Congress, NASA

Holdren versus the appropriators

Presidential science advisor John Holdren faced some questions about NASA’s FY11 budget proposal at a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday morning, but those questions were fairly limited because the committee will be holding a hearing with NASA administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday, and most members decided to hold off until then. Those who did ask Holdren about NASA tended to be critical of the budget proposal, with the exception of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who wanted to “commend” the administration for its commercial approach to human spaceflight. “Your administration has tried to take an honest approach to looking at what NASA is all about,” he said, adding he was critical of the billions that had been spent on Constellation with little progress to show for it.

Wednesday afternoon, while Bolden was meeting with senators, Holdren appeared before a the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on the FY1 R&D budget. While the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), only mentioned NASA briefly in his opening statement, the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), was more pointed in his criticism of the NASA budget proposal. “Based on the little information that has been provided to the Congress, it appears that this plan was hastily developed without proper vetting from NASA’s scientific, engineering and human spaceflight experts,” he claimed in his opening statement, and went on to provide some comments from Apollo-era astronauts and former NASA administrator Mike Griffin, all opposed to the plan. He also cited a similarly critical letter from Burt Rutan, who is “fearful that the commercial guys will fail” in providing cargo and crew services to NASA.

“By killing the exploration program in favor of a vaguely defined ‘research and development’ program,” Wolf continued in his statement, “you are guaranteeing that the Chinese, Russians, and others will be closing the exploration gap.”

Another subcommittee member critical of the plan was Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who released a statement as well as a transcript of his exchange with Holdren at the hearing. “I appreciate Dr. Holdren’s attendance at today’s hearing; however his testimony and answers simply did not calm my fears that our nation’s space program will not remain a leading science program,” Aderholt said in his statement. “I urge President Obama and the administration to scrap this plan to end Constellation and give NASA the appropriate funding to remain a world leader.”

In the transcript of his exchange with Holdren, Aderholt took an interesting tack: claiming that Constellation would be less expensive to operate than a commercial alternative:

Fixed costs for launching Ares I would be about $1.2 billion a year; any launch system is going to have that high a cost or higher. The marginal cost, or cost per rocket, would be about $120 million for Ares I, plus about $50 million for the Orion capsule. The latest estimate for a completed Falcon 9 is about $130 million. Meanwhile, we should note that the original March 2006 contracts NASA signed with the two companies which won COTS contracts called for 3 demonstration flights by the fall of 2008, showing the ability to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Almost four years later, we are still waiting on that first flight.

Aderholt also asked Holdren about what market studies had been done “which proves that multiple rocket companies can survive without continued taxpayer support”. Holdren didn’t give a specific answer other than the companies in the launch industry themselves had done such studies. “I’m sure there have been market studies, I mean, these folks aren’t crazy.”

55 comments to Holdren versus the appropriators

  • Robert G. Oler

    “Aderholt took an interesting tack: claiming that Constellation would be less expensive to operate than a commercial alternative:” this is about par for the save our space program save our jobs save my job as a congress person arguments.

    The entire notion of a government run space program with some arbitrary goal that is really ill defined as opposed to well free enterprise…is remarkable only in the notion of how pervasive the bureaucracy has gotten in the federal government.

    Ares has consumed more money then Atlas, Delta, Falcon9 combined and still needs quite a bit more to fly.

    why are we even talking about this?

    All we were seeing the other day is Sarah Palin’s death panel. Constellation is dying…

    Robert G. Oler

  • Major Tom

    Even if true, a $10 million (with an “M”) difference in marginal costs between an Ares I flight and a Falcon 9 flight is meaningless when Ares I/Orion development costs are approaching $40 billion (with a “B”), versus $278 million (with an “M) that the taxpayer has spent on Falcon 9/Dragon development for cargo and the $300 million (with an “M) SpaceX has requested for a crewed Dragon. Ares I would have to fly almost 4,000 times before making up the difference.

    Goofy…

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.homerhickam.com/cgi-bin/blog.cgi?id=47

    this is more goofy stuff from Homer…

    the first half of his diatribe is to talk about the personal cost of the changes at NASA…I know pilots who are being laid off for the second or third time this century from major airlines.

    then he moves on to a list of projects…that is entertaining but has the old “excite the American people” crap (and it is that) attached to it. Some of them are not bad ideas…but the entire notion of a big government forced marched program to have “game changers” is by now clearly why 2010 does not look like 2010 should have.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Frank

    I think that’s good news!

    Even Homer is thinking about alternatives now!

  • googaw

    I agree with Homer that the X-37 is cool. “The first flight of the X-37B is slated for April 2010 on an Atlas V.” It’s a roboplane, so you HSF junkies will just have to move along while the rest of us get on with the future:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-37

  • Vladislaw

    googaw, from that wiki article:

    “The Air Force version is designated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). The OTV program builds on industry and government investments by DARPA, NASA and the Air Force.”

