Congress, NASA

Concerns about Ares 1

A GAO report released yesterday raises some concerns about the development of the Ares 1. The report doesn’t focus on specific technical issues that have been rumored to exist with the Ares 1, but instead with more general concerns: “knowledge gaps” in various technical, managerial, and financial areas; a lack of stability in Ares 1 requirements because of shifts in Orion requirements, an “aggressive” schedule for the development of the J-2X engine that will power the Ares’ upper stage, and concerns about funding shortfalls for the overall Constellation program. On that last point, the report notes:

NASA’s approach to funding is risky, and the current approved budget profile is insufficient to meet Constellation’s estimated needs. The Constellation program’s integrated risk management system indicates there is a high risk that funding shortfalls could occur in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones.

The report was requested by the House Science and Technology Committee, which released a statement by committee chairman Bart Gordon in response to the report. “The Administration has undertaken a major new Exploration initiative on a ‘business as usual’ budget, and that’s going to make it difficult for NASA to succeed,” Gordon said in the statement. “The CEV and Ares I development projects will be important early tests of the Administration’s approach, and the Committee will be actively monitoring the status of those projects over the coming months.”

81 comments to Concerns about Ares 1

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Space Enthusiasts -

    Wow, the echoes from the Columbia Accident Investigation Report are deafening, here.

    Particularly section 5.3 (pg 102) where they talk about the consequences of trying to run two risky programs on the budget that is sufficient for one.

    Now are we trying to run three risky programs on the budget that is sufficient for one?

    The risk to schedules and milestones is one thing, but what does this say about the risk to human life in the programs (Shuttle?) that the money is being shifted away from?

    The CAIB talked extensively about deteriorating infrastructure – but does the current budget address this? As one example!

    The hard, hard fact is that we can adjust ourselves to the difficult budget realities or we can accept the risk that goes along with squeezing more into the existing funding. The idea of squeezing more into the budget makes me real nervous. I don’t like the alternative but I also don’t want to accept a lot more risk.

    Charles

  • Irate Passenger

    I don’t like the alternative but I also don’t want to accept a lot more risk.

    Ok, captain, do you intend to remain inflexible and intransigent? Do you intend to remain on board and go down with the ship? I must point out, sir, that the passengers have already boarded the lifeboats and left the ship.

    The ship is sinking, sir, this is your last chance. I’m leaving the bunker now.

  • “The report doesn’t focus on specific technical issues that have been rumored to exist with the Ares 1″

    Actually, after you peel back the fair-and-balanced boilerplate that always bookends these GAO reports, the report does actually hit on many of the specific Ares I technical issues that have been reported here and elsewhere for about a year now.

    Below is a list of relevant quotes from the report. (I posted these in another thread, but they’re worth repeating here.) It makes specific reference to the Ares I and Orion mass issues; recent ascent load, vibration, and acoustic issues that are making Ares I mass issues even worse; potential flight instability with the 5-segment booster, potential schedule delays from all the new work involved in the J-2X, etc. Worse, it reveals safety problems, like the likely lack of redundant systems in the upper stage, that have not yet hit publicly.

    Here goes:

    “NASA has not yet established firm requirements or developed mature technologies, a preliminary design, or realistic cost estimates, or determined the ultimate time and money needed to complete the program [Ares I] and so is not in a position to make informed investment decisions.”

    “While NASA still has 10 months to close [the aforementioned] gaps in knowledge, it will be challenged to do so.”

    “For the Ares I program, 14 of the project’s self-identified risk factors are tied to unstable requirements—many of which are interrelated between Ares I and Orion projects.”

    “Both the Orion and Ares I vehicles have a history of weight and mass growth, and NASA is still defining the mass, loads, and weight requirements for both vehicles.”

    “a design analysis cycle completed in May 2007 revealed an unexpected increase in ascent loads (the physical strain on the spacecraft during launch) that could result in increases to the weight of the Orion vehicle and both stages of the Ares I.”

    “Requirements instability is also increasing risk for the individual elements of the Ares I.”

    “NASA has not yet matured guidance, navigation, and control requirements for the upper stage subsystems. According to an agency official, these requirements cannot be finalized until mass, loads and weight requirements are finalized. Since these requirements are not expected to be provided until just 2 ½ months prior to the upper stage preliminary design review process start, there is a possibility that the system requirements review design concepts will be highly affected once requirements are received.”

    “Requirements instability also contributed to NASA’s inability to definitize design, development, and test and evaluation contracts for both the first stage and upper stage engine until August and July 2007 respectively—more than a year after the contracts were awarded.”

    “Adding the fifth segment and the frustum has increased the length and flexibility of the reusable solid rocket booster. It is currently unclear how the modification will affect the flight characteristics of the reusable solid rocket booster. Failure to completely understand the flight characteristic of the modified booster could create a risk of hardware failure and loss of vehicle control.”

    “there is also a possibility that the reusable solid rocket booster heritage hardware may not meet qualification requirements given the new ascent and re-entry loads and vibration and acoustic environments associated with the Ares I. This could result in cost and schedule impacts due to redesign and requalification efforts.”

    “the added weight of the fifth segment to the boosters is forcing the contractor to push the state of the art in developing a parachute recovery system.”

    “In January 2007, an independent review of the first stage development questioned the cost-effectiveness of continuing with a reusable booster design… NASA may need to consider expendable first stage options given the weight issues associated with both the Ares I and Orion vehicles. If NASA opts to pursue an expendable solution for the first stage, the overall Ares I design and requirements could change dramatically.”

    “NASA’s development effort for the Ares I upper stage has resulted in the redesign of its propellant tanks from two completely separate tanks to two tanks with one shared, or common, bulkhead. While the prior two-tank configuration was a simpler design with a lower manufacturing cost, it did not meet mass requirements. The current common bulkhead design involves a complex and problematic manufacturing process that plagued earlier development efforts on the Apollo program. In fact, IRMA indicates that one of the lessons learned from the Apollo program was to not use common bulkheads because they are complex and difficult to manufacture.”

    “there is a possibility that upper stage subsystems will not meet the Constellation program’s requirements for human rating unless the Constellation program grants waivers to failure tolerance requirements. NASA’s human rating directive generally requires that human spaceflight hardware be “two-failure tolerant,” that is, the system should be designed to tolerate two component failures or inadvertent actions without resulting in permanent disability or loss of life. According to Ares I project officials, NASA’s directive allows the use of ascent abort in response to a second failure during launch; however, Constellation program requirements do not allow abort and require Ares I to reach orbit even if there are two failures.”

    “Although the J-2X is based on the J-2 and J-2S engines used on the Saturn V, and leverages knowledge from the X-33 and RS-68, the extent of planned changes is such that both the ESAS and Ares I standing review boards reported that the effort essentially represents a new engine development. The scope of required changes is so broad, the contractor estimates that it will need nearly 5 million hours to complete design, development, test, and evaluation activities for the J-2X upper stage engine… According to Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne representatives, these design changes will result in the replacement and/or modification of virtually every part derived from the J-2 or J-2S designs.”

    “Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is also redesigning turbo-pumps from the X-33 program that feed fuel and oxidizer into a newly configured main combustion chamber, to increase engine thrust to 294,000 pounds—the J-2S had 265,000 pounds of thrust. The element also faces significant schedule risks in developing and manufacturing a carbon composite nozzle extension in order to satisfy these thrust requirements. According to contractor officials, the extension is more than 2 feet—i.e., about one-third—wider in diameter than existing nozzles.”

    “the J-2X development effort is accorded less than 7 years from development start to first flight. In comparison, the Space Shuttle main engine, the only other human-rated liquid-fuel engine NASA has successfully flown since the Apollo program, development required 9 years… If the engine does not complete development as scheduled, subsequent flight testing might be delayed. The J-2X development effort represents a critical path for the Ares I project. Subsequently, delays in the J-2X schedule for design, development, test, and evaluation would have a ripple effect throughout the entire Ares I project.”

    Not that GAO can stop NASA, the White House, or Congress from funding Ares I, but the fact that the report advises against investment at this time and unless NASA gets its act together before PDR does not bode well. NASA has had over two years to get its arms around Ares I, and now only has 10 months left. The way that problems are spiraling from the interaction between Ares I/Orion performance/mass and Ares I structure (fixes in one cause problems in the other) does not give much hope.

    Not that I’m an EELV advocate, but it boggles the mind that we took on all the unknown unknowns associated with Ares I development instead of modifying and just flying Orion or another CEV on an existing, operational EELV.

    FWIW…

  • I just noticed that this Houston Chronicle article on the GAO report puts the development cost of Ares I at $14.4 billion (add http://www):

    .chron.com/disp/story.mpl/space/5340386.html

    That’s several billion more than the $10 billion I was estimating from the runout of the FY 2008 budget.

    Not good, if true.

  • gm

    it’s strange that GAO concern is about time and costs since the #1 problem of the Ares-1 is that it can’t fly: http://www.ghostnasa.com/posts/012arescantfly.html

  • gm

    it’s interesting to know that, while the 5-segments SRB adds lots of delays, costs and problems, it may increase the (Orion) payload by just a (ridiculous) 1.3 mT (vs. the standard SRB)

  • thejournalist

    As you might have guessed I’m an enthusiast, not an expert. Recently I’ve been thinking; from a NSTB perspective the shuttle system is tried and true. The problems that led to the accidents were identified and resolved, thus making the system more robust. My question then is: are there any plans to extend shuttle through the “gap”? Am I naive for cringing at the thought of redesign? Even though the new systems are touted as being “Apollo like” these reports of tech issues seem to suggest it’s not going to be cheap n easy. I’m also curious about PACs. Do the posters here support/participate in PACs for space exploration?

    P.S. I promise to take the bush bashing comments elsewhere…..

  • MarkWhittington

    For those who are jumping up and down, plkease note that the GAO does not conclude, “Therefore the Ares 1 should be scrapped and replaced with something else.”

    The GAO does conclude: “We recommend that the NASA Administrator direct the Ares I project manager to develop a sound business case–supported by firm requirements, mature technologies, a preliminary design, a realistic cost estimate, and sufficient funding and time–before proceeding beyond preliminary design review (currently planned for July 2008) and, if necessary, delay the preliminary design review until a sound business case demonstrating the project’s readiness to move forward into product development is in hand.”

    Talk about stating the obvious. I could have offered that recommedation for far less than was spent on compiling the report.

  • thejournalist: are there any plans to extend shuttle through the “gap”?

    While most of what you state about the Shuttle is correct, continuing the project is not really an option. The Shuttle vehicles have proven too fragile for operational use. Worse, the system costs circa $5 billion a year, whether you launch it once or ten times. Thus, the way to reduce costs while retaining the Shuttle is to fly it more often. Unfortunately, the system has proven not capable of high-temo operations.

    As long as we are spending that much money on the Shuttle, and NASA’s budget stays where it is, we cannot afford to do anything else. Setting aside the wisdom of ESAS (the current detailed strategy for replacing the Shuttle), the general strategy going forward has to start with shutting down Shuttle operations in order to free up money for moving forward.

    I happen to agree with the Bush Administration about the general strategy for going forward — retire the Shuttle to free up money and use existing technology to return to the moon and use operations there as market pull to encourage private development of better launch vehicles. (This general strategy is one of the very few areas where I think the otherwise disasterous current Administration has got it right; unfortunately, they got the details as wrong as they get everything else.)

    – Donald

  • David Stever

    NASA Watch is reporting that Hatfield is about to be replaced with Deputy Constellation Program Manager Mark Geyer. Are these related?

