Solutions Day? Not so much

I listened to the live webcast Saturday afternoon of the space session of Newt Gingrich’s “Solutions Day” event, an hour-long discussion led by former congressman Bob Walker. (The video of the event is supposed to be available soon, according to the Solutions Day web site.) The event was split into three 20-minute segments: an introductory speech by Walker, which covered the basics of civil, commercial, and military space; a question-and-answer session with the audience; and a discussion of “solutions”, which was similar to the Q&A session.

For those expecting some novel, incisive discussion about ways to improve America’s access to and utilization of space, the event was underwhelming. The discussion was limited primarily to the people who were physically at the event in Georgia (one question at the very end came via the Internet), and they were general space enthusiasts who asked questions about space elevators and “tritium mining” (apparently a reference to helium-3) on the Moon. A few highlights:

  • “I personally believe the Chinese are embarked upon on a very ambitious lunar program, and within a handful of years we will have someone from China waving back at us from the Moon,” he said in his introductory remarks. (As some may recall, Walker said back in 2003 that China would land humans on the Moon within a decade and even cited a conversation with a “Japanese parliamentarian” who argued such a feat would be accomplished in three to four years, so weight that assessment accordingly.)
  • If and when China does land humans on the Moon, Walker argues that it would pose a security threat to the US: “There are some military planners who would be worried about placing some Chinese assets on the Moon,” he said in response to a question, “in that it would make some of our satellite systems more vulnerable… So, yes, there are some potential military concerns about a permanent Chinese presence on the Moon.”
  • Regarding the Vision for Space Exploration, Walker was concerned about the lack of appropriate funding for it. “It’s a visionary program, but the problem so far has been insufficient resources to do the job as necessary,” he said, which may require the Vision’s timelines to be stretched.
  • Walker was also indirectly critical of one aspect of the Vision’s implementation, the development of the Ares 1. “There are a lot of people in Washington right now beginning to ask the question of why is NASA building its own new rocket to go to low Earth orbit when, in fact, there are military vehicles available, called EELVs, that could lift similar weight into low Earth orbit and might even be able to be modified in the future to go on to the Moon.”
  • Walker did address prizes briefly, suggesting that a $20-billion Mars prize might be a better approach if you wanted to bypass the Moon, although he suggested that approach was undesirable since the Moon would be a good testing ground for the technology needed for future Mars missions. “If you want to do ‘Direct Mars’ [apparently referring to Zubrin’s Mars Direct], you probably don’t do it as a government program. If you want to do Direct Mars, you offer a $20-billion prize for the first humans who set foot on Mars” that allow people to take much greater risks than would be permitted in a NASA-led effort.

14 comments to Solutions Day? Not so much

  • He’s on the money by pointing up the “lack of appropriate funding” for VSE. One out of five ain’t bad.

  • Monte Davis

    “…Chinese assets on the Moon”… “would make some of our satellite systems more vulnerable…”

    It would be interesting to know how ASAT assets that could be either (1) co-orbiting or (2) on the ground, 150 to 23,000 miles from their targets, would be enhanced by being ~239,000 miles away.

    I used to think that “zero gravity” — or perhaps “no air for rockets to push against” — was the most pervasive and enduring misconception about space. But the military “high ground” association is… right up there with them.

  • D Williams

    “It would be interesting to know how ASAT assets that could be either (1) co-orbiting or (2) on the ground, 150 to 23,000 miles from their targets, would be enhanced by being ~239,000 miles away.”

    Not all distances are the same. Space travel is more a matter of delta V than of distance. 25,000 miles is the distance halfway around an LEO orbit, but requires zero energy to traverse. Likewise, that 150 from the surface to LEO requires many tons of rocket to traverse.

    while cost is a huge factor in this discussion, I would think the greatest advantage is stealth– someone launches a gps/galileo/weather satellite, then 5 months later it happens to collide in a very accurate, very fast manner with a spy satellite. You think ‘CSI: Orbit’ can launch a shuttle and look at the debris?

    As for the moon? perhaps an automated observatory can be maintained more cheaply when it’s next to a barracks? Just a thought.

