Congress, Lobbying, NASA

SEA: in search of timelines and destinations

The Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) will be conducting its annual legislative blitz next week on Capitol Hill, with plans to meet with over 100 congressional offices. In a press release the organization siad their general goal is to “strengthen” the White House’s plan for NASA. “While the new space plan has some extremely worthy goals, it needs more definition,” said Chris Carberry, chairman of the SEA’s steering committee. “We plan to urge Congress, NASA, and the Administration to strengthen the plan by adding ambitious timelines for achieving its goals and making sure that there are worthy destinations for the United States space program.”

116 comments to SEA: in search of timelines and destinations

  • Bill White

    Well said, Chris Carberry. Well said.

  • Robert G. Oler

    “We plan to urge Congress, NASA, and the Administration to strengthen the plan by adding ambitious timelines for achieving its goals..

    absent some overriding reason to meet those “goals” and “timelines” there is no reason to have them.

    Robert G. Oler

  • K.S.

    Forgive the ignorance, but why, if the endeavor proposed in the FY11 budget is truly “commercial”, is the option of government funding even on the table? If it is true that a competent “commercial” system exists now, then zero out NASA’s human space flight development budget entirely, and simply book a ticket.

    Further, why would a “commercial” system require congressional approval? Why can’t a private firm invest the capital on its own? Is it presently illegal to launch humans into space without Federal funding?

  • Forgive the ignorance…

    Sorry, but that kind of ignorance is hard to forgive. Particularly when it’s stupid sarcasm masquerading as ignorance. Not to say it’s not also ignorance, of course.

  • danwithaplan

    NASA has used “commercial” for a while now – USA, ULA, ATK, etc…

    The epiphany about “using commercial” now is just silly. Been there, done that. EELVs. The STS. Various other suppliers.

    This is a subsidy to a specific company. A “Stimulus package”. Let us be at least honest with ourselves.

    Nothing wrong with that, the French do it. The British do it. We did this stupid throwing people’s money around with GM, AIG, etc…

    The new program brings nothing “commercial” to the table – there is still only one customer – Uncle Sugar.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I do like the approach “we intend to improve the Obama plan” by restoring space exploration. And there is an argument about the space commercialization part. If, by 2020, the only market the newspace firms have is ISS servicing, can it be said to have succeeded?

  • K.S., commercial space is like nuclear power. Without government loan guarantees or incentives, nuclear power cannot be built. Investors simply don’t want to risk their money in that venture. However, we do know that at least ULA has been profitable and has sent the vast majority of all NASA related probes in to space. They may not currently be competitive with SpaceX as far as cost for a man rated vehicle, but that’s the beauty of a competitive environment. ULA standardizing an Atlas V for a manned rating is not inconceivable, and its costs per seat to the ISS will be comparable to that of Soyuz (which is $30 million less than STS).

    I think private space would have eventually succeeded, and I see COTS as simply a motivation to get it done quicker. COTS did for SpaceX what it would have taken, say, 200+ Falcon 1 launches to do.

    danwithaplan, I assume you’re continuing the discussion in the “commercial” oriented thread. Cost-plus commercial space is distinct from milestone based private space. ULA has sent the vast majority of NASA probes and satellites in to space, indeed, NASA has not launched one probe on its own hardware since 1999.

    STS and Cx were both programs where NASA, with cost-plus contracts, paid commercial space to build and maintain their program, this has led to NASAs manned program costing far more than it would under private space. For a simple example, look at the $80 million price tag for the STS main tank, a tank, that by all accounts, using the highest labor prices, using the most expensive aluminum, should only cost in the area of $20 million, at most. A very robust private space company would probably be able to go much lower than that. But since NASA relied on one company to produce the STS main tank, that price was non-negotiable, and indeed, the cost would only rise over time.

    Private space allows competition to foster, it allows prices to plummet, and it rids us of the monopolies we have relied on for so long. You may have once accurately said that COTS is a subsidy for one company, but that is no longer the case, as SpaceX (the one company I assume you are referring to) is not getting any more money until they fulfill COTS-A-C (after they launch their three DEMO flights and after they are doing cargo shipments to the ISS, will that be the case). The new COTS money is going to a variety of private space companies, all to develop new technology for manned flight in to space. NASA has yet to offer COTS-D (which Space Politics has discussed in the past). SpaceX, in particular, believes they can meet COTS-D requirements, but the COTS-D funding hasn’t been there. (COTS-D is COTS-Crew.)

    That’s the beauty about milestone based payments. You fail, you don’t get paid. Cx was continually failing, and every time money was just diverted back in to the program, money taken away from other good NASA programs. Private space, for example, could never afford capsule parachute failures over chute deployment issues. Such a trivial thing would never happen in private space (they could conceivably underestimate the chute requirements, which would constitute chute failure, but whatever chute they used would most certainly actually deploy). This happened twice with Orion. I call it the culture of “who cares, we get paid if we fail.” There’s really no other explanation since chutes, by their nature, are designed to deploy. Deployment failures are extraordinarily rare and inconceivable coming from trained engineers who should know all the ins and outs of their systems.

    Mark R. Whittington, I would say that it would not have succeeded if by 2020 we don’t have an orbital fuel depot that is at least half full of enough fuel to take a ship already being designed anywhere in the inner solar system. Does that sound too high of a standard? I don’t think so. It’s necessary for the continued life of COTS and for the continued life of manned space flight.

    But I agree with Chris Carberry that we need goals and strong definitions. If NASA requires COTS to meet milestones, it should expect it of itself. 2016-2018 for orbital fuel depots. 2020-2024 for the fueling of a cislunar ship using Biglow inflatable crew modules, which would orbit the moon or an LEO. 2026-2028 for a landing on the moon or an NEO. 2030-2034 for a manned Mars mission. This is probably an optimistic timeline, so feel free to add 2-4 years to all the numbers. (2028 for moon landing, 2034 for a Mars landing, etc.)

  • “LEO” in my last paragraph should be “NEO.”

  • red

    K.S.: “Forgive the ignorance, but why, if the endeavor proposed in the FY11 budget is truly “commercial”,”

    This isn’t about some ultra-pure ideal of commercial business. It’s about NASA achieving and helping to achieve the following:

    - getting the private companies they pay (which will happen with either the old or new plan) to pitch in funding for vehicle development so it’s cheaper for NASA
    - using services of companies that can offer those services on the market (thus spreading fixed costs and again making it cheaper for NASA)
    - giving the companies better incentives to achieve good results (cost-effective, on schedule, safety, etc) – they don’t get paid unless they succeed

    The service NASA needs doesn’t exist on the market now. If it did, NASA should just buy the services. However, commercial companies are apparently willing to compete to get in that market with some incentives – much smaller than the cost-plus payments – from NASA. That’s a good indication that NASA should go the COTS-type route for commercial crew. If commercial companies aren’t interested in getting in that market (they see no market, it’s too risky, etc) then NASA should go cost-plus. Thus cost-plus does have a role – just not in that particular market any more.

    K.S. “is the option of government funding even on the table?”

    Because NASA needs the service, it can’t afford the cost and schedule problems of the cost-plus / NASA owned approach, and the nation needs this market to develop.

    K.S.: “If it is true that a competent “commercial” system exists now, then zero out NASA’s human space flight development budget entirely, and simply book a ticket.”

    The service doesn’t exist now. Commercial space doesn’t have it, and NASA doesn’t have it. (Shuttle is being retired, and it doesn’t cover the needed service anyway – it can’t do crew rescue for the needed amount of time). That’s why NASA needs to get the service in place 1 way or the other.

    K.S. : “Further, why would a “commercial” system require congressional approval? Why can’t a private firm invest the capital on its own?”

    It can, but without the NASA development incentives, and without the NASA market, the risk and cost are apparently too high.

  • red

    Mark: “If, by 2020, the only market the newspace firms have is ISS servicing, can it be said to have succeeded?”

    Why do you assume the winners will be NewSpace firms?

    From whose point of view are you judging success? If NASA gets their ISS serviced for tens of billions of dollars less than the POR and on a faster schedule, from their point of view, that would be a huge success, if only a limited one compared to the potential.

    From the point of view of the commercial firms, it depends on what their profits look like. I think they’d be disappointed if that were the only market. I’d personally consider it a failure or a limited success. However, I’d be very surprised if that happens. Do you think the rockets (Taurus II, Falcon 9, Delta IV, Atlas V, or whatever) will only be used for crew transport to the ISS? How likely is that? With crew access being the biggest hurdle Bigelow and similar efforts have, and NASA interested in doing inflatable habitat demos, it seems that some barriers to that market may be falling. We already know there is a space tourism market. There are many other possible markets, too. Let’s give them a try. If every one of them fails with these barriers being lowered, maybe we’re just wasting our time with the whole HSF thing. I doubt that will happen though.

    Mark: “I do like the approach “we intend to improve the Obama plan” by restoring space exploration.”

    Exploration wasn’t removed by that plan, so it can’t be restored. It already got restored by getting rid of the Constellation POR that had no hope of doing anything until ~2035, when it would, in the vastly unlikely case that it made it that far, get astronauts on the lunar surface in an unsustainable way.

    Bolden already said they’re working out their specific plans on destinations and so on. Such “destinations and schedules” certainly didn’t do any good with the POR, so I hope they don’t take the Griffin approach with them. The way I’d do it is:

    - modest short-term (i.e. 5-15 years) destinations/schedules: early achievable ones like GEO, lunar orbit, and/or Earth-Moon Lagrange points using existing or very near-term rockets and other technologies, major commercial and international partnerships, and specific missions (tech demos, satellite or spacecraft assembly and/or servicing, lunar observations, refueling, lunar telerobotics, lunar probe deployment, or whatever)

    - long-term plan destinations/schedules: very rough plan, just an idea to set up some future administration (like “return to the lunar surface” or “continue deep space flexible path to E-S points, NEOs, and Mars orbit/Moons” or “beef up infrastructure at GEO, E-M points, and/or lunar orbit”, specifics would be filled in years later after details of robotic precursors, R&D, tech demos, and early beyond-LEO missions are known. The only reason to even make these rough plans for the future would be to give some focus to the near-term robotic precursors, demos, R&D, and early missions. The long-term plans would be considered to be highly subject to change.

  • googaw

    But I agree with Chris Carberry that we need goals and strong definitions. 2016-2018 for orbital fuel depots. 2020-2024 for the fueling of a cislunar ship using Biglow inflatable crew modules, which would orbit the moon or an LEO. 2026-2028 for a landing on the moon or an NEO. 2030-2034 for a manned Mars mission. This is probably an optimistic timeline, so feel free to add 2-4 years to all the numbers. (2028 for moon landing, 2034 for a Mars landing, etc.)

    Uggh. Five-year plans were bad enough, but this is just awful. How much is all this going to cost and who is paying for it? How much will it cost when the NASA man-rating bureaucracy gets through with it? Why would we expect NASA-designed infrastructure to be suitable for private commerce? What’s their track record in that area? What is unpredictable about manned flights to orbit the moon that they benefit from depots? How much gold-plating on the depots is required before they are safe enough for Senator Mikulski and her fellow astronaut fans? Refueling is a very dangerous operation — ask people who do ship-to-ship or air-to-air refueling. It’s a gratuitously bad idea to get astronauts mixed up in it, especially when Senators demand that wherever astronauts go billions be spent to try to make them safe. And what happens if the inflatable modules don’t work to NASA’s satisfaction? Do you gold-plate them to make them work for NASA or do you go back to tin cans with NASA throwing in yet more $billions?

    Don’t get me wrong, there are many good reasons to oppose Constellation as well. But the alternative as presented here is looking pretty lame. Is everybody in NewSpace to young to remember all the fantastic-sounding promises about opening up vast new hypothetical markets that motivated previous NASA “infrastructure”, the Shuttle and ISS? How are those big shots in the arm for “commerce” working out for us? Don’t be a sucker. Don’t forget.

    R&D on depots and inflatable modules are very important: they could very well end up being the game-changing technologies advertised. I strongly support such R&D. But you can’t predict just how they are going to change the game, so any plans you make based on them now will have to be thrown out. Setting deadlines for developing new technologies and then building speculative “infrastructure” based on the assumption that the technology will be developed and will meet the deadlines (and many other features you are counting on) is idiotic, as Shuttle and ISS should have taught us.

  • K.S.

    My small investment of “stupid sarcasm masquerading as ignorance” appears to have yielded a wholesale return.

    In case you missed my sarcasm, I am aware that no market exists for “commercial” systems. That was my whole point, and until such a market exists outside of Uncle Sugar this is nothing but a game. Personally, I suspect this is a campaign promise fulfillment – pure politics. As stated above, this brings nothing “commercial” to the table.

    Since only one corporation, the Federal Reserve, is allowed to print money and pass it off as US currency, where outside of government will the private companies get the funds to help pay for the development? Investors aren’t philanthropic. They fully expect to be paid back with more than they provided, and that surplus comes from sales to the US Government. When you think it through, it’s basically a convoluted Treasury bond with much higher yield.

    As long as a commercial market does not exist, there is no company that is going to be driven to reduce costs significantly. Only one company will win the contract, and all others will go out of business without customers. Without other “commercial” competition, its still a single source supplier with a single captive customer. It’s a monopoly, and human space flight is inherently expensive.

    Oh, and thanks, Rand, for calling me stupid.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ February 20th, 2010 at 6:40 am
    If, by 2020, the only market the newspace firms have is ISS servicing, can it be said to have succeeded?..

    yes.

    A good “marker” for success is “The vision for Space exploration” ie the bush plan you are a drum banger for.

