Campaign '08

NASA and the next administration

In today’s issue of The Space Review I have an article about what the future may hold in store for NASA when the next president takes office in about 18 months. The article is based on a panel session during the NewSpace 2007 conference on Friday. (Rand Simberg has his liveblogged summary of the session as well.) There was a lot from that session that I could not fit into the article, including a discussion of how NASA is treated by campaigns and transition teams (and how people would prefer NASA be handled), concerns about the overall structure of government and the appropriations process, and a comment by Alan Ladwig skeptical of the long-term potential of ISS commercial resupply: given all the difficulties with outsourcing NASA parabolic flight services, how likely is it that commercializing ISS resupply will be any easier?

39 comments to NASA and the next administration

  • Fed up and disgusted

    I think all us space supporters should face the fact that if Hillary is elected President she will hack back NASA so the only thng they do is launch satellites to monitor global warming. Manned space travel will no be a historical footnote. We’ll never return to the Moon let alone Mars. Let’s face it, America is a washed up country. Great countries do great things and we’ve lost our guts where it comes to exploration. We want and whine about universal health care and Hillary is all to happy to slice up NASA and the military to provide it.

  • richardb

    If Hillary is president, the least of my worries will be Nasa, VSE, et al.
    More so for Barack Hussein Obama, the Dr. Phil of presidential candidates. But lets get real here.
    Nasa’s budget is about 1/2 of 1 percent of the federal budget. Not enough to fund even a couple weeks of Universal Health Care. Hillary isn’t a saint nor a crusader nor even a reformer. She is a professional politican who got seriously rich from politics. The gal can smell money from coast to coast and is all about Hillary, 24×7.
    I expect the programs that get gutted in a Hillary II administration will be those lacking strong financial backing such as a few social programs and maybe a slow down in Pentagon spending. Universal Health Care, the near death experience of Hillary I, won’t get past the slogan phase of her White House. Nasa should be safe from serious damage but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush 2 initiatives get renamed, re-scoped and delayed.
    Now if Hussein Obama gets in, now things are different. I think that guy is looking for a challenge much like rebuilding a ship while its at sea.

  • kert

    President she will hack back NASA so the only thng they do is launch satellites to monitor global warming.
    This could actually be a positive thing.
    Manned space travel will no be a historical footnote.
    And this absolutely does not follow from the previous statement. Whatever happens to NASA’s budget, it will have only a marginal impact on manned spaceflight, as NASA-conducted manned spaceflight is marginal to begin with.

  • MarkWhittington

    The real threat that a Democrat might pose is not what program s(he) might cut, but the taxes s(he) propose to raise. Those will almost certainly fall heaviest on those folks trying to build a commercial space industry. Unwise regulations would be another problem.

  • Keith Cowing

    Mark says “The real threat that a Democrat might pose is not what program s(he) might cut, but the taxes s(he) propose to raise. Those will almost certainly fall heaviest on those folks trying to build a commercial space industry. Unwise regulations would be another problem.”

    Fascinating nonsense, Mark. The previous (Democratic) Administration limited spending and balanced the budget. The Republicans arrived and reversed that trend almost instantly. Why is it that we should we be afraid of Democrats, Mark?

  • richardb

    Keith, the previous admin limited spending for the DOD, it was called the peace dividend. Bush’s first budget wasn’t a big increase until that event known as 9/11 occurred. It is true that the GOP was shameless with our money, a trend the Dems are continuing in Congress. But your statement ignores events that would have caused a similar spike in spending under a Clinton admin.

  • MarkWhittington

    Keith also forgets that the budget was balanced only when t6he Ginrgich Revolutinaries arrived to limit spending and cut taxes.

  • Keith Cowing

    Gee Mark, what happened to the “Ginrgich Revolutinaries” (sic) ? Are they still there? Or did the voters throw them out? If so, I wonder why?

  • MarkWhittington

    Keith – The question you have to ask yourself is how the 14 percent approval rating of the current Congress will affect the next election.

