Congress, NASA

A heavy-lift design – with a catch

There’s good news and bad news for advocates of heavy-lift launch vehicles today. The good news is that NASA has come up with a proposed HLV concept that it has delivered to Congress, Space News reports. That proposal was required by a provision in section 309 of the NASA authorization act, which requires NASA to submit, no later than 90 days after the bill’s enactment:

…a detailed report to the appropriate committees of Congress that provides an overall description of the reference vehicle design, the assumptions, description, data, and analysis of the systems trades and resolution process, justification of trade decisions, the design factors which implement the essential system and vehicle capability requirements established by this Act, the explanation and justification of any deviations from those requirements, the plan for utilization of existing contracts, civil service and contract workforce, supporting infrastructure utilization and modifications, and procurement strategy to expedite development activities through modification of existing contract vehicles, and the schedule of design and development milestones and related schedules leading to the accomplishment of operational goals established by this Act.

The Space Launch System concept that NASA submitted, according to report, is a close cousin to the Ares 5 concept that was in the agency’s previous plans: a core stage based on space shuttle external tanks with five SSMEs, two five-segment SRBs, and an upper stage using a J-2X engine. The stated design is similar to what NASA’s Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) was studying last year, according to a presentation obtained by NASA Watch.

There’s bad news, though, as well: according to NASA’s own documents, the “Reference Vehicle Design” can neither be built within the authorized funding levels in the act, nor completed by the act’s deadline of the end of 2016. The act authorizes just over $6.9 billion from 2011 through 2013 for the Space Launch System “and associated program and other necessary support”.

69 comments to A heavy-lift design – with a catch

  • Fearless Leader wrote:

    There’s bad news, though, as well: according to NASA’s own documents, the “Reference Vehicle Design” can neither be built within the authorized funding levels in the act, nor completed by the act’s deadline of the end of 2016. The act authorizes just over $6.9 billion from 2011 through 2013 for the Space Launch System “and associated program and other necessary support”.

    A refreshing whiff of honesty in the air, unlike Constellation which promised to be built on the cheap. And Shuttle. And Apollo. And …

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    What a joke. NASA comes up with a vehicle designed by Congress, then says that they’ve let a bunch of contracts for commercial companies to come up with something. Then they’ll look at them and decide which is best.
    So why, spend the money if they’ve already decided on a design?
    About the only thing half-way honest is that they’ve said they can’t build their monster on time or on budget, well hey, that wasn’t half obvious.
    What a waste of time and effort.
    Looks like Cx all over again. Don’t hold your breath for anything out real that’ll fly out of NASA ’cause it ain’t gonna happen. Only more jobs programs.
    We’d better hope Boeing, Bigelow and SpaceX can continue on their present courses.
    NASA HSF just seems like dead loss. And their robotic missions are going the same way, eg. JWT. Sucking up money like a sponge.

  • Das Boese

    There’s bad news, though, as well: according to NASA’s own documents, the “Reference Vehicle Design” can neither be built within the authorized funding levels in the act, nor completed by the act’s deadline of the end of 2016.

    Then why did they even bother?
    If it can’t be built on-schedule and within the available budget, it’s as much of a dead end as Ares V was.

    Unless the purpose is to show congress that the task they have given NASA cannot be accomplished in the way they want.
    Unfortunately politicians don’t take too kindly to being exposed like that.

  • Pathfinder_01

    LOL! Well at least they are honest. NASA needs a SDHLV like a fish needs a bicycle. The sooner that NASA uses or upgrades the EELV the better.

  • amightywind

    Without further details this is really the Ares V concept minus the 10m tank (which is a big mistake) and switching the SSME for the RS-68 (yay!). It even has a J-2X powered earth departure stage. Nothing is said about a crew launch vehicle. The usual griping about money. 2 years of disruption for this. 2 years of stagnation. It is hoped the new House Science Committee will demand some resignations at NASA.

  • All enthusiasts of human spaceflight BEYOND Low Earth Orbit, whether it be to the Moon and/or Mars, have got to smell the coffee, and realize that heavy lift will absolutely be necessary for ANY of these plans to come true. Project Constellation was to have utilized the Ares 5 rocket. A multi-stage rocket which consisted of an earth escape stage, just like the old Saturn 5 did. Reaching the Moon-bound spacecraft in a parking orbit in LEO was a very wise plan. It divided the burdens on the launch vehicle into two parts: the huge rocket would send up the trans-lunar/trans-planetary spacecraft, and then the much smaller launcher, which was to have sent up the human crew, on an earth-return-capable capsule; [the Orion/Ares 1 combination]. All this was a very sensible approach to cislunar spaceflight, which could have lent itself to future variations for manned flights to more distant destinations. If the American people have the sagacity to elect a new President of the U.S. next time around, who sees the long-run importance of the Moon in establishing our interplanetary exploration techniques, then something rather like Constellation—the Orion-Altair Lunar missions—will be restored. After all this charade of NASA standing back and letting the space hobbyists take over the show, proves to be the enormous mistake that it is! Without the ISS, commercial space has no legs to stand on. This is why under Obamaspace, there will NEVER be an end to the ISS. Come 2020, they will simply commision in an ISS-2. Hence, the U.S. never will get out of LEO, until far, far deep into the future. All my life, since birth, no astronaut has ventured beyond LEO. And now under Obama, the U.S. is poised to extend that giant four decade rift, for another 20 years. This is immensely depressing stuff!!

  • Major Tom

    You can read this one of three ways. NASA can’t find a Shuttle- or Constellation-derived design that closes within the payload requirements, schedule, and costs specified in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act because:

    1) NASA is incompetent. Obviously [pick your favorite inline or sidemount configuration] fits the box.

    2) NASA is being honest and there is no such design. Congress overconstrained the solution by shortening the schedule, increasing the budget, and overspecifying the payload and technical base.

    3) NASA doesn’t want to build an HLV at this time, at least not one that continues to burden the nation’s civil human space flight program with the albatross of a very expensive and NASA-unique Apollo legacy infrastructure, large Shuttle workforce, and grossly inefficient Constellation elements and contracts.

