Congress, NASA

Shelby: NASA budget begins a “death march” for US human spaceflight

No surprise: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is not pleased at all with the White House’s FY11 budget proposal for NASA. “The President’s proposed NASA budget begins the death march for the future of US human space flight,” he states in the release. ” The cancelation of the Constellation program and the end of human space flight does represent change – but it is certainly not the change I believe in.”

And about commercial crew transportation? No surprise here, either. “We cannot continue to coddle the dreams of rocket hobbyists and so-called ‘commercial’ providers who claim the future of US human space flight can be achieved faster and cheaper than Constellation,” he says. “Those who believe that it is in our nation’s best interest to rely on ‘commercial’ space companies need only examine their current track record.”

“I will never support a NASA budget that does not have a robust human space exploration program grounded in reality,” he concludes. “Instead, it is the time to cement our leadership in space with a program we know will keep America at the forefront of space exploration. Constellation as envisioned successfully delivers that objective.”

41 comments to Shelby: NASA budget begins a “death march” for US human spaceflight

  • John Malkin

    I think the analogy for the little guy vs. big guy would be Southwest Airlines vs. Ted (United failed attempt at cheaper/better) vs. American Eagle. Southwest built from the ground up to be cheaper but still safe while United instead try to use the same aircraft, crew and mechanics as the regular United. This meant all the current overhead was burden on the new Ted. American Eagle is a little better since it operates separate from American which puts it between Ted and Southwest. So is Southwest bus approach better or American Eagle which still has some of the features of a standard airline.

    My question: Is the new ‘Commercial’ approach an example of Southwest or Ted or something else?

  • David

    The last thing I wanna see is this debate get dragged down to the level of cable news politics, it looks like that’s where its heading though. At least NASA got a budget boost to pay for the billions and billions of press interviews they’ll have to give in the next 2 weeks.

  • MrEarl

    Sorry John but what ever analogy you were trying to propose dose not apply.
    What we have here is an established industry that have been developing manned and unmanned capsules and launchers for over 40 years. They are developing a new capsule specifically for space exploration beyond LEO, with all the inherent difficulties that entails. On the other end we have one company that has had only two successful test of its launcher and no experience in developing a LEO capsule much less anything that can get beyond.
    This is the end of US manned space flight for the foreseeable future.

  • Major Tom

    “What we have here is an established industry that have been developing manned and unmanned capsules and launchers for over 40 years… On the other end we have one company that has had only two successful test of its launcher…”

    And established industry won’t compete for commercial crew or HLV development?

    Think before you post.

  • MrEarl

    @ MT
    Open your eyes and get out of your dream would.

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    The title of new movie.

    Description:
    Watch the systematic dismantling of a once proud space effort by duopolist bankrupt politicians and their crony corporatist friends who have driven the United States space effort into the ground.

    Actors:
    Republican and Democrats

    Now showing in a public theatre near you where Americans continue to vote for the same flawed policies Ad nauseam !

  • Major Tom

    Even setting aside the hyperbole, Shelby’s press release is chock full of falsehoods — embarressingly so:

    “A critical component of Constellation, the Ares I rocket, completed a successful test flight in October of 2009.”

    No, Ares I-X flew, not Ares I, and it was not a successful test flight. Two parachutes critical to Ares I’s safety and cost failed, among other anomalies.

    “Disregarding Constellation’s progress”

    What progress? After five years of Constellation development, we’re still at least seven (likely nine) years from a domestic civil human space flight capability.

    “‘commercial’ providers who have failed to fulfill current contracts with NASA to deliver even cargo to the International Space Station.”

    The COTS contractors havn’t completed any cargo delivery milestones because those milestones are still in the future.

    “There is no other rocket today that is as safe [as Ares I]”

    Ares I has never flown. Every other rocket that’s ever launched successfully is demonstrably safer than Ares I.

    “We cannot continue to coddle the dreams of rocket hobbyists”

    A multi-billion dollar company with 20 years of experience launching government and commercial payload to orbit and beyond using multiple launch vehicles developed in-house is not a “hobbyist”.

    And I’m not even talking about the company in Decatur, Alabama with even more experience.

    “the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel… stated in their 2009 report, that no commercial manufacturer ‘is currently human-rating requirements qualified, despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary.’”

    Because, as the ASAP also wrote, NASA has not developed those human-rating requirements.

    “eliminated in lieu of rockets repeatedly deemed unsafe for astronauts by NASA’s own Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.”

    The ASAP didn’t deem any rocket design unsafe. They pointed out gaps in NASA’s safety definition process for these vehicles.

    “It makes little sense for NASA to establish yet another social welfare program for these ‘commercial’ companies.”