    Apparently NASA already is funding it.

  • frotski

    Ok, everyone is really concerned about jobs and I think people want to know A) When do you envision Constellation layoffs beginning and B) When do you envision the “new program” being fully staffed?

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why NO Senator or Representative has asked this question.

    Bolden apparently wants to save as much of the workforce as possible. How do you do that when there are no timelines for the new program starts vs Constellation terminates?

    IE… You can’t save any of the workforce if you lay them off in October and then finally put out an RFP in December. I would want Bolden’s word that there will be ZERO Constellation layoffs until the new plan is finalized and fully staffed.

    Like Bolden said with regards to his new commercial vision, I am going to hold their feet to the fire that they hire ex-Aerospace workers and create the jobs they said they would.

    WELL, Hold Bolden accountable that he won’t decimate the workforce until he has transitioned everyone that can be transitioned.

    So Senators and Representatives if you are reading this…… ASK HIM !!!!!

  • Guest

    @Frotski

    Your concern for these jobs is touching. Now, when thousands of Space jobs are threatened I suddenly observe massive protest. However, in the rest of society many more jobs are lost every year, even when there is no financial crisis. Often, people are doing their work well, but are fired because they are no longer needed, or ‘too old’ or a company wants to be more efficient (higher profit). The result for the people involved is just as bad, but I’ve not heard these kind of protests against those job losses. Why the sudden social interest?

  • Major Tom

    “Bolden apparently wants to save as much of the workforce as possible. How do you do that when there are no timelines for the new program starts vs Constellation terminates?”

    The new programs would start when the FY 2011 budget is signed into law. That should be before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and the Democrats will have an incentive to do so before the November elections. But it also wouldn’t be surprising if the budget isn’t passed until some couple or few months later, as historically happens.

    “So Senators and Representatives if you are reading this…… ASK HIM !!!!!”

    I wouldn’t bet on it. As happened recently, some congressmen would rather send Bolden letters full of false accusations about Constellation, rather than ask him intelligent questions about how the program’s closeout is going to be managed.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “Apparently NASA already is funding it.”

    NASA started X-37, but its was transitioned to DARPA after Columbia and the move from SLI to the VSE. I’m not aware of any current NASA funding for X-37 (but that wouldn’t keep industry from proposing it for commercial crew if they wanted to, anyway).

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    If you can’t layoff the thousands of people involved in Shuttle and Constellation, then NASA becomes a Potemkin Space museum. They will be spending the same vast sums of monies as before, only not for anything that flies with a human on board. How does that “game change” Nasa, exactly? Of course thousands of people will be cut.

    Obama’s plan is incoherent unless its a plan to end HSF at Nasa. Congress sees this and is calling out the architects of this mess.

    Given the electoral realities of 2010, Congress will increasingly not take direction from Obama. He’s lost the independent voters, he’s put many dozens of House and Senate Democratic seats at risk in the fall. Congress is likely to not wait around for convincing explanations from Holden, Bolden and Garver. They’ll go off and do their own thing. Who knows what that will be and it probably is temporary anyway. 2011 will brings lots of Republicans and even a few Democrats with budget cutting fever to the Potomac. Possibly Republicans will own Capitol Hill. Nasa is likely to get a hair cut no matter how this turns out.

    I can’t see how Congress can force Obama and Nasa to continue with Constellation if they don’t want it. But they can fund the Shuttle for another year. They can deny funding to much of his plan until they get a well thought out plan from Obama. This could go on till 2011 or later especially if SpaceX’s Falcon 9 does a cartwheel in the Atlantic this year.

  • googaw

    test (sorry, it’s acting flaky)

  • googaw

    Apparently NASA already is funding [X-37].

    Well, it once was. It’s just the kind of thing NASA should be doing, research with commerce or (as in this case) the DoD as its beneficiary. The X-43 is also a very useful project: air-breathing hypersonic could one day be a big game-changer for launch. The subscale X-programs are the best things NASA does and should be front-and-center of its new approach.

    [another commenter]
    I think people want to know A) When do you envision Constellation layoffs beginning and B) When do you envision the “new program” being fully staffed?…I would want Bolden’s word that there will be ZERO Constellation layoffs until the new plan is finalized and fully staffed.

    Why? Because Constellation is a socialist jobs program? Do you NASA lifers know how to write a resume? How to use the web to research jobs? Believe me we out here in the real economy have been doing a lot of it lately. Actually we’ve been doing it all our lives: it’s how the real economy works. You have wasted enough of the taxpayer’s money and it’s time you learned some real-world economics. I’d be willing to put as much of the Constellation shut-down funds as are needed to teach you these skills, and to start a jobs bank for ex-Shuttle and ex-Constellation workers. Unfortunately, what is really going to happen is that the socialist jobs program is going to continue under another name: “Rocket X”, etc. so that our precious NASA lifers never have to learn real economics.

