NASA

Skimming over the detailed budget

Yesterday NASA released detailed budget documents, three weeks after the release of the high-level budget documents and just before the first in a series of Congressional hearings about the budget. Some highlights of the budget after a quick skim through them:

The budget documents make it clear that, going forward, technology development will be the core of the agency’s exploration program. In FY11 exploration R&D gets $1.55 billion, or 36% of the overall exploration budget; by FY11 those figures go up to $3.98 billion and 77%. Much of that technology spending will go towards projects like “Flagship Technology Demonstrators”: programs with total costs of $400 million-$1 billion that “offer high potential to demonstrate new capability and reduce the cost of future exploration missions”, such as in-space propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, and autonomous rendezvous and docking. The “Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology” line will fund development of a new LOX/kerosene engine roughly equivalent to the RD-180, as well as in-space propulsion and “foundational” propulsion research. The budget will also fund “at least two” exploration precursor missions starting in FY11, one being a lunar mission designed to demonstrate teleoperation and transmission of “near-live video” (something that sounds a lot like what a qualifying Google Lunar X PRIZE spacecraft would do.)

After closeout of Constellation, the rest of the exploration budget goes to commercial spaceflight. There are few additional details about the commercial crew program in the budget, other than that funds “will be competed through COTS-like, fixed-price, milestone-based Space Act Agreements”; awards need not be for complete systems but instead could cover human-rating launch vehicles, developing spacecraft, or “new high-reliability rocket systems”. In addition, the $312 million in the FY11 budget for commercial cargo development is to “improve the chance of mission success” by either accelerating existing COTS milestones for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences or adding new ones, such as development of improved engines for the Taurus 2 and Falcon 9.

The exploration technology line item actually is bigger than the overall “Space Technology” line in the budget, which grows from under $600 million in FY11 to just over $1.2 billion in FY15. This budget includes a number of interesting projects, from
“Game Changing Technology” to the reestablishment of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The budget also includes funding for smallsat technology development and an “Edison” class of smallsat demonstration missions. Centennial Challenges also would get a robust $10 million a year over five years; the prize program got $4 million in FY10 after several years of no funding. This section of the budget also includes the CRuSR program, which NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said last week would bet getting $15 million/year in the budget (it’s part of a $17 million/year “Flight Opportunities” line item with FAST, which flies experiments on parabolic aircraft flights.)

The Space Operations part of the budget includes $428.6 million for the “21st Century Launch Complex” at the Kennedy Space Center, the beginning of nearly $2 billion of planned spending on the project over the next five years. The project “focuses on upgrades to the Florida launch range, expanding capabilities to support commercial launch providers, and transforming KSC into a modern facility”, although it looks more now to be a wish list of upgrades rather than a specific plan. Elsewhere in Space Operations, the budget would fund a study with the National Research Council on the agency’s Human Space Flight Operations program, including the “role and size of the human spaceflight office” in the post-shuttle era, which some have interpreted as the beginning of a potential downsizing of the astronaut corps.

In science, Earth Sciences gets a healthy increase over the current budget ($1.8 billion versus $1.42 billion in FY10), with continued increases to nearly $2.3 billion in FY15. The funding will be used to start or accelerate several missions identified in the last Earth sciences decadal survey in 2007; there’s also funding for a reflight of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory lost in a launch failure last year. Other science programs don’t do nearly so well: astrophysics, heliophysics, and planetary sciences see much less growth and are closer to, and even slightly smaller than, the outyear projections in the FY10 budget. Tucked away in the planetary sciences budget, under the “Lunar Quest Program”, is $15 million in FY11 to restart plutonium-238 production, needed for RTGs. This will be a joint program with the Department of Energy, which is requesting a similar amount for this in its FY11 budget (p. 51 of the PDF).

116 comments to Skimming over the detailed budget

  • Mark R. Whittington

    This all sounds very exciting (and I mean that without being sarcastic.) It would be even more exciting if the plan was to actually do missions with this new technology.

  • googaw

    “Flagship Technology Demonstrators”: programs with total costs of $400 million-$1 billion

    These sound awfully gold-plated. Like they are combining several technology demonstrations into single grandiose platforms. That’s a very bad way to do technology research. It will result in overly conservative technology rather than cutting-technology. To research cutting-edge technology, one takes risks but separates the risks out into different demonstrators so that they do not impact each other.

  • googaw

    It would be even more exciting if the plan was to actually do missions with this new technology.

    Please spare us your atavistic yearning for five-year plans. When you are researching new technology, the future is unpredictable. And future politics is unpredictable. Future commerce is unpredictable. Deal with it.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Actually, Googaw, the future can sometimes be very predictable. The question is, will any of this survive the Congressional sausage machine, seeing as the administration started by angering Congress.

    I;m not sure what the reference to “five year plans” means, aside from some cheap shot about the Soviets. A five year plan to get back to the Moon would look awfully good next to airy talk about going to Mars “by 2039.”

  • red

    I agree with Mark on this one. It would be nice to have some sort of HSF beyond-LEO exploration plan. It seems like it would be possible to start once we get over the Shuttle and Constellation budget humps if we can limit our objectives to what’s affordable (eg: GEO, Earth-Moon Lagrange points, lunar orbit for the time being), use commercial and international participation as appropriate, and/or squeeze a little more funding into the budget. However, the things that are funded look like the right ones.

    googaw: “These sound awfully gold-plated.”

    The technology research and development and demonstration efforts cover all sorts of phases of technology creation, and all sorts of sizes of programs. There are lots of cutting-edge efforts in the budget, too, and there are smaller technology demonstrations. I guess these “flagship” demonstrators are liable to be expensive in part because they’re going to be done in space.

    It’s also similar for the Earth science missions and the HSF robotic precursor missions. They have some traditional-sized missions, but there are also “Venture-Class” Earth science missions and “scout-class” robotic precursors, as well as opportunities for small efforts that put components like instruments on other missions.

  • googaw

    the future can sometimes be very predictable.

    The only thing predictable here is your false certainty: your religious belief in set sacramental ways to travel to the heavens. The real world is unpredictable. Technological progress and economic realities make old ideas about how to conquer the cosmos obsolete. Deal with it.

  • googaw

    red:
    I guess these “flagship” demonstrators are liable to be expensive in part because they’re going to be done in space.

    Well, no. Almost all of the technology can be tested sub-scale. We can build and launch small satellites for a tiny fraction of these costs. Combining risky technologies onto one platform is a terrible research strategy. Each will be deemed too much of a risk to the others: the result being conservative recycling of old ideas instead of daring trial of new ones.

  • Doug Lassiter

    The criticism about lack of destinations o tje FY11 budget proposal is fair, in my view. But there are some nuances here.

    While some people are looking for an “X-or-bust-by-2xxx” concept of destination, others would be happy with an “X,Y, or Z when we’re good and ready” concept. The FY11 budget proposal leans strongly to the latter. But the choices of X,Y, or Z come across almost as afterthoughts in it, with some implied presumption that going to X, Y, Z or whatever would offer something to us. Whether the destination is just X, or the package-deal of X,Y or Z, the budget text makes it sound like being able to go somewhere is more important than actually going anywhere, and that doesn’t sit quite right by me. What’s missing is what we used to call a vision for space exploration. What we have here is a vision for space technology.

    I was really hoping the detailed budget books just released would remedy that, but it isn’t obvious that they do.

  • googaw

    lack of destinations o tje FY11 budget

    There is no lack of destinations. Moon, Mars, and asteroids are all explicitly mentioned.

    the choices of X,Y, or Z come across almost as afterthoughts in it, with some implied presumption that going to X, Y, Z or whatever would offer something to us.

    No, the presumption is that they might with significant probability offer potentially quite important things to us. In technology research and exploration no stronger presumption is possible or necessary. We do not yet know enough about the destinations to wisely choose. That is what the robotic prospecting missions are for. (It’s a very good idea, BTW, to have unmanned missions dedicated to prospecting rather than just pure science. I’m very happy to see the Exploration Directorate now have their own series of deep space missions that they can actually afford to fly). We also do not know nearly enough about how humans will react to the 500+ days of microgravity and cosmic radiation in a Mars or asteroid mission. There are relatively inexpensive ways of finding out before we toss hundreds of billions of dollars down a grandiose ritual rathole.

    What’s missing is what we used to call a vision for space exploration.

    In other words, what is missing is old dogma based on obsolete technology and bad economics. Good riddance.

  • Major Tom

    “It would be even more exciting if the plan was to actually do missions with this new technology.”

    That is the plan. Per the very first paragraph of exploration section of NASA FY 2011 Budget Request:

    “The President’s FY 2011 Budget request outlines an innovative new path for human space exploration and strengthens the capability to extend human presence throughout the solar system. NASA is taking a new approach to this long-term goal; by laying the ground work that will enable humans to safely reach multiple potential destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, and Mars and its environs.”

    Please read, comprehend, and think before you post.

    “A five year plan to get back to the Moon

    You whined about rapid, “flags and footprints” human Mars missions in past threads. Now you want a quick, five-year, human lunar mission that would necessarily be a flags and footprints effort.

    What is it you want? Quick or capable?

    Please keep your arguments straight.

    “would look awfully good next to airy talk about going to Mars ‘by 2039.’”

    This “airy talk” exists only in your mind. There is no 2039 Mars milestone.

    Sigh…

  • Major Tom

    Red: “It would be nice to have some sort of HSF beyond-LEO exploration plan.”

    Mr. Lassiter: “Whether the destination is just X, or the package-deal of X,Y or Z, the budget text makes it sound like being able to go somewhere is more important than actually going anywhere”

    History goes against Presidentially set human exploration targets and dates. From NASA’s post-Apollo Mars plans, to SEI, to Constellation, that approach has failed repeatedly. In the absence of an external driver, like the unusual Cold War circumstances and Soviet competition that drove Apollo, the big budget ramp-ups that this approach requires are politically unsustainable and the effort fails within a few months or years.

    I’d argue that it is more important for NASA to first develop the capability to send human missions to multiple potential targets affordably within a post-Apollo NASA budget. Then there’s no need for Presidential decree. With an affordable human solar system exploration capability in hand, NASA can set targets and dates based on what makes the best technical and budgetary sense, rather than some barely affordable compromise of what appeals to the current crop of White House staffers and might achieve an initial milestone before the next change of Administration.

    A Presidential announcement isn’t required for NSF to set up a new Antarctic base camp, every time NOAA wants to send a human submersible to new ocean depths, or even every time NASA launches the Space Shuttle. Ideally, NASA’s human exploration capabilities will achieve the same level of marginal affordability.

    Let’s develop the capabilities that will make it easy to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. Let’s stop setting targets and dates in the absence of affordable capabilities and politically sustainable budgets.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • History goes against Presidentially set human exploration targets and dates. From NASA’s post-Apollo Mars plans, to SEI, to Constellation, that approach has failed repeatedly.

    Even Apollo likely wouldn’t have survived if Kennedy had.

  • googaw

    Major Tom:
    History goes against Presidentially set human exploration targets and dates. From NASA’s post-Apollo Mars plans, to SEI, to Constellation, that approach has failed repeatedly.

    Yes, exactly. It’s important to remember the history. The moral panic caused by the Soviets and their novel nuclear-tipped missiles, signified by Sputnik, triggered the unique space race of the 1960s. Combined with Kennedy being a martyr whose promises successive politicians had to keep, the decade was an extreme fluke.

    it is more important for NASA to first develop the capability to send human missions to multiple potential targets affordably.

    I’m afraid NASA politics have also failed in the area of grandiose speculative “infrastructure” (Shuttle, Aerospace Plane, X-33, ISS, etc.). NASA is terribly prone to building bridges to nowhere. They are sold as dramatically lowering costs but in fact increase them or become useless white elephants or hangar queens. It is thus crucial that NASA’s new direction be about technology research, not about NASA designing or building, much less operating, speculative “infrastructure.”

    Successful infrastructure has historically evolved out of the private sector. Private investors built and operated the first dams, the first railroads, the first electric trams, the first air fields, the first oil fields, the first oil refineries, the first gas stations, the first electric utilities, the first radio stations, and so on. The private sector designed, built, and operated the turnpikes, canals, and merchant marine that served the early industrial revolution. In some cases there were monopoly concerns and governments came in and took over infrastructure that had already been birthed and brought to maturity by the private sector.

    Most ideas for new kinds of infrastructure are non-obviously bad but mercifully die when faced with real market pressure. Creative destruction is as important for choosing the right infrastructure as it is for progress in the rest of the economy. So let’s stop with the false certainty. The managers and engineers of NASA and its contractors are not religious prophets and they cannot predict the future. Nor can space activists. Let market-designed infrastructure and NASA research take us on the flexible path, and let the rest follow instead of trying to schedule the future as if it were a religious calendar.

  • Allen Thomson

    > The “Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology” line will fund development of a new LOX/kerosene engine roughly equivalent to the RD-180

    Why not use the RD-180? Or license the RD-170 if needed?

  • “Combined with Kennedy being a martyr whose promises successive politicians had to keep, the decade was an extreme fluke.”

    In the words of Gene Cernan:

    “it is as if John Kennedy reached into the 21st century, grabbed a decade of time, and spliced it neatly into the 1960s and 70s”

    I think the main thrust of the comments here so far hit it right on the mark. Monolithic government space programs are truly successful only under very specific and typically rare conditions. In the case of Apollo, the mystique surrounding Kennedy was so profound Nixon was warned not to make too grand a speech when they landed for fear of taking too much credit. Whether or not you happen to like Kennedy and his legacy, the environment he created was a force in and of itself. And with the exception of perhaps Reagan, none have done so since.

