Congress, NASA, Pentagon, White House

Briefs: Bolden, Marquez, and milspace

In what Aviation Week understandably termed a “rare one-on-one interview”, NASA administrator Charles Bolden suggested he’s slowing down any future cooperation with China and Russia, perhaps to appease some Congressional critics. Bolden said that a visit by Chinese space officials to the US, a reciprocal visit to Bolden’s October trip to China, is not planned for December as originally expected, but may be folded into Chinese president Hu Jintao’s trip to the US in January. The article suggested the delay may be an effort not to alienate Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a sharp critic of China who opposed Bolden’s October trip; Wolf is also in line to take over the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA’s budget. The report added that Russian proposals for new cooperative missions with NASA, ranging from nuclear propulsion development to a Mercury lander, are “going nowhere fast”.

The White House official who coordinated development of the new national space policy is now working for Orbital Sciences Corporation, the company announced Monday. Peter Marquez has taken a job as the company’s vice president of strategy and planning, responsible for “helping to develop the company’s strategic approach to opportunities in civil and military space programs”. Marquez, as space policy director on the National Security Council, led development of the new policy released this summer.

Increasing costs and budgetary pressures mean that military space programs need to become “more competitive”, Aviation Week reports from a recent military space symposium. How exactly to make such programs more competitive, though, remain unclear: aerospace company officials complained that scope creep plus “unnecessarily invasive oversight” by government agencies have caused costs to go up, but warned that recent interest in fixed-price contracts by the Pentagon is not always a solution. On the other hand, SpaceX’s Elon Musk endorsed the use of fixed-price contracts, saying that traditional cost-plus awards “make good people do bad things”, encouraging companies to run up costs on contracts “up until the program gets canceled.”

27 comments to Briefs: Bolden, Marquez, and milspace

  • amightywind

    Russia and China are active malevolent geopolitical opponents of the US. It doesn’t make sense that we would collaborate in space with them as compared to Japan. Good for Bolden that this fact is sinking in.

    As for Peter Marquez. Obama’s corrupt revolving door is working well. A Senior Vice President of a space technology company with less that 10 years experience with a Masters in Politics. It would have made more sense if Orbital just bought his rolodex.

  • Major Tom

    Too bad a look at a nuke propulsion project with Russia is getting deferred. The technology is arguably on the critical path for human space exploration (and some robotic missions), no other nation has Russia’s expertise in space-based nuclear reactors, and (unlike ISS) it would keep some of Russia’s key defense technical experts peacefully occupied, instead of transferring their expertise to Iran et al.

    I’d be tempted to hold out an ISS partnership or other cooperative project as a carrot to induce China to fix North Korea. If China grows up and effectively manages its “ally”, then I could see an argument that China should be symbolically rewarded for becoming an “adult” nation-state. We could certainly use a backup to Soyuz after the Constellation debacle. But China’s space program would have to become more transparent, too, and it’s hard to see that happening in the days of X-37 flights.

    FWIW…

  • amightywind

    Too bad a look at a nuke propulsion project with Russia is getting deferred. The technology is arguably on the critical path for human space exploration

    Critical path? On what project? Don’t make stuff up.

    If China grows up and effectively manages its “ally”, then I could see an argument that China should be symbolically rewarded for becoming an “adult” nation-state.

    Wikileaks tells us that China transited ballistic missiles from North Korea to Iran. China stood silent while North Korea aquired nuclear weapons. China stands silent as North Korea murders 50 South Koreans in 2 unprovoked attacks. Your naivete is breathtaking.

  • “Russia and China are active malevolent geopolitical opponents of the US. It doesn’t make sense that we would collaborate in space with them…”

    So the Apollo-Soyuz program, our cooperation on Mir and ISS, and years of collaboration on vehicle design are all terribly bad ideas? You suggest this as if we didn’t have 4 decades of continual cooperation with Russia in space. Certainly we need to be careful with Russia but, as is the case with the missile shield, it seems far better to bring them on board with projects than to snub them.

    I’m hesitant on China because it’s a new entrant and has far more to gain than it has to offer in the space arena. But realistically, once they’ve flown a station module of their own and a few interplanetary probes, I think we’re okay to cooperate on many levels. That’s not to say we need to give away the farm and start shipping them Delta IV’s or sharing Orion blueprints, but allowing them into the ISS club or doing joint work on interplanetary robotic missions should be relatively low risk with nice PR gains to boot.

