Congress, NASA

Bolden and “evolvable” heavy-lift launch vehicles

What kind of heavy-lift vehicle does NASA want to build, or at least thinks it can build? That was one central topic of discussion in a speech and Q&A session by NASA administrator Charles Bolden on Capitol Hill on Friday, organized by the Space Transportation Association.

Congress has already provided direction to NASA on this in the 2010 NASA authorization act: build a “Space Launch System” (SLS) that can launch 70-100 tons into low Earth orbit, starting by the end of 2016, and is eventually upgraded to 130 tons. NASA, though, is still studying what the SLS would look like, and, to the consternation of some members of Congress, delivered an initial report to Congress in January that said an SLS concept that meets the payload and schedule constraints of the act isn’t possible within projected budgets. Bolden said those study efforts were proceeding, with an emphasis now on deciding on the propulsion system: “whether you go with LOX/hydrogen the way we did with shuttle, or LOX/RP the way we did back in the Saturn days… whether you use solids.” He said NASA is getting “really close” and, later, “perilously close” on making decisions on this.

However, it wasn’t clear from Bolden’s comments whether what emerged from those studies would meet the act’s requirements for payload capacity and schedule. Asked why the agency could’t just announce that it would develop the vehicle in the act, Bolden said, “Because I don’t want to, for one thing, and because it may be that we can’t do that. We don’t know.” (It’s unclear whether Bolden meant that he doesn’t want to build the SLS as specified in the act, or instead meant that he doesn’t want to say now that NASA will build such a vehicle; he later claimed he meant neither of those things.) Bolden cited budget uncertainties for 2011 and beyond in the new climate of fiscal conservatism as a key factor in determining what NASA can do for an HLV. “This time last year, the worst you could do [for a fiscal year 2011 budget] was 2010 level,” he said. “Today, 2010 level is pretty good.”

Bolden emphasized that his interest is on an evolvable launch system, in contrast to Constellation’s plans to develop the Ares 5 with only the Ares 1 as an intermediate step. “What got us in trouble with Constellation was there were people in NASA who believed that they were going to get one shot, and one shot only, at a heavy-lift launch vehicle, and ‘I gotta build the biggest rocket known to man because I’m never going to get to come back to that,” he said. “I don’t live by that philosophy. I think we have to be able to do small, incremental steps, demonstrate that we can keep to cost and schedule, and then people will begin to have confidence that we know what we’re talking about. If we can’t do that, we’re not going very far with anything.”

“NASA does not need a 130-metric-ton vehicle probably before the next decade,” Bolden said later. “We know we’re going to need it if we’re going to go to an asteroid, in a reliable way, and we’re definitely going to need it when we talk about going to Mars. But we would take a lesser capability in an earlier heavy-lift system so that we can get the job done,” he said, not specifying how lesser that initial capability could be. He added that “traditional rocket companies that want to sell me a 130-metric-ton vehicle, but don’t want to evolve it, they may lose. They may lose because there’s some other company that wants to give me the capability that I need right now that can be evolved to what we will need down the road.”

This is not the first time that Bolden has spoken out on heavy-lift development. In an appearance earlier this month at CSIS, Bolden said that “we can’t” go directly to a 130-metric-ton vehicle, and that NASA would “continue to negotiate and discuss with the Congress why that is not necessary.” That speech came shortly after the Senate Appropriations Committee had put forward a full-year continuing resolution that appeared to call for immediate development of a 130-ton HLV.

(As an aside, it’s worth noting that the NASA authorization act refers to payload capacity in “tons”, while Bolden’s comments, and some previous NASA documents, make use of “metric tons”, which are about 10 percent heavier (2,205 versus 2,000 pounds). It’s a minor point in the grander scheme of things, but you would think that an agency that lost a spacecraft because of a mismatch in metric versus English units would be more attuned to that.)

Bolden also, curiously, suggested that NASA would not be the only user of any heavy-lift vehicle it develops. “When I talk about a heavy-lift launch vehicle, it’s not a NASA vehicle any more. In this day and age, it’s a heavy-lift launch vehicle that’s going to be used by the national intelligence community, the DOD, because we’re the only ones building a heavy-lift launch vehicle, and we’re building it for that purpose,” he claimed. Later, when talking about a 130-ton vehicle, he suggested that while NASA does not have an immediate need for such a rocket, “probably the intelligence community can use it as soon as I can give it to them.” While there may be some concepts floating around the national security space community, unclassified and classified, for projects that could require a heavy-lift launcher, there are no existing projects under development or consideration that need anything larger than the Delta 4 Heavy, which can put about 25 tons into LEO.

For some additional reporting and commentary on Bolden’s speech Friday, I recommend SpaceRef and SpacePolicyOnline.com.

111 comments to Bolden and “evolvable” heavy-lift launch vehicles

  • Major Tom

    It’s good to see senior agency management weighing their options and being careful and circumspect about SLS development. It will likely be the most expensive investment NASA makes over the next decade or so. The agency needs to get it right.

    FWIW…

  • Joe

    The fixation on the the 130 (metric/not metric) ton figure is “interesting” as the law calls for a 70 – 100 ton vehicle that can grow to 130 tons.

    That is an incremental growth prescrition.

    Why does General Bolden not (at least) acknowledges this?

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Why does General Bolden not (at least) acknowledges this?

    I think he has (i.e. the views of the Administration), but part of the confusion is that Congress is not speaking with one voice, so it’a hard to respond to requirements that are not fully delineated by Congress.

    We all know what the NASA Authorization Act states (70-100 ton growable to 130 ton), but what is less well known is the statements coming from the Appropriations committees in Congress. I don’t have the link right off hand, but statements were made to “directly proceed to building the 130 ton launcher”, and so that is why NASA came back with the 130mt launcher proposal that skipped the 70-100 ton versions.

    Of course none of this has funds authorized through the Appropriations committees, hence the wiggle room for everyone, but clear direction from Congress, regardless if the Administration agrees with it or not, is missing.

  • Major Tom

    “The fixation on the the 130 (metric/not metric) ton figure is “interesting” as the law calls for a 70 – 100 ton vehicle that can grow to 130 tons.

    The 2010 NASA Authorization Act is poorly written and ambiguous.

    It does direct an “initial capability” between 70 and 100 tons, but it doesn’t state when this capability should be delivered.

    It then directs an EDS to bring the capability to 130 tons, but again doesn’t state when this capability should be delivered.

    It then directs that the:

    “Space Launch System shall be designed from inception as a fully-integrated vehicle capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

    Finally, it directs that the “core elements” should be ready by 2016, but it doesn’t state which “elements” or payload capbilities are “core”. And in the absence of that clarity, then the language directly above, where the design has to be capable of 130 tons from the get-go, becomes the driving language.

    “Why does General Bolden not (at least) acknowledges this?”

    Bolden would clearly prefer to go the incremental path, but it’s also clear from his comments that some, maybe most, folks in Congress are pushing him to go directly to 130 tons.

    Moreover, Bolden doesn’t have an appropriated budget to do anything, anyway. Even if Congress was of one mind and had provided clear direction in the authorization act, it’s a moot point because they have yet to provide the money to pay for it.

    FWIW…

  • Marc Trolinger

    It appears to me that Gen. Bolden is trying to be a responsible manager of the taxpayers money. He understands that the first priority regarding human spaceflight is sending people to the ISS, and heavy lift is not required for this. The politics are very likely to reflect this priority after the STS is retired later this year. A commericial approach to sending people to the ISS is likely to be the fastest, safest, and most cost effective way to go. Heavy lift is associated primarily with human spaceflight beyond low earth orbit where there are no specific programs or payloads authorized or funded at this time. Heavy lift will become a lower political priority as real needs and resources must be reconciled.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    At least he has the guts and intellectual honesty to say: “I don’t want to”. However, the fact that he has gone onto the record to say this may make the next hearing (either with the House or Senate)… interesting to say the least.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Joe

    The fixation on the the 130 (metric/not metric) ton figure is “interesting” as the law calls for a 70 – 100 ton vehicle that can grow to 130 tons.

    That is an incremental growth prescrition.

    Why does General Bolden not (at least) acknowledges this?

    Cause the Senate has said it was a 130 MT vehicle, in its appropriations bill

    Clearly they have no problem creating significant deviation from the authorization law

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 12:48 pm
    “The 2010 NASA Authorization Act is poorly written and ambiguous.
    It does direct an “initial capability” between 70 and 100 tons, but it doesn’t state when this capability should be delivered

    Actually the law states:
    “The initial capability of the core elements, without an upper stage, of lifting payloads weighing between 70 tons and 100 tons into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

    “Priority should be placed on the core elements with the goal for operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016.”

    The key phrasing being “core elements”. What should they have done to be more explicit (cartoons maybe)?

