Congress, NASA

Briefly: members speak, and Hiaasen speaks out

With Congress in recess this past week, members have been in their home districts talking about policy issues—which, in the case of certain districts in Alabama and Florida, means talking about space. Florida Today reports that Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) told an audience of local retired military officers that the US is making “a horrible mistake” by not having a clear path forward for human spaceflight, saying that space is the “ultimate military high ground” (but not further explaining the link between human spaceflight and military space applications, which rely on unmanned spacecraft.) By contrast, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes KSC, did not mention space in a luncheon speech Friday, telling Florida Today afterwards that her constituents “all know that I am working hard for NASA.” One constituent interviewed after the speech, in fact, said she would have liked to hear more from Adams about space issues.

With all the concerns about funding levels, heavy-lift launch vehicle programs, commercial crew development, and the like, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) decided to focus instead Saturday on another NASA issue: outreach to Muslim countries. “Quite frankly, I don’t think that’s the mission of NASA,” he told a town hall audience in Athens, Alabama, the Huntsville Times reports, referring to comments made by NASA administrator Charles Bolden last year. (The administration would agree with Rep. Brooks: they later said Bolden misspoke.) Brooks said he hopes that Congress will stop those outreach plans, the Times reported, and “focus on strengthening NASA and the space program” in the name of “American exceptional ism”.

Novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen doesn’t say much about space, but NASA’s current situation, where it’s forced to continue to spend money on Constellation programs, even those elements cancelled in last year’s authorization bill, was too much for him to ignore. Hiaasen directed his invective at Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who authored the provision in the FY2010 appropriations act, still in effect thought the series of continuing resolutions, that keeps NASA from cancelling elements of Constellation. “Yet instead of doing what’s best for all American taxpayers (and for NASA, which is scraping for funds), the senator is content to sit back and watch nearly $280 million go down a black hole – and into the hands of major campaign contributors,” Hiaasen wrote, referring to campaign donations Shelby received from ATK and its employees. (It does seem at times as though we’re in the middle of a plot of a Hiaasen novel: all we need is an epic showdown in The Everglades.)

82 comments to Briefly: members speak, and Hiaasen speaks out

  • common sense

    “Judging from public opinion surveys, the American people might be getting wise to phony deficit hawks who want everyone to sacrifice except for their own constituents and fat-cat supporters.”

    Let’s hope so. Suffice to read some comments on this blog to know that it is not the case for every one… Yet.

    “Shelby is fond of bashing Democrats and warning, “We are on the road to financial destruction.”
    Given his own not-so-stellar role in the Constellation debacle, he gives new meaning to the term “space case.””

    Pretty good.

  • amightywind

    “Yet instead of doing what’s best for all American taxpayers (and for NASA, which is scraping for funds), the senator is content to sit back and watch nearly $280 million go down a black hole

    A crank leftist attacks a popular conservative over NASA. That’s news? I think this gentleman’s anger is misdirected. A fair minded person would upbraid Obama administration for its foolhardy attempts to radically change the NASA mission without achieving bipartisan consensus.

    Hiaasen wrote, referring to campaign donations Shelby received from ATK and its employees.

    As opposed to donations to the dems from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, GE, Government Motors and the rest of their cronies? Let’s not even go there. ATK has served the space program well, and will continue to do so.

  • reader

    you got it backwards. space program has served ATK well. safesimplesoon.com

  • Justin Kugler

    It was only radical to people like you who thought the status quo was a grand adventure, windy.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “A crank leftist attacks a popular conservative over NASA.”

    Yeah that’s right $280M wasted on a “conservative” program… Way to go amightywind, way to go.

    “ATK has served the space program well,”

    ATK “served” the space program??? You mean like when they were offered sole source contract for Constellation? Oh yeah it’s a conservative thing to sole source contract to large companies. Some might call that fascism but they may not be conservative enough I guess.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism
    “Fascists seek to organize a nation according to corporatist perspectives, values, and systems, including the political system and the economy.”

  • Bennett

    Windy only deals in parody. Once you understand that, he’s actually quite amusing. I think he works in the Psy-Ops department of SpaceX, helping space advocates hone their arguments for paradigm change.

  • Rhyolite

    Bennett wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    “Windy only deals in parody.”

    See Poe’s law:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

  • Coastal Ron

    Rhyolite wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    “Windy only deals in parody.”

    See Poe’s law:

    That explains why what he writes is so funny – it’s too absurd to be right.

  • The same people who condemned Constellation for being a “repeat of the past”, are the very same people who are jumping up and down with glee over the prospect of re-creating the Mercury program’s acheivements, via the commercial space capsules. Think about it: the goal of attaining earth orbit with a manned vehicle, hmm…..better go and Google-search the Mercury program of the 1960′s. I say all this with some sarcasm, because true exploration has always included some degree of repetition. After the Lewis & Clark expedition, other voyagers would inevitably re-do and re-tread the steps of those who came prior. When Admiral George Dufek lead his 1950′s crew to the South Pole, I’m positive that the last thing on their minds was, “Oh wait! We CAN’T be doing this! Somebody already made the trip down here before! We’re just repeating distant past glories.” Of course NOT; of course they had NO time for such worthless gibberish. They were building upon what the Amundsen & Scott expeditions had acheived before. They were going to improve upon it & expand the scope of merely just getting to the Antarctic Pole again. An encampment to build a subsequent base was in the works, plus sortie journeys to other points on the Antarctic continent, to better investigate the geology of it. Of course humankind must return to the Moon in person, to better comprehend it, and to build upon the technology of greatly expanded surface operations. Some degree of “re-doing the past” is inevitable. New manned lunar orbiter & lander craft will unavoidably have to make a rather similar journey to what Apollo did, forty years ago. It’s just that this time we’re going to acheive even more magnificent things there, on Luna!

  • Robert G. Oler

    “Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) told an audience of local retired military officers that the US is making “a horrible mistake” by not having a clear path forward for human spaceflight, saying that space is the “ultimate military high ground” ”

    it is odd of course that the people who constantly make that claim, have so little military experience.

    The irony is that the folks who should make the MOST coherent cases for human spaceflight never really seem to bother to actually formulate a case for it (and I think that there is a case to be made) . They all want to make these pretty goofy cases that appeal to the uncritical supporters but have really no value elsewhere.

    BTW we are now spending about 1/4 billion a day helping or whatever we are doing in Libya. Robert G. Oler

  • Fred Cink

    Once again not-so common sense does a quick wiki check, and runs with an incorrect idea/position based on incomplete understanding of a word he THINKS he recognizes/understands. Sir, please go back and check the meaning of the word “corporatist.” (HINT: it has nothing to do with the word/concept “corporation” (as in ATK GM GE)

  • DCSCA

    We’re leaving the first quarter of 2011 soon and NASA remains in free drift. No direction. No decisions. And priorities involving dispostion of old hardware take priority with NASA management. Unreal. With April comes another expensive shuttle launch– a program oversold; that fell short of expectations yet was long on costs. In character to the end, it simply refuses to conclude on schedule as well.. — It’s quite literally a blast from the past- a reminder of America’s space planning from the last century. What a sorry stagnant sight the space program has become.

  • amightywind

    “Fascists seek to organize a nation according to corporatist perspectives, values, and systems, including the political system and the economy.”

    National socialism most closely describes today’s democrat party, not the GOP. The new healthcare system, unprovoked war mongering, and explosive expansion of the state is proof of that. I don’t work for any aerospace company. My opinions are guided purely by logic and the American Way.