    As I recall that “Vision” was announced in January 2004…so it has been going for at least a solid 6 years now.

    How much flying hardware has it produced..? ZERO
    How many crew hours in space has it logged? ZERO

    OK so assume that it keeps going…will any of it be flying by 2014? the 10 year mark that you suppose.

    At this point if the program were to continue Rocket Scientist Jeff H. who is in charge of the Ares 1 effort thinks that maybe just maybe by 2014 they will do Ares 1Y.

    How much money has Ares consumed to date…well around 6 billion dollars…how much more does it need to get to full up crewed config with an Orion capsule? Unknown.

    In synoposis by 2018, a good 12 years after Bush the last announced the project Ares 1/Orion might be flying to the ISS if and only if the effort gets all the dollars it needs.

    I dont think that the service contract to ISS is limited to what you refer to as “new space”…but yes if by 2020 we have solid recrew/resupply efforts to ISS and have done it on the dollars indicated…

    that is a success. At least it will be flying.

    I think we will do far more. YOu never know what free enterprise will come up with

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    K.S. wrote @ February 20th, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Forgive the ignorance, but why, if the endeavor proposed in the FY11 budget is truly “commercial”, is the option of government funding even on the table? ..

    for the same reason that there never would have been a DAsh 80 without the B47…or the “internets” without the government seed money.

    Learn some history

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    GuessWho wrote @ February 20th, 2010 at 9:28 am

    And Bowersox, while a much decorated astronaut with significant time logged in space and an Air Force pilot ..

    (from another thread)

    you must know another Bowersox then I do…Ken Bowersox who is associated with SpaceX now is no more an Air Force pilot, then I am.

    If you want to talk about Ken Bowersox and his role at NASA or SpaceX or the role of Safety in an organization…well lets make sure we are all on the same page.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    The original Apollo project was mainly a race to prove the superiority of American capitalism over Soviet communism. Capitalism won—but at the cost of creating, in NASA, one of the largest bureaucracies in American history. If the United States is to return to the moon, it needs to do so in a way that is demonstrably superior to the first trip—for example, being led by business rather than government. Engaging in another government-driven spending battle, this time with the Chinese, will do nothing more than show that America has missed the point.

    http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15543675

    it is hard to improve on this…the “vision” huggers simply have missed the point

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    In the early days of aviation, from the wright brothers, to the barnstormers and wingwalkers they were the heros of their day, both locally and nationally. The first Atlantic crossing made a hero out of lindberg. 50 years later as commercial aviation took off and everyone started flying those early pioneers and heros are no longer remembered by most or celebrated. The new heros of avaiation were now the high flyers, the test pilots, the chuck yeagers of the world … until the space program.

    Suddenly a rocket plane flying to a suborbital height was not as fantastic as traveling into space and landing on the moon or living on skylab.

    Now, 50 years later, with space tech more common and commercial space access about to begin, is NASA faced with the same thing? If 100′s or thousands of Americans begin flying into LEO each year making it more common, going to take away NASA’s heros?

    Make them forgotten as Phoebe and Vernon Omlie?
    http://www.historynet.com/phoebe-and-vernon-omlie-from-barnstormers-to-aviation-innovators.htm/1

  • googaw, the major cost would be engine development, we have a decade for that, though. Other than that costs should be relatively low. You’re saving a lot of NASA money to get in to LEO, by almost an order of magnitude. That’s a very big chunk of money. The reason you want milestones on a 2 to 4 year basis is so that each political leader in each time period “owns” their portion of that space. So if they want they can double the research and development on a specific path in order to get it done in their administration. Because the other aspects of the program wouldn’t rely on doubled funding they are not hurt, their research and development stage is incremental. If you wind up canceling an incremental project, you wind up “disowning” it, and if we’re making milestones the public wouldn’t like it. Cx was making no milestones so many people are ignorant of what it even was. Ask anyone on the street, they know what ISS is, they have no idea what Cx is. They know what HST is, they know what MER is.

    As Brent Sherwood pointed out, we already do refueling in space, and we know how to do it well. And I would point out; we already do construction in space (have you seen the recent pictures of Cupola?), and we do it well. We even know how to, in principle, do repairs in space (HST, ISS solar panels- silly engineer design flaw caused the latter which not many people know about).

    You get two main benefits from fuel depots. 1) Private space is allowed to flourish as fuel delivery companies. 2) Your mass to LEO is reduced significantly since you don’t have to bring your fuel with you. So those “small time” private space guys can send up a ship on their heavy lift option, connect to the fuel depo, and head on over to the moon.

    Obviously fuel depots and inflatable habs are still theoretical, but I believe we have enough knowledge, at least in the former, to know how to get it done. And I should not overstate grand visions of space, but rather, be realistic about it.

    BTW, ISS has been getting refueled on a regular basis by autonomous cargo shipments. They have to reboost, after all. Cryogenic storage on orbit is a bit of a different matter, but Brent Sherword, at least, believes that it’s not insurmountable. If we can’t develop it in 9 years then something is wrong. It’s not like developing a rocket (and a rover and super heavy lift, and a return module, all at once). You put a dozen or so guys aside and have them develop it over the span of a decade with a total cost of a few billion (just a couple of hundred million a year). It’s doable.

    K.S., without getting into a deep discussion about money, the Federal Reserve must pay interest on the money it prints, therefore making it magically ‘valuable.’ If it did not do this then it would be more like the paper that it really is. So when the US government gives money to private companies to do something, that money is already interest bearing, like it would be if two private companies did business with one another.

    The key is that the government is not paying private companies unless they succeed. That’s a huge deal. Private space must get investors on board (and at least in SpaceX’s case, a third of their development money is through private investment; yes COTS is a big infusion of money, no doubt, but it’s not like they’re not getting investment).

    I agree that having one company being involved in COTS would be bad, but as far as we can see, there are at least a half a dozen COTS companies. SpaceX as the COTS leader is only because they won the bidding wars above everyone else. They passed all of the review milestones. They earned it. But as I said before, when you look at STS or Cx, you have companies who themselves had a monopoly on certain aspects of the programs. The Space Shuttle main tank was built by one company. The SRBs were built by one company. As far as COTS is concerned it appears that NASA has indeed diversified who is getting money, and it doesn’t look like they’ll just stop COTS funding when one company is able to fulfill NASAs needs. $300 million is a veritable bargain to insure SpaceX is capable of lofting cargo to ISS (the $1.6 billion is for completion of COTS-A-C and all 12 cargo shipments plus 3 demos, NASA has paid less than $300 million so far). It’s crazy.

    Robert G. Oler, I really like your criteria for success (but I expect more of NASA). It would be true that if Cx was “successful” said milestone would definitely be “successful.” :)

  • Space Shuttle Man

    After reading silly arguments for days, it is clear the smart move would be to build four new Space Shuttles. Then we’d be good for another thrity years. We’d keep the current three flying in the interim. The great thing about this plan is that it is sure to produce results!

  • Ferris Valyn

    Space Shuttle Man

    Why not? You have your choice
    Dragon/Falcon 9
    Orion-lite/Atlas V
    Cygnus/Taurus II
    Dreamchaser/Atlas V

    Pick the combination you like

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/001/100220rollout/

    If SpaceX makes it into orbit with the “9″…Ares huggers heads are going to explode!

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    Josh Cryer wrote:

    “You put a dozen or so guys aside and have them develop it over the span of a decade with a total cost of a few billion (just a couple of hundred million a year). It’s doable.”

    Are you suggesting NASA do this with a standard cost plus type program or do it through a COTS style program where it is commercial doing it or by using cent. type challenges to the private sector?

    Whatever mechanism is chosen to go foreward with fuel depots it is my hope it is done commercial from the onset.

  • Space Shuttle Man

    Ferris Valyn

    What can take 25 tons into space, along with a seven man crew,
    Repair a space telescope and fix a satellite or two
    The Space Shuttle can, oh the Space Shuttle can
    The Space Shttle can ’cause it’s reusable and lands on a runway real good

  • googaw

    major cost would be engine development

    Yet another gratuitous project to weigh down your grand plan and suck funds away from the R&D that is needed. The main technologies that need to be demonstrated are depot technologies and, separately, long-term storage of cryogenics. They could be demonstrated separately on low cost satellites. You say you advocate a low-cost approach and small satellites would indeed be a low-cost approach. But no, you want to combine them into one big NASA gold-plated giga-mission. Another fan of this approach was advocating throwing Senator Mikulski’s precious astronauts into this experimental refueling mission as well! A nice recipe for adding many gratuitous billions of dollars in NASA man-rating bureaucracy in a doomed effort to try to make safe a very dangerous operation (ask ship-to-ship or air-to-air refuelers). Depot fans seem to be remaking every category of mistake the Shuttle fans of old made.

    The reason you want milestones on a 2 to 4 year basis is so that each political leader in each time period “owns” their portion of that space

    That worked out really well for Constellation, eh? No, what we really want to do is break it up into multiple 3 year R&D demonstration projects that are completely separate. If one piece of R&D gets cancels or changed or turns out not to work as expected, the separated R&D efforts can keep going. There’s no reason a small satellite (or two for the refueling demo) can’t be prepared in 3 years. A gold-plated extravaganza certainly can’t. But it will become like Constellation a behind-schedule boondoggle that like Constellation makes a visible target to cut in the upcoming decade of budgetary tightness (have you seen the national debt lately?)

    You’re saving a lot of NASA money to get in to LEO, by almost an order of magnitude.

    Completely hypothetical hype about RLVs, the same thing we heard with the Shuttle. At least the Shuttle had already had useful satellites to launch. Here the propellant may or may not be useful. We are already seeing a big move away from chemical towards electric propulsion in deep space. Where is your source of prophecy that you are predicting that certain specific chemical propellants will make a comeback in decades to come, and we all must now hitch our future spacecraft designs to those propellants? Depot fans are demanding that NASA in future decades purchasing X tonnes of specific propellants and plan their missions decades in advance around it, with the propellant choices locked in long before the depot R&D has even been completed. Utterly ridiculous.

    You get two main benefits from fuel depots. 1) Private space is allowed to flourish as fuel delivery companies.

    This is nonsense that relies on yet more NASA funding to buy propellant that they probably won’t need. (Of course, if you have the falsely certain view of the future that you have inherited from the NASA fans of old, you know for certain what NASA is going to need in future decades, don’t you? You’re so smart, not like the guys predicting how Shuttle was going dramatically lower the cost of launching satellites, or that ISS was going to revolutionize space manufacturing, or the old Soviets with their five year plans, right?)

    2) Your mass to LEO is reduced significantly since you don’t have to bring your fuel with you.

    Spectacular physics fail! If the mission runs its predicted course you have to burn the same propellant one way or another — somewhat more actually to launch and move around the depot itself. The win only comes on missions that remain within the supply line but face *unpredictable events* and thus need flexibility, as I have described. You can’t even figure out the biggest selling point of the idea you are plumping for, instead you make up new laws of physics.

    are still theoretical, but I believe we have enough knowledge, at least in the former, to know how to get it done.

    No, we do not. DoD has been treating even storable propellant refueling as an R&D project. Long-term storage without loss of liquid oxygen, much less liquid hydrogen, has not been demonstrated. This wishful thinking about the state of the project adds tremendous risk and is yet another recipe for destroying real R&D in this areas. The design of your single giga-mission means that every piece of R&D causes risk to every other piece of R&D. Instead of doing real R&D, i.e. trying new things to see what works, the most conservative choices will be made — so much for progress. It will inevitably be cut back and gold-plated, and faces risk of every part of the R&D being canceled, every time the unexpected happens, as it will, as this is unproven technology.

    As separate R&D projects (one for a depot with storable propellants, another for long-term storage of liquid oxygen, xenon, and argon) it’s a great idea, which I strongly support. As a combined extravaganza it’s quite a bad idea. Until the in-space demonstrations of it have been done, counting on it to be completed “infrastructure” is a recipe for disaster, much less locking in the design of future missions around it, much less throwing Senator Mikulski’s precious astronauts into the middle of experimental refueling operations.

    From the NASA fans of old you’ve inherited a preposterous false certainty about hypothetical technologies and markets, about a future that is full of unknowns. False certainty is the very thing that got us gold-plated monstrosities like Shuttle and ISS. Please for the sake of us all drop it.

  • lkjlkjlkj

    “ambitious timelines” is that what constellation was? timelines that could not be met? is that what people want again?

  • Space Shuttle Man

    “ambitious timelines” is that what constellation was? timelines that could not be met? is that what people want again?

    If we extend the Shuttle will building replacements we can have continuous access to LEO. And, we won’t be fishing capsules out of the ocean.

  • Subject: Fuel Depots

    Questions: An inttesting idea but … how to we get all that fuel into orbit? What launch vehicle get it up there? Unless we are going to the Moon or Mars why do we need them and if we are what spacecraft will be use? And, why cancel Orion just to restart a similar program a few years later if we are do beyond LEO missions?

  • Oh, and thanks, Rand, for calling me stupid.

    I didn’t call you stupid. I said your attempt at sarcasm was. For all I know, you may be brilliant and just playing stupid on the Internet.

    The original Apollo project was mainly a race to prove the superiority of American capitalism over Soviet communism.

    No, it was a race to prove the superiority of democracy over totalitarianism. If it had been a race to prove something about capitalism, it would have been done entirely differently (e.g., more like what is being proposed now).