  • thejournalist

    Thanks Donald, I guess it’s the reality of the situation that angers me. 5 bill a year seems like a bargain. Though I understand your point; Unfortunately, the system has proven not capable of high-temo operations= fragile, I don’t agree. I think even the public would agree the ISS construction has been high tempo(yes I mean recently). Right? What is high tempo? I re-assert that what we have now ,STS, is tried and true. It is robust, and well understood. Wayne Hale has said, the shuttle is old and complex, and that is why it takes so many people to keep it running. These are good jobs, and great people. I could see the sadness in his face as he talked about the last chance to stop the shut down of STS. This summer large equipment will be moved out of the tank facility to make room for the new program. So little time left to do something about it, I’m really worried. I do look at hubble with hope. There was a great public outcry for it’s continuation. Could that be repeated for Shuttle?
    Preaching to the choir? I believe the only answer is to find that 5 billion, move forward with the new system, a seamless transition. No gap!
    I know…I know..from where, who cares etc. *sigh*

    P.S. Donald wrote “(This general strategy is one of the very few areas where I think the otherwise disasterous current Administration has got it right; unfortunately, they got the details as wrong as they get everything else.) DITTO :)

  • “Recently I’ve been thinking; from a NSTB perspective”

    By law, NASA is responsible for ensuring the safety of the Space Shuttle and other NASA launches, not the Department of Transportation. Therefore, the NTSB doesn’t get involved.

    The Columbia accident was investigated by a board specially convened by NASA with White House and Congressional input, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board or CAIB.

    “The problems that led to the accidents were identified and resolved”

    That’s true in the case of the Challenger accident — the underlying technical problem with the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) was fixed with design changes.

    That’s not true in the case of the Columbia accident — foam still falls off the external tank (ET) and risks puncturing the thermal protection system (TPS) on the orbiter. In fact, the most recent flight of the Space Shuttle had more total ET foam loss than any prior flight during which foam loss has been tracked. It was just dumb luck that none of the ET foam hit the orbiter TPS in quantities and speeds great enough to do damage. There’s no way to avoid some falling ET foam on the Space Shuttle. To avoid the problem, NASA has to fly astronauts on a different vehicle.

    As Mr. Robertson notes, there are other, very good reasons to retire the Space Shuttle — it’s very high costs, it’s lack of capability for supporting human space exploration beyond Earth orbit, etc. But even if we didn’t care about those things, we’d still be replacing the Space Shuttle with something else because it’s a fundamentally flawed and dangerous human launch system.

    “My question then is: are there any plans to extend shuttle through the ‘gap’?”

    There is a desire on the part of those who benefit economically and politically from continued Shuttle operations to see them extended. But there are no plans to do so. In fact, with each passing month, more and more Shuttle suppliers and support capabilities are being turned off, making it much more difficult, if not impossible, to extend Shuttle operations beyond the 2010 retirement date.

    Worse, the CAIB recommended that if the Shuttle flies beyond 2010, then the whole system needs to be recertified due to the age of many subsystems and components. That huge, multi-billion dollar recertification activity would not be worth the money, time, or effort unless Shuttle was going to be flying for a lot longer.

    Finally, it’s important to remind ourselves that, based on the Shuttle’s demonstrated track record, every 1-in-60 (or so) Shuttle flight ends in a loss of life. With a flight safety record that low, we’re almost playing Russian roulette with astronaut lives, ISS assembly and support, and NASA’s human space flight programs on every additional Shuttle flight. Instead of arguing to extend Shuttle operations, we should be finding ways to absolutely minimize the number of remaining Shuttle flights.

    “Even though the new systems are touted as being ‘Apollo like’ these reports of tech issues seem to suggest it’s not going to be cheap n easy.”

    When the new NASA Administrator (Mike Griffin) took over in 2003, he commissioned a study, called the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) on what vehicles NASA should use to return to the Moon and to replace the Space Shuttle for supporting the International Space Station. One of the claims made by ESAS was that the recommended launch vehicles (Ares I and Ares V) would be safer to operate and cheaper to develop than the alternatives because they leveraged a lot of existing or heritage systems from the Space Shuttle and Saturn V.

    As the GAO report points out, this did not turn out to be true. (Some of us argued that it was never true to begin with and that assuming such high safety and cost benefits for NASA-heritage systems, while assuming low safety and cost benefits for non-NASA-heritage systems, one of the major analytical flaws in ESAS.)

    For example, the Ares I first stage employs a single Shuttle SRB. But as the GAO (and others) point out, when an SRB is not connected to the Shuttle ET, the vibrations from its firing are not dampened and those vibrations are of a magnitude that they threaten to literally to shake apart the Ares I upper stage and Orion capsule (and even harm the astronauts inside). Worse, NASA modified the SRB design by going from four to five SRB casings, which, as the GAO (and others) point out, makes the Ares I design inherently unstable on launch and in flight, an instability that will likely require enormous and expensive efforts to overcome. Here’s the relevant passages from the GAO report:

    “there is also a possibility that the reusable solid rocket booster heritage hardware may not meet qualification requirements given the new ascent and re-entry loads and vibration and acoustic environments associated with the Ares I. This could result in cost and schedule impacts due to redesign and requalification efforts.”

    “Adding the fifth segment and the frustum has increased the length and flexibility of the reusable solid rocket booster. It is currently unclear how the modification will affect the flight characteristics of the reusable solid rocket booster. Failure to completely understand the flight characteristic of the modified booster could create a risk of hardware failure and loss of vehicle control.”

    So, contrary to ESAS, the use of single SRB, and a five-segment SRB in particular, actually imposes dangerous acoustic and flight conditions that will be expensive to make safe.

    In another example, in the Ares I upper stage, the engine, called the J-2X, is supposed to be derived from the J-2 and J-2S engines used on the Saturn V launch vehicle. But as GAO (and others) point out:

    “Although the J-2X is based on the J-2 and J-2S engines used on the Saturn V, and leverages knowledge from the X-33 and RS-68, the extent of planned changes is such that both the ESAS and Ares I standing review boards reported that the effort essentially represents a new engine development. The scope of required changes is so broad, the contractor estimates that it will need nearly 5 million hours to complete design, development, test, and evaluation activities for the J-2X upper stage engine… According to Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne representatives, these design changes will result in the replacement and/or modification of virtually every part derived from the J-2 or J-2S designs.”

    So, contrary to ESAS, for all intents and purposes, J-2X is a brand new engine design, with all the uncertainties, lack of demonstrated safety, and costs that implies.

    On top of all the above, Ares I performance is not what was predicted by ESAS, and redundant upper stage systems and first stage reusability — both of which are critical safety measures — are being taken out of Ares I upper stage to save weight and ensure that the system can get Orion high enough to get to orbit. (The same thing is happening to the Orion capsule.)

    “there is a possibility that upper stage subsystems will not meet the Constellation program’s requirements for human rating unless the Constellation program grants waivers to failure tolerance requirements. NASA’s human rating directive generally requires that human spaceflight hardware be “two-failure tolerant,” that is, the system should be designed to tolerate two component failures or inadvertent actions without resulting in permanent disability or loss of life. According to Ares I project officials, NASA’s directive allows the use of ascent abort in response to a second failure during launch; however, Constellation program requirements do not allow abort and require Ares I to reach orbit even if there are two failures.”

    “the added weight of the fifth segment to the boosters is forcing the contractor to push the state of the art in developing a parachute recovery system.”

    “In January 2007, an independent review of the first stage development questioned the cost-effectiveness of continuing with a reusable booster design… NASA may need to consider expendable first stage options given the weight issues associated with both the Ares I and Orion vehicles. If NASA opts to pursue an expendable solution for the first stage, the overall Ares I design and requirements could change dramatically.”

    This mass/performance issue has been known for almost year now, and with the emergence of Ares I vibration/acoustic/structural issues, the program’s requirements, costs, schedule, and safety issues are now spiraling out of control. Positive fixes to one impact the other negatively, and a safe, even flyable, solution is unlikely in the ten months that NASA has left before the next major design review.

    “Am I naive for cringing at the thought of redesign?”

    No, although that’s what’s been happening off-and-on through the past two years of Ares I/Orion design cycles.

    Griffin and NASA have had over two years to address the shortcomings in ESAS and either get their hands around Ares I’s problems or find another launch solution. It will be interesting to see what they can do in the remaining ten months. If I had to predict, they’ll keep trying to make Ares I/Orion work, but the system won’t close and that, in combination with this GAO report and any follow-ups and other investigations, will hand the next White House all the reason it needs to terminate the effort and redirect the money to a different vehicle (e.g., under a Clinton II White House) or to other priorities outside NASA (e.g., under an Obama White House). In fact, with this GAO ammo, it’s possible we may even start to see cuts to the Ares I/Orion budget from either Congress and/or OMB before the end of the Bush II White House.

    FWIW…

  • “NASA Watch is reporting that Hatfield is about to be replaced with Deputy Constellation Program Manager Mark Geyer. Are these related?”

    Hard to say. Internally, Ares I manager Steve Cook has done a very good job over the past year blaming Orion’s mass for much of the current mess, when in fact it’s Ares I underperformance that’s the culprit. (And, of course, it was Cook who was the deputy on ESAS and was responsible for overselling Ares I performance in the first place.)

    It could be that the pattern of Orion getting blamed for Ares I’s shortcomings is continuing, and Hatfield has gotten caught in the crosshairs. It would be too bad, because Hatfield is one of the few top Constellation managers with some actual and successful development experience.

    Without inside information (and I can’t yet even confirm the NASAWatch post that Hatfield is on the way out), we’ll never know for sure. No doubt like Horowitz, the official press release will state that Hatfield stepped down for family, another job, or some other reason unrelated to Ares I/Orion program performance to date.

    FWIW…

  • I’m not going to tire of pointing it out: neither the current administration nor Congress decided the details on implementation, NASA did.

    The implementation is currently based on ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study), this part is all NASA and is the reasoning behind their choices of Ares I and Ares V etc.

    The vision is called the VSE (the Vision for Space Exploration), this is what the White House created and Congress supports (two different congressional approvals so far, one R-dominated and one D-dominated).

  • “I can’t yet even confirm the NASAWatch post that Hatfield is on the way out”

    Just a quick follow-up to the above… this blog seems to confirm that Hatfield is on the way out (add http://www).

    .rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com/

    I’d recommend reading every entry in that blog… good insights and critiques even if the language is a little hard-edged at times.

    FWIW…

  • My above post was aimed at thejournalist of course.

  • Habitat Hermit – and who appointed the current head of Nasa? It wasn’t Al Gore, thats for sure.

  • “I re-assert that what we have now ,STS, is tried and true. It is robust,”

    No, per my earlier post, the Space Shuttle is a fatally flawed, very fragile, and incredibly expensive launch system — the most fragile and expensive in history — and it doesn’t have the capabilities we need to extend human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, anyway.

    “and well understood.”

    No, if the Shuttle system was simple enough to be well understood, Challenger and Columbia would not have happened.

    “I do look at hubble with hope. There was a great public outcry for it’s continuation.”

    Public outcry is one thing. Smart allocation of resources is another. There are GROUND telescopes coming online in the next few years that will exceed Hubble’s light collecting capabilities by an order of magnitude. And that says nothing of space-based telescopes that are following Hubble. Every dollar and month that NASA spends preparing for a Hubble servicing mission takes a dollar away from and adds a month to the development of the Webb and other new, better telescopes.

    Same goes for the Space Shuttle. Every dollar and month that NASA extends Shuttle operations takes a dollar away from and adds a month to the development of the Shuttle’s replacement vehicle. Extending Shuttle operations does not shrink the coming five-year gap in U.S. civil human space flight; it only pushes it further into the future.

    These are science instruments and launch vehicles, not photo albums and childhood teddy bears. We need to act dispassionately and think rationally when investing billions of dollars of limited NASA budget (which are wrung from the hard work of taxpayers, no less) in them.

    “These are good jobs, and great people.”

    Absolutely. And they should be working on the future and on the frontier — exploration vehicles where NASA has a unique role to play — rather than needlessly risking astronaut lives on an expensive, dangerously flawed, 30-year old Space Shuttle or reinventing the Earth-to-orbit wheel with a needlessly expensive, dangerously compromised, and potentially unflyable Ares I design that will do little but duplicate existing military and commercial capabilities that are already available to NASA.

