Congress, NASA

Reiterating their opposition

Yesterday two members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), introduced and got included into an FY10 supplemental appropriations bill an amendment that prevents NASA from terminating any Constellation contracts. The two argued that this was a significant step in protecting Constellation: Bennett’s press release claimed the amendment “gains traction” for efforts to save Constellation, while Shelby’s statement said the provision “clarifies and reinforces the intent of current law”.

While some reports argued that the provision provides a “big boost” to Constellation’s prospects, a closer examination shows little change to a provision included in the FY10 appropriations bill that currently funds NASA. The new provision states, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel:

Provided further, That notwithstanding any other provision of law or regulation, funds made available for Constellation in Fiscal Year 2010 for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exploration” and from previous appropriations for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exploration” shall be available to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts, and performance of such Constellation contracts may not be terminated for convenience by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Fiscal Year 2010.

Compare that to what’s in the existing FY10 appropriations bill:

[N]one of the funds provided herein and from prior years that remain available for obligation during fiscal year 2010 shall be available for the termination or elimination of any program, project or activity of the architecture for the Constellation program nor shall such funds be available to create or initiate a new program, project or activity, unless such program termination, elimination, creation, or initiation is provided in subsequent appropriations Acts.

Since NASA has argued that it is not in violation of the existing law since it has not terminated any contracts, it’s not clear how the new language would change matters. (The new language does note that existing funds shall be used “to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts”, apparently addressing reports that contractors are reserving funds for contract termination costs, but the agency has said they have only reminded them of such liabilities, not directed them to reserve funding for that.) Bennett, quoted in Florida Today, appeared to acknowledge that. “It is a restatement of existing law,” he said. “I’m sorry the administration needs this reminder.”

90 comments to Reiterating their opposition

  • I’m pretty sure the administration is aware of their obligations with the FY10 funds. I’m kind of annoyed that our senators feel the need to spend time on restating the obvious. If you’re like me and you agree the administration hasn’t actually violated any of the restrictions it’s unnecessary. And since the wording is essentially the same (except for explicitly limiting it to FY11 changes which narrows the scope instead of widening it) I expect the administration will continue to read it that way. So even if you think the admin is violating the previous agreements, nothing’s gonna change.

    I see this more of a reminder to their constituents that they are paying attention to the issue than a reminder to the admin of obligations they are already meeting. This is evidenced by the fact that no one is taking any actual action to do anything about it. When a congressperson uses big words but no action it’s garaunteed to be a constituency publicity ploy and nothing more.

    Bennett’s a congressional dead man walking and Shelby’s a whole lotta hot air anyway. I’ll be happy to be corrected on that, as I hate to see any rep from a space state shouting sweet nothings on the floor. But with nothing but chicken little theories and pointless reminders coming from the esteemed gentleman from Alabama, it’s hard to take him seriously.

  • Eric Sterner

    If I read them correctly…a big if…they ARE substantively different.

    The provision passed first is a restriction on the use of FY10 and prior year funds, stating that they may not be used to terminate Constellation or start a new program. NASA can theoretically simply sit on the funding and take no action.

    The second passed is a restriction on FY10 activities (NASA may not terminate Constellation in FY10) and an affirmative statement that funding shall be available for Constellation. I suspect that it’s written this way in order to prevent NASA from sitting on the funding. Arguably, it’s a requirement for NASA to continue work through 9/30/10.

  • brobof

    This Space Cadet proposes that progress is made in spite of Politicians rather than by Politicians. There is only one solution join the Mad Scientists for a Better Tomorrow or the Jolt Party!

  • OpsGuy

    “Commercial crew”, and the inherent “affordability” it would seem to provide, is a key part of the policy discussion. Note this from the House Space & Aero Subcommittee post: http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/Commdocs/hearings/2010/Space/24mar/Additional_Documents_Aerospace_Responses.pdf

    Quote: “The [Augustine] Committee provided [Aerospace Corp] the commercial crew transport service assumptions that …the cost per seat would be on the order of $125M FY09 but would vary with crew size.”

    Let’s see, Space Shuttle is ~$3.2B/year, and flies ~35 seats/year. That’s ~$91M/seat.

    I think I’m beginning to see where KBH, and Armstrong, and others are coming from.

  • amightywind

    Constellation lives! We can rely on Senator Shelby to protect NASA from these chaotic interlopers. Obamaspace weakens by the day.

  • Ben Joshua

    In politics there is posturing (for the constituents and clients) dancing (maneuvering and negotiating) and deciding.

    Shelby and Bennett are posturing, as is Hutchison, looking for a dance partner (unsuccessfully so far).

    Nelson is dancing up a storm behind the scenes, and the big question is whether he will get any kind of SD-HLV compromise, small or large, into the budget.

    The deciders are the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose leaders will be working closely with the administration.

    btw, the administration has done a terrible job of posturing, but are seasoned dancers. They will do a skillful job of stepping their NASA budget proposal through congress.

    Most appropriators come from states that get few NASA dollars. The senators from Ohio and Maryland want to protect Glenn and Goddard from the siphoning effect they have seen in the past, where an underfunded Houston, Marshall, KSC program takes support and program money away from the Ohio and Maryland facilities, to help out the underfunded mammoth.

    Senate appropriations is where its at, bottom line-wise. If you want to get a picture of where FY2011 NASA is going, those are the senators to poll, watch and quote.

  • red

    OpsGuy: “the cost per seat would be on the order of $125M FY09 but would vary with crew size.”

    Let’s see, Space Shuttle is ~$3.2B/year, and flies ~35 seats/year. That’s ~$91M/seat.”

    I’m skeptical of those numbers, especially the $125M per seat one. For the sake of discussion, let’s use them anyway.