  • googaw

    Apparently NASA already is funding [X-37].

    Well, it once was. It’s just the kind of thing NASA should be doing, research with commerce or (as in this case) the DoD as its beneficiary. The X-43 is also a very useful project: air-breathing hypersonic could one day be a big game-changer for launch. The subscale X-programs are the best things NASA does and should be front-and-center of its new approach.

  • googaw

    I think people want to know A) When do you envision Constellation layoffs beginning and B) When do you envision the “new program” being fully staffed?…I would want Bolden’s word that there will be ZERO Constellation layoffs until the new plan is finalized and fully staffed.

    Why? Because Constellation is a make-work program? Do you NASA lifers know how to write a resume? How to use the web to research jobs? Believe me we out here in the real economy have been doing a lot of it lately. Actually we’ve been doing it all our lives: it’s how the real economy works. You have wasted enough of the taxpayer’s money and it’s time you learned some real-world economics. I’d be willing to put as much of the Constellation shut-down funds as are needed to teach you these skills, and to start a jobs bank for ex-Shuttle and ex-Constellation workers. Unfortunately, what is really going to happen is that the s*c*l*st make-work program is going to continue under another name: “Rocket X”, etc. so that our precious NASA lifers never have to learn real economics.

  • googaw

    Apparently this blog auto-censors posts if you make accurate analogies using the word “s*c*l*st” :-(

  • common sense

    ” I’m not aware of any current NASA funding for X-37 (but that wouldn’t keep industry from proposing it for commercial crew if they wanted to, anyway).”

    I’d very surprised since it is more of a military program now.

    But it is noteworthy that a variant was supposed to be the Boeing OSP…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_Space_Plane
    http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2003/q2/nr_030418s.html

  • common sense

    “How do you do that when there are no timelines for the new program starts vs Constellation terminates?”

    How about you give $2.5B to Constellation till 2012? Not enough?

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

  • Major Tom

    “Congress sees this and is calling out the architects of this mess.”

    Vitter tried to call out Garver and the Sentinel claims it backfired:

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2010/02/senators-attack-on-nasa-deputy-chief-lori-garver-backfires.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+news%2Fspace%2Fspace_blog+%28Space+Blog+The+Write+Stuff%29&utm_content=Bloglines

    No one else has been called out besides the usual anonymous OMB civil servants.

    Any idiot can read the new budget, compare it against the Augustine report, and see where the new plan came from. It wasn’t formulated in some backroom conspiracy led by Garver or OMB civil servants.

    “They can deny funding to much of his plan until they get a well thought out plan from Obama.”

    But Congress isn’t doing that. The draft Senate FY 2011 authorization bill for NASA endorses the Administration’s basic plan: get at least two commercial crew providers operational by 2016, extend ISS to 2020, and get an HLV underway ASAP.

    Ares I and Orion are reduced to internal 90-day studies to see if there’s any way they can fit under the new plan — Ares I maybe as a test vehicle and Orion maybe as an industry-proposed option — without undermining the commercial approach. There’s actually stronger language in the bill about Shuttle termination than Ares I/Orion termination.

    See:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/hyperbola/2010/02/senator-hutchinsons-wish-list.html

    “But they [Congress] can fund the Shuttle for another year.”

    The Administration has already proposed to fund Shuttle through FY 2011 if more flights are necessary to finish ISS assembly.

    Duh…

  • Major Tom

    “How about you give $2.5B to Constellation till 2012? Not enough?”

    Good point…

  • richardb

    After today how likely any of Obama’s big ideas for Nasa survive?
    Termination of shuttle and constellation, the HSF programs of Nasa?
    Vast R&D to re-invent the RD-180 here in America?
    Commercial crew vehicles by US firms flying to the ISS by 2014 or 2015(someone was leaning too hard on their hookah for those dates)?

    It doesn’t take much of a slip up with Falcon 9 or Orbital’s vehicle to push off first cargo to the ISS till 2012, if they do it at all. I don’t think Congress will authorize funds to either companies for a crewed vehicle till cargo is demonstrated. That could take crewed out to 2016 or 2017, right around the time the Stick was projected.

    Given Obama’s nature to outsource his big ideas to Congress, I got to believe today’s the day he decides that’s another good idea.

  • Major Tom

    “After today how likely any of Obama’s big ideas for Nasa survive?”

    They’ve survived the first draft of the Senate FY 2011 authorization bill for NASA, which endorses the Administration’s basic plan to get at least two commercial crew providers operational by 2016, extend ISS to 2020, and get an HLV underway ASAP.