    ” believe the only answer is to find that 5 billion, move forward with the new system, a seamless transition. No gap!
    I know…I know..from where, who cares etc. *sigh*”

    It’s not a matter of caring. It’s a matter of realism. NASA supporters in Congress have failed to get a one-year, $1 billion increase passed for NASA two years in a row — ostensibly to pay for costs incurred during the Columbia accident cleanup and from Katrina. If Congress is incapable of doing that, a five-year, $5 billion annual increase ($25 billion total) to close the gap just ain’t in the realm of possibility.

    If NASA can’t get more money from the political system, then NASA has to look within its own budget. Redirecting some of the remaining budgets for Space Shuttle operations and Ares I development to less expensive and less compromised launch solutions would be a good start.

    FWIW…

  • “I’m not going to tire of pointing it out: neither the current administration nor Congress decided the details on implementation, NASA did.

    The implementation is currently based on ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study), this part is all NASA and is the reasoning behind their choices of Ares I and Ares V etc.”

    Correct. Agreed. Primary fault lies at Griffin’s feet.

    “and who appointed the current head of Nasa? It wasn’t Al Gore, thats for sure.”

    Also correct. Since appointing Griffin, the Bush II White House has been ineffective and/or MIA in terms of oversight and living up to budget commitments.

    “The vision is called the VSE (the Vision for Space Exploration), this is what the White House created and Congress supports (two different congressional approvals so far, one R-dominated and one D-dominated).”

    A nit, but an important one. The new, Democrat-controlled Congress has not endorsed the VSE in legislation. Only the old, Republican-controlled Congress passed an authorization bill endorsing the VSE. Nothing like that has even been proposed in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

    In fact, the Democrat-controlled Congress has yet to even pass a budget for NASA. We’re into continuing resolutions for the FY 2008 budget, and the FY 2007 budget that the Democrats inherited from the Republicans also ended in a massive continuing resolution that actually flat-lined Constellation funding.

    FWIW…

  • jml

    Journalist:

    STS has indeed proven a few things over the past 25+ years. It has proven that we don’t really have the need to launch a crewed vehicle into orbit at the weekly tempo needed to make STS economically viable that was originally envisioned in the early 1970′s. It has proven that the orbiter’s fragile thermal protection systems and complex main engines require far more work to maintain and refurbish between flights than can fit into the originally envisioned high-tempo schedule. It has proven that lifting and then returning 100+ tons of orbiter mass into orbit in order to deliver 25 tons of payload is a waste of heavy lift capabilities. Most seriously, it has proven that it is an extraordinarily risky idea to attach a fragile manned space vehicle without escape systems to the side of a large tank of combustibles and two oversized roman candles in such a manner that the vehicle will be right in the midst of the debris path that will be created should the tank or boosters undergo rapid disassembly in flight. If we continue to operate STS, there is a pretty good chance that we will face tragedy a third time. NASA says the risk is 1 in 100, and the flight record so far says it is about a 1 in 60 chance. Either way, that is far too risky to continue.

    STS has also proven that NASA has quite a few pieces of reliable, working hardware with plenty of flight experience in the STS system. We have a tremendous existing infrastructure of fully operational launch, prep, and manufacturing facilities for STS and a highly skilled workforce that goes along with that infrastructure. After Apollo we threw out much of our then-existing hardware, got rid of the skilled workforce, and lost capabilities that we still haven’t rebuilt. We’re on the threshold of doing that again. The GAO report and the continuing rumours around this program are signs that Congress thinks NASA is on the same path to failure as they have been with other over-budget and behind-schedule programs like NASP, X-33, X-34.

    There are better ways to continue NASA’s manned space program, reduce the gap, and reuse much of the STS intfrastructure that don’t require billions more to be added to the NASA budget. If you haven’t already, check out directlauncher.com to see one such widely-discussed “safer, simpler, sooner” proposal.

    Direct isn’t the only way forward, of course. We could come up with billions more in funding to fix every unexpected new shortfall in Ares I. We could shut down NASA altogether. We could outsource our launches to private enterprise or foreign governments. Or, more realistically, NASA could simply fallback to launching crew capsules on the already-existing Delta IV or Atlas V EELV launchers. These are all ideas that have their supporters. But these are all solutions that mean we will be abandoning our existing heavy-lift capability for the second time. Once we do that, we throw out the VSE too, and we won’t be going to the moon, mars, or beyond anytime soon.

  • Haha Ferris that’s stretching it beyond breaking point and into absurdity.

    But let’s assume you’re right, the obvious question then becomes whether one thinks Dr. Griffin has made all the various decisions unassisted by, or in spite of, the rest of NASA.

    If one thinks so then one could easily wade even further into creative dadaism with Dr. Griffin as some sort of super-powerful entity of evil ESAS-fetishism (let’s hear it for Griffin Derangement Syndrome? ^_^).

    If one doesn’t then his appointment clearly isn’t on its own reason enough to attribute blame concerning the implementation on either Congress or the White House.

    Blaming them for lack of oversight and control however is an entirely different topic! But blaming them for the actual implementation assumes somewhat hilariously that Congress in particular but also the White House are supposed to be bona fide engineers and in addition have plenty of time to function as such. You’ve got to admit that’s a pretty funny idea ^_^

  • thejournalist

    Wow….thorough, depressing(the reality of the situation) but thorough. I’ll only say that the foam loss has been reduced in size and significance i.e. where the foam is lost relative to shuttle and altitude. Furthermore, the on orbit checks mean there will be no more loss of life, if there was a critical strike. The NTSB reference was only that, any NTSB person will tell you it’s better to fly on an L1011(not that you could, they’re the cargo kings now) than the brand new A380. How bout’ B52 vs. V22? You get my point? The newer the design the less we know about its performance/issues. Thanks for the detailed response anon, and I do get what your saying. My attachment to the Shuttle system is based somewhat on emotion “I love it/ its cool” I grew up with it “my apollo”

    Here’s one for you…The public i.e. the press is on edge now every time the shuttle goes up, i.e. issues we have discussed. Do you see the value? I’m half joking but, if we(NASA) had a problem @ ISS on every mission imagine the boost in coverage. At the briefings; There is a problem with the solar panel(packed with reporters).They fixed it,the astronauts are heroes! Seriously, fixing that solar array was just priceless, so cool. The shuttle lands safely, astronaut briefing (4 reporters).

    I still feel that continuing the shuttle while bringing the new systems online is the way to go, I understand it’s not in the cards and……I appreciate the reality of our situation. I’m glad I found this site.

  • anonymous.space that is an important part, I completely agree however I see the continuing resolutions as de facto statements of support even if they are more likely simply the result of either incompetence, negligence, or laziness on the part of Congress.

    jml makes a good case concerning heavy lift and it’s why I like Direct a lot.

    However I’d like to add that a possible EELV vs. Direct fight is unnecessary. I’m prepared to have this shot down in flames by the rest of you but choosing both is still cheaper than the current implementation and likely with significant cash left over for the rest of of NASA including both all the currently gutted parts as well as much-needed human exploration hardware.

    Direct aspires to:
    “…saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.”

    That statement is older than the latest ESAS/Ares/Orion cost overruns.

    That’s roughly the price of 140 –one hundred and forty– Delta IV or Atlas V launches ^_^

    If doing both then make an Orion Heavy capsule for the Jupiters for use primarily beyond ISS orbit and a Orion Light capsule for the EELVs and Falcon 9 for use primarily to and from the ISS. If any one system has an accident or similar there will be at least two if not three others to continue using for ISS/LEO access.

  • Habitat Hermit: I’m not going to tire of pointing it out: neither the current administration nor Congress decided the details on implementation, NASA did.

    NASA’s leader is part of, and serves at the pleasure of, the Administration. The Administration is “where the buck stops” in any failures or successes by NASA — although the current Administration has been very persistant, and generally successful, at failing to accept responsibility for the results of their decisions.

    jml: NASA says the risk is 1 in 100, and the flight record so far says it is about a 1 in 60 chance. Either way, that is far too risky to continue.

    While I generally agree with your post, and I believe we should not take unnecessary risks, affordable Solar System exploration is going to involve risks of failure far higher than one in sixty or one in a hundred. If we are not prepared to take risks of one in ten or one in five (or even one in two) we should stop wasting our money right now.

    No matter how much money you throw at it, the simple reality is that the first attempt at, say, a Mars base is very likely to fail with the loss of lives. Is it still worth doing, and doing again? I’d say, of course. But, if we are not willing to take on that level of risk, then we will not succeed.

    As thejournalist points out, so far the Space Station construction so far has been a marked success and a great credit to NASA. But that success obscures the risk. I think is borders on miraculous that no one has yet been killed. Likewise, whatever the faults of the Shuttle, it does the nation credit that when it failed we picked up and continued. The day we don’t do that, our dreams of exploring, let alone colonizing, the Solar System will be over.

    – Donald

  • thejournalist

    You all don’t play around…wow there is a lot here for me to digest. I’ll say this, you won’t find me standing in the way of new systems. However, I will continue to be passionate/emotional about the future of manned spaceflight. The information I gather here will undoubtedly improve/change my arguments on what that future should be. If I could ask one favor, you don’t need to argue the semantics with me. I’m aware of ESAS and the plan, but as others have pointed out things change, the world may be a very different place in by election/decision time let alone 2010.

    I can let go of the shuttle…but I refuse to say a gap in US manned spaceflight is ok. Hubble is on the way out, i get it, i know. We love it though, thus it continues. I’ll say it again the “wow” factor cannot be understated. My hope is to improve public support both in number and practicality. You say the Hubble service mission is a waste of money. Fine, I look forward to the new gen telescopes. From that perspective, the shuttle is an easier sell, even though it’s not the best way to go. We need x dollars more for the new system, that the public is barely aware of, or we need x dollars to keep the shuttle going. The public support naive as it may be will goto shuttle.

    Having said all that, I appreciate the info and I’ll continue to listen and learn. I do want the most practical and safe LV possible so
    I’ll quit with the save the shuttle rhetoric. LLP

  • Habitat – how in the hell is that “stretching beyond breaking point into absurdity”?

    True or False – Bush appointed Griffin?

    True or False – An executive is responsible for his underlings? Even if they are the heads of entire departments, or even subsidiary companies?

    As for you claim that lack of oversight and control is entirely different from implementation – well, the result is still the same – we have a bad plan, that requires more money than it will get, a better rocket than it is using, and the only reason it might survive is because of shear stupidity and greed.

    (BTW, Habitat, stick around, I’d be curious

    anonymous.space – I am going to be a bit of a contrarian here, and argue that if we are forced to choose between the current ESAS, and shuttle, well, I think its better to keep shuttle. That said, I think there are alternatives to these two options (things like Direct and so forth)

    Finally, after reading Habitat’s thoughts about doing Direct and EELV, well, I thought I’d throw might thoughts out there – what about getting rid of ARES 1 and 5, AND the Orion capsule, and implement the Jupiter Rockets, and guarantee to use commercial vehicles (read Dragon, or Dreamchaser) to get to spaceships, that are actually in space? Just a thought.

  • the journalist – you keep coming back to the issue of the gap, between Orion and the shuttle – yet your ignoring the likelyhood (and I would argue strong likelyhood) of things like Dragon and Dreamchaser, in the realm of the COTS program.

    Nasa does not need to own the vehicle to have access to the station.

  • thejournalist

    Fare enough Ferris, I’ll take what can get. I mean to say, I find a great deal of hope in commercial vehicles and they’re future.

    Donald thanks for the pat on the back, but I hope your worries are not realized.

    Lighter note: check this out http://www.youtube.com/user/benwl he’s the real deal

    and this vid, old so you may have seen it but …just too funny
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjiGH9QNiU0

    sorry for copy n paste links don’t know the codes to make it live

  • thejournalist

    drat hit the button by accident..lol no edit. forgive me

    Fair
    I can get
    links are hot

    :)

  • jj

    I’m a bit puzzled by the GAO comments that Orion instability has been a problem for Ares requirements and an above comment that “Steve Cook has done a very good job over the past year blaming Orion’s mass for much of the current mess”.