  • Monte Davis

    …that 150 [miles] from the surface to LEO requires many tons of rocket to traverse.

    And so did getting your “stealth” attack asset to the moon, or a parking orbit, or an L-n holding area, or wherever. Pay now or pay later.

    Say you have X dollars worth of assets capable of taking out satellites. Presumably their significant use would be as part of a bigger military campaign; your out-of-the-blue, one-off “plinking” scenario is cute but hardly tips any strategic balances.

    Does it make more sense to keep them (1) on the moon, or in orbit, where they could be detected and attacked (without collateral damage) at any time thereafter, and where maintenance and upgrading are impossible or ultra-expensive, or (2) to keep them securely in your own national territory, to be put to use just as you get ready to roll, with minimal warning time? Tough choice…

  • anonymous.space

    Walker’s quote that China has “embarked upon on a very ambitious lunar program, and within a handful of years we will have someone from China waving back at us from the Moon” just doesn’t square with reality. Barely two days ago, Aviation Week quoted Sun Laiyan, the chief of the Chinese National Space Agency, saying that “China has yet to decide whether it will send its citizens to the Moon.” See the ninth paragraph in this article:


    You gotta love how some of our former and current politicians (and current NASA Administrator) are much more optimistic about a Chinese human lunar program than even the head of China’s space agency is!

  • anonymous.space

    “He’s on the money by pointing up the “lack of appropriate funding” for VSE.”

    Money is the least of Constellation’s worries in the near-term. Ares and Orion continue to “battle mass and scheduling issues” in the latest nasaspaceflight.com article. Ares manager Steve Cook is now quoted as saying, “Failure is an option during development.”

    The continued mismatch between Ares I performance and Orion’s size is still driving very ominous trades. The margins on the ISS configuration for Ares I/Orion are “continuing to slide in a negative direction” and the lunar configuration has only “half of the launch margins” of the ISS configuration. As a result, Orion has undertaken a Zero Base Review (ZBV) to pull “out everything but the minimum capabilities to the single or zero fault tolerance level.” According to the article, “Ares I could theoretically launch a Lunar Orion, but without a number of capabilities related to fault tolerance,” obviously not a good thing from an astronaut safety or mission success point-of-view. To save Orion mass, they are also still “studying a possible option of retaining a mid-design cycle deletion of the airbag landing system” and are now considering some rather radical launch-abort system alternatives, including “a monopropellant liquid system or a hybrid liquid/solid system.” To accommodate the ZBV, the next cycle of Orion design has been delayed a month, from mid-October to mid-November.

    Constellation manager Bob Armstrong sums up, “The CEV Project faces some very real challenges and difficult decisions will need to be made.” My opinion, of course, but these are not challenges and choices that any human space flight program should be facing, especially this early in the program and especially in light of well-documented alternative launch solutions. Full article at:


    Gilbrech will arguably have to fix Horowitz and Griffin’s technical mess before Gilbrech and Griffin (or Griffin’s successor) can legitimately complain about continuing resolutions or other funding shortfalls. (IIRC, Gilbrech started yesterday.. what a way to begin.)

    And even if Ares I and Orion are brought into harmony without ruining the ISS or lunar architectures, NASA will still have to address arguments like the one put forth by Walker that, “There are a lot of people in Washington right now beginning to ask the question of why is NASA building its own new rocket to go to low Earth orbit when, in fact, there are military vehicles available, called EELVs, that could lift similar weight into low Earth orbit and might even be able to be modified in the future to go on to the Moon.”

    What a fiasco. Once upon a time I was pretty certain that Ares I and Orion would fly — against better judgement — come hell or high water. Now I’m not so sure.


  • Walker is incorrect that there are EELV’s that can take the place of Ares I, forgetting that they are not man-rated. None of the existing EELV’s can launch the planed payloads of Ares I. As it is, there are concerns that Ares I will not meet its payload capabilities or that Orion will exceed even the mass capabilities of Ares I, never mind today’s existing EELV’s.