    How many seats does NASA need? For the sake of easy math I’ll guess something like 8 or so seats per year with its current plans for ISS and eventual deep space exploration. Soyuz would still be around. That would be $1B/year for the commercial option, and $3.2B/year for the Shuttle. That doesn’t include costs to restart Shuttle production lines or recertify the Shuttle.

    Here’s the full quote from the Aerospace letter:

    “The Committee provided the commercial crew transport service assumptions that assumed a price of $200M FY09 per flight at a rate of 2 flights per year. Using a historical cost growth factor for operational systems, Aerospace increased the cost per flight to $250M FY09. The Committee did not define the crew capacity of the commercial crew vehicle. Based on the 2 Gemini-class crew module discussed above (see question 1c.), the cost per seat would be on the order of $125M FY09 but would vary with crew size.”

    That $125M figure is based on a 2-crew module. There’s no reason to assume the commercial crew vendors will use 2-crew modules. It looks like Aerospace used 2 so they could compare to Gemini.

    If something like a Shuttle-derived sidemount HLV for cargo only can be developed and operated affordably without cutting into the rest of the NASA budget too much (probably requiring a decent but not outlandish budget boost, the 2011-2015 HLV R&D money, some Constellation transition money, the Shuttle schedule slip contingency money, the KSC modernization money, and a bit from the rest of the budget), that might be a good move. Without such a budget boost and the other changes, I don’t see Shuttle or Shuttle-derived HLV working (i.e. Congress could force it, but then NASA would flounder because of the damage to the rest of the budget).

  • E.P. Grondine

    Mike Griffin just spent around $10 billion trying to put Thiokol in the medium heavy lift market, and did his best to lock it in before he left. But despite $10 billion Ares 1 was a dog from the start, and is still , hence the bind we’re in.

    Did any other firm in the industry get this kind of subsidy?

    We could go simpler, safer, and sooner with DIRECT, but Thiokol does not give a damn about the rest of the US space industry, or the rest of the US defense industry, for that matter.

    cao knee men,
    E.P. Grondine
    Man and Impact in the Americas

  • Off-topic, but if you want to watch home video of today’s STS-132 launch click here to watch on SpaceKSC.com. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

    For all the bloviating by politicians who claim this inspires America’s youth, I gotta say the kids in my neighborhood seem singularly uninterested. You’ll hear the neighbor’s kid walk by and say, “You’re not still watching the Shuttle, are you?” Maybe it’s because they see it all the time, and/or their parents work in the program. But whenever I’ve been hear for a launch, manned or unmanned, the kids in the neighborhood keep playing and couldn’t care less.

  • OpsGuy wrote:

    I think I’m beginning to see where KBH, and Armstrong, and others are coming from.

    Which entirely misses the point.

    Bush cancelled Shuttle in January 2004 after the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) concluded that the Shuttle design was fundamentally unsafe — the crew vehicle mounted on the side, increasing the risk of exposure to flame and falling debris.

    CAIB recommended an end to Shuttle not because of the cost, but because of the danger. CAIB noted the complexity of the vehicle and all the other issues we’re familiar with, but the bottom line is that the design flaw will never go away.

    So all the cost-per-seat comparisons for Shuttle vs. Plan X are irrelevant. Shuttle was retired because of the design flaw. That has been driving NASA’s planning for the last six years and is why most of the Shuttle’s second- and third-tier contractors are no longer available. Shuttle isn’t coming back, and people who think they can wave a magic wand to save it aren’t living in the real world.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ May 14th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    For all the bloviating by politicians who claim this inspires America’s youth, I gotta say the kids in my neighborhood seem singularly uninterested.

    that is more or less the story in Clear Lake Texas and I suspect nation wide.

    There are kids today who share the fascination of space travel that probably you and I had when we were children, but the realities of life now are so different then when you and I grew up. Last night we had our ham club meeting and the “presentation” was by a friends daughter who was all of 15 but had put together a pretty impressive “modern” version of the little “rover” that Pathfinder carried. It was about the same size and mass had just amazing capabilities all controlled by a WIFI link from her laptop.

    Now “Dad” does this sort of thing here in CL for the Army…but the bulk of it was her work with a lot of his “inspiration” just about right for kids…and to her there was little or no excitement in the coming launch. In describing the space shuttle she remarked “Its old just like Dad’s airplane”. (he has a 1947 Swift)

    nice home movie

    Robert G. Oler

  • OpsGuy

    red

    So, the economics are sensitive to flight ratecapability/market, fixed operating cost, and crew size. I think we know which side of optimism, and which trend direction those metrics tend to move as they go from marketing charts to real fire and smoke.

    To those politicians gullible enough to believe the marketing charts, let me let you in on something…they’re interested in selling you hardware; they’re not interested in your economy, or our country’s standing in the world.

  • OpsGuy

    Look, I understand the very valid point that continuing NASA’s Shuttle Program is wholly uninspiring to our progeny, not “worthy of a great spacefaring nation,” and would appear to not move us forward. So, let’s throw some things out there for discusion sake.

    Do not, as Shuttle extension proponents seem to unimaginatively propose, continue NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. Give it over to commercial now, much as the President and Newt Gingrich even agree on. Are there any young aspiring space enthusiasts on here?

    Would you start your own spaceline company if you had a couple Orbiters? Would you take External Tanks into orbit? What would you build? Who would go there? Have you heard of Bigelow, and what would it take to build, outfit, and visit their proposed destination? What could you continually launch in the Shuttle cargo bay to build in space, or launch in space, or return from space? Who would you launch? At what seat price? At what cost per metric ton? Don’t forget to include in your business case that seat prices and cargo prices can be lowered when you carry both in the same flight. What would need to be improved to make the business case more robust over time?