    AFAIK Orion’s mass problems are being dealt with within that project and shouldn’t have impacted Ares I at all (contrast this with the vibra-acoustic problems with Ares I that cause real problems for Orion).

    Am I missing something or does anyone have evidence of a real impact on Ares I from Orion?

  • Gizmo

    Hard to say. Internally, Ares I manager Steve Cook has done a very good job over the past year blaming Orion’s mass for much of the current mess, when in fact it’s Ares I underperformance that’s the culprit. (And, of course, it was Cook who was the deputy on ESAS and was responsible for overselling Ares I performance in the first place.)

    Steve Cook was the guy who also sold the goods for X-33 and a lot of other recent NASA debacles. Steve is a superb salesman, and missed his calling (and fortune) when he joined NASA. But a true technical challenge like Ares I needs more than a good salesman.

  • I refuse to say a gap in US manned spaceflight is ok

    Should this be translated as:

    1) The solar system is about to go away and we must visit while we can

    2) Interest in manned spaceflight is so tenuous that it will
    disappear altogether if not fed regularly

    3) The global humiliation of having China advance from 1965-level to 1975-level capability while we do nothing is unacceptable

    4) Soyuz doesn’t offer enough cup holders

    5) The world came to an end during the last “gap,” in 1975-81, and we can’t risk it again

    …? Just curious

  • Paul F. Dietz

    For some people:

    6) The gap means he’ll have to get used to saying “You want fries with that?”

  • thejournalist

    lolz……Monte i’ll take doors 2 4 and 6 :)

  • Underfunding (or more precisely “to expect too much without spending additional dollar”) is probably one of the root problems with Constellation. I had the joy of attending a recent public appearance of Astronaut and former senator John Glenn and fired up the video camera in the right moment (without knowing that by the time I took the video). I’ve now uploaded it on my site:

    John Glenn on Constellation and NASA budget

    I think Mr. Glenn made very valid points…

  • It has proven that we don’t really have the need to launch a crewed vehicle into orbit at the weekly tempo needed to make STS economically viable that was originally envisioned in the early 1970’s.

    How did it “prove” that?

    Shuttle didn’t prove most of the things that people think it did. It’s foolish to draw broad general conclusions from a single example.

  • jml

    Rand:

    Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the passing of time has proven that we don’t have such a need, so far. When requirements for STS were being drawn up originally in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, NASA genuinely thought that there would be a need to constantly ferry crews and cargo to all the many manned scientific, military, and commercial labs, telescopes, commsats, and other stations that were being planned, or to carry out regular maintenance visits to unmanned military and commercial satellites. Plans suggested that crews on these many stations would have 30-day duty rotations, and a fleet of several shuttles each running weekly missions would be needed to ferry all the people and supplies.

    The future didn’t turn out quite the way NASA expected. Those many manned orbiting labs and telescopes never materialized. Unmanned communications, scientific, and reconnaissance satellites have proven to generally not need monthly tune-ups from space walking astronauts. The reliability, capability and disposability of modern electronics was just not something that NASA envisioned.

    After the first few years of operating STS, NASA proved that with their 4 orbiter fleet they could launch missions spaced about one month apart without much difficulty (other than some very unfortunate bouts of go fever). But the average historical operational tempo has only been in the 4 to 6 missions per year range when everything is going well. The reason NASA has not been launching the shuttle at a rate of 10 or 12 missions a year for the past couple of decades is that we simply have not found any compelling reason to allocate funding to NASA to do so. Ferrying people regularly to and from LEO somehow does not capture the public’s imagination that way that Apollo did. Instead we’ve poured billions after billions into the next great contraption/boondoggle from NASP to Delta Clipper to X-33 to Ares I.

    Now we’ve got to decide if NASA should really stay in this business, and if so, what their role should be. Taxi service to the ISS on EELVs? Back to the Moon with Direct? Full speed to Mars with Ares V? Contract everything out to private enterprise? Or take the budget dollars and put them to other uses? As Constellation continues to disintegrate and we prepare for the uncertainties of a change in direction with a new administration, we sure will be in for some interesting times.

  • Ferris Valyn I’ll try to keep this short but I read your “…and who appointed the current head of Nasa? It wasn’t Al Gore, thats for sure.” as advocating shifting the blame for NASAs current woes to the Bush administration for appointing Griffin. I didn’t and still don’t see what else your point could have been since you know we all know it wasn’t Al Gore. Perhaps I completely missed your point*.

    Reading it the way I did I attempted to illustrate the fairly obvious absurdity of it, I’ll repeat one of the main points more verbosely: if Bush & co. gets all the blame on account of Griffin then that means Griffin is the source for all of it right? But making Griffin as a single individual responsible is troublesome (in more ways than one but I’ll limit myself). While “Primary fault [for ESAS] lies at Griffin’s feet” as anonymous.space wrote (and I agree) we still need to remember that he’s not Emperor Griffin but Administrator Griffin and relies on a non-trivial level of support from the rest of NASA as well as others like Congress for whatever he chooses to do, including ESAS. Incidentally the same thing goes for Bush in relation to Congress but I know that’s just too hard to accept for many ^_^

    I’ll skip spelling out the other main point, if you don’t get it don’t worry about it.

    Next, and no offense intended; a potential BDS & GDS combo doesn’t become less absurd by wanting true/false answers to bland and frankly silly questions. If one strips away any hint of detail and context in such a way, and removing any shade of understanding what-so-ever about how most things (particularly anything decided politically) gets done by people interacting informally (like finding out what others can or can’t approve of), well then one is left without anything at all except possibly a delusion of “Truth”.

    * By the way isn’t it at least somewhat plausible that Al Gore could have ended up with Griffin as well at some point?

  • The reason NASA has not been launching the shuttle at a rate of 10 or 12 missions a year for the past couple of decades is that we simply have not found any compelling reason to allocate funding to NASA to do so.

    No, the reason is that the Shuttle is not capable of flying at that rate. If the Shuttle had lived up to its advertisements, in terms of per-flight costs and flight rate, there would have been a lot more demand for its services.

    It doesn’t make sense to talk about a “need” for manned space. We didn’t have a “need” for manned space at all, other than to give JSC something to do after Apollo, but if it was cheap, we would have come up with a lot more things to do with it.

  • Al Fansome

    SIMBERG: No, the reason is that the Shuttle is not capable of flying at that rate. If the Shuttle had lived up to its advertisements, in terms of per-flight costs and flight rate, there would have been a lot more demand for its services.

    Rand,

    I completely agree.

    I will add that NASA advertised a marginal cost per flight of $10 million per flight when it sold the Shuttle, and talked about lots of flights per year. I believe they also advertised 50,000 lbs to orbit for that price (somebody please confirm).

    This is $200 per lb in marginal cost. At that price, a LOT more space activity would take place.

    The problem with the Shuttle is not its original goal — to create a very low cost space trucking service — which was admirable (and still is). The fundamental problem was the national policy assumption that even a smart government agency, with all the political constraints imposed on it by a democratic society, could design and operate a low-cost and reliable spaceline.

    To emphasize — because many miss the point — the problem with the Shuttle was not with the goal, it was the execution plan. There were many alternative ways to go about achieving $200 per lb to orbit. NASA picked one, and it failed to achieve the $200/lb objective.

    NOTE: We are reliving a different version of this problem today with the VSE (the objective, which is good) and ESAS (the execution plan, which is failing.)

    - Al

  • curious

    There were many alternative ways to go about achieving $200 per lb to orbit. NASA picked one, and it failed to achieve the $200/lb objective.

    Oh really! Why don’t you just lay them out right here for us, and while you’re at it, give us a link to your COTS proposal. This is really BIG news.

  • This is really BIG news.

    Actually, it’s not news at all to anyone familiar with the history. The answer is a) design fully-reusable systems that can be flown at a high rate and b) fly them at a high rate.

    (a) will require a number of parallel approaches for technology development and true experimental vehicles and (b) will require a market, either a natural one (e.g., space passenger travel) or an artificial one provided by a government that wants to actually reduce the cost per pound to orbit (in a manner similar to the airmail subsidies).

  • Dave Salt

    Al Fansome wrote “This is $200 per lb in marginal cost. At that price, a LOT more space activity would take place.”

    Well, maybe. Remember that NASA was once offering to fly payloads in Get Away Special (GAS) canisters for $50/lb… yes, that’s $50/lb to LEO! Unfortunately, if memory serves, they were having to fill many with ballast because potential customers were put off by the significant schedule and resource constraints imposed by the integration process (testing, safety reviews, manifesting, etc).

    It’s all but forgotten now, but Shuttle was originally developed using the maintenance and operations concepts that were being developed for the DC-10 and Tri-Star. Unfortunately, the high cost of Shuttle operations was effectively guaranteed back in 1971 when redesign activities removed most of them in order to save mass/cost.

    I mention these facts to emphasize the point that improved space access depends upon a wide range factors and that Shuttle has done little, if anything, to make genuine progress in any of them.

  • I mention these facts to emphasize the point that improved space access depends upon a wide range factors and that Shuttle has done little, if anything, to make genuine progress in any of them.

    In many ways, it’s set us back, because people have learned so many wrong “lessons” from it.

  • Tom

    @jj-

    The mass of Orion and the performance of Ares I are very tightly linked. Any kg that Orion gains means an improved performance requirement on the part of Ares. Given that they’re going with a (relatively) fixed first stage, the trade gets tougher working only through the second. Any kg that can be shaved off Orion is less performance that Ares I has to meet.

    The typical trade is 7 or 10 to 1 on the first stage of a rocket. 1 kg of mass on Orion requires 7 or 10 kg increase on the Ares I stage 1. The second stage is a little harder to estimate, though the trade is lower.

  • Rand and Dave, it is not quite fair to say that the Shuttle project made no positive progress. It demonstrated both reusable large launch vehicles and reusable large high-energy engines. It achieved sustained flight tempos that were higher than human launch vehicles achieved over a sustained period before and the launch system itself cost significantly less than half per launch than the Saturn-V for a comparable payload (including the orbiter as payload). It made human operations in space far more “routine” than it had been in the past. (Compare regular Space Station construction missions with the quick dashes outside of spacecraft achieved on Geminii or to retrieve film canisters from the Apollo Service Module.)

    Of course, it did not come close to what was promised, but that should not be allowed to obscure what was achieved.

    The insanity in the Shuttle program was the assumption that routine operation of a first generation vehicle implementing so many entirely new technologies was possible at all, let alone under a constrained budget. If we had been living in the real world, technical success would have been seen as the major achievement that is was and operational success never would have been expected out of the Shuttle. That would come with second, or more realistically third or fourth, generation vehicle further down the road.

    The irony of the Shuttle program is that, by trying to run before we could walk, we probably pushed back the advent of operationally successful reusable launch vehicles by decades. However, by proving that they are possible and conceivable economic at a high enough launch rate, the Shuttle program ultimately makes them all but inevitable.

    – Donald

  • However, by proving that they are possible and conceivable economic at a high enough launch rate, the Shuttle program ultimately makes them all but inevitable.

    Many people don’t believe that Shuttle proved that, Donald. In fact, many people seem to believe that it proved the opposite, and made it much harder to raise money for them.

  • Excellent post, Donald. I’d add to the fourth paragraph that VSE is in effect another way to push back the kind of progress we really need. Its underlying premise — “let’s get people beyond LEO again” — is a sad distraction from the less glamorous, tougher, but far more worthwhile challenge of getting to LEO more cheaply.

    It’s not that plenty of people at NASA don’t know that. It’s just that within the mindset of “it’s got to be operational out of the box” that you pointed to, they can’t see any realistic prospect of either the payload volume or the upfront Congressional funding to make the numbers work for a ver. 2, ver.3…. reusable. And they won’t go back to the non-operational NACA style — partly out of inertia and turf psychology, but partly because of that part of the space constituency that just wants its yummy Apollo thrills again, cumulative and sustainable progress be damned.