    “As for Peter Marquez. Obama’s corrupt revolving door is working well.”

    Government officials going to work in the private sector is not corruption. Large numbers of the leading engineers and corporate officers of the cutting edge space companies are astronauts or other former NASA employees. Having former officials go out to work in lobbying firms or in lobbying roles, however, is corruption as it has direct influence on the direction of public policy. The only way Marquez could be labeled corrupt here is if OSC had cut his contract before the new policy was in place. I don’t have his OSC HR records, but I doubt that’s the case.

  • Justin Kugler

    Tom isn’t making anything up. Nuclear propulsion may be necessary for sustained long-duration human exploration of the solar system because of its higher specific impulse than chemical propulsion and combined power generation capability.

    WikiLeaks tells us no such thing about China being directly involved in transiting ballistic missiles from North Korea to Iran. The documents indicate that Chinese companies were involved in the sale of dual-use technologies with missile applications. China also has not “stood silent” in the instances you mention. You may not agree with their response, but that is patently false to say they were silent on the matter.

    The leaked documents also suggest China is increasingly impatient with North Korea, its rising generation of leaders think they owe the North Koreans nothing, and they may even prefer a South Korea-led reunification. This is tempered, though, by their concerns about countering American dominance in what China perceives to be its sphere of influence.

    I would caution against reading what you want out of WikiLeaks. The bigger picture is much more nuanced.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Let’s see, for the whole of the two posters here, and Rand…

    Tale a look at the link, AW. While I’m a long way from DC and well out of the loop, and thus know nothing of Marquez’s exact role in Obama’s space policy, Marquez had a long background in classified defense systems, starting under Bush Jr.

    Major Tom, while we tend here to think of these things in US-China or US-Russia terms, the rest of the world does not. There’s Japan-China, Europe-China, Russia- China views that need to be taken into account, and similarly Russia’s relationship with other nations.

    I would like to add that the Korean tensions are related to a larger and much more serious problem, that of marine resources and boundaries. This issue has not been addressed for decades, since the late 1970′s, and even caused tension between the US and Canada a few years back.

    While we tend to view the current tensions in terms of proliferation concerns, NK is starving, and the areas they are contesting are rich crab beds. (This in no way excuses NK’s behavior in this matter.) China and its neighbors have unresolved sea claims, and then there’s the Antarctic, Mediterranean, and closer to home, the Caribbean.

  • “Wikileaks tells us that China transited ballistic missiles from North Korea to Iran. China stood silent while North Korea aquired nuclear weapons. China stands silent as North Korea murders 50 South Koreans in 2 unprovoked attacks. Your naivete is breathtaking.”

    Those same wikileaks suggest that Chinese public and official opinion of Pyongyang is leaning firmly toward reintegration under ROK administration. They now view the DPRK as a ‘spoiled child’ and are tired of its provocations and view them as far more of a risk than as a beneficial buffer state. Wikileaks also suggests that the biggest turning point for their loss of face was DPRK’s first nuke test.

    They also view Kim Jong Il as erratic and the North Korean state all but doomed to failure when he passes away. They even have contingency plans developed for how to keep violence on the North Korean side of the border and how to efficiently integrate as many as 300,000 North Korean refugees. And they’ve all but ruled out any kind of Chinese defense of North Korea in the event of an attempted integration.

    It also suggests China doesn’t have a lot of sway with the DPRK and that at this point they’re just trying to keep things quiet until its inevitable downfall. Other signs suggest China is looking for a diplomatic exit strategy from it’s alliance with the DPRK. While China could clearly be doing more on that front and it bothers me that they haven’t dropped Jong Il like a bad habit, they are no logner proud supporters of the DPRK.

    Your laughably selective reading is breathtaking.

  • Coastal Ron

    …aerospace company officials complained that scope creep plus “unnecessarily invasive oversight” by government agencies have caused costs to go up, but warned that recent interest in fixed-price contracts by the Pentagon is not always a solution.

    Fixed-price contracts work well when the scope of the product or service is well defined. Changes can be accommodated, but once the philosophy changes from “the specs are fixed” to “if you don’t like something, just do a change order”, then fixed-price contracts have lost their effectiveness.