    Walker seems to think that Ares I is being built out of completely new technology, which is only partly the case–the Ares I second-stage is new but the first-stage is based on the Shuttle SRB’s. The Ares I second-stage engine is however based on the J-2X engine, originally developed during the Apollo program. So, while the development of the Ares I second-stage does introduce risk, overall the development of the Ares I is not that “new”.

    To get the EELV’s payload mass in line with Orion would require essentially re-engineering the EELV’s since we are talking about boosting their payload capabilities by something more than 20%. Furthermore, man-rating the EELV’s would also cost money as well and introducing risk that, at the end of the day, they may not produce a launcher that would have sufficient payload capabilities.


  • Exactly so Jim. Furthermore EELVs were never intended to carry crew whereas Ares I is being designed from the nozzle up to do the job and to do it far more cheaply and reliably than the Shuttle. Two key elements of Ares I namely the 5 segment booster and the J-2X will become integral parts of the Ares V. Together these launchers provide the capacity for lunar exploration and beyond. No EELV has the capacity of Ares V. All reports from NASA indicate that the Constellation program is technically on track despite of the shortage of funding. Unfortunately funding is still frozen at the 2006 level and this has already caused delays. Unless the 2008 funding is available soon further delays may happen.

  • Mike Fazan

    Jim and ciclops,

    The Ares I is practically a clean sheet vehicle with all the changes since ESAS. Recall that the Ares configuration that arose to prominence in ESAS was a 4-segment 1st stage, and an SSME-powered, non-conformal tank-based upper stage. To meet the requirements of an oversized CEV, we now have a 5-segment 1st stage, and a “clean sheet” second stage. The J-2X is “J-2 derived” only in name. It is a new engine through and through.

    NASA would have you believe that EELVs are incapable of “man rating.” However, there are no standards for human spaceflight safety, besides those that NASA’s dictates. And even these are not rigorously defined. Truth is that the inclusion of a sophisticated Launch Abort System shifts the balance of man-rating back toward the EELV approach.

    As far as sizing the Orion for lunar requirements, the main objective should be to replace the Shuttle. Assuming that we ever get to the point of focusing on the Moon, the Ares V could be redesigned to make up for the shortfall in Ares I performance or, better yet, use of an EELV/Orion crew transport vehicle.

    All of this is probably a wash anyway. The political pressure against Ares I is beginning to really mount. Once Griffin is gone and he isn’t there to protect his baby, the Schtick will be chucked, and NASA will be left holding air.

  • Mike the key architectural decisions from ESAS remain the same, namely a 1.5 solution based on separate crew and cargo vehicles using as much heritage as possible resulting in a NASA owned design. ESAS was a study not a cut in stone design, it has evolved as it should do finding better more optimal solutions, this is a positive thing not a negative one. The context of Ares I is important too, its funding comes from Congress and issues such as workforce and facilities are also factors.

    If Ares I is killed by political pressure don’t expect the funding to go to another launcher, don’t expect the funding to go to exploration either, don’t even expect the funding to go to NASA.

  • anonymous.space

    “As it is, there are concerns that Ares I will not meet its payload capabilities or that Orion will exceed even the mass capabilities of Ares I, never mind today’s existing EELV’s.”

    Unless NASA shifts to an overdesigned, heavy launcher for crew transport (like DIRECT proposes), Orion probably needs to shrink, definitely if Ares I still goes forward and maybe even if EELVs come into play. The ESAS mandate for four crew to the Moon and six crew to ISS has driven a very large human capsule in the absence of any analysis of the impact of that mandate to the technical and budgetary viability of options for the overall crew transport system. So the oversized Orion is definitely half of the current problem; the other half being Ares I underperformance. At least with a shift to EELVs, the underperforming Ares I half of the problem would go away, although Orion might still need to shrink to fully close the margin gap, even on an existing heavy EELV.

    “Walker seems to think that Ares I is being built out of completely new technology”

    There’s no quote to that effect from Walker in Mr. Foust’s original post. Whether it’s built from new or existing systems or technology, Walker is simply stating that building Ares I duplicates capabilities that already exist in the U.S. launch vehicle fleet. From a Congressional or taxpayer perspective, spending limited federal resources to reproduce a capability that the nation already has is a legitimate and important criticism. From a space exploration advocate’s perspective, spending limited NASA exploration resources to reproduce a capability that NASA exploration already has access to is a legitimate and important criticism.