  • Bill White

    @ googaw, I agree with most everything in your latest comment including this:

    Successful infrastructure has historically evolved out of the private sector. . . . Let market-designed infrastructure and NASA research take us on the flexible path, and let the rest follow instead of trying to schedule the future as if it were a religious calendar. . . .

    However, I ask how is this new plan materially different from Constellation or the O’Keefe/Steidle VSE with respect to promoting non-NASA buyers of human spaceflight and non-NASA investment in and ownership of space infrastructure?

  • “Why not use the RD-180?”

    Aside from not wanting to lease both oru present AND our future to the Russians, I think there’s more to the story here. While I give Jeff much credit in this article, I think the rest of the paragraph on the HLV 1st stage offers a more instructive explanation:

    “NASA’s efforts in this area will focus on development of a U.S. core stage hydrocarbon engine that would be suitable for use in a future heavy-lift rocket or as the first stage of a future launch vehicle. A strong candidate would be a hydrocarbon (liquid oxygen/kerosene) engine, capable of generating high levels of thrust approximately equal to or exceeding the performance of the Russian-built RD-180 engine.”

    The exceeding portion I believe is key. The RD-180 is set more as a baseline benchmark than a target. “Equal to” is still a possibility, but that appears to be the lower limit.

    “Other key target characteristics for this new capability include improvements in overall engine robustness and efficiency, health monitoring, affordability, and operability.”

    We’re essentially building a better moustrap here. Again, the RD-180 is a performance benchmark in light of this statement with the goal being overall improvements on all other aspects and possibly improvements on performance as well.

    “In every aspect of the design, NASA will seek to incorporate features that will reduce manufacturing and operating costs for this engine, once it achieves nominal production status.”

    And there’s the red ink argument. The whole strategy appears to be building the 2010′s version of the RD-180. If we’ve built them before, why wouldn’t we be able to do it cheaper now? I’m really hoping it pans out as stated, though my concern is we end up with another chimeric STS-style project that gets tweaked to death before it hits a test stand.

    “The level of funding for this project is intended to result in a fully operational engine by the end of this decade or perhaps sooner if a DOD partnership is established.”

    I’m not liking the ‘by the end of this decade’ designation. Let’s hope for the DOD ‘perhaps sooner’ clause. It’ll be before Ares V would have done it, sure, but we’re putting in money now as opposed to later in this plan. I’d expect a rosier timeline.

  • “However, I ask how is this new plan materially different from Constellation or the O’Keefe/Steidle VSE with respect to promoting non-NASA buyers of human spaceflight and non-NASA investment in and ownership of space infrastructure?”

    I’m hoping my reading into the investment in inflatable modules is justified. They conspicuously mention industrial partners in the paragraph. Paired with the still mothballed Transhab and the alive and well Bigelow, I’m betting on them investing in proving the inflatable module design, which if left in the hands of Mr. Big, could easily lead to a market. Big market? Hard to say. But thus far we’ve had no market at all so we’ll take what we can get.

  • Bill White

    Or maybe NASA wants its Transhab patents back.

    As they say, hope for the best but plan for the worst.

    An express commitment by top NASA brass (Bolden / Garver / Whitesides) to encourage and facilitate privately owned in-space infrastructure would be easily given reassurance if that is indeed their plan.

  • MrEarl

    I have a few specific questions about the choice to develop “a hydrocarbon (liquid oxygen/kerosene) engine, capable of generating high levels of thrust approximately equal to or exceeding the performance of the Russian-built RD-180 engine,”. According to SpaceFlight Now, “NASA says the new hydrocarbon engine should be fully operational by the end of this decade, or even sooner if the agency receives help from the Department of Defense.”
    Why kerosene vs Hydrogen?
    Why would it take so long to develop an engine that Russia developed 10years ago?
    Why not develop an F-1 class engine where we have at least some plans/designs and flight ready specimens (at the time they were built).
    Would an SSME evolution to one that is not resueable and more powerful be a cheaper, faster path?

  • googaw

    Bill White:
    how is this new plan materially different …. with respect to promoting non-NASA buyers of human spaceflight and non-NASA investment in and ownership of space infrastructure?

    There is no silver bullet for doing this. Neither we nor NASA can predict what the best markets will be, or the most useful infrastructure. We don’t know whether orbital tourism is anything more than a subsidized niche market. The way we discover what will happen is to let entrepreneurs try many different kinds of infrastructure serving many different kinds of hypothetical markets, most of which will fail. And for NASA to research a wide range of technologies for those entrepreneurs to choose from. Most of the tech research too will fail. Creative destruction.

    The new budget is much closer to seeing the future as what it is, namely an unpredictable voyage into the unknown instead of a calendar of heavenly visions to be followed with religious zeal. It is much closer to seeing progress as coming from where it comes from, namely daring trials of novel ideas that usually fail. (There are still many overrated old ideas being pawned off in this budget as new, but I hardly expect perfection). O’Keefe/Steidle and Constellation and Shuttle and ISS were drenched with the false certainty that NASA knows the future and designs the future and we’d all just better get on board. The new budget comes much closer to admitting the reality of our ignorance and that is very refreshing and gives me great hope for the future.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “There is no lack of destinations. Moon, Mars, and asteroids are all explicitly mentioned.”

    Yes, they’re all explicitly mentioned, and very briefly, without any background on why we would go to these places. I’ll say it again. The mention of these destinations came across almost as an afterthought.

    “No, the presumption is that they might with significant probability offer potentially quite important things to us.”

    With regard to this set of explicitly, and very briefly mentioned destinations, your remark is just repeating what I said. Yes, these destinations might offer important things to us. I think they do. My point is that the budget proposal, which is supposed to justify expenditures to Congress, provided no insights about what these important things might be.

    “In other words, what is missing is old dogma based on obsolete technology and bad economics. Good riddance.”

    With regard to the need for some vision for space exploration, that’s an odd statement to make. What I’m looking for, and the way I define “vision”, is an overlying picture of what it’s all about, and how it meets national needs. Indeed, good riddance to obsolete technologies and bad economics! No question there. Having put that aside though, let’s get back to talking about the need for a vision. There isn’t one in the FY11 budget proposal, at least with regard to deep space.

  • “Why kerosene vs Hydrogen?”

    I’m no rocket scientist (hardy har har) but my understanding is that LOX/LH2 systems work best in the vacuum environment where oxidizer/hydrocarbon mixes work better in atmosphere. It’s a first day of a 101-level propelant class sort of answer, but that’s the answer I’ve gathered from what I’ve read. It’s borne out by the lack of LOX/LH2 1st stage systems in rocketry, but again, that’s anecdotal.

    “Why not develop an F-1 class engine where we have at least some plans/designs and flight ready specimens (at the time they were built).
    Would an SSME evolution to one that is not resueable and more powerful be a cheaper, faster path?”

    I’m thinking they’re taking a page out of Musk’s playbook. Instead of using flying engines as the engineering basis, they’re looking at using them as the inspirational basis and trying to apply all lessons learned to a brand new system. If Musk’s price/lb to orbit pans out post-F9 debut it could be a very effective model. And, while the timeline issue is a problem, if we come out of this with a brand new rocket conceived from the ground up based on knowledge gained over 60-70 years of rocket motor development and operation, it could be a big win for our space program. I admit, however, that it’s a lot of ifs.

  • heh… you’re reading a Federal budget proposal and you’re expecting soaring rhetoric about vision?

  • Major Tom

    “The mention of these destinations came across almost as an afterthought.”

    I’d argue that putting the destinations in the very first paragraph of the exploration section of the budget document doesn’t rank as an “afterthought”.

    “Yes, they’re all explicitly mentioned, and very briefly, without any background on why we would go to these places.”

    For better or worse, it’s a budget document, not the Augustine report. If staffers want policy justifications for particular targets, they should go to the latter, rather than the former. Honestly, stuffing the ten pages of chapter 3 from the Augustine report into a budget document would look pretty weird.

    FWIW…

  • Bill White

    @ googaw

    Why can’t NASA simply acknowledge that they shall not be the only people up there in space and that facilitating privately owned and foreign owned in-space infrastructure is part of their new vision? Be it hotels, orbital R&D laboratories, fuel depots or whatever.

    Of course we don’t know yet what infrastructure shall be ideal however it would seem easy enough to declare that not all of it will have NASA logos or be NASA operated.

    Given the MirCorp precedent and Griffin’s rumored smack down of the Bigelow/Lockheed plan for private space taxis for a non-NASA LEO destination, a declaration that NASA does not intend to be the sole owner of in-space infrastructure would seem useful — and it won’t cost a penny to make that declaration.

  • I totally agree Doug. I’m a big fan of the current plan, and I’m actually opposed to the so-stated “land on XXXX by 20XX” strategy, but a more clearly stated direction would be nice. I think it needs to be somewhere between the timeline model and the current “We’ll go somewhere beyond LEO someday.” You don’t need dates-certain or set in stone targets to narrow the field enough to get a proper focus for our energies.

    Right now all we know is that we’re aiming to do something or other somewhere between the ISS and the asteroid belt sometime after 2020. If we can give a wish list like:

    1. Permanent moon base
    2. Sorties on Mars
    3. Sorties on NEO’s large enough to blow up a city
    4. Space Station at a Lagrange point

    and see which ones survive the scientific and engineering realities then at least we’d have some goals. Flexible is fine and good, but it needs to stay defined enough to avoid being scattered. Having a list of somewhat more specific possible missions would be more inspiring as well.

    I really like the way many of our probes are plotted out, with primary, secondary, and optional missions. That could be a really effective model to tackle. Example (off the top of my head, please don’t jump on the specifics):

    Primary (If we don’t do this, it’s mission failure):
    Manned vehicles beyond LEO
    Manned cislunar flights

    Secondary (We should do most if not all of these):
    Manned lunar landing
    Rendezvous with a NEO
    Small Space Station in lunar orbit.
    Manned trip to Lagrange

    Optional (We will do some of these, but not all):
    Permanent base on the moon
    Space station at Lagrange
    Manned landing on Mars/Mars satellites.
    Landing on NEO

    Aside from narrowing the field without committing ourselves to an inflexible and likely failed mission, this is also well in line with Obama’s typical wonkish view of policy. It also fits in the scope of the detailed budget with it’s two-classed technology demonstrator system where we will definitiely build some and pick from an array of others.

  • Major Tom

    Mr. White: “However, I ask how is this new plan materially different from Constellation or the O’Keefe/Steidle VSE with respect to promoting non-NASA buyers of human spaceflight and non-NASA investment in and ownership of space infrastructure?”

    The only commercial element of Constellation was COTS A-C cargo to/from ISS. The VSE, had it been implemented as written, would have added crew transport to/from ISS. Steidle’s team was also examining crew transport to/from LEO for exploration missions, essentially turning the CEV into a deep space vehicle.

    The new budget plan and the Augustine report push in additional commercial directions. Getting in-space cryo storage and xfer demonstrated opens up another, potentially very big, market for commercial launchers. A big, domestic, LOX/Kerosene engine may enable/accelerate ULA or SpaceX to provide a heavy lifter that efficiently leverages their commercial infrastructure, workforce, and markets. And, although I didn’t see it in the budget document, the Augustine Report includes a commercial lunar lander in some of its options, leveraging capabilities growing out of the VTVL suborbital providers and recent/ongoing prizes (X PRIZE LLC and Google Lunar Lander Challenge). And then there’s the aforementioned inflatable ISS demo, likely Bigelow.

    There may be other differences, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

    Googaw: “Let market-designed infrastructure and NASA research take us on the flexible path,”

    I don’t disagree with the “push-private-solutions wherever possible”. But I would just note that there will be limits to this over the foreseeable future. It’s one thing to talk about commercial, Apollo 8-type lunar missions or commercial, inflatable habitats on the Moon in our lifetimes. It’s another to talk about a megawatt-class nuclear deep space plasma transit stage being commercially owned and operated. Commercial interests (e.g., Space Adventures, Bigelow) have expressed interest in the former and the costs and technology involved are within the realm of the conceivable for private investors. I’d argue that’s not true of the latter. At some point along the spectrum of human space exploration capabilities, NASA will likely have to develop, own, and operate because the costs/risks/markets are prohibitive for private investors.

    But I don’t disagree that the going-in goals for the commercial/government mix should be set much higher than they have been for the past five years (or all of NASA’s history, for that matter).

    FWIW…

  • “The mention of these destinations came across almost as an afterthought.”

    Aside from the aforementioned note that it got a first paragraph mention, the details offer a lot of reason to believe we’re headed there. The tech demonstrators are heavily geared toward living-off-the-land and human survivability missions. Having them in the exploration budget versus the science budget alone speaks volumes. Robots don’t care about radiation or in-situ supply development. If it’s not coming home, why figure out how to make fuel from a rock?

    “However, the exploration precursor robotic missions will be unique—designed and developed to be relevant to the needs of future human exploration as the primary rationale.”

    “One will likely be a lunar mission to demonstrate tele-operation capability from Earth and potentially from the International Space Station, including the ability to transmit near-live video to Earth.”

    While I question the utility of specifically tele-operating robots from ISS, from a psychological standpoint putting beyond-LEO study in the hands of orbiting astronauts could represent a vector outward symbolically if not actually.

    “NASA will also select at least one additional robotic precursor mission to initiate in 2011, and identify potential future missions to begin in 2012 and/or 2013. Potential missions may include:
    Landing on asteroids or the moons of Mars …
    Landing a facility to test processing technologies for transforming lunar or asteroid materials for fuel.”"

    “Additionally, a new portfolio of explorer scouts will execute small, rapid turn-around, highly competitive missions to exploration destinations

    Selected projects may provide multiple small scouting spacecraft to investigate multiple possible landing sites, or provide means of rapid-prototyping new spacecraft approaches.”