    Basically, VSE boils down to “since we can’t do what we know in our hearts we ought to be doing, let’s do again something we can do — even though it doesn’t lead anywhere useful in the long run.” All the Ares vs DIRECT vs EELV flailing is about better vs. worse ways of doing the latter.

  • Actually, I disagree with both Rand’s and Monte’s above posts.

    Rand: I know many people don’t believe the Shuttle proved that; that’s because they are looking only at the failure — which, admittedly, was so profound that it’s pretty hard to look beyond that. But, by being a technical success, the Shuttle clearly proved the first half of that statement — that reusable large spacecraft are are technically possible. We won’t know if they can be economic until we do launch something reusable many tens or hundreds of times a year. That isn’t likely soon, so we won’t know soon.

    And that brings me to where I disagree with Monte. The fact is there is no demand for high launch rate vehicles and there is unlikely to be for some time. Therefore at this point in time spending money on operational reusable launch vehicles (as opposed to generic R&D and developmental test vehicles) is a waste of money. This is not, and most likely won’t be, a market large enough for them, for at least several decades.

    Our job in this generation is to make certain that those markets someday do develop. And that means using existing technology, a la the VSE or something like it (not to be confused with ESAS), to establish infrastructure that needs supply, thus creating a market. There should be multiple markets — Space Station, human-tended industrial facilities in LEO, space tourism, lunar base and asteroid missions — all developed with EELVs or SpaceX vehicles or something like them. Only then will the kinds of flight rates exist to support (politically or economically) the development of second generation reusable vehicles.

    So, the upshot is, I think the Space Shuttle did prove that reusable vehicles are possible and maybe can be used to reduce costs — but not yet.

    – Donald

  • Dave Salt

    Donald, if you think Shuttle has demonstrated actual positive progress then please point me to ANY piece of its reusable hardware or technology that forms the unique basis of a current or future launch system (thrust vectoring of large solids is about all I can think of, but I really don’t see this as truly positive progress). What good is there in advancing the state-of-the-art in fuel cells, APUs, OMS/RCS, TPS, etc. if the results are effectively consigned to a wooden box and placed in long-term storage?

    As for making operations in space more routine, I’d point out that Russia gained similar and arguably more relevant experience via their “post-Apollo” hardware and systems (i.e. Soyuz, Salyut, Mir and their associated launchers).

  • Dave. Interesting list, since adaptations of almost every one of these technologies (especially fuel cells but with the probable exception of APUs) will be used on whatever vehicle is developed next, by the government or the corporate sector. I would add aerodynamics, techniques for controlled hypersonic flight in the upper atmosphere (e.g., energy-bleeding S-curves) which we knew almost nothing about before the Shuttle but will be essential knowledge for any future spaceplanes; reusable life support techniques and equipment, and reusable tools, none of which existed pre-Shuttle; and so on.

    Additionally, a number of technologies developed for the SSMEs are likely to find a future.

    I agree that we would have been better off persuing the Soviet / Russian model, but that is not at all the same as saying that our model achieved less than nothing, which seems to be the given wisdom.

    In the very long term, I agree with those who say the future lies with reusable spacecraft. The Shuttle was ahead of its time, probably way ahead of its time, but we learned a lot building it, and we learned a lot more using it.

    – Donald

  • Donald, we don’t disagree — “R&D and test vehicles” is in fact what I think NASA could and should be doing, and what I meant by “going back to the non-operational NACA style.” I’d like to see NASA actually making progress on solving the component-level problems, like robust low-maintenance TPS, that we knew in the 1960s — and know today — are going to have to be part of any successful RLV.

    Maybe it would help if you spoke of “destinations” when what you mean is something to justify more launches… and “markets” when a destination actually generate revenues covering the cost of creating and sustaining it. “Infrastructure that needs supply” does not automatically create a “market” in the usual, i.e. commercial, sense of the word. Antarctic research bases have needed supply for decades, but they pay off only in scientific knowledge and the national prestige of showing the flag there.

    Conversely, Antarctic tourism — currently running 30-35K people a year — is a genuine commercial market, but so far without “infrastructure” beyond what the cruise ships themselves provide or can carry.

    The flaw in the analogy, of course, is that both cruise ships and the components for Antarctic facilities are far more “off the shelf” — subsets of well-established industries already enjoying economies of scale — than their counterparts in space are going to be for at least the next few decades.

  • anonymous.space

    “I’ll only say that the foam loss has been reduced in size and significance i.e. where the foam is lost relative to shuttle and altitude.”

    Statistically, we don’t know that yet. Shuttle has flown too few times since RTF to make such definitive assertions. The fact that there was more foam loss on the last launch than any prior one (for which foam loss has been tracked) indicates that we don’t have our arms around the problem. And we probably never will until the Shuttle is retired, which is, of course, the point.

    “Furthermore, the on orbit checks mean there will be no more loss of life, if there was a critical strike.”

    Not necessarily. The orbital checkout ultimately comes down to human judgement, which is prone to error. Is that shadow in the image a hole in the TPS? Is the hole deep/big enough to cause worry? Is the hold in a location where it could do damage? Etc. The wrong judgement to bring the orbiter back home with crew, even for all the right reasons, could still lead to loss of life.

    And regardless, even if the Shuttle crew is evacuated to ISS to wait it out, a big enough strike means the loss of an orbiter, which is going to throw a huge wrench into the remaining ISS assembly (assuming the remaining two orbiters are still allowed to fly). Again, instead of plunging ahead with all these unknowable Shuttle risks out there, it’s better to cut our losses, declare ISS complete after Kibo is up, shut down the Shuttle program, and redirect those dollars to higher priorities.

    “The newer the design the less we know about its performance/issues.”

    Agreed. But we now know that the Shuttle design is inherently unsafe. To continue to fly on an vehicle that’s proven unsafe is the definition of insanity.

    Just because we know a vehicle, doesn’t mean that we know it’s safe. In fact, we may know the opposite, which is the case with Shuttle.

    Your statement also cuts the other way. Instead of reinventing the ETO wheel with the new Ares I design and assuming all the development risks that entailed (per the GAO report), NASA could have used existing, operating vehicles in the EELV fleet — vehicles that are much better understood than Ares I.

    “My attachment to the Shuttle system is based somewhat on emotion ‘I love it/ its cool’ I grew up with it ‘my apollo’”

    Sure, nothing wrong with that. Just save it for the closure ceremonies, memorabilia, and museum visits. Don’t let sentiment get in the way of good policy and programmatic decisions.

    “I refuse to say a gap in US manned spaceflight is ok.”

    I’m guilty of using Griffin’s and certain Congressmen’s rhetoric about the “gap” against them (i.e., if they really cared about the “gap”, then they’d drop Ares I and go with a less expensive and more rapidly deployable option).

    That said, as Mr. Davis and others have pointed out, when you look under the hood at the reasons why the “gap” is bad, they’re not terribly persuasive reasons.

    One stated reason is that we’re going to lose workforce and skill sets that are critical for the follow-on systems. But the truth is that we have to get rid of some workforce and skill sets, simply because the systems are changing. Even if we end up flying Ares I/Orion/Ares V and retaining the associated Shuttle SRB and ET infrastructure, the Shuttle orbiter will be gone and many of the people and skills associated with it will no longer be needed. We have to get rid of or retrain those individuals or we’ll needlessly burden follow-on systems with useless overhead costs. The key is not to retain everybody. The key is to retain the right bodies.

    Another stated reason is that there won’t be enough flying to keep the operational side of NASA’s human space flight workforce interested and occupied, and they’ll leave, like they did during the Apollo-Shuttle “gap”. But the Apollo-Shuttle “gap” is very different from the Shuttle-Ares I/Orion (or whatever replaces them) “gap”. Absolutely nothing flew between Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 and the first Shuttle flight in 1981. But lots of stuff will be flying between the end of Shuttle operations in 2010 and the start of operations for Ares I/Orion (or whatever replaces them) in 2015. ISS will by flying. COTS vehicles will be undergoing test flights and operational flights. Foreign vehicles will be visiting the ISS. Ares I and Orion (or whatever replaces them) will be undergoing test flights. The bottom-line is that we survived the Apollo-Shuttle “gap”, and we’re in an even better situation with the upcoming post-Shuttle “gap” in terms of keeping the human space flight workforce operationally occupied.

    A third stated reason is that we’ll be at the mercy of the Russians for ISS servicing. And I have no doubt that the price of a Soyuz or a Progress in 2012 will go up. But they’re so cheap already, they’d have to double, triple, or more in price before they approached the costs of a COTS, EELV/CEV, or Ares I/Orion flight. It’s in our fiscal interest to use that cheap Russian labor as long as we can. Moreover, the Russians need that money to run their space program. They may jack up the price a little, but they won’t be so unreasonable as to turn off that vital cash cow.

    A fourth stated reason is that China is going to leapfrog us back to the Moon. Of course, the “gap” is not about the Moon, but about getting back into LEO on a U.S. system. But even if we conflate the two, there is no physical evidence, even in this Google Earth age, that China is developing any human lunar-related capabilities currently (e.g., heavy lift). This is consistent with China’s plans, which do have three lunar robotic missions on the books through the end of next decade but no human lunar missions or related systems/technology development. Even the head of the Chinese space agency has stated that China has not made a decision to pursue a human lunar program, and plans state that no such decision will be made until 2020 at the earliest. In the meantime, China’s human orbital program is moving slower and slower, with more time between flights, their space station getting pushed out into the future . For point-of-reference, China has yet to do rendezvous and docking in space. But even if China pursued a crash lunar program tomorrow, it’s not clear that a Chinese repeat of an American achievement from three decades ago would be a cause for alarm. There are much more relevant issues in Chinese space than

    In summary, the “gap” issue really isn’t that much of an issue. But if the “gap” was a critical issue — or if we were going to get serious about closing the “gap” instead of using it as a rhetorical device for Ares I/Orion funding arguments — then arguably getting off the unsafe Space Shuttle ASAP, stopping the duplicative design insanity on Ares I, and reinvesting those billions of dollars in better understood, less costly, and more rapidly fielded systems, like EELVs/CEV or some COTS proposals, is the way to go.

    FWIW…

  • Monte, yes, I think we do agree.

    “Infrastructure that needs supply” does not automatically create a “market” in the usual, i.e. commercial, sense of the word.

    Okay, but it’s a market nonetheless. My compact OED defines “market” as, among other things, “a demand for a particular commodity or service.” In that sense, “destinations” and “markets” are synonymous, since getting to the former (especially if it is permanent) always creates the former. You cannot get to Antarctica without using commodities and services, in this case modifications of “off the shelf” vehicles — which is exactly why we should have used modifications of the EELVs (or something similar) to support a return to Earth’s moon.

    – Donald

  • Ray

    anonymous.space: “But the Apollo-Shuttle “gap” is very different from the Shuttle-Ares I/Orion (or whatever replaces them) “gap”. Absolutely nothing flew between Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 and the first Shuttle flight in 1981. But lots of stuff will be flying between the end of Shuttle operations in 2010 and the start of operations for Ares I/Orion (or whatever replaces them) in 2015. ISS will by flying. COTS vehicles will be undergoing test flights and operational flights. Foreign vehicles will be visiting the ISS. Ares I and Orion (or whatever replaces them) will be undergoing test flights. The bottom-line is that we survived the Apollo-Shuttle “gap”, and we’re in an even better situation with the upcoming post-Shuttle “gap” in terms of keeping the human space flight workforce operationally occupied.”

    I’d also add that there’s the possibility that there will be Bigelow space stations and associated traffic during the gap, and also commercial manned suborbital flights. These wouldn’t be run by NASA, but if keeping the NASA manned operational folks’ skills sharpened during the gap is a concern, one productive way to alleviate that concern would be for NASA to purchase rides/space on these products (best done ASAP to encourage the systems actually being built … with actual payment upon delivery of services, of course). This could be in the form of astronaut training, engineering experiments, science, medical tests, or operational training … or all of the above. It could be done in such a way that more of the operational folks are kept interested and busy, productive work towards NASA’s human spaceflight goals, or other NASA/U.S. government goals, is accomplished, the commercial space companies get more business giving them a better chance to succeed to the benefit of all of us, and the NASA and commercial folks perhaps are able to learn a thing or 2 from each other.

