Congress

Early retirement unlikely?

There have been reports in recent days that the Office of Management and Budget has been studying the possibility of retiring the shuttle before 2010, in an apparent bid to save money for other agency programs, or to quiet fiscal conservatives. Florida Today reports that such a plan is—surprise!—unlikely to win support from some key members of Congress. “I wouldn’t let ‘em,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a staunch supporter of the shuttle, told the paper. “There would be plenty of other senators up here who wouldn’t let them.” (Presumably Nelson’s colleague on the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), would be among them.) Of course, Nelson goes on to say that, come 2010, “I don’t think there is any choice but to increase the budget to continue launching the shuttle.”

40 comments to Early retirement unlikely?

  • Ray

    I have to admit; as much as i want to see a faster transition over to the CEV, maybe before 2010, I love the, what seems to be to be, rock solid support for manned spaceflight in the congress and the senate. There seems to be so much big business involved here that manned spaceflight is guaranteed to exist forever.

    Ray

  • Big business?

    It’s big something, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to a business.

  • “I love the, what seems to be to be, rock solid support for manned spaceflight in the congress and the senate.”

    The rock solid support is for pork, I think you’ll find. Spaceflight is merely the ‘flavor’ of pork.

    Shuttle past 2010? If they have no intention to retire the Shuttle when the time comes then why wait to make a stand?

  • No surprise at all. Politicians thinking of votes (and party), rather than the greater good of the nation. The good of the nation, contrary to popular belief, is objective number one. Then come the constituents (state for senators and district for representatives). Party should come in last, if at all.

    I can’t wait to leave the Beltway…

  • Ray

    Well, Kevin that so called pork got us to the moon and will get us back to the moon permantely and will get us to mars. If this is what pork is about, I will take it

  • “Well, Kevin that so called pork got us to the moon”

    My interpretation is that the US was running scared after Sputnik, and it was fear (military pressure), rather than greed, that got us to the Moon.

  • There may have been a good deal of social engineering involved, as well. McDougal’s “The Heavens and the Earth: a political history of the space age,” argues that one of the reasons so many NASA bases are in the south is because LBJ wanted to industrialize the south and tie the nation more closely together. If so, it is ironic that so many of those most violently opposed to the idea of social engineering are among the chief beneficiaries of the last such effort.

    – Donald

  • What do you mean, the “last such effort,” Donald? Such efforts have been ongoing for all of the decades since The Great Society, up to and including Bush’s nutty decision to hand tens of billions of federal dollars to corrupt Louisiana politicians.

  • Kevin Davis

    The Hubble supporters will insist that we keep the Shuttle going..

  • Rand, I stand corrected. You are correct. (Although I have not the heart to be opposed to helping Louisiana out right now. But, you are correct in you implication that how we do it matters. Maybe we should repeat history. As several people here have pointed out, Dr. Griffin’s version of VSE stands to generate a lot of Louisiana- and Houston-based jobs.)

    – Donald

  • Kevin: “The Hubble supporters will insist that we keep the Shuttle going…”

    For one more flight!

    – Donald

  • A lot of people here (and elsewhere) are speaking for Hubble supporters, making them out to be hard-liners who want to keep the shuttle alive just for one service flight, then mothball it. It is true that some Hubble supporters want this, and it is true that some newspaper pundits who haven’t thought it through have also suggested it.

    But most people in the greater scientific community understand that even the Hubble Space Telescope does not deserve an enabler as expensive as the space shuttle. The position is that if the shuttle does fly again, then the one useful thing still planned for it is to service Hubble.

    On the other hand, if the shuttle does not fly again, then space telescopy should never have come to this illogical conclusion. Hubble-class telescopes should have been designed and launched the same way as all other space telescopes: unmanned and disposable. Astronauts have nothing to do with either commercial or military satellites. Why pick on science?

  • Greg: “Hubble-class telescopes should have been designed and launched the same way as all other space telescopes: unmanned and disposable.”

    This, at best, is an unsupported opinion based on conditions here-and-now. Granted, the Space Shuttle is too expensive, but the equation is not so simple with a lower-cost human infrastructure, e.g., Soyuz. The going rate for a Soyuz seat is $20 million, and a Soyuz flight may cost on the order of $50 to $60 million. Even if it’s $100 million, several Soyuz flights in order to maintain a $4 billion NGST-class telescope becomes a less clear-cut case.

    Look at it another way: How many $4 billion telescopes are you going to throw away to avoid a $100 million repair bill? How about a $300 million repair? A $500 million repair? Where does the changeover make sense?