    As an aside, at least half of Ares I was going to be a new build anyway, from the very beginning. Even under the old 4-segment configuration, an upper stage based on an unproven air-start SSME concept was going to be a new build. Of course, traceability to proven systems only went downhill when the unflown 5-segment and yet a differeent J2-derivative upper stage were adopted.

    “Furthermore EELVs were never intended to carry crew whereas Ares I is being designed from the nozzle up to do the job”

    But Ares I/Orion can no longer transport crew safely. Under any reasonable set of human-rating standards (not even NASA’s extreme requirements), to transport crew, Ares I/Orion (or any other crew transport system) needs to have:

    – Multiply redundant systems. But Orion is now down to zero- or single-fault tolerance on all systems.

    – Reliable launch abort system. But the program is moving away from solid rocket motor technology — the only kind used by NASA or the Soviets/Russians in the LAS role — to liquid and hybrid rocket motor technology that has never been used in the LAS role.

    – Wide range of abort modes. But the program is moving towards limiting Orion to water landings.

    It doesn’t matter that EELVs were originally designed to launch satellites. When it comes to mission success and astronaut safety, the devil to human-rating is in the details. If an EELV-based approach has the mass margins necessary to enable multiply redundant systems, the use of proven LAS technology, and a wide range of abort modes including non-water landings, then using EELVs will certainly be a safer option (by a long shot) than Ares I.

    “to do it far more cheaply and reliably than the Shuttle”

    Well, so could an EELV-based approach or practically any other solution. Shuttle’s enormously high cost and poor LOC record is not a very high hurdle to jump over.

    “All reports from NASA indicate that the Constellation program is technically on track despite of the shortage of funding.”

    I’m not trying to pick a fight, but specifically what reports, “from NASA” or otherwise, indicate that Constellation is “technically on track”? I’m honestly asking.

    Forget performance goals that have been thrown overboard like global lunar access. The Ares I/Orion system is now arguably patently unsafe — no multiply-redundant systems, resorting to unflown LAS rocket motor technologies, limited to water abort landings — by NASA’s own human-rating standards (or any other conceivable human-rating standard). By definition, that’s the opposite of “technically on track”.

    Since the beginning of this year, folks in the know have been warning about the mismatch between Ares I performance and Orion’s mass. Ares I/Orion supporters dismissed those warnings as rumors. Fine. But now NASA and contractor documents have appeared in the public domain showing these issue to be real and worsening — and of a magnitude that flight safety is being hugely impacted — and articles have been published with negative quotes from the relevant NASA managers. I don’t see how we can continue to claim that the program is still “technically on track” when the evidence so clearly points in the other direction.

    Where is the evidence that Ares I/Orion is “technically on track”? Where are the positive mass margin assessments? Where are the LOM and LOC numbers trending positive (or just staying level)? Where is the system meeting its requirements, versus deleting capabilities?

    Again, I’m honestly asking here.

    “Unfortunately funding is still frozen at the 2006 level and this has already caused delays. Unless the 2008 funding is available soon further delays may happen.”

    Right now, the program is experiencing month-to-month delays due to technical problems. Although funding will become an issue at some point, they’ve got to get their technical act together before the budget will ever become a factor in the delays they’re currently experiencing.

    “If Ares I is killed by political pressure don’t expect the funding to go to another launcher, don’t expect the funding to go to exploration either, don’t even expect the funding to go to NASA.”

    Not true. Between ISS needs and a national need to stay in the human space flight game, even if Ares I/Orion is cancelled, some or all Ares I/Orion money will go towards some other solution for flying NASA astronauts. Whether that’s a different Shuttle-derived design like DIRECT, or an EELV-launched capsule, more COTS, or something else (or some combination of the above), the U.S. government is not getting out of the human space flight game.