    Paying for engineering development deliverables and services rendered is not “welfare”. It’s business.

    “On Friday, India announced they will be ready for their first manned space flight by 2016.”

    No, India’s space agency has plans to maybe fly by then if their program gets funded.

    “Instead, it is the time to cement our leadership in space with a program we know will keep America at the forefront of space exploration. Constellation as envisioned successfully delivers that objective.”

    How?

    By waiting until at least 2017 (probably 2019) just to get back to LEO with Ares I/Orion? When the ISS is ready for reentry?

    By waiting until 2030 for an HLV capability? And then not having any money to develop the landers and deep space capabilities necessary to make use of that HLV?

    Please…

  • Major Tom

    “@ MT
    Open your eyes and get out of your dream would.”

    Thanks for your insightful, thoughtful, and on-topic response backed up by considerable logic and evidence.

    Sigh…

  • sbwolfe035

    I am hoping congress will keep eveything alive until we can get rid of this admistration. Just think how proud we will be when the Chinese make it to the moon and we have to bum rides into space.

  • Bill

    Commercial space is a great idea, but I fear it’s a dead end. Space travel to LEO is still dangerous and difficult, even after all these years. Commercial human flights will go fine until the day an accident happens which results in LOC. (It’s not a matter of if, but when.) When that bad day happens, there will be much posturing in Washington by senators to cover their rear ends. “How did we get tricked into thinking commercial space would be so safe?” will be the mantra. Then an accident board will tell Congress that human space flight should be turned back over to NASA, and we will be back to square one.

  • “Watch the systematic dismantling of a once proud space effort by duopolist bankrupt politicians and their crony corporatist friends who have driven the United States space effort into the ground.”

    Wow, that’s one of the highest densities of nearly meaningless political buzzwords I’ve ever seen in one sentence. Kudos to you.

    “What we have here is an established industry that have been developing manned and unmanned capsules and launchers for over 40 years.”

    And by the time any lunar architecture actually launches it’ll be 60 years of experience. I’ll also point out that Apollo and the STS orbiter were both constructed by North American Aviation, now a part of Boeing. Boeing didn’t get the contract. Lockheed Martin did. LockMart has exactly the same amount of experience building manned capsules as SpaceX, ie none. They have drawn up proposals for capsules in the past, but none of them have left a drafting table until they started building the Orion test articles.

    “They are developing a new capsule specifically for space exploration beyond LEO, with all the inherent difficulties that entails.”

    Orion was never the problem. Orion was good engineering from what I’ve seen. It was the Ares I/V architecture that was deeply problematic. If all they had to develop was Orion/Altair the infamous time line and budget problems constellation has would be out the window. Now if we can get a heavy booster or even an architecture that doesn’t require a heavy booster that uses Orion or some variant thereof as it’s capsule we might be talking.

    “On the other end we have one company that has had only two successful test of its launcher and no experience in developing a LEO capsule much less anything that can get beyond.”

    So a new aerospace company is dead on arrival just because it hasn’t done it before? Musk may not have proven his mettle yet, but he’s not a “hobbyist” by even the broadest stretch of the term. Falcon 1 had some issues, but saw success after fewer missions than either the Delta or Titan programs did in their ballistic missile days. I’ll give Titan/Delta huge credit as they were developing in an era where space was brand new, but let’s not pretend their systems shook out perfectly from day 1.

    I don’t think there’s any basis for saying either program, SpaceX or constellation, has any better chance of flying than the other. The difference is that SpaceX will do it sooner and cheaper and will have far more flights with cargo before we ever put people on it than constellation. On top of that if something goes horribly wrong with Falcon 9/Dragon we just stop sending them money and they will go bankrupt in an orderly fashion, no tax money necessary. If something goes wrong with constellation we’re looking at hundreds of millions to wind down plus massive budget fights in congress (like we’re seeing now).

    We’ll know as soon as next month if Falcon 9 will fly. We won’t know if Ares I will fly intil the middle of the decade. By the time the 2011 budget comes into effect we’ll already know if Dragon can make the flight to ISS. It’ll be almost two presidential administrations before Ares I would fly even on the most optimistic timeline.

  • common sense

    Sen. Shelby… Ah Sen. Shelby… Commendable efforts to save your cash cow. I have to say impressive efforts. Any interest out there to vote this nice Senator out of office? I mean since all he’ss saying is essentially wrong he either is incompetent or he’s lying. So what is it? What is it about headless chickens running around with no aim??? Hopefully soon the pain will be over and we’ll be able to get started some serious work.

    When I think that someone like Sen. Shelby actually votes on way more important things than NASA, like wars or healthcare, I think it is scary, very scary!

