Congress, NASA

Other notes from Tuesday’s hearing

One interesting comment by NASA administrator Charles Bolden that got lost in the broader debate was his comments about developing a “common crew module” that could be launched on multiple vehicles, rather than have each potential commercial crew provider develop their own spacecraft. “One of the things I would like to do is to help them use some of the research and development money that we have to help build a common crew module that could be interchangeably used on a number of launch vehicles,” he said. Such an approach would result in cost savings and simplify training for crews, he said. “I would like to help the commercial entities design a single crew module because it’s good for us to train in… and that can be used interchangeably on any launch vehicle. We can’t do that today, or we haven’t done that today.” Left unsaid is whether such an approach would incorporate any elements of Orion.

Bolden also said at one point that one approach he was envisioning for commercial crew transportation was a “lease” approach, suggesting that NASA would have a greater role than simply purchasing tickets on commercially-owned and -operated vehicles. “The people in the mission control center will be partially those from the company that built the vehicle and partially from NASA engineers and flight controllers,” he said. “In my operational concept, the flight director is still a NASA person, the one NASA person that you can count on being in the control center.”

In questions about Ares 1, Bolden said that the flight costs were extremely high: $4-4.5 billion a year. Later, in questions from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Bolden suggested that the per-flight costs of Ares 1, or a vehicle like it, were well over $1 billion. “When I talk about things that shocked me, because I wanted to use an Ares-type vehicle as a test vehicle, and when I asked the question of how much would it cost me to me fly not an Ares 1 but that kind of vehicle, then the number given me at the time was $1.6 billion per flight,” he said. Aderholt said his staff had been told that Ares 1 costs were $1.1 billion/year for three flights.

On a very separate topic, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) sharply criticized a speech given by NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver two weeks ago at the Goddard Memorial Symposium. Garver, he claimed, said in the speech that “NASA’s priorities are to fight poverty, promote world peace and societal advancement, and protect the environment.” “I’d suggest to you,” Culberson continued, “that Ms. Garver has completely lost sight of the core mission of NASA, which is to preserve and protect America’s leadership in manned space, manned and robotic space exploration; to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research; to go where no one has gone before; and explore new worlds.” (Evidently the goal of seeking out new life forms and new civilizations is deferred to the Federation.) A careful reading of Garver’s speech referred to what she said were the president’s priorities (economic development, international leadership/geopolitics, education, and the environment) and this advice: “This [NASA] budget is only sustainable in future years if we truly do as the President asks and change the way we operate as an agency to focus on our Nation’s priorities.”

Finally, two takes on yesterday’s hearing. One from the Huntsville Times: “The Obama administration’s plan to cancel the Constellation space program received heavy criticism Tuesday after a congressional subcommittee hearing.” And one from the Orlando Sentinel: “Congressional opposition to a new White House plan for NASA appears to have softened slightly, as Democratic lawmakers on a key U.S. House panel said they would be willing to work with the administration during a Tuesday hearing with NASA chief Charles Bolden.”

67 comments to Other notes from Tuesday’s hearing

  • Robert G. Oler

    No one ever claimed that Culberson was the brightest bulb on the planet…

    what is so sad about the anti Obama forces on space (and in general) is that their opposition is to hypergolic. The folks get so angry that they forget to deal with reality.

    there are no real “plans”” from the opposition.

    TAKE OVER THE MOON

    Robert G. Oler

  • Collin R. Skocik

    The plan from the opposition is to continue Constellation. The Augustine Commission found that the only thing wrong with Constellation was funding. How about channeling Obama’s budget increase into completing Constellation and returning to the Moon, this time to stay? Surely it’s better to stay on course with a program that’s well under way than to start from scratch when the shuttle is being retired.

  • How about channeling Obama’s budget increase into completing Constellation and returning to the Moon, this time to stay?

    Because it wouldn’t do that. Constellation would require billions more per year, forever, for very little useful activity.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Collin R. Skocik wrote @ March 24th, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Constellation has become the “house” that when all the problems are said and done…one cannot afford the mortgage on and which is in total value worth less then what it would cost.

    It is the typical “upside down” or “underwater” situation.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Cx is bad because it kills the newly forming private space industry in this country (USA), by scuttling ISS just when private space is getting there, while at the same time rendering human space flight null and void for nearly 20 years. That’s not an exaggeration. Ares V would not have flown until the mid to late 2020s. Given that Ares I would not have flown, as per the Augustine Commission, until 2017, we would have had no significant manned presence in space. Maybe one or two Ares I flights between now and the time that Ares V flew with lunar hardware.

    Cx was a travesty for the manned space program, and the timelines I have outlined are as realistic as you will get. Anything other than those timelines for Cx are pure fantasy.

    Collin R. Skocik, you’d have an argument if Obama was giving NASA the 2005 budget. Obama’s budget barely stays within inflation (which is why I facepalm whenever anyone says he “increased” the budget; it’s good PR but it’s not really true). Obama’s budget is barely above the 2010 budget, which the Augustine Commission stated would have had to scuttle the ISS by 2015, and wouldn’t have an operating Ares I until 2017. The only way you bring the timelines down is if you give NASA $3+ billion a year. I believe one poster here even estimated $6 billion, but I am too lazy to find it and must get to work.

    All that said, the budget, and any realistic budget cannot make Cx happen in a timely manner. Thinking otherwise is, truly, pure fantasy.

  • Michael Kent

    The plan from the opposition is to continue Constellation. The Augustine Commission found that the only thing wrong with Constellation was funding.

    That’s a fatal flaw in this budgetary environment.

    Surely it’s better to stay on course with a program that’s well under way than to start from scratch when the shuttle is being retired.

    Not if that program is Constellation. Let’s review.

    Constellation is spending $35 billion — that’s “billion”, with a “b” — to develop a launch vehicle to carry 55,000 lbs to low Earth orbit in 2019. America already has a launch vehicle that can carry 55,000 lbs to low Earth orbit, the Delta IV Heavy, and it’s available now. The Delta IV Heavy cost only $500 million — that’s “million”, with an “m” — to develop. America can simply not afford to spend $35 billion and another nine years to develop a launch capability that already exists.

    Add to that Constellation’s plan to spend $8 billion — $4 billion over budget — to develop a capsule to deliver a 4-man crew to low Earth orbit at a cost of over $1 billion / flight. Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada are developing vehicles to deliver a 7-man crew to low Earth orbit for over $150 million / flight at development costs ranging from $300 million to $2 billion each. America can simply not afford Orion when there are so many less expensive options.

    Then there’s schedule. The Augustine Committee found that the most likely operational date for Ares I / Orion was 2019 (2017 was the earliest credible date, not the most likely), but that required retiring the Shuttle in 2010 and splashing the space station in 2016 to accomplish. So by the time Ares I / Orion was ready for operational missions to low Earth orbit there would be no destination to send it to. Forget Apollo on steroids by 2020. Constellation would give us Gemini on steroids in 2019.