    It was only radical to people like you who thought the status quo was a grand adventure, windy.

    A servant of the ISS is lecturing me about the status quo? Amusing!

  • Bennett

    Rhyolite wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Obviously, windy is not into winking smileys. Nonetheless…

    Thanks for the wikilink, it was informative.

  • common sense

    @Fred Cink wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    “Once again not-so common sense”

    Anytime I read some poster who feebly tries to “attack” my pseudonym it tells me I chose it just right.

    “does a quick wiki check, and runs with an incorrect idea/position based on incomplete understanding of a word he THINKS he recognizes/understands. Sir, please go back and check the meaning of the word “corporatist.” (HINT: it has nothing to do with the word/concept “corporation” (as in ATK GM GE)”

    Thanks Mr. Cink. Anytime you want to talk about something a little serious I’ll make sure I’ll seek your input.

    Maybe you want to re-read what I wrote and try real hard to understand what fascism is all about. I know it is difficult for some especially those who promote such things but you can try. And if you don’t understand then maybe you can try again until it makes it through. I will not hold my breath though.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    “National socialism most closely describes today’s democrat party, not the GOP. ”

    Almost comical.

    “The new healthcare system, unprovoked war mongering, and explosive expansion of the state is proof of that.”

    Unprovoked war mongering??? Like Iraq you mean? Explosive expansion of the state??? You know a link or a reference would help. But here again I am not going to hold my breath.

    “I don’t work for any aerospace company.”

    I’ve figured that much so far.

    “My opinions are guided purely by logic and the American Way.”

    Logic??? I have to say that unlike Mr Cink you are at least funny in some sort of weird way. The American Way??? I was under the impression was the “American Way” was about the power of small businesses to thrive and create a dynamic economy. Not about sole source contract to major corporations. Not about the incessant lobying of major corporations for fiscal favors. I guess I missed something.

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    “it is odd of course that the people who constantly make that claim, have so little military experience.”

    Not only lack experience but often who do not even have the slightest respect for the military (people and power).

  • The same people who condemned Constellation for being a “repeat of the past”, are the very same people who are jumping up and down with glee over the prospect of re-creating the Mercury program’s acheivements, via the commercial space capsules.

    If they are “jumping up and down with glee,” it is about the prospect that we are finally getting humans into space in an affordable manner, that will ultimately no longer be reliant on a government that (unlike the sixties) is broke.

    National socialism most closely describes today’s democrat party, not the GOP.

    Yes, which is why it is so bizarre, but true nonetheless, that the most non-national-socialism approach to space policy since the beginning of space-policy history has come from this White House. Why you continue to endorse a national socialist space policy we will leave to the readers to discern.

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    “National socialism most closely describes today’s democrat party, not the GOP. The new healthcare system, unprovoked war mongering, ”

    goofy.

    The Democratic party is no more socialist then the GOP is…both parties are more or less corporate tools who continually are stuck supporting massive corporate subsidies.

    As for unprovoked war mongering…wow where were you with Bush…the last.

    Of course the main supporters of the status quo in space politics and policy is the GOP…the folks who think you spend money just to be “number 1″. goofy

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Chris Castro wrote @ March 27th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    “The same people who condemned Constellation for being a “repeat of the past”, are the very same people who are jumping up and down with glee over the prospect of re-creating the Mercury program’s acheivements, via the commercial space capsules.”

    Gemini. And if we can come up with a commercial Gemini…that will be a good thing Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    “radically change the NASA mission”

    I agree with windy, as the GAO reported on past NASA programs, they are ALWAYS over budget and behind schedule. President Obama is trying to bring fiscal sanity to NASA and to live within it’s means. Lord knows, we CAN’T have that! Let us discontinue the American free enterpise system and shut down these dang entrepreneurs. Let us return to the normal NASA and bring back the pork, sole source, cost plus contracting and Constellation and return to the moon in 2035. Look it would only mean 24 years of the pork gravy train but gosh …look at how the rest world will drool over our phallic symbol of power the Ares V!

    Cink wrote:
    “the prospect of re-creating the Mercury program’s acheivements, via the commercial space capsules. “

    The Mercury program cost approximately $384 million, the equivalent of about $2.9 billion in 2010 dollars.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program then the government would have to give them another 2.6 billion.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut the size of their capsule and only allow a single person to ride in it.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut the endurance of the dragon down to 34 hours.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut the weight of the capsule in half.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut the falcon 9 launch vehicle and build a redstone ballistic missile equivalent.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut all modern electronics.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will have to cut out all modern materials and processing.

    If SpaceX is trying to recreate the mercury program they will not be allowed to sell commercial seats but ONLY one government employee per launch.

    Do you even bother to think before you write?

    Why do you hate American free enterprise and the federal government trying to create and dominate a new emerging GLOBAL transportation sector of the economy?

  • Robert G. Oler wrote:

    Gemini. And if we can come up with a commercial Gemini…that will be a good thing.

    Actually, there’s no comparison to anything we’ve done before.

    Using the Falcon 9 and Dragon as an example …Dragon can carry up to seven passengers. Mercury flew one person. Gemini flew two. Apollo flew three. The only vehicle that’s ever flown seven is Shuttle, which is being phased out because of the fundamental design flaws that led to fourteen astronaut deaths.

    Dragon could do what no 1960s-era capsule could do. In addition to seven crew members, it could have a reusable heat shield, it’ll have a “push” escape system eliminating the dangerous “pull” tower approach, and there’s even the possibility of a soft landing on land.

    As for missions beyond Earth orbit, Dragon might be fine for that too, depending on the mission. How Dragon reaches its destination remains to be seen, as there’s talk of a different approach, e.g. launching a mission from LEO after refueling, perhaps docking first with other modules that will comprise the vehicle being sent on the mission.

    Boeing’s CST-100 in theory would also hold up to seven people.

  • Major Tom

    “As opposed to donations to the dems from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, GE, Government Motors and the rest of their cronies?”

    “National socialism most closely describes today’s democrat party, not the GOP. The new healthcare system, unprovoked war mongering, and explosive expansion of the state is proof of that.”

    “My opinions are guided purely by logic and the American Way.”

    What does any of the above diatribe have to do with the nation’s space policy, legislation, budgets, or programs? There are other forums for ideological chest-thumping — take it there. This isn’t AM talk radio. If you don’t have anything to say about the topic at hand, then don’t say anything.

    Ugh…

  • Justin Kugler

    Working for the ISS Program doesn’t mean one has to be an advocate for the status quo. I reject that false dichotomy every day in my work to facilitate the commercial utilization of the Station.

  • Real Genius

    The same people who condemned Constellation for being a “repeat of the past”, are the very same people who are jumping up and down with glee over the prospect of re-creating the Mercury program’s acheivements, via the commercial space capsules.

    Since the NASA Apollo recreation was an abject failure, then a commercial Mercury recreation would seem to be the prudent course of action to me.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Stephen. I dont disagree with anything you say and my comparison is pretty simple of course…but having said that.

    Gemini was in my view the path of space operations not taken, which had it been taken would have changed our course in space ops for the better AND in my view it would do what I hope so much that

    What we have lacked either as a government run function or as a private run effort is a balance on the seesaw of “operational and affordability”.