    But no matter the reason we choose, a Shuttle- or Constellation-derived HLV is not getting built. Either Congress will blink, especially given the emerging budget environment, or Congress will write a few checks for NASA to begin building a vehicle NASA doesn’t want and doesn’t think can be built before the effort collapses again in a couple or few years.

    But whether an affordable and sustainable HLV or in-space propellant infrastructure replaces it now or sometime down the road remains to be seen.

    FWIW…

  • Bennett

    Overall, no surprise. Of course NASA will follow the letter of the law. whether through honesty or business as usual, they admit it can’t be done any time soon for any reasonable amount of money.

    The HLV proposals from the 13 companies:

    Aerojet General Corp., Rancho Cordova, Calif.
    Analytical Mechanics Associates, Huntsville, Ala.
    Andrews Space, Tukwila, Wash.
    Alliant Techsystems, Huntsville, Ala.
    The Boeing Co., Huntsville, Ala.
    Lockheed Martin Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
    Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
    Orbital Sciences Corp., Chandler, Ariz.
    Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, Calif.
    Science Applications International Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
    Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.
    United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.
    United Space Alliance, Huntsville, Ala.

    Of these, surely one or two have proposals that will meet both of the requirements – cost and date of delivery…

  • Coastal Ron

    This is going to be interesting watching Congress squirm, especially with the new members of Congress who are not going to want to spend more money for anything.

    Oh, they may yell, and demand hearings, but it’s going to be hard for them to prove that the SLS and MPCV can be completed for far less money than Constellation was on track to spend.

    And then, come springtime, the results of the HLV study will provide some interesting alternatives to consider, including a few I’m sure that will cost far less than the Congressional franken-launcher.

    We already know that SpaceX has proposed to build their Falcon XX for somewhere around $3B, and their Dragon capsule only needs $300M to add crew capabilities. I have no doubt that Boeing and Lockheed Martin will come in with proposals that are also far less than SLS/MPCV. It’s going to be a fun year…

  • Rhyolite

    “neither be built within the authorized funding levels in the act, nor completed by the act’s deadline of the end of 2016″

    SLS: Over budget and behind schedule in record time.

    The article notes that NASA is waiting for the results of the 13 study contracts before finalizing their recommendation.

  • James T

    It was always my opinion that even if we COULD build the HLV by 2016, we should wait anyways. Now this report says it can’t be done. The questions is, since we have this information before the appropriations on the act in question have occurred, how will congress react? Allow me to count the ways.

    -IGNORE AND MOVE FORWARD. The writing was on the wall when the Constellation program was over schedule and over budget, but when members of the senate were writing their version of the act (which was the one we got) they pushed forward Obama’s proposed timetable for an HLV (which I consider to be “zombie” Constellation) and set specific design aspects as a way of basically continuing it. Now that NASA engineers have said again that they can’t do it on the proposed budget and timetable, will they again be ignored and required to continue as directed? How far into the project would we have to get before the political perception that NASA is a budget leech grows to HSF ending proportions? I seriously doubt this is what will happen.

    -ACCEPT AND MOVE FORWARD. Give NASA the money it needs and come to terms with the longer timetable. This seems to me an unlikely reaction since it would require congress to increase the budget even more than it already has. In a political atmosphere that is claiming fiscal responsibility and a desire to reduce government spending and debt, I don’t think this is what will happen. In fact, didn’t they (republican controlled house) promise that they wouldn’t do anything like that?

    -ACCEPT AND PUSH BACK. In this scenario congress accepts the increased timetable for the project but decides to delay getting the program into full swing until a time when the budget can be increased appropriately, which would push the ETA even further back. HLV studies and other minimal prep work can still go on in the meantime, but no major construction and such until a later date. This would bring the situation back closer to Obama’s proposal.

    -ACCEPT AND CANCEL. In this scenario we scrap current plans for an HLV and don’t even set a timetable to begin again, although there would be no reason we couldn’t try again later. Instead we put a great deal of faith into commercial to have continued success at bringing costs down and perhaps NASA won’t need to own and operate a launch system at all and instead can focus on the mission goals that lie beyond. If commercial happens to totally fail and we still want a HSF program (I know I will) then we revisit the HLV and give it the budget and timetable we’ve come to expect.

    My vote is on a mix between the last two. Continue studies into developments for HLV systems so that we’re more ready if we need to get started on one, but don’t commit considerable resources and don’t set any strict or near term timetables. Let commercial fulfill our LEO needs and push them to some day facilitate our access to beyond. In the mean time we invest into R&D for everything else we need to accomplish future HSF activities and milestones (i.e. closed loop life support systems, protection from the solar environment, space propulsion, refueling stations etc.).

  • Curtis Quick

    Honestly, the requirement for NASA to respopnd to Congress within 90 days of when the authorization bill was signed into law last October was more an effort to secure re-election by space-district legislators in November than it was to ensure the creation of a government-owned HLV.

    It was no surprise that the NASA response would look like son-of-Ares V with a similar pricetag. NASA knows that there is no real long-term congressional support for a government-built HLV beyond the space districts, especially when the reports of commercial HLV alternatives comes to Congress as well for comparison.

    In fact, NASA may well be purposefully falling on its sword to help commercial out by showing how over-priced and behind-schedule the government option is in comparison with commercial (especially if SpaceX decides to propose FalconX for an HLV). The difference in schedule (5 years) and cost (tens of billions of dollars) would be just the perfect wake-up call for the new cost-conscious Congress to formally scrap NASA’s HLV in favor of funding the development of a far cheaper and much sooner commercial alternative.

    And by the way, cheap commercial HLV could have an immediate and profitable market with a new generation of cheaper more powerful telecommunications satelites that would enable a GEO internet backbone to replace Internet land lines and enable cheap 3G and 4G cell phone services worldwide. The cost savings to Internet infrastructure maintanence alone woukld make this an attractive option. The convenience that this would give the consumer would make this a compelling advantage for a service provider. A global satelite Internet backbone infrastructure could be the golden app for the HLV market.