    “This budget increases Human Research funding to $215 million per year to support effort focused on solving the long-term problems that need to be addressed for humans to safely live and work at various locations in the inner solar system

    Human Health Countermeasures, Space Radiation Space, Habitability and Human Factors, Behavioral Health and Performance, Exploration Medical Capabilities, ISS Medical Project”

    It seems to me this is very humans-beyond-LEO focussed. Indeed more than 1/2 of the exploration budget is pointed squarely and decidedly beyond LEO with very specific topics of study directly relevant to human exploration. The only pieces not directly related are the sundown of STS/Constellation and commercial cargo/crew.

  • Major Tom

    “If we can give a wish list like:

    1. Permanent moon base
    2. Sorties on Mars
    3. Sorties on NEO’s large enough to blow up a city
    4. Space Station at a Lagrange point

    and see which ones survive the scientific and engineering realities then at least we’d have some goals. Flexible is fine and good, but it needs to stay defined enough to avoid being scattered.”

    They havn’t been in the press much, but I’d point out that NASA actually has been working specific DRMs for these targets (in addition to all the old Mars DRMs) to guide its R&D investments under the new budget plan. For example:

    Tended GEO/Lagrange Point Observatories –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/manned-mission-to-construct-huge-geo-and-deep-space-telescopes-proposed/

    NEOs –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/nasas-flexible-path-2025-human-mission-visit-asteroid/

    Phobos –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/taking-aim-phobos-nasa-flexible-path-precursor-mars/

    The trade space between these (and probably other) reference missions will be one of the main drivers of the R&D investments in the budget.

    FWIW…

  • googaw

    Bill White:
    Why can’t NASA simply acknowledge that they shall not be the only people up there in space

    Of course they should acknowledge the right of private companies to operate their own manned spacecraft in LEO, if that’s what you’re saying. I don’t know that NASA has ever denied this, but if anybody believes that they have, a positive statement in that regard would be beneficial. If there is a specific law or regulation or NASA policy that is holding any potential entrepreneurs back (as opposed to a lack of subsidy, which is already being handled by COTS), by all means let us know and let’s discuss it.

    As for the role ISS might play in facilitating LEO commerce, keep in mind that it’s a badly managed white elephant. NASA is terrible at designing and operating infrastructure. What’s more, if NASA etc. tried to auction off the ISS to the private sector it is very doubtful that they would get any bids no matter how low the starting bid. It costs far more to operate than it’s commercially worth. It orbits so low that it is a huge range safety liability if you don’t keep pumping it full of propellant.

    I’m not aware that NASA has ever proclaimed a monopoly of any orbit, nor am I aware of any other major legal restriction that stops Bigelow or anybody else from starting one of those hypothetical hotels. Other than ITAR, for which I’m afraid there are some good reasons. (Launcher tech also gets used in ICBMs, which could one day massacre your family). Not that we shouldn’t revisit ITAR and discuss and perhaps modify the specifics.

    If it turns out, as it very well might, that the markets for LEO tourism and zero-g science are tiny, it’s hardly productive to blame NASA for market reality falling short of our hopes. (They can be blamed for preposterously overhyping zero-g science in the first place in order to start and fund ISS back in the day, but that’s a different issue).

  • Is anyone posing here a member of, or staff of a member of the United States Congress? If not- than your comments here concerning the budget mean exactly zero. This is in the hands of the Congress now- so unless you are invited to testify at a hearing, you have no real say in the matter.

  • Major Tom

    “If not- than your comments here concerning the budget mean exactly zero. This is in the hands of the Congress now- so unless you are invited to testify at a hearing, you have no real say in the matter.”

    No, U.S. citizens, voters, and taxpayers have no say in the decisions of their elected representatives.

    Idiotic…

  • There is one solid point worth highlighting here. With the investment into the array of robotic precursors, the one big thing we gain from this, whether we go to the moon or not, is knowledge. Right now we on this board and elsewhere speculate on the viability of a commercial LEO market, the capability of commercial companies to fly crew, the utility of lunar and NEO resources, the ability to live off the land on other planets, the survivability of the radiation environment, the ability of humans to make long-term journeys in isolation, etc, etc, etc. This program aims to answer many if not all of those questions. If the the next POTUS comes in and dumps the whole program we will have that knowledge forever. When we can Constellation we will lose one family of rockets. If we don’t cancel it now to save the knowlege of how to build a man-rated rocket, the next guy may (and I argue will) cancel it and throw that knowledge out anyway.

    Skills can be learned and lost relatively qickly, especially when we wrote most of the textbooks on the subject. But knowing if we can live in space and if there’s anything out there for us to do when we get there, now that is knowlege we’ll never lose unless we sink into a global dark age.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Max Peck wrote @ February 23rd, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Is anyone posing here a member of, or staff of a member of the United States Congress? If not- than your comments here concerning the budget mean exactly zero. This is in the hands of the Congress now- so unless you are invited to testify at a hearing, you have no real say in the matter…

    sorry for you Dick Cheney’s version of America never happened.

    Citizens are still the folks who hold sovereignty in The Republic…go read the 1st amendment and learn something.

    F minus for you

    Robert G. Oler

  • common sense

    “I’d argue that it is more important for NASA to first develop the capability to send human missions to multiple potential targets affordably within a post-Apollo NASA budget. Then there’s no need for Presidential decree. With an affordable human solar system exploration capability in hand, NASA can set targets and dates based on what makes the best technical and budgetary sense, rather than some barely affordable compromise of what appeals to the current crop of White House staffers and might achieve an initial milestone before the next change of Administration.”

    Why is this simple common sense approach so difficult for all to understand and back??? It is beyond me. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that, do you?

  • “Is anyone posing here a member of, or staff of a member of the United States Congress? If not- than your comments here concerning the budget mean exactly zero. This is in the hands of the Congress now- so unless you are invited to testify at a hearing, you have no real say in the matter.”

    “Abandon hope all who enter here.” – Dante Alighieri, Inferno

    Seriously? There are industry folks on here as well as respected members of the media. They may not cast the vote, but they can drive the debate and refining the arguments here is a good way to ensure success out there. Not to mention covering the topics in the space geek petri dish can offer ideas as to what to do with whatever congress decides. Whether or not we directly drive the debate, many of the better arguments here and elsewhere in the geek-o-sphere often end up on the lips of the people making the testimony at those hearings. I find that to be more than a coincidence.

    On top of that we are all citizens and voters, many in districts critical to the arguments at hand. Unless you believe yourself to be in Mussolini’s Italy, we do actually have a say. Look at Shelby, the man has gone nigh incoherent defending the voices in his district.

    “Idiotic”

    I second that.

  • googaw

    “If we can give a wish list like: [list of holy sites] and see which ones survive the scientific and engineering realities

    There’s your trouble. The scientific and engineering (and, more importantly, political and economic and commercial) realities will often have changed long before we are ready to do these projects. To demand that NASA spend its scarce time and scarce taxpayer money analyzing speculative future gigaprojects based on technological and economic and political assumptions that will be obsolete in a few years is a guarantee that we will slow down progress towards more effective and affordable use of space. Throw out your religious calendar and your itinerary of future pilgrimage. They are just science fiction, with the stress on fiction. Learn to deal with the uncertainties of real human progress, or be doomed to a life of disappointment.

  • “This is in the hands of the Congress now- so unless you are invited to testify at a hearing”

    I’d like to also note that one lurker on this site who chimes in from time to time is, indeed, testifying at a hearing on this very subject. So there! (thumbs nose)

  • Robert G. Oler

    In the quest to figure out why 2001 and now 2010 did not look anything like what was depicted in the movies (although many other things in the movies has come to past) what impresses me is that the reason is not so much the technology, rather it is since Nixon tried to figure out what to do with “space” after Apollo…we have had endless five year plans to various destinations…all of which have doomed the future to look a lot like the past.

    I understand Whittington, if Bush the last had put forward this policy he would be cheering wildly. Whittington is a partisan shrill who measures the success or failure of a policy as to who is putting it forward. His logical and doctrine contradictions are obvious.

    Arbitrary deadlines and goals which have no other connection to The Republic, other then its citizens have to pay the bills are absurd. They freeze or inhibit commercial spontaneity, they force government picked solutions, and at the end of the project, as we have with ISS we have really nothing to do with it.

    How we got to this is on the shoulders of Charlie Bolden taking advantage of the complete failure of his predecessor to come up with a reasonable program which could implement the bidding of his master.

    I do not give The Administration, which has shown contrary behavrior everywhere else, any great credit for engaging the commercial sector…but in the end in 10-20 years instead of (at best) a few NASA astronauts going back to the Moon; we might have a future in human spaceflight that even Clarke would have a hard time imagining.

    Robert G. Oler

  • “There’s your trouble. The scientific and engineering (and, more importantly, political and economic and commercial) realities will often have changed long before we are ready to do these projects.”

    Which is precisely why I propose a broader portfolio of possibilites versus hard destinations and timelines. I’m no more a crystal-ball gazer than you, but I think having a handful of possibilities on hand is a better approach than stabbing at the darkness with our tech. If you read my posts, I’m very pro-flexible, pro-commercial and have tempered myself to be far less dogmatic as time has marched on. I don’t want a one-destination, one date approach for the exact reasons you mention. But aside from future administrations scrapping beyond LEO entirely I don’t see why narrowing the focus just a little beyond the current “somewhere, something, sometime” definition is committing to a pie-in-the-sky path to nowhere.

    And I think there is one very certain prediction I CAN make. If we plot a course for directionless science projects and engines with nowhere to go, the next administration WILL cancel it.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “heh… you’re reading a Federal budget proposal and you’re expecting soaring rhetoric about vision?”

    Well, you can ask for “soaring rhetoric”. I didn’t.

    But I would like some explanation about why we want to go to these places, if just as a formal part of asking for a whole lotta money to develop technologies to go there. That’s standard-issue federal strategic planning. You pay money because it does things for you. That’s what a “vision” is. It might soar, and it might not.

    I believe such words should be pretty easy to come up with, which is why I’m surprised they aren’t there.

    Take the FY10 budget proposal, in which these words are given.

    Our return to the Moon may be for stays of up to six months, conducting surface operations, learning how to “live off the land”, testing new technologies including life support systems, and exploring the lunar surface. The farther we travel beyond the Moon, the more complex the operation, and the more self-sufficient we need to become. Each step will be used to demonstrate capabilities that will increase our capacity to travel beyond Earth and its Moon. These activities combine to form a necessary step in our preparation to explore new worlds.

    Soaring rhetoric? No. But in just a few sentences, I know why they said they wanted to go to the Moon and develop outposts there. That’s for a budget proposal from an Administration that wasn’t enthusiastic about doing this task. Look back at earlier budget proposals, and you’ll find more destination-specific rhetoric about goals.

    I’m reading the federal budget proposal the way Congress would. Heh.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “I’d argue that putting the destinations in the very first paragraph of the exploration section of the budget document doesn’t rank as an “afterthought”.

    Hmm. The way it was put in the first paragraph was …

    The President’s FY 2011 Budget request outlines an innovative new path for human space exploration and strengthens the capability to extend human presence throughout the solar system. NASA is taking a new approach to this long-term goal; by laying the ground work that will enable humans to safely reach multiple potential destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, and Mars and its environs. The research and technology investments described in this budget describe the many near-term steps NASA will be taking to create the new knowledge and capabilities required for humans to venture beyond low Earth orbit to stay. This strategic approach is designed to more efficiently further and sustain the course of human exploration.

    Did they come right out and say that we want to go to these places? No. They said that it would enable us to get to such “potential destinations”. Read that phrase carefully, and think about what they could have said instead (in much much less then ten pages from the Augustine report).

    I have a lot of “potential destinations” I can drive to in my car. I’m not really enthused about most of them.

    Now, I think those are all great destinations that they’ve listed, and I firmly believe that the approach laid out is the right one (as opposed to going to X by 20XX). But do they think those are great destinations? Not clear. To the administration, they are merely “potential destinations”. Does the administration see any great destinations? Who would know?

    In the leading paragraph of a federal budget, words count. In this paragraph, there is no vision in these words. There could have been.

  • googaw

    [From old Constellation budget] Our return to the Moon may be for stays of up to six months

    NASA has a serious obsession with not keeping anybody in space for more than six months. Do some really bad health effects kick in after that? They either need get over this fetish and start putting up astronauts for long durations in the ISS, so that we can figure out what happens and deal with it, or they need to shut up about sending astronauts to the asteroids or Mars.

  • richardb

    This budget is Dead on Arrival IMHO. Its pulling up Nasa by the roots, and redirecting to missions not to be defined for 10, 20 or more years. Oh yeah, while they’re at it, Obama will shut down shuttle and Constellation.

    The R&D budget is ripe for a hit. Even this budget acknowledges no Mars missions till a couple decades, so why do R&D when much better can be done closer to the time of need? DOD is making a real fuss about R&D tied to the now and not the then. So will Congressmen looking over Nasa’s billions for R&D without specific missions.

    The Heavy Lift budget is a joke and will get cut. Why is the President dictating the technology, kerosene and lox, when we are at least a couple decades away from needing it? Shouldn’t engineers and mission planners be deciding whether to use heavy fuel or hydrogen lox after a mission has been agreed too? Congress will cut this one real quick.