    The shuttle (and Apollo) would have been operational but at a cost that the nation simply cannot afford, that is why the military has more or less sworn off of human spaceflight…hence while NASA will refurbish the hubble, the military wont even think (at least up to now) of using people to refurbish any of its intel assets.

    Gemini had expandability, and could have worked toward re usability and probably was moving toward affordability.

    The difference between the military and say NASA is that for what it does the military simply wont put up with systems that are not (in its world) affordable…that is why the SR-71 is a museum show piece now even though no crewed capability has (it seems) appeared to replace it. NASA will stick with something in human spaceflight that is simply unaffordable because they (and their supporters) take HSF at nasa as an entitlement. T his is why zillions of people are employed by the station program to keep 6 people in orbit.

    My great hope for “commercial” is that it starts the re balancing of the equation in terms of cost and “operational”. If it does we have a long future in human spaceflight, if it does not then we wont have it much longer.

    Robert G. Oler

  • common sense

    @ Major Tom wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 7:59 am

    “What does any of the above diatribe have to do with the nation’s space policy, legislation, budgets, or programs? There are other forums for ideological chest-thumping — take it there. This isn’t AM talk radio. If you don’t have anything to say about the topic at hand, then don’t say anything.”

    It is not about ideology per se but rather about our procurement system and associated danger. The current, or former, way to procure contracts at NASA (and other places inside the government) is performed after much lobbying from the industry in Congress somehow insuring a certain number of votes. The dollar supporting industry of our Congress people creates a bias of the procurement process (again look at ATK and its executives inside NASA during Constellation, sole source contract, check Sen. Shelby’s attitude towards the redirection of the Recovery Act budget http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_Crew_Development, etc). This is not a GOP only feature nor is it a Dem’s, unlike some here seem to think. It is however the way our system is working today. And it is very easy to draw a parallel between then and now.

    Oh well…

  • Robert G. Oler wrote:

    My great hope for “commercial” is that it starts the re balancing of the equation in terms of cost and “operational”. If it does we have a long future in human spaceflight, if it does not then we wont have it much longer.

    We museum docents had a tour this morning of the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37, where the Delta IV launches.

    The person leading the tour said that they’re confident Delta IV will be human-rated for Orion, but what they think doesn’t matter, it’s up to NASA. But then he said that Bigelow is already happy with Delta’s standards, suggesting Bigelow will take the Delta IV as is for flights to their inflatable space station. The tour guide said the FAA might have a say in that, but NASA won’t.

    So as I’ve speculated before, we may see a scenario within this decade where a commercial vendor launches a commercial crew to a commercial destination with no government people involved at all, other than to regulate launch safety.

  • common sense

    For Fred Cink…

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/corporatism

    corporatism – Political system in which power is exercised through large organizations (businesses, trade unions, etc) working in concert with each other, under the direction of the state

    Again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism

    Fascists seek to organize a nation according to corporatist perspectives, values, and systems, including the political system and the economy

    Still difficult to understand?

    Whatever…

  • amightywind

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Yes, which is why it is so bizarre, but true nonetheless, that the most non-national-socialism approach to space policy since the beginning of space-policy history has come from this White House.

    ‘Commercial space’ to resembles our corrupt system farm subsidies where a favored few reach into the pockets of tax payers in the name of price stability, or in this case, cheap access to the space station. SpaceX would use their own capital if it were really a commercial effort.

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    So as I’ve speculated before, we may see a scenario within this decade where a commercial vendor launches a commercial crew to a commercial destination with no government people involved at all, other than to regulate launch safety.

    I would cheer such a program. I might even invest.

  • …we may see a scenario within this decade where a commercial vendor launches a commercial crew to a commercial destination with no government people involved at all, other than to regulate launch safety.

    Only if we can get the FAA moratorium extended beyond next year. Which may be possible, since Mica seems favorably disposed.

  • vulture4

    Posey has an associate’s degree from a community college and knows nothing about space. He ran in the last election against Shannon Roberts, who has a PhD and was a NASA deputy associate administrator. Posey won easily with the support of most KSC workers who want hundreds of billions spend on Constellation but also want tax cuts for themselves. Unfortunately most voters in this are vote only by party and slogans and do not consider the issues or candidates in any serious way.

  • SpaceX would use their own capital if it were really a commercial effort.

    SpaceX is using its own capital, you ignoramus.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    “‘Commercial space’ to resembles our corrupt system farm subsidies”

    As extreme as ever… No one that I have seen want “commercial space” turn into the farm bill farce. Actually the old cost plus procurement of the major contractors is much more like the farm bill. SpaceX uses its own capital whether you say it or not. They use their investment capital along with the capital they made on selling services.

    “I would cheer such a program. I might even invest.”

    Then stop ignorantly cheerleading the likes of ATK that are far more removed from anything commercial than SpaceX. Think how to improve CCDev and provide thoughtful suggestion(s), some people might even hear you. Almost a career move, right?

  • amightywind

    Then stop ignorantly cheerleading the likes of ATK that are far more removed from anything commercial than SpaceX.

    ATK is a traditional contractor, the kind of company that built Apollo and STS. They did not try to seize American spaceflight as a result of their political connections, like SpaceX. This makes all the difference in the world.

    They use their investment capital along with the capital they made on selling services.

    They are angling for the cash payout that was being used to develop Ares. That strategy blew up in Musk’s face. Now we have neither Ares nor any coherent post shuttle plan.

  • Martijn Meijering

    They did not try to seize American spaceflight as a result of their political connections, like SpaceX.

    Oh really? What about the behaviour of the Utah delegation?

  • pathfinder_01

    amightwind

    Why does the plan need to be a shuttle plan? The US does have other rockets.

  • Bennett

    Windy needs to start using winking smileys. His distortions are so over the top, that I have no trouble seeing them for what they are, pure parody.

    Now if it weren’t for Poe’s Law we’d be all set.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    They [ATK] did not try to seize American spaceflight as a result of their political connections

    Yet they have Senators bragging about ATK work guaranteed with language they inserted into legislation. That is the definition of pork.

    Who was the last Senator that inserted language into legislation that benefits SpaceX specifically? No one.

    A 5th grader could see the difference.

    They [SpaceX] are angling for the cash payout that was being used to develop Ares.

    So you admit that Ares 1 was pork? The first step to curing an addiction is to admit that you have one, so this is a big step for you. Of course you still have that SpaceX obsession, but we can’t expect to cure you overnight… ;-)

    The reality of course is that SpaceX is advocating for a level playing field in the competition to fulfill NASA’s space flight needs, which is what the American people want to see also, since that keeps costs in line and encourages innovation.

    Back room deals for ATK don’t lower the cost to access space – they just fill the pockets of ATK’s executives and their political pets.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    “ATK is a traditional contractor, the kind of company that built Apollo and STS.”

    ATK the kind of company that built Apollo and STS???? And what kind is that?

    “They did not try to seize American spaceflight as a result of their political connections, like SpaceX. This makes all the difference in the world.”

    So, to you, when they had one of their executives calling the shots at NASA and NASA made a sole source contract to ATK, that is okay? It is not about relationship? Come back to earth my friend, come back. Earth needs you back…

    “They are angling for the cash payout that was being used to develop Ares. That strategy blew up in Musk’s face. Now we have neither Ares nor any coherent post shuttle plan.”