  • Robert G. Oler

    John Malkin wrote @ February 1st, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I think the analogy for the little guy vs. big guy would be Southwest Airlines vs. Ted (United failed attempt at cheaper/better) vs. American Eagle…

    that analogy I would draw is SWA as opposed the Brannif efforts to stay in business.

    The issue quite frankly is not one program against another, it is the ability of “programs” to survive and adapt to changing times.

    It is fairly clear that NASA and NASA’s program of record cannot adapt to the changing situations of The Republic, indeed they seem to be evolving simply to meet NASA internal evolution.

    Folks who are “moaning” we lost the moon, are acting as if the program of record was going to produce the moon in any reasonable time frame or at any reasonable cost or was going (even if those things were accurate) to produce a effort that was radically different from what is done on ISS.

    the first two things (reasonable cost and schedule) are just not accurate…nor even if they were was it accurate to say that the trips to the Moon were (in about two decades) going to be anything different then the various expeditions to the space station.

    Like Brannif before it corporate NASA has shown a stunning inability to adapt to the current world situation IF the Chinese were racing us back to the Moon it is clear that they would (if you listen to all the Chinese drum bangers here) get there before Constellation.

    From what I have had time to read, this change is a very reasonable one. It adequatly funds (with competent management…a big if) very good foundation activities for a space future that is far different (and better) then todays efforts.

    It doesnt mean “we have lost the Moon”…we never had it with Ares/Constellation. It opens the door for an amazing future.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    MrEarl wrote @ February 1st, 2010 at 11:53 am

    What we have here is an established industry that have been developing manned and unmanned capsules and launchers for over 40 years..

    OK so explain to me why on far more money then SpaceX has spent…actually flying rockets (some of which failed), that “established” industry has only flown one 1:45 or something test flight of a vehicle that was in no shape or form the final or even expected the configuration of the actual thing that they are developing.

    How do you explain a “derviative” of the shuttle system taking this long and costing this much money to develop?

    Robert G. Oler

  • “Commercial space is a great idea, but I fear it’s a dead end. Space travel to LEO is still dangerous and difficult, even after all these years.”

    And how is Ares I, a rocket which is still on the drawing board years later, any safer? How does a company that has equally never flown a human to orbit (Lockheed Martin) get a pass over SpaceX?

    “Commercial human flights will go fine until the day an accident happens which results in LOC. (It’s not a matter of if, but when.)”

    You mean like the space shuttle? What makes you thing NASA’s next latest and greatest will fare better?

    “When that bad day happens, there will be much posturing in Washington by senators to cover their rear ends.”

    Like there was after Challenger, Columbia, Apollo 1 and Apollo 13?

    ““How did we get tricked into thinking commercial space would be so safe?” will be the mantra.””

    I’ll remind you that constellation is being built by commercial companies. The only difference is that it’s a coalition of companies frankensteining a program to look like a single effort. But NASA is putting it’s full stamp behind it so that if something goes wrong it’s all on us, the American public, to deal with the “It’s not a matter of if, but when.” If SpaceX fails it’s Musk’s fault, we stop funding them and move on.

    “Then an accident board will tell Congress that human space flight should be turned back over to NASA, and we will be back to square one.”

    That’s your opinion. I think they’ll turn it over to the other providers they are funding, which will likely include some the same companies they are contracting constellation to. In a few days they are slotted to introduce their ‘space entrepreneurs’. It’s plural for a reason.

  • nonymouse

    The problem with commercial space, is that there is nothing commerical in space. Transportation systems are not a REASON to go to space. Those commerce reasons, like mining the asteroid belt, are far enough away that no-one in business can take a chance and invest on it. Commercial transport itself is fine, until you have a slump in need, and then the work dries up. Obviously govt. contracts are an iffy proposition, since they suddenly change their minds. Who in business is going to chance it? If you look at things like Virgin Galactic, just how many people are ever going to go for a little joy-ride? Far more than those who would even wish to go to LEO. LEO will be exponentially more expensive, and as has been mentioned already, the first loss of one of those tourist boats will cause the ‘industry’ to collapse. It’s a business model for a PR boost of an already existing Airline. It ISN’T an industry.

    The bottom line, is that we as a country have to decide that we will continue to lead into space. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out how we will do that. Nixon’s cancellation of Apollo was bad because it lead to a mindset of “we’ve already done that.” Going to the moon a few times isn’t the same as becoming ‘space-faring’. Having a nice little station at the low edge of space is also not space-faring. They are little steps on a Journey. As long as you always are of the mindset that you are going to take a journey, you will keep preparing for it. If you are of the mindset that you may or may not take a journey depending on the way the wind blows then you will never take it. Sure, eventually commercial space will be a viable thing, but it will have to be a follow on to tech that is established by a national group. Because, untill you have a Business Case for going to space you don’t have a reason. Right now the business case is primarily to take govt. contracts to space. There just isn’t that much other reason to go. How many new satallites need to be launched per year? This is why boosting payloads is so expensive. It doesn’t happen often enough to make economy of scale viable.