  • googaw

    NewSpacers, take some advice from Elon Musk:

    “[D]ue to the unknown unknowns surrounding a new vehicle development…I’d rather not specify an exact day and definitely not a time. That would imply greater predictive ability than is possible.”

    http://www.spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/001/100220rollout/

  • googaw

    More from

    http://www.spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/001/100220rollout/

    Its payload will be a test article of the company’s Dragon capsule…The Dragon on the inaugural flight will stay attached to the second stage of the launcher after arriving in orbit.

    It seems that SpaceX has learned a good lesson the hard way: don’t launch paying customer payloads until you’ve proven that the system works.

  • Vladislaw

    John wrote:

    “Questions: An inttesting idea but … how to we get all that fuel into orbit? ”

    How does any gas station get the fuel to sell? Other commercial providers.

    One of the great things about an orbital fuel station is launch vehicle types do not matter at all. Any commerical launch provider from the USA, Russia, Europe, India, Japan, China, etc etc can launch fuel.

    And as in the terrestrial fuel markets, you buy different loads at different prices and sell it at the retail level for the average price. I do not see how that would differ in space in the long term. A fuel seller in space will try and buy as much as possible from the lowest, most reliable seller, make up any shortfalls from other sellers and sell to the retail purchaser at an average cost. Fuel and O2 deliveries are products that wont matter if it comes up in lots of 2.5 tons or 20 tons. As long as enough is delivered by the international commercial launch services to the fuel depot to tank up an outbound, space based, spacecraft it wont matter in what lots it actually arrived.

    When you fill your gas tank at the gas station, does it matter to you that 2-4 gasoline wholesalers delivered the gasoline? Or do you prefer gas stations that only have a single source of supply?

    “Unless we are going to the Moon or Mars why do we need them and if we are what spacecraft will be use? ”

    That is EXACTLY why we do need them because we DO want to goto Luna, Mars, the moons of mars, asteroids, and lagrange points. That is why we do not need a specific destination and a specific time and a specific earth launched system to go there. First lets see if we can actually do the gas stations and advanced propulsion. Then build the robot ship that can utilize those technologies like JIMO and test it then move to human crews.

    “why cancel Orion just to restart a similar program a few years later if we are do beyond LEO missions?”

    Because Orion is designed to be launched from earth and then dumped back into our gravity well. Let commercial handle the “pop & drop” earth to LEO/LEO to earth and let NASA do the space based “gas n’ go” vehicle.

  • Robert Merkel

    Silly question: can we do Mars “safely” with chemical rocketry, fuel depots or not?

    I’ve read stuff that suggests the mass requirements to shield a crew of six on a standard chemical rocket-propelled Mars mission are up into the hundreds of tonnes.

    Personally, I’m pretty doubtful about the LNT risk model that is used to calculate the health risks of a specific radiation dose, but I also don’t expect it to go away any time soon.

    But, anyway, on that basis, either Mars missions are going to require a hell of a lot of mass delivered to orbit before they can got, or propulsion other than chemical rocketry.

    Am I wildly off-base on this?

  • Ferris Valyn

    Space Shuttle Man,

    I think you’ll need to work on your poetry

    Dragon crew size – 7 people
    Orion-lite – 7 people
    Dreamchaser – 7 people
    (we’ll leave Cygnus & Blue Origin’s unknown off the list)

    Cost of 25 tonnes via Space Shuttle – $450 Million
    Cost of 25 tonnes via Atlas V – $254 Million
    Cost of 25 tonnes via Falcon 9 – $90 Million

    With regard to satellite repair
    1. Cost to send a shuttle to repair satellite – see above
    2. Setting up a backup shuttle to go on a rescue mission should something go wrong – see above costs
    3. How many shuttle missions actually went to repair satellites?
    4. If memory serves me correct, JWST has a docking capability. and there is no reason we could do something similar for Hubble. And we could easily launch a 2nd vehicle, that brings up supplies (and looking at the price cost, its also cheaper to do it that way)

    Oh, and landing on the runway – Orion-lite & Dreamchaser also

  • googaw, there is never a certainty that we’ll get a working system, but since we’re in a speculative stage, we can state things like “if we have orbital depots private space has a destination and costs will be reduced.” That’s a basic economic question. As far as cryogenic storage on orbit, it depends on your fuel. If you’re using ammonia it would not be nearly as hard if you were storing LOX/LH2 (ammonia can work for an NTR engine, which would be a great engine to go after with collaboration with the Russians; it also works well with arcjet and VASIMR, but I question our ability to make a lightweight space reactor).

    On orbit propellant storage is not the esoteric and strange technology that you make it out to be. In fact, ESAS did studies on on orbit propellant storage and decided not to use it (though it reduced our need for super heavy lift). NASA has done little research in to building it out. I do support testing such technology with small test cases, mind you. Obviously you don’t go headlong in to that sort of thing without technology feasibility tests. And I don’t think I ever said total mass to LEO for your ship+fuel was lower, as that doesn’t even make logical sense given what I said.

  • Robert Merkel, I’m a big fan of GCNR but I don’t think our political environment will allow for it. There are some plans (PDF) for a 4 month trip with a 90 day stay on Mars which come in under 200 mt. But that’s probably too optimistic. Long term radiation exposure is a concern. Some societies here on Earth get 6 times the total dosage of average from low level background radiation, with no statistically significant ill effects (they just live in areas with higher background radiation), which is one reason some Mars advocates don’t think it is a big deal.

  • Storm

    Am I wildly off-base on this?,

    No I think you’re on target. The radiation question is critical. It seems NASA doesn’t have very clear definition on the radiation threat posed by a Mars Mission. The consistency of Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) doesn’t seem to be clear, so NASA claims that the risk can vary.

    http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/postsecondary/features/F_Space_Radiation_Project.html

    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/17feb_radiation.htm

    http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/support/researching/radiation/brochure1/

    As you might surmise from reading the second article our ability to access water will fundamentally increase our ability to shield ourselves in the long term. Hydrogen seems to be the most capable shield. I wonder how it compares to an H2O matrix inside an inflatable bladder surrounding the crew quarters around 12′ thick as apposed to pure Hydrogen. Water is extremely dense, so I can only wonder how dense hydrogen can be compressed, or if it would even need to be as highly compressed.

    When we start getting into HSF to Mars I agree that the scenario is worth discussing, because it opens up our thought processes to what kind of technologies we will need in the long term to get there. But I’m a little worried when I hear that “we need to have a mission oriented program” when we’re not even testing the basic propulsion mechanisms and radiation shielding that will be needed to get us safely to Mars. I realize that NASA is doing ground testing, but that’s not good enough for me. If you were going to discuss a HSF mission just beyond LEO like Van Allen Belt/GEO I would feel we were getting some real progress. Concrete mission plans need to be realistic at this point. Super long duration missions out of the gate would be overly optimistic for a mission design. I think Humans should hunker down in LEO for the next 5-10 years while we quickly develop propulsion systems like prop depots and plasma boosts to get us up and down the gravity well, from LEO to GEO. Once we have that capability I will be very confident in a Mars Mission because we will have the infrastructure and high radiation mitigation issues worked out through real mission tests – not just laboratory and conceptual ideas on paper.

    A VASIMR boosted, or other type propulsion system that carries a robotic or human Logistics Module/assembly repair module up and down the gravity well, and one which would have the automated docking/refueling capability would give us the basic foundation of what we need to go to Mars cost effectively in the long term . Whether its human rated, or just robotic is a matter of cost and safety. Both types of development are needed in my opinion. But I would like to see something like this evolve in ten years, so it is not subject to as much termination as a program like Ares was. Once we got to this point and things were working well, then I would start scratching my chin and asking myself whether we wanted to spend the big bucks to go to Mars, or whether to just send a robotic space probe with some kind of high thrust/ISP propulsion system like ICF/antimatter into interstellar space, and toward our nearest stellar neighbors. If you stand back and look at our situation in the universe the prior idea to Mars sounds a little juvenile, or at least near sighted. Like I have said we are kneeling down prostrate on the edge of the Grand Canyon to stare up closely at a tiny pebble (in this case Mars) when we should be walking down into the Canyon to explore. Perhaps we can see the other side of the Canyon, but we can’t get into all the juicy goodies inside.

  • I was researching the Atlas V 431 (Dreamchaser rocket of choice), and it appears it can lift 9,050 kg to LEO. Falcon 9 is slated to loft 10,450 kg. I wonder if there are plans to look at Falcon 9 for such integration.

  • googaw

    Storm:
    a HSF mission just beyond LEO like Van Allen Belt/GEO

    A survey cruise of GEO could be quite fun. It’s never been done before. Hundreds of satellites old and new to take pictures of. Tons of good science and engineering data to be had from “GEO sample returns” because spacecraft surfaces have been sitting out there for decades exposed to the cosmic ray environment. We’ve done this in LEO, but the environment in LEO is very different and uncharacteristic of the rest of space. The environment of GEO is on the other hand very characteristic of most of deep space.

    They could bring back some artifacts from some historically very important spacecraft to show off and put into museums. If it’s a private mission, these could probably be auctioned off as quite valuable collectors items. And for space tourists more interested in space tech than gazing at earth the GEO tour will be the thing to do.

    It’s also a great soft power play because it’s a quite visible way to demonstrate that foreign spacecraft are at our mercy (just as with the space shots of the 1960s the Soviets and U.S. let each other know in a very visible way that our cities were at each others’ mercy). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese do this long before going to the moon, unless we do it first. It would be far more shocking than a moon-shot if they started nosing around first-hand with our top-secret satellites and then published their photos of them on the Internet to rub it in our faces.

  • googaw

    So, who’s going to be the first human being to take an “Earthrise” picture from behind one of those football-field-sized NRO radio dishes? :-)

  • googaw

    A good historical analog of a GEO Cruise is the Great White Fleet’s round-the-world cruise in the 1900s. It was a good way back then for the U.S. to announce to the world that we’d arrived. A GEO Cruise would be a good way in the 2020’s to remind folks that we’re still here. A great inspection of the world’s satellites (well, about half of them).

    GEO may also be on the Grand Tour. The top ticket in space tours: (1) a week or two to warm up and earth-watch at a space station in LEO, (2) a cruise around GEO to see dozens of spacecraft, (3) spend a few days orbiting the moon, look down at the lunar landers, admire the magnificent desolation, and watch the earth from afar, and (4) back home. The ultimate space experience for the tech billionaire who wants to outbid all his peers. :-)

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:

    Continuing our distributed discussion…

    Regarding propellant depot R&D we are in complete agreement: start with small experiments and don’t depend on them for near-term missions. Many experiments can be done with suborbital launchers, aircraft flying parabolic arcs or even just ground tests. Small is beautiful.

    If you want small scale applications, refuelable probes and satellites would be a good idea as we’ve agreed before. Tugs in support of space station resupply (and later depot resupply) would be good too.

    But what if you wanted to do exploration soon? I contend noncryogenic propellant transfer would be a good solution precisely because it is already proven technology. No risk there, no R&D needed. Well, maybe a little bit because it needs to be scaled up.

    You say RLVs are highly risky and I agree. But you wouldn’t have to depend on RLVs, you’d be relying first on EELVs, then Falcon and after that who knows what. While doing that you would be stimulating the market, perhaps leading to RLVs, perhaps to cheap expendables.

    And even if it didn’t reduce launch costs by an order of magnitude, it would certainly help. If nothing else it would help Falcon 9 achieve a track record of reliability. All progress in commercial space is interlinked at thispoint, everybody needs others to succeed as well. Without commercial transport Bigelow can’t get to his stations. Without Bigelow stations there will be much less traffic etc.

    Some seem to believe using noncryogenic propellants would lead to unaffordably high costs, but this just isn’t so. You just have to restrict it to landers, not EDSs, and go about it the right way.

    There are other ways, even without using any propellant transfer. Say Jon Goff’s approach, which would not allow for immediate return, or the Chinese approach which would, but which would also be more expensive. But I think noncryogenic propellant transfer may be one of the cheapest and soonest ways to do it, and certainly the one that gives the biggest boost to commercial development of space. It is the only approach I know of that allows reusable landers right from the start. Throwing away landers is the way of the past. There’s quite a bit of prejudice against noncryogenics, but we’re not trying to win a beauty contest here are we?

    To those of you who want to see exploration soon: forget about the HLV, we don’t need it. To go to the moon we need a lander. We already have launch vehicles.

  • I’m still not see the point of these fuel depots unless we are going beyond LEO in chemically power spacecraft (or maybe NERVA-like rockets which we aren’t developing). I can see how you could do a Cx-like Moon mission in which the upper stage of the rocket that puts the spacecraft into a parking orbit would then be refuel at an orbiting depot. The the boost would serve the dual use of a boost to launch the vehicle into a lunar trajectory.

    If we would do this we need Orion (or an equivalent) and the Altair lander. But we are cancelling both which begs the question why have refuelling depot? The current generation of boosters seem to be adequate to do most unmanned probes.

    “The radiation question is critical” (in context of beyond-LEO missions)

    How about a magnetic shield based superconductor technology? I haven’t researched this but it seems to be a lower mass approach.

  • Martijn Meijering

    If we would do this we need Orion (or an equivalent) and the Altair lander. But we are cancelling both which begs the question why have refuelling depot?

    Exactly, we need a spacecraft, not a launcher, depot or even an EDS. And the spacecraft can double as a depot. Not the kind of depot that will win a beauty contest, but a solid reliable one which can be available soon and which will do the job without busting the budget.

    Commercial players will take care of the capsule. For lunar and later hyperbolic return it will need a better heat shield, but that can be a later upgrade. Developing another exploration capsule now is wasteful, that money could be spent on a lander instead.