    So let’s try again. COTS was contracted under Griffin, under Bush, while the Ares/Orion Constellation mess was ongoing. In what way did Musk try to angle the Ares cash? Are you saying that Griffin was complicit in giving the contract to SpaceX (and Orbital if that ever matters)?

    You know it’s okay to be wrong. Admit it and go on with your life. Now if you can provide any proof to any of your statements we could have an adult conversation.

    Ah and before you ask:

    http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/horowitz_bio.html

    http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2007/aug/HQ_C07036_Ares_first_stage.html

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/140644main_ESAS_13.pdf

    Make sure you actually understand what that means. If you don’t, make sure you read it again and again until you know why ATK got sole source.

  • Rand Simberg wrote:

    SpaceX is using its own capital, you ignoramus.

    During the aforementioned LC-37 tour, the tour guide (a recently retired manager) went through the long history of the various aerospace mergers that led to Boeing and Lockheed-Martin combining to form United Launch Alliance. He made it clear that these companies had received billions in subsidies over the years to keep them in the space launch business; in fact, ULA was formed when Boeing and LockMart basically said they couldn’t make enough money to be profitable if they had to compete against each other to get DOD contracts. So DOD let them create ULA as a launch monopoly and gave them enough money to make it worth their while.

    The tour guide mentioned in passing another competitor might enter the market in a couple years with a “heavy” rocket. He didn’t say who, but no doubt in my mind it’s SpaceX with the Falcon 9 Heavy. I was left with the impression that the ULA monopoly is not real happy that SpaceX might horn in on their arrangement and make the launch business competitive again.

  • amightywind

    Windy needs to start using winking smileys. His distortions are so over the top, that I have no trouble seeing them for what they are, pure parody.

    We all read this the first time and ignored it, thanks.

    Are you saying that Griffin was complicit in giving the contract to SpaceX (and Orbital if that ever matters)?

    I am saying that in the months before and after the roll out Obamaspace, Musk did his best to sabotage Constellation and overstate the capability of SpaceX. In doing so he made a lot of enemies and helped create the atmosphere of distrust between the new congress and the NASA leadership.

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    SpaceX is using its own capital, you ignoramus.

    Which makes it a ticket to no place, “you ignoramus.”

  • VirgilSamms

    Posey is right- I will explain the military connection for him. I know I said I was leaving guys but I thought I would leave you with this. Enjoy.

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7885046/water_and_bombs.html

  • Brooks needs to stop acting like the campaign ids till going on, and get work.

  • Major Tom

    “‘Commercial space’ to resembles our corrupt system farm subsidies where a favored few reach into the pockets of tax payers in the name of price stability, or in this case, cheap access to the space station.”

    This is a very poor analogy. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

    Agricultural subsidies are government intervention in an existing, private market to artificially stabilize prices by depressing production.

    That in no ways resembles the government procuring transportation, to the ISS or anywhere else. There’s no subsidies to producers and there’s no market intervention. The government is simply a customer buying a vehicle and/or a trip.

    “SpaceX would use their own capital if it were really a commercial effort.”

    SpaceX is investing capital from its investors, about $200 million to date as of late last year, primarily from Musk, the Founders Fund, and DFJ.

    http://venturebeat.com/2010/11/10/elon-musk-spacex-50-million/#

    Don’t post blatant lies.

    “ATK is a traditional contractor, the kind of company that built Apollo and STS. They did not try to seize American spaceflight as a result of their political connections, like SpaceX.”

    Are you kidding? Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah is using his office to send out press releases about how SLS must be “designed from its inception to carry 130 tons” so that it is “more likely the rocket will use solid rocket motors” from ATK.

    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

    Talk about trying to “seize American spaceflight” via “political connections”.

    Holy hypocrisy, Batman.

    “They are angling for the cash payout that was being used to develop Ares.”

    SpaceX won open COTS and CRS competitions under the Bush II Administration, at the same time ATK was given a sole source award for Ares I. They were two separate pots of money from the get-go. By definition, SpaceX can’t “angle” for the “cash payout” that ATK is getting “to develop Ares”.

    Moreover, Ares I/Orion has cost north of $10 billion (with a “b”) to date. It would cost nearly another $30 billion to finish. By contrast, Falcon 9/Dragon has cost less than $278 million (with an “m”) to date, and SpaceX estimates another $300 million to develop the crewed Dragon variant. Even if SpaceX could go after Ares I funding, the company only requires 1/70th of the Ares I/Orion budget to field the same ISS transport capability.

    “That strategy blew up in Musk’s face.”

    How has anything with respect to SpaceX blown up in Musk’s face? Falcon 9 and Dragon have flown to orbit and back.

    Ares I, by contrast, hasn’t flown to orbit, is officially cancelled, and is hanging by an earmark. And Orion has no launch vehicle.

    “Now we have neither Ares nor any coherent post shuttle plan.”

    If we define “coherent” as budgetarily affrodable, timely, and technically viable, Constellation, including Ares I, was never a “coherent post shuttle [sic] plan.”

    The White House has offered a viable alternative. How much of it gets diverted to maintaining Shuttle votes and campaign donations remains to be seen.

    Sigh…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    again nothing there to disagree with. The whole show is going to pass NASA by. at somepoint what they think is going to be irrelevant to the lift process…and in my view that is how it should be Robert G. Oler

  • So, to you, when they had one of their executives calling the shots at NASA and NASA made a sole source contract to ATK, that is okay? It is not about relationship? Come back to earth my friend, come back. Earth needs you back…

    I disagree. Earth has no use for trolls like “abreakingwind.”

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    DoD’s really concerned about the increasing cost of launch for their payloads? Really?! Funny how they didn’t see this coming since it’s typical monopolistic market behaviour. When you’re the only provider of goods or services and therefore hold the market captive, there is no incentive to reduce costs and hence prices you charge irrespective of any spin you might decide to release about efforts to do so.
    Pretty certain that before DoD utilise a SpaceX Heavy, they’ll want Merlin2 up and flying. Can’t see them going with a 28 engine beast. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work, just that the DoD wouldn’t accept it. Sure I read that as an official quote somewhere but can’t find it – dang!!

  • Bennett

    The hopes and dreams of space fans will only be realized if SpaceX is able to upset the apple cart of the entrenched aerospace companies.

    ULA, ATK, Boeing, and LockMart would be perfectly fine with the status quo of zero progress and fat shareholder dividends. As would the congresscritters who get their cut of any cost-plus contract in the form of campaign funds and nepotism.

    It’s high time these leaches were salted, by companies determined to pave a new road space access.

    I’m going to enjoy watching it happen.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Stephen C Smith,

    No monopoly (such as ULA effectively is in the 20-25t IMLEO market) likes the thought of competition. However, with both OSC and SpaceX moving in on the ~10t IMLEO market, I suspect that they are going to have to get used to it.

    Sink or swim, I’m afraid, is very much how the real world works.

  • Major Tom

    “I am saying that in the months before and after the roll out Obamaspace, Musk did his best to sabotage Constellation and overstate the capability of SpaceX.”

    Where is the evidence of this campaign by Musk to “sabotage Constellation”? Quotes? References? Links?

    I mean, to make this kind of strident, conspiratorial claim, you must have evidence that years of independent GAO and CBO reports warning about serious problems with the Constellation program during the Bush II Administration were pure fabrications written by SpaceX that Musk bribed the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office to print, right? Or that the Augustine Committee was Musk’s idea, right? And that Musk bribed the membership of the Augustine Committee, right? Or that SpaceX wrote the President’s FY11 budget request for NASA and Musk bribed the White House Office of Management and Budget and senior NASA leadership to print it? Or that SpaceX wrote the 2010 NASA Authorization Act terminating Constellation and funding commercial crew? And that Musk bribed hundreds of members of Congress to vote for it?

