Congress

Weldon to introduce shuttle legislation today

Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) will formally introduce legislation today to extend the life of the space shuttle during a press conference today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel earlier this month, Weldon is concerned about a long gap between the shuttle retirement around 2010 and the introduction of Orion, circa 2015. According to a statement from the Congressman’s office, the “S.P.A.C.E. Act” would “propose” additional shuttle flights during the gap. “This legislation will also provide additional resources for the Constellation project, and will have a positive effect on our national security as well as the local economy.” (The latter is pretty obvious, but perhaps someone will ask Weldon how he ties continuing civil human spaceflight with national security.)

46 comments to Weldon to introduce shuttle legislation today

  • Ray

    Jeff: “but perhaps someone will ask Weldon how he ties continuing civil human spaceflight with national security”

    It depends on what nation he’s talking about …

    ESAS and Shuttle can divert attention from new launchers or EELVs which actually would provide national security help to the U.S..

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Space Access Enthusiasts -

    OK, prepare for the automatic reaction of several of us that haunt this information source. I will try to check my personal biases and add to the thougthful discussion that will surely result.

    Is it in the best interest of the USA (or even ESA and the rest of the spacefaring community) to retire a known, flying vehicle on an arbitrary date – with a vague promise that a future Administration will find money to give us a replacement capability?

    Is it in the best interest of the USA (and the rest of us) to depend on an unreliable partner such as Russia for all of our access to space? And access to our multi-billion dollar Space Station?

    The only rational way forward (and this is unfortunate that it is our best option) is to fly the Shuttle until a replacement is within our reasonable grasp. Every space vehicle is risky – not as risky as driving your car on any local Interstate highway – and an test vehicle such as Orion will be risky as well. So going to Orion is not going to (in the short term) reduce our risk.

    If we decide to continue to fly the Shuttle, it does require us to admit that our hopes of going to Mars (SIGH!) are not as close as we had hoped. We don’t have the technology now for one thing.

    We will, suddenly, discover that flying the Shuttle is amazing cheaper than we had thought it was just months ago.

    This may give us an opening to discuss sending more cargo to Station on proven Atlas and Delta launch vehicles! This may give us an opening to discuss replacing Ares 5 with those proven launchers.

    But Weldon’s proposal – to add resources to keep both programs going – has real problems. With our federal budget deficit we barely have enough money to adequately fund one program! We are not going to find a lot of excess money laying around DC that we can devote to these programs.

    Sigh.

    Charles

  • With regards to “national security”, Weldon’s press notice specifically reads:

    “The Congressman, however, believes that the United States is about to cede space access to the Chinese and Russians for 5 years or more.”

    Even as a certified U.S. space cadet, I have to say, “So what?” We “ceded space access” to the Soviets for a longer period of time between the end of the Apollo program and first Shuttle flights, and that was during the Cold War.

    What’s the worst that could happen? That the Chinese perform their first spacecraft rendezvous and docking, an achievement that we made some 40 years ago? That the Russians double the prices they’re charging us for Soyuz and Progress flights, which would still be a couple orders of magnitude cheaper than Shuttle? Given how much the Russian space program relies on NASA purchases, do we really think that even a belligerent Putin would be interested in accepting the additional responsibilities that would come with some Russian takeover of the ISS? (Forget the international condemnation that would far outweigh the benefits of such a move.) Do we really think it’s even possible given how much of ISS mission control rests with U.S. assets?

    Maybe I lack imagination, but I fail to see where a gap in U.S. human space flight puts any significant U.S. national security interests at stake.

    Weldon’s press notice also reads:

    “In addition to the national security and technological issues, many valuable jobs at Kennedy Space Center may be abruptly lost due to this flight gap.”

    This is obviously the real reason for Weldon’s proposal, but it’s just forestalling the inevitable. It’s not the gap that’s going to force the loss of jobs. It’s the transition to new vehicles that don’t require the same jobs. Even a Shuttle-derived option like Ares 1 lacks many of the same systems as Shuttle — there’s no orbiter, for example — and those jobs are going to go away and those employees transitioned to other positions or removed from the agency.

    In the end, I would guess that Weldon proposal is more about inoculating his future election cycles from the job changes that will occur at KSC during the transition from Shuttle to a new system (whether it’s Ares 1/Orion or their replacement), than any serious attempt to extend Shuttle operations. But it’s still a needlessly costly and dangerous proposal, though. Once ISS assembly is complete, Shuttle serves no purpose that can’t be met on other vehicles. But Shuttle will still carry the same underlying technical problems that caused the Columbia accident as well as an increasing number of unknown failure modes associated with such a complex and aging system.

    FWIW…

  • “We will, suddenly, discover that flying the Shuttle is amazing cheaper than we had thought it was just months ago.”

    Shuttle’s costs are largely fixed, and after a quarter century of operations, arguably as lean as they can be. Whether the program flies zero or five times a year, it still sucks up $4-5 billion of NASA’s budget and taxpayer funding every year that the capability is kept intact. It can’t be flown for cheaper.

    “But Weldon’s proposal – to add resources to keep both programs going – has real problems. With our federal budget deficit we barely have enough money to adequately fund one program! We are not going to find a lot of excess money laying around DC that we can devote to these programs.”

    While the proposal is seriously dangerous, it’s another reason why the proposal is probably not serious.

    FWIW…

  • Norm

    “Shuttle’s costs are largely fixed, and after a quarter century of operations, are arguably as lean as they can be.”

    This is a government program, there is no motivation within the shuttle program to get lean. There is every motivation to maintain the budget.

  • reader

    Flying the STS beyond ISS construction complete, even if it would be possible, would have basically just one “useful” aspect: it would compete with whatever services COTS may be able to offer by that time.

  • This is a little off-topic, but related… the conference report on the FY 2008 appropriations bill that NASA falls under has hit the street. Congress met the White House’s overall request for NASA of $17,309 million. But there is some shuffling of funds, with most programs getting a boost at the expense of Exploration Systems, which includes Constellation/Ares I/Orion, and Exploration Capabilities, which includes STS/ISS.

    Aeronautics gets a boost of $71 million, from $554 million in the request to $625 million in the bill.

    Science gets a boost of $61 million, from $5,516 million in the request to $5,577 million in the bill.

    Even Cross-Agency Support Programs (things like education, SBIR, tech transfer, prizes) gets a boost of $67 million, from $489 million in the request to $556 million in the bill. I don’t know whether any of that falls to useful programs like prizes — I have yet to read the full report language.

    Exploration Systems, which includes Constellation (including Ares I/Orion) and Advanced Capabilities (exploration technology like new astronaut suits), however, gets a cut of $82 million, from $3,924 million in the request to $3,842 million in the bill. It’s not certain that such a cut would force another delay in the schedule for Ares I/Orion. But the White House request for both Constellation and Advanced Capabilities was already facing a dip going from FY 2007 to FY 2008, so another delay is likely.

    Exploration Capabilities, which includes ISS and STS, also takes a cut of $58 million, from $6,792 million to $6,734 million.