  • anonymous

    Jeez, guys… did anyone actually read Mr. Foust’s article before launching into the unsubstantiated partisan sniping? If we had, we might have noticed that, for example, one of the two Democratic panelists (Garver) actually “defended Griffin for taking action to implement an architecture” while the Republican moderator (Muncy) gave the Administration a “low grade” because “Griffin himself seems resigned to push back key decisions about the Vision’s future.” That, to me at least, is far more interesting for this blog than random misconceptions about the impact of to-be-determined health care and tax regulations on imagined revenues or tit-for-tat recollections about which party lost Congress in a more spectacular fashion.

    Please, let’s all keep it on topic and minimize the partisan blather.

    Sheesh…

  • Ty

    But where do these nominees stand as far as space programs, we all expect to see a democrat just tear off funding but really it is a small slice it could get left alone if there is strong voter momentum on the subject.

  • rich kolker

    When I saw the title of this article, my thoughts immediately went back to 2000, when I had the opportunity to speak with the campaign manager of one of the Presidential candidates very early in the primary season. He asked what my “issue” was and I said spaceflight.

    He answered “why?” with a shocked look in his face.

    That’s the attitude you’ll find from the candidates and campaigns of both parties. It just isn’t on the radar, since it’s not a voter decision driver (unless you live on Merritt Island or near Clear Lake).

  • MarkWhittington

    My suspician is that much depends on what the situation is in 2009. If VSE has not started to suffer serious schedule slippages and cost overruns, there may be no reason for even the most left wing administration to cancel it. The main question may be how its focus might change, though,

    Commercial space will be in big trouble under any Democrat, of course. Big tax increases and a willingness to overregulate do not bode well for any entrepeneurial activities.

  • anonymous.space

    “If VSE has not started to suffer serious schedule slippages and cost overruns, there may be no reason for even the most left wing administration to cancel it.”

    It’s no longer a matter of cost and schedule; it’s now a matter of technical performance and decision timing. Ares I/Orion are no longer capable of supporting lunar missions, and the decision to start Ares V/LSAM development is now out beyond 2011. The human lunar return elements of the VSE are effectively dead already, regardless of who occupies the White House in January 2009. After inheriting this fiasco, no White House, regardless of party affiliation, is going to fund yet another multi-ten billion dollar NASA launch vehicle development program, to go to the Moon or anywhere else, not for a long time.

    “The main question may be how its focus might change, though,”

    Constellation’s focus is now restricted to LEO and ISS. It’s OSP all over again, only with more expense, less reusability, and less capability.

    FWIW…

  • MarkWhittington

    “It’s no longer a matter of cost and schedule; it’s now a matter of technical performance and decision timing. Ares I/Orion are no longer capable of supporting lunar missions, and the decision to start Ares V/LSAM development is now out beyond 2011.”

    Cite a source for this, please, beyond the usual Internet rumors. You know how much credibility that anonymous (if you’ll excuse the use of the word) posting have.

  • MarkWhittington

    Addendum: Even if true, so what? 2011 is the first fiscal year after the shuttle is retired, thus freeing up money. If the current design of Ares I (and I’ve seen varying opinons) can’t do a lunar mission, there’s ten years to fix that. Making blanket statements that “VSE is Dead” is, to put it mildly, irresponsible and crazy.

  • anonymous.space

    “Cite a source for this”

    Sure…

    “The Lockheed Martin Orion spacecraft has received a new set of refined baseline targets from NASA, concentrating on ensuring Orion can achieve ISS mission roles, as the vehicle edges closer to using up all of its reserve and weight growth allowances.”

    “Constrained by the Ares I launch vehicle, the SRD lift-off weight target for Orion is set at 64,450 lbs, or 29.2 MT (Metric Tons), which information showing Orion has cut into nearly all of its reserves and weight growth allowance.”

    Full article at http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5167.

    Chris Bergin, the author of the article, provides further confirmation that Ares I/Orion no longer has any performance/mass margin left to support the lunar architecture in the discussion thread on his article. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

    “[Marsavian] They are going with the design as is even though there is virtually no margin left for a Lunar Mission.”

    “[Chris Bergin] That’s pretty much how we’ve portrayed the new data.”

    Full thread at http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=8837&start=31.

    It’s worth reading the whole thread and paying for the subscription-only data and threads in Level 2.