    If the CEV does become available, and is indeed capable of deep spaceflight for the price of an SRB and an upper stage, the case for observatory-class instruments becomes much more persuasive.

    – Donald

  • Also, I applaud Rand Simberg for criticizing Bush, but the criticism is crucially inaccurate. The money is only temporarily tens of billions dollars — it will be hundreds of billions before the end. The money won’t go to Louisiana politicians, corrupt or otherwise. Most of it will go to contractors. And the decision isn’t “nutty”. It may well be bad for the country, but it is clearly good for Bush himself. It’s what the public wants.

  • Donald: You are right that I base my views on the “here-and-now”, or as I put it, “the forseeable future”.

    My opinion is not unsupported. It is supported by the actual requests of astronomers. It is true that many astronomers also cheer for manned spaceflight, partly because that is politically aligned with their interests. But they don’t ask for astronauts for their own projects. And it’s not because they are pea brains who lack imagination — they are sharp tacks.

    The “changeover” that you have in mind makes sense at 1 for 1, of course, provided that the serviced telescope is as good as the new article plus the old one. Which is not what is going on. The proposed “Hubble Lite” telescope was under a billion. If you include the gross base cost of keeping the shuttle alive, each shuttle flight is several billion.

  • Greg, the gross cost of the entire Shuttle program is under $5 billion per year. Therefore, even including stand-down, but not including development, the cost of each mission cannot possibly be “several billion.” I would say something on the order of one billion is a reasonable estimate.

    The “foreseeable future” is here right now. The Russians maintain a human spaceflight infrastructure that would fit within your one-on-one cost envelope, and the Chinese are developing one. We chose to utilize high-cost technology, and develop and maintain multiple new vehicles, rather than support a low cost launch infrastructure. Part of the reason for this is that we insist on viewing the space program at large as a development and learning exercise — a scientific exercise — rather than an operational one. That is our choice, but, in and of itself, it does not make human tended space telescopes impractical using one of the many other options.

    You argue as if automated spaceflight will continue to improve, while human spaceflight is frozen in time. With the Shuttle program, the latter may be true at this point in time in this country, but it does not need to be true. In reality, if we are going to build and deploy $4 billion telescopes, we cannot afford to throw many of them away and we should deploy the low-cost human infrastructure to keep them in business.

    – Donald

  • Donald, when people make sound business decisions, they forget all the investments to date, some of which may be bad, and base their decisions on the outlook going forward.

    However many flights there were at whatever cost is all in the past now. It does not matter. It only matters what we do next. The question is, will the cost of the next Shuttle flight (defined as the entire cost of supporting that program for the time it takes to fly again) justify a repair mission rather than an unmanned replacement mission for Hubble?

  • Kevin, I don’t disagree with that. However, once you’ve launched your replacement Hubble you’re faced with the same question. Even if it does “only” cost $1 billion (which I don’t believe for a moment), are you really going to throw it away for the want of a periodic $100 million or $200 million Gemini- or Soyuz-class repair mission?

    Using your own argument, we should be looking at the lower-cost human infrastructure going forward, not what we spent in the past. Even if you don’t repair them, the cost of using Hubble-like interfaces is negligible compared to the cost of the instrument. We have no idea what human infrastructure will be in place in twenty years, but we do know that at least two nations are likely to have Soyuz-class vehicles that can reach a Hubble-class instrument, probably even if it is located in deep space.

    Under the conditions likely to prevail going forward, precluding the option of routine maintenance on a Hubble-class instrument is insanely wasteful.

    It is worth noting that astronomers are notoriously conservative and competitive, not interested in anything that does not benefit their own narrow research. If the astronomers around before space telescopes existed had anything to say about it, there would be no space telescopes of any kind today. Greg is wrong when he implies that astronomers should be the sole arbiters of what instruments get built and how they are maintained.

    – Donald

  • Actually, Kevin, on reflection I don’t agree with your first statement. When I’m deciding how I’m going to deploy my investments in the future, am I going to forget I’ve bought and own a house? Am I going to write off that investment so that I can invest the maintenance money in something else?

    The latter option may make sense, depending on my personal circumstances, but it certainly does not automatically make sense. Arguing that we should always ignore humanity’s investment in human spaceflight when deciding where to put our science money is as obsurd as my ignoring the fact that I have invested in the purchase and maintenance of a house when deciding where to spend my vacation money.

    Now that we have created the tools and skill-sets to make and use human tended space instruments, we should be able to do it at much lower cost going forward. It would be insane to write off all of our investment before we’ve tried.