    There’s also language in the bill about limiting the amount of funding that goes to overhead functions. I presume that Congress is doing this to make room for earmarks in the report language, which I have yet to go through.

    There’s still some steps to be taken before these numbers get fixed in stone. They have to be incorporated in the omnibus appropriations bill and that bill has to be agreed to and signed by the President. But obviously there will be no Mikulski/Hutchison miracle, or funding for a Weldon Shuttle extension, yet. And as predicted earlier in this forum, it looks increasingly likely that Exploration Capabilities will take another hit this year, with potential further delays to Ares I/Orion.

    For those who want to see the numbers themselves, links to the bill and report language at available at NASAWatch.com. Links to the FY 2008 White House request for NASA can be found here (add http://www):

    .nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html

    FWIW…

  • Al Fansome

    I was starting to get worried about what Weldon was up to, until I read today that he wants to add $2 Billion per year ($10B over 5 years) to NASA’s budget.

    IMO, this idea is dead on arrival. If Senator Mikulski (who Chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for NASA) is unable to add even a one-time $1 Billion, then the non-chair, non-majority position of Dr. Weldon pushing for $10 Billion appears to be a fantasy.

    I have to believe that Dr. Weldon understands that acquiring $10 Billion is politically feasible. Therefore, I think this is all a PR stunt on his part to generate votes back in his home district.

    The one possibility — Dr. Weldon will get some kind of language included into the final bill mandating that the Shuttle ET assembly lines be kept open.

    If it is bill report language, does anybody have any thoughts on whether the White House might tell NASA to ignore the bill report language since it contradicts administration policy? (Anon?)

    Now, that will be an interesting fight.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists don’t understand politics.”

  • “If it is bill report language, does anybody have any thoughts on whether the White House might tell NASA to ignore the bill report language since it contradicts administration policy? (Anon?)”

    Report language is not law, so a department or agency can ignore it at will. Other than drawing the ire of the congressman who sponsored it, nothing legal or otherwise bad will happen. But since it can cause blowback in future funding cycles or other political fallout, it’s generally a good idea to make sure that the White House is on the same page as your department or agency before pushing back on congressional report language.

    NASA has been one of the most timid of the major departments and agencies when it comes to pushing back on congressional report language. The only instance that I can recall when NASA has done so was as part of the distribution of an across-the-board cut to all federal programs a few years back (i.e., a cut of 0.XX% to every program). The White House directed that the cut be applied to congressional earmarks and regular program budgets alike, and NASA complied.

    That said, even given NASA’s historical timidity, I would guess that NASA would approach the White House (or vice-versa) and stand its ground on something as major as keeping ET production lines open, especially when those people and facilities (forget budgets) need to be working on the new set of vehicles (as is the case with Ares I and I think Orion). Even in the absence of such a programmatic conflict between the old and new programs (e.g., if EELVs were in play), the budgetary and safety stakes of allowing this particular old program to continue flying are likely also high enough for NASA and the White House to take a firm stand.

    I have no clue what Weldon’s relationship is with the White House, if any. But if things go too far, it wouldn’t surprise me if Weldon’s chief-of-staff gets a call and is told that his boss needs to sit down and shut up now that’s he’s had an opportunity to look good to the KSC voters back home.

    My 2 bit guesses… FWIW…

  • Ray

    anonymous.space: “Even Cross-Agency Support Programs (things like education, SBIR, tech transfer, prizes) gets a boost of $67 million, from $489 million in the request to $556 million in the bill. I don’t know whether any of that falls to useful programs like prizes — I have yet to read the full report language.”

    From the NASA Watch link to rules.house.gov/110/text/omni/divb.pdf:

    In the section on Trasfer of Funds:

    “Funds for announced prizes otherwise authorized shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until the prize is claimed or the offer is withdrawn. Funding shall not be made available for Centennial Challenges unless authorized.”

    From the other link at NASA Watch comes this gem:

    “The Appropriations Committees reiterate concern expressed in the House report that NASA is not able to anticipate adequately technical problems and project overruns on existing programs, and are especially concerned that new programs, such as Project Constellation, will encounter similar problems.

    Additionally, the Appropriations Committees are concerned about the NASA process that leads to the selection of a course of action when such problems are encountered. Consequently, NASA is directed to establish an ongoing relationship with the National Academy of Sciences for the purpose of providing an independent project review capability using ad hoc committees established under the purview of the Space Studies Board and/or the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.”

    There’s more that may be of interest:

    “Currently, NASA’s future plans include starting just two new missions every two years. At that rate, NASA Earth observation research missions will have decreased from 18 down to four or five in the next two decades in the 21st century.”

    … and …

    “The amended bill provides $160,000,000 for the Commercial Orbital Space Transportation (COTS) program, which is intended to demonstrate private sector technologies that could potentially resupply the International Space Station in the future. However, the Appropriations Committees note that one of the two COTS contracts is currently in dispute, and are concerned by NASA’s recent decision to re-compete the disputed contract before all challenges have been resolved. In doing so, NASA could potentially create a liability to fund three proposals instead of two as originally envisioned, increasing the costs of this program to the taxpayers. Therefore, NASA is directed not to select a new contractor until all challenges are decided. Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is directed to perform a full review of COTS program expenditures and management..”

    … and …

    “The amended bill does not provide any new funding in fiscal year 2008 for the Centennial Challenges program. The funding proposed in previous fiscal years for this program is sufficient for NASA to run this prize-based competition. Providing additional funds to a program based on prizes only creates a sizeable amount of unused funds while other aspects of NASA’s mission are being cut or delayed due to a lack of funds.”

    (which is immediately followed by a quite a few “district-specific delicacies”).

    Maybe Jeff will set up another post for discussions on this (including NASA and maybe the satellite part of NOAA)?

  • Stewart

    “The Federal Budget Deficit” has been the excuse since the Nixon era for not fully funding NASA projects. That is just lame, considering the growth in federal spending since that time.

    The U.S. paid a good deal of the cost of ISS, and some think it is a good idea to rely for access on a nation that brazenly throws dissidents into mental hospitals? In the 1970s we threw away a larger, cheaper space station because we did not have the capacity to get to it anymore.

    But history does not give reason for hoping for rational judgment from this (or the next) administration.

  • MarkWhittington

    It’s not clear to me that any of this matters. The Omnibus Bill is so filled with gimmicks that it seems to me to be veto bait.

  • MarkWhittington

    Then again, it looks like the President will sign the measure so long as forty billion is added for the War in Iraq. I’m not sure that the amount carved from the exploration account is signifigent enough to delay things (at least a lot.)

  • Donald Ernst

    Lets face the reality of the political future, VSE is dead, Ares I is dead, Ares V is dead. The Orion capsule could fly on a EELV but never will. Why build a new capsule when the Soyuz can you to the ISS just as well?
    The shuttle will be ended as soon as the ISS is complete.
    Eventually the ISS will be deorbited.This is the real future no matter who gets elected next year,
    NASA seems no longer able to carry out any kind of shuttle replacement project. If we are to have affordable access to space a new agency will should be created that would fund RLV projects, not with COTS level funding but with Billions of dollars.