    Why does a country endeavour to explore? Because the discovery of new places and materials and goods is an engine for commerce. The explorers of years past were curious about stuff, but they were also looking for ways to make money. Columbus was looking for India, and the monarchs were willing to shell some cash on the chance he could find it.

    That will be commercial space.

  • Robert G. Oler

    MrEarl wrote @ February 1st, 2010 at 11:53 am
    On the other end we have one company that has had only two successful test of its launcher and no experience in developing a LEO capsule much less anything that can get beyond…

    so I missed the Ares launch to orbit? Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    nonymouse wrote @ February 1st, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    SpaceX and all the other commercial providers are the Columbus effort of our era.

    Robert G. Oler

  • nonymouse

    really? and where are they trying to go? what are they trying to do when they get there?

  • Major Tom

    “really? and where are they trying to go? what are they trying to do when they get there?”

    Humans to Mars. See:

    http://www.spacex.com/media.php?page=63

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    Mr. Cowing at NASAWatch points to some nice Shelby quotes showing how hypocritical the Senator is in his rhetoric about the private versus public sector:

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2010/02/shelby-was-for.html

    FWIW…

  • Robert G. Oler

    nonymouse wrote @ February 1st, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    really? and where are they trying to go? what are they trying to do when they get there?

    to a brave new world, it is called Free Enterprise.

    In The US governments do not create wealth (or at least they did not in the past) they create infrastructure and private enterprise creates wealth.

    Commercial aviation has changed our economy and our way of life. In the past (say 60 years ago) travel was the perview of the exclusive few…today one can go to Greece from Houston for under 500 dollars.

    I see your vision of exploration and opening the new world is a bunch of NASA astronauts going someplace and repeating tired lines that Rob Navias (spell) has cranked up.

    Exploration is about opening worlds for all of us. That is what commercial space will do

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    “LEO will be exponentially more expensive, and as has been mentioned already, the first loss of one of those tourist boats will cause the ‘industry’ to collapse.”

    The first time one of those new fangled commercial horseless carriages crashes and kills the passengers ford motors will collapse.

    The first time one those new fangled aero planes crashes and kills the passengers the industry will collapse.

  • nonymouse

    RobertG… The point I was making is that once you get the first round of astronauts there, and you move the tech forward enough to do it, THEN, the business world wakes up and says, hey, we can make some money out there. UNTIL you have a proven path, there is no money to be made out there. Space tranport isn’t a moneymaking operation until you need to get to space to DO something. Sure Musk may be aiming at mars, but is he imagining the best way is from LEO, or some depot? But who is going to build that part?

    and Vladislaw? Cars and Commercial air travel weren’t originally tourist in nature, they were for getting from point A to point B in less time. Virgin Galactic is all about being weightless for 4 minutes and then coming back. It’s purely a tourist thing. That is why a crash or a failure would be BAD for them, because there isn’t a reason to go, beyond curiosity. Imagine the fallout of a de Havilland Comet if it were to happen today? [Not that they didn't eventually figure it out. Nimrod et al.] If all you were flying on that vehicle was as a tourist… why would you go. Also? People flying VG. are VERY rich, and they will sue a company that fails into the ground.

  • Habitat Hermit

    Major Tom is right.

    aremisasling is right.

    Common Sense is right although I will gladly up the ante and say that Shelby shouldn’t only be voted out of office but investigated by the FBI or any other appropriate law enforcement agency (Secret Service?) and more than likely spend the rest of his life in jail together with a few other senators and specific former and current high level NASA employees..

    Robert G. Oler is right.

    Vladislaw is right in his satire of flawed arguments.

    nonymous the “business world” is already moving but the “business world” is not about mega-oligarchs and cost-plus contracting, instead it’s about commerce and entrepreneurial efforts like Orbital (COTS & CRS winner), SpaceX (COTS & CRS winner), Bigelow Aerospace (2 modules in orbit curently), Virgin Galactic (suborbital), Armadillo Aerospace (suborbital), XCOR (suborbital), Masten Space Systems (suborbital but with a higher focus on orbital capabilities sooner than most suborbital space companies), Flowmetrics (novel space worthy pump systems), SpaceDev/Benson Space Company (orbital and suborbital lifting body mini-Shuttle), Orion Propulsion (in-space propulsion, altitude, and attitude systems), and many more and yes as soon as they smell where the money is this includes the big old companies like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and their out of wedlock love child ULA ^_^ They’re not the source of the problems. And maybe we could even see t/Space (a commercial company aiming at cislunar manned capabilities and responsible for much of the pre-Griffin NASA VSE thinking) and AirLaunch (novel launch system technology) back as well.