    But I’ve got a timeline for you, consider this:
    2010 is taken up with Congress bickering over budgets much bigger than Nasa. Congress shuts down most of the time after June anyway for the election. Continuing resolution for Nasa in 2010.
    2011 with a new Congress finally gets around to Nasa and approves commercial HSF to ISS but demands neutrality from Nasa Administrator, no preconceived launchers al la the Stick. Congress wants a wide open RFP.
    So 2011 and part of 2012 is for RFP’s and industry response.
    Late 2012 contracts are let.
    Metal is bent starting in 2012, early 2013.
    2014 delays and technical glitches slip IOC from the promised 2016 to 2017 or 2018.
    Congress in 2018 votes to defund ISS after 2020.
    Congress in 2018 votes to defund commercial since there is no place to go

    2020 last American astronaut returns from ISS on a Soyuz and the American HSF is ready for the history ebooks.
    Could happen.

  • googaw

    “potential destinations”

    How dreadful, a realistic view of the uncertain future, rather than a faith-based vision of certitude.

  • Major Tom

    “Why kerosene vs Hydrogen?”

    All other things being equal, liquid hydrogen (LH2) is more efficient than kerosene (specifically RP-1). LH2 has a higher impulse than RP-1, i.e., LH2 delivers more change in momentum per unit mass of fuel than RP-1.

    But not all things are equal. RP-1 is denser (has a higher impulse-density) than LH2. That means that RP-1 delivers more change in momentum per unit volume of fuel than LH2. That enables a stage or rocket using RP-1 to be more volumetrically efficient — its dry structure and associated development costs will often be smaller than the LH2 equivalent. That can be especially important for large first stages, which is why they often use RP-1. (RP-1 would also be favorable for upper-stages and high-thrust transit stages for this reason, but by the time the propellant mass is multiplied back through the lower stages, the rocket equation usually favors the mass-efficiency of LH2 for a rocket’s upper stages over the volumetric efficiency of RP-1.)

    RP-1 is operationally easier to handle and less expensive than LH2. It’s much less of an explosive hazard than LH2 (or many other hydrocarbon fuels), removing a lot of potentially expensive safety protocols and equipment associated with LH2. RP-1 can also be stored at ambient temperatures, removing the expensive cryogenic storage procedures and equipment the LH2 requires. (RP-1 is also less expensive to produce than LH2, but that’s not really a big driver in launch costs.)

    It’s hard to do apples-to-apples comparisons, but I would also suspect that RP-1 engines are easier and less costly to develop than LH2 engines. Like gas in a car engine, RP-1 can leave behind deposits that must be addressed in the rocket’s design, especially for engines pre-fired in testing or reusable engines. But the temperatures and pressures involved in RP-1 engines are usually not as demanding as LH2 engines.

    FWIW…

  • “But I’ve got a timeline for you, consider this:”

    Dooom! Doooooooooooooooooooom!

    Okay we’ve heard from the “If we pick any direction at all we’ll never get there” crowd, I guess we were due for a chime in from the “We shouldn’t turn a wrench until we’ve picked the crater we’ll land in” folks. I’m no fence sitter, but extremes don’t work in the outside world. I’m not asking people give up on their ideas, but the purist thing is doomed from the start in any context.

    If we don’t narrow the focus at all it will get canned as a purposeless project. If we go 100% destination focused we’ll end up building a constellation spruce goose all over again. Neither of these are appealing to me.

  • “But I’ve got a timeline for you, consider this:

    Congress in 2018 votes to defund commercial since there is no place to go ”

    Senator Shelby? Is that you?

  • googaw

    richardb:
    why do R&D when much better can be done closer to the time of need?

    It greatly lowers the risk to do technology research far ahead of time. You can’t use technology still in the research stage at the time of need, because it puts the gigaproject at far too much risk. That’s why Constellation folks were obsessed with old technology. Quite the opposite of the attitude we need if NASA is to be doing cutting-edge research. Which is what we need NASA to be doing if it is going to help American competitiveness. The hope of sending astronauts to the moon and asteroids and Mars is hardly the only reason politicians are willing to fork over this money.

  • Major Tom

    “But I would like some explanation about why we want to go to these places, if just as a formal part of asking for a whole lotta money to develop technologies to go there. That’s standard-issue federal strategic planning. You pay money because it does things for you. That’s what a ‘vision’ is.”

    But federal agencies do their strategic planning in their triennial (IIRC)strategic plans, not their annual budget requests. And they announce big initiatives in standalone documents like the VSE, not their annual budget requests.

    Maybe there should have been a VSE-like document accompanying this budget, assuming the timeline after OMB passback allowed. I think it’s a debateable point as the new budget plan is much more in line with the old VSE than Constellation was. But regardless, I wouldn’t go to the annual budget request for “strategic planning” or “vision”. Those are in different documents.

    “In the leading paragraph of a federal budget, words count. In this paragraph, there is no vision in these words. There could have been.”

    I don’t disagree that there could have been, but again, it’s a budget document. It’s not the VSE (or SEI, etc.) document. It’s not the Augustine report. It’s not even NASA’s Strategic Plan. It’s just an annual budget request.

    Just my 2 cents, but I think you’re picking at nits. I would look to different documents if I was going to criticize the current Administration’s vision.

    “I’m reading the federal budget proposal the way Congress would.”

    Congress is most concerned about dollars per NASA field center. I don’t think they’ll have much heartburn over whether the annual budget request has a good justification for Phobos or NEOs as human space exploration targets. And to the extent they do want to have that discussion, again, I think their staff will look to other documents.

    Finally, I’d also point out that the Message from the Administrator at the beginning of the budget request describes a “21st century space program” that “builds the enabling capabilities that will allow us to explore not just the Moon, but multiple destinations throughout the solar system” — capabilities “required to sustainably send humans into the solar system.” It’s not a point-by-point defense of every potential human space exploration target for the next 50 years, but I’d argue that’s secondary, even tertiary, to putting in place capabilities that can get humans beyond Earth orbit and keep sending them there, regardless of minor peturbations in the budget, shifting science priorities, resource discoveries, asteroid threats, etc.

    FWIW…

  • Robert G. Oler

    richardb wrote @ February 23rd, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Sarah Palin could become a serious candidate for President instead of just a bomb thrower…and there is more chance of that then the scenario you push out.

    but if you want to make the assumptions you make, then you have to be prepared for the other half as well..that a project that wont deliver anything for another decade and needs mroe and more money is somehow going to keep support.

    sorry

    Robert G. Oler

  • googaw

    Let’s take the bait: suppose they had “narrowed the focus” to the moon, or the asteroids, or Mars. They would have simply started a big religious war among us, with two-thirds of us opposed to the awful choice of the bad destination over our favorite. And they would have pointlessly slowed down research related to the disfavored destinations. “Potential destinations” is the best phrase for guiding the research. Alas, while Mars may be heresy to the moon fans and vice versa, admitting uncertainty and keeping our options open is apparently the biggest heresy of all.

  • Thanks, Tom, on the propellant primer. That’s very good information in the current context.

  • “Let’s take the bait: suppose they had “narrowed the focus” to the moon, or the asteroids, or Mars.”

    You seem to be misunderstanding me here. I’m not saying pick one of the list of items I mentioned. I’m saying pick a list of four or more items and see which ones wash out when the extenuating factors weight in. I’m not suggesting favoring one destination, quite the contrary. I’m saying we can focus our technology toward a handful of potentially synergistic goals with the understanding that one or several of them will likely not be implemented.

    There’s a lot of shared tech between the goals, to be sure. But there’s a lot of specialized tech and research needed for each individual goal that isn’t shared by the others. If we only focus on the general stuff we still won’t be able to get where we’re going whenever it is we decide where that is. In your defense, if we focus everything we have toward one and only one goal, and POTUS +1 changes direction we’re equally stuck in the local gravity well. So I advocate we walk the middle path. And I think that’s largely where this budget is headed.

  • So flying what amounts to Gemini capsules with tethered umbilicals and water landings is a better option while gutting pretty much every tech program. I a better option than taking a step back and developing technologies that might actually get us to destinations faster?

    Does anyone seriously think an orion capsule is a viable veichle for a trip to phobus. really, whats the travel time. How much living space is in there.
    Radiation shielding from solar storms, how about techniques for minimizing bone loss etc.

    These l1 and phobos missions looked good on paper but would they ever fly. Would the moon program every fly?

    Progress requires R&D which has been something cut a lot in previous administrations.

  • Constellation End

    the China’s astronauts lunar landing could happen within 8 years and seen on standard and 3-D TV by over 6,000,000,000 people worldwide [ http://bit.ly/9Wtqzr ] however, the Constellation program is wrong, flawed and TOO expensive [ http://bit.ly/aK4KA0 ] and the new “commercial space” is up to FIVE TIMES more expensive than the Space Shuttle [ http://bit.ly/aP70mi ] as a consequence, NASA and USA will face a deep DECLINE and, soon, will be no longer a space leader http://bit.ly/dpkPas

  • “Alas, while Mars may be heresy to the moon fans and vice versa, admitting uncertainty and keeping our options open is apparently the biggest heresy of all.”

    No moreso than keeping our options wide open is heresy to the ‘celar path forward’ folks. I don’t think any one of those things is heresy. I’m not arguing a dogma. Indeed I’m suggesting more of a UU approach.

  • Major Tom

    “Its pulling up Nasa by the roots,”

    Constellation is being pulled up by its roots, but ISS is being enhanced, COTS is being enlarged to crew, development of actual human space exploration capabilities is being greatly increased, and science and aeronautics are going forward as before.

    Most of NASA is not being pulled up by the roots. Don’t make things up.

    “and redirecting to missions not to be defined for 10, 20 or more years.”

    NASA is defining those missions now:

    Tended GEO/Lagrange Point Observatories –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/manned-mission-to-construct-huge-geo-and-deep-space-telescopes-proposed/

    NEOs –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/nasas-flexible-path-2025-human-mission-visit-asteroid/

    Phobos –> http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/01/taking-aim-phobos-nasa-flexible-path-precursor-mars/

    “Oh yeah, while they’re at it, Obama will shut down shuttle”

    The last Administration made the decision to shut down Shuttle by 2010. This Administration has extended that by a year, if needed.

    Don’t make things up.

    “The R&D budget is ripe for a hit. Even this budget acknowledges no Mars missions till a couple decades, so why do R&D when much better can be done closer to the time of need?”

    It takes some modicum of years to develop, demonstrate, test, and qualify new capabilities that have never existed before. They can’t be magically created out of fairy dust a couple or few years before they’re employed on their first operational mission.

    Duh…

    “DOD is making a real fuss about R&D tied to the now and not the then.”

    DOD is making a fuss about R&D spending tied to Cold War weapons platforms (F-22, Paladin, etc.) that are not relevant to the kinds of engagements that the military is facing in the coming decades. It has nothing to do with near-term versus far-term R&D. Far-term R&D at DOD is relatively healthy, much more so than at NASA.

    “So will Congressmen looking over Nasa’s billions for R&D without specific missions.”

    Your logic makes no sense. Even if DOD is generally cutting long-term R&D, why do you assume that Congress agrees with those cuts? And even if Congress does agree with those cuts at DOD, why do you assume that Congress would automatically apply the same logic to a civil R&D agency like NASA?

    Goofy…

    “The Heavy Lift budget is a joke”

    $3.1 billion dollars from 2011-2015 is a “joke”?

    Really?

    Then what would you call the $125 million (with an “M”) that the POR planned to spend on Ares V over the same time period?

    A really huge guffaw?

    “Why is the President dictating the technology, kerosene and lox,”

    He’s not. The Augustine Committee recommended developing such an engine if a commercial heavy lift path was chosen.

    Don’t make things up.

    “when we are at least a couple decades away from needing it?”

    Because it’s going to take some number of years to develop.

    Duh…

    “But I’ve got a timeline for you, consider this:
    … Congress… demands neutrality from Nasa Administrator, no preconceived launchers al la the Stick. Congress wants a wide open RFP.”

    That’s what a commercial heavy lift procurement is. Companies wouldn’t be forced to bid vehicles with the new engine if they didn’t want to.

    A “preconceived launcher” is what Ares V was — a NASA-originated design where all three engines on the vehicle were dictated by the agency.

    “Congress in 2018 votes to defund commercial since there is no place to go ”

    That was guaranteed to happen under Constellation. Ares V wasn’t going to start flying until 2028, at the earliest, and it wasn’t going to have any lunar-qualified Orion, transit stage, or lunar lander to launch, anyway.

    At least now there’s a fighting chance that ISS enhancements will prove some measure of utility to justify extending that program and/or we’ll have capabilities, with some redundancy (e.g., propellant storage and HLV) starting in the 2020s to start flying astronauts beyond LEO.

    “Congress will cut…”

    Not for any of the reasons you’ve provided.

    Oy vey…

  • googaw

    aremisasling:
    I’m saying pick a list of four or more items and see which ones wash out when the extenuating factors weight in.

    To what purpose? How are they supposed to figure out which ones “wash out”? By examining the innards of some unfortunate birds? NASA engineers and managers are not prophets. They can’t predict the political and economic opportunities and constraints that will confront any actual projects in future decades any more than you or I can. They can only think of a tiny fraction of the design possibilities that engineers will think of when it actually comes time to build the systems.

    Taking into account complex economic tradeoffs is the job of the entrepreneur, not of NASA. Whether the choice is between destinations, infrastructures, architectures, or similar “synergistic goals”, these are all just fodder for interminable arguments. It only results in pointlessly disfavoring the gratuitously “washed out” alternatives. Nobody can actually predict these things decades in advance. Only entrepreneurs have a proven track record of knowing when infrastructures are ready to develop, and then designing, building, and operating them in the most useful ways. And they mostly fail, but we have a system that makes them accountable for and buffers the rest of us from their failure. The rest of us who are just jawboning about how other people might spend their money in future decades should stop pretending that we are freaking prophets.