    “Termination of shuttle…”

    It was the last Administration’s idea to terminate Shuttle in 2010. This Administration has extended that date by one year.

    Don’t make stuff up.

    “Vast R&D to re-invent the RD-180 here in America?”

    It’s not “vast”. It’s $3.1 billion over the next five years. It’s a fraction of the total exploration R&D budget.

    Don’t make stuff up.

    “Commercial crew vehicles by US firms flying to the ISS by 2014 or 2015″

    The date in the draft authorization bill is 2016, not 2014 or 2015.

    “That could take crewed out to 2016 or 2017, right around the time the Stick was projected.”

    The earliest readiness date for Ares I was 2017, not 2016. And there was very little probability of meeting 2017. The likely operational date for Ares I was 2019.

    Don’t make stuff up.

    Sigh…

  • Anyone have video links to the hearings for the past two days? I’ve checked YouTube (NASATelevision channel), Space-Multimedia (a NASA TV archiving site) and CSPAN. No results so far. I’d like to see both hearings in their entirety.

    That said, I did see some snippets, and I thought it was interesting that Bolden basically said that Flexible Path was chosen because of his recommendations to the President. Indicating, at least to me, that the people claiming that the President and the Science Advisor are the ones running to show, are wrong.

  • I can’t delete my post, but I was given a link. Sorry.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Josh…no problem…the testimony is enjoyable. I particularly like Rep Wolf (VA) complaining about how the White House aides looked “smug”.

    rather childish

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Work slowed me down watching it…but thanks to TIVO just got it in.

    Congratulations to Miles OBrien for a very very well done presentation.

    Bravo Zulu…well done

    Robert G. Oler

  • red

    Jeff: “the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), was more pointed in his criticism of the NASA budget proposal”

    Does his district have more to gain with the new budget than with Constellation?

    Jeff: “He also cited a similarly critical letter from Burt Rutan, who is “fearful that the commercial guys will fail” in providing cargo and crew services to NASA.”

    Didn’t Rutan say

    “I am for NASA doing either true Research, or doing forefront Exploration, with taxpayer dollars. Ares/Orion is more of a Development program than a Research program, so I am not depressed to see it disappear.”

    (link http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2010/02/05/2195827.aspx)

    It sounds like Rutan doesn’t want NASA to do rocket development (and presumably rocket operations). He thinks NASA should do research, so he should be pleased with the 2011 NASA budget because there is all sorts of NASA research in that budget, and well as development and demonstrations that are more in the sense of “R&D” style development than “develop a rocket so NASA can operate it”. Rutan also wants NASA to do exploration, which they are doing in the 2011 budget – R&D&development focused on future exploration, and lots more actual exploration using robots than was planned before this budget. That’s opposed to Constellation which as we see above Rutan doesn’t favor (as there is no Constellation without Ares/Orion), and which had little hope of ever doing any exploration anyway (as Augustine confirmed, ISS service was a stretch goal for Constellation). At least with the current budget a solid foundation for exploration is started.

  • Jeff Foust

    Josh: The video of Bolden’s appearance this morning before the House Science and Technology Committee is available on the committee’s page for the hearing (look over to the right).

    Separately, if you’re having problems getting a comment to appear, the most constructive (if, perhaps, not as entertaining) approach is to drop me an email: the spam filter here can occasionally be a little overzealous.

  • Jeff Foust

    Does his [Rep. Wolf's] district have more to gain with the new budget than with Constellation?

    Rep. Wolf’s district is in northern Virginia. It includes, interesting enough, the headquarters of Orbital Sciences Corporation, a company that could benefit from the agency’s new direction and which also endorsed the budget proposal shortly after its release.

  • red

    Aderholt : “Fixed costs for launching Ares I would be about $1.2 billion a year; any launch system is going to have that high a cost or higher. The marginal cost, or cost per rocket, would be about $120 million for Ares I, plus about $50 million for the Orion capsule. The latest estimate for a completed Falcon 9 is about $130 million.”

    As Major Tom said,

    “a $10 million (with an “M”) difference in marginal costs between an Ares I flight and a Falcon 9 flight is meaningless when Ares I/Orion development costs are approaching $40 billion (with a “B”), versus $278 million (with an “M) that the taxpayer has spent on Falcon 9/Dragon development for cargo and the $300 million (with an “M) SpaceX has requested for a crewed Dragon. Ares I would have to fly almost 4,000 times before making up the difference.”

    Not only that, but let’s suppose fixed costs for launching Ares I are about $1.2 billion a year. How often is Ares I going to launch? Twice a year? That’s $600M per launch just for fixed costs. What about the fixed costs for maintaining Orion capability? Is that counted in the $1.2 billion, or is that more? Is that $1.2 billion assuming there’s an Ares V to account for some of the fixed costs?