    For reference, here’s what ESAS requires in terms of mass margins:

    “– Ten percent (10%) on new Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) elements with direct Shuttle (old 4-segment/SSME Ares I) or EELV heritage;
    – Fifteen percent (15%) on new ELV elements with no heritage (new 5-segment/J2-X Ares I); and
    – Twenty percent (20%) on new in-space elements with no heritage (CEV, LSAM).”

    Full document at http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/140633main_ESAS_03.pdf.

    Per the references above, for the lunar architecture, Ares I/Orion now has near-zero mass margins. ESAS requires 10-20% mass margins. Thus, she can no longer get to the Moon under NASA’s own mass margin rules (or any sensible safety margins), and, also per the references above, Constellation has been redirected to focus on the ISS only.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “Even if true, so what? 2011 is the first fiscal year after the shuttle is retired, thus freeing up money.”

    The “so what” is that NASA won’t have the Bush II White House in 2011+ to protect the start of development for Ares V and the LSAM. The chance that the next White House will support such a multi-ten-billion development start at the end of its first term (forget the several Congresses that will also come and go in the intervening time) — especially after NASA comes back to ask for more money to redesign and redevelop Ares I/Orion to support the lunar architecture — is vanishingly small.

    “If the current design of Ares I (and I’ve seen varying opinons) can’t do a lunar mission, there’s ten years to fix that.”

    It’s not an easy fix, not by a long shot. The 5-segment/J2-X Ares I is maxed out in terms of mass and performance. (That’s why there was such a dire recent effort to reduce Orion’s mass.) NASA would either have to fundamentally rethink Orion’s requirements and rescale that vehicle (to fewer crew and/or a 4- or 4.5-meter vehicle), or go back to a 4-segment Ares I with a much more powerful upper stage (and potentially a combination of both). Either way, NASA would fundamentally face at least one expensive new vehicle design/development just to make Ares I/Orion lunar-capable, on top of the costs of Ares V/LSAM design/development. No White House, regardless of party, is going to put up with such a design failure and the egregious waste of dollars and duplication of effort it entails. The ISS-capable Ares I/Orion system may get built, but not the lunar-capable Ares I/Orion system, nevertheless the Ares V/LSAM elements.

    “Making blanket statements that “VSE is Dead” is, to put it mildly, irresponsible and crazy.”

    Where did I say that the “VSE is Dead”? What I specifically said was that:

    “The human lunar return elements of the VSE are effectively dead already…”

    The VSE contains more than just the human lunar return activity. With the practical failure of the human lunar return effort, it remains to be seen whether the other elements of the VSE that Griffin exterminated to fund Ares I/Orion will be resurrected by the new White House.

    FWIW…

  • Keith Cowing

    Now I hear they are so desperate that they want to try and stick two J2x engines on the second stage….

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Keith, and what’s wrong with that? Sounds like a reasonable fix to me, but then I’m no engineer. . . .

    Why don’t they also consider adding SRBs, say the Aerojet ones developed for the Atlas-V?

    Anonymous, I thought the original plan was to use the Ares-V for propulsion to Earth’s moon. So, as long as Orion can get into orbit and dock with the lunar module and Ares-V upper stage (which, presumably it can do if it can get to the Space Station), I’m not sure I understand what the problem is. Is it the additional weight required for the lunar return thermal protection?

    Thanks!

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “Now I hear they are so desperate that they want to try and stick two J2x engines on the second stage….”

    Yes, a 4-segment/dual J2-X configuration appears to be the only viable lunar solution for an Ares I redesign if Orion is not shrunk. The problem with that solution is it’s a whole new launch vehicle, with all the duplicative design/development costs if the current 5-segment/single J2-X configuration is still developed for ISS transport. If not, and the 4-segment/dual J2-X configuration replaces the 5-segment/single J2-X Ares I for ISS transport as well, then 5-segment development costs get pushed back onto Ares V, stretching out her schedule, on top of the time and money we’ve lost pursuing the 5-segment/single J2-X Ares I.

    Not that I’m necessarily an O’Keefe/Steidle or EELV fan, but it’s sad that had Griffin/Horowitz and ESAS not come along and wasted so much time on dead-end designs and requirements, we’d be launching a test CEV on an EELV this year.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “Why don’t they also consider adding SRBs, say the Aerojet ones developed for the Atlas-V?”