    FWIW – Curtis Quick

  • common sense

    Did I say they’d have a zombie Ares V program going? We’ll see what our experts rocket designers in Congress say about this…

    Ah and why do they not use Sidemount? I though it was the simplest and least expensive SD option… Could it be a LAS would not work? Hmmm I wonder…

    Oh well…

  • JD

    I see…so, NASA’s leadership offers up a rocket design, as mandated by Congress but wholly unwanted by NASA’s political leadership, and then claims that it’s unaffordable. What a perfect excuse not to build it! So yes, of course, we must therefore rely upon the commercial launchers, none of whom, mind you, have a design any more real than NASA’s or capable of lofting as much.

    NASA lost this game with a Congress controlled by a Party supposedly supportive of the President. Now it faces a House and Senate with a very different make-up. How will NASA’s leadership’s rematch with Rep. Wolf, Sen. Shelby and Sen. Mikulski be any more favorable than last years?

    If insanity is doing the same (silly) thing but expecting a different outcome, is NASA’s leadership insane?

  • NASA Fan

    This is not a vehicle NASA or Obama wants to build. Of course it was going to cost more and take more time that what Congress desires. D’uh

    Indeed, even a vehicle NASA wants to build , will be over cost and behind schedule. The dysfunction between all parties (WH, Congress, OMB, NASA) is too deep to ever allow for another major NASA led HSF development effort to success.

    Time to pack it in

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    FWIW, it should be very, very interesting to see how Congress reacts to this. In summary, NASA are saying:

    1) Yes, we can do it your way but

    2) If we do, we can’t afford to do it on your schedule.

    This is pretty much what has been said all along. This is just the first time that I think NASA has admitted it publicly. I suspect that Congress will either ask them what they realistically can do (likely with the same ‘as shuttle- and Constellation-derived as possible’ condition) within the budget and schedule or, slightly more likely, will shout: “You didn’t read our minds and come up with the answer we wanted! Have a budget and schedule cut and then try again! And this time tell us what we want to hear!”

    I find it interesting that the DIRECT 130/24x common core concept wasn’t studied at all, or if it is, it wasn’t mentioned in this preliminary report. I wonder if NASA are holding it back as something to offer Congress if they insist on SDLV but accuse the agency of not trying hard enough to meet the schedule objectives.

    In terms of schedule, would other posters agree that the unstated political objective, at least at this time, is for the US to have its own crew launcher to replace Soyuz when NASA’s crew launch contract with Roscosmos expires in 2016? I suspect that the real argument right now in the corridors of power isn’t really about heavy lift at all, it’s about whether the US-indigenous Soyuz replacement will be a commercially-sourced vehicle or a government vehicle like Orion. The problem is that the Space Act forbids NASA to build and field its own MLV in competition to ULA, SpaceX and OSC, so if there is to be a government vehicle, it has to be on a heavy lifter.

  • Imagine the committee meetings on this! lol.

    NASA is divided between supporters of acquiring launch services through the market and those who like the old cost-plus way of pork.

    Don’t count on a government launch system for a while folks, it’s going to be interesting theater watching how this comes out in the wash.

  • Dennis Berube

    To get the damn ball rolling, I think it is time for NASA and our government to take a look at present launch vehicles. Delta IV and or Atlas V are all proven designs that can lift larger payloads. If they can be obtained for a cheaper price all the better. I do agree that NASA needs to focus on getting us there, and do it within budget. The Deltas are already here and have flown. Why not go with it and move out of Earth orbit. Focus the money away from the HLV and toward Orion to get here flying sooner. Put Orion on a Delta and fly. This continual stagnation gets us no where. Even the Soyuz with a kicker stage docking in orbit could return us to the Moon. What are we waiting for?

  • Martijn Meijering

    All enthusiasts of human spaceflight BEYOND Low Earth Orbit, whether it be to the Moon and/or Mars, have got to smell the coffee, and realize that heavy lift will absolutely be necessary for ANY of these plans to come true.

    See, your post went wrong right at the first sentence. You have been claiming this for a while, but it is still false. Provably false. Fairly obviously false even. We don’t need heavy lift. If we want to go to the moon or Mars, then we’ll need a lander. We already have launch vehicles. And we’re pretty close to having return capsules. If NASA hadn’t wasted the taxpayers’ money on unnecessary launchers or on a redundant capsule, then we could have had an unmanned lander or a manned orbital precursor by now. And that would have been enough to go beyond LEO and to establish the commercial propellant launch market that could lead to cheap lift.

  • Martijn Meijering

    This would be a good time to ponder Akin’s 39th Law of Spacecraft Design:

    The three keys to keeping a new manned space program affordable and on schedule:

    1) No new launch vehicles.
    2) No new launch vehicles.
    3) Whatever you do, don’t decide to develop any new launch vehicles.

  • Coastal Ron wrote:

    This is going to be interesting watching Congress squirm, especially with the new members of Congress who are not going to want to spend more money for anything.

    I think we’ve all overlooked a basic fact.

    The Congress that mandated this silly 90-day study no longer exists.

    It’s a different mix now.

    NASA did what it was told. It had 90 days to come up with a HLV design. They did. They also said they can’t afford to build it.

    So the message they’re sending is, “The last Congress was loony and pork-happy. Hopefully you guys are more sane. Have a nice day.”

  • Robert G. Oler

    Major Tom wrote @ January 11th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    two comments.

    first your “bureaucratic” analysis is as usual spot on. Number 1 is entertaining. I have always wondered and probably will never know if there are shuttle derived options that if the entire system was “redone” could be done “cheaper”… But in my view the flaw in any shuttle derived option is that it comes with the old shuttle infrastructure and there is nothing cheap about that.

    My second comment would be this….this report shows Charlie Bolden is clearly in charge at NASA and is the guy moving policy.

    This is clearly a report “by the rocket scientist” that knocks the political underpinnings of the NASA derived heavy lift out …and “weights” the scales toward an effort that is not shuttle derived.

    To me this speaks clearly that despite all the wishings ot the anti Obama folks…General Bolden is still in charge..

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    dad2059 wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Don’t count on a government launch system for a while folks, it’s going to be interesting theater watching how this comes out in the wash…..

    the theater will be interesting but the outcome in my view is a foregone conclusion.