    – Donald

  • Donald: Yeah, $5 billion per year. How many shuttle flights could that $5 billion per year get you from the date of the VSE speech, January 2004, to the retirement date, 2010? Not more than 16 according to Griffin some time ago, and even that is now looking optimistic. 10 maybe. So yes, it really is several billion per year. As I said, even Hubble is not entitled to an enabler as expensive as the space shuttle.

    It may be true that we can’t afford to throw away $4 billion telescopes. The solution to that is not to launch Battlestar Galactica telescopes. And even if we did need telescopes that big, astronaut servicing wouldn’t help anything. Your idea of cheap Russian or Chinese manned spaceflight is only for LEO, which is actually a bad place for space telescopes. Even if you sent North Korean peasants to service space telescopes where astronomers actually want them, it would still be expensive.

  • Donald: You’re also completely wrong about astronomers not wanting space telescopes until they had them. Or about astronomers being conservative otherwise. Lyman Spitzer proposed space telescopes in 1944. Astronomers were also among the first users of CCDs. By being one of the first major markets, they helped bring CCDs to consumer electronics where they are today.

    Astronomers also thought of, or were early users of, tricks like segmented mirrors, mirrors with actuators, interferometry, and laser-pilot adaptive optics. The X-ray mirrors on the Chandra space telescope are not child’s play either.

    Astronomers are also involved with neutrino detectors, which could be viewed as the weirdest imaging equipment of all time.

    Compared to these wild ideas, launching astronauts with wrenches to service space telescopes is unimaginative and arguably old-fashioned.

  • Donald, what I was trying to get at is that it does not matter how much money you invested in a problem, what matters is the market value of the assets you have now (and the liquidity of that market) plus cash on hand and how you buy/sell/use those resources to go forward in the best possible way.

    The present market value of ISS I estimate at around $20M as you can buy a military space station via Energia for that price.

    As for Hubble, its $3.5bn successor (JWST) is experiencing $1bn in cost overruns so far, so the science community as customers may be willing to spend some fraction of $5bn to fix hubble regardless of all the money spent to date, but that new money I assure you is/will be coming out of other science programs such as Spitzer and JWST.

    The question for the scientists is how to optimally allocate money to maximize the scientific return over all missions. If $3bn worth of scientific return from Hubble is greater than $3bn worth of scientific return from JWST, say, then perhaps this is the one valid reason to make the Shuttle’s last flight next May.

  • “The present market value of ISS I estimate at around $20M as you can buy a military space station via Energia for that price.”

    - correction, you’d have to add the launch cost too.

  • David Davenport

    Hubble-class telescopes should have been designed and launched the same way as all other space telescopes: unmanned and disposable.

    Non of them are intended to be disposable, if disposable is defined as a lifespan of only a few years.

    The going rate for a Soyuz seat is $20 million, and a Soyuz flight may cost on the order of $50 to $60 million. Even if it’s $100 million, several Soyuz flights in order to maintain a $4 billion NGST-class telescope becomes a less clear-cut case.

    It is probaly not feasible to perform a Hubble servicing mission, or something similar, with a Soyuz.

    Reasons: no airlock, Insufficeint crew comfort and
    electrical power for extended stays in space, no robot arm, no cargo space to carry replacement parts of any size.

    Enlarge and upgrade Soyuz, you say? There’s no margin for payload mass growth remaining in the Soyuz launch system.

    Soyuz is an obsolete old tub of a system. One was almost lost on re-entry inh 2003. It’s a mistake to pin your hope for Soyuz to do anything except go up and down from the ISS.

  • David Davenport

    What to do? One more Shuttle mission to Hubble, sixteen more ISS large component deliveries.

    Are there any alternatives? Yes, use the Delta IV heavy to launch at least half the ISS payloads.

    How to dock these payloads with the ISS? One fellow herein said a few threads back that a NASA study has indicated that the Shuttle’s orbital maneuvering system has only enough propellant to gather in one other ISS cargo per Shuttle flight. “Only one”? I reply rhetorically. Use that capability!

    Could that man please come back and talk to us some more about this study?

    What comes after Shuttle? A mini-Shuttle, a.k.a. Orbital Space Plane.

    Mickey Mouse Griffin’s Apollo on Steroids slide show? Forgetaboutit. It’ll never happen, and first NASA has to get ISS completion mostly out of the way before returning to the Moon … which could be done within, oh, 1969 – 1961 = eight years ferom now, provided someone makes Griffin decide to “explore other career opportunities” soon.

  • Mike Griffin is clearly a smart guy who likes to talk in an open way and is capable of making decisions on a technical basis. That is a refreshing change and a Good Thing.

    I think the problem is that he’s spent too many months inside the NASA HQ bubble and he’s being fed dishonest information on which he is basing some important decisions.