    Then, because I don’t know what the fixed costs for Falcon 9 are, let’s suppose they’re $1.2 billion per year. I really doubt they are that high, because SpaceX is developing Falcon 9 now plus almost maintaining the fixed costs to be able to launch it (launch is approaching), plus taking on the marginal costs of a launch once they reach that point, plus doing whatever they’re doing with Falcon 1, with under 1,000 people doing most of the work in-house. $1.2 billion per year would be over $1.2 million per employee per year, and that would only cover Falcon 9 fixed costs, not all of the other SpaceX costs. So … I’m skeptical, but let’s run with $1.2 billion per year. How many Falcon 9 launches will there be in a year if they get commercial crew? I don’t know, but let’s supposed 2 crew launches, 4 cargo launches, and 4 satellite launches. That’s 10 launches per year, or $120M in fixed costs per launch. It sounds much better than the $600M in fixed costs per Ares I launch even using Aderholt’s numbers.

    Then for marginal costs, Aderholt gives $120M Ares I plus $50M Orion, compared to $130M Falcon 9 and ??? for Dragon. We can’t tell from that whose marginal costs are lower because there’s a missing value.

    This is all besides the point anyway, because Aderholt is using the bogus Constellation advocate assumption that SpaceX is certain to be the commercial crew winner. Wrong! We don’t know who the winners will be. Maybe it will be Atlas V, maybe Delta IV, maybe Taurus II, maybe an Ares I derivative, maybe Falcon 9, maybe something else.

    The important things are that there will be multiple winners thus providing robustness to U.S. HSF instead of the “all eggs in 1 basket” Constellation approach, the winners will pitch in investment funds, the winners will be able to address non-ISS markets with their systems which is very good for all of us including NASA, if the winner uses their systems in non-HSF services there will be a safety advantage in spreading risk to non-HSF flights, and there will be more real tests of the systems than with Ares I/Orion before risking human lives on them.

  • red

    Jeff: I looked at the district on a map, and it sure looks like a likely spot for companies and employees that would benefit from the 2011 budget. Orbital has COTS cargo which gets a boost, small rocket launches, small satellites, possible in-roads with commercial crew (like a Taurus II win there or a transfer of their LAS), etc … all sorts of possibilities in the 2011 budget. In addition to Orbital, there are probably commuters working in nearby districts that would benefits from GSFC and APL science missions, all sorts of possibilities with the Space Technology budget for beltway high-tech businesses, etc.

    I wonder what Orbital will tell Wolf about their employees’ needs …

    On the other hand, if Wolf is going against his constituents’ interests because he really believes Constellation is the right way to go, that’s refreshing in a sense (even though I’d say he picked a rather unworthy example for such a quixotic stand…).

  • red

    richardb: “It doesn’t take much of a slip up with Falcon 9 or Orbital’s vehicle to push off first cargo to the ISS till 2012, if they do it at all. I don’t think Congress will authorize funds to either companies for a crewed vehicle till cargo is demonstrated. That could take crewed out to 2016 or 2017, right around the time the Stick was projected.”

    Why do you assume that SpaceX and/or Orbital will be the commercial crew winners? There are other alternatives – rockets that already exist, crew vehicles that have been going through designs, multiple non-COTS cargo winners (ULA, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Paragon) of the recent commercial crew $50M that Congress went for even though those companies haven’t demonstrated their cargo systems yet…

    Also, even if commercial crew is delayed to 2016 or 2017, that’s still better than Ares I/Orion’s expected date – at tens of billions of dollars less (allowing NASA money to do all sorts of needed things), with more robustness (multiple independent systems), and more usefulness (use in other markets).

  • Jeff Foust, thanks a bunch for that second link. Haven’t had any spam filter problems before, I am just discombobulated with my posting. Back to what you guys were discussing. :) (I don’t want to comment on this until having seen both hearings.)

  • Jeff Foust, thanks a bunch for that second link. Haven’t had any spam filter problems before, I am just discombobulated with my posting. Back to what you guys were discussing. :) (I don’t want to comment on this until having seen both hearings.)

  • I’m somewhat surprised these spaceflightnow articles haven’t seen much play:

    Bolden reviews several shuttle derived alternative HLV’s

    Michoud says they have almost all the equipment to do 1 full In-line shuttle derived HLV test

    I hadn’t brought these articles up as they were buried in the ramp-up to FY2011. I continued to sit on them when all was quiet afterwards. Then:

    Shuttle extension and HLV dev work

    Seeing the HLV development quietly chugging along under the radar makes me wonder what we’re about to see in the next few weeks. If Michoud is talking about real inventory checks and Bolden is to (or possibly beyond) the short list phase, will we have our “Rocket X” in front of cameras within the next few weeks? Clearly the HLV selection and development process is further along than what we’re hearing in these committee meetings. I’m not so much an optimist as to assume anything will fly in the next few years, but having a vehicle and hardware is a big step in the right direction.