    Under Constellation, NASA could not afford the over $40 billion development cost of the Ares V simultaneous with the $35 billion Ares I and the $8 billion Orion, so development of the Ares V could not start until 2019 and would not be done until 2028. But that gives NASA a heavy lift vehicle with no payloads to launch. Because of the expense of the Ares V, development of the Earth Departure Stage and the Lunar Surface Accommodations Module could not be started until 2028 and not be completed until 2035. Then, and only then, could NASA launch a mission beyond low Earth orbit.

    Constellation is a $100 billion program that accomplishes nothing for the next 25 years. It is simply madness to support it when such monumentally less expensive options exist.

    Mike

  • Mark R. Whittington

    The problem with claiming that there are “less expensive” options than Constellation to defend Obamaspace is that Obamaspace does not choose any option at all, expensive or cheap. Of course Obama used some funny numbers to support the cancellation of Constellation while ignoring the less expensive options favored by the Augustine Committee.

    And Culberson was right. Garver’s speech was a little loopy.

  • googaw

    Bolden also said at one point that one approach he was envisioning for commercial crew transportation was a “lease” approach, suggesting that NASA would have a greater role than simply purchasing tickets on commercially-owned and -operated vehicles. “The people in the mission control center will be partially those from the company that built the vehicle and partially from NASA engineers and flight controllers,” he said. “In my operational concept, the flight director is still a NASA person, the one NASA person that you can count on being in the control center.”

    Sigh. :-( “Commercial” continues to be watered down into pure euphemism. Yet more reasons for SpaceX to drop out of “Commercial” Crew now. There is no way to avoid becoming a government contractor zombie under this nonsense.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Sorry, that should have read “Bolden used some funny numbers” but then Bolden’s defense of Obamaspace is beginning to sound like Obama’s defense of Obamacare (g).

  • Robert G. Oler

    I find it awkward to be defending Garver…but to define her speech as “loopy” is bizzare

    Garver has exactly 1 (one) paragraph that is not about NASA this paragraph reads

    “The President’s budget, should it be approved by Congress, will enable NASA to align
    with the priorities of the Nation and to more optimally contribute to our Nation’s future.
    These key national priorities that I am referring to are:
     Economic development (poverty, hunger, jobs)
     International leadership/geo-politics (world peace)
     Education (societal advancement)
     Environment (future of planet and humanity)”

    Culberson’s claim (according to the thread post) is “Garver, he claimed, said in the speech that “NASA’s priorities are to fight poverty, promote world peace and societal advancement, and protect the environment.”

    that seems a really bad reading of the speech. I dont know what Garver actually said, but if the transcript of her speech is any indication of the verbiage she used…it is clear that Culberson is the one having word association problems.

    What Garver is saying is that Obama is aligning NASA with national priorities and those national priorities are….

    Robert G. Oler

  • Coastal Ron

    The only part of the Cx program I liked was the Ares V, but I would have been fine with the de-rated Direct-like version. I was a little surprised when they cancelled everything, but it really does make sense (and cents).

    Ares I has too much inherent risk to be the only option we have to get crew to LEO. Despite any hopes people may have that an SRB-based rocket is the right way to go, it simply has too many unknowns at this point (safety, vibration, weight, etc.). We already have two proven launchers that can do the job (Atlas V & Delta IV), and we don’t gain much by reinventing the wheel (or rocket in this case).

    Orion and Altair were truly the “Apollo on steroids” parts of the program. After 30 years of landing from space on a runway, we were going back to falling into the ocean, and needing a fleet of ships and aircraft to rescue us – how is that progress? And Altair was just a scaled up one-shot Apollo moon lander. The whole Constellation moon system was only usable once – what a waste of launch capacity.

    For as much as I would love to be able to launch 100+ton cargo into space, we don’t really have a specific need for it yet. With modular space construction, we can get by with our current 25 ton capacity launchers. In the commercial world, supply is moderated by demand, and the actual demand for Ares V heavy lift is not there yet. Because of this, I’m OK with canceling Ares V.

    We need to build the space system of the 21st century, which means building infrastructure in space so we have the ability to go wherever we want. Constellation was an expedition program, leaving flags & footprints, and was not going to leave us any in-space infrastructure to build on. NASA is not a rocket manufacturer, and they shouldn’t be put in the position of being a competitor to our space industry. What they can do best is be the guiding hand to help our space industry grow their capability, and to create the new technologies that we need to be more efficient and effective in space.

  • Major Tom

    “The Augustine Commission found that the only thing wrong with Constellation was funding.”

    No. The Augustine report notes multiple schedule and technical issues with Ares I/Orion, in addition to Constellation’s massive cost issues. Read the report.

    (And it’s the Augustine Committee, not “Commission”.)

    “How about channeling Obama’s budget increase into completing Constellation and returning to the Moon, this time to stay?”

    The President’s FY 2011 budget request increases NASA’s budget by a total of $6 billion _over five years_.

    Per Augstine, sustaining the POR requires an increase to NASA’s budget of $5 billion _per year_ or $25 billion over five years.

    The increase in NASA’s FY 2011 budget runout would only pay for a fraction of what’s needed to sustain Constellation.

    “Surely it’s better to stay on course with a program that’s well under way”

    Constellation was not “well under way [sic]”. After five years, Ares I/Orion had still not completed even a full Preliminary Design Review. Ares V had been reduced to years of $25 million studies with no hardware development in sight. And Altair had been defunded.

    “than to start from scratch”

    $9 billion or so has been spent on Ares I/Orion to date. But completing Ares I/Orion will cost over $30 billion (various NASA managers’ estimates) to nearly $50 billion (GAO estimate) to complete by 2017-2019. By comparison, the Augustine report conservatively estimated that two commercial crew providers could be put in place no later than 2016 at a cost of $5 billion. The President’s FY 2011 budget request provides $6 billion for commercial crew.

    Completing Ares I/Orion costs six to ten times more than the alternative, take years longer, and only delivers one service providers, instead of two.

    It’s a no-brainer.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “The problem with claiming that there are ‘less expensive’ options than Constellation to defend Obamaspace is that Obamaspace does not choose any option at all, expensive or cheap.”

    The human space flight elements of NASA’s FY 2011 budget request — Constellation termination, commercial crew, LOX/kerosene commercial HLV, Flexible Path destinations — all come directly from Option 5B in the Augustine report. To anyone who bothers to read and comprehend the budget request and the Augustine report, it’s clear what was chosen. Don’t make loopy statements.

    And don’t use a loopy term like “Obamaspace” to describe a programmatic option that originated with the Augustine Committee. Don’t make loopy statements.

    “Of course Obama used some funny numbers to support the cancellation of Constellation”

    The President hasn’t used any numbers yet. Don’t make loopy statements.

    And the numbers that his Administration has used come directly from the Augustine report and NASA. They’re not “funny”. Don’t make loopy statements.

    “while ignoring the less expensive options favored by the Augustine Committee.”

    Option 5B was one of the “less expensive options” in the Augustine report. Don’t make loopy statements.