  • Would you start your own spaceline company if you had a couple Orbiters?

    No. The Shuttle is unaffordable for a commercial enterprise.

  • OpsGuy

    Far better than the throw-away approach, it would seem, according to Aerospace’s latest numbers to the House.

    Shuttle operating cost is said to be ~$3.2B/yr. Fixed costs is said to be about ~$2B of that. But Augustine said at least $400M was not Shuttle-unique and used for human space flight support, networks, spacecport operations, and so forth. So, about $1.6 to $1.8B/yr is shuttle unique. That leaves ~ $1.2/year variable at five flights per year, or about $240M/flt with ~25 tons and/or anout 5 or 6 passengers (potentially much more if you’re creative). Gee we’re getting pretty close to other govt fixed subsidies, like EELV, Ariane…

    If one Orbiter were given to USAF (they seem to not be too interested in supporting the fixed cost subsidy for expendables these days) or NASA for RLV technology development; and the infrastructure costs were either supported by the govt and/or cost-shared with a spaceline, then the cargo price and seat prices look pretty darn attractive.

    The industry and the government has put this nation in a really, really tight spot. We just need to stand back, take a harder, and more honest look at the situation…and get creative!

  • NASA Fan

    I’m not a lawyer, or a politician, but the legislation being suggested sounds like: “I really, really, really mean it!”

    Any approach to HSF that is coming from ‘something is broken, and I will fix it with my plan’, is doomed to repeat the failures of the past – if not in specific content, then certainly in impact; witness Challenger and Columbia.

    Congress and Obama are of this orientation.

  • If one Orbiter were given to USAF (they seem to not be too interested in supporting the fixed cost subsidy for expendables these days) or NASA for RLV technology development; and the infrastructure costs were either supported by the govt and/or cost-shared with a spaceline, then the cargo price and seat prices look pretty darn attractive..

    This would be completely unworkable. You can’t just “give an orbiter” to someone and have them operate it.

  • J201

    I was inspired by Shuttle when I was little. In fact, Shuttle got me interested in space. The Shuttle is one of the most complex and amazing machines ever built, and it embarks on some of the most fantastic voyages man has ever dreamed of.

    They have served us well.

    I think the Shuttles now have a new mission: inspire the next generation. Show them the great things we did, and tell the story of our hope for a brighter future.

    And if one person walks out of the museums thinking “I want to be an astronaut!” or “I want to work for NASA!”, as I did, then they have succeeded.

  • J201 wrote:

    And if one person walks out of the museums thinking “I want to be an astronaut!” or “I want to work for NASA!”, as I did, then they have succeeded.

    Star Trek and Star Wars accomplish the same thing. Neither cost the taxpayers a penny.

    It’s funny how people trot out this “inspiration” nonsense without any real evidence to back it up. “Inspiration” can come in many ways, ways that don’t cost the taxpayers anything.

    These people seem to be tone deaf to the reality that the government space program costs money, and that it is not a priority for most elected officials. Polls for many years have shown that the majority of Americans want less government spending on space, and for the private sector to pick up more of the cost.

    You’re not going to get more government spending for space. That’s the real world. This is not 1961, there is no Cold War, we’re partners now with the Russians. Your fantasies have to compete for scarce taxpayer dollars in an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits for years to come. The taxpayers are not going to pay for your fantasies.

  • OpsGuy

    Rand,

    You are correct. “Give” means something on the order of $26M; isn’t that the rate quoted in the press for the museums? If you put some of the current contractors to work to operate the “test” Orbiter (manned or unmanned) not for delivery, but for test and evaluation, then the balance of the “excess” workforce could go to work for a spaceline or two. Conceivably, but not necessarily, two competing spacelines could go at it if you have two excess Orbiters…and unlike previous Shuttle commercialization efforts, we have three.

  • If you put some of the current contractors to work to operate the “test” Orbiter (manned or unmanned) not for delivery, but for test and evaluation, then the balance of the “excess” workforce could go to work for a spaceline or two.

    What would it be testing that would be worth the billions it would cost? Who would pay for that?

    Conceivably, but not necessarily, two competing spacelines could go at it if you have two excess Orbiters

    Who would pay the billions to restart all the second- and third-tier contractors it would take to get the system operational? And what would happen if one of the “spacelines” broke their orbiter? This is crazy talk.

    You don’t seem to understand the economics or logistics of the Shuttle program, or why it’s being cancelled.

  • J201

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ May 14th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    “The taxpayers are not going to pay for your fantasies.”

    Apparently they will pay for GM, though.

    I never said we should extend the Shuttle. I agree with you: Shuttle’s day has come and gone. We need to move on. What I tried to say is that there next job is to teach little kids about the space program and its importance to our country. There’s plenty of museums that would cough up the pretty penny to make that happen.

    And I wonder just how much of that majority of yours knew how much the entire space program cost (~$00.56 per taxpayer dollar).

    It’s not that there’s no more money, it’s that people in high places aren’t afraid to spend it elsewhere on things not so crucial to our future.

    Inspiration may come in many ways, but few inspire kids to become scientists and engineers like NASA does.

  • Gary Church

    They have served us well? The shuttle ruined the manned space program. Enough power to put over a hundred tons in orbit and 3/4 was wasted on wings, landing gear, etc. All that weight added for the cross range requirement so it would be a good spy plane and it could not even get into polar orbit. No escape systems- it would have cut the payload down to an even more ridiculously small amount. The most important part of the vehicle, the empty second stage tank, dropped back into the atmosphere to burn up. The main engines, the tiles, the railed in from utah not powerful enough SRB’s……it screwed us well. Done on the cheap, with no ultimate mission it was capable of performing. It might have looked like a cool spaceship to the public but space ships don’t have wings. That would be ridiculous in a vacuum. And it was.

