advice: “…right now we should at minimum be hearing administrators explain how they will plan for the lowest number of shuttle flights possible, while they work on development of a successor spacecraft and automated vehicles to carry loads into orbit.” We should be hearing more about that in the weeks to come as NASA rolls out its exploration architecture.

34 comments to NY Times on the ISS

  • Paul Dietz

    The arguments do hold water, I think.

    The value of the research to science as a whole is best judged by the scientific community itself. This community has never thought the space station was worth much, or that the research that could be conducted there justified its construction. The supporters of ISS science have been the ‘kept women’ who depend on it for funding, and they could be expected to support the project regardless of its actual merits.

    About Iran non-proliferation: wasn’t one of the purposes of ISS to keep Iran from getting nukes? If so, it’s been a failure.

  • David Davenport

    [ "If the shuttle fleet remains grounded for a long time, the station will have to stay as is and rely on smaller Russian spacecraft to carry up crew members and cargo. That seems like a sensible approach over all." ]

    Nope, if the “fleet” of three Shuttles stays grounded for a long time, Dr. Griffin’s plans become inoperative, and the good Dr. or his replacement will try to launch ISS payloads on the heavy versions of the Atlas or Delta EELV.

    As of this month, it may seem that NASA has its roadmap drawn and its future launch system ducks all lined up in a row, but all may go the way of yesteryear’s Space Launch Initiative. The space launch situation is more fluid than NY Times edotiorialists can forsee.

  • David Davenport

    “NY Times edotiorialists …”

    Make that “editorialists.”

    And let me add this thought: if Shuttle missions
    grind to a halt for the next few years, then Congress is very unlikely to fund Shuttle-derived launch systems during the next few years.

    It won’t be all that long until January 2009: a new Pres., another NASA director, another NASA space roadmap.

  • “The value of the research to science as a whole is best judged by the scientific community itself.”

    Ummm….no. Its judged by whoever foots the bill for it. When you buy a car do you just pay whatever price the dealer sets? If I were to say that a pound of hamburger meat was $1000/lb would you just pay it and not say a word? No. The value of the science is the price someone is willing to pay to have it done. If that price is to high for the value it represents then it will not (and should not) be done.

  • David Davenport

    Pardon me for digressing a little bit and responding to the canard that the DOD forced an unwilling NASA to adopt a winged spaceplane. That notion is wrong. Heppenheimer’s book on the history of the Shuttle indicates that the Air Force DID NOT compel NASA to opt for a winged spacecraft:

    The Space Shuttle Decision: NASA’s Search for a Reusable Space Vehicle

    T.A. Heppenheimer

    The NASA History Series

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
    NASA History Office
    Office of Policy and Plans
    Washington, D.C. 1999

    “…

    In 1962, NASA-Marshall set out to address such issues through design studies. The first step was to set standards for the design of launch-vehicle concepts. Each concept had to carry ten passengers or ten tons of cargo. Aircraft-type approaches were paramount, with Marshall stating that contractor designs “should be compatible with a philosophy used in the development of supersonic commercial jet aircraft and should offer a potential commercial application in the late 1970s, such as operating the vehicle over global distances for surface-to-surface transport of cargo and personnel. … ”

    http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4221/ch2.htm

    Early Studies of Low-Cost Space Flight

    Amid the gigantism of the Nexus and the far-out futurism of Aerospaceplane, there were those who were content to envision winged craft powered by conventional rocket engines. Here, too, the exuberance of the day [80] sometimes found expression in concepts of heroic size, such as the Astroplane of Aerojet-General. This concept included wings that would carry liquid hydrogen, much as the wings of airliners carry jet fuel. The Astroplane would have a wingspan of 423 feet and a length of 260 feet, excluding its payload. Carrying up to 220 tons of cargo, it would weigh 5000 tons at liftoff, and would rise into the air with twice the thrust of a Saturn V. 49

    There were several design exercises, however, that projected modest size and short-term technology. One such concepts, the Astro from Douglas Aircraft, was a two-stage fully-reusable launch vehicle with payload of 37,150 pounds. Both stages of the Astro were designed as lifting bodies and would burn hydrogen and oxygen, using rocket engines that were already under development. The project engineers saw no problem with reuse of such rockets, noting that one of their engines, the Pratt & Whitney RL-10, had already “been operated more than 9000 seconds with more than 50 restarts.”