    Sorry for the short list, all I could remember right now. There are plenty of other companies, just about everything NASA does in space right now already relies on them be it life systems, space suits, and even a potential competitor to Bigelow Aerospace when it comes to inflatable structures.

    Oh and Ad Astra Rocket Company (the company behind VASIMR) of course.

    AeroJet, Pratt & Whitney RocketDyne, there are so many. Your country –the US– is filled to the brim with commercial space companies!

    Car Analogy warning! ^_^

    nonymouse the fact is NASA doesn’t build rockets what they do is kind of like you wanting to have a new car but you decide it isn’t going to be like any existing car. And no; going to some of the numerous custom job workshops getting a blinged-out hotrodder isn’t your thing because that would be too affordable. Instead you decide to call all the biggest automakers and tell them you’ll buy –cost-plus, i.e. what it costs plus a nice fat guaranteed profit– such and such systems, one here and one there, and you want the automakers to work it all out while listening to your second guessing and specifications and make you a brand new car like none anyone could just buy. You’ll buy one, maybe two dozen if it works kinda ok, not hundreds, not thousands, not millions, and nobody else is ever permitted to buy your kind of car, it is all for your.

    Your car is obviously going to be orders of magnitude more expensive than just buying a Ford or Toyota like everybody else.

    nonymouse have you ever seen the Simpson’s car episode with the Homermobile? That’s pretty much it, that’s what NASA has done each time they wanted a big bad rocket. Sure they had to do it for Saturn, It’s understandable they did it with the Shuttle since it was a ground-breaking pseudo-RLV, but there’s zero need to do it for capsules (and they’re already buying regular Soyuzes from the Russians so why not do the same from US companies?).

    If you’re already buying a Toyota why can’t you buy a Ford for your second car or buy a Ford to sell your Toyota?

    Of course you can, the only ones who don’t want to get it are people like Shelby, people who are either dense as wood or rotten to the core from corruption.

    End of Car Analogies ^_^

    Obama has just now on the government side started the rescue of US manned spaceflight, the rescue of NASA as an agency so it doesn’t become just another federal mental institution. Obama has chosen to believe in the potential of private commerce and private entrepreneurial efforts. Obama has taken a Conserative, perhaps even a Libertarian stance on an issue, and certainly a Classically Liberal stance which moves away from Big Government.

    I completely disagree with Obama on a whole lot of stuff, hell some of the stuff he and his advisers say scares the **** out of me even though I have a pretty big ocean between him and me (the Atlantic), but this one he got right. Not just right, nearly perfect.

    In fact this is now the best space policy the US has ever had, replacing the VSE which at its time was also the best space policy the US had ever had.

    If space was all a US President had to deal with I’d say elect Obama for life with one condition: Bush Jr. would have to be his VP (Biden go eat a sock or something).

    Will there be challenges? Sure. Will there be flaws? Yup.

    But rather flaws and challenges in trying to do something that is right (the new direction) than flaws and challenges in trying to do something abysmally stupid (ESAS/Constellation/Ares 1-X/Ares I/Ares V/Ares Whatnot).

    The biggest challenge will be NASA but Bolden and Garver are there and hopefully aren’t going to turn all “Griffinite” on us (Griffin seemed pretty great at the start too), the next biggest challenge will be Congress. Congress… Congress which seemed to grasp the ideas of the VSE, Congress who managed to make a nice little report known as the Aldridge Commission Report that got the VSE straight, Congress which passed laws NASA broke… great works, but also the Congress that didn’t pull NASA by the ear when NASA defecated on the spirit and intent of the VSE, the Congress that didn’t kick NASA butt when NASA broke laws on purchasing commercially, the Congress of sc****gs like Shelby and a few others (only counting space issues).

    I’m not a US citizen, during the last year I’ve been despairing, the US messed up badly across the board and sure has a lot of challenges left but this, this, if Obama can get something so right (with good advice) then there actually is hope for Freedom leading the way in space as long as the US still represents Freedom (and I think the US electorate is going to ensure that in the coming elections by throwing out the imbeciles in both parties and in general get some fresh blood elected –maybe from third and fourth and fifth political parties too?– and more fresh air in Washington D.C:).

    Hope, not “Obama hope” but real hope because something has been done right.