  • Joe

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 1:07 pm
    “Cause the Senate has said it was a 130 MT vehicle, in its appropriations bill”

    Since we all seem to like to play “Space Lawyer”, there is no Senate Appropriations Bill yet, that is all still in work. There is however the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (now Public Law 111-267), which Obama signed into law. Yet his NASA Administrator seems to have trouble “understanding” it. Like I said “interesting”.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Joe,

    Sorry, but that’s wrong – Here is the Spacepolitics article about it

    And here is the bill text

    The relevant section is 1327, part b

    Of the amounts appropriated by this division for
    ‘‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Exploration’’, not less than $1,200,000,000 shall be for the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, and not less than $1,800,000,000 shall be for the heavy lift launch vehicle system which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously.

    I bolded the important stuff.

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Yet his NASA Administrator seems to have trouble “understanding” it.

    Short memory. Look back to January and you’ll find this from SpaceNews.com:

    “We presented baseline reference vehicles and ideally if we can find a way to make it happen, the baseline reference vehicles will be the vehicles of the future,” Bolden said in a Jan. 12 interview. “If we can’t then we will come back with alternatives that we will have developed through coordination with industry and the Congress. So my hope is we’ll make this thing firm, but I can’t say that right now.”

    http://www.spacenews.com/civil/110111-nasa-heavy-lift-proposal.html

    Congress has not provided the funds they think they need yet, so the Bolden is continueing to look at alternatives. Sounds more clear than what we’re getting from Congress…

  • reader

    Wonder how Senate Launch System arrived at the 130 tons figure ? Perhaps the entire senate, both houses and staffers together weigh around that number ?

    Would be good to get rid of that gang in one launch, indeed.

  • John

    “you would think that an agency that lost a spacecraft because of a mismatch in metric versus English units would be more attuned to that”

    Heh…you would also think that a nation that prides itself as a world leader in high technology could use a measurement system that actually makes some amount of sense. Perhaps Bolden is, at least in his words if not his formal political stance, trying to do something logical.

  • Logic

    I’m pretty sure that NASA decided to go with metric tons because while you can always derate a launch vehicle, it’s a heck of a lot harder to add capacity.

  • For a 70 US ton (64 metric tonnes) shuttle derived HLV, you don’t need an upper stage and you can still use the current 4-segment SRBs. So just building the core vehicle that the Congress mandates will save NASA over $6 billion in development cost and should enable them to meet the 2016 deadline.

    But I think the real problem is that Bolden and Holdren really don’t want a functioning HLV that early because it would put more pressure on them to come up with ideas, as mandated by Congress, on how it should be used for near term cis-lunar missions. And, unfortunately, the current administration really doesn’t want any near term cis-lunar missions which seems odd since Obama and his NASA administrator, Bolden, would be out of office by 2017, even if Obama wins a second term, which would probably be the time when such missions would start occurring under a new president.

    Since Bolden also appears to be interested in allowing the DOD to utilize the new launch system, it might be wise for him to support the ULA proposal for developing an ACES 41 as the Service Module for a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Personally, I think private industry might be the ones most interested in using the HLV since companies like Bigelow are interested in deploying instant space stations that weigh 70 to 100 tonnes per launch.

  • The first time I ever heard of a 130T Heavy Lift was the former NASA administrator Griffin. He’s apparently sold the thought politically and corporately; certain names would seem obvious.

    I did find one potential mission for the heavy lift, NASA’s Nautilus concept of a ship that stays in space might be finalized by the time Heavy Lift is finished and looking for something to do:

    Nautilus X (Powerpoint)

    Finally, I note Lockheed Martin put a press release this week including a pdf brochure showing how Orion would evolve via their “Stepping Stones” plan. Bolden and LM seem to understand each other:
    Stepping Stones (pdf)

    Hard for Congress not to take notice of LM?

  • Joe

    “Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
    Joe,

    Sorry, but that’s wrong”

    I am sorry also, but that was never inacted into law, never even made it out of congress; Public Law 111-267 did and was signed by Obama.

  • Joe

    “Coastal Ron wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
    Joe wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    “Yet his NASA Administrator seems to have trouble “understanding” it.”

    Short memory. Look back to January and you’ll find this from SpaceNews.com”

    No long menory, the fact that General Bolden has said contradictory things over the months does not make things better.

    His most recent statements at least imply that he is assumming that he is being told by congress that he must go immediately to a 130 ton (or is it metric ton?) vehicle. If he says something that contrdicts this tomorow that will not be an improvment either.

  • amightywind

    I think we have to be able to do small, incremental steps, demonstrate that we can keep to cost and schedule, and then people will begin to have confidence

    I have full confidence that Bolden can take small steps. minuscule, steps, microscopic steps. Steps so small it would appear NASA is making no progress at all. If congress had no confidence in this cipher before his testimony, they will have even less now.

  • Major Tom

    “The key phrasing being ‘core elements’. What should they have done to be more explicit (cartoons maybe)?”

    Again, if the authorizers wanted to be explicit, then they should not have inserted language between those quotes directing that the:

    “Space Launch System shall be designed from inception as a fully-integrated vehicle capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more into low-Earth orbit”

    This is the problem for NASA. Which language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act do you follow to stay out of trouble with which part of Congress? The part of Congress that wrote “from inception” they want a “fully-integrated vehicle” capable of “130 tons”? (And 130 tons appears twice in the text to boot.) Or the part of Congress that wrote they only want an “initial capability” of “70 to 100 tons” built from “core elements” by 2016?

    Clearly in the authorization text, Congress is of two (or more) minds on their SLS design (actually multiple SLS designs). And this shows up in places besides the 2010 Authorization Act. For example, some congressmen, like Senator Orrin Hatch, have put out press releases pushing for 130 tons from the get-to because they’ve been told (wrongly) that it puts ATK SRBs on the critical path:

    “For example, the rocket must be designed from its inception to carry 130 tons. The heavier the payload the more likely the rocket will use solid rocket motors.”

    http://hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/index.cfm?p=releases&ContentType_id=7e038728-1b18-46f4-bfa9-f4148be94d19&Group_id=e5b4c6c5-4877-493d-897b-d8ddac1a9a3e&MonthDisplay=11&YearDisplay=2010

    (Scroll down to the November 18, 2010 press release.)

    So who should Bolden piss off? Senator Hatch and his faction? Or whichever Senator(s) are behind the 70-100 ton language that you favor?

    Don’t blame Bolden or NASA for conflicting directions from Congress and Congress’s inability to speak with one voice (not to mention the congressional overreach and ineptitude that created this mess in the first place). If you think 70-100 tons is the way to go, you should complain to your congressmen and direct them to clarify the language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act in favor of 70-100 tons — not point fingers at Bolden or anyone else in NASA.

    And again, Congress hasn’t appropriated a budget for Bolden to do anything on SLS, anyway. And they’ve left appropriations language on the books that actually directs Bolden not to invest in SLS at all, but in Constellation (Ares I/V) instead. Given at least three conflicting signals from Congress in standing legislation (70-100-ton SLS, 130-ton SLS, and maintain Constellation) and the absence of any actual budget, it’s hypocritical in the extreme for Congress (or us) to expect Bolden to say anything definitive with respect to SLS at this point in time. And doubly so to criticize him for what little he has said.

    FWIW…

  • Ferris Valyn

    I am sorry also, but that was never inacted into law, never even made it out of congress; Public Law 111-267 did and was signed by Obama.

    However, the fact that that was included in the final bill, even though it didn’t get passed, suggests the Senate at least, wants to race to the 130 tonnes, rather than pursue an evolvable vehicle.

    In otherwords, the Senate is going outside the Authorization act.

  • Major Tom

    “I have full confidence that Bolden can take small steps. minuscule, steps, microscopic steps. Steps so small it would appear NASA is making no progress at all. If congress had no confidence in this cipher before his testimony, they will have even less now.”

    What should Bolden do in the absence of any appropriated budget from Congress with which to initiate the SLS program? Fund it out of his own pocket?

    What should Bolden do when different Senators have put conflicting SLS payload tonnage language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act? Take the average? The median?

    What do you expect Bolden to do when other Senators have kept an appropriations earmark on the books that directs NASA continue spending on Constellation, not SLS? Go to jail instead of following the law?

    Don’t waste this forum’s time with such idiotic statements.

    Ugh…

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    His most recent statements at least imply that he is assumming that he is being told by congress that he must go immediately to a 130 ton (or is it metric ton?) vehicle.

    And some in Congress have been saying that, and as others have pointed out they have shown the intent to have it part of the appropriations legislation. That Congress cannot get their act together and pass said appropriations legislation is not the fault of NASA.

    So Congress not being clear is OK, but those that have to interpret the true will of unfinished congressional legislation don’t get the same leeway? Bizarre

  • wingman

    No, the statement is right. The issue isn`t 70/100/130 tons, the issue isn`t 2016, the issue isn`t the fund of this year. The issue is that congress want a real solution with the available capabilities and the adminstration want a cancellation without any successor and a long term whatever. Who makes the policy?

