Congress

Witnesses for Senate commercial space hearing

The Senate Commerce Committee has released the list of witnesses for Thursday afternoon’s hearing by its space subcommittee on “Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities”. And it’s a pretty full panel:

Lieutenant General Thomas P. Stafford

United States Air Force, (Ret.)

Astronaut (Ret.)

Mr. Bryan D. O’Connor

Chief, Safety and Mission Assurance

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Dr. George C. Nield

Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

Federal Aviation Administration

Mr. Malcolm L. Peterson

Former NASA Comptroller

Mr. Michael C. Gass

President and Chief Executive Officer

United Launch Alliance

Mr. Frank L. Culbertson Jr.

Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager, Advanced Programs Group

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Ms. Gwynne Shotwell

President

SpaceX

20 comments to Witnesses for Senate commercial space hearing

  • Expect the battle to be about “human rating” of boosters.. in particular, ULA and Orbital Sciences have decided to work together to ensure NASA defines standards which SpaceX hasn’t already met. Doesn’t matter what, in particular, they can come up with, just so long as it puts SpaceX behind the 8-ball and gives them time to catch up.

  • Al Fansome

    WADDINGTON: Doesn’t matter what, in particular, they can come up with, just so long as it puts SpaceX behind the 8-ball and gives them time to catch up.

    This cuts both ways. Actually it cuts at least 3 ways.

    ULA is well ahead of SpaceX in having in hand a proven highly-reliable LV. As Bolden mentioned yesterday, the Atlas V has launched 20 times in a row and is already well beyond being a 95% reliable LV. The Atlas V 401/2 is looking pretty attractive right now for commercial crew.

    The Atlas V401 has a significant competitive advantage on “reliability”, which is a key component of safety. The fact that the Falcon IX is cheaper than the Atlas V401/2 is not going to be that important to NASA compared to safety and reliability.

    It will be some years before the Falcon IX is in the same neighborhood of reliability.

    What is the “third way” it cuts?

    If ULA makes this case, which you should expect since it is their role and job to make, it will discriminate the Atlas V 401 not only from SpaceX’s Falcon IX, but also from Orbital’s Taurus II.

    That is not the end of the story though.

    Where it becomes interesting is the possibility that Orbital and SpaceX could design their capsules to initially fly on an Atlas V, and then when their respective in-house LVs have proven to be reliable enough, they would launch those same capsules on their in-house LVs.

    I think it would be smart on their part to propose as much to NASA.

    Commercial satellites are today expressly designed to be launched on multiple LVs. This creates “redundancy” and prevents the satellite from becoming dependent on any single supplier of launch services. This is one way that commercial companies diversity their risk — by eliminating their dependency on any single critical supplier.

    I anticipate that commercial capsules can (and will) be designed in the same way.

    FWIW,

    – Al

  • Ferris Valyn

    Al,
    Quick question – ULA is probably going to be talking about the Atlas V 402, rather than the 401, since everyone who is officially using the Atlas V is using the 402 model – will this make a difference?

  • Al,

    As for the Atlas 401/2 serving as a human launcher, you just have one little problem–finding a human-rated spacecraft, which means it also has a launch abort system, all of which can mass under the 12,500 kg that the 401/2 can put into LEO. Yes, Dragon empty weighs 8 mt. That leaves just 4.5 mt for LAS, crew life-support, and the crew. But Dragon won’t be launched on the Atlas but by SpaceX on its launchers.

    I have not read anywhere that SpaceX contemplates launching a crewed version of Dragon on a Falcon 9, but on a Falcon 9 Heavy, with a 19.2 mt 28.5° LEO. If SpaceX, and only SpaceX, has stated otherwise, I would be interested in reading that.

  • googaw

    ULA and Orbital Sciences have decided to work together to ensure NASA defines standards which SpaceX hasn’t already met.

    If so, yet another good reason for SpaceX to turn down “Commercial” Crew and focus on real commerce, such as their recent deal with Loral.

  • googaw

    Al Fansome:
    Where it becomes interesting is the possibility that Orbital and SpaceX could design their capsules to initially fly on an Atlas V … Commercial satellites are today expressly designed to be launched on multiple LVs. This creates “redundancy” and prevents the satellite from becoming dependent on any single supplier of launch services. This is one way that commercial companies diversity their risk — by eliminating their dependency on any single critical supplier.

    A very good point.

  • Coastal Ron

    In regards to Al Fansome “that Orbital and SpaceX could design their capsules to initially fly on an Atlas V, and then when their respective in-house LVs have proven to be reliable enough, they would launch those same capsules on their in-house LVs.”

    ULA has said that it would take 4 years to do all the work to get Atlas V ready for crew launches, and 4.5 years for Delta. The SpaceX Dragon capsule will delivering cargo to the ISS well before ULA gets off the ground, and their capsule will be human-rated from an ISS standpoint (human access, not transportation).