    I mean you, of all the posters on this board, would never spout blatant lies in the absence of any evidence to back up your false statements, right?

    Sigh…

  • common sense

    @ Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    “I disagree. Earth has no use for trolls like “abreakingwind.”

    Maybe, just maybe, if we could re-direct his “passion” towards reason… Anyway… I always like to give people a chance to amend.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 28th, 2011 at 11:29 pm
    “I disagree. Earth has no use for trolls like “abreakingwind.””

    Jeez Rand you were just recently giving me a hard time about putting the word evil in quotes. You misunderstood my intent entirely and I hope I am misunderstanding yours now, but wording like that could easily be misconstrued as advocating offing the poor guy.

    Care to rephrase?

  • wording like that could easily be misconstrued as advocating offing the poor guy.

    Oh, please. Only a nutcase would construe it that way. And I can’t be held responsible for how nutcases construe my words.

  • Jeez Rand you were just recently giving me a hard time about putting the word evil in quotes.

    I was giving you a hard time about putting words in quotes that no one had actually said. What the actual word was is irrelevant to the point.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 5:31 pm
    “I was giving you a hard time about putting words in quotes that no one had actually said. What the actual word was is irrelevant to the point.”

    OK, then to use your phrasing “Only a nutcase” (is it alright with you if I use the quotes there?) would have taken my sarcastic comment seriously.

    It would be nice if we applied the rules equally.

    But, no that wouldn’t be any fun would it?

  • OK, then to use your phrasing “Only a nutcase” (is it alright with you if I use the quotes there?) would have taken my sarcastic comment seriously.

    Of course it’s all right with me if you use quotes when you’re, you know?…quoting me.

    Misquoting someone is not sarcasm. That may have been the misfired intent, but quotes mean things. This really isn’t that hard.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Sometimes quotes are more like air quotes.

  • Joe

    Rand,

    You make a statement that “Earth has no use for trolls like “abreakingwind.”” Then assert that “Only a nutcase” would think that inflammatory. But you still obsess about the use quotation marks in a sarcastic comment when I was (not) quoting someone else not as you say “quoting me” (meaning of course quoting you – I know how important it is to keep out quotation mark protocol precise).

    I try to keep from using the kind of cut and paste dismissive sign off that may around here seem to like, but here is my new one for pointless garbage like this.

    Whatever.

  • Joe, I’m sorry, but your response is just gibberish, logically. Except for the last line, which was “I have no argument.”

  • @Vladislaw; on his March 28th, 6:51 am Comment: Look here, Project Constellation was indeed going to expand access to the Lunar frontier far beyond the concluding acheivements of the last Apollo missions. It is quite funny, your rebuttals of my assertion that SpaceX was attempting a “repeat of the Mercury program”. All your fuming about how the ‘space taxis’ will be supposedly different than Project Mercury, mirrors all the arguments IN FAVOR of a Lunar Return via Orion-Altair! Again, true exploration will always have the “rehashing of the old” factor in it. The physics & logistics of re-visiting LEO again on board new space-craft, will superficially resemble the Mercury & Gemini program’s accomplishments. It is up to us to take the “rehashing of the old” to new & expanded levels. Landing on the Moon’s surface—-an ASTONISHING undertaking in and of itself—-is the basic necessity behind any new manned Lunar program. Sure, it will START OUT resembling what Apollo did, decades ago; but with time, patience, and enough numbers of expeditions, a higher stature of manned landing mission will be carried out. When B.O. is out of office, the next President will see the wisdom behind renewed manned lunar landings.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Yeah, whatever.

  • Joe

    Rand Simberg wrote @ March 29th, 2011 at 11:43 pm
    Joe, I’m sorry, but your response is just gibberish, logically. Except for the last line, which was “I have no argument.”

    By the way Captain Quotation Marks aren’t you violating your own rules. Oh I get it, you are trying to use sarcasm; but only you are allowed to use it.

    Again Whatever.

  • Coastal Ron

    Chris Castro wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 1:16 am

    When B.O. is out of office, the next President will see the wisdom behind renewed manned lunar landings.

    Remind me again, how many Republican Presidents, have pushed for going back to the Moon? How many campaigned for it, or made it a major part of their goals? And don’t include Bush 43, because he never used his political capital to support his own VSE.

    Sure, it will START OUT resembling what Apollo did, decades ago; but with time, patience, and enough numbers of expeditions, a higher stature of manned landing mission will be carried out.

    You have this wish that space exploration becomes some sort of noble effort that everyone will keep up with everyday through Facebook or the NASA channel, but in reality human space exploration is people doing a manual task, and that’s not all that fun to watch. Unless there is drama associated with the manual task, but even then it has to compete with the Charlie Sheen’s of the world, or tsunamis and regime change.

    And what is the tangible result of all that human space exploration? Knowledge and validation of capabilities, but that is only interesting to those that care about it, and not that many people do.

    So a redux of Apollo is neat, but only worth it to me if it’s part of a overall goal of staying on the Moon, and we are very far away from doing that in a sustainable way.

    All your fuming about how the ‘space taxis’ will be supposedly different than Project Mercury, mirrors all the arguments IN FAVOR of a Lunar Return via Orion-Altair!

    Space taxi’s represent a significant reduction in how much it costs to get humans to LEO. To me and others, it represents a way to save money on a routine task that can then be applied to a non-routine tasks like exploration. But if you can’t do routine tasks efficiently, then you’ll never be able to afford the exploration, because exploration depends on a huge support infrastructure, and so far that is unsupportable within NASA’s budget.

    Look at Constellation. Sure the architecture would have worked, but the costs of the program exceeded the amount of money that Congress would allow NASA to apply towards it. The ISS barely survived similar budget problems.

    So the amount of money it takes to do something, and keep it going, is very important, and that is why many of us focus on supporting those systems that hold the promise of lowing the cost to access space, for both cargo and crew. Because the more we lower those costs, the more money we can put towards exploration, and that’s what everyone wants.

  • @Coastal Ron; Listen, EVERY President who ever had a say in the space program, from Eisenhower on down—-Ike’s administration green-lighted the original formation of NASA—-has NEVER campaigned actively for any specific grand goals in space. Who could have guessed that when then-Senator Barack Obama assumed the chief executive office, that he would direct the demolishment & dismantling of the nation’s manned space program?? No one really can firmly predict these things. Some Presidents have cared about manned space flight, others, like B.O., only pretend to be. But with the bulk of the shock behind us now, it will be up to us, the American electorate, to make a better choice at election time, about which man will do the best by NASA. As it stands: the Republicans are more than likely to reverse Barack Obama’s marooning of our astronauts in Low Earth Orbit & nowhere but Low Earth Orbit. Flexible Path traps our nation’s space future in LEO for decades to come!

  • Coastal Ron

    Chris Castro wrote @ March 30th, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Who could have guessed that … the chief executive … would direct the demolishment & dismantling of the nation’s manned space program?

    Chris, the President proposes, but the Congress DISPOSES.

    A bipartisan Congress is the one that wrote the law and voted overwhelmingly to end the over-budget, way over-schedule Constellation program. Keep some perspective here.