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    It is my deep suspicion that there are some who do not care if the SLS ever flies, so long as it uses the right parts from the right suppliers and does so immediately (the 130t faction). Then there are the “Commercial Can’t/Mustn’t Work” faction who want a direct replacement for the shuttle (government crew launcher). They’re the ones who specified the 70t start point to mandate the creation of a DIRECT J-130.

    I think that it is important to note that none of these people are particularly malign (no more than usual from a politician anyway). It’s just their priorities for the NASA budget are not necessarily what the man in the street would think that they should be. The big problem is that a number of them seem to be working under the assumption that NASA’s engineers can wave a magic wand, do a “science thing” and everything will appear on schedule and budget. This is a consequence of having law and political science majors running an engineering exercise.

  • DCSCA

    Congress can read a calendar. Bolden’s perspective at this point in time carries little weight. An election year is approaching. And so, most likely, is his retirement.

  • Joe

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 10:12 pm
    “However, the fact that that was included in the final bill, even though it didn’t get passed, suggests the Senate at least, wants to race to the 130 tonnes, rather than pursue an evolvable vehicle.
    In otherwords, the Senate is going outside the Authorization act.”

    I cannot tell from what is above what bill you are talking about or what the” that” you’re talking about is.

    If you mean the Authorization law and a strict 100 ton requirement, there is no such language in the law. If you mean in an appropriations bill, there is no Final Appropriations bill at this point.

    There have been any number of proposed changes in funding for everything from tech dev to grounds keeping, but the general is only confused by that one? Sorry I just do not by it.

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 26th, 2011 at 10:12 pm
    “Again, if the authorizers wanted to be explicit, then they should not have inserted language between those quotes”

    I edited the intervening material for brevity, but since you assert that the phrasing is confusing here they are in their confusing entirety:
    (1) IN GENERAL.–The Space Launch System developed pursuant to subsection (b) shall be designed to have, at a minimum, the following:

    (A) The initial capability of the core elements, without an upper stage, of lifting payloads weighing between 70 tons and 100 tons into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

    (B) The capability to carry an integrated upper Earth departure stage bringing the total lift capability of the Space Launch System to 130 tons or more.

    (C) The capability to lift the multipurpose crew vehicle.

    (D) The capability to serve as a backup system for supplying and supporting ISS cargo requirements or crew delivery requirements not otherwise met by available commercial or partner-supplied vehicles.

    (2) FLEXIBILITY. –The Space Launch System shall be designed from inception as a fully-integrated vehicle capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The Space Launch System shall, to the extent practicable, incorporate capabilities for evolutionary growth to carry heavier payloads. Developmental work and testing of the core elements and the upper stage should proceed in parallel subject to appropriations. Priority should be placed on the core elements with the goal for operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016
    If a lowly engineer (like myself) can read and understand the clear meaning of the language, are you trying to say the NASA Administrator (and his battery of lawyers) cannot?

    You seem to have a great time around here insulting people by writing things like “Don’t waste this forum’s time with such idiotic statements” and “think before you post. I have (and still do) reject such pointless rudeness, but I have to admit you make tempting.

  • Bennett

    Ben Russell-Gough wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 4:41 am

    That’s a really good dissection of the situation. I would add that ALL of the plans being mandated by congress are the result of campaign contributions by the shuttle industrial complex.

    Our space program, and our country, has been damn near destroyed by this paradigm. Eisenhower nailed it in his final speech, but no one listened.

  • Joe

    Joe wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 9:24 am
    “If you mean the Authorization law and a strict 100 ton requirement”

    Meant to say: 130 ton requirement/

  • amightywind

    I gotta build the biggest rocket known to man because I’m never going to get to come back to that,” he said. “I don’t live by that philosophy.

    For the first time in its history NASA has neither an operational space launch system, nor one under development. The Saturn V was launched ‘all up’ the first time. So was the space shuttle, and it was manned. Weasel words of incrementalism had no place in those programs. One would think that after such technical triumphs, the development of Ares I and V would be straight forward. Bolden stood on the shoulders of his greater predecessors, and got a nose bleed.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Weasel words of incrementalism had no place in those programs.

    Words of wisdom, not weasel words. It’s how von Braun worked, the all-up approach was the work of George Mueller and his ilk.

  • Real Genius

    The issue isn`t 70/100/130 tons, the issue isn`t 2016, the issue isn`t the fund of this year. The issue is that congress want a real solution with the available capabilities

    The problem is that the congressional mandate that you describe, 70/100/130 tons by 2016 using SRBs and ETs and current funding is not credible. It’s an intractable and unnecessary solution. Charlie Bolden and everyone else except those who have been corrupted by lobbying and earmarks and technical fantasy know that intimately, and have known that for at least seven years now. You need to realistically address your failures.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Joe

    The “that” I was referring to was in the Senate CR, there was a provision that required the SLS be funded, and it must be capable of lifting 130 tonnes – not an evolutionary growth to 130, but it must be 130 now.

    Yes, the bill didn’t pass, but to take the position that, because it didn’t become law, we must totally ignore it in discussions, is not practical.

    What I am saying is that, by the inclusion of the “it must be 130 tonnes” in the Senate CR, a strong contingent in the Senate is making clear they want 130 tonnes, right now.

    And no, thats not practical under the budget, (or even needed).

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 10:07 am

    For the first time in its history NASA has neither an operational space launch system, nor one under development.

    The Shelby amendment proves you wrong, even if it is a zombie launcher that’s still funded.

    But you’re also wrong from a payload standpoint, in that NASA has access to space through the NASA Launch Services (NLS) II contract.

    So apparently what you’re bemoaning is that NASA doesn’t have access to an American crew transportation system. Of course you tend to forget that you would have had one about this time if your precious Ares I hadn’t turned out to be the rocket equivalent of a Dodo bird. If Griffin had chose Delta IV Heavy over Ares I for Orion, Orion could have been flying by now. See what happens when you choose the wrong technologies?

    In any case, just like NASA and the DoD/NRO transitioned to the commercial market for satellite launches, it’s time for NASA to transition to the commercial market for crew transportation – and in fact it’s the law, if Congress would ever decide to follow their own laws (radical, I know).

    NASA should build leading-edge vehicles, but why on Earth do we want to depend on them for airline-like service to/from space? Once NASA makes space-related tasks routine, we should throw a party and celebrate, and turn those tasks over to the private sector to improve service, lower costs, and expand the markets. Otherwise we’re just wasting our tax dollars rewarding Congressional lobbyists.

  • Martijn Meijering

    NASA should build leading-edge vehicles

    Why, if they can’t even build a conventional launch vehicle?

  • Vladislaw

    “NASA should build leading-edge vehicles, but why on Earth do we want to depend on them for airline-like service to/from space? Once NASA makes space-related tasks routine, “

    Because “routine” is boring. How many people get excited when an 18 wheeler takes off cross country? NASA bemoaned when the public did not seem as excited about Space Shuttle missions when they were doing 6-8 per year, it had become routine and boring.

    Space flights have to be RARE to be exciting. Astronauts can not be heros if they are just another government employee taking a commercial ride to their workplace.

  • Coastal Ron

    Vladislaw wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Space flights have to be RARE to be exciting.

    Yikes! I think you’ve stumbled upon the real reason for the Senate Launch System – so that each decade we can afford to send it’s mighty mass towards the heavens, and justify NASA’s budget. Scary

    Astronauts can not be heros if they are just another government employee taking a commercial ride to their workplace.

    How true. Not that I think the astronauts themselves are the headline grabbers, but certainly some worship them as such, and politicians like to use their images as the justification for their pork programs.

    But maybe you’ve brought to light one of the divides we have within the space community. Some see space activities as grand expeditions of national force and glory, which the Apollo days certainly played a part in. But now we have the banal activities of research and commerce, and just like most normal days, it’s pretty routine.

    I mean who gets excited about seeing another building going up after you’ve already seen thousands? Or a truck leaving for a delivery? This is what we should be striving for in LEO and beyond, which is so much activity that we have to look close to see the individual excitement that makes up normal life.

    My $0.02

  • Joe

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 11:16 am
    Tonnes or Tons, taking into account bills that did not pass as a clue to Congressional intent (while ignoring the Law that Congress did pass and Obama signed) you are working harder at justifying Bolden’s “confusion” than he (or his staff) are and they are getting paid.

    Look, I mean this as no insult to you (as you seem to me to be well intentioned). But like I said before I just do not buy it.

    We are never going to agree on this and have both stated our positions; anything more is just repetition. I know the “rules of engagement” around here are “he who posts last wins”, but I do not think either one of us is winning anything (as we both seem to want there to be a vigorous American Space Program). Never the less if you want that last post “victory”, it is yours; means nothing in reality.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Joe – answer this then

    If Bolden comes to Congress, and says using SRBs in SLS is not practicable, do you think Congress will say ok, and move on to the next issue they face?