    To have a government launch system there is going to have to be a government launch system that is affordable…and this is the nail in that coffin. Unless someone at NASA risk open revolt and profers up a number that is doable on the current or expected money…then there probably is not someone in Congress who is going to carry their own ball with this.

    This in my view shows how silly the DIRECT people were. Not only are they not very good “rocket scientist” but clearly their political “skills” are about as bad.

    This has to be seen as a victory for Charlie Bolden and the Obama folks.

    It is the beginning of the end not the end of the beginning of the SDV.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Major Tom, James T,

    MT, I suspect that the answer is your option (2) – There is no such design that meets all specified requirements. The minimum 130t IMLEO specification, added at the last minute, seems to have been deliberately added to force NASA to select what is refered to in the HEFT report as the 5/5 option – a core with five SSMEs and the ATK RSRM-V booster. The problem? It is harder and more expensive than smaller and more flexible SDHLV options such as a multi-role 4/x core.

    The only realistic options based on this report are ‘Accept and Push Back’ or ‘Accept and Cancel’. My worry is that Congress will opt for ‘Ignore and Move Forward’, assuming that NASA is either padding their margins or deciding on a certain level that no flyable hardware is a price worth paying for guaranteed jobs in certain districts. Naturally, later on, they’ll blame NASA for failing to meet their ‘legal’ obligations and act as if all the scheduling and budget problems are an immense and unexpected surprise.

    Like dad2059 says, the committe meetings in response to this report will be… interesting to say the least.

  • In this morning’s Florida Today

    The nation’s prime gateway to space faces difficult times as NASA’s shuttle program winds down, but the commercial space sector is expected to pick up activity in Brevard over the next several years, the commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing said Tuesday …

    SpaceX aims to begin launching a series of 12 resupply runs to the International Space Station, and the company also hopes to start taxiing astronaut crews to and from the outpost within three years of a NASA contract award to do so.

    Masten Space Systems also intends to start launching demonstration missions from Launch Complex 36 before the end of the year. The company is developing reusable vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicles to fly small payloads on suborbital flights.

    “We only see more business on the launch front,” Wilson said.

    I ran into General Wilson the day SpaceX launched Dragon. He told me a lot of commercial vandors have been knocking on his door recently. He was very optimistic about commercial launch business coming soon to CCAFS.

    I think CCAFS is about to enter a second Space Age, only it will be commercial instead of government vehicles flying from those historic launch sites.

  • Martijn Meijering

    The Congress that mandated this silly 90-day study no longer exists.

    In addition, the Shelby – Hatch – Hutchison – Nelson coalition in the Senate will either have to persuade their fellow senators to vote for a budget increase or this coalition will fall apart. They cannot all have their pork anymore under the old numbers. But even if they change their minds, would the Senate leadership allow the just passed 3 year authorisation to be revisited just for the benefit of these senators?

  • amightywind

    Although it is a bit of a compromised design, it is good to see major elements of Constellation coming back. 2 years of political resistance to the madness of Obamaspace are beginning to pay off, as I predicted. The key to funding this will be the major cuts elsewhere in the NASA budget that are surely on the way. I am beginning to believe the ISS is not a sacrosanct as I thought. The howling up above is indicative of the strength of the proposal. I am still eager to hear more about the Orion carrier rocket design.

  • Justin Kugler

    That makes absolutely no sense, amightywind. The FY2011 budget proposal wasn’t even released a year ago, so how can there have been two years of “resistance”?

    All that has happened is NASA has responded to the 90-day report requirement. It just so happens that NASA is standing up and telling Congress the truth, instead of what they want to hear. It is not possible to build a heavy-lift rocket under the budget, schedule, and technical constraints the Hill imposed. The results of the HLV studies will show whether it is possible to do it under the budget and schedule available by competing out the design.

    This is not at all what you “predicted.”

  • NASA Fan

    Congress could legislate that NASA seek the funding it needs to develop the “Congressional Express HLV”, using monies from other NASA accounts. NASA’s ” been there and done that” before!”

    Or, it could legislate a ‘pay as you go’ approach, allowing the schedule to slip. Because, after all, “Congressional Express HLV” is about ‘jobs in my district’, not about meeting a schedule.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Chris Castro wrote @ January 11th, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    where your post breaks down starts with the notion that the American people are going to elect a President in 12 who thinks that exploration by humans of outerspace is some national priority and is willing to spend the dollars that doing it via heavy lift rockets is going to take.

    Once you recognize that this is not going to happen, that no one who is running for POTUS in 12 is going to commit the dollars that a heavy lift based system needs…then you will be able to come to grips with reality and plan accordingly.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Although it is a bit of a compromised design, it is good to see major elements of Constellation coming back..

    thanks for the laugh

    Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    Once you recognize that this is not going to happen, that no one who is running for POTUS in 12 is going to commit the dollars that a heavy lift based system needs

    If a Republican gets elected President she will be under pressure to foster a strong NASA in the same way she will be under pressure to foster a strong military. In the conservative calculus the two are the same. Space is an expression of American power. Conservatives will demand it. Many of you will disagree with the reasoning, but it is there nonetheless. What will a democrat do 2012? Well, the electorate has seen it and is not impressed. The outcry over Obamaspace basically removed Obama from the space debate, as Whittington has observed on this forum.

  • Das Boese

    You know what I’ve been thinking about… all of this isn’t just a US domestic issue.
    I think really the core of the problem is… aside from ISS in the short term, we don’t really have a coherent, global perspective on the future of spaceflight. Constellation’s go-it-alone moon return was symptomatic of this, as was the costly struggle of ESA with Ariane 5, or the doomed-from-the-start Hermes. The Russians have good ideas, but aren’t going anywhere due to being bound by harsh economic realities. Even the numerous international cooperations we’ve got going are almost always bilateral in nature without paying attention to the bigger space community.

    I really like the idea of a “Space Summit” as put forth by Russian President Medvedev, with two changes: I think it should become a regular event, and it should be open to both government agencies and commercial companies.
    I’d even go a step further and say I’d like to see a sort of permanent “space forum”, a place for multilateral coordination of space strategies, regulations etc. for both exploration and commercial spaceflight, short- and long-term.