    And regarding our Nation’s manned space program, remember in order for Constellation to start flying in the mid-2030′s, the ISS had to be defunded, and our nations participation in the only permanent outpost in space was to be abandoned.

    That my friend would have been a HUGE step back in how much HSF we did, and all for 4 short trips to the Moon and back – no money for permanent stays, and in the end we would only be taking pictures, and leaving footprints as our only evidence of spending $200B and 25 years of effort. Big whoop.

    Instead Congress voted to keep our lead in space by continually BEING in space, and using the ISS to expand our knowledge and capabilities.

    And as always, the only thing holding us back from expanding out past LEO is money, which is why we need to concentrate on lowering the cost to access space, since NASA’s puny budget cannot afford to expand us very far, for very long, without lots of help from other countries and the eventual expansion of commerce beyond just satellites.

  • Dennis Berube

    First would Orion and Altair repeat what Apollo did? Immediately not, as all of the crew would be transfered to the lunar surface, with Orion able to stay aloft on its own merit. 4 men on the Moon instead of 2, certainly a 100% gain in ability! Plus Orion with an ability to stay aloft longer, would increase lunar stay time, by a large factor, and be capable of reaching for the NEAs.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis Berube wrote @ March 31st, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    First would Orion and Altair repeat what Apollo did?

    Altair never made it off the paper, and died with Constellation. But if Constellation would have continued, the budget was only going to allow extended Apollo-type missions, with no outposts or reusable vehicles to use for future missions. What a waste of $200B and 25 years of work.

    Dennis, you need to look past the “mission” paradigm, and start thinking about establishing commerce in space in addition to exploration. NASA’s puny budget will never be able to afford to sustain grandiose exploration plans without relying on a robust commercial infrastructure, and we’re not there yet.

    Also keep in mind that the NASA budget today is around 0.5% of GDP, whereas during the 60′s it peaked at 4.4%. The Apollo program was only doable due to the political desires behind the mission, and we don’t have that same political imperative today, nor a defense or science one.

    It would be neat to return, and it will be helpful as we start to reach out towards true BEO destinations like Mars, but we don’t have the infrastructure to do any of that yet. Focus on getting more done with the same budget, and you’ll be able to afford more exploration. Spend your money building mega-rockets, and you won’t have money left to use them for anything.

    Pretend you only have a limited amount of money, and what would you choose? Explore using the technology you have, or spend all your money building a rocket with no payload? Choose wisely…

  • Major Tom

    “First would Orion and Altair repeat what Apollo did? Immediately not, as all of the crew would be transfered to the lunar surface, with Orion able to stay aloft on its own merit.”

    Not true. Orion lost its ability to fly unmanned almost two years ago:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/07/constellation-top-risks-orion-loses-unmanned-capability/

    “4 men on the Moon instead of 2, certainly a 100% gain in ability!”

    Also not true. In that same article, Orion’s crew was reduced to 2-4. With at least one crewmember having to stay with Orion in lunar orbit, only 1-3 crew would make it to the lunar surface.

    Don’t make stuff up.

  • Martijn Meijering

    It would be neat to return, and it will be helpful as we start to reach out towards true BEO destinations like Mars, but we don’t have the infrastructure to do any of that yet.

    I would like to see the we-don’t-need-SDLV-we-need-infrastructure meme killed… It’s true we don’t need SDLV (and even more true that we need to make sure we do not have SDLV), but we don’t need infrastructure up-front either and doing it up-front is the same kind of mistake as developing new launchers up-front. It delays progress and increases costs and risks to the point of practically inviting cancellation. It’s not necessarily as bad as developing an SDLV or any other dedicated government launch vehicle up-front (or at all), but still unwise.

    We already have all the infrastructure we need for government funded manned exploration of the Earth-moon system. If we start that as soon as possible, then this will lead the market to develop the necessary infrastructure for commercial manned spaceflight in LEO and then in the whole Earth-moon system as well as the infrastructure needed for government funded manned exploration beyond the Earth-moon system.

    Some people will care more about government funded exploration, others about commercial manned spaceflight, some will be more interested in LEO, some in the Earth-moon system and yet others in exploration beyond the Earth-moon system, but all these goals are synergetic and none of them requires developing infrastructure up-front.

    All we need to do from a public policy point of view is to make sure that we use a process of fair, competitive and redundant procurement for launch services and for in-space transport of cargo (not necessarily crew) and market forces will take care of development of a sustainable transport infrastructure.

    Infrastructure is a task for the market, not for the government. Governments can do bold and expensive if the political will is there, they cannot do cost-effective, efficient and sustainable, especially if the political will isn’t there. That’s what markets are for.

  • All space exploration schemes will have a little of the “re-hashing the past” factor in it. Look at the flight plan of the space taxis and you can see it mirroring the basic flight plan of the Mercury capsule. Yes, it is true! All this gibberish coming out of the Flexible Path people’s mouths about Orion-Altair “repeating Apollo”, deliberately ignores the fact that the space taxis of commercial space will be largely doing the SAME THING as the Mercury and the Vostok. B.O. stood in a NASA arena and said: “We’ve been there before”, with regards to Luna, but he then directs NASA to dismantle our would-be Lunar effort in favor of….ta da ta da ta da!!—MORE Low Earth Orbit! A spanking brand new effort to re-invent the wheel! Commercial Space to now build capsule that can reach LEO manned, and orbit long enough to reach a space station! Wow! I don’t believe that THAT has ever been done before!! I thought I had some vague & grainy memories of the Mercury, the Gemini, & something called Skylab. Hey, Mr. President, are you SURE we haven’t ever gone down THIS path before??!!

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ March 31st, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    We already have all the infrastructure we need for government funded manned exploration of the Earth-moon system.

    Sure we can do exploration as a bunch of non-reusable and one-off type missions, but that is not sustainable.

    But just to be clear, the infrastructure that I’m talking about is transportation oriented.

    As of today, if you want to ship cargo up to LEO, you have to do it through one of three national cargo systems (Progress, ATV & HTV). With Orbital and SpaceX coming online soon for the CRS program, you could contract with them to ship your cargo commercially. No national space agencies need to be involved.

    For crew we’re even further behind, since we don’t have commercial crew carriers far enough along to depend on them (except Soyuz), but we’re all hoping that NASA gets enough budget to get this going for the ISS, and that will allow other entities to use the same systems.

    Probably the last piece is fuel. Until we create a fuel depot system we will continue to be limited in how much we can build in space and where we can push it to.

    Put these three pieces in place, with a minimum of two providers for each, and that gives us the ability to travel locally without massive budgets and long lead times. Without it, every time NASA wants to go somewhere they will need to create a “program”, and feel the need to build a new rocket (like the SLS today).

    So while a lack of infrastructure doesn’t stop us, it does make it far easier and less expensive if we have it. I guess I’m projecting what I see is necessary for the quickest way for us to expand into space. NASA on it’s own won’t be able to do it.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Sure we can do exploration as a bunch of non-reusable and one-off type missions, but that is not sustainable.

    We agree that non-reusable and one-off type missions are a waste of time and money and that we need to move to reusable spacecraft and launch vehicles as soon as possible. Where we differ is on whether this requires development of new infrastructure up front.

    I’m looking at this through the lens of my own field, agile software development, but the ideas are related to lean manufacturing, something I believe you are far more familiar with than I am. Investing in infrastructure represents work in process and that is inefficient. I contend we need to minimise this and I also contend this is what New Space is doing in its own endeavours.