  • “I’m not sure that the amount carved from the exploration account is signifigent enough to delay things (at least a lot.)”

    I’d agree under normal circumstances — an $82 million cut from a $3.9 billion development budget should not cause significant delays.

    Unfortunately, the Constellation budget is not “normal”. It’s funded with only a 65% probability of not overruning its schedule or budget. 80% is the usual standard for this kind of development program. So the box defining the program’s content, schedule, and budget has always been a fragile one, lacking the margins that allow similar programs to absorb certain risks.

    On top of that, the Constellation funding profile already took a dip in the White House request going from FY 2007 to FY 2008. This is the exact opposite of what a development program needs at this stage. This cut will only exacerbate that dip.

    Under these circumstances, even very small budget perturbations can have substantial schedule implications. I wouldn’t guarantee another delay based on this cut. But I wouldn’t bet against it, either.

    FWIW…

  • “The Appropriations Committees reiterate concern expressed in the House report that NASA is not able to anticipate adequately technical problems and project overruns on existing programs, and are especially concerned that new programs, such as Project Constellation, will encounter similar problems.

    Additionally, the Appropriations Committees are concerned about the NASA process that leads to the selection of a course of action when such problems are encountered…”

    Sounds like the GAO report is having some impact, but this is a pretty limp-wristed response. Congress really needs to put its oversight spurs to the Constellation horse.

    “Currently, NASA’s future plans include starting just two new missions every two years. At that rate, NASA Earth observation research missions will have decreased from 18 down to four or five in the next two decades in the 21st century.”

    I don’t mean to spark another global warming debate or science versus human space flight debate. But I do think it’s sad that the science side of NASA has arguably made these sacrifices in vain. It would be one thing to make sacrifices in science to support a well thought out and managed human space flight program that actually addressed suppossed priorities like the gap or getting real human exploration development underway. But it’s an entirely different thing to make sacrifices for a human space flight program based on a flawed, 60-day study that fails to address even the NASA Administrator’s own professed priorities.

    “However, the Appropriations Committees note that one of the two COTS contracts is currently in dispute, and are concerned by NASA’s recent decision to re-compete the disputed contract before all challenges have been resolved. In doing so, NASA could potentially create a liability to fund three proposals instead of two as originally envisioned, increasing the costs of this program to the taxpayers. Therefore, NASA is directed not to select a new contractor until all challenges are decided.”

    As much as I hate to see COTS slowed down, I can’t really blame the appropriators for doing this. It’s just fiscally responsible.

    I just wish the approriators demonstrated the same level of fiscal responsibility with Constellation. In fact, in some ways, a troubling GAO program report (Ares I) should be treated more seriously than a questionable bid protest (COTS).

    “Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is directed to perform a full review of COTS program expenditures and management.”

    I’m sure there’s room for improvement, but hopefully, GAO can do a good review that recognizes and takes into account the new ways of doing business (Other Transaction Authority) that are being demonstrated in the COTS program. I worry about a knee-jerk fallback onto the Federal Acquisition Regulations from GAO.

    But they proved me wrong on what turned out to be a very substantive Ares I report. So I’m hopeful.

    “The amended bill does not provide any new funding in fiscal year 2008 for the Centennial Challenges program. The funding proposed in previous fiscal years for this program is sufficient for NASA to run this prize-based competition. Providing additional funds to a program based on prizes only creates a sizeable amount of unused funds while other aspects of NASA’s mission are being cut or delayed due to a lack of funds.”

    This is the most short-sighted language in the entire bill and report. I have yet to add them up, but it will be very interesting to see how many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars are directed at site-specific earmarks versus the zero dollars that are going into what is arguably NASA’s most open and highly competitive program.

    FWIW…

  • Getting back to the original topic of this thread, here’s the Washington Post article on Weldon’s proposal (add http://www):

    washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121701610.html

    I especially like the juxtaposition of these two excerpts:

    “The [CAIB] board investigating the 2003 Columbia accident recommended the shuttle fleet be retired in 2010″

    “‘The 2010 date was really an arbitrary date that was really picked more by OMB (the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) than NASA,’ said Weldon spokesman Jeremy Steffens.”

    I love it when congressmen and their staff get a technical recommendation from an expert body that they don’t like and then blame White House budget staff for the result.

    Or maybe Steffens and other Weldon staffers really are stupid enough to think that the 2010 Shuttle retirement date came from a White House budgeteer and not the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

    It’s really sad that this is what passes for Congressional leadership and expertise on our civil human space flight program.

    Ugh…

  • Also getting back on topic, the RocketsAndSuch blog does a good job exposing one of the many conflicts — Ares I J-2X versus Shuttle ECO testing at Stennis engine test stands — that will arise between the Constellation and Space Shuttle program if Shuttle continues flying after 2010 (add http://):

    rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com/2007/12/take-number.html

    rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com/2007/12/theyre-baaaaack.html

    Even setting aside the budgetary and safety considerations involved in flying Shuttle longer, technically it just can’t happen if NASA is ever to have a hope of getting Ares I/Orion developed. These two systems just have too much workforce, too many facilities, too many contractors, and too many technical resources in common. One has to ramp down in order for the other one to ramp up.

    Not that I’m advocating continued Ares I/Orion development, but Weldon’s proposal adds insanity on top of stupidity.

    Argh…

  • Kevin Parkin

    If the Shuttle were important to national security then the DOD would fund it.

  • MarkWhittington

    “Unfortunately, the Constellation budget is not “normal”. It’s funded with only a 65% probability of not overruning its schedule or budget. 80% is the usual standard for this kind of development program. So the box defining the program’s content, schedule, and budget has always been a fragile one, lacking the margins that allow similar programs to absorb certain risks.”

    I wonder if that is just NASA being more conservative than in the past. One of the criticisms during space station development was the agency’s tendency to ignore potential problems and put the best case scenario on budget and schedule predictions. I also think they’ve already took the hit for the five hundred million shortfall from last year.

    All in all, things look like they are turning out better than they could have. I was concerned that we would have been stuck with another continuing resolution that would have caused another five to six month slip.

  • “I wonder if that is just NASA being more conservative than in the past.”

    No. The ESAS budget did the opposite. Budgeting a program at a 65% level of confidence is more risky (less conservative) than budgeting a program at an 80% level of confidence.

    “One of the criticisms during space station development was the agency’s tendency to ignore potential problems and put the best case scenario on budget and schedule predictions.”

    That’s exactly what advertising schedules based on a budget with 65% level of confidence does. Since day one of ESAS’s release, NASA has been advertising dates for the start of Ares 1/Orion operations that have a 35% chance (1-in-3 chance) of not being met, just based on the budget funding levels alone.

    Opinions may vary, but I find this to be very misleading, and perhaps even dishonest. Like the rest of the world, Constellation should advertise dates based on an 80% budget, which would put the start of Ares I/Orion operations out in 2016-17, not 2015. That would help avoid a repeat of the “best case scenario” syndrome seen on ISS (and practically every other human space flight program at NASA).

    “I also think they’ve already took the hit for the five hundred million shortfall from last year.”

    Correct.