    Nevertheless, these engineers also shared the enthusiasm of the times. Written in 1963, their paper on the Astro anticipated that this vehicle could be operational “in the 1968-70 period.” Each flight would cost $1.5 million. In readying the second stage for a reflight, turnaround time “would range between 2.5 and 5 days, based on a two-shift operation.” The Astro would fly 240 times per year. 50

    The era’s exuberance was understandable; it had taken less than 35 years to advance from Lindbergh in Paris to astronauts in orbit. It was expected that this pace would continue. Amid the plethora of new possibilities, however, promising ideas sometimes were lost in the shuffle. This happened to Martin Marietta’s Astrorocket concept of 1964. In the light of subsequent events, the concept seems to have offered a glimpse of the future, not only because the design was highly futuristic but because it clearly foreshadowed a class of design concepts that later stood in the forefront between 1969 and 1971.

    With a planned liftoff weight of 1250 tons, Astrorocket was to be intermediate in size between the Saturn I-B and the Saturn V. It was a two-stage fully-reusable design, with both stages having delta wings and flat undersides. These undersides fitted together at liftoff, belly to belly. The designers of Astrorocket were no clairvoyants; rather they drew on the background of….

    ( drawing )

    [81]

    Martin Marietta’s Astrorocket concept. (Art by Dennis Jenkins)

    ….Dyna-Soar and studies at NASA-Ames of winged re-entry vehicles. 51 The design studies of 1969-1971 followed the same approach, calling for two-stage fully-reusable configurations and a strong preference for delta wings.

    Unfortunately, Astrorocket was at least five years ahead of its time. It failed to win support from NASA, the Air Force, and even its own designers, the management of Martin Marietta. That firm would continue to pursue studies of reusable launch vehicles, but these would not be Astrorockets.

    “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought content,” said China’s Chairman Mao in 1956.52 Studies of future space transportation were certainly blossoming. The field, however, needed vigorous pruning to define the most promising approaches. Weilding their garden shears, a number of investigators began to address some key questions.

    Was it worth waiting for the scramjet? While its performance far surpassed that of even the best rockets, its development would take time and its prospects were not certain. Even accepting that the next generation of launch vehicles would continue to use rockets, there was the question of whether [82] such craft should take off horizontally, like an airplane. A booster, heavy with propellant, would need large, massive wings to do this. The vehicle, however, might ride a rocket-powered sled that would accelerate to several hundred miles per hour, at no cost to the booster in onboard fuel.

    In 1962, NASA-Marshall set out to address such issues through design studies. The first step was to set standards for the design of launch-vehicle concepts. Each concept had to carry ten passengers or ten tons of cargo. Aircraft-type approaches were paramount, with Marshall stating that contractor designs “should be compatible with a philosophy used in the development of supersonic commercial jet aircraft and should offer a potential commercial application in the late 1970s, such as operating the vehicle over global distances for surface-to-surface transport of cargo and personnel.”

    This study, called “Reusable Ten Ton Orbital Carrier Vehicle,” awarded contracts of $428,000 to Lockheed and of $342,000 to NAA. From June 1962 to December 1963, designers looked at two-stage fully-reusable configurations that put fixed wings on both stages, and carried through separate designs for both vertical and horizontal launch. They also considered concepts that drew on the Air Force’s Aerospaceplane, with advanced airbreathing engines to provide propulsion in the first stage.

    Subsequent studies investigated additional alternatives and pursued design issues in greater depth. In 1965, General Dynamics defined a concept for a reusable second stage that had the shape of a lifting body; both that firm and Lockheed conducted studies of first stages that could carry such a second stage. First-stage concepts continued to cover both vertical and horizontal launch. When using airbreathing engines, design choices ranged from conventional turbojet engines to scramjets. At General Dynamics the possibilities included LACE, for which that company had an active experimental program.

    These studies concluded that, without exception, rocket engines were preferable to airbreathers for first-stage propulsion. A leader in these efforts, Max Akridge of NASA-Marshall wrote that “the economic advantage for the rocket engine was always about the same as the developmental cost of the airbreathing engine.” Similarly, vertical takeoff proved to offer an advantage over horizontal launch because the cost of developing a rocket sled was not offset by lower weight and cost in the flight vehicle.