    It would be quite the coup to let the congress fume and bluster for a few weeks about how we have no direction then lay blueprints on the table with Michoud hardware to back it up. I’ve long ago lost faith in Obama’s ability to play the PR game in person. It’s not that I don’t think he can, he just doesn’t when he really really should, this issue included. If this sort of thing is in the works, I’m guessing Bolden and Garver will deliver the news.

  • Robert G. Oler

    aremisasling wrote @ February 26th, 2010 at 1:12 am

    anything is possible and I’ve read (as they came out all those stories)…but I dont see how they work.

    An HLV has no mission in the next 3-5 years…maybe even 10 years…but certainly in the next 3-5…and one developed on any sense of shuttle hardware (I see in the latest variant pictures of shuttle C have resurfaced)…keeps a workforce and infrastructure that NASA really cannot afford IF it is going to do anything else.

    Unless they can work the shuttle infrastructure so that the standing army is not so large or the system is more automated…we have been down this road before…shuttle C no matter what version is right now to expensive to operate.

    Robert G. Oler

  • “anything is possible and I’ve read (as they came out all those stories)”

    I would be quite surprised if these articles hadn’t been read by some if not most folks here given the audience. I see your point regarding a shuttle derived model. I’m interested to see how they can get an HLV off the ground sans ‘army’, shuttle-derived or not. Perhaps they can’t.

  • Storm

    Rep. Wolf and Burt Rutan are just going through the separation anxiety pains, as are many in Congress, over Constellation. I went through the same thing back in 08 just after Obama won the election and posted up his transition website – specifically the NASA transition, which sent me all ablaze when I realized that most in the transition team were chomping at the bit to kill Constellation. That’s when I said all you can go to hell and just give me my damn autonomous robotic scramjet repair shuttle. The X-37 is cool. I have it, but I’d much rather have my autonomous robotic scramjet shuttle, thank you. And I’ll have my autonomous/remote control ISRU on comets too. And by the time that gets done I’ll not only be watching robots flying the skies everywhere from civil space to LEO and beyond, but I’ll be able to climb into such a robotic craft and get from point A to point B without actually taking the controls, because that is what progress is Richardb! Because it certainly isn’t watching the same thing our parents watched back in 69 on a t.v. screen, even if it’s HDTV. For a true technological shift to occur, and for the taxpayers to enjoy their investment the fruits of NASA must, at some point, fall off the tree and land in our laps for all of us to enjoy.

    So the point I’m trying to make is that Obama has given, not just Congress, but also the whole country a chance to recalibrate our space program. Anyone who has been keeping up with the sci/tech news as of late will understand why its necessary to recalibrate at this juncture. There has been this great explosion of technology that is eerily reminiscent of ray kurzweil’s predictions going on, and it was time to take advantage of our new found capabilities. And I only hope we have the vision in the future to do so again when, and if it is needed.

  • red

    Here’s more on Rutan’s take on Constellation vs. commercial cargo and crew services to LEO:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/hyperbola/2010/02/burt-rutan-sets-the-record-str.html

    It looks to me like Rutan is 100% in favor of commercial crew/cargo services for NASA, and is against a big NASA development effort like Constellation. Rutan is also in favor of a NASA research focus. In those respects, which to me are the real standout features of the 2011 budget, my interpretation is that he’s in favor of that budget.

    What he’s against is NASA giving up on forefront exploration. To me the 2011 NASA budget’s R&D&demo efforts for HSF exploration and general space, as well as the HSF robotic precursors, are the sort of work that gets NASA to forefront exploration while keeping NASA from a development quagmire. In other words, this up-front work should lower the initial barriers to exploration so that a commercial COTS-like effort can some day take it on (for destinations with commercial potential) or so that if NASA does ultimately need to do a development effort, the development is minimized. Obviously Rutan has a different take on that, though.

  • I’ve browsing through a couple of GAO reports and reflecting on a lot o comments about Ares I/Orion. It seems to me the opposition is based on a worst case senario of cost and technical performance. The $49 billion cost is a pessimistic total systems cost through 2020. I will likely be less if the program is put under some strict management. Mean while the COTS advocates use the most optimistic assumptions for the alternative they support.

    There is a very good case for continuing with what we have started. One the investment in money and time already made. Two, it provides a greater political support in the turmoil in the years ahead. Third, it is a step toward longer term goals beyond Earth orbit. For these reasons we should give these Constellation elements a new name (my gift to the administration), reformed management, and stay with it.