  • @aremisasling,

    Well written for a chemical rocket advocate.

    Too many bloggers here are stuck under the same mantra that if only private concerns had the opportunity the U.S. effort would be progressive and advance.
    I see the issue from a nuclear perspective gov’t + industry cooperated with each other in proving nuclear power can deliver electrical current to millions. The AEC and the Commerce dept. played a big role in assisting GE, Westinghouse and a host of other companies to transefer technology, legal assistance, insurance, treaties etc. so private nuclear industry be initiated and grow despite anti-nuke critics.
    Commercial space is a good idea but in reality where advocates in increase access to space in democratizing space is concerned nuclear power and propulsion in space is the future and this can’t be realized without gov’t being involved with domestic and foreign partners.

    Never once has a civilian U.S. nuclear plant worker ever been killed as a direct result from a civilian nuclear power plant operation in the U.S. The same cannot be said with exploring space. Yes, it’s more difficult but gov’t labs and companies cooperated with each other it was an imperative that nuclear power was to generate electrical power efficiently and safely at a reasonable cost. The U.S.nuclear industry even transfered to France Westinghouse reactor designs which work to this day mainly because the French were ready and willing partners to make nuclear power central to French energy independence. Again, I don’t see the same drive to insure real foreign participation and coordination other than limited ISS/LEO space politics. ITAR is still the law and it hobbles reciprocal technologies with foreign partners in the aerospace field.

    I totally agree with Mr. Shelby. I don’t care if people accuse him of technical partisanship and his state’s contractual partners the fact is Ares 1-X was fine and its HLV component would have also been fine as a launch platform for nuke power and propulsion into space.

    Our only hope is that the public once again turn to imagining the possibilities of a robust space program for there respective citizenry.
    Where for once military expenditures take a back seat to peaceful civilian space efforts. Measured by the number of planetary soil-firma human space bases established !

  • Vladislaw

    actually air travel was tourist in nature, barnstormers took their traveling shows across the country selling tourist rides LONG before the government funded airmail services.

  • James

    His statement reads as if one or the other Griffins wrote it.

  • Habitat Hermit

    Bruce Behrhorst nuclear power sources in space for propulsion and other uses surely is the kind of topic where NASA and other parts of the US government like the DoE and that newly made equivalent of DARPA for energy (whatever it was called) all have a very important role to play as facilitators, enablers, and researchers.

    It also ties in perfectly with both Earth-based commercial efforts at miniature plants currently under way as well as the VASIMR propulsion system that would benefit greatly from it.

    I’m not sure whether I’m reading too much into it or not but I think the Obama policy is aware of this, quoting from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_nasa/ 2nd bullet point under the 2nd paragraph (my emphasis):
    “A vigorous new technology development and test program that aims to increase the capabilities and reduce the cost of future exploration activities. NASA, working with industry, will build, fly, and test in orbit key technologies such as automated, autonomous rendezvous and docking, closed-loop life support systems, in-orbit propellant transfer, and advanced in-space propulsion so that our future human and robotic exploration missions are both highly capable and affordable.”

    Advanced in-space propulsion most likely refers to nuclear propulsion of some sort including propulsion like VASIMR that benefits greatly from a nuclear (non-thermal battery) power source. It could also refer to solar sails and other more speculative technologies but I doubt it refers only to those without including nuclear. It would be very strange if it did.

    Considering Obama & co has shown a little bit of positive initiative on and acceptance of the importance of nuclear power plants down here on Earth I would think the administration has at least a tentatively friendly and open attitude towards nuclear power plants for space use.

    As for ITAR you’ll find people who agree with you just about everywhere you look. Particularly throughout NewSpace but also OldSpace companies and supporters agree, airspace companies agree, some defence companies probably agree, just about all ICT-geeks agree and at least a few ICT-related companies agree (latest victim: SourceForge.com being US based having to shut out developers who actually wrote the code in question in the first place if they’re from for example Syria, of course such a measure is completely useless and routed around effortlessly but it still showcases the kind of useless idiocy ITAR sometimes results in and why at least certain segments of ICT increasingly try to avoid or sometimes outright shun the US).

    The problem with ITAR isn’t in acknowledging the problem, it’s in finding a solution that works well and as intended; from the US point of view at least a solution that doesn’t unduly punish US companies and interests.