    “And Culberson was right. Garver’s speech was a little loopy.”

    It’s loopy to claim that “economic development, international leadership/geopolitics, education, and the environment” aren’t national priorities and that NASA shouldn’t be aligned with these priorities. Don’t make loopy statements.

    Sigh…

  • Ben Joshua

    Argument can be helpful, especially during a flux time, for clarifying issues and honing thought. A bit of mutual understanding, however, would be helpful as well at this juncture.

    Acknowledge that those involved in Constellation are facing a loss of jobs, dreams and an HSF/NASA culture that seems like the only right way to move forward. Even though the vector on those losses originated years ago, the emotional impact is happening now.

    Acknowledge that the NASA budget proposal is indeed finding its way through the committee process largely intact. Sometimes a paradigm shift is a good thing. This new approach, with better protected robotic mission and technology development budgets, a new kero/lox engine program and steps toward LEO HSF that is a bit more commercial, lays the foundation for a shorter gap, future HLV capability and BEO which may not have to be based on one shot vehicle and mission designs.

    The X-15 folks were disappointed when Mercury became the new way to LEO (they had orbital X-15 ideas in mind). The Air Force was not initially thrilled with Eisenhower’s decision to form NASA. The AAP folks were not enthusiastic about the decision to go with a large DOD compatible shuttle, when they had they’re own mini shuttle / space taxi in mind (see AW&ST of the time).

    A new way forward is being charted. Respect those who feel loss as the old way tries to re-assert itself, even as it fades. Look for ways to help make the new way forward successful, as its potential is real and substantive.

  • Mr. Munson

    I can’t take sides on any important issues, but I will take a shot at Mr. Bolden for making “Bush-like” speaking faux pas. Did anyone notice Charlie mention the 6 times / 6 American flags that we placed on the moon… but then hear him pause and say something like “not necessarily with the same number of stars and stripes”? In case anyone was wondering the last time the flag was changed was in early 1960, shortly after Hawaii became a state in 1959.

    This error wasn’t nearly as bad as a press conference Bolden had with members of the Israeli space group when he incorrectly converted between pounds and kilograms; even after asking for help from the guy next to him.

    I know these things are not requirements for his current job, but with such a “stellar” and “experienced” history with NASA as a 4-time astronaut, 34 years with the Marines including several honors, and a Masters in Systems Management from USC you would think that Bolden would make it to at least round 3 of “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader”

    I don’t doubt Bolden’s track record, but I am beginning to wonder (not just because of these small errors, if Bolden is a much better “Yes Man” than a Leader or Independent Thinker for NASA.

  • Major Tom

    “A new way forward is being charted. Respect those who feel loss as the old way tries to re-assert itself, even as it fades. Look for ways to help make the new way forward successful, as its potential is real and substantive.”

    Good post overall.

    FWIW…

  • John Malkin

    This should have been rolled out better at least Charles Bolden took responsibility unlike Congress. I was really pro-Ares I until after the Augustine Committee report which depressed me but the point of the report was to show several paths forward. Ares I is the same mistake as Shuttle and it’s less functional. Ares V lite or Shuttle dirived is closer to the right direction to replace Shuttle for HLV. The blame goes on congress for setting goals and not fianancing them again. Now they are pointing fingers at anyone but themselves.

    As far as the rollout I think it would have been better to keep the Constellation program and change the goals of the program. Cancelling Constellation creates a void in the structure and management of HSF within NASA. COTS wasn’t designed for long range plans so my questions is “Under what program will flexiable path be run?”. I know Bolden has people working on the details but this is why people feel they are in free fall.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Ben Joshua wrote @ March 24th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    nice post overall…one of the more thoughtful here

    Robert G. Oler

  • Allen Thomson

    Rand Simberg noted:

    > Because it wouldn’t do that. Constellation would require billions more per year, forever, for very little useful activity.

    This should be remembered. Constellation, even if it had been adequately funded, even if it had stayed on schedule, was described as “Apollo on steroids.” Meaning we go back to the moon in a somewhat up-sized version of Apollo, then hope we can find out some reason to be there besides geology, then hope that some of the technology developed to get there might be usefully applicable to going out into the solar system. All on a time scale best measured in decades.

    Will the Obama version work any better? Beats me, that’s TBD. But we have excellent reason to believe the path we were on wouldn’t have worked on its own terms and, even if it had, probably would not have delivered much of obvious worth.

  • Robert G. Oler

    John Malkin wrote @ March 24th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    in the JD time I have wondered that notion myself…would it have worked had they “restructured” Constellation and kept the “goal” but lost the programs or at least changed them.

    I dont know…my guess is that the entire “notion” of programs to do things like that is trying to be “canned”.

    it is a good thought in my view

    Robert G. Oler

  • common sense

    The problem was two fold with the former program: 1. VSE had an unaffordable and unrealistic timeline and 2. ESAS pretty much ruined everything since it actually ignored the real challenges. The ONLY way in my view to put Constellation back on track would have been to re-implement the spiral approach under O’Keefe. Now if you look at the current plan it is very much the spiral appraoch, without the name and the ludicrous timeline of the VSE. So in essence Constellation is being restructured to a much more reasonable approach and pace.

    The issue, to me, is much more about communication. Some people have yet to come to grasp with reality but in the end it will be for the better. I hope anyway.

  • googaw

    The blame goes on congress for setting goals and not fianancing them again.

    The blame goes to astronaut fans for pushing goals that Congress isn’t willing to finance.

  • common sense

    “The blame goes on congress for setting goals and not fianancing them again.

    The blame goes to astronaut fans for pushing goals that Congress isn’t willing to finance.”

    Huh, nope! Not at all! The blame goes to someone who decided an unfeasible implementation based on an unrealistic schedule: ESAS + VSE but mostly ESAS. Who said the “fans” were all behind ESAS? How do you know?

  • googaw

    The blame goes to someone who decided an unfeasible implementation based on an unrealistic schedule

    There never was a politically feasible way to implement the moon and Mars astronaut portions of the VSE. “A vision without resources is a hallucination” — Administrator Bolden. VSE was always a hallucination.

  • common sense

    “There never was a politically feasible way to implement the moon and Mars astronaut portions of the VSE. ”

    I still believe the O’Keefe spiral approach might have worked. It was supposed to be incremental. What did not work for sure in the VSE were the self imposed milestones…

    “A vision without resources is a hallucination”

    ;)

  • googaw

    Astronaut fans bombard Congress with their economic fantasies about sending astronauts to the moon and Mars. Congress and NASA know they can’t do it within any rational budget but they want to keep you happy anyway so that they keep the money rolling in. So what do they do? Pretend they’re going to the moon. Pretend they’re going to Mars. Put lots of nice graphics on the NASA Channel which you eat up like candy. When in fact they are just funding make-work jobs for contractors and unions who will then liberally donate and lobby for their re-election. They know that however much they disappoint the astronaut fans they will just come back and keep begging for more of the same. Who needs fake moon landings when computer graphics about imaginary future moon landings work just as well?