    Substantially reduces launch reliability, with significant consequences for mission success and crew safety.

    Would still be safer than Shuttle, but you might as well dump the big Orion onto a three-stick EELV if you start adding solid boosters to the Ares I stack.

    “Is it the additional weight required for the lunar return thermal protection?”

    No, additional propellant mass for the return trip is the main driver. (Although they have looked at two divergent Orion thermal protection systems for the ISS and lunar architectures to save mass.)

    FWIW…

  • Keith Cowing

    t’s sad that had Griffin/Horowitz and ESAS not come along and wasted so much time on dead-end designs and requirements, we’d be launching a test CEV on an EELV this year.

    Yes, they used to dump on the previous crowd when they arrived for “lack of progress”. Now they have actually made negative progress by comparison. If the next Administration decides to go back and start over (switch to EELVs) because Ares 1 is unworkable the gap that Griffin so despised will have grown as a result of his bad decisions.

  • anonymous.space

    “Now they have actually made negative progress by comparison. If the next Administration decides to go back and start over (switch to EELVs) because Ares 1 is unworkable the gap that Griffin so despised will have grown as a result of his bad decisions.”

    It’s not even that. With Ares I/Orion’s capabilities restricted to ISS, Griffin/Horowitz/ESAS have not only gone backwards to the O’Keefe/Steidle small CEV/EELV lunar plan (assuming the next WH goes down that path), they’ve gone all the way back to the pre-Columbia timeframe, when SLI and OSP were being designed to address ISS requirements only and no human lunar effort was in the offing.

    FWIW…

  • vanilla

    Perhaps they should reconsider the lunar-orbit rendezvous architecture and look at L2 rendezvous instead. It will fix their mass problems with CEV (thru major DV reduction) and improve the extensibility of the architecture to Mars, asteroids, and lunar propellant utilization.

  • MarkWhittington

    Anon – I think you have to do better than that. I’ve read the NASA space flight story and have followed the thread. There’s nothing in the article about Ares not making weight for a lunar mission. There also seems to be some disagreement in the thread about that. In any event, if the story is true, they’ve still got ten years to tweek up the margins. Suggesting that Ares can’t fly lunar missions and therefore the return to the Moon is dead is sort of like suggestion in 1962 or thereabouts that the lunar module can’t land on the Moon and therefore Apollo is dead. Based on history, I have confidence that if there is a problem, it can be fixed even by NASA inside ten years.

    Also, I’m not sure why you express surprise that the next President has to confirm the return to the Moon. Anyone capable of reading a calender has known that since 2004. The question is who will be elected and will s(he) have any reason to pull the plug? I’m not sure that even Barack Obama is going to have the hysterical view that “VSE is dead” based on rumor and innuendo. The next President is not going to be advised by the Internet Rocketeer Club or by people posting anonymously. S(he) will be advised by actual people who likely will have a different perspective.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: No, additional propellant mass for the return trip is the main driver.

    Why can’t that be carried in the Ares-V?

    Also, why not a five-segment solid and two J2s, giving you presumably even greater margin while retaining the advantages of avoiding use of the SSMEs?

    It seems to me that there are a number of potential fixes to let us go forward without throwing away the work so far. None of them may be ideal, and I agree that it would have been far better to have stuck with the EELVs, but that is not where we are today. Maybe I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I still like to believe that there are ways to salvage something from this mess. If not, than we’re no worse off for trying than with your scenario of it all being a complete loss.

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “There’s nothing in the article about Ares not making weight for a lunar mission.”

    Yes there is. Repeated here with emphasis added:

    “The Lockheed Martin Orion spacecraft has received a new set of refined baseline targets from NASA, CONCENTRATING ON ENSURING ORION CAN ACHIEVE ISS MISSION ROLES, AS THE VEHICLE EDGES CLOSER TO USING UP ALL OF ITS RESERVE AND WEIGHT GROWTH ALLOWANCES.”