  • Frank

    @John,

    It seems the Russians are going the Obama route by developing in Space vehicles like orbital tugs and transfer vehicles, to … go to the moon.

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/hyperbola/2010/02/russia-to-develop-low-lunar-or.html

    So, the sooner NASA develops those technologies and an HLV, the better.

  • googaw

    aremisasling:
    I’m not so much an optimist as to assume [a Shuttle-derived HLV] will fly in the next few years, but having a vehicle and hardware is a big step in the right direction.

    Why should we hope for this? What would an HLV be good for besides $100+ billion HSF missions? What can an HLV do that rendezvous and docking of stages launched by standard-sized rockets can’t? Isn’t this really just a make-work job for the Shuttle and Ares work force who will bring to it the same kind of cost consciousness to it (i.e. very little) as they did to Shuttle and Ares?

  • Guest

    “What can an HLV do that rendezvous and docking of stages launched by standard-sized rockets can’t?”

    I guess it depends on how large the modules for future space stations and transportation vehicles will need to be. And that may depend on safety, comfort, versatility….. you name it.

  • Major Tom

    “I’ve browsing through a couple of GAO reports and reflecting on a lot o comments about Ares I/Orion. It seems to me the opposition…”

    GAO is an independent, fact-finding agency for Congress. There’s no “opposition” at GAO. GAO doesn’t have a parochial dog in the fight or a political agenda. Their job is to speak truth to power, providing as unvarnished a truth as possible for congressional decisionmakers about the issue or program at hand. GAO can’t “oppose” anything — they don’t have legislative or executive powers.

    (Unfortunately, some congressional decisionmakers have trouble dealing with the truth from time to time.)

    “is based on a worst case senario of cost and technical performance. The $49 billion cost is a pessimistic total systems cost through 2020.”

    That may be the GAO’s worst-case scenario. But even NASA managers admitted that Ares I/Orion costs were in the several tens of billions of dollars range.

    The prior Ares I manager, Steve Cook, told the Augustine Committee that development costs through first flight were $35 billion.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/science/space/18nasa.html

    Constellation manager Jeff Hanley and Associate Administrator Doug Cooke provided estimates of $30 billion and $36 billion, respectively, to the press within a day of each other.

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2009/07/what-are-the-real-costs-of-nasas-constellation-program.html

    So best case, Ares I/Orion was going to cost $30 billion plus (multiple NASA estimates). Worst case, Ares I/Orion was going to cost almost $50 billion (GAO).

    “I will likely be less if the program is put under some strict management.”

    It’s not an issue of how strict management is. It’s an issue of what technical decisions underpin the program and how hard those decisions have made the Ares I and Orion vehicles to develop. Constellation managers could be draconian and supremely efficient, but they can only squeeze so much water from stone. These designs (any design) simply cost what they cost — in the $30 billion to $50 billion range, in this case. Luckily for NASA, they’re not the only option.

    “Mean while the COTS advocates use the most optimistic assumptions for the alternative they support.”

    We have a conservative, pessimistic estimate for commercial crew from the Augustine Committee, backed by the independent cost estimators at the Aerospace Corporation. Their estimate in the report was $5 billion to get two providers of commercial crew services in place by 2016. NASA’s budget request for commercial crew is $6 billion. (Both of these numbers are much more conservative than industry estimates for commercial crew development, like the $300 million that SpaceX quotes.)

    Even when we add the $9 billion spent on Ares I/Orion to date to the $6 billion for commercial crew ($15 billion total), that’s a huge savings versus the $30 billion to $50 billion that Ares I/Orion was going to cost. We’re talking $15 billion to $35 billion in savings that can be applied to getting actual human space exploration hardware (HLVs, transit stages, landers, etc.) developed, versus having NASA duplicate existing and near-existing commercial and military Earth-to-orbit capabilities.

    It’s a total no-brainer.

    FWIW…

  • “What can an HLV do that rendezvous and docking of stages launched by standard-sized rockets can’t?”

    The HLV debate has been rehashed in the space geek community many many times. I expect nothing I tell you will convince you it’s the route to go, given thehistory of the debate, but here goes. For beyond LEO missions, a cluster of smaller boosters instead of one or two big ones adds a level of complexity to the mission, requiring multiple rockets to launch in roughly the same timeframe and rendezvous in orbit. For cislunar sligshot missions, this is not likely a big issue as there’s simply less hardware required. Once you start talking about leaving Earth’s gravity well or landing on the Moon, you are dealing with bigger issues.

    Additionally, breaking the mission into a series of smaller components adds a lot more parts to the equation. As it was I saw some specs calling for a handful of Ares V’s for the Mars mission, and that’s with the biggest booster that would ever have flown. Breaking that down into constituent parts and having them all lauch within a short window for rendezvous and departure is problematic, at best.