    But just to be clear, the infrastructure that I’m talking about is transportation oriented.

    OK, so am I. I would consider launch vehicles, transfer stages (chemical, electrical, nuclear thermal etc), depots etc infrastructure, but not spacecraft. Well, I would probably consider a tug infrastructure too. We’re currently at the point where we can simply procure the necessary services commercially, without needing government R&D. Individual systems may need to be developed, but that is reasonably straightforward.

    Until we create a fuel depot system we will continue to be limited in how much we can build in space and where we can push it to.

    That depends on the precise definition of a depot. A refuelable spacecraft can serve as its own makeshift depot and we can do that today and could have done so at any point in the past 30 years. To me, that seems like the crucial missing system we need to develop and it’s not something I’d count as infrastructure.

    I say it’s the crucial missing system because it would allow us to make money that is needed for exploration (specifically for launching propellant) do double duty as a subsidy for development of commercial RLVs. And these in turn are what will open up space for mankind. The sooner we start doing that, the sooner we’ll see results.

    And we’ve already wasted so much time. Many space enthusiasts who might have seen the beginnings of this are no longer with us. Every day we lose people who might have shared in this great adventure of our species, and for no good reason.

    It’s high time we stopped obsessing over details of the systems we may need in the future or simply would like to see, over what fancy new hardware and technologies we might want on an ideal vehicle and high time to finally just go out and do it and depend on demand-pull and market forces to sort out development of infrastructure and new technologies. Lots of companies in both Old and New Space would be ready to take up the challenge.

    Dennis Berube and I agree on hardly anything but I agree completely that what we need is a spacecraft, an exploration spacecraft. I’d like to start with an unmanned one because that could happen more quickly (and Dennis will probably disagree), but at least we can agree that we’d like to see a refuelable spacecraft capable of exploration.

    I wouldn’t count that as infrastructure because it is capable of achieving missions, not merely supporting them. We would need no new technology development for such a spacecraft, and given the urgency of establishing a large and fiercely competitive commercial launch market if we want to see anything worthwhile happening in the field of manned spaceflight in our lifetimes, I argue we should keep technology development as far away from this spacecraft as possible.

    You could say that what I’m advocating is actually also a form of investing in infrastructure and technologies (RLVs, depots, SEP stages, aerobraking, innovative TPS etc), but the crucial differences in my mind are that the investment is channelled through the market through demand pull, not direct investment, and also that exploration is not delayed by waiting for new infrastructure, since that is something that will happen in parallel without direct involvement by NASA. In fact, exploration would not merely not be delayed, it would be accelerated by judiciously choosing targets of opportunity along the way.

    TLDR: we don’t need new infrastructure, we need a refuelable spacecraft and the budget to do exploration missions with it.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ April 1st, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I agree with you overall, and I appreciate the advantages of your “lens”. The technical co-founder of one of my companies was a local Agile leader, and I was just at a conference last night on lean startups. NASA and the big aerospace companies have the advantages of size, but not necessarily innovation, and it’s great to see companies like XCOR and SpaceX shaking the trees.

    My only quibble would be with this:
    We’re currently at the point where we can simply procure the necessary services commercially, without needing government R&D.

    We’re there for payload launches (i.e. things you stick on top of launchers), but Orbital and SpaceX are not there yet for cargo (i.e. delivered to your door in a pressurized vessel), and it’s unclear when commercial crew will (hopefully) emerge, or how many players there will be. Close, but I’m thinking 2017 will be the point we can make your statement, and that’s when space exploration will really start ramping up – both through lower costs and shorter leadtimes for NASA, and private efforts like the Google Lunar X Prize.

  • Martijn Meijering

    The technical co-founder of one of my companies was a local Agile leader, and I was just at a conference last night on lean startups.

    Heh, what a coincidence! And I didn’t know you were a serial entrepreneur…

    We’re there for payload launches (i.e. things you stick on top of launchers), but Orbital and SpaceX are not there yet for cargo (i.e. delivered to your door in a pressurized vessel), and it’s unclear when commercial crew will (hopefully) emerge, or how many players there will be.

    True enough, but we are far enough along to know that no new technology development will be necessary and that we can do it in the same way as COTS/CRS.

    But what I’m thinking of is starting large-scale competitive propellant launches as soon as possible. For the past thirty years NASA has been spending ~$3.5B/yr on launches. Unfortunately, that money was all spent on a single launch vehicle, the Shuttle. I would like them to continue to spend that much money on launches, but this time competitively.

    The special interests in Congress want the money to continue to flow to the existing workforce and contractors and it is starting to look as if there may not be enough money to do that in a way that keeps all of them happy and doesn’t waste money in a blatant enough way to get the rest of Congress to kill it. Maybe a compromise will now be possible.

    PWR no longer cares what rocket is built, as long as it uses PWR engines. ATK might settle for being able to revive Athena 2. Boeing and Lockheed Martin would still make money through ULA and the ISS-side of USA.

    But $3.5B/yr worth of launch services requires a large tonnage of payloads, even at today’s launch prices. That tonnage cannot consist of spacecraft, since that would be far too expensive. Commodities like propellant for exploration or water for radiation shielding are ideal, since they are both cheap and needed in large quantities for exploration.

    If this is to happen quickly enough to satisfy the porkmeisters, then it will have to be done with storable propellant or water. This might lift everybody’s boat and help open up space for mankind in the process.

    You would still need a spacecraft or transfer stage to consume the propellant or to contain the water. Fortunately a large pork spacecraft is being built as we speak, namely Orion/MCPV. If we were to take its service module and avionics and give it bigger fuel tanks we could build a hypergolic transfer stage out of it. It could be a 21st century beyond-LEO Agena.

    A later incarnation could serve as a propulsion module for a Nautilus spacecraft and remain useful for high Mars orbit insertion, trans-Earth injection and insertion into high Earth orbit, probably L1/L2 even until long after we had cryogenic depots.

    Removing NASA from the crew launch and return business would have another desirable side-effect, it would remove a dangerous threat to commercial crew. The crew module part of Orion could still be turned into a commercial crew taxi (with no special privileges over the others), thus potentially building on past investments and satisfying some of our friends in Congress. This would only happen if LM so decided and if it won a contract. There would be nothing wrong with such an Orion Light or Agile Orion and it could be used for commercial purposes too.

    The hypergolic Orion-derived transfer stage doesn’t completely solve the spacecraft problem, since you probably want to move an unmanned science payload on it. Where would we get the money for such a spacecraft? I think NASA’s SMD could be the answer.

    Until NASA HSF itself has an immediate purpose for the propellant launched using its budget, it could sell the propellant to the highest bidder, perhaps both in LEO and at L1/L2, but probably only the latter. If Discovery and New Frontiers class missions were to be provided with hypergolic transfer stages as government furnished equipment this would facilitate their role as a propellant buyer. This would establish competition both on the launch services side and on the science mission side and maximise the additional science return on top of the strategic value of investing in cheap lift.

    This should have a major impact on the cost of science missions. In addition to getting a free transfer stage from L1/L2 and very cheap, highly subsidised propellant at L1/L2, even the launch costs for the spacecraft itself would drop significantly as EELV launch prices would automatically come down because fixed costs would now be divided over more launches.