    NASA has directed LockMart to set aside lunar requirements and concentrate solely on ISS requirements because Ares I/Orion doesn’t have the mass margin to support the lunar architecture. How much more clear can it be?

    “Constrained by the Ares I launch vehicle, the SRD lift-off weight target for Orion is set at 64,450 lbs, or 29.2 MT (Metric Tons), which information showing ORION HAS CUT INTO NEARLY ALL OF ITS RESERVES AND WEIGHT GROWTH ALLOWANCE.”

    I don’t know what else to say other than, “Do the math.” Ares I/Orion has near-zero mass margin, but ESAS requires somewhere between 10 and 20 percent mass margin for these architecture elements. Therefore, Ares I/Orion can no longer safely support the lunar architecture.

    “There also seems to be some disagreement in the thread about that.”

    Where? And besides, I thought you didn’t give credence to anonymous sources, like those on a website?

    Moreover, the author of the article, a known and long-standing journalist in the industry, confirmed in the thread what readers were taking away from his article — that Ares I/Orion has “virtually no margin left for a Lunar Mission.”

    Again, how much more clarity and confirmation from credible sources, on top of indicators like Horowitz’s and Geveden’s timely departures, do we need?

    FWIW, I can independently verify the article from my own sources, but that’s neither here nor there. With this kind of information coming to light in the public domain, we don’t need to rely on hidden sources to see what’s happened to the program.

    “Also, I’m not sure why you express surprise that the next President has to confirm the return to the Moon.”

    It’s not a matter of confirming an ongoing project. It’s a matter of initiating a project (actually several) that has yet to start.

    It’s much easier to kill a project in Washington before it has started and substantial dollars have been sunk into it.

    “Anyone capable of reading a calender”

    Please don’t resort to personal insults. I haven’t thrown any at you. If you can’t argue the facts, logic, and opinions with resorting to ad hominem attacks, then don’t bother posting. Argue the facts, logic, and opinions of the posters, not the posters themselves.

    “has known that since 2004.”

    That’s an incorrect statement. Before the original, wildly optimistic ESAS budget plan met with reality, significant spending on Constellation’s lunar-specific elements (Ares V/EDS/LSAM) would have started before the end of the Bush II White House, i.e., it would have been up to President Bush whether to start and lock in those elements. With the budget ramp-up for those elements now pushed out to the 2011+ timeframe, it’s no longer up to President Bush to start and lock them in. It’s now up to Bush’s successor, and all his successor now has to do is sit on his hands and let the start decision pass him by to free up the tens of billions of dollars that would have gone to Ares V/EDS/LSAM. Even Griffin has reversed himself on this recently, and admitted that the lunar start decision is now up to the next White Hosue.

    “In any event, if the story is true, they’ve still got ten years to tweek up the margins”

    The magnitude of the problem is much larger than a mere “tweek [sic]“. To buy back the margin needed to close the lunar architecture at ESAS’s safety requirements, Orion would have to shed one-fifth of its mass on top of the propellant that was dumped (see the same Bergin article) to re-close the ISS architecture. That’s a few tons worth of material. A change of that magnitude cannot be done without revisiting Orion’s requirements and redesigning and redeveloping a fundamentally new vehicle.

    Alternately, NASA can go back and build a more powerful Ares I vehicle.

    In either case, NASA has to build at least one new vehicle to complete the lunar architecture, on top of the time and dollars that will be sunk into the original Ares I/Orion vehicles and on top of the time and dollars that will be necessary to build the other lunar elements (Ares V/EDS/LSAM).

    “The question is who will be elected and will s(he) have any reason to pull the plug?”

    Here’s a few reasons that will confront the new White House in 2009:

    – NASA promised a human transport system that would be capable of supporting both ISS and lunar missions, but the planned system is now incapable of supporting the lunar missions.

    – The cost of NASA human lunar return effort is going up, as NASA now has to build separate but duplicative transport systems for the Moon and the ISS.

    – NASA has spent no money to date on any actual lunar transport systems.

    – We need that money for the war on terrorism, the baby boomer retirement, rising medical costs, energy research, etc.

    – Therefore, the easiest thing for us to do is to not start funding for the human lunar return effort and pocket the savings. This has two benefits. It allows us to apply those savings to higher priorities outside of NASA, and it allows us to avoid the increasing costs of NASA’s human lunar return plans.