    And as soon as you had the lander or even a precursor you could start going beyond LEO and you could start doing more advanced things in LEO. Initially manned missions couldn’t go far beyond LEO because a capsule capable of emergency return would not yet be available. But unmanned precursor missions could happen all the way out to NEO’s, maybe even Mars orbit. The missions closer to home would be more plausible, given budget constraints.

  • Bill White

    For these NewSpace dreams to come true, two bridges must first be crossed:

    (1) Significant revenue streams not derived from the taxpayers must be located; and

    (2) ITAR must be relaxed to allow NewSpace to sell to non-U.S. customers.

    Unless these bridges are crossed, NewSpace shall be assimilated into LegacySpace and ten years from now we won’t really be any further along than we are today. Perhaps behind where we are today.

    What was proposed on February 1st is merely one leg of a stool that requires at least three legs. Unless we add these other two legs, this new plan won’t accomplish what the supporters say it will accomplish.

  • GuessWho

    Oler – See the following links on Bowersox:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=28472

    http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/bowersox.html

    But you are right, I had him graduating from the Air Force Academy, it was really from the Naval Academy. He did however go through the Air Force Test Pilot School which is where I was recalling his AF connection. Still doesn’t change the thrust of the argument which you ignored (or deflected) in the original post (on another thread which you also didn’t reference) wherein you state:

    “that is just ignorance. NASA could not fly the shuttle without private companies…and the “expertise” at NASA is questionable at best…they have killed 14 people.”

    and a followup poster states as part of defending SpaceX:

    “Bowersox also served as the director of the Johnson Space Center’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate and as an independent aerospace consultant, serving on the NASA standing review boards for Space Shuttle, ISS, Constellation, Orion and the Constellation Suit System.”

    So my question still stands – If SpaceX is relying on the expertise of someone that was central to the organization that you credit with killing 14 astronauts (Bowersox being in his JSC directors role for the Columbia accident only so you can’t necessarily blame him for Challenger) why would anyone put their trust in SpaceX? And along the lines of my original question, what experience does Bowersox have in designing spacecraft and/or rockets? Being able to fly one doesn’t mean you know how to design one. Feel free to answer here or on the other discussion thread, either works for me. Just don’t make me have to hunt it down hidden in some other thread.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Significant revenue streams not derived from the taxpayers must be located

    Why? Obviously that would be desirable, but why is it necessary? Why can’t NASA do exploration until there are additional private revenues for providers of launch services? Why can’t NASA buy services based on milestone payments using competing suppliers instead of using cost-plus with a single provider? That’s what Bigelow is doing.

    I see no reason to wait – unless money is the problem.

  • Bill White

    I do not advocate waiting. I advise cultivating a sense of urgency about locating revenue streams that do not originate with tax dollars.

    Although NASA can indeed act as a starter motor does for an automobile engine, unless there is gas in the tank (continuing private sector demand for human spaceflight) the engine won’t start no matter what NASA does and once tax dollars are withdrawn, there will be nothing left.

    Why is it necessary to locate revenue streams from sources other than Uncle Sugar? Because the US taxpayers are very seriously over-stretched and are facing an enormous public debt.

    It is too easy to view human spaceflight as a luxury to be removed entirely from the federal budget, especially AFTER the current work force is laid off.

    At best – IMHO – this new plan gives commercial space ten or twelve years to find sufficient private sector demand to sustain human spaceflight even if federal dollars are withdrawn. This corresponds with the projected life of ISS as extended.

    Better get those LEO hotels and privately owned LEO R&D facilities up there, pronto.

    = = =

    Of course, there are other governments to seek funding from, besides the United States. But that raises other issues.

  • Martijn Meijering

    No one is disputing commercial players should seek all commercial revenue sources they can get. Do you think they aren’t doing so already?

    Sill, they should also seek the biggest potential customer of all, NASA. And NASA should switch to a milestone-based procurement regime with multiple competing suppliers. Do you disagree with that?

  • googaw

    Bill White:
    (1) Significant revenue streams not derived from the taxpayers must be located

    This is quite right. Otherwise it’s “meet the NewSpace, same as the OldSpace.” NewSpace companies will evolve into OldSpace cost-plus zombies.

    Martijn Meijering:
    why is it necessary?

    COTS-style NASA contracting is an improvement, but it’s still government contracting. It brings some but not most of the benefits of the private market. There are two states we can fall into that take us away from the good incentives of market economics. Monopoly everybody knows about: we want competition among suppliers. Not so heralded, but just as important, is the problem of monopsony>: one customer. Competition among customers is just as important as competition among suppliers.

    Once the drip line of NASA sugar is established it will be very tempting and very easy for NewSpace companies to follow the path of Orbital Sciences and become OldSpace-style cost-plus zombies. After all, why should investors be expected to put their own money at risk that politicians will back out of their promises? The Elon Musks of the world are a very rare breed. The vast majority of investors would greatly prefer to have a cost-plus contract. Boeing and LockMart have always preferred the cost-plus contract. Orbital Sciences started out chasing commercial markets but came to know and love the cost-plus contract. We will soon find ourselves fighting the NewSpace companies themselves to keep the contracting COTS-style as they will be lobbying to revert to cost-plus.

    This is the main problem with having NASA or one of its cost-plus contractors design the cis-lunar architecture. Whether with gold-plated HLVs or gold-plated depots, it will be too expensive for tourists. That is also why Altair should be canceled: it is too expensive for tourists, whether these are tech billionaire tourists or those taxpayer-funded tourists called “astronauts”. Taxpayers should not have to pay any more money for astronauts than tech billionaires are willing to pay for themselves. Space Adventures is the expert on the cost-effectiveness of manned travel: let’s not get ahead of them. A trip around the moon they are talking to people about; landing on the moon is far beyond even the tech billionaire’s budgets. So Altair is out, but it’s possible that the Orion design might be rescued in some fashion.

    As for Bigelow, I should remind folks of my prior comments that market incentives and efficiencies are based on creative destruction: most companies fail. And that’s the way it should be. Uneconomical projects should go away, early and often. Bigelow is I am afraid in danger of going out of business or becoming a cost-plus zombie. His market is already very small even before accounting for his heavily subsidized competition, the ISS. Knowing Bob Bigelow, he’ll probably dial down his investments, take the loss, and stubbornly hang on to his patents rather than becoming a zombie. We’ll see.

    There is, of course, a much better commercial revenue stream than space tourism, and that is launching satellites. Most NewSpacers deem it too boring to pay attention to, I’m afraid, but it is far more important. I hope SpaceX doesn’t get so caught up in the hype that they forget that satellites, not Dragon or COTS, are the main commercial market for Falcon 9. I don’t want to see SpaceX turn into another cost-plus zombie.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Josh Cryer

    DreamChaser has since switched over to an Atlas V 402, in place of the 431. I seem to remember, from on of the conventions I’ve attended, where they discussed the idea of making Dreamchaser *relatively* launcher independent. So I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of, at some point, seeing a Dreamchaser on a Falcon9.

    John

    Regarding the need for a spacecraft & lander

    On the lander, we weren’t doing anything related to Altair for a while. That should be obvious. However, there are a number of companies actively working on VTVL rocket systems (see Masten & Armadillo in particular) – by the time we are actually look putting people on surfaces such as the moon, (sometime in the early 2020s), we can utilize those systems to jumpstart lander development. Consider, if Armadillo had a 2 person VTVL suborbital craft – wouldn’t’ there be a fair amount that short cut a lot of the work needed for a Lander? Thus, the $75 Million going towards suborbital commercial is also helping lander development

    On the spacecraft front – yes, we’ll need a deep spacecraft, but Orion wasn’t gonna work. What we need is something akin to a vehicle the size of the old Salyut stations, or Skylab (which is why the Bigelow habitat modules are interesting for this), combined with a propulsion module. Of course, such a vehicle isn’t designed to land on planets, but then, thats why you have vehicles like the Dragon & Dreamchaser

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:
    Why would we expect NASA-designed infrastructure to be suitable for private commerce?

    I’d be opposed to NASA building full depots or even cryogenic lander/depot hybrids, but just out of curiosity: why would this infrastructure have to be useful for private commerce? Sure, it would be nice but why is it necessary or urgent? It’s far from certain private commerce will be able to afford anything beyond LEO any time soon. As long as they’d be selling propellant to NASA in orbit, I’d be a happy camper.

  • Bill White

    Googaw writes

    (1) Significant revenue streams not derived from the taxpayers must be located

    This is quite right. Otherwise it’s “meet the NewSpace, same as the OldSpace.” NewSpace companies will evolve into OldSpace cost-plus zombies.

    and this:

    Once the drip line of NASA sugar is established it will be very tempting and very easy for NewSpace companies to follow the path of Orbital Sciences and become OldSpace-style cost-plus zombies.

    Exactly !!

    As for my second point — Avatar now has total box office receipts over $2.2 billion dollars. As of this morning 71.8% of that revenue came from outside the United States.

    If Avatar were released solely to US markets it would be a “break even” movie, financially. Being aimed at global markets it is a huge financial success.

  • Robert G. Oler

    GuessWho wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 9:11 am ..

    the question of how one or a few individuals affect the body of a large organization or the organization affects individuals depends on the relative mass of the two. It is the old question of (to be kind) ….”pouring tea into a swimming pool” how much does the color of each change.

    I like Ken Bowersox and have the highest regard for him as a person and a professional…but the comments I am going to make are generic.

    Organizations are a product of their culture and their history. The ability of a “single person” or a small group of people to pertubate that culture or history is dependent on two things 1) their mandate of employment and 2) their individual or collective ability to implement a new direction.

    The Loss of USS Thresher hit the US Navy in almost the same way that Challenger hit NASA…the difference is that the US Navy had as its creed, its charge if you will “Operational” and what Thresher showed was that the system in place to implement “operational” was functionally flawed. NASA had Challenger as it was trying to transition from a test flying organization to a more or less operational one.

    The Navy subforce went after the technology (and how the boats were built) but more important changed their culture in significant ways…there was a mandate.

    What is unique about SpaceX (so far anyway) is that Musk (who is in it for the money along with some other things) has been designed almost from employee number 2 toward being “operational” and “profitable”. If one looks at the organization with a “organizational eye” they are organized not like an aerospace company or a test pilot shop…but more like Boeing is in their commercial airplane group particularly in the early 1900′s…(and Boeing once ran an airline it is now called United)…

    Bringing on individuals with specific skill sets into an organization that already has a “culture” of “operational” will tend to take the skill set of individuals and mold them into being a part of that instead of an individual culture changing the organization.

    In other words instead of the organization taking on the traits of people you will see individuals take on the traits of the organization as they focus their talents on its goal.

    NASA HSF is in the worst of both worlds. It no longer has the engineering competency to do test projects nor does it have the management competency to do operational. Nothing in its makeup now dictate changes.

    If Elon Musk (or Boeing or Lockmart or whoever) cannot operate a safe system ECONOMIC SURVIVAL along with regulation by the federal government will dictate changes. As it is right now NASA has lost two shuttles, killed 14 astronauts and in Ares has spent billions for nothing and shows no hint of change…the only way to fix that is to fix the organization.

    Bowersox will either channel his superb talents and skills to the culture of SpaceX or he will move on.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Bill White

    @ Oler

    Unless SpaceX finds significant non-NASA customers, it too shall be assimilated.

    Once they become dependent on NASA sugar for survival, resistance shall be futile.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Once the drip line of NASA sugar is established it will be very tempting and very easy for NewSpace companies to follow the path of Orbital Sciences and become OldSpace-style cost-plus zombies.

    Of course, which is why OldSpace is doing what it is doing. It makes a lot of business sense. But they can only do this as long as NASA allows them to get away with it. Do you disagree that NASA should immediately change its procurement regime to multiple competing supplier with milestone-based payments?

  • googaw

    John:
    I’m still not see the point of these fuel depots unless we are going beyond LEO in chemically power spacecraft

    I have described the benefits elsewhere, but let’s see if I can summarize it.

    Imagine you had one of two ways to get to work: (1) a whacky mass transit that stops only at your home, at work, and only one other place, which you have to decide on a year in advance, and (2) your car which you can stop anywhere any time you so decide. How much more valuable is your car than fixed-plan transit? Your car is much more valuable because it gives you the option of going shopping, picking up the kids, going to the pub, etc. etc. Whatever you need to do that day you can decide on that day to do it. You don’t have try to predict where your kids will be playing soccer a year from now.

    Space operations today are fixed-plan mass transit. They often could be far more valuable if they worked like your car.

    Think of satellite end-of-life. A satellite ends its life either by (1) running out of propellant or (2) failing with propellant still on board. In the first case we’ve cut short the satellite lifetime from lack of propellant. In the second case we wasted money by launching more propellant than we needed. Depots allow us to launch less propellant to start with and tank up the still-functioning satellites that run out. So depots can both reduce launch costs and increase the lifetime of satellites. The less predictable satellite lifetimes are, and the more satellites in an orbit, the more they benefit from a depot in that orbit.

    Back to the fixed-plan vs. car example. Space missions that must respond to unpredictable events greatly benefit from working more like a car and less like fixed-plan transit. Imagine several spacecraft powered by electric propulsion with telescopes in Earth’s heliocentric orbit. Whenever an asteroid or comet crosses that orbit (this happens many times per year), we can choose to have them do a flyby. Often scientists will want to choose based on unpredictable events (e.g. a newly discovered comet, or a collision excavating a new crater that would be very valuable to look at). If there are enough unpredictable events we can’t predict how much propellant a spacecraft is going to use. If there are enough such spacecraft in the orbit, it pays to put a depot in that orbit to keep the ones that are using the most propellant tanked up.