  • (A) The initial capability of the core elements, without an upper stage, of lifting payloads weighing between 70 tons and 100 tons into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

    (B) The capability to carry an integrated upper Earth departure stage bringing the total lift capability of the Space Launch System to 130 tons or more.

    How is this possible? Adding another stage, more ullage and propellant for the first stage to lift off the pad, and yet increasing the payload? Can it even be done without strap-ons? A camel is a horse designed by committee.

  • Joe

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
    “Joe – answer this then
    If Bolden comes to Congress, and says using SRBs in SLS is not practicable, do you think Congress will say ok, and move on to the next issue they face?”

    Like I said, I am not going to argue this in circles. Bolden might go to Congress and say anything (he just about already has – who knows what he will say next).

    I know you guys like to keep these things going for ever, but you are going to have to get yourself a new “debate partner” on this one. Speculating on what Bolden “might say” and how Congress “might respond” just does not interest me.

  • Das Boese

    Goddamn it, America. Get your shit together.

    If you’re into this whole austerity hype, go and learn from the Russians, whose chronically short fincances forced them to adopt a sensible approach to heavy lift and redundant crew launch options:

    Rus-M
    Angara

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Ed Minchau,

    Yeah, it can be done. Everything depends on the upper stage engine. Although the core wouldn’t get the stack as high, the upper stage, if it is balanced right, would have sufficient fuel to get the stack the rest of the way to orbit. Once there, it uses the residual of its fuel to push the actual working modules on to their ultimate destination.

    In essence, you’re trading range for initial load on the core. It pushes more off the pad in exchange for not being able to push it as far. The upper stage then completes the ascent.

  • Egad

    > (B) The capability to carry an integrated upper Earth departure stage bringing the total lift capability of the Space Launch System to 130 tons or more.

    > How is this possible?

    The genuine rocket scientists will have to weigh in on this, but I think the EDS has to be the largest part of the 130 tons they’re talking about, somewhat like the S-IVB on the Saturn V.

    So it’s not

    enhanced initial capability + EDS + 130 tons of stuff

    but

    enhanced initial capability + EDS + (130 – EDS mass) tons of stuff

    Or maybe not; along with many others, I’m having a hard time understanding what the various players have in mind (other than pork, of course).

  • Rhyolite

    “While there may be some concepts floating around the national security space community, unclassified and classified, for projects that could require a heavy-lift launcher, there are no existing projects under development or consideration that need anything larger than the Delta 4 Heavy, which can put about 25 tons into LEO.”

    That’s why a modular launch vehicle makes sense if you want to build an HLV capability but you are not sure when you are going to need it or how big it will need to be.

    Build a single core vehicle with a 25 MT capability that can meet present needs and make provisions to cluster for larger vehicles. Cluster three together and stretch the upper stage for an entry level 75 MT HLV. Cluster five to seven and add a new upper stage for an 125 MT super HLV.

    If you never get around to needing and HLV, perhaps because propellant depots make it irrelevant, then at least you have a useful single core vehicle and the expenditure wasn’t a total waste.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Joe
    2 points

    1. I am not the type that argues forever (which is why I went to a new topic)

    2. If you aren’t here to debate the topic, then what, pray tell, are you doing responding to people who comment to your post?

  • Ferris Valyn

    BTW, just so we are clear – I didn’t claim that somehow Bolden was confused – I said he had to take that bill into account in considering what and how he argues.

    To imply otherwise is putting words in my mouth

  • Joe

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 6:43 pm
    “1. I am not the type that argues forever (which is why I went to a new topic)

    2. If you aren’t here to debate the topic, then what, pray tell, are you doing responding to people who comment to your post?”

    If it is a new topic, then you would not be responding to my post. Like I said the “rules of engagement” are “he who posts last wins”. So go ahead and have the post last. Debating what if’s about what Adminisrator Bolden might (or might not) say and hoe Congress might (or might not) respond is still of no interest to me. This will be my last responce to this, so flame away.

    Have a nice day.

  • Coastal Ron

    Ferris Valyn wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    2. If you aren’t here to debate the topic, then what, pray tell, are you doing responding to people who comment to your post?

    Notice Joe never denied that Congress was sending conflicting signals.

    His whole point was to focus on “conflicting messages” that Bolden supposedly has been sending. As long as you follow his narrative he makes sense (i.e. ignore the policy makers that can’t make cohesive policy, and focus on the trials & tribulations of those trying to understand their incoherent wishes).

    Of course that assumes that his narrative is right, which in truth he hasn’t presented any evidence to support his claims, he just critiques the sources others use to back up their points. Then when factual evidence becomes hard to refute, he claims he wants to avoid circular arguments, and declares victory.

    FWIW

  • Robert G. Oler

    Vladislaw wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 12:47 pm
    ” Astronauts can not be heros if they are just another government employee taking a commercial ride to their workplace.”

    do you think that they are heroes Now?

    second who cares if they are heroes in the “John Glenn” motiff unless one is trying to build a program built on hype and not reality…that ship sailed a long time ago

    Robert G. Oler

  • Frank Glover

    “The Saturn V was launched ‘all up’ the first time.”

    The pressure to beat the Soviets and the end of the decade, plus the cost of heavy-lift launches (hello?) pushed NASA to take more of a developmental gamble than they otherwise might. That the gamble was won, doesn’t make it good. And with the ‘pogo’ issues, some thought a manned mission after only two Saturn-V launches was a gamble (also won) as well…

    “So was the space shuttle, and it was manned.”

    Except for the approach and landing tests, the shuttle system didn’t lend itself to incremental testing. How would you? And note that the Soviets flew one roughly similar mission to orbit, unmanned…

    “Weasel words of incrementalism had no place in those programs. One would think that after such technical triumphs, the development of Ares I and V would be straight forward”

    You might think. And yet, they couldn’t make the SSME into an air-startable, upper stage engine, could they? That’s what cascaded into an additional SRB segment, and downsizing (5.5 to 5 meter diameter), weight reducing (eliminating ground landing, and several other systems) Orion, to cover the difference in J2X performance.

    Straightforward, indeed…

    “I mean who gets excited about seeing another building going up after you’ve already seen thousands? Or a truck leaving for a delivery? This is what we should be striving for in LEO and beyond, which is so much activity that we have to look close to see the individual excitement that makes up normal life.”

    Amen.

    “If you’re into this whole austerity hype, go and learn from the Russians, whose chronically short fincances forced them to adopt a sensible approach to heavy lift and redundant crew launch options:”

    Redundant? When have the Soviets/Russians ever had more than one operational manned spacecraft at a time, or did a manned launch on something other than an upgrade of the original R-7 booster?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-7_%28rocket_family%29

    They came very close to doing circumlunar with a manned Proton in 1968, but almost, as they say, doesn’t count…

    N-1 didn’t appear to have been very ‘sensible’ heavy-lift either, though Energia seemed to have been as well-behaved as one can say from only two launches (Why were there not more launches? No funding for Energia-worthy payloads…hello? Is that not also something to be learned? Or are our own two unused Saturn V lawn ornaments [because their intended payloads/missions were cancelled] enough example of what happens to HLVs with no missions?)

  • Major Tom

    “If a lowly engineer (like myself) can read and understand the clear meaning of the language…”

    You’re taking away the interpretation that you want to take away. I don’t deny that it’s not a viable interpretation.

    But it’s not the only interpretation. If 70-100 tons by 2016 is the only interpretation, then why:

    - Does “130 tons” appear twice in the text, but 70-100 tons only appears once?

    - Does the Act require that the SLS be a “fully-integrated vehicle” that “from inception” is “capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more”?

    - Is the NASA Administrator having to argue for a more incremental path and against going straight to 130 tons in private and public discussions with congressional audiences?

    - Are some Senators, like Orrin Hatch, putting out press releases demanding that “the rocket must be designed from its inception to carry 130 tons” so that it is “more likely” to “use solid rocket motors” while making no reference at all to 70-100 tons or 2016?

    If we don’t carefully read these documents, consider the competing agendas in congress, and think a little, then we’re just jumping to conclusions.

    “are you trying to say the NASA Administrator (and his battery of lawyers) cannot?”

    No, I’m saying that the Senate authorization staff has produced poorly written language that tries to be all things to all the SLS designers in Congress that they serve, and instead of providing a clear HLV path forward, the NASA 2010 Authorization Act ends up giving unclear and even contradictory direction to NASA about what size of SLS the agency should be building and by when. No doubt Wholley and Statler have told Bolden that he’s in a no-win situation on this and is going to get whacked by one faction or another in Congress no matter what he does on SLS.

    I’m also saying that it’s all a moot point anyway since Congress has yet to produce any actual appropriations budget with which to fund SLS. And on top of all that, another faction in Congress has left an earmark standing from the last omnibus appropriations act that forces Bolden to continue spending limited NASA funds and taxpayer dollars on Ares I, not SLS. So again, it’s hypocritical for us, or anyone in Congress, to criticize Bolden for not having the correct interpretation on SLS or to blame him or the Administration for not moving faster on SLS. If our federal legislators really want an HLV (and are not just grandstanding for votes back home), then the legislative branch has to get its act together, remove the Constellation earmark, speak with one voice on SLS goals, and pass an actual SLS budget. Until then, there is nothing for the executive branch to execute on, and Congress and we are just whining about a non-existent program.