    There are also many other potential outlets for the operational folks with the right skills in the robotics/satellite areas (NASA, commercial, military, etc) in the form of temporary projects. I’d also imagine that, if the lunar plan remains, some of the operational people would be busy giving input to the operational aspects of the design of the lunar systems.

    There should be plenty to do during the “gap” if NASA plays its cards right …

  • The fact is there is no demand for high launch rate vehicles and there is unlikely to be for some time.

    That is not a fact. Unless you have some different definition for “demand” than I do.

    If there was a high flight-rate vehicle that could offer ticket prices of ten thousand dollars per safe ride, there would be millions of people who would buy one, if one believes market surveys. So what do you mean when you say there is no demand?

    The problem is not a lack of demand, but a lack of supply, and a lack of confidence that the demand can be satisfied for the investment required. That lack of confidence may be justified, but the notion that there is a lack of demand is ludicrous, and one that the government could solve by purchasing large quantities of spacelift at low cost per pound. If anyone would believe that it would actually pay off…

  • “Here’s one for you…The public i.e. the press is on edge now every time the shuttle goes up, i.e. issues we have discussed. Do you see the value?”

    It sounds harsh, but most of the press that attend Shuttle launches and landings are there on a death watch — i.e., they’re present to be on-hand in the event of an accident, a big fireball, or a loss of life. But if there’s no accidenct, fireball, or loss-of-life, most of the press doesn’t report (or at least their reports don’t make it onto the evening news or tomorrow’s newspaper). Perverse, but true.

    So in terms of value, press attendance can be, but is not necessarily, a positive thing. In the case of the Space Shuttle, it’s more a reflection of what’s wrong with vehicle and program than what’s right.

    Put another way, press (or public) interest is not the same thing as public (or political) support. Large segments of the public are fascinated by the lives of self-destructive celebrities. Lots of folks watch the local news just to see today’s house fire or hear about today’s shooting. But that doesn’t mean that the same people approve of a celebrity’s lifestyle or want their children to emulate that celebrity. Or that they want their tax dollars spent creating house fires and executing shootings.

    Don’t get me wrong. I greatly value the role of a free press in our society. But just because the press reports on something and people read/watch/listen to it, doesn’t mean that the subject has lots of (or any) intrinsic value, or that press/public interest will translate into voter/taxpayer/political support.

    “I’m half joking but, if we(NASA) had a problem @ ISS on every mission imagine the boost in coverage.”

    Actually, if a technical problem arose on every ISS assembly mission that required EVA, public and press interest would sink after the second or third such event. We read/watch/listen to the news to hear about the new and different, not the the same and repetitive.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space wrote: But we now know that the Shuttle design is inherently unsafe. To continue to fly on an vehicle that’s proven unsafe is the definition of insanity.

    Just because we know a vehicle, doesn’t mean that we know it’s safe. In fact, we may know the opposite, which is the case with Shuttle.

    Contrary to the mythology of S&MA types, “safe” is not a binary condition (“safe,” “unsafe”). It’s always relative, and there’s always risk. If what the Shuttle were doing was truly important, then it would be safe enough as is. After all, we sent hundreds of air crews into combat over Europe with much higher probability of not coming back. A one in a hundred chance of dying, in historical terms, is pretty damned safe when it comes to opening up a frontier, and if we’re going to demand that we never lose anyone, then we’ll be stuck on the planet forever.

    The issue (that most people don’t like to face ) is that the real problem with the Shuttle is the risk of losing a vehicle, which is essentially irreplaceable right now (we have plenty of astronauts, indeed an oversupply, willing to fly at current safety levels), and there are only three left. It’s a programmatic problem, but not a safety problem per se (or at least it would be, if we were rational about it).

  • RLV advocate

    DONALD: However, by proving that they are possible and conceivable economic at a high enough launch rate, the Shuttle program ultimately makes them all but inevitable.

    RAND: Many people don’t believe that Shuttle proved that, Donald. In fact, many people seem to believe that it proved the opposite, and made it much harder to raise money for them.

    Donald,

    I agree with Rand. Let me provide some facts to back up his statement.

    I was in a meeting this last Spring organized by the FAA for private industry to meet with senior USAF leadership — the most important of which were Ron Sega (the DOD Executive Agent for Space) and Kevin Chilton (the 4 star General who ran AF Space Command and now runs STRATCOM). Many people in that room were advocates of RLVs, and investments in RLVs (including Patty Grace Smith, Ron Sega and most of the companies.) In fact the meeting was called an “RLV Summit”.

    Gen. Kevin Chilton shut down the entire conversation about RLVs by saying he had no requirement for RLVs — he had a requirement for routine, low-cost assured access to space. This would have been fine, but then he continued by pointing out that he had more experience than about anybody in the room with RLVs (he is a former Shuttle astronaut) and communicating that he does not believe the claims of RLV advocates. It was a major wet blanket for many in the room, and has been significant barrier since then.

    General Chilton’s position, and those who have learned the same lesson about RLVs from the Shuttle, is a major obstacle right now.

    Acknowledging that RLVs are hard, or that you need to simplify the task by not over-specifying the requirements (like they did with Shuttle), or that we should not let politics be the key driver for schedule — those are appropriate lessons learned from the Shuttle. Rand can provide many more.

    But having senior leaders who shut down RLV initiatives — and using the Shuttle experience as the basis of their argument — is a challenge to those who advocate RLVs.

    - RLV advocate

    PS — Now let me appear to contradict myself — I am not saying that what Chilton did was not correct. In fact, I can make a pretty good case that AF Space and Missile Command will mess up any new difficult initiative that is handed to them — and that this was not a bad thing for Chilton to do. IF what Gen. Chilton really meant was “I like RLVs, but I don’t trust SMC to manage the RLV program” then it would have been useful for him to say that. Not politically correct, but useful.

  • anon: I can remember laments among space fans about the fall-off in public interest (and prelaunch-to-splashdown coverage) after Apollo 11 and STS 1– and, of course, your “if it bleeds it leads” point is often made specifically w/r/t Apollo 13 and the orbiter losses.

    But there are two deeper corollaries. First, IMHO it’s healthy to be reminded that our own level of interest is in fact a minority trait (and unhealthy to react as some do by ranting about the press — aka shooting the messenger).

    Second, anyone who’s serious about a spacefaring society should not only expect but welcome the progression from “news” to routine, which is not only inescapable but exactly what we claim to want. We’ve been beating the exciting-epochal-first, Columbus & Kitty Hawk drum for 50 years now. Nobody knows which anonymous caravel broker, which CFO for a nascent airline, first closed out the year’s accounts and said “I’ll be damned, we’re finally in the black” — but that is the unexciting, epochal first we ought to be thinking about.

  • Dave Salt

    Donald wrote: “Interesting list, since adaptations of almost every one of these technologies (especially fuel cells but with the probable exception of APUs) will be used on whatever vehicle is developed next, by the government or the corporate sector.”

    I seriously doubt anyone is, or will be, designing launchers that use components from the Shuttle parts bin or derivatives there of. Most of these things were designed over 30 years ago and were built, tested and qualified to meet Shuttle’s specific requirements and environments. Sure, technologies like fuel cells were advanced by Shuttle, but I’d bet serious money that any future application will more likely be based upon technologies developed for terrestrial purposes (e.g. cars).

    I’d also argue that although Shuttle demonstrated “aerodynamics, techniques for controlled hypersonic flight in the upper atmosphere (e.g., energy-bleeding S-curves)” it’s wrong to say that “we knew almost nothing about [them] before the Shuttle”, since this ignores programmes like X-15, Prime, Asset and the like. To be sure, the development, test and validation of aerodynamic codes were advanced significantly by Shuttle and all of the in-flight data it provided. However, its dataset is rather specific and so any new vehicle will still require a significant amount of new work/testing in this area and, moreover, will benefit far more from the availability of powerful new computing hardware and software whose development owes little, if anything, to the Shuttle programme.

    Look, I’m not arguing that Shuttle provided nothing useful (you’d have to be really clever to burn all those billions and not learn anything :-) but the plain fact of the matter is that we’re still far away from the point where someone can build an RLV using engineering handbooks and component catalogues. We’re essentially at that point now with ELVs (Aries 1 not withstanding) and would likely have been there about now if NASA had “blackened the sky with X-vehicles” as Dan Goldin once threatened to do. Unfortunately, Shuttle has dominated NASA’s focus for almost 40 years now to the detriment of all other options and, worse still, its replacement seems to be maintaining this tradition. That is the real problem and the reason why, as Rand suggests, it may have actually set us back far more than it ever took us forward.

  • Rand: If there was a high flight-rate vehicle that could offer ticket prices of ten thousand dollars per safe ride, there would be millions of people who would buy one, if one believes market surveys. So what do you mean when you say there is no demand?

    There may be that theoretical “demand,” but nobody is going to spend Grandma’s retirement money (which is where the vast majority of available investable money ultimately comes from) fulfilling that dream of a possible demand developing RLVs that may or may not be economic within Grandma’s remaining lifetime. The demand — the actually demonstrated demand that someone is known to be willing to pay for and for which Grandma’s factor might conceivably invest her retirement money — is supplying the Space Station and launching tourists to it, suborbital tourism, and launching a few tens of applications, military, and scientific satellites each year. That real demonstrated demand is nowhere near sufficient for either government or the private sector to invest in RLVs, although it may ultimately become so. That, in a phrase, is our problem.

    RLV advocate: You don’t really state anything that I disagree with. I did state that I believed the Shuttle set back the advent of RLVs. However, the Shuttle did prove that RLVs (or rather spaceplanes, which is not the same thing) were possible, which had never been done before. That in itself is a far more important lesson than any number of theoretical studies, or even any specific technology development. Nobody is saying today that you cannot do RLVs, only that they are too expensive to be practically useful. At the flight rates likely in the early days of any operational RLV, that is undoubtedly true. The question is, how do we get over that hump to Rand’s world where there is a lot of demand.

    We’ve spent decades trying and failing to finance and develop spaceplanes that have no market. My argument is that it’s time to look at the other end of the equation. Expand the market using current technology and bootstrap ourselves to RLVs. That seems like it will take a long time, but the lesson of the last thirty years is that it takes a lot longer to try to fulfill a market that does not (yet) exist.

    Monte, you make an excellent point about routine news being desirable. Space News (and this venue) are there for anyone who wants the details.

    David: but the plain fact of the matter is that we’re still far away from the point where someone can build an RLV using engineering handbooks and component catalogues.

    This, of course, is exactly the point. Once again, in a wise political world the Shuttle would have been declared a technical success after the first few flights, abandoned, and a second-generation vehicle built on the lessons learned. However, that is not the way the politics worked in the 1970s. (Don’t forget that it was a Republican, though one far to the political left of where many Democrats are today, who started the Shuttle project. And, I could be wrong here, but I don’t think the military was particularly demanding development of spaceplanes at that time.) NASA sold the vehicle as an operational vehicle and spent that last thirty years proving that it could never be one.

    However, it is hard to argue that the Shuttle was the only thing standing in the way of RLV development. We spent billions on attempts at second generation vehicles, while the Shuttle was flying all of which were ultimately abandoned. It is hard to argue that the existence of the Shuttle had anything to do with those failures. The Shuttle may have been a waste of money after those first few flights, but it is hardly the most egregious or largest waste of government money.

    Also, don’t forget the lessons we learned in space. The Shuttle is a terrible vehicle at getting off the ground and landing, but astronauts state that it is a dream to use and maneuver once in microgravity — far more so than any other vehicle. Those operational lessons will be very valuable when someone wants to develop, say, a reusable space tug.