    Ares I is a good example of where fixed-price contracts would not have helped, because the requirements were never set in concrete. Just look at this “family history” of a product that never got defined:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/40/Ares_I_Evolution.jpg

    Unless NASA can do a better job at defining what they want (and sticking to it no matter what), they will never be able to use fixed-price contracts to effectively control costs.

    On the other hand, SpaceX’s Elon Musk endorsed the use of fixed-price contracts, saying that traditional cost-plus awards “make good people do bad things”, encouraging companies to run up costs on contracts “up until the program gets canceled.”

    Commercial cargo is already operating off of a fixed-price system, and commercial crew has the possibility to do well under a fixed-price system too. The destination is known, the challenges are known, and once NASA publishes their crew requirements specs, then everyone should have a good idea what it will take to make money with the service. This should not be any different than what earth-bound transport companies already do in the many high-risk areas around the world today – there is money to be made if you understand the risks and price accordingly.

    SpaceX already has the COTS/CRS contract, which is fixed-price, as well as being listed on the NASA Launch Services II (NLS II) contract for launch services. You can see the trend on what they want to focus on, and it’s a niche that could be very lucrative for a company that is as vertically integrated as SpaceX is.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Major Tom wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 9:43 am

    two points

    My guess is that the PRC wants to “fix” North Korea anyway. The PRC wants a military because that is what large countries have, but in my view they have figured out that the path to nation greatness is through economics…and the nation that is dragging things in the region is the North…plus they dont want a destablized region right next to them.

    Second I to would find some work on nuclear propulsion with the Russians quite useful. It would have to be done rather carefully but the potential is large, and despite GOP rhetoric about START the US and Russia are cooperating on a number of nuclear issues.

    We go nowhere in space outside of LEO and GEO without nukes and this would be a profitable effort for many many reason.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Byeman

    “SpaceX already has the COTS/CRS contract, which is fixed-price, as well as being listed on the NASA Launch Services II (NLS II) contract”

    And you don’t think there are change orders? Happens all the time. Even on CRS. Spacex, how close can you perform missions? Can this non standard item fit and can you make a restraint system for it? Can you return this item? This experiment needs this power, can you provide the support? This was the same thing that happened with Spacehab.

    Each of those questions cost money to answer and then to perform. Same goes for launch vehicles. The actual cost of a mission isn’t publicized after the fact. There always cost creep, especially for payload caused launch delays.

  • Major Tom

    “Major Tom, while we tend here to think of these things in US-China or US-Russia terms, the rest of the world does not. There’s Japan-China, Europe-China, Russia- China views that need to be taken into account, and similarly Russia’s relationship with other nations.”

    Agreed. The US, Russia, and Japan are all ISS partners and all members of the six-party talks. The ISS is a tool they could bring to the table collectively with respect to China and how it handles its client state in North Korea.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Major Tom wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I dont see the Chinese really wanting anything to do with ISS period.

    First off their space program (from a human flight range) has shown a level of effort that is mind boggling simply because it is so puny. They seem to be rushing forward toward almost nothing OTHER then to simply have a space effort.

    Their flight rate would not support a LOT at ISS.

    Second and to me at least most important. The PRC has I think figured out the lessons of the failure of the USSR and the vulnerabilities of western society…and its not military or any of the things attributed to “‘soft power” where HSF is somewhat useful.

    The PRC seems to be moving toward a sort of economic superpower status…coupling with that regional development to dominate the world scene (or at least make their presence felt) through the economic soft and hard power that they yield.

    The US is particularly vulnerable to this because we seem incapable (in my view) of thinking outside of the traditional measures of gunboat diplomacy.

    Right now, the space station is nothing more then a “fun lab” (and I think it could evolve to much more) for countries to have as the focus of their HSF programs…it is producing nothing useful (so far) taking lots of money …and frankly not impressing a whole lot of people, other then the people who are already playing in it.

    I dont see the Reds being particularly interested in that kind of effort.

    Robert G. Oler

  • DCSCA

    China will never trade away its NK card for something as quicksodic as partnership in a space station already slated for splash in 2020. Especially when it already can quietly pressure for access as a ‘buy’ via debt service from the U.S. at will and still keep the NK card in hand.

  • John Malkin

    Bigelow is better comparison for Spacehab. Spacehab was limited where Bigelow’s products are completely self contained. They will still need to get customers outside of NASA to be successful. The same goes for SpaceX which has contracts outside of NASA.