    “You seem to have a great time around here insulting people by writing things like “Don’t waste this forum’s time with such idiotic statements” and ‘think before you post.’”

    I take no pleasure in repeatedly having to correct the same trolls on the same false points over and over. It’s fine to have different opinions and interpretations (like yours regarding the SLS language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act). But to spread blatant lies is a waste of everyone’s time.

    “I have (and still do) reject such pointless rudeness, but I have to admit you make tempting.”

    I have not insulted you in this thread. Why are you “tempted” to insult me?

    Don’t blame me, Bolden, or his lawyers for conflicting congressional language. If you don’t like the “130 ton” language, then redirect the time you spend posting here to writing your congressman instead.

    FWIW…

  • Ben, I see what you’re saying, but I think the rocket equation is working against this. I don’t think Egad is correct about the EDS being considered part of the 130 ton payload, since rocket stages are not usually considered payload. So you end up with a rocket designed to lift a 70 ton payload trying to lift 130 tons and an Earth Departure Stage off the pad.

    Even if Egad were correct, going from a rocket capable of lifting 70 tons to orbit, to a rocket capable of lifting nearly twice that mass to double the kinetic energy (escape velocity) and assuming the mass fractions remain the same… that 70 ton version would either have to be way overpowered for a 70 ton orbital payload, or else it won’t have enough power to get the 130 ton version off the ground, never mind altitude – in which case, why bother with the 70 ton step?

    Now if the requirements were the other way around – 130 tons to orbit evolving into 70 tons to escape velocity – then it would make way more sense and it could possibly even be built. The way the requirements are written now leads me to believe that nobody in Congress has even heard of the rocket equation. It’s like insisting that a Ferrari can go much faster if it is towing a fully-fueled tanker truck. Not gonna happen.

    Of course, there aren’t any 130 ton payloads planned which must all be launched in one go. It’s all about maintaining the pork, not about making sense.

  • Major Tom

    “For the first time in its history NASA has neither an operational space launch system, nor one under development.”

    Shuttle is still operational. Even after Shuttle retires later this year, NASA has access to three “operational space launch systems”: Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9. And NASA has a fourth, Taurus II, “under development”.

    Don’t post a blatant lie.

    “The Saturn V was launched ‘all up’ the first time. So was the space shuttle, and it was manned. Weasel words of incrementalism had no place in those programs.”

    You’re confusing approaches to flight testing with launch tonnages within a vehicle family. They’re not the same thing.

    Think before you post.

    Cripes…

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Purely FWIW:

    I’m no legal expert but, to me, the simplest way to interpret the Authorisation act is a SD-HLV that could launch 130T (short tons) but, stripped of its upper stage, can only launch 70-100T.

    As I’ve said before, it is my feeling that this specification was written for the DIRECT J-130/-246H family (5/4, using the HEFT terminology). However, there was enough interpretation that others have taken it to mean other things.

  • Das Boese

    Frank Glover wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Redundant? When have the Soviets/Russians ever had more than one operational manned spacecraft at a time, or did a manned launch on something other than an upgrade of the original R-7 booster?

    I was talking about the current LV policy and development in the Russian Federation, not about the failed projects of the Soviet Union.

    N-1 didn’t appear to have been very ‘sensible’ heavy-lift either, though Energia seemed to have been as well-behaved as one can say from only two launches (Why were there not more launches? No funding for Energia-worthy payloads…hello? Is that not also something to be learned? Or are our own two unused Saturn V lawn ornaments [because their intended payloads/missions were cancelled] enough example of what happens to HLVs with no missions?)

    Again, not talking about Soviet-era developments, but you’re right, they do prove that a monolithic HLV without a defined mission is unsustainable.

    Thus, a sensible approach to a HLV, if politics insists that it be built, is one that is scalable through several payload classes, for example through clustering of core stages and different upper stages. The Russian vehicles I linked to are an example, as are the EELVs and Falcon 9.

    Which was kinda my point.

    It’s interesting that you mention Energia though. From today’s perspective it was a much more sensible approach at heavy lift than the shuttle and shuttle-derived systems. For one they didn’t make the mistake of putting the engines on the orbiter, secondly they used liquid boosters which were intended to also function as standalone LVs. Zenit flies commercially to this very day, but it belongs to Ukraine, hence the Russian effort to develop similar rockets with an eye on scalability for heavy lift and crew launches.

  • Joe

    Ben Russell-Gough wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 3:26 am
    “I’m no legal expert but, to me, the simplest way to interpret the Authorisation act is a SD-HLV that could launch 130T (short tons) but, stripped of its upper stage, can only launch 70-100T.”

    You are of course correct.

    “As I’ve said before, it is my feeling that this specification was written for the DIRECT J-130/-246H family (5/4, using the HEFT terminology).”

    There is not (at least to my knowledge) specific “proof” to that level of detail, but that seems a reasonable assumption.

    “However, there was enough interpretation that others have taken it to mean other things.”

    There are a good number of people posting here that simply do not like the obvious intent of the law. They are therefore playing “Space Lawyer” and “looking for loopholes”. The torturous mechanizations you see above are simply proof that if you try hard enough you can find a way to “misinterpret” anything. The “fully-integrated vehicle” statement being agood example. That is simply “Systems Engineering 101” that the initial 70-100 Ton capability vehicle be designed for the upgrades. At NASA it is usually referred to as scarring, in the military threshold/objective. Nothing confusing about it at all.

    If these word games were only being played on places like this website that would be one thing, the problem is the executive branch is playing them also (and sadly not as well as some of the amateur “Space Lawyers” around here).

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    If these word games were only being played on places like this website that would be one thing, the problem is the executive branch is playing them also…

    Oh and with some in Congress playing the word games, that’s not an issue?

    Again, you blame the Administration without acknowledging the lack of clarity from Congress, and the political machinations that are really driving the Congressional HLV requirements.

    Are the requirements for the SLS being driven by a true desire of future exploration on the part of Congress, or the desire to keep the money flowing as Orrin Hatch has effectively said?

    I know my reluctance for spending money on an HLV stems from the fact that CONGRESS HAS FUNDED NO PAYLOADS for it. If they really thought it was needed, wouldn’t they know what they were going to put on top of it?

    Which brings us back to Congresses ability to design the biggest rocket in the world. Raise your hand if you think our elected officials have some sort of special insight into defining a mode of transportation before they know what it will carry, and even how often it will be needed. If this isn’t the cart before the horse, then nothing is.

    And finally, if you don’t think that all Administrations interpret laws to their benefit, then you are truly naive.

  • Major Tom

    “There are a good number of people posting here that simply do not like the obvious intent of the law. They are therefore playing “Space Lawyer” and “looking for loopholes”. The torturous mechanizations you see above are simply proof that if you try hard enough you can find a way to “misinterpret” anything.”

    It doesn’t matter whether anyone on this forum is playing lawyer. The reality that you should be concerned about is that many of the various representatives, senators, and their staffs in Congress are actual lawyers. And they and their staffs are writing and interpreting the language differently based on whether getting something smaller to the launch pad ASAP will help maintain KSC after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Nelson) or whether getting something bigger developed latter will ensure ATK’s role after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Hatch). Or they’re not playing the SLS interpretation game at all and they’ve inserted earmarks in other legislation that will enrich MSFC as much as possible (e.g., Shelby) before (maybe after) Shuttle retirement.

    Again, whining about how the posters on this forum (or Bolden or the Administration) interpret legislation is missing the point when Congress itself can’t agree on what it wrote or on a path forward.

    FWIW…

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 1:09 pm
    “It doesn’t matter whether anyone on this forum is playing lawyer. The reality that you should be concerned about is that many of the various representatives, senators, and their staffs in Congress are actual lawyers. And they and their staffs are writing and interpreting the language differently based on whether getting something smaller to the launch pad ASAP will help maintain KSC after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Nelson) or whether getting something bigger developed latter will ensure ATK’s role after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Hatch). Or they’re not playing the SLS interpretation game at all and they’ve inserted earmarks in other legislation that will enrich MSFC as much as possible (e.g., Shelby) before (maybe after) Shuttle retirement.”

    Yes, got it everyone in Congress (and all of their staffs) – at least any that disagree with you are “evil”, none of them have any sincere motives. Only people who agree with you are honorable. But then why did Obama sign the “evil” Public Law 111-267 into being? Is he “evil” as well?

    “Again, whining about how the posters on this forum (or Bolden or the Administration) interpret legislation is missing the point when Congress itself can’t agree on what it wrote or on a path forward.”

    Nice Junior High School debating tactic describing a statement of fact as “whining”, but the real as whining seems to be coming from other sources.