    These studies defined the preferred approach of NASA-Marshall’s Future Projects Office which called for a two-stage fully-reusable launch vehicle,…

    ( drawing )

    [83]

    Three classes of advanced launch vehicle studied in 1966. Left, Class I: a piloted spacecraft resembling Dyna-Soar, launched by a Saturn I-B. Center, Class II: a two-stage fully-reusable space shuttle with rocket propulsion in both stages. Right, Class III: space shuttle with airbreathing engines in the first stage. (U.S. Air Force)

    Three classes of advanced launch vehicle studied in 1966. Left, Class I: a piloted spacecraft resembling Dyna-Soar, launched by a Saturn I-B. Center, Class II: a two-stage fully-reusable space shuttle with rocket propulsion in both stages. Right, Class III: space shuttle with airbreathing engines in the first stage. (U.S. Air Force)

    ….with both stages having fixed wings and rocket propulsion. The work also established the technical feasibility of such vehicles. NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center also adopted this approach, and NASA as a whole proceeded to hold to such designs until 1971. 53

    …”

  • Paul Dietz

    Ummm….no. Its judged by whoever foots the bill for it.

    By this argument, anything the government spends money on is, by definition, worthwhile.

    The source of the problem becomes clear when you distinguish between ‘value to the politicians’ vs. ‘value to science’ or ‘value to the country’. Your methodology would be measuring the first; the others would require a different means of determining value.

  • E. John

    No bucks, no buck Rogers.

    No space station, … no shuttle. (?)(?)

    Global security, global economics… how can the space station help, and help justify itself? Maybe we can invite Iran to be a partner, and hold Iran hostage like the rest of the partners, and everyone smile for the camera in orbit. The immaculate conception of the union of conservative christianity and radical Islam, 200 miles high! Terrorism ends along with the Iran and North Korean Nuke programs, and we guzzle all of the cheap oil we possibly can in our global warming and friendship SUV’s ever after.

    International partners, space station science … you know it would help if the thing could get built, so SOMETHING could be done with the circus show act and attempt to outdo Apollo, which was an impossible and the wrong goal.

    But the Chinese won’t start doing space station equivalent work until around the 2008 elections, and the foam strike verdict will likely end in a mistrial.

    Thus the political solution appears unchanged: hold course and do little to change anything until after 2008…unless it affects the vote significantly. And when that time finally comes, no matter what change occurs, if any, the marriage to the Boeing and Lockmart Eisenhower Industrialized complex will remain intact.

    Hold course, DeLay shuttle flights as long as is needed. Pay and praise the pork farmers in orbit to not privatize and not grow corn to not feed their Hogzilla Villa Lucy in the sky with taxpayer diamonds.

    Mars ain’t the kinda place to raise your kids. But there’s lots of spirit and opportunity there.

  • David Davenport

    [ Hold course, DeLay shuttle flights as long as is needed. Pay and praise the pork farmers in orbit to not privatize and not grow corn to not feed their Hogzilla Villa Lucy in the sky with taxpayer diamonds.

    Mars ain't the kinda place to raise your kids. But there's lots of spirit and opportunity there. ]

    Etc., etc.

    But what’s your point, Elton John, aside from showing off a collegiate cleverness of writing style?

  • William Berger

    “Ummm….no. Its judged by whoever foots the bill for it.

    By this argument, anything the government spends money on is, by definition, worthwhile.”

    Yes. This is why Congress uses the National Academy of Sciences to review the scientific value of various government programs. Congress seeks independent assessments of the value of programs.

  • Paul Dietz

    The National Academy of Sciences has never said the science to be done on ISS justifies ISS’s construction. At best, they have said that if ISS is being built and operated, then the science that is to be done on it is reasonable, given that science will be done there at all. This is damning with faint praise.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    [Using my lunch break to write a response.]

    There are several big problems with that editorial–basic flaws in the argument. For starters, they got the cost of the ISS wrong. They claim that $75-$80 billion has _already_ been spent on ISS. This is false. Approximately $25 billion has already been spent on ISS, plus $11 billion spent on Space Station Freedom, for a total of about $36 billion spent on space station projects over a period of two decades. The $75-$80 billion cost is the total final cost of the station, achieved about 15 years from now.