  • John Malkin

    Isn’t the flexible path more or less the spiral approach?

  • John Malkin

    The problem isn’t program paradigm, it’s expectation and funding of programs. Expectation both from NASA and Congress don’t usually match reality but many of us are overly optimistic. Both the ISS program and the Shuttle program are ticking away in good order with clear goals and steady budgets.

    Let’s assume the US would like to go beyond earth orbit. We need a goal structure and management structure to execute it in the best interest of the public. Commercial companies will never act in the best interest of the public (Automakers, Banks, Drug companies, Insurance companies….). So let commercial companies develop rockets in a competitive environment, just like most other products. A form of COTS will work. As far as SpaceX goes, you have to remember that Microsoft and Apple were in the same position.

  • Robert G. Oler

    googaw wrote @ March 24th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Astronaut fans bombard Congress with their economic fantasies about sending astronauts to the moon and Mars..

    it is in my world, a great day when one can bash Bush the last (grin)…but my guess is that to have the change Obama is proffering one had to have one last try and redoing Apollo…

    What I would like to ask Mike Griffin and get an honest even if off the record answer for history at least is why he did what he did in terms of Ares and Orion. He is a smart person and “something” must have pushed him into that direction from what he had previously talked about in terms of the spiral approach and even human rating EELV’s.

    Because I think had he done that, or had he done something like “DIRECT” and gotten some competent managers in the effort who could define risk/rewards (now that might be a real problem at NASA and that might be why things are like they are)…I think the program would still exist…because I think that something would be flying or on the verge of it.

    What has killed the entire effort is that to all but the Terry Schaivo like huggers of the program…is that its going nowhere.

    There is the saying “it took Carter to get Reagan” and let Reagan change dramatically the course in foreign and domestic policy. The argument I think clearly in human spaceflight is that it took Constellation and it bloating beyond belief in terms of expense…to get a commercial shot at human spaceflight.

    In the end “astronaut” (to mean government paid person) has had a good run of it…about 1/2 a century…and we dont have a terribly lot to show for it.

    It probably took a Bush to get an Obama and let him just turn the course of the ship pretty hard. the scariest thought to me is that bush had listened to competent military authority and Iraq of 2006 looks a lot like Iraq of 2010. He would stand as a Caesar across the world.

    Had Griffin done something like using the EELV’s or even some shuttle like HLV that was more evolved then Ares (which was derived).. his program would have survived.

    In both cases while the result would be better we would I think have learned the wrong lessons.

    Robert G. Oler

  • ISS vet

    It looks to me like the flexible path is not so much a spiral as a tree with branches. Foundational technologies and systems form the trunk. Higher branches require more challenging technologies and, perhaps, more complex and specialized systems. Higher branches may also require a broader infrastructure base.

    Constellation, on the other hand, was an asparagus stalk.

  • Michael Kent

    The problem with claiming that there are “less expensive” options than Constellation to defend Obamaspace is that Obamaspace does not choose any option at all, expensive or cheap.

    Of course it does. The budget proposal funds several of them at once.

    COTS is already funding unmanned Taurus / Cygnus and man-rated Falcon 9 / unmanned Dragon for cargo. SpaceX has claimed only $300 million for a launch escape system is necessary to man-rate the Dragon. CCDev is already funding the man-rating of Atlas V and Delta IV and is also funding preliminary design of the manned Boeing capsule and Sierra Nevada DreamChaser. The budget proposal contains funding to finish this work (pending a competition in which other companies will also make proposals).

    That’s not one, not two, but three man-rated launch vehicles (Delta IV, Atlas V, and Falcon 9) and not one, not two, but three manned spacecraft (Dragon, DreamChaser, and the Boeing capsule). All for the cost of just block I (LEO) Orion.

    Bigelow already has two prototype manned spacecraft in orbit and needs only a commercial crew launch vehicle to launch his full-up space station. Only one of the three manned spacecraft this budget funds needs to work for this to happen.

    The budget proposal also funds on-orbit demos of autonomous rendezvous and docking and propellent transfer, making a prototype orbital fuel depot possible. These are near-term projects that allow the building of an orbital infrastrcture that will open up the moon, Mars, and asteroids without the $50 billion expense of a heavy-lift launch vehicle.

    Having three launch vehicle options, three spacecraft options, an alternate orbital destination, and orbital fuel depots all for a fraction of the cost of the Ares I rocket is a big win in my book. Why isn’t it in yours?

    Mike

  • I wanted to use an Ares-type vehicle as a test vehicle, and when I asked the question of how much would it cost me to me fly not an Ares 1 but that kind of vehicle, then the number given me at the time was $1.6 billion per flight,” he said. Aderholt said his staff had been told that Ares 1 costs were $1.1 billion/year for three flights.

    These are not totally contradictory estimates. The first is for a test flight involving one, two, or a few specialized test fights. There is a lot of non-recurring and you are at the beginning of the of the learning curve. The second no doubt assumes a multiyear fight program of three missions per year. Here the non-recurring costs a much less and we are way down the learning curve. The $367 million per flight makes a lot more sense for a rocket like that than the $1.6 billion.

    Constellation is spending $35 billion — that’s “billion”, with a “b” — to develop a launch vehicle to carry 55,000 lbs to low Earth orbit in 2019. America already has a launch vehicle that can carry 55,000 lbs to low Earth orbit, the Delta IV Heavy, and it’s available now.

    Something is really wrong with these costs. I love to see the detail behind these numbers. I wonder if (just a wild guess) these numbers include maintaining a NASA infrastructure that has little to do with directly developing Ares I? For example if the budget was large and say the shuttle would be continued and these infrastructure cost were charged to the shuttle what would the Ares I cost then? Also, how much will we reduce these costs by cancelling Cx. Or, other than the $6 billion on commercial will we be spending a lot of the money anyway just to have a non-flying NASA?

  • googaw, “Commercial” continues to be watered down into pure euphemism. Yet more reasons for SpaceX to drop out of “Commercial” Crew now. There is no way to avoid becoming a government contractor zombie under this nonsense.

    Shotwell said that NASA is “just under half of their launch manifest” for Falcon 9. SpaceX is not having any problems in that area. They will not become a “government contractor zombie.” You should be more worried about the other players, who were incredulous that SpaceX could guarantee launching per seat cheaper than the Russians. They’re the ones who are trying to keep the status quo.

  • googaw

    Both the ISS program and the Shuttle program are ticking away in good order with clear goals and steady budgets.

    WTF?! What is “clear order” about a launcher that promised $100/lb. and gave us well over $10,000/lb? About a space station that was promised for $10 billion and ended up costing over $100 billion? What’s the budget of the Shuttle going to be in 2012? What are the “clear goals” of ISS? Which part of the Twisted Galaxy are you living in?

  • googaw

    Shotwell said that NASA is “just under half of their launch manifest” for Falcon 9.