    The bottom line, I think, is that the Shuttle advanced the technical and operational state-of-the-art. In the grand sweep of history, by proving that spaceplanes are possible and can successfully be operated, it probably advanced the political plausibility of RLVs and spaceplanes. But in the short term, I do agree that it probably set things back, especially given NASA’s insistence on making it operational long after it was clear that wasn’t possible. This is especially so after the loss of Columbia. It probably would have cost far less to adapt the remaining Space Station components to EELVs — or even to build them again from scratch — than to continue flying the Shuttle until 2010.

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “anonymous.space – I am going to be a bit of a contrarian here, and argue that if we are forced to choose between the current ESAS, and shuttle, well, I think its better to keep shuttle.”

    I’d argue that’s a null set. Neither of those two options is viable. (Maybe ESAS, but only with a couple miracles, as described below.)

    On Shuttle, even if set aside the issue of astronauts’ lives (which I don’t think any politician or manager should do, at least for the sake of their own careers and to avoid lawsuits, if nothing else), as Mr. Simberg points out, the program is down to three orbiters and cannot afford to lose another one. And with a demonstrated LOM/LOC of 1-in-60 or so, the unresolvable ET foam/orbiter TPS issue, and probably with other unknown unknowns hiding in the incredibly operationally complex and labor-intensive Shuttle system, we would almost certainly lose another orbiter in the next 10 to 20 years of operation. Since the orbiter production capability is gone, if we stick with Shuttle past 2010 and develop no alternative vehicle, then we’re setting NASA’s human space flight programs on a going-out-of-business course. Since the Columbia accident, we’ve really had no choice — we have to replace the Space Shuttle with some other U.S. human space flight capability, or NASA will have to shut down the astronaut corps when the third orbiter is lost. (And all this says nothing of the billions of dollars necessary to recertify Shuttle after 2010, per the CAIB.)

    On ESAS, as things currently stand, Ares I/Orion are unflyable and unsafe and a couple highly unlikely design miracles will be required to restore these vehicles’ flyability and essential safety features.

    Per the GAO report, both the Ares I first- and second-stages have acoustic vibration issues (so-called “buzz” and “chug” from the SRM firing in the first-stage and POGO issues in the second-stage) that threaten to shake the second-stage and Orion apart (and even do physical damage to the astronauts inside Orion). These issues have been resolved on other launch vehicles in the past (Shuttle, Titan, foreign vehicles, etc.), either by stiffening the launch vehicle’s structure, dampening the vibration, or isolating the payload. But these solutions always requires significant additional structural mass, connectors, or isolation tables (hundreds to thousands of kilograms). The problem is that Ares I/Orion have no mass to spare. NASA has already stripped Orion and the Ares I second-stage to the bone, even throwing out key safety features, so that Ares I can loft Orion on a minimal, suborbital trajectory from which Orion is able to fire its engine and get to a stable orbit. If NASA adds hundreds or thousands of kilograms to Ares I, Orion won’t be able to get to orbit. So, contrary to the whole history of how launch vehicles have overcome acoustic vibration issues in the past, somehow NASA has to resolve Ares I’s acoustic vibration issues without adding substantial mass to the system. That’s miracle #1 to make Ares I/Orion flyable.

    Even if miracle #1 is pulled off and Ares I/Orion is flyable, it’s still not going to be a reasonably safe system. As Mr. Simberg points out, some risk-taking is necessary to explore and open frontiers, but we shouldn’t take stupid or unnecessary risks, especially on the more routine operations that just get us to a frontier’s boundary (i.e., ETO transport). Per the GAO report, NASA has removed redundant systems not only from Orion, but from the second-stage of Ares I as well. The GAO report also points out that the Ares I first-stage may not be recoverable, which is key to tracking safety trends on the SRBs. On top of that, in an effort to save mass, Orion can no longer abort over land and lacks radiation shielding. Restoring even a modicum of these basic safety features will also involve hundreds to thousands of additional kilograms of mass. But unless NASA does something radical — like move to unproven composite SRB casings which carries its own risks — the system is at its limits and has no mass to spare. Somehow NASA has to restore multiple, heavy safety systems to both Ares I and Orion at no cost in mass. That’s miracle #2 to make Ares I/Orion safe.

    Could NASA pull off both miracles? Sure, anything is in the realm of possibility. But the chances for one, let alone two, are very slim.

    But even if we assume that NASA can overcome these issues and close on a flyable design with a modicum of safety features, Ares I/Orion are probably still going to be on the chopping block for schedule and cost reasons.

    As the GAO report points out, the J-2X engine for the Ares I upper stage is probably going to require another two years to develop, pushing the start of operations out into the 2017 timeframe. Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s still a 1-in-3 chance based on ESAS budgeting that Ares I/Orion won’t make its 2015 goal for starting operations. And that assumes that there are no more budget peturbations (we’re still under a continuing resolution in FY 2008 with no end in sight) and that none of the design issues already mentioned to push the schedule further to the right (Ares I PDR has already slipped six months). Although I personally don’t think there’s much real impact from a gap in U.S. or NASA human space flight, when the next White House starts seeing the five-year gap grow to six or seven years — and realizes that they’ll be lucky to see Ares I/Orion get into operations on their watch — they’re going to start looking for alternatives or decide to put that money to better use elsewhere.

    And Ares I/Orion do not compare well with the alternatives in terms of cost, either. Press reports tag the cost of developing Ares I at $14 billion and Orion at $8 billion, for a total of $22 billion. (Based on the FY 2008 budget, I was estimating something over $20 billion, maybe as high as $30 billion, in this forum a couple months back.) Compared to the known costs of developing the two EELV families ($1 billion to the USAF, something over $2 billion total) or to the projected costs of developing Falcon 9/Dragon ($300 million plus for NASA, say an upper limit of $3 billion if Space-X matches NASA dollars 10-to-1), Ares I/Orion are egregiously and enormously expensive. The industry estimates for human-rating EELVs, developing the CXV, or developing Falcon 9/Dragon would have to be off by one or two orders of magnitude for Ares I/Orion to be competitive.

    So, to sum up, Shuttle can’t fly forever without a replacement, and barring miracles, Ares I/Orion is not flyable or safe. And even with miracles, continuing down the Ares I/Orion path does not look good from a schedule or cost perspective.

    Based on that, I’d bet that NASA is going to have little choice but to find an alternative. It’s arguably just a question of timing (when does Griffin leave and a new Administrator come on board), how much preparation has been done and how good the analysis is (a parallel, year-long, independent analysis of alternative Plan B’s would be a very good idea to start now), and how much money the new White House leaves on the table for NASA.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “For those who are jumping up and down, plkease [sic] note that the GAO does not conclude, ‘Therefore the Ares 1 should be scrapped and replaced with something else.’

    The GAO does conclude: ‘We recommend that the NASA Administrator direct the Ares I project manager to develop a sound business case–supported by firm requirements, mature technologies, a preliminary design, a realistic cost estimate, and sufficient funding and time–before proceeding beyond preliminary design review (currently planned for July 2008) and, if necessary, delay the preliminary design review until a sound business case demonstrating the project’s readiness to move forward into product development is in hand.’”

    Focusing only on the bookends ignores the bulk and valuable content of the GAO report. Per my prior post, if one reads through the report and thinks through the implications of what GAO has found and confirmed, NASA is going to have to pull off a couple miracles in the next seven or eight months just to close on a flyable and reasonably safe design for Ares I/Orion. (They’ve been trying for over two years to no avail.) Even then, those vehicles won’t compete well at all with alternatives from a schedule or cost perspective — by years and billions of dollars — if decision makers are serious about basing their decisions on a sound business case.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a NASA or Ares I/Orion fanboy. But it’s far past time to keep whistling past the graveyard and willfully ignoring all the now independently well-documented problems with this program.

    FWIW…

  • RLV advocate: you make the same bogus equation that Rand often does. Maybe what Chilton meant was not that he doesn’t see the many and obvious advantages RLVs would offer, or that he doesn’t believe we’ll need RLVs to get very far in space… but exactly what he said (your words): that he does not believe the claims of RLV advocates.

    After several decades of watching many RLV advocates focus obsessively on their favored uber-tech designs — while remaining uber-optimistic about development costs, uber-ignorant of flight-rate and amortization economics, and/or uber-confident that vast payload demand will show up to close their business case with the first slight decline in $/kg — I can’t say I blame him.

  • Al Fansome

    DONALD: We’ve spent decades trying and failing to finance and develop spaceplanes that have no market. My argument is that it’s time to look at the other end of the equation. Expand the market using current technology and bootstrap ourselves to RLVs. That seems like it will take a long time, but the lesson of the last thirty years is that it takes a lot longer to try to fulfill a market that does not (yet) exist.

    Donald,

    Any reason we can’t promote both demand and supply?

    Why does it have to be either/or?

    - Al

  • Al Fansome

    RLV advocate: you make the same bogus equation that Rand often does. MONTE: Maybe what Chilton meant was not that he doesn’t see the many and obvious advantages RLVs would offer, or that he doesn’t believe we’ll need RLVs to get very far in space… but exactly what he said (your words): that he does not believe the claims of RLV advocates.

    Monte,

    To clarify (correct?) RLV advocate, I have talked to some people who were at the RLV Summit meeting, and Chilton did not say that. I agree that he may believe it though. Not totally clear on what RLV advocate was saying.

    BTW, I think it is only fair that you explain what you mean by “you make the same bogus equation that Rand often does”. Throwing around words like “bogus” is not really called for. If you have a point — please make it without insults.

    If you can’t make a persuasive point without insults, it means that you are worried about making your point … indicating weakness.

    MONTE: After several decades of watching many RLV advocates focus obsessively on their favored uber-tech designs — while remaining uber-optimistic about development costs, uber-ignorant of flight-rate and amortization economics, and/or uber-confident that vast payload demand will show up to close their business case with the first slight decline in $/kg — I can’t say I blame him.

    I too have watched RLV advocates talk about how THEIR RLV solution is THE solution, and then proceed to trash everybody else’s RLV solution.

    Personally, I think there are many ways to solve the technical RLV challenge. However, the up front investment required is very large, and the risk of losing *all* of that investment is very high. The risk of a partial success — that is considered a technical success, but a business failure — is probably even higher.

    Which is why companies like RpK (and before that Kelly, Pioneer, Space Access, etc.) continue to fail. Closing the business case is a killer for an RLV.

    - Al

  • Al, the answer, of course, is “money.” I have no problem with continuing to work on supply as long as we also work harder at demand. This is elementary economics. One of the only pieces of good news in new commercial orbital launch vehicle development in recent years is COTS and related efforts. Their chances of success are directly tied to the development of a new demand (the Space Station). By working on demand, and creating a reason for the supply, you automatically work on supply. The converse is not true. Working on supply as long as there is insufficient demand will, at best, take far longer than ensuring the demand first.

    – Donald

  • By “bogus” I meant the step from an observed fact — that NASA has not come up with the robust, reliable RLVs that everyone’s been wanting since before Sputnik — to a variety of tendentious explanations, most of them sharing several premises in various proportions:

    1) That such RLVs are long overdue (and quite easy, really, if we just went at it the right way)

    2) That NASA (alone or in collusion with Big Aerospace and Big Space Pork) not only can’t or won’t make that happen itself, but sabotages private efforts to do so

    Sometimes the bogosity takes a kinder, gentler form, under the rubric of “NASA learned the wrong lessons from the Shuttle”… usually meaning “OK, maybe they’re not incompetent or acting in bad faith, just stupid.”

    I start from the premise that RLVs and CATS in general are genuinely very hard — independent of who does it and how it’s paid for — and will take a long time by any route (public, private, or any mix). They will emerge incrementally and cumulatively, with — as you say — a lot of failures (whether business or political) along the way. I don’t believe in any ‘great leap forward’ solution.

    So while I have plenty of criticisms of NASA of my own, what I mean by “bogus” is any framing of the situation — like the characterization of Chilton’s position above — that boils down to “NASA just doesn’t get the wonderfulness of RLVs and CATS… put your faith in our great leap forward instead!”