    Second, they mostly ignore the fact that ISS has been justified for many reasons and that international cooperation and science are just two. As I have previously pointed out in an article, there are other reasons, such as obtaining space construction and operations experience:

    http://www.thespacereview.com/article/391/1

    What many ISS critics claim is that we need construction, docking and operations experience in order to eventually have space settlement, but that we do not need a platform that is providing this experience now. Their argument is essentially that we will develop this experience some other way. So far they have not done a good job of supporting that argument. If they do believe that things like assembly, EVA and refueling are vital, then they need to demonstrate why it is better to gain that experience some other way than on ISS.

    Third, the editorial really misreads the National Academies position on ISS science. They need to do some more research on what the NAS (actually, the NRC) has actually said. There are other NRC studies that are less supportive of ISS on science. It is a mixed bag.

    Fourth, I would like to know the source of their claim that the European partners would like an excuse to back out of the ISS program. They don’t cite a source. Do they actually have one? Or is this just supposition (wishful thinking) on their part? I would also add that although _some_ Europeans might like to see ISS canceled, there are certainly others who believe that such a cancelation would severely cripple their own space program. The governments would look at ESA spending on ISS, say “you do not need that money anymore,” and take it away, not divert it to other space programs.

    Indeed, this is a weakness with the argument that we should eliminate shuttle and ISS now to save the money for other space programs–doing that would result in the money simply being taken away from NASA, rather than diverted to the exploration plan. And it would mean that at some future point, NASA would have to ask for substantial budget _increases_ for its exploration program (simply to get back to the same projected baseline they have for those years now). It seems much more likely that if NASA’s budget gets slashed, they will be stuck at that lower amount, rather than get more money in the future. Can you envision an American president in 2012 going to Congress and asking for a 20% budget increase for NASA and justifying it on the basis of the cuts made to the agency when it retired the shuttle? No. The way it works is that money cut from the NASA budget is gone. It does not earn congressional goodwill for the future.

    Finally, I would note that the title of the editorial that appears below “Is the Space Station Necessary?” was “Meanwhile, People Starve.” This strongly implies that the NY Times thinks that spending money on human spaceflight is frivolous and the money should be given to foreign aid.

  • Dwayne Day is absolutely right that the Times presented a simplistic summary of the scientific evaluation of the space station. The vast majority of working scientists who should care about research on either the space shuttle or space station ignore it completely. Anyone can see this by looking at publication and citation patterns in Google Scholar. Google Scholar will find you a lot of talk about human spaceflight, but very few papers that actually use any results from it. And few people read these few papers, the proof of which is the absence of citations.

    Most of the scientists who don’t ignore astronaut-assisted research have been asked, in one way or another, to evaluate the research. When they are sufficiently independent of NASA, they usually denounce it as trivial. Microgravity is of microimportance, thundered Nicolas Bloembergen (who won the Nobel prize for his work in applied physics). Voodoo science is how Larry Kuznetz, a NASA expert, described research into the health effects of human spaceflight. But sometimes scientists on evaluation panels either want to be or have to be nice to NASA, so they change the question to “let’s figure out what good can come of it”.

    With the exception of Russia, the space station is about the same thing in every one of the international partner countries as it is in the United States. It’s a gravy train of patronage; it’s an astronaut celebrity factory; and it’s a science laboratory that scientists don’t want. That’s the way that it plays out in France, Japan, and so on.

    It’s only different in Russia, which can at least try to exploit the station for cash and diplomatic leverage. And it is a tremendous symbolic victory if the Russians seem to understand space better than the Americans do, even though their country is plainly less powerful.

  • Dwayne Day also asks how we can gain experience in human space settlement if not through the international space station. I might not be the right person for this question, because I don’t think that space settlement is realistic in the forseeable future anyway. (You know there was also a Zambian space program.) But we can compare the space station to the fatal Scott expedition to the South Pole. Arguably the Scott expedition can teach you a lot about human frailty, but very little about practical Antarctic exploration.