  • common sense

    I can tell that some who claim to be engineer have difficulty reading. It has to have some bearing on the application of the requirements in a design and might explain a lot why Constellation turned into this failure.

    Oh well…

  • Yes, got it everyone in Congress (and all of their staffs) – at least any that disagree with you are “evil”, none of them have any sincere motives. Only people who agree with you are honorable. But then why did Obama sign the “evil” Public Law 111-267 into being? Is he “evil” as well?

    Why would you put quotes around a word that no one has used, other than you? This isn’t just a straw man, it’s putting words in others’ keyboard buffer.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
    “Why would you put quotes around a word that no one has used, other than you? This isn’t just a straw man, it’s putting words in others’ keyboard buffer.”

    Jeez Rand, I put the quotes around “evil” specifically to avoid someone saying I was calling it evil (I have had similar things happen on this very website). Now I have to defend myself for that. I know you do not like the law either and that’s fine. But the language is no more complicated than the contract I had to sign recently to sell a house. This constant trying to say that it is confusing is ridiculous. If you do not like the law start a campaign to change it, lobby (both Congress and Obama – Who did sign it), but let’s cut the @$!* about how it’s ambiguous.

  • josh

    What a mess. Congress needs to get its act together and stop criticizig Bolden. As long as they can’t at least make it clear what they want and appropriate the money for it nothing will get done anyway.

    But I really hope that Bolden will delay this pork project as long as possible so that the shuttle infrastructure and workforce is gone by the time it could get started. Then NASA can let SpaceX build the HLV for one tenth the cost, that would actually be a sensible approach instead of wasting more billions on a dysfunct agency that no longer has what it takes to develop anything really.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Then NASA can let SpaceX build the HLV for one tenth the cost, that would actually be a sensible approach instead of wasting more billions on a dysfunct agency that no longer has what it takes to develop anything really.

    I wouldn’t call directly funding any HLV sensible. What we need is a breakthrough in launch prices and that requires very high flight rates and fierce competition. You can’t get there with either an HLV sucking up all the payloads or with a single vehicle that is shielded from competition let alone with a single HLV that is shielded from competition. Whining or not, we need to move away from HLVs, regardless of who makes them, unless they are funded by the market which seems exceedingly unlikely for the foreseeable future, except perhaps for EELV Phase 1 (probably not even Phase 2).

  • No one has said, or even implied that the people are involved are evil, or their motives insincere (though an argument could certainly be made that many of them are quite stupid). It’s just that their motives are not ours. I’d like to have Congresspeople with motives to advance us in space and to end our dependence on the Russians as soon and cost effectively as possible. But the system is structured such that those making the decisions are most highly motivated to keep jobs flowing to their states and districts.

  • Egad

    > Jeez Rand, I put the quotes around “evil” specifically to avoid someone saying I was calling it evil

    A brief off-topical excursion, but funny:

    http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

    Or maybe it could be made topical, like Space “Launch” System.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I wouldn’t call directly funding any HLV sensible.

    I think this point is lost on those that see us advocating against HLVs – we don’t want them regardless who builds them, whether thats NASA, SpaceX, ATK or whoever.

    Until there is a funded/real need for them, building an HLV is a waste of money. Certainly the commercial market doesn’t need them, and the DoD/NRO have not been pushing for larger capacity ahead of what the market is already providing.

    Even NASA’s HEFT proposal could be put into space using existing launchers, so where is the need for launchers that can carry payloads 3-5 times heavier? Bizarre

  • Martijn Meijering

    I think this point is lost on those that see us advocating against HLVs – we don’t want them regardless who builds them, whether thats NASA, SpaceX, ATK or whoever.

    There are a few qualifications we should add.

    First of all a bigger (and refuelable) EELV upper stage would be desirable as an EDS. It certainly isn’t necessary for operations in the Earth – moon system, but it would be very desirable for operations beyond that. Even there it isn’t strictly necessary (as you will know I advocate starting with hypergolic propulsion from L1/L2 for that), but it is certainly desirable. The fact that it would yield a smallish HLV as a side effect is not a reason to disqualify it.

    Secondly, if the market wants to fund an HLV, then that’s fine too. Once there was a fiercely competitive propellant market for NASA exploration missions I could see ULA consolidating the EELV upper stages and first building ACES or even just a precursor, and then a refuelable variant and a first generation cryogenic depot, all through its own corporate funding.

    I would prefer to see both HLVs and cryogenic depots emerge that way, if and when they are needed and without any direct NASA involvement. I’d be surprised if the market chose anything bigger than EELV Phase 1, and surprised if they didn’t choose depots and small RLVs, but the outcome would not be pre-ordained from above. Note how this is perfectly symmetrical in its approach to both depots and launch vehicles and agnostic as to the merits of HLVs. To me that seems like taking the idea of relying on supply side competition to its logical and consistent conclusion.

  • common sense

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    “Even NASA’s HEFT proposal could be put into space using existing launchers, so where is the need for launchers that can carry payloads 3-5 times heavier? Bizarre”

    FWIW: HEFT will not see the light of day. Pretty much like Jupiter or Sidemount or Orion. The only “safe” path for NASA today is tech development as proposed under the OCT. Zeroing their tentative budget in favor of any HLV supported activity of any kind will only assure that NASA will become more and more irrelevant.

    For NASA HSF to survive, NASA must team with the commercials one way or another (e.g. CCDev), first and foremost.

    Watch it unfold at your next congressional hearings…

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    FWIW: HEFT will not see the light of day.

    I put that out there because the HEFT mission is probably the furthest along conceptually if Congress tells NASA to use the SLS for something.

    I don’t think people realize how long it takes to put together brand new payloads that the HLV’s will need in order to justify their use. Unless the payloads are fuel depots, they are likely to be fairly complicated.

    And as NASA’s current behind-schedule programs show, nothing complicated launches on time, which means that payloads needed to match up to the SLS operational date (2017?) will not make it in time.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 4:58 pm
    “No one has said, or even implied that the people are involved are evil, or their motives insincere (though an argument could certainly be made that many of them are quite stupid). It’s just that their motives are not ours. I’d like to have Congresspeople with motives to advance us in space and to end our dependence on the Russians as soon and cost effectively as possible. But the system is structured such that those making the decisions are most highly motivated to keep jobs flowing to their states and districts.”

    Two points:

    (1) We seem to have a real communications barrier here. You replied to my reply to a post by “Major Tom” (you have no idea how much I hate having to make that explanation :)) in which he asserted among other things:
    - And they and their staffs are writing and interpreting the language differently based on whether getting something smaller to the launch pad ASAP will help maintain KSC after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Nelson)
    - getting something bigger developed latter will ensure ATK’s role after Shuttle retirement (e.g., Hatch).
    - Or they’re not playing the SLS interpretation game at all and they’ve inserted earmarks in other legislation that will enrich MSFC as much as possible (e.g., Shelby) before (maybe after) Shuttle retirement.”
    None of these people or given even the possibility of credit of thinking what they are doing what is best for the future of HSF. If you do not think that is questioning (at the very least) their sincerity then you and I are not speaking the same English Language.
    (2) The original subject of this thread was the understandability of Public Law 111-267. I would again assert that the language is no more complicated than the contract I had to sign recently to sell a house. So let’s cut the Bravo Sierra about how confusing it is. If you do not like the law start a campaign to change it, lobby (both Congress and Obama – Who did sign it).

  • Ferris Valyn

    I would again assert that the language is no more complicated than the contract I had to sign recently to sell a house. So let’s cut the Bravo Sierra about how confusing it is. If you do not like the law start a campaign to change it, lobby (both Congress and Obama – Who did sign it).

    You’re welcome to assert that, or that the sky is yellow with purple poka-dots.

    Doesn’t mean that it is an accurate reflection of the situation.

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    None of these people or given even the possibility of credit of thinking what they are doing what is best for the future of HSF.

    Oh I think they have hope that it will lead to something good, but they are also motivated by parochial interests. And this should not be surprising, since that’s part of the reason we vote for our representatives.

    But NASA is one of those agencies that is not very visible, and is only located in a minority of states. Combine that with a budget that is just 0.5% of the total U.S. budget, and it’s ripe for political influence.

    And if you don’t think that politics is not involved in high dollar government decisions, then you are fairly naive.

    (2) The original subject of this thread was the understandability of Public Law 111-267. I would again assert that the language is no more complicated than the contract I had to sign recently to sell a house.

    You keep wanting to ignore the fact that Congress has not passed an appropriations bill to fund Public Law 111-267, and that the appropriators have been stating publicly about their preference for skipping the 70-100 ton version of the SLS, and having NASA build the 130 ton instead.

    Does Bolden piss off the Senators that wrote the law for the 70-100 ton SLS version, or the ones that will be providing the money for the 130 ton version?

    Tell us how Bolden can satisfy the desires of all the Senators, especially since they haven’t finished passing the laws that indicate their desires?