    There are more important, but analogous, flexible operations needed by the DoD. And they must deal with world politics and battlefields, which are the least predictable kinds of events. That’s why they funded Orbital Express. They would likely be big early adopters of storable and electric propellant depots. (That, and science applications, are why storable and electric cryogenic depots are more important than chemical cryogenic depots). In the longer run, commercial satellites in GEO will greatly benefit in terms of launch cost and lifetime by having a GEO depot.

    In short: the future isn’t nearly as predictable as we usually like to think. This is certainly true of R&D, as I’ve emphasized on other threads. But it’s true even for the operations of many individual spacecraft. That is why depots will be valuable.

  • The vast majority of investors would greatly prefer to have a cost-plus contract. Boeing and LockMart have always preferred the cost-plus contract. Orbital Sciences started out chasing commercial markets but came to know and love the cost-plus contract.

    The vast majority of risk-averse investors prefer cost-plus contracts. There are many investors who are willing to take a higher risk for a higher rate of return. Those are the people who invest in New Space. For instance, none of XCOR’s investors prefer cost-plus contracts, and understand why XCOR remains so resistant to accepting them. Boeing and Lockmart are traditional contractors, more comfortable with cost-plus, and they are large publicly-held corporations with fiduciary obligations to their shareholders, who don’t expect them to bet the company.

  • Martijn Meijering

    That, and science applications, are why storable and electric cryogenic depots are more important than chemical cryogenic depots

    Because defence and science are more important than exploration? Not necessarily disagreeing with that, just wondering.

  • googaw

    Martijn Meijering :
    That, and science applications, are why storable and electric cryogenic depots are more important than chemical cryogenic depots

    Because defence and science are more important than exploration? Not necessarily disagreeing with that, just wondering.

    Defense is more important. Between science and “exploration”/tourism, it’s a tossup. I should add that mainstream space commerce (mostly comsats) is also more important than “exploration”/tourism. In the long run it could also greatly benefit from depot(s) in GEO, and those too are much more likely to be storable chemical or electric cryogenic propellants than chemical cryogenic propellants. If astronaut fans demand that depots must be chemical cryogenics, we’ll end up with yet another white elephant that is useful only for government-funded astronauts and not for defense, commerce, or science.

  • Martijn Meijering

    OK, then how do you explain that the market hasn’t yet developed noncryogenic depots for the benefit of comsats? If the answer is ‘it will only matter in the long run’, then why bother with it now given that noncryogenic propellant transfer is very mature technology. The Russians have been doing it since 1978 and similar technology is used on the Shuttle (in the water spray boilers and APUs).

    But another question you haven’t addressed is if we want to do exploration soon (as the SEA wants), should we do it with or without propellant transfer? I would argue there is no good reason to avoid propellant transfer and every reason to seek it. Even if it does not lead to cheap access to space, it will certainly help. And it wouldn’t cost you any extra money. Why forego essentially free benefits or at least potential benefits?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Bill White wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 11:01 am

    @ Oler

    Unless SpaceX finds significant non-NASA customers, it too shall be assimilated. ..

    I concur with that…but with two caveats.

    The first is that if SpaceX has any NASA business it will be assimilated UNLESS there is some serious effort at changing the entire CULTURE in the US of human spaceflight.

    As an example. NASA today would not fly astronauts on the Atlas, Titan and even Saturn of the go to the Moon program. The desk jockeys at NASA Parkway have managed to massage themselves into a program where human spaceflight and any activity in it is either to expensive to accomplish or simply is never done because the risk is “to great”.

    The irony of this is that the 14 people who were killed at the hands of the NASA HSF effort were not killed doing anything “risky” or unique or whatever. It is as if (to continue my NAVY analogy) they died in the mere act of “standing out to sea”.

    Second at somepoint the preponderance of activities in HSF has to be “non NASA” (and this doesn’t have to happen fast but it does have to happen) for the entire theory of this excersize to work. As I noted to the person about the culture of safety…

    safety is always metered by operational requirements (gasp)…if there was no requirement to use two engines over the water (economics) then the ETOPS rules would have never happen.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    OK, then how do you explain that the market hasn’t yet developed noncryogenic depots for the benefit of comsats?..

    thats simple…two fold…neither the infrastructure nor the need exist or has existed to now.

    Technology development does not exist in a vacuum, it has to happen in some economic (and other) time frame where the technology taken from development to operational use makes some sense. Primarily it has to also be affordable.

    Several years ago a group (that I recall Dennis Wingo who I think lurks here was a part of so he can if he wishes set me straight on whatever I get wrong…doubtless from his vantage point …a lot…grin) came up with an idea to use a “couple on” propulsion/station keeping “device” to attach to satellites which had started to run out of propellants. I thought it was a novel idea…and if then were now and the policy that is going forward was the policy then, I thought the government should have spent some money on a demonstration effort with the ACTS satellite (although my favorite theory was to send it after the Saturn 3 stage that was then in coorbit around the Moon).

    Of course no one in power thought that was a good idea and as best I can tell it was yet another one of the innovative ideas Wingo has been a part of that was to far ahead of its time.

    One of the reasons propellent transfer to comm sats has not taken off is that so far at least usually the comsats start dying about the time that the propellant is running out (ACTS was unique in that fashion).

    So in short I dont think propellant transfer for comm sats (or anything) is going to take off until we have large satellites that are human tended much as Hubble (is/was) so that they more or less become upgradeable instead of disposable…and that is not going to happen until the cost of human interaction with them comes down.

    In short it is James Burke’s Connections theory…and in spaceflight doing things different is waiting a single trip wire…human spaceflight becoming affordable.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Storm

    Oler,

    “So in short I dont think propellant transfer for comm sats (or anything) is going to take off until we have large satellites that are human tended much as Hubble (is/was) so that they more or less become upgradeable instead of disposable…and that is not going to happen until the cost of human interaction with them comes down.”

    Based on this statement I would guess that you don’t believe a robotic repair craft could come on line any time soon? If comm sats have to be large and human tended they would be much more expensive to launch and maintain too. It doesn’t seem like something of this nature would evolve in a competitive market.

  • Vladislaw

    “Why is it necessary to locate revenue streams from sources other than Uncle Sugar? Because the US taxpayers are very seriously over-stretched and are facing an enormous public debt.”

    (drags out the dead horse he has been beating for 6 years here)

    Historical exploration and “colonization” always had one thing at the end of the rainbow. Ownership of resources gained at the cost of the means of transportation. If you want to increase the tax base geometrically you have to allow for ownership of space based resources that can form a tax base. Land grants on the lunar surface and asteroids has to be considered.

    Ownership makes a lot of the problems of investment capital go away. As ownership allows for an asset you can now put on the books. You can then sell or lease mineral rights for each mineral type. Again, more investment vehicles you can register on the asset side of the books.

    Modern mining companies worth are not measured by how much they have pulled out of the ground. The value of a mining claim goes down over time as more of the resource is extracted and utilized. If you have 500,000 acres of lunar land, and the regolith pans out to X dollars per acre of oxygen the mining company gets to multiply the 500k acres by that price giving them a huge asset on the books. They can sell off plots to raise capital, they can sell mineral leases, they can collect royalties, they can use it for collateral for loans.

    There are a lot of revenue streams for LEO but tourism rates will fall the farther out you go as the expense increases, there has to be something gained at the end of the rainbow that offsets the cost and that is a land claim.

    More than a few people believe the freedom of the seas type treaty will be enough, in my personal opinion i dont think it will because you can not claim the ocean as an asset. The cost of entering the terrerstrial market can be as small as a row boat and fishing rod and you can sell your catch. The cost of entering the lunar market isn’t. And just as new world exploration showed it was only the “free” land and all the resources on that land, brought the investments and people.

    Can you imagine hnow long it would have taken if you could not actually claim anything? anyone could come to your settlement and mine your gold, chop your trees, use your water without any compensaition? A global property rights regime exists on terra firma, it would be wiser to form one for space before we go, rather than warring about it later.

  • googaw

    Martijn Meijering :
    they can only do this as long as NASA allows them to get away with it. Do you disagree that NASA should immediately change its procurement regime to multiple competing supplier with milestone-based payments?

    I’m strongly in favor of COTS-style contracting. We will have to keep fighting to maintain and expand the scope of COTS-style contracting against the continual temptations to fall back on the much less risky (for the contractor) cost-plus. I urge us all to engage in that fight.

    But COTS is not a panacea. It brings some but not most of the benefits of a market. The kind of contract NASA lets is important but even more important is getting away from monopsony (one customer) which is as bad as monopoly (one supplier). A diversity of competing customers is needed for a healthy market. If COTS is used to build gold-plated or oversized contraptions that are too expensive for private customers, we are just building bridges to nowhere with somewhat more efficient contracts. A less expensive bridge to nowhere is still a bridge to nowhere.

    It is thus crucial that we steer COTS towards NASA buying things that the DoD and commercial customers also want to buy. It greatly helps if the DoD or private customers buy first. Their customer feedback and not NASA’s should be what commercial space companies design their systems around. Only then should NASA adds its funds to purchase things useful to NASA (R&D, science, “exploration”).

    So far this strategy is working well for launch vehicles. Post-Constellation we are in good territory: NASA is planning more use of the standard EELV and commercial launch vehicles, and we should hope that SpaceX keeps a diversity of commercial and DoD customers instead of becoming a NASA zombie. Indeed we should more than hope, we should lobby for NewSpace companies as long as they are working with COTS-like contracts and keeping a diversity of customers, and against them when they try to obtain a big cost-plus contract or if NASA becomes their dominant customer. We can’t just uncritically support NewSpace companies because we think they are “our guys”.

    This is why the proposals for NASA to develop “infrastructure” like depots are troubling. Not the research — I am strongly in favor of NASA researching, testing, and debugging the technologies needed for depots and much else. This NACA- and DARPA-style work should be their central function. No, what is troubling is the OldSpace, Shuttle- or ISS-style approach of having NASA itself develop speculative grandiose “infrastructure” for hypothetical future uses or markets. Any really useful infrastructure will be the result of dialogs between private customers and commercial space companies (ideally), or between DoD customers and commercial space companies. It should be designed based on the feedback of the people who actually want to use it (and pay the cost), not by people fishing for fat NASA contracts. NASA’s role is to develop the technologies that may be needed for future infrastructure, and once commerce builds the infrastructure to participate in purchasing the kinds of services that the private and DoD customers have decided on, repurposed (but not redesigned) for NASA’s technology research, science, and “exploration” missions.

    Since NewSpacers love to focus on giving people rides in space, let’s use that as an example. We should want to see manned infrastructure, whether the Dragon, DreamChaser, and OrionLite, or any future space stations, or any future system of deep space tourism or “exploration”, to be based primarily on what Space Adventures (or any similarly situated tourist broker) wants, based on what its customers or prospects are in fact asking for. NASA should use for “exploration” whatever transport and other infrastructural methods the private market has decided on, and we should not let our daydreams cause us to demand that NASA jump way ahead of actual private market demand. (They don’t actually jump ahead, they jump somewhere off to the side — the future is not very predictable). Making this happen in the space tourist/astronaut arena seems to be far more problematic than getting NASA to use standard market launchers, so I dread that we will go through another generation of gold-plated white elephants in this arena before we learn our lesson. That’s why I look for more important progress to occur in the unmanned areas where the DoD, NASA, and private customers can happily share the same rockets, the same spacecraft buses, and so on, and where if NASA does really need something unusual it generally does not cost billions.

  • Robert G. Oler

    googaw wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 10:33 am

    really good comments. I would add this.

    For Bigelow to survive and I suspect for Musk to prosper and for human spaceflight in a commercial vein to come out of this new policy there has to be a market invented BOTH past ISS.

    The model here has to be SWA. Southwest not only invented (mostly through economic necessity) a new way of doing business in the commercial airline market, but also literally tapped a new clientale in the market…they drove airlines to the “bus crowd”.

    I think that anyone who cranks up as a commercial supplier to the US government for ISS activities can survive at least in the short term by doing what NASA now does at ISS but cheaper better faster…(grin)…but not indefinatly and not for long. Musk can launch satellites (as can boeing or lockmart if they can get the cost down) in competition with the europeans…

    but to really make the bucks to really own the market any new entrants have to not only “take” the Brannif customers they have to invent new customers and new ways of doing business.

    In my view the “key” to this is not SpaceX so much as it is Bigelow. If BA aerospace can “build” a functioning space facility for the price he is saying, then it can probably be put in orbit as 1) a tourist place and 2) a place to put together and repair large satellites and 3) maybe do commercial microgee process…those three things (and probably something we have not heard about) will determine the launch needs.

    Robert g. Oler

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:

    I agree strongly with everything you’ve just said and for mostly the same reason. Does that surprise you? If so, we’ll have managed to clear up some miscommunication. :-)

    But what about buying propellant in orbit in support of exploration? Whether it is cryogenic or not doesn’t really matter for this part of the discussion, both could work well. You choose. And buying propellant in orbit satisfies your criterion: it uses the same services that are useful to DoD and commercial customers: launch services. And not just any random type of service, the single most important one. Doing this would stimulates R&D into removing the biggest obstacle for commercial customers: high launch costs.

    Not that NASA doesn’t have to construct depots for this, a refuelable lander could serve as a makeshift depot. Ideally it would procure this lander, but it wouldn’t be a disaster if they designed it themselves, as long as they didn’t screw up. I don’t think this would count as gold-plated infrastructure. If they’re going to do exploration, they’ll need a lander.