  • I agree with much of what Dwayne Day states. The Space Station is up there. It may or may not ptove useful for science, but it or something like it is very important for learning how to do in-space operations. I am agnostic on whether to complete the Space Station — I can think of good arguments either way — but to fail to use what is already up there to learn some of the stuff you need to know to get to Mars would be criminal. You’d just have to launch something similar again when you are ready to start practicing for the Mars trip.

    More importantly, as I’ve argued before, the Space Station a despirately needed market for the commercial space industry.

    – Donald

  • It seems to be the libertarian euphemism du jour that what used to be a “contract” is now called a “market”.

  • Dwayne makes some good points; we mostly differ on the following perception:

    “Indeed, this is a weakness with the argument that we should eliminate shuttle and ISS now to save the money for other space programs–doing that would result in the money simply being taken away from NASA, rather than diverted to the exploration plan.”

    My expectations are different in two ways:

    (1) That the ISS sitution will be unsatisfactory to the international parters with or without anything a semi-functional Shuttle system might be able to add over the next 5 years.

    (2) That cancellation of the Shuttle will instead leave a political gaping hole in manned spaceflight and will spur resources to be put into CEV development. If not, then each and every Chinese manned spaceflight from now to 2010 and perhaps some of the Russian ones will remind the American public how far we have fallen.

    I do not forsee congress simply carving the Shuttle budget out of NASA once the program is shot: If you take a look at Chris Shank’s slides it’s clear that the Moon-Mars initiative proper begins in 2010 with the money that was once used for the Shuttle; things like heavy launcher development and Lunar base development.

    Ending the Shuttle early, for example now, is tantamount to moving that portion of the program forward 5 years. If it came to it I expect NASA would frame it that way too. And if congress really has such a dim view of the Moon-Mars initiative, then they will carve that slice out of the budget in 2010 instead, and we will all be 5 years older when it happens.

  • Greg: “It seems to be the libertarian euphemism du jour that what used to be a “contract” is now called a ‘market’.”

    Well, Greg, I’ve never had anyone call me a libertarian before. I guess I’m honored! However, I meant “market” in the generic sense of “a need to fulfill,” not as a particular type of contract.

    You can call it anything you want. What it is, is a reason to develop cheaper launch vehicles. Without the Space Station, there is much less need for innovative commercial launch vehicles. with the Station, we need cheaper launch vehicles ASAP. Getting them will help everyone, the Space Station, lunar and Mars missions, and your precious applications and science satellites.

    Russia has a lunch industry today at least partially because they had Mir as an artificial “market” when the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, we need a “market” to justify our launch industry over the long haul. It can be a lunar base, zillians of comsats, asteroid mining – but, like it or not, what we have here and now is a space station. We need that artificial “market” so that private companies can raise money to supply that need with innovate and hopefully cheaper launch vehicles. If they succeed, that helps everyone – the Space Station, lunar and Mars expeditions, and science and applications satellites.

    The problem is, you see the Space Station as an isolated project that must be justified on its own and exclusively in terms of the science it delivers. I see the Space Station as part of an integrated strategy to get real scientists actually exploring on Earth’s moon and Mars – leading to industry, and eventually (I agree with you it’s a long time in the future) real, economically self-sufficient colonies.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    Didn’t Griffin explicitly dismiss the idea that ISS was a good place to test hardware for VSE? Ah, yes he did, and more:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=12151

    “It is beyond reason to believe that ISS can help to fulfill any objective, or set of objectives, for space exploration that would be worth the $60 B remaining to be invested in the program.”

  • No, Donald, I don’t think that the space station must be justified in terms of the science it delivers. Rather, it is the only way that NASA can plausibly try to justify it. That and indirection, things like “exploration” that turns out to mean scientific exploration, and “international commitments” that turn out to be foreign science projects.

    It would be a favor to the nation if NASA abandoned all attempts to justify the space station or space shuttle as science. I think that the space station would fall out of the sky as a result, because ultimately science is more vulnerable to bogus positive spin than other justifications. NASA is not run by numbskulls who can only think of one justification. In fact they tried to justify the space shuttle and space station by commercial applications, but they failed. They tried to justify the space shuttle by military applications, but they failed. Science, with a lot of sleight of hand, is the only card that they have left to play.

  • William Berger

    “Didn’t Griffin explicitly dismiss the idea that ISS was a good place to test hardware for VSE?”