    /rant, sorry ;)

  • amightywind

    Das Boese wrote:

    I think really the core of the problem is… aside from ISS in the short term, we don’t really have a coherent, global perspective on the future of spaceflight

    This is very off topic. But for the record, I am strongly opposed to bland internationalists or despots hijacking the US space program. It is another in the endless attempts of the Lilliputians trying to restrain Gulliver.

  • Space Cadet

    Bennett wrote:

    “The HLV proposals from the 13 companies:

    Of these, surely one or two have proposals that will meet both of the requirements – cost and date of delivery…”

    But probably not all three requirements (#3 being to use existing contracts and workforce).

  • Space Cadet

    There’s an interesting lesson here for NASA:

    If you don’t want a particular program, all you have to do to kill it is be honest about what it will cost and how long it will take.

    If you do want a particular program, e.g. Shuttle, ISS, JWST, then don’t dare to be honest about what it will cost and how long it will take. Even if its over budget and behind schedule the sunk costs fallacy combined with Congressional pork will keep it going after the real price tag is evident. But don’t be realistic about cost & schedule during the early stages, because it can be cancelled then (i.e. this HLV). Constellation was right on the borderline between early enough to be cancelled and late enough to be safe. Reveal the real costs any earlier and cancellation would be certain. If they’d managed to keep the real costs out of the news until the program was further along, the program would have been safe like ISS.

    Folks are always beating on NASA for underestimating cost and schedule. But this is exactly why NASA provides overly optimistic estimates (for programs they actually believe are worthwhile). The message NASA is getting is getting out of this is that providing an honest estimate is fatal.

  • common sense

    I think I should rephrase somehow what I said earlier if I take what Robert is saying, which is that Bolden is in charge. If so then NASA is offering Congress a zombie Ares V or more money. I would prefer that to be true. At least it would show that they are realistic about their chances for such a vehicle and they did not chose the monstrosity.

    After reading Major Tom’s post then I think it might be all 3 points together. Incompetence is not necessarily disparaging in the sense they might acknowledge they do not have the compentency to make such design close which btw, to me, encompasses the other 2 points.

    And maybe to support all is the RFP to commercials for an HLV. NASA already knows (how can they not?) that they will never have a closed design for an HLV. Therefore they are fishing to see who might.

    Good times…

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    If a Republican gets elected President she will be under pressure to foster a strong NASA in the same way she will be under pressure to foster a strong military…..

    they probably are the same in the minds of “conservatives” (more correctly right wing Republicans) but the entire notion is goofy and unlikely to survive a political contest.

    First off we HAVE a strong military. We are spending FAR MORE money then the rest ofthe world combined, even if one takes out the dollars spent on the Bush adventures (which have done little to make us “safe”).

    The Conservative (more like right wing) view of the military NOW is to spend money without any notion of why we are spending money…just buy things that look “tough” and then find some pygmy to beat up on and use them.

    Meanwhile (and this is things I have seen first hand) on little or no money the Chinese, our suppossed enemy are busy making inroads all over Africa securing things (like oil) for little or no treasure on their part. Contrast that with the trillions spent in Iraq which has done little to increase the flow of oil into The US…you get a sense of the notion of “neo con” victory.

    Second the linkage of the space program with the American power. I am sure that link is there with people who are “into” space politics…ie I know Whittington has it, you seem to…but it strikes me as the “right wing” equivalent of a males “anatomy envy”.

    It is hard to explain to the American people why spending a lot of money on a few people to go into space to do nothing that affects them is a good thing.

    There is a certain part of the GOP right wing (conservative wing if you like) that values “brawn over brain”. Since you mention “she” …Sarah Palin couldnt push a coherent statement on foreign policy if….tick tock tick tock looking for a Palin metaphor here…ok “you held a gun to her head”…

    she is all about rhetoric over substance and I agree that this is going to be one of the challenges in the GOP primary. If Palin were to get the nomination While I see a credible path to the Presidency for her…it is a very very small path and would depend on a lot of things happening where essentially the other person loses…not she wins. And I find that very very doubtful.

    But you are correct, the “conservative” wing on the party loves the “image fix”. They are mostly dime store patriots who are all for some other kid or person going to war.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Das Boese wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 10:58 am

    really all a space summit would do is try and come up with some unified focus for the spending that is going to happen anyway from the various countries trying to prove they are powers…it would not in my view generate anything that benefits the folks on Earth much…

    Robert G. Oler

  • James T

    @ Das Boese

    Agreed. More international cooperation is a good direction to move in. Unfortunately, a combination of unfavorable economic conditions worldwide plus a lack a political drive to achieve new milestones makes it such a low priority that I can’t imagine anything of the kind occurring any time soon. Heck, the ISS hasn’t even secured the ESA portion of the budget for its operation extension. When the economics outlook is more optimistic then we’ll start to see more cooperation unless a shift in the political will makes it happen sooner.

    What I think might be interesting if there is something like a commercial space summit. Instead of waiting for the heads of state to consider such a summit to be politically viable, members of the commercial space industry from around the world can have one for themselves. This can be used to boost public awareness of the commercial sector’s progress and try to drive a vision for more commercially facilitated space exploration.

  • byeman

    “I am still eager to hear more about the Orion carrier rocket design.”

    It is called Delta IV

  • Robert G. Oler

    common sense wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    “I think I should rephrase somehow what I said earlier if I take what Robert is saying, which is that Bolden is in charge. If so then NASA is offering Congress a zombie Ares V or more money. I would prefer that to be true. At least it would show that they are realistic about their chances for such a vehicle and they did not chose the monstrosity. ”

    the salient feature here is that Bolden clearly is in charge and is handling the “transition” between what was to what will be quite deftly.

    This effort with a heavy lift is right out of “Yes Minister” or “Yes Prime Minister”…the trick as Sir Humphrey would tell you “is the study”.