  • googaw

    Martin:
    how do you explain that the market hasn’t yet developed?

    It’s a chicken-egg thing, a marketing and organizational problem, a.k.a. an entrepreneurial problem. Spacecraft designers and mission planners don’t often think about the benefits that could accrue because refueling, not having yet been deployed, is not a readily available option for them. If comsats were the lowest-hanging fruit we’d see an entrepreneur appear to solve problem, perhaps by starting a vertically integrated comsat design and depot company. But it’s DoD applications that are the low-hanging fruit (because their operations typical involve many more unpredictable events for which maneuvering is a valuable response), so naturally we see them leading the research. DoD culture is not conducive to entrepreneurs though — people have the much harder task of evangelizing the idea through the DoD and contractor community. That kind of thing takes longer than a private entrepreneur would.

    The best way for NASA to goose the process is by helping DoD do the research — it has no entrepreneurial expertise and it would be pointless for NASA to try to evangelize the DoD when DoD far better understands the problems that depots would solve.

  • googaw

    Martin: [what] if we want to do exploration soon

    How about let’s not be so impatient. Let’s wait until there is private commercial demand. Then NASA can share the ride as long as it does not try to design or redesign the infrastructure. NASA is a poor leader. It should follow.

  • Martijn Meijering

    The best way for NASA to goose the process is by helping DoD do the research

    So what kind of research would NASA have to do? I don’t think there is anything DoD couldn’t do all by itself and not much is needed anyway. Noncryogenic propellant transfer is proven technology that doesn’t need any research. Neither does automated docking and rendez-vous. It’s not research that’s needed, but development. There is no technological risk as it has been done before, by the Russians and now by ESA too. If costs could be shared, that would be great. But this is going to happen anyway. The benefits you seek are already taken care of, or so it would seem to me.

    I still don’t see why this should lead NASA away from exploration or why it should lead them away from propellant transfer if it wants to do exploration.

  • Martijn Meijering

    How about let’s not be so impatient. Let’s wait until there is private commercial demand.

    OK, I’m not necessarily against that. That does mean R&D into reducing launch costs will remain unprofitable for a long time. That may be the correct choice, as long as it is a conscious choice.

  • Bill White

    Googaw

    Thank you for “monopsony” – that is the precise word we need.

    But COTS is not a panacea. It brings some but not most of the benefits of a market. The kind of contract NASA lets is important but even more important is getting away from monopsony (one customer) which is as bad as monopoly (one supplier). A diversity of competing customers is needed for a healthy market. If COTS is used to build gold-plated or oversized contraptions that are too expensive for private customers, we are just building bridges to nowhere with somewhat more efficient contracts. A less expensive bridge to nowhere is still a bridge to nowhere.

    Precisely!

    However, I disagree with you about the value of DoD becoming a key NewSpace customer. DoD will want the details of their systems to remain secret – and rightfully so IMHO – and that will preclude a great many civilian purchasers, especially if those civilian purchasers have international connections

  • Robert G. Oler

    Storm wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    a robotic repair craft..

    to figure out where things are going one has to figure out where the folks “in the know” are trying to push things.

    Why for instance did Augustine keep musing over and over again about the need for heavy lift? “my guess” is not space exploration (which I suspect he thinks is more or less toast for a very long time) but for other reasons…read NRO or big comsats or military payloads of interdiction.

    if those can be done “in bites” like the space station but cheaper then I suspect the need for serious heavy lift goes away. But “big” platforms to me mean human intervention to restore/modify/and maintain. I dont see robotics, even in a craft made for robotic servicing being able to do things that keep a “big” (and we are talking something the size of the US component on ISS) device running without some sort of periodic human “effort”.

    The next step up for the DoD and NRO and a few other agencies, if human access to space can be made “viable” in terms of affordability is permanent facilities that change the level of capability that those agencies have enormously.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Storm

    Oler wrote:

    dont see robotics, even in a craft made for robotic servicing being able to do things that keep a “big” (and we are talking something the size of the US component on ISS) device running without some sort of periodic human “effort”.

    That sure is reassuring for the HSF advocates.

  • googaw

    [what] if we want to do exploration soon

    How about let’s not be so impatient.

    Ha ha, what am I saying, of course astronaut fans are going to be impatient. :-) How about what Storm and I were recently discussing — a GEO Cruise. A mission to inspect the world’s satellites (well, about half of them). I haven’t worked it out, but SpaceX might be able to get a modified Dragon plus an electric propulsion stage to GTO on a Falcon 9 heavy. The electric gets you to GEO and then back to GTO, then you reenter from GTO. This would just be two or three astronauts. No radiation shielding to speak of, unless they find a big satellite to hide behind in a solar storm. Part of the mission is to study the effects of cosmic radiation on the astronauts.

    The downside is that this would push SpaceX in the direction of NASA zombiehood. So I wouldn’t support NASA funding this until SpaceX has a strong portfolio of private launch customers. Atlas/Orion-Lite may be a better alternative since LockMart is already a zombie. :-)

    A GEO inspection mission could have far greater soft-power consequences than a return to the moon. Imagine for example the reaction if China sent up some cosmonauts to inspect our top-secret satellites in person, and then to rub it in posted pictures on the Internet.

    A similar architecture might suffice for an Apollo 8 style zip-around-the moon tour (but again I haven’t worked out the numbers).

    The upside is that there is at least a glimmer of possibility that commerce or the DoD could reuse this architecture for satellite repair, further surveillance/inspection of satellites, or tourism (for the tech billionaire tourist who wants to see real tech when he’s in space, GEO is the place to go!). GEO is a far more promising arena for non-NASA customers than the moon in the near term. Not that I want to go crazy about hypothetical markets. We’ll know we’re ready to do this mission when the DoD wants a ride or Space Adventures signs up tourists for the private follow-on or some comsat company orders repair service. Until then don’t be so impatient. :-)

  • Storm

    If Oler is right, and I can’t see why not – GuessWho also stated something to the affect that 15% of satellites could not be repaired through robotics.

    So there we have it! Shouldn’t everyone be in agreement that the next goal should be to build a module with radiation mitigation that could be boosted from ISS to GEO via Plasma, or other propulsion so as to allow astronauts to work on the GEO birds? And to place prop depots in GEO for refueling?

    As far as I’m concerned the only question is what kind of mitigation, what kind of propulsion, who builds it (NASA, Bigelow ect.), and so on, unless someone has any objections, or caveats.

    Why can’t this goal be achieved in 8-10 years? Sometimes I think many of you space advocates are so eager to sound credible that you imagine very long time lines, or evolutional epochs to occur before we can see our dreams become reality. If Cryogenic refueling is dangerous, then lets get the tests up and running in GEO within five years. Perhaps in another five years companies like Ad Astra and Bigelow can get it deployed. (that is if we are going to pursue the private market model)

  • Martijn Meijering

    I’m in favour of a GEO cruise, but not enthusiastic about the SEP. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of your reasons for not wanting to see us and the SEA go to the moon impatiently. Note that with chemical propulsion LEO->GEO is more expensive than LEO->LLO.

    Some quick questions that may or may not facilitate discussion:

    - do you think there is much that NASA R&D or NASA funded R&D can do to reduce cost to orbit?
    - do you think NASA R&D can make exploration affordable without reducing cost to orbit (say by reducing IMLEO through SEP, ISRU, NTR)
    - what do you think will do more for reducing cost to orbit, $4B/year worth of launch services or $4B/yr worth of NASA R&D (feel free to supply different numbers)

  • Storm

    Googaw,

    Your point about SpaceX is well taken, but I might be favorable to an overpriced NASA demonstration first, just to work with ISS so as to test the dangers of cryogenic refueling and radiation mitigation. Perhaps SpaceX/Dragon could pick this ball up when its rolling – then it wouldn’t become a zombie (I like the zombie slang BTW – the worst possible state of being up there with meth adicts).

  • googaw

    Follow-on thought. If the modified Dragon (with 2-3 astronauts) + electric stage weighs too much for the Falcon 9 Heavy to push to GTO, launch the Dragon by itself to GTO. Having previously launched the electric stage on another Falcon 9. Rendezvous in GTO. Drives up the costs but also increases the capability (may make the mission possible in the first place — haven’t worked the numbers). Also may make possible substituting a chemical for the electric stage which would reduce radiation exposure (the electric stage will take many days to get our intrepid space travelers to GEO, and many days more back). Same kind of trick if Atlas is too small to push Orion Lite + stage to GTO.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I don’t think electric will easily get you from GTO to GEO and back. And a chemical circularisation/deorbit burn to/from LEO is ~1.4km/s, which is far more than Dragon can do. I think an existing chemical stage couldn’t get you from LEO to GEO, will do some numbers later. Radiation would also be a major problem. I’m all for baby steps, but the one you’ve picked is actually quite hard without 1) an HLV or 2) propellant transfer.

  • googaw

    Martin:
    - do you think there is much that NASA R&D or NASA funded R&D can do to reduce cost to orbit?

    Yes. (1) suborbital mid-air retrieval tests of booster stages to lower the risks for commercial launchers to make their lower stages reusable. (2) Hypersonic air-breathing research, e.g. X-43. (3) Tether research. (4) gas gun and railgun research. (4) many other kinds of NACA-style research aimed at helping commercial space companies improve their future products or at making progress towards new launch methods.

    - do you think NASA R&D can make exploration affordable without reducing cost to orbit (say by reducing IMLEO through SEP, ISRU, NTR)

    Yes. SEP and NTR and small-nuclear-reactor (e.g. americium) research are very important. And solar thermal rockets. Deployment of mirrors and solar sails. Thermal blankets and coatings. Inflatable pressure vessels, both for habitation and propellant. Technology for depots and (separately) long-term storing of cryogenic propellants. All these should be test flown at the smallest possible scale. ISRU is very important but NASA is an aerospace organization, not a mining or chemical engineering group. We need a new organization to do ISRU, except that NASA should be doing ISRU prospecting in coordination with its planetary science program. NASA should also be doing Mars-duration stays in the ISS already.

    - what do you think will do more for reducing cost to orbit, $4B/year worth of launch services or $4B/yr worth of NASA R&D (feel free to supply different numbers)

    With $4B in purchases NASA would dominate the market too much and sidetrack it on NASA’s gold-plated tangents and turn commercial companies into NASA zombies. NASA should spend perhaps $2B a year to purchase services of the kind that other customers are already buying (e.g. sharing the same launch vehicles). It should spend at least that much on basic research per above, and again on planetary science and ISRU prospecting.

  • GuessWho

    Oler wrote – “Several years ago a group (that I recall Dennis Wingo who I think lurks here was a part of so he can if he wishes set me straight on whatever I get wrong…doubtless from his vantage point …a lot…grin) came up with an idea to use a “couple on” propulsion/station keeping “device” to attach to satellites which had started to run out of propellants…..”

    I won’t presume to speak for Dennis. However, I did study his business case (to the extent that I could based on public information) and the fundamental assumptions in his case were flawed. His approach was to attach a parasitic vehicle to take over stationkeeping. Typical revenues for the Comsat folks is $30-$40M per year. Of this, only about 10-15% represents profit (the rest goes to cover mission ops and operating costs, amortization of the hardware and ground systems needed to support, charges against future hardware capitalization, and taxes). Thus the available dollars to Wingo’s service is at best $4-$6M/yr per asset. Thus he would need to be able to recover the cost of his parasitic spacecraft and its share of any launch service, his operating costs, his amortization, and his taxes over 5-8 yrs of operational life. At $6M/yr revenue, that total cost burden over 8 years would have to be less than $48M in the best of cases. If he wants any profit after deducting all those other costs, he is looking at an a cost of no more than $43M or so. A single spacecraft, even at his size, would be difficult to have for $43M let alone any of the other recurring costs associated with executing his business plan. Those numbers just won’t close. As far as I can tell, Wingo grossly overestimated the value associated with the life extension. My guess is he assumed he could have a significant portion of the $30M-$40M revenue number rather than understanding he could only capture a portion of the net profit number. My discussions with Comsat folks who have heard Wingo’s pitch tended to confirm this conclusion as they noted “others” had overestimated the market value by an order of magnitude. Space services can be profitable but the high entry costs and uncertainty of the value of those services to potential customers makes entering the market very risky without a tenant customer in place with monies committed. It is also clear from my past research that this market can only sustain 1 or 2 providers.

    The same holds true for other “commercial” space endeavors. I will agree that one of the best ways to get this tenant customer is to rely on Govt. funding. ISS as a destination for “new-space” only works because the USG (and later its International partners) invested tax monies to put in place the ISS even though that investment has yielded essentially no return (nor should it be expected to IMHO). However, and this is where you and I disagree the most, a new destination is needed if the available market to “new-space” is to grow. Space tourism won’t have the long term staying power (IMHO). Virgin has demonstrated this. He should have been ferrying his masses of customers up to sub-orbital a long time ago but it hasn’t materialized as he predicted/hoped. Perhaps he overestimated the market appetite or underestimated the cost of actually delivering on his business case. Who knows. But if ISS represents the first destination, then I am of the opinion that the Moon represents the second. GEO and L-points don’t offer much over LEO from a “manned-space” context. Getting out of Earth’s gravity well is still the biggest financial hurdle. The rest is relatively easy. If NASA wants a true goal, its putting a research lab on the moon and contracting “new-space” companies to supply and operate that laboratory. Both entities gain from that relationship.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:

    Thanks for the great discussion. This amount of constructive argument is rare on online forums. Should we take this specialised discussion elsewhere? I don’t want to impose on our gracious host. I also wouldn’t want to direct his traffic elsewhere if he likes it.

    many other kinds of NACA-style research aimed at helping commercial space companies improve their future products or at making progress towards new launch methods.