  • Major Tom

    “Yes, got it everyone in Congress (and all of their staffs) – at least any that disagree with you are ‘evil’, none of them have any sincere motives. Only people who agree with you are honorable.”

    Where did I say that anyone in Congress is “evil” or not “honorable”? Those are your words, not mine. If you can’t have a discussion without putting words in other posters’ mouths, then you shouldn’t be posting here.

    “None of these people or given even the possibility of credit of thinking what they are doing what is best for the future of HSF.”

    Congressmen represent the parochial interests of their districts and states. Those interests are often, maybe even usually, at odds with national interests. It’s not “evil”. It’s not “dishonorable”. It’s simply the way our system of government was designed. If you don’t understand that, then you shouldn’t be posting here.

    “But then why did Obama sign the “evil” Public Law 111-267 into being?”

    Because it authorized funding for the Administration’s commercial space flight and exploration technology priorities.

    Duh?

    The White House didn’t want to commit to a specific HLV design for another four years. They could care less how confused Congress is or becomes on SLS. It’s not the White House’s priority.

    “Nice Junior High School debating tactic describing a statement of fact as ‘whining’”

    You’ve made no “statement of fact”. You’ve provided one interpretation of the SLS language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, and you’ve whined every time another poster points out and provides evidence that yours is not the only interpretation being bandied about in Congress. I’m sorry the rest of the world, especially those holding political power in Congress, don’t agree with you, but them’s the breaks. Grow up, and either accept the world the way it is, or contact your congressmen to help ensure that your interpretation prevails in Congress. But don’t keep whining to us — we’re just telling it like it is. Even if you convinced us that you are right, there’s nothing we can do about the competing priorities, confused legislation, and conflicted interpretations coming out of Congress.

    Sigh…

  • Without responding to all of the above, because I’m too tired to even try to process it, I was responding to your straw-man argument that we thought that anyone on the Hill who disagreed with us was (and I use your word, in quotes) “evil.”

  • libs0n

    You’re a real piece of work, Joe. I recall that you attributed to Obama the motives of a comic book supervillain in wanting destroy NASA, which is a malice far beyond mere self interest. You never gave the administration’s space policy due consideration as being sincere. You refused to think of them as anything but evil people. Take your own medicine.

  • Joe, they are politicians. Of course their sincerity is in question, as is their integrity and their intelligence, almost by definition.

  • Joe

    libs0n wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 1:17 am
    “You’re a real piece of work, Joe. I recall that you attributed to Obama the motives of a comic book supervillain in wanting destroy NASA, which is a malice far beyond mere self interest. You never gave the administration’s space policy due consideration as being sincere. You refused to think of them as anything but evil people. Take your own medicine.”

    Ok that’s confusing. I have in the past been skeptical of the sincerity of Obama’s support for Commercial Space. It still seems possible to me that it is a head fake to distract from the shutting down of the existing program. That is hardly comparing him to a “comic book supervillain”. If you are suggesting that I actually compared him to a “comic book supervillain” you have me confused with someone else.

    By the way which “comic book supervillain” am I supposed to have compared him to? Magneto was always my favorite when I was a kid.

  • Joe

    Ed Minchau wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 1:19 am
    “Joe, they are politicians. Of course their sincerity is in question, as is their integrity and their intelligence, almost by definition.”

    Funny, but also informative. I see above that some of the same people who have attributed only cynical motives to the Senators/Congressmen (at least the ones they disagree with) are now allowing that they might have non-cynical motives as well (nobody said pork or oink once), but your joke sticks to the point.

    Serious question (to whom it may concern) – If someone come up to you and says “you only support (fill in the blank) because you think you will personally profit from it.” Do you take that as a compliment or an insult?

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 11:18 pm
    “You’ve provided one interpretation of the SLS language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, and you’ve whined every time another poster points out and provides evidence that yours is not the only interpretation being bandied about in Congress. I’m sorry the rest of the world, especially those holding political power in Congress, don’t agree with you, but them’s the breaks. Grow up, and either accept the world the way it is, or contact your congressmen to help ensure that your interpretation”
    Interesting assertion of (supposed) fact. If you are interested in some actual facts you might want to read the newest posting on this website Congress to NASA: follow the authorization act March 29, 2011 at 7:33 am.

    But then I’m sure that is all just whining as well.

  • If someone come up to you and says “you only support (fill in the blank) because you think you will personally profit from it.” Do you take that as a compliment or an insult?

    It would depend on the context. But the charge is not relevant. The charge that is relevant is “…you only support (fill in the blank) because you think it will benefit your constituents.” Many politicians would have no problem pleading guilty to that — they view it as their job.

  • Major Tom

    “Interesting assertion of (supposed) fact. If you are interested in some actual facts you might want to read the newest posting on this website Congress to NASA: follow the authorization act March 29, 2011 at 7:33 am.”

    Your point? Based on the evidence in that post, the direction with respect to SLS that NASA is suppossed to follow in the Authorization Act is…what, exactly?

    The post you’re referring to doesn’t provide any insight into the 70-100 ton SLS versus the 130-ton SLS (and versus Constellation) debate. It’s just about funding levels for SLS, MPCV, and commercial crew.

    “But then I’m sure that is all just whining as well.”

    Actually, it is whining. Low-level authorization staff are complaining that the President’s FY12 budget request for NASA doesn’t exactly follow the funding levels in their 2010 NASA Authorization Act. But the White House isn’t required to request authorized funding levels. And the White House isn’t required to sign an appropriations bill that matches authorized funding levels. Even the appropriators aren’t required to appropriate budgets that match authorized levels. It’s a fundamental underpinning of our system of government called separation of powers, and for authorization staff to complain at this point — after they’ve spent their wad on the 2010 NASA Authorization Act — is useless whining (or total ignorance of basic civics). No one is going to amend the Constitution to give the authorizers the power to dicatate funding levels to the White House and appropriators.

    The authorizers can whine all they want, but they are largely out of the picture at this point. It’s a negotiation between the appropriators and the White House that will determine the actual distribution of funds in NASA’s FY11 and FY12 (and ultimately FY13) budgets. There won’t be another authorization bill until FY14 rolls around.

    FWIW…

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 11:24 am
    “Actually, it is whining. Low-level authorization staff are complaining that the President’s FY12 budget request for NASA doesn’t exactly follow the funding levels in their 2010 NASA Authorization Act.”

    Low level being defined as those who dare to disagree with you. Amazing how the people who are actually involved in the process know less about what is going on than you.

    You are truely a legend in your own mind.

  • Joker 2

    So far Space X has delivered on their medium lift to LEO launcher. This, at a fraction of the cost of any of the major industrial competitors. The Falcon 9 went from the drawing board to orbit in just 5 years. Last summer an article in Popular Mechanics laid out the design for Space X’s very heavy lift LOX/RP1 fueled rocket called the Falcon XX -capable of putting over 130 (metric/English?) tons into LEO. Further, Space X (Elon Musk) stated that he could “guarantee” they could develop such a booster within 5 years at under 2 billion. Sounds like a deal worth looking into.

  • Coastal Ron

    Joker 2 wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Sounds like a deal worth looking into.

    If Congress wants to let the private market take care of NASA’s heavy-lift needs, then that’s one thing. The RFP will outline the projected payloads and frequency of use, and everyone can bid on the work in a fair and open competition. However, if there isn’t much business from NASA in the proposal, they may not get any bidders.

    But that’s not what is going on with the SLS. There are no projected needs for it, beyond launching the MPCV as a backup to commercial crew providers.

    Every dollar we spend building a launcher we don’t need is a dollar that could be going towards exploration with existing launch vehicles. So far both the proposed HEFT mission and the proposed Nautilus spacecraft could be built using existing and near-term commercial launchers, so where is the need for a NASA launcher that lifts 3-5X more mass?

    [crickets chirping]

  • JR

    Major Tom Wrote:
    “Go to jail instead of following the law”

    Don’t be silly… Bolden can lie through his teeth and not
    worry about any thing coming from it.

    You do live here in America right? You do realize the
    president told lies to us all when he ran for office?

    You do understand that they can all lie as much as they want…
    and get clean away with it… right???

  • Major Tom

    “Low level being defined as those who dare to disagree with you.”

    No, low-level as in with the exception of one of the panelists, none of them were committee or even subcommittee chiefs of staff, staff directors, or chief counsels.

    “Amazing how the people who are actually involved in the process know less about what is going on than you.”

    Where did I say that they “know less about what is going on” (whatever that is) than I do?

    I said that they’re complaining about the White House not following the funding levels in their authorization, when:

    – The White House isn’t required to request authorized funding levels;
    – The White House isn’t required to sign an appropriations bill that matches authorized funding levels; and when
    – Even the appropriators aren’t required to appropriate budgets that match authorized levels.

    I’m not saying that they know less about the situation with NASA’s budget than I do. They obviously don’t.

    I’m saying that their whining demonstrates that they’re either ignorant of how the federal budget process works or that they’re hypocritically ignoring how the federal budget process works. Either is sad but not surprising (at least to me).