    As for Ares 1-X it wasn’t fine for any useful purpose and totally irrelevant to whether Ares I (an entirely different beast) or Ares V (yet again) and the overall Constellation program was fine or not. Not that those were anywhere near fine either for any number of different values and reasons and primarily time and cost although both of those were secondary effects of the original designs: the original design for Ares I using unmodified SRBs was most likely simply against the laws of physics (one simplified example of such: overall SRB grain characteristics i.e. flight profile as used with the Shuttle vs. very different max Q i.e. very different drag profile = a horrible mess where you just can’t use what you have) and the Area V has been through it’s share of redesigns as well including changing away from the original SRBs when Ares I had to and separately J-2X engine “refurbishment” turning into engine redesign. That’s the short version, there are no lack of serious issues as witnessed by the increasing cost and time spent.

  • Vladislaw

    something that has been overlooked in all the blog posts is one line from the budget document:

    “Restarts Plutonium-238 production w/ DOE to support future missions;”

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/420990main_FY_201_%20Budget_Overview_1_Feb_2010.pdf

    on page 15.

  • “…Restarts Plutonium-238 production w/ DOE to support future missions.”

    In NASA FY2011 budget is for RTG, MMRTG, and (Uranium Hydride or Thorium hydride) type nuke ‘batteries’ development for space ??

    This is kinda self evident, a must due ‘mission critical’ tech.
    Like the future Mars Lab Lander wonder if project was nixed.
    Anyway, all this technology is vital to NASA education (robotica) of our solar system but, again HSF is the key and glue that holds the space effort together without it the U.S. space program is in danger of irrelevancy.

  • richardb

    If memory serves me well, Obama proposed restarting P-238 in last years budget but Congress nixed it. I would like to see it restarted, kind of idiotic that we lost that ability and once again depend upon the Russians for future supplies. But I think that will be the extent of any future nuclear power source in space(ie heat from decay). The idea that we’ll go nuclear propulsion is laughable given what happened to Project Prometheus. Also does anyone know if Vasimir can be useful without a nuclear power plant? I’ve read that it must have one to generate the megawatts of power that a useful Vasimir engine would need. When Bolden was prattling about zipping around the solar system in a matter of weeks, I wonder what new technology he had in mind? Probably just got carried away.

  • Major Tom

    “The idea that we’ll go nuclear propulsion is laughable given what happened to Project Prometheus.”

    Prometheus was terminated by Griffin to generate funding for Ares I/Orion. Nothing to do with nuclear propulsion per se.

    “Also does anyone know if Vasimir can be useful without a nuclear power plant?”

    VASIMIR has multiple applications (station reboost, slow cargo propulsion, fast human propulsion, etc.) at different power levels (kilowatt versus megawatt). Very large and very efficient solar arrays could theoretically replace nukes even for the megawatt-class propulsion applications. But whether arrays can be deployed and maintained and whether technical issues like spacecraft charging could be overcome affordably remains to be seen. (But similar issues are true for a megawatt-class nuclear plant, which has also never been developed for and operated in space.)

    “When Bolden was prattling about zipping around the solar system in a matter of weeks, I wonder what new technology he had in mind?”

    I won’t pretend to read his mind, but there are equally capable in-space propulsion concepts and technologies, some of which have been around for decades, besides VASIMIR.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    Tom, you are full of of about Project Prometheus. But you sounded like an authority thought.

    It was canceled in 2005 because its costs had ballooned to 11 billion and NASA needed funds to pay for Shuttle return to flight, Hubble repair bills and lawmaker pork. Griffin hadn’t been in office one month before he canceled it. Ares I and Constellation didn’t exist. In fact Prometheus was a big R&D program for game changing, bold technologies to cruise around the solar system far faster than was possible. Sound familiar? It was nuked to pay for more pressing operational needs. I bet the airy fairy nonsense in Obama’s bill will also be cut to pay for pressing Nasa operations too. And soon.

  • Major Tom

    “Tom, you are full of of about Project Prometheus. But you sounded like an authority thought.”

    I’m full of “of”?

    What exactly does an “authority thought” sound like?

    “It was canceled in 2005 because its costs had ballooned to 11 billion and NASA needed funds to pay for Shuttle return to flight, Hubble repair bills and lawmaker pork.”

    Prometheus ramped down from about a half-billion dollars in 2005 to $100 million in the 2006 budget to pay for Ares I/Orion from the ESAS rollout in fall the prior year. Nearly all of that remaining $100 million went to close down the program.

    Also, you’re confusing the nuclear power and propulsion program (Prometheus which never experienced ballooning costs) with the JIMO mission (which did experience ballooning costs).

    “Griffin hadn’t been in office one month before he canceled it.”

    Wrong. Griffin became Administrator in April 2005. Prometheus ramped down in 2006, a year later.

    “In fact Prometheus was a big R&D program for game changing, bold technologies to cruise around the solar system far faster than was possible”

    Yes, it was. No one said it wasn’t.

    “I bet the airy fairy nonsense in Obama’s bill will also be cut to pay for pressing Nasa operations too. And soon.”