    All that would be good. But last time we tried this (SLI), it didn’t work. What would we have to do differently to make it work this time round? Also, how much progress in reducing cost to orbit would you expect in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years respectively? Nobody can predict the future accurately, but I’d love to hear your best numerical guesses.

    Note that you are looking only at physics and technology, not at business processes, automation, competition and the like. The history of communism shows that that may be quite an important thing to overlook.

    Two related questions:

    - at what level of launch costs would you say moon exploration would be acceptable and not overly hasty?
    - how long do you think our friends at the SEA will have to wait before that level is achieved?

    (say by reducing IMLEO through SEP, ISRU, NTR)
    Yes.

    OK, by how much do you think these technologies will reduce the IMLEO needed for an ESAS class moon mission? Let’s assume we need 175mT with present technology. By how much do you think this will be reduced in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years?

    With $4B in purchases NASA would dominate the market too much and sidetrack it on NASA’s gold-plated tangents and turn commercial companies into NASA zombies.

    How could that happen if NASA bought propellant in orbit through some kind of auction mechanism or the sort of schemes used in the oil industry? I contend it couldn’t. It seems any risk of zombification depends on the procurement regime, not the amount of money spent.

    NASA should spend perhaps $2B a year to purchase services of the kind that other customers are already buying (e.g. sharing the same launch vehicles).

    How would buying propellant not satisfy that constraint? I can think of a few reasons, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  • Robert G. Oler

    GuessWho wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    actually I dont find all that much to disagree on…some minor nits.

    I never looked into Dennis’ business plan…it did strike me that the “thing” he had to beat was going to be both launch cost and the fact that the birds “die off” as time goes on….as I recall the closest he came to launch (at least what I was reading on the threads) was when one satellite got fired into the wrong orbit and I know he was working to get a launch of some sort to try and raise the satellite up…when they reentered it to claim the insurance…Dennis is a bright guy (as the lunar recovery stuff shows) but in my view he has always been a tad optimistic about certian things (I say that having started and failed at two business before finding one that worked…)

    I dont think that there is much money in fixing satellites today…my “argument” is that at somepoint if human access to space becomes “reasonable” then both assembly of satellites and their eventual repair on site becomes possible and in my view probable. If I had to guess what will lead the way in this is the military/reccee groups…they value capability more then cost.

    Just my own musings I can see a 10 or more meter optical and other observation system in GEO (look at the Webb telescope) with some human service capabilities. The ability to have “Keyhole” type resolution at anytime on the globe is a powerful game changer.

    I agree that as a destination ISS wont be the “end all”…I just dont think that it is the Moon or anyplace else. In my world where we are headed at some point is a “station” that does “other things” and has not a lot of international flavor to it.

    As an aside I have no knowledge of what Comsats do in business but if the numbers are as you say (and I dont doubt them) if Musk can make his launch numbers…he is going to clean up.

    Robert G. Oler

  • GuessWho

    “… if Musk can make his launch numbers…he is going to clean up.”

    To date he hasn’t. Falcon 1 doesn’t appear to be rocking the LV world like Musk envisioned. Even at $7-$8M per launch, he has launched once in 2008 and once in 2009. Hardly earth shattering. Falcon 9 is 2+ years behind schedule and almost entirely funded by NASA progress payments at this point. Similar performance by NASA on their programs has resulted in severe criticism by the space blog community. Where is the accountability for SpaceX? Extending to manned space I think is a stretch for Musk at this point. He isn’t able to deliver on current commitments let alone future ones.

    And I do have to question the topic of safety in his system. I have seen the numbers associated with the mass of the safety systems alone on Orion. Falcon 9 doesn’t have the lift capability to even get the Orion safety systems to orbit let alone a crew. Thus to say that Orion and Dragon are comparable is laughable. I can’t say whether one is more safe than another, but there are clearly different standards being applied. Either Orion is over-designed (possible as it justifies a large NASA workforce) or is being held to a higher standard. Thus Dragon is either under-designed (relative to crew safety) or is being held to a far lower standard (or worse yet, still under the radar of those who will have to ultimately certify it). Neither answer is particularly assuring.

  • Robert G. Oler

    GuessWho wrote @ February 21st, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    neither of those things suprise me or concern me.

    I do not work for Musk nor any group associated with SpaceX, the comments I have to make are my own and reflect nothing but my own viewpoints…

    to paraphrase your points (and I am not disparge them just paraphrasing)…

    Point one “Musk is going to slow”.

    I am surprised he is going as fast as he is. I would not be surprised to see the 9 make its first attempt sometime in April…

    Musk is doing something that is very hard. While trying to maintain some semblence of “cost” he is trying to put together a team and a product in a world which really does not know the word “profit” and “cost containment”.

    How hard this is is difficult to understate. Many years ago while the Delta Clipper was in the design process Rich Kolker, Dave B and I had breakfast (at his invitation) with Bill Gaubatz and his comments on “how” any commercial variant of DC had to be built if it was going to be successful “ring” in my ears now. Musk is doing just about everything he (BG) outlined.

    Second “the safety stuff”. Sorry anything that NASA came up with to make Orion or Ares safe is in my view a non starter. I have about as much respect for NASA’s view of “safety” as I do (insert a particular commuter airlines name here).

    Robert G. Oler

  • googaw

    Martin:
    last time we tried this (SLI), it didn’t work.

    The NACA- or ARPA- approach is to work on the pieces, not plans, not architectures, not infrastructures. The SLI was very much the opposite of that. It was yet another grandiose attempt to design a speculative architecture. The very approach I’ve been criticizing. So I’m not surprised that it too failed. That’s more strong argument in favor of the NACA approach, not against it.

    how much progress in reducing cost to orbit would you expect in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years respectively?

    I’m afraid probably very little, unless one of the unconventional technologies makes some unexpected rapid progress. Generally speaking, we should be spending more money researching what we do when we get there then researching how to get there. It’s the road less traveled in research, more likely to result in innovation.

    business processes, automation, competition and the like.

    Important, but NASA is bad in these areas. It’s pointless for NASA to research them. They should just use results innovated in the private sector. (Long-distance automation of satellites and rovers being a major obvious exception to this rule).

    BTW, business processes, organizational roles, market research, and other business skills are crucial to defining architectures, infrastructure, and products. That’s why NASA should not be doing those things. It’s very bad at it. As are NASA’s cost-plus contractors. NASA was once great at doing research (as NACA) and can be again.

    - at what level of launch costs would you say moon exploration would be acceptable and not overly hasty?

    When Space Adventures is booking flights and private commerce is bending metal based on those bookings. Or if the DoD wants to go and is OK with NASA tagging along. Then and only then should NASA also start booking flights. It’s not NASA’s job to open new frontiers. NASA is bad at opening new frontiers. NASA is bad at leading. It leads astray. Instead it should follow. NASA can be very good at cutting-edge technology research and science and that is what it should stick to.

    - how long do you think our friends at the SEA will have to wait before that level is achieved?

    Which “exploration” architecture are you referring to? Whichever one it is, they should give it up. Speculative architecture is the wrong approach. They should move on to work on something productive.

  • googaw

    Martin: a chemical circularisation/deorbit burn to/from LEO

    Nothing goes anywhere near LEO. It goes to GEO the normal way, the efficient way: the launcher goes straight to GTO and the upper stage burns to GEO. It also goes back that way. You’re right that SEP is probably a bad idea here, though. More time than necessary in the Van Allen belts is more of a radiation test than we want to expose our intrepid travellers to. I was typing off the top of my head when I typed that. :-)

    A basic plan: A Falcon 9 Heavy pushes a 19,000 kg restartable upper stage (probably storable propellants) to GTO. Another Falcon 9 Heavy pushes a 19,000 kg manned spacecraft to GTO. Rendezvous and docking at GTO. Upper stage gets you to GEO, takes you on slow tour around the satellites, takes you back to GTO. Lose the upper stage and Dragon reenters from GTO. No refueling, no expensive side trip to LEO, nothing fancy needed. Same works for lunar orbit. If we need more delta-v, launch and dock another stage. It’s pointless to use depots for these applications: there is little uncertainty and there are no similar spacecraft sharing the orbit. Docking stages is sufficient to avoid the need for HLV.

    Martin: How could [market distortion] happen if NASA bought propellant in orbit through some kind of auction mechanism?

    It would encourage a bunch of wasteful propellant-tossing and encourage engineers to be sloppy about reliability. They would then take their habits to real payloads and blow them up. While NASA had funding to do these purchases there would be a severe rocket engineer shortage, stealing engineers from far more valuable aerospace programs. When it was discontinued there would be a severe glut of unemployed rocket engineers. This is politics and you can’t predict how regular the funding would be. Meanwhile NASA would be bizarrely misdesigning on-orbit “architecture” based on this preposterously artificial glut of propellant. At $4 billion per year, dominating the market, it would be a whopper of a market distortion, woefully mistraining and misallocating an entire generation of rocket engineers and managers. Not that NASA hasn’t done that before.

  • Storm

    Geeesh,

    Things are beginning to lose there luster. Oler says Paypal can’t do to spaceflight what it did to online payments. Googaw says Prop Depots are pointless and dangerous for HSF. Meanwhile the Chinese are going to the Moon. At least they’re getting what they wanted. All I got is a stacked Delta IV to GEO. I’m not seeing the paradigm shift. Where’s the game changer? All this makes it so plain that the U.S. is a rapidly declining nation. I anticipate that we’ll get passed up in technological prowess by not just China, but India as well. We just don’t have the brilliant heads and cheap labor.

    Not only this, but I read that Europe will take the National Ignition Facility’s precedent to a new level and engineer the first fusion energy plant. You would think that the U.S. would do that since all our tax dollars went to the darn thing. If US doesn’t act then all the scientists go to Europe and they get the unlimited energy and build the first interstellar probe in conjunction with China. The US will have lots of wheat. Lots and lots of it.

  • Storm

    Let me just project an image of what sounds exciting since Googaw did mention some exciting research. Whether you guys think its possible, or not I’m going to give you this vision because I think it would inspire the public to support the NASA vision.

    Like I mentioned a large ISS-sized module packed with radiation mitigation along with some kind of high ISP, but reasonable thrust propulsion mechanism for getting this lunker around GEO. This single module design is launched to GEO, but with propulsion can take trips to L1 and Lunar orbit where it meets up with fuel depots along the way. It carries out experiments related to radiation, solar sail deployment and propulsion, and perhaps a landing on the Moon. This is from a layman’s point of view. It may seem useless to some, and a hindrance in terms of cost, but it would inspire people to go to the stars.

    Thats just my opinion for HSF. A GEO run would be ok, but wouldn’t make much sense except for a few short radiation study excursions – if that.

    Other than that there is not much in our solar system that is of real interest except water. The nano bacteria is not too thrilling. Like Googaw said there probably needs to be some kind of astro mining agency, or something, but I’ve yet to see something this transformational take place in our government.

    The only thing other than radiation mitigation, water, and ISRU that interests me are the earth-like planets. If none of the transformational technologies can take us anywhere for the next 10 years, and we just have to watch the Chinese play on the Moon, then I would propose we send up a breakthrough astronomical program to find Earth like planets – one that can resolve the actual disk of small planets and clearly see their spectra – like TPF. Otherwise I’ll be sulking. And that’s a long time to sulk.

  • Martijn Meijering

    That’s more strong argument in favor of the NACA approach, not against it.

    I thought SLI also asked industry for specific proposals, funded some and nothing came out of it. Anyway, I agree on NASA as NACA being more useful than NASA doing Apollo on steroids, NASA running the Shuttle or NASA doing mega-projects.

    I’m afraid probably very little, unless one of the unconventional technologies makes some unexpected rapid progress.

    OK, then you are saying our friends at SEA will have to wait a long time before they can see a moon mission. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that. They’re sure going to be disappointed though. LEO would still be fine, and maybe we can think of something a little beyond LEO without going all the way to the moon.

    My own guess: I believe NASA might reduce IMLEO by an order of magnitude over a period of 25-50 years. That’s potentially a major reduction in costs (though by less than an order of magnitude since there would be substantial infrastructure costs), but it’s going to take a long time…

    I don’t think NASA research will do much to reduce cost to orbit though. IMLEO yes, but not cost to orbit. Here changes in business processes, automation etc would be required. At current flight rates that kind of research just isn’t profitable. Suborbital hops might bring in the required money. I’d guess it would take 20-30 years of profitable business to make the transition to affordable orbital flight. Maybe I’m being pessimistic.

    When Space Adventures is booking flights and private commerce is bending metal based on those bookings.

    Bookings for moon flights, or would something like lunar orbital missions or even substantial commercial activity in LEO count as well? It sounds as if you’re saying NASA shouldn’t go ahead of commerce, except for LEO as it is already there. So lunar orbital missions only after commerce has done them and surface missions only after commerce has done them? If so, then NASA would be getting out of the “go where no man has gone before business”. Would that still be exploration? It’s starting to sound more like paid joy rides for government employees, unless there was real science to be done as there might be.

  • googaw

    Storm:
    Meanwhile the Chinese are going to the Moon.

    No, they’re not. And if they did so what? (GEO might be another story).

    Martin:
    Bookings for moon flights, or would something like lunar orbital missions or even substantial commercial activity in LEO count as well?