  • J201 wrote:

    Apparently they will pay for GM, though.

    Nope, the taxpayers made an investment in saving one of the nation’s largest vehicle manufacturers that will eventually make a profit once the government sells the stock. The government got the GM stock extremely cheaply. GM’s performance since then has gone up. Once the stock is sold at a higher price, the taxpayers will be repaid with interest. The taxpayers will make a profit and it will reduce the federal deficit.

  • Robert G. Oler

    J201 wrote @ May 14th, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Apparently they will pay for GM, though.

    yes because they can see how the money spent on GM changes their lives.

    I was opposed to the bailout but so far it appears to be working

    Robert G. Oler

  • J201 wrote:

    Inspiration may come in many ways, but few inspire kids to become scientists and engineers like NASA does.

    Again, you make this claim but provide no evidence to back it up.

    I’ve seen several astronauts in interviews say they were inspired by Star Trek. Does that mean the government should pay for more Star Trek movies?! Of course not.

  • DCSCA

    @StephenCSmith- No, but in that Paramount produced, ficticious ‘universe’ of craft and characters, ‘The Federation’ surely does– and by all repreentation it is a ‘world government’ entity. Good grief.

  • J201

    Gary:

    By “served us well” I meant that despite their design flaw, the Shuttles have an outstanding track record with only two exceptions. An over 98% success rate. And something I think we can take away from Shuttle is that even in failure we learn important lessons.

    With Shuttle we learned a great many.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding

  • DCSCA

    This writer is not an aerospace engineer but a media/marketing executive with a life long admiration, unwavering support and strong advocation of the works of said space engineers. Because this writer’s inspiration was a meeting with Dr. Wernher Von Braun in the early 1970′s. It is a long story but good fortune that Von Braun was housed across the corridor for a few days and before speaking to a large body of educators and students, gave 15 or 20 of us a ‘private,’ 90 minute discussion in a hallway alcove, perched on an old wooden chair. He talked about spirituality, about rocketry and about space travel. It was an amazing encounter for an 18 year old college student– and it as only in later years this writer came to realize he was trying to light young minds. Four decades later that meeting remains the catalyst for supporting American manned spaceflight, through the brightest and darkest days of its history.

    One thing this writer has learned over the years is that engineers and scientists are brilliant people when is comes to solving problems, but are not naturally drawn to management positions and more often than not, in general, pretty poor communicators when it comes to pitching their complex programs and selling their ideas to the public or the people who pay the freight. Von Braun, perhaps Sagan as well, and a few others are the exceptions to the rule. Today it is the astronauts who fill that void and very few of them are at ease in the limelight, like Cernan— and to some extent, Lovell, along with several of the Apollo era managers like Kranz, Kraft, Griffin and Lunney. So space advocates on all sides best take what they can get. Neil Armstrong is by far the most articulate and his words on engineering, aviation and space activities carry much weight. So when he speaks, politicians and the public who fund our space programs listen. Because in this distressed and dismal economic climate, it will be very easy to rationalize the irrational proposal to break up our civilian space agency, NASA, and fold the bulk of its assets into other governnment agencies. That is something this writer does not wish to see.

  • J201

    About the GM thing:

    That was a bad example

    I tried to say that the less than $20 billion NASA gets per year is a drop in the ocean. And though the agency could probably use it’s funding more efficiently, it’s getting far less than it deserves for what it does.

    Thanks for calling me out on that.

  • Commercial crew will most likely be more than Soyuz currently is. I expect Energia will raise their price per seat to match whatever the merchant seven start demanding. SpaceX is the odd duck here, claiming they can beat $50M/seat which is cheaper than Soyuz seats now.

  • Gary Church

    And I expect none of your commercial space ventures to ever put a single person in orbit. They will all fold at the first bump in the road- and the road into orbit is 4000 miles of hard going.

  • J201

    NASA is a source of inspiration and national pride like no other.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhNZENMG1o

    I know, not exactly evidence, but humor me.

    “Boldly going where hundreds have gone before.” Maybe that’s NASA’s problem.

  • DCSCA

    @chruch- No, there’s a chance in a decade they’ll get someone up and around. Getting them safely down is another issue. But this writer believes commecial space ventures for human space activities which can contribute anything of practical value to expanding the human presence in space is multiple decades away. Right now ol’Project Gemini appears 20 years ahead of any practical, privately financed space venture in work today.

  • J201 wrote:

    I tried to say that the less than $20 billion NASA gets per year is a drop in the ocean. And though the agency could probably use it’s funding more efficiently, it’s getting far less than it deserves for what it does.

    Okay, now we’re on common ground.

    I’ve written about this many times on SpaceKSC.com and here. The core problem is that there is no widespread political support to spend money on government-financed space programs as there was in the 1960s. That was during the Cold War, when people believed we were in a life-and-death struggle with the Soviets for survival.

    We are not in that era any more. If the Klingons showed up tomorrow with disruptors pointed at our planet, then government-financed space research would increase. But you have to understand that most Congresscritters don’t give a fig about space, unless a space center is in their district and/or a space contractor that employs a lot of people.

    That is the fundamental problem. The federal government will not adequately finance a deep-space exploration program. The Augustine Panel called that out last year; they estimated that the first Ares V mission to the Moon wouldn’t be until 2028, if ever, and would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

    We need a different approach that liberates space exploration as much as possible from the government. In the hands of the private sector, unless there’s a profit motive we won’t go to space either, but there are signs that the private sector is willing to step in. Anyone with $20 million can buy a ride on a Soyuz. Virgin Galactic is building a suborbital vehicle civilians can pay to ride. SpaceX envisions the day when they will deliver private sector customers to the ISS for research.