    Unlikely. With Shuttle retirement, NASA’s operational burden is going down.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    Tom, Prometheus was gutted late April, early May 2005
    see
    http://www.space.com/news/050512_nasa_prometheus.html

    Ares I hadn’t even been invented. The end of Prometheus was due to return to flight of Shuttle, restoring Hubble and a host of other reasons.
    I am not confusing nuclear power with nuclear propulsion. My point was that anything smacking of nuclear energy, is fraught with expense and NASA has virtually no chance to fund it. Look at P-238 for chris-sake. A working space qualified nuclear reactor is billions of dollars in R&D away followed by billions in developing a system to use it. Pipe dream in this climate.

  • Beg to differ with Major Tom;

    “Very large and very efficient solar arrays could theoretically replace nukes even for the megawatt-class propulsion applications.”

    -Solar Arrays tend to limited to the mass in area sq. largest flown 50kw.
    -vibration and uneven distribution and heat build up (problems with large arrays on ISS due to mechanical vibration (see press articles)
    -Dramatic drop in solar power with distance from sun AU distance even with thin film arrays.
    -induces collection loss and illumination non uniformity, reducing the PV efficiency.
    -Problems with fitting super large arrays in launch faring and deployment
    -Problems with solar arrays in soil-firma operations dust and weathering limitations reduce power.

    You can’t manipulate the physics from the source (sun) for solar power.
    You can manipulate the physics from the source (reactor) heat sinking.

    VASIMR is still feeble propulsion and is totally dependent on it’s power source. I has limited potential but it does not compare with NTR thrust power and development.

  • Major Tom

    “Tom, Prometheus was gutted late April, early May 2005″

    The FY 2007 budget, rolled out in February CY 2006, shows the Prometheus cut.

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/142458main_FY07_budget_full.pdf

    The Prometheus cut does _not_ show up in the FY 2006 budget, rolled out in CY 2005.

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/107486main_FY06_high.pdf

    And for what little it’s worth, the wikipedia entry for Project Prometheus also confirms the 2006 termination, not 2005.

    “I am not confusing nuclear power with nuclear propulsion”

    I didn’t say that. I said you were confusing the nuclear power and propulsion technology program (Prometheus) with the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission, which employed those technologies.

    “My point was that anything smacking of nuclear energy, is fraught with expense and NASA has virtually no chance to fund it. Look at P-238 for chris-sake.”

    A bad example. Congress rejected DOE’s Pu-238 production restart request last year because they want to see the users (NASA and classified users) contribute. It has nothing to do with RTG expenses, which are a very small fraction of the costs associated with a space nuclear reactor.

    And plutonium is Pu, not P.

    “A working space qualified nuclear reactor is billions of dollars in R&D away followed by billions in developing a system to use it. Pipe dream in this climate.”

    And tens of billions to finish Constellation is not?

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “Beg to differ with Major Tom”

    I wouldn’t argue with any of your points. I was just pointing out that “theoretically” a very advanced solar array could replace nukes even on the MW-class applications. I agree that solar has more technical obstacles to overcome than nukes at these scales. But nukes also have technical obstacles to overcome at these scales, and potentially greater costs and political issues.

    “VASIMR… does not compare with NTR thrust power and development.”

    There is no doubt about that at this point in time. Maybe someday VASIMR or another ion engine will catch up, but Rover and NERVA set a very high bar.

    FWIW…

  • “Beg to differ with Major Tom”

    “But nukes also have technical obstacles to overcome at these scales, and potentially greater costs and political issues.”

    It’s not a matter of costs or political issues those can be resolved.

    Again is say gov’t and industry are not in the same cooperative mood as in the ’70′s. It does not compare to today’s political realities where a larger independent political mindset upset with business-as-usual Rep/Dem duopoly is not getting the job done anywhere. Which is my point there needs to be mechanisms to establish a relationship again.

    Remedy:

    -political issues: Increase political participation allow muli-party elections.
    -costs issues: bring some sanity in the type of macro-economics that policy is set to. Keynesian economics only prolongs the economic crash replace with Austrian economics would bring common sense into affordability.

    “Maybe someday VASIMR or another ion engine will catch up, but Rover and NERVA set a very high bar.”

    At this point in time nothing trumps NTR by far. Rover/NERVA already did the work a template is already established its time now to put it to use for a real space program the public has waited long enough !

    It time for space agencies to get real and stop wasting money.

  • [...] press release.) For example, last year, within a hour of the FY11 budget proposal’s release, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) infamously criticized it as beginning “the death march for the futu…. This year, his office didn’t release a statement on the budget, at least as of Monday [...]

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