    I’m talking about particular destinations. Today commerce is just booking and bending metal for LEO tourists, so that is where NASA astronauts should stay (obviously their much more useful robots can and should be going all over the solar system). When they are booking for Apollo-8 style once-around, lunar orbit, or GEO (similar energy), NASA should buys some of one or more of those three three kinds of trips, but not farther (i.e. not the more expensive lunar landings). They should not buy so much that they dominate the market. When commerce is traveling to the lunar surface, then NASA again should go along for the ride. All of these should use architecture and infrastructure that has been designed by commerce for the use of commerce or (second best) for the use of the DoD. NASA should be following the lead of commerce, not vice versa.

  • Martijn Meijering

    NASA should be following the lead of commerce, not vice versa.

    OK. Again, I don’t necessarily disagree, but do you agree this is not the traditional view people have of NASA? What would be the added value of NASA doing this when commerce is already doing it? Just the science or is it more? And are you opposed to NASA leading the way because you believe it can’t or because it would be wrong even if they could?

    Another question: why are you comfortable with NASA leading efforts in LEO, but not beyond? There is currently no manned spaceflight independent of governments. Why couldn’t NASA go one step ahead, just as it is doing now? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to wait until there was substantial commercial activity in LEO, then move on to L1/L2/LLO, then wait for commerce to catch up, then go on to the moon, wait for commerce to catch up etc?

    And supposing NASA did have to wait until commerce went beyond LEO, what exactly would they be waiting for. What technological or economic developments would be necessary to allow commerce to go beyond LEO? I have some definite ideas about that, but I’d like to hear your opinion.

    GEO might be another story

    L1/L2 would probably be an easier step: lower delta-v, less issues with radiation.

  • googaw

    me: NASA should be following the lead of commerce, not vice versa.

    Martin: do you agree this is not the traditional view people have of NASA?

    Of course, but the wiser portion of the population are looking at the historical evidence and changing their minds. The wiser will sooner or later convince the naive. They seem to have already convinced the President. It is increasingly obvious to people that NASA is bad at leading. Their plans don’t work. Their visions are wrong. Hopefully it won’t take too many more monstrosities and white elephants like the Shuttle, ISS, and Constellation to convince the remaining NASA fans of this. It is time to let commerce lead.

    What would be the added value of NASA doing this when commerce is already doing it? Just the science or is it more?

    Primarily science and technology research (in pieces, not systems), but there is also a limited role for NASA to goose the market. I’m not against NASA goosing a space market if there is in fact already a real market, not just hypotheses and PowerPoint slides, and as long as they don’t dominate it or give a leg up to cost-plus zombies.

    why are you comfortable with NASA leading efforts in LEO, but not beyond?

    It should have been done later by the private sector at lower cost, but what’s done is done. The ISS is 90% white elephant but that doesn’t mean I can’t advocate putting the rest of its value to good use instead of, as Constellation people were advocating, cynically tossing the whole thing into the Pacific Ocean as soon as the NASA workforce had moved on to the next fraud.

    Why couldn’t NASA go one step ahead

    They take very few steps ahead, more steps backward, and many steps to the side. They don’t lead, they sidetrack. For example, they’ve sidetracked NewSpacers into believing that LEO is all-important. In fact it is not very important at all. GEO is far and away the most important commercial orbit, and is crucial for the military as well. LEO is for the cheapest possible form of space tourism, whether private or government-funded and called “astronauts”. The vast majority of space commerce happens and will continue to happen at GEO. And it’s exciting stuff if you are interested in real space commerce.

  • Frank

    I would like to see a limited number of communication and weatherstations in GEO that can be serviced. Just like they pictured in the early days. To avoid further buildup of the amount of junk already up there, including the garbage left in LEO from the rockets that were used to get the satellites up. This cloud of garbage is a threat to human space flight. So, maybe we will have no other choice than to switch to serviceable stations in GEO, thereby creating a new commercial market, replacing the old ‘just shoot them up’ market. Maybe it won’t be cheaper, but, unless a method is developed pretty soon to get rid of the garbage, we may not have another choice, unless a majority doesn’t care about human space flight….

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:

    Good points, I see where you are coming from.

    LEO is for the cheapest possible form of space tourism, whether private or government-funded and called “astronauts”.

    That does seem like the most plausible form of tourism. I’d be really excited to see that happen, but that of course isn’t necessarily a good reason for the government to subsidise/stimulate it.

    What would you say is holding LEO tourism, let alone tourism beyond LEO, back? Should NASA just wait until commerce goes beyond LEO or is there anything they can do to speed things up?

  • Storm

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ February 22nd, 2010 at 7:50 am

    “L1/L2 would probably be an easier step: lower delta-v, less issues with radiation.”

    My whole point is that we have to get into this radiation environment to conduct the “real-space” tests of mitigation technology. Even if drastic measures are needed for mitigation such as a 12′ water-filled bladder surrounding the whole crew area I would give it a go. Everyone seems to be confined to the idea that we can only reduce radiation by 1/2. I’m more optimistic and I would be willing to go farther to prove it.

    Frank wrote @ February 22nd, 2010 at 9:06 am

    “I would like to see a limited number of communication and weather stations in GEO that can be serviced. Just like they pictured in the early days. To avoid further buildup of the amount of junk already up there. . .”

    That reminds me. DARPA is Conducting a Study on Orbital Debris Removal. It seems that it would be in the interest of all – DoD, Civilian, Commercial, to get these ideas in working order. And DoD should shoulder most of the cost burden.

  • Martijn Meijering

    My whole point is that we have to get into this radiation environment to conduct the “real-space” tests of mitigation technology.

    Absolutely, and I have long argued for this in fact. The lower van Allen belt is easily accessible and a good first approximation to the effects of solar flares, which are the main obstacles for short duration flights. Measuring the effects of cosmic radiation is a much more difficult challenge.

    For unmanned missions the lower van Allen, MEO, GEO and L1/L2 are the most interesting early targets. For manned missions it depends on whether you want to do it with a capsule, as I used to advocate or with a lander precursor as I now prefer. L1/L2 is slightly easier than GEO with a capsule and the radiation environment is also better. On the down side travel times are also longer. With a lander precursor MEO would be a good training for L1/L2, delta-v is similar and radiation is better than in GEO. In any event you would likely want to stay away from the van Allens for manned missions.

  • Storm

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ February 22nd, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Yeah Van Allen will be traversed in route anyway, so a brief monitoring of that environment would not be avoidable.

    Your idea sounds practical. We should park a capsule in L1/L2 for a short duration test. Manned flights to the Moon resulted in cataracts developing in many of the individuals as a result of GCR’s, which they even saw as flashes of light. If we doubled the shielding of the previous Moon missions with hydrogen/plastics and astronauts were still seeing these flashes, then I think we could safely bet that a trip to Mars under those shielding conditions would be impossible. At that point we could propose that a capsule with the water or compressed hydrogen bladder on the order of 12′ of thickness be demonstrated, and launch the water/hydrogen on separate launchers, so that when the capsule reached L1 the water/hydrogen tank would be waiting for docking and fill-up. If astronauts were still seeing flashes inside of 12′ of water, or 12′ of compressed hydrogen, then I would suggest that man never go beyond LEO unless humans were willing to go even farther with shielding. GCRs have a lot of punch. The secondary radiation should be stoppable however with a combination of materials. If the secondary radiation was not severe then people could likely go for longer and longer stays to see what the effects were.

  • Martijn Meijering

    GCR is only a problem if you’re exposed to it for a long time. If you want to do shielding, you need massive amounts, but that could be done with a cycler. Or you could use faster trajectories. To do that you would want to separate crew from cargo and propellant transport, which is a good idea anyway. Something like VASIMR combined with a very lightweight power source could also work, but would be much more of a challenge.

  • Storm

    If it were up to me I would skip the first step and immediately send up the bladder capsule to fill up once it got to L1. I don’t think its realistic to just reduce the radiation by half, because even half the dose is way too much for a Mars mission. But I think this is what the idiots at NASA will do.

  • Storm

    What’s the “Cycler”?

  • Storm

    I don’t think doing just faster trajectories is safe based on the fact that it only took a week for GCR’s to cause cataracts later in life for many of the Apollo Astronauts.

    I say NASA should jump right to the massive shielding. I don’t see any reason to reduce costs by doing a half-assed mission to L1 to test if more aluminum will be sufficient. If you’re right about the Cycler then lets do it on the first try.

  • googaw

    Martin, my point was that space tourism is probably not a very big market. That is one of the reasons GEO is a far more important orbit than LEO. GEO is where almost all of space commerce is, and it’s where most space commerce is going to happen many decades into the future. If we want to expand space commerce, we need to be asking the folks who do business in GEO what they want and thinking about what they need. In terms of government funding we ought to ask what research if it proved fruitful could be used by GEO entrepreneurs to lower their costs and expand their functionality. The astronauts and space tourists are a romantic distraction that keeps us from paying attention to real space commerce.

  • Martijn Meijering

    The trouble with GCR is that if you want to stop it completely you need several kilometers of rock… GCR is not generally considered to be all that dangerous for short periods. If that turns out to be wrong, then we have a real problem. NTR may then be the only solution.

  • googaw

    Storm:
    based on the fact that it only took a week for GCR’s to cause cataracts later in life for many of the Apollo Astronauts.

    Not statistically significant. We need real studies, with very large numbers of lab rats, not with statistically insignificant numbers of astronauts.

  • Storm

    Aslo, if propellant can be utilized as shielding then why not send the the crew with the propellant wrapped around the crew? Perhaps NASA should consider a higher thrust engine with high ISP as well, to get the crew up to speed with the heavy weight of shielding around them.

  • Storm

    Googaw you’re totally right about the lab rats. That should be done first.

  • Storm

    I would think NTR would be needed regardless of how much shielding there was. This idea of a six month mission to Mars is crazy. I’m still not in favor of the Mars idea, but NASA should explore what the rational is for sending humans beyond LEO in the first place, and as far as I see it the most critical rational is the radiation factor. Even if NASA sufficiently figure this out and deems longer duration missions beyond LEO is safe I would favor putting Mars on the back burner, and instead putting up space stations around GEO/L1/Lunar orbit – not Mars.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Martin, my point was that space tourism is probably not a very big market. That is one of the reasons GEO is a far more important orbit than LEO.

    That is certainly true, but GEO is a market that will look after itself, unlike LEO. Nothing much that NASA needs to do.

    The astronauts and space tourists are a romantic distraction that keeps us from paying attention to real space commerce.

    I believe space tourism may be the only thing that will enable large scale activity in space. It’s also something I’m really enthusiastic about. Like exploration, it’s something you do for its own sake. Whether those two things are worth taxpayers’ money is another question, probably not.

    But what I’m getting at is this: why don’t we see commercial development of space? The two main hurdles are development costs for crew vehicles and habs and high launch costs. Thanks to NASA and Mr Bigelow the first hurdle is about to be removed. It’s the second one that’s the big obstacle. And since you’re advocating NASA shouldn’t go beyond LEO until there is substantial commercial activity in LEO that means that as long as we have high launch costs you would be opposed to exploration. Also, there’s not much NASA can do about launch costs, short of stimulating demand and letting private R&D solve the problem. But you’re opposed to that. Your positions sounds reasonable enough, but I wanted to check if you agreed that would be its logical conclusion: no exploration for a long, long time with launch costs being the bottleneck. Do you agree with that?

  • Storm

    Googaw,

    So NASA should put a bunch of rats up in a shielded spacecraft in L1 for one month, then repeat the experiment with successively longer duration missions. Great idea. How do we make sure this idea goes to Bolden? If wouldn’t be very expensive. I can’t imagine you’d have to send up the shielding on separate launches.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @Storm:

    A cycler ship is a very large spaceship that cycles in an elliptical orbit that takes it around Mars and Earth without descending deep into their gravity wells. You would use a small, fast crew ship to rendez-vous with it whenever it passed close either Earth or Mars.

    I believe the idea of using lots of propellant to use fast trajectories is sound, probably more feasible than using large amounts of shielding. It can also be easily combined with ISRU and SEP, which will reduce IMLEO by a lot. NTR would reduce it even further, but it doesn’t seem strictly necessary. I’m personally not all that eager to go to Mars or Mars orbit, it’s just that if NASA does do it I would want them to do it without an HLV.

    Remember once at Mars, Mars itself shields half your GCR and there is plenty of regolith you could use for shielding your hab. On Phobos the situation is even better. If you stay on the Mars-facing side of Phobos you are shielded on both sides. If you put your hab at the bottom of the Stickney crater, you even get shielding from the sides of the crater. It works for micrometeoroids too.

  • googaw

    Storm:
    So NASA should put a bunch of rats up in a shielded spacecraft in L1 for one month, then repeat the experiment with successively longer duration missions.

    Should be at least two groups, shielded and unshielded. We need a control group to compare with so that we know it wasn’t microgravity, the stress of launch, etc. that caused any observed problems. With more groups we could compare different kinds of shielding.

    I don’t have any special connections at NASA. Post in places where some NASA folks may be reading.

    BTW, microgravity is another big problem. There are good reasons, of bad faith, that NASA hasn’t had any astronauts up on ISS for much more than six months. They should either shut up about about manned Mars missions altogether or get serious and put up astronauts on ISS for 500 days so that we all know what happens.

  • Vladislaw

    “There are good reasons, of bad faith, that NASA hasn’t had any astronauts up on ISS for much more than six months.”

    The Russians have asked several times to increase to 9 months at least. I always thought it was about the numbers. At 6 months you have the statistic of having twice as many people up per year. 3 or 4 per year versus 1 or 2.

  • googaw

    ISRU

    Astronauts to Mars are preposterously expensive without ISRU-based propellant and radiation shielding.

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