    Until the government lets go, it will be harder for the private sector to grow. SpaceX has experienced one government obstacle after another. A company called Starfighters has been trying for two years to get permission just to fly F-104 rides from the Shuttle landing strip at KSC.

    Obama’s proposal gives the private sector a chance to step up to the plate. The savings from scrapping Constellation not only allow ISS to fly much longer, but can also be used to develop new technology that might deliver humans to the Moon and Mars more cheaply and more quickly.

    Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward. Obama could have played it safe and continued the status quo, which would have kept the contractors fat and happy. But it wouldn’t be the right thing to do for the future of human space exploration. In my opinion, he did the right thing.

  • This writer is not an aerospace engineer but a media/marketing executive with a life long admiration, unwavering support and strong advocation of the works of said space engineers.

    I think, then, that it is safe to ignore your nonsensical advice and prognostications. Because some of us are space engineers (and aerospace cost and policy analysts), and can distinguish between sense and nonsense, and what is politically and economically realistic, and what is not.

    I expect none of your commercial space ventures to ever put a single person in orbit. They will all fold at the first bump in the road- and the road into orbit is 4000 miles of hard going.

    From what orifice did you pull that illogical number? And why should we take anything that you write seriously, either?

  • DCSCA

    @RandSimberg- It’s always enjoyable to see aerospace arrogance bristle. Indeed, ignore someone on your side who pays the freight. The rest of the country, from school kids to Congress, are falling away from ‘ya. Thank you for proving my point and displaying precisely why you are most likely part of the problem. You are clearly no Von Braun. About 20 years ago a fellow came to repair an electric organ at a family members home. A $10/hour job. The repairman was in his 50′s and caught glimpse of one of the kids toys on a shelf — a Saturn V. The fellow opened up and wistfully shared stories on how he’d worked on it in his younger days. Then went back to fixing the organ, was paid his ten bucks and sent on his way. Keep your tools handy, as that, my friend, may be your future.

  • Ben Joshua

    How does the 4,000 mile figure compare with the downrange distance from launch to orbit?

  • DCSCA

    BTW, aerospace cost and policy analysts = bureaucrats; the last people on Earth who should be shaping national space policy.

  • Gary Church

    Arthur C. Clarke, The Promise of Space 1968, page 47, ” It turns out lifting a body right away from the Earth, and out into the depths of space, requires exactly the same amount of work as lifting it one Earth radius-4,000 miles-against a constant gravity pull equal to that at sea level.”

    He is talking about the Earth as a 4,000 mile deep gravity well. So the figure represents escape velocity from earth, the second cosmic speed as the Russians would say, not the first- which is orbital velocity. My mistake.

  • Bennett

    I’m not an aerospace engineer like Rand, but I know bullshit when I see it. You can posture and speak of yourself in the third person all you want, but your ignorance of the facts is astounding.

    “Right now ol’Project Gemini appears 20 years ahead of any practical, privately financed space venture in work today.

    The first Falcon 9 will launch this month, number 2 is arriving to KSC as we speak. There are thousands of people in the states alone who would drop everything for a chance to ride Falcon 9 to the ISS or a Bigelow Hab (not all have 50 million). SpaceX will be ready to take people to the ISS by 2015, and there will be LOTS of volunteers who think that the NASA and ULS engineers employed by SpaceX can get the job done.

  • Gary Church

    Do they have any space suits yet? Space toilet paper? Space insurance? Space security screeners? Space American Idol? Yes… I am mocking you.

  • Bennett

    “Yes… I am mocking you.”

    You poor man. Seek help.

  • Gary Church

    Yes, you know bullshit.

  • Bennett

    @Gary Church Listen up Pal, I forgot to put a @DCSCA in front of my comment at 11:03 pm, but since the sentence quoted didn’t come from a comment of yours, I hope you could figure out that I wasn’t responding to you, avani if my comment appeared dirsctly below yours ( and anyone who quotes Arthur C. Clarke is a good man in my book.

    FWIW .

  • Bennett

    “even if”

  • Gary Church

    What do you say Rand? Do you know who Arthur C. Clarke was?

  • the “gravity well” concept is more than just escape velocity.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_well

    And quoting Arthur C. Clarke is embarrassing.

  • Gary Church

    Sure Trent. I would not want you to be embarrassed.

  • DCSCA

    @Bennett- BS?? Speak for yourself. Falcon is an experimental launch vehicle which will attempt to get off the ground from a U.S. taxpayer funded launch facility utilizing government assets… with no manned spacecraft perched on top of it… in otherwords, a crew of… zero. BS indeed. This writer was attempting to be kind referencing Project Gemini as a goal, for that was a sucessful government funded effort. Project Vanguard seems more appropriate, but here’s hoping it gets off the pad without destroying any taxpayer-owned assets. Slap in that ‘ol ‘Destination Moon’ DVD, and have at it. This writer will cheer your launch on like any other Estes or Centuri launch. But have Musk buy a piece of real estate along the Equator, build a launch complex and accompanying infrastructure, and put the capital investment at risk in the marketplace with that private funding, fellas. And here’s hoping Musk has better luck getting Falcon’s destruct system to operate correctly than he did plugging the disasterous security leaks in his other technoventure, PayPal. It’s comfort to know the inventor of that is now helming SpaceX. When Falcon LVs are carrying crews of 7 up to and back from the ISS and assembling lunar-bound spacecraft in Earth orbit… in seven years, get back to me.