    “You are truely a legend in your own mind.”

    Only when I substitute what I actually wrote for the words you keep putting in my mouth. Please stop it.

    Sigh…

  • Major Tom

    “Don’t be silly… Bolden can lie through his teeth and not
    worry about any thing coming from it.”

    I wasn’t talking about lying, under oath to Congress or otherwise. I was talking about misuse of public funds, specifically about misdirecting funds from Shelby’s Constellation earmark the FY 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Act to SLS or another project. Starting SLS with the funding from the FY 2010 Constellation earmark would be a prosecutable offense. Civil servants and political appointees go to jail all the time for those kinds of offenses.

    “You do live here in America right?”

    Yes. Do you? You apparently don’t understand that the executive branch can’t spend taxpayer funds from appropriated programs on things that legislative branch hasn’t appropriated money for. Any high school civics student would be able to tell you this. Surely you learned it if you grew up in the United States.

    Sigh…

  • common sense

    Major Tom wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    “Where did I say that they “know less about what is going on” (whatever that is) than I do?”

    This is Joe’s usual tactic. Everyone else is an expert but those who post here. He gave me the same treatment when we talked about the improbable sidemount, e.g. NASA’s experts say the vehicle can work for crew with no supporting document. The use of the adjective “evil” was in his comments then as well, e.g. “evil companies”.

    Here is someone who cannot make a coherent argument about anything, unable to support his statements with anything and put words in people’s mouths. Then he tells people not to say so.

    Oh well…

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 6:24 pm
    “I said that they’re complaining about the White House not following the funding levels in their authorization, when:
    – The White House isn’t required to request authorized funding levels;
    – The White House isn’t required to sign an appropriations bill that matches authorized funding levels; and when
    – Even the appropriators aren’t required to appropriate budgets that match authorized levels.”

    OK since you are so much more knowledgeable than the “low level” staffers, a question. If the White House requests more money than the Authorization allows and if the Appropriators were to give out such money would the Federal Agency involved be allowed (legally) to spend the appropriations in excess of the Authorized level?

  • Major Tom

    “If the White House requests more money than the Authorization allows and if the Appropriators were to give out such money would the Federal Agency involved be allowed (legally) to spend the appropriations in excess of the Authorized level?”

    Sure. The new law (the appropriation) supersedes the old law (the authorization).

    FWIW…

  • Ferris Valyn

    “If the White House requests more money than the Authorization allows and if the Appropriators were to give out such money would the Federal Agency involved be allowed (legally) to spend the appropriations in excess of the Authorized level?”

    Sure. The new law (the appropriation) supersedes the old law (the authorization).

    Just to add to what Major Tom said – this happens ALL the time.

  • If the White House requests more money than the Authorization allows and if the Appropriators were to give out such money would the Federal Agency involved be allowed (legally) to spend the appropriations in excess of the Authorized level?

    Of course. All that matters is what is appropriated. All the power is with the appropriations committees, which is why congresscritters fight to get on them.

    Authorizations are momentary (since every Congress can have a different opinion every two years) opinions of a momentary Congress. That is why authorization bills are much ado about nothing, and often don’t even happen.

    But they provide a great platform for congresscritters to bloviate about agencies “refusing to follow the law.”

  • Joe

    Keep whistling past that graveyard guys. By the way if you have any interest in what the appropriators are acually considering.

    http://www.spacenews.com/civil/110325-justice-commerce-funding-nasa.html

  • What “graveyard” is it that we’re supposedly “whistling past”?

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Intransigence on the part of Congress likely affects the 2016 date for SLS far more than it impacts commercial and commercial crew efforts.

    SLS/HLV supporters are the ones that are whistling past the grave, since the longer their funding is in question, the more likely the NEED for the SLS comes into question.

    Whilst in other news, ULA keeps launching, and SpaceX keeps progress going on Dragon, Falcon 9, and Falcon 9 Heavy.

  • Major Tom

    “Keep whistling past that graveyard guys. By the way if you have any interest in what the appropriators are acually considering.”

    Considering is one thing. Doing is another. Per the panelist, there’s not much likelihood of money coming from other government agencies to pay for SLS/MPCV in this budget environment:

    “But with NASA and other federal agencies operating in a fiscally constrained environment, the panelist said Congress could struggle to fund new multibillion-dollar programs next year.

    ‘It’s not impossible but the ability to do that is severely constrained in the environment we’re working in now, and that’s exacerbated by budget requests coming up from the administration that don’t track with the authorization,’ the panelist said.”

    Per the article, the reality is that the appropriators only have ~$65 billion to work with in NASA’s subcommittee, and they’ll be looking to reduce that amount to help deal with the deficit, not raise it. NASA’s ~$19 billion budget already represents almost 30% of the subcommittee’s ~$65 billion. And the subcommittee still has to fund Justice, Commerce, NSF, NIST, and a bunch of smaller agencies. It’s hard to see a billion dollars coming out of, say, cops on streets (Justice), manufacturing outreach (Commerce), or university research (NSF) so that NASA can build a really big rocket with no clear payload or well-defined mission ASAP — especially if some of those other programs have already been hit to reduce the ~$65 billion budget. In fact, I think it’s more likely that NASA will be a target for budget reduction on this subcommittee, rather than a beneficiary of budget reductions in other departments/agencies.

    FWIW…

  • Joe

    Major Tom wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    The article also said:
    “Consequently, the panelist said, it is now up to congressional appropriators “to find a billion dollars in other places in NASA to pay for those activities or to decide to make those tradeoffs and take that money out of the departments of Commerce or Justice or the other agencies that are funded in the same bill as NASA.” ”

    But for some reason you do not seem to like that paragraph.

  • But for some reason you do not seem to like that paragraph.

    How do you know whether or not he “likes” that paragraph? What is your point?

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
    “How do you know whether or not he “likes” that paragraph? What is your point?”

    Sigh. The part about “find a billion dollars in other places in NASA to pay for those activities”. Do not think that is that difficult to understand, unless of course you just do not want to understand it.

  • Coastal Ron

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    How do you know whether or not he “likes” that paragraph? What is your point?

    I’m trying to remember if Joe has every contributed anything, or if he just likes to critique?

    Nothing wrong with critiquing, but if that’s all someone is here to do, then that kind of makes you wonder why they bother?

  • Sigh. The part about “find a billion dollars in other places in NASA to pay for those activities”. Do not think that is that difficult to understand, unless of course you just do not want to understand it.

    The issue isn’t whether or not he “likes” it. It’s whether or not it’s credible. I agree with him that it is not. These people are blowing smoke.

  • Joe

    “Rand Simberg wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 4:49 pm
    “These people are blowing smoke.”

    Like I said “you just do not want to understand it”. Or if you prefer, somebody is “blowing smoke”, it just remains to be seen who.

  • Like I said “you just do not want to understand it”.

    It is you (and they) who apparently don’t understand the budget realities. I understand it perfectly well. It’s silly to talk about whether I “want to” understand it.

  • Joe

    “Rand Simberg wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 5:13 pm
    It is you (and they) who apparently don’t understand the budget realities. I understand it perfectly well. It’s silly to talk about whether I “want to” understand it.”

    OK just to repeat the part you left out (one more time) “if you prefer, somebody is “blowing smoke”, it just remains to be seen who”.

    Other than that Whatever.

  • Joe

    Coastal Ron wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 4:34 pm
    “Rand Simberg wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
    “How do you know whether or not he “likes” that paragraph? What is your point?”
    I’m trying to remember if Joe has every contributed anything, or if he just likes to critique?
    Nothing wrong with critiquing, but if that’s all someone is here to do, then that kind of makes you wonder why they bother?”

    Just a question, why do you keep making these – yeah what he said postings. You are just making yourself look like a Remora to Rand’s Shark may do his ego good but what is it doing for you?

  • common sense

    “The part about “find a billion dollars in other places in NASA to pay for those activities”. Do not think that is that difficult to understand, unless of course you just do not want to understand it.”

    Yeah they have the BSMD, Blowing Smoke Mission Directorate at NASA and they plan to take several billions from it to fund a huge blowing smoke cylinder or two or three put together. They will call that the SLS, the Smoke Launching System and every one will be happy. Not sure what kind of smoke will come out of it but I am sure we can ask our friends at the Global Warming Mission Directorate if it is green house type. Of course unless they take the money away from the Global Warming Mission Directorate to directly fund the Smoke Launching System. Don’t know. It can happen though.

    Whatever. ;)

  • Coastal Ron

    Joe wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Just a question, why do you keep making these – yeah what he said postings.

    If you’ll look back at my post you’ll see that it was directed to Rand Simberg. Maybe you’re confused about how blogs work?

    People do discuss other peoples comments, whether they like it or not. That’s life.

    Now do you have any space-related topics you’d like to discuss, or are you going to keep obsessing about quotation marks?

  • Jeff Foust

    Time to close this comment thread, folks.