    Bolden and Garver but mostly Charlie, he has the cred on this, is going to coin some phrase close to “the hollow military”…it is going to be something like “in these difficult economic times where all budgets are being looked at carefully, we have two choices. Build a shuttle derived heavy lift for which there is no mission and which would take every dime allocated to NASA killing every other program ….and besides all the infrastructure regretfully is gone any way because of some bad decisions by my predecessor (etc etc…)……

    Our second choice is to use the existing and emerging technologies and capabilities such as Delta IV (list all vehicles) to do grand and glorious things which make America number 1, the toughest guy on the block uber allis….and make truth justice and the American way prevail in our purity of essence (OK leave the Strangelove reference out)…all for the money that we have to spend.

    Its sad about the layoffs but already the private corporations are hiring new people…etc…

    ….

    and then after some sad protest speeches by the porkers of space…just like this year. Obama gets his way.

    Whittington, Spudis and wind will rail about the Chinese taking over and destroying our purity of essence (OK leave out the Strangelove reference) and vow to get even in 12…but int he end. Cx is dead. SDV are dead…and this is how federal programs “die”.

    (American Indian aka native American tear coming down from eye) sorry I am in a good mood tonight, just got a Bravo Zulu from the person who sent me on this trip…

    Everything Whittington etc has said about Bolden going out the door is typically wrong. Bolden has won this one big time. Now people understand why Hanley got axed.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    “This would be a good time to ponder Akin’s 39th Law of Spacecraft Design:

    The three keys to keeping a new manned space program affordable and on schedule:

    1) No new launch vehicles.
    2) No new launch vehicles.
    3) Whatever you do, don’t decide to develop any new launch vehicles.”

    Puskin’s Corollary to Akin’s 39th Law of Spacecraft Design:

    If a decision is made to build a new launch vehicle, fire the person who made the proposal and reconsider building a new launch vehicle.

  • Bennett

    Space Cadet wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    “But probably not all three requirements (#3 being to use existing contracts and workforce).”

    Meh. You are absolutely correct on that one. I forgot how #3 is always the unspoken requirement.

  • yg1968

    Doug Cooke’s January 11th 2011 presentation on the HLV (see slides 9-12) is available on-line:
    http://images.spaceref.com/news/2011/11jan2011.NAC.Cook.pdf

  • amightywind

    Meanwhile (and this is things I have seen first hand) on little or no money the Chinese, our suppossed enemy are busy making inroads all over Africa

    Hey everyone! Ya hear that? Oler is in Africa.

    Since you mention “she” …Sarah Palin couldnt push a coherent statement on foreign policy if….tick tock tick tock looking for a Palin metaphor here…ok “you held a gun to her head”…

    That line was written especially for you. Thanks for being as predictable as I hoped your be. Given current events, this profound statement would be better off not attached to your name.

    The Conservative (more like right wing) view of the military NOW is to spend money without any notion of why we are spending money

    I am just trying to explain the political dynamics of coming events, the NASA program for heavy lift. Conservative ideology will influence NASA policy because of the GOP ascendancy. Whether you agree of disagree philosophically is irrelevant.

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Yeah well “the” Congress remains defiant on all of this. I am also still uneasy with whom is presenting the review. Can you be sure that all the CxP people “saw the light”? I think some are still pushing for those ideas to Congress with some support there. All the while we are wasting all this cash.

    FY11 came up with a close out budget for Constellation which may have been a little optimistic. It should be implemented. The managers at NASA ought to find jobs for their employees from the top down. This vision of things will bring total chaos to the agency. As we let those things die out, and tehy will die, no one is doing anything (?) to allow for a smooth transition. I would rather spend a few billions to transition people and programs than spend even more billions in idiotic senseless activities. Why don’t we take all these people and think something like: “We have $10B/yr so now what kind of mission would we like to do with that?” I am leaving the justification out of it for now. Then issue RFI for the public to see what the public “needs”. Be it scientific or otherwise. Then we try and find a new way to implement it. Take the talent at NASA and change them into advanced engineering research. Those who like to build things then would go on to the industry. Those who like nothing well woulg go hmm home I guess. Have a revived NIAC, a revived NASC. Get these people to actually THINK! Get new people not just the Apollo survivor crowd. Some newbye may come up with a great idea. Come on a lot of talent is still coming out the top and other universities. But they have to have an incentive. Places like SpaceX offer stock. Others might in the future. Others might offer other things! And so on. It requires that people actually THINK. Not about Apollo or Orion or Dragon. But THINK about what we want to do. Now 4 years may be too little for support of a LV infrastructure but it may be quite enough to come up with the “right” plan and a strategy to sell it to further WH/Congress. Where is that happening? Is it acutally happening? Or are we going to Chinese-up and Moon-up each and everything until cows fly?

  • DCSCA

    A paper rocket. No more, no less. Another box checked by the agency in compliance w/a Congressional directive.

  • mark valah

    From Cooke’s 12 charts:

    NASA Reference Vehicle Design for SLS is an Ares/Shuttle-derived LOX/LH2 solution
    – This vehicle comes closest to meeting schedule FOM with opportunities for affordability that could bring costs down to acceptable levels

    - This design would allow NASA to use existing Shuttle main engine and booster component assets in the near term, with the opportunity for upgrades and/or competition downstream for eventual upgrades in designs needed for production of engines after flying out the current inventory of main engines and booster components,”

    From Space News

    Cooke said NASA expects to deliver a final report to Congress in the spring pending the results of a slew of heavy-lift launch vehicle study contracts awarded to 13 U.S. companies in November that are expected to yield a gamut of launch vehicle design proposals.

    Cooke told Space News the studies would be used to validate the design proposal delivered to Congress Jan. 10 and to evaluate whether another option is worth considering.

    “And if there is then we should reconsider,” he said following his presentation to the NASA Advisory Council’s exploration subcommittee. “If it’s marginally different, and we lost a benefit, even if it’s not cost, I’m not sure we would change it. But if there were a dramatic difference we should obviously consider it.”

    Comments/questions:

    1. What dramatic difference should fit the description above to change the Reference Vehicle Design?

    2. What happened to the hydrocarbon booster? No more synergy with the AF?

    3. What does “competition downstream” means in terms of components? What is the chance NASA may auction the design of “per/spec” engines?

    4. Is this just a filler document until April ’11 (or to comply with the 90 days response request) or some new thinking at NASA?