  • DCSCA

    @Bennett-”SpaceX will be ready to take people to the ISS by 2015, and there will be LOTS of volunteers who think that the NASA and ULS engineers employed by SpaceX can get the job done.” Volunteers? At a private space corporation? Working for free? Stockholders should love that. Great recruitment hook, too. The number one, prime objective of SpaceX– or BP– is to turn a profit for its shareholders.

    “SpaceX is one of the two companies that stand to win most if Project Constellation is canceled, and NASA asked to sustain the private sector. But, in order for the company to get paid, it needs to demonstrate the viability of the Falcon 9 vehicle.”- source, softpedia.com 5/14/10

  • Low Earth Orbit: WE’VE BEEN THERE ALREADY!! (We don’t need to go there anymore.)

  • DCSCA

    @Bennett- Oh, and Bennett… in spite of your profane angst, nothing would make me happier than to be proved wrong. So get cracking and get your rocket flying. Time is money.. unless, of course, you’re a ‘volunteer’ and work for free. ;-)

  • DCSCA

    @Smith “Obama’s proposal gives the private sector a chance to step up to the plate.” In other words, the private sector is unwilling or incapable of assembling the private capital necessary at developing a non-experimental, viable, reliable space transportation system in the immediate future without socializing the risk using taxpayer-owned government assets and tax dollars.

  • DCSCA

    “Space tourism is a catalyst that has sparked a whole new industry of passenger-carrying spacecraft.” -Lori Garver

    Except there’s no place for a tourist to go and ‘tour.’ So blast off, look down and, “See the USA, in your pressurized, low-Earth-orbit Chevrolet.” Yeah, that’s a space program to be proud of.

  • Vladislaw

    DCSCA wrote:

    “Volunteers? At a private space corporation? Working for free? Stockholders should love that. Great recruitment hook, too. The number one, prime objective of SpaceX– or BP– is to turn a profit for its shareholders.

    Before SpaceX can launch paying customers it would have to test it first with test pilots, and no they do not work for free, they get paid.

    SpaceX is a privately held company there isn’t any shareholders until SpaceX holds it’s intial public offering, or IPO. Musk is just doing that now with Tesla Motors.

  • Vladislaw

    DCSCA wrote:

    “Except there’s no place for a tourist to go and ‘tour.’ So blast off, look down and, “See the USA, in your pressurized, low-Earth-orbit Chevrolet.” Yeah, that’s a space program to be proud of.”

    Bigelow Aerospace has two demonstration vehicles already orbiting in LEO and are on schedule to launch the human crewed version in the 2014-15 timeframe. So their will be a facility in space around the time commercial services start.

    It is a classic chicken and the egg. Why put up a commercial space station if there isn’t any launch vehicles – why build a commercial launch vehicle if their isn’t a commercial destination.

    This budget proposed by President Obama puts the Nation on track to have both.

  • privately held companies have shareholders too..

  • Rhyolite

    “Falcon is an experimental launch vehicle…”

    As opposed to Ares I, which is a paper launch vehicle? One that is going to take at least another 20 Billion and 5 to 7 years to get it to the same point in its development.

  • Martijn Meijering

    And I expect none of your commercial space ventures to ever put a single person in orbit. They will all fold at the first bump in the road- and the road into orbit is 4000 miles of hard going.

    The orbiters were designed and built by Rockwell (now part of Boeing), a commercial company, and are being operated by the United Space Alliance, another commercial company, jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two commercial companies.

    The new proposal is to have multiple, competing commercial companies supply their services simultaneously. Everyone can compete, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the United Space Alliance.

    So what exactly is it that makes you say commercial companies will not succeed in putting people in orbit when that’s what has been happening since the early eighties?

  • Gary Church wrote:

    Do they have any space suits yet? Space toilet paper? Space insurance? Space security screeners?

    This suggests you’re totally ignorant of the business model. SpaceX, Orbital, ULA, whomever are not doing anything else than creating the vehicle. NASA will buy the launch service from the private vendor and will provide its own astronauts who will wear their own space suits, etc. It’s like going to the airport and renting a car.

  • Andy Clark

    Why is this site so full of bitterness and vituperation?

    I do not believe that there is any one correct answer to the problems associated with space exploration. Shuttle and Constellation are way to expensive and should be retired. The real problem is what comes after and the fact that there is no “what comes after” just points to the unwillingness of the politicians to take space exploration seriously. Presumably part of the problem is they don’t yet know how to profit from it personally. If they did, they would be all over the ideas and there would always be enough money.

    Maybe our Lobbyists are not good enough; maybe, maybe there are enough “maybes”.

    Right now we have to get to work and build a space program from the ground up on our own because the government is NOT going to help. In fact, they will probably put road blocks up to protect their failures. This is typical behaviour and is very frustrating. However , such behaviour has already become institutionalized in the NASA and the USAF. I do not expect this to change any time soon.

    As for a marketing wonk telling us how to do engineering, that’s just a joke. Obviously he/she has a very tenuous grip on the facts.I take his/her insolence seriously and for the record I’ve been in the aerospace world in many capacities since 1966. I have degrees in engineering and physics and have successfully run a business in the aerospace – mainly space – arena since 1992. Not bad for an incompetent engineer that knows nothing about management, accounting, marketing etc.

  • J201

    I’m still skeptical about the commercial space dates.

    Falcon 9 is already 2 years behind schedule. I would love to see them succeed, but at the same time I have trouble believing they could do it in three years. Dragon manned flight: my guess is 2017.

    And what if these companies should fail? What if, god forbid, a SpaceX rocket blows up on the launchpad with a crew on board? It would certainly damage not just that company, but the commercial venture as a whole. Would we have to go through with the infamous “bailout”?