    “I was concerned that we would have been stuck with another continuing resolution that would have caused another five to six month slip.”

    It wasn’t the continuing resolution per se that caused last year’s slip. It was the funding shortfall contained in the continuing resolution that caused last year’s slip.

    If the omnibus is signed into law, then we’ll have another shortfall. Whether that shortfall translates into another Ares I/Orion slip remains to be seen. But again, given how precariously the program is budgeted, I wouldn’t bet against it.

    FWIW…

  • The programmatic technique of providing budget and schedule cushions on your nominal critical path projections assumes you have a feasible engineering solution. The Ares-I design has fatal engineering problems that go well beyond the programmatic risks the GAO pointed out.

    The longer we remain on this infeasible path the more painful it will be to fix the problem. I keep holding out hope that we won’t have to wait for a reset in leadership before we final get back on a feasible path. Regardless, physics will eventually trump ego given enough time. Unfortunately time is not luxury we have at this point.

    Putting hope aside we do need to prepare for the possibility that the Ares-I will waste yet another year of our time (i.e. PDR is now set for late next year). Assuming that the engineering infeasibility of the Ares-I is finally accepted as a political fact that will be acted upon in the January 2009 time frame the next question will be now what.

    At least Representative Weldon is thinking beyond the upcoming Ares-I train wreck and putting in place the requirement to preserve our existing heavy lift space infrastructure (warts and all) until we are close to fielding a feasible replacement system. Though I share everyone’s concern regarding protracted extension of the current system. Nothing is as permanent as a temporary solution that works.

    Since the demise of the Ares-I will bring the whole ESAS archeicture down with it we will need to take a second look at requirements of Orion. The first missions of the VSE consist of Orion going to the ISS. We don’t need to put up +25mT for that, 10mT will work just fine because we don’t need a Lunar class Service Module for the ISS mission. Its just represents poorly defined hardware to design, test, build and burn up at this point. By focusing Orion’s current development on a Lunar class Command Module and an ISS class Service Module we could close the ISS access gap by using a (simple safe and soon) single Common Core Booster versions of the Atlas and Delta launch systems.

    We could then redirect the savings of not doing a Lunar Class Service Module and Ares-I (5-Seg SRB, Upper Stage, J-2X) towards the development of a true direct derivative of the STS system (i.e. Jupter-120). This would help close the second gap which is centered on the manufacturing, integration and launch operations of the current Space Shuttle stack.

    Once we are up and running with the EELV’s providing manned ISS access and the Jupiter-120 through its flight qualifications + ISS cargo missions we could add the planned addition of the Lunar class Service Module below the ISS class Service Module and have the Jupiter-120 place a full EELV upper stage into orbit enabling an Apollo-8 mission, Mars sample return, +8m Space Telescopes etc.

    Add an upper stage and LSAM and we have a 2 launch lunar archeicture that will place more mass on the surface of the Moon than ESAS even if it was feasible. The programmatics of all the above is significantly less risky with decoupled critical paths, bite size budgetary spreads, and evenly spread base camps of operational stability/utility that will work with the comparatively narrow political time frames all publicly funded projects must live by.

    We also need to get out of the Lockheed/Martin vs. Boeing vs. ATK vs. STS vs. NASA vs. KSC vs. MSFC vs. JSC vs. JPL vs. GSC line of debate. We need to work towards a consolidated solution the leverages the entire in place infrastructure and avoids false choices like EELV vs. STS derivative debate. In addition it’s important not to get to far ahead ourselves. For example basing the Orion crew size on the Mars mission requirements. Four abreast seating with a higher sidewall angle to increase the interior volume over the current Orion configuration may be just fine for the next 30 years.

    We are leaving more serious problems to the unborn right now than that.

  • Al Fansome

    ANON: Not that I’m advocating continued Ares I/Orion development, but Weldon’s proposal adds insanity on top of stupidity.

    Anon,

    I must respectfully disagree. You got it backwards.

    It adds stupidity on top of insanity.

    - Al

  • Al Fansome

    So far, the Weldon strategy did not make sense. It just seemed …. well … “stupid” to me (and “insane” to Anon.)

    In reading the Washington Post story, I think I have figured out what Weldon is really up to. (Never NEVER assume your opposition is stupid or insane.)

    IMO, Weldon is attempting to create a “Florida votes” issue — in the public mind — in an attempt to persuade the presidential candidates to take a “Florida jobs = Save the Shuttle position”. Since Presidential candidates always have an self-interest and automatic urge to pander to key voters, particularly in critical must-win states, such a political strategy actually has some chance of impacting policy.

    NOTE: Even John McCain is pro-ethanol these days — even though corn-based ethanol will never be energy efficient.

    Iowa is a critical state to win during the primaries, which is why it often drives policy.

    Florida is critical state to win for the general campaign, which is why it often drives policy. I have one word — Cuba.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists don’t understand politics.”

  • MarkWhittington

    Anon, so what you are saying is that if there is another slip, it won’t be because of a budget shortfall, but because of an unexpected technical/design challenge.

  • “Anon, so what you are saying is that if there is another slip, it won’t be because of a budget shortfall”

    No, I’m saying that there is a good chance that the cut in the draft FY 2008 omnibus bill will create another schedule slip. I say that not because the cut is a small one, but because the Constellation budget is riding the razor’s edge and even small peturbation can have significant schedule implications.

    “but because of an unexpected technical/design challenge”

    If you read the GAO report, that’s also likely to happen, but it’s independent of the budget.

    Hope this helps… FWIW…

  • Anonymous: Even though I do believe that human spaceflight does, and should, have a much higher priority that automated “science,” on this, I entirely agree with you. it’s sad that the science side of NASA has arguably made these sacrifices in vain. It would be one thing to make sacrifices in science to support a well thought out and managed human space flight program that actually addressed suppossed priorities like the gap or getting real human exploration development underway. But it’s an entirely different thing to make sacrifices for a human space flight program based on a flawed, 60-day study that fails to address even the NASA Administrator’s own professed priorities. Well said.

    Stephen Metschan: I like a lot of your architectural suggestions. While you would lose the efficiencies of using what set of components for both the heavy lift and medium lift elements, you would gain a wider market for the already developed and paid for EELVs. Since the EELVs supposedly were designed for high launch rates, that would pay off for everyone — military and NASA, automated and human, Space Station and climate alike.

    Al, I hope you’re right!

    – Donald

  • “The programmatics of all the above is significantly less risky with decoupled critical paths, bite size budgetary spreads, and evenly spread base camps of operational stability/utility that will work with the comparatively narrow political time frames all publicly funded projects must live by.”

    Although it should undergo a thorough review and analysis of alternatives, Mr. Metschan’s plan makes a helluva lot more sense than the path we’re currently on. I’d add some parallel, higher-risk/higher-payoff COTS and in-space propellant servicing tech development elements. But in terms of the conservative backbone of a post-Shuttle, ISS servicing and human lunar return architecture, I don’t see any obviously better alternatives.