  • Egad

    > Doug Cooke’s January 11th 2011 presentation on the HLV (see slides 9-12) is available on-line:

    And it provides an interesting insight into what’s being thought of as “beyond-LEO” and “deep space”:


    Based on these requirements, NASA has selected the beyond-LEO version of the Orion design (“block 2”) as the MPCV Reference Vehicle Design

    • Provides crew launch, return, and operation in deep space
    • Crew size: 2 to 4
    • Crewed mission duration: 21.1 days

  • Das Boese

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    really all a space summit would do is try and come up with some unified focus for the spending that is going to happen anyway from the various countries trying to prove they are powers…it would not in my view generate anything that benefits the folks on Earth much…

    I think you underestimate the potential for less-glamorous but important areas like earth observation, remote sensing and scientific missions and last not least ground ops.

    HSF and solar system exploration would be more of a long-term thing, yeah. We’ve got the ISS until (at least) 2020, that’s a lot of time to figure out what to do next. A little “unified focus” would go a long way.

  • Das Boese

    amightywind wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 11:51 am

    This is very off topic. But for the record, I am strongly opposed to bland internationalists or despots hijacking the US space program. It is another in the endless attempts of the Lilliputians trying to restrain Gulliver.

    Relax, no one’s going to steal your precious space candy.
    It’s more about telling the other kids what kind of flavor candy you got and find out what they have, so you can maybe trade around and mix it up a little. And if you want to buy some new candy you can also better decide on what flavor to get next (why get strawberry again when Jimmy has a full bag of it and will trade for lemon?). Or pool your pocket money with the others if you don’t have enough.

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
    a

    Hey everyone! Ya hear that? Oler is in Africa…

    yes and enjoying every minute of it. And every day makes it clear that people like “you” and the “conservative” (nee right wing) folks of the GOP have absolutely no clue as to what is really going on in the rest of the world, the world outside of Limbaugh and Beck.

    That is why I so mock the notion of the Chinese taking over the Moon and using its resources…they are far more concerned with grabbing hold of the resources of the Sudan and several other “African” countries then that of the Moon. Of course Palin thought Africa was a country.

    you make the point though…the right wing of the GOP (you call it the “conservative wing”) enjoys acting tough but really is about as weak as they come.

    Take care…and check my facebook page out for pictures.

    Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    yg1968 wrote…

    Thanks for the link! Cooke goes into some detail about Orion, I mean MPCV, but nothing about how to launch it. This will be a a *huge* political battle. My money is on ATK.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Das Boese wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I think you underestimate the potential for less-glamorous but important areas like earth observation, remote sensing and scientific missions and last not least ground ops…..

    if that is what you have in mind then those are good and they have a lot of value…I just dont see any massive “lets all go to Mars” effort or something like that. to me those are waste.

    what you suggest has enormous value.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    common sense wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    two points

    First federal programs of over a billion dollars or more never die easily…but they can die. There are always the Congressional people who “for a strong America” need this program and the more of those the longer a program takes to die…but they do die, particularly when they become absurd.

    and the death has nothing to do with “exploring” or “keeping America Strong’ or that nonesense it is simply about preserving or killing off slowly the federal teat in local areas.

    and thats the second point…in the end the reality is that nothing useful can be done with all the shuttle workers. they are simply trained wrong to deal with the emerging new space groups…

    What Kay and Bill and Pete and all the other pigs at the trough would have been better to do is to get something like extended unemployment for displaced shuttle workers in the layoff bills instead of spending money on “one last flight”…but then again go talk to all the good Republicans in TX 22 and they will tell you that unemployment is for losers…

    the same ones whose jobs are from the federal trough.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
    . Given current events, this profound statement would be better off not attached to your name…

    since I post under a real name and you dont then you telling me what should or should not be attached to “my name” is kind of goofy.

    Actually I am impressed with Palin’s video that she posted on her facebook page…at least what I saw.

    she uses real words…not ones she made up!

    Considering she floundered on explaining the Bush doctrine after having a briefing paper preped for her on it…small steps are good.

    When you or someone can explain why we should spend money on human spaceflight exploration in terms other then “it makes us the biggest dog in town” then let me know…otherwise comparisons are well ephemeral.

    Long Live The Republic

    Robert G. Oler

  • pennypincher

    I do not understand why people continually paint the options as NASA OR SpaceX. ULA has 25 ton launcher flying now (Delta 4), and has stated repeatedly that by using Delta 4 tanks and Atlas 5 engines they can scale up to 70 tons. Quoted price was $2.3 billion. The Augustine Committee report made clear that 70 tons is big enough for even Constellation-scale human exploration. Every year we “study” more ways to keep the Shuttle contractor base in place we spend as much on the contractor base as it would take to eliminate that expense forever.

  • Silence Dogood

    What if this is the opportunity to bring a manufacturing base of some kind back into the US? I fear that if we don’t do heavy something (we had the steel industry, the auto industry…) we will only have our service based economy and associated volatility. Someone needs to invest some capital to get something moving…

    I challenge each reader to take 30 seconds and look at all the things near their computer/smart phone when reading this. Can you count more than 3 things that say “Made in the USA”? If not, reconsider your commentary regarding “the federal trough” and consider this an opportunity to build and build big. If you still don’t like what I am saying, then I implore you to point to a future base that would bring economic strength back.

  • Vladislaw

    Mark Whittington wrote a new unbiased article for yahoo news:

    NASA’s Congressionally Mandated Vehicle to Cost More and Take Longer

    “The original version of Obamaspace had not included any program for space exploration to replace the canceled Constellation program. Only belatedly, after some public and congressional outrage, did the president announce a goal of visiting an Earth approaching asteroid by the middle of the next decade.”

    Obamaspace? Was that the title of the bill? I thought President Obama presented a budget for NASA for 2011, but having read it, I do not recall it being refered to as that. What exactly are you trying to report, your name calling ability? This is your idea on how to win converts?

    “President Obama, having destroyed the old Constellation space exploration plan, then having jury rigged a new plan that few people seem entirely satisfied with, seems content to sit back passively and allow developments to transpire on their own without trying to lead and shape them.”