    One thing that will keep cost down is competition and the concept behind COTS is there is more than one vendor unlike the current cost plus contracts. But it’s hard to boil this down to a sound bite and some would rather keep the monopoly going.

  • “China will never trade away its NK card for something as quicksodic as partnership in a space station already slated for splash in 2020.”

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting any of the parties in question are trying to tie ISS partnership to the dissolution of the DPRK.

    China has expressed interest in the ISS before and other nations have expressed interest in bringing them on board.

    The DPRK has been on its last legs for decades. All it needs is something to push it over the brink. China pulling out as an ally and the death of Kim Jong Il should be enough to tip the scales.

    These two events are entirely unrelated to me. That China is going to pull the rug out on Kim and his successors seemed almost inevitable eventually even before Wikileaks. This just confirms that PRC’s leadership is as sick of crazy cousin Kim as we’d expect them to be. ISS isn’t as much of a given, but I have little doubt that if the door was opened, China would join up. They may not fight for it, but I doubt they’d snub it.

  • Major Tom

    “I dont see the Chinese really wanting anything to do with ISS period.”

    China has previously demonstrated interest at the ministerial level in joining the ISS partnership:

    http://www.space-travel.com/reports/China_Hopes_To_Join_International_Space_Station_Project_999.html

    “Their flight rate would not support a LOT at ISS.”

    I’d be more interested in having Shenzhou backup Soyuz until a domestic US system is operational. We’re single-string on human transport to ISS, and having an alternative at the ready doesn’t require a high flight rate.

    “it is producing nothing useful (so far) taking lots of money …and frankly not impressing a whole lot of people”

    I’d argue that China’s human space flight program is more about validating the regime as a modern and powerful government to its own people than about projecting soft power abroad. Dwayne Day uses the term “domestic pacification” to describe this rationale/justification:

    http://www.thespacereview.com/article/137/1

    No doubt some modest international prestige accrues to China for its human space flight accomplishments. But the influence is not on the same scale as the Moon Race, when former colonies in Africa had to decide whether to go communist or democratic/capitalist and accomplishments like Sputnik/Gagarin/Apollo to demonstrate could influence thinking about which system of governance was more effective. Those days are gone.

    FWIW…

  • Coastal Ron

    Byeman wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    And you don’t think there are change orders? Happens all the time. Even on CRS.

    These are the challenges for any company that is entering a new field with a standard product, but customers want “tiny” changes. We’ll see how SpaceX handles this with CRS, but I would advocate that CRS is less generic than crew delivery, especially when Dragon has the largest payload return capability outside of the Shuttle – NASA needs to maximize that capability, and would be willing to pay for it.

    The key however is making sure that the changes don’t cause incremental cost increases for all Dragon capsules, in that they continue to produce a fairly generic version, and then upgrade it with NASA specific capabilities. This would not be unlike Boeing building a standard 737, and then moving it to a finishing line for customer specific mods. In such a way, a standard 737 can become a BBJ, freighter or airliner, and the customer changes are contained to just those few units. SpaceX is going to want to focus on a steady production line process to keep their costs low, so I think they’ll use the same process used by Boeing.

    Since NASA wants new capsules for all their CRS deliveries (that’s at least 14 Dragon capsules), one could imagine different Dragon accessories that NASA would pay for that could accommodate their different cargo needs. But SpaceX since retains ownership of the capsules, any changes they make for NASA they’ll want to make sure it doesn’t keep them from reusing them for future customers or contracts. Of course, NASA could just buy the capsules, which I’m sure SpaceX would be willing to do – for the right price… ;-)

    With crew, I’d think there is even less variability. SpaceX will likely stick with a basic capsule that meets or exceeds the NASA specs, and probably not accept too many changes for the cargo section – I would imagine they’ll try and limit modifications, since failures with crew would be very costly – it would be better to push any unique needs to the cargo-only Dragon.

    My $0.02

  • Robert G. Oler

    Major Tom wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    nice points…but the last thing really I am worried about is a backup for the Soyuz.

    First off my “guess” is that the Chinese capsule wont all that easily back up the Russians. I assume but dont know for a fact that the Russian docking interfaces will work as is for the Chinese.