    “Weldon is attempting to create a ‘Florida votes’ issue”

    Maybe. That would at least make some sense. If that is the strategy, then Weldon and staff should just be forthright about it and explicitly connect the dots for the Presidential campaigns.

    Personally, I’d be skeptical of the issue if I were working on one of those campaigns. The chances that the Presidential election would come down to Florida twice in three election cycles, and Cocoa Beach in particular, has got to be vanishingly small. I’d also think that the number of KSC workers would be swamped by any number of other Florida demographics and issues — whether its retirees and Social Security reform, Cuban emigrees and policy towards Cuba, etc.

    But I wouldn’t pretend to be the next James Carville or Karl Rove, so who knows… but I’d bet Weldon and his staff aren’t either.

    Maybe the key is to get Florida to be a primary state.

    “Anon,

    I must respectfully disagree. You got it backwards.

    It adds stupidity on top of insanity.”

    My bad.

    FWIW…

  • Donald, I think the EELV vs. Jupiter-120 debate represents a false choice. The Jupiter-120 is in fact a hybrid of EELV and STS systems (hardware + organizations). At about five launches per year the Jupiter-232 is also well below the best $/kg to orbit worldwide. It’s also important to remember that the primary cost of space exploration and development is in spacecraft design/construction and mission training/operations not in launch cost. Requiring spacecraft designers and mission planners to work within the confines of 25mT packages that fit within a 5m payload diameter will cost more in the long run than leveraging our existing 100mT and 8.4m diameter heavy lifter.

    Beyond the economic and operational considerations are the political issues with an all EELV approach. First an all EELV solution only serves to setup the STS vs. EELV fight all over again. Even once you somehow managed to get through that you setup the whole Lockheed/Martin vs. Boeing conflict all over again. Basically no matter what happens we create two losers for every winner. You cannot establish a politically stable solution when you create more losers than winners. Ideally everyone should have a stake in the new launch system close to their current economic slice of the market.

    The space industry is going to have a hard enough time competing for resources within the context of other unrelated national objectives. The last thing we should do is divide our forces just as we enter some serious discretionary spending pressures. With that mindset at the fore front of our technical and organizational decisions, the Jupiter represents a way to produce a true national launch system with a broad political and technical support base that also just happens to provide the lift capacity and volume needed to achieve the VSE efficiently rather than just doing more laps in LEO.

    In addition the DOD could utilize this new capability to counter the real threat posed to national security by the recent ASAT test. Besides with SpaceX coming up from the lower end of the market this may represent an escape route for the current US based EELV providers as well.

  • Stephen: I think the EELV vs. Jupiter-120 debate represents a false choice.

    Either you misunderstood me, or I misunderstood you. I thought I was agreeing with you that using EELV for medium lift and Jupiter for heavy lift was a good idea.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    METSCHAN: the Jupiter represents a way to produce a true national launch system

    Really bad choice of words. If you really want this, then you are giving me a major reason to be against it.

    Do we need a “true national airplane system”?

    Do we need a “true national railroad system”?

    Do we need a “true national automobile”?

    I know that Donald will now talk about the national highway system — but space transportation industry today is characterized by MANY innovative design approaches by MANY players in a complex high technology system. Building a rocket is not about paving the roads. The auto, plane, and train industries are much more appropriate as an industry model.

    Another reason to avoid that word like the plague is that using that word has many “policy implications” built into its mental model — almost all of them bad. For example:

    1) A “true national” space transportation system requires the USAF/DOD to put its payloads on it. (Lest we forget, this was national policy at one time.)

    2) A “true national” transportation system requires that commercial industry, including commercial satellites, must go on it. (Lest we forget, this was national policy at one time.)

    3) Consistent with point #1 and #2, a true “national transportation system” implies that NASA will put all its payloads on that system. Forget launching scientific payloads on commercial LVs. Forget buying ISS cargo services from commercial providers.

    It has taken us over two decades to overcome the policy problems created by the last “true national” space transportation system. The last thing we need is another.

    METSCHAN: In addition the DOD could utilize this new capability to counter the real threat posed to national security by the recent ASAT test.

    Please explain. How is the Jupiter a counter to the real threat posed by the Chinese ASAT?

    That is a pretty tall claim.

    It also has shades of the “true national” space transportation system of the previous statement, and is indicative of your thinking.

    What do think the odds are that USAF will be interested in partnering with NASA (again) on a “true national” space transportation system?

    - Al

  • Al,

    Most cars, plane seats and freight cars are ‘not’ purchased using public money thus these industries are perfect for the capitalist forces important for driving competition and ultimately efficiency. Roads, Airports and Airways are also paid by with user fees largely self supporting when our government doesn’t divert the fees to fund non-transportation infrastructure needs.

    Back to launch systems. The primary demand for launch services is driven by delicate expensive low mass low volume satellites and space probes largely, though not exclusively, purchased using public money. The primary impediment for increasing the private sector portion of the launch services under the current commercial space utilization paradigm is limited not by the launch cost but the cost to develop, build and operate the satellites while serving a private market for a profit (Direct TV for example). As such even a business case driven by the assumption that the launch services were free would still have a life cycle cost of about 80% of what it does today. This is the same reason why doubling the cost per barrel of oil doesn’t’ double the price at the pump. There is more to making gasoline than just getting oil out of the ground even when gas taxes are removed.

    A national launch system also doesn’t require everyone to use it no more than the existence of the US Post Office requires that I use them for all my shipping needs. If a private company wanted to develop a direct competitor to the Jupiter they could. Now would the existence of a national launch system along the lines of the Jupiter delivering payload to LEO at below $5K/kg to orbit make it difficult to close the business case for this? Yes it would. While at the same time the cost per launch of the Jupiter would keep this national launch system from directly competing with the lower cost per launch of SpaceX and the current EELV providers. The trend in satellites is to get smaller not bigger.

    Now bucking that smaller is better trend revolves around the recent ASAT test. The additional volume and mass capabilities of the Jupiter would enable more repositioning propellant, thicker protection and the incorporation of high mass ASAT counter measures.

    Unlike the Space Shuttle the Jupiter doesn’t require the crew capsule to carry the cargo. Cargo and Crew are complete separate within the manifest significantly improving crew safety. As such the Air Force could use the Jupiter launch system completely independently of NASA. It’s ultimate a more capable lower kg to orbit launch system than an EELV that still uses the EELV main engines and potential an EELV upper stage (the most expensive parts of an EELV). For that matter a customer could use the Jupiter to loft a fully fueled SpaceX upper stage just as well. In this scenario the only nationalized portion of the Jupiter is the KSC launch infrastructure and the Common Core Booster (External Tank + SRB). Everything else could be COTS in the end. Of course by that definition Michoud (under Lockheed/Martin management), KSC (USA) and ATK are all COTS as well.

    So what we have in the end is a bunch of for profit companies providing hardware and operational support for launch services largely paid for using public sector money. So how is this so different from SpaceX any other organization or company putting stuff in orbit?

  • Stephen and Al
    – I honestly think you guys might be more arguing about language than about policy.

  • I’m rather put put by wild accusations made by anonymous people on the Internet of “putting words in mouths” and “slandering parties.”