    How did President Obama, presenting a budget to Congress, destroy Constellation? Didn’t Congress, that represents the entire population, have to vote down Constellation funding? If you have a beef, it should be with the polis for not advising their Representatives and Senators to vote for Constellation funding.

    Jury rig? Proof?

  • Ben Joshua

    Congress may be reaching the point where a mega project, with a mega budget and a mega timeline, no longer has appeal and political momentum.

    An HLV blank slate may seem like a delay in progress, but it undoubtedly will stimulate the creative instincts and design prowess of LV engineers.

    The ideas and discussions that ensue, be they based on Atlas, Delta, Falcon, or a new hydro/lox concept, will be intellectually exciting, and may point to more effective approaches, on the grand macro and detail design levels.

  • Vladislaw

    Silence Dogood wrote:

    “What if this is the opportunity to bring a manufacturing base of some kind back into the US? I fear that if we don’t do heavy something (we had the steel industry, the auto industry…) we will only have our service based economy and associated volatility. Someone needs to invest some capital to get something moving…”

    You make a compeling arguement for why the United States of America should move towards a commercial human launch sector for LEO. You have to understand, NASA, representing the Nation’s monopoly for human spaceflight, is never going to open up space enough to create this manufacturing base.

    NASA, launching two heavy lift launch vehicles, per year, is not the answer. Especially because there is no other user for this vehicle making it a very expensive, single use, system to operate.

    If the military wanted 130 ton lift, with a 700 billion dollar per year budget, they would have it. There is already a 200 billion dollar a year commercial satellite sector, if they wanted to launch 130 ton satellites they would already have a launch system.

    Any heavy lift system should be designed around multiple users. That means defining what the average payload mass to GEO is today. A launcher that can put 70 tons to LEO has the potential to be used for launching a couple sats at a time to GEO. Bigger than that and you would be harder pressed to find enough satellites for a single launch, much less if you are trying to launch more times per year to achieve a higher flight rate to lower costs. At 70 tons you might even get a military payload once in a while.

    If we want a new manufacturing base for the Nation we should focus on new markets and how to capitalize on dominating that industry and sectors. Lower cost commercial human launch systems, more that just a budding tourism industry, is going to be a real driver in giving any 2nd or 3rd tier country with a space program to have instant access and prestige for their country. That is the real new market, 50-60 countries with the checkbook big enough to have a real space program, now that American capitalism brings space access to the government masses first.

  • AfricaCurious

    @Robert G. Oler
    Where is your Facebook page?
    I can’t find it.
    Thanks

  • Coastal Ron

    Silence Dogood wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I challenge each reader to take 30 seconds and look at all the things near their computer/smart phone when reading this.

    MIT has set up a taskforce to look at how manufacturing jobs can be added to the economy. First they looked into the historical amount of export that the U.S. has done, and found that the percentage (~23%) has stayed about the same over the past 50 years or so.

    What has changed is the amount of labor that is required to produce virtually everything. It used to be the rule of thumb that labor was 10% of your product cost, but with various amounts of automation, technology improvements and less expensive labor pools, that amount has fallen, sometimes significantly.

    MIT is not done with their study, but one of the things they do know is that our educational system is not doing a good enough job in creating potential workers for the manufacturing that we still do, or want to do. I remember my first real job, which was as a management intern for a manufacturing company making electrical connectors (lots of machining). They had their own school system, because they could not find anyone coming out of the local high schools or colleges that had relevant education for the work they needed done. We still have this problem, which strangles manufacturing companies before they grow beyond the local level.

    The MIT study has also found that high labor costs are not directly to blame either, because many european countries have higher pay than us, and export far more than us.

    So I echo what Vladislaw said – “NASA, launching two heavy lift launch vehicles, per year, is not the answer.

    What is needed is a robust commercial space industry that will lower the cost of accessing space for both cargo and crew. Only by making it more affordable can we increase the amount of space commerce, and that is the only way we’re going to be able to grow our space industry. Building a government-run rocket that operates at the whim of congressional budgets is not going to help us increase our manufacturing base.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    You can have all the ideas and discussion you like but that won’t put anything into space.
    While Congress dithers, SpaceX, Boeing, and Bigelow move forward with real hardware and solutions.
    Bigelow is providing the impetus for a full-scale new industry based in LEO. With 2 test modules in space and the his first human habitat in human-loop testing, interest from at least 6 countries in leasing his modules, and Boeing and SpaceX working to provide crew transport services, the best hope for continuing HSF is for NASA to move forward with CCDev Rd 2 and provide sufficient funding to get at least 2 crew vehicles flying.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    pennypincher wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    It’s called PORK! And besides which SpaceX is the major challenger to doing business in the traditional cost-plus way.

  • Rhyolite

    Vladislaw wrote @ January 12th, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    “A launcher that can put 70 tons to LEO has the potential to be used for launching a couple sats at a time to GEO.”

    If the GTO mass was 35 tons, it would would be something like 5 to 7 GEO payloads of average size. The logistics of processing that many large payloads simultaneously would be a nightmare. Processing two at a time is enough of a pain for Ariane 5 that they are proposing to move to single manifest for Ariane 6.

    “At 70 tons you might even get a military payload once in a while.”

    I wouldn’t hold your breath for any military HLV payloads. It takes the military 10+ years to get most new space systems off the ground. Nothing is in the pipe now for a payload that large. Also, the trend has been towards smaller commercially derived space systems systems so building giant payloads would require reversing the current trend.

  • Egad

    > NASA, launching two heavy lift launch vehicles, per year, is not the answer. Especially because there is no other user for this vehicle making it a very expensive, single use, system to operate.

    If I might be permitted a tiny bit of snark, it has yet to be shown that NASA itself will be a user. I.e., no payloads except maybe Orion, and even the 70-ton smallest version of SLS is way oversized for that.

  • I think we need to take these NASA folks on their word.
    They can’t build a heavy lift rocket on time and on budget.
    Thank you Doug Cooke!

    Given this admission, any Heavy Lift investment dollars are better spent on commercial launch providers who do plan to be on time and on budget.

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