  • Major Tom

    “the China’s astronauts lunar landing could happen within 8 years and seen on standard and 3-D TV by over 6,000,000,000 people worldwide [ http://bit.ly/9Wtqzr ] however, the Constellation program is wrong, flawed and TOO expensive [ http://bit.ly/aK4KA0 ] and the new “commercial space” is up to FIVE TIMES more expensive than the Space Shuttle [ http://bit.ly/aP70mi ] as a consequence, NASA and USA will face a deep DECLINE and, soon, will be no longer a space leader http://bit.ly/dpkPas

    Get to a farmacia and take your meds, Gaetano.

    Oy vey…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Constellation End wrote @ February 23rd, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    doomed

    anything is possible, heck Sarah Palin could soon start speaking in logical sentences.

    remain calm. all is well

    Robert G. Oler

  • Tom, while I agree with you on many accounts and I admire your desire to call a spade a spade, sometimes your statements seem not so much bluntly honest as needlessly combative. I’m sure it’s no loss to you, but it makes it hard for me to support your statements or use them to support my own assertions when the argument you offer is otherwise a good one.

  • Paul

    One other advantage of dense propellants MT didn’t mention was in the propellant pumps. Pump power goes as volumetric flow rate x pressure increase, so a dense propellant can have less powerful pumps, higher chamber pressure, or both, for a given mass flow rate. Hydrogen is famously fluffy and requires powerful pumps.

    BTW, in assessing the prospects for this budget, consider what could happen if the administration were forced by congress to continue with the POR. They could strictly enforce NASA’s internal processes and subject the decisions to external review. The slack that was letting NASA get away with murder in design reviews would be gone. They could make it a nightmare for all working on it.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “I don’t disagree that there could have been, but again, it’s a budget document. It’s not the VSE (or SEI, etc.) document. It’s not the Augustine report. It’s not even NASA’s Strategic Plan. It’s just an annual budget request.

    Just my 2 cents, but I think you’re picking at nits. I would look to different documents if I was going to criticize the current Administration’s vision.”

    I think we’re agreeing here. This is indeed picking nits. What I was just pointing out is that with all the sturm und drang about destinations with regard to this budget, it’s not an either or. Some people say there are none, and some people say there are a bunch. The actual words are a bit ambiguous, and that ambiguity may well have been intentional. I think the potential destinations are a smart list, but those looking for flag carrying into the cosmos are going to be disappointed by the lack of insight or evident enthusiasm with which these destinations were proposed. As a result, the argument about destinations is, in itself, pretty much nit picking.

    Also, we’re not talking about where agency strategic planning is done. Who was saying that NASA’s was done in their budget? But what the budget might communicate is that they have a strategic plan, and they’re trying to follow it. With regard to human space flight, this budget proposal could have done a better job of that.

    Re “different documents” which ones would you suggest? I’m not aware of any that actually express what their vision is. Don’t tell me that it was the Augustine report. That committee had good ideas that the administration seems to have broadly adopted, but many that were not. That report was hardly formally adopted as administration policy.

    Note that I’m not criticizing the current Administration’s vision. I just don’t quite know what it is! As I said, I really like this implementation plan that emphasizes technology development, go as you pay, and go where you can. That’s consistent with MY vision. I’m criticizing what appears to be some deficiency by them in expressing what it’s all about. The budget is based on the President’s vision, not mine.

    Is Congress concerned just about NASA dollars per field center? C’mon. Only a third of the members of House Science & Technology have field centers in their states. They need to have in their hip pocket some reason they can give their constituents for why the NASA budget they’re overseeing makes sense to the nation.

  • “Only entrepreneurs have a proven track record of knowing when infrastructures are ready to develop, and then designing, building, and operating them in the most useful ways.”

    I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but the private sector is simply not ready to take on challenges beyond LEO. If your argument is pure market economics be prepared to wait a long, long time for anything other than ISS resupply and maybe some cislunar hops. Until COTS and some very wealthy people who just so happened to have an interest in space came along (Musk, Bigelow, Rutan, Bezos, etc), commercial would never have done LEO either. That the creaters of Amazon and paypal took an interest in rockets isn’t market forces at work, it’s dumb luck. Believe me, I’m counting my lucky stars we have had such luck. But as it stands it will be a long long time before even those billionaires will be able to afford to land on the moon or fly to Mars more or less make a business case to do so.

    The British East India company may have brought the Europeans around the globe, but Magellan and Columbus still had to ask the monarchs for the funds to figure out what’s out there, if we could go there, and if there were actually spices on the other side of the ocean.

    “To what purpose? How are they supposed to figure out which ones “wash out”?”

    By sending probes there to see if the environment can even support a human presence and at what cost. By studying the resources available at those sites to see if it’s worth those exalted entrepreneurs’ time to go there at all. By testing the technologies necessary to get there in an environment that won’t spell a complete halt to the program in the event of failure as it could and probably would in private industry. By proving which goals can and can’t affordably be pursued by government or commerce.

    None of these projects is a payoff in and of itself. None of them would be funded by private industry. All of them facilitate payoffs for future industry or government exploration. And all answer the question of what goals we can achieve fastest and with the greatest return, whether it be scientifically or commercially.

    If you want to go 100% free economics, consider the NASA work to study these locations and the tech necessary to get there risk free market analytics and R&D. Consider it uncle sam doing the cost benefit analysis for the potential markets. None of that is knowable without picking a few destinations and looking around a bit.

    SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Orbital and others are ready to do LEO and there’s more prospect now for a market there than there ever has been. They may even be able to do lunar, and I hope they can. But there is simply too much we don’t know about Mars, NEO’s, and the Lagrange environment for them to take that initiative in the near or even moderately long term. Indeed we don’t even have enough business case for commercial trips to the moon aside from the shakey proposition that someone has the funds to take their spring break at Transquility Base.

    And again, I’m not saying we pick one site and aime for it. What I am saying is we pick a few likely candidates and do some real science and some real exploration to figure out where NASA and/or private industry should aim its rockets.

  • I like the commercial focus, but I’m also a big believer in destinations — all those shiny new commercial rockets need a market, and right now the market is a double-handful of comsats and appsats and the ISS (the prior generation’s destination). Without a destination, the commercial folks have little market — at least until space tourism or something comparable to the “silver rush” that ultimately lead to the transcontinental rail road arrives on the scene.

    The loss of a lunar base, or something comparable, ultimately will hurt commercial space.

    As for the technology list, I’m mostly unimpressed:

    in-space propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, and autonomous rendezvous and docking.

    This has already been demonstrated in day-to-day operations on Mir and the ISS. It should be ripe for commercial development if, say, a destination were to create a market for it.

    The “Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology” line will fund development of a new LOX/kerosene engine roughly equivalent to the RD-180,

    Dust off the F1 diagrams, use the RD-180, or best, use SpaceX multiple engines. In all cases, if there were a large enough market (a destination, anyone?), this too is ripe for commercial development.

    as well as in-space propulsion

    This one is great and necessary.

    and “foundational” propulsion research.

    Huh? Assuming they mean general technology and the budget for it is limited, fine.

    The budget will also fund “at least two” exploration precursor missions starting in FY11, one being a lunar mission designed to demonstrate teleoperation and transmission of “near-live video” (something that sounds a lot like what a qualifying Google Lunar X PRIZE spacecraft would do.)

    Complete waste of money unless they are demonstrating mining oxygen from the regolith or some other useful technology.

    This all sounds to me like scientists and engineers playing in sand boxes that lead nowhere — all too familiar.

    Key lesson of the history of spaceflight so far: the ISS is what is driving a larger commercial space transportation industry. All the prior decades of technology development achieved essentially nothing as far as getting people into space is concerned. So, if you want people in space, send them there. Once they are there, providing a day-in and day-out market, the commercial stuff will largely take care of itself.

    If we want to expand the human economic sphere into the Solar System, government’s job here and now should be to establish initial markets (i.e., “destinations”) to jump-start and expand commercial transportation.

    All that said, I think the decision to depend on commercial vehicles for access to Earth orbit going forward is the best thing to happen to human space exploration in decades.

    – Donald

  • Robert G. Oler

    aremisasling wrote @ February 23rd, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    there will always be a role for government in exploration …but the key problem for government exploration “today” is that whenever some political person decides to “crank it up” we almost have to start from scratch to get it going.

    I did not support “the vision” in its concept as my view is we DONT NEED any government plans to do destinations on any specific time line…. but as I noted on this forum when it was announced I would supported (not that it mattered) the effort had it “dragged along” commercial use of space by humans…by doing things like coming up with realisitc “human rating” by using vehicles that had commercial uses and applications ie by giving us more then just a destination and a bunch of NASA astronauts doing goofy things.

    I believe to this day, had the effort centered around commercial hardware already in use, instead of “apollo on steroid” where everything had to be invented from scratch…that the program would still be on going and we would be in a much better place.

    As it is NASA treats human spaceflight as its own “peculiar” institution…and Griffin (and I am told Tom DeLay) deserve much of the credit for coming up with a structure that was doomed ie a giant public works program for NASA.

    Columbus didnt have to invent sailing ships…he didnt have a 20 year build program to invent all the technology (or use old ones) to try and go to “the far east”.

    His task was remarkably simple…he needed the money to cobble together existing technology and get some brave or non risk adverse people to come along with him.

    With a commercial space industry thriving at some point in the future…we will find someone who can go to the US Federal government and say “for 20 billion tops” I can put this together with not a lot of new stuff.

    Then we will go back.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Off topic…this is the anniversary of the Flag Raising over Suribachi on The Sulfur Island.

    it has nothing to do with space Rand

    Robert G. Oler

  • Whether or not you happen to like Kennedy and his legacy, the environment he created was a force in and of itself.

    Only because he died prematurely.

  • googaw

    aremisasling:
    the private sector is simply not ready to take on challenges beyond LEO.

    Probably true. That’s why it’s at the research stage, and NASA should not be purporting to design “infrastructure” for it. It should just be researching potential (there’s that heretic word again ;-) game-changing technologies that could make that future commerce more affordable effective.

    it will be a long long time before even those billionaires will be able to afford to land on the moon or fly to Mars

    It’s better to think of it in terms of advances rather than in terms of time. It requires game-changing technology to become affordable. (And then it may take the form of mining companies rather than billionaires taking such long vacations — who knows). This technology may take a short time or a long time to develop — we don’t know. But we should get to work researching it.

    I also wouldn’t begrudge NASA a flags-and-footprints mission to Mars if it cost, say, only $20 billion vs. the $200+ billion it would cost today and there was strong political support for it. (Not the blase reaction to Constellation). But again this requires game-changing technology and thus can’t be designed much less go until an unpredictable time into the future. (I also wouldn’t think of such a mission as very relevant to the goal of settlement — a real settlement requires infrastructure designed by commerce for commerce and even more game-changing technology. I’m just saying if flag-and-footprints was that cheap I wouldn’t begrudge the astronaut fans and the we-gotta-get-there-first panickers their otherwise useless fun. But I digress).

    By sending probes there to see if the environment can even support a human presence and at what cost. By studying the resources available at those sites to see if it’s worth those exalted entrepreneurs’ time to go there at all

    We agree on the probes — giving Exploration Directorate its own series of prospecting probes is one of the best features of the new direction. But the “at what cost” depends on many factors many of which are unpredictable over the span of decades. And NASA is terrible at that kind of economic analysis. The entrepreneurs not NASA will know if it is time for them to go, and where, and how.

    By testing the technologies that [criteria]

    Here I agree again. Except that the criteria should be specific technological goals not futuristic architectural or infrastructural ones, because only the former can be to some extent be predicted and measured. In other words, productive research is about improving the performance of various machines, and about inventing new kinds of machines, it’s not about trying to figure out which machine will be the most useful in which architecture decades from now. The latter is an intractable and pointless thing to be inquiring into.

    Consider it uncle sam doing the cost benefit analysis for the potential markets.

    I’ve never said that100% of space is the market’s job, but this job certainly is — cost-benefit analysis is definitely the role and skill of the market, and not at all of NASA. Entrepreneurs do the cost-benefit analysis (putting their money where their mouth is). NASA has a crucial role in an area where markets often fall short — to research technologies in order to make future commerce more effective and affordable. They do that by researching technologies, not by futilely figuring out how to make economic judgments and other prophecies about speculative “infrastructures” and “architectures”.

  • “They do that by researching technologies, not by futilely figuring out how to make economic judgments and other prophecies about speculative “infrastructures” and “architectures”.”

    It appears we actually meet on a lot of common ground. I completely agree here. I’m not sure how politically viable a plan without a NASA “architecture” or “infrastructure” would be. I think they can play the R&D card on the infrastructure and architecture thing and get it past congress, but I think the noise will be from more than just space states if they scrap it altogether. Bad strategy for space? Probably. But the bad strategy of bulky government programs is confined to a box in the corner and put in R&D mode, where it should be, while the more effective goal of researching the environments and technologies involved gets a big boost under the current plan. I’m all for it really.

    But since we’re stuck with a congress and president that want us building rockets, and I really do believe that’s what we have here, we should set that project on a viable path. And that means, necessarily, narrowing the targets enough that it doesn’t end up another chimera that half achieves a lot of goals but doesn’t fully achieve any. If they insist on putting our tax money toward a rocket, I’d like it to be able to actually go somewhere.

    Incidentally, I think that the mindset congress and the pres. have at the moment where big government space is necessary is a temproary ailment. But I think commercial space will have to start proving itself before we’re cured. And from what I’ve seen the recovery is slow, but the patient is getting better by the day.

  • Martijn Meijering

    It greatly lowers the risk to do technology research far ahead of time.