  • Sometimes the bogosity takes a kinder, gentler form, under the rubric of “NASA learned the wrong lessons from the Shuttle”… usually meaning “OK, maybe they’re not incompetent or acting in bad faith, just stupid.”

    So, Monte, do you think that claiming that X-33 proved that we can’t build reusable vehicles was an intelligent, or competent, or even logical statement? Because a head of Marshall Space Flight Center did exactly that.

  • Did he.. really? Gosh, could that be the same Art Stephenson, in the same February 2001 words I quoted verbatim on your blog yesterday, making it clear that I considered them both wrong and unrepresentative? Boy, am I sandbagged: what a fiendishly clever debater you are to come up with a surprise zinger like that!

    Look, we’re never going to stop talking past each other on this. In substance, we’re not far apart. We both think that flight rates rather than big technology breakthroughs are the heart of the challenge (although we both have lists of feasible technologies that would obviously help). We both think it’s desirable to have multiple smaller efforts (private, NACA-style X-program, or both) rather than any one NASA mega-program. We both wish the New Space start-ups every success. We both have… issues :-) with the monster that is Son of Safe, Simple, Soon. We’re both impatient and frustrated, as space fans are almost by definition.

    The difference is in style. You think it advances the cause to say that RLVs/CATS aren’t actually hard, “they’ve just never been tried” (or sometimes “never been funded”). Whether you mean to or not, in a hundred ways you do encourage the impression that a great leap forward is within our grasp if only we shake off the mind-clouding power of NASA.

    And since I think the “great leap forward” attitude itself has been, one way or another, at the root of most of the wrong turnings we’ve taken in space… on that, we’re never going to agree.

  • Dave Salt

    I’m tempted to react to Monte’s cynical view of RLV advocates and the way he implies that most are ignorant/stupid/liars/dreamers… choose your favorite. Instead, I’d like to bring the subject back to the original topic about the concerns over Ares 1 and use it to illustrate why RLV advocates may get just a little frustrated with NASA and its attitude to launcher development.

    According to current estimates, Ares 1/Orion will cost more than $20 billion to field. However, Shuttle development costs were $5.2 billion ($FY’71), which escalates to something equivalent to the Ares 1/Orion cost in $FY’07. This suggests that NASA has not only lost the financial plot but that it’s also lost the technical competence to the point where it cannot even reinvent the wheel!

    The plain fact is that Ares 1/Orion is the first serious attempt that NASA has made to build a launch system since Shuttle. It has never made a serious attempt to investigate the feasibility of RLVs by building and flying actual test vehicles — the X-33/34 debacles not withstanding — even though its own research (e.g. the 1993 Access to Space study) has indicated their potential and likely feasibility.

    So, given NASA’s abject failure to make any measurable progress in this particular field, is it any wonder that some people ask you to “put your faith in our great leap forward instead!”?

  • Al Fansome

    MONTE: The difference is in style. You think it advances the cause to say that RLVs/CATS aren’t actually hard, “they’ve just never been tried” (or sometimes “never been funded”).

    DAVE SALT: According to current estimates, Ares 1/Orion will cost more than $20 billion to field.

    Monte,

    Since you and Rand (as you say) are ” In substance, we’re not far apart”, let me try to find an area of substantive agreement between to two of you.

    To do so, let’s talk about objective facts — rather subjective statements.

    Would you agree that although NASA is funding the Ares 1/Orion at $20 billion, the best it has been able to do in the last two decades for subsidizing commercial development (e.g., COTS) is $500M, and the best it has been able to do for RLV x-vehicles (e.g., X-33) is $1 Billion?

    If you agree with those facts, then isn’t it reasonable for Rand to say “NASA has not tried as hard to develop commercial or RLV breakthroughs as it tries with its own internal government programs (like Shuttle, Station, and CEV/Orion).

    Would you agree that if NASA had made the same level of financial commitment to COTS-like partnerships, and to flying lots of x-vehicles (e.g., actually “blacken the sky with x-vehicles”), that the results almost certainly would be different?

    If you can agree with this, then what is the issue between you and Rand? What is the issue?

    - Al

  • The difference is in style. You think it advances the cause to say that RLVs/CATS aren’t actually hard, “they’ve just never been tried” (or sometimes “never been funded”). Whether you mean to or not, in a hundred ways you do encourage the impression that a great leap forward is within our grasp if only we shake off the mind-clouding power of NASA.

    Monte, I’ve never claimed that it’s not hard. I’ve simply claimed that it’s not as hard as many (particularly NASA (and NASA-pork) partisans) claim that it is, or at least (at a minimum) that it’s not impossible.

    And while I do think that it’s hard, I think that you underestimate the “mind-clouding power of NASA” (at least in the past), particularly with regard to its undue influence over investment (this is speaking from personal experience). In fact, ironically, had this “mind-clouding power” not existed, the X-Prize wouldn’t have been funded, because the foolish insurance company that took the hole-in-one bet was assured by gray beards that it couldn’t be won in the requisite time frame.

    I laughed at the time, and do still.

    I think that the next few years will see that mind cloud dissipate, to the limited degree that it still exists, and we’ll see how hard it really is. In fact, we’re already starting to see that happen in the investment community. But to deny the factor in the past is, to me, well…denial…

    Al:

    If you can agree with this, then what is the issue between you and Rand? What is the issue?

    I think the issue is straw men by Monte. But that’s my take. We’ll see what his is…

  • Dave: I’m not defending anything about Constellation — or for that matter about VSE, which IMHO is entirely the wrong direction.

    The biggest reason NASA hasn’t done more towards RLVs (or better ELVs or much of anything else) is that it’s been spending so much since 1981 on operating STS (or more accurately, pretending STS was an operational system)… and since 1984 on designing->building->launching the space station. I wish it hadn’t done those things, but neither happened in a vacuum.Both had Presidential marching orders and influential constituencies (including, truth be told, not just the usual political and corporate suspects but large portions of the “space community” that have since updated their views with hindsight.

    (BTW, final STS development costs were close to $11B in late-70s dollars — your $5.2B figure was the first course. I say this for historical accuracy, not in any way to make Ares/Orion seem better)

    Al: yes, if today’s views about the relative promise of NASA and non-NASA initiatives had prevailed over the last 30 years, or if the 1970-72 NASA had approached RLVs via X-vehicles rather than in ‘great leap forward’ mode, we’d probably have seen very different results.

    Let’s at least acknowledge there’s a certain amount of ambiguity and wishful thinking in COTS and in Donald’s “government creates destinations to make a market,” as with all tax-funded pump priming. That last metaphor suggests that you pour in a cup or so, and after a brief pause gallons come gushing out.

    If it should turn out that New Space development takes longer and costs more than the “unleash the private sector” enthusiasts predict… and/or that private demand for their services is smaller or grows more slowly than predicted… then the difference between pouring money down a NASA rathole and pouring it down multiple entrepreneurial ratholes becomes a difference in name only.

    I don’t say that will happen, and it’s certainly worth trying. There have been both very successful and very unsuccessful pump-priming initiatives in other domains. I do suggest that a “NASA drools, New Space rules” faith may set us up for disappointment just as much as 1969-vintage faith in “can-do NASA” did.

  • Ray

    RLV Advocate: “Gen. Kevin Chilton shut down the entire conversation about RLVs by saying he had no requirement for RLVs — he had a requirement for routine, low-cost assured access to space. This would have been fine, but then he continued by pointing out that he had more experience than about anybody in the room with RLVs (he is a former Shuttle astronaut) and communicating that he does not believe the claims of RLV advocates. It was a major wet blanket for many in the room, and has been significant barrier since then.

    General Chilton’s position, and those who have learned the same lesson about RLVs from the Shuttle, is a major obstacle right now.”

    This sounds like a perfect case for the U.S Air Force to use something like NASA’s COTS approach. The RLV advocates think they can do something the Air Force needs. The Air Force doesn’t, but it (or Gen. Chilton) believes they have enough enough credibility to spend time in a meeting with them.

    Solution: go ahead with non-RLV plans to address Air Force requirements for routine, low-cost assured access to space. In the meantime, define some RLV-related set of technical, operational, and business (non-Air Force investment, etc) goals that the RLV companies can try to demonstrate. The goals should be such that the Air Force is suitably impressed, if they are achieved, that maybe the RLV folks are onto something after all. No money is given to the RLV folks until the milestone is reached. If they do reach a milestone, though … don’t skim on the reward. String a bunch of such milestones into a COTS-like program with an end result that is operationally useful to the Air Force. Intermediate goals could be launch of very small payloads to orbit, reusable first stage/expendable 2nd stage, payload of useful size to Air Force but only reaching suborbital capability … or whatever the Air Force and RLV companies can agree on.

    If it doesn’t believe the RLV companies can come through, the Air Force protects its money this way. Maybe they’ll get lucky and an RLV company will come through in spite of it all. If nothing else, the other, non-RLV project(s) are liable to work “harder and smarter” knowing that they have a potential competitor.

  • David Stever

    Ray-
    I like the idea that the AF use a series of COTS like projects to come up with new hardware, but look at what NASA did with our little ‘Apollo on Steroids’ campaign. The preliminary designs from everyone were all over the ball park- little shuttles, capsules of various sizes, many different Soyuz/Shenzhou type designs. All of the designs that didn’t literally look like Apollo on Steroids were shot down. Look at what LM proposed versus what they won with. If Chilton is apposed to RLVs, no RLVs will ever win.

  • Dave Salt

    Monte wrote: (BTW, final STS development costs were close to $11B in late-70s dollars — your $5.2B figure was the first course. I say this for historical accuracy, not in any way to make Ares/Orion seem better)

    Just for the record and in case anyone wants to use the data for future reference, the actual cost of Shuttle (i.e. what was actually spent from the start of development in 1972 through to the first operational flight in 1982) was $5464.7 million, expressed in FY’71 conditions and calculated using the historical escalation values. This data comes from an analysis performed by Humboldt Mandell Jr. and was published as part of his PhD thesis, which he submitted to the University of Colorado in 1983.

    This analysis shows that the Shuttle’s development programme came in at only 5.1% above the original 1971 budget estimate, though the vehicle’s operational capability fell far short of the original target. It’s relevance to this particular discussion is that it demonstrates NASA was once able to do reasonably accurate cost estimates and, more importantly, were able to manage an extremely complex and technically challenging launch vehicle project without screwing up big time.

  • [...] NASA awarded the last major contract for the development of the Ares 1, Florida Today weighs in on a recent GAO report on the vehicle, saying that the report raises “signs of trouble” about not just the vehicle but also [...]

  • Vladislaw

    I think you missed the point though on RLV, NASA has a deep desire to NOT lose talent, that means programs HAVE to, by definition, be structured around a 14,000 man 26,000 subcontractors paradigm. Space ship one, 30 man work force, 87 subcontractors. Falcon 1, 350 man work force and 118 subcontractors, that includes the development of a new engine the merlin and the new merlin with regenerative cooling versus ablative.
    So you honestly believe that NASA, no matter WHAT design they do, is going to alocate 300-500 people to run a manned program and lay off 13500 workers? Tell me WHICH congressman will vote to have those jobs cut from their district?

    350 workers @ $50,000 year = 17 million and change per year regardless of how many launches.

    14000 workers @ $50,000 year = 700,000,000, seven HUNDRED MILLION per year regardless of how many launches.

    The point is NASA will NEVER be fast, simple, etc etc etc because HUGE slow moving dinosaurs are just NOT FAST.

    NASA did not build the HL20, HL42 because of these VERY facts, they represented a threat to a 14000 person workforce. NASA will never build systems like that.

    Someone earlier said it was “bogus” that NASA or “BIG AEROSPACE” worked against simplier solutions, All you have to do is look what boeing did with the inflatable technology that nasa developed, they SHUT IT DOWN through lobbying pressure, it is all history if you just read it.

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