    “I’m not sure that even Barack Obama is going to have the hysterical view that “VSE is dead” based on rumor and innuendo.”

    Of course not. In 2009, the next President is going to judge that the human lunar return element of the VSE is dead because NASA has wasted half a decade and somewhere on the order of ten-plus billion dollars designing and developing systems that can’t actually go to the Moon.

    “The next President is not going to be advised by the Internet Rocketeer Club or by people posting anonymously.”

    Again, I havn’t thrown any insults at you. If you can’t participate in a debate or construct an argument without resorting to ad hominem attacks, then please don’t bother posting. Debate the facts, logic, and opinions of the posters, not the posters themselves.

    Moreover, although I do have to post anonymously due to my day job, the sources I’m referencing are not anonymous and publicly available to anyone for inspection.

    And besides, how do you know that I or anyone else on this forum is not advising one or more of the Presidential campaigns?

    “S(he) will be advised by actual people”

    Yes, on this we agree. “Actual people” will advise the next President.

    [rolls eyes]

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “Why can’t that be carried in the Ares-V?”

    Requires propellant transfer.

    Also, the performance issues affecting Ares I are also affecting Ares V. (Recall that they use the same engines.) Ares V is also in the hole with respect to its mass margins. So even if we disregard the propellant transfer issue, Ares V, as currently designed, can’t take on more propellant either. (Although, admittedly, there are variations on a heavy lifter like Ares V that could.)

    “Also, why not a five-segment solid and two J2s, giving you presumably even greater margin while retaining the advantages of avoiding use of the SSMEs?”

    IIRC, that configuration is unflyable. I don’t recall if it’s due to a staging, structural, or stability issue. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable can chime in.

    FWIW…

  • The Jupiter-120 (Ares-2) is a safer more capable replacement of the STS’s, leverages 90% of the existing STS’s production, integration, and launch infrastructure all while using proven existing engines ELV engines run at lower throttle levels.

    The Jupiter-120 (Ares-2) also increases America’s space exploration capability (ie 2x payload and 4x volume) over the best ELV anywhere and sets the exploration capability bar (both manned and unmanned) higher than at any point in time since the Saturn V was turned into a lawn ornament.

    From this stable capability base we can (budget, politics permitting) upgrade the Jupiter-120 to a Jupiter-231 (Ares-3) by adding a third main engine, earth departure stage, and J-2XD engine.

    A 2xJupiter-231 Lunar architecture will send enough mass to the moon to restore the original objective of all site access and anytime return by delivering more mass to the Moon than the Ares 1/5 1.5 plan. With full NASA GR&A Margins I might add. All while doubling the launch rate of a common vehicle which will easily cost less than half as much to develop than the Ares 1/5 dysfunctional disparate family.

    It’s getting increasingly hard to understand why NASA won’t adopt this obvious approach of aligning politics, with budget, with engineering.

    Maybe Scott’s moving on in October will open the door to better STS derived ideas.

    Hope springs eternal.

    Back to the AIAA paper.

  • Keith Cowing

    Mark “space policy analyst” Whittington says: “The next President is not going to be advised by the Internet Rocketeer Club or by people posting anonymously.”

    Gee Mark, last time I checked you were a founding member of the “Internet Rocketeer Club” with your pals Kolker and Oler ….

  • anonymous

    “Perhaps they should reconsider the lunar-orbit rendezvous architecture and look at L2 rendezvous instead. It will fix their mass problems with CEV (thru major DV reduction) and improve the extensibility of the architecture to Mars, asteroids, and lunar propellant utilization.”

    “The Jupiter-120 (Ares-2) is a safer more capable replacement of the STS’s, leverages 90% of the existing STS’s production, integration, and launch infrastructure all while using proven existing engines ELV engines run at lower throttle levels.”

    It is a shame that ESAS dismissed innovative approaches like L2 rendezvous out-of-hand and totally missed important LV configurations like Jupiter 120.

    Between SEI, the ISS blue ribbon study, and ESAS, one of my fondest hopes is that using 60-day studies to determine the fate of two decades of human space flight investment becomes a thing of the past.