    In 2004. His opinions may have changed now that he is administrator. Certainly his information base has improved. Maybe he still believes that. Maybe he doesn’t.

  • William Berger

    “Didn’t Griffin explicitly dismiss the idea that ISS was a good place to test hardware for VSE?”

    In 2004. His opinions may have changed now that he is administrator. Certainly his information base has improved. Maybe he still believes that. Maybe he doesn’t.

  • Paul Dietz

    If his opinion ‘changed’, it would most likely be because the truth is politically inconvenient.

    And how sooper sekrit new evidence could change the status of something that is ‘beyond reason’ is beyond me — Griffin wouldn’t have phrased it like that if the issue had been at all close.

  • TORO

    David D.,

    Maybe I’m Edward John, not Elton John.

    There is a good chance “I’m not the man you think I am at all, oh no no no… I’m a ROCKET MAN!”

    So what is my point?

    I don’ think there is much political incentive to do much in space right now regarding human spaceflight. I’d like to see a new lower risk CEV, sooner than later, but you know what?

    “Well I think its gonna be a long long time”
    “Yes I think its gonna be a long long time”
    “And I think its gonna be a long long time”

  • Cecil Trotter

    Well Griffin did not say that ISS would not be at all useful in testing hardware for VSE etc., he simply said that it’s usefulness in that regard would not be worth the $60 billion remaining to be invested in ISS.

    There is a slight difference between NOT usefull and not THAT usefull.

  • David Davenport

    [ They tried to justify the space shuttle by military applications, but they failed. ]

    My uunderstanding is that the Challenger disaster motivated the USAF to back out of doing polar Shuttle launches from Vandenberg. If Challenger hadn’t failed, there would have been Air Force Shuttle launches.

    [ Didn't Griffin explicitly dismiss the idea that ISS was a good place to test hardware for VSE? ...]

    The hardware that really needs testing is new launch system hardware. It’s no good trying to build a big space station with the obsolete Shuttle system.

    Plus, the ISS’s 51.6 degree inclination angle puts the Space Station out of plane with minimum energy launches from Cape Kennedy as well as the Moon or Mars. Why 51.6 degrees? So the Rooskies could launch from Baikonur.

  • Can alt.space and big aerospace team up to keep the cash coming to the space industry as shuttle retires and ISS stops receiving new parts? I would happily take $70B over the next 5 years toward VSE rather than $10B now and $80B from 2011-2015. At what point do we say, “It is better to have the budget flexibility than the budget.” 5% less? 10% less? 15% less? 20% less? I vote 50% less. If $8 billion were spent on space access subsidies, we could have 4 million pounds in orbit/year or more at $2,000/lb. That is 80 shuttle loads worth.

    If ISS and shuttle money were diverted to private industry and the access auctioned to the highest bidder, we would get in one year more than 20 years worth of space access. What are we getting from NASA that is worth more than that?

    World launch revenue is $2.8 billion according to satellite industry association. $8 billion from US subsidy would more than double worldwide demand. $16 billion from US would more than quintuple it. At $2,000/lb, $16 billion, tens of thousands of people could fly to orbit in a government lottery. At $100,000 a head, over a hundred and fifty thousand could take a suborbital flight. What are we getting that is worth more than that? Open up the highway to space. Make space an international park. Anything. Just do something.

  • Paul Dietz

    My uunderstanding is that the Challenger disaster motivated the USAF to back out of doing polar Shuttle launches from Vandenberg. If Challenger hadn’t failed, there would have been Air Force Shuttle launches.

    I suspect it was just a convenient pretext for what they wanted to do anyway.

  • Dfens

    I believe Paul is correct. That was when they decided not to allow the Centaur upper stage in the shuttle too. The new “safety culture” at NASA allowed the voice of reason to be heard on that one. Everyone I’ve talked to who worked on that booster said it would have been a real bad idea to put it in the payload bay.

  • David Davenport

    Good morning. I have no personal inside information about the USAF’s Shuttle program. Here’s what The Aerospace Corp.’s web site says:

    The Air Force Space Shuttle Program: A Brief History

    E. J. Tomei

    The Air Force had high hopes for its West Coast shuttle complex. But despite years of preparation, this state-of-the-art facility never saw a shuttle launch.