    This is true, but I thought we agreed that NASA only has a decent chance of reducing IMLEO, not cost/kg. If you combine that with your policy of waiting for commerce to go beyond LEO first, then I would agree with richardb that all this research is premature. All this research will not help commerce get into LEO, let alone go beyond it. Unless you think commerce will go beyond LEO on its own and do so reasonably soon.

    If you don’t want to go down the propellant as a stimulus road, it seems more reasonable to say that NASA can move one step ahead of commerce. For now that means consolidating in LEO. By doing R&D into ISRU, SEP and NTR NASA can reduce IMLEO and therefore the cost of exploration, even if launch costs remained constant. By leasing Bigelow habs it can reduce costs compared to running its own space station. At some point this bombination of lowering IMLEO and freeing up money would enable them to go beyond LEO within existing budgets.

    If you are opposed to this, then I think you should also be opposed to research that will only help activity beyond LEO and focus on research that will help get commerce into LEO. And I don’t think there’s much NASA can do in that department. So that would mean cutting most R&D too.

    Do you disagree with this reasoning?

  • richardb

    Bolden is new on the job but he has impressed me as incoherent on most of his issues.
    Obama is still learning on the job and has impressed me as dogged in pursuit of his core agenda and Nasa isn’t part of it.
    Nasa’s roots in manned space are completely removed with this budget. Shuttle and next generation lift, Constellation are gone as is the vision for space exploration. Bolden is even evaluation the fate of the Astronaut corp for the obvious reason we don’t need them anymore since we don’t have a manned space flight program anymore.

    That is the new NASA. Hope everyone likes it.

  • richardb, Cx wouldn’t have had significant manned flight for at least 15 years. I’m not going to shed a tear over this new and improved budget. Cx was not the VSE.

  • Robert G. Oler

    richardb wrote @ February 23rd, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    That is the new NASA. Hope everyone likes it…

    I like the NASA that is being carved out. At least right now.

    Look there is a reasonable room for disagreement in terms of how “to do things”.

    Your group has had since Apollo 11 about 40 years and if you are happy with the progress that has been made for the cost that has been spent…good for you.

    I am not. I want more. I really dont care if I go into space (although that certianly would be a fun thing) I do care if The Republic and its values and virtues (which include commercial space) do.

    the reason 2001 A Space Odessy did not happen is that we listened to people like you and Whittington and Spudis…people who need government plans to do things.

    I say you have had your moment…sit back and see what happens as our way gives it a go

    Robert G. Oler

  • googaw

    aremisasling :
    we’re stuck with a congress and president that want us building rockets

    They want America building rockets, and rightly so. Missiles are a big national security issue but should be the job of the DoD, not NASA. In any case, Obama just canceled every full rocket development project NASA has, so obviously there is not wholehearted support there for NASA developing rockets. It is true that there is still too much “D” in the FY11 NASA rocket R&D. Baby steps.

    If they insist on putting our tax money toward a rocket, I’d like it to be able to actually go somewhere.

    Rocket research should be going towards a mix of (1) new inventions and game-changing tech like advanced electric propulsion and (2) tech that will make the next generation of America’s current rockets (primarily Atlas, Delta, Falcon, Taurus) more affordable and effective.
    It should be just research, not research & development. NASA should be treating LockMart, Boeing, SpaceX and OSC as their customers in this regard — asking what kinds of technology improvements they need but can’t quite afford to do themselves. Mid-air catch tests to reduce the risks of making lower stages reusable is a good example. Same kind of relationship NACA had with the old airplane companies.

    commercial space will have to start proving itself before we’re cured.

    Commercial space has proved itself many times over with satellite TV, long distance telephone in places cables don’t reach, GPS (with generous help of the DoD), recon satellites, Google Earth, and much else. Commerce doesn’t need to prove itself, rather space activists need to pay attention to real commerce. Can commerce meet the NASA-inflated expectations of space activists with HSF? There’s a significant chance I’m afraid that astronaut fans will be disappointed. If so the problem will be the inflated expectations of HSF fans, and the NASA propaganda that stokes it, not the effectiveness of commerce.

    Martijn Meijering:
    I thought we agreed that NASA only has a decent chance of reducing IMLEO, not cost/kg. If you combine that with your policy of waiting for commerce to go beyond LEO first, then I would agree with richardb that all this research is premature.

    Commerce has been beyond LEO for many decades now. It’s space activists who can’t get beyond LEO. :-) Reducing IMLEO (or, more often, IMGTO), in technological terms, means primarily miniaturization, automation, and generally doing more useful things with less mass and less volume. Having for example more effective thermal blankets and shades that weigh less, larger mirrors that weigh less, nuclear reactors that weigh less, and so on. There’s plenty of good research NASA can do in this regard and trends in other parts of industry (e.g. Moore’s Law) also help greatly.

    There are certainly many changes I’d want to make to NASA’s research allocation to move it towards less rocket engine rehashing and more towards reducing initial mass to orbit. But we gotta take things one step at a time. The primary job now is to move NASA away from preposterously expensive flag-and-footprints and speculative gigabridges-to-nowhere that rob taxpayers and research budgets, distort markets, and paint false pictures of the future, and towards NACA- and ARPA-style technology research. We can adjust the specifics of the research later.

  • Major Tom

    “Without a destination, the commercial folks have little market”

    NASA doesn’t need a destination to buy commercially. It’s just a question of how NASA buys the rides and support its astronauts need, not whether those astronauts are going to LEO, the ISS, or some other target.

    “The loss of a lunar base, or something comparable, ultimately will hurt commercial space.”

    There was no lunar base and per Augustine, it wouldn’t have shown up until the 2040s, if ever. By getting crew transport started now, along with in-space cryo management, a commercially-leveraged HLV, and an inflatable ISS demo soon (and maybe a commercial lunar lander later) commercial human space flight is far, far ahead of where it was before the new budget.

    “‘in-space propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, and autonomous rendezvous and docking.’

    This has already been demonstrated in day-to-day operations on Mir and the ISS.”

    Not true. Long-term, in-space _cryogenic_ propellant storage and transfer, which is what we’re talking about for human exploration missions, has never been demonstrated. Human-scale inflatables have never been demostrated, certainly not with modifications for exploration missions. Russian semi-autonomous rendezous and docking systems for human space systems have obviously been demonstrated, but they have a history of collisions and there is no domestic source.

    “Dust off the F1 diagrams, use the RD-180, or best, use SpaceX multiple engines.”

    After Griffin learned that an air-started SSME was a non-starter, the Ares program dusted off the J-2 but found that the higher thrust required of the J-2X necessitated a complete redesign of hundreds of piece parts.

    If you’re talking about producing a domestic version of the RD-180, like many Russian rocket engines, there are metallurgical processes involved in RD-180 production that currenly do not exist in U.S. industry.

    Given that every rocket engine carries some probability of catastrophic failure, there are limits to how many you’d want to gang together before taking on unreasonable vehicle or mission risk.

    You statement assumes or implies that these are trivial technical issues. They are not.

    “Complete waste of money unless they are demonstrating mining oxygen from the regolith or some other useful technology.”

    You really need to read the actual budget document before making statements like this. That 2011 lunar landing mission specifically includes “investigations for validating the availability of resources for extraction”. NASA is also going to select another mission that will either be:

    “– Landing on asteroids or the moons of Mars rather than orbiting these bodies would allow us to better determine whether they pose safety hazards to astronauts or contain materials useful for future explorers. Landing can also test technologies that could help future human missions.

    – Landing a facility to test processing technologies for transforming lunar or asteroid materials for fuel could eventually allow astronauts to partially ‘live off the land.’”

    “This all sounds to me like scientists and engineers playing in sand boxes that lead nowhere — all too familiar.”

    You’re painting dozens of projects the same derogatory color without an understanding of the technical challenges involved or even bothering to read their full descriptions in the budget document.

    FWIW…

  • googaw

    BTW, if the research is being done at a basic enough level and in a general enough way (i.e. not mission-specific “architecture” or speculative “infrastructure”, but basic research on specific technological inventions and improvements), for most technologies it doesn’t matter whether the nominal goal of the research is “LEO” or “beyond LEO”. A lighter thermal blanket that makes habitats more comfy on a trip to the moon is also likely to be useful for LEO and GEO satellites, and vice versa. Ditto for solar panels, electric propulsion, and much else. Inflatable habitat research could be repurposed to inflatable propellant tank research or vice versa. Most depot research should be of a general enough nature to apply in the future to servicing satellites and HSF spacecraft alike. The more widely applicable the research, the better.

    It’s true some of the research in the Exploration Directorate is environment-specific to Mars or the moon, and some of it is astronaut-specific (do we really need yet another spacesuit?) and doesn’t apply to unmanned, and GCR research is primarily “beyond LEO” research. Nothing in this life is perfect and you have to let the researchers and HSF fans who support the funding have their motivational deep-space play projects, without worrying too much about whether commerce at the specific place they happen to be dreaming of is imminent. (That’s another good reason to keep the goal extremely broad with every possible destination included, it lets every researcher be motivated by his or her own favorite daydream). “Infrastructure” as I’ve said is a whole other story: infrastructure should always follow commerce.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @googaw:

    Commerce has been beyond LEO for many decades now. It’s space activists who can’t get beyond LEO. :-)

    Nope, they can’t get into LEO. I was of course talking about commercial manned spaceflight beyond LEO, since that is your precondition for NASA doing manned spaceflight beyond LEO.

    I think your emphasis on GEO is misplaced, precisely because money can be made there already. Demand for GEO launch services is not very elastic, which means there’s no point in investing in reducing launch costs. There is also very little point in reducing dry mass and it seems unlikely NASA could do much in this regard. It looks as if there would be very little synergy between NASA and commercial activity in GEO.

    Compare this to manned exploration, let’s look at moon missions as an example.

    Under Constellation variable costs would be dominated by the costs of expendable spacecraft. Launch costs would be a small part of variable costs. This means neither reducing IMLEO nor reducing launch costs will have much of an effect on total mission costs. This way exploration could never be anything but a boondoggle.

    So, let’s consider reusable spacecraft. Variable costs are now dominated by the costs of launching propellant and astronauts into orbit. The cost of launching astronauts now depends on ticket prices on the open market. The cost of launching propellant depends on cost/kg and IMLEO:

    cost = IMLEO * cost/kg

    Assuming infinitely reusable, zero maintenance crew vehicles, disregarding fixed costs etc etc, we get:

    ticket price = mass of spacecraft * cost/kg / number of seats

    Both exploration and commercial development of space would benefit enormously from reduced launch costs. Commercial demand in LEO is very elastic.

    What you are proposing is having NASA focus on reducing IMLEO. Until IMLEO gets very low, this will approximately proportionally reduce mission costs, just like reducing cost/kg would, so from an exploration point of view this would be just as good as reducing cost/kg. Additionally, this would be something where NASA has a much better chance of success. So far, so good.

    But it will do nothing for reducing ticket prices. And until those come down you will not see commercial exploration. And since you’ve essentially made that a precondition for exploration, any money spent on reducing IMLEO would be wasted.

    Launch vehicle and spacecraft research isn’t all bad (cheaper TPS would help, TAN would help), but the point is that lower launch costs aren’t currently being held up by lack of physical breakthroughs but by a lack of economies of scale. RLVs could be built with current technology, it’s just the money that’s lacking. Launch vehicle developers aren’t stupid for not developing RLVs, it’s the right business decision.

  • Major Tom

    “Nasa’s roots in manned space are completely removed with this budget.”

    How has proposing over $9 billion in spending on operating existing manned space flight systems and on developing future manned space exploration systems — half of the entire NASA budget — “completely removed” manned space from NASA?

    Don’t make things up.

    “Shuttle and next generation lift… are gone”

    The Shuttle decision was made by the prior Administration. This Administration is actually giving the Shuttle program another year to finish its ISS work. Don’t make things up.

    This budget plan invests in new commercial crew and heavy launch capabilities. “Next generation lift” is not “gone”. Don’t make things up.

    If you’re just here to make stuff up so you can whine about the political party in power, there are plenty of other websites for that. Take it there.

    “as is the vision for space exploration.”

    The VSE died when Constellation shrank it to an egregiously expensive Apollo repeat augmented by a little commercial cargo to ISS.

    From commercial crew to robotic precursor missions to ISRU to high-energy power and propulsion to Lagrange point/asteroid/Martian targets for human exploration, this plan resurrects whole elements of the VSE that Constellation ate.

    “That is the new NASA. Hope everyone likes it.”

    What’s with the petulant, cry baby routine?

    Ugh…

  • Major Tom

    “Tom, while I agree with you on many accounts and I admire your desire to call a spade a spade, sometimes your statements seem not so much bluntly honest as needlessly combative.”

    Sorry, but a couple posters in this thread (and I’m _not_ talking about Mr. Lassiter or Mr. Robertson) consistently make utterly false statements nearly every time they post. If they want to argue a position based on at least a few actual facts, that would be great. But until they do, I personally have no patience for it, and moreover, think it’s best for the sake of the discussion to head off their false statements. I’m not trying to be combative — I’m just trying to keep the record straight and cut off arguments based on made-up facts and repeatedly ignorant lies.

    “I’m sure it’s no loss to you, but it makes it hard for me to support your statements or use them to support my own assertions when the argument you offer is otherwise a good one.”

    Nothing prevents you from extracting references or arguments from my posts or other folk’s posts without repeating my “don’t make stuff up” or other refrains.