    FWIW…

  • vanilla

    Between SEI, the ISS blue ribbon study, and ESAS, one of my fondest hopes is that using 60-day studies to determine the fate of two decades of human space flight investment becomes a thing of the past.

    I totally agree. The real problem with 60-day studies isn’t even the 60 days. It’s the fact that everyone on the study thinks “I have no time to look at anything” and so all the major decisions are made within the first few days of the study, or even in the pre-study formulation. Thus most of the branches of possibility are pruned even before they start.

    …that and no one can be bothered to go to the library once the study starts and actually read papers about what people who have done the same study before you came up with–and what their constraints were–and what might have changed between now and then.

  • D. Messier

    The Ares decision is seen by some insiders as Griffin’s biggest blunder. They view it as redundant and believe that NASA essentially lied when it said that Atlas couldn’t be properly man-rated. It’s seen as an effort to protect jobs and resulted from a lot of political pressure. Instead of going with a proven system and focusing time on enabling technologies for the moon, NASA went back and re-invented the wheel. Badly. Unfortunately, Ares is now negative mass to orbit, is costing a fortune, and draining the life out of the rest of the agency.

    I’m not overly surprised. The plan when Bush unveiled it seemed a bit too good to be true. I knew that Bush would take any opportunity to gut environmental programs wherever he could. And if you read about how they ran the Iraq war and occupation, you know this administration really doesn’t execute complex programs particularly well.

    I suspect everyone will probably paper this over (having far more vital things to worry about) and then whoever ends up in the White House will have a real mess on his/her hands.

  • Ray

    Anonymous.space: It’s sad that had Griffin/Horowitz and ESAS not come along and wasted so much time on dead-end designs and requirements, we’d be launching a test CEV on an EELV this year.

    Keith Cowing: Yes, they used to dump on the previous crowd when they arrived for “lack of progress”. Now they have actually made negative progress by comparison. If the next Administration decides to go back and start over (switch to EELVs) because Ares 1 is unworkable the gap that Griffin so despised will have grown as a result of his bad decisions.

    Are they spending something like $3.9 billion per year on Ares I/Orion (ISS version), with 2 goals (ISS backup in case COTS doesn’t make it to the human transportation phase, and lunar transportation)? How about scrapping ESAS altogether and funding COTS at a level that has a better chance than the current rather small program with this $3.9 per year?

    This expanded program would include the current COTS phase 1 capabilities, the ISS human transport capabilities, and lunar capabilities (eg: cargo, or 2 astronauts to the moon with life support). As with the current COTS program, NASA would make it clear (through development of, for example, lunar payloads) that the services would be used (by the winners, or anyone else with a better system). The competitors would need to have “skin in the game”. The ESAS contractors (but not the NASA team) could compete for any of these COTS levels with their architecture. The Shuttle workforce would be safe as long as they have (or adjust themselves to have) a viable and competitive architecture. However, they would be obliged like any other competitor to contribute investments and to achieve significant milestones before getting funding increments. A team could try to handle just 1 capability, or all of them. There would be multiple competitors at each level. The $3.9B per year, plus private investment, would allow different architectures to compete, increasing the chance that viable solutions are found to the transportation problems. The NASA contribution to the “lunar level” might have to be funded more heavily than the others to account for both technical difficulty and difficulty in identifying a non-NASA market for the transportation services.

  • Ray I like your plan a lot.

    The only flaw I would suggest is that it seems too much like common sense. That is, it boils down the needs to a logical conclusion.

    Since this is a Space Politics board, I feel it necessary to point out what would happen — same thing that happened when they decided not to use the Atlas — the contest will be rigged. So in the end, you’ve spent more money and actually accomplished less.

    If you make it really, really simple, perhaps you could make it fly. Something like a large-scale X-Prize with 2nd and 3rd place winners for the capabilities. But you have to make it so simple that congress would have a hard time rigging the game without the cat getting out of the bag.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    I too like Ray’s plan a lot, but it has one key flaw. It would involve laying off much of the Shuttle workforce, or at best asking them to do something radically different, which is not something that even the Republicans are going to execute, all their talk aside. Our best politically realistic hope, and its a financially slim one, is to fund greater COTS-type efforts in parallel to Constellation.