    That does not translate to just under half the revenue. NASA is paying substantially more for COTS/CRS flights than satellite customers pay for theirs, and quite unlike the private customers NASA is funding practically all the development costs of Falcon 9 (as indicated by SpaceX’s profits, which have to come entirely from COTS SpaceX can’t book revenue from the private contracts until the service is actually performed, and probably isn’t collecting much of any up-front cash from them either). So NASA already reflects most of SpaceX’s revenue and all of its profits, and that is before Commercial Crew which will utterly swamp the private customers. Like I said, SpaceX still has a chance to avoid becoming a contractor zombie like Orbital Sciences, but only if they bow out of Commercial Crew and focus on the private customers. I don’t expect that, the financial incentives of Uncle Sugar are just too tempting, but I can hope.

    You should be more worried about the other players,

    The other players are beyond hope. I remember, BTW, when Orbital Sciences was a fresh exciting commercial startup like SpaceX. It took them less than a decade to turn into the zombie you saw at the hearing.

  • Fred

    “NASA is funding practically all the development costs of Falcon 9″

    Actually no, NASA only put up $278M in COTS (there are still a couple of milestones to go that SpaceX haven’t been payed for yet.)
    The rest of their money is investor capital and income from sales.
    Even their DARPA work was pay for service, not a gift, though the work helps cash flow, of course.
    The ISS resupply is essentially pay as you go. SpaceX gets $133M per flight. That may sound inflated compared to SpaceX’s stated prices of $51M for a Falcon 9 and something similar for the Dragon, but remember, the ISS deal is a fixed price contract through 2015, including coping with NASA’s requirements and losses through inflation. SpaceX can’t even reused their Dragon’s. NASA wants a brand new one for every flight evidently.

  • googaw, the SpaceX I saw at the hearings was not the government contractor zombie which your meme as of late wants to portray. Even though NASA pays more per person, they are also getting a bigger service. A rental car is going to be cheaper than a rental truck, especially depending whether or not giving a VIP a ride or not. A NASA astronaut is a VIP. For now anyway. As long as that is the case then I see no harm in SpaceX getting paid for doing the job.

  • googaw

    Josh, please don’t mischaracterize my argument. I said that Orbital Sciences is the zombie. And they showed it. As for SpaceX, they are either an aggressively lowballing “hot biscuit piece” (as Tom Stafford colorfully described it), or have genuinely much lower costs, or some combination of the two. Even if they could have substantially lowered costs in a normal market of competitive customers as well as competitive suppliers, after a decade of NASA as their dominant customer they will — future tense there folks — have become the NASA contractor zombie that Orbital Sciences is today. And the dreams of substantially lower launch costs from SpaceX will be history. They can still avoid that fate by bowing out of “Commercial” Crew with its increasingly entangling bureaucracy and focusing on other customers.

  • googaw

    Even though NASA pays more per person, they are also getting a bigger service.

    Of course. Indeed, they are getting a service that is highly customized for NASA and that nobody else is willing to pay for, so NASA certainly should be paying far more per flight. I was simply pointing out that NASA accounting for slightly less than half of SpaceX’s launch manifest translates to NASA accounting for much more than half of SpaceX’s revenue because NASA is paying much more per flight. And that’s not even counting the COTS milestone payments.

  • googaw, although they call them “cost plus” contracts, they have very little to do with costs. The pork strategy is to increase the overall cost by billing hours on make work.. and getting your NASA liaison to ask for stuff that they don’t really need, or you’ve already delivered. But don’t worry, the culture of cost plus has been so ingrained that we will soon be in the strange situation where NASA wants to pay $400M for a 3-seat flight and SpaceX only wants to charge $50M/seat and is offering more than 3 seats per flight. It boggles the mind to think what possible response SpaceX could say. “Sorry, you’re demanding too little for too much.”

  • googaw

    NASA only put up $278M in COTS

    It is unlikely that Falcon 9 + cargo Dragon have cost any more than that to develop. Indeed, Musk has reported that SpaceX is profitable. That can’t be from launching two tiny payloads on Falcon 1 and losing the other three. It has to be from the COTS milestone payments, and those can’t be profitable unless NASA has paid SpaceX enough to cover the entire development costs and then some.

  • Robert Horning

    SpaceX can’t book revenue from the private contracts until the service is actually performed

    I wish that were only true, and I think SpaceX would like it to be true as well. Prior to the involvement of SpaceX in the COTS program, they were already technically in the black due to milestone goals completed and deposits on the launch vehicles from revenue already received. Using IRS and SEC accounting rules, SpaceX had to post profits even though they had yet to even fly anything back when the Falcon 1 was still being tested.

    I’ll admit that prior to COTS that SpaceX was receiving some DARPA funding as well, particularly for its development of the Falcon 1. The one thing that is different, however, from what SpaceX is doing vs. previous spacecraft development is that these are not cost-plus contracts (even the DARPA work). All of the initial design and development work for the Falcon 9 was funded from private sources, and it wasn’t until after the idea of COTS came around that SpaceX took the funding. In other words, the Falcon 9 isn’t being built because of COTS, but instead SpaceX is taking an existing vehicle (including the Dragon capsule) and simply applying for COTS funding. If it is raining cash, why not stick your hat out to pick some up?

    The real trick is to see just where SpaceX and the other private companies will go in terms of courting the private spaceflight market. It isn’t really big at the moment for a great many reasons, including some really bizarre promises in the 1980’s by NASA that earlier killed off any sort of private spaceflight industry that is only just now recovering from those broken dreams. In case anybody has forgotten, NASA had huge promises of commercial spaceflight on the Shuttles with incredibly low quoted prices and even bigger dreams of the future that many private companies bought into. Commercial shuttle flights (and there were several before the incident with Challenger changed the program) were starting to show some promise too, and quite a bit of private money was spent to that end as well.

    I have heard only two legitimate arguments for preservation of the Constellation program:

    1) As a make-work jobs program for technical people, primarily engineers and skilled rocket builders. It doesn’t hurt that the jobs are located in congressional districts of historically significant congressmen. Unfortunately these districts don’t have defenders like LBJ, who ran the U.S. Senate in a way that Obama and Harry Reid could only dream of. Republicans were much more quiet in the 1960s.

    2) Preservation of ICBM technology. Essentially the technology and skill sets being used to make the SRBs and subsequently the Ares I are also the same skill sets being used to manufacture ICBMs, and that killing off constellation and the Ares I in particular is going to hurt the ability of America to build more ICBMs in the future. As for the logic of why it has to be NASA and not the Air Force that has to be preserving this skill set is beyond my grasp, nor do I think it necessarily justifies the added expense per flight for sending somebody into space. It is, however, a legitimate argument so far as it is something which is a national priority that should be accounted for. It also isn’t the first time that the NASA budget has been used for hiding military spending either.