    An alternative explanation is that he was taken aside and seriously bullied by some members of congress and had to accomodate their demands. I’d like to think that explanation is just a conspiracy theory. If not, well, he should hire someone who swallowed the Machiavelli playbook and make congress work for him.

  • Dfens

    I think he’s the wrong person for the job. He’s technical, but he doesn’t know anything about design. He seems to be largely apolitical. He screwed around with the ESAS studies far longer than he should have, which to me indicates indecisiveness, the distiguishing characteristic of all NASA managment. This lead to the presentation of the ESAS proposal at a singularly bad time with little or no news coverage. He appears to be arrogant, and seems to hold a grudge against quite a few already in NASA management. Worst of all, he has no ideas for reform, which is what NASA really needs first. Amature hour as usual at NASA.

  • Greg: “The solution to that is not to launch Battlestar Galactica telescopes.”

    So, how big a mirror _do_ you want to launch? This _is_ physics: good telescopes require big mirrors; the bigger the mirror the better. Therefore, while there will always to a role for small telescopes, even in orbit big telescopes will be the cutting edge.

    The solution is to create the deep-space access that allows you to build and maintain a large telescope for decades in any nearby orbit. Once you’ve done it once, you can do it again and bring costs down and have multiple telescopes, rather than a series of throwaway telescopes. Then, you can employ more astronomers.

    You wouldn’t put a throwaway on top of a volcano, yet not so long ago it was just as hard to get all that equipment to the top of a volcano as it is to get the NGST to its orbit today. We didn’t build telescopes on volcanoes until we could get to them and maintain them. It shouldn’t be any different in orbit.

    Also, I maintain my case re. astronomers (though, of course, there are exceptions). It is my understanding that most of the technologies that you list were developed by the SDI, then adapted by astronomers.

    – Donald

  • David Davenport

    Also, I maintain my case re. astronomers (though, of course, there are exceptions). It is my understanding that most of the technologies that you list were developed by the SDI, then adapted by astronomers.

    Yep, the Hubble is essentially a KH-x series spy satellite pointed the other way. Not exactly the same, but the KH-x series is definitely a precursor to Hubble.

  • David Davenport

    If the CEV does become available, and is indeed capable of deep spaceflight for the price of an SRB and an upper stage, the case for observatory-class instruments becomes much more persuasive.

    The corndog missile — an H2/L2 second stage on top of a single, skinny SRB first stage — is intended to launch the new space capsule to the ISS, and not much farther. I expect this missile to be the first component of the new Vision. That single SRB won’t be powerful enough to lift the thrity ton plus capsule along with its Service Module and tractor rocket escape system.

    I predict that the tractor recoket escape system is going to have to be pretty hefty itself, on the order of three or four SRB segments strapped together … weight growth… a single SRB first stage won’t be enough.

    NASA will probably decide to launch their new Apollo on steroids to the ISS using the heavy lifter first stage, consisting of an L2/O2 missile with two SRB’s mounted in parallel … inline Shuttle-C, at last.

  • David Davenport

    Mike Griffin is clearly a smart guy who likes to talk in an open way

    Please tell me what has been open about the design process that led to this ESAS slide show.

    When is Dr. Griffin going to make public NASA’s extremely technical, in-depth analyses which caused him to rule out using EELV’s to launch manned spacecraft or ISS structural component payloads?

  • I just happened to read in Space News that the Europeans are paying 37 million Euros to launch Venus Express on a Soyuz with an upper stage.

    So, Soyuz launcher = less than %50 million
    Soyuz vehicle = less than $50 million
    Improved Soyuz electronics to operate in vaccuum (a la Geminii EVAs) = say, $50 million development
    Another Soyuz dedicated to launching a restartable upper stage for outbound trip to NGST orbit = $50 million.
    Restartable stage for outbound trip = $50 million
    Restartable stage for return trip = $50 million
    Soyuz launcher to launch return stage = $50 million.
    Let’s go hog wild and at in $100 million in operations and $100 million again in misc. development, radiation shielding, etc.

    We’re up to $650 million to send the first servicing mission to the $4 billion plus NGST using technology (and, for the most part, hardware) available right now.

    is this really such a financially bad idea? It is a very risky idea, but I’ll bet there are astronauts who would be willing to try it.

    Come on, folks, we’re supposed to be supporting alt.space ideas. Let’s have some thinking outside the box.

    – Donald

  • AJ Mackenzie

    Robertson: do you have any cost modeling to back those numbers? Because I can tell you that some of those numbers are likely off a little, if not a lot. You also left out the little issue of actually getting the replacement components to the destination; Soyuz capsules have very limited cargo capability, and things like replacement instruments aren’t small – or cheap.