    – Donald

  • Ray

    I was also thinking about the political difficulties in this kind of approach as I wrote it, especially the Shuttle workforce one. It’s not an easy problem. One point might be to emphasize the potential political trouble the workforce might encounter with future Congresses and Administrations if the program continues to be delayed, or eats into robotic science programs run at Goddard (which also has strong political backers), or has technical problems like the ones discussed on this site. That message might encourage the Shuttle workforce to want to adjust.

    Just to make up some numbers, suppose that the Shuttle workforce wins 1/3 of the $3.9B ISS/lunar COTS with a (reformed?) ESAS-derived approach (or approaches). This 1/3 would be supplemented by “skin in the game” from the interested contractors, so a good portion of the ESAS contractor workforce would be in a similar position after Shuttle retirement. Then suppose 1/3 goes to EELV-derived architectures or similar derivations from non-ESAS ATK/Lockheed-Martin/etc systems. “Skin in the game” again supplements these figures. If some of the workforce can be shifted around within the contractors, most of the workforce would be ok (although some may have to be retrained – which many might consider to be an opportunity rather than a problem). Let’s say 1/3 then winds up going to entrepreneurs which may wind up picking up some of the workforce slack (directly, or through subcontracts). The overall level of investment (and thus potential jobs to go around) would be greater to the extent that companies have to contribute to the investments, and there may be political friends in regions that stand to benefit from this increase.

    This still disrupts the workforce, but that’s inevitable with Shuttle retirement. Some accomodation might be needed for NASA ESAS workers, for example (since NASA would not be a COTS competitor, and NASA wouldn’t need a big workforce to manage the program. Hopefully some could take jobs with the COTS competitors. Others would be needed to work on the lunar payloads (and perhaps additional ISS payloads) to convince investors that there really is a lunar (and bigger ISS) market to serve. (This payload work might decrease somewhat the amount of money available for the lunar/expanded ISS COTS, but more would be available when the Shuttle is retired).

    All of this supposes that there are commercial markets that can also be served by the new transportation systems (otherwise companies will not be willing to put much “skin in the game”). The ESAS workforce and companies might find it attractive to be able to work on transportation systems that are eligible and able to serve these commercial markets. Of course there is more risk to the companies/employees in that they have to achieve difficult milestones before getting more NASA funding, but the current Shuttle workforce has a lot of experienced and smart people (caught in an environment with the wrong incentives). They should be confident they would succeed with reasonable requirements (eg: 2 passengers to the Moon) and milestones.

    I should also bring up the possibility of non-NASA contributions to such a COTS program. I don’t think, for example, that the Department of Defense, NOAA, or intelligence agencies are interested in ESAS vehicles. However, they could be interested in some variants of the proposed expanded COTS program vehicles (eg: launch vehicles with Operationally Responsive characteristics, cheap launch vehicles, architectures involving orbital refueling, etc). If some of the NASA requirements overlap enough with their requirements, they might contribute funding to the program, again potentially softening the impact to the Shuttle workforce (by funding their ESAS-derivative if appropriate, or by funding other COTS competitors, leaving more NASA COTS funds available to the Shuttle workforce entry), and enlarging the long-term customer base for the COTS competitors.

    To the extent, if any, that this expanded COTS allows NASA to avoid funding foreign space transportation systems, again the transformed Shuttle workforce would benefit (ie the upheaval to them would be reduced).

    Having said all of that, though, I totally agree that the political hurdles involving workforce issues and rigging COTS would be huge.

  • If you are waiting for the next President to make or break our space exploration activities then you are on the wrong path.

    40 years ago it was NASA or Nothing. Not any more.

    Now we need to find new ways to commercialize space. When businesses and investors find the $ in space exploration then we will be on the road to a very exciting future in space.

    NASA will still be good for supplemental programs like robotic exploration. But they will not be the only solution. We can stop worrying about only getting 1/2 of 1 percent and where that money will be used.

    Someone show a business or a group of investors how they can make billions from being on the moon or Mars and you’ll get there. Not just for a joy ride but to stay.

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