    SpaceX has publicly stated that their goal is to eventually launch crew, and though NASA funding would accelerate this, I’m sure they’ll do it eventually. I don’t think there are any significant roadblocks that can be put up that would slow them down. They build their own product, and doing it in-house means they can make changes quickly too. Once the requirements are set, I think they’ll be able to do their manufacturing and testing faster than ULA.

    That being said, I look forward SpaceX being one of many ways into space, including ULA and Orbital. Competition and redundancy is key to our future ability to grow our presence in space. I hope NASA follows a similar path for future crew launch contracts, and awards them to a number of carriers. NASA should prime the pump with crew capsule development money like they did on COTS, and then award pay-for-performance delivery contracts for the actual launches.

  • Hehe, I actually have some numbers for ULA.

    Delta IV Heavy Launch of Orion by 2014, cost: $800M for a pad, $500M for human rating, $300M/launch. http://bit.ly/tb1V1

    Presumably Delta V / Orion Lite would be cheaper.

  • red

    Al: “Commercial satellites are today expressly designed to be launched on multiple LVs. This creates “redundancy” and prevents the satellite from becoming dependent on any single supplier of launch services. This is one way that commercial companies diversity their risk — by eliminating their dependency on any single critical supplier.

    I anticipate that commercial capsules can (and will) be designed in the same way.”

    In fact, the 2011 NASA commercial crew budget encourages this:

    “… this program will also be open to a broad range of commercial proposals including, but not limited to: human-rating existing launch vehicles, developing spacecraft for delivering crew to the ISS that can be launched on multiple launch vehicles, or developing new high-reliability rocket systems.”

  • ISS vet

    Trent: ULA’s cost estimates for commercial crew launches to ISS using the Atlas V are even lower. They told the Augustine Committee non-recurring costs of $400M and recurring costs of $130M/launch.

  • ISS vet: you can’t buy an Atlas V launch now for less than $160M, so why would the price drop $30M for some future crew launch capability? Kinda sounds like they just made up a number to be $10M less than SpaceX.

  • ISS vet: you can’t buy an Atlas V launch now for less than $160M, so why would the price drop $30M for some future crew launch capability? Kinda sounds like they just made up a number to be $10M less than SpaceX.

    First, you may be confusing cost with price, and second, the cost is highly dependent on flight rate. If the rate goes up, the price could come down in the future. I’ll bet their marginal cost is below a hundred million.

  • Poorboy

    Somebody also seems to be confusing $30 million with $130 million.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I did not hear the hearings…did GS of SpaceX say that they were about to announce 10 more Falcon 9 customers? (sorry Doctors appointment with wife, flying, and duck birthing area!)

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert, 10 more flights, referring to Loral I expect.

    Poorboy, what are you on about?

  • danwithaplan

    10 more flights signed on, before even the maiden launch of a rocket? Unlikely. This is real commerce, not HSF. Firms care about their payload investements (since most of them are on loaned money to begin with)

    The birds that Comm launchers deliver are very expensive to manufacture and keep station for over a decade, and actually produce real revenue, I don’t see how this blind faith contract is even possible, bar some hard contigencies written in.

  • googaw

    Shotwell said in testimony Thursday that they are “about ready to sign another ten or so” Falcon orders, in response to concern that SpaceX is too dependent on NASA and would fail if the CRS contracts had to be canceled. My guess is she is referring to prospects that told her they are waiting for a successful Falcon 9 launch. It was a spontaneous statement not in the written testimony.

    SpaceX is substantially underbidding Falcon 9 competitors’ launch prices. This could be for a variety of reasons, not mutually exclusive: among these

    (1) Other Falcon 9 orders raise NASA’s confidence with respect to Commercial Crew and thus increase SpaceX’s probability of winning CC, thus making them more money (from the taxpayers) in the long run and thus worth losing money on in the short run.

    (2) Genuinely lower costs, which is certainly what we are hoping for.

    (3) Even without NASA they have deep enough pockets to sell loss leaders to make up for the risk to customers of signing a Falcon 9 contract at this early date.

    I am very happy to see them get more non-NASA business, as they are indeed far too dependent on NASA and will be even moreso if they win Commercial Crew. Even so, I fear that Musk’s ideology will trump his business sense and Commercial Crew will end up ruining his real commercial business. “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

  • I fear that Musk’s ideology will trump his business sense and Commercial Crew will end up ruining his real commercial business.

    What “ideology” is that?

  • I don’t see how this blind faith contract is even possible, bar some hard contigencies written in.

    Of course it’s a contingent contract. Who said it wasn’t? Nonetheless, it is a contract.

  • googaw

    though NASA funding would accelerate this, I’m sure they’ll do it eventually.

    Ain’t it sweet, faith-based politics.

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