    What NASA stands to lose is the human lunar effort — the future funding for Ares V, EDS, and LSAM. Excuse my French, but if NASA pisses away billions of dollars and years of time this decade on duplicative vehicles that are unsafe and incapable of closing a lunar architecture, and is still screwing around trying to find a solution to the agency’s ISS/LEO transport needs, then it will be incredibly difficult for NASA to win next decade, from a new White House and new Congresses, the necessary funding to go the Moon.


  • anonymous.space

    The full text of Clinton’s speech today is here:


    Below are the space-related references, most of which are more personal remembrances or analogies to past space accomplishments, rather than promulgation of new space policy, although there are clear policy positions, too.

    Still no explicit references to the VSE, human space exploration, or any of the myriad issues surrounding the 800lb. elephants in NASA’s human space flight programs. But it would appear that Clinton has the most personal connection to NASA and the human space flight program of any of the candidates. If elected, hopefully that personal connection translates into giving NASA the time and resources needed to restructure its human space flight and exploration programs towards more sustainable activities, and monies going to the failing ESAS architecture are not totally redirected to Earth science and aeronautics (as worthy as those areas are, too).



    “The Carnegie Institution for Science, as President Meserve just briefly recounted, has such a distinguished history. It has a record of supporting groundbreaking discoveries from Edwin Hubble’s work in astronomy to more recent breakthroughs in our understanding of genetics and the function of RNA and as part of that work was honored with a Nobel Prize just a few years ago.

    I could not imagine a more appropriate place to discuss our nation’s commitment to scientific discovery and innovation. Nor could I imagine a more appropriate day. It is not a coincidence that we are doing this today. Fifty years ago today, in a remote, sparsely inhabited region of the former Soviet Union the world’s first artificial satellite took flight. This hollow aluminum sphere named Sputnik — which contained little more than a battery, radio transmitters, and an internal cooling system — caught America off guard and changed the course of history. Sputnik transmitted a signal from orbit and through it the Soviet Union sent a signal to the world. Even ham radio operators could hear it: the Soviets had won the first leg of the space race.

    Now many of you have probably known before you came today that this is the anniversary of Sputnik and I bet none of you bought an anniversary card. But I have been fascinated by Sputnik ever since I was a little girl and as I have moved on in life and become involved in the public service and public office holding of our nation, I have spent time reflecting on what Sputnik meant and what our nation did in response. Historic decisions were made in the days, months, and years following Sputnik and I think we had a great response as a nation. Less than two weeks after news of Sputnik swept the globe, President Eisenhower called a meeting of his Science Advisory Committee and asked for recommendations. He would come to rely on that panel for unvarnished, evidence-based scientific advice. Shortly after that first meeting, President Eisenhower addressed the nation. It was a sober yet optimistic assessment. Yes, the Soviets had made gains which carried implications for our security and our economy. Yes, we had work to do. But there was no reason to fear, because America, he said, stood at the ready to draw on our “voluntary heroism, sacrifice, and accomplishment when the chips are down.” Then we set about proving it.

    In February of 1958, four months after Sputnik’s launch, America launched DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. By July of that year, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, creating NASA and ushering in the missions that would define the space race: Mercury and Gemini. In September 1958, President Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act to advance at every level our ability to compete and innovate: math and science education in primary and secondary schools, college loans, graduate fellowships, vocational training.

    I remember as though it were yesterday when my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Kraus came into our classroom and told us we had to study math and science because the President said so. I was convinced President Eisenhower had called up Mrs. Kraus and told her “you tell those children and particularly that Hillary, who doesn’t really like math that much, that her country needs her.”

    In 1961, President Kennedy created the Apollo project, and declared that our nation would land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth by the end of the decade. By 1969 we had done it. By 1972, we had done it 12 times over. It was a national, bipartisan effort. It was a public, private partnership. We bolstered investment in research — and encouraged children to learn math and science. We asked young people to become scientists and engineers — and helped them pay for their degrees with new National Science Foundation fellowships. We believed that we could, by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work, do what we all knew we had to. Begin to demonstrate that America still was the leader in science and innovation. We set big goals. We didn’t give in to our fears, we confronted them. We didn’t deny tough facts, we responded to them. We didn’t ignore big challenges, we met them. Once again, we proved, as President Eisenhower had predicted, that when the chips are down it is always a mistake to bet against America.