    Come on, folks, we’re supposed to be supporting alt.space ideas.

    Sorry, I thought we were supposed to support ideas that work, not the ideologically-correct but half-baked tripe of the day. Unfortunately, this blog is littered with the latter. My bad.

  • David Davenport

    Come on, folks, we’re supposed to be supporting alt.space ideas.

    alt.space? Nobody here but us Redskins, paleface.

    We’re up to $650 million to send the first servicing mission to the $4 billion plus NGST using technology (and, for the most part, hardware) available right now.

    is this really such a financially bad idea? It is a very risky idea, but I’ll bet there are astronauts who would be willing to try it.

    Oh yah, let’s just outsource all our space hardware needs to the Russians and the Chinese. Its’ so much more cost effective to do that.

    We don’t need to manufacture anything, we Americans. We’ll all just sell each other real estate and mutual funds and Web page design and home remodelling services.

    Let those nerdy foregners sweat all that boring aerospace junk.

  • David Davenport

    Compared to these wild ideas, launching astronauts with wrenches to service space telescopes is unimaginative and arguably old-fashioned.

    You do daydream about being an astronaut on a do-or-die repair and rescue space mission, don’t you? :0]

  • A.J., no I don’t have any cost modeling, beyond just adding them up. However, I did not necessarily mean to propose a realistic mission. I do want people to start taking seriously the idea of taking greater risks to cut costs to something that is affordable, and to start thinking about long-term economies and trade, not just getting there safely. If the latter costs more than anyone will pay, than we won’t go.

    An economy does not need to be based on inexpensive transportation, or even reliable transportation or safe transportation — none of those were prevalent during the period when Europe explored the world.

    The problem is, we base everything on whether it is mature and efficient and one-hundred percent safe. I don’t need to do cost modeling to know that no frontier has ever been opened by people who thought that way, and it won’t be this time.

    The X-prize crowd may be a long way from achieving orbit, but they’re a lot closer than the traditional aerospace industry is of getting to Earth’s moon. It takes brash balls and attitude as much or more than technology, and right now I think we have way to much of the latter and too little of the former.

    – Donald

  • David: “You do daydream about being an astronaut on a do-or-die repair and rescue space mission, don’t you? :0]”

    Well, gee, David, yes I do, and I state it without the slightest blush. If anybody is ever going to do that, somebody has to. You can’t do something you haven’t dreamt about.

    I’ll admit to getting carried away, sometimes, but what I’m trying to do is open space the same way other difficult frontiers were on Earth. Nobody is looking at history and, as a consequence, we’re floundering around, when humanity actually has tens of thousands years of detailed practical experience of exactly how to open new and difficult frontiers with inadequate technology. As I just stated above, it was done by people using affordable technology available at the time, not after some vast development project to make it safe, and usually at great personal risk. It was not done by fictional all-powerful robots that would somehow accomplish everything in our stead.

    I think that after more than half a century of experience, our space technology is up to the task of getting a start. Unfortunately, I don’t think our “do-or-die” attitude is.

    – Donald

  • Mr. Walker

    Davenport: “When is Dr. Griffin going to make public NASA’s extremely technical, in-depth analyses which caused him to rule out using EELV’s to launch manned spacecraft…”

    IF it is ever made public, one should go over the analyses (and the corresponding assumptions) with a keen eye for detail. The SDV/CEV group is extremely adroit at manipulating numbers. A tittle here and there made all the difference in NASA judging the EELVs to be incompatible with VSE needs.

  • Dfens

    Kevin’s Blog has a link to an interesting link to another blog, Selenian Boondocks, about the true value of trade studies. My personal feeling, having done some and seen others, is that trade studies are a total waste. Yet another “contribution” from the benevolent gods of systems engineering that is total garbage. All their help has taken us straight through the toilet and well into the sewer.

    Here’s the thing, a trade study is no substitute for a good design engineer. Back when aerospace worked, you started someone out designing little things, then if they did a good job you gave them bigger things to design. If they did a good job with that, you put some people under them and gave them still bigger things to design. Today we take some bozo that’s never designed anything ever and say, “our space program sucks, design a new one for us.” You might as well drag someone in from the street, you might get a better result.

    I don’t care to see NASA’s trade study results, because I know it’s a joke. They picked one above the worst possible option (one that won’t work at all) and given some of the other garbage they’ve tried to sell us earlier, we should just feel darn lucky they picked one that is the least bit feasible.

  • Dfens, out of curiosity, which option would you have chosen?

    – Donald