    In addition the projects could focus their time, money and energy on their science missions instead of innovation in propulsion / aerobraking etc by using brute force solutions with cheap subsidised propellant. The innovative role could be left to the market which would want similar (but not identical) innovations for RLVs and would be able to afford them.

    In order to generate enough missions soon (hypergolics don’t boil off but politicians might like to see results they can sell to the public), NEOs and main belt asteroids may provide interesting targets. There are many of them, they are of intrinsic scientific interest and in the long run they could be interesting for their resources.

    Maybe you could get economies of scale on the spacecraft side too, either by longer production runs or even propulsive return of the spacecraft (say for sample return to L1/L2) or by having a common ground segment.

    TLDR: we don’t have to wait for 2017, we could start launching storable propellant or water long before that. We could have done it 30 years ago and we probably would have had commercial RLVs by now if we had and that would have opened up space for mankind. Let’s just go out and do it.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ April 1st, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    “We’re there for payload launches (i.e. things you stick on top of launchers), but Orbital and SpaceX are not there yet for cargo (i.e. delivered to your door in a pressurized vessel),”

    Well. Dragon is pressurized, what it did not do, so far, is dock with ISS.

    “and it’s unclear when commercial crew will (hopefully) emerge, or how many players there will be.”

    Here again it really depends whether SpaceX since they are the furthest along want to, or not, fly with an escape system. There certainly is no requirement to do so. Further an escape system is not as simple as what many think. The development is expensive and does not ensure crew survival. Even though it seems natural it is not so. It may actually increase the risks of an incident/accident on ascent.

    “Close, but I’m thinking 2017 will be the point we can make your statement, and that’s when space exploration will really start ramping up”

    So. Bottom line is whether SpaceX would feel ready to fly a crew with no escape system. A politically bold move that may scare the people who don’t know better: Shuttle has been flying without an escape system for the past 30 years and only once (1 time) it may have saved the day, not even sure. It may also upset NASA if they fly without an escape system…

    To me the rapid route would consist in another one or two Dragon flights uncrewed. If they work out fine (i.e. no unpredicted malfunction, all flight data match predicted data) then SpaceX may fly as early as next year with no escape system.

    The development of a simple escape system (tower) may take 1 to 2 years provided no show stopper but may have black zones where it cannot be used, e.g. transonic escape. Using the Orion escape system if applicable may shorten this time by a year or more. The development of a pusher system may be at least 2 years since there is no other data (wind tunnel, flight data) to build your work with (unlike a tower i.e. Apollo). An escape/vertical landing system would most likely take several years and probably more than 3 to demonstrate it is safe for a crew.

    So what is it going to be? I know what I would do…

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ April 2nd, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    TLDR: we don’t have to wait for 2017, we could start launching storable propellant or water long before that.

    I agree that we can, and I think it’s only a matter of how it all gets started. Nice detail you laid out.

    common sense wrote @ April 2nd, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Dragon is pressurized

    I have no doubt that Dragon will ultimately succeed in becoming the first commercial CRS supplier to make deliveries to the ISS, and I also think that Cygnus will eventually make it too.

    This is more a question of how quickly all this stuff can/will happen, not (as Martin points out) a case of if we have the technology. This is not like MPCV or SLS, where completely new systems need to be developed.

    Bottom line is whether SpaceX would feel ready to fly a crew with no escape system. A politically bold move that may scare the people who don’t know better

    This gets back to a case of whether they want to take the risk and accelerate their crew system before NASA needs it for the ISS, or if they wait and see if NASA will provide some of the funding (like Boeing says it needs for CST-100).

    SpaceX will have to perceive a market need for a crew system before mid-2016 in order for them to push ahead, and so far I haven’t heard that from Elon Musk. In fact, he has been saying that they plan to use the CRS missions to gain extensive reliability data for Falcon 9/Dragon.

    Regarding the LAS, I think they will use the pusher system they have been talking about, since that seems to be an elegant solution for their desire to do powered landings. And unless they have some market need to fly without an LAS, I don’t think they will – what would it prove that isn’t already being proven by the CRS cargo flights? They are way ahead of Boeing, and they could add a crew demo mission fairly quickly using one of their many used Dragons, so no one is going to beat them if they don’t want to be beat.

    So what is it going to be? I know what I would do…

    Well of course I’d like to see them do a crew demo mission this year, but I also want them to get their CRS missions going, develop a full-up crew version of Dragon, and get Falcon Heavy going. But SpaceX isn’t that big of an organization, and Elon knows about the dangers of over-extending yourself without enough failure tolerance, so I don’t know if they have the bandwidth to do everything we’d all like them to be doing. And certainly not without a clear market need.

    I’m content with them developing commercial crew in time for replacing Soyuz in 2016, and that means they have plenty of time to validate Falcon 9 and Dragon for cargo, which will put them in a solid position for winning one of the slots in a (hopefully) NASA competitive crew competition.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ April 3rd, 2011 at 2:09 am

    A few things:

    1. You seem to think that their only crew customer is NASA.

    2. Launching a crewed Dragon would finally terminate Orion even though I believe it has already happened when Dragon came back intact.

    3. Don’t underestimate Elon’s desire to fly a crew vehicle. Just don’t…

    We’ll see.

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ April 3rd, 2011 at 11:46 am

    1. You seem to think that their only crew customer is NASA.

    I am trying to be as clear headed and business-like as possible. As of today there isn’t even a contract opportunity for commercial crew to the ISS, much less anyone else, so though I think it will happen, it’s not there as of today.

    2. Launching a crewed Dragon would finally terminate Orion even though I believe it has already happened when Dragon came back intact.

    Congress is funding the MPCV because of reasons not connected to commercial crew to LEO, so I don’t see a crewed Dragon flight as changing anything. The need for the MPCV depends on the needs of exploration programs that aren’t even defined or funded, so if Congress realizes that, it could end the MPCV for non-Dragon related reasons.

    3. Don’t underestimate Elon’s desire to fly a crew vehicle. Just don’t…

    And don’t over-estimate the need to fly crew before NASA (or anyone else) awards them a contract. So far their big expenditures have had a clear business need, so unless there is a clear business need to fly crew on their own, without a paying customer, I don’t think they will. If someone pays them, sure. Otherwise I think they will compete for the NASA commercial crew contract, and likely win a contract, then proceed to fly while getting paid.

    My $0.02

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ April 3rd, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    1. Again you are focusing on ISS for a crewed flight… What do you know about contract opportunity otherwise?

    2. I agree Congress is not funding MPCV for the right reasons. However those in Congress who want an MPCV will have a lot fewer reasons to justify it once Dragon flies with a crew. The other Congress parasites will make sure they take their cash away…

    3. I am not saying they don’t have a business case. Dragon is not their largest expenditure… Falcon is. And yes they will compete for the NASA contract. Still they may fly…

    We’ll see.

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ April 3rd, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    1. Again you are focusing on ISS for a crewed flight… What do you know about contract opportunity otherwise?

    We know NASA has a need for crew services after the current Soyuz contract runs out in mid-2016, so that is a known requirement that Boeing and SpaceX can go after.

    Bigelow is the only other credible customer for commercial crew as of today, but they have said they won’t launch until there is more than one crew transportation provider. I think other customers will follow once the transportation situation is clear, but I don’t think that will happen until after NASA selects who will be replacing Soyuz.

    I would love for the market to move faster, but I just don’t see that happening ahead of the ISS crew needs. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see it.

    We’ll see.

    Agreed.

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