  • googaw

    Trent, SpaceX will like any rational company charge whatever the customer is willing to pay. Even eccentric millionaires don’t donate charity money to governments far richer than they. And SpaceX is already profitable, it is hardly being run like a charity. BTW, it would sadden but not surprise me to see “Commercial” Crew mutate into something economically equivalent to cost-plus contracts over the next few years. We are already seeing proposals that NASA not the “commercial” provider control the launch operations. We will be seeing much more of this kind of thing as NASA cannot easily break its habits of wanting to micromanage its contractors, nor can politicians break the cycle of wanting pork for the contractors and unions in their districts. And since there’s no significant customer besides NASA for crew the contractor also has an incentive for the relationship to evolve from COTS-like to cost-plus. But the euphemism “commercial” is a powerful one and will live on regardless of the contractual and political realities.

  • googaw

    Robert Horning:

    In case anybody has forgotten, NASA had huge promises of commercial spaceflight on the Shuttles with incredibly low quoted prices and even bigger dreams of the future that many private companies bought into.

    And got burned. (The ones that didn’t get fat NASA contracts in the process got burned, anyway). Indeed, this is a very important part of space history that we should not forget.

  • googaw, you have no idea what SpaceX will or wont do. Right now they could be saying “$400M/flight sounds great!” but they’re not.

  • googaw, NASA is just one customer. We need more. As long as NASA is subsidizing the private rocket industry, more customers can come into existence. I agree that in the unlikely scenario that NASA continues feeding SpaceX and SpaceX doesn’t evolve and continue to pursue a private space venture, that it can turn into something like Orbital. But that is simply not what is going to happen. Only a small fraction of COTS money has been alloted from the new budget. There are billions of dollars out there waiting for someone to make a bid. It’s insane what Obama with COTS.

    Trent Waddington, Right now they could be saying “$400M/flight sounds great!” but they’re not.

    Shotwell implied up to $350 million though. Assuming you go with the high end of the estimate. :)

    Just sayin’. I doubt it will be that high though. They want to undercut any and all competition by using fiscal responsibility and actual accounting and management. It’s how they won COTS-A-C.

  • Robert Horning

    Even eccentric millionaires don’t donate charity money to governments far richer than they.

    You mean like Ted Turner’s donation of a billion dollars to the United Nations?

    I don’t get the logic of the concept, but there are people who do die and leave their estate to the IRS, Department of Defense, and other government agencies. The Bureau of the Public Debt receives millions of dollars every year from ordinary citizens who perversely think that they are being charged too little in federal taxes. At least right now it is voluntary, but it does happen. I’m quite certain that a non-zero amount of money has been “donated” in this manner to NASA. How much has been done in this way is something I’m not familiar with, however.

    None the less, I’d have to agree that for most businesses, and I don’t think SpaceX is a Ben & Jerry’s type exception, the primary purpose of the business is to maximize profits and to increase shareholder equity. They are certainly going to go after government contracts, if those are offered. They would be stupid not to be doing that. On the other hand, they have a slightly larger vision of their potential market and that does involved offering services to private companies and even private individuals. Remember, SpaceX was started because Elon Musk came up with the concept of a privately financed interplanetary space probe, and he couldn’t even find a company willing to launch his spacecraft on a ride to Mars, regardless of how much money he piled in front of them. Those vehicles didn’t exist at the time and companies like Boeing and Northrup-Grumman were not willing to even consider his proposal.

    So he made his own company that would be willing to provide such a service.

    In terms of manned spaceflight opportunities, it is down to just one company at the moment providing such launch services for any new missions into space that aren’t already under contract/in the queue: RKK Energiya and their Soyuz spacecraft. All other contenders for consideration are right now either on the drawing board (like Orion) or still undergoing verification testing as prototypes (Dragon). The point is that there is no commercial manned spaceflight opportunity at the moment, and very little in terms of commercial spaceflight of any kind.

    It isn’t for a lack of a market either, but rather trying to get those who have made promises (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, etc.) to follow through and make due on their promises. If these guys can succeed at significantly lowering the cost for access to space, there will indeed be a renaissance of the commercial space industry and American spaceflight in general.

  • googaw

    Right now they could be saying “$400M/flight sounds great!” but they’re not.

    Right now they are in a bidding war for a contract. After they win the contract it’s a very different story.

  • googaw

    It isn’t for a lack of a market either

    Actually it is.

  • googaw

    Josh:
    NASA is just one customer. We need more.

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s why it’s a very bad thing for the goal of lower launch costs (even if it is a very good thing for the taxpayer when compared to Ares-1) if SpaceX wins the Commercial Crew contract and has strong incentives to focus on one the bureaucracy of one dominant customer with a history of driving high launch costs instead of having strong incentives to design for the private market.

    BTW, Dana Rohrbacher was brilliant in his description of the amount of kow-towing (instead of working) on his visit to NASA work sites as opposed to just having one docent when touring SpaceX. Unfortunately, if SpaceX wins Commercial Crew their culture too will evolve towards kow-towing and lobbying instead of working.

  • googaw

    It isn’t for a lack of a market either

    Actually it is.

    To elaborate, SpaceX’s cost numbers may be in part or in whole aggressive lowballing to get the NASA contract — it’s been done many times before. And their Commercial Crew bid will be a much better indication than any informal PR number they’ve given. But let’s for the moment assume their PR number. $20 million per seat, right? That’s the price Soyuz was a few years ago and it generated on average only about one tourist per year — about $20 million of revenue per year. If SpaceX’s marginal cost is $10 million per seat the other $10 million per year doesn’t come anywhere close to being able to amortize the costs of developing Dragon and the LAS. SpaceX depends on NASA to underwrite those costs. So the the size of the domestic market for orbital tourism given rational investors and no help from NASA is exactly zero. And even with NASA’s help it is only about one tourist per year, less if Soyuz finds it profitable to go back down to $20 million or less and still cover the doubly marginal costs of a Soyuz spare seat.

    Now it could be that Musk is more of a “philanthrocapitalist” than a rational investor, and is willing to just throw away the R&D costs as an act of charity for the greater good, but that’s another story. Given how he jumped so aggressively into COTS/CRS and given his pro-COTS political activism I’d say it’s far more likely that he’s lowballing to win NASA contracts. Of course, philanthrocapitalism and contractor politics are not mutually exclusive, nor are genuine low costs and lowballing, and it could easily be a mix of these factors. Like all of you I am strongly hoping that the costs are genuinely and substantially lower, although perhaps unlike many of you I am much more interested in satellite costs (real commerce) than in Dragon costs.

  • googaw, subsidies don’t work that way though. Nuclear power would be hella expensive if they didn’t get loan guarantees, because they can pay those loans off over a much longer period of time (a period of time longer than the markets would consider sane), at nearly no interest rate.

    So NASA can pay more for a launch and SpaceX can undercut for private space. SpaceX has a thousand employees, you start worrying when they balloon up to 3 or 4 thousand. I don’t see that happening. Maybe a couple of hundred more for cape operations (once they start flying bimonthly). It won’t go higher than that.