    Fifty years ago, Sputnik marked the dawn of the Space Age and the beginning of a new era filled with new challenges. Fifty years later, there is no single, galvanizing event to steel our resolve and to lift our eyes to the heavens. The challenges we face are more complex and interconnected. From the rise of globalization to the threat of global warming. These challenges require big ideas and bold thinking…

    What America achieved after Sputnik is a symbol of what Americans can do now as we confront a new global economy, new environmental challenges, and the promise of new discoveries in medicine. America led in the 20th century, and we saw the benefits of that. As Richard referenced, probably half of our Gross Domestic Product increase since the end of World War II can be traced to investments in science and research in both the public and the private sector, of course fueled by non profit organizations like the Carnegie Institution. With a renewed commitment to scientific integrity and innovation, I know we can lead in the 21st century…

    I’ve also called for competitive prizes to encourage innovation. Back in 1957, President Eisenhower, when he met with his Scientific Advisory Committee again, wondered if there were a way to keep people as excited about science as they were about sports and competition. And this was back when reality entertainment meant playing in the neighborhood park. Why not encourage people to innovate through healthy competition?

    We’ve also seen a decline in American leadership in space exploration and science. A recent survey by the National Academy of Sciences found that “the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been forced to delay the launch of important climate and weather-monitoring satellites. These technologies are critical tools to study climate change: measuring the rates of melting ice, temperature and humidity changes, sea level variations. Meanwhile, NASA’s budget for earth sciences has been cut by 30 percent and NASA climate scientists have been muzzled. Last year, the Bush administration went so far as to remove the following phrase, and I quote, “to understand and protect the home planet,” end quote, from NASA’s mission statement. It’s no wonder, the Bush administration has shown little interest in the earth sciences mission of NASA — and a hostile approach toward the study of climate change.

    As President, part of my mission will be to reclaim our role as the innovation leader. I will pursue an ambitious agenda in space exploration and earth sciences. I’ll fully fund NASA’s earth sciences program, launch a new, comprehensive space-based study of climate change, and reverse the deep funding cuts that NASA’s and FAA’s aeronautics research and development budgets have endured in the last few years.

    You know, this is personal for me because when I was in junior high school, I was just captivated by the space program. It caught my imagination. There was such a great burst of interest. I did my 8th grade science project on space medicine. Some of you know that I even wrote to NASA asking how I could apply to be an astronaut and got back an answer saying that they weren’t taking women. (Laughter) I have lived long enough to see that change! (Applause)

    But that great burst of activity led to so many people who are the PhDs, who are the scientific leaders, who have made such a difference to our public life and our private sector. A lot of them are reaching retirement age. They came into school in the 60’s and the 70’s motivated by this desire to innovate and in our government we’re not finding the replacement for a lot of people. I know that at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the workforce issue going forward is a very big one. So this is not just about let’s have more scientists. This is how we run our economy and how our government retains or should I say regains competence to do what it needs to do for all of us. I think that we’ve got to make science research, technology, mathematics a career in those fields, exciting again…

    Fifth, we need an Apollo-like effort in clean, renewable energy. Last week, the President gave a speech in which he decided to address global warming — seven years into his presidency. And what he found, unfortunately, is that the rest of the world has passed him by. He spoke of aspirational goals to reduce green house gas emissions while people around the world including right here in America actually aspire to tackle the problem…

    I was heartened to learn that after Sputnik went up sales of telescopes and binoculars shot up as well. Actually in my house, my father went out and bought some binoculars, so we could be on the lookout for Sputnik. And my memory of that, of peering into the sky in our backyard in a suburb of Chicago, I don’t think we ever saw it although my friends claim that they had seen it, was so exciting that somehow we were connected to what that meant. And it was not only a thrill for a young girl, but it really did start me thinking.”

  • anonymous.space

    Please ignore/delete the prior post. I hit “submit” in the wrong thread.

    My apologies.

  • Ya, but what did he say about space elevators? I would probably fall out of my chair if a potential presidential candidate endorsed this idea… But when i got up off the floor, i would call his office. :-)

    Take care. mjl

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