    Can things like VASIMR and inflatable habitats cut down on this? Oh yeah, and we damn sure better research them so we can reap those benefits. We may be able to cut out the need for an HLV for Moon landings if the cards are played right, but I think once you talk beyond Earth’s gravity well, it’s a larger undertaking.

    Incidentally, at one point I read an article mentioning that Bigelow had plans out there for an inflatable module that could fly on Ares V. It would have provided, if my memory is correct, 2 times the habitable volume of ISS in one flight. As to what purpose one could find for such a huge module, that’s harder to say, but just having the possibility on the table raises some interesting possibilities. And some of the deep space astronomers have been salivating over the idea of a mega-hubble or even mega-interferometry telescope that would be unachievable with multiple smaller rockets.

  • Robert G. Oler

    There is a very good case for continuing with what we have started. One the investment in money and time already made. Two, it provides a greater political support in the turmoil in the years ahead. Third, it is a step toward longer term goals beyond Earth orbit…

    hah. you obviously have not been around long. This is the “three point” plan for saving every NASA program.

    Cant stop already spent a lot of money (so we have to spend a lot more)…the program has political support (demonstratably not accurate…the program is dying)…and we will all be “old” twenty years from now when technology from the 70′s is suppose to take us to the Moon.

    LOL

    Robert G. Oler

  • Storm

    Frank wrote @ February 26th, 2010 at 9:06 am
    @John,

    “It seems the Russians are going the Obama route by developing in Space vehicles like orbital tugs and transfer vehicles, to … go to the moon.

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/hyperbola/2010/02/russia-to-develop-low-lunar-or.html

    So, the sooner NASA develops those technologies and an HLV, the better.”

    Its no good Frank. John wants to be the strategic underdog. He has the shrewd idea that if the US lags behind in a space technology gap for the next 10-15 years, that will really wake this country up.

  • danwithaplan

    Um, “Parom” and Russian tugs is a much much older idea than the “Obama route”, whatever…

    Let’s drop “commercial” from this. It’s a bunch of freeloaders fighting for the Uncle Sugar’s teat. SpaceX is one of them.

  • danwithaplan

    Mir and Salyuts were assembled by automatic tugs, btw. With propellant transfer, too. LONG LONG time ago.

  • Frank

    Yes, danwithaplan,

    But, it’s not about old or new, it’s about a sustainable way to get astronauts to other places in our solar system.
    So tugs are very usefull and it is an excellent concept to build upon. Instead of single-use space vehicles, get some vehicles up there that can be used for years. It will save money in the long run and you’ll have crafts ready for use.
    I think we simply have to abandon the idea of building a few rockets for one goal, and then go there once or twice a year. It’s about having crafts and technologies available to get us anywhere we want in the solar system in a practicle amount of time.

  • Major Tom

    “Let’s drop “commercial” from this. It’s a bunch of freeloaders fighting for the Uncle Sugar’s teat. SpaceX is one of them.”

    How is investing private dollars in new companies “fighting for Uncle Sugar’s teat”? How is providing contracted services to the government “freeloading”?

    If you think NASA relying more heavily on commercial space is a bad move, that’s fine. Make the argument.

    But don’t slander entire industries with deragatory terms that bear no resemblance to reality. Take that ugliness elsewhere.

    Ugh…

  • googaw

    How is investing private dollars in new companies “fighting for Uncle Sugar’s teat”?

    (1) When NASA funds more of the company’s development costs than the investors themselves. (2) When the company starts running a profit, with the revenues from Uncle Sugar exceeding the development costs, at least four years before they’ve launched a single payload for Uncle Sugar.

    The incentives for investors to invest based on expectations of revenue and profit from NASA, not from private customers are quite obvious to anybody who has actually studied COTS and is not lacking in business sense. COTS is a slightly improved form of government contracting. That is all. It is not “buying tickets”, it is not “commercial”, it is certainly not “off the shelf” (COTS originally stood for “commercial off-the-shelf” and a few deluded souls still think that’s what it is).

  • common sense

    “(1) When NASA funds more of the company’s development costs than the investors themselves. (2) When the company starts running a profit, with the revenues from Uncle Sugar exceeding the development costs, at least four years before they’ve launched a single payload for Uncle Sugar.”

    And of course you can prove all of this?

  • googaw

    And of course you can prove all of this?

    To anybody with business sense, yes. Indeed anybody with business sense can convince themselves of it with just a wee bit of web research — they don’t need me for it.

  • common sense

    “To anybody with business sense, yes. Indeed anybody with business sense can convince themselves of it with just a wee bit of web research — they don’t need me for it.”

    blahblahblah More unsupported argumentation…

    Oh well.

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