    Musk used to throw around a $20 million dollar a seat number back in 2005, he can’t really pull that number off unless he has another customer paying big to keep them within their margins. Yes, such a number might be artificial (or simply flight costs with no profit), but it pushes other companies to compete and make that number real. Even if it doesn’t become real in the short term it allows for the development of a robust LEO industry, either fuel depots, or space hotels, so in the long term costs will have to come down.

  • Michael Kent

    Something is really wrong with these costs.

    Big time!

    I love to see the detail behind these numbers.

    So would I. I was initially hesitant to post them because they were so out-of-bed with vehicles developed by commercial companies and the USAF. But the estimate comes directly from Steve Cook, the former Ares program manager, and he specifically states that the estimate is the development cost through first flight.

    I wonder if (just a wild guess) these numbers include maintaining a NASA infrastructure that has little to do with directly developing Ares I?

    I’ve long suspected that’s the case. But it just goes to show just how expensive NASA has become compared to commercial space (even the OldSpace firms).

    Mike

  • Michael Kent

    Musk used to throw around a $20 million dollar a seat number back in 2005, he can’t really pull that number off unless he has another customer paying big to keep them within their margins.

    Why do you find that number unrealistic? Dragon is a 7-man capsule, and the Falcon 9 it rides to orbit costs $50 million per flight. Is it really so outrageous to suggest that a re-usable capsule would be just under twice the price of a Falcon 9?

    $20 million / seat may end up being too low a price to make a profit, but it’s a credible estimate based on what we know of SpaceX and their price list (IMO, of course).

    Mike

  • googaw

    Musk used to throw around a $20 million dollar a seat number back in 2005, he can’t really pull that number off unless he has another customer paying big to keep them within their margins.

    That makes the case for a market for HSF on Dragon independent of NASA even worse than in my analysis above.

  • Michael Kent, I think $15 million per seat is perfectly reasonable, actually. But inflation is going to be biting at their door by the time it comes for human flying, and costs are going to go up because SpaceX as a company is growing. Those were never quoted numbers, just Elon Musk speculating. I think in the end it’s going to be $30-40 million per seat for NASA, which is half what taxpayers were paying with Shuttle, and less what taxpayers are paying with Soyuz. For tourists it will hover around the low $20 millions, but it could go lower depending on how much cash flow CRS is providing.

    googaw, no it doesn’t. Your whole argument hinges on the unlikely scenario that SpaceX only has NASA as a customer. Complete nonsense.

  • googaw

    googaw, no it doesn’t. Your whole argument hinges on the unlikely scenario that SpaceX only has NASA as a customer. Complete nonsense.

    You have a severe lack of reading comprehension. I have never claimed that SpaceX does or will have NASA as its “only” customer.

  • SpaceX is extremely efficient and obviously oldspace firms and their red tape bound cost-plus projects are not. Ares 1-X is a perfect example. 450 million to add control surfaces to an existing SRB using existing Atlas avionics, whip up some fake parts, and do a suborbital launch . SpaceX developed 4 rocket motors, several avionics systems, the F1, the F9, most the cargo Dragon, a rocket test facility, two launch facilities, a manufacturing facility, and carried out several launches and numerous rocket tests. They managed to do all that with under $700 million, and most importantly NASA only contributed less than $300 million to that end.

    One important distinction is NASA’s rockets have no commercial value, while SpaceX gets to leverage this value, effectively reducing development costs. They build everything largely from scratch so their non-labor costs are minuscule. They focus on re-usability, which could save them even more money. They also have the potential to be a major foreign revenue stream, which is something America really needs right now.

    No matter how you add it up Ares 1 is several times more expensive to launch. That’s even worse when you compare Orion’s per seat cost, and I need not mention its scant cargo capacity. Then there is the HUGE development cost. So we should pay billions in development just to pay tons more per launch? It just makes no sense.

    Worse yet, Orion is just a low earth orbit vehicle until 2030 or so when Ares 5 and the Earth Departure Stage would be completed. With VASIMR, SpaceX, and Bigelow making steady progress, odds are Constellation will be obsolete before it is even completed.

    BTW, please don’t think that this means that we should dismantle NASA! NASA is hugely important. It just needs to understand that there is certain things the government is good at, and others it is not. Instead of designing, cost-plus contracting, and operating launch vehicles, NASA would be far better off advising and certifying private industry, performing excellent science, and setting its goals in terms of rewards for exploration and technology achievements. NASA needs to help build a real space industry, not impose a communist style state controlled system on them.

  • NASA would be far better off advising and certifying private industry,

    Advising, yes. Certifying, absolutely not. That would be disastrous. If it ever happens by any government agency, leave it where it belongs, with the FAA.

  • Or better yet, pull AST out of FAA and put it back into the DOT reporting directly to the SECDOT, as it was originally.

  • […] Other notes from Tuesday’s hearing – Space Politics […]

  • googaw, You have a severe lack of reading comprehension. I have never claimed that SpaceX does or will have NASA as its “only” customer.

    I suppose the definition I looked up for monopsony is incorrect. Feel free to indicate what you intend it to mean.

  • googaw

    I suppose the definition I looked up for monopsony is incorrect. Feel free to indicate what you intend it to mean.

    I’m not referring to an exactly perfect monopsony of simple economic models, but to the the monopsony power and dominating incentives of a company whose revenue and profits are dominated by the money of one customer (here NASA). SpaceX already gets over half of its revenue from NASA and if it won “Commercial” Crew it would be getting well over three-quarters. The share of profits attributable to NASA would be far higher still, perhaps even 100%, since NASA is willing to pay much more per launch than private customers. So NASA has some degree of monopsony power now but in a “Commercial” Crew future it would have an overwhelming amount of monopsony power. Practically all SpaceX’s profit motive would be to satisfy the wants of NASA and its funding politicians, and almost none of it to satisfy other customers.

    The distorting effects of monopsony power and dominating incentives would be made far worse by the fact that NASA’s preferences, driven by political lobbying and economically unaccountable fantasies, are radically different from those of real commerce. The need to meet the byzantine customized NASA HSF requirements and that fact that practically all of its profits will come from NASA under “Commercial” Crew will give SpaceX a strong incentive to drive up its per-launch costs higher than satellite customers can afford in order to satisfy the preferences of NASA and is funding politicians, since these higher prices are still much lower than what NASA is willing to pay. “Commercial” Crew thus gives SpaceX an incentive to drive its real commerce customers away which means NASA becomes an even larger portion of SpaceX’s revenue — a vicious cycle.

    Furthermore, a company dominated by NASA will end up engaging in great deals of political lobbying including choices made to suit pork barreling politicians rather than economic efficiency, and it will end up producing wildly distorted technology to satisfy the highly irrational political realities of the Exploration Directorate. We’ve already seen many examples of politicians and NASA officials asking or demanding that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences hire many soon-to-be-laid-off Shuttle and Constellation workers, for example. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of such efforts, it will only get worse as SpaceX becomes more dominated by NASA politics.