    NASA needs a backup plan, be it DIRECT, the Boeing proposal, Ares, or whatever. NASA can hand LEO to the private sector. Focus on going back to the moon, and whatever lies beyond.

    I think that putting all the eggs in the commercial basket could be a costly mistake.

  • Set it straight

    As opposed to Ares I, which is a paper launch vehicle? One that is going to take at least another 20 Billion and 5 to 7 years to get it to the same point in its development.

    This cost number and those like it is a Constellation number NOT an Ares number! You people on here need to get it straight. Ares over the last 5 years has cost less than 6 Billion including Orion, Ares, Infrastructure, testing etc… That number can be confirmed on NASA’s budget website in their past year’s documents.

  • Martijn Meijering

    NASA needs a backup plan, be it DIRECT, the Boeing proposal, Ares, or whatever.

    NASA doesn’t need a backup plan, it needs a primary plan. And that plan should probably include using EELVs as the primary launch vehicle for the foreseeable future as they are the only proven medium/heavy launch system besides the shuttle. New launch systems can be used as they become available and prove themselves.

    NASA can hand LEO to the private sector. Focus on going back to the moon, and whatever lies beyond.

    And it doesn’t need to own or operate its own launch vehicles to do that. To go to the moon we need a lander. We already have launch vehicles.

    I think that putting all the eggs in the commercial basket could be a costly mistake.

    Do you realise that all NASA’s eggs are currently already in the commercial basket, in the form of the United Space Alliance? In future it should avoid putting all eggs into the single basket that is USA. Instead it should rely on a group of companies providing robust, redundant launch services.

  • J201 wrote:

    What if, god forbid, a SpaceX rocket blows up on the launchpad with a crew on board?

    Shuttle has already lost 14 crew members. I would say NASA’s track record is not exactly something to brag about.

    Charlie Bolden and others have said that NASA will closely supervise and inspect any vehicle they buy or lease before flying on it. Of course, NASA management said the same thing before launching Challenger in unsafe conditions knowing that the SRBs had been failing. The fact that SpaceX or whomever has to compete with other rocket companies will hopefully be an incentive for quality control. But with Shuttle and other government contractors, there’s really no competition once the contract is issued so there’s no incentive for quality control.

  • Andy Clark wrote:

    Why is this site so full of bitterness and vituperation?

    There seems to be a temporary alliance between union workers at KSC and the Moon groupies to say anything, no matter how baseless or fabricated, to justify flying Shuttle and/or Constellation.

    I think that if you look at who’s saying what, most of the wild posts are coming from those with an interest in preserving the status quo.

  • Eric Sterner

    @ Martin

    You wrote: “The orbiters were designed and built by Rockwell (now part of Boeing), a commercial company, and are being operated by the United Space Alliance, another commercial company, jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two commercial companies.”

    This isn’t the business model NASA is pushing and calling a gov’t-only cost-plus development contract “commercial” realyl deprives the word of any real meaning. Sure, private companies can build and launch rockets. That’s not the same as creating a commercial market.

  • Eric Sterner

    PS: Odds are good that SpaceX does have “shares” or some similar mechanism for figuring out which investors own how much of the company and how much relativey “control” they get at the relevant meetings. Those shares simply are not publicly traded.

  • Set it straight

    My memory mistakes me… Here are the costs published (in billions$)

    Costs
    FY CLV CEV
    2006 0.384 0.839 Actual
    2007 0.916 1.001 Actual
    2008 1.03 0.889 Actual
    2009 1.067 1.387 Enacted (will be less due to political issues)
    Totals 3.397 4.116

  • Martijn Meijering

    This isn’t the business model NASA is pushing and calling a gov’t-only cost-plus development contract “commercial” realyl deprives the word of any real meaning. Sure, private companies can build and launch rockets. That’s not the same as creating a commercial market.

    Of course, and the main reason advocates of commercial space welcome the new proposals is because they believe the new model with its ongoing competition between suppliers will contribute to commercial development of space.

    But I was responding to claims that portray the change as going from an experienced NASA solution to an inexperienced commercial solution. This is a complete misrepresentation. The truth of the matter is that we would be going from an experienced but noncompetitive commercial solution to an equally experienced but competitive commercial solution. In addition several unproven suppliers would get the opportunity to prove themselves.

  • Vladislaw

    Trent Waddington wrote:
    “privately held companies have shareholders too..”

    I know that Trent, but according to what Musk has said publically, the money he has received to date from venture capitalists was not a stock deal. Unless you have information I have not seen before, Musk still controls SpaceX and has not given any control away. It would be more likely that labor is taking stock in partial exchange for wages. It was the Dot.Com model and since Musk came out of that it seems likely he would do it again. But I can not imagine it would represent enough that they would have any say. So I find it highly doubtful that Musk has to answer to shareholders at that poster suggested.

  • OpsGuy

    Rand,

    Your question is again a good one. “What would [third Orbiter] be testing that would be worth the billions it would cost? Who would pay for that?”

    I’ll pose one to you: What is the TOTAL cost of X-37 program and what was it testing; including Atlas V launch vehicle at full cost, please? And how often does it fly to gain test data, and at what routine test operations cost? Who pays for that? You and I pay for that as taxpayers. As much as we need RLV testing and the AtlasV/X-37B, it is a pitifull way to routinely go about space flight test. But, hats off to Payton for using what little we have, even if it’s not sustainable. Point being, you want to get key parts of NASA out of the routine LEO delivery biz and work on what viable commercial transportation operators need…reusable vehicle improvements…like Elon Musk has been saying we need for over a year now. Yes, Elon recognizes the benefits of reusable. Trouble is, it’s not clear he understands the business case implications between truly reusable and “crash and salvage” operations, with or without a flight success…once in a long while. The country, indeed the industry, has no routine space flight test capability…at least one that is explicitly dedicated to the purpose of orbital space flight test and evaluation. $1-2B/year out of USAF/NASA/FAA coffers to defray flight test and evaluation infrastructure costs for commercial industry (which is something the aircraft industry particularly enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s) would be well worth the investment to this country; as opposed to laying them off across the country. Not a govt human space flight bailout; a govt human space flight breakup that makes sense. Enjoyed observing these very entertaining, if uninformed and inexperienced comments. I truly weep for what this county is about to go through by its own hands. It really ought to learn how to count its blessings before charging off half-cocked into failure.