    Nor do I see a Chinese “progress” flying now…and while we might put crew on a Chinese vehicle I dont know what the training interfaces would be…

    And other then the booster being the problem, if the Soyuz is a problem then the Chinese might have the same problem

    (at least these are the issues that I would see right off the bat).

    But most important…if the Soyuz goes blunk then I suspect that the move will be very quick to “human rate” a Dragon…there isnt much left to do in my view, other then verify booster ops and a LAS…I bet you once the cargo version is flying then the crewed version can, under the appropriate incentives move pretty quickly.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    SpaceX F1/Dragon COTS Demo1 flys in approx 7 days. Elon rates it 60-70% chance of success but says that even if they don’t get the capsule back, they’ll still get information that will be useful.
    Given their short history, I’ll be surprised if they don’t make it but it’s a complex mission with lots of ‘firsts’ so anyway Good luck SpaceX. NASA needs you even if some don’t believe it.

  • DCSCA

    Soyuz doesn’t need a back-up. Recall the ol’Volkswagen ad which asked, ‘ever wonder how the snowplow driver gets… to the snowplow?” Via VW beetle, per the 30 second spot. Soyuz is ugly, but it gets you there. And it’s reliable.

  • DCSCA

    @Byeman wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 1:53 pm
    You just showed an example why the agency is a luxury a country that has to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends can no longer afford.

  • Rhyolite

    aremisasling wrote @ November 30th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    “The DPRK has been on its last legs for decades. All it needs is something to push it over the brink. China pulling out as an ally and the death of Kim Jong Il should be enough to tip the scales.”

    What China wants is an orderly unwinding of the DPRK – no regional war that would inevitably put American troops on their border and no economic collapse with millions of starving peasants fleeing across their border either. China’s interests will lead them to support the DPRK when and where it will prevent either of those outcomes.

  • Brad

    “China will never trade away its NK card for something as quicksodic as partnership in a space station already slated for splash in 2020.”

    Under current NASA planning, 2020 is not the maximum life of the ISS, it is the Minimum life! ISS is not “slated for splash in 2020″. Seeing as Shuttle was kept creaking along for 30+ years, ISS might live just as long.

  • …SpaceX’s Elon Musk endorsed the use of fixed-price contracts, saying that traditional cost-plus awards “make good people do bad things”, …

    If COTS Demo 1 is a success, SpaceX will be in the cat-bird seat and start building a reputation for reliability and thusly, name their own price after conclusion of present contracts (even if future contracts remain fixed cost).

    The ultra conservatives in Congress will perk up their ears and take notice. Not all Tea Partiers are from Southern States and Elon has elements of his company in Texas and Florida. Opposition will disappear eventually as SpaceX successes build, SLS funds shrink and launch schedule slips.

    Like CxP did.

  • Martijn Meijering

    If COTS Demo 1 is a success

    Let’s not count our Dragons before they hatch, while hoping for the best.

  • “What China wants is an orderly unwinding of the DPRK – no regional war that would inevitably put American troops on their border and no economic collapse with millions of starving peasants fleeing across their border either. ”

    Agreed. And I think in that lies the reason why we don’t hear outward condemnation from China. All China has to say on the matter is essentially “Let’s everybody stall calm and talk this over.” Case in point: requesting the highly improbable return to six party talks on the heels of the two most agressive acts since the artmistice. Either way, North Korea has nearly no bearing on China’s participation, or lack thereof, in international space efforts. A few years ago it may have been a different story but I think everyone that isn’t under the influence of DPRK media blitzes sees the writing on the wall, and I think China, in particular is tired of NK blowing China’s international political capital for a few crumbs of food aid.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi MT –

    I am pretty certain that the relationship between China and Nk has been changed for many years now, since say the mid 1990′s.

    NK is slightly more of a client state for China than Israel is for the US. You know how much influence the US has over Israel? It may be that China has just a little more influence now over NK.

    One thing for sure is that China has a surplus of single young men with no women available, and this will likely play a large role in future NK – China relations. If NK does not re-unify with the south, they are likely to get even crazier due to the results of this interaction.

    But all of this is just speculation a long way from events from a stroke damaged brain.

    One thing is certain, though, China will not be at a technical level to provide ISS services until about 2015.

    BYW, You know who the greatest American President was?
    Bill Clinton.
    Just ask any high school boy.

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