    Why would it bother, when its competition was being subsidized by the taxpayer, as it was the last time we had a “National Space Transportation System”?

  • D’oh!

    Pasted the wrong quote in the previous post. That was supposed to be in response to:

    If a private company wanted to develop a direct competitor to the Jupiter they could.

    And as for the quote that I pasted, I’ll just say that it’s what Mark does. If he didn’t do it, he’d have little to say in fora like this, since he’s incapable of arguing against anything but straw men.

  • Al Fansome

    FERRIS: Stephen and Al
    - I honestly think you guys might be more arguing about language than about policy.

    Ferris,

    Language is very important. It is the water we swim in. It consciously and unconsciously frames how we think about issues, and significantly influence our choices. Language is the structure of all paradigms — which is why we have paradigm shifts.

    There are major policy implications of Stephen’s language — which I believe he has not fully recognized. In fact, Stephen’s latest posting shows that he has already started to go down some of the policy pathways that are created by his choice of language.

    In my next posting (below) I will make some of the policy issues clear.

    I do believe that Stephen is just trying to sell his Jupiter system, and has no ill intentions towards commercial space. I think this is a case of Stephen (the rocket scientist?) having a hammer and therefore everything looks like a nail to him.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Al Fansome

    Dear Mr. Metschan,

    Since you are asking for a debate, I will give you one. I hope to keep our discussion respectful, and focused on the facts.

    This is a long post — in summary I describe some (not all) of the problems with your proposal to turn Jupiter into a “real national” space transportation system.

    In summary — I believe that you are over-reaching, that you are going to unnecessarily create enemies for your Jupiter concept. I recommend that you retrench and focus on the benefits of Jupiter vs. Ares I/V.

    METSCHAN: The primary impediment for increasing the private sector portion of the launch services under the current commercial space utilization paradigm is limited not by the launch cost but the cost to develop, build and operate the satellites while serving a private market for a profit (Direct TV for example). As such even a business case driven by the assumption that the launch services were free would still have a life cycle cost of about 80% of what it does today.

    Although market characteristics are important, classic market failure is just ONE impediment among many impediments. It is the entire package of impediments that is the primary problem. We need to remove and mitigate impediments, not increase them.

    Regulation is often an impediment — there has been over two decades of progress on that front. Subsidized competition, or direct competition, with the federal government has also been, and continues to be, a major impediment.

    The relatively recent historical space policy adjustments to purchase commercial services — including the LSPA, the CSA98, the AAS/COTS programs, the White House creation of the ISS crew/cargo services budget as part of the VSE, and the WH mandate to NASA to buy commercially provided services — are all about dealing with the “market risk impediment” and the “competing with the US government impediment.

    Based on what you have said, it is clear that you disagree with some of these policies — and I can only assume (based on what you have said so far) that you would reverse some of these new policies if given the opportunity.

    Second, since you are arguing business case, there is ZERO business case for a super-heavy-lift class launch vehicle, whatever the cost/kg. It is extremely difficult to get many payload customers to agree to share a ride. With a few limited exceptions, they are almost always going to different orbits, or have different schedules, and the cost of having to compromise on their needs with other customers if usually a show-stopper. The few limited cases to date are GEO sats (which are going to the same orbit), and small experiments that don’t care what orbit they are in, and are willing to be a secondary payload in return for very low cost.

    Third, if you ignore DDT&E costs, and just look at “marginal costs” (which in itself leads to false economic choices), then the marginal cost of a super-heavy-lift might be better than a smaller ELV. But if you consider the standing army — a fixed cost — of people needed to work on the super-heavy-lift — then the Super-heavy-lift does not look so good.

    Fourth, in the world of reusable spaceplanes, a super-heavy-lift system has very limited niche uses. The reusable spaceplane will beat the super-heavy-lift on cost/lb, and flight availability, and reliability, and ability to control orbit and schedule, every time. In this world, the super-heavy-lift flies much much less, and as flight rate goes down so does reliability … while cost/lb goes way up.

    There is a MUCH better business case for a national investment in reusable spaceplanes.

    For example, you argue that Jupiter is good for national security. Reusable spaceplanes will deliver substantially more benefit to national security than a super-heavy-lift expendable.

    Existing DOD policy clearly agrees with this position. The DOD has a program to support technology development for reusable spaceplanes, and is actively considering more aggressive efforts. The DOD invests nothing in super-heavy-lift.

    Given the difference in national security benefits, and commercial industrial benefits, a fair “Analysis of Alternatives” based on national space policy objectives (the White House has explicitlyy stated that commerce, national security, and science are the principal policy objectives), investing taxpayer funds in developing reusable spaceplane(s) will win out EVERY time.

    METSCHAN: If a private company wanted to develop a direct competitor to the Jupiter they could. Now would the existence of a national launch system along the lines of the Jupiter delivering payload to LEO at below $5K/kg to orbit make it difficult to close the business case for this? Yes it would.

    Thank you for acknowledging that developing Jupiter, and adopting your policy approach, would discourage and deter private sector investment in space transportation. As such, this conflicts with existing White House policy.

    IF ANYBODY FROM THE WHITE HOUSE OR CONGRESS is reading this blog.

    Please note that Mr. Metschan has just acknowledged that a federal investment in his Jupiter concept, combined with his policy proposal to allow Jupiter to compete with private industry, would deter private investment in commercial space transportation.

    I note that the White House National Space Transportation policy at:
    http://www.ostp.gov/NSTC/html/pdd4.html

    specifically states and applies in this situation:

    (c) U.S. Government agencies shall purchase commercially available U.S. space transportation products and services to the fullest extent feasible that meet mission requirements and shall not conduct activities with commercial applications that preclude or deter commercial space activities, except for national security or public safety reasons.

    Ignoring the fact that reusable spaceplanes would beat a super-heavy-lift hands down in its benefits to commercial industry and national security, the “Government vs Private Sector” choice is not the correct way to structure an analysis of alternatives.

    Many alternatives, that should be considered, would have the U.S. Government partner with the private sector — and pull in the same direction — instead of competing with the private sector like you suggest (with a national space transportation system). Both Newt Gingrich and Al Gore believe in private sector partnerships on space technology and space transportation — I will take the Gingrich/Gore/White House side of the argument any day.

    METSCHAN: Now bucking that smaller is better trend revolves around the recent ASAT test. The additional volume and mass capabilities of the Jupiter would enable more repositioning propellant, thicker protection and the incorporation of high mass ASAT counter measures.

    This statement, when combined with your “real national” space transportation system statement, clearly implies that you would like to kill the DOD’s Operationally Responsive Space initiative, and the DOD’s existing RLV technology initiatives (minimal that they are) and replace them with support for the Jupiter.

    So, in your excitement to promote Jupiter, you are not only goring commercial space advocates, you are attacking ORS national security too.

    Not a very good way to make friends.

    Related to your national security argument, Jupiter is a technology chasing a problem that is in the process of being solved.