    SpaceX will if it wins “Commercial” Crew will turn into a NASA zombie, a path similar to the one taken by the once entrepreneurial commercial space startup Orbital Sciences. The dream that SpaceX will lower launch costs will be lost, except in the very narrow sense that it will still probably come in much lower than Ares-1 would have. But as a NASA zombie it won’t come in significantly lower than Soyuz for HSF and it will no longer be competitive in the real commercial market for satellite launchers. If however SpaceX bows out of or loses its bid for “Commercial” Crew and focus on other customers, NASA’s monopsonistic power and distorting incentives will diminish. Given its great development efficiencies so far, SpaceX will have very good shot at substantially lowering launch costs for real commerce. This would be of the greatest possible benefit to the long-term cause of space development as well as constituting a much-needed return of the U.S. to a competitive advantage in the real commercial launch market.

  • googaw, SpaceX already gets over half of its revenue from NASA and if it won “Commercial” Crew it would be getting well over three-quarters. The share of profits attributable to NASA would be far higher still, perhaps even 100%, since NASA is willing to pay much more per launch than private customers.

    Those are just made up FUD numbers. Commercial Resupply Services are over a period of years, averaging out to 2.5 flights a year. Commercial Crew, likewise, would be maybe 3 flights a year at most, if they’re lucky. For CRS it works out to about $320 million a year for the whole freaking company of a thousand employees with major outlay, because NASA doesn’t want reused Dragon modules, they’ll have to build 15 of them. I would be shocked if $320 million a year for 5 years would even keep them afloat.

    SpaceX needs many launches, that’s why Shotwell focuses on the fact that NASA is under half of their launch manifest (with more to be added by the end of the month). They make money by launching a lot of rockets not by sitting around letting NASA pay 2-3 times market ratest to launch 2-3 times a year! Your whole analysis is just nonsense.

    There’s a reason SpaceX has two launch pads (refurbished Titan and Omelek Island), so that they can launch, launch, launch!

    Furthermore, a company dominated by NASA will end up engaging in great deals of political lobbying including choices made to suit pork barreling politicians rather than economic efficiency, and it will end up producing wildly distorted technology to satisfy the highly irrational political realities of the Exploration Directorate.

    Ignorant slandar. You really think that SpaceX would waste its time lobbying NASA when 1) they’re the lowest bidding competitor and 2) they’re the furthest along with COTS? They don’t have to. Actions speak louder than words. There’s also, again, the fact that 2-3 launches a year through NASA does not make a robust space company, and that SpaceX is focused on launching as many rockets as they can. You might have some coherent argument if SpaceX was not actively seeking contracts and was not actively going out there and looking for commercial partners to loft their satellites.

    In the meantime letting NASA pay for their technology development. It’s a win win.

    If however SpaceX bows out of or loses its bid for “Commercial” Crew and focus on other customers, NASA’s monopsonistic power and distorting incentives will diminish.

    NASAs monopsonistic powers when they’re only concievably paying SpaceX for 2-3 flights a year. Haha, genius.

  • googaw

    Oh my, I didn’t realize that engaging with reality rather than economic and political fantasy is “slander”. Too bad for anybody who wants to sue me: common sense is only slander in the Twisted Galaxy.

    Josh, why don’t you actually work out the consequences of these numbers. The Falcon 9 launch price is about $50m, assuming the commercial customers haven’t bargained for big discounts, but I’m making as many assumptions as I can make in favor of your side of the argument while still staying within the bounds of rational expectations. They have about 2 other customers per year signed up for Falcon 9. $320 million per year for CRS and $100m per year for other gives NASA responsible for 3/4 of the ongoing Falcon 9 plus Dragon revenue and other customers 1/4. Let’s say they sign up 2 more other customers per year. That would still leave NASA with 3/5 of the Falcon 9 revenue. I’m not counting Falcon 1 here but we’re also not counting COTS, just CRS: adding in these two makes NASA’s revenue share to the overall company larger still.

    If they win “Commercial” Crew, 2.5 flights per year at $400 million per flight is $1,000m per year. Plus CRS is $1,300m per year, vs. only $200m per year revenues from the four other customers per year assuming they pay the list price. That gives NASA as 87% of SpaceX’s revenue. And that’s assuming they don’t drive away other customers by focusing on NASA HSF and driving up their costs.

    Without “Commercial” Crew, they could rival ArianceSpace and ILS which get about 10 orders per year each. At $50 million per order that’s a nice $500 million per year. But they can only compete if they avoid the overwhelming requirements for symbolic safety that would gold-plate the Falcon 9 under “Commercial” Crew.

    Obviously these are just specific scenarios and the real number of commercial orders they get will turn out somewhat larger or smaller. But in any probable scenario they have more financial incentive to do “Commercial” Crew than real commerce, which is highly unfortunate for the prospects of lower launch costs, as engaging with the NASA HSF bureaucracy is absolutely the worst strategy I can think of to try to lower launch costs.

    As for the 1,000 workers, that costs about $200m per year which is comfortably less than what they will be getting from CRS payments alone.

    You really think that SpaceX would waste its time lobbying NASA

    They already have engaged in energetic lobbying. Bigger contracts in the future will mean bigger lobbying. What galaxy are you living in?

  • googaw, SpaceX hired one lobbyist firm just this past March. Likely to push back against the anti-commercial sentiment being expressed by anti-American jobs people. To say that they’ve been “engaged in energetic lobbying” is a joke. They do have the SpaceX PAC, but the current contributions are extremely small. SpaceX is clearly saving up for battles ahead. As well they should.

    With regards to the rest of your nonsense… 4 flights a year non-NASA is extremely lowballed. Going by their (irregularly updated and out of date) manifest they were expecting 3 flights a year non-NASA along with 2 CRS. That’s 5 flights in one year, and this is before they got the most recent launch contracts. We can safely assume that they are capable of doing 10 to 12 flights a year. With 2 CRS at $135 million a flight (contract / 12 flights) and 2 CCDev at $350 million a pop (remember, they guarantee cheaper than Russians), you come out to about $970 million a year from NASA (assuming they *just* undercut the Russians and the Russians don’t lower the price to $30 million per seat or something, compelling SpaceX to do the same). 6-8 private flights a year comes out to $300 to $400 million. That leaves NASA with around 60% of the revenue stream (a far cry from your near 90% made up nonsense).

    Put people on those Falcon 9s (the 12 Dragon modules that aren’t used by NASA because they want new ones for each flight) and you are profiting big time, since each flight would come in around $120-130 million, and the cost of the Dragon module will be sunk.

  • googaw

    Going by their (irregularly updated and out of date) manifest they were expecting 3 flights a year non-NASA along with 2 CRS.

    You are mixing up Falcon 9 launches with the far lower revenue Falcon 1. Their manifest shows on average 2 non-NASA Falcon 9 launches per year.

    Put people on those Falcon 9s (the 12 Dragon modules that aren’t used by NASA)

    And now you’re back to the fantasy market. To try to show that my estimate was “lowballing”, you have to make stuff up, as Major Tom would say.

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