  • [...] Saturday. Noting the amendment to FY10 supplemental appropriations bill in the Senate that reiterates and clarifies an existing prohibition on terminating Constellation contracts, the paper argues that “Now, it’s up to all members of Congress to stand firm and [...]

  • The country, indeed the industry, has no routine space flight test capability…at least one that is explicitly dedicated to the purpose of orbital space flight test and evaluation. $1-2B/year out of USAF/NASA/FAA coffers to defray flight test and evaluation infrastructure costs for commercial industry (which is something the aircraft industry particularly enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s) would be well worth the investment to this country; as opposed to laying them off across the country.

    There are much more useful things that could be done for that amount of money to advance reusable technologies than continuing to fly Shuttle.

  • Robert G. Oler

    OpsGuy wrote @ May 15th, 2010 at 11:04 am

    really none of what you write is accurate.

    The shuttle orbiter system illustrates in many respects what has been wrong with NASA policy since Apollo.

    NASA has tried on many occassions (and shuttle/station got to hardware) to build X vehicles which are masquerading as operational ones.

    X37 is just that an X vehicle, a vehicle with defined test objectives and not a lot of money (compared to shuttle) invested in it. If it works great, then one modifies it…if it doesnt then well that is what X vehicles are for.

    NASA built a bunch of orbiters which are very very expensive X vehicles and tried to use them as ops vehicles, without any clear idea institutionally how to operate an X vehicle.

    To imply that the X 37 is making do with what one has…implies that you dont understand what an X vehicle does.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    J201 wrote @ May 15th, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I’m still skeptical about the commercial space dates.

    Falcon 9 is already 2 years behind schedule. I would love to see them succeed, but at the same time I have trouble believing they could do it in three years. Dragon manned flight: my guess is 2017.

    the rocket is the difficult part, the HSF “machine” is actually quite easy.

    We did that 50 years ago…from scratch.

    Robert G. Oler

  • J201

    I’m not so much worried about the engineering as I am the hoops that a government contract would make them jump through.

    And there’s always technical difficulties. Falcon 1 had three failures before it had a successful flight.

    Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  • And there’s always technical difficulties. Falcon 1 had three failures before it had a successful flight.

    That’s called a “flight test” program. You learn from mistakes, and improve the vehicle and processes. Would you prefer that they’d had two successful flights, and then three unsuccessful ones? Think about it.

  • And it should be noted that flight tests are not planned for the Ares family. The Wiz will tell us if the rocket is safe.

  • Set it straight

    @ Trent… And it should be noted that flight tests are not planned for the Ares family. The Wiz will tell us if the rocket is safe

    Ares I-X, Ares 2-X, Ares I-Y are all test flights planned. Each of which progresses and tests the operational design progressively.

    It’s not all about the design of the rocket that makes it man rated. It’s the operations, the quality of manufacturing, repetitiveness of manufacturing… There is SO much more to it than just the design. The same practices used to build shuttle are being applied to Ares. That is a huge benefit to any rocket build. These practices are also as difficult to get right, if not more, than the engineering design due to human error repetitiveness.

  • It’s not all about the design of the rocket that makes it man rated. It’s the operations, the quality of manufacturing, repetitiveness of manufacturing… There is SO much more to it than just the design. The same practices used to build shuttle are being applied to Ares.

    Shuttle was not man rated. Shuttle killed fourteen astronauts. So if true, this doesn’t make me sanguine about the safety of Ares.

  • Set it straight

    Rand… Processing and manufacturing techniques didn’t lead to the cause of either of the failures.

  • Rand… Processing and manufacturing techniques didn’t lead to the cause of either of the failures.

    Actually, they probably did, if by processing you mean making a launch decision in inappropriate weather, and if by manufacturing you mean building external tanks that shed foam during ascent. In any event, my point stands. Shuttle was not man rated. “Man rated” is a meaningless term, and confuses more than clarifies. We need to design things to be reasonably safe. Both SpaceX and ULA are capable of doing so, and NASA has no unique expertise in that regard.

  • [...] Reiterating their opposition – Space Politics [...]

  • [...] also took aim at Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the leading supporters of Constellation, for his effort to put language into a supplemental spending bill restating an existing provision that keeps NASA from terminating Constellation contracts this [...]

  • [...] budget that has not been supported, or approved, by Congress,” Shelby said, adding that language included in a supplemental appropriations bill the Senate approved last month is a “reaffirmation of Congressional intent to continue [...]

  • [...] in violation of a 2010 appropriations amendment by Sen. Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Bennett (R-UT) which prohibits NASA from terminating any Constellation contracts. If NASA’s move goes through, the biggest liability is $500M for ATK, the contractor who [...]

  • [...] Government Waste named Shelby its “Porker of the Month” for his effort last month add language to a supplement appropriations bill that would require NASA to continue spending money on Constellation. “Sen. Shelby’s actions [...]

  • [...] brings us back to the discussion Foust mentioned here… That link has two versions of the language the Senate has used to keep CxP on track, the new [...]

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