    FWIW…

  • googaw

    I was of course talking about commercial manned spaceflight beyond LEO,

    I, of course, was not. :-) Why should I constrain myself to talking about manned when space commerce is almost entirely unmanned? Why would one base a space development strategy on something that is only a tiny fraction of space commerce, a mere entertaining sidelight?

    since that is your precondition for NASA doing manned spaceflight beyond LEO

    Not really. I can easily imagine having a space station in GEO and not in LEO. Indeed if we lived in a world you couldn’t build comsats with long lifetimes, that is probably what we’d have.

    Demand for GEO launch services is not very elastic, which means there’s no point in investing in reducing launch costs.

    Where did you get this? Comsat people could do all sorts of fun things (more HD channels for starters!) if they could launch larger comsats for less.

    Look, commercial space development is not a matter of taking what NASA has been promoting, the dreams and the locations and that scale of technology, and trying to privatize it. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t come anywhere close to working. If you are trying to do what NASA has been trying to do but think you can do it privately, you’re playing a losing game. Commerce is not magic that can do anything government can do. Quite the opposite — when you have the IRS collecting your revenue for you you can do all sorts of preposterous things that a free market would never dream of doing.

    If you really want to pursue the ancient NASA goals of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars Real Soon Now to the hoped-for awe and wonder of the world, of course you have no other choice but to keep trying to lobby politicians to try to get them to fund such frivolous projects. Commerce is not interested in the awe and wonder of the world. They are interested in making a buck and they don’t have the IRS to do it for them. Of course, we have a sovereign debt crisis on. So good luck trying to get politicians to fund frivolous astronaut extravaganzas. Apparently Obama doesn’t want to play.

    The main problem with NASA is not a mere matter of things costing to much. The main problem is that they have been doing the wrong things and pursuing the wrong goals. And not just slightly wrong, but way wrong. Things that real commerce would never remotely ever consider doing, like ISS or Constellation. Until space activists emerge from the spell of NASA propaganda and realize that it is the goals and strategies of NASA and its contractors, and not just the specifics of organization or contract or technology that are wrong, there is little chance of promoting real sustainable space development.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Not true. Long-term, in-space _cryogenic_ propellant storage and transfer, which is what we’re talking about for human exploration missions, has never been demonstrated.

    Noncryogenic propellant transfer could be used too, even without a large cost penalty, provided you do it right.

    One argument in favour of HLVs is that they allow you to launch spacecraft and EDSs fully fueled. But existing EELVs can launch a Centaur fully fueled, or a Delta upper stage mostly fueled. Of course this means that you can put less mass through TLI, but that isn’t too much of a constraint. For starters, you can launch lander and capsule separately, just as you would if you had a reusable lander. If you used an Apollo sized lander, it could now fit fully fueled. Problem solved. If you want an ESAS-sized lander, you could offload the propellant. The dry lander can now be launched to LEO on an EELV, dock with a Centaur and move on to L1/L2. There it would refuel using proven noncryogenic propellant transfer. The capsule would rendez-vous with the lander, the lander would perform its mission and return to L1/L2, the capsule would separate and return to earth while the lander would be refueled.

    The reason that this would work is that hypergolics are good lander propellants even though they are not very good EDS propellants. This has to do with the fact that landers are much more expensive than upper stages and with the fact that noncryogenic propellant can easily be moved by low energy trajectories. The extra IMLEO due to reuse of the lander (higher delta-v) and use of lower Isp propellant is roughly offset by use of low energy trajectories (lower delta-v) and reuse of the lander (much lower lander construction costs). You would still want to have cryogenic propellant transfer (and perhaps landers) later, but this would get them off the critical path.

    The lack of cryogenic depots cannot be used to justify HLV.

  • googaw

    The lack of cryogenic depots cannot be used to justify HLV.

    Lack of depots generally cannot be used to justify HLV. Rendezvous of stages is quite sufficient.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Not really. I can easily imagine having a space station in GEO and not in LEO.

    But that is manned spaceflight beyond LEO. By your precondition NASA cannot do manned missions to GEO before commerce does manned missions to GEO. And that won’t happen until launch costs come down, which will take a long, long time. And at the same time you advocate spending money on research on making missions beyond LEO cheaper. What good does it do you to develop technologies you will not be using for a long time? I’m thinking specifically of SEP, ISRU, NTR.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Look, commercial space development is not a matter of taking what NASA has been promoting, the dreams and the locations and that scale of technology, and trying to privatize it.

    I’m not suggesting that. Did it appear that way to you?

  • Martijn Meijering

    Here’s another way of looking at it: I would have no problem with a NASA that got out of the manned spaceflight business altogether, and restricted itself to probes and aeronautical research. It would be less exciting, but hey we’re talking about using other people’s money. But why should NASA be allowed to do manned spaceflight in LEO without 1) intending to go beyond LEO eventually 2) intending to blaze a trail for commerce to follow? What other justifications are there for using taxpayers’ money to go in circles in LEO?

  • googaw

    By your precondition NASA cannot do manned missions to GEO before commerce does manned missions to GEO.

    Not what I said. You should not assume that I am talking only about HSF when in fact real commerce is done mostly unmanned. Rather what I said is that NASA should generally not be doing design, building, or operations that purport to be commercial or infrastructural in nature. Commerce should design infrastructure for commerce, with NASA only as a secondary customer following the lead of commerce. NASA may also develop pieces of the technology that might be useful for such infrastructure ahead of time, but the new infrastructure is the responsibility of commerce and they should be free to take or leave any technology NASA has developed or any method it has suggested. Space activists certainly should not assume that any NASA visions regarding infrastructure would bear any resemblance, in location, scale, function, or anything else, to the eventual commercial reality. It should go without saying that all the foregoing applies whether manned or unmanned.

    If for example startups were already forming and had orders to fix comsats in GEO, then it would be fine for NASA to do COTS-like orders for those companies to fix their satellites in GEO. As to whether that repair service should be manned or robotic, NASA should be following commerce’s lead. Commerce is far better able to judge the economics of such decisions than NASA. Also, obviously, NASA can and should be doing inexpensive (thus unmanned) planetary science wherever science leads them, and technology demonstrations on the most promising next-generation technologies, while using commercial orders where possible (obviously for launches). Flag-and-footprints with astronauts are for flush space-race eras where long-term political commitments are possible, none of which conditions I’m afraid hold now. And we can’t predict when that might be. None of the these kinds of missions should ever purport to be infrastructural in nature or purport to blaze any direct trail for commerce, as NASA is incapable of such a thing. They are just what they are, science, technology demonstration, or flag-and-footprints, and nothing more.

  • red

    Major Tom: “History goes against Presidentially set human exploration targets and dates. … the big budget ramp-ups that this approach requires are politically unsustainable and the effort fails within a few months or years.”

    I’m not really looking for that kind of mega-effort to do something like Apollo with the President setting a destination and a date. I agree with the 2011 budget proposal – get rid of Constellation, revamp Earth Observations and Aeronautics, extend, use, and augment ISS, implement commercial crew transport and enhance commercial cargo transport, set up a robotic precursor series, and do a broad and aggressive series of technology research, development, and demonstration jobs at various scales and across the whole spectrum of space technology. All of that is “meat and potatoes” and comes first. I just find it unfortunate that there’s no outline of initial astronaut missions beyond LEO – not the dates for getting to those destinations, but the dates for starting the work on those easy (relatively speaking) missions that probably need to happen before any of the harder ones and that I suspect don’t require lots of robotic precursors or technology demonstrations.

  • googaw

    why should NASA be allowed to do manned spaceflight in LEO without 1) intending to go beyond LEO eventually 2) intending to blaze a trail for commerce to follow?

    (2) is never a good justification. (1) is a proper justification for maintaining a minimal-cost presence to research, for example, long-term microgravity. Maintaining international relations is also a good justification. And while they are up there they should actually conduct the microgravity manufacturing experiments they promised. None of these is nearly enough to have justified spending $100 billion to build it in the first place, but now that it is up there it is just barely sufficient to justify using the thing for a while before they cynically throw it in the ocean in order to move their workforce on to the next fraud.

  • red

    Major Tom: “I’d argue that it is more important for NASA to first develop the capability to send human missions to multiple potential targets affordably within a post-Apollo NASA budget. … Let’s develop the capabilities that will make it easy to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. Let’s stop setting targets and dates in the absence of affordable capabilities and politically sustainable budgets.”

    I agree about all of that for the more difficult missions – the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, Mars moons, NEOs, etc. We should do the technology work to make those more achievable, do the robotic precursors to better know what we should do when we get there and if/why we want to go in the first place, and develop the commercial foundation to make the basic steps like getting to LEO more affordable. With the VSE, for example, we shouldn’t have been doing Constellation, we should have been doing all of these things.

    However, it seems to me that we have 2 kinds of potential beyond-LEO astronaut missions. One is the kind we can’t do now or can only do now with unreasonably great sacrifice in lost opportunities elsewhere, in money, in time, and possibly in risk to human life. Those include Mars, asteroids, and so on.

    I suspect there’s a non-empty set of other potential beyond-LEO missions that we could reach without great sacrifice in lost opportunities elsewhere – i.e. while still having healthy commercial crew, robotic precursor, ISS use, robotic science, and technology innovation efforts. These could be considerably safer, less expensive, and less difficult than the other type. I’m guessing that this type includes lunar orbit, geosynchronous orbit, and Earth-Moon Lagrange points.

    If they actually are affordable, there are many reasons to plan to start such missions. They would silence the weird hysteria that we’re not going beyond LEO any more. They would allow us to start gaining first-hand knowledge of the sort we need for more ambitious exploration missions. In other words, they could be aligned with the technology demonstration and precursor work for the more ambitious exploration missions. Examples might include lunar telerobotics demonstrations, study of space radiation outside the magnetosphere, and deep space operations over many weeks. They could establish space infrastructure that could help those more ambitious missions later, or at least the beginnings of such infrastructure. They could give the public a sense that we’re physically “going somewhere” and “making progress”. They could be actual parts of other efforts in the budget (for example, deploying robotic precursors or testing spacecraft assembly). They could achieve some of the goals for later destinations (such as assembly and servicing for Earth-Sun Lagrange point observatories). They have potential synergy with all of the NASA robotic science areas (assembly and servicing of Earth observation, Heliophysics, and Astrophysics satellites and observatories; lunar remote sensing and other work for Planetary Science), and potential common ground with the ISS science work, too. They are also, if satellite servicing by astronauts can be made practical, in some sense the most immediately practical of the beyond-LEO destinations, since GEO and similar orbits are where most of our existing valuable space infrastructure is. There are also potential reasons for commercial interest in such destinations, such as lunar orbit tourism, GEO satellite tourism, commercial satellite servicing, and commercial participation in later exploration missions (eg: fueling).

    Could we really reach (any of) these destinations affordably while doing the higher priority items that are actually in the 2011 budget? I don’t know – my thinking that we could is just a hunch. Let’s say we tweak the 2011 budget up by a little bit: 0.25% (or $50M). Do the same in 2012 and 2013, so we now have roughly another $100M and $150M. Then hold the line there until 2017 for another 4*150M. That gives $900M. Skim a similar amount off areas of the 2011 budget (including later year projections) for another $900M through 2017. Would the loss of $50M in 2011, or $150M in 2013, change all that much in what we can do in the other programs? Now we have $1.8B through 2017. With that budget, could we do something like COTS for a basic crew transportation service with docking ability for 2 astronauts from LEO to GEO, lunar orbit, or E-M Lagrange points? COTS cargo is only $500M, and that included 2 new rockets and 2 new spacecraft. Here we wouldn’t need new LEO access because we’d already have it through Soyuz and U.S. commercial crew. Existing rockets would get everything to space. We would also need something for them to do productively, which I suppose would be housed in some sort of mini space station or servicing node – very basic, able to survive without crew, and preferably expandable later. Perhaps that part could be handled by international partners. Alternately, international partners handle the crew transportation and the U.S. COTS-ish thing establishes the beyond-LEO station(s) or node(s).

    Is this reasonable? I don’t know. I’m not a space mission architect. I’m just going by hunches about the relative difficulty compared to the COTS cargo effort. Maybe stretching it out another couple years to 2019 would make it affordable.

  • googaw

    In case it’s not obvious, the point of the last comment is that it’s appropriate for NASA to use the ISS for technology and medical demonstrations just as they have other methods of research and technology demonstration, and it’s appropriate for the sake of motivating the researchers and the funding process to target these at vague future flag-and-footprints missions or hypothetical commerce, manned or unmanned, beyond LEO, as part of the Exploration Directorate research. It should never be development directed at any source of purportedly useful operation, it should only be research.

    The ISS as research lab is not anywhere near worth the $100 billion sunk cost, but it is appropriate now that it’s sunk. If it was affordable, it would be appropriate to build a manned GEO station for these purposes as well, e.g. to study the effects of cosmic rays on human beings. Of course it is nowhere close to being affordable. A lab rat sat in a high earth orbit OTOH could be affordable (and do better science, as we need large sample sizes and control groups).

    The focus should be on getting good research results, not in concocting reasons to spend $billions on astronauts when much less expensive unmanned spacecraft will suffice. If your goal is to send astronauts for whatever value you get out of seeing astronauts fly, then honestly do so, and support flag-and-footprints missions which have as their honest goal merely the sending of astronauts. Or support space tourism which is equally straightforward. Otherwise, it almost always makes far more sense to go unmanned. Unmanned is the choice of both communities that use space for practical purposes, namely commerce and military, and for very good reasons. Anybody proposing to use astronauts must overcome a very high burden of proof to justify the fantastically higher costs involved.

  • Major Tom

    “it seems to me that we have 2 kinds of potential beyond-LEO astronaut missions. One is the kind we can’t do now or can only do now with unreasonably great sacrifice in lost opportunities elsewhere, in money, in time, and possibly in risk to human life. Those include Mars, asteroids, and so on.