    The Orbital Express system recently demonstrated the ability to refuel satellites in orbit. According to “Space News Washington Aerospace Briefing”, dated 18 September 2007, Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne is now pushing that future satellites be both smaller and designed for orbital refueling as part of the solution to ASATs. The proven Orbital Express technology will allow national assets to use lots of propellant, when needed, in order to avoid ASATs.

    Two other factors:

    1) The avoidance approach will also eliminate orbital debris that would be created by a “heavy shield” approach.

    2) Adding “shielding” will do very little to protect national assets.

    There are many ways to take out a satellite. Hitting the main bus with a projectile is just one. Having all the shielding in the world will not protect the exposed parts of the satellite (solar arrays, antennae, etc.) There are many ways to take out those systems.

    Moving the satellite out of the way, and then refueling it later, is a much better solution.

    No need for Jupiter for this mission.

    In summary, you are committing a classic “sales” error. You have a hammer, and now everything looks like a nail. Instead of leaving us alone and fighting to replace the Ares 1/V — and we leave you alone — your sales approach is going to make enemies of commercial space advocates.

    If you want to continue to debate this issue, and dig a deeper hole for Jupiter with this commercial space advocacy community (and the many commercial space advocates who read this blog), please let me know. I am just getting started with pointing out the downside implications of your proposal for a “real national” space transportation system.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Al,

    The ‘federal’ government in the form of NASA does surprisingly little of the actual maintenance, manufacturing and operations of the ‘government owned’ STS system. Going beyond civilian space the ‘federal’ government in the form of the DOD is the anchor tenant for the ‘commercialized’ launch services as a whole. The ‘federal’ government has also effectively paid for the DDT&E for both the Atlas and Delta launch systems over their evolution and is currently helping to fund SpaceX via NASA-COTS. However you slice it (Pay me now Pay me latter) the money flowing into the US launch service providers comes primarily from US tax payers for (DDT&E, Manufacturing and Operations). Elon has managed to shift the capitalization base from 100% public then to only 99.99% public now. Actual launch costs charged to private companies or civilian space are typically at cost plus a profit margin. DOD funded DDT&E is considered part of the national defense.

    I would submit that you cannot develop a true capitalist supply and demand system if the federal government is >80% of the demand which in turn drives the capitalization number near 100% public because no private company will risk that kind of money without a lock on downstream sale to one customer. I also submit that any industry largely dependant on the government as a customer will decline in efficiency over time, hence the opening for SpaceX which has used private capital to open the door to the public money. But SpaceX will not solve the demand side of this industry even if it ultimately eats the current EELV suppliers’ lunch (Private and Public). The demand must be predominately private in order to take this industry where I think you want it to go. I would also submit that even if the launch cost was free via some Area51 RLV you would still be left with the other 80% of the life cycle cost for the current (Direct TV) line of private space commercialization demand. Joy rides on the other hand would go up tremendously since the millionaire astronaut is already paid for unlike satellites.

    A real shift in the utilization of space for profit (demand) needs to occur before a real shift in how launch services are capitalized and operated can occur. For example let’s assume that He3 could be mined on the lunar surface brought back to Earth and used to generate electricity for a profit all things considered. Let’s also assume that demand for IMLEO is now 100 fold what it is today in order to achieve this. In this space development paradigm the ‘federal’ government’s launch need is now just twig on the mighty stream because competitive privately capitalized businesses are supplying product at market prices to private consumers thereby dominating the market cash flow dynamics. It’s personal Cars vs. Battle Tanks. Both come from private for profit companies but the dynamics of capitalization and sustaining support are entirely different because the source of the demand is different. This is not to be confused with the government capitalizing and producing bread for the masses. You only get bad bread and bread lines when that happens. (public capital being used to satisfy a private demand)

    All the Jupiter’s hardware, integration, infrastructure and operations can be put out for competitive bid to suppliers already involved in providing launch services/hardware today. Further the materials that make up the system from aluminum plate to software can be procured from industries outside the space industry that are privately capitalized and largely supply private individuals improving the overall efficiency.

    In addition the unit launch cost puts the Jupiter (with the demand dominated by civilian space) is out of direct competition with the existing launch service providers launch systems. As you have said there is very little commercial demand for 100mT satellites where as putting 500mT on a Trans Mars Injection need for manned Mars surface missions is going to require some serious IMLEO lift capacity.

    We also include a propellant depot opening up almost 70% of the IMLEO demand for the VSE if COTS could beat the Jupiter price. In fact splitting (spacecraft/people) from (propellant) potentially opens up new methods of placing mass into orbit not suitable for spacecraft and/or people. For example rail guns could blow the traditional smoke and fire approaches (Jupiter, EELV, SpaceX etc) out of the water with a real publicly funded market demand as the prize that justifies private capitalization.

    100mT in space DOD systems, will that’s another thing altogether. We may be able to consider ASAT counter measures not possible today due to mass and volume limits. Whether this is ultimately the best way to counter the ASAT threat only time will tell. The current solution of ignoring the problem though won’t work. Large portions of our military capability are absolutely dependant on these space assets.

    I’m done filling in the holes, I yield the shovel back to you :) Dig away.

  • Al Fansome

    Stephen,

    First, your position is much more reasonable now, and your logic does not invoke a requirement for a “national” space transportation system, on which all payloads go. That said, I have some quibbles.

    METSCHAN: I would submit that you cannot develop a true capitalist supply and demand system if the federal government is >80% of the demand which in turn drives the capitalization number near 100% public because no private company will risk that kind of money without a lock on downstream sale to one customer.

    I would submit that I can prove you wrong because there are already successful examples of true capitalist supply and demand systems that started with the federal government as >80% of the demand.

    There are public-private partnership models that looked quite the same in their early years, and now are very commercial BECAUSE (some might say “in spite of of the fact”) the government funded 100% of the early capitalization.

    One model is the Internet. Al Gore even mentioned this “model” as being appropriate for space commercialization in his speech to the Xprize Cup Executive Summit in 2006.

    Another is the federal government development of advanced airplane technology for government needs (mostly national security).

    Another model is the “Kelly Air Mail” Act of the 1920s. There was not enough *proven* demand of “passengers” to raise the private capital for building an airline, but they were able to raise the capital with air mail contracts (for a government customer) in hand, plus the potential demand for passengers.

    BOTTOM LINE: You can have “commercial” industries and companies that are jump started by the federal Government. The key is to establish “commercial companies” owning and operating their key assets — and commercial processes throughout the business.

    METSCHAN:All the Jupiter’s hardware, integration, infrastructure and operations can be put out for competitive bid to suppliers already involved in providing launch services/hardware today. Further the materials that make up the system from aluminum plate to software can be procured from industries outside the space industry that are privately capitalized and largely supply private individuals improving the overall efficiency.

    The simple fact of private suppliers of hardware and aluminum is not enough to define it as commercial (I know this is definition of commercial for many in NASA — but that is the thought process of somebody who has done cost-plus acquisition all their life.) This is not enough to define the Jupiter as being “commercial”. If you can answer “Yes” to the following two questions, then Jupiter falls into the “commercial category”.

    1) Will these purchases be done under a firm-fixed price basis?