    On January 1, 1986, the maiden flight of the Air Force space shuttle program was just six months away. This flight, mission 62-A, would mark the beginning of the Air Force’s shuttle launch service from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The crew—which included Edward “Pete” Aldridge Jr., then Secretary of the Air Force—was completing preflight training at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

    Partly because of the location, and partly because of the different nature of Air Force missions, the new facilities at Vandenberg required capabilities that the NASA complex at Kennedy did not provide. For example, SLC-6 had a 4000-ton moveable wind screen standing 70 meters tall to shelter the orbiter during mating with the external tank. Sound suppression was enhanced through a 3-meter-diameter underground water system flowing nearly 3.8 million liters per minute. This water system absorbed the launch acoustics generated by the rocket thrust and prevented its reflection into the flight systems and payloads. A water-treatment facility reclaimed nearly 1.9 million liters of this sound-suppression water, which was contaminated with exhaust products from the solid motors after each launch. A unique hot-gas heating system powered by a pair of turbofan engines was used to prevent ice formation on the external tank. The payload processing facility (which was designed to handle three 4.5 X 18-meter satellites simultaneously) was equipped with state-of-the-art electromagnetic shielding. A 15-megawatt power plant provided dedicated power for all these facilities. The whole complex employed a seismic design capable of withstanding a severe earthquake.

    With construction nearly complete, the Aerospace program office was transferred to Vandenberg in early 1982 to support formation of a site-activation task force. Operational verification testing began in 1984, and a joint NASA/Air Force operations team was formed, with Aerospace in the lead technical support role for the government. Facility verification tests using the orbiter Enterprise (an unpowered experimental model that was deployed from a jumbo jet, not launched from a launchpad) were completed in March 1985. All systems were go for an auspicious first launch in the summer of 1986.
    All Systems Stop

    That first launch never happened. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger accident resulted in the death of seven astronauts and the demise of the Air Force’s space shuttle plans. The White House rescinded its 1982 mandate requiring all government payloads to fly on the space shuttle and instructed the Air Force to restart the expendable launch vehicle production lines. The space shuttle facilities at Vandenberg were once again abandoned, partly because the investigation into the Challenger failure resulted in design changes that rendered the shuttle incapable of lifting the satellites planned for polar flights out of Vandenberg. The Aerospace space shuttle program office was disbanded, and its personnel were reassigned to the new expendable launch vehicle programs and advanced launch studies. The primary payload flew on a later space shuttle mission out of Cape Canaveral; however, the second payload, Teal Ruby, never flew in space. The remaining DOD shuttle payloads planned for Vandenberg were placed on the manifest for the older Titan 34D and the new Titan IV launch systems. No human spaceflight has yet taken place in polar orbit.

    Further Reading

    1. P. L. Portanova, “DoD Space Shuttle Operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base Launch and Landing Site,” Proceedings of the AF-SD/Industry/NASA Conference on Mission Assurance, June 1983.

    http://www.aero.org/publications/crosslink/winter2003/05.html

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    “… A unique hot-gas heating system powered by a pair of turbofan engines was used to prevent ice formation on the external tank. … ”

    That is interesting. Wonder how well it would have worked?

  • “… A unique hot-gas heating system powered by a pair of turbofan engines was used to prevent ice formation on the external tank. … ”

    David Davenport: “That is interesting. Wonder how well it would have worked?”

    I wonder how well it might work today!

    – Donald

  • “… A unique hot-gas heating system powered by a pair of turbofan engines was used to prevent ice formation on the external tank. … ”

    David Davenport: “That is interesting. Wonder how well it would have worked?”

    I wonder how well it might work today!

    – Donald

  • “… A unique hot-gas heating system powered by a pair of turbofan engines was used to prevent ice formation on the external tank. … ”

    David Davenport: “That is interesting. Wonder how well it would have worked?”

    I wonder how well it might work today!

    – Donald

  • Allen Thomson

    On the USAF and Shuttle pre-1986, see the article from the June 29 1984 Science, “Estrangement on the Launch Pad” at

    http://tinyurl.com/a3sfz

    (The poster’s name seems somehow familiar…)
    :-)

  • Paul Dietz

    Heee! :)

    An oldie-but-goodie.