    I suspect there’s a non-empty set of other potential beyond-LEO missions that we could reach without great sacrifice in lost opportunities elsewhere… These could be considerably safer, less expensive, and less difficult than the other type. I’m guessing that this type includes lunar orbit, geosynchronous orbit, and Earth-Moon Lagrange points.”

    A good argument and correction to my earlier statement. I didn’t mean to imply that we have to wait until we have the complete, sustainable Earth-to-Mars architecture before embarking on the first human exploration mission. You (and the Augustine Committee) are right that human exploration missions to new targets can be undertaken as the capabilities that enable them become operational. For example, the Augustine Committee differentiated between in-space and surface architecture elements, arguing that development of the latter can be phased later in the budget while missions are undertaken with the former.

    However, given history, to the extent it can be avoided, I would still caution against setting targets and dates, even for those relatively early and easy targets. Although a lot of poor programmatic and technical choices were also involved, the broad goals of the VSE arguably collapsed into a narrow, Apollo repeat because NASA’s management focused on the one exploration goal (the first human lunar landing) with a date (before 2020) in whole document.

    I’d argue that we’re better off developing capabilities to address multiple targets in the absence of arbitrary deadlines. And then, when a set of these capabilities is ready to support missions to these earlier targets, telling the White House, Congress, and public, “We’re ready to send a mission to X in the next two years, let’s go”, rather than telling them now “We think we can get a mission to X in the next ten years, assuming the budget never changes, we don’t encounter any technical hurdles, and we can redirect funding from other priorities.”

    Good stuff as usual, Red.

    FWIW…

  • Pony Up

    Too bad that the close-out cost will be well above the 2.5 billion they are predicting.. All the constellation contractors are under contract for the next 5 years through DDT&E. I bet once all the contracts are gathered up and added together, close-out costs will be near 8-9 billion if they choose to go that route. Hmm… Seems to me, a cost savings to go forward with Constellation DDT&E as well as moving forward “GRADUALLY” with the new commercial idea.

  • Off topic…this is the anniversary of the Flag Raising over Suribachi on The Sulfur Island.

    it has nothing to do with space Rand

    Ignoring the (usual) ungrammatical nature of this comment, why are you complaining to me about your off-topic comments?

  • I mean, if you want to get to the source of the problem with your off-topic and politically ignorant comments, go look in the mirror. I’m certainly not responsible for them. ;-)

  • CessnaDriver

    Fatally flawed and extremely ill planned.

    This madness will be stopped in congress.

  • This madness will be stopped in congress.

    Yes, because Congress is so sane, and brilliant…

  • Martijn Meijering

    googaw:
    Not what I said. You should not assume that I am talking only about HSF when in fact real commerce is done mostly unmanned.

    OK, now I’m confused. I don’t understand your precondition. Under what circumstances should NASA be allowed to do manned missions beyond LEO? There may be many other types of missions it could reasonably do, but for now I’m asking about manned ones. I take it that commerce doing manned missions would be a sufficient condition, though apparently not a necessary one. What would be a necessary condition?

  • NASA Fan

    I am going to argue that there is too much R&D money to be spent, and that in the absence of time lines or goals or missions that R%D is to be focused on, the NASA ‘system’ will wind up wasting some of this money. Folks will start to ‘re state’ what their existing missions are , and that they could be use for HSF, and that they need this money for their particular technology development. Tunes will be changed to go after this money.
    Look for waste.

  • alamo

    “Why kerosene vs Hydrogen?”

    L CH4 ???

  • googaw

    Under what circumstances should NASA be allowed to do manned missions beyond LEO?

    Well, I just don’t get this obsession with this minor sidelight of space development. Alas, actually I do get it: I’m afraid that you are, indirectly, one of the ongoing victims of NASA ISS propaganda. But since you ask, roughly speaking:

    (a) on the very rare occasions that there is overwhelming public support and long-term political commitment for a flag-and-footprints mission that is at least an order of magnitude less expensive than Constellation; or

    (b) on the very rare occasions they are needed for science or technology demonstration if the cost is at least twenty times less than it is today. Legacy exception for continuing use of the already sunk costs of ISS for zero-g science and long-duration medical observation.

    That’s it. NASA building manned gigabridges-to-nowhere, whether launchers, “stations”, “depots”, “bases”, or “settlements” is never justified, because building or operating new infrastructure is not the job of NASA. It is the job of commerce who will do it when it’s ready. NASA’s job is to make any such future easier by researching the technology that might be needed and by learning as much as we can (on a reasonable budget) about the solar system.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Well, I just don’t get this obsession with this minor sidelight of space development. Alas, actually I do get it: I’m afraid that you are, indirectly, one of the ongoing victims of NASA ISS propaganda.

    Well, I don’t know, I just find manned spaceflight fascinating, both exploration and tourism, even just LEO tourism. That doesn’t mean I think any taxpayers’ money should be spent on it.

    It sounds as if you are not a strong supporter of NASA manned spaceflight, which is a perfectly legitimate position. You appear to be saying R&D into commercial development (in the widest sense of the word) would be OK. As long as you don’t focus on the things that would mostly benefit manned spaceflight, I think that is a consistent position.

    There may very well be potential synergies between commercial comsats on the one hand and NASA probes, rovers etc on the other hand. Noncryogenic propellant transfer would be a good example. Compact, lightweight, high-power solar panels, MMOD shielding, radiation resistant electronics etc would also be good examples.

    But unless there was good reason to expect major scientific benefits from something like NTR and ISRU (possible, but not necessarily likely), it would seem unwise under your preconditions to spend a lot of time and money on it. Those would mainly benefit manned spaceflight and as long as commerce shows no sign of doing this sort of thing, such R&D would seem premature.

    Do we agree so far?

    A second point is that I don’t think it makes much sense to do manned spaceflight unless you intend to go beyond LEO eventually and unless you intend to blaze a trail for commercial manned spaceflight. If that’s not the intention (and you’ve said that for you it isn’t), then the sensible thing to do would be to look at incremental cost and incremental benefit, including scientific, diplomatic and foreign policy considerations, utilise the ISS as long as it makes sense from that point of view and then get out of the manned spaceflight business altogether.

    Do you agree with that assessment?

  • Martijn Meijering

    NASA building manned gigabridges-to-nowhere, whether launchers, “stations”, “depots”, “bases”, or “settlements” is never justified, because building or operating new infrastructure is not the job of NASA.

    Another quick comm check: I agree completely, I am opposed to NASA building infrastructure. I might be OK with a moon base though. Was that obvious to you? Can I get a roger on that?

  • MrEarl

    I know mister Robertson could reply much better than I but I just wanted to make a few points.

    Major Tom wrote regarding Donald Robertson’s post:

    “‘in-space propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, and autonomous rendezvous and docking.’

    This has already been demonstrated in day-to-day operations on Mir and the ISS.”

    Not true. Long-term, in-space _cryogenic_ propellant storage and transfer, which is what we’re talking about for human exploration missions, has never been demonstrated. Human-scale inflatables have never been demostrated, certainly not with modifications for exploration missions. Russian semi-autonomous rendezous and docking systems for human space systems have obviously been demonstrated, but they have a history of collisions and there is no domestic source.

    (I think it’s the definition of “long term” that is the sticking point for propellant storage and transfer. Progress ships stay docked for up to 6 months at the ISS. They have also served this function, dating back to Salute 6, for over 20 years so I think there is a substantial knowledge base for propellant storage.
    Russian (and nor European)semi-autonomous rendezvous and docking has been around for almost 20 years and has not had a collision in a decade. Again, a large knowledge base exists.
    Bigalow is well on the way tword the creation and utilization inflatable habitation modules. This is just the type of thing should be supporting in the commercial sector not competing agenst with there own research.)

    “Dust off the F1 diagrams, use the RD-180, or best, use SpaceX multiple engines.”

    After Griffin learned that an air-started SSME was a non-starter, the Ares program dusted off the J-2 but found that the higher thrust required of the J-2X necessitated a complete redesign of hundreds of piece parts.

    If you’re talking about producing a domestic version of the RD-180, like many Russian rocket engines, there are metallurgical processes involved in RD-180 production that currenly do not exist in U.S. industry.

    Given that every rocket engine carries some probability of catastrophic failure, there are limits to how many you’d want to gang together before taking on unreasonable vehicle or mission risk.

    You statement assumes or implies that these are trivial technical issues. They are not.

    (Pratt & Whitney has a contract to produce the RD-180. Although they haven’t produced one yet they are tooling up to do so.
    Dusting off the designs or the F-1 engine would not require major re-engineering to increase thrust because it would already far surpass the minimum thrust NASA would be looking for. Plus they have been demonstrated safe and reliable in clusters of up to 5.)

    “Complete waste of money unless they are demonstrating mining oxygen from the regolith or some other useful technology.”

    You really need to read the actual budget document before making statements like this. That 2011 lunar landing mission specifically includes “investigations for validating the availability of resources for extraction”.

    ( There is a big difference between validating the availability of resources, which LCROSS has done, and demonstrating a capability like mining.)
    read their full descriptions in the budget document.

    FWIW…

  • Martijn Meijering

    @MrEarl:
    I think it’s the definition of “long term” that is the sticking point for propellant storage and transfer. Progress ships stay docked for up to 6 months at the ISS. They have also served this function, dating back to Salute 6, for over 20 years so I think there is a substantial knowledge base for propellant storage.

    The big difference is the type of propellant. The Russian systems use noncryogenic propellants and that makes a lot of difference. You can’t use those systems with cryogenic propellants since the diaphragms and bellows can’t handle the low temperature. Cryogenic propellants also boil off very quickly without excellent passive and/or active cooling. Noncryogenic propellants don’t boil off at all.

    Still, it doesn’t really matter because noncryogenic propellants make for excellent lander propellants, and off-loading the propellant from a lander is enough to get it to L1/L2 with current launch vehicles and current upper stages for as EDS. I’ve described the details in an earlier post in this thread, and it would be a wash cost-wise. If we wanted to do exploration soon, we could do it this way, no HLV needed. We could even take immediate advantage of cryogenic propellant transfer once it became available: we could use refuelable upper stages as EDSs and, once refueled at L1/L2, as crasher / uncrasher stages for the lander, reducing both cost/kg and IMLEO.

    Of course, it is more likely that we won’t do exploration anytime soon. In that case, cryogenic propellant transfer and storage would likely be ready by the time we wanted to go beyond LEO. In that case there would be no reason to stay away from cryogenics.

  • common sense

    @red:

    “I just find it unfortunate that there’s no outline of initial astronaut missions beyond LEO – not the dates for getting to those destinations, but the dates for starting the work on those easy (relatively speaking) missions that probably need to happen before any of the harder ones and that I suspect don’t require lots of robotic precursors or technology demonstrations.”

    Don’t you think that we first need to understand what kind of vehicles will be available? Unless you include the design of an entirely nwe architecture how do you plan to design the missions?

  • Vladislaw

    Mark wrote:

    “It would be even more exciting if the plan was to actually do missions with this new technology.”

    Why does space always have to defined as space program, space is a place not a program. It is also not a war zone where we need missions. Do people that ride a commercial flight go on a “mission”?

    If a NASA astronaut takes a commercial flight to the ISS, is it a mission?

    Why is it so hard for you to understand that the “mission” is the inner solar system. The “program” is to develope the technology we need to both, push into the commercial sector to advance America’s economy, create new global markets we can capture, provide high tech jobs for the 21st, and allow NASA to move to the utilization of commercial transport for access to LEO, commercial infracture temporaty habitat facilities, in space refueling, with space based, reusable vehicle that can travel Point 2 Point anywhere in the inner solar system.

    Why is that so bad, and funding constellation and billions of hardware tossed into the drink with each flight and which will put 4-8 americans in space per year, from our high of about 60 per year with the shuttle a better solution?

  • richardb

    All right, for those that are toasting the Obama plan, I give you Burt Rutan’s
    bronx cheer
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704240004575085810715611660.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_news

    I agree with Burt. Obama’s plan is a big mistake. Well its a big mistake if you want to see American’s in space over the next 30 years.

  • Ben Joshua

    I am guessing the hybrid engine accident has made Burt Rutan more cautious about private development of space technology. Other companies would do well to incorporate a dose of that caution in their efforts.

    Constellation however, is not the answer. The post shuttle gap vector began years ago, and unless shuttle is extended by three years or so, at great cost, it will be a tough hiatus. I hope NASA will have sense to get with the new plan, discover its remarkable possibilities, and work synergistically with the commercial developers.

    In three years or so we should see at least one of the several initiatives setting some real flight test dates, hopefully full up. Orion lite, Dragon, Dreamchaser and Cygnus development teams, are you feeling the pressure now?

  • Guest

    @richardb

    “Mr. Rutan, a veteran aerospace designer and entrepreneur, in a letter addressed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, says he is “fearful that the commercial guys will fail” to deliver on the promises to get beyond low earth orbit, and that the policy risks setting back the nation’s space program. ”

    So, I think there is a misunderstanding here. Burt doesn’t attack the plans to get to LEO by commercial transportation. It’s about getting beyond LEO. As far as I know the current NASA plan is not saying that beyond LEO operations will also done with commercial transportation.

  • common sense

    @Guest:

    Yep, you’re right. Moreover his statement contradicts all he’s been saying over the years. Very bizarre.

  • richardb

    Guest, the entire point of Obama’s plan is to indefinitely defer BEO while getting the government out of owning LEO crewed vehicles. Rutan takes aim at this far more significant part of the new Obama plan. Wasn’t it a fact that Griffin, et al had let contracts to SpaceX and others to do commercial cargo and then later crew trips to the ISS, if those firms could deliver?

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