    2) Will a private company OWN and OPERATE the Jupiter system, and sell a super-heavy-lift transportation SERVICE to NASA (and other customers)?

    If you can answer “Yes”, then commercial industry practices will pre-dominate the entire process. If you answer “No” to either, then non-traditional practices will predominate.

    Who owns the assets, and is responsible for them and the practices — will drive the entire future of how this system is used.

    I will just note that COTS is structured to be on a firm-fixed-price basis, and that all of the bidders are U.S. companies who will own and operate their systems, and sell services.

    If Jupiter will be developed in the same manner as the COTS systems, then it meets the minimum definition of “commercial.”

    - Al

  • I didn’t think we were that far apart either. The word ‘nationalize’ brings up all of socialism’s failures and inefficiencies. Most of those are related to government taking over an existing privately capitalized industry. On the other hand I also agree though that the government has been instrumental in getting the initial capital base in place for what later became a good wealth, jobs and tax revenue generating capitalist enterprise for the country. So it’s a mixed bag when it comes to direct government involvement in industry.

    The closest example I can come up with for what I mean in the word ‘national launch system’ is along the lines of Airbus where organizations that compete in other markets work together on a national objective like the VSE. More along the lines of ‘America’s’ launch services team if you will.

    In answer to question two I would say yes where the ‘private’ company would be a consortium of private companies along the lines of profit/risk sharing partnership. It could be operated and shares sold apart from the founder entities as well with contracts within the consortium being renegotiated after so many units were produced. So the consortium could evolve overtime incorporating improvements and organizational changes when it closed the business case for the shareholders. Basically we would be placing the existing STS capital base under new private management. ‘NASA’ would be focus on the spacecraft and mission side of the VSE. The government launch services contract would still have some imminent domain clauses plus domestic hardware source requirements especially if the DOD was a major customer.

    In answer to question one I would say yes with two additional items added to the contract. One, the price per launch changes as a function of how many launches per year are purchased by the government. Two, there is a charge should the government decided to stop using the service. The profit margin would come from commercial launch sales since the incremental cost would be lower than the current fixed price being charged at that launch rate.

    What I would like to avoid is decommissioning yet again another tax payer funded heavy lift asset in favor of trying to stuff everything into 5m containers bid out to five different launch services company some of which are only one failure away from being forced into self insuring the next launch which only the deep pocket EELV club can afford.

    The Jupiter with the capital base paid for can operate at about $5K/kg (5 Jupiter-232 launches per year) even assuming we drag along the current high fixed cost structure of STS. Over time I’m sure the consortium could work down both the fixed and variable cost to maybe $4K/kg building in a nice little profit that pays out dividends to the shareholders, tax revenue for the government and provides capital for further operational improvements.

  • COTSadvocate

    Stephen,

    If you can persuade NASA to expand the COTS model — which used other transactions authority — to super-heavy-lift systems, that would be great!

    BTW, I note that the EELVs were also developed using “other transaction authority”. The EELV companies also knew that they would get a share of the follow-on “service contracts” from the DOD, when they each made their $500M private investment.

    I would suggest that whichever company, or consortium of companies, decides to develop the Jupiter system based on the existence of an OTA agreement (which NASA calls “Space Act Agreement”) and a follow-on “services contract” for so many flights per year, should be required to invest at least as much as the EELV companies did in the development of their EELVs. That is $500M.

    - COTSadvocate

  • Al Fansome

    Stephen,

    OK, I could agree to allowing the Jupiter to compete for commercial business if it was owned and operated by a private company, under an FFP OTA agreement — just as SpaceX is doing. This would mean there was a level playing field.

    However, I am highly skeptical that a major company, or consortium of companies, will be willing to sign a firm-fixed-price Space Act Agreement with

    The companies that have the skills to lead this kind of development — Boeing and Lockheed — will want to do this as a traditional-government cost-plus acquisition. They each have also been burnt by their EELV investments. Committing to develop these systems would involve a major corporate risk.

    Do you have any idea on who would bid this as FFP development, in the manner you have suggested?

    Who knows — maybe SpaceX would bid and win? He has basically stated that he wants to build a super-heavy-lift system? Or possibly Andy Beal will come back?

    - Al

  • He has basically stated that he wants to build a super-heavy-lift system?

    Yes, he calls it the BFR. I think (but could be wrong) that the acronym is for Big Falcon Rocket. ;-)

  • COTS Advocate,

    That is an excellent idea. If we could get the powers that be inside the beltway to sign up to the purchase of so many Jupiter launches at firm fixed price within a specified time frame we could bridge the ‘gap’ using private capital. That way we could push the government’s development expense using higher downstream Jupiter launch costs into a time frame in which the Space Shuttle and ISS cost expense is minor to non-existent.

    This would also free up government capital now to accelerate the Orion development. An Orion ISS variant which is composed of a Lunar class Command Module but an ISS class Service Module would weigh in at 10mT and could easily fly on a single CCB EELV thereby de-coupling the critical paths of the American based ISS access after the Space Shuttle retirement while still transitioning our existing heavy lift government capital base with private capital for a smoother workforce transition from STS to the VSE. The incentives needed to convince various powerful stakeholders all appear to be in the right place and in the same direction.

    This is starting to make too much sense altogether. The torches and pitch forks can’t be too far behind us now :)

  • Al,

    I understand that risk is important but let’s take a step back. The Jupiter-120 doesn’t require new engines and requires few modifications to the manufacturing, integration and launch infrastructure. The SRB’s work and they load the External Tank the same way they do now. The big risk if you will is that the External tank needs to be modified to take axial loads from its base and nose. In addition, the bending loads will be different. This is actually a simpler and more typical loading configuration though than the current side mounted configuration. While the loads in the External Tank (ET) will be different they will largely be solved thru changes in the milling thickness and joint design of the aluminum plates used to construct the tank already.

    The major assembly tooling and overall construction sequence of the ET will be very similar as well. By integrating the RS-68 engines into the Aft thrust structure and then joining it to the new ET you will have built the Common Core Booster of the Jupiter launch system.

    The other risk will be all the avionics and feedback systems but this is known quantity with a lot of the engine and flight controls already in service on the Atlas or Delta systems.

    Once we have this in place all we need to do is add a new contract for the Jupiter’s upper stage (more risky with a new engine and upper stage, maybe cost plus maybe not) and we have all the lift capacity we will need for the foreseeable future.

  • Al Fansome

    Stephen,

    If you really believe in what you have said above, you are wasting your time try to convince me about the technical merits, and this blog it not the right website for a technical discussion.

    If a corporation is going to own, and operate, and invest in the Jupiter system, then you need to convince a corporation to take on you Jupiter project, and make it their own.

    This is more a business decision than a political decision. The ESAS is likely to die in about 13 months, and if a corporation is not willing to step up to the plate to advocate your idea, and say they are willing to invest in this system, then you will have missed the boat.

    You have about 13 months to persuade one or more corporations to make your Jupiter project their own.

    If you want to argue anything here — it should be a policy or political issue. For example, you could promote the idea that NASA should develop super-heavy-lift using “other transactions authority”, which is a COTS